sparsenicjade
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One would think that with an event like the world ending and then being cobbled (maybe melded is a better word) back together, that Shinji would have some notion of before and after. He doesn't. He has now and then, but that's mostly just a noting of the passing of time.

This is due to Misato, he's pretty sure. If Misato weren't around there would be before and after. Misato's pretty intent on the fact that she's not supposed to be around, that her presence is a bit of a cock-up on the part of whoever was in charge of the whole cobbling-back-together thing.

She is around, though. She's around now, she was around then, and so far as Shinji is concerned that's the only issue of real significance. He's been trying to tell her this for nearly four years.

She's been trying not to listen.

Shinji can tell the difference between someone who doesn't hear and someone who won't. He knows that what she said to him when things were falling apart, her promises of more and later were meant to be empty promises, overcome by factors outside of her control.

Shinji couldn't care less. She's alive, and he's alive, and there are promises growing more stale with every minute, day, week, year that passes. He intends to collect regardless.

Shinji finds her after another day in a long string of days spent rebuilding. Shinji doesn't like the term rebuilding, he thinks it's inadequate. They aren't re-doing anything. They are building. Building what perhaps should have been built a long time ago. A world that neither he nor Misato recognizes, not even after four years of being at its foundation. A world that he is glad he does not recognize. Familiarity with the old one bred a contempt of which Shinji is hard-pressed to let go. He leans over her but doesn't touch her. They never touch. Not after their mouths pressed together and she told him with the confidence of only someone who knows everything is ending that there would be more later. "Dinner?"

He's still not much of a talker. She still talks too much. It works out well. She grins up at him. "Got yourself rid of the roomie?"

Asuka and him still live together, even after moving out of Misato's. Shinji doesn't think he'll ever live by himself. The silence would kill him. Women who talk too much are his weakness. "She has a date."

"Should I be warning any of my friends?"

Shinji's smile is a flicker. Asuka has one of the greatest stores of kindness inside her that he's ever known. She's getting better about letting on, has been ever since she rolled over onto him on a beach that Shinji knew and yet didn't. With new people, though, it isn't unusual for her shields to kick in and overcome the kindness with, well, shrillness. "Nobody you know. And he seems…patient."

"Important quality when putting up with her." Misato loves Asuka like a baby sister, with all the loving scorn implied in that relationship. Shinji never listens.

"You can pick the place."

"Oh, right, you wanted sustenance."

Shinji doesn't argue.

*

Asuka gets home late and smells unlike herself. Shinji asks, "Was he good?"

Asuka looks at him as though he is asking something he has no business to know, but she'll spill soon enough. For the most part Asuka's damage has been lessened, but her equating touch with love may never completely heal. Shinji keeps hoping that one of these days the men that she falls into bed with on the first date will realize that her overtures are anything but casual.

"He scheduled a second date." Asuka's brow is furrowed in honest confusion. Shinji doesn't blame her. The normal response is, "So, I'll call you." Shinji knows that Asuka prefers the honest ones, the ones who roll over, smile, say, "You were terrific," and don't mention another rendezvous. This is the first Shinji's ever heard of someone actually-

"Seriously, he pulled out a planner and scheduled a second date. And not just sex. Dinner. Possibly something else, he said he would see what's going on."

Shinji starts from the beginning. "Do you like him?"

Asuka blinks, as though this is something that never entered into her mind when she agreed to go on a first date. "He's nice."

It's not much to go on, but Shinji has learned to read Asuka when she's more silent than chatty. The event is rare and he's pretty sure he's the only one in the world who's privy to these moments. "You need to let this happen."

"Don’t even start with me, Shinji Ikaru. You're still pining over a woman you locked lips with at fifteen. You know shit about dating."

"For your information, Misato and I went out to eat tonight."

"As friends, I know you and your ways. You act all casual and shit so she won’t have to gently let your scrawny ass down. Which, by the way, she wouldn't, but you never believe me anyway, so I don’t know why I bother."

Shinji ignores the rant. "I don't get what's upsetting you. He likes you."

Asuka makes a lewd face. "He likes something." For everything that sex means to her, Asuka knows exactly what it means to other people. She's gotten used to being used for her prowess. Shinji hates all the men who have ever touched her.

"He didn't know that when he asked you out first. And it's not like he had to ask you out for dinner." Shinji tugs on one of Asuka's hairs. "You're sorta easy."

"But not cheap, which he's evidently figured out. And fuck you too, Brother Shinji."

Shinji pulls her into his arms and rests his chin atop her head. She doesn't even struggle in his grip the way she did when he first tried it. It terrified him to hang on that first time, but he did. This is his reward, her easy acceptance of his love any time he feels the need to press it on her. "I don’t think you're easy."

"And I don't think you'll be alone forever."

It's her way of saying Misato will come around. It’s her way of saying there isn't anything that could make her leave him.

*

Misato raises her eyebrow. "A second date? We are talking the same Asuka Soryu Langley, yes?"

Shinji doesn't look up from the newspaper that he's reading, trying to figure out what's going on in other parts of the world. "She's scared."

Misato collapses next to him with a sigh. "Yeah, well."

"I think that I should be as brave as her and tell you that when I ask you out I never mean it as a friend."

"Shinj-"

"I'm nineteen years old, so if you use age as an excuse I'm going to laugh."

"Might be worth it just to get that response."

"Go out on a date with me and I'll laugh all you want. Any time, any place."

Misato lets out a huff. "It's not that I don't want…this."

"I don't understand." Shinji knows that she won't take advantage of his confusion.

Misato's fists clench, the way they do when she wishes she could fight her way out of something, but there's nothing convenient at which to throw a punch. "The two of you come as a package, and you're all I have."

He would laugh at the absurdity of being afraid of losing something before she even really has it if he didn't empathize completely. The thing is, it's never really occurred to Shinji that he and Misato might not work after all. "What will it change? You accepting?"

Misato looks frustrated. "Everything. Shinji, fuck."

He knows that she's done this more times than he has (not hard, really), but Shinji has innate faith in very few things and this happens to be one of them. "It won't. We're different."

"Everybody thinks they're different in the beginning. That's why people start love affairs. You think all those couples who tear each other apart imagine that that was what they were going to be doing three weeks, five months, ten years from the time they started? Everybody thinks that what they have is special, but it's not."

"Not everybody was brought back to life on a fluke so that they could keep a promise they made." Shinji understands what Misato is saying, logically and emotionally. It doesn't change what he knows.

Misato's face is still, but her eyes have a trapped look in them. Finally, she lets out a breath. "If this doesn't work out, you have to stop it before you have to leave me. Stop it before there's a need for Asuka to pick between the two of us."

In aquiesance to Misato's fears, Shinji nods slightly. "I'll always make sure that you're taken care of."

After a few minutes she evidently decides he's telling the truth because she asks, "So, you're taking me some place expensive, right? No half-ways for this girl."

For either of them, really.

*

Shinji wines and dines Misato but won't let her do much more than kiss him goodnight until she screams at him in frustration, "How do you expect me to follow through on my promise if you won't let me touch you?"

Shinji puts her hands on his hips. "I was just waiting for you to remember why you made the promise."

Misato swipes her hands up, bringing his shirt with it. "I never forgot, silly child."

Shinji tilts his head and smiles at her. She takes it as an invitation to kiss him. He doesn't redefine her notion of the movement.

She takes him to bed because, "I'm not doing this against a fucking wall again."

Shinji allows her whatever she wants of him. He's been hers for so long that the physical part of the bargain seems piddling, if completely fantastic. Afterwards, she sprawls on top of him and doesn't breathe until he asks, "Misato?" when she starts breathing all too frantically.

There aren't any paper bags immediately convenient, so Shinji puts his mouth to hers, inhales to the count of three, exhales to the count of three. He repeats this until she is doing roughly the same, only opposite of him. He pulls away from the see-saw of respiration they’ve created to say, "I'm gonna call Asuka, tell her I'm staying for the night."

Shinji pulls away to use her phone. By the time he returns she's recovered herself, but she's so taut under the covers he's afraid to touch her, as though she might bruise at the contact of his fingers. He does though, because after all this time, he has the right to touch her, and he's less than eager to give it up. She shudders in his grasp, but then loosens into his hands. He dips down to kiss the back of her neck. "I'm back."

She laughs, but it's more a release of air than anything. "Noticed."

"That was… more than I was expecting. And I've sort of built it up in my head, so."

"I've waited a really long time for that," she says, and Shinji hears what doesn't get said. He hears, "Don’t make me wait again."

He says what he shouldn't say, something that will seal the deal, something that she doesn't want to hear but needs to all the same. "I love you."

Misato says, "Shut up, Shinji."

He's done talking, so he doesn't go against her wishes.

"You should go home."

"That's the last thing I should do, actually. Asuka said she's gonna use the place so long as I'm not around. Use use. You're stuck with me."

"I want my bed."

Shinji snuggles even closer to her. "Go to sleep."

"Shinji-"

"Go to sleep."

Misato may not listen, but she doesn't object again.

*

Asuka rolls her eyes when Shinji tells her everything. "Shinj, this is Misato we're talking about here. Everything with her is a bare inch under the surface, and you just drilled in at about three feet down."

"It's not like I'm a stranger," Shinji says, only to regret it a second later.

Asuka laughs at him. "It would be easier if you were. There's a method to my madness, you know."

Shinji doesn't want to go there. He doesn't want to think about what Asuka might be avoiding with all her dates and her fabulous collection of colored condoms. "Just tell me how to fix it."

"I might not be the best person to run to for advice at this point."

Perhaps not the best, but she knows both the players better than anyone alive and she is -- despite everything -- a girl, so Shinji's willing to hedge his bets on her. He just looks at her, an expression of trust and patience settled plainly on his features.

"You're a pain in the ass to have as a friend, you know this, right?"

Shinji says, "But I make for excellent entertainment."

"Don't quote me back to me. Okay, fine, how do you fix things? Um." Asuka gets up to start straightening things, one of her favorite ways to release nervous energy. It's a drastic improvement from the days when she would pick fights or work out until she made herself sick. "This may be one of those things that you just have to allow some time. Despite what she wanted, Misato got used to feeling like the day would never come when she could touch you. I think she feels like this is borrowed time, and I'm not sure there's any way to convince her otherwise. She'll eventually believe you, it’s just a matter of patience on your part. Lucky for all of us, you're the one who's good at shit like that."

While it’s true that Shinji is by far the best at waiting things out, it's beyond annoying that the most important thing in his life is coming down to practicing that skill. "Aren't lovers supposed to believe in each other?"

Asuka looks over her shoulder at him, pausing in mid-motion. "It's not you she doesn't believe in, babe. It's the world."

"This isn’t the one she knew." Shinji knows how much that doesn't change anything, knows it more inherently than anything else he's ever known. Not for the first time, he wishes it changed everything.

Asuka goes back to what she was doing. "Unfortunately, she still needs proof."

Shinji sighs. He has a good idea of who's going to need to provide her with it.

*

It takes a little bit of effort, commerce not being at all what it was before the rebuilding began, but Shinji gets what he wants. It comes in a small velvet box, black and traditional. Shinji can play by the rules if he thinks it will end with his desires being met.

It's how he manages to get down on his knees, when he swore he would never kneel either literally or figuratively to another person, never again allow anyone control over his destiny. He gives her all of that along with a diamond ring, 24 carat, not a flaw to be found, not even under the powerful microscope that the jeweler used to assess the rock. He gives it and asks, "Misato-san, would you think about being my wife?"

She is careful not to touch the box, even as she stares at its contents in undisguised wonder. "Are you out of your fucking mind?"

It isn't the first time Shinji's been asked the question. It isn't even the first time she's been the one doing the asking. What differentiates this time is that he knows the answer. "No."

"We've been dating for less than a month. We've had sex once."

Shinji is not impressed at this recitation of facts he already knows.

"Shinji," Misato places her hands on the table, as if to declare it on her side, "marriage is…forever. What happened with your parents, that wasn't normal."

"Asuka explained all of this. Back when somebody had to tell me about the birds and the bees. Or at least, how to protect myself from getting stung and what kind of toys work best to facilitate flying."

Misato slides her hands until her elbows are resting on the table, then folds up her arms and rests her forehead in her hands. "So you know then. You know that you can't possibly be sure about this."

"If I knew that, I wouldn't be in this rather uncomfortable position holding a box in your face."

"How can you know that this is…what you want? What's best for you?"

"The same way I knew how to fly the EVA. Instinct."

"Flying a semi-animate weapon is different than marriage." Misato lets her head flop to the side so that she can look at Shinji. After a second she says, "All right, maybe not that different."

Shinji says, "I was the person you wanted to kiss in what you thought were your last moments ever. Some bets aren't that hard to make, Misato."

"Like the one where I bet that you're going to regret this?"

Shinji shrugs and holds the box up a little higher.

Misato takes it from him. She slides the ring onto her finger. "Worth a try I suppose. The worse that could happen is the world is attacked by semi-divine outside forces and falls to pieces."

"Even then," Shinji says, "there's always the possibility of a third chance."

Looking at the ring on Misato's finger, Shinji's pretty sure they won't need it.

*


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile