Summary: He was supposed to have saved his girl. She was supposed to have fallen in love. They did; that was then; this is now. Written for 31_days, October 22, 2009: Vanish quickly, for you are finally free. Yoko, Simon, post-series. Meaning massive spoilers, etc.

like ghost stories in reverse

Our ends are our beginnings.

--l--

Yoko sees it first. The flicker of something not quite right, just before Nia disappears.

Everyone watching is completely taken aback, except for her. And Leeron as well, but he'd probably known all along. There's no way he couldn't have. And Simon – he definitely knew this was coming; his smile is too painfully peaceful and calm for anything else.

The groom trades the white jacket for his tattered coat, and leaves without a backwards glance. Everyone forgets to breathe. She tosses him the emerald ring that fell at her feet.

A day later, Yoko leaves as well, only without the audience or the attention. A rifle over her shoulder and boots up past her knees. Doesn't look back.

(don't look back.)

--l--

Simon wouldn't be lying if he says he isn't grieving. Because grieving is – plunging into despair, the way he had back then. With Nia, once they reached the Anti-Spirals' home planet, once they shared that glance, they both knew. What would happen.

They never had to say a word about it, but they both agreed on what to do.

Simon wouldn't call it sacrifice, either. Again the word reminds him of what they'd made Aniki, back then. Rather, what certain people called him, believed he became, believed what he needed to be.

No, it's not any of that. It's just what had to be.

Like his departure: what it has to be.

(don't think twice.)

--l--

Behind them, the city glows so brightly. Moves on.

Cities don't miss people. Not its founders, not its warriors, not its residents. They never do.

--l--

"Simon."

"Yoko! What are you doing all the way out here?"

"The same thing you are."

"Sorry?"

"No, I'm just…enjoying life beyond the city. That's all."

"Funny, I'm doing the exact same thing."

--l--

He left on foot, she leaves on motorbike; it's not unnatural that she catches up with him less than half a day down the road. He's sitting on the side, leaning against a tree, and he doesn't look all that surprised to see her there.

"So what now?" she asks.

"I don't know," he says. Smiles.

She too smiles, and joins him under the tree.

--l--

Yoko had barely been not a girl. Simon had merely been just a boy. She'd tried to fight Ganmen with a lone rifle; he'd never even seen life above ground.

They'd been so foolish. So young. And life was blazing, brilliant, beautiful, with every day the chance – no, the surety – that they would win, they would win, they would win.

(And – Kamina.)

God, they'd been so foolishly young.

--l--

"Aren't you going off to be a teacher again?" he questions her.

"Yeah, eventually. I worked at a little school earlier, and I'll definitely go back there." He can hear the love for the children in her voice. "But there's time. I'm sure the new term hasn't started yet."

He's never thought she'd be one for dark humor.

"Walk around with me for a while?" he asks, grinning.

She smiles back. Her eyes might break his heart, if he lets them.

--l--

During the construction of Kamina City, he'd probably been around Yoko more than anyone else. With the exception of a few, the Gurren Brigade fighters weren't settling well into the rotes of bureaucracy. But they stuck with it because it was their duty. To bring Kamina City into existence. And standing by his side like a bodyguard, rifle at the ready, Yoko always bore the burdens with him.

(Not that he regretted building the city. Never. It just – once it began to stand on its own legs, breathe its own ideals, create its own institutions, it didn't fit them any more. Not the ones who only could shed blood to further its cause.)

After particularly grueling days, they'd just go and walk the streets, sit in a bar, stare at the sky.

"Don't you have anything else you'd rather be doing?" he'd asked her, once.

She shrugged, her rifle clattering as she moved. "Not really."

"I can take care of myself." He patted the drill against his chest for further emphasis.

"Maybe I just enjoy the company," she said, her bodyguard-like stance not easing up at all.

I'm sorry I'm not him, he whisper-thought back.

He'd be lying if he said he didn't like being with her, being out in the open air away from the regulations and responsibilities, the reams of words that make his eyes blur. He'd be lying if he said he misses part of what used to be, and how being near her reminds him of that.

(There used to be three of us, you know. Both with him and with her. There had always been three.

That was then.)

--l--

"Where do you want to go?" he asks.

She shrugs; perhaps it's not time to return to the school yet, to the life she'll live from here on out. "Anywhere's fine."

He shrugs as well, with that still-boyish quality. "I've always wanted to see the world."

She knows he's never much cared for the fame that came with liberating the people of the Earth. Sometimes, neither did she. "We went to the ends of the universe; wasn't that enough?"

They laugh, all the more with no one there to see them.

--l--

On a really bad day, he'd asked her to come pick him up from his commander-in-chief duties; she got there, he hopped on the back of her bike, and she drove. Only until they got out past the outskirts of the city did she stop, dust cascading around them in a circle of smoke.

She didn't ask; he didn't say. They just stared at the stars. A particularly bright one shot by and for some reason, it brought him (blue hair sharp stance bright eyes) to mind. Left her with an odd, stabbing feeling in the chest.

"They're so far away," Yoko mused.

"We fought for them," Simon replied.

We fought with him. We followed him, she thought, then refrained.

Out here, city life hadn't streamlined the rugged landscape into shimmering symmetrical towers quite yet. And somewhere just a little further, there'd be his sword stuck in a stone and a red scrap of cloth fluttering aimlessly, wind or no.

"Sometimes I wish Leeron had never figured out how to make those large plasma-screen displays work," Simon abruptly said. "It's weird, seeing my face everywhere."

"Even so, our pictures will be in the history books forever."

"Yeah, we're heroes. Legends." He didn't sound too convinced.

She wasn't either, sometimes.

"I'm glad you're still here, though," he said, looking at her. He was a little more observant than she remembered; all the more a reminder of the boy he'd been, the man he was now.

(It made her shiver.)

She smiled all the time. "If you guys need me, I will be."

But Yoko knew: soon, when the brunt of the city construction was finished, when things felt even more alien and uninhabitable and complicated than before – when things with him became too much to bear – then, she would…

He wouldn't need her then, anyway. His princess had always been waiting for him at home.

(She, though, would only have memories of her not-quite prince to keep her warm.)

--l--

For a few miles, the rest of the world isn't much: dirt, dirt, rock, dirt. But the forests are nice and green, and when they run into the ocean, it's too beautiful to stray far from. So they walk along the coast – or ride, really; he sits on the back and she guns the gas pedal like there's no tomorrow.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

Simon thinks he could get used to this.

He sits sideways and leans away so her hair can free-flow the way the wind dictates, so he can admire it from the distance. And if she ever notices, she never says a word.

(She's never said a word.)

And she's never been anything other than – everything. This.

--l--

Yoko likes the wind in her hair. Yoko likes to feel free.

And now he's close to her and they're flying through the air and in one way, it's beyond exhilarating; but in another, it's like she's bound to something she can't explain. But it's not – bad, necessarily, this feeling. Just different. New.

Not quite the same way she felt around – yes.

If Simon notices, he says nothing. After all, he almost never has.

(Almost.)

--l--

Before she'd left Kamina City, she decided that she owed it to Simon, to – well, tell him. That she was. Leaving. So she'd gone to find him, and find him she did, slouching on the balcony away from his paper piles.

"Hey, Yoko, what's up?" he asked.

"Ah…nothing, really," she ended up saying.

She looked out at the city, at its skyscrapers that loomed and its lights that gleamed. And maybe her face betrayed her, because when she turned back to look at him, he was smiling – that kind of sad-at-the-edges smile that could tear you up if you let it, if you weren't careful.

(She guarded her heart with a vise the shape of a double-barreled rifle; it didn't seem to help.)

"Come with me," she blurted out.

He looked at her.

"Or so I'd say, if you weren't the commander-in-chief."

He laughed. "You're right. I'm not going anywhere, any time soon." Beat. He stood up straight. "We'll miss you. You were a big help."

"I didn't do much. It was all you." She smiled. "And him."

He shook his head. "We'd have gotten nowhere, without him. And," he says, taking a step forward, "We'd never have made it up here if you hadn't dropped down on us that day."

"Both of you would have found a way, eventually. You've always been like that." Brilliant and bright; so bright that ordinary humans like herself never compared.

Brilliant, bright stars meant to burn out all too fast.

"We fought for this," he said, his voice mostly doubt-free.

"Yeah. Yeah, we did."

And now she was leaving, because this wasn't where she should have been. Wanted to be. Could recognize herself being in. Funny, that.

He stood much closer now, so that she had to look up to really look at him. It was almost absurd, how he shot up so quickly this year, his body quickly growing into the stature that a leader required. Absurd, how much he changed while not really changing at all.

(He's not Kamina, you know.

In that second, all she could think was, hell if she could tell.)

He was too close. She could have reached him from here if she tried.

He put his hand on her shoulder, and she stood stock-still.

"You can call if you need me, you know," she said, weakly. Strongly. Resolvedly.

His grip tightened.

--l--

And then she left.

He walked to the edge of the city with her to say goodbye. They made it as far as Kamina's grave; she left him there, with only the stars to bear witness.

(She thought she might never come back; knew that one day, she would.

Knowledge always made the difference.)

--l--

She has no idea how long they've been traveling. Days are just droplets in the ocean to her, now.

It's not entirely weird, she supposes, how it's just the two of them and how it feels next to natural. She never thought about how well they got along before – never about just her and him at all. It was always how she was around Kamina and jostled to be one of the guys, or how Nia shone down on Simon and always lit up his way.

She'll never be that kind of light, and she hopes he isn't looking at her like she is.

"Goodnight, Simon," she says.

"Goodnight," he replies, voice hovering somewhere over her shoulder.

She shivers, and curls into her memories in the dark.

--l--

Maybe it's a curse. Every man she's ever kissed – every man who's ever kissed her? – has died, right after the fact. Kamina; the shock that ran through his eyes and the way he gently pulled her to him and his sharp, gleaming grin, promising things that could never be. (You've paid me back, more than ten times over by now.) Kittan; the vaguely confessional confession and the way he looked at her at the end, only the end, and the sense of things that could pass but the impossibilities that always were. (You shouldn't have apologized; I told you as much.)

Granted, she'd kissed them both before they went charging off into war. Wars that they weren't going to make it back from. The first was a bitter shock, the second a stinging inevitability – and she fought alongside them, why had she always made it back, always, and always alone?

Even if he's not charging off to battle, even if he's not the same, she is not going to make him her third.

"Then don't," he says.

She doesn't.

He does.

--l--

She's still not sure if she kissed him back.

(She knows she'd mean to, meant to – she just – it's not that easy.)

--l--

Falling into it, however, is.

--l--

"It was my fault, you know," he says on one of the darker days. "That Aniki died."

"We've been over this before, Simon. Things happen during war."

"I was distracted during the battle. I couldn't focus. If only I hadn't – " Seen. You, and him. Together.

(By extension, is it her fault? No. No, of course not. He was just – stupid, and young, and – )

"If only we hadn't had to fight the beastmen," she says dryly. "If only we hadn't emerged from our holes underground. If only so many things."

"If only I hadn't seen," he whispers.

She doesn't hear him, he thinks.

--l--

But she did.

And she's known.

For her, though, it hasn't changed a thing. It's not a reason to hate him, to blame him. It never has been.

(If she takes it that way, then she has infinitely more reason to blame – well, herself. Hate herself. And she's never worn turnabout well on her sleeve.)

--l--

After Kamina's death, Yoko watched Simon falling apart, and did not go to him. Told everyone to stay away from him as well. "He won't listen to you. He has to get through this on his own."

And that was true, she thinks. He wouldn't have listened. And there was nothing she herself could – say.

(Nia did that. Nia did all of that. Nia did all the things she never, ever could have done.)

Yoko hurt too, back then. Hurt so bad, for someone she'd only known so much. What could she have said that wouldn't have torn herself apart? And it all worked out, anyway. It all worked out. Like everything for them ever had. Blood, sweat, and tears, sheer determination – it always worked out, always.

No, she doesn't want to remember. Life had been so dark and hopeless, back then, when remembering Kamina brought up feelings of despair instead of nostalgia.

(You don't live this life with regrets.)

--l--

I love you, he doesn't say.

I know, she doesn't say back.

(They think: it's because they don't need to. It goes beyond such silly words.)

--l--

They still don't know where they're going. Leaving the city had been the first and foremost thought, and everything after – less than an afterthought. Just breathing and laughing and accepting. Being. Lying back to back and feeling the other breathe in, breathe out. Feeling the wind through their fingers as they ride. There's nowhere they need to be; there's nothing they have to do.

There's no world they have to create, no one they have to save. Being heroes – they're done.

So they keep running, because there's always time.

--l--

Like when they ran to the ends of the universe, ran into semi-delusioned somewhat-dreams. Mostly-lies.

The vision is still so vivid in Yoko's mind, even though it's been years. The success, the fame, the beauty, the marriage.

(But Kamina never appeared, never not once. The marriage – to Kittan, not Kamina. Not that she didn't lo – didn't care for Kittan, but there is something in her heart that has frozen Kamina at unruly, bright, beautiful eighteen – vividly, brutally beautiful and alive, in a way that has overshadowed the rest ever since.)

Then he'd appeared before her, helped her turned off the television screen. She'd thanked him, and did not cry.

"Well, I'm off," she said.

(I'll be back, you know, she lied-said. She obviously couldn't go back, after all.)

He smiled, something older and more creased than his usual jaggedly brilliant one. If he was everything she'd ever dreamed of, then why hadn't he appeared in the most important dream of all?

(If he had, though, it would have been all too obviously fake.)

--l--

Simon can still remember. Not the images, but the feelings, the pseudo-memories. Fear, and relief – Aniki would always be there to save him, see. Aniki would always figure it out, always get them through, always protect him and his puny little drill which could do nothing on its own. He could do nothing on his own.

(Why hadn't he thought, this isn't the real Aniki, he'd never do something like this, this is not the world in which we breathe? How did he not notice?)

The real Aniki – the one who'd give him more than a single emerald ring, the one who'd inspire him with words and make the blood rush red through his veins – the real Aniki had appeared, then. With the light dramatically behind him and his silhouette cutting a sharp image and his voice – reminding him, moving him. Pushing him.

(It's okay, Simon. You've grown up. You've gotten a few things that I never had. You're taller than I was, y'know?)

Fear was a big part of his life, before. It helped him forget. It kept him from remembering.

(And if he remembered, he would have known.)

--l--

Neither had appeared in the other's dreams. A magnetic dream where one wasn't meant to think, but to blindly be – they couldn't fit so cleanly in those.

For so many reasons.

--l--

Eventually, their wandering leads them back somewhere near her old school. Who knows how many years it's been.

Simon notices how she keeps looking in a certain direction. "You don't have to keep following me around, you know."

"Eh?" She grows flustered. "No, it's not that. It's just…"

They walk and walk, and a large tree overshadowing a small building slowly comes into view. There are no children running around outside, but the building is obviously occupied; he assumes they're inside, for class.

"…Would you like to see it?" she asks him.

She looks hopeful, and, he thinks, particularly radiant, standing there under the sun.

"Why wouldn't I?"

--l--

The children are ecstatic to see Yomako-sensei again. They're just as enthusiastic about asking her whether Simon's her boyfriend or her husband. She isn't quite flustered when she laughs them off and tells them to go play.

He elbows her with a little nudge after they run off. "So? What am I, Yoko?"

She gives him a grin. "It depends. What am I to you?"

(the one who's not a memory.)

He holds her to him closely, arm around her shoulders, and hopes she understands.

--l--

Back then, they'd been triangles running around in parallelograms.

Maybe if Yoko had looked harder, she'd have seen how Simon saw her.

Maybe if Simon had looked harder, he'd have seen who Yoko saw instead.

(Maybe if the world left them who they firstly and secondly loved, they wouldn't be here like this.

But would that really be a good thing, in the end?)

--l--

"You don't have to stay, if you want to go," she says, simply.

He shakes his head. "I like the kids. This place is nice."

But a week later he kisses her goodbye, cloak cutting through the breeze.

"Simon-san's coming back, right? He's coming back, right?" the children all but cry at her.

She smiles and hugs them, ruffles their hair and tells them, "Of course. He just has to go for a while. He'll be back. He'll always come back."

It's like turnabout, with none of the fair play.

He comes back a couple of weeks later. "Missed you," he says, so casually, so intensely.

She simply grips his cloak to make sure he'll stay a little longer, this time.

--l--

Do you think about her?

Sometimes. A lot. Every day. And you?

Too often.

(But she'd never admit this to herself and he'd never ask, so for all intents and purposes, this conversation never happened.

It never happened.)

--l--

But by now, their past ghosts are mere memories. She can't speak for Simon, but for her, Kamina is an ideal that they fought for, a flash-bang of brilliance a mere body couldn't hold. Maybe she'd only fallen in love with the thought in the first place, instead of the flesh and blood.

(But she loved him. She loved him she loved him she loved him. She loved him, this boy, this beautiful brilliant boy, and – )

Memory, it plays such horrid tricks.

She tells herself that this, with Simon, is love as well, and she finds it much easier to feel and believe. He's his own kind of brightness, and though she might have been cruel to him – she can't imagine these years any other way.

Memory, it plays such distancing games.

--l--

Years go by, and they don't even notice; so settled they are in their new lives, their newfound peace. Teaching at the school; traveling during the breaks. And Simon always runs off on some other nomadic adventure or another, anyway, as though one single location is something he could never be rooted to. Yoko welcomes him back every time, and then it starts all over again.

It's an innocent, lackadaisical kind of happy. Countryside innocuous obscurity, away from the city where they never belonged.

"We should at least visit everyone, one of these days. Visit the graves," Yoko says.

Simon makes a sound of assent, but his eyes are far away, and he soon runs outside after being called over by the students because they want to play.

Truthfully, Yoko might just be saying it out of obligation. She can't say she's been dying to see the metropolis again, and the world never adapts well to legends it has thought long dead and gone.

No. Ghosts should stay ghosts.

(This peace, they've earned it.)

--l--

Simon dreams a little, sometimes. Never of Kamina; he'd said goodbye, that one time. Sometimes glimpses of him, though, with the rest of the Brigade; little tiny figures and booming laughter, war cries fading into the distance. Sometimes of things way back, like the village. Sometimes of Nia, smiling, always smiling.

(He never gives Yoko an emerald ring. Nor a ruby one. Nor any kind at all.)

Nia had said she'd love him forever. He'd replied in the same. She'll always be his shining-white princess, forever and always.

Yoko is not a princess. To Yoko, he's been so cruel. To Yoko, he might have been so many things, and nothing at all.

(But she lives on outside his memory. She's more deserving than that.)

--l--

One midsummer night, they talk; syllables of everything and nothing, things and never-beens. It must have been over a decade ago, by now, those acts of heroism long past.

"He said he'd pay me back ten times over," Yoko murmurs, lying against him. "I don't even know what I thought that meant, at the time."

"I told you, right? How Nia turned down my proposal at first," Simon replies into the crook of her neck.

She smiles. The two of them will probably never get married. Who knows what kind of news coverage they'd get – news that two of the war's biggest heroes had been out here all this time, or flashbulb coverage of a homely-ceremony-turned media circus. Endless reams of gossip that people would be too happy to consume. Pictures of their newborns splashed in the papers for all to see.

"Children would be nice," she muses.

He kisses her deeply, and she laughs.

--l--

In the end, they don't have children. For whatever reason, it never happens.

Yoko stops dreaming of tousle-haired kids with red locks, and occupies her time with running the school, bonding with the students.

Simon keeps on traveling.

Sometimes she goes with him. Sometimes she greets him on the porch.

Always, they go on.

--l--

There are nights when he has a faraway look in his eyes, and she thinks she can follow his train of thought.

I'm sorry I'm not her, she whisper-thinks then, alone.

(We used to be so many things, back then.

But this is now.)

And it's not – bad. Just different. But not bad.

Kind of unexpectedly nice.

--l--

Sometimes he doesn't come back for months. She doesn't hurt for it, doesn't let the feeling of missing him claw at her all that much. It's a part of how natural they are together, and what each of them needs.

(She's still in love, you know. He's supposed to be married, you know. They're supposed to remember those two forever, forever until their bones brittle into dust. That's what forever means.

Paying homage to their ghosts; living as people long-gone from the spotlights of the world. This is what their now-forever actually is.

Acceptance.)

Whenever he returns, swings back around, comes by, whichever, she runs out to meet him on the road all the same. It's the closest she'll ever get to showing how much she really missed him.

And he – he smiles.

--l--

If the world worked without cruelty, they'd have fallen in love with each other from the start.

Not that they regret. Because they never regret. But Yoko – she catches herself, sometimes, thinking about blue like lightning and grins like goodbyes. And Simon – he thinks about emerald rings, white flowers, and other not-so-pointless things.

If the world worked without cruelty, though, it still all would have been so cruel. Just in a different way.

For if it had, they would never have been.

--l--

More years go by. Time treats them the way it treats any other mortal – something even their heroics could never change.

They are upwards of perhaps sixty when, one day, she walks out onto the porch and finds him sitting there, tattered garb unchanged, eyes seeing past the images in the clouds.

"I've always wanted to end up by their graves," he muses.

She knows what he means, can feel it in her bones. "The school year will soon be over," she says. "I have to tell my successor, but afterwards…"

"Ah, is that so. Well, I guess we have time."

--l--

Back then, when they buried what was left of – him – at the time, god, Yoko couldn't bear to even –

That day, when they –

(No. This is scores of years ago, remembering how she should remember. This is just a ghost.)

They buried him that day, knee-deep in the rain, entombing him in drizzle-drenched dirt and carefully sculpting it on top of him so that no trace of his body could be seen. She stuck his sword into the mud – You'll need it again someday, she'd said – and tied his ragged cape-cloak to the hilt.

Only when the rain beat down on her heavily had she allowed herself to cry tears just as bitter. Only then and never more.

And the rain had gone on for days.

--l--

They made a tombstone for her – Simon knew; he found out on one of his journeys – and all he could feel when he saw it and the ever-fresh flowers was just a sense of…peace.

She'd have liked those flowers, he knew.

He smiled. He didn't regret; they'd both promised. They'd promised.

The sun didn't stop shining.

--l--

Bitter sadness or promised gladness, Yoko and Simon have honored Kamina's and Nia's memories for years, and years, and years.

And it's time.

--l--

They ran to the ends of the earth, he and she, and now they're back to where they started. Back near the city, back in front of the tombstones.

"Couldn't disappear after all," Simon says with mirth.

"Good heroes can't," Yoko manages back.

Long after their laughter dies away, their bodies lie in the small valley between the hills bearing the swords and the cape, the flowers and the ring.

Their hands, rigid through mortis, are still firmly clasped.

--l--

Our beginnings they are, but always, never an end.


Holy crap. I. Think I wrote 3000 words of this last night and today. Yay not paying enough attention to deadlines and then flipping out.

Major thanks to Rae for waiting up for me to finish writing this, and uh. Gah for rushed, rushed, crappy fic. But. Well, yes. (Well, now it's been edited; hopefully it's a bit better this time around.)