The 2nd try

Chapter 2: survive





The only sound that had remained was the clashing of waves.
Only stars, the moon and a red streak filled his vision.
His senses slowly returned to him, just to present him a sight he didn't want to see. But he didn't even find himself able to blink.
So instead he turned his head, only to face what seemed to be the ocean; red like blood.

'Ayanami...'

But she wasn't even there anymore.

'So, just like she came into my life, she left...'

Slowly, Shinji sat up. It wasn't until now that he noticed someone besides him.

'Asuka!'

The memories came back to him; all at once; flooding his mind.

'"Stay away from me!"
She will never let me near her.

"You couldn't possibly understand me!!"
She will never let me know.

"But, if I have to be with you, I'd rather die!"
She will never want to be with me!

"Help me... Help me! Help me!! Don't leave me alone! Don't abandon me! Don't kill me!"
"...No"
She will never help me!
'

Without even knowing what he was doing, he had climbed on top of the redheaded girl and began to finish what he started in 'there'.
His mind was empty, his eyes a blank stare as his hands clamped tighter around her neck; his heart burning with rage of betrayal, anger and loss.

But then, he stopped. Something warm caressed his cheek. The gentle touch of her hand reached him in his trance. It was, as if a dream that had still haunted him in his state of half-awareness, was finally fading.

Now, he knew for sure that he truly was back in the real world; the world of real feelings; the world of pain and the world of happiness.

The dream was over.

Slowly, he became aware of what he almost had done as her fingers trailed down his face.

She had needed him to stop. She had needed him to help her from himself...

That realization hit him.

SHE had needed HIM!
Not only now, but before as well. No matter how much she declared that she wouldn't.
And it hadn't been only her.

'Misato needed my help after Kaji's death. Rei needed my friendship even after I found out about her origins. And Asuka... even though she would've never admitted it, I knew she needed me after the 15th.'

He had collapsed by now. His tears trailed down his cheeks unhindered, dropping onto Asuka's face.

All this time he begged for help, always wanting others to take care of his problems, he had never realized that they had their own to deal with.
How could he expect their help if no one had been helping them?
If he hadn't been helping them?

"I feel sick..."

He didn't understand what she meant with those words; if she felt ill or if she was just disgusted with this situation or with him. Right now, it didn't matter at all.
He cried for what seemed like hours while Asuka just lay there; not moving in any way.
As his sobbing finally ceased, he consciously noticed the bandages that covered her right arm and her left eye for the first time, fading in the white sand and her pale skin, but a stark contrast to the red of her hair and her plugsuit. Images of EVA-02, pierced and mutilated by the MP-EVAs and their replicas of the Longinus Lance flashed in his mind of the moment when he had finally arrived to the battlefield, much too late, unable to do anything but watch those white beasts tearing it apart, devouring it, so that he had known with sickening certainty that Asuka too, yet another of the few people close to him, was...

'But she's alive,' he assured himself, shaking his head in his attempt to clear it.

"Could you get off me now?" Asuka asked in a tired voice, not looking at him.

He realized that he still sat on top of her and struggled to get up. For the first time, he let his gaze wander around his surroundings. The dawn had set in, but the color of the 'water' didn't change with the upcoming light. There were some poles that stood near the shore; Misato's cross hung on one of them. Had he put it there? He didn't remember. Ruins were all that was left of the once glorious city of Tokyo-3.
But what dwarfed it all was the giant head of Rei – Lilith? – now tilted to the side, staring into the sky with a grotesque, never-ending smile on her lips.

"So that's it, huh?"

Shinji flinched at the hoarse voice next to him. Asuka had sat up by now, following his gaze over the ocean. He couldn't tell if she was in pain, but the wounds she must have had under those bandages were likely more than just scratches. Wounds she had because he hadn't acted in time.

The guilt he felt at the sight of the desolate world around him was nothing against the sickening feeling in his guts being confronted with this living reminder.

"A-Asuka, I..." He clenched his fists, staring to the ground.

"Not... Not yet, Shinji." She slowly lifted herself up. "We... we'll talk later, okay? Other things should have more priority now. And this day had been long enough..."

He gaped at her, honestly surprised by her apparent strength and, maybe even more so, by her reaction. Shinji knew how much Asuka hated his excuses and after all he had and hadn't done, despise him even more. He would have expected her to snap at him with all energy that was left in her, going as far as to physically hurt him even if she would have to hurt herself more in the process. But the way she cut him off hadn't been hostile and she hadn't simply ignored him either. And that caress before...?

Shinji eventually nodded, but she probably didn't notice anymore as she had already turned and slowly walked towards the remains of Tokyo-3. One last time he returned his view to the horizon.

"Don't you want to come back?" he asked the sea.

As expected, he received no answer.

Slowly, he turned and began to follow Asuka.



****************



There wasn't much left of the city. Most of it was blown up with the exposure of the Geofront. The hole where the giant sphere had been was hard to miss.

Shinji followed Asuka close by. He knew she was heading for home, or at least, what they hoped was left of it. However, they weren't moving very fast as he noticed, watching her taking slow steps through the ruins, trying to find a path that wouldn't require climbing.

'Of course, she got seriously injured and she seems to be very tired as well. I... I should do something,' he knew as much. But despite knowing, despite his wish, he still couldn't find himself able to act, still afraid of her reaction if he did. 'After all that happened, after all I've realized, I still can't help her! Still the same coward...'

She suddenly tripped, slumping a bit forward before she regained her balance.

He clenched his fists '...No!'

"A-Asuka?" he gained her attention, causing her to stop. "Y-you're alright? I-I mean, you've got pretty hurt, and... you know?"

She lifted her bandaged arm and clenched her hand slightly. "I'm not sure. It doesn't hurt as much as it should." She turned her head, looking at him with tired eyes. "I'll make it home. I guess I'll feel better after I get some rest."

He nodded, not really satisfied by her answer, but he just couldn't come up with enough confidence to risk an argument right now.



****************



The suburbs gave a slightly better impression. Most of the buildings still stood, but were badly damaged, while yet others had barely a scratch. Cars and debris was spread on the streets and sidewalks.

Luckily, their apartment building was one of the few in better shape. However, as they entered their apartment, they were greeted with a poor sight. Almost every glass was broken due to the shockwave and everything that wasn't heavy enough or nailed down lay scattered on the floor.

Asuka merely sighed after a glance at the mess and headed for her room.

"I don't know about you, but I need some sleep before I can do anything else."

He nodded. "Good night, Asuka."

A small smile crept on her lips. "It's not night anymore, baka," she said and closed the door to her room behind her, leaving Shinji to his thoughts.



****************



After cleaning his bed from the dirt, he tried to get some rest as well. But sleep wouldn't come to him that easily. The events of the previous day were played in his mind all over again whenever he closed his eyes. The invasion; that he didn't cared if he'd die anymore; Misato's death and her goodbye; the sight of Asuka's EVA-02, ripped apart by the white Mass Production-EVAs; the appearance of Rei; the events that had been the Third Impact...

When had it begun to go wrong? When he had to murder Kaworu, who had been the first to openly show affection towards him? When he learned about Rei's past, or when she sacrificed herself for him? When he almost lost Asuka after she lost herself because of the 15th Angel? When Misato closed herself up to continue Kaji's quest for the truth, or with his own loss of that father figure he had found in the charming man? When he had lost all hope to get any kind of understanding with his real father, when the obsessed man had forced him to almost kill his best friend?
Or even before, when he had still been happy...?

Yes, there had been times when he was happy here. He had been accepted by others; found friends. It had been only a few months or even weeks ago that he had been admired by Toji for living with Misato, was questioned all over about NERV and the EVAs by Kensuke, or teased by both of them when he showed interest in Rei or Asuka; just like Misato liked to do since the day she had taken him to live with her. Not very long ago that he, despite some 'stressful' times, still enjoyed living with the cheerful, yet sloppy woman and Asuka, after she had moved in with them when they participated their synch-training. Not very long ago that he had listened to Kaji's advice. Not very long ago that...

But now that all just seemed to be faint memories from events that had happened several years ago, in a far away past.

Shinji cringed in his bed. It had been those feelings that had made him want to return, because he had thought he could feel like that again once everyone returned. But now, as it seemed that no one would follow him and Asuka; the thoughts of those joyful times, knowing that they would never come back, hurt him even more compared to the dark times that came afterwards.

'"As long as you live, you can find the chance to achieve happiness anywhere." ' he remembered his mother's words.

But how was he supposed to find happiness when they were all alone?

He sighed. It was obvious that he wouldn't be able to find sleep; not when he couldn't find a way to avoid thinking of anything at all. He couldn't even listen to his S-DAT; not only that the batteries had been empty since yesterday; it had also been hit by one of the larger parts of debris that had broken free from the ceiling; shattered as seemingly everything of his previous life.

'Was it even yesterday? As far as I know, we could have been days, weeks or even years inside there...'

Finally, he decided to get up, though there wasn't very much he could do. The TV was broken and even if not, there wouldn't be anything broadcasted from now on anyway. If he tried to clean up the mess in the apartment, he would most likely make too much noise and wake Asuka. The cello was out of question as well, for both reasons.

Nonetheless, he would better try to find something to occupy his mind.



****************



"Am I... dead?"
*
"I don't want to be alone..."
*
'Why is he here...?'
*
"So, that's all I am to you after all?!"
*
"It makes me sick just to look at you!"
*
"Ikari, did you try to understand?"
*
"If I can't have you for me alone, I don't want you at all..."
*
"Asuka, help me! You're the only one who can!"
*
"Pathetic..."
*
"So everyone should just die..."
*
'Because of me?'

*

Asuka bolted up; breathing heavily as she awoke from her nightmare. The shirt she had been able to change into along with a pair of shorts after getting out of the plugsuit with some struggling, was now drenched in sweat. There was no way she could get back to sleep. Not with these thoughts haunting her dreams.
'Damn it!' she cursed to herself, bringing her good arm up and wiped her forehead as she tried to calm down. 'Is it too much to ask for some rest? Hasn't it been enough? I can't... I don't want this anymore...'

As her breathing calmed and the sweat dried, she noticed a well-known and very welcomed scent in the air, reaching her nose: the smell of cooking. She carefully got up, following the scent to the kitchen. It didn't surprise her to find Shinji there, but that he seemed to prepare every perishable food they had in the house did. It wasn't as much as one would expect for a three-person household, but definitely more than two people could eat without getting sick.

"I didn't know you had such an appetite," she commented with a faint smile.

"Huh?" He jerked slightly before turning to her, obviously surprised by her sudden entrance. "Asuka! Did I wake you?"

"No, not really," she said with a frown, the trace of amusement instantly vanished.

"W-well, h-how do you feel?" Shinji muttered sheepishly.

"As well as it can be expected under such circumstances I guess..." she sighed, but then quickly tried to shake her head free from thoughts that would lead to nothing but to a depression she couldn't use now. "So, what are you doing here?" she changed the topic.

"Uh?" He glanced at the stove. "Cooking?"

She smirked weakly as she rolled her eyes. "I can see that, baka! But why?"

"Well, since we have no power for the freezer, this would have become rotten soon anyway and even faster if it's raw."

"Hm, seems you CAN think sometimes," she mocked playfully, trying her best to keep the mood up.
"Uhm, thanks?" he said somewhat unbelieving at her 'compliment'. But then his face grew serious. "Asuka, about..."

Her frown quickly cut him off. "I've told you already, we'll talk about that later..."

"But- We... we have time to talk now..."

Asuka grimaced. She could tell that he was anxious to share whatever dwelled on his mind and she knew pretty well what that was. But time wasn't so much the issue.

'I just can't.' She had to admit to herself as looked at him as he waited for an answer. 'Not yet.'

She wasn't sure why – or she just didn't want to be. A part of her wanted to talk, to confront him, to find out if... And yet, there was something that made her hesitate. Something that rather made her want to wait if this wouldn't solve itself eventually. And it would be hard enough not to fall back into destructive habits and prejudices to not let herself be distracted by such silly "something".

Whatever she did... there was no way she'd let herself end up being truly alone....

"No, we haven't.," she answered whispering, more to herself. ."It would change too much..."

With nothing more than a confused look, he returned his attention to the stove.



****************



When he was finished, they ate some of the food. It wasn't much of a meal, but something told them that even (more or less) fresh ingredients like these could be a luxury soon. The rest was carefully packed, so that it would last as long as possible.

"So... What are we going to do now?" Shinji asked after a few moments of silence.

"Basic survival, I guess," Asuka shrugged, rather obviously hiding whatever worries dwelled on her mind behind a mask of profession. "We'll have to make sure that we'll have food, water, medical supplies. Electricity would be helpful as w..." She cut herself off when she saw the mourning look on his face. "What?"

"I... I don't think I can..." he whispered. He felt as if he would break down any second; his whole body quivered as his feelings threatened to overwhelm him again. "How should I? After... after... that! We're all alone! Everyone's gone... How..."

"Shinji!" she yelled angrily; cutting him off. She leaned over the table, causing him to look up to her. "Damn it, how stupid are you? Do you really want to keep mourning about something you can't make undone anyway? Do you really just want to starve and die eventually instead?"

"No..." he mumbled lowly.

"Then get a grip, will you?" After a few moments of silence and both calmed down again, she slumped back into her chair while letting out a deep sigh. "So, do you have any ideas?"
"Well... the... water is still running," Shinji muttered halfhearted. He knew she was right. But it didn't feel that way, having to make so many decisions, to push everything away so soon, when it seemed impossible to ever do so. "And... and it seems to be clear. But the rest of food we have left will sooner or later go bad..."

"Yeah, most likely we'll need to grow something by ourselves, but that'll take some time."

He nodded slowly. "There's dried food in the shelters, I think. Maybe for the case that the refugees would get trapped in there during an attack. I remember seeing the packages there."

"Huh?" She looked surprised. "When have you been in a shelter?"

"D-during the attack of 14th..." He avoided her gaze, ashamed of his decision back then to leave everyone behind.

"Yes, I remember..." she mumbled, her tone strangely hard to interpret. "Let's drop that topic, okay? It doesn't matter now."

Somewhat surprised by her reassurance, he looked back up.

"What?" she snapped after a few seconds, visibly uncomfortable by his stare.
"N-nothing..." he muttered and shook his head. "Uhm, for the medical supplies, Tokyo-3-hospital is nearby, maybe it's still inta..." he trailed off again.

"Oh, what is it now?" Asuka groaned. "The idea isn't that bad, not that I haven't thought of it myself."

"Toji's sister had been there, before she was transferred..."

He didn't look up, but her annoyed sigh was clearly audible. "You're still not over that, huh?"

"It's not that, I..." He sighed. "Do you think they'll come back?"

That question didn't really seem to surprise her, but she didn't answer right away as if she hadn't actually thought about it before. Of course, she too could only guess whether or not there was a possibility that they weren't or wouldn't remain alone. But if she had hope then, maybe, he could too.

"I don't know" she eventually muttered. "Maybe. But we can't rely on that. I think they would be back by now, if they wan..." She suddenly shook her head, her frown growing and voice sharpening as she realized where this conversation was heading. "How often do I have to tell you: we'll talk about that later?!"

"I'm sorry..."

Her head bolted up, glaring at him. But then her face softened slowly and instead of the expected verbal assault, Shinji heard a light chuckling from his companion. Even though he didn't really understand at first, he soon got affected by her mood and joined in.

That moment, despite – or maybe just because – of the darkest of all situations, the sound of laughing filled those rooms for the first time in weeks...



****************



They decided to go to the nearest shelter first, but when they got there, they found the entrance buried with debris. So they went on to check the hospital instead. It was mid-afternoon by then and sun burned as always, not caring that almost the entire population of its third planet had been wiped out. The hospital seemed to be in perfect shape, most likely because it was build far away from the inner city, to be out of range of an Angel attack.

As they entered, Asuka almost instantly brought her arm up, blocking Shinji's way.

"What...?" he started, but Asuka already answered with a question of her own.

"Don't you see that?"

"Huh?" Shinji wondered, looking around for something strange. He couldn't see anything unordinary in the sparsely lit entrance, aside of the fact that it was completely deserted: The receptionist's counter, a few rows of chairs for waiting patients and visitors, a few plants, probably fake, for decoration.... Then he realized. "The lights are on...?"

"They most likely have an emergency power-generator for black outs." She suddenly grabbed his shirt. "COME ON!" She dragged him over to the staircase and went down as deep as possible.

'At least she seems to be okay again,' Shinji thought regarding the redhead's speed as he and Asuka hurried through the basement's floor, looking at the labels of every door.

"Where is it?" she muttered more to herself.

"Where's what?" he asked anyway. He would have felt more useful if he could help searching.

But instead of giving him an answer, Asuka let out a triumphant yell. "A-HAA!" She finally stopped at a steel door, labeled 'HIGH VOLTAGE! KEEP OUT!'.
"Open it!" she commanded, shoving him towards it to emphasize her order.

Shinji just gave her a perplexed look. "How?"

"Just kick it in! Jump against it! Geez, do I have to think of everything?"

He wanted to protest again, but stopped himself. She would win an argument anyway. And with her injuries, she actually had a good reason why she couldn't get through the massive door herself.

Not that he had any idea how he should be able to do such a seemingly impossible task. So he settled for the simplest thing first: he pulled the handle... and was surprised when the door actually opened. "Well, so much for security..."

They were greeted by the humming sound of the generator. Asuka rushed in and surveyed the machine a few moments, then pulled some levers on the control panel at its side. The humming ceased; the lights flickered a bit before they went out. In other words: It was dark.

"Eh, AsukAAAAHHH!" Shinji shrieked in shock, when she suddenly switched on a flashlight just below her face. "That wasn't very funny..." he panted, clutching his chest while she just chuckled at his reaction.

"I'd say it was," she said innocently.

"Whatever you say," he muttered, before he returned his view to the machine in the dark. "Too bad it's so big."

"Huh? Oh, the generator. Yeah, but I expected something like this. We couldn't use it anyway. As I said; it's for emergencies and not meant to run 24/7."

"Then why did you bother to turn it off?" Shinji wondered.

"Who knows if we'll need the instruments here someday?" Asuka argued. "We shouldn't waste the fuel. I don't think there's much left in it anyway."

"So that's why you rushed like this?"

"Yeah, sorry about that..."

Silence.

"Shinji?" she called him, a trace of worry mixing into her voice when he still gave no sign of life after several seconds.

"Did... did I just hear the great Asuka Langley Soryu apologizing for something?"

She grimaced. "And if you don't hurry up, you may never hear it again!" she warned and left... with the flashlight... leaving him in the dark...

"H-hey, wait!"



****************



The upper floors were fairly lit from the daylight outside, so they could get a good look around even without power. The long corridors were partly even open to one side, so the patients were able to get some fresh air without having to go too far away from their rooms. Each room was labeled, so it wasn't much of a problem to find the one to the supply room where the medicine and other pharmacy were stored. However, unlike the generator room, this one was locked.
Shinji threw himself against the door for what must have been the sixth or seventh time.

"Ah, just leave it and let's go," Asuka groaned as she got bored by his futile attempts. "We don't need any medicine now. It's good enough to know that we can get it here when we need it."

"And what in case of an emergency?" He collided with the door again, which slightly gave in. "When we need to hurry and can't get in then?" After taking some steps backwards, he bolted forward and crashed through the door, finally, and Asuka already braced herself to witness him crashing against the racks. But he catch himself in time and tumbled back to the door, leaning panting against the frame. "And... since we're already here, we.... we should check your wounds."

She frowned at her bandages. "I don't know... It barely hurts, but..." she trailed off as she remembered just too well how she got them. The impact of each lance; the grip of each claw; the bite of each jaw...

"Asuka, please... It could get worse if we don't treat them properly," Shinji insisted – concerned, Asuka told herself, not pitiful.

After some seconds of silence, she nodded hesitantly. Shinji grabbed some new bandages and followed his companion to the next room, where she sat down on one of the beds.

"Should... I...?" he asked uneasily.

"No!" Asuka declared instantly. "I... I need to do this myself..."

Taking a deep breath, she began to undo the bonds, beginning at the hand. Her left one quivered as she carefully unrolled the bandage, not taking the risk to painfully rip a fresh wound open; her eyes were closed. It was bad enough to imagine the marks she would have to carry from now on, she didn't want to see them as well. She knew it was silly, but... No, it was silly! She would have to look sooner rather than later anyway. And yet she needed to force her free eye open to take a look at the expected injuries.

But there weren't any.

Quickly, she unwrapped the rest of her arm. Nothing.

"Not even a scar..." she whispered unbelieving.

"Huh?"

"My arm! It-it was sliced... I mean... how...?" She didn't finish the sentence; instead she grasped at the patch on her eye, eagerly ripping it off. The vision was blurred at first, but quickly blinking a few times, she soon could see as clearly as before. "How is it?"

"It looks..." he trailed off as he looked into her eyes. "...fine..."

Suddenly realizing what they were doing, they broke their gaze quickly.

"We better get going now," both stammered simultaneously.



****************



They still had some daylight left, but the next shelter was too far away to make it there and back again.

"We might check the shops on the way and see what we could use," Asuka suggested as they went through the ruined streets towards their home.

"Huh? But I don't have any money."

Asuka halted and turned to face him. "Baka! Who do you want to pay?" She sighed. "This is anarchy, Shinji. There's nothing we can do about it."

Shinji looked around, taking in the wide, empty street as if it was the first time he noticed. "I still don't think that it's right," he muttered.

"Better get used to it," Asuka suggested with a solemn voice. "This will most definitely not be the last time we need to 'borrow' something."

They entered the next grocery store they saw. Shelves had been overthrown; their contents combined on the floor into an icky mass of broken eggs, spilled juices, instant noodles and other indefinable ingredients.

"Uhargh! Gross!" the redhead complained as she took big steps through the mass to reach the other end of the hall.

"It was your idea... So, what should we get?"

"I don't know," she replied, scanning the rows. "Not much left in here..."

"We'll better get some instant meals and cans. Those won't go bad that soon."

"Great, take some beers as well and we would be living Misato's dream..." As soon as she said it, she bit her tongue. Turning around, she saw Shinji, his head cast down; lost in his thoughts. "Hey, I... I..."

"I know, you didn't mean it like that." He looked up, giving her a weak smile. "She really wouldn't mind this kind of 'diet' at all, huh?"

She returned the smile, but neither of them said much afterwards. They grabbed as much as they could carry and headed home.



****************



"Still have to clean this mess up..." Shinji mumbled as he entered the living room. When they had reached the apartment, the sun had already begun setting, casting shadows everywhere.

"You think that's worth it?" Asuka questioned, sipping on a still warm soda can that they had brought from the grocery store.

He turned around at her voice. "Huh? What do you mean?"

"We will have to grow our own food, remember? I doubt we could live by what we can raise on the balcony."

"So... you want to move out?" he figured.

"We'll have to, I guess..." she shrugged. "Unless you want to travel around all day."

"But where to go? Even the nearest farms are several miles away," he complained. He didn't like the thought of leaving the first place where he really felt at home. "And I wouldn't suggest moving too far away from a city; we'll never know if we need new supplies."

"Hmmm..." Asuka threw her head back, pondering awhile. "What about a market-garden?"

"Huh?" Shinji asked surprised. "You think you can live there?"

"Why not? It's not that unusual that – at least if it's a family business – the owners live there," the redhead explained. "Another plus would be that they usually have a greenhouse, so we would be independent from the climate."

"A greenhouse?" The dark-haired boy didn't think that was very convincing. "Uhm... Have you seen any unbroken glass today?"

"Geez, don't be so pessimistic!" she scolded.

He sighed in defeat. "Okay, okay! I'll search the phone book and a map..."

"That's the spirit! Go get it!"

"You could help, you know?"

"Phht!" She threw the now empty can simply over her shoulder. "Is it my fault you haven't cleaned this mess yet?"



****************



"Finally!" Asuka declared exhausted. "And it just took us half of the day to get here!"

They had found only two market gardens in the area of Tokyo-3 and one of it was too close to the Geofront to possibly have survived the blast. The other one was about ten miles from their home at the other side of the city, and combined with the hot weather, it was quite a trip.

"Well, it looks okay..." Shinji surveyed the surroundings.

"Oh, don't try to sound too enthusiastic!" his companion said sarcastically. "Come on, let's check the garden!"

Said garden was – as far as they could tell – in a good condition and fairly big, regarding that it lay in a capitol like Neo Tokyo-3, even if only in the suburbs. The former owners had grown several kinds of vegetables, from tomatoes to cucumbers; from lettuce to onions; so they wouldn't have to worry about their chances of successful cultivation because of possible problems with the mold. Actually, it seemed enough that they would have supplies for quite a while. Either the business didn't go well lately or it was so good that they had needed to have so much resources. Either way, it meant that the chances were good that seeds were to be found somewhere as well. And indeed, one of the two sheds on the area stored all kinds of them; fortunately labeled, as neither of the two would have been able to tell what would come out of what. The other, smaller shed was empty; the reason might have been that a window had apparently been broken even before the Impact already. Either someone had broken
in and stolen what was in there for whatever reason, or the gardeners had emptied it to prevent just that.

In the greenhouse, they found mostly sprouts of vegetables that would be planted outside once they would get big enough. Shinji even noticed a few rice-seedlings, though it was doubtful that they could have been grown here economically enough to make profit. The greenhouse itself had been shielded by the main building, and thus only one pane of glass was broken and three had scratches.

"Nothing that can't be repaired..." the redhead grinned, "...by you."

Shinji ignored the last part. "Asuka, can we go now?"

"GO? We just came here! After such a walk I may add!" she fumed. "And we haven't checked the house yet."

"But we still haven't been at the shelters. And I still think we should get that food. Better safe than sorry."

"I won't argue with that. But I think they left us something to get there much faster," she grinned again and pointed to the garage.

He paled. "You... you don't mean... I mean, we don't even know how to drive, and what's with all the debris on the street and all?!"

"You think it's harder to drive a car than to pilot an EVA?"

All he could do was to sigh. She had a point there, but he still felt uneasy about the thought. Taking groceries, medicine, probably even a house and now driving... all things he had learned all his life that he wasn't supposed to do. How was he supposed to just forget about that?

"Shinji!"

"What now?" he jerked.

"Looks like we don't have to worry about electricity," she said confidently while looking at something at the roof and he followed her gaze. On the tiles were large, gray squares mounted; divided into dozens of smaller ones. Long cracks split the glass on top of some them.

"Solar panels?" Shinji wondered. "But they seem to be broken..."

"Nah, not all of them," Asuka instantly brushed his pessimism off. "The rest should give us enough energy."

"You think so? What about nights and rainy days? We won't have power then."

"Baka, the energy will be saved until it's used. But you have a point. Solar panels are commonly used as addition to the regular power supply. We won't be able to waste it like before, I guess."

Finally, Shinji nodded in agreement. "Well, okay, that's one problem less..."

As it was shown later, this wasn't the only device the previous owners had installed to use natural recourses. A large tank to fetch and filter rainwater was embedded in the ground. Though it shouldn't be used as drinking water if not necessary; it would definitely help them to safe a lot of their water stocks in case the public supply would stop eventually.



****************



Since Asuka insisted on inspecting the house, there was no way to fight it. They had to break in, or better said: Shinji had to break in. Luckily for him, there was a window on the ground floor that was just leaned on. With a bit of scrambling, he managed to enter the kitchen and open the front door from inside to let Asuka in.

The house wasn't that big, so they could get a rather quick overview. A small hall led to the living room; obviously the biggest room of the house and from where everything led to the rest of it. To the right was the kitchen, to the left was a corridor, leading towards a bathroom, a storage room and two sleeping rooms, of which one looked like it hadn't been used for quite some time and was most likely for guests. Wooden stairs led up to the first floor, but the three rooms there were mostly empty and didn't seem to be used lately.

The sight of destruction was better than in their own residence, but that wasn't what gave Shinji an uneasy feeling. He still didn't like the idea of taking over the home of someone else. Not long ago, people had lived here that he didn't even know; doing their daily chores; never expecting anything to change. Their presence was still very vibrant to Shinji, their smell still lingering in the air.
Who knew if they would have allowed the two teenagers even to set a foot in their home, not to mention to live in there? He was relived that none of the rooms appeared to have been that of a child. He really didn't know if he could have handled that sight without breaking down.

While Asuka was still busy inspecting the rooms, he waited for her on the sofa in the living room. As his eyes wandered around, from the table in front of him that was empty aside from a vase with a single flower in it; over the two paintings and the clock that decorated the walls; to the picture that stood on the TV. The later caught his interest. It seemed to be quite old; at least twenty years he guessed by the quality. It was a family picture, obviously taken on a picnic on a sunny day in autumn. But what was really strange about it, the man and his wife seemed somehow.. similar...
'Now, if her hair was more purple and he had a ponytail... Nah...' He sighed. 'I guess, I'm just seeing things. Just because they're no longer...'

"Do you need some more time to stare at other people's pictures or can we go now?" muttered a voice behind him, snapping him out of his thoughts.

"No," he mumbled and placed the picture back, "we can leave now..."



****************



Now that the redhead was finally pleased with the sight-seeing they moved on to the garage. As they opened the gate, they were greeted by a green pick-up, labeled with the logo of the family-company.

"You're sure you want to drive that?" he asked.

"Listen, if you want to move with all your stuff here by feet, feel free to do so. I will take this baby here."

"But we don't even have..." She held a bunch of keys in front of his nose. "...the keys... Where did you get those?"

She shrugged. "I've found them on a desk. Come on, get in or do I have to drag you?"

Sighing, he entered and placed himself on the passenger's seat. Meanwhile, Asuka started the engine and hit the gear.

"Ha, and you said that would be hard!" she mocked as the car sprung to life with a loud roar. As she stepped on accelerator, however, the vehicle only jerked forward a bit, the engine obviously stalled.
"Not a word," she warned, glaring at him. Not that he would have dared.

She started again, this time handling the clutch and accelerator more carefully. Slowly, they began their drive towards the closest shelter before they would drive home. They didn't get much faster though. More than one time, Asuka forgot to change the gears or stepped too hard on one of the pedals.

"Verfluchter Mist!" she cursed. "Couldn't this have been an automatic?"

"I guess there is something else we need to survive," Shinji said after being silent the whole trip until now.

"And what would that be?" Asuka asked annoyed.

"Knowledge."

"Yeah, just rub it in!" she groaned.

"I didn't mean it like that," he quickly tried to appease her. "But... we'll need to know how to keep machines in shape, how to grow our food properly or how to treat major injuries and diseases. We'll need books or something to learn things like that..."

She looked at him curiously. "Hm, you could be ri..."

"ASUKA, LOOK OUT!"

She barley evaded a broken-down car...



****************



Since they had to move sooner or later, they decided for sooner or more exactly: the next day. It didn't take long for Shinji to pack his things. First of all he didn't have much stuff to begin with and some of it, like his cello, had been destroyed during Third Impact. So all he took were some clothes and the sign that had fallen from his door. 'Shinji's lovely Suite'.
His eyes wandered to room of the one who had put it there; a welcome sign that was supposed to always remember him that he had found a home here. Misato had been the first one who made him feel welcome, to feel at home; what it would be like to live in a family. Of all the people he had known she might be the one he would miss most.

He moved on to pack all food and drinks that were left in the apartment. As he had anticipated, Asuka needed some more time to pack her stuff, but at last she came out of her room carrying four cardboard boxes. It was nothing compared to the amount of boxes she had when she moved in, but still much compared to his single carton.

"Hey, Shinji, could you get the rest?"

'I should have known...' he thought, glancing past her to see another five in her room.


Once they had loaded everything in the pick-up, they headed for their new residence. It was strange; even though they could come back here whenever they wanted, it felt like they would leave forever; the only place he had ever liked to call his home.

He didn't look back when they left.



****************



Another day was over. They hadn't done much more than to move their belongings to the new place where they wanted to live and work from now on.

Shinji lay in his new bed. He still wasn't able to sleep very well, so he found himself staring at the ceiling.

Another unfamiliar ceiling.
Hopefully the last.

As to be expected, Asuka had chosen the larger bedroom, leaving him with the smaller one that had most likely been reserved for guests. Not that he really minded. The smell of the previous owners wasn't as prominent here. Also, it was still big enough for him and also had a window, unlike the small room he had to move into when Asuka had joined him and Misato in the apartment and had taken his old one.

He tried to free his mind of those memories of the past. Otherwise, he might wouldn't get any sleep at all that night again.

After they had unpacked their belongings, they had taken a closer look at the house; or better yet: at the furniture and junk, and what might be of use for them. Which was easier said than done; who could predict if they would need exactly that brush to save their lives one day? Though Shinji still felt more uneasy about having to sort out and throw away things that they had no use for, but might have had a special meaning to the righteous owners. He just couldn't ignore that it wasn't their own property they were dealing with now.

Maybe he would have a chance to escape these thoughts tomorrow. They had planned to try getting to Kofu then, the nearest city that still had an University. There, they hoped to find a library that would cater all their academic needs to gain the knowledge to survive on their own. It would be a long, though necessary trip and the sooner it lay behind them, the sooner he might be able to get some rest...



****************



They left in the next morning, rather late than early. Asuka had have similar problems to fall asleep as he had, with the result that both had overslept. It was a three hour ride, as the direct roads were blocked by abandoned and wrecked cars, vans and trucks. Due to this, and because it was Shinji's first time to drive, they slowly crept either in slalom around those obstacles, on the sideways of the roads or on paths through seemingly even land (the bumpy ride certainly not to the delight of a certain redhead).

It was almost noon when they arrived at a lookout point over Kofu.

"It's kinda strange," Shinji muttered, gazing over the high buildings, shining in the sun, "seeing this city so intact and unaffected, as if nothing ever happened..."

"Yeah," Asuka agreed, though she couldn't shake the feeling of emptiness that she had before, when they had watched Neo Tokyo-3 during the black out. "You know, there might even still be working electricity and running water. Maybe we should scratch Tokyo-3 and move here directly. We could save ourselves a lot of wor..."

"No..." he cut her surprisingly firmly off. "I... I don't want to leave... home anymore..."

Though she gave him a questioning glare, she didn't ask any further. She knew too well what he meant...



****************



Since it was about lunchtime, their first stop was at a department store where they grabbed some foods that didn't need to be heated up, before they made their way to the Yamanashi University. To get there resulted to be a bigger problem than they had expected. Not only that one could easily get lost if he didn't know his way through the city's streets, but Kofu was also much more populated at the time of the Third Impact than Tokyo-3 was, where most civilians had been evacuated. Thus, there were so many car-wrecks that it was even harder to navigate through the streets than it had been on their way there (the more it angered them when they learned later on that they could have avoided all this by driving around the city, as the University lay more outside of it).

Once they finally reached their destination, it was thankfully not very hard to find the library on the large campus-area by using the installed maps. Luckily for them, the University's Faculty of Medicine and its library, which had been in the city of Tamaho before the Second Impact, had been transferred to the Kofu campus.

They went through the several floors of the building, grabbing every book of which they thought it might be of use eventually: medical, engineering, architecture... by the end, they had over a dozen baskets full of books, folders and similar material; enough to study for years. But sadly, they noticed that the library was too specialized for books about gardening- or 'do it yourself'-tips, which meant that they had to go back to the city again and find a public library or a bookstore.

The good thing about this was that it gave them the opportunity to fetch some supplies that they wouldn't (or at least only hardly) be able to get in the remains of Tokyo-3 anymore; not only food, but also tools and utensils that could be needed. Asuka even insisted to get some more clothes. The bad thing was that they lost a lot of time thanks to this additional trip.

It was already in the late afternoon that they finally left Kofu.



****************



They had barely left the town when Shinji suddenly hit the breaks so hard that they were thrown forward into the belts.

"Great, thanks to you I'm now even going to lose that little bit of food I got today!"

"Sorry," he excused slyly. "I guess I still have to learn how to accelerate and break more smoothly..."

Asuka shot a glare at him, but swallowed her agreement and looked around. "Why are we stopping here, anyway?"

"There's a wheat field," he stated, pointing to the left window.

"So...?"

"Well, I will need flour to bake and for noodles and such," Shinji explained. "And since I haven't noticed any seeds for crops at..."

"Yeah, yeah, I got you," she groaned. "So what are you waiting for? Hurry up and get some grains so we can finally go home."

"Uhm, you mean you're not going to help me?"

She didn't respond to this. Not that she needed to. Her glare was answer enough.
Sighing, he opened the door and got out of the car.



****************



It took at least fifteen minutes until Shinji returned with an armful of wheat. He seemed to be in quite a rush, as he quickly dumped the crops on the back of the pick-up and jumped back in. At the latest when he hit the gas and turned with screeching tires, Asuka got a bit anxious.

"Geez, what's the big deal?" she cursed at him while trying to keep the balance in her seat. He didn't appeared to be frightened of anything, so it was doubtful that he had been running away from any kind of danger.

"I saw a farm over there," he told her enthusiastically.

The redhead rolled her eyes. That he could be so excited about such a triviality. "And? I thought you didn't want to move to a farm?"

"No, but there will be some animals," he explained as he sharply turned from the main street onto a rough sideway.

"Animals?" Asuka frowned, not just because of the sickening maneuver. "That's exactly why I wouldn't want to live on a farm..."

"Well, then how am I supposed to be able to get things like eggs or milk to cook with?"

"Milk? You want to move a cow?"

Shinji shrugged. "Maybe they have goats..."

"Goat-milk?" she grimaced. "Are you trying to poison me?"

Shinji just sighed. There would be no chance to argue once she set her mind on stubbornness.
"Fine, no milk then..." he mused as he finally stopped the car in front of what seemed to be a barn. "But then don't complain if I can't bake you everything you want me to..." he added mumbling as he went out.

"You said something?"

"No, I..." he trailed off and suggested her to be quiet with his hand. "Do you hear that?"

Curiously frowning, she followed him out of the car. Actually, it was hard not to hear it: loud squeaking, bleating and neighing came from the larger buildings on the old-fashioned farm-area.

Shinji lost no time and rushed towards the nearest one, opened the door... and froze.

These animals were starving after several days without food; some of them had wounds, either from having tried to free themselves or even from a desperate attack of cannibalism by their own kind.

Shinji only absently noticed his hand clenching and unclenching slightly as he watched this disturbing scene in shock.

"We... we have to help them..."

It would be like this all over the world: animals, pets waiting for their owners to return, to feed and take care of them. But they would never come...

"Shinji, you can't go everywhere and take care of every living thing," Asuka spoke seriously behind him as if she had read his mind. "You can't save everyone..."

"I know..." He tensed. "I know too well..."



Without further arguing, he went to the gates, opened them one by one and unleashed those animals that were restrained. He didn't lead them out though, and there was no need for that either. They would find their way to freedom, where they at least had a chance to survive.


***********


The chickens however were another story. One would think they would have grown weary and were easily exhausted after days of starvation. But apparently they had found enough nourishments from the ground of their wide chicken run by themselves, as they were remarkably agile when Shinji tried his best as "Chicken Hunter". For at least half an hour, he chased them eagerly through the corral while Asuka simply watched him, partly bemused, partly annoyed; leaning on the fence that surrounded it.

Finally one wasn't fast enough to slip through his fingers in the very last moment.

"Look," he triumphed, lifting the anxious and wildly struggling bird up in the air, "I've got one!"

"Shinji?" A small, amused smile crept on Asuka's face.

"Yes?"

"That's a rooster." She shook her head; slightly chuckling at his dumbfounded face as he lost his grip of the bird, which ran immediately to the opposite corner of the run. "What have planned about transporting them anyway? That is, without having them run and flap around on – or worse – in the car?"

"Uh... I... dunno...?"

Her shoulders slumped down and a sigh emitted from her. "I should have known that it'll up to me to do the thinking. Wait here, okay?"

He just nodded quietly before she went away.

It took about ten minutes until she returned, carrying two small cage-boxes and an obviously quite heavy sack that she dragged behind.

"Uhm... You need any help with that?" he asked sheepishly, but couldn't quite say whether the grimace he got in response was supposed to be a "Yes, of course I need you stupid mule to do the hard work!" or a "No, I don't ever need your help with anything, you baka!"
So in the end, he did nothing.

"I can understand the cages, but what's in the sack for?" he continued when she unloaded herself in front of the fence.

"There's wheat in there," she answered casually. "And by the way, this is a much more effective way to get some than to pick an armful of straw from the fields..."

"So... what are we doing with that now?" he questioned, ignoring the offensive remark about his earlier actions.

Asuka gave him a disbelieving look. "Why do I have my doubts that males were supposed to be the great, tricky hunters when I look at you?" She shook her head. "We're setting up a trap of course!"

With that she put a heap of corns in one cage and placed it on the other side of the fence. This procedure was repeated with the other one. Afterwards, she told Shinji to lay trails of the crop towards the entrance of the cages.

It didn't take long until the first of the hungry birds literally picked up a trail and went straight into the box; unknowing that the door was slammed shut a second later and its lock bar was shut. The hen's loud protests about its temporary restricted living conditions weren't enough to scare a second one away from suffering the same fate.

"See?" Asuka triumphed, picking the cages up, ignoring the wild flapping the sudden movement evoked. "That's how you catch something that is too fast for you! Now grab the sack, so we can go home!"

"Yeah," he simply muttered, opened the gate and left the chicken-run; followed by half a dozen of birds that curiously explored their newfound freedom...



****************



The sun was already setting when they finally left the farm and it didn't took long that they were engulfed by the darkness of the night. Of course, this didn't really help to navigate; even with the lights on.

"Are you sure this is the right way?" Shinji questioned after a few hours of 'blind'-driving. "I think we should have gone left three turns before..."

"How should I know?" his red-haired co-driver snapped back. "You're the one who's supposed to be able to read the signs without problems!"

"Then why did you insist on driving to the right?"

"It was meant as a joke! Why is it my fault you're too stupid to get it?"

"A... a joke?? I..." He cut himself off, hit the brakes without warning and shut down the motor.

"What is it now?" Asuka groaned, but Shinji just closed his eyes and sighed.

"You know what, Asuka?" he muttered. "It was a long day and I'm... I'm way too tired for this, okay? I mean, it's late and; let's face it, we're lost and it's doubtful that we can find the way back at night..."

"So you're saying that you want to sleep here? In the car? Now?" She saw him slowly nodding in response.
"No way!" she spat. "We can sleep in the next house that comes our way! I'm not gonna sleep right next you, where you can live out your perverted dreams about me!"

He seemed to be shocked the moment she said it. Instead of his usual blushing and muttered denials, his eyes gained a mournful look, which he quickly turned away.

"We... we have seen the last building more than an hour ago," he mumbled. "If you... want to, I... I can sleep outside..."

"Oh geez, stop whining already!" she growled. "Fine, we'll sleep in here! But you better stay on your side! And don't get any stupid ideas!" she warned and readjusted her seat into a horizontal position.

"Good night, Asuka..." he said, before dimming the lights and doing the same.

"Whatever..."

To sleep was easier said than done. She definitely felt uneasy, lying next to him, only a few centimeters apart. Especially regarding how much was still unsaid between them. But it was still too early for that. Maybe it would even be better if it was left unsaid and they just lived on like now. It wasn't that bad like this, was it? And what if he would...

She stopped herself. Thoughts like that didn't really help in her attempt to sleep. Neither did the uncomfortable seat or the moonlight that came through the window.
At least it was warm.

At least, the nightmares of the nights before didn't return this time.



****************



They awoke with the dawn of the next morning, when the morning sun shone through the windows and the hens made themselves aware with an audible clucking.

It became obvious that they were closer to Neo Tokyo-3 than they had thought. After just five minutes of driving they encountered the first sign that showed the way and barely 20 minutes later they were already back at their new home. Unnecessary to say that Asuka wasn't very happy at this revelation.

They had quite a big breakfast that Shinji prepared (partly as excuse for having been responsible that she had to sleep in the car instead of a bed the previous night; partly to make up for the day before when they hadn't much to eat aside from a quick snack in between), before they unloaded the pick-up.

The books were simply dropped in the living room for later sorting; the supplies were stored in one of the empty rooms on the first floor, minus the food that needed to be (and fit) in the fridge or freezer. The wheat was placed to the other seeds in the shed outside; while the hens got the smaller one with the broken window. It wasn't much, but eventually it would be properly furnished and they would get a small chicken run; though for now they seemed happy just to get out of the rather narrow cages.

The rest of the day was mostly spent skimming through the books; sorting out which would be needed for what – or if they were needed at all.

The last thing they did was to assign the chores, vaguely at least. Asuka agreed to work on the technical and engineering or in other words: She would take care that everything would keep running and working as it should. Surprisingly, she even accepted to do the handwork that would come along with this.

It wasn't really necessary to say that Shinji was appointed as the one responsible for the housework as cleaning and cooking. The later might prove to become a greater challenge than it seemed on first sight, as this now also included providing basic goods like bread or noodles once they would run out of supplies. But for once he had some confidence in that. Not without reason, he was the one who had planned ahead and got some crops for flour after all. He just hoped it would actually grow.

As for that part; the gardening, they decided that both would take care of it, as neither of them had ever done something like that and thus didn't know who was better suited for the job.

And with that, everything that needed to seemed to be covered for now.

They had a new home; they would have food and water; they would have the necessary knowledge.
They had everything they needed to survive.

But there was something that was still unsettled...



****************



Shinji approached her in the living room as she gazed at the sunset through the window.

"Asuka, we've done everything we can do so far to make sure we survive. We have all time we need now." His hand twitched nervously and he lowered his gaze. "We need... we have to talk, finally."

She tensed noticeable at his words, but didn't turn around.

"I... I don't think so! We still have a lot of work to do if we want to survive!"

"But... we will always have a lot to do, won't we? Then we'll never talk..."

"So what?" she blurted. "Would it be that bad, if we just live on and drop..."

"Asuka!" he interrupted. "Please..."

After letting out a deep sigh, she nodded.

"Okay, then..." she almost whispered as she turned around.



---------------------------------------
A/N: Ha, I can imagine your yaws dropping in confusion. Yes, come and get Crazy Jimmy's special offer: Read one story, get a post-TI one free. I promise, it'll make more sense with every new chapter.
Well, maybe you need to wait quite a while for the next one, though. I've got to study the next few weeks (stupid exams *grumble* why did I chose to go to university anyway *mutter*...on the other hand, as I know me, I'll end up writing anyway).
However, this chapter gave me the opportunity, most likely all post-TI authors want: Write my own interpretation for the ending of EoE.
I think it's kinda funny, in almost every post-TI-fic, even the best ones, they're going to NERV HQ... Hello?! NERV HQ was inside the Geofront! You know, that black, round thing that exploded into billions of pieces in the end? It's actually possible that the 'ocean' is, where the Geofront was supposed to be. Don't get me wrong, I understand that it works out better for some stories (and I don't want to anger fellow and potential reviewers, geez, I can see now, why everyone is begging for them, they're addictive...), but it's strange that it's used so often. Whatever...
As for the hospital, I don't remember if it's name came up during the series and I suck at inventing names, so I just named it Tokyo-3-hospital.
And yes, I am a Asuka-is-not-really-injured-supporter, heck, she's using an arm, that's supposed to be sliced in half!
I know, most likely, there won't be many market-gardens (is there actually no better word for this?) in a metropolis like Tokyo-3, but I wanted something different, than the usual 'they went to a farm'-thing. Actually, I hadn't decided, if I let them move out at all, until I wrote that scene.
Well, for the rest, don't think to much of this chapter (especially the 'meat-scene', but, hey, it's better than just 'When they woke up, they've began planning'), it's more of a presetting for later ones.
So, leaving you with a nice, little cliffhanger, tune in to Chapter 4 for the WAFFy part...

P.S.: I've noticed, I suck at descriptions, but, hey, I've never said there won't be any rewrites, huh? ^^





Rewrite Notes:

Well, here it is finally, more than twice it's previous size and after "just" about eight months: the rewritten Chapter 2. Besides the lost of the horrid spelling (which hadn't even checked via Word), there were several changes that made it hopefully better.
I've darkened the mood a bit, as they seemed to take the "death" of humanity much too lighthearted. And though, it's not that much better as it should be; I hope it's at least a bit more believable.
Most obviously, I've added a few scenes that I had originally planned, but not used before, as I had wanted to release the chapter as soon as possible. But instead putting them back in immediately once I had more time, I waited to see how long Chapter 4 was going to be and in case it would have been too short, added the missing scenes there. When it became clear, that Chap4 would be going to be much longer, than "survive" could ever be, they were placed were they belong.
The new ending still seems to be rushed, though it wasn't. Oh well...

Overall, I still don't like this chapter very much, but at least it's better than before (not that that would be a big challenge...)
(On a side note: I've got rid of the "meat-scene". I still don't know why I ever put it in...)
And thanks to my pre-readers Divine Chaos and dennisud. They may take their time, but their a help I wouldn't want to miss. :P


Re-Rewrite Notes:
Well, not much to say. Just, getting, rid, of, some, commas and some other corrections. Probably not even close to all that are necessary, but it should already be better. Also tried to add at least a bit more substance to this thing. I know it's not much, but I like to believe that there's at least some improvement over the "Okay, Third Impact happened, what's next?"-kind of feel. Also fixed the bit with the generator in the hospital – I somewhat doubt emergency power would also take care of the air condition. The pure description scenes are still a bit dry, but call me lazy if you want to, I don't really feel up to change those, also because packing all that info in long dialogues wouldn't necessarily be the lesser evil.
All rights belong to their respective owners. Which means mostly Gainax in this case...