Disclaimer: Neon Genesis Evangelion is owned by Studio Gainax animation, not me. Should they, or anyone affiliated with them, request it, I will remove all traces of this story from the web. Thank you.

A Perfect Woman

By Random1377

Ryouji Kaji laughed out loud, shaking his head from side to side as he turned back to the row of vending machines in the NERV break room. "Yeah, Shinji," he chuckled, "I know you're a boy. Come on, have a cup of tea, we'll talk."

He could almost imagine the EVA pilot eying the door behind them, trying to decide if he should stay or go. Come on, kid, Kaji thought, smiling faintly as he bought himself a fresh cup of coffee, let's you and me have a little chat about life.

"Sure, ok."

"Great," Kaji said honestly, "you want sugar in it?"

Shinji nodded. "Yes, please."

Kaji slipped some change into the machine and shook his head sadly. "You don't have to be so formal with me, kid," he muttered, "loosen up a bit."

"Sorry."

They lapsed into silence for a few moments as the vending machine whirled and hummed, blending Shinji's tea and spitting it into the paper cup in its dispenser area. Taking the drink, the Third Child followed Kaji out to one of the benches that looked out over the Geofront and sat down. They spoke for a few minutes about general subjects – mostly related to EVA and Misato – but the longer they spoke, the more Kaji kept bringing the conversation around to the topic of girls.

"Have you ever been on a date, Shinji?" the man asked finally, clearly realizing that Shinji would never bring it up on his own.

"N-no," Shinji stammered, shifting on the bench and staring into his cup, "I haven't."

"Why not? You're old enough."

"Just… never have."

"Don't you want to?" Kaji pressed lightly. "I've seen you staring at the women around here, Shinji, and you keep reminding me that you're a boy, so I know you're not gay."

Flustered, Shinji sputtered, "Of course I'm not gay! I just, it's hard for me to talk to girls, that's all."

Kaji looked unconvinced. "Uh huh," he said, "and have you TRIED?"

Shinji fiddled with his cup. "Well, no," he answered reluctantly.

"Again – why not?"

"Just haven't," Shinji said vaguely.

Kaji thought about this for a moment. "You know what you need?" he said sagely.

"What?"

"What you need is a practice woman. You know – someone who'll let you pretend to ask her out and give you some pointers."

Shinji said nothing, looking extremely skeptical as he slowly swirled the contents of his cup of tea.

Grinning, Kaji said, "Misato's out. Mostly because I don't think she'd be able to do it with a straight face – and I KNOW she'd never let either of us live it down. Rei, I'm pretty sure, doesn't have much experience with being asked out or – Hell – anything, when you get right down to it, so maybe-"

"Not Asuka," Shinji blurted suddenly, his cheeks taking on a faint blush as Kaji glanced at him. "I mean, I don't think… not Asuka, ok?"

Kaji studied him for a moment. Saving her for the real thing? he thought astutely.

"Oh, I know!" he said, slapping his fist into his palm as if hit with a sudden insight.

Shinji looked up from his intent study of the tea leaves floating in the bottom of his cup. "Huh?"

"Miss Ibuki!"

Frowning, Shinji stared up at the ceiling. "I don't really know her that well," he said slowly, trying to imagine striking up a conversation with the brown-haired technician.

She IS pretty, he thought idly, but she seems so busy all the time – I don't even think I've ever said more than hi to her in the hallways, she's always on her way somewhere.

"She's perfect," Kaji said enthusiastically, "smart, pretty, great teeth, nice-"

"I thought this was just practice?" Shinji cut in uncomfortably, sensing that the older man was about to wax poetic about Miss Ibuki's petite, but visually pleasing, physical traits.

"Oh it is, but as long as we're doing it, we might as well do it right, right?"

Shinji tried to think of a logical argument against this point, but found that it did kind of make sense. If he was going to pretend to ask a woman out, why not make it a pretty one? But while Maya Ibuki WAS pretty, in a kind of tomboyish way, Shinji doubted she would go along with something like this.

Kaji, however, eased his fears. "Look," the man said easily, "I'll set the whole thing up tomorrow. I'll explain the situation to Maya and arrange for her to be waiting right here in the break room at about 7:15, so you just walk up to her like it's no big deal, and just ask her out."

"But, what do I say?" Shinji asked, starting to get nervous again. "I've never-"

"Yes, I know you've never," Kaji cut in dryly, "that's the point of all this. As for what to say, well, just think of it this way – your goal is to get her to agree to go out with you. How you reach that goal is entirely up to you, but if you treat her with respect, and show her that you're WORTH going out with, most women will at least give it honest consideration. Sure, you might still get shot down, but you'll always know you gave it everything you had, so you can look at yourself in the mirror and say 'I gave it my all, so it was never meant to be.'"

Shinji considered this for a moment. "So just walk up and say, 'hey, let's go out?'" he asked doubtfully.

"Well, if you think that'll work, sure," the older man shrugged, "but I'd recommend starting out with a little conversation first – kinda gauge her mood. The Kanji we use for She literally means 'a woman far away,' so don't try to UNDERSTAND her, but take a minute to see if she's having a hard day, ya know? That way you can decide how to approach her."

"Umm," Shinji hummed, setting his cup down on the ground and rubbing his temples, "I don't know if I can remember all of this, Mister Kaji."

Kaji yawned expansively, stretching out his back as he rose to his feet. "You'll do fine," he said confidently, "just remember – she's every bit as human as you, Shinji. None of us is any better than the others, so you have just as much right to be happy as anyone else. As long as you stay true to yourself, there ARE no wrong answers."

Smiling sickly, Shinji murmured, "I think I heard that on an after-school special."

"Probably," Kaji winked, "but that doesn't make it bad advice."

Reluctantly, Shinji nodded.

"Oh, one more thing."

"Hmm?"

"To make it realistic, I'm going to tell her to give you a hard time." Kaji raised a hand as Shinji opened his mouth to protest. "Nope," he said firmly, "not negotiable! This is practice, Shinji, it has to be just like a real situation. Don't worry, I'll make sure she doesn't go TOO hard on you – but I want you to get a feeling for what it's REALLY like to ask a girl out, alright?"

"I… I guess," Shinji muttered reluctantly.

"Come on," the older man said enthusiastically, "this'll be great practice for the next time you see a really cute girl in school. You just have to understand that they're as confused and awkward as you – it's just that girls are better at hiding it."

Shinji looked skeptical. "Really?"

"Yup," Kaji said firmly, "look Shinji, some people have the ability to get others to do what they want – like go out with them or buy them things or whatever – just because they have that little… spark, you know? But there really aren't that many of them around, and the rest of us, well, we have to work at it." He shrugged. "Better to start early and figure it out before it really matters, don't you think?"

"That makes sense," Shinji admitted, "but still, I-"

"Shinji."

"Hmm?"

"Listen… I'll talk to Maya beforehand, and make sure she's behind it one hundred percent, ok? I won't feed you to the wolves, you gotta believe that."

Shinji studied the older man's earnest eyes for well over thirty seconds, trying to find any further excuse to back out of this horribly embarrassing situation. Him? Ask a woman out?? Preposterous. But then again… if she was in on it, what could it hurt, really? It would be like rehearsing for a play – not that he had ever been in a play, but he had always wanted to try it. Shaking himself, the Third Child nodded and tucked his hands deep inside his pockets.

"Alright, I'll do it."

Kaji grinned from ear to ear. "Great!" he exclaimed. "Then come down to my office after you talk to her and tell me how it went, ok?"

"You'll set it all up before I get there, right?" Shinji asked nervously.

"Trust me," Kaji said, putting his hand on the younger man's shoulder, "this will be one of the best learning experiences of your life."

- - - - -

Shinji tried to keep himself from pacing around the break room on the Command Deck level. I can't believe I'm doing this, he thought bitterly, why did I let myself get talked into this?!

He had come to the break room early… and planned to leave early too.

I'll just say she wasn't there on time, and I left, he told himself, it's stupid anyway – I don't NEED any practice in picking up girls! …they don't look at me any-

"Oh, hey Shinji."

The Third Child nearly jumped out of his skin. "M-Miss Ibuki!" he gasped, glancing at the clock, "you're early."

Maya looked confused as she came into the break room. "Early?" she echoed. "This is my normal break time. And early for what? Were you waiting for me or something?"

Well, Shinji thought with a mental sigh, he said she would give me a hard time.

"I wanted to umm, ask you something," he said, reminding himself that the woman was on his side.

"Er, ok," Maya said, sounding convincingly uncertain. "Go ahead – but make it quick? I have to get back on deck."

Nice touch, Shinji thought with grudging approval, make it seem like she's pressed for time so I have no choice but to hurry up and ask. Very clever, Mister Kaji.

"Well, I was just wondering if you were busy this weekend."

The dark-haired woman looked at him. "I beg your pardon?" she asked, an expression of disbelief on her pretty face. "Are you… are you asking me out, Shinji?"

Well you didn't think she'd just say yes, did you? Shinji could almost hear Kaji's voice in his mind. So much for starting with conversation, huh?

"Yeah," he said, trying to sound calm, "I am."

Maya turned away, focusing her attention on one of the vending machines. "I'm not a very exciting date," she said coolly. "Maybe you should try Asuka – I'll bet she'd like to go out with you."

Oh, now that's not fair, Shinji thought, Kaji – how can you be so cruel??

With another mental sigh, he pressed forward. "But I really want to go with you," he said, feeling like he was reading from a script. "Give me a chance."

Slowly, Maya brought her attention away from the vending machine. "You're serious," she said wonderingly. "Shinji, do you know how old I am?"

"24," Shinji answered immediately, remembering Kaji's warning that this would be her first argument. "But I've always kind of thought you were the kind of woman that was more interested in a person's character than their age."

Maya now looked flustered. "Well, that's true," she said reluctantly, giving him a considering look, "but we really don't know each other that well."

Ha! Shinji thought, feeling himself gaining momentum, Kaji was right!

Age, knowing each other, propriety, and appearances – those were the arguments Kaji had told him Maya would most likely throw in his path. He had not given specifics, saying that Shinji should be prepared to handle objections on his own, but he had offered a list of what he thought the technician would counter his invitation with.

And so far, he was two for two.

"But isn't that the reason people go out?" Shinji said with a small shrug. "I'd like to GET to know you, Mis- Maya."

Maya seemed to be teetering now, shooting him more and more frequent glances. "I… I don't know," she said slowly, "I, umm, I guess… umm…"

Wow, the Third mused, She's really good at this!

"You can leave any time," he said quickly, "but why not see what happens, huh? The worst that can happen is that it doesn't work out and we go home early, so what do you say?"

"Well, that's true," Maya conceded.

"I promise I'll be totally professional," Shinji said solemnly.

This seemed to amuse Maya, because for the first time, a tentative smile twitched the corners of her mouth. "Professional, huh?" she said, the barest shade of teasing creeping into her voice. Her smile faded. "I don't know, Shinji, I don't think it would be proper."

And there's number three.

Shinji immediately countered with, "We'll go somewhere no one knows us. How about a movie?"

"Movies are kind of second or third date areas," Maya said slowly, "I mean – I usually like to hold hands and stuff for movies, and no offense, I don't usually do that right away."

Shinji bit his bottom lip, starting to panic. I thought he said she wasn't going to make it that hard?!

"How about dinner, then?"

Maya's face brightened. "Now that I could be up for," she said thoughtfully. "You're really persistent, Shinji."

"Oh, sorry," Shinji said, sounding embarrassed as he finally realized that maybe asking women out was beyond his current abilities. "Well, umm… sorry to bother you then. I'll see you lat-"

"It's not bad," Maya cut in gently, laughing softly as he stammered another apology. "I was just a little surprised." She gave him another considering look, as if she was really SEEING him. "Dinner, huh?" she whispered, "Just you and me… a date."

Sensing victory, Shinji nodded vigorously. "Yeah," he said firmly, "that's right."

Maya said nothing for a moment, then nodded, looking determined. "Yeah," she said finally, "dinner sounds great."

"Really??"

"Really," Maya confirmed. "Oh! And we can meet at that little café down on Tatsuya – you know the one, right?"

Grinning from ear to ear, Shinji nodded. "Uh huh, it's like, two miles from here."

"Exactly!" the tech exclaimed. "Close enough that we can both find it, but far enough away that no one we know will pop up and ruin things. We'll meet there, and we'll find some place close by to eat."

Caught up now that things were going his way, Shinji asked, "What time should I meet you? 7:00 ok?"

"7:00 works for me," Maya said approvingly, turning her attention back to the vending machine. "Wow," she said with a sudden grin, "I never thought you'd ask ME out. This could be fun."

"Well, thanks for doing this for me," Shinji said honestly, feeling an immense sense of satisfaction at the completion of his task. "I really appreciate it."

This WAS easy, he told himself as Maya turned her head to glance at him, Ok, well, not EASY, but it wasn't as hard as-

"Thanks for what?" Maya asked, her brow drawing down a bit as she slid a few coins into the vending machine. "You probably won't be thanking me after tomorrow. Like I said – I'm not a very exciting date."

Shinji's good feeling evaporated. "Umm, have you talked to Mister Kaji today?" he asked impulsively, his insides suddenly melting into mush as the horrible reality of his situation dawned on him.

"Hmm mm," Maya shook her head, selecting a diet soda from the machine and pushing the button, "I haven't seen him for a couple days, actually. Why?"

Fighting down panic, Shinji sketched a quick bow. "I have to go," he blurted, "h-have a nice evening, Miss Ibuki."

As he turned to go, Maya waved and replied, "See you tomorrow night."

"R-right."

Barely managing to keep to a walking pace, Shinji made his way from the break room, a single thought pounding through his mind as he hurried towards the elevators.

I just asked Miss Ibuki out.

- - - - -

"Relax."

Shinji was livid. "Relax!?" he nearly screamed, drawing the attention of several of the patrons of the café they were sitting in – the very one, as a matter of fact, he was supposed to meet Maya in, less than 24 hours in the future. Lowering his voice, he continued, "You said you'd talk to her! Now she thinks I really want to go out with her!"

Taking a sip of his latte before replying, Kaji shrugged. "Don't you?"

"Kaji!!"

"Alright, alright," the man said, holding his hands up defensively, "easy, killer – I had something I had to take care of. It's not like I did it on purpose, ok?"

Shinji put his head in his hands. "I have to call her," he said miserably, "tell her I can't make it. I'll just explain to her what really happened, and-"

"Don't you DARE!"

Blinking, Shinji looked up. "But, but she thinks we're going on a date tomorrow!" he whined, "A real one!! I can't-"

"You can, and you will," Kaji cut in sternly, sighing as he rubbed his eyes. "Look, Shinji," he said tiredly, "I know this is my fault, so I'll help you get out of it, but think of it from Maya's point of view. If you call her and tell her it was all for practice, what do you think that will do to her feelings, hmm? What if a pretty girl asked YOU out and then called the next day and said, 'oh, it was just a misunderstanding, ha ha, I was using you for training.' How would you feel? You can't just call it off now – you're committed."

Shinji's face fell. "What should I do?" he moaned.

Folding his arms over his chest, Kaji looked him straight in the eyes.

"You go on the date."

"What?!" Shinji gasped. "But she's-"

"Really cute?" Kaji cut in, scratching his earlobe absently. "One of the nicest people at work? Sexy as hell? She's what, Shinji?"

Opening and closing his mouth several times before managing to speak, Shinji finally blurted, "Well, yeah, she's all of those things – but she's older than me!"

"So?"

Shinji clenched his hands into fists, his voice shaking as he whispered, "So she wouldn't really want to go out with me."

His eyes gleaming, Kaji whispered, "But she would, Shinji. She already said yes, remember?"

Entirely at a loss for words, Shinji slumped back in his seat and uncurled his hands. "But I don't know how."

"To date?" Kaji scoffed. "No one does! That's what I've been trying to tell you! We all just make it up as we go along! Listen, here's what's gonna happen – you are going to pick Maya up as planned, and show her a wonderful time." He reached into his pocket, setting a small, pill-sized device on the table. "And I'll be with you every step of the way."

Studying the object on the table, Shinji frowned. "What's that?"

The older man smiled broadly. "It's a two-way communicator," he said conspiratorially, "you slip it in your ear, I give you directions through this," he held up what looked like an ornate cufflink, "and Maya has a night on the town with two charming, sophisticated gentlemen."

"Who?" Shinji replied immediately.

Kaji just sighed.

- - - - -

"Where IS she?!" Shinji muttered nervously, glancing up and down the street for any sign of his date. "It's 7:15!"

He tugged at the collar of the pale blue long sleeve shirt Kaji had picked out for him as the man's voice crackled in his ear. "Don't worry – it's a woman's prerogative to be late."

Shinji frowned. "I thought it was a woman's prerogative to change her mind?"

"It's a woman's prerogative to do any damn thing she wants and have the man deal with it," Kaji shot back dryly, "so stop fidgeting and deal. It's only once, right? Just make sure that you don't ask her out tomorrow or something stupid like that, and if she asks YOU out, pretend you have something else to do. That'll let her know that while you had fun tonight, you don't think a second date would be a good idea."

"Got it."

Since it was getting later in the evening, the café was mostly empty, and to that point, Shinji had not seen anyone he recognized from NERV – but the longer he sat still, the more conspicuous he felt. It would be just his luck to have one of the bridge technicians decide to stop off for some coffee and a scone before heading back home. Then what would he do? How would he explain being all dressed up and meeting Miss Ibuki in such a casual setting? People would definitely talk.

"You're fidgeting again," Kaji informed him, making him realize that his fingers had begun drumming on the small, circular table in front of the café. "She'll be here – trust me."

"Easy for you to say," Shinji muttered, hating the fact that it looked like he was talking to himself, "you didn't have to try to explain to Asuka and Misato why you were leaving the house all dressed up on a school night."

Kaji laughed, his voice sounding tinny in the little earpiece as he chuckled, "I didn't even think of that! How did you get away?"

Shinji blanched at the memory. "Wasn't easy," he said gravely. "I made up an excuse about having an audition for the school play. Misato just shrugged, but Asuka didn't buy it for a second – and she kept grilling me. She was really mad!!"

I can't imagine why, Kaji thought ironically, scanning the street with his binoculars for any sign of Shinji's date. Poor girl's more confused than he is – but if tonight goes as planned, who knows? Maybe they can-

"I see her!"

Shinji straightened his back as Maya appeared at the end of the street, making her way toward him with a tentative, though unhurried stride. As she approached, Shinji took the opportunity to give her a discrete once-over, wondering for a moment if perhaps Maya had sent her laidback sister in her place.

The tech was clad in a black evening dress – not terribly formal, but certainly nothing someone would wear to work. It covered her shoulders, but just barely, and had a fairly modest neckline, though it DID reveal the tops of her breasts just a bit. It was the perfect length, too, hitting her just barely above the knee to allow freedom of movement, while simultaneously showing that the wearer was not afraid to expose a little bit of her trim, fit legs. All in all, Shinji decided, a very suitable outfit. Her hair, he noticed next, was carefully brushed out and shiny, and her hands were clutched tightly around a small, black purse, barely large enough to hold keys and a few credit cards.

"Hey," she called, "sorry I'm late, but I couldn't find my other shoe!"

Glancing down, Shinji noticed that she had (thankfully) decided to wear low-slung flats. She was already several inches taller, so high heels would have made her tower over him, making their upcoming date far more awkward than it was already going to be.

"Tell her it's ok," Kaji told him quickly. "Make her comfortable."

"It's ok," Shinji said hastily, adding, "I just got here a few minutes ago – the train was really slow."

Kaji snorted. "Nice one," he complimented, "if 'a few' means 'forty-five,' then yeah, you've been here a few minutes."

Shinji coughed.

"So," Maya said brightly, "where are we going?"

"Italian," Kaji's voice whispered, "ask if she likes Italian food."

Right.

"Do you like Italian food?"

Maya hesitated. "Well, I've never had it," she said reluctantly. "I kind of stick to things I know."

"You'll love it," Shinji said, trying to sound confident as he repeated what Kaji was saying word for word. "I know a great place that's only three blocks from here. Come on."

Tentatively, Maya took the arm he offered her and started walking alongside him. "Can I ask you something?" she said quietly.

"Umm, sure."

"Why did you ask me out?" She waved her free hand as he fumbled for a reply. "I'm not mad or anything like that. I mean, I would have said no if I wasn't interested, but I'm kind of curious why you chose me."

Shinji turned himself over to Kaji's experience.

"Well," he said, carefully reciting the older man's words, "you just seemed like someone I could get to know. You're down to earth, witty, and really attractive – and I've always thought that we might have a lot in common, if I could ever get up the nerve to ask you out."

Wow, Shinji marveled as Maya pondered this outpouring of ill-concealed flattery, it's really easy to be charming if someone else is telling you what to say.

Maya caught him totally off guard by saying, "Yeah, I can see that. I've always kind of wanted to get to know you better, too, but I never thought you would want to spend time with someone like me."

"See?" Kaji hissed in Shinji's ear, "Just like us!"

"Yeah," Shinji sighed, replying to Kaji and Maya at the same time, "I see what you mean." Following Kaji's directions, he led them to a small, cozy restaurant called simply Andre's, opening the door at the older man's instructions and casting a quick backward glance to see if he could spot him in the crowd.

"This place is nice," Maya breathed, retaking Shinji's arm as soon as he slipped through the door.

The matre de stared down his nose at them, glancing from Shinji to Maya before sniffing, "Do you have a reservation, madam?"

Shinji cleared his throat and stepped forward. "We do," he said coolly, hanging on Kaji's every word and trying to sound as condescending as he could. "Table for two, under the name Kaji."

As the pompous man checked his books, Maya leaned down and whispered, "Are you sure this place is Italian?"

"Yeah," Shinji said uncertainly, "why?"

Maya pursed her lips.

"Seems more French to me."

"Right this way, please," the matre de said, sounding bored.

Shinji led the way, feeling a pang of disappointment as Maya let his arm go to allow her more maneuverability between the tightly-packed tables in the restaurant. Reaching a table in the far corner, Shinji immediately sat down.

"Pull her chair out for her."

Hopping back up, he hurried around the table and slid Maya's chair out just as she reached it. "Sorry," he said, trying to sound as if it had just slipped his mind.

"No, no," Maya said quickly, "I didn't even expect you to do that. Thank you."

"S-sure."

"Don't stammer," Kaji's voice hissed in his ear, "here's a trick – take a deep breath right before you speak, and really THINK about what you're going to say. Trust me, you'll never stammer again."

"Ok."

"Ok what?" Maya wondered, glancing around.

Taking a deep breath as Kaji had directed, Shinji calmly replied, "Nothing, I was just thinking that we should get an appetizer."

"Nice cover!" Kaji said approvingly. "Now compliment her – tell her she looks great in that dress, or something."

Before he could think about it too much, Shinji took another deep breath and said, "That… that dress looks great on… on you."

Maya glanced down. "Hmm?" she hummed. "Oh this? I've had it forever, but I'm afraid I don't get to wear it very often." She smiled timidly. "This is going to sound stupid, but it's kind of my 'good date' dress – I only wear it when I'm feeling really good about the guy I'm going to be with."

Shinji glanced down at his menu, trying to ignore Kaji's breath of 'Hot! It's her scoring dress!' as he whispered, "You felt good about me…?"

"Mmm hmm," Maya replied, taking a sip of her water before saying, "I know that some people might think it's kind of, well, you know – inappropriate, I guess, since you're so much younger, but," she smiled, looking him in the eyes as she whispered, "you're a really nice person, and I like the way you talk to me. A lot of guys think I'm too brainy, or… oh what was it Doctor Akagi called me – fastidious, that was it – so they automatically assume that I'm stuck up or prudish." Her voice lowered a little as she concluded, "But I'm human, too."

Kaji, it seemed, did not know how to reply to this, as Shinji found his ear filled with nothing but silence. Clearing his throat, his cheeks burning, he softly added, "…and pretty."

When he looked up from his menu, Shinji found Maya leaning forward with her arms crossed neatly on the table, regarding him closely. She stared at him with a soft smile for several long moments before saying, "THAT… is why I felt good about going out with you."

His color rising dangerously, Shinji said, "So, have you decided what you want to eat?"

- - - - -

It was at precisely 8:02 PM, as the waiter was delivering Shinji's Spaghetti Carbonara, that the tiny needling feeling he had been having for the past ten minutes escalated into full-blown panic. There was nothing wrong with the food – it looked great – and there was nothing wrong with Maya… who also looked great, but he was having trouble keeping the conversation going.

Mostly because Kaji had gone dead silent.

Do everything she expects, huh? he thought, remembering the older man's final words of coaching before he left Shinji sitting at the café's table to wait for Maya. But how am I supposed to know what she expects!? I'm not a mind reader – I need your help!!

As discretely as he could, Shinji tapped the small transceiver in his ear.

"You ok?"

"Umm, yeah," Shinji said, looking horribly embarrassed, "just… had an itch."

Maya nodded. "Oh, well, like I was saying," she mused, picking up her knife and making a delicate cut in her lasagna, "I'm really kind of a fan of pre-Impact rock music."

"Really?" Shinji asked curiously, "rock?"

"Uh huh," Maya giggled, "no one ever guesses that. I know you like Classical, right? Who's your favorite?"

Shinji's reply was immediate. "Oh, Bach and Strauss," he said, thankful that he didn't have to rely on Kaji – this was information he actually had. "Have you ever listened to them?"

"I haven't," the tech said honestly, "but I wouldn't mind trying it out."

"Ok," Shinji said happily, "next time we're at work, I'll bring my SDAT to your office and you can… what? What's wrong?"

Maya was leaning forward with her elbows on the table, resting her chin in her palms and studying him closely. "I was just thinking," she said quietly, "how surprising you are." When Shinji gave her a blank look, she elaborated, "I never would have expected to actually be able to talk to you, Shinji. I know that sounds bad, but you're so quiet when we're up at NERV that I expected to have to keep up the conversation by myself."

"Sorry…"

"Why are you apologizing?" Maya asked, genuinely confused. "I'm having a great time."

"You are?" Shinji asked before he could stop himself.

"Absolutely!"

There was a companionable silence as the two took several bites of their dinner.

"Hey," Maya said suddenly, setting her fork down and dabbing at the corners of her mouth with her napkin, "I was going to ask when we first got in here, but I totally forgot – why was our reservation under Mister Kaji's name?"

Shinji nearly choked on his water. Closing his eyes, and breathing through his nose for a moment, he took his time finishing his sip, his mind working frantically to come up with a viable excuse. Why now? he thought desperately, Why couldn't you ask when Kaji could give me an answer!?

Realizing that he could not hide behind his ice cubes forever, Shinji slowly lowered his glass to the table and said, "Well, er, I didn't want to use either of our names in case, umm, anyone we know was standing close by when we got our table."

Maya frowned. "If they were standing close enough to hear that, wouldn't they SEE us?" she asked, confused.

Duh!! Shinji thought, nearly slapping himself in the forehead.

"Well, yeah," he admitted, "but I…" he screwed up all of his courage, forcing a weak smile as he whispered, "I didn't think of that. When I made the reservation, I was kind of… I don't know, too excited about actually going out with you, so I wasn't thinking straight."

To his surprise, Maya blushed. "Th-thank you," she said awkwardly, giving him a shy smile. "I never, umm, I never knew I had such a strong effect on you, Shinji."

Way to go, Shinji congratulated himself; I actually said the right thing!

Maya cleared her throat. "Will you excuse me?" she asked politely, "I have to umm, powder my nose."

"Oh, yeah, sure!" Shinji said, quickly getting to his feet and moving to pull her chair back for her.

"You're such a gentleman," Maya said, sounding both impressed and awkward, "I'm glad you asked me out, Shinji."

Taking a deep breath to keep from stuttering, Shinji again shot back with the first thing that came to his mind. "Me too."

Pardoning herself again, Maya hurried off in the direction of the bathroom.

As soon as she was out of sight, Shinji ripped the transmitter out of his ear and cupped it in his palm, bringing it right next to his mouth. "Kaji," he said frantically, glancing around to make sure no one was staring, "Kaji where are you?? I need you to help me – I don't know what to do! KAJI!!"

Nothing.

With a sigh, he collapsed back in his seat, letting his hand fall to the table. It's no use, he thought, it's dead. He looked around the cramped restaurant, assessing his options. I could run for it, he mused, leave some money on the table and explain that I got an important call, or something. Yeah, I think that's probably the best – I'm way out of my league here!

In spite of this decision, however, Shinji found himself dropping the transmitter into his pocket and taking another bite of his dinner. Kaji had been right – he was committed. There was no way he could back out now, and part of him really wanted to stay.

Though in all honesty, it was a very small part. The rest of him was screaming 'run!'

"Sorry I took so long."

Shinji stood up and pulled Maya's chair back, shaking his head as she slid into it. "No problem," he said levelly. "Did you put on more makeup? You look great."

Beaming, Maya nodded. "You noticed," she said warmly, "you must really be paying attention."

Unnerved by the increasing number of compliments – on both of their parts – Shinji simply bowed and returned to his seat. With a mixture of elation and confusion he realized that not only was he talking to Maya as comfortably as if they had been friends for years, but he was also leaning closer to her, and maintaining eye contact far longer than he had with anyone else in his life.

It was rather sobering.

What the hell am I doing?? he thought, purposely backing away from her and glancing out the restaurant's window. I… God, I'm leading her on! Drumming his fingers on the table, he probed this idea further. Well, it's not leading her on if I'm really interested, is it? But that would make this a real date – a real date with Maya Ibuki, and I-

"Is something wrong, Shinji?"

Shinji gave a small start as Maya laid her cool fingertips on the back of his hand. "N-nothing," he said, nearly jumping to his feet, "I just – I have a test tomorrow, so I kind of have to get going."

Looking disappointed, Maya asked, "Already?"

"It's really important," Shinji said, embarrassed that he was lying so boldly, "Sorry."

"I understand," Maya said lightly, picking up her purse and rising to her feet. "I had a great time, though."

Resisting the temptation to say 'You did??' Shinji nodded. "I did too. Thank you for coming out with me."

"It was a pleasure."

As if by magic, their waiter appeared at their table. "Check, sir?" he asked dryly, offering Shinji a small, leather-bound book.

Shinji reached into his pocket and pulled out the large bundle of bills Kaji had convinced him would be necessary for dinner at Andre's, and glancing at the bill, he now understood why he needed so much. So much for doing anything else for the rest of the week, he thought dismally, waving off Maya's offer to pay for her half.

Leaving a generous tip – again, Kaji's directions – Shinji led Maya out onto the streets, thankful to be free of the restaurant's claustrophobic environment.

"My car is this way," Maya said, gesturing over her shoulder. "You want a ride?"

Shinji considered the offer. "No," he said reluctantly, "I better catch the train. Someone might see us."

"Oh, yeah," Maya laughed, "I forgot."

She forgot, Shinji thought, feeling somewhat weak in the knees. She forgot that it's not supposed to be ok for us to be together.

"Well, goodnight."

"Goodnight."

When the woman made no move to leave, Shinji swallowed.

"Umm, goodnight," he repeated, wondering what she was waiting for.

"Night," Maya replied, smiling softly, but still standing in the same spot.

She can't…! Shinji thought, biting his lip pensively as Maya leaned a little closer. She doesn't want me to… to… does she??

Slowly, he edged forward, fully expecting her to pull away… but when she stayed where she was, Shinji knew exactly how she wanted the evening to end.

She does! I… I mustn't run away. Kaji said I should do everything she expects… right?

With his heart hammering in his chest, Shinji put his hands on Maya's slender waist, closing his eyes and offering up a silent prayer as he leaned forward and touched his lips tentatively to hers. Maya held still for a moment, then slowly returned the embrace, putting her hands on Shinji's forearms and parting her lips to transform it from a simple peck into a deep, thoroughly unprofessional kiss.

After FAR too little time, Maya pulled back, putting her hands on her cheeks as if to hide a blush and turning away. "My," she said, her voice low and breathy, "Shinji… I didn't know you were so bold! To… to presume that I would kiss you on our first date," she turned back, revealing a small, pleased smile. "I'm not that kind of woman."

"S-sorry…?" Shinji stammered, unsure whether she was serious or not.

"Mmm, I'll forgive you this time," Maya said, looking at the ground between them as she took his hand and smiled shyly. "If you promise you'll never try to kiss me on a first date again."

This drew a soft, nervous laugh from the boy. "All… alright," he said, marveling at the feel of her hand in his.

Maya wet her lips. "So I was thinking," she said slowly, "there's a new Hideiki Anno movie coming out tomorrow… you wanna go?"

"Sure," Shinji replied immediately, Kaji's admonition to let the woman down easy never even entering his thoughts.

"Excellent!" Maya said firmly. "Talk to me at work tomorrow and we'll figure out what time to go and where to meet."

Shinji nodded as the woman stepped back, waving jauntily as she stepped through the door. "Night," he called belatedly.

Wow… he thought, glancing around to see if anyone else might have seen them. Did that really just happen?? He touched his lips tentatively; grinning foolishly as his fingertips came away tinged light pink.

With an amazed laugh, he headed into the train station, slipping his pass through the card reader and stepping onto the platform. "Kaji," he said suddenly, "man, where were you when I needed you most?!"

He sighed, leaning against one of the station's support beams and grinning up at the starry night sky. I guess I did ok on my own, he thought almost reluctantly, but I wish he'd been there to help out. I wonder what happened to him?? And what am I supposed to do tomo-

Shinji gasped out loud, slapping his forehead as a miserable groan escaped him. "Tomorrow!" he whispered. "I… I said I'd go out with her again – and to a movie! She said she likes to hold hands during movies! What am I supposed to do if she wants to hold hands – or kiss again??"

Folding his arms, he slowly leaned back against the partition and closed his eyes, unaware that he was still smiling as he started planning how to get out of the house without being grilled by his two roommates.

"Guess I'll just do my best…"

- - - - -

Smiling warmly to herself, Maya made her way slowly towards her car. She felt good – very good. The evening had been a smashing success, in her opinion, and when she closed her eyes, she could still feel Shinji's awkward, tentative kiss. Mmmm she thought happily, so gentle. Kid's got a hell of a lot of potential, he just needs a little more practice, and-

"Hey there."

"Oh!" Maya stopped dead in her tracks as a tall figure detached from the shadows. "You scared me!"

Coming into the harsh glare of the streetlights, Kaji bowed. "My apologies," he said smoothly, "but this IS where we said we'd meet."

Maya reached into her purse and dug out her car keys, continuing to walk as Kaji fell in step at her side. "You could have said something before I got right up on you," she said coolly, "you just like making me jump."

"Guilty!" Kaji said decisively. "But honestly, I thought it best to keep myself hidden – in case you weren't alone."

With a snort, Maya elbowed him in the ribs. "Don't be mean," she said darkly, "it was a first date – kissing is one thing, but give me SOME credit!"

"Yeah, about that," Kaji said airily. "Ummm, what was up with that kiss, Ibuki? That was pretty racy for 'just helping the kid out.'"

The tech ran a hand through her short hair, shrugging slightly as she replied, "I don't know… felt right."

Kaji pursed his lips. "And what about asking him out again tomorrow?"

"That was always part of the plan," Maya pointed out, "he was supposed to put me off."

Huffing slightly, Kaji muttered, "But he didn't – so why didn't you say you had an appointment or something you forgot about?"

Maya glanced at him from the corner of her eye, a mischievous smile quirking the corners of her lips up as she regarded him. "Who said I'd be done helping him after just one date?"

"Ha!" Kaji threw his head back and laughed. "You pervert!"

"Oh, this coming fromYOU?" the tech said, feigning shock, "I'm offended, sir!"

They came up short as they reached Maya's car.

"Besides," Maya said softly, slipping her key into the lock, "I'm not planning to seduce him and 'turn him into a man,' I just want to spend some more time with him. That's all."

Kaji smiled. "Hmm," he hummed, "for a moment, I thought you might be a wolf in sheep's clothing."

Maya flashed him a wicked grin. "Who says I'm not?" she teased, "Maybe I'm just after other prey."

"Well, anyway," Kaji coughed, "thanks for doing this, Ibuki… I wouldn't have known how to help him if you hadn't come up with this set up."

Maya inclined her head in a brief bow. "It was my pleasure," she said honestly, reaching up and slipping a transmitter identical to Shinji's out of her ear and handing it back to Kaji. "I really like him. He's a great guy, but umm," she wet her lips, stepping closer to the man and looking him up and down as she whispered, "what about YOUR end of the deal?"

Kaji coughed again, dropping the transmitter into his pocket and glancing nervously around the empty streets. "Oh, that," he mumbled, wondering why he suddenly felt like a gazelle that just barely noticing a lioness creeping up on it. "I, umm… you were serious?"

Dropping him a seductive wink, Maya opened the door to her car and whispered, "Why don't you try being at that little café where I met Shinji around 8:00 on Saturday night and find out?"

Swallowing with some difficulty, Kaji stuck his hands deeper into his pockets. "And I thought I was good at playing two roles," he murmured to himself in amazement.

"I'll keep your secrets if you keep mine," Maya said playfully. "8:00, Saturday night"

Kaji shook his head in wonder. "I'll be there."

"I look forward to it. Goodnight, Ryouji."

"Night."

Forgetting entirely about Shinji and his problems for the moment, Kaji watched the technician's car pull away from the curb, his mind whirling as she offered a final, warm smile before driving off into the night. She is something else.

With this final thought in mind, Kaji strolled down the street, wondering if he should tell anyone up at NERV that Maya had been the one to approach him in the cafeteria and asked him to help Shinji – playing the roll of 'shy little tech' when Misato showed up – and asked him, point blank, if he was seeing anyone.

Somehow, he very much doubted that anyone would believe him.

The End

Author's notes: In case it wasn't clear, yes, it was ALLLLL Maya's idea. :P

Pre-read on this fic was done by the mecha-lovin' Ryoma. …and I mean lovin' in the Biblical sense – the man has a problem, I tell you!

Feedback is welcome on any site with reviewing capabilities, or by e-mailing me directly at random1377(at-sign)yahoo(dot)com