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Equilibrium

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Diana looks to the moon.

Diana always looks to the moon.

Or, at least, she has since her mother died. Long enough to be always. In a very real sense, her life started when her mother’s ended. She has the moon, however. Always present, even if unseen, even if hidden, the effect of the moon on everything is undeniable.

This is why Diana doesn’t drink. Sappy. Weak. (Vulnerable.) It was worth it at the time, but then isn’t, and now she’s sober and still sad. For so many reasons, Diana wants to weep. Let it out, the privacy of an empty beach, chilly winds stinging what little skin Diana left exposed, with no one but the moon for company. Just like she used to.

She’s not twenty-six and successful, but eleven and distraught, the night after the funeral in a lonely mansion. Anna refused to let her sleep in Anna’s bed, even though young Diana desperately didn’t want to be alone, saying it was unbecoming of a Cavendish woman. But I’m just a girl who misses her mom. Doesn’t that count for anything? She had no one else. No father in her life, no Daryl and her cousins yet, no one. Anna was the closest thing to anything resembling family she had left, and to be pushed away…

Diana climbed out on the roof that night, and slept under the stars. To her distraught mind, it seemed a perfectly sound idea then. It’s stupid, of course, but she was eleven and grieving. What else was she supposed to do? Regardless, the moon kept her company, comforted Diana with its gentle light. That started a life-long friendship. When things proved harsh, when life got messy, when hope slipped away, Diana would always look to the moon.

She should be back at the house. It’s their last night on vacation, Diana and all her friends. Akko, too. Always Akko. Diana should be with Akko, not freezing her buns off, caught between the overwhelming urge to cry and the overwhelming urge to bottle it back in. It’s almost enough for Diana to stand up and march herself back over the dunes. Back there, however, back at the house, are all the reminders of the life she’s losing, of the people she won’t see anymore. Back there is… Akko.

That’s really the crux of the whole thing, isn’t it? Akko is the one who binds them together. Sure, Barbara and Hannah have her back, but would they really be as close as they are now if it weren’t for Akko? Amanda would have just been another thorn in her side, and she wouldn’t have looked twice at Lotte or Constanze. Jasminka? Sucy? Utterly beneath the woman she was before Akko came blasting into her life.

The thought of losing them all is what finally tips her over the edge, sends her body tumbling up and up and up to the moon’s comforting embrace, a streak of tears following her. The world is so cruel for rending them apart, and the worst thing is… Diana can’t stop it. She’s capable of a great many things, but stopping the natural course of a life is not among them. Stopping them from drifting away and leaving Diana alone. Like always. That’s what’s expected of her, Diana Cavendish. Untouchable and aloof and the pinnacle of excellence. She’s literally trained her entire life for this and what does it get her?

“Diana!? Diana!” she can hear behind her, the cries of the ever familiar voice fighting nature itself to find her.

Akko.

Diana slumps in defeat. She wants Akko to find her. She wants to disappear and never see Akko again. She wants her friend to yell at her, to hold her, to smile and joke and be fierce. She wants.

“Dianaaa! Diiianaaa!” Akko’s voice draws closer. Diana can’t bring herself to look back. If she looks back, she’s no longer alone, and Diana never really learned how to not be alone. What would Akko say? What would she think of Diana? It’s time to find out, because Akko’s no longer shouting when she approaches. “Diana, it’s freezing. What are you doing out here by yourself?”

Diana can’t bring herself to speak yet, she just scoots to the side in a silent invitation. It’s silly because there’s nothing but room on the grassy bluff. How far she’s fallen, her poise—

“Oof!” Akko says, legs splayed out in front of her, kicking the cliff. The wind cuts down a little. Akko’s taking the brunt of it. A petty part of Diana wants to switch, to show Akko that she can take the wind. It doesn’t matter. Akko doesn’t care about that. Akko only cares that her friend is clearly distraught about something.

They sit in silence. For once, Akko is quiet. She has that look on her face, the one that precedes her either putting her foot in her mouth, or saying something uncharacteristically insightful. Sometimes it’s both. Diana doesn’t know which she wants to hear, so she starts talking before Akko can make that decision for them.

“Hello, Akko. What are you doing out here? You should go back and spend the time you still have with your friends.” Diana winces. “I don’t wish to imply that we are not friends.”

Akko slings an easy arm around Diana’s shoulders. “Of course you’re my friend. That’s why I’m out here. Everyone’s asleep anyway.” Diana’s eyes widen in surprise. Akko continues, “You’ve been out here for like two hours. I’m worried.”

“I needed some space.” It’s so easy to melt into Akko’s arm. She rests her head on Akko’s shoulder before she even realizes what she’s done. Akko, in turn, rests her head on Diana’s. “I just needed some space.” They’re quiet again, and even though the wind cuts through them both, Akko is impossibly warm against her. She doesn’t need the space any more. If anything, there’s too much space. It takes all of Diana’s willpower not to just curl up into Akko’s lap.

After some amount of time (too short, Diana decides, because she wants Akko to stay) Akko says, “Let’s get back. You’re shivering.”

Diana nods against Akko’s shoulder and she helps Diana up. She brushes some of the sand off her legs, noting with some distaste that her jeans are distinctly and unpleasantly damp around her rear. She has been out here a long time, hasn’t she? Diana turns back to Akko, half expecting the girl to be several steps away, marching confidently into the future like she always did, and almost knocks her over.

Akko is looking at her curiously, as if it’s the first time she’s ever seen Diana. “Akko?” she prompts. It doesn’t stop the blush from surfacing under her numb face, all the ache and none of the heat. “Are we going back or not? As much as I enjoyed moping out here on the sand alone, I am rather cold.”

“Diana, you’re beautiful.”

The blush flares hot enough to cut through the night chill, through the ocean wind. “Thank you for noticing. Now you can join my legions of admirers,” she says with a half-hearted smirk. What is she supposed to say? Akko is not really a girl who notices beauty, not like that. She sees the simple things, the small things that people miss, the building blocks. It’s one of the things that Diana loves most about Akko. Diana knows she’s considered attractive, but for her to say it like that, well… It could almost be considered flirtatious. And that would lead to disastrous things because Akko will leave, they’ll drift apart, and Diana will be alone again. Always alone, but with the addition of heartbreak this time.

“No, no, hold on. When did you get so pretty?” Akko says, holding back a grin. “I thought I was out here with a no-fun grumpy pants and there was a beautiful woman next to me this whole time.” Akko mimes shading her eyes and looks around them. “Where did the grumpy pants go? Did you see her? She was about this tall, long blond hair, pretty blue eyes. Kinda looked like you, but there’s no way that…” She couldn’t keep her giggles back any more, and neither could Diana.

Goodness, for a moment there, Diana was sure that Akko had been serious. It’s just Akko being her charming goofball self, always bringing others along for the ride, whether they liked it or not. Akko just had that effect on their friends. Akko had that effect on her from the moment they met. Diana has always been helpless against Akko.

“Legion of admirers, huh? I should tell Amanda you said that. She’ll have a field day,” Akko says after a bit. “Do they hold tryouts? I bet I could get top spot. If there’s one thing I’m really good at, it’s making you smile. See? You’re smiling right now. You’re welcome by the way.”

Diana lowers her eyes, unable to keep the grin from spreading wider and wider, and grabs one of Akko’s hands. It’s probably as cold as hers are. She can’t feel them that much anyway. “Thank you, Atsuko.”

“Anything for you, Diana. I mean that. I’ll always be there.”

Diana’s heart plummets. Akko says that but… she has a lifetime of evidence to the contrary. The few years she’s spent with everyone has been so nice, but it’s time to face reality. Life. It hurts even more because Akko believes what she says. The girl is a catastrophically poor liar, especially with matters of feelings like this. She’s never been one to hide behind propriety or status or differences in power. If Akko says she’ll always be there for Diana, Akko fully intends on keeping that promise. And that’s why Diana can’t do this, why she can’t let Akko do this to herself.

“Don’t say that. You don’t know how true that will be in a year, five years, ten years from now. You shouldn’t promise things you cannot keep, no matter how much I know you want to.” Akko’s face sours, and Diana sighs. “I’m sorry, Akko, but we only have a few hours left before we part ways. I don’t want to spend it dwelling on what the future carries.”

“Like you haven’t been doing just that, sneaking away and isolating yourself because it’s too hard? Since when did Diana Cavendish back down from a challenge?”

Diana knows exactly what Akko is doing, and Akko know as well. It’s one of the best ways to push her when she’s being stubborn. Unfortunately, there’s no being stubborn about this. “This isn’t a challenge to overcome, Akko. It’s simply the way of things. People drift away, even best friends. The sooner you accept this, the sooner we can heal. Promise me you’ll move on.” For the first time, Akko looks confused. Worried, even. Good. Maybe Diana is finally getting through that famously thick skull of hers.

“No. That’s not how this works. You can’t just tell me that I can’t make a promise to stick with you and then order me to move on. Diana, you can be so stupid sometimes that it makes me want to tear my hair out. Listen to me. I’ll. Always. Be. There.” She punctuates the words with her finger jabbing Diana over her heart. “Whether you want me to or not. No matter how far apart we are, you will always be my best friend. You tried for years to get rid of me. You know that’s not going to happen. If you try to push me away, I’m just going to hold on tighter, and who’s going to win that one, huh? We both know it’s me.” The frustration Akko expressed gives way to a more complicated, tender emotion halfway though. By the end of it’s she’s close to tears. “I’m never letting you go, Diana. I can’t, even if I wanted to.”

And that’s when Diana gets it, really gets what’s been going on in her mind this whole time. The realization isn’t a shock or even a surprise. It would hardly be worth acknowledging at all if it didn’t somehow change everything and nothing all at once. A shift in perspectives, she might call it, or an opening of the eyes. Whatever it is, it’s just like coming home.

“I love you, Akko.” It slips out like a sigh, escaping Diana’s lips before she could clamp them shut.


“I’m never letting you go, Diana. I can’t, even if I wanted to,” Akko says, voice impossibly thick with emotion. It’s a wonder how it even crawls out of her mouth. The tears sting. She keeps trying to put these emotions she has to words, for months, and Akko’s running out of time. Diana’s right. Soon, they’ll part ways, and none of them hurt more than Diana. Tonight has been a desperate scramble to pull herself together enough to finally get across whatever she’s feeling.

There’s a look of awe on Diana’s face. Her eyes go wide in epiphany. She looks like Akko feels after she’s struggled with a problem and finally found a solution, except the look is on Diana so it’s way more beautiful than it ever was on Akko, because Diana is beautiful. Not just pretty, or cute, or other surface level comments (though, Akko has definitely called Diana cute and pretty in the past, and meant it) but she’s beautiful like nature is.

“I love you, Akko.”

She almost misses it. It’s so quiet that if Akko didn’t have her entire attention trained on Diana, she would have missed it, but she didn’t. Akko heard every single word. Part of her feels like she just eavesdropped on a secret, but most of her, a really sappy part of her, involuntarily springs into action. She rubs the back of her neck, suddenly unable to make eye contact for more than a split second, and it’s followed by a wave of nervous laughter that bubbles from the deepest part of her gut, some kind of biological response she can’t control. She gathers her wits just in time to stop her from scuffing her trainers on the dune grass.

And Diana really thinks so little of Akko that she’s going to give up without a fight? This might be the biggest fight she’ll ever be in, and much like Diana Cavendish, Kagari Atsuko does not back down from a fight.

Seizing the opportunity before it slips away, before Diana slips away for good, Akko goes for it. She doesn’t even have the time to muster any courage because Diana starts to pull away, her fingers drifting from Akko’s numb hands. She grabs Diana’s shoulder with her free hand and pulls her in.

For all the times Akko’s imagined kissing Diana, she never imagined it would be this… hard? Akko’s entire face is numb from the bit of time she’s been out in this icy coastal wind, and Diana must be worse off because she’s been out here for at least three times as long. It’s kind of wet and Diana doesn’t move and maybe Akko bumped their noses directly by accident.

Akko cracks one eye open to see Diana’s blue staring back at her. Sheepishly, she backs away. “That… really sucked, huh.” Akko trails off with a wince.

Diana is looking at her curiously, as if it’s the first time she’s ever seen Akko. She’s not sure whether or not that’s a good thing, because otherwise Diana isn’t reacting. As the moments stretch on, the chill gets worse. Despite the wind, the silence is oppressive. Akko can’t hear anything at all. “Um, we should head back,” Akko says, if only to break it. Maybe if she pretends the last thirty seconds never happened, everything will be fine.

“Don’t leave me,” Diana says in the smallest voice she’s ever heard her use. Sometimes Diana is the scariest when she’s quiet, but she’s never sounded so… small. Definitely not the time to pretend the last thirty seconds never happened. They’ve pushed each other so far, Diana especially, that there’s no question that Akko will come running. She literally ran across the dunes to find her, after all.

Akko does her best to sound more confident than she really is. Tap into that reckless Akko energy that defined so much of the months after they met. If Akko acts confident enough, it’s the same as true confidence. After all, she learned this trick from Diana herself. She fooled everyone into thinking she is pristine and pure and perfect, almost everyone, except Akko. All she has to do is pay attention, and Diana is as easy to read as Akko herself is.

Perhaps false confidence would send the wrong message, but Akko wants to be the rock that Diana leans against, steadfast and reliable. “I told you earlier. I’ll always be there.” Once again, Akko pulls Diana in, but this time to a hug. “Feel this? Maybe not, because it’s really cold and I’m pretty numb, but do you feel me here, next to you?” Diana nods as Akko speaks into her ear. The wind blows Diana’s hair against Akko’s nose and, despite everything, it tickles. She can’t feel her skin and Diana’s hair tickles. Akko giggles. “I’ll be here, right here, when you need me. No matter what. I’ll fly across the world to be with you.”

“I love you, Akko,” Diana says again, in that small voice.

“Love ya too, nerd.”

“No, Akko, I mean it… differently. I think I’ve been in love with you for… for a long time. And now, just when I understand it, you’re…” Diana doesn’t say more, choosing to bury her nose in Akko’s neck. Akko doesn’t know what to say. What could she even say? Her brain is too overcome to even try to think of the words that could help, to prove to Diana that she means every single thing she said. “Don’t leave me, Akko.” It comes to Akko then, what she needs to do. Properly, with clarity of intent.

“May I kiss you? For real, this time.”

“Please,” Diana whispers.

The second time is still clumsy, but it’s also perfect. It’s perfect because it’s Diana and everything Diana does is perfect, even if it’s gently moving her numb lips against Akko’s, and Akko doesn’t care that Diana’s not really perfect because she’s always perfect to Akko, and this is really happening and Akko can’t stop her mind from spinning faster and faster and faster—

Diana opens her eyes, and Akko never closed hers because it felt like a crime to not see Diana like this, moonlit and reverent. “Don’t leave me.”

“I’m not going anywhere.” Akko presses her forehead against Diana’s and smiles the biggest smile she can muster, because how can she not? She just kissed Diana Cavendish. Akko will absolutely chase Diana to the ends of the earth if she has to, just to get one more opportunity. “I’ll say it as many times as you need to hear it. Twice over, if I have to. I’m not going anywhere.”

Diana kisses her again, soft and quick. “I want to believe you.” Another kiss. “I want to find out what this is.” More. “I can’t lose you, Akko.” Kisses. “I don’t like who I am without you.” Lips on her cheek. “I refuse to go back to who I used to be.” Under Akko’s ear. “Don’t leave me.”

“I’m not going anywhere… except back to the house. It’s really late and I’m really cold. Come with me. I won’t leave you behind, now or ever.” Akko hugs Diana tightly, just to make sure that her point gets across. “Not tonight. Not tomorrow. Not next week, or next month, or next year.”

Diana nods against Akko’s head, and says, “Let’s go.”

When Akko gets back inside, somehow she’s surprised at how numb her body truly is. The intensity with which her body tingles back into feeling hurts like hell, but along with it there’s a warm feeling that has nothing to do with being inside. It’s only then that she notices that Diana hasn’t let go of her hand since it found hers earlier. By some unspoken agreement, neither of them let go as they warm up by the door.

Diana drags her through the darkness to the main bedroom, where she’s been sleeping. Akko doesn’t stop her, or even think about putting up a protest. She made a promise to not go anywhere, and if Diana is taking her to bed, well…

Akko closes the door softly behind her once they’re in, careful not to make too much noise. She’d rather not have to deal with anyone else right now. Diana needs her. She leads Akko to sit next to her on one side of the bed. Akko sinks into the blankets, a little worried about how soft the bed is, but Diana doesn’t seem to mind.

“Akko… I don’t want to seem untoward, but… I would it like if you stayed here tonight. I don’t think I can be alone right now.”

“Okay. Do you want me to go outside while you change? I’ve already got my jammies on underneath so I don’t need to leave if you don’t want me to go.”

Diana’s eyes drop and she shakes her head. “Stay,” quiet and small again, like if Diana speaks too loud, too honestly she’ll shatter into ten thousand tiny pieces.

“I’m not going anywhere, Diana.” Akko removes her hand with some reluctance and makes her way to the other side of the bed, removing her jumper. Jeans, and boots that she put on in haste nearly an hour ago. Somehow, an hour seems like an impossible amount of time. Didn’t she open the door to find her friend only five minutes ago? But it’s been a few days since they kissed, right?

Akko slips under the covers while Diana finishes changing, making sure her back is respectfully turned. Perhaps, in the future, maybe she wouldn’t have to look away. They would need to talk about it. Akko’s mind buzzes with questions, but the years next to Diana has taught her the restraint necessary to stop them from spilling from her mouth.

Her hands and feet feel mostly normal (if not still cold) when Diana slips under the covers as well. Akko finally rolls on her back to get comfortable only to have her breath taken away. For the second time that night, Akko is struck by Diana’s beauty, and it’s all in the way Diana is looking at her, at Akko, as if she’s the only other girl that’s ever existed or will exist. It’s a little scary in her intensity, but also exciting, like she’s about to go on a hunt and Akko is the quarry.

“Is this okay? Being here with me, I mean. I’m frightened of what the future will hold, Akko. When the sun rises, I don’t know what will happen.” Diana’s words are at odds with that intense gaze.

Akko finds one of Diana’s hands under the covers and holds it in her own. Their fingers thread together, and Akko lets a small, content sigh pass her lips. “You don’t know what will happen any time the sun rises, Diana. Tomorrow will be a day just like any other day. We’ll figure it out together, like always. Because I’m—”

“—not going anywhere,” Diana finishes with a light smile that mostly lives in the corners of her eyes. “Akko. Are you okay with me? With my… my love?”

Akko rolls her eyes. “What’s with all these questions? You sound like me when I’m being stubborn about learning something dead simple. If the kisses didn’t tell you, yes, I’m okay with your love. I definitely have some strong feelings to sort out that might be something like that too, okay? I don’t want to give it a name yet, because as you can imagine, it’s a lot to just… ugh, I don’t know.” Why are words so hard? Akko thought she did a good job earlier, but maybe Diana didn’t get it? “Can’t I just kiss you? Isn’t that enough?”

Diana flicked off the table lamp behind her without breaking eye contact and moved forward until Diana could feel the warm breath float over her skin. “Tell me with your lips, Atsuko. Tell me what you feel.”

Akko digs deep, deeper than she thought possible, to dredge out every complicated, exhausting, and impossibly fond feeling she can think of, holding them each with care in the forefront of her mind. It’s with that same care that Akko closes the minuscule space between herself and Diana and runs her chilly fingers under the base of Diana’s hair, gentle enough to not crack the girl at her most fragile, but strong and unyielding in their force. Diana moans softly into Akko’s lips from the sensation. Akko grows bolder, just a little, running her tongue on Diana’s lips. They’re chapped from the week by the ocean, just like her own, and she tastes salty like the sea and smooth like warm cup of tea in the morning and Akko wants more.

Just as soon as that thought tumbles over her body, lighting her core with spark that runs directly to the tips of her limbs, Diana takes more control. It’s so easy, giving in to Diana, it’s so easy letting her take what she wants from Akko. For ever thing she takes, for every feeling she soaks up like a sponge, for every whispered exhalation, she gives Akko something she didn’t understand she wanted until this very moment. For every piece of Akko she takes, Diana replaces it with some of herself.

They reach an equilibrium, where Akko’s just as much herself as she’s a part of Diana, and nothing’s ever felt quite like this. But no matter what the day brings, Akko is sure of one thing. She’s not going anywhere.