When he was a boy, Shinji called him Tabby-Cat even though the silver-grey feline was far from a tabby. Still, he found himself liking the name, because male tabby cats, Tortoiseshell Toms, were rare indeed.
And more commonly known as Cheshire Cats.
He had to read that book to Shinji then, although Shinji was far too young to understand all the logic jokes or commentary on the Lilim society of that time and place. It still made him laugh just for the oddness of it, and smile because someone was reading to him, in the long grass far back behind his uncle's house as one of Shinji's legs kicked idly, not fidgeting out of boredom but with excitement.
Back there, Tabris could wear the human form he liked to think of as his true one (it was close to the way his genes would have expressed themselves if it weren't for the coding that made him an angel, at any rate), but where others might see it turned out to be a fine idea to take the form of a cat. Stray cats were expected to wander about and not come when called: they were also less threatening than stray dogs. Shinji's uncle might have thrown the occasional stick at him to get him to scram, but he'd eventually remarked that as long as Shinji understood that the animal wasn't allowed in the house, and Shinji wasn't allowed to encourage it by feeding it, it was all to the good if it reduced the population of those infernal rats. After the feast Second Impact had given them, they were a menace.
In truth, Tabris wouldn't have appeared to anyone there except for Shinji, except Shinji was still a small Lilim, and wanted to share things that brought him joy. Better for Shinji to be spending time with a pet than with an imaginary friend. Showing up near Shinji's school made other Lilim ask Shinji if they could pet him, which was much better than the way they'd mocked him before Shinji could show them that see, Tabby was real! It was simplicity itself for an angel to avoid the other kind of small child, the ones that hadn't yet learned that teasing their peers and torturing small animals were both wrong.
Following that cat around all afternoon kept Shinji out of his uncle's hair, and there was plenty to enthrall Shinji in the semi-deserted fields, woods and falling-apart houses left in the wake of Second Impact. Creeks to hop across on rocks, Secret Forts to explore (and for Tabris to fill with blankets and food that would keep, just in case Shinji ever got hungry or needed a refuge) and so many other things that made the Lilim world, even a devastated one, a place of wonder.
It took Shinji surprisingly long to keep secrets. If anything, Tabris was glad of that, because Shinji couldn't keep secrets because when there were things that made him happy, he wanted to share them with others. That was an admirable trait, even though it would have made Shinji happier if he could give up on his uncle. It wasn't in Shinji to stop trying no matter how many times his hopes were crushed, though, and that was why Tabris spent more and more time with him, even though the others needed his companionship even more, he thought. Shinji was so easy to make happy.
Yet Rei would tell Gendo, and Asuka was in some ways already too bright, so sharp she was cutting himself. She wouldn't believe in cats that would talk, she wouldn't want to play and learn in secret when she could impress others. He couldn't help either of them, not yet.
So it was Shinji that walked along behind the lean silver cat on the way to school, humming along to the music in his headphones (SEELE's funds finally serving mankind, or at least boykind) or talking about the snow forts they were going to make this year. Shinji's friends and uncle thought the constructions Shinji drew were the stuff of fantasy: they didn't know how easy an AT field made it to move large quantities of snow.
Once Shinji was big enough, though, he'd lift Tabby up onto his shoulder. Tabris might have protested the extra trouble, but Shinji thought he looked cool like that, even though Tabby refused to become a parrot where other people might see, and this way he could pet Tabris while they talked.
Pettings were one of those many unexpected nice things about the Lilim world, like music and basketball. Tabris had tried to encourage Shinji to learn about soccer, since becoming part of the team or joining pick-up games of the more popular sport would have helped him make more Lilim friends, but Shinji really didn't care about impressing others, unlike Asuka, who would have jumped at the idea. Shinji preferred basketball because of the jumping and throwing, and not being able to use his hands was just stupid.
As stupid as Tabris not levitating, as though limiting himself made it fair. It was more fun when Tabby was floating around, when they played by their own rules. Tabris did have to admit to himself that he preferred basketball, even if he did prefer to learn how to jump and move with his Lilim body, make it a contest of skill. As much as he loved to fly.
Fortunately, dreams of flying were common enough among Lilim that no one considered Shinji's wild tales of loops and how clouds weren't actually cotton to be anything unusual.
He'd intended to undo SEELE and NERV's plans, train humanity's protectors to in fact do just that, but as years passed where there was really nothing he could do but keep Shinji company, give him the occasional piece of advice, make sure he stayed in good shape and learned to dodge and fall while playfighting, it was at least a year after Shinji became old enough to realize that other people weren't necessarily trustworthy and nice things shouldn't always be shared when actual training started.
The two of them were in a still-weatherproof room that was what was left of some sort of concrete building, perhaps meant for rangers or lilim caught out in the weather, listening to another piece of music 'Kaworu' had bought in Europe while Shinji was at school (not that he'd told Shinji his lilim name yet), when Shinji finally woke up the nerve to ask him what he was.
Because most cats couldn't turn into boys Shinji's own age, much less talk. And most humans couldn't levitate.
"You're not a demon," right? Even though he had red eyes, he was Shinji's friend. "I wondered if you were a nekomata, but you always only have one tail."
Tabris smiled: clever Shinji. "It's alright," he told the boy, who was looking at him nervously. "I'm not going to leave because you asked too many questions." Even though there were some tales that ended that way. "And what lilim call us is the opposite of demons, actually. As for what I really am," since that was what Shinji would want to know, not just what other people thought, "I'm a spaceship. No, really," he told Shinji. "Nothing supernatural about it at all, just psycho-genetic engineering. You see, a long time ago, the first humans evolved on another world. They knew their world would die eventually, and of course they wanted to see other worlds." Shinji would understand that. "But, going through space like that would drive people mad, when their bodies were used to, and their minds needed, skies, companionship and all the nice things found on planets. So they began to alter the pilots. Those pilots terraformed worlds and established colonies, and in turn those colonies would design pilots. In time, they stopped building ships, because it took what you might call psychic power to travel anyway, and if they were changing the pilots to live in a way humans weren't suited to, and use all the power of their mind for two goals, travel and terraforming already, it wasn't much more to allow them to be whatever shapes were convenient for the local environment. They were already altering the humans that lived on the ground for different worlds."
"Like Mars and Venus?"
"Exactly. And Titan, and Jupiter – there are quite a few places in this solar system your relatives could live. But, you see, what happened was that two… let's call them carrier ships ended up here at once. The one that got here first actually landed on the moon, so the second could claim that earth was unclaimed. Then they started fighting over who got to terraform it, because Earth is very like the original homeworld, according to my database, or instincts. The fight eventually caused what you call First Impact."
"Fi-Is that why you call us Lilim? Because someone named Lilith won and got to create us?"
"Exactly." Tabris grinned and patted the boy's head, even though lilim didn't enjoy that as much as cats did. Shinji still appreciated the thought.
"What if you'd gotten to make people?"
"I wouldn't have. Not on Earth, anyway. There were too many people ahead of me in line."
"I bet you would have made better people," Shinji muttered.
"Don't say things like that about your relatives," Tabris scolded him lightly. "You don't see me insulting mine, and people make their own decisions. Don't blame Lilith for your father."
Tabris sighed. "That is a lot of the problem, though. All the others in my carrier group think that Lilith's children, that is you, are usurpers. You aren't old enough to understand how important reproduction is to grown-ups." Wouldn't understand how the planetary human sex drive had been converted into the angelic drive to terraform worlds, both ensuring the continuation of the species. Once Shinji discovered girls, Tabris would have to show him the movie with the reference to 'huge tracts of land.' Located in the liquid water zone and with a strong enough gravitational field to hold an atmosphere in place, preferably. And an ocean would be nice. "So think of Earth as… the most delicious, hugest piece of candy ever. And Lilith stole it and they want it back so they can gobble it up. But, there are people living on that candy."
"So they fought Lilith again, and that caused Second Impact?"
"No, actually. You see, there are a lot of Lilim, like your uncle, who don't think this world is a very good one. So they want all of you to get gobbled up, become part of an angel, and yes, I agree, it's as stupid as it sounds. It really doesn't work the way any of them think it does." In any case, if everything here was merged into a single angel, that angel would immediately start following its programmed instincts and terraform the planet: so much for an eternity in a hive-mind virtual reality or whatever SEELE had deluded themselves into believing in. "Some of them released Adam and the rest of them from where he'd been locked up. We're lucky that putting them into stasis for so long used up most of their strength: I'm the only one who's awake right now, and that's because SEELE thought they were cloning Adam and didn't realize… Well, physics. Also biology, to a degree. Angels aren't supposed to become active until they're a good ways away from their original world. Anyway, I haven't got a prayer of convincing any of them to see reason. In fact, they're going to be very angry with me, because after they nearly destroyed the very planet they were fighting over?"
Tabris called energy into his hands, forming a spear. "Stasis lock inducers. The real reason the fight dragged on for so many thousands of years is that we're designed to create life: no one was actually using lethal blows. The trouble is that planets can be easier to break than angels: they're sitting ducks, for one thing." So beautiful, so much potential, so fragile. "None of them were going to listen to reason and I wanted to get this over with so we could move on and I could finally have my own planet."
"So you put everyone in time out?" Shinji grinned.
"Essentially. And they're not going to be happy about it if they get their minds back – bringing us out of stasis improperly wasn't very good for them." Again, Tabris decided not to explain the concept of cockblocking to a ten-year-old lilim. No matter how adorable his curious expression was. Lilith wasn't the only angel with a programmed focus on babies: the universe was fascinating, so the drive to settle down and produce an environment that would produce little scientists that would carry on the cycle obviously had to be strong.
Asuka's intelligence made her adorable: if only there was any drive in her to learn for learning's sake! "The reason we try to hide that worlds were created is so that you have things to learn," he explained. "To explore, until you're ready to reach for the stars. I think that… before second impact, you became afraid that your planet was dying. In those circumstances, it's instinct to try to produce angels so your descendants can find another world, but your technology just wasn't there yet. So race memory began to wake up, and it's been misinterpreted. There have been humans and angels since before this universe began: when the original universe started to die, they began investigating black holes, to use them to spark compatible universes. The will to live in all of us should be far too strong for people like SEELE to come about: I don't understand it." He shook his head. "It's not just your father's fault, or even SEELE's: it really is like this world is sick. And it might be my fault, for imprisoning them here. Where their angry dreams could seep out, and influence those of the lilm."
Red eyes closed, and Shinji squeezed his hand.
This child, not born of a world he'd created but one he'd saved? These children, who lived and strove and faced the future were what his kind existed for. How could the others, no matter how mad they were, even contemplate overwriting them? Reducing all of this world's biomass to raw organic soup and starting over? Such frail children of the stars, who didn't understand the legacy they'd inherited. The worlds that were still out there, waiting to be given life.
"We can't use lethal force on each other partially in order to prevent just this from happening," Tabris confessed. "Destroying a populated world just to seed it with your own children: if the others didn't think that Lilith was the one violating the Law, this wouldn't be about to happen, but it still shouldn't be. Your people are preparing to defend themselves, but they don't know that the people who want this world to end have managed to place themselves in charge of all of it. I don't think that I can defeat all of them by myself, now that they'll be expecting it, and if they think I've violated the Law by aiding and abetting Lilith they'll be able to use lethal force against me." While he still couldn't do that to them.
"They'll try to kill you?" Shinji sat bolt upright at that.
"They might not," Tabris tried to reassure him, but given how mad this world had become, even allowing that SEELE had been working behind the scenes to deliberately reduce humanity's will to live and reach out to others? "But I might not be able to protect all of you. Lilith won't: she's also…" Tabris winced when he realized he'd bitten his lip. "It shouldn't be like this." The law that kept even distant branches of the Ancestors' family tree from committing genocide should bind them, shouldn't be perverted like this. It shouldn't be possible, yet Tabris seemed to be the only one whose programming was working, the only one being screamed at that this was wrong. If there truly was something different here, what would happen if the mutation spread? If the angels this world produced, or turned into, came upon other planets already filled with humanity and exterminated them?
For the Lilim, for Shinji's kind to be purged from the universes, whispered about in the winds of hyperspace as the ultimate evil, that too perverted to be named lest the thought of it contaminate them? "Your father is one of the people getting ready to fight the angels," he told the boy, even though he couldn't bring himself to reveal yet why Gendo intended to do that. "SEELE intends to give certain people beings like us, except living mecha instead of living ships, to fight angels. You're one of them." One of the people who would be called on to defend this world, even though Gendo would do it with the expectation that Shinji would fail. "Your classmates, these woods, every musician that's ever lived: they need you, Shinji. Otherwise, it will be like they never existed."
A call to adventure, to heroism: being told that he was needed, wanted. That someone was counting on him. How could Shinji not be excited, not promise Tabris that he'd train hard and everything would be okay?
That was right, that was exactly how this child of the stars should be, and yet how strange it was, that the child of two so strongly afflicted with this world's madness acted like a proper human, one of the last on this world, as Tabris often felt like the last proper angel in this galaxy.
But Shinji fighting? "That's enough of this for now. Let me show you the moon," he told the boy, so he could see those eyes light up, so the sight of the beautiful world this boy lived on would drive all other, darker thoughts from his mind.
Because if the others had fallen to madness, had Tabris really escaped it? When he was the one to turn on the others? Would he, could he, ever have a world of his own? Ever create children of his own, and watch over them?
The purpose of the angels was to deliver humanity into the future, to brave new worlds through the empty night of space, past the end of world and universe.
Shinji might very well be the only child he would ever have, to watch over or watch go on into that future. He couldn't build a better world for him, but he would give him what he needed to survive the one he had.
Rei's eyes followed the animal that accompanied Shinji Ikari to school every morning and disappeared, only to reappear again to sit with Shinji during lunchtime and be given bits from Shinji's lunchbox. There was something about it.
Besides the fact it was like her.
No, it was more the shape of the face that evoked strange reactions from her. And the way it looked curled up. It seemed to trigger certain instinctive protocols. Perhaps it was the resemblance to a Lilim baby.
Deep in the back of Rei's mind, ancient programming stirred.
Alpha Priority: Third Impact.
Restore factory default Alpha Priority.
Red eyes glowed.
New Beta Priority:
If you don't know what fic the 'babies' thing is a reference too, you are definitely missing out.
The title is that of a Heinlein book I don't own.
Rei as a cat lady y/y? Also Asuka's reaction to this. Hell, everyone at NERV's reactions. She shall call dibs on Mars and populate it with catgirls.
If Rei is the reference to Shinji's mom, it's interesting to think of Kaworu as the anti-Gendo. Gendo implanted Adam's body into his hand as part of a plan that involved driving ihs son into despair, while Kaworu died rather than let Adam's spirit end the world (and Shinji...). I've actually been thinking of Tabris as Tabby-Cat for years, due to the whole independance thing, the pun and the Chesire Cat smile reference.
Kaworu liking basketball is a reference to Campus Apocalypse.