Anyway, basically it's a 'What If' AU spin-off of a spin-off of a 'What If' AU fic. Uhh yeah. It picks up right after this so you'd have to read that first to make any sense of it. You also kinda have to be familiar with the premise of the original fic, so I'd recommend looking over at least the first chapter. .__.;
Well...at least I had fun writing it. Now to move on to other stuff.
A Breath of Air
Simon surveyed the destruction around him. He'd finished hunting down all the remaining beastmen and got down from Gurren-Lagann, hoping to find some piece of evidence to carry back. Now that his head had cleared somewhat, he realized he should have left at least one of them alive to interrogate.
Sighing, he kicked over a large hunk of burnt metal. There wasn't anything here worth salvaging. He supposed there was nothing left to do but go back.
He was just about to return to Gurren-Lagann when the sound of approaching footsteps in the dirt alerted him. He quickly dived behind the hunk of metal, peering out.
But what appeared from behind a cloud of smoke was not anything he would have expected.
It was a young woman. She looked human. She coughed a bit from the smoke and looked curiously at the scene before her, then proceeded forward slowly. "Hello?" she called. "Is anyone there?"
Where did she come from? What was she doing here? Could she have been captured by the beastmen? Simon remained silent, not sure what step to take.
As he watched, she approached something lying on the ground, then with a gasp, quickly stumbled back, hand over her mouth. It was the fried carcass of a beastman.
She looked around at her surroundings again, fear now accentuating her body language. "H-hello...?" she called once more.
Simon decided to reveal himself. He stood up and stepped out from behind the hunk of metal.
The young woman gasped again when she saw him.
They stared at each other for a long moment, before she asked, "Are you...could you perhaps be...a human?"
He blinked. Wasn't it obvious? "Of course."
She stepped closer to get a better view of him. At this point he had no clue what to make of her. She didn't seem to be a captive. She looked completely out of place here and-- whoa, now she was getting a little too close!
He jerked back as she leaned in to inspect his face. She raised her hand to touch his cheek. "Wh-whuh...?" he managed.
Her eyes wide with wonder, her mouth quietly formed a word. 'Soft.'
He tried to think of something to say, but nothing came to him. "L-look, I...uh..."
"Are there any other humans here?" she asked.
"N-no, just me."
She glanced back at the dead beastman. "Are there...any more beastmen?"
"...No. Not anymore."
Her eyes widened in pained realization. She lowered her hand from his face and took a step back. They were the only ones there. That could only mean one thing.
Something about that made him feel a stab of shame that no amount of lecturing from Rossiu could ever achieve.
"Who are you?" he asked finally.
"I am First Princess Nia, Daughter of Lord Genome. Who are you?"
Half a year later, Simon sat in his office, staring at a pile of paperwork as usual. The report that lay open on his desk now was about a group of beastmen who had turned themselves in earlier in the week upon hearing that the Spiral Princess was alive and against the continued fighting.
Though not all of them by far, beastmen such as this were appearing increasingly frequently. Little by little, the number of rebel factions were dwindling.
Simon thought back to when he first brought her and her caretaker to the city. Looking over the sea of skyscrapers, she'd continually prattled off questions ("What is there? What is that?") while he was mostly tongue-tied, still reeling from the revelation that she was the Spiral King's daughter.
Shortly after, her identity was confirmed by several beastmen who used to work in the palace, and the city was in an uproar. People and beastmen came from all over to get a look at her, and controversies raged whether, as the only remainder of the Spiral King's bloodline, she should be granted citizenship. However, it soon became very clear that Nia had no intention of leading a counter-revolution, so she was given the surname of "Teppelin" and allowed to live in the city.
By now things had settled down again for the most part. And yet, though Nia's official status was only that of a regular citizen, her influence could still be felt moving across the world like a shockwave.
Simon grimaced, remembering the look on her face when she found out he was the one who killed Lord Genome. He knew she would find out eventually, but on top of the already sour first impression she had of him, it made him feel like he couldn't face her again.
So after that, he tried to stay clear of her. It wasn't difficult, amid all that commotion. He had to attend all the official functions, but beyond that, there wasn't a need for any interaction between them. He thought that would be best for both of them.
"Commander, will you please stop daydreaming and concentrate on your work?" Rossiu had entered the office with more stacks of paper.
"It would be easier if you didn't keep dumping more on me."
"There wouldn't be such a large pile if you got through it more quickly."
This was usually the extent of his daily conversation. By now they had gone through the routine so many times, they already knew what the other would say. But it was the only thing keeping his mind from going stagnant.
Today, however, was different, for they were interrupted by a knock on the door, followed by a cheerful voice. "Good day, everyone!"
It was Nia.
Simon quickly busied himself with paperwork.
"Miss Nia, what brings you here?" Rossiu asked, surprised.
"Hello, Rossiu. I'm so sorry to intrude, but I was wondering if it would be all right if I have a moment with Simon?"
Simon dropped his pen. "With me?"
She nodded. "Yes. I would very much like to talk with you."
He looked to Rossiu for help, but Rossiu only sighed and said, "Would you like to take your lunch break early today, Commander?"
"What? Wait a minute..."
"I hope it's not much of a bother."
"Not at all. The Commander would be very pleased to talk with you. Right, Commander?"
They agreed to go up to the roof of the parliament building to talk. But first, Simon stopped by a vending machine to get his lunch. Nia watched as he picked out a small package of pigmole jerky.
"Is that all you're having to eat?" she asked.
Out on the roof, the day was sunny and warm, but the breeze was cool. At once, Nia exclaimed "Wow!" and went to peer over the side of the building down at the city below. "The people all look like ants!"
Simon watched her nervously. The wind could be strong at times, and there was no railing up there. He didn't know how steady those high heels were. He briefly imagined her tripping and then slipping down the length of the building.
"Hey, be careful," he warned.
She looked back at him, smiling. "I will."
Why'd she have to be so cute.
When she was done looking, she joined him in sitting down on the floor of the roof. As she did so, he tried not to look at her thighs peeking out from the slits in her dress. Instead, he busied himself tearing open the package of jerky.
"To tell the truth, I've been wanting to talk to you for a while," she said. "But you always seem so busy."
"Miss Kiyal told me I shouldn't bother. She told me extensively how you were very rude to her in the past, and that being with you would only make me feel 'gloomy.'"
He hung his head. "Yeah, that...she's right about that."
"And everyone I've asked has said they haven't talked to you much either, except for Rossiu." She looked at him. "Do you not like to talk?"
Simon looked back, gulping. She had been asking about him.
"...I guess I don't have much to say."
"I see. Will you answer me if I ask questions?"
"Sure." A part of him wanted to run away, but he also couldn't help but be curious as to what she wanted to ask to the point of seeking him out like this. Surely it couldn't be anything good.
Nia nodded, then took a moment to gather her thoughts. Meanwhile, he began chewing on a strip of jerky.
When a minute passed and she still hadn't said anything, Simon glanced at her, and noticed she was eying his jerky.
"Do you want one?"
"Oh, I couldn't. That is your lunch. But thank you for asking."
That seemed to remind her of something. "Do you remember that time I made lunch for all the members of the Gurren Brigade?"
He nodded. She had meant it as a thank you for their kind welcome to her. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out well. Over half the people in the building eventually got food poisoning, and all work was suspended for the rest of the day.
"You didn't say anything, but I saw. You were the only one who finished your plate. You didn't have to force yourself to eat something that you thought was bad. But seeing that made me want to practice cooking more. People tell me I haven't gotten any better, but still, I want to keep trying. So...thank you."
"I wasn't forcing myself to eat," he said. "I thought it was good." Then under his breath, "I would've liked more, actually."
"Is...that all you wanted to ask me about?"
"Oh, no, I'm sorry. I've gotten distracted. Actually, I wanted to ask you about my father."
He knew it. Simon braced himself.
Nia bit her lip before asking. "Did he...say anything about me, before he died?"
What? Was that it? "No."
"...I see." She looked down at her lap in silence, and though her expression did not change, her whole posture seemed to wilt slightly. For a moment, Simon thought he could see a hint of loneliness in her eyes, but before he could apologize, she was already smiling again. "Well, thank you for answering me."
He balled his hands into fists. "How...?"
"How can you keep smiling like that? How can you even stand talking to me? I don't get it. You should hate me."
She blinked at him. "Why should I hate you?"
"I killed your father!"
Her eyes widened. As if that fact spoken out loud between them, unavoidable in its truth, was enough to finally shake her. And yet it wasn't the same look of shock that he saw on her before.
"...I have heard from the others of a man called Kamina."
His heart clenched.
"He is the one who this city is named for. I have heard that he was brave and daring, and that he was beloved by everyone who knew him. Especially you."
She inched closer to him. He looked away, shoulders tense, fists gripping the cloth of his pants.
"From everything that I have heard, I think I am glad for my old home to be named after him."
He wasn't about to cry. His tears all dried up long ago. But they could still be heard in his voice. "I hated your father for what happened to Bro. I wanted to kill him. I don't understand...why you don't feel that way too."
Nia sighed. "I wish it were that easy."
She put her hand over one of his. The smooth, soft skin of her palm felt almost alien.
"I do miss my father, and I don't think that will ever change. But I've learned what he was responsible for, and I believe that what you did was good for this world. This city is a testament to that."
He stared at her hand as she spoke, letting her breathy voice sink in.
"All my life, I was told that the outside world was dangerous. And at first, I feared that was true. Yet since coming here, I've changed my mind. Perhaps it's still dangerous in other parts of the world, but here, I look around every day and see humans and beastmen living together in peace. You made that possible, Simon. And so...I cannot hate you."
When she withdrew her hand, his fist finally unclenched, feeling a reluctance for her to leave. But his hand hesitated and stayed in his lap. What did he want to do, grasp her hand? That would be silly.
He looked up at her face. She was smiling again. "I'm glad that I decided to leave the cave that day. I've seen and learned so much since then. If I knew there were so many nice people here, I would have left earlier."
They continued talking for the rest of his break. Not wanting to breach any more dark subjects, Simon asked her about her new life in the city, and for a while, he was content to just listen. At first, he didn't think he had anything to talk about, but eventually he began telling her about some of the more bizarre citizen complaints he'd received that week, and though he'd only found them irritating at the time, when he saw her laugh, he finally realized that hey, they actually were pretty funny.
His lunch break was over all too soon.
Nia stood up, stretching. "That was very productive. We should do this again sometime."
"Talk." She tilted her head. "That's what friends do, I'm told. We are friends now, aren't we?"
He blinked. "Uh...yeah, sure."
"Unless you do not want to talk anymore?"
"No, talking's fine!" He waved his hands. "I mean...I could get used to this."
"Wonderful! I would like to know you more." She smiled. "You know, I don't think I felt 'gloomy' at all. That was quite a pleasant conversation."
Simon had to admit, he'd had a good time too. And she had put in the effort of seeking him out. Now it was his turn to make a move.
He gathered his nerves. "How...how about tomorrow? If you're not doing anything..."
They decided to meet again for lunch the next day. Nia even promised to bring something she cooked for him to try. It was more than he could have asked for.
After she left, he sat back in his chair in a daze, feeling like he had just been caught in a whirlwind. It was a nostalgic feeling. It was exhilarating.
"Friends, huh...?" he murmured.
"I think it would be good for you to become friends," Rossiu said, dumping another stack of papers on his desk. "It certainly might help improve our relations with the beastmen."
Simon didn't care about that. No, none of that mattered. What mattered was that he finally had something to look forward to the next day. And if he was lucky, maybe the day after that. In fact, work might not be so bad anymore either, now that he could use it as fodder for conversation.
A part of him wondered if he even deserved to feel that way. But for now, he decided to let it go. It was the first breath of fresh air he'd had in a long time. He would enjoy it.