Disclaimers: No money is being made from this story. I do not own the rights to the anime depicted in this story. This story will be removed from the web should the legal copyright holders of the anime contained within request it. Thank you.
Maya Ibuki woke with a groan, immediately clenching her eyes shut as a quick peek revealed a harsh, glaring day awaiting her. Rolling onto her stomach, she buried her face in the too-lumpy pillow on her bed, mentally promising to go buy something nice and fluffy as soon as she was off shift.
She nearly laughed with relief as a moment later it dawned on her that it was Sunday.
With a grateful sigh, she snuggled into her uncomfortable pillow and drifted back to sleep. When she woke again, it was mid-afternoon, and much dimmer. "Uhh… uhhhhnnn…" she yawned, stretching until her smooth stomach snuck its way free of her pajama top, vanishing once more as the young technician sat up and rubbed her eyes.
With a grunt, she flipped her covers back and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. It was Sunday, she told herself, and the sunshine streaming through her slotted aluminum blinds promise far too much warmth to spend the day lounging around in her small, one-bedroom apartment. Padding into her kitchenette, she pulled out the remains of last night's Chinese food, wrinkling her nose for a moment at it before shrugging and grabbing a clean pair of chopsticks from her silverware drawer.
Waste not, want not, she figured.
Making her way back to her bedroom, she stood at the window and parted the blinds a bit to allow herself a better view. "Beautiful," she whispered, letting the thin metal slats snap back into place and stirring her leftovers with the chopsticks. "Definitely too nice to be inside."
She smiled to herself as she scooped out a large bite of cold lo-mein, shoveling it into her mouth with a distinctly satisfied air and thinking that her superiors at NERV would find her lack of etiquette appalling.
Just one more reason to be thankful for the weekend.
Making short work of the 'authentic' cuisine, Maya pulled her pajamas off and tossed them into the hamper at the foot of her bed, wandering into the bathroom for a leisurely shower and wondering offhandedly if it was a sin to enjoy time off THIS much. Clean, full, and feeling inexplicably mischievous, Maya grabbed a pair of jeans and a tee shirt and headed out into the bright sunshine.
An hour and a half later, she came to a very sobering conclusion – Toyko-3… was very boring.
"Man," she muttered to herself, listlessly running her fingers over the cheap jewelry on the hawker's cart she was stopped in front of, "maybe I should have called someone to come hang out with me."
She chuckled weakly at her little personal joke. There was no one to call, no one to hang out with. Sure she knew people from work, and even spent time with them after hours from time to time, but there was a certain limit to their friendship – a kind of 'workers bond' that did not QUITE extend to calling people at home or spending time together on off-days.
Letting out a soft sigh, Maya turned away from the cart, wondering if she shouldn't just go buy a new pillow and go home to try it out, but amidst the sparse Sunday afternoon throng, she spotted something hard to miss – something that only one person in the entire world (that she knew of) possessed.
"Hey! Hey, Rei!!" she called, rising on her tiptoes and waving enthusiastically. "Wait up!"
Rei Ayanami, the pilot of Evangelion Unit 00, raised her head, her expression remaining unchanged as her red eyes sought out whoever had disturbed her quiet, contemplative walk. She nodded politely as one of the bridge technicians from NERV worked through the crowd to her side.
"Lieutenant Ibuki," she greeted the woman coolly.
"Hi!" Maya said happily, "What'cha doing?"
Rei's face remained composed, but her eyes seemed to be showing disapproval as she flatly muttered, "Walking."
Maya contained her sigh. "Anywhere in particular?" she asked, familiar by now with the Child's tendency to cut straight to the point – without bothering with things like manners and politeness.
"Great!" the tech exclaimed, catching Rei off guard, "Then I'll just tag along."
For a moment, the First Child simply stared at her, unsure of how to reply, but she finally turned her attention back to the street in front of her and began walking. Maya fell in at her side, feeling pleased without really knowing why. It was not as if the blue-haired girl was a great conversationalist, and so far, all she had gotten for her attempts to talk to her was a whole lot of cold shoulder.
It was better than being alone, though, so in spite of the girl's silence, Maya was grateful for the company.
"So what do you like to do for fun?" she asked suddenly. "What are your hobbies?"
Rei kept her eyes facing forward, but frowned slightly at the buoyant tone of the tech's voice. Of all the people she had imagined accosting her and trying to make small talk, Maya Ibuki was the last on her list. At NERV, the woman was always calm and professional – almost painfully so, at times – but now she was all smiles and bubbly personality.
It made the First wonder if perhaps the older woman was on drugs.
"I do not have any hobbies," Rei said quietly, coming to a stop as they reached an intersection.
"Wow, that's too bad," Maya observed, shaking her head sadly as the light turned green and they resumed their walk. "You must get bored a lot."
Since this was not a question, Rei felt perfectly justified in keeping her silence. Honestly, she thought, she should not be expected to answer to this woman at all. It was Sunday, they were both off duty, and nothing the woman was asking pertained to NERV in any way whatsoever, so she was under no obligation to answer if she did not want to.
"You want some ice cream?" Maya asked impulsively.
"Ice cream?" Rei echoed, giving the woman a side-long glance as she came to a stop in front of a small shop.
"Don't tell me you've never had it!" the tech gasped, shocked by the look of uncertainty on the young girl's face.
But Rei was already shaking her head. "I have had ice cream," she said calmly, "but I do not have it often."
"Oh," Maya shrugged, "well, would you like some? My treat."
"I have money," Rei pointed out coolly.
Maya laughed, refusing to let the reclusive pilot dampen her mood. "I know you do," she said, grabbing the girl's hand and starting towards the ice cream shop, "but you won't get any if I didn't take you, will you."
The question was rhetorical, but Rei still murmured, "No," allowing herself to be tugged into the small shop without resistance. She wondered idly if it would be considered insubordination to pull her hand away and tell the woman that she really did not want ice cream, but she decided that in the grand scheme of things it did not matter all that much. Four minutes later, the two women made their way back out of the shop, with Maya happily licking at a double scoop of chocolate-chocolate chip and Rei carrying a single scoop of vanilla.
"Thash gonna mel," Maya pointed out around a mouthful of chocolate.
Rei glanced down at the cone. "Yes, I am aware of that," she mumbled, bringing her eyes back up to survey the street in front of her. She looked at the older woman, however, as she began to laugh, and in spite of her normal tendency not to start conversations, she found herself asking, "What is amusing?"
"You," Maya giggled, "you're so serious – and sometimes you sound like a robot." She smoothed her face entirely, murmuring in a dull monotone, "'Yes, I am aware of that… what is amusing… please input command.' Always so…" she fumbled for a better word, but ultimately came back to, "serious."
The First Child stopped walking, giving the older woman her equivalent of a reproachful look. "As are you… most of the time."
Maya shrugged, but blushed a little at the faintly accusatory tone of the younger woman's voice. "No one can be serious all the time," she pointed out slowly, "it isn't healthy." Thoughtfully, she licked her ice cream, longing to be away from this conversation. "Hey, I've never seen you in casual clothes," she said, quickly changing the topic, "just your plugsuit and your school uniform. Why is that?"
Rei's reply was immediate. "I do not have any."
"They are unnecessary."
"That's just wrong," Maya exclaimed, quickly catching a drip of chocolate before it could fall to the street. "They ARE necessary, Rei – you're allowed to have a life outside of school and NERV!"
Rei kept her silence, determining that the older woman did not need to know that such things were not important to her. All that mattered was obeying orders, fulfilling her purpose, and avoiding uncomfortable situations.
Like this one.
"Good day, Lieutenant."
Maya sighed. She was used to the blue-haired girl's lack of social graces, and normally she would have just let it go – but it was such a nice day, and she was in such a good mood, that it seemed wrong to let such a young girl mope around town, especially in her school uniform, of all things.
No, Maya decided, if Rei was going to mope, she was going to mope in casual clothes.
"Come on," she said briskly, grabbing Rei's hand again to ensure that the girl did not skulk off into the crowd, "let's go shopping."
Rei frowned; sure that she had just bidden the woman goodbye.
"Are you ordering me?"
"Nope," Maya said brightly, "I'm asking you nicely."
"I do not want to."
"Because it serves no purpose."
"Sure it does," Maya said seriously, turning to face the younger woman and looking her straight in the eye. "It feels good."
Rei's brow creased. "I do not understand."
"Yes, I know," Maya said patiently, "and that's one reason I want you to go with me." She released the girl's hand and stepped back, showing that she was not forcing her into anything. "Look," she said softly, "I won't MAKE you come with me, Rei, but I sure would like it if you did."
"Why?" Rei asked bluntly.
Maya caught another drop of ice cream before it could fall. "Well, because I don't have anyone else to go with right now," she said just as bluntly, "and because I think we'd have fun." She grinned suddenly. "And I really want to dress you up."
Rei blinked, finding that she had absolutely no reply for this other than, "Why?"
"Because you're cute."
Silence fell as the First Child considered this. She had been called cute before – mostly by doddering old women who thought she reminded them of their granddaughters – so that was not what had her hesitant, and she did not have any other commitments at the time, so she had no REAL excuse not to, other than an overall lack of caring. It occurred to her, briefly, that she might be reluctant because she did not WANT to enjoy herself, and she found that she was mildly annoyed at the tech for managing to be so upbeat when she herself was rather unhappy.
Of course, much of this thought process was immediately pushed down by her forebrain so that she did not have to think about it.
Maya grinned. "You won't regret it," she said happily, pausing as she glanced down at the streaks of melted vanilla dripping fitfully from the blue-haired girl's ignored ice cream cone. "Er, let's… get you some napkins before we go."
- - - - -
Twenty five minutes later, Rei found herself sitting outside of a dressing room in a rather large clothing store, trying to remain patient as she waited for Lieutenant Ibuki to reemerge. The older woman's enthusiasm was, Rei found, quite irritating, and she was sorely tempted to get up and leave the store without a word.
Mild curiosity kept her in place, however, as she considered the fact that she had never been in a store of this type before. There was a certain appeal to it, though the trio of giggling high school students in the lingerie section WAS starting to get on her nerves.
Abruptly, Maya threw the dressing room door open, posing grandly with one hand in the air and her right hip cast to the side at what Rei thought must have been a painful angle.
"What do you think?" the tech asked, batting her eyelashes as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other and offering the First Child a dazzling smile.
Rei looked her up and down, surveying the midnight blue sundress the woman was wearing with only slight attentiveness. "It is… dark."
Maya laughed. "Yeah," she said, turning to the side and looking over her shoulder at the younger woman with a seductive wink, "but how does it LOOK?"
The dryness of the tech's voice was not lost on Rei, but she felt that she was justified, since it had not been her idea to come to this place and she really had no opinion on the other woman's clothes.
"They have it in your size," Maya said slyly, "want to try it on?"
Rei gave the woman another assessing glance. "No."
Maya stuck her tongue out. "Oh come on," she chided, "it would look cute on you." Getting only a blank stare for her troubles she sighed. "Let's find something for you to try on – trust me, you'll like it, just give it a chance."
Feeling that this might be the only way to satisfy the other woman, Rei rose to her feet and followed her over to the racks of clothing. Together, they perused the assorted items, Maya – having experience in the matter – leading the way and picking out several outfits she deemed 'hot.'
"Come on," she said briskly, holding the dressing room door open for Rei and escorting her inside its roomy confines. "I'll help."
Rei thought briefly about telling the woman that she was capable of dressing herself, but ultimately came to the conclusion that there was no harm in having a little assistance when doing something one has never done. She stepped into the dressing room, waiting patiently as the older woman carefully arranged the clothes on the provided hooks on the back wall and stepped back, tapping her upper lip with her forefinger as she decided which one to try first.
"I think… this one."
The First Child's lips curved down slightly as she regarded the outfit, but she said nothing. Less argument meant less time spent on this, she reasoned.
Maya grinned suddenly. "This is fun," she said happily, "I can't even remember the last time I went shopping with a girlfriend."
Rei found this a rather strange thing to say, since she and Miss Ibuki were not what she would call friends, but she let the comment go and shrugged her shoulders out of her jumper's straps, letting it fall to the floor and leaving her in only her button-down shirt, bra, and panties.
Maya averted her eyes politely as the girl removed her shirt and picked up the blouse she had picked out for her, but her attention was drawn back a moment later as the blue-haired girl murmured, "I cannot get these pants on. They are too tight."
"I'll help," Maya offered, moving closer to the girl, "they're supposed to be tight – that's the fashion."
With a sigh, Maya stood behind the First Child and reached down, helping her tug the stiff denim up past her hips.
"There," Maya whispered, snapping the jeans and resting her hand on Rei's stomach as she surveyed their reflection in the dressing room mirror. "My, my, Miss Ayanami," she said with a playful grin, "aren't we looking sexy!"
Rei said nothing. There was a stranger in the mirror with her face and eyes – a stranger in tight fitting pants and a daringly low-cut blouse… a stranger with an arm around her midsection and a smiling face leaning comfortably over her shoulder. When had this stranger snuck in and taken her place? Was it when Lieutenant Ibuki had helped her into these pants? Was it when she had selected the blouse that was practically hanging off her body? Or was it when she had agreed to come here in the first place? When had the girl in the mirror stolen into her life, and why had she allowed it to happen?
"…want to go now."
Maya frowned as Rei stepped away from her and tugged the blouse off, sticking it back on the hanger so carelessly that it slid right back off. "What's wrong?" she whispered, her alarm growing as the teen all but tore the jeans off, leaving them lying on the floor as she shoved her arms into her shirt and began buttoning it as fast as she could. "Rei?"
Rei ignored her, pulling her school jumper back on and stuffing her shirt into it with one hand as she opened the door to the dressing room with the other.
"Umm… bye…" Maya whispered belatedly, staring after the girl as she quickly disappeared into the crowd. Slowly, she knelt and picked up the discarded clothes, folding them neatly and setting them on the dressing room's low-slung bench with a deep, weary sigh.
"Well THAT could have gone better."
- - - - -
Rei wandered the streets for hours, crossing streets at random as she allowed her feet to move her wherever they felt inclined to going.
Why had she run?
Panic was as foreign to her as winter, but she was sure that both were equally cold. Never in her life had she felt such naked fear as when Maya's arm was nestled against her midsection, and even as she made her way through the entryway to her apartment building, she could still feel the lingering aftereffects of the woman's touch.
And for the life of her she could not understand why it had affected her so much.
It was not as if the woman had groped her, or whispered something seductive in her ear – she had only held her, and complimented her, things that normal people did for one another on a regular basis.
"But I am not normal."
Rei came up short, her hand hovering inches from the door to the stairway in her building. Had she just spoken out loud? To herself? Where no one else could hear? Certainly not! Talking to one's self was a sign of madness, wasn't it? Perhaps, she thought, she should schedule an appointment with the psychiatrist on-staff at NERV headquarters. First her overreaction with Lieutenant Ibuki, and now this.
She was definitely not herself.
Making her way up the stairs, Rei decided that this was exactly what she should do – and the sooner the better – but in reaching her floor, she found something out of place: someone had placed a small box outside of her apartment's door.
Nodding to herself, Rei leaned down and picked up the box, bringing it into her apartment and slipping the lid off to reveal several articles of clothing and a neatly folded, handwritten note.
Dropping the lid carelessly on the floor, she unfolded the note and read it, her eyes rapidly scanning the few lines of text as her lips compressed in a thoughtful line.
If you're reading this, I just want to say I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be that familiar with you, and I think I made you uncomfortable, which isn't what I was trying to do. I just wanted you to have some fun, that's all. I'm not really good at writing what I feel – not that I'm good at saying it, either – but I had to let you know that I wasn't trying to be inappropriate with you, Rei. I hope you understand, and I hope you can forgive me.
Rei slowly refolded the note. How ironic, she thought. The one person to show her human kindness and warmth was concerned that she had taken it as a sexual advance. How could she ever understand that the reason Rei had run was because no one had ever treated her so gently before? Miss Ibuki had no way of knowing this, so – in true adult fashion – she fell back to the fear of sexual appropriateness and perceived homosexuality.
It made Rei almost want to hate the woman for being so cliché – so trite and predictable – but as she slowly drew the garments from the box, all she could feel was shame and embarrassment. Maya had gone out of her way to be kind to her. Forget the ice cream. Forget the clothes. Forget the clumsy attempts at conversation – Maya had been NICE to her.
For no reason.
And Rei had brushed her off at every turn.
For no reason.
Carefully, Rei folded the clothes, stacking them at the foot of her bed with a thoughtful expression. Then, with the practice of a lifetime, she laid down on her stomach, folded her arms on top of her pillow, rested her chin on the back of her forearm, and systematically walled off her emotions to allow her mind the chance to process the day's events unfettered by the inconvenience of feelings
- - - - -
"Hey Ibuki," Shigeru called, bringing Maya's attention up from her computer screen, "we're going to grab some pizza. You wanna go?"
"Can't," Maya sighed, shaking her head, "Doctor Akagi has me triple-checking the latest sync reports. I probably won't be done for another half hour."
Makoto snorted. "Unreal," he muttered, glancing around to make sure the Project-E head was nowhere within earshot, "shift was over ten minutes ago. You want us to wait?"
Maya considered the offer. "Nah," she said finally "you guys go ahead."
"Why not meet us there, then?" Shigeru offered, "We'll wait for you."
"Now THAT sounds good," Maya said, relieved that she would have an excuse not to go right home and think about the disaster that was Sunday, "Figaro's?"
"I'll be there."
Turning her attention back to her terminal, Maya began tapping once more, allowing the monotonous work to fill every corner of her mind, drowning out the memory of Rei's frightened expression – so hard to read through the ridged mask the girl had tried to put on, but so obvious to one who had known her for over three years.
She had made a mistake; there was no doubt about it. She had assumed far too much about how willing the First Child was to make friends, and she had ended up creating an awkward situation for both of them – a situation that had only become more stressful the following day at NERV when Rei had called in to bow out of a routine sync test, citing the need to 'clarify a situation' in her personal life.
As if Maya had any doubt what that might be. With any luck, she would not be fired for inappropriate conduct, but she was fairly confident that the First Child would not be spending any time in her presence if she could avoid it – not alone, at any rate.
How could she have been so stupid? How could she have assumed that just because she was enjoying herself, Rei was too? If her prayers were answered, she would be able to learn from her mistake and keep her job – but that decision was currently out of her hands. Only Rei could forgive or damn her at this point.
Gradually, Maya became aware of the fact that the other on-staff techs had gone silent, leaving the rapid tapping of her own keyboard the only sound on the command bridge. Looking up from her terminal, Maya glanced over to where one of the other techs – a girl named Kozue – was normally chatting up a storm with anyone who would listen.
Kozue wasn't saying anything now.
"What's… going on?" Maya murmured, more to herself than any of the other techs, as each of them was looking as if they had seen a ghost. Following their gaze, the young woman swiveled her chair around to face the entrance to the command deck, her breath catching in her throat as she figured out what the big deal was.
Standing in the doorway was a vision of loveliness. Rei Ayanami, the unchanging First Child, was moving towards the center of the bridge with careful, measured steps. Her expression held its usual neutrality, but instead of her normal attire, the sundress Maya had purchased for her clung lightly to her slim body, accentuating curves that no one outside a handful of people knew the girl possessed and drawing a few quiet but appreciative whistles from some of the less discrete male technicians.
Maya sat back in her chair, her eyes flicking up the command dais and unconsciously scanning for the commander – absent, through some miracle of fate – and when she looked back, Rei had reached her, coming to a stop in front of her post and letting her hands hang easily at her side as she regarded the tech. Their eyes met and locked as the silence stretched on, held firmly by the amazed stares of the technicians all around.
They stared at each other for well over a minute before Maya cleared her throat. "Is there something I can do for you, Pilot Ayanami?"
Rei said nothing at first, holding her ground and continuing to stare at Maya with an openly assessing gaze. Finally, her lips barely parting, she whispered, "I am… uncomfortable."
Maya smiled weakly. "Well," she whispered back, "you LOOK adorable."
A few techs dared to murmur, their voices too low and indistinct for Maya to hear them. She tuned them out, focusing her attention on the girl in front of her. "Is there something else you wanted to say?"
Rei considered this, pursing her lips as she glanced down at the sundress. "Yes," she said simply.
"What is it?"
Slowly bringing her eyes back up, the First replied, "I do not like ice cream."
Maya gave another hesitant smile, starting to grow uncomfortable under the girl's intense stare. "Well, you don't have to have it," she observed.
"I know," was Rei's calm reply. "However…"
"…I enjoyed being with you while you ate yours."
Blood immediately suffused Maya's face. "Er, thanks."
Maya felt a light sweat break out on her brow. "Did you read my note?" she blurted.
"Yes," Rei said quietly.
"O-oh," Maya stammered, "well, umm…"
Thankfully, Rei only left her twisting for a moment longer before saying, "It was… unnecessary."
Maya, whose back had straightened unconsciously, sagged back in her seat. "Oh."
Another moment passed, and then Rei glanced at the main screen, her eyes taking in the digital readout showing the time. "You are off duty now, correct?" When Maya nodded, the First brought her attention to her face. "I would like to spend more time with you."
"Umm, yeah… yeah, sure!" Maya said quickly. "Now…?"
Maya turned back to her terminal, logging out after carefully saving her data. She reasoned that she could come in early to finish the project she was working on. It might get her in a little trouble with Doctor Akagi, but she felt that it was worthwhile. To her knowledge, Rei had never held a conversation this long of her own free will – and she was asking for more.
There was no way in Hell the young tech was going to turn her down.
"Ok, I'm ready."
Rei nodded, turning for the door and leading Maya out amidst a veritable hailstorm of whispers. She ignored them all. Her choice had been made, and she would abide by it – regardless of what others thought or said. Here was her chance to truly explore the mystery of 'friendship,' and as it did not conflict with any of her orders or directives, she saw no reason not to.
Maya, it seemed, was thinking along the same, if not exactly identical, lines.
"Umm… you know umm… how this looks… right?"
Licking her lips, Maya hesitantly asked, "You know it's… not that, right…?"
Rei stopped walking for a moment. "Do you… want it to be?"
"No! …do YOU??"
Looking relieved, Maya followed as the First led her to the elevator banks and pushed one of the buttons. "Some of the other techs are going out for pizza," she said suddenly.
"Do you want to go with them?"
"Alright," Maya scratched her head. "Then where do you want to go?"
Rei considered this for a moment, her mind replaying everything that had transpired in the last eighteen hours. As the elevator dinged its arrival, she said, "I would like to go shopping."
Maya followed her onto the elevator, frowning in confusion. "I thought you said you weren't comfortable?"
"Correct," Rei nodded, "therefore… I will require other clothing."
"Oh, right." Unable to contain an enormous grin, Maya asked, "Have you ever tried on a skirt?"
Rei glanced at her out of the corner of her eye, frowning slightly as a million reasons to step back out of the elevator flashed through her mind. The technician was not as she seemed when on duty. She was childish, flippant, slightly overbearing, and just a little too interested in playing dress-up – with Rei as the doll.
And yet, with all of this in mind, Rei brought her eyes back to face forward, hitting the button to bring them to the surface and reminding herself of something she had read in her Progressive Social Sciences book.
'Friends do not always have to share all of your interests. In fact, some of the most successful friendships revolve around differences rather than likenesses – and ultimately, friendship should be based on nothing more than a person's ability to make you happy.'
Maya, Rei had decided after hours of careful thought, made her happy – or at least, she thought that might be what she felt when the older woman had wrapped her arm around Rei's waist in the dressing room of the clothing store, and she felt compelled to find out for sure just what these odd emotions were.
At her side, Maya was still smiling broadly. "We're gonna have so much fun!"
On this point, Rei was still uncertain, but as the elevator doors slid quietly shut, she DID allow herself to consider that it might be a possibility.
Author's notes: nothing to note here except that this story was not pre-read.
Feedback is always welcome on any site with reviewing capabilities or by e-mailing me directly at random1377 (at symbol) yahoo (dot) com.