Disclaimer: short and sweet – I do not own the rights to Evangelion, Studio Gainax animation does. Should they (or any of their affiliates) request it, I will remove all traces of this story from the web rather than face legal action from them. Without further ado, I present Chances Taken, book 3 of my Shinji and Maya fiction. Enjoy.
Spark… awareness… warmth. Crimson eyes open slowly, their owner peering into the murky fluid all around. She breathes… vague memories trying to surface, "Where am I?" she whispers.
Other… outside… presence. "You are in the tanks, Rei…"
A woman with blonde hair addresses her. She knows this woman… and her ill-concealed distaste.
"What is the last thing you remember?"
She remembers… dark blue eyes… soft lips… tears…
These are things she is not supposed to remember, so she answers as she knows she should, "I remember the last memory storage session, Doctor Akagi."
As the blonde woman nods, Rei stares at the floor, struggling to gather more of those sweet, impossible memories.
She remembers his smile. She remembers his laugh. She remembers his sadness. She remembers that he cannot be hers…
"Why are you smiling?" the blonde woman asks.
"I am… glad to be alive," she replies. –Yes… though he cannot be mine, I AM glad to be alive…- she thinks, stepping from the tank, -for if he should ever change his mind, I must be close at hand.-
Ritsuko leads the third incarnation of Rei Ayanami from the clone tanks, not truly caring why the blue-haired girl is smiling… for tonight, or tomorrow at the latest, the mighty First Child will be made the same as everyone else on God's Earth.
-Then we'll see…- she thinks bitterly, -we'll see how much he values you when you can't be replaced at the drop of a hat!-
Rei continues smiling until they reach the door – entirely oblivious to the depth of the hate radiating from the woman at her side…
"Maya?" Makoto Hyouga said as he came onto the deck, "Why are you here? I thought you had the day off?"
"There's a slight… situation," Maya Ibuki said hesitantly, looking up at him.
"What is it?" he replied.
"Asuka still refuses to get out of the plug…" she replied, returning her eyes to the screen, "and Shinji won't leave her."
Makoto frowned. "Can't you just… force-eject the plug and drag her out? And isn't Shinji… ummm… with you?"
Maya sighed, "They're not having sex in there, Makoto… he's just being a good friend. As for ejecting the plug, Sempai thinks that would have a negative impact on her – and since she's already IN the plug, WITH Shinji… an angel attack could be easily countered."
"I see…" he nodded. –She seems… different since they started going out,- he thought, -more self-assured. Then again, so's he.- He considered this as he studied her profile, thinking that – in spite of his initial assessment – perhaps the difference in age and rank really wasn't that important.
The idea made him more jealous than he would have thought, and he decided that maybe, just maybe, he might be able to ask the woman he loved if she could see him that way.
In the plug, Shinji was engaged in one of the oddest fights he'd ever had.
Asuka had said very little since the incident, adamantly refusing to open the hatch by emphatically shaking her head and pulling on his arm when he reached for the latch… so Shinji simply stopped trying and held her close to him, whispering softly.
"You don't know that she got killed…" he said for the fourth time, "it's only been a few hours, maybe they didn't want to tell us she's alive because she's hurt… or something…"
"Seven…" Asuka whispered, "it's been seven hours… she's dead…"
Shinji sighed, stroking her long, red hair gently. "Even… even if she is," he said softly, "you didn't do it. It was the dummy plug."
"Don't give me that…" she retorted miserably, burying her face in his chest, "I was in the pilot's seat… I couldn't kill the angel… it's my fault – I'm the one who failed!"
He fell silent, knowing it was a losing argument. –So unlike her,- he thought sadly, -to be like this. Three days ago, I wouldn't have believed that she would feel responsible…-
Shinji's thoughts were interrupted as his father's image appeared on the viewscreen.
"Pilot Souryu," Gendou began calmly, "you have been ordered to exit Unit 02… eject your plug immediately."
Asuka took a deep breath and turned to face the Commander, lacing her right hand with Shinji's and gripping it tightly. "I… can't pilot anymore, sir…" she began, surprising Shinji with her calm, collected, determined tone, "I was just… saying goodbye to-"
"You can… and you will," Gendou cut her off smoothly, "piloting an EVA is not a hobby you can simply let go of. The human race depends on it."
"But… I killed another pilot!" Asuka replied, trying to keep her voice level, "Rei's-"
That one word stopped Asuka's diatribe cold.
"She is?" Shinji said, hardly believing it. He had told Asuka not to give up hope – but he had also seen Unit 00, carved into small pieces by Unit 02, and his words of comfort had been anything but honest.
Gendou folded his hands in front of his face. "Doctor Akagi felt it would be unwise to raise your hopes, as Rei was hurt rather badly in the fight," Shinji blinked as his father explained the situation using almost the same words he had a few minutes prior, "she is recovering, and should be ready for active duty in less than three weeks."
His voice grew cold, "Now exit Unit 02, or you will be forcibly removed. You are valuable, pilot Souryu… not irreplaceable."
Asuka said nothing, but she nodded and triggered the eject sequence.
Shinji watched her as she moved, wondering what he could say to ease her doubts… but as the plug spun out, he decided that nothing he could say could help.
He sighed, thinking of Maya and how she must see all of this. –I hope she's not mad,- he thought.
And she wasn't… though she did have something she needed to say to him.
"But… I just moved in!" Shinji said in disbelief.
"Well, you still haven't moved your things in," Maya replied, her tone apologetic, "and I really think you should stay with Misato."
"Why?" he asked, wiping an errant strand of LCL caked hair from his forehead, "I thought you wanted me to be with you."
Maya sighed, choosing her words carefully. "I do…" she said softly, "I just think… maybe we went a little too fast. I mean, it's only been a few weeks."
He considered this, biting his lip thoughtfully. "This is about Asuka, isn't it?" he asked suddenly, remembering the redhead's fierce hug as she had left with Misato (he had waited to take a shower until he knew she was ok).
She shook her head… then nodded. "Well, yes and no…" she said, "yes because I think she needs you to be close to her right now, no because I believe that it's not the right time yet."
He shrugged uncomfortably, "Do you think… what we did yesterday… I mean…"
She reached out and touched his cheek, "No, honey," she said soothingly, "I don't think that was a mistake – but I do think us staying together would be… right now."
"Guess we don't have to tell Misato now, huh?" he asked softly.
"Hey," she said, "please don't be mad. I still love you."
He straightened, "I know… I love you too, I just… nevermind…"
She sighed as he turned and headed for the showers (she had caught him in the hall, not wanting to wait to tell him of her decision), -Let him go,- she thought, -he'll be ok… it's just been a hard day.-
Much to her relief, Shinji stopped as he reached the locker room entrance, turning and offering her a wan smile. "We did kinda jump in pretty fast… didn't we?" he said quietly.
She returned his smile, "Yeah… but I don't regret it, Shinji… I just think we should slow things down a bit now… you know?" She grinned and winked at him, "If we do it all now, what's to look forward to?"
He laughed weakly, "I guess so… I just…"
"I know," she said soothingly, "and I'm sorry."
He nodded, opening the door. "Don't be…" he said, "it's not like I'll never see you again."
"It damn well better not be like that!" she retorted with a grin, folding her arms over her chest, "I'm not letting you go, Shinji… I've fought too hard – you're mine."
He smiled softly, "I'll see you later."
"Twenty minutes," she corrected him, "you'll see me in twenty minutes, at my car – I'm not going to make you walk home, you know!"
He blinked at the force of her words, and his smile widened a bit, "Ok… I'll see you in twenty minutes."
After saying their good-byes, Maya leaned back against the wall, her mind running lazy circles. –At least he understood,- she thought, -and really… we did get carried away…-
She pushed away from the wall and headed for the parking lot, "Besides," she reasoned, flushing slightly, "makes things more… interesting if we're not ALWAYS together."
She sighed as she reached her car, "And we have all the time in the world for the rest…"
Of all of the things she'd said that afternoon, this would prove to be the only one that was wrong…
Asuka lay once more on Shinji's bed, holding the SDAT in her hand and staring at the ceiling.
"He's coming home…" she whispered, "I don't have to be alone anymore…"
Though the thought should have pleased her, she still felt hollow.
"I failed…" she said softly, "I couldn't fight…"
Rolling onto her side, she sighed… wondering if she would be able to tell Shinji how her sync-rate had been sliding steadily lower and lower since the fourteenth angel.
She had wondered briefly if she would be able to sync with Unit 02 at all when the angel had attacked.
"At least it worked… this time…" she mused, "but next time?"
She closed her eyes, waiting for the brown-haired boy to return.
-He doesn't need to know,- she thought suddenly, -it'll just worry him. When he gets home… I'll just act like nothing happened. I mean… Wondergirl's alive, right?-
Deciding finally on a course of action, Asuka closed her eyes.
She was so deeply asleep by the time Shinji slipped quietly into the room that she didn't even notice his entry.
"I'm glad you're ok," Shinji whispered, carefully removing the ear-buds and turning the tape player off with a soft smile, "I'll just sleep on the couch."
Asuka stirred in her sleep, rolling onto her stomach and mumbling something that Shinji could not hear.
Carefully, he covered the redhead with an extra blanket from the foot of the bed, kissing her gently on the top of the head before stealing out to the living room… never noticing the damp spot on the bed where the sleeping girl's tears had fallen.
In the quiet of the NERV hospital, Gendou sat considering the blue-haired girl that was asleep in the bed.
He had been surprised at the insistence of the Second to be allowed to see First, but he had remained adamant. Something was… off with this clone. Nothing he could put his finger on, but she seemed just slightly too alive.
An odd thought, he knew, but one he could not quite shake.
Quietly, he picked up his cell phone, dialing a brief sequence.
"Fuyutsuki… it's me." he said softly as the person on the other end answered, "Prepare the Fifth… the Second is becoming unstable."
He listened for a moment, "Yes… I know about Katsuragi. See that the proper… safeguards are in place. No… I don't want her removed unless absolutely necessary, but make sure she knows her movements are not unnoticed."
As he hung up, he considered the tenacity of the people under his command… and smiled.
"It is unfortunate that you are so determined, Katsuragi," he mumbled, rising to leave, "you should have learned from your lover's mistakes, rather than repeating them…"
-Nothing to be done about it now,- he thought as he headed for the hospital exit, -but it would be rather difficult to find a suitable replacement before the final messenger… hopefully it will not come to that – good help is hard to find.-
He allowed himself a small smile… and leaving the hospital, turned not for home, but rather for the apartment of a certain doctor that he knew
"The night is young," he whispered to himself, "no reason to waste it…"
As he walked, he allowed his smile to widen… for, as far as he was concerned, all was right with the world.
Author's notes: trying… to… get… back… in character… attempting… to… curb… sugar-levels… arrrgghhh!!! Ok, here is the first chapter of Chances Taken… several months overdue and just a touch under 7 pages… but the ball IS rolling – so hopefully chapters will come a little more regularly. This will be the last book of this series, and will consist of seven chapters (and maybe an epilogue… kinda depends on how long the remaining chapters end up being). I'm trying really hard to tone down the sappiness, as that has been the primary complaint with this story – that and OOCness… which I am also trying to correct. On Maya asking Shinji to move out (or rather, to not finish moving in), the reasons are all in the story. It WAS kinda soon, ya know? Granted this is a story, but I do like to have a smidgen of realism appear from time to time. I felt that after she had had some time to think about it (and get past that initial rush of excitement at the idea of being together all the time), Maya would have second thoughts about him moving in so soon – and rightly so… it's a big step. Anyhow, I hope you liked the story. Hold on, I have a few more tricks up my sleeve… and I'll TRY and ease up on the corn. ^_~
Repost note: this story was briefly pulled from fanfiction.net due to some bad reviews I received and, well… being in a bad mood. I'm putting it back up in response to the feedback I've gotten requesting it, and the fact that I realized I was being kinda sorta childish. My apologies.
Thanks to Ryoma and Shinigami for pre-reading this one.
Feedback is always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org