No one had ever looked at Shinji the way Kaworu did.
Kaworu’s eyes were gentle, serene, an oasis of contentment, as if the present moment was the most gratifying one of his life. He turned those eyes onto Shinji so much, and every time, Shinji felt overwhelmed by them. He had never seen anything as beautiful, as benevolent, as Kaworu’s eyes. He didn’t deserve their gaze.
But he still loved them. He couldn’t get enough of how Kaworu looked at him, how he watched him, proud and encouraging, while Shinji picked out notes on the piano, hesitantly shaping a tune.
No one had ever looked at him like that.
Not one of his accomplishments had ever garnered praise like that—not his grades in school, his attempts on the cello, any victory of any kind in an Eva. Misato was always preparing for the next attack, Asuka could always go one better, and his father’s eyes were always cold. But every tiny step towards proficiency on the piano gained him another kind look.
No one else would ever look at him like that again.
Because he had been thrown into a world where he was hated and shunned, a distant loathsome memory to the few people that he had almost called friends. Even Misato now would end his life at the push of a button—because he had ended the world.
He hadn’t meant to! He hadn’t wanted to! He had just done it for Ayanami. He just wanted to save her.
Now, even she wouldn’t speak to him. Something was wrong with her. It was like she was a different person.
All he had was Kaworu. His were the only kind eyes.
That was what he had been thinking lately.
On this day, the moment he was allowed to, he came to the courtyard with its piano, the same as he usually did. He tried to push the disturbing fragments of last night’s nightmare from his head, and studied the keys, tapping on them with one finger too lightly to make a sound and murmuring the notes he had learned so far. He was getting better every day—he filled with pride just thinking that.
“It’s wonderful to see you smiling so early in the morning, Ikari-kun.”
Kaworu’s musical voice sounded just behind him.
And Kaworu slid onto the bench, just beside Shinji, so that his arm brushed Shinji’s and their thighs touched. It was a daily contact that had been alien and uncomfortable at first, but now, Shinji liked feeling the warmth of another person against him, the casual, friendly touch with no ulterior motives.
Kaworu looked straight into Shinji’s eyes and smiled the assured smile that always put him to rest. “I heard you humming. Is that what you’d like to play first, Ikari-kun? You’ve been coming along well on that piece.”
Happy warmth rushed to Shinji’s cheeks. “Do you think so? Really?”
“I really do, Ikari-kun.” Kaworu’s hand grasped Shinji’s half-curled fist—his touch was dry and uninvasive. He brought Shinji’s hand to the keys. “But you can’t play with your hands in your lap, you know.”
“O-of course,” Shinji stuttered. Kaworu’s touch was there for just a fraction of a second more before it left Shinji, warm in the morning air.
“Shall we, then?”
And they dove into another day of music. The air of the courtyard filled with it, and Shinji wished he could close his eyes like Kaworu did, so he could really hear the music, and feel the vibrations of it. How many times had Kaworu practiced, to be able to play with his eyes closed like that? It was as if he had become intimate friends with music, like he knew every inch of its soul. The look of serenity on his face when he played so well was angelic.
By the time that word had settled in Shinji’s head, he realized Kaworu had been playing alone for a few bars.
Kaworu’s part came to an elegant impromptu conclusion, and his calm eyes opened.
“Ikari-kun? Is something wrong?”
“N-no--” Shinji’s face flushed red again. “I’m sorry. I was distracted...”
Kaworu nodded. “It seems your powers of concentration are off today. Is something troubling you?”
Concern clouded Kaworu’s fine features for a moment, so he spoke.
“I-I don’t know. I just feel…”
He almost said it, what had been forming in his head before breakfast.
But instead he made an excuse.
“There’s just…a lot of...A lot of bad things have happened. Terrible things. I just…get distracted by them is all.”
“But playing the piano gives you joy, does it not?”
Kaworu placed his hands on the keys again. “You should seek refuge in the things that bring you joy, Ikari-kun.”
“Once more, then, from the beginning.”
Kaworu was the only thing that brought him joy.
His SDAT was broken. His nights were lonely, filled with noise. Noise in his head. Noise the memories of Kaworu’s piano couldn’t drown out. He tried humming. Track 25, track 26. Track 25, track 26. Tunes he had memorized. The tunes he used to drown out the noise.
Sounds of battle.
The roars of Eva, Misato barking orders. Gunfire, endless gunfire. Blood spattering in unreal amounts. Strange, sickening cries of Angels.
His father’s voice, cold and disapproving. Pilot the Eva.
Misato laughing, a happy drunk. Asuka nagging. Rei’s soft voice. The laughter of friends at school, long-dead now, murdered by him.
The babble of strangers on the bridge. Misato’s curt words. Asuka, furious. Whatever you do, don’t pilot the Eva. None of your business.
But he couldn’t stop making it his business, he couldn’t stop thinking about it over and over—it wouldn’t go away—He put his hands over his ears, curled into a ball, but he couldn’t stop the noise. He wanted to scream. He wanted his SDAT, he wanted his SDAT—
You should seek refuge in the things that bring you joy, Ikari-kun.
He was on the floor. He had rolled out of bed. He crawled to the door—
It was locked.
He rattled the knob a thousand times, violently, enough to make his arm hurt, wishing he could rip it out of the door. He would throw it across the room.
Pilot the Eva. Whatever you do, don’t pilot the Eva. None of your business.
You should seek refuge in the things that bring you joy, Ikari-kun.
He threw himself against the door, hurting, but in a savage panic where he felt no pain.
“LET ME OUT, DAMMIT! LET ME OUT LET ME OUT LET ME OUT—“
He screamed until his voice was raw, pleas, threats, wordless animal screams, desperation and anguish. He needed his SDAT. He needed to seek refuge in the things that brought him joy. Only one thing brought him joy. One thing. He only wanted one thing.
When the lights were switched on in the morning, he was spent, still curled against the door, as if trying to fall through it to the other side.
He went to the piano as early as he could, but he was tired. Kaworu appeared later, looking as fresh and relaxed as he ever had. Shinji wondered if he had heard the screaming. He wondered what he had screamed, and for how long, and if anyone had heard him at all.
“Ikari-kun. Are you well?”
Shinji rubbed his weary eyes furiously. “I didn’t sleep much…that’s all…”
“Was something troubling you, that you were not able to sleep?”
“Um…well, the music player I gave you the other day…I usually use it to help get to sleep, but…”
“So you require the solace of music there, too. Don’t worry, Ikari-kun. I work to fix it every spare moment I get.”
Shinji shook his head, embarrassed. “No, no—I wasn’t trying to rush you, I’m sorry—“
Kaworu sat beside him again, and Shinji shivered with happiness at the contact. Kaworu looked into his eyes, and for a moment he felt wide awake. “I understand, Ikari-kun. Now, would you like to begin with something simple so you have an easy start, or one of our more recent pieces to jolt you awake?”
He wanted something complicated, involving and distracting. He wanted to forget last night too, and only have the happy memories of playing piano with Kaworu. In fact, he wished he would never have to go back to his blank white cell again, that night would never come, and he could stay with Kaworu forever. Kaworu was the only thing that blocked out all those awful thoughts…
Shinji played piano with his whole self, savored every note, but as the sun sank lower in the sky, his quiet panic grew. The day was ending, his time with Kaworu was coming to a close far quicker than he wanted it to, and he still didn’t feel he had had enough time with him to make everything alright. If he left Kaworu now, the thoughts and the noise would come back. That couldn’t happen, it would kill him, it would make his life a living hell again. A choking nausea rose up in him, so that as their shadows stretched across the courtyard, every note was painful to play. In his mind he was already back in his room, all alone, helpless and defenseless. He wanted to stop, curl into a ball there on the bench and concentrate on not throwing up.
When Kaworu played the final note for the day, Shinji wasn’t sure he was convincingly faking being okay.
“I enjoyed playing with you again today. You’re improving so much,” Kaworu said, and Shinji clung to every sweet syllable of his voice. His heart pounded so hard he was sure it was trying to put him out of his misery.
“Yeah,” he said, which didn’t mean anything.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then, Ikari Shinji-kun.” When Kaworu turned to leave, Shinji felt his panic spike the instant that serene face disappeared.
“W-wait. Nagisa-kun—“ Shinji choked. “May I see your room?”
Kaworu turned around. “My room?”
“I-I’m just curious about what it looks like. If it looks the same as mine,” Shinji said, feeling desperate but not wanting to let it show. “And, um, I’d like to see my music player.”
“My room isn’t very interesting,” Kaworu said with a laugh. “But I would be glad to show it to you, Ikari-kun.” He started walking, with a look over his shoulder to see if Shinji was following. Shinji trotted after him, following half a step behind. A few times during the walk through sterile NERV headquarters, their hands brushed against each other. Shinji wanted to cling onto Kaworu’s beautiful dry hand. He wanted the fingers that coaxed notes out of the piano so wonderfully to wrap around his own shaking fingers. He wanted Kaworu to initiate something protective and caring like that.
They didn’t encounter anyone on the walk. Kaworu stopped eventually in front of a nondescript white door like Shinji’s own, and opened it. The room beyond it was just as plain and unlived-in as Shinji’s, but it had a window.
The SDAT lay on a table, disassembled, its parts strewn around its empty shell like viscera. It was upsetting.
“I’m sorry you had to see it like this,” Kaworu said.
“No, it’s fine,” Shinji said. He was sure Kaworu wouldn’t break it.
They stood in the middle of the room, and Shinji looked around and nodded awkwardly, not sure what to say, not sure when he had to leave. He could feel anxiety constricting tighter around his heart and his throat. He would have to leave. He wouldn’t be able to stay here all night.
But Kaworu moved to stand by the bed. “Would you like to sit here? I have no chairs.”
“Y-yeah. Thanks.” Trembling, Shinji sank onto the bed, the bed where Kaworu slept and laid his perfect form every night.
Kaworu sat beside him, close but not too close. “If you’re feeling ill, you should lay down.” He smiled at Shinji’s expression of surprise. “Of course I can tell, Ikari-kun. I love you, after all.”
“Really?” Shinji said, and Kaworu turned that angelic smile on him that told him already it was true.
“Yes,” Kaworu said, quietly, intimately, and with infinite fondness. “And I want you to be happy.”
And he was holding Shinji’s hand.
Shinji looked at the perfect white hand that gently covered his own. He looked up at Kaworu’s kind face, impossibly close. It was like looking into the face of an angel—not the horrible monsters. A real angel. He had already known in the back of his mind that Kaworu was an angel, hadn’t he?
“Lay down, Ikari-kun,” Kaworu said.
Shinji slowly laid himself down, and Kaworu slowly relinquished Shinji’s hand. He got up.
“Wh-where are you going?” Shinji said, aware of how weak and fragile his own voice was.
“Don’t worry, Ikari-kun.” Kaworu crossed the room and turned off the light. Except for a faint redness streaming in through the curtains, it was pitch black.
Shinji heard impossibly light footsteps cross the floor, and then Kaworu was there, over him.
“You usually listen to this song before you sleep, do you not?”
And he started humming. Track 25.
He laid on the bed beside Shinji as he hummed, perfectly replicating every nuance of the tune, so that Shinji almost felt like he was listening to the tape. Shinji turned to look at Kaworu’s white form in the dark, and their hands met again. Shinji craved that loving touch, more of it. He tightened his grip, and Kaworu tightened his. Kaworu’s eyes were blissfully closed, the same way they were when he played piano.
Shinji didn’t want to close his eyes. He wanted to strain to look at Kaworu in the dark.
Kaworu hummed the final notes and opened his eyes. “Shall I hum the next song too? Your breathing has calmed somewhat.”
“You usually sleep on your side, in the fetal position,” Kaworu said. “Would you be more comfortable that way?”
Shinji’s hand tightened on Kaworu’s. “I don’t want to let go, though.”
“Trust me, Ikari-kun.”
Shinji slid his hand reluctantly out of Kaworu’s and rolled. Kaworu wrapped his arms around Shinji, pulling him to his chest.
And when Kaworu began to hum again, Shinji could feel the resonance vibrating in his chest, tuning both of them to the same frequency, linking them. The song Shinji had used to block out every worry he had ever had was amplified, intensified: coming from Kaworu, it could wash away even the stain of the Third Impact. Even that. Kaworu, with his beautiful, deft hands, could fix the flaws in the world as easily as fixing Shinji’s precious SDAT.
“How did you know I listen to these songs the most?” Shinji murmured, when the song was over.
“I know everything about you, Ikari-kun,” Kaworu whispered, his lips at Shinji’s ear, making him shiver. Kaworu held him tighter. “Are you cold?”
Shinji nodded, wanting to be touched more. All the loving touches he had been denied for fourteen years were Kaworu’s to give.
Kaworu tugged the covers out from under them, and enveloped them both in white sheets. He hugged Shinji close again.
They just breathed together for a while, the cool sheets settling around them, Shinji’s breaths even, matching Kaworu’s. The noise in Shinji’s head was still.
“N-Nagisa-kun…may I…may I touch you, a little bit?”
Kaworu laughed a quiet little laugh. “You are touching me, Ikari-kun.”
“I-I mean, with my hands.”
Shinji gently grasped one of Kaworu’s hands and held it, looked at it in the maroony dark; it was glowing white, and held itself half-unfurled, reassuring. He brought the hand, shyly, to his own face, and Kaworu touched his cheek, stroked it lovingly. Kaworu’s hand seemed cool against his heated skin.
Kaworu hummed a single note of happiness. Shinji could feel him breathing evenly, his face buried in Shinji’s hair. Their other hands found each other. Shinji let his other hand be embraced by Kaworu’s.
“Hey…” Shinji said, quietly. “Why do you love me?”
“Because you’re fascinating,” Kaworu said. “Infinitely interesting, infinitely important.”
“I…” Shinji choked. “I can’t pilot an Eva. I’m not that important anymore…” His hand left Kaworu to trace the choker, and Kaworu’s hand followed, and brought it away.
“Yes you are. You’re absolutely crucial, to me.”
Shinji sniffled. His eyes were heating up.
“Do you mean that?”
Kaworu wrapped his legs around Shinji’s. “Yes.”
Shinji sniffled again. “I’m g-glad, because—n-no one says that and means it, and I—it’s, it’s the same for me…“
Kaworu squeezed his hand encouragingly. Shinji wished he could see his face.
“I’ve been thinking lately th-that I can’t live without you, and m-maybe that might be c-creepy or bad or something, e-especially since we just met, b-but—“
“We haven’t just met.”
Kaworu’s voice now was more low and serious than Shinji was used to.
“Ikari-kun, I’ve known you for longer than you’ve been alive in this world.”
Shinji squeezed Kaworu’s hands, studied the fingertips through his teary eyes. “S-so, N-Nagisa-kun?”
“Are you an angel?”
Kaworu took in a deep breath. “…Yes.”
Tears slid down Shinji’s cheeks, and he smiled. “I knew it.”
“I…hope that doesn’t trouble you.”
Shinji shook his head, still crying freely. “No, it doesn’t! I knew it already. Nagisa-kun, you’re just—“ He stopped to fight tears for a moment—“S-so perfect and good to me and I, I, I l-love you in this way that I never loved anyone b-before—so I thought—“
Kaworu shifted, relinquishing his hold on Shinji and propping himself over him. Shinji rolled onto his back to wonder what he was doing, and Kaworu brushed Shinji’s hair away from his face—and before Shinji knew it, the touch of perfect lips was on his forehead, just for an instant.
“I understand this is how the Lilin show affection,” he said.
Shinji stared in shock and surprise, his face red, the tears leaving salty trails.
Kaworu kissed those trails, on both cheeks, around Shinji’s eyes. “I have a great deal of affection to show you, Ikari Shinji-kun.”
Their lips met.
Shinji wrapped his arms around Kaworu’s neck, wanting to keep him there forever, and Kaworu didn’t seem to want to pull away either, so it was a long kiss—not like the long kisses he imagined having with Asuka, greedy and forceful; but lingering sweetly.
When they finally pulled apart, Shinji’s tears started up again. Kaworu cupped his cheek in wordless concern. Shinji only shook his head. He couldn’t describe or explain how he was feeling, like Kaworu must have been really born to meet him, and he was born to meet Kaworu, and maybe he was just going crazy because everything was just too much, too hard, but he really couldn’t deny that Kaworu was perfect, his savior, that everything would be alright as long as he was there, that Kaworu had all the answers and he could make everything right.