The rest of the day was rough. Tom muddled through well enough, but he was very shaken by what had happened, and happened to him. From time to time, when he had the chance, he looked at the device that he had used to make the transformation. He remembered how it was instinctive to shout what he did when he aimed the pistol. It was weird indeed, and he was not sure now that he wanted this. In fact he thought about just giving back the device and saying, “Thanks, but no thanks,” feeling that it was not in his future. This one time was fine, because they were in trouble, but he was not sure he wanted to keep this up. When school finally ended, the girls wanted to invite him to the café, but Setsuna warned them against it. “He needs some time to think. This was why I was light on the homework today. I don’t want him distracted.”
Makoto felt bad for him, because of the way it was thrust on him. It would have been better just to ease him into things. However, Usagi saw his long face, the way he shuffled along, and empathized with him. She had not wanted what she had at first, but later on, she learned its importance, and clung to it. It was not that she felt anything for him romantically, (for her heart strictly belonged to Mako-chan,) but, just as she does with everyone she meets, she just wanted to brighten his day. No, Setsuna advised against fellowship with him, but that did not mean that they could not walk for a bit.
Tom moped along, and just carried his skateboard, lost in thought. Usagi ran to catch up with him, and then slowed down when she got near. “Tom-kun, wait up!”
He did not even look at her as he said, “Aren’t you going to catch up with your friends?”
“Um…” and then she began to fish for what to say, “I…just wanted to be sure that you were still on for tomorrow.”
“I guess,” he moped, “I have some thinking to do.”
“Well…” and again, she fished for the words, “…um… you were great today!”
“What was so great about it?”
“Better said, I owe you some thanks.”
“You…well…kind of saved my life.”
He sighed and then said, “You’re welcome.”
Now, she did not know what to say. She wanted to cheer him up, but what could she tell him? “Hey, Minako is bringing a guitar, and I can’t wait to hear more of that great singing.”
“Yip-ee,” he said sarcastically.
Finally, she said, “Look, I wasn’t too keen on the idea myself at first, but after time, I began to realize who I really am, and the good things that will come of it. Oddly enough, we had a past, and I am sure we’ll learn all about it. Just know that there are good things for you, so please don’t be sad. Okay?”
She then flashed that disarming grin of hers that she could wield like a weapon, and he could not help but smile at that. “Unser kline Hasenpfeffer!” he said, and she looked at him oddly. He then said, “That’s German for, ‘our little Bunny.’”
She brightened now having something to go with, and she said, “Wow! You speak German? English is hard enough to learn. You speak three languages!”
“That was thanks to my dad, and my heritage,” he responded.
“You must really love your dad—he seems like a great person.”
“Yep, I do! He is such a great man, and he’s my inspiration to join the marines myself when I graduate. But…”
Usagi caught the hesitation in his voice, and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Part of the reason I am going to school with you,” he answered, “is not just to learn more about Japan. I had some…problems.”
“Would it be too personal to ask what they were?”
“I got teased quite a bit when I was a kid growing up, for my high singing, and because I did ballet. I got called ‘homo’ and ‘queer boy’ quite a bit. I knew how to fight, and I had to defend my manhood some, but that only pushed people away. And then there were the Nazi jokes. That started in my freshman year.”
“Nazi jokes? I don’t get it.”
“Look at me: I’m German by blood, blonde haired, blue eyed, and speak the language. It got me so mad that I beat up three kids in the school. I was not expelled, but life was worse after that. Dad decided to pull me out and put me in with your school to give me a second chance, and now this happens.”
Now Usagi was really at a loss, and walked quite for a moment or to. However, as she was wont to do, she suddenly brightened up and said, “But you do have a second chance the way you are! You are going to do great things, I just know it!”
He smiled at her, and said, “Thank you for your vote of confidence,” and he started to walk away. Yet, before he did, he turned and said, “And thank you for not doing as others have done. I think I can say that I’ve made a real friend now…is it safe to say ‘Usagi-chan?’”
That made her brighten like a 100 watt bulb, and she said, “Yes, that’s Usagi-chan!”
“See you tomorrow,” he said, and skated off to the bus stop.
As she went into the café, she hoped that he could convey this to the others, because she knew there were at least eight others who would be as compassionate.
He went straight home, which surprised his mother. He normally got home at supper after doing some skating. When she saw him, she said, “Hey, kiddo, you’re home early. Do you have lots of homework?”
“Not really,” he said, “But I just wanted to get it done early today, so I’m, off to do that.”
“Okay,” his mother answered, “Supper’s in an hour, so don’t get so involved you forget, and your supper gets cold.”
“Thanks, mom,” he responded, smiling at his mother, feeling the things about her that made him love her so much. He finished his homework by supper, and that’s when his father had come in, still in his utilities. “Hey, son, have a great day?” his dad boomed out?
“It was interesting,” Tom said, not knowing what else to say.
“How so?” probed his mother.
“I would say it was fact finding,” Tom evaded.
“How so?” came the question again, this time from his father.
“Oh, it was a good class,” Tom responded, “in science. We were learning different things about the planets, and the asteroids today.”
Nods of understanding and acknowledgement came forth, apparently being a satisfying answer for his parents. He let nothing on that it had not been a normal day. However, depending on how much more weird things got, he wondered how long he could go on evading. After his supper, he went upstairs and just sat on his bed, holding up the device he had been given to transform, meditating on what had happened, and what Usagi had said. However, he knew he had to refuse it. His dreams of being a ‘real’ marine would get in the way, and he just wanted to be a normal kid. He had a chance for enjoying life now, and he did not want anything to get in the way.
Back in Australia, Ragna returned to report to Sark. “How did it go?” asked the baron.
“It went better than I expected,” said Ragna, “These humans can be easily manipulated. Their peddlers are so good at getting them to buy, they print their wares everywhere, and they are so gullible to believe what they are told. They seem to like status, as many of them adorned themselves with various kinds of shiny metals and gemstones. Therefore, they are greedy, which makes it even better for us. They seem simple of mind, so that will help.”
“How strong are they,” asked Sark.
“I saw some of their militia and law enforcement,” said Ragna, “but they were not the ones that faced the youma.”
“Then who did?”
“There were five oddly clad people there—four girls and one boy—who seemed to be some kind of elite fighters for them. It took all five to defeat the youma, but it was a pitched battle. If it came to it, we could win such a fight.”
“Excellent!” said Sark, “It was a loss of a youma, but worth it. Besides, once I am able to devise a master plan, we can then start to covert select humans to become youmas, create an army, and take over the world. All we have to do is find a way into their world that would allow us such control of the humans. Give me time, I shall have a plan.”
Throughout that Friday, Tom seemed calm, and almost chipper. The girls noticed this, were excited, and none more than Usagi. “Apparently, the talk worked!” she thought, now being giddy about the party. She could not wait to welcome him into the team. They had told Rei the events of the day, and she was just as surprised as the rest. Rei was saddened that she had missed out on the fun, but at the same time, it would be good to welcome him into the family. Finally, the day was done, and Tom went to his locker to exchange shoes and get his stuff for the sleepover. He was going to go straight there after, and that’s when he was met by the entire team except for Rei, who went ahead to prepare for the party. Usagi took the opportunity to say, “Wow! You seem in a great mood! What brought that on?”
“Well, I’ve done some thinking, and I know what to say when we all get together,” answered Tom, “I’m just surprised at all the people that are going to be there. I would not have expected you, sensei.”
“For the occasion,” Setsuna answered, “I would not miss this.”
They finally arrived at Hirawaka Shrine, and though this was not the first time he had been to a shrine, this was the first time he had ever seen the living quarters of those who lived there. He was first greeted by Rei’s grandfather. “Well, well, well, my boy,” he warmly and happily greeted him, “You are just as Rei described!”
He then leaned into Tom and began to nudge Tom in the gut with his elbow, as if he was sharing a secret, and said, “Boy, you must turn a few heads at school! Hey, maybe you can work for me! A good fella like you could bring in all the pretty girls!”
Rei had come up by this point to catch the conversation, and then swatted him on the head with the broom she was carrying, and said, “Leave the guests alone, grandfather! Let him be around for at least a week before you try to recruit him for your pandering!”
She said this knowing that, when Tom got to know him, he would not want any part of what grandfather was offering. “See how she is to me?” bawled grandpa with crocodile tears, “Hitting her own dear grandfather on the head. I was only trying to be friendly, Rei.”
“And you have some work to tend to as well, right?” Rei hinted, she wanting some privacy for the party. Her grandfather sauntered off muttering one thing or another, and she apologized for his impertinence. “Hey, that’s okay,” said Tom, “He seems like a great guy anyway.”
Rei just said, “Oh, give him some time.”
Not sure what that meant, Tom let it go.
Once inside, he noticed that everything was in traditional Japanese construction, but with all the modern conveniences. “I like the décor: old meets new,” said Tom, “Does this mean sleeping on the floor. I’m not so used to that.”
“Oh, don’t worry;” said Rei, “The futons we use are very comfortable. With the way the floor is constructed, it will be some of the best sleep you ever had. Now, you can change in here, and we’ll let you know when it is okay.”
He went into the designated room and got out his sleep/lounging clothes, consisting of a red tee shirt with the U.S. Marines emblem on the front, complete with the motto, blue lounging pants, and a navy blue silk robe that he left open, with moccasins for slippers. He heard the call to come in, and he walked into a larger receiving room that was converted for the party, and it was quite the spread. There were American and Japanese snack foods, soda, and tea, sushi, and rice balls. The stereo was set up, and Minako indeed brought her guitar. He was happy that the girls all opted for long sleeved and all covering pajamas, because he would have felt real awkward if everyone were in nighties. The only thing he found odd was Haruka. She was wearing the same kind of thing that he was wearing, yet, she actually looked good in it. He also found it odd how clingy that Michiru was with her, but he let it go, knowing it was better to mind his own business. Finally, Hotaru settled for a pretty nightgown for a girl her age. He also saw the futons all laid out, and he counted them off. He then realized that there was enough for everyone, including him. “Um…” he said, trailing off for a bit, “…There’s enough for everyone.”
“Of course, silly,” said Makoto, “It’s a sleepover! You’re our friend, and we are not going to treat you like a leper!”
“Besides all that, you are a team mate now,” added Haruka, “and comrade in arms. Why would we push you out?”
“Yeah…about that,” said Tom, and began to become concerned. This was when he felt fur nuzzle against his hand, and he saw Luna and Artemis there. He then said, “Hey, it’s a good thing you’re here, because I need to say something.”
“Excellent,” announced Artemis, “What is it?”
Tom was now stunned. One talking cat was enough, but two? “Okay, this is ultra weird,” Tom exclaimed, “We have a bunch of ersatz superheroes and two talking cats—just when I thought I’ve seen it all.”
“It’s not so strange once you understand,” assured Luna.
“Well, not for me,” said Tom, as he reached into the pocket of his robe and pulled out the device which he used to change the day before, and set it before Luna. “I don’t have time for this, and I am not sure I want this anyway. Sorry, but I just cannot accept this.”
Now it was their turn to be surprised. Ami said, “But Tom-kun, you just can’t set something like that aside.”
“Believe me when I tell you that it will follow you!” added Usagi.
“It’s not as easy as that,” said Setsuna, “You must understand that there is a past you have, which is a past you shall always have. You cannot get rid of it.”
“I would rather not know what that is,” said Tom, “If I have lived my life well up to this point without knowing it, why would I want to know now?”
“Because, like it or not,” answered Michiru, “your past life is slowly awakening in you. Had you not met us, it may never have. Yet, because you have, it is happening. It was not coincidence that we met—it was somehow foreordained.”
Tom started to tremble a bit, saying, “This is getting too eerie for me! I now REALLY don’t want to know!”
“It was not coincidence,” assured Hotaru, “and because of that, you have to know. We are only concerned about you. If you fully awakened, and you did not know the truth, I am sure it would have driven you mad. This way, we can tell you everything and ease you into it.”
Hotaru then came up and gently took his right hand into both of hers, and she said, “Once you know things, it will put you at ease. Once you do know, then I think you can make a clearer decision whether or not you want to walk away from this. Please, can we tell you?”
He just slid to the floor against the counter on which he was leaning, but Hotaru never let go. He took his free hand and covered his eyes. He was starting to cry, but he was trying to hold it back. Usagi, understanding that he was trying not to look soft before them, (considering it must have been habit from trying to prove his manhood all the time,) came up and put her hand on his left shoulder, saying, “It’s okay to cry. We won’t criticize you. A strong man can cry and not care what anyone thinks.”
Once she said that, he did not look up, but began to wail aloud. “Oh God, why have things been like this? Why could things just been normal? All I want is a normal, happy life. Is that so much to ask?”
Usagi had warned them about what he had told her the day before, but no one had any idea things were this bad. However, Makoto knew that what he needed was some strong friends that he could lean on, and she kneeled in front of him and said somewhat authoritatively, “Hey, what’s all this crying for? You said you want a fresh start, right? You have it, and you have it with us. Forget all that junk! It doesn’t matter anymore. Hey, if I were you, I wouldn’t hang out with your old crowd anymore. Why do you go around them after school when you know what’s coming?”
That snapped Tom out of it a bit, and he then said, “You sound like one of the NCO’s in dad’s unit.”
“Well, you want to be a marine, right?” Makoto reasoned, “And by the looks of it, you already are, in a way. So if I know how your marines would say it in English, ‘Suck it up, and drive on, marine!’”
He wanted to cry some more, but laughter started to creep in. “Man, I am a doofus!”
“What is ‘doofus?’” asked most everyone, they not being clear on American slang.
“He is saying that he has been bakka!” said Setsuna, smiling. That turned the lights on. He then said, “You know, you’re right. Why do I hang around them? I don’t need them. I have this now. Besides, when I graduate, I can do what I want, and after about four months in OCS, I can come back here, and be fully apart. Hey, I may even end up their commander. Wow! Now that would be turning the tables on them!”
“There you go,” said Ami, “You don’t need them.”
“You will always have friends here,” assured Rei.
“Right, only a fool fights on the head of a pin,” added Minako.
Everyone groaned at her misuse of yet another saying, and Rei said, “You mean, ‘only a fool fights in a burning house!’”
“Well, you know what I mean,” she said, looking a bit dejected. With that, Setsuna began the tale.
After filling him in, she said, “You do not remember all of this, but in time, it will become clear. Now, do you still want to walk away?”
Tom began to pace the floor, thinking hard about this. Yes, why should he even go near those that had been a problem to him in the past? These people had shown more friendship and love in the past few days than anyone else did in his lifetime outside his whole family. He was now determined to make a clean break, and if anyone on base questioned why he was not around as much anymore, he would tell them it was none of their business. If they pressed, he would say that it was final, and then back it up with a knuckle sandwich if nothing else got through! He chuckled and said, “No wonder you acted the way you did, Admiral Makoto.”
“Admiral Makoto?” asked Makoto, “Why would you call me that?”
“Well, you are a sailor, right?” responded Tom, “When you stood in command of the corps, then that would have been your rank.”
She then nodded as if she understood. He then said, “It then would be natural to do it the way you did, because, as Setsuna said, it’s in your past with me. I would not think it the same now, but I can understand.”
Hotaru, who had stood beside him the whole time, still holding his hand the way a little sister would her big brother, “So, what have you decided?”
Tom then walked over to the counter, picked up the device, put it in his pocket again, and said, “Semper fi!”
“What does that mean?” asked Usagi.
“It’s Latin,” answered Ami, “It means ‘ever faithful.’”
As this was being said, Luna produced a watch with the same emblem on the device, and said, “This doubles as a team communicator. It comes with the turf. Go ahead and put it on.”
Once he did, they all welcomed him warmly. Tom then said, “Well, are we having a party or not?”