Chapter 2

Author note: Author apologizes profusely and endlessly for the complete lack of responsibility in updating this fic. I won't bore you with the details, but to anyone who has ever written a nice comment or sent an ask about this fic: I am so sorry, and thank you so much. All the positive support I've gotten really stuns me, and I treasure them all. I hope you will enjoy this second chapter and give feedback as well! I originally planned for this to have two parts, but it kind of ran away from me, and there is a third chapter impending.

This fic will feature Rei as agender and Leliel as transgender. As I'm cis myself, if I've screwed up in any way please let me know so I may fix it ASAP!

Special thanks go to morthael, who pointed out an error I made with the musical notation in the first chapter and has now been duly fixed.

"Good night," Shinji says.

"Good night," Says Kaworu. And before he can help himself he is leaning forward again, and pressing his mouth to Shinji's. Shinji's mouth is warm, softer than even the circle of skin in his palm that the cello bow never touches and a little wet, like the feeling of tears. It feels like Kaworu's head is going to fly off his shoulders and float into the sky.

A second or hour or two later, Kaworu pulls back and takes his hand off Shinji's shoulder.

"Good night," He says again, and the parting seems to come much easier to him this time. He turns away before Shinji can reply and walks down the hallway, as if nothing has happened.

But as soon as he turns around the corner out of sight he stops; the air is silent, but Kaworu imagines he can hear Shinji standing there, his face still too surprised to form a reaction when Kaworu left him, and the little puffs of Shinji's breath that had mingled with his only seconds ago. A moment later, Kaworu hears the shuffling of feet and the door closing; pushed quietly shut as the lock turns neatly and efficiently. Kaworu feels something beginning to unwind from his chest, the feeling of something—something—passing.

It feels like he has been holding a breath this entire time, and an inexplicable sense of exhilaration has suffused him now that it's been finally let out. Kaworu completely neglects his four thousand word essay on imperialism and stays up for hours, replaying that moment over and over again in his head.

He thinks about Shinji's face in the dim light of the hallway, how the top of his hair only came up to Kaworu's forehead. The warm night air settled around them and the heat of Shinji's mouth, completely different, bleeding onto his. Kissing him for that one long, impossible moment, a live wire running through their lips but also something softer and indescribable, like the shades of sunset that were Shinji's favourite colours and the final note of a sonata ending on pianissimo. Whispers of something that makes him grow warm in a way that has never happened before.

Loneliness is the incurable plague of humanity. The only solution was another form of pain altogether—the naked vulnerability of lowering the walls of your heart to another. Kaworu had always understood this. After his defection from SEELE (as well as family tradition), he'd even begun to embrace it. But Kaworu's beginning to realize now he knows very little about the true difficulties of human interaction. He feels awash in the tidal wave of waters he has never learnt to swim in, yet at the same his heart is pounding, singing, like it would never stop. And overlaying it all is Shinji, images of his face, the gentleness of his features when he smiles, his hair perpetually ruffled even when there isn't a breeze.

For the longest time, Kaworu contemplates his phone as if it might suddenly grow legs and deliver a dancing telegram to him, and then he closes his eyes and leans back, phone clutched loosely in his hand. Uncertainty and nervousness had crept over him like vines, all emotions he'd rarely felt before, as well as…fear? Fear of rejection, that he would lose everything Shinji had built with him over the past couple of months with his rash actions. 'So this is the true pain of reaching out to others,' Kaworu thinks wryly. 'I had no idea.'

'But Shinji is worth it.'

In the end, he settles on a single text: 'Would you like to have dinner tomorrow? Same time,

same place?' It's a little redundant, since Shinji and he had already made plans for dinner earlier today, but it's the least offensive thing he can think to do right now short of going back to Shinji's apartment to kiss him again, so in the end it might be better than nothing.

Kaworu swallows as a mild sense of frustration starts to build up in him. He isn't used to feeling this way, anxious and unsure and not knowing what was going on. Those are all sensations he's more used to inducing in other people.

Kaworu briefly considers talking to Leliel, but he doesn't want to deal with his sister's reaction when she finds out about Shinji. His sister had never ceased her teasing about Kaworu's lack of interpersonal relationships, and letting her (and even more apprehensively, Sahaquiel) know about Shinji is like setting off a bomb Kaworu doesn't have the patience (or emotional stability) to survive. Kaworu likes to think that he isn't easily ruffled, but there's something about his family that just makes him react, and it irks him even more because of how easily they do it.

So Leliel isn't an option. Kaworu glances over to where Suzuhara is lying on his bed, aimlessly scrolling through his music player. Suzuhara would not have been his first choice for advice—they've never been particularly close, after all, and even though their mutual connection with Shinji has made them more familiar, they still refer to each other by their family names. Besides, while Kaworu thinks it's so trivial that these things have become a non-issue with him, he isn't sure how Suzuhara would react to hearing about (much less living with) someone who has just kissed another boy.

On the other hand, Suzuhara might know about any of Shinji's past romantic excursions in high school that could offer some insight on how Shinji handled such things. And Suzuhara strikes Kaworu as someone who is gruff but fair, who judges others based on their actions rather than for who they are. Looking back upon it, Kaworu supposes he hasn't exactly been discreet about spending time with Shinji, either—he's been missing from their dorm for entire weekends—and Suzuhara has never said a word.

Worst comes to worst, Kaworu transfers, which probably wouldn't be too difficult once he let potential roommates known how little time he actually spends in the room.

"Hey, Suzuhara?"

Suzuhara grunts in acknowledgment, which Kaworu takes as a sign to go on.

"What would you say if I asked you about starting a relationship with Shinji?"

It takes a moment for Suzuhara to react, distracted by his player glitching, but when the words get through to him Suzuhara rips off his headphones and sits up, staring at Kaworu.

"Wait…what'd y'mean? Like, a relationship relationship?" The shock in Suzuhara's voice makes Kaworu think that he maybe should have approached this with a little more subtlety.

"If by that you mean a romantic relationship, then yes," Kaworu says. "I am talking about that kind of a relationship."

"That kind of relationship." Toji scoots over to the edge of his bed, looking at him with wide eyes. "Like the kind me and Hikari have? But Shinji's a boy!"

Oh, it's this whole situation again. "Yes, I am aware that Shinji is a boy, but that does not affect how I feel about him."

"Oh," Suzuhara says, biting his lip. To Kaworu's amusement, his rowdy, boisterous roommate actually looks at loss for what to do, the slightest blush appearing on his cheeks. "Oh, well, you can like what you like, Nagisa. I don't mind." Suzuhara rolls his shoulders back, trying to look casual, but then he suddenly leans forward and fixes Kaworu with a stern look. "But if I ever catch you looking at me when I'm comin' out of the shower—"

"I'm sure that won't be a problem, Suzuhara," Kaworu says, and he can't help rolling his eyes. "You are definitely not my type."

"Yeah, 'cause I'm not Shinji," Suzuhara says, and he has a grin that Kaworu can only describe with an expression he's never understood until now: shit-eating. Kaworu opens his mouth to reply, then closes it; he stiffens in shock as a rush of heat floods his face; he belatedly realizes that he's actually getting—of all things—flustered.

"Your face is getting red!" Suzuhara says, sounding delighted with the fact. "Oh, man, I didn't even know you could do that; I used to think you were a ghost or something! This is great; I can't wait to tell—" Something in his face falls. "Wait. Back in school, I was pretty sure that Shinji liked girls, though. I think he was kind of scared of Makinami, but he had this weird thing going on with Soryu, and he was always staring at Ayanami."

Their faces flash through Kaworu's mind. Shinji talked about his friends and co-workers often, but Kaworu had never thought that he might have liked them. But then again, had he ever paid attention to things such as these? It wasn't until Shinji that the flash of a smile and the artless articulation of uncombed hair began to reveal their importance to him, unfolding in portions and patches like refracted light. On some vague level Kaworu had always been aware of loving, and love, and on the subject of bestowing love to others, but he never thought it applied to him.

In the end, he can only say what he knows is true." Regardless of how Shinji feels towards Soryu or Ayanami, that would not affect the way I feel about him." Kaworu says. "It would certainly change how I choose to act, but my feelings would remain the same." The memory of Shinji's mouth under his flashes through his mind again. But if Shinji was strictly heterosexual, then perhaps I should not have kissed him.

"You what?" Suzuhara yelps, and Kaworu is given to understand that unconsciously speaking aloud was a very bad habit he should have set to correcting immediately. "Damn, Nagisa, you move fast! What happened?"

"We said good night, and then I kissed him. I left before he could say anything, though, and then I texted him to ask if he'd like to go to dinner." Kaworu holds up his phone, the little charms Sahaquiel gave him tinkling merrily. "I don't think he's replied yet."

Suzuhara stares at him in disbelief before heaving a loud sigh. "Nagisa, that ain't the way you treat a lady. Haven't you had a girlfriend before?"

"Shinji isn't a lady," Kaworu reminds him. "And I've never had a girlfriend either."

Suzuhara leans back on his bed. "Huh." He says. "I kinda figured. No offense, but you look the type."

"I never had any interest," Says Kaworu. "My sisters make fun of me for it all the time."

"You got a big family, Nagisa?"

Kaworu smiles wryly. "You could say that. I have twelve other siblings."

Suzuhara's eyes widen. "No way! Are you kiddin' me?"

"No. My parents had been quite busy before they met each other."

"Twelve siblings, jeez," Suzuhara lets out a low whistle. "And I thought I had my hands full with Sakura."

"It was a fairly hectic environment, yes," Kaworu admits. "Though as I got older, I didn't spent a of time with them. I was sent to a boarding school when I was thirteen. Human interaction became fairly limited then."

"Sounds like a hell of a boarding school." Suzuhara shakes his head. "Damn, there's a lot I don't know about you, Nagisa." He says. "I guess that's why I didn't peg you as the relationship type. You're always smiling and stuff, but you never really smile, you know?"

The observation takes Kaworu by surprise; his roommate is a lot more perceptive than Kaworu gives him credit for. There are a thousand things he would like to reply to Suzuhara with, but in the end he simply goes with, "I know".

At that moment Kaworu's phone buzzes and he scoops it off his desk. There's one new text message, and Kaworu finds himself holding his breath as he opens it:

Sent at 20:14


'Would you like to have dinner tomorrow? Usual time and place?'

Sent at 23:44


Ok, but how about the ramen place instead?

Kaworu texts back his affirmation, and his phone buzzes back later with a succinct 'okay'. His breath leaves him in a whoosh of air as Kaworu stares at his phone, a mixture of elation and nervous energy rising in him.

"Was that Shinji?" Suzuhara asks.

"Yes!" Kaworu almost gasps, surprised at the giddiness in his voice. He looks at the phone in his hand, as if the characters in Shinji's text are going to rearrange themselves into a secret message. "We're…we're having dinner tomorrow."

"Okay," Suzuhara says. "Does he sound mad or happy or anything?"

"He…sounds the way he usually does, I think," Kaworu says, and he has never more painfully aware of the fallibility of mankind until now. How is a text message supposed to convey the nuances in Shinji's face as he had texted back, the lines of his posture, every stroke of keys that had been made before they compiled Shinji's final message?

"Well, at least he said yes." Suzuhara says, shrugging. "Good luck at your dinner date tomorrow."

"Thank you," Kaworu says. The plastic on the phone is warm in his hand where he has still not let it go. "I appreciate that, Suzuhara."

At that, Suzuhara turns around to look at Kaworu, and says, unexpectedly, "Call me Toji. I think we've reached that point, yanno?"

Kaworu blinks. "Oh." He's surprised, but not in a bad way. "Then please feel free to call me Kaworu as well."

"Gotcha." Toji stretches and lies down on his bed, throwing the sheets over his legs. "Night, Kaworu."

"Goodnight." Kaworu says, and he can taste Shinji's lips in those words.

Kaworu spends the next day alternating between a state of hypersensitivity and dozing off in class; his body's way of demanding recompense for the previous sleepless night. He keeps a hand in his pocket at all times, curled anticipatorily over his phone, but it never goes off. When classes end Kaworu manages to fit in a two-hour nap and a quick shower, and then he sets off to the ramen place.

Thinking back upon it, Kaworu realizes this is actually the first time he and Shinji have gone for ramen together. They've both eaten there before—Shinji with Misato and everyone else, Kaworu on his random excursions in town when he didn't feel like doing work—but never together. Together, they've rarely eaten out: they had always eaten in Shinji's apartment instead.

Kaworu arrives ten minutes early and quickly gets a table for two. He plays with his chopsticks as he waits, alternating between glancing at the door and looking back to his phone lying on the table. There is a sensation akin to bubbling in his stomach as Kaworu waits; he feels like a pot set to simmer, heating up as whatever is inside boils closer and closer to the edge. He's nervous. The feeling is there, all right, and it's something he hasn't really felt since his first semester at university when he was still uncertain and raw, trying to burn away all dregs of SEELE from his life and half-convinced this wouldn't work and he would never live past thirty.

But that time it had worked out and Kaworu knows that this time it will, too. He knows Shinji, and he knows Shinji will come (he hopes Shinji will come) and they'll have dinner together (Shinji will probably order the tonkotsu ramen—yes, the tonkotsu certainly looks good) and they'll talk and when the time seems right Kaworu will—

"Kaworu!" Shinji suddenly appears before him, out of breath as he drops his bag down to the floor before pulling up the chair across Kaworu. "Sorry I'm late."

Kaworu glances at the clock, where the long hand has just reached one minute past eight. "No, you're perfectly on time." He says. "I'm the one that arrived too early."

Shinji looks at the clock as well, and then gives Kaworu a sheepish smile. "Oh," He says, looking down at the table with that little smile still on his face. "Well, I guess it's a good thing since you managed to get us a table. " Shinji jerks his head to the tables around them, all of them occupied.

Kaworu smiles back. "I do my best," He says, voice light. He meets Shinji's eyes. Shinji's face reddens and he hastily scoots his chair back with a large scraping sound. "We should order!"

Shinji flags down a nearby waiter and buries his face in a menu so that only the tips of his ears—endearingly red—are visible. Kaworu glances down at his own menu and carelessly orders the first thing he sees before his eyes dart back to Shinji as the other boy mumbles out his order as well. The waiter nods and melts away—but not before taking the menus with her.

Without the cover of the shiny laminated plastic Shinji drops his head and keeps his gaze down, watching his fingers tap out an erratic rhythm on the table top with an uneasy expression on his face.

Kaworu's heart sinks. "I'm sorry." He says, and Shinji looks up, startled.

"Huh? What are you sorry for?" Shinji looks at him in confusion.

"You're obviously uncomfortable," Kaworu says, trying not to let the unhappiness seep into his voice. "I don't know whether it's the setting, or maybe I'm the one—"

No!" The vehemence in Shinji's voice makes it grow loud, causing the table next them to glance over, but Shinji doesn't pay them any attention. He leans across the table and locks his eyes onto Kaworu's. "Kaworu, you haven't done anything wrong at all! You've been so good to me all this time, so you shouldn't be apologizing like this, especially since…" Shinji flushes, but he doesn't look away. "You're the person I always feel the most comfortable with." He slumps back down on his chair. "I'm really sorry I made you feel like that. I don't know what's wrong with me."

"Shinji, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you," Kaworu says firmly. "And you shouldn't be apologizing either, especially since I think I'm the one who precipitated this reaction in you." Even though it causes a knife-sharp twist of nervousness in his stomach, Kaworu leans forward, lowers his voice, and asks, "Is it because I kissed you yesterday?'

Almost on cue, Shinji turns bright red. His mouth opens and closes, rounding around silent words as they look at each other. "Um," Shinji says, and his voice is wobbly and embarrassed. "Um, sort of, I mean, but not really—I mean, ever since then—" Shinji breaks their gaze and glances at the people around them. "C-could we talk about this later? Somewhere private, please?"

Kaworu feels as flushed and emotional as the red on Shinji's cheeks, but he forces himself to stay calm as he softly says, "Of course." With Kaworu's affirmation, Shinji goes back to acting the way he did before, eyes fixed on the table top with the lines of shoulders wired and tense. This time, Kaworu doesn't say anything; he swallows, instead, trying to move past the ball of worry and self-doubt slowly growing inside him. He wonders what could be so agitating that Shinji is unwilling to disclose it here; judging by the way Shinji is right now, Kaworu does not think it will be positive.

Their food arrives with little fanfare. Shinji barely eats half his noodles before he says he's done, and spends the rest of the meal stirring around his bowl so dejectedly that Kaworu has trouble eating his own dumplings. When the bill comes, Shinji insists on paying, even though it had been Kaworu's turn this time.

When Shinji stands up he looks like the boy Kaworu first met outside the music store, self-defeat heavy on his shoulders like a cloak and eyes downcast. The only thing he says is, "We should go back to my apartment."

They walk back in silence. Kaworu wants to ask what's wrong, but he's acutely aware that the answer is probably him. The knowledge rests deep in his stomach like a stone and keeps him from reaching for Shinji as they finally stop in front of his apartment door.

But Shinji doesn't turn the knob. He stands statue-still, expression hidden, as his hands periodically clench and unclench in a way Kaworu knows he is burdened. Neither of them speaks. Kaworu is used to silences, but this silence is one he can't stand.


"Yesterday night, you kissed me, didn't you?" Shinji says abruptly. His face is turned away, but his voice seems to echo into the hallway throughout the night. "Right here, at this spot." And he gestures to the door before them. "You said, 'Goodnight', and then you." Kaworu can hear Shinji swallow, imagine the bob of his throat as the breath travels down. "You kissed me."

"…Yes," Kaworu keeps his voice even, but his heart is pounding so frantically in his chest it seems to rise up in his throat. "Yes, I did."

Their conversation lapses into silence again, and Kaworu can tell Shinji is nervous, but he doesn't know why, why is Shinji so—

"Why?" Shinji's voice seems to so seamlessly mirror his thoughts that for a moment Kaworu thinks he hears his mind echoing back to him and it takes him a minute to answer.

"Why I kissed you?" Kaworu says carefully, trying to parse out his thoughts. When Shinji gives a short, abrupt nod Kaworu can feel his insides scrambling into an array of wild disorder, trying to compose himself. The answer to Shinji's question is of course one that he's known a long, long time ago, subtle and hidden yet almost painful in its clarity, but Kaworu hesitates at saying it because of how overwhelming it is. Something so big, so frighteningly intimate.

But Shinji had always been so brilliantly open with him, with his fears; with his father; Shinji was brave enough, Shinji trusted him enough—

"It's because I love you." Kaworu says quietly, and Shinji stiffens. Silence envelops them. The expression on Shinji's face is one of quiet shock, like he can't believe this is happening, and Kaworu desperately wants to reach out and take his hand to reassure him.

Instead, Kaworu says, "I love you" again, and again Shinji reacts visibly to those words, seizing up like his joints are wound too tight for his body. His face turns away so his expression is half-dipped in shadow, and it is all Kaworu can do to restrain himself from reaching out to rest his hand on Shinji's face.

"I've never met anyone like you, and I think everything about you is wonderful. I think about you, about your everything. Your strength, your fragility..." Kaworu takes a deep breath, wonders if his heart will fly out of his chest. "'ve earned my empathy." Thoughts that have been tumbling around his head for months now, finally fluttering loose from his mouth even as Shinji slowly turns around to look at him.

The silence that hangs between them is vast and expansive, spanning the entire length of the hallway, but it feels strangely intimate as well; Kaworu can hear every breath that he and Shinji are making, like secrets they are whispering to each other.

But then the quiet shatters as Shinji finally expels a loud, stuttering breath that's loud and gusty, halfway between a gasp and a wheeze. Kaworu starts to worry (was Shinji hyperventilating? Did he need CPR? Kaworu knew he should have signed up for that first aid course when he had the chance—), but then, as he sees Shinji's shoulders shake and his eyes crease in mirth, Kaworu belatedly realizes that Shinji is laughing.

"…Shinji?" Kaworu asks uncertainly, glad to see the smile on Shinji's face but at the same time so very confused.

Shinji holds up a hand to indicate he's heard him, then takes a deep breath and seems to compose himself. "Jesus, Kaworu," Shinji says, taking a step towards him. "What kind of person uses 'empathy' to say 'I love you'?" But Shinji's voice is teasing, and when he looks back up at Kaworu, his eyes are full of warmth. "Oh, thank God…I'm so glad…"

Kaworu's heart is thumping very quickly, now, somewhere between a staccato rhythm and a half beat. "Glad?"

Shinji blushes. "When you kissed me yesterday, I thought you regretted doing it because you walked away so fast. And then you asked to have a dinner." Here, Shinji's face crumples in a way that makes Kaworu's chest ache. "I was sure you were going to say you wanted to stop spending time together, and—and you were going to leave."

Kaworu blinks. He can only stand there as a torrent of emotions bursts through him like a flood: shock, frustration at himself, a fierce protectiveness that wells up at the hurt in Shinji's eyes, and a leaping joy that tears through his ribcage and floods his heart. "No—never," He says, stepping forward to take Shinji's face in his hands. "I would never want to stop being with you, I—you're the most important person in my life, as well. And I would never regret kissing you, either, I'm sorry, I should have thought about what it must have seemed like. It's just that I was embarrassed at myself for being so sudden, and doing it without warning. I thought—I thought I had upset or disturbed you when I kissed you."

"Oh!" Shinji says, and Kaworu can feel Shinji's blush spreading through his hands. "Oh, um, you didn't have to worry about that. You didn't. Upset me, that is." Shinji's hand reaches out to cover the hand Kaworu has over his right cheek. He slowly lowers their hands from his face and twines their fingers together, sending heat rushing through Kaworu's body. "In fact, it was more like the opposite."

"The opposite?" Kaworu whispers. His body is definitely agitated now, burning with anticipation while his heart freefalls and the only thing he can see or think of now is Shinji, Shinji, Shinji

Shinji huffs out a small laugh. The sound is the most beautiful Kaworu has ever heard. "Yeah," He murmurs, his face leaning closer. Kaworu finds himself moving forwards, as well, heady with a sensation he's never experienced before. "Sort of like," And Shinji kisses him.

Kaworu's heart goes very still and then it just stops. It stops, then it feels like his entire body has been gripped by the most curious, wonderful sensation of soaring, that everything around him is tumbling down and hollowing out and floating up higher. The kiss is soft but firm; their mouths move easily together, light but with a gentle pressure that makes Kaworu's head spin. Shinji leans his body into Kaworu's so he can feel Shinji's heat through the folds of their clothes. Kaworu instinctively tightens his hand over Shinji's cheek so he can press their faces closer, and Shinji's hand comes to curl gently over Kaworu's back.

When they break apart Kaworu can't help whispering Shinji's name into the minute space between their lips and Shinji shivers, like the words have physically touched him. They are still pressed close together like the world has tilted on its axis. "If you want, you can stay over." Shinji murmurs. He rests his head on Kaworu's shoulder, and all Kaworu can do is say yes and hold him tighter.

Shinji turns red when Kaworu suggests they wouldn't need the spare mattress, but he does not stutter when he says, "No, I don't think so either," and looks back at Kaworu with a small, shy smile that makes Kaworu's heart expand against his chest again. It is almost with reverential cautiousness that Shinji places Kaworu's pillow on the bed, and the joy of seeing that second pillow next to Shinji's is only eclipsed by feeling the mattress dip under the weight when Shinji gets in beside him.

"Good night," Shinji whispers to him. They are lying on their sides facing each other; the lights are closed and the moonlight is coming in thin slivers over the room, but Kaworu does not feel the least bit tired.

"Good night," Kaworu whispers back, and his arms are reaching forward before he can even finish speaking, moving to frame the hair on Shinji's face and settling on the curve of his shoulder. Shinji stiffens but does not flinch away; after a moment, the mattress dips again and Shinji's arms settle slowly around him as well. He rolls forward so their knees knock against each other and there is only a sliver of heat in the space between their bodies and they are gently cradling each other like dreams.

Shinji's sheets are soft and warm, but all Kaworu can feel is Shinji's weight in his arms and the other boy's eyes fixed upon him, soft and dark and blue, looking back at him in such a way that Kaworu feels the only reason he's alive is to return Shinji Ikari's gaze.

He doesn't know how long they stay like this, only that none of them talk; the only sounds are the rustle of cloth as they adjust the sheets and move closer to each other. At one point their legs end up entwined, Kaworu's feet lazily tracing the knob of Shinji's ankle and the hollow of skin right underneath it while Shinji curls his hand against Kaworu's chest. Kaworu falls asleep with the feeling of Shinji's fingers carding through his hair.

The next morning he wakes up the gentle sound of something sizzling. Still in his shirt and long boxers, Kaworu tosses the sheets off his hips and walks into the kitchen to find Shinji at the counter, dropping mackerel in a pan. Shinji is in his pyjamas as well, with an apron is tied loosely around his waist. When he turns around Kaworu can almost count each point of sleep-ruffled hair sticking out before he's had a chance to brush them down.

They have seen other a thousand times before like this before, but Kaworu swallows as Shinji's eyes widen.

"O-oh! Good morning," Shinji says, and his voice is soft, barely louder than the mackerel grilling. There's an expression on his face, wary but half-hopeful too, like he's watching a wounded bird take flight. When Kaworu takes a step forward and Shinji visibly tenses, he realizes that the wounded bird may be Shinji. Kaworu doesn't need to glance away to know that Shinji is keeping one eye on the doorway, that his heart is readying itself to shatter in case Kaworu is going to walk out of his life.

Kaworu walks towards him instead. He steps forward and pulls Shinji into his arms, hugging him so tightly he can feel every crook in Shinji's body and every shake in his breath. Kaworu rests his head on Shinji's shoulder, fighting the huge wave of emotion that overwhelms him as he feels Shinji's arms wrapping around Kaworu's back, anchoring them together on the dingy tiles of a kitchen floor at ten thirty on a Saturday morning.

"Good morning," Kaworu whispers, and he's sure Shinji can hear the almost-tears in his voice, because then Shinji hugs back tighter.

They were together from the very moment their heads collided on that rainy September afternoon, and since then the way they have been together has been growing, changing. Everything is simply a chart that only goes up, a sea that grows wider as they discover and unlock new pieces of each other while understanding and treasuring the old ones. After that day, Kaworu learns to grow familiar with the curve of Shinji's back as he sleeps, the grasp of his fingers, and so many other beautiful things as well. There's a new kind of trust in Shinji's eyes now, an easiness to the way he smiles and the way he lets Kaworu hear his heartbeat as he laughs, and Kaworu knows this new progression deserves nothing short of adoration.

They stop pretending Kaworu doesn't live here anymore. Shinji gives him half the closet in addition to the row of drawers he's already had for overnight stays, and Kaworu brings back his favourite set of sheets from his dorm.

They have dinner with Misato one night and she jokes about getting Shinji to move back so she can keep an eye on them. They laugh as Shinji groans, but Kaworu doesn't miss the way she conspicuously reaches inside her jacket for lipstick to show the sidearm she has hidden there. They have dinner with Rei, too, who Shinji shoos out of the kitchen ten minutes into preparation and, to Kaworu's amazement, calmly recites a quote for every philosopher he can name.

At the end, Rei says, "I asked Shinji not to say anything, so you have both been using 'she' and 'her' to refer to me. But the truth is I do not feel like a man or a woman or anything else. I am simply myself." Ze and hir pronouns, Rei says, and Shinji helps him practice until the words are familiar on his tongue.

"Ze talked to me about this, and I said ze could trust you," Shinji says later. The faith Rei has in Shinji, and the faith Shinji has in him makes Kaworu's heart swell with affection. Shinji has always said that Rei is welcome to drop by any time, but only after that dinner does Rei actually start showing up. Once or twice Kaworu considers telling hir about Leliel, but decides it isn't his business to divulge.

They also go on what Shinji jokingly refers to a double date with Asuka and Mari, though Asuka had whacked him on the head when he said so. Asuka calls him 'homo boy' at various intervals. Shinji reprimands her but Kaworu just smiles—he can give as good as he gets. In a strange way it's nice to have someone to bait and tease again, and Asuka's annoyance makes Shinji laugh. Mari sits back and smiles and they fall into a rhythm where she makes increasingly suggestive comments at him and he deflects them all. Shinji is flaming red at the end of it.

Through it all, Shinji is careful not to ask about any of Kaworu's friends or family. Sometimes he will say something and catch himself, conspicuously glancing over to see if Kaworu has noticed. Kaworu usually does, but he still isn't strong enough to offer the information on his own. One day I'll tell Shinji everything. He vows. He makes promises and changes his mind, bickers and debates with himself constantly. If Shinji asks me, then I'll tell him. Sometimes, when he thinks too long about it the subject makes him feel sick, almost as if it was a physical aberration. And in a way, it is.

But Kaworu takes a deep breath and reminds himself what is always the most important: that such things happened, and are no longer happening. All around him are reminders of how everything is constantly changing and moving forward, markers to the mutability of life and humankind. His sociology textbooks, the moon shining bright above the student apartments, the cheap rubber of his shoes, Shinji.

Kaworu won't ever go back to Germany, and he hasn't spoken to Adam in at least three years, but when Shinji smiles and hands him a bento, all Kaworu can see or hear is welcome home.

One day they are sitting on the living room floor as Kaworu dog-ears his textbook and Shinji is reading a report of some kind. All is quiet, but then Kaworu gets bored and he uses his feet to tickle the back of Shinji's leg.

"Kaworu!" Shinji turns around and his leg bats back, until their legs are tangled and they are lying hip to hip with the pale afternoon sunlight streaming in from the balcony. Their faces are close—Kaworu can each eyelash sweeping over when Shinji blinks, and his cheeks are rosy from laughter.

"They want me to put in more hours for training," Shinji murmurs as he catches a strand of Kaworu's hair and brushes it back. "I don't have enough muscle mass."

Kaworu puts his hands on Shinji's shoulders and trails them down his arms and against his torso, Shinji's protest cutting off as his breath stills and Kaworu's fingers gently trace every dip and curve of his body and come to rest on his waist.

"You're perfect." Kaworu says, and Shinji blushes, still so unused to the truth of his beauty.

"I, um. I think you're really cool, too." Shinji says quietly. The hand on Kaworu's face is gentle—Kaworu is sure it was made to lie there.

Kaworu shifts forward and snuggles close. "Is this okay?" He breathes out, loosening his hands on Shinji's waist.

Shinji nods. "It feels…really nice, actually." He says. His face is red, but there is no hesitation in his movements as Shinji reaches out and brings their bodies closer.