Magical Apathy Girl Rei
Disclaimer: I do not own Evangelion.
The commuter bus' headlights cut through the darkness of Tokyo-3's night. Toji Suzuhara sat alone travelling from the sterile solitude of the hospital back into the city proper. He spent the day visiting his little sister, in serious but stable condition after a tragic beret accident. He warned her against such jauntiness many times, but she was a willful girl. And he couldn't stay mad at her for long, mostly due to the whole attentive big brother thing being a total babe magnet. Granted, he was still batting in the negative numbers, but that medical receptionist in her sixties always commented on his dedication. It was a start.
The bus pulled up to a stop by a convenience store downtown, a few blocks from home. Toji disembarked, popping into the store for a late dinner from the candy aisle, and a popsicle for dessert. He deserved a treat. Toji loved his sister, really, but he was pretty sure she didn't care about basketball or tits, his two overwhelming interests, so that left what any unruly tween confined to a hospital bed for months with no other visitors wanted to talk about. Boys, cute crap, terrible music, boys, clothes and boys. The depth of his emasculated discomfort was matched only by the blinding rage of whichever hot new boy band tickled her fancy.
"She's only ten," he lamented over his dinner as he walked home. "She shouldn't have a fancy to be tickled yet."
Toji possessed intimate, firsthand knowledge of how depraved and appalling men were. It was therefore his duty in life to protect his little sister from ever suffering it. Which meant constant vigilance. And not a bit of outright deception on his part as he pretended to be someone he wasn't. It was grueling and demoralizing to act contrary to your truest instincts.
But she wasn't with him at the moment, he thought as a pair of fine young ladies approached him on the city sidewalk. They passed under a streetlamp and he flashed his most striking smile. What he imagined was his most striking smile, which was closer to a drooling leer. With a face and rumpled t-shirt smeared with candy and sweat from the hot, crowded bus.
One girl's delicate features twisted in revulsion. The other laughed. They continued on.
Toji furiously despaired. What more did women want!?
He bit down on his dessert, chewing through the popsicle to get to the prize indicator.
"'Ice' try," he read off the stick. "Better luck next time." Toji flicked it away down an alley. "Damn it. What a day."
"Down on your luck?"
He looked back. A shadowy figure spoke again at the back of the alley, leaning by the wall.
"I said, down on your luck?"
Toji approached. The voice was young and feminine, sliding out of the dark and wrapping around him like a siren song. The dim light of the alleyway draped close to her, accentuating appealing curves barely hidden under strips of red leather and metallic buckles she generously called an outfit.
"How about I get it up for you?"
Toji Suzuhara might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but he recognized a vague euphemism for sexual activity when he heard it. He galloped towards the figure, every thought and concern connected to his little sister abandoned under a surge of riotous libido.
His greedy hands nearly made contact when a flash of crackling red filled his sight, leaving luminescent trails burnt on his retinas. He blinked through the haze, having no time for such supernatural hindrances.
His vision cleared. The girl was gone. All he could see was red as his body went light and tremendous pressure surrounded him. The force seeped inside, grabbing onto every speck of energy he had before stealing it from him. His consciousness faded and he felt death was imminent. Somewhere, someone laughed, filled with malevolent glee.
The last thing he had strength for was a scream of utter terror.
She was growing. She felt herself expanding, filling with new ideas and concepts, lifting her above and beyond the mundane trivialities of her former reality. Like wings reaching across all of existence, stretching to cover the totality of human thought laid bare for her to perceive and assimilate. She became greater than herself. She—
"Oh my frickin' God, did you hear?"
"Like, there was another incident last night."
"Someone else was attacked?"
"Yeah. This time it was that skeezeball Suzuhara who was found in an alley, all dried up like a mummy. He's in the hospital now in a coma."
"Well, that's not so bad. Only boys have been targeted, right? Like, maybe this is a good thing."
Rei Ayanami glanced over her book to the pair of girls gossiping a table away. The school library was supposed to be a subdued sanctuary for the quiet appreciation of literary ideas. Not a raucous den of city scuttlebutt.
But even losing her meditative state of studying she could not summon anything other than an abstract idle irritation. Getting angry and confronting the girls would only waste more time. It was best to ignore them as they ignored her, passively letting annoyance and hardship slip away from her. Not caring was easier than caring.
She tried to reclaim the sensation of growth as she returned to her book.
"Ayanami?" someone asked her, a tentative mumble of uncertainty.
After she transferred to Tokyo-3, interaction with her peers consisted of attempted bullying over her unusual appearance and aloof nature. Her utter lack of response though ensured her would-be tormentors moved on to less pale pastures, as The Spooky became an oddity to be shunned and disregarded. They at least learned from their failures.
Most people were smart enough to not bother her now. Most people were not her cousin Shinji Ikari.
Rei kept reading.
"Um, I mean, Ms. Ayanami?" Shinji tried.
Maybe if she ignored him long enough he'd leave. Then again, they did live together. Escape was temporary, at best.
"What?" she deigned. It might be faster in the long run to satisfy his queries. The sooner he had his answers the sooner he'd leave.
"Can I sit with you?" he asked.
The world continued to punish her logical conclusions. Rei glanced around the library. It was after school and thinly populated. Why did he have to choose her table? What was with his bizarre obsession with paying attention to her? Why was he still waiting for an answer?
Ordering him to crawl into a discreet corner to die made it seem like she cared what he did. Better to reinforce the reality his actions meant nothing to her.
"Do as you wish."
He sat like his life depended on it. He produced a stack of homework and began looking over it, although his eyes kept peeking up. After a brief eternity of awkward glances in her general direction he foolishly decided to remind Rei of his presence.
"How was your lunch today?"
He insisted on making her meals since she moved in. Her usual repast of cold bread, water and nutritional supplements horrified him. Boys were weird.
"It was adequate for my dietary needs," she replied.
"Oh. Um, did it taste okay?"
Taste was irrelevant. It was a waste of time to focus on. Good or bad, as long as it was edible, swallow and digest.
"I did not vomit it up," Rei told him.
"Th-That's a relief."
Shinji did his best not to cry. Rei went back to her book.
The pair of girls a table away was giggling again, as they began planning an online betting pool for who would be attacked next. Shinji's worry was palpable.
"Say," he began, "why don't we walk home together today?" He saw a less than enthusiastic response and hurried ahead. "There have been so many incidents lately in the city; it might be safer if we don't go out alone."
"All the victims are male," Rei stated. "I am in no danger."
"But whoever is attacking people might start targeting girls. It isn't safe for anyone."
A serial assaulter would not change their pattern to sate Shinji Ikari's phobic delusions.
"Really, Ms. Ayanami," he went on, "I insist."
While his insistence sounded more like a desperate plea, Rei realized he wasn't going to leave her. She packed up her books and headed out of the library for home, Shinji scrambling behind to keep up. Best to suffer his company on a short walk and then avoid him in the privacy of her room.
Two blocks of abortive small talk by Shinji later, a strange sound by an alleyway made them pause. Technically, Rei was pausing at a crosswalk, but she at least heard it too.
Shinji peered down the alley. "Hello?"
"Waaaaarrrk," came the reply.
Against what constituted his better judgment, he made his way towards the noise. He peeked behind a dumpster with a sweaty bravery and his eyes widened.
"It's some kind of bird," he said. "A penguin?"
He crouched beside the animal. It was dirty and mussed, collapsed in a heap of garbage and avian feces. Shinji did his best to ignore the stench.
Animals were easier to deal with than people. Most didn't make fun of him. As such, he took an immediate liking to the penguin, partially because it was too weak to put up a fight. Shinji scooped it up in his arms.
"Do you have an owner, Mr. Penguin?" Let it be known Shinji wasn't the most creative of people. He looked on its collar, a strange metal article that was blank save for an etching of the moon. "We can't just leave you here…"
"Wark," the penguin warked.
"Ms. Ayanami?" he asked. "Do you think we should take it home?" While she was a guest, he would still defer to her opinion.
If she bothered to offer one. Rei was already across the street. With no one to propose the correct answer, Shinji again relied on his questionable judgment. The Ikari apartment had a new pet penguin.
"It smells bad," was Rei's response when Shinji arrived home with the bird.
He washed it.
"It is noisy."
He fed it and treated its wounds.
"It is ugly."
He built an impressive penguin home out of several cardboard boxes in the kitchen to keep it out of sight.
"I am hungry."
"Sorry!" Shinji exclaimed. "I forgot to start dinner. I'll get right on it." He scampered to the stove and began preparations for vegan chili.
Rei tried hard to suppress the mild surge of anticipation for the meal. Books would distract from strange, unpleasantly warm sensations like gratitude and excitement. She escaped to her room with the fresh aromas of a tenderly crafted meal at her back.
Shinji, decked out in his Please Talk to the Chef apron, cut vegetables as the broth simmered. The penguin poked its beak out of its boxy home and warked for a handout.
"You hungry, too?" Shinji asked with a smile, glad someone was heeding the apron's advice. But since this was Shinji Ikari, by cosmic law as soon as he felt any iota of positive emotion something horrible had to happen to him. "Ow!"
The momentary feeling of friendship from an injured, possibly delirious bird was enough to disrupt his concentration in cutting carrots, and he sliced his index finger open. While he did possess a high physical pain tolerance, the psychological anguish of being clumsy in front of others would provide self-hate fuel for weeks. He ran to the bathroom for a bandage and a quick cry over his stupidity.
En route blood from the wound dripped on the kitchen floor beside a few carrots spilled in the commotion. The penguin crawled after the food, but stopped. Dark, bead eyes peered at the droplets of blood. A shaky claw tentatively reached out and touched one small pool.
The penguin shivered. It stood up, all injuries forgotten. It warked in ecstatic triumph.
I've found him!
The penguin waddled across the kitchen and down the hallway to the door with a plaque reading "Ms. Rei's room." He finagled a claw against the handle and slid it open. He shuffled inside. He shut the door behind him.
Rei spared a moment from reading at her desk to watch where this was all going. There was no sense of violation, since this was technically not her room. Shinji gave it up for her when she moved in, and while she valued the extra space for more books, the concept of ownership eluded her. If Shinji wanted to sleep in the laundry room, so be it. If he desired his old room back, she had no argument either.
The penguin approached her, reached out and tapped a claw against her bare knee. Shivering in disgust, Rei debated on requesting a rabies shot from the hospital.
"Greetings, Miss," the penguin said in a squeaky voice. "My name is Penpen. It is a pleasure to meet you." He bowed as low as his pudgy body allowed.
"So you can speak," Rei stated. She paused to accept that fact, then returned to her book.
"… You're not going to ask how I can speak?"
"I don't care."
"This will be harder than I thought," Penpen muttered. He cleared his throat. "As an emissary from the lost Black Moon kingdom, I have access to magical abilities that far outshine those of normal penguins. Like character judgment. As such, I have selected you to defend this city, and this world, from annihilation."
"Certainly, you have noticed the terrible attacks on this city's citizenry. It is all due to a remnant of the nefarious White Moon Empire, who hopes to drain enough energy to break the seals on its trapped forces to invade the earth and enslave mankind."
Rei turned a page.
"A-And surely, you don't want that. So I will lend you strength and knowledge to end this threat. I shall guide you to victory, as I guided the girl who defeated the White Moon twenty years ago. The sadly departed girl whose lost child I finally found under this very roof."
Rei finished a chapter, rested her eyes a moment, then continued on to the next.
"That boy in the kitchen inherited his mother's immense magical power. If the White Moon gets hold of the energy that resides in him, they could easily break the seals and conquer the world. That is why they are targeting only males. Unfortunately, he is technically a boy, and is of no use in combat. So it falls to you, bravest warrior, to save not only him but this entire planet from evil!"
Rei put down her book. She selected a new one.
"… Hey!" Penpen cried. "You're admirably committed to the whole cool and aloof persona but we have a war to win!"
"I am reading," she told him, like that should be explanation enough.
"You can read later."
"I will read now and later."
"But if the White Moon—"
"Stop talking," Rei said.
Penpen put his claws on his hips. "You're doing this whether you want to or not."
With a burst of sparkling energy he took to the air, hovering above Rei's head. He tipped forward and vomited a rainbow of magic over her. The rainbow swirled around her in a cloud of vivid color, modestly shielding her form as her school uniform was dissolved and replaced with a form-fitting white leotard with blue trim, along with thigh high boots, long gloves and a frilly skirt. A thin eye mask poorly concealed her identity. A massive two-pronged spear appeared in her hand. Although meeting public decency laws in principle, the ensemble spoke more to risqué fetishists and outright perverts.
"Now, arise!" Penpen told her with flippers outstretched. "Arise from your desk and become Magical Apathy Girl Rei!"
Rei glanced down from her book at herself. "This outfit demeans us both."
"My magic gullet beam draws out your inner strength for the world to see. Wear it with pride."
That was impossible. She never wore anything that provoked dignity. Granted, she only ever wore her assigned school uniform, but the principle was sound. Physical appearance was irrelevant. Why people put so much effort and angst into how they looked was ridiculous. It was just another aspect of idiocy that existed in the incomprehensible world beyond her books. She again looked down at her magic costume. First a transfer, then a new home, and now this. The world had again become more incomprehensible.
She glanced over at Penpen, who was still talking.
"… battle may be dangerous and exhausting, but I'll be by your side the whole time. And, remember that boy in the kitchen is a magic dynamo. In his blood runs nigh unlimited power. If you ever need a quick recharge, he's your battery."
While the prospect of more energy to read longer than usual was tempting, there had to be a catch.
"So I need to make him bleed?" she asked.
"Wait!" he squawked, waving his flippers. "While blood is indeed one magic transmission method, it is the weakest bodily fluid—"
"What about tears? I can make him cry."
"Tears are an active debuff. No, you'll need sweat, or saliva, or… Um, well, there are a number of methods open to you. Which one you choose is up to your personal preferences."
And as quick as a flicker of interest appeared, it was snuffed out. "I choose none of the above," Rei said.
"Well, then we'll just have to be careful with magic consumption and—"
"I meant I choose not to be a part of this nonsense in any capacity." She tried to remove the outfit, only to find it snugly unwilling to budge, as if magically stuck on her with glue or something.
"It has to be you," Penpen told her. "As his roommate, you're perfectly positioned to keep an eye on the boy."
"You want me to pay attention to him?" This was going from bad to worse.
Shinji was at the door, but dared not open it. Rei froze, unsure what to do besides hoping the world swallowed him whole. It would be pitiful for the pitiable Shinji to pity her as some deviant cosplayer.
"I am no longer hungry," she replied.
"Oh. Um, okay. I'll pack it away in case you want some later." His heartbroken footsteps padded away back to the kitchen.
"Huh?" Penpen asked. "Didn't you say earlier you wanted food?"
"I will not let anyone see me like this," Rei stated.
"Don't worry. Your true identity is magically concealed. We can't have bad guys attacking you in your day-to-day life. In your magic uniform no one will recognize you."
"I can recognize myself."
"They will only see the glorious champion of justice before me now," the bird continued on, swelling with pride in his own handiwork. "Dare I say humanity will have a new role model to— Hey! Wait!" he squawked as Rei climbed out the window. "Don't leave without me!"
The neon-lit midnight cityscape flew by beneath her. She leapt from rooftop to rooftop, skated across power lines and glided atop the wind with a fluid, buoyant strength alien to her life before becoming a magical girl. It was the kind of freedom and ability that should engender a renewed thrill for living.
As she was, Rei lamented how much skin her outfit showed off and how windy it was tonight. Here she was patrolling the city for possible draining victims when she could be reading. Her escape from Penpen ended abruptly when she discovered he could fly. He was at her side, painting the night sky with a wake of sparkling bubbles.
"Ah," Penpen sighed as he followed her across the city skyline. "It feels good to be out, serving justice with a champion again. Evil stands no chance. All is right with the world." He flew in quiet contemplation a moment. "I suppose you've been wondering how I ended up injured in that alley."
"I was tracking our White Moon enemy, and thought I could confront them alone." His beak tipped downward in the approximation of a frown. "I miscalculated. I didn't want to involve anyone else. After we defeated the White Moon Empire before, I promised to try and keep humans out of harm's way."
"I really don't care."
"I wasn't strong enough," the bird continued, "and I barely escaped with my life. I let down my former guardian. But to think the lost child of Magical Inquisitor Girl Yui would find me… It must be fate. By the way, where is the boy's father?"
She only met Gendo once when she first arrived, but felt an unusual kinship with him, perhaps due to his detached personality and abusive disregard for Shinji.
"All the time? Well, after losing someone like Yui I can understand. She was a truly magical girl." His voice turned soft and solemn. "For her to die like she did, after saving the world… What an unimaginable tragedy." He glanced at Rei. "Curious to know what happened?"
"It was an unimaginable tragedy. She was stricken with a deadly cold, fell down three flights of stairs into traffic and was hit by a speeding truck. And it all happened right in front of her son, who she saved. Oh, what an unimaginable tragedy."
No wonder Shinji was so starved for affection. And afraid of stairs and trucks and colds.
"But now he has you," Penpen said. "The new brave magical girl and the gentle boy she must protect. Even the worst hack of a romance author couldn't come up with that." He saw neither the tender embarrassment nor pure blushes he expected, just stoic boredom. "Well, if nothing else, he's an invaluable asset to our cause. And who knows, the kid might grow on you. Just keep an open mind. It's easier to find happiness together than alone."
"You talk too much," Rei said.
"Yui never complained like this."
"I am not Yui."
A shrill cry redirected their attention to the city beneath them.
"I sense a malevolent presence!" Penpen exclaimed. "The same presence I fought before! Rei, let's go!"
He soared towards the source of evil on a cloud of shimmering bubbles, filled with righteous fury. He led the way to a dark, isolated alleyway, just in time to see a foolhardy young man heading towards a very feminine figure. Penpen dive-bombed the boy, knocking him out cold, flipped, and landed with all the grace a chunky, magic penguin could.
"Stop right there, fiend!" he cried.
"You again? I told you before; I'm not into stuffed animals."
"You won't be so ill-mannered now that I've brought help," Penpen told her. "Now! Attack! R—" He looked back. He was alone. "Rei? Where are you…?"
The woman approached, cracking her knuckles.
The ensuing beat down was viciously one-sided. Penpen managed to escape with his life, the sounds of another successful energy drain at his tail feathers.
His bubbles were considerably less sparkly as he drunkenly careened through the air back to Rei. She was sitting atop the school library across town reading. Penpen dropped out of the sky beside her, bruised and bleeding.
"What the hell?!" he demanded. "Where were you?"
"You only came out tonight to get a new book?"
"Innocent people are having their life force stolen, and you turn your back? You're a monster!"
"And you are a talking penguin."
"But what about justice? What about serving a cause larger than yourself? What about saving your personal chef?"
All those things were irrelevant to reading. Rei returned to her book.
"Fine." Penpen drew in a shaky breath, possibly beneath broken ribs. "Being a magical girl is an honor, reserved for the most selfless champions of humanity. But if you're really that disconnected from mankind, I'll make you a deal. Help me defeat this White Moon agent and I'll find another defender. And I'll leave you in peace. Forever."
"You can leave me now."
"It isn't that simple. I can't hand out this kind of power willy-nilly. I need more time." He coughed up a puddle of blood. "Take me home. I need some miracle blood from the kitchen boy."
Rei used her spear to lift Penpen by the collar, and carried him back to the apartment. Shinji was asleep in the laundry room by the time they arrived, leaving a note directing Rei to leftovers in the fridge if she so chose. And inquiring if she knew where Mr. Penguin was.
She stopped Penpen en route to Shinji, crawling over the kitchen linoleum on bloodied broken flippers.
"Remove this atrocity," Rei said, referring to her costume.
"Can't that wait?" he coughed out.
He reverse-vomited a shaky, poorly-hued rainbow and left in her school uniform. She supposed it was slightly better. Penpen managed to claw the laundry door ajar, pull himself inside, and bite off the bandage on Shinji's finger. A few gulps later he was up and healed.
"Ah!" he sighed. "Much better. All is right with the world. I'd offer you some, but once out of your magical girl state, the transfer will be much less efficient."
Halfway inside her room, Rei turned an eye on him. "I refuse."
"You'll regret it later."
There were many things she regretted about this situation, and she would not add committing quasi-cannibalism on her unconscious cousin to it. Not that he deserved better than to be deemed a commodity. It was the idea of reliance on another human being. Or magical penguin. Rei was beyond that. She didn't need anyone.
She was pale. Her eyes were bleary red, half-lidded and heavy. Her hair was uncombed. She held her chin in her hand to keep her head from sinking onto her school desk, gazing out the window and ignoring the day's lessons.
Granted, none of that was new for Rei, but it was taken to a new degree after sleepless nights of searching the city with Penpen. Not that anyone noticed. Any classmate that did accidentally glance in her direction saw only the normal personal deterioration of The Spooky.
"Ms. Ayanami," Shinji began, peering at her, "are you feeling alright? You look exhausted."
The final bell for class just rang, ending the school day. Shinji approached when she stayed in her seat. How he saw a difference from usual was beyond her. Rei had hoped to escape any scrutiny from her cousin, mostly because it would only serve to invite more inane pressure from Penpen regarding their connection. She refused to lower herself further by relying on Shinji for a recharge.
Tokyo-3 was a deceptively large city. Nightly patrols were indeed exhausting, but the faster she found and defeated this serial drainer the faster she'd be rid of the entire situation.
"Let's go home, okay? You could lean on me if you need."
If only she could be rid of Shinji as easily. But she was too tired to object. She suffered Shinji's fumbling company for the walk home. As soon as they entered the apartment Rei went to her room and collapsed face down on the bed, not bothering to shut the door.
"Ms. Ayanami?" Shinji asked, standing at the threshold. Unable to find the words to comfort her he fell back on what had thus far not worked to help. "I'll… I'll make something special for dinner tonight. You never did get to try the vegan chili. It'll be sure to give you lots of energy."
Unless he could fit several weeks of sleep into his wok Rei doubted his culinary prowess would do anything besides ward off starvation.
"But I need to run to the grocery store first. Will you be okay by yourself?"
"Wark," Penpen told him, standing by his leg.
Reassured by an animal he saved off the street, Shinji hurried off to buy supplies. Penpen waddled up to Rei's bed once he was gone.
"Now's the perfect time to go on patrol," he said. "Unless you want to wait until he comes back for a quick recharge."
"No," she said, still face down on her pillow.
"Then it's decided!"
One gullet beam later Rei was in her magic girl uniform, and being pushed out the window to search the city. Normally an economy of grace, Rei's movements were sluggish at best. Penpen again bemoaned her refusal to use Shinji's energy. Rei again contemplated murdering the bird. She was not going to rely on anyone. That implied weakness and need. In other words, Shinji territory.
Their patrols were a haphazard affair, as Rei only knew two locations in the entire city: the school and the apartment building. Venturing beyond those sites only succeeded in getting her lost. And Penpen was a bird. So most nights they simply wandered aimlessly through Tokyo-3, hoping for a lucky break.
"What a lucky break!" Penpen said, directing their path with a flipper. "There! The evil presence! Prepare for battle. I trust in your ability, Rei. So believe in yourself, too."
Such hollow words from a magical penguin. If he trusted in her, his free flipper wouldn't be wrapped around her wrist in a death grip.
"Stop touching me," she said.
"Not this time. No reading until we defeat this menace."
He led them towards the outskirts of the market district downtown, stopping to perch atop a water tower overlooking a dark alley. From their vantage point they saw a woman cloaked in shadow beckoning a young man.
"We'll wait until she begins to drain him," Penpen advised. "She'll be open to attack then."
Whatever, Rei thought. The lunatic parade had marched this far, what was a few more minutes?
"Another boy. He's wearing your school's uniform. Do you know him, Rei?"
She wouldn't know Kensuke Aida from any other male in her class. They all melded into an amorphous blob of vague perception on her part. Boys wore pants, girls wore skirts; that was the extent of her gender discrimination. Even Shinji was still a bit hazy, albeit with the asterisk of not being as noisy or smelly as other boys.
So she didn't know Kensuke was, to be generous, an amorous youth. The only reason he didn't reach the female figure enticing him faster than Toji was the physical disparity between the two. But just as he was about to make contact a blinding flash of red energy sparked to life, engulfing him whole. He floated inside a crude, hulking humanoid shape, trapped and helpless.
"What is this?" he cried.
"Did you think I'd actually touch you or any other boy?" the temptress mocked him. "My energy construct will drain you while keeping my hands clean."
"But my virginity!" Kensuke lamented.
"Get used to it."
The construct glowed a deep red and began draining his energy into a handy thermos. Kensuke screamed as his life force was siphoned away. The girl frowned at the results.
"Hardly getting anything from this loser. This scheme is taking forever."
A voice echoed through the passageway. It belonged to Shinji, standing righteously at the alley mouth, hands full of grocery bags. Everyone looked at him with surprise, except Rei, who fell asleep waiting. And except Kensuke, who was nearly dead by now.
"So brave," the evil girl purred, eyes alit with cruel joy. "I'm sure you'll have plenty of hot energy all for me." She directed her construct towards the new boy.
"No!" Penpen hissed. "Rei, get ready!"
Reality and his own mortality dawning on him, Shinji backpedaled desperately in pure cowardice. "Uh, I mean, sorry to bother you, Miss." He edged away, proud at not soiling himself yet. "I'll just be going and—"
"What are you, stupid? You can't leave me with nothing to remember you by."
The construct dropped Kensuke like so much used garbage and grabbed Shinji. It glowed red, beginning to drain.
Four things happened in short succession: the construct ballooned outwards grotesquely and exploded due to the raw amount of energy Shinji possessed; everyone was thrown backwards from the force; Shinji's groceries were ruined; and Rei woke up.
Everyone recovered in degrees. Except Kensuke, who, again, needed immediate medical attention. The evil girl stood on wobbly legs and approached Shinji, still stunned on the ground. She stepped into the open, looming over him, displaying long red hair and dazzling blue eyes concealed by a thin leather mask. Her exotic beauty was second to none, but was kind of ruined by how revealing her outfit was.
"My my," she said, her tone promising a different kind of violence, "what power. You'll do splendidly." She hauled him up by the shirt collar. "I am Sadistic Bitch Queen Asuka," she announced. "Heir to the White Moon Empire and best person in the world. And you're going to help me take it over."
"Huh?" Shinji managed to squeak dazedly.
Asuka leaned closer, showing teeth. So absorbed with her new chew toy she never noticed Rei swooping down behind her. She swung her spear with intent to maim at the least. And missed spectacularly.
Rei flailed and tumbled past her target. Asuka watched in mild bemusement as she unhurriedly picked herself off the dirty alley floor.
"Uh, who the hell are you?"
"Rei!" Penpen called out, diving to her side. "I told you there's a protocol to follow for these situations! You have to announce yourself so your enemy knows who is about to smite them!"
"The stuffed animal, yet again," Asuka sighed at the penguin. "And now you've brought some pageant reject along for the ride?"
"You will rue such insolence! This is humanity's new champion! The brave, not at all disinterested…" He trailed off, cueing Rei to finish. She was silent. "… Fine. This is Magical Apathy Girl Rei, here to stop your tyrannical energy theft spree. Prepare for defeat!"
For Rei, defeating this girl meant returning to her books, so she rushed ahead and attacked. And missed again. Asuka batted her away with one hand.
"What are you doing?" Penpen asked Rei, worry creeping into his voice. "What happened to all the training I gave you? The strategy talks and PowerPoint seminars?"
"I was not paying attention."
Penpen wailed in frustration.
"Magical Apathy Girl Rei," Asuka laughed, kicking her into a dumpster. "Some champion. Get lost, loser. You're interrupting my meal." She pulled the still woozy Shinji close. "I'll have to make an exception for you."
She bit his bottom lip, drawing blood. The instantaneous rush of power made the alleyway tremble, cracking asphalt and shattering windows. Everyone was propelled away from Asuka as she rose into the sky, awash with terrible force that radiated off her in waves.
"Such power," she cackled. "Who knew a boy could ever be this useful!"
Winding up in the same dumpster as Rei, Shinji recovered from the horrifying arousal of his first kiss to find a definitively female body underhand amongst the garbage.
"Uh, s-sorry! Sorry!" he panicked.
Expecting a slap, mean names and possible litigation Shinji tried desperately to get away, only to sink further against her as a steady stream of craven apologies tumbled out of his mouth. He hesitated when he met no resistance and bothered to look at who he was feeling up.
Despite Asuka's noisy tumult above him, Shinji easily appreciated the enchantingly delicate beauty of the girl in the dumpster. The used napkins and empty soda cans were a remarkable juxtaposition against her pale skin and feathery hair. There, a plastic baggie filled with smeared dog feces rested against the alluring slope of her hip. Over here, a roach-infested cereal box cradled under her lithe arm. Further up, a wad of old gum precariously dangled over her shut eyes, thick with lashes.
"Oh, no!" he wailed. "She's dead!"
Or asleep again. Shinji wasn't thinking straight.
Penpen swooped down behind him, avoiding random bolts of the energy pouring out of Asuka, whose cackle grew to maniacal laughter. The girl seemed incapable of doing anything quietly, including the complicated and needlessly lengthy ritual to unseal the lost White Moon forces. The sky darkened and hung low, swirling with wicked power.
Shinji wondered if this was how it all ended for him: feeling up a dead girl in a dumpster. Not that he imagined a life of public distinction or warm affection, but this seemed pretty disappointing, even for him. He did what came naturally.
"Don't cry over her, you fool!" Penpen exclaimed. "Tears will weaken her further! Kiss her! Kiss her now!"
Shinji only heard angry warking.
"Huh?" he said, glancing about. "That sounded like—"
Penpen kicked him in the back of the head, driving his face down against Rei's. A steady flipper kept him in place. Even from a simple, awkward kiss, the magic transfer was immediate and tremendous.
Despite being on the cutting edge of waste management technology, Tokyo-3 was a bustling high-tech urban center with a strong economy after all, the city's garbage receptacles proved no match for a poorly described burst of magical energy. Trash, hunks of pavement and Shinji were flung clear across the street as Rei stood, filled with a vitality she never experienced before. It threatened to consume her completely. It was too great, too exhilarating, in danger of overwhelming and destroying what she considered to be her true self of emotional lethargy.
Faced with the unbearable lightness of being normal, she grabbed her spear. She poured all of her power into the weapon and hurled it at Asuka, who conveniently was not paying attention until the last possible moment.
"Aw, bitch bags," she muttered at her impending doom.
The spear collected her and the rest of the dark energy churning in the sky above, blasting them out of sight along with a good portion of the weather systems in the Pacific. With a tremendous crack of thunder as air rushed in to fill the void left, the battle was over.
A street away Shinji coughed up a mouthful of asphalt and garbage, looking around for the luminous beauty that saved him so he could ask her name and beg she not sue him.
He searched the alley but found only Kensuke, which was a letdown. But Shinji helped him anyway, even as police and paramedics arrived on the scene to treat the wounded.
In the back of a parked ambulance, staring up at the cleared night sky, Shinji thought of the brave girl he met in the garbage and wondered if he'd see her again.
"What's the rush?"
Penpen trailed after Rei, making haste for the apartment once combat ended. Bed and blissful solitude awaited her. She expended most of the power she took from Shinji, and familiar sleepy ennui was creeping back in. Just as things should be.
"Aren't you worried about Shinji?"
"He is alive," she stated. "That is enough."
"But I'm sure he'd love to see you again."
"He sees me every day." Sadly.
"But not as a magical girl," Penpen countered. "He'll never get to thank you this way." Rei was unresponsive, and he shrugged. "If that's what you want."
They reached the apartment and climbed through Rei's bedroom window. Penpen stretched his wings and yawned.
"All is right with the world. You want a snack or something? We never did get dinner, now that I think about it and it'll probably be a while until Shinji returns so…"
He trailed off under Rei's lidded stare.
"You promised to leave. Leave."
"A promise is a promise," he lamented. "So be it."
He opened his mouth, and like some sort of magical avian vacuum, inhaled Rei's costume as it swirled away from her in a rush of vibrant color. Back in her school uniform she fell on her bed, too exhausted to change.
"I suppose this really is farewell," Penpen said, climbing up on the windowsill. "I won't make a fuss about it. But know the world owes you a debt of greatest magnitude. And personally, I— Okay, okay. Stop pointing out the window. I can take a hint."
Despite that, he hesitated.
"You know," the penguin said with a fond look in his bead eyes, "I was wrong about you. I doubted your commitment to mankind. I thought maybe I had chosen incorrectly. That your desire to avoid human contact and emotion was so strong you'd let the planet be enslaved. But you triumphed, against the odds and without seeking personal glory. You might not be the hero humanity wanted, but you were the hero they needed.
"You aren't the unfeeling monster you try so hard to make others see. I was wrong. But you were wrong, too, Rei. You—"
"Leave while you still can."
Penpen zipped away on a rainbow of sparkles. Unable and unwilling to leave on such a sour note, he turned his beak and cried back over his wing.
"Thank you, Rei! Never forget how strong you truly are!"
The window was shut, the blind was drawn. Rei was asleep, indifferent to the needs of the world.
School was abuzz the following morning with rumors of a new magical girl. Kensuke Aida was, if nothing else, a reliable disseminator of information regarding cute girls. He had the wherewithal to use his phone to record what he thought was going to be some hot action, which turned out to be a near-death experience. The picture was fuzzy, but the audio was clear, and the name Magical Apathy Girl Rei spread through the city. And all the draining victims began to recover as Asuka lost her hold on the thermos with their collected energy. Or something.
Rei ignored the commotion, placidly staring out the window from her desk, waiting for homeroom to begin. Last night's battle was a distant memory, already fading. Dwelling on the past was useless; good or bad, it happened, and nothing would change that fact. Learn and move on. From her brief experience as a magical girl, Rei learned being one sucked. So much time and energy wasted on not reading or sleeping. Why everyone seemed so excited by it was beyond her and she had no desire to remedy that. What kind of fool was thrilled by such things?
"Ms. Ayanami!" Shinji greeted, hurrying over to her.
She allowed a glance in his general direction, idly wondering if the world was ending. He sounded full of hopeful satisfaction. Rei was surprised he was capable of that.
"Good morning, Ms. Ayanami," he said. "I guess you heard about all the victims recovering, huh? I'm so glad for them and their families. The city can finally be at peace. Even Mr. Penguin running away can't diminish how great this new day is."
Something was seriously amiss. No human should be this cheerful, least of all Shinji Ikari. Had the trauma of battle knocked a few screws loose? Was this a precursor to some terrible mental collapse? While witnessing a psychotic break firsthand might be of educational interest, she also might be expected to help clean up after the rampage.
"I hope I didn't wake you up last night when I got in," Shinji went on. "I'm sorry I couldn't cook for you, again. But you'll never guess what happened…"
He related the events of his magic dumpster adventure, most of which Rei a.) already knew and b.) did not care about. But he kept talking, singing the praises of his courageous rescuer. She wondered if telling him her true motivations had nothing to do with him would shut his mouth.
"… and when I finally got home you were already asleep. I'm really sorry about dinner. I'll make it up to you tonight."
"I insist," he told her, missing her tone and meaning. "I feel… different after last night. Like I should work harder to help others. After seeing what that girl did so selflessly, it makes me want to be a better person. For her. And for you, too."
"Because, you see, I'm in love…" Shinji began.
Oh, hell, Rei thought.
"… with Magical Apathy Girl Rei."
Oh, hell, Rei thought.
"She's so cool and calm and brave and pretty. She risked her life to save the city and me. I owe her a debt I can't begin to repay."
Leaving her alone would be a good start.
She did feel a twinge of unwanted pity for the boy, falling in love with someone he would never see again. Rei's days as a magical girl were numbered. And love was irrelevant. Especially love for someone you met once dressed in an atrocious costume. Shinji was a fool.
"You know," he said, peering at her, "about you and Magical Apathy Girl Rei…"
She braced herself. Had his bizarre observational skills regarding her put two and two together? Had he discovered her identity? Being the object of his terminally unrequited love would complicate things. Surely there were other, stupider girls willing to lower themselves in their class.
"… you two would really get along," Shinji finished.
The bell rang to begin homeroom. Class representative Horaki, utterly inconsequential to the story thus far, ordered everyone to rise and bow to the entering teacher, then sit at their desks.
"Class, please settle," the teacher said, hobbling to the front podium. "We have an oddity this morning, in that someone is transferring in to our school as opposed to leaving for the foreseeable future due to life-threatening loss of energy. So please make her feel welcome—"
The classroom door was flung open off its hinges and a girl strode forward to chalk her name across the entire blackboard and part of the wall.
"In case you're blind or stupid, my name is Asuka Langley Soryu," the girl announced. She glanced over at the teacher. "You were taking too long. And doing a terrible job of introducing me. Why aren't you reading off the printouts I gave you?"
"Oh, ah, right," he said, too surprised to contradict her. He fished out a stack of papers and cleared his throat. "Let's see here. Please welcome the young genius beauty queen everyone is talking about, Ms. Asuka Langley Soryu. She is a brilliant mysterious transfer from abroad who is better and smarter than the teaching faculty and the student body combined. She doesn't need anybody because she is the best at everything. Also, she is the prettiest girl in the world, so please do not get too close or your collective repulsiveness could depress her…"
The teacher continued on for several pages. The other girls in class shared a silent, nearly telepathic understanding to ostracize this presumptuous newcomer. Until Asuka casually produced a number of dolls with an eerie similarity to every girl and did horrible, horrible things to each. A full explanation would require at least an M rating. The girls then decided to be Asuka's most loyal friends.
Shinji, the only male remaining, was too busy daydreaming about holding hands with MAG Rei. Rei herself was reading.
"… she then got all the trophies for Deadly Spirits 2 in under a month without looking up anything online and—"
"That's enough," Asuka interrupted the teacher. "Good job on making my life of accomplishments sound boring."
"Ah, yes, well, it is past ten so we should probably start today's lessons. Ms. Soryu, please find one of our many open desks and—"
"There's a seat for me right there," she said, and claimed it.
"Um, Ms. Soryu?" Shinji asked as she draped herself across his lap. "This desk is taken."
"You're taken with me? Oh, do go on, you little flirt. Not that I can blame you."
"That wasn't quite what I meant—"
"Oh, my!" Asuka exclaimed, drawing even closer. "What a nasty cut on your lip. How on earth did you get that?"
That reminded Shinji of last night. Which reminded him of MAG Rei. Which made him blush. Which led Asuka on.
"Oh, uh, right," he began, failing at his efforts to reign in his embarrassment. "There was this amazing girl—"
Was all she needed to hear. "Amazing, you say? Oh, wow. I bet she was beautiful and intelligent and fearless and made you want to serve her forever."
"Yeah! She made me reevaluate my life and want to be better for her sake."
Asuka was a little heady. "Mmm. Yes, I'm sure she'll find a use or two for you."
While playing with his collar she lost balance, slipping away towards the floor. Shinji caught her before impact, hands behind her neck and waist, and lifted her back up. Before realizing how truly inappropriate their positioning was.
It took a moment for her to recover. "What are you, stupid? You shouldn't be sorry about…" She paused to get more comfortable in his lap. "… that."
The teacher was coughing up a lung trying to recapture the scandalized class' attention. "About the day's lessons…"
Rei attempted to ignore all of it. Which was nothing new in school, but normally she didn't have to deal with noisy transfers throwing themselves at her oblivious cousin. She redoubled her focus on reading.
Something tapped on the window beside her. Which was odd, since they were on the second floor. After several minutes Rei bothered to check what it was.
Penpen was hovering outside on a cushion of sparkles, clawing at the glass. Rei returned to her book.
Halfway through lunch he managed to crack the window open and squeeze his beak through. "Psst. Rei. It's me. Penpen. Your magical guide and ally. Your—"
"I recognize you," she interrupted. "Why are you here?"
Their association should be like Shinji's mother: dead, buried and best forgotten. Rei fulfilled her end of the bargain. The city was saved, the victims were recovering, the Sadistic Bitch Queen was defeated and Shinji was safe. The bird's ridiculous quest was complete.
"My noble quest is not complete," Penpen told her. "Although routed, I still sense the White Moon queen's presence nearby. Her power is greatly diminished and will take time to recover. It's the perfect opportunity for us to train! I'll move back in and we can begin a new regimen straight away."
She was still asleep, Rei decided. This was all a bad dream. Shinji's declaration of love, some loud foreigner hitting on him, Penpen's return; all of it was a nightmare. For once she wanted to wake up.
"Don't worry about your magical abilities," the penguin went on, "they're still safely stored in my gullet. You'll have to call on them again, I'm sure: that wicked queen will surely target Shinji. We need to be on the lookout at all times. Even now. Um, Rei? Do you have a headache? Why are you holding your head in your hands?"
He glanced past her to watch Asuka help herself to Shinji's meticulously packed and expertly prepared bento. She did her best to eat it as seductively as possible, which ended abruptly as she tasted it, and proceeded to shovel the rest of the meal down her throat. Shinji was just pleased someone was visibly enjoying his cooking for once.
"Uh, are you going to let some weird-looking foreign girl do that with him?" Penpen asked.
Rei found something worse than relying on others: having others rely on her. Self-sufficiency was the watchword she tried to live by. Depending on people was hazardous and unpredictable. By limiting contact with them the risks decreased. The only thing she relied on people to be was unreliable.
But now she was assaulted on all sides by individuals and groups demanding her involvement. Shinji needed her to requite his love. Penpen needed her to fulfill his hero complex. Her classmates needed her to be entertained. The city needed her to protect its hapless citizenry. The world needed her to save it from enslavement.
She needed all of them to grow a pair and leave her in peace to read.
Rei paused. She needed them to leave her alone. She needed them.
"No," she said.
"Then get over there and claim what is yours!" Penpen told her.
Rei rose from her desk. She approached Shinji at a determined stride.
"Ms. Ayanami," he began, sounding sincere but still letting a drooling Asuka sit on his lap. "Hello. I hope you… Ms. Ayanami?"
She walked past him. She left the classroom. She made her way up the hall, down the stairs, across the courtyard and into the school library. She claimed a book and an empty table. While her obligations, magical and otherwise, might demand her time for the foreseeable future, this moment was hers alone. She opened the new book and set herself to read.
The bell rang announcing the end of lunch period. Rei allowed a sigh of discontent to pass her lips.
In hindsight maybe defeating the Sadistic Bitch Queen was not the best option. The enslavement of humanity didn't sound too terrible. They'd still be alive. And probably too occupied to bother her reading.
Then again, she doubted literature would flourish under oppressive magical rule. The Bitch Queen did not strike her as a bookworm. And authors needed readers, just as readers needed authors. Alone, they were pointless.
They needed each other.
Rei returned to the classroom, filled with a newfound sense of purpose. Perhaps some degree of mutual need between humans wasn't as horrible as she thought. Maybe it wasn't a disgraceful weakness. Maybe something good could come of it, despite the discomfort.
"Ms. Ayanami!" Shinji greeted her on her entrance. "Good news! Ms. Soryu invited herself over for dinner tonight. Isn't that nice of her? So—"
"You know… her?" Asuka asked, having recovered her faculties after lunch.
"She's my cousin. We live together."
"Oh." Remaining on his lap, and not in a hurry to leave anytime soon, Asuka huddled closer to him. She shot a death glare at Rei. "Well, I guess it's nice someone talks to her."
"Yeah," Shinji replied, smiling in utter obliviousness.
At the window, Penpen was angrily waving his flippers.
Rei abandoned her earlier thought. Mutual need was disgusting, weak-willed and pathetic. Nothing good would come of it.
She sat at her desk as afternoon classes began. The teacher droned on, Asuka giggled, Shinji flustered, and Penpen tried to get his beak unstuck from the window. Rei read through all of it, working to ignore the noisy mess around her. If nothing else, it was good practice.
To never be continued
Author notes: What a slog. This got away from me. It's been a while since I tried something "humorous." Now I remember why.