The 2nd try
Chapter 6: bear
It was still quite early, but the sun stood already high enough to fill the sleeping-room with morning light. Shinji was awake for several minutes, yet he had no intention to get up. He enjoyed this moment way too much.
Just looking at her as she slept there in his arms. Her soft hair that was shining in its bright red in the early sunrays. The slight heaving of her chest in the rhythm of her breathing. The faint, barely audible sound of her snoring. Her fingers that lay loosely on his shoulders, absently trailing around. Her sweet, intoxicating scent that wasn't rivaled by anything he could think of. That almost cute little bit of drool in the corner of her slightly opened mouth that he wouldn't even dare to wipe away in fear it could wake her from her peaceful sleep. He could stay like this for hours without ever getting tired of it.
But as much as he cherished the peaceful moment, there were too many disturbances he couldn't prevent – like the all-morning crow, blaring loudly from the chicken's coop.
"Nnn... Damn it, one day I'll kill that stupid rooster..." a slowly awakening Asuka grumbled.
"Well, he's actually a little late," Shinji said chuckling, before he leaned towards her. "Good morning, Mrs Ikari."
Asuka's lips met his in a short kiss. "Morning, Mr Soryu," she replied, now weakly smiling.
Shinji chuckled quietly. It had been a few months since their 'wedding' and, official or not, they never doubted in their marriage, even though daily routines had long settled in again.
"Well, I'll better go and check on them," he said, slowly getting up and walking to the wardrobe to get some clothes. He knew, if they'd stay much longer in bed, they wouldn't be able to leave it for quite a while. "Do you want some eggs for breakfast?" he asked over his shoulder.
Her answer didn't come immediately and for a moment he thought, she had fallen asleep again. However, as he turned around, she snapped out of her thoughts.
"Oh, no breakfast for me..." she muttered sleepily.
She shrugged, sitting up. "I'm... just not very hungry."
"Well, if you say so..." Shinji stared curiously at her for a moment, as he tried to remember the last time when they had eaten together. It wasn't unusual for them to skip a meal when they had too much to do or were low on rations. But because she wasn't hungry?
A knowing grin spread on his face, as a thought hit him. Leaning over to her, he gave her a quick peck on the cheek. "You know, you'll always look beautiful to me. And you really don't need to loose a single ounce," he told her in a gentle tone.
He obviously hit a nerve, as she jerked up wide-eyed in surprise. "N-no, it's not like that! I'm really not hungry!"
Shinji chuckled at the almost frantic denial of his wife. "Okay, okay. But remember: Just because we've been lucky so far with our garden doesn't mean we'll never have hard times with only little food on our table. So there's no need for an extra diet in times when we have enough resources."
"Well, see it as saving supplies for those hard times then!" Asuka snapped rather forcefully, emphasizing that she didn't want to talk about this topic any longer. "Speaking of supplies, we're out of soap, and almost out of toilet paper and sunscreen. And there's not much gas left in the car either."
"Again?" he groaned while he pulled his T-shirt over his head, starting to dress himself. "Oh well, I'll go after breakfast. While I'm at it I can take the garbage to the dump as well. There're three bags full already, and they're starting to smell."
Asuka nodded slowly. "Be careful."
Wild animals had slowly begun to reclaim the territory humans had forced them out of by building their cities of steel and stone in the once untouched nature. The shattered ruins of Tokyo-3 didn't provide much food though, so most activity was concentrated near the dumping grounds. So far they hadn't encountered actually aggressive beasts, but that might have been just a question of time.
Their garden hadn't been a favored target yet, and to make sure that stay that way they had get rid of their alluring garbage as early as possible. But Shinji was sure they wouldn't be able to hold them back much longer. They already lost three lettuce-heads and several carrots to some rodents before they managed to scare them off. And of course, there was their new rooster-friend that had suddenly shown up and always came back, no matter how often he was shooed away. Thanks to him, they not only had now their own 'wake-up service' with arguable reliability, they also now had to check the eggs each time unless they wanted to find 'a little surprise' when eating them.
The stench that filled the air didn't leave much doubt that he was reaching his destination. Passing the wrecked gates, Shinji stopped the car in front of the giant heap of garbage. As usual when he came here, he couldn't help but shaking his head, realizing that this hadn't even been the city's main dump, so the to-be-recycled and burnable trash hadn't end up here.
Spying through the windows, he made sure that nothing big was moving outside, but aside from a slight rustling that was getting away from his position, everything was quite. Usually, the loud motor of the pick-up was enough to scare most animals away and it seemed it was the same this day.
Carefully, he opened the door, glancing around once more before finally stepping out. It wouldn't take long to get rid off the garbage bags, as it didn't really matter where on the heap he would throw them. The first two quickly joined the ones from previous trips.
But as he wanted to take the third bag from the loading space, it seemed unnaturally heavy. A fierce hiss quickly presented him the reason: A fat rat had dug its claws into the plastic, not willing to let go of his prey.
"Hey, get off!" Shinji shouted, shaking the bag wildly. The vermin kept a tight grip, but its own weight was too much for the plastic; the claws ripped it open, spilling the contents over the car. The scared animal hurried away after falling uncomfortably on its back, leaving a silently cursing Shinji behind.
He didn't have much choice but to get the mess at least off the car. Gritting his teeth to suppress the revulsion of touching it with bare hands, he started to throw the garbage from the truck. He was almost done when he noticed a small package between the rotten remains of their food. It seemed like it had been stuffed deep inside the bag and wrapped tightly into a bundle of old newspaper or magazine-pages that obviously had been scratched open, either by the rat or by the friction against the other trash. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn't even have noticed it, and that was exactly what stirred his interest: The one who put it in the garbage had tried to hide it.
Curiously, he ripped the rest of the newspaper off and opened the dirty package. It took him a second to realize what it was that he saw inside. But when he did, his breath was stuck in his throat. Slowly he slumped down, keeping his gaze fixed on the small, white object in his hands.
He couldn't tell how long he kept sitting there.
"I'm... I'm home."
The weakly muttered greeting, finally, after several hours of his absence, caused Asuka to rush to meet its source in the hallway. Irritated and concerned after the unusual long waiting time, she didn't bother with politeness in her answer.
"Where have you been the whole time? I was about to go searching for you!" She grimaced, sniffing in his direction and recoiled in disgust. "And you stink! Have you been at the dump the whole time?"
For some reason, he didn't show much reaction. He just kept his head down as if he couldn't muster himself to look in her eyes. "I'm sorry," he said awkwardly flat. "I... needed to think for a while..."
"Think? About...?" Asuka trailed off as she saw the small, white shape tightly gripped in his hand. She felt a mix of fear and anger dwelling up in her stomach. In a fraction of a second, all her hopes were crushed. All her troubles to keep it secret and to act like always, all her worries – everything ruined. "I knew I shouldn't have done the test here..." she muttered disgusted as she averted her eyes from him. How could she have been so careless?
Shinji didn't react to her confessing statement and just continued. "At- at first I wasn't sure why you didn't say anything. If you wanted to surprise me or... or just didn't know how to tell me..." He paused, but Asuka couldn't find herself to reply.
'Why haven't I thrown it somewhere in the ruins?' she thought, her whole body trembling, while she just let his words hit her. 'He'd never have found it there. Now – he'll never understand. Not this. He can't...'
"You... you never wanted me to know, did you?" Shinji concluded. "That's why you barely ate something lately... You wanted... you wanted to- to kill..."
"SO WHAT?!" she cut him abruptly off, no longer able to suppress the tension inside her. "I don't want this... this thing! It ruins everything that we achieved! Everything that we have!"
"Asuka..." He stared at her with fear and horror. "I... I can't believe that you're talking like that. Wha-what your doing – if... if you keep doing this, you're not only risking the child's life, but yours as well!"
"See? It already stands between us!" Asuka shrieked, blind rage taking over her mind. She didn't even try to listen to him anymore. It didn't matter how he said it. Everything was over now.
"If that's really what you think, you might actually be right," he muttered sadly. "But then, I don't think it's by the child's fault..."
He couldn't even remember the last time he had slept in 'his' room. It felt so small and yet so empty.
For the rest of the day, they hadn't spoken to each other. Their fight had been the worst they had for a while. Actually, it had been the first they had for a while. And then it had an intensity he never expected to witness again.
It didn't look like he would be able to sleep anytime soon anyway. Their life had become so calm, the impact of the day's news seemed even bigger on his mind – if that was actually possible. The thought of having a child had never occurred to him and maybe that was what had made him blind to the signals: That she sometimes spend longer than usual in the bathroom; that she often seemed tired, even if they hadn't worked to hard; mood swings that would have put the old Asuka to shame; the slightly swollen belly – though that was still so little, that it was barely noticeable if you didn't looked out for it.
And even now, after having the conformation, it still seemed so unreal.
Just as sleep finally seemed to overwhelm him, the sudden opening of the door drove it away once more. He pondered whether to look up or just pretend to be asleep.
After a moment of silence, she finally spoke. "Shinji? Come back to bed."
However, he didn't give a sign of life, even though she obviously knew he was still awake.
"Damnit, don't make me beg..." she muttered barely audible. He could tell she was desperate, but he tried not to care about that. "I... I need to know that you're still here when I wake up..."
Finally, he showed a reaction, lifting the sheets and gesturing her to come to him. "After all, I need to know that you're still here when I wake up," he explained tired, still not looking at her.
Reluctantly, Asuka took his invitation and stepped over to the bed, climbing in next to him. The uneasy atmosphere was hardly lifted though.
"When was the last time we slept like this?" she asked, sighing. "With the tension of a fight still so heavy in the air?"
"I don't know..."
"It's not to late yet, is it? You... you still...?"
"I don't know..." he lied. Her behavior had hurt him, though wasn't sure if it was her mistrust or what she tried to do that hurt most. But he still loved her.
"It's a curse..." she suddenly whispered flatly, more to herself than to him.
"It has to be. Maybe there's a god after all and this is his punishment for me for slaying his messengers."
Shinji felt a well-known lump of guilt forming inside him. "Why... why do you think like that?"
"Why shouldn't I?" Asuka countered, more forcefully again. "Whenever I think I've finally found my happiness, something happens to take it away from me again. Mama's death when I finally had something to prove myself to her! The EVA series destroying Unit-02 just when I learned she was in there, watching over me! And now this, separating me from the first one who loved me in years!"
"Yeah, right, it's my own fault, I know!" she droned, her voice cracking ever so slightly. "But shouldn't you be on my side rather on that of some thing you don't even know?"
"It- it's not like that. But what you're doing..."
"Did I even have to ask if you'd try an abortion?" she inquired carefully, trying not to stir his anger even more, just when they were trying to make up. She had little success.
He exhaled sharply, giving that as his only answer. Even if he knew how – would he'd even be able to do that?
"See, that's why I didn't tell you: You wouldn't have wanted to help..."
"How... how could it happen anyway?" he interrupted her abruptly, desperately wanting to change the course the conversation was heading. "I thought you're on the pill?"
"I am! Do you really think I would be that careless?" Asuka grumbled. "I have no idea how it's possible. I mean, it's not a 100-percent protection either. And who knows if they still work properly when they're that old..."
Shinji couldn't believe his ears. "You took expired medicaments?"
"Well, unless you can make some new I didn't have much choice!" she scoffed back.
"But you're sure tests...?"
He didn't see her nod, but there had been little reasons to doubt her. "I did two different ones actually. Hid them separately, so you've probably thrown it away."
"And... how long since...?"
"It's been about a week since I've missed the second period in a row," she admitted. "I didn't even noticed at first. Morning sickness wasn't so bad that I thought much about it; I just blamed our somewhat unbalanced diet for it. When it started to become too obvious though, I..." She sighed bitterly. "I don't know. I guess, I just tried ignored it; didn't want to accept it. But the fear kept nagging on my mind, so I eventually got the tests from that pharmacy in Gora when I made a supply-trip there a week or two ago. And even then I couldn't really convince myself to take it. I hid it here for several more days, always telling myself: 'Just do it already! Then you'll see that you're worrying for nothing!' " She stopped her rambling with a short, sarcastic laugh. "But of course I was right after all..."
He noticed her shifting around, most likely looking at him. "How can you stay so calm about all this?" she now took the part as questioner. "I expected you to freak out when you'd find out – or what comes close to 'freak out' to your definitions."
Shinji pondered about that for a short while. But the only answer he could think of was the same that he found often in the last few hours. "I... I don't know," he said, shaking his head. "Not yet. When I realized what the test meant, thousands of thoughts and emotions hit me and I doubt I've sorted all of them out already. Maybe I want to prove myself as a better father than mine had been. Maybe I just want to know what it's like. I... don't know..." he concluded quietly. "The only thing I do know is that I can't just ignore it... and even less help you with what your doing..."
No response or new question followed after that. After several moments of silence, he wondered if she actually was still awake, until he heard a soft breathing from her. He shifted a little to look at her, confirming his guess. But his eyes didn't rest on her closed ones for long, as he slowly reached out for her.
"Don't." His hand stopped abruptly at her soft voice, mere inches away from her belly. "Please don't..."
Silently, he rolled back to his side.
Estimated week: probably between 10-13
I thought it might be a good idea to start this, as it will be my task to watch over Asuka's pregnancy and this log will hopefully be of assistance to analyze any possible problems or complication, especially when the time comes and my mind is too occupied with the actual events to remember every probably significant detail. Not that my mind wasn't occupied now already. The thought of becoming a father so soon triggered so many emotions that it will take days or even weeks to sort them out.
I guess it is similar for Asuka. Or at least I hope it is. I don't know what to do if she continues on with this destructive path; I really fear for the child's as well as her own health. She says that it wasn't like she's not eating at all (granted, I've seen her eating an apple one day) and that she only wanted to keep her "diet" until she could be sure "that it's gone". She seems so cold about it. I'm not sure if she even realizes that it's a living being, even less that it's her own child.
How it could happen, I'm still not sure. Maybe the pill was really expired and we were lucky that 'only' this had happened. On the other hand, we also lost track of time more than once already, so maybe she just had forgotten it and doesn't want to admit it – she's still Asuka after all. Or maybe we actually fell in the one or something percent were it doesn't work. After all, we've beaten worse odds already. Of course that had been in another time.
Shinji awoke startled by a loud clanking sound from the hall. In shock and his half-aware state between dream and reality, he thought at first that some burglar might have broken in. When he realized that there was nobody left on the planet who could have done that, his next thought was that a wild animal somehow managed to get in.
But when he wanted to check on Asuka, he didn't find her sleeping peacefully next to him. As he noticed that the bed was empty, his fear faded a bit just to be replaced by another. What was she doing at a time like this? It didn't sound like she had gone to the bathroom.
He pondered for a second if it was worth risking another argument, but eventually his curiosity won. Silently, he stood up. When he opened the door he heard the sounds even better and, tiptoeing, he followed them towards the kitchen. A faint light emitted from the open door, flickering a bit, as something moved in front its source. He only leaned against the frame and spied inside.
Asuka sat there in front of the opened fridge, which was also the only source of light in the dark room. There were some apples and an open can of meat that she must have gotten from their storage room, as well as two tomatoes, a cucumber and a few slices of bread around her on the floor and she had a just-made sandwich in her hand. She held it up before her face, and from what he could tell, was just staring at it.
Suddenly, something that sounded like an angry sob rocked her body and she took a large bite. She gulped the whole thing down in less than a minute, like a wanderer in the desert would consume long-missed water.
He could hear her quick breathing even near the door, but he still couldn't tell if she sounded more angry or miserable.
"Damn you..." he heard her cursing, barely audible. "Damn you..."
As she picked up an apple, Shinji silently went back to their sleeping room.
The contented smile never left his face.
Estimated week: between 11-14
Asuka is still refusing to eat properly and it's really starting to both anger and scare me.
I recently learned in my studies that the needs of the fetus are currently so marginal that her attempts are pretty much useless anyway, unless she really wants to take it with her in death. But of course, she didn't even listen. She's gotten so stubborn, it's almost even worse than it had been when we met. }
When we fought about it again this morning, I was very tempted to tell her that I know what she was doing at night. But the way she currently is, she might have reacted by forcing herself even more to suppress her desire to eat completely.
Still, though I was glad at first that she ate at least something, her nightly meals are hardly more than a drop in the bucket, giving us just a little more time. I just hope I can use it before it's too late. Even if not for her; eventually the child's needs will be bigger, and if this goes on like now much longer I don't see much hope for either of them
"Come on, Asuka, this is getting really childish."
"So what?" she snapped at him, pushing the full plate away from her once more. "It's not my fault if you can't understand that I won't eat this!"
Shinji let his head sink; tired, but not quite in defeat yet. He had enough. Even though he knew he couldn't physically harm her on purpose, he would have to force her out of her stubbornness. He had to. Otherwise he would let his new family down, like both of their fathers before him.
"Why did you lie?" he said quietly.
"When it became apparent that we'd be the only ones left, I was glad that at least you were here with me. Not because I was with somebody, but because I was with you. And I believed you, when you said that you would feel the same way about me. But that was just a lie, wasn't it? It never mattered to you that it was me. You just didn't want to be alone; anybody would..."
A forceful slap, strong enough to make him tumble backwards, stopped his accusations. He stood still however, though he couldn't muster to look at her trembling figure.
"How... how dare you...?" she said with a cracking voice, forcing her still outstretched hand back down.
It hurt. The stinging cheek, he could barely feel, but his words had hurt him just as much as he knew they would hurt her. Only a few weeks ago, he would never have thought that it could come to this, but after all his desperate attempts to persuade her with love and care failed, it seemed that to hurt her was the only way to reach her. He couldn't back down now.
"If you really love me, why are you trying to take away what I love more than anything else?"
She cast her eye to the ground, away from him; her voice was filled with the pain from
betrayal. "So you already love it mo..."
"I'm talking about you!" he almost screamed. "Can't you see that it will kill you if you go on like this?"
She didn't answer, kept her gaze away from him, but her mouth was shaking open and close, trying desperately to find words to counter. But such words just didn't exist.
"Didn't you say you never wanted to give up life again?" he went on.
That was it; the final straw. He sighed inwardly, the guilt hardly bearable, as he saw her reaching unconsciously to her left wrist with a trembling hand. "I- I did... didn't want... I..."
"So, do you really want to leave me here by myself..." he eventually continued and pushed the plate to her once more, "...or are you going to eat something?"
She glared at the meal with an expression, he could not interpret. Just when he thought she would gather her remaining pride and go, she slumped down on the chair and took her fork in her shaky hand. "This isn't fair..."
"No," he concurred, shaking his head. "No, it's not..."
"Hello," he greeted no one in particular, but everyone who could hear him, which might have been nobody or the whole humanity. That was hard to tell, when all he could see besides the giant white head that still kept its everlasting smile, was the red ocean. Shinji just hoped that somehow those he wanted to reach could listen. "It's... it's been a while since we were last here," he continued, glancing to Asuka who sat passively several meters away from him.
"I have some... big news, I guess. We – Asuka, she... she's pregnant." He sighed, casting his eyes down on the sand he was kneeling in. "This should be a happy moment, shouldn't it? 'A child: The greatest proof of the love between two people.' But Asuka doesn't seem to think that way. I'm not sure what exactly she sees in it. She fears it for some reason; enough that she tried to starve it.
"She asked me once why I didn't 'freak out' when I learned about it. And I've asked myself the same question several times. I can't say that I'm not afraid, quite the contrary. But whenever I thought about it I could never fear the child, I always feared for it. I have no idea how I'm supposed to be a good father. I have even less experience than most parents-to-be did, who asked themselves that question before me. And in times of doubt, there's no one to ask for advice, no one to assure me that I do everything right." He shook his head. "Us, bringing a new life into this devastated world seems so incredibly irresponsible. But now that it happened – I'm not sure why, but I can't fear it.
"Asuka though... I finally got her to eat, but it's a new fight each time. I'm just glad that this was the only way she thought of to..." He ended the sentence, choking on words like 'kill' or 'get rid of'. "Who knows what could have happened if she had tried to take some kind of drugs? Or if she had tried to hurt the child – and the with that most likely herself as well – physically?
"But that's only a weak trade-off. It has been only a few weeks, but I already feel so worn out. How am I supposed to fight for several more months? Or even years, if she'll never accept it? I... I just don't know if I can make it." With a false feeling of hope, he looked over the ocean. "I think I would need your help now more than ever. Someone to convince her. Or give me some advice. At least some reassuring words..."
But the only answer the sea would give was the clashing of waves.
That moment, Shinji felt incredibly tired. Each clash added a weight to his shoulders. "Help me," he begged quietly, as his knees gave out and he slumped forward in the sand. "Please..."
His shaky fingers dug aimlessly into the sand, the grains rinsing between them, as he forced his hands closed. Panting, he held his head down, waiting for anyone or anything to tell him what to do, until two feet stopped next to him.
His wife looked down to him; pity and disgust fighting each other in her eyes. "Come on," she said coolly. "Let's get home."
People often thought of the night as the time for horrors; scared by the unknown that might lurking in the darkness. But not everything looked better in the morning light.
Feathers were wildly scattered around, dried blood was sprayed on them and on the ground. Here and there were small heaps of flesh that had been ripped out during the fight by the large fangs.
Although she had witnessed worse massacres first hand, or maybe just because of that horrible memory, Asuka shuddered at the gruesome sight.
The night before, they had been woken by a loud crashing and wild noises from the chicken house. Armed with the next best 'weapons', which happened to be a rake and a shovel, they had run to prevent the worst, but they were already too late. When they had arrived, one of the hens was already dead, the rooster struggling futile for a few seconds more in the muzzle of the beast. In the dark, it had almost seem like a wolf, but Asuka guessed that it was actually just a wild dog, driven mad by hunger. Otherwise, they wouldn't have been able to scare it away so easily, leaving one of its prey behind.
"We... we'll have to see it from the positive side, I guess," Shinji mumbled, snapping her out of her thoughts. "We won't be waken up much too early anymore. Uhm... For a while..." He shot a glance to her slightly swollen belly. "Or... well... we won't have to do these checks anymore..." he hastily continued, not giving her any time to start an argument, and lay the egg he had held against the light aside.
But she didn't really feel like arguing now anyway. Despite his attempts to take it as a matter of fact, Asuka knew that he wasn't taking the incident very well.
Though a few scratches on his arm were the only physical injuries they had to suffer this time, it had shown more than ever that they needed a stronger defense than a weak fence that had even been knocked down in some places.
"And... we'll have something different to eat for once..."
That took her by surprise. "You want to eat...?"
"Well, you – I mean we could use a change. And it-it would be a waste I guess, if we wouldn't..."
His hollow voice pretty much matched her feelings. Of course, having chicken for dinner was a neat change after all the canned food, fish and what they'd managed to grow, but the thought of eating something you lived with for more than a year silenced her appetite, no matter how silly it seemed to be emotionally attached to a stupid fowl..
Angrily, she shook her head. It was just a stupid fowl and it was silly to reject this opportunity. The hormones must be messing with her again.
"Still, won't we have an egg-shortage or something?" she asked eventually to get her mind away from that topic. "Not that I'd mind..."
"I don't think so. We still have a good reserve that should be enough for a week or two," Shinji explained, shifting an egg before the light. "And it seems they left us a few little presents..." he concluded, laying it carefully to a second heap.
"What took you so long?" Asuka greeted him, as he returned to the hospital room.
"Sorry, I got the generator running as fast as I could," Shinji explained and pointed to the examination couch. "Why didn't you lay down already?"
The redhead grumbled something he couldn't understand, but complied anyway. Meanwhile, he was checking the instruments, trying to recall what he learned about their functionality. After he pressed a few buttons and the device hummed into life, he picked a belt and moved to pull it around Asuka's abdomen.
"Could you raise...? Thanks."
"What is that for?" she inquired as he fastened it around her, but he didn't answer. She hissed suddenly as he started to pour the transmission-gel on her stomach. "Shit!"
"Sorry, I forgot it. Is it too cold?"
"I'm not a sissy, I can take it. But you could have warned me!"
"Sorry," he repeated half-groaning, and picked up, what he figured was the transducer for the doppler. It didn't even take long to find...
"What's that sound?"
Shinji smiled brightly, listening to the fast throbbing that filled the room. "That's the heartbeat..."
"The...?" she began, a bit of wonder in her voice. "Isn't that a bit fast for a heartbeat?"
"No," he shook his head, glancing on the display. "155 beats per minute; that should be pretty normal."
"Hm, whatever," Asuka huffed and turned her head away from him. "Just hurry up with this."
Nodding, he secured the device in place with the belt, before he took the probe for the actual ultrasound. Asuka suppressed another hiss as he poured a bit more of the gel on her. "Okay, let's take a look."
"Whatever. Just hurry up already!"
Shinji sighed, then took a deep breath. With the heartbeats of his child echoing in the room, he felt his own quicken as he started to move the transducer. In just a few moments he would see it for the very first time. And despite her words, he noticed from the corner of his eyes that Asuka was shifting her view curiously to the screen as well.
The ultrasound-device was a classical two-dimensional model, and at first there just seemed to be nothing but noise, a wild mixture of black, white and blue. After a while he started to wonder if he was actually able to find something so small with his untrained eyes, but finally he could make out the first shapes. The prominent head came first into his view. Then the disproportional small body followed. And with that the four tiny limbs, still not fully developed, but already making little movements in the fluids that surrounded it. That was his child; their child.
He hadn't realized until now that he had been staring at the monitor for at least a minute, not even noticing the tears of joy dwelling up in his eyes, nor the wide smile on his face. As he turned to Asuka, he couldn't even find the words to describe his feelings.
For some reason, she did her best not to met his gaze and quickly averted her head to the side, but not quick enough that he didn't notice the glittering in her eyes.
"Can we go home now?" she asked softly. "I'm... I'm a bit hungry..."
Estimated week: 14-15 (now pretty much sure)
I often read and heard that it would be a crucial event to see your child for the first time on ultrasound. I must admit, I never really understood why. Every fetus looks more or less like the other – know one, know them all, that's how I had expect it to be
But it's one thing to know about it, really to see this small life – it was overwhelming. I knew what I could expect, I knew what it would most likely look like. And yet, I could hardly concentrate to check if everything was alright, instead of just staring in wonder at each little movement
I wonder what father thought, when he saw me for the first time. Did he feel the same vast happiness as I did today? Did he even see an ultrasound of me? It might sound strange, but somehow I think he did. Maybe not as intense, but it seems hard to believe, almost absurd to me right now, that there could be any parent-to-be who feels absolutely nothing in that moment, not even him
Fortunately, it seems like Asuka felt very much the same way as I did; otherwise I couldn't explain the sudden awakening of her mother instincts. Well, at least she's finally eating properly without much arguing. Of course she says it's just because she's sick of my nagging. But we both know that she just doesn't want to admit her fault that easily. Either way, I don't really care, as long as she does her best to take care of the two of them from now on.
And (to get at least a bit professional in this entry), the change fortunately didn't come too late. From what I can tell, the child's development wasn't dramatically affected by Asuka's "diet", but who knows how much longer it would have been that way...
"Why did I have to come along?" Asuka whined. "It's much too early for this stuff anyway!"
Shinji sighed silently. "I just thought you would like to help choosing the stuff for the baby. We still have nothing; no toys, no clothes, no furniture..."
"Yes, I know! But it's still months till then! We don't even know the gender yet," she told him, shuffling behind. "And why should I care anyway?" she quickly added.
Too quickly in Shinji's opinion. Another sigh escaped him, as he rubbed his tired eyes. No matter what she said, he could see that she was actually quite eager to explore every single piece in the whole baby store. He just wished she would stop pretending that she didn't care at all; these unnecessary quarrels wore him out to no end.
"I know it's still a while," he said. "But we probably have to go more than once anyway, why not starting now? We don't have anymore work that we have to finish today, so...."
"Alright, alright," she interrupted him. "While we're here, I might as well look for some maternity clothes. Even my loosest and widest pants are getting too tight."
He chuckled softly to himself. If it hadn't been already, her pregnancy began to become quite obvious. But he was wise enough not to start about that topic on his own.
As Shinji looked around, he couldn't help but feel amazed and also a little overwhelmed at the size of the store. He had known that it was specialized for pregnancy and baby supply, but he didn't expect to find more of all that than he could have ever imagined. There was an area with furniture; cribs, changing tables, high-chairs, playpens. Several kinds of buggies and strollers. Lots of clothes for mother and child. Tons of toys in all shape and size. An incredible variation of bottles and (by now expired) milk formula. And diapers as far as he could see.
He shook his head free from this unnecessary exaggeration. It would definitely be harder to choose from this range of goods than he thought, but he also knew he should be happy to have this much to choose from.
"Well, where should we...?" He trailed off as he noticed that he was no longer followed. "Asuka?"
He saw her then, standing motionless in the aisle, staring unblinking at the rack in front of her. Shinji already opened his mouth to ask, but as he followed her fixed gaze, it became unnecessary.
The row was filled with various dolls, which were smiling happily as they stared back at them with their lifeless eyes.
"Come," he said softly, tugging her gently away. "Why don't we look if we can find some nice clothes for you?"
Estimated week: 15-16
The pregnancy is going on without noticeable problems since Asuka's (still not official) change, but Asuka herself... I guess I really shouldn't have taken her with me and maybe she was right about it being too early as well. I should have known that this could happen. After her "encounter", she hardly spoke a word for the rest of the day and her newfound enthusiasm seemed gone for a while.
Of course it's not the dolls that pain her, but the memory they bring with them. I wouldn't be surprised if it was this fear that was a major factor for Asuka's former behavior, whether she realized it or not. We managed to sort out most of our problems from before Third Impact, but that doesn't mean we got rid of them completely. Being replaced by some replica had been a primal fear for her since her mother lost her mind.
But a baby is not a doll, it's a human being, an individual person that cannot simply replace another one.
I think Asuka has realized that by now. I just hope she won't forget it again.
Whenever Asuka saw the self-made incubator, she felt the strange urge to look at the eggs; for some reason not wanting to miss the crucial event. If Shinji wasn't in sight, she always gave in to that urge, sometimes staring for several long minutes at the unmoving shells.
But as she passed by it that afternoon, Asuka noticed that they weren't that unmoving anymore. Wide eyed, she dropped the bucket and shovel she had been working with in the garden and crouched down in front of it to get a better sight. She knew it was silly, but her heart raced in anticipation of what was about to happen.
Glancing around, she bit her lip not to scream out for Shinji to come and watch, or she would reveal her embarrassing little secret. Though this secret wasn't even as bad as her other one.
Her hand wandered to her widening abdomen, where her child was growing.
'Damn that Shinji! Why did he have to make that ultrasound? Why did he have to show it to me?'
Of course she knew why he did. He knew exactly that it would become too hard for her to hate it any longer when it had a 'face'. Up to then she had been able to pretend that it was some parasite, a tumor, something unwanted that was growing inside her. But now, she didn't even found herself able to call it a 'thing' anymore.
"What are you doing?"
She tensed in shock, the sudden sound of Shinji's voice startling her. Sheepishly, she looked up to him as he stepped next to her.
"Uhm, they... they're hatching..." she pointed out mumbling, immediately trying to hide the blush for being caught.
"Oh? They are?" he asked excited, leaning over her shoulder to get a look.
The first chick had already breached through the shell, the beak poking out while trying to free the rest. The two others worked hard to break through the cracks they've created.
Asuka felt quite uneasy, now that he was watching the birth over her shoulder, but she couldn't find herself to stand up and go and her mind couldn't come up with a good excuse either. The fact that he didn't even ask was actually the worst about it.
They stayed like that, not saying a word, until the silence was broken by the chirping of the three newborns.
Asuka was bored. The day's work was long finished, the pregnancy wasn't causing any troubles right now (which would have been at least some distraction), and Shinji..
She rolled her head to the side, where he sat in the armchair, absorbed in some book. She pondered about it for a moment, then decided it was better than nothing, heaved herself from the couch and stepped over to him.
"What's that?" she asked, but already snatched the book away from him before he could answer. " 'Common and Foreign Baby Names' ?"
"Well, yeah, we never thought about a name yet..." he replied sheepishly, once his initial surprise wore off.
Asuka shifted her view between him and the book. "A name?"
"Yes. I mean it's not that long anymore...?"
"Still a couple of months."
"Okay, okay," he admitted. "I'd just wanted to think about it. Or do you already have any ideas?"
"Not really..." she mumbled. "And why should I?"
For a second, she could have sworn that he rolled his eyes, but she didn't ask.
She sighed, scratching the back of her neck in thought. "Well, we could just name it after someone close to us. You know, if it's a girl, 'Kyoko' or 'Yui'. Or maybe 'Misato', 'Hikari' or... or 'Rei', if you insist," Asuka listed. "'Ryoji', if it's a boy. Definitely not 'Toji' or 'Kensuke'!" she concluded, bursting the last sentence out with a warning glare.
"No," he said calmly, shaking his head. "I never even want to think of him or her as a replacement for any of them. It wouldn't be fair to the child to load such a burden on its shoulders."
Asuka sighed heavily and shrugged. He had a good point, a very good one. Sooner or later they'd slip something like 'Little Misato is drinking her juice just like the other did with her beer!' and over time they might give the child the feeling it had to be just like his or her namesake.
But right now, she was out of ideas and that was starting to get on her nerves. Name-guessing wasn't really what she had in mind to kill her boredom. "Then make a better proposal if you want a name already. If you're really expecting me to waste my time with this: I don't want to bother thinking of a certain name before we even know the gender for sure anyway. Making two lists is double the amount to bicker about."
"Since when do you mind to bicker about something?" he muttered under his breath, but she still heard it.
"What was that?" she asked warningly.
"Eh... I just... How about a name that's suited for both genders?"
"Both genders? I don't think I can help with that. In Germany, a name had to be obviously male or female." She shook her head, groaning. "Can't we just let it be for now? We still have a lot of time to think about it anyway."
"Well, there actually is one I like," Shinji quietly proposed. "How... how about 'Aki'?"
" 'Aki'? 'Aki Ikari'? Doesn't sound very good," Asuka commented flatly. Then a small smile flickered quickly over her lips. " 'Aki Soryu' is much better..."
"What is it?"
Asuka didn't answer him immediately, as she slowly raised from the patch she had been working in. The sensation had surprised her enough that it took her a bit to realize what it was.
"I felt it."
And with that, an overwhelming wave of happiness rushed over her. A wide smile spread over her face as she softly touched her abdomen where the fluttering had come from.
Occupied in her own small world, she only noticed from the corner of her eye that he stood up, dropping the cutter and stepped closer to her. "You felt...?"
"Here!" Without hesitation, she grabbed his hand with both of hers, laying it on her stomach and held it there. "Can you feel it too?" she asked excited.
Shinji seemed puzzled for a moment, but then he smiled as wide as she did, even though she wasn't sure if he really noticed the slight pressure.
"It's moving!" she exclaimed brightly, keeping his hand in place. "There! There it was again! Did you...?"
She cut herself off as she looked into his face, that was mirroring the happiness in her own. But strangely he kept his gaze fixed on her eyes instead of focusing on her stomach, where the unborn had make itself aware; looking like he was seeing the most enchanting thing in the world.
"What- what is it?" she eventually asked bemused, her smile falling a little.
His however, broadened even more as he leaned forward until their faces were only inches apart. "Got ya!"
At first, Asuka didn't understand. But then the red shot into her cheeks as she stared at him in shock. "That... I... This doesn't mean I changed my mind about this thing!" she tried to deny the excitement she had displayed so obviously just seconds ago, but to little avail.
His smile changed into a knowing smirk, as he put his arms around her. "Come on, Asuka. You've been playing this act for the last few weeks now. Do you really think I wouldn't notice?"
"You know, that's something I really hate about having someone who knows me so well," she muttered, falling into his embrace. "So, did you feel it?"
Shinji shook his head. "It's probably a bit too early for that anyway. But don't worry," he told her with a grin. "If Aki is anything like you, I'm going to feel the kicking soon enough."
"Hey!" But he already broke away from her and evaded the due nudge.
Of course he hadn't really anything to fear. Because that moment, they were both laughing together openly for the first time in several weeks.
Estimated week: 22-23
Well, we're nearing the end of the second trimester. I've read it's supposed to be the "easiest", but seeing that most of Asuka's diet, our constant fighting, and then her slow but definite change of mind all happened mostly during this one, I can hardly imagine the third trimester to be much worse. But of course the books were rather referring to the mother's condition.
Speaking of the condition; we did another check-up today. So far there still don't seem to be any complications; mother and child are doing fine. I'm starting to think Aki really wants to make a surprise about his or her gender. Somehow there's always a leg blocking the sight to the 'critical region' whenever we're doing an ultrasound or the picture is just too blurry for me to make a guess. Asuka is quite sure that it'll be a girl – "woman's intuition", as she says. I'm a little tempted to counter with "man's intuition", but aside from that she would just laugh at me, I actually have no idea. I don't really mind if it's going to be a girl or a boy. I have no experience at raising a child at all, so it doesn't matter if I have to learn how to play dressing up or how to teach sports. If it's going to be a girl following Asuka's footsteps, I'll probably end up doing both anyway.
"Oh God, Shinji!" Asuka moaned in delight. "You're really the best I ever had!"
"Wasn't I also the only one you ever had?"
"Yes, but – ooohh – now I remember why I fell in love with you!"
Shinji was taken aback. "I thought you loved me long before that first time..."
"Ah, you know how I mean it. Uhh, don't- don't ever stop!"
"Maybe we should change positions a little?" he asked concerned, slowing down a bit. "I don't think the baby is harmed this way, but – isn't it a bit uncomfortable?"
She shook her head as wild as she could in her current posture. "It feels much too good to be uncomfortable!"
"I swear if you're not going to continue, I'll... I'll... Ah, just take care of the other foot now too."
She could hear Shinji sighing, but he complied anyway. It had been him who offered to give her feet a massage, when she had complained about how much they bothered her again, but he obviously hadn't expected that she'd take that offer right on the spot. Now she was lying face down, with her upper body bend over the kitchen table, her knees resting on her chair. Shinji sat on the floor, his hands working to ease her feet. It might not have been the most comfortable position for this, but she still felt like slowly drifting to heaven.
After what could have been minutes or hours, however, he called her back.
She cracked her eyes open. "Hmm?"
"I... I've been thinking about the future..." he said, somewhat distant.
"The future?" The way he had said it, he seemed strangely serious suddenly.
"I mean... it is quite likely that we won't live as long as our child. And then... we- we would leave it all alone..."
Asuka sighed, guessing where this would lead. "If you're suggesting to repopulate the world, let me get through this pregnancy first, 'kay?"
Shinji had almost stopped the massage by now, only stroking her foot absently with his thumb. "I was more talking about... well, if... if we're going to have more children... we would have a problem if we would let them 'repopulating the world'..."
Asuka's face became serious. "Incest..."
Of course, she had thought of this possibility as well, but always immediately pushed it back in her mind as something she could deal with when she had to. They couldn't even be sure that this child would be healthy, or if they would ever have more than this one. And even if they would eventually have a girl and a boy, it would still be years until they would be old enough that their hormones would give their parents trouble.
The question of moral wasn't even the biggest problem with it. After all, morals died in the Third Impact and it was up to Shinji and her which of them they wanted to keep. Of course it would be more than awkward for them to see their children being lovers, but the more serious issue with incest were the hereditary defects. Genes would degenerate, creating a high risk of causing the children to be disabled; mentally, physically or both. Such children would never be able to survive on their own in such a hostile world.
"Well, yeah..." he muttered. "I-I was thinking; if I would concentrate my studies on artificial insemination and such. Maybe if we find good sperm-samples, we might actually be able to build up a working society after all."
"Aside from the big 'maybe' and 'might' in there, do you really think you could do that?"
"I have quite a few years until then. I hope enough to learn everything I need to know for that."
"I don't know... It's hard enough as it is. We're working so much just to survive, and it will be even more once we have to take care of the baby – and if I learned something out of the books, it's that you'll never be prepared enough for everything that comes with it. I don't really see us 'building up a society' if we can barely manage to keep three people alive." She sighed, closing her eyes. "Let's think about that when the time comes, okay?"
Estimated week: 29-30
We had a false alarm today. And I can't express how relieved I am that it was just that. A baby might have a chance of survival at this stage – but under the condition that it would get full medical treatment, and as much as I want to, I seriously doubt I could provide that.
I think the birthing curses we started to do two weeks ago made Asuka a bit of a hypochondriac and she mistook the symptoms because of that. Strangely enough, she's only like that when it might affect the child. When it comes to other pregnancy discomforts, she either just loudly complains about them or keeps them to herself until I ask her if she's alright, but she is never anxious about them. But then again, she's Asuka...
"Shinji?" Asuka called him. She stood half-dressed in front of the wardrobe's mirror, the clothes, she intended to wear that day in her hand. "Do you think I'm too fat?"
At first, he just blinked at her question. He had still been fighting the sleep, but now he was wide awake. "I thought that was just a cliché..." he muttered under his breath, as he forced himself to sit up.
"Eh... N-nothing," he quickly added. Standing up from the bed, he went over to her, embracing her from behind. "Of course I don't think you're fat. Why should I?"
"Really? I don't know," Asuka said, sounding a bit sad. "It's just..." She didn't finish the sentence.
"I love you," he assured, guessing what she feared – for whatever reason. "And your good looks have never been the most important reason for that. Though they were a neat bonus, of course..."
"Hentai..." She glared at him with a smirk.
He chuckled shortly, kissing her cheek while gently running his hand over her belly. "In barely a month you will give birth to our child. Do you really expected me to love you any less now just because of this little side effect? On the contrary, I think I love you now more than I ever did."
"Oh, now you're really getting cheesy," Asuka noticed in a warning tone.
"Sorry," he muttered, sighing. As if it wasn't hard enough to satisfy the 'normal' Asuka, telling one with constant mood changes what she wants to hear seemed like an impossible task. How could he have ever thought there wouldn't be much difference? "But cheesy or not, I still don't think your beauty has diminished at all."
That was the truth, not even exaggerated. She seemed to be glowing a bit more every day, the closer the due date came.
However, Asuka just shrugged at the compliment. "Well, that's nice and all, but I still think these pants don't fit me anymore. Damn, and it was one of my favorites." She turned, raising a brow. "So would you stop with this stupid, sappy stuff and give me the red dungarees now?"
Estimated week: 38-39
Another "probably last" check-up today, and aside from the feeling I have that Aki might be a little smaller than the average, there are still seem to be no critical problems. But though this could actually ease the birth a little, it doesn't really calm me. The closer the estimated day comes, the more afraid I get of the possibilities. There's so much that could go wrong. I don't even know how I should handle the birth. Usually, there would be a whole team – doctor, nurse, midwife – that can take care of the child, while others, including the father, can be there for the mother. But I will have to make sure by myself that both are okay, before, during and even more so after the birth.
However, that isn't what scares me most. All the time I have studied about regular births, but I didn't think about the special, problematic situation we're in. Be it Asuka's youth, that it'll be her first, the lack of educated personal, or mostly my incapability to react properly in a critical situation. The necessity for a C-section isn't that rare, and I don't see how I should do that. For example, the mother being as young as Asuka, she might not reach a necessary dilation, or the umbilical cord wrapping around Aki's neck, or if s/he's just lying wrong, or...The more I learn, the more I fear I didn't learn enough. And look at this thing. It was supposed to be a log of the data I'd might need, but how am I supposed to filter out any crucial information between all my ramblings and thoughts? I don't know how I'm supposed to do this...
-Hey, Baka! Thought I didn't know about your little diary? Well, I do now. You fell asleep next to it, after studying – again – until 2 o'clock in the morning.
Anyway, stop worrying so damn much. I'm fine. And I'm sure – no, I know Aki is fine too. You really should stop to be so pessimistic. We have come so far, mastered so many obstacles in our lives. We will live through this as well. All three of us.
Asuka shortly winced in surprise as a loud thunder rolled again, before she resumed her view out of the window, where her drenched husband was busy securing the garden from the storm. He had insisted to do it alone, but that didn't mean she liked it – and if it wasn't for her current state, she wouldn't have taken it.
She shuddered, brushing over her wide belly. "I just hope you're not thinking of something about 'born in a stormy night'."
Sighing, she pried herself away from the window and went back to the bed. It took her a bit, but eventually she managed to sit down on it, leaning against the headboard. She didn't even bother trying to sleep now. Again, her hand went down where their child was growing.
Shinji had said it could be any time now. And with each passing day, they became more anxious and full of anticipation. Maybe in just a few hours, there would be this new little life that they had to take care of.
They were prepared as good as they were able to; the child's room was waiting for its new inhabitant, rompers and other clothes in various sizes in the wardrobe, dozens of diapers ready for use, and lots of toys that wanted to be played with. The only thing missing was the baby.
"Aki..." the soon-to-be mother whispered, her gaze like her thoughts focused on the being inside her. "I know, we didn't really had a good start." She stopped, giving a bitter snort.
"Okay, that's a big understatement," she added muttering. "I... I was afraid, I guess. Afraid of that thing inside me. That it would take Shinji away from me. That it would... hurt me. But that was before I knew that it was you."
"That sounds silly, doesn't it?" she mused. "Well, it probably is."
"I'm sorry," she continued eventually after a short break. "I know, that is hardly enough to excuse how I acted then, but... but I'm afraid that is all I can do right now. But I'll do my best to make it up to you once you're here. Once I can hold you in my arms. Once I can show you how much you really mean to me." She smiled a little, feeling a light kick from her daughter, not sure whether she wanted to interpret it as a 'Damn right!' or a 'Now shut up with that nonsense and let me sleep!'
But the smile dropped as fast as it came and her face got serious again. "I guess I'll never be the best mother ever, as you would deserve it. But I promise, I'll make it up to you." A slight grin played around her lips once more. "Just be a little easy on me, okay?"
"Asuka, what are you doing?"
"Repairing the fence, if you can't see..."
Shinji rolled his eyes. Sure enough he could see that she was hammering the nails to fixate a replacement for a broken plank – and her ninth-month-belly of course not getting in the way at all. "W-why don't you just let me do it?" he asked gently, placing his hands on her shoulders. "You should go back in and..."
"Rest? No way! I've rested more than enough the last weeks. And you already have a lot to do to fix everything." She nodded to the mess that was their garden now, where he had been busy with the cleanup efforts until he had heard her working. "That storm had been the worst we had for a while. So how about just being grateful that your generous wife is helping you?"
"Asuka, you need your rest," he tried once more. "Believe me, you will be busy enough once Aki is here."
"So will you. And I'm tired of sitting and lying around, just waiting. So either you let me handle this, or I'll go up and check if the solar panels and the roof are okay."
His shoulders sagged in defeat. It was obvious that she wouldn't let herself being persuaded without a big fight that he didn't want to risk. "And it hasn't even been two hours that you were complaining about your back," he muttered under his breath as he turned to leave.
"What was that?"
"Nothing," he sighed. "Just don't overdo it, okay?"
But his last words were already drowned in the loud blows of the hammer. Sighing once more he started to go back to his work, until..
Her scream and the sound of the hammer falling down, caused him to turn on his heel. "What is it? Did you hit yourself?"
He could have slapped himself for that stupid question the instant as he saw her leaning forward against the fence, holding her stomach.
"No, idiot!" she hissed, grimacing. "Jus-just because you would..." Instead of finishing the sentence, she inhaled sharply, obviously trying to subside the pain. Panting, she looked him in the eyes. "It's time," she stated whispering.
Never before had these words a bigger impact on Shinji Ikari. Thunderstruck, he gaped at her for a while, until his higher brain functions finally snapped back into action.
After a short, definite answer at his question if she was sure after just one contraction, he rushed inside, got the car keys, hurried back out to lead her to the pick-up and help her in – in less than thirty seconds.
It wasn't until he tried to insert the key that he noticed how much his hands shook.
'Okay, Shinji, calm down!' he reminded himself and took a deep breath. 'We have more than enough time. And it's probably just another false alarm anyway.'
As his hands slightly stopping to tremble, he inserted the key, started the engine and drove off. His nervousness was still not gone entirely though, which soon became apparent in his way of driving through the empty streets.
"Watch out!" Asuka screamed as he almost lost control over the vehicle and nearly crashed against one of the broken-down cars on the sidewalk.
"Don't tell me you're sorry, watch out that you don't get us killed! Why do we need to go there anyway? People got their children at home even when there was still qualified personnel at the hospitals!"
"I-I thought it was better in case I need the instruments."
"Couldn't you have gotten them home?!"
"Not everything. I need to make another check on the ultrasound to see if everything is alright; if Aki's in the right position and such."
"Can't you just feel that?"
"Theoretically yes, but I would have had to learn and practice it, and..."
"Then why didn't you?!"
"...And I don't think I could tell as precise anyway. Besides, I don't see why it's so bad. We should have more than enough time to get there. It'll most likely take several more hours until the birth."
"Hours?! I'm going to have these – AH! – the... these stupid contractions for several more
"Well..." he started, but looking over into her glaring eyes he quickly trailed off, trying to think of something to avoid the probably most honest answer. "W-well, not if it's just another false..."
"IT'S NOT A FALSE ALARM!" Asuka yelled at him, before he could finish his sentence. Obviously it hadn't been a good way to change the topic after all.
Shinji let out a small sigh. "But... but how can you be so sure after only one – or two now – contractions?"
"Who said it was the first one?"
"They already started and you didn't tell me?" Now it was Shinji's turn to get louder. "You even wanted to continue working?!"
"GET YOUR EYES ON THE STREET!" she reminded him fiercely as they barely managed to avoid a large fragment of a ruined building that blocked a large part of the street. "You just thought yourself that it was just another false alarm, and so did I. But now..." The aggression faded out of her. "It-it's different. I can feel it."
Shinji's hands clutched around the steering wheel as he released a sharp breath. "O-okay then... did you check how close they are?" He could sense her shaking her head and glanced to the watch he had been wearing lately, mostly just for this purpose. "Uh, let's see, the last one was about a minute ago. Just tell me when the next comes, okay?"
"Oh, you can be damn sure I'll let you know some way!"
He didn't want to heat the atmosphere between them any more than it already was in this situation with a wrong answer, so he was quite relieved that the hospital came in sight that moment. Since he didn't have to bother about it, he parked the car just in front of the entrance. As always lately, it took a while to get Asuka out and even longer to help her to the room where they had done the ultrasounds. But eventually she lay on the examination couch, her breathing already deepened by now.
"Okay, it's been about four minutes now," Shinji said, failing at his attempt not to show any sign of nervousness as he pulled the watch off his arm and laid it on her open palm, closing her hand around it with both of his. "I don't think it'll take that long that I miss the next one, but just in case..."
"What?" she started already when he quickly kissed her forehead and stood up. "W-where are you going now!?"
"I'll be right back," he assured, already almost at the door. "I just have to start the generator."
"So you're leaving me alone NOW!?"
The angry, but mostly scared look in her eyes reminded him why he had feared this moment so much. Other's were supposed to take care of these things now, not him. He should only take care of her.
"I'll be right back," he promised once more and ran as fast as his feet carried him out of the room and down to the basement.
Even though it had been probably only one or two minutes maximum, it seemed to her like an eternity until he finally returned, rubbing his arm.
"Took a turn to fast and crashed against the wall," Shinji muttered grimacing.
She tried to laugh at him, but in that moment another contraction hit her; the pain turning her grin into a grimace for the seemingly endless seconds it lasted. So instead, she poured as much sarcasm as she could muster in her voice. "Oh, poor Shinji is in so much horrible, horrible pain. How am I supposed to ever be able to relate to that?"
"Sorry," he said, his panting calming down slowly. "I tried to be as fast as I could."
"Well, not fast enough!" she yelled and nodded her head down to her legs, were a fluid trickled down into a small puddle on the floor.
"No, it's not, idiot! Don't tell me I have to trust someone to help me giving birth to my child who can't even tell the difference between shit and amniotic fluids?"
Shinji seemed to ignore her taunt, but that didn't stop him from looking like he wasn't quite sure what to do next. "Eh, that... just now – how long was it?"
"I dunno; five, maybe six minutes I guess. Is that still important now? She's coming either way."
"Five or six...? Already?" he muttered as if he didn't listen to her any further. "How long exactly did you have these contractions already?"
"Does it matter?!" she cursed at him, showing him clearly that she didn't want to elaborate this any further. His accusations was the last thing she needed now.
He obviously got the hint and didn't reply, but the look he gave her hit Asuka more than anything he could have said.
The check up had long become a routine procedure. At first it had been more than awkward for both of them to have Shinji checking on her most intimate parts – something she never liked much with professional gynecologists either – even though they had been lovers for quite a while. By now it wasn't really a problem for her anymore, especially not in that moment when there was much more on her mind. She didn't even pay much attention as he quickly went through the tests; just catching that he was relieved that Aki was obviously in the right position, head first.
But the loud gasp that escaped him when he wanted to check the dilation startled her. "T-that's more than seven – almost eight centimeters already!"
"Well, seems like she's in quite a hurry to meet her parents..." Asuka commented with a weak grin.
Though like herself, Shinji didn't really seem very amused by the joke. She could tell that this progress made him incredibly nervous, but did he think it was any different to her? The prospect of giving birth probably anytime now was more thrilling and terrifying at the same time than anything ever before..
...And the contractions rather strengthened the latter. "D-damn! Can't you give me a painkiller? That – whatever it was called!"
"An epidoral? I- I don't know Asuka, do you feel that's necessary? It would propose a lot of additional risks, even if I could get it right, which is already more than questionable."
"You endure this pain and then talk again about taking risks!" she cursed him loudly. "To hell with your fear of anesthetics!"
"And what if I give you a too high dosage? You wouldn't be able to push properly when your lower body is completely numb! Or what if I accidentally hurt your spine?"
"Then give me something else!"
Her eyes, that had been shut in pain, opened wide as she felt his warm hand getting hold of hers.
"I'm afraid that's all I can give you right now," Shinji told her, an attempt of an reassuring smile on his lips, that she tried to return as his thumb flickered over the ring he had given her that day at the beach.
But it quickly drowned again in the pain inside of her.
She could hear him wincing as she squeezed his hand on reflex. "A-Asuka, you need to remember the breathing-techniques we practiced. That's supposed to ease the pain a bit."
"Stupid breathing! All we had for reference were some stupid movies!" she cursed, but complied anyway – and indeed, the pain subsided slowly, though she rather blamed it on the ending of the contraction.
Shinji's look was full of worry and guilt. "I could look if I find a birthing ball or something. I didn't do much research on water birth, but there was a tube here. We- we could try anyway! Damn, I knew I should have-"
"No!" Almost unconsciously, she had squeezed his hand harder. As much as she would like to deny it, she was scared to no end. She didn't want him to leave and she didn't dare to move a bit.
"I'm... I can take it! It's not that bad, actually," she said assuring, but her watering eyes spoke the truth long before the next contraction came and the inevitable scourge of pain shot through her. "Shit! And I thought being massacred by the EVAs had been bad!"
"Asuka," he said calmly; his free hand that was caressing her hair having a much welcomed soothing effect on her. "I-I know this isn't easy for you, but even though you're already pretty far, it's still probably going to take quite a while. Shouldn't we get you at least a bit more comfortable?"
Asuka bit her lip; her mind racing whether to listen to her reason or her fears. But as she looked in his concerned eyes, she shook her head with a weak smile. "I have everything here to be comfortable."
In hindsight, neither of them would remember whether the time seemed to race or crawl slowly over the following hours. When he didn't check on her condition, Shinji tried his best to cheer Asuka on, telling her how good she was doing and to remind her of the breathing techniques as well as to distract her with almost silly attempts of conversation; like the idea to acquire some of the neighbor grounds to their own to expand the garden, or how long it had been since they've went to the beach, he even talked about the weather. As much as she honored his attempts, Asuka barely listened to him. The contractions came a little faster and stayed a little longer with each time – it seemed like a wonder that Shinji's hand didn't brake under the pressure she passed on to him.
There was one topic that wasn't really touched the whole time though, despite becoming more evident in both of their minds with each minute: Anytime now, they would be parents. Of course, they had known for months that it would happen, they had seen it, they had felt it – but now, it would really happen, now it would become real. And despite all the preparations, books and even videos in the last months, they still had no idea what they were really supposed to do; how they could actually take care of a child.
Asuka was much too occupied to be worried though. The more time passed, the more she wished she had taken Shinji's offers before; every second she doubted more that she could take any longer to lie writhing and sweating on that couch, barely able to feel anything else but pain. She had even considered to ask him for an attempt at a C-section, but she already knew that he would just do his usual lame excusing that he didn't feel able to do any kind of surgery. But she didn't care about that anymore, she just wanted this to be over.
The more so she welcomed the feeling that eventually washed through her, and it didn't even matter if it was just a figment of her clouded mind. It had to be the right time.
"Shinji? I'm... I'm starting to push now!"
"Uhm, o-okay..." he stammered surprised at her announcement and reluctantly stood up. "Wait! Just let me check how far..."
"I don't give a damn!" she cursed at him. "I'm going to push now!" And along with the next contraction, she applied as much pressure as she could muster downwards. "AAAAAHHH-shit! Okay, okay, it's too early after all..."
"No! No..." declined Shinji, who had assumed his position at the couch's end by now. "It-it's alright! K-keep going!"
"But... but it hurts..." she said through clenched teeth. "E-even more..."
"I... uhm..." When he was fumbling for words, contemplating whether to be honest or not, was seldom a good sign. "It-it's alright, really."
He breathed heavily. "Whether you believe me or not, it doesn't matter. There's no return now." As he looked up into her eyes, there was a determined look in his that he rarely showed. "You can do this, Asuka, I know you can!"
But his encouraging words were quickly forgotten. She did her best, working harder than ever before to push along the agonizing contractions, but her strength was wearing out more and more. The long, wearing hours of being in labor had cost her more than she had expected.
Shinji was too much absorbed by the happenings to be a big help either and that hurt her most, even though she had known that it would be like this. He should just be there for her now, holding her hand and soothing her or give encouraging words. Though he was right at her side, she couldn't remember the last time she had felt so alone like she did now.
Driven by sheer willpower, she fought on; bringing up everything she had to give birth to her child; her mind only focused on that thought. Her child. Her family. And once this was over, they would live on happily ever after.
But deep inside, she knew that that was just a silly illusion. The overwhelming pain made it more and more apparent to her that something would be missing in that picture of a perfect world.
"Shinji...?" she called him, merely whispering. "Promise me... that... you'll take good care of her..."
"What are you talking about?" he asked, obviously only listening partly to what she was saying; looking up to her only for a second, before focusing on his task again.
"It hurts, Shinji... it hurts so much," she said in such a weak tone that it did catch his attention this time. "I don't think this is right... I-I think I'm..."
"Don't talk like that! Please... it will be alright, believe me!" he tried to comfort her, but he was too frantic himself for it to be very effective. "The... the head is almost out! Just a little further!"
Tears streamed out her eyes as she summoned every bit of energy left in her to push a last time, when another wave of pain shot through her body. But then, she weakly smiled...
...as a loud crying filled the room.
"Asuka! It's a girl!" she heard him exclaiming in almost hysterical joy. "It's really a girl!"
As she looked at her little family through half-closed eyes, she couldn't see anything but the blurred form of her husband and her livid daughter in his arms. And yet, she felt an unbelievable happiness inside.
'Of course. That must be what it's really like to die...'
"Asuka?" His voice carried a hint of worry now, but she could only barley see him turning to her anymore. "What...?"
Shinji's frightened screams of her name and the lively cries of the little being she had just given birth to were the last things she heard as she closed her eyes.
Her smile never left her face.
Shinji didn't know how long he stood beside the bed with the silent form, just watching her. At first his mind had been too occupied to really comprehend what had happened, but now the tears wouldn't stop.
Carefully he reached out for her hand. It felt so soft, so vulnerable in his. She looked so peaceful in her sleep. Just like her mother always did.
Shinji's smile faded as he turned away from the crib to the bed next to it, where he had placed Asuka after it happened. The same fingers that just caressed the warm hand of their newborn daughter now closed around his wife's.
He wanted to be angry at her. It wasn't fair. Didn't she know that it was already hard enough for him? How could she just leave him to take care of everything?
But he couldn't be angry. Not now and the way he felt now, never again.
After wiping his tears away, he leaned down, just wanting to kiss her one last time..
...before her eyes fluttered open.
"Yes," he laughed softly. "Who else would dare wake you up like this?"
"Wake?" she asked wearily. "But... I-I'm not...?"
Shinji shook his head. "No. But you sure managed to scare me, when you passed out. I guess the pain was a bit too much for you after all. And that combined with the blood loss..."
"I just passed out...?" she mused, her voice too tired to show any sign of embarrassment. But then suddenly bolted up. "Where's...?"
"Shh," Shinji calmed her and led her to lie down again. "She's asleep." He pointed to the crib besides him.
He nodded, anticipating her question. "As I guessed, she's a little small for her age, but otherwise, she's perfectly fine as far as I can tell. You were the one who got me worried. You know, you gave me quite some trouble, having to see if both of you are okay without neglecting the other."
Asuka didn't really seem to care much about feeling guilty now, keeping her gaze fixed on the small bed. "Can I... hold her?"
"I don't know," Shinji muttered hesitatingly, feeling torn between mother and child. "It took me a while till I got her to sleep..."
He sighed, but nodded anyway. He had no chance to deny her anything when she asked him in this tone, and especially not that time.
Even though he was careful when he lifted his daughter out of her bed, he didn't succeed in letting her sleep. Surprisingly, she didn't start to cry again, maybe still too exhausted to made more than a low whimpering.
Asuka had set up in the bed, resting her back at the pillow against the headboard. With trembling hands, she received their child from him; nestling the infant in her arms. For some reason, the newborn didn't seem to be bothered by the interruption of her sleep at all, as two pairs of tired, but sparkling blue eyes looked at each other. A bright smile was returned by a shaky one. Asuka failed to hold back the tears of joy any longer, caressing her daughter's cheek carefully with her finger.
"Hello, my little Aki," she said, her voice cracking under the overwhelming feelings. "Welcome to our world..."
A/N aka "making of"-like rant most of you aren't going to read anyway:
Okay, that mean little prank at the end was a kinda pointless, as everyone of you pretty much knows that she wouldn't die. But I couldn't help it. XD
And yeah, I know newborns don't smile or have blue eyes yet, but meh, despite the research I did, I still kept a lot of 'artistic freedom' anyway. And hell, this is Anime, it's almost blasphemy that I didn't make Aki a Chibi-Asuka.
Speaking of research, while I did make some, I won't give any guarantee for correctness. Since I never witnessed a pregnancy first hand, my sources were basically just TV and the net, and while those help to get an overview, it's harder to get some detail. For example: I thought they'd use some kind microphones to hear the heartbeats of a fetus and it wasn't until I had the scene long finished that I learned that a doppler works actually similar to a "real" ultrasound. Of course with the result that I "had" to change a perfectly fine scene – without being sure if it's really any more accurate now than it was. Sometimes I hate being wrong and/or actually doing research, in the faint hope that I won't be...
Well, I'm not a woman, I don't live in a post-apocalyptic world, and I can't really imagine not to accept my child if I learn that it's on its way; so I have no idea how "reasonable" an attempt to starve it would be. But I think it makes at least some sense (if only to bring a conflict into an otherwise really boring chapter)
"Wouldn't she have tried to hide it better?" you might ask. "Come on, the pregnancy test in the trash when she has the entire world to get rid of it?" Well... uhm... heywhatsthatbehindyou?
Okay, okay, choose your favorite reply: 1) plot hole (like so many); 2) on a subconscious level, she wanted him to find out and stop her, just like she couldn't really stop herself from eating; 3) all the WAFFyness caused Asuka's intelligence to shrink so much that she not only isn't able to realize she's harming herself (with the weak excuse of desperation), but also to hide her traces properly. Personally, I'd favor number 2... >_>
The pregnancy logs were originally supposed to be a nicer way of a summary of longer time periods in-between (instead of doing some halfhearted lines), but as the chapter went on and I learned more about the development of the fetus as well as having to make the time of Asuka's diet not too long (to leave at least a bit of credibility in that) while having it long enough to keep some balance, they became more of a summarization of Shinji's thoughts. That rendered the beach-scene somewhat unnecessary, but I wanted to keep that as some (more or less) annual thing, and Asuka had hers last time already.
Okay, I guess that's more than enough for now...
Thanks to dennisud and Leathal GD Weapon for pre-reading and everyone pointing out the "contradictions". ;)