This time last year, Nao might have described herself as a sensible person. She worked hard in school, helped her parents at work, and managed to avoid the excesses of Kei's somewhat flighty personality. She had her head on straight and didn’t bother with foolishness.
But then, well, she’d learned that magic existed. A witch sat across the room from her in class and she’d seen brooms fly. Love charms were real, and so were premonitions. Nao’s whole world had tilted slightly on its axis with the magnitude of this information.
And then, just like that, it had recentered itself.
Now Nao was believing in witches' dreams and magic spells, and when she spoke to cats, they spoke back. She was facing things that had once scared her, and, most troubling of all, where Makoto led, Nao would invariably follow.
Even when it was against her best judgment.
“You want me to do what?” Nao asked, just making extra-sure that she’d heard Makoto correctly.
Makoto smiled in that way of hers, too friendly to be fey and too odd to be quite normal, and repeated, “Go flower-picking with me. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, of course. But the moon blossoms will be blooming soon, so…”
Nao leaned forward, resting her elbow on her desk and her chin on her hand. She knew all about Makoto’s horticultural tendencies, and they didn’t exactly inspire her with confidence. Still… “What are moon blossoms, though?” she asked.
“Oh!” Makoto said, clearly just remembering that Nao had no reason to know what moon blossoms were. “They’re flowers that only bloom under the light of the full moon. They’re very pretty, and they can be a potent spell ingredient if they’re treated properly. And this year, they’ll be at their strongest!”
“Oh yeah…” Nao said, like that made sense. And maybe it did. She was starting to get used to all this witchy stuff, perhaps. “It’s a full moon on Halloween this year, isn’t it? Are witches super-powerful on that day or something?”
Makoto smiled again. “Sort of. Witches don’t have more power on Halloween, exactly… But magic is more wild. It can be more powerful, but it’s not something that’s easy to harness. Spells can be more difficult to control on days like that. And a blue moon shining down on Halloween night… There will be a lot more power for the flowers to soak in before they fall!”
“I think I get it…” Nao said, and she kind of did. It made her a little uneasy to think of magic running like an electric current through the air, wild and unmanageable even by the witches she was just starting to get used to. “So if you pick the flowers on Halloween, they’ll keep that power even after Halloween is over?”
Makoto nodded. “Exactly! So will you come with me? It will have to be late at night, but Halloween is on a Saturday this year, so there won’t be school the next day,” she said. There was a slightly wheedling tone to her voice that Nao didn’t exactly trust, but was helpless to deny. “They’re so pretty, Nao-san. I’m sure you’d love them.”
Nao considered. It was true that Makoto and plants could be a dangerous combination. And it was true she’d be out far past her bedtime doing who knew what. And still, even after all this time, she could just barely hear the mandrake’s cry ringing in her ears.
But Makoto was looking at her with those eyes of hers, and Nao felt something like curiosity and something like affection tugging at her chest when she looked at them. And moon blossoms did sound really, really pretty.
Nao folded, just like she’d known she would before Makoto had even approached her desk. “Sure, okay.”
* * *
It was late. Very late. Like, Makoto had said it'd be late, but it was very late. Nao watched her bedroom clock tick past midnight and knew in her heart of hearts that yeah, she was probably going to have to sneak out if she didn't want to deal with some very pointed questions from her parents.
And that was if Makoto even showed up at all. It wasn't that Nao didn't trust her, exactly... It was just that Makoto could be a little flighty at times. She might have forgotten all about the flower thing. Nao swallowed hard and ignored that odd sinking sensation that she felt in her stomach when she thought about Makoto finding her forgettable.
It's probably nothing personal, Nao thought to herself as she sat back on her bed, her back against the wall. Maybe she was mistaken and the flowers aren't blooming this time. Or maybe she fell asleep, like she always does in class. Maybe...
Maybe Makoto had decided to go without her. Nao sighed. 12:15. It was probably time to give up and turn in.
She had just reached up to turn off the light when she heard a light tapping at the window. Nao froze, but the tapping just got more insistent. Slowly, she eased herself off her bed and over to a corner of the room where she could look out her window without being seen herself.
Then breathed a shaky sigh of relief. She marched forward and slid open her window, forcing herself not to shiver in the chill autumn air. "What do you think you're doing, knocking on girls' windows at night? I thought you were a burglar or something!"
Makoto hung there in the air outside her bedroom window, rubbing sheepishly at the back of her head like she wasn't floating there on a broom. "Sorry, Nao-san... I was afraid I might wake up your parents if I tried the front door. This was the only room with a light on."
Relief jittered through Nao's stomach, and she told herself that it was just happiness that she wasn't about to be serial killed in her own bed. "It's okay, I guess... If you give me a few minutes, I'll meet you outside," she said, grabbing a hoodie from her dresser as she went. It really was cold outside.
Downstairs, Makoto was waiting for her with a slightly hangdog expression. "I really am sorry, Nao-san. I didn't mean to scare you..."
"I told you, it's okay," Nao said. Then she paused. "Should I get my bike, or...?"
Makoto shook her head. "No, I think it would be easier to get there by broom. It's a little far," she said.
Nao blinked. "Um. Makoto, I don't--"
"No, don't worry," Makoto said. "I've gotten a lot better! I can definitely fly two people at a time now. Adult people!"
Nao worried at her lip a little as she contemplated Makoto's broom. In her head, she could see visions of falling, of collisions, of making a very unattractive splat on the pavement. But she could also imagine feeling the clouds chill against her face as she clung close to Makoto's waist and-- "I'll go with you," she said, clearing her throat to fight down the beating of her heart. Her face didn't feel particularly cold anymore.
"Okay!" Makoto said. "Let me just... Here, give me your hands, okay?"
Nao held out her hands. "Okay. What's up?"
"I just want to try levitating us both without the broom first," Makoto said. And then, seeing the look on Nao's face, quickly added, "Just so I know how much power to use! It's not like I need to practice or anything! It's perfectly safe! I fly Chinatsu places all the time!"
"Adult" people... Nao remembered her saying. "Makoto..."
"No, here! Just--" Makoto took Nao's hands in her own and gripped them just a little too tightly. "Just relax, okay?"
Nao frowned, more at the way that her body obeyed Makoto before her brain caught up than the actual request. Her shoulders settled without her permission, and then-- And then-- "Oh my god!"
Makoto's smile went a little pained as Nao held onto her hands far more tightly than could be comfortable. They were only a few centimeters off the ground, but that felt like several meters when her feet were not used to leaving gravity's power at all. "Just relax, Nao-san. I've got you."
She's got me. Makoto's got me, Nao repeated internally, willing her heart to stop hammering against her ribs. "I'm not too heavy, am I?" Nao asked, realizing it was a foolish thing to say even as she said it. But floating a few centimeters off the ground, everything felt foolish. Insane and foolish and incredible.
"Of course not, Nao-san," Makoto said reassuringly. "You're just right. I'm going to put us back down now, so don't worry."
Nao nodded, her eyes fixed on the ground as it came up to meet them. "This is crazy," she said.
"Right?" Makoto said with a little laugh that didn't feel at all unkind. "Just wait until you try the broom."
* * *
The wind was cold on Nao's face as they flew, and after a few minutes of dithering about what to do with herself, she let herself lean forward, head pressed against Makoto's shoulder. She was so warm, even in the cool autumn night. Below them, Nao could see fields giving way to a forest riddled with orange and gold. The leaves seemed to glow in the moonlight and Nao shivered. "It's so pretty up here..."
"Isn't it? Full moons are my favorite time to go riding. It just feels like anything could happen."
Nao watched the way the shadows on the ground below them seemed to shiver and quake as the wind rushed through leaves and she couldn't help but agree. Makoto had mentioned that magic would be wilder tonight, and for the first time, Nao fully understood what she meant, separating magic itself from the witches that used it. The air itself seemed electrified as they sped through it, and Nao could feel it sparking through her hair. The magic was there, existing in everything around them, even without the witch that she was currently clinging to for dear life. Makoto, like all the other witches, was just a conduit for a natural force that she would probably never be able to fully master.
Even if the magic was only passing through her, though, vestiges of it seemed to cling to her as she lived and breathed, and maybe that was that slight intangibility that made Nao curl closer, breathe in the scent of her. Or maybe that didn't have anything to do with magic at all.
"Where are we going, anyway?" Nao asked, well aware that she was changing the subject even within her own mind.
"Oh, it's not far. We should be there in just a few minutes," Makoto answered, clearly unaware of the thoughts churning through Nao's head.
And Makoto, famous for getting lost at the drop of a hat, was not wrong about that. Perhaps she couldn't be. Perhaps the directions to this particular location were as much a part of her as her magic or her stubbornness or her pretty green eyes. Even Nao, completely mundane as she was, could feel a peculiar kind of pull that seemed to emanate from the frosted grove that they were approaching. No -- it wasn't frost. As they got closer, Nao realized that it was actually thousands of tiny, white flowers that blanketed the trees. "Oh! Are those the blossoms?" she asked, even though she knew somehow, intrinsically, that they must have been.
"Yes!" Makoto said, and Nao felt more than saw her nod. "Moon blossoms always grow around lakes that reflect the full moon."
Nao could see it now, the lake hidden amongst pale trees. The water looked like it was glowing, almost, and Nao wasn't sure whether it was just a trick of the moonlight or if it was something stranger.
As they approached, she realized that it was a combination of the two. The moon was reflecting off of the lake, but there were already dozens of blossoms that had fallen from their trees and were now floating in the water. The air was filled with the heady scent of damp flowers and this, Nao thought dizzily, was just a little magical. Something deep inside of her was sure of it.
"Oh good!" Makoto said, bringing the broom down low so they were only a meter or two above the water. "We're just in time!"
"Oh? But the flowers are already falling..." Nao said.
Makoto nodded. "The flowers fall between midnight and the witching hour," she explained. "We got here right in the middle of it. Now we can gather flowers and make a toast."
"Make a toast?" Nao asked. Makoto hadn't brought a thermos or a bottle or anything. Had Nao been supposed to? Makoto hadn't mentioned anything...
"Come on," Makoto said. "I'll show you."
Makoto brought the broom down to the grass by the shore of the lake, and Nao felt her feet ever so gently touch the ground. For all that flying for the first time had been elating, she was more than happy to feel the earth beneath her feet once again. Makoto flew like she breathed, looking completely at home in the air, but Nao felt that she herself was meant for more terrestrial pursuits. Something about the earth was comforting, and Nao felt just the slightest bit relieved when she could feel it again.
In front of her, Makoto didn't move. One heartbeat, two, and then Makoto laughed a little self-consciously. "Nao-san, you have to let go..."
Oh shit. Nao let go like she'd been burned, and with how hot her face felt, maybe she had been. "Sorry! Sorry..."
"No, it's okay," Makoto said, dismounting from the broom and giving Nao a reassuring smile. "I remember being scared the first time my mother took me on a broom, too."
Ah, scared... Nao felt herself nodding. Her stomach was certainly doing flips. "I'll be okay."
"Good." Makoto was looking past her then, and it took Nao a moment to realize that she was looking up into the tree behind them. "I think that one will work!"
Nao watched her sprint over to the tree and had to suppress a little sigh. That was Makoto... Always running along at her own pace. Maybe it was a witch thing.
Makoto was back a moment later cradling a large leaf in her hands. "We should do this before we gather flowers, while the petals are still fresh."
"Petals?" Nao asked.
Makoto nodded towards the lake. "Out there. There's a special tradition that witches do when they gather moon flowers. Before you start working, you make a toast to the moon."
"Um. With what?" Nao asked. Surely Makoto hadn't expected her to bring a bottle of something from the shop. "We're underage, you know..."
Makoto blinked at her. "No, not that kind of toast! Um... Maybe it'll be easier if I show you. Hang on just a minute."
And with that, she was walking off again. An awful lot of being Makoto's friend was just following her as she wandered, and Nao started to follow her once again -- but even she drew the line at stomping into a near-frozen lake in the middle of the night. "What are you doing?" she demanded as Makoto stepped into the water.
"Don't worry, Nao!" Makoto said with a little wave. "I spelled my clothes so they won't get wet!"
And Makoto's jeans really didn't seem to be getting wet at all, even when the water was up to her knees and rising. The water just trickled away somehow, like the fabric had been treated to repel it. Her clothes must have been spelled to keep her warm, too, because Makoto looked perfectly at home out there in the moon-soaked water.
"I don't have to do that, too, do I?" Nao asked. Her clothes were decidedly normal and barely warm enough for the night she'd already had planned.
"Don't worry!" Makoto said again. "I'll get enough for both of us!"
Makoto was doing -- doing something out there, and Nao squinted so she could get a better look. She was murmuring something under her breath and bringing her fingertips down to dip into cold water, and Nao watched the water cling to her like an old friend.
Abruptly, all the air seemed to dry up in Nao's throat. It hit her then, how fey and beautiful Makoto looked there half-submerged in the lake.
She's wild magic, Nao thought, and immediately felt foolish. Of course Makoto was magical; she was a witch. But even so, even then... There was something so strange in the most inviting way about the way that Makoto stood, her face stretched up to the moon and her fingers just barely dipping beneath the water's surface. She looked like some kind of magical creature, all moon-limned and fey, her humanity just barely clinging to her slight frame as she was drenched in moonlight.
Makoto was glowing, Nao realized, or the water was glowing, or both. For the briefest of moments, it was like the moon itself had been called down to embrace her, and it stirred something inside Nao's breast that she was almost afraid to put name to. It was the elation of running a race and the fear of an unknown path, the fire of a discovery and the sweet comfort of home. It was the thrill -- the thrill of a first kiss, perhaps. Something clicked into place inside her, and Nao's lips parted around it.
Nao was drenched in moonlight, too, for just that one tiny sliver of time, and she didn't know if that little flame inside her was from the moonlight or if she'd created it all on her own.
Then the breeze shifted and the trees swayed and the moment was broken. Makoto was normal again, was smiling like she'd met with long-lost family, and she bent so she could dip her leaf into the water. And then she was stomping back through the water, all grace lost as she tried to balance the leaf in her hands.
Nao felt the corner of her mouth quirk up. That was the Makoto that she knew. All the boundless enthusiasm of a puppy, and the grace (or lack thereof) to match.
"I got it!" Makoto announced as she reached the shore. "I made the toast!"
"Got what?" Nao asked, walking closer so that she could get a better look at what was cradled in Makoto's hands.
It was the leaf from the tree, broad and cup-like, she realized now. Makoto had filled it with water from the lake, and a few stray petals rocked back and forth on its surface. It didn't glow like the water had only moments ago, but there was still a gleam to it that should have made Nao uneasy. It didn't.
"Is this what you toasted with?" she asked. Did that mean that this was a drink?
Makoto nodded. "Mm-hmm. It's said that drinking this will make one of your wishes come true," she said.
"If you drink this, you get to make a wish?" Nao asked. Somehow, she could believe it.
Makoto tilted her head to the side. "Well... It's not like you say a wish and blow out the candles, like a birthday. It's just that something you want very badly, whether small or large, will come true. There's no way to predict what it will be or when it will happen."
Nao frowned. "But then how do you know that the water was the thing that did it?" she asked.
Makoto smiled at her, a soft secret smile. "I think you just know."
There was something too much in that smile, and Nao quickly looked down at the leaf cup. "There's only one cup..."
Makoto's smile went a little sunnier. "Don't worry! It's enough for both of us. I'll just drink a little and then you can have the rest."
Makoto brought the leaf up to her lips to sip at it, and it suddenly struck Nao how utterly bizarre all of this was. How she never could have imagined herself out here like this a year ago. Before Makoto. But now here she was, standing in the middle of a grove of magical moon blossoms, waiting her turn to sip lake water from a leaf, staring at the lips of the witch who was taking the turn before her. And it felt perfectly natural, for all its strangeness. Makoto belonged out here, with all this wild magic. And Nao belonged here, too, an invited guest at her side.
Nao took the proffered leaf once Makoto was done with it, and she didn't feel nearly as silly as she thought she probably should have. Instead, her heart just beat a little faster as she sipped at the same place where Makoto had just moments before. It tasted -- indescribable. There was a headiness to the flavor, like she was drinking something expensive or rare, but it was also as simple as drinking water from a lake. She wondered if Makoto dealt in that duality all the time. The mundanity of normal, everyday life with the slight sheen of magic overtop it all.
She remembered the way that Makoto had glimpsed a magical plant in an old abandoned lot on the way home from school. How she'd made a magical charm out of simple cookie dough in class. Was that all it was to be a witch, really? To know that there was more to the world, more hope and beauty and magic, than normal people ever knew to look for? To be able to find the wild magic in nature and coax it into material form? To know power in the world and feel it resonate with the power within?
And was that Nao's true wish, to be able to see all that hidden magic too?
Nao glanced up through her eyelashes to where Makoto was watching her, a soft moonlight glow in those eyes of hers. No. Nao had a funny feeling that her wish was something else altogether. Makoto could keep the mandrakes. Nao wanted...
Nao took a step forward, then another, and she could feel the way that the moonlit water trickled down between her fingers as she dropped the leaf. She took Makoto's hand in hers, far more gently than she had earlier, and this time, no one was shaking.
This time, she'd finally been the one to surprise Makoto. "Nao-san...? What are--"
Not wanting to answer a question she didn't quite know the answer to herself, Nao cut her off with a kiss.
Nao could feel the slight intake of breath as Makoto gasped beneath her lips, but something, something deep inside, something intrinsic told her not to pull away. So she didn't. She just drew closer, taking Makoto's other hand in her own, and stayed right where she was. A moment later, two, she felt Makoto's fingers slip through hers, and she felt her fingertips ghosting over water droplets, spreading moonlight all over their skin.
It felt -- it felt incredible, like flying and being caught, like wild magic itself, and despite what Makoto had said, Nao didn't "just know". She didn't know whether this was magic granting a wish, if it was moonlight filling her veins with courage and mystery that didn't quite become her, or if this was all her. If maybe she was just growing into the courage and mystery that had always been hers to possess.
It didn't matter, she decided. Nothing mattered except the soft sound Makoto had made against her lips or the way that she'd shifted close, closer, and moved her hand to Nao's hip. Nao stopped thinking then, drunk on moonlight and the scent of Makoto's floral shampoo, and lost herself to the wild magic of it all.
* * *
Later, much later, when they were filling baskets full of soft white blooms and laughing in the deep darkness of night, Makoto would brush a stray petal from her hair and smile at her, a tenderness to it that Nao hadn't seen before. "Maybe it wasn't your wish at all. Did you think about that?"
And Nao would blush, giddy with the joy of it all, and laugh. She hadn't been thinking at all.