(I do not own the Evangelion franchise.)
Νηον Γενεσις Ευαγγηλιον:
"So where is this place you say you saw Kaji?" Asuka asked. It was almost noon, and they were up in the hills. Since the time on the beach, Asuka had never mentioned her identity confusion again, even though her good eye was still brown. Shinji guessed that the most disorienting moment must have been right after her resurrection, though Shinji wondered if his own presence and tendency to refer to her as "Asuka" and treat her as Asuka may have had a part in grounding her identity.
"He was at his old garden," Shinji replied as he paused to scan for the green splotch on the hillside.
"Kaji was gardening?"
"Yeah," Shinji said. "In his melon garden."
Asuka scrunched her face skeptically. "I don't recollect Kaji ever mentioning a garden. Must not have been a big deal to him." Shinji wondered if there was a little of Misato's pout in that expression, but Shinji refrained from mentioning things like that. Shinji wondered why he didn't have the same identity problems Asuka had. Did it have something to do with his role in the apocalypse?
"Or you hallucinated the whole thing."
"... I suppose that's possible, too," Shinji said. "You know, if you don't believe me, you didn't have to come with me."
"Hey, Kaji is a real man, unlike you. If you can survive Third Impact, then why shouldn't Kaji?"
"Well - did he even live to see Third Impact?"
"What are you talking about? If he'd died beforehand, don't you think we'd have been informed? Don't you think there would have been a funeral? And if he died the day it happened - like I did - do you think that would have mattered?"
"... I guess so," Shinji said. "Come to think of it... I didn't know for sure he'd died until he told me so. I can't believe I took it so casually."
Asuka sighed. "You know, you're making it difficult to believe you, and I really would like to believe you saw Kaji, for reals. Because if you did, then maybe he really would know what the deal is with Third Impact, and what will happen next, and he can help us make it through all this crap. Plus, I'd have a real man to deflower me."
"I thought you said -"
"I said I didn't want kids, not that I didn't want a good orgasm. You can do one without making the other; prophylactics and birth control have made it possible."
"Welcome to the twenty-first century, Shinji," Asuka said. "Or the twentieth; you've probably only made it that far - playing your music on a tape recorder." Asuka paused a moment, tilting her head slightly. "What's that noise?"
Shinji listened intently. "... I don't know."
There was a strange, unidentifiable noise, somewhere in the distance. They couldn't make out what kind of noise it was, whether it was made by machinery or the work of the wilderness. It was not a noise that sounded like something common - the noise didn't give them the feeling that they ought to have been able to place it, as though it were really an everyday sound, something they should have known - no, this was definitely an unusual noise. But it was not exactly a sound they would have called "alien," either (or at least, they wouldn't have wanted to call it that. Aliens were freaky; they already had the apocalypse to worry about, they didn't need extra-terrestrials, too). The noise was probably loud at its point of origin, but the origin seemed far away, somewhere over the hills where they could not see.
"That's weird," Asuka said.
"I think I'm done roaming in the hills, now."
"Because of the noise?"
"I don't know what that noise is," Asuka said. "Whatever it is, I don't know if I can do anything about it if it comes and it isn't friendly. I just don't feel like being up here."
Shinji and Asuka returned to the city, and when they reached pavement they parted ways, Asuka heading for the apartment and Shinji touring about town.
Tokyo-3 looked different devastated by an apocalypse. After an hour Shinji was beginning to find the general theme of mass destruction a little tiring. It occurred to him that, now that Third Impact was over and the Angels were all gone, Tokyo-3 would probably not suffer any major damage again - at least not in an incident that had anything to do with him. He allowed himself the thought that maybe people would return and rebuild the city, that he could be a part of rebuilding it, and then he could truly say it was his city.
Actually, Shinji had long thought of Tokyo-3 as his home, but often he felt a little guilt in doing so. He reminded himself that he fought to protect it, and that if he did not the city would cease to exist altogether. Yet ever since the first Angel, when Toji had punched Shinji for injuring his sister, Shinji knew that his battles taken their toll on the city and its people, even with all the precautions in place. Sometimes walking home from school Shinji would notice another building that had collapsed, another tree smashed flat or snapped in two.
Somehow, Tokyo-3 post-Third Impact did not have proportionally the same effect as the past times when Shinji passed a lone symbol of his failure to protect a part of the city, but even so, Shinji felt no so much guilty as afraid the city might be abandoned. Shinji feared that this destruction would be the final blow to his home.
But if it wasn't, he wanted to stay here. He wondered how possible that might be. For that matter, would there be anyone to stand in his way?
Shinji began exploring the inside of one of the buildings. One of the rear corners of the building was missing a wall. The floor was strewn with broken furniture and broken plaster coated with dust and LCL. Shinji saw the figure of a bearded man dressed in a dark suit stepping out of the shadows to stand in front of two beams coincidentally coinciding to form a cross. His white glove raised to adjust his tinted glasses.
"Hello, Shinji," Gendo said.
"So," Shinji said, "Do you have anything to say to me?"
"And how did you reach the conclusion I have anything to say to you?"
"Are you really here?" Shinji asked. "Or are you an illusion? If you're the ghost of my father… ghosts don't appear to the living unless they have unfinished business."
"And what would you have me say?" Gendo asked.
"Father," Shinji said, "could we talk about why this happened? As in… why did Third Impact happen?"
"It is a complicated answer," Gendo said. "The course of human affairs always plays out as the result of the interaction of the many different intentions of many different people. Even people who seem to hold the same intentions may hold to those intentions for different reasons. Certainly you have your own perspective on what occurred in Third Impact - a central role, one of the finest seats in the house - and you ask me why it all happened."
"I doubt you have a right to play innocent."
"… No, I don't."
Νηον Γενεσις Ευαγγηλιον
Shinji went home after the talk with his father. Asuka was drinking beer again, this time lying on the floor, kicking her heels into the air while reading a battered magazine. Shinji needed to do something, so he cleaned the apartment, sweeping up the broken glass near the balcony, putting the furniture back in order with minor rearranging, throwing out broken dishes, and a few other chores that Third Impact had made for him - not to mention the chores he would have needed to do regardless.
Somehow, Shinji finished within a few hours and he found he still had not managed to clear his head. Shinji made Asuka and himself dinner, taking his time and using more complex recipes than he usually did. Asuka seemed pleased but didn't say much. Shinji was fine with this, since he was reluctant to discuss his encounter with his father with Asuka. Asuka would probably have belittled him about the talk even if she didn't believe he had hallucinated it all.
Shinji wondered if Asuka thought he was putting the moves on her with a fancy dinner, since Shinji hadn't given Asuka any reason to suspect he had stopped hoping for the continuation of the species. It didn't matter; Asuka could think what she wanted. And Shinji did still hope for the continuation of the species, with or without Asuka.
After dinner, Shinji took a walk. He gazed up at the hillside now illuminated with the golden-hued light of the evening sun, and Shinji saw the green spot where Kaji's garden was, exactly where it had been before. Shinji wondered how he couldn't have seen it that morning with Asuka. Shinji kept his eyes firmly locked on his destination and trekked back to the garden, where Kaji was once again watering his melons.
"Asuka and I were looking for you earlier, but I couldn't find you."
"Yeah," Kaji said. "I'll talk to her before I go, but I don't have complete control over when and where I can appear to you guys. I can only reveal myself to one person at a time."
"Why?" Shinji asked.
"I don't know, but that's what the rules would appear to be."
"Perhaps I shouldn't say I'm following 'rules,' but that I'm figuring out my capacity to manifest," Kaji said. "I don't necessarily understand my own presence and powers as a ghost - if it would be proper to call me a ghost. Consider – do you need to know how your intestines work to know that you need to eat? Can't women get pregnant easily enough without a thorough understanding of their ovaries?
"Don't fool yourself into thinking that anyone ever really understood Third Impact," Kaji said, changing the subject without warning. "The masterminds of Instrumentality themselves based many of their hopes on their interpretation of a selection of the Dead Sea Scrolls – scrolls that were enigmatic and metaphorical at best – texts that were hardly 'scientific' in their exposition. Yet this pattern of life in death, destruction and rebirth in one – this has happened before and will again, part of an endless cycle since the beginning of time – if there ever was a beginning."
"But wasn't there?" Shinji asked. "Wasn't there a Big Bang, and everything?"
"The Big Bang is one scientific theory," Kaji replied. "Perhaps there was something like it – and perhaps it wasn't really the beginning. Perhaps time moves in a circle, and the Big Bang is really just a stage of rebirth for our universe. Human knowledge will always be finite, and mystery infinite."
"I met my father," Shinji said. "He explained some of what happened, saying that he was working with a group called SEELE. He made it sound like for a while it had pushed him into going along with their plans for Instrumentality, until he finally managed to control NERV, which he tried to use to bring mother back."
"It sounds similar to the truth," Kaji said. "Though even well before NERV, when he himself was only a puppet, he had a way of pulling his strings to move the puppeteer. Not that I want to sow any more distrust between you and your father."
"There's good in him," Shinji said. "I've felt it."
"You have no choice," Kaji said. "You must face Gendo Ikari again."
"Don't humans always have a choice?" Shinji asked.
"I mean, you have no other choice if you want your father to turn into a father."
"I can only give him an opportunity," Shinji said. "He just needs to see it and be willing to take it."
"True. And you must always keep trying to understand him, as well," Kaji said, then eyed Shinji with concern. "You're eating all right, aren't you?"
"Yeah," Shinji said. "The problem now is morale. You know, when we came here looking for you, Asuka and I heard a sound."
"Yeah," Shinji said. "A weird sound. It sounded loud and far away."
"Well," Kaji said, "I'm sure if you ever find out what the sound is, it'll be interesting."
"How do you know?"
"Because I'm a man who lives for discovering secrets. I love a good mystery. Take Misato as an example."
"I'm not sure how to investigate this mystery, though," Shinji said. "And I'd like to know if it's safe or not before I find out."
"Everything's dangerous," Kaji said. "But you shouldn't live in fear of mystery - even if it kills you in the end. I'm speaking as one who has experience, you see."
"So how did you die?"
Shinji was surprised. "Really? When?"
"A few weeks before the apocalypse," Kaji replied casually.
"Was it when Misato started crying?"
Kaji's tone dropped in playfulness. "Probably."
"I should have done something for her," Shinji said. "But I didn't know what to do. I'm still just a kid."
"You've felt loss, haven't you Shinji?" Kaji asked.
"Then you are experienced enough to comfort those who have lost."
"I guess so," Shinji said. "Then I'm just weak."
"You are only weak because you tell yourself that you are weak," Kaji said. "If you want to become something more, you shouldn't tell yourself you are incapable of becoming more. If you want to change, you must believe yourself capable of change. The next time you meet Misato... actually... tell her I said 'move on.'"
"I'm going to meet Misato? Even though she's dead? Is she a ghost, too?"
"Maybe," Kaji said. "Did you really think a woman with such a strong will to live wouldn't be able to at least pay you a visit?"
"I dunno." Shinji said. "She might have loved life and all that, but would she care enough to see me?"
"Hey! She cared for you more than I do, and this is our second talk since the apocalypse."
"... I guess you're right again."
"Remember," Kaji said. "Tell Misato I said 'move on.'"
"You mean, if she's a ghost you want her to move on to the other side?"
"No. Well... that would probably be a good thing, too, I suppose, but I have a feeling she isn't a ghost. The last thing I'd want is for a woman who loved me to spend the rest of her life mourning for me. And... she shouldn't just move on from me, really. I shouldn't give you the details, though. It's private things. Misato will tell you if she believes you have a privilege to know. I think she'll understand what I mean, though. It's something important to learn, Shinji - knowing how to move on. It's difficult, even for adults. Perhaps especially for adults."
"Kaji," Shinji said. "I feel like I've spoken with you too rarely, because you seem to always have something valuable to say to me. You've given me a lot to think about – thoughts that will probably help me for years to come. I want to say… thank you. You've been a real… mentor, I think is the word. You're a mentor to me." Or the closest thing to a father figure.
"I'm honored to hear that, Shinji," Kaji replied. "And I'm glad I've been so helpful to you."
Νηον Γενεσις Ευαγγηλιον
The next morning was cool and smelled like a bloody spring. For the past few days, the atmosphere had smelled so intensely of blood Shinji had forgotten it, but now there was a new scent mixed into the air, something fresh and damp and green, like dew-drenched vegetation. But looking around out the window, he saw the same bare hills and shattered city.
Shinji made rice and eggs for breakfast. Asuka didn't venture out of her bedroom until he had finished cooking. After breakfast, Shinji cleaned up and Asuka took a shower. After breakfast, they spent an hour laying about, immersed in periodicals and music because the TV wasn't on and they didn't feel like talking to each other.
At some point Asuka must have left the room and gone outdoors, because she tapped Shinji on the shoulder to tell him in a quiet voice "the noise is outside." Shinji looked up at Asuka, who gripped his shoulder pleadingly, her face revealing more fear than she probably knew. Shinji stood up and went out the front door with her to listen.
The unfamiliar noise was indeed audible once again, this time from the apartment. Shinji and Asuka looked around for a source, and at first none was obvious. He could tell the sound was like moving earth. Then, sheltering his eyes from the sunlight Shinji looked up on the hill and saw green pop into view. All along the hillside, trees plunged up from the ground. Over the course of a few minutes, the entire Tokyo-3 hillside became covered in green, and as the trees burst up from the ground faster the sound grew deafening, the sound of life returning to the world.
"This is so amazing!" Shinji cried. "This is the sort of thing you tell your grandkids about."
"I'm not having any kids," Asuka hissed, and smacked Shinji alongside the head.
Νηον Γενεσις Ευαγγηλιον
Shinji returned to the decimated building in the afternoon and the evening, but did not find his father. The next day, Shinji explored the city once again, traveling away from the city along one of the country roads. His feet carried him, and he did not bother thinking where or why, he only watched the barren scenery pass him by. As though out of nowhere he saw a sign for the cemetery where his mother was memorialized, and Shinji knew he must go there.
Shinji walked the path until he came to the cemetery, and when he entered the cemetery he found it appeared much as he had last seen it. No Evas had disturbed this holy ground in any of the battles since, nor had even the apocalypse forced a tombstone out of place.
Shinji saw his father among the tall, dark stones, almost mistaking him for one of them. Gendo was still as a stone; not even his clothing rustled in the wind. Shinji was not surprised that the tombstone he stood before was Yui's.
"We meet again, father."
"Your soul still isn't at rest?"
"I have much to atone for."
"Such as abandoning your only son."
"What would you have me do?" Gendo asked. "Apologize?"
Shinji did not honor that with a response.
"Very well, then," Gendo said. "I'm sorry."
Shinji was stunned. "Is that… do you really mean it?"
"All I can do is offer you words," Gendo said. "Apologies are meaningless without repentance, and repentance means a change in action. My time here is limited. No longer capable of living, I can only speak to you for this one moment, therefore true repentance is impossible."
Shinji said, "No one else can be my father. While you're still here, be my father!"
Gendo's response was unexpectedly emotional - touched. "Shinji…."
"Is mother here?" Shinji asked. "Can she appear, too?"
"No," Gendo said. "She is sleeping for eternity in the Eva. Instrumentality took care of that. Had it been my way… it would have been otherwise."
"What was she like?" Shinji asked.
"You mean you don't remember? Not even a hint from Instrumentality?"
"Just talk to me about her."
"She was… the only person who loved me," Gendo said. "And the meaning of my existence. Unfortunately, I failed her. I forgot her dream in my hopes of resurrecting her, and in the process hurt you. It seems that no matter what I did I hurt you. I would have given you back your mother. It would have been the greatest present a father had ever given his son, but even so, I did it only for my sake, not for yours." Gendo flickered. "I'm sorry, Shinji…."
Gendo's hair and clothes suddenly began to ripple, as though just now realizing there was a wind. Indeed, the wind effected them more than they should have been effected. Shinji began to hear a roar, and Gendo turned away and climbed into the very vehicle Shinji saw him leave in the last time they had met in this graveyard. When Gendo had boarded, the vehicle lifted into the air, and as it began to leave it began to fade, the roar of the engines fading with it, until it vanished into non-existence.
Shinji stood in an empty graveyard, his hands clenched into fists, a tear rolling down his cheek. Shinji did not make it back to the apartment until nightfall.
Νηον Γενεσις Ευαγγηλιον
For the next two days, Shinji stayed in the apartment, musing to himself and keeping house. Asuka continued to drain the beer reserves. At noon, now nearly a week since the apocalypse, Shinji heard a knock at the apartment door, and he answered it.
"… Misato?" Shinji inquired. The woman at the door had red eyes.
"Uh… hi, Shinji." Rei's eyes, but Misato's face, Misato's hair, Misato's voice.
The first thing that came to mind was the unanticipated, unromantic, adult kiss. And as traditional Japanese etiquette demanded, it would be proper of him to mention something of their last meeting. "Um… we don't… need to do the rest." There was more to it than an awkward teenage shyness, or that Shinji had never felt comfortable with Misato's sexuality. Shinji's craving to merge his body with someone else's seemed less urgent since Third Impact.
"Oh… good," Misato said. "I mean… I'm sorry I did that to you. Being your guardian, I should have done something more proper to the role." The words sounded so hollow, even though she meant every one of them. The mere fact she was sincere seemed not enough to atone for the erotic tensions she had introduced into their relationship. Misato was the closest Shinji had to a family, but she wasn't meant to be his wife.
Shinji blushed and decided to change the subject. "So are you a ghost, too?"
"A ghost? Whah? No, I'm really here."
"Really? How long have you been alive?"
"About a week, now," Misato said. "Are you going to let me in?"
"Huh? Oh yeah!" Shinji stepped back from the entryway and let Misato into her apartment. They walked together to the living room. Misato threw herself onto the couch and Shinji sat in the chair next to her, like a patient and her psychoanalyst.
Misato sighed, and her whole body seemed to melt into the sofa. "Over the week, I've been working with all the resurrected people of NERV to contain and destroy the enemy as they reincarnated. We came back quicker largely because everyone in NERV had died in a more desperate situation, so we had a more urgent will to live. That's the theory, anyway. Despite our fewer numbers we were able to confiscate most of the weaponry and equipment the invaders were using before they came back. We worked around the clock to defeat the enemy force, and we dared not organize an evacuation of NERV until we were confident most if not all of the enemy had been annihilated or had surrendered."
"Still, most everyone is planning to flee the country," Misato said. "When the Japanese authorities reorganize they will probably come after everyone from NERV, especially the higher-ups."
"Oh," Shinji said. "That's too bad." He wasn't sure what else to say.
"Of course, I had no idea what SEELE and the Commander were doing until the last few days, and even then I was trying to figure out a way to oppose the Instrumentality Project. I can only hope they try arresting me rather than killing me, and give me a fair trial, though even then I doubt my chances. Still, I'm a Japanese, and fleeing my own country doesn't seem right. I have always acted with the best interests of my homeland at heart."
"I support you, Misato," Shinji said. "You can stay here with us until they come for you."
"Well, yes," Misato said. "It is my apartment, after all." A thought occurred to Misato, and she said, "Shinji, would you be a dear and get me a beer?"
"'Be a dear'?"
"Okay, Misato." Shinji ferried the beverage from the fridge to his failed guardian, who then proceeded to forget all the woes of the apocalypse, drowning them out with a beverage of fermented grain.
An hour later, Asuka entered the apartment, her face ashen. "Walking through the park, I did a double take at one of the benches. I actually saw… Kaji. Kaji was sitting there." Asuka put an arm to her face to hide the forming tears. "He's… really dead," her voice quivered. "He faded away in front of my eyes."
"What did he say?" Shinji asked.
"That's none of your business!" Asuka snapped.
"Okay." Apparently Kaji must have told her she was still a kid and should get over him, or something.
Misato appeared troubled for a moment, but she said nothing. Instead, Misato got up from her seat, went into the kitchen, and looked in the refrigerator. "What happened to all my beer? There's only five cans of a six-pack left!"
"Misato!" Asuka moaned. "I'm grieving here!"
"Now I am, too!"
"Um… not everything survived Third Impact," Shinji said. He didn't need to cover for Asuka. When he arrived back home, he threw away some of the beer as part of the process of cleaning the refrigerator. Still, if Asuka ever gave him a good reason, he would have blackmail.
"Ah, well," Misato sighed. "I was due for another beer run, anyway." Another factor in the paucity of available alcohol. "I guess I'll have to go to the store and get some."
"None of the stores are open," Shinji said. "Nobody's in town."
"Oh, there's a few people," Asuka said. "But Shinji's right, I bet they've got other things on their minds than selling beer."
"If they won't sell, then we'll barter," Misato said. "Asuka, let me borrow your yaoi doujinshi."
"No! Barter your own porn!"
So Misato had to rummage through her own periodicals for those she was most willing to sacrifice, and within the half-hour Misato, Shinji, and Asuka were strolling about town on a beer run. Somehow, Asuka's loss and the odd tension that Misato had brought with her return was hidden in the periphery of the moment, just as the crumbling buildings looming around them were at the periphery of consciousness. Shinji could almost convince himself that nothing had changed, not in Tokyo-3 and not in his relationship to Misato.
Shinji realized what he was ignoring, and stopped smiling. But after taking note of it, Shinji realized he had made another kind of mistake, and allowed himself to get caught back up in the moment.
On the way to the store, they saw a young man striding through the middle of the street, his clothes tattered and dusty, his gaze obscured by the glint of glasses. Upon seeing the three roommates, he paused, and then began to jog towards them.
"Shinji!" Kensuke called. "You're alive! And you've brought women!"
Kensuke collided with Shinji, glomping him.
"Woah, woah there," Shinji said, laughing. "For a moment I thought you were excited about the women."
"You bet I am!" Kensuke said, looking at Misato.
"Down, boy," Asuka said.
"So what're you doing here?" Shinji asked.
"I have no fucking clue!" Kensuke said. "I've just been wandering around alone for all this time."
Kensuke guided them to a local liquor store where he remembered buying good alcohol as someone else who was old enough to buy liquor. The owner was there, and Misato was able to trade two thousand yen and a stack of hentai for the amount of beer she wanted. With a sigh and an "I'll miss you, Kenta," Misato gathered together two precious twenty-four-packs and returned home with Asuka, Shinji, and Kensuke all jabbering away and catching up on their lives since the apocalypse.
A few hours after arriving home, Kensuke announced he would gladly spend the night. He whispered confidentially to Shinji, "After the apocalypse, among my mish-mash of misplaced memories, I got special intelligence on the enemy." The enemy meaning Asuka. "Intelligence concerning naughty experimentation with a certain class rep."
Shinji shook his head in disbelief. "Asuka and Hikari wouldn't do that, would they?"
"Practice kissing boys with each other? Why not?"
Somehow, Shinji was disappointed that what Kensuke had meant was less perverted than what he imagined Kensuke had meant.
Asuka threw a pillow at Kensuke's head. "What are you two idiots talking about?"
"Nothing!" they replied.
After dinner, as the sky was turning orange and red and the sun rested on the horizon, Shinji stood on the balcony, looking out over his city. Shinji was startled by the feeling of something warm and gentle on his back. Misato withdrew her hand and blushed. "S-sorry," she said.
"What were you trying to do?" Shinji asked.
"Stroke your back," Misato said. "Er... I guess it sounds weird when I say it. I didn't mean…." Misato couldn't say she didn't mean anything by it - that would have been wrong. It just wasn't supposed to have been a big deal. "I didn't mean to be intrusive."
"Why... stroke my back?"
"Ah, yeah…" Misato paused for a moment to wonder over her intentions. "Um... when I was little my mom used to do that. When we were sitting next to each other on a train or the bus. It was just an absent-minded mom-thing, I guess. I wasn't thinking about what I was doing."
"You're not my mom."
Misato would never have felt comfortable calling herself "Shinji's mother" and had already failed in significant ways to replace her. Yet Shinji's statement did nothing but build upon the barrier already between them. "I know," Misato said. "I didn't say I was."
There was silence for a moment as they watched each other. Because there was silence, the barrier simply stood where it was, obvious and no closer to breaking. If they continued standing there, staring at each other, the situation would become worse, not better. They could both sense this.
"I'll... go clean the laundry," Misato said, even though it was Shinji's turn to do the laundry again, and she turned and opened the balcony screen.
Misato turned. "Yes, Shinji?"
Shinji didn't like the barrier, either. "I'll try not to react like that next time."
"It's not a big deal."
Misato smiled faintly. But because the laundry actually needed doing, she turned and re-entered the apartment, sliding the screen shut behind her. Of course, later Misato would start the laundry, become distracted, and forget completely what she had begun, and Shinji would be the one to do it anyway. But it didn't matter; this was how it always was.
"I see, Kaji," Shinji said. "The infinite mystery includes people. I can only have a limited understanding others or myself, but I can't be afraid of the mystery, either."
Shinji turned to look out over his city, Tokyo-3. As the sky darkened, lights began to shine from windows throughout the city. He heard the rumbling of automobile engines and the clopping of footsteps, and felt the world return to life.