The days passed in deceptive peace as they sailed for Teppelin, and at night, Yoko still practiced her sums and her grammar. She was a different person than the girl who had first found old texts upon arriving at the surface, and she was a different person than the young woman who had practiced them even during her adventures while a tiny, shameful part of her wondered if it would impress Kamina when he found out. But it still gave her a sense of both peace and accomplishment, after a day spent guarding the Dai-Gurren with her rifle in her hands, to do simple things.
Soon, something else changed about Yoko's nightly study sessions. Nia came to watch her. Before, that would have made Yoko self-conscious, but now it just made her curious.
After just a couple of nights, Nia began to satisfy her curiosity--albeit in a roundabout way. "Yoko," she said quietly, hesitantly, "I cannot read your handwriting."
That did make Yoko feel a little self-conscious. She'd been practicing these things for a few years now, and they still weren't good enough for other people, for Nia to read? But then she reminded herself: this was Nia. Nia wasn't like other people. Yoko sat up. "It's not that hard," she said. "I'm using the simplest alphabet."
And that was when the explanation came. "That is the reason precisely!" Nia said. "When I was a princess, my beastmen tutors taught me many things. But I have much trouble discovering how to use them to help Team Dai-Gurren. I know how to use pi to find the area of a circle, but I do not know how to properly stack circle-like things in storage. I may write my name and my former title in fancy letters, but your simple letters look so much more useful, if only I could read them."
Yoko looked at Nia. It was so easy to remember her on the beach, effortlessly swimming and building sandcastles. That was what the rest of Team Dai-Gurren saw when they looked at her. They forgot the girl half-submerged in the water filling up the Dai-Gurren, who had nothing to offer but belief in Simon.
"I am glad I may be useful as Team Dai-Gurren's chef," Nia said, "but I wish to learn more, for the future that is to come."
The others couldn't bear to tell her that her cooking was inedible, because she was just so cute when she tried it, and they were smitten with that. Yoko wanted to shake them for it sometimes. But she didn't tell Nia, either. Her reasoning was different, though: she didn't want to spoil to pure moments between Nia and Simon when he enjoyed her food.
"Nia," Yoko said, "when you say you can write your name in fancy letters, what do you mean?" Something deep inside her stirred: an urge to guide the lost and confused. She held out her pencil and paper. "Show me."
Nia nodded seriously, and she leaned over the paper and began to draw elegant letters in slow, careful strokes. They were very beautiful, and no one would ever have been able to write anything longer than a few sentences in them. After a little while, they said: Princess Nia of Teppelin, daughter of Lord Genome the Helix King. But Nia looked at them and frowned, then fiercely rubbed them out. "I wish to learn to write as you write, Yoko," she said. "To mark down who I am now."
It should have been a simple request. But there was such heartfelt vulnerability in Nia's eyes as she turned her face up to Yoko in hope. Where the others, save Simon, saw only a pretty princess, Yoko now saw something else in those eyes. She saw the nothing behind them, just as she had once seen the nothing behind the fierce bluster and bravado aglow in Kamina's eyes. She wanted to make something out of that nothing. It was hopeless, of course. She'd learned that from Kamina: if someone didn't want to become somebody, no kiss could make them change their mind.
But Nia was not like Kamina. She didn't want to die (no, no, Kamina never wanted to die, a part of Yoko still rebelled as she thought it, and she quickly pushed the thought away). She wanted to try. She just didn't know how.
"Let's start with that," Yoko said. She laid her hand over Nia's and began to guide it in simple strokes. Nia moved attentively under her guidance, and soon enough, something new was spelled out in easy letters.
"What does it speak of?" Nia asked.
"It says, 'Nia Teppelin of Team Dai-Gurren,'" Yoko said.
"Yes," Nia said, "that is who I wish to be. Teach me more, please, Yoko."
"Yes," Nia said. Her hand still lay curled gently under Yoko's, and it was warm. But her words were warmer yet, and they were what sparked something in Yoko's heart. "Is that not what it is called?"
"Uh-huh," Yoko said. "I'll teach you." And more thoughts came to her, as if sparked by the warmth Nia sent through her: what if she had been able to teach Kamina? Would anything be different? Should she teach Gimmy and Darry? Was there more she could do?
"Thank you, Yoko!" Nia said, a smile lighting up her face. "I promise I will be an attentive and very good student."
Yoko thought of the feel of her gun in her hands, and how right it felt to be protecting the rest of Team Dai-Gurren. But a new thought came to her: she would gladly put the gun away when the fighting was over, if only there were more people who needed her to teach them. If they were willing, she could help them all make something out of nothing. Kamina had done the same for Simon; surely he would approve.
She used her hands differently now, and she guided Nia's hand to form more words.