Delicately, he scratched the back of his neck, careful this time not to draw any blood now that he'd discovered the area was one of his weak spots. The thought brought a soft snarl to his lips, but Viral quickly relaxed his face once he realized he was spooking the laborers that were loading equipment and Ganmen onto the enormous starship. He shifted his attention back towards Anne, watching her as she spoke with Rossiu about intel and the other Spiral races.
"It's been a while."
It had indeed, but not so long that he'd forgotten the sound of her voice. Viral felt Yoko step up next to him, her hair in a thick braid that dusted her back. A few streaks of silver highlighted it, he noticed, and there were some fine lines around her eyes and mouth. Overall, the years had been kind to her. At least, it didn't seem to have killed her spirit.
He nodded before answering, his arms settling in to cross over his chest, clawed finger tapping along his biceps. "That it has. You look like you've been doing well."
Yoko laughed a little, resting her hands on her hips. "I have. Really, I have. It's been nice to get away from it all."
Violent cursing from someone inside drew their attention followed by a quick smack and some whimpering. Viral smirked while Yoko covered her laughter with a hand. The jovial sound died quickly, and she let out a long sigh.
"I'm getting too old for this," she said, her tone light enough to make it sound like she was joking. Her body language and scent said otherwise.
"You didn't have to come," he told her. "No one knew where to find you except Leite."
She shook her head, almost sadly. "No, I had to come. I would never have forgiven myself if I didn't. What good is having a quiet, peaceful life like I've always wanted if I can't protect it. And I have to admit, it is good seeing everyone again. Well, almost everyone…"
Without her saying, Viral knew she wasn't referring to those who had died in the First Anti-Spiral War. However, no one spoke of him as though he was still alive. He'd become a complete legend, a name to inspire children to be brave and noble or to invoke over evils of all sorts. Because after Nia died and he'd passed the core drill to Gimi, Simon had simply disappeared.
Anne spared a moment in her discussion with Rossiu to glance over at Viral, gifting him with a smile even as she continued to speak. Viral felt a familiar pressure in his chest, and in that moment, neither blamed nor condemned Simon for his actions. If anything, he realized he understood more than he liked.
The last to board Cathedral Terra, Anne found her feet slowing to a stop as she felt the massive door shut firmly behind her, locking away her home and those she was leaving behind. Both Kittan and Kinian refused to leave Earth. The look on Kinian's face told her that she wouldn't be coddeled, knowing that the reason Anne wanted them aboard was to minimize the chances that they were targeted in her absence. Kinian would rather die than sit around and be useless, and she was due to start physical therapy with her new prostethic within the next week. Kittan…well, he simply hadn't wanted to come. Anne felt a little saddened at the new rift that had formed between her little brother and herself, and wondered if it would ever be repaired. At least, she hoped that it wouldn't scar over too badly.
Reports and intel sheets rustled in her hands as her boots clacked noticeably on the metal grating before softening over the tiled floor leading towards the bridge so she could get this voyage underway. Her eyes had barely adjusted to the dim lighting when she heard a noise and jumped. A soft chuckle made its way into her hearing before a soft scowl touched her face and she whirled around.
"I know you're a hunter, Viral, but I'm not your prey," she snapped at him as he came out from the shadows.
"Was never my intention to scare you. Not my fault you're feeling anxious."
Her lips parted to retort, but she didn't have the heart to disagree with the obvious. She let out a long breath before resuming her journey, Viral matching her strides. What needed to be said had to be said to everyone, and that could only be done from the bridge. Mentally, Anne started to sort between all the information she'd been given, attempting to create a quick summary that captured the important matters and got this ship to their first destination the fastest. What had been relative quiet erupted into noise, particularly the yelling of Attenborough as he attempted to push any number of buttons while Dari and Gimi played goalie to keep him from doing so. Kiyal sat on the back of a chair, eating some snacks, and most of the crew was present. After a quick scan, it seemed the only one who wasn't there was Leite, but she was probably seeing to Dyakkaiser. Anne made her way to the com system and flicked a switch.
"Alright, everyone," she started, leaning back against the port rather than sitting down so she could make eye contact with the few in the room. "I know that some of the military joining us are still settling in, so just keep an ear open while you make your way to your quarters or locations. Our first stop is going to be the Spiral world of Lilanova. The Anti-Spiral have hit them hard, and since they are the closest Spiral world to ours, most of the Spiral envoys that were trying to come to Earth were taken out or are currently bottlenecked there. Our priority is to aid the forces there, and if necessary, leave the military while the primary team continues on to try to find whatever space the Anti-Spiral are currently using as a home base.
"We wil take prisoners, if possible, so we can get as much information about the Anti-Spiral as possible. We want to know where they are and where these new generation ones are coming from. How they are replenishing their forces, and where they are getting their firepower. For now, that is all we have to go on until we get closer and pick up some of the short wave communications that may not have gotten to earth. After we've departed, I am sending out scouting teams to serve in four hour shifts, including one member of the primary team…"
"Stop calling us that and give us our damn name!"
Anne blinked a little at Cybele's aggressive voice. Kiyal snickered a little, almost choking on her food.
"Sorry," Anne started again. "Including one member from Team Dai Gurren. That better?"
A cheer erupted from around her, and a flutter of excitement filled her stomach, birthing a smile on her own face.
"You can pick your own teams. I'm not going to be a tyrant. Just check in with me or Viral before you deploy. That is all."
She turned around, flicking the switch off before placing her hands at the edge of the port, looking out over the clear pane at the front of Cathedral Terra. Was she really capable of leading this group of experienced and tried fighters. Doubt gripped her mind before Kiyal jumped on her back, nuzzling her violently so that they both toppled over. The helmsman barely managed to move out of the way in time.
"Aunt Kiyal!" Anne cried out, frustration and irritation boiling up.
"You're all grown up, my little Anne!" Kiyal said, managing to keep both grip and nuzzle. "Kittan would've been so proud to call you his neice."
Mentioning her uncle that had lost his life in the last Anti-Spiral encounter sobered Anne, her body relaxing as Kiyal finally let up enough to pull them both into a sitting position. The older woman took her by the shoulders, looking straight into her eyes.
"Gurren Lagann chose you, Anne. Everything you need….everything you've ever needed is right here."
Anne looked down to watch Kiyal's finger touch her softly in the tender tissue above her heart. Looking back up, she saw a hint of unshed tears there. Anne nodded before getting up, offering her aunt a hand up as well. She was right though. Anne knew she had everything she needed to get the job done. The truth was, she wasn't afraid she'd be up to the task. She was afraid of whether she could bear the inevitable losses. Her blue eyes found Viral's feral yellow ones, and she knew at least one loss that might well break her. Spiral help them all if the Anti-Spiral discovered just how close to success they really were.
After realizing he was in the way, Viral held up a wall for a few minutes, watching to see if Anne would need anything. But time went on, and she didn't so much as glance his way, so he decided to spend some quality time with an old friend. He quickly found his way down to the holding bay for the Ganmen, excitement building up in him as he felt a familiar pulse grow stronger with each step.
"Enkidudu," he said softly, standing before the mech that had carried him for so many years.
"I'm glad you approve."
He looked at the source of the voice, easily finding Leite on a small lift, working with a few others at restoring Dyakkaiser. Viral smiled softly, unable to even act like he didn't care. While he was certainly fond of Gurren Lagann and the memories he'd made in it, having his own Ganmen back was like regaining a part of himself he'd thought he'd lost. Bittersweet, certainly, but still his to own.
"Thank you," he managed to get out.
Leite just nodded in his direction, wiping a bit of sweat on her sleeve before getting down from her workstation and making her way over to where he stood.
"I really never planned to bring him back to you," she admitted. "Wanted to make him better, keep my skills sharp. But I'm glad he was ready for this. You need your own mech."
A growl rumbled in the base of his throat. "Like I'm useless on Gurren Lagann."
"Of course you're not, but that doesn't make you the best for it either."
"Simon thought I was good enough."
"Well, he isn't here."
"So does Anne."
"She's just a child."
The growl became audible, and Leite looked up at him in surprisebefore he finally calmed himself down. Taking a step back, he stopped to realize just how upset he'd gotten over her comment that Anne was "just a child." He took a breath, turning to leave.
"Anne is far from a child anymore. We'd do well to remember that."
Those words he spoke for his own sake as well as Leite's. The gap between their ages had little to do with the selfless attitude and strength of heart he'd seem from her, and that was more than enough for him. He knew that Anne could probably pilot Gurren Lagann with anyone in the second cockpit. The truth was just that he didn't want to share her with anyone else. But he felt like that choice was out of his hands, at least for now. Maybe it was for the best since he did have another toy to play with at the moment. He was definitely looking forward to seeing some action again.
Anne sat in her room after having been told by everyone on the bridge that she needed to rest. Well, knowing one's needs and being able to tend to them were two very different matters, and she held her second cup of mint tea, hoping that enough of the warm beverage would relax her mind to the point where she felt like she could actually sleep. Anne shifted in her seat to take in the star-streaked view of the space around them before glancing at the clock that hunt in the center of the room from the ceiling. Another eighteen hours or so until they arrived in Lilanova's galaxy. By then, they should be able to pick up some sort of communication frequency. When she left the bridge, they hadn't heard so much as a burst of static. It was hardly a good thing.
A knock on the door pulled her from her thoughts as she turned her head towards it.
"Come in," she said, hearing how exhausted she sounded and groaning inwardly.
The door peeled away from the wall, revealing the silvered blonde hair of her mother. A bit of her fatigue faded as she stood up, cup forgotten on a small side table as Anne scampered across the room and flung herself into Kiyoh's arms.
"Mommy," she sighed, enjoying the gentle comfort she'd always found in her embrace.
Familiarity filled each strong, steady stroke of Kiyoh's hand over her deep curls, and Anne would not have been surprised if she fell asleep right there. Anne knew her mother knew it as well, and together, they made their way to the edge of her bed, managing to sit down beside each other while still maintaining much of their contact.
"I'm so proud of you," came the words Anne had always lived for. "So, so proud."
The enormity of the task she was undertaking this time flooded her thoughts, and Anne released the growing tension in one sharp shudder, the rest finding its way to her eyes in the form of tears.
"You know, mom," she started, "it's not even the fighting I'm afraid of. It's of letting everyone down. Of not living up to your…to the Earth's expectations of me. Of losing him."
Kiyoh didn't have to ask who "him" was.
"Anne, you've done nothing but make your father and I proud of you from the moment you took your first steps. You've always been such a bright, fierce light in our lives. The only person you have to worry about letting down is yourself. Do your best because you deserve it, not because you think you owe it to us."
Anne nodded, resting her head on her mother's shoulder while discarding the tears that had slipped. The message was not a new one for her. She'd heard it when she left for college and when she became ambassador. Still, it was a message she needed to hear again and again, to assure her that nothing had changed. That she hadn't disappointed them. They were her heroes, even more than Viral or Simon.
"So, now that we've gotten that out of the way," Kiyoh said, putting a bit of space between them so she could look at her daughter's face. "How about you tell me about this…well, not so young man of yours."
The last of her lingering fears melted away, and Anne smiled at her mother's acceptance before slipping into a ramble that left no question with either of them just how lovesick she really was.
Viral muttered a curse under his breath as he felt Anne approach his side. The static had started about an hour ago, but he could not manage to make out so much as a word.
"Do you think the Anti-Spiral are scrambling communications?" Anne asked, crossing her arms and glaring at the console with him.
"I put nothing past them, but I'm not going to act like I know what they're thinking," he replied. "I would've ended this war a long time ago."
Anne managed to find some humor in that, chuckling a little before glancing around the room.
"Who is out on the scouting party?"
Truth was, he'd wanted a chance to take out Enkidudu, but Yoko had insisted that he stay on board in case anything came up. He thought it was more an excuse for her to get out and about, not that he blamed her. He was itching for action, and they were very, very close to it.
"When was the last time anyone heard from them?"
"About thirty minutes ago," Gimi said, walking onto the bridge. "She saw something she was going to go check out."
Anne began to tense up, and Viral reached over and put a hand on her shoulder. She took a deep breath and let it out, nodding.
"Gimi, why don't you take two others and go…"
Viral looked to Anne to see if she'd heard it as well, and the look on her face gave him his answer. She sat down, pushing buttons as she tried to clear up the static. He wasn't sure she was actually doing anything to help, but the words did begin to come in more clearly and more frequently. At the very least, he could make out the fact that it was a male voice.
"Blockade?" Anne murmured, a nail on her lips. "Whose blockade? Who's attacking?"
"I'd think the Anti-Spiral would e," Gimi said.
"Yes, but as Viral said, they aren't really being logical in their actions," she commented as she stood up, going to the ship com system, turning it on. "This is Anne. We are finally close enough to Lilanova to receive some limited communications. If we can hear them, I'm sure the Anti-Spiral can hear us. Prepare to engage the enemy."
Viral felt the adrenaline starting to cruise through him, a smirk growing on his face as he clapped his hands together, turning around and heading towards the Ganmen Bay, the click of Anne's heels close behind him.
"You're taking Enkidudu."
He stopped just long enough for her to overtake him before recovering.
"But…" he cringed at the whining tone in his voice.
"You two deserve your reunion, and you can watch my back from there just as well, if not better, than you can from Gurren," she explained, not looking at him. "Dad will copilot with me since Leite is still repairing his."
She glanced over at him, and he felt like he'd been caught sulking. Anne was right, and he did want to pilot Enki again, but he still didn't like the feeling that he was being replaced, not matter how temporary.
"Fine," he replied. "For now."
"For now," she agreed.
They avoided the other more ethusiastic Grapearl pilots as they ran to put on suits and waited in line for takeoff. Viral stood by and watched Anne speak with her father for a moment before both loaded into Gurren Lagann, the familiar burst of green lettign him know it had powered up. He stared at the helmet for a moment, chuckling as he started to get into Enki, stroking the console and realizing how long it had been since he'd bothered to read Beastman. Still, he decided to leave the communications as is, taking in the vestigages of a time gone by.
The Ganmen started up with a few touches, and if an inanimate object could be happy, Enki certainly was. Viral chuckled, unsheathing the swords and looking at them, admiring the job that Leite had really done. They'd been refinished and updated with a lighter, more durable metal. He would really have to find a way to thank her, despite how he personally felt about the woman right now.
"Get in line!"
He saw Anne's image pop up, along with Dyakkah and the rest of the Dai Gurren Brigade that was coming with them. He oblidged, realizing that Anne meant to be the last to take off. Enki felt so odd after piloting Gurren Lagann for so long, but it was more like an old pair of clothing that he hadn't worn. They were both familiar and comforting in different ways.
"Let's show them all what we can do," he told the Ganman, punching the controls when it was his turn to leave the bay, shooting off into the glittering black of space, following the lights ahead of him as they all headed off. He opened up the general communications, trying to see if he could pick up anything else. Still static, but the voice was a little…clearer.
Viral's hands almost fell from the controls as he stopped in the middle of nowhere, staring at nothing as he struggled to believe why the voice sounded familiar. Sure, it had been some time, but the odds…
"Viral?" Anne's voice came with some concern.
"I think I know that voice," he told her, revving up Enki again, and pushing it to the limits, weavign around Ganmen and Grapearl alike, wanting to confirm his suspicions.
"Is it an ambassador or someone we know?" she asked.
"No, and yes," he replied. "Well, it's someone I know. Someone most of us know.
"I think it's Simon."