Author's Note: Okay. Yes. I'm not dead and this is indeed an update. Sorry about everything. I plan on finishing this, but life got...crappy. Anyways, here it is. R&R and stuff.

Chapter 19: Picking up the Pieces

February 6, 2016, Morning

Rei groaned as the morning light found her eyes. Normally she didn't mind, but yesterday had tossed normality out the window. Rei opened one eye to examine her clock when she noticed that it wasn't there. Nor was her room.

She bolted upright and stared at her surroundings. She was in a large, and rather comfortable, double bed with dark wood posts. She noticed that there were pictures on the mantel across from the bed, as well as chair with a blanket draped on it. She quietly got up and examined the pictures. They were mostly of a man, in a JDF uniform, and a woman. Both had bright eyes and a radiant smile. In one picture, the woman was also holding a child.

Rei frowned slightly, These people…seem familiar…But I know that I've never met them…

She stepped away from the picture and went over to door and listened carefully. From beyond the door, she could hear voices and a clanging noise. None of the voices seemed familiar, but as she listened carefully, she made out a bit of underlaying static.

A radio, she told herself, or a television.

After a moment's hesitation, she slowly slide the door open and peeked out.

What she she saw completely surprised her, "Kensuke?!"

Kensuke whirled around, wielding a spatula and wearing a green apron, "Rei, you're awake! I didn't wake you up, did I?"

"Not that I am aware of..." she mumbled as she entered the kitchen area, "What are you..."

"Pancakes," he told her, "It's a western-type of breakfast. It's baked flour and stuff mostly."

"I see," she nodded as she glanced at the messy counter.

"Umm...did you sleep well?" he asked carefully.

"Yes..." Rei paused and stared at him before asking the obvious, "Why am I here?"

Kensuke rocked on his feet, "Well...ahhh...you really, really didn't want to go in your apartment last night."

Rei blinked at him for a moment, than her faced ashen and looked down.

"Rei," Kensuke stepped closer, "You alright?"

"I..." Rei's hands tightened, "I...don't like that place."

"Well, who would blame you?" Kensuke chuckled stiffly, "It's not the greatest place..."

"I have many memories of existing there," Rei continued sullenly, "Memories that were once insignificant...but now...now I can't stand to be in that place."

"Is this because of...what happened?" Kensuke asked, realizing that it was a stupid question as it left his mouth.

Rei nodded slowly, "It showed me...things; forcing me to see how...what I really am..."

"Rei..." Kensuke started as he walked over to her.

"I was created by 01, Kensuke," she continued, shaking, "I was created by the Lilith component in 01 using Yui Ikari's DNA as a base so that 01 wouldn't be complete. However, I was then used as a tool by both Commander Ikari and Lilith in their games. I'm a shell, a container..."

"Rei!" Kensuke grabbed her arm, "Stop it!"

Rei stared at him in shock, unable to speak.

Kensuke blinked as he realized that he was grasping her arm, "I…umm…" He released her arm and collapsed in the chair next to her let out a long sigh.

Neither of them spoke, not really know what to say.

Finally Kensuke managed to clear his throat, "Rei…you can't really believe that…"

"It's true…"

"Maybe, maybe," he stressed the word, "it was true…but that's definitely not the case anymore."

Rei frowned at him, looking upset still, but also uncertain, "What do you mean?"

"Come on Rei," he said as he almost reached for her hand, "If you were still that way, you certainly wouldn't be concerned about being that way, would you? If you were like…like you used to be than…" Kensuke trailed off as words failed him.

Rei stared at him steadily before bowing her head, "I believe I understand what you are attempting to say…but simply because I am feeling this way doesn't negate the fact that is what I am."

"But…"Kensuke started.

"I understand that you are attempting to comfort me," she told him quietly, "and I appreciate it…But you don't really understand what I am…"

Kensuke stared at her, mouth agape.

Rei stood, "I should leave…thank you for every-"

"You're right," Kensuke stood up and headed to his phone, "We need to leave. If I don't understand the situation well enough to help you, then we'll go to someone who does."

Rei blinked as Kensuke dialed the phone. She wasn't sure who he could be calling when he finally got through, "Hey It's Kensuke, Shinji."

Shinji…she blinked, Of course he would call Shinji. Shinji was the only other pilot that he is on speaking terms with…that must have been what he was talking about…

Rei blinked as she realized that she hadn't been paying attention to Kensuke as he spoke to Shinji, and that he was ending his conversation with him by the time she started listening again, "Right…yeah…yeah….I'll see you in a bit…thanks, bye…"

Kensuke clicked the phone off and turned to Rei, "Well…Shinji says he'll talk to you…"

"I do not understand why you are making this great an effort," Rei frowned slightly.

"Well…it's because I want to help you. And if I can't help you directly, than I'll have someone else do it."

"I am not sure how he will be able to help me, either."

"Well, there's only one way to find out," Kensuke told her as he led her to the door.

Katsuragi/Ikari/Soryu Apartment

Morning

Asuka stared at Shinji as he set the phone down, "So what's the big emergency that you nearly tossed me on the floor for?"

"Umm…" Shinji chuckled nervously.

The morning had been as strange as last night. He had ended up falling asleep with Asuka on his lap, only to be woken up by Misato on her way to NERV. She had grinned at him and told him "Play nice" before leaving. Shinji hadn't been able to decide whether to sigh or laugh at the situation. Either way, he had fallen asleep again until the phone rang.

"That was Kensuke," he told the strangely tranquil red head, "Apparently Rei stayed over at his place last night."

"Lucky him," she chuckled.

Shinji rolled his eyes, "But apparently she's in a middle of break down of some kind about what she is or something. Anyways, he's bringing her over so I can talk to her."

"Ah," Asuka murmured as she glanced away, "Fine." She turned and started to walk out of the room.

"Asuka..." Shinji half sighed, half groaned, "don't be like that."

Asuka let out a long hiss and turned back to him, "And what should I be like?"

Shinji blinked at her response, and tried to voice an answer, but none came.

Asuka tilted her head slightly, "Come on, idiot. What should I be like?"

Shinji momentarily recoiled at the barb, but was puzzled by the lack of venom in it. He ventured a guess, "You understand?"

"Pfft," she rolled her eyes, "Of course I understand. Idiot. What do you take more for?"

Shinji's face faulted, causing Asuka to smirk slightly.

"I know that she probably needs you to show her the errors of her ways, like you did with me. It's not a big deal."

"Ah..." Shinji nodded slowly, "You're sure that it's okay?"

Asuka eyed him, "If I said no, wouldn't you want to go anyways?"

Shinji managed a uncomfortable smile, "Yeah..."

Asuka sighed, "Look, I know you're worried about what I think and all, but Rei needs a good kick in the rear. So, get moving."

As Asuka turned around, Shinji sighed, "You aren't happy with this, though."

"...No, not really," she admitted with her back still turned.

"Asuka..."

"It's fine," she grunted, "Really, Shinji. I mean, you promised to stay with me, but that's it. And right now Rei needs you're help too."

Shinji tried to say something. A million different words, phrases, thoughts and feelings rushed to get out, but all of them died in his mouth, slain by a familiar foe.

Asuka turned back, her face serene, but it was clear that there was an underlying tension, "Well?"

"Yeah...if you didn't want to go..." he barely managed.

"I think I'll head over to Hikari's and make sure the id...that Toji didn't give her too much trouble.

Toji! Shinji eeped to himself. He had forgotten, "Thanks Asuka."

She nodded, "Well, get going. Meet me back here with lunch too!" She grinned as she left the room.

"Sure thing," he smiled back before it faded. He left for Kensuke's apartment in a daze, wrestling with his feelings and fears.

Aida Apartment

Kensuke breathed a sigh of relief as Shinji entered, "Hey! You alright?"

"Yeah," Shinji nodded with a half-smile, "Just tired."

Kensuke nodded as Shinji walked in and smiled at Rei, "Morning Rei. How are you?"

Rei glanced at Shinji, "...Hello."

Shinji gulped slightly, Well...what now?

I have no clue. I want to help her, but...

How did you help Asuka?

That was...different. I know her better.

So what do you know about Rei?

...not enough.

Well? You can't just stand here. Do something!

Shinji sighed as he sat down, "Kensuke said you were...having a bit of a crisis."

Rei didn't respond immediately, glancing at Shinji and Kensuke.

You need to relate to her somehow...get her to react...

With what? What has she ever really reacted to? She was so frigid until recently...

...What a sec...

"Rei," Shinji spoke softly, "You remember how I was before...before the Third Impact?"

Rei frowned slightly, but nodded.

"And am I different now?"

"In some ways, yes," she responded.

Not in enough, Shinji thought painfully to himself, "Why is that?"

"I do not understand," Rei replied, irritation creeping into her voice, "Is it not natural that people change?"

Here goes nothing... "And have you changed Rei?"

Rei stared at Shinji for a long time, her ruby eyes flickering in the light as she played off invisible voices in her head against each other, I cannot see the purpose of his question. Regardless of how I have changed, I am still who I was before.

Perhaps. Or perhaps he is trying to suggest that since Third Impact is past, it is no longer part of the consideration for the present.

That does not change the fact that I was born for that purpose.

But it does indicate that that purpose is not our limit; that our past does not reach into this future.

Rei frowned again, "I have."

"So, if I've changed, doesn't that mean that you can change more? That you might be able to overcome things that even now you can't?" Shinji asked her, his voice almost desperate.

He seems to be attempting to convince himself.

Perhaps he is trying to believe it himself.

"Even if I changed, it's wouldn't change what I was," she told him coldly.

"No, of course not," Shinji said softly, "Just like I will also be who I was born as...but that doesn't mean that we have to be that for the rest of our lives. We'll eventually become something other than what we were born as, we can't stop that, just like we can't change who we were born as."

"Wow," Kensuke spoke up suddenly, "I didn't know you could be that deep, Shinji."

"Ah..." Shinji rubbed his neck in embarrassment, "Well, after you see end of the world and other really weird things..."

"Shinji," Rei said slowly, "I believe I understand what you are attempting to say. I just am unsure if it is possible for me to become something beyond the container of Lilith."

"Rei, that's something that you need to search for yourself," he told her, "But considering that you were brought back too, I would think that Lilith thought that you were something else too."

Rei looked at Shinji and nodded slowly, "That would make sense."

"Just remember Rei," Shinji told her, "We're your friends; we want to help you. And we struggle with questions like that all the time too."

She stared at him, "But why?"

"Because Rei," Kensuke interjected, "It's part of being human; uncertain of who are and what we'll be in the future...is...is..."

"It's what let's us change," Shinji finished quietly, "Since we don't know what we will be, we have a chance to change before it's too late."

Kensuke blinked at that, then looked at Rei.

Rei stared at Shinji, wondering where all this was coming from.

Shinji glanced downward, Well that was interesting.

Heh. You should take you're own advice, you know.

Suzuhara/Hokari Apartment

Asuka knocked on the door, glancing around at the empty hallways, Not too many people around in the middle of the day I guess.

The door opened, and Asuka was somewhat surprised to see Sakura standing there, "Shouldn't you be at school?"

"Shouldn't you be?" she stuck her tongue out at her, "Someone needs to watch my lump of a brother."

"I suppose," Asuka nodded as she followed her into the apartment.

"Who...You?" Toji blinked in surprise as he half-stumbled out of his room.

"Yeah, me, Stooge," Asuka smirked, unable to help herself, "Someone had to come over and make sure you were in one piece still."

"Where's Shinji?" he asked slowly as he carefully lowered himself into a chair at the table, "You finally suck his soul out?"

Asuka stuck her tongue out at him, much to Sakura's amusement, "Nope. He had to...go and talk to Rei. She was in...a bad depression about her past or something." Heh. Now I'm covering for her and Kensuke. What next?

"Oh..." Toji nodded, "I figured you would be the most wasted of anyone."

"Hey, guess not," Asuka shrugged.

"Heh," Sakura grinned for no good reason, "Now Toji, get yourself some food."

"Hey! Aren't you here to take care of me?!" Toji protested.

'"Consider this part of your rehabilitation," she snorted.

"Hey!" Toji complained, "I heard Hikari tell you to look after me."

"Oh, so now you're going to go run to your girlfriend. Some tough guy you are." She got up and headed over to the pantry.

Asuka snickered as Toji's skin darkened, "Girlfriend eh?"

"We're not...I mean..." Toji stuttered before a pained looked drained his face. Sighing he glanced away, "Things aren't like that."

Asuka frowned at his behavior and leaned forward, "You aren't alright, are you?"

Toji sighed softly, "I...I'm not sure. In a way, yeah...but the fact that I'm anything close to okay after that scares me."

"Shinji mentioned something like that, I think," Asuka said thoughtfully, "He was able to resist them...so that's probably what you were doing as well."

"Maybe..." he nodded.

"So," Asuka continued matter of factly, "Have you asked Hikari out yet?"

Toji nearly fell out of his chair, barely managing to grab onto the table, "Wha...What?!"

"Have you asked her out on a date yet? She hasn't said anything, so I'm asking you."

Sakura was barely managing to keep it together as she stuck her head in the refrigerator, hiding her face.

"It...it's not like that!" he insisted.

"Oh please," Asuka rolled her eyes, "Call me the Devil if you insist, but give me some feminine credit."

"Why do you care, anyways?!" he managed to get his speech back under control.

"Hikari's my friend; I have a vested interest in her well being."

"Yeah?" Toji raised an eyebrow, "What's that say about you and Shinji then?"

Asuka grimaced, "I...we're friends. I think."

Toji was surprised. Not at just her answer, but the fact that she answered.

"Listen," Asuka continued, "We are different then you too. You're more normal, Hikari especially. And I'm telling you that Hikari wants a relationship. Not something too involved right away, but..."

"Yeah..." Toji nodded.

"Good," Asuka nodded, having asserted that the stooge was finally getting it.

And then the phone rang.

Aida Apartment

Rei stared at her hands, trying to comprehend what Shinji was telling her.

It seems that he is attempting to convince me that it no longer matters how I was created or what I was created for.

How can it not matter? I am who I was back; nothing about me has changed.

...That is not entirely accurate.

Rei blinked at her own realization as memories of herself flooded back to her.

There were the various comments that I had made, especially at school when interacting with the others about Shinji and Asuka. There was that time in the elevator. There was those study nights with Kensuke...

Rei felt a shiver climb up her back, How did all this happen to me without my noticing it?

"Shinji," Rei looked up at her fellow pilot.

"Uhh, yeah?" he blinked at in confusion.

"How does one change?" she asked, concern in her voice, "And how do I know how I'm changing?"

Shinji stared at her. He knew what she was asking, but to describe what she was searching for was...

Kensuke scratched his head, "Gee, Rei...I'm not sure how to answer that...I mean...it's just something that kinda happens."

Shinji nodded in agreement, "Yeah. You change all the time in life, no matter what you do. And everything that you are exposed to in life affects how you change, whether you grow to accept something, or reject it."

Rei seemed to tense, "You mean I have no control over it?"

"No, not at all!" Shinji assured her hurriedly, "It's the choices that you make that affect how you change. Some changes aren't very noticeable, some even reinforce earlier decisions that you made. But everything that that you do makes some sort of change. That's why it's a great responsibility to make good decisions."

Rei nodded with rapt attention on him, "I see. What makes a decision good?"

Kensuke and Shinji looked at each other in surprise, then looked back at Rei.

"Umm, Rei," Kensuke shrugged helplessly, "That's...there's no answer to that."

"Yeah, there's no set way to say what's a good decision or not," Shinji explained, "I mean, there are rules and guidelines that people invent, like laws and codes. There's the Ten Commandments from the Christian Bible too. But in the end, you need to make the decision yourself."

Rei nodded, "I see."

"So..." Kensuke asked tentatively, "What do you think now?"

Rei looked at him thoughtfully, "I think that I need to start making my own decisions." She frowned again, "Though I am unsure about how well I will make them."

Kensuke chuckled, "Don't worry too much about that. I remember when I had to start making my own decisions. It can be tough, but you just need to stick to your principals."

"Principals?" Rei queried.

"Ah..." Shinji started when the phone rang.

NERV

"Hey," Misato said as she entered Ritsuko Akagi's lab.

The doctor nodded from her chair, coffee in hand, "So how were they?"

"Shinji at least seems stable enough," Misato told her, "and I found him on the couch in the morning with Asuka."

Ritsuko raised an eyebrow and smiled, "I see."

Misato snickered, "Oh, nothing happened. But it'll be great material for weeks to come."

"So you think that they're recovering alright?"

"I think so," Misato nodded, "I mean, Asuka wasn't awake, but rather then shut herself in like before, she was clinging to Shinji. Now, hopefully it won't mean she's utter dependent..."

"That'll be the day," the doctor snorted as her desk phone rang.

She set her coffee down and answered it, "Akagi."

She frowned then spoke, "Are you sure?"

"What's going on?" Misato asked, while Ritsuko was nodding to herself, "I'll see what I can find out." She hung the phone up.

"Well?"

"Rei's not at her apartment," she replied flatly as she started dialing her phone.

"What?!" Misato exclaimed.

"I know that Aida was walking with her, so I'll call him..."

Suddenly her console beeped at her. She moaned as she set the phone back, "What now?"

"Ma'am!" Maya Ibuki's voice screamed from the speaker, "We have a problem!"

Misato felt an icy fist grab her stomach, "What's the situation Lieutenant?"

"We have five enemy signatures outside the city! They just showed up; no idea how! The signatures are comparable to Alphas, but the energy readies are off the scale!"

Misato shivered. Only a few Angels were close to the same, and the only one that size with that much power had completely overwhelmed them.

Ritsuko glanced at her, "A Mu squad?"

"Has to be," Misato nodded, "Call everyone in. And pray to God that both the Pilots and the Evas are in good enough shape to fight."