Author's Note: I couldn't resist. I just couldn't.
Hello Rosa-Vam fanfiction category! A few years back, I published some fanfiction here a few of you might (if I should be so lucky) remember. Then life got in the way, and my writing developed, then life got in the way again, and I ended up wiping my fanfiction archives.
BUT NOW I'M BACK
AND I'M WRITING IT AGAIN. It's bigger, it's better. Some of it's different - hell, a lot of it's different, as you'll soon see - but it's still the Thawing Permafrost you might know and love!
I'm excited to be back, and I sincerely hope you enjoy this (hopefully final) iteration of my first ever fanfiction project. Without further ado; I humbly present Thawing Permafrost.
Ikko Akada groaned, making himself a decent seat on the suitcase that joined him in disappointment. It wheezed with his weight, its complaint unnoticed by the mile of country road either side of the pair. Not even a passing car to validate the plight.
Such failures of public transport came often and unannounced, but rarely did he feel the sting so keenly as he did now, when he depended upon another's schedule. With nothing else, Ikko checked his phone. Twenty percent battery.
Ikko swore. Why did he pack the charger first, again? He pocketed that option and unzipped the front of the case, pulling out a dog-eared pamphlet. Emblazoned in block capitals at the very top:
General & Specialist Academy for every level of education
Motto, mission statement. Interviews with alumni. Course brochure – wait, where had he put that? – and, most important; the letter of acceptance confirming his transfer.
A new school.
A distant, private, expensive school that needed only an application review.
An expensive school that couldn't get its damn bus schedules right. Ikko sighed, folding the pamphlet and stowing it away. He folded his arms and watched the expanse of country on the other side of the road. The whole lotta nothing that waved him farewell.
His parents said their goodbyes, of course. A fond farewell and a promise to stay in touch before they sped off to the airport three hours away. Ikko yanked his phone back out. They'd be halfway there, coffee stops notwithstanding.
The youth sniffed, tugging at his trashbag brown fringe. "Make sure you sort that out," demanded his mother, reaching back in the car to flick the loose lengths, "How do you expect to see anything?"
Ikko huffed. He tapped his foot. He cracked his knuckles, itched his arm, checked his phone, for the third time confirming the minutes passing. "Come on…!"
He heard it first. The guttural rasp of an engine in dire need of cleaning or replacing. Then came the wisps of choking smoke wafted downwind. Ikko sprung from his suitcase, knocking it over, and turned to see the ancient, yellow school bus trundling, struggling down the country road. He waved it down.
Brakes screeched and hydraulics yanked the doors open in an uneven, jarring lurch. A man clenching a cigar between his teeth tipped the driver's cap and called out, in a voice as gravelly and broken as the vehicle he drove. "Yokai Academy, sonny?"
Ikko stared. Stared hard. Seriously? Was that even legal? "Uh- yeah. Yeah, that's me."
"Said your goodbyes?"
Ikko hesitated on the first step, his luggage behind him. "What?"
"Hah! I'm just messing with you. Come aboard."
Ikko checked the sign, double-checked the driver. "Scared?"
"No! Just- making sure."
"Never seen one of these before, have you?"
"Buses? I've seen loads!"
The driver cackled. "Not like this. All aboard – you're only the first stop, and we're on a schedule."
He clambered aboard, wresting his suitcase up the steps and stumbling into the vehicle. Doubt the schedule he might, but Ikko did not repress his relief at finally moving on from that godforsaken bus stop, the dented sign in the middle of nowhere. His last view of home.
True to the driver's words, no-one else rode with them. Ikko took a seat at the back, settling in. "It's going to be a long drive!" came the shout over the aching growl of the engine shifting into gear. "Make yourself comfortable."
That was easier than he thought. Checking his phone one last time as the stop drifted from view, Ikko nudged himself into the corner and took a long, deep sigh. The musk of age drifted from dusty seat cushions, motes glittering in the April sun. Gathering clouds scattered the display into small pillars.
He yawned, leaning against the window. Had the wait drained him so, or was it merely an emptying of bottled excitement? The smell certainly didn't help matters. It reminded him of doting grandparents, stifling summer boredom. He closed his eyes, letting the rumble of the engine and the rhythm of the road carry him away…
"Heh," the driver murmured, checking the rear-view mirror, "Out like a light. Rest while you can, lad..."
Ikko shivered, jolting himself awake. His head slapped against the window as the bus hit a particularly large dint in the road, shattering his groggy rousing. "Ah, fuh…"
"Oh, you're awake."
He drew his jacket about him. A deathly chill pierced the once-warm air of the bus, but it didn't come from the air conditioning or open windows. Ikko rubbed his forehead, looking around. Faint lights did their best to illumine the interior, but everything beyond the bus sped by in an engulfing darkness.
A lump formed in his throat. "Where are we?"
"We're in a tunnel. Not far now."
He realised that a woman's voice answered his questions. Had the driver changed? He peered over the back of his seat, seeing the trailing cigar smoke of the man who picked him up.
"Over here," murmured the voice, off to his left. A pale woman reclined in the opposite corner, legs drawn up in a tight cross to prop a volume of manga up in her lap. She wore a black shirt and loose jeans, both drowned out by the shocking mess of vivid blue hair cascading over her shoulders. It masked her face, though she waved despite apparently not seeing him, "There you go."
"Y-yeah…" Ikko looked around for other passengers. No-one. "You said we're almost there? At Yokai?"
"Mhm. Should be another ten minutes, give or take." Slender fingers pinched and turned the last page, at which point she snapped the book shut and lifted from her hunch, stretching out. Icy hair framed skin like the first kiss of frost on a winter morning. Like the driver and his cigar, she idly suckled on a lollipop, wrapping her lips into a musing frown. "You snore, by the way."
"I tried calling you when I first got on, but you snored over it."
"Oh. Er, sorry."
"S'alright," the woman paused. Ikko saw her eyes shift and scan over him, quick and appraising. "You new?"
"Sorta. Transferring in, second year."
"Yokai doesn't get a lot of transfers…"
"Really?" Ikko's brow arched, the dull throb of his forehead forgotten. "What about you? You don't look like a first year."
"Oh – I'm not. I'm a teacher."
"Whu- oh! I'm so sorry, uhh-"
She cut his spluttering off with the first quiet laugh of the ride. "Relax. I'm not a teacher yet; I only accepted the position last month."
"I-I see. Even still, Miss…"
"Miss? Oh, right." Her head canted slightly to the left, bounced quickly back by a bump in the road. "I guess I'd be Miss Shirayuki to you. What's your name?"
"Akada. Ikko Akada."
"Well then, Akada," Miss Shirayuki huffed as she struggled to lean forward, extending a hand. "Pleasure to meet you – and welcome to Yokai Academy. I'll be teaching some second-year classes, so you'll probably see me around."
"Likewise." Ikko shook it, stiff and brief. The chill of her hand caused a moment's surprise before he affirmed his grip. "You're freezing!"
"Yeah, I get that a lot," sighed Miss Shirayuki, stuffing her manga in one of three rucksacks. "Coming in from the cold doesn't help, though. They picked me up from my mother's place."
"I guess not." She answered more like a peer than a teacher. Given her youthful mien, Ikko found it very difficult to marry the rigors of education to this bizarre woman. He took some small comfort – and an undeniable measure of vindication – in the unusual hairstyle she, as one of the faculty, sported. "Is it dyed?"
"Hm?" Miss Shirayuki turned from the momentary distraction of trying to pierce the black veil beyond the bus.
"Your hair. Is it dyed?"
"Oh, no. This is natural."
"Yeah, runs in the family."
"No way." Miss Shirayuki only nodded in response, "That so cool."
"Y'think? Honestly, it's a bit of a pain," she plucked a strand of her fringe and held it up and away from her face, going slightly cross-eyed to examine in, "Should really tie it back…"
"Next stop," called the driver, "Yokai Academy. I repeat, next stop…"
Ikko winced, nearly yelped in surprise as light burst from the end of the tunnel. When his eyes adjusted, the bus had rolled to a stop, chugging gently as if catching its breath.
"Here we are," said Miss Shirayuki, gathering her things.
Ikko stared out of the window. "You sure? I can't see it."
"You're looking the wrong way."
"Oh." Ikko hastened to collect his suitcase. Miss Shirayuki hopped off the bus and started walking as he made to alight, with only a brief farewell and a word of thanks for the driver. As soon as he stepped off, the doors slammed shut and the bus turned back the way it came. "Just like that?"
"He's a busy man. Lots of places to be."
"Does Yokai only have the one bus?"
"This time of year, yeah. Look-"
Miss Shirayuki stood a little way off, arm fully extended as she pointed to something in the distance. Ikko followed her finger, tracing it through the murky, dismal evening light.
"It's so far away!" Came his first complaint. They stood near the edge of a cliffside road, a still ocean stretching out to the horizon. At the very end, basically a lump of shadows tacked onto the point where the cliff turned sharply off in another direction, towered a collection of ancient buildings. The campus, no doubt – the pamphlet did say something about it being historic, now that he thought on it. "Are we on the coast?"
"It's not that far. Come on – we don't want to be late for the opening ceremony."
She had already taken off, expertly bearing her trio of rucksacks. Ikko, meanwhile, struggled with his trusty wheeled suitcase on the desolate, barely-maintained road. "Do you need a hand with that?" asked he, out of courtesy.
"Nah, I'm good. I'm used to this."
"I travelled a lot last year," she replied, stopped to catch Ikko swearing at his rebellious luggage, "Do you need a hand?"
"No, no! No, this is fine." A lie, clearly, but he couldn't surrender and leave such a first impression.
They made their way – Miss Shirayuki comfortable, Ikko with great determination and much struggling – down the road and, true to her word, soon found themselves at the gates. Miss Shirayuki took a long, slow breath, taking in the airs of the campus. "It's been a while, Yokai."
"You're a graduate?" panted Ikko, clutching his side. He quelled the urge to kick his luggage.
"Yeah, year before last."
"And you're already a teacher?"
Miss Shirayuki smiled. "Don't sound too surprised. This is where we say goodbye, for now – I have to get to the staff orientation. You gonna be alright?"
"Huh? Oh!" Ikko forced himself to stand straight, only to bow. "Yes, Miss. Good luck!"
She stifled her laugh. "So respectful. Good start."
Off she went, taking off at a light jog. Ikko smiled, his nerves dissipating as he finally started to see other students, all wearing the same green blazer. Had they just arrived, too? Or had he been so absorbed in his battle with his suitcase that he'd failed to notice them?
Ikko shrugged, checking over his own uniform. "Nothing for it," he whispered, staring down the gate, "This is where they've dumped me."
He took his first step into Yokai – almost. His suitcase protested by lodging itself on a stray stone. Another curse, then a sharp yank – and then Ikko actually took his first step into Yokai Academy.
"First years over here! Over here, with me!"
Ikko hovered, uncertain. He clasped his letter of acceptance to his breast, looking between the massing first years and the students returning for their second and third years, already bunching into groups and welcoming one another home. He shuffled over to the woman gathering the first years, a gaggle of youths excitedly chittering. He caught snippets of their conversations as he waited for the staff member to notice him.
"Hey, I can't get any signal-"
"Where've you come-"
"Where's the b-"
"- that we have to use our disguises-"
Ikko jolted from his transfixion, locking eyes with the staff member. She stood slightly taller than him, with long chocolate brown hair parted into two tails wrapped with white ribbon, and smiled with a grounded warmth. "Can I help you? Are you a first year?"
His eyes flicked to the clipboard she clasped – then to the letter he held. "Uh- I'm a transfer. Akada – Ikko Ak-"
"Akada! Yes, I was told to expect you. Here- where's Koko… Koko!"
A sprightly young woman in jeans, tee-shirt, and a denim jacket jogged over. Ikko blinked – was that a bat on her shoulder?
"Koko here'll take your things. You get along to the ceremony, straight down the hall. Someone'll collect you after, alright?"
"Uh-" Too late. This 'Koko' was already rushing the suitcase out of his hands and urging him on with a reminder of the simple directions, and the staff member had gone back to shouting for newcomers. He hurried along; thusly freed of his burdens, Ikko jammed his hands into his pockets, focussing on the path ahead of him. The Academy sprang to life around him, abuzz with volunteers and staff, students and friends all chatting away – a tide of lives reuniting that swept him up in its current, dragging him along the corridors to a grand assembly hall. So great was its pull, that he only managed to collect his thoughts properly when he found a seat.
Wait a second. He looked to where he'd come from.
Did that first year say 'disguises'?
The thought barely had time to unsettle him as the crush of students working their way into the assembly hall took seats, excited cacophony quieting to a low murmur. Students packed in either side of him, including a blonde girl latched onto the hand of presumably her boyfriend. Ikko inched away from them in his seat, focussing on the stage.
A plump man took the steps and cleared his throat, just tall enough to reach the microphone. A lull spread through the gathered. Ikko recognized him from the pamphlet – the principal of Yokai, though not its Chairman. Looking around the crowd as the quiet spready, he saw the faculty filing in. Saw Miss Shirayuki chatting with the woman who'd directed him, seeming less pleased than the latter to be having the conversation.
"Welcome," droned the principal, "Welcome, one and all. As we enter a new year…"
Ikko's curiosity switched him off to the rest of the talk. Something something co-operation, something something success, something something teamwork… standard fare. He'd heard it last year – would hear it next year, give or take a few lines of script. His attention was for the rest of the hall, trying as subtly as he could to get a read on the rest of the faculty. Unfortunately, there were too many to count, but he did notice that bar a few, the principal included, none looked over the age of forty.
The girl next to him sniffed, stifling a yawn. Such was his focus that he didn't see her turn with wide, startled eyes to stare at him.
At the end of the talk, with a wish for every success and an urging to work hard to prepare for the challenges ahead – at least he assumed, Ikko still wasn't paying attention – the students were dismissed. Ikko kept in his seat, remembering the staff member's instruction that someone would collect him. He saw the girl to his right lag as her boyfriend tried to pull her back into the throng, smiling in a manner most winsome to him. He waved, confused.
When the stream slowed to a trickle, Ikko left his seat. Miss Shirayuki caught his eye and hurried to the end of the row, now also bearing a clipboard. "Took you long enough. What were you doing?"
"Er-" he spluttered, "Waiting. I didn't want to get lost."
"Uhuh. Looks like you're in my homeroom," she flipped the clipboard around to reveal the register for class 2-B, "So I'll take you over now. What did you think of the ceremony?"
"It was nice. Pretty standard."
"I don't think he's changed it in four, five years. See anything you like?"
Ikko arched a brow. Miss Shirayuki mimicked craning her neck and looking around. "You were doing this the whole time."
"It's my job to see. Amazed you managed to pay attention."
She rolled her eyes, laughing that quiet laugh. "So long as you're attentive in class. Let's not keep the others waiting."
By the time they arrived at 2-B's classroom, the rest of Yokai had either found their way or were very close to filing in. Ikko shadowed Miss Shirayuki's steps, stuffing his hands in his pockets and looking every way except where they were going. For all its foreboding towers and horrific architecture, the inside of the campus proved remarkably modern, spacious and well-lit. The main hall opened out into several staircases that wove up to the upper floors, where they now walked.
A small crowd of second-years filtered into the 2-B classroom as they arrived. Ikko slowed down, waiting with Miss Shirayuki. "You, er," she began, "You'll want to go in."
"Want me to introduce you?"
"You're a transfer, right? It'll be good to get you introduced."
"Or… not?" Miss Shirayuki stared at him, thoughtful but unblinking. Ikko averted his eyes.
"It's fine. You can."
"Great. In you go!"
He shuffled along, taking too long to claim a seat of his own choosing. Someone at the back alerted him to an empty seat with a bouncing wave. "Over here! Seat's free!"
Ikko dropped into his new desk at the far back. Clean, recently installed, with a drawer for books and stationary. He began to smile thanks across to his saviour, only to have the gesture falter and lurch when he met eyes with her.
Blonde hair. Brilliant, toothy smile. She leaned forward on her elbows, legs kicking happily. To call her clothes a uniform massively undersold the casual arrange of the attire. She'd buttoned down her shirt and untucked it, so that it covered all but the tiniest hint of the hem of her miniskirt. Ikko's heart plunged into his stomach as the girl from the ceremony beamed at him. "Lucky me. We're in the same class!"
"We are." Ikko confirmed, his smile fraying at the ends.
"I've not seen you around before. You're new, right? Did you transfer? We never get transfers."
"Called it! I'm Kia. What's your name?"
The ritual of homeroom disrupted their conversation. Miss Shirayuki accepted the bow, perched on the centre of her desk, and waited for them all to sit again. "Hey there."
Ikko caught a few nervous whispers and shared looks. She carried on, undeterred. "So the last English teacher dropped after some health problems, and I've taken up the post. I'm Miss Shirayuki, and I'll double up as 2-B's homeroom teacher for the next year. I look forward to meeting you all."
She covered her lack of experience with an extremely easy air, a coolness that wrapped about her like a cloak – or a wall. "Before I take attendance, I'm gonna introduce our new transfer. Akada!"
Ikko bolted from his seat. "Come on up." He did so, eyes locked to the floor. "This is Ikko Akada. He's transferred in for the next two years. I hope you'll all give him a welcome Yokai can be proud of. D'you want to say anything?"
"Huh? No, uh-" Ikko scratched the back of his neck, finally staring at the back wall. He caught Kia's giggling in the corner of his eye. "I-I'm very lucky to be here I look forward to meeting you all-!"
Bow. A smattering of laughter, for his nerves rather than his wit. Ikko's cheeks flushed and he hurried back to his seat. "Nice to meet you, Ikko!" whispered Kia, through her giggling.
Attendance came and went. For an Academy the size of Yokai, each homeroom class seemed quite small – no more than twenty students. Still, as Ikko recalled squishing into a tiny, well-used classroom, perhaps this was the norm for proper academies. "Alright! This is your second year at Yokai, now. I shouldn't need to tell you the rules – you've lived 'em for long enough. Actual classes will pick up tomorrow, when you've had a chance to settle. Uh… what else…"
Miss Shirayuki hopped from the desk and searched her folder. "Oh! Right. Timetables. Grab yours and pass 'em down, please!"
Despite being near the top of the roll call, his place in the class meant Ikko received his near-last, when the hubbub of friends finding which classes they shared descended. Kia's chair scraped as she nudged closer. "What have you got? Let me see!"
He didn't have much of a choice, as Kia leaned into his desk to examine his timetable. "Looks like we've got… uh… English, History, and Maths. That's good! I can show you around between classes."
"I have the map," offered he, feeble in the face of her determination.
"Yeah, but not a guide! Yokai's massive. You need someone who knows the best spots, right?"
"I-I guess…?" Try as he might, he couldn't disagree with her logic, despite her every attempt to bridge the gap making him want to reconsider his choice of seat next homeroom.
Defeated, Ikko slumped and searched his timetable. "What's this one?" he asked, pointing to an abbreviation he didn't understand in the middle of Wednesday. 'G.T.'
"Oh, that's Guise Training. You struggle with yours?"
Guise. Like disguise? "Uh-"
"Don't worry! Soon as you pass the test, you'll be good. Maybe they just need to check because you're a transfer?"
"But what-" Kia carried on despite his mounting confusion.
"You practically smell like one anyway, so you must be a pro. God, you smell good. Has anyone said that before?"
Ikko paled. Of all the people who had to latch onto him, he'd ended up with the crazy one. Before he could ask, Miss Shirayuki clapped her hands and waved for everyone's attention. "Alright, that's it for today. You can get to unpacking and enjoy the rest of your first day back. Starting tomorrow, you're back to the grindstone. I expect to see you all here first thing. Dismissed!"
Ikko sat in his seat, frozen. As was her apparent wont, Kia lunged from the classroom with a babbling farewell, leaving him to his thoughts as the rest of the class thrummed and chattered their way into the halls.
Guises? Smells? What the hell did she mean?
"Akada?" Miss Shirayuki looked at the last student in her homeroom, closing her folder. He didn't answer. She took a few steps closer. "Hey. Akada. Ikko, you there? Ikko!"
"Huh?" His eyes snapped to her, wild.
She tried a smile in the face of his panic, even if it didn't reach her eyes. "You alright? Yokai must be pretty big compared to your old school, huh?"
"What? No, it's uh- it's about the same." He cleared his throat, failing utterly to dislodge the lump in his throat. His words struggled past it. "Miss? Shirayuki – Miss Shirayuki?"
"What's Guise Training?"
She paused. A terrible, laden silence filled the space between them. "What do you mean?"
"A-and this girl. Kia. She, uh, she said I smelled good. I mean – that's weird, right? I should tell you about that, shouldn't I?"
To his horror, her eyes widened. He might as well have told her that he'd just kicked a puppy. "Ikko…" Realization spread across her expression, emptying it of all emotion except one. Her soon eyes matched the sheer panic welling in his. Her lollipop clattered to the floor. "Ikko – this is important. Really important. I need you to tell me the truth."
"What? What's going on?"
"Ikko – are you a human?"
He stared at her. She stared back. The bell marking the end of homeroom screamed.
"What else would I be?"