First Interlude

Shinji stood nervously outside Asuka's bunk.

Now that he was on the Wunder's crew, he had been let out of his prison cell and allowed to freely roam most of the ship. The choker was still fixed to his neck, so he supposed it ultimately did not matter where he was kept - he could be neutralized at the push of a button. But by now, he had grown used to that

WILLE had set him up in a bunk near the other pilots, though it was sparse and confined enough that it was not much of an upgrade from the brig. But at least he could come and go as he pleased. And it was private.

WILLE had even issued him a uniform, which matched the uniforms of the bridge crew - a blue jumpsuit and a white flak jacket with orange shoulder pads. Also, according to his suit's tags, it seemed his official rank now was Ensign, which still would have made him the lowest ranking member of WILLE, though he wasn't entirely sure that the tags hadn't simply belonged to the last member of WILLE to own the uniform.

But it was something.

Shinji had not seen Asuka since speaking to her by the core area earlier that day, and since then, she had nearly died in the midst of combat. Although he knew her well enough to know that she would say that it had been a cinch for her.

Still, he had worried about her.

His hand came up to knock at her door.

There was no answer at first. He glanced as his wrist chronometer; it was after hours, so unless she was on standby…

His hand came up to knock again, but the door sudden slid open, and a very tired looking Asuka appeared in little more than a tank top and panties.

"Nnnnnnnng…" she groaned through a single, blurry eye. "What?"

Shinji flinched slightly. He was used to an Asuka that would flay him alive for laying eyes on her in such a state of undress. He wasn't sure why she wasn't, but clearly he had awoken her, which only doubled his chances of pissing her off if he misspoke.

"Asuka…" he said by way of greeting. "I'm, uh…glad you're alright…"

Asuka closed her eye and sighed. "Is that all you woke me up to say, Shinji?"

Shinji shook his head and held out his hands, holding Asuka's black peaked cap out to her.

"I…think you dropped this…" he mumbled apologetically.

Asuka blinked for a moment at the proffered item, furrowing her brow to focus on it.

"Hey…" she muttered, snatching it from his hands. "I was looking for that!"

She turned it over in her hands, inspecting it for blemishes and straightening it out, making sure none of the buttons had fallen off. It may have been the late hour, but Shinji could have sworn he'd seen the ghost of a smile on her face.

But then she seemed to suddenly realize that Shinji was still standing there, and was watching her fawn over the silly thing, and her cheeks reddened slightly.

"Don't touch my shit!" she ordered, slamming the heel of her hand into her door control, abruptly closing the door in his face.

Shinji flinched at the sudden response. On the one hand, he was somewhat disheartened that her reaction hadn't been kinder, but on the other, he was somewhat glad that it hadn't been worse. Asuka had seemed genuinely glad to have her hat back. It seemed to mean a lot to her for some reason, though he dare not ask of it if this was her reaction just from him laying a hand on it.

He was about to head back to his own bunk, when he heard her voice speak out from behind the door.

"Also…" she said, somewhat hesitantly, "…Thanks."

Shinji paused in his step, not sure if he had heard correctly.

For a moment, he thought he had heard the old Asuka again.

He observed her door for a moment longer, in case she deigned to say anything else. But it appeared that that would be it for the time being.

The corner of his mouth turned up slightly as he made his way back to his bunk.

It was definitely something.

A/N: About halfway through drafting out Part 2. Will hopefully begin posting again before the end of the month. Stay tuned.

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