Title: Ghosts on a Late Autumn Night
Fandom: Binan Koukou Chikyuu Boueibu LOVE! | Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!
Rating: G
Relationship: Kinugawa Atsushi & Kusatsu Kinshirou
Summary: One moonlit night in late autumn, at a small shrine halfway up a steep hill, two small boys had been frightened by a ghostly presence. Almost ten years later, the boys have returned to the same shrine, where they will find that the ghosts of their past may well be more than just the memories they have brought with them.
Notes: Written as an extra trick/treat for [archiveofourown.org profile] Allekha for Trick or Treat 2016. Set shortly after the end of Season 1, before the Student Council leaves to study abroad. (Also on AO3.)


Ghosts on a Late Autumn Night

Both times, it had been Atsushi's idea to visit the shrine at night, climbing the narrow stone steps to the little wooden sanctuary that had been built on the steep, rocky hillside. Both times, Kinshirou had protested at first, pointing out the obvious flaw in the plan -- Atchan, we can't see the stars properly from there, there are too many trees -- but both times, Atsushi had managed to persuade him with a cheerful I know, but we might get a better look at the full moon at least!

It hadn't really been about star-gazing the first time. They both knew that it wasn't really about star-gazing the second time, either.

***

'I can't believe you still have that letter,' Kinshirou said, shaking his head.

Atsushi refolded the paper along the crease and carefully slid it back into the envelope. 'My mother kept it,' he said, as he tucked the flap into place to secure the letter inside. 'She said it was the best-written apology letter she'd ever seen.'

Kinshirou averted his eyes and quickened his pace slightly, as if he wasn't sure whether to be pleased with or embarrassed by the compliment. 'It took me two days with the dictionary to look up all the kanji for it. You can see how terrible my stroke order was -- I think I ended up drawing the letter more than writing it, in the end.'

'I don't think most eight-year-olds would have gone to those lengths in the first place.' Atsushi turned the envelope over in his hands. The glow of the streetlights was just bright enough to make out the line of writing on the front -- to the Kinugawa family, with humble respect from Kusatsu Kinshirou -- penned in large, childish-looking characters. He slipped the letter into the breast pocket of his shirt to keep it safe. 'Kanji or no kanji.'

'I wanted to do it properly,' Kinshirou said stubbornly, shoulders squared in defense of his younger self. 'It had to be sincere. We did break the rules, after all.'

'I know, I know.' Atsushi sighed. Like a small boy, he scuffed the ground with his shoes as he walked, toeing aside a stray leaf that had landed on the pavement. 'And I messed up my new sneakers, too. I think I got in more trouble for that than for what we actually did.'

At the petulant note in Atsushi's voice, Kinshirou gave him a sidelong glance, a tiny smile hovering around the corners of his mouth. 'Correct me if I am wrong, but you lost television privileges for an entire week over it, didn't you?'

Atsushi made a face at the memory. 'It was awful,' he moaned. 'And at school it was even worse! Sitting down for lunch and listening to everyone talking about what I'd missed on the latest episode of Galactic Task Force Kenkaranger...and it was the cliffhanger episode, where they were just about to go after Supreme Overlord Orion!'

Kinshirou's mouth twitched, and he chuckled under his breath. 'It must have been deeply traumatic,' he said dryly, 'if you remember it that clearly after all this time.'

All of Atsushi's built-up indignation vanished at the sound of Kinshirou's quiet laughter. Still, he couldn't help but smile as well. It was moments like this that reminded him just how much he had missed something as simple as being teased about a childhood obsession.

Ever since the debacle of the school festival and the effective cancellation of the second season of Can I Destroy the Earth?, the process of rebuilding his friendship with Kinshirou had been a matter of stops and starts, hesitations and awkward pauses and words that seemed to tangle in on themselves despite his best efforts to smooth things over. When they were with others, it was better to try to change the subject or rely on someone else -- usually Yumoto -- to do it for them. When he and Kinshirou were alone together, though, more often than not they found themselves gingerly sifting through their shared memories to find ones that they could both look back on with fondness, rather than regret. Tonight, thankfully, they'd managed to find one of those better memories -- and oddly enough, it involved the first (and to his recollection, possibly the only) time that the two of them had ever gotten into real trouble with their parents.

In the autumn of their second-grade year, they'd received permission to go out to look at the stars on a bright moonlit night, with the usual promises that they would be back at Atsushi's house no later than seven-thirty. But seven-thirty had come and gone with no sign of either of them, and even in a town as small as Binan there was plenty to worry about when two normally punctual eight-year-old boys failed to return home on time. Finally, at five minutes to eight, Atsushi and Kinshirou had come stumbling up to the Kinugawa residence, gasping for breath as if they had run all the way home. Not only were their clothes dirty and disheveled, but Kinshirou had blood oozing from scrapes on the palms of both of his hands, and the sole of one of Atsushi's new sneakers had split right in half and was flapping on his foot with every step. Even though both boys had apologised profusely, almost frantically, for losing track of the time, their late arrival could not be overlooked. Once Kinshirou's parents had been told of the matter, the only question had been what punishments they would receive.

First and foremost, they were informed that they could not play with each other until the week was over, and were expected to come straight home from school every day without stopping. Atsushi had indeed been forbidden from watching television for the entire time, a true hardship for his eight-year-old self. Kinshirou, who was far less wedded to the animated and live-action superhero shows that Atsushi loved, had a different penance to perform: he was to write formal letters of apology to both sets of parents by the end of that same week. Tired and tearful, the two of them had accepted the terms of their punishment, and even though they could still see each other during the school day the solitary afternoons and evenings had seemed like they would never be over.

Atsushi wasn't at all surprised that his mother had saved Kinshirou's apology letter. It was a small masterpiece of an anxious child's painstaking diligence, the product of multiple drafts copied neatly onto good-quality paper and sealed in a properly addressed envelope. He certainly remembered the last day of their punishment, when Kinshirou had showed up on the Kinugawas' doorstep with the letter in his still-bandaged hands and a scared but determined expression on his face. Ever formal, he had bowed deeply to Atsushi's mother as he held out the envelope to her with both hands. Thinking back on that moment, Atsushi was sure that his mother had had to stifle her laughter over Kinshirou's earnest efforts to win back her approval, but the important thing was she had accepted the letter, gently ruffled Kinshirou's hair, and invited him to come inside for a glass of milk and a slice of cake. With that, all had been forgiven.

That had been almost a decade ago. Now that the two of them were in their last year of high school, it was understood that they were responsible enough to set their own hours and keep to their own schedules. Being out of the house for a walk at eight or nine or even ten o'clock at night was no longer the transgression it had been when they were small. If the sky was clear and the weather was fine, there was no reason why they couldn't spend the evening outside, watching the stars together. And more than anything, Atsushi was happy to be outside on such a pleasant night, balmy enough to need just a light pullover, beneath the old familiar constellations, with the friend he'd missed for so long. Which was why he had suggested this detour on their walk home -- there was a wicked little thrill in doing something that they'd once been punished for doing, as well as the fun of recapturing one particular memory from a much less complicated time.

'It's just down this way, isn't it?' Kinshirou said, looking around as they crossed the street. There were fewer streetlights in this part of town, on the edge of the residential area, and if they continued to follow the road they were on it would lead them out to the rice fields and mountains of the surrounding countryside. The reduced light pollution made it easier to see the night sky, but it was less than helpful for figuring out exactly where they were.

'One more street.' Atsushi took out his phone, quickly checking the map he'd loaded to confirm that they hadn't missed a turn. 'We did have to go out of our way to visit it, last time.'

As the road curved past the street in question, it was possible to make out the signs of a footpath, flat stones half-hidden by tall grass that led into a cluster of scrubby trees at the base of the nearby hillside. A light glowed faintly between the trunks and branches. Atsushi felt his stomach quiver with excitement as he turned off the road, stepping up onto the path. Kinshirou followed him, though not before looking around again, as if he vaguely expected that someone would come up out of the darkness and stop them before they went any further.

The light grew brighter as they followed the path, until it resolved itself into a pair of large paper lanterns that hung on either side of a torii at the foot of a long flight of stone steps. The red-painted gate with its twin lanterns was the first and largest of more than two dozen smaller torii that formed a sheltered passage up the steps to the shrine. Bold black characters on the lanterns proclaimed the shrine's name -- ten years ago, they would not have known exactly what the writing meant, but age and education had solved that riddle for them.

'Anamori-inari.' Kinshirou studied the lanterns, his expression thoughtful and serious. 'For the rice growing, presumably. There would have been fields all around here once, before the houses were built. Close enough for the god to watch over the planting and the harvest from here.'

Atsushi adjusted his glasses, trying to reduce some of the glare on his lenses. 'Isn't Inari also supposed to be an important god for success in business?' he said. It sounded like something he had heard or read about before, but he couldn't be sure. 'I should ask Io if he knows about this place. He's always saying that any advantage is worth exploring.'

'Not much of an advantage here, from the look of things.' Kinshirou stepped forward and brushed away a broken spiderweb that was fluttering from one side of the main torii. The wood of the torii was weather-beaten, its deep vermilion paint faded and chipped away in parts, and though the lanterns had electric bulbs inside them the one on the left side was flickering erratically. Judging by the amount of fallen leaves and twigs and other detritus on the steps and around the entryway, the little shrine did not receive many visitors. 'The businesspeople who donated these torii must have done so many years ago. Was it this run-down when we were here last?'

'I don't know,' Atsushi said. 'It might have been. But those lanterns certainly looked bigger to me then than they do now.' It made him a little sad to think about the years of neglect -- and that was not a train of thought he wanted to follow, not tonight. 'Shall we?'

Kinshirou dusted the fragments of cobweb off of his hands, and nodded.

To one side of the stairs was a moss-covered stone purification basin, with a pair of battered metal ladles for scooping fresh spring water from the font. Atsushi and Kinshirou dutifully washed their hands and rinsed their mouths, just as they had done years ago. At that time of year, the water that poured into the basin was cold enough to make their teeth ache. Once the ritual was complete, they eyed the stairway, squinting slightly against the light from the lanterns. The steps seemed to be in reasonably good condition, and there were rough wooden handrails along the sides, but in the dark it was hard to tell what they might find on their way up.

The quiver in Atsushi's stomach had leapt to his heart, which had started beating a little faster in anticipation of the climb. Caught up in the excitement, without thinking, he voiced the question that had been percolating in his mind all evening, a thought too restless to keep hidden any longer:

'Do you think we'll see it?'

Kinshirou gave him a sharp look. 'I thought you said that this wasn't a test of courage,' he said, suddenly sounding distrustful.

Atsushi winced inwardly. 'It isn't!' Which was true, though he had to admit that from all outward appearances it might seem otherwise. 'I did want to see the moon from here. But still...I mean, it's the same kind of night, so if it were to show up again...?' He trailed off, trying to sound hopeful instead of worried that he'd put his foot in his mouth without realising it.

Kinshirou said nothing, and for a tense moment Atsushi was afraid that Kinshirou might decide to turn around and leave. Perhaps he'd been wrong about this particular memory; perhaps they should have gone straight home instead, as they ought to have done as children. But then Kinshirou's face lost some of the tightness that had threatened to settle in around his mouth and eyes, and he turned his gaze back to the stairs.

'Then I suppose we'd better go up and have a look around,' he declared, as if it was the only logical solution, and put a foot on the first step.

Atsushi exhaled his relief, letting the remaining tension dissipate. Without another word, he moved to the right side of the stairway to take hold of the handrail and begin the climb as well.

Neither he nor Kinshirou had ever told their parents the real reason why they had been so late returning home that night. Even at eight years old, they knew that I saw a ghost would not have been an acceptable excuse to any grown-up. And yet almost ten years ago, they had been at this same shrine, coming back down the stairs, when a noise from behind them had made them both turn around. Side by side, they had looked up, and had seen....

...well. He didn't know exactly what Kinshirou had seen. They hadn't really spoken about it afterwards, in large part because it had been embarrassing to think about how frightened they had been at the time. Even now, he could picture his eight-year-old self cringing at the memory of having been such a scaredy-cat over something so silly as a ghost -- something that he'd probably only imagined, something couldn't have been real. But silly or not, imagined or not, real or not, Atsushi would never forget the large white shape that he had seen at the top of the steps, glowing pale and terrible in the moonlight. It had appeared in front of the shrine, blocking it from his view, standing in a place where no one and nothing had been when he and Kinshirou had been up there only moments before. As he had stared at it, utterly riveted to the spot, a flash of light had caught his eyes -- the ghost's own eyes, possibly, catching sight of them? Atsushi could only guess at what it had been. And then the shape had made another noise, a whispering hiss that had made all the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, and it had seemed to reach out a long white arm --

-- and that was the last thing he remembered, because all of a sudden Kinshirou had let out a bloodcurdling shriek, and grabbed his hand, and the two of them had turned and fled in absolute panic, all but tumbling over each other and down the stairs as fast as their legs and their own momentum would carry them.

Two steps from the bottom, Atsushi's foot had caught on the uneven stone, and the only thing that had broken his fall was half-landing on top of Kinshirou, who went down hard on both hands at the foot of the stairway. Dirt-stained and bleeding (in Kinshirou's case), and limping along on one good shoe (in Atsushi's case), they had somehow picked themselves up and kept running as hard as they could along the silent, empty streets. By the time they were forced to slow down to catch their breath, they were well and truly away from the shrine -- and also very, very lost in an unfamiliar neighbourhood.

In retrospect, it was a minor miracle that they had managed to find their way back to the Kinugawa residence so quickly that night. Atsushi didn't remember much of that part of the evening, though he could guess at what it had entailed -- him and Kinshirou wandering from street to street, shaking and exhausted and still too scared to even think of talking about what they had experienced, searching for any helpful landmarks or street signs that would lead them home. What he did remember was the relief that had come crashing through his body like a tidal wave at the sight of his own house, a sense of relief so strong that it had left him feeling light-headed and wobbly on his feet as he stammered out apologies to his parents. And after a week of punishment, he had been too caught up in the anticipation of being able to play with Kinshirou again to think about the ghost itself. But more than that, even though he knew that Kinshirou had seen something equally terrifying, he hadn't wanted to know exactly what it was.

Clearly, Kinshirou had felt the same way, because he had never asked Atsushi about it, either. Whatever they had witnessed on that night at the shrine, some terrors were best left unvoiced.

As they climbed, they found that one thing had not changed in ten years, and that was the steepness of the stairs. The two of them were in good physical condition, but they were starting to breathe hard by the time they reached the small landing that marked the halfway point on the steps. (As children with much shorter legs, Atsushi recalled, they had had to go up the stairs almost on all fours, using their hands as much as their feet to keep their balance as they climbed.) The landing was a good spot to stop and rest, and they both needed it.

'All right?' Kinshirou said at last, once his breathing had mostly returned to normal.

'I will be...in a sec.' Atsushi whipped off his glasses to clean them on the edge of his shirt. The cool night air and his own exertions had started to fog them up, and he didn't want to risk losing his sight before they reached the top. 'Forgot how steep it was, though.'

'I am glad of the handrail,' Kinshirou admitted. His voice sounded eerily disembodied to Atsushi, who could just barely make out Kinshirou's shape with his unaided eyes. 'My younger self must have been much less concerned about whether either of us might twist an ankle going up or coming down in the dark.'

Atsushi huffed out a partial laugh. 'Coming down was the easy part, last time.' He put his glasses back on, shoving them up the bridge of his nose. 'Ready when you are.'

Either the remaining stairs were a little less steep, or they had become accustomed to the pace of climbing, but it seemed to take much less time and effort for them to reach the top. As they let go of the handrails and stepped up onto the final step, they found themselves standing in an overgrown clearing, blanketed by fallen leaves and ringed with towering tree trunks -- and before them was the shrine.

It was a small red-painted building with a low shingled roof, no different than a hundred others of its kind. Two paper lanterns, smaller versions of the ones at the base of the stone steps, hung on either side of the thick red-and-white braided bell rope with its round bell at the top. A latticework window both revealed and protected the sacred space inside, and though it was too dark to see the interior properly they could just make out the shelves and small bowls that were there to hold bottles of rice wine or first cuttings from the fields or other traditional offerings. Below the shrine's window was the wide slatted wooden box for coin offerings, and the sight of it made Atsushi dig into his pocket and take out two hundred-yen coins.

'Here,' he said, holding one out to Kinshirou. 'It's my turn to treat, right?'

Kinshirou blinked, confused, but then his memory caught up with him, and he gave Atsushi a small smile as he took the coin. The last time they had been there, only Kinshirou had had any money on him, and at first he had been reluctant to touch the handful of pocket change that his parents had given him for emergencies. But he hadn't wanted to offend the god of the little shrine, so he had found two hundred-yen coins, one coin for Atsushi and one for himself, and they had both tossed their offerings into the slats of the box.

This time, Atsushi dropped his coin in first, and Kinshirou followed suit. With hollow, muffled clanks, their coins hit the bottom. Atsushi reached for the braided bell rope and shook it, making the bell clatter to announce their presence to the god, then offered the rope to Kinshirou so he could do the same. As the sound of the bell faded away, he and Kinshirou bowed to the shrine, then clapped twice and held their hands together, heads bent in silent respect. And in that still moment, Atsushi sent a truly sincere message of thanks to any deities who might happen to be listening in.

Thank you. Thank you for letting us be here. Thank you for bringing us back together again.

Kinshirou's head remained bent for a second or two longer after Atsushi opened his eyes, but once he lowered his hands and the two of them bowed to the shrine for a final time, he tilted his head back to look up at the sky.

'It's a proper full moon tonight,' he said, a quiet observation. 'The trees aren't nearly as much in the way as I thought they would be.'

Atsushi looked up, following Kinshirou's gaze. They'd definitely had a good night for the moon, which floated round and open in a nearly cloudless sky, almost directly overhead. The unseasonably warm wind was gentle in the trees, mingling the rustle of their increasingly barren branches with the sound of the dead leaves stirring on the ground. The breeze felt comforting as it tugged at his hair and clothes, evaporating the thin layer of sweat that had built up on the back of his neck from their climb. If he took a step or two backwards, away from the shrine, he might able to get an even better view of the moon's craters --

-- but before he could do so, a hand suddenly seized his left wrist in a grip tight enough to make his Lovracelet dig into his skin.

'Atchan.' Kinshirou's voice was a broken whisper, as close to fright as Atsushi had ever heard him sound.

Atsushi froze where he stood. Slowly, slowly, he turned his head just enough to stare at Kinshirou, who was facing away from the shrine, looking down the stairs. The stricken, almost petrified expression that he saw on Kinshirou's face filled Atsushi with icy, nameless dread, swelling up in a sickening rush that sent his heart thundering in his ears. His feet wouldn't seem to move properly, and Kinshirou still had an iron grip on his wrist, so all that Atsushi could do was start to twist his body around in order to face whatever it was that had taken him and Kinshirou by surprise.

Down on the landing where they had been only a few minutes before was a faint white shimmer, too bright to be moonlight and too dim to be anything like the reflection from a car's headlamps or the beam of a torch or flashlight. Before Atsushi's eyes, the shimmer started to resolve itself into a visible shape -- no, it was two shapes, side by side, glowing like the pair of lanterns at the base of the stairways. And as the shapes seemed to solidify, taking on a more identifiable form, Atsushi felt his mouth go dry as he found himself staring at a hazy, not-quite-solid version of his younger self, standing next to a younger Kinshirou...both of whom were looking back up at them with the same sort of stunned disbelief that he felt certain was written across his own face.

'Is that -- ' he breathed, transfixed, at the same time as Kinshirou lifted his free hand and started to say, 'Do you see -- '

They never finished their sentences. The words died in their throats as the ghostly shape that was Kinshirou's younger self opened its mouth and let out a weak-sounding cry, as thin and faded as the echo of a shout reverberating off a mountainside. In the blink of an eye, the figures seemed to whirl about, and then there was nothing on the landing. No lights, no glowing shapes, no ghosts, only the solemn line of torii leading down into the darkness below.

Without a word or a sound, Kinshirou let his hand slip away from Atsushi's wrist. Atsushi shivered at the loss, but Kinshirou didn't seem to notice.

'That was us,' he said dully. He looked over at Atsushi, eyes dark with a meaning that Atsushi couldn't follow. 'All this time -- all this time, it was us.'

Atsushi could still feel the imprint of Kinshirou's fingers on his wrist, burning like a brand against his skin. 'All this time?' he repeated, then stopped, uncertain. 'But...but we're not ghosts. And they weren't....' He stopped again, once more at a loss for words. 'What were they?'

'A resonance. An echo. Some sort of connection that brought the past and future together, here in this place, just strong enough to -- ' Distractedly, Kinshirou raised a hand and raked it back through his hair, not seeming to care how bedraggled it made him look. 'I didn't want to believe in it, but it's been so long...I hadn't wanted to think about it for so long....'

Kinshirou's uncharacteristic gesture alarmed Atsushi more than the strange things he was saying. More important, Kinshirou was standing dangerously close to the edge of the top step, and considering how disoriented he looked Atsushi instinctively reached out to him, putting a hand on his shoulder to draw him away from the stairs. 'Kin-chan?' he said hesitantly, trying to draw his attention.

Whether it was from the hand on his arm or the concern in Atsushi's voice, Kinshirou seemed to come back to himself. He closed his eyes, letting out a long, slow breath, and when he opened them again and met Atsushi's gaze he had superimposed an emotionless mask over his face. 'I'm fine,' he said, and almost managed to make it sound convincing. 'It's fine now. I'm only glad it wasn't...that it didn't mean what I thought it meant.'

'Kin-chan, what are you talking about?' Atsushi wasn't about to let it end there. 'What do you mean? What exactly did you see that night?'

Kinshirou studied him silently, cracks of unhappiness staring to show in his expression. At last, he took a step back and beckoned Atsushi towards the stairs. They shuffled over and sat down on the top step, ignoring the damp leaf litter and the coldness of the stone underneath. Only when they were settled, leaning forward with their hands resting on their knees, did Kinshirou finally reply.

'I saw us,' he said, gazing out into the darkness. 'Standing here, just as we were. I knew it was us, even though we were older, and at first it didn't make sense to me at all. Why would we see ghosts of our older selves? But then, it dawned on me that if what I was seeing were our ghosts, then that meant....' He shuddered, though Atsushi couldn't tell whether it was more from the chill of the step beneath them or from the memory passing through him. 'I thought it meant that we were going to die before we grew up.'

'Oh, Kin-chan.' Atsushi scooted a little closer to Kinshirou, leaning up against him. No wonder Kinshirou had cried out in such terror back then, if that was what he had believed.

'I didn't want to believe it,' Kinshirou continued, his eyes narrowing in fixed purpose. 'I told myself that I'd imagined it all. I spent all that week convincing myself that I had been frightened by a bird or a bat or a shadow or something else, something normal, and that I'd jumped to the worst possible conclusion -- and finally I talked myself into believing that I'd been scared over nothing.' He bit his lip, and looked down at his hands. 'And when you didn't say anything about it once we were back together, I suppose I believed that you thought I'd been scared over nothing, too.'

'But I did see it,' Atsushi insisted. He couldn't let Kinshirou struggle with the burden of fear alone any longer. 'I didn't see us as clearly as you did, back then, but then again....' He touched the side of his glasses, with a sheepish smile. 'My eyes haven't ever been as good as yours. But I know I saw a large white shape, and a flash of light, and what looked like an outstretched arm.' Based on how he and Kinshirou had been standing, quite close together at the top of the stairs, it easily could have looked like one single ghostly presence to him. And the flash that he had seen was simple enough to explain, now that he had a chance to turn the memory over in his mind. 'The flash must have been the reflection of moonlight off of my glasses. It did look like a pair of eyes to me. And I saw an arm stretching out to us, and that was your arm. You weren't imagining it; you just saw more of it than I did, and figured out what it meant sooner. I don't blame you for thinking the worst of it at all -- trust me, I would have run away even harder if I'd seen everything that you did.'

Kinshirou looked up, and gave him a shaky smile. 'You were able to get us back to your house, though.'

'Only because you were there to help me find the way.' Atsushi nudged him gently with the side of his elbow. 'I'm sorry I never asked you about it afterwards. Ghost or no ghost, you shouldn't have had to worry about something like that all by yourself. I would have believed you. And I would have wanted us to come back here as many times as it took, just to try to prove that you were right about what you saw.'

As far as apologies went, it didn't seem like much to Atsushi, but for Kinshirou it was enough to smooth out the ragged edges of his smile. 'It's all right, Atchan,' he said, and this time the statement sounded genuine. 'I still don't understand why we saw each other's ghosts...but I do wish I could apologise to my younger self right now for frightening him so badly back then.'

'He'd forgive you, I'm sure,' Atsushi reassured him. Somewhat morosely, he added, 'Mine would still be mad at me for making him miss his TV shows.'

Kinshirou stared at him -- and then abruptly let out a snort of incredulous laughter.

That sound was enough to open the floodgates, because a second later Atsushi couldn't prevent a giggle from escaping, and in the space of a minute the two of them were leaning against each other, completely convulsed with laughter as their pent-up tension found an unexpected release. The sound of it echoed into the still night, surrounding them with reverberations that made it seem as if the very trees and rocks were laughing along with them. Finally, Atsushi had to take off his glasses to wipe the tears from his eyes, while Kinshirou wheezed his way through the last of the hysteria and tried to compose himself once more.

'So what,' Atsushi said, a little breathlessly, as he put his glasses back on, 'do we say to our friends if they ask how the star-gazing went tonight?'

'We could tell them the truth, which is that we went out to see if we could get a better view of the full moon from the Anamori-inari Shrine.' Kinshirou paused, and when he continued his voice was softer, and more reflective. 'Or we could tell them the more accurate truth, which is that we appear to have laid some old ghosts to rest together.'

Atsushi felt his cheeks grow warm, but it didn't stop him from smiling. 'Either one sounds about right to me.'


Notes

The Anamori-inari shrine in this story is based on an actual shrine of the same name in the real Kusatsu Onsen, inside Sai no Kawara Park on the western side of the town. (As these photos of the stairway at night/by day and the shrine itself show, the real-life shrine is in better condition than the one depicted here, since it sees many more visitors.) Shrines of this type often have multiple torii that are donated by local business owners as both thanks for and incentive to attract good fortune and continued prosperity. Even with much better lighting in a less-isolated area, it was a little unnerving to climb all of those steps in the growing dark, as I did when I first visited it.

On watching through the second season of Boueibu, I was struck by the concept that moments of extreme emotional stress, felt by the same person at two different times in their life, could produce a sort of resonance that brings the past and future together in a sudden burst of power. Kinshirou names it as the possible source of Yumoto's despair-induced attack, but for that matter it may well have been the source of Kinshirou's own rage-filled Dark Aurite transformation (and so he would know what it was from the hard lesson of personal experience). That led me to wonder what other unsettling past-and-future resonances might be possible in the series...and this story was the result. In this case, at least, it had a happier outcome. Many thanks to Allekha for the prompt!


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