Demashitaa! Powerpuff Girls Z:
Suteki da ne?
Momoko wasn't sure how long she'd sat staring at the rose. When she heard a voice call her name and finally snapped out of her daydream, she attempted to shove the manga back in her bag, but only managed to throw it to the ground. It slid across the floor, gently tapping against her friend's shoe. Momoko, blush smothering her cheeks, glanced up at Kaoru, and quickly looked back down at her lap.
Laughing, Kaoru knelt down, picking up the manga, pausing to glance at the rose. She raised an eyebrow and cocked her head, trying to get a good look at Momoko's face. She grinned as her friend continued to avoid looking at her.
"This from Kuma-sensei?" She asked, plopping down beside the redhead. Momoko silently nodded, her eyes crinkling as a grin found its way to her lips. Kaoru whistled, taking a quick sniff of the rose. "Wow, you must be his favorite student, huh? Never pictured you for the teacher's pet type, Hero Maniac," she teased.
"Kaoru-chan…" Momoko whined, hands weakly rising to her cheeks as giggles built up in her chest.
Feeling she'd teased her enough, Kaoru snatched Momoko's fallen bag and slid the manga in, zipping it shut. Momoko quietly thanked her and the two fell silent. The tomboy still kept a smirk on her lips while the redhead continued to try, unsuccessfully, to compose herself.
"How many have you loaned him? It's not like you to just hand these things out," Kaoru asked, leaning back against the wall and resting her hands on her head.
Momoko sighed and pursed her lips, "Um...counting the two I just gave him, this makes four?" she laughed sheepishly.
"Damn, girl. You've got it bad, huh?" Kaoru asked. She nodded, seeing Momoko's weak little nod. "Look, Miyako-chan isn't here to get all jealous, so let me just be honest with you. Dude's probably a good guy, but c'mon, Momoko-chan, he's a substitute teacher. He probably won't be here too much longer. Don't you think you may be getting a little carried away?" She asked, leaning forward.
As much as she wanted to argue, Momoko's words were cut short by a pang of agony. She hadn't wanted to acknowledge it, but she knew Kaoru was right. Kuma-sensei was much older, and so charming. It was likely he was already married. And even...if by some miracle he weren't, she was just an awkward, geeky sophomore. The odds were heavily stacked against her.
Seeing Momoko's cheer quickly fading, Kaoru cleared her throat. She scratched her head.
"Hey! I didn't mean it like that...I mean, he gave you that rose, yeah?" she pointed out.
Momoko nodded, sighing and slouching forward.
"I'm so dumb, Kaoru-chan," she muttered.
"What? No, no, don't be like that. I don't even know the guy. Maybe the rose is just...you know, a little joke, since it's, you know, Sailor Moon. Or...maybe he likes you too, I don't know. I just…" Kaoru glanced around then gently slipped her arm around Momoko's shoulders, giving her a squeeze, "I like...you know, care about you. I just want you to be...you know, happy," she explained.
"I know Kaoru-chan," Momoko mumbled, sniffling and carefully wiping her eyes. She threw her arms around Kaoru's waist, giving her a tight hug.
The tomboy gave her another squeeze, "Yeah, yeah, c'mon, lemme go, Hero Maniac," she muttered, glancing around the foyer.
"I'm sorry, Kaoru-chan," Momoko sniffled, pulling away.
"It's cool, don't worry about it. I'm here for you, Momoko-chan. You know that, right? Whatever's going on with you and this Kuma-sensei guy...I got your back, a hundred percent, yeah?" Kaoru assured her.
Momoko smiled and nodded.
"Momoko-san! Kaoru-san! Sorry to keep you waiting!" The two looked up hearing Miyako call out. She stopped in front of them, pausing to catch her breath before sitting down on Momoko's other side.
"It's okay, Miyako-chan. You seem so busy lately, is it the Golden Week planning?" Momoko asked.
Miyako sighed and nodded, "Yes, we've run into a snag with a firework show we had planned. And, since I've started going to the Research Center to train, I've had to work extra hard on my part of the festival. Thankfully, I'm almost done. Just a few...hundred more emails..." she trailed off with a sigh.
"What's this festival anyway? Like the cultural festival? Don't we have that in November?" Kaoru asked, turning to throw a greeting at the boxing club captain. She cocked her head when he didn't respond, hurrying toward the faculty office, "Weird," she muttered.
"Yeah! Hey, I was wondering about that too, Miyako-chan. Is there some special occasion? You're all working your butts off to make it work for Golden Week!" Momoko exclaimed. She was a little taken aback when Miyako sighed again, resting her chin in her hands.
"Yes...this is...not what we had hoped for originally. Well," Miyako looked around and, seeing they were mostly left alone, shrugged, "I guess I can tell you two. Mitsuru-senpai will be making a much more official announcement at the festival on Sunday, but...she'll be leaving to travel to America after this Golden Week," Miyako explained.
That snapped Kaoru out of her confusion, causing both her and Momoko to gasp.
"No way! Not Mitsuru-senpai!" Momoko exclaimed, her voice muffled when Miyako quickly threw her hand over her mouth.
"Wait, like...not like a temporary thing, huh?" Kaoru asked.
Miyako shook her head.
"No...her father's business is expanding and, due to a number of circumstances, they'll be forced to relocate to America. She won't be coming back for a very long time," Miyako bit her lip, quickly wiping away a stray tear that had been threatening to fall.
"Her family is leaving on May 7th. So, we decided that we would move the cultural festival forward, so that we can celebrate what she's done for the school," Miyako explained.
"Mou...Mitsuru-senpai is so cool. She's been an amazing student council president," Momoko murmured. Kaoru nodded.
"Yeah, I mean...other than being a bit of a perfectionist, I haven't heard a bad thing about her. Damn, that's gonna really suck. Any idea who's replacing her?" she asked. She swallowed and looked away sheepishly when she saw Miyako clamp up and wipe away a few more tears. "Right, probably not something you wanna think about, yeah?"
MIyako nodded, thanking Momoko when she pulled her into a hug.
"You'll both come, right?" Miyako asked, after regaining her composure.
"Of course we will!" Momoko answered for both of them. Kaoru started to give a wishy-washy answer, but something in Momoko's gaze told her it wasn't an option. With a small chuckle, she nodded.
"Of course, Miyako-chan," she assured her. Miyako beamed and the three moved on to more comfortable topics, waiting for school to start.
Momoko peeked around the corner of the library. Miyako was meeting with the student council, and Kaoru with the boxing team, so she had the lunch break to herself. She'd opted to get out of her homeroom and ended up wandering to the library. Her heartbeat picked up the closer she got to that same table she'd sat at before. When she caught sight of Kuma-sensei sitting at that same table, reading volume two of Sailor Moon, her heart nearly stopped. Her cheeks flushed and a stupid grin made its way to her face.
Taking a deep breath, she started to make her way toward him. The moment she took a step, she noticed his ear twitch and his head cock as he turned toward her. A warm smile spread across his lips and he raised his hand, waving to her.
"Akatsutsumi-san! It's a pleasure to see you, would you care to join me?" he offered.
Momoko quickly nodded, her legs like jelly as she hurried to the table and slid into the seat next to him. Realizing her mistake, her eyes widened and her mouth went dry.
"This book is incredible, Akatsutsumi-san," Kuma-sensei exclaimed, giving her arm a soft touch. She sucked in a quick breath, to get her lungs working again and turned to him, grinning.
"You really like it? It's...it's always been one of my favorites!" she said a bit louder than she meant to. When Kuma-sensei laughed, her stomach did a backflip.
"I can see why, it's such a charming story! Girls who transform and fight in the name of love and justice...such a familiar notion, is it not?" he mentioned. Unbeknownst to Momoko, Kuma-sensei's eyes darkened and his friendly smile took on a menacing glint. Could he catch her off guard? Could he force some secret weakness from her? He held back a dark chuckle, peering through her fiery bangs. Her rosy eyes sparkled when she turned to look at him. All hint of his true nature vanished. And...interestingly, chest became oddly light seeing the smile on her lips.
"Yeah...sometimes I wonder if Powerpuff Girls Z were inspired by Sailor Moon. I know if I…" Momoko caught herself and shook her head, "if I had powers like that…" she sighed, "It would be cool, wouldn't it?" she turned to Kuma-sensei expectantly.
He blinked, taking a deep breath to calm the sensation in his chest. And, like that, Kuma-sensei beamed, "I can only imagine," he turned back to the book, carefully turning to the next page. Without looking up, he spoke up, "What is it you do outside of school, Akatsutsumi-san? Do you have any hobbies?" Perhaps he could trick her into revealing her training techniques?
"Mou...I'm a weirdo...I mostly collect manga and anime and babysit my little sister. I'm so boring," she groaned, wishing she could tell him about her secret identity. Momoko Akatsutsumi was so dull and uninteresting. But Blossom was awesome and cool! She moaned and took a bite of her mom's homemade pudding. Her sadness melted away as a soft, "Mmm…" escaped her lips.
Kuma-sensei felt an unusual warmth flooding his face. He tugged at his collar and cleared his throat. What was it about that sound? Was this one of the girl's tricks? A hidden power? What an infuriating foe she was! How could she cause such a response with nothing more than an adorable little sound?
"That's not so strange. I've told you before that I, too, enjoying reading such things. You needn't be ashamed of yourself, Akatsutsumi-san, you are clearly a gifted girl," the word "gifted" escaping his lips with the hint of a growl, as his eyes gleamed with a hint of his hidden malice.
Momoko giggled and shook her head, covering her cheeks with her still barely usable hands, "No I'm not! You're the cool one, Kuma-sensei! You're so smart and...t-tall," she quickly forced herself to close off her train of thought. A thousand other words rushed to her mind, but she wasn't about to say them to Kuma-sensei's face. "I bet you have a beautiful wife," she mentioned, her voice dripping with jealousy. She blinked when he chuckled.
"Ah, I'm afraid you're mistaken, Akatsutsumi-san," he began.
Momoko's chest tightened. Had he heard the jealousy? Was he going to tell her off?
"Though I appreciate the sentiment, I am still unmarried. No, I am alone in this world. I have my peers and my students, but...that is all," he sighed, closing the manga and resting his chin on his folded hands, "I will not lie and say I am not lonely sometimes," he suddenly beamed, turning to face her, "That is why I am most fortunate to know such wonderful people, such as you, Momoko-san," her name left his mouth before he could stop himself. He let out a small sound of surprise. His cheeks flushed and Kuma-sensei quickly bowed his head.
"My apologies, Akatsutsumi-san, that was very rude of me," he quickly apologized, "Please, forgive me. I must be on my way before my next class," He paused next to her.
Momoko, her eyes already wide and her heart pounding in her chest, gasped and went stiff when he gave her shoulder a soft squeeze.
"Thank you, though. I truly appreciate your company, Akatsutsumi-san," he whispered.
His footsteps grew softer as he left her alone. Slowly, she brought her hands to her face. Her lips quivered and she clenched her eyes shut. Momoko hunched over and screamed into her hands, bouncing on her toes and shuffling in her seat. Her heart wouldn't slow down; she couldn't stop giggling.
Kuma-sensei ran his hand through his hair, his eyes wide and his teeth clenched. Why had he said that? He never meant to use the girl's given name. It had simply...escaped from him. He took a deep breath and slowly let it out, relaxing and standing upright and putting on a sly smile. It was a simple mistake on his part, but she had eaten it up. It would only be a matter of time before Akatsutsumi Momoko was completely in his power.
The image of her taking a bite of that delicious pudding, and the memory of that sound she'd made, filled his thoughts. His cheeks grew hot and he came to an abrupt halt, clutching at his chest.
"I must be careful I don't fall under her own spell…" he growled. He quickly threw his teacher facade on as he turned a corner, coming face to face with a student. He smiled and looked down at her. It was her friend: the one called Bubbles.
"Ah, pardon me, Miss. I did not mean to get in your way. Please, go on," he motioned for her to walk past, but the girl simply stared at him. He could tell she was thinking hard, and he recalled how this was the girl who had voiced doubt about his human form. What was her name? He screamed inwardly, struggling to recall what this girl was called in this form.
"No, forgive me for stopping you like this, Kuma-sensei. Um...we haven't met, my name is Gotokuji Miyako, I'm a friend of Momoko-san's," she introduced herself with a polite bow.
Gotokuji! That was her name. She was a junior member of the student council. Yes, of course, Kuma-sensei thought with a nod.
"It is a pleasure to meet you. It is an honor to meet one of Akatsutsumi-san's friends. She speaks of you often," he said with a bow. "I apologize, but I must be going. If you'll excuse me,"
"Actually. Forgive me, Kuma-sensei, but I need to speak with you," Miyako said, reaching out to him as he began to walk away. Kuma-sensei snarled inwardly. He wanted to return to reading this tome! He was about to discover the identity of Sailor V…
"Of course, Gotokuji-san, how can I assist you?" he offered with a polite smile.
"Kuma-sensei...Momoko-san has told me so much about you. I know you're a very smart man," she began. Kuma-sensei felt himself puffing up with pride. That quickly deflated when she fixed him with a stern look, "So I'm sure you're well aware of Momoko-san's feelings for you,"
"I'm sorry, Gotokuji-san?" he asked, caught off guard.
"Momoko-san is a very passionate and...and loving girl. She's always trying to give her heart away, without thinking of the consequences," Miyako explained. She was clutching at the hem of her skirt so tight, her knuckles were turning white, "I know you're aware of it! Momoko-san's crush on you!"
Kuma-sensei cleared his throat, slipping his hand into his pocket. He hadn't expected such forwardness from this one. She had frozen more than once when facing his aspects. But, though he could see the uncertainty and fear behind her gaze, so too could he feel her determination.
"Yes...I am not ignorant to Akatsutsumi-san's feelings, Gotokuji-san," he admitted.
"Do you feel the same way?" Miyako asked directly.
Did he feel? The thought was laughable! He, the god of destruction! The embodiment of evil! What a foolish question! What a laughable notion!
Kuma-sensei sighed and scratched his head.
"That's a complicated answer, Gotokuji-san," he replied, "I would not be lying in saying that I do care for Akatsutsumi-san's feelings. Yes, we've only just met, but she is a charming girl. I want only what is best for her, whatever that may be."
"Kuma-sensei...I've seen Momoko-san hurt more times than I can count. If you truly want to protect her, you need to let her know this has to stop. I know it's tempting to let her play out her fantasy...but, when it's over, when you leave, she's going to be devastated," she took a step forward, bowing again, "Please, Kuma-sensei,"
What was this tugging in his chest? This child's words meant nothing to him. It was his intention to lead Blossom away from her friends and then, once she was surrounded by darkness on all sides, to destroy her. The pain she would feel at his absence would be nothing to what he had in store for her. He did not wish to break her heart, no, he intended to tear it from her.
All the same, his plan relied on the girl's foolish feelings.
"Gotokuji-san, I...truly am sorry that you feel I am a danger to Akatsutsumi-san," Kuma-sensei went silent, glancing back toward the library. He closed his eyes and let out the breath he'd been holding, "Though I am surrounded by wonderful people every day, my peers and students, I travel so often, I must admit I feel a certain...disconnect. A loneliness that nags at my very being. I'm never in one place for too long, so I don't have many...friends to speak of. Akatsutsumi-san is, as you say, a wonderful and loving girl. Her friendship means more to me than I can put into words. I don't wish her any harm," he assured her.
Miyako slowly smiled and nodded.
"I understand...she does have that effect on you... but, Kuma-sensei," the smile vanished from her lips and her eyes took on a fierceness that even Bubbles lacked, "Momoko-san is my dearest friend in the world. If you hurt her, I will never forgive you," she bowed politely and excused herself. She was on her way to the library, Kuma-sensei noticed.
"Gotokuji-san," he called after her. She turned back, confused. He smiled and raised his hand to wave goodbye, "Those troubles the student council was having with the fireworks show? I've made arrangements, your show can proceed as you envisioned it," he told her.
"O-oh...thank you very much, Kuma-sensei," Miyako stuttered, biting her lip and bowing once more. She excused herself, thanking him once more, and hurried to the library. Kuma-sensei smirked and turned. Flipping open Momoko's manga, he made his way to the faculty office.
How easily human alliances could be swayed by simple favors.
It was after school. Momoko and Miyako were waiting on the steps for Kaoru. The three had another training session scheduled at the Tokyo City Research Center. For some reason, though, Kaoru was taking her time.
"It's Tuesday, so she doesn't have any club practices," Miyako pointed out, glancing at the readout on her phone.
"Yeah and tomorrow is Showa Day! We need to plan what we're going to do with our day off!" Momoko exclaimed. She sighed and rolled her eyes, "I know the responsible thing to do would be to train, but we don't get many days off! We need to get together and do something fun!"
Miyako giggled and nodded, a grin on her face, "That's right! I have a few things I need to finish, but that shouldn't take more than an hour tonight. Oh! We could always see a movie. I don't even remember the last time I went to the theater…"
"I know! Miracle Fighting S has a new movie out!" Momoko exclaimed, "Miyako-chan, you have to come see it with me! We can bring Kaoru-chan too!"
"Momoko-san...you still like him after we met him?" Miyako commented, recalling the less than heroic man behind the mask.
"You don't understand! It's a new generation, Miyako-chan. They've completely rebooted the series and this is the first big movie! Okay, so-" before Momoko could launch into an explanation of every last detail to the Miracle Fighting S reboot, Kaoru finally stepped out the door. Miyako started to call out to her, but noticed her boxing gloves and the stressed look on her face.
"Kaoru-san! You...are you going somewhere?" she asked. Momoko turned and gasped.
They had never seen Kaoru look so stressed out! Her eyes were wide and her jaw was clenched. Even from a distance, they could hear her sucking air through her teeth.
"Kaoru-chan?" Momoko asked.
"This isn't good," Kaoru finally hissed, shutting her eyes and digging her hands into her hair, "I'm not ready!" she shouted, throwing her boxing gloves at the ground. With a scream, she threw her book bag as hard as she could, nearly knocking another student off their bike.
"Kaoru-san, please calm down. Tell us what's going on," Miyako asked in a soft voice, reaching out and touching the tomboy's arm. Kaoru pulled away, snatching her boxing gloves and throwing them over her shoulder again.
"Those dirty, rotten...no good pieces of shit!" she spat. Taking a long deep breath, she forced it out and turned to the other two, "They moved our match with Osaka up to Thursday! It wasn't supposed to be for another month!"
"Oh my…" Miyako murmured.
Momoko looked back and forth between the two of them, confusion clear on her face.
"A...boxing match? Is...that bad? You're a great boxer, Kaoru-chan," she assured her with a grin. She yelped when Kaoru screamed and threw her gloves down again, "You should probably stop doing that…" Momoko whispered.
"I'm good, but this guy is...we've never beat Osaka, okay? And worse...this guy, the guy I'll be fighting? He's never lost a match. Not even once!" She crossed her arms, grinding her teeth. That's when they realized it wasn't just stress. For the first time, they were seeing Kaoru truly afraid.
"You don't think you can beat him?" Momoko whispered.
"Not this soon...I've been studying tapes of him and...I just...I'm sorry! I can't go to the Research Center! I have to...I have to do something to figure out how I'm going to survive this Thursday…" she grabbed two big handfuls of her hair and took a shaky breath, letting it out noisily.
"Kaoru-san, it's alright. This is important to you. We'll support you, right, Momoko-san?"
"Of course! Kaoru-chan, I know you can beat this guy!" Momoko exclaimed.
Kaoru nodded, muttering a small thanks under her breath.
"I'm gonna hit the gym...I'll...once this is over, I'll put in a hundred and ten percent, alright?"
"That's fine...just, Kaoru-san, don't strain yourself," Miyako reminded her. Kaoru shook her head, rushing back to the school. Miyako sighed and gathered up Kaoru's thrown bookbag. Slipping it over her shoulder, she got on her phone.
"I'll text Ken and let him know it's just us, Momoko-san," she said.
Momoko was still staring at the door as Kaoru disappeared inside. She bit her lip and quickly turned, nodding to Miyako. Kaoru would be fine, right? They called her the Unstoppable Matsubara for a reason.
"Papa...I mean, Professor! Miyako texted and said it was just going to be the two of them. It sounds like Kaoru-san is really stressed about an upcoming boxing match," Ken called, peeking into the study where his father was pooling over countless journals, articles, newspapers and research binders. Professor Utonium nodded, flashing his son a tired smile.
"That's good, Ken! Make sure we have snacks ready for the girls," he said. Ken nodded, turning to leave. He paused at the door.
"Papa? Have you found anything yet?" He asked.
Professor Utonium set aside another book and leaned back, scratching his chin.
"No...I'm starting to wonder if there's anything at all," he mused.
Ken beamed, "Don't worry Professor! We'll find something!"
Professor Utonium chuckled and turned to his son with a thankful smile.
"You're right, thanks Ken," his smile slowly faded after his son left. The Professor tapped his chin, rising from his seat to look through the materials they'd collected. Books on myths, urban legends, folklore, and even ancient history. Nothing had turned up even the slightest hint of Akuma Daimao. Professor Utonium set another book down and was about to leave the room when an old leather journal caught his eye. Strange, he hadn't noticed it before.
The Professor picked up the musty old journal, unclasping the lock and flipping through the worn pages. The first few were blank, almost prompting him to throw it down. That was when he found where the notes started. It was scrawled with shaky penmanship, likely someone who wasn't a native Japanese speaker. The Professor shrugged and returned to his seat.
"My name is Thomas Nigelo, and I am a historian. Born to an Indian mother and British father, I spent many years of my life traveling abroad. When I first laid my eyes on the sight of a village ravaged by war, I became fascinated with history: both the recorded truths and the passed down stories. But, more than this...I became obsessed with those stories that were forgotten. History is a fickle thing, but, one thing is clear. It is told by the victor, while the stories of the defeated are swept aside. I have made it my life's goal to unearth these forgotten stories," The Professor yawned. How had an Indian historian's journal ended up in Japan? And why was it written in shaky Japanese?
"In researching one of my stories, I came across an interesting parchment. It was old, much older than anything in the region, and written in an ancient language I didn't recognize at first. It took me several months, but a colleague was able to determine the language was likely an ancient form of Japanese. I went out of my way to learn Japanese and, have decided to record my findings in that same language," The Professor yawned again, glancing around the room. Was it somehow darker? He shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. He was likely just tired.
"What I discovered was amazing. From what I've been able to decipher, the parchment is, itself, some kind of journal. Perhaps an old story, telling of an ancient catastrophe. A time where…the land, sea and sky were blotted out in black. It doesn't go into much detail, but if I can find more to the story...perhaps it will tell me of a disaster time forgot? Or maybe...something even more fascinating!" The Professor paused and rubbed his eyes. A time when the world was 'blotted out in black?' Perhaps...he turned his head, smiling when he heard a knock on the door.
"Papa, I mean, Professor! Momoko-san and Miyako-san are here!" Ken called.
The Professor chuckled, placing a bookmark in the journal and closing it. He rose up from his chair and stretched.
"I'm coming! I'm coming!" He called. He paused at the door, turning back to the journal. He blinked and shook his head. Maybe it was his imagination...but for a second he could have sworn he saw a black light surrounding the journal. Chuckling and assuring himself he was just tired, the Professor shut the light off and left his study.
Miyako reveals the big news behind the upcoming Golden Week festival to the others. Meanwhile, Kuma-sensei and Momoko try to find out more about each other. When she finally meets him face-to-face, Miyako has a heated talk with Kuma-sensei.