(A/N: I have no plan. All I have is a cast of OCs that sprang up around the Azugirls and a forest of sequel hooks, neither of which I'm keen on abandoning. So… huzzah! Let the thrashing and flailing begin!
Oh, yes, and this chapter contains passing reference to 'Not New Years Dreams.' It's not dreadfully important that you've read it, but it'll explain a little of how Tomo acts.)
Osaka took the envelope, feeling already that it was laden with doom. Like a thin purple mist the doom wafted out, sprouting vicious little claws and scratching at her hand and wrist. "I am full of doom!" the envelope hissed. "Fear me!"
Of course, none of her classmates could see this phenomenon. All they saw was Osaka wandering back to her desk with a distant, glazed look in her eyes. She didn't mind that they were doubtless thinking of her as an airhead—they just had no idea what they were missing!
"Within me is your future! Your fate! Your DOOM!" Osaka yawned in response, unwittingly setting off a chain reaction through the whole classroom. Outside, the first swift, baking winds of summer rushed through Tokyo's streets, driving the petty concerns of school and work before it like a marauding army. Next to the glory and freedom summer vacation would bring, this nasty little envelope and its contents were mere trifles.
Not that her parents would agree…
"Mihama," Ms. Yukari droned. Chiyo rose to accept her envelope and thanked her politely, but before the words had even left her mouth, a shadow descended over the head of the classroom. "Oh, don't thank me yet!" Yukari chuckled with a demented, evil smile. Suddenly concerned, the tiny prodigy turned pink and rushed back to her seat.
What're you so worried about? Osaka wondered affectionately, What, you gonna get a B in something this time? Oh, no!
"Blueman." Yukari mutilated the foreign name's pronunciation and didn't give a darn. The new girl walked quickly to the front, sandy hair shaking rapidly with her stride. She accepted hers with both hands and a quick bow before scuttling back to her place. Osaka sympathized. It had been hard to avoid the limelight when she'd first arrived from Osaka; the plight of an American must be five times worse! Especially an American with those freaky eyes… but nobody else seemed to notice, so maybe it was just Osaka's overactive and overpaid imagination.
"Kagura." The athlete trudged forth as if this was her execution. You had to keep your grades up to stay in the athletic program after all, and academically, she brazenly walked the line. She never seemed to care until about a week before the progress reports, whereupon she'd spontaneously spring four ulcers and fall over dead. (In the figurative sense, of course.)
"Takino." As Tomo walked past Osaka, tossing the envelope from hand to hand like a hot potato, their eyes met significantly and the taller girl nodded. Osaka smiled. Judging from the Mussolini-worthy speech her envelope was delivering, it would be nice to have some support when she finally tore it open.
"Nothing can save you! NOTHING!"
Sanada was an absolute colossus. As he wandered through the curiously empty cafeteria, he could easily see over the milling heads of his classmates and zero in on his target. Though his height was imposing, his face was definitely not; his features were soft and friendly, with slightly asymmetrical eyes that gave him a permanently skeptical expression.
His first thought was to try and sit with Sakaki again, but a quick glance showed that it was not to be. Not only was the new American girl sitting with her, but also that scary little waif that hissed at him every time he neared or even mentioned her towering idol. Turning sharply about, his tray instead slapped down next to Kiyoshi's.
"See?" Kiyoshi laughed, "This guy knows how to pick his friends!" The hyperactive boy raked a hand through his bleached hair and looked sharply back towards Sakaki. "Makin' another pass at Gigantor over there?"
"She's not…" Sanada started.
"Of course you wouldn't think so," the other rolled over him, "I still think you're wasting your time. She's a cold fish, dude."
"Maybe not," Kazuki commented from his place across the table. "Maybe she's just shy?"
"Shy?" Kiyoshi snorted. "Sakaki? What the hell reason does she have to be shy? She's got all the boys in our class swooning over her—and half the girls! She's probably the most bad-assed girl in Honshu!"
"Sometimes I think…" Kazuki trailed off, gazing towards the girls' table. It swiftly became apparent that he wasn't planning to finish the sentence. Used to this behavior, his friends moved on.
"Some people don't need a reason," Sanada explained. "Maybe I don't have a chance with her, but I'll bet she'll open to someone."
"Well, whatever. I can't deny she's hot. I mean, I'd do 'er."
Sanada's expression curdled. "Hey…"
"Oh, sorry. I guess your motives are pure, then?"
"You sure are an asshole sometimes," Kazuki tossed in, his tone as friendly as ever. "How do you ever get dates?"
Before the bleached boy could defend himself, Osaka happened by, looking around in sedate confusion. "Sakaki's over there," Sanada offered helpfully, "And I think the others are on the roof."
"Thanks," she said driftily. "Oh, an' Kazuki? Diese Dummköpfe entdecken nie, über was wir sprechen!"
Kazuki grinned. "Es ist pathetisch, nicht ist es?"
As she left, Sanada looked between them in confusion. "What was that about?"
"Ahh… foreign correspondence. Do'worry about it," Kazuki said dismissively, staring after her. "She looks different, don't you think? Ever since we went to Okinawa…"
"She sure does," Kiyoshi agreed, "And I think it's an improvement!"
"You see it, too?"
Sanada shook his head. "I'm pretty sure you guys're talking about two completely different things. You're not supposed to talk about things like that, Kiyoshi, honestly!"
"Hey! How do you know I'm…?"
"What else would you be noticing?"
Kiyoshi gave a twisted smile. "Touché."
Tomo and Osaka walked together in tense silence, unopened envelopes of doom clutched in their hands. It was still a beautiful day and summer vacation still beckoned, but theirs was a grim mission. The grades would soon stand revealed, and then they would know their fate.
"So I'm guessing if I don't pass everything, my pop'll stab a soldering iron into my eye and keel-haul me by it from this new boat he got," Tomo predicted lightly. "Either that or it'll just be the firing squad. Depends on his mood, I guess."
"If I fail anything, my parents'll prob'ly send me to a convent," Osaka said, deadly serious. There was a long, awkward pause before Tomo turned to her wide-eyed. "Gotcha." Osaka's voice didn't change and she didn't bother to laugh at her own joke, leaving the other even more uncomfortable.
"So anyway, we're both pretty much screwed, huh?"
Osaka shrugged. "It's been worse."
"Yeah… oh, shit!" They turned a corner to see the site of an accident, hemmed in by a trio of police cars. The officers spread out around the twined vehicles, doing all their… policey stuff. Another crouched next to one of the drivers, a young fellow, pale and shaking.
"Act natural!" Tomo whispered. The girls stood straight as boards, walking with exaggerated casualness, eyes steadfastly averted from any blue uniforms. They'd always been a little paranoid around the fuzz, and their recent adventures in Grand Theft Auto: Tokyo did little to help.
"Why would they care? We've just been shooting digital cops!" Tomo had protested. "Then can't they shoot us with digital bullets?" Osaka had countered. Tomo wasn't certain if that quite made sense, but she wasn't inclined to risk it.
Fortunately, their destination was in sight. Casting a single nervous glance back at the horde of lawmen, Tomo and Osaka ducked into the park and made their way over the lush grass towards its center. After a tortuous walk, they were out of sight and Tomo heaved a deep sigh. "That was close!"
"Glad none o' them were psychic," Osaka added. "They'da seen in our heads and we'd've been done for!"
"We still are," Tomo reminded her, waving her envelope in the air. Doom's claws were flailing out of under its flaps, practically cutting Tomo's hand to ribbons, but she didn't even notice. "Let's get this over with."
Osaka steeled herself. "Right."
They tore open their envelopes and removed the folded report cards, standing side-by-side and holding them out at arm's length. After a moment of contemplating the papers' leering, blank faces, the friends joined hands and snapped their grade sheets open with a flick of their wrists.
First grade: Math. Both flinched back as if physically struck. "Uggh!" "Oooh!" Next grade: English. "Oww!" "Errk!" Next grade: Literature. Osaka stood straighter with an "Oh!" of pleasant surprise; she ended up holding Tomo off the ground when the other choked and went limp.
When they had seen the full extent of the damage, the fellow bonkuras sagged. "It's worse than I thought," Tomo moaned. "My parents are gonna kill me. They're gonna throw me to the wolves!"
"Me, too," Osaka sighed. "Wonder why I did so well in Literature, though? I usually just use it to sleep." Though, since the class was taught by Kimura, that mystery was probably better left unplumbed. "For meritous effort?" What on God's Green Earth could that mean?
Looking down the line of miserable marks, Osaka had never felt the future bearing down on her quite so hard. Time thundered ahead with freight-train force, bearing her along to an unknowable and likely dreadful fate. It settled over her shoulders and chest, pressing the breath out of her. "This…" she said weakly. "I mean…"
"Well, at least I still have my infallible ninja technique," Tomo decided.
"Hii-yaa!" The wildcat idiot tackled her to the ground. A real ninja would have hung his head in shame if he saw the clumsy mayhem that was being attributed to his technique. Osaka and Tomo roughhoused gleefully and, for a few shining minutes, they were children again and the future's fang-filled maw was not yet preparing to snap shut on them.
Finally, they lay panting on the grass, the tops of their heads just touching, gazing up at the peaceful, friendly-looking clouds that scudded across the sky. "Why…?" Osaka spread her arms out and sighed. "I was honestly tryin' harder. I thought I'd've improved a bit…"
"What's the big deal?" Tomo asked. "So we'll get yelled at a little. So what?"
"It's not…" Osaka rolled to the side and curled up. "Like it was."
"Oh, c'mon. Don't worry so much! It never used to bother you before… you know, you've been acting funny lately, Osaka. In fact, I reckon it's been ever since you got back from that island of yours!"
"I… I have?"
"Yeah! What the hell happened to you there?"
"It isn't…" the space cadet faltered. "That is…"
"C'mon!" Tomo wheedled, "You can tell me. What happened? You pushed me into the ocean--it was friggin' cold! I think I've earned at least this much! What went down?"
"I died," Osaka deadpanned. They lay in the grass for some time after, that wonderful summer breeze rushing over their still forms. Their shadows lengthened, the air cooled and eventually the silence grew unbearable. "Uhh… you're supposed to say 'gotcha,' aren't you?" Tomo finally ventured.
"My body fried, my mind fell apart and my soul flickered out," her friend pressed on remorselessly, "Ah died. An'… an' ah can't help but wonder…" she swallowed softly, "What… what if that was it? What if Mothra hadn't brought me back? What if… ah died a worthless, meaningless little wisp o' nothing?"
"You're… what?" Tomo sat up and half-turned towards her. "Osaka…"
"An'… an' someday it will happen. Ah'll die… and that'll be it. An' ah can't…" Osaka shook her head sharply, voice rising. "I can't do anything to make myself worth anything before then!"
None of their friends would have believed the pained look that filled Tomo's eyes. She instinctively knew it would be useless to logically point out that Osaka had, in fact, saved the world that day, so she tried a different tack. "You know…" she said slowly, hesitantly, "I've… felt the same way. About being worthless."
Osaka glanced up. "I remember; you had that nightmare an' freaked out?"
"Well…" Tomo fought the impulse to make something up to match her friend's wild experience, and for a wonder, she actually won. "Er, yeah. It's stupid, I know."
"Nah… dreams're as real as anything." Osaka sat up and faced her. "You've really…?"
Tomo shrugged uncomfortably, regretting her admission. "Guess so."
A cloud passed over the sun, throwing them into shadow. Osaka held out her hand, offering, "Y'know what? If we really feel the same way… about the future n' stuff… maybe we should… I dunno, face it together?"
Tomo took her hand. "All right! We can be comrades-in-arms! The… the anti-bonkuras! And besides, I won't feel like so much of a loser with you around…" They laughed, but the moment still had a certain solemnity. Osaka withdrew her hand and laid it over her heart, meaning to say something dramatic and/or mushy, but Tomo's eyes had followed her hand down.
"Osaka!" she gasped, "You… you traitor!"
"Huh? What did I-?"
And again the Takinator's masterful ninjitsu crashed down on her head.
Sandra sprawled across her modest apartment's couch, scribbling out the last few sentences of an English essay. Anybody seeing her there would never have guessed that she'd ridden with the vanguard of an alien invasion, and any of her old comrades would have had a hard time recognizing her. She was now entirely a creature of mystery, which appealed to her very much.
Whereas Xandra had been small and painfully thin, exposure to the varied and rich cuisine of Earth had filled Sandra out nicely, though only Tomo would have thought to call her chubby. Xandra's eyes had been somber and dark, much too large for her narrow face, but now a certain weight had been lifted from behind them, making Sandra seem at once younger and more mature. Xandra had been a bit of a wimp and a crybaby, while Sandra… well… huh.
Of course, when she'd moved to Earth, a change of pigmentation had been called for. Blonde hair, pale green eyes and a fair Caucasian complexion made every look into a mirror a strange experience. But when she turned her head just so, her eyes still shone copper in a way that was just as jarring to her fellow Xians as it was to Earthmen.
Folding the essay, she thought happily about the coming vacation and her invitation to Chiyo's summer home. She and Kaori were both coming for the first time; apparently, these trips were a tradition with Sakaki's circle of friends. With that to look forward to, how could she think about that psychopath Ms. Yukari and her boring assignments?
Suddenly, she heard a familiar voice outside. Sandra hurriedly set her schoolwork aside and listened carefully. Had she just imagined…? "Right, this is it." No! Breaking into a wide grin, Sandra took one step, threw the door open and was airborne before her visitor could say a word of greeting. "Xan—oof!" he grunted, catching her gracelessly.
"Bro-theeeeeeer!" she squealed, administering a bone-splintering hug. For it was indeed her brother, formerly the Keeper of Ghidora, now just plain Xagrid (odd—this is the first time his name's come up). He wore the standard Earthman makeup and sunglasses, along with a thoroughly non-descript outfit.
"Hey…" he set her down with his customary lack of tact. "How's it goin'?"
"Oh, it's just spectacular! Ms. Sakaki's been so good to me and her friend've taken me right in and the food around here is so great and it rains! I mean, clean water just falls from the sky like it's no big deal and…" her brother waited in amused silence for a time as she continued to gush. "…then in a week or two we'll be going to her summer home to hang out and relax… oh, hi, Xoltan!"
The taller Xian had squeezed in behind Xagrid and stood there looking a little out of sorts. He'd donned a brown vest and beret along with a pair of flip-down sunglasses that he probably fondly imagined to be inconspicuous. She happened to know that he went by "Mr. Prefect" down here on Earth, though why he should get such a kick out of it, she couldn't guess. "Yo," he greeted awkwardly. "You, uh, you know you've been speaking Japanese this whole time, right?"
"Don't worry about it," Xagrid clapped her shoulder. "I'm glad you're doing well."
Sandra groped for her native tongue. "But how are you guys? I mean… so much must've happened!"
"Nothing too exciting," her brother said quickly. "I mean, we still don't know where the Prince ended up, and the Earthmen made off with Mecha Ghidora's center head, and pretty soon we'll have to return to Planet X to find out what'll happen to us, but nothing you should really worry about."
"Oh…" in spite of his disclaimer, she certainly did look worried. "Do you think… do you think they'll…?"
"Ah, he's called the mad emperor for a reason," Xoltan waved her concern off, "I'm sure they'll understand. Oh yeah, Xagrid, did you bring the…?"
"Right, yeah…" the two of them weebled for a moment, then the former Keeper came up with a metallic briefcase. He set it on the floor before Sandra. "Someone else who wants to see you."
The case opened with a faint hiss and something smacked into Sandra's chest. She gasped in surprise and staggered back, trying to figure out what in the universe was raking a wet strip of sandpaper over her face. It took a moment for her panicked mind to equate the lashing tongue, buffeting wings and enthusiastically digging claws with an old friend.
"Xichsa!" she cried happily. "Uh… Xizzca?"
When the beast had finally calmed down, she offered her guests a place to sit and put some tea on for them. While she bustled about, wearing the dragon over her shoulder, the men conversed quietly in Xlish and she found to her chagrin that she had a hard time understanding them.
"Bloody excellent," Xoltan said upon receiving his tea, leaning back and crossing his legs. After thanking her, though, he looked away uneasily and let her brother carry the burden of conversation, which he did with increasing reserve.
"Well, Xond twisted our arms," Xagrid said apologetically after a time. "We have to ask if you've told anyone where you're from."
"No. Well, Sakaki knows, of course. And one of her friends suspects something, I think. This weird girl that stares at you with these big, creepy eyes and smiles like she knows something you don't…"
Xoltan looked to the ceiling. "That doesn't sound like anyone we know."
Sandra smiled ruefully. "Yeah, she could be my sister." She paused, looking thunderstruck. Before the others could comment, though, the subject changed on them. "You're kinda sluggish. What's wrong, guys?" she asked. "Rocket-lagged?"
Xoltan pounced on the out. "Yes, as a matter of…"
"No, we'd better tell her. Listen, Xan…" Xagrid was not the sort that often felt remorseful, and didn't wear the expression very well. "We… when we go back, we may never return to Earth. It's, uh… we're going tomorrow, so this could be… the last time you see us."
Instead of wigging out like they'd expected, Sandra just nodded sadly. She'd expected as much. "Well," she said, fighting down the flood of tears that threatened, "Good luck, I guess…"
"Yeah," he replied, similarly assailed. "You, too. We should probably… I don't want to, but we should probably go soon. Xoltan?"
"Uh? Oh. Yeah." He rose quickly and straightened his vest. "S-sorry."
Sandra hated when painful subjects came up so suddenly. "No, it's fine. You've gotta, I understand." Xagrid hugged her, ignoring the dragon's determined ear-biting. Xoltan hugged her, retreating when the animal latched onto his forehead. Impulsively, she kissed his cheek, which made him jump while both her brother and the dragon stared daggers at him.
Finally, she held her pet out at arm's length, trying fiercely to remember its name. At long last, it came to her: Xozzinidschiriticanfranzista. "See ya, Fluffy." The beast went back to its case, the Xians gave her one last bow, and then they shuffled out the door, possibly leaving her forever.
She waited till they were well gone before crying.
"There! See?" Tomo yelled. She and Osaka stood together before a shaded office window, looking at the smaller girl's reflection. After a moment of studying herself, the Osakan gal gave a huge start. "Whoa… holy cow!"
"Don't tell me…" Tomo slapped her forehead. "You didn't notice?"
"How about that?" Osaka murmured happily, oblivious to her friend's angst. She turned side-on to the mirror and put a hand on her hip, "Is that me?"
Tomo buried her face against the window, heavy with despair. "It's not fair…!" she keened. "I'm even taller than her! Why? Why?" Of course, even Osaka knew better than to be too concerned; after all, had Tomo really been in torment, she wouldn't be begging for attention.
"Aw, your day'll come…" Osaka assured, slapping her back and once again looking almost sly. "'Course, you might have to pay for yours."
Tomo wailed to the heavens.
(A/N: I'm pretty sure some readers will be asking a particular question about Osaka and Tomo. The answer to this question is, "Well, if you want to take it that way, I can't stop you." Heartfelt apologies to my regular readers if the story starts to take that course.)