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The Moon's Spell

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“Some more tea, Kinshiro?”

Kinshiro had been lost in thought so he almost missed Arima’s words at first. It was only when he looked over at him to see his concerned expression as he held the small kettle towards him that he realized his vice president had spoken.

“Ah, yes. Thank you, Arima.”

Arima went to refill his cup as Kinshiro’s gaze went back to the dark sky, searching for the moon which was just beginning to rise. Light music was playing in the distance, though Kinshiro had basically tuned it out. Arima and Akoya had attempted to engage Kinshiro in idle chatter, but he knew he wasn’t being the best conversationalist.

The student council had decided to join the moon-viewing festival together, but Kinshiro’s mind was elsewhere - lost in a pit of memories weighing him down, memories that he couldn’t escape, memories that he was drowning in. Painful memories that sent him spiralling in an internal, never-ending maze of what-ifs and if-onlys.

Kinshiro’s hand shook as he took another sip of the warm tea. It wasn’t a terribly cool October evening, the temperature was nice enough, but there was an icy cold chill within him that the tea didn’t soothe. He felt too restless to sit there and watch the moon rise higher with a pit of dread in his stomach.

“I need a moment,” Kinshiro suddenly announced, standing up. Arima nodded, looking at him with understanding. Akoya didn’t comment either, just accepted Kinshiro’s words as he took a sip of his own tea.

Kinshiro’s legs took him away from the private area where he, Arima and Akoya had been sitting on a blanket in the grass and towards the chatter and music of the people watching a performance and getting dumplings and rabbit shaped sweets from food stalls set up around.

It honestly was a good place to hold the Binan City moon-viewing festival, a place away from light pollution, a place with a lot of space for people to join and sit on their own if they wanted to be further away from the crowd and watch the moon with their family or friends in silence.

Kinshiro’s stomach churned uncomfortably. He used to love the day of the moon-viewing festival. Now, it wasn’t the same. Nothing was the same anymore.

His feet took him past more stalls decorated with autumn flowers and grasses, not even sure where he was going.

All around, there were people sitting on the grass like he’d just been doing with Akoya and Arima, watching the moon rise. Kinshiro knew he should get back to his… well, co-workers was too stiff, but he wasn’t sure if he would be getting too ahead of himself to call them friends, either.

Kinshiro knew he needed a quiet moment away from the festivities to gather his thoughts and give himself time to calm down and to ease what was boiling underneath his surface. He had other things to think about, after all, like the upcoming cultural festival. He was the student council president, he didn’t have time for distractions like this. But as much as he told himself that, he couldn’t help it, much like he couldn’t help it when he had been betrayed.

He focused his attention on the sky once again, walking toward a secluded area behind some stalls, moving past a growth of trees in which he knew there was another clearing. It was far enough away from the chatter and music so that he could attempt to relax for the first time this evening.

Once he stepped away into the clearing, he froze. There was someone else there, sitting on the grass, looking upwards, just visible underneath the stars and the light from the moon which still appeared low in the sky.

Kinshiro’s feet grew roots, digging deep into the ground, leaving him unable to move.

Kinugawa Atsushi.

Sparks of anger ignited Kinshiro’s chest - this was where Kinshiro had headed to calm himself down, how dare he be there too, always ruining Kinshiro’s mood as if he was doing it on purpose. Always there, his presence mocking.

Always three meters away. Always out of reach.

An ill feeling took hold of Kinshiro’s stomach, his heart also thrashing around. He knew he should turn around and leave. After all, memories of Atsushi were what he had been trying to escape from.

But something kept him there, watching.

After the initial shock and wave of painful feelings ebbed in and out, Kinshiro had finally looked closely at his childhood friend.

Atsushi was watching the moon with a wistful expression of sadness, the expression being bathed with moonlight, making it more pronounced.

Serves him right, Kinshiro thought gleefully.

A part of him was glad that Atsushi looked sad. He always seemed so happy with the defense club, those fools, forgetting Kinshiro’s existence after having replaced him all those years ago. If Atsushi felt any pain whatsoever, he was glad.

But the other part of him, the part that he wanted to ignore, to forget about, began to hurt even more upon seeing that kind of expression on Atsushi. It just made the ache in his chest go deeper, more painful, throbbing to the deepest depths of himself.

No matter how much he tried to stop it, tried to push the feelings down, down, down, smothering them, no matter how much he had to remind himself that he had been betrayed by this boy, he couldn’t help it - he missed him. He missed him so badly, so deeply, that he couldn’t breathe sometimes. It was unbearable.

Even standing there, Kinshiro became so breathless that he’d lost all semblance of thought or reason. He should have gotten out of there the moment he saw who it was, then he wouldn’t be standing here, drowning under the moonlight, all these memories he wanted to escape flooding back and knocking into him like a tidal wave.

And he wouldn’t have to see the look on Atsushi’s face when he looked up and noticed Kinshiro standing there.



--


“Kin-chan, hurry!”

“Wait for me, At-chan!”

Kinshiro’s feet couldn’t keep up with Atsushi, especially an excited Atsushi. They were running up their grassy hill, Kinshiro a bit far behind. He almost dropped the dumplings he was holding.

As Atsushi stopped at the top of the hill, he turned and scratched his cheek, a sheepish expression on his face.

“Sorry, Kin-chan, I was too excited…”

“The moon isn’t even up yet,” Kinshiro said, a bit miffed, as he finally caught up, panting as he bent over to catch his breath.

“It will be soon,” Atsushi argued. Though Kinshiro couldn’t stay mad at Atsushi as he had that happy smile on his face that made Kinshiro feel all warm inside.

They sat down together on the hill, and Kinshiro passed half of the rounded rice dumplings over to Atsushi.

Kinshiro felt grateful that their parents allowed them this. Not that his family would have wanted to spend the moon-viewing festival together anyway, with them being so busy all the time…

Atsushi had invited him to join him, his parents, and sister at his house for the moon-viewing, which Kinshiro agreed. He’d join them later, but first… he wanted to spend some time with Atsushi, just the two of them on their hill, just as usual.

They usually only watched the stars, but tonight, the moon would be big and bright and beautiful.

He felt so lucky to have Atsushi as his friend. To have someone to watch the moon and stars with.

As they munched on the dumplings, courtesy of Atsushi’s mom, together, the moon slowly rose, brightening the sky with it’s brilliance…

Though Kinshiro honestly thought Atsushi was more brilliant. He kept watching him with a smile.

Atsushi smiled back at him and took his hand. Again, just like always.

Maybe later they could make wishes again. He wondered if there would be any shooting stars.

“Kin-chan,” Atsushi said suddenly, “let’s do this again next year, and the year after, okay?”

“Oh,” Kinshiro said, his cheeks getting warm. “Yeah. I want to too.”

They were friends forever, after all.

Every year he wanted to do the moon-viewing with Atsushi, and that knowledge made him feel the happiest he’d ever been.

Atsushi grinned at him, reaching out the pinky on his other hand. It was like their promise under the shooting stars not too long ago. But they didn’t need shooting stars to make promises like this. In his mind, it was just a given, anyway.

He linked his pinky with Atsushi’s with a smile.


--


His mind told him to turn around and leave. He had been spotted. Atsushi saw him. Was still seeing him. And yet Kinshiro’s legs were still unable to move.

Kinshiro tried to read the expression on Atsushi’s face as he looked at him, but it was difficult as it seemed like an array of different feelings passed over his face. But in the end, he ended up looking nervous, timid. His eyes darted between the moon and Kinshiro’s face and back again, almost like he was debating leaving, himself.

The internal struggle pulled at Kinshiro’s mind like a tug of war. He felt like his heart had gotten pierced with an arrow from his archery bow. He should be the one to leave, to escape these feelings, these feelings that were present no matter what he did, no matter how he tried to rid himself of them.

But somehow his legs wobbled and he found himself moving forward, closer to Atsushi.

He must be a masochist. Why else would he be moving closer to the source of all of his agony over the past few years?

He’d pushed it down, covering his pain with a blank expression and cold, icy words, an attempt to hurt as he’d been hurt, so why, why did his feet have a mind of their own? He didn’t want to talk with Atsushi, the one who betrayed him, really, he didn’t, so why did he?

Atsushi looked just as surprised as Kinshiro felt to see him walk up to him, to see him sitting down on the grass beside him. Not too close, but not too far either, perhaps it was a meter of distance, three being too far away. Not that Kinshiro even knew what he was doing.

Maybe it was the memories, the spell of the moon that dictated his actions because if Kinshiro had his wits about him, he would have been long gone by now.

He hugged his legs to his chest, confused, uncertain, feeling Atsushi’s eyes on him.

Atsushi, who’d betrayed him, he told himself again, and again. Atsushi, who he should be hating instead of missing. Who he should want nothing to do with rather than yearn for in his heart, even after these years that had gone by. All the promises they’d made were long since destroyed. It had been years since they watched the moon together. Years since Atsushi had betrayed him and chosen Yufuin and then later, those other fools over him.

He should go. This was a horrid idea. What was he even thinking?

Sending an angry glare at the sky, hating himself for being so foolish, Kinshiro was about to get up.

“Um,” Atsushi suddenly voiced, freezing Kinshiro in place once again. He slowly turned to face him, seeing uncertainty written all over Atsushi’s face. Kinshiro’s breath and his voice got stuck in his throat, an invisible force choking him.

Kinshiro had no idea what Atsushi saw in his face, but he watched Atsushi falter for a moment, seeming to hesitate before speaking again.

“Are you…” there was a tremor in Atsushi’s voice, “here with the student council?”

If this were any other day, any other time, at school, in daylight, Kinshiro might have rebuffed him, might have spewed angry words, showing his malice, the grudge of hurt and betrayal clear in his memory. It still was. It still was, but… here, under the moon’s spell, feeling raw from the memories and throbbing heartache, he was tired. Tired of the pain, of the yearning, tired of his heart wanting things it couldn’t have. Of knowing Atsushi had chosen Yufuin over him. Of knowing that Atsushi didn’t care enough about him to try to fix things between them those years ago, and instead just let him go.

Turning back to the sky, Kinshiro answered in a small, quiet voice. “Yes. I just needed…”

“To get away?” Atsushi supplied, his voice also quiet.

“I suppose so,” he said. Hours ago, he never would have expected to be talking civilly with Atsushi of his own free will, and yet…

“Me too,” Atsushi said. Kinshiro could see him shifting his position in his peripheral, hugging his knees to his chest much like Kinshiro was. “I came here with the defense club, but…”

He stopped talking then, and Kinshiro turned to peek over at him. A pained expression was on Atsushi’s face and Kinshiro was really curious as to what he was going to say. He hadn’t had a fight with those guys, had he? It hadn’t been that long ago in which knowing Atsushi had a fight with Yufuin had made him so giddy and gleeful. The thought did light a satisfaction deep within him, but it was dulled in the moment, buried by all of the other feelings.

“But…” Kinshiro said, voice questioning. He hadn’t meant to continue, but curiosity got the best of him.

“But I wanted to be alone,” Atsushi finished.

Kinshiro’s heart flipped upside down and around, not knowing how to take that. Because Atsushi’s voice sounded just as miserable Kinshiro was feeling. He didn’t know what happened to make Atsushi sound like that… because unlike Kinshiro, Atsushi couldn’t be thinking about them, about their memories - Atsushi would have to care for that to be true. And Atsushi had forgotten about him, had moved on so easily, it was hard for Kinshiro to imagine Atsushi being upset about it.

“I see,” Kinshiro said, voice carefully neutral.

After that there was a silence stretched on and on, both of them watching the moon. The silence wasn’t comfortable, but it wasn’t unbearable either. Kinshiro kept trying to muster up the strength to get up and leave, but he had no other choice but to admit to himself that in this moment, he was weak. He’d convinced himself he hated Atsushi for betraying him, and yet his desire to be with him was overweighing it all, making him completely foolish. And yet it was if he couldn’t help it.

Being next to Atsushi was painful, the distance between them suffocating. And yet… he still couldn’t bring himself to get up.

The moon was quite a bit higher when the silence was broken again.

“This…” Atsushi said, and Kinshiro looked over at him, apprehension swirling within him. “This is nice.”

Kinshiro’s throat closed up. This… is nice? Kinshiro watched Atsushi, noticing that Atsushi didn’t take his eyes off the sky. He must be talking about the moon. Kinshiro hadn’t expected Atsushi to speak, so his heart was still racing from the suddenness of Atsushi’s quiet, smooth voice. The voice that always made him think of sunshine or of his favourite sweets. It was a shock to his system, especially since he didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t like he came over here to talk to Atsushi. But he hadn’t even had a plan when he sat down next to him. He was lost. So, completely lost in a maze of his own mind, his own motivations and wants a complete mystery to even himself.

“It is a nice moon,” Kinshiro agreed before he thought better of it.

Atsushi turned to look at him with surprise clear on his features. A visible swallow moved down Atsushi’s throat. He seemed to be waiting for something as he watched Kinshiro for the next moment, and once nothing else happened, something in Atsushi’s body language shifted. His shoulders became less stiff, and a small, barely there but still noticeable smile, or more like a slight upturning of lips, was on Atsushi’s face.

Kinshiro’s heart was racing a million miles a minute. It wasn’t like Atsushi hadn’t smiled at him recently - he always had when trying to talk to him or make polite comments if they ran into each other at school, but Kinshiro had always, always rebuffed him, shot him down, wanting that smile to go away. Kinshiro had always thought that smile had been mocking him. Part of him wanted to think that he’d been wrong, Atsushi wasn’t the kind of person who would mock him like that. But then again, he’d never thought Atsushi would betray him either. And Kinshiro wasn’t going to let Atsushi hurt him again.

But here he was, talking to him, almost like he was pouring salt on the open wound that was his heart.

“It is,” Atsushi said, voice slow, careful. “But, not just that.”

“... No?” Kinshiro replied, just as carefully. It felt like he was walking on landmines. And by the way Atsushi was looking at him, seeming so cautious, he felt the same way.

He supposed Kinshiro couldn’t blame him. Every time they’d talked since being in high school, Kinshiro had basically bitten his head off. Kinshiro thought he’d deserved it for all this time, but perhaps he had been a bit too harsh. Sometimes. But he had to protect himself. If he was nice to Atsushi, Atsushi would get the wrong idea, and then betray him again.

“No,” Atsushi said. “It’s also nice… watching the moon together again.”

Atsushi said it so matter of factly, his chest moving up and down like he was breathing quickly.

Kinshiro was too surprised to think about anything else. “You… haven't forgotten?”

Now it was Atsushi’s turn to look surprised.

“No, of course not,” he spoke quickly, almost as if he couldn’t contain the words. “I… I thought you had.”

Kinshiro’s heart leaped up into his throat, strangling him for a moment. Why… why was Atsushi saying this? Why was he the one who looked and sounded so sad?

“I didn’t,” Kinshiro said in a quiet voice.

He had looked away from Atsushi’s face, it was too painful, but in his peripheral vision, he saw that Atsushi had moved his arms, his legs spreading out in front of him, much like he’d been before Kinshiro had joined him.

Atsushi had taken in a breath, audible enough for Kinshiro to look over at him again.

“The few years we’ve watched the moon together during the festival,” he said, “I really enjoyed it.”

Kinshiro was startled by the words, closing his eyes for a moment. The first time they’d watched the moon together on their hill hadn’t been the last, there’d been a few more years after that before the betrayal. He didn’t know what to say. Of course, he’d loved doing that with Atsushi at the time, but the memories were now tainted, tainted with all of the hurt. Instead of fondness, there was a gaping hole in his heart. Every time he remembered the time Atsushi was by his side, the warmth was drowned out by the yearning.

“The stars too,” Atsushi added after a moment of silence. “Stargazing with you… I missed it.”

Kinshiro bit down on his lip, hard. He wanted to get angry. Was Atsushi saying these things to mock him? To tease him? To get under his skin? After betraying him and throwing him away for Yufuin? How could he do that?

But as Kinshiro opened his eyes to look at Atsushi again, Atsushi didn’t look mocking. He didn’t look like he was pleased with his words.

No, he looked sad. Wistful. Regretful. Or maybe that was just what Kinshiro wanted to see? But regardless, Kinshiro felt himself calm down from the initial angry reaction. His heart was throbbing painfully, but it wasn’t like it had ever stopped doing that for the past few years.

“I… I missed it too,” Kinshiro admitted. Even though he knew better than to say that, he knew better than to say anything he truly meant when he knew he’d just be hurt again. But the look in Atsushi’s eyes drew the words out of him.

And then Atsushi was smiling at him again, piercing his heart, and he wanted to run away, hide, dive under the blankets in his bed and try to get the brilliance of it out of his mind. Wanted a shield to protect his heart from the being that was Kinugawa Atsushi.

Kinshiro found himself relaxing just a bit, removing his arms from around his legs, placing them onto the grass.

“I also…” Kinshiro swallowed, the memories fresh in his mind, but after this conversation, somehow a little less raw, a little less painful, “miss your mother’s dumplings. They were exquisite.”

A startled laugh escaped Atsushi. “I’m sure she’ll be glad to hear you say that.”

Kinshiro lowered his legs, stretching them out in front of him.

How long had it been since he’d heard Atsushi laugh because of him? It had always been with them.

Taking a breath, Kinshiro decided to steer the topic away from memories, of moments, of reminders of what they used to have, of what he couldn’t have again, of distance that always was three meters apart.

“... I didn’t get your group’s culture festival application,” was the first thing that Kinshiro ended up saying.

“Oh,” Atsushi seemed surprised by the change in topic too, but he followed it up well. “We’re not positive about what we’re doing yet. It might be a food stall?”

“I see,” Kinshiro said, trying not to picture Atsushi together with Yufuin and the defense club, laughing and having fun, not caring about Kinshiro, not lonely and missing him like Kinshiro was.

“You must be busy with preparations yourself…” Atsushi said.

“It’s not too bad. Most classes’ plans are acceptable. Nothing too outrageous.”

Atsushi laughed again. “That’s good. It would be bad if things got troubling for you.”

Kinshiro paused, for once in this whole conversation, his heart filling with something other than yearning and pain - warmth. Was… Atsushi… concerned about him? There was no way that could be true. He must just be saying that as a student towards the president. Kinshiro shouldn’t take it any other way.

“With Arima and Akoya, we’ve got it all under control,” Kinshiro responded calmly despite the raging storm in his heart.

Atsushi smiled at him again, and despite that, there was something in his gaze that changed. He looked up towards the sky, and then down at the grass before turning to face Kinshiro again.

“Um, Kin-chan…” he said.

Kinshiro froze, his reaction instinctive. “We’re not children anymore, don’t call me that.”

His tone was harsher than intended, but the name had caught him off guard, a wave of more pain and memories, a deep aching, knowing that no matter what, things would never be how they used to be again. No matter how much he wanted it, no matter how much he wanted Atsushi back by his side again, it would never happen.

“Oh,” Atsushi clenched his fists, looking embarrassed. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to, it just came out-”

“What were you going to say?” Kinshiro averted the topic again, his traitorous heart still racing like crazy.

“Um,” Atsushi said. “If you have a moment of time during the culture festival, shall we check out some of the classes together?”

Out of all things, Kinshiro had not expected Atsushi to say that. Nor did he expect the fluttering of excitement at the possibility of saying yes.

“I don’t know,” Kinshiro said. “I might be very busy all day.”

It was true, but also a delaying tactic. He didn’t know if he could trust himself to say yes. After all, Atsushi betrayed him - just because they had a decent conversation here didn’t change any of that. It didn’t make Kinshiro forgive or forget, he would be the most foolish buffoon of the whole universe if that happened. No matter how much he wished for Atsushi to be by his side again, he just couldn’t. It hurt too much.

“I understand,” Atsushi said. “It’s just…”

Kinshiro watched Atsushi warily, his heart bracing for whatever Atsushi had to say.

“I miss you,” Atsushi finished, and Kinshiro’s heart had not been prepared for that.

He blinked, his eyes wide and his stomach doing somersaults.

“What?” he blurted out lamely.

There was no reason Atsushi would lie, right? Would Atsushi say something like that if he didn’t mean it? But… he’d also promised to be friends forever with him, and he clearly hadn’t meant that.

“I miss you,” Atsushi repeated.

Kinshiro felt like he was being taken apart seam by seam like a broken doll. Like his skin had been stripped off and someone had poured alcohol onto his burning flesh.

“I…” Kinshiro said. Anything else he might say closed up in his throat, sticking there. He missed Atsushi with every fiber in his being, so hearing those words from him was like a gut punch, sending him on a spiral of hope he never dared let rise to the surface.

He tried to tell himself that he hated Atsushi, but the words fell flat even in his thoughts. But he didn’t know if he could trust it. He didn’t know if he could trust Atsushi’s words. 

At the same time, hope was there, in his throat, pricking the back of his eyelids, making him want to fall into Atsushi’s arms and admit about how he’d felt all these years apart.

But he couldn’t. No matter how much he yearned for Atsushi, how much a deep part of him wanted to grovel and beg for his friendship back, Kinshiro wouldn’t. He had his pride. Not just not wanting the possibility of being hurt again, but he had other things to accomplish. Other priorities. Not just the cultural festival, but world conquest along with his fellow Caerula Adamas and destroying the Battle Lovers.

Distractions like Atsushi would only hinder his plans.

Flustered and confused, Kinshro knew he had to get himself out of there before he said something that would embarrass him, something foolish like begging Atsushi to be his friend again.

“I should go,” Kinshiro suddenly said, standing up. “Arima and Akoya are probably wondering where I am.”

“Really?” Atsushi looked and sounded disappointed, which pleased Kinshiro, fueling the tiny flicker of hope that had already sparked within him.

Kinshiro let out a deep breath of air, his whole body trembling with adrenaline.

“Yes,” he said. “It was a good evening. Goodbye, Kinugawa Atsushi.”

He only just barely heard Atsushi’s reply as he turned and started walking away, knowing that if he looked back at Atsushi again, he wouldn’t be able to leave.

“Goodbye, Kin-chan.” The voice was quiet, soft, and Kinshiro didn’t know if he was just imagining the yearning in the tone. Of course he was, he decided. Of course he was. It was his own mind playing tricks on him.

But even so, as he moved through the festival to try and locate Akoya and Arima again, he felt a lot lighter than he had at the beginning of the night.

The bright moon left things hopeful for prosperity and a good harvest, after all.