With this chapter I am going to consider the fic complete (again), although that doesn't preclude the muses being insistent about adding some scene or another. I just hate having too many incomplete fics at once, as part of my promise to myself to never leave a fic unfinished.
I do appreciate everyone who's read to this point, and I hope you enjoyed reading it even a quarter as much as I enjoyed hosting the characters and the world in my head. I do love this 'verse, which is why it has gone on so long.
The guard crept into the room almost soundlessly, but Kaworu didn't need sound to detect her. Not a soul he knew as well as this.
He would have preferred to remain asleep, but in this life he did not want to die, he refused to die, and so this presence? The engine of his death in life after life? Not the will, of course, but the hands that carried it out.
She must have heard Shinji's scream. "He's fine," Tabris told her, trying not to wake up completely.
"Are you alright, your holiness?" she asked, because that was what his guards were supposed to care about, not Shinji. When Shinji was his beloved destroyer.
"There's no need to pretend, not when Shinji isn't awake." He regarded her, red eyes still unopened. "You self-destructed when you couldn't escape where I left you." The bottom of the sea. "And the empty clones were clones of you as well, made with a process invented by your former teacher." Even if in this universe, it was Gendo instead of Fuyutsuki who created Rei. With Yui's DNA. A daughter of one of the core members of SEELE, she must have had a confederate willing to hide that one of the Rei clones had awakened and disappeared. She always did have a knack for attracting devoted, fanatically devoted, service.
Silence was the response.
"I won't reveal you to your son," he told her. "Although I hope you get to know him."
"You're willing to allow me near him?" Near his own immortal self was one thing (friends close, enemies closer), but precious, Lilim Shinji?
"You came to care for him," Tabris said. Kaworu remembered. "Linked to his mind, feeling his pain as your own. Realizing what it meant that your ambitions caused someone to suffer. Someone every bit as real as you. Your own flesh and blood." A part of her, literally in the timelines where he was absorbed into the Eva.
Silence, and he'd had enough conversations like this (in this timeline) to tell her, "I didn't read your thoughts. You would have noticed." A connection of that depth. She would have read his in return.
In timeline after timeline, she had grown to care for Shinji, but the link that taught her compassion could only come after she was absorbed. After her youthful self-centeredness could strip Shinji's mother from him.
"What's it like to be a god?" she asked him, and he could hear the echoes of lifetimes of ambition even as he felt the regret that came from having sincerely given up that wish. Not when it came at such a price. A price paid not by her, but by Shinji.
"It's not infinite power," he told her softly. "I was made to grant the wishes of others. Not my own. Never my own." He had never made Shinji happy. It took someone else's wish, to grant Shinji the happiness he deserved. "Consider the fates of Adam and Lilith." Why did she want to become a being of their kind, after observing what it was like for them? After she'd gone on the Katsuragi Expedition, used her studies to design the contact experiment performed on Adam? After she'd hacked Lilith up for parts to build her Eva? Why did she think the seeds had power? Immortality, yes, but power was something entirely different. And freedom was something entirely lacking.
Had she thought herself so special that she could escape that fate, that the rules didn't apply to her? He understood that Lilim thought that way more in this life, but he had never been able to understand Yui, or Gendo. How anyone could just let harm come to Shinji and think this was acceptable.
Now he lay curled up with Shinji, the scent of that hair, that skin filling him every time he drew in a breath, and it was impossible not to seek out the join of neck and shoulder again and bury his head there.
The slight rise and fall of the body under him with each precious breath entranced him. The proof that Shinji was alive, and comfortable in Kaworu's arms, and it was impossible not to forget everything else. Impossible not to let his breathing match itself to Shinji's rhythm, the sound of it gently and inexorably washing away his consciousness.
Kaworu awoke again long before Shinji, and as he lay there he began to feel how truly strange this was.
Normally, Shinji was the first to recover from a merge.
Normally, he wouldn't fall asleep with Shinji at his side, not when that would waste this precious chance to be with him, to bask in his presence. Even though his greatest wish was to sleep by Shinji's side eternally…
No, that wasn't his wish. He wanted to live with Shinji. He, Tabris, not the self that had loathed that name! Hated his nature, saw it as a reason he could never be with Shinji instead of power he could use for Shinji's sake, to restore Shinji's world!
Power to use so Shinji could live. Shinji and perhaps even Shinji's children. His family, all those who made him happy (but no one had made him happy, and… no!).
How could he, how could he have borne the thought of relinquishing his memories of Shinji? That other self… as much as he wanted to hate that other self for all his failures to make Shinji happy, to save the Lilim world? As much as he wanted to claim that he was not that person… Perhaps that Kaworu was stronger than he was.
All those attempts. Over and over and over. All those lives spent for no reason, with no wish but to make Shinji happy, and someone else had succeeded where he failed.
Someone else had broken the cycle of those lives, someone else had given Shinji a true family, created a home where all those broken souls could find happiness.
How could he have despised Fuyutsuki, considered him a traitor when he owed him everything? When the man had granted Kaworu's one true wish?
He rested, no, hid his pale face in his hands, leaving the bed to stand before the white-curtained window. It was not yet dawn, and this was already a new day. Shinji's. A world where Shinji could find happiness, how could he try to take Shinji from the man who had given him that when Kaworu, Tabris, Adam was nothing but a failure. Perhaps Misato was right, in the handful of lives where she discovered his intentions, to rail at him, to call him a torturer, to accuse him of having some evil plot to break Shinji, to hurt him further. Because regardless of his intentions, hadn't it come to nothing but that?
He drew in a breath that became a choked laugh, and he could make Shinji happy here. He could give him everything. An entire world at his feet, his for the asking. A fallen angel tempting the son of man, the only god Kaworu had ever believed in. The one he truly existed to serve.
How had he not seen through SEELE sooner? Such a gullible fool, in every life!
No, this was no time to recount his failures, not when Shinji ached to see him suffer. Shinji had taken his own life because of his wish for Kaworu to live and be happy, that was the strength of that wish. Kaworu owed Shinji whatever he wanted, wished to give him whatever would make him happy, so he had to be happy here. For Shinji's sake.
No. For his people's sake. For all those who wished him well. Shinji would not have him forget his people, any more than Kaworu should wish Shinji to forget his family. Not when they made him happy. Not when they wanted him to live and be happy, not when they taught him that he had a right to live and be happy.
"Come back to bed," Shinji said, in the quiet darkness behind him, and Kaworu wondered at that.
How could he stand there, oblivious to the fact that Shinji was watching him? Was he truly so used to Shinji's regard, to the touch of Shinji's soul, that he could overlook it?
Shinji's presence… was it truly an everyday thing in this world? Something he could have not for a few fleeting days, but for years? Until it was not Shinji's presence that he noticed, but the void of Shinji's absence?
Sleepy blue eyes blinked at him, and a longing tore through him. He wasn't quite conscious of crossing the space between him and the side of the bed, of bracing one knee there to touch that precious face as Shinji pushed himself up a little to lean into the touch.
For a moment Tabris hoped he hadn't set off AT field detectors, but then Shinji suppressed a soft little yawn and oh, he was lost again. Drowning in that blue, shuddering with delight at the feel of that soul. "I am yours," he whispered. "I was born to meet you." He couldn't help it. It was the truth of his soul in life after life after life.
Yet it made Shinji frown at him (so adorable, Kaworu could do nothing but adore him, how could anyone not adore him, how could so many be cruel to Shinji and perhaps for a moment he truly did hate even Fuyutsuki, for not acting sooner, for not seeing how wrong it was that this boy should ever experience, even for a moment, the belief that no one loved him).
"I know," Kaworu said, because in this life he had been taught to play compassionate, angelic prince. How to counsel the bereaved. "You want me to want to live for myself, so I will live no matter what. So you will never have to mourn me again."
"You're not property, Kaworu," Shinji said, struggling to wake up more so he could find the right words. Rousing himself for Kaworu's sake, and oh, surely Shinji was the true angel here. "You're a person, not a thing. You're not something… You belong here, with me." A hint of pleading in those eyes, not begging Kaworu but imploring fate: please, let them be together. Shinji would fight over and over, just as many times as Kaworu had, so they could be together, so please, let him not need to. Let the world grant his wish, just this once.
No. Not fate, not the world. "You're asking me not to leave you," Kaworu knew, and it hurt. "Did you… You didn't think that I wanted to leave you."
"I…" Shinji shook his head. "I don't know. I don't think I could think, just that, that you were gone." Now he looked down at his hand, the hand he'd held Kaworu in all those times, and in a small voice he said, "I woke up and you weren't there beside me, but this time I could still feel you. It's different this time. It's so different. This time," he swallowed, "This time…"
"I will definitely make you happy," Kaworu breathed.
"No!" Shinji said. "This time, you've already made me happy, Kaworu. You've made me happy for years."
Was this what it was like to yearn for someone's body? Could he learn the lust Lilim experienced? For oh, in that moment he thought that he would surely die if his lips could not touch Shinji's, if he could not have entrance into that mouth, if he could not throw himself onto that welcoming body, and Shinji did welcome him, even if it was with a soft "Oof" of surprise. Before gentle hands, a musician's hands, stroked down his back.
When Kaworu released his lips, Shinji said "I wanted to show you that it was okay. Whatever you looked like, whoever you were, I would still love you. Now I remember that it's true." Shinji's breath brushed against Kaworu's ear, his voice quiet and wondering at the memories. "I fell in love with you over and over and over. I recognized your soul and it made me happy when I saw you even before I knew what I was feeling. I knew that this person would make me happy. I knew that you were the one I was waiting for. That you were the one who would be kind to me." He squeezed Kaworu to him. "That you were the one I would fall in love with."
"Let me gift you a ring, let me grant you a crown, let me lay the world at your feet, to tempt you to be mine."
"You don't need all of that, Kaworu. You never did." Utter conviction there, in how little emphasis there was in the worlds. "I just want to be with you. Just that makes me happy."
Kaworu said nothing, merely resting there in bone-deep contentment. What words were there to match these feelings? Let Shinji feel his happiness, let it grant Shinji his own, and delight swept through him when he felt Shinji's own delight, that being with him, that his words could make Kaworu happy.
A nose pressed against his cheek, a gentle nudge, and Kaworu returned the gesture, softly.
"Come under the covers?" Shinji asked him.
"I'm sorry," Kaworu told him, obeying. As he settled against Shinji's side, he said "I shouldn't have left the bed, not until you woke up."
"That's fine. I could feel you thinking." It was what woke Shinji up, not the empty bed. A pause, and Shinji remembered to ask, "You remember why Instrumentality is a bad idea now, right? That it won't work, won't make everyone happy?"
"Yes," Kaworu said, and wondered that he didn't even feel a moment's sadness for his childhood dream. If he could grant the world happiness, then, oh, then… but Shinji's happiness was all he needed. Words of hatred, looks of fear and repugnance: they faded into insignificance in the face of Shinji's relieved smile. "That was the only conflict between us here, isn't it? Thanks to you, now it's possible for me to live without destroying the Lilim."
Shinji shook his head. "It's not something I did. You're the one that discovered it. By just doing what you wanted."
Kaworu shuddered. By acting on instinct, that was what Shinji meant. "How could I, how could I have taken that risk? How could I have let myself act on instinct when my instinct is to…"
"It isn't!" Shinji glared at him. "You, Rei… Rei didn't set off Third Impact all those times because she wanted to destroy the world, she did it to save me, to make me happy! The same reason I set it off a few times," to save her. Not to save Kaworu, because Kaworu had never let Shinji be in that position, Shinji realized. He'd never have let Shinji try to save him. Not until now. "Don't you get it, Kaworu? Because you didn't fight to live, because you weren't selfish, because you didn't value yourself enough and you put what I wanted not just before what you wanted, but you never considered what you really wanted at all… If you'd been a little more selfish, if you'd valued yourself more, you would have done this before! We could have figured this out, we could have been together, if…"
"How could I risk destroying you? Risk obliterating your soul?" How could he? How could he have let his needs take control of him, how could he have put Shinji in danger? No matter how much he longed for Shinji. He'd always longed for Shinji!
He would do anything for Shinji. He worshipped the ground Shinji walked on.
And worship and love were not quite the same, were they?
Didn't love, human love, require selfishness? Require pride? Because it took pride, to believe you deserved to be by the side of someone so perfect.
The being that was responsible for Second Impact, for those billions of death: such a person did not, could not, deserve Shinji.
"Kaworu," Shinji whispered now. "You're not like that." The sad frustration in those eyes: wasn't that obvious? Didn't Kaworu understand? Didn't he understand that Shinji loved him and didn't want him to die? That he was worthy of that love?
If he did not love himself, then he could not love Shinji the way Shinji deserved, the way Shinji needed, to be loved. Love was something that existed between equals, not a sinner and the god they prayed to for forgiveness, for redemption.
"You're precious to me. If you die, I'll be sad. If you don't value your life, Kaworu? That's the same as not valuing my feelings," Shinji said, sadly, and Kaworu knew it for the truth. "Like Kaji, dying over and over just like you did. Giving just data to Misato, not trusting her with the truth while he was alive. Never being there by her side and helping her, except here." And even that was on orders, wasn't it? "I still believe that he loved her, but why couldn't he trust that she would love him? Why was he afraid to be by her side? Why did he die and break her heart, and Asuka's, instead of letting us help?" Shinji wiped at his face with the back of his hand, and drew in a deep breath. "We really are alike, Misato and I, aren't we? She's always looked after me, always taken me in." Always tried to give him a home, tried to make him feel at home. "If we've known each other for so long, then we must have rubbed off on each other."
"The same taste in men?" Kaworu asked, trying to smile, to tease, even if it was too true to be funny.
Both Misato and Shinji had invested their love in those who died, those who left them. Wasn't that itself a rejection of those feelings, of that bond?
"Handsome and broken," Shinji agreed, lowering his hand to turn onto his back and look up at the bed's canopy. "But we're broken too. We, I, need you."
"You need someone," Kaworu admitted, because every Lilim did, to forget their loneliness.
"I have someone here. Lots of someones. Misato, my father, Rei – now, anyway – and Ritsuko… But I missed you more than Kaji. You're the one I wanted back more than anything. You're the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. The one I will spend the rest of my life with," Shinji added, as he turned his head to look at Kaworu again and that, Kaworu knew, was an ultimatum.
Kaworu would stay with him, Kaworu would try his damndest to stay alive, because even if Shinji could live without him, Shinji refused to do so. Not again.
"I understand," he told him.
A relieved smile flashed across Shinji's face. For a moment, Shinji was purely happy, and Kaworu wished to bring him so many more of these moments. "Being born just to meet me? Not to stay with me? That's too sad. For both of us." The smile stayed on Shinji's face, because he was determined that it would. Determined to be happy now, here with Kaworu, for Kaworu's sake too. "I want you to be happy. To play music with me, and talk about the songs you like and why you like them, and your dreams-our dreams. For the future. Our future." Shinji's hand found Kaworu's under the blankets, and he loved this boy. This young man. This Lilim, with his clumsy kindness, so much more polished here because here, Shinji had seen enough kindness to know how to pass it on. When there were others who kept Shinji in their hearts, in their thoughts, then Shinji didn't need to focus on himself and his own feelings simply in order to endure.
"You're handling this better than I am," Kaworu said, half praise and half-tentative question.
"Well, I can't go to pieces now. Not when you need me." Shinji's answer, given with a blush because Shinji thought he really wasn't as noble as that sounded, confirmed Kaworu's thoughts. "As long as you're okay, then I'll be okay." So making sure that Kaworu cheered up was obviously the first priority. Kaworu had killed himself a lot more times than Shinji had.
"Si vales, bene est: ego valeo. If you are well, that is good: I am well." Kaworu smiled. "When I was a child, I thought that was such a wonderful phrase. 'If you are well, then I am well.' If you are happy, then I will be happy." Before he'd realized that it was a ritual phrase, the equivalent of the English 'how are you?' Yet it was true for him, and Shinji as well. "Your happiness makes me happy, Shinji. I will always be joyful, as long as you are with me. How could I not rejoice, to have you by my side?"
"It's the same for me, Kaworu," and Shinji's blush deepened, because that was really sappy and the fact it was true almost made it worse. "Now I know why I was so afraid, but I know that this time, things will be different. I won't lose you as well as Kaji. I won't hurt you," never, "and you won't let anything take you from me, right?" Please?
"I promise." He raised the hand that still held Shinji's, pressed that precious hand to his forehead to give his oath upon it. "I swear that death shall not do us part."