A/N: This is something I've been working on ever since my first viewing of 3.0. I was going to wait until the whole fic was pre-written before posting anything from it, but, well, 3.0 has been released in hi-def online and I'm a little too giddy to stay quiet about this fic any longer.

Basically this is my own wish fulfillment of Kaworu losing his shit after 3.0. Seeing him reach such a high-strung and emotional state when he realized his failure was so incredibly different from the calm exterior we're used to seeing; I can just imagine him beating himself up every time he would fail to bring Shinji happiness in his countless timelines, and this one, in which he had been planning for for 14 years, was just the final straw.

Truthfully, I'm pretty crappy at updating regularly, but I'm shooting for this fic being roughly 7 or 8 chapters, and I'm going to try really hard to avoid any long waits in between chapters. Key word being "try".

Also, this is rated M for just about everything the M rating applies to.


the earth is (not) a cold dead place

::

prologue: the only moment we were alone

::

You watch as the world slowly suffocates him. Time and time again, every loop and lifetime, every rebirth and choice and universe that branches out endlessly from one single moment in time, Shinji Ikari is still in pain.

The loops in which he's in pain because of you are the most crushing, but it never gets any easier to see him cry no matter the cause. For countless years you watch this, watch as your efforts crumble into dust beneath the weight of fate, watch as the vision of him becomes blurry and further away whenever he shuts out the world around him, even the worlds he can't see. For countless years you shape the fragile web of space and time in your hands until they're pliant and meaningless. And every time, no matter how many strings you pull, how many things you cross out of existence, how many times you give Shinji your entire heart and more, you fail. And he is always, always alone in the end.

By the hundredth loop, you're beginning to feel something within you coming undone. On your lowest of days, you reach up to the muscle-red sky and wait for him to fall out of it and into your arms. You go to sleep with a heavy heart and have fitful dreams of the boy hating you, rejecting you. Sometimes you still hear his screams after you're crushed within the hand of Unit 01, but that was a very, very long time ago. How many lifetimes ago was it? You can't recall, there have been so many. But you'll take the burden of that memory as long as Shinji never has to remember his own guilt of killing you over and over.

There are so many coffins. Every time you awake in the cold confines of a new one, you can glance over at the one beside you and remember the failure of that timeline, and then the one beside that one, and then on and on and on as you look down with hollow eyes at the endless row of empty crypts. The varying memories of all the new and creative and horrible ways in which you've had to leave Shinji behind grips at your heart like a metal clasp, icy and painful. You shake off the agony and try again. Fail, restart. Fail, restart. Continue, continue, continue, try again, fail. Restart. Redo. But always, always loving him.

A part of you thinks loving Shinji Ikari makes the pain of your own clockwork death worthwhile. But mostly you'd just like things to actually work out in the end. Just one time is all it would take; you're really not asking for all that much, are you?

You look up at the glimmering red panels of Seele bearing down on you, their voices in monotone and saying the same things they've been saying for years. You barely hear them over the rushing of your own thoughts as they center around the image of blue, blue eyes and the promise of another chance.

You won't hurt him this time. You won't leave him behind any longer.

::

One thing always remains constant no matter the timeline – your love for Shinji Ikari outweighs any other feeling you've ever experienced in all your life.

When he arrives, the boy is scared, and he is confused, and he is beautiful. You decide to play something light and pretty on the piano to welcome him, and the sound reaches his ears just as you knew it would. This isn't the first time you've greeted him this way, but this time, you are softer, less wayward and coarse. (Your first timeline was always your most embarrassing, upon reflection. And you have had a long time to reflect.)

When Shinji looks down, you look up, right on time. Your eyes meet. You smile, and he looks as though he doesn't know what to do with his face. It's endearing, lovely, wonderful. Familiar.

You remain outwardly calm as water as he walks by overhead and looks away from you, his face nervous and shy. But he doesn't look afraid of you. You don't notice the trembling of your fingers until you press the wrong key on the piano and throw the whole song out of limbo; you can only hope Shinji didn't hear.

::

He's not going to be happy about this. The words loop round and round in your mind as Gendo Ikari stands solemn and statuesque before the two of you, speaking of Evas and how, when the time comes, Shinji will join you in piloting one.

You stare at him, drinking in his every detail, even the painful ones. The boy's face contorts into something anguished and hateful at his father's words, and he's calling out for him with a desperation that makes your stomach hurt. Still, you smile at him. You will always smile at him. Because that pain can be helped; never erased, never forgotten, but helped. The aching lines of this poor boy's body can be smoothed and touched and eased. This is only the beginning. This is your chance.

::

The stars have aligned to bring Shinji to this exact place: sitting sheepishly on the piano bench beneath the warm glow of sunlight, looking for all the world as if his hands are too big and clumsy to touch anything without breaking it. You want to tell him how small and delicate his hands truly are, how he can create beautiful things with them instead of forever hating himself for the damage they've caused, but instead, you lean in close behind him, guiding his hand, and say, "You just have to hit this key here."

Shinji visibly stiffens when you rest your chin atop his shoulder for a moment, but he doesn't move away. His hand is fragile and warm with slender, shaking fingers. For one hot moment, your control bends beneath the weight of your longing, and your eyes close, taking in every detail of this moment. You like being this close to him. You like feeling him react to you. But lightly, you must do this lightly, ease him into it. You've learned from your mistakes. (A flash of a memory: Shinji hyperventilating in his sleep, then you lying atop him and breathing into his mouth, then your entire body going warm when the contact turned into something else for you, then Shinji's make-believe shock and outrage, then your pain, your rejection, he crushes you in his hands - )

Shinji plays the right notes, though they're slow and unsure. When he looks to you for approval, you want to kiss his forehead, his cheeks, his mouth, but you tuck away that longing to sit beside him on the bench and join his broken playing with an elegant stream of notes that slip effortlessly beneath your fingertips. You encourage him, smile at him; you still want to kiss him, but that will have to wait. Lightly, lightly, do everything lightly. Take your time, he needs it.

Shinji is a fast learner. You make sure to tell him this, to remind him how worthy he is, and his face flushes so prettily at your words that something great and giddy rises up within you, pouring out of your fingertips and into the piano. The song swells higher and your heart pounds when Shinji's hand grazes yours. His eyes shine with embarrassment, but he keeps playing alongside you, keeping up the pace better than he even realizes himself. When you speak – we're amazing together, aren't we – your voice is breathless with excitement, your body burning with energy, and Shinji, hesmiles at you.

It takes you hours to come down from your high, though the anticipatory tremors never quite leave your body all the way.

::

"And you are…?"

Shinji asks you this with such soft, honest eyes that it's almost as if it's the first time. To him, it is – but to you, this is always a milestone, always a moment in time that you'll remember upon waking in another cold coffin. A repeating chapter in this undying cycle of lives between you two – the first time you tell him your name.

"Kaworu Nagisa" slips like silk from your tongue, easy and unchanging, always constant for every loop. A flash of a memory: a bright orange sunset, sitting atop the crumbling angel statue, Ode to Joy, the shimmering lake, the exchange of names, Shinji's shy blush.

The second loop always hurts the most to think about. You do away with the thought just as quickly as it arrives. Best not to think about that now, not when Shinji is looking at you with those eyes and that smile that has kept you going for lifetimes.

::

He comes to you with embarrassed eyes and cute excuses, but the moment he begins playing, he lets himself go. You can feel his energy radiating beside you, his body heat, his excitement. He's a natural at this; his passion is something palpable in the air between you two as you sit side by side on the piano bench and make something beautiful.

Breathing heavily, he asks, "So if I want to improve the sound I'm making, what should I do?"

You glance at him out the corner of your eye. His face is flushed, eyes closed, mouth parted. Something hot happens to your blood and you pick up the pace of the song, challenging him with a breathless smile. He immediately falls into place with you without error. Your thigh is touching his; your hands brush together; you can hear him panting to keep up, but not once does he break the tempo or miss a note. He opens his eyes and looks at you, and the smile he gives is so honest and natural that you almost forget what you're doing, why you're here, or the fact that you've failed countless loops before this to bring even a shadow of that smile to his face. For one blissful moment, it's as if this is the one and only lifetime the two of you have, with no pain preceding or looming as a distant threat overhead. It's as if you, too, are wholly human.

He makes you feel human. Everyone else has made you feel like a monster, and then there's Shinji.

Realization dawns but a moment later at the sight of the choker around his neck, and you remember your position, your purpose, how many times it's taken you to get here.

"Doing it over and over," you say with a smile, "until it feels good enough to you."

::

A flash of a memory: the second loop, lying in your bed, Shinji on the floor. He tells you about his father. He tells you about the pain in his heart. He's so human, so unlike any other. You gaze at him in the dark and your heart soars when he turns to meet your eye. The words come out on their own, natural and warm: I think I was born to meet you.

The memory fades; you're in the present. Shinji is lying beside you on the cool ground, here on the same level as you. This feels nice. It feels nice in a way that you haven't felt before. There have been so many loops, so many times in which one of you was exalted, where you were unbalanced and unequal despite the love, but this time is different. You're equals.

Shinji looks at the stars as if he's in love with them. It's so much easier for him to feel small and insignificant, he's always been that way. You wonder what he would say if you were to cave and tell him how he's the epicenter of your existence, how he takes up so much space in your heart, how he is your heart and that is no small feat, but you don't. Instead you listen to him murmur his thoughts about the universe as you linger in between the present and the memories of the second loop. I think I was born to meet you.

In the present, Shinji turns to look at you, and it all makes sense. There's no thought to it, no doubt, no question. I really was

" - born to meet you."

You swear that for a moment, something like recognition passes through Shinji's eyes as he looks back at you in the darkness. Is he remembering? No. Not possible. Just your imagination.

::

"That's right, I'm scared!" Shinji is tense and shaking like a frightened fawn. His back is to you. You wish you could see his face.

It's natural to be afraid. He has every right to be. But even still, your expression takes a turn for the sorrowful as you stare at his trembling shoulders and wait for him to look at you. When he does, his eyes are so dark and sad that it takes everything you have in you not to reach out and pull him close, to protect him against the horror of his ignorance.

But you can't. He must learn. You love him too much to leave him in the dark, even if the light will pain him just as much.

"Do you want to know?" you ask, and just as you knew he would, Shinji says yes.

::

On the rickety blood-red steps, Shinji slips. You don't reach out for him. Not yet. He can keep going, he's stronger than he thinks he is. You walk into the thick mist of gusting winds that don't touch you, your hands in your pockets as you listen keenly for any sound that Shinji makes behind you. Ironic, you think, that he never asks you why he must protect his body in the heavy hazmat suit and you don't, but then again, Shinji has more pressing matters to worry about right now. And they're all waiting for him at the end of this stairway.

He calls out your name, and you're there in an instant, your help at the ready now that he's asked for it himself. The gray rush of clouds masks the effortless drift and float of your body up to where Shinji leans against the wall for support; but when the fog clears, he looks up at you with blue eyes gleaming behind a protective layer of glass, and he takes your hand with a small, nervous smile that makes it that much more daunting to have to break the news to him. Please smile again after this, you think even as you smile back at him. Please don't let this destroy you. I'll fix everything, I promise, just please smile for me -

::

And when you reveal the truth to him, he's horrified. As he hyperventilates, entrenched in denial, you speak of sin and redemption and hope, your words quiet over the sound of his screams.

It hurts, hearing him this petrified, seeing him shaking like a leaf about to crumble to the ground, but this isn't the end. You've spent fourteen years making this loop perfect. You'll heal everything. As long as all the right pieces fall into place as they should – and they will, nothing can go wrong, no one can ruin this, no one could even dare try – there's nothing stopping you from forever with him, not like all the other times.

::

The choker is freed from Shinji's throat with the faintest touch of your fingertips. When he looks at you, tears streaming down his cheeks and lips trembling, it's as if he's just seen the face of God.

But you are no god, and neither is he. You are both weapons of mass terror, catalysts for an apocalypse, world-destroying vessels that these Lilim have feared since the dawn of time. You're just like me, you want to say, looking at him with an adoration that has only gotten stronger over each and every timeline. It rises up within you in a warm swell and you want to reach out and touch his bottom lip with the pad of your thumb, but your hand remains resting atop the bed a few inches away from his, so close, so equal.

You tell yourself you'll both have all the time in the world to touch after this is through and done with. Still, you burn for him. You've burned for him for so long.

He tells you you're amazing, but when such a thing is being said about you rather than him, you aren't quite sure what the word means.

::

Shinji's eyes are bright and brave in the minutes before entering the Eva. He steps into his plugsuit with the awkward grace of a deer, skinny and delicate, but every time you glance at him out the corner of your eye as you get changed, you see how certain he looks, how driven. If only you could shine a mirror before him. If only he could see himself as you see him now and always, courageous and brilliant even in the midst of his fragility.

"Kaworu," he says quietly, "do you ever…" He looks at you with a shy tilt of a smile and a shrug. "Do you ever, you know, get scared sometimes?"

You smile back at him, tucking your arm into one baggy sleeve of your plugsuit. "Everyone gets scared now and then," you say. "It's in how we handle that fear that differentiates us."

"And what scares you?"

Losing you. Never making you happy. Waking up in another coffin. Dying not by your hand.

Shinji is still looking at you, and so you laugh and say, "We shouldn't talk about that right now."

Shinji nods and lets out an embarrassed little laugh as he pulls up the rest of his plugsuit. "Yeah, guess you're right…"

I'll tell you someday, you think. But not now. Any time but now.

::

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

Shinji is aflame with a rage that shouldn't be there. He's determined in all the wrong ways. There's a horrible sinking in your stomach that only sinks lower and lower with every step the Eva takes, because it hits you in one awful rush that something is wrong.

And then you see – these aren't the right spears. These aren't the right spears.

The sinking within you goes lower down until all you can do is plead for Shinji to not go any further, but that fire, that misplaced determination, it drives him on forward and shuts you out until he can't hear you anymore. There is so much noise and movement coming from so many places and it makes your head spin and ache, and your heart threatens to burst free from your chest as dread and regret overcome it.

You've never felt such fear in all of your lives than when Shinji defies your pleas and pulls the spears – just as you've never felt such dread when you realize you've been tricked.

The first angel to the thirteenth. The beginning and the end truly are the same.

::

Everything moves very quickly. The world begins to crumble and corrode, and there are millions upon millions of screams as the souls of humanity rise up from the earth to melt within the red sky. You watch in muted horror as the reality of the situation begins to dawn on Shinji, his expression morphing into one of petrified shock as everything begins to break down.

The choker around your neck begins to heat up. And then you know. You understand. You're going to die.

Shinji can't know of your horror, your disappointment, your sudden and fiery loathing for his father who has pulled the strings behind your back to bring you to your grave and to destroy his son's life. Lightly, you must do everything lightly before this boy, even as your stomach ties itself into knots and your heart breaks. And so, even as he screams for you, you smile for him. Even as your mind races with doubts, your last words for him must be those of certainty, of hope. The glowing shards spin in closer to your throat and you speak of finding peace, your love pouring out of you while you still have a body to house it all. Shinji is crying. You don't like to see him cry. You don't like the people who make him cry, but now he's crying because of you. How many times have you hurt him like this? How many times has Shinji Ikari cried for your existence?

As the shards spin in closer with only seconds left, you let yourself say something you've never said to him before: "We will meet again."

The promise ring of the choker around your neck is set off. It happens so quickly that you feel nothing. Your body splatters against the glass that Shinji is pressed up against. He's screaming your name over and over again, and from some distant place that he can't see, you're watching with empty eyes as your entire physical being slithers down the glass in sickening streaks of red. Blood and brain matter, scraps of muscle and shards of bone, they all crash against the glass in a hideous chaos that means nothing to you. No doubt they will all be restored to you next time. Fail, redo. Fail, redo. Restart, redo, continue.

At least that's how it was before.

At least then, during the countless loops that have played out before this, you were able to die by Shinji's own doing. At least then, you had known of your own fate. At least then, you had asked for it, accepted it, worked around it with the knowledge that there would always be another chance for a better end.

But this time, you had hoped that this would be it. This time, you have been deceived.

Gendo Ikari has deceived you.

And you are angry.

That raw, seething repulsion is the last thing you feel before the white cloud of your consciousness fades to black, and you are reborn. (Almost.)

::

Wake up. It's time to remember.

Another black coffin, cold and steely. You can feel the chill of it permeating through your bones and making you shake. You're naked and alone and disoriented as your eyes open to the sight of the heavy lid covering the icy box in which you lie.

You've lost count of how many times you've awoken to this scene. To bitter coldness rather than Shinji. To another loop, another infinite failure, another pointless chance.

You lie completely still, breathing slowly, waiting for the sick rush of memory to sweep over you. There's something burning in your chest and behind your eyes, the feel of it hot and stinging and foreign. Something about this feels different. Something inside of you feels unlike it ever has before, but the word for it won't come just yet. But it will.

You lie motionless for a few more moments before a sudden rage seizes you, spurring you to lift your leg and kick hard at the heavy, cold lid of the coffin. It clatters to the ground with a loud and graceless thud. The same red sky awaits you overhead. Its bloody stars laugh at you.

You stare at that red, red sky, and you wait, and you wait, and you wait – and then it hits you, everything, all at once in a mad rush that makes you feel like screaming.

Your vow to Shinji. Piloting the Eva together. The spears. Gendo Ikari. Seele. The thirteenth angel. The choker around your neck like a promise ring. The shards spinning closer and closer to your throat. Shinji's tears. He screams your name. Sudden and explosive noise. Blood, blood, blood as red as the sky above.

Your death. Your failure.

Fourteen years of crafting perfection, a fool-proof plan, Shinji's only hope – and here you are again at the start and end of it all.

Your death. Your failure.

Barely breathing, you sit upright and look down the endless row of coffins with vacant eyes. Something like a laugh is dragged out of your throat, low and hoarse and hollow. You raise a hand to cover your face, peeking out from between your fingers at the empty emblems that mark your every timeline – physical and frigid proofs of your death, your failure, you failed him, you failed him, you failed him

A low, horrible sound leaves your lips, something between a groan and a laugh. Your fingertips dig into the soft skin of your cheek as you begin to shake from the inside out. The row of coffins glitter hideously in the red moonlight; your eyes remain fixed on them as your fingertips flutter to touch your throat. They come back bloody, but when you blink, the blood is gone. Your heart pounds painfully hard in your chest, and when you open your mouth again, you mean to say Shinji's name, but something else comes out instead.

It's only after the fog over your mind clears that you realize you're screaming.