Brothers: Free Will

Drive

Disclaimer: If I owned Evangelion, then why on Earth would I write fanfiction about it?

This story was largely inspired by a fanfic written by Laryna6. Includes crossover characters from various other mecha anime, though they won't have major roles.

Pairing: Shinji/?. At present, options are Noriko or Kaname (whom you may remember from the last chapter), or Maya, or MAYBE possibly Asuka. I don't plan on including Mana or Mari this time around, but otherwise they'd be choices too.

For the record, yes Noriko and Kaname are indeed this universe's version of Noriko Takaya (GunBuster) and Kaname Chidori (Full Metal Panic!). Suzaku Kururugi is from Code Geass, and Mahiro Muto is from Buso Renkin. The main reason for their inclusion is that I was too lazy to create entirely original characters to be Shinji's hometown friends. And that they wouldn't have enough impact on the plot to warrant that much work in the first place. Much easier and more efficient to knock-off characters from other anime when they're only around for cameos.

Rating: T, and for good reason.

(cue "awesome theme music that I think is appropriate for this next bit.")

(end "awesome theme music that I think was appropriate for that last bit.")

Hope is a weapon mightier than any blade.

Shinji had been even more delighted to find out that of his new friends, everyone but Mahiro had a home in the same direction as his own, and that Kaworu, Kaname, and Suzaku even lived in the same apartment complex.

And so it was that every day, Shinji and his three friends would walk to and from school together. The Monday after, however, the bullies that had tormented the young Ikari so often returned, their leader furious. "All right you punk, you're gonna apologize for kicking that ball into my face last time."

As much as his worldview had changed, Shinji still had a healthy respect of those stronger than him, and he didn't want his new friends to get hurt or in trouble either, so even though he didn't quite remember the incident in question, he knelt before his enemy and was almost ready to beg for forgiveness when Kaname said, "What does Shinji-kun need to apologize for? If you got hit, it's because you were standing around like a moron, and not paying attention to what was going on!"

Suzaku nodded and added, "You're two years above us. Your class and ours aren't supposed to be on the playgroud at the same time in the first place."

Spluttering a bit, the nondescript and still-nameless bully was about to start using his fists when Shinji dropped to the ground as if in prayer and said, "Please, I'll do whatever you ask, just let my friends go."

Enraged, the musclebound thug shouted, "NOBODY'S GETTIN' AWAY FROM ME! BOYS, I WANT 'EM ALL IN THE HOSPITAL, PRONTO!"

Nodding, his three underlings obeyed – one targeted Suzaku, one Kaworu, and the oldest one – old enough to have some appreciation of girls, and sick enough to include those a few years younger than him – targeted Kaname with a leer. "I'm gonna enjoy hurtin' you, ya fiery little twat."

Eyes blazing with righteous feminine fury, she rushed forward, stomped on his foot, kneed his crotch, and kept smashing his face in with her bookbag. She was young enough to have no idea what exactly the word 'twat' meant, but she did know that anyone using it deserved nothing less than a grade-A can of whup-ass.

Far from idle, Suzaku used his vaguely-defined martial arts training against his designated opponent, punching him in the gut a few times, before leaping into the air and getting his enemy in the side of the head with a vicious roundhouse kick, forever earning him the nickname of "Spinzaku" among his friends. However, he was neither as fortunate nor as fierce as Kaname had been, as the bully attacking him had managed to get a brutal gut punch of his own in before passing out. While Suzaku was clearly better off, he wouldn't be able to take out anyone else for another hour or so.

Nobody had been watching Kaworu's fight, but it was both surprising and amusing when his opponent – the biggest of the lot – was next seen running the hell away like a beaten dog, screaming like a little girl.

As the blue-haired girl and the brown-haired boy looked at him in confusion, Kaworu shrugged and said, "I simply told him the truth about something rather important to him, and he just couldn't handle it."

Tilting her head, Kaname asked, "Did he want the truth?"

Shrugging again, Kaworu replied, "I would imagine he did, though I believe he regrets it now."

It was at this point that they heard a disturbance in the alleyway, as one Shinji Ikari crashed into a series of garbage cans.

The bully leader – the smartest and the quickest – followed and, just as Shinji got to his feet, socked him in the face, knocking him back down again.

And then, Shinji got up again. Snarling, the bully asked, "You just don't know when to give up, do ya?"

(cue "Sorairo Days")

Grimacing a bit, Shinji forced himself back to his feet as he replied, "I have friends now… friends who stepped up for me when I got in trouble. I got all the votes for wimpiest guy in my class, but when I finally worked up the courage to ask, there were a couple of kids who let me play with them. Me, the loner, the weirdo, the freak who talks to himself. They let me play with them, without hesitating for even one second to wonder what the other kids would think. That tells me something important. Even now, I can see Kaname ready to smack you in the head with her bag, Suzaku bent over in pain but ready to step in and hit you for as long as he's awake, and Kaworu's shaking his head at me with a stupid grin on his face. They accepted me without even thinking about it, and when I needed them, they didn't back down, but they stood up no questions asked. It doesn't matter if you're bigger or stronger than me. As long as I know that my friends are ready to help me, I'm the toughest guy there is. It doesn't matter how big you are, or how hard you hit me, or how many times you knock me down, because I will just get right back up on my feet. Even though we just met a few days ago, the bond of friendship we share is strong, filling my soul with glorious light! My uncle told me not to run away from my problems, but now I realize that I don't have to just sit there and let them wale on me either! I'm not going to let you use me for a punching bag anymore! Believe me, I could do this all day if I felt like it, but I won't. No, I'm going to end this right here, and I'm not going to waste one more second of my life on a dirtbag like you!"

Mad as a hornet, the bully shouted, "THREE IDIOTS TAKE PITY ON YOU AND YOU GROW A SPINE? I'LL SHUT YOU UP FOR GOOD, AND THEN I'LL TEACH YOUR STUPID FRIENDS THEIR PLACE, TOO!"

Then, the bully swung his fist with all of his strength at Shinji's face… and the smaller boy promptly took one step to the left, allowing the meaty fist to rocket straight into the brick wall behind him. Blinded by rage and pain, the bully immediately tried his other fist with even more power, but Shinji then took one step to the right, allowing it to be broken even worse.

It was at this point that Shinji muttered under his breath, and the bully's mind suddenly cleared as he looked into the eyes of the youth he had previously been torturing on a regular basis, and he promptly went mad.

Gone was the timid boy who had seemed to go out from one hit, and in his place, there stood a confident young man who carried himself like a king, glaring at him with contempt as though he were no more an annoyance than a housefly, and as if he could be crushed just as easily.

The bully chief's mind promptly collapsed from the pressure, and he fell into a graceless heap on the ground.

(end "Sorairo Days")

Kaworu facepalmed as he asked, "Shinji, Shinji, Shinji. You just had to go for maximum drama, didn't you?"

Defensive, the young Ikari replied, "Hey, that was just as much trying to psych myself up as it was anything else!"

Smiling, Kaname dropped her bag and said, "Ah, that's okay. I thought it was a pretty cool speech, not to mention that part about 'the bond of friendship filling your soul with glorious light' was kinda romantic, if a bit overdone."

Shaking his head, Suzaku added, "Shinji, you should join the drama club when we get to high school. There, you can chew all the scenery you like."

Rolling with the playful verbal jabs, Shinji said, "I'm not normally like this, you know. It's just… it's just…"

Kaname kindly said, "Shinji, we're your friends. You don't have to explain yourself to us."

Suzaku added, "You are how you are, and that's just fine."

It was then that Shinji began to cry. As water streamed down Ikari's face, his three friends rushed to his side to see what was wrong, only for him to collect them all in a crushing bear hug when they got in range.

For the first time, he wasn't crying because he was in pain, or because he was lonely, or because nobody in the whole wide world seemed to care, but because he was happy.

So he was overly emotional and dramatic at times. What did it matter?

It was okay. He wasn't alone, and even though he was sometimes emotional and dramatic and always a weirdo, his friends didn't give the slightest damn about it.

And right there, at that moment, Shinji Ikari made a silent promise, to himself and to his friends.

'From this day onward, I'm through wasting time in pity and self-doubt. Starting now, I'm going to live for me and for my friends. And what Kaworu, Suzaku, Kaname, Noriko, and Mahiro have been to me, I will be to anyone who needs me.

No matter what, I'm going to reach out to everyone.

All of mankind is my friend, whether they know it or not.'

And friendship is an armor proof against anything one can imagine.

Well, there you have it. I am open to pairing ideas in reviews. As for this chapter… well, it kinda wrote itself, and not only do I have almost no practice writing fluffy stuff like at the very end, but I also suck at writing out interactions between children.

As for Shinji's speech, let's just assume that he always starts chewing the scenery when he gets excited, and we just don't normally see him excited. And for the whole "mankind itself is my friend", well… he's a kid, who just recently realized how awesome humans are, especially with friends. Of course he's going to want to share that with anyone he can, and again, he's still a kid at this point. You know kids – when they dream, they dream big… or at least they used to. Not sure about nowadays, but ah well.

Finally, regarding his 180 personality change... take a man who's never had anything worthwhile in his whole life, and then give him a chance at everything that matters... especially for Shinji, who's far from normal in the first place... that's mind-warping, right there. In a good way, of course.

I was kinda planning to add some other stuff in this chapter, but there's always the next one.