This is a spinoff fanfic to Gregg Landsman's excellent fanfic NGE: Nobody Dies. If you haven't already read it, go do so! It's on my favourites list. I'll wait here till you're done.
She is eight years old when she sees the blue haired girl for the first time. The red-eyed dynamo of energy tears through the class and unnerves the other children. Kirima watches her curiously, ducking back behind her book when Ayanami glances her way and pretending to be reading.
She has seen energetic children before, but nonetheless, she can't help but think that Ayanami seems... different, somehow. She is soon distracted by the lesson, though, and quickly forgets about the new student.
Naami, Kuzon, Shotou and Tarou catch her in the playground again. It was stupid to read over here, she thinks. Usually she stays where the teacher can see her, but she had wanted to get away from the noise. Now she is paying for it. She cries out again as Shotou pushes her hard onto the wet grass, tears burning the corners of her eyes.
Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpses Hikari watching stonily, teeth gritted and fists clenched. She knows that it burns the other girl to see this and not be able to stop it, but the older children are smart. They don't leave any marks beyond normal playground bruising, and even if Hikari could convince the teacher to come and catch them in the act, they would be long gone by the time he got here, and more vicious still the next time they caught her. In the end, it's their word against Kiri's and Hikari's, and the older children always win. All Hikari can do is watch, and run for help if it gets too bad.
She struggles up again, trying to snatch her ribbon out of Naami's hand as the older girl flicks it in front of her face. She doesn't even make it a single step before a foot hooks around her ankle and sends her crashing down again. The fall jolts her mouth and makes her bite her tongue, and she lets out another sob, praying for break to be over. She lies in a little ball on the ground, not trying to get up again. Maybe if she stays still for long enough, they'll go away.
"FOR GREAT JUSTICE!" The battlecry roars out over her and she hears Kuzon scream in sudden pain. Shotou curses and she hears him move, only for his feet to abruptly leave the ground and a heavy thud seconds later signify his return to Earth. What sounds like a punch from Tarou is met and terminated with a painful-sounding crunch, and the bullies break and run from their attacker, scrambling frantically away in blind terror.
Confused and tear-stained, she looks up into red eyes framed by cobalt bangs. Ayanami Rei shrugs by way of explanation.
"You were all cryin' and stuff. An' there were four of them, an' only one of you, sooo~o... that's kinda not fair, right? And that means they were bad. An' you were cryin'."
She holds her hand out. After staring for a while, Kiri tentatively reaches up to take it. Grinning widely, Ayanami pulls her up.
"Okay, now we gotta go to the nurse's office. Cause you don't heal very well, so we gotta get you looked at in case of bad stuff. Little Mommy told me that. C'mon!"
She is confused, a little scared and her scraped knees and bruised side protest as she's dragged inside to the nurse, who Ayanami demands look her over for any injuries. Nonetheless, that is the moment that Harasami Kirima decides she wants to be like Ayanami Rei.
"Aya-Ayanami, w-would you l-like to... no... um... I'm really very g-grateful to you f-for... um... that is... I-I was thinking o-of... and... um.."
Kirima slumps, biting her lip and squeezing her thumb nervously in a shaking fist. She looks up at the mirror again and sighs. If she can't even work out how to thank the girl now, how is she going to get the words out face-to-face with her?
The bullies haven't bothered her once since Ayanami saved her a week ago. They had run to the teachers and complained that Ayanami had attacked them, and Kiri had mustered up her courage and squeaked out a protest. Hikari had backed her up and the teacher had told the older students that he'd be keeping an eye on them in future, but he'd still given Ayanami a detention.
The blunette had smiled sunnily at Kiri and taken the punishment without a word of complaint. The Kirima in her head, the one who was brave and confident and who Ayanami would respect and be friends with, had at once asked Ayanami if she wanted to come around for a sleepover, and they had watched a movie and played together and become best friends.
The real Kirima had managed to get halfway across the classroom to ask before chickening out, scurrying back to her desk and hiding behind a book.
Her head falls to the desk with a quiet thunk and she sighs. Tomorrow, she thinks. Tomorrow, she'll definitely invite Ayanami to a sleepover. For real, this time.
Her four successive failures so far are conveniently ignored.
"Sooo~o..." Ayanami says from just behind her right ear. Kiri stifles a shriek. The other girl had been on the other side of the classroom a moment ago. And on her left, to boot.
"I was talkin' to Little Mommy, right. About, like, special friends and stuff. And what they do. And she told me about sleepovers!" She grins widely. "They're super-special-awesome things, see, that show you like people. Aaa~and, if I get invited on one, it means I've done reee~eally well at making friends!"
Her grin widens. Several nearby children shift away edgily. Kiri ignores them. This is her chance! "Um... you... I m-mean, I'd l-like to think... that is... um..."
"An' we're friends, right?" Transfixed by the crimson gaze like a field mouse before a snake, Kiri nods mutely, heart in her throat.
"Awesome! So, I'm not allowed to invite you round to where I live," Ayanami pouts at this, "an' while I could totally get you in anyway, Little Mommy would be super-angry if I did. In the uber-not-good kind of way. So you gotta invite ME round to YOUR place for a sleepover! An' then we can do epic fun stuff!"
"Um... I... uh... I..."
Ayanami's gaze fixes on her and she swallows her nervousness. This time, she thinks, for real. Properly.
"Ah... okay... uh... A-Ayanami... um... w-would... ah... would you... w-?" she finally manages to squeak out, eyes fixed on her desk and cringing slightly. Despite the wavering of her voice and the blurted, garbled sound of the request, a sense of triumph fills her. She dares peek through her hair at Ayanami.
Who is looking at her, head tilted, with a slight frown on her face. Kiri pales. Did she do something wrong? Maybe she accidentally gave offense? Or maybe Ayanami wanted her to ask later, more formally? Or maybe she should have asked her parents first? Or gotten them to ask Ayanami's parents? She doesn't even know who Ayanami's parents were! What kind of friend is she? A proper friend would've found out something like that by now! A proper friend would've approached Ayanami earlier instead of chickening out, and talked to her about things like this, and-
"You know," interrupts Ayanami, "you can call me Rei. And yeah, it's a deal! Operation SLEEPOVER! Now in effect!" Aya- no, Rei stands for the last part and yells it out to the classroom at large. All heads turn.
Flushed crimson and slightly mortified though she is, Kiri is glowing internally with happiness and self-esteem.
And she can't wait for the night of the sleepover.
Rei bounces happily on the western-style bed, a present from Kirima's parents for her sixth birthday. Kiri smiles at her friend's enthusiasm (a little thrill of excitement goes through her as she thinks of Rei as a friend - her first, really), and tries to think of what exactly you were meant to do on a sleepover. It will have to be something good, that Rei would be interested in, so as to set a good first impression.
"D-do... ah... Rei? Do y-you want something to eat?"
The sudden riveted attention she finds herself the recipient of suggests that she has probably cottoned onto a winner.
Watching Rei eat is an... experience. Kiri manages to dig out and fry a pack of bacon rashers - the last of the food they have, she'll have to tell her mother so that they can go shopping for some more - and Rei's eyes light up in glee. Kiri looks on in mild horror as Rei's jaw seems to actually unhinge as the hyperactive girl pounces on the plate. It is over very quickly, and Rei looks up from the suddenly empty plate, head tilted.
"Awesome! Bacon rocks! So, now what do we do?" Kiri tries not to get flustered at being put on the spot again and spots a welcome distraction.
"Ah... w-well, I have to f-feed Usagi before anything else..." She gets out the bag of feed and carefully pours it into a bowl, pausing to grab a fresh bottle of water before sliding the door open and leading Rei down the garden to the hatch. Usagi snuffles at her fingers as she puts the fresh food in, and Kiri treats her to a couple of bits of carrot and a lettuce leaf.
"Ooo! You have a pet! Zyuu would love that, she likes animals!"
Kiri blinks. "...um... Zyuu? Who's that?"
"Oh... uh... one of my sisters. I have seven. But they don't go out much cause they've got a... um..." Rei thinks for a moment, "long-term con-gen-ital car-dio-vas-cular dis-order."
"A heart thingy so they have to stay at home near the stabilisy machines cause otherwise they might go all wierd an' bad an' stuff if something triggers an attack. They're usually okay, but if they're out an' about, they're more likely to have one, so..."
"Oh." Kiri imagines staying cooped up at home her whole life and shivers, picking up Usagi and cuddling her for reassurance. "That's t-terrible. Couldn't they g-go out for just a little bit? With grown-ups, or something, once a month?"
Rei looks taken aback and gives her an appraising look. "Huh... I dunno. Maybe I'll mention it next time I see them."
Kiri smiles tremulously, glad to have helped.
"Sooo~o... now that the rabbit's fed," Rei strokes it distractedly, gears whirring behind crimson eyes, "I got an idea."
"Um... an idea?"
"Yeah! This is a sleepover, right?" She waits for Kiri's hesitant nod. "Sooo~o, we gotta sleep OVER something!"
Kiri opens her mouth to protest, catches sight of the excitement on Rei's face and closes it again.
Rei strikes a dramatic pose and levels an arm at the heavens.
Kiri follows Rei's arm skywards up to on one of the nearby skyscrapers, and she struggles not to whimper in fear.
Rei's new special friend has fainted. She feels a slight twinge of guilt at this - humans aren't as awesome as Nephilim like her, they're all weak and slow and fragile and stuff. Hatchi sometimes gets annoyed at them for that, but Rei figures that Nephilim are built for Nephilim Stuff, like justice and babies and bacon, and humans are probably built to be really good at human Stuff. She's not quite sure what Stuff would need someone to be all weak and slow and fragile, but Little Mommy said that's how it was, and she's reee~eally clever, so Rei believes her.
She looks around for some food to make - people need food to recover, right? However, the fare is poor - mostly staple foods like rice and vegetables. That's not right, her friend needs meat, like bacon. Worried, she looks again, tearing through the rooms in search of something to make. Still nothing. She returns to the kitchen, morose. Kiri is still unconscious, and Rei bites her lip, thinking hard. She's looked in all the cupboards, and nothing really stands out... she could go out and find something...
And then her eyes alight upon the hutch in the garden, and a grin slowly spreads across her face.
Kiri wakes to the smell of something cooking. It is an unfamiliar scent - strong, and slightly gamy. Her eyes flutter open and Rei's smiling face appears before her.
"Heee~ey. You screamed an' fainted around when we got to the seventh floor, so I brought you back here an' made you something to eat!"
Oh. That was nice of her. So kind and generous. She looks over to the source of the smell - she doesn't recognise it, though the shape rings a bell. It's not chicken, or squid...
Her eyes drift past it. Through the window. To the broken hutch. Unbidden, a memory rises to the forefront of her mind - making a note to tell her mother that they're out of food and need to go shopping to restock. Her mother, who isn't back yet, and so has yet to bring back any food Rei could have cooked. Kiri's mind works sluggishly, unable to process the next train of thought.
"Come on, eat up!" Rei singsongs cheerfully. "It's really good!" She tears off a piece - a leg - and devours it. Kiri pushes herself upright and stares, uncomprehending. The knowledge bubbles at the back of her mind, wordless, and she pushes it away, refusing to even think it.
"Oh. You're okay. Weee~ell... in that case, d'you mind if I have it?"
Kiri makes no sound of protest, still staring blankly at the blunette. Rei tears into the meal like a hungry wolverine and Kiri, still in a state of quiet denial, looks away from the spectacle before she starts to feel nauseous.
And sees the pot on the side. And the blood. And the furry skin, with two limp little ears hanging off the near side.
Her mind finally processes exactly what has happened, and Kirima starts to scream.
There are visits. One from Yui and Gendo Ikari, expressing their sincere apologies over any trauma their daughter has caused. One from Rei herself, the blunette acting uncharacteristically ashamed. She buys Kiri a new rabbit and explains, haltingly, under Yui's eye, that she hadn't known about pets and food and the differences between them. NERV pays reparations for damages, and while Kiri hears her father mutter that it might as well be a bribe to keep their mouths shut about what happened, he doesn't make a scene about it.
Kiri stays mostly silent throughout. She cries a little over Usagi, and names her new rabbit Hoshi, taking him with her to buy a new hutch. She acts polite to the Ikaris and accepts their apologies, and tells her parents that she is fine, she is okay, she was scared at the time but she's alright now. She isn't sure they believe her, but they leave her alone.
In school, she watches Rei carefully. The other girl never makes a move in her direction - Kiri suspects that Yui has ordered Rei to give her space - but she knows Rei is aware she's watching. There are many emotions bound up there - fear, grief, regret, a lingering strain of horror and even, deep down, a tiny spark of admiration and longing.
But no hate. She can't muster any hatred at all for Rei, for all her trying. It would be so easy if she could hate the girl - she certainly hates what she did, and the fact that she can't hate her. But try as she might, every time she wants to hate Rei, all she can find is a lingering sadness, and the image of red eyes framed by cobalt bangs, reaching down to help her up.
Kiri's split with Rei does not go unnoticed. Naami catches her eye as she walks into school a few mornings later and she realises with a dull sense of terror that with Rei carefully keeping her distance, the bullies probably consider her to be a valid target once more. The prospect is almost enough to make her welcome Rei back into her life, but the lingering memory of ears hanging over the side of a bloodstained pot stops her. When lunch break rolls around, she hides behind a book on marine life awaits the 'accidental' bumps and 'mysterious' disappearances of her things with a quiet dread, flinching at every movement nearby.
They never come. When she sees Kuzon at the end of the day, running up to her mother to be taken home, his glare is both furious and sullen. But they made no move to pick up their old habits - indeed; they avoid her like the plague, finding an excuse to leave any room she enters as soon as possible.
It is the first time anyone has ever seemed scared of Kiri. She has suspicions on why, but Rei continues to give her space and Kiri can't bring herself to breach the invisible chasm between them. Even thinking about it makes her nervous. Hikari, after deciphering Kiri's stuttered questions, is equally puzzled, and the bullies themselves wouldn't reveal anything even if she could work up the courage to ask.
It is Sasoriko who eventually sheds light on the matter, confronting Kiri before classes start. She is wearing her customary expression - mostly neutral, with a vague hint that suggests mild annoyance at the recurring minor stupidities of the world.
"So, it's sad that Naami and her little group aren't hanging out with you at lunchtime anymore, isn't it?" she asks nonchalantly. Kiri gapes at her in mute incomprehension.
"Oh, wait, no," the pale girl smirks. "It isn't, is it? Actually, it's quite convenient." She pins Kiri with a piercing look. "So, what exactly did you have Rei do to them?"
Kiri's stuttered denials are swept aside with a careless hand gesture. "Oh please. Don't be coy - you can stop pretending, it's not like it's a secret. Half the school is talking about them turning up all pale faced and shaking after lunch a week ago. Which was also the day Rei skipped lunch, I might add. It's really not hard to join the dots. You set Rei on them because they were being mean to you."
She cocks her head, letting this sink in for a minute, then flashes Kiri a thin-lipped smile.
"Well done! Good strategy. You could have been a little sneakier, of course, but overall not bad. What did you bribe her with, food?"
Limp bunny ears hanging out of the pot flash across Kiri's vision and she tries not to retch, forcing the words out with difficulty. "I-I... I d-didn't... t-tell her to... I mean... R-Rei and I haven't even b-been..."
"Yes yes. You know, it's kind of obvious you're keeping your distance so the teachers don't figure it out when someone tells on her. If you wanted to look innocent, you should really have carried on as if you didn't know about it. Still, not bad for what I've seen of you - I didn't think you were smart enough to come up with something like this. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone." Suspicions apparently confirmed, Sasoriko crosses the classroom back to her desk, shooting a vicious glare at Shiro when he makes a comment as she passes him.
Kiri sits still for a few minutes, stunned - and makes a note to be a little more cautious around Sasoriko in future. A seven year old mind capable of working out how to use Rei as a way to deal with bullies - and get away with it - is probably a mind which she shouldn't probably get too close to. She has no idea why Sasoriko thought she would do something like that, but...
Had Rei really warned the bullies off? It seemed to fit, when she thought about it. Then... even though Kiri had been avoiding her, she had gone out of her way to make sure Kiri would still be safe. She was still protecting her, even now! And she was trying to do it without Kiri knowing, as well - obeying Kiri's unspoken wish for space. She carefully avoids the thought of exactly what Rei had said or done to the bullies and focuses on the intent there - her mother always says it's the thought that counts, right? Sure, Rei is a little... unsocialised. But everyone has their little quirks. And she didn't know about pets, it was just a mistake. She's still a basically good person - it wasn't her fault!
Deep down, the image of bloodstained ears fades. It will never quite dissolve entirely, but for now it recedes, overlaid by a hand reaching down to help Kiri up and a sunny smile as Rei freely takes a detention for helping a girl she doesn't know. And for now, that's enough. She knows what she has to do, after class.
"Um... R-Rei?" The blunette blinks in surprise and looks up from her lunch to see Kiri squeezing her thumb nervously. "I... um... I mean... we- I'd like to- if it's okay... we've sort of not been... and, uh, I've been thinking a bit and- and you're... so... um..."
She trails off, and Rei cocks her head, examining her. Kiri tries not to squirm under the intense gaze.
And Rei's face breaks into a beaming grin, and she beckons Kiri to sit down. And as she does so, and Rei starts a rambling monologue - something about coffee, squeaky mallets and cars - everything is, for a brief moment, alright.