Disclaimer: Evangelion is not mine. It will never be mine. The sooner I accept this cruel truth, the happier my life will be.
Letting Go (Holding On)
Shinji's tried for years to forget about Kaworu; to forget about the pain of killing someone he cared about with his own hand; to forget about the joy of finding, for the first time, someone who cared about him for who he was instead of something he could do. Part of him wants to let all of that go, to move past it so that he can focus on what's important to him now, but he can never entirely escape the other part: the part that clings desperately to the first person aside from his mother to ever tell him "I love you."
It creeps up on him when he's not paying attention; especially when he hears Beethoven's Ninth. The first time Asuka noticed him stopping to listen to it, he simply told her it was nice to hear such a joyful song once in a while, and (wisely, in retrospect) didn't say anything about the bittersweet memories it evoked.
Asuka hates Kaworu, and Shinji knows it's partly because he was an angel, and partly because he was called to replace her as a pilot; but mostly it's because she doesn't understand. Or rather, can't understand. She just hasn't known that same kind of love, the pure love that has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with wishing for the other's happiness, not since her mother went into Unit 02.
It's not that he doesn't love her; in complete, frightening honesty, he loves and desires her more than anything in the world. There is nothing he wouldn't give or do for her, if it were within his power. But it's not the same. He doesn't love her the way he loved Kaworu, and she knows it; she covets that little piece of his heart that will never belong to her alone.
He used to try to explain it to her, but in the end it always just made her angry. She's good at hiding her pain, but after a while he realized he was hurting her and stopped trying to make her understand. Because while he truly believes he would do anything for her, he can never quite let go of Kaworu.
So instead, he does everything he can to show Asuka he's hers, and doesn't bring it up. If she brings it up herself, he quickly changes the subject. He's worried that someday her anxiety over the whole thing will tear them apart, and that worry drives him to ridiculous lengths to prove to her what she means to him. More often than not, he succeeds, but sometimes it backfires completely; she accuses him of trying too hard and wonders aloud if he's being false with her after all. It's all he can do not to tear his hair out in frustration.
But if there's one thing he's learned from her after all this time, it's how to be stubborn. So he'll keep holding on tight to what he values most in his life, keep fighting for her the way he should have done back when they were kids and everything was falling apart inside and around them. This fight, he thinks, is much, much harder.
Against the angels, things so often came down to simply choosing - or stumbling into - the most effective application of brute force. With Asuka, there's no clear target, only the ongoing goal of remaining by her side. Of constantly striving to give her the happiness she deserves.
And that's why he still hasn't told her how much Kaworu loved the "Ode to Joy." She likes it too - she catches him humming the melody absently from time to time, and it always seems to bring a smile to her face. Shinji can't stand the thought of taking that pleasure away from her by revealing that every time he hears it, a small part of him thinks of a strange boy with wild silver hair and gentle red eyes.
Not a ton of drama here, so apologies to any who were hoping for that, but I wanted to focus on that specific feeling of wanting to let go of the past and being unable to despite having happiness in the present. Hopefully I was able to convey that successfully.
This short little fic has actually spent more time sitting around being revised after its initial completion than anything else I've written so far; hopefully all that work was worth it. Please let me know what you liked or didn't like in a review. Thanks for reading!