Disclaimer: I don't own Star Wars or Evangelion.
Author's note: It's amazing how one anime convention can screw up your time-line. I went to one like, two months ago, and that threw me off all the way to this point. Not an excuse, just needed to let you know what happened. I'm gonna try (I really hate saying that) to do better.
I've been waiting to do this chapter for a while, so without further ado, here we go!
"Shinji!" cried Rei, nearly knocking him over. Shinji caught her in his arms and held her. He was home, after two long years. He hadn't expected this reception, but he was very pleased with it. After a moment, Rei stood up straight, pushing back slightly, a light blush in her cheeks.
"Hi," said Shinji.
"Hello," she said, trying to fight back her blush. "I am sorry. I could not restrain myself. I am very happy to see you again."
"I'm happy to see you too," said Shinji, smiling. Rei returned the smile with a small one of her own, and then led him inside her apartment. She motioned for him to take a seat on the couch, and went to go prepare some tea.
"I take it that you found whatever it was Vader wanted you to find?" she said.
"Yeah," replied Shinji, frowning slightly. "Two years he had us chasing it. In return, I get three weeks off instead of two. Hardly any time at all, really. Sometimes I feel like the breaks are getting shorter."
"It is simply the passage of time," said Rei, handing him a cup of warm tea and sitting down beside him. "But we should do what we can to make the most of your time."
"Sounds good," said Shinji, taking a sip, "but I think I just want to relax for now, you know?"
"I see," said Rei, smiling a little. "I hope you are up for something tonight though, as I already had plans."
"You did?" asked Shinji, curious.
"Yes," she said, her smile growing just a fraction wider. "The Imperial Ball." The color drained from Shinji's face.
"..." Shinji said nothing. They were sitting together in an Imperial Shuttle, on the way to attend the Imperial Ball. All of the most important figures in the Empire, Sans Lord Vader and Palpatine himself, were going to be there. It was a formal event. Shinji loathed the idea.
"What is wrong?" asked Rei. Shinji had hardly looked at her, focusing instead on the passing skyline. He was truly dreading the night's events.
"I feel really off," he answered. "I don't... I don't dance. And this getup? I've never worn something this... I dunno, fancy. I've been in armor the last two years. I feel vulnerable, in more ways than one."
"I think you look rather handsome," said Rei. Shinji's cheeks grew a shade pinker.
"Thanks," he said, turning to look at her, "I really..." His face grew a little more red at the sight of her.
She was wearing a red silk dress. It fit her figure perfectly. It was cut to reveal her shoulders, but left a good deal to the imagination. She was also wearing long silk gloves. Shinji, had he not been so flustered, would have also noticed a small blush in her cheeks as well.
"How do I look?" she asked. The question surprised him, as Rei didn't typically ask after her appearance.
"Uh... you look... uh," he was having a hard time putting his thoughts into words. 'Ok,' he thought, 'focus. Man up. Say something.' He took a deep breath. "You look fantastic." She smiled.
"Thank you," she said. Her smile made all of his apprehension about the coming night, and all of the pressure and strain of the last two years melt away. He felt relaxed, felt good about everything for a change. Even the thought of the Empire, something that had bothered him for the last several years, didn't mean anything for a few moments. Something was going right, after all this time: Rei was smiling.
His anxiety began to return, however, when the shuttle finally reached their destination. There were so many people out there. Humans, twi'leks, zabraks, and many other species. Shinji didn't have much time to notice that the number of non-humans was incredibly low, or to think about the fact that anyone who wasn't human had been slowly but surely phased out of government positions aside from representing their own planets. Even then more planets had human dignitaries now.
None of this was worrying Shinji at the moment, however. There was a more pressing matter on his mind, a more immediate problem. A clear threat. The media.
Shinji had been fighting and traveling for two solid years. It was bad enough that he was suddenly in a civilian situation. But to have to deal with the press? The press, he noticed, that were coming straight towards him, slowly but surely?
Rei sensed Shinji's sudden change of mood. She put her arm around his. She could feel him tense up at the approaching crowd of cameras and reporters.
"Do not worry," she whispered to him. "We can simply walk past them. Let me do the talking."'
"Okay," said Shinji, nervous. The reporters approached them. The apparent leader of the group, a blonde woman in a yellow dress, was speaking into her microphone.
"And here we have the lovely senator from right here on Coruscant, Rei Ayanami," she was saying enthusiastically. "And if the rumors are true, the handsome man on her arm is none other than General Ikari of the 501st Legion, better known to those cowardly imperial dissidents as Vader's Fist."
Shinji tensed up further at the woman's words. There was so much wrong with the situation. He didn't want anyone to know who he was. He'd never liked being in the spotlight, though he always seemed to be thrust into it. He didn't want any undue attention being given to him, especially not for his military record, a record he was growing less fond of with each mission. And he certainly did not want to talk to this overly-cheerful woman in the yellow dress.
"Senator Ayanami, you look lovely this evening," said the woman. "Are you excited to be here tonight?"
"I am pleased to be here," said Rei, her face perfectly expressionless. This only seemed to throw the woman for a moment. She was a professional, after all, and she had the viewers at home to think about.
"And just who is this?" asked the reporter, switching focus over to Shinji. "Please, tell our viewers: are the rumors true? Are you in fact the famed General Ikari?"
"Um, I, uh, well," Shinji began stumbling. He wasn't sure what to say. He didn't like lying, but at the same time he didn't want to attract undue attention.
"If he is General Ikari," said Rei, cutting in, "then he would have just gotten back today from an important mission, which is something that was reported on the holonet just recently. If that is the case then one of either two things are true. He either is General Ikari and, even if he is here now, too tired to answer any questions you may have, or he is not General Ikari, and the good general is at home resting. Either way I do not believe you should be pestering him."
If she hadn't been put of by Rei's manner before, she was certainly a bit put off now. The woman seemed a bit flustered, and unsure of what to say. Rei took the chance.
"Thank you very much for choosing to speak to us," said Rei. "A woman like yourself must have many important people to speak to, so we will not take more of your time." With that, she walked away, bringing Shinji along with her. The woman did not quite recover her composure in time to stop them, but she was able to finally turn back to the camera and continue talking.
"Well, while we weren't able to confirm the man's identity, our viewers may be able to deduce his identity themselves," she said. "After all, it has been speculated for years that the senator and the general have been in a relationship, and if the man on her arm is indeed him, then their status as a couple may have been cemented."
Shinji, hearing her words, grew a bit red in the face. It was true that he and Rei had something between them, but they weren't officially a couple. He wanted that, he truly did, but he'd never had the chance to really do anything about it. He was always off to war, after all. And he didn't want to ask Rei to be with him if he couldn't be around for her.
Rei, meanwhile, seemed unfazed by the woman's words. She was used to dealing with the media. She was a prominent senator, and given the tense political situation in the galaxy she was often interviewed or questioned by people with cameras. And she had heard rumors of a relationship with Shinji for years now. She knew not to respond to them in any way, and it amazed her how the rumors persisted.
She did have feelings for Shinji, that much was very true. She had been delighted that Shinji had come with her to the ball, knowing that he did not enjoy such functions. She was coming out of obligation. She had been invited, after all, and felt she should do her best to appear where expected. Besides that, these social gatherings between senators were a good place to try and talk to them about important galactic matters. They were not being monitored here, and not being scrutinized by the entire senate at once. She found that once the delegates were free of cameras, and had been loosened up with a bit of drink, they spoke their minds.
However, tonight was not the night for politics. Tonight was a night to spend with Shinji, the first like it in over two years. She smiled at the thought. She looked to the young man in question. He seemed much happier now that he was free of the gaze of the cameras.
It suddenly occurred to her just how young he looked. He didn't even look twenty yet, but she knew for a fact that the two of them were actually in their thirties by now. But it was strange. Outside of their jobs, where they were expected to act their age, they could hardly be expected to be approaching middle age at all. It was as if the only aging they really did was during Shinji's leave periods, as if time was put on pause until he got home. Sneaking to Kamino all those years ago had given them an amazing opportunity, one she was grateful for.
They stepped into the building where the Imperial Ball was being held, and Shinji suddenly stopped. Rei looked at him, puzzled for a moment, but it soon became clear why he had halted. He was gazing in wonder at the place. He hadn't been inside a building this fancy before. Though the Ball was held here every year, he had never had the opportunity. He had always been away with the 501st when his invitation came, which had always been fine by him.
Now that he was here, however, he began to regret not being able to attend before. The place was marvelous. It had great marble pillars, crystal chandeliers that cast a soft golden light, waterfall fountains, and most importantly Rei. He wasn't exactly a dancer, and he had never been one for big social gatherings, but it didn't matter. Rei was here, and that was what he cared about.
The music was playing. Shinji slipped his arm from Rei's, and held out his hand. Rei gave him a small smile and clasped his hand. He put his arm around her waist, and she put her arm on his shoulder. They looked into each others' eyes and smiled. Then they began to dance.
It was like there was no one else there. They were aware only of each other, and of the music filling the room. They lost track of time, gazing into each others' eyes. Neither of them noticed that their faces were getting closer and closer.
Suddenly, the music shifted, jarring them back in to reality. The young senator smiled at her general, who smiled back.
"I would like to have a word with a few of the senators," said Rei. "Is that alright?"
"Of course," said Shinji. "I, uh, would you like some punch?" Rei smiled and nodded. As good as it had felt, Shinji was glad to be off the dance floor for a while. Though he believed Rei would tell him he did fine, he was pretty self conscious. He went to the refreshment table, got them each a glass, and found a table to sit down at. He saw Rei talking to a small group of senators.
"So," said a voice behind him, "Enjoying the free time?" Shinji frowned as he turned around. He hadn't wanted to see Tarkin at this function.
"Are you enjoying yourself, Grand Moff?" asked Shinji. Tarkin smirked at him.
"Of course," he said. He looked over at Rei. "So are the rumors true?"
"What are you talking about?" asked Shinji, feigning ignorance.
"You know," said Tarkin, putting a hand to his chin, "there are a lot of whispers about her. Some people question her loyalty to the-"
"I'm going to stop you right there," said Shinji. "Senator Ayanami and I have known each other for a very long time, longer than I think you'd believe. She has been a senator longer than you've held your title. She was around during the government shift, and she hasn't wavered once in her loyalty. Yes, I know sometimes she disagrees with policies set forth by the Emperor, but she remains loyal to the Empire, because the Empire is the governing body of the galaxy."
Shinji narrowed his eyes at Tarkin before he finished what he was saying. "I have actually heard all kinds of rumors, about her, about myself, and even about you Tarkin." Tarkin's eyes raised for just a split second. "Yes, you. So I suggest that you stop listening to rumors, Tarkin. It's not becoming of an officer."
"I see," said Tarkin, barely disguising the venom in his voice. "Well enjoy the rest of the ball, General." Shinji smirked as he left. He really did not like Tarkin. Not one bit.
"Did the Grand Moff give you any trouble?" asked Rei's voice. Shinji looked over to see her standing beside him, and invited her to sit, pulling out a chair for her. As she took her seat, he handed her a drink.
"Nothing I couldn't handle," he said, smiling. "Have fun talking to the senators?"
"I would not call it fun," she answered, taking a sip. "It is all politics as usual. I just wish to know their feelings, as they will not express them at the Senate."
"I see," said Shinji, taking a drink. "Worried?"
"Do you mean myself, or them?"
"The senators are worried about reprisal for opinions," she said. "I am not. I worry about the state of the galaxy. That is the more pressing matter. I assume Tarkin was here to find something out about me, correct?" Shinji nodded. "That makes sense. He wishes to be the Emperor's top man, and believes he can do so by intimidating me, one of the few people who openly question the Emperor's methods. It will not work."
"So you really aren't worried then, are you?" asked Shinji, smiling a bit. The blue-haired girl smiled back.
"No," she said, "to put it simply I am truly not worried about Tarkin. Now please finish your drink, Shinji. I... I wish to dance again." They both blushed a little bit, and Shinji did as she asked. They were soon up on the dance floor again, and a slow song had started to play, at the request of a few senators with wives and husbands.
The lights dimmed, and Rei guided them to a particularly shadowy, out of the way spot. She rested her head against his chest, and Shinji put his arms around her. After a few moments, Rei looked up at Shinji, smiling. She knew no one was watching, and knew she couldn't miss this opportunity. The opportunity to do something she could feel they both wanted.
Everything seemed to ignite. Their lips connected, Rei wrapped her arms around Shinji's neck, and he put his around her waist. They stayed that way for only a few moments before Rei pulled away.
Shinji's head was a-buzz. What had just happened had been a strange mix of expected and unexpected, and had felt amazing. And Rei. Rei had the most amazing smile on her face.
"Rei, I-" He was interrupted as she put a finger to his lips.
"Shh," she cautioned, giving him another small kiss. "Later. I just... I could not pass up the chance. There are enough rumors. You will come home with me tonight?"
They were inside Rei's apartment. No sooner had Shinji closed the door behind them than Rei grabbed him and pulled his head to hers. This time the kiss lasted much longer. Shinji felt himself pressed against the wall. In response, he wrapped his arms around Rei and pulled her closer. At the same time, he deepened the kiss, eliciting a quiet moan from Rei.
Rei eventually broke off the kiss, and looked into Shinji's eyes. "I know this must all seem sudden to you," she said.
"A little," said Shinji, smiling, "but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't welcome." She blushed.
"You have grown bolder," she said.
"Just a bit," he responded, blushing as well. "How... how long have you felt this way?"
"A long time," said Rei. "Years, in fact. I have simply never had what I felt was an appropriate opportunity to act on my feelings. But I must know. Do you truly feel the same way about me?"
"Yes," said Shinji, with no hesitation. "I do, Rei. Ever since we went to school together, I liked you. But, over time..." She put her lips to his once more.
"I am glad you are home," she said, "And I am glad I have you for an extra week."
"Yes," she said, her face growing a bit redder as she smiled. "I wish to have you to myself during your leave. No war, no politics, I just wish to spend time with you. If you would like, of course."
"Of course I would!" answered Shinji, happier than he'd been in years. "But what about the Senate?"
"As luck would have it," said Rei, "there is nothing of import to be discussed coming up. If something comes up, I will be informed. Other than that..." She paused, placing her hands on his chest and resting her head on his shoulder, "... I wish to spend as much time as possible with you."
Shinji held her close to him, and rested his head atop hers. He couldn't think of a better way to spend three weeks.
As always, the way chapters evolve mystifies me. I wasn't sure that the romance would heat up like this in this chapter, but there it is. There's so much more story to tell here, so I hope everyone is strapped in for a long ride. There are so many chapters I've been waiting to do, and for years have I been waiting to do them. I can't wait to share them with you all.
And even though we took a break from the fighting this chapter, things are getting ready to heat up. After all, Episode 4 isn't too far off...
Until next time!