|May I Bud and Never Flower|
|Summary: Rei Ayanami makes strange requests of Shinn Asuka.|
It's actually been relatively quiet lately, on the Minerva. Nobody's tried to murder anybody else, the ship has stayed clear of many of the recent skirmishes with the various other groups that A-LAWS opposes; it's almost /too/ peaceful and quiet on the former ZAFT battleship.
Shinn Asuka's time lately has mostly been spent getting used to the new machine he's been assigned by the higher ups; for all that his GN-XIII was designed specifically to be piloted /by him/, it's still a pretty big change from the Impulse Gundam, especially since the equipment sets can't be changed on the fly. That's the sort of convenience that a guy misses, you know? On the other hand, the GN-XIII has a pretty big sword, and that's neat.
But something... Something has brought Shinn down to where his teammate, Rei Ayanami, has been assigned quarters on the ship. What could that something be?
FIFTEEN MINUTES AGO, ELSEWHERE ON THE MINERVA
"Look, Shinn," says Lunamaria Hawke, holding out a teal bundle towards the red-eyed Coordinator. "Just take them down to her! She's your teammate!"
Shinn stares at the bundle like it was made out of nuclear powered snakes, and then looks at Luna, horrified. "But... Why can't you do it?" he wonders, frantically. "This... This is..."
Lunamaria, who finds Rei to be enormously creepy, knows how to win this argument, though, as she turns on the pout and leans forward a bit. "/Please/, Shinn?" the magenta-haired girl says. "I'd be /really/ grateful..."
BACK TO NOW
Standing outside of Rei's room, Shinn mutters to himself as he hits a button on the console by the door, ringing the bell. "Ayanami!" he calls out. "Open up!" Is he going to announce why he's here, or just demand things? Taking a deep breath, the red-eyed youth finally gets to the point: "Luna wanted me to bring this down to you, they sent you her laundry by mistake!"
Shinn is faced with a door that does not move for about a minute and a half. She's in there, of course -- the ship's computer said so, and what reason would it have to lie? Maybe she's /ignoring/ him. Maybe she doesn't want to be seen. Maybe she fell over and broke her neck or got buried under stacks of old newspapers.
But then, after that prolonged tease, the door whisks open, and there's Rei. She looks a little different than the last time Shinn saw her -- hair's a little longer, clipped out of her face with golden A-LAWS pins, as if some effort was made to actually improve her appearance. For that matter, she appears to be wearing make-up, too, if not much of it. She's in her A-LAWS uniform, greatcoat and all. There's another long, silent moment where Rei stares up at the man, making eye contact, seeming to both register his presence and be completely ignorant of it in the same breath. Until she finally says: "Okay."
Turning around, Rei begins to walk back into her room. Lunamaria's laundry is indeed in a pile on her fastidiously made bed. Strangely, though, it doesn't seem quite as out of place as it really maybe should. This is because Rei's room looks like it was decorated by Excellen Browning or something. Posters of Gundam magical girl games and puppies and moonscapes. Paper hearts and stars on string garlands. Stuffed animals. And overpowering everything, several hundred origami cranes, in all manner of colors. There has to be at least seven hundred of the things, filling every available space, including patches of floor. Some are strung along and hanging from walls; some are just in haphazard piles.
What Shinn Asuka leans in the aftermath of Rei's door opening is that, apparently, he has stepped through time and space into an alternate universe.
He notices the subtle changes in Rei's appearance, but he isn't sure what to make of them beyond 'vaguely unsettling differences', and a wonder at the back of his thoughts as to why she suddenly seems to care about her appearance. A slight frown pulls at Shinn's mouth as he follows Rei into her room, glancing around with an increasingly bewildered expression at the contents of the walls, which look like someone with a /very particular/ view of what a teenaged girl should like snuck in to redecorate while Ayanami was away. He had her pegged as more spartan than this, all things considered.
Stepping carefully to avoid tripping over or otherwise interfering with the piles of origami cranes there, Shinn picks his way towards the bed. "What... What the hell is with the posters and crap? You didn't let Luna trick you into letting her decorate your room for you, did you?" Lance-2 wonders; he, naturally, assumes some sort of Mean Girls prankery is going on here at some level. "And the origami!" the Coordinator continues. "It's like I wandered into a serial killer's apartment!"
Rei doesn't face Shinn as he enters, surveys, speaks. She's looking away, off toward -- well, what /is/ she looking at? By all impressions, 'a corner or something.' Perhaps she is lost in thought. Perhaps she just doesn't want Shinn around.
When he makes the serial killer comment, though, something twigs in Rei's brain. Her shoulders jerk, as if reflexively, like she'd been poked in the back of the neck by some invisible force. She looks back, over her shoulder, staring at Shinn again. Her stare isn't the same as it was at the door -- now, it's insistent. There is very clearly a purpose behind her looking at him. But this is Rei Ayanami, so don't expect a clue.
"Oh," Rei finally replies, flatly, as if Shinn had told her that her room reminded him of something with walls and a floor and a ceiling and it looks like a giant Tylenol. Rei walks over to her bed -- she seems to have memorized the placement of all of the cranes, or something, because every step is both casual and mechanical, requiring no glances down to check -- and begins scooping Lunamaria's laundry into a handy laundry sack, with a big 'L' printed on it the way money sacks have dollar signs. Welcome to the future.
The sudden, intent look from Rei takes Shinn offguard; he jerks back a bit, and wears his surprise openly on his face. Rei doesn't seem like the sort of person to /not/ just take things passively, so her reaction to his /clearly/ totally (probably) joking serial killer comment both shocks and alarms him.
What if she /is/ a serial killer? Uh oh.
"Really, what's the deal?" Shinn wonders, deciding that the best solution is to pretend it never happened in the first place; apologising is not really a part of his skill set. "Origami is like... A little kid hobby. Or maybe an old lady one, like knitting." The former ZAFT Red watches as Rei stuffs Lunamaria's misdirected laundry into a totally futurisitic laundry bag, and he thinks. There's something about the origami cranes thing that seems familiar to him. What was it?
After a pause, Shinn opens his mouth and suddenly inhales a breath, which telegraphs his exclamation of: "Oh! I get it!" the Coordinator says. "You're making a wish, aren't you?"
Again, Shinn has to wait for his reply, until every last sock is accounted for and the bag is tied and knotted and set back on the bed, where it sags. Rei is slow to look back at Shinn, but when she does, there's a muted melancholy around her. Her expression hasn't /changed/, but something behind it has. She just seems -- tired, all of a sudden. Tired and sad. Meanwhile, behind her, the poster for Gundam Fight Dream Girl X: Love Under the Battlefield beams positively. It's a contrast for sure.
"Asuk--" Rei starts to say, then visibly grimaces for a moment, as if her mouth had suddenly filled with an awful taste.
"Lance-2." Rei quickly restores the blank expression to her face, but that sad air around her lingers. She stands straight -- her posture is perfect, and now that she's more or less in shape, she /does/ have a faint bit more physical presence, even if the uniform hides the specifics of why. "May I ask you a favor?"
Her question is said quietly, as if reverent, or ashamed.
See, this is the problem with some people having similar names to other people. Just as Shinn can't refer to Rei as Rei because Rey is Rey, and his need to draw lines and borders between things so he knows where everything is, and on what exact level of 'Us vs. Them' he's working on at any given time... Rei doubtlessly doesn't want to associate Lance-2 with a certain ginger trollop.
Which Shinn would frankly be grateful for, if he knew anything about that situation.
The subtle changes in Rei don't go unnoticed, although Shinn's realisation of them happens at a subconscious level; he tilts his head slightly to one side as Rei starts to address him by name and then grimaces - a visible expression! - and then changes her mind, switching to his callsign.
"Uhhh," Shinn starts, all but dumbfounded by this unexpected question and the strange tone in which it's delivered. "...Sure?"
If Rei is happy that Shinn has agreed to at least hear her out, it doesn't show, on any level. Instead, what shows is... well, nothing. It's Rei, after all. The teenager sits down on her bed, pushing the laundry bag out of the way casually. "Please sit next to me," she says. Her Japanese accent skews her English in weird directions. Her voice is so quiet, too. But the words are simple and direct, even if there's a total lack of authority in the request, as if she expects Shinn to reply 'fuck off' or something.
Rei looks down at her lap. Her hands rest there, and with one fingertip, she grazes the center of her palm. On her pale, ghostly skin, pink scars stand out far more than they should -- and the ones on her hand match up frighteningly well. Centered on each appendage are scars on the front and back, as if she'd had... well, something stuck /through/ them.
"Please talk to me," Rei finally says, after a long moment. She sounds even more pathetic. "I don't care what about. Just..." Rei's eyes close, and her head droops slightly. "Just talk to me."
Shinn watches Rei with an expression that's settled in comfortably between 'confusion' and 'existential terror', his lurid red eyes following her movements as she sits down on the bed and rests her hands in her lap. From any other person, in any other situation, it would be a perfectly normal posture. Here, now, and from Rei Ayanami, it is rendered into something completely surreal. Particularly given the nature of her request. "W-what the hell...?" Shinn stammers in surprise, an immediate gut reaction to what Rei asks him to do. She wants him to /what/? That's weird. That is super weird. He looks back over his shoulder for a second towards the door, giving serious consideration to just, you know... Leaving. Straight up.
Shinn Asuka isn't a person who lacks sympathy for others, particularly as he's already filed Rei Ayanami away under the list of people who need his protection; he can't ignore that pathetic look, the obvious wretched feeling she seems to be radiating right now. So, after a few seconds of standing there like an idiot, Shinn lets out an extremely put upon, growling sigh, and moves the rest of the way over to the bed before sitting down beside Rei.
"Fine," Shinn says, as if this were a huge thing to ask of him and Rei were lucky he was willing to indulge her at all. "Don't go getting any funny ideas, though. I'm just doing this because I haven't got anything better to do." What the hell is he going to talk to her about, though? Augh. He sets down Rei's laundry, and rubs his hands on the legs of his uniform pants, nervously. "Um... I miss my old uniform," Shinn says, picking the first thing that comes to mind. "My red ZAFT one. I worked really hard at the academy to earn that, you know? And then we join A-LAWS and suddenly everybody's got the same uniforms. It's like... I dunno, like all that work didn't count for anything..."
Rei's eyes stay closed. She doesn't look at Shinn as he speaks. That she's inconveniencing him, or that he's just taking pity on her -- neither seems to resonate through the gloom she's cloaked in. This is Rei at, perhaps, her most myopic. Usually she makes /some/ attempt to halfway interact with the rest of the world. Right now, though, she just sits and listens, not moving.
Rei's unresponsivness, of course, offers no clue whether or not she's even /interested/ in Shinn's uniform. Probably not, though.
Especially since she breaks in before he can go much further. Maybe it's the phrase 'didn't count for anything' that sets her off. Or maybe it's just because Shinn sounds so much like--
"If..." Rei begins, before hesitating. "If things had worked out differently... do you think we could have been friends?" Still not looking over. Still not opening her eyes.
Most myopic? Maybe. Most incredibly creepy seems pretty likely, too.
Shinn, attempting to comply with his teammate's request, though, is just talking. It's something that he realises probably doesn't have any significance to anyone else, but to him... To him, it represents something hugely important, in a way he can't even entirely relate to another person. Rei's lack of even seeming to listen causes Shinn to get steadily more and more weirded out by this entire situation, but luckily, Rei breaks in with another question!
Which has nothing at all to do with anything, and that certainly doesn't make things even freakier.
"/Uh/," Shinn says, brought up short by Rei's nonsequitur question. What the holy hell is she talking about? "...Sure, yeah, Ayanami. I bet we could've if... Things had worked out... Differently."
His eyes flit towards the door again, but now it seems impossibly distant.
Rei's eyes stay shut. Her hands stay in her lap, but her fingers curl inward, the tips of the middle two pressing against the scars on her palms. Her breathing seems to have changed speed -- or at least timbre. That her breathing is noticeable at all is proof enough of this.
An uncomfortable pause follows Shinn's answer, during which Rei's head dips a bit lower. The silence isn't very long, but it's long enough.
"I just wanted to tell you I'm sorry," Rei finally says, her voice contaminated with traces of emotion. They're vague and ill-formed traces, but the sadness that drives them is clear nonetheless. Just as Shinn's uniform was something hugely important whose significance was lost on Rei, Rei's words are hugely important to her, even if they may not make any sense to any one else. "I'm sorry for everything I did to you... I know it doesn't make it... better. I don't want you to forgive me. I hope you never do."
Rei's hands come up while her head tips down. Her palms cover her face. Her fingers threaten to undo her clipped-apart bangs. "I'm so sorry, Leo."
Oh god, this just gets weirder and weirder.
As the silence stretches out, brief though it may be, Shinn starts to wonder if somehow his response - which at the time seemed the only suitable one to a completely surreal question - was the wrong one to give. Anyone looking right at him would see that he remains confused, apprehensive and horrified, but of course, Rei isn't looking at him. It's questionable if she even realises that he's there, on a deeper level, or if she's just talking about what /she/ needs to talk about, just the same as him with the uniform.
And then, shit gets real.
Rei's apology is met with Shinn slowly starting to lean away from her on the bed, scooting over just a little bit to put more room between himself and the strange Evangelion pilot. It's a weird sort of apology too, even if its very existence didn't make any sense in the first place - she's never done anything to Shinn to apologise for, that he can think of - by her insistence that he /not/ forgive her. That's like, the opposite of the purpose of an apology, Shinn would think.
And then... And /then/.
"Uh," Shinn says, brow furrowing as he leans towards Rei. "Ayanami, d'you need to go to the infirmary or something? I'm not Stenbuck, I'm Shinn. Shinn Asuka, remember?"
'I'm not Stenbuck.'
That causes Rei's head to snap upward. Shinn's voice is so like his. But that dissonance that comes from the denial -- it has the effect of shoving Rei back into the real world, out of her dreams. "I--" she starts to say, in a rare flustered moment. Her eyes are wide and her expression is generally stunned -- she looks like what happens if you punch a cow.
Rei sits there, frozen like this, staring over at Shinn, for a long, long moment, before pivoting at the waist and grabbing the bag of Lunamaria's laundry. "Here," she says, her voice agitated underneath the veneer of ice -- like being able to see dark shapes through a frosted window.
"You should go." If Rei's voice was passive and weak before, now it's hardened into a tone that suggests that this is not a mere suggestion.
The weird part is that when Rei looks at him with that stunned expression, Shinn's features nearly mirror it exactly; in his case, of course, it's less of the confusion of being brought back to reality than it is the confusion of having no idea what the hell is going on around you in the first place. Seriously, A-LAWS gave him a weird team.
By the time Rei moves to hand him the laundry, Shinn is already getting to his feet, as if he'd already known what to do in the first place; he does, apparently, have enough understanding of normal social situations to see where this is going, as abnormal a situation as it might be. So, he takes the offered laundry bag, careful not to accidentally brush hands against the Evangelion pilot's.
"Yeah, no kidding," he agrees with the sentiment that he should go, and with nary a pause or moment of hesitation, he picks his way back out of the room. There's a last glance - worried, maybe; it's hard to tell - over his shoulder towards Rei once he reaches the door, but a moment after that the Coordinator vanishes back out into the hallway.
Next time, Lunamaria Hawke can get her own damn laundry.