This idea smacked me out of nowhere, but it was influenced by many things including Stephen King's (masterpiece) "Firestarter," Laurie Halse Anderson's (magnum opus) "Wintergirls," and Patricia McCormick's "Cut." I highly recommend all three of them. PS: BriKyo, this isn't your gift.

Copyright Disclaimer: I don't own any of the copyrighted materials in this fic.

Cruelty Disclaimer: Weiss, Nero and Shelke are all highly disturbed individuals in this fic. As such, they are committing very cruel/disturbing acts. I, as the authoress and a person, do not endorse what they do.


Matchstick

On my first day sitting on that uncomfortable fake leather couch, the therapist tells me to recall my first memory of fire. I actually have to sift backwards quite a few years before I find what I am looking for. I remember Shalua, at age 11, with chocolate something-or-other smeared around her mouth, and I remember a white cake with plastic balloons and bright sprinkles. The candles on top gleamed in the dark room and I had blown them out, all six of them.

I remember more about that encounter, like my mother harshly instructing Shalua to go wash her face and receiving a toy laptop that remained my companion until its warranty died, but I don't mention those. After all, I'm only supposed to be discussing my issue. Any more than that and it's coming out of my almost-empty pocket, rather than the court's.

So I go through the idiocy with the cake. When I ask why she wanted me to remember that, she says that my first memory of fire is linked to my later "obsessions" and that the memory will be good for therapy. I tell her that she is the crazy one (even though, technically, I'm not crazy either) here if she thinks that my remembering my sixth birthday will solve anything.


They still hang around here. Never mind any locked doors and never mind any sort of logic. They sit up on the counters while I'm in the kitchen, lounge on the adjacent couch when I'm in the living room, sit around on my bed while I'm at my desk, and lean against the wall while I'm drifting off to sleep.


She makes me recall, and I'm seriously quoting here, "The trigger moment." I raise my eyebrows at that and lean back into her fake leather couch.

"You mean the moment it started?" She nods. "Because it didn't just start. It grew over time."

"And when did it start growing, Shelke? When do you think your obsession started?"

So I close my eyes and begin visualizing.

There was a smoky grey sky overhead, the smell of rain on asphalt digging at my insides, the sound of my sneakers carrying me across the wet pavement and two figures huddled around a rock. I was used to people smoking out by the rocks, and there was smoke coming out of their little two-person circle, but I had wandered over anyway.

A dark-haired man, maybe a few years older than me, held his hand over the cover of a smoke-filled mason jar. The taller of the two, a man with platinum hair and a long overcoat, watched with increasing satisfaction as what was inside beat its body against the sides.

"What is it?"

"A moth," the dark-haired one answered. "And a few sheets of paper."

That was my trigger moment: Watching Weiss and Nero Eldritch burn paper in the same jar as a moth in order to suffocate the moth to death.


"Have fun in therapy?"

"I never have fun there." I don't pursue the subject further. The cabinets aren't empty, but they're getting there. I need to make a food run pretty soon.

Weiss saunters out of the living room. He joins Nero on the counter and watches me dig through the small amount of food available to me. Since they are not welcome guests, I don't offer them something to eat. Something tells me they wouldn't take it anyway.

I examine the yellow notebook on the table. My assignment is to record everything I can think of that might link to my fire setting. Ignoring the men sitting on my counter, I scrounge around for a pen and sit down at the kitchen table.

"This is pointless," headlines the first page in my block handwriting. Weiss chuckles darkly. I cut a glare to him. Try again, his expression says. I flip the page and begin writing again.


The second time I ever saw Weiss and Nero burn anything was during my senior year of high school. I still didn't know their names or anything similar. I was late, an extremely rare occurrence, and I was running up past the rocks. Something about the apparent urgency of their conversation slowed my pace.

"No mason jars today?"

Nero, though I didn't know him as such yet, was the one to turn and say hello. "No, actually. Mugs from home." He held one up as proof. There was smoke coming out of it and it smelled like paper. "We're not doing harm to any innocent moths today."

"Good."

"Speaking of good, shouldn't you be in school? Like a good girl?" Weiss stuck his hands into his pockets.

I didn't really have anything to say to that, because it was a sort of trap. If I said that I was on my way to school, which I was, then I'd be proving him right and I didn't want to do that. Something about him looked like he was proved right far too often. If I said that I wasn't... Well, what if?

"I'm not," I lie.

"Then you have some free time? Or do you have an appointment?"

We were heading into dangerous territory because I was still a "vulnerable young woman," to quote my mother.

"What did you have in mind?"

"Sitting around out here, tearing up paper and burning it."

It wasn't exactly fun, nor would it be warm in the middle of November, but I couldn't think of a better way to spend a school day.

I learned a lot after that first day, aside from just their names.

Weiss didn't burn anything himself. He got the matches, he got the gasoline, and he dictated what was to be burned, but he didn't actually do it. Nero did, going through the motions for him. Even though it sounds sort of bad, as if Weiss was making Nero burn things for him, Nero took his own pleasure from it too.

Since I spent almost the entire day outside of school, I only managed to get to one class. I liked chemistry a lot, as it turned out. I never would have guessed, considering how forcefully and subtly my parents steered me towards computers. Combustion reactions, as I learned, were interesting.


My confession takes a little more than a page. I set the pen down and my wrist pulses. I am not used to writing that much by hand.

"Time for a break," Nero croons. Feebly, I shake my head. Instead, Weiss tears a sheet of paper from the notebook, the piece that says, "This is pointless" across the top, and gets the matches that I'm technically not supposed to have in the house. Nero gently restrains me in my chair by keeping his hands on my shoulders. Weiss sets the match between my fingers and helps me strike it.

"Ready?"

It's five days until my next appointment. The words are eaten after I've read the sentence along the top 33 times.


The first thing I do when I wake up the next morning is sit down by the notebook and start writing. Weiss makes coffee and Nero rubs my shoulders.


I was locked out of the house once. I had forgotten my keys at home and realized it the second I got there. Mom was a doctor and dad was a CEO, so it wasn't like I could call home and ask one of them to unlock the door for me. Shalua was already in college, living in a dorm somewhere upstate. So I figured that all I could do was wander town for a while.

Weiss and Nero found me an hour after I left my house.

"And what are we doing, Shelke? Out on the town?" I swung around and, sure enough, they were in an alleyway. Nero had a cigarette dangling from his fingers and Weiss had one in his mouth.

"Just wandering around." My response was guarded, I remember.

Weiss watched the ashes that Nero flicked off the end of his cigarette fall down to the ground.

"Were you going anywhere in particular?"

"No. Just walking to the gas station." The gas station was on a busy street and I knew the man who ran it. If nothing else, he would let me loiter around his shop until one of my parents called.

"The gas station..." Weiss caught Nero's eye. "We need new lighters anyway, Nero."

Nero nodded, as if this was a normal item on their pick-up list. As normal as milk or bread is on my family's grocery list. "We do."

They followed me to the gas station, staying a few feet behind me. Every time I heard a lascivious hiss from any dark, urban corridor, one of them said something back and I won't hear another word.


The process of writing it out drains me. I'm seriously tired again after scrawling it all down. Nero and Weiss read it over my shoulder. Weiss is his usual silent self and saunters off to the living room to lounge around. Nero stays behind. I always was closer to him.

"It's good."

"Shut up." I hate how close I am to him.

"Really. I like how you're documenting it all. Tell me, though, when will you talk about the first time you burned?"

I blink and my fingers twitch towards the pen. Then I remember how barren my cupboards are. "After I go get food."

"Ah... Go on, then. Weiss and I will be here when you get back." He chuckles darkly.

It's not funny.


On my way to the grocery store, I see that they're still cleaning up the building Weiss and Nero lived in. The residual carbon sticks to the bricks, staining it. I know that it's not a permanent stain, but it looks like it. Just looking at it makes me feel sort of sick. Even when they knock down the foundation and rebuild a new apartment building over it, I'm still going to feel like it's stained with smog.


In the store, as I'm checking out, I see Weiss by the front counter, observing the lighters in a box.


"Feel like burning something?"

The question caught me off guard, but I should have expected it, walking past this particular alley at this particular time of evening. Did I feel like burning something? On one hand I had nowhere else to go, no expectations dragging me off to this or that area of town. I could, technically, go wherever I wanted to. On the other hand, these were men I barely knew and I already knew that men could take advantage of girls when they got them into alleyways or apartments. I gave them a wary eye.

Nero basically read my thoughts, which was vaguely unnerving. "Shelke, if we were perverts, we would have already had several chances to drag you off. We simply want to be friends."

I'd already decided that I wanted to go with them. I had questions that I wanted to ask. Instead of actually saying that, though, I nodded. Weiss dropped his cigarette, which he didn't take a single drag off from, and grounds it out under his boot. Nero gestured for me to enter the building to my left.

The apartment building I entered was not high-class. It wasn't even middle-class, to be honest. It was really dirty, and there was graffiti all along the walls. Nero wasn't put off by that and ushered me along as if we were in the Hilton. Weiss trailed along behind us until Nero unlocked one particular door and strode right in.

There were thousands to choose from, but if I had to pick a single adjective for the room, it would be barren. There was nothing on the walls. There was nothing on the floors, save for ripped bits of paper. Everything smelled burnt, but there wasn't a single black mark on anything. A few parts of the walls were discolored from smoke, but that was a yellow-brown stain, rather than a black one.

"Do you burn everything as a hobby?"

Weiss raised an eyebrow. "No. It's more of a career."

"How is it a career?"

Nero made the "Keep-Mum" sign. "Don't ask, don't tell, Shelke." Probably something I should have expected.

We settled into the living room with a bowl, a thick sheaf of paper, a little can of fluid, and a book of matches. Nero moved to work with the materials first, but Weiss stopped him.

"We invited Shelke up here to do this."

Nero nodded. "My apologies, Shelke." He passed the materials to me. I must have looked completely clueless because Nero continued. "Weiss will walk you through it."

"Pour some of the lighter fluid into the bowl first and tear up the paper to soak it in the stuff. After it's properly soaked, toss the lit match in." I did as I was told, but I talked to them while I worked.

"You know, I've been reading about fire setting in the psych books at school."

"Really?"

"The books say it's a sign of being molested as a child." Nero calmly looked at Weiss over my shoulder as I ripped up more paper.

There was silence, save for the ripping noises of the paper. Then Weiss broke it. "I was six. It was our... I believe our godfather. The first time father sold me, right?" He said that as if it was just another family story he needed assistance in recalling.

Nero nodded. I struck a match and watched the fire eat the cardboard. "Your first time was six with our uncle. I was four, and I think it was the babysitter." He continued in the same tone.

I tossed the match in and watched the flames rise up, level with my ribcage. "I was five years old. It was my uncle."


I find my hand shaking after that one. Nero and Weiss read over it.

"That was personal, you know."

"We assumed that telling you in confidence meant that you would keep it in confidence."

My stomach growls. The Cup-Ramen in the cupboard beckons. "You never told me to keep it to myself. Besides, this is therapy."

"If you think it will help you, Shelke."

Weiss laughs at him. "Nothing will help."


I work in a normal place, because the first thing my therapist told me before I said anything else was to get into a normal, non-stressful environment. Even though I'm "gifted academically," I won't be running off to college for another year or so because that counts as "stressful." Instead, I work as a secretary because I type faster than anybody else and Shalua has connections in this company.

It's boring. I type a lot of letters, mostly replies to irritated people about this-or-that defective product. I type a lot of things that aren't really lies, but aren't as sincere as I make them sound. "We're very sorry that you experienced a failed piece of our equipment," is a line that I almost want to just copy-paste onto all the letters. "Please consider buying our products again," is another.

They both do it, but Weiss drops by the workplace frequently. He doesn't say anything, doesn't comment on what I'm doing. He just sits in a chair, the chair furthest from the door to the office, and flicks his butane lighter on and off.


My first kiss was a rape of my lips by a slick and unwanted tongue in a closet during my sixth birthday. The first time I ever kissed someone of my own volition was a year ago in a rat-lit (as opposed to candlelit) room while I was supposed to be in school.

Nero padded out of the bathroom with a tattered bathrobe and a rat grasped in his hand by its tail. His eyes called for sacrifice, and he dug around in their cupboard for something to work with. I wanted to tell him, "Don't kill it," but he'd already trapped it up in a plastic aquarium with a series of tealights burning along the bottom. It was only a matter of time before it caught fire.

"That was particularly cruel," Weiss said as he came through the door with groceries and whiffs of fresh air. The smell in here was completely unbearable. Weiss enjoyed getting out of the apartment and cleansing his pallet for the next burning. "What happened?"

"It was in the shower while I was in there." As I'd learned, Nero valued his privacy immensely.

"Disgusting," Weiss said as he proceeded to unload the bags. I sat up at the dining room table and watched him unpack. They valued each other's conversation, and I valued silence. "Aren't you supposed to be in school, Shelke?"

I nodded at the clock that read 1:25. The words that didn't tumble out of my mouth went something like, 'Yes, I'm supposed to be in school. I'm supposed to be in Health class, learning about what drugs not to take.' Instead, what came out was "Aren't you supposed to be at work?"

"Called in sick. They don't mind when I do that, since I take such pleasure in my work. Nero, however..."

"I'm due to go in twenty minutes. It's why I was showering." With that, Nero walked out to get dressed. Weiss got a ceramic mug and some paper. He offered it to me and I shook my head. He shrugged, and went through the motions.

There are no words. We didn't need words in those situations, where the smell of burned flesh blended with burned paper, turning my lungs black. We didn't need to do anything except watch everything burn.

Eventually, though, Weiss added words. "We're not normal, Shelke. You and Nero and I aren't normal."

"I know."

"Completely fucked up."

Weiss was so much older than I was, but that didn't stop him from taking hold of my chin and pulling me up to kiss his lips. The paper, lighter than air at this point, tried to enter into the kiss. The smoke succeeded and filled my nose. It was quick and noninvasive, but sent chills down my back.


Weiss laughs as he reads over the last part. Nero chuckles too. When did he get here?

"We're not normal, Shelke."

"Keep going, darling." Nero pats my head. "Keep burning things for us, okay?"


TBC

I sense an imminent bodyslam on Shelke's characterization. I just do.