The Human Experience
Mebius settles his teammates down gently on the ground, ensuring everyone has found their feet before removing his support. Straightening, he looks up at the familiar, young yellow sun that warms and grants life to this sphere.
It's not really home. Home is the Land of Light. But right now, as he wraps the familiar form of Hibino Mirai around himself, home is GUYS, and this planet, and the people running up to surround him with hugs.
Ryuu gives a little whoop as he spins Mirai around in a circle. George picks Mirai up when Ryuu sets him down, presumably to show that it's easier to lift someone when you've got a bit of height on them. When George is done, Marina takes a turn. By the time Mirai's feet are planted back on the ground, he feels somewhat dizzy.
Konomi and Teppei content themselves with handshakes and pats on the back, giving Mirai a chance to relax and regain his equilibrium.
Once Mirai's had a chance to greet the whole team, Ryuu steps forward again, putting a hand on each of Mirai's shoulders. “You've come back.”
Mirai nods. “Not forever. But for a little bit, I get to be stationed here again.”
Ryuu's hands tighten possessively. “We're glad to have you.”
Konomi smiles gently. “For as long or as short a time as we get to keep you, we're glad to have you back with us.”
“Thank you.” Mirai feels tears welling in his eyes, and reaches out, touching as many of his teammates as he can. They move closer to him—closer than personal comfort would usually allow in their culture, but they know that it means a lot to him.
“Come on.” Ryuu claps him firmly on the shoulder. “Let's go get debriefed with Captain Sakomizu, and figure out where we want to go from here.”
The group turns and they troop back into GUYS headquarters, together and victorious once more.
* * *
There's so much that he wants to do, and so little time to do it in.
The others still have their work. Mirai tries to insert himself back into the rotation as though nothing happened, but it's clear that most of the work they give him is make-do. He won't be around for a known length of time, after all; eventually he'll be called back to the Ultra Garrison. When that happens, GUYS doesn't want to be short-staffed.
It leaves Mirai with... a lot more free time than he had expected. For once Earth seems to be a quiet, peaceful planet—a safe place to send young recruits, and Mirai has to smile a bit at the memory of himself when he first started here. He wasn't terribly good at being human or an Ultraman then. At least he seems to have improved in one of those categories over the last year.
Since he doesn't have much actual work to do, and no one seems intent on wishing the planet in danger just so that he can have something to occupy him, Mirai finds himself devouring Earth entertainment. Mostly he borrows from the rest of the GUYS crew, giving him an eclectic but still largely Japanese-flavored base to draw on.
“All right, Mirai.” Ryuu spins his chair around so that he's facing Mirai rather than his monitor. “What's causing all the heavy sighing?”
“Ah, nothing!” Mirai looks to Sakomizu for assistance, but the captain seems focused on his coffee. “Just... realizing all the things I'll never get to experience like a proper Earthling.”
“Well, that's because you're our space-weirdo.” George's smile takes any potential sting out of the words.
“What kind of things are you thinking about, Mirai?” Konomi smiles as she leans towards him.
“Things like attending high school. Playing on a sport's team. Have a sleepover with friends! That sounds like a lot of fun. Learning to drive a car and getting my license!” Mirai beams a smile at the GUYS crew. “Not that I haven't had a lot of fun with you all! You've been amazing. But I think I'm understanding better, now, all the little building blocks that go into making you... fit in to your society. And why I don't quite belong here.”
“You belong here!” Ryuu's hand slaps against his console. “Right, everyone?”
Teppei nods. “I've met much stranger people than you, Mirai. Ones who are entirely human.”
Mirai smiles at his friends. “Like I said, it's not a big deal. Just... something I've been noticing as I read and watch more.”
“That's because they have terrible taste in media.” Marina walks by, patting him gently on the shoulder as she passes. “Drop by my room after lunch. I'll give you something better to study from.”
“Ah, I never said I wasn't enjoying everyone's offers!” Mirai looks from person to person, trying to make it clear that he's been appreciating all the attention they've shown him, the sharing of their favorite stories.
Ryuu waves a hand. “We get it. Don't worry.”
Marina mouths after lunch to him again, and then everyone has returned to what they were doing, leaving Mirai to entertain himself once more.
Since he's on the planet that he loves, surrounded by the people he cares for most in all the universe, Mirai doesn't mind in the least.
* * *
Mirai doesn't understand what's going on when his friends start huddling together and whispering to each other that afternoon. He suspects Marina taking him out the next day has something to do with the effort, but he doesn't understand exactly what it might mean until they get to the racetrack and she presents him with a racing outfit and a helmet.
Mirai points from the helmet to himself. “Me?”
Marina nods, shoving the helmet a little closer to him. “You said you wanted to learn how to drive, right? And I know you've got good reflexes. So, we're going to teach you to drive.”
“But...” Mirai takes the helmet carefully in his hands. “I can't actually get a license. I'm not a real citizen of Earth.”
“You're a member of GUYS. I'm sure we could get you a license if we needed to.” Marina grins. “But that's not what you really want, is it? You want the experience of being overwhelmed and confused as you learn, and that's something I can give you in spades just teaching you how to handle one of these bikes.”
Settling the helmet on his head, Mirai looks out of the shiny plastic at Marina. “I'm ready to learn whenever you're ready to teach, sensei!”
Marina laughs, though her smile disappears a moment later. “All right, recruit. Let's get you on a bike and see what you can do.”
* * *
What he can do is crash, but he does that very well, and he enjoys every minute of it.
Well... most every minute of it. His body may not actually be human, but it doesn't like being flung off a swiftly-moving vehicle any more than a true human's would.
He's still in relatively one piece, though, when Marina takes them back to GUYS headquarters and they have dinner with everyone. Many, many pictures were taken at the track, and Mirai grins as the rest of the team flips through the images, offering him condolences for some of the falls and laughing at others.
When he heads to his quarters to rest that evening, Mirai takes a long, hot shower and then collapses into bed, physically exhausted but very satisfied with how the day went.
* * *
Konomi takes him out the next day.
Mirai hadn't been expecting it, but he's happy enough to experience anything his Earth friends want to show him.
Ryuu snorts into his cereal. “You might not say that after today's over.”
Marina throws her napkin at Ryuu when Konomi fails to do so. “Don't worry, Mirai. You're going to have a lot of fun.”
“I'm sure I will.” Mirai smiles. “What are we going to be doing?”
Konomi looks down at her own breakfast. “I know it won't actually be the same as attending school, but one of my friends who still teaches has been asking me to come help out for a while. Her kids can ask us questions about GUYS, I can actually use some of my schooling... and you can get a sense of what school's actually like, outside those manga and light novels you've been reading.”
“We're going to get to work with children?” Mirai stands up, leaving his breakfast half finished on the plate. The idea of getting to spend a whole day just talking to kids, in their natural environment—seeing what their lives are like—
George's hand on Mirai's shoulder urges him back down into his seat. “You're going to work with children. You'll probably be at about the same—ow!”
Mirai looks between George and Marina, not certain exactly what transpired to make Marina punch him in the side.
George rubs his side and smiles down at Mirai. “I'm sure you're going to have a lot of fun.”
* * *
It is a lot of fun.
They spend the day in a class filled with nine and ten year olds. The children are all in uniform—the girls in skirts, the boys in suit pants.
It's the first thing Mirai asks Konomi about. “Why don't some of the girls wear trousers? Like Marina does?”
“Oh.” Konomi frowns. “I... well... I suppose they could. But usually they don't need to be able to do anything athletic outside gym and after-school sports, so it's not really needed.”
“Interesting.” Mirai thinks he's finally starting to get an understanding of how human fashion works—mainly because GUYS keeps helping him buy clothes any time he's back on-planet—but sometimes it's still confusing. “But if some of the boys wanted to wear the skirts, that would be frowned on? Because...” Mirai tries and fails to remember what Sakomizu had taught him when first trying to help Mirai figure out human clothing.
“Because sometimes humans have weird rules.” Konomi smiles as she steers him toward the front of the class. “Let's go answer some questions about GUYS, all right?”
Mirai likes talking to the kids about the work that his friends do—the work that he did, and would love to do again if the Garrison didn't need him elsewhere. The children ask the most interesting and unusual questions, ranging from how often they've been in firefights to how hard is it to keep your hair styled in one of the GUYS fighter planes to if they've ever seen any dead bodies.
It's watching while the kids work on non-GUYS related activities that intrigues Mirai the most, though. They are learning reading, writing, English, math, history—everything, Konomi says, that they will need to be productive citizens.
“They remind me of me, in some ways.” Mirai makes the statement as he and Konomi are getting a drink of water while the children work through a complicated math problem.
“Hm?” Konomi studies him quizzically.
“Some of them... don't seem very good at being human.” Mirai shrugs. “Not that any of them aren't! They all seem perfectly human. But the way they sometimes interrupt each other's social groups, or ask questions that the others deem silly...”
Konomi gives a soft laugh, taking Mirai's hand in hers and giving it a little squeeze. “I guess children can be a little alien sometimes. Even those who are born into a species need to learn all the little quirks of the culture.”
“And the best way to learn is to experience.” Mirai smiles. “Thank you. For giving me this opportunity.”
“Any time, Mirai.” Konomi nods towards the classroom. “They should be just about done, which means it's time to play with the bunnies.”
“Bunnies!” Mirai grins, heading for the classroom door.
Rabbits may not be his favorite species on Earth, but he's found that he's getting very fond of all the different peoples who call Earth home.
They spend the rest of the day helping out around the classroom, and then Mirai spends the evening telling the rest of GUYS all about his adventures.
* * *
Mirai isn't surprised when George asks him if he'd like to go out the next morning at breakfast. “Certainly! Where were we going to go?”
George looks a little surprised at Mirai's enthusiasm. “Well, I was thinking... I have some friends who play a little bit of football. Not professionally, just for fun. So if you were interested in playing...”
Mirai nods his head as vigorously as he can. “Absolutely.”
“All right, then.” George smiles. “Let's go see how good you are.”
* * *
The answer is not very good.
They don't have full uniforms, which disappoints Mirai a little bit. But they do have color-coded shirts, and being presented with his red shirt and introduced to his temporary teammates makes Mirai very happy.
Running around the field uses some of the skills Mirai has picked up in GUYS. He's decently fast, and he has good enough dexterity that he's able to steal and kick the ball with at least a modicum of success. Other parts of the game take more effort. When learning to fight with this human body, he learned to protect his head and use his hands frequently; when playing football, it's important not to use his hands, and his head is supposed to be used to hit the ball.
An activity that proves to be surprisingly painful the first time he does it, and Mirai ends up sitting down on the field, his nose feeling squished and his eyes watering as he struggles to see where the ball went.
“Mirai?” George comes up and taps him on the shoulder, despite them being on opposite teams. “You all right?”
“Ow.” Mirai blinks up at his friend.
“Yeah.” George winces, and reaches out to tap Mirai on the forehead, a little above where the ball struck. “You're probably going to have a black eye or two in a little bit. Assuming you—well, in the future, try to hit the ball with this part of your head. It'll hurt less.”
“Or just keep using my feet.” Mirai forces himself back into a standing position as the ball comes traveling back towards them.
“Or keep using your feet.” George smiles and takes off after the ball.
Mirai does just that, and though he doesn't actually score any goals, he gets close. When his team wins the match, Mirai finds himself in the center of a delighted huddle—almost but not quite like when the GUYS team comes together after a victory.
He turns to see an out-of-breath George watching him, smiling slightly, and returns the expression whole-heartedly, glad that humans don't always need to be able to find words to express what it is that they're feeling.
* * *
The next day is apparently Teppei's day.
When the young man opens his mouth to ask Mirai a hesitant question, Mirai accidentally cuts him off. “What was it that you had planned? Where are we going to go?”
“Ah...” Teppei gives a nervous little laugh.
“Can't pull one over on you, huh, Mirai?” Marina smiles as she blows on her steaming coffee.
Mirai frowns in puzzlement. “What were you trying to pull over on me?”
“Nothing.” Teppei scowls at their teammates, and then turns back to Mirai. “If you're not bored with going out, I was thinking I could take you somewhere. It won't be as much fun as the others, probably, but...”
Mirai beams. “Anywhere you'd like to take me, I'd absolutely love to go.”
* * *
It turns out that Teppei wants to take him flower viewing.
“I used to come here when I needed somewhere quiet. When exams were stressful, or I just needed... a little bit of time away from my mother.” Teppei leads Mirai down a quiet cherry-blossom lined path. “When the trees are in full bloom, there's absolutely nothing like it. The ground's just coated in these flowers, white and pale pink. It's absolutely incredible.”
“I think it looks incredible now.” Mirai reaches up to touch the soft, supple branch of one of the trees, its small green leaves velvety against his skin.
“It's beautiful at any time of year, really.” Teppei smiles fondly. “Sometimes I would think it must be the best job in the world being one of the horticulturists who gets to care for these. Someone who gets to help living things and keep a little bit of beauty in the world, but without all the pressures of human medicine.” Teppei's smile fades a bit. “I know now that there's stress with that job, just like with any other.”
“But it's still a good job.” Mirai reaches out to lay a hand on Teppei's shoulder. “Protecting and helping the world. Like we do in GUYS.”
Teppei's smile returns, and he gives a decisive nod. “Without us, these trees wouldn't still be here, huh?”
“Without people like us, at least. People to stand up and say no to the darkness.” Mirai's fingers tighten on Teppei's shoulder as he remembers some of their darkest moments. Teppei's other hand covers his, and Mirai forces the memories away. “But right now this is all safe. And we get to enjoy it.”
“We do.” Teppei smiles again as he walks forward, towards a bend in the row. “Come on. There's a pond over here with the most interesting koi...”
They spend hours wandering around the gardens, seeing flowers and fish, plants and people. It's a different kind of day from the others that he's had, quiet and contemplative, but Mirai finds he likes it just as much, and he tells the others so when they quiz him at dinner on what they did.
Sometimes it's nice just to have a little bit of a break—a little bit of peace to remember the world that they're so ardently defending.
* * *
When Ryuu shows up to breakfast in swim trunks and a T-shirt, Mirai knows immediately what they're going to do.
“We're going to the beach!” Mirai runs over to grab Ryuu by both shoulders. “What are we going to do? Are we going to swim? I don't have a swimsuit. Will there be watermelon? What—”
“If you'll sit down for a minute.” Ryuu grabs Mirai by both arms and settles him deliberately back into his seat. “We'll explain what we're going to do. Konomi, if you'll do the honors...”
Konomi pulls a small shopping bag out from under the table. “From all of us.”
Mirai takes the bag, glancing around the table.
George holds up his hands. “I just contributed money. If it looks terrible on you, blame the girls.”
“Blame Konomi, really.” Marina smiles as she bumps her shoulder against Konomi's. “Except I think you're going to like how it looks.”
The swimsuit that they chose for him is, he realizes, based off of him. It's stylized so much that it takes him a moment to put the pattern together, to connect the silver and red with his Land of Light form, but when he does he hugs the garment close to him. “Me?”
“You.” Ryuu shrugs. “You're pretty famous and well-liked now, and we thought... well...”
“Thank you!” Mirai jumps to his feet, bowing to all of his friends in turn. “Thank you so much. This is... incredible.”
Ryuu smiles indulgently, pulling out sunglasses and sliding them on despite their still being indoors. “Come on, Mirai. Let's get you changed, and then I'll show you what a real and proper day at the beach is like.”
* * *
A real and proper day at the beach turns out to be largely rainy.
They spend a great deal of time playing cards in the car while rain patters down outside. If looks could change the weather, Ryuu's vicious glare would part the clouds, but instead the rain seems to just come down in harder waves.
“I don't mind, you know.” Mirai tries hesitantly to break the tension. “I like spending time with you. With any of you.”
Ryuu sighs. “And I suppose this is actually a big part of the beach experience. Having plans ruined by the weather. At least the picnic can just be eaten in the car... kind of hard to break the watermelon inside the car, though.”
“Well...” Mirai looks down at his swim trunks. “Is there a reason it's okay to get wet in the water, but not okay to get wet from the rain?”
Ryuu studies him for several long seconds. “Do you hear any thunder, Mirai?”
Tilting his head, Mirai listens intently for half a minute. “No. I don't hear anything.”
A smile slowly blooms across Ryuu's face as he reaches into the back seat and pulls out a baseball bat. “Then no. I think you're right, there's really no difference at all.”
* * *
“You were almost struck by lightning.” Marina studies Ryuu as the GUYS physician gives him one final once-over. “All you were supposed to do is take him to the beach, and the two of you almost got struck by lightning.”
Ryuu pouts. “He said he didn't hear any thunder. And I didn't actually get struck by lightning.”
Teppei gives a little snort. “Because a certain giant alien took the lightning hit, instead.”
“The watermelon exploded really well, though.” Mirai smiles tentatively at Ryuu.
Ryuu just sighs, head dropping down to rest against his chest.
When they're allowed to leave the infirmary, the others head in a direction Mirai hadn't been expecting. He hurries to catch up to them. “Where are we going?”
Ryuu grins, his good humor returning. “You'll see.”
Mirai tilts his head again, not certain he understands, but follows along gamely anyway.
They head to one of the larger storage rooms. Has something been found that the others need him to look at? Or—
Marina hits the door switch, and the door swings open to reveal Konomi, a stack of pizza boxes, and two rows of futons laid out on the floor.
Mirai looks from Konomi to Ryuu and back. “I don't...”
“It's... a sleepover.” Teppei's the one who answers. “We can't really do it the traditional way—we need to stay on base, and we're not ten years old. But... well...”
Ryuu's arm settles across Mirai's shoulders. “It'll be the next best thing. We'll all spend the night together, and it'll be fun.”
“You... all of you...” Mirai finds his eyes are watering, and he lifts his right hand to rub at them. “Thank you. I...”
George claps Mirai on the shoulder before heading for the pizza boxes. “Don't mention it. Just enjoy it.”
Rubbing the rest of the moisture from his eyes, Mirai smiles at his teammates and follows them into the room.
* * *
They do all the traditional things.
They eat together, a mess of grease and arguing over who gets the last slice of the most desired pizza. They tell ghost stories. They play human games—well, they play Truth or Dare. For some reason George and Ryuu veto several of the other games that Mirai has heard about, saying it could cause troubles with unit cohesion if they end up having to kiss random people. They have a pillowfight that Konomi instigates, to Mirai's delight.
They bed down for the night together, and Mirai lies quietly, his eyes closed, listening to the sounds of his human companions.
He can hear their breathing. He can hear their hearts beating. He can hear the flow of blood through their arteries, and the tiny shifts of their arms and legs as they dream sound like fireworks as he concentrates.
He will never be truly human. Even if he wanted to be, it wouldn't be possible. There will always be small things that are off about him—small things that are foreign.
But it doesn't matter. He doesn't have to be human to be part of this team—this team who listens to him. Who goes out of their way to give him what they think he wants or needs, even when it's something strange or difficult.
He will never be human, but with these people he knows he has been able to live the best parts of the human experience, and he will carry these memories deep in his heart for centuries to come, holding their light against whatever darkness he has to face.