Fourteen Years ago – Eight Months After 'Near Third Impact'

Misato Katsuragi stared through the observation window at the girl in the room. She was sat on the edge of the freshly made bed and staring straight ahead at the wall, an eyepatch covering her left eye. Placed next to her was a tray upon which the remnants of a meal lay.

There was no expression on the girls face, just a blank stare. Sadly Misato turned to face the blonde doctor stood next to her.

"It's been two months since she woke up. This is all she does, she hadn't said a word yet. Could she be being affected by that thing?"

Ritsuko Akagi shook her head, "Our tests have shown that there is nothing wrong with her physically aside from the damage sustained in the Unit 03 activation test. Any contamination has been sealed within her by the patch and shouldn't be having any effect at all."

Misato looked back through the window at Asuka, "Is she co-operative with us?"

Ritsuko nodded her head this time, "Completely. Asuka does what we ask her to do when we ask her to do it. If we need her to undress for an examination she does so. When we tell her to get dressed she does so. She eats the food given to her when it is delivered to her at meal times. She uses the bathroom and showers daily of her own volition."

"So she can hear and understand us?" Misato asked.

"Yes but she just doesn't communicate with us. She doesn't ask for anything or complain about anything and when she is not with us she just assumes this position."

Misato placed the palm of her hand on the window and leaned in a little bit closer. It was hard for her to see Asuka like this. The girl had once been so lively and vibrant. She had never been scared to voice her opinion or make demands of others. Misato used to hate the arguments Asuka would have with Shinji, now eight months after losing Shinji and after two months of Asuka not saying anything and living in the hell of a post Third Impact world she was wishing that she could hear one of those arguments again.

"Is there… nothing we can do for her?"

"There are certain therapies or treatments that we could apply that would force her to communicate with us but they are not what I would call humane. Even if we were desperate to hear Asuka talk I do not think that should ever be a viable option." Ritsuko admitted. Her words earning a frown from Misato.

"In truth I don't think there is anything we can do nor do I think we should do anything."

"You're saying we should just give up?"

"Quite the opposite. I am merely saying we should not try to force or encourage her to speak. The issue here is a psychological one. When she is ready to speak again she will do so. Until that time we should do what we can to ensure she is comfortable."

"It's just like me again, isn't it?"

Misato spoke the words softly as she continued to observe Asuka. What she was seeing from Asuka was so reminiscent of her own troubled experiences as a survivor of the Second Impact.

Misato had been so traumatized by those events that it had been two years before she had started to communicate with others again. She had to wonder if Asuka would suffer the same fate. Asuka had been in that coma for six months, woke up to a changed world. So much of Asuka's life had been stolen from her already, it was unfair that this would take more.

"It's hard to believe that's the same Asuka Langley Shikinami that we knew eight months ago. She was always so…"

"I know" Ritsuko agreed, "But from the start we knew how fragile Asuka was. There was always the risk of something like this happening. All it would take was one event to trigger an episode like this. We have to take responsibility for it."

Misato cursed herself as she finally lowered her hand, resisting the urge to drive her fist into the window. There was still no movement from Asuka and there would not be any movement from her for the rest of the day. Not unless the girl needed to use the bathroom or when the lights went down to go to bed.

"She suffered so much as a child and we were never there for her. I told her once to leave the past in the past when she actually came to me asking if I knew about what had happened. I should have seen this as a sign of her wanting to talk but I didn't." Misato paused trying to gather her thoughts.

She continued, "To suffer what she did then though. Being trapped in that Eva during the activation test. Suffering mental contamination from the Angel and barely surviving it. Having to have her body reconstructed like and. She lost her eye and has to wear that patch for the rest of her life. Finally she wakes up to discover her home and world has nearly been destroyed. It's a wonder she is able to do anything and didn't shut down completely."

"The method of awakening can't have helped matters with. She should have had another month before being woken up at the very least but we had very little choice when the UN stormed NERV in the way it did. It was wake her up or leave her in the hands of Commander Ikari. We both know what couldn't happen, we need Asuka with us."

Misato nodded remembering those few days very clearly. It had been the product of months of careful planning between herself, Ritsuko, Kaji and key members of the UN. Unfortunately all of their planning had been for nothing. The UN had been forced to bring the plans forward a month early meaning several things had gone awry.

Asuka was supposed to have been transferred back to a medical facility in Germany by then. Instead she had been awakened with no idea of what would have happened.

"Asuka did speak to me when she woke up you know?"

Ritsuko raised a curious eyebrown, "Really? I wasn't aware of this. What did she say?"

Releasing a sigh Misato replied, "She said, 'Where is Shinji?'"

"She actually asked about the Third?"

Misato nodded, "Yes… I think Asuka loved him."

If Ritsuko was surprised by Misato's words she didn't show it in her response, "I see."

"Asuka was always so adamant about not needing people as she grew up. Staying with me and Shinji began to open her up a bit I think. She still wasn't forthcoming with her feelings but you could definitely see the change in her."

Misato smiled remembering some of the times they all shared at the small apartment in Tokyo-3. She remembered coming home one night to see Asuka standing in the kitchen over a range of ingredients, "You know… Asuka was going to cook a meal for him. I came home from work once and she was there in the kitchen, her fingers covered in plasters and tasting the ingredients. Imagine that, Asuka Langley Shikinami actually going out of her way to do something for someone else. Her actually opening her heart up to someone."

Misato's frowned, "To wake up after what she had gone through only to find out that the one person who was actually willing to open her heart is to blame for the way the world is now. To find out that he vanished without a trace and we can't recover him. To find out her is probably the most hated person in this world… no wonder she is the way she is."

She paused, "And to think that we're going to try to get her to pilot an Eva again. It is such a cruel fate."

Ritsuko looked up from the clipboard she was reading, "It is cruel and unfortunate but it is a necessity. We need her to pilot Misato. We can't rely on just Mari, we need more than one pilot and finding another candidate and training them would be too much for our already stretched resources. Asuka is the best pilot we have, we need her for going up against NERV."

A voice suddenly interrupted their conversation, "Let me talk to her."

The two of them turned their heads immediately at the sound of it to see Mari Makinami stood before them. She was clad in her pink Plugsuit, the same mischievous smile she always wore planted across her lips.

Misato nodded and greeted the bespectacled pilot, "Pilot Makinami, we weren't expecting you so soon."

Mari stepped forward and shrugged, "We arrived early. Ryoji didn't want to keep the IPEA and UN people waiting any longer than they had to. Said that getting the WILLE project off of the ground is going to depend on making a good impression with all those politicians, especially if we want to keep the Eva's. Anyway, what's the deal with the princess in there?"

Misato glanced at Mari and looked her up and down curiously for a few moments. Mari was still not entirely trusted by the members of staff that had come across from NERV. Although Kaji had assured the Mari could be trusted the way in which she had appeared during the battle with the tenth Angel did make things hard.

The same of course could be said of Ryoji Kaji himself, the mysterious double agent who had posed as a member of NERV for some time and who had allowed Mari access to Unit 02 at the time. After what they had all experienced it was difficult to know who to trust anymore.

Misato did of course know in advance that Kaji was investigating NERV and SEELE around that time. She had not however been privy as to what his plans were. Mari had therefore come as a complete surprise. There had of course been rumours about another child out there but it was believed she had been lost during the Bethany Base incident.

"Kaji is here now?" She questioned the girl.

Mari nodded, "Yup, waiting for you in the conference room."

Misato sighed and looked across at Ritsuko, "We better not keep him waiting then. He's probably right about making a good impression. We all know what these politicians can be like and as much as I hate to admit it we need them on our side to get and keep the Eva's.

Before leaving she looked back at Asuka before turning to Ritusko one final time, "Using the Eva's again… are we doing the right thing? After what Shinji was able to do can we really trust the Eva's?"

"We have little choice. NERV isn't going to stop using Eva technology for what it needs and we need to be able to fight back. Especially if we want to be able to retrieve him before they do."

Misato sighed, "Yeah you're right. Okay, let's go. We shouldn't keep them waiting."

With those words both Misato and Ritsuko said their goodbyes to Mari and left the observation room. Mari took a few steps towards the glass and glanced through as Asuka. She tilted her head studying the girl who had been left all alone in there before wandering over to one of the consoles on the wall. Mari smiled as she tapped a few buttons on the machine causing a shutter to come down along the window.

She tapped a few more buttons opening the door to the room and stepped inside still smiling as she did. She brought herself around in front of Asuka. The girl made move to indicate that she had noticed Mari's presence.

"Well hello there Princess, how are you doing today?"

She spoke but didn't expect any sort of reply from Asuka. She knew that it'd probably take a lot more than that to get through to her.

Mari had heard the rumour's about Asuka around the base. Asuka had not spoken once since being revived from her comatose state two months ago. No one had been able to figure out why nor had they been able to figure out how to get her to speak.

"You probably don't know who I am but I know you. I'm a big fan of yours, Captain Asuka Langley Shikinami of the European Airforce and designated pilot of Evangelion Unit 02. I'm Mari Illustrious Makinami, pleased to make your acquaintance."

Mari grinned and held out a hand to Asuka. As aspected there was still no movement from Asuka, instead she just continued to stare straight ahead. Mari swiftly withdrew her waiting hand and instead placed both hands on her hips, continuing to grin.

"You probably don't remember but this isn't actually the first time the two of us have met. We used to know each other many years ago. It was only briefly but our mothers worked together in the earlier years of Project E. We must have been around four years old at the time. It's funny but I can still remember our first meeting, you were such a shy child back then. You hid behind your mother's legs as the two of us were introduced."

Mari giggled as she recalled the memory but very quickly afterwards her expression changed to become more serious, "You know… it was shortly after we were introduced that your mother was killed. Contact experiment, but… you already know that don't you. I know what happened to her, I saw the files. No one should have gone through that and I wish I could have been there for you but… I couldn't."

Mari waited a few moments, "You see my mother and your mother were good friends and when that incident occurred my mother decided to investigate it. She couldn't accept that it was a mere accident, especially with what had happened to the puppy's mother as well. She found out that there was something rotten within Project E, with Second Impact and the whole thing and she planned to expose it. You can probably guess what happened next can't you?"

Mari paused again noticing that Asuka's exposed eye was now fixed on her, "Yeah you guessed it. She was killed for what she knew. It was covered up and I was left in the care of a foster home back in my native England. That was until Kaji came to find me one day."

Despite the movement of her eye there was still no response from Asuka. It was just as Mari had expected. She took a few steps forward towards the bed and knelt down bringing her face level with Asuka's.

"Kaji offered me something no one else could. He offered me the truth and an opportunity to get revenge on the people that took my mother away from me. Not just for me but for you and for the Puppy as well. I was going to get revenge for all of the mothers and fathers and children hurt by the actions of SEELE and NERV. It was an easy decision for me to make, I got an in with the Third Branch in Bethany Base and ended up as designated pilot of Evangelion Unit 05."

The smile quickly returned to Mari's face. She had gotten the painful memories out of the way, now to tackle the present day.

"Not long after that I ended up with you guys in Tokyo-3, not that you would have known of course. I kept myself hidden, although I did have a very interesting encounter with the Third Child upon my arrival."

'There it was.' Mari thought to herself. A very subtle but visible twitch above Asuka's working eye on mentioning the Third Child. Most people would have missed it but Mari was making sure to carefully study Asuka to watch for any movement.

Mari stood up again and started to pace the area in front of Asuka.

"Being honest I think he got more a view of me than he should have done that day but hey, what can you do? Had to alter my course parachuting into Tokyo-3 and ended up on the school. Should have seen the look on his face. It was a picture."

She grinned and continued, "You know, it was me who told the puppy to go ahead and fight on that day. You should have seen him on his own in that shelter. Seen his face when I came crashing in whilst in Unit 02. I bet he thought it was you, he would have been terrified that you had been hurt."

Mari stopped again to look for any reaction from Asuka. Asuka's gaze was now firmly locked onto Mari and there was another small twitch from her. The blank expression Asuka had wore previously had changed, she was almost scowling.

"He's quite something isn't he? The puppy I mean, who would have thought that he would have been capable of causing an awakening within the Evangelion like that. Not that he did it on purpose you understand, he probably wasn't to know what would happen if he pushed it that far."

Mari took a few steps forward and brought herself down to Asuka's level once more. She leaned in closer and with her voice almost a whisper she spoke.

"Would you like to know what Katsuragi and Akagi are doing right now my fair princess? They're currently sat in a meeting with representatives of the UN and the IPEA. Politicians and leaders of what Is left in this world are conversing with them all trying to hash out a deal to take on the two Eva's that were seized in the assault on NERV. Your Unit 02 and my shiny new Unit. They're going to want you to be a pilot again, so that you can help fight against NERV because god knows I can't do it alone."

Mari saw Asuka's hands start to tremble at the mention of the Eva's. She noticed her eye begin to widen in response and her lips parted ever so slightly.

"P-Pilot?"

Asuka stuttered out the word. Her voice was barely above a whisper and sounded incredibly weak. All Mari could do was smile and nod, "Yes pilot. You alongside me. We'll be taking the fight to NERV together but I thought you should know that fighting NERV isn't the only reason they want us to pilot. They reckon they can use the Eva's to somehow retrieve the puppy."

Mari barely had any time at all to dodge the sudden movement from Asuka. She jumped backwards just as Asuka rose quickly managing to avoid the collision between Asuka's head and Mari's nose. Asuka's entire body was now trembling as she spoke once more.

"G-Get him b-back?"

Mari let out a laugh, "Yeah, I knew that'd get a reaction. I bet they were all dodging around the subject while you were like that but yeah get him back. By all accounts NERV want him too though, so it isn't going to be easy. So what do you say princess, want to join me and go find a lost puppy?"

For a time Asuka said absolutely nothing and just looked ahead blankly at Mari. Mari knew it would be delicate talking to Asuka like this. There was a risk she could push too far and make the situation worse for all of them. If she did that there would be hell to pay from Katsuragi and Akagi, they hardly trusted her as it was.

Yet Mari had to try. She could offer things they couldn't to Asuka and help her in ways they weren't able to. She wanted to help her old friend. Even if it had been ten years since they knew each other and even if Asuka couldn't remember it. She needed to help her, for the sake of both their pasts and future.

Asuka studied the girl in front of her. Her mind was racing from what she had been told. For two months she had been sat in a continuous cycle of replaying the events of what had happened to her in Unit 03. Remembering the fear she had felt as she alarms blared all around her pulling her deep into the core of the Eva. Remembering how she felt watching Unit 03 now taken over by the Angel storming towards Tokyo 3. She could remember how she felt when the Angel began to try to creep its way inside her and tear her body apart.

Worst of all she could remember exactly how she felt when she watched Shinji in Unit 01 refuse to do anything to help her until finally they resorted to the dummy plug. Shinji had abandoned her. He had betrayed her by not even trying. He was responsible for her being the way she was now and not only that he had nearly destroyed this very world they lived in.

After a time her response came. Saying the word make her feel sick with regret as soon as she uttered it.

"No."

To Mari this reply wasn't a huge surprise. She had given it a fifty or so percent chance that Asuka would refuse. After all what Asuka had gone through had not only nearly killed her and damaged her physically, there were also numerous psychological trauma added onto an existing list.

Yet Mari wasn't going to give up, she couldn't give up. She needed Asuka there to fight alongside her. She couldn't do it without Asuka.

Asuka in the meantime was still going over what Mari had told her. She couldn't get back into an Eva again, not after what had happened in Unit 03. Not after what had happened in the battle before it and certainly not after waking up in this world. She had not been able to do a damn thing with her Eva. All of her life she had trained to be a pilot. She had trained to be the best and save the world and prove her existance. Yet she had failed completely.

In addition to this the one person she had nearly opened her heart to despite her promise to never need anyone was the person responsible for all of this. He had abandoned her, abandoned everyone.

Before Asuka knew it Mari had closed the distance between the two of them and had a warm hand raised and placed softly on Asuka's cheek. Asuka flinched at the contact but didn't move as the plugsuit clad hand gently stroked her cheek. The lingering smell of LCL was turning her stomach but she didn't pull away from the contact.

"It's your choice princess but... I know how you really feel about him. I know how you felt about him then and I know how you feel about him now. I know how he feels about you too. The thing is princess, god knows what they'll do to him when they get him back. A lot of people hate him for what happened. They blame him entirely, as if the puppy had planned it all along. When he comes back people are going to demand he be thrown into the darkest prison left on this planet or hell even killed outright."

Mari paused for a moment, "The only reason they want to retrieve him before NERV does is because NERV can use him as a trigger for a Fourth Impact. You however... you're the only chance he has of staying alive when we do retrieve him."

Asuka shook her head. Her voice speeding up as she spoke, "I... I can't... I... failed, I don't want to... I don't want to die... I don't want to be hurt anymore... I want to be... I deserve to be alone."

Mari smiled and gripped Asuka firmly, "So you failed once and you're just going to give up? Is that all it takes for you princess? I got my ass kicked in your Unit 02 and I'm still here! We fight, we get our arses kicked but we survive and we live! Come on! You're the only chance that poor lost puppy has! Besides don't you want to the chance to tell him everything you're feeling right now? Tell him how you feel for his lack of action when you were in Unit 03? Tell him how you feel for what he did to this world? Call him a brat and berate him?"

Asuka looked up to meet Mari's gaze, "I... want... I hate..."

"Then join me! Help me get him back and you can tell him! You can see his stupid face and tell him how you've held it back for so long. We'll get him back... together."

Asuka paused, her mouth open ever so slightly. She thought it over. There was the opportunity she could see him again. She could see that boy once more, the boy who had abandoned her and abandoned the world. She nodded slowly, she could do it. She could fight alongside Mari and bring him back. Even if it was to tell him just how much she hated him.

"I... will pilot with you."

"Good! That's just what I wanted to hear. Thank you princess, I promise you won't regret it." Said Mari with a wide grin."

Mari started to turn to leave the room but just as she took her first step she felt a tightening around her hand. Asuka had grabbed it and had pulled her back. She turned to meet Asuka's gaze. She was wearing a trouble expression with a pleading in her eye.

"C-Can you... stay with me tonight? I... I don't want to be alone."

Mari again raised her hand to Asuka's face and softly caressed the redhead's cheek. This was certainly not what she had expected from Asuka and required a bit of thought. Mari paused and stared deeply at Asuka before leaning in closely to her. All the light-heartedness from before had gone.

"I'll stay with you Asuka. You don't have to be alone anymore."

"T-Thank you." Asuka muttered.

With those words Asuka instinctively wrapped her arms around Mari embracing her lightly. Mari made no motion but instead welcomed it and wrapped her own arms around Asuka. For a moment they stared at one another before Mari's instincts took over. She leaned in getting her face closer to Asuka parting her lips ever so slightly. Asuka made no motion to move instead allowing Mari to kiss her softly.

Finally when Mari pulled away she whispered, "I'll be here for you, until we get him back."

XXX

Present Day

Shinji shut his eyes tightly and braced himself for the pain from the creatures attack. He held Asuka close to him shielding her from the attack. He could sense the blade coming towards him, hearing it whirl through the air as it did so. Just as he sensed it just reach his shirt the sound of a loud gunshot cracked through the air.

The creature behind him emitted a high pitched squeal and Shinji turned his head around just to see a shell hit the creature square in the soft underbelly. The creature was thrown backwards through the air landing on the ground with its legs flailing through the air.

He looked in the opposite direction to see their savior. The humanoid form of what looked like the pink Evangelion Unit 08 was striding towards them only it was much smaller than the others, measuring at maybe twenty or so feet. Its rifle was aimed directly at the leader of the arachnid-based Nemesis series it had just shot. There was a flash as another shell was propelled from the rifles barrel. Blood spurted forth from the creature's belly.

He worriedly glanced back down at Asuka and shook her gently calling out to her, "ASUKA!"

Asuka gave no response instead lying lifelessly in his arms, he gazed fixed straight ahead at the arachnids.

"Asuka! We have to go! Come on, please. I need you Asuka! I can't do this along!" He pleaded with her turning her around to look at him.

"Please Asuka! I need you!"

She blinked slowly seemingly coming out of her trance like state, "S-Shinji…"

"Asuka… you're… you're alright?" Shinji pulled her into an embrace burying his head into her shoulder and holding her tightly.

Asuka nodded slowly, "Shinji… I…"

Asuka looked ahead at the fallen arachnid and back at the machine that had saved them both. She shook her head trying to come back to her senses. It had happened again, just as it had so many years ago and just as it had when she had she was about to get Shinji back. She had frozen in fear and been unable to do anything.

"I… I couldn't do anything… again, you nearly died becau-"

"Don't say that Asuka!" He pulled her towards him again and felt her hands around him as the two of them slowly rose to their feet.

"Hey princess, puppy! As sweet and romantic as your little exchange it can we do it later? We got a few more of them coming up on your position."

Both of their attention turned to the corpse of the Nemesis creature. The other four members of the group had gathered behind their fallen comrade and seemed somewhat confused as to what to do next. Rei appeared next to them.

"Asuka, are you feel okay?" She asked.

Asuka smiled, "Heh, sympathy from you? I must have looked bad. I'm… I'm fine, it was a side-effect of having to lead you two through this nothingness for five days. Come on, let's go and we'll let four-eyes up there be useful for a change and mop up those things.

Asuka took a step forward but stumbled as a wave of nausea washed over her. She felt two pairs of hands come straight to her helping her keep her balance.

"Oh shit! Having to be helped to walk by the weirdest brother and sister combination in existence. How degrading." She joked.

"Umm you three, sometime soon would be a good idea." Came Mari's voice.

"Oh shut up! We're moving aren't we!" Yelled Asuka.

She released herself from Rei and Shinji's grip, "I'm fine now. Let's go."

The three of them moved quickly forward just as the pink unit passed over them with its progressive knife drawn.

They looked on as one of the arachnid units spun up into the air and tried to extend one of its legs towards their position. Mari was fortunately too quick for it and managed to grab at one of the razor sharp legs with her Eva's hands and hack away at it with the knife.

Without giving the creature any chance of responding she dived forward and plunged the knife straight through the shell of the creature. A torrent of the creatures blood gushed upwards and splashing all around it onto the ground.

Mari immediately brought her machine around and brought one of the feet down near to the remaining three creatures. Two of them immediately raised up onto their hind legs and send their front legs sailing forward towards Mari's unit's throat.

Mari tried to dodge but one of the legs hit the target and wrapped itself around the small Eva's throat. Another missed but managed to graze the machines shoulder. A scream of pain from Mari thundered all around them as she raised her Eva's foot and brought it down crushing the creature in the process. In a final act of desperation before its death the creature brought its leg down and sliced cleaning through the shoulder of the Eva.

Using its one remaining hand Mari slashed wildly at the leg wrapped around her Eva's neck. Finally she hit the target and sliced through it with ease. Now released from the creatures grasp she dashed forward and brought her foot down onto the creature crushing it like the previous one.

With one remaining creature Mari spun her Eva around to face it. The arachnid jumped up into the air and brought itself down around the head of the Eva. Another scream could be heard from Mari as the creature sunk all eight of its legs into the Eva. It began to thrash around wildly seemingly trying to rip the Eva's head clean off of its shoulders.

Using its free hand Mari brought her progressive knife up and brought it down driving it through the back of the creature. It hit the hard exterior of the arachnid causing the sound of metal on metal and bright flashes to tear through the area. Mari brought he knife up again and drove it down hard, her screams of anger could be heard with every attempt.

"DIE"

She raised the knife.

"YOU"

She brought it down.

"BASTARD!"

The knife finally made its way through the armour plating of the creature. Blood fountained out from the creature was it finally fell lifeless from its position and tumbled to the ground.

The trio looked on as Mari's Eva dropped to one knee before also tumbling over onto its side. Asuka released a sigh of relief and dashed over to the back of the machine. A hatch popped up and Asuka held out a hand to help the smiling pink plugsuit clad Mari out of the machine.

"Late as always four-eyes. What the hell took you so long?"

Mari giggled, "As always no gratitude from the princess! So where are they then?"

Mari did not wait for a reply from Asuka and quickly brushed past her and strode over to a waiting Rei and Shinji. Shinji blinked as he looked at Mari. He had only encountered her on a couple of occasions. The first was when she had collided with him on the rooftop of his school, the next was when she told him he had to fight during the battle against the tenth Angel.

Beyond this he knew very little about her nor did he know what to expect from her. What he did know was that her proximity to him was making him feel very uncomfortable. Much like during that first meeting she sniffed at him, first his chest and then up to his neck. She smirked at him.

"Hmm… just as I thought, you smell just like the princess…"

"I-I what?"

She continued to grin as he started to blush, her gaze turned towards Asuka who was suddenly very interested in a rock on the ground.

"Well you two wasted no time, what a development this is…"

Shinji backed away, "W-What do you mean…"

She winked at Shinji, "Oh I think you already know. I thought it was odd when she smelled just like you but this confirmed it. Tell me, just how wa-"

"MARI!" Came a sudden yell from a very red-faced Asuka.

Mari jumped at the sound of the yell but also laughed, "Sorry princess! I do wonder though, who is more uncomfortable right now? You or the puppy?"

Mari quickly turned her attention towards Rei and much like she had with Shinji got within close proximity to her. She too sniffed at Rei who didn't seem to be too bothered by the strange antics of Mari.

"Hmm, just LCL here. I guess they didn't involve you in it."

"FOUR-EYES WILL YOU PLEASE STOP!" Came the yell from Asukka.

Mari giggled and turned around to them, "Oh I'm sorry, I'm just glad we're all safe and happy again."

She sidled up to Shinji, "Well Shinji… what do you think of my new toy?"

Mari jumped at the sound of Asuka yelling, "Sorry princess! I wonder though, who am I making more uncomfortable with this, you or the puppy?"

She gestured towards the fallen one armed mech and Shinji just looked at it, "Umm… is it an Eva?"

Asuka rolled her eyes, "No it isn't an Eva! Does it look like an Eva?"

He shrugged, "I don't know?"

Mari began to explain, "It's a new weapon developed by the IPEA and WILLE! It's the TRIDENT Mark 2. It's sort of based on old JSSDF technology but it's undergone some major changes from the original version."

He nodded blankly, "It's a small scale battle mech which fuses Eva, IPEA and JSSDF technology. It can produce a small A.T. Field. They let me use it for a test run against the Nemesis series, quite a success don't you think?"

Shinji nodded not knowing exactly how to respond. He didn't quite know if the sight of a fallen mech with no arm and a nearly destroyed head could be considered a success. Rei on the other hand did not have the same level of tact as Shinji.

"You lost an arm and the head unit was also nearly damaged. Whilst winning the battle the mech is no longer within operation parameters."

Mari looked blankly towards Asuka, "Huh?"

Asuka laughed, "She means, that as per usual four-eyes we can't give you a new toy without you breaking it! How many is this now for you? Evangelion Unit 05 was destroyed. You played havoc with my Unit 02. Unit 08 is gone and now you've ruined a good TRIDENT Prototype!"

Mari shrugged nonchalantly, clearly not bothered by the jabs at her piloting ability, "Hey it isn't my fault they send me out for a close range fight! You know that isn't my style, I'm a long range, sniper kinda girl. Shame though, I had a name picked out for it and everything. I was going to call it 'Tarkus', what do you think princess? I'm sure you'd appreciate that right?"

Asuka let out a sigh, "Tarkus was a cross between an Armadillo and Tank. Why would you name it that?"

Mari shrugged again, "Dunno, just thought it sounded good. Why did we bother naming anything what we did?"

Rei cut in, "Miss Makinami has a point. The name Evangelion is Greek for good news and is therefore not reflective of the machine that we have piloted."

"But…"

"Blue has a point there princess, so what about you puppy? What do you think about Tarkus as a name for my new toy?"

Shinji looked around meeting the gaze of each of the three girls and wondered what would be the best thing to say in this situation. Asuka was boring a hole through him.

"Well… it doesn't look like an Armadillo…"

Mari simply grinned again, "Siding with the Princess, there's a surprise there. Still I suppose this can wait until later, gotta get you three back to the Wunder. Katsuragi has ordered me to make sure you all arrive unhurt."

"So she knows there are three of us?" Asuka asked.

"Yup, we picked up your signatures yesterday actually but the barrier density was still too high. It didn't take too much detective work to figure out it'd be you, the puppy and blue back there. I gotta say though puppy, I don't think I've seen Katsuragi as angry as she was five days ago, you've got a lot of explaining to do when you get back."

Shinji lowered his eyes, "I… I know."

"Good, although I will warn you. I saw her cleaning her new pistol earlier today so I'd make sure you figure out just what it is she wants to hear before you say it."

"Makinami!" Asuka yelled.

"Sorry, just a little joke." Mari protested.

Asuka glared at her, "Well can you not, now isn't the time."

"Ooh getting protective of the puppy are we."

Asuka fired back, "More like getting fed up of hearing you talk crap. In case you forgot we've been out here for five days living off of water and nutrient paste. I'd appreciate it, as your superior officer, if you'd shut up and just get us back."

"Ooh pulling rank on me, well aye-aye Captain! I'll radio ahead and get them to close in on our position."

Mari moved away from the three of them pulling out a radio and attempting to contact the Wunder. As she did Asuka moved in closer to Shinji and stared straight into his eyes.

"No going back now Shinji, are you ready to face it."

Shinji shook his head, "No, but… I will face it. I have to and Asuka… thank you… for everything."

Asuka smiled and nodded, "Good, how about you Rei."

"I am comfortable in facing the members of WILLE. I will attempt to tell them everything I can and assist in anything they ask." She replied. No hint of apprehension in her voice.

"Sounds just like what they'll want to hear. They'll like that."

"Can I ask a question?" Rei started.

"Sure thing."

"Why does Pilot Makinami call me 'Blue'?"

Asuka laughed, "That's just what she is like. She has to have a nickname for everyone. You get used to it, even if it is annoying. She's a good person but… don't tell her I told you guys that."

Rei nodded and smiled, "I think I would like to get to know her some more if possible. She seems… interesting."

"Well she… does have interesting qualities but… are you sure you'd like to get to know her more?"

Rei nodded again, "Yes. I do not know why but I feel I could learn a lot from her. She seems like an interesting companion."

Asuka shot Shinji a knowing glance before looking back in Mari's direction, "Looks like she is done contacting the Wunder!"

Mari looked up towards the sky, in the distance the large winged aircraft known as the AAA Wunder could be seen coming into view and settling itself down on the ground. Rei was the first to walk forward towards it catching up with Mari.

Shinji and Asuka watched them as the two continued walking further away from them. Shinji looked back behind him wondering if he was making the right decision. Within that craft were the people he used to know fourteen years ago, all of them changed significantly because of the actions he took. Shinji knew that he couldn't go back and change his decision back then nor could he find some sort of quick fix for it. All he could do now was move forward and try his best and accept what was to come.

"Having second thoughts?"

He shook his head, "No, just… I'm scared of what's in there. I'm scared of you, of Misato, of Ritsuko and all of the crew. I don't want to be hurt Asuka but the alternative is much more painful. There is just so much more I have to deal with, I still don't quite know what to do or where to start."

She put an arm around him, "At the beginning I guess. You go in there, you sit down and take the anger and crap from them and you start to explain yourself."

"It'd rather speak to you."

She smiled, "You can speak to me whenever you want but I'm not the one who makes the decisions in there."

"Everyone in there hates me and it's my own fault but I have to face it. I just… there is so much more I want to learn and tell you first."

"And you will have time for all of that." She stood and extended her hand towards him, "Come on Shinji, time to go home."

Slowly he rose, extending his own hand and grabbing onto hers. Just as they were when they started this journey five days ago Asuka and Shinji walked across the landscape towards their destination hand in hand.


Authors Notes

Originally this and Ancestral were all one big chapter, but I decided to split it up so we had two 7,000 word or so chapters each. This however marks the end of this particular story. With this story I wanted to do something a little bit shorter than I had been doing. I wrote Human Equation and The Catalyst and they both ended up being behemoths in terms of length/word count and decided to scale it back a bit for any future work. So when someone suggested I do a Post 3.33 Fic I thought it'd be a perfect opportunity to do that. I wanted to just chronicle the journey they made back to the Wunder after the events of the film. I might revisit this in the future though and do a sequel, there is plenty to be explored here and it might be fun to do so.

I also wanted to give a big thank you to those who stopped by to leave feedback on this, it was remarkably useful. The feedback allowed me to look at what I had wrote and improve it massively so that was invaluable. I only hope that those of you who did read it enjoyed it and if you did please feel free to leave a review. :)