She was the fire to his ice.
They first met in a classroom, his element. He was busy plotting his course through his academic life when he noticed the window seat was taken, by a girl, no less. He was forced to take the seat next to it.
"Hello!" the girl chirped, a bright smile on her face. At the time, he had only thought of how aggravating it was to have the window seat taken.
"Hello," he muttered, turning to the blackboard as if it had held all the answers. He didn't want to be impolite, but this girl was clearly a social magnet, and he was not, damnit!
Instead of more incessant chatter, the girl looked at him knowingly and chuckled a little. He frowned, but didn't pursue. After all, this girl was leaving him alone. There was no reason to get her to talk when he didn't want her to talk in the first place.
The girl stared out the window and smiled. "I've decided."
The frankness in her tone caused his eyes to slide over to her.
"I'm going to become your friend!"
Shintaro nearly slammed his head into the desk.
He was roped into doing all sorts of activities with her, from things as mundane as comparing homework scores and walking home together, to more complicated outings like visiting the park.
Never let it be said that Shintaro was a social butterfly.
Despite that, he started to… enjoy her company. There was something reassuring about knowing that someone would always be there for him, no matter what he did. There was something uplifting about watching her smile and giggle and laugh in his presence.
She reminded him of fire.
Not the raging inferno that destroyed anything in its path, no. She was a soft, flickering flame that brought warmth, like a candle. That didn't mean she wasn't capable of destructive force, though. He had learned that for himself. Even though her test scores were awful, and she was labeled as a dunderhead in his mind, it didn't matter.
The girl was clever.
Not academically, hell no. She was a master at manipulating others in the social setting. Got a friend problem? She was there. Wanted to get information from someone without their knowledge? She's got your back. Had a bully?
That bully would be ground to dust.
He knew, because he had experienced it himself. At a high school, there were always those types of people, the kind who roamed around trying to put others down because they were too average to make a difference otherwise. Fools, the lot of them. He always saw them as nuisances that he didn't need to bother with. After all, what were they going to be when they grew up? Nobodies. So there was no reason to associate with them.
Some of their words were sharp, though, chipped away at the ice that was his heart. It never did more than sting a little, but the damage was done.
They cornered him again in the hallway. It was hilariously cliche, but at the time he was too annoyed to care.
"Hey, look!" the leader crowed. "It's the friendless loser!"
Shintaro rolled his eyes. "Hey look, it's the hopeless rejects," he droned.
The leader shoved him roughly and he stumbled. "Oh come on! Is school all you care about? You really must be stupid to think that this place would do anything for you!"
"And yet you are still here," he deadpanned. The leader sneered and loomed over him. Predictable.
"The only reason we are here," he purred, "is for certain… benefits." He barked out a laugh. "But I bet you don't know about that, do you? Friendless loser!" He paused and pretended to think for a moment before grinning. "Hey, hey! Maybe I should go ahead and bang that girl for you!"
His face morphed into a glower. "Disgusting," he spat. "You're disgusting."
"Oh? What about it is so disgusting? It's just using the resources given to you. Surely you understand that?"
"Tools and people are two very different things," he said, his eyebrow twitching. He would know, it was why he was so socially inept.
"Oh really? I bet that girl is only trying to use you too! Maybe even pitying the stupid, friendless loser that you are. Yeah, I bet that's it! She's only trying to get close to you out of pity!"
It wasn't true. They were only trying to plant doubt in him.
"Are you really that stupid? Thinking that people and tools are different, ha! I don't know if you're stupid or just naive! Everyone uses everyone else, that's the world we live in!"
"Are you trying to preach to him or are you trying to bully him?" someone growled. The girl stormed up to them and and crossed her arms. "If you're trying to bully him… well, I've heard the principal is quite the advocate for anti-bullying."
"You don't know that," the leader growled. "The principal has never cared about that! And besides, we're not bullies! We're simply have a friendly chat!"
The girl glared at them. He had never seen her so angry. "A friendly chat. Suuuure," she drawled. "Then why do you look so scared of me now?"
The leader drew back and tightened his fists, his cronies following him. "I'm not scared," he hissed. "You stupid girl! I'm not scared of anything."
She marched up to him. "In denial now, aren't we? I'll tell you why you're so scared. You know you're a bully. You know that you've done something wrong. You know that if the principal ever finds out you're going to be sent straight to suspension. And you really can't have that, can you?" Her tone changed into something sickly sweet. "Mother and Father will be so disappointed in you when your report card shows up with yet another suspension."
"Shut up!" he snapped. He cracked his knuckles. "Unless you want to get pummeled, you won't do anything."
"Unless you want to be bombarded with nine eyewitness accounts, you'll stop bullying others."
A flash of fear crossed his eyes. "You're bluffing."
She met his gaze dead on. "You really think so?"
The leader glared at her once before spinning around. "Come on!" he called to his cronies. "This weak little girl isn't worth it." And they marched away.
"Shintaro, are you alright?" the girl cried. He blinked and raised an eyebrow.
"Of course I am, why wouldn't I be?"
"They were attacking you."
"I'm not hurt."
The girl sighed. "They were hurting you here." She poked his chest. "Shintaro, you're not a friendless loser. I'm your friend, aren't I?"
"You're not meeting my eyes."
He tensed and closed them. "So what?" He was afraid of what would happen if he looked at her. It wasn't because of anything that hopeless reject had said.
"Look at me, Shintaro."
He did. Her eyes were blank, and it was terrifying.
"I didn't become your friend out of pity."
"Then why did you?" In his pockets, he balled his hands into fists. "For my grades, then? My academics?"
"I decided to be your friend on the first day of school. I couldn't have known what your grades were then."
"Then why?" He was a socially inept, hopeless reject. No one had ever wanted to associate themselves with him.
She laughed. He jolted. The sound was so sudden, so… light against the atmosphere. It didn't make sense. "Shintaro, do you really need a reason? I became friends with you because I thought you were an interesting person! Besides, there's this little thing called compassion, and I thought you needed some of it."
He frowned. "So you do pity me, then."
"I said compassion, not pity. They're two different words! Two different words, two different worlds."
"...Why are you doing this?"
She tilted her head. "What do you mean?"
"Just… all of this." No one had ever bothered before. So why did she?
"Isn't it obvious? We're friends!" she chirped. She took his hand and started dragging him towards the exit. "Now come on! School's over, and I wanted to go to the park with you!"
Shintaro shook his head. Almost against his will, a smile tugged at his face. "...Thank you."
The ice in his heart was starting to thaw.
His face was blank, as usual, but his hands were trembling in his pockets. He had something to say, something of incredible importance. It was vital that he got this right.
Ayano looked up at him, a smile on her face and a curious glint in her eyes. "What is it, Shintaro?"
"Can we go to the park?" It was so, so hard to keep his face blank. "There's something I want to do there."
"Sure! When are we going?"
Ayano tilted her head and nodded. "Alright, just let me pack my things."
In almost no time at all, they were heading out the gates, school bags in hand. When they reached the park, Shintaro pulled ahead and lead her to a large tree off towards the side of the path. He walked to a bench that was carefully tucked out of sight by the thick trunk, and set his bag down. Ayano plopped her bag right next to his.
"So what did you call me here for?"
Shintaro shifted on his feet. His fists felt clammy, almost weak, and his tongue went dry. He softly cleared his throat and averted his eyes. A gradual feeling of lightheadedness came on him, and- Oh god, he was blushing, wasn't he?
He turned his gaze back to Ayano and forced the words out. "I like you."
"I- I guess I should say I love you. You're a beautiful person, Ayano, a-and not just because of your looks. I… Ah- well-"
Ayano pressed a finger against his lips and smiled, that special smile that never failed to light up his world and make his heart soar. "I love you too," she murmured, and pressed her lips against his.
He let himself fall into her embrace, the flames wrapping around him on all sides.
She was the fire to his ice, and he had never felt more alive.
Seven days. Seven days since he had confessed to Ayano, and they started dating.
It all felt so new, so strange. He had never dated anyone before, and apparently, neither did Ayano. They tried to take it all in stride, with… varying levels of success. Shintaro couldn't stop wondering about whether other people had noticed the change. Because there was a change, no matter how miniscule it was. There was a lightness to his step that he never had before, an easing of his mind that made each day feel intensely more real.
He noticed changes in Ayano too. She seemed more fluttery around him, even skittish at times. He had also gotten to see her panicky side, where she would spout words faster than a baseball in the major leagues. He didn't mind, though. It was a welcome change, and it was nice to see that even Ayano could get flustered and embarrassed.
Can you come over to my house? My siblings want to meet you!
He stared at his phone, mentally debating if he had time.
And I just got my test scores back.
There's a lot of red marks…
He chuckled softly and started texting. Ayano had come over to his house the day before, so why not?
Ok. I'll be there.
Great! You know the way, right?
Yes. You told me earlier.
K! Don't forget, third house on the left!
He sent the message and packed up his things. He had just walked out of the school when his phone buzzed again.
He stared at it, waiting for a follow-up message. It didn't come. He frowned and tucked it away. It was probably nothing. She was probably just distracted by her aforementioned siblings. That was what he told himself, but he still quickened his pace.
He was on the sidewalk when the wail of a siren reached him. His eyes were drawn by the flashing red light, and the fire truck raced by him. It was followed by another. He watched them round the turn and disappear, but the sirens still echoed in his head.
The trucks were heading the same way he was going.
He shook his head and growled. Coincidence. Coincidence. He was putting too much stock in coincidence. Even so, he pulled out his phone.
It was sent before he had the chance to take it back. He huffed. Ayano would probably say that it was nothing, that he had taken it too seriously.
He had gone two blocks when he saw it. A faint black cloud rising in the air. He gritted his teeth and started running.
Another block, and he could hear the crackle. Half a block, and he could taste the smoke.
At the final block, he could see the flames.
He ground to a halt, his chest heaving. There were plumes of dark smoke clotting the sky, staining it a stormy black. A neon orange consumed the house, the colors blazing in his eyes. Bright red trucks barricaded the way, surrounded by a swarm of people.
He staggered back, his eyes locked on the house. His feet carried him back, back, back, until he had reached the far corner of the block, behind the swath of people that whispered and pointed at the burning house.
It was the third house on the left.
He collapsed to his knees. The pavement was cold and bit into his knees. Silent gasps escaped him and he clutched his heart, frozen by the blaze before him. There was no one there to watch him, no one there to care.
Tears streamed down his cheeks and he laughed, the sound a borderline scream as it clawed at his throat. The house of flames flickered at him.
Yes… She was the fire to his ice.
And now she had melted him to water.