It was just a tiny crack that howled through his soul. An unfinished requiem, building up to a crescendo of every voiceless scream he could never let out.
“Mirrors don’t have a soul,” Sho would often say, fingers hovering over each new jagged line, causing more pain than the intended comfort.
“I wasn’t always a mirror,” he’d say, pout more felt than seen. His bored tone had never failed to make Sho laugh. He loved Sho’s laugh.
“Am I still fairest in all the land?”
“Yes.” A new crack throbbed. “Always.”
“Thank you,” Sho smiled, eyes glinting with tears. “Liar.”
“You broke the shoe?” Sho shrieked, glass fragment in one hand, detached heel in the other. “Satoshi-kun!”
Prince Satoshi yawned, a fist pressed to his lips, muffling his words, “It was an accident.”
The fretful manservant stomped after his prince, shoving the door that almost hit his face. “This is our only clue to that mysterious girl from last night!”
“I only danced with her because you told me to, Sho-chan. Besides,” Prince Satoshi belly flopped into his bed, sighing, “it doesn’t fit you anyway.”
Prince Satoshi began to snore.
“Idiot,” Sho snorted, a smile tugging at his lips.
“It’s hopeless, Satoshi-kun!” the Beast whined, his chestnut fur sticking out in his distress. Not even the numbered footprints Satoshi drew on the floor could help them now.
“That’s okay, my liege,” Masaki piped up. “Your royal friend, Prince Jun, has already run off with Kazumi. You don’t need to learn to dance anymore—”
Satoshi tapped his wooden handle on the teapot’s blabby spout.
Then he wiggled his hopper brush on the floor, creating an enlarged likeness of a hairy snowman that slowly, surely, sparked a smile on his master’s face.
“True,” the tamed Beast crooned. “We’ll always have Totoro...”
“I’m fine, really,” Satoshi insisted. “Stop following me!”
“Papa Ohno left you to my care,” Sho huffed, struggling to keep up on his furry wee legs. “That’s exactly what—nyawr!”
The startled feline fell on his rump, stray thorn stuck to a hind paw. His master was beside him instantly, inspecting the splinter for all of two seconds before yanking it out.
Sho yowled, cradling his injured paw.
“Wear these before you kill yourself.” Satoshi tossed out a pair of boots from his bag.
The clumsy feline’s heart fluttered at his smug master’s mumbled aside—
"Who’s looking after who now...”
Satoshi cupped a hand to his chin, amused. “I think I know this fish...”
“Oh my god! It’s not a relative, is it?” Sho shrieked.
“Well...” Satoshi side-eyed his partner, noting the panicked crease on his brows, the red apron he had donned with determination and pride just an hour ago.
“Satoshi-kun, gomen! It totally slipped my mind!”
Humming, Satoshi laced his fingers through Sho’s. The feast before them smelled sumptuous, even poor grilled Sammy. It’s been years since he’d seen his kindergarten bully, one since he traded his tail for legs. “Let’s just give him a proper burial later.”
“I thought genies came from lamps!” Sho screamed.
“Genie University’s all out of lamps.” The apparition before him drifted soundlessly into the opposite seat. “We make do with what we have.”
Horrified, Sho threw the spoon at his unwanted guest. It sailed through, striking the wall then the floor with a dejected clatter.
“That’s the Headmaster’s spoon,” the Genie’s sharp nose twitched with annoyance. “I can still give you three wishes, you know.”
“I only want to eat dinner!”
One magical snap conjured a sumptuous feast.
Sho’s pale face lit up with excitement.
The Genie coughed back a careless, “Kawaii...”
The spell was cast before Prince Sho could say another word. A blur of colors, empty whoosh through his chest.
When he opened his eyes, he was in his lackey’s body and his lackey was in his.
The old hermit Nino grinned, creepier than the devil. “You wake me up, you pay.”
Satoshi in Prince Sho’s body looked lost, like his mind had just rebooted.
The prince opened Satoshi’s mouth to scream.
“Give it a month to pass,” the mischievous hermit teased, retreating into the trees.
Satoshi finally caught up and gasped.
Prince Sho just kept screaming.
Satoshi hurried up the tower stairs. Prince Masaki clambered close behind him. The dragon had been slain, but the prince was losing breath.
“C’mon!” Satoshi snarled, skillful fingers fiddling with the lock. It snapped open with ease and the dwarf was first through the door to lay eyes on the sleeping prince.
Prince Sho looked serene, framed by flowering vines on a pristine bed.
But the mesmerized dwarf only had a moment to admire the sight before a groaning Prince Masaki bumped into him
Satoshi toppled over Sleeping Sho.
Prince Masaki lived to see the royal wedding the following day.
Little Sho gaped at the hunter, “We’re doing what?!”
“Fill the wolf’s belly with pebbles,” Satoshi’s tone was dull, like he was just halfway there. “Throw him into the river.”
“Why the fuss?” Little Sho quipped, tossing pebbles into his sack. “Let’s just throw him and be done with it!”
“He’ll float back up and eat you and grandma again.”
“Won’t you be around to protect us anyway?”
Satoshi met Little Sho’s hopeful gaze, a hint of amusement in his eyes. “You trust me that much?”
“No,” Little Sho mumbled, grabbing a handful of pebbles. “But you’re better than nothing.”
“I have unnaturally soft ears...” Satoshi mused.
Sho giggled through the hissing fire gnawing on his ballerina’s paper leg. “You have soft everything...”
They laughed. Glowing embers floated above them, resembling stars on a cloudless night—
“You’re melting, Sho-chan,” Satoshi wheezed, the fire now licking at his neck. “I like how you look in my mind better...”
“Likewise, Satoshi-kun...” Sho whispered as the last of the paper ballerina fizzled into smoke. He sighed, his eyelids fusing close.
In his mind, he could see Satoshi pirouetting into the stars.
On the fireplace, they left behind a spangle and a tin heart.
“Caught anything yet?”
Satoshi blinked out of sleep, grip tightening around his fishing rod on instinct. He glanced around. “What—?”
“Down here.” A frog, eyes big and imploring, waved a webbed paw at him. “Yo!”
“I ain’t kissing you,” Satoshi declared right away, making careful adjustments to his line.
The frog hopped closer, cautious but determined. “Whatever.”
“Leave me be, bratty prince.”
“I have a boat.”
“And a ship.” The frog hopped closer still. “And I’ll let you fish all day lon—”
The kiss felt warm, slimy.
Still worth it for one gorgeous prince and Satoshi’s dream ship.
The old man closes the storybook, tired but loving gaze resting on his grandsons.
Jun is curled up by himself, sucking on a thumb. Beside him, Masaki and Kazunari cuddled, mumbling as though lost in a mutual dream.
Cold breeze drifts through the open window, bringing with it a familiar visitor, sly and soundless like a shadow.
A knowing glint passes the ageless boy’s eyes. “Is it time...?”
The old man smiles, tears blurring his sight. He’s sad, fearful, and happy, all at once.
Satoshi leans closer, pressing the lightest kiss on a wrinkled forehead. “See you in Neverland, Sho-chan...”