There is a bottle of plum wine in Fujiwara’s hands.
“We should celebrate!” she says, brandishing it by the neck like a sword. When the setting sun catches on it through the student council room window, it flashes gold, like a treacherous beacon.
Ishigami is already halfway out the door. “You guys have fun by yourselves,” he says, slinging his bag over a shoulder. “I’m going home because I’m an upstanding member of society.”
“Aw, c’mon!” Fujiwara whines. “It’s not every day we get re-elected!”
“I’d have to agree with Ishigami,” says Kaguya. “It would be a breach of our school’s trust if we, as newly re-elected student council members, were caught–”
“We won’t be!” Fujiwara insists. She slings an arm around Miyuki’s shoulders, who, accustomed to her easy tactility, leans into it. He doesn’t miss the way Kaguya’s eyes flash with some unnameable emotion, before shuttering closed – like the decisive click of a lock, like a spool of film reel reversing, resetting. When she opens them again, there is a placid smile on her face.
“President?” she says. It’s a touch too sweet. When she turns that gaze onto Mikyuki, he’s reminded of a fly-trap he’d made in his childhood; back when summers were stickier and the sun shone brighter and the drone of insects lasted long into the night. When his mother taught him how to fill plastic bottles with honey and water, to cut off their tops and turn the insides to face outward; and the flies would descend without any difficulty, crawling down the narrow neck of the bottle, but couldn’t fly back out. In the end, they’d drown, suffocated to death by the very sweetness that had drawn them in.
Miyuki dismisses those thoughts with a shake of his head. It’s absurd. He’s not so far gone that he’d stoop to comparing himself to a fly – a fly! – of all things. And Kaguya, infuriating as she may be, could hardly be a cause for his death.
(Although, these days, she’s getting awfully close)
“Yes, Shinomiya?” he says.
“You’ve been silent this whole time,” she points out. “Don’t you have an opinion about this?” Her smile takes on an edge, and, oh, Miyuki recognises this all too well.
“As the student council President, it would be horribly improper of me to allow this,” he starts to say, falling back to the familiar push-and-pull of competition, relishing in the way Kaguya’s lips quirk upward – challenge accepted.
“Whaaaaat,” pouts Fujiwara.
“However,” he continues. “Seeing as this is a special occasion, and we’re all – ah – mature people, I say we should have a toast.” Seeing Fujiwara’s excitement, he quickly clarifies, “one toast. Just one.”
She rolls her eyes, but acquiesces. “Okay.”
Ishigami exhales with something that could be called a laugh. “You seriously expect me to believe that? No one ever just has ‘one toast’, Prez– ”
“And you would know so well, wouldn’t you?” Kaguya interjects sharply. As she turns to face him, a shudder goes through his whole body. “I thought you said you wanted no part of this?”
“I’m going home now!” he yelps, and all but sprints out the door.
It clicks shut after him, and they’re left in silence, at least until Fujiwara remarks, “I guess it’s just us three.”
“Just us,” agrees Miyuki. Kaguya has gone to the cabinet where they store the cups, and when she opens the door – as the glass pane tilts just so – Miyuki catches a glimpse of her knife-sharp smile through its reflection.
The plum wine is sickly-sweet, lingers on the roof of Miyuki’s mouth, and goes down with a tingling burn, simmering gently in the pit of his stomach. Even though it’s almost winter, and the sun has set completely, the student council room is warm. So much so that after a single glass, Miyuki takes off his jacket. He slings it over his chair; carefully, mindful of the golden cord. When he sits back down on the sofa, he sinks into it like putty, the lazy sprawl of his body enough to make Fujiwara laugh.
“I didn’t know you were such a lightweight,” teases Fujiwara, who has, somehow, polished off two glasses in rapid succession. If anything, she’s more energetic than ever.
“Plum wine’s never affected me this much before,” Miyuki grumbles. He touches a hand to his face. As expected, he’s heating up.
Kaguya hums noncommittally. She’s taking reserved sips of her own glass, not even halfway through. Miyuki watches the bob of her throat, the delicate bone of her wrist where she holds the glass, her slightly-lifted pinky, and hurriedly wrenches his eyes away. Damn. If this is enough to make him slip up, he’s never going to drink around her again.
“So, did your older sister buy this for you?” he asks Fujiwara.
“No,” she says cheerfully. “It’s from my dad’s collection.”
Kaguya starts to chuckle, and Miyuki gets the sinking feeling she’s privy to something he’s not.
“Did you get permission from your dad?” he says.
“Duh.” Fujiwara heartily pours herself another glass. “This is the good stuff, you know. It’s not something you can get at your standard supermarket.”
This is when Miyuki finally has the sense to read the bottle’s label.
“Choya Golden?” he says, squinting in thought. “I think I’ve heard of that before…”
Kaguya’s gaze slides over, no small amount of amusement tugging at the corner of her mouth. “Fujiwara’s father is an avid collector of Choya Golden, especially the limited-edition ones.” Then she pauses, as if calibrating for a strike. “They can cost upward of fifteen thousand yen.”
Miyuki almost chokes. “Fifteen thousand – ”
“And it has an alcohol content of about fifteen percent,” she adds. “I’m surprised you don’t know this, President.”
“I don’t usually drink wine, you know?!”
“I know,” she says, and takes a long drag from her glass, tilting the pale column of her neck in an action that rings with deliberateness. She knows exactly what effect she has on Miyuki, and damn it all, he can’t help but look. There’s the slightest flush to her cheeks, like roses are blooming just beneath its surface, and her eyes are half-moons, unguarded. When she sets her glass back on the table and folds her hands in her lap, prim as ever, she chances a glance at him, and, of course, his gaze has never left her. Her eyes dart back to the front just as quickly, but there’s a pleased tilt to her mouth.
“I wish Ishigami hadn’t left so quickly,” whines Fujiwara, slumping back onto the sofa. “How are we supposed to finish this without him?”
“We are not drinking the whole thing,” Miyuki interjects quickly.
Kaguya nods. “Alcohol is only good in moderation.”
Fujiwara’s eye roll is audible. “It wouldn’t kill you to let loose for once in your lives, you know?”
“‘Let loose,’” muses Kaguya. There’s a faraway tinge to her voice. “We’re representative of the whole student body. It would be highly irresponsible–”
“That’s what I’m talking about!” Fujiwara jumps up, impassioned. “I’ve seen how stressed you guys were about the election campaign! I just thought – I thought something like this would help! We’re all friends here, aren’t we? There’s no one to judge, so it’s okay to relax!” Somewhere through her speech, she’d punched a fist into the empty air and held it that way.
Miyuki’s eyes widen in surprise. “Fujiwara…”
She sits back down. “Yeah, yeah, I know drinking isn’t the way to relax, but dad got a new shipment yesterday and it was perfect timing. Plus today’s a Friday, so.” She shrugs her shoulders.
“Fujiwara,” says Kaguya, and the warmth of it catches Miyuki’s attention, snags it on a spool of red ribbon, and Fujiwara, also detecting a difference, looks up. Kaguya settles on the sofa next to her, and awkwardly puts an arm around her shoulders. Physical contact comes unfamiliar to her, nonetheless, she tries.
“Thank you for caring about us,” she says earnestly. “You’re the best secretary a student council could ask for.”
“Is that all I’m good for?” Fujiwara asks cheekily, but she’s smiling.
“Of course not,” Kaguya replies without missing a beat. “You’re an acclaimed music prodigy, a natural polyglot, and a dear friend.” At Fujiwara’s raised eyebrows, she rectifies, “a great friend. The best friend.”
“That’s more like it!”
“Fujiwara, I’m sorry to have troubled you,” says Miyuki. When she looks up at him, he almost falters. He’s always been awkward with apologies. “It was for the sake of the campaign, so I figured a few sleepless nights would be alright…”
“Pulling an all-nighter is never okay,” she declares, but when she grins at him, wide and bright, he knows he’s been forgiven. “You have to do better, Prez. Take care of yourself more.”
“I’ll try,” says Miyuki, but doesn’t make any promises. He doesn’t cut corners when it comes to anything; not his studies, not the student council duties and certainly not–
(A voice like honey, eyes the colour of blood-red Valentines, a tiny, treacherous smile that has so often eaten him alive, breaking across those delicate features like a winter sun)
Fujiwara’s voice snaps him out of his reverie. “You should finish your glass, Kaguya!”
She raises an eyebrow. “Oh my, is this the ‘peer pressure’ I keep hearing about?”
“Kaguyaaaaa, you know I didn’t meant it that way!”
She laughs. “Just this one, okay?”
Fujiwara claps and cheers while Kaguya smoothly downs the rest of her glass.
“It’s getting late," Kaguya remarks suddenly.
When Miyuki checks his watch, he realises that almost an hour had passed casual conversation. When he looks outside, a sliver of crescent moon has risen to hang on the backdrop of night. It’s all very pretty.
“Ah!” exclaims Fujiwara. “It’s almost seven!”
“Did you have something on?” Miyuki asks.
“My uncle is returning to Japan, and his airplane lands at eight!” Fujiwara scrambles for her phone. “We’re supposed to welcome him at the airport – crap – I should’ve been home thirty minutes ago!” Her expression morphs to confusion, however. “But why didn’t my alarm go off...?”
“We all forget things,” Kaguya comments idly. There’s a mild expression on her face, and an inkling begins tugging at the back of Miyuki’s mind.
Fujiwara ignores Kaguya in favour of tapping frantically at the screen. She puts the phone to her ear, and the sound of yelling is audible. “I’m so sorry!” she wails, her voice rising to a fever pitch. “I’ll get there as fast as I can! My chauffeur? He’s already here?” She covers the mouthpiece, says a quick, “Igottagobye” and gusts out the door like a pink-haired whirlwind.
Miyuki has a hand half-raised in farewell. He drops it awkwardly. Beside him, Kaguya is unruffled as ever, taking tiny sips from her glass – oh.
“Fujiwara forgot her plum wine,” says Miyuki. “We should go give it back.”
“I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if we indulged ourselves a little further,” Kaguya replies, smooth as glass. “After all, she was the one who suggested we ‘let loose’, right?”
Miyuki’s inkling grows to a certainty. “It’s certainly getting late. We’d already be home at this hour.”
“Our moon-viewing party went until midnight,” rebuts Kaguya, accompanied by a significant glance at him – who is assaulted by memories of a dozen pinpricks of light in a black sky, of tracing a path with his finger through them, yet the brightest star of them all was cuddled right up to his side and he’d been too distracted to fully appreciate it or even say something suave, like–
If it were me, I’d never have let Princess Kaguya go.
Miyuki wants to throw himself out a window. Judging from Kaguya’s barely-suppressed smirk, she knows exactly what he’s recalling.
“Are you suggesting we stay for a little longer?” he says, loudly, to drown out the sounds of his internal meltdown.
“If that’s the way you interpreted it, I don’t see why not.” And there she goes, twisting his words again. It’s routine. It’s the push-and-pull of their games; the steps of this elaborate dance that’s gone on for what seems like forever. A melody as familiar as the beat of the ocean, like the foam-capped waves that sweep and crash along the shoreline, their own brand of rhythmic dissonance ringing against the earth. When Miyuki and Kaguya clash, it’s with that same beat, along the same tune that’s been singing for millennia.
“I suppose I have another hour to spare,” he says, giving in just this once.
Kaguya’s eyes flash with triumph. “How gracious of you,” she says, and pours him another glass.
They’ve been talking for more than an hour, but neither of them have the heart to point that out.
They’ve chatted plenty of times before; idle, inconsequential conversations about what they ate that day, or about a cat they saw on the sidewalk last week, or school matters. They were friends long before they were circling each other like this – whatever this is – and despite all the scheming, all the silly machinations they pull, all the double-edged words they wield to outwit the other, for now, they are at peace.
Perhaps it’s the permeating warmth of alcohol in Miyuki’s body, or the laxness of his limbs, or the way his chest feels both too heavy and too light, but Kaguya is more beautiful than ever.
When he cracks a joke that lands poorly, she giggles – without meaning to. Surprise flashes across her expression before she neatly tucks it away, but the image of her, that well-bred elegance dissolving just for a moment, is so incomparably lovely that he finds himself staring for longer than socially appropriate.
“Is there something on my face, President?” she teases, amusement lingering in the corners of her mouth. A lock of hair has fallen out of place, and it curls against her cheek like a flower petal. Her eyes are bright with – something, and whatever it is, it fills them up to the brim, bleeding all over the place like fractured starlight and spilled honey. The weight of that stare presses down on Miyuki’s chest, and his heart stutters, skips a beat, and he knows that no matter how long his heart will go on beating, out of the years and years’ span of that steady pulse, there will always be one missing. One stolen by Kaguya. One heartbeat remaining in this moment, in the hazy warmth of the council room, caught in the throes of an affection so strong he might as well just lean forward and get it over with.
But he can’t.
“Not at all,” he says. “Maybe the plum wine is getting to me.”
Kaguya hums thoughtfully. “Did you know,” she begins. “That alcohol consumption causes a person’s inhibitions to be lowered?”
Miyuki blinks. “Uh. Yes?”
“It doesn’t force us to do things we wouldn’t normally do.” Her gaze is still full of that something, but it’s locked onto him with dizzying intensity, and he thinks, oh. “It simply disrupts our higher functions. Lowers our control. Which begs the question…” She leans forward, a knifelike slant to her smile, and says, “you’ve been staring at me an awful lot, President. Especially in the past hour. Is there something I should know?”
He’s trapped. She has him at swordpoint, her blade held to his jugular, and if he were to make a single wrong move, he would be gutted.
There’s been a part of his mind gathering signs all this time, but it’s one thing to face off in broad daylight, and another to construct a plan at eight-nearing-nine’o’clock with two glasses of plum wine in his system–
Would it really be so bad?
He looks at her, at the expectant light to her eyes, at her fine-boned features, elegant with old money, and he keeps looking beyond that, to see a girl with a wit that strikes faster and deadlier than a switchblade, at a girl unaccustomed to affection, but strives to give it in the only way she knows how, at Kaguya, who he’s almost sure loves him just as much as he loves her.
There’s a rose-coloured confession sitting ripe on his tongue. There’s a cord wrapped tightly around his bloody, beating heart and leading directly into open seas, open skies, the open expanse of the unknown. There’s the sickly-sweet flavour of plum wine lingering on the roof of his mouth. If he presses his lips to Kaguya’s, he knows he’ll taste the same thing.
He doesn’t know how this happened – doesn’t know when his feelings changed from grudging respect to friendship to a skin-deep attraction to this. It seems like it should have been one of those things easily tracked, point A to point B and so forth, but it’s more like opening his eyes and realising he’s been drowning for months without realising.
(Perhaps the fly-trap analogy was not as inaccurate as he’d hoped)
“Yes,” he says, instead. “There’s something you should know.”
Her breath audibly hitches. Her eyes widen, so obviously hopeful, and as Miyuki watches all this play out, his hand is reaching out, and–
Ever-so-gently, tucks a lock of hair behind Kaguya’s ear.
“It was in your face,” he says, not bothering to hide his vicious grin as Kaguya splutters and gapes. “I wanted to tell you, but you were just so absorbed in our conversation that I didn’t want to interrupt. What were you saying, again?”
Kaguya’s jaw drops open. “You–”
“I know you weren’t just looking at my hair, President!”
He feigns confusion. “That’s a weighty accusation, Shinomiya. What else could I have been looking at?” Your eyes. Your smile.
He’s got her backed into a corner, and she knows it.
Kaguya’s glare is blistering, but he holds his ground, wills his pounding heart not to give him away, or the way his flesh has erupted in invisible flame, or how he’s barely holding back from kissing her there and then, but she picks up her glass, slams it back, and stomps off.
“I’m going home!” she declares, her fists clenched tight with the barely-restrained urge to punch Miyuki, he’s sure. He probably deserves it.
“Leaving so soon?” He can’t help but rub it in. He leans his elbows on the back of the couch, props up his chin as he watches Kaguya putter around the room, gathering her belongings. “Who was it that begged me to stay up drinking with them–”
“I didn’t beg!”
He laughs, and she shoots him a venomous look, and for a moment he’s afraid he’s taken it too far, but then she exhales, and all the fight in her goes out along with it.
“As fun as this has been,” she says, steadier. “I think we should both be heading home now.”
Miyuki checks his watch. “Yeah, you’re right.”
“We should wash the glasses. And store the plum wine somewhere safe. Fujiwara might want it back next week.” She meets his gaze, purposefully tipping her chin up. An acknowledgement of defeat. A temporary lull. A promise for next time. He gives her a nod, and goes to pack his own belongings.
“Fujiwara might want it back?” he asks, later, Kaguya has a hand on the light switch and they’re both about to leave.
Kaguya shrugs. “It’s hard to tell with her, sometimes.” She flicks off the light, and shuts the door after her.
The hallways are dark at this hour, and the only source of illumination comes from the moonlight filtering through the windows. Miyuki looks at Kaguya, at the still-there flush on her cheeks, at the traces of syrupy starlight in her eyes when she looks back at him, and something in his chest feels too full and too empty.
“Not really,” he says. “I don’t think she’s that hard to figure out.”
Result of Today’s Battle: Shirogane’s Victory.