Just a little forewarning for first time readers: This story contains numerous OOC elements, particularly regarding the pilots' personalities and relationships. Shinji is more confident, Asuka is less of a bitch and Rei is more open and social. The reasons for these changes are not explicitly stated in this story. I have an idea for another story that will delve into the events surrounding Rei's emergence from her shell. Whether this story gets written or not depends on how this story is received.

Anyway... Read, review, but most of all... Enjoy!

Promises.

There are certain promises that a person has to keep, if for no other reason than the people around them expect it. For example, if you say "I promise to repay you for this sandwich/meal/drink.. ...," then most people will generally bug you until you pay up. These are the general promises that we all make almost everyday. However, there is another level of promises that are rarely made, and, when they are, are adhered to with an unparalleled sense of responsibility. In this situation, instead of promising to repay someone for some sort of material favor, one person might promise to protect someone they love with everything they have, even if it means giving their own life in the pursuit of remaining true to the promise. These are Special promises. This story is focused on the latter of these two. More specifically, this story is focused on a promise made by a certain introvert to two of the people he cares the most about in his life. Two people, who, just like their hair colors, could not be more different. However, when a promise is made that carries as much weight as the one made to them, they may just find that they have much more in common than they previously thought, including their feelings towards a certain, shall we say... hedgehog among them...

I promise...

The Second Child opened her eyes and rolled over in her bed. Ever since the three of them had had that conversation several weeks before, she had been mulling it over and over in her head, often to the point of mental and physical exasperation.

She had found herself verbally expressing her frustration at not being able to force the memory out of her head. These expressions were usually in the form of profanities, and more often than not in German, so even if someone had been allowed close enough to hear her, they would have had no idea about the kind of foul pronouncements this 14 year old redhead was capable of.

The fact of the matter was, (and she would never, EVER admit this to ANYBODY), she felt a distinct feeling of comfort in hearing the words Shinji had spoken to them after the last Angel battle. After she had been brutally defeated at the hands of the Bardiel-infected Unit 03, she had sunk into a bit of a funk, and her synch ratios had steadily declined to less than exemplary levels.

Misato and Rei had been concerned about her, but she had yet to confide in them anything more than the occasional snippet of info relating to her feelings. Shinji, of course, had had even less luck, and his attempts to reach her often resulted in her fuming and him smarting from the Palm of Asuka laying its infamous vengeance down upon his cheek. Still, he tried again and again.

"Just like he promised..." Asuka thought to herself as she lay in bed, listening to the sounds of rain lightly tapping on the window of the room she shared with Ayanami.

"Speaking of Ayanami," her mind began, "I wonder how she's taking all of this. I know we've taken leaps and bounds in terms of progress with her, but still... She's so quiet..."

Even as these thoughts swam around in Asuka's mind, the figure in the other bed stirred and whimpered, as though she were having a nightmare. Asuka, hearing this, quietly got up and tip toed over. As she slowly leaned toward the First Child, Rei whimpered again and rolled over so that she was facing Asuka.

Instantly, Asuka knew her suspicions had been confirmed...

The First Child's features were set into the tell-tale signs of a night terror. Her eyelids were tightly scrunched closed and Asuka could see the movements of the red orbs beneath them, rapidly jumping back and forth as though she were following a fast moving target scurrying around in front of her.

Rei's lips were pressed into a frown with the lower lip sticking out slightly more than the other, quivering every time she would whimper. Asuka watched for several minutes, not sure if she should wake the sleeping girl, or if she should just go back to bed and let Rei's mind work the problems out itself.

She began to turn to go back when Rei began to softly speak in her sleep. Asuka, hearing this, turned back and leaned in closer to see if she could make out what was being said. All she could hear were small bits and pieces of what appeared to be a conversation between her and some other person.

Asuka, after listening for several minutes, still wasn't able to figure out who, though she had gleaned that Rei was calling for this person's help. Still unable to decide whether she should wake Rei up or not, Asuka continued to stand there, watching the poor girl suffer inside of her own head.

It was at this moment that Mother nature, as though sensing the redhead's indecision, decided to intervene in a rather spectacular fashion.

About a mile down the road, a communications tower, one of the hundreds that scattered the Tokyo-3 landscape, was struck by a massive bolt of lightning. Being so close to the Katsuragi/Ikari/Soryu/Ayanami residence, Asuka barely had time to comprehend that there had been a flash of light before the mountainous roll of thunder reached the apartment, causing everything to begin shaking as roll after roll of sound waves assaulted the complex.

Rei, who at this point had slowly begun to come out of her slumber, was shocked into full consciousness instantly by the barrage of sound filling the room. Her eyes flew open, her arms flew out, grabbing Asuka around the waist.

"IKARI!", she cried as she pulled the surprised redhead into a rather awkward embrace, with Rei's head burying itself into Asuka's stomach. Tears poured from her eyes and soft sobs began to release themselves from the shaking girl.

Asuka, instantly snapping out of her indecisive state, immediately adjusted her position so that she was at eye level with Rei, thus allowing the girl to bury her blue hair into Asuka's shoulder. The soft sobs slowly gave way to larger, body heaving cries as the First Child latched onto Asuka with all her might.

"Why did he have to do that? WHY?," she cried, and Asuka immediately knew to what and to whom she was referring.

"I don't know...," was the only thing that her brain would allow her to say at that particular moment. She had wondered the same thing over and over again hundreds if not thousands of times the past few weeks.

Why was Shinji always putting his life in danger to protect the both of them? Never mind the world, it was as though, when in battle, all he was focused on was protecting Unit-00 and Unit-02 and their (in his eyes at least) precious cargo. Even after all the hell and torment Asuka had given him when she had first arrived, and the cold, emotionless interactions that he had had with Rei (at least before they had managed to get her to break out of her shell), why did he constantly go back for more, just to help them?

He had been in the NERV infirmary for near to a week after the fight with Bardiel, and all he seemed to be concerned about was how Rei and Asuka were doing... constantly asking if they were healing well, if they needed anyone to talk to...

Asuka's train of thought was soon broken, however, by the sound of pounding feet in the hallway outside, followed by the all too familiar sound of the door to their room being thrown open with considerably more force than was needed.

Both girls turned to look and saw the Third Child standing, chest rising and falling as if he had just run a marathon, in their doorway with Misato trying to squeeze past him to get inside. Once she had succeeded, she immediately dropped to her knees beside the two girls and, placing her hands on both girls backs, asked what had happened.

Shinji, considerably more confident than before but still slightly awkward when it came to dealing with situations like this, slowly walked over and sat down on the other side of the trio and looked on.

"What happened?", asked Misato as she continued to gently rub the crying girls' back, "All I heard was the roar of the thunder and Rei screaming Shinji's name. At first I thought he might have snuck into the room and was trying something funny...,"

"Hey, I resent that remark," Shinji protested before he was cut off.

"...But, then I realized that their was a distinct tone of pleading in her voice, as though she were crying for help. Plus, I know my Shinji, and he wouldn't try something like that.," Misato finished, looking to the boy sitting across from her and smiling. Shinji, though pleased by Misato's defense of his character, turned beet-red nonetheless and began grinning sheepishly.

Rei, who at this point had managed to regain her composure and had let go of Asuka, began to speak.

"I'm not really sure what was happening... It was as though I was reliving the last Angel battle, only much worse... It was as though, after Ikari-kun had rescued us from Unit 03 and was carrying us to the Eva catapults...", she stopped as tears began to seep out of her eyes again as memories of the dream came bubbling back up to the surface.

Misato, reached over and took the girls hand in her own.

"Rei, it's okay... It was a dream... It wasn't real. Please, tell us what happened."

Rei swallowed, wiped the tears from her cheeks, and began again. "Like I said, Ikari was carrying us away from Unit-03 and towards the catapult, when I heard him scream in pain. I looked at the video feed from inside Unit-01's cockpit and saw him writhing in agony as Unit-03 reactivated and its arms ripped into Unit-01. But... It was more than just that... I saw... I saw..."

Rei stopped as fresh tears began to flow.

"Oh God... I saw..."

She was on the verge of breaking down when she felt a hand slide onto hers and squeeze gently. She looked up and saw that the hand belonged to the Third Child, who had silently moved closer as to be almost directly beside her. Feeling a sensation of warmth almost physically flowing from his hand to hers, she picked up where she had left off in her recount of the nightmare.

"As I watched Shinji's video feed, I saw small red splotches begin to form on the chest of his plugsuit. These spots began to grow with alarming speed, and soon began to push out against the material of the suit, all the while he continued to carry us farther and farther away from that monster. As soon as he reached the catapult, he carefully lowered our Eva's onto the platform and hit the descend button. As we plummeted towards headquarters, the video feed began to grow fuzzy. But before it went out completely, I watched the expanding red spots on his suit explode in a shower of blood and bone as miniature versions of Unit-03's arms broke through and began to strangle him... It was this point when the thunder hit and I was jolted awake, apparently screaming Shinji's name...," Rei finally finished.

As soon as the image of Shinji's chest being ripped open entered her mind once again, she began to lose it. Tears streamed down her face and dripped onto the fabric of her bedspread. She went to wipe them away, but her hand was blocked from her cheek by another hand, not hers, that was already wiping at them.

She looked and saw Shinji reaching to delicately remove the saline liquid that was streaking her pale skin. Her gaze moved to his face and she saw the smile that was in place and... and...

She lost it. Diving forward off of the bed, she wrapped her arms around his upper chest as the force of her movement sent them both sprawling backwards onto the floor. Asuka and Misato, who at this point had been completely engrossed in Rei's graphic description of her nightmare, gasped audibly before the shock wore off and they began to smile.

Shinji, who had been caught equally off guard, could only lay rigid as the weeping girl tried to bury herself in his chest. His shock soon wore off as well, and he returned the embrace while looking to Asuka and Misato for assurance that this was okay. After seeing their teary eyed smiles, he immediately knew he was doing the right thing, and began to slowly stroke Rei's hair while whispering quietly.

"It's okay, Rei...", he spoke gently, "You're fine... I'm fine... Asuka and Misato are fine, too... We're all okay..."

After a few minutes of this, he had managed to bring the girl back into control of all her faculties and asked if she was able to stand.

"Yes," she replied, and slowly lifted herself off of him, never letting completely go of his now tear soaked shirt. She turned to the other two people in the room and smiled, then wrapped each of them in a genuinely loving embrace.

Asuka, while having grown slightly accustomed to Rei's increasingly outgoing personality, was still caught off-guard by the sudden embrace, almost as much as she was when Rei grabbed her by the stomach just a few minutes before. She began to awkwardly return the embrace, before letting the natural flow of emotions take over and sinking comfortably into it.

Misato, Shinji and even Rei were surprised at how supportive the generally standoffish redhead was being. They supposed that after the events that transpired following Bardiel's attack, Asuka had maybe begun to lighten up a bit, so to speak. If this were the case, she would never directly tell them. As fate would have it, they had no idea how close they were to the truth...

"There... Isn't that better?", Misato suddenly spoke up, "Now that we've got all that noise out of the way, waddya say we all go back to sleep, huh? All three of you have a full day of synchro tests and combat drills tomorrow, and, after all, y'all are still a growing boy and girls."

She then turned to Rei and put on her best motherly voice.

"Rei, do you think you'll be fine? I can make Shinji sleep in the room with the two of you, if that would make you more at peace..."

The almost comically dissimilar reactions from the two genders represented almost caused Misato to chuckle. Shinji had stopped in mid-breath and was almost choking on his own tongue. His eyes grew in size by several orders of magnitude while his mouth could only hang open, slightly cock-eyed.

Asuka, on the other hand, was much more vocal in her protest.

"That baka... in the same room... AS ME? WHAT IN THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU MISATO?", exploded Asuka as Rei could only stammer, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with her guardian, which, of course, immediately caught the attention of the Second Child who decided to make her decision for her.

"And Ayanami feels the same way, DON'T YOU?", she barked at the stunned girl.

"Ummm... Yes... I believe I... do?," Rei quietly responded, although the way she pronounced the final word made it obvious (to everyone but Asuka, at least) that she wasn't truly sure whether the idea was bad or not...

"There," Asuka said, "See? She thinks it's a bad idea just like I do. I'm honestly surprised you would even think of suggesting something like that, Misato. He's obviously going to try and take advantage of me while I'm sleeping! I mean, look at him... He's a classic example of a pervert!"

Shinji, having been silently mulling over the implications of him sharing a room with Asuka and Rei (and all the problems that would be associated with that were the details ever leaked to two certain friends of his who ran an illicit "photo sharing" service around the school), suddenly snapped back to attention at Asuka's less than flattering description of him.

"HEY!, Wait just a damn minute... I am NOT a per...OW OW OW...", he was cut off by Asuka seizing him forcefully by the ear and leading him to the door.

"That will be enough out of you, baka!', she bellowed as she threw him into the hallway, causing him to lose his balance and slam his head into the wall with a muffled "SHIT!" He turned around and, between holding his nose to ensure it wasn't broken and feeling his ear, he discovered that Asuka had drawn blood from her fingernails digging in.

At the sight of this, Asuka felt a pang of guilt that resonated from deep within. She immediately regretted having used so much force on the boy. After all, he had just willingly left the warmth and comfort of his bed to make sure the both of them were alright. This, on top of the promise he had made them when he had gotten out of the hospital after Bardiel's attack, caused her to feel a slight hatred for herself. He was always right there for everyone, but they ("Specifically me", she thought), rarely thanked him or acknowledged the sacrifices he had made.

"Dammit, Asuka... That hurt! What is wro...", he stopped mid sentence when he saw the pained expression on Asuka's face, accented by the small tear that was now rolling down her cheek.

Misato and Rei, who had been quietly smiling to themselves, now looked to Shinji and then to Asuka. Between the expression on her face and the tear on her cheek, they knew that the Invincible Asuka Langley Soryu had, in fact, developed a crack in her armor and vulnerabilities were beginning to find their way to the surface.

"Asuka...? Are you alright?", Shinji began...

At the sound of his voice, and the realization of what he had just asked her, Asuka began to break down.

"I... I'm... I'm sorry... Shinji...", Asuka uttered quietly as more tears began to slide down her cheeks, "I didn't mean to hurt you... I'm so.. stu...hmmph!"

She was cut off by Shinji placing his finger on her lips, stopping her from continuing.

"Don't say that.", he began, "You're not stupid. You're not." He reached up and wiped off the tears running down her cheeks, not really knowing where this new-found confidence was coming from, but liking it nonetheless.

"Why are you keep doing this?", Asuka almost whispered as she was pulled into a bear hug by Shinji, "Why do you keep helping me when I'm such a bitch to you all the time? Why do you keep helping both of us regardless of whether we thank you or not? I don't get it..." She looked up to see Shinji's features had formed into a genuine ("And dare I say loving?") smile that couldn't help but make her feel a little bit better about the whole situation.

"Do you really want to know why I'm doing this... Right here... Right now?", Shinji asked out loud, not really speaking specifically to Asuka but rather to everyone in the room as he gently pushed her to arms length, "I'm doing this because I made the both of you a promise that day at the lake."

He paused, and Asuka looked up at him, her cheeks stained by her tears. His smile was still there, but there was something else in his eyes. Something... Serious. He looked to the other Pilot in the room and she saw the same thing.

"So, to answer you question...", Shinji continued, "I'm doing this because I made you a promise, and I keep my promises..."