There's something about the seaside that soothes Shinji's nerves. He likes it best on Sunday mornings and Friday evenings, and all the times in between when the house seems more suffocating and the bite of Gendo's voice is sharper on his skin. He’s there more often in the quiet of the wintertime; when the beach is lonely enough for Shinji to feel like the sinking sand and the deep blue of the ocean belong to him. It stays like this until he begins to see another boy there, always with his back to the rocks and the distant buzz of city behind them. It’s not long before he seems to melt into his surroundings like he’s as much a part of the beach as the salt in the air, and suddenly Shinji can’t help but feel almost as if he is the one intruding.
With the way the boy’s eyes are always focused on the sea and beyond, Shinji thinks he looks an awful lot like he’s waiting for something. Sometimes, he can’t shake the feeling that the ocean might extend to the boy, foam capped waves rising to meet his fingertips in the warmest of greetings. Or perhaps they would break early, rush recklessly forward and drive whatever he’s lost to shore.
But that’s silly, really. Things like that don’t happen except for between the covers of books, warm in the dips and curves of his mother’s voice and heavy in his childhood memories. Still, Shinji thinks the silver of the boy’s hair and the lines of his limbs might not be all that out of place in the illustrations of a fairytale.
It’s on a particularly bad day—when Shinji needs to escape the bitterness of his house more so than usual, that the boy turns toward him for the first time. They look at each other for a moment that stretches long enough to keep Shinji right in place though he feels odd and like he needs to fidget and hide. The boy seems surprised; Shinji’s cheeks burn red and then the slowest of smiles shapes the boy’s lips. He inclines his head to the side slightly and Shinji doesn’t know what to make of the gesture nor what to make of the way his feet are moving forward. As he gets closer, the boy’s smile gets a little more pronounced, a little less hard to hide and it’s that which makes Shinji keep moving. It’s been a while since he saw someone happy enough to be unable to suppress a smile, after all.
“Hello,” says the boy. And sure enough his voice is sweet and just right against the frigid air. Shinji should be wary of the way it seems to seep straight to his chilled bones and warm him from the inside out. He’s not, but he should be worried about that strange note of familiarity and the way it makes all of Gendo’s shortfalls feel farther away.
Shinji, eyes cast to the sand, tries to will away his blush. “Uh, hi,” he responds, voice shy.
“Are you alright?” The boy’s words are almost coaxing, and Shinji thinks that he should raise his guard but they’re alone on this beach and his nerves feel frayed and far too alive for rationality.
“S-sure,” he replies. It’s not the unaffected answer he’d like to give but at least the heat in his cheeks and the thickness of his throat keep him from revealing anything no one needs to hear.
The boy stretches, sudden and languid with his fingers pointed right to the sky. “I’m Kaworu.” He brings his arms down to sneak his hands in his pockets. “Nagisa Kaworu, but I’d like it if you called me Kaworu.”
Shinji nods at the ground. “Ikari Shinji.” He chances a shy glance up, Kaworu looks patiently back. “You um, you can call me Shinji.”
Kaworu smiles at him and Shinji blushes, mutters something about homework and escapes.
On his way back, at home where his father gives him no more than a curt nod, and later on in the dark when he’s cocooned himself in blankets and the wind rattles his windows he mulls over the lazy curve of Kaworu’s lips.
Before he drifts off to sleep, he doesn’t deny himself the revelation that he hasn’t seen something so inviting in a long time.
Shinji doesn’t stop his visits to the beach. Kaworu is there every time, without fail. It’s not rare to see him perched precariously on the edge of one of the higher rocks. Shinji is always quick to shake off the thought, but sometimes it seems an awful lot like Kaworu seeks him out. It’s not long before he comes to expect the look of recognition he always recieves and the long strides Kaworu takes to go to him.
They talk about trivial things—the weather or the time of day and occasionally their interests. Shinji notices that Kaworu has a way of speaking where the trivial seems a little more special; like something to be grateful for. And it works, eventually Shinji finds himself taking comfort in whether or not the rain will be heavy or weak and the sight of darkening skies. Kaworu doesn’t ask about his father or his grades and for as long as he doesn’t press on it, Shinji doesn’t have to think about it.
But most of the time they allow their conversation to be drowned out by the push and pull of the tides and they opt instead to just sit next to each other. It’s always a nice silence, one with no pressure or pretense and Shinji knows that if he were to break it, Kaworu would speak in that soft manner of his and everything would be fine.
He collects Kaworu’s smiles like stray coins on the sidewalk. Guards them close and finds reassurance in their weight during off-days. He worries occasionally that he’s becoming too reliant on this, all of these secret moments that he’s stolen from Kaworu. Kaworu, who doesn’t weigh him down with expectation and always sits just close enough for their shoulders to brush.
The worries don’t make a difference, Kaworu keeps giving smiles and Shinji keeps filing them away. With it comes a new kind of pain, one that creeps up on him until before Shinji realises it, he aches for the scent of salted sea and the sound of Kaworu’s voice.
Somehow he’s wound up trusting Kaworu, and he’s too far gone to recede into himself.
The first time they leave the beach together is to buy a cup of hot chips from the tiny fast food stall beyond the rock wall. Kaworu insists on ordering and Shinji is glad to oblige. Kaworu speaks to the woman behind the counter with a strange enthusiasm for which item on the menu would be fastest and tastiest and easiest to share. Shinji watches the woman soak in his warmth, smile unsurely at him and ultimately give him a cup that is definitely a lot more full than usual. He’s a little bit envious, but it’s harmless jealousy that wanes in the face of Kaworu’s expression when he holds the cup out to Shinji and proclaims that he’s never eaten hot chips before.
They leave the stall in favour of going back down to the beach and Shinji is struck with the feeling that this is all extremely different to their usual time together. He thinks it’s lighter somehow, and he feels it more as he watches Kaworu burn his tounge, grin at seagulls and stare curiously at the blackened edges of a burnt chip.
The corners of his lips are tomato sauce stained and turned up in a smile when he turns to Shinji. “These are truly delicious.”
Shinji takes in the oil on Kaworu’s fingers and the way the wind has pushed his hair away from his forehead, he tries to match this image to his first memories of Kaworu— with all his otherworldly patience and the ease in his posture.
He finds himself almost overwhelmed when he responds to Kaworu with a simple “I’m glad you like them.” It’s that moment that Shinji realises he knows so little about a boy he’s spending almost every day with now.
He holds that thought though, because Kaworu speaks before he can. “Shinji,” he says, voice hesitant in a way that it hasn’t been before.
Shinji draws his knees to his chest and looks to Kaworu, stomach twisting with an apprehension he hasn’t felt here before. Nonetheless, he hums a “Yes” in response.
“What is it about this beach that draws you to it so often?”
It should be a harmless question but there’s so much to it and Shinji feels dizzy and kind of sick as he sucks in a sharp breath and tries to make a split second decision of whether or not he should really be answering.
Kaworu has made him abandon a lot of the “shoulds” that he’s set in place for himself.
“It’s far.” He swirls his finger in the sand, tries not to look at Kaworu as he presses on. “I um, I don’t have the best time at home, I guess.”
Kaworu looks more serious than he’s ever seen him before; there’s none of the pity or disgust that he’s grown accustomed to but instead something that he can’t quite pinpoint, lying somewhere between anger and sadness. His skin is crawling, it’s not for Kaworu but rather the way he’s dug his fingers deeper into the sand and he’s opened his mouth to keep talking.
“My father, we…you could say we don’t really have the best relationship.”
Kaworu moves his hand to rest on top of Shinji’s, his palm is warm and smooth and by reflex Shinji flinches. Kaworu doesn’t move though, and Shinji doesn’t tell him but he’s glad for the contact.
“My mother died when I was really young, and he walked out for a while. I lived with my aunt and uncle and I was so little, I guess I didn’t register much more than just wanting him back. Yeah, well he came back and he was just completely different. I hadn’t known what to expect from him, but…“ He swallows thickly, grapples for the right words. “I don’t know, it’s as if there was just nothing there at all. He’s very particular about my grades and not much else.” His throat still feels dry and he’s caught between wanting to seize up and stop or allow himself to say everything.
Kaworu’s hand tightens almost imperceptibly around his.
“Sometimes I think that more than anything I’d just like to be angry at him. Nothing else, just angry. I can’t even do that properly.” He stops there, he can’t say anymore. Finishes with a dry laugh and waits for Kaworu to speak.
“Anger hardens people.”
Shinji shakes his head. “I think that sounds better.”
Kaworu smiles sadly at him. “You don’t owe your father a single thing.”
“Yeah,” agrees Shinji, but his voice is still raw. “I hate it, but I still try for him.”
“I think you’re extraordinary.”
Shinji’s heartbeat stutters in spite of himself. He really doesn’t want Kaworu to move his hand. Eager to change the subject and chase away the stripped quality to his voice he turns to Kaworu. “How about you, Kaworu? How come you like the beach?”
Kaworu’s answer is simple. “I like the water. I’ve never seen it so blue.”
It should seem like he’s evading the question but Shinji gets the feeling there’s actually not much more to it.
“And of course you’re always here, Shinji.”
Shinji almost chokes. He knows for sure that this is dangerous. Kaworu says these things so matter-of-factly; he can’t let himself misconstrue any of it.
Kaworu reaches out with his free hand, before Shinji realises what’s happening Kaworu’s finger is at the corner of his mouth and he’s wiping a grain of salt from the chips away from his skin. When he raises that finger to his own mouth before giving Shinji another light smile, Shinji can do nothing to stop his breath from stalling.
There’s still tomato sauce at the corner of Kaworu’s lips.
Don’t misinterpret anything.
On a Thursday evening when Shinji is still in his school clothes, he goes straight to the beach. This isn’t so uncommon anymore, he finds that it’s less about escape now, and more for the fact that he wants to see Kaworu.
He finds Kaworu there of course, and it’s not long before they’re leaning side by side against a particulary smooth rock.
“We should start bringing lawn chairs,” Kaworu says absent-mindedly. Shinji agrees and they lapse back into silence until Kaworu once again speaks.
“Do you enjoy school?” He asks.
Shinji shrugs. “It’s alright, I guess. My grades are decent and I’ve got a few friends. I think that maybe at times I feel kind of aimless.”
Kaworu scoots in closer. “How so?”
“Well, I’m not quite sure where I’m going, if that makes sense. Everyone else seems so set on something, at times it makes me feel a little bad.”
Kaworu tilts his head to the side, he always looks to Shinji with a quiet kind of confidence that Shinji has realised is, more often than not, on his behalf. “It’s natural to be unsure. Are there any particular subjects you enjoy?”
Shinji thinks for a moment. “No, n-not really…I used to enjoy music, but I had to drop it in the end.”
Kaworu leaves it at that, changes course instead. “What are your friends like?”
“Well there’s Touji and Kensuke, they’re really good to me. And then I guess, maybe Asuka and Mari. I never know with those two, Asuka just always seems to be furious with me and Mari is nice enough but it's usually just her and Asuka. They’re close, really close.”
Kaworu nods and Shinji shakes his head. “Sorry, I’m talking as if you know them. Yeah, my friends are good. I think sometimes I worry that perhaps I’m a bit of a burden to them.”
“How so?” asks Kaworu once again.
“They all have something. I don’t really have anything to add, so at times it feels like I might just be dead weight.”
“I don’t think you’re dead weight. In fact, you’re very interesting, Shinji. Perhaps you don’t allow yourself to show them.”
Shinji fidgets with the wriststrap of his watch. “Yeah, maybe…”
“Teach me how to play the cello someday.”
Their time together gets closer and closer to seeming an awful lot like the dates he hears the girls at school talking about.
On this day they stay out later. Kaworu brings a threadbare looking blanket to fling over Shinji when the sun sets fully and the chill of night is too strong for the flimsy cotton of his shirt. Somehow, the taste of the ocean is thicker at night, it cuts in a fresh kind of way that Shinji thinks he could get used to.
Kaworu looks like he belongs with the moonlight.
They’re both quiet. Shinji takes Kaworu’s hand this time, shy and functioning on shaky lungs. They stay like that until Shinji frowns and Kaworu squeezes his hand lightly.
“Is everything alright? That’s the seventh time you’ve frowned tonight.”
“Please tell me you aren’t counting…”
“I’ll stop if you’d prefer.”
Shinji laughs, a rich sound that makes Kaworu smile with him. He hasn’t heard it like this before, warmer and quite possibly happy.
Kaworu nudges him slightly. “I won’t think it’s stupid.”
Shinji sighs. “It’s just Asuka. She said I’ve seemed happier lately and she won’t let it rest at that. She’s convinced I’m dating someone and she’s just been really pushy…"
For a moment, Kaworu’s composure slips and he looks surprised, as if something has just settled in on him. “Are you?”
Shinji frowns once more. “Am I what?”
Shinji almost chokes. “What? No!” he sputters.
They’re silent again, Shinji finds himself wondering about Kaworu’s own dating life.
“I’d have been a little jealous if you were with someone else.”
This time Shinji does choke.
Kaworu tells Shinji he loves him in the most nonchalant way possible. The words linger, unashamed and still amidst the heave of the wind.
Shinji single, double, triple checks his recollection of what just happened.
“Uh, sorry what?”
Kaworu yawns. “I love you.”
Shinji doesn’t say a word for a very long time. If Kaworu is affected, no one would be able to tell.
“A-as a friend-“ Shinji looks straight to the sand, hates the hopeful tone his voice takes on when he adds “right?”
Kaworu leans in so his head is resting on Shinji’s shoulder. “Yes, I’d say so. But more than that as well.”
“What does that mean?” Shinji just sounds desperate now; he is desperate. He doesn’t know whether he’s grateful for Kaworu’s lack of knowledge on social norms or if it’s making him want to burrow into the sand and hide there forever. He thinks it might be a mix of the two because there’s no denying that there’s a terribly dangerous twist in his gut that feels an awful lot like hope.
Kaworu shrugs, the movement stirs his head against Shinji’s shoulder. “I love you.”
Later on, when Shinji decides he should probably get going and Kaworu presses a kiss into the side of Shinji’s neck before he raises his head, Shinji gives up and ready to bolt at any minute, he goes in to kiss Kaworu properly.
Kaworu smiles against his mouth and it doesn’t quite make Shinji calmer but rather replaces any anxiety for a different kind of nervous energy that makes Shinji feel just as self conscious. When they break, Kaworu looks at him, eyes alight and mouth stretched into a smile. Shinji thinks he understands the earlier declaration of love just fine and he smiles too. He trembles when he leans in again but it’s okay because somehow Kaworu tastes like the air here, just more tangible, and his fingers are jittery against Shinji’s back.
For whatever reason, Kaworu thanks him.
“Did Asuka give you strife again?” Kaworu asks as he goes to Shinji. He takes hold of Shinji’s hand straight away.
“Yeah, she doesn’t like not knowing what’s going on.”
Kaworu frowns, and Shinji tries to imagine the clash of personalities that would be Kaworu and Asuka. “I’m sure she does it with your best interests at heart.”
“Um, actually…today when she asked, I said maybe. As in, maybe to dating someone.” Shinji prays that the fact his hand is sweating in Kaworu’s isn’t off-putting.
“If you’d like to be dating, then I’d like to be dating.”
“Kaworu, um, I think we’re pretty much dating, or well, in any case…neither of us seem to be going anywhere.”
Kaworu nods, casts a quick glance out to sea and smiles almost respectfully. “Not going anywhere.” He repeats. If Shinji looks hard enough there’s a little bit of sadness there, but mostly relief and Shinji is once again weak to the strong swell of hope that presses in on his chest.
“Thanks for saying ‘Hello’ to me that day.” Shinji says, voice thick with emotion.
Kaworu listens to the rush of waves behind him, squeezes Shinji’s hand and silently thanks Shinji for being born and being here and just being in general. He should be wary of getting too comfortable; of once again ending up deserted by yet another world. But the ocean here is blue and the rain in winter is always so sharp and real against his skin.