Atsushi realized almost immediately that he should have known better than to try something like this.
I'm too lenient with him, that's the problem, he thought, glancing over at En. Still, a smile came unbidden to his face, and he couldn't bring himself to feel as annoyed as he thought he should be. En was, predictably enough, stretched out on the grassy verge, eyes closed, head pillowed on his arms. Lulling him to sleep was never difficult, but with the gurgle of the river and the warmth of the sun to soothe him, it was almost inevitable that he'd doze off almost immediately.
That was a shame, since they were supposed to actually be getting their homework done. Atsushi had gone over to En's house to oversee the project, but they hadn't even cracked a book before things started to go wrong. En had begun complaining immediately that his room was too stuffy and too crowded, and it was such a nice day, so couldn't they go and study for their quiz outside? Atsushi, as usual, had conceded, so they had left the house and wandered around town in search of a suitably comfortable place to study. Even when he had finally selected this quiet place by the river, En had immediately begun fretting about it being too quiet and making him nervous. Atsushi had responded by turning on his laptop and tuning in to an internet radio station. That had at least stopped En from complaining, but the resulting somnolence was not an improvement. They had been here for hours and had very little to show for it.
"We'd better wrap this up," said Atsushi, looking up at the sky. Though the area they were in was well lit by a street light, the sky overhead was black and spangled with stars. A perfectly round white moon hung low over the city. The night air was warm and velvet soft, full of the chirping of night insects and the murmur of faraway traffic, overlaid by the soft music that was still playing on the radio. After a long afternoon of fruitlessly attempting to study, even Atsushi was feeling tired and dreamy.
"Mm," said En. He stretched lazily and blinked a few times. In the low light, his eyes looked as darkly blue as the sky. "Wow, would you look at that moon?"
"Yes, the moon is out. It's getting late," said Atsushi.
En shook his head. "No, no, no. You aren't looking. When was the last time you saw a moon that bright? That's your problem, Atsushi - you get too focused on little things and miss important stuff."
"Important stuff like our homework?" said Atsushi, a little testily.
"See, you prove my point!" said En triumphantly. "There will always be more homework, but when are you ever going to see a night like this again? Look at the way the moon shines on the water. This is the sort of thing you ought to treasure when you see it."
Atsushi looked at the river. It was particularly wide here, flowing slowly and smoothly, creating a perfect surface for moonlight to reflect off of. For a second or two, he watched the ribbon of light glittering off the dark water.
"You're right," he said at last. "It really is beautiful. It almost looks solid, doesn't it? Like you could just walk right across on the surface of the water..."
En looked speculatively at the water, then at the Loveracelet on his wrist, then back at the water. "How do we know we can't?"
"Are you planning something weird?" Atsushi asked warily.
"Just let me try something."
He got up and walked cautiously over to the edge of the water. After studying it for a moment, he took off his shoes and socks. Then, as an afterthought, he rolled up the cuffs of his pants a few inches. Fascinated in spite of himself, Atsushi got up and followed him to the water's edge. Untroubled by his audience, En cautiously dipped a toe into the water.
"It's cold," he complained.
"Well, it is coming down off the mountain," Atsushi pointed out.
"Still," said En, as if that explained everything.
He looked thoughtfully down at his Loveracelet again. In the dark, it was glowing a gentle blue, as if it sensed its owner was up to something. Maybe it did. En's element was water, and here was water in abundance. Maybe, if he could just find the right way to come at it... En brushed his fingers gently over the blue stone, moving like a man in a trance, and the light glowed a little brighter. Apparently encouraged, he took a few steps off the grass and into the water.
No, not into the water. Ripples spread out away from his feet, but he remained floating lightly on the surface as if he weighed no more than a water-strider beetle.
"Whoa, cool," he murmured. He took a few more careful steps. The water wobbled under his feet, as if he were trying to walk on the surface of a giant bowl of jello. After a few steps, though, he got the hang of it, skimming across the surface without lifting his feet very much, as if he were skating. The streaks of moonlight rippled and broke as he glided through them. Atsushi grinned, impressed in spite of himself.
"How does it feel?" he asked.
"It's weird," said En. "But kind of fun. Want to try it?"
"I don't think I can," said Atsushi, taking a step or two backwards.
En held out his hands. "Come on. It's okay - I'll hold you up."
"Are you sure?" asked Atsushi, torn. On the one hand, he was not entirely convinced that En could do any such thing, and he didn't want to walk home in cold dripping clothes. On the other hand, how many chances would he get in his life to walk on water?
"Sure," said En. "You trust me, don't you? Now take your shoes off."
"Because it'll be easier if you're touching the water."
Atsushi didn't argue. He slipped his shoes and socks off and left them on the grass. With his trousers rolled up above his ankles, he waded into the shallow water at the edge of the river. En was right - it was cold. En eased his way closer until he could reach out and take Atsushi's hand.
He felt the difference the moment they came in contact. Suddenly the water was no longer an inanimate substance, but something with life and intent. He felt it lift him up until he was balanced precariously on its unstable surface, teetering but not sinking. The sense of support was emanating from En, he could tell, and that sense threw him off, as if gravity had suddenly started pulling him sideways. He lost his balance and toppled into En's arms.
"Whoa!" he yelped, bumping his nose against En's chest.
En wrapped his arms around him and helped him steady himself. "It's okay, I've got you!"
"I'm okay," said Atsushi, carefully pulling himself upright. "I just wasn't expecting that, that's all. Just don't let go of me or I'll fall in."
"Don't worry. Like I said, you can trust me." En began backing slowly away, leading Atsushi further out onto the water. It wasn't long before they were out on the middle of the river, as far as they could get from either bank. That far from the city, the sky looked more full of stars than ever, the moon even brighter, the city reduced to no more than a few lights twinkling through a border of trees. It was as if the two of them had wandered into another world entirely, a world where walking on water was a perfectly sensible thing to do, and where they were the only two people to be doing it. On the shore, the radio continued to play music, the sound carrying easily over the peaceful water.
"I like this song," En remarked. A slow grin spread across his face. "Hey - wanna dance?"
"Dance?" Atsushi repeated, momentarily uncomprehending.
In response, En took a step backwards, forcing Atsushi to step forward to keep his balance. En followed up with a step to the side, and without thinking about it, Atsushi found himself pulled into the rhythm of a slow dance. The two of them glided across the surface of the water, leaving little trails of ripples across the path of moonlight with every step they took. Atsushi let his head tip back so he could watch the stars whirl overhead as his partner led him through a turn.
When had En learned to dance? Probably never. He'd never been the sort to let not knowing how to do something stop him from doing it when he made up his mind to do them. Atsushi had always thought that what other people called laziness was just En saving up his energy so he could apply it all to the things that really mattered, even impossible things like dancing on the surface of a river. Atsushi looked down again, meeting En's eyes, and En responded with one of his rare smiles. A gentle night wind was tossing his hair, which had been bleached by the moonlight from its usual strawberry blonde to pale gold, and with the stars glinting in his eyes, he looked like the sort of magical being that could walk on a river like it was solid ground. At any minute, he might vanish back into the watery depths...
Then En yawned suddenly, and he was himself again, slumping against Atsushi's shoulder and closing his eyes.
"This is making me tired," he said. "Let's go back."
Atsushi smiled. For all that the dance had been wonderful, this was the En he knew and loved.
"Let's," he agreed.
They splashed their way back to solid ground. En was apparently to exhausted by his efforts that he gave up a meter or so from shore and let them both splash into the shallow water, getting both their cuffs wet. Once they reached dry land, En flung himself back onto the grass and lay there panting. Atsushi dropped back next to him, realizing belatedly that he was tired too. This outing had been a lot more exciting than he'd bargained on back when En had been demanding that they go outside and get some fresh air.
"Whew," said En, draping an arm over his eyes. "That really takes it out of a guy."
"It was fun, though," said Atsushi.
"Yeah. I guess it kind of was," said En, after a moment's consideration. "Do you want to do it again sometime?"
"Sure," said Atsushi. "That was... I enjoyed it a lot."
"Well, if it's for you, it's okay," said En. He lowered his arm again, smiling up at Atsushi. "I guess it was, fun, wasn't it?"
Atsushi beamed back at him, feeling suddenly warm all over despite the cool grass and his damp clothes. He offered En his hand.
"Come on, it's late. I'll walk you home," he said.
En took his hand and hauled himself to a sitting position, then stood to help Atsushi to his feet. He didn't let go right away, though. Instead, he playfully led Atsushi through one last spin. Atsushi laughed, stumbling a little on the uneven ground.
"Okay, that's enough. Cut it out already," he said, but he was still grinning. He crouched to gather up his things and pull his shoes back on, turning his back to En to hide his blushes.
En laughed too. "At least now I know what it will take to get you to study outside."
"That wasn't studying," Atsushi corrected, without any real rancor.
"Close enough," said En, stuffing his wet feet back into his own shoes and scooping up his unopened school bag.
"No it wasn't!" Atsushi insisted.
"It was time well spent," said En with dignity.
Atsushi smiled. "No argument there."
En smiled back at him. He may have left the river behind him, but the moonlight was still in his hair and the stars were still in his eyes. As he linked arms with Atsushi and began dragging him back to the real world, Atsushi thought that he might not have been walking on water anymore, but he still felt just a little like he was walking on air.