AUTHOR'S NOTE: holy shit guys i am not dead. i hope this longish chapter at least sort of makes up for my horrible updating time. things are going to be really slow on this, both since i don't have a clear plot in mind and just because i'm working full time and trying to go to school. this could be the last chapter. there's still more i could write about, but i'm getting kind of tired of this story and frustrated with my lack of direction with it.

the best way to help keep me going is to head over to my fanfic livejournal (see profile) and give me ideas and requests for things you want to see. or leave them in reviews here, but i have lots of other cool stuff at that journal like fanart for this story and stuff.

anyway, enjoy.


Fireworks exploded in the night sky, throwing dancing red light over the gathered crowd. Viral grimaced. The throng of humans was bad enough, but every crack, bang and shout felt like a bomb going off beside his sensitive ears. The smoke made his nose itch. His nerves were frayed; it was difficult to disassociate explosions from combat. This was how humans celebrated? His supposed acquisition of spiral power brought him no closer to understanding them.

At least the miserable distractions chased away other thoughts, ones more confusing and melancholy. He hadn't bothered to watch Leeron's disc, immediately burying it under paperwork he had no intention of doing. The thought of somehow turning into a spiral being -- which, in his experience, translated to 'human' -- was almost as disconcerting as descending into some kind of bloodthirsty beast.

He could have coped with the notion of becoming a human on its own, but dreams repressed since his time in Anti-Spiral's maddening fantasy realm were whispering to him once again. Viral tried to will them away, but in light of his new powers they were more vivid than ever. What had been singularly impossible was now in the realm of the tantalizing unknown. Whatever Leeron wanted him to watch would just make it worse.

Really, all spiral power meant to him was that he could now pilot Gurren Lagann. What else would he ever use it for? It was a non-issue. If he ignored it, perhaps it would dissipate. It wasn't like he needed something else to separate him from his own race.

He had not known another beastmen since joining the Gurren Brigade. Those he had grown up with were dead at the hands of his new friends and employers. Even though his actions ultimately secured a future for man and beastman alike, he could sense his people viewed him as a turncoat; a pet of the new human empire. Knowing he would live to see the last of his race wither away from old age just made his heart heavier.

At least, he tried to linger on these deep emotional and philosophical dilemmas amidst the flashes of lights and bumps at his shoulder. As painful as they were, they seemed nobler than the real cause of his anxious wistfulness.

It'd been weeks since he had seen her...

Yoko could be in the civic center. This was, after all, a celebration of the Gurren Brigade and their great victory. It'd been a year since they had destroyed Anti-Spiral, and those that were still alive had come together to remember those lost. She was one of them. She had to be in there.

But that fact just made the knot in his stomach twist deeper into his gut. Leeron had told him to stay away from her. She could be furious with him, angry, repulsed... For all he knew, Leeron told the whole Brigade and they might be as indignant and protective as the mechanic. Viral had gotten a formal invitation to the event, but he had learned one definite thing about humans: their actions did not always mirror their intentions.

On the other hand, they could be angry if he didn't show up. Trying to predict them gave him a headache. Perhaps he could just make a quick appearance and duck out before he ran into her. The thought hurt like few things had before, but he knew with enough time and enough busywork it would numb, and life could be the way it was before his ill-fated vacation.

It was strange, he reflected. He remembered himself being very good at coping with pain in the past, but now, in the seven years since Genome granted him his tireless, fast-healing body, pain was nothing but a fleeting annoyance. His tolerance must have grown lax. The ache in his chest felt physical enough, but it was apparently exempt from his healing abilities. Broken limbs -- and bullet wounds -- had hurt less.

Moping wouldn't help. Viral set his resolve and finally stood tall enough for people to recognize him. The crowd edged away from him to either grant him access to the civic center or escape the reach of his claws.

---

Yoko smiled for the crowd, waved, shook hands, applauded the speeches given from the podium at the head of the huge civic hall. Inwardly, she was hating her slinky red dress -- why did she let Leeron talk her into wearing this thing instead of her suit? -- along with the tiny purse, precarious heels and jangling jewelry that went along with it. She wasn't used to having an adoring crowd, and the spotlight made her cringe. Ducking behind Dayakka's bulk served her well, but only for a few moments; he was even shyer than her, and far more concerned about the noises and lights upsetting Anne than hiding Yoko.

She would be expected to go down and mingle. Rossiu had given them all instructions -- he called them guidelines, there had been little room for interpretation in his tone -- to go out amongst the people whose taxes were funding this gala.

Yoko, he had singled her out, be expected to answer questions about Kamina. You knew him best after Simon, and seeing as Simon cannot be with us...

Yeah, dead lovers were her forte.

She regretted coming. She had been regretting it since she first heard the tone in Leeron's voice that signaled he would not let her worm out of this social obligation. It didn't matter to him that some of her pupils might be attending and could recognize her, or that she hated parties, or that she might cross paths with a certain beastman...

Yoko slipped past some cameras and down a flight of stairs onto the main floor. At least there was free food. Tetsukan and Attenborough had already planted themselves at the buffet and were chatting up any girl within hearing range between mouthfuls.

Her eyes wandered down the buffet tables. She did not mean for them to catch, much less rest upon a tall blond head that stood over most of the crowd. Viral was at the far end of the tables, near a secluded corner, miraculously being left alone. He was leaning against the wall with his arms folded defensively. It was hard to tell at this distance, but his hair looked as if it had gotten scragglier since she had last seen him, making him look wild despite his suit. That struck her as odd, because in the time she had known him with the Gurren Brigade, he had always been well-groomed.

She took a few steps forward to get a better look. His suit was crooked, his tie hopelessly undone, and what had been a hint of scruff on his chin weeks ago had grown into ragged, short bristles across his entire jaw. Besides vaguely resembling a cat-eyed hobo, there was a note of sadness in his disgruntled, disinterested slouch.

He didn't look well.

Yoko had forgiven him as soon as Leeron had explained things to her, and even if she hadn't, it would've been hard to begrudge the beastman anything in his current state. What she wasn't sure about were his feelings towards her specifically. If Leeron was right, if he was just like a teenager, he would've simply been the last in a long line of slobbering, hormonal boys.

Oh, don't get so self-righteous, she chided herself, It's not like you haven't been remembering what he looked like, running around without his shirt or hell, his pants...

She felt a blush warm her cheeks, and she shook her head sharply enough to scare away a civilian that had been approaching her from the side. Being attracted to him hadn't felt so weird or wrong out in the wilderness, but back in civilization, she had to wonder how perverse it would seem to others.

Her feet didn't care, though; she realized they'd been walking towards the sulking beastman the entire time. She was now mere yards away from him, close to his invisible bubble of solitude. If he noticed, he didn't betray it in any visible way. In fact, she was close enough to see he had his eyes closed, brow knitted and pulled down into a scowl.

Yoko swallowed and stepped past the last line of people hovering outside of the beastman's well-guarded personal space. She opened her mouth to speak, but his nose twitched, and he lifted his head, blinking his glare away immediately. The furrows around his eyes seemed deeper and darker than usual, but the iris that met her was as bright as ever. Her lips smiled on their own for the first time that night.

"Yoko?"

Viral seemed genuinely surprised, as if he didn't immediately recognize her -- oh. Between the gaudy, strapless dress, the makeup and her styled hair, maybe he hadn't. She folded her arms over her over-accentuated bust self-consciously, quickly looking away.

"Yeah," she replied casually, trying to shrug away some of the awkward tension that had settled on her shoulders.

He was gaping. "You look..."

"Ridiculous, I know," she supplied quickly, twirling a lock of artificially curled hair, "It's Leeron's fault. He wouldn't leave me alone until I was done up to his satisfaction. He probably did the same thing to Kittan's sisters and Reite. I hope Kiyoh socked him if he said anything about trying to conceal the baby weight --"

She was rambling. She didn't ramble. He was ignoring her anyway; she felt his gaze on her in a way that made her cheeks burn hotter. Yoko stole an uncomfortable glance at him, and was surprised to find he wasn't eying her like a piece of meat. The beastman seemed genuinely impressed into silence. That didn't make the blush go away, but it did make her heart beat just a tad faster.

"No, you look..." Viral finally spoke, and she realized he had pushed off the wall to step closer, but she heard him hesitating. "... very... nice."

It sure didn't sound like a forced compliment. If anything, he might have been stopping himself from saying something more incriminating. Still, his tepid words dampened the tiny thrill she'd gotten before, and she was able to look him in the eye again.

It was easier to be huffy. "I can't say the same about you. Did you even comb your hair or think about shaving? We're supposed to be envoys to the public, Viral. You look like a mess."

She regretted her words immediately, since the same dreariness she saw before weighed down his posture again. "You're right. I'm being disrespectful. I should leave."

"Oh no, you're not getting away that easily. If I have to be here, so do you." Yoko strode up to him boldly now, reaching out to fix his tie. He blinked, looking down at her with the same perplexed look of a pet being made to wear a ridiculous sweater. Next, she straightened his lapels and tucked his unfolded collar, her manicured nails inadvertently brushing against his throat. She paused, looking up cautiously to see if he had noticed or cared.

Up close, his scraggly, unshaven face made him look older than she thought he was. Then again, when she was fourteen, he had already been a high ranking military commander. Who knew how beastmen age? For all she knew, he could have lived for centuries or been cloned and engineered straight to adult form ten years ago. Either way, he returned her puzzled stare.

Remembering the hundreds of people around them, she dropped her hands and stepped back to a respectable distance. Quick to stay on topic, she cleared her throat. "Maybe we can do something about that hair. Follow me."

He did as he was told, and it was much easier to weave through the crowd with the towering beastman behind her. Yoko escorted him to the second level and out onto an unused balcony she had spotted when looking for escape routes earlier. It was sparsely decorated with wicker patio furniture. Looking around to make sure no one was trailing them, she hurried him outside and closed the door.

Viral was obviously confused, but silently awaited her command. She saw him looking back at the door, as if contemplating bolting away.

"Just let me comb your hair. You're scaring everyone out there, and... you don't deserve that."

Baffled, he tilted his head at her inquisitively, but he did sit down in a chair. Yoko wasn't entirely sure what she meant either, so she shrugged and fought for the right words. "You're a member of the Gurren Brigade. People shouldn't avoid you like you're some kind of monster. You deserve their attention and respect as much as the rest of us."

For a moment, he looked touched, but he slunk into his seat. "I am more than happy to let you and the others have all of the attention. I dislike crowds."

"I know, I know, you're a dangerous, mysterious loner," she sighed in exasperation, rifling through her small purse for the comb. Viral only grunted in reply, and she set her purse on the table.

"Do you even have any friends?"

The question made him flinch, almost invisibly, but she saw it. She swore silently. Why was she being so hard on him? The poor guy had to look like hell for a reason. She was the one who had absconded him out here when he had probably been perfectly happy lurking alone in the corner.

"Aren't you my friend?"

His plaintive question felt like a barb twisting into her guilty heart. Yoko moved behind him to avoid his eyes.

"Of course, I didn't mean it like that. Sorry, the crowd's getting to me too." She lifted up the tangled tips of his hair, running her thumb over the blond locks.

"I would understand if you're angry with me," Viral spoke quietly, the motion of his head hanging tugging his hair out of her fingertips.

"No, no," She leaned in closer, gathering his hair up again more boldly, "Leeron explained things to me. It's not your fault. I shouldn't have been... encouraging you..."

"But I liked what you did." He leaned his head backwards this time, looking up at her upside-down. Just in time to see that he'd made her blush. She tried to shake off the rosy warmth by tossing her head.

"Well... friends don't do things like that with each other."

Viral deflated. "Oh."

Yoko sighed at herself loudly. "No, I mean..." She hesitated, then leaned forward inch by inch, convincing herself it was so she could slide her fingers beneath all of his hair, close to the root. "... People that do those things... are more than friends. It's... complicated."

"More than friends?"

"Like... Simon and Nia. It's something special that happens between men and women." She didn't need to confuse him with political correctness at the moment. Slipping into teacher mode helped her distance herself from her embarrassing explanations. "When they're... close, and they do things like hugging, kissing, and... other things."

Please, please don't ask about other things. She ran her comb through his hair, fully prepared to yank if he did.

What he did ask wasn't much better. "But... we are friends, and we did those things."

"I know. I didn't realize you didn't understand things like that. It wasn't really fair," Yoko chose her words carefully, concentrating far too intently on teasing out individual hairs. "It's not just, you know, touching and stuff. There's a commitment, and... certain feelings. It's a serious thing. You didn't know about any of that and I... wasn't really thinking either."

He was silent, and she didn't know if she should take that as good or bad, so she concentrated on combing. When the tangles were gone, she sifted through it manually, parting it neatly. A few strands of shed hair accumulated on his suit's shoulders, and she stopped to whisk it off. Inevitably, some of it fell onto his lapels, and she leaned down, reaching forward to brush it away.

Something made her stop as soon as she was leaning against the back of his shoulders, one arm halfway across his chest. It took a moment to detect, but there was a faint rumble beneath his shirt, emanating from his solar plexus. That purr was back.

Yoko smiled and didn't move, remaining in the half-hug. She hated to admit it, but she missed him and his awkward affections. She set her temple against his head tentatively. He tensed beneath her touch, as if reluctant to acknowledge it, but he gave in shortly and leaned back, reaching up to clasp her hand -- and most of her forearm -- with his giant paw. The silent, restrained purr flared into the rattling near-growl she'd come to know.

"Yoko," he murmured, "Leeron said --"

"Screw him," she grunted angrily and squeezed him. In the corner of her eye, she saw an out of place reddish smear on his hair, and she realized she was smudging makeup against his scalp. Yoko lifted away from the hug with a long sigh, scrubbing off the smear with her thumb.

"We should go back inside," she muttered regretfully. He still had hold of her arm, and kept his grip on it as he stood.

"This thing can't go on much longer," She opened the door to head back out into the bright lights of the crowded hall. "Maybe when it's over we can -- Viral?"

The beastman had yet to release her arm, holding her hand like it was perfectly normal for human and a beastman to have their palms clasped together. The warmth and softness of his giant, gnarled hand made her feel worse for her prudish hesitations.

She bit her lip, looking away. "You shouldn't... we shouldn't... uh... touch each other. When other people are around, I mean."

"Oh." Viral immediately let go, quickly withdrawing his hands to his sides sheepishly. Yoko took the opportunity to step through the door, and he followed, scanning the crowd. His brow wrinkled.

"But lots of people are touching one another out there. Why can't we?"

She shook her head slowly. Her hand felt cold now. "I don't think they would... understand."

Though she couldn't look at him, she could easily imagine the sad confusion on his face. "Understand what? I... oh. I see."

Yoko looked up in time to see resignation settle across his features.

"I am a beastman, I am not supposed to touch a human."

Now she really hated herself. Wild notions of flinging her arms around him and kissing him in the midst of a thousand people tempted her. This was the same society that told her she was strange for wanting to be a marksman or marring her beauty with the grease, blood and sweat of warfare. Why listen to it now? Was she ashamed of him?

"No! I mean, well, yes, that's what some people think," Yoko fought to find the right justification for her sudden puritanism, "And I mean, because of that, they might ask a lot of questions or bother us. I don't want to give people any excuse to gossip, do you?"

That rationale felt true enough to alleviate some of her guilt. He raised his eyebrow at her, but shrugged. "You have a point."

"Listen," she started before she realized what she was about to say, eager to mend his spirits, "...we can be alone later."

Viral blinked, startled out of his funk and rendered wide-eyed.

She left him to imagine all of the implications and possibilities in her promise, smiling and beckoning him to follow. "Let's go seem sociable, okay?"

He followed obediently.

---

The rest of the gala crawled along slowly. Yoko and Viral drifted apart and back together over the course of the night, finding it difficult to hold a sustained conversation with anyone else. As the crowd thinned towards the end of the event, they lingered around the now vacant buffet. Viral was not fond of most human food, heavy with grains and milk as it usually was, but he was hungry, so he picked off the remains of an appetizer plate without complaint.

Between bites he glanced over at Yoko, waiting for some signal that their ridiculous social obligation was done with. He didn't know why he wanted to be alone with her so badly, or what he wanted to do in that time, but her promise filled him with irrational anticipation. It had single-handedly lifted his dour spirits and quelled most of his nagging uncertainties.

She was sipping something red, watery and supremely foul-smelling; even at arm's length it made his nose burn. Yoko seemed oblivious to the stench, drinking her third glass as she stared at a distant wall. He'd been watching her with the same morbid fascination humans paid him when he ate his raw, bloody lunch.

Guinble's frantic voice snapped away his attention. "Sir, please, there aren't any more speeches scheduled for tonight, it's nearly midnight--"

"No," a perturbed and disheveled Rossiu replied, walking with a faint uneven hobble. His hair had come mostly undone, free strands draping the shoulders of his white suit. "I must find my. Notes. My notes for the final keynote. They're here somewhere."

"You delivered that speech three hours ago!" Guinble was at his heels, trying to direct the wobbling president away from the punch table.

Yoko's barking laugh drew the beastman's eyes back over to her.

"I guess Leeron made good on his promise." She smiled behind another sip of her drink, before a pausing a moment to examine the glass more critically. Yoko shrugged and finished it off, setting the glass down and turning her knowing smile at him. The agitation he'd sensed on her earlier had melted away, and Viral couldn't help but smile back. If she was happy, he was happy.

Her smile spread into a yawn and a shoulder-rolling stretch. "Let's get outta here."

Viral tilted his head, following her as she headed for the convention center's doors. "And go where?"

"You've seen where I live, I wanna see your place."

Viral frowned slightly, unsure. "Are you sure? There's really nothing there."

She laughed again. "Is there a bed?"

"Well, yes, but..."

Yoko snickered and waved him off, leaving him somewhat baffled.

But then, it was pretty late; she was probably tired.

---

The beastmen district felt cold. Yoko didn't know if it was the air or the stares.

If she knew it was going to be a hike through the bad part of town, she would've insisted he call a cab. It was hard enough to keep up with his long strides under the best conditions, nevermind in her long heels. Her leg was still sore too.

The city lost its shimmer -- and then basic maintenance -- the further they went into what was unofficially considered Little Tepperlin. It was a stretch of the city on the outskirts, a part of the old ruins of the ancient city that had remained relatively intact and unchanged from its heyday a decade before. In its previous life it had been spartan military quarters and storage, and unlike most of Tepperlin, it had been at the ground level to begin with, so the literal fall of Genome's empire had done it little damage. The atmosphere kept the humans out, and the beastmen flocked to it for some semblance of the life they had before.

Yoko never realized Viral lived here. It was easily the poorest quarter of the city, and he was a high ranking government official. Couldn't he afford to live someplace nicer? Was there some twisted racist rule that decreed all the beastmen had to live over here, or did he segregate himself by choice? Needless to say, it was the part of town she never would've visited by choice, especially at night and bereft of a firearm.

But her tall, shark-toothed companion made her feel a little safer, though his presence alone did not apparently grant her a pass into the ghetto. The suspicious glares, she noticed, were leveled at both of them. Viral ignored them, following a well-memorized path through the winding blocks until they arrived at a building completely indistinct from those around it.

"Don't mind them," he said, swiping a card to open the entrance, "They're just scared."

Yoko rose an eyebrow and kept close to his side. "They're scared...?"

"I'm sure some of them remember your gun." Viral looked down at her and held a second set of doors open for her.

Well, there was that. She fell silent.

He lead her down the decrepit hall and to an elevator whose doors groaned as they opened. "I live on the 6th floor."

The hall the elevator emptied them onto was no better than the last one. Her heels almost caught on the uneven floorboards and she bit down a curse. Viral looked over at her and furrowed his brow, motioning to a nearby door. He passed his card through another reader.

Underwhelming would've been a kind way to describe the apartment behind that door.

It looked like a single tiny room that was more prison cell than home. There was only one small window, and the walls were gray and barren. The furniture consisted of an uncomfortable-looking bed and a stand supporting an old television and an alarm clock. Uniforms and a few pieces of casual wear hung from a rod bridging two cramped walls. Around the corner, she noticed the claustrophobic bathroom didn't even have a shower. No color, no personal relics or touches -- if the bed weren't unmade she'd be hard pressed to believe anyone even lived here.

"They... do pay you to captain the Chouginga, right?" It might have been rude, but she had aching calves and at least four glasses of wine and spiked punch in her system.

"Hm? Of course," Viral didn't seem to understand her implication anyway, until he noticed the incredulous disbelief on her face as she scanned the pitiful quarters. "These... were my quarters before."

"Before what?"

"Before this was Kamina City."

Oh. "Do they really mean that much to you?"

He sat down on his bed, carefully undoing his tie and shoes with his clawed hands. "They are familiar."

There wasn't much room, but her feet couldn't take the pain anymore. She sat down on the end of his bed and kicked off the high heels, looking away from him as she grimaced. Yoko curled and uncurled her toes, rubbing the pantyhose clad ball of her foot with her thumb and sighing in relief.

Then she heard a strange shuffling of clothes.

She looked over her shoulder. Viral freed himself from his shirt and shook his hair free, taking a hanger down to carefully hang the garment back on the rod. The tie went on the same hanger.

And then he unbuckled his pants.

Yoko must have made some kind of choked sound, because he glanced her way as he slid his belt out of its loops. "This suit is itchy. Do you mind if I change?"

She shook her head, dumbly, and tried not to watch him take off his slacks.

Viral folded them neatly, hanging them with care, then resumed sitting. From this angle, she could see all of the scars over his back and lean shoulders, as well as that out of place stripe of stiff fuzz running down his spine.

Or did it just look stiff? Yoko reached out to touch it, curious and judgment-impaired. The beastman's spine stiffened under her fingers. The hair was softer than it looked, growing the longest between his shoulder blades and fading into nothingness around the small of his back in a distinctly inhuman pattern. It reminded her of how male molepigs grew a thick mane down their spine when they matured. She could almost swear he looked a little bigger than the last time she'd seen him this close and undressed...

It occurred to her that she had frozen him in place, and she laughed quietly, scratching the thickest part of the fuzz on his back. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," he murmured "It feels strange to have my back touched. I keep expecting an attack."

"Ahhh," Yoko nodded, but didn't remove her hand or stop stroking. "It's hard to get out of that frame of mind, isn't it?"

"Very." There was a slight, breathless rumble to his voice now.

She sidled a little closer to him, enough to hear his slow breathing. "You know I'm not going to attack you, right?"

"I... yes."

"Good." Yoko ended up leaning against his back, setting her hands on his shoulders and her head against his. She was not, she told herself, feeling up the muscles between his neck and shoulders. Her fingertips stopped at the wicked scar that carved an uneven notch his shoulder.

All the scars torn into his torso broke her heart; the worst part was wondering if she was responsible for any of them years ago. They stirred in her an unreasonable surge of affection and sadness for her nonhuman friend, and she quietly embraced him, squeezing his chest from behind. She expected him to stiffen at the contact, and he almost did, at first -- then his huge hands found hers and he resumed the clasp he had been forced to give up hours ago.

Yoko smiled against his back. The contact was nice, and her head felt too heavy to support itself now. She shut her eyes and listened to the purr rattling through him. Yoko had long forgotten whatever she had intended by coming back with him -- whether she had genuinely wanted to see his abode, whether she had wanted to jump him, or whether she had wanted to get away from everyone else. Maybe she just wanted to be close to him again. She got the sensation of someone staring at her, and opened one eye, tilting her head up to offer him a broad smile as he looked back over his shoulder.

He seemed to consider something momentarily, before freeing one of his arms and turning just enough to loop it around her back. Apparently emboldened by her attentions, he clasped her to his side and began nuzzling her scalp, forgetting completely about whatever change of dress he had in mind.

Embracing him lost some of its innocence when she could see more than his back. It reminded her that between those tragic scars was a powerful, nearly naked male body.

It was Yoko's turn to swallow back her embarrassment, averting her eyes with sudden shyness despite her slight inebriation. She tried to focus on his purring, low, deep and hypnotic. He seemed quite content to just sit beside her, nosing through her styled locks, until he suddenly coughed and sneezed. She blinked up at the disruption, and he pulled back, rubbing his nose.

"Your hair smells wrong," Viral frowned.

"Sorry, that's probably the hairspray." Yoko sighed and ran her nails through her manicured bangs self-consciously, wondering if she was glad or disappointed by the interruption.

Then he dipped his head to set his face against her cheek and throat, as if searching for some part of her scent unmarred by chemicals. She tried not to utter any undignified sounds of surprise, but it was a hopeless cause and he pulled back sheepishly after she squeaked.

"Excuse me," he apologized quickly, looking away as well, "I just missed it. The way you smell, I mean."

"Oh?" Preoccupied with trying to steady her breath, Yoko didn't catch the question before it slipped out. "What do I smell like?"

Viral paused at the question, looking thoughtful as he actually considered it. After a moment he shrugged helplessly. "It's human language, so there really aren't any words. It's not just the scent of the things you wear or handle. It comes from your skin, and hair, and I'm not even sure what else..." Lost in thought, he leaned forward to touch her cheek with his nose. "I never thought humans smelled good until now."

Though part of her threatened to shudder at his light, nuzzling touch, Yoko laughed softly. "Are you saying we stink?"

"No," he murmured, a low purr threading into his voice. He closed his eyes and breathed against her temple. "It just wasn't as interesting. "

Viral was close enough that the rough whiskers on his chin tickled at her jaw. He grunted and rubbed his face with his thick wrist, scowling. "I don't know where these came from. I never had them before."

Yoko couldn't help but smile, reaching forward and setting her palm against his scruffy cheek. "Didn't Leeron explain that to you?"

"No," Viral quickly lost his discontent when she stroked his face, leaning into her hand subtly but affectionately. "He explained nothing, just gave me some disc to watch. What does growing hair in strange places have to do with spiral power?"

Yoko shook her head, trying not to be too amused at his expense. "It's all part of becoming a man."

The beastman grumbled, and she comforted him with her fingertips. Tired of sitting upright, Yoko moved deeper into the bed, and he followed her obediently, never breaking contact from her fingers. She settled back comfortably against the few spartan pillows piled against the bed rest, and he followed.

Viral ended up hovering over her torso, until finally giving in to gravity and resting his head on her bosom with surprising brazenness. Aside from her thin dress, little separated their lounging embrace. He must have felt her nervous heartbeats as clearly as she did his rolling purr, but she kept running her fingers down his jaw, then throat, while her other hand ended up cradling his head and fingering his dangling hair.

Her inhuman companion seemed pleased beyond measure to do nothing but weigh her down warmly and bask in the attention. She could see half of a smile, the other half buried against her breast and collarbone, and it was lazy enough to allow a few fangs to slide into view over his bottom lip. It looked just a smidgen goofy, and the beastmen she knew would not allow it under any normal condition.

Then again, she felt like she might have a slightly stupid grin on her own face. Yoko squeezed his head appreciatively and tried not to think too deeply about their strange relationship. The ethics and ramifications of it -- whatever it might become -- still felt muddled. Even this innocuous but intimate lounging was highly suspect. She could only imagine what the rest of the Gurren Brigade would think of this development; Rossiu's reaction at the notion of an interspecies affair, or the immature jokes and jealousy of the group's many bachelors. Leeron was the only one who might genuinely understand being in the thrall of an unorthodox relationship, and he was too busy being a mother hen to her.

Was it really so odd? It wasn't like she was shacking up with one of those anteater guys or a fish-headed soldier. On the surface, he was only a few teeth and claws away from being human. It was really his mannerisms where his bestial side shone through -- his every movement was too smooth and precise, the way his head seemed to remain fixed in one steady position as he walked as if he was locked in a constant stalk, his growling, purring, and the way he didn't know it was ungentlemanly to just plop one's head on a lady's breasts. Worse, it was these things that should have made her leery of him, but the longer she watched him, the more alluring the hints of savageness beneath his stoic, well-spoken front became.

It might have been pure projected fantasy on her part, though. In telling moments, he was a picture of innocent confusion rather than hungry predator, and he seemed more interested in simple, affectionate contact than ravaging her. But then, his naiveté was attractive in its own way...

"What's wrong?"

She looked down at the subject of her ruminations, who, without moving his face, was looking at her curiously. "I... well, nothing, really, just..."

Viral's smile inverted. "Am I being unfriendly?"

"Huh?"

"Am I doing something that a friend shouldn't do?"

"...Kind of."

He frowned deeper and started to lift himself up, but her hand steadied the back of his head, holding it to her chest.

"No, it's okay."

"But--"

"I like it."

He stared at her as if not completely comprehending.

Yoko sighed. The words came to her vaguely inebriated mind easily, but they were hard to say, even though she knew he would not grasp the depth of their meaning. "I... I like you."

Predictably, this did not strike him as much of a revelation and he wrinkled his brow, trying to understand. "I like you as well."

"I mean," she lowered her voice, leaning forward to hide her face in his hair, "more than a friend likes another friend. Remember what I was saying earlier? Like... god, this is ridiculous. I don't know how to explain it. I shouldn't have said anything."

"No," Viral protested immediately, "It's good to know. If you like me as more than a friend, doesn't that mean we could be more than friends?"

There was almost a desperate tone to his voice, as if this was some sort of emergency logistical problem whose answer was very likely to be no. Part of her wanted to immediately reassure him, but she knew he deserved the truth.

"I know there's plenty of people who would say it was wrong."

His long frown seemed a bit longer, so she scooped her hands around his face and brought it up closer to her own.

"But... who gives a damn about them? You -- we should do whatever we want."

Viral's lips tugged back into the earlier, cuspid-tipped smile. Then, suddenly, that smile came forward and kissed her. His initiative was slightly shocking; so was the fact he had perfectly retained what she had shown him weeks ago.

He was a good student.