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“ - so, you see, they don't really have anywhere else to go, so please...!”

Daisuke and Yuina Tachibana just stared. Naori and Chie had said they had something important to talk about, but neither of them had expected what the two had just dropped on them – Naori's siblings had resurfaced, with circumstances just like Naori's own. A group home that hadn't been good for them – anything would be better than what they were living in, and given the state of group homes on the mainland, the Tachibanas were more than willing to believe it. Naori had explained once she had ran away even though she hadn't wanted to leave her family behind – and given everything, they could understand why. But...

It was a tough decision. The Tachibana family lived pretty comfortably, all things considered, but the addition of three more people would make things a little cramped. Still, there was more to consider too – the oldest of Naori's siblings needed someone to vouch for him if he was going to get a job anywhere. The other two needed proper schooling too...

The two traded glances, then looked back at Naori and Chie's pleading faces – and behind them, the nervous looking siblings. Outside their eyes, they hardly looked alike – the other three seemed more like family than anyone connected to Naori. But in foster homes, family was more than just blood relations, right?

They were family to Naori. That was what mattered more than anything.

“Okay.” Daisuke said at last, Yuina nodding next to him. “The boys will take the guest room. Chie, you'll have to share with Naori-chan and – sorry, your name was...?”

The middle child blinked, realizing he was talking to her. She and her brothers had talked about new names just before they'd come to the Tachibanas, but it was still a little weird to think about. “C-Celes. Hoshino Celes.” she said, and saying it aloud helped – it made it hers. A new her, just like the others.

Daisuke nodded. “You'll all have to share the bed for now. It'll probably be a little cramped until we sort things out a little better, sorry in advance. Rei, Masao - ” he directed his gaze towards the oldest and youngest, “you'll have to share too. It'll take time to get settled, and both Rei and Celes will need to find ways to pitch in but...”

Yuina smiled pleasantly. “Welcome to the family, you three.”

And when all three of them rushed to hug them, both Daisuke and Yuina knew they had made the right choice.

---

OP: "Shooting ★ Star!!" – StarSHINE 5
EPISODE 21 - "A new day for everyone! Let’s celebrate!"

---

Etoile Academy was abuzz with the talk of the two new transfer students a week later. The younger of the two, Masao Hoshino, had transferred right into Naori's class, and by the end of homeroom, rumors were already afoot. He was definitely related to Naori, right? He'd even said as much in his self introduction. But why so long between her transfer and his? And didn't Naori live with the Tachibanas? What was with the family situation, anyways?

But confusion or not, Celes Hoshino was the real talk of the school. A new senior? At Etoile, so late in the year at that? And a pretty senior at that? Girls and boys alike were admiring her already, and rumors had started up about how she'd already rejected three confessions before the end of her first class.

Needless to say, by lunch, Naori, Celes and Masao were exhausted. The three had snuck off to the roof to have lunch, only to find Mei, Ushio, Ibuki, Sumire, and Chie already there. The three heaved sighs of relief as they joined the others.

“...rough day?” Chie asked.

“You don't know the half of it.” Masao grumbled. “I don't know how you do it, Naori.” he said, shooting her a look. “School's so boring! And everyone's so chatty.” he made a face, running his hand through his snow white hair.

“It's quite overwhelming.” Celes admitted. “Several people have already expressed how, ah, enamored they are with me...” she hung her head, feeling her cheeks tint pink.

Mei's eyes widened. “Those rumors were true?!” she gasped, and Celes only turned even pinker in response. “W-well, don't worry, I'm sure they'll leave you alone soon enough!”

“I can beat 'em up for ya, if they're still botherin' ya in a week or so.” Ibuki offered, snickering when Celes looked at her, utterly scandalized.

“She won't,” Sumire assured her, giving her girlfriend a disapproving frown, and then scowling when all Ibuki did was shrug. Clearing her throat, she regarded the two with a polite smile. “In any case, are you enjoying yourselves?”

“...I guess.” was the immediate response from both Masao and Celes in unison. The two looked at each other and couldn't help laughing, causing the others to smile a bit in relief as well. As long as they were enjoying themselves, right?

“Oh!” Ushio spoke up, slamming a fist into her palm as she remembered something. “How's Rei doing, anyways?”

Naori bit back a laugh, smiling. “Well...”



Celes and Masao were in school now, and though Daisuke had told Rei that he was allowed to work at the Teahouse as much as he wanted, Rei wasn't satisfied with just that. The Tachibana family was doing a lot by helping the four of them – the least he could do was earn enough money to pay them back for all their kindness.

But therein was the problem. Normally, people his age had life experience – school, clubs, all that kind of stuff. But Rei didn't really understand things like that. He knew enough to get by, he supposed, but how was he supposed to get a job if no one was willing to hire him? It was discouraging...

Somehow, he found himself back at the only place he really remembered – an alternative fashion store he felt like he'd visited a lifetime ago. He was a little apprehensive, truth be told – but the shop owner had said he'd be the perfect model. It was better than no lead at all, and he really had nothing to lose, right? The bell at the door chimed as he made his way in. If he remembered correctly, her name was Kirika...

Would she even remember him though? It had been a while back and -

“Aaaaa, it's YOU!” came a squeal from across the store.

Rei jumped, just as someone familiar came rushing over to him, stars practically dancing in her eyes. Kirika's blue hair wasn't in ringlets this time – instead, it was braided loops on both sides of her head. Her outfit was just as frilly this time as it was before, but she seemed to have chosen more pastel colors as opposed to anything dark. She lacked an eyepatch this time as well, making the violet color of her eyes stand out all the clearer. Kirika's expression split into a grin as she seized his hands, the woman practically jumping in excitement.

“It's really you! You came back after all this time! Omigosh, you have to model for me again!”

Rei offered her a shaky grin. “Actually, I wanted to ask something first...” he laughed weakly, rubbing the back of his head. “I know it isn't, ah, appropriate to ask this, but I was actually looking for a job...”

Of all the reactions he expected, another loud squeal wasn't one of them. “You kidding?! I'd love to have you here!”

“I don't really know anything about retail though - ”

“That's easy enough to learn, don't worry!”

“ - in fact, I've never had a job before - ”

“We all start somewhere!”

“ - and I'm sure I'll be an inconvenience - ”

“Look, one of my new girls still calls me over to make sure she rings stuff up right, you'll be fine!”

Rei felt the last of his self depreciation dry up under Kirika's excited gaze. “...i-in that case, thank you. But, ah, why...?”

Kirika laughed. “Well, firstly, it's my store, so I'm my own boss and I do what I want.” her chest puffed in pride at that. “But I guess if you want honesty? You'll be a good fit here. You looked good in my clothes - ” she bit back a laugh, noting his blush, “ - and you have a willingness to learn.” she nodded in approval, then held out her hand for a handshake. “Honda Kirika.”

Rei hesitated for a moment, but took her hand. “Hoshino Rei.”

Kirika motioned for him to follow her. “C'mon then, Hoshino-san. Let's get some paperwork filled out.”



“I really think we should do something special for them.” Chie spoke up as the group walked home a few days later. Naori was farther ahead of them, chatting happily with Celes and Masao, and Chie had opted to walk with Mei and the others. Though her gaze was focused on the trio ahead, Chie's gaze was soft, and her smile was warm. “Didn't you say something about a party, Mei-san?”

Usami poked his head out of Mei's bag, his furry cheeks puffed out. “She did! And she never did anything about it!”

Mei poked her fingertips together. “I-I was a little more concerned about Naori-chan and her siblings readjusting...” she admitted, cheeks tinting pink. All of them had made a real effort to make sure to use the names they had chosen, and to not let anything from the past color their present with them.

“Well, why not throw a party for them then?” Chie asked, looking at the others. “After everything that's happened, I think they deserve something nice, don't you?”

“Couldn't agree more.” Ushio nodded, smiling.

“We could throw it at the Teahouse, I don't think they'd expect it there...” Sumire suggested.

“Princess is right! We should surprise 'em!” Ibuki grinned.

“You don't think it might overwhelm them though?” Mei frowned. Celes was already overwhelmed with people confessing to her, and Masao didn't seem thrilled by crowds either. “It might make them feel guilty too.” Naori had talked about how Rei had taken that job at Kirika's shop to help out the Tachibana family...

“It should be fine if it's just us.” Chie assured, and even Mei had to agree with that. “I just – I want them to know we all care about them. I like seeing them all happy.” her smile grew warmer at the chorus of agreements all around. “So then it's settled! We'll throw a surprise party for them. Maybe in another week?”

The others nodded, already started hushed planning. From farther up ahead, Naori turned around, realizing the rest of the group had fallen behind. “Heyyy! Don't fall behind, everyone!” she called out as she waved to them, smiling brightly. The girls laughed as they hurried to catch up, laughter and merriment all around.

Usami found himself smiling as everyone else enjoyed themselves. Everything had been so peaceful lately – no one had to fight anymore, the girls could be normal girls again.

It really was nice.



[eyecatch 1 – A photo album opens up, showing several pictures. The first is the five girls at the park with Mei taking the lead, and the next is Sumire and Ibuki holding hands, with Ushio teasing them. Usami and Naori chase a butterfly in the fourth picture, and the last is the five girls taking a picture against the sunset sky, grins on all their faces. The photo album closes as the Starshine logo appears in the corner.]

[eyecatch 2 – Aries holds her hand out, a small piece of a star appearing in her hand, red in color. She passes the star piece to Pisces, who adds a blue star piece. Virgo and Libra add two star pieces, gold and purple in color, and the star bounces over to Ophiuchus, who adds the last star piece in green. The star turns white and flashes brightly, a starry backdrop appearing. The five Cures pose in front of it as the Starshine logo appears in the corner.]



By the end of the next week, Naori had quickly become aware of three things – the first was that everyone was definitely keeping something secret. The second was that none of the girls were very subtle about their secret keeping.

The third thing was that she wasn't sure if she liked being left out or not.

Logically, she was sure it wasn't malicious. Time and time again, the group had proven they were friends. But it stung a little, knowing Mei, Ushio, Sumire, Ibuki and Chie had something secret together that she wasn't allowed in on.

Celes and Masao had noticed too, at least. The three of them had decided to eat lunch together in the courtyard, forsaking their normal rooftop spot, and while Naori and Celes were generally quiet, it was Masao who had gone uncharacteristically quiet this time around.

It was Celes who broke the silence first. “Have the others been asking strange questions lately?”

Naori tilted her head. “Strange like how?”

“Things like our favorite foods and the like.”

Masao grinned. “I told them I liked yakisoba bread!”

Celes frowned. “You shouldn't eat that all the time, it's unhealthy.”

“But it tastes good!” Masao countered. “Naori agrees too! You're just jealous 'cause seaweed bentos aren't as tasty.”

“They're good for you though - ”

Naori laughed. “No fighting, okay? We all promised Rei-nii - ” her words faltered for a moment, she still wasn't used to referring to him that way, “ - that we would behave at school.”

“By which he meant you, Masao.” Celes added.

“Rei's always spoiling my fun...” Masao grumbled, muttering darkly under his breath for a moment, before he blinked, realizing their topic had veered off course. “Speaking of Rei though, he mentioned he had to ask for a morning shift today – Chie asked him to make sure he was free later. You think the girls are planning something?”

“I would assume so, yes.” Celes nodded.

“And Chie wanted to meet us after school today...” Naori laughed weakly, a wry smile on her face. “They're making it kind of obvious though, huh? We'll have to pretend to be surprised.”

“Perhaps that's the point though?” Celes wondered. “Being obvious to throw us off guard, I mean.”

Masao sighed. “Nah, I'm pretty sure they're just excited.” he grinned in amusement, but it faded after a moment. “...kinda not sure why we're worth it though. I mean, the whole - ”

Naori firmly shook her head. “None of that was your fault.”

“But it's not yours either.” Celes added, trading a glance and a frown with Masao when Naori didn't try to agree. Two weeks now, and while they'd all adjusted well, there was still something hanging in the air that none of the former Serpens knew how to fix. Maybe it was why the phrase “time heals all wounds” existed.

They ate the rest of their lunch in silence, but by the time the bell had rung to return to class, Naori was smiling again. They could take solace in that, at least.



When the end of the school day arrived, Rei found himself waiting at the front of Etoile Academy. Chie had told him he'd need to pick the others up – but judging by the looks on Naori, Celes, and Masao's faces, they hadn't exactly expected his arrival. The confusion of that tapered away, however, when Chie showed up.

“Let's all go to the Teahouse, all right?” she suggested, smile polite as ever. The four of them traded glances, but nodded.

The walk was quiet – the Hoshino siblings didn't seem to know what to say, and Chie seemed content to stay quiet. As the Teahouse came into view, however, Chie finally spoke up.

“I don't think I've properly thanked you all.” she stopped walking, turning to face them. “You all really love Naori-chan, right?” the agreement was immediate, and it made her heart swell. “I love her too. She's practically my little sister, you know? But she's happier with you – and you're happier with her too. So thank you for making her happy, all of you!”

Naori felt herself blushing at the sincerity of it all, but it was Rei who cleared his throat and spoke up. “We haven't thanked you properly either, I think. You took care of Naori when we couldn't - ” his gaze dropped for a moment, guilt coloring his tone, but he shook his head. “ - and even now, you're looking out for us. You're really the best sister that anyone could ask for.”

Chie's eyes widened – and then she smiled warmly. “Thank - ”

Her sentence didn't finish. The chill in the air happened all at once – something that made all four Hoshino siblings freeze up – and in the next instant, Chie's shadow seemed to warp and change all at once, a tendril of darkness suddenly striking her in the chest and yanking out her Inner Star by force.

Naori took a step back, horrified. “...C-Chie...?”

Chie only made a soft noise of surprise, losing consciousness all at once. Rei was closest and he made a reach to grab her before she could collapse – but even as he caught her, the darkness rose and consumed her Inner Star, just before it reformed into something taller, more jagged at the edges. A monstrous, twisting thing, like a living shadow. The bellowing roar it made was unmistakable.

“TROU NOIR!”

Naori stared at the monster, her heart racing. No, this was wrong, this was all...

“Chie-chan!”

Mei and the others arrived, but Naori barely noticed. Her heart was still thudding in her ears. This...this wasn't right...

“How in the hell?!” Ibuki and Ushio cried out at once.

“B-but we...” Sumire stammered. “But R-Rei-san and the others are - ”

Mei gritted her teeth, made a grab for her Star Capsule. “We'll worry about that later! Rei-san, Celes-san, Masao-kun – take Chie-chan and go!” she ordered, just before raising up her Star Capsule with a shaking hand.

Their five voices chorused as one scared whole - “P-Pretty Cure! Wish Upon A Star!” - and five flashes of light later, they stood united.

“The fire star with the determination of a ram, Cure Aries!”
“The water star with the grace of the sea life, Cure Pisces!”
“The earth star with the maiden's innocence, Cure Virgo!”
“The air star with the balance of truth, Cure Libra!”
“The aether star with the holy light, Cure Ophiuchus!”

The Trou Noir lashed at them the second they finished transforming, its arm morphing into a colossal fist that pounded into the ground they stood on. The five Cures scattered, with Pisces and Libra being the ones to leap forward and deliver a fierce dual kick to its head, while the other three Cures leapt away from the immediate danger. The Trou Noir snarled, forced back a little from the double kick, before it lashed out again, practically swatting both Libra and Pisces out of the air. Immediately, Aries and Virgo were on the move to catch their teammates, just before they went on the offensive again.

Ophiuchus could only stand there, thrown out of her element. She had fought only once before as a Cure – and even then, it wasn't real fighting, she had just relied on her Zodiac Arms. But the other girls knew exactly how to fight, how could she just –

No.

No, she couldn't think like that anymore. Usami had told her before she didn't need to be afraid – and right now, it wasn't about her feelings anyways.

Right now, it was about saving Chie.

Her hands balled into shaking fists, fury in her eyes. “Give my sister back!” she shouted, just before leaping into action. She sped towards the Trou Noir and with a battle cry, swung and hit as hard as she could, hitting the monster with a devastating punch that sent it flying. As it careened backwards, the others were happy to deliver their own hits as well. Pisces attacked first, pinning the Trou Noir's own shadow down with her trident, just as Libra and Aries cleaved off each of its shadowy arms. As the monster cried out in agony, Virgo descended from above, slamming her staff straight into the Trou Noir's head and sending it crashing down.

But even then, it still refused to die.

“The hell is this thing made of?!” Pisces cried out – just as the Trou Noir began to shake and reform, new arms forming from its body. It lashed out at Pisces, knocking her away, before tearing its body away from her trident with another howl of pain, its free arm windmilling upwards to knock Virgo away from it, the golden Cure slamming towards the ground.

“Virgo - !” Libra cried out, snarling as she ran at the Trou Noir, scarf billowing as she slashed at it with her sword. The attack hit the monster’s arm dead center - but even as it cleaved into the darkness, the darkness didn’t vanish. The two halves shifted about, one half whipping at Libra and sending her flying, while the other stretched out, aiming for Ophiuchus -

“Oh no you don’t!” Aries yelled, at the younger girl’s side in an instant. She deflected the attack with a burst of fire. “Ophiuchus, are you - ?” she began to ask, just as the tendril lashed out again, wrapping around her and squeezing her tight.

“Aries!” Ophiuchus gasped. But Aries wasn’t the only one caught - new tendrils were beginning to form, trapping the other three Cures where they had collapsed. Her teammates grimaced in pain as the Trou Noir began to advance on her...

Ophiuchus gritted her teeth, summoning her Zodiac Arms. If it was hoping to scare her into submission, she wasn’t going to give it that satisfaction. “Pretty Cure Shining Wave!” she called out, a brilliant wave of light cascading over the Trou Noir. It cried out, no match for the strength of her healing light, but as it wailed and disappeared, just for a moment…

...there was a quiet chuckle in the air.

Ophiuchus stood there once the Trou Noir had vanished, holding her breath. The strange chuckle didn’t repeat itself, and by the time she helped up Aries, she’d convinced herself she was just hearing things.



“SURPRISE!”

The Hoshino siblings hadn’t questioned it when Chie and the other girls had insisted they go ahead - but the shock on their faces was genuine when the four of them entered Tachibana Teahouse and were greeted with the pop of confetti and everyone’s smiling faces.

“It’s...” Masao trailed off, stunned.

“...a party…?” Celes finished, just as surprised. There were colorful balloons and food - all their favorites! - and even gifts…

“Yup!” Mei grinned. “Come on, come on, the food’s gonna get cold!”

“You really didn’t have to go through all this trouble...” Rei laughed as the group ushered them in, feeling his cheeks heat up.

“We wanted to.” Ushio said with a wink. “Though we can’t really take all the credit.”

“Chie-chan was the one who came up with the idea.” Sumire smiled.

“Yeah! She said all y’all deserved something nice after everythin’ that happened.” Ibuki nodded in approval.

Chie smiled, but eyed the four of them nervously. “Do you like it?”

The other three shifted in embarrassment, but it was Naori who spoke up, nodding. “Rei was right. You really are the best sister ever.” she said, smiling when Chie turned pink. And then, with all four of them together: “Thank you, Chie!”

As the party went on, Usami found himself straying from the festivities. Laughter and merriment were all around as gifts were opened and good food was enjoyed, but…

“You worried too?” Mei asked as she came up to him, plate of cake in hand.

Usami paused briefly, then nodded, his ears drooping. “I was just thinking how everything had been so peaceful lately too...”

“We’ll be okay.” Mei said, voice light as she handed the slice of cake over. “I think deep down, we all knew it wasn’t over. That’d be too easy, right?” she laughed a little, scratching her cheek. “But even though it’s not over yet, it’ll all be okay.”

“Mei-chan...”

“After all, we’re the Pretty Cure, right?” Mei smiled. “Saving people, protecting them - it’s what we do.” she placed a hand to Usami’s head, and the two of them looked out the window, as the evening sky began to darken, the first stars beginning to light up the sky.

They’d defeat whatever came their way. She was sure of it.

---

ED: "Across The Sky" – Claris feat. StarSHINE 5

---

ON THE NEXT EPISODE:

Usami: All right, I’ve decided! I’m gonna get stronger too!
Mei: Usami?!
Usami: That’s right! I’ve gotta help you all out better!
Ushio: How do you even train a fairy to get stronger though?
Naori: I guess you can’t have them exercise…
Sumire: Maybe with magic?
Ibuki: But we don’t really got a way t’help with that…
Usami: W-well, it doesn’t matter how we do it! I’m gonna get stronger!
Mei: Sounds like he’s filled with determination! Next time on Starshine! Pretty ✰ Cure: I’ll be strong like all of you! Usami’s shining spirit! Don't forget to make a wish next time too!
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