When Kaworu opens his eyes, he is surrounded by light. His hand grips a slim wrist and the other is pressed against skin so hot that it burns. He barely feels his own body. Within the light, he can just faintly see Rei's face burning away before him. He does not mourn. He cannot mourn. It isn't really her.
Kaworu feels out for his AT field and shifts it, forming a shell close around the two of them. He doesn't allow himself to question how he's able to. He only knows what he must do. The field contains Rei's light and it intensifies around them in the smaller space. Their bodies are burning away. Kaworu lets his hand slid along Rei's arm and then up her neck until he can cup her cheek.
"I'm sorry," he murmurs but he can't hear himself and he knows she isn't listening. She's not really there.
Then he collapses the AT field in on itself, centering everything on his own body. Rei's begins to disintegrate in earnest under the pressure as Kaworu absorbs the massive energy generated between them. His own body feels like it's shaking to pieces trying to contain it all. Kaworu doesn't know if he will survive this. He doesn't care. If his field lets up, the entire beach will be obliterated.
Kaworu isn't sure how long it takes. He's too busy concentrating on the field and the careful absorption. He watches Rei's body slowly wither away beside him until all that's left is her arm and the hand buried in his bloodied chest. And then he watches that crumble as well. His back is burning with a heat that doesn't hurt and he feels… whole. The last of the energy soaks into him and then the field fails and he finds himself falling down and down and down…
He thinks he hears Shinji calling his name, but then there is only silence.
Kaworu drifts in a milky sea of light and strange, muffled sounds. He doesn't quite feel real and at first he's vaguely afraid that he's lost his body completely again, but then he feels fingers on his skin and lets himself be soothed by them. Sounds come and go in his limited consciousness but slowly they grow stronger, clearer.
"I don't care. I'm not going to let you-"
"Look at him. Look at those- We can't just keep him here if he could flip out like she did! Look at them! Look at what he is."
"I am looking. I don't care."
Kaworu wishes they were a little quieter, or at least that he knew what they were talking about. He concentrates on the rough cloth under his cheek and wonders why they put so many blankets on him. They're so heavy on his back.
"Fine. Fine. But he can't stay here. It was fine when we thought he was- well."
"So we move him. We could go out by the lake. What's the problem here?"
"Are you seriously agreeing with him now?"
"Hey, I know what happened and I get what's up your ass, but this is my buddy here. I ain't forgetting that."
Loud, Kaworu thinks to himself. Couldn't they have this conversation elsewhere? He wants to tell them off but he can't quite make his eyes open or his mouth move. He's so tried.
"If anyone's going to finish him, it'll be me. And I'm not interested in beating up that idiot."
"No one is hurting him. No one."
"Kids. I swear. You're all total brats."
Would you all just shut up. He wants to tell them that but he's just so tired. They go silent anyway. He's about to let himself drift back into the more comforting stillness of sleep but a touch comes to his hand.
"Kaworu?" His voice is so soft and so near. It feels Kaworu with warmth.
"Shinji… I found you…" He tries to open his eyes but his eyelids are so very heavy.
"What do you…" Shinji's confusion is adorable. "I… guess you did."
"Good." And then he sinks back into sleep.
It seems like a long time passes before he's able to truly wake up. Kaworu opens his eyes. He's laying on his stomach and the blankets are so very heavy. There are voices nearby but they aren't saying anything important. He recognizes them and relaxes. If Toji and Shinji are joking around, everything must be safe.
He doesn't recognize the walls around him. They look hastily built but strong, a mash up of wood and steel and various other materials into a fairly large space. Four beds span out along with his own on one wall and there are wobbly looking shelves on the other side, a few other things here and there.
Slowly, Kaworu pushes himself up. His chest is oddly sore. He remembers the wound but this is different. Feels more like muscle strain than anything else. And the blankets are staying stubbornly on him. He reaches back to nudge them off but instead of cloth, his fingers encounter feathers soft as silk.
Kaworu is on his feet in an instant. He flexes his back, wincing as new muscles strain to obey and something moves. Something that was not there before. It takes effort and minutes of practice, before he's able to move those somethings to where he can see them.
There are wings on his back, white feathered and breathtakingly beautiful. Kaworu stares at them and feels his stomach drop. He looks at his hands but he already knows he's changed again. He's not human anymore. He lets out a bitter laugh. One step forward, a million back.
Toji and Shinji go quiet outside. They appear at the door in an instant and Shinji lets out a noise of relief.
"You're awake-" Shinji cuts himself off as Kaworu looks at him and the relief dies. "What's wrong? Are you hurt?"
Shinji's at his side in an instant. He looks over him, taking his raised hands- looking for wounds. He's looking for wounds. Kaworu doesn't understand why.
"Shinji, I'm fine. It's okay."
"Then why are you crying?"
Kaworu blinks. He reaches up and touches his face. His fingers come away wet. But that's impossible. Angels don't cry and he's not human anymore. He's… He's crying and angels can't cry.
He looks back at Shinji but Shinji doesn't understand. He can't understand. He's so unfailingly human and Kaworu loves him so dearly for that. He drags Shinji to him, wrapping his arms around the other boy as he tucks his head to Shinji's throat. Kaworu doesn't know what he is anymore but it's okay. It's okay as soon as Shinji hugs him back.
He doesn't know what he is now. His body feels quiet and mortal and real, and the wings are certainly real. He can feel the subtly shifted muscle structure supporting them, a far cry from the forms his brothers often took. He's not really an angel anymore, either. Not the way he was. He's something different, something unique, but he dares not give it a name.
The lake is a nice home. They can barely get Asuka out of the water most days. She and Toji run around like fools while Misato works on figuring out how to distill her own hooch because hell knows she isn't going to ask the other camp for it. Of course her efforts are kept on the far side of the lake, just in case. They know she's a smart woman, but they only trust her so far. Shinji and Toji make runs to the other settlement when they need something specific, but other than that they do their own scouting and gathering. Kaworu doesn't know what caused it, but there is a distinct attitude shared by all of the pilots and Misato of us against them, considering the other camp. He's pretty sure it has something to do with him and his wings, but he hasn't had the courage to ask. Instead, he concentrates his energy on figuring out just how to use those wings.
The feathered appendages are huge and unwieldy until he manages to figure out how to fold them just so against his back. He can only spread them fully outside and he tends to spend most of the time with them half unfurled and curled around him. They're good for warding off the cold. It will take him weeks to build up the strength to use them, if he even can. He's not sure just how practical they are. Logic tells him he'll never fly but every time he sees a bird above him, his feathers quiver with the need to join it.
The others always watch when he spreads his wings, varying emotions in their eyes. Kaworu tries not to when they're around. They treat him no differently but he doesn't like unsettling them. So, he tends to exercise his wings at night, after they've settled into their beds.
Kaworu stands out at the edge of the lake. He takes in a slow breath and then flexes his muscles. Behind him, his wings carefully unfold and spread out to their full length, working out kinks from being held in all day. He sighs with relief and gives a few practice flaps. His body seems lighter a moment, heels coming off the ground, but he settles quickly after. It's a tease to feel.
He hears a soft gasp behind him and twists around, wings shifting into a protective curl around him, but it's okay Shinji. His eyes are wide, taking in the sight. Kaworu starts to fold them to his back again but Shinji blurts out, "No, wait. Leave them."
"Don't they disturb you?" Kaworu murmurs, unsure, but Shinji just walks over to him. His eyes stay on the white feathers but after a moment dart to Kaworu's face.
"…I like them," Shinji says, flushing. "So it's okay. They must get sore folded up all the time."
Kaworu shrugs a shoulder, which only shifts the wing on that side. Shinji watches with eyes that are both cautious and optimistic. Of all people, Shinji is the one with most reason to fear an angel's wings, but there is no fear on his face. Kaworu wants Shinji to always look upon him like this. He can't help but curl the wings around them both, sheltering them from the world outside. Shinji draws in a swift breath and then shivers as feathers brush his back. His gaze turns to Kaworu's face and his expression is…
"Beautiful," he murmurs.
Shinji stares at him, his eyes widening. It's all Kaworu can do to stop at taking that face into his hands.
"You led me back," he says softly and Shinji swallows. "Thank you for giving me strength."
Shinji ducks his head. "I'm not strong…"
"You're the strongest person I have ever met," Kaworu counters, brushing his thumbs along Shinji's cheeks. "It's part of why I love you."
The flush on Shinji's cheeks is expected but when he looks back up, his expression isn't. It's searching, unsure, but there is something deeper down. Something warm and wondering.
"I…" Shinji swallows again as if he isn't sure he wants his words to escape. 'About you… I…"
Kaworu's heart speeds as his mind gives him a dozen ends to the aborted statement, but he waits. He has to give Shinji time to collect himself. Whatever it is Shinji wants to say, whatever he does say, Kaworu will listen. Always.
Shinji's hands curl at his sides and then raise up to mirror Kaworu's own, taking his paler face in them. His gaze grows determined even as his voice wavers.
"Kaworu," he murmurs and that name on his tongue is a truly amazing sound. "I… love you."
Kaworu smiles. He's filled from head to toe with a deep warmth he'd never even dreamed of. Dragging Shinji in, Kaworu buries his face against the other boy's throat and hugs him tightly.
"Thank you," he manages, voice tight through the emotion gripping his heart. "That's all I've ever wanted to hear."
Shinji's arms slide around him and then don't let go.