After a week of missing classes, Katou Haruo tried to maintain a calm composure. Stepping into his classroom, he ignored strange glances from his classmates, repeating to himself that this awkwardness was temporary. He took a seat at his desk, unpacked his belongings, and stared straight ahead.
Behind him, a stray whisper accused on cue, “He doesn’t look like he’s been sick.”
“He does look different,” a second observed.
“Haru-kun, it’s good to see you,” a third voice boomed over the hushed murmurs, a hand clapping on his shoulder. “Have you been keeping up with school at home?”
Haruo turned his head, knowing by heart that it belonged to Ando Takehiko, his best friend and neighbor. He gave a weak smile and greeted, “Good morning, Ta-kun.” Looking at him in the eye was excruciating, so he focused on the empty space beyond his ear. “Yeah, I have. Thanks for bringing the work I’ve been missing.”
With a perplexed expression, Takehiko replied, “I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
“Thanks.” Haruo turned back toward the chalkboard, his ears a burnt pink. He was grateful for the veneer of normalcy that school provided, though he was too distracted to focus on the teacher’s lecture. His brows furrowed as thoughts echoed in his brain, until they became coherent. They weren’t his.
“You were asking me to skip school for months. I can’t get away with that,” Haruo snapped back. “By the way, I can hear what you’re thinking. You don’t mind my lying because you won’t have to deal with the consequences, once this is all over.”
“My being here is a good enough deed,” Sei sniffed. “Without me, your planet would be devoured in weeks.”
“You are a terrible mentor,” Haruo grumbled, “and you started this whole mess.”
“You love this,” Sei jabbed, “though you’re no prize yourself. I wonder how your classmates would feel, knowing that the fate of the Earth depends on you?”
Haruo protested, “I’m still learning.”
Sei urged, “Learn to compromise. I’m sensing a large presence of void-space. We need to take care of that urgently.”
Haruo sighed, and the weight of the locket, hanging under his shirt, nudged against his bare chest. Sei, the alien that had settled in his head, could see right through Haruo’s griping. He did love the fact his wildest and impossible dream had been realized, and the timing could not have been better. At his lowest moment – when he could hardly bear dealing with the aftermath of that day – Haruo was given handed a glittery, beribboned escape.
“We’ll sneak out at lunch,” Haruo promised.
Void-space, as Sei had described it, was a substance that grew as it consumed matter. Typically a minor nuisance, it had stowed away on Sei’s vessel as he was returning home. Before the alien could purge it, it had eaten away the crucial components and forced a crash landing on a quaint, blue planet. Particles had drifted into the air, spreading kilometers across Japan. In smaller amounts, it was manageable, but its unchecked growth would be disastrous. In essence, Haruo’s task was planetary clean up – with a few perks.
Hiding behind the gym shed, Haruo pulled out the glass locket. Motes of light floated and winked at him playfully. He held it with both hands and concentrated, until it popped open. In a flash, he had vanished. In mid-teleportation, Haruo had transformed. By his own design, he wore a black leotard, on top of which was a long, sleeveless jacket that was long in the back. A gradient of white to peach ran from bottom to top. His outfit was topped with a white lace cape, a large, gratuitous bow tied at the back of the collar. Finishing with white boots and half-gloves, he had assumed his alias: Star Dawn.
They appeared, floating above a sea of lush trees. The wind had jostled their leaves in a lively chorus and dance. Under the generous sunshine, the forest seemed thriving. At first glance, there was no sign of void-space, but Star Dawn knew better. He imagined the small, pulsing, web-like stains attached to various surfaces and feeding mindlessly.
Quivering with excitement, he drew circles in the air with the star point of his rose-gold Starlight Staff. The star-point was set on an crystal orb, which glowed in response to his movement. Thin streaks of light trailed from the gold star, all of which settled into a sphere of glowing light. It hovered in front of his eyes as Star Dawn scrutinized it for a few seconds. Satisfied with its shape and strength, he guided it with his staff until it was floating a half meter above his head.
With both hands, Star Dawn lifted his staff above his head and swung it downwards. The crystal orb phased through against the light sphere, and he shouted, “Light Pure Wave!” His staff triggered it to expand, as if an internal explosion forced it to bulge. It swelled rapidly in a burst of light, enveloping him and the surrounding trees, after which it faded against the landscape.
“You’re improving, but I don’t understand the extra effort. Why say anything at all?” a wry thought murmured in the back of Star Dawn’s mind.
“I think it’s time for another thorough foray into the world of magical girls,” Star Dawn tutted. “My dear Sei-chan, at its heart is an elegant display of style, force, and femininity.”
“It was enough the first few times,” the entity exasperated. “You did well here, but I sense an even stronger presence south of here. It’s strange that I didn’t sense it before…”
Powered by the remnants of Sei’s energy, the locket, which was also the clasp on his cape, glowed and they teleported. He couldn’t help but radiate with the thrill of being a beautiful magical boy. Star Dawn had yet to show himself to people, but he believed it was better this way. He felt freer and happier than he ever had, but he was at his most vulnerable. Star Dawn didn’t have to be a public hero.
They reappeared above a strikingly different landscape. A large portion was covered in dark void-space. Star Dawn could see the ground itself throb with translucent and far-reaching webs. He had never seen it move so visibly before. Like acid, it was eating away at the landscape and growing, like a drop of ink on parchment.
“Remember, don’t touch it,” Sei warned. The crystal orb was already glowing, casting a warm luminescence that made Star Dawn’s eyes sparkle.
“I know,” he replied aloud, summoning forth ribbons of light, which shot forth toward the black latticework. Before the light hit, they bunched into a large, concentrated mass. His attack had damaged the aggregation of void-space though it had managed to weather the impact. The black mass continued to eat away at the landscape. Surprised, Star Dawn asked, “Has this happened before?”
“No,” Sei replied. “I’ve never seen it move like that, much less react to anything.”
“I’ll try another blast to finish it off.” He waved his staff, which glimmered as it produced more strands of light. This time, he produced a ball and hurled it at the void-space, which jerked backwards to avoid the blast.
“I’m going to have to stop you here,” a voice drawled behind him. Not expecting another living being, much less a person, Star Dawn spun around to see who spoke.
Another boy was hovering above him, his arms crossed and looking down at him, his eyes smokey and lashes heavy with mascara. He wore a tight black dress with long, mesh sleeves. It had a high collar that dipped low to the middle of his chest. His thigh high black boots were adorned with shiny black buttons that ran up their lengths. An appropriately black orb floated above his right shoulder.
“He is killing it with that outfit. It’s so villainous and sexy,” Star Dawn thought as he gaped enviously. Heart pounding feverishly, he was enchanted by the revelation that there was another like him.
Sei protested, “You can’t be serious. Don’t forget that I can read your thoughts too. First, you’re not going to change your outfit, not after the days it took to decide on it. Second, this is terrible. The void-space is retaliating, and we can’t guarantee this being is even human.”
Ignoring the alien in his head, he tightened his grip on his staff. Star Dawn defended his actions to the other boy. “I have to purify it, or else it’s going to ravage the whole world and everyone on it.”
“What’s wrong with that?” the stranger asked, eyes widening. “It’s was rotten to begin with.”
“Who are you to decide that?” Star Dawn pointed his staff at him defiantly. “Actually, who are you?”
“You’re the one trying to destroy us. Who are you?” He maintained his imperious gaze, looking down his nose at Star Dawn, who was infuriated by his demeanor. Nevertheless, he quivered at the opportunity to introduce himself, despite Sei’s quibbling (You should strike while he’s distracted!).
Attempting to look impressive, he pointed at the boy clad in black. “I’m Star Dawn, and I protect the world. I won’t let you destroy it!”
“Is that so?” the strange boy mocked, though he looked delighted, his eyes glinting. “Then you can call me Star Dusk.” He offered a shallow bow. “You can’t stop me, but you can try.” He summoned the black orb to float in the palm of his hand, and raised it to his face level. Star Dawn focused on the other, anticipating an attack from him, when Sei flashed a thought in his mind: Behind you!
After a glance he saw the black mass rise like a wave. It would have struck him, if he hadn’t moved in time, though it had forced him from the sky, tumbling to the ground. Star Dawn scrambled to his feet and managed to dodge the clump as it slammed into the ground, aiming for him. He landed face first into the dirt.
“I’m going to kill him,” Star Dawn growled, throwing off his white lace cape.
The alien reprimanded him. “Don’t waste time on him now. As far as I can tell, your attacks are still working. You just need to keep hitting it, otherwise it’s going to keep feeding.”
Hiding behind a thicket of bushes, Star Dawn could see that, even as a hulking mass, the void-space feeding. It was sinking into the ground and spreading outwards. The tree, rustling leaves, even the sound of the wind disappeared into it. A pair of perched birds had no time to realize their fate as the void-space expanded over them, absorbing them. Resolve renewed, he focused his energy into his staff.
“Shining Star!” he cried out, as a bright sphere of light shot out and hit the black mass in its side. At the point of impact, the blast had left a yawning hole. Its edges were rimmed with glowing sparks. Encouraged, Star Dawn let loose a barrage, weakening the void-space to a crumbling shadow. He was about to launch a finishing blow before the remnants were swept up by an unseen force. The dark swirl settled and disappeared into Star Dusk’s ball, and he smirked.
“That’s enough for tonight.” His image flickered and vanished, leaving Star Dawn staring up at the sky and kneeling in the dust. When he snapped out of his stupor, he noticed the vast crater before him. A significant chunk of the surrounding area had been devoured.
Haruo broke the lead of his pencil a third time. “Obviously, it’s bad!” Haruo snapped back silently at Sei, who had been nagging at him about more training. “Shut up! I need to concentrate.”
Haruo tried to focus on the correct English grammar usage for #4, but the alien continued to reproach him. “The world is about to be devoured, and you’re worried about a test? When are you going to have time to hone your magic?”
An irritated grunt slipped out as he thought-yelled, “The least you can do is help me with school. Aren’t you around in there while I’m studying?”
“Please, I have more important matters to ponder than learn Earth languages. So do you, technically.”
The timer on Satou-sensei’s desk rang and Haruo jumped in his seat. As the class rep stood up to collect test papers, he furiously circled answers on his sheet. Noticing movement at the corner of his eye, he spotted Ta-kun, who was laughing silently at him. At lunch, Takehiko asked, “What’s wrong, Haru-kun? You looked like you were having trouble in English. Do you need me to tutor you again?”
“No, it’s been kind of rough lately. It’s hard to concentrate.” Haruo still struggled to meet Ta-kun’s eyes. Worse was the fact that they were alone together. Usually, they were surrounded by Ta-kun’s football club mates, but the unsavory gossip that chased Haruo kept them at bay. Haruo didn’t care that much; they were associated by circumstance, not a real friendship. Even so, a social cushion would have been useful. Ta-kun had stuck by him, like the loyal friend he was, but he was the last person Haruo wanted to be alone with.
“You look like you’ve been eating well though,” Ta-kun joked. He was referring to the small pile of convenience store snacks next to his bento. Sei was using Haruo’s body to recover from the crash, which meant his appetite had grown voracious.
Haruo’s cheeks turned scarlet. “I haven’t been sleeping well either,” he mumbled, mortified that Ta-kun had noticed.
“I don’t think those two are related,” Takehiko laughed. Haruo mimicked him with a nervous chuckle of his own. “But if you say so, then I’ll help feed you too.” He handed him a package. “Here, your favorite melon bread.”
Haruo thanked him a little too enthusiastically, and as if on cue, he heard a few snickers behind him. He looked downward in embarrassment.
“Hey, don’t worry about them,” Ta-kun encouraged, giving Haruo’s shoulder a light pat. “They’re stupid.”
Gaze finally meeting Takehiko’s, Haruo wondered if Ta-kun knew the truth about that horrid day. Ta-kun had acted as though nothing had changed between them, despite the gossip that plagued Haruo. Rumors that a pretty girl from a different school had confessed to Takehiko, that the girl was really a boy in drag, that it happened coincidentally the day before Haruo skipped school for a week, that Haruo had been faking sickness and that he was self-alienating himself, that Haruo was gay and in love with Takehiko. Best of all was the rumor that Haruo had already cut his dick and balls off since he couldn’t afford gender re-assignment.
Unfortunately, all were pernicious, assuming, and true – except the dick-cutting part (he had no intention to harm himself like that, nor was he necessarily interested in becoming a woman). But maybe Takehiko knew, and didn’t care. Maybe he was implying reciprocation, that he felt the same way as Haruo did, but didn’t want to publicize it. This thought made Haruo’s blood rush to satisfy his fluttering heart. The rest of the day was spent fantasizing about Ta-kun.
Even Sei couldn’t snap him out of his trance. Haruo stared into blank space imagining kind, handsome, talented, and intelligent Takehiko as his boyfriend. He daydreamed about stealing intimate moments with him and sneaking soft kisses. Dressed as a prince, Ta-kun would wrap his arms around Star Dawn’s waist and pull him closer…
“Are you ready now?” an impatient Sei blurted when classes ended. “Are you done? Can we focus on saving the world now? Can you wipe that goofy look off your face?”
“Sorry, Sei-chan. Let’s go,” Haruo apologized, though he couldn’t get rid of the lovestruck expression.
They were whisked away to a large town outside of Osaka. Again, there was no obvious trace of void-space, but the stakes were much higher. People were more likely to touch it out of curiosity, and if Star Dawn didn’t move quickly, they would lose chunks of skin, limbs, or their lives.
“Listen closely, Haruo, Sei began. “I know it’s been easy, almost like a game. You waved your wand and all the darkness disappeared in a flash. I wish that it would have stayed that way, but the situation has changed drastically. We have a new enemy to face, and we don’t know what the situation is. You have to reach inside yourself and muster all the power you can. Show me what you’ve got.
When Sei first told him about his task, the alien had instructed that to use his powers required confidence. By believing in himself, he could channel his emotions to unlock untold strength. Star Dawn knew the importance of saving the world and so many lives, but it was only natural that all he could think of his loved ones. He was grateful to his father and older sister, who worked hard to support him and to provide the love and support that he couldn’t receive from his late mother. He thought of Takehiko, who always greeted him with a smile and made him feel wanted. His locket shined like a star, fueled by his thoughts.
“Yes, hold on to that feeling,” Sei encouraged. “That’s what we need.”
Star Dawn cast ‘Light Pure Wave,’ whose radius was triple its usual range, and enough to span the entire town. Sei notified him that he had cleared the smaller instances of void-space, but Star Dawn’s gut feelings were confirmed when Sei sensed a larger concentration behind them. He turned to see a looming shadow rise at the city limits, as if a dark tsunami. His first attack had forced it to slow down, but it had to be stopped immediately.
Star Dawn whipped an outline of star in the air, which filled with a bright light. “Comet Strike!” he dubbed his attack as it shot toward the darkness. On impact, the star exploded in a blinding flash of light. It proved effective as the shadow shrank to a tenth of its size. Feeling victorious, Star Dawn summoned ribbons from his staff’s crystal for a finishing move when, in familiar fashion, the wisps of the defeated shadow flew into a dark, swirling orb.
“Getting ahead of yourself, aren’t you?” Star Dusk remarked in a sour tone. He was standing on the roof of a building with his arms crossed. He was as lovely as ever, save for the aggravated look on his face. The black ball floated back to his shoulder. “Why not take it easy, enjoy this beautiful night?”
“Better question, why do you protect that thing?” Star Dawn asked accusingly, landing in front of him and pointing his staff at his enemy. “If I hadn’t stopped you, you would have killed hundreds of innocent people!”
“Innocent?” Dusk asked, feigning surprise. “You, of all people, should know better. Humans are prejudiced and small-minded. You’re wearing an outfit with bows and frilly lace. You think they’d be grateful to be saved by a man in a dress?” He shook his head. “No, my Star Dawn, they don’t want heroes like you.”
“They’re not all like that!” Dawn argued, grip tightening on his Starlight Staff. “People know good intentions. They can see the good in people. In any case, no one deserves to die because they don’t understand.”
Dusk harshly retorted, “No, they deserve to die because of what they do when they don’t understand, when their gut response is fear, anger, and violence. You should know what people do when they’re faced with ‘not normal.'” Star Dawn hesitated, wondering whether Star Dusk was referring to the rumors at school. “They’d sacrifice you just to maintain the facade, even those you think you can trust.”
The sparkle from Star Dawn’s eyes faded as he admitted that Star Dusk was right. He held his best friend and family close to his heart, but he didn’t feel he could trust them completely. He knew that he was deluding himself into thinking that Ta-kun secretly reciprocated his feelings. In the slight chance that he did, Haruo would have to his secret love of cross-dressing. No one knew that about him, except Star Dusk.
Dusk’s expression softened as he took steps toward him. “I can take you somewhere safe.” He offered a hand. “If you come with me, we won’t have to worry about getting hurt again. You don’t have to pretend that you care about those awful people, and you can dress up to your heart’s content.”
“Don’t let your guard down. He’s lying, and it could very well be a trap,” Sei warned, and Star Dawn snapped out of the sinking feeling that was developing in his heart.
He drew back and his crystal orb flashed in warning. “I wonder if my attacks work on you,” he said behind clenched teeth. “Shining Star!” he yelled, summoning a blast from his staff. Dusk had teleported away before it could hit him.
“Well done,” Sei complimented, though for a few moments longer, Star Dawn stared at where Star Dusk stood.
After an unusually silent day, Sei piped up, “You were right last night.”
“Oh? How rare of you to admit that.” Haruo was paying half-attention to a lecture on the Taisho era, and welcomed the distraction. “About what?”
“No one is so blameless that they can decide who lives or dies. He shouldn’t take it so lightly.”
Haruo asked, “Have you ever met a perfect alien? Do they exist?”
“No, it’s impossible,” Sei immediately replied, then paused. “If we spent more time dealing with our blemishes than trying to ignore or get rid of them…”
Haruo was interested in Sei’s thoughts, but was interrupted. Class was over, signaling lunch time. With a gentle smile, Takehiko inquired, “Haru-kun? You want to get lunch outside today?”
Haruo’s heart jumped into his throat. “Yeah! That sounds great!” he stammered. He stood up and knocked sharply into his desk, having forgotten to push his chair out. Cursing his clumsiness, he gathered up his bento and an armful of snacks. Ta-kun grabbed a curry bread that fell out, and scooped a few more from Haruo’s arms.
Takehiko observed, “Looks you don’t need the pudding I got you.”
“I always have room for pudding,” Haruo beamed, delighted by the gesture. He followed Ta-kun outside to the football field and sat next to him on the slope of the hill that faced it. He gave Takehiko a sidelong glance, letting him speak first.
“Haru-kun,” Ta-kun started, smiling out of nervousness. “I’m embarrassed to come to you for this, but you have always believed in me.”
Haruo insisted, “You are brilliant.”
Ta-kun laughed softly. “If you keep saying things like that, I’ll definitely gather the courage to confess.”
Staring intensely into the grass, Haruo didn’t dare look at his friend. A deep flush crept into his cheeks, and he stuttered, “T-to who?”
“I’m sure you’ve seen her around. She’s in our year.”
At this revelation, Haruo could feel his chest squeeze. He glanced at Ta-kun again, and saw that the tips of his ears were pink. He hastily opened a package of melon bread and stuffed it to prevent himself from speaking or reacting. Takehiko’s voice was muffled, as his pulse quickened and pounded in his ears.
“I really like her. I think I’m going to take the plunge soon. What do you think?” Himself flustered, Ta-kun didn’t notice Haruo’s distress. He looked to Haruo for an answer, who nodded vigorously at him, his cheeks swollen with food.
Swallowing hard, moving his mouth and uttering unfamiliar sounds that seemed like words, Haruo replied, “I think…it’s better. Otherwise, you’ll never know how she feels.”
“You’re right. I should do this like a man.” He handed his juice to Haruo, motioning for him to drink. “You shouldn’t eat so fast. You’ll choke.”
Haruo took his offering and took a sip on the straw. Ordinarily he’d relish the indirect kiss, but now it seemed as though it were mocking him, for being so close yet so hopelessly, impossibly far. As they returned to class, Ta-kun prattled on about his love interest, and anguish continued to press against Haruo’s chest until he struggled to hold a steady breath. It hurt more than he had to pretend he was completely fine. Sei continued staying silent throughout the day. It was only when Haruo was walking home alone did Sei speak.
He’s still your best friend. He relies on you as much as you do, the alien said, by way of comfort.
Haruo was too heartbroken to be angry at Sei’s poor attempt at consolation. Since you have all the answers, why does it still hurt so much?
To his sarcastic question, Sei responded matter-of-factly, Because he doesn’t return your feelings. I’m truly sorry. I know exactly what you’re feeling, but he still cares deeply for you. Please believe in that.
But Haruo ignored the alien. He let himself in, grateful for the solitude of his home. His older sister was at work late, per usual. His father was more or less nonexistent, since he started and ended his shift at the family convenience store when Haruo was sleeping. They worked hard to support him and were seldom home, a win-win in Haruo’s view.
He took a much needed bath and fixed himself dinner. Halfway through his large bowl of rice, he heard the door open.
“Oh, Nee-chan, welcome back,” he called from the dining table. “Do you want to eat first, or take a bath?”
A slip of a woman drifted in and collapsed into the seat next to Haruo. “I’ll eat first,” Katou Mayuri replied, though she gave her brother a strange look.
“Sure.” He rose and walked to the kitchen. He was opening the cabinet door to grab a bowl before she spoke again.
“Haruo,” she began. “My Dior lipstick is half gone. Do you know anything about this?”
Without a hitch, he grabbed the rice paddle and opened the rice cooker. In a playful tone, he responded, “You’re really diligent about your belongings, Nee-chan. I can’t even be bothered to keep track of the buttons I lose off my uniform.”
“Speaking of uniforms, I found my old high school one shoved in your closet. Would you know why that is?”
At this, Haruo couldn’t help but hesitate. After that foolhardy cross-dressing endeavor, in a fit of emotion he had thrown his sister’s uniform in the back of his closet. Wrapped up in the fantasy world of magic, he had neglected to replace it. His armpits started sweating as he slowly returned to the table.
“I don’t know.” It was a lame answer, but he didn’t know what to say. If she had been snooping in his room, then she had seen everything. The back of his closet was plastered with posters of magical girl animes, spanning from obscure and retro to popular and modern. Maybe she found his modest stash of toy compacts, wands, and tiaras. Playing dumb was fine with him.
His sister exhaled in a sharp huff and crossed her arms, not touching her food. “What do you mean, ‘you don’t know?’ Do you think our old man is rifling in my room for my makeup and clothes?”
“I said I don’t know!” Haruo shouted, losing his temper and slamming his chopsticks on the table. Today was not the day to be confronted about his secret proclivities. His sister backed down at his obvious distress.
In a gentler tone, she changed her approach. “Haruo, I’m not trying to start a fight. I’m annoyed because that lipstick was expensive. Are you going to replace it? Next time, don’t touch my stuff, or at least–”
Annoyed that she kept pinning it on him – though she was right – Haruo got up. “I don’t know anything about that,” he repeated in a dead tone, avoiding eye contact.
“Where are you going?” She called after him over the sounds of his footsteps, as he stormed out.
“Sei-chan, let’s get out of here.”
After a pause, Sei warned, Haruo, I approve of your initiative, but I don’t think it’s a good idea right now. Remember that your power comes from –
“Spare me the lecture. I know Dusk is out there, so let’s take him down sooner rather than later.”
Sei obliged his request and teleported them to an abandoned theme park. The darkness under moonlight perverted its mirthful atmosphere, making it seem sinister. Star Dawn took a deep breath to calm himself, reminding himself that he was in his element, and no friends or family to distract him. Hovering over the decrepit attractions, he scanned the landscape for telltale signs of void-space. He spun around when he heard something clatter, and saw the familiar shadow pulsing and spreading on the ground.
Star Dawn began to cast a barrage of Shining Star spells, but his crystal orb flickered listlessly. Anger welled in his chest, to which the Starlight Staff responded by emitting a steady light. Feeling confident, he summoned balls of light to attack the darkness. The void-space grew agitated and again grouped into a large mass. He hadn’t heard or seen any sign of Star Dusk, but it would be better to take care of matters before he decided to make an appearance.
An ominous shadow loomed over Star Dawn, the cluster bearing down on him. He traced a star in the sky to ready Comet Strike, but his staff wouldn’t obey his command. The light flickered again and faded in the center of the crystal sphere, leaving only a trace of an outline. Feeling frantic, he shook his staff, knowing full well why it wasn’t working. Trying to compensate for his failure, he didn’t notice quickly enough to see the wave of darkness smash into him – or whatever happened when void-space ‘hit.’
Star Dawn opened his eyes in a large room. His senses were blurry, as if waking from a deep sleep, and he wondered whether it had been a nightmare. He propped himself on his elbows, and realized that he was tucked neatly into a large, plush, and unfamiliar bed. Feeling himself up, he also discovered that he was dressed only in his leotard.
At a glance, his direct surroundings were the bed and an overhanging chandelier above. The rest was shrouded in darkness. Remembering what happened, he tried to call for Sei in his mind, but for once, received silence. Fear crept up his spine as he tried to figure out whether he was dead.
“You’re fine,” a voice to the left of him spoke. Jerking in surprise, he turned to see Star Dusk sitting sideways and facing him. He was unnerved by Star Dusk’s tranquility, not because of his calm, but because it was so resigned. Dusk looked as though he were swallowing a hard decision.
“So, I’m not dead?” Meanwhile, Star Dawn blinked repeatedly. Everything still seemed muffled and moving in slow motion, like a dream. It was difficult to focus unless he concentrated.
Dusk shook his head. “I won’t let it eat you. That was the deal.”
Dawn wondered when a mindless substance made deals. “Then where is this?”
He waved a hand around. “It made this for me, or rather, for us.”
Dawn made a funny face. “There isn’t anything here.” As soon as he uttered the sentence, more chandeliers were lit one by one, moving clockwise around what was a grandiose room. It was decked in pastel colors and filled with a cross-dresser’s fantasy: wardrobes, vanities for jewelry, make-up, and nails, with a backdrop of intricate, Rococo-style mirrors.
Dusk leaned in, a lazy smile on his lips. “It has everything and more. We can get whatever we want here. We can do whatever we want.” He offered a hand to him. “Let me show you.”
Dawn recoiled, recalling Sei’s warning not to touch void-space. He didn’t know what would happen if they did. Dusk leaned even closer, mildly miffed by the rejection. “I won’t hurt you. See?” He picked up Star Dawn’s hand, intertwining their fingers. Star Dawn waited a few seconds, and was surprised to find that Dusk was right.
“You’re – are you human? Are you real?” Star Dawn squeezed his hand to verify. “I thought that…” He trailed off, realizing he didn’t know what he thought. Sei and he had many theories, each no more sensible than the next. Maybe Dusk was an illusion, or an evolved version of void-space, or an self-interested alien that knew how to manipulate it.
“I’m real,” Dusk grinned, elated by Dawn’s reaction. “I’m like you, if you haven’t noticed.”
Elated to find a kindred spirit, even in unusual circumstances, he interrogated, “Who are you? What’s your name? How do you even communicate with the void-space?”
“I’ll answer everything, if you agree to stay with me.” Star Dusk pulled him up with both hands. “But first, let me show you the endless possibilities available to us here.” He led them to one of the many wardrobes against the wall, and opened the doors with a flourish. “I always thought this would look great on you.” He pushed a long, blushing-pink gown into his arms. “Try it for me?”
Star Dawn couldn’t help but admire the simple beading on the elegant brocade. “Where should I change?” Dusk pointed to the corner hidden by a curtained, folding wall and illuminated by a glass lamp. Stepping behind it and out of his leotard, Dawn realized his locket was gone. Trying to push aside the tension – feeling guilty that he was so titillated – he asked, “What about everyone else? The world?”
“They’ll be gone in time.”
“And us?” Star Dawn continued, increasingly unsettled by the situation. He had to buy time to figure out an escape plan. Slipping into the dress, which fit like a glove, he tried to zip himself up.
Dusk replied on the other side of the divider, “We’ll be here.”
Dawn kept fiddling with the zipper until he felt a pair of hands take over to help. He tried not to think about the fingers that skimmed his skin of his back as it trailed up his dress. He turned around, admiring the way the skirt fell and rustled so delicately. For a few moments, thoughts of saving the world vanished.
“There, aren’t you gorgeous?” Star Dusk admired aloud. He himself had changed into a prince’s attire, wearing a navy buttoned jacket with silver epaulettes and gloves. The scenery had changed from a dainty boudoir to a worn, limestone balcony that faced a vast, manicured garden and a garish marble fountain. Over the top was an understatement, but Haruo rarely indulged in such fantasies that he played along. He gave a hand to Star Dusk’s soliciting hand. Dusk bent to place a soft kiss, which sent an electric shiver up Star Dawn’s hand. Star Dusk then abruptly pulled him closer by the waist until they were nose to nose. His cheek erupting in rose-red, Star Dawn hid his face in the crook of Dusk’s neck, embarrassed and pleased at the same time.
“Sorry,” Dusk murmured into his ear. “I snuck a peek in your mind when we first took you. I hope it’s how you imagined it.”
Star Dawn lifted his head in surprise. Remembering that it was Takehiko in his fantasy, he once again felt the weight of his magical boy duties. He couldn’t leave his best friend, or his family to perish while he selfishly lived out his deepest fantasies.
Sensing his hesitation, Star Dusk asked, “Or do you like this better?” They had swapped roles; Star Dawn was wearing a brilliant, slate-gray soldier’s jacket with a white pelt adorning his neck like a thick stole. Alternatively, Star Dusk wore a shoulderless dress sewn with crystal beads, mimicking the starry sky. Dawn’s eye caught his black choker necklace and the cute beauty mark that he had never noticed before. Clearly this was Dusk’s fantasy; under moonlight, they were in the midst of tall bushes that bloomed large, vivid roses of all colors. As a teenage boy, it was excruciating to hold off the pretty boy that was snuggling into his chest.
In a quiet voice, he called the other by name to catch his attention. “Dusk, I have to back.” He grabbed Dusk’s hands. “I can’t let people suffer because of me.”
Rather than acerbic anger, Star Dusk was teary-eyed and upset. “Why?” he begged. “It’s so much better here, and I understand you better than anyone.” He clung tightly to him. “And you understand me.”
Star Dawn petted his hair. “It’s true that you’re the only one who knows about a big part of me, but that’s not all of who I am.” He tilted the distressed boy’s chin upwards to face him. “Let’s go back together, and we’ll learn more about each other, without the costumes and magic. That would make me very happy.”
“I can’t make you stay.” Anticipating Star Dawn’s insistence that he come with him, he revealed, “But I can’t go with you. That was the deal.”
Tightening his grip on Star Dusk’s arms, he retorted with more confidence than he had, “Of course you can come back. Let’s go back right now.”
“I can’t,” Dusk pleaded. “They won’t let me, because that was the trade-off.” Star Dawn looked down and saw that his body was dematerializing, his wisps being swept away. He held his gaze on Star Dusk own despairing eyes.
“I’ll come get you. I’ll come back for you. Don’t give up.” He touched his forehead, the last solid part of his body, to Dusk’s. The other boy smiled sadly at his words, and shook his head at him as they were pulled away from each other.
“Thank you for letting me be with you, Katou-kun.” Star Dawn felt a palm cup his cheek, and he opened his eyes. He sat up, and realized he had been laying on the grounds of the theme park, though he had no idea how much time had passed. Feeling his body up, he found himself whole. He was disoriented, but otherwise unscathed.
“What happened?” Sei asked, frantic thought-words blaring in his mind. “The last thing I remember is being swallowed by void-space.”
At the mention of their enemy, Star Dawn jumped on his feet and scanned the surroundings to see if it was still there. He noticed another large crater in the earth, signifying that the void-space had managed to feed. Meanwhile, Sei saw the memories of Star Dawn’s sojourn.
“We’ve been one step behind this whole time,” Sei snapped. “I can’t wrap my head around what it’s has managed to do, much less fathom its plans.”
“But first, we have to save him.” He recalled Star Dusk’s last words. How long had he known his identity?
“That selfish little brat? Who made everything astronomically worse and may have doomed millions of lives?”
“I promised,” Star Dawn replied with resolution, “And I’m a magical boy. It’s what I do. I promise we’ll deal with this first thing tomorrow. I’ll even skip class.”
“You’ve grown, Haruo,” Sei begrudgingly approved. “We’ll try it your way.”
Haruo thanked his lucky stars that his time spent with Star Dusk only spanned a few hours, though he was sure he’d get an earful from his sister. Sei teleported them right in front of his house, and Haruo crept inside. He noticed the lights were still on in the front room, which wasn’t necessarily strange. His father often worked late, so they left the lights on for him.
He tried to close the door behind him as quietly as possible, but his sister was there in a flash, cornering him in the foyer. Hands on her hips, she predictably started nagging in a hushed, but violent whisper, “Do you know how late it is? Where have you been?”
Haruo hung his head in shame. “Nee-chan, I’m sorry.”
“Do you know how long Ando-kun has been waiting for you?” she hissed venomously. “He insisted on staying until you came home, you terrible child.”
Haruo flinched at her tone, but looked up when he heard she said. “What? Ta-kun is here?” He was confused, sure that his sister was mistaken.
“He’s in living room now.” She huffed with exasperation. “Ugh, I’m too young for this. I am not your mother.” Haruo followed her and found that she was speaking the truth. Takehiko waved as they walked into the room. “Ando-kun, I’m so sorry for my stupid brother. He’s finally returned.”
“Haru-kun, good evening,” he smiled, as if it were normal to wait at a friend’s house until the late night. “I’m pretty tired. Will you walk me out?” Haruo glanced at his sister, who nodded her approval.
Ta-kun’s revelation felt like so long ago that its memory didn’t seem to hurt as much now. Still, he was taken aback by his friend’s gesture. Haruo waited for Takehiko to start talking as they stepped onto the street.
“You got home really late,” Ta-kun noted.
“Yes, I did.” They walked slowly together. Haruo knew where Ta-kun lived, which was only a few blocks away.
Takehiko coughed and began, “By the way, I asked her out, and she said yes.”
“Oh, really? Good for you.” Haruo meant what he said, but Ta-kun looked troubled. “Why do you look so unhappy?”
“I’m not,” he rapidly replied. “I’m so happy that I feel like I could burst. I really like her.”
Haruo gave a crooked smile and a sideways glance. “Was it so hard just to tell me that?”
“No…” They saw his house in the distance, and Takehiko seemed to trip over his words. “Haru-kun, I…do you remember…?” He sighed. ” I wanted to tell you that I was sorry.”
“Why? That’s a first for you,” Haruo teased.
Ta-kun shook his head vehemently. “No, that’s not it. I wanted to tell you that no matter what, you’re my best friend. You’re always there for me, and I want to be there for you too.” He looked embarrassed, but pushed on. “No matter what you like, or what you do, or what you look like, or who you like, or what you wear…” The more Ta-kun prattled on, Haruo felt his face grow hot with realization. “…or why you do the things you do, I know you have a good heart. I know that Haruo is the same Haruo I met ten years ago.” Haruo was at a loss for words, while Takehiko smiled sheepishly at him. “Well then. Thanks for walking me back.”
Haruo was mortified, but was surprised to find himself relieved. “Good night,” he mustered.
Ta-kun paused for a moment, and turned back to him. “By the way, after that day,” Takehiko emphasized and Haruo blushed, “I noticed that I seem to have acquired a stalker.”
“Stalker?” Haruo repeated, starting to see Ta-kun in a new light. He was much more perceptive than Haruo believed.
“Yeah.” Ta-kun gave his characteristic warm smile. “Occasionally I’ll get insulting notes in my shoe locker, though I haven’t seen any lately.”
“Do you know who?”
Takehiko returned with a strange, curious look. “I asked around, and his name is Ogawa. He’s in class 2-2. I went to his class yesterday to talk to him about it, but it seems he’s been out.”
“I see,” Haruo replied, to which Ta-kun shrugged. They bid each other a good night, and Haruo sprinted back home. On a whim he jumped in mid-run. Ta-kun had known, but still wanted to protect Haruo’s feelings. He was, indeed, the best friend. Haruo felt a small ache, knowing once and for all that Ta-kun would not reciprocate his feelings, but this turn of events was good, perhaps even better. Best still, he had a lead on Star Dusk’s identity. They’d have a lot to talk about, when he saved him (If you save him, Sei interjected.)
He arrived home to find that his sister had gone to bed. The lights were still on for their father, who still hadn’t arrived. Grateful to be spared another tongue lashing, he crept upstairs to his room. He discovered his desk light had been turned on, and spotted a tiny package, placed squarely in the middle of his desk, with a note taped on it. He took a seat in his chair, and read the note:
“Here’s your own. You owe me for my lipstick. Don’t touch my stuff.” A miniscule skull and crossbones glared comically from the bottom of the note. Haruo’s heart skipped a beat as he opened the box, which contained a new tube of lipstick. He teared up a little at the unexpected support from his sister. He opened his desk drawer to stow away his small treasure, when he caught sight of a larger, flatter package. Haruo picked it up and found that this had no note attached, nor was it gift-wrapped like the lipstick, instead placed in a plain, brown paper bag. He slipped a hand in and took out a glossy palette, a rainbow of eyeshadows, lipsticks, blushers, bronzers, and more modest skin-toned shades of foundation.
Haruo bit his bottom lip and stared at this gift. Too perfect to mar just yet, he returned it into the bag. He laid his head down on his desk. He couldn’t go to bed brimming with such joy. He thought of Star Dusk, with whom he wanted to share this happiness. He felt more encouraged than he had felt in a long time.
Haruo was roused by Sei before the sun rose. They had planned to sneak out as early as possible to find Star Dusk. It seemed as though the void-space had indeed become sentient. Out of arrogance, it didn’t bother to mask its presence. Sei had alerted Haruo to the largest cluster it had ever sensed, somewhere in the ocean.
Haruo took a long look at the rising dawn, in the event it would be his last. He pulled out his locket, which glowed in his hands. It popped open, and they were whisked away to rocky islands, far away from the mainland. The ocean was violent and dark, as if alerted by the alien intruder. The void-space covered an entire rock face, and Star Dawn could see it eroding the island. The sharp points were shaved down into smooth surfaces of wriggling black. The waves crashed into the dark webs, but there was almost no water left for it to recede back into the ocean.
Star Dawn felt exceptionally powerful that day. He cast Shining Star on it, which forced the void-space to pull back, which revealed an entrance in the rock. It had clearly been eaten away.
“Be extremely careful,” Sei cautioned. For once, his thoughts gave away feelings of fear.
“I will. You’re with me, aren’t you?” Star Dawn hovered over the opening and slowly lowered himself into it.
“Of course. I will not leave you to face the void-space alone.”
The light in his locket shined the way for Star Dawn. The luminescence alone drove away the darkness, which covered every surface around him. He stepped carefully down, one foot under another, and the void-space cleared away from him, revealing the eroded rock floor below. It was like walking in a tunnel that sinking and growing deeper and larger by the minute. It was disturbing to know that everything around him was being eaten. Star Dawn couldn’t shake the feeling that he was traveling down the maw of a beast. Everything around him was black, slick, and pulsing. Given the featureless surroundings, Star Dawn was ill-prepared when he saw Star Dusk’s body embedded into what seemed to be the end of the tunnel.
“Dusk!” He shouted, rushing to him. Horrified, he hovered over unconscious Star Dusk and watched the void-space glide over him, though not consuming him. It looked as though he was being studied. In a rush of emotions, he cast Luminance, a spell that flashed a blinding light from his Starlight Staff. The void-space recoiled and released Star Dusk’s body, which collapsed into Star Dawn’s arms. Kneeling on the ground, he kept calling his name, beseeching him to wake up.
“Star Dusk, I’m here, like I promised. You’re okay now. I’m here,” he repeated, patting his cheek. “Please wake up.”
The void-space had creeped back, though its interest in the intruder was apparent. It began to close the entrance from which Star Dawn came, and poured into the enclosed space like black syrup. The glow from his staff decelerated their approach, but their presence was too thick to vanquish without immediate action.
“Ogawa, wake up.” He touched his forehead to Star Dusk’s, which was cold and dry. “I’m here to save you.”
“You’re so stupid,” Star Dusk murmured. “We’re both going to die here now.” The void-space closed in, devouring the molecules of air between them.
“We’re not,” Star Dawn grinned tearily. “You believe in me, don’t you, Naoya?”
Ogawa Naoya mustered the strength to stare at him with stunned, wide eyes. Not only did Star Dawn know his identity, he called him by his first name – an intimate gesture. From the tips of his ears to his neck sprouted a furious crimson. He threw his arms around his neck, and with his last breath, whispered, “I do.”
Star Dawn kissed his forehead, and a blazing light, starting from his locket, enveloped his entire body. A spirited smile on his face, Star Dawn cried out, “Celestial Dawn!” A dazzling light erupted from the crystal sphere on his Starlight Staff and rushed outwards like a flood. Exploding outwards, it filled the entirety of the Earth, dissolving all traces of void-space. Witnesses reported seeing a warm, bright light for a few seconds before dissipating in lively sparkles.
“Wonderful!” Sei cheered ecstatically. “Outstanding! Absolutely stellar! My nonpareil, Star Dawn!”
After a ruckus in the house, Katou Mayuri shoved the pair out of the door. “Get out now! You’re not the only ones with plans tonight!” She slammed the door, though the four of them could hear her hiss, “I’m not his mother, geez!”
Takehiko eyed them suspiciously. “You guys took forever. What were the two of you doing?” Haruo glanced at Naoya, who pretended to be interested in a flickering street lamp. He reached over to wipe off the marks off of Naoya’s neck, left by lip gloss, and Takehiko raised his hands in surrender. “Never mind, I don’t want to know.”
Ikari Momoe, dressed in a red and white yutaka, suppressed a laugh at their antics. “I love your yukatas. They’re so unique and modern.” Haruo’s was pattern of baby blue stars on navy, while Naoya’s was multi-colored peonies on white, though they both tied in the male fashion.
“Let’s goooooo,” Takehiko bellowed, annoyed at their delay.
“You just want more time alone with Ikari-kun,” Haruo jabbed. Speaking to Takehiko’s girlfriend, he teased, “You’d better watch out. He seems gentle but all men are animals on the inside.” He loved watching his best friend fluster for once, while Momoe blushed. Takehiko ran ahead to get away from them, and Momoe trailed behind him. Haruo grinned at Naoya, then noticed his nervousness. The other boy bit his lip and stared at the ground, a far cry from the haughty villain from before. It was his first time attempting a more feminine look in public.
After returning from their victory, Naoya revealed himself to be a shy, nerve-wracked boy. Haruo had no idea who he was because he tried to stay as in background as possible. He was the one who had faithfully delivered all of Haruo’s homework from when he missed school. Madly jealous of Takehiko, he slipped mean notes into his shoe locker, but the tipping point was the flurry of callous rumors. Naoya thought Haruo had admirable courage for cross-dressing in public, and hated that everyone seemed to ridicule him. From his darkest thoughts, a faded, murky whisper asked if he were willing to collaborate, promising his deepest wish. Hence, Star Dusk had been born.
Haruo pecked his temple and grasped his hand tightly. “Don’t worry. I’m here, and you look lovely.” Naoya trembled all the way to the festival grounds, hypersensitive to any passing whispers. He flinched when he heard a stray laugh, and Haruo smiled at him. “You’re okay, Naoya.”
Naoya blushed and nodded, grateful for the support. They had long lost track of Takehiko and Momoe, but Haruo wasn’t concerned. They walked past the entrance to the festival and along the outer edge of the tented stalls. Haruo led Naoya into the nearby forest, though a spray of trees and bushes could be hardly called that. They came into the middle of a modest clearing, and Haruo breathed a great sigh.
“Are they here yet?” he asked.
“Yes,” Sei replied. “They’ve received my signal, and will be here in minutes. I’m coming out now.”
Haruo heaved another sigh, and his body glowed. The light slid out and began to materialize outside of his body into a bright, long, floating form.
“Gross, Sei-chan, you’re a snake!” Haruo exclaimed, delighted to see Sei with his own eyes.
“No, you idiot, I don’t want to scare you both with my true form,” a distorted, but warm voice insulted. It undulated in a few lively spins. “It feels so good to be out of that cramped space. I don’t have to hear your nasty thoughts any more.” The space around the alien began to distort, signalling the arrival of Sei’s comrades. “Seriously, Ogawa, they are some perverted thoughts. I’m so glad I don’t have to be around for that.”
“Yeah, good riddance to you too.” Haruo shook a fist at the alien, but let it fall. “Take care of yourself, Sei-chan.”
“Take care of each other,” Sei replied, swirling around the two boys. “As long as you do, you can face anything.” His form started to dissipate upwards. “I’m so happy to have met you, Haruo. You’re brilliant. Oh, and keep the locket. It’s yours.”
Haruo and Naoya held hands and waved with their other hands. They scanned the sky and saw a comet shoot upwards, leaving a rainbow trail behind it. When it disappeared, Haruo turned to apologize for Sei’s remarks when he was subject to a hearty pounce. They tumbled to the ground with Naoya on top of him, lips mashed against Haruo’s. They scarcely took a moment to breathe. When Naoya pulled back for a moment, Haruo craned forward and wrapped his arms around the other boy’s neck, licking his lips and coaxing his mouth to open for him. Naoya untied Haruo’s yukata and spread it open like a book.
“Wait, your pretty yukata is going to get dirty,” Haruo reminded, though he was relishing the opportunity to strip him. Licking his lips, he untied the other boy’s yukata, as Naoya shrugged out of it. He dug into its folds, and pulled out a small tube. Fascinated, Haruo watched him apply a coat of lipstick, though he also noticed Naoya’s lack of underwear.
“We’re not magical anymore, but I still have fantasies,” Naoya purred huskily, showing hints of Star Dusk. “I’ve dreamed of doing this.” Straddling Haruo’s bare thighs, he bent over to place slow, sticky kisses down his body. He sat up briefly to survey his handiwork; a trail of lipstick marking his body. Knowing that he made those imprints on his naked body aroused him. Naoya groaned and ground his cock against Haruo’s, which was also at full attention. Scooting down, he pressed a lingering kiss at Haruo’s hip bone before peeling back Haruo’s boxer briefs to kiss the tip of his cock. Relishing the whimpers from the other boy, he opened his lips to take Haruo in his mouth.
Never having done more than kissing between them, Haruo arched his back in innocent pleasure. Naoya drank in all of the high-pitched, stilted moans he elicited, and the vision of Haruo writhing and splayed before him, his pink penis protruding lewdly from the folds of his yukata. Haruo, on his end, stared at him bobbing his head and hungrily swallowing his cock, which glistened with Naoya’s saliva and smears of lipstick.
“Wait.” Haruo propped himself on an elbow and stopped them a second time. Between slowing pants, Haruo watched Naoya lick the pre-come off his upper lip and decided that the sexy villain persona fit him well. He lowered his gaze to see Naoya’s own unattended member. “Let’s come together.”
Haruo sat Naoya down and straddled his lap. He licked the side of his lips and slipped tongue into Naoya’s mouth, which was eager to receive. Meanwhile, he reached down and wrapped his hand around Naoya’s cock, which was hard and smooth to the touch. Gently pumping his fist, Haruo massaged until pre-come spilt out. Naoya followed suit and fondled Haruo’s still wet, slippery member. Breathing moans into each other’s mouths, they ground and rubbed as much skin against each other. Distracted by the pressure building at the base of their cocks, they leaned into the other’s shoulder, both bucking into the other’s grip.
“I’m almost there,” Haruo breathed, licking the top of Naoya’s shoulder.
“Me too,” Naoya gasped before grabbing Haruo’s ass with his free hand and pulling him closer. He bit the nape Haruo’s neck and was desperately rocking against him. They both inhaled sharply as come shot out in tandem, though Naoya’s noises was markedly quieter than Haruo’s gasping grunt. They released their grip to pull each other into a deep, breathless kiss.
Between kisses, Naoya murmured, “Haruo, I love you.”
A thrill went up his spine at the words he most wanted to hear from someone who understood him. Haruo smiled and kissed his beauty mark. “I love you too, Naoya.”
“I just wish we could still transform. It would be kind of fun to do it dressed up,” Naoya said, trying to seem casual about expressing his fantasy. The glass locket, strewn aside with their clothes, glowed, and they both looked over.
“I wouldn’t give up on that yet,” Haruo laughed.