The First Day of Snow
"Fakir! It's snowing! It's really snowing!"
Ahiru ran ahead of Fakir as they walked out of the dormitory grounds. She spread her arms out as if they were wings and dashed face first into the air speckled with falling snowflakes.
Fakir, walking with his hands in his big winter coat pockets, sighed and yelled, "Careful, they haven't cleared the roads yet. There might be some snowdrifts-"
Almost as if on cue, Ahiru let out a stifled "QUA-!" as her right foot sank into a particularly deep area of the snowy road. She flapped her arms, trying not to fall on her face, but Fakir grabbed her arm, steadying her stance just as she began teetering over.
"Are you all right?" Fakir asked her quickly, looking down at where her foot had sunk into the snow.
Ahiru pouted. "Yes, I'm fine, Fakir," she said with pursed lips. "A little snow isn't gonna hurt me!"
"It's not the snow I'm worried about," Fakir replied wryly as he held out his arm for Ahiru to grasp onto so she could clamber back upright. "It's what the snow could be hiding. Like say, black ice."
"Black... ice?" Ahiru looked at him with some trepidation.
"Don't worry, Ahiru - that just means ice that you can't see frozen on the ground," he added upon seeing her apprehension. "It's easier to slip and fall on ice you can't see."
"Oh..." Ahiru raised an eyebrow. "But... it's not really black ice, is it? It's more like, invisible ice, or maybe... see-through ice! It doesn't sound as scary that way..." She tilted her head. "Why do they call it black ice, anyway?"
"Because the hard ground beneath it of a road is usually dark colored," Fakir replied as they began on their snowy day stroll once more. "The transparent ice is just showing the color of the black road beneath it - so, the ice becomes black."
"I see..." Ahiru nodded. "And it's more of a problem with black roads and stuff instead of like, green grass or brown dirt. So the ice that's easier to slip on is black colored."
She glanced back up at the snowy sky, holding out her mitten-covered hand to catch the tiny snowflakes that were drizzling down. "Huh... but snow is white, even though it's also supposed to be water, just like ice is. They're even both really cold! Black ice, white snow - they can be all sorts of different colors depending on where it is. Ice might be kinda scary, but it's also really neat!"
"Scary?" Fakir asked, looking at her with concern. "Because of how ice is slippery? Or... are you afraid of the cold?"
Ahiru shook her head. "Well, I don't like it when I slip and fall, but that's not what I was talking about," she said sheepishly. "Umm... you know how the lake freezes over when it gets cold? It turns into a sheet of ice. And, uh... one time I almost got frozen into one."
Fakir started with alarm. "What?! Were you okay?! What happened? How did you get out?"
"It's okay, Fakir, it wasn't that big of a deal," Ahiru waved her hands lightly, and Fakir relaxed his stance a little. "I woke up in the reeds one morning and my legs felt pretty stiff, and that was when I saw that I was surrounded by snow, and my feet were stuck in a bunch of slushy ice. I was about to start panicking, but then I popped out of the ice really easily because I was flapping around so much," she said, rubbing the back of her neck with an awkward grin. "I definitely didn't sleep in the water for the rest of the winter, that was for sure!"
"So you've seen snow before," Fakir noted aloud. "But, somehow, it feels to me right now like you're coming across it for the first time."
Ahiru glanced up at the sky again with a bright smile. "Well... it kind of is! I've only ever had snowy winters when I was a duck. This is the first snow day I've had when I can walk around as a human girl!"
Fakir's cheeks were tinged slightly red. Four months had passed since Ahiru had returned to being a girl. It had taken that whole time for Fakir to realize what Ahiru really wanted, but once he had, two simple sentences from his quill were all it took to grant her wish. "Right, I'm, umm... I'm glad we figured that out," he said clumsily.
"Yeah!" she grinned at him. Then, a little more quietly, with a shy smile, she added, "Me too."
After walking for some blocks, they came across a few preteen children out in the streets enjoying their snow day to its fullest, engaged in a banter-filled snowball fight. The white battlefield was framed by a pair of opposing snow forts, with slushy bombs whizzing across it from both directions.
"Oh! Oh!" Ahiru's hands grasped together in excitement. "Snowballs! I've always wanted to play with those! Let's go join them!"
Fakir sighed. "Ahiru, we can't just barge into their fight and-"
He was cut off by a snowball plastering his head.
The blond boy behind the nearby fort glanced across the battleground and shouted, "Hey! We're not supposed to get outsiders involved! Rules are rules!"
"Eh, who cares?" a girl behind the far fort said, out of view. "It's their fault for getting in the crosshairs! Survival of the fittest!"
"Fakir!" Ahiru exclaimed. "Are you okay?"
"It's just snow, don't worry about it," he said grumpily, brushing off the snow still sticking onto the side of his head.
"Hey, you!" Ahiru yelled, glaring at the unseen kids at the far end fort. "Apologize to Fakir! He didn't want to be part of the-QUA!"
Ahiru in turn was cut off by a snowball that hit her square in the forehead, and she barely managed to stifle the quack that came out of her mouth.
"Says you and what army?" one of the boys on the other side who had thrown the offending snowball called out, poking his red hair out from their hefty snow fort. "If you don't like it, then get out of the way!"
"How rude!" Ahiru shouted. "Fakir, step back and lemme at 'em, I'll-"
"I'm joining you," Fakir said decisively, ducking behind the near fort next to the boy and girl who were taking shelter behind it. "They're going down."
"Right!" Ahiru pumped her fists and tossed herself down beside him. "We'll make them regret trying to mess with us!"
The blond boy, who wore a knitted hat with a fuzzy ball on top, nodded solemnly. "Happy to have new allies," he said with dignity. "Name's Theodore."
"You don't have to fight this battle," the brunette wearing a pair of red earmuffs who was sitting next to the blond boy said to Fakir and Ahiru worriedly. "You can get out of here and we'll cover your escape."
"Liesel..." Theodore started to say.
"No, don't bother with that," Fakir said in a low voice, glaring in the direction of where the boy who had hit Ahiru had been. "It's personal now."
"Just because now you've got four against three, doesn't mean you're going to win!" proclaimed the redhead boy who had thrown the snowball at Ahiru from the other side of the snow field. "Our firepower is unmatched!"
"But, uh... Luis, it's snow, and it's cold, so how could it be firepower?" a third boy's timid voice asked.
"Don't question it, Albert!" the girl insisted. "The only thing that matters... is victory!"
"What Frida said!" the redheaded boy called Luis added.
And with that, the little bombs of snow began flying again. While Fakir made small, dense snowballs that he aimed precisely at points where the other children peeked out from their fort, Ahiru went for packing together giant mushy snowballs that almost flopped rather than flew. She had to give each one a big heave to get them over their fort wall.
With their little teammates Theodore and Liesel throwing more standard snowballs amongst their own, the other side gradually wore down - with Fakir's sniping attacks preventing clear shots from their end, and Ahiru's giant snow bombs beginning to knock down the other side's very fort itself.
"We're winning! We're actually winning!" Liesel exclaimed, glancing around the wall for an instant before avoiding another snowball sailing her way.
"It's time for you to say Uncle!" Theodore yelled to the other side.
"Never! We'll never surrender-" Frida began to say, before she was interrupted.
"No! This is enough!" yelled Albert's voice as a boy with copper-colored hair wearing glasses ran out from behind the fort and held up his two hands. "Frida, our fort is nearly broken through. We almost don't have a base to defend. It's over."
"I guess Al's right," Luis the redhead said glumly from behind the fort. "We have to know when we're beat."
All four on Fakir and Ahiru's side celebrated victory in their own way, with Ahiru raising a fist in triumph and Fakir simply letting a smile sneak onto his face, with the two children cheering and high-fiving each other.
The three children who were their opponents stepped out from their decimated fort, with the bespectacled Albert leading them, the lanky redheaded boy called Luis walking solemnly behind, and then after a gap, a blonde girl with freckles and quite the pout on her face, who presumably was Frida.
"It was unfair," Frida said, crossing her arms as the four victors walked out from behind their forts to meet them face-to-face. "It was four-against-three! We were outnumbered!"
"You didn't argue nearly as much when it was two-against-three," Liesel said pointedly. "If you were okay with that, then it should be no problem here!"
"Don't be a sore loser, Frida," Luis said to her. "We underestimated our opponents, and we paid the price."
"It's okay," Ahiru said, looking at all of them. "The battle's over, so we can be friends now!"
Fakir looked at Ahiru. "Are you sure?"
"You wanna be friends? After we threw snowballs at you just to make you angry?" Frida said, creasing an eyebrow with doubt.
"It's just a snowball fight!" Ahiru said with a chipper voice. "It's all for fun, right? There's no need to hold grudges over something like that!"
Fakir nodded at Ahiru, admiring her ease in forgiving perceived slights, even if it was only from a bunch of children. It was children like those who had thrown the first shots when they had once bullied Mytho back when Fakir himself was a child, so it irritated him more than it probably would have otherwise. But that was then, and this was now. Things were very different, and undoubtedly for the better.
Theodore looked up at Fakir and Ahiru, then turned back toward the other three children. "Well, it's time for us to be heading back - it's almost dinnertime."
Almost on cue, Albert's stomach growled, and the other children laughed.
"Yeah, I'm hungry, too," Luis said with a grin at Albert. "Let's go home, Al."
Luis looked at Ahiru. "Sorry about being kinda rude to you. No hard feelings, right?"
Ahiru shook her head with a grin. "Nope, not at all! Don't you worry about it."
Then the redheaded boy turned to Fakir. "And, uh... sorry for attacking your girlfriend like that."
Fakir's face burst into bright red. "Wait, what?! That's not-we haven't talked about-!"
"Oh, ummm... I was just defending him when he got hit with a snowball all of a sudden," Ahiru explained with a smile. "No harm done!"
After the children had bid the pair farewell and left for home, Fakir stood there with some of the red on his face still lingering. "Umm... well, we haven't actually talked about... going out. I didn't want to assume..."
"Oh! No, it's okay!" Ahiru said, waving her hands around. "It was kinda an awkward moment for me, too, because it wasn't the time or place to talk over stuff like that. And I know we haven't really said it one way or the other yet, so, umm..."
Another awkward silence hung between them, before both of them took a breath about to speak. Realizing the other was going to talk, they said simultaneously, "No, you first!"
"Oh! Uh... well..." Ahiru bit her lip, fidgeting in place. "Since we're talking about it... do you... umm... want to be going out...?"
The bright red erupted on his face again. "Oh, that-that's what I was-!" Fakir's breath stopped in his throat.
His mind going fifty different places at once, he glanced at Ahiru, and saw that she was looking at him with worry from behind her mitten-covered hands, almost as if she herself was unsure of his reaction to her question.
Realizing that he had nothing to fear, and wanting Ahiru to feel like her audacity was appreciated, he relaxed his shoulders and replied softly, "I'm... actually really happy you asked. If that's what you want, I would love nothing more."
Ahiru's eyes widened, her own face turning red. "I... uh...! So, umm, that's a yes! Right?"
Fakir simply nodded with an affectionate smile.
Ahiru began getting jittery, as if she couldn't contain herself. "Oh! Then... that's great! Umm... oh boy, what are you supposed to say with stuff like this... 'hurray'? Or 'congratulations'? Wait, that makes it sound like it's someone else..."
Fakir shook his head good-naturedly. "It's alright, Ahiru. I wondered for a long time how I was going to broach the subject to you, but I'm not as brave as you are. So I'm glad one of us finally said it."
"Huh?" Ahiru asked, frowning. "But Fakir, you are brave! You're so brave that you've faced so many scary things you've had in your life, even when it really, really hurt you! You've risked your life countless times for other people! I'd definitely call someone like that 'brave'!"
"And yet you're the one who finally asked that question," Fakir said, sighing. "I'm... sorry I couldn't have made it more of a momentous occasion. Not much pomp or circumstance to this, I admit."
"No, I'm sure that I wouldn't have been any more 'momentous' even if you had brought it up first! That's just... not how I'm like..." she said, laughing nervously.
"And nothing about that needs to change," Fakir said with a smile.
The two of them started on their stroll again, silently staring ahead of them as they let the significance of their conversation sink in.
The sky's light began to fade, and the air around them grew chilly. Ahiru shivered, and Fakir suggested that they head back to their dorms for the night before it got colder, and she agreed.
Once they reached the courtyard between the dorm buildings, Ahiru turned to Fakir. "I'm really glad I got to spend time with you today. I mean, I'm glad to spend time with you anytime, but I mean...!"
"I know what you mean," Fakir said with a teasing grin.
Ahiru paused, and then after a brief hesitation, gave Fakir a big hug.
Fakir's eyes widened, his face turning red. His first impulse was to be embarrassed at this public display of affection, but the absence of students in the dorms due to winter break reassured him that they lacked an immediate audience. So though his body tensed up at first, he wrapped his arms around her in response. Plucking up his courage, he placed a hand ever so gently on her head, feeling the softness of her hair and stroking it affectionately.
After what seemed like a lengthy moment, Ahiru quickly broke away as she let out a sneeze away from Fakir. "Yeah, I'd better get back inside," Ahiru said sheepishly.
Fakir nodded, and the two of them said their usual 'see you tomorrow's before Ahiru headed back into her dorm.
Standing there gazing at the building for a short while after Ahiru had gone in, he turned around to head back into his dorm room when he suddenly heard a clatter of footsteps tumbling back out of the girls' dormitory. He turned around to see Ahiru running after him, pausing at his feet to catch her breath.
"Huh? What's wrong?" Fakir asked her.
"I... I don't know where my room key went!" Ahiru said frantically. "I swear I put it in my coat pocket, but it's not there..."
Fakir frowned. "Hmm, that's a problem. You don't have a roommate, right? So no one can let you in?"
"Yeah, and I think the dormitory staff have left for the evening already..." Ahiru sighed glumly. "What am I going to do? I can't stay outside in this weather..."
"Of course not," Fakir said immediately. "You're already getting cold now. Let's go to Karon's place and sit by the stove. We'll figure out what to do next after you get warmed back up."
"Yeah..." Ahiru said, sighing with disappointment at herself, not just for losing the key, but for troubling Fakir with her absentmindedness.
They made their way quickly to Karon's house, and when Karon answered the door, he looked at Fakir and Ahiru with surprise. "Fakir! Why are you out this late?"
"Ahiru lost her room key, so we need somewhere to get her warmed up," Fakir said, glancing at the girl behind him who was holding back shivers.
"Right, come on in," he said, backing away to let them through the door.
The coals in the stove were burning warm and bright, and Fakir and Ahiru headed inside, sitting down next to it. Ahiru held her hands toward the stove and felt the heat soak into her skin, warming her from the ends of her limbs to her torso and head. After a few minutes of this, she placed her palms onto her cheeks and sighed with relief as her hands began warming her face after having been in need of warmth just minutes before.
Fakir, who had been sitting beside her the entire time, glanced her way. "Are you feeling better?"
Ahiru nodded with contentment, closing her eyes. "Yeaaaaah... it's so warm..." She held out her hands to the stove again in another cycle of warming her hands and then using them to warm her head. She began getting warm enough that she began taking off her mittens and outer thick coat so as to be about to feel more of the heat from the stove.
"Fakir?" Ahiru suddenly spoke after some silence. "Now that we're... going out, umm... will anything change?"
Fakir was relieved that it was unclear whether the heat on his face was from the stove or his own flushing cheeks. "Will it? Well... do you want anything to change?"
"Not exactly," Ahiru said, her eyelids beginning to droop as she grew more comfortable in front of the stove. "I mean, it's different, of course, but... I don't want anything to change. I like how we are right now."
"And nothing has to change," Fakir said, leaning his arms on his knees. "It's not supposed to be something that requires you to do anything. I guess, it just..." He paused. "...lets you make it anything you want it to be."
Ahiru nodded sleepily. "Yeah... anything we want..."
Ahiru finally began drifting off, and she closed her eyes, absentmindedly leaning on Fakir's shoulder. Surprisingly, this time he didn't feel tense or awkward. All he did was take his own coat and place it over Ahiru like a blanket. In the process he jostled her own coat that was lying on her, and with a little tinkling sound, a key fell out of the back pocket.
He raised an eyebrow, wondering how it could have disappeared and reappeared from her own pocket, but then noticed her larger front pockets, and realized she probably put it in the wrong pocket and hadn't remembered she had done so. He rolled his eyes with a smile. "Idiot."
At some point he would be sure to poke her awake and have her sleep on a proper bed, or if she wouldn't wake, he supposed he'd have to carry her. That thought didn't bother him much either, though, so he simply sat next to her, leaning his head on hers as well.
He closed his eyes. That night, in fact, there wasn't anything he felt like worrying about. All he wanted was to continue sitting there beside Ahiru, warming themselves up by the stove, taking shelter from a cold night. At that moment, he was truly content.