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  A side story in the "I Mustn't Run Away"/"In Other Words" continuity,
now named _The Heart, the Soul_. Shortly after IOW. Please read the
preceding fics before this one. Spoiler warnings from those apply here, of
course. And also, remember, this Shinji is the manga characterization--the
more well-adjusted one with backbone.

  Dedicated to Michael Borgwardt and also David Tai; the latter pestered
me quite a bit on this at KawaiiMuck. I hope you like it.

************************************************
  An Oddzilla Productions fanfic, by Andrew Huang.
  The Quiet Moments.
  A side story of The Heart, the Soul.
  Based on Neon Genesis Evangelion, c. Gainax Studios and ADVision.
************************************************

  Shinji sneezed.

  The sneeze was enough to wake him up, and he blinked his eyes open,
gradually adjusting to wakefulness.

  There was a little light, enough for him to see fine strands of brownish
red hair floating in front of his eyes. Apparently, that was what had been
brushing against his nose to trigger his reaction. There was a smell of
shampoo, too.

  Warm. Soft. Hmm. And then, a sigh. Something shifted, and Shinji found
himself facing Asuka, who was showing the signs of waking up, in his arms.

  He blinked again.

  "Shin...?" She shivered slightly, though it was warm. He drew her nearer
to himself, and she buried her face in his chest.

  The nightmares.... Right. Asuka cried out last night, before he had
fallen asleep himself. When he had run in, he found her on the floor,
awake and sobbing. He couldn't leave her alone, not like that, of course
not. She fell asleep soon after, and...now, here they were. Yes.

  "Why don't they go away? It's been almost a week since, already, and I,
I...." She breathed shakily. "I hate it."

  Yes, those damn nightmares.

  Shinji shook his head. He still wasn't very good with this. "I, I don't
know. I think, after...after Mom was gone, it was pretty bad for me,
too...."

  She groaned softly. "You're not helping."

  "Uh...sorry." A few words tumbled around in his head. "It's okay. Don't
worry. Just, just rest. We don't have school today, no tests, and Misato's
probably already out by now...."

  She nodded, and wrapped an arm around his torso. They lay there,
quiescent, for a few minutes.

  "Shinji?"

  He looked at her.

  "...don't leave me."

  He leaned forward, placing his forehead against hers. "Asuka," he
answered, after a moment, "don't _you_ leave me."

  She looked at him. There was silence. Then she began to giggle.

  Shinji suddenly found himself to be very confused. "Hey, wha, what's so
funny?"

  Asuka calmed herself a little. "I can't believe we just said something
so corny." She lowered her voice in mock melodrama. "'Don't _you_ leave
me.' It's like something out of a bad romance novel."

  After a couple of moments contemplating that, Shinji shook his head, and
chuckled. "Yeah, I guess. But then, I wouldn't have believed...well, all
of _this_, two weeks ago." He sighed. "This is so crazy. I still don't
understand."

  "Me neither," replied Asuka. Her voice was fainter now, the laughter
having disappeared from it. She sank slightly in Shinji's embrace.

  "Yeah." Shinji leaned his head back, and closed his eyes. So much had
been going on. Some things that almost didn't happen, did. Some things
that might have happened, didn't. Where could he even begin? No, it would
be easier to stay with what he knew, right here at the present. He could
understand...he could understand someone, a girl, this girl, lying in his
arms.  Well--maybe he couldn't quite grasp that fully.

  Close enough.

  They dozed for a just a while longer, in this comfortable setting.

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

  Asuka emerged from the bathroom, toweling her hair dry, as she did
usually, after finishing her bath. Upon reaching her room, she carefully
checked to see that a certain other person had already left before quickly
getting dressed for the day. She exited her room to the sound of something
sizzling, quite loudly, in the kitchen. And then, there was this delicious
aroma....

  "Sausages," she mumbled, while attempting not to drool. She marched
single-mindedly towards the promise of good food, and came upon Shinji at
the stove, holding a pan of something spitting just a bit of oil with loud
crackling sounds. He heard her footsteps, and turned.

  "Well, here's some 'real food', like you've wanted." He grinned. "I know
it's already afternoon, but...well, I picked this up last night, when
Misato and I went shopping for food. I thOWOWOWOW! Dammit, that hurts!"

  He dropped the spatula on the ground, nursing the spot on his arm where
a largish blob of oil had splattered. Whimpering slightly, he darted to
the sink and ran some cold water over it. Asuka just stared.

  "...Shinji? You've been piloting an EVA for about a year now, and a
little bit of hot cooking oil gets to you like that?"

  He glared at her.

  She didn't laugh at him, as tempted as she was. She didn't even smile,
although her lip quirked rather badly before she managed to get that under
control. Rather, she simply picked up the spatula, nudged him aside at the
sink to wash it, and went to the stove to tend to the links sizzling in
the pan. "We got any eggs, too?" Her voice was almost--almost--free of any
wavering indicating the suppression of amusement.

  "Huh? Oh, yeah, of course...." Out of the corner of her eye, she watched
Shinji open the refrigerator and retrieve four brown eggs. "Here." He set
them down on the counter next to the stove.

  Asuka finished cooking the sausages, putting them on a plate, then fried
up the eggs quickly, two for the each of them. They divided up the
sausages as well, and then sat down at the table to eat.

  "Hey, not bad," commented Shinji. "You don't usually want to cook...."

  She shrugged. "No, I don't. Don't like to get oil burns, I guess," she
said, smirking faintly as she held up a wrist that was faintly spotted.
"But I don't complain that much when I do."

  "Huh." Shinji mock-sulked for a few moments, but smiled himself, after a
fashion. He ate in silence for a bit, then asked, "What do you want to do
today?"

  Asuka blinked. "Do? I...I don't know. Hadn't thought about it." She
swirled a sausage in some yolk on her plate and critically eyed the bit of
coronary disease on a fork. "You have any ideas?"

  Shinji sighed, and rested his chin on his hands. He turned his eyes to
the open window, and the sunshine streaming in through it. "Something to
get out of here. We've been indoors, mostly, for the past week. I mean,
it's been Headquarters, or school, or the infir...um. You know."

  She looked up at him, at that, and caught his nervous gaze. No, I'm not
going to appear weak. I'm not still weak. "Yeah." I think. "Well, I guess
that be nice. Out to the park, maybe? Then we'll see from there." She
grinned.

  "Sounds good. Come on. Let Misato wash up when she gets home. It's her
turn today, anyway." And now, he grinned.

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

  The sun shone brightly, and the air was warm, but not hot. Quite a fine
day for a stroll.

  Shinji glanced over at Asuka, sweating slightly. She was wearing this
light blue silk blouse and a short black skirt. Not something he'd ever
seen her wear before, and...he rubbed his nose, which felt a bit of
pressure. He looked down at himself. His dark blue school uniform pants
and the white shirt. Absolutely bland. He sighed.

  "Ooh! Look over there! Come on!" And Shinji found himself yanked along
at speed towards a stand set up at a crossing of footpaths in the park.

  "Hey! Slow down! I'm gonna fall, I'm...gah. How can you run so fast in
that, that...um. I mean. Heh." He rubbed his nose again.

  Asuka looked at him strangely. "What are you talking about?" She shook
her head. "Buy me some shaved ice," she declared imperiously. The grin she
wore slightly marred the effect, though.

  Shinji chuckled nervously, and bought a bowl of shaved ice with
condensed milk and red bean paste (as dictated to him), handing it to
Asuka. That's funny, he mused...she's complained about eating so much
Japanese food, but I think that's just about as Japanese as you can
get...and she sure is enjoying it.

  "Aren't you going to have any?"

  "Huh? What?" Shinji blinked, startled out of his thoughts. "I'm not in
the mood for it, I guess."

  "Not in the mood?" Asuka frowned, pausing with the spoon halfway to her
mouth. "Come on, it's good."

  "I...well...." He shrugged, helplessly.

  Asuka hmphed. "I'm not going to have to force you to have some, am I?"
She took the spoon away from her mouth, and started maneuvering it toward
Shinji's face. He looked at her nervously, instinctively tilting his head
backward as it came closer. "Come on, I'm not going to hurt you. Just as
long as you don't bite first." A toothy smile sprang to her lips.

  Shinji's eyes now bulged. This was really weird, now. She'd never said
anything like _that_ before. But, well...he started leaning back toward
her, toward the spoon she held in front of him, opening his mouth. And
just as he was about to touch the spoon with his lips-- "What? Hey!"

  Asuka grinned at him, the handle of the spoon now poking out from her
mouth. "Gotcha!" She giggled madly while he scowled at her. "Oh, stop
making faces at me. You're just too much fun to tease."

  He watched her continue to giggle for a minute more, finishing off the
rest of the shaved ice and shooting him amused glances. Eventually, the
frown on his face slowly relaxed away, to be replaced by a faint smile.
Well, this is better than what she might have been like, instead. I guess
I should be glad. "Well, come on...let's keep walking, okay?"

  She nodded, and they continued along, toward the lake that sat in the
center of the park.

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

  The look on his face had been priceless, Asuka mused, as she stared out
over the water.

  The water...hah, some lake this was. Barely even a pond. Feh, who were
they trying to kid? Just some little hole in the ground with a bit of
water dumped into it. And, and--

  "I like this place," said Shinji.

  ...and Shinji liked it. Don't upset him; don't ruin the day. "It's kind
of small."

  "It's peaceful."

  Asuka nodded. She had to give him that, at least. "You come here a lot,
don't you? You seem so, so, comfortable here."

  "Yeah. I remember the first time I came. Well, sort of. It was after one
of the earlier Angel attacks; I don't know which one. They start to run
together after a while, you know?"

  "...no, I don't think so." Asuka ground her teeth. I really don't need
to think about it. Change the subj...ect? Asuka's train of thought halted
when she felt Shinji's hand cover hers lightly. She sighed.

  "I'm sorry."

  "And stop apologizing. I could have sworn that I'd told you not to say
that all the time."

  Shinji paused at this, blinking. He muttered, "Either you or Misato. And
I can't remember which one of you it was, either."

  Asuka laughed, laughed genuinely if softly. "That would be like the two
of us, huh?" She looked out over the water again, falling silent. Almost
unconsciously, she shifted her hand slightly and gently curled her fingers
around his.

  "This is the first time I've actually come here with someone," Shinji
suddenly said. Asuka turned to him, a bit startled by his speaking in the
silence. She studied him carefully, as he turned his face to her to look
her in the eyes.

  Ah, those eyes of his, again....

  "...you _would_ say something as soppy as that, wouldn't you?" She
grinned widely.

  Shinji looked a bit hurt, as expected. "Don't you ever let up?" he
whined. It was starting to feel a little more like the old days. But not
quite.

  Asuka giggled, poking playfully at his shoulder. "Of course not! I'm the
great Souryuu Asuka Langley! I never let up!" And in due course, Shinji
started laughing too. Before long, though, they both subsided into their
previous silence, again just looking out over the pond.

  Why did I say that, the young redhead wondered to herself. It had rather
ruined that moment.

  Because it was scary, she answered herself a second later. To lose
herself in his eyes--it was a warm, wonderful thing, but also...scary.

  Bleah. Be strong, dammit.

  She then leaned, slightly, placing her head against Shinji's shoulder.
He stiffened--for an instant.

  But...it's nice to have help, when I have to be strong. Yeah.

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

  The afternoon had worn on, and it was now reaching the early evening.
The sun reached that certain place in the sky where it was possible to
look straight at it without hurting your eyes, and it illuminated the land
with a fiery red light.

  Shinji felt fervently poetic at this point, but he was cursed with a
lack of the ability to follow through on the impulse. So, he settled for,
"That's a pretty sunset."

  The two were now walking back to the apartment, side by side. Asuka had
been mostly quiet, now, just enjoying the scenery. She nodded absently,
murmuring a soft, "Yeah," but nothing more.

  They continued on, and Shinji couldn't help but steal a glance at his
right hand, which was holding on to her left. Rather obviously. In public.

  Wow.

  And yet, and yet--geez, why am I so self-conscious about it, he asked
himself. We'd slept in the same bed last night, for crying out loud. But
here, with hand-holding, and earlier when she leaned on my shoulder and I
bet I'll keep on doing this.... I'm never going to change, am I?

  "Something wrong?" Asuka's question broke through Shinji's reverie,
snapping him back to the present. "You were frowning."

  Both stopped walking, now, and looked at each other. Shinji hesitated
for a moment, and then brought his hand up, still grasping Asuka's. "Why
aren't I used to this? After all we've been through. I mean--last night,
we even slepmmmmmph!" Shinji reeled, partly from suprise, partly from the
force with which Asuka had slapped her free hand over his mouth. She was
wide-eyed, and blushing furiously.

  "Idiot! There are people around, you know!" She looked around quickly,
and sure enough, a few were looking their way. Her glare persuaded them to
resume their business, however. She sighed, and dropped her hand, turning
back to Shinji...who was now rubbing his mouth.

  "Ow...."

  "Oh!" Asuka moved her hand towards Shinji's face again, though in a
gentle manner this time. However, he instinctively shrank away from her at
this, pulling slightly away, and this prompted Asuka to stop and drop her
hand again. "I'm...I'm sorry, Shinji." She bit her lip, looking down at
her feet. Apologies still were a little difficult. "I...shouldn't have
done that." Actually, no, it was right to stop him from saying something
so embarassing--but...oh....

  "Um. It's okay. I guess I, uh, shouldn't have...mentioned it."

  They stood in uneasy silence, neither looking at the other. Finally,
Asuka started walking again--and was brought up short, with a small yank
on the arm from Shinji. They hadn't actually disengaged their hands. Asuka
gave Shinji an uncertain look, and her fingers twitched slightly, as if to
let go. But Shinji only smiled faintly, and tightened his grip just a
little. She nodded to him, and tugged him in the direction of home, once
more.

  They resumed walking quietly, lost in their thoughts for a while. Then,
as they turned a corner, Asuka spoke up. "Well. About, about what you were
saying.... I know what you mean. It's strange for me too, I mean, I'm
not...." She sighed, turning her head slightly to see Shinji nod at her
words. "Things take...time." I know it's taken me a lot of time to get
even this far, she said to herself. At least, I've made it. Yeah.

  "We're here," Shinji suddenly announced.

  He dug into his pocket, extracted the keys, and opened the door to the
apartment. Both walked in, and he shut the door behind himself. Then he
turned to her, and she to him.

  They looked at each other, and blinked a couple of times.

  "Well, that was nice," he said.

  "It was, yeah," she said.

  They fell silent, still not moving.

  "Was that a date?" he asked.

  "Why are you asking me?" she asked.

  And then they shook their heads and laughed. "Yeah, I guess it was,"
Asuka admitted. "Thanks."

  "Thank you."

  And again, they stopped, and looked at each other, in silence. There
was, suddenly, a sort of tension in the air.

  If it had been a date, then this was the end of the date. Common enough
occurrence, the end of a date.... Only, both parties lived at the same
place. Saying "good night" wasn't really an option, because both of them
were going to be together, still. Besides, it wasn't night-time yet,
anyhow.

  All of these thoughts ran through each of their heads, in one form or
another. They both knew it--something had to happen. So, something did.

  Shinji put a hand on Asuka's shoulder and stepped in close, quickly. He
tilted his head, then pressed his lips to hers for a couple of precious
seconds, before breaking off and drawing away. He smiled, a bit
sheepishly, and then ran down the hallway to his room, ducking in through
the door and sliding it shut once safely inside.

  Asuka, meanwhile, was still standing there. She reached up with a hand
to touch her lips, at a bit of a loss at what just happened. "He ran
away," she mumbled. With that, she bemusedly turned and walked down the
hallway, to her own room, to change into something more normal for being
in the apartment. Her hand was still at her lips, which were now curved
slightly in a faint smile.

  And Misato walked out of the kitchen, the customary (but, at present,
completely forgotten) beer in hand, also with a smile on her lips. "You
two are growing up, aren't you? I'm glad, Shinji. I'm glad, Asuka."

End.

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

  Finally. Finally done. This short bit, after months of sitting around
and occasionally being worked on. x.x I hate getting blocks. Ah.... This
chapter was partly inspired by a doujinshi of Asuka dragging Shinji out on
a sort-of-date. Very nice, very cute, and...it isn't hentai, aw darn. It's
called "Asuka, Rabukome suru" by a fellow who calls himself "Isutoshi",
and can be found in the _All's right with the world_ doujinshi collection,
published by Movic. Hard to find, though.

  Next up will be Misato. I'm rather looking forward to writing her, you
know. I just hope I can do it more quickly than this. n.n;;;

  Again, thank you for reading.