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-- 
SPOILER ALERT - the following fanfiction contains spoilers. You should be
okay if you've seen up to episode 14, but its hard to be sure. Later
parts will probably contain more spoilers, so I still advise seeing the
entire series before reading this fanfic.
-- 
This fan fiction is adapted from Neon Genesis Evangelion, produced by 
Gainax. All characters herein are the sole property of Gainax, and no 
claim on them is made by this author; etc. etc. 
-- 



Rei's Birthday Present, part 1
by Chris Burke
--

     Misato sighed. She was sitting at the dining room table, nursing a
beer. In front of her was a massive pile of papers. Perhaps mountain
would have been more accurate. Certainly not anything so organized as a
stack. The haphazardly arranged papers covered the majority of the
table's surface, and rose to a tall peak in the center. Some had spilled
off the slope onto the floor. On the chair next to her was a small,
neatly arranged stack - the 'out box'. 

     She finished reading a damage claim for a public building that Unit
01 had crashed into during the last battle, and signed at the bottom. She
calmly placed it beside her, increasing the size of the out box by fifty
percent.

     , she mused,  Though she didn't have to bring this pile home
with her. It would have been faster and easier to do it in her office at
Nerv HQ, where there weren't distractions like the beer in her hand, and
of course...

     "Mein Gott en Himmel!"

     "Oops! I'm sorry Asuka!"

     "Stupid Shinji! My shirt is all wet! I've got to go change, now. Be
more careful when you're doing the dishes. You're so clumsy!"

     "Then don't sneak up on me!"

     "I wasn't sneaking! I was trying to get a glass of water. I didn't
realize I'd end up wearing it!"

     Misato sighed again. Of course it would have been easier to do it
all at her office. The whole environment was better. An official desk,
made solely for doing this kind of work at. Wearing a uniform helped,
too. Easier to work when dressed for it, which is why she still hadn't
changed. The office was also much more peaceful...

     "And what was with that dinner you cooked last night? Could it have
been any more burnt? It was like one of Misato's Instant Tragedies!"

      Misato thought.

     "I'm sorry Asuka!"

     "You already said you were sorry for that last night! If you have to
apologize for everything, at least you could only do it once. You're
pathetic!"

     "Then why did you bring it up again?"

     "To demonstrate what a loser you are!"

     The continuing argument grew in volume, which meant it was coming
closer. It also meant it was even less likely Misato could get any work
done. Still, she had no choice but to do it here. Or rather, she had
chosen to have no choice. After the last time she had left the two of
them alone all night, Ritsuko had made a few pointed comments about what
two bored, unchaperoned teenage hormone factories might have done to pass
the time. Misato had tried to laugh it off, saying that they were always
at each other's throats. Ritsuko's silence had left ample time for Misato
to consider all the possible ways to be at someone's throat... Misato
shuddered, and renewed her resolve to never leave them alone again.

     "Misato! I shouldn't have to cook tonight because Shinji ruined last
night! It didn't count."

     "I already said I was sorry!"

     "If you're sorry, then you should be grateful for a chance to redeem
yourself," Asuka declared triumphantly.

     "But... that's not fair!"

     They were surprisingly easy to tune out with a little effort, Misato
discovered. She had always wondered how a mother could be walking through
a store calmly looking at merchandise with an air raid siren in human
form holding her hand. Now she knew it was just a matter of learning from
experience the correct frequencies to filter. A definite survival skill.
Nevertheless, she needed to pay attention to resolve at least this facet
of the argument.

     "Asuka will cook tonight," she said.

     "But Misato!" Asuka whined. An Asuka whine was a unique form of
expression. It was more similar in tone and intent to an ultimatum than a
traditional whine. The primary difference was that the ultimatum was
implied by context.

     "You agreed to the schedule, now stick with it."

     "Humph." Asuka folded her arms across her chest. "So I guess this
means I can burn dinner whenever I want, then?"

     "But you won't, will you?" Misato said over the rim of her beer.

     Asuka did a double take, then tossed her head. "Of course not! I'm
not incompetent like this pathetic excuse for a man."

     "Hey! What does cooking have to do with..."

     Her intervention no longer needed, Misato stopped paying attention.
Her mind wandered.  she thought. She looked out
the window. Or would have, except her view was blocked by a white hillock
made of paper. 

     She picked up a group of papers held together with a paper clip. The
latest synch test reports. She wasn't sure why Ritsuko always gave them
to her; she wasn't the one who understood all this nonsense. Still,
Ritsuko would know if she didn't read them. 

      She flipped to the next page.  Small fluctuations in synch ratios were normal, or so she
was told. Certainly nothing to bother mentioning. It wouldn't do Shinji
any good to hear about the drop, normal or not. Asuka she expected more
from. She flipped the page. 

     Misato took a closer look at the chart. It showed a sharp climb up
from zero at her first synchronization attempt, then a long flat region,
then a long period of steady growth up to the present, and starting --
she looked at the dates -- just after the Fifth Angel. Not as dramatic as
Shinji's growth, nor as high as Asuka's consistent performance, but
growth nevertheless. Three and a half in one week was certainly
noteworthy.

     She tapped her pen against her lips, and thought of what she should
do. Maybe she should say something to Rei, congratulate her on her
improvement. It was part of her job, after all, to see after the morale
of the pilots. She thought about it... Her saying "Way to go Rei! Good
job!", and Rei just standing there, or saying "Hai" in that emotion-less
voice. 

     , she thought. 

     She continued to look at the sheet, letting her eyes lazily scan it
as she thought.  She sat up.

     "This is interesting," she said aloud.

     "Ahh! Asuka, stop!"

     "You pervert! You know you tried to get my shirt wet on purpose!"

     Asuka had Shinji's head locked tightly under her arm and was rubbing
his head with a knuckle mercilessly. She looked up from her task. 

     "What is?" She let go of Shinji. He stumbled back, and gave Asuka a
nasty look. 

     "It looks like Rei's birthday is in three days." Misato turned the
sheet away, so Asuka wouldn't see the score.

     Asuka started. "What? Wonder Girl has a birthday? I always figured
she was grown in a vat or something... or do they get birthdays too?"

     "You're so mean, Asuka..." Shinji said.

     Some back mental process in Asuka's brain chose that moment to alert
her to what portion of her anatomy she had, just moments before, been
pressing Shinji's head into. 

     "And you better not have enjoyed that!" 

     Shinji's confused, stammered response was automatic. "I... I'm
sorry!"

     "You did! You pervert!" She grabbed Shinji, punishing him with
another noogie.

     Misato frowned. According to Ritsuko, in order to be even eligible
for piloting an Eva, you had to have been conceived on the same night as
the Second Impact. Very close to the exact moment, in fact. Something
about the energies present at that time. There were other factors in
piloting Eva, but without that one thing there was no chance. Taken along
with the death toll from the Impact, and it was little surprise that
potential pilots were so hard to find. 

     Shinji was born a little over thirty-five weeks after Second Impact,
fifteen years ago. Asuka was born fifteen days after him. There had been
a party for each of them, with all their friends from school and anyone
from Nerv who cared to show up -- Kaji and Ritsuko, of course. 

     Normally, two parties in rapid succession would do noticeable damage
to a small apartment such as Misato's. However, as the process of having
a party included cleaning up before and after, Misato's apartment came
through the ordeal in substantially better shape than it had begun.

     There had been many parties around then. It seemed like Shinji's
entire class had their birthdays all within three weeks of each other. To
make sure everyone's party was properly attended, some had to double or
triple up. It had been a hectic time, at least for the kids.

     The last party had been two months ago.

     Misato was again reminded of a mystery that she hadn't thought about
for some time. Who was Ayanami Rei? Her parents were unknown. She
couldn't check the birth certificate. It wasn't classified; it just
didn't exist. No password or security breach could expose what wasn't
there. In fact all of her records had been destroyed. It was as though
the girl hadn't existed until she walked through the doors of the junior
high school.

     It was just like Ritsuko to do this to her. Tell her about the
requirements for an Eva pilot then give her the printouts with Rei's date
of birth on them, probably at the same time. As if her friend was
throwing these mysteries in her face, daring her to figure them out.
Ritsuko probably knew, but she never let on, other than these damned...
Wait... Someone was talking to her.

     "Hmm?" she said, turning off the filters and looking up into Asuka's
glaring face. 
Misato thought vaguely.

     "I _said_ what are we going to do about Wonder Girl's birthday?" 

     She hadn't thought about it. She hadn't known about Rei's birthday
until just now, but she hadn't even considered the possibility. Even with
all of those birthday parties, it had never occurred to her that maybe at
some point Rei would need one too. That was the thing about Rei -- you
didn't think about her. Everything she did seemed to say that it wasn't
_necessary_ to think about her. Misato still felt kinda bad about not
doing it anyway.

     "Hrm... We could have a party? Here, of course," she offered.

     "Um..." Shinji began uncomfortably. "I don't think she'd really
appreciate a party..."

     "Well, you outta know," Asuka said, a wicked smile on her face,
"since you're so _close_ to the First Child." There was an emphasis on
the word 'close' that made Shinji blush.

     "It's not like that!"

     Asuka had a point though, Misato thought. Shinji was probably the
closest one to Rei, outside of the Commander. 

     "You don't think a party would be nice?" Misato said to Shinji.
"Maybe she just never had one before."

     Shinji cringed slightly, and didn't answer immediately. Misato asked
him again, but he didn't hear. He was lost internally, thinking of the
time two months ago.

--

     Shinji ran out of the school, and looked down the street. There was
Ayanami, two blocks away. She always came to school early - at least
earlier than he did - and left as soon as the bell rang. He'd only
stopped to talk to Touji for a moment, and already she was almost out of
sight. He started to run.

     "Ayanami!" he called out when he was less than a block behind her.
She stopped and turned. 

     "Ayanami," he said, catching up to her. He smiled.

     "Hello, Ikari-kun," Rei said. 

     His smile widened. The simple greeting was more than most people
could expect from Rei. Ever since that day, though, he had received such
small acknowledgments. Greeting him in the hallway before class; glancing
sideways at him as they walked side by side toward the Eva cages for
testing; waiting for him to catch up to her when he called her name. Tiny
things, but they meant a lot to Shinji.

     That day, when she had smiled at him. He could still remember
clearly how her face had lit up with it. The memory was one of his
warmest since he had come to Tokyo-3. It made him feel good about
himself, for having caused it. Hopeful, as well. If someone as alone as
her, seemingly so much more alone than he was, could find happiness, even
for just a moment...

     Shinji started, realizing he had been staring at her. His smile
dropped. It didn't help that Rei was staring back. His brain began to
shut down. "Er... Um..." 

     Rei was still standing there, looking at him. She looked slightly
annoyed. His eyes widened in alarm when he realized this wasn't likely to
change soon. He had forgotten why he had stopped her.

     "I ah... I..." His brain tried to recover from its embarrassment.
 "I wanted to
say..."  His hand patted his pocket. There
was something in it. "Wanted to give you..."  He pulled a folded
piece of thick paper out of his pocket. He looked at it, blankly.
     
     Breaking eye contact seemed to revive his brain somewhat. 

     "Ah, I... I'm having a birthday party tomorrow..." he began.
"tomorrow is my birthday," he added, cringing as he said it. He held out
the card to her. "I want you to come to my birthday party," he finished
with more confidence.

     She took the card and examined it. "A birthday party?"

     "Yes! Can you come?" he asked, remembering with some trepidation her
frequent absences.

     She looked up at him, then back at the card. "I will come."

     "Great!" he said, smiling again. With that he left in the direction
of the apartment.

     It would have been easier to give it to her in class, when he had
given everyone else their invitations. He couldn't do that though. People
would get the wrong idea. They always did. It seemed like every time he
talked to her, someone would whisper about it. Maybe because he was the
only one who ever did.

     No, this was definitely the best way.

--

     The night of the party Shinji stood in the doorway, greeting the
guests. 

     "Hey, Shinji!"

     "Hey, Touji!" he smiled as his friend entered the apartment with a
small box in his hand. "Where's the Class Rep?"

     "Why the hell should I know that?" Touji answered angrily.

     "Okay, just asking," Shinji replied, trying to hold in his mirth.
"You can put it over there," he said gesturing toward a growing pile of
gift-wrapped boxes.

     Touji said something as he left down the hall, but Shinji didn't
hear it. Standing in the doorway was Ayanami.

     "Hello, Ikari-kun," she said.

     "Hi, Ayanami." He smiled at her. Shinji noticed that her hands were
empty.  he thought, trying to keep his
disappointment from showing on his face. 

     "Eh... I have to greet the guests. Just go in and get comfortable."
She nodded and walked past him.

     "Hey, Kensuke! There's no Eva's in here, so you can put away the
camera..."

     After all the guests were in, Shinji stood around socializing. Being
the "guest of honor" meant that everyone wanted to talk with him. Kensuke
and Touji were of course by his side most of the night (which seemed to
annoy Hikari). Asuka was a little friendlier than normal, but of course
demanded his complete attention. Even people he didn't know very well but
had invited out of politeness were talking to him. 

     Which left him no time to talk to Ayanami. He looked away from his
largely one-sided conversation with Kensuke on the relative merits of
hand-held versus integrated weaponry for the Evas to find her.

     She was sitting in a corner on a hard folding chair, one of the
extras they had borrowed from a Nerv projection room. She was holding a
half-empty glass of punch and nibbling on a cracker. Her eyes met his as
soon as he looked her way. He smiled helplessly, then turned back to
answer Hikari's inquisition as to whether he was enjoying the party or
not.

     Opening presents was worse, because of course she didn't have one.
None of the gifts were very large; having so many birthdays in a row
would break any junior high student's bank. A couple manga, a gift
certificate for music that two people had gone in on, a shot glass, an
eight by eleven print of Unit 01 leaping over a hill (from Kensuke). The
whole time Ayanami didn't move from her chair in the corner. No one
seemed to notice, which was good.

     After that, the party reformed into smaller groups, which gave him a
moment to go over to her.

     "Hey, Ayanami," he said. 

     When she didn't answer, he became more uncomfortable. "Um... how are
you enjoying the party?" he asked, feeling stupid as he said it.

     "It is very loud," she said.

     Shinji couldn't help but smile, remembering making the same
observation himself to Misato.  "You
get used to it after a while."

     "I have not," she answered.

     "Ah, it takes a while." He grabbed another chair and sat down. "It
took me a while, anyway."

     Ayanami's look was a question.

     "Well, I didn't used to like parties either. But once I went to a
few, made some friends, I got used to the noise. Mostly I had just felt
left out."

     She seemed to consider this. She opened her mouth to speak, but
never got the chance.

     "Come here, stupid!" Asuka shouted, grabbing Shinji's arm and
pulling him off the chair. He looked back at Ayanami as he stumbled away
after the Second Child.

     The rest of the night he had been unable to go back there. Every
time he managed to glance over at the lonely corner, she was looking back
at him.

     At the end of the night, he was showing everyone out. Ayanami was
the last one to go. She stopped briefly in the doorway.

     "Ayanami... Thanks for coming... I'm... sorry," he said, apologizing
for something he wasn't sure of.

     "Goodbye," was her only response before she walked away.

--

     Shinji returned from his recollection.

     "No," Shinji said, "a party is definitely the wrong thing to do."

     "Oh, okay then," Misato said, sounding disappointed. "Well, what are
we going to do instead?"

     "I don't know," Shinji said. He felt bad, shooting down Misato's
idea without having any of his own.

     "We have to at least get her a present," Misato said
matter-of-factly. "Any suggestions?"

     Again Shinji had no answers. 

     "You two come up with something," Asuka declared, apparently annoyed
with the conversation. "I'm going to get my water then go to my room."
She turned away.

     Misato leaned back. "Hmm... Well, we have two days to think about
it. If you come up with anything, let me know. I'll do the same."

     "Uh... Okay," Shinji agreed.

     That settled, Misato went back to the onerous task of sifting
through a week's worth of papers. 

--

     "This is going to be good," Shinji said. Three days had passed. He
was sitting in the back seat of Misato's car, on their way to Ayanami's
apartment.

     "Was she in school today?" Misato asked, taking a turn at high
velocity.

     "Yes!" he said, unable to hold on for dear life with his hands
full.

     "Did she go home?"

     "I think so. And could you slow down? It's hard to hold on when you
drive like this!"

     In the rear-view mirror he saw her stick her tongue out at him.

     Earlier in the day, while he was at school, his cell phone had rang.
It had taken him a moment to realize what the unfamiliar sound was. When
he had picked it up, Misato's voice had answered.

     "Hey Shinji-kun! Remember how you were telling me that Rei's
apartment is all empty and that she's always alone?"

     "Yeah..." he'd answered.

     "Well, I had a great idea! Listen to this..."

     "Misato, that's so expensive!" he had said, quietly, to keep his
classmates from hearing.

     "Hey, do you think a party is cheap? You can go in with me. Ask
Asuka too."

     Shinji had to admit, it was a good idea. He held the present up in
front of him, and grinned. He couldn't wait to give it to her.

      

     The car lurched to a stop, nearly causing him to drop the gift.
"We're here!" Misato said. "Put it in the box and come on."

--

     Ayanami Rei entered her apartment, shutting the door behind her. She
was tired. School was as always uneventful and the lecture a repeat of
Second Impact horrors, but she didn't need the professor to keep her mind
occupied. In addition, she had gone into NERV early to meet with Dr.
Akagi. She had finished in time to attend school still, but the effects
of the tests were still lingering.

     She took off her shoes and walked into the bedroom. She took a
beaker off of her refrigerator, and went to the bathroom to fill it.
Returning to the refrigerator, she used the water to take her pills, one
from each bottle. 

     Finish her schoolwork, make a dinner of ramen, read some of the book
she had gotten from the library, and then sleep. Then another day would
follow much like this one, assuming no Angel attacks or new requirements
of her by the Commander.

     Laying on her bed, she had just begun to start her schoolwork when
there was a knock on the door.

     "Ayanami!" came a voice. Muffled, but clearly Ikari's.

     She got up and went to the door. She opened it.

     Standing there, with a huge smile on his face, was Shinji. Next to
him stood Katsuragi, also beaming.

     "Happy birthday, Ayanami Rei!" they yelled in unison.

     In his hands, Ikari was holding a large cardboard box, with holes in
the side and top. A red paper bow was taped to the top. In Misato's arms
were a small green bag and a larger one which was labeled "Puppy Chow".

     From the box came a scratching noise, and a small whimper.

     Rei frowned.

--
end part 1

first posted 6/8/1999
wyrm@engin.umich.edu
http://www.umich.edu/~wyrm/abp/fanfic.html

--
Thanks go to Daniel Snyder for providing inspiration and feedback, not to
mention good things to read while I was experiencing writer's block.