The rain is steady in the background, dripping over the entire city like a leaky faucet. Umbrellas are high above the heads of the scrambling citizens trying to escape the downpour, the various colors blending together. Shinji looks out the window and imagines he's watching a sentient rainbow cover the city when his father clears his throat.
"Don't you have some homework to be doing?" he asks in a gruff voice. Shinji shakes his head quickly.
"I finished it at school," he says. "We had free time at the end of class and I didn't really have anyone to socialize with."
"Hm," his father grunts. "That's unfortunate for you."
"Oh, leave him alone, Gendo."
Shinji walks back over to the bed his mother is in and tries to ignore the various wires attached to her body. She gives him a warm smile and pats the spot next to her, and he gladly jumps up to sit beside her. His father doesn't say anything else, but he usually doesn't. Not when they're at the hospital like this.
"Did you learn anything new today?" his mother asks with another smile. Shinji looks up to the ceiling in thought.
"Erm... We learned more about math mostly," he says. "I think I'm already pretty good at that."
"You should be," his father says knowingly. "Your mother is an absolute genius at math, after all. It should run in your blood."
"You also can't forget your father's knack for science," his mother says. "You're truly destined for success, sweetheart."
Shinji smiles a little to himself as his parents look fondly to each other. He hates coming here like this, and he really doesn't understand why they have to do it so much. His mother's sick, he knows that. But it seems like it's taking her a really long time to get better.
"Here, Shinji," his mother says suddenly, and he looks up to see her holding out some money. "Why don't you go get something from the vending machine down the hall? You can get anything you want."
He gives her a large grin and hops off the bed, taking wide steps to the door., pretending he's as tall as his father. He passes the doctor on his way out, as well as a few nurses, but they all just smile at him. He and his parents are almost friendly enough with the staff to be on a first name basis. They spend enough time here.
The vending machine is huge, and it's his most favorite. He always gets a candy bar every time they come. Sometimes he'll get two and share one with his father. They have the same sweet tooth. Shinji sometimes wonders if that's all the two of them have in common.
"Having a break?"
Shinji looks behind him to see a boy around his age smiling at him, crimson eyes wide and friendly. He's slightly taken aback. Most kids his age avoid him because his father is the head of the school, but this boy might not know that yet. After all, Shinji's never seen him before. He might be new to the city.
"Uh, yeah. These are my favorite," Shinji says, holding up the candy bar. "I get one every time we come."
"You're here often?" The boy cocks his head to the side. "Is someone sick?"
"Isn't that why people go to hospitals?" Shinji laughs slightly. He immediately berates himself for being rude to someone who's genuinely being friendly with him, but the boy just keeps smiling.
"I suppose so. Sometimes these places can be used to meet new friends as well. It doesn't have to be just for those who are feeling ill."
Shinji considers this as he unwraps his candy. "I never thought of that. My mom's sick," he says. "She's been sick for a long time."
"I'm sorry to hear that. Is she getting better?"
"I think so. I don't really know, though. We're here a lot so I know she sees the doctors a lot, but..." Shinji takes a bite of the chocolate and gives the boy an uncertain grin. "I get real nervous about it sometimes."
The boy moves closer until he's directly in front of Shinji, and Shinji gets a better look at his eyes. The red color is unlike any Shinji's ever seen before, seemingly more vibrant than the color he was taught on the color wheel. Realizing suddenly that he's been ogling the other boy, Shinji hurriedly swallows his chocolate and coughs a little at the amount he chokes down. The boy gives him a concerned look.
"Are you alright?" he asks, and Shinji nods, still coughing.
"I- s-swallowed too m-much..." he hacks. He jumps a little when he feels a hand settle on his back, in between his shoulder blades.
"You shouldn't do things like that," the boy says. "There are tears in your eyes. You're hurting yourself."
"N-No," Shinji is finally able to stand upright and brush said tears away. "I wasn't hurting myself, I just swallowed wrong." The look on the other boy's face says he doesn't understand, but Shinji dismisses it and quickly adds, "Thanks for your concern."
"No thanks required," the boy says smoothly. He gives another smile, and Shinji tries to think of a word to describe how bright and warm it is, but nothing comes to mind. "Before, you were saying you're nervous about your mother?"
"Ah- Um, yeah. I just...wonder why she's not getting better..." Shinji is suddenly very aware that the other boy's hand is still on his back. "S-She's been sick for...long as I can remember..."
"You seem nervous as we speak. Is everything still fine?"
"I-I, uh..." he swallows again and nods frantically. "Sorry! I usually don't try to stutter so much! My father gets angry with me about it."
"You stutter?" the other boy asks, a sudden look of awe and fascination on his face. Shinji nods blankly as that happy smile returns. "That's simply adorable! I never knew you stuttered!"
"Apologies. I was lost in nostalgia, so to speak."
"You talk really...proper."
"Do I?" The other boy's head cocks to the side. "I never noticed. Is that a problem?"
"It's just...kinda weird."
"Ah. I've been called that too many times for it to affect me at this point!"
"Shinji?" His father's voice calls from down the hall, and Shinji turns around to face him. "Your mother wants you back in the room."
The other boy is pouting a little, arms crossed over his chest and an exaggerated frown directed at Shinji's father. He sighs before speaking again.
"I'm Kaworu. Kaworu Nagisa," he says.
Kaworu smiles at him again before brushing his hand over Shinji's cheek. "We'll see each other again, soon," he says.
"Um..." Shinji blurts before he can think about it, "do you wanna play with me sometime?"
"I'd enjoy that immensely."
Shinji smiles widely at him and holds out the other end of his candy bar. "Here, you have some!"
"But aren't these your favorite?" Kaworu asks.
"You're supposed to share things with friends! Er- well, I think so, at least. I don't really get to share things a lot, so..."
Kaworu leans forward and nibbles the end of the chocolate bar with an intense look of concentration that Shinji laughs at. His ruby eyes widen with astonishment.
"That's incredible!" he says. He's so flabbergasted that Shinji can't help but offer him another bite.
"So we'll see each other again?" Shinji asks.
"We always do. And thank you for the chocolate."
"Shinji!" his father calls from down the hall in an irritated voice, and Shinji breaks into a full run toward the hospital room.
"I'll see you laterrrrr!" he says as he runs, waving his arm above his head.
And they do see each other again, very soon. Kaworu is the new student in his class the very next day, and since none of the other students are very friendly to him, there's a free desk next to him that Kaworu fills. They smile at each other, and Shinji feels content. So this is what it's like to have a friend.
At recess, Shinji pulls Kaworu to stand by the slide while the other children race for the equipment, mainly the swings.
"How'd you know we'd be in the same class?" he asks breathlessly. They ran the whole way.
"I didn't know for sure," Kaworu says. "I just hoped we would. But isn't it fortunate for us?"
"I'm so happy we'll keep seeing each other!" Shinji says, practically jumping in place.
"If Shinji is happy, then of course I am, too," Kaworu says fondly. They're both laughing a little when a ball hits Shinji upside the head and sends him spiraling to the ground.
"Shinji!" Kaworu yelps and ducks down to help him back up.
"Hey, new kid!" Shinji gulps at the familiar voice and feebly tries to push Kaworu away. He doesn't want Kaworu to get on Asuka's bad side, too.
"Why are you talking to idiot Shinji so much?" Asuka asks as she joins them, orange pigtails gleaming in the sun.
"We're friends," Kaworu says simply, finally achieving getting Shinji off the ground. "Why would you feel the need to hurt him like that?"
"Psh," Asuka huffs. "He's just a daddy's boy. He's not important enough to get on the ground and help up. You'll learn that soon enough."
"I think he's more worthy of my time than others," Kaworu says with a bright smile. "And with that said, I think you'll find your presence here no longer needed."
Asuka gives him a look like she's eaten something sour, and then she spins around, pigtails whipping behind her with harsh finality. Shinji gives Kaworu a wide-eyed stare.
"You shouldn't say those things to people," he says. "They won't like you."
"I only need for you to like me anyways," Kaworu says. "You do, don't you?"
"Of course I do!"
"I'm happy to hear it. Is your head okay?"
"I've had worse," Shinji laughs, rubbing the back of his neck nervously.
"From her?" Kaworu asks in surprise.
"O-Oh, no! I fall a lot... I'm sorta clumsy. Asuka doesn't really do things like this a lot... I think she might be having a bad day or something."
"That's no excuse to take it out on you. Regardless, we'll both not take it personally. She's a good person."
"You know her?" Shinji asks.
"We've met before," Kaworu smirks. "Now, what was this you said earlier about playing?"
They play tag the rest of recess, Shinji laughing at the bewildered look on Kaworu's face each time he's caught. ("You have to run when I'm it, Kaworu.") When they go back inside they're both sweating and red faced, and Shinji knows it's the start of something great.
And it is great. It's amazingly perfect the way they fall into each other's lives. Kaworu is allowed to stay at Shinji's on weekends sometimes, and the two of them will curl up together under the sheets and tell stories. Shinji likes Kaworu's best because he'll speak of space and Heaven, and sometimes even angels. Kaworu never interrupts Shinji's stories about his parents- they're the only stories he has to tell- and he'll even smile those wonderful smiles every time Shinji mentions his mother.
"What about your father, Shinji?" he'll ask sometimes.
"We don't talk a whole lot..."
"Does that bother you?"
"I don't know."
And it might be his imagination, but Shinji thinks Kaworu moves closer to him on these nights.
Shinji never goes to Kaworu's house. There's supposedly not much to see, not much to do. It's with intense curiosity, nothing more, that Shinji wants to see where Kaworu lives. If anything, just to know where his best friend lives. He never presses the issue too much, not wanting to cause conflict. Maybe Kaworu is poor and is embarrassed of his house? Shinji doesn't think Kaworu would be ashamed of something like that, but he's not sure enough to mention it.
As the school years progress, Shinji is always astounded to find Kaworu stays in his classes. They never have a class apart from each other, and though he's extremely ecstatic about this fact, he also wonders how it's possible. He never really sees any of his former classmates aside from Asuka (who he tries to avoid at all costs) and a quiet girl named Rei. The three of them don't exactly speak much, but their faces are familiar, at least. Kaworu will smile each time it's brought up, and he'll say it's probably something to do with fate that the two of them are always together. Shinji doesn't think that makes sense, but he accepts it with the knowledge that he won't get a better answer.
When fourth grade comes to an end, Shinji's mom goes to the hospital again for a long visit. It's not exactly a secret that she most likely won't be coming out this time. Shinji's old enough to understand what death is, but he's never seen it, has never wanted to see it. He tells Kaworu this as they're walking back to his empty house. It's almost dark outside, but Shinji has to get clothes to wear so he can stay with his mother at the hospital. Kaworu had insisted to accompany him, complaining that it was dangerous for Shinji's father to even let him go in the first place so close to nightfall. Shinji doesn't respond to this.
He doesn't think his father even noticed him leaving.
"Kaworu," he says suddenly, faltering a little when the silver haired boy turns to him. "What... What's it like to die, do you think?"
Kaworu gives him a sad smile and tilts his head back to look at the newly revealed stars.
"It's not exactly painless," he says. "But the real pain comes from the knowledge that you are leaving people who need you."
"Do you think everything will be okay?" Shinji asks lamely, unable to keep his voice from breaking. Kaworu looks startled for a moment before he walks forward and pulls Shinji into a tight hug.
"Good things will continue to happen as long as we're together," he says quietly. "Everything will be alright."
And Shinji hugs him back just as tightly, crying because he isn't sure he can believe that.
His mother passes on a week later, in her sleep. Cancer, they said. It had spread slowly, and nothing they did was fighting it effectively. She'd known about it for many years, and had known for a few that she was going to die. The funeral is large, but all the faces seem blank to Shinji, aside from Kaworu's. It might be his imagination, but he doesn't think he and his father have acknowledged each other in days.
He doesn't think either of them wants to.
It's increasingly difficult after that. Fifth grade math is harder than Shinji is used to, and his grades begin to fall. Kaworu begins to help him, and he manages to stay afloat in school, but his head is always elsewhere. He thinks of the way things used to be, and his heart clenches.
He sees his father less and less. A woman named Misato is hired to make sure he eats and is taking care of himself. Shinji recognizes her as a teacher from school. She's got a nice smile, but it's rare. He sees the bottles of alcohol in the fridge and knows she's got her own things to deal with. He does his best not to contradict her. He doesn't want to make the bottles increase.
Kaworu still stays over sometimes, and the two of them will stay up well into the night. There isn't anyone there to make sure they don't, after all. Misato always passes out sometime after ten when she's hammered, and Shinji's father hardly ever comes home. Kaworu will listen to everything Shinji says without complaint, and sometimes Shinji will realize he's been talking for hours but hasn't really said anything. Not anything he wants to say.
"It's fine," Kaworu says one night. "Say what comes out. I'm here for you."
"But why? Why are you here for me all the time? What about your parents? What about your problems? Kaworu, why..." Shinji cuts himself off with a little sob. "Why are you so nice to me?"
"Because you're you," Kaworu says, his cool hands reaching to catch the tears on Shinji's face. "And you're infinitely important to me."
It seems to happen overnight. One day Shinji just notices the other students around him changing. Asuka is already a bombshell at fourteen, long hair and flawless curves, and Shinji finds himself watching her walk by more often than he'd like to admit. Rei, the nice girl from his art class, is also coming into her own, though her features are more subtle than Asuka's. She's very pretty, and Shinji is almost unable to speak with her. Or any girl, really. He tries to talk about it with Kaworu, but then he notices how even Kaworu is changing.
Kaworu has always had a different look about him, with his hair a silvery color that seemed too surreal to be natural, and those piercing red eyes that always warmed Shinji to his very core and seemed to be full of infinite wisdom beyond their years. He's always received attention from their classmates, and everyone seems to wait with baited breath for him to speak. But it seems amplified now, more prominent. His wiry limbs are already longer and stronger than Shinji's, and he's already taller, too.
Shinji thinks he's the only one not changing, and it scares him.
When they're fifteen, Shinji finally gets the courage to ask where it is Kaworu lives.
"Did you want to come over?" Kaworu asks.
"I'm allowed to?" Shinji sputters.
"Of course you are. I never thought you'd want to before."
"Will your parents mind?"
"I don't have parents."
Kaworu's apartment is small, one bedroom, one bathroom. He's barely got any furniture, and the white walls make it seem horribly blank. But it's got a warmth to it, much like Kaworu himself. It feels the way a home is supposed to, a place where people want you. The thought alone is enough to make a lump form in Shinji's throat.
They go outside on Kaworu's balcony at nightfall and watch the stars together in silence for a while. Kaworu is the first to break it.
"You've been distant lately," he says.
"You've been down, as well."
"...A little," Shinji says.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Shinji brings his knees to his chest and wraps his arms around them. "There isn't anything to say."
"When's the last time you've spoken to your father?"
"...He told me happy birthday a few days ago."
"Shinji...your birthday was months ago..."
"At least he remembers I have one."
Kaworu reaches over to pull Shinji's arm free and threads his long, pale fingers through Shinji's shorter, blunter ones. It's not a rare occurrence; Kaworu is a physical person. Neither of them says anything else, but this time Shinji knows it means something.
Or maybe it's just the first time he's noticed that it means something.
They're sixteen when Asuka finally gets fed up and pushes Shinji against a wall. He's scared immensely, but then she throws him for a loop and presses her lips to his fiercely, prying his mouth open with hers. He keeps his hands by his side, afraid to move. She finally pulls back with a triumphant look on her face, and all he can ask is why?
"You always look like you're on the verge of tears, idiot," she snarls. "So today, you have a reason to smile."
She leaves him there like that with his heart pounding in his ears and everything feeling hotter than it should. Two of his classmates, Toji and Kensuke, come up to him to grill about how Asuka tasted and felt, but he doesn't have an answer. They think he's playing coy and drag him to sit at their table during lunch. Shinji doesn't have time to tell Kaworu they're not eating at the usual spot.
Kaworu doesn't ask questions when they speak later, but he's clenching his jaw in a way that lets Shinji know he wants to. He looks closer to angry than Shinji's ever seen him, and it's an uncomfortable silence between them. Shinji finds himself looking at Kaworu's lips, wondering how different they'd feel from Asuka's, and he finds that he wants that. He berates himself immediately for thinking like that. They're both boys, it's weird.
But it doesn't stop him from thinking about it.
They're seventeen when Shinji realizes he hasn't spoken to Kaworu in a week. He's not sure how it happened; they have every class together. He just knows they haven't been seeking each other out like they normally do. When's the last time he's spoken to anyone? Kensuke and Toji speak for him. Asuka speaks at everyone, not to anyone. Rei doesn't speak. The rest of the students don't seem to matter much, and Misato presumably found another job, as Shinji is old enough to take care of himself. His father hasn't been home in two months.
He's thinking of this when someone places a lunch in front of him.
"You haven't been eating lately," Kaworu says. "I made this for you."
Shinji stares at him blankly for a few seconds before Kaworu gives him a sad smile and walks away. His heart clenches again. Why can't he do anything right?
He goes home to an empty house, like always. It's a little after midnight when Shinji finally can't take the silence anymore, and he pulls his coat on over his pajamas. He all but sprints to the other side of the city to Kaworu's apartment, and he's shivering by the time he knocks. Kaworu opens the door almost immediately, like he was expecting the visit, or hoping for it, which is an absurd thought. Why would he expect company so late?
"Shinji, you're shaking. Come in."
"I'm so sorry," Shinji says before Kaworu can say anything else. "I don't know why we haven't been talking and I'm a piece of shit, and I'm so sorry, I just-"
Kaworu pulls him inside with a firm tug on the wrist, and Shinji finds himself pressed against the door inside with Kaworu's mouth against his ear.
"You needed space," Kaworu breathes. "It's understandable."
"But I- I didn't want space, I wanted you," Shinji says quietly. "I just didn't think someone like you would want to keep being my friend for so long..."
"Shinji," Kaworu says, but it comes out like a choked laugh. He pulls away and stares into Shinji's eyes, emotions Shinji didn't even know existed swirling behind them. "I'm going to kiss you, okay?"
"M-Most people don't say things like that..." Shinji complains. "They just do it."
Kaworu nods and exhales shakily before leaning in and pressing their mouths together with just a hint of pressure. Shinji's hands are at his sides still, but the way Kaworu feels against him, so right and warm, prompts him to lift his arms to wrap around the taller boy's neck, his fingers carding through silver hair. Kaworu sighs contently, keeping his mouth where it is but moving his hands to rest on Shinji's waist. They pull apart slowly, their foreheads together, and Shinji is pleased to see Kaworu breathing as harshly as he is.
"Where did you disappear to for so long?" Kaworu finally asks. It takes Shinji a moment to understand.
"I didn't feel like I belonged anywhere," he says. "And I still feel that way. I don't have anyone..."
"You have me," Kaworu says. "You've always had me, Shinji, can't you see that yet?"
Shinji kisses him again until both of them almost pass out from lack of oxygen.
They're eighteen when Shinji finally stops going to the empty house altogether. It's not home anymore. It never really was. If his father notices, he doesn't say anything.
The knowledge that they're more or less living together seems to spread like wildfire, and many students voice their displeasure at this fact, but neither Shinji nor Kaworu care too much. Shinji has thought many things about his life were wrong before, but the way Kaworu holds him at night isn't. It can't be. Kaworu makes him happy, makes him feel things. Something like that can't possibly be wrong.
"Are you thinking about college?" Kaworu asks him one night. The moon is full outside, and it's lighting the entire room in an almost ethereal glow. Shinji rolls over to face Kaworu, his breath hitching in his throat when he sees how Kaworu's silver hair is glowing just like the moon.
"I try not to think about it," Shinji says. "I'm not sure what I want to do."
"That's fine. You don't have to know yet."
"But that's the exact opposite of what everyone else is saying," Shinji argues. "They're treating this entire year like a deadline, and our time is running out."
"Mmm," Kaworu hums. "An interesting fact is that no other being in the universe measures time like humans do. There isn't always a need to place a deadline on things. Sometimes the best thing you can do it let the pieces fall where they may."
"But this is our future. Don't you worry about it?"
"I only know we're going to be together, regardless. Everything else doesn't really seem to matter."
Shinji rolls his eyes, but a smile spreads across his face and Kaworu returns it. "You're so weird," he says.
"So you've said countless times before."
Shinji moves closer until his face is buried in Kaworu's neck, and he lets out a shaky sigh.
"I'm...going to fall in love with you. Okay?" he says quietly.
Kaworu's breath hitches, but he nods. Shinji can practically feel the smile on his face.
He doesn't sleep well that night. His dreams are plagued with long forgotten memories he loses again as soon as the dreams change. He doesn't know he's crying until Kaworu wakes him him with gentle hands on his forehead.
"Shinji, shhh," he says while rubbing tears away. "What's wrong?"
"I reached for you," Shinji says feverishly. "I reached for you, but I couldn't...there was an...AT field and I couldn't-"
Kaworu emits a noise that sounds suspiciously like a sob and pulls Shinji closer.
"Kaworu," Shinji whispers, feebly trying to grab the DSS choker he knows is on Kaworu's neck, "I reached for you."
"I know. You always reach for me."
"Did I..." Shinji mutters, already falling asleep again, "Did I save you?"
"In more ways than you'll ever know, Shinji," Kaworu breathes. Shinji forgets everything as soon as he wakes up in the morning, but he doesn't miss the way he holds Kaworu a little tighter, suddenly remembering how it would feel to lose him.
They're nineteen when Shinji's father commits suicide. He hung himself, Misato says, but Shinji doesn't need details. He only needs to know both his parents are dead, and he's alone in the world.
The man everyone talks about at the funeral is not a man Shinji knows. His father seemingly had many friends and coworkers. His funeral is packed, but Shinji doesn't recognize faces. They all speak of a man who simply couldn't bear being apart from his wife anymore, and so he finally joined her in the afterlife.
Too bad he forgot he had a son, but that's alright. Most people seem to forget that.
It's raining outside after the serivice, but Shinji climbs to the roof of Kaworu's apartment complex to look over the city. All the umbrellas below blend together to form a mass of colors, and Shinji smiles in spite of himself at the memory.
Suicide, he thinks. It would be so easy. All he has to do is step off the building, and that'll be the end of him. No more pain, no more uncertainty. He could do it right now.
Footsteps behind him signal he's not alone, and he isn't surprised when Kaworu stands beside him.
"Were you thinking of jumping?" he asks quietly.
"Yeah," Shinji says.
"But you won't, will you?"
Shinji doesn't answer right away, and Kaworu reaches for him, pulling him into his chest.
"Don't I make you happy, Shinji?" he asks.
"You're the only thing in the world," Shinji says.
"Promise me you won't ever jump."
"I won't jump. But it seems to run in my family, doesn't it?" Shinji asks bitterly.
"Death?" Kaworu inquires.
"No. Leaving people we care about." Shinji laughs slightly, shaking his head. "My mother didn't have a choice, but my father...he's been dead longer than anyone knows. He's been dead to me for years."
"You were never theirs, Shinji," Kaworu says. "You were never his. You were always mine."
Shinji leans his entire body into Kaworu, not bothering to hide the fact that his body is shaking with sobs he'd rather keep in.
"What are you?" he whimpers. "How are you so perfect? Why... Why do I love you so much?"
"I was born to meet you, Shinji. I've been born countless times, always just for the day you would look my way. And to exist now, in this moment, while you say you love me... It makes every moment of my life, from this life, or past lives, worth it."
Shinji lifts his head only to lunge forward and crush his lips against Kaworu's, who kisses him back just as fiercely. They grab at each other hungrily, both sets of hands running everywhere all at once. Kaworu whispers that everything will be alright, and Shinji cries, this time, because he does believe him. Even if they don't have anything figured out, and there's still so much uncertainty, it will be alright because they're together. They're finally together.
And when the sun breaks through the clouds, highlighting the roof, Shinji catches sight of their shadows stretching across the way.
Just for a second, he swears Kaworu's shadow has wings.