Authors Notes: Hi everyone, just a little bit of background on this. Originally I wasn't going to write a fic that touched the Rebuild Universe. Seeing as we don't have the final film yet I wanted to wait until we did before doing anything here but someone did actually ask if I was going to attempt a Post 3.33 fic in a review of The Catalyst and my brain started thinking about what I would do. I didn't want to write anything especially lengthy considering I started writing Catalyst which was a lengthy fic straight after I wrote Human Equation which was also lengthy but I just thought about the journey they'd take back to the Wunder. The conversations they might have along with how their attitudes might change.
I'll try to keep the notes short for this but the name of the fic comes from the solo album of the same name by the frontman of Porcupine Tree - Steven Wilson. The name of the first chapter is a play on the first song of the album which is called First Regret/Three Years Older. My influences in writing the fic were that album along with the Pink Floyd album - The Division Bell.
She looked across the red wasteland, it was hard to believe that fourteen years ago a once proud city once stood here. Hundreds of thousands of people once inhabited these lands, buildings stretched up into the sky. Battles were won and lost here and now it had all but been reduced to a wasteland. This place had once been a fortress to secure mankind. The home of NERV and their biomechanical weapon Evangelion.
It had taken one day for all of that to change. A decision made by one fourteen year old to try to save one he cared about had changed everything. In his decision he had unwittingly become the trigger for the Third Impact. He had brought the Evangelion into an awakened state, a fate that unbeknownst to her had been his since the day of his birth.
For fourteen years the only life in this place had been the inhabitants of NERV. The chess master who had moved the pieces into place, Gendo Ikari. His subordinate, the Vice Commander and former mentor to Gendo, Kozou Fuyutsuki. The two pilots that had waited in place, the one that looked like Rei Ayanami and the mystery pilot given to them by SEELE, Kaworu Nagisa.
For fourteen years they were stayed awaiting the return of Shinji Ikari. That return had come swiftly and with it had brought life and combat to this land of death once again. Shinji Ikari had been expertly manipulated yet again by his father to nearly start Fourth Impact. It was unknown how it had been averted and right now she didn't care.
She tightened her grip on his hand as she pulled him across the dry and lifeless landscape. Close to them was the being that looked like Rei Ayanami. They had been trekking across this land for around an hour now. The sun was beginning to set bringing with it a coolness to offset the heat from earlier. For that hour all Asuka Langley Shikinami had had to occupy her mind were her own thoughts and the sounds of their footsteps.
Neither Shinji or Rei had said a word, they had simply walked with her. She doubted any of them would. Shinji was obviously too traumatized or scared of Asuka to say anything and she knew Rei wouldn't be able to offer any sort of conversation anyway. This Rei wasn't the original Rei, she was a clone or a clone. Capable only of following orders, nothing more than a drone that was now operating on a pure need to survive.
Asuka should have left her behind. She should have left them both behind back in the entry plug. They would be nothing but a burden on her. All they were capable of doing was delaying her already lengthy trip back to a Lilin encampment. She looked across as shot Shinji a look before pulling his arm again and tightening her grip on his hand.
She didn't need to do either of those, he was capable of walking and matching her pace but she found herself doing it every so often. A means of letting him know who was in charge or trying to provoke some sort of reaction from him. All he had done was stare at the ground, his eyes dulled and his mouth slightly open.
'He deserves it, damn brat. Back for barely any time at all and already nearly ending the world again. He's lucky I didn't just leave him behind.'
She looked across at Rei.
'As for you… you're lucky I didn't kill you there and then. Only reason you're alive now is because I know that while you're probably useless to him now you might be useful to us. He'll have just created himself another Ayanami type, we've never gotten our hands on one of you before.'
She scanned the horizon again, soon it'd be night and the heat of the day would give in to the cold of night. The temperature would drop and walking in their condition could be dangerous. Whilst life didn't inhabit these lands anymore the elements were still as dangerous as ever.
"We stop and make camp here. Get a fire going, set up the tents and resume walking in the morning. We have enough food to last us five days, water about the same. We should reach the encampment before then but if not… well our packs do have an alternative for water but I'd rather not consider that option." She smirked and slid her pack off. There was no reply from any of them.
"Do you both understand?" She asked again.
"Yes." Rei replied.
Asuka nodded and then turned to Shinji. His eyes were still lowered to the ground.
"Do you understand me?"
No reply. Angered by his lack of response she moved closer to him and placed her hand under his chin lifting it so that his eyes were looking directly at her. She focused her working eye onto him.
"I said do you understand me brat?"
"Why do you call him that?"
"What?" Asuka replied, he hand still holding Shinji's head up.
"Why do you not call him by his name?"
"Why should I? After what he has done he is fortunate I let him live. I think calling him a brat is fitting, because that is exactly what he is. A stupid worthless brat who, not content with fucking up this world once was primed to do it once again."
Asuka fixed her gaze upon Rei
"What? Does the doll have a problem with that?"
Suddenly just as she turned she felt Shinji suddenly lurch forward, sensing what was about to happen she quickly sidestepped as he dropped to his knees and retched, vomiting what little contents there were in his stomach onto the ground beneath him.
"For fucks sake." Asuka sighed placing a hand on Shinji's shoulder and averting her eyes until he was done. She turned back to him just in time to hear a whimper escape his lips. Grabbing him by his shoulders she pulled him back slightly and looked back across to Rei.
"Well don't just stand there help me clean the brat up will you. Look in his pack, there should be a cloth or something in there and get his water too." She ordered Rei.
Rei immediately complied with her orders and brought both items to Asuka.
"What is wrong with him?" Rei questioned innocently.
Sighing Asuka replied, "Just what he deserves, a healthy dose of guilt that nearly got spewed up onto my new plugsuit."
Asuka took the cloth and lightly wiped around Shinji's mouth, "Hurts doesn't it brat? There will be a lot more of that to come and you deserve it but at least try to keep it in until we reach the Lilin compound. Every time you do that will probably cost us half a days' worth of water and like I'm sure you can use your imagination as to what our alternative source would be."
"I want to die." He mumbled lightly
Angrily she grabbed his chin and forced him to look up at her again.
"Do you? Well tough because I'm not going to fucking let you die. That'd be easy wouldn't it? Convenient? You mess up the world for all of us, return after fourteen years threaten to mess it up again for dying? Well no, I'm going to make sure you stay here, I'm going to make sure you answer for what you've done and I'm going to make sure you see exactly what happened in those years you were missing. Do you understand me?"
Tears had already begun to form in his eyes before she had snapped at him, now she could see them falling down his face. She had no time for his crying.
"Hand me the water clone-girl."
Once again Rei complied and handed Asuka the water. Unscrewing the cap Asuka forced it into Shinjis mouth and held it in place while he drank it down. Once she had judged he had had enough she pulled it away and screwed the cap back on and let go of his chin.
She glanced down at him again, he was a sorry sight. A broken individual, even more pathetic then he was fourteen years ago. Any trace of that boy had now been lost just as any trace of the people he once knew had been lost. That was the price they all had to pay for his mistake. Now he knew the truth, there was no going back to that life. There was no way to redo it. He was one of them now and Asuka was going to make sure he never got away again.
She pointed at Rei, "Help me set up the tent, we should have basic resources to get a small fire going as well."
"Yes." Came Rei's reply.
Shinji sat and watched unable to move, afraid to move. Afraid to do anything ever again. Most of the walk to this point had been a blur to him. He had been aware of their presence but he had not been able to see any of it, all he could do was endlessly replay the events in his mind since he had woken up. Waking up and being taken to the bridge of the Wunder, seeing the reception he had gotten from the staff on the bridge. Looking up and seeing Misato stood there. Only it wasn't the Misato he knew, it wasn't the cheerful Misato anymore. It was a hardened one who barely acknowledged him. Who told him she had no use for him anymore. A Misato that seemed to hate him.
Rei had rescued him from the Wunder, or so he thought. It wasn't Rei, it wasn't his Rei it was something else. A clone of Rei, who he had discovered was in fact a clone of his mother. He felt his stomach turn at the thought of it. Just what was his father planning?
Then there had been Asuka. The girl he had a strange relationship with. Before he had vanished he had lived with her. He had grown to like her, for all her aggressiveness and obnoxiousness there was something about her that he had been drawn to. Now she hated him as well.
Finally he thought of Kaworu, the boy who had reached out to him and gave him hope when he thought he had lost everything. Only that had been nothing more than an elaborate system of smoke and mirrors as well. Kaworu had been wrong and had paid the price for it. Shinji could still envision the moment the DSS choker had activated.
Suddenly Shinji felt his heart begin to thump in his chest. His stomach turned as he thought of the image again. He tried to think of something else, anything else but each attempt made it more vivid. He tried to catch his breath only to find himself unable to breathe.
'Kaworu… I… I should have died… that collar was meant for me… I was to blame for all of this…'
His vision blurred as a figure moved towards him. He felt a hand on his back slowly rubbing it and another hand taking one of his and squeezing it gently. There was a voice, it sounded like it was miles away but it was there pushing through the noise created by his memories. It was a command, telling him to do something.
"Breathe in slowly."
He tried to comply, pain went through his chest as he took a ragged breath.
"Now breathe out."
Another ragged breath out.
"Good, now again."
His stomach was still churning but in the back of his mind he willed himself to not throw up again. He couldn't, not after the pain of last time. Instead he focused on the familiar voice and breathing. This repeated a couple more times and slowly his vision returned to normal as did his breathing. Slowly he turned to find the source of the voice only to see Asuka glaring down at him.
"Can't leave you alone for five minutes can I, brat? Are you going to let me and Clone-Girl here set up this camp or what?"
Tears were once again falling down his face as he turned to see the clone holding parts of a tent. She was looking at him curiously. No concern on her face just pure curiosity, as if she was studying him. He looked back at Asuka.
"I… I want to help…" He said weakly, his voice barely registering above a whisper. It was the first time he had tried to say anything to them beyond answering all day. His voice was trembling as he spoke.
"Start by not distracting us when we're trying to set up the camp then."
"If you want to do something… then open these up. Using a tin-opener is probably the only thing you're good for at the moment as it is."
She reached into pack and pulled out three small coloured tins and a basic tin-opener and flung them into Shinji's lap before standing back up and returning to set up the tent.
Asuka shifted uncomfortably in the sleeping bag before eventually giving up and sitting up. Asuka knew sleep would not come easily. Sleeping in a plugsuit was uncomfortable enough especially when added in with the hardened and uneven ground. She was too on edge unable to trust either of the two she was with. The horror of what she had witnessed earlier was starting to set in as well. When Third Impact had come she had been comatose for it, she hadn't witnessed it first-hand. She had nearly witnessed Fourth Impact though. She had seen the black moon rise from its resting place deep under NERV. She saw the souls fly into it. Those screams were buried in her mind now and the images were starting to play.
She looked around the tent, to her immediate right was the sleeping form of Shinji and next to that an empty space for the clone. Making sure to not disturb Shinji, Asuka quickly made her way out of the tent clutching a small flashlight to be used as a weapon. The clone had escaped, she knew it had been a mistake to trust her. She should have killed her there and then.
She left the tent and looked around, barely ten feet from the tent was the target. She was still and looking up pensively at the night sky.
"Unable to sleep are we?"
For a moment the clone stood there and finally it dropped its head to look at Asuka. It spoke, "I was unable to reach a desired state of relaxation. My body feels tired but my mind is in a cycle."
Asuka smirked, "A simple yes would have sufficed but seeing as I'm hardly able to sleep right now I guess I'll indulge you. What is your problem?"
"I do not know who or what I am anymore."
Asuka couldn't help but grin at the reply, "How very philosophical of you. Who do you think you are?"
"Until today I thought I was Rei Ayanami. Yet now I know there was another Rei Ayanami before me, a real Rei Ayanami. So I question whether or not I am real and what my purpose is if I am not Rei Ayanami."
Asuka simply nodded, "Want the truth?"
"You're not the real Rei Ayanami, there isn't a real Rei Ayanami. Even the original is just a clone of someone else. That's all you lot are, just dolls brought to life in someone else's image. Made to fulfil some maniacs grand scheme that I don't think even he is fully aware of yet."
"In fact being honest I don't even know which version of Rei Ayanami you'll be. You're an early lot of the Ayanami series so maybe seventh or eighth but it could be higher than that. Who knows how many he made of you beforehand and how many there are to replace you."
"I… I am just a doll."
Asuka nodded standing alongside the clone. "Yes, yes you are, how does that make you feel?"
"I do not know… how should I feel?"
"Are you stupid? Do you need me to give you orders on how to feel? Okay well you should be angry or upset or something? Or does he not program you with emotions? You know he gave the original Ayanami emotions, of course emotions will just get in the way won't they. Probably stripped them out of your series."
As Asuka finished her sentence the clone turned to face her and locked her eyes straight into Asuka's grinning face. Asuka couldn't tell if the clone was upset or hurt by her comments. She didn't really care either. She had to see what this clone was capable of, what was lying under its hood. Finally the clone spoke
"I… I do not feel like having this conversation any longer."
"Touched a nerve have I?"
Without finishing her sentence she moved past Asuka back into the tent. Asuka simply stood outside and thought to herself.
'So there is something in there after all. You know between the Brat and Miss Existential Crisis in there this is going to be some journey.'
After five minutes of standing outside and watching the night sky she allowed herself to yawn and quietly made her way back into the tent. She was sure she saw Shinji's head move ever so slightly as she entered. Had he been awake all this time? Had he heard the entire exchange? Next to him Rei had seemingly fallen asleep. She entered her own sleeping bag next to Shinji and watched him for a moment. He was still awake, she was sure of it. She could see him tense up as she moved. He was terrified of her.
She thought back to a time fourteen years ago. She had been unable to sleep in that apartment and in a moment of weakness had went into Shinji's room. She had lain down beside him and for one of the first times in her life had had a good night's sleep. She hadn't slept well since that night. Now he was here again. She hated him for what he had done both fourteen years ago and just earlier that day. Yet in her tired state curiosity was starting to get the better of her. She shivered in her sleeping bag. Her plugsuit was thinner than the others, a lack of good material to make them at Wille.
Slowly she edged herself closer to his form until she could feel the warmth from his sleeping back. She reached out a hand and placed it on his side and instantly felt him tense up again. She didn't care. Asuka was cold, she was tired and when she closed her eyes, despite all the hell she had been through in that day, despite the danger they were in right now, she somehow managed to have the first good night's sleep she had had in fourteen years.