A/N: I appreciate the encouraging reviews, faves, and follows, everyone! They let me know I'm doing a well and worthwhile story, so thank you.
Disclaimer: "Majisuka Gakuen" is property of Yasushi Akimoto, TV Tokyo, Dentsu, etc.
Chapter 3: Opponent's Move
The shining sun in the sky was a stark contrast to the way Maeda Atsuko was feeling; and instead of possibly lightening her mood, the sun's radiance was more of a bother. She had only been at Hope Reform School a short while but already some dangerous characters were revealing themselves to her – and she was not sure what to do about them.
"Acchan, that's a flower!"
Maeda came out of her reverie and spotted the unearthed flower in her gloved hand. The students were supposed to be crouching about, weeding the gardens, but Maeda's absent mind had caused her to pluck a flower instead.
Another discovery came to mind and she looked beside her. "Acchan?" Maeda repeated.
Peace regarded Maeda with a slight apologetic expression. "Is it okay if I call you that?"
There was another person months ago who had decided to call her by a nickname. Maeda turned away and said, "Do what you like."
Peace gently smiled and took the flower from Maeda's hand. "Here." She made the hole larger where the flower had been and placed it in the soil. "Healthy plants can be replanted as long as they have their roots."
Maeda watched as Peace carefully covered the roots with earth, playing her words over in her head. She lifted the tied bags that were filled with weeds and straightened. "I'll take these."
Peace gazed up at her and blinked. "Oh – okay. Thank you."
Maeda nodded and left to dispose of the bags.
Peace was watching her go when a girl wearing a scarf and crochet cap squatted next to her. "Who's that girl you were talking to?"
After glancing over her shoulder at the girl, Peace rose and responded, "Maeda Atsuko. She's a newcomer."
Nanashi's forehead wrinkled. "Why are you bothering with a newcomer?"
"We're all here to get better." Peace picked up the open bag Maeda had left behind and turned to Nanashi. "We should try to get along."
A corner of her mouth twisted and Nanashi replied, "Not everyone here thinks that, though."
"Yeah." Peace looked back and found Maeda returning to the garden. "That's why we have to be careful."
- MajiJo Principal's Office -
Nojima Yuriko paced behind her desk as she spoke to the student standing at the other side. "First you transferred from Majisuka Jyogakuen to attend Yabakune Commercial, and now you are transferring from Yabakune back to MajiJo?"
"Yes," the girl meekly answered.
The principal of Majisuka Jyogakuen ceased her pacing and asked with authority, "What is the meaning of this indecisiveness?"
The girl had anticipated this line of questioning when the principal called her in – and although her answer was prepared she also meant every word of it:
"I transferred to Yabakune because a MajiJo senpai was going there; but that senpai actually loves MajiJo, and so do I."
Yuriko stood in place for a moment, appraising the student in front of her and her answer. She breathed in and said, "Good. As long as you have that attitude you are welcome at Majisuka Jyogakuen. I hope you won't be changing your mind again."
She shook her head and the principal let her go.
Once she was outside the office, the girl's shoulders sagged in relief.
"You'd better be careful," said a voice from behind.
The girl jumped and staggered as she spun around. Her movements were strangely awkward sometimes for someone named Dance.
A little ways down the corridor stood Nezumi, leaning against the wall. "The principal may have accepted you back, but others here won't be so forgiving."
"W-What about you?" Dance stammered. "You were scheming with Shibuya-san to bring down MajiJo."
Nezumi pushed off the wall and walked toward her. "I'm well aware of how others see me and I don't care." She briefly looked Dance up and down. "I'm surprised you left Yabakune without receiving a beating."
Dance shrunk back and avoided meeting Nezumi's gaze. "Shibuya-san took care of it."
Her lips quirked upward. "Is that the power of friendship?" Nezumi dryly queried.
Dance blinked in confusion. "Friends… well…" She fidgeted with her nails and didn't know how to respond.
"Shibuya-san isn't here now though," Nezumi interjected. "You should learn to watch yourself." She walked back up the direction she had come from and left Dance alone in the corridor.
- Barefoot Society Clubroom -
The war between MajiJo and Yabakune had come to a head at the abandoned office building. Yabakune had gathered reinforcements from other schools, but despite their numbers the students of MajiJo had held their own. Eventually Maeda arrived to face off against Shibuya – but when the time came the former Queen could not bring herself to do what she had wanted during her time at Yabakune.
"That Shibuya!" Mariyagi kicked over a table. "She really was unreliable after all!"
"She was a MajiJo student through and through." Sanchoku looked down at the armchair Shibuya formerly sat in.
"Maeda this, Maeda that – we should have overthrown her when we had the chance." Comeback restlessly paced around the room.
The sounds of a struggle and two girls shouting grew steadily louder from behind the curtained entrance.
Mayuge looked over her shoulder. "We still have some MajiJo pests here."
"What are you doing!?"
"Get your hands off me!"
Two lolitas were dragged into the clubroom, each flanked and held at the arms by a Yabakune students. The two glared at the four girls who stood at the head of the room.
Mayuge paced toward the Sanshou Sisters Twin Blade. "You two are former MajiJo students."
"Yeah, former!" Love-tan fiercely retorted.
"We didn't transfer back to MajiJo because we're Yabakune students now," Myao declared.
Mariyagi yanked the lolitas by the front of their uniforms and threatened, "If you really want us to believe that we're going to need more proof."
- Rappappa Clubroom -
The room was not vacant when Otabe walked in. Shaku was sitting on the side bench with her fingers laced, elbows resting on her knees. She looked up when the president arrived and she moved her hands to her lap.
"What's the matter?" Otabe courteously inquired.
Shaku hesitated before responding, "The idea of fighting Center." Her musings were not characteristic of a Queen but she knew the president would understand.
Otabe sat beside her on the bench. "You're not having second thoughts, are you?" The tone she used was not one of warning but concern.
"No, it's just…" Shaku felt almost pathetic about what she was to say next. "I understand that there's always someone stronger, but I'm sure that Center is stronger than I am without having to fight her." She wasn't afraid of facing Center. That wasn't quite it; but compared with her own ability, Shaku's outcome appeared certain.
Then she heard Otabe's reply:
"Do you remember what I said? Give them everything you've got. If you don't at least do your best you'll be dissatisfied regardless of the result."
The unease billowing inside Shaku subsided with Otabe's guidance. The most evident path to take had not been apparent to her; but because Otabe said it Shaku felt more confident. She wondered if she could have come to the same conclusion when she had been student council president. Shaku sat up and smiled. "Otabe, it's a good thing you're president."
Otabe reached out and placed a kind hand over Shaku's.
- MajiJo Classroom 2-C -
"I think it went alright as a second fight," said Kanburi.
"Sort of chaotic though," Tsuri put in.
Team Fondue's Human Missile was meant for the members of Team Under – but when the latter scattered Lemon instead crashed onto the countertop and her teammates tripped over the surrounding stools.
Toshima added, "They really didn't like it when we accidentally knocked over their picture of Shaku-san."
After they had untangled themselves Team fondue ran around with Team Under, kicking, punching, and tackling one another. There was also a miniature game of tug-of-war when Toshima attempted to use the blown-up image of Shaku as a shield.
"And what was with the exercise machine?" said Docchi. "They don't seem the type to use that kind of thing."
Team Under had pulled on the photo with so much effort, that when the board slipped out of Fondue's hands, Under stumbled backward and struck themselves on the machine.
"Well, a victory's a victory. Let's celebrate!" Lemon picked up a dish of red bean sticky rice and prepared to tip it into the cheese fondue – until someone interrupted.
"You dip anything into that pot?" Standing behind Team Fondue with her arms lightly folded was a haughty Manamana.
Docchi rolled her head back and frowned. "What business is it of yours?"
"That's funny, coming from a group that butted into my business with Team Under," Manamana retorted.
"They happened to also be in our way," replied Tsuri.
Kanburi tilted her chin. "Now we're a step closer to Rappappa."
Manamana raised an eyebrow. "You want to be in Rappappa?"
"Yeah, so what?" said Toshima.
Manamana considered the group for a moment. "If you eat that sekihan with cheese fondue I'll send you to the infirmary," she primly said before leaving the classroom.
Team Fondue looked at the fondue pot, then at the dish of red sticky rice.
"Doesn't she mean, 'if you eat that sekihan with cheese fondue it'll send you to the infirmary'?" Toshima said.
Puzzled, Tsuri asked the others, "Wait, if that's the case then why are we eating it?"
"Because we're celebrating," Kanburi supplied.
"It'd be bad to get sick, though," reasoned Docchi.
Lemon grabbed a spatula and briskly assured them, "It'll be fine, it's fine," and pushed the rice into the pot.
"Wait – !"
"…ah…" They watched as the sticky rice sunk into the cheese fondue.
- Elsewhere within MajiJo -
Shaku trudged down the stairwell thinking over what she should do. Thanks to Otabe she had renewed her will to fight, but she was uncertain when she should. If the hierarchy went from weakest to strongest, and Center worked her way up, it would stand to reason that Shaku would be her first opponent. She couldn't keep her fellow Queens waiting in the wings too long.
Before she reached the plateau Shaku noticed a group of girls huddled there together. They had bandages and bruises on their faces, so they had obviously been injured. "What happened to you guys?"
The girls raised their eyes to her.
"Shaku-nee," Anime softly murmured.
Rice lowered her gaze. "We tried to protect Rappappa."
Shaku tensed, her mind honing on one person. "Was it Center?"
"No," answered Jumbo. "Team Fondue."
"They claimed they weren't doing it for those two but they'd still be their underlings if they succeed," said Showa.
This information was unexpected. Rappappa had been under the impression that the Tsu Alliance had fallen apart. The ones wanting to overthrow the wind instruments club should have only been Center and Nezumi. The possibility that the pair may have regained followers solidified their position.
Shaku's quickened pace down the stairs got Team Under's attention.
Anime straightened up and cried, "Shaku-nee! Where are you going?"
Pausing at the base of the stairs, Shaku responded, "To get more screen time."
- Still within MajiJo -
Wandering the halls of a yankee school might not be a logical thing to do. There was no telling what kind of trouble one could find oneself in – but Dance couldn't think of where to go. At first she had sat in math class, but then was called on by Kuuki-sensei for a question she didn't know the answer to. She left a while afterward. The looks from students who knew she had temporarily transferred to Yabakune did not help in encouraging her to stay.
When Shibuya was at MajiJo it was easy for Dance to know where she should be – nearby for the Queen to call on. Left to her own devices, Dance could only walk the halls, once in a while breaking into a fit of dancing.
During once such bout of dance, someone yanked her headphones off and pushed Dance to one side. "You're blocking the hallway." Manamana appeared annoyed, but her expression changed when she recognized the girl she had shoved. "… You're Shibuya-san's minion."
Dance gulped and said, "My name is Dance."
"Ahh, that's right." Manamana studied Dance's uniform. "So you've come back to MajiJo, then. Although unlike some people, I never left." Her last sentence exuded an air of superiority.
Dance blinked and naively replied, "Are you talking about Myao and Love-tan?"
Manamana's temper flared. "You're really annoying."
"Sorry," Dance responded with an awkward grin. "Sometimes that happens."
Dance's head tilted back with the force of Manamana's punch. "Ah-!" She put a hand to her nose and felt the drip of blood while Manamana flounced past her. "Ehhh? Why does this still happen?" Dance whined. She gingerly touched her nose and thought of the times Shibuya had inflicted pain on her, and now Manamana – but the familiar infliction also felt like an uncanny comfort.
- MajiJo Inner Courtyard -
Shaku found Center sitting on a bench in the school's inner courtyard. She was reading a book with a beige cover and completely disregarding the presence of a Queen before her.
"Center," Shaku called out.
The second-year student peered over her book at her.
Shaku stood with the posture of both a yankee and an ex-student council president. "You want the top, right?"
Center shut her book, placing it on the bench before rising to her feet. Sounding mildly exasperated, she asked, "What is this?"
"I'm challenging you," answered Shaku.
The fire that would burn when Center was in a brawl lit. She smiled and said, "So you want to be the first to go?"
Maintaining her position, Shaku replied, "I don't mind the order as long as I get my screen time."
Center smirked and slowly raised her fists, setting herself into a fighting stance. "Then bring it on, ex-student council pres."
Shaku let loose a battle cry and sprinted forward. She aimed a front kick at Center which the other girl caught and counterattacked with her own kick. Shaku stumbled back and Center chased her, delivering a blow to the side of her face.
Meanwhile Team Under was huddled by the windows, surveying the tussle after having trailed their upperclassman. They watched as Shaku weaved between the uneven bars, attempting to use them to interfere with Center's rhythm. Her method did little to stop Center from grabbing onto one of the bars and using it to swing her body around to kick Shaku out. It was quickly becoming apparent that Shaku was not a match for Center, but Team Under watched on as Shaku admiringly refused to give up.
Shaku ran to one of the benches to put it between herself and Center. They faced each other, playing a game of cat and mouse from side-to-side, until Shaku hauled herself over the back of the bench and launched at Center. Her extended fist caught Center in the shoulder and on collision both girls fell to the ground.
They clung to each other's arms and grappled as they got back on their feet. Center held Shaku steady and kneed her in the stomach. When Shaku doubled over, an elbow to the shoulder blade sent her back into the dirt.
She rolled onto her back, wheezing, and wearily gazed up at Center. Shaku noted a couple of bruises on the other girl's face. It satisfied her to know that although Center won, she was not coming away unscathed. With a tired smile she said, "You really are a wall."
"Hah?" Center bewilderedly intoned.
Still smiling, Shaku replied, "It means you're stronger."
Center composed herself and said, "Of course I am. I'll take the top of Rappappa with this strength." She glanced toward Team Under and the group shied away behind the window. Center retrieved her book and exited the courtyard, leaving Team Under to take care of a beat but contented Shaku.
- Hope Reform School -
When Maeda was called to the visiting room she couldn't think of who might be waiting. Her father had already visited a few days ago, and there were several students from MajiJo who might want to pay her a visit. A few names passed through her mind before she crossed the threshold.
A number of round tables and accompanying chairs were dispersed throughout the room, some occupied and some not. One girl with bushy hair sitting alone at a table waved an arm in the air when she saw Maeda walk in.
A bit of the weight Maeda had been feeling in her chest lifted at the sight of the first friend she made at MajiJo. "Daruma…" She sat across from her and Daruma pushed a steaming package between them on the table.
"I brought some takoyaki to share," she said in a cheery voice.
Maeda languidly gazed at the set of battered octopus balls. "I'm not really hungry."
"Oh…" Daruma quieted for a moment before perking back up. "What's this place like?"
"… It's been challenging." In more ways than one, thought Maeda.
Daruma nodded and her expression grew contemplative. "If I had stayed by your side instead of going off to train, maybe this wouldn't have happened."
Maeda looked up at her. No matter what it might cost Daruma, she had always wanted to look out for Maeda after she had helped her out of a pinch with Team Hormone. "We each chose a certain path for our own reasons," she murmured. "This is simply happens to be my result."
Daruma bit the inside of her lip. "Everyone's thinking about you. If you get lonely, just think about us thinking of you."
Being subjected to reform school could make anyone forlorn, but problematic faces showing up made Maeda's situation more complicated. Even if it was only a short reprieve, this visit from one of her friends, representing many, cleared some of the clouds in her heart. Maeda nodded, a hint of a smile touching her face. She picked up a toothpick and poked it into one of the takoyaki.
- A town side street -
Team Hormone passed around a tray of takoyaki as they walked down a side street.
Unagi picked a takoyaki with her chopsticks and handed the tray to Bungee. "Should we have gone with Daruma?"
"Nah, give those buddies some personal time," Bungee replied as she chose a takoyaki of her own.
Akicha relieved her of the tray and asked, "Hey, is it okay to let Daruma be in the Rappappa clubroom when she's not a member?"
"Traditionally no, but Otabe doesn't seem to have a problem with it," Wota answered, and handed the remainder of the takoyaki to Mukuchi. "Plus there's someone who often comes around when she's not welcome."
"You mean Nezumi?" Mukuchi said as she took the second-last takoyaki.
Wota gazed on ahead as they walked through the darkening street. "If Center's doing all the physical work, then what is she up to?"
Mukuchi glanced at her teammates' backs before gobbling the remaining takoyaki.
- Hospital -
The hand reaching for the door flinched when she head other voices from within the room. It had been a while since she had last spoken to her comrades, and hadn't expected she would be faced with them in one place like this. Still, she wasn't going to back down now that she was here, and the security guard's suspicious looks were getting on her nerves. She pulled back on the door and entered.
The girls in the room were smiling and conversing amongst themselves, but stopped when they saw who was at the door.
Shibuya stepped inside and closed the door behind her. "You're all here. This'll make it more convenient, then." She steadily looked at the group of four girls and said, "I dropped out of Yabakune."
There was a moment of pause, and then to her surprise, the girls smiled at one another.
"We thought you would," said Sado.
Shibuya relaxed her posture. "Living seriously is pretty difficult," she said as she joined the others at Gekikara's bedside.
"That's right!" Torigoya clapped her hands. "Do want to work with me and Black at the massage parlor?"
Shibuya's nose wrinkled at the mere thought. "Are you serious?"
"It'll be great!" Torigoya was getting excited at the thought of working together with her friends. "Gekikara, when you graduate you can join us too."
"She would likely make clients more tense than relaxed," said Black.
Gekikara grinned. "That could be interesting."
"Hey, who do you think will have to mend those clients if something happened?" Sado interjected with half-hearted severity.
They broke out into laughter that filled the room. Even after graduation; after Yabakune; after everything, they were still friends and Yuko's Rappappa. Surely their laughter could even be heard by their treasured president.
- Elsewhere in town -
Manamana was on her way home, taking the usual pathway, when it happened. Two lolitas emerged from around the corner, hiding their malice behind a façade of innocence.
"You're finally back on your feet?" Myao noted with some amusement. "We'll soon change that."
Love-tan mockingly inquired, "Do you think it counts if the shoes are from the same person?"
Myao played along and said, "They won't care as long as it's a new pair."
Manamana's fingers twitched, the resentment she held against them bubbling. "Why are you still with Yabakune? Shibuya-san isn't a student there anymore."
"Exactly," Love-tan responded as she strolled behind her.
"Shibuya-san is no longer a student so we can make our own choices about where we want to be – just as we have been." Myao daintily held the handles of her purse between her fingers. "So as members of the Barefoot Society, we'll be needing your shoes!"
The purse hit the ground and Myao punched Manamana in the jaw, causing her to stagger backward and be grabbed under the arms by Love-tan. While she held Manamana, Myao struck her in the face again and again before Manamana countered by kicking backward into Love-tan's shin.
Love-tan cried out and let go of her, allowing Manamana to thump Myao in the stomach and follow it with a tackle to the ground. Manamana got another punch in as they struggled against one another, but was then forced to roll off Myao when Love-tan kicked her in the ribcage.
Manamana only had a second of rest prior to Love-tan dragging her to the side and kicking her legs. Myao joined her assault on their former teammate and kicked Manamana in the arm.
"Don't get any ideas." Myao talked down to Manamana. "You're only one-third against two-thirds of the original Sanshou Sisters."
"We beat you once and we'll easily do it again," said Love-tan, and she prepared to swing in a solid kick – until someone threw her body weight against her and Love-tan knocked into Myao.
The Sanshou Sisters Twin Blade tumbled to the ground and immediately started cursing.
"You idiot, don't push me over!" Myao yelled at Love-tan.
"Idiot!?" Love-tan barked back.
Manamana's eyes were fixed on the girl who had come to her assistance. "You…?"
Having managed to shove the Sanshou pair out of the way, a flustered Dance looked at Manamana and said, "H-Hey! What are you doing getting beat up by them again?"
Manamana stared at her. "Are you stupid?"
"Eh?" Dance blinked.
"Ahh, it's Shibuya-san's right-hand girl." Back on her feet, Myao circled Dance with an appraising gaze. "The one who left to go back to MajiJo."
"You left without taking a proper sending-off gift, but we'll be happy to give it you now," Love-tan said with a none-too innocent grin.
Dance nervously chuckled and waved her hands. "That's not necessary."
"We insist!" Myao exclaimed, and the two girls pitched forward.
Dance cringed back and hurriedly pointed behind them. "Shibuya-san!"
Love-tan leered. "You're naïve if you think we'd fall for –"
Manamana smacked their heads together from behind. The two lolitas faltered from the pain and Dance skittered between them to reach Manamana.
"You…!" Love-tan grabbed Dance by the scruff of her uniform and pinned her against the wall.
Myao roundhouse kicked Manamana in the side and seized her by the shoulder to her force her next to Dance. From her bag she extracted a pink pair of handcuffs which she locked onto Dance and Manamana's wrists. "It's not the same as being handcuffed to park equipment but it'll do," she said with a smug smile.
Manamana retaliated with a swift kick to Myao's front.
"You're still being obstinate after getting cuffed?" Love-tan moved in to punch her, but the contact she made was not with Manamana but Dance. "You're in the way!" Love-tan struck Dance twice more until her victim was yanked away, and she cried when her fist hit the wall.
The handcuffs jangled and dug into their wrists as the girls stumbled away.
Manamana turned to Dance and exclaimed, "What are you doing?"
Giving her a meek look, Dance answered, "I'm not much of a fighter, but being with Shibuya-san has at least made me somewhat resilient."
Manamana opened her mouth to reply, but Dance was kicked to the ground and she got pulled down with her before she could form a sentence.
"Don't get so full of yourself," Myao bitterly spat. Love-tan joined her and together they kicked at the girls on the ground.
The pain was getting bad for Manamana, who had already received a number of blows earlier. Through the aches, she felt a tugging on her wrist and realized Dance was trying to get them away. She turned over and over, the two of them rolling back until they had created some distance and struggled to their feet.
"If this is the situation then I guess I have no choice," Manamana said between breaths. She glanced at the girl she was handcuffed with. "I hope you're ready to dance."
Myao and Love-tan quickly came at them. Manamana swerved to one side to avoid the assault, bringing Dance tottering behind her. She kicked Myao in the backside and Dance mimicked her by doing the same to Love-tan.
"Charge forward," Manamana muttered to Dance, and they dashed forth and tackled the opposing pair.
An explicative or two escaped the lolitas' mouths, in disbelief as they were that a couple of handcuffed weaklings were capable of evading them. Love-tan circled around to the other side, fencing in the cuffed girls between herself and Myao.
Dance and Manamana stood back-to-back, each facing one of their opponents. Both Sisters dashed in at the same time to punch a girl out, but in time so did Dance and Manamana duck to avoid being hit. The lolitas socked one another hard in the cheekbone.
Manamana and Dance shot up, grabbing a Sister each, and swung them around to head butt the other. Sanshou Sisters Twin Blade collapsed in an unconscious heap, their edges dulled and spiciness put out.
The lone standing lolita stooped down and slapped the hat from Myao's head. A pink key fell from underneath which Manamana picked up and put to the keyhole of the locked handcuffs.
"Not much of a fighter, huh?" she said as she undid the cuff around Dance's wrist.
She shrugged and sheepishly said, "I just followed your lead."
Manamana pulled out her cell phone and flipped it open. "A photo to commemorate this day." She aimed the lens at the faces of her former teammates and snapped the shot. She checked the photo on the screen, then pocketed it and turned to Dance. "I guess you really are a MajiJo student now."
A small bubble of what Dance realized was happiness floated within her at those words. It lifted her up and she trailed after a departing Manamana; walking past their opponents' limp forms laying on the concrete ground.
No one saw the hooded girl observing them from a distance.
A/N: I don't know what the particular rules and regulations of a Japanese reform school are like (I did some research but didn't come up with much); but since this is fanfiction and "Majisuka Gakuen," I hope you'll be willing to overlook any irregularities in this regard.