It starts over again, his human life and Shinji’s world and all their choices.
Even now, Kaworu is hopeful for a happy ending he can’t quite imagine but believes in just the same.
Shinji’s always a little nervous about him at first, the way Shinji is nervous about all forms of change, all possibilities that encompass his direct participation. What will you want from me, Shinji will worry. What if I can’t?
Kaworu can do no more about these thoughts than he can do about the shift of tectonic plates below or the slow whirl of stars above: you cannot change what has already been put into place. It’s difficult enough to change what has yet to settle. In this instance—this cycle, really, but Kaworu prefers to think of time as it occurs in the present, at least when he’s with Shinji—there’s so much yet to happen that Kaworu thinks he can understand Shinji’s anxiety, the tension that occupies moments spent waiting for something that could be for good or for ill, or might never arrive at all.
None of that, however, means that Kaworu himself must stay still.
His sound philosophy runs aground on concrete concerns when he realizes he’s been walking through Tokyo-3 for the better part of thirty minutes and gotten nowhere familiar in that time. Kaworu excuses himself from the stream of pedestrian traffic, adopting a contemplative lean against a pillar separating two storefronts, not yet sure how to proceed.
Shinji had met him for the first time earlier that day, not at Nerv but at the rail station, and Kaworu is certain he has acquired the number of Shinji’s mobile only because Shinji couldn’t think of a reason to deny him it fast enough. He cannot push at Shinji’s boundaries indefinitely, however. By now Kaworu is as aware of their edges as he’s aware of the spaces between each and every piano key, and like with music, there is a time signature and a tempo and a count of beats per bar, each of which must be respected.
He’s not in a rush. These things come together.
Kaworu’s phone comes to hand easily. The text he sends Shinji is as polite as it should be, re-introducing himself by name (though Shinji has never asked for it a second time, the idea that he might, in one cycle or another, is a quiet hurt insistent enough for Kaworu to take pains to prevent it) and restating the circumstances of their earlier meeting.
Shinji replies in an instant. Kaworu isn’t (can’t be) surprised, but that has no bearing on the sweet warmth of happiness that curls up in him, deep in his bones, deep in himself.
Have you looked at a map on your phone? Or is that no good, part of Shinji’s text asks.
I’m afraid I'm a little poor at reading maps , he replies. It’s a white lie he hadn’t planned on giving. If I were to note street names or landmarks, do you think you could assist me? Kaworu imagines Shinji frowning at his phone and the sudden task dropped into his lap. He adds the street and cross street to the message so Shinji can have a better idea of what’s being asked of him.
His phone is silent for a handful of measures. Kaworu cleans off a few errant smudges on the touchscreen with an unconcerned rub of his thumb, and slips one hand back into the pocket of his pants.
I’ll come meet you, if that’s all right?
It’s such a small thing.
Kaworu waits for Shinji, and everything is music, even the tuneless flatline of cicadas and the stumble of his heart in his chest, a rubato in a well-loved composition.
It’s interesting, being housed outside of Nerv. Kaworu can think of a few loops where it’s happened before, but never in conjunction with being sent to Tokyo-3 so early. He wonders whose decision that was, and who, between Nerv and Seele, was against it and is now thoroughly vexed. It’s not funny—nothing about those men and their plans is—but Kaworu finds himself a little amused all the same because he knows sometimes all he can do is make a wrench of himself in their elaborate mechanisms.
The change of scenery is nice. It’s nicer still, having Shinji come here rather than stay or return to Nerv and that windowless room full of memories only Kaworu can keep.
“Sorry for intruding,” Shinji says. He’s timider than usual, though of course Shinji wouldn’t guess Kaworu knew the difference.
Sometimes he wonders if he isn’t loving Shinji all wrong.
He isn’t human, and while he can mimic and learn a great deal of human nature (nurture, he supposes, is the answer in his particular case), perhaps this last simple thing is something that’s just impossible. Perhaps he’s known that from the first, immediately enamoured by a feeling he’d never wholly understand.
Lilim as a whole might consider themselves to be just as confused and uncertain about the concept as he is, but it’s not the same: not knowing the medical nuances of how the lungs and brain and arteries come together to absorb oxygen into the bloodstream has no effect on one’s ability to catch one’s breath after running, does not dampen the immediate primal panic from being deprived of one’s next inhale. Kaworu would know.
So this time, he takes pains to keep his smile shallow even as it threatens to slip, like a fish returning to deeper water. He curtails his gaze to briefer than it asks to linger, and sets his voice to something amiable, masking fondness. He does not turn Shinji’s expressions and the tone of his voice and his body language over and over in his mind like a jeweler appraising a precious stone. He tries not to think, not to let his mind slot into the well-worn tracks of understanding and preoccupation that have never taken him all the way to happiness or even far enough for comfort. (Love does not have an end, but Kaworu hopes the repetition and the failure and Shinji’s suffering might.)
It’s near-human ignorance, and the most terrifying thing he can remember doing in a long, long time.
Days pass. The harmless mundanity of life is, to Kaworu, almost mocking: something to be dangled and torn away, or worse, a coy suggestion that this could continue. But even when he is disloyal to his optimism and thinks, ‘this, too, will fall apart’, his heart is light with the thought that this feeling will go with him, uprooted but still very much alive.
He gets a piano. It’s a cheap keyboard with a synthesized tone and too-shallow keys, but Kaworu loves it best of all pianos he’s played, because this piano brings Shinji not to Nerv or to their school music room or any other structure of old patterns and expectations, but to Kaworu’s little one-bedroom flat.
He remembers trying to make a sanctuary out of wide, blown-out spaces, vast and gutterless as the night sky. Kaworu thinks that sort of emptiness suits Shinji because he’s afraid of the alternative. He doesn’t want Shinji to ever feel afraid.
They duet. Kaworu hasn’t heard Shinji’s cello in a number of loops, so while he misses the presence of Shinji’s hands next to his, he thinks that might be a little greedy.
Angels come, and Kaworu keeps track in the back of his mind.
Everything holds together. Kaworu lies wide awake at night and wonders how he can tug one string free without dragging the rest into an unsolvable tangle.
Shinji kisses him.
Kaworu wonders how it is that he can know Shinji so impossibly well and yet still be surprised by him. It’s one of his favourite parts of being in love.
He’s kissed Shinji enough (too few) times to know how not to react and to have sorted out this part of his human body, so it’s automatic to kiss him back, short and sweet, smiling before Shinji’s even opened his eyes.
“Um,” says Shinji, several awkward starts and stops later. “Have you done that before? I’m sorry, I was probably no good...”
Kaworu stares at him, genuinely flummoxed for the time it takes for the whirlwind of his thoughts to settle.
“Just with you,” he replies at last, and that is the truth, if nothing else.
Nothing will keep the same orbit forever; trajectories are always changing by slow, tiny increments that accumulate imperceptibly over so much time.
In this loop, he’s the thirteenth. This and other abbreviations have been happening more and more lately. Kaworu wonders at what point he stopped wishing he were found unnecessary and dropped from the cycle and started hoping he’d never miss a chance to meet Shinji. It’s the same wish and hope seen from different sides, but perspective is everything.
“I get worried,” Shinji says, “when things are so quiet, I mean. But it’s better like this, isn’t it?”
“Change will always come,” Kaworu tells him.
Shinji’s brows draw in, as do his knees up to his chin. He says nothing for a long moment, and for Kaworu, watching him sit there pressed against the side of his bed, the urge to fill the silence and pull him out of his introversion is strong. It’s never been the right impulse.
Shinji stays overnight. He’s concerned about all of his limbs, keeping them resolutely to his side of the invisible barrier that’s sprung up down the center of Kaworu’s bed, as though Kaworu is offended by Shinji’s very presence and is forbearing it out of politeness.
Kaworu speaks to him quietly, about music and school and all sorts of things, letting that spool on automatically and intending for the mundanity of it to give Shinji some peace of mind. Instead, Shinji takes longer and longer to reply, his sentences growing unsteady as a new fawn, all the extremities of those carefully monitored limbs finding restless actions.
It’s his fault but he doesn’t know how to fix it. Kaworu has had a lot of practice in living through his mistakes, breathing them in until the end, but it doesn’t get any easier. He allows the next silence to stretch one bar, two, and on, until he has to ask Shinji if something’s wrong.
Shinji’s reply is a hodgepodge of half-explanations and scattered apologies. “I just—I’ve never had a sleepover, so—”
“Haven’t you with your school friends?” Kaworu asks, because he’s fairly certain Shinji has because he’s been there for some of them, though in his mind Shinji’s school friends and Kaworu himself are in discrete categories, no matter the loop or circumstance.
Shinji ducks his head down as he pulls the covers up, effectively hiding his face from Kaworu’s view. The tips of his ears are a deep crimson. He makes a quiet noise Kaworu realizes must be words, though leaning forward doesn’t much help in deciphering them when they grow more unintelligible with Kaworu’s increased proximity.
“With friends, but not,” Shinji swallows, and Kaworu holds his breath without quite knowing why. “I—it’s different, with you.”
Kaworu feels at once relieved and very foolish. “It is, isn’t it?” he agrees, lowering a hand to the side of Shinji’s face, which paradoxically coaxes Shinji out of hiding. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” says Shinji, dismayed and moving in little half-starts until he realizes Kaworu’s hand against his cheek will move with him as he sits up. “You always treat me so well, I—”
“Perhaps, however, you’d like to be treated a little differently,” Kaworu suggests, lowly, in a tone he’s still growing accustomed to hearing from himself. “May I try that?”
Shinji just nods, eyes wide and so very blue.
Kaworu kisses him and doesn’t stop for as long as it feels right.
It can’t last, but maybe that’s the pessimistic reading, borne out of countless disappointments and tragedies, each as potent as acid curdling on his skin.
The twelfth angel comes and goes, taking much of the city and Kaworu’s apartment with it in its awful wake. Back in Nerv, his situation (his unchanging, inescapable situation) digs its talons in, like a bird of prey perched impatiently until this very last moment before flight. Shinji, as ever and always, is so out to sea in grief that Kaworu struggles to find purchase in it, anything to anchor himself and so them both.
“Why do awful things keep happening,” Shinji asks him, and the answer sits in the back of Kaworu’s throat, as thick as tears.
Seele is persistent, but so is Kaworu. In the end he has some dark satisfaction in having made Ikari Gendou and Keel Lorenz cooperate on something, this late in their grotesque game.
So he stands in a room deep in Nerv headquarters, listening to twelve monoliths orate that the time for him to show his hand has arrived.
Kaworu, hands in pockets, reminds himself that there is no use in bitterness, not when his path is always mapped so expertly by cartographers who would so eagerly rid themselves of the geography that is their life’s work.
He thinks of Shinji, the astronomy between them fixed even now.
I’m going to hurt you, Kaworu thinks, desperate, so please tell me what way would be best, what way you could most easily bear. Because he’s realized by now: it’s not his own death he’s choosing, but the quality and intensity of Shinji’s suffering.
“I don’t think I’m ready yet,” he says to Shinji, who pulls his hands from Kaworu’s skin so fast it looks like he’s surprised even himself.
“That’s okay,” Shinji assures him, trying to be kind even through all the desperation (and oh, how well-used Kaworu is to this, Kaworu who always knows Shinji best when he’s lonely and scared) and disappointment colouring his expression, the flick of his eyes to the side, as though dismissing his hope as something to be discarded, something that never mattered to begin with.
“You’ve done nothing wrong,” Kaworu says, as fiercely as he believes it, Shinji’s gaze snapping back to him, startled. “Nothing is wrong with you, Shinji.”
“Is this ‘it’s not you it’s me’,” Shinji asks, the tone of an adult who is rueful and does not disbelieve in unhappy endings. He sits up. Kaworu’s heart feels tight in his chest.
“It isn’t you, but this isn’t that,” he manages. “I could never—”
Leave you? I will.
Stop loving you? That might be best.
“I’ve never wanted to hurt you,” he says.
Please believe in me.
Please keep smiling.
Please meet me again.
“Please be patient,” says Kaworu.
He leaves the city, dropping his mobile phone in a recycling bin en route. There’s not much choice of direction, with a lot of the infrastructure wiped out, and the card reader doesn’t even register when Kaworu passes the train station’s gate.
It’s something he can do now—ignore the pull of his higher stars—so he’s doing it, in the absence of a better idea. He’ll probably be killed within the day for his alleged betrayal, and he’s willing to bet there’s a backup plan regardless. There must be so very many possibilities and methods, Kaworu figures, once you abstain from concern for the personal damage you’ll cause.
Kaworu doesn’t remember it being that much easier. But then, they’ve had more practice, and his goals have tracked in a different direction.
To Shinji, he’d said: “May I come see you, later today?”
Kaworu hopes (selfishly, he knows it’s selfish) that Shinji will remember those intentions and less the aftermath. He’s at the end of hope this time, but his thoughts of and for Shinji are endless, both in memory and anticipation.
This is something Shinji has done, Kaworu recalls with a smile as the train begins to move. The world goes by in streams, like bright flags in flight.
Once he’s had that thought, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise when Shinji gets on at the next station, stepping right into the traincar Kaworu’s occupying by himself, whether by chance or some cosmic design. Kaworu wills himself not to give anything away, not even his hopes.
They stare at each other, or at least, Kaworu stares at Shinji (who knows when he’ll get his next chance) and Shinji bites the inside of his cheek and turns his gaze to the floor to his left.
“They said you were missing,” he says, finally. “But I thought—maybe you wanted to be.”
“I need to be,” Kaworu tells him, softly, not wanting to volunteer anything more than that. Shinji’s expression is everything uncertain; Kaworu had expected to see more hurt.
Shinji breathes in deep. “Yeah. I know what that feels like.”
Kaworu blinks, like if he can clear his vision things will start to look more familiar.
Shinji gestures at the bank of seats Kaworu’s occupying. “Do you—is it okay if I hang out?”
His nod is automatic. Shinji sits. Kaworu watches him breathe again and gather himself.
Kaworu leans back, tilting his head upwards and sinking his hands deeper into his pockets. It’s a posture he hasn’t indulged in for a long while. “Events come into being from more than one cause. Consequence isn’t knowable until it’s entirely upon you, is it? And yet we must make choices.”
He turns to Shinji expecting confusion, Shinji’s bewilderment as he tries to understand.
“Don’t,” Shinji says, his tone a little rough for having been dragged over the unkind terrain of frustration. “Don’t tell me it’s something I wouldn’t understand or that it’s complicated; I get that. I’m not smart or brave or anything, really, but I want to—help people I care about. If I can. Even if it’s hard or it doesn’t work out.”
“You can’t help me,” says Kaworu, before he can stop himself or think better of it. “There’s no use. I’m sorry.”
Shinji turns away from him with a brusque motion. They both watch the current of scenery as it flows past the opposite window.
“I’ll go with you, then.”
“Thank you, but I don’t want that.”
It’s the most rejection he can muster, and even that is plucked from history. Shinji stays on the train until it creaks to an emergency stop, and they are pulled to their separate fates.
Kaworu wonders how it is that he can know Shinji so impossibly well and yet still be surprised by him.
It’s one of the hardest parts of being in love.
He wakes up a world away, the weight of the coffin lid above him as familiar as the sightless spread his fingers take to land an octave.
Kaworu breathes in deep, his lungs of course unsatisfied, the action futile in airless space. And again.