Shuuji wakes up one morning, when it's just barely light outside, because his nipples are sore, rubbing against his pyjama shirt. He runs a hand up underneath to hike the shirt up, and finds that he has breasts. Not huge but there, large enough that his palm curve to cup the flesh underneath before he thinks about it. Shuuji chooses not to think about it, and rolls over, goes back to sleep.
This is what he gets for drinking soymilk that someone left out of the fridge overnight. Bad dream.
When his alarm sounds, Shuuji sits up in bed, not looking down. His chest is still too heavy, and the crotch of his pyjama pants is cutting into him someplace weird. Someplace in that hadn't existed last night when he went to sleep.
Shuuji pinches his arm.
It doesn't help. His body is still a girl's. Shuuji's alarm goes again; he hit the snooze button before. It isn't funny and it isn't fair, but he has school today, so he gets up.
Shuuji dresses thinking about making Koji's breakfast and walking him to school. Everything mostly fits, especially with a handful of safety pins taking up his trouser hems and making impromptu darts in his waistband. His arse sticks out more than it should, but it's not so bad with the jacket on. Shuuji wears two pairs of socks, one over the other, to make his shoes fit. It'll have to do. Every stray glance in the mirror makes Shuuji's skin crawl.
He's late making breakfast and waking everyone up, so maybe there's not time for his brother or his father to look close and see how thin his face has become. Shuuji runs in the school gate just as the bell sounds, running with his hair falling down the sides of his face, over his eyes. He steps into his classroom and doesn't know how he'll make it through the whole day.
"Shuuji-kun! Today I woke up a girl!"
Akira is waving, and Shuuji is struck dumb with unexpected embarrassment. Akira is wearing their school's girl's uniform: white bloused black sailor fuku with black socks that stretch halfway up his calves, about fifteen small pink ribbons tied in tiny bows throughout his hair, glittery pink lip gloss that makes Akira's lips even fuller than normal and something black edges his eyelids.
Akira's fuku fits him well-- too well, really, and Shuuji has his suspicions-- and the lines of his make-up are practiced and professional, but the ribbons push the costume over into ridiculous. Not to mention that Akira is not sitting at his desk, but on it, legs spread and feet swinging. The one reason Shuuji can't see his panties-- underwear, underwear-- is that Akira has his hands in his lap propping himself up.
Shuuji doesn't know what to say as he makes his way to his desk: next to Akira's, of course. Neither does the rest of the class, looking anywhere but Akira with horrified fascination. At least no one is looking at him, Shuuji thinks.
"Akira sent Shuuji-kun a message," Akira says.
Shuuji wouldn't hit a girl, but this is Akira, whom Shuuji is going to treat like a boy as long as he can. He slaps Akira high on one skirt-covered thigh, and tells him to sit properly, like on a chair. Shuuji opens his phone, and skips past Akira's message to the other he missed this morning.
Nobuta writes: "Akira said he is a girl today. Is Shuuji OK?"
Kanada-sensei comes in before Shuuji can think of a reply.
At first break, Shuuji drags Akira down to the toilets. Shuuji puts his hand on the door to enter, but Akira digs his heels in and they go nowhere.
"Can't go in there," Akira says, pointing at the title on the door, before slipping his hand from Shuuji's and folding his arms across his chest. It makes his bust more obvious. Shuuji looks only at his face. "Girl today."
The subtle crowd from the classroom has followed them out and grown.
"You're just as much a girl today as I am," Shuuji says. While Akira makes faces as he tries to figure that out, Shuuji grabs hold, turns and yanks Akira into the boys' toilets after him.
Inside, Shuuji pushes Akira up against the wall, fencing Akira's arms down with his body, and starts attacking the ribbons. Akira's hair is short enough that they're not tied to his hair, just onto pins that come out quick, metallic pinging as they hit the tiled floor.
Akira glares, squirming against Shuuji, trying to get his hands free. It makes Shuuji's face hot, all the stupid, stray, nowhere touches, like Akira's knuckles scraping into Shuuji's now too soft belly. Akira stops in the middle of chanting: "So mean, so mean, Shuuji-kun is so mean," because his hands have come high enough that Shuuji's jacket is no protection at all. "Akira and Shuuji--"
Shuuji cups his hand over Akira's mouth before he can finish the sentence. "Don't say that."
Akira's eyes flash, but then he rolls his eyes, a roll that goes all the way down to his hips, and nods. "Why is Shuuji stealing Akira's ribbons?"
The first thing Shuuji thinks to say is that pink isn't Akira's colour, but the colour looks good on his lips. Akira's lips still look very good like this, almost normal. "Why are you wearing ribbons?"
"My stylist said they looked cute." A stylist, of course. How else did Akira get a fuku that fit him so well at such short notice? "--Shuuji-kun doesn't like Akira like this?"
"No, I--" Shuuji can't say anything to Akira's face, not when they're this close. He can feel the heat of Akira's body through his uniform. It's not even the skirt, so much as knowing what it hides, what his own uniform hides. It's a weird feeling: wrong body, wrong shape, but so very right face. "Just the ribbons. The rest isn't so bad."
Shuuji steps back, looks at his feet as he bows in apology. "Sorry. For pulling your hair."
"Can kiss it better?" Akira suggests, his hand coming up to make a shadow-pig's head, which 'kisses' Shuuji once on the cheek. "Kon-kon!"
At lunch, Tomo and Ryou break up and make-up, fiery and spectacular. Tomo throws the bento she made for Ryou at his head, her captain-of-the-softball-team perfect aim leaving sticky rice trailing down his glasses. He promises not to forget her next match, not again, and eats the carrot batons sticking out of his collar one at a time. Most importantly, Shuuji and Akira are no longer the main attraction.
Shuuji also gets a picture message from Mariko. It makes things today make about as much sense as Shuuji thinks he can hope for. The picture has the tell-tale blur of a candid shot in motion. One of their classmates had caught Nobuta and Mariko walking side by side: Nobuta is smiling, that's good to see, and so is Mariko. They're holding hands.
Mariko says: "This is us yesterday. Could you please send a picture of you and Akira? Nobuta is worried."
Shuuji and Mariko are better friends now than they ever were while dating. She's thanked him more than once for 'breaking her heart', because there is a freedom in no one expecting her to date right now. She is Nobuta's best friend the way that Shuuji is Akira's, calm and cautious paired with boisterous and loud. Shuuji has always thought that if he liked girls, it would be Mariko, but kissing Akira is strange but not bad, like always, even like this.
Hina has her phone flipped open, pointed at the mess of Ryou's lunch. Shuuji asks her if she would mind taking some other pictures.
Akira sits on Shuuji's desk, his black high-socked legs crossed but still swinging and one arm thrown around Shuuji's neck. Hina sends the picture to both their phones, and Shuuji almost doesn't flinch to see himself. He can understand why none of their classmates have figured out their transformation. He and Akira had both been almost too pretty for boys, like they could have been idols in another life, so this is only another shade of androgyny, and everyone is used to Akira's special kind of insanity. Akira is grinning, in the picture and on his desk. That's what's important.
"Nobuta will like this," Akira says.
Nobuta texts back: "Akira pretty. Shuuji should eat more."
They don't talk about it until they're half-asleep trying to fit into his single bed, Akira having followed him home as he does every other night. Shuuji's family haven't noticed his body is a girl's, not yet. His father never comments about how often Akira visits, and he didn't comment about the way Shuuji and Akira disappeared so early into his room. Shuuji told Koji he needed to study, apologised for not being able to help him with his homework tonight.
"Look, a star!" Akira says, sitting up. "Make a wish."
"We don't have to be girls to hold hands," Shuuji says.
Akira sighs, nods severely, once, twice, and points insistently back at the window. The night sky in Tokyo was always too bright for stars, but here Shuuji can see thousands. He can only see Akira's outline when he moves. "Wish!"
Shuuji obediently shuts his eyes and wishes; Akira falls back to the bed like a meteorite, rolling onto his side to press closer to Shuuji's body-- and then stops. He reaches across to touch the side of Shuuji's face, a soft touch, like Shuuji is more delicate now, and Shuuji pulls away.
"Shuuji-kun doesn't like being a girl."
"OK. Shuuji and Akira can be boys again," Akira says.
Shuuji finds that he's holding his breath, just in case it is that easy, but eventually he has to exhale. Nothing has changed.
"Boys kiss," Akira says. His hand finds Shuuji's face again, and this time it's nothing like a suggestion.
In the dark, on their sides, the hungry press of Akira's mouth feels almost normal, like so many other nights in this new house that isn't really new anymore, trying to keep quiet with his little brother on the other side of the wall. Akira's hands stay above Shuuji's waist, above his pyjama shirt. It feels good. Shuuji's skin gets hot, rubs sensitive against the thin cotton of his pyjamas. Akira whispers his name, over and over, between kisses on Shuuji's mouth, Shuuji's cheeks, even in Shuuji's ears. Shuuji rolls them over, so that he's lying on Akira, their legs spread, tangled and moving. It's not like when they were boys, but what they do is good, it's enough and it makes them both tired. Less mess, too, Shuuji thinks, before passing out.
In the morning, Shuuji finds that Akira is sprawled over him, and that he has a penis. They both do, and they're late for school. Akira borrows one of Shuuji's uniforms to get dressed, and folds up the skirt, the socks, and the bra. He leaves them in a neat pile on Shuuji's bed, and asks if Shuuji can fix them to fit this Akira.
The idea of Akira as a boy in a skirt is just different than yesterday's strangeness. It makes Shuuji look at his feet, face hot. “Ok,” he says-- and Akira crows, before they both look at the clock and run out of his room.
Akira grins, passing out dishes onto the table while Shuuji fills the kettle and the rice steamer. It's a good day.