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"E-excuse me, pardon me!"

Sumire bit back an unladylike remark as she struggled with the stack of heavy flyers, twirling and twisting with every step down the stairs of Etoile Academy. The stack was too tall for her to see over, and if she kept poking her head out, she risked sending papers flying in every direction. Aaah, she should have asked one of the other girls for help! Chie had gotten sick at the last moment, and the Gardening club really needed that final push of volunteers for the park beautification project the two of them had been working on...

I didn't think it was right to make Mei-san and Ushio-san help me, this isn't their club...

She felt her shoulders slump a little. They were her friends now, she couldn't keep thinking that way - that was bad, definitely bad! Before she could dwell on it much more, Sumire flinched as she took a step downward and turned - and her ankle twisted a little too far, making her flinch in pain and wobble a little. Frantically, the small girl tried to take another step to right her balance - only for her to miss that step and stumble again. Sumire frantically tried to turn...only to find herself falling backward now, and with no way of grabbing a rail to stop her untimely fall. She yelped and shut her eyes tight, preparing for the worst -

"Hang on, I gotcha!"

- and found herself not hurtling to the floor painfully, but caught by someone, flyers scattering in every direction.

"Y'okay?"

Sumire's hazel eyes slowly opened and a million frantic apologies came to mind - all of which died when she finally saw her rescuer. She was much taller than the petite Sumire, with looks that the green haired girl could only describe as "absolutely beautiful". Wavy blonde hair cascaded down the girl's shoulders, the kind of blonde that looked like finely spun gold, and her sky blue eyes were even prettier than the most perfect day. Papers scattered and fell all around them, reminding Sumire of falling cherry blossoms, and the gentle, strong grip of the girl who had caught her - oh, it was enough to steal Sumire's breath away.

All it had taken was a single look and she was completely in love.

The green haired girl gaped then tried to shake herself back to her senses, tried to form words, and then failed, instead turning redder and redder by the second.

"Aw jeez, you're redder than a tomato! Y'must be gettin' sick or somethin', whose smart idea was it t'make ya do all this by yourself?" Her rescuer grumbled a little, placing the girl back on her feet. "Lemme give ya a hand, I gotta get used to this place anyways."

Sumire stared for another moment - then abruptly popped back into the present, bright red and frantically flailing her arms around. "N-no, i-it's all right, you don't h-have to...!" she protested, words vanishing when the blonde girl held up a single finger to shush the small girl.

"I ain't takin' no for an answer. Can't let a cute lil princess like you work all on yer own, just wouldn't be right of me!"

Sumire felt herself turning so red she was sure her head was going to burst. Rendered speechless, all she could do was sputter for a moment, before silently kneeling down and picking up the fallen flyers. She and the blonde worked in silence, forming two stacks - what finally broke the ice was when they reached for the same flyer, hands innocently brushing against each other, and Sumire finally burst out with a frantic: "I-I'm really s-sorry...!"

The blonde girl just laughed, offering the smaller girl a warm smile. (Sumire felt her heart skip a beat.) "Don't worry 'bout it, I'm just glad yer okay! Kinda scary t'think 'bout what would happen if I hadn't been here..."

"...t-thank you f-for that." Sumire managed to say, peeking up at the girl. Oh god, her heart was hammering in her chest, she was sure she was red as a beet by now.

"My pleasure!" The blonde girl grinned, before holding out her hand. "Now c'mon, I'll help ya get all these flyers up and y'can tell me all about this park beautification thing..."

And even as nervous as she was, Sumire managed a small smile, just as she took the other girl's hand...

---

OP: "Purikyua ✰ Wish!" - StarSHINE
EPISODE 9 - "A new arrival! The transfer student has a star capsule too?!"

---

" - and then?" Mei and Chie asked in unison, the two girls clustered around Sumire's desk, eyes bright.

Sumire felt her face flush even more and she sunk into her chair a little more. "W-we put up flyers together."

"And then?!"

"S-she kind of..." Sumire tugged nervously at her sleeve. "...w-walked me home..."

Mei and Chie squealed in delight, both giddy and wearing matching grins.

"It's totally fate!"
"Aaaaa, you two are going to be so cute together!"
"You have to introduce all of us!"
"She called you a PRINCESS, she totally likes you!"
"Oh oh, tell us everything about her!"

Ushio sighed, having watched their antics long enough. Sumire looked like she was going to melt into the floor, at any rate. Shaking her head, she made her way over to the trio. "Okay okay, enough, you're gonna make Sumire's face explode." she told them, only to be met with pouting. "C'mon, don't try that on me, you know it ain't gonna work."

Mei's shoulders slumped. "Booo, Ushio-chan, you're no fun!"

Chie laughed. "We were getting a little too...enthusiastic though." she admitted with a slight blush, gaze darting around to see others staring at them in vague annoyance.

"But Sumire-chan being in love is so cute!" Mei protested, which only made Sumire blush even more.

It was then that the bell rang, signalling the warning for students to get to class. Chie offered the three girls a parting wave, leaving with a cluster of other students off to their own classroom. Several minutes later, the door slid open and Mikado, their homeroom teacher, made her way in, paperwork in hand. With her arrival, students hurried back to their seats, mumbling goodbyes and see-you-laters as they did so. The aimless chatter dulled to nothing, much to Mikado's relief, and the older woman gave her students a warm smile. "Good morning, class!" she greeted. "Before we get started today, we have a new student joining us! I'm told he moved here from the mainland - Kousei-san?"

The door slid open again, but while Mikado and the entire class were expecting a boy, it was a young, blonde girl who made her way into the classroom, all smiles - and wearing the boy's uniform. Mikado stared for a moment, then hurriedly looked at her paperwork again, horribly confused. "A-ah..."

Sumire stared too, but for a much different reason It - it was the same girl she had met the other day...!

The blonde girl, however, just grinned, even though it didn't quite reach her eyes for a few moments. "Eheheh, did they mark me down as a boy again?" she asked, snorting as Mikado nodded. She waved her hand in dismissal. "Happens all the time, I've got a lotta brothers, guess people stop lookin' at the paperwork like they're supposed ta." she turned her attention to the class, smiling brightly and offering a mock salute. "Nice t'meetcha! I'm Kousei Ibuki!"

"Why are you wearing the boy's uniform, Kousei-san?" Mikado finally asked, having gotten over her previous embarrassment.

"Well, they marked me down as a boy, right? So I got sent the boy's uniform! I came here the other day t'get it swapped out but then I met a very lovely lil princess and had t'help her out..." Ibuki trailed off in thought, blue eyes brightening when she spotted a red-faced Sumire. "Aha, there y'are! Good t'see you again, princess~!" she said with a cheerful wave.

Sumire could feel everyone's intense gaze focused completely on her. Turning a vivid scarlet, she sunk into her seat, sorely wishing she could just melt into the floor.

"Ah, I guess she ain't feelin' too hot..." Ibuki remarked, then switched gears. "Right, so who's got questions?"

"Where'd you live before?"

"Terasu! It's a city farther in from Yobaiboshi, an' about two hours from Brightown. I was gonna go t'Atama Academy with my cousin Fumie but I didn't really make the cut, eheheh." Ibuki shrugged in a what-can-you-do motion. "Next!"

"Are you gonna keep wearing the boy's uniform?"

Ibuki frowned a little. "It's just a temp - "

"You should keep wearing the boy's uniform though!"
"Kyaaaa, you could be the dashing prince of Etoile Academy!"
"You'd probably look better in the boy's uniform anyways!"
"It'd be really interesting!"

Mikado frowned now, quietly noting that Ibuki's expression seemed more apprehensive and afraid now. "Class..."

"You could cut your hair too!"
"Yeah yeah, you gotta really look the part!"
"I mean you already talk like a boy anyways!"

"A-HEM." Mikado interrupted once more, much more sternly. "I think you all have overwhelmed Kousei-san with enough questions." That was an understatement, the blonde transfer student looked shaken. "Let's see - the seat next to Mabataki-san is open." she gestured over to Sumire. "...Kousei-san?"

Ibuki blinked, then nodded and laughed nervously. "Ah, right, right! Gotta get the day started an' all!" she ducked out of the way and made her way over to the desk to the right of Sumire - but before she got there, she felt a tug on her sleeve. The blonde stopped and looked over, seeing Sumire gently seizing her sleeve and looking up at the taller girl, expression one of concern.

"I-I'm sorry for being forward b-but - are you okay...?"

Startled, Ibuki stared for a moment, before offering the green haired girl a smile - then quietly took her seat as class started.

It wasn't until halfway through the lesson that Sumire realized Ibuki hadn't properly answered her question.



"I can't believe you," Ophiuchus said, sweeping an angry glare at all three members of the Serpens. "I can't believe you!" While the fact she was sitting on her large canopy bed looked silly, the absolute fury in her voice was more than enough to make up for it. Before her, Rasalhague, Cebalrai, and Marfik all kneeled before her, and for a moment, Ophiuchus found herself thinking this was remarkably similar to the first time she'd met them. She had been shaking and upset then too - but not for the same reasons.

She still wasn't sure which was worse.

It was Cebalrai who rose her head first, gaze tearful. "Lady Ophiuchus, we didn't - we had to!"

"Your safety and wellbeing was more important." Marfik chimed in.

Ophiuchus's hands balled into shaking fists. "More important than all those other lives?!" she demanded, pointing up to all the various stars floating around the tower. Again, she thought about the first time they'd met, with the three of them marveling at their forms and Ophiuchus shaking and scared and in pain, with just seconds to spare - "I asked you to help me, but this wasn't what I meant!" Tears sprung to her eyes and she cried softly.

Rasalhague reached forward to console her - and the young girl slapped his hand away. The white haired young man recoiled, feeling like his heart was being crushed in his chest. "Ophiu - "

"S-shut up!" Ophiuchus shook her head. "I did something horrible too - I-I killed all those Pretty Cure! Even though they - they were - " she sobbed and took a moment to recollect herself. "But I didn't do it on purpose - that wasn't the real me! And now I'm me again so I'm going to fix this somehow...!"

Marfik shook his head. "We were trying to bring you back to normal!"

"You willingly killed people! You're MURDERERS!"

The room went silent. The horrified look on the trio's faces suggested they hadn't expected Ophiuchus to say such a thing, and Ophiuchus herself wasn't sure if she had taken her anger a step too far.

"We did it for you." Rasalhague finally said, voice quiet. "We thought you'd die otherwise, and we all decided we'd do whatever it took to bring you back. Even if it meant killing."

She desperately wanted to tell them she understood. They loved her, they wanted to help her, and they didn't have any other options to help her. But she couldn't. She couldn't accept it, she couldn't absolve it. It was an atrocity, it was -

- it was completely unforgivable.

Ophiuchus straightened her posture, stared down at the three with a quiet rage building in her. "I wasn't me. I would have never hurt anyone if I had been myself at the time. I spent a long time not being me since then, and now I can finally be myself again, without feeling like I'm going insane." her eyes narrowed. "But you three made the choice to be murderers. And - and I can't forgive that. What you did was wrong."

It was like she'd broken their hearts.

"You - you don't mean that." Marfik spoke slowly, hands shaking.

And their spirits.

"You - you were supposed to understand! You were - you're a murderer too, Lady Ophiuchus!" Cebalrai sobbed.

"I was used like a puppet. I'll never forgive myself for what happened, but I at least know I didn't set out to hurt people." Ophiuchus said, getting to her feet. "But by the same token, I can't forgive you for killing innocents - that's never been what I've wanted, you all know that." she smiled sadly to them. "I - I'm going to go and - " And what? She didn't have any idea how to make it right again. " - I-I don't know yet. Start again, m-maybe. Repent, definitely." the young girl nodded to herself - it seemed like a solid plan. Gaze flicking over toward the trio, she took another breath. Even if she couldn't forgive them for what they had done, she still cared deeply for them - she wanted them to come with her. Surely if they all apologized...

"So you're just throwing us away." Rasalhague said, eyes dim.

What?

"After everything we've sacrificed for you..." Marfik continued.

"...you're just getting rid of us...?" Cebalrai finished.

Ophiuchus opened her mouth to answer, only to notice the dark energy that was warping around all three of them. "That - t-that's not true!" she stammered, stomach twisting in dread. She knew what that awful dark energy did, she'd dealt with it firsthand for so long. "I'm not throwing anyone away - I-I just - I want to start over...!"

Silence. Then:

"You don't deserve to."

Ophiuchus froze. She knew that voice.

The trio stared at her in unison, eyes gaunt and clouded with dark energy and they spoke in unison - but the voice coming from their mouths certainly wasn't theirs. It was dark and sinister, oily and ever-changing, like a shifting ocean storm. Dark energy crawled from the trio and shot straight for the young girl - only to be blocked by a cluster of bright stars that shielded the young girl. In another burst of light, she was gone -

- and when it faded, Ophiuchus found herself outside of a park, of all places. 7 stars floated all around her, and the girl dimly recalled them as the stars of the Pretty Cure. "You...you saved me...?" she whispered in disbelief - just as the bright lights shone again before shooting off. When this light faded, Ophiuchus could feel a definite change - she felt stronger, and more notably, her appearance had changed. Gentle turquoise colored eyes, bubblegum pink hair in a cute little ponytail, a swishy kind of purple and white dress, stockings and cute shoes...she looked nothing like the gaunt and fragile girl she had once been.

It was her chance to start again. Those stars had given her that.

But - what about the others...?



[i got put down as a boy again, lil cuz]

Ibuki ducked into a bathroom stall, new uniform in hand as she typed absently on her cellphone. She had initially planned on just wearing her temporary uniform through the rest of the day, but there had just been more of those awful comments during the breaks between classes. So many girls convinced she would look better dressed as a boy - and hadn't that been the background noise of her entire life?

[ibuki is a girl's name too!!! im tired of ppl always messing it up]

Sure she'd grown up with more of a penchant for wrestling with her brothers and she had a really brash way of speaking but - that was just a part of her, that wasn't who she was completely!

"Kousei-san?"

" 'm changin', princess~" Ibuki responded, biting back a chuckle as Sumire let out an embarrassed squeak. At least the green haired girl had been nice enough to give up part of her lunch to help her out. The blonde girl made a mental note to treat the girl to something as thanks - but considering that impressive mansion, maybe that wouldn't be a good idea. Hm. Maybe she could help out with that park beautification project going on...

"My friends and I were wondering if you wanted to join us after school." Sumire continued after a moment. "We're going to Tachibana Teahouse, have you been there yet?"

"Only sight I've seen is that massive house y'have, princess~" Ibuki replied as she began to button up her shirt, poking her head out of the stall. "Sounds like fun - what's the occasion?"

"W-we just wanted t-to - " Sumire squeaked again and flushed, hurriedly trying to look away to not catch a glimpse of Ibuki in her bra, but something glimmered and caught her attention. Against her better judgement, the small girl took a look again, focusing on the necklace the girl was wearing, with a star and a purple bow and...

...was that a Star Capsule...?

"Wanted t'what...?" Ibuki asked, quirking an eyebrow as she finished buttoning up.

Sumire tore her gaze away, brain firing in several directions at once. "W-we just wanted to welcome you to L-Lucente Bay, t-that's all!"

"Really? That's sweet of ya. Can't say no t'that then!" the blonde grinned, darting back into the stall to get her shoes back on. "An' thanks, really. I was kinda nervous t'day an' with everyone insistin' on me dressin' up like a boy..." she laughed, but it sounded hollow. "I should be used ta it, t'be honest. I guess I don't act girly 'nough for people? Or maybe 'm just not pretty enough..."

"I-I'm sure it's not that, K-Kousei-san!"

Ibuki blinked.

"U-um, well, I-I think you're really - " Gorgeous? Amazing? " - really really cool a-and I don't think i-it's 'cause you're wearing a boy's uniform! Kousei-san is plenty cool w-without having to rely on something like that! Y-you shouldn't let what they say get to you!" And then abruptly, the girl turned pink, realizing belatedly she'd gotten more heated and passionate about this then she meant to. "U-um. That - that's just what I-I think, anyways..."

Ibuki reached forward - and offered the shorter girl a pat on the head. The blonde was grinning again - but her eyes seemed a little watery too, even if Ibuki quickly blinked it away. "Thanks, princess. Somehow yer words make me feel a lot better." she proceeded to playfully muss up Sumire's hair, before stepping back to smooth out her uniform. "C'mon, let's make the most of our lunch left, jus' you and me, okay? I'll buy ya a bento or somethin', or whatever you want."

And before Sumire could say anything, Ibuki hooked their arms together and strolled on out, the two heading down the hall together. Ibuki began to ramble about how nice the school was and Sumire listened with a smile - but her thoughts were still elsewhere, focused on the Star Capsule that Ibuki had.

If she had that - it meant she was a Pretty Cure, right...?



[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.]



Chie was used to this routine - ducking out of her last class a good 15 minutes early to avoid the rush of students - all with written permission, of course, there was no way Chie would do anything so irresponsible as to purposefully ditch class! - cutting through the park as it was the quickest shortcut to the Teahouse and -

- ah, that was strange. The park was usually empty around this time, why was there a young girl sitting on one of the benches with no one else around? She looked about 10 or so, pink hair tied up in a ponytail and definitely not dressed up in a school uniform. A girl her age should still be in school at this time and with Etoile Academy being the only school on Lucente Bay...

"Excuse me, are you all right?" she couldn't help but ask, making her way over. As she got closer, she couldn't help but notice how the girl was breathing a little heavily, purposefully picking a place in the shade to keep cool. "You don't seem well." Chie said, frowning lightly.

"I-I'm fine, I just - just got a little dizzy, that's all..." came the girl's strained response - right before her stomach grumbled and she blushed as pink as her hair. "...a-and I guess I'm a little hungry too."

Chie bit back a giggle. "That's no good. I'm surprised you haven't headed on home yet." she said lightly - but when the pink haired girl shifted uncomfortably, it didn't take much for Chie to guess why. The dark haired girl paused for a moment, deliberating, then: "My family runs a teahouse and we have some new items on our menu that we're still unsure about. Would you like to sample them and tell us what you think?"

The pink haired girl seemed hesitant, if only for a moment. Timidly, she nodded. "...that sounds nice." she admitted, just as her stomach rumbled again.

"I'm glad." she smiled gratefully. "Ah, I'm Chie, by the way! Tachibana Chie. It's a pleasure to meet you!"

Now the other girl only seemed confused, as if no one had ever introduced themselves to her. She bit her lip, avoiding the older girl's gaze for a moment, before finally speaking: "...Naori." It was the first name that came to mind, to be honest. "H-Hoshino Naori."

Chie clapped her hands, pleased. "What a lovely name, Hoshino-san! Shall we?"

Naori only nodded again, letting Chie lead the way. Their walk toward the teahouse was mostly in silence, and Naori wasn't sure whether she was happy or disappointed that Chie wasn't grilling her with questions. The pink haired girl may have been young, but she was by no means stupid - she was certain this situation looked suspicious to anyone, but especially to the girl walking in front of her. She had been given a second chance, but for what?

Did this world even have room for someone like her in it?

It had room for Rasalhague, Cebalrai and Marfik, though, hadn't it?

Naori found herself looking down, thoughts drifting to the trio again. Were they okay? They definitely hadn't been okay when she'd disappeared. She flinched as she recalled Rasalhague's accusation she was just throwing them away, shook her head to try and dispel the memory - but it remained, and she didn't know how to feel about that. Maybe - maybe they had a right to feel the way they had, just as much as she had. They had done something awful, just like her, and they needed to redeem themselves, just like she planned to -

- but how was she going to do that?

There wasn't a reset button. She'd been given a chance at redemption, but the guilt and her actions still remained. There was no way to rewind time, to stop herself from being taken over and controlled - a simple "I'm sorry" wouldn't change things...

Maybe it would have been better if she'd still been asleep.

No.

Maybe it would have been better if she had just been -

"Hoshino-san?"

Naori blinked, startled at how blurry everything looked. It took her a moment to realize she'd been crying - and that Chie was offering her a handkerchief. She shakily mumbled a word of gratitude, sniffled and wiped her eyes. "I-I'm sorry." she whispered, hating that her voice was thick with tears she hadn't realized she'd been shedding.

Chie paused decisively, before gently placing a hand on Naori's shoulder. "Please don't apologize. I don't know what's happened in your life, but - I don't want you to apologize for your feelings, all right?"

Again, Naori nodded. A tiny voice in the back of her mind whispered that she didn't deserve someone so caring - and honestly, Naori only felt relief at the thought. It was refreshing for the voice in the back of her head to be her own instead of - well, what she'd had before. The young girl blinked, realizing they'd reached the teahouse in question - a large, old fashioned building, one that smelled fragrantly of oranges. Chie had slid the door open and headed inside, while Naori followed close behind, taking in the sights. Rustic tables and chairs, faint, soothing music playing overhead - the pungent smell of tea wafting in the air.

She let out a breath she hadn't been aware she was holding, her shoulders slumping in relaxation. It was so calming...

"Please take a seat." Chie said with a gesture. "I'll bring you something shortly, I promise."

Naori picked a table by the window, watched as Chie disappeared behind the counter - and then the entrance doors slid open again with a chime. The young girl watched as students in brown uniforms all swarmed in like there was no end to them, gaping a little at the sight of it all. The peaceful air remained, but it had gotten much noisier and livelier too. A group of four girls walked by her, all chattering happily - but it was the pigtailed girl of the group that caught her eye, mostly for the blue bear that poked out of her bag.

She knew that face. Her stomach twisted in apprehension and she shut her eyes tight, expecting something furious directed her way, something she rightfully deserved.

But there was nothing.

Naori opened her eyes, looked around again. The girl with the bear and her friends were sitting at a table not too far from her, and the four girls were off in their own world. She stared at them, expecting them to all turn to look at her hatefully, to try and attack her here in the open.

The pigtailed girl sensed her gaze, turned in Naori's direction - and smiled kindly, before turning back to her friends.

Naori sighed, shaking her head. It would do no good to get worked up over this. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and tried her best to relax.

She'd figure everything out.

It would take time, but - she would fix this, no matter what.

The trio would be okay.

Everything would be okay.

As she focused on the cacophony of sounds around her, determined to think of something more positive, she didn't notice the blue bear looking straight at her, a curious, puzzled look on its face.



The sun was beginning to set when they had bid Ibuki goodbye for the day, and Sumire had noticeably pouted once the blonde girl was out of sight and earshot, the green haired girl's shoulders slumping. Mei had patted her friend's shoulder in consolation, assuring her she'd see Ibuki again at school tomorrow, while Ushio just observed the two girls.

"Ya know, you've got it even worse than Mei, Sumire." Ushio finally said, grinning when Sumire turned a gentle shade of pink.

Mei sputtered. "W-what's that supposed to mean?!"

"Exactly what I said! You've got it bad for Arata, but she's got it even worse for the new gal~"

Sumire's cheeks tinted an even more vivid shade of pink, whereas Mei found her own cheeks heating up too. "I-I do not!" she protested, bristling. "Don't be embarrassing!"

"Y-you wouldn't b-be embarrassed if it w-wasn't true t-though." Sumire admitted with a nervous smile, scratching her cheek.

That comment left Mei speechless. She sputtered again, unable to form real words, and only turned even redder. With a "hmph!", she stormed ahead of her friends, who giggled behind her, and the trio of friends lapsed into a comfortable silence for a bit.

Usami was the one to break the silence. "What are we gonna do about Ibuki-chan?"

Ushio sighed. "Dunno. She's got a Star Capsule, but she doesn't seem to know what it does."

Mei frowned. "And if she'd gotten it the way we all did, she'd know she was a Pretty Cure." Granted, the topic of Star Capsules hadn't come up while they had gotten to know each other, but then the subject of being a superhuman magical girl would be hard to talk about in public, to be honest.

Sumire trailed behind the group, expression troubled. "I-I don't..."

Mei and Ushio stopped, turned to look at their quiet friend.

The green haired girl rose her head, gaze pleading. "...I-I don't want her t-to get involved. She - she could get hurt, I don't w-want that." she shifted guiltily, pausing before continuing. "...a-and I'm scared she'll r-replace me." she admitted, and she felt horrible for doing so.

The other two girls traded glances, before they shook their heads. "There's no way that would happen!" Mei declared, and Ushio nodded vigorously.

"You're our Pretty Cure partner, but you're our friend too, Sumire." the black haired girl added. "Don't think like that, 'kay? We ain't goin' anywhere."

Sumire couldn't help it, she sighed in relief, offering the two girls a grateful smile. "...s-still. I don't w-want her getting involved yet. T-there's three of us now, I-I know we can all handle it."

"That's the spirit, Sumire-chan!" Usami encouraged, grinning widely.

The three girls smiled at each other, each nodding.

"Starshine Pretty Cure can do anything!" Mei cried out, pumping her fist in the air.

Ushio quirked an eyebrow. "Starshine Pretty Cure? We have a team name now?"

"Well of course, all magical girls do! And you know, we're all named after stars and stars shine so..." Mei explained, blushing in embarrassment. "I guess it's a little silly..."

Sumire shook her head. "I think it's cute, Mei-san."

Ushio snorted. "You're right, it is silly." she said, paused, then: "But Mei's the leader, so what she says goes."

"Really?!" Mei asked, elated. "Oh oh, because I have this great idea for a team speech too..."

Ushio shook her head, though she was smiling wryly. "Let's just start with a team name, yeah?"

"Aww, okay..."

Usami smiled wistfully as the girls continued to walk and talk. Today was a good day - there weren't even any attacks! So - why did he feel so uneasy, like it was the calm before the raging storm...?



"Hoshino-san? Are you still here?" Chie called out as she stepped into the dining area, gaze sweeping the room. That girl definitely didn't look like she had a place to stay, and with the teahouse closing in the next 10 minutes, she hated to think of that poor girl sleeping in the park for the night. She'd forgotten about the girl after giving her some tea and sweets - it had gotten so busy! - but she'd just spoken with her parents, and they'd shared the same worries she had...

"O-over here."

Chie followed the sound of the girl's voice, finding her in another booth, curled up tight to avoid being seen. Upon being found like that, Naori immediately panicked, tears welling up in her eyes.

"I-I'm sorry! I-I just - I-I don't have anywhere t-to go a-and - " she babbled, feeling herself getting worked up even more and more as she remembered that voice and that darkness trying to latch onto her before she'd disappeared. It wasn't safe to go back - she didn't even know how to get back and -

And -

Chie placed a hand on her head, offering the girl a heartfelt smile. "If you wanted to stay here, all you had to do was ask."

Naori stared.

And stared some more.

And then she burst into tears.

Chie gently hugged her, stroking the girl's hair to console her. "Shhh, it's okay, Hoshino-san." she said softly, letting the girl cry as much as she wanted. Whatever this girl had gone through, it was enough to leave her homeless and alone - and even though she'd only known this girl a short while, Chie knew she couldn't let this girl be alone. When Naori's sobs died down to sniffles and hiccups, Chie cleared her throat. "Once you're ready, I can help you pick out some pajamas - my house isn't too far from here. I think I still have some that will fit you - they're packed away, but I'm sure I could pull them out for you. Would that be okay?"

Naori shakily nodded, hiccuping. "I-I can r-really stay...?"

"As long as you want to."

And for the first time all day, Naori found herself smiling.

---

ED: "Twinkle Twinkle" - Yui Horie

---

ON THE NEXT EPISODE:

Ushio: Mei, are you all right?
Mei: Mama HATES me...
Sumire: I-I'm sure that's not true, Mei-san!
Mei: It IS, she found out I'm a Pretty Cure and now she HATES me!
Usami: I'm sorry Mei-chan, it's all my fault!
Mei: A-and worse yet, she took away my Star Capsule...!
Ushio & Sumire: What?!
Mei: I won't b-be a Pretty Cure anymore but...n-next time on Starshine! Pretty ✰ Cure: Busted! Mama's ultimatum! I don't think wishes will help this time...

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May 2017

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