|An Ambulance at the Bottom of a Cliff|
|Summary: Joshua Shardul tries to reach out to Rei Ayanami.|
The Minerva, like most other A-LAWS vessels of any prominence, serves as a hub for traveling personnel -- it's not uncommon to see operatives who are technically stationed elsewhere roaming the halls, occasionally asking where the mess hall is, while they wait out their layover until some other shuttle can dock and ferry them to wherever they're going next.
There's no real restriction on travel within the ship, either. Certainly not to a /Commodore/. But the thing is... there aren't many sights to see on the Minerva. There's that weird barge that follows the ship everywhere, rumored to have been built specifically to carry -- of all things -- an Evangelion around space. There are numerous potted plants. There is the rumored -- only rumored, mind -- wild Sarah Zabiarov, purportedly stalking the ship in her natural environment.
And there's a five-foot-tall blue-haired girl in full A-LAWS uniform (including optional fascist fashion beret), standing in the middle of a hallway, staring at a door. Rei Ayanami's red-eyed (literally, red-irised) stare doesn't blink or deviate from the door in front of her. When people walk around her, they make faces. No one really messes with her, but they also don't hide the comments about what a little weirdo and poor Agent Domino and blah blah blah.
That last one is because the door she's staring at is Johnny Domino's. It says so right on the nameplate.
Commodore Joshua Shardul had been checking back in with command personally, and currently has about five hours before his shuttle to Side 4 where the Vesalius is currently stationed. He spent some of it in a lounge working on something from his laptop, but grew restless, which has led him to wander the halls of the Minerva out of sheer curiosity. For all the time he's spent with A-LAWS, he hasn't done a lot of work on that vessel.
And as noted, there's just not that much to see. Not really surprising to Joshua, who has spent more time in the past year and a half living on a ship than he has in any actual apartment or hotel room. Ships are ships, really. Thus he's not exactly...bored, but he hasn't found much more fulfillment or entertainment in wandering, either. He considers just heading to the Mess Hall and working off of his laptop there when he comes across that blue-haired girl.
Oh, Ayanami. The strange, quiet girl who reacted strangely and quietly when he mentioned the Marduk. The one who is connected with NERV, that organization Huang doesn't trust. The one who...
"Can I help you?" He doesn't mean to interrupt. But she just looks so...forlorn standing in front of Domino's door, and well he HAS TO SAY SOMETHING.
Truth be told, Rei probably would have looked equally forlorn had Joshua found her eating in the mess hall, working out in the gym, or playing in an inflatable bouncy castle. She just has the face for it -- you know the one. The kind that never makes any kind of concrete expression.
There's a moment between Joshua's question and Rei even acknowledging that it happened. Her head slowly turns to face Joshua, chin tilting up to look him in the eyes with her gaze -- it's the color of blood and just as creepy as that makes it sound. "I'm waiting," Rei says. Her Japanese accent is thick, making her English sound a bit mushy and oddly percussive all at once.
Rei's head then turns back to face the door, as if exciting door-related developments might have occurred in the second she was looking away.
Perhaps Joshua is just thrown off by the troubled, forlorn look. It already drives him to want to give Stella a nice stuffed animal and a glass of milk or something. He tries very hard not to be thrown off by that blood-red gaze, and practices his carefully-honed Look Professional Skills. They work...pretty well.
"...Waiting." Joshua repeats, his voice tone only slightly awkward, and then glances back to the door. And then to Ayanami. And then the door.
"...For him? Or for...something else? I mean, if you are waiting for him, why don't you...call him and see when he'll be around? Then you don't have to..." Stand in front of the door for what might be hours?
There's a slightly longer pause this time. Dead air in the conversation -- just the sound of distant footsteps around the bend that never really get any closer. Which is weird, because this is a spaceship, and the gravity tends to be less concerned with 'walking' than on planetary surfaces.
Rei's head turns again. It's literally the exact same motion, like the animators recycled frames. She stares at Joshua for a long, silent moment before speaking, this time. It's as if she's only now bothering to take in the sight of the young man. "Waiting for him," Rei confirms. She doesn't look away this time, although there's another gap in her speech. Her silences almost seem to be her primary mode of communication, moreso than the actual words she uses.
"He'll be back when he's back. Then I'll see him." Rei lets her stare linger a bit more. She hasn't blinked. At all. Then her head turns back to face the door. "I spent last night with him. I would like to do so again tonight."
The pauses seem to leave Joshua restless or uncomfortable. He's just not used to it. Never was on the radio, either. Sure, he's a Coordinator, one would think he'd be used to dealing with quiet sorts. But Ayanami, whatever she is, is clearly no Coordinator...
"...Spent the night with him, huh." Well, Domino didn't mention this, though it's understandable. The Commodore blushes slightly from the sheer awkward /honesty/ of that statement.
Are all the men of A-LAWS getting around like this?! He's heard Leo ranting...
"I...I see, then. Aren't you worried that he'll feel a little, well, crowded?"
Of course, this is the same Rei Ayanami who used to /date/ Leo Stenbuck. For, like, forever. Okay, over a year, but that's forever to two sixteen-year-olds. And how weird that since their breakup, Leo has basically gone completely out of his mind.
What a coincidence!
Rei doesn't look at Joshua this time. Maybe, having already seen him, she has decided that she doesn't need to remind herself of what he looks like. Maybe she expects the door to change somehow if she keeps staring lasers at it. Maybe the door is a Magic Eye and she is particularly bad at unfocusing her eyes.
"If he feels that way, he will tell me," Rei says. It's not a self-assured statement so much as it is a declaration of fact, as if this were totally indisputable. "And I will let him be."
Well, then! Maybe she is a Coordinator.
Joshua coughs again. He's not really sure...how to approach this. "Well, sometimes when people have those they care about," and he has to assume Domino cares about Rei if what she is saying is true-at least he HOPES so, "they sometimes...have trouble telling those people when something is...how to put it."
He quickly realizes he is slipping into Psychiatrist Mode, and fights the urge, because that road never leads to good places for him. And yet she just looks so...forlorn, and he can keep seeing so many ways that this could go horribly wrong. So he sighs, and gives into the impulse. "I mean, do you think of him as a very forward or self-assured person? You may know him, uh, better than I do..."
He blushes again at 'know.'
Whether or not Rei is listening is not immediately clear, because it is entirely possible that while Joshua is speaking to her, he has somehow been tricked into actually talking to a wax dummy in the shape of Rei. That's how little she moves -- there aren't even faint twitches. She's breathing, but it's so subtle that it's easy to overlook.
And indeed, this silent state of dormancy continues for a while after Joshua speaks. Rei turns her head only slightly, giving him a sidelong glance -- whatever that means, relative to 'turning her head all the way.' "Johnny is aware of what he wants," Rei says, meticulously, in her flat little wisp of a monotone, "and what he does not want."
Beat. Then Rei continues: "He has been quite forward in assuring me of what he wants." And then Rei's silent, but still staring at Joshua.
On reflection, Joshua decides, Rei is really not very much like Stella. That girl was restless, childlike, with wide eyes full of fear and affection. She was like a stray kitten. Rei's eyes reflect something distant and hard to find, and her gaze reminds the young man a bit of an owl.
"...And you have been doing the same, I assume?" He has to guess, at least. Rei has been forward with him, after all, and the two don't know each other very well. "It just seems like...well, time spent just waiting for him could be used, I don't know. It's your time off. Why don't you use it for something /you/ like to do, for yourself or him? We only have so much time to ourselves, after all, as soldiers..."
Owls, it must be said, are by and large far more expressive than Rei Ayanami.
Case in point: she stares at Joshua all though his suggestion, patiently waiting. However, around the third time he says 'time,' there's a microtonal shift in her expression, possibly too small to even pick up on -- the tension around her eyes just barely rises, like a microscope being brought into tighter focus.
"Perhaps you could offer some suggestions." Rei's delivery would be ice-cold if she could even manage that much heartlessness. As it is, the suggestion is merely tepid, so completely grey and bland that it's all but impossible to tell whether or not it's passive-aggressive without just making assumptions.
"...Uh...I didn't mean to-to come across as rude," Joshua quickly adds, concerned that he has offended this mysterious...whatever Rei /is./ He's not very good at picking up on interpersonal quirks. He's had to train himself to communicate with his subordinates and allies without dominating or simply outpouring every idea that comes to his mind. But he can tell some things, at least. He even takes a step back.
"Well, what do you...like to do?"
Rei turns her entire body now, away from the door, to face Joshua directly. She doesn't advance, although she seems primed to, which is weird, because she's got her arms draped at her sides and her posture suggests less 'predator' and more 'cigar-store Indian.'
Still, the worst part of Rei is that complete neutrality. In the absence of any projection of her own feelings, she's a blank screen that others can project onto. The mystery tends to be solved by those who can figure out how to suppress that, but it's essentially a trick of the trade that people have to learn by doing -- and Rei certainly doesn't give anyone any clues as to what's going on.
"I fold origami cranes," Rei says, in what is maybe the saddest answer of all time. "I used to discuss things with Leo. I believe I enjoyed that. Now I enjoy sharing a bed with Johnny. And folding origami cranes."
It's the neutrality that throws Joshua off. Coordinators were stereotyped as reserved and obsessive, labels that might fit Joshua himself, at least at times. Stella, the Extended, was unstable and wild, as were the Cyber-Newtypes he knew. But this neutrality is something the captain has some difficulty approaching.
"...I see. I'm sorry to have probed, then," he apologizes with a slight nod. His tone is genuine. "Well, in that case, I should probably let you, um, you know..."
Rei continues staring at Joshua for literally thirty seconds, and they may or may not be thirty of the most uncomfortable seconds of his life.
And then, without a single word, or a nod, or a blink, or even any movement of her hands, Rei does another about-face and goes back to staring at the door. As if Joshua had never come up to her. As if none of this had ever happened.
Welcome to why Leo Stenbuck is a fucking mess.
Suddenly, at least 30 percent of Leo's highly inebriated ranting that one night at the bar makes perfect goddamn sense.
Joshua, however, is just too /proud/ to admit when he's been intimidated or scared off. So he decides that he clearly has work to do on Chapter 32 of Eternal Dragon Sword Saga: Book II, gives a nod, and continues down the hall.