-- SPOILER ALERT - The following fanfiction contains spoilers. It is advised that you see the entire series before reading this fic. -- This fan fiction is adapted from Neon Genesis Evangelion, produced by Gainax. All characters thereof are the sole property of Gainax, and no claim on them is made by this author. -- Previous parts can be found at: http://www.umich.edu/~wyrm/abp/fanfic.html Rei's Birthday Present, part 2 by Chris Burke -- Shinji stood in front of the open door to Rei's apartment. Next to him stood Misato. In the doorway was Rei. She was looking at the large cardboard box in Shinji's arms, her mouth turned down in the faintest of frowns. "Um... Can we come in?" Shinji asked, nervously. He had many expectations when he knocked on the door, but Rei's current expression was not one of them. Rei stepped aside to let them pass. They walked past her and into the bedroom. Shinji set the box down in the center of the room, and turned to smile at Rei who came into the room after them. "This is her room? What a dump." Misato's muttered comment caused Shinji's smile to twitch. He hoped Rei didn't hear. She didn't appear to, though Shinji had to admit that didn't mean much. After a moments silence punctuated by the sounds of construction, she spoke. "What is this?" she asked, her mouth turned down slightly. "We brought you a present," Shinji said, gesturing at the box at his feet. "A present?" She looked down at the box, which made another whimpering sound. Her mouth straightened. "A birthday present," Misato said, coming to stand next to Shinji. "For you birthday," she said when Rei didn't respond. This statement too was met with silence. "Hello, Rei? Today is your birthday?" Misato said, incredulous. "My... birthday?" Rei said quietly. Shinji thought he heard an odd tone in her voice, but didn't know what it meant.
Shinji couldn't believe it. Surely his father would have... "Just open the box, Rei," Misato said tersely, interrupting Shinji's thoughts. Obediently, Rei stepped forward and knelt in front of the box. Shinji quickly sat down cross-legged nearby, between Rei and Misato. He grinned and leaned forward in anticipation as she lifted the lid. Rei looked into the box. Inside was a small dog, looking back up at her with wide brown eyes. From head to tail it was less than a foot long, most of that being taken up by its narrow body. Its legs were stubby even in relation to its small frame. Its head, too large for the small body, was topped with large pointed ears. That and the narrow muzzle lended a fox-like appearance. Its short fur was brown and white in large patches. The puppy wagged its tail, and barked. Rei turned a questioning look on Shinji. "It's your present, Rei," he said, trying to reassure her with his smile. "It's a corgi," he added, even though the word held little meaning for him. Rei looked at him, then at the bag of dog food at Misato's feet, then back at the dog. "I am to care for it, then?" The frown had returned. "Geeze, Rei, I'm not ordering you to," Misato said. She sat down on the floor, crossing her legs in front of her. "We just thought you'd like a pet. You know, someone to keep you company. It's so gloomy here." She gestured to encompass the entire apartment. Rei looked down at the dog, as though not quite sure what to do with it. The puppy, however, had its own ideas. It bunched up its long body and short legs, and leapt out of the box onto Rei's lap. Without hesitation it leaped again towards the pale girl's face. Reflexively Rei leaned back away from the canine projectile. Already off balance, the impact of the puppy's small mass against her chest was enough to send her over backward. She landed with a flop, knees in the air, dog perched on her chest and licking her face with vigor. Misato burst out laughing. Shinji joined her, and turned his head to avoid seeing something he shouldn't. The sound reflected off the bare walls, brightening the atmosphere of the otherwise dark room. "Rei, I think she likes you!" Misato laughed. At the sound of Misato's voice the dog looked up. It hopped off Rei and bounded over to Misato. "Oh no you don't!" Misato said cheerfully, catching the pup when it leapt up toward her face. She held it in one hand and stroked it with the other. "Such a cute puppy!" Rei sat up and wiped her face with the back of her hand. Shinji looked over at her, still chuckling. He answered her confused expression with a shrug. He turned back to Misato, who was struggling to hold the wiggling puppy. "Hey, let me hold her." Misato handed the puppy over to Shinji, who took it in both hands. He held it up to his face and let it lick him. He laughed at the tickling sensation and coo-ed "Good dog." He set it down on his lap and stroked its back. "Hey," Misato said with a girlish giggle, "you're keeping her from her mother." "Right," Shinji said, and held it out at arms length for Rei. She looked at it warily, as though it may have been poisonous. "Go on, take it," he encouraged. Hesitantly she reached out. At Shinji's nod of approval, she grabbed the pup from his hands. It wriggled in her grasp, and to keep from dropping it she pulled it up against her. Still for not a moment, it rolled over and stood up on her arms. This time she didn't back away when it's face approached hers. It began to lick her face. Misato leaned back on her hands, laughing again. "Well, while you two get to know each other... Shinji, why don't you show her what else we got." "Okay," he said, and took hold of the smaller bag. "There's the food, of course. Here's a chew toy," he said, pulling out a smooth white bone-shaped toy. "Water and food dishes, leash, another chew toy." Rei watched over the head of the dog as Shinji added a green rubber frog to the pile. It squeaked when he set it down. "A book, collar, dog tag, ball, and... another chew toy?" He raised an eyebrow at the yellow rubber duck, but set it down with the other items. The dog, apparently satisfied with the coating of slobber on Rei's white skin, jumped down off her arms. It scampered over to the pile and grabbed the rubber frog in its teeth. It padded back to Rei, and climbed onto her lap. "We got a license," Misato said, "and she's already had all her shots. So you don't need to worry about that." She glanced around the room, as though looking for something. Rei nodded. The animal in her lap chewed on the frog enthusiastically. She kept her hands at her sides, away from it. "Just to warn you -- she had just started house training when we got her. So you will have to handle that." Misato tapped her chin. "That's in the book, right Shinji-kun?" "Ah... Yes, I think so," he answered. "Good. She has no other training yet either. She's three months old, though, and this breed is supposed to be easy to train, so that's no problem." Misato shifted uncomfortably. "Ah... Ayanami?" Shinji said concernedly. "What are you going to do with it while you are at school?" Misato answered for her. "She'll have to leave it here alone. So you'd better get on that house-training, or you'll have a mess, Rei." Shinji looked at Misato, then at Rei and the dog. Taking care of a dog sounded like a lot of work. He began to suspect that what was supposed to be a gift was actually just a burden. He didn't want to place any more burdens on Rei. "Ah... Ayanami... are you...?" He tried to find a voice for his concerns. "Are you up to all this? I mean, are you sure you can handle it?" "I will," she answered. "Of course she can, Shin-kun," Misato said, waving her hand. "Taking care of a puppy isn't that hard." This didn't reassure Shinji much. He didn't think Rei knew what was involved. With her treating it like an assignment, she would agree to it regardless. He was not sure if Misato really knew much about taking care of dogs, either. Pen Pen didn't count, given the degree of self-sufficiency the penguin showed. "Rei," Misato said, closing her eyes and putting her fingertips to her temple, "you can touch her, you know. She isn't going to bite, as long as you are nice to her." Slowly Rei placed one of her hands on the dog's back. As soon as she touched it, the dog dropped its chew toy and twisted around to lick her hand. She brought up her other hand and began to lightly stroke the animal's fur. At the sight, Shinji felt his spirits rise. He was reminded of why he had thought this was the perfect gift for the quiet girl, and his worries vanished. Even if taking care of the puppy was a burden, wouldn't that be offset by what was happening right now? He believed -- had to believe -- that they were doing the right thing. Conviction restored, Shinji watched Rei in silence. The repetitive clanging of a nearby pile-driver filled the small apartment. The metallic, rhythmic cacophony set the peaceful image of a small girl petting a puppy into sharper relief for Shinji, making it seem more precious. He wanted to stay here, to watch this first contact for hours. "Well!" Misato's voice cut sharply into Shinji's nearly meditative state. "We'd better get going, don't you think, Shinji?" She stood up abruptly. "Ah... I guess so." It hadn't really been a question. He wasn't quite sure why she wanted to leave so suddenly, but he got up regardless. "Have fun with your new friend, Rei," Misato said as she passed by the girl without looking at her. Shinji looked from Misato's retreating back down to Rei. She looked up at him. "Ah... I'll see you in school tomorrow," he said. Ayanami's gaze dropped back down to her lap, where the puppy was now lying still under her touch, eyes half closed. "Goodbye, Ikari-kun." Seeing Shinji coming, Misato turned from where she had been waiting to open the apartment door. She ushered Shinji out, and was about to follow when she hesitated. With one hand on the door, she called back into the room. "Rei?" "Yes, sir?" the soft answer came. "Your last synch test showed you up three and a half points. That's outstanding, Rei. Keep up the good work." "Yes, sir." Misato sighed in exasperation. She stepped out of the apartment, and shut the door behind her. "Let's go, Shinji," she said, and began walking briskly down the hallway. Shinji followed after a moments hesitation, and had to run to catch up. They passed the elevator, which was out of order as it had been the last time Shinji had been there months ago. "Three and a half? That's pretty good," he said conversationally. Shinji looked up at Misato's hard-set jaw before she started down the stairwell, taking the steps two at a time. They had nearly descended all four floors when Shinji called out "Misato-san!" He was winded from keeping up with his speeding guardian. "What, Shinji-kun?" she said over her shoulder, not slowing down. He followed her down the hallway on the ground floor and out the front door into the waning afternoon sunlight. "Misato, I'm sure..." He paused to catch his breath while Misato walked around her car which was parked in front of the building. She opened the door and got in. Shinji sat down after Misato opened the door for him. "I'm sure Rei meant to thank you. She was just kinda surprised that's all." "What?" Misato said, starting the car and tearing away from the derelict building. "Oh, I don't really care about that." "You don't?" "No, not at all. I mean, this is Rei we're talking about, right?" Shinji looked over at her, noticed her expression had softened. "I didn't do it for thanks. I did it because you thought it was the right thing to do, and partly because it makes me feel better." "Oh... You left so suddenly, and you looked kinda upset... I thought..." "Oh, no." Misato laughed. "I just had to get out of there before I got a migraine. The noise was driving me crazy! Is it always like that?" "I've only been there once before!" Shinji said defensively. "But... it was like that last time, too." "How can she stand it?" Shinji shrugged. "So, do you think she liked her present?" He sighed. "No... Not yet anyway. It will probably take her a while." He looked out the window at the tall white buildings of Tokyo-3, gleaming orange as the sun began to fall. "But I'm sure someday she'll be really happy we got her that puppy." Misato was satisfied with the answer and fell silent. Shinji let himself drift off into a daydream, in which a smiling Rei told him how grateful she was for their gift, how happy she was not to be alone any longer. He was startled out of his reverie when he heard Misato mutter distantly: "What an awful place to wake up with a hangover." -- When Rei heard the door to her apartment close, she let out a nearly inaudible sigh. The unnoticed tension in her shoulders eased. The ordeal was over, and she was alone again. Except she was not. She looked down, and noticed as if for the first time her hand petting the dog. Startled, she moved her hand away. She looked at her hand, wondering what had possessed it. She could still feel the fine texture of the fur lingering on her fingertips. she rationalized. Satisfied for the moment, she considered the animal, which had fallen asleep on her lap. Here, completely unexpected, was a change in her life. This did not alarm her. Change was inevitable, and must be dealt with when it came. She was not yet sure how large a change the animal represented. Most likely not as large as when she had moved into the apartment and started going to school. Not as large as when the Eva project had entered its main phase. Not as large as Ikari-kun... But that was a different kind of change. Here instead was a change in responsibility, and her daily routine. No more. Responsibility. Rei was only directly responsible for her own well being, which was fairly simple. A monotonous task, really, but it was required of her, so she did it without complaint. Now she was responsible for the dog as well. Katsuragi had said that it was not an order, but clearly she was expected to care for the animal. Rei accepted the task with a mental shrug. She would do it, of course. Except that she had no idea how. She looked to her side at the pile of things Misato and Shinji had brought along with the dog, hoping for some aid. she thought with relief. She reached to pick the book up without disturbing the puppy. The thin book was entitled "Your Puppy and You: A Practical Guide". The cover featured a pencil sketch of a child hugging a small dog to his chest. She opened the book, and scanned the contents. She skipped the chapters "Choosing the Right Breed" and "Selecting a Puppy" as clearly irrelevant to her situation, and opened the book to "Care and Feeding". Several paragraphs into the chapter, Rei was confused. According to the book, puppies required large amounts of food to grow, but smaller breeds required less food. Smaller than what? Less food than what? How much less? The answers were not there. The only solid information she could extract was that there should be three meals a day, with feedings just before her own meals if possible. Rei briefly noted the pain in her stomach. It was time for her to eat, which by the book's logic made it time to feed the dog as well. She set down the book, and then picked the dog up off her lap and set it down beside her. The dog stood up and yawned. It looked up at her and wagged it's tail. Rei attempted to stand, and nearly fell over in the attempt. Her legs were completely numb. She waited for sensation to return, which it did, painfully. Standing solidly now on still tingling legs, she picked up the pair of bowls and set them in a corner. She then studied the bag of food. The bag was labled, in large letters, as having more meat content than competing brands. While Rei was herself a vegetarian, she had no problem with others eating meat. If meat was what dogs ate, then so be it. What she did have a problem with was the smell of meat, which she found highly unpleasant. She hoped the smell of the dog food would be bearable. When she opened the bag, the dog began to bark excitedly and run around her legs. She held the bag open, and gave an experimental sniff. The scent was unlike anything she had smelled before; not pleasant, but also not at all like meat. She nodded in satisfaction. On the back of the bag was a small chart containing recommended servings based upon the weight of the puppy. This was still useless as Rei did not have a method of weighing the dog. She decided that too much food was better than too little, until she learned different, and filled the bowl. As soon as she set it down the puppy dove into the bowl. Rei filled the other bowl with water and set it down beside the first. She then went to prepare her own dinner. Heating her ramen noodles did not take long. She took a seat on the bed and began to eat her noodles just as the dog finished eating. It had left about a quarter of the bowl un-eaten, and was now was lapping water from the other bowl. Rei noted the amount of food left for future reference. Rei thought, and grabbed another mouthful of ramen with her chop sticks. The dog turned away from the water bowl. It wandered around the room with it's nose to the ground, stopping to sniff at a bed post, and near her dresser. Rei watched it as she chewed. Eventually it stopped in the far corner. It turned around, looked directly at Rei, and squatted on its haunches. A moment later it stood and scampered away happily, leaving behind a small puddle. -- Misato emerged from her bedroom. She had on her jean shorts and yellow tank top, and had her hair pulled back. She stretched, glad to be out of her uniform and ready to relax. she thought, and headed for the kitchen with a purposeful stride. In the kitchen, Asuka was sitting at the table, reading a magazine. She didn't look up when Misato walked past to the refrigerator. "So, how did it go?" she asked. "Oh, all right, I think," Misato replied, opening the refrigerator. She grabbed a can of Yebisu, not noticing the already open can behind the container of orange juice. Asuka turned a page. "I can't believe you spent so much money on Wonder Girl." "Oh it wasn't that much," Misato answered, closing the refrigerator. "The woman selling the puppies was pretty desperate to get rid of them before they got too old. Seems with the current situation, no one has time for a pet. She gave us a lot of stuff for free, too." She cracked open the beer. "Besides, I spent a lot on Shinji's and your birthdays." "Yeah, but you're our guardian," Asuka replied. Misato stopped with the lip of the can millimeters from her mouth. "Oh, so because I'm your guardian I have to throw you a big party?" "You know what I meant!" Settling back against the refrigerator door, Misato took a long drink. She let out a long and energetic whoop. Asuka tapped her finger in irritation until the last echoes faded. "Well, now that that's done..." Shinji walked into the room. "What's going on?" "We were just talking about your trip to First Child's," Asuka said, "until our guardian decided to let the world know she was drinking." "Oh." Shinji kept his voice flat through substantial effort. "I thought maybe Misato had put her face down on the hot stove." "Are you stupid?" Asuka retorted, but with evident humor. "She makes that noise so much, I'd think you'd be used to it by now." "But it _sounds_ like she's in pain," Shinji explained, his face curling into a grin. "I can't help but worry that maybe this time she really is." "It's the woman who cried wolf," Asuka said. "If she does put her face down on the stove, we can't be blamed. 'Oh, Misato's just drinking again,' we'll say." Shinji snickered. Misato stared at them with narrowed eyes. she thought, nursing her beer, Silence settled on the kitchen. Shinji fidgeted. By way of making conversation, he said "So, Asuka... Why didn't you want to go in with us on Ayanami's present?" Asuka slapped her magazine shut. "Because I think it's a stupid idea, that's why!" "Come on, Asuka, it's a good idea," Shinji protested. "She's always alone, and this will give her some company." "How do you know she wants company?" Asuka shot back. "Regardless, by giving First Child that dog you've sentenced it to death." "She can take care of a puppy! It's not like she won't feed it," Shinji replied angrily. Asuka shook her head. "Maybe she could keep it from starving, if she had an instruction book. But a puppy needs more than food. It needs something it'll never get from Wonder Girl -- love." Shinji stared at her. She stormed on. "I bet when you gave it to her she didn't even pet it unless you told her to." When Shinji lowered his eyes, she smirked. "I knew it. There's no hope." "But..." Shinji started, but had nothing to say. "I don't know, Asuka" Misato interjected. "The dog obviously liked Rei." "So does Shinji, but you don't see her showering _him_ with affection." Shinji's only response was to turn bright red. Misato continued to drink. "I'll have no part in putting a dog into a loveless home," Asuka said with finality. She opened her magazine and flipped idly through it. "Besides," she said offhand, eyes on a full-page advertisement, "it's not like she got _me_ anything for _my_ birthday." "Ah ha," Misato said. Asuka glared at her askance. "Asuka, I told you, she didn't know she was supposed to," Shinji said. "Humph." Asuka turned the page in the magazine. "That's no excuse. She should have figured it out from your party. Which reminds me that she didn't even come to mine." "You invited her?" Misato said. She shook the beer can, felt its emptiness. she told herself, glumly. "Of course!" Asuka said. "I had to invite my fellow pilots, no matter how weird." She looked pointedly at Shinji. "Gee, I can't imagine why Ayanami didn't come to your party," Shinji said sardonicly. Asuka's eyes narrowed briefly, then she tossed her head. "It's your fault. Your party was so boring, and she didn't realize mine would be better." Shinji grumbled but didn't respond. Asuka flashed him a triumphant grin, mentally putting a tick mark under her name. "Well, Asuka," Misato said, setting her empty can down on the counter, "it's too late for you to go in on the puppy anyway. You could still get her a gift if you wanted, but you don't have to." With that she went to the living room to relax on the couch. "I'll be in my room." Shinji walked out of the kitchen. Asuka stood up. "Fine. I'm starting dinner now, so don't get too comfortable." Alone now, Asuka went to the refrigerator and opened it. Casting a glance at the living room, she grabbed the open, mostly full can of Yebisu. There were many things about Japan that Asuka had a little trouble getting used to. Not having beer was one of them. "When in Rome" had been Misato's take on the issue of the ludicrous drinking age law, but that was not a cliche Asuka put much stock in. She wasn't sneaking, of course. Drinking beer was her right, and she would exercise it when and where she chose. It was just more convenient to avoid an argument over the issue. For this reason it was fortunate that Misato didn't keep track of her beer supply very well. Nevertheless, an open, partly finished can would raise suspicion. Finishing it was out of the question. Yebisu, it turned out, was not much to Asuka's liking. In fact, she hated it. She emptied the can into the sink. Asuka looked back into the living room to make sure she wasn't being watched. Her mind was drawn to the last thing Misato had said to her. she thought, She set the empty can along side the others, and then began to prepare dinner. -- Ayanami Rei was exhausted. She had already been fatigued when she had come home from school. The unexpected arrival of two visitors had only exacerbated matters. Dealing with people was always a draining experience for Rei. Even more with Ikari-kun. Then there was the dog. Rei hastily consulted the book in response to the dog's sudden release. The book made it clear that cleaning up the mess was imperative, lest the dog take to going there all of the time. She didn't have the recommended cleaners, and so improvised with dish soap. That done, she then went to find some newspaper. Normally there were papers by the front of the apartment building, left there for the occupants and never claimed. This time was no exception, and she returned to her room with an armful. She laid out a sheet where the dog had gone before, in case it did decide to keep using that spot. Next Rei lay down on the bed to do her much-delayed schoolwork. By the time she finished the work, it was past the time when she was normally asleep. She sat up on the edge of her bed and set the schoolwork aside. Now that all practical concerns were accounted for, she could afford some time for introspection. The dog had kept itself occupied while she did her homework by wandering around the room, sniffing at everything. Now it found the end of a used bandage hanging out of a cardboard box, and grabbed it in its teeth. It ran across the room, dragging the blood-stained cloth behind it. Rei studied the playing animal. The animal which was her present. she thought. While she knew the concept, she had never thought of it applying to her. Commander Ikari had never mentioned her birthday before. The puppy caught Rei's stare. It dropped the bandage and ran to her. It stood with its small front paws on her shin, looking up at her and tail wagging furiously. Rei looked down at it, puzzled. It jumped up to her knees, and fell back down, tail still wagging. Thinking she understood what it wanted, she reached down and picked it up, then set it down on her lap. It jumped up, and its nose touched Rei's. Then it lay down in her lap, panting. It looked up at her expectantly. Rei brought her hand halfway up toward it, then stopped. Earlier she had startled herself by petting it, yet she had been about to touch it again. It had not been an entirely unpleasant sensation, however. Perhaps she could find out why she felt the impulse. Thus Rei, purely in the interest of discovery, pet the dog. The puppy's tail, which had been swaying back and forth peacefully, beat furiously in response to Rei's touch. She took this to mean that the dog, at least, approved. She rubbed its back lightly. The dog's fur was soft and smooth. Her fingertips tingled. The dog radiated heat into her palm and lap. Rei yawned. She remembered the gifts others had brought to Ikari-kun's party. The dog sighed; its back moved under her hand with the motion of its breath. she thought, stroking it. The dog rolled over, so her hand rubbed its stomach. Rei stopped, yawned again. She picked up the puppy and set it down on the floor. It whined questioningly. Rei ignored it, and began to undress. It was late, she had to get up early again the next morning, and she was obviously too tired to think clearly. Rei slid under the bed sheet, and reached up to turn off the fluorescent lamp. The room was lit palely by moonlight through the window. Rei closed her eyes. She focused on her breathing, attempting to relax her mind. Over the sound of the machinery that receded at night but never ended she heard quiet whimpering. She didn't respond, intent on getting the rest she needed. The whimpering stopped, and was replaced with the clicking of claws on the bare floor. Then scratching noises, near her head, and a yip. She opened her eyes and looked over just in time to see the puppy's head vanish below the edge of the bed. The clicking noise came again, then the dog appeared, front paws just clearing the bed. It scrabbled for purchase on the bed sheets, slipped, and fell. It landed with an audible thump, and whimpered loudly. Rei, thinking it may have injured itself, turned over and looked down past the edge of the bed. The dog was sitting, looking up morosely and whining. When it saw Rei, it stood up and wagged it's tail. It scampered away from the bed, turned, and charged. It leapt up and landed halfway on the bed. It kicked its hind legs until it was able to push itself up onto the bed. Rei rolled onto her back again. The puppy walked across the bed to her head. It licked her cheek for a moment, then stopped to yawn. It turned around in place several times, then curled itself up against the crook of her neck and closed its eyes. It sighed contentedly. She moved her hand up to rest on the puppy's back. Rei stared at the ceiling, her attempt to rest derailed by this new feeling. Soon, however, her eyelids became too heavy to hold open, and she drifted off to sleep. -- end part 2 -- first posted 7/27/1999 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.umich.edu/~wyrm/abp/fanfic.html --