the dawning of
In the past week, the boy who was now called Philip had experienced a great deal.
He’d seen the outdoors for the first time. He’d felt the wind on his face as he clung to Shotaro on the back of the HardBoilder. He’d seen falling rain, heard it pattering on the rooftop, and reached a hand out from underneath the Kamome Billiards overhang to catch the drops in his palm.
He’d co-opted the whiteboards in the garage as his own personal research tools, and he had experienced for the first time the sensation of marker dust on his fingertips. He’d earned his first concussion when he’d fallen off of the grated overhang to the concrete floor at one point when Shotaro had to transform.
He now had clothing other than the pair of white pajamas he’d worn constantly at the lab. The variety in colors and textures was fascinating.
He’d eaten food that wasn’t plain rice. More importantly, he’d learned that it was customary to eat more than one meal a day.
But there was still so much more to experience, to learn, to do. Upon finding out that today was a celebration called “New Year’s Eve”, Philip had read as much on the subject as he could before Shotaro called him out of the garage, dressed him up in a spare yukata that he’d managed to obtain from somewhere—Philip didn’t think to ask—and dragged him out of the office for the first time since he’d rescued him from that laboratory.
He had his own motorcycle helmet now, so he couldn’t feel the breeze as easily as he had that night a week ago. He didn’t have to ask where they were going. He knew Shotaro loved the city of Fuuto more than anything else, and he’d read that the symbol of the city, Fuuto Tower, would be playing host to a Western-style New Year’s celebration tonight. The connection was obvious.
Philip smirked to himself when he saw the tower in the distance, shining brightly with strung-up lights arranged in the shape of the number 2009. His calculation had proven correct.
The crowd surrounding the tower was massive. Shotaro led Philip through the throng of townspeople to a particular spot not too close to the tower but not too far away, either. From here they could see the entire spectacular display, complete with fireworks lighting up the sky. Philip knew that there were three shrines within a mile’s radius of the tower. He wondered if they would be able to hear the bells ringing from here. Even if the sound would have carried over that distance, he wasn’t sure that they would be heard over the sounds of the fireworks and the crowd surrounding them.
He stood closer to Shotaro than was strictly necessary, keeping a hand on his arm the entire time. Being around this many people was practically dizzying.
“Are you sure this is wise?” he murmured into Shotaro’s ear.
Shotaro jumped. “Wh-what? Is what wise? Don’t talk so close to my face like that!”
Ignoring the admonishment, Philip clarified, “Being out amidst a crowd like this. The syndicate is surely looking for me.”
Realization dawned on Shotaro’s face. That clearly hadn’t occurred to him.
“It’s too late now.” Philip shrugged. And as uncomfortable as it was to be packed in on all sides by thousands of strangers, he wasn’t going to give up the opportunity to see this.
A gigantic TV screen hanging off the side of Fuuto Tower lit up. Philip could feel his heart stop when he saw the woman whose face appeared on it. “Good evening, Fuuto! Princess Wakana here, to ring in the new year with you all! In just a few minutes we’ll be counting down to 2009. I can’t wait!”
A cheer went up from the crowd. Philip tugged on Shotaro’s sleeve. “Who’s that?”
Shotaro stared dreamily up at the display. “That’s Wakana Sonozaki. She’s this city’s resident angel.”
“Angel?!” As in a messenger from God? Philip would have to look into this further. Not now, though. Later. When they got home. It wouldn’t do to start glowing in public, and furthermore, if he retreated into the bookshelves now he wouldn’t be able to see this so-called angel’s face.
To pass the time until the countdown, Wakana sang a song she called Naturally. Much of the crowd danced and swayed in time with the music, Shotaro included. Philip was too transfixed to move, or indeed to do much of anything but stare in awe up at the screen.
The time on the screen ticked over to 23:59. Wakana grinned and clapped her hands. “Here we go, everyone!”
And Philip was jerked back into reality. There was something very important that was going to happen at the stroke of midnight. A vital tradition that he couldn’t miss out on. When the crowd surrounding him and Shotaro began to count down, he didn’t add his voice to theirs; it would be too risky, too conspicuous. Instead he narrowed his eyes at the timer on the screen, and once it reached five he turned to face his partner.
“Eh? What are you doing?” Shotaro asked.
Philip grasped Shotaro’s arms in his hands.
“I’ve read everything there is to know about the celebration of the new year.”
“This is a very important tradition, Shotaro.”
“Happy New Year!”
Philip tugged Shotaro close to him and pressed their lips together.
Fireworks filled the sky until night seemed to turn to day. In the distance, Philip thought he could just barely hear the tolling of the bells at the nearby shrines. But in his arms, his partner was as rigid as steel. Was that how one should react to being kissed? Philip honestly had no idea.
As the cheering around them subsided, Philip broke the kiss and grinned. “Happy New Year, Shotaro.”
Shotaro stared blankly for a moment before shouting incoherently. “Wh-what the hell, Philip?!”
“Wasn’t that great?” Princess Wakana said from the TV screen. “Now, just for you, a special encore performance of Naturally!”
Shotaro dragged Philip out of the crowd and back to the parking lot. “I don’t understand,” Philip protested. “Everything I read indicated that kissing one’s partner at the stroke of midnight on the new year is a vital tradition!”
“One’s partner...?” Shotaro wrinkled his nose. “You don’t kiss your partner.”
“That’s what it said!”
As he swung his leg over the HardBoilder, Shotaro asked, “What language are those books of the planet written in, Philip?”
Shotaro groaned. He pulled his helmet on before Philip could ask why his face was so red.
The world outside the syndicate lab was a very strange place. But all the same, Philip thought, he liked it.
And he liked kissing, too. He would have to try it again sometime.