The 2nd try

Chapter 4: love




Silence.

That was just what he had tried to avoid.

But there they were; sitting in front of each other in the living room, not speaking a word.

Shinji was sure that she was growing more and more impatient, even though he didn't look at her. Instead, he just looked down at his trembling hands, while he hesitantly fumbled for the right words to begin. It was kind of ridiculous; he had been the one who wanted this, the one who finally wanted to share and ease his burden of the haunting events of the Third Impact. And hers as well.

"Well, if you don't want to talk after all, I guess I can go!" she muttered finally and rose in a quick motion from her chair.

Just as it was to be expected.

He sighed while the clenching of his fists came to an abrupt end.
"Asuka..." he whispered, but it was enough to stop her in her trails. "W-what was it like...?"

There it was. Such a simple question, yet he fought so hard for it.

Asuka took her time before she answered; without turning around to face him again.

"As if you wouldn't know..." was all she murmured.

"So... it was you...?"

"Yes, it was me..." Anger filled her voice with each word. "Of course it was me!" She whirled around; her eyes blazing with a fire that seemed unusual even for her.
"What is it, Third? Did you think even I wouldn't be so cruel to you? You thought that Asuka was just an illusion and the real one would help your wimpy ass, no matter what happened to her; not to mention, what you did to her?! Heck, what did you expect me to do? How... why should I've helped you? Where was your help, when I was mind-raped? Where was your help, when everyone abandoned me? Where was your help, when... when I abandoned me? Where... where was your help, when I found my happiness again, just to have it taken away from me once more?" She took a sob-filled breath. "Where was your help, when I was ripped apart and eaten alive?"

"I know... I'm..."

"Don't give me that 'I'm sorry' now!"

"Heck, what did you expect me to do? Even if I'd tried to help you, you'd never let me! I... I..." Words escaped him as he saw the fire in her eyes extinguished by a cold stare.

"Strange..." she muttered callously. "You said it yourself, that I'd be just like you. And yet, even after that, you still don't understand me at all..."

Shinji flinched as he recognized the words. That had been one of the things that had lead to the final shattering of his hopes.
She had accused him that he couldn't possibly understand her; that it would be arrogant of him to even think he would be able to do so and to help her. He had countered that he wasn't able to if she wouldn't talk to him. But he had tried...

Did he?

Did she really need to tell him everything if he wanted to understand her? If he really had tried, shouldn't he have been able to see what was troubling her, even without knowing every detail? After all, he had seen it...

"I think, I do..." he finally replied. "Your heart is as fragile as mine. But instead of hiding it from others and shut it away, you scared and drove everyone away before they could come near enough to touch it. But the truth is, you never really hated anything as you tried to convince everyone."

"And there you are wrong!" she spat again. "I did hate everything. I hated First for being favored by everyone. I hated Misato for taking Kaji away from me. I hated you for surpassing me. I hated NERV for abandoning me. I hated EVA for not accepting me anymore. I hated Mama, Papa... everyone for leaving me! But most of all, I hated myself for failing in everything that distinguished me; for being so weak. I hated myself for hating to be so dependent on the very thing I've worked so hard and lived for; I hated myself for... feeling... for..."

She looked up, glaring at him with trembling fists, before she dropped her gaze again.

"Have you any idea what it's like to hate what you're supposed to love and love what you're supposed to hate? It makes you sick!"

Shinji's eyes widened. ' "I feel sick..." '

"But I don't want to feel sick anymore! I don't want to have to hate myself anymore! But I just... can't!"

"You... don't have to..."

"SHUT UP!" she shouted, covering her ears. "Please... just... shut up! You know this yourself! Just like I told you! You don't like yourself either! You know how this is: If you hate yourself, you can't like anyone else. And if you can't like anybody else, how are you supposed to learn how to like yourself? It's... It's a vicious circle!"
Her breath was ragged by now. Shinji was actually scared by the almost maniacal look in her eyes. "But maybe... maybe, if you would do that instead of me; if you would hate me, I wouldn't have to hate myself anymore. Or at least I could hate you back for a good reason! Come on Shinji! You've hated me in there, when you killed me! You can hate me here!"

The shocked boy didn't know what to do. Tears of helplessness started to form in his eyes. This was not going as he had expected, not at all. He had wanted to finally reach an understanding about what happened with them during the Third Impact. He wanted to sort out the things between them, so they could at least live together in peace, instead of more or less just exist next to each other, while avoiding such topics and keeping the load of their burdening secrets.

But if he wouldn't do anything now, everything would break apart. They would divert more and more from each other; just living for themselves and maybe even end up leaving each other.

Then they would truly be alone. And somehow he doubted that she really wanted that. Maybe this was why she had wanted to avoid this talk from the beginning; because she had feared such an outcome. He just couldn't let this come to pass. If there was a time to let his old attitude behind; to show that he would be there for her, it was now.

As determined as he could manage, he stood up.

"You are right, I never liked myself. I mean, my inactions crippled my best friend! I wasn't there for the people who needed me! I've killed the only one who ever told me... that I was loved! What I did to you was... inexcusable. Not to mention that all of humanity is gone because of me. I just wanted to die; to escape this world of pain..." He swallowed the lump that was forming in his throat, before he looked up to her.
"But I've realized something, Asuka. Even if you hate yourself, you can find happiness here; real happiness. But for that you have to accept the others and the pain they may cause you. Maybe... if you'd let me... I..."

"I don't want you to help me!" she snapped, but cringed immediately afterwards. "I will always be alone."

"You don't have to! If you would... let me near to you. Otherwise, all you will do is to hurt yourself..." He took a step towards her, but she withdrew in return.

"Hate me, Shinji! You can't help me!"

"That... that's not true! Asuka, please! You... you were never afraid of anybody. I know I'm the last person someone should ask help from; anyone would do for that, and most certainly better."

"Shinji..." she breathed, continuing to retreat whenever he tried to come closer.

"I know that won't be easy, but..."

"Hate me, Shinji..." She stopped suddenly as she felt her route backwards blocked by the couch table. "Just hate me..."

"But we're the only ones left. We are all we have. We are the only ones to help each other."

"Don't come near me!" Asuka screamed almost hysterically as he, though hesitantly, reached out for her. But as she tried to push him away, she stumbled backwards against the table, taking the vase that stood there down with her.
For a few seconds Asuka lay there, in a puddle of the water that had been the content of the vase. It soaked parts of her clothing, but she didn't seem to care.

"Hate me, Shinji..." she muttered again, while slowly standing up, using the table as support. "Hate me... hate me..." She stood, but didn't look up to him.

Then, her rage took over.

"HATE ME!" In her fury, she gripped the table and slammed it aside.
"LEAVE ME!" The vase missed him only by inches and shattered on the wall behind him.
"KILL ME!"

She fell silent after that; not looking up; just standing there, panting heavily from her outburst.

"No..."

The moment he said it, her breathing stopped. She was completely still for a second, as if she would let his answer sink in.

A mere whisper. That's all what it had been; all that he would give.

Yet, it was more than enough to cut off the last remains of her reasonable thinking and to trigger a mere instinct and emotion-driven reaction.

Before he could react, she rushed forward; her quivering hands drew around his neck, followed by her arms, shifting them a bit to get a tight grip on his back to pull herself closer in this embrace.

Shinji wasn't sure what to do. As much as he wanted to comfort her, he had no idea how. He had never been able to sooth someone. Not to mention that this was Asuka; the same Asuka who had even yelled at him just for looking at her.
But as he glanced down, seeing her sobbing against his shoulder, he knew that this wasn't the same fierce and way too prideful Asuka he knew; neither was this the stoic, lifeless Asuka of the last weeks after her defensive walls had been shattered in one stroke by the attack of fifteenth Angel.

This was the fragile child that was yearning for comfort; finally freed after being locked away in the sub-consciousness for so long; only being able to show itself during her sleep, as he had seen that last night of their synchronization-training.

Hesitantly, he brought his arms up and put his hands gently on her back; returning the hug ever so lightly.

"Do you..." she sniffed, barely audible, "promise...?"

"Promise?"

"Not... to leave..."

Somewhat startled at this, he nodded, even though she couldn't see it. "I... I promise..."

He expected her to calm down, but instead she drew herself even closer.

"Damn it!" She sobbed. "Just... just look, what you've done! I'm crying again. I don't want to! I don't want to be so weak."

Weak? Was it that what she had feared? To appear weak, when she would show this side of her?
But how should he tell her that she would always be much stronger than he could ever be, that it didn't matter to him, without sounding just like a weak, dishonest attempt to calm her.

"I-I think it needs a lot of strength to show your weakness..."

She gave a muffled laugh at this.
"You know, that sounds like absolute nonsense..." she muttered against his shoulder.

"I'm sorry. I... I'm just not very good in giving comfort."

She was silent for a moment and rested her head on his shoulder. "Maybe you're better than you think..."

"Huh? But..."

"Shh... Just... just... shh..."

So he stayed silent; doing nothing but holding her as he felt her last tears straining his shirt. 'Just' holding her? It seemed to be some kind of joke. Here he was: the meek, wimpy boy that wished everyone to death just so he couldn't be hurt anymore, was comforting the fiery, strong-willed girl that would rather have died than asking for help – and just by holding her...

He noticed that she had stopped crying for some time. The strange thing about it was that she still held onto him.

"Asuka?" he asked uncertainly.

No reply. The only action he noticed from her was the small, rhythmically movement of her body, which was caused by her breathing.

"Asuka?" he whispered again as he drew his head back a bit to take a look at her.

'She's asleep?' he wondered. A weak smile formed on his lips as he watched her face. She looked so innocent, so vulnerable. Hesitating at first, he slowly moved his hand to her cheek and gently wiped the wetness away.

A thought struck him suddenly. He wouldn't be able to stand there the whole night, holding her until she would wake up. Despite what she always said, he wasn't stupid; he knew that he wasn't strong enough to actually carry her to her room and he would just wake her up if he'd make a futile attempt to do so. Nervously, he looked around until his eyes came to rest on the couch. As this seemed to be the best solution, he tightened his grip and carefully lifted her up from her feet as much as he could. The blush on his face grew stronger as her weight (and more so, the upper half of her body) rested now completely against him.

A bit clumsily swaying, he managed to heave her over to the couch without disturbing her sleep. Tenderly, he laid her down, using one of the folded rugs there as her pillow, the other one to cover her.

'She was right,' he thought, watching her sleeping face. 'Things will change after this. But hopefully for the better...'

With that, he left her with her dreams...



////////////////////////////////



PAIN!
DEFEAT!
NO!
HOPELESS!
PAIN!
NO!
KILL!
KILL!

KILL!






Silence...

Dark...

Cold...



There was nothing but herself and the folding chair she sat on.

"Hello?" she called into the void. "Is anybody here?"

No answer...

"Am I... dead?"

"Dead?" a voice seemed to come out of nowhere. She didn't even wonder about it.
"Death...
Die...
... with me!"


Scenes flashed out of nowhere: her father and stepmother talking about her; her mother talking to her doll; her mother wanting them to die together; her mother hanging from the ceiling... dead... and smiling...

"She looked so happy," Asuka recalled as the painful memories finally faded. "But I hated her face back then.
I don't want to die," she repeated her credo. "I don't want to let myself disappear. I don't like boys," she droned on, suddenly feeling free to let everything out that had dwelled on her soul for so long. "I don't like Papa and Mama. I don't like anybody. Nobody protects me. Nobody wants to be with me."

"What does she wish?"

"So, I live alone. But I don't want this..." She let her head drop as the feelings began to overwhelm her. "It's too painful... I don't want to be alone... I don't want to be alone!"

"What does she want?"

"I don't want to be alone..." she repeated.

"She doesn't need to be alone anymore."

"But everyone left me..."

"She just has to reach out for them."

"Who...?"

A picture of a smiling, stubbly man with brown hair that was restrained in a ponytail appeared.

"Kaji? He never answered the phone anymore. Shinji said he was dead. He wanted to be with Misato anyway."

The man was replaced by a broadly grinning, purple-haired woman.

"Misato? She never really cared; it was all because of the job. After all, she just let me move in when I had to synchronize with her precious Shinji. She would never have been the friend I needed."

The picture of the woman disappeared and instead one of a brunette, pig-tailed girl in school-uniform appeared who seemed to happily greet her.

"Hikari? She's nice, but that's it. Sometimes, she actually gives me the feeling that she just wants to be polite, because she pities me. She can't comprehend what I'm doing; what I'm going through. The only ones who might be able to do that, are that damned First and..."

The picture faded again and was replaced by one of a brown-haired, teenage boy. He didn't smile. Instead, he faced something in front of him with a sad look in his eyes.

"Stupid Shinji! He doesn't give a damn about me! He has never been there for me when I needed him. He just wants everyone to be nice to him. He's always with his stupid friends. Always going to Misato. Always laughing with First! Always being the favorite of everyone! That's why he prefers everyone else over me..."

The darkness around her and his unmoving form was suddenly replaced by the environment of a hospital room. Her eyes widened in shock as she noticed that his sad, mournful look rested on the patient on the bed between them. Herself.

She couldn't recall this event; this wasn't her memory. What was this? This must have been in the time before she woke up in EVA-02...

'Why is he here...?' she wondered unbelieving. 'He... came to visit me...?'

Then, the freeze was gone. The machines started to work again, beeping and buzzing.
"Misato and Ayanami scare me," Shinji suddenly spoke up. "Help me. Help me, Asuka!"
As the only response he got was the movement of her breathing, he began to shake her; calling her name several times; pleading her to wake up, to open her eyes. Finally he collapsed, silently sobbing. "Help me... Help me... Call me an idiot, like you always do..."

Asuka didn't know what to think as she watched him shaking her other self's body, begging her to wake up. A part of her couldn't believe how much, how truthfully he pleaded for her to be with him. That he wanted to be with her.
Another part of her just wanted to scream that she had been right, that she was obviously just the very last on his list. That she was only his last resort, as everyone else didn't want to help him anymore.

That latter part of her only grew bigger at what happened next: With a last thrust, not only her comatose body was turned around, but also her hospital-gown flew open, exposing her breasts and most of her body. His eyes changed somehow, gaining a look that seemed full of madness and lust and yet eerily hollow; his breathing was deep and ragged. He never took his eyes of the lifeless body, even while going backwards to the door. But instead to leave, he turned the lock. His hand slowly went down to his trousers.

"What... what is he doing?" Her eyes went wide in surprise and disgust, before her expression changed into a mix of hurt and hatred. "So that's all I am to you after all?!"

He had lied! He didn't need her; all he wanted was this! He had always lied! Maybe even his whole meek, sheepish attitude was nothing but a lie!

She didn't want to see the end of this revolting scene and whirled around. Everything faded again.

All this time he had lied and fooled her.

It was always like this, wasn't it? Just when she started to trust someone, she was betrayed and left alone in the end.

She felt her anger increase more and more, the longer she thought about it. How could she have ever expected him to be different? Hadn't she always known that he was just a pervert?

There he was; most likely fantasizing about them right now. She couldn't take it anymore.

"It makes me sick just to look at you!" she spat with all the hatred she could muster.

"Because I am just like you...?"

What was that supposed to mean? Panic began to rise within her. Could he have looked into her mind, like she looked into his by accident? Could he have seen her most inner secrets of her past? Just like that Angel...

Or did he actually think he could possibly understand her? No one could! How dare he thinks he of all was able to, if... if she couldn't herself?

No! He couldn't! Someone who'd understand her wouldn't back away from her. Someone who'd understand her wouldn't care if she cursed him away when it was obvious that she didn't want to. Someone who'd understand her would be there for her, hold her.

Scenes were flashing again. Something about... kissing. The moment before they kissed!
Why wasn't she surprised that he came back to this? Most likely, he had used that weak moment of her several times for his sick pleasure! Not this time...

"You don't understand anything!" she confronted him. "Don't come near me!"

"I do..."

Liar!
"No, you don't, you Idiot!"

Her swift kick made him cringe, but he didn't move.

"You think you can understand me?" she continued her assault. "You think you can help me? That's so arrogant of you! You will never understand!"

"How should I?" he suddenly interfered. "You never tell me anything! How could I understand you? It's impossible!"

"Ikari, did you try to understand?"

Another voice. The First's voice! And she of all people was on her side?
No! Most likely, he had told her the same lies and now they all met in this... train?
Asuka barely noticed the scene-changes any longer.

"I did..."

The boy's answer refocused her anger on him.

"Idiot!" she spat, placing herself directly in front of him; forcing him to look at her. "I know what you've done! Go on, do it again! I'll stand right here and watch you!"
Of course he wouldn't dare, when she was conscious and right in front of him. Just a wimpy coward, after all, that would run away from his problems; going for help... to everyone else.
"If I can't have you for me alone, I don't want you at all..." This came as surprise to herself. Had she wanted to be with him? She couldn't tell. Not anymore.

"Then, why can't you be nice to me?"

Asuka felt her anger rising again. That's what it always was like, wasn't it? Always "Be nice to me!" What about her?

Another change of the scenery. They were in the kitchen of their apartment. It somehow reminded her of some time after her mindrape, before she had run away.

"I want to help you somehow, and be with you forever!" Shinji said, walking around the chair she sat on.

There he went again. Why couldn't he just shut up and leave her alone? That wouldn't be as painful as his lies and useless attempts to fool her.
"Then don't do anything. Don't come near me. Because all you ever do is to hurt me."

"Asuka, help me!" he pleaded. "You're the only one, who can!"

"Liar." That was it. She couldn't hear this excuses and lies anymore. Willingly to settle this once and for all, she stood up; scaring him away, but she followed him around the kitchen table. "For you, anybody would do! You're scared of Misato and First! And of your father and mother as well!"

"Asuka..."

"You're just using me as an escape! 'Cause it's the easiest way not to get hurt!"

"Asuka, help me..."

"You never loved anybody!" She pushed him hard; causing him to fall, while his arm slammed against the coffeepot on the table, which released its content on the floor. "You're all you have! But you never even learned to love yourself!"

As he fell in the spilled liquid; cringing miserably on the floor; only one word came in her hate-filled mind. "Pathetic..."

"Help me... Anybody... Somebody, help me..." Only slowly, he stood up.
"Help me... help me... help me!" Without warning, he suddenly threw the table aside.
So he was beginning to get desperate?
"Don't leave me!" He took the chair and flung it around.
So he was beginning to panic?
"Don't abandon me!"
Too bad for him.
"Don't kill me!"

She barely noticed the chair crashing before her feet. She just stared coldly at his now silent and exhausted form.

"No..."

Now for sure, he would go to someone else. Go beg for help from someone else. Go fool someone else. Hurt someone else...

But he didn't...

Asuka was shocked as his hands suddenly flung around her neck; squeezing it with an unknown strength. She didn't even fight him as he lifted her sobbing from her feet.

What had she done? What could have caused so much pain in him, that he was willing to kill her in revenge? Why didn't he just go to someone else at her rejection?

What if... Could it be... that he hadn't lied? That he had wanted to be with her? That he had never intended to dump her, once she lost her purpose to him?

But that wasn't possible, was it? No one ever...

It was too late now anyway. She hadn't any strength left; darkness surrounded her. All she was able to, was to hear his faint voice, as though it was far away...

"So everyone should just die."

Everyone? Just because she hadn't believed him that he wanted to be with her; that he needed her? Because she had denied his cry for help? Because...
'Because of me?'


Voices were starting to fill her mind; so many voices! She didn't want to hear them. She couldn't let this happen. Not now! She still had to show... still needed to know...
But they were so many...


***********


Waves.

Stars.

A red streak.

Couldn't breathe.
Killing her.
Like Shinji had.
Make sure... She hadn't meant it...

Air.
Tears... on her face. Someone...
...was crying. Close by. On her.

She could only see through one eye.
Shinji was crying on top of her.

What? Third Impact. Instrumentality.
Had she actually just shown him...?

"I feel sick..."



////////////////////////////////



Shinji had his own problems trying to fall asleep. For what seemed to be hours, he tossed himself from one side to the other, until he finally started to doze off – just to be bothered by a blow of air next to him.

'Oh great,' he mused, 'did I forget to close the window?'

As he wanted to get up and opened his eyes, his sight was disturbed by a few strands of his long, red hair that he absently brushed out of his face.

'Wait, I don't have long, red hair! That would mean...'

He turned his head slightly to the side, where he saw the cause of the previous blow.

'She must have been sleepwalking again,' he figured as he shifted his glance nervously between the ceiling and Asuka, who lay directly next to her roommate, her backside turned towards him. Slowly, he moved away from her, so he could go and sleep somewhere else. If she would wake up with him beside her, no matter what happened that evening, it wouldn't be a very pleasant waking for him.

But his movement was stopped and his eyes widened in surprise as a hand got hold of his left wrist, pulling his arm around her waist.

Was she awake after all? Could she actually have come because she had searched for his closeness? No, that couldn't be. Sure, they had just shared a relative tight embrace; she had poured her heart out in front of him, at least partly. But that had just been a spontaneous, intuitive reaction, hadn't it?

And now she didn't do anything else than just lying there, keeping a light, yet firm grip on his arm that held him close to her.

His breathing increased again; he felt his heart beating faster and faster against his chest. More than before he was reminded of the night before they defeated the 7th Angel, only that he now couldn't pull away so easily. Well, and that he faced her back this time.

But everything else; the faint warmth emitting from her body, the soft sounds of her breathing, her smell... It all was as intoxicating as it had been back then.

And yet again, only barely noticing it himself, he moved forward, his eyes closing slowly, his lips reaching out to her, until they made contact with the smooth skin of her shoulder.

"Don't push your luck, hentai."

He gasped; her whispered command taking him by surprise.

"I... I... didn't..." he stammered nervously. He wasn't sure if his shock resulted from her sudden warning or from the possibility that she had been awake the whole time and actually wanted to be close to him. Could that be?
"I... You just... smelled nice..." he confessed weakly.

"Baka..." she whispered.

Her hand still entrapping his arm around her.



**************************



He wasn't really surprised when he found her gone the next morning. Judging by the sounds emitting from the bathroom, she was up and taking a shower. He rose up from the bed, got into a loose-fitting t-shirt and trousers and went to make breakfast. Just like every typical morning.

They didn't say a word about the events of the last day and lived on as if nothing had happened. Not that he really expected her to act otherwise. She had shown him her weak side and as it seemed, she still wanted to push that aside as far as possible.

Or at least, he thought so.

The more it startled him, that when it was time to go to sleep again, she took him by his wrist and led him to her room. When he managed to ask why, the only answer he got was a mumbled "My bed is bigger than yours."
He didn't ask further.

They didn't sleep as close as the night before, but her whole behavior towards this subject didn't really let him rest easily.





*******************************





The sleeping procedure repeated itself every night from then on. They would go to bed, they would sleep and they would wake up without saying a word about it, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. She never gave any explanations and he didn't ask anymore, even though it troubled him for quite a while.

Eventually, it came to him, or at least what seemed to be the most likely answer. As strange as it seemed; during the day, may it have been because of the work they now had to do or because of something else, it was barely noticeable that they were the only people left on earth. Yet at night, when you lie alone in your bed, without anything to detract your mind, the loneliness would creep onto you, clutch onto your heart as powerful as possible.

But when they slept next to each other, even if just close enough to feel the presence of the other; the loneliness wasn't able to reach them that fast. Not as long as the other was there.

And there was something else to it.

It felt warm...





*******************************





"I don't think it's that hard..."

"Oh yes, how could I forget? You are Shinji, the almighty! There's nothing too hard for you, nothing to stand in your way, nothing..."

Shinji faded Asuka's rants out. Why couldn't she just let him try something for once without getting into her "know-it-all"-mode. After all, he was doing this mostly for her.

It hadn't come as surprise when she had declared that she was sick of eating only vegetables, dried meat or instant noodles for weeks. She wanted some "real food" and, of course, expected him to get it for her. Since he didn't want to hunt and slaughter wild animals nor touch their hens, he had offered to go fishing, which resulted in rather mixed reactions. After a heated discussion, whether or not fish was "real food", he actually won with the argument that it would be either that or they would have to go to catch and eat insects soon.

So now, packed with some gathered equipment and an instruction book, Shinji made his way to a lake outside of Tokyo-3, followed by the clamoring Asuka. He wanted to avoid the Ashi Lakes, which were flooded by the now LCL-filled sea. Thus, he chose to try his luck at one quite a bit away from the city, placed in the picturesque landscape in which he had wandered around after his fight with the 4th Angel.

"...and don't expect me to clean it, you hear me?"

He stopped and let his shoulders drop in a silent sigh. "Asuka, why did you even come with me?"

"So you don't like my company?" she asked menacing, as she stepped closer to him.

"No... I-I mean... I..."

The redhead's cold stare cracked soon at his stammering and she erupted in laughter.
"You should have seen your face!" she chuckled as she took a few steps back again. "But I'm afraid, I have to burst your little bubble; I'm not here because I'd miss you when I'd be alone or something. It's just that I want to take the opportunity to go swimming once again." Winking, she flashed him a glimpse of a red and white strap on her shoulder under the T-shirt. "Besides school, I hadn't any chance to since that one time at the NERV swimming pool. Not to mention that the last weeks had been much too hot for my taste."

Shinji quickly averted his gaze in hope that she wouldn't notice how red his face had become. Her bikini; the memory of the scene at the pool and the mentioning of the heat reminded him mainly on one thing: thermal expansion...


A few minutes later, they arrived at the pond. Some of the trees that surrounded it had been bent sideways by the shockwave of the Third Impact; two had been uprooted completely. The water, however, glittered in the sunlight as if nothing had ever happened.

Soon enough, Shinji found a spot from where he wanted to try his luck. As he sat down and fumbled around to attach the pieces of the rod together, he heard a few rustling noises somewhere behind him.

'Asuka must be undressing...' His head went beet red again at the thought. Granted, she wasn't going to be naked, since she already wore the bikini under her clothes, but still...
'No "Don't peek!"? Maybe... No! ... But...'

His thoughts were interrupted by a loud splash. It was then that he noticed that he was currently trying to connect the first and the last part of the rod.

Meanwhile, his female companion made a few strokes and let herself drift backwards.

"Hey, baka, why don't you give your futile attempt to prove some semi-manliness up and come swimming a few rounds too? The water's just right!"

"I... Icannotswim..." he mumbled.

"What was that?"

"I said... that... I cannot swim!" he grumbled.

"You cannot what?" she shouted bewildered, stopping her backwards movement in surprise.

"If humans were made to swim, they'd have gills!"

"Oh, come on, even babies can do it! It's actually just a matter of will. You just need some moti..."

"Asuka, if you make so much noise and movements around here, there won't be any fish to bite for sure!"

"Great, now I'm your excuse for your incompetence! Fine! I'll be over there!"

"Fine!"

"Fine!"


*********


Asuka watched her companion from the distance. Where did that idiot get such spine? Who would have known that it just needed something he was scared of for him to show some of it? But not with her! How did he dare to cut her off and send her away?! If he wanted to or not; by all of what was left of her pride, she would get him into the water now for sure, even if she had to swallow some of her dignity at another end! And after all, it would be for his own good. He just needed the right motivation...

She waited for quite a while and made some rounds, before she decided to pull of her plan. Swimming back to the place where he was fishing, she noticed that he had actually been successful. Even though the fish he was just looking at was laughable small, it would be enough to prove her wrong and rub it in her face. But he wouldn't dare to do that once she was finished with him. As soon as she was...

"Aaahhh!" Her scream and wild splashing surely caught his attention.

"What is it, Asuka?"

"I-I don't know! I..." Water flooded her mouth and cut her off as her head sank under the surface. Only after some hectic, uncoordinated strokes, she managed to get up again. "My-my legs. Must be... cramp..."

"That-that's not very funny, Asuka!" Shinji looked really frightened now. He had dropped the fishing rod and stood at the edge of the shore; his hand clenching and unclenching.

"I'm not..." Asuka coughed and spat some more water as she went under again. "I'm not joking!"

She barely held herself over the water by now. The last she saw was that he was knee-deep into the water. The time seemed to slow down for her as she sank again, watching the surface drifting further and further away. She wasn't sure if she should be worried or glad to know that it would be most likely for the last time...

But these thoughts were immediately interrupted, when something broke through the water, getting a grip on her wrist. She was pulled back to the air.

Shinji may paddled rather clumsily, splashing around with his arm and legs, but: she was safe. Crawling onto the shore, he coughed up and spat a lot of water; seemingly more than she did herself.

Once he caught his breath a bit, he leant over to her apparently unconscious form, grabbing her lightly at shoulders.

"Asuka?" he asked hopefully, slightly shaking her. "ASUKA?"

Weakly grinning, she cracked her eyes open.

"See?" she taunted. "I knew I'd get you into the water. 'Invincible Shinji' just needs a damsel in distress to get of his ass."

"This... this was just a trick after all...?"

"Meh! Of course it was! Did you really think I'd need your help to get out of that shallow water?" she told him; maybe with more venom in her voice than intended. But just as she tried to get up; his grip at her shoulders increased painfully as he pushed her forcefully back on the ground. "Ah! What the...?" she screamed, but was silenced when she saw the look in his tearstained eyes; full of worry and hurt, but mostly of so much anger that it actually scared her.

"Asuka!" he hissed. "You can tease me, you can hit me, but don't... don't ever do that again!"

Asuka was awestruck. What had she done to cause this in him? She had just played a trick on him, and this time not even for his bad. She just had acted as if she was drowning... as if she would...

Her eyes widened as she understood what she had done to him. Yet she couldn't bring herself up to find the right words for an excuse. All she could do was to nod, so he would let her go.

On their way back home, neither spoke a word and even after they had arrived they remained eerily silent.

He didn't sleep next to her that night.

It was cold.



**************************



"I'm home."

A chill went down her spine at the hollow sound of his voice. That incident at the lake had been a few days ago, but the mood between them had barely changed yet. And it was really starting to bother Asuka.

He was avoiding her; refused to talk to her unless necessary or out of habit. And when he did, his repellent behavior gave little doubt who's son he was. And the nights were hardly better. That bed was just too big for her alone.

It was almost as though she was living with a ghost: You know someone is there, somewhere; an eerie presence walking through your home, but stays out of your grasp.

Well, it was going on long enough – she was going to settle this once and for all. So she took a deep breath and set up her softest smile, before she went to meet Shinji in the kitchen where he just put his new catch on the drainboard of the steel sink.

"Hi," she greeted in an overly honeyed tone.

But he didn't answer, didn't turn around to her – didn't acknowledged her presence at all. Asuka forced her eyes from twitching and kept the smile up.

"Hey, you got a bigger one this time!"

But again her attempts to show good will were met with a mere grunt as he washed his hands. "Yeah."

Her cutie-facade dropped with an angry sigh. Even in his worst times, he hadn't been so unresponsive, so... cold. In fact, he – they – had opened up in the last few weeks. After that one big talk, it had seemed surprisingly easy to talk freely about topics that neither would have dared to touch before. They had talked about their past, their lives; the time before and also the time since they've met each other, their parents... she had actually told him about her mother. Not about her death and who had found her lifeless body hanging from the ceiling. Not yet. They obviously still kept some secrets from each other – but it was enough to get a glimpse through a crack in the shells that they had built up around themselves. And that hadn't been achieved by profound talks and analysis, but something that had happened very rarely before: casual conversation.

And Asuka had to admit that she was starting to miss that.

Just because the idiot couldn't take a stupid joke...
Really, who was he to judge?! He had done much worse to her! Making her feel obsolete! Abandoning her! That ugly thing in the hospital! Trying to kill her!
She really had good reasons to mope, but was she? No, she did her best to get along, because they needed to. Because it felt better that way...

But the anger she tried to focus on did little to let her forget about the guilt that was wrenching her stomach whenever she saw him.

If he would threaten to leave her alone in this empty world, she wasn't sure if she would ever be able to forgive him either...

"Listen," she spoke low, but firmly, crossing her arms under her chest. "I'm not going to say that I'm sorry for what I did..."

She could see him tensing, but otherwise, he didn't react.

"I did it to do you a favor. And, yes, also because I thought it'd be funny. I admit that I may didn't think it out well enough." She bit her lip, as if it was a last attempt to keep the upcoming words in. But they had to get out. "So... so I'm sorry that I hurt you..."

Asuka drew her arms closer around herself as she waited for an answer from his stiff form. Feeling the urge to tap her feet, she realized she was actually nervous to hear his reply. Could he really want them to drift apart like this?

"Come on," she tried once more. "Let's just forget about that little incident and get back on the way we were going. Okay?"

And finally, he turned around. He looked tired himself, Asuka noticed, but she couldn't tell whether he had shared her troubles to find sleep or if he was just as tired of this "act".

"You know," Shinji started and a very slight smile appeared on his lips, "If you wanted me to share your bed again, you could have just asked..."

She couldn't help but smile – an honest smile this time – not just at his not even shabby attempt at teasing, but also out of relief. "You wish, hentai," she said in mock anger and turned to leave with an exaggerated huff.

But just before she was out of the door, she quietly added, just loud enough for him to hear: "You better don't start snoring though."





*******************************





Life was returning to normal. At least as normal as it was for the only two humans on earth.

Shinji went back to the lake now and then, and actually got a hang on catching the bigger fishes, so they had at least some variety in their meals. Asuka developed a somewhat surprising interest for the garden and even the animals. She had actually shooed him away sometimes with the argument that he might ruin the whole growing process. Not that there was any proof yet, who of them actually had a 'greener thumb' than the other, or if both would even end up starving on much too small harvests. That would still take a while to see...





*******************************





Where was that idiot?

He had been out to go fishing for several hours by now. But that wasn't the problem.

The periods of sun and heat were often disturbed by heavy showers of rain. Lately they were growing worse; wind and thunder turned them often into a full-grown storm. But it was seldom as bad as that day.

The rain had started about an hour ago and grown worse and worse since then. It didn't show any signs of decreasing, quite the contrary. And he was still out there.

That idiot.

Asuka forced herself to get away from the window. What had she been looking for anyway? She had never waited for him, so why should she start with that now? And it wasn't like he would actually go through that rain; he had most likely taken cover somewhere and waited till it ceased. Besides, there was no way that anything could have happened. He had said that he wouldn't leave her.

She grimaced as she realized how silly that reason was. But still, there was no way that anything could...

But what if...?

No, it can't...

But...

"Argh! Damn it!"

With that she rushed to get her jacket and shoes on and ran out into the storm.


*********


When she finally reached the lake, he was nowhere to be seen. She tried to ignore the tiny voice in her head, which kept on telling her that he might have went in too far for whatever reason and now lay drowned in the currently unsteady water. The voice eased a bit when she went around the shore without finding any signs of his fishing-utensils.

'But that wasn't much,' the voice continued.'It may have been blown away by this wind.'

She wondered where these thoughts came from. But even more so she wondered how they could have so much power over her. Shivers went down her spine and they didn't necessarily come from the cold.

Maybe he had went for the city and found shelter there. That must be it. Must be...


*********


She cursed as she stepped into another puddle. There were hundreds of them in these ruins, the whole ground was a sludgy mixture of dirt and debris. And the rain and growing darkness made it hard to see. If at least the city lights would still be working. Or better said: If only they would still stand.

Her head dropped as she let out a sigh. How on earth was she supposed to find that Baka in this huge, scattered area without even being able to see?

"SHINJI!!"

Where had this come from?

"SHIIIN-JIII?"

Again. Damn, this was so embarrassing!

Why? There was no one to hear it...

Besides Shinji...

"DAMN IT, SHINJI! IT'S GETTING LATE! YOU'LL STILL HAVE TO MAKE MY DINNER!"

Better...

But still no answer...

"Damn it..." she cursed silently.

But still no answer...


*********


She had searched for almost four hours. The storm had barley ceased and the night was drawing near.

She wouldn't find him in the combined darkness.

The rain had totally drenched her by now; the jacket hadn't been much of help to keep her clothes dry; her soaked hair clutched at her face. A few drops of water trailed down her cheeks as well. Only slowly, she made her way... no, she retreated home. She hated having to retreat.

She looked up as their house came into view. It looked almost peaceful with the cozy light, shining out the windows, so warm, so welcoming, so... like home...
Who knew if it could ever be again...?

'Wait a moment,' Asuka suddenly wondered, 'I didn't turn the lights on...'

Without further thinking, she hurried to the house, tore the door open and almost collided with...

"Shi... Shinji?"

"My God, Asuka, where have you been? You're completely soaked!"

"Wha... Where were you?"

"Me? I was checking the glasshouse when the storm broke loose. I've wanted to wait till it eased to get over here. But when it didn't, I eventually ran over after about... Asuka, you really should get into some dry clothes, that can't be healthy!"

Asuka didn't move however. She kept her head down; the soaked, dripping hair covering most her face from his view. Both her fists clenched tightly and her voice was trembling with anger.

"I was out there, for four hours, searching for you, and you are here ALL THE TIME?!!"

Her sudden leap forward startled Shinji and he flinched at the expected blow. The more he was stunned, when her arms flew around him, drawing him into a surprisingly tight embrace.

"You stupid idiot!" she muffled with a cracked voice into his shoulder. "If you do something stupid like that again, I'll personally kill you!"

"You... you were really worried about me?"

"I... I just... ah, shut up, Baka!" she huffed and pulled away from him. "I hope you have at least dinner ready! If it's good I may overlook the fact that you haven't searched for me..."

A pang of guilt hit him as she spoke that last sentence in a disappointed rather than menacing tone.

Still...
He couldn't help but smile...



**************************



"This is all your fault, you know?" Asuka greeted him hoarsely, trying to sit up in her bed as he entered her room, carrying a tablet with a bowl of hot soup.

"I'm..." He was cut off when the redhead gave him a warning glare. Or at least, she did what came closest to that, due to her current status. But her puffy eyes and red nose just didn't make her as menacing as she might intended to be.
He sighed. "Well, it was my fault that you went out in that storm and caught a cold..." he admitted as he placed the tablet on her lap, careful not to spill anything.

"It won't get better from your apologies! You don't need to blame yourself constantly. I can handle that for you very well!"

She giggled at her joke, but her laughs quickly changed into coughs; the sudden rocking movement sending drops of the soup over the edge of the dish onto the tray.

"You better eat, as long as there's still something in the bowl."

Asuka nodded, then took the spoon and shoved the soup directly in her mouth.
Her eyes widened in shock and pain as the insides of her mouth made contact with the unexpected temperature.

"AAAHHH! IT'S HOT! Damn it! Can't you cook without heat?"

"I'm so... Uh... It-it will help you to get better."

She responded to that with a smirk, but obviously decided not argue anymore. A smile formed on his face, while he watched her spooning the rest of the soup without further complains, though pursing her lips for a cooling blow every so often.

"Well, how are you feeling?" he asked, when she finished the last drop.

"Better. So, can I get out of the bed again?"

Shinji chuckled inwardly. She had asked him that constantly, ever since he had sent her with a lot of argumentation and reasoning to bed so she could recover. But Asuka wasn't a person who could just lie in bed for days without anything to do. And she most likely hadn't considered that he wouldn't be around her the whole time and not even spent the night next to her, when they agreed that they should do their best not to get him infected as well.

He took a step forward and gently placed a hand on her forehead.

"Your fever has gone down, but you still have some temperature. You should stay here for a while."

"Oh great," she smirked. "Know what? Since you're such a dutiful doctor, you'll be responsible for the main medical care from now on!"

"Wha-? You're just too lazy to learn all that theoretical stuff, aren't you? And what if I get sick?"

"No protest here! That was an order, Ikari!" she mocked.

"Oh, very well..." he sighed in defeat. "But as 'doctor', I'll tell you to stay in bed and get some sleep."

"Okay, okay..."

He was ready to leave the room as she snuggled back under the sheets, but something held him in place. Something he still had to settle.

"Asuka..."

"Hmm?"

"I... I still haven't thanked you that you went out there to look for me. That... that you actually cared for my well-being..."

"I..." She quickly turned her slightly blushing head to avert his gaze. "I just don't want to live here all alone. I-it would be too boring without any company. I... that... it had nothing to do with you in particular, understand?"

"Yeah," he said a bit disappointed. But he wouldn't let either of them back out. Not his time.
Asuka's eyes widened as he suddenly got hold of her hand.

"But thanks anyway..." he concluded, leaning closer to her face.

It wasn't really a kiss. More like a small peck on the lips.
But this surprisingly bold move of him was more than enough to make her speechless for a moment, in which he slowly stood up, took the tray and went for the door.

"Baka," she managed to mutter at last, causing him to freeze in the doorframe. "You might've got yourself infected now..."

He smiled. "That... would've been worth it..." he assured as he went out and closed the door behind him.

"Baka..." Asuka whispered once more, closing her eyes to sleep. Still feeling his touch.


On the other side of the door, Shinji's quivering legs finally gave out and with a sigh of relief, he slumped down, leaning back against the wall. He panted for air after holding his breath without really noticing, while having acted as cool as he could. Yet, he smiled broadly.

"Well, she didn't hit me..."





*******************************





"Well, FUCK YOU!"

Full of anger, she turned and would have stormed towards her room, if she wouldn't have been held back by her roommate.

"What? What is it, Asuka?" Shinji asked bewildered.

" 'What is it'??" she snapped at him, freeing her arm forcefully from his grasp. "You just said that you loved her! I-I thought, you..." she cut herself off, looking away again.

He sighed. So that was it. He should have known that this would cause problems some day. He should have told her this much earlier.
"You don't understand. I loved her, but not like that. Aya... Rei, she was... a clone... of my mother..."

"She... was your mother?!?" Her eyes went wide as she realized what this seemed to implicate. "That's... that's sick!"

"No. Even if she was made from my mother, she... she was still her own person. She was just... I dunno... like my mother, if you know what I mean. I guess that's why I liked to be with her. I somehow felt... safe. And I wanted her to be... happy... But you know; I'm not very good at that..."

"I still think it's sick! Lusting after your mother..."

"I'm not! I said; it wasn't like that," he tried to defend himself. "I... Argh! I should have known that you wouldn't understand it! You would even misunderstand that with Kaworu! He..." Shinji stopped himself, regretting what he had let slip the very moment the words left his mouth.

"K-Kaworu?" As expected, her anger was temporally replaced with confusion. "H-he?! You-you were...?!? A... a boy?"

"Ye... No... I mean... it's not like that! He... he was the last Angel..."

"The last...? So he had some kind of power that made everyone fall in love with him or what?"

"No..."

"Then, presuming, that you aren't naturally after your enemy or your own gender, how did he make you fall for him?"

"I didn't fall..." he began to protest, but the words escaped him. "He... he said that he loved me..."

"That's all? Someone comes along, says he loves you and you love him back for that? Is it that easy to gain your love?"

"I... I don't know..."

"Well, then... I... I..." she mumbled hesitantly, as though she was searching for the right words or fighting to get them out. But then she just glared back at him. "I can't believe it! But that was always your problem, wasn't it? You were never able to bring yourself up to tell someone how you feel, but always waiting for someone to show kindness to you. So you fall for those, no matter who or what it is, no matter how much truth is in their words! But... but what, if there is someone who loves you honestly, but isn't able to do the first step either? You would never see it, would you? I guess women's hearts are still too hard for you to understand..."

"Maybe... Maybe not..." he whispered as she slammed the door to her room shut behind her. "But I guess you're right..."





*******************************





Love...
What was love anyway?

People always said you would know that it's love, once you feel it. But in the end, they still had other people from which they could get advise or could compare to.

But what if there weren't other people? Who could judge if you were in love or if you'd just experience a crush on someone; if you just think you are in love?


Shinji could hear his bedmate nervously shifting around behind him, sometimes inhaling air, as if she wanted to speak up, but then stayed silent. She had been like that the last few days; anxious and speaking to him only in short, cut-off sentences, as if she was trying to say something and struggled to get it out.

"You..." she suddenly began, "you know that I love you, don't you?"

Whatever it was; if there was no one left, wasn't it up to them to decide? They could make their own definition if necessary. If he had the strongest feeling he could imagine to have for another person; one that fills your heart with joy whenever you be with, see, or even just think of that person; when you miss the one already the moment the person leaves the room; when you would do everything to keep this one happy; was there anyone to tell him that he couldn't call it love?

He smiled. "I know. As sure as I love you too..."



**************************



One would think that once two people admit their love to each other, they would be happily spending the whole time with each other; enjoying every second of the other's company.

Yet, the following days, Asuka and Shinji seemed to live on as if nothing had happened; at least at first sight. But at a closer look, one would notice that they actually even did their best to avoid each other. Most of the time they would spend in their respective rooms, or Asuka would be in the garden while Shinji did some cleaning in the house, or he would go fishing, or she would go to the city for supplies, or...

During the little time they spent together, they would barely speak and if they did, it was only about casual things, avoiding the big topic at all costs. They would only exchange some shy glances that were quickly averted, as though it was a forbidden thing that you just can't resist to do.

Both knew that it was rather ridiculous; both knew already that the other felt the same way, so why this almost laughable behavior? What was it that they still feared?

The closeness?
They had been close to each other already for the last few months, mentally and at least sometimes also physically. Even though especially the latter one had never really been (intentionally) beyond that of friends. But wasn't to go further than that also a part of what they wanted?

Of being hurt again?
Both had shown and assured that they wouldn't hurt the other intentionally. Of course there was a not to be underestimated risk that it would happen unintentionally sooner or later. But wasn't it a small risk compared to what it was worth?

The new, unknown nature of this situation?
But didn't they want to explore it together?

"Damn it! This is ridiculous!" Asuka muttered, shoving her just emptied plate over the table.

"Huh? What is?" Shinji asked bewildered as he reached for it, so he could clean the dishes. But his hand was stopped, when she gently laid hers on it.

"This..." she said, entwining her fingers with his, "I meant this..."

Looking up into his eyes, she knew that he didn't really understood.

"Come with me..." She went for the living room, tugging Shinji behind, who was still unsure what she intended. There, she lead him towards the couch and sat down, pulling him down to do the same. She shifted around to face him and took his other hand as well.

"Shinji, what... what I said that night... I-I really meant it." She paused to look up to his eyes. "I love you."

"I... I know," he assured smiling, his cheeks slightly blushing. "I... I love you too."

"Then, why don't we act like people who are in love? Why are we even avoiding each other?"

"We... I..." he stammered, as if he never really thought about it before. Then he shook his head. "I don't know..."

"Then, why don't we...?" She didn't finish her question.

The time seemed to freeze in that moment, when her lips made contact with his.

Neither moved or made a noise. They just sat there, eyes closed, their hands intertwined; just enjoying the warmth of the other; the light, precious touch of their lips, as if it was their very first kiss.

No, this was their first kiss! The small peck Shinji had given her when she was ill showed his care and that he was thankful for hers, which she had shown before by searching for him; but it hadn't been like this.
And the kiss before...
Back then, she had hated that she wanted it; hated that she enjoyed it. That she had tried to convince her egocentric self that it wasn't meant to be a honest, longing kiss, just something to kill time and mock him by clamping his nose shut, hadn't helped either; quite the contrary. It was just so he wouldn't be able to like it, just as she couldn't allow herself to. The moment she had run to the bathroom, she had regretted it more than anything before; for one that she had been so weak to allow herself to kiss him of all people; on the other side that neither of them had done something to make it last, to make it a real kiss. She didn't know which feeling she had hated most.

But this time, there was no need to regret anything; they were free to enjoy, to love it. And so they did until the lack of air made itself aware, forcing them to part, slightly panting.

"That is something people should do when they're in love!" she exclaimed giddily.

He nodded, serenely smiling, before he let go of her hands and brought one of his quivering own up to tenderly cup her cheek. In a (at least for him) surprisingly bold move, he drew her lips back to his; daring to kiss her now with more passion than before.
Not that she minded. The urge to feel as much as possible of him rose to the point where she flung her arms around his neck, just as his found their way around her waist; pulling each other closer and closer into the kiss. She could feel an unknown longing emitting from him; a heat that was feared and welcomed the same time. For once, she let him leading the direction; he opened his mouth and hers followed, he... was that his tongue against hers? She was startled for a moment, but didn't stop; she let the stimulation overwhelm her instead, returning the newfound play of their tongues. But way too soon, they would have to part again.

"I see you're a fast learner," she complimented a bit dizzily. "May-maybe even a bit too fast. And while we're at it: where did you learn to kiss like that?"

His smile dropped suddenly and he averted her gaze as he went bright red. "Mi-Misato..."

"Mi... WHAT?"

"It... it was just before she... before she died. She called it an 'adult's kiss'. She... gave me this kind of kiss and said that we... would... do the rest, when I'd come back. We both knew that she wouldn't live that long. Thinking back, I'm not sure if she wanted to tell me that I was old enough to make the right decision, or if she wanted to show me that there are people who love me after all. But back then it just confused me even more and made the moment of her death much more painful to me..."

The first pang of jealousy she had initially felt was quickly subsided by honest compassion for the boy who was grieving about the death of their former guardian. The usually cheerful, yet somewhat sloppy woman had meant a lot to her as well. Even if they had their conflicts, Misato had always at least tried to be a friend. But to Shinji, she had been even more. She had been the first to show care for him, the first he had opened up to. She had been the first that was... almost like a mother.

Asuka brought her hand up to gently caress his cheek. Like that, she could lift his watering eyes up to lock with hers again. So she could do something else that people do for someone they love.

"It's okay," she said with a reassuring smile.





*******************************





On first sight, it seemed as if their life didn't change much as it went on. Their daily chores were done as always; learning, eating, working; there was no obvious change in that during the following weeks and months.

But at a closer look one would see the differences. And it wasn't just the occasional kissing or other physical contact (which still wasn't as frequent as it had most likely been with other couples – especially in their situation). But after they managed to openly admit their feelings, it was as though a weight was lifted from their shoulders; one they hadn't even known had been there.

If it hadn't been for the fact that they were the only people on earth, they could live the life of a more or less typical teenage couple that explored that thing called love for their first time.





*******************************





Sweat trailed down his forehead. His breath was ragged. Once again he looked at the gorgeous redhead in front of him, waiting for him to make his move. His mind was racing.
How had it come to this? Why had he agreed to this? Well, most likely because a part of him actually wanted to do it. But still, this was so soon...

"Eh... anemia...?"

"Almost!"

"Ap-lastic anemia...?"

"Well, I'll let that pass," Asuka said, making a check next to that question on her list.

They made these tests now and then to see if their studying was actually worth its effort. It would be quite useless if they had to go search in their books every time they needed a certain information. Shinji's tests in his medical studies, as today's, were even more important to this, in case he had to use his knowledge in a critical moment. Of course, neither of them expected him to become a doctor in a few months; that he would be able to learn this huge variety of information in such little time, where others studied over several years, usually even while specializing to one partition.

Instead, he would focus on those issues that they were more likely to be confronted with. He also made himself pretty clear that he wouldn't do anything that required anesthetization or surgery if it could be avoided, as it was much too risky in his opinion.

"Okay, next question: What measurements are to be taken in case of a sunstroke?"

"Eh..."

"Oh come on, that's an easy one. Even I know that!"

He gulped. Of course, she learned some as well, just like he did with her assignments, in case the one wouldn't be able to fulfill his chores due to illness or other reasons. But it was still embarrassing that the answer seemed to escape him.

"I... ehm..." he stammered as he stepped closer and nervously leaned over to her, "I... love you...?"

"Nice answer," she said and smiling looked up to him, but then stopped his relived advance to kiss her by bringing her hand between them, "But not the right one!"

"Ohh, but... eh... it was..."

Why had he agreed to this...?





*******************************





Something that had quickly become an regular thing since they moved in were the evenings they'd spend watching TV. Of course, there wasn't anything being broadcasted anymore, but at least one of the Yamaderas had been quite a collector of video tapes and DVDs.

What at first had just been another way to kill time had by now become a nice opportunity for some cuddling. Especially if they watched a romantic movie like that evening.

It was one of those rather mediocre western flicks that always worked after the same scheme: He meets her; they fall in love; some problem threatens their relationship (usually some kind of misunderstanding involving a rival), but in the end, they get each other anyway.

Right now, "He" walked "Her" home after a date. Back at her apartment, she asked him if he wanted to come in for a coffee and he agreed. They went in, they started kissing... and undressing...
and...

Shinji quickly averted his gaze from the screen, brightly blushing. Asuka giggled and gave him a little nudge as she noticed his reaction.

"Baka, that movie is rated PG-13. You don't really get to see anything. See? It's already over."

He felt her leaning back against his shoulder, sighing. He knew it was rather silly that he still reacted like this, especially regarding his experience with – usually unintentional – intimate encounters with Rei, Misato and particularly with Asuka. But those had increased his nervousness about such situations rather than lessened it. And now, having the object of his desire in his arms didn't help much to ease it. Even being "officially" together now for a while, he still didn't even dare to touch her anywhere "inappropriate". But he wouldn't be able to run from it forever; if their relationship kept going on as now... sooner or later, they would go further...

"You know, Shinji? It's kinda sad that we can't do something like that..."

...but that soon??

"Eh... uh... I-if y-y-you w-want to... I mean... well... w-we could... technically..."

"Hmm? What are you stammering about?"

"W-well, it's a-a bit sudden, you know? I mean, we didn't do much more than kissing, but i-if you want to do... eh... 'more' already..."

"Baka-hentai!" she scolded, blushing herself as she understood what he was implying. "I wasn't talking about this disgusting stuff!"

"Oh..." He sounded a bit disappointed. "So you never thought about... 'it'?"

"Eh... I..." Asuka stammered, her face now matching the color of her hair. Of course she had thought about it; more than one time she had found it hard not to let her hormones take control, telling her to go further with every kiss and every touch. But she couldn't let it happen yet.

Or could she...?

"Ehm, what I wanted to say was that it's sad that we can't go out for a dinner or to the cinema or a festival or something. You know? Normal things like that..."

He nodded, gratefully letting her change the embarrassing topic.

'Something normal?' he reflected, when she returned her attention back to the screen.

A broad smile found its way on his lips as an idea was formed in his mind.




****************************




Asuka lay restlessly in her bed. The latest events on that evening; the sore feelings in her stomach that they had caused, didn't let her come to sleep.

They always had some quarrels; admitting their love to each other hadn't changed that very much. But she couldn't remember an argument that had been as bad as the one that evening.

What had started it? She didn't even remember that. Just that it had been his fault. And that it ended with both yelling at each other.

And now she had to be alone again; cold and alone with feelings of regret and guilt. Why couldn't he just say he's sorry as always and they would...

Asuka frowned on that thought.
Why couldn't she just say she's sorry? That stupid pride, it was still there after all. Hadn't she promised herself not to let it gain upper hand again? And now look at what it might cost her.

Fear crept into the mix of feelings; fear that this might ruin everything between them, that he might... even leave her...

The thought of being all alone frightened her enough to bolt up. As much as she dreaded a lasting repetition of the days after that lake incident months ago, not to be as close as they were anymore was better as long as he would at least be there.

No. She would go and apologize. Even if it was his fault. Then again, had it been at all? He had said something and she retorted... or rather snapped back? However, it had gone downwards from there.

Slowly, she crawled out of the from her sleepless tossing disheveled bed and went to the door of her room. A deep breath; then she opened it... to hear a similar noise from the other end of the corridor. Even through the darkness of the night, Shinji's eyes locked with hers as they stepped closer to each other.

"I just..." they said at once; not leaving the simultaneous opening of the doors as the only reminiscence of their synch-training.
"- Go ahead! -
- No, you! -
- Okay, I... -"

They both stopped, as this seemingly didn't work, and fumbled for the right words (that wouldn't be used by the other the exact same moment). Seconds passed in which they wouldn't do anything besides looking at the other, opening their mouth and closing it again, until, eventually, they gave up. And instead locked their lips in a kiss that was saying enough.

Apparently, she still wouldn't lose her problems with apologizing today. But maybe it was just like what she always told him.

Maybe she just didn't need to...




****************************




Shinji smiled to himself as he made his way home through the ruins of the destroyed city. Most preparations were done for the big day. Or should it be "normal" day?
The rest, he would have to finish somehow shortly before, when Asuka was out. After all, it was supposed to be a – hopefully pleasant – surprise.

Suddenly, he was blinded by something on the ground; shining in the sunlight.
Despite his first intention to shrug it off as a shard of glass, he took a closer look at the object.

As he picked it up and carefully cleaned it from the dust, his previous smile grew even wider.

Maybe there would be an even bigger day after all.




****************************




Asuka slowly awoke to a new morning. As she cracked her eyes open, she couldn't help but smile, seeing Shinji still sleeping next to her. He looked too cute with his ruffled hair, his faint snoring, his... hand on her breast? She blushed as she was suddenly aware of the light pressure.

Sleeping in one bed almost naturally caused some "incidents" like this. All of them had been accompanied by heavy blushing, stuttered excuses and, before they had declared their feelings to each other, a lot of cursing and painful slapping that Shinji received.

Instinctively, Asuka got hold of his hand to take it away, before he would wake up. But then she halted.

'To be honest, it doesn't feel all that bad.'

Her eyes quickly wandered to his shifting head.

'And shouldn't this be another normal thing between people in love?'

His mouth opened and closed a few times as if he was tasting the morning.

'But we are always like this, aren't we? When we cuddle or kiss, his hands never move away from my hips or my back and I'm not much bolder myself. I mean, I even watch out that there isn't too much contact between our chests. And even after all this time, whenever we accidentally touch the other somewhere intimate, we both still blush and break apart immediately...'

He stirred.

'Maybe we could...'

Though the moment he began to open his eyes, she hastily took his hand off of her.

'Obviously not...'

"Good Morning," he greeted her with a smile that she weakly returned.

"Morning." She leaned down and kissed him, trying to forget her thoughts.
"You know what?" She grinned as she ran her hand over his cheek, brushing against some faint stubble. "I think you need to start shaving."

"Eh?" He mirrored her previous movement. "Well, I wanted to go to the city anyway. I guess I could look for a razor then."

She frowned at his announcement. "You've been going to the city quite often lately. What are you doing there anyway?"

He just smiled as he sat up. "You'll see once everything's ready..."




****************************




"A... date?"

"Yeah! So, are you coming?"

"No! What are you thinking? You can't expect a girl to go with you on a date the second you ask her!"

"Oh... I..." His face dropped visibly disappointed; the shy, hopeful smile that had been there since he approached her disappeared in an instant.

"You have to give her at least the time to dress up," Asuka quickly added smiling; leaned over to give him a peck on the cheek.

No matter what happened, it was still fun to tease him a bit now and then. And if the result of that was to see him smile even brighter than before, the better it was.
Even though she had no idea what he had planned; it surely was what he had worked on the whole time when he went out the last days. What he had worked on for her.
Did he really expect her to throw all his efforts into the trash? As if she hadn't showed enough that she changed at least that much. That silly, little baka...

"I'll be right back," she told him with a wink and hurried into her room.


*********


The "right back" turned out to be about one hour. And actually, he didn't see much difference than that she changed into her favorite yellow dress. Not that it mattered to him. She looked as beautiful as always.

During the car ride, Asuka was excited like a small child that went to the fair; no matter how hard she tried to hide it.

Finally, they arrived at their first stop. Half of the building that seemed to have been a cinema was crushed by a large piece of the debris from its neighbor. But besides this destruction, it had been the only one that Shinji could find with at least one hall still intact, even though they had to climb over several scattered boulders to get there (which was commented by a slightly annoyed Asuka, whether he'd taken her to date or an adventure-tour). Another plus was that the projector that he had managed to power up (after a bit of altering) with some car-batteries, was a newer, digital model that was able to play DVDs. That didn't only give Shinji the possibility to bring a romantic movie that they had at home, but he also didn't have to go there and change the reels several times. Like this, they were able to enjoy the movie without any disturbances.

Not that they got much of the film, as they were busier with "other activities". Shinji couldn't help but feel reminded of the couple he had watched in a cinema many months before, even though they weren't nearly as wild as those two. Yet he remembered how much he had wished to have someone too; someone to be close to like that.

As it seemed, some wishes would be granted after all...


*********


"I think I'll recommend this restaurant. The food is great!"

Shinji smiled sheepishly. "You don't mind that I only heated it here? It would be much better if I had the time to prepare it here freshly..."

"Oh, come on," Asuka half-groaned, half-pleaded; waiving her filled fork around, "this is the best you've made in a long time!"

"Thanks..." he mumbled, but not without a hint of pride at the compliment.

Since he didn't eat very much, he couldn't really judge himself. He was too busy just watching her. The dim candlelight seemed to make her even more beautiful as she was sitting there opposite to him; her sparkling eyes reflecting the small flame whenever she looked up to him while bringing the fork up to her lovely lips...

The restaurant had been their next stop. It was still in a good shape, without any visible damage to the building. Only the interior had been slightly damaged when he had found it, but it hadn't been a problem to find a table and two chairs for them. As he hadn't wanted to leave her sitting alone here while he was cooking, he had prepared their meals at home and just used the gas stove to heat it.

"And what are you staring at?"

Her sudden call snapped him back to reality.

"Eh... I was just thinking how beautiful you are in this light," he confessed honestly.

"So you think I'm ugly when there's more light to see properly?" Asuka mock-pouted.

"Of course not!" he blurted. His shoulders dropped down in shame. "Am I still that bad with these compliments?"

"No, but it seems you'll never learn to realize when I'm just messing with you," the redhead giggled, a faint blush actually still visible at closer look. "And after all, you have good reason to compliment me. I wouldn't dress up like that if I'd went to a date with someone I don't like."

"Yeah, I remember. That time you went out with that guy Hikari had set you up with, you had this high-necked green dress."

"What? Are you saying that I usually run around like a slut?"

"Eh... No! I-I just meant it was, eh... unusual..." Shinji tried not to panic. "You just seem to prefer more... uhm...loose-fitting clothes, like, well, like that yellow dress." He pointed at the garment she was wearing. "I mean, you really seem to like that one, don't you?"

"Yeah. It had been a present for my birthday..." she trailed off and her eyes gained a distant look. "...from Kaji..."

Shinji gulped. This wasn't the direction he had wanted to lead this conversation to.
"Hey, it's... it's okay. I understand. He already meant very much to me; he had been more of a father to me than my own. But to you... I mean, you knew him much longer and you had quite a crush on..."

"No!" He was firmly cut off. "He... he was much more than a crush..."

"Huh?" A sudden shock of fear and disappointment hit him. Did she mean...? She couldn't... could she? "So, after all, I'm just his subs..."

"No!" she quickly blurted. "No. It wasn't the same as it is with us. It was..." She sighed, fumbling for the right words.
"After my mother died, I was practically raised by NERV. Despite living with them, my father never really cared much about me, and my stepmother was 'almost afraid of me', as she said it. So I was mostly in custody by someone from NERV; send from one guardian to another. But those were the same; only when I got good grades or even more so when I was good in training, I got praise. Even Misato wasn't much better..."

"Misato?"

"Yes, don't you remember? She had been my guardian awhile once before. Looking back, I'd say she most likely still had her own problems dwelling on her mind, but I guess it were those differences between her behavior then and when I came here that made me think she preferred you." Shinji nodded understanding, but didn't interrupt her.

"Anyway, what I wanted to say was: On one side no one treated me like a child, but on the other didn't really accept me as an adult.
And then Kaji appeared. He was different than the others; he didn't look down on me, neither did he try to avoid me. For the first time, I had the feeling that I could simply let myself go.

"And... well... there was something else..." Asuka continued with a small, sad smile. "Despite his constant flirts, he never tried anything serious with any girl he met. Rumors said that his previous girlfriend had abandoned him not too long ago and only a 'real woman' like her would be able to get him. So if he would have chosen me, I would have been recognized as an adult, just what I've always wanted. I know it sounds somewhat silly, but I also really liked him and never expected to met anyone better suited for that job anyway... well, it was the closed thing to love I had felt for a long time..."

A gentle pressure at her hand made her look up again. She couldn't help but mirror his smile that was so full of understanding. It was almost hard to believe that she had accused him to be unable to ever understand her. Now it seemed he had always been the only one able to comprehend what was going on within her mind. Who knows what would have been if she had seen it then already?

"Hey," he broke the silence after several moments, "would you like to dance?"


*********


Soft sounds emitted from the portable CD-player, providing the slow rhythm in which the two teenagers moved close to each other over the dance floor.

Asuka had her eyes closed, resting her head on his shoulder; their cheeks brushing against each other with every movement. She didn't feel the ground of the restaurant anymore. It was as though they were dancing on clouds and only the sky and its stars were above them. Nothing else besides themselves.

Apparently she made it quite obvious how comfortable she felt, as he brought his lips close to her ear.

"What happened to the girl who always said she wouldn't need things like this?" he whispered.

"Oh, I never said I'd need this," she declared flatly, grinning at his panicked gasp caused by this. "But it's a bonus I wouldn't want to miss for anything..."

He relaxed immediately, but in exchange she tensed up herself as she began to wonder.

"Seriously, to think that this might have never happened.... That I'd might have never been able to feel this way..." She actually shivered at that. "Have you ever thought about it? That the only reason we're so close to each other might be because we're the only ones left? That those feelings for each other might have never become so strong if we wouldn't live and be together the whole time? That we might have chosen someone else eventually, if we had the choice?"

The answer came almost instantly. "No..."

Her smile reappeared weakly when she placed her head back against him. "Good..."

The music began to fade after a while.

Neither of them noticed...


*********


It was hard to tell, but it was most likely already past midnight when they arrived back at their home. But sooner or later even a day like this had to end.

"Thank you for this evening, Shinji. This... I think, it was the most romantic thing that anyone has ever done for me..."

"It... it was noth..." He couldn't finish the sentence as she quickly shut his mouth with hers.

It had been the truth, this had been the most romantic evening she could think of. She couldn't tell if it had already started with their synch-training, or if he really had learned to understand her that much during the last months, but he always seemed to know what she liked, even if she herself did not. They were as close as they could get...

Were they?

No... There was still something between them. It was obvious by the hesitant touches as these now.

Shame. Shyness. A last barrier that might have cracked but was still far from shattering. A last barrier that still needed to be broken until they could finally be truly together.

And now seemed to be a perfect opportunity.

"Hey, Shinji," Asuka cooed. "Do you... Would you like a coffee?"

"Huh? What do you mean?" He blinked in confusion. "Isn't it a bit late for coff...?" A gasp escaped his throat and he even lost his hold on her and stumbled back in shock as he remembered where he had heard that before.
"Y-y-you... mean...? I-I... mean, you... I mean... it comes a bit sudden, you know? W-well, I... we... I mean, w-we haven't even... eh... 'f-fooled around' before, or something..."

"I-I know," Asuka admitted blushing, the butterflies in her own stomach calling more and more friends over to flap wildly around. "But that's exactly the point! What kind of relationship can we have if we're even afraid of touching each other in the 'wrong' places?" Gently, she laid one hand on his cheek and looked in his dark blue eyes; not only to emphasize that she truly meant what she was saying, but also to prove to herself that she would never regret what she was going to do.
"Shinji, I love you! And I want to express that in every form I'd like to do. And I want you to do the same. But if we go on like now, we might never reach that point. That's why I want this. We could tear down these last barricades with one stroke..."

"Y-you're sure?" he whispered again.

Her answer was a small, shy nod, without breaking their eye contact. Her hands found a hold on his shoulders, while he, a bit hesitantly, put his on her hips, pulling her closer. Their lips met in a kiss; not a very passionate one, but more a soft, honest kiss in which they showed their love and care to each other; also a bit of fear of what they were going to do, yet much more so the reassurance that both wanted to do this with all their hearts. Repeating this gentle kiss again and again, they slowly retreated towards Asuka's room.



**************************



Sun filled the room when Asuka woke up with a broad smile on her face. It vanished slightly as she noticed that Shinji wasn't there. But the scent that was in the air told her that he was already in the kitchen, fixing breakfast.

After stretching her tired limbs, she stood up and got herself a wide shirt from the closet. Brushing some hair out of her face, she pondered for a second to get her neural connector-hair clips. But then she remembered that she actually hadn't even seen them for a while. Lately, she had used either ribbons to restrain her mane or she simply left it open, as she did now.

Quietly, she went for the kitchen. She had been right; there he was, busy at the stove. As his back was facing her, she soundlessly tiptoed over to him.

He was startled for a second when he suddenly felt her arms around his chest, drawing herself as close as possible to his back, but he relaxed immediately.

"Morning, lover," Asuka hushed, planting a kiss on his cheek.

"Morning, Asuka. I must admit I didn't expect you to get up so early. I had wanted to surprise you with a breakfast in bed."

"Mmm, doesn't matter," she assured, snuggling her head against his shoulder. "It's comfy here as well."

He chuckled a bit. "Well, I'm almost finished; just have to percolate the coffee..."

"Coffee?" She eyed him. "Gotten hooked on the taste?" she teased.

"Well... I... could get used to it..."

"I see..." she grinned. "So my baka-hentai enjoyed himself, huh?"

"I... eh..."

"Hey," she called softly, drawing his face around and kissing him tenderly, "You're not the only one."

Smiling, he turned completely and put his arms around her. But as he leaned in to kiss her, he was stopped by her stern face.

"But don't expect this to become some kind of weekly routine!" she warned. Yet the strict expression cracked as quickly as it came at the sight of his shocked look. Grinning, she leaned over to him and whispered in his ear: "...more of a daily one..."

His eyes grew wide at this. "Wha...? Eh...Now?"

"Relax!" Asuka giggled. "It was just a joke," she assured and leaned sighing back onto him "Still... it was... I don't even know how to describe it. Great? Wonderful? Amazing? I'm not sure if that fits it right..."

"So, what happened to 'disgusting'?"

She grimaced. "I don't know. I guess I didn't like the thought of people doing 'it' just because of it. You know, just the act, without more behind it and that they just did it to compensate that fact. And," she blushed slightly, "well, maybe it was because I couldn't judge it subjectively. But I guess it doesn't matter anymore anyway..."

"Not really..."

Their lips met again; the kiss growing more passionate every second it lasted.


It didn't take long that the "joke" was forgotten...




****************************




The scenery had barely changed since the last time they had been there. The sea still had an eerie red color. The visible half of the white head that had belonged to that giant Rei didn't seem to be affected by time at all; at least not from the distance. And there were still the corpses of two of those disturbing Mass Production-EVAs standing like a crossed mock of the Christian symbol. One of the poles, next to the one with Misato's cross, had fallen down and had been drawn up again by Shinji.

Asuka watched him kneeling in front of them, before she turned her gaze frowning towards and across the sea. He had wanted some time alone, so she sat somewhat miserably several meters behind him in the sand. Whether it was because of the windy, grey weather of that day or because of this place; she would be glad when they would go home again. Even though she could understand that he had wanted to come here, she didn't have to like it.

The sudden touch on her shoulder startled her, snapping her out of her trance.

"Hey," Shinji called softly as he sat down behind his love and put his arms around her. "Don't you want to go? Speak to them?"

"No..." she shook her head, "I can't..."

"Well, you don't have to," he tried to be confident, but there was a hint of disappointment in his voice.

Asuka let out a deep sigh. "This... This is all my fault, isn't it?"

"Huh?" Her guilt obviously surprised him. "What is?"

"That we're alone!" she blurted the obvious. "That no one else can come back!"

She thought often about the reasons why only the two of them had returned, but she had either ignored or denied the conclusion that had come out of it. Though she hadn't even realized herself how heavy this rested on her conscience until now that she was confronted with this sight again – and with it the memories of that day.

Shinji, however, was apparently oblivious to the obvious. "What gives you that idea?"

"Don't you remember? 'If I can't have you for me alone, I don't want you at all!' But... at least a part of me had wanted you..." The last part came out as a mere whisper. "So what if this was a stupid misinterpretation of... her? You know? 'If I want you, I need to have you for me alone!' But I didn't mean it! Not like this!"

"That... that's not true, Asuka," Shinji tried to calm her and was surprisingly successful by drawing her closer into the comforting embrace. But the sadness in his voice told her that he, too, still hadn't lost his burden that faithful day laid upon his shoulders. "I don't know why no one else came back, but it's not your fault. Mother, Rei, they've told me that everyone could return if they had the will to do so. It's not your fault if they prefer the false happiness in there..."

"You're sure?" She turned her head to see him smiling generously at her.

"Why don't you ask them yourself?"


***********


"Eh... hello...?"

Asuka frowned as she got no answer from the sea.

"Oh, this must be the stupidest thing I've ever done," she mumbled, scolding herself. But then she took a deep breath and returned her view to the red ocean.

"I'm not quite sure what to say...I know I was never very good with you people.
Still... I... I actually miss many of you. I miss Misato's cheery nature or to joke with her about boys; sometimes even her way of waking everyone in the neighborhood.
I miss Hikari and to talk with her. When we were together, I could actually feel just like a normal girl; chatting and having fun with a friend. And there happened so much in the last months that I would have needed to share with you.
I even miss Shinji's stupid friends, as they were at least good punching balls; and even F- Ayanami, as she was... well... there!
Kaji, I don't know if you're in there. But I want to thank you that you always coped with me, no matter how bothering I was. You have been the first I could call at least a friend, if not more...
Mama... I'm... I'm sorry that I didn't believe that you cared for me. I understand now that you always were – and still are – there for me, even if I couldn't see or hear you; that you always wanted my best, that you wanted me to be safe and happy. I just want you... and everyone else who might care, to know... even though the life here is hard and straining... I'm... I am happy. I found someone who actually wants to be with me; who even loves me. I don't remember when I was as happy as now."
A silent tear came into touch with her up-curving lips. "Well, I guess that's all I can think of now."
As she ended her last sentence, she looked up again, smiling. She felt freed somehow; as if at least a part of her burden that she had carried much too long, was finally lifted from her shoulders; just like the clouds that made place for the sun.


***********


When she returned to Shinji, Asuka wordlessly sat down and cuddled against him. Smiling, she rested her head against his chest as she could feel his arms wrapping around her; gently stroking her back. They sat awhile like that; not speaking a word, just enjoying their closeness.

"Asuka, I was wondering..." Shinji broke the silence eventually.

"Hmm?"

"If this wouldn't have happened, do you think... would... would you have married me one day?"

Startled, she jerked up.
"Wha-what?" Now, that had come as surprise. But he seemed strangely serious. What was he thinking? "I... I don't know. I mean, if this wouldn't have happened, who knows if we'd even been able to get together like this. But if we would... if we would have had the chance... I... don't know... I'm not quite the housewife type.. and I never really wanted to end up like that... but..."

Blushing, she turned her gaze away from him. She had never really thought about it. Marrying – that had always seemed to be such an archaic, pointless ritual. But now she suddenly found herself picturing how she'd look like in a white dress, with him at her side; their friends watching as they exchanged their vows to be each other's for the rest of their lives, cheering them on as they sealed their promise with a kiss.

A pleasant shiver ran down her spine as she wondered what it'd be like to have him as her husband. To be his wife...

"...maybe... yes..."

She gasped in surprise and turned to face him again as he gently took her hand and slipped something on her finger.

"I've found it when I was in the ruins lately, in the remains of what must have been a jewelry shop," Shinji explained. "I was thinking of giving it to you already on our date, but I couldn't bring myself to do it then already. I know, it's not exactly your size and it's slightly damaged, but still... May-maybe we'll get our chance..."

Asuka was speechless. It was right, the ring was a bit too wide for her finger and a piece of the red gem was broken, but that didn't matter to her. Sure, it was just a symbol for something that could have been... or did he mean that he, even after what must have been almost a year by now, had still hope that people will return? That they would be able to live a normal life eventually?

"You're hopeless, you know?" she smiled.

"Eh? I thought I just proved some hope...?"

"No," she giggled and pulled him into a tight embrace. "I meant you're a hopeless romantic..."

"Oh... Well, you haven't seen anything yet..."

A bit startled, she looked up to him, but it didn't seem like he was to say any more...




****************************




Asuka smiled to herself as she opened the door to be greeted by the morning sun. The last weeks had been pure bliss. She never expected that people could be so close to someone else – without being a combined puddle of mud – as she was now with Shinji. After they had set their differences and fears aside, and lately taken the last great step in their relationship, there was nothing left to stand between them; no barrier of hate, sorrow or shame was left to hold them apart, be it mental or physical.

Asuka's grin grew even wider at that last thought. Yes, they've definitely became bolder with each time since the night after their date. And she had to admit that she really enjoyed their "explorations". But what was more important, she felt free. Free of everything that could trouble her mind; free of every possible dark region that could dwell on her soul. She didn't remember ever being able to live so untroubled around someone else; if at all.

Getting a handful corn from their storage, she went over to the chicken run. After she dispersed it, she watched the two hens hungrily picking it up, while she leant on the self-made fence with a dreamy expression on her face.

Yeah, those two were lucky. They had always been able just to live as carefree like that; just eat, sleep... and lay an egg now and then.

She chuckled at that somewhat silly comparison.

As she went to check the greenhouse, she suddenly noticed that another 'barricade' was gone. Shinji had separated a part of the greenhouse with a few big wooden planks a while ago; strictly advising her not to look behind it, as it was something he would need for a surprise. But it was gone now, that area completely empty.

Almost. Something still lay in a corner under the table. Curiously, Asuka kneeled down to get a closer look.

A rose? Now, what could he grow those for?




****************************




"Come on, Shinji; tell me, where are we going?"

"You'll see." Even though she could not see it, she could almost hear him smiling.

"See? With this blindfold?" She grinned and leaned on his shoulder, startling him a bit. "Say, is my little baka-hentai planning something kinky with his favorite lover?"

"Wha...? Eh... well, you'll see when we're there."

She just wanted to complain again, but that moment Shinji stopped the car. That would mean she could risk a glance...

"No peeking!" he protested immediately as he obviously noticed her fingers moving towards the scarf over her eyes.

"Okay, okay," Asuka playfully grunted.

She heard Shinji exiting and a moment later her door was opened. He gently took her hand and led her out. Her feet made contact with an unstable, soft ground.

Sand? The sound of waves, clashing against the shore?

"Where are...?"

"Shh..." He pressed a finger against her lips. "Just one moment..."

He went back to the car, leaving her wondering. What had he planned? She wouldn't have minded a little "workout" at the beach, but his earlier reaction seemed to contradict with that.

Before she could finish her thoughts, he was back. His hand slid through her hair, rearranging the loose strands and attaching them to something in a familiar way.

"So you don't know where they are, huh?" she said, grinning as she recognized the well-known clicking sounds of her A10-clips.

"Well, I needed to... modify them a bit."

Modify?
Surprised, she reached up to find some kind of thin, silky fabric meeting her searching fingers.

"What...?" She couldn't find the necessary air to continue when Shinji removed the blindfold and she opened her eyes. They were indeed at the beach, though at a part where the giant head of Rei or the dismembered remains of the MP-EVAs where not to be seen. Even the occasional debris had seemingly been removed. Instead, there was a kind of arch; roses intertwined with it. The setting sun on the horizon painted the whole scenery in red and orange light.

"Well, I-I thought, we'd need something we could use as... an altar or something," Shinji said, obviously noticing her questioning looks. But his appearance didn't ease her surprise, quite the contrary. As casual it had been, that white shirt and black trousers, which had been his school uniform, might have been the most formal clothes he had now.

"Altar...? Wha...?"

"I-I know, it's not actually real... Just something symbolic... But... I mean, in the end it's as real as we want it."

She still couldn't manage to speak. Her mind was racing. Never before had she felt so sure that she knew what was going on, yet so uncertain. As there was no answer from her, he continued.

"I-it might seem a bit early. But, well, as we'll be together anyway... and since you're said, you'd want to... I thought: Why should we wait?"

Her eyes wandered to the ring on her finger. There was no doubt anymore. Despite all discipline, she felt her eyes wetting again. With a shaking hand before her mouth, as if to keep her air, she only partly followed his gaze across the sea.

"I've chosen this place, because everyone we knew and loved is here; the whole world can witness us..." He turned back to her with a shy smile on his lips, reaching for her with a trembling hand. "So...?"

"Baka," she blurted with a shaky smile as she couldn't hold on anymore; her voice cracking. "What-what have I told you about dressing up? I mean, just look at me: I'm standing here with this old top and shorts..." She stopped her mindless ramblings as he placed a finger on her lips and took her hand in his free one.

"No," he said, shaking his head. "It doesn't matter. Whatever you wear, you're the most beautiful being I could ever imagine." With that, as she smiled up to him, he gently tugged her over to self-made arch and held her hands close to his chest; never loosing the contact to her eyes.

"Asuka," Shinji began after taking a deep breath, "When I first met you, I didn't know what to think of this beautiful, yet hot-tempered girl in front of me. You weren't like anyone I've ever met before; I didn't know how to handle that. I was used to it that people didn't like me very much, but no one ever, well... yelled at me for being as I've always been. Though during our synch-training, I more or less got used to it and I actually started to like living with the fiery redhead that moved in with us, even if she often gave me quite a hard time with the teasing. After all, it's not very fair if one literally rubs her good looks right under your nose one second, and yells at you for staring at her in the next." He flashed a weak grin, before regaining whatever was left of his strength to go on.
"It would be a lie if I'd say that I wasn't attracted to your looks, but much more so, I've always admired your strength, your courage, that it seemed you were able to face everything that was in your way.
But there also were times when I was able to see underneath the surface; that there was indeed something under that hard shell. I think that's why I fell for you intentionally: On one side there was the fragile child that evoked the wish to protect her from all the pain of the world, on the other, there was the strong, fiery girl that could give me the guidance I needed.
You were my anchor; my constant that I could always trust on in my worst and my best times. And for that, I love you.
That's why I, Shinji Ikari, want to take you, Asuka Langley Soryu, to be my wife; to live with you forever at your side."

"You... you're mean, you know that?" she tried to scold him, but her voice as well as her facial expression betrayed her. "You had all the time you needed to prepare that speech and I have to think about one in a few seconds."

"You don't..."

"Shinji," she cut him off, smiling. "At first, I only saw you as another wimpy boy that was just lusting after my body. The good thing was, you were wimpy enough to tease you with that," she giggled. "However, with the time, I've found myself actually starting to like that meek, shy boy – if only his constant excuses hadn't been so damn annoying." Both chuckled at that, but Asuka's face grew serious again.
"But you've been my competitor; and eventually you became an actual threat to everything that impersonated me. How could I like or even love someone like that? How could I expect someone who seemed to be just as weak as myself to be there for me? Deep down, I might already have, but that didn't stop me from doing and saying things of which I wish I never had, as they just caused pain to both of us. Yet, despite what I did, you may retreated and wanted to give up on me, but in the end, you didn't. You always came back.
Maybe that's why I didn't believe you. Usually everyone left me alone after a while. But, even when I almost begged you to leave me when we talked about the Impact the first time, you didn't. You showed me that you would do everything for me; that you would help me in need; that you would even hold me.
It was then that I knew for sure that I could finally allow myself to love you. And so I did and will do for as long as I can think of.
And because of that, I, Asuka Langley Soryu, want you, Shinji Ikari, to be my husband."

"Then I pronounce us..." Shinji began, visible reflecting the happiness she felt in her on his face.

"...to be husband..." Asuka continued; their lips slowly moving closer.

"...and wife."
...closer...

"You may now..."
...closer...

"...kiss..."
...closer...

"...the bride."
...Touch.

They never remembered how long they stood there; kissing while the sun gave its last light for that day, leaving only the stars and the sea to watch the two beings that shared the most precious thing in this world.

Their love...






---------------------------------------

A/N:

Finally, I've finished this. Took me long enough, after all.
You may wonder why I've reduced almost everything besides the WAFF-parts to a quick summary. Of course, I could have explicitly talk about their progress in terms of surviving (or at least, we can pretend, that I could ;-) ). But you see, every "verb-chapter" is supposed to center around a certain topic; while it was surviving in the previous, it's their love-relationship in this one.

Yeah, I know what you want to say: "They are sooo OOC and you're just using the TI as explanation!"
Well, yes, I did. And while I think TI is actually a good explanation ("If TI can't change you, nothing can!"), and I tried my best to keep them as IC as possible; it doesn't really fit my original intentions. But I wanted to get them together within one chapter, what makes it in my opinion almost impossible to keep them completely IC in less than... well... a lot more words than ~20000.
So in the end, it's "just" a bunch of thrown-together WAFF-scenes.
Oh well, at least I still have the interest of the die-hard A/S-fanboys...

This chapter was definitely the hardest so far; not only in terms of context, but also in terms of structure. There were scenes I didn't knew for sure where to place and were moved around. The first beach-scene, for example, was supposed to be between their quarrel and their date. But that made the "preparation-time" much too long and the proposal did fit after the date, but on the other hand I don't really like how it "breaks" the happiness after the date slightly.

Another thing was; as I didn't wrote it in one row from the beginning to the end, but simply always put down whatever came to my mind over a long time-period; there were several discrepancies. Reasons and changes didn't develop as well as they should. A perfect example for that would be the reasons for their "first time": just before it, I write that they were still too shy to touch each other, and then never mention it before, even indicate the opposite by saying they would always cuddle and kiss and be sooo close... That seemed even to me like a weak argument to get them in bed. That's why the scene with Asuka waking up with Shinji unconsciously groping her was pushed in at all; already during the tweaking-progress.

The scene that troubled me most however, was Asuka's TI-flashback, as I wasn't sure to have it in till the last minute. Intentionally, she was supposed to tell him everything about it; but with time I noticed that the talk would have been much too long and one-sided. And when I developed and liked the idea of kinda reversing the TI-kitchen scene, I thought of pushing the flashback up to the second chapter. But there, it would have spoiled too much. So, in the end, I've left it here after all and put a 'teaser' in chap 2.

And while we're at it; yes, there was a lot of rather free interpretation in this chapter. Of course we don't know how Asuka and Misato met before, where the yellow dress came from, if the 'adult kiss' was actually a frenchy and I'm not even starting about the relationships here. And the same goes to that aforementioned scene. We don't exactly know if it was just a figment of Shinji's imagination we get to see during TI (which is the more favored theory and I was also thinking for a while to use that one) or if it was actually herself and what her motives were in that case. So bear with me, instead of shouting "BUT THAT IS TOTALLY WRONG!", when I used interpretations of which I felt they work best for this fic.

As for Chapter 6; yeah, I know what you think after this chapter: They're happy, nothing could come between them anymore, All's Right with the World, huh?
Well, think again...

Hoops, almost forgot: Thanks again to my pre-readers Divine Chaos and dennisud for all the additions and changes (even those I didn't felt I could use). :P


Rewrite Notes:
Some correction and a bit detail added here and there, as well as one small scene after that part at the lake. For once to stretch the (reading) time till the confession to make that come a little less hasty, but also because they seemed to overcome that a bit too easily. Also fixed a blatant error (I'm surprised that no one noticed (and if one did, sorry for forgetting you right now ;P)): Shinji saying he wouldn't drink coffee, when we actually see him doing so at least in Episode 7. Yeah, I guess I could have taken the "that was just cacao"-escape, but I think my fix didn't really hurt. ;)




!OMAKE-ENDING!

As they finally parted, Asuka's content smile slowly changed into a mischievous grin.

"Well then, Mr. Soryu," she cooed as she flung her arms around his neck, "I guess, it's time for our honeymoon now!"

"Wha... now!? Here?!?"

"Well, that's the good thing of being all alone in the world: You can do it wherever you want, without the risk of being seen by anyone!"

"Bu..." He couldn't say more, as she laid all her weight on him, forcing him down to the ground...
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