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A Neon Genesis Evangelion Fanfic
By: Aaron Nowack

Chapter 3: Home

Disclaimer: Neon Genesis Evangelion is not mine, but instead belongs to Gainax and Hideako Anno. The text of this fanfic is mine, however, and may not be used without permission. Corn for the Corn God!

Asuka slowly lowered the torch, allowing the words to fade back into the surrounding darkness. As the shadows shifted, for a moment it seemed as though the gargantuan Eva was moving. She shuddered briefly at the thought. As close as they were, the Eva could crush all the humans gathered beneath it without even noticing.

Fortunately, it had shown no signs of life, at least while Asuka had been looking. Somehow though, she did not find that thought very comforting. She had seen this very same machine seemingly return from the dead far too many times to be sure that it had met its final end. She couldn't shake the suspicion that, as soon as her back was turned, it would strike.

The wind shifted slightly, and Asuka wrinkled her nose as the stench of burnt flesh renewed its assault on her sense of smell. Behind her, she heard someone - she guessed it was Aida - gagging slightly. The noise seemed to shake the newcomers out of their reverie, as it was followed by the shuffling of feet and a few nervous coughs.

Aida gagged again. "Smells even worse than your room, Touji." The other man grunted irritably, but there was no other reply to Aida's weak joke. After far too long, the wind shifted again, relieving the stench somewhat.

Finally, Touji spoke. "This can't be good."

Asuka snorted. "No, really?"

"Why?" A barely repressed shudder ran down Asuka's spine at the flat voice. Just hearing her brought back unpleasant memories and emotions she had thought long since discarded. It was more than a little irritating that Ayanami still... unnerved her so. Damn it, she wasn't a kid anymore! Sure, Ayanami was weird, but it wasn't anything to get upset about. None of the whackos back home got to her like this, and there were one or two who made Ayanami look positively normal.

She forced herself to turn around and face the others, even as Touji spoke again. "What do ya mean, Ayanami?"

"Why do you say this cannot be good?"

Asuka laughed. "How could it be good?"

Touji merely sighed. "There's been way too many weird things goin' on. This, those weird dreams-" Aida blinked at that. "-even you comin' back, Ayanami. They've gotta be related."

Ayanami paused a moment before responding. "That is possible." Her voice seemed to indicate she found that unlikely, but it was always hard to tell with her.

"Wait a minute," Aida said. "What do dreams have to do with any of this?"

Touji opened his mouth to speak, but Asuka interrupted him. "Can't we talk about this somewhere a little more pleasant?" She sniffed to emphasize her point, and immediately regretted it as it brought the horrid stench back to the forefront of her mind, and with it a fresh wave of nausea.

Fortunately, the others soon saw her point. Well, the two men did. Ayanami didn't seem to care either way. As they all began to walk away, Asuka threw a glance over her shoulder at the fallen Eva. It remained dark, silent, and - most importantly - unmoving. She wasn't sure what else she expected, but she still couldn't shake the feeling that it was merely waiting for an opportunity to... do what?

"It is rather strange seeing it broken like that." Asuka blinked, and it took her a moment to notice Aida walking beside her. An unusually thoughtful look appeared on his face as he too glanced back. "It looks mostly intact thought. I wonder if Ibuki-san could get it working again..."

Asuka cut him off with a growl. "Don't even think about it!"

Aida blinked. "Why not? It would certainly be useful. We could use it for reconstruction, and none of the bandit groups would even be able to think of-"

"No!" Asuka replied, a little too loudly and a little too harshly. "And that is final."

"What are you two arguing about?" Touji asked from behind them.

Asuka slowed slightly to allow the other man and Ayanami to catch up, and after a moment Aida did as well. "Well?" Touji asked as soon as this was done.

Asuka snorted. "This... stooge here wants to rebuild the Eva!"

Aida sighed. "Well, why not? We probably won't be able to do it, but if we could..." He trailed off as he realized his old friend was staring at him as if he had grown a second head. "What? I know you two have a lot of bad memories about this, but-"

"You don't know anything about it, Aida Kensuke," Asuka said, anger boiling over inside her. "Have you ever been inside one of those things?"

"As a matter of fact," Aida began.

Asuka let out a groan of frustration. "Forget I asked. Just accept that that thing is going to stay right there, if I have anything to say about it." She quickened her pace. She had absolutely no desire to talk about such a moronic idea.

Behind her, she heard the conversation continuing. "Trust me on this, Kensuke. She's right."

Aida sighed at Touji's statement. "What about you, Ayanami? What do you think?"

There was a moment of silence before the girl replied. "I do not think it would be... advisable."

Asuka snorted to herself. "Even Wondergirl can see that it's a stupid idea."

"Hey." She started as she heard the quiet voice from immediately behind her, but relaxed as her hurried glance back saw that it was only Suzuhara.

"I know I'm distracted when I let you sneak up on me."

Touji smirked. "Hey, I am a scout. Sneaking up on people is my job."

"I suppose," Asuka replied, and for a moment they walked together in silence.

Then, Touji broke it. "Listen, Asuka... I agree with ya, but ya shouldn't have blown up at Kensuke like that."

Asuka grumbled. "It's such a... stupid idea!"

Touji threw up his hands. "Hey, I said I agree with ya! I might not have piloted one of those as much as you or Ikari, but I've done it!" He sighed. "But Kensuke hasn't, Asuka."

Asuka forced herself to calm down somewhat, and once she had she sighed as well. "You're right. I'll apologize to him once I'm calmer. But he'd better realize that no means no."

Touji smiled slightly. "Trust me, I agree."

Asuka rolled her eyes. "Taking advice from a stooge like you. I thought I'd never see the day."

"Night," Touji commented, glancing up at the starry heavens. From behind them they could hear Aida trying, with a notable lack of success, to entice Ayanami into conversation.

"Oh, shut up already, stooge," Asuka said after a moment, but there was no venom in her voice. Soon after that, they reached the crater walls, and there was no conversation as the four made their way back up the treacherous path.

When they reached the top and were once again inside the camp, Touji started to say something, but Asuka cut him off with a wave of a hand and a yawn. "Suzuhara, it's way too late now. Go see to your squad. We'll talk in the morning."

He began to protest but Asuka waved him off again and walked away, stifling another yawn. It was late, and she'd gotten barely any sleep the previous night. She doubted Touji had, either. Neither of them was going to be awake enough to be coherent much longer, so there was little point in talking now. There would be time enough in the morning.

It took her a few moments to find Uoya, and a few more to confirm with the squad leader that nothing of any real interest had occurred while she was down in the crater. After she dismissed him with another yawn, she quickly sought out her tent. As she settled down to her bedroll, she realized that it had slipped her mind to radio back home with any of the day's events.

"Oh well," Asuka said softly as she rolled over on to her side, for a moment irrationally irritated at the lack of a certain warm presence beside her. "He gets to be as surprised as me." A slightly mischievous smirk on her face, she fell into the blissful darkness of sleep.

And she dreamed.

It was a nightmare, but not the one she might have expected. The monstrous visage of Unit-01 did not disturb her sleep. Instead, it was a very familiar nightmare that came to her, one she had not had in quite some time. The familiarity did not help, though, for it was by far one of the most terrifying dreams she had ever experienced, even after so many repetitions. In large part, this was because she knew that this vision was true.

The familiar, womb-like enclosure of Evangelion Unit-02's entry plug surrounded her, filling her with its warmth, its unthinking mind in synch with hers. It had been so long since she had felt it like this, both in the dream and in the waking world. Yet no true comfort came to her, for she knew what was about to happen. Above her, she could feel the hunters circling, hear their vulture-like cries. She screamed, feeling the first strike even before it hit, ripping through her protective, invulnerable AT Field like so much tissue paper.

Pain filled her world; not just hers, but the pain of the other presence - her weapon, her steed, her protector. The twin agonies intermingled, feeding on each other as the lance ripped her apart from the inside. The next blows were almost unfelt, as her anguish was already incalculable. Yet the strikes kept coming, and long after she might have thought she would slip into blissful unconsciousness, the pain continued. She screamed her throat raw, reaching up in futile rage at her tormentors. As one, they descended in answer, ripping and tearing and clawing and biting and stretching and...

Darkness. It was here the dream should have ended, here that she should have awoken, sweating in her bedroll, ready to reach for comfort that was not there. This dream was a familiar companion to her, its every exquisite horror known perfectly to her. This was the end, as it always was.

Yet, this time the dream did not end. Inside the dream, she slept a dreamless, timeless sleep - though sleep was not the word. It was indescribable. There was no thought, no emotion. No pain, no joy. No anger, no kindness. No fear, no courage. No self. There was only... existence. It could not be called bliss, for there was no such sensation, nor anything or anyone to experience it. Yet, it could, for lack of a better term, be called peace.

Then something shifted. Somehow, something disturbed the utter nullity, lifted her out of the void. An alien presence, almost human but... twisted, somehow. It was wrong, and that was the only word that could describe it. And Asuka screamed from a throat she no longer had-

And she woke up.

She could see the light of the morning sun through the walls of her tent, and hear the camp stirring around her. It was already morning, yet it felt like she had been sleeping for only moments. She lay still a moment, allowing the fragments of the dream to fade away, before she rose and began to dress for the day.

A few minutes later, she was out of the tent and hurriedly eating a quick breakfast while helping Uoya and Touji organize the breaking of the camp. The most pressing issue was how to fit the additional people and supplies of Touji's squad into the cars that Uoya's had used on the way here, but after dumping some replaceable supplies that mission was accomplished. All in all it took over an hour and a half for everyone to be ready to leave.

Asuka quickly claimed the driver's seat in one small car. Touji slid into the other front seat, saying simply, "We three still need to talk."

She was about to ask which three, when she saw Rei seating herself in back, though she had to shift several packages to make space to sit. She resisted the urge to grimace, instead replying, "All right."

A few moments later, they were moving, and the other vehicles followed close behind. As they got underway, Touji suddenly smirked. "Hey, Ayanami, ever ride in a car with Major Katsuragi driving?"


"Good, then you're prepared."

Asuka snorted. "My driving is not that bad, stooge." An instant later, she swerved wildly to avoid a deep dip in the ground.

Touji laughed. "You were saying?" As he finished speaking, the car hit a bump, and his skull was introduced rather painfully to the car's ceiling. "Ow," he muttered, rubbing his head. "All right, you have your revenge, you crazy Kraut."

Asuka snickered, but her amusement soon faded as she caught a glimpse of Rei disinterestedly staring out the window in the rear view mirror. Her hands tightened momentarily on the steering wheel, but she forced herself to relax.

For a few more minutes, the drive continued in silence, until she turned onto a cracked, weather-beaten road. "All right, Suzuhara. You said we needed to talk." Yet Touji did not respond, choosing instead to stare with distant eyes at the long road ahead, obviously lost in thought. After a few minutes of this, Asuka spoke again. "Wake up, Suzuhara."

Touji shook his head as though to clear it. "What? I'm not asleep."

"Maybe not, but you were doing a fair Wondergirl impression." Asuka winced, remembering that - even as quiet as she was - the girl in question was seated behind her. "Sorry, Ayanami." Even in her own ears, the apology seemed weak.

"Why? I was not offended."

Asuka rolled her eyes, but managed to stop herself from making any of the derogatory comments that quickly came to mind. "Never mind, then."

"Very well," Rei replied before returning to staring out her window.

For a few moments silence returned, but then Touji finally spoke. "Is it safe to leave the Eva like that?"

Asuka grimaced. "It ought to be. I mean, what's anyone else going to do with the damned thing?" She paused for a moment. "I still have a bad feeling about it, though."

"Tell me about it," Touji said, "though I can't say that's anything new. I've had a bad feeling about it from the moment I first heard about it."

"Why?" The two adults both started at Ayanami's sudden interjection.

A dark expression fell on Touji's face, and for a long moment he did not speak. Eventually though, he answered. "It... hurt someone."

Rei blinked. "Your sister?" she asked, quickly making the connection.

Touji relaxed somewhat, though Asuka could see that his fists were still clenched tightly in his lap. "Yes. My sister." Asuka shot him a sympathetic glance, but he did not seem to notice. For a long moment, there was an awkward silence, punctuated only by the rumbling of the car's engine.

This silence was broken by the sudden, answering rumble of Touji's stomach. "Man, I'm starved," he said in mock distress, as though the previous conversation had not happened. "Have we got anything to eat?"

Asuka grunted. "Probably. There are enough bags back there. See if," she began, pausing only slightly before continuing, "Ayanami will look."

"Will ya?" Touji asked.


Asuka tuned out the ensuing search and early lunch, instead focusing on the road. She'd be damned if she'd give the stooge another excuse to insult her driving. Much to her relief, she succeeded in avoiding just that for the hour and a half until the caravan stopped briefly for a somewhat later lunch - not that his previous meal kept Touji from participating in this one as well.

After this brief stop, the caravan continued on its way. Touji offered to take over driving their vehicle, and after a few moment's thought Asuka accepted, delaying their departure by a handful of seconds as the two switched seats. With that out of the way, they began the second and final leg of the trip, though this time they were stuck closer to the end of the caravan than its beginning.

To Asuka's mild disappointment, the remainder of the trip was smooth, providing her with no opportunity to needle Touji on his own driving skills. Perhaps she could remind him just who had wrecked a car the first time he'd tried to drive one. Asuka smirked at the thought, but ultimately decided not to bring it up just then. She'd save it for the next time he complained about her driving.

After a couple of hours more, the caravan began to pass a few small, crude farms and clusters of improvised buildings - the outskirts, such as they were, of Tokyo-4. A few people working in the fields waved at the caravan as it passed by them, but most hardly looked up from their labors. A handful of minutes later, their destination was in sight. "Ah, home, sweet home," Touji said, smiling slightly as he began to slow down.

Tokyo-4 was by no means the impressive sight its predecessors had been. In fact, even the battered shell of Tokyo-3 looming ever-present on the northern horizon outshone the small settlement. Tokyo-4 had been built for the most part out of rubble and by unskilled hands, and it showed. It was laid out to no guiding plan, shelters having been built wherever a sturdy ruin made the task easier. The largest 'building' was nothing more than the uncollapsed lower levels of a ruined parking garage, and it served as a combination town hall and warehouse.

It was to this building that Asuka and Touji headed as soon as they could, leaving Uoya to supervise the unloading of the caravan. Rei followed quietly behind the two, glancing about with as much curiosity as she ever showed. As they neared the center of the settlement, Asuka was forced to stop briefly several times to return greetings, and once to break up a minor altercation between two people over whose fault it was that the new shelter they'd constructed had collapsed while they were away catching a late lunch.

Despite this, it took less than ten minutes for them to reach the "town square" that lay in front of the entrance to the parking garage. In the center of this square lay the Calendar Stone - not Shinji's original, as that was too far from town to be convenient. It was now almost covered with markings, and before too long another stone would have to be placed beside it.

Asuka for the most part ignored the crowd that didn't even come close to filling the square as she headed for the town hall's entrance. Once inside, she breathed a sigh of relief at being out of the sun. She knew that global temperatures had skyrocketed after Second Impact, and they showed every sign of having increased again after Third Impact - at least in this small corner of the world. She would quite happily kill for some working air conditioning, but that was far beyond the meager resources available.

Once her eyes had adjusted to the much darker interior of the old parking garage, she headed off into the maze of small 'rooms' that the vast ground floor had been partitioned into, gesturing curtly for Touji and Rei to follow. She had not made much progress when she was interrupted by an all-too-familiar voice.


Asuka turned to face the slim, short man, smiling politely. "Yes, Arakawa-san?"

The man hefted a small sheath of papers he was carrying. "During your absence - I trust your expedition went well, and yours as well, Suzuhara-san," he said with a nod to the other man, but he continued without waiting for a response, "a few issues requiring your attention came up. If you would see to them at your earliest convenience-"

"Is anything urgent?" Asuka interrupted.

Arakawa paused and blinked, clearly considering this. "I do not believe any are terribly so."

"Good," Asuka said. "I'll take care of it later this afternoon, then. Do you know where Shinji is?"

The man nodded. "I believe he is in his office." He paused again, his cold blue-gray eyes turning to Rei. "I do not believe I have met you, young lady. I am Arakawa Okura. You are?"

"Ayanami Rei."

At this response he blinked several times in rapid succession. "Ayanami Rei? The First Child... fascinating," he muttered, half to himself. He returned to an ordinary speaking tone as he continued, "It is a pleasure to meet you."

Rei simply nodded in response.

After a moment, he returned the nod. "I must be going. I will prepare the reports for you, Soryuu-san."

Asuka sighed slightly as he left. She had never really liked Arakawa, but she could see why Shinji kept him around. For all that he could get on her nerves at times, he was excellent at keeping everything organized - and even for a town as small as Tokyo-4, that was a difficult task. Though she supposed the task did not seem so daunting to the man - though he was far from talkative about his past, she had heard enough from both him and others to gather that he had held a similar position in Tokyo-3's government. Shaking herself from her brief reverie, she once again gestured for the other two to follow her. "Let's go."

A few brief greetings and conversations interrupted their progress, but they ultimately reached their destination without too much delay. Once there, Asuka immediately skipped past the short line of people waiting for meetings - both scheduled and unscheduled - and entered the office unannounced, gesturing at Touji and Rei to wait a moment.

As she pushed aside the tarp that covered the entrance, Shinji barely glanced up from the papers that were scattered over the battered table that served as his desk. "Just a few more minutes, plea-" he began, only to stop as he noticed who it was. "Asuka!" he said as he almost leapt from his seat, stepping around the desk.

Asuka smiled back at him as she slid into a brief hug. she raised a hand to his cheek, feeling the stubble there. "Do you ever shave when I'm not around?"

"Not really," Shinji replied with a slight smile. "I know you don't like them, but I always wondered what I'd look like with a beard."

"Find a picture of your father then," Asuka replied. She immediately regretted the comment as she felt Shinji stiffen slightly, as he always did at the mention of his father. It didn't make the statement less true though - they might not have ever been mistaken for each other, but in the right light and with an imagined beard it was hard not to see the close resemblance between Shinji and his father.

A half-second too late for it to seem entirely natural, Shinji smiled. "Trust me. I have no need for a picture." Shinji rubbed his own cheek. "Besides, I don't look that much like him."

Asuka smiled back at him, but her expression swiftly turned more serious. Shinji, noticing this as he released her from his hug, frowned slightly. "What is it? Did something happen?"

It too her a few moments to find words, and she covered the hesitation by seating herself on Shinji's desk. "Two things," she said. "We found the landing site."

"And?" Shinji asked as she hesitated again.

"It wasn't a meteorite." She paused again, though much more briefly. "It was Eva 01."

Shinji blinked, briefly looking like he had been hit in the gut. After a moment he straightened, rubbing his forehead as though to ward off an oncoming headache. "Okay. How did it... no, you wouldn't know."

Asuka shook her head. "If anyone would know, it's you."

"And I don't have the slightest clue." Shinji paused. "All right. I don't like this. Let's quietly get the scouts to stick a bit closer to home. I've got a feeling something's going to happen soon."

Asuka nodded. "So do I. Those dreams we had the night the Eva landed, and then yesterday-"

"You felt something yesterday afternoon?" Shinji interrupted, and Asuka nodded. "I figured as much."

"So did Suzuhara and..." Asuka allowed herself to trail off, rather than broach that particular subject just now.

Shinji smiled weakly. "So, you ran into Touji then? Why did his squad stop reporting?"

"The radio broke."

"That's the third one so far this year." Shinji sighed. "Who was the other person?" he asked suddenly.

Asuka hesitated, then spoke loud enough to be heard outside. "Suzuhara! Come on in. And bring her, too."

"Her?" Shinji asked, puzzled, but his puzzlement quickly turned to shock and disbelief as the other two slipped inside. "Rei?" he asked in a strangled voice.

"Yes." Rei's quiet response sent shivers down Asuka's spine, despite her efforts to suppress them. "You are Ikari-k... Pilot Ikari."

Shinji simply nodded, unable to find words for the moment. Asuka reached to grasp his hand, but he seemed to take no notice of her attempt at comfort. His hand felt cold and clammy to her touch, and she could feel small tremors as he shook slightly. After a few moments, he joined Asuka on his desk, almost collapsing onto it.

Touji stepped forward. "Are you okay, Ikari?"

For a moment, Shinji seemed to not notice, but then he shook his head violently, as though to clear it. "I'm fine," he said, but his voice was more than a little shaky. Asuka tightened her grip on his hand, and he continued, his voice smoother. "It's good to see you again, Ayanami." He smiled slightly. "Welcome to Tokyo-4."

Rei nodded. Asuka found something disturbing in the way her almost unblinking eyes looked at Shinji. For a moment, she could have sworn she saw a flash of... something in them. She couldn't say what - Ayanami was always hard to read - but she didn't like it. She shook her head. She had to be just imagining things. It was only Rei, after all.

She realized that while she had been thinking, Shinji had risen, and she hastily joined him. He stepped forward towards Rei. "You're going to have to have a medical examination - it's standard procedure for new returns. If you'd wait outside for a moment, I'll lead you to the infirmary."

Rei nodded, and turned to leave. The moment after she exited the office, Shinji spoke quietly, but firmly. "All right. Talk." His eyes turned hard as he looked at Touji and Asuka.

"I found her a couple of days ago, south of the city," Touji said. "I think we found her pretty quickly after she returned, she seemed pretty confused."

"How much does she remember?" Shinji asked.

"Nothing." Touji shook his head. "She says the last thing she remembers before waking up is the Sixteenth Angel. We won't be getting any answers from her."

"That's probably good for her." Shinji sighed, then continued. "You said Ayanami felt the same thing you did yesterday afternoon, Asuka?"

Asuka nodded. "That's what Suzuhara said." She glanced towards him, seeking confirmation.

Touji nodded curtly. "And I think she had the same dream I had the night before that. You two had one too?"

"Yes," Asuka said.

"All the pilots," Shinji said. "I don't like this at all." For a moment, there was silence, but then Shinji continued. "I shouldn't keep Ayanami waiting. I'll see you later, Asuka."

She nodded as he left, then sighed. "It's going to be had to concentrate on those reports of Arakawa's after that conversation."

Touji chuckled. "You could always play hooky."

Asuka snorted. "Arakawa'd never say anything if I didn't show, but," she said with a sigh, "I really should see those reports."

Touji nodded. "All right then. Say, do you know where Katsuragi-san is? I suppose I should say hello."

Asuka shrugged. "Not a clue. Arakawa'll probably know, though. He seems to keep track of everyone and everything."

Of course, when Touji did ask him, after following Asuka to his office, he merely blinked and said that he didn't know. Touji wandered off after Arakawa's answer, though whether to search for Misato or return to his squad Asuka didn't know. She then settled in to go over the reports.

Arakawa had been right: none of the reports were very urgent. The bulk of them were made up by an inventory of the current food supplies, of which there was presently a rather large surplus. The expertise that that farmer who had returned the previous year had brought with him seemed to be having a rather beneficial effect.

In any case, most of the reports required little or no action or thought, and so it was only a hair more than an hour later that Asuka said her goodbyes to Arakawa and stepped out of the town hall, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the still-bright sunlight. She then headed towards the infirmary, hoping to perhaps meet up with Shinji. Along the way, she ran into Touji, who was headed back towards the town hall.

"Hi, stooge," Asuka said, smiling. "Did you ever find Misato?"

Touji shook his head. "I just went to check up on my squad. You already done with that paperwork?"

Before Asuka could respond, a familiar voice intruded. "Did someone say my name?"

Touji turned to face the speaker, and Asuka snickered as his mouth dropped open in surprise. Misato groaned. "Honestly, Asuka, why do you find this so amusing?"

Asuka merely snickered again turning to Touji. "Not quite how you remember her, is she?"

Touji blinked a couple of times. "Ya look like ya lost ten years, Major."

Misato pushed a strand of her hair back behind her ears. "Pretty much. This is more or less what I looked like when I was in college. And just Misato, please."

Touji glanced upward, obviously performing a few quick calculations in his head. "Hey, that means that you're the same age as us!" Asuka let out another snicker.

Misato snorted. "I'll have you know, Asuka, that when you turn 30, you'll kill to have a chance to be 20 again."

Asuka laughed softly. "Point."

Misato flashed a victory sign before becoming serious. "Shinji said to tell you to drop by the infirmary if you could. He wanted to talk about Rei."

"You know she's returned, then?" Touji asked, and Misato nodded in reply.

"I saw her when Shinji brought her to see Maya." She paused. "At least she hasn't gone out and grown up while my back was turned."

"So, what are you doing, anyways?" Touji asked her. "Interested in joining the scouts?"

"Nah," Misato said with a smile. "I'm going to start Tokyo-4's first brewery! Can't have a city without beer."

Asuka rolled her eyes. "Why am I not surprised? Anyways-" Asuka stopped in mid-sentence, the words suddenly driven from her head by a terrible... what, exactly? She couldn't describe it, any more than she could describe the strange incident the previous afternoon. A tremor settled into her gut, and she glanced up to see Touji clutching his head, as though in pain. A few moments later, the sensation passed.

"What's wrong?" Misato asked.

Asuka ignored her for the moment, instead saying to Touji, "We need to see Shinji."

He nodded in reply, and the two broke off into a run, Misato hurrying after them.

When they reached the infirmary, Maya was out in front, examining a patient's arm for broken bones. "Where's Shinji?" Asuka barked out as she neared.

"In back," Maya said.

Asuka nodded in thanks, and headed into the back of the wooden building, the other two soon following her. It took a moment for her eyes to readjust to the dimmer interior, and then she threaded her way through the cluttered main room to the shower curtain that partitioned off the rear. She pushed the curtain aside, then stopped.

Her eyes twitched. Twice. Shinji was on the ground. He was lying on the floor, and Rei was sprawled on top of him. A very naked Rei. Asuka's fists clenched, her nails biting into her palms. Shinji pushed the girl off of him and began to rise, already stuttering out what might have been the beginning of an explanation.

Asuka took a deep breath, and spoke. "You have exactly five seconds to stop stammering and tell me exactly what was going on here."

Author's Random Ramblings

1) And now the plot starts! It's rather scary thinking that I'm just now approximately at the end of the first chapter of my original outline for this fic.

2) This chapter took far, far too long, and I don't really have any real excuse. My apologies to any who were eagerly awaiting it.

3) As ever, my thanks go to my valiant prereaders - Ryan Hupp, who I send segments of the fic literally as I write them, and who thus suffers through my wholly unedited prose, and Angus MacSpon, who takes on the no lesser task of turning the result into a coherent, readable whole.

4) C&C of all kinds is, of course, welcomed.

5) At this point I think I can call my experiment with writing seamless, one POV chapters a provisional success. I don't think I'll do it for every fic - it's certainly easier (for me at least) to write with scene deliminators and randomly switching POVs - but it seems to work well with the more character-intensive and less action-heavy style of this fic.

6) Notes unrelated to this fic: I have a number of other projects cooking along. I'm strongly considering a rewrite of at least the earlier chapters of Shades of Gray, in preparation for its sequel. That sequel, Shades of Darkness, is in the late outlining stages. I also have a rather odd Eva fic in the works with a nearly finished prologue, an almost as odd Sailor Moon fic in early outlining stages, a potential rewrite of Lonely Hearts (my old Ranma/Eva crossover), and a fully outlined Saturn-focused Sailor Moon oneshot I've been meaning to write for the longest time, and a few more ideas still brewing.

Some, none, or all of these projects may eventually show up on an FFML near you.

Started: June 11, 2003
Draft Completed: July 19, 2003
Draft Released: August 04, 2003
Final Completed: August 16, 2003