But It's Better With You Here
The meeting ends early, so early that Misato doesn't really believe it, but she definitely isn't the type to question these things when they're handed to her on a silver platter. The Commander lets everyone but the Vice and Ritsuko go; Misato shoots a sympathetic look to her friend as she walks out, though there's also an uneasy feeling stirring inside her about leaving the three of them alone.
Misato yawns and checks her watch; eleven-thirty might be a miracle for her, but Shinji always goes to bed ridiculously early, so she lets herself into the apartment as quietly as she can. However, as she walks down the hallway she's surprised to find the kitchen light still on. Stepping closer, she can even hear the sound of running water.
"Shinji?" Misato says tentatively as she walks in, hand already tightening on her gun, but yes, it's Shinji with his back to her at the sink, running some dishes under soapy water.
Shinji turns around. "Misato!" He says with a small smile on his face. "I didn't think you'd be back until morning!"
"We got let off early," Misato says, walking towards the fridge for a beer. She cracks one open and takes a long chug, feeling the day's tension leave her body as the drink pours down her throat. She wipes her mouth with her arm, then points the can at Shinji. "What are you doing up so late, anyway?"
"Ah, just finishing up some plates from dinner." Shinji says, turning to the sink again. "There are some leftovers in the fridge, by the way."
"Thanks." Misato grabs a container full of rice and what looks like tofu, a pair of chopsticks from a drawer and digs right in, ignoring Shinji as he rolls his eyes and his rebuke to get a plate. "Still," She says with her mouth full (Shinji rolls his eyes again). "That doesn't explain why you're doing this so late." Misato eyes the pile of dishes on the drying rack. "Or why you have so many things to wash. Isn't Asuka staying at Hikari's house tonight?"
Shinji bobs his head once. "Yeah, she is."
"Then why are you…?"
"Oh." Shinji stops his washing for a moment and scratches the back of his head sheepishly while his hand is still wet. He yelps when he realizes he's gotten soapsuds in his hair and Misato laughs and throws a dishtowel at him.
"Oh, um, Kaworu-kun came over for dinner today." Shinji says when he's done patting his head dry, and sinks his hands back into the sink again.
"Eh, Kaworu Nagisa? The Fifth Child?" Misato thinks of red eyes and the slight feline curve of his mouth, smug like he was laughing at a joke at the world's expense.
Shinji nods again. "Yeah. I knew you and Asuka wouldn't be around today, and he said he didn't have any plans for dinner, so I thought…" Shinji ducks his head slightly and shrugs embarrassedly. "Why not?"
"Yes, I'm always encouraging you to bring your friends over, Shinji." Misato says, though the uneasy feeling in her chest starts stirring again. Hyuga's words run through her head like a train: all records erased…hand-picked by SEELE…birth right on the day of Second Impact…"How was it?"
"Um, it was really nice…" Shinji says softly, and Misato can see he's blushing now, red faintly appearing on his cheeks. He smiles fondly, as if recalling a good memory. "I mean, Kaworu tried to help me with the cooking, even though he didn't really know how. And after dinner we just started talking, so I didn't get to wash the dishes until after he left."
If Shinji is washing the dishes now, it must mean that Kaworu had just left the apartment. Assuming they had dinner at six, and that it took an hour and a half to cook beforehand, it means that Shinji and Kaworu had spent almost half the day together. Different emotions run through her, but what surprises Misato the most is the overwhelming amount of trust that she seems to have suddenly inputted into the Creepy Kid with Mysterious Past Kaworu Nagisa Fund. She watches Shinji running water over the dishes, she watches Shinji smiling, and it's a little scary how much that means in terms of Shinji, and how much that means to her.
They sit in silence for a while. Shinji finishes with the washing and starts drying the plates as Misato eats her food and sips her beer. Finally, as Shinji finishes with the last plate Misato stands up and hands him her empty container. The look Shinji gives her is a mix of disbelief and irritation, but Misato thinks Shinji could do her a favour considering what she's about to say.
"The next time he's not busy, you should invite Kaworu-kun over for dinner again, okay?" Misato says, and she watches the surprise light up Shinji's face like the time he saw her running to him at the train station. "You do most of the cooking anyway, so tell him he's welcome anytime."
As Shinji nods and stammers out an affirmative, Misato can't help smiling and ruffling his hair, which she knows he hates because it reminds Shinji of how much shorter he is than her. This time Shinji doesn't knock her hand away; he just ducks his head and lets her do it.
"Thank you, Misato." Shinji says. The tone of his voice makes her smile, full and sincere, and his eyes seem a hell of a lot bluer than they were before.
These damn kids are one going to be the death of her one day. Misato knows it.
'You are like me,' The Fifth Child had said, but Rei thinks that isn't true. She thinks that isn't true at all, but she cannot verify this observation because there is no basis of comparison.
What is she like?
Eva Unit 00. Blue hair, red eyes. Commander Ikari, glasses. Cracked, LCL on the floor. If I die, I can be replaced.
Why don't you try smiling?
Ikari said that you should smile when people tell you not to say goodbye, but Fifth does not do that at all. Fifth smiles all the time. Rei does not know anyone's smile as well as Fifth's.
No, she and Fifth are not alike at all.
But maybe Rei should be more like Fifth.
Fifth is with him all the time, before school begins and walking home and together when they have completed their synch tests. Fifth smiles all the time, as usual, but sometimes Ikari smiles, too. When Ikari smiles it makes a hot flash of warmth appear in Rei's belly, soft at the edges but burning in the centre, too, but Ikari smiling at Fifth also makes something twist inside her.
One day Rei goes up to the school's roof where she knows Ikari spends his time listening to his player, but she finds him with Fifth instead, sitting side-by-side like someone had placed them together.
"…Listen to Bach, mostly." Ikari is saying, his eyes on Fifth. "Though I like Beethoven, too."
"I think you would enjoy Wagner," Fifth says back. "His music is very beautiful, like you." Rei doesn't know he could do this, but Fifth's smile grows wider. If the smile is wider, does that mean something else is bigger, as well?
At that, Ikari's face turns red like when they were in her room, but Ikari doesn't speak or apologize like he did that time. Ikari just looks at Fifth until Fifth lifts his hand and puts it over Ikari's, and Ikari stares down at their fingers like he can't look away. (Rei remembers hands. Tight warmth, when hands are touching each other.) But Ikari eventually does, maybe to look back up at Fifth's face, but then his eyes meet hers instead.
"A-Ayanami!" Ikari says, and Rei feels a burst of warmth from her name on his tongue. He jerks away from Fifth and sits up straighter. "What are you doing here?"
"I often see you coming up to the rooftop," Rei says. "So I hoped to find you here."
"Oh," Ikari looks like he doesn't know what to do, but he still does not turn away from. "Oh, well, is there anything you need me for?"
"I hoped to find you here," Rei repeats softly, because she does know what else to say. Something in Ikari's expression changes. It looks more like the expression he wore on the night he had rescued her from the entry plug.
'Don't ever say you have nothing else, just don't say that!'
"Do you want to come sit down with us?" Ikari says. "Kaworu-kun and I were just talking about music." He looks at her, almost shyly. "Ayanami, you like music, right?"
It is that strange word again. Like. Rei does not know what to say, but then Fifth suddenly chips in, leaning forward so he can see her face as well.
"I'm sure Ayanami likes a lot of things," Fifth says, and his smile is different this time, like he is speaking to her, but not with words. Fifth pats the ground next to him and Shinji. "Here, why don't you take a seat?"
That is clear enough for Rei to understand. She obligingly walks over and gets down next to Ikari, knees beneath her and hands in her lap as if she was at a proper table. Ikari watches her sit, and when she is done he tilts his head and smiles at her.
Hot flash. Warmth.
Ikari and Fifth go back to talking, but occasionally Ikari will look back to her and smile, again and again, and Fifth will once again do that different smile that seems to be speaking to her. Rei does not say a word during the whole time, but something strange and light permeates her entire being, making her float high above her head, when she realizes she is part of the conversation as well.
Asuka has a lot of reasons for disliking Kaworu Nagisa, reasons that include but are definitely not limited to the fact for some reason he has Shinji practically eating out the palm of his hand, so now Kaworu is practically at their house all the damn time.
"Ugh, it's you again." Asuka throws her backpack on the table and glares at the stupid shaggy-haired invader in her kitchen, smiling at her as if she hadn't just made it very clear he was not welcome here.
"Good afternoon, Asuka," Kaworu says genially, twisting open a bottle of juice and taking a sip from it. Asuka waits for him to speak again, but when it's clear he isn't going to (he just sits there with his damn juice, smiling) she huffs and flounces past him to the fridge for a soda and taking a drink from it as well.
"So why are you here this time?" She says, eyeing Kaworu over the rim of her can. "Does Shinji need you to tie his shoes for him, or something?"
"Shinji is quite capable of tying his own shoes," Kaworu says, and Asuka is reminded of how much she dislikes people who doesn't understand she's insulting them. Of course, the alternative is that Kaworu understands but he doesn't care, and that just makes Asuka dislike him even more. "Since I play the piano and Shinji plays the cello, Shinji invited me over so we could duet today. He's getting his cello right now."
"Huh." Asuka would rather eat glass than admit it, but dueting with Shinji actually sounds like a pretty fun idea. She's heard him play before; Shinji is a surprisingly good musician, even though he acts like a total idiot about it. "Well, I'd wish you guys good luck, but I don't think even good luck can help. Shinji's useless when it comes to working with other people." She jerks a thumb in the direction of Shinji's room. "I had to work with that guy to defeat an Angel, once. Of course I didn't need the help, but Misato made me, and it really slowed me down. It took us ages to get our routine right because of him!"
"Perhaps, but I don't think we'll have a problem." Kaworu says. "Shinji can be amazing when he puts his mind to it. He is truly an extraordinary person."
There goes that ugly twisting feeling in Asuka's chest again; another reason why she dislikes Kaworu so much. He's doing these kinds of things, saying these kinds of things about Shinji, and he makes it sound so easy, like he was just speaking plain truth like the sky was blue. There's something weird and unnatural about somebody who can such nice (not even nice—good, admiring, amazing) things about somebody else so clearly, and something so irritating about how somebody is saying these things about Shinji and how they'll never say these things to her.
"God, could you get even more homo?" Asuka spits out. At that, Kaworu turns his head to her, looking confused, and she feels a small stab of triumph at getting Kaworu Nagisa to react with something that isn't a smile.
"Pardon, could I get even more what?" Kaworu asks, and Asuka almost wants to laugh at his expression—blank, almost, with his brows furrowed, as if trying to scan through volumes of his stupid gigantic brain to find an answer.
"Homo," Asuka repeats. "Do you know what that is?" When Kaworu shakes his head, she slams her soda can down on the table and looks him in the eye. "A homo is a pervert who likes to look and go around doing stuff with other boys." She points a finger at him. "And with the way you're always hang onto the Shinji, you're definitely a homo!"
"Homo…" Kaworu says curiously, almost to himself, and he looks like he's having some sort of philosophical discussion over the word. What a freak. Kaworu doesn't say anything for a moment, and Asuka is just about to bask in the achievement of getting Kaworu Nagisa to realize his own big fat identity crisis when Kaworu's voice suddenly catches her again. "Asuka?"
"Yeah, what is it?"
"You defined a 'homo' to be somebody who is a pervert." Kaworu says slowly.
"What about it?" Shinji always splutters and defends himself when Asuka calls him a pervert, but maybe Kaworu doesn't care. Jeez, maybe after this Asuka should have a talk with Misato so she can protect Shinji's virtue.
"I am given the impression that perverted behaviour is something that disturbs other people and makes them uncomfortable," Kaworu says. "Is that the way Shinji feels when I interact with him?"
Asuka opens her mouth to reply, but the look on his face makes her stop and close it again. If she didn't know Kaworu was a bastard with only one facial expression, she would say that Kaworu almost looks upset, the corners of his mouth turned downwards and his eyebrows drawn in with worry.
"I—well if he's inviting you over to duet with him, obviously he likes spending time with you, idiot," Asuka finally replies, and she's surprised at how comforting her words sound. "How stupid can you get?"
The lines on Kaworu's face soften at her words, and he just looks surprised, again. Asuka is pretty surprised, too—she hadn't expected herself to say that.
"I see," Kaworu finally says, and he rests his hands on top of each other, gently holding them together. "Thank you for that insight, Asuka. It was very illuminating."
Asuka makes a face. "Yeah, whatever." She says dismissively. "You obviously don't know anything, so you would need someone like me to spell things out for you, after all."
"I suppose so," Kaworu says, smiling again. And just like that, Asuka feels a familiar flash of irritation again.
"And stop smiling so much all the damn time! It looks weird!"
"Would you prefer that I frowned, instead?"
"No, just try and look like a normal person, dammit!"
"Kaworu!" Shinji's voice sounds from the hallway and he appears before them, holding his cello case. "I got my—oh, Asuka!" He says, catching sight of her. "You're home already?"
"Yeah, thanks for waiting." Asuka says. Shinji mumbles out an apology, but he doesn't look tired and meek like he usually does—he's too busy looking at Kaworu.
"We should go, now, before they close that piano room." Shinji says, and then he looks down and blushes. "I—I mean, if you still want to—"
"Of course I do." Kaworu rises from his seat and Asuka tries not to hate how graceful he looks, and somehow it's easier not to hate him than before. Kaworu turns to her and gives a slight nod of his head. "It was nice talking to you, Asuka. Until next time."
Asuka takes another drink from her soda and waves him away. "Yeah, yeah, whatever. You better come home in time to cook dinner, Shinji."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Shinji says, and Asuka is forced to level a death glare at him until he looks away, laughing. "Bye, Asuka!"
As Shinji and Kaworu are putting their shoes on Asuka can still hear them talking. "What were you talking about with Asuka, anyway?" Shinji asks.
"How I always like looking at you." Kaworu replies, and Asuka has to roll her eyes.
"Wh-what are you talking about that kind of stuff for?" Shinji squeaks. Asuka can practically hear him blushing.
"Is that the kind of stuff you don't normally talk about?" Kaworu's voice is curious, innocent, but there's a teasing edge to it as well.
"Well, yeah, it's just that—" The door closes and the rest of their conversation is cut off, but really Asuka's heard enough.
"God, what idiots," She says to no one in particular, but there isn't any vehemence to it. She finishes her soda and wonders if she can talk Kaworu or Shinji into letting them form into a trio with her violin next time.
The unspoken rule is that the screen located on the lower right side in their wall of security monitors is to be left open, always. He knows Fuyutsuki finds it strange, but it doesn't matter what he thinks, anyway.
There is so much of Yui in his son's face that it hurts to look at, but what's worse are the parts of him that Gendo can see where he has had an influence as well. Shinji's jaw line, and his cheekbones…his hatred for others, and his cowardice. Gendo feels like he wants to apologize, but he feels abject disgust more, waves of anger and failure that overwhelm him and blot out everything else, because while Rei is a symbol of hope, Shinji is a living reminder of everything that had gone wrong with him and (had Yui not died) everything that could have happened.
But Shinji does not know that. All Shinji knows is that he had been abandoned when he was four, that during those years Gendo had rarely visited and never spoke, and that when they meet again for the first time in three years Gendo does not so much as ask for him as ask for Shinji's mind and body, valuable only when they align into an acceptable synch rate so he can pilot the Eva.
But in the end, this will all make it easier for him when it is time to start Instrumentality. Training him to build up his walls around others, hardening him…it will make him more eager to accept the opportunity to let all those walls down when it is handed to him, and it would make him happier.
Out of the corner of his eye Gendo can see that Shinji has finished training; he steps out of the lab with his hair still drying from LCL as Akagi reads his results to him. The Fifth Child is there, as well, and Gendo wonders when he is going to strike. The Dead Sea Scrolls don't leave much time left, after all.
Akagi is done now but Shinji still hasn't left to change. To Gendo's surprise, Shinji is speaking to the Fifth. To Gendo's even greater surprise, Shinji is smiling. It's rare for his son to smile, especially after performing something so heavily Eva-related like a synch test.
The Fifth says something, and then Shinji is blushing. He has never seen his son blush before. When Shinji blushes, he looks like Yui. In fact, Shinji has never looked more like Yui than he does now, smiling and blushing as he looks up at the Fifth, and it reminds Gendo profoundly of the way Yui used to look up at him.
But even without the Dead Sea Scrolls, Gendo knows how this will end. The world is ugly and full of hatred, and anything good that dares to grow is destroyed without hesitation. The quicker and harder Shinji learns to understand this, the better.
Gendo glances back down to the monitor again. Shinji and the Fifth are leaving now, presumably to change. Their hands are linked together as the Fifth leads his son forwards.
The image brings back a vivid memory of Yui and him a few weeks after their marriage. It had been spring, and Yui insisted on going to the park to watch the cherry blossoms fall. She said that Gendo was moving too slowly, so Yui had grabbed his hand to pull him forward, the imprint of her wedding band pressed against his finger. Gendo hadn't said anything, but he purposely walked slower after that, so that Yui could keep her hand on his.
…"You want to drop them in carefully, see, so you don't get splashed by the hot water."
"You're very good at this." Kaworu observes as he stands next to Shinji at the counter, watching the other boy drop chunks of tofu into the pot of boiling water.
Shinji flushes. "Um, it's nothing, really."
"It is. Do you remember the first time I tried to do it?"
"Yes," Shinji says emphatically, shaking his head. "You should never do that again! You could have burned your face off!"
"Ah," Kaworu runs a hand through his hair, ducking his head. "I suppose cooking is not my strong suit."
"I guess even you aren't good at anything, Kaworu," Shinji says, grinning. He stops when Kaworu leans in close and places a hand, feather soft, on Shinji's cheek.
"Everybody has things they're not good at," Kaworu says. "Just like how everybody has something precious and valuable. But both of these things are unique to them in a way that no one else can ever replicate."
They don't look away from each other, standing in silence until the bubbling of the pot boiling over fills the air.
Shinji starts. "Um—"
"You need to take the tofu out, don't you," Kaworu says. Shinji nods with Kaworu's hand still on his cheek.
"If I don't do it now, it's going to get over-boiled, and it'll taste—" Kaworu shifts a little bit forward, and then Shinji is leaning to close the gap between them, their mouths meeting over the point where they can both feel the steam coming from the pot curling around their cheeks. Kaworu curls his fingers tighter around Shinji's cheek as well, bringing the other boy's face closer as Shinji reaches out to tentatively place a hand—light and hot and dangerous—at Kaworu's hip.
It's hard to tell how long the kiss lasts, but when they break apart both of them are panting lightly. With a little difficulty, Shinji reaches between them to turn off the stove while his other hand stays on Kaworu's hip, and they don't say anything as they listen to the sounds of each other breathe.
"You should kiss me again," Shinji finally says, softly.
Kaworu smiles. His other hand comes up to brush the hair off Shinji's forehead, fingers trailing lightly along his temple to rest behind his ear, and breathes out, "I was thinking the same thing."