Since someone was kind enough to point out in a review that I didn't make this clear enough, this fic will be in the context of the manga, anime and Rebuild, so assume spoilers for everything!
This presumes that manga timeline's first, before anime and Rebuild.
Manga!Kaworu does not like Lilim, and for good reasons. If he decided to start the time loops, it would be because of Shinji. Over centuries of meeting people who weren't SEELE, though, he'd get to change his mind about us and become the anime version. Anime!Kaworu is actually the person who thinks most highly of the human race and its potential in the series.
On the other hand, Shinji also changes between manga, anime and Rebuild. In the manga he 'has more of a spine' as certain fans would put it. After who knows how many failure timelines that he doesn't remember, there's anime!Shinji, who is certainly a hero who wants to save the world. As for Rebuild!Shinji, he's honestly less heroic than anime!Shinji, more willing to just walk off and leave other people in the lurch.
When Kaworu is doing all this for Shinji's sake, and he fell in love with Shinji's compassion… The trouble is that by prioritizing Shinji's happiness over everything else, he's been acting as an enabler.
Something that's shaping this fic on a meta level is commentary on Eva fic as a whole. If you're aware of the whole 'badass Shinji' nonsense that's contaminated far too large a percentage of English language Eva fic, then feel free to skip the rant.
A lot of fics have 'badass Shinji,' where Shinji is more willing to kill, more selfish, more willing to use others, etc. Where his approach to people is kill/get in his harem/ignore since they're not as important as he is, except for the sake of comic relief/an audience to say how awesome he is.
Based not on how an actual fourteen-year-old would act, which is what Anno was going for, but for how someone older (the English dub of the anime really screwed up by getting an adult to do Shinji's voice, it tilted people's perception of what age he was and what standards he should be held to) would act not in a real world full of real people, but a fictional world full of people who aren't real. Not 'how Shinji would act,' but the wish-fulfillment/Blank Protagonist otaku fantasy Anno hated of 'how I would act, and of course I'd be awesome and fix everything because anime and video games tell me so.'
This Shinji knows that the people around him are real, but the Shinji in the anime and manga fought not for the world as a whole, but the people he cared about. The reboots mean that no matter what, the people he cares about are going to be fine, and honestly, Kaworu has been enabling him.
Here we have a Shinji with tons more knowledge than regular Shinji, and more power (same way Gendo got his in the manga) but no, acting more like a 'proper' video game/anime character does not make him a better person, despite what all the people who think Shinji should grow a spine say, and make it easy for him to save the world radiating pure awesome. Instead of making it solve all his problems, it actually puts him in danger of losing the bond to another person that is the real source of power. A character like most Gary Stu Shinjis would be made of fail and far less effective than anime!Shinji.
Most Kaworu/Shinji fic is obviously based on how he acts in the episode where he met Kaworu, which is the point at which the character is at his most vulnerable and doesn't quite reflect how he is over the rest of the series. This fic is based more on a manga version, who had told himself that the reboots mean the people he fought to protect will all be okay, so it's okay to be free and do what he wants. The trouble is that when humans stop actively trying to be good people, that's really all it takes to become bad people. Not in the sense of evil, but in the sense of that gray selfishness.
Yes: for Shinji to act the way a lot of the Fan Dumb says he should act is moral decay that makes him a worse person and will not help him save the world. Overcoming his issues and reaching out to people is the only way, despite the fact this is damn hard. 'The Eva will not save you, otaku fantasies are just fantasies, there is no easy way out and trying to insist there is one will only lead to death and failure.'
If you don't know the fics I'm commenting on you're lucky, but even a lot of the better Eva fics like 'Nobody Dies' (worth reading if you can tolerate the massive OOC for the sake of humor and the fact that version of Kaworu has absolutely no resemblance to any of the canon variants of Kaworu) have traces of this attitude about how the series challenges 'should' be approached. The preoccupation with sex, etc. in this fic are common tropes in that kind of fic.
For Shinji to act the way people say he 'should' act would be a bad thing that would need to be fixed before he could save the world, not something that would make it easy for him to save the world.
Sounds. Loud noises. Not just the guards patrolling, but bangs and shouting. Shouting. Words.
She flinched, not hard enough to send the chair inching along the floor (they'd bolted it down) when she felt someone in the room with her. The door hadn't opened, she was sure of it.
A hand touched her hair, and they didn't touch her except when she was dragged to the bathroom, or when she was taken and roughly washed once a week.
"It's alright, Misato Katsuragi." She didn't understand the words, but she heard the reassurance in the tone, the way she'd heard people talk to animals and very small children, long ago. How long ago? How many years ago?
Her captors didn't bother with that now.
The person who stepped around the chair, into her sight, wasn't wearing a uniform. He sighed, touching the bonds that held her, and Misato flinched as each one released. They didn't remove her bonds, they just unbuckled them from the chair. What was happening?
He smiled at her, then sighed as there were more loud noises in the distance. "He knows that isn't necessary… He does it because he is angry for your sake, and it used to make me happy when he killed my own captors for me, but…" He touched her cheek, and the gag fell away. He wrapped his arms around her, lifting her up.
She tried to kick at him, because this could not possibly be anything good, good things didn't happen, but her kick and even her knee just skidded away somehow. She could get purchase on him when she leaned against him, but her blows just didn't connect. Screaming her frustration, she paused when she realized that she wasn't gagged.
Don't hope. She'd learned not to hope. So she took that as an opportunity to try to bite his ear off, as he walked towards the door.
There was some kind of pale light blocking her teeth, she saw, as the man walked towards the door. He stopped there for a moment as the electronic locks opened.
Shouts of surprise, outrage and alarm? Were her guards scared of this man, or surprised he was here? Or were they just angry Misato was out of the room? Was this unauthorized?
That pale light blocked the man that charged at him, and the bullets when the other guard fired. The pale-haired man carrying Misato didn't even pause. "Now, let's see… I suppose I should follow the screaming."
That light punched through the doors of the shaft, and it was when he stepped out into it and started floating that Misato realized that oh, this was another dream. She was pretty sure it wasn't because normally she didn't feel held in dreams, and she could smell that one of the guards had pissed their pants (served them right, after all the times she was just left there), but if they were flying this was definitely a dream.
"Here," he said, three floors up, and batted another of the reinforced elevator doors aside. He leaned his head against Misato's a bit, and adjusted her so that it was easier for her to rest her head on his shoulder. Instead of walking along the floor now that there was a floor he kept floating, closer and closer to the loud noises. He floated right past several of the guards who were using one of the ID card gates as shelter to fire from behind. "Dear… is this really necessary?" he asked, hovering above the bloodstained floor.
"What do you care?" the brown-haired man responded, irritated. "Do you think she'd rather kill them herself? Anyway, we both know that if I don't kill all the guards, SEELE will decide that now that this facility's security's been compromised they'll have the remaining guards kill all the prisoners. I need to do a clean sweep of this place… Oh, right, you're complaining about this because that'll take too long. I guess it won't make any difference to leave the rest of them."
"That isn't it, but…" Misato felt the warm chest she rested against lift and fall as the man sighed. "Do as you like, dear."
The other man nodded, reloading one of his guns. "Now get out of the way, you're blocking my line of fire."
"Yes." The red-eyed man who held Misato shifted to the side, floating closer to one of the walls. The guards took that chance to try to fire at the one who was shooting at them, but the brunet almost idly raised his own left hand, conjuring up his own wall of light, and only lowered that shield to return fire in the instants no one was firing at him.
"Should I take her home?" the pale one wondered, stroking Misato's hair and looking down at her instead of at the battle.
"Oh no you don't," his companion said over the bullets. "If I let you adopt one of them you adopt all of them. I don't mind the stray cats, but Lilim are different. Put her in that TV station like last time."
"Yes, dear." The pale man nodded, and floated backward into darkness that appeared where the wall used to be?
If this was a dream, then it wasn't that weird to float through darkness and end up in a place with so many lights and people that after being locked up in the silence Misato couldn't take it and she started screaming and kicking again. The people wouldn't stop talking and shining lights and making noises. The pale man made noises back, but he also held Misato, rocking her a bit, and stayed until all the excitement and stimuli from long ago tired her out (like a baby, a child reduced to a baby that couldn't speak) and she was put into what had to be a bed.
"…How I wonder what you are? Up above the world so high…" A warm hand on her forehead was the last thing she knew, humming sounds that resolved themselves into words that slipped into her dreams.
When she woke up, she lay there, trying to process that these were blankets, not bonds, until someone peeked into the room. "Is she awake yet?" she heard someone else ask from behind the door.
"Yes," she answered, and raised a hand to her lips, startled.
As a woman came in the door, Misato Katsuragi stared at that hand. Because she could move it. She could move. She could speak.
She was… free?
"The uproar that began when two vigilantes raided a secret prison complex kept by the UN Committee for Human Instrumentality shows no signs of dying down. One of them used a force field technology known as the 'AT Field' to eliminate all the guards and escort almost all the prisoners to a German military base unaffiliated with the UN forces before vanishing, while the other appeared using some kind of portal in a Tokyo-2 television studio with Misato Katsuragi, the only survivor of the Katsuragi expedition. The second man told the news studio that documents would be released online substantiating the claims made by the prisoners, although he refused to give further details and seemed primarily concerned with Misato Katsuragi, who had been reduced to near-infancy by years of solitary confinement. Two days after Miss Katsuragi miraculously recovered enough to give testimony, substantiated by the reports of the other prisoners, the rate at which new secrets are being uncovered and crimes by the 'SEELE' cult revealed shows no signs of slowing down."
"As strange as it seems – although what about all this hasn't been out of a science fiction novel – people are speculating that the two men involved in the original jailbreak may be the missing Shinji Ikari, who was abandoned at a railway station by his father Gendo Ikari two days prior, and the 'angel' created by SEELE by inserting human DNA into the so-called 'Adam' entity at the South Pole. Although there are few recent pictures of the young Shinji Ikari, SEELE had extensive footage of their creation Tabris. Playing that alongside footage recorded in Tokyo-2, the resemblance is clear."
"It might be possible for something like that to age twenty years in a day," the other anchor responded, "but just rapidly aging a child that young won't give them the tactics and skills of a trained soldier, which the Lone Gunman demonstrated during the raid. The mother of Shinji Ikari, Yui Ikari, was the daughter of Lorenz Keel, a key figure in the cult. It's possible that the Lone Gunman was another member of the family who may have recruited the angel for help bringing down the cult. Others are suggesting time travel."
"The world wants to know…"
"Why are you listening to that," was what Shinji wanted to know. "So much for bumming around Europe playing music for our supper this timeline."
"We don't need to use our real faces?" Kaworu suggested.
"I like your real face." Shinji frowned up at him from the couch. "This is ten timelines in a row that you've rescued Misato, and I get that we have to bring down SEELE if we rescue her since otherwise they'll just recapture her again, but it's getting to be a headache."
"That's not what I wanted to hear from you," Shinji said, standing up and stretching. "It makes sense to get your revenge on the old men, but you're not interested in that anymore. You look uncomfortable when I shoot people: what happened to my Kaworu, the one who killed a kitten and just watched what happened to Asuka? Come on, it's not like they won't all die in ten years anyway." He pushed his hair back with the gloved hand: eating what was left of Adam the way Gendo Ikari would not only kept it out of SEELE and Gendo's hands, but let Shinji generate an AT field, which was all kinds of useful and meant he didn't need Kaworu acting as White Mage if he wanted to take on private armies. Not with shielding capability and regen of his own. The eye on his palm was still creepy but it never hurt – Kaworu had Adam's soul and liked Shinji better than he did Gendo, of course.
Without SEELE pushing NERV, and with almost all of GEHIRN imprisoned for crimes against humanity? With people knowing that the Evas were doomsday machines? Either one of the angels would reach Lilith and bring about Third Impact first, or Kaworu's mind would be overtaken by Adam's and he'd do it himself.
"I loved you for your kindness," Kaworu said quietly. "It's strange that now watching Lilim suffer worries me, while you…" Could kill them so casually. "Have I contaminated you? Does it have something to do with how I restore your memories each incarnation?"
"I'm just getting callous," Shinji said, then realized that was a bad thing, not something reassuring. "Like the old men… I mean, you can only watch the world end so many times before you realize it's not a big deal? Everyone will be alive again next timeline."
"But they can still suffer now," Kaworu said. "You used to be the one to argue with me, threaten that you wouldn't talk to me if I didn't go rescue Misato." He let Shinji pull him back down onto the couch. "Now I plead with you to do it." His lips opened with the grace of long practice, of familiarity as Shinji bent down to kiss him. "It made me realize how I've changed."
"It's been thousands of years for you, and a few hundred for me," Shinji pointed out: he knew Kaworu hadn't started copying Shinji's memories until he'd finally learned how to get along with Shinji, and at first it was because that let Kaworu skip the awkward period where he had to make Shinji like him. It was fun to coax stories out of Kaworu about all the embarrassing blunders he'd made in the first few dozen timelines.
"I was a terrible person, wasn't I?" Kaworu asked, looking up at him with sad eyes. "Just killing a poor little kitten…"
"Kaworu…" Don't be stupid, was what Shinji wanted to say. Or, 'dammit, not the kitten story again.' "You're the kindest person I know. The kindest person on this planet." He paused. "Doesn't this movie about that end when the main character becomes a better person? Do I need to corrupt you, or something?"
"Don't you want this to end?" Kaworu wondered.
Shinji stared at him. "No, I like being alive. You're not… you're not thinking of stopping the reboots and letting everyone stay dead, are you?" No way.
"No, but don't you want to save the world? Wasn't that what you fought for?" Back then. Originally.
How many times had Kaworu let events play out just like the first time until he got to when he could meet Shinji and try to make Shinji love him? Shinji's first memories were from a time like that, so he could say, "No, I wanted to get my father and everyone else to like me. Me, save the world? Up against him and SEELE?" No way. "There's no way to save the world, remember? Say that I theoretically killed you, which is not happening," the thought scared him, because if Kaworu didn't give the next timeline's Shinji his memories back, "your soul will just end up somewhere else, and without a mind it'll act on instinct and cause Third Impact anyway. It's just not possible for humanity to survive, so the only thing you can do is keep bringing it back, okay?" He laughed. "What, is this about wanting to delay the end for the sake of the next book in some series? You and your romance novels. And sappy dramas."
"The first time, when you stayed in my room… You were the one who introduced me to soap operas," Kaworu said in his own defense.
"I know, you've made me watch that episode way too many times." Kaworu went and swiped a copy as soon as it was made every timeline. Shinji didn't mind too much. Sure, he wanted to know what the hell had past-him been thinking to watch drivel like that, but it made Kaworu nostalgic and affectionate and it was easy to spend the entire episode doing stuff much better than watching it.
Kaworu had given Shinji Kaworu's memory of that day, of their first kiss, but Shinji didn't want to think about it. Feeling how Kaworu had been tied up inside, looking at Shinji and longing for something he had never experienced for himself? Wanting so much and knowing it was probably impossible because Lilim were cruel and Shinji hated him?
It hurt more because even though Shinji had his memories restored every timeline, Kaworu couldn't do that until his Lilim brain had developed well enough for him to think and plan well enough he probably wouldn't screw it up. Tampering with memories was tricky, and it was harder for two-year-olds to deal with frustration without doing things like screaming and blowing up Switzerland.
So every timeline, Shinji had four or so years of being with his parents. Of being a pathetic child who wanted to be loved, not knowing that his parents were, respectively, a sociopath who wanted to destroy the world in order to achieve godhood and Gendo Ikari.
Kaworu always came to get him on the day he was abandoned. It would be better for Kaworu to wait until he was older, but he couldn't stand to think about Shinji crying alone and abandoned on that platform.
His angel arriving before Gendo Ikari left used to end with the bastard splattered across a couple kilometers of train tracks, and that would traumatize a Shinji who didn't know that he should be clapping instead of screaming.
Eleven years of living together happily, four years of being a little boy, eleven more years of being happy and loved: that was the pattern. At least Yui Ikari trying to make sure he loved her was a little better than Kaworu got. Bastards mostly kept him in tubes and on lab tables.
It was hard for Shinji to stop hating Gendo and Yui when every timeline he was reminded of why he hated them. He didn't understand how Kaworu's feelings towards SEELE had cooled to contempt when every time he got to experience them treating him like a thing, planning his death.
It made Shinji wish he'd hunted them down first instead of going after Misato, but Kaworu'd asked him to… wait, "Did you nag me to go after Misato first so it would be just too inconvenient to kill all the SEELE bastards myself?" he demanded.
Kaworu didn't last a second before cracking. "Yes," he admitted.
Shinji sighed. "Do you think I'm… Look, I'm perfectly capable of not killing people! I'll go a whole timeline without killing anyone… next timeline." He frowned. "Are you thinking like the old men again? I know it was six days ago for you that you were hearing them talk about how 'the Lilim are so evil and don't deserve to exist, be a messiah and save us by killing us all,' that bullshit. I took those people out because I had prisoners to evacuate! You know how many people have to be carried out of that hellhole! It's not like I like killing people."
"In how many timelines has the first thing you wanted to do been to kill your father with a knife, or blow up Unit 01 in front of him," far worse than killing him, for him to see what was left of Yui go up in smoke and chunks of burnt flesh. "I know that you're not like that all the time, Shinji. You usually get most of the violence out of your system after the first week." Partially because Shinji had gotten very good at finding his targets and killing them within a week or so. No wonder he'd realized that Kaworu had asked to save Misato first in order to screw up Shinji's schedule. Once SEELE were in UN custody, Shinji didn't so much mind watching the world take its vengeance on them, even if there were rules against torture.
"Oh," Shinji said thoughtfully. "Let's drag Mom out of Unit 01 and hand her over so she can stand trial too. Would you mind testifying? My dad was practically frothing at the mouth that one time," when the angel kept saying that Yui never loved him, that she wasn't capable of it.
"I don't want to be a hero," Kaworu said bluntly. "Not when…" He could protect them from the rest of the angels, but eventually he'd lose control and cause Third Impact himself. He didn't want people to put their faith in him and be betrayed, he didn't want to feel like SEELE.
"I'm sorry," Shinji apologized. "I should have known that time was a horrible idea. We should wear masks next time we rescue Misato."
"No, you should have been recognized as the one who protected the world all those timelines where you fought for it," so Kaworu didn't mind Shinji spending one timeline being worshipped, he just objected to being dragged into that himself because it wasn't like he was going to avoid Shinji for an entire timeline.
Not Shinji's angel, the Lilim thought, fingers buried in Kaworu's hair, clutching at his scalp for a moment. "So, what should we do this timeline? After I'm done with my vengeance. If hitchhiking and playing music in town squares for people to toss money into a cap again is out, then what?"
"What would you like?" Kaworu asked.
"I asked you first." Shinji frowned. Kaworu's devotion to him was real, and nice, but he had a tendency to go 'whatever you say, dear' and leave too many decisions up to Shinji, when sometimes Shinji wanted help coming up with ideas or something. Maybe it was a legacy of offending Shinji and getting rejected in too many timelines. "Look, you know I'll never leave you, right? And if I do, you can just not give me the memories of that timeline next time, so I forget whatever made me leave you. Not that that will happen!" he said hurriedly, when Kaworu looked frightened at the prospect of Shinji doing that. Or was he hurt that Shinji thought he would do that?
Shinji trusted Kaworu when he said that the only reason Shinji didn't have the memories of every timeline was because in the ones at the beginning Kaworu hadn't known how to copy memories like that, and in the process of experimenting (on disposable Lilim who weren't Shinji) he'd found that Lilim got upset about people poking around in their heads and messing with their memories without permission, so he'd started copying with the first Shinji who said yes.
Kaworu sucked at lying. Who knew how many timelines, and he still sucked at lying. Even though he had a Lilim brain, deceit just really didn't compute for him, which gave Shinji a lot of advantages in this relationship that he tried not to abuse too much. It was just too easy, when Kaworu kept taking Shinji seriously when he said that he would be really angry at him, angry enough not to speak to him for years, unless Kaworu did whatever Shinji wanted.
Come on, that was obviously lies.
For one thing, he really did love Kaworu, even if he didn't like that Kaworu was maturing from someone who just did whatever he wanted and didn't care into a bleeding heart who worried about Shinji killing minions of SEELE, of all people.
Shinji had to do something about this, or who knew what might happen? Kaworu might start getting in the way when Shinji wanted to kill Gendo?
Kaworu might stop loving him?
No, no, that thought was absolutely ridiculous. Kaworu loving Shinji enough to just let Shinji kill him was in the prophecies. Kaworu would lay down his life for Shinji without hesitating, love Shinji even as Shinji killed him, so of course he wouldn't stop loving him over Shinji killing someone else, some bastards who didn't deserve to live. Right?
"I'll try to learn Brazilian cooking," Shinji suggested. He'd mastered most cuisines, but the Amazon river floodplains were devastated in Second Impact. He'd need to do some looking to find a surviving chef of a skill level worth Shinji's time to teach him, although Kaworu's ability to fiddle with computer systems meant money was no object. "And you can garden and read your," Shinji stopped himself from saying 'stupid' "romance novels, and maybe we'll learn another instrument. Maybe we'll join a rock band next timeline." Kaworu liked being poor wandering minstrels, walking around exploring Europe or wherever and finding places they'd never been and meeting interesting people.
Maybe it had something to do with his healing factor, or how things like heat and cold didn't really bother him. Shinji preferred having a roof over his head to pitching tents with the cold rain already pouring down on them, no matter how willing Kaworu was to warm him up afterwards.
Sure, he liked knowing he could fend for himself: that was part of why he liked to cook (he ignored the part of him that said he'd learned to cook because it was something people would praise and appreciate him for), but just because he could handle camping didn't mean he wanted to do it all the time.
He'd considered taking up hunting once, but one look at Kaworu made him realize that was a terrible idea.
That darn cat… It was fine to kill animals if they were just going to die painfully otherwise, but Kaworu had some guilt complex about it because of how he'd thought Shinji hated him for it Even Kaworu recognized that killing Lilim who were shooting at you was justifiable. Animals, though, couldn't fight back against someone with a gun.
Shinji remembered learning how to cook vegetarian for Rei, but Kaworu wasn't vegetarian and Shinji wanted him to stay that way. If Kaworu kept becoming more and more of a bleeding heart, then watching animals killed in front of him might make him go vegan or something, and then what would Shinji do? Cooking just for himself was boring.
Kaworu was happy to eat whatever Shinji made him, but…
'I loved you for your kindness,' Shinji suddenly realized. That was what Kaworu had said. Loved. Past tense.
Was Kaworu just saying that was why he'd fallen in love with Shinji, because Shinji cared about animals like that cat and bitches like Asuka and then there was Rei, who had a damn AT field and could have shielded herself from the blast instead of making Shinji have to watch her die knowing that she was doing it to protect him from Armisael?
Or was it past tense because Shinji wasn't kind anymore?
Or was it a Freudian slip?
Kaworu was changing, and Shinji was changing: people grew apart.
"Kaworu?" Shinji asked, looking down at the most powerful being on the planet.
"Why do you love me?" Why was Shinji the only person in the world who got to keep his memories of other timelines? Why was he the one Kaworu loved, out of everyone on the planet? Why was he the one who got to command a being with the power of a god?
Kaworu smiled to himself, closing his eyes to look at memories. Instead of looking at the Shinji who was here with him, right now. "Your kindness. Your heart that broke when you saw others suffer. You were everything SEELE was not."
Shinji was the opposite of SEELE? Past tense again?
"They said that Lilim didn't care about anyone else, but you did. You, in the end you even cared enough for me to grant me mercy," Kaworu said, looking up at him now with adoring eyes at the Shinji who had cupped his hands around Kaworu and squeezed him to death, and Shinji suddenly realized that was probably the first time Kaworu had ever felt anything even a bit like being hugged. "Armisael connected me to Rei before that, and in her memories I saw how you tried to reach out to, how you had kindness even for something inhuman like her. Like me. You proved them wrong. You made me realize that there was something worth preserving in this world."
Shinji looked at those red eyes and wanted to run away from his reflection there. "Kaworu, I… I couldn't save anyone. That time and all the other times I just played right into their hands. I'd kill you, and then let them use me to start Third Impact themselves. I'm, I'm no hero." It wasn't that he minded rescuing Misato. He liked Misato. She'd tried to be a good mentor to him, and even if objectively she'd sucked trying made her a thousand times better than either of his biological parents.
"You are," Kaworu told him. "The light of your soul: it's beautiful."
Shinji didn't say that if he wasn't kind anymore and the light of his soul hadn't changed, then it didn't have anything to do with his personality and he didn't see the difference between liking someone because their soul was shiny and because they had a nice pair of tits. So was Kaworu prophesized to fall for Shinji because Shinji's soul was his type or something?
What if Shinji's soul did start growing ugly, though? If Shinji grew cruel, and Kaworu saw someone with a pretty young soul that wasn't stained by centuries of ignoring human suffering so he could have a good time. What kind of person didn't even try to save the world, even if he did know that Kaworu could just reset everything to the moment of Second Impact and bring them all back anyway?
Except at the beginning, Kaworu hadn't liked Lilim. Shinji was the reason he'd first realized that SEELE was wrong about them, Shinji was the one who had helped him learn about music, the one who turned on a soap opera when a young, impressionable Kaworu was in the room. Kaworu started reading romance novels in hopes of learning Lilim courtship rituals so he could figure out where he was going wrong and how to make Shinji love him back. Practically everything Kaworu did, everything he loved, could be traced back to Shinji in some way.
If Kaworu stopped loving Shinji, if Shinji no longer disproved SEELE's thesis that Lilim were evil and shouldn't exist, then would Kaworu stop rewinding time?
To see Shinji again: that was why he did it. Would he still do it if he had to see Shinji and know how far Shinji had fallen? If it made him ache for what was lost? Or would he finally move on? Fill a dead earth with his own children and let time begin to flow again?
If Shinji didn't become a better person, if Shinji didn't stay a good enough person to give Kaworu reason to do this, then Shinji would die and stay dead. Everyone would die and stay dead. The reboots weren't something that just happened, they were something Kaworu did. For him. Overcoming his instincts and giving the world back to the Lilim.
Was this how Kaworu felt when Shinji played the 'I'll stop loving you if you don't do what I want' card? This panic that he was about to lose the most important thing of all, the one person to ever love him unselfishly?
He closed his eyes, feeling a sense of defeat he hadn't known since he'd finally managed to give up and admit that never, in any timeline, was he ever going to be able to make his father love him. "We'll have to let the next timeline go normally." To refresh Shinji's memories of what happened, what the threats were. "Don't just copy my memories: we should get Misato, Kaji, Rei and I guess Asuka," she was a genius, after all, even if it got harder for him to tolerate her 'I must be better than everyone else' attitude every timeline.
Especially after a few timelines where Shinji met her with an adult identity and she'd crushed on him like Kaji, trying to get the older man to see her as an adult so she could feel validated? Even telling her that he was married didn't work any more than Kaji's obvious disinterest had.
Asuka was a brat, but maybe, over enough timelines, if she lived long enough, she'd grow up. "Then, next reboot, you can give them all those memories and we'll see how it goes." How long it took the others to be useful, especially since Misato was going to equate Kaworu with Adam and Shinji wasn't going to trust any plan she'd had anything to do with until he was sure she wasn't prioritizing making his Kaworu permanently dead over humanity's survival. Without Kaworu, they'd all stay dead.
"What about Dr. Akagi?" Kaworu wondered.
"You're just suggesting her because you both like cats…" Cat people. "Sure, she does know the science, I guess." And having her memories of things like being sent to SEELE naked for those old perverts to gawk at her the way they'd kept Kaworu naked all the time restored at an opportune moment would let Shinji turn her against Gendo. Wait. Shinji gave Kaworu a suspicious look. "You will restore my memories before I kill you, right?" In the very first timeline Shinji remembered with his own memories instead of looking through Kaworu's eyes, Kaworu had asked Shinji to kill him as proof that Kaworu hadn't just tried to get Shinji to fall in love with him so that Shinji would betray humanity by not killing the angel.
Also probably because exterminating Shinji's species himself was no way to reward Shinji for being kind enough to finally accept Kaworu's feelings.
"But SEELE and Gendo Ikari won't reveal their true plans until the last angel is dead," Kaworu pointed out.
"It's one thing to kill you if I know you're going to come back to life," Shinji said heatedly, "but…"
"Don't worry," Kaworu said. "It took a lot of work to make you fall in love with me. I won't come to NERV until right before I'm supposed to attack, and I'll just not seduce you." So Shinji wouldn't mind killing Kaworu, not if he hated him.
"…This is sounding worse and worse," Shinji said, blanching. "You mean I'm going to spend the whole next timeline celibate?" Why would anyone possibly want to be a hero and save the world, again?
Well, he'd try to be nicer, he promised himself even if he wouldn't consciously remember that promise next timeline.
A phrase came to mind: 'I'll try being nicer if you'll try being smarter.' Not likely.