Hallo! I thought I'd start uploading some of my older stuff to FF, since I can't seem to get off my ass to write anything new. This fic was originally posted on LJ under the username towel_master. Just so you know. Also, a note: some of the characters in this fic are my brother's invention, and he also provided the prompt. Check out his stuff! He writes as RedSavant, on this site.
Disclaimer: I do not own Gurren Lagann!
It was still barren in this part of the country, a dry almost-desert that received only enough rain to sustain a small border settlement of humans. The houses clustered along a streambed, empty but for a few inches of muddy water, sheltering against the desert wind. Despite the arid environment, the town had a welcoming air to it, as if it was often used as an oasis by wayward travelers.
Viral wondered then why it was deserted. It was nearing evening and the air was cooling. He couldn't understand why no one was around. He ran a hand through his dusty hair. Someone had better be here, somewhere. He'd been walking all day, having left Enki behind to avoid being recognized. He was tired. He needed water.
The general store was the only attraction on Main Street, its battered sign rocking gently in the breeze. Viral pushed in the door, ignoring the 'closed' sign in the window. He surveyed the shelves in the gloom and took out a sack. He heard a gun cock behind him.
"Don't you hurt my family." A slightly pudgy man with tousled hair and dark eyes was glaring at him over the nervously bobbing rifle. "Take what you want, but leave my children alone." Two frightened pairs of eyes peeked out from behind the counter. The mother had her arms around the children's shoulders. She was white-faced and tight-lipped. Her eyes were riveted on Viral's claws.
Viral frowned, earning a flinch from the storekeeper, then sighed and slowly raised his arms.
"I'm just here to shop." There was no response. Viral took a cautious step forward, away from the man. He reached out and took a can off the shelf before him. Peaches. It had been a while. He placed the can slowly into his bag and moved on. He could feel the gun following his progress and his shoulder blades itched. He really didn't want to do this.
"Please put the gun down," he murmured. "You're making me nervous." He clenched his claws to make his point. He didn't want to kill the man; if it came down to it, he wasn't sure he'd be able to take the gun before being shot, and though the wound wouldn't kill him, it would still hurt like a bitch.
The storekeeper lowered the weapon inch by inch as Viral finished his round. He hadn't taken much. They had little enough to spare. The only thing the beastman was stealing was the water, gallons of it. He was dehydrated. He needed it.
The storekeeper calmed down a little when he realized Viral was staying where he was. The sack was less than full. As he looked over his strange customer, the man had to admit he looked more weary than dangerous. He half-raised the rifle again when the beastman reached into his cloak, but was surprised to see that all he withdrew was a handful of money.
"Here." Viral moved up and placed the coins on the counter. "For the food."
"Th-thank you... sir." Viral turned to look at the storekeeper's wife and raised an eyebrow.
"Viral. My name is Viral." No one had called him that for so long. He searched her face for the light of recognition, but it was clear she hadn't heard the name before. He was relieved. A sudden darting motion caught his eye, and he had his hand up before he realized it was the little boy.
"Viral! That's a funny name!" He smiled coyly and laughed. His parents stared, frozen, then his mother pushed him behind her again.
"Please, he's just a boy," she pleaded, fixing her terrified gaze again on Viral's dusty claws. But Viral had smiled, a strange, drained little half-smirk.
"You're right. It is funny." He left the store, chuckling to himself, while the family gazed, mystified, after him.
The sack thumped down before them, sagging sadly. Rava glared at it, then at Viral. He clicked his beak in anger.
"This is all they had?" His beady eyes narrowed even further. "You're holding out on us, Liver." Viral ignored the mangling of his name, used to it by now, and shook his head.
"I'm not. This is all they had." He crossed his arms. Tayorka hunkered by the weak firelight behind Rava and turned the flying tanuki over the flame. He could feel the tension in the air as the others joined him. Rava took the sack and began sifting through the items, tossing them into three unequal piles. His was the largest, as a matter of course. Tayorka got the least, an insult to his once superior rank. The ape beastman glared at Rava but could say nothing, just grind his teeth.
"You didn't pay for this, did you?" Rava glanced slyly over at Viral. "If you did, you're-"
"You think I'd go soft on the humans after what they've done?" snapped Viral, touching his cleaver in an obvious threat. "After what I've seen?" He spat.
"Fine." Rava shifted uncomfortably. He stood up and carried his share of the loot to the shadow of his stolen Ganmen, secreting it away within his bags. Viral watched him take the ham and the alcohol and thought of the peaches he had stored in Enki's cockpit. He smirked to himself.
"You're awfully happy for being a failure," sneered Tayorka, sitting much too close to him. The rank smell of his unwashed hair was disgusting. "If this is all you got, you didn't threaten them nearly enough." Viral ignored him. Tayorka, once fairly high up under Chimilf's command, had been reduced to slaving for Rava in order to survive. His resentment manifested primarily as aggression toward the newest member of their team. He bared his teeth at Viral when he didn't get a response and reached over. "Give me that."
Viral pulled away his almost-raw tanuki leg and snarled.
"Quit yer bitchin'" squawked their leader. "There's better'n that to be fightin' over." He leaned back against his luggage and took a swig of beer.
"Like what?" growled Tayorka, sulking some distance from Viral. "All we've pulled in for weeks is this loser's haul." Rava chuckled patronizingly.
"Like Shore City, assface. That's what."
"You want to raid the human port city with just us?" Viral stared at him. "The heat's made you crazy." He ripped a chunk of meat off his dinner and chewed awkwardly with his needle-sharp teeth.
"Not raid it, Liver," sighed Rava, "spend my money at it." He tossed a purse onto the ground before his companions. Coins spilled out into the sand, glinting in the feeble light.
"Where'd you get those?" gasped Tayorka, reaching for them impulsively. Rava swatted away his hand in a flurry of feathers.
"I went raiding while Liver was 'shopping' and you were getting this piss-poor firewood. It was a good one." Viral rather suspected the avian beastman had been skimming off the top of their earlier raids, but he held his tongue. "Get some sleep. Tomorrow, Shore City!"
The city was a testament to the humans' advancing technology. It filled the horizon with light long after dark. Huge buildings stretched up to the clouds, all bearing faces reminiscent of Ganmen. Flying machines graced the sky like iridescent insects, their whirring swallowed periodically by the crashing of the sea.
Rava was vocally delighted to be back in civilization, even if it was controlled by humans. He was falling over himself to spend his coins at gambling houses, brothels, and other seedy establishments. Tayorka seemed glad to get away from the bird in the company of other like him, Chimilf's troops, now living among their former enemies.
Viral was intimidated by the city. The massive scale of everything reminded him of Teppelin, and the taking of Teppelin, and other memories he wished to forget. While the other two ran off into the warren of streets, Viral stayed on the outskirts, having no wish to enter the confusing mass of sound and color. Eventually, his feet carried him to a bathhouse overlooking the shore. It wasn't empty, by no means so, but it was quiet. He felt safer there.
If he was expecting the same kind of resistance he'd encountered at the store, he was mistaken. The hostess took his money as she would have a normal nudie's and led him down to the baths without a second glance at his dirt-caked talons. A robe was set out for him, and a soft towel provided in the changing room. He accepted these amenities gratefully.
The bath was heaven to his aching muscles, and soothed away the pains acquired by a life behind the teeth of a mech. He soaked, then luxuriated. He became clean.
Some time went by before he had a visitor. Guard torn down by pleasure, he was startled to hear voices outside the paper door.
"Commander, surely you'd prefer the larger bath? Your friends will return soon. I thought you might wish to bathe together." A woman. The hostess.
"Uh, no, this is fine for now. Send Gimmy to get me when they get back." A young man's voice, sounding somehow familiar. Viral moved behind a decorative rock in the pool and glared over it at the door. He wished he'd brought his cleaver, but it was still out in the desert with his peaches. Stupidity.
The door slid open and a tall youth entered. He was skinny, but still fit, and his skin was unblemished. He wore nothing but a towel around his waist and a small drill on a cord around his neck. Viral made some small sound and sat back against the wall, all the tension of an hour before suddenly tightening his neck again.
Simon turned, surprised, and stared. His eyes widened. After a moment he shook his head.
"Viral?" The beastman bared his shark teeth in a humorless grin.
"Commander Simon." He thought the boy might leave, or call for his friends. The woman with the gun, perhaps? But he was wrong. Simon simply moved into the water and settled down with a sigh.
"I know I should care that you're here, maybe even do something about you, but hell, it's a holiday." He sank into the water up to his chin and closed his eyes. "I'm beat." Viral warily moved to the other side of the bath, but when Simon didn't follow, he gradually began to relax again.
A minute passed, then two. Viral was dying to know of this new world, a world of harmony between the races here in Shore City. He cleared his throat.
"It's a holiday?"
"Yeah. Surface day. Kittan thought it'd be a good idea, and it is. I haven't had to sign a single paper all day." He stretched his arms up over his head. "We all decided to come down here instead. Well, Rossiu didn't come, but that was expected."
"You're not here alone."
"No. Everyone just went out to eat. Don't know why, with all the food Nia made earlier." Simon turned a pondering gaze on him. "Are you alone?"
Viral thought of this man's gaze on him, on his scars, his unkempt hair, the tight cast of his face. He wondered how much he should say. He knew what he wanted to say. Everything. He knew what he should say.
"Yes." Silence reigned. Then Viral spoke again, driven by some instinct to make contact with his previous life. "You seem to have accomplished something here, in this city. In this world."
"Yeah, I guess we have." Simon gazed at the ceiling. "It's remarkable isn't it?"
"He would have been happy." Viral studied the wall, the beautiful grain of the wood. Simon hesitated.
There came a knock at the door before it was pulled open. Simon looked up in expectation as Viral turned his face away.
"Simon," said Dayakka, "the police outside caught a group of anti-human beastmen trying to take down the city hall. Their leader is a bird called Rava. He seems to have served under Cytomander. I wouldn't interrupt you, but guess who he's looking for."
"Oh?" Simon slid a glance sideways at his companion. "Who?"
"Viral! Says they've been working together for years and that he's somewhere in the city. Imagine, after all this time, if we finally caught him." He nodded to himself and crossed his arms.
"Mm. Let me get dressed and I'll come out. Are you sure he said Viral?"
"Well, he said 'Liver', and was drunk, but his description seems to match. Hard to hide those chompers."
"I see. I'll be right there." As Dayakka closed the door again, Simon looked over at the resigned form of Viral. He knew the beastman expected to be arrested. He also knew that Viral would fight before allowing that to happen. He sighed and thought of the mess this would cause.
"You should go."
"What?" Viral looked up, caught off guard.
"I said, you should go. They'll be searching for you soon enough."
"This doesn't change anything."
Viral exited the pool and wrapped his robe around his scars. Before he left, Simon called out to him again.
"Happy Surface Day." The boy smiled up at him from the water.
It was close to midnight when Viral reached Enki, crouching alone in the desert darkness. He swung wearily into the cockpit and started it up. Simon was right. He should be far away from Shore City by morning. Shaking his head to stave off sleep, he started to run off into the night.
As he went, he thought, and as he thought, a headache began to form in his temples. Rava had been an uncouth moron, but he had kept them in food. Now what was he going to do? He found raiding detestable.
The sounds of the desert pushed in around him: wind, sand, the occasional night bird. They might have bothered him more if he'd known he wouldn't have a decent conversation for two more years. As it was, he just sat back and directed his Ganmen north.
This life. It wouldn't kill him, but it sure did hurt like a bitch.
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