Astral doesn’t feel powerful anymore.
He isn’t sure what he feels.
He trusted Yuma -- no, he thought that he trusted Yuma. He wanted to. But he could never completely silence the whispers of doubt in his thoughts or the nagging feeling that something bad was going to happen. That he was missing something. He’s used to that kind of feeling -- empty space that used to hold his memories.
But this feeling was different. He was suspicious. He was nervous because he knew Yuma was keeping something from him and -- and he just chose not to believe it. He tried to do what Yuma and the others are always saying, to trust your friends and never doubt them no matter what. To have faith in the strength of your bond.
But that faith betrayed him.
Yuma betrayed him.
Not just because he lied to Astral. That hurt, yes, but at least there was a logical explanation. Shingetsu -- no, Vector told Yuma that it was for Astral’s sake and Yuma believed him. But that’s the illogical part that Astral can’t make sense of.
Yuma trusted Shingetsu more than Astral.
More than his partner.
Astral thought that they made a promise to work together. He thought that they would have faith in each other and never keep secrets or put themselves at risk just to protect one another. Because that proved just how strong their bond was -- their ability to fight together and depend on each other as equals.
But yet again, it was Yuma fighting for Astral. Not with him.
And the most hurtful of all is that Yuma was depending on Shingetsu. Someone who only caused problems and couldn’t even duel to save his own life. That’s who Yuma depended on to save Astral. That’s who Yuma chose to believe. And that hurts.
But why does it hurt this much?
Safe inside of the Ou Key, he doesn’t have to hide his feelings. Astral doesn’t have to stop his mouth from tightening into a grimace or keep his eyebrows from knotting together. He’s barely aware of his hand clutching the fabric covering his chest, right over his heart, trying to somehow soothe the pain -- the drop of darkness that spreads in ripples, the seed of anger that grows thick black vines.
They’re still wrapping around him, ensnaring him in hatred, digging their vicious thorns into his unprotected skin. Astral doesn’t know how to escape it.
Did he cause this? Did he allow this to happen whenever he told Yuma to believe in himself? When he assured Yuma that he’d accept whatever choice he made -- even if that choice brought an end to Astral’s existence? Were those the wrong things to say?
Did he even mean them?
“Well, isn’t this a sight?”
Black Mist scoffs when Astral barely looks at him. It’s satisfying to see his enemy suffering this much, but it’s no fun taunting someone who doesn’t respond to it. He floats over to where Astral’s sitting, knees tucked under his chin, and stands over the other. “Hey, I’m talking to you. Did you come here to be alone? Maybe you forgot that I can go wherever I want since you released me --”
“I’m not going to duel you right now,” Astral mutters, eyes on his knees.
Black Mist sneers. “I’m not here to duel.”
What he’s really here for is to torment his enemy some more. It’s about time for Astral to realize that he isn’t perfect or Ranked Up or whatever his superiors wanted him to believe. Even if he’s an interdimensional entity in a human body, he still has feelings.
And even if Yuma is always preaching about trusting in others and believing in your friends, he’s still human. Which means he makes mistakes and hurts the people he loves because humans are selfish, hypocritical, and stupid.
Astral needs to accept that eventually.
“Doesn’t feel good, huh?” He gives Astral a mocking smile and sits down next to him. “Knowing that your partner could do such a thing. How long have you two been together now? Since he was thirteen, so...six years? And yet he chose someone that he’s only been friends with for six weeks.”
Astral says nothing.
“Poor thing,” Black Mist coos, patting him on the back. There’s still no change in Astral’s expression; he just tenses slightly under the unexpected touch. “You must have thought that he’d listen to you. That he would heed your warnings about the Barians and know better than to keep such a big secret from you.”
Astral still says nothing.
“That’s where you went wrong, Astral,” Black Mist snarls, yanking Astral’s face up by his chin. Why does he look so emotionless? He should be furious! He should be yelling or crying or at least agreeing that Black Mist has a point. Astral’s damn pride should let him realize that much.
Except it’s obviously not pride.
It’s his stupid bond with that stupid human.
“You were dumb enough to think that he would,” Black Mist spits, grip tightening on Astral’s jaw as his own frustration starts turning into anger. “But he won’t. Yuma will never listen to you because he’s a coward, Astral. He doesn’t want to choose between people. It’s too hard to make those judgments, so he just doesn’t do it. And you --”
“Yuma’s not a coward,” Astral says, a spark of defiance in his eyes. But it’s for the wrong person and it only pisses Black Mist off even more.
“Being stubborn and impulsive isn’t bravery,” he snaps, shoving their faces closer. Astral only narrows his eyes in silent disagreement. “When are you going to accept what you’ve known all this time? You know that he’ll never change. And you know that he’s not capable of helping you save your world. Think of all the times that he’s almost gotten you killed --”
“Compared to all of the times that he prevented that from happening,” Astral says, “and risked his own life to save mine.” Because apparently he’ll only talk back to Black Mist when defending Yuma.
And that does it.
He knows it’s a mistake. He knows it’s hypocritical to give into his own impulses, especially after criticizing Yuma for them, but Black Mist is sick of this. Sick of his enemy being purposefully dense and stubborn and unwilling to accept the obvious truth that --
-- that Yuma Tsukumo isn’t right for him.
And that’s why Black Mist kisses Astral.
Astral, at least, finally reacts to something that isn’t just Black Mist trashing his partner. His eyes go wide as Black Mist shoves their lips together, gripping the back of Astral’s hair to keep him from jerking back. Astral raises his hands, probably to push the other away -- but to Black Mist’s surprise (and relief), he only places them on Black Mist’s shoulders uncertainly, as if he isn’t sure where they should go.
That’s all the encouragement he needs to deepen the kiss. A harsh nip has Astral’s lips parting in a gasp, a small intake of air that turns into a moan when Black Mist thrusts his tongue in. He only opens his eyes to confirm that yes, Astral’s are still open and wider than ever.
Black Mist smirks and tilts his head slightly, just to go deeper, and feels a rush of dizzy excitement when Astral gasps again and shivers. He’s actually gripping Black Mist’s shoulders now and when the kiss continues, he squeezes his eyes shut and tries to return it, copying the other's movements with hesitation.
Which is when Black Mist finally pulls away. Because if he lets this go on any longer, it’s going to be really hard to stop himself. And the way Astral’s still clinging onto him, panting to catch his breath, pale cheeks stained a pretty pink -- that’s not helping.
“At least that shut you up,” he mutters as Astral opens his eyes. But despite still being oblivious to many human customs, Astral’s no idiot. His surprise sharpens into something more calculating. And then he has a realization.
“Black Mist,” Astral says, perplexed. “Are you trying to comfort me?”
Comfort him? He came here to do the exact opposite! And if Astral thinks kissing is a form of comfort -- he doesn’t want to think about who showed him that.
“Because that’s the wrong place to do it,” Astral goes on, apparently not seeing Black Mist’s scowl. Or simply interpreting it as confirmation. “Yuma says that you kiss people on the cheek to comfort them. It’s only on the mouth if you --”
“Shut up or else I’ll kiss you again,” Black Mist warns.
Astral raises an eyebrow in confusion. “Is that a threat?”
Which clearly means he doesn’t see it as one. Black Mist sighs and drags a hand down his face, sitting back on his heels next to Astral. His enemy is insufferable.
“You need to stop rejecting your emotions, Astral,” he says, getting back to his original point. But since pointing out Yuma’s many flaws won’t get them anywhere, he’ll just have to keep the human out of it. “The darkness in your heart? That’s normal. That’s how the rest of us feel. Not always,” he clarifies, sensing Astral’s question, “but whenever someone betrays our trust or disappoints us...that’s how it feels. And it’s only going to get worse when you try to ignore it or tell yourself that it’s not there.”
Astral frowns. And this time, he can tell that his words are getting through to his enemy. “Which is why I couldn’t stop it from taking over.”
Astral goes silent as he thinks that over. Black Mist expects him to ask the obvious question -- why is his enemy telling him this? It’d make for sense for Astral to suspect an ulterior motive, especially after what happened with Vector and Yuma.
But when Astral finally speaks up, he asks, “If you know how this feels...does that mean someone hurt you too?”
Black Mist doesn’t answer right away. He wasn’t expecting Astral to ask that, but maybe he should have. Because even if it doesn’t seem like it -- and even if he’s not supposed to -- Astral definitely has empathy for others. Including his enemies.
He wants to blame that on Yuma too, but...Black Mist knows that’s not true.
Black Mist takes a while to answer, which gives Astral time to analyze why he even asked that. He should’ve asked why Black Mist was helping him. After all, the other was literally telling him to trust his suspicions. He should be suspicious of his enemy trying to comfort him and offering him advice.
But maybe he’s more like Yuma than he thought. Because there’s something inside of Astral that still wants to trust Black Mist. He shouldn’t want to. He should be angry at Black Mist for giving him nightmares about being possessed again. For trying to possess Yuma. For constantly getting in their way and not caring who gets hurt.
And though he hasn’t forgiven the Number for those things…
He can’t bring himself to hate him either.
When he eventually speaks up, Black Mist sounds conflicted, as if he’s trying to decide whether Astral should hear this or not. “In another timeline,” he says, eyes lowered, “I had a partner. But that partner had a mission to complete. So, instead of staying with me, he left to go finish his mission. And he never came back.”
Astral frowns. He isn’t sure if that means Black Mist’s partner died or just decided not to come back to him, but that doesn’t seem to be the main issue. Someone that Black Mist cared for chose something else over him. Like how Yuma chose Shingetsu over him too. He can now understand how terrible that feels. And he wonders if maybe that’s why Black Mist is...the way he is. Maybe he couldn’t fight off the darkness either.
Black Mist gives him a crooked smile. “Not gonna ask what the mission was?”
“I was comparing our situations to understand how you feel,” Astral explains. His chest feels tight just thinking about it. “But I don’t think it matters to you what the mission was. You wanted to be chosen.”
“I did.” Black Mist shrugs. “But in his defense, that mission was pretty important.”
He gets the feeling the other wants him to ask. “And what was it?”
“Saving his world from total destruction.”
That tightness suddenly gets worse. “Yes. That’s...important,” he agrees, unsure how Black Mist will react. But he understands all too well what it’s like to be in that position. To be the sole one responsible for the fate of your home -- for the lives of millions that raised you, befriended you, grew up alongside you.
Condemning all of those people for just one person is...illogical.
No, it’s more than that.
Black Mist smirks at whatever emotions are on his face. “He hasn’t succeeded in any timeline yet. He hasn’t picked me in any of them either, but -- but he’s never completed his mission. And whenever he fails, he gets sent to a new timeline with no memories of who he is or who he knew. He only knows two things.”
“His name and his mission,” Astral guesses, a strange feeling tickling the back of his mind. The similarities between him and Black Mist’s partner are undeniable, but...but something in him insists that it’s impossible. That usual whisper of doubt becomes a panicked scream and Astral doesn’t know if it’s just denial or...he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what this is.
But it reminds him too much of when he was suspicious of Yuma.
Should he be suspicious of this too? Would...would Black Mist really make up this story just to thwart Astral somehow? Maybe if he thought that Astral would be remorseful enough to change his mind --
Black Mist’s sigh interrupts that thought. “I know he’ll never give up his mission,” he says, pulling a knee up to his chest and leaning his arm on it. He looks at Astral from the side with an unreadable expression. “But he hasn’t realized that I’ll never give up on him. I don’t care if we spend the rest of our lives jumping from timeline to timeline. He can’t succeed.”
Astral’s throat feels dry. “Why not?” It’s barely a whisper.
Black Mist’s smile is rueful. “Because he’ll disappear forever.”
His words sink into the silence that follows. They slide into the empty spaces of Astral’s memories and try to fit themselves into place, like puzzle pieces being pushed together. Something tries to rip them out, but Astral clings onto them, able to instantly make sense of what Black Mist is saying and what it means.
“That makes sense,” Astral says, slowly, hoping that if he accepts the reality of it, the unbearable ache in his chest and the burning behind his eyes will go away. “He was only created to save his world. Once that’s done, he won’t have a reason for existing.”
“Not one that he’ll choose,” Black Mist says, sharp with hurt.
Astral swallows. “Is that why you’re trying to stop me?”
He’s expecting Black Mist to confirm it. But the other just frowns and arches an eyebrow in confusion. “What would that have to do with you?”
Now it’s Astral’s turn to be confused. “I thought,” he starts, but wonders if he should even finish that statement. Did he miscalculate?
His question is answered when Black Mist bursts out laughing. “Oh. Oh! You thought that story was about you? That you were my partner?” He covers his eyes as he breaks down into another fit of cackling. “Oh, Astral, Astral. I didn’t know you were that self-centered.”
Astral narrows his eyes in annoyance. “It was logical to assume.”
And it was. But based on Black Mist’s reaction, it doesn’t seem as likely now. And relief washes over him like a hot shower. The knot in his chest unravels. His eyes stop prickling with heat. And though the ache is still there, it’s only because he’s sympathetic towards Black Mist’s feelings -- not because he might be trapped in an inescapable loop with a former partner who’s only fighting against him to save him.
Black Mist’s laughter fades into a soft snicker. “Seriously, you thought that we would ever be partners? I thought you were smarter than that, Astral.”
“Our situations matched up,” Astral points out. “And,” he adds, surprised at how heated he sounds, “it’s confusing when you kiss me on the mouth.”
Black Mist rolls his eyes, but smirks. “I only kissed you because you’re pretty. Didn’t your human teach you about that?” Astral frowns in confusion. Black Mist waits, but when Astral remains silent, he gapes in shock. “Wait. He...he didn’t?”
“No,” Astral says, even though he’s still not sure what that means. “Should he?”
“No,” Black Mist blurts, leaning forward now. “And don’t you dare ask him about it. I didn’t -- I just thought that he already --”
Astral leans forward too. “Can I ask you about it then?”
Black Mist grins. “You can do more than ask, Astral.” When that earns him another confused look, he sighs and says, “Just don’t think too hard about the kissing. Humans sometimes kiss each other when they like how the other looks. And you look good, so that’s all.” Astral just blinks. Black Mist hesitates. “Do...you not want me to?”
Astral thinks it over carefully. He doesn’t not want to. Kissing on the mouth feels surprisingly good even though logically, it should’ve been gross because of all the saliva involved. But...it didn’t. And more than that, being close to Black Mist felt good. Really good. It’s not a feeling that he’s experienced often and he wants to feel it again.
“No,” he eventually says. Black Mist looks crestfallen.
“No,” Astral repeats. “I don’t not want to. But to put that in simpler terms,” he adds, smirking a little at Black Mist’s obvious confusion, “I would say that yes, I do want to kiss again. And to further clarify, I have no aversion to being kissed --”
Black Mist kisses him again.