"Mari, I had another nightmare today."
"Aww, that's sad. Is it the same as before?"
"It never changes, dumbass. Now go get me some coffee."
"How long has it been since you've had your last nightmare?"
"Not long enough. I told you to get me coffee."
"Asuka... Is it still a nightmare if it's a replay of reality?"
Asuka was certain that Mari possessed secret powers.
Whenever Mari held her close, she forgot every worry.
Whenever Mari kissed her eyelids, she could actually feel both of them.
Whenever Mari stuck her fingers deep inside her, she felt 14 years old and inexperienced again.
They stopped sleeping separately a long time ago. They never fooled anyone to begin with, and with every desperate call at night through their intercom system, Asuka felt a little more shame. She hated being dependent of Mari's warmth and kisses to escape her nightmares. She was never dependent on anyone before. Her mother, her father, her new parents or guardians. She was always an independent girl, and she always had her life in control, and petty matters never worried her. If only the petty matters didn't grow, like an infection rusting her from the inside. Her petty worries became burdens that she was too proud to share with anyone else.
The start of 3rd Impact, the loss of Rei Ayanami, the loss of Shinji Ikari, all these things put a little bit bigger dent inside her until she was hollow and cold and hurting.
Mari eased the pain. Mari filled the void and granted her warmth.
But the minute Mari fell asleep, Asuka was alone and cold again. Her worries returned, she only felt one eye and she wasn't 14, she was 29 and her body was rotting and falling apart.
It's 3 AM when Asuka's thoughts got a hold of her sanity and she shook Mari violently awake, screaming and crying and losing control. It took a few seconds of careful calculation before the brunette forced her down and held her tight. The screaming died down and Asuka cried into her embrace as Mari caressed her hair. She whispered soothing things into her ear, sometimes in Japanese, sometimes in English, and a few brackets in broken German. It's 3: 30 AM as Mari hummed a lullaby to the sobbing child. She only stopped crying when she fell asleep, but Mari was fine with that.
"You're drinking a lot of coffee, Mari. Did you get enough sleep last night? Or is Asuka keeping you awake?" The question was teasing, from one of the newest member of the bridge brigade. Mari laughed and avoided the answer by picking up the two hot cups spit out by the big machine. The brigade-bunny waved as he walked away. Mari didn't even know his name. New people were always coming and going. Everyone were already familiar of the relationship between the two destined pilots, so there was no longer a need to hide it. Rumors spread quickly when you're a prodigy living in a land of few. Especially when you're one of the pilots who ruined the world. The coffee was scolding her hands, but she was too stubborn to let go. It would cool down in a while, she thought to herself. Even so, she had a strange feeling in her gut. A bad omen.
Mari wished more than anything that she possessed magic powers. Mari wished she could turn back time and make things right. Stop Shinji from acting as the trigger. Stop the angel from absorbing Rei. Stop the damage before the scars turn too deep.
Sometimes the nightmares Asuka had didn't just revolve around losing her two friends.
Sometimes they revolved around Asuka's mother and her suicide.
Mari had to sneak in at Misato's case of personal files to figure that out. She didn't mean to pry into Asuka's private life, but cleaning scars with a blindfolded might harm more than heal. Mari had vowed her life to helping Asuka heal, even if she'd never get a full-night's rest. To her, Asuka was worth more than any night's rest.
Mari sat down into the cafeteria, returning to their table with two cups of coffee.
"You're late." Asuka barked out between her bites of food. Same old Asuka.
"I was daydreaming about how beautiful you are!" Mari sat down with a grin. Mari handed her the other cup and started sipping on her own.
"Well, whatever. I bought food for both of us, but it's already cold." The same old Asuka she fell in love with.
Two buns of bread and a little meat. The pilots always got the prime food.
"Aww, how sweet of you, princess!"
"W-Whatever, just eat." No one but Mari knew how Asuka acted when they were alone. Nor how kind Asuka was to her when they were both awake. Asuka could act as innocent as a lamb when handled correctly, and in 15 years, Mari had been a master of how to handle her. In those 15 years, Mari had held her close every night. It was 15 years and Asuka's scars still hadn't healed.
Mari didn't care.
15 years, 30 years, 45, 60, 75, 90, Mari didn't care.
She would swear to heal every single one, even if it meant Asuka forgetting about her mother, Shinji, Rei, the rest of the world. She'd make her forget it all just to make her smile again.
A red alarm went off.
A wave of confused voices washed over the cafeteria. "Huh? Angel? It can't be... ?"
Mari felt the omen since the day had started.
From the way Asuka's face turned sickingly pale, Asuka had sensed it too.
Shinji was back.