A Glass of Wine (Chapter 01)

She always thought of herself as a soldier. No one had ever called her a soldier, of course. Not her father, not her mother, not the myriad combat trainers, teachers, or lab techs that had populated her childhood. The title was entirely self-appointed. To her way of thinking, soldiers were the best. More importantly, people respected soldiers.

Nobody ever said it would be easy, and she never expected it would be. This was a war after all. Some monster comes crashing through your city, killing people, then you owed it a kick in the teeth.

But Asuka Langley Soryu never thought it could hurt this much. She sat in the kitchen staring at the table, trying to push the phantoms out of her mind. It was a ritual occurrence. Every operation brought its own phantoms—little synaptic twinges and ghost pains that flitted across her body, fallout from synching minds with something so inhumanly vast. During her first live fire exercise she hadn't unfurled her AT field quickly enough and a cruise missile blew a hole in her torso armor. She felt that sucking chest wound for a week after, tossing and turning in the middle of the night, trying to stop the bleeding. It was a lot for an eight year old to handle, but it was nothing compared to this.

She wore a two year old sweater, bought before her growth spurt. It was too small and hugged tight against her body. She didn't have an excuse for it but she desperately needed one. The truth was just too embarrassing—that she could still feel the magma pressing in on her. Its heat was dulled by the D-Type equipment, but she could still feel the weight of it. It was suffocating. The sweater kept a constant pressure against her skin that was real. It helped override the phantom feeling, at least when she didn't focus on it.

The swish of the front door opening reached her ears, but Asuka didn't look up. She heard Misato march into the room, heels clacking the wood floor. Her superior and guardian set her briefcase down on the table and grabbed a beer from the fridge. She took a long gulp, draining the day away.

"Hey, Asuka," she said. "Where's Shinji?"

"Cleaning duty at the school."

Misato looked at her ward's hands. "You wanna talk about that?"

Asuka turned the cigarette over in her fingers. She had honestly forgotten about it, and why she had picked up the pack in the first place—lifted out of Kaji's desk drawer when he wasn't looking. She supposed she didn't really want the thing. Why had she even stolen it in the first place?

Had she a better mind for introspection, she might have noticed the cigarette for the cry that it was. As it stood, she simply set it down.

"I don't really want it," she said.

Misato walked to the sink and drained what was left of her beer. Asuka watched her, confused.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Going for something harder." Her guardian gave a smile. "Work has been rough lately. For both of us. I'm feeling wine."

"I'm underage."

Misato didn't turn away from where she rummaged through the cupboard. "You go to war every other week, Asuka. I think you can have a drink."

"And end up like you?" Asuka said. She saw the slight hitch in Misato's movements and knew that her words had connected. It was a simple payback. For what, the teen had no idea, a consequence of a mind grown beyond its petty influences. Misato had seen her being weak, and she deserved to hurt for it.

Misato brought two glasses back to the table and poured. "Light up, then."

"What?"

"Light the cigarette. See what you think."

Misato grabbed one and lit it. Her first draw was long and deep. She exhaled calmly.

Asuka, never one to be outdone, snatched up the lighter and did as she was told. She put the cigarette to her lips and inhaled, all at once and far too much. Smoke stung her throat and needled through her lungs. She shuddered, coughed, and stamped the cigarette out.

Misato grinned. "Not so good?"

"Horrible!"

"Yep." The captain put out her own, then slid one of the glasses across the table. "I'll trade you one bad habit for another. Deal?"

Asuka said nothing. She picked up the glass and sipped, partly out of curiosity, but mostly to get the smoke out of her throat. The wine certainly worked. It was a shocking contrast, from the ash to the fruity tang of the wine. It was a fuller taste then she had expected—the downside to a palette dampened by carbonates and sugar since childhood.

"Like it?" Misato asked.

Asuka shrugged. "Wondering what's behind it."

"You look like you could use it." Misato grinned. "Who says there's something behind it?"

"I do."

The two sat in silence for a long time, drinking and looking at everything but each other. In the quiet, Asuka became aware again of the phantoms that closed in around her. One hand subconsciously moved to her shoulder.

"You feel the pressure, don't you."

Asuka looked up. "What did you say?"

"All that heat, down there in the belly of the volcano." Misato was looking at her over the rim of her glass. "You can still feel it, can't you? Pressing in. Suffocating. Drowning and dragging you down. You were down there for a total of twenty-three minutes, and for every single instant of it, you couldn't feel anything but the weight of the world trying to crush you."

"Like you would understand."

"But I'm not wrong." Misato pointed to her briefcase. "Those files aren't just for show. I really do read them, and I am actually briefed on your mental state. Y'know, beyond this past month of firsthand experience."

Suddenly, the sweater didn't help a damn bit. Asuka stared at the table and felt the renewed pressure against her flesh. The sensation flowed in and out like waves breaking on a beach. Between the lulls, her synapses were so dead to it that she could barely imagine the feeling. At their peak she felt like she was being strangled.

Misato waited a moment, then spoke. "You know how I know? I mean, I could have guessed, but I'm not that good."

Another person would assume the question as rhetorical and wait, but Asuka didn't. She had already figured it out.

"Shinji," she said, meeting the Captain's eyes. "He was down there, too."

"With no suit. If you think it was painful, imagine what he had to feel. Despite all the claustrophobia and suffocating and all that, the thing that his report has that you would certainly lack is the sensation of his skin boiling off." Misato took another sip. "Apparently it comes and goes. So that's fun."

Asuka ignored the sarcastic barb. "And you want me to, what, help him out?"

"Is that so terrible? Sometimes people help each other, Asuka. That's part of growing up. You aren't an island, as much as you'd like yourself to be."

"I don't think I'm an island."

"You want me to grab your psych report? Literal reams of evidence directly from your mouth. Stuff about living by yourself and thinking for yourself and not needing anyone else for anything ever no matter what."

"I never said that!"

"Pretty sure that's an exact quote from when you were eight."

"Whatever." Asuka stood up from the table, pulled the sweater tight to ride out the next wave. "I don't need Shinji."

"I'm not saying you need him. I doubt he needs you, either. You're both totally self-sufficient."

That last comment stopped Asuka in her tracks. She turned. "In what world is he self-sufficient?"

Misato raised her eyebrows from over the brim of her glass. She knew her words had hit the mark, returning barb for barb. Asuka realized it, and the realization infuriated her.

"Explain that," she said.

"He cooks." A hand waved around the kitchen.

"Do better."

Misato lost her playful mood. It was a brief change, a hardening of the eyebrows above a sharp glare, but it was enough. It was the look that she gave over the inter-plug comm suite, the look that came with shouts about AT fields and blue patterns. Most importantly, it was a look that Asuka had never seen in this kitchen before. On some level it was a frightening revelation.

"Asuka, Shinji Ikari lives life alone. And I know that's something that you crave, but for most people, loneliness is a problem to be solved. He's become self-sufficient out of necessity not want, and the first thing he does with his self-sufficiency is to help the people around him." She held up a hand. "Don't scoff yet. I can feel your scoff coming on."

"Don't tell me what to do."

Misato gestured at the table with splayed fingers, in the way of a person who gestures with no point but loads of emphasis. "Shinji came here and fought in a war he didn't know existed without so much as a thank you. He has continued to put his life on the line ever since. He has fought in six separate engagements, three of which you were present for."

"He's a pilot. That's his job."

"No, that's your job. You don't know any better. Three months ago Shinji Ikari was a kid. He spent his time reading and playing cello and being a kid as best he could. Now he is here, doing the thing you do as well as you do—"

"He does not!"

Misato held up her hand. "The point is, he has put his life on the line on six separate occasions and, aside from me, has received no appreciation. Some people would call that being a hero, especially if some people had been about to die in a volcano and were saved by someone who, for all intents and purposes, could have let them be crushed to death."

Asuka frowned. "You ordered him down there."

"I didn't have time to order him down there. Your cable snapped and he was in that volcano. No hesitation. I hadn't even made a decision yet. Honestly, I might have told him to hold back. One Evangelion, to some people in this organization, is an acceptable loss to defeat an Angel."

"I don't believe you."

"I don't care." Misato leaned back and cradled her wine against her chest. "I know none of this is really getting through. You're fourteen and I'm twenty-nine, so by default I'm all kinds of wrong. But do me a favor when you storm off to your room and just think about it, okay?"

Asuka scoffed. She made it the most German scoffy scoff she could, and then stomped away to her room, trying to ignore the truth in her commander's words.

((()))

Shinji Ikari came home to a series of closed doors. All three of his roommates were boarded up for the night at 4:30, and he was left with an empty house. He wondered what was wrong, and in true Shinji Ikari fashion, began to think of it as his fault.

He sat down at the living room table and pulled out his books. The TV stayed off out of long habit. Being raised by an educator had taught him focus, if nothing else, and he had a tendency to blot out distractions. In addition, TV was a passive activity, and if the past week had taught him anything, it was that passivity let the pain in.

Shinji froze as the sensation built from nowhere. He dropped his pencil and braced himself against the table. Thinking about the pain inevitably brought it on. He waited, and it hit. Ghostfire washed up his arms and across his chest. His breath fled him and he bit down to stifle the whimper that built in his throat. Deep in the throes of it, Shinji wondered how long he would have to put up with these flashes. The false break in his arm had taken a week to go away, and the stomach aches from his second sortie had faded just a couple weeks ago.

How long would this last? Another month? Or would this be permanent? How long could he live with surface nerves that occasionally thought they were on fire?

The moment passed, and he leaned back against the wall, eyes closed. For a moment, he was conscious of little more than his respiration, focusing fully on regulation. All of his friends in Okinawa and he was stuck here, his skin not-boiling him into fits of near-epilepsy.

His breathing calmed, and he opened his eyes to see one of his roommates standing in front of him. His knee jerked, smashing into the underside of the table. New pain.

"Asuka," he said, rubbing his knee. "How long have you been there?"

The Second Child shrugged. "About halfway through the seizure. What the hell was that?"

"Nothing."

"Uh-huh."

Asuka turned on the TV and sat down next to him. It was about the worst place she could possibly sit to watch TV, since she had to look through his head just to see it. Shinji was immediately suspicious.

"We need a couch," she told him. When he didn't respond, she went on. "Sitting on the floor all the time really bites."

"I'm sorry."

Asuka glared at him. It was the glare that always served as a harbinger for angry German-speak, and a glare he had learned well. "You're really the most frustrating person I know."

"I'm sorry?"

"Gott im Himmel." Asuka took a breath. "I know about your skin thing, okay? I have the same thing. A similar thing, at least."

Shinji wasn't sure what he was supposed to do with that information. "Okay," he said, in his best attempt at saying something.

Asuka went on. She picked at the table in front of her and avoided his eyes. "I feel like I'm being suffocated."

"Okay."

"Some days it's like I—" She stopped. "Look, do you feel any of this, too? Because if you don't then there's no use for me in even talking to you about it."

"I do feel it. I do."

"Because really, I don't need to talk about this, you know."

"Sure."

"I could just leave you here with your bubbly skin and do something fun instead. I could totally do that. I mean, this is all just for your benefit."

"Okay."

Her fingernail ran across his physics book, digging into the groove of the spine. They both watched it in silence.

"How did you do on the test?" she asked.

Shinji swallowed. "Well enough."

"You got a C."

"Yeah."

Asuka's finger reached the end of its run, tapped the cover, and retracted into her fist. "Thank you," she said.

Shinji blinked. "Huh?"

"Thank you," she said, still not looking at him. "For the volcano. You didn't have to do that but you did. So thanks, I guess."

Shinji Ikari learned what it felt like to fracture his brain. Of all the things that she could have said, this was certainly among the most unbelievable.

Her unexpected gratitude broke open the mystery of their conversation, and its secrets were suddenly clear to him. Asuka, for the first time ever, sympathized with him in some capacity. He had no idea what to do with that information. His left hand decided that it wanted to be on her shoulder, but he stopped it halfway. It was clear that his left hand had lost its fucking mind. Still, it stayed there, suspended in space, halfway between a hug and a high-five.

"And don't say anything, either. I don't need anything back." She leaned back and fell into his arm. For a minute he pulled at it, but Asuka held firm, keeping it pinned to the wall. "That's fine where it is," she said.

"What—"

"Shut up."

Shinji shut up. They sat for a minute, her with her hands in her lap, him with one stuck behind her, the silence filled by the TV's jabbering adverts. Shinji became uncomfortably aware of where his hand was. Eventually, he set it on her shoulder. It wasn't an embrace, but it was as close as he would dare. For a moment his mind flashed back to that horrible moment in Rei Ayanami's apartment—a flash of suppressed memories, of pale flesh and red eyes that bored into him.

Asuka closed her eyes. "I bet you really like this," she said.

Not really, he thought, but kept his mouth shut. He had no idea what to do, so he sat, feeling the needles in his arm, and watched her face. With her eyes closed, he actually had a minute to look at her without fear. She had a serene expression, and he felt that she was enjoying this more than he was. Probably the pain it caused him, he assumed.

Then her expression changed. Her hands tightened around her sweater, and she grimaced. Shinji wasn't sure what it was—maybe genuine sympathy, or maybe just a remnant link from their synchronization training—but he felt he understood what was happening. She was feeling the pain again, just like he did.

"Does it hurt?" he asked.

"What the hell do you think?" Asuka looked at him. "Don't you say another word. You got that?"

Shinji nodded, though he desperately wanted to know why. He got his answer when she leaned into him. No matter what had come before, this was now definably a hug. There was no doubt. Her head was on his shoulder, and he couldn't smell anything beyond the fragrance of her hair. Her shoulder dug into his ribs, and he shifted around it, accommodating.

"Asuka—" he started.

"What did I say?"

"Sorry."

Her body was completely tense, and she held her arms tight to her body. Shinji finally let his arm relax into the embrace, and she didn't kick away from him. Tentatively, he brought his other arm around and laced his fingers together. After a moment, he realized he was holding her, and how insane the whole situation was really hit him.

But he didn't move. He waited out the ten minutes it took for her pain to go away in silence. When she finally did move, his hands disappeared from her body.

The Second Child stood and looked down at him. "You're welcome," she said, and walked away to her room. He heard the door close behind her, and he was alone in the living room.

"Thanks," said Shinji Ikari, to no one in particular.

((()))

Author's Note: This is a rewrite of a story by 94Saturn, also called A Glass of Wine. It was a story that I read when I was a wee child of 13, and it was the story that got me into writing fanfic. Probably writing in general. It was the perfect story to introduce a young Eva fan to the idea of writing about his favorite series. It is the best example of that time-honored Eva story, the one where Shinji and Asuka fall in love, and the whole world just pauses at some point after Magma Diver. It is cornerstone of senseless lime and lemon. Gratuitous dating scenes, lots of idiosyncratic and nonsensical character development. I think all the characters who could be dating end up dating by the end of it. It is a story written by someone who really enjoyed writing it, and a lot of people evidently felt that. It is a well-read and reviewed fic with deep roots in the fandom.

It is also sadly unfinished due to 94Saturn's unexpected death in 2009. He had a great many friends around the community. I was not one of them, but just a reader. Still, I was saddened by it. In a way this is a tribute to the story and man that got me into writing, and a love letter to a childhood spent up late at night reading kooky stories about cartoon characters.

If none of that means anything to you, this is a story about Asuka, Shinji, young love, and a ton of sinister Gendo plotting. Enjoy.