Tabris' relationship with SEELE was partially inspired by Strauss' with the people who think they can keep him from eating ice cream, randomly going out to dinner and plotting as he pleases in Record of a Fallen Vampire. As he proves to them, it's hard to control people who know you need them and can't be bluffed.
It annoyed me, looking around for fic, how there was all this fic where the authors were trying to 'make Shinji badass' that ignored the sole person in canon who agreed with them, the one that basically said that humanity was kind of awesome and deserved to win, Shinji was a world hero with tons of admirers and so on.
It's easy to find Alternate Character Interpretations of anime!Kaworu, but almost impossible to find stuff that follows the canon. Were they watching the series/paying attention to the actual dialogue? The canon is that Kaworu believed that Shinji was strong, human life was worth living, and set out to try to prove this to him in what time he had left. But no, practically everything is Kaworu-bashing by people who were squicked by the shonen-ai. It's facepalm-inducing, seriously. Badfic authors get some random person who canonically Shinji-bashed to be the author's mouthpiece, half the time, and then turn the one person who could actually have been a mentor like that and been in character into some kind of monster who wants to bring about Third Impact when the entire point of that long death scene was that Kaworu's reaction to Third Impact was Do Not Want.
Kaworu's death hurt Shinji, yes, but a big focus of NGE is that getting close to other people inevitably causes pain. It's called life. "Life is pain: anyone who says differently is selling something." The difference between Shinji and Gendo is that Shinji is capable of getting over this. Shinji is emotionally abused constantly and continues to get up in the morning, Gendo decided to deprive everyone else of their happiness because he'd lost his. Because of this (and keep in mind that the guy doing the series was very depressed), Shinji is the strongest character in the series. He keeps going when everyone else breaks and stays broken. Shinji gets hurt and keeps going, Gendo and SEELE get hurt, then whine and try to destroy the world. Shinji is awesome by comparison.
And Kaworu is the one person who sees this and admires him for it.
If anyone doubts that Kaworu helped Shinji far more than he hurt him, I point them to the scene where Shinji decides to reject instrumentality and return to human life. To him, Kaworu is the symbol of the fact that yes, it is actually possible for people to care about each other. The other symbol of the fact life is worth living is Rei, avatar of both Yui, Shinji's mother, and Lilith, mother of humanity.
It's very possible that part of the concept for Kaworu was for him to be the anti-Gendo, the counterargument against Gendo's nihilistic and suicidal/omnicidal beliefs. As Gendo contains Adam's body, Kaworu contains Adam's mind, which could be likened to the way Yui's body was absorbed by EVA-01 and Rei is still somewhat of an avatar/symbol of her.
The good father, the one who cared about Shinji and wanted to see him live on, as opposed to… Gendo.
Not that Tabris didn't have other reasons to refuse Third Impact and get Shinji to live. Tabris is also the Angel of Free Will, and by making Shinji reject instrumentality and choose life he completely ruined all of SEELE's plans, or at least he thought so. I mean, if I was going to die, and Tabris clearly loves life, I'd want to take revenge on the way out.
Sometimes I think that the reason everything started happening at once right after Kaworu sacrificed himself is that Gendo realized that he had to act fact before Shinji grew a spine. Not to mention what Kaworu said to Rei and what she was probably thinking during that whole scene. Gendo didn't just have to worry about Shinji, he had to worry about Rei deciding to follow Kaworu's example and ruin Gendo's plans to cause Third Impact the way Kaworu tried to ruin SEELE's/the angels'/the prophecies'.
Guy tells Luke, in Tales of the Abyss, that "only a child needs love to be obvious." I really see Kaworu having to outright say that to Shinji, in Japan, where normally people are a bit more subtle about emotional displays, as proof that Shinji really does not even know what affection looks like. In the scene, Kaworu is complimenting Shinji, and Shinji just doesn't know how to deal with this. It doesn't make any sense, in Shinji's world, that someone would be nice to him. Kaworu ends up having to say I love you as an explanation. Kaworu does not go up to Shinji and say 'I love you' or say it just to say 'I love you.' He says it to explain to Shinji what the hell is going on, since Shinji doesn't recognize being admired as a hero, having someone like him just because, any of those things he should know, and really deserves to know.
"Smile: it means they can't tell what you're thinking."
Tabris had first encountered that on a list of collected Lilim sayings. It was a lucky find and incredibly useful advice, especially since most of the time what he was thinking was, "I am surrounded by idiots."
Reading through the dictionaries of several languages had paid off in many ways, but that word was one of his best finds.
SEELE had on occasion tried to control what information and activities he had access to, made attempts to brainwash him into following their goals or simply keep him away from what they considered 'useless' activities, like eating ice cream instead of nutritious… things.
Just because they were masochistic was no reason for him to be, and once he learned to smile the smile that said "I can kill you with my mind" they generally stopped trying to do things like restrict his internet access or forbid him to go for walks on the beach whenever he felt like it.
Occasionally he'd get transferred to another SEELE compound when the current one gave up trying to discipline him and another was stupid enough to think they could do better.
They kept trying to threaten him with things like grounding when he could fly or pain when they couldn't penetrate his A. T. field. They really expected him to be impressed by such ridiculous bluffs? There really wasn't anything they could threaten him with except sending soldiers after him whenever he went anywhere, and soldiers storming concert halls would cause questions they could ill afford. And really couldn't do anything more than annoy him. He was fully capable of using his field to keep them out of said concert hall until the performance was finished, and the fact they complained that this was hard to cover up was just a bonus. If they didn't want trouble, then they shouldn't have tried to make trouble for him.
And if they annoyed him too much, they were well aware that he could just take off and they'd lose what control they had.
As long as they remained the place where he crashed and his source of money for things like handmade instruments and cds they could be reasonably certain he wouldn't decide that the satisfaction of revenge for things like having mindless clones made of him & Adam's soul placed within his body would be worth the trouble of being on the most wanted list and start killing them off, one by one.
He was well aware of the fact that this grated on them even though they justified it in terms of how they were the ones in control in the end, for he would do as the prophecy stated. That it was worth annoyances like having actual chefs hired and meat in the kitchens.
Or would be worth it, when he was dead.
Not merged, dead. Why didn't they get that?
The entire idea of Instrumentality, frankly, amazed him. Why did they think all beings becoming one would end loneliness? Didn't they realize that of course a single person, all alone in the void, was going to be incredibly lonely?
And that person would not be them, so they themselves would be dead and that person would be left to mourn the entire human race.
The first time he questioned a member who was 'in the know,' one of the current 'nursemaids' trying to keep track of him, about the difference between the paradise they envisioned and actual reality, he shot themselves when he realized he couldn't refute a thing Kaworu had said, and thought that meant he was destined to be always incomplete and alone. That was not only pathetic, it was completely missing the point.
That angle hadn't been productive at all, so the second attempt he made at getting a member of SEELE to stop being an idiot revolved around pointing out that Lilim life, which contained things like music, beaches, and billions of people to form relationships with was actually pretty awesome.
She defected and spent about a month partying in Paris (although he didn't see the point of drinking: why render yourself incapable of remembering joyous experiences?) until SEELE gave up on convincing her to come back and killed her as a punishment for defection.
After that he was warned that if he drove any more of the staff to suicide or tempted them with pleasures of the flesh they would stop paying off his credit cards, and while he could get a job as an actor or in any orchestra he pleased, that would be work and involve schedules and people telling him what to do. As the angel of free will, he was mildly allergic to that.
If an actual employer got annoyed at him taking the afternoon off to go observe Lilim in another of their natural habitats, like basketball games, they could fire him and hire someone else. SEELE didn't have the option of that. He was the seventeenth angel. SEELE could try to replace him with one of those clones, the way NERV did its actually-tame angel, but they'd have to kill him first.
And the prophecies said that he would never be defeated.
So they were stuck with each other, or rather they were stuck with him.
Smiling constantly kept the entire thing on falsely-friendly terms, but most of why he stuck around was that he was constantly amazed by their idiocy. It just didn't make any sense, and it nagged at him.
They had great power, access to essentially anything they wanted: music, company, power… And yet they didn't see the value in any of it.
Upon reflection, calling them emo even in the derogatory connotation was an insult to the hopeless and suicidal. At least they only cut their own wrists.
SEELE was determined not only to close their eyes and cover their ears, give up on all the pleasures life had to offer, but also to deny them to everyone else.
Perhaps part of why he stayed here was that he simply could not explain it. Or found it hilarious, in that 'laughing because otherwise I'd have to cry' Lilim sense.
Containing Adam's soul meant that eventually his own will would be replace by Adam's. Eventually he would lose control of his body, Adam would merge with its own, and Third Impact would happen.
He did not want to be one with any of them. He refused to let the stupidity infect him.
The trouble was that as much temporary freedom he had, as much as he enjoyed every second of life, eventually the trap would close in on him. And the rest of this world.
The more he researched the group he was going to infiltrate the more he found Ikari Shinji outright amazing.
For Lilim, unlike his own kind for whom it was just a luxury, positive social interaction was a biological necessity. Lack of it was as dangerous, and eventually fatal, as lack of food or drink, water or vitamin C or sunlight.
And Shinji had been carefully kept on a starvation diet his entire life. Raised to believe that he would never be able to have what he hungered for as long as people were separate.
Ikari Gendo had done everything bar making him sleep with a tape playing subliminal messages like, "Crawl back into the womb…" to get him to trigger Instrumentality when the time came.
Laden him down with survivor's guilt on top of that, and now that he was hitting adolescence? Lack of vitamin C caused scurvy, lack of affection caused depression.
And fragility. Shinji's heart… he simply hadn't the raw materials, the memories of being valued, to make it strong. So it broke so easily, dozens of times a day, and he simply put it back together.
Melted the fragments back into a whole.
A heart of glass. Compared to the twisted hearts he'd been raised by?
SEELE had lived long lives. Gendo had known love. They'd known that joy existed and turned their backs on it. They were so depressed because they'd chosen to be, dug their own graves, while Shinji had been buried alive by so many and kept trying to dig his way out. Shinji had been kept from knowing love or seeing that there was joy to be had in life and kept on living, kept on searching for it.
When he met Shinji, Kaworu was amazed to discover that he didn't even realize that he was a celebrity. That he was admired the world over. That he wasn't weak but strong.
Nonverbal cues, compliments: he didn't understand any of it because he'd never had any of it before. Tabris ended up having to put it in the simplest terms for him. "I'm saying that I love you." That I admire you. That you greatly improve humanity's average strength and intelligence just by existing. That it's possible for people to love you, and if you ever get away from these idiots you'll have to work even harder to beat them off with a stick than I do, hero.
That your life has value.
Shinji soaked it up like dry ground did rain, and he could see smiles start to bloom, see the simple gratitude there, and the sensible ones among the Lilim agreed that there was nothing that made anyone happier than helping another. Scientifically verified, but Lilim weren't much good at listening to reason.
Being the miracle Shinji had prayed for all his life, seeing such gratitude, being looked up to wasn't a bad way to spend his last night on earth, not at all.
It was so easy to make Shinji happy. So criminally easy. When SEELE had given up on happiness and NERV had turned their backs on it long ago all Shinji needed to be happy was for someone to be there, someone to listen, and he would have struck Ikari Gendo down for that if Shinji hadn't been the one who had the right to it.
Shinji being so easy to help just made it more wrong. Made it more obvious that no one had ever tried.
So he lay here, and listened, the only sympathetic ear the boy had probably had in his life, and for the first time felt the desire to destroy this world.
But if Shinji died now, all the bullshit the young man had endured would have been for nothing, all that strength and insane endurance gone unrewarded, and that was something Kaworu simply wouldn't tolerate.
He could feel the deadline approaching, feel Adam breathing down his neck. There wasn't anything he could do about it and if he weren't smiling he'd be raging.
He went down to Terminal Dogma mainly because he could, and it got everyone's attention.
If he were a nihilist, if he were an emo bastard like them (like they'd tried to make him), he would have gone looking for it and merged with Adam's body. There was nothing that could stop him, after all, especially once Adam's mind took over. If he didn't get to enjoy beaches and music and everything this world had to offer then why should they?
Because he wasn't going to let SEELE win, obviously.
He was the last angel, but SEELE still had his clones and Gendo had his own trick up his sleeve. He had to die within the next hour (he'd cut it close, too close), and he wasn't going to be able to stop their plans.
Except that he could.
"You are like me," he had told Rei, and they both recalled those words as he looked at her now. He knew she that as she watched this from behind her own poker face she was fumbling towards the knowledge that if he had free will she did too. That she didn't have to just bow to her fate.
"You deserve to live," he told Shinji now, as she watched.
You deserve to live.
You aren't worthless. Someone cares for you enough to sacrifice their life for your own. You have value, you're worthy of this sacrifice.
I'm willing to die so that you can live.
To trade my life for yours.
It was so hard, so hard on him, but Shinji had the strength to handle it. It was breaking his heart, every second this dragged on, but he'd been broken before. Unlike Asuka, he knew how to deal, how to live on.
And he would live on.
Because if he killed Kaworu with his own hands, that would mean he'd accepted the bargain, Kaworu's life for his own, and once he had done that?
To die, to give up, would mean that Kaworu, the kindest person Shinji had ever known, the one who most deserved to live, had died for nothing, and Shinji was proving with every passing second's hesitance that he could not let that happen. Once Kaworu died Shinji would endure, would claw his way out of hell or heaven no matter how many times he was pushed there, no matter how hard Gendo or SEELE tried to make him break and stay broken.
By breaking Shinji they'd taught him how to endure being broken, by showing him that it was possible to be cared for Kaworu had ensured that he'd never give up on the hope of finding love, and even though the deadline approached he knew that Shinji would do it, would live and keep living.
And he smiled, because he'd won and because he was just that proud. It was just that amazing, after years surrounded by idiots, to meet someone this strong.
Kaworu really did think he was born to meet him. He really did think Shinji was proof that the Lilim were worth living and dying for, that the music wouldn't go unheard and the waves unseen once he was gone.
He had been born to destroy the Lilim, SEELE had said. He'd been born to defy fate, and decide his own path, he'd said. Born not to destroy but to choose of his own free will, born to find the reason why this world should live on.
And he really should be sad now, really should feel guilty. He was about to die and about to hurt Shinji, perhaps his first actual friend. But he had always known he was going to die, and this way he would die as himself, not as a part of Adam. And there wasn't anyone else he would allow to kill him.
He should let Shinji know he was sorry, but how could he be sorry he had won, had destroyed everything SEELE and Gendo had worked for in a few spare hours? How could he be sorry he'd saved Shinji's life?
As Ode to Joy echoed in his head, as he tried not to laugh with joy, Shinji crushed Kaworu where he rested in the palm of his hand.
And Tabris won, as had been foretold.