There was no hope. Shinji and Asuka lived in the empty, deteriorating Japan on the shore of the lifeless red ocean. They had food and water, they had enough magazines and tapes to last a lifetime, and they had each other. But they had no hope for the future. Whatever either of them believed about Adam and Eve, they agreed that the human race couldn’t start over from a pair of broken people like them. This wasn’t exactly what you’d call ‘life.’ At best it could be called existence. Perhaps even duration if you were feeling uncharitable. Two people having a not entirely unpleasant time, waiting for eventual death and with it the extinguishing of the human race. It was really alright except for the existential angst. There was plenty of that to go around, though. Shinji couldn’t escape it if he tried. The desolate, lonely landscape of crumbling city blocks and crimson waves was an ever-present reminder of the Third Impact. By now grass had begun breaking through the pavement and the cats and dogs that managed to break out of their apartments were creating a kind of ecosystem. In a decade or two the metal around the city would corrode and Tokyo-3 would probably crash through into the remains of the Geofront. The other cities would have a more dignified death, slowly crumbling and overgrowing and remaining as features of the background for a long time to come. Shinji didn’t like to think about the cities. He didn’t really like to think about the ocean, either. But he came to the shore most evenings, just around the time the sun set. That way he could pretend that the red-orange waves were supposed to look that way and not think about the bodies that colored it. He could pretend that the wonderful, chaotic, joyful and terrible world that produced him still existed and that if he just turned around and walked he would eventually come to Misato’s apartment and find her still there. And he could visit the Geofront and see Rei and even his father and literally anyone other than himself or Asuka. Shinji picked up a pebble and tossed it at the ocean. Predictably, the pebble failed to bounce and sank the moment it touched the surface. “Why did it all turn out like this?” he asked the universe. There was no answer save for the lapping of the waves against the rocks. “It shouldn’t have been like that. We won. Against the Angels, we won!” Shinji was well aware that he was talking to himself. That didn’t bother him, since trying not to do that would cut down the number of potential conversation partners in half. “What was I supposed to do?” The answer was obviously literally anything other than mope in a corner. But Shinji retained enough objectivity to know he’d been broken back then. He refused to accept the whole thing as his fault. But it still hurt. “I could do it now,” he complained. “If I had another chance, I would do it all much better. We wouldn’t be so alone.” Shinji threw another pebble. It sank again. “I wish I could go back. Go back and change it.” In front of Shinji the red ocean rose. The waves swirled and boiled and rose up and up and up. The Tang shed water on its way up, slowly coalescing into a gargantuan figure as Shinji’s panicked screaming subsided. With a distinct squelching noise, the red fluid turned blue, forming into a blue two-torsoed giant. he grinning faces of Rei and Kaworu stared down at him with eyes the size of Tokyo-3. Shinji seriously considered resuming screaming. Hands with fingers like the mountains stretched forward to grasp Shinji. At that moment an appalling realization crashed its way into Shinji’s mind: his wish was being granted. The collective human consciousness that once wore the Tang as its bodies was not quite uniform. Certain parts of its mind were dominant. And those parts loved him very much. “H-hi!” he said. And then there was singing. Shinji was all but pressed into the ground by the sheer force of three billion voices singing the familiar words of the Ode of Joy, most of them going just far enough off-key to make the words indistinguishable. The massive fingers stopped, their shadow turning day into night. The featureless surface of one of the giant’s finger shuddered, then formed a lump which grew into a tentacle about as thick across as Shinji’s torso. It extended towards him with only a slight deviation from course here or there to add some curves. “Can you really take me back?” The tentacle grew arms and a face to turn into the face of Rei Ayanami, intimately familiar to Shinji except for the mad grin it wore, a twin of the giant face far above. “Hi, Rei,” it said something about Shinji’s life that this felt like return to familiar territory. She extended a slim hand, about the size the real Rei would be expected to have. It seemed comically small compared to the one Rei herself was attached to. “I won’t run away, Rei. Never again.” Rei patted his hair. Then she grasped his hand with her own and pulled him close. “Um, Rei? You understand what I want, right? I want to go back, not become one with you. Are we clear on that?” Rei hugged him more tightly and let her arms fuse together behind his back. “Rei? Kaworu?” The giant hand above began moving. Shinji decided to assume he was being understood and tried to remember the first thing he’d said to his father. It would probably be a bad idea to seem out of character. The acceleration of the ascending hand continued to build up. With a single motion Shinji was being lifted above the atmosphere proper and into the realm of satellites and cosmic rays. At the point of maximum ascent Rei’s lips mouthed the word ‘bye.’ Or possibly the words ‘good luck.’ Or any words, really. Shinji was never great at lip reading, and the situation wasn’t making it any easier. And then Rei let go and Shinji was a twinkle in the sky.