Don't Be Afraid to Rush In
Note: The summary is a bit of a lie, since the only person in this college AU who is actually in college is Kaworu, but I think the term itself really does convey what this fic is about: light-hearted domestic shenanigans where everyone is human and also gay young adults touching each other's hands a lot.
Kaworu first meets Shinji Ikari outside his favourite music store, on a rainy day when they both forget to bring umbrellas. None of them look ahead, too intent on trying to shelter themselves from the downpour to take notice of anything else; of course it's inevitable that they collide into each other.
Oof. Kaworu lands ass-first into a puddle and has no doubt the other person has done the same. He looks up and sees another boy with dark hair in front of him, gingerly holding the side of his head with a pained expression on his face.
"I'm sorry about that," Kaworu says, getting up. He walks over to help the other boy, but he flinches away from Kaworu's proffered hand like it's a viper and pushes himself up instead, taking a step away from Kaworu.
"No, I should be the one apologizing." The boy says, bashful, and apologetically rubs the back of his head. His gaze drops down, not making eye contact. "I wasn't looking at where I was running."
"Neither was I." Kaworu says easily. His eye catches a glint of colour lying on the wet grey pavement. "And I'm afraid I knocked your CDs to the ground, as well."
"Ah, it's nothing," The other boy mumbles as he bends down to pick them up, but Kaworu beats him to it. Their arms almost touch midway and he shrinks away as if there's some force field between them that can't be breached at all costs. Kaworu takes the CDs off the pavement and lifts a brow at the familiar artwork on the cover. Taking a closer look, he recognizes it as the emblem of one of his favourite bands.
"This is one of their finest albums," Kaworu comments as he hand the CDs over. "Sometimes I'd say it might even be my favourite."
The other boy's eyebrows lift in surprise. "I—I didn't think anyone listened to them anymore." He murmurs, looking down. "Because they're so old."
Kaworu smiles. "Well, I find that some old things still have value...I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."
"Ikari." The boy replies. He says it incredibly softly, as if he almost doesn't want you to hear it. "Shinji Ikari."
"Shinji Ikari," Kaworu tests it out, and likes the way it springs off his tongue so easily. "Well, Ikari-kun, my name is Kaworu Nagisa, but Kaworu is just fine." He holds out his hand.
For the first time since bumping into each other Shinji meets his eyes. He looks down at Kaworu's hand as if it might bite him, then looks back up at Kaworu again. Kaworu smiles, and Shinji slowly reaches out to grasp his hand with tentative fingers. Shinji's hand is warm and soft, thumb resting along the ridge of Kaworu's hand like it is meant to be there.
"You can just call me Shinji, too," Shinji says. He looks up at the other boy shyly, the bow of his mouth hesitant and trembling, and Kaworu absentmindedly thinks, 'I want to see him smile'.
That is the beginning.
Kaworu asks Shinji for coffee and his phone number; Shinji looks startled at both requests but complies with the first, letting Kaworu lead him to the nearest Starbucks and buy them lattes with two sugars and whipped cream ("My treat. It's my fault your CD cases are muddy, after all."). They talk quietly about their favourite bands and Kaworu is delighted to learn that Shinji likes both Bach and playing cello.
"We should duet sometime," He says.
Shinji draws back. "Um, I'm not very good," He mumbles, finger tips playing around the rim of his cup.
"Nonsense." He's fairly sure from when they shook hands before but Kaworu asks anyway. "May I see your hand?" Shinji looks puzzled, but he tentatively lifts his hand from the table. Kaworu takes the hand in his and flips it over. He notices a faint circular scar running widely around Shinji's hand, spilling over the edge of where his fingers joined his palm, but Kaworu knows better than anyone that there are some scars you never want to talk about again.
Instead Kaworu focuses on the curl of Shinji's fingers, rubbing his thumb over the rough skin he finds at the tips. "There are calluses at the ends of your fingers," Kaworu says, stroking them softly. "And even though your skin is soft, I can tell you have a strong and steady grip. This is the hand of a musician." Shinji blushes, but he doesn't take his hand away.
"You have calluses on your fingers, too." Shinji says. "I can feel them."
Kaworu smiles. "Yes. We're quite well matched, aren't we?"
Shinji doesn't say anything, but he gives a small, hesitant smile and doesn't say anything when Kaworu starts rattling off pieces he'd think Shinji would enjoy playing.
By the end of the day Kaworu has gotten his second request, Shinji's number scrawled hurriedly on a crumpled receipt. Shinji then timidly asks for his, and Kaworu is happy to oblige.
"I hope we can meet again soon, Shinji-kun." He says as they bid each other good-bye at the bus stop.
"Me too," Shinji says, hands in his pockets. He stops, hesitating slightly, then says, "I guess I'll call you sometime."
Kaworu takes his phone out of his pocket and waves it around. "Of course. I'll be waiting."
In the end Kaworu doesn't wait too long, because the next day he calls Shinji first.
"Sociology?" Shinji says. He trips a little over the word, obviously unused to saying it, the movements of his mouth hesitant but endearing.
"Yes," Kaworu says. "At the heart of it, I would say that sociology really is the study of humanity."
"All of it?"
Kaworu can't help but smile at the look of bewildered amazement on Shinji's face. "To me, yes. All of it. Every single society and culture, the languages and history, and everything that has moulded the world that exists today."
Shinji uses his straw to take the foam off his coffee and absentmindedly sticks it in his mouth. "But there's so much to learn about, how would you even start?"
"Sociology often has highly specialized fields of study," Kaworu says. "But in the beginning, we start with the broadest topics possible, such as the general history of the world. The fact is that there is such a wide range and variety of human emotions and actions, yet they all more or less resonate universally within this world. In the end, despite their conflicts, there are many qualities that humans have in common with each other, and that will never change."
Shinji turns his head the view before them. They have a seat right outside the café, next to the pavement and busy street as people rush to and fro during their lunch hour. "It's hard to believe that people can be so close to each other." He murmurs. "It just seems so lonely sometimes."
Kaworu nods. "People are so caught up in conflict all the time," He says, pushing around stray grains of sugar with the tip of his fingers. "They mask their true feelings, so that others often misinterpret them and may end up acting in ways that go against the person's original intentions. In the end both parties push each other away, even though they both might have originally wanted to the same thing." Kaworu gathers all the grains of sugar into a pile, and then presses down on it with his thumb, leaving a smattering of sugar crystals on the table. He brings his thumb to his mouth, licking away the stray crystals that have stuck to the grooves of his skin. "I think that's why I chose to study sociology from a historical perspective rather than a psychological one. Culture and social phenomena are fascinating to observe, but I don't think I could handle the stress and complication that comes from direct interaction with living subjects."
Shinji blinks. "Really? But you're so friendly, Kaworu. I think you would get along with everyone you meet!"
Kaworu ducks his head, shaking it. "I'm really not the kind of person you think I am," He says, smiling ruefully. He tilts his head and smiles at Shinji. "I think I mainly just get along very well with you."
Shinji's eyes widen in surprise, but Kaworu can see him softening as he holds their gaze, Shinji relaxing as his lips curve into a hesitant, but pleased smile. "I get along with you, as well." Shinji admits. "I mean, I've never spent this much time with anyone else before…"
"Me neither," Says Kaworu, and he thinks about the long afternoons he's spent alone, listening obsessively to Bach with only the words of lonely German philosophers to keep him company. "You're the exception."
Shinji ducks his head, looking embarrassed. "You're my exception, too."
"We can be each other's exceptions," Kaworu says.
Shinji's cheeks redden. "I don't know if you should be saying things like that, Kaworu," He says. "I mean, it might give people to wrong impression…"
"The impression that there is no one that I would like to spent time than you?" Kaworu says, smiling. He's gotten used to this, the stop and stutter of Shinji's words, how he switched back and forth between pleased surprise and doubtful hesitance, as if he was afraid to let himself want it. "That's the impression I want to give, because they are my true feelings towards you."
Shinji looks even more embarrassed at that. He doesn't say anything, but Kaworu wants to make sure. "It's alright, isn't it? If I'm your exception, and you are mine?"
There's a brief moment of silence as Shinji breathes in deep through his nose, and Kaworu finds himself almost hungry for an answer. Then Shinji cautiously meets his eyes and shyly says, "I'd like that." and Kaworu's heart stops in his chest.
(He needs to start getting used to that, too.)
Two weeks later, and here is what he knows about Shinji Ikari:
Shinji's favourite colour is the soft, warm shade of orange you can only find in sunsets. His favourite thing about preparing a bento is packing the food neatly into the box, arranging the rice and stir-fried vegetables into their own compartments almost like little homes. He's played the cello for almost ten years, and the cello Shinji plays used to belong to his mother. He prefers taking baths to showers, because he thinks sinking into a nice tub of hot water is a lot less stressful than standing up while being pelted by hard little drops.
Here is what else Kaworu knows:
They're around the same age (Kaworu is older by just a year), although Shinji isn't attending university. Shinji started working for his parents' bioengineering company straight out of high school.
"My father wanted me to," Shinji had played with his fingers in a way that meant he was leaving a lot more unsaid. "I mean, it was the only reason he would ever have anything to do with me. And everyone else wanted me to, as well." He never elaborates on who everyone else is, or why they seem to want his vocational abilities so badly, but Kaworu doesn't pry. He's just content with the fact that Shinji has already shared so much with him when the other boy is so shy and withdrawn, almost painfully so. He does everything with an air of uncertainty around him, like he's afraid he's going to shoved down and rejected any second, as if each day is bearing angrily down on him like a belligerent opponent, challenging him to fight.
Kaworu knows that Shinji's mother died when he just was four, and that his father had left him to be raised by distant relatives not long after.
"I remember the day he dropped me off at the train station," Shinji says one afternoon while they were lying on the couch in Shinji's apartment, a small sparse space located in a company complex. "I was crying, and begging him not to leave me and come back, but he just kept walking. He didn't even look back at me." Shinji's voice grew quiet. "I wish I knew why." A beat. "And the first time he talks to me, the first time I even see him over ten years, all he wants is for me to work for his company. He doesn't care about me at all, even though I'm his son. All he wants is to use me." Another beat.
"I think I hate my father." Shinji finally says. "I've never hated anyone before, but I hate him."
Kaworu turns on his side, watching the other boy's face. Even though Shinji's expression seems blank, Kaworu sees it flicker with thousands of emotions: the twitch of his brow, the tightening of his jaw as Shinji's lips curled downwards. "You have good reason to." Kaworu replies.
Shinji turns to look at him, eyes wide. "What?"
"I said you have good reason to hate your father." Kaworu repeats, meeting Shinji's eyes. "If I were you, I would hate him too." Even though he's never met the man, the name 'Gendo Ikari' is already developing a very bad taste in Kaworu's mouth. Kaworu thinks of what Shinji has told him, and can see it so clearly in his mind: Shinji, still young and fresh with the pain of losing his mother, wailing with tears dripping down his cheeks for the person who should have always been there for him, made an unbreakable promise to love and cherish him the moment he brought Shinji into this world. It makes his chest hurt.
Shinji averts his eyes from Kaworu's. "No one has ever told me that before," He murmurs.
"They should have." Kaworu says firmly, covering the other boy's hand with his own and giving it a firm squeeze. "They should have done that for you, at the very least."
Here is what Kaworu knows about Shinji Ikari:
He deserves so much more than what he actually has.
"You should have asked me to help you carry it," Kaworu says disapprovingly, and his tone is as close to rebuking as it gets.
Shinji shakes his head. "It's fine, it wasn't a problem at all." He carefully lays the cello case on the ground and starts removing it from its velvet lining. "I'm used to doing these things by myself, anyway."
Once their instruments are set up, they begin. Kaworu starts first, with a rippling arpeggio that seems to burst bright into the room with sound, travelling an octave further and further before he presses his hands down onto a single chord. It's the perfect opportunity for Shinji to join in and he takes it, drawing out an arpeggio of his own that stretches into something longer, producing a sweet low melody that makes Kaworu follow along with a patter of soft notes. Then, their tempo is rising again as it scatters into a wild rush of adagio: something in the air changes; becomes charged with the possibility of something waiting to happen, and Kaworu is suddenly playing faster than he can keep track of, fingers flying across the keys like they're alive. They are playing together like it's been done a thousand times before, listening to every rest and beat and leaving the perfect gaps and skips for the other to join in and come together. The piano notes pound like heartbeats in Kaworu's head, but he can also hear the music of Shinji's cello so clearly, the sound etched in the air like an engraving as the music entwines with the piano's, locked in a dance that seems almost fierce in its joy.
The music is seeping into his blood and bringing in a sort of heady exhilaration that seems to make him spiral higher and higher into the song, into a wild wonderful place he's never stepped foot in. He looks over, and sees Shinji holding his cello like he's part of it, head tilted back with his eyes closed. His bow glides across the instrument without hesitation, hands steady and sure and shoulders set like they've been carved from the four pillars of heaven, strong enough to hold up the sky. Shinji's part of the music, wrapped in it just like Kaworu is, pieces of himself unlocking into the melody that soars from his cello, and together their rhythm is flawless, notes tumbling into place into something so vivid Kaworu can taste it in the air.
It rushes out of him like a river, tumbling through a channel meant for a stream, dizzying and almost too fast, but the narrow boundaries of his ten fingers keep it in check and refines it as he presses down on the keys. Shinji's cello both guides him down the bends and curves and flows along with him; this is their river, and they are each other's accents and anchors. Together, they set down their paths and let everything unravel, notes tangled into wild eddies and tides pounding across a distant shore like a rhythm, licking the edges of water-worn rocks like whispers.
Kaworu feels their final notes hit him in a wave of sound, soaking him to the bone. He presses deep into the keys, trying to fit in everything he can feel quivering in the air and dancing along the octaves into it. Shinji's cello similarly comes to a brilliant finish; leaving behind a note so bright and sharp it seems to have a tangible mark. For a moment there is only the silence swelling up from the aftermath of their duet, deafening in its lack of music and motion, then Shinji lets out a sharp breath that sounds like it had been held for during their entire performance.
"…Wow," Shinji says hesitantly. "Th—that was something, huh?"
"Yes," Kaworu agrees. He's strangely breathless, looking back and forth from his piano keys to Shinji, disoriented, the remnants of their song still echoing in his head. "I haven't played like this in a very long time."
"I don't think I've ever," Shinji says. "I mean, I've never had a duet with anyone before, so maybe that was it, but I don't think I could have played something like this with anybody else."
"I know I couldn't have played like this with anybody else," Kaworu says, and he's never so sure of anything in his life. "We sound amazing. That is to say," He plays another tune on the piano, letting it trail away softly. "We're amazing together."
Shinji lifts his head back and closes his eyes, as if he's listening to a sound he's never heard before. "Yeah," Shinji replies, and the resounding sweep of his cello bow takes them away again.
"Someone was looking for ya today," Suzuhara says as Kaworu walks in.
Kaworu blinks. "Really?"
"Why'd you think I'd lie about somethin' like this?" Says Suzuhara. He's watching Kaworu with amused, slightly wary eyes. Kaworu knows that his roommate finds him eccentric, unnaturally polite and just rather unsettling in general. This is probably the first time Suzuhara has seen Kaworu involved in even a slightly social situation. "I wasn't there, but Arakawa said he came in sometime earlier stuttering about a Kaworu-kun. Said he kinda looked like a wimp."
Kaworu sits up from his bed. "Black hair, a little shorter than us?"
Shinji. The thought of Shinji coming to his dorm—actually making the effort to go on campus and sort out the complex of halls and lecture buildings—makes Kaworu smile widely, and he is so elated that he doesn't realize he's said Shinji's name aloud until Suzuhara goes, "Wait, Shinji? Shinji Ikari?"
"Yes." Then, "You know Shinji?"
Suzuhara is looking at him with wide eyes now, textbook completely forgotten. "We went to school together. How'd you get in touch with Shinji? The last time we heard he got packed off working for his old man."
"He did," Kaworu says, then corrects himself. "He still is. We met at a music store."
"Wow." Suzuhara says, looking bemused. "You know, I always figured I'd end up hearing Shinji's name again, but I never thought it'd be like this."
"What do you mean?"
Suzuhara scratches his head. "I mean, he was kinda notorious in our school, right? Not because of what he did—man, he would just sit at his desk listening to his music player all day, but because of how he was working for his dad's company even back then. There were other kids that were in on it, too. All of them were girls, for some reason. Ayanami, and Makinami, and Soryu."
The names mean nothing to Kaworu; he zones in on what Suzuhara had said about Shinji, instead. "So they were high school students, but they were already employed?"
"Yeah, and it was really intense work, too! Top military work that was all hush-hush. They never talked about it but sometimes these men in suits would drop by in these fancy black cars and pull them out of school, and later they'd come back all hurt and bruised. I mean," Here Suzuhara blushes and drops his head. "The first time I met Shinji I punched him because I thought he was a real jerk, like he thought he was better than us just because he was in some top-notch military secret, but later I realized that he actually had it really hard and we became friends." Suzuhara picks up a pen and starts twirling it in his fingers. "Or as close to friends as Shinji gets, anyway. He just never really reached out to anyone, you know?"
Never really reached out. Kaworu thinks of the Shinji he knows, the boy who flinched away from handshakes and has memorized every colour of the sunset from the countless days he's spent on rooftops, the same boy whose words fold into him like they've bypassed Kaworu's head and ears entirely to slip into the curtains of his soul, the boy who holds a cello bow like he has his mother's soul in the crook of his arms.
"In a way, I can see what you mean," Kaworu finally says. "But from another perspective, that simply isn't the Shinji I know."
"Huh," Suzuhara says. "Hell, it's been years. He could be a completely different guy for all I know." Though the tone of his voice belies his words.
"I have never encountered the Shinji Ikari you were friends with, so I can't make any conclusions," Kaworu says. "But I like to think the bond we share between us does involve a certain amount of 'reaching out' on Shinji's part, if you will."
Suzuhara holds his hands up. "Hey, if Shinji's got a friend, then more power to you. Guy could use more friends. He always looked like he was ready to curl up in some corner and die when I knew him. It was kind of discouraging, you know?"
"No." Kaworu says. He wonders how Suzuhara would have reacted to him if they had met as teenagers, instead. Suzuhara would probably do a lot more than just punch him.
Suzuhara shrugs. "Hey, everyone does their own thing." Kaworu's roommate stops talking, lost in thought for a moment, and then gives a small chuckle. "I wonder how Shinji would react if he walked in and found me here."
"Most favourably, I would imagine." Kaworu says, and Suzuhara laughs.
"Yeah, who wouldn't love to see me again?" He says, spinning around to face his desk. There's a long pause.
"Hey, Nagisa, the next time you see Shinji, tell him I said hi, okay?" Suzuhara finally says, his eyes resolutely fixed on his textbook. "But only if it looks like he'd want to hear it, you know what I mean?"
"Yes." Kaworu says. "I think I do."
He considers telling Shinji about Suzuhara the next time they have dinner together, but they get so caught up in conversation that Kaworu doesn't remember until they're sitting on Shinji's floor together listening to his cello tapes. They're in the middle of Bach's Cello Suite No. 3 when it hits him in a sudden flash of memory.
"Shinji," Kaworu says slowly, not sure if he's doing the right thing. They had never really talked about their pasts before, but Shinji's mentioned his school life in many offhand remarks during their conversations, and it seemed to be a good, if not particularly enthralling, experience for him. "Do you remember going to school with someone called Suzuhara?"
Shinji's eyes light up with recognition. "Toji-kun! Of course I remember him." His brow crumples. "Wait, Kaworu, how do you know about Toji?"
"I mentioned you once in my dorm room," Kaworu says, watching the way Shinji's expression morphs into one that means he's embarrassed but pleased. "And Suzuhara recognized your name. We're roommates."
Shinji leans forward, eyes wide. "Wow, really? You're living with Toji!"
"It would seem so, yes." Kaworu can't help but smile at the mingled delight and surprise on Shinji's face.
"I can't believe it…" Shinji trails off. "I mean, I thought I would never see Toji again. But he's just been this near me, all along."
"Suzuhara says hi, by the way."
"Oh!" Shinji sits up straighter, blinking. "Oh, um, could you tell him that I say hi, too? If you don't mind, of course."
"Of course I wouldn't," Kaworu says. "Is there anything else you'd want me to pass on?"
"Uhm, not really." Shinji looks embarrassed. "We lost touch after high school, so it's been a while."
"Alright," Kaworu says, and for a moment the air is only filled with the soft strains of cello music as Shinji falls silent, lost in thought.
"I guess it makes sense that I'd meet a classmate or something," Shinji finally says. "I mean, I guess most people stay in Tokyo-3 after they graduate. Have you seen anyone from your old school, Kaworu?"
Kaworu stiffens. "No, and hopefully I'll never see them again," He says far too quickly. The thought of SEELE and their cold dark walls and hate-filled eyes makes a snap unintentionally appear in his voice. Shinji notices, of course, and flinches back in a way that makes Kaworu's heart crumple into itself.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked that!" Shinji says instantly, eyes anxious. "That wasn't any of my business."
"No, you didn't do anything wrong! It was my fault." Kaworu says empathetically, but Shinji is already looking away, hiding his gaze under his dark fringe of hair as his shoulders slump. Kaworu leans forward without thinking and places his hand on the other boy's jaw; the other clasping their hands together as he gently turns Shinji's face towards him. "I was the one who reacted inappropriately," Kaworu says, hoping that Shinji can see the sincerity in his gaze. I'm sorry. I don't want you looking like this, especially when you're with me. I never want to make you act like this. "Please don't blame yourself for this. I'm very sorry for my behaviour."
Kaworu feels Shinji swallow against the palm of his hand, but Shinji doesn't pull away. Instead, his fingers shift under Kaworu's so that their palms fit better and Kaworu almost wants to cry at the depth of warmth and forgiveness in that touch, the empathy almost radiating off Shinji in golden waves. "You don't have to apologize," Shinji says softly, and Kaworu can feel the movement of Shinji's jaw, the muscles of his cheek shifting around his words. "Everybody has things they don't want to think about."
He doesn't want to, but Kaworu lets his hand slowly slip away from Shinji's face, though their hands are still entwined. "That's a very good way of putting it," Kaworu says. "Thank you for understanding, Shinji."
Shinji blushes again, but he doesn't look away as he murmurs, "Y-you're welcome," and none of them say anything as they hold hands through Mozart's Piano Sonata in A Major.
After that Kaworu is still careful, but sometimes he doesn't let himself worry as much when he wears a short-sleeved shirt (where the edges end at bottom of his palm instead of rolling past his knuckles) and he raises an arm to wave hello to Shinji. And if Shinji notices, he never says a word.
Leliel calls him one afternoon, the second time in three weeks after Kaworu starts the new semester. "I'm sorry I haven't been in touch as of late," She says, voice low and smooth in the quiet of the park where Kaworu is working. "It's just been so busy with the company there hasn't been any time."
"It's fine. It's just good to talk to you again, Leliel," Kaworu says, smiling. "How's the company?"
"It is going well." Leliel's answer is brief, but Kaworu can hear the satisfaction and happiness in her voice. "Quiel wants me to extend our range to something more Harajuku, but I think that gothic lolita is enough for now."
"I suppose Sahaquiel will have to wait, then." Kaworu grins.
"Hmph. I refuse to aid her in that eyeball-shaped accessories obsession she has." Leliel says. "But I didn't call to talk about our sister's questionable life choices. How are you?"
"I'm doing fine. I like all of my classes, and the weather has been very good the past few days." Kaworu hesitates as he wonders how he should phrase his next words. "And…I have also been making friends."
"Really!" Says Leliel. "I mean, of course you would be making friends. But I don't think I've ever heard you mention them."
"Maybe I am finally maturing," Kaworu says. "College life is changing me."
"Clearly. It's already your second year!"
"I'm a late bloomer."
Leliel snorts. "That's one way of putting it. Tell me about these friends of yours."
"Suzuhara, my roommate." Kaworu says. "As it turns out, we have more in common than I thought."
"Clearly he has the makings of a soul mate," Leliel says dryly, and Kaworu can't help but smile. He's missed Leliel. "Besides the fated lover Suzuhara, is there anyone else?"
"There is…somebody I met recently," Kaworu says. "He doesn't go to university, but we met at a music store. His name is Shinji Ikari."
"You mentioned both his names," Leliel says, voice wry and amused. "Special boy."
"He is very special, yes." As Kaworu says this he feel his heart give a little twinge.
"High praise from my dear little brother," Says Leliel. There's a pause. "I'm glad that you're spending time with other people, Kaworu. I know that you can take care of yourself, but I want you to be happy, too."
"You don't have to worry about me," Kaworu says immediately, but Leliel makes a noise at the back of her throat that indicates he shouldn't interrupt her and he shuts up.
"Yes, I know, but that's a sister's job, of course. Just let me fawn over you for a few minutes and then you can go off sitting on pianos or climbing cliffs or doing whatever it is you do."
"That was only one cliff," Kaworu says.
"Tch; one cliff too many. You were by the sea side, Kaworu, you could have drowned!"
"I wouldn't have drowned."
Leliel huffs an exasperated sigh over the phone. "At least I know you probably won't drown now since you're in the middle of the city. I wouldn't put it past you, though. Oh, hang on." Kaworu hears Leliel putting a hand over her phone while an indistinct voice sounds in the background, and then Leliel's muffled reply. "Okay, yes, I will be there. Please hold on to the shipment." Leliel puts her hand away. "I'm sorry, Kaworu, but I have to go now. Let's continue this conversation later. Are you free for lunch?"
"Tell me as soon as you are available," Kaworu says.
He hears the smile in Leliel's voice when she replies, "Goodbye, little brother." and Kaworu hopes she can hear him smiling back.
The first time Kaworu stays the night at Shinji's apartment it takes a movie marathon that ends at three am to make it happen, even though he's wanted to many, many times before, hands resting on the worn wooden frame of Shinji's doorway, trying to stay even as he's leaving.
"It's already pretty late" Shinji had said, glancing at the clock. His gaze met Kaworu's, and then darted away again. "Um, it might be better if you stayed here for tonight, Kaworu." Seeing the stunned look on Kaworu's face (was this finally happening?), Shinji had turned red and immediately started backpedalling. "Th—that's only if you want to, of course! If you don't then it's fine, I can probably call you a cab—"
"Shinji, there isn't anything I would enjoy more." Kaworu said sincerely. Shinji stopped mid-sentence, his face still red, then quickly shuffled away, murmuring something about finding spare pyjamas. Kaworu had then silently congratulated himself on a job well done.
Now he's lying in Shinji's bed (the other boy made it clear that Kaworu would not be taking the floor), watching Shinji pile sheets onto the spare mattress next to him. In a way, Kaworu is glad he has the bed because the blankets and pillow smell like Shinji, but he'd much rather have Shinji close to him instead.
"You don't have to get up early for anything tomorrow, do you?" Shinji asks as he wrestles a pillow into a case.
"I don't have anything important, no." One class Cultural Heritage in the Contemporary World means less than nothing if it means he can spend time with Shinji like this.
When he sees that everything's in order Shinji gets up to turn off the lights, though the room is still far from dark because of the shafts of moonlight that spill from the window. Shinji's back is turned to him, and Kaworu uses this opportunity to memorize the back of his head, the dark tufts of hair and the unruly cowlick at the centre of it, the skin of his neck and the slip of shoulders peeking from his pyjama collar.
Shinji turns around abruptly and starts when he sees Kaworu watching him, eyes widening as they make contact with Kaworu's. Kaworu smiles as Shinji's cheeks redden and he doesn't break the gaze.
"Can't you sleep, Kaworu?" Shinji whispers. "Is the bed not comfortable enough—should I get some more sheets?"
"The bed is fine, Shinji." Kaworu says. "But seeing as we're both not sleeping, let's talk instead."
"What would you like?"
Shinji is quiet for so long Kaworu thinks he's nodded off, but then his voice joins the quiet night air. "My father praised me today. He said, 'Well done, Shinji," and it made me so happy." Shinji takes a deep breath, inhaling his scattered thoughts. "Why did it make me happy, Kaworu? He abandoned me when I was four, and now the only reason he bothers with me at all is because I'm useful to him. But as soon as he said those words, I felt I did something right, for once…" Shinji's words flow out steady like a stream, and Kaworu drinks it all in like a dying man, his gaze never wavering. He listens to Shinji speak about his father—all the confusion, the frustration—and sometimes he almost wants to speak ('Don't be let down with the concerns of your father; I love everything you do'), but Kaworu holds himself back. Shinji needs this.
Shinji's body begins to relax as his words leave him, heavy with confusion and sadness, and eventually he stops. A sigh leaves him like a whisper, and Shinji's eyes fall closed. Kaworu stays awake fall a little while longer, quietly in awe of the way Shinji had talked so openly. It was something Kaworu had always admired about him, maybe in envied; to be strong enough to possess a heart that still falls open so easily under the right circumstances. He watches Shinji sleep as his mind plays over everything Shinji's told him. Shinji has spent his life being hurt, and the people he's surrounded by are in similar condition, and are in no position to help him. That, or they just don't care.
But despite that, Shinji is still so vulnerable and open. Kaworu sees it every time he compliments Shinji, or performs the smallest act of kindness: the flash of surprise on the other boy's face, his eyes widening in confusion as he stares at Kaworu with a bewildered look, trying to wrap his heart around this new behaviour. That heart has been broken so many times, yet it's still shattered so easily, and puts itself together again and again.
"You are amazing, Shinji Ikari." Kaworu says aloud. From his place on the mattress Shinji's sleeping face suddenly frowns, and Kaworu wants to laugh and frown; he's so embarrassed about compliments even when he's unconscious, even after all this time.
Kaworu wonders what Shinji's mother had been like, how it was before her death tore her family apart, and he falls asleep dreaming of a little boy with a sombre face but smiles in his bright blue eyes.
When Kaworu steps into the complex he's greeted with an unusual sound: loud voices and peels of raucous laughter echoing in the normally empty air. As he makes his way down the hallway, he discovers the sounds are coming, of all things, from Shinji's apartment door
Kaworu takes out the key Shinji's made for him and pushes it into the lock, idly wondering what could be going on. "You didn't tell me you were hosting something, Shin—" He stops mid-sentence as the four women at Shinji's dining table all turn their heads towards him.
"Shinji!" The purple-haired woman raises her beer can to the kitchen. "Don't you know it's rude to not tell guests about each other?" A muffled reply floats back mingled with the sound of china clinking.
"Who are you?" The red-haired girl says almost accusingly at Kaworu, her tone belligerent.
Kaworu bows his head politely. "My name is Kaworu Nagisa." As soon as he says his name, the purple-haired woman straightens up abruptly and looks at him, expression triumphant.
"Aha, so you're the famous Kaworu-kun we've been hearing so much about," She says.
"Oh, you're him." Says the redhead, her voice adopting a tone that Kaworu thinks she would use to describe slugs (dead ones).
"Hey, don't be mean, Princess!" The girl sitting next to Princess slings an arm boisterously around her shoulder, causing the redhead to glare at her. "Why don't you try lightening up a little?"
The red-haired girl bristles. "Don't tell me how to act!" She and the dark-haired girl with glasses dissolve into bickering, and the purple-haired woman smiles apologetically at Kaworu.
"They're always like this, especially Asuka." She says, gesturing towards the red-haired girl. "Rei always acts much more appropriately in these situations," She gestures to the pale-haired girl sitting at the far end of her table, who gives Kaworu a quick, sharp nod before looking away again. "Anyways, it's nice to finally meet you, Kaworu. My name's Misato Katsuragi. I used to be Shinji and Asuka's guardian." She makes a move to rise from her chair, but Kaworu motions her to stay down as he walks towards them and takes the empty seat beside her.
"It's nice to meet you, too," Kaworu says as he takes the hand she offers him. "Shinji's told me about you. All of you." He cocks his head and smiles at the rest of the table, garnering two unimpressed reactions and a large, amused grin from the dark-haired girl.
"Really now," The dark haired girls leans forward, adjusting her glasses. "Then do you know who I am, pretty boy?"
Kaworu wracks his mind. If the red-haired girl is Asuka and the blue-haired one is Rei, then that would only leave—
"I think you must be Ms. Mari," Kaworu says, and grins back when Mari's smile widens in affirmation.
"Shin-chan, you really do love us after all!" Mari leans back on her chair and laughs as Shinji walks in from the kitchen, carrying a tray.
"They just suddenly dropped in today," Shinji says apologetically to Kaworu as he sets the tray down and picks up a teacup. He strategically ignores Mari. "I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to tell you."
"Jeez, are you two married or something?" Asuka grabs her tea from Shinji and looks at them with narrowed eyes. "How is it any of this guy's business, anyway?"
"K-Kaworu just around a lot," Shinji flushes and looks down at his hands as he passes a cup to Rei. "It's easier for him this way, because his roommate plays a lot of loud music whenever he tries to study."
"And Shinji is kind enough to tolerate me," Kaworu says. He takes the teapot from Shinji when the he tries to pour Kaworu a cup and pours Shinji one instead.
"Don't put it like that, Kaworu!" Shinji says and lets Kaworu pull him into a seat next to him. "I like it when you come over, as well." He blushes slightly as he says this, and Misato laughs and reaches around to slap Shinji on the shoulder.
"Shinji, I thought I taught you better than to invite strange men into your apartment." She says. "I hope you guys have at least had a first date!"
"Yeah, like the dates you've had with Kaji?" Asuka says, and Misato makes a face.
"Kaji isn't a stranger! We dated in college." Misato protests.
"For how long? Maybe a whole day?" Mari says. As Misato shoots back, the three dissolve into teasing as Rei sips her tea silently. Kaworu leans over and smiles at her.
"It's very nice to meet you, Rei." He says. "I think we'll get along." Rei stares at him for a moment, then looks down as a small, quick "Perhaps," leaves her mouth and doesn't look up again.
"They're always like this, aren't they, Rei?" Shinji says. "I remember that time when Mari lived with us. I didn't think I would make it out alive!"
At the sound of Shinji's voice Rei looks up again. Shinji smiles at her, and to Kaworu's surprise, Rei smiles slightly back.
"Hey, Shinji!" Misato says. "And you too, Kaworu. We need a strapping new young man's opinion to settle this." Misato gestures grandly around the table. "Which one of us young, lovely ladies would you say is the cutest here?"
"Oh," Shinji says, looking uncomfortable. "Um, I don't think…"
"Young, Misato?" Asuka says. "In what universe?"
"Shinji's just trying to find a way to let you guys down gently," Mari says. "It's obvious who he's going to pick." She grins and kicks Shinji under the table, who looks like he's about to have an aneurysm. Kaworu decides to end this mercifully.
"Yes, I believe it's no contest," Kaworu says, and Mari hoots.
"You're not half bad, wonder boy!"
"Even if I lived to be a thousand years," Kaworu continues. "I wouldn't be able to find anything that comes remotely close to the beauty that is Rei's." Rei looks at him, surprised, and Kaworu shoots her a wink.
"Rei?" Says Asuka, glaring at him.
Misato, however, laughs. "It looks like Rei's got us beat, girls. Kaworu, is there at least a second cutest?"
Kaworu grins. "I was hoping you would ask that. The second cutest is Shinji-kun, of course."
Shinji splutters, turning bright red. "Kaworu!"
"Shinji?" Asuka exclaims as Misato and Mari laugh. Even Rei cracks a smile. "Ugh, I can't believe you're picking that idiot over me for second-cutest!"
"It is indisputable, Asuka," Kaworu says. "After Rei, Shinji undoubtedly qualifies as the cutest. His skin is smooth, his eyes are clear and bright, and his facial features are pleasantly symmetrical."
"Kaworu," Shinji groans as Misato and Mari hoot with laughter.
"Furthermore," Kaworu says, undeterred. "Whatever…assets Shinji may lack in comparison to you ladies, I am sure he more than makes up for in other areas."
Misato positively cackles at this, laughing so hard she knocks her beer can over. Asuka looks shocked, while Mari leers at Shinji in a way that makes him cover his face in his hands. Rei doesn't say anything, but her smile imperceptibly widens in a way that indicates she's enjoying this.
Misato slaps Kaworu on the back. "Shinji, you have to bring this guy around when you visit next time, or I won't be letting you in!"
Shinji responds with a groan as he buries his head in his hands. Misato laughs and tells him to get her another beer, and Kaworu decides that all things considered, Shinji keeps pretty good company.
Saturday morning, and Shinji is cooking breakfast for them in his apartment as Kaworu hovers around him, textbook lying forgotten on the couch. The amount of time he spends there is almost ridiculous. Kaworu supposes Suzuhara must be happy, since he now practically has a single.
"Kaworu, you should be studying." Shinji rebukes as he drops mackerel into a sizzling pan.
"I studied before I came here," Kaworu says. It's a lie, and from the way Shinji looks at him, Shinji knows it as well.
"Kaworu," Shinji says, his tone mildly disapproving, but Kaworu stops him before he can say anything more.
"Right now, I just have more important things to do than studying." Kaworu says. "I'm watching you cook."
"But you don't need to watch me cook!" Shinji says, looking mildly exasperated. "If you want to know how to grill mackerel, I can show you later."
Kaworu shakes his head. "It isn't about the mackerel. I just like watching you."
Shinji stills, the mackerel still sizzling in the pan, red blooming across his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. There's a very long pause.
"Did you mean that?" Shinji asks. He slowly lifts his head to meet Kaworu's eyes, as if he's afraid of what he'll find there.
Kaworu doesn't stop smiling. "I mean everything I say." At that, Shinji makes a small noise of disbelief and glances conspicuously at Kaworu's abandoned textbook, and Kaworu's smile widens. "Alright, a minor correction." Kaworu walks up behind Shinji so that he's pressed against the other boy's back, hands coming to rest over Shinji's wrists. Kaworu moves his chin over Shinji's shoulder so they're so close their faces are almost touching. "I mean every single thing I say when it comes to you, Shinji Ikari."
He can hear Shinji's sharp intake of breath, the other boy's shoulders shuddering slightly in surprise. But Shinji doesn't pull away, letting Kaworu's breath stroke his cheek in long, even exhales and his arms curve around the bony edge of his elbow. Shinji smells good, like warm sheets right out of the dryer and the soft cottony scent of a home he's never had. Kaworu would never think that smells could be attractive, but Shinji's smell is, something about it that pulls him in and makes him want to dive in right there and hold on to Shinji, tight, and never let go—
"Kaworu." Shinji says, and he moves his hand to place it over where Kaworu's is resting along the inside of his left wrist. Neither of them says anything for a long while, wrapped in the quiet of the kitchen and the silence of their bodies, and the mackerel burns.
The truth is everything is falling in so far so fast. Kaworu never thought he would want to know so much about another human being, to spend so much time with them that he keeps wringing out his day like a washcloth, trying to squeeze out minutes and seconds he could spend listening to Shinji's voice. The truth is in the time that they've spent together, Kaworu knows a lot about Shinji Ikari, but what is even more surprising is how much Shinji knows about him.
People find it easy to confide in Kaworu because he always smiles and never gossips, but when the situation is reversed it feels like Kaworu is on a different wavelength from everyone else, drifting away on another sea. They expect him to talk about things like grades and girls, all solid, easily visualized things that bear a direct effect on their lives that more or less resolve themselves in time. But what Kaworu wants to talk about is concepts instead: what is a home, and how do you know you have one? People can be so easily offended by the smallest of gestures—the flick of a finger, the order in which they are served dinner—but they're won over by equally small gestures, as well. Isn't that strange?
People try to humour him, at first; they give half-hearted answers and fidget impatiently with their shoelaces, waiting for Kaworu to finish his little reverie so they get on with other things instead. But in the end the frustration bleeds onto their faces, and they learn not to ask Kaworu to talk to them again. Kaworu knows that people think he's wasting their time; that he's being vague on purpose either to annoy or to avoid talking about personal issues. He doesn't correct them, and just begins spending time with people who have the same questions he does instead; most of them are dead, of course, so the discussion is fairly one-sided, but at least they're on the same wavelength.
Shinji is the only one who knows about what Kaworu thinks of music, and survival, and home. Shinji doesn't say anything when Kaworu says these things, just listens, and maybe sometimes blink, as if the trying to process all this information with the power of his creasing brow. Sometimes Shinji will cock his head to the side, maybe scrunch up his nose in confusion, but he never interrupts or complains. The look in Shinji's eyes makes Kaworu feel as though it doesn't matter how strange his words can get; Shinji will always listen.
The truth is Shinji is fascinating, but not in the way other people and civilizations are. Given the opportunity, Kaworu can watch and study the other boy all day, but he can't take a step back from Shinji like the way he can with others, detach himself so that he's nothing more than a silent observer, happy to not interfere unless it would provide more information.
There is something about Shinji that makes him reach out. Sometimes Kaworu doesn't even realize he's doing it until he finds himself at Shinji's apartment again folding laundry or walking Shinji home with a grocery bag in his arms and helping him slice up the daikon radish for dinner. It is disconcerting; it is like trying to breathe in pure oxygen and exhaling nothing but the remnants of clouds or living with sunlight inside the linings of your chest.
One day he tells Shinji this and the other boy looks concerned, tilting his head so hair slides across his forehead and Kaworu sees the faint line of muscle curve under the skin of Shinji's neck.
"If you're having trouble breathing, Kaworu, you should go see a doctor." Shinji says worriedly. "Maybe it's asthma? Have you ever had it before? You don't have to worry if you don't have health insurance, I'll get my package to cover it—"
"No," Says Kaworu. "It isn't anything like that. But thank you for your concern, Shinji; I'm glad you care so much."
Shinji's eyes widen. "Of course I would care! You're my friend, aren't you?"
"Yes," Kaworu says. Something warm flares up in his chest at the word 'friend'. "Yes, I am aware of that very much." He says, and the affirmation in those words makes him feel strangely breathless as he says it.
Shinji huffs a sigh, kicking the ground with his feet. They're sitting on a bench on Kaworu's university campus because they had agreed to have lunch after his Introduction to Sexuality in Modern Japan class. The sky is clear as it had been all week and soft winds are littered in the air. "You're so strange sometimes, Kaworu."
"It's a side effect of studying sociology," Kaworu says with a straight face. At that, Shinji laughs. The sound is small, but it carries through, makes Kaworu suck in a breath of pure oxygen and sunshine and airless spaces, and Kaworu knows he will never love anything as he does Shinji Ikari.