All righty then! Thanks very much to those who reviewed! Hope you enjoy this chapter!
"Keep your leg straight – otherwise you'll lose the power in your kick. There, that's it! Nice job over there, Shindo!"
The gymnasium was filled with the sounds of the karate club in practice, and while Pudding was on the other side of the room helping out a couple of first years, she could still hear Daisuke in the middle of the room giving instruction as he circulated among the pairs.
Pudding was pleased to see that her students were improving. "Yes! That's excellent!" she said happily as they traded punches with each other. "Your form's really gotten a lot better! Keep practicing, and I'll be right back!"
Pudding giggled a little to herself as she hurried over to Daisuke. It was still kind of funny being addressed that way, but she knew that it was important that they saw her as a teacher during practice. She just didn't like to take things very seriously. When they were children, she and Tart used to tease Pai all the time because of his seriousness. It was only when he gave them the death glare that they ever stopped.
Daisuke looked up as Pudding approached. "How are they doing, Fong-san?"
Pudding beamed. "Very nicely! I think we'll definitely be ready in February!"
"I think so too. But we should probably do some smaller tournaments beforehand just so that everyone gets used to how a tournament works. We want them to be prepared for all the procedures." Daisuke surveyed the room again, and Mika's words about how Pudding and Daisuke would look good together flashed in her mind again. She supposed she could understand why someone else would think so.
Daisuke Ryusaki was a relatively tall second year, with a strong build, good posture, and brown hair and eyes. He had been practicing karate since the age of three, yet besides being a second degree black belt, he was also good in school, a member of the Student Government, and for how much he worked had a surprisingly relaxed and friendly attitude toward other people. Pudding had no doubts that he would be able to get into any university he wanted. She had been working with him in the club since they were first years, when the former presidents had been graduating third years and needed to choose two new ones.
This meant that they saw each other almost every day. Not to mention they sometimes met outside of school to talk about the club's activities. Daisuke's mention of the tournaments made Pudding realize they still hadn't decided which ones to attend. The club had a limited budget, even if everyone paid for themselves.
"Can we meet sometime after school to talk about it, Fong-san?"
"That's what I was thinking," Pudding said with a smile. "How about you come to Café Mew Mew, where I work? I'll make sure I get you something for free!"
"That sounds great. Can I come today?"
" Sure, that's – oh, wait, I'm not working today!" I'll be hanging out with Tart this evening. Come to think of it, I should probably let Tart know when I have the meeting with Daisuke-kun so he doesn't think we're out on a date. Wait just a minute…why do I have to explain myself to him? It's not like we're dating either! If he doesn't like it he'll just have to deal with it! Tart's gets jealous way too easy anyway.
"How about tomorrow? I should be there around 4:00. Is that okay?"
"Sure thing." Daisuke smiled. Yes, Pudding could admit, he was attractive…but she wasn't looking for a boyfriend. Her friendship with Tart was closer than anything she could have had with a guy on Earth. Then again, if Pudding were to see him every day…
Pudding shoved the thoughts out of her head. She couldn't think about this right now. The club was still in session, and across the room she could see two students who needed her help. Like the half-monkey she was, she nimbly leapt through the sea of students and landed right on her feet. If only Tart could understand her that easily.
Pudding saw Tart before he saw her, which was surprising given that he was in human disguise. It always took Pudding a second to find him, but knowing he always wore the same clothes and black hat helped. Pudding had bought the hat for him when they started hanging out in places with other humans, and he'd worn it along with the rest of his human garb ever since.
Pudding noticed, with some amusement, that leaning against a statue in the middle of the square, Tart looked like a surly model that should be on the cover of some high-end fashion magazine. Faithful to his usual disguise, his long alien ears were secured under a realistic-looking brown wig, and his black hat was pulled low over his brow. His yellow eyes, having an unusually thin, cat-like pupil, were hidden behind green contacts. He wore the same dark red jacket and black jeans that he'd had during his previous visits.
Tart heard her right away. His face relaxed when he saw her running toward him, and he seemed to like what he saw. Out of her ordinary school uniform, Pudding had put her hair in butterfly clips and was wearing a bright yellow shirt and blue drawstring shorts. Her multi-colored sneakers pounded the cement as she wove through the crowded square.
"I'm heeeeerre!" she announced, stopping short in front of him. Tart's eyes darted toward the clock.
"You're fifteen minutes late," he said, looking slightly pouty. Pudding giggled and gave him a poke in the chest.
"No, you're fifteen minutes early!" she said cheerfully. "Now come on, the arcade's gonna fill up fast if we don't get there soon! I want to beat you at Alien Invasion!"
"Hey, are you trying to say something?" Tart demanded, but Pudding just grabbed him by the arm and started yanking him toward the street. Tart regained his balance, and tried his best not to let Pudding pull him along too enthusiastically, while still making sure she didn't let go. Perhaps it was because Tart spent so much less time on Earth than Pudding, but he seemed to always be afraid that a car was going to hit her, or someone was going to try and kidnap her in the middle of the sidewalk. Then again, maybe the only reason he kept such a firm grip on her was that he wanted everyone else to know she was with him.
"So tell me what's going on at work," Pudding urged him, slowing down a little and falling into step beside him. "Did you only get five days off because it's really busy?"
"No, I only got five days off because Kish is an idiot." Pudding noticed how Tart always became mildly exasperated whenever Kisshu was mentioned. That was one thing at least that Tart and Pai had in common – neither of them really knew how to handle Kisshu went he started acting impulsively and of his own accord. Which was quite often, as Pudding knew from Ichigo's stories.
"Kish-kun and Pai-kun get more time on Earth, don't they?" Pudding asked. Tart nodded.
"Yeah, because they ditched the army and decided to take high-end research jobs," Tart said a little irritably. "Which is why now I'm in charge of all the military operations."
"I'd have thought that Kish-kun would want to keep fighting. He seems like he needs that kind of excitement," Pudding commented.
"Yeah," Tart said. "Except there's-"
"Ichigo," Pudding said. "So he took the job on Earth so he could stay with her for most of the time?"
"Exactly. Which means that most of the data he's collecting sucks. He's supposed to be doing social research – y'know, studying humans – but the only person he studies is Ichigo." Tart started ticking things off on his fingers. "His last report had things like 'How Ichigo Answers the Telephone' or 'How Ichigo Shops for Groceries' or 'How Ichigo Kicks Me in the Face When I Try to Sneak Into the Shower'-"
"He did not say that!" Pudding exclaimed, giggling.
"Yeah, you're right, I made that last one up," Tart admitted, grinning at Pudding's reaction. "But basically the reason this is all Kish's fault is because without his information on humans, we can't start preparing for when we're going to establish formal contact with Earth."
Pudding's eyes widened. "Wow…so you mean your race is really going to try talking to us?"
Tart nodded. "Yeah, that's the plan. Pai's giving us a lot of great information, but Kish is too impulsive and distracted to give us anything useful. And everyone knows Kish is a hero and stuff, so it's not like they're going to fire him or make him take his old job back. But that means that on top of my regular duties, I have to go through all of Kish's footage of Earth and study whatever's in the background that isn't Ichigo and try to gather data around that."
Pudding smiled. It was when Tart talked about work that Pudding could really see how much he had grown. Though he couldn't really say much about being impulsive, he had more of Pai's work ethic and understood a little better than Kisshu that being irresponsible had its consequences. There was no reasoning with Kisshu when Ichigo was concerned – he lived and breathed for her, and her alone. Everything else was cast to the wayside in her presence.
"But the army is doing fine, right? It's been a few years since anyone's attacked your planet."
"That's true. Right now we're just on the defense, and pretty soon our army will be strong enough to go scout out other smaller planets that need help or aren't developed yet. We want to become more powerful so that we can help our neighboring planets in other galaxies." Tart paused and looked down at the sidewalk. "If it wasn't for you guys," he muttered bashfully, "We'd still be living in underground tunnels and starving to death. Ichigo and the rest of you are the reason we're all doing okay."
They were both silent for a moment as they recalled the Final Battle, the one against Deep Blue that had almost destroyed Earth. The Mew Aqua had been the key to restoring both planets, and taking it back to their planet had made Kish, Pai, and Tart national heroes and launched their long and successful military careers. Now, years later, Pai and Kish had stepped down to live a quieter life on Earth with their respective girlfriends, and Tart had been thrust, rather unwillingly, in the position as Military Chief. His job was extremely important, and Pudding wanted to give Kish a good bump on the head for giving Tart extra work.
But then again, she sort of…envied Kish. He loved freely and with his whole heart. He'd stepped down from the power and prestige of his old job to be a lower-ranked scientist, all to be with Ichigo. It wasn't like Tart was able to leave his job at this point, but still, Pudding wondered if a quiet life on Earth would really be enough for him anyway. Tart was too restless – he was a lot like Kish in that he had a short attention span and liked to have a lot of things going on at once. When Tart and Pudding hung out together away from other humans, he habitually liked to take out his weapon – the silver and black clickty-clack – and twirl it around his fingers.
Pudding sighed. A normal Earth life would be boring for Tart. He was really good at what he did, and she wanted him to be successful. Wishing that he were around more often would just be for her own comfort, so that maybe, if she were sure that he wasn't going to leave…she could let herself take that final step and fall in love with him.
"We're here, Pudding."
"Oh!" Pudding was startled. They'd finally arrived at the arcade. Tart was looking down at Pudding curiously.
"Hey, what were you thinking about just now?"
"Oh…it was nothing." Pudding quickly looked up at him and beamed. "You'd better buy a lot of tokens, Tart! I'm not leaving until I beat you!"
"Ooooohhh…I can't believe I lost," Pudding groaned, slapping her hand over her eyes. Tart let out a laugh.
"Told you so, didn't I? Those games are so primitive, it's sad."
"But it was four points!" Pudding protested, whipping her hand away from her face. It was around seven and they were heading to the nearest McDonalds for a cheap dinner before Tart took her home. "Only four points! I would've beaten you if you hadn't gotten out the spare pistol!"
"That's why it's called a spare," Tart said. As they strolled together on the sidewalk, a couple of guys passing by looked at Pudding and exchanged interested expressions. Pudding heard Tart give a little growl from the back of his throat.
"Tart?" she asked, "Are you okay?"
Just as they were about to pass, Tart's arm swooped down around Pudding's shoulders and he pulled her close to his side, effectively snatching her out of the boys' path. Pudding had to steady herself against Tart's chest.
"Stupid, scrawny little-" Tart didn't finish his sentence. Pudding couldn't help but feel a little exasperated.
"They weren't doing anything, Tart!" Pudding protested.
"Yeah, that's what you think," Tart muttered angrily. Pudding squirmed under his arm.
"They just glanced at us, it was only for a second-"
"You don't know about the Inner Mind Theatre, do you, Pudding?" Tart demanded. Pudding blinked.
"The 'Inner Mind Theatre'? What's that?"
"It's where Earth guys have all their gross little fantasies about the girls they see," Tart said, looking disgusted. "I see it on the footage all the time – well at least, right before Kish drops the camera to go threaten the guy that's staring at Ichigo. But you can see it in their eyes! They look at a girl and imagine her in some kind of weird cosplay costume, or a swimsuit, or confessing her love to him even if they've never even met-"
"So are you saying," Pudding interrupted, "That you've never had a day dream about a pretty girl in a swimsuit?"
"Never," Tart said staunchly. Pudding stretched up so that she was just inches away from his face.
"Never? Not even about me?"
"P-P-Pudding!" Tart's face flushed and his voice came out in a high-pitched sputter. "I-I wouldn't do that! I mean, it's not like – it's just-"
"You have, haven't you?" Pudding crossed her arms and pretended to be offended. "I'll bet you've thought about me getting dressed too."
"NO! I swear, that's not true!"
Tart had leaped away from Pudding as if he'd been burned, and was now looking wildly at anything but her, as if her words had just pushed his brain into overdrive and now, at this exact moment, he was trying desperately not to think about her getting dressed or wearing a swimsuit.
Pudding laughed as she grabbed the door to the McDonalds. "You are so transparent, Tart. Maybe you need to start hanging out with Pai-kun a bit more."
"Hey, Pai's not that hard to figure out," Tart said, calming down a little as they stepped into the warm restaurant. "He basically just thinks that everyone in the universe who isn't him is an idiot. That's why he always gets that blank look on his face. Hey, I'll pay for you," Tart said suddenly, stopping Pudding from taking out her wallet.
Pudding was surprised. "Are you sure? I can cover myself."
"Yes," Tart said stubbornly. Pudding gave him a suspicious stare, but decided that she'd bide her time and find out what was going on with him later. Slowly, she turned back toward the counter and approached the cashier.
"Good evening, what can I get for you today?" the man at the register asked. Pudding scanned the menu quickly, her eyes lighting up on the Value Menu. The least she could do was spend Tart's money wisely.
"I'll have the Value Number 1 with a cherry Coke," Pudding said.
The cashier punched in the order. "And you?" he asked Tart.
"The Number 3 with Sprite," he said, sounding surprisingly unfriendly. Pudding glanced over at him with embarrassment.
"Tart, seriously!" she hissed. But Tart wasn't listening – instead, he stepped up to the counter, practically blocking Pudding off with his body, and silently handed the cashier the money, which the cashier also took from him silently. Pudding struggled to see around Tart's body what was going on between the two of them. Tart didn't stop glaring at him for an instant. The cashier gave Tart back his change.
"Your number is twenty five," he said in a rather flat voice. Tart pocketed his change, and ushered Pudding over to the side without saying anything.
"Tart!" Pudding whispered, "What the heck was that for?"
"They're all the same," Tart muttered. He looked extremely angry for some reason. "Forget my job, I need to come and live down here just so all the nasty perverts keep their eyes off you!"
"Tart, what are you saying? Did you think that guy was staring at me too?"
"Not only that," Tart said furiously. "He was staring at – at – at your-"
"At my what?"
"Y-y-your-" Tart leaned in closer and lowered his voice, vaguely gesturing at the expanse of his own chest, "your mammary glands!"
Pudding's jaw dropped. "He was looking at my boobs?"
Tart's looked both confused and horrified at the vocabulary. "Wh-what?!"
Pudding had covered her mouth and was almost bending over with embarrassment. She was trying to cover her chest with her arms without looking too obvious. "Oh my gosh…that's really…he was…"
The look of horror vanished from Tart's face in an instant at the sound of Pudding's distress.
"Hey, go sit down, Pudding."
"Go sit down. I'll stay here and wait for the food." Tart's authoritative instinct had fired up, and his anger at the cashier had returned. He cast a glare toward the unfortunate man, who was busy taking another customer's order. "He knows you're with me, so he won't try anything stupid."
"O…okay," Pudding hurried to a booth in the back, a few tables away from the restrooms. As she sat down, she could feel herself trembling slightly. This was the first time she'd experienced a guy actually doing something like that. It was like she'd been…violated, somehow, without even knowing it. She hadn't been paying the cashier the slightest attention.
A minute later, Tart came over with the tray and slid in the seat across from her. He still looked on edge.
"Here," he said, shoving the tray towards her. Pudding took her things.
"Thanks," she said. She stared down at her lap. "I guess I'm not very aware of the people around me sometimes."
"Got that right," Tart said heatedly. He tore the wrapping off of his burger and bit off much more than he should have out in public. Some ketchup ended up the corner of his mouth. Coupled with his look of ferocity, he suddenly reminded Pudding of an animal who had just finished ripping into a piece of meat.
She giggled at the image. Tart looked up at her with confusion.
"What is it?"
Pudding grabbed a napkin out of the dispenser. "Stay still," she said, bending forward over the table. "You've got something on your face."
"I can get it-" Tart began to protest, but Pudding was already wiping his face.
"Don't be silly. I like taking care of you," Pudding said. She smiled. "And I guess you take pretty good care of me too, Taru-Taru."
Tart blushed, mumbled something Pudding couldn't understand, and took another monstrous bite out of his hamburger.
Next chapter features the lovely Daisuke-kun and a new guest! Stay tuned for the update! And please send me a review!