A/N: This is a partial sequel to my previous fic The Darkness of Light, however that doesn't become apparent until the very end and thus this can still be read as a stand alone one-shot if you prefer.
"It takes repeated practice. Doing it over and over until it feels good enough to you. That's the only way."
Death stopped holding significance for me long ago. The exact amount of time was immeasurable, lost in decades of repeating events that passed only to come around once more. Though perhaps it still retained some meaning: failure and another chance, sometimes one more than the other. Regardless, I found myself often wishing that it would all just end; that my death was akin to that of the Lilin I thought of so fondly.
In the beginning, death seemed like everything. It was the ultimate yet near-unattainable prize that I could only dream of reaching. Death for an Angel was difficult to achieve, ridiculously so, and even if it wasn't, no one would let me die. I was the so-called "Angel of Free Will" yet I had none, not even over whether I lived let alone how. My life was meticulously controlled and calculated, comprised of tubes, syringes, and a sticky orange liquid that made my throat constrict uncomfortably.
Kindness and love had always been almost foreign concepts to me in those days, with what little affection I was shown being false or superficial.
Until I met you, the small brunette boy whose eyes swam with hope amidst pain. Those eyes that fell upon me as I stepped off the train were filled with a wonder I had never known, and the soft blushes that greeted me when I spoke to you coalesced into an unfamiliar yet tender affection. You were perhaps the first person towards whom I felt positively. But when you gave me words of love, I rejected them with barely more than a thought, both out of disbelief and at the knowledge of what was to come in a mere matter of hours. Of what I would have to do and reveal which would surely extinguish any loving thoughts from this blue-eyed boy.
Yet when the time of regretful betrayal came, you still didn't reject me. You begged me to stop, denying the responsibility of killing me until I forced your hand. In my final moments, I relished in the thought that it was you, the one and only person who seemed to truly care about me, who was crushing the life out of my body. The choice for it to be you was perhaps my first true action of free will, more so than swimming naked in an abandoned bay or the thin scars that ran parallel on my wrist.
I welcomed death only to awaken once more in a tube of LCL fluid with the same name and the same secondhand goal.
You were different in this world, your sapphire eyes which had held such a soft shyness now turned chocolate brown and brimming with biting hostility when their gaze fell upon me. I regarded you with curiosity as well as confusion, wondering what had been so different this time to turn my sweet boy so harsh. You fascinated me.
I suppose I am to blame for why you considered me with such disdain. In this world, I also was perhaps less kind than I had been during our real first meeting. My words were perhaps more coarse, my actions more punitive. Looking back on it, there have been moments when I have wanted to apologize for the kitten, as good as I believed my intentions at the time.
When we three pilots engaged in battle against my sibling and I felt the emotions of the seemingly emotionless girl flow into me, it filled me with a different kind of terror than that of battle. One reason for this fear was that I had come to the realization that I was incomplete. I had forgotten things from my previous life. There had already been several instances where I had noticed information missing from where I knew it should have been. The reason for their absence was a mystery; perhaps there had been some temporal problem while looping or perhaps this version of myself was simply destined to be more ignorant. But the majority of the terror was caused by a different realization. A tepid, sticky emotion seemed to consume me for agonizingly long moments before the First cast Armisael back into her Eva, destroying it along with herself. Although, up until that moment, I hadn't been able to identify it much less assign it a name, I realized that I recognized it. It was one I had only caught fleeting glimpses of and thus had chosen to ignore. I had forgotten some of my own emotions and now, experiencing them anew, they were more difficult to deny.
As you chose to spend your free time during the following days in my own room, I found to my horror that the newly remembered emotion seemed to strengthen, present in me as my own rather than something left over from the now deceased shell of a girl. When you began hyperventilating in your sleep, I saw my excuse to test if the emotions were what I both suspected and feared they were.
The feeling which I had denied so strongly before that I had thought myself incapable of possessing it was now none other than my own.
When I tried to express this "love" to you in the odd ways I came up with amidst my tumult of feelings new and old, I was outright rejected. I almost laughed at this, at the irony in how our roles had switched completely in this regard.
If only our other roles had changed as well.
Once again I, the Angel, revealed myself and once again I accepted my death by your hand. With the promise that you didn't hate me and the cruel lie that you would never forget me, I let myself fall once more into the ether of a would-be death and awaken in a body so familiar yet alien.
This world was filled with a giddy excitement masked behind a heavy veil of refined seriousness. I had regained my former intelligence and then some, much to my delight. That, paired with your once again kinder personality, gave me the confidence to verbalize some of my more positive emotions. I buried the negative ones while I could, wanting to relish in what little time I had.
And that time was far less than what I had hoped for.
One day. That was the amount of time granted to me before the Committee gave me the order: find Adam and merge with him. The act must be done. Fail and the contingency plan will be instigated. The moment I failed to descend towards Terminal Dogma, I would be swiftly taken care of. Third Impact would be started in a different way with you would be at the center of the carnage.
I didn't mind dying again. With the knowledge that I would simply awaken in a new timeline, I didn't see much difference between life and death. Death only meant a few short moments of pain and a boy who no longer remembered me. As I had discovered between the past life and this present one, the latter wasn't always a bad thing. But if I was to die, I preferred it to once again be by your hand.
In less than a day, I would be dead. There wouldn't be time enough to make a large impact on you, especially not in the way I had in my original life. In my love struck state, however, that was of little concern. As fruitless as my attempts may serve to be, I wanted you to return my futile feelings. I wanted to make up for that initial rejection.
I put on a show, tried my hardest to convey both my intelligence and feelings, being polite and princely. I addressed you by your given name and you did the same to me. I offered you a place to stay the night and you accepted. I told you I loved you. It was unkind of me, thoughtless and almost manipulative, to be purposely building a positive relationship with you only to betray you in such terrible ways. The acts were not guiltless, but even so, I was selfish. I wanted to attain what I could from this little life I had regardless of what it meant to anyone else.
When the time of departures arrived for the third time, I saw the results of these actions. You were even more unwilling than you had been in the second world, yet not to the degree that you had been in the first. Your actions were desperate, but more in the tone of desperation driven by longing to be accepted than to be loved. Your feelings, though more present than in the previous timeline, failed to parallel what the once had been. I didn't force your hand the way I once had; my death came in a way similar to the last. You made the conscious decision to end this Angel's life rather than doing so by accident. In a way, I preferred this.
Before waking again, the Angel dreamed. I dreamed of you trapped in restraints masquerading as armour, suspended hundreds of feet above the ground as terrified screams tore from your throat.
No, this wasn't right. I didn't want you to hurt like this. This wasn't what I had meant to do. I tried to cry out, trying to speak words of comfort, but found no voice with which to do so. I begged and pleaded in my mind, trying to find a way to convey my thoughts.
And then I was allowed out, only for a few moments. A body conformed itself to the shape of my humanoid vessel and my mouth curved into a soft smile as the realization and relief and love flowed through me.
"Is this better?"
A minute later, the dream shifted and I was staring down at a man, your father, who lay heavily on the floor of a dark chamber. A few words found their way to my barely lucid lips, my thoughts and actions seeming to gain a life of their own. The words were harsh, both towards him and to myself, yet they were not lies. The being seeming to control my actions almost seemed to be speaking to me through my own voice, merely pretending to speak to the cruel man before me.
Again, the dream shifted.
Water. I could tell that I was submerged in water, yet I felt no different than usual. You were in front of me, head resting on the lap of the First. A small pang of envy formed itself in my chest. A question found its way my lips and the surroundings changed, you standing before me and the First at my side. You gave your answer, but supplied a question of your own for the two of us.
"What are the two of you in my heart?"
The First's answer seemed to echo around us and, before I even realized it, I found I was answering as well.
"The words 'I love you.'"
This sprang to my lips without thought and yet, even so, held true. The I of this dream was not completely in my control; rather, I was in large part being controlled by you. So, when I said those words, they were what you really wanted to hear from me. I had not said simply what I thought I meant to you. I had spoken nothing but truth. To you, I really and truly represented someone who loved you and represented love in and of itself. That fact made my stomach do little flips of excitement.
You began speaking again, pessimistic words wishing for simple familiarity. My heart ached, wishing to be able to console you but unable to. My corporeal form dissolved with the scenery before I could fathom anything to say to you while still face to face.
What few words I spoke after that reverberated through a bizarre landscape: a blood red ocean surrounding a giant white figure whose visage smiled despite their appendages falling away from it. My formless voice spoke words of concepts I struggled to understand a free will you had lead me to be able to grasp for myself after thinking it lost.
Then I sunk once again into a dark ebbing murk only meant to be experienced once. My eyes opened once again. Again I met you, again I loved you, and again I died by your hand.
And then it happened again.
So many times that I have long ago lost count.
Some worlds are better than others. In some I have more time. In some you love me back. Some are strange, lacking both Angels and Evas. I'm able to be a Lilin in those worlds. I'm able to live a normal life. Yet even so, I find myself dying because of you.
I never blame you, not in the slightest. There are only a small handful of loops in which you willingly end my life, and in those you are already so badly damaged that I can only pity you and scorn myself for not reaching you sooner.
Many of the worlds contain similarities to past ones. There was one, not too long ago, which seemed almost to be a mixture of those first few. We bathed together like in the third world, you lost consciousness while in my presence like in the second, and you killed me in a way almost identical to first. But what I remember most clearly from that world is that I kissed you. Not an aggressive lie of a kiss as had been the case in the second timeline. This one was tender and soft, one that you accepted rather than rejected.
I always remember the worlds in which you accept me. I wish there were more. There are times when I wish those were the only ones I could remember. They're the ones that keep my going, I think.
As painful as each life I've gone through has been, nearly every one pales in comparison to the one I lived most recently.
Rather than a tube, I woke up in a coffin in complete possession of the memories from all my past loops. I awoke on the moon already aware of my goal yet reminded all the same of the separate one expected of me. It was slightly different this time; grander, spanning a longer period of time. Were it not for the old men's contingency plan, I would have stopped following their orders lives ago.
Much of this life can be summarized in a single word: waiting. First of all was waiting in the vacuum of space until everything was in place and the time of your awakening had come. I was to stop you, else you would unwittingly start Third Impact and the timeline would effectively end for me then and there.
This world was much different, you see. In this world, you weren't required to kill me. In this world, I had a chance of succeeding in my own goal.
It was after I stopped you, plunging the Spear of Cassius through the awakened Unit 01, that the real waiting began. Fourteen years of it. You spent those years asleep, suspended in a coffin of your own thousands of miles above Earth's surface, but to me, they were agonizingly long. Much of this time was spent in what was left of NERV Headquarters with little to do. There was a desolated library, but with barely anything else to distract me, I finished every book available within a few years. Even rereading those that I enjoyed most soon became dull.
After that, the only entertainment I found was through playing piano. I played compositions I remembered from previous loops – Vivaldi's Winter and Beethoven's 9th among others – but it wasn't long until even these began to bore me.
And so I composed.
I composed pieces that told of my countless lives. Ones of my many deaths, my neck tingling with the memories of so many decapitations. But most of all, ones of you: the sad-eyed boy who did as he was told despite hating it; the boy who smiled through his tears; the boy who never truly gave up despite how often he wanted to; the boy who saved the world time after time after time and, in the process, saved me.
When the time finally came and I saw you falling back to Earth like a shooting star, I composed a duet. There had been a time in the past when we had promised to play music together, I on piano and you on cello, however, as I was well aware it would, our time ran out before we were able to. There was no cello available here sadly, but even so I hoped we could still fulfill this promise as best we could.
It was just as I finished perfecting this piece, my head bowing back in satisfaction as my fingers held the final note in my part, that my gaze fell on you for the first time in what felt like an eternity.
You were still as beautiful as I remembered.
Your father summoned the three of us – you, I, and the First – and told you of what you were to do. You were told that I would act as your partner in this. When your eyes rested on me, they held nothing but confusion and I was forced to remind myself that you had no memory of our previous times together. And then the lights went out and you were lead to what was to be your bedroom, away from me.
It wasn't long until I finally was able to talk to you though. I noticed you, sitting sullenly on the ground several dozen meters above where I was, and called you down to talk, sitting you instead on the piano bench. A conversation of music. You were hesitant at first, not familiar in this loop with dancing your fingers across ivory, but with a little insistence, you were soon playing the first notes of our duet. Perhaps I was too eager, but as soon as those keys sounded their individual songs, I was beside you, playing the next notes with a gleeful smile adorning my face.
You learned quickly. In a matter of days we were playing together in harmony any time we got the chance, which was often considering the aforementioned lack of other entertainment. Little verbal conversation passed between us during that time, choosing instead to convey out thoughts through the rise and fall of the music.
And then, one evening as the sun was setting over the red ruins, you asked to watch the stars with me. In all my many lives, that was something I had done only once or twice before, and in this loop it was a first. I had stared towards the darkness of space many times in the long fourteen years of waiting, but it had never been the stars that held my interest. It had been you. Only now, as we laid side by side a few feet from one another, I saw for the first time how beautiful it truly was.
When you asked me to show you what had become of the outside world, I was hesitant. I wanted to protect you, but all the same, I didn't want to shelter you. And so I took you outside, you scrambling down the rusted, decrepit stairs as I took them unafraid, too overcome with worry about how you'd react in a matter of moments to notice the degree to which you struggled until you called my name.
I was afraid. I was so used to the fear of you rejecting me when I revealed myself to you that a part of me felt that just showing you this would be enough for you to distrust me. And yet as you called my name, willing me to return to you, it wasn't the Angel you were asking for help; it was the boy with whom you had spent hours sitting beside by no one's volition but your own. You saw me as human. That was all I could ask for. Expelling my fears and letting this knowledge wash over me, I turned and floated back up to you, taking advantage of the mist obscuring your view of me. I offered you my hand and you took it without hesitation, only relief apparent in your gaze.
When the cloud cover passed and you beheld what had become of the world, you reacted as badly as I had feared.
The next time I found you, you were pressed against the wall of your bedroom. Tears marred your face and the SDAT I had fixed for you laid discarded on the floor.
I took your burdens from you in the form of a choker intended to kill its wearer. When you felt as though everyone had abandoned you, this was my one act to prove my loyalty.
This world was much different, you see. In this world, you weren't required to kill me. In this world, I chose death by own free will.
I wasn't resigned to my death quite yet though. I had spent too long waiting for you for that to be so. I knew what had to be done to fix everything and, in the process, save us. I explained this softly to you and you praised me, a blush as light and beautiful as cherry blossoms playing on your cheeks.
We descended into Dogma and the hope of finally succeeding fluttered in my chest. But alas, it was short lived. Something was wrong. Your Spear was missing, replaced by one of Longinus. I tried to stop you, tried to tell you to turn back, that this wasn't how it was supposed to be, but you were so driven by your hope of repairing the world that you didn't listen. Instead, you rejected me, cutting off my controls so that you held complete command.
You removed the Spears and the end of the world began anew.
The choker activated.
I was going to die again.
I tried to assure you that it was alright, but how was I to convince you when I couldn't even convince myself?
I didn't let myself cry. For as much as I wanted to, I wanted even more to show you a brave face in these, our last moments together.
I promised you that we'd meet again, a half lie meant more to comfort I than you, for the next time we met you would have no recollection of this. The you that was about to watch my death would never see me again. It was unkind of me, thoughtless and more damaging to you than comforting, but it was what I needed in that moment. I was selfish.
The crystals shot towards my neck and the world transformed into agony.
When I awoke up again, you were beside me, holding me as my body was wracked with sobs. How laughable. I, who had always been so desperate to comfort you, was now having you do just the same for me.
And I fell in love with you all over again.
Just as I had countless times before.