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Play to Remember

By Shawn Dudley

Scifi / Romance

Into the Storm

Shinji nervously looked out the windows of his aircraft as it descended through the darkening clouds on its approach. The sky seemed angry, with gray and black pillows covering his view while drops of rain trailed over the window as the plane descended.

"Pilot to cabin," the voice came on in English over the cabin speakers. "We're now on final approach. Please be sure you're all buckled in as the local weather is a bit choppy."

More like a torrent, Shinji thought to himself as he sat back and tried to relax in the seat. There was a flash out the window and he quickly turned his head, reflexively grabbing onto the two armrests as he searched for the source. A moment later a loud, muffled boom was heard but nothing else felt other than the high winds buffeting the airplane. Just lightning, Shinji realized, and he tried to relax his grip on the arm rest. He looked down at his hands and realized he was grabbing the handles like they were actuators in the entry plug, and that brought a small smile to his face at how ridiculous it was. I'm not piloting this airplane, he thought to himself, I'm not piloting anything these days except maybe a cello.

Shinji laid back in his seat and tried to relax until the aircraft landed. At least the seat was comfortable: NERV, now strictly a research operation, had managed to hold onto a Gulfstream 650 while many of its vast assets were divided out to new owners or to disposal during the period after Evangelion operations officially ended, and still used it for transporting VIPs to and from places worldwide as needed. Shinji of course certainly qualified as a VIP to NERV even though his piloting days were long over. The interior of the small jet was nicely appointed with leather seats, a kitchenette well stocked with beverages and snacks, and even a small cabin in the rear where he had slept for most of the journey from Japan to Germany. There was an attractive Japanese woman in her early 20s as a cabin attendant and, as he was the sole passenger on the eight-seated aircraft, Shinji was well attended to during the flight. None of that however really helped him stop being apprehensive about the journey he was now taking or what would come when he reached his final destination.

The plane shook violently as it rushed downward for a few seconds and Shinji gripped the handles of his chair tighter, closing his eyes and praying that he wouldn't have survived at least fifteen Angels and nine Harpies just to end up smashed to bits on a runway in Germany. With a thud the aircraft made a hard landing on the runway and then shook nearly backwards as the pilot reversed the engines to bring it to a full stop. After another minute of settling down the G650 veered off the main runway and taxied down the tarmac, finally landed after a long journey.

Shinji opened his eyes and looked out the window, seeing darker skies and raindrops streaming down his window. A large sign in the distance stated in both German and English "Welcome to Leipzig Airport." He was able to relax a little, but then mentally started going through what would be happening next as this part of the journey, although somewhat traumatic, was simply just a step in the direction he was taking.

After another two minutes of rolling on tarmac the Gulfstream taxied into a large hanger where there were another four or five private planes parked inside. The aircraft came to a complete stop and Shinji took off his seatbelt without being asked to first, as he was anxious to get off the plane.

The cabin attendant handed Shinji his backpack and his coat with a smile, seemingly completely unfazed by the turbulent flight a few moments earlier. "Thank you for travelling with us, Ikari-sama " she said to him as she bowed respectfully, "it was a great pleasure having you on board."

"Thank you," Shinji replied and bowed slightly in return, "you were very hospitable."

The attendant smiled wider. "You're very welcome. Please enjoy your stay here."

Shinji put on his coat, then took his backpack and made for the exit, walking down a small metal stairway to the hanger floor below. Standing to receive him at the bottom was a European woman with brown hair tied in a bun that looked about thirty years of age, wearing a business suit and a very stern facial expression. "Herr Kaji," she said to Shinji as he stepped off the stairs.

"Yes," Shinji answered.

"I have your travel documents here, we need a few minutes with immigration and I can get you on your way." Shinji smiled at her and replied back in German, "that would be good."

The two of them walked briskly across the hanger floor and to a small office in the side wall of the hanger. There were signs above in several languages stating "Immigration Control" and a handful of uniformed staff members seated at two tables waiting patiently for the two of them to approach. Once at the first table the clerk seated there snapped to attention as the woman accompanying Shinji immediately thrusted several documents in front of him, including a green-colored passport and Shinji's NERV identification card. The two of them waited patiently as the clerk carefully studied all of the documents and then took a very good look at Shinji as he stood there.

Looking over both the passport photo and ID card, the clerk compared them to the young man standing in front of them and winced at the lack of similarity between the boy in the photos and the one he saw now. The boy in the pictures was short, slender, and somewhat scrawny albeit with a handsome face, and his dark brown hair was cut short. The one standing in front of him now was much taller, his brown hair now tied in a ponytail. The older boy wore wire-framed glasses as well and aside from the haze-purple eye color the two of them didn't look that much similar to the clerk.

"This photo," he pointed to the passport in his right hand, "you are somewhat different from when this was taken."

Shinji was a little embarrassed, as he had a growth spurt since his piloting days. "That was from nearly three years ago," he told the immigration clerk.

The clerk was just a little amused. "You've grown up a lot in that time, it seems." Shinji nodded. "You could say that."

The clerk then moved from the passport to the other documents and studied them, settling on the NERV ID card and making several checks between that and other papers. "Um, Mr…Kaji, did you change your name recently? Your organization identification has you named as ''Shinji Ikari.''"

Shinji nervously scratched the back of his head as he answered. "Oh, that. Well, it's a bit complicated but Kaji is the name of my legal family now. My original name was Ikari, and NERV still has me under that name. But everything else is under 'Kaji."

"I see," the clerk responded and started searching through the documents until he found what he needed. "Ah, yes. There's a certificate of Adoption here. That should be fine."

"Will my name here in Germany be Kaji?" Shinji asked the clerk somewhat nervously, "it's preferable that way."

"Well, you are registered under 'Shinjiro Kaji' at the school you will be attending and on your visa and other papers, so I shouldn't think that would be a problem." Shinji nodded in relief.

After another minute the clerk finally got out a red-colored stamp and proceeded to stamp a series of papers plus his passport. He then handed all of it back to Shinji. "Accepted. You have a 12-month student visa with unlimited travel privileges. Just remember that you must renew the visa outside of Germany once every year while you are studying here, otherwise you'll lose your immigration status."

"I understand."

"Very well. Welcome to Germany, Herr Kaji, and by the way you speak excellent German yourself. Did you learn in Japan?"

Shinji smiled, much broader this time. "I have a really good teacher."

After getting his paperwork back Shinji was accompanied by the woman outside the hanger to a covered patio where a black Mercedes SUV was waiting. Inside of the van were two large German men, people who Shinji didn't yet recognize but knew he would be getting to know them soon as part of his new security detail while he lived here. He asked the woman about his luggage and she motioned to the back of the van.

"Everything's there, sir. And please don't worry, I packed the cello case carefully."

"Thank you, Fraulein" Shinji told her. "Then I'll be on my way."

"Thank you Herr Kaji, I hope you enjoy your time here." Shinji turned to go but the woman spoke something more, this time in Japanese, "Thank you also Mr. Ikari." He turned back to face her as she continued.

"I could understand why you wouldn't want anyone to know that you were the Third Child, sir, but just know from many of us you have our enduring and complete gratitude for everything that you did." Her stern face softened, her lips were in just a small smile that betrayed how actually nervous she was speaking to the boy who had saved the world. "If there is anything you need, anything at all, please call the number on my card. It's in with your travel paperwork."

Shinji smiled at her, wincing in embarrassment. "I'll do that. Thank you again very much."

The woman waived him off as he got inside the SUV. "Auf Weidersein!" she said with a wider smile.

The trip from Leipzig airport to the school Shinji would be attending was about an hour, most of which was spent in traffic on the autobahn as vehicles were snarled waiting for an accident to clear ahead of them. The rain had not abated since the flight, and if anything it had become worse. Shinji looked out the window and saw that the skies were even darker now. It matched his mood in some ways.

It's not like I don't want to be here, he thought to himself, but at the same time this is kind of far from home. Then again, home wasn't always Hakone, or Tokyo-3 for that matter. He kept looking out the window and realized that he probably needed to call in about now. His phone beat him to it, ringing out the melody of Pacabel until he picked it out of his jacket pocket. "Misato-san?"

"Shinji! You made it!" Misato exclaimed, then said in a lower voice. "At least call me when you land. I was worried you'd have trouble with the weather there."

"Um, I'm alright," he replied back in a tired voice. "Although it's pretty gloomy out here still."

"Well, just keep dry. I confirmed that school is all ready and waiting for you. They've got your apartment set up too, and all your stuff should already be there. Sounds like it's a pretty nice place they've got you in." Just as she was about to continue Misato felt a tug at her leg and saw her son Akira standing there, a two year-old boy with black hair and black eyes, wearing a set of denim overalls and red shirt. Standing next to him was PenPen, who was dressed in an outfit that was identical to the toddlers except for the grey metal cooler backpack he wore. She picked up her son and held him in her arms.

"It's supposed to be pretty old but modernized," Shinji told her, "so at least I won't have to build fires in the fireplace to sleep at night."

Misato chuckled at Shinji's reply. "There, see. Not so bad being away from home. You're going to love living in Germany, trust me."

"From the world capital of beer…"

"Something like that," Misato said cheerfully.

"Good enough," Shinji continued, "and you're probably glad to have all of us out of the house by now."

Misato put down little Akira from the floor and sighed as she thought of that. Only a few months earlier their large house in Hakone was home to no less than four teenagers: Shinji and Rei, both of whom were adopted not long after the war with SEELE, and the Forrestal twins, the former pilots of Unit 04 who lived with them for about a year in the guest house. Not to mention Asuka also lived at the house for most of a year at the same time as the others. Add on little Akira on top of all of that and there were some days Misato considered that battling Angels at NERV would have been easier. But now the Forrestals and Rei had move onto America for school of their own, and Shinji was now in Germany where Asuka had returned months earlier. The large house seemed drearily silent to Misato. "I miss all of you, really. It's just too quiet here now without you."

"Maybe peace and quiet will do you some good," Shinji told her. "You've got another book coming right?"

"That's true, and at least now I can focus on it a bit more." Something caught Misato's eye below her and she immediately went into action. "Hey, Shinji, gotta go. Akira's getting into PenPen's food . Take care and call me soon, okay?"

"I will," Shinji replied, and then he started to say something else. Misato nearly hung up the phone in haste until she realized that Shinji was still on the line. "Shinji?"

"Um, yeah?"

Her voice became softer, more concerned. "Are you okay?"

"It's about Asuka," he told her. "I haven't heard anything back since I told her I was on my way here. I'm just worried, that's all."

"I wouldn't worry," comforted Misato. "You just got to let her find her way home, that's all. She always somehow makes it back." Shinji let himself feel just a little bit better after that. "I got it."

"Anyway, let me go clean up this mess. So bye bye for now!"

"See you later!"

"Oh, and Shinji?"

"Yes, Misato-san?"

"If you do run in to Asuka where you're living alone there," Misato said in a cute voice, "just be aware that I don't want to be a grandmother quite yet. Understand?"

"Um, got it!" he said nervously.

"Bye! Have fun!" Misato finally said and then hung up the phone.

Shinji held the phone in his hands as he looked out the window of the SUV as the thunderstorm continued outside. He could see that the vehicle had finally exited the freeway and was moving slowly through city streets, flowing slowly with city traffic as the day began. It wasn't Shinji's first time in Germany, by his count he had been here four times already including the current trip, but this time he would be a part of this place. Leipzig seemed like a mix of old and new, modern-looking offices were mixed in with older apartments and other buildings that looked like schools or some sort of government buildings, the latter appearing like palaces of old grey and green with marble columns and decorated trims and frames.

He looked at his phone again, working up the courage to try and text Asuka. It wasn't so much that he was afraid to contact her, but at times like now when she ran off from Shinji and the others it was always awkward for him to reach out to her. Unlike the rest of the EVA pilots who, once the war with the Angels and with SEELE ended were more than happy to try to go back to something like a normal and quiet life, Asuka still felt like she deserved the recognition that she craved while she was piloting. Once the war ended she had escaped from the hospital in Hakone that she was recovering in, literally climbing down the fire escape to sneak out despite her wounds. A few months later Asuka re-emerged in Germany fully physically healed and making a dramatic entrance in the media, quickly becoming the face of Evangelion to a world hungry for answers about what had been happening for the last year.

Initially basking in the limelight that she had so eagerly sought, after about a year of grinding daily exposure of interviews, modeling, and many public appearances Asuka decided she had enough and promptly returned to Japan, surprising Shinji and the others by moving back in with them at Misato and Kaji's new house. That following year, with Shinji and Rei living and starting high school together and all of the others living close by, was complete bliss to Shinji. Asuka was again part of his everyday family life, and they spent as much time as they could in each other's company.

Things began to change when Shinji, who in order to avoid notoriety used the name "Shinjiro Kaji" in public, was asked to appear on Japanese TV during New Year's Eve programming. Cello had become as much of his current life as EVA had before, and now cello was carrying Shinji into entirely new worlds. A single piece of his music broadcast at New Year's Eve had resulted not only in strong interest in the young prodigy from Hakone from the Japanese classical-music loving public, but it had also resulted in several invitations to better learn the art from a variety of music conservatories from around the world. Accompanied by both Misato and Asuka, Shinji went to Europe to audition at several schools in Italy, Germany, and Austria before being accepted at the Mendelssohn Conservatory in Leipzig. But when Shinji prepared to return to Japan back in March, Asuka didn't go back with him, instead slipping away from him and Misato on one late foggy evening.

At first Shinji was heartbroken and horribly worried, as Asuka sent only one message to him via text when she disappeared:

ASUKA: Just need a time out don't worry about me Baka

Quickly followed by…

ASUKA: pls don't be pathetic tks.

It wasn't the first time she had disappeared either, Shinji knew, but he was given little choice except to hope that she would again resurface. But spring flew into summer and then fall and there was barely any word from Asuka at all, other than very occasional and very short messages such as "send my stuff to my mom's house."

Now actually living in Germany and enrolled in school, Shinji wondered if and when the redhead might resurface. While she had been gone for longer periods of time, it was now that Shinji wondered if Asuka really was still interested in a relationship or if, like Misato in her younger years, she might still be damaged enough from EVA to not want to get too close to him or anyone else. That he could completely understand, and it was one of the reasons why Shinji did practically everything in his power to put EVA behind him.

He took the mobile phone and went to the messaging screen, and then stared at the icon at the top of the contacts list: an image of Asuka on one of their best days, with her arms around him at the shores of Lake Ashi. He wanted that again with her, and he knew that it wouldn't happen again until he could somehow find the key to getting her to return. Slowly he begun to write a text to her.

ME: hi. I'm in Germany right now

After sending it he waited a couple of minutes for a response but saw none. Undaunted, he tried again.

ME: I arrive at Mendelssohn today. Are you nearby?

After another five minutes of anxious waiting there was still no reply, and Asuka's phone didn't indicate if she had read a text or not. Internally shinji debated on sending one more message, not wanting to trigger a tirade if she just didn't want to reply back. Anxious and seeing through the SUV windows that they were coming up on the school soon, he gave it one last shot.

ME: Asuka I finally came here ok? This is what you really wanted wasn't it? I'm not here with anyone else just me alone so pls let me know where you are thanks.

He sent the message and just as soon as he did regretted it. Well that was dumb, this makes me look like I'm so desperate. But this time something immediately came back.

ASUKA: Baka got it already pls don't text a freaking book I'm busy right now k

Shinji was actually elated just to get that much of a message, enough to where he had to force himself to hold back from replying. At least she responded, he told himself. He felt the Mercedes park in the front of the giant school building and put his phone inside of his jacket pocket, trying to push aside thoughts of Asuka and concentrate on what he'd have to deal with once inside the conservatory. From the imposing grey marble of the building, Shinji guessed he'd have something equally imposing to face once he got inside.

Leaving the Mercedes parked on the curb and asking the driver to please wait for him until he returned, Shinji looked for and found what appeared to be the entrance of the school: a grand stonework archway with two oaken doors that rose over four meters high. One the doors was propped open and Shinji promptly went through.

Inside the interior of the school would have rated well with any art museum, the hallways were tall and lined with giant paintings and sculptures from the romantic period of German music, while the floor was covered in checkered black and white polished tiles cut in a diagonal patter that stretched out for a couple hundred meters ahead of him. Walking all along were various instructors and staff, who all appeared to be German or European, and a great deal more students of every race and ethnicity imaginable. To Shinji most of the students were well-dressed and seemed well-mannered or at least well groomed. Some of them clustered in small groups and whispered to themselves while others were walking or sitting alone along the hallway. Music was heard coming from several rooms as he walked along the hallway.

Towards the middle of the grand hall was a giant painting of Mendelssohn himself. The great composer and music prodigy had founded the school in the mid-19th Century in the hopes of discovering more talents such as himself, and despite wars and impacts this school had kept its grand doors open nearly two hundred years. Time didn't seem to alter this place and Shinji paused to look at the portrait, seeing someone who looked ordinary for his time but who was anything but. To the side of the painting Shinji saw a sign posted in German that said "Student Office." He checked his backpack to be sure he had his registration paperwork with him, and then with some trepidation pushed open the door.

The office itself was more plain and functional, like any school office anywhere in the world except for the posters of maestros on the walls. At the counter was a heavy-set middle-aged German woman of blonde hair who looked as though she had enjoyed the previous year's Oktoberfest a little too well. She was focused on paperwork on her desk when Shinji stepped up to the counter. He silently remained there for about a minute as the woman ignored him and continued with whatever she was doing.

"Um, excuse me ?" Shinji finally asked in German. The woman grunted but otherwise didn't reply.

"Excuse me?" Shinji tried again. "I'm starting school here today. I needed to know where to go."

The secretary snapped her head upwards. "Administration sent you a first-day email yesterday with instructions for orientation. Did you not receive that?"

"Actually," Shinji explained, "I just flew in from Japan, and I haven't had much time to check my messages since I arrived this morning."

The woman grunted and gave Shinji a cold stare, then proceeded to grab a file box. "Must be nice to be so idle," she whispered under her breath, and then asked him. "Name?"

"Shinjiro Kaji," he told her.

After some digging she pulled out a sheet of paper and thrust it at Shinji. "See here for instructions. Your boarding is already set up."

Reading through the instructions, which were printed in both German and English, Shinji was able to figure out what was missing and then promptly excused himself from the school office, the clerk not even looking at him as he made his leave.

The paper told Shinji to check his emails to see when he'd have what the school referred to as his "Assessment Appointment." It also told him to bring his instrument. He quickly scanned the mail and found one that was posted to him just after his plane left for Japan stating the appointment time as 11:30, which was twenty minutes from right now.

Oh, shit.

Cursing himself for being more worried about when he'd next see Asuka instead of his first day at school, Shinji raced out the grand doorway and down the steps outside, towards the black Mercedes he had come in this morning.

Rushing back into the school halls and now carrying his cello case over his shoulder, Shinji ran to a junction of passageways to try and find out where he needed to go next. The email from the school referenced "Music Room 303" but offered no map to find the room. With only a few minutes to go Shinji didn't want to be late to whatever important event was going to happen.

Not seeing much of a map anywhere on the walls of the passageway, Shinji thought to ask one of the staff members of the school as they were walking by and waited a full minute for someone to come his direction. None were seen, although there were other students all around and many of them carried their instruments. Finally he settled on a cluster of European boys that were leaning against one wall in the hallway junction and mustered up his courage enough to try to ask where he needed to go without looking particularly stupid.

Four boys dressed in what seemed to be designer apparel were leaning against one wall and laughing in conversation when Shinji approached the group. The boys pretended not to notice the Japanese boy as they continued until Shinji, speaking in German, interrupted.

"Excuse me," he said trying make his voice heard. The boys didn't reply back but at least one of them, a taller boy with blonde hair, now focused his attention on the newcomer. Shinji tried again.

"Excuse me," he said at nearly a shout, "Do know where Music Room 303 is?"

The boys finally stopped mid-conversation as another of them, a darker-haired teenager, remarked in a lower voice "Oh, great. Another Chinese kid." The blonde boy who had seen Shinji first shushed him and then spoke to him in Chinese of all things. "Ni hao!" he said. This only made Shinji more embarrassed.

"Um," he said again in German, "I'm not Chinese. I'm Japanese actually."

"Oh, so sorry," the other boy replied now in German. "Hard to tell you apart, you know."

Yeah, I bet. "Do you know where Room 303 is?" The four boys all looked at each other in mock trepidation, two of them shaking their heads in regret. The blonde leader smiled and spoke to him again.

"Oh, you're with Herr Mueller. Third floor." He then pointed to the stairway close by.

"Oh, okay!" Shinji elatedly told him, "thank you." The blonde boy then gave him a slight bow which Shinji wasn't sure was either mockery or some attempted form of cultural respect. Shinji then bowed just slightly himself and then ran off to the staircase with cello case in tow.

The four boys looked at him as he rushed up the stairway, one of them shaking his head and "tsk-tsk-tsk" in mock regret.

"He's up against Kommissar Mueller," the darker-haired boy said. "Too bad."

"I'd rather fight an Angel than face him," the blond boy responded as he watched Shinji run up the staircase.

Shinji made it up the staircase to the third floor and then started to search for Room 303. Fortunately the rooms were clearly labeled and it only took him a minute to see the doorway, with a closed door of polished oak etched with ornate carvings on it. A sign hung on the door that said "Audition in session. Please don't knock," in German and English.

Audition? Shinji wondered to himself in alarm. But I already auditioned! Don't tell me they're going to make me do this again today. He did his hardest to control his panic and sat down on a polished wood bench next to the doorway. He had been in Germany less than two hours and was already feeling more like a fish out of water than any other time of his life. Well, almost every other time.

Shinji let himself relax a bit more on the bench as he finally let go of his cello case handle and leaned back against the wall as he pulled out his mobile phone from his coat pocket. Finally with a bit of down time since being in the SUV, Shinji paged through the rest of his messages while he waited for his turn with whatever was in the room behind him. There were perhaps thirty or so unanswered texts or emails including one from Misato reminding him to call again when he was more settled, but the majority were acquaintances from school or music who were simply wishing him well. Toji sent him a photo of himself posing next to a Colonel Sanders statue in Osaka-2, which was some sort of local landmark. He allowed himself a grin after seeing Toji ham it up for the camera.

Goofy, although I'll never really get Kansai humor.

There were no messages from Rei at all, Shinji noticed, and that began to worry him more. She was also arriving at her new school at the same time he was and Shinji just told himself to be patient until she was ready to reply back. Rei certainly wasn't a chatterbox and besides with the Forrestal twins also there he knew she wouldn't be alone in America.

After all this time it's still difficult to imagine her with an actual boyfriend, Shinji thought to himself, yet despite her seemingly unemotional exterior he knew that Rei's inner feelings towards her "Forri-kun" were very strong indeed.

Shinji put the matter of Rei aside for the moment and then let his thoughts go back to the one thing that was mostly on his mind since he'd arrived in Germany: Asuka. On his phone he paged to the cover image, a group shot of all of them together taken a few months back in front of his house in Hakone. His house, he recognized, which had become his house when Misato and Kaji adopted him at the end of the Angel Wars and EVA and all of that. Shinji had spent over two years in that house in the time after EVA and had mostly fond memories of it.

In the photo standing together was Shinji, along with Rei on one side and Asuka on the other. Alongside them were Toji and Hikari as well as the blond-haired Patrick and Erin Forrestal, and then in the back were Mari Illustrious, and then Misato and Kaji, who were holding little Akira and Penpen in their arms for the photo. Everyone wore spring attire of garden dresses and light sweaters and smiled for the camera, even Rei managing a small smile for the photo. Despite how they had all come together and the hell that they had survived this was family to him. The photo only reminded him of how he longed for that experience again of hot afternoons and lazy days after school and being together with others.

Shinji paged from the cover photo to the gallery on his phone, finding the folder labeled "A". He had always kept his photos of Asuka separate from everything else on the phone, which was just another way to preserve his memories of her, keeping them distinct and solely his own. He opened the folder and silently skimmed through the photos, each one of them showing Asuka in various candid poses, often out of doors by Lake Ashi, or walking around Hakone or in one of the nearby amusement parks.

He continued to page through more pictures on the phone, group shots of his friends at school or at parties. Some posted photos during major holidays, including one where they were all together in formal wear. He lingered over that photo and saw Asuka wearing a stunning red satin night gown bare at the shoulders, her hair done up. She looked beautiful that night, he remembered, and he remembered how they went out to the balcony of the hotel where they were attending a party, and how they had slowly kissed in the cool mountain air. He closed his eyes and felt the warmth of her breath inside of his own lips.

God, it's been since March since I've kissed her, he realized.

Others had always remarked about Shinji and Asuka on what an unlikely couple they were, but beyond shared experiences Shinji knew the truth about them and the reality that they, like all of the Evangelion pilots, were in some way trying to make up for stolen childhoods. While other couples in their same high school class may have been working out the details of "physical exchanges" Shinji and Asuka were just as likely to be found at the arcade playing the dance games, or perhaps in children's bookstores perusing through picture books meant for children ten years younger than they. Were they enamored with these little things? Or perhaps just scared to grow up after all? Shinji couldn't decide, and in that year he spent with Asuka in Hakone, the year without EVA, he really didn't want to decide. He liked it the way it was between them. But at the same time reality was creeping in from the outside, and feelings long suppressed on the inside were beginning to come out more and more.

The last straw was the last night he had seen her, in their hotel in Leipzig on the night after Shinji had finished his interview and first audition with Mendelssohn. Their spirits were high between all three of them that night, as it had been a challenging experience for Shinji but yet he had succeeded and succeeded well, with one of the school's officials telling them privately after the interview he was likely to be confirmed. That was justification for a party, and that particular night Misato went back to her wild old days with just a little too much Jägermeister. Shinji and Asuka promptly dragged her back to her hotel room and put her to bed, thankful that little Akira didn't come along on the trip and see the shambles of his mother's youth. Once done, Shinji and Asuka returned to their own rooms for the night.

About an hour later after Shinji had showered and gone to bed the door to his hotel room opened and a few second later Asuka had snuck underneath the covers in the dark. It wasn't unusual for Shinji to share a bed with her, as she had often come in at night to sleep next to him, clutching him like an oversized teddy bear. But rarely did he ever turn around. A handful of times in the past Asuka had allowed him to do so, rewarded with a sweet, warm kiss goodnight before she left for her own room, but those times were rare. That night however she did something different.

As she slipped underneath the covers of the hotel bed Asuka put her arms around Shinji's waist and chest, clutching him tight. Shinji didn't say anything at first but did as he always did, he placed his own hands together with Asuka's. Together, they laid there like that in the bed for a long moment until Shinji noticed that she seemed so much warmer than before.

"Asuka," Shinji asked her, whispering quietly. "Are you okay?"

"What do you think?" she said in a playful voice that whispered back.

"Can I turn around?"

Almost immediately the answer came back. "Baka! Of course not!" she said, rapping him on the head. It was at this point that he realized just what Asuka did. Carefully Shinji took one hand and gently moved it towards Asuka's body. He touched what seemed like her thigh and noticed she wasn't wearing pants, which wasn't unusual for her. Then he carefully moved his hand up further and made another discovery: she wasn't wearing panties either. His had carefully caressed the bare bottom of her butt and he felt the direct warmth of her soft and supple skin against him. It took him a few seconds to pull his hand back, something that didn't go unnoticed.

"So you're feeling me up, then?" she said, still in a teasing mood.

"N-n-no!" he protested. Asuka then squeezed him a little harder and took a deep breath.

"It's okay," she said to him. "You can touch me some more if you want."

"Asuka!"

"I mean it," she said. "Anywhere you want."

Shinji's heart started racing. Did she intend to do it with me tonight? Sex was not a subject that either of them had spoken about in over two years of being together, with the exception of perhaps a single letter that she had written him once, stating her intentions for him to be "her first and only." He hadn't replied to the letter, but always thought the understanding was between them that this would be "later on." Was later on now? Scared and gripped by his own passions, Shinji was at a loss of what to do.

"It's okay if you don't want to," she whispered in his ear. "I mean…if you're too scared."

"I'm not scared!"

"Come on," she said to him softly, "I know you dream about this. You think about it all the time."

Shinji knew that she was right: being with her, being together with her body was something that he thought a lot about, especially in quiet moments late at night. He thought about what it would be like, how it would feel, what he would do. But he also worried about what else would happen, if he'd lose a part of himself to cross over that bridge. He didn't know what to do except just lie there with her body wrapped around him and let her make the next move.

There was a heavy moment of silence in the room between them until Asuka squeezed him just a little bit harder. "Okay then," she whispered, "how about this? If you get to feel me without my clothes on, then I get to feel you without your clothes on. You don't have to turn around, if you don't want to that is. But fair is fair."

Shinji thought that fair was definitely not fair in this case: it was her who had come in the bedroom without an invitation for this. Well, that wasn't actually true. It wasn't like he told her not to come in and slip under the bed with him. But this was a wholly unexpected turn of events.

Asuka didn't wait any longer for an answer. Moving quickly, she ran her fingers up against Shinji's sides and slipped off his t-shirt. He felt the cool night air on his chest against the intense warmth of her body on his back. Then she made her next move, as her hands moved downwards. He thought to try and hold back but he was frozen in place, and that allowed her to firmly push down on his waistband and push his shorts downward. Two seconds later he was nearly just as naked as she was.

As they laid under the covers, Asuka pressed against Shinji's back as the two of them felt each other's warm bodies. Neither of them said anything, but Shinji could hear Asuka's own breathing become deeper as she became more aroused. Not wanting to push things too hard, but at the same time feeling an uncontrollable urge to at least touch her more, Shinji again took his right hand and felt it against Asuka's leg that was wrapped around him. She silently responded by taking her hands and moving up his chest, and then with her fingertips she found his nipples and gently touched them. The feeling was very sensual for Shinji and for another few seconds he closed his eyes and let her touch him. The sensations of her playing were so enticing that he could feel a hard on strong enough to be painful.

Would she go there? He wondered. Sure enough her right hand drifted downwards across the front of his body, her fingertips gently brushing against his skin. He anticipated her next move and waited, and in another moment her fingers tracing the length of his manhood from bottom to top. It was a strange feeling having someone else's hand on that part of his body, but she was gentle and made little patterns with her fingertips as she toyed with him, and while he was still very nervous he somehow also felt comforted at the same time.

Maybe it is time after all. As she gently ran her hand up and down his manhood Shinji made a decision and tried to swallow his fear as he did it. She's want me to be direct anyway, not just wait for her do everything. Well, here goes…

Shinji took a deep breath and started to roll over to face her. He did so suddenly and unannounced, and in the next moment he didn't know if he caught her by surprise or if she had always intended to do what she did. As he rolled over about half way, Asuka suddenly jerked away and then used her foot to kick him directly in the stomach, hard enough to push him literally out of the bed. "Ouch!" he called out as he fell to the floor, his shorts still stuck around his ankles. "Asuka!" Shinji scrambled to get off the carpeted floor of the hotel room and make it back to the bed, but as he climbed up he noticed a pink and red blur dash through the hotel room door and slam it shut behind her. She had left the room. Unable to chase after her, Shinji just fell back into the bed, feeling terrible that he had somehow messed up what had been the most physically intimate moment he had ever had with Asuka.

The next morning he thought to at least apologize to her, and woke up early to go to her room. He stood in the hotel hallway and knocked several times but there was no answer, and she didn't respond to him calling her name. He then used his phone to try and reach her but again there was no answer by call or text, or email or anything else. Her phone was shut off. After a few minutes of frantically trying to contact her from his own room there was a knock on the door. "Shinji," Misato called to him, "can I come in?" He went to the doorway to open the door. "Misato," he said to her in a panic, "Asuka's gone!"

"I know," Misato said in a much calmer demeanor. "I got a message from her earlier this morning." Shinji was now even more distressed, as Asuka didn't make any attempt at communication with him at all. "What…where did she go?" Misato just shrugged. "Back to her parents' house, probably," she told him.

"But shouldn't we go after her?" The older girl just shook her head. "Come on, you know her. She gets this way and needs to go and run off for a bit." Misato then cocked her head and asked Shinji in an innocent voice. "So, um, anything happen with you two last night?"

As Shinji was about to recall his answer, his mind was snapped back on the present in the hallway of the Mendelsohn School, his head turned as he watched the doorway open and a blonde-haired teenaged girl bolted out, her violin case in hand. She said nothing but just hurried past him and down the hallway. As Shinji watched her rush by him, he saw her face and noticed that he was flushed red, tears flowing from her eyes. Something very unpleasant had happened in the audition room.

"Herr Kaji!" came a stern-sounding man's voice from the open doorway and Shinji knew there wasn't any avoiding the crucible. With a resigned sigh he sat up from the bench and lifted his cello case, and then proceeded to enter Room 303, shutting the wooden door behind him.

SPD - Dear readers, thank you for checking into our latest story, a nice little fanfic centered on Shinji Ikari and taking place about three years after the events of the original TV series. Play to Remember won't be a long story, it's somewhere about 20,000 words, but hopefully it will still be a memorable and touching one.

Some of you readers are familiar with my other works in The Blue Rose saga and Play to Remember is part of that same alternative universe, although it takes place nearly a year and a half after the chapter "Hanami." If you're not familiar with the earlier Blue Rose stories and are reading "Play to Remember" for the first time, rest assured that it's not entirely necessary to read the earlier Blue Rose books to get this story. In fact, I've rather deliberately written it as a stand-alone work. While I'd certainly encourage new readers to go and read the Blue Rose stories, it's not actually all that necessary to enjoy this one.

At the time I finished The Awakening I had no plans for future EVA fanfics of any kind, instead I started to focus on my original fiction and outlining the series of books that I've been working on for some time. However the work on that project has been slow and showed that some development of the storyline is still needed, so in order to keep my skills sharp I've decided to write some smaller pieces for EVA, all still set within the Blue Rose storyline I came up with earlier. Play to Remember is one of these stories. There will be at least one or two others written this year, probably with a focus either on our Rei and/or Erin Forrestal, but shorter works and not epics.

As always reader feedback is encouraged. This story is only 4-5 chapters long, so things should be moving pretty fast after this chapter. Stay tuned, as I'll update frequently.

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