Summary: Set several months after the events depicted in Life Goes On. Shinji and Rei enjoy their first Christmas together as a couple with their friends in this sidestory.
While it's not absolutely necessary to have read Life Goes On in order to enjoy this story, don't be surprised if the characters are different from their baseline canon personas. Enjoy, and happy holidays!
Life Goes On: Rei's First Christmas
December 24, 2016
As Shinji stirred the mashed potatoes he was making around the metal bowl, he took the time to look around Rei's small apartment and shake his head in wonder. Even only a few months before, Rei would never have dreamed of or even understood the relevance of stringing up tiny colored lights and taping handcutted paper snowflakes to the walls. Now, there was a Yuletide log fire on the television and the song, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" was gently streaming out of the new sound system that Rei and he had recently brought together.
Rei Ayanami had changed, growing into a more expressive if still reserved young woman. Of course he was different as well. His sessions with the American psychologist Lukas Samuels at the military base over the past year had done wonders for his self-esteem. Shinji snorted to himself. His self-loathing had been so high that his esteem really had nowhere to go but up.
He heard the bathroom door open, and he looked over to see his girlfriend heading toward him. She was wearing a blue merino wool sweater and black pants. Her hair was a little longer than it was in her days as an Eva pilot, reaching down to barely above her shoulders. The biggest difference, and the best one in Shinji's opinion, was the soft, easy smile that she greeted him with.
"What time does Misato's party start?" Rei asked as she sat down on a kitchen stool to watch Shinji work.
Shinji knew quite well that Rei knew exactly what time Misato's party started, but he understood that she wanted to practice her 'small talk' before the evening's events. Hiding his smile of amusement, he replied, "The party starts at eight, but we need to be there at around seven to help set up. Honestly, Misato blows into town two days before Christmas, insists on having a party, and then asks if I can cater!"
Rei made a show of looking around the apartment then she asked, "Who are you trying to fool?"
Shinji grinned. Rei with a sense of humor was something that he would probably never get used to seeing. But she was right. He was very happy that Misato came home for Christmas. She was quite busy these days building houses and bringing supplies to countries that had been the most affected and were still recovering from Second Impact. After the Angel War had ended, Misato had been in a funk for awhile until she decided that she still wanted to continue 'saving the world.' She had been back to visit a few times since that initial decision, and she had never looked happier.
"Santa Claus is coming to town..."
Rei tilted her head in thought to the lyric she just heard then she asked, "Will Santa Claus really be coming by tonight?"
Shinji was taken back. He knew that Rei had been watching old Christmas movies lately as part of her research to understand the spirit of the holiday, but he never expected such a question. He fumbled for the salt shaker as he thought about how to reply. Rei was practically an adult, but she was still childlike enough that Shinji was hesitant to squash what little innocence she had left.
What ultimately weighed the decision in Shinji's mind was that he thought that Rei had been lied to enough times in her life.
Shinji sighed. "I'm sorry, Rei, but there really isn't a Santa Claus. He's a mythological figure that represents..."
Too late, he saw the laughter in Rei's eyes.
"I apologize, Shinji," Rei said in a way that made Shinji suspect that she was not that sorry. The fact that she was hiding her mouth behind her hand and apparently trying not to laugh was also a rather obvious giveaway. "But I was honestly curious as to how you would answer my question. It is part of my research on widely acceptable falsehoods."
Shinji turned away, still a little put out.
Rei stood up and came around to the other side of the counter. She put her arms around Shinji's waist and hugged him from behind. Shinji found himself softening at her silent apology. He could never stay annoyed at Rei for very long. He gave her hand a squeeze then asked, "What is this about widely acceptable lies?"
"I have discovered that there are many lies that society finds tolerable such as telling a woman that she looks younger than she really is, saying that Santa Claus really exists to children, or pretending to forget a friend's birthday in order to-"
"Set up a surprise party," Shinji finished. "Don't get me started on those. I get the intent behind the idea, but I still think it's mean to make someone feel like crap just so you can make them grateful that they weren't really forgotten later on."
"There are different kinds of surprise parties, and not all of them require making the recipient feel bad," Rei informed him. "That has inspired me with the solution to the Santa Claus dilemma."
Shinji put them the mixing bowl to give Rei his attention.
"Telling children that there is an actual, living Santa Claus merely ensures their disillusionment later, but telling them he doesn't exist and acting accordingly deprives children of the experience of time-honored holiday traditions."
Shinji knew that Rei liked to speak with precision so he had a good idea where she was going with her choice of words. "The problem here then is when parents act accordingly to the fact that Santa doesn't exist."
Rei nodded. "Telling the truth is always a good idea, but there's no reason that fun can not be had from putting out a plate of milk and cookies, writing 'Santa' on gifts, or tracking his flight on the NORAD web site tracker."
Play a game of pretend in other words. Shinji thought about that. Kids didn't seem to derive any less enjoyment from imagining something was real rather than believing that it was. And it did get around the tricky problem of choosing either to lie to one's kids or to not even bother to hide the Toys R' Us receipts.
"We'll have to do that when we have kids," Shinji said thoughtfully. Then he turned red. "Uh, not necessarily together! Not that I'm against that, just so you know. But I don't mean to suggest..." He decided that shutting up was a good idea.
He then noticed that Rei's arms were no longer wrapped around him. He turned around and saw that Rei was pulling boxes of cookies from the cupboards and cartons of milk from the bottom drawer of the refridgerator. He idly observed that the variety of dairy products ranged from regular two percent to no-fat, soy milk.
Rei must have sensed his surprise because she turned her head and explained, "I was unable to determine whether Santa Claus had any food allergies or lactose intolerance that I should be aware of, so I decided that it was better to be safe than sorry."
Shinji chuckled. Rei had never done anything by half-measures, but he wouldn't have her be any other way. He should have known that Rei telling him her theory was not simply for passing the time. He said, "You're really getting into this Christmas thing, aren't you?"
"This is my first time celebrating the holiday," Rei pointed out.
Shinji grew a little somber. His Christmases may not have been much to talk about as his uncle and aunt had always been a little distant, but at least he had them unlike Rei. Another thing to damn his father for.
"What was Christmas like for you as a child?" Rei asked.
Shinji shrugged. "It was the usual. Singing carols, decorating the tree, unwrapping gifts."
"Did you ever ask Santa for anything?"
"Yeah, when I was seven I really wanted a telescope. I was into the whole star-gazing thing. I figured that I wouldn't get it because I knew- ahem, thought that Santa wasn't real and I didn't think my uncle would want to spend that much money, but there wasn't any harm in asking. And you know what? He actually brought me one! It had a computer and everything. It was the only real gift he'd ever gotten me. I think it was because he'd just gotten a raise and was in a generous mood. Whatever the reason, I had a blast with that thing."
Shinji smiled at the fond memory then he frowned. "It was a lot of fun until my cousin knocked it out of my second-story bedroom window a week later. My uncle was pissed. Never got anything good after that."
"I'm sorry, Shinji," Rei said.
"Don't worry about it. It was a long time ago."
Rei looked like she was going to reply to that, but there was suddenly a loud pounding at the door. Shinji would swear that his measuring cups had rattled from the vibration.
"Asuka's here," Shinji commented wryly.
Asuka was going to help him and Rei transport the food over to Misato's apartment. The redhead had been released from the psychiatric ward of the military hospital a few months ago with a clean bill of health. The first thing she had done was buy a brand new, red sports car with her generous military pension check. Being one of the pilots who saved the world had its privileges.
"I can't believe Misato's making me her pack mule," Asuka complained upon Shinji opening the door. She was wearing a beige coat and holding a purple cloth bag, which most likely contained cookies.
"And hello to you too," Shinji replied.
"Oh, yeah, sorry. I'm just bummed about the Christmas Eve shopping that I'm missing out on."
"We have been over this," Rei said, coming over to the door. "Hikari has promised to pick up everything that you want. And you are the only one of us with a vehicle. Unless you really want to risk the integrity of the food on Misato's automobile skills."
Both Asuka and Shinji shivered at the horrible mental image that Rei's words conjured.
"Yeah, yeah. I guess I'm too mature now to be getting into store fights over the latest pair of shoes and toys anyway."
"There are undoubtedly some little, old ladies and toddlers sighing in relief right now," Rei said dryly.
"You think you're joking, but that's just because you've never seen me go bargain hunting," Asuka teased. She walked into the apartment and took off her coat, revealing that she was wearing a red blouse and black skirt underneath. "Shinji, how's the co-habitation thing going?"
Shinji gave a weary sigh. "Asuka, as I've told you before, I'm not living with Rei. I still have the apartment next door if you want to look-"
"Oh, please," Asuka replied, waving a hand of dismissal. "You've practically moved in. I saw your toothbrush next to the sink the last time I was here. So, Wondergirl, what naughty things have you and lover boy over here been up to?"
"Asuka!" Shinji sputtered.
"A lady never kisses and tells," Rei replied with a tiny grin.
"Rei, not you too..."
"Who said anything about kissing? Pfft!" Asuka made a raspberry noise, signifying what she thought of that. "I bet all you guys do is cuddle. You two move like molasses."
"I've told you to stop living vicariously through Rei and me," Shinji called over his shoulder with mock outrage as he went to go check on the ham in the oven.
"Yes, the love you two share is truly a story for the ages," Asuka said sarcastically.
"I like to think so," Rei replied, either not grasping or simply pretending not to grasp the sarcasm.
Asuka plopped down on the sofa. She smiled and gestured toward the bag she had set down on the coffee table. "I made some sugar cookies this morning for the party. Help yourself."
Rei grabbed a cookie from the cloth bag and chewed on it thoughtfully.
"Well?" Asuka asked impatiently.
"They are... edible."
Asuka's brow furrowed. "Did you just say they were bad?"
"No," Rei assured her. "I was quite careful to avoid saying such a thing."
"Why you little..."
Shinji shook his head fondly as he watched the girls engage in their battle of words. Their friendship was certainly a strange one. He remembered having to force the two of them to meet for the first time after NERV had been dissolved. They had been quite prepared to continue their feud from their pilot days and had been surprised to discover that they weren't the same beaten down, bitter people they used to be. Rei and Asuka would probably deny that they were friends, but it could not be denied that nobody bantered as well as those two.
Asuka was much more lighthearted than the angry, arrogant brat she once was. In fact, she actually reminded Shinji of Misato at times with her carefree attitude and acerbic wit. But he would never, ever tell her such a thing!
The trio of former pilots packed the food into Asuka's convertible then sped on down the road. Literally. Asuka was not nearly as reckless a driver as Misato, but that wasn't saying much.
When Shinji dared to point this out, Asuka snorted then replied, "You Japanese drivers wouldn't last a minute on the Autobahn!"
"Not exactly the point I was going for," Shinji sighed. He turned to Rei to ask for her opinion on the matter and noticed that she was staring gloomily out the window.
Describing Rei's blank stare as 'gloomy' might be a little strong, but Shinji knew that Rei rarely sunk into her expressionless state unless she was sad about something. He asked gently, "Is something wrong, Rei?"
"Snow would be nice," Rei replied listlessly.
Shinji looked around him at the clear skies and the mildly warm temperature. Outside of movies, he hadn't seen real snow since he was a child. Not since the weather had stabilized from Second Impact and given Japan a perfectly temperate climate. Personally, he hadn't really missed the white, powdery stuff much as it had been annoyingly wet and cold, but that was hardly a comforting response to give.
Asuka seemed to realize what he was thinking as she rolled her eyes at him. She said, "Mr. Scrooge here was probably too terrified of getting snow down his shirt to enjoy it, but back home where we still get more than one season I always enjoyed seeing the landscape covered in white. And you haven't lived until you've tried snowboarding. Shinji, I'm visiting my aunt and cousins in Berlin next week. Why don't you and Rei come along?"
"That seems expensive," Shinji began then stopped in realization. Even if he was ridiculously extravagant, he would still be set for the rest of his life. But he was a frugal person at heart and preferred to save his money for a rainy day.
"You really have to stop thinking like a poor person," Asuka teased. "I still don't understand why you refuse to get a car."
Shinji shrugged. "That's what I have you for."
Ignoring Asuka's protestations that she was not a damn chauffeur, he turned to Rei and saw that she had perked up. Seeing the spark in her eyes, he couldn't have said no even if he had wanted to. And it wasn't like he hated snow. It would be fun to build a snowman again and have hot chocolate around a warm fireplace.
"We should go. We could definitely use a vacation."
Shinji felt his cheeks grow warm upon the sight of Rei's bright smile.
"Damn, Wondergirl! You got him wrapped around your finger! But then again, that's not all that difficult considering it's Shinji..."
The three of them made it to Misato's apartment building in one piece. They took the elevator up to Misato's floor and knocked on her door. The door flung open and revealed Misato wearing what was obviously supposed to be a Mrs. Claus outfit though Shinji had his doubts that the real Mrs. Claus would have worn something so... revealing.
Misato laughed at the look on the children's faces. She turned her head and called over her shoulder, "Maya, get over here and greet our guests!"
A timid voice came from behind the door saying, "I'm really much more comfortable over here."
"This is an order from your commanding officer!"
"What? NERV disbanded almost a year ago!"
"Then I'm invoking my power as the woman who's boinking Mr. Claus. Get over here!"
There was a brief struggle behind the door before Misato dragged an embarrassed-looking Ibuki to the doorway. Shinji found himself growing redder. Maya was wearing a much more traditional elf costume, if the elves had had the tradition of hosting wrestling matches as ring girls.
Shinji turned his eyes away and saw that Rei appeared to be examining the two grown women's attire. She turned to Shinji and asked, "Should I have dressed appropriately for the occasion as well?"
"Definitely not!" Shinji cried. He was getting dizzy just imagining the cuteness factor that would have brought.
"You're such a prude, Shinji," Misato teased with a warm smile. "Anyway, come in!"
Half an hour later, the food had been set out and the decorations strung. The only exception was the real pine tree in the middle of the living area that Misato planned to have decorated by the guests as an activity.
"I can believe that you don't have any booze," Asuka complained for the third time in the last fifteen minutes.
"Hey, if I can't drink then neither can any of you!" Misato said cheerfully. "Aren't you underage anyway? And you won't believe how much money I've saved since I started going to those AA meetings!"
Asuka rolled her eyes. "Feel that Christmas generosity."
"Some of the other guests will probably bring champagne and whatnot anyway. Which you're not allowed to have by the way."
"Grinch!" Asuka exclaimed. She then launched into a lecture about how backwards Japan was compared to Germany when it came to allowing minors to occasionally drink.
Shinji always felt a little uncomfortable when he remembered the reason that Misato had enrolled herself in the alcoholics program, so he was heartened when he heard a knock at the door. "I'll get it!"
He opened the door and was surprised. "Doctor Samuels! I didn't know that Misato had invited you. I thought you were away at a conference."
Samuels smiled and replied, "Chicago has been shut down by a blizzard. Nobody's flying in or out this week. Personally, it's somewhat of a relief not having to attend another stodgy conference. I don't know how, but somehow Misato heard about it and insisted that as a 'former colleague' I had to attend her party."
"Well, I'm glad that you're here. It's good to see you again."
"I am too. I haven't seen you in a while, which in my profession is usually good news."
Shinji rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment. "Things have been going well for me lately, and I've been busy so it's hard to find an excuse to drop by the base..."
"Don't apologize! I am happy to hear that you are moving forward in your life. You've grown into a fine young man. Remember that my door is always open to you."
Shinji was warmed by the doctor's opinion of him and resolved to find more time to talk to him in a non-professional capacity. They spent a few minutes discussing Shinji's state of being and his upcoming trip to Germany with Rei. Samuels then noticed Maya over by the punch bowl happily chatting with the other former bridge bunnies, Makoto and Shigeru.
"Ah, Miss Ibuki is here as well. If you will excuse me..."
Shinji watched as his friend and former psychologist walked over to talk to Maya. He had introduced the two of them when Maya had been at a very low point in her life. Maya had been severely depressed after Ritsuko died, and she had taken her anguish out on Rei. Rei had forgiven her and Shinji had come to as well. He had convinced Maya to talk to Doctor Samuels about her problems, and she'd been seeing him ever since then.
More guests started to arrive. Former NERV employees and school classmates mingled as classic Christmas songs waffled through the air.
Misato was trying to lead a choir of randomly selected people through a rendition of "Deck the Halls." Not unexpectedly, vocal disharmony was ensuing, but the singers seemed to be enjoying themselves. Asuka and Hikari had joined some of the other teenagers and kids in transforming the pine tree into a Christmas tree.
At Rei's request, Kensuke had accessed the NORAD Santa flight tracker on his website. A few students from their class gathered around the glowing screen while Rei and Touji had an argument in the background.
"Are you kidding me?" Touji asked with an air of disbelief. "There's no way that some old man can visit all the houses in the world in one night!"
"There are considerably less houses in the world these days than there used to be," Rei pointed out.
"And the ratio of nice to naughty children has to be quite low," Kensuke chirped in helpfully.
Touji groaned. "Not you too. Look, Santa Claus would have to be going a gazillion miles an hour to visit all the continents on the planet."
"Why would he visit Antarctica?" Asuka wondered from the other side of the tree.
"Is 'gazillion' a real word?" Kensuke asked.
"Damn it, you know what I mean!"
"It is my belief that Santa Claus has access to wormhole-generating technology," Rei said with a face so straight that Shinji couldn't help but snicker. "This enables him to enter houses and get around the entire world without violating any of the known laws of physics."
"You mean aside from the flying reindeer?" Touji asked sarcastically.
Hikari walked over to Touji and kissed him on the cheek. She said, "Honey, everybody's just having a little fun. Don't get so upset."
Touji wrapped an arm around his girlfriend. "Yeah, I know. I just hate losing."
There was the sound of a spoon striking glass, and everyone turned to see Misato standing on a chair. She announced, "It's time for the Secret Santa portion of the evening! Those of you who signed up to participate earlier this week, please gather around the tree!"
Shinji had been a little disappointed that he had not drawn Rei's name in the Secret Santa drawing, but it wasn't that big a deal. He would simply give her the gift he brought on Christmas morning. Actually, it was probably better that way. He wanted to see her pleased expression upon unwrapping her present. He hoped that she would like the crystal music box that he got her. It played Beethoven's Ode to Joy, the first song he'd played for her to try to get her out of her depression when they had reunited.
He turned to see Rei shyly holding a gift out to him.
"Thank you, Rei," Shinji said sincerely.
"Be warned that this is the joke present," Rei said.
Shinji blinked. "Uh, you're not supposed to tell me that."
"I had not planned to, but I was concerned that your disdain for surprise parties also extended to surprise gifts."
Shinji looked at Rei with a wide, warm smile. "I'm touched by your concern."
He unwrapped the box and laughed at the sight of the action figures of him, Rei, and Asuka.
Asuka's head popped up over his shoulder. "Oh yeah, I've seen these in stores. Horrible things. I know I'm much more beautiful than that! They got the cringing, terrified expression on yours down perfectly though."
In response, Shinji picked up the Third Child figure and used it to knock the Second Child figure over.
He felt a poke at his shoulder. He turned and that Rei was holding another present out to him. He took it and was amused to discover that the label read 'From Santa Claus (and Rei Ayanami).'
Shinji ripped open the wrapping paper and opened the box. He felt a lump in his throat at the sight before him.
Inside the box was a telescope. To be more specific, it was the exact model and brand of the destroyed scope that Shinji's uncle had given him when he was seven years old.
"How did you know...?"
Misato knelt down beside him and replied, "Let's just say NERV has ridiculously detailed personnel records."
Shinji pulled Rei into a half-hug and shook his head in wonder. Rei never ceased to amaze him. He said, "This is the kind of surprise I have no problems with. I don't know what to say..."
"Why don't you say it with a kiss?" Misato said. She smiled mischievously then pulled out a green plant and dangled it over their heads.
Shinji protested, "You can't just pull out some mistletoe and expect-"
Rei cut him off. "Is this the tradition that requires that those underneath the mistletoe are to kiss?"
"Well, yeah, but Misato's just playing a joke-"
"Are you saying that you do not wish to kiss me?" Rei asked looking at him with her wide, red eyes.
Shinji knew that Rei was merely teasing him and normally he would give her the flustered reaction she was expecting, but he had just received the most thoughtful gift he had received in his life. He felt the need to respond appropriately.
So without further ado, he cupped Rei's face and he kissed her.
He ignored the cheering and wolf whistles in the background. He savored the warmness of her breath and felt the love he gave out be returned in kind.
Finally, Shinji pulled back. He brushed a fringe of blue hair out of her eyes then said, "Merry Christmas, Rei."
"Merry Christmas, Shinji."
Then their lips met again. Shinji reflected that it had been a good year, and he had a feeling that the next one would be even better.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!