It had been mere hours since the last Angel attack and the entire staff at NERV HQ was just coming off of alert. The tension that had permeated every inch of the Command Center was beginning to dissipate. Techs were able to take breaks again, or just go back to their routine work. When Commander Ikari left the room, everyone knew things were back to normal. Or as normal as they ever were.
At her station, Maya Ibuki leaned back in her chair and sighed. She wiped a stray lock of hair from her brow and found it slightly damp with sweat. It is really hot in her today, she thought to herself. Looking over at Hyuga, she saw the other operator fanning himself with a stack of reports. That brought a silent groan from Maya as she hesitantly glanced back at her station.
Data from the battle streamed across her screen. The Magi may have been making some sense of it then, but it would be up to Dr. Akagi to take the analysis one step further. That meant Maya was looking at another late night pouring over figures, but a late night pouring over figures with her sempai. Maya brightened at that thought. She looked over to where Dr. Akagi stood, her serious eyes pinned on her clipboard, as if the recent printouts held there were the only thing in the world. Seeing the doctor so intense gave Maya butterflies; so much so that the young tech almost giggled to herself.
“So,” came a voice from beside her. It was Aoba, the third technician Maya worked closely with during the day. He had his bag ready to go, obviously wanting to get off shift before something else dire happened. “Are you two coming?”
Maya’s eyes shifted from Aoba to Ritsuko and then to Hyuga. “I have some more work to do before I can go.”
“Well, I’m outta here,” Hyuga said with a smile as he got to his feet wearily. Waving to Maya, he headed out of the Command area on the heels of Aoba.
More and more, the command center returned to the humdrum activity it usually saw. Maya waited by her terminal until she got confirmation that all three Eva pilots had returned safely. She downloaded the new battle information to her laptop and waited patiently for the voice she secretly longed to hear more than anything.
The young tech’s skin tingled with pleasure at the sound of her sempai calling her name. She looked up at Ritsuko, eager to work, laptop clasped in her arms. "Hai, sempai."
Ritsuko looked down at her senior technician and hardest worker and faintly smiled. There was just something about Maya that appealed to the doctor. Perhaps it was her attention to detail and how she could work long into the night without a complaint. It was true that Ritsuko would never have gotten as much reported on time to Commander Ikari if it hadn’t been for Maya’s hard work and devotion. A devotion that seemed to go far beyond her dedication for the job. She smiled to herself as she left the Command Center for the science labs.
It didn’t take long for Maya to catch up to Ritsuko, her NERV issued boots clacking against the tiled floor of the hallway. She came up to Ritsuko’s left side, staying slightly behind her left elbow. Another late night with sempai, Maya thought to herself again, with a twinge of sorrow this time. As far as anyone knew, Maya’s fascination with Dr Akagi was no more than professional, however, every time the two of them were alone, Maya wished with all her heart she could just let Ritsuko know how she felt. Even just once. Her cheeks were suddenly burning and she dropped a step further behind to hide that fact from Ritsuko.
The questioning tone in Ritsuko’s voice brought the young tech from her musings. “Yes?”
“You seemed distracted. Is something wrong?”
Maya shook her head. “Oh, no. Nothing. I was just. . .thinking.”
The back of Ritsuko’s hand was suddenly against Maya’s forehead, which made the tech weak in the knees. Ritsuko's hand slid down to Maya’s cheek and Maya had to use all of her willpower not to lean into the gentle touch she longed for so much.
“Hmm, you feel kind of warm. Are you getting a fever?” The hand slid away. “Maybe you should get some rest.”
“No, I’m fine, really,” Maya insisted. “It was just really warm in Central Dogma. That’s all.”
Ritsuko sighed and continued toward the science labs. “Well, that’s true. With so many people running around during an Angel attack, it's bound to heat up in there.”
The silence of the science labs was a welcome change from the hectic pace of Central Dogma. Maya breathed a sigh of relief as she set her laptop at her station and got ready to work. She brought up the compiled data from the day’s battle as well as the previously gathered synch ratios from the three Eva pilots. The initial data seemed to show no significant differences from the last lab test.
“How’s it look?” Ritsuko asked. She came up behind Maya and looked over her shoulder. “Any changes?”
Maya shook her head. “Doesn’t look to be too different. Asuka’s synch is perfect as usual. Rei’s hasn’t changed. Shinji is. . .well, Shinji.”
Ritsuko smiled and laughed gently. “That’s one way to put it. I often wonder if his lack of improvement is due to his stubbornness. He really can be just like his father, sometimes.”
At the mention of Commander Ikari, Maya stiffened. He was the one who stood between her and Dr. Akagi. He was the one who had Ritsuko’s attentions when the Eva’s were taken care of and the Geofront was silent. He was the one who ruled Ritsuko’s life in such a way to make Maya’s usually meek demeanor turn to anger.
“Something is wrong.” This was a statement that came from the doctor as opposed to a question. She leaned over Maya’s left shoulder, her brown eyes meeting those of Maya. “Lieutenant Ibuki, I could have sworn I just heard you growl.”
Maya blushed fiercely. She looked down at the terminal in front of her, embarrassed to have been caught in such a moment of jealousy as that. Could Ritsuko know something? Maya furrowed her brow. Couldn’t be, she thought. There’s no way.
“Was that a growl of. . .jealousy?” Ritsuko took Maya by the chin and forced the young technician to look her in the eyes. The doctor’s eyes lit up as Maya gasped and drew back in shock. “Hmm, did I hit a nerve? So it is jealousy?”
Maya looked back at her terminal, clamping her hands over the keyboard. She typed a few strokes, trying to focus on the readouts before her. Ritsuko wasn’t going to be ignored so easily, especially when she was about to get her little assistant on the ropes. She came up behind Maya, wrapping her arms around to place her hands over Maya’s on the keyboard. Her hands rested gently, but firmly on Maya’s hands, keeping her from typing. Leaning close to Maya’s ear, Ritsuko spoke softly.
“Is there something you’d like to tell me, Maya?”
A shiver of pleasure ran through Maya’s entire body as Ritsuko leaned over her. She tried to form words, but all she could get out was one. “S-sempai. . .”
“Hmm.” Ritsuko straightened and put her hands into the pockets of her lab coat. Drawing her right one out, she revealed a small data disk labeled with Maya’s name and a small pink heart in the corner. “I’ll ask you again, Maya. Is there something you’d like to tell me?”
She tossed the disk on the terminal in front of Maya and grinned, awaiting Maya’s reaction to this revelation.
Seeing the disk clatter in front of her, Maya felt her heart pound heavily. It had been a few days since she had last seen that disk but had thought she had simply left it at her apartment. She had no idea that Dr Akagi had what boiled down to her digital diary. The things she had written about Ritsuko in those entries ranged from the very innocent to what the young tech wished the doctor to do to her during their late nights. In a panic and slightly confused, Maya didn't know what to say.
"Sempai, where did you find that?" she managed to stutter past a growing cold lump of fear in her stomach.
"The floor of the locker room," Ritsuko said evenly. "I found it the other day and, thinking it was the report you were going to hand in to me, I took it back to my office. Imagine my surprise when I found out what was really on that disk."
Maya couldn't breathe. The disk must have slipped out of her pocket when she had changed from her uniform to her civvies one day. She fought to draw breath, but the panic welling up inside of her refused to release her lungs. The only thing she could do was sit, catatonic, awaiting what Dr. Akagi had for her. As she waited, Dr Akagi rounded on her suddenly.
"Didn't plan on me finding that, did you?" she asked rhetorically. "But if not, I have to wonder, why did you have it at work? Maybe you meant to let me in on your little secret at some time?"
Maya's body took to trembling slightly as her sempai questioned her. The disk sat silently on the terminal, mocking her; its contents no longer a secret. "Dr. A-Akagi. . .I. . ."
Leaning over the terminal, Ritsuko placed her fingertips lightly across the disk and looked at Maya. "'I can't help feeling this way when I'm around her. Every day we're together is another day I'm glad to be alive. I know it's not professional, but I think I may have more than a crush on her.' And that's one of the more. . .innocent entries. I would really like to know who you are writing about, Maya. Major Katsuragi? No, you don't see her every day. Can't be her. Perhaps one of the pilots? Rei or Asuka? No, you're not one to push the boundaries of the law like that. It couldn't possibly be. . .me?"
The look in Dr. Akagi's eyes was so cruel. Maya couldn't decide of the doctor was playing with her, or if she was truly angry at having found out. Ritsuko could play it cool when she wanted to, having had practice working under Commander Ikari for so long. Several times, Maya had seen the doctor's emotions fade away into a mask of professionalism, but never when it directly concerned her. Still trembling, Maya dared meet her sempai's eyes.
"Please, sempai," the young technician pleaded in a tear-strained voice. "I never wanted you to find out. Please don't hate me. I couldn't stand it!"
Ritsuko suddenly came up right behind Maya and wrapped her arms around the young tech. She hovered by Maya's ear, laughing low in her throat. "Hate you? Maya, you're my hardest worker; I could never hate you. But wouldn't it be awkward if Commander Ikari found out. . .?"
Maya sucked in a quick breath and tensed at the mention of the Commander's name. She was somewhere between Heaven and Hell with Ritsuko's sweet breath playing against her ear and the threat of being turned in to the Commander dangling over her head. A slight tremble rushed through her and Maya bowed her eyes.
"Please, Sempai. Please don't tell the commander. I'll do anything you say, just. . .please. . ."
Ritsuko laughed softly again, coming around to peer into Maya's downcast eyes. "Silly girl. I didn't say I was going to tell him. I merely suggested it would be awkward if he knew what was going on."
"Going on?" Maya was becoming confused.
"Yes." And Ritsuko drew closer so her lips hovered dangerously close to Maya's. "If he knew what was going on in the lab. . .right. . .now."
As Maya continued to stare at Ritsuko she became aware of the doctor closing the distance between them. The instant she felt Ritsuko's soft lips brush hers, however, a bolt of pure ecstasy charged through her. With a muffled moan of surprise, Maya leaned back in her chair until she ran into the headrest and became trapped. Ritsuko used this advantage to press in for a brief moment before drawing back. Her eyes rested on Maya, waiting for a response from her assistant.
Gasping from the sudden kiss and her shock, Maya couldn't meet Ritsuko's eyes. A deep blush crawled into her cheeks and her fingers gently traced their way over her lips. Ritsuko took Maya's hand away from her lips and gently smiled at her.
"Was that really so bad, Maya-chan?" the doctor asked. "You look like you enjoyed it."
"Sempai. . .Why?" Maya blinked back tears as they suddenly pricked her eyes. "Why now?"
"Do you think I could really spend so much time with one person if I didn't like them?" Ritsuko's voice held a chiding tone, like she might take with an errant child. "And do you really think you could hide something so obvious as your crush for me that even Misato knew about it? Please, if that woman notices anything besides beer and Kaji, it must be obvious."
A thought flashed through Maya's mind. "But then, the commander. . ."
Ritsuko shook her head. "You let me handle the commander."
As a wave of relief flooded through Maya, she felt the first tear escape her defenses and trace its way down her cheek. Sniffing, she tried to hold back the emotions she had kept pent up for so long. However, Ritsuko wrapped her arms around the young technician and Maya leaned forward into those welcoming arms and cried. Emotions she had kept to herself for so long were now freed, washing through her soul like a great cleansing wave. Ritsuko held her for a while, letting her assistant calm down, but then pulled back and met Maya's eyes. She gently drew her thumb across Maya's cheek, wiping away a stray tear and smiled gently.
"Come on," Ritsuko said gently. "There's work to do. . .Maya-chan."
Maya nodded and smiled broadly. "Hai, Sempai!"