Disclaimer: I do not own Evangelion or anything associated with it. I'm writing this story simply because I enjoy writing.
That was all Rei Ayanami could feel, and as she looked at the tank that was the heart of the Dummy Plug system, clad in nothing but her own bare skin, emptiness was that she could see.
She could remember how this deathly horrible place had been before, with other 'hers' floating about, suspended in LCL, giggling mindlessly whenever they looked at beings unlike themselves, beings who truly lived, who had souls. Just looking at the numerous clones had terrified her, for she knew that any one of them could become her successor, could one day take away everything that was now hers. Her mind, her soul, her everything. She knew this because it had been done before. She knew because she had inherited her mind and soul from the second clone to bear the name Rei Ayanami, just as she had inherited them from the first.
Now, however, there were no more clones. All of her 'other's were gone, stricken down by Ritsuko Akagi in a fit of jealousy and hatred. The doctor had been driven to the edge of madness of by Gendo Ikari's manipulations, perhaps even beyond those limits, and had taken her revenge. In doing so, Ritsuko had also destroyed Rei herself.
Rei had been alone for all of her first incarnation and much of her second; the only person she had any kind of relationship with was Gendo. Until the day she had met Shinji, Commander Ikari's son. He had been the first, the first to see Rei as something other than a tool, a freak, someone who should be left alone and deserved to be so. The very day Shinji had come into her second life, he had stepped in to keep her from piloting Unit 01 when he saw her, injured and fragile, struggling to rise from her gurney, to pilot herself. Shinji had risked his life when her own life had been endangered after the battle with the 5th Angel. They had spent time talking to each other, both at NERV and at school, and before Rei had realized what had happened, Shinji had become so much a part of her life that his thirty days trapped in Unit 01 had been like a slow death for her.
That was how she felt now, for when Shinji learned that Rei as nothing more than a clone of his mother, one of many clones, many hybrids of human and Angel flesh, he had been horrified. This horror had cost her one of the few things that gave her life meaning, that she actually held of value in this world.
Frowning at this, Rei knew that much of her isolation had been her own doing, though it had been encouraged by Commander Ikari. He had discouraged her from socializing, from seeking friends and friendships in all three of her incarnations, making it clear that such things were unimportant and would only serve to distract her from her true purpose.
To initiate a controlled Third Impact. To cause the obliteration of all that lived. That had been her purpose. That was the reason for which she had been created by Gendo, to destroy everything that lived so that the commander could wield the power of both the 1st and 2nd Angels, and thus would live forever with his wife, Yui. The only person he truly had had feelings for, Rei now realized. She now understood that her relationship with the commander was a lie, another of his cruel manipulations. The last in a long line of atrocities he had committed, before his death.
That moment remained fresh in Rei's mind. She had been standing before Gendo, naked and awaiting the moment in which he plunge his right hand and the embryonic form of Adam into her flesh when Dr. Akagi had interrupted them. Despite everything the doctor had done, the sight of her had filled Rei with sadness. Like with Rei herself, Gendo had done everything in his power to make himself everything to Ritsuko, to the point that she was willing to do anything, hurt anyone, in order to remain close to him. He had made her into another tool, just like Rei, and when her efforts to destroy NERV and stop Third Impact failed, it was clear that he had no qualms with disposing of the doctor as easily as he had Rei's previous incarnations. Raising up his gun, Gendo had taken aim at the doctor, displaying no remorse, no caring for the time they had spent together as lovers. Nothing but the willingness to kill her.
Only that never happened. A fraction of a second before Gendo had pulled the trigger, a bullet had been sent ripping into his forehead. Lt. Colonel Misato Katsuragi had somehow arrived on the scene just before Gendo had fired, and upon seeing her former friend imperiled, she had chosen to save her life, and in doing so, save the world.
Yet, as Rei had watched Gendo fall into the pool of LCL beneath them, she had been filled with horror, shock…and most surprising of all, anger towards Misato. She knew that the woman had been good to Shinji, had done everything in her power to protect him, to encourage him, and had even tried to help Rei herself on occasion. She knew that, in killing Gendo, Misato had very likely saved the entire world from the ravages of Third Impact. And yet, as his body disappeared into the LCL, Rei felt cheated. That day, she had slowly destroyed the commander's broken glasses, one of the few keepsakes she had. She had been prepared to resist Gendo, to take away everything that he had worked towards with one act of defiance, to make a stand for the first and only time in her life. To take control of Instrumentality away from Gendo, and transfer it to his son.
Misato had taken that away from Rei, just as surely as Ritsuko had robbed her of Shinji. So, robbed of everything, her life and her revenge upon Gendo, Rei had run away.
"Rei, wait!" Misato had cried out, but Rei didn't care, didn't want anything to do with her, with anyone. She ran and ran through the labyrinth that was NERV, even as the sounds of battle echoed through its structure.
Rei knew that Shinji and Asuka were most likely battling the MP Evas sent by SEELE, and she didn't care. She knew that JSSDF soldiers had invaded NERV, and she didn't care. All that she knew was that she was monster. An Angel, just like the ones that she had fought, like the one she had died fighting. An aberration, one that even Shinji shunned now. A tool, one that no longer had any purpose, whether given to or chosen by her.
So, after an eternity running, until her bare feet ached and protested, Rei had finally found herself here, in this place, where all of her 'others' had waited, suspended in LCL, waiting for a chance to be her. Where they had been born as a result of one man's madness, lived as tools, and had died through a woman's bitterness.
And as Rei looked at the tank of LCL, she knew that she was just like them, and deserved to join them in death.
As Misato wandered through the depths of NERV, she found herself feeling lost and not just a little scared. Things had gone to hell very quickly in the last few hours. SEELE had mobilized the Mass Productions Evas to attack NERV in an attempt to initiate Third Impact, the JSSDF had attacked trying to stop it, killing possibly hundreds of innocent people in the process, and the only thing that had stopped these two forces was the purple abomination known as Unit 01.
Piloted by Shinji and driven by the soul of Yui Ikari, Unit 01 had unleashed a terrifying power that Misato had witnessed once before, on the day of Second Impact. Sprouting ten wings of fiery destruction, the horned monstrosity had added new depth to its title of 'berserker' that day, effortlessly ripping apart Units 05 through 13, saving a ravaged Asuka and Unit 02 in the process. As for the JSSDF forces, all they had to do was watch the bio-mechanical nightmare in action, and they lost a great deal of the urge to fight. When they heard from Shinji, maddened by the pain and loss he felt, along with the anger that he had repressed during his fourteen years of life, it had been a terrifying thing. His words stained Misato's memories, in total contrast with the gentle, sometimes timid boy that she had brought into her home.
Shinji's words, backed up the power of humanity's most horrifying creation, had terrified the battle-hardened men and women into unconditional surrender.
So now, while Shinji and Unit 01 supervised the cleanup efforts, while Sub Commander Kozo Fuyutsuki oversaw the various efforts, trying to straighten things out and prevent more blood from being shed, Misato was trying to find Rei.
In her role as Director of Operations, Misato done everything she could to ensure the safety of the pilots, despite the fact that it was her duty to send them into danger. And even now, despite the revelations regarding Rei's origin, Misato knew that she had to help her. The image of Rei, standing there in shock when Gendo's corpse had fallen into the pool of LCL. The look on her face, that look of pain and loss, it was a sight Misato knew all too well.
It was the same face she had seen in the mirror for three years, mute and traumatized as a result of Second Impact. The face of someone…who had lost everything.
"I just hope I'm right," Misato gritted, having done her best to think of where Rei might go in her condition. The Lt. Colonel had already tried some of the labs, Gendo's office, the Eva cages, and was now down to one place. Just one final place that she associated with Rei.
Misato knew she was correct before she even entered the room. Even as the image of Rei's clones rose up in her mind, the purple-haired woman carefully made her way into the lab where Rei had likely had been 'born'. Soon, she was greeted with the sight of the 1st Child of NERV, who was staring blankly at the empty tank that she had come from.
"Rei?" Misato spoke, her voice timid and firm at the same time. At first, there was no reaction, so Misato sucked in a breath before trying again. "Rei?"
Moving ever so slowly, Rei looked over her should at Misato. "Lt. Colonel."
Okay, she's acknowledged my existence. That's a start, Misato decided, trying to be as careful as she could. "Rei…it's all over now. The attack on NERV is over, and we're trying to clear everything up with the JSSDF."
That said, Misato waited, waited and hoped that this version of Rei would ask the same question she would have expected of the previous one. Almost an eternity passed before she finally did. "Is Ikari-kun…safe?"
Taking a deep breath of relief, Misato gave her a weak smile. "He's fine. He managed to destroy all the MP Evas. Asuka is pretty messed up now, but she should be okay." There was just the slightest shift in Rei's features, the tiniest measure of relief flowing through her. However, when Rei looked away, returning her attention to the tank, Misato felt some of her old impatience returning. "Come on, Rei, let's get out of here already."
Misato frowned. For a moment, she felt the urge to ask, 'Why, what?' but she wasn't in the mood to play games. Not after everything that had happened. "Listen, Rei," she started, unsure of exactly what she should say. "It's not going to do you any good to stay here."
"It won't do me any good to go anyplace else," Rei replied instantly, her voice complete devoid of life, of feeling. "I have nothing. I am…nothing."
Misato frowned at this, the anger and frustration she was feeling finding a convenient focus in Rei. How many times had she had to deal with Shinji, when he had been on the verge of self-destruct, and just how much it had pissed her off to see him that way. "To Hell with that!" Misato finally screeched, suddenly fed up with every moron who went about, saying 'Oh, poor, pitiful, me,' all the time because it was easier to be a self-pitying loser than actually do something with yourself. "You're somebody, alright! Somebody whose been given a lot of grief by a complete bastard who's already dead! Somebody who's used and abused and been given a load of shit all her life! But you're still somebody, and I'm not about to just stand around here, watching you feeling sorry for yourself!"
"You do not have to stay here," Rei responded dimly. "You can leave here at anytime."
Misato felt like she was about to explode. "Oh, no, you don't! You're not getting off that easily!" With that declaration, Misato whipped off her flight jacket and draped it about Rei's shoulders. While the albino was reacting to the jacket in surprise, Misato took Rei's hand in her own. "You're coming with me!"
Staring at the purple-haired woman, Rei blinked, her expression a mixture of fear and confusion. "Why…are you doing this?"
"Because I care, that's why!" Misato declared. "Besides, there's a certain guy up there who begged me to go find you, and I think you owe it to yourself to go see him, and hear what he has to say."
As Shinji continued to watch the JSSDF soldiers slowly march out of NERV, he felt no satisfaction over his victory. No pride, no pleasure; only a deep, abiding sadness over everything that happened.
"You couldn't have stopped this, Shinji," a warm, caring voice echoed forth from the core of Unit 01. "This nightmare was caused by people who didn't care about anything, even their own lives. Rokubungi and the others, they all decided that the world was too painful, too frightening for them to live in, so they decided that to end human existence would be a blessing. For everyone."
"I know, mother, but…" Shinji murmured sadly, amazed at what happened. In the battle against the MP Evas, his synch ratio had hit all new plateaus, making it so that he actually felt like he was the Eva, rather than its pilot. When that happened, his mother's soul had come forth and contacted him, allowing him to achieve a level of power he had never imagined possible. And since defeating the MP Evas, she helped him remember everything that had happened when he had been absorbed by Unit 01, of the things they had talked about, the time spent together in the heart of bio-mechanical berserker. So much had become clearer in a short period of time.
"He spoke to me a great deal about his plans, how we would be together again," Yui spoke, her voice filled with a bitter sadness. "He never understood that what I really wanted…was a world where our children could grow up, happy and safe. All he wanted…was to be alone with me. He had no use for anyone else. He was always so fearful of the bonds between other people."
Shinji gave a weary sigh to this. "I guess…now I understand how I got to be such a coward," he muttered sourly. "I had the biggest coward in the world for a father."
"You are no coward, Shinji," Yui countered, a careful mix of force and reassurance to her words. "A coward would never have fought all of those battles, just to protect the people that he loves. A coward would have abandoned them a long time ago." Frowning, Shinji could only listen as his mother continued. "I'm only sorry that I wasn't there for you when you needed me most."
"It's not your fault, mother. I understand…" Shinji murmured, having discovered why Yui had given herself to Unit 01. It had all been there, in the memories that she had released in him. Of how Unit 01 had been created to be the control mechanism for Human Instrumentality, and that the only way to prevent that from happening was from within the Eva itself. As a part of Unit 01. "But…we can be together again…right?"
"I'm…afraid not, my Shinji. At least, not just yet," Yui answered. "Lilith still remains, and will have to be destroyed. Also…don't forget what Kaworu told us."
"About there being more Angels coming?" Shinji asked nervously. When he 'felt' Yui give the mental equivalent to a nod, he furrowed his brow with misery. "Can that really be true?"
"I don't know, my Shinji. There is so much that we don't know about the Angels, where they come from, that I can't say for certain," Yui explained, her scientific discipline plain in her voice. "But even if it is true, please remember that I will always love you, my son. I will be here for you, whenever you need me."
Sighing as he leaned back, Shinji fought the urge to just curl up on his seat, to be the little boy he had been when his mother had 'died' ten years ago. So much had happened in such a short time. So many revelations, most of them horrifying in the extreme, and he was struggling to keep up with it all. He deeply wanted to be comforted, to have someone scoop him up into their arms and make all his fears and concerns disappear. He wanted it so desperately that he knew that he would never be able to give voice to this feeling.
"Shinji?" came Misato's over the intercom, causing the 3rd Child to snap to attention.
Looking at the display that held the image of his guardian, Shinji asked, "Yes?"
"Listen, I found Rei," Misato reported, an unhappy look to her. "But…she's pretty upset, and…"
"I know," Shinji cut in, the guilt that he had felt when he asked Misato to go find Rei cutting into his heart again. "Listen, Misato, I'll be back as soon as soon as I can."
"Huh? Don't you want to talk to her right now?" Misato wondered, looking confused by this.
"I…I have to talk to her myself. In person, Misato," Shinji stated as firmly as he could, given the chaotic emotions that were running through him. "I…just have to."
Misato frowned, not sure of how the JSSDF people would react if Unit 01 suddenly disappeared from sight. The last thing they needed was for the military to have second thoughts about surrendering. Then, as she looked at Shinji's earnest face, she realized just how much everybody owed the boy, and knew in her heart that she couldn't refuse him this request.
"Alright, Shinji, but you'll have to wait until Fuyutsuki's finished negotiating with the generals," Misato informed him, her tone compassionate, yet brooking no defiance. "Too many people have already died today. The last thing I want is more blood."
"Understood," Shinji answered, grateful for the purple-haired woman's understanding. Also, it gave him more time to think out exactly what he would say to Rei when the moment finally came. "Um, Misato?"
"What is it?" Misato wondered.
"Mother…she told me to say 'thank you' for her," Shinji smiled wanly. "For taking me in."
At this, Misato gave a slow smile. "Tell your mother…it was my pleasure."
"Actually, she already heard you," Shinji explained as his mother's voice whispered into his ears, causing a slight giggle to pop out of his lips.
"Hey, what's so funny?" Misato wondered.
"Oh, it's nothing, really," Shinji tried to assure her, though the look on Misato's face made it abundantly clear that she didn't believe him. However, it was also plain to see that the Lt. Colonel was not in the mood to pursue the subject.
"Anyway, I'll let you know when we've gotten the all-clear, Shinji. I'll keep an eye on Rei here," Misato informed him.
"Thanks, Misato," Shinji told her before she signed off, her own difficulties keeping her busy, and his own woes leaving him drained. However, as he again leaned back in his seat, he smiled. "Yes, Mother, I know Misato drinks too much, but she really has been cutting back on the beer lately…"
At least an hour passed before the order was given for the JSSDF forces pulled back from the shattered geofront, an hour that Rei spent in total silence, alone in the changing room near the Eva cages. She made no moves on her own since the Lt. Colonel had dragged her there, nor had she done anything to impede people moving around her. She had not protested when Misato had gotten her a robe to wear, but she had assisted her in putting the robe on. She had merely stood still for the most part, like a doll, waiting for others to move her, to do what they wanted to her.
That is all that I am, all that I ever will be, Rei thought, thinking of the 2nd Child as she did so. Pilot Sohryu was correct. I am…a doll.
"Rei?" came Misato's voice as she slowly stepped into the office. When Rei failed to look up, Misato continued. "I have someone here who wants to speak with you."
At this, a familiar set of footfalls were heard echoing though the changing room. Unable to resist, Rei looked up, only to see Shinji approaching in his Plug Suit. As he drew closer, her nose was filled with the stench of rotting blood, but this wasn't what caused her to recoil. It was his eyes, eyes that were filled with pain and mercy and confusion. Eyes that overwhelmed her with the raw emotion they held within.
"Uh…Ikari-kun…" Rei fumbled, completely uncertain as to what she should say. This was not the face she had seen Shinji wear before, full of disgust and betrayal. This was different, this was…
"Rei…" Shinji murmured as he finally came up to the third version of the 1st Child. All he could think of was how he had seen her upon learning of her origins, of how his father had manipulated her.
What had been a friend became a clone, a sham to replace the one of the few good friends he had. What had been an ally became an Angel. Even worse than that, an Angel that looked human, and thus a reminder of Kaworu Nagisa, and how Shinji had been forced to take his life. What had been a reassuring presence in his life had become an abomination, something that existed only to desecrate the memory of his mother.
And now, he saw her as he truly was. A gentle soul who had been tormented beyond imagination by his bastard of a father. "I…" Shinji fumbled, still at a loss as to how he could possibly undo the damage caused by his earlier words. "What I said to you before…I…I should never have said what I said…I…"
"You do not need to apologize," Rei cut in, almost fearful to hear what Shinji had to say. "You were merely…speaking the truth. I am not the Rei Ayanami…that you knew before."
"Yes, you are!" Shinji immediately countered. "You have her memories, her mind, her soul…you are that Rei! You really are!"
"No. That Rei died," the third clone muttered with something that could almost be disgust in her voice. "She died protecting you, Ikari-kun."
"But…Rei…" Shinji sputtered, unsure what to say.
"She died when she caused Unit 00 to self-destruct, remember?" Rei continued, her eyes becoming colder. "She is gone, and I…I am not her. I can never be her. I am…a fraud."
Suddenly at an impasse, Shinji looked helplessly at the albino girl who carried the DNA of both his mother and Lilith, unable to think of anything he could say. But as he fumbled, struggled for the words, Misato spoke up. "Well, I guess that if you're a fraud, then Shinji must be a fraud, too. Right, 3rd Child?"
"What?!" Shinji yelped, turning to look at Misato in shock. As for Rei, her eyes locked onto the purple-haired woman with all the accuracy of the sniper rifle Shinji had used against the 5th Angel, and with a fire that rivaled that weapon's power.
Misato never once lost her firm expression; instead, she just continued look at the children with annoyance. "The second Rei isn't the only pilot we've lost. Or have you forgotten about what happened with the 14th Angel?"
Rei narrowed her eyes at this. "Shinji didn't die. His soul was absorbed by Unit 01."
"And his body disappeared into the LCL," Misato spoke in a bored tone. "Then, after thirty days, we got his soul back in a new body. But that doesn't change the fact that we lost the first Shinji, and he was replaced by this one."
"He was not replaced!" Rei countered with a measure of heat. "This is the real Shinji!"
As for the 3rd Child, he gave Misato a smile of appreciation. Thank you, he thought to his guardian, who had just shown him what he needed to do. Then, returning his gaze to Rei, Shinji stated, "But, Rei, you said that because you have a different body, you weren't the same Rei? If that's true, then, I guess…"
"You have the same body," Rei retorted forcefully.
"How do you know that?" Shinji questioned her.
"They never filtered out the LCL while your soul was in Unit 01," Rei stated firmly. "Therefore, your body is the same."
"You can't know that for sure," Shinji countered, almost shocked by himself, at the fact that he was almost verbally attacking Rei. But it's the only way! he reminded himself. "You weren't there when I came back, were you? How can you be sure that I'm real? That I have the same body?"
"You are real!" Rei insisted, now almost beside herself as she stood to face Shinji. "You are Shinji! You are!!"
"Why? Because I have the same mind? The same memories? The same soul?" Shinji countered, at which point Rei sucked in a gasp of shock, as she realized what Shinji was saying. "Then…if that's true, and if I'm real…then I guess you must be real, too. The real Rei Ayanami." As what Shinji sank in, Rei could only look at him in awe.
Then, a shadow of bitter sadness crossed her features. "But…Shinji…I was not…born in the same way as you. I am…artificial."
"So? Who cares?!" Shinji protested with a heat that surprised even himself. "Who cares how you were born?! Who cares how many clones there were, or - or what my father did to you! You're still Rei!!"
Misato just stood there, smiling as a wave of indescribable emotion flowed across the face of Rei Ayanami. She smiled as Shinji came into his own, despite the horrors inflicted upon him by his bastard of a father. And she smiled the most as Shinji closed the gap between the two of them and took hold of Rei's shoulders. "You're you, Rei," Shinji smiled, tears rippling down his face. "You'll always be you."
As Rei stared into Shinji's eyes, pain and sadness that she had locked away deep within herself made itself known. Tiny rivulets flowed from her own eyes as Rei drew herself into Shinji's arms, the two of them sharing a much-needed embrace.
"I…was afraid," Rei whispered, her voice trembling ever so slightly. "When you…"
"I'm sorry, Rei," Shinji murmured comfortingly. "I never should have said that to you. I'm so sorry."
After several seconds passed, Misato smirked at the two Children. "So…do you two want to be alone, or do you mind if I watch?"
Shaken from the moment, Shinji looked in shock at his guardian. "Misato!" he howled in protest.
Snickering wickedly, Misato shot her ward a mischievous look. "I'm sorry, Shin-kun, but…I just couldn't resist!" Succumbing to the temptation of the moment, the Lt. Colonel added, "Besides, the two of you do look awfully cute together! What do you think, Rei?"
"Aw, Misato! Cut out it!" Shinji protested nervously, clearly having never outgrown the nervousness he felt in the face of Misato's teasing.
Yes, he is the real Shinji Ikari, Rei knew, and smiled, for in this moment, she had started to realize something. That despite his absorption by Unit 01, he had remained the same person. That the thing that made him Shinji Ikari was his soul, just as her own soul made her Rei Ayanami. Just as it had made her previous incarnations was they had been.
Thank you, Shinji, Lt. Colonel, Rei thought as she watched the two of them go about their verbal exchange. For the first in any of her lives, she felt secure. How many times had she wondered what a human was, what was it that made one person so different from the other. However, in all that time, it had never once occurred to her that the answer could be so simple. Too simple for her to even see it.
As a smile slowly creased her face, Rei Ayanami, 1st Child of NERV, walked up to Shinji and placed her hand upon his shoulder. A slightly surprised look appeared upon the 3rd Child's face as he looked at her, all the while Rei studied his features, knowing full well that torments Gendo had subjected him to. "Shinji?" she spoke, a new warmth tingeing her words.
"Yes?" he asked, as if unsure as to what Rei was about to do.
Smiling even more, Rei succumbed to impulse for the first time she could remember. Caressing Shinji's cheek, the blue-haired girl leaned forward…and kissed him. While Misato stared in surprise and Shinji was wondering exactly what changes had occurred in Rei that he didn't know about, the albino slowly pulled away. "Thank you…and I understand. Coming to terms with…my past…was not easy. For any of us."
A light blush dusting his cheeks, Shinji smiled in response. "I know, Rei. I'm only sorry that…I didn't see it sooner."
"Same here," Misato agreed, guilt crossing her features as she spoke.
Nodding her appreciation in Misato's direction, Rei continued to smile. "I…would like to leave now, if you don't mind. I see no reason to remain here, and...I think that there is much that I would like to do."
Shinji could only smile gladly at this. "I like the sound of that." With that, he took her hand and carefully led her from the locker room, Misato close behind them.
Rei had no idea as to what would happen next. She was quite certain that there were many trials ahaead, and that there would be many who would have difficulties with her, given her origins and that she was now a full Angel. However, she felt more comfortable now than she ever had before. For the first time, she was safe in the knowledge that it didn't matter how many clones there had been of her, that she was the mind, memories, and soul of Rei Ayanami given flesh. That the mind and soul that had made both her first and second incarnations what they had been remained intact, despite all of Gendo's manipulations. And it was the soul, not the body that it currently resided in, made her what she was.
That made her forever unique.
Author's Notes: I hope everybody enjoyed this story, and will let me know what they think. Please, read and review. And I hope you will check out my other stories as well.