Autumn and winter was a peaceful season. Calm. The air turned chilly and fresh, the leaves shifted from emerald green to bright red and orange. People pulled out warmer clothes, scarves and hats and light coats.
But for the local Witches, it was a busy time of year.
“Finally done!” Yuzu says loudly in relief, falling onto the sofa and face-first into a pillow, groaning.
Ruri sinks down into an armchair with a sigh. “Aaah, so nice it’s all finished...”
Serena counts off everything on her fingers, even after they’ve done so multiple times already. Only after nodding satisfied to herself, she lets herself sink down on the other couch not taken up completely by Yuzu. “It took a damn long time but…”
“It’s finally over,” Rin says next to her, massaging her shoulder, aching from dressing wreaths all evening.
“Good work.” They all perk up at the deeper voice, looking to the kitchen entrance. Ray walked out, a tray balanced on one arm with five steaming cups on top.
“Waaah is that-?”
“Ray’s hot chocolate??”
“Can we have some?”
Ray’s lips quirk up on one side in amusement. “That’s why there are five cups, right?”
The rooms filled with pleased sighs and groans as uniquely decorated cups are handed out and sips are taken, each one savoured like a precious treasure.
“Aaah, I’m back to life…” Ruri happily sighs, cup held close to her face to take in the delicious aroma.
“You alright there Rin? You’re frowning real hard,” Yuzu asks after seeing her staring down at the phone in her hand, cup lowering to her lap.
“I’m fine, we just went on for longer than I expected.”
Ray looks at her, leaning against the fireplace, lower face hidden behind her cup. “You gonna make it?”
Rin’s face forms a sort of grimace. “Yeah, no worries. Gonna have to go change quickly though.”
Serena gives her a weird look. “You going somewhere?”
“Yeah,” Rin says, putting her cup on the coffee table and standing up to stretch. “To the Wintertide Market. This weekend is the last few days, and I want to avoid the big crowds if I can.”
Ruri perks up. “Oh, right! We haven’t had time to go this year!”
“What market?” Yuzu asks, feeling confused.
“Since you moved here this spring, you wouldn’t know about it.” Ruri looks up to Rin, tapping away at her phone again. “Hey, Rin, why don’t we all-”
Three pair of eyes blink in surprise at the blunt response. Rin’s eyes don’t leave her phone screen until she pockets it, only to move towards the stairs. “You’re not coming with me.”
“But why?” Ruri asks, sounding more annoyed than angry. “It would be Yuzu’s first time! And going with everyone is more fun!”
“Answers still no.” Rin stops on the first step of the stairs, turning to look at Ray and gives her a meaningful look. The woman simply smiles in response and laughs, making Rin sigh before she climbs the stairs up to the third floor, where the bedrooms were.
“What’s with her, suddenly,” Ruri pouts into her cup. “Why would she want to go alone to the market…”
“So, what is it?” Yuzu asks again.
“The Wintertide Market is held in the outskirts of the plaza, near the forest. It lasts a week, and all kinds of people and sellers come to sell their wares. It’s mostly handmade stuff, but it’s a popular place for witches to come and sell their wares.”
“It’s got accessories, stuff like necklaces and bracelets, or hats and scarves and gloves. Decorations, games you can play, and sooo many different types of food!” Ruri continues, smiling. “They sell both dried stuff and food you eat while you’re there. They always go all out with decorations too, it really looks like a winter wonderland~”
Yuzu’s eyes shine at the descriptions she’s given. “Wow, that sounds lovely! I’d love to go!”
“Of course you will! It’s more fun with people to go with!” Ruri’s smile turns to a thoughtful frown again. “But yet, Rin insists on going alone…”
“Even though we’ve gone together each year,” Serena huffs, looking annoyed.
Ray’s tinkling laughter snaps them out of their thoughts. She’s smiling in amusement over her cup. “Well, I wonder if she’s really going alone.”
“Huh?” They all say at the same time.
Then the doorbell rings. The sounds make everyone except Ray jumps.
“A visitor?” Ruri wonders.
“At this hour?” Serena peers at the clock. “A bit late for that.”
“Wonder who it is…” Yuzu squints at the door, trying to see through the frosted glass.
Ray sips at her hot chocolate. “You know a really good way to find out?” Three pair of eyes turn to her. “Opening the door and not keeping them out in the cold.”
Yuzu’s eyes widen, and then she’s scrambling off the couch and to the front door, frantically undoing the lock and opening it.
She stops, seeing no one, before she glances down and almost jumps back in surprise.
Somebody is crouched down on the porch, facing sideways, and petting a familiar grey cat, who’s purring happily.
“Umm,” she starts, unsure of how to proceed.
The body jumps, head swirling to face her in surprise, and Yuzu’s momentarily struck by their very bright eyes.
“Oh! Sorry, didn’t hear you open the door.” A boyish voice says, standing up, the cat letting out a whiny meow in protest as it’s scratches suddenly stop.
He looked to be her age, though even at full height, he’s a bit shorter than Yuzu. Spiky blue hair stuck up behind his head and a blonde fringe swooped across his forehead, with a thick, blue lock framing the side of his face. He wore a white winter coat, with light blue lining the edges. He gave off the air of a delinquent, but not quite. Just rougher than normal.
But then he smiled, and it was like his whole aura changed. Turning softer and… prettier, his whole face lighting up with the one simple gesture.
“Is Rin here?” His smile turns slightly embarrassed, eyes shifting to the floor and back to her. “We, uh, we were supposed to go out together.”
Yuzu stares. She hears the other two ask who’s at the door as Serena’s notoriously haughty cat yowls at their feet.
“Ah, Yugo, welcome,” Ray suddenly says behind Yuzu, making her jump. A hand on her shoulder pulls her away from standing right in the doorway. “Sorry that you had to come all the way here. Rin’s upstairs getting ready, we just finished work, you see. You can come in and wait for her.”
“Oh, thanks! Sorry for the intrusion,” he laughs sheepishly, stepping inside. Serena’s cat, Luna, follows after him inside.
“Just put your clothes on a chair, Rin shouldn’t be long, but come in and sit in the living room until then,” Ray says after she’s stepped back further inside the house, pulling the pig-tailed witch with her.
Ruri and Serena had walked over and stood further away, both frozen at the sight of the teenage boy in their foyer. Ray pulls Yuzu away before she can even open her mouth to ask who the hell- and snags the other two on the way, hooking one hand in the back of both their shirts.
“It’s rude to stare, girls.”
Yuzu finally snaps out of her stupor, whirling to face her teacher. “Ray, who is that??”
Ray only quirks an eyebrow. “Yugo. Didn’t you hear me say his name?”
“Be nice.” Is all she says before letting go of their collars, making them stumble, just as the boy wanders into the living room.
They end up sitting down, Yuzu and Ruri in one couch, Serena in the other close to them, and the boy sitting down on an armchair, looking around with wide eyes. They linger on the wall-window, old fireplace and the multitude of plants growing around the room, even on the walls and furniture.
“You’ve got a cool house!” he says excitedly.
Ray laughs where she’s writing something in a journal. “Thank you.”
Yuzu feels a bit like she’s trying to regain her footing after falling down on an ice rink, except she has nothing to hold onto to get back up, and her skates aren’t tied tight enough around her feet. Ruri and Serena seem to be in the same situation, staring in befuddlement at the stranger sitting in their living room and peering around, not even noticing their looks.
A yowl makes them jump, but the boy only looks down.
“You’re a really noisy guy, huh?” he laughs as the cat jumps up on the armrest of the chair. He raises a hand to pet it, getting a mewl in response. “Or are you a girl? I can’t tell.”
“Girl…” Serena finally says, looking almost offended at the sight of her fussy and uppity cat begging for attention from a complete stranger. “Her name’s Luna.”
“Luna huh?” he says to the cat, who meows at hearing her name. “What a nice name!”
“Even though she’s not a black cat…” Ruri mumbles under her breath, quickly looking away from Serena’s sharp look.
“She’s got a half-moon shape on her forehead,” Serena mutters, annoyed.
Yuzu sighs, then clears her throat. “Yugo, right? I’m Yuzu, nice to meet you.”
Yugo looks at her and nods, smiling. “Yeah, nice to meet you!”
“You said you were here to meet Rin… right?” That makes Serena and Ruri snap their attention back to them again.
“Yeah! We were going to the, uh…” he trails off, running a hand through his hair in thought. “Some market? I can’t remember the name.”
Ruri’s eyes start to sparkle. “Do you mean the Wintertide Market?”
“Yeah! That one!” He bounces in his seat, startling Luna from where she’s laid down on the armrest.
Ruri seems to be holding back a squeal, Serena’s brow is furrowed in confusion and Yuzu? Yuzu is trying to connect the very obvious dots forming before her, to no avail.
“Hooo, so that’s why Rin didn’t want us to come with her,” Ruri hums, looking thrilled. “She’s got a date!”
“Wha-” Three different voices reacted to Ruri’s words.
“R-Ruri, don’t make assumptions! They could just be going as friends!” Yuzu hurries to say, Serena nodding along with her. Rin liked both girls and guys and all in-between, as far as she had been told by the witch herself.
“R-right! I-it’s not a d-d-date or anything!” Yugo stutters hurriedly, waving his hands in front of him and cheeks turning pink. He starts fiddling with his sleeves and pushing his fingertips together. “I-I mean, I moved here a while ago, and I’d never heard of it, so Rin just asked if she should show me around. Nothing more! She’s just nice like that, you know? Ahahaha… ”
His ears started to turn red along with his cheeks, standing out further against his pale skin. He started fidgeting in place, eyes looking anywhere that wasn’t any other person in the room, foot scuffing the carpet. It was like a flashing sign was hovering above him that said “Smitten Silly” .
“...Sure,” Yuzu says dubiously. Though as Yugo turns redder, she starts to feel a little sorry for him. “You just moved in?”
Yugo perks up at her question and nods, looking relieved at the change in subject. “About four months ago, yeah.”
“Me too,” Yuzu says, continuing when Yugo gives her a curious look. “I moved here this spring, so I know how it is.”
Yugo perks up, and grins. “Nice to know I’m not the only new kid.”
“You’ll get used to it,” Serena says, leaning back against the couch and eyeing Yugo with critical eyes. “Or not, weird shit tends to happen around here. Especially around witches. Supernatural stuff never seems to leave us alone.”
Yugo gives her a confused look and tilts his head to the side. “Yeah but, that happens everywhere anyway, right? Does it matter?”
Serena looks a bit taken aback, but huffs and crosses her arms. “So long as you know.”
Ruri pipes in, looking both curious and excited, leaning on her hands, elbows on her knees. “How did you and Rin meet?”
“Oh, we go to the same school!”
That makes the other three stop. They all went to different schools, but Rin in particular never really talked about her school, any possible friends or how she liked it. It never went beyond ‘it was fine’ or ‘skipped half of it, but I completed that spell I’ve been working on for a while’ when asked about her day.
Yugo didn’t seem to think anything of their silence and continued talking. “She seemed kinda distant at first, but still really cool! The other kids said she was scary and weird, but they couldn’t say why beside ‘she’s a witch’ and stuff.” He laughs, scratching his cheek. “She’s my first friend.”
Ruri smiles sweetly. “Well, how lovely that you’ll go to the Wintertide Market together, then! It’s the first time Rin is going with someone other than one of us, too.”
“Huh? Really?” Yugo looks down at his lap for a moment, before a shy smile forms over his lips. “The first time, huh…”
“It’s popular for couples too!” Ruri continues, making Yugo blush again. “The lights and decorations and mood is so lovely and romantic~ Yuzu, why not try asking Masumi to take you?”
Yuzu startles at the sudden attention on her. “M-Masumi? Why?”
“Oh no need to be shy~” Ruri titters. “We know you’d love to spend a romantic evening with her.”
Yuzu flushes. “Masumi is my rival! I don’t- not her! Not like that!” Yuzu says hurriedly, ears turning hot.
“She goes to your school, so it wouldn’t be hard to ask, and it wouldn’t be far to go either,” Serena adds, looking contemplative. “Not a bad idea. You don’t live that far apart either, right?”
“Not you too Serena!”
Yugo and Ruri laugh at the one-sided argument as Yuzu grows more and more flustered and Serena remains unflappable.
The sudden sound of a door slamming shut made them all jump. It was followed by the familiar creak on the stairs, and soon Rin came sliding down on the stair railing, landing effortlessly on the floor. She looks up, surprise colouring her eyes as she sees them sitting in the living room.
She’d taken a shower, green hair now fluffier and gleaming clean. Her working pants and ratty hoodie had been replaced with a mint blue sweater, a white tank top peeking out underneath, and dark blue shorts with a fur lining. The sweater had little embroidered leaves on the upper area and down the long sleeves, becoming fewer further down. Dark, thick fleece tights and cozy socks made her look ready for the chilly weather outside.
It looked cool, and very stylish on her.
“Rin!” Yugo says excitedly, jumping up from his seat and hurrying over to her. Amber eyes seem to glint as they land on him, turning soft and almost warm.
“Yugo,” she says in response, a smile warming up her normally cold expression. “Sorry you had to come here, work dragged on longer than I thought it would.”
“It’s fine! And um…” Yugo stops, shyly fiddling with his sleeves as his face flushes red. “You... you look really nice.”
Rin smiles in amusement and taps a finger against his nose. “Thanks, you don’t look half-bad either. Cute, even”
The red turns darker at her comment, as Yugo pouts and rubs a hand over his nose. “Says who…”
“Me. Because I’m right.” Rin looks over Yugo’s shoulder, eyes suddenly turning sharp and making the other three witches tense up at the look boring into them.
“Did you behave?”
Yuzu, Ruri and Serena all rapidly nod their heads, useless as it was with telepathy. “Yes, we promise.”
“Something up?” Yugo asks, confused, eyes going back and forth between them.
And like that, the look was gone as if it had never been there. “Nothing. Let’s get going before it gets too late.”
Yugo nods, smiling, and moves to pull on his jacket and boots, Rin doing the same. They’re both dressed in no time and Rin moves to look at them.
“I shouldn’t be out too late,” she says as Yugo is crouched down, saying goodbye to Serena’s cat. “But I’ve got my phone with me.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Ray says, suddenly standing behind the other three. She’s smiling in amusement. “Just send me a message if it’s starting to get too late.”
Rin rolls her eyes but agrees nonetheless. She opens the door and discreetly pushes Yugo out of it. “Yes, yes, see you all later. Yuzu, Ruri, I’m guessing you won’t still be here when I get back, so I’ll see you tomorrow. Serena, Ray, see you later.”
Yugo waves at them from behind Rin. “See ya!”
They look as the door slams closed behind the two, leaving them in silence.
Yuzu speaks first. “Well, that was… new.”
Ray laughs under her breath and turns to leave to take stock for what they need to resupply.
“You’ve got interesting friends, Rin,” Yugo laughs as they walk down the street, breath turning foggy in front of his face.
“That so,” she says vaguely. “What did you talk about?”
“Eh, not much. They asked how we met, where we were going, and if-” he abruptly cuts himself off, and turns away.
“What?” Rin asks, a dangerous glint entering her eyes. If they went and said something stupid to Yugo, then heavens help them…
“Nah, it’s nothing important!”
“Yugo,” Rin says blankly, stopping in the street. Yugo stops as well, squirming. “Out with it.”
“That long-haired girl, I think her name was Ruri? She- she just assumed we were… you know,” he starts to mumble, blushing. “going on a date…”
Rin stares, and Yugo starts to flail. “I-I said we weren’t! You just offered to show me around, since it’s my first time and all… doesn’t have to be a date just because of that. N-not that I would mind going on a date with you- I mean!!”
Yugo’s rambling dissolves into embarrassed gibberish, pulling his collar up to cover his lower face and squeezing his eyes shut. “Aaahh I’m being stupid, ignore me-”
“Who said this wasn’t a date?”
Yugo goes abruptly quite and freezes. He stays like that for a long moment, blinking blankly at Rin. “Whu?”
“I said,” Rin repeats, an amused smile on her lips, “who said this wasn’t a date? It could be one.”
Rin nods. Then she turns up to the sky for a moment, thinking. “Yup, I’ve decided. This is now a date.”
Yugo flushes. “Huh?! Is that something you can just decide on?!”
“Of course, how else do you decide what is and isn’t a date?” Rin says, starting to walk again, the other quickly falling in step next to her again.
“O-okay…” Yugo says, before starting to smile goofily. “We’re going on a date?”
Rin huffs out a laugh. “Yes, Yugo. No need to repeat it.”
He doesn’t seem to have heard her, just keeps on saying ‘a date with Rin~ a date with Rin~’ under his breath while smiling wide enough it had to hurt.
Rin can’t help but laugh. “Really, I’d planned on keeping you away from the others for a while longer, but Ray wouldn’t let me leave until I’d finished.”
“Hm? Why couldn’t I meet them? They seemed nice!”
“Yeah, they are. But...” Rin smiles, wrapping an arm around Yugo’s shoulders, pulling him in close. He’s warm against her side and his soothing smell of sea salt and vanilla and Yugo fills her nose. His pretty, pretty blue eyes widen at their sudden close proximity, cheeks turning redder, mouth parting to speak-
Rin presses her lips against the corner of his mouth, her slightly cold lips meeting his soft skin. Her lips tingle at the contact and she feels the urges to shift her angle just a tad, pull him just a little closer and get a better taste-
But she pulls away, arm falling off from his shoulders. It was a small appetizer, but enough for now.
Yugo seemed to be doing an impressive imitation of a tomato, his whole face having turned crimson and mouth opening and parting like a goldfish.
It was a bit too tempting a sight, so Rin turns to start walking again. “Righty, let’s go. We’re never getting there at this pace.”
“A-ah! Right!” Yugo says, voice a little higher in pitch than before and damn, was it cute.
Fingers shyly grab onto hers and, without turning to face him and with a smile on her face, Rin grabs Yugo’s hand in her own, intertwining their fingers.