Asta stood in the center of all of his younger siblings as they wrapped their little arms around his legs and torso assaulting him with tons and tons of hugs and love. Loving it, his laughs joined their giggles. Around them, Sister Lily and even Father shared the same feelings too. Though realizing that a certain boy’s voice wasn’t in the mix, Asta’s smile fell as he looked at Sister Lily in wonder.
“So, where’s Nash? Don’t tell me he outgrew hugging me or something?”
“Oh Nash?” Recca answered as she pulled herself away. “The baker’s daughter took a liking to him. They spend all their time with each other, though he should be back any moment now. Curfew.”
“It’s so sweet.” Sister Lily blushed. “How they just hold each other’s hands and Nash gets all flustered and red-faced whenever we ask him about it. You should see him.”
“Young love, how beautiful.” Father smiled fondly.
“It is and soon they’ll be hugging and kissing, and dating, and asking for their hands in marriage, and babies. Oh, how time will fly.” Sister Lily stopped what she was doing as she looked around the room. “I’m going to have to do so much cooking and decorating and the church, so much will need to be prepared and the colors.” As she got caught up in the moment everyone tuned her out and turned their attention to Asta.
Recca’s eyes glowed mischievously as she assumed her teasing tone. “Speaking of dating, Asta, if you don’t hurry up and get things straight with Yu-”
“Alright that’s enough out of you.” Nash hastily opened the door, interrupting her.
Faking a pout, she stared at him. “Aw, but I was just getting to the fun part.”
“I know, but let them sort it out, not that they would,” Nash said with a hint of annoyance.
A collective sigh from Father, Sister Lily, and Recca all filled the air as eyes turned to Asta. Feeling their gaze, he shivered. “Guys, you’re acting pretty creepy right now. I don’t know what I did to deserve these looks.”
“Oh, I know!” Recca clapped her hands. “Asta has there been anyone you wanted to hold hands with and kiss and maybe even date?”
“I’ve held hands with each and every one of you and Yuno too I guess.”
“Right, but I meant, hold hands in a special way, like this?” Recca grabbed Nash’s hands and quickly intertwined their fingers together. Flustered, Nash gaped and tried to pull out of it, but her hold was incredibly strong.
“No,” His voice fell as he stared at their linked hands thoughtfully. Just as he was about to double down on the denial something popped into his mind. “Yeah, well all the time with Yuno now.”
The four of them gasped as they leaned forward. “And what brought this about, what happened, what happened.” Multiple voices blended together as they tried to pull details out of him.
Asta stared at them strangely wondering what was running through their heads, sometimes they were all so hard to understand. “Nothing brought it about. Nothing happened, I mean I’m not sure what you all mean. Ever since a few months ago we just do it whenever we meet up and go to the capital or the beach town together, nothing special really.”
“It just happens, really?” Nash facepalmed. “Don’t you two, you know, ever ask about it or say how you feel to each other?”
“No, why would we? We know how each other feels, we’re rivals.” Asta proclaimed proudly. “I know the guy like the back of my hand and he knows the same too. What more is there to say?”
“There’s so much to say!” Reccal shouted despairingly. “You’re basically going on dates to the beach and to taverns and not even realizing it.”
“Recca, sweetie, you’re going to wake poor Arulu up.”
“It’s fine, and Asta, I’m sure there are a lot of things that you need to tell Yuno and there’s a lot of things he needs to tell you. You may be rivals and friends, but that doesn’t always mean you know what’s going on in each other’s heads.” Sister Lily assumed her motherly voice calming everyone down. “You two need to really think about what each of you means to the other. Mere friends and rivals don’t just hold hands like that for no reason.”
“No buts, Asta. Just think about it. What does Yuno mean to you? Is he really just a friend and a rival, or is he perhaps something more than that?”
“Yeah Asta, does he make your face go all like Nash’s when he thinks about his little girlfriend.” Recca teased as she poked Nash’s slowly reddening cheeks. Bristled, he tried to swat her hand away, but she only kept it up. As the two fell into their own world of swatting and poking, Asta sat on the side as he twirled a finger through one of the little’s one’s hair as he thought it over. What did Yuno mean to him? What did he mean to Yuno?
Though days passed since Asta met up with his family at the church and been presented with the question of a lifetime, he’d made no headway towards reaching any sort of answer. While he always thought rival and friend always described their relationship to a tee, he was now second guessing himself. Maybe there was something else there?
There were always these passing thoughts he had of Yuno that he always brushed off and cast aside as friendship. While they’d started as rare occurrences, they’d grown in number ever since the first time they held hands. No matter the time or occasion, they’d just happen. He could lay in bed at night and Yuno’s face would pop into his mind as he remembered when they used to hold hands and hug while sleeping. It used to be so comforting and warm and when he focused enough he could still make out that phantom of a feeling of having Yuno pressed against his body.
When he bathed, Yuno’s handsome face would pop up as he remembered the times they bathed together. The feeling of having Yuno’s fluffy hair flowing through his hands as he scrubbed his hair, or the soft feeling of his skin under his fingers as he washed his back, or even the way they’d each lay back on each other just to relax under the warm water as they poured water on both their heads to wash the suds out was great. Heck even when they wrapped hands around each other in a hug was wonderful.
Even when he ate, Yuno would sneak his way into his mind and make him wonder if he was taking care of himself and eating right. The guy always looked so skinny that he couldn’t help but wonder. And then he’d wonder if he was doing fine on missions and if he really ever truly did get over his scaredy cat nature, the guy could always put up such a huge front to hide his fears, but Asta knew, from the way his eyes would suddenly shift ever so slightly, or the way his brow would furl just a bit more than it usually did, or how his knees would buckle just a little, that he was still afraid of each and every little thing. Of course, whenever Asta made his way closer to him, he would relax and act just a little braver, but even if he could fool his teammates, and even try to fool Asta with his annoyance tinged statements and casual way of brushing him off, Asta knew how he really felt.
So now, as he was in the middle of sparing with Leopold Vermillion in one of the training facilities, his mind couldn’t help but wonder if Yuno’s training regime was just as intense and dedicated as it was when they trained for a bit together in Hage. As he dodged, leaped, and reflected Leo’s relentless fire attacks, he honestly couldn’t help but wonder how he and Yuno would train. Would they do like they did in the past, where Asta would run up and try to get through his friend’s wind attack or would they do like he and Leopold did now, where they could stand on their own and fight for reals.
“Oi Asta, watch it!” Leopold’s voice was all the indication Asta received that something was wrong. Before he could even realize what was happening, he tripped on his own sword, tumbled into the wall, before he bounced off, and careened backwards. He fell into the dirt below. Eating dirt, he shook his head, clearing his mind of things before sitting up. Leopold cast him a concerned glance as he extended his hand towards him. Taking it, Asta expressed his thanks before standing and brushing himself off.
“Maybe we should call it quits. You’re kind of not here today.” Though Leopold laughed, his eyes and even his tone indicated his concern.
“Ah it’s fine.”
“No, it isn’t. I can read my eternal rival like an open book. Spill it. What’s got your mind on the other side of the kingdom?”
“It’s, how should I put it.” Asta sighed. “You ever have something that stays in your mind all the time. Like, you know, me for example?”
Leopold’s concern fell away as he grinned. Laughing heartily as he slapped Asta on the back, he spoke excitedly. “Ah of course you’re on my mind, you’re my rival. You’re always my target in everything. And my brother too, and sister as well.”
As Leopold laughed and prattled off other names, Asta wondered if he was really getting it. “Okay, let’s just say, no matter what you do, bathing, eating, sparing, and even laying in bed, I just keep coming up in your mind. What does that mean, and what should I, uhm, you do about it to get it to stop and maybe go away?”
“Why would I want it to go away? We’re eternally linked by our rivalry that will last through the ages, or at least until one of us becomes the Wizard King.”
“Yeah, you can’t get there alone. We all need each other. Like I need you to make me stronger, you need me to do the same, and we both need Yuno to do the same. Doesn’t he push you to do better and make you want to get stronger? Doesn’t he light a fire in your belly, as he keeps you up late night, and inspires you to do your best and you want to impress him?” Leopold said thoughtfully.
Asta was silent as he took it in. In a way he was right. Whenever he needed strength to get through something tough, or that extra bit of determination when he was thinking of almost giving up, or getting that extra ounce of perseverance to go beyond his limits, Yuno was always who he thought of. Sometimes it was the Yuno who would cling to his hand as Asta faced his bullies, other times it was the Yuno that came in when he least expected it to save him from whatever trouble he got into or the one that could take on any rouge mage on his own, but in all cases, it was Yuno.
“Thanks Leo, really thanks!” Asta shouted.
“No problem. I’m always here to help! What say we go for another round now that you’re back to your usual self.”
That night, Asta struggled to fall asleep. His restless mind led to restless legs as he tossed and turned. All that he could think about was his conversation with Leopold and his feelings about Yuno. His bed felt so big and empty as that phantom of a feeling of having Yuno in bed with him felt so immensely absent and distant that he was very lonely and uncomfortable. While it’d occasionally been there, this was the first time that it’d felt so unbearable and strong. Was this the type of feeling that Leopold mentioned about being kept up late at night, unable to sleep, as thoughts of that person just kept a flame alit in your belly?
Realizing that he’d get nowhere laying there, he rolled himself out of bed, stumbled out of the room and made his way to the main room of the Black Bulls lair. There, at least, he could try to clear his mind and sort things out.
Downstairs, he moved to his favorite sofa as he stared out the window and into the moonlight. As puffy white clouds floated across the moon casting shadows that danced across the floor, Asta exhaled calmly. Serene and quaint, the view helped to settle his mind and let him think deeply about Yuno. Briefly he was reminded of the time they sat beside each other late at night, leaning their heads on each other as they held hands while stargazing. Big dreams of exploring the world with one another was the talk of the night. Hopes of going on adventures together carried them off to sleep. Occasionally, even now that they were on their own, he still thought of these moments.
Memories like these played through his mind as he sat there and gazed away. At a certain point they faded away leaving him with just a mental image of Yuno’s face in his mind. It morphed into the many looks of annoyance and irritation he loved to stare at him teasingly with to the many ways he would look at him with a deep and fond concern whenever he got hurt over the smallest little thing. But the one look he loved the most, was the one where they walked hand in hand with each other in the capital, with the softest of smile on his face and his eyes that peered at him as if he were glad to be with his precious friend.
A certain feeling, a warmth, rose in his core and spread throughout his body as he wondered if Yuno thought about him just as much as he did about him when he was alone. Even now, he wondered if he would sit in the moonlight and just gaze at it as these thoughts and feelings raced through his head? At least from what he heard from Slyph and even Mimosa, Yuno would talk him up when he wasn’t around. They’d even caught him smiling fondly to himself when they thought he wasn’t looking.
Meeting Asta’s puzzled face, they’d explained that it was just a sign of the deep fondness they had for each other and a physical representation of the connection that they couldn’t ever hope to make with either of them. Though both girls said it with a fleeting longing, they smiled and said they were happy for the two of them. If there was anyone that deserved and should be with Yuno, it was him. Asta thought it strange that they’d said that, but now he wondered if this was what they were getting at. He just wished he really knew what Yuno was thinking.
A breeze swiftly blew through the room making the candlelight flicker and Asta shiver. Though just as soon as it appeared it vanished. A shadowy finger stepped into the center of the room, nearly scaring him, until the hood was thrown off, and he heard a familiar and tired sigh.
“Whew that was fu-Asta?” Finral paused awkwardly as he raked a hand through his hair. “What are you doing still up? You’re usually out like a log at this hour.”
“Couldn’t sleep,” Asta mumbled in a voice much too quiet for him.
Perhaps thinking it strange, Finral approached him and sat across from him. “That’s so unlike you, nightmares? Do you need your senpai to sing you a lullaby to sleep and rock you to sleep?”
Asta chuckled. “No silly.”
“Then what is it.”
Realizing that he could go and see Yuno immediately and finally find out what he thought about him, he quickly sat up. “Can you take me to Golden Dawn. Please?”
“But I just.” Finral’s voice trailed to a mumble as Asta shook his head and interrupted him.
“Ah, I was just joking, no need. It’s night and late, and you’re probably tired. Sorry for asking.” Even in the shadows of the moonlight, Finral didn’t miss how crestfallen Asta was.
They sat in awkward silence as Asta stared out the window and sighed. Just as his mind returned to Yuno, Finral sat up and gripped Asta’s knee getting his attention. “Is this about that handsome guy, Hughnote, Jyugo, Hugo?”
“What, how’d you?”
“Don’t underestimate your senpai, I know all. Shall we go?” He said as he met Asta’s dazzled gaze.
“Yeah, thank you Finral-senpai. You’re the best.” Asta teased as he knew how Finral loved the praised. He received a head ruffling in return as Finral quickly opened a portal.
“Look Asta, you got this, knock him out.” Finral slapped him on the back as they emerged from the portal. They stood in a plaza leading towards the Golden Dawn estate. Asta’s eyes scanned the building looking for Yuno’s room on an upper floor. It’d been forever since he’d been there at night that it took him a while to find it, but when he did he softly celebrated.
Finral, thinking he’d responded to him, nodded thoughtfully and smiled. “Young love is so sweet Asta. You’ve snagged yourself a good one, a really, really good one. I’m so jealous of you right now. To think you got someone before I did too even! Maybe you should be the senpai Asta. Teach me your ways.” Finral mumbled to himself as Asta cast him a confused and concerned look, before he walked away.
As Asta reached the spot below Yuno’s window, he fished through the bushes as he looked for the familiar rope and hook he and Yuno made on one afternoon when they were trading battle stories. While he often rode up to Yuno’s room on his broom, oftentimes he’d simply swung the rope to the spike he’d driven into the awning on his window and climbed up. With the strict no guests policy the Golden Dawn enacted for peasants like him and Yuno, they had no choice but to disregard the rules.
Once he found the rope and swung it up to the awning he climbed up and peered in. Yuno surprisingly was tossing and turning in his sleep, gripping his chest, as if he were in the middle of a nightmare. Panicking, Asta knocked more and more forcefully hoping for someway to wake him up. However, to no avail nothing happened. Realizing that he needed to do something, Asta quickly looked around for a way to enter. He almost thought of diving through the window but realized that could spell trouble.
Fortunately, as he scanned the window, he realized it was slightly raised, just enough for him to dig his fingers under and lift. And lift he did. Not even spending time to walk, he dived right in and quickly raced to Yuno’s bed, grabbing his hand and shaking him awake.
Yuno sat up quickly, panting as he leaned over and grabbed Asta’s arm as if it was his anchor in life.
“Asta, you’re here?” Yuno pulled him forward making him fall onto the bed with him. Shifting slightly, he positioned Asta in front of him as he dug his head into Asta’s neck, as if he were trying to hide from the moonlight.
Asta shifted into a more comfortable position as his hand found its way to Yuno’s. As their fingers intertwined, he spoke softly. “Yeah I am, I couldn’t sleep.”
“So, you came here to sleep better?” Yuno said softly.
Asta chuckled as he realized how silly it sounded when Yuno said it. Though feeling how hard Yuno pressed his head against his back and how he moved his legs until his were coiled around Asta’s, and how hard he gripped his hand, he decided that teasing him would be a bad idea. “Something told me to come, I guess.” He answered simply.
“Something? Hmm. Do you mean someone?” Yuno whispered as he slipped closer wrapping an arm around Asta’s torso, hugging him.
“What do you mean, Yuno?”
“I was calling for you, hoping you’d come. I’ve always.” Yuno’s voice fell away as he tucked himself closer to Asta.
Asta wanted to pry further but when Yuno got like this it was impossible. Though he knew exactly what it was. The nightmares he’d thought Yuno outgrew years ago were still alive and well in him. No wonder he sometimes looked so stressed, no wonder he looked like he wasn’t eating right sometimes, no wonder he wanted to spend more and more time with him. He was suffering and trying to deal with it alone and he couldn’t.
He wanted to shift positions, to look at him, and whisper all sorts of calm and comforting thoughts to him, but Yuno had him tightly locked in such an awkward position. He could pry him off and reposition himself, but for Yuno, being like this, calmed him as it was the only way he knew Asta wouldn’t up and leave in the middle of the night. Resigning himself to his fate and position, Asta snuggled just a bit closer to Yuno, and drifted off to sleep.
Asta mumbled something or another as he awoke. Legs and arms sprawled haphazardly on the bed, he spread his body like a star and stretched all the sleep out, groaning so loudly that as the mirror and window rattled he was pelted in the head by a marble. Rubbing his head, he sat up and yawned as he tried to glare at Yuno.
Yuno smirked at him as he flicked another marble at him, eliciting another groan and another glare.
“Gee, good morning Yuno, you don’t have to hit me like that.”
“You don’t have to be loud like that. Are you trying to get yourself kicked out?”
“Oh, that’s right.” Asta quickly lowered to his morning voice. “About last night?”
“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.” Yuno’s smirk fell as he left the room and headed toward the bathroom.
Left alone, Asta flopped back on the bed. As he bounced he grumbled as if he’d been denied a nice meal. Getting Yuno to speak always left him like this. It was sometimes so impossible dealing with his shyness and mood swings.
He sat up when water was spritzed on his face. “Yuno why?”
“Here, brush your teeth, mouthwash. I know you’d skip it if I didn’t say anything.”
“Skipping one day won’t hurt.”
Asta stuck his tongue out at him, before he grabbed both the bowl and the brush.
“There, happy?” He said moments later.
“You’re such a kid.” Yuno teased as he ruffled his hair before taking the bowl and the toothbrush and sitting it on the table.
“Yeah says the one who needed his older brother to baby him to sleep.”
“I didn’t need you to do that. I was fine on my own.”
“Oh really?” Asta teased as he leaned across the bed and grabbed Yuno’s hand. He pulled him downwards to the bed and wrapped his hands around in a hug. Any retort Yuno had fell away as he fell silent and stared at Asta. “Really, Yuno what was with last night? Was it a bad one?”
The slightest of a nod was all the confirmed Asta needed.
“Aw Yuno why didn’t you tell me anything before. You know I’d have been here every night if I knew. You shouldn’t hide these things from me.”
“I wasn’t trying to hide it, it just happened.”
“Since when, those times we uhm held hands?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yuno.” Asta sighed as he pulled him closer and nuzzled his head on his chest. “These are the times when you should just speak your mind and say something. Even if it doesn’t make sense, or is something you can’t understand, or anything. Just say it.”
“And sound dumb like you?” Yuno teased.
Asta puffed his cheeks as he glared.
“I know what you mean.” Yuno smiled and finally wrapped his arms around him.
“Then if you know what you mean, promise me that you’ll always tell me when these things happen. Promise me.” Asta stressed sternly.
Hmpf. Yuno turned his head away as if he were ignoring him, but Asta quickly headbutted him getting his attention.
“I’m serious Yuno.”
“Fine.” He huffed.
“Good! Very good.” Asta tightly hugged him both out of concern but out of appreciation.
They stayed locked in position for several moments, not moving until Yuno finally bopped their foreheads together. “I know that look Asta, what really brought you here?”
“You,” Asta answered simply again. “I’ve had you on my mind for so long now that I can’t go a single moment without thinking about you and seeing your handsome face in my head. I’ve tried and tried and tried to get these thoughts to go away but I can’t. You’re smart so I thought you would have an idea about it, so I came to you. So why Yuno, why are you on my mind all the time? Why can’t I get you out of my head?” Asta asked desperately as he tightened his arms around him.
“How am I supposed to know the answer to that Asta?” Yuno said as he brought their foreheads together.
“Because you always have the answers?”
Yuno shook his head. “Not this time.”
“Because I can say the same thing about you. I think about you all the time Asta.” Yuno took a deep breath before he continued. “When I look at my hand I think about how your hand feels in mine. When I stare in the mirror, I think about how it feels and looks when you wrap your arms around my stomach. And when I close my eyes to go to bed at night, I think about the way you look up at me, as if, as if, as if you know that I need you to look at me so I know that everything’s going to be alright.”
“Is that why you can’t sleep?”
Yuno pursed his lips as he nodded.
“Aw Yuno,” Asta exclaimed as he snuggled closer comfortingly.
They fell silent as they stayed connected. Feelings of comfort faded as their minds wandered trying to find some type of explanation for this mutual feeling and shared experience that left each of them on the others minds. It was something they’d never encountered before and couldn’t even put a name too. Though as Asta reflected on everything he’d learned from these past two days, he couldn’t help but speak aloud as he pulled away.
Yuno’s breath hitched as he listened to Asta speak his mind.
“It’s what Father, and Sister, and Finral said earlier. I didn’t understand what they meant, but this, now I wonder, if this is what love feels like. Is it love when we always think about each other, are drawn to each other, and want to spend as much time as we can with each other and-”
Yuno interrupted without missing a beat. “Want to feel the warmth of each others touch all the time, and want to always be able to look at each other, and have our arms wrapped around each when we sleep, and maybe do a bit more like-“
“Kiss?” They said simultaneously as they broke eye contact. They stared at each other’s lips for a moment before reestablishing eye contact. As their cheeks reddened in the radiant sunlight, they hastily turned their heads away from each other and chuckled awkwardly and nervously.
“Maybe the kiss can wait,” Yuno said as he cleared his throat.
Slowly they turned around until they faced each other again. Arms quickly wrapped themselves around each other as they stared and took each other in. As eyes settled on each other they spoke simultaneously.
“So Asta, do you love me?
“So Yuno, do you love me?
“Then why don’t we, you know, seal it with a kiss?” Asta suggested. “We love each other right? It’s what you do when you love someone.”
Believing him, Yuno made the first move. He slid just a little bit closer to Asta, before he pressed his lips against his. Surprised at first, Asta almost pulled back, but as Yuno pressed a little further, Asta realized he couldn’t back down. He stayed in place and moved just a little further, meeting Yuno with the same force he received. As the contact deepened he felt something explosive and powerful erupt inside of him. A deep and intense feeling of peace, joy, and happiness accompanied the feeling of love and affection he felt for Yuno. Making him grin, he pulled away from the kiss and looked up at Yuno wondering if he felt the same thing.
A matched glance and a smile packed with so many emotions was all the confirmation he needed to know that Yuno experienced the same thing too. Realizing that this is what love was, they both tightened their hands around each other and pressed themselves comfortably close.
“I love you Yuno,” Asta said softly.
“And I love you too Asta.” Yuno said softly.