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The Sixth Meal
Summary: Sympathy, failure, acceptance, cake.
Who: Rei Ayanami, Johnny Domino
When: 19 May NCA 120
Where: The Minerva, Space


THE MINERVA

SPACE

NOW

Rei Ayanami must be losing her mind.

The girl isn't bothered by anything around her as she moves through the corridors of the spaceship that's been her home for the past few months. Not the catcalls or the leers, certainly -- she glides past them as if they were happening in a different world. Normally, people aren't quite so ready to tease her to her face, but this isn't exactly a normal kind of day. What bothers Rei is something inside.

And yet, it's not what one would think -- or probably not what it should be. The last time she saw Johnny Domino, Bardiel had infected the Chimera, which used Rei's Evangelion -- which used /Rei/ -- as a meat-shield, forcing it to absorb a hellacious beating at the hands of its allies and friends. Rei begged and pleaded and nearly broke. But that's a fuzzy, dim memory -- a few snatches of imagery, like a dream that she's none too keen to put work into recalling. What matters, Rei figures, is that Johnny is alive. Fresher, more vivid in her mind: the bemused look on Johnny's face when he saw her room; the care he put into folding cranes for her (although she's long since been able to go back to folding her own); the way he made her laugh, something not even Leo ever managed -- granted, he was playing with a differently loaded deck, but still.

Rei thinks back to what Excellen said as she approaches Johnny Domino's door: "He's a pain-in-the-ass jerk," she noted, a moment before reaching over to touch Rei's cheek and try to console her, "with a way bigger heart than most people give 'im credit for." Rei buttons down a tiny smile. She has an image to upload, in her own eyes if nothing else. Still, the next words Excellen said resonate even more: "And I know he's very fond of you."

Rei returned from Earth this morning, having dragged the blondest of her various mentor figures down to Earth in the middle of the night to help her out. She slept on the shuttle; Rei doesn't need much sleep anyway, and doesn't seem to be suffering from paucity. In one hand she has a box, clung to as if it contained nuclear codes. Johnny Domino went to a lot of trouble to get permission to bring aboard the sort of contraband Rei is carrying; Rei just never bothered to ask permission. Her finger jabs the buzzer on Johnny's door-com.

"It's me," Rei says, her Tokyo-03 accent thick enough to crowd out her words a bit. "Are you busy?" Luckily, she was never the longest-winded speaker anyway.

Rei stands there, waiting. Or, rather, some being who has taken on Rei's form and replaced her stands there, because this is -- well, even for Rei, it's something. She's combed and brushed and carefully clipped her hair into place. She's put on the make-up that Excellen provided and taken care to get it just right. A light-colored scarf wraps around her neck -- it's unnecessary, but it trails in the spaceship gravity just right. Her arms are completely exposed, showcasing the thin muscle beginning to build under her porcelain skin -- an orange halter top forms the bulk of her attire, leaving her shoulders and upper back bare, and unzipped just enough in the front that the color of her bra can, from the right angle, be determined as 'blue.' A black skirt, fringed at the hem and given a heavy, eylet-dotted faux-leather belt, finds said hem almost uncomfortably high -- Excellen high, let's call it. Her legs are bared until mid-calf, where the pale limbs disappear into brown cowboy boots.

Somehow, this is Rei Ayanami.


Johnny Domino sits on his bed, hunched and troubled. A small pile of files and folders lies on the mattress next to him, untouched.

The Agent took some of his work back to his quarters with him, meaning to get through the paperwork after hours and catch up faster to, well, whatever it is he had to catch up to. It's too bad the rest of the world kept going all the while Domino was locked up in Izu Lab #24, but there you have it.

Except, as was noted, the pile of files and folders sits untouched. Johnny's plan did not pan out quite the same way as the young man had initially hoped. For by the time he reached his room, the Agent's thoughts drifted back to the conversation he had with Cinco Budenda, the supposedly simple lieutenant.

Johnny made a preliminary check on the man earlier. He found some official data in the A-LAWS database, which, on its own, meant very little. The Agent may have to find the time to dig deeper, see what else exists on this man of mystery. Or he could go straight to Rei Ayanami and ask her, like Cinco suggested. Indeed, Johnny had half a mind to do just that.

The Agent hasn't seen Rei ever since Bardiel transpired. After returning to the Minerva, the young man neglected checking up on Ayanami despite her grueling fate at the hands of the thirteenth Angel. Johnny wasn't sure why at the time -- by his own admission, Rei was a very important person. Yet something kept tugging at him, telling him to wait before seeing her again. And now - now that he has made order from the chaos in his head, Johnny knows what kept him away.

It is this same knowledge, coupled with Cinco's existence, that eventually drives Domino to make up his mind: he is going to see Ayanami. He will not wait, he will see her now. Right now. Resolute, the Agent rises to his feet--

The intercom buzzes. Rei's voice filters through.

How... convenient.

The door to Domino's quarters slides open. Johnny stands there, dressed in the questionably-green pants that make up part of the A-LAWS uniform. The black, sleeveless undershirt of the very same uniform clings to his upper-body. Unlike Rei, Domino isn't dressed up pretty. He's just dressed. Also, unlike Ayanami, Johnny Domino has a few very important questions to ask her--

Blue eyes look at her orange halter top.

--very important questions--

Her black skirt.

--questions--

Her everything. Domino stares wide-eyed.

"..Rei?"


If Johnny Domino isn't used to the sight of a dressed-to-impress Rei -- and, frankly, who is? -- it's nothing compared to the faint look of unease cast over the small young woman. It's not dread, exactly, but rather the self-conscious realization that she has done this and that this is happening. Her expression doesn't change, as usual; something behind it does. Johnny and Rei have spent a lot of time together lately -- perhaps enough to begin figuring out the necessary cues and shades that any understanding of the Ayanami girl relies upon.

Rei manages to covercome this momentary session of private nerves to ask: "May I come in...?"

Rei holds out the box that she's carrying. It's not big -- thin cardboard tied with twine. She doesn't explain, in keeping with her usual way of doing things. She just proffers this gift, expectantly waiting for Johnny to take it.

"Unless," Rei says, unsteady on her tongue -- the shakiness of her English could easily be chalked up to something other than lingual distress. "This is a bad time?"

Rei takes a very faint step closer nonetheless. In the back of her mind, something pulls her forward. Johnny seems different. He'd have to, compared to the wreck he was not long ago -- Rei can only imagine that quitting 3066 has done him more good than anyone anticipated. She tries to smile, but it doesn't quite manifest. Something is off but she doesn't know what. Granted, with the way she looks right now, of course something is off.


Johnny Domino is NOT used to the sight of a dressed-to-impress Rei. There was only one other time when the Agent could recall Ayanami dressing up in recent memory, and the clothes she wore back then were a far cry from what she is wearing now. Or... or maybe what she is wearing now is the far cry from what she wore back then?

What /did/ she wear back then, anyway? In fact, when exactly was this 'back then'?

Something inside Domino's head begins working in the shadows, operating on a backup generator while the rest of Johnny's mind grapples with the sight of the girl before him. Rei Ayanami appeared at his doorstep in casual clothes before, right after he returned from his mission into deep space. Now she's at his doorstep a second time, once again wearing casual clothes -- no, this is much more than casual -- and... and...

Hm.

Johnny isn't sure what to say, and so he says nothing. Accepting the small package in silence, the young man steps aside, allowing Ayanami free passage into his room. Once she steps in, the door will slide closed behind her, casting the Agent's quarters into a dim twilight. The only light source present, now that the lit hallways is blocked from sight, comes from a single lamp standing on a dresser by the bed.

Domino did not bother turning on the fluorescent lights built into the ceiling when he first walked in, and he still fails to do so now.

After a time, the young man gathers some of his wits about him and moves past the girl to clear the files and folders off of his bed -- and by clear we mean push them aside and let them spill to the floor. Supposedly this is how Domino is offering Rei a seat. There isn't anywhere else for the girl to sit, after all, unless she chooses to follow the examples of the paperwork and spill to the floor as well.


Rei isn't /that/ unsocialized.

The blue-haired girl sits on the offered spot. She handles the issue of her tiny skirt rather gracefully in doing so, and her hands fold in her lap -- no matter how she dresses, some things remain the same about Rei. Her posture is still impeccable, too, if that counts for anything. As awkward as it is for her to sit so stone-still and precisely while wearing clothes that are positively Browningesque, it'd be even more awkward for her to... well, display personality. Rei's blank expression remains, as well, staring at Johnny as he moves.

The light doesn't seem to bother Rei at all.

"Are you..." Rei drifts off after two syllables. Continuing the bizarre streak of the day's events, Rei seems intent on making small talk. She never makes small talk. Most of her quality time with Johnny has been spent in total silence. But this time, she needs to fill that dead air -- she sounds uneasy with doing this, but persists nonethless: "Are you well?"

Rei's hands shift. The pink scars of her crucifixion remain, small hard patches of skin.


As Rei sits down, Johnny remains standing. The box in his grasp is basically forgotten, as the Agent finds Ayanami far more fascinating. If fascinating is even the right word...

"Yes," he answers. "I'm doing well."

Observing Rei for a few moments longer, Domino's brain finally seems to reach a conclusion. Or perhaps a simple breakthrough more than a conclusion. Whichever it is, the Agent relaxes at long last, fully emerging out of his shocked stupor.

He draws a deep breath and releases it with a sigh, allowing the tension in his shoulders to escape.

"You look good," he says with a faint smile. "You look... really good, Rei."

With slow, deliberate motions, Johnny moves to sit by Ayanami. Not too close, though. The young man maintains a certain distance. "You really make these clothes stand out, you know?" It's a gentle compliment, not without a certain shade of humor behind it. Johnny is quite aware of how stunned he was just now, and he can't help but feel marginally entertained by it.

Entertained and cautious.

Putting the box down in his lap, Domino keeps his eyes on the girl next to him. "Are /you/ well?"


That faint sense of unease Rei felt in the doorway briefly returns. She tightens her mental belt, forcing herself to overlook the sensation that she can't quite place. Rei's thoughts branch out. Maybe she shouldn't have done this. She can't figure out where that feeling comes from -- or why she seems to be assigning it to Johnny. Rei looks at it logically: she must be feeling hesitation and self-doubt. Instead of pulling away, she resolutely remains still as Johnny sits, though. Rei has never felt the risk of overthinking something before.

"Yes," Rei replies, her tone masking all of the considerations that have been running through her mind. "I'm well." Her head has turned to face Johnny, her red eyes as piercing as ever. But it's offset by the smallest smile.

Rei's shoulders bristle, as if the work of smiling put a chill through her. She's doing it so much more lately, but it doesn't feel any less strange -- like being put behind the wheel of a truck with one's only experience being 'having seen driving in the movies.' Rei sits there, quiet, for a long moment.

"Thank you," the girl finally says. Even if Johnny's subtly teasing her -- if she understands, it doesn't matter anyway. The compliment is enough. More than enough.

"I brought this back from Earth," Rei says, one hand lifting. It moves toward the cardboard box, pressing the tips of her fingers to one side of it, and not coincidentally causing her hand to brush against Johnny's in the process. Her palm is warm. "For us to share, if you want."


Domino follows Rei's hand with his eyes as it moves to poke at the box. He shows no sign of thinking anything of the girl's fingers brushing against his own -- did he even notice it to begin with? If he did, the Agent manages to masterfully keep his thoughts and feelings on the matter bottled up and out of sight.

"Well," says Domino, brow lifting in pleased curiosity. "Who am I to say no to gifts, eh? Let's see what we have here."

Domino sets about the task of untying the twine and opening the box. As he works, slow and methodical, his blue gaze jumps aside periodically, stealing tiny sights of Rei from the corner of his eyes. Her skirt is so incredibly short, her legs so incredibly pale. Her arms, too, exposed as they are. And, underneath that halter top, Johnny can actually see her bra.

The Agent... is honestly not sure how he feels about this.

Then the package is pried open.


Inside is the most shocking sight of them all.

Well, not really, it's just a cake.

A torte, in fact, slathered with white frosting and cream, strawberry sections arranged in a noncommittally artful display around the top. It must have cost a fair bit of money, in the present state of things -- it's pure luxury.

Rei swallows quietly. She has the anxious air of someone who's not sure how their gift will go over -- she knows Johnny likes food, she knows Johnny likes sweets, she knows Johnny likes... well, she doesn't know if Johnny likes strawberries. Rei tells herself that's why she's so nervous. Maybe he doesn't like them. Maybe-- "I... hope you like it?"

Rei sounds like she's not sure why she hopes that. That she's on foreign soil is obvious to anyone who's ever met her for even four seconds.


Johnny can't help but laugh.

Cake!

"Of course I like it! You know, I once broke out of a museum and had to avoid the police just because I saw this really great cake in a bakery window." That was how he met Noriko. Both of them were taking part in the most god-awful boring museum tour, and Johnny roped the stranger-girl into one of his infamous and overcomplicated escape plans.

Then Johnny's good spirits lessen somewhat in a mock frown as he says, "In fact, that was the day Noriko took my jacket." And has yet to return it.

Putting the open box on the bed between himself and Rei -- the fact that it acts as a divider between the two may be pure coincidence -- the Agent looks the treat over. Thankfully the thing has been pre-sliced, saving Johnny a bit of trouble. He doesn't keep knives in his room. Now the only question is (among a number of other 'only' questions), is where should Domino commence his assault. Does he take the north front, lay siege to the south front, or advance from the east?

Picking the east, Johnny carefully wrestles a slice free, bringing it up to his face, cupping his free hand underneath it to catch any stray crumbs and drops.

"Your turn."


Rei's hand retracts when Johnny moves the box. Again, her palm unsubtly touches the Agent's hand. Rei's appendage returns to her lap, waiting, as if lulled into dormancy like the rest of her lethargic body language. "Coach said you... like jackets," Rei notes, assuming that Johnny could only mean one Noriko.

Rei gently bites the inside of her mouth, under her bottom lip. 'Coach said you like jackets?' Even Rei knows that that sounds stupid. Or maybe she's just working herself up too much. Something's making that all too easy today. Something about Johnny's presence, the way he's carrying himself, his confidence after the events that Rei herself only dimly remembers -- but no, Rei thinks, stop trying to blame your nerves on him.

Johnny takes his slice, and Rei watches him as intently as a scientist watching a lab rat. It's only when he prompts her that she looks down at the torte and carefully frees her own piece. In doing so, though, she's not quite careful enough -- it breaks, and Rei contents herself to just take the larger section. The cake itself has more than a hint of cinnamon in it.

Rei mirrors Johnny's motions, cupping her hand to keep from spilling anything onto herself. Onto, it must be noted, bare, pale thighs. But luckily, Rei provides a point of focus elsewhere: the corners of her mouth lift again, and her crimson gaze seeks out Johnny's -- the girl showcases a quiet delight at the shared moment, even if it amounts to 'two people about to eat.'


To be fair, Johnny does indeed like jackets.

Investing the same amount of intense interest in Rei as Rei had invested in him when he picked his slice, Domino watches the girl as she does the same. His heart skips a beat when the piece Ayanami tried to pull free breaks -- but it happened still within the confines of the box. It did not fall onto Rei, soiling her clothes or her... flesh.

Johnny almost makes a comment about it: how Rei might get her clothes dirty by eating in this manner. But, on second thought, Domino suddenly has this weird notion that if he said anything of the sort, Ayanami might take it as a hint that she should remove her clothes to keep them safe.

It's a stupid mental image, honestly. One that is too absurb to come to pass. Then again, who ever said people /weren't/ stupid and absurd creatures?

"Cheers," says the Agent, returning Rei's smile with one of his own. And then--

Nosh!

The cake... is delicious.


Rei observes her typical customs whilst eating. She doesn't maintain her stare -- after Johnny's 'cheers,' her smile brightens by the barest shade, and she averts her eyes. Not polite to watch people eat, et cetera. She's rather careful in how she goes about eating, too -- she doesn't have the opportunity to peck and pick at a large hunk of baked goods the same way she did with, say, the earlier legendary stir fry. She brings it to her mouth, but her bites stay small, measured, always careful not to smear frosting around her face.

It's a slow process, and it affords Rei ample time to think. While Johnny focuses on possibilities, outlandish and otherwise, Rei focuses on what's happening, what's here with her. She can't shake that sense that there's someone listening in -- a shadow over the room that's neither hers nor his. Her mind strolls through possibilities, causing her expression to default back to neutral while she carefully eats.

Nerves, for one. Rei knows she's uneasy right now. But it's not that. She can master that. She knows what fear is and how to control it; this isn't fear, though, but she can handle it all the same. Again, her mind takes her to the possibility that the... /difference/ she feels is something to do with Johnny. Like he might have changed somehow. Rei's eyes flick over for just a second to observe Johnny enjoying cake. No, she thinks as she looks back at her own food, that seems unlikely. Maybe it's to do with last night, the rather emotional experience she shared with Noriko and Excellen, that bonding moment that came about from their concern over... or maybe, Rei thinks, interrupting her own train of thought, maybe it's that talk she had with Kai, lingering in the back of her mind, the promises she made to him... or, Rei think, interrupting herself again, maybe it's Amuro. Maybe it's not just Amuro, but everything Amuro represents. The cost of connection -- the price of sacrifice that's paid not by Rei, but by everyone who survives her, everyone who--

"Ah!"

Rei lets out the syllable as a squeak, because in the process of mindlessly working away at her torte while focusing her brain elsewhere, she failed to notice that she was eating away at, well, its cohesion. Which is why there's a big dollop of frosting and whipped cream and sliced strawberry on her thigh. Rei doesn't seem to know how to react, staring down at it as if she's not sure what just happened. She looks at the remainder of the cake in her hand, then at Johnny, as if seeking guidance from both.


Much like Ayanami, Johnny has fallen into a silent, ponderous reverie. The cake is eaten slowly, the Agent's eyes staring ahead at some invisible spot.

He feels different, sitting there with Rei and eating cake. It's a feeling that he kept to himself, maintaining his friendly and cheerful facade in front of the girl. No, that's not true, it isn't a facade - Johnny Domino really DOES feel friendly and cheerful. But at the same time, there's something else... something Domino didn't feel whenever he and the First Child spent time together in the past.

Could it be because of how she is dressed? Of how she is behaving? All this while, Domino had been paying attention. The way she fumbled with words, brushed against his hand, looked at him. It never occurred to him before that Rei might be... that she might be...

But no. There is something incredibly presumptuous about that train of thought. Could it be because of the experience with Bardiel? Domino remembers a great many things that transpired while he was under the control of the Angel. He remembers people calling out to him, he remembers people attacking him, he remembers seeing the world through the eyes of a monster.

A monster that could sense Rei Ayanami was different.

Does Johnny feel different because of that? Or maybe it's Cinco. The man who seems to know things and who is way too curious for comfort. What are his ties to Rei? It's something that--

There's a piece of cake on Ayanami's thigh. The Agent is staring right at it. Unlike the girl, Johnny made sure to eat his slice from the outside in, keeping the strawberry for last.

It takes a moment, with Johnny looking from the fallen fragment to Rei's face and back again, before he deflates. Reaching over, the young man slowly scoops the cream and strawberry from Rei's thigh with two fingers -- very very carefully, very very gently. If the girl were ticklish, she may have to suppress squirming. But that's only if she were ticklish. Which... she isn't... right?

When the deed is done, leaving the faintest of smears across Rei's leg, Domino's tired expression (when did he become tired?) focuses on Ayanami.

"Rei," he breaks the silence. "What are you?"


Rei doesn't giggle or flinch. She's not ticklish. She reacts, though. Her thighs, pressed together in her sitting position, come apart, but only barely. Rei's breath can almost be heard for a moment. Her eyes fixate on Johnny--

--doubly so when he meets her gaze and asks his question. Then everything comes to a halt. Then there's silence, and Rei is once more still. After the requisite 'waiting for a response' period that comes in any conversational exchange with the girl, Rei takes what's left of the cake in her hand and carefully sets it back down in the box. It's not exactly the classiest or the most graceful thing she could do, but there's nowhere else to put it. There's still frosting on her hand. Rei looks down at it, focusing as completely as if the question from Johnny had never been asked -- as if Johnny wasn't even there.

Rei idly cleans her fingers off with her mouth. It's meticulous, careful, and inexplicably a little sad to watch. Her gaze is directed at some imaginary point off in the distance. She's thinking.

Obviously, it's a difficult question to grapple with.

Rei could tell Johnny everything right then and there. She could explain to him the nature of her existence, her role in the coming storm, her struggle to try and keep hold of some semblance of self, to try and avert the end of everything that everyone knows. She could explain to him what she knows of Angels, and her connection with Cinco Budenda, and what's transpired between her and Leo. She could tell him that she's the third in an unlimited edition.

But she doesn't. Rei lets the question cut deeper than that. Johnny wants to know what she is, and she owes him the most honest answer she can give. She doesn't want to lie -- it's rare that Rei lies, in any event. She just focuses on smaller details of the truth.

But the small detail she zeroes in on doesn't feel small. It fills her when it enters her thoughts, flowing downward from on high like blood coursing through her veins. Rei pushes the box away and eliminates the barrier between herself and Johnny. Just as he touched her leg, she reaches out as well, pressing a scarred hand to his uniform-covered thigh.

Rei lets her face just barely emote when she confesses what she is:

"Lonely."


Johnny waits. It's all he can do.

Watching Ayanami deposit her slice of the cake back into the box, observing as she cleans her fingers, seeing the package pushed out of the way, and waiting. The Agent doesn't snap, not even inwardly. He who has never been famous for his patience with people now gives Rei all the time in the world, thinking nothing of the time that passes.

Would she tell him the truth? Even if she didn't, there were already a number of details Domino could extrapolate upon. He knows she isn't human. He knows that the feeling Rei evoked in Bardiel was similar to the sensation Adam evoked in the Angel -- but not quite. And Adam... what was Adam? What was Rei?

Does it really matter?

Once upon a time the answer to that final question would have been 'yes'. Johnny Domino used to push away those who were different. Recoil from them in horror and disgust, doing his best to keep his distance from the deviants. But all of that was before.

When Rei finally gives her answer, Johnny Domino... accepts it.

Slowly depositing his own slice back into the box, the strawberry he made sure to leave for the last bite is left forgotten and abandoned. Unlike what the girl has done, cleaning her fingers with her mouth, the Agent doesn't spend as much time and attention to detail when he moves to clean his own digits. All he does is brush them against the frame of the box, allowing the frosting and cream to collect against the cardboard and remain stuck to it.

Then, still as silent, still as tired, and despite a part of his brain expressing dire misgivings, Domino scoots closer to Ayanami and moves to collect her into a tight hug.


Rei doesn't know how much (or how little) Johnny knows, but in the event, she doesn't care that much, either. Her previous impulse was to recoil from the potential horror and disgust of the world -- keep her distance from the normals. But, like Johnny, all of that was before.

Rei leans into the hug with a surprisingly quick reflex. She's usually so drowsy and plodding in doing just about anything that it almost seems like Johnny pulling her into an embrace was like an electric shock, forcing her to twitch. Her arms circle him and she presses her head down against his shoulder. Hugging, like smiling, is something Rei doesn't quite have the hang of, but in this moment, at the very least, she's not tentative or hesitant at all. She gives herself over.

Rei's eyes close for a moment. She doesn't seem tired. Her breath is quick, flaring against Johnny Domino's neck in a regular pattern of warmth. If one were to ask Rei, point blank, whether or not she considers herself human... well, they'd be lucky to get a response at all, but her silence could probably be taken as a 'no,' or a 'maybe' under the best circumstances. But right now, Rei doesn't feel like herself, either. She feels some dim fear in the back of her mind -- awareness of the consequences of her actions becoming smaller as it's wilfully ignored. Rei's thoughts turn to her life -- not the past, but the future, and what little of it remains, and what opportunities will come along in that time. And how if she doesn't seize them... Rei Ayanami may not realize how human she's become.

But she does the human thing, and takes the risk.

Rei's chin lifts, as does one of her arms. Her legs shift, one thigh pressed to Johnny's. She's aware of the placement of the box of cake on the bed, enough so that she doesn't double-check. She's too focused, anyway. Her hand cups Johnny's cheek to try to turn his head toward her. Her legs are the primary instigator in her attempt to try and use her grip around him with her other arm to make him lay back with her. It's a complex series of negotiations and attempted ultimatums between two bodies, but the trump card in all of this is that Rei is trying to bring her lips to Johnny's.


Johnny Domino likewise tries not to think of the consequences of what might or might not be transpiring, but he is doing it for a different reason. He doesn't want to acknowledge the potential of Rei having any feelings for him beyond the desire for a friend. He doesn't want things to become complicated or uncomfortable or awkward. He doesn't want to have to deal with the possibility...

A possibility that all too quickly blossoms into a full-fledged truth.

The Agent's mind goes blank as Rei touches his cheek, presses against him, begins moving. Fragmented thoughts flash behind Domino's eyes, the thought about Rei's age compared to his, whether it even matters since she isn't human, how small she feels in his grasp, the taste of cream in her mouth...

Before Johnny comprehends, he has already been swept along, answering Rei's silent call. Lying down, kissing the girl, feeling her so warm and close and yes, so lonely. The Agent doesn't want Rei to be lonely. He wants to help her, to be there for her and do what he can for her sake. But as the kiss extends, Johnny Domino also knows that what is happening in that very moment is a lie.

His feelings for Ayanami do not exist on this level. She isn't the one. She is one of the most important people in Domino's life, but she just... isn't the one.

Before Bardiel, the Agent may have been unable to stop at this point. Body awash with primal desire, Domino would have most likely succumbed to the prospects of physical gratification, justifying it as giving Rei what she wants. But now things are different. There's an inner strength inside Johnny, and just as Bardiel had exerted its absolute will upon the Chimera, Domino exerts his conscious will upon his own body.

Breaking the kiss, Johnny looks into Ayanami's eyes. Through heavy breathes, he manages a strained, "Rei," giving a subtle shake of the head.

He is sorry. His expression says it all: he is so very sorry he can't be what Rei wants him to be. All he can do for her is be there, hold her, keep her close... but nothing more.


Rei is rebuffed, and though she can see the apology written all over Johnny's face, it doesn't stop her cheeks from turning pink when her eyes open -- Rei, generally harder to read than the Sphinx, is visibly overcome by shame. Her hand moves down from Johnny's face. It settles on his chest for just a moment, but doesn't sit right; it then finds its way, hesitantly, to the vicinity of his side.

There's a stretch where Rei keeps eye contact with Johnny. Whatever message she tries to send in doing so comes out almost useless in its obscurity. Still, Rei doesn't plead or try to change Johnny's mind. She doesn't backpedal or cry. She doesn't apologize.

Then Rei closes her eyes again, and lets her head loll limply, coming to rest against Johnny's shoulder once more. And she stays like that. She did the human thing -- took the risk -- failed. But her reaction to it is more in line with 'Rei' than 'humanity' -- it's acceptance, and not even a particularly melancholy sort. As if the kiss hadn't happened, as if Rei could just do-over freely.

Rei makes no movement to leave the hug, or to lift her body. Occasionally, her fingers tense for an instant, but that's about it. Rei Ayanami only has so long left.

She knows she'd be foolish not to take what she can get.

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