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Akoya goes to the shrine alone this year.

It’s a blessing, really. Usually one of his family’s people would accompany him, but now that he’s able to conduct himself, they finally leave him be. (Truth be told, he has always been able to conduct himself; now he’s just old enough for people to acknowledge it.) He sees two of his classmates some feet away from him, one blowing warmth onto his fingers while the other admonishes him for forgetting his gloves. Akoya looks away.

Despite visiting the shrine rather early, the pine trees are already lined with fortunes. Akoya pulls his fortune out of the box and unrolls it. Great blessing. He looks over at the pine trees, where his classmates are now tying their fortunes to the branches. If Akoya had to guess, he’d say they both also received blessings, based on their expressions. He wonders why he even cares.

The bell chimes.

Akoya hastily claps his hands together in prayer, the small strip of paper still clutched between his fingers.

 

 

 

second

The closest shrine up to Kinshirou’s standards is two hours away by car, so two hours away by car they go.

The gate at the front of the shrine is worn but well-cared for, opening to a height of stone steps, at the top which sits a small wooden roof. Branches and a bell hang from the rafters over a simply carved bench, engraved with gold-painted flowers. A box holding fortunes sits on the bench, behind a tray for offerings, looking elegant but lonely in the middle of the shrine. Akoya wonders when he last found something so simple to be so beautiful.

Arima reaches out to ring the bell, and the three of them clap their hands together, thoughts pulling inward. Kinshirou, surprisingly, is the first to blink back to reality. “Our fortunes,” he says, simply, and Akoya is the first to take his out of the box.

“Normal blessing,” Arima reads, looking pleased. “And you two?”

“I also have a normal blessing,” Kinshirou states.

Akoya glances down at his paper. Normal blessing. “I have the same.”

“Well,” Arima comments, “I suppose normal blessing is fitting, after our fortunes last year.” He smiles at the two of them, then, but Akoya quickly realizes his expression is meant for Kinshirou, something soft and content and private, that Akoya is only allowed to see because of proximity, and because Arima would never let Akoya feel alone. Akoya briefly wonders what their fortunes were last year, before his mind flits to his own fortune, still unrolled in his desk at home. He wonders what his great blessing was, and remembers being alone.

His phones chimes.

“Important?” Kinshirou questions, already tying his fortune to one of the hanging branches. In the past, he might have sounded disdainful, but now he only sounded politely disinterested.

“Maybe,” Akoya answers, pulling out his phone.

 

from: Zaou Ryuu

Happy new year!!!! You better be doing something cool out there!

 

from: Naruko Io

Happy new year, Akoya. I hope fate treats you well.

 

“Akoya?” Kinshirou calls, seemingly not for the first time. Arima and Kinshirou are already partway down the shrine steps. “While I enjoy seeing you smile, the driver is waiting.”

I’m smiling? “Since when did you care about the driver waiting?” Akoya teases, if only to take the attention off himself. He knows Kinshirou hates leaving anyone waiting, if he can help it.

“Since always,” Kinshirou answers, quite predictably, and continues to walk down the steps.

“I like seeing you smile, too,” Arima says, as Akoya catches up to him. “You don’t often look that happy.”

Akoya wants to deny it, because there are a lot of things that make him happy, but he thinks he knows what Arima is getting at, and decides not to comment.

He doesn’t notice the fortune still clutched in his hand until the shrine is far behind them.

 

 

 

third

The bell chimes, and Akoya claps his hands together in prayer.

“Akoya!” someone calls out, interrupting the metallic hum. He wants to be mad, he really does, but that voice hasn’t made him truly mad for what feels like a long time. “I didn’t know you came to this shrine.”

Ryuu jogs toward him, tugging Io by the sleeve. “Of course I go to this shrine,” Akoya says, once the two are in decent earshot. “Where else in Binan would I go?”

“I don’t know, thought you might go out to the city, or something.” Ryuu comes to a stop next to him, breathing into his hands. Io settles on his other side, bracketing Akoya in. It’s not as bad as it might sound.

Io tilts his head, hands in his pockets. “Who would go to the city for a shrine visit? Wouldn’t people rather go to the countryside?”

“I was just giving examples,” Ryuu mumbles, mouth still covered by his hands in a pathetic attempt for warmth.

Akoya frowns, then says, “Would it kill you to wear gloves?” and, in a fit of new-years impulsiveness, pulls Ryuu’s hands away from his face. “I can practically feel my skin cracking, looking at you.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Io comments. “His fingers are going to go numb.”

“Enough about my hands!” Ryuu exclaims, pulling his hands to his chest.

“Kid,” Akoya mutters, as Ryuu petulantly stuffs his hands under his arms, further proving Akoya’s point.

Io smiles at them, just a little. “Let’s grab our fortunes,” he says, “before the next wave of people.”

Akoya is the last to grab his fortune. Small blessing.

“Small blessing,” Ryuu reads, and for a moment, Akoya thinks he’s reading over his shoulder. “I guess I could’ve been cursed, instead. I should count, well, the small blessings in life.” He turns to Io. “I bet you got a great blessing again, this year?”

“Yes,” Io answers, simply.

To Akoya’s surprise (though he probably shouldn’t be surprised anymore), Ryuu nudges Akoya with his elbow and tells him, “I’ve never seen Io get anything worse than a middle blessing, yet he acts all surprised every year. Guess all that hard work makes him lucky.”

Akoya blinks. “He doesn’t look very surprised.”

“I’m grateful,” Io clarifies, then goes to tie his fortune in the pine trees. “Though it never hurts to try and increase your chances.”

“What’d you get?” Ryuu asks, pressing against Akoya’s arm in attempt to read it.

“Small blessing, also,” Akoya answers, but Ryuu doesn’t move away.

Ryuu shrugs, arm still pressed against him. “Sucks, better luck next year. Literally.” He shrugs again. “I don’t know about you, but I always leave mine at the shrine. It can’t hurt, you know?”

Akoya doesn’t know, actually, as he suddenly remembers the fortunes still sitting in his desk at home. He had forgotten about them, over the year, as the seasons passed by without him noticing, caught up in – Io and Ryuu, mostly, now that he thought about it. Io and Ryuu in his space and taking his time and his attention, and Akoya not really minding. He wonders when it started. He wonders if it matters.

“Let’s tie our fortunes in the trees, yeah?” Ryuu says, walking to where Io is and bringing the weight of his arm with him.

Akoya follows, and ties his small blessing to a high branch, as Io lowers back down to his heels and Ryuu struggles to tie a knot, despite him apparently doing this every year. Maybe his fingers really are going numb.

Io huffs in amusement at Ryuu, then bumps his shoulder with Akoya’s. “We were going to get something to eat, after this. Come with us?”

“It’d be kind of weird without you, at this point,” Ryuu adds, still struggling with his fortune.

My great blessing, Akoya thinks, is right here. “The food better be up to my standards.”

Ryuu laughs, and maybe it’s the giddiness of the new year, or the weight of Io and Ryuu suddenly throwing an arm around Akoya each, but Akoya almost feels inclined to tell them how blessed he feels. Almost.

Another day, he promises himself. A long, long time from now.

This year’s fortune, tied high in the pine trees, sways in the wind.