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How Soon Is Now?

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You’re still tired when you wake up in the morning.

It’s been this way for a few months on and off. In fact, you’ve practically got a routine by now. You slide your bedroom door shut, lay in your bed with the lights off, turn your music on, and just think. When you’re tired enough you shove your pajama bottoms down, close your eyes, and masturbate because you’re a horny teenager and it’s hard to fall asleep otherwise. To be honest, you don’t even think of anything when you’re masturbating; you used to think about big tits, but then you started imagining Misato and you felt really guilty and strange when you finally came. You haven’t even been finishing lately. You’ll cup yourself in a loose fist, eyes closed, mind wandering off and then after an indeterminate amount of rubbing you’ll just go limp again, pull your pajama pants up, turn over, and go to sleep.

You sleep like the dead. Occasionally your music will wake you up in the middle of the night, but you just take out the earphones and drift off again. Even so, you feel heavy in the morning, like the weight of sleep won’t quite move off of your chest. It’s hard to fall asleep once you’ve woken up, so oftentimes you just lay there and stare at the ceiling. On school mornings you roll reluctantly out of bed to make yourself breakfast and lunch because you don’t trust Misato to do it.

Misato makes a big ruckus in the morning and, though it kind of gets on your nerves, it also pulls you out of your head somewhat. You think maybe if you thought of her the way Toji or Kensuke do then you might find her adorably ruffled in the mornings. Mostly you think she looks like the dead walking. As soon as she sees you her face brightens, although you think it’s more for your benefit than because she’s genuinely happy to see you. She always has a beer for breakfast, which you’ve personally never understood. Beer is bad-tasting and smells weird. Every morning you quietly wonder if she could subsist entirely on beer and instant noodles. Probably.

You put your lunch in your backpack and ride your bike to school every day. You get there early since Misato is unbearable while she’s still digesting her morning beer. Plus, it’s good to get your homework done before class; getting homework done after school has been getting harder and harder for months now, even before you started waking up tired. Toji always jokes that it’s because you’re lazier than he is, but you often think to yourself that you are too tired to do homework at home. Sometimes you feel too tired to bike home, but you make yourself do it anyway because otherwise Kensuke and Toji might start to worry and you don’t want to bother them.

You remember one time, about two weeks ago, it was one of those days. Biking home seemed like a herculean effort and, even though your eyes weren’t drooping, your mind was shutting off like it was time to sleep. You almost crashed your bike, which woke you up right away. You pulled yourself to the side of a high road and left your bike by a road sign, wandering into a field and away from the highway. The road was far and you remember thinking over and over “I can’t bike home like this. I can’t call Misato because I can’t even bike home. That’s so simple. I can’t even bike home,” and you started to notice the way your lungs were constricting and everything felt too hot. Raising a hand to your chest, you desperately tried to breathe. “Oh God,” you thought senselessly, beating your hand against your useless lungs. Oh god oh god oh god.

When you finally managed to take in air, you were hunched over tightly, hands clawing a taut rhythm against your thighs. By then you knew you were dying. Or at least you had expected death, maybe even hoped for it. You thought “I am dying” and then “I couldn’t even bike home” and then “Oh God” and you took several heavy gasping breaths that still couldn’t fill your lungs and you really did want to die.

Catching your breath didn’t even help much. Everything was white hot and you were sweating through your school uniform, snot dripping from your nose. You kept flinching, which was stupid because there was nothing to flinch from except yourself. Flinch, shake, sweat, flinch, shake, sweat, until your body seized up for a final time and then released, tears following tracks down your filthy face. You broke down, boneless, in that field. You laid down for a little while, just breathing, just learning how to breathe again.

Then you got up, shivery and afraid, found your bike, and biked all the way home.

Misato was a little worried when you did get home. It wasn’t uncalled for. You were around an hour late, but you were surprised she even noticed. She would normally be doing work around this time. She hugged you tightly when you stepped inside the apartment, and held you uncomfortably close. You kept thinking about what her boobs felt like against your chest and how you accidentally jerked off to them that one time. Then she pulled away and asked you where you had been.

You considered lying; it was hard to burden her, even though she was your legal guardian and you should have been able to tell her your problems. After everything that had happened, though, you wanted her to understand. You wanted to tell her what happened and you wanted her to say how scary that was, how brave you were for biking home afterwards, and how proud she was of you.

Hesitantly, you said, “I had an anxiety attack at the side of the road. I almost crashed my bike,” and it didn’t come out of your mouth the right way, but you didn’t know how to make her understand.

She raised her eyebrows and replied, sympathetically, “Oh Shinji, that’s awful. Well it is exam season, everyone gets stressed, you know? Tell me when you get overwhelmed so it doesn’t happen again.” She smiled warmly and you nodded. Exam season, right. That’s what it was. You didn’t tell her that it was because you were always tired, even though you were getting a perfectly healthy amount of sleep. Maybe she was right. You nodded to yourself even though you didn’t believe it. You went to your room to listen to music and proceed with your nightly routine a little earlier than normal.

Nothing that bad has happened since, but you’ve been feeling strange for a long time. It’s like living with blinders on; you’re in a constant state of being unaware of all the things that surround you and yet hyperaware of one focal point, just out of reach. That sounds profound when you think it to yourself, but you wouldn’t dare say to anyone else. Wisdom doesn’t sound like wisdom in your voice.

You get annoyed with yourself easily. There’s a voice in your head, different from the one that says profound things and more like your actual voice that tells you all the things you already knew. The bike incident for example: for days afterwards it talked about what a failure you are. “Now you can’t even bike home? Well, it’s not like you should be surprised with your own incompetence. You can’t do your own homework either. Misato didn’t understand you. You never should have told her. You’re a failure.”

Sometimes the voice in your head is vicious and upsets you, but a lot of the time it speaks very casually and, honestly, it’s truthful. It does set you on edge though. You’re always ready to screw up. You’re always ready to hate yourself and listen closely to the voice in your head that says things that are obvious to everyone. Maybe that’s what is making you tired.

However, on the Wednesday before school let out for summer vacation you broke your schedule. Toji had to pick up a gift at the convenience store for his younger sister and he convinced you that you owed it to him to go with. It was a long bike ride up, but it was good to spend time with Toji again.

You remember that when you two first met he hated you. His sister was sick and your father was her doctor. While you were shadowing your father’s work you managed to screw up one of her scans pretty badly. In the end it was you who scrambled to save the entire operation. You weren’t unsuccessful, but there was a few hours in between that didn’t look so good. You hadn’t known Toji at the time, so you hadn’t known it was Toji’s sister under your father’s care. To be honest you didn’t give a shit. You didn’t want to be shadowing your father’s work. You were only a first year in high school at that time. You hated the look your father kept giving you and you also hated that he called you after the operation was over to tell you how proud he was. It put the same sick feeling in the pit of your stomach as the time you jerked off thinking about Misato – the worst part was that you kind of liked the praise. Your dad was proud of you.

Toji, on the other hand, hated your guts for that scare. His first words to you were, “Sorry, but you fucking deserved that,” right after he punched you in the face. You felt like defending yourself, but you just laid on the concrete where you landed. Kensuke was there too. You don’t really remember what he said, some kind of non-apology before he shrugged and walked away.

Toji forgave you after the two of them somehow got stuck in the bathroom with you while you were having a panic attack. It was thoroughly mortifying, but something about the desperation in your swollen eyes turned them on to treating you alright so you aren’t really complaining.

Two years later you couldn’t imagine your life without them. You feel ok around them and they give you people to talk to; you like to think it’s a mutual thing. Sometimes the voice in your head that sounds like you says that they only stay with you out of pity, but you pretend not to hear it. It’s easier that way.

Anyway, you’re biking to the convenience store with Toji. Kensuke is doing his own thing; you didn’t really bother to figure out what it was. You follow Toji down the third hill and skirt across to the bike racks that sit outside the convenience store. You’ve always found this store to be really cozy, but you feel stupid going by yourself so you never do.

Inside the store there’s warm lighting and cool tiles and a clerk you’ve never seen before, leaning on pale arms over the counter and listening to quiet music you just can’t make out. Toji walks in long strides towards the section with the cutesy 100 yen toys. You start to walk after him, but the clerk looks up at you and it’s hard not to meet his eyes; he’s got an empathetic face and his smile crinkles at the edges of his face when he looks at you. Lifting his hands so he’s not leaning on the counter, he cocks his head a bit and gives you a little wave, never breaking eye-contact. A shiver goes down your spine and you feel kind of hot all over, but you have the sense to give a little wave back before Toji calls you over to one of the little 50 yen machines to ask if you have any change he can borrow.

“I think that she’d really like this little pink one,” Toji says, shaking the toy around in its plastic casing, “Girls like that shit, right?” You shrug, feeling sweat collect between your shoulder blades; the clerk is still staring at you. When you dare to glance back his way his grin widens and he winks. “Christ, Shinji, you are no help. Maybe I should have waited and then asked Asuka to come instead. She hates me, but she’s a girl, she’d be able to find a good present for my little sister, right?” You gulp loudly and try to focus on Toji.

“Um, I guess?” you concede, feeling a blush creep onto your ears. Toji doesn’t notice your discomfort, or at least he doesn’t comment on it. You continue half-heartedly, “I think your sister will like anything you give her, Toji. I don’t think Asuka would be able to help you any more than I can.” Toji rolls his eyes at that.

“Please, you’re just jealous because I considered taking Asuka here over you,” he says, tossing the little toy between his hands. “Don’t worry man, I wouldn’t take your girlfriend anywhere over you in like a million years. Come on, go get yourself a pocari or something and then we can check out. Maybe we can go to my place afterwards and work on homework together.”

You swallow down a pathetically useless “she’s not my girlfriend” and nod, mind straying back to the light-haired clerk who’s still giving you eyes behind the counter. The music is light instrumental; you can hear it better now as you pay more attention. That or he’s turned it up. As you make your way to the back of the store to look for the pocari sweat vending machine you know is there, you can feel your heart in your throat. You kind of wish you knew what his deal was. You know you have the kind of face that’s just begging people to bully you, even people who don’t know you, but all he’s been sending you are those gentle smiles. That wink too; thinking about it makes your lower abdomen do some jelly-like wiggling. It’s almost like that time when you and Asuka kissed outside of Ayanami’s house on the way to pick her up for school, except with less accompanying disgust and more confusion. Boys don’t look that way at other boys, and no one looks that way at you.

Still, as you stick a couple of coins in the machine and tap your foot while your drink rattles around, you hear footsteps behind you and feel someone’s hand at your back. You think it’s Toji, trying to rush you. “The machine is taking a long time, hold on a minute-” you say in an irritated huff before you turn around and come face to face with someone who is definitely not Toji. “Uh…” gasping, you kind of fall back into the machine, and the clerk steps back from you, holding up his hands. Your drink finally clinks down into the retrieval slot, but you find it hard to move.

“Sorry,” he breathes, his eyes skipping down and back up your body. He bites his lip and you feel like you’re being dissected; it’s not necessarily bad. The music picks up tempo from the front of the store. Grinding his lip between his teeth and glancing back to your face, he continues. “I didn’t mean to startle you. You’re Shinji Ikari, right?”

“Yeah,” you croak in bewilderment, “Um, yes, that’s me. How did you-?”

“From the Ikari Emergency Care Facility. I was interning in the med labs during your third year of shadowing.” The guy has stars in his eyes. Your stomach flip flops as he continues, “You’re a bit famous at the University where I’m studying. You’re kind of incredible.” Warm brown eyes, almost red you think, gaze into you with an intensity that makes you only slightly uncomfortable. It’s a lot to take in. You don’t remember anyone ever looking at you like this, like you’re as successful as your father, or Misato, or anything. It’s overwhelming. It’s intoxicating. You think you’re going to puke.

Instead you drop his stare to fumble your pocari sweat out of the machine. When you look back up, his face has evened out into a charmed little smile and he’s leaning back, hands in the pockets of his uniform pants. “I’m sorry,” he says again, “I think I may have come on too strong. Let’s start again; I’m Kaworu Nagisa. It’s nice to finally meet you, Shinji Ikari, I’ve heard many good things about you.”

“Hello,” you respond, clutching your drink nervously. “It’s nice to meet you, Nagisa.” Your heart rate is starting to even out again. Vaguely, you wonder where the hell Toji is.

He leans into you a bit, bowing politely. “Oh, please, call me Kaworu.” With an amused look, he finally backs out of your space and licks his upper lip. You might be melting a little. Unfortunately – or maybe fortunately, you’ll never know for sure – he chooses that moment to look apologetically from you to his work station and say, “Ah, well, I should be getting back to work now. Your friend is looking a little impatient to leave. I don’t blame him. Maybe I’ll see you later?”

“Yeah,” you murmur, “I’ll see you later.” He winks at you again as he walks away and you stumble out of the store in a daze. You almost forget to wait for Toji, which is pathetic, but you sincerely do not care right now.

“Who the hell was that guy,” Toji asks you in a harried way when he finally comes out of the convenience store, goods in hand.

“Kaworu Nagisa,” you say quietly, maybe a little reverently. Toji grunts.

“Didn’t know you had any friends other than me, Kensuke, and Ayanami,” he replies, and you think it’s sarcastic, but you’re too distracted to let the voice in your head play with his empty comment. You ignore him and you both bike to his place, as planned. You finally get some homework done, and for once you do not hate yourself for taking much longer than Toji to finish it.

That night, you get very little sleep. From midnight to the wee hours of the morning you’re up thinking about Kaworu. It isn’t anything romantic or even very specific. You try to remember him from your third year of shadowing, yet fail to recall his face. To be fair it’s not like you spent any time with him. And your third year was the year that Asuka arrived at the hospital, so you were pretty heavily preoccupied too.

Asuka Langely Soryu was a girl roughly your age who had been taken into Ikari Medical under the guidance of her instructors back in Germany. She was basically a genius – more than that, she was incredibly talented at what she did, already learning University level material, while you still struggled through your second year high school books. She, like Toji, hated you immediately. You think that it must be the air about you, or the way you hold yourself. You must just come off as disgusting and unlikeable. She was also a bit jealous of you, you think. You shared very little of the training or smarts that she possessed, yet Asuka had been expected from the beginning to treat you as both a partner and an equal during the shadowing process. She had zero respect for you and after a while, the feeling was mutual. She was beautiful and she made you feel really sexually confused, but she also made you feel even smaller than you already did. Your third year of shadowing was spent trying to redeem yourself in both her eyes and your father’s eyes. Now, lying where you do in your bed thinking on it, you feel stupid and wasteful in wanting her approval, wanting understanding from her of all people. Hindsight makes it clear that the both of you are too similar to ever get along and too different to ever understand each other.

Your fourth year of shadowing, the past year, brought a new phase of your relationship: the awkward tangle of both of your sexual awakenings. You had kissed each other a couple of times, and once she let you feel her boobs, but it makes you feel kind of sick to think of that now. You block out the memories the best you can. It’s going to be easier once she moves back to Germany at the end of term. She’s only going to be gone for a few months, six at most, but you wish it was forever. You wish you hadn’t had her in your mind when Kaworu looked at you before. But what can you do?

Needless to say she isn’t what remains at the forefront of your mind when Kaworu is around. The next day you bike to the convenience store alone, but you don’t feel like a loser the way you normally do. You also feel distinctly less tired that you had weeks previously, which is both odd and precious, considering your lack of sleep. When you see him, he’s sitting behind the counter with his eyes closed, his thick eyelashes fluttering gently on his cheeks, his head bobbing to the music. His eyes fly open as the chime on the door jingles and his face breaks into a wild grin that you feel yourself mirroring without meaning to. He seems so genuinely happy to see you again that your heart flutters and the back of your neck heats up. “Hey Kaworu,” you murmur, humming with the quiet energy of him. He stalks towards you quickly, putting a hand on your shoulder and licking his lips. They’re kind of chapped; you find this quality endearing.

“Shinji! It’s good to see you again. I’m getting off of my shift early today, would you like to wait around for me so we can bike somewhere together?” he asks assuredly. It startles you, but you nod. Kaworu seems to be a very forward, yet thoughtful person and you like this immediately. He doesn’t use it meanly or bluntly in the way Asuka and Toji can. Kensuke and Misato tend to skirt around subjects with you, which is mostly just irritating. You and Ayanami avoid talking about issues at all; the few times you have she acts apathetically, which you understand, but despise in a way. You hate comparing him with your friends, but you can’t help it. Its cliché, but he just seems so different.

You’re impatient for Kaworu to get off his shift so you screw around with the vending machines while he cleans and locks up.

Finally, he hangs up a broom at the front of the store and motions for you to wait just one more moment while he strips off his work shirt. Politely, you look away and try not to feel flustered. He folds the shirt neatly, tucking it into a small locker that sits right underneath the counter. His whole body is pale and thin, his chest and shoulders a bit red from working. Hip bones jut out from the top of his work pants, and when he stretches to lift a casual purple t-shirt over his head his ribs are very apparent; it’s not like you’re peeking, it’s just very difficult not to notice. “You don’t have to be shy, Shinji,” he tells you, sounding amused, “We’re both boys, I don’t think I have any parts you haven’t seen before.” He pulls on a white cotton button-up over his shirt and you nod vigorously, trying not to look as nervous as you feel.

“Hey,” he says, walking out from behind the counter and placing a warm hand low on your shoulder, “Just tell me if I’m making you uncomfortable, alright? You don’t have to feel agitated around me. Come on, let’s go. Do you have your bike with you?” Kaworu’s eyes are fixated right on yours; instead of meeting his gaze you look steadily at two tiny freckles that sit right on the bridge of his snub nose.

You want to tell him that you don’t feel agitated by him, but you can’t find the words. Instead you reply, slowly but steadily, “Ok, Kaworu. And yes I do. Where do you want to go to?” You finally bring yourself to meet his eyes, which crinkle good-naturedly; he doesn’t really lift his hand off of your shoulder as much as he trails it down your arm, finally drifting away when his knobby fingers brush your wrist.

“I didn’t really think about it. There’s a coffee place not that far from here. Would that be ok?”

When he smiles with his teeth, you can see that the front two are kind of crooked, the left over-lapping the right slightly. Your body feels hot. Kaworu moves away from you to open the door and you trail after him. You’re pretty sure you know the place he’s talking about – it’s not very far from the convenience store, about ten minutes by bike, so you agree and you both unhook your bikes from the bike rack, mounting them together.

The trip to the coffee shop is quiet, but you somehow don’t feel obligated to talk. You try to start a conversation at the beginning of the ride, but it pitters away naturally and Kaworu doesn’t seem like he expects you to continue talking about nothing. Earnest appreciation settles in your chest for this person you barely know; you can say with honesty that you want to know him better.

After a few minutes of silent pedaling (well, not entirely silent – about five minutes into the ride, you were staring at the back of Kaworu’s head and almost fell off your bike; you stuttered out nasally apologies but Kaworu waved you off and smiled as he helped you back onto your bike) the coffee shop comes into view. It’s a dinky brown building that speaks volumes of how far you both are from inner-city. You wouldn’t find anywhere near this much open space close to your apartment. Briefly, you wonder how far Kaworu lives from where he works. Probably not too far, if he bikes.

You park your equipment in the bike racks and follow Kaworu into the shop. There are very few people inside: an old woman with a small drink, two young adults with very large drinks, and a salaryman typing forcefully on his mobile. Kaworu offers to pay for both of you, and you find it difficult to argue with him when you realize you only have a few coins left over from yesterday’s outing with Toji.

Once you’ve ordered, you pick a booth near the back and Kaworu follows close behind. Hesitantly, you pull out a chair for him and he nods in appreciation before sitting down; you take the seat right across from him and after a moment he raises his eyebrow at you, tapping a slim finger on the tabletop. “No coffee, huh?”

You frown, quick to defend yourself. “Coffee is fine, I just prefer hot chocolate.” Noticing his steady gaze, you backtrack a bit. “Coffee is too bitter for me. I like some teas alright, but…” you trail off awkwardly. It’s better to stop while you’re ahead. Surprisingly enough, Kaworu only nods.

“A sweet drink for a sweet person,” he says, sagely, “I understand. I prefer coffee though. Caffeine fuels college students; I thought that was a myth when I was younger, but now I’m living proof.” You can’t help but blush at his compliment or laugh at his quip.

A waitress comes bearing your drinks; she’s young and beautiful, and she leans into Kaworu a bit more than she probably should. She’s flirting, you realize; your heart sinks weirdly into your chest at the way she giggles when Kaworu thanks her politely and smiles. Your chest unclenches quickly, however. Even though she looks like she’d prefer it if the conversation would continue, Kaworu brushes her off, face turning back to you, as uninterested in her as he seems interested in you. She takes the hint, gracefully bowing her head to you and walking back to her work station.

There’s a happy lump in the pit of your throat when Kaworu lifts his large coffee and takes a huge scalding drink. You can’t start on your hot chocolate yet, but you’re content to watch your date.

You clear your throat, averting your eyes from Kaworu. Not a date date, obviously, you rationalize to yourself, but, a date nonetheless. ‘That’s what people call it, right?’ you think; however, before you can get sucked into an anxious whirlwind, Kaworu interrupts your train of thought.

“College has been different than I expected it would be. I’ve changed a lot,” he reveals, drumming his fingers across the table in a rhythm, “Not necessarily for the worse, I’m sure. The paths I’m taking just aren’t the ones that were laid out for me, you know?” You nod slightly, not quite sure what to say. The way he speaks is poetic to you, and to an extent you do understand, but you aren’t sure you sympathize. No matter how much you hate it you’re still continuing on the path that was laid out for you by your father, by Misato, by all of your teachers and, to an extent, by your friends.

Kaworu continues, and you’re thankful that he doesn’t seem to need your input. “Sometimes I’m scared that I’m not making the right decisions, since they aren’t the ones my parents set out for me. I find comfort in it, though. Doing things that make me happy.” He sighs through his nose, taking a sip of his coffee. You follow suit with your hot chocolate, nearly choking when he speaks again.

“Although,” he says, eyes locking onto yours, “I suppose this path can’t be too bad if it’s led me to you.”

Coughing, you wipe your nose on your sleeve and try to recover from that comment. “We just met, how would you know if it’s a bad path?” you blurt out, and almost instantly you feel regret settle into the lining of your ribs. You hate that you doubt him, but nothing about this is right. People don’t treat you this way. People don’t flirt with you (except Misato, but she only does it in a sisterly way, and you feel sick when she does because you can’t stop thinking about what an awful pervert you are). Not even you and Asuka flirted; there was mutual hatred and a lot of making out, but there were never gentle smiles, or soft hands, or lingering gazes. There was never this.

Eyebrows raising, Kaworu physically sits back in his seat a bit, looking at first surprised and then sad, his thin mouth quirking into a poignant frown. “I apologize, Shinji,” he murmurs, his eyes cast down “I’ve been told I come on strong. And I’m sure this is odd, since I’ve heard so much about you and you still know very little about me. I’d like you to take my word for it though.” Here he stops, looking a bit thoughtful. Then he plows on almost forcefully, trying to catch your eye, “I’d like you to take my word for it when I say that you are genuinely one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. Shinji, maybe you aren’t a good person, but who’s to say that? It’s so difficult and unnecessary to put labels like good and bad onto people when they only apply to this person or that person.” Kaworu stops again, seeming hesitant, and you will him to go on, head spinning. He does, saying, “I’d like to think that for me, you would be a good person, Shinji; that we could be good to each other. Even if we are bad for everyone else in our lives, wouldn’t it be nice to be good for at least one other person?”

Your heart is hammering and unfolding in your chest, and your hand is shaking around your slowly-turning-lukewarm drink. If there was cool spring breeze shifting in through the coffee shop windows it’s certainly stopped now because warm, still air creeps up the base of your neck and lingers there. “Oh,” you say eloquently, meeting Kaworu’s gaze with more fervor than before. “Yeah, I would like for us to be good for each other.”

His shoulders relax, though you hadn’t realized they had been tensed, and a small smile breaks out onto his face, his crooked front teeth flashing. “I’m glad,” he admits, lifting his coffee back up to his face to take another sip. You lift your cup up to your lips, breathing in the sweet scent of chocolate deeply.

“Now,” he says with a sense of finality, “You’re still in high school, right? What is this, your third year?”

You nod comfortably, back in more familiar territory. “My last year. I’m not sure what I’m going to do once school lets out this week. I think my father wants me to keep working for him once I’ve formally finished with school, but…” You feel conflicted briefly, but decide that Kaworu of all people will understand. “I don’t think that’s what I want to do, Kaworu. I hate-”, ‘I hate my father’, you think, but you can’t make yourself say it. It will come out wrong and you’ll sound ungrateful or childish. “I hate working with my father,” you continue. You aren’t happy with the way the words sit on your tongue, but it’s more understandable than the alternative. You wait for Kaworu to say something; however, now he seems content to let you finish your thought.

You continue more hesitantly than before. “I’m jealous that you aren’t following the plans your parents set out for you anymore, Kaworu. I don’t think I could do that. I’d hate to run away from my responsibilities.”

“But they aren’t your responsibilities,” Kaworu interjects. You must look startled because he leans back in his chair, brushing his fingers against yours in a comforting gesture. “If you aren’t choosing them for yourself, or better yet, if they aren’t making you truly happy, why should you be responsible for them?”

He nods to himself, continuing, “You’re an adult now, Shinji. You don’t have to take responsibility for your father’s wishes, especially if you hate them. That isn’t running away. That’s just common sense.”

When he bites his lip and his knee knocks against yours under the table, it’s like the whole world becomes brighter.

“You’re right,” you murmur into your cup, and when you peek up at him under your dark bangs he grins encouragingly.

For the rest of the visit, conversation drifts to lighter topics. Kaworu likes classical music and bad indie American music because he can’t understand the words, but it speaks to him anyways. Kaworu has changed his degree twice, but is absolutely certain the degree he’s pursuing now is what he wants to do, that is, he wants to compose. Kaworu plays the piano. Kaworu tells you with electrifying indulgence that he’d love to play a duet with you one day, at the mention that you play cello.

Kaworu bikes home with you because it’s getting dark and he doesn’t want you to be lonely. Secretly you’re very pleased. Or maybe not so secretly: your face hurts from smiling.

Your bikes come to a sputtering stop right in front of your apartment complex, and there’s a deep pang in your chest at the thought that the night is over, that you have to go back to your room now, chest clenching with solitude, and that you’ll have to wake up tired again in the morning. Dismounting your bike, you fumble with your apartment key and turn to Kaworu, wondering how to best ask him if you would be able to see him tomorrow. He slings his leg over his bike, rests it against the dark paneling of the building, and steps closer to you. In one fluid movement, he slides his lithe fingers to the dip between your jaw and your throat and kisses your face, gentle lips pressing against the hollow of your cheek, before pulling away and remounting his bike. “Good night, Shinji. I hope to see you again soon,” he says, pushing off into the street.

“Good-bye,” you whisper, but he’s already out of sight.

You stumble deliriously into the apartment complex. Your cheek tingles under your fingers and you nearly trip twice on your way up the stairs.

Misato teases you about your date immediately as you step over the threshold into the apartment – you told her you’d been meeting with someone she didn’t know before you’d left for school that day – but it barely even phases you. Thankfully Asuka isn’t there to tease you as well – she’s been staying at Horaki’s house for almost a week now.

You only start to come down from that feeling as you turn off your handheld shower and slip into the bath. Soaking has never really been soothing to you, even though it’s supposed to be. It just leaves you alone with all sorts of awful thoughts and doubts. Tonight is really no exception. No matter how much you barricade yourself from the dark voice inside your head it still seeps in, saturating with the bath water.

You wonder why Kaworu would latch on to someone like you, someone so small and weak-willed. What does he see in you that others don’t? This doubt is easily dismissed; for whatever reason Kaworu likes you and that’s all you care about. He talked to you for hours and it felt like minutes, his shirt fluttered fleetingly on his pale ribs, and his lips felt dry and gentle on your cheek. You aren’t worried about Kaworu.

Other doubts, however, cling and violate, making you hunch further into the cooling tub water. Surely you could never be as brave as him, going against his parents’ wishes to pursue his passion. How will you ever be able to look at Misato again, when she knows that you’re incapable of handling the responsibility thrust upon you?

Kaworu’s words ring in your head. You’re an adult now and it’s not your responsibility if you choose not to take it. The reassurance sinks like dead weight in your chest. With no other proper desires in mind for college or training school, you are at a loss with what you would do if you didn’t apprentice your father after high school. Working in an office is not particularly inspiring, and you know you aren’t talented enough at music to pursue a career in it like Kaworu. You only started playing in the first place because you were told to.

Despair boils over as you drain the bathtub and pat yourself dry with a towel. The day’s events all seem to compound and bombard you right then. You are tired. You haul yourself into your dark room, slide the door shut, and flop onto your bed over the covers. Half-heartedly, you fish your hands into your pants and encircle yourself, thrusting shallowly. A feeling of hot agitation grows in the pit of your stomach as you jerk your hand. Still, it’s gone almost as soon as it appears. You slowly pull your hand back out of your pants, groaning in quiet frustration. When you finally drift off, it’s curled into yourself, your fists clenched tightly in front of your face. You do not dream.

Over the next week you see Kaworu fairly often. The last few days are painfully boring since finals are already over, yet teachers are still trying to teach lessons and cram homework. Toji and Kensuke try to remedy this by biking with you every day after school with the promise of hanging out. You find it difficult to keep coming up with excuses about why you need to go to the convenience store after school and they finally seem to catch on that it’s because you have an enormous crush on the store’s closing clerk. Kensuke finds this development hilarious and the next time you visit the convenience store together he discreetly takes pictures of you and Kaworu interacting. “Evidence,” you hear him whisper to Toji, “that our baby Shinji is finally growing up.”

Meanwhile, Toji takes the entire thing very seriously. On the Tuesday after school lets out, you’re all outside the convenience store, hitching your bikes up to the rack; it’s the second time all three of you have been there since they discovered your crush and almost a week since you first met Kaworu. Kensuke gives Toji a look and walks into the store, and you’re about to follow when Toji pulls you aside. He looks a little put out, as though he’s not sure what to say, before finally resting a hand on your shoulder and saying bluntly, “Shinji, you’re like a brother to me.” You make a face and squirm a bit, finally meeting his gaze. You hadn’t known Toji was going to do his tough guy, macho older brother thing, but you shouldn’t be surprised. Warmth settles into your chest as he squeezes your shoulder. “No, dammit, Shinji, listen. You’re like a brother to me, and you deserve to be happy, man. If that guy in there is going to make you happy, then by all means go after him,” he declares, taking his hand off your shoulder and crossing his arms over his chest before continuing, “But we’re not all going to be here this next year to protect you from him if he turns out to be an asshole. Dude, you have to promise me that if store clerk in there breaks your heart that you will call me up right away so I can come back down here and kick his ass for you. Do you understand?” Toji has his eyebrows all scrunched up and he’s kind of nodding to himself – you want to say that you can take care of yourself, but you’re pretty sure it won’t do you any good. Briefly, looking up into his pride-filled face, you wonder if this is how his little sister feels.

“Yeah, I understand,” you concede, “Don’t worry about me though, Toji. Kaworu isn’t the kind of person that would do that.” ‘I don’t think,’ you add in your own head, but you smile anyway. Toji grins, punches you in the shoulder, and finally heads inside the convenience store.

Kaworu gets along with your friends unexpectedly well. Sometimes when he notices Kensuke trying to sneak a picture he’ll pose like a middle school girl, winking and throwing up the peace sign next to you. He does really stupid stuff with them, like take up Toji on his bet of who can manage to win something from the claw machine first (the answer is no one – after countless tries Kaworu waves his hand in defeat and unlocks the machine, instructing you all not to say a word to his manager; he beams at you as he gives you a sweet little penguin plushie that Misato later christens “Pen Pen” in a fit of drunken ingenuity). He humors them a lot and you can’t tell if it’s for your sake or because he genuinely likes them; you find you don’t really care which it is. Doing immature things like getting caught by bewildered customers while having tickle fights in the middle of the store is the most fun you’ve had in a while.

It doesn’t stop you from feeling lonely late at night in your cold bed, nor does it erase the impending doom of your future, but you feel ok again. You feel like there’s a reason you’re getting out of bed every morning.

The best time of these last few days, though, has been when the sun looks paler in the sky, Toji and Kensuke finally admitting they have to leave to go back home. The first couple days they tried to talk you into coming with them, only to have Kaworu wave them off. Now, Toji will say something like, “It’s about that time,” and Kensuke will shake his head knowingly, and they’ll leave the two of you in peace while Kaworu closes up the shop.

The two of you are very comfortable around each other now; you have been ever since you went out to get coffee together. Sometimes an uncertainty you have will stir the water – like the day after Kaworu rode you home and kissed your cheek. After Toji and Kensuke left you fidgeted with the question of what the kiss had meant, but were unsure of how to politely bring it into conversation. Finally, you blurted out, “Why did you kiss me last night?”

Kaworu looked up from where he was restocking one of the lower shelves in the back of the store, eyebrows raised, seeming to mull over the question. “Well,” he said carefully, “In some places a peck on the cheek is a farewell sentiment.” You shook your head.

“But is that why you kissed me?”

Stepping up from the shelves entirely, Kaworu made his way towards you, looking a bit unsure. Then, in a more resolved tone, he murmured, “No. I kissed you because I thought you looked beautiful in the moonlight. I won’t do it again if it made you uncomfortable, but to tell the truth that isn’t the only place I’d like to kiss you.” He kept his distance and the look in his eyes was sorted, but you could tell there was a nervous energy about him as he said this. Your heart swelled and seized. You felt hot all over.

“Oh,” you said. Suddenly, your mouth was a lot more cottony than normal; swallowing did little good.

“I mean,” you said feverishly, “I think I’d like you to kiss me other places too.”

The anxious tension in the room faded, but you could feel a different kind of tension expanding in your gut. Kaworu breathed a short little “ah” of understanding and slowly closed the distance between you. Your heart throbbed in your chest, but all the blood seemed to be rushing to your head; Kaworu’s soft steps were drowned out by the roaring in your ears. When he was close enough to touch he did so fervently. One long hand skirted down your spine to rest at the small of your back; the other touched your jaw, knobby fingers brushing your pulse. His eyes were on you, an inch from yours, searching as he asked, “Is this ok?” in a quiet tone, and you answered him by pressing your mouths together.

You felt a flash of panic at first, remembering the awkwardness of the kisses you and Asuka had shared, but this one was different from the beginning. Instead of stubborn uncertainty, Kaworu exuded tenderness, holding his bottom lip firmly to yours and smoothing his warm hand down your spine. Your eyes fluttered closed as he kissed you, not because you couldn’t bear to look at him, but because you were dizzy with the feeling. You let out a breathy sigh and parted your lips, closing them around his again, shifting your body closer to rest your hands on his hips. His hand traveled from your back to where your shirt met your pants. He tugged you forward with a huff of hot air against the side of your mouth. You canted your hips forward, crushing your bodies together as you gripped hard on his sides, licking your lips harshly. His thumb pushed and pulled in lazy circles against the peak of your hipbone as he leaned back in to kiss the tip of your tongue, nipping your bottom lip.

Electricity quaked through your gut. An embarrassing mewl groaned out of your throat as he began to kiss you again properly, spit pooling on the side of your face. He curved his hand back from your side to the flat of your ass and you honest to god hiccupped in surprise. You could feel his smile against your lips.

You had only been kissing for a couple of minutes, but his thumb had rucked up your shirt in the front and his hands cupped your ass in pleasant circular motions; he was tonguing at your sensitive gum line and you could already feel the heaviness of your hands growing restless against his back. It was kind of giving you a boner. Hesitantly, you rubbed your crotch into his upper thigh, feeling a jolt of pleasure that ran sickly sweet. Guilt spiked in a sickly wave on the back of your neck, quickly dissipating when Kaworu’s breath hitched, turning into a low moan that shuddered through your body. You thrusted again, this time with more certainty, pressure building up in your crotch. Kaworu gripped your upper thighs tightly, urging you to proceed. Your back and legs were taut and you could feel him shiver against you as you sucked his thin lower lip with your tongue and teeth.

Rutting against each other desperately, feeling your briefs stick unpleasantly to the wet head of your dick, you felt all at once wanted and disgusted with yourself. You hated that your mind continued to race as Kaworu pulled one hand away from your ass to fondle your erection through your uniform pants and you hated the way bile swelled up in your throat even as you keened in pleasure, shoving yourself hard into his hand. You hated that he noticed how your body was stiff, but not in the right way. You hated that he stopped kissing you, drew his hand away from your pants, and held you as you began to cry.

Kaworu didn’t say a word to help or hurt you; he just rubbed a soothing line into your back and held your cold hand with his warm one. He kissed both of your damp cheeks in affection and allowed the sobs to wrack through your body. When you were finally able to catch your breath, snot dripping out of your nose and tears abating, he didn’t ask what was wrong. He smoothed your bangs from your face and kissed your forehead softly. You’d lost your erection by then and you felt utterly low, terrible for ruining the moment and proving yourself yet again incapable of truly connecting with someone.

Pulling away, you wiped your eyes and nose with shaking hands. Maybe you expected him to finally reject you or say that the two of you should stop seeing each other. You expected him to ask for some kind of explanation. Most of all, you could feel the shivering of your body and how, as your hiccupping breaths slowed, you expected him to realize that he ought to pull his spindly fingers away from yours and pity you politely, from a distance. The blow never came. Instead, he gave your hand one last squeeze and adjusted his frazzled clothing, saying only one thing.

“Thank you, Shinji.”

You stood dumbly as he changed out of his work clothes and went through all the other motions of closing up the shop. He rode home with you on his bike in relative silence, but you didn’t feel like he was doing it out of obligation. When your bikes came to a halt outside of your apartment complex, he dismounted and came close to you, as close as you were before the kiss in the store. His auburn eyes met yours. “Shinji,” he said, and it sounded like the breath had been kicked out of him, “I think I was born to meet you.”

You didn’t say anything, but the look on your face must have sufficed. He leaned in and quickly pecked you on the lips, then mounted his bike. “I hope I see you again soon,” he added, a soft smile in his voice.

He rode away into the orange of the impending dusk and you fell asleep that night without once recounting the details of your awful breakdown.

The two of you haven’t made any moves on each other since then, not aside from the occasional kiss or hug. On Tuesday, after Kensuke and Toji leave, you move to help him clear the shop up, a tiny smile lighting up your face. Yes, this time alone with Kaworu has been sublime. If you had any uncertainties about him before, they’re long gone now. He makes you feel alright just being yourself and you don’t feel alone when he’s around. He cares about you a lot. In the store, after closing, he fills the silence with his presence, like the quiet clink of the vending machines as he restocks them, and the swish of his clothes when he undresses. He’s never asked you to help him clean up the store, but over time you’ve started to anyway. You find that you enjoy the small and often tedious tasks of cleaning and restocking, when you know that it’s for Kaworu.

Sometimes the silence of the store is filled with talking. You find that Kaworu isn’t a very talkative person, and that when he does speak it is contemplative. Opening up to him about your problems is easier than you make it out to be in your head. He listens attentively and very rarely offers you advice or a solution. Kaworu nods and hums, or his brows knit up and he shakes his head. On more than one occasion he has sympathized with you. When you speak about your father, for instance, finding it hard to mask the loathing in your voice, he brings up his own parents.

You don’t know a lot about Kaworu’s home life. You do know that he’s renting an apartment that’s not far from his campus and you know that he rarely speaks to his parents. You also know that he has a lot of siblings, all of whom he seems to get along with poorly or not at all. Parents are a sore subject for both you of. There’s always a tightness in your chest when you mention having had to leave school early with Ayanami so both of you could try to win the affection of your father (and so neither of you could succeed). When Kaworu mentions his mother, his voice holds nothing but self-effacing love, yet his eyes shine wet with sadness. Rarely have you pushed that subject into maturity; you wouldn’t want to intrude on the one space Kaworu has deemed off limits for fear of upsetting your peace.

Conversation occasionally drifts to lighter topics, like your friends, homework, or college professors. Neither of you are particularly good at small talk, however. That’s fine with you. It’s enough to be together.

On Tuesday, as the light outside dwindles away and Kaworu tugs his casual clothes on over his head, you feel a lump in your throat that you don’t quite recognize. You are smiling at him as he looks up and grins back at you, goofy and lopsided; your chest feels tight, but not in the wrong way. Coming closer, he rests a gentle hand on the back of your hip and tugs you into an embrace. From this close you can smell how musky he is from working and the remnants of his mint cologne. You rest your head on the slant of his shoulder, nestling your face into his long, light-colored hair. In the front of the store soft, modern instrumental music is clinking out of the old stereo, and the two of you float on it, alone together. Then his voice breaks the soft stillness, warm breath on your ear.

“Shinji, would you like to spend the night at my place?”

You whisper, “Yes,” and clear your throat at the suddenness of your own reply. Against the side of your face you can feel him smile as his fingers curl into the expanse between your shoulder blades.

“You can call Misato from the phone in my apartment,” he suggests, “and I’m sure I have some clothes you can borrow. Although they might be a bit big on you.” The two of you pull away slowly and you nod.

His apartment isn’t far from the convenience store. The complex is a bit smaller than the one you, Misato, and Asuka live in, and the bike rack is a little more aged and forlorn. Charming little gas lights line the pavement up the walkway and you can tell by the soft look in Kaworu’s face that he’s home. You hesitantly brush your fingers against his and your heart beats in your throat as you clasp your hands together. He smiles slightly and squeezes his fingers into yours as you both enter the building. There’s a dozing little old lady attending the front desk and almost no one else around.

He leads you up the stairs of the fire escape onto the third level and finally stops in front of his door, letting go of your hand to fish a key out of his pocket.

His apartment is worn down like the rest of the building, but it’s cozy; it's smaller than your apartment, and significantly more welcoming than Ayanami's. You both slide your shoes off at the entrance and he motions for you to use the phone while he washes up and starts dinner.

Your call with Misato goes more or less as planned; she sarcastically frets about being left alone in her big cold apartment, and you roll your eyes to avoid feeling guilty, even though you know she can’t see you. Then she prods at you a bit, telling you to “Be safe!” and to “Use protection, Shin! Babies aren’t the only disease you can catch from sex,” and you whine uncomfortably that you already know and hang up as quickly as possible. You’re sure she tries her best, but she’s just not very good at being a parent – and talk about an uncomfortable pep talk!

Trying not to feel uneasy with the sudden implications of spending a night alone with Kaworu, you try to situate yourself in his living room. The space is relatively small, especially because there’s an old kotatsu taking up most of the floor. You lift the big blanket of the kotatsu and try not to feel too awkward about leaving it turned off – the spring air is much too warm to turn it on and you don’t want to waste energy on something unnecessary for yourself. As you look around the little apartment your thoughts start to spin on fast forward. The bathroom is behind a door at the far end of the room and you can tell by just looking at it that it’s tiny – probably big enough for a toilet and a hand held shower and not much else. Kaworu is inside the bathroom right now and you can hear water running. His clothes are dispersed neatly just outside. To your right, the living room opens up into a delicate foyer where you left your shoes. The only other pair is his beat up converse, confirming your suspicions that he lives alone. Behind you is a kitchenette and slightly displaced from the bathroom is another door which you guess must be a small bedroom.

The setup is intimate and you feel chills crawling up your spine as the water turns off. You wish there was something you could do to calm the roiling in your stomach; the door slides open and you try to look away from Kaworu’s all but naked figure. There’s an unwanted flush on the back of your neck and you can’t keep your eyes away.

With his back to you, he’s toweling off his hair, and you can see the sharp angle of his shoulder blades. Water clings to him as it slides down the ridge of his spine, melting down to the peak of his lower back and then hiding behind the off-white of the second towel that he’s secured around his waist. Breathing in long, controlled breaths is getting you nowhere. When Kaworu settles the towel around his shoulders and bends to pick up his pile of clothes you feel shame course through your body. “Bathroom is open if you want to use it,” he says, turning to you with a gentle smile, “I’ll leave a change of clothes outside the door for you. Is omelet rice ok for dinner?” You give him a tight nod, trying not to stare too hard at the tender distention of his stomach. He hums in acknowledgment and then disappears into his bedroom.

Standing, you adjust the front of your jeans, realize the futility of the action, and pad over to the bathroom. You take off your clothes quickly, slide the door open, and slide it shut behind you. You’re sure the nerves will only get worse if you allow your thoughts to wander so you force your mind away from everything that’s wrong. Thinking hard about the task – rub in soap that smells softly of mint, lean back into the weak spray of the handheld shower, sigh at the way the heat relaxes your body – helps you clear your mind, but your nerves are nagging in the back of your head like an itch slightly out of reach. You elect to ignore them and finish showering quickly. There’s a rack with towels hanging above the toilet and you use the towel to dry your hair before wrapping it around your waist and hesitantly stepping back out of the bathroom to find the clothes Kaworu left for you.

As soon as you open the door the smell of sizzling eggs floods your nose. In the kitchenette Kaworu has his back facing you; he’s fiddling with rice for the meal. Biting your lip, you scoop up the clothes and shuffle back into the bathroom.

His clothes are slightly long on you, but they aren’t as bad as you expected. Kaworu wears his clothes fitted and he has a thinner frame than you do, but his shoulders are wide and he’s tall so the clothes hang off you in places and stretch in others. Your heart is throbbing unpleasantly in your throat when you step out of the bathroom. Briefly, you think about asking Kaworu if he needs help with dinner, but your mouth won’t move like you want it to. After a moment of indecision, you situate yourself back under the kotatsu and close your eyes, listening to the clink of kitchenware.

You can hear him humming something familiar under his breath, and it slightly puts you at ease. He has such a pretty voice, untrained but lyrical; it’s something he does when he wants to catch your attention, you think. Your breathe in steadily and unfold yourself from the kotatsu, padding over to the kitchenette.

“Pull the plates out for me, would you Shinji? They’re in the cupboard to the left, near the bottom,” he asks, glancing at you with soft cornered eyes, and the rest of your tension melts away easily. You both work in tandem on the dinner, finally sitting cross-legged opposite of each other at the kotatsu. The meal begins in silence, but gives way to light conversation. Kaworu talks about his up-coming summer classes and how he’s looking forward to a recital that he promised to perform for a certain professor a while back.

“You should come,” he says, smiling, “In fact, I’d love to play sometime with you alone. Come by the university with me some day, there’s always practice rooms that are empty. You could even bring your cello. With hands like that I’m sure you make a beautiful player.” Blushing, you agree to visit and listen to him play.

As dinner winds to a close your conversation becomes heavier and more forward. It starts to drift into more difficult territory, like your families and your plans for the future. The words sit close to your chest like a vice, closing tighter and tighter as you try to let them go.

“I don’t know if I can do this anymore Kaworu,” you say softly, clenching his hand in yours. Plates have been moved to the floor and you’re deeply focused on each other; it’s the only thing keeping the vice on your chest from snapping shut completely. “I hate my father. I can’t. I can’t trust a man like that enough to work with him. I really do hate him!” Your eyes are laser pointed to the surface of the kotatsu and there’s white noise in your ears. Kaworu grips your sweaty hand tighter; you notice that you’re shaking.

“What about the others?” Kaworu asks distantly. His knuckles ghost against your jaw. “Shinji, hey. What about the other people in your life?” You shake your head, finding it hard to look at his face.

“I don’t know,” you whisper, “I guess I’m indifferent. I think – I think they mean well, but most of the time it feels like no one is really listening to me or understanding me. I just want them to understand me, Kaworu.”

You bring yourself to look up at him then and his face is almost unreadable. His hand on yours is comforting though.

It takes him a minute before he finally replies, but the silence is less an unnerving one and more of a gathering one. It helps you collect yourself. Finally, his mild voice sweeps over you. “That is something all humans struggle with Shinji. We live our short lives trying to make lasting connections in the hopes that we will always be understood and that we will be loved unconditionally. But humans step too close or stay too far away and we end up hurting each other anyway. Others won’t always understand you Shinji, and they won’t always listen. But,” at this his speech finally falters, and he looks directly into your eyes, unblinking. You can see his lips moving around his next words before he says them, you can feel the warmth of his hand against yours, and for once you feel so full. Your head is empty except for yourself and Kaworu, the vice on your chest loosens, and suddenly the world around you is wider and more seeable. “I don’t think people are futile, Shinji. Even though we struggle to understand each other and love each other, I think those brief moments of understanding are worth the hurt. Don’t you?”

“I think you’re worth it, Kaworu. You’re worth the hurt,” you whisper, shocked that the words come out instead of sticking in your throat. His eyes widen and he blushes, a small smile lighting up his face. It’s the first time you’ve seen him blush. Your heart beats wildly in your chest, but there’s more you want to say, there’s more that needs to be said.

“I think,” you say cautiously, “I think others are worth the hurt too. Like Misato, and Ayanami, and Toji, and Kensuke, and maybe even Asuka even though she’s never had anything nice to say to me. I think maybe we’re alike, so she might be worth it too. But not my dad, Kaworu. I don’t care if it’s selfish. I can’t bring myself to try to understand him.” The “I’m sorry” gets stuck in your throat. You can’t bring yourself to be sorry.

Apparently, you don’t need too. Kaworu moves around the kotatsu to snuggle up against you, fitting your head against his bony shoulder and running a warm hand down the small of your back. He lets go of your hand, but with his whole body flush against yours you don’t miss it much. You lean into him while he says, “He isn’t worth your hurt. Relationships are about give and take, and all he does is take from you, Shinji. I can see how much it weighs on you every day, and it makes me hurt for you. If he doesn’t bring you even a moment of happiness, you don’t owe him anything. You deserve at least that much; we all do.” Nodding, you snuggle closer, breathing in the smells of mint and cooking against his nape.

“What about you?” you murmur resolutely.

“Eh?”

“What about you? Is there someone who – who takes more than you can give?”

For a moment he sits, hand pressing circles into your back, thinking.

“My family,” he responds, at last, and you nod against his shoulder, willing him to go on. “My brothers and sisters are ok; they’re mostly just confused and hurt in their own ways. One day I’d like to try and patch things up with them again. My mothers tried their best with us, but their own conquests hurt me too deeply. I’ll go into it another time, if you don’t mind Shinji. It’s a long story and it makes my heart hurt. And my extended family was manipulative of all of us; in our hardest times they used us. I want to forgive their selfishness if only to absolve my own hatred, but I think you understand my difficulty.”

The funny thing is, as you’re listening to the words tumbling out of his mouth, and his pain rumbling out of his chest, you realize you do understand. Something incredible swells inside of you, nearly too tender to touch, but suddenly something you need to say. The words burst out of you almost unbidden, but shame doesn’t course through your body, a lightness does.

“I love you Kaworu.”

Kaworu presses his face into your hair and you can feel his wild grin and the fluttering of your heart.

“I know, Shinji. I love you too.”

Your heart swells unbearably, you shift so his face is cupped in your hands, and you look into his beautiful auburn eyes, creased at the corners, and love him a little bit more as he looks back at you.

You aren’t sure who kisses who, but it’s a kiss that quakes down your entire body. This kiss doesn’t have the same desperate quality as the one before it, but it has all the feeling. You savor it as much as you can, the tiny tremble in your lip again Kaworu’s firm, languid kisses. When you shift your hands from his jaw to grip his long and still slightly damp hair, you enjoy the startled huff of agreement he makes. You definitely appreciate the warm palm of his hand on your upper thigh, rubbing in barely there motions.

Your heart is flying in your chest as the kisses become more open-mouthed, your tongue skating across his bottom lip. He breaks away slightly to pull at your lip with his teeth, his hand rubbing up farther on your leg and his thumb pressing unintentionally against your zipper. A whimper startles out of your throat and you can feel Kaworu’s heavy shudder of breath as he kisses down the dip in your jaw. You tilt your head back, barely breathing as he presses hot, noisy kisses into your pulse, sucking lightly at first and then hard enough that the pressure leaves you light-headed, groin throbbing in response.

Kneading your hands against his skull – for lack of anything better to do with them – you shift your mouth back down to his, kissing him slowly, with your lips half-parted. His hand on your thigh rubs more insistently, his thumb definitely not unintentional now.

His other hand finds its way to the back of your shirt and his fingers press into the hot skin underneath. You think you must be pulling chunks out of his hair considering how hard you’re holding it, but he whines deep in his chest at a particularly unapologetic yank, pushing his body closer to yours and fitting the fingers that were on your back into the waistband of your jeans. The pants are slightly too small around your waist so they cinch weirdly as he grabs a handful of your muffin-top and massages it, breathing harshly into your mouth.

Finally, you rip your hands away from his hair, grab the hand that’s on your thigh, and press it into your crotch, trying to decide between sighing in relief and pressing his hand harder against you. Thankfully, he doesn’t need any more guidance. With his one hand venturing deeper into the back of your pants, he undoes the front, lazily rubbing your dick through your underwear.

His kisses move down to your throat, just mouthing instead of sucking, and your panting becomes louder and more dogged as you grind against his hand.

“Kaworu,” you grunt, “Kaworu. Stop. Stop for a second.”

He jerks away like he’s been hit with a bucket of ice water, eyes wide, blown pupils searching your face frantically. A bout of breathy laughter escapes you.

“You’re fine,” you assure him, rubbing his shoulder absently. “I was just thinking maybe we could do this with less clothes on?” it comes out like a question, despite how certain you suddenly feel about it. This time your body isn’t betraying you with tension and disgust, and you’re more ready to cry tears of happiness than you are tears of discomfort; you want this.

Kaworu seems enthused. He places a very deliberate hand on your upper thigh and starts to rub in pleasant circles again. He leans forward with the barest of smirks on his face and kisses up the tendon in your neck to the base of your ear. In a heady whisper that sends shivers coursing down your spine, he says, “We could definitely do this with less clothes on. We could even try it in a bedroom if you’re feeling adventurous, Shinji.”

“Oh,” you breathe out. “Yeah, I’m – yeah,” you finish in a rush, standing suddenly and tugging him off the floor with you.

Nearly tripping over the discarded kitchenware, you pull him headily across the room to his bedroom. When he slides the door open you almost don’t notice how homely his room is; it has more personality poking through than you expected. You certainly don’t dwell on it. Nervousness swells through you as you strip off your shirt and then watch him as he undresses.

His attitude is light hearted while he strips; he’s not making a show of dragging his shirt above his head or undoing the clasp on his pants, but the look he sends you and his teeth tugging at his bottom lip is absolutely filthy. You swallow thickly around the lump in your throat and stare openly as he drops his pants to the floor, his underwear tenting almost uncomfortably around his dick.

By this time, you’ve managed to drop your own pants and you’re starting to close the distance between the two of you before Kaworu can do something really crazy like get completely naked. He’s on you in a second, hands on either side of your jaw as he kisses you in languid, circular motions. His thumb his brushing past your pulse as his other hand travels down your front to squeeze just between your hip and your dick; it’s driving you up the wall.

Breaking away from the kiss, you shuffle closer, press your face into his throat and breathe hard. When your hands finally find a hold on the small of his back you feel like you’re holding on for dear life. The way his hand is palming your through your underwear isn’t mind blowing, but it feels nice, and his panting breath on your ear feels nice, and being with him, here, knowing he loves you is so nice that it nearly overwhelms you.

“Kaworu,” you moan, your voice several pitches higher than normal at a particularly appreciative squeeze. His palming becomes firmer, more purposeful, and you try to figure out how to do anything but whine into his shoulder and grind into his hand.

Belatedly, you remember to reciprocate, turning the hot mouthing kisses on his throat to fervent sucks, feeling a hot spike of want course through you when he moans enthusiastically. “Yeah,” you mutter between sucks, taking your hand off the small of his back and hesitating only a second before gently placing it on the sharp dip of his hipbone. His own hand has moved off of your crotch now to cup your ass in a way that is very encouraging.

You ignore the awkward angle as you slide your hand down into his underwear, holding his erection in your hand and tugging softly on the hot flesh. It’s kind of difficult to get a proper rhythm going, but his loud sigh of relief is very satisfying, and so are the tiny jerks of his hips and his stuttering hands on your ass.

You attempt a few more aborted tugs before giving up with a huff. “Do you have like lotion or something?” you ask into his neck. He jerks in surprise.

“Oh right,” Kaworu says, looking extremely flustered for the first time in your memory. Up to this point he’s seemed so in control of the situation; it makes you a little nervous to know that both of you are at a loss, but you also kind of like that he’s trusting you to see him uncollected. A warm feeling cloys in your chest and you feel yourself smiling a little.

Without letting you even take your hand out of his underwear, he pulls you both further into the room, kicking some bizarre fixtures out of the way and settling you both on his futon. He rummages into his dresser for a moment (the room is cramped enough for him to reach right into it from where he’s sitting) and grabs out a travel-sized, mint scented lotion container. It’s hard to take Kaworu seriously when you’re both sitting cross-legged on his futon, your hand on his semi-hard erection, while he fiddles around for mint lotion, but you give him the benefit of the doubt and uncap the bottle to pour a little into your hand. Then, trying to be as unbashful about it as possible, you push his underwear down enough to grab his dick, and lean up to kiss him again.

Melting into the kiss, he pushes up onto his knees and holds your shoulders as he kisses you back. Your eyes flutter closed as you kiss, his breath heavy against your open mouth.

It’s with mild surprise that you realize you really like jerking Kaworu off. There’s a slow build and a rhythm, hot flesh sliding and twitching in your hand. You spend a few minutes trying to figure out what makes Kaworu feel the best, where to position your hand, how fast, how rough. When you squeeze hard and twist off, base to tip, and quickly move back down in long encompassing motions, he shoves his tongue hard into your mouth and whines, the vibrations tingling all the way down in your spine.

You grab his hair at the base of his skull with your free hand, crudely pulling him closer and changing the angle of the kiss. The quick, hard motions of your other hand are starting to cramp your wrist so you slow down, rubbing your thumb up his shaft and circling over the head. Breaking away from your mouth, he hunches forward to groan your name in your ear, panting. He’s trying to buck his hips forward into your hand and a warm rush of lust washes through you, pinning you there as he thrusts into your hand, head slack against your shoulder. The situation in your pants is getting dangerously unbearable, as you watch Kaworu, kiss him, and feel his body coil and move against yours.

“Kaworu,” you whisper, your hot breath blowing against his hair. He moans, low and loud against your shoulder, and you squeeze your hand tighter, pumping faster, shifting your other hand from his hair down to the front of your boxers. You shudder in relief, toes curling, just gripping yourself in your hand, feeling the way desire burns agonizingly through your body.

You work yourself back up to a rhythm jerking Kaworu off, ignoring the twinge in your wrist. The wet slap of skin as you push him in and out of your tight fist makes your balls feel tight and you twitch into your own hand. He’s panting loudly into your throat and you can smell mint and sweat, and his pleasure is so concentrated and intense that you’re nearly dizzy with it, heart pounding away in your chest.

“Oh,” he says, nearly sobs, as his head falls slack into your shoulder. His whole body goes tense, cords of muscle tightening as he lets out a breathy noise, his hands tightening against your back. His dick throbs and thick spurts of come pulse out onto your wrist as his body quivers with release. You bite back a whine of your own, slowing the movements of your hand until he physically pushes you back. Rolling back onto the futon, he kicks off his boxers and lazily opens his eyes to stare into yours, roaming down your body, slick with sweat, and intentionally licking his lips at the hand you have shoved down the front of your underwear. His pale cheeks are flushed and sheened in sweat and he looks wrecked, gazing up at you through heavy eyelids.

Something frantic, self-conscious, and carnivorous races through you, but you feel so oddly at ease that it’s almost tangible. Your whole body is heavy with emotion, throbbing and impatient, like there isn’t enough of you to contain it. You stop, heart pounding, not sure how to proceed, until Kaworu’s voice breaks over you in warm waves.

“You look so good like this Shinji, I could eat you up.”

The bubble of tension bursts and you giggle, shifting your hand slightly in your pants, feeling the relief course through you, biting off your laugh with a moan.

“You’re the one who looked good Kaworu. I, um, I’m pretty hard. Thanks to you,” you say, your lighthearted voice offset by your panting breath and warm face. Kaworu laughs anyway, a long smile breaking across his face. His eyes roam up and down your body.

Licking his lips again, he murmurs, “Compliments will get you everywhere. But you’re the more beautiful one. I don’t have words in any language that could describe how badly I want you Shinji.”

A furious blush tints your ears and cheeks. He continues, less elegantly.

“I could help you with that, if you want.”

You look intently at him, heavy-lidded eyes staring into yours, and you nod. There’s nothing you want more, in this moment.

Sitting back up, he pushes you back onto the futon gently, pulling your boxers off and throwing them into the clutter of the room. Something funny in your chest moves as you realize that you’ve christened his whole house now. That feeling dissipates quickly as Kaworu slinks down between your legs, rubbing a thumb into the tender skin of your inner thigh. With his chin resting on your other thigh, he stares up at you intensely, asking – begging – for something so embarrassing you can’t do anything but nod that yes, you definitely want that.

The first lick sends a hot shock through your body and you realize that you’ve still got your hand wrapped around your dick while Kaworu is trying to give you head. You move your hand to Kaworu’s hair, feeling desperation grip your stomach.

He takes the base in his spindly fingers, squeezing, and licking from his thumb to the tip. Your eyes flutter closed out of embarrassment, but you sigh as the warm beats of pleasure pulsate through you. He swirls his tongue around the tip, your body jerking in response, a heady moan drawing out of you as he stops to suck. His hand is jerking you off in slow but firm movements and as he swipes his tongue over the slit you feel pre-come spill onto his tongue. Your dick throbs sharply and you sob in appreciation when he sucks the head harshly into his mouth.

His head moves away slightly and his hand moves languidly. Panting, thighs shaking, you feel his breath on your balls, and you barely have time to squeak out a staggered, “Oh,” before he’s laving his tongue over them with little sucks, jerking his hand faster around your shaft.

He pulls away again after a moment and you swear to god you feel him inhale sharply before letting out a shuddering sigh, squeezing his hand. You lose it, your thighs shaking as dizzy pleasure rolls through your body.

Releasing you, he sits up and then flops down into a heap beside you. You open your eyes, blink back stars, and shift so you’re spooning him, your hand curling gently on the dip of his hipbone before he interlaces his fingers with yours. There’s come smeared on the sheets of the futon and some cooling on your smooshed wrist, but your heat radiates with his, and he’s drawing soothing patterns onto your hand with the pad of his thumb so you decide to leave it.

Feeling brave, you press a kiss onto his shoulder, that indiscernible feeling swelling up in your chest again. Along with it is the sleepy post-orgasm content you haven’t felt in a long time. You’re going to miss this warmth when you have to leave again in the morning. You’re going to miss Kaworu, even though nothing is keeping you apart now but the sweltering bike ride from your apartment to his.

“I love you,” you whisper into his sweat flattened hair, and you really mean it, you mean it so much that your chest aches. Kaworu squeezes your hand.

“I love you too, Shinji,” he murmurs back, “I love you so, so much.”

Understanding silence falls after that, and you let your eyes fall shut, just feeling his fingers curl against yours and breathing in the smell of mint and sex. You hear him begin to hum again as you drift off into the satisfying haze of sleep.

When you slowly begin to wake, it’s to the coolness of the spring morning and the tepid air of the apartment. You feel a thin sheet draped over your body and you feel Kaworu’s heat radiating against your back. There’s an unshakeable leadenness in your ribcage and a deadness behind your eyes that makes you feel like crying. Your chest rises and falls and you remember what it’s like to wake up, disappointed that waking up with someone you love doesn’t leave a contentedness inside your body, a misty happiness in your head. You feel Kaworu sigh in his sleep.

You’re still tired when you wake up in the morning; still, the sun barely spilling in through the tiny window and Kaworu’s soft snores and warm back pressing against you convince you that maybe it would be ok to close your heavy eyes and sleep for just a little longer.