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The moment the darkness pierced Hirui’s chest, it was as if time had slowed down. The woman stared as the darkness protruded from her – and yet, it didn’t hurt, it just felt disgustingly invasive, as if someone was touching her somewhere she really didn’t want to be touched. Still in shock, the woman weakly rose her arms to touch the dark mass, and the moment her fingertips brushed against it, she felt a sudden pulse and –

- it grabbed something.

It was as if the darkness had seized the very core of her being and wanted to crush it in its grasp. In that single instant, Hirui’s life flashed before her eyes – the happiness with her parents, meeting Nami and the other Cures, that horrible battle, the years of depression and trauma recovery, coming to Lucente Bay, meeting Tetsuya, becoming a mother…
It pulled and the world snapped back into focus. Hirui let out a gasp – just as there was an infuriated shout.

”DON’T YOU DARE!” Aries screamed as she swooped in, placing a hand to her star brooch. In a flash, her scimitar appeared and with a battle cry, she swung down hard, cleaving the mass of darkness in two, completely destroying the connection between Marfik and Hirui.

“Ruru-chan!” Usami cried out as he ran toward the older woman, hugging her as Hirui took a shaky breath, the older woman clutching her chest. What - what had that been? Was this what Mei and her friends were going up against? Vaguely, she recalled the time Mei had fainted at school and Ushio had brought her home.

"Mei..." Hirui whispered to the red Cure - she wanted to reach up, pull her daughter back, tell her she could still handle this - but as Hirui's gaze fell upon her broken transformation device, her shoulders slumped. There was nothing she could do, was there? Realizing this, the woman's eyes filled with tears. "...please be careful."

Aries paused for a moment, deliberating whether to answer or not - then quietly nodded before turning on her heel, sword still in hand. She pointed the curved blade at Marfik, the red Cure trembling in rage.
”If you want her, you’ll have to go through ME!”

---

OP: "Purikyua ✰ Wish!" – StarSHINE
EPISODE 11 - “Usami's plea! History won't repeat itself!”

---

The Trou Noir let out a fearsome roar as it swung a massive club at Pisces and Virgo, its attack smashing into the school roof as both cures scattered in opposite directions out of the line of fire. As Virgo skidded to a stop, she bit her lip, examining the damage. A sizable crater in the roof, benches and fences ripped apart – if this kept going, they could end up caving in the entire school building… “Pisces!” she called out, alarmed.

But Pisces only let out a grunt, leaping on the Trou Noir’s outstretched arm and running up. Once she reached its shoulder she jumped, soaring forward and kicking out, her heel slamming into the monster’s face. The Trou Noir cried out, head snapping back – before it swung its head back forward with a vengeance, headbutting Pisces hard. The blue cure shrieked, partly in surprise but mostly in pain and flew backward…

“Pisces!”

…but Virgo managed to catch her teammate before she could hurtle painfully into the ground. Virgo gently cradled the other girl to her, mind racing and gritting her teeth as the Trou Noir advanced again. Pisces groaned and shuddered, clinging to Virgo for support – and with the monster getting ever closer, Virgo didn’t know what to do. Aries was off somewhere else and while Virgo had proven her might in battle once before, this new monster was…

“Hey you! Ugly! Yeah, YOU!”

The Trou Noir blinked before looking over, seeing a blonde girl standing in the doorway. Virgo looked over as well – and nearly panicked. Ibuki?! What was Ibuki doing here?

Ibuki didn’t even flinch at the sight of the Trou Noir, straightening her posture as she pointed incriminatingly at the thing – before she paused to pick up a chunk of rubble. “Get outta here an’ stop beatin’ them up!” she demanded before throwing the rock. It flew high and fast, hitting the Trou Noir squarely on the forehead. It barely did anything, akin to a tiny pebble being thrown at a massive elephant, but the sheer courage behind the maneuver had both the Trou Noir and Virgo staring wide-eyed at the blonde.

Pisces, still recovering, had to crack a smile. “Think I get why you like her now.” she mumbled, smirking when Virgo blushed.

"What, y'didn't hear me?!" Ibuki hollered at the Trou Noir, hands on her hips. "I said get outta here!"

"...'course, she's insane too." Pisces added as she forced herself to a sitting position, grimacing.

"No," Virgo answered as she still watched the blonde girl. Though her cheeks were still lightly pink, there was a much different expression in her eyes - utmost admiration. "she's very brave."

Ibuki sauntered forward - just as the Trou Noir stomped down hard on the roof, sending debris flying everywhere. The blonde cried out as a sharp rock struck her, making her see stars, and she clutched her now bleeding head, groaning in pain. The monster roared, making everything shake to and fro and with an angered snarl, the monster swung at the defenseless blonde girl...

"Pretty Cure Floral Strike!"

...only for the Trou Noir to be blasted back, toward the corner of the roof. Virgo rushed in just as Ibuki's knees buckled, and the blonde girl fell safely into the golden cure's arms. "K - a-are you all right?!" Virgo asked, thankfully catching herself before saying Ibuki's last name.

Ibuki only laughed, flinching briefly. "Eheheh, kinda got ahead of m'self, I guess~"

Virgo let out a sigh of relief. "Don't worry, miss, I'll get you somewhere safe!" she assured, still cradling Ibuki to her as she got up to her feet. "Pisces..." she looked over at the blue cure, guilty. Pisces needed her help too, but - but Ibuki was a civilian! It - it was more important to get Ibuki out of danger, right?

But Pisces just grinned, giving her teammate a thumbs up. "Think the worst of it has passed. Just come back, okay?" she winked at the girl, biting back a laugh when Virgo blushed again.

Virgo nodded after a moment, hurrying down the steps that led back to the campus. Most of the hallways were empty now, as were the classrooms - whatever clubs that had been going on had probably dismissed thanks to the panic of the attack. "Maybe the nurse's office is still open..." Virgo mumbled under her breath while Ibuki closed her eyes and rested against her. Gaze flicking down to the injured blonde, Virgo found herself heading instinctively in that direction, and the walk there was done in relative silence.

The nurse's office, as it turned out, was empty - but unlocked. Virgo made her way in and finally let Ibuki down, sitting her on one of the beds. "A-are you sure you're all right?" she stammered, eyes transfixed on the blood trailing down the girl's face. "It looks like it hurts..."

"Ain't nothin' more than a scratch, don't y'worry 'bout that!" Ibuki assured. "Y'gotta go help your friend, right?" she added, and when Virgo nodded, the blonde made a shooing motion with her hands. "Go on then, 'm safe here!"

"Well, o-okay..." There wasn't much more to do then concede defeat, she supposed. "Stay here until the danger's over, all right?"

"Roger that!" Ibuki offered a mock salute, flinching at the pain that shot down her face - but found herself reaching to grab the gold cure's wrist as Virgo turned to leave. Ibuki gaped for a moment, finding her own face heating up just a little, before she unconvincingly laughed it off. "...sorry, sorry! I just - I-I wanted t'know if y'helped some others out. Tiny princess that's a lil smaller than you, green hair with a ribbon? Ah, an' a pigtailed girl with another girl with a cowlick and fwooshy hair." she mimicked Mei's low ponytails before making a fanning motion to express Ushio's hair. When Virgo stared, Ibuki cracked a sheepish grin. "They're my buddies, gotta make sure they're safe, y'know?"

Virgo paused - then nodded again. "They're all okay, don't worry!"

"Okay then, go get 'em!" Ibuki cheered as she ushered Virgo on out. Once the golden cure was down the hall and out of sight, Ibuki sighed in relief before making a grab for the cottonballs and heading for the small sink in the room. As she cleaned off the blood on her face, something occurred to her:
...how had that golden magical girl known where the nurse's office was in the first place...?



With school out for the day, no one would really expect anyone to be in the classrooms, much less the science lab - but with the chaos that had happened outside, the empty room now functioned as a hideout. With the hall quiet, the door to the room opened, just as a certain Chie Tachibana poked her head out to see if the coast was clear. Inwardly, the girl wanted to sigh and hang her head low. The one day she managed to get off from the teahouse and this happened? It was really starting to feel like trouble was following her and the others no matter where they went. They couldn’t even go to the mall in peace and now…

"Chie-nee, is it safe?" Miyo asked, holding her brother and Naori's hands for safety.

Chie frowned, glancing to and fro. "I don't see anyone..."

As the rest of the group worried about safety, however, Naori only felt sick. She'd felt sick to her stomach since the beginning of the attack, and she wasn't sure who she was more worried for - the trio or her new friends. Mei and the others were Pretty Cure, weren't they? That meant they had to be fighting...but why? Naori had left the trio and they shouldn't have been stealing stars -

"You don't deserve to."

- a-ah, that was right. That darkness - Omega - he had done something to them and she needed to help them but how could she help them if she couldn't even help herself and -

"I-it's okay, Naori-chan, don't cry!" Miyo said abruptly, giving the pink haired girl a hug. Naori blinked, startled and humiliated as she realized yet again that she had started crying without realizing it. "Neenee will save us!" she assured, recalling how her mother had shouted at Mei the other day. A Pretty Cure, her sister really was a superhero! "An' Ushio-nee and Sumi-nee an' mama too!"

Naori tried to smile gratefully and thank Miyo for her kindness - when Chie spoke up, shushing the two of them. The older girl and Kouta both peeked out, hearing the faint sound of footsteps from down the hall. Naori felt her stomach twist in apprehension as the footsteps got louder -

"Kousei-san!"

Ibuki blinked, torn from toying with her bandages yet again to see Chie waving from a nearby classroom. “Ah, Tachibana!” They hadn’t spoken much, but she was a friend of Sumire’s right? She remembered seeing the girl at the teahouse anyways. The blonde jogged over and ducked inside. “Ah, Pinkie and her two friends too!”

Naori stared. “P-Pinkie?” she asked incredulously.

“Kousei-san, a-are you all right?!” Chie gasped.

Ibuki waved the girl’s concerns off with a laugh. “What, this?” she asked, pointing to her bandaged head. “Looks way worse than it is, no worries~! Definitely not somethin’ Imma try again though, guess ‘ll leave the crimefightin’ ta the crimefightin’ experts~”

Chie paled as Kouta’s jaw dropped. “You tried to FIGHT?” the boy demanded.

Ibuki’s chest puffed out in pride. “ ‘course I did! S’what a hero would do an’ all!” she grinned, before gasping lightly, slamming her fist into her open palm. “Ah! Have y’guys seen Princess?”

Miyo, Kouta and Naori all looked at each other in confusion. Chie paused for a moment, deliberating. “I haven’t seen Sumire-san since lunch.” It was technically the truth, in any case. Chie resisted the urge to sigh again – she and Sumire talking about the Gardening Club and Sumire’s adorable gushing about Ibuki felt like a lifetime away now.

“Nnn. Maybe she an’ Pigtails an’ Cowlick are all safe then…” Ibuki mused, absently rubbing her head in thought – only to flinch when her hand brushed against her bandaged wound. “Hope so, in any case…”

The group fell into uneasy silence.

Ibuki quirked an eyebrow. “What? I say somethin’ weird?”

Miyo moved to speak – only for Kouta to reach over and put his hand on her shoulder, the young boy quietly shaking his head. Naori tugged at her uniform sleeve uncomfortably while avoiding Ibuki’s gaze, whereas Chie did her best to give Ibuki a placid smile. “They’re worried, I’m sure. Miyo-chan and Kouta-kun care about Mei-san a lot…”

“Ah. Shoot, ‘m sorry.” Ibuki rubbed the back of her neck, offering the two kids a sheepish smile. “But – ‘m sure your big sis Pigtails is a-okay! She’s got a good head on her shoulders, there’s no way she’d end up out there!” she assured, giving the group a cheerful thumbs up.

Somehow, though, it didn’t seem to lift the room’s spirits at all.



CLANG.

Aries gritted her teeth as her sword met Marfik's own sword of darkness for what felt like the hundredth time. No matter how fast the girl thought she was, Marfik was able to fend her off - so this time she steadied her stance, pushing against his block as much as she could. With both fighters in a deadlock, it was really a matter of who would give up first -

- except Aries neglected to think about the fact Marfik wouldn't play fair. As such, she had only seconds to react when Marfik switched up his grip, swinging at the red cure's stomach with a literal underhanded punch. It was too quick to dodge and Aries yelped in pain, staggering backward before she doubled over, breathing erratic.

"MEI-CHAN!"

Aries forced her gaze upward just in time to see Marfik leaping at her, sword poised to surely cleave her skull straight in two and her free hand immediately shot up as if in a last ditch attempt to shield herself -

"P-Pretty Cure Flare Blitz!"

- when a shining, fiery blast erupted from her hand, hitting the caped boy head-on. Aries shut her eyes tight, expecting a pained scream - but it didn't come. Instead, the boy only flew back, causing a crater to form when he landed on the pavement.

Aries rose to her feet, unsteady. He had just tried to hurt her - kill her, even, and yet -

"H-hey, a-are you okay?!"

Silence. Aries wanted to step forward to get closer to the crater but knew better than that. Indecisively, the girl stood there – only to have her instincts proven right a second later, when several tendrils of darkness all whipped around out of the crater, smashing into the ground and into trees. One smacked into school building while another headed straight for the shield dome that had Hirui and Usami safe inside. It cracked against the shield, though wasn’t strong enough to break it and Aries quickly slashed with her sword again, causing the tendril to shatter into nothingness.

“Leave them alone!”

In response, Marfik slowly rose out of the crater, lifted by the strange darkness power he wielded. His body was limp, reminding Aries briefly of a puppet with its strings cut, and though his head lulled and flopped as if he was unconscious, his eyes were indeed open. It was the first time Aries saw his eyes – and she had to back away. There – there was no life in those black and red eyes, nothing but the senseless drive to hurt people. As Marfik got to his feet, Aries quickly stood on guard, the girl still holding her sword.

Marfik’s blank gaze met Aries’s fierce one – and then abruptly his gaze flicked upward as his brows creased lightly in confusion.

Aries looked up too. The blue and gold forms of Pisces and Virgo could be seen on the roof, as well as the fallen form of the Trou Noir. But that wasn’t what got her attention – it was the fact that Pisces and Virgo seemed to be heaving the monster up together. She could almost hear their rousing cry of “One – two - three!” as the Trou Noir was lifted straight up –

- and then flung off the school roof.

Aries watched as Pisces and Virgo leapt after the freefalling Trou Noir – and immediately, the red Cure understood.

“Pretty Cure Aqua Rush!”
“Pretty Cure Floral Strike!”

The two attacks shone bright and shot at the falling Trou Noir and then –

“Pretty Cure Flare Blitz!”

As the three attacks hit the Trou Noir, there was a brilliant burst of light. The monster cried out, swinging around to hit the nearest cure it could - but the Trou Noir only vanished into light before its attack could hit. With the outer body destroyed, all that was left was the Darkness Jar. Overwhelmed by the sheer power on both sides, the jar promptly cracked and shattered...

...but the star that should have returned to its proper owner merely floated up and disappeared to parts unknown.

The three cures landed and faced Marfik, who observed the three of them for a moment. He moved to take a step forward - and the three cures immediately went on the defensive. The caped boy paused again - then abruptly turned on his heel, teleporting away. When he vanished, the floating stars scurried back to their owners and all around, unconscious victims began to stir. The three girls sighed in relief before untransforming, and the three of them and Hirui moved to help people up.

It was only Usami who remained still, the young bear staring up at the sky. Maybe the others hadn't noticed how the inner star inside that jar didn't have an owner - but he certainly did.

And it definitely worried him.



[eyecatch 1 - Little versions of Mei, Ushio, and Sumire all fold paper, attempting to make paper stars and paper flowers. Mei makes them slowly, whereas Ushio gets increasingly frustrated with the process. Mei sweatdrops, just before the two girls look over at Sumire, who has amassed a massive pile of paper stars and various paper flowers. The two girls flail at her, shocked, and Sumire tilts her head in confusion. Usami pops out of the pile of paper stars, wearing a paper flower crown, and the girls all laugh while the Starshine logo appears in the corner.]

[eyecatch 2 - A closeup of Mei, Ushio, and Sumire, each with a colored star in their hands - Mei has a red one, whereas Ushio and Sumire respectively have blue and gold ones. They close their eyes and in a flash of light, Cure Aries, Cure Pisces, and Cure Virgo all appear one by one, Aries making some fire crackle, Pisces with swirls of water around her, and Virgo with flowers blooming in her hands. Against a backdrop of stars, the three cures and Usami pose, with the Starshine logo appearing in the corner.]



Finding Miyo and Kouta hadn’t taken long, thankfully, and Ushio and Sumire had decided to let Mei have some privacy. As such, it was Ushio who escorted Chie and Naori home, whereas a redfaced Sumire insisted on taking Ibuki home to make sure she’d be okay. Mei had wanted to go with them, to be honest, but they had been resilient. Her mother needed her, they’d said, and Mei knew deep in her heart this was the case too.

Even her brother and sister recognized something was up – Kouta had taken Miyo’s hand and hurried up ahead with Usami, the three just out of earshot. For a short while, the Hidama family walked home in silence. Then:

“…I’m sorry.”

Hirui looked up, startled. Mei kept her gaze down.

“You had us promise that we wouldn’t fight anymore and – and we broke that promise right away without even thinking about it. I’m sorry.” A pause. “And – a-and I’m sorry for lying to you too! I…I wanted to tell you, honest, but…” Mei’s eyes shut tight to stem off the tears that threatened to spill. “I was scared. After what Usami told us, I…”

Hirui reached over, placing a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “You have nothing to apologize for, Mei. You were doing what you had to. If you hadn’t transformed with your friends today, I’m sure a lot of people would be hurt.” she hesitated. “You’re so much better than someone like me, Mei.”

“You got attacked! I’m sure you’ll be able to transform and fight next time, mama!”

Hirui’s smile was sad. “No, I won’t.” she reached into her pocket, pulling out the two broken halves of her star capsule. The glittering orange that had once filled the star shaped vial had vanished, leaving the glass bottle an ugly, faded gray. “You understand, right?”

Mei’s stomach felt like it was twisting into knots. “U-Usami can fix that…!”

The older woman shook her head. “It’s probably better this way.” she admitted, gaze distant as she looked ahead, past Miyo and Kouta to focus on the setting sun. “I was useless back then, you know? Always making mistakes. I always had to rely on Ursa-san and Nami-san to get anything done.”

“But you were little back then!” Mei insisted. “Anyone could have made mistakes like that! I-I haven’t been at this that long b-but - !”

“But you’re brave, Mei. You transformed to protect people you didn’t even know. When I was a Cure, I did it because it sounded fun. I wanted to be a magical princess. And then I fought because I was supposed to, wasn’t I?” A hollow laugh. “I don’t think I was worthy of being a Pretty Cure from the very beginning.”

“That’s definitely not true, don’t say that!” This time Mei didn’t bother trying to hide the tears welling up in her gray eyes. “Mama, you’re really strong!”

“A Pretty Cure has to possess a strong heart and the desire to protect everyone around them. Maybe I was worthy before, but…” Hirui looked away, gaze unreadable. “Even before it broke, I couldn’t transform. That must mean I lost the right to become a Pretty Cure.” she paused, gritting her teeth in disgust. “Maybe it’s what I deserve. I’m sure if I hadn’t been there, then maybe everyone else…”

“That – that’s not true and you know it!” Mei sobbed, just before hugging her mother tight. “It – it’s not your fault, okay?!”

Hirui’s gaze softened, though the sad look never quite left her eyes. Gently, she put her hand to her daughter’s head and stroked her hair. “I don’t want you to fight, Mei. But I know you have to – and if you have to, then you’re safer without me. If I was with you, I’m sure it’d end up just like before – and as your mother, I can’t allow that to happen.”

"It won't - !" Mei desperately tried to protest, only to be cut off when Hirui shook her head.

"I've made up my mind, all right? Now let's head home - I want us all to have a nice dinner together, okay?"

Mei watched as her mother smiled, letting go of her and walking briskly ahead to join Miyo and Kouta, taking each of them by the hand, The three laughed and smiled, the very picture of happiness. But Mei couldn't find it in her to join them - not when she knew her mother was lying about her real feelings. But if she couldn't get through to her mother...

...ah. She knew what to do now.

"Usami!"



Ushio sat hunched over the makeshift desk in her room, scratching her head as she struggled with another difficult math problem. Pretty Cure or not, she still had classes to deal with, and she doubted any of her teachers would appreciate the excuse she couldn't get her homework done thanks to giant monster attacks. Music blared from the earbuds she was wearing, which in turn meant that when her twin sister Kaiyou tapped her on the shoulder, Ushio let out a shriek and jerked backward, toppling out of the stool she was sitting on. The black haired girl hit the floor with a thud, wincing. "O-oi, don't do that! I'm still hurtin' from that fight earlier..." she whined as she rolled over, grumbling under her breath. The girl blinked, realizing her earbuds had popped out in the fall - and she immediately frowned as the sounds of the house filtered back in.

Her parents were arguing. Again. Ugh.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you." Kai said quietly, helping her sister back up. "You left your phone in my room, it's been going off." she added, handing her sister her phone. "I believe it's Mabataki-san." Kai looked briefly apologetic, as if to insist she didn't mean to spy on her sister's calls, but if Ushio took offense at the statement, she certainly didn't say anything.

"Ehh, Sumire?" Ushio asked as she sat herself back on her stool, yelping when her phone vibrated and beeped again, signifying a text message. "Lessee, 'I'm sorry, you must be busy, nevermind then, Ushio-san' - aw jeez, thought I told her she didn't gotta be so formal with me..." she muttered, pouting.

"You look like you haven't eaten in a while, I'll bring you something." Kai said, before escorting herself out.

Ushio hadn't even heard her, instead debating whether to text Sumire back - before she up and decided to just give her a phone call. It took two rings, but then: "Ah, Sumire! Sorry, I kinda left my phone in my sister's room - what's up?"

"I'm very sorry for interrupting! It's just - have you talked with Mei-san at all since you got home?"

Ushio blinked and had to resist the urge to shake her head. "Nah, walked Chie and Naori-chan home and then worked straight on homework when I got back. You?"

Sumire paused over the line, giving Ushio the impression that she felt guilty. "Ah, no, I haven't either - I only just got home..."

"What?" Ushio said - before she grinned mischievously. "Just what were you and Kousei doin', anyways~?" she taunted, snickering when Sumire let out a squeak of embarrassment.

"I-it's not what y-you're thinking at all! K-Kousei-san i-invited me to dinner w-with her family...! E-except n-none of them really knew h-how to cook a-and I felt bad so..." Sumire trailed off into indistinct muttering before suddenly speaking up again. "I-in any case! I-I was just worried about M-Mei-san, that's all! She and Hidama-san seemed u-upset..."

"Yeah, kinda got that vibe too. Don't really blame 'em, these last two days have been stressful. But I know everythin' will be okay."

Sumire let out a soft noise of confusion. "You're not worried?"

"Well 'course I'm worried, but..." Ushio paused thoughtfully. "It's kinda like I have faith in Mei an' Usami and Hirui-san. They're all hurting right now, I think, but they all care 'bout each other too. And so whatever struggles they're goin' through, I know they'll all be okay! So don't you worry too much, okay?"

"I-I...well, a-all right, if you're sure." Sumire answered with a sigh. "Are you doing well otherw - ?"

"Nuh-uh, you're not changing the subject on me!" Ushio declared with a grin. "C'monnn, tell me all the steamy details about that dinner date you had with Kousei!"

"I-it - i-it wasn't a date!"
"Oho, but you're getting all flustered!"
"N-nothing h-happened!"
"Sumire, honey, you wouldn't be getting embarrassed if nothing happened~"
"I-I j-just helped m-make dinner, t-that's all...!"
"Haaa? Does that mean Kousei got to eat all your cooking full of love?"
"...i-it wasn't a date!"

Ushio dissolved into a gigglefit, tears of laughter welling up at the corners of her eyes. She could hear Sumire laughing over the other line, something that inwardly relieved the black haired girl - it was good to know she could joke around with Sumire like this like she usually did with Mei. Once her laughter died down, Ushio took a few moments to catch her breath, the girl wiping at her eyes. Before she could say anything else, though, there was a light knock at her door.

"I brought a slice of cake from downstairs." Kai said, a faint smile on her face at seeing her sister in such good spirits. "And something else too."

Ushio peeked over to see Kai holding two plates of cake in one hand and two glasses of milk in the other - but underneath the plates was...

"Ahhh, sorry Sumire, I gotta go! See you tomorrow, all right?" Ushio told her friend. After Sumire said her goodbyes and Ushio hung her phone up, she regarded her sister with bright, grateful eyes. "You're really gonna let me copy your homework?!"

Kai smiled again as she set the food down, handing her math notebook to her sister. "You're a warrior of love and justice, after all. The least I can do is make sure you keep your grades up. But I want to make sure you really study too..."

"So that's what that other helping is for," Ushio said with a grin, before comparing notebooks and looking back at her textbook. She motioned for her sister to come over, pointing at the problem she had been stuck on. "Well in that case, I'm havin' issues with this problem right here..."



Midnight at the Hidama household normally meant everyone was asleep - and for the most part, this happened to be true. Miyo had fallen asleep first, followed by Kouta, and though Mei had offered to stay up with Hirui until the end of one of her favorite movies, the eldest daughter had fallen asleep halfway through, prompting Hirui to usher her off to bed.

That had been an hour ago. Hirui had meant to sleep too, but her thoughts kept drifting back to the attack on the Etoile campus and the broken star capsule now in her possession and instead she'd sat at the kitchen table, the broken capsule in front of her. With a sigh, the woman stood up, only to head to the kitchen -

"Hirui!"

- and she stopped at the sound of Usami's voice. The woman turned, less startled about Usami's appearance and more about the fact he'd even foregone her nickname. It was strange to hear her real name coming out of the young bear's mouth. She sighed briefly. "I assume Mei told you everything?"

"She did." Usami nodded his fuzzy blue head. His ears flattened as Hirui kept walking toward one of the higher cabinets in the kitchen, and he hurried to keep up with her. "And Mei-chan is right! I-I can't believe you'd ever think that what happened was your fault!"

Hirui reached for the scotch.

"I know you're upset! I know you have nightmares! But you're not the only one!"

She opened another cabinet, made a grab for one of the small glasses. Then, with a turn of her heel, she headed for the freezer.

"And you're definitely still Cure Leo, okay?! How can you really think me and Naminami chose wrong?!"

Cubes of ice clinked into the small glass cup. Hirui uncorked the scotch and poured.

"It - I just can't believe you, Hirui!"

She drank. And then when the cup was empty, she refilled it and drank again.

"You're just being selfish!"

Hirui nearly choked on her scotch, swallowed hard, and slammed the cup down hard on the counter. She turned to glare fiercely at the bear - only to find that Usami was glaring back just as furiously.

"You're not the only one that lost people you cared about that day, Hirui!"

It was like a slap to the face. Hirui couldn't even find it in her to argue back. Usami wasn't letting up, however, and only kept sauntering forward, bristling with rage.

"Mama and I knew Naminami when SHE was a kid! And Nami wasn't even the oldest on the team! We met every single one of the Pretty Cure personally - and that day, I didn't just lose my mama, I lost my entire family! You're all I have left - a-and you're just spitting in their memories! You're so convinced it was just your fault - but it wasn't! It - it wasn't anyone's fault, okay?!"

Hirui covered her mouth to muffle her sobs, tears springing to her eyes. All of this - Usami had held this inside of him? But for how long...?

"And - and it's not gonna end up like before, okay?! No one's gonna die this time! Not Mei-chan or Ushio-chan or Sumi-chan or ANYBODY! 'cause I'm not strong but - but I can protect them! I can help them! I know I can, okay?! And I just - I want you to believe in me, okay? Because you're all I have left and if you don't believe in me then - t-then - !"

Hirui reached forward, taking the little bear in her arms. Usami attempted to thrash in protest, so Hirui took a shaky breath. "I-I'm so sorry..." she sobbed, hugging him tight.

"It's not gonna happen again, I promise...!" Usami yelled in response, just before his anger melted away into sorrow. He sobbed too, and together they cried until there were no feelings left to cry about. When Usami's broken sobs had quieted into hiccups, he spoke again, trembling. "I-I can fix this, I-I know I can. You believe me, r-right?"

Hirui sniffled, offering the small bear a shaky smile. "You've been doing your best so far, haven't you?"

"E-everything will be okay, Hirui! I-I just know it! I'll help you become a Pretty Cure again and we'll beat up all those bad guys and no one will get hurt like before!" Usami assured so brightly that Hirui couldn't help but smile in response. For a short while, the two sat in silence - and then the bear spoke up again. "H-hey, Hirui...?"

"Mmm?"

"...c-can you sing me to sleep?"

Hirui blinked at the odd request, then smiled warmly. In a voice still thick with tears, she began to hum, then sing in earnest a small, heartfelt lullaby - it had been the same one she had sang all of her children. Her voice was gentle as she sang and perhaps unconsciously, she began to rock the small bear back and forth, lulling him closer and closer to sleep.

All these years and she'd forgotten Usami didn't age the same way she did - he was still a child, and would be one for far longer than she could even count. She'd expected him to be able to handle things the same way she did - but all she had done was made the poor bear suffer. He had been right - she wasn't the only one who had lost people that day, and though it still weighed heavily on her, she had no doubt now that the weight on Usami had to be much more tremendous.

And yet he was still so sure things would be better this time. Clearly she stood to learn a few lessons from the young bear.

As Usami lulled off to sleep, Hirui leaned forward, pressing a small kiss to the bear's fuzzy forehead, before carefully standing up and walking down the hall, before making her way to her daughter's room. Quietly, she placed Usami on Mei's bed, then paused before tucking both the young bear and her daughter in, leaning over to press a gentle kiss to her daughter's forehead as well. As she made her way back out, the woman paused at the doorway, gazing at the two slumbering away.

Maybe...

Maybe Usami was right. No - she had to have faith.

He was right.

Everything would be better this time.

---

ED: "Twinkle Twinkle" - Yui Horie

---

ON THE NEXT EPISODE:

Usami: Hnnn, Sumi-chan, why the long face?
Sumire: Kousei-san seems down lately...
Ushio: Really? She doesn't look like the kinda person to worry about anything.
Mei: Sumire-chan's right though, she does look upset...
Usami: I-I'm getting a really bad feeling, everyone! I think Ibuki-chan's in danger!
Sumire: ...I won't let that happen! Next time on Starshine! Pretty ✰ Cure: Ibuki a target! You don’t understand my feelings! Don't forget to make a wish next time too!
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