Disclaimer: The characters and backgrounds depicted in this story aren't mine. They belong to their respective copyright holders, Gainax, Viz, Pioneer, etc... I'm just borrowing them. This work of fiction is not intended to make any profit for me or anyone else, either.
The brown haired young man slumped into the sand and curled into a ball. The red haired young woman's hand stayed up where the boy's cheek had been for a few moments but dropped as she rolled over and grimaced. "I feel terrible," she said, almost as much to tell herself as the boy next to her. Her form was swathed in dirty white bandages, and what was left of a form-fitting red suit covered her from head to toe under them. Her one un-bandaged eye caught the wan, reddish gray light as she blinked and stared at the crucified forms of the Mass Production Model Evangelions out on the water. Her recognition of the giant, lifeless body with the all too familiar form on the hills on the opposite shore of the lake made her gasp.
The boy's ragged breathing next to her reminded her that she was not alone, "Shinji?" She paused, but he didn't reply. "Shinji! Say something, - please?"
Shinji choked out "What?" between what could have been sobs or coughs, she couldn't tell. "What is it, Asuka?"
"Do you think we're alone? Is there anyone else?" Asuka's voice trembled. She wasn't used to asking hard questions, but Instrumentality had changed her. She knew that much.
"I don't know. Maybe we are. Rei – Ayanami said that anyone could return, if they wanted to. I'm sorry. You could have stayed with everyone else. You didn't have to come with me."
"Wondergirl told you that? That anyone could come back? When?"
"She told me before I chose to come back."
"I meant when would they return, not when she told you, baka."
Shinji surprised mind thought Asuka's 'baka' sounded almost - friendly? No, affectionate? No, it must just be her injuries that took the angry edge away. "Sorry, I thought that was what you meant. But she didn't say how long it would take, just that people could return. You did, why?" He whispered the final word so low that her bandage-covered ears almost missed it over the constant hiss of the wind.
"Why? I didn't want to be lost. I'm the Great Asuka Langley Soryu! But not if I'm everyone else, too. And nobody deserves to be alone."
"But you weren't alone - you aren't making any sense," replied the confused teen.
"Not me, YOU, you dense idiot!" was Asuka's response, and she surprised even herself with how easy it was to say.
"Me? For me?"
"Don't get the wrong idea, baka, but yes, for you. For all your baka-ness you're still the only one who knows me at all." They both lapsed into silence, thinking about all the things they had learned about each other during Instrumentality.
Shinji's mind slowly wrapped itself around the concept that Asuka had returned at least partly for HIM, and he managed to surprise Asuka in turn with a quiet but sincere "Thank you."
"You're welcome, Shinji," was the last thing either of them said for a while, as they went back to their thoughts and the exhaustion of the past events caught up with them.
There was an itch on the inside of her elbow, just under the edge of the bandages, and Asuka couldn't ignore it any longer. She had been enjoying the lulling effects of the wind and Shinji's even breathing for the past half an hour, thinking. The itch, and the fact that she hadn't moved in all that time convinced her to attempt to scratch. "Bandages?" she thought, as she realized that she could not remember being tended to. There had been the terrible pain of the death of Unit Two, then the confusing blur of Instrumentality, then she had been on this beach. She realized she had no memory of medical attention or first aid. First aid was more likely, too, since the bandaging job wasn't very good. She scratched her itch with her good hand and just as she was about to roll towards Shinji and ask him about the first aid, she heard a low buzz coming from the other side of her, where Shinji wasn't.
"Here they are, Washu! One of them looks hurt, bring the gurney!" came an unfamiliar woman's voice.
"Bring two! Just in case!" was a man's tone. "Everything will be OK, you two, just relax and let us take care of you. My name is Tenchi Masaki, and I would like to offer you our help. What are your names?"
Asuka rolled towards the voices with a painful grunt and stared wide-eyed at the inky black, swirling, star-filled circle that was floating in the air behind the tall, brown haired man. What looked like a glass coffin was emerging from the circle, and there was a red-haired woman standing next to the circle concentrating on a small, insubstantial keyboard and screen and typing. Shinji sat up groggily, having been woken by the activity. He had missed Tenchi's introduction, but not the final question, and stared suspiciously at the newcomers, moving closer to Asuka. "Who are you people? What are you doing here? Did you come back? What's going on?"
"Relax, kid, we aren't going to hurt you or do anything without your permission," spoke the blue-haired, golden-eyed woman in a red and black body suit who was standing behind Shinji looking up and down the beach, staring longest at the M.P. EVA's and the giant, rapidly decaying Rei. "You two are the only ones left on this planet besides us, and you seem to need help. I'm Ryoko Masaki, and that redhead over by the portal is my mother, Washu." The red-head looked up from her typing and waved, giving the two teens a big grin. "The good-looking fellow over there with the gurney is my husband, Tenchi."
Asuka replied, since Shinji had just noticed the portal and was staring much like she had. "I'm Asuka Langley Soryu, pilot of Evangelion Unit 02," she gestured towards her companion and continued "and he's Shinji Ikari, pilot of Evangelion Unit 01. Now, how about answering his questions, please?"
Washu looked up form her typing and answered, "All in good time. You need rest and medical attention first. Let's get you someplace less exposed and taken care of. We mean you no harm." She paused, and laughed, "Ha! I'm getting old, I must sound like Mihoshi! But to briefly answer your questions, we didn't come back like I think you meant it, we sheltered in subspace for the last couple of hours, and after things stopped happening, my sensor scans showed only you two young folks left. So, we came to offer our assistance, like any good neighbor. Lets get you packed up into the gurneys while I take care of a few things. Tenchi? Ryoko?"she looked at both adults and then stared typing too fast to follow. Several small silver orbs flew out of the portal and scattered in all directions.
Tenchi finished maneuvering the two gurneys next to the teens who were still on the ground. Realizing that the two still did not trust him, he decided that he had to make some gesture of his sincerity. "I swear to you both, on my honor, that we will do you no harm. Please, let us help you."
"Asuka, what do you think? I think we should go with them. You're hurt, and there is nothing left here. I don't want to stay here if we can leave."
"But what about our friends, if they return? How will they find us? Misato, Hikari, even your stooge friends? We can't leave without leaving something for them if they come back!" She stopped as she realized Shinji had a pained look and was clutching something in his right hand so tightly that blood was beginning to drip onto the sand. "Shinji - what's the matter? What did I ... oh - oh damn, Shinji, what are you holding in your hand?" She was afraid she already knew, she had seen the chain that was dangling from his dripping fist before. "Misato?"
"She's gone, Asuka, they shot her! It was all my fault! I should have run faster! I shouldn't have been hiding...I shouldn't have..." he trailed off into sobs and collapsed on the ground next to Asuka.
Ryoko had been about to say something but decided that actions would speak louder than words at this point, moving up to the two teens and enfolding them both in a hug. Shinji instinctively burrowed into her shoulder, and Asuka tried to roll closer to Shinji, but her injuries protested. "Ow! My arm!"
After a few moments, Shinji began to calm down and Ryoko asked "Are you two OK now? I'd like to get home, this place gives me the creeps. Mom left sensors to keep track of any activity in the area. If anyone else shows up, we'll know about it." Her compassionate tone got Shinji to look up and pull away.
"I'm sorry, please excuse me for my outburst," he apologetically murmured, turning to Asuka. "Please, lets go away from here."
"OK, Shinji, we can go. I need help moving, though."
"Miss Soryu? Mr. Ikari? Let me help you up," Tenchi offered, moving one of the gurneys up next to the two survivors. Shinji stood up, and offered his hand to his companion.
"Keep your hands to yourself, I can do it," was Asuka's response, but her bravado didn't last since she only managed to roll onto her stomach before she cried out in pain, trying to push herself up with her bandaged arm. Ryoko quickly moved over and picked her up carefully, almost effortlessly. Asuka whispered a thank you.
"Into the gurney with you, then," grunted Ryoko as she maneuvered her burden onto the device. As Asuka laid back, a cap materialized over her legs, holding her to the flat surface.
"I can walk, I think," Shinji said as he stood and put a hand on Asuka's transport. "Now what?"
"Back to Okayama first of all, to get you fixed up," came Washu's cheerful chirp. "Just follow Tenchi. Ryoko, you go right behind, and I'll bring up the rear. Tenchi? The gurney?"
"Oh, right, Washu. Please follow me, Mr. Ikari," he sheepishly said as he tore his gaze from the crucified EVAs and began guiding Asuka toward the portal. Shinji didn't know what to expect, but he wasn't going to leave Asuka alone, not after all they had been through, so he squared his shoulders and followed Tenchi into the swirling black. There was a slight dizziness and loss of equilibrium but it was short lived. As he started to fall, the sensations passed and he found himself standing on a solid floor in a well lit, very large space. There was water flowing in intricate circular channels in the floor surrounding a medium-sized tree in a pool in front of them on a small central island. He jumped as the tree shot off several beams of light at the ground to the sound of tinkling bells. Tenchi stopped pushing the gurney (which continued moving by itself) and bowed towards the tree, "Thank you for your welcome, Ryu-Oh, these two young people will be our guests for a while. I will introduce you after they have rested and had their injuries tended." The tree seemed to reply with more beams and a final tinkle.
"Shinji, what was that? I can't see from here," complained the redhead on the gurney.
"I have no idea, Asuka," he answered and turned to follow the others.
"Come along, children, let's get you settled. We'll explain everything once you have rested some," Washu interjected as she walked towards a house set about fifty yards away at the edge of the circular area they had entered from the portal. "Ryu-Oh's environmental unit was the only place big enough for the whole house on such short notice that had decent lighting and air. It is almost as good as being outside! I am SUCH a genius!" Washu started laughing like a mad scientist as she finished her speech.
"Washu, stop trying to impress our guests until they have had a chance to get settled. You're making them nervous," was Tenchi's gentle reprimand. Shinji quietly followed the gurney to the large, spacious looking house and wondered just what he and Asuka had gotten themselves into.