A/N: Here it is, the first thing I have written in over a year. And, typically for me, it's for a new fandom. Feh. :D Well, hopefully my second chapter of the Fairy Tail story won't be long now either.
But in the meantime, I bring to you this monster.
It was supposed to have been such an easy mission…
Their task itself, after all, couldn't have been easier. The Kannagi family had been asked by the townsfolk of their neighbouring city to lend a hand in exorcising the evil spirit which had been lurking in the depths of the mountain forest for years now. At first the people of the town had thought that appeasing the spirit's wrath would be enough for them to be able to co-exist peacefully.
But this winter things had gone out of hand. Many had ventured into the forest to get some wood to help them through the cold months or water from the springs and had never returned. And so the townspeople's patience had officially run out.
However there was no one amongst them who could deal with the monster.
This led them to asking for the Kannagi's help. Whose head, in turn, decided to send his most spirited warrior and hire the most capable area investigator for the job, sending the two off with a much too conspicuous wide grin for them not to cock a worried brow at his behaviour.
Still, Ayano was never one to say no to her father, especially with how disobedient she had been lately. The head of her family had promised her he would pardon all her trespassing of the promises she'd made to him if only she agreed to taking care of this diplomatically important task.
This was all fine and well with the pink-haired girl but the part she didn't understand was why in the world her father had to get that guy to come with her.
So what if his wind magic was much better than hers at detecting evil spirits? Without him, it would just take her a little while longer to find the bugger – that was all. Now she had to suffer through several hours of traveling in his company, not to mention his snide remarks about how tomboyish she was, how unsexy or anything else that came to his retarded mind to say to her just to piss her off.
As if the whole set up wasn't already beautiful enough, her father had to have given Ren another task to deal with that made the boy's hands fully and made it impossible for him to accompany them. It always felt like Ren's presence was a buffer of some sort and without him she wasn't sure whether the two of them would kill each other off.
Ayano heaved a sigh as she continued trudging heavily through the mountain's upward slope. This was definitely not what she had signed up for when her father called for her assistance.
A sneeze from behind her made her halt her strides and turn around to throw a withering look at the man behind her. She found somewhat comic how brightly the thickness of their clothing contrasted: he had forsaken his favourite jean jacket, t-shirt and jeans in favour of the much warmer pants and heavy coat, the set complete with the hat that covered his ears, a scarf and gloves; she, on the other hand, barely had some normal pants and a much too light for the weather jacket.
Frankly, looking at her made him feel even colder, especially with all the snow around them.
Kazuma glared at her as he sniffled loudly. He found it rather unfair that fire users like her got to feel so normal in temperatures so deeply subzero as the ones they were experiencing.
"Too bad you won't be making any money without spending an effort this time, eh," she said complacently, unable to resist just a tiny taunt. "Make sure you don't fall behind now, Kazuma."
He huffed and couldn't help a shiver when he saw the air he had exhaled turn to vapour immediately upon leaving his mouth.
"Don't sound so full of yourself, little girl. Your success in this mission depends very much on my reconnaissance, so you would be wise not to get too far ahead of yourself there," he said coolly, shoving his gloved hands inside his coat's pockets, already feeling a bit warmer.
Ayano's eyes narrowed as she eyed him dispassionately. She crossed her arms under her chest and huffed.
"Who said that I need your help for this? Your magic would make everything faster but you're the one who is freezing here, not me. It doesn't matter to me how long I have to go through the snow, it doesn't bother me one bit." She threw him a cocky smirk at that. "Your presence is neither needed nor wanted. I myself am more than enough to take care of this job!"
Kazuma smiled in that haughty matter of his and straightened his back to look her well in the eye.
"Ah, is that so?" She nodded adamantly and straightened her back as well, enjoying the feeling of superiority the hill was giving her as she eyed him from above. "Then I will excuse myself and leave the princess to take care of this on her own."
As he spoke, the wind started whirling around his feet, gradually lifting his weight from the ground under the growingly horrified face of the Kannagi daughter.
"W-wha—?" she choked out as she watched him rise higher and higher. "What are you doing? Where are you going?" she demanded forcefully.
Kazuma shrugged his shoulders as if what he was doing was totally understandable.
"Well, you went to such great lengths to prove to me how useless I am for you in this case, so I will relieve you of myself and go somewhere warmer until you're done with this." He saluted her with a wink, saying a quick "See you later!" before speeding off towards the foot of the mountain.
At first, when he had left, she had been so shocked that she was left staring in space in complete stupor. Then she allowed herself to process what had just happened and she let out a screech that might have made the townsfolk believe that the youma had grown in number.
Once she had reined in her anger (and, consequently, after creating a rather large clearing in the forest), Ayano had huffed and reprimanded herself for her reactions. So who gave a damn whether that arrogant jerk was shirking his duties or not? In fact, him doing so was even better. This way she would be able to tell her father that he wasn't getting what he was paying that bastard for and the man would be able at last to see the lazy slouch for the lazy slouch he was.
Well, if she had to be completely honest, she probably shouldn't have been so harsh to him with her words or should've been a bit more considerate for his lowered tolerance for the cold, but… Ah, who cares! She really didn't need his help to take care of this monster and she would prove that to him! She wasn't some little girl that constantly needed his help or guidance – she was a self-respecting future leader of a whole clan with thousands of years history! Who did he think he was?
And so she strode on with renewed vigor, not realizing just how very lost she was getting with each following step.
Meanwhile, Kazuma was carried lightly across the air surrounding the mountain, his senses on the alert for the youma they had been dispatched to take care of. It wasn't like he was truly going to leave her on her own – God forbid something happened to her! Her father would surely be displeased with him and that would reflect very much on his pay for this job.
The auburn-haired man heaved a sigh and burrowed his face deeper into the scarf, hoping it would offer him a bit more warmth in the new position. It had seemed like easy money at first, but now he was beginning to wonder whether his decision hadn't been hasty when he'd agreed to taking care of this. He had never been any good at dealing with the cold…
Once he had ascertained the youma's whereabouts (and, respectively, had given Ayano plenty of time to get appropriately lost and disillusioned), he set off to find the Kannagi heiress.
Much to his relief, she wasn't very far from the youma's place. He truly couldn't wait to get out of this place.
Especially since the winds in the mountains could be very unpredictable and the sky was getting a bit too dark a bit too fast to suit his liking.
His wind eased him carefully until his feet touched the solid snowy ground.
The soft thump it made gave the girl in front of him a scare. She turned around and swung her sword at him, reacting to him as though to an enemy. He pulled one of his gloved hands out of his pocket just in time to stop her hand from swinging Enraiha down at him.
As he watched realization slowly dawn on her, he sighed and let go of her hand.
"I see you're as unguarded as ever. Though it would've been more surprising if it had been the other way around…" he muttered as if to himself but while making sure he was loud enough for her to hear. If he had to be absolutely honest, he would have to say that he enjoyed a bit too much watching her shake with anger in response to his jabs. "And? Did you take care of it?" She blinked a few times at his question, so he elaborated with another deep sigh, "The youma."
"Oh, that. Well, not yet, but that doesn't matter to me because—" she began but he interjected before she could finish.
"Because you don't feel cold, I got it, I got it." He said it with as much elaborated irritation as he could. "It must be nice to be as clueless an idiot as you," a vein popped into visibility at his insult of her intelligence, "but we don't have time to play these games. There's a storm coming and it will come before you know it."
She opened her mouth to voice some feeble inane protest but he let her have no time to do it before he appeared behind her, wrapping an arm around her waist.
"Let's get this over with so we can get out of here," he told her before he took her up with him in the air and carried them towards the place of the youma.
Ayano only had time to flush a deep red colour at his sudden proximity and the feeling of soaring in the air before they sped off in a direction that seemed just as good to her as any other would too.
She dusted her hands off after finishing off the demon and gave Kazuma her winning "how do you like me now" grin. She turned around just in time to see several snowflakes flutter in her field of vision.
Ayano lifted her head up to look at the cloudy sky, a wistful look in her eyes as she stared up at the falling snow.
"Ah, how pretty!" she exclaimed while her companion made a displeased sound.
They had been too late.
Not even ten minutes later, the two were trudging through the most violent hail both of them had ever experienced in their lives. Winter in this mountain was famed to be especially harsh and they were truly taking the brunt of it right then.
"Can't you just fly us off to a place without this storm?" Ayano hollered so her voice could be carried to Kazuma's ears.
The young man shook his head, feeling even more appalled than the girl looked at his response.
"If we fly any higher up, we'll probably get hypothermia from the drop in the temperatures up there." He pushed on through the snow even though he couldn't feel his legs or arms at all. "Come on, we need to find shelter while the storm passes."
It wasn't long afterwards until they stumbled upon a deserted cabin in the forest, more than grateful for the refuge it offered.
Their joy was short-lived though, as the only thing it protected them from was the wailing wind. The temperature inside the wooden structure was exactly the same bone-chilling one as outside.
"There's some wood here," Kazuma surmised after inspecting the place. "If you could start a fire, we should be fine until we can leave."
Ayano nodded and focused on one wooden piece, willing it to catch on fire. After a few seconds passed and nothing happened, she exhaled and hunched over.
"It's useless. There's too much moisture in that wood for it to be able to burn properly."
Kazuma sighed dramatically and slapped his forehead with his hand at her announcement.
"What a useless fire magic user…" he grumbled beneath his breath. Even her obvious annoyance at his observation didn't serve to make him feel any better because things were looking really grim right now.
There was nothing in this cabin that could be useful to keep him from getting hypothermia. There was barely any furniture left, not to mention anything else. Inside the single wardrobe that was left there was only a single blanket and it was barely any help in matters of making him feel less cold.
Kazuma sat down, hunched over with his back resting against the wall, the cover draped over his shoulders to envelop him and offer as much of its warmth as it could. He could tell it wasn't working very well because his toes felt so cold he could swear they were about to break off in his shoes; his hands were freezing inside the gloves and he was pretty sure his nose had turned into an ice cube.
He closed his eyes, willing the cold away as much as he could—and not at all being helped by the puffs of air that his breath turned into as he exhaled into the freezing room.
The Contractor became only vaguely aware of his companion sitting down on the hardboard floor next to him. He was alerted about it more from the creak of the wood beneath her than his own senses. He felt as though the frost had started numbing the functions of his mind as well.
"Protected by the fire or not, it's ridiculous how you can withstand such inhumanly low temperatures without batting an eye at it," he complained mostly to himself but in the quiet of the room there was no way she couldn't hear what he said.
She shrugged her shoulders and rested her back more comfortably against the wall behind, bending her knees and pulling them to her body.
"I guess having the inferior element has its perks too," she said sardonically, giving him a semi-sour look.
"Guess so," he agreed so half-heartedly that she knew he hadn't heard even a word of what she'd said.
Only when he took off his gloves and started blowing warm air in his cupped hands did she realize just how cold he must feel. Maybe it was a bit unfair that the fire spirits never let her feel cold. But there was really not much she could do to help him in this situation…
"Remember, Ayano—controlling the intensity and strength of the fire is one of the defining characteristics of the skilled fire user," her father had told her many years ago when teaching her the basics of fire magic.
Even though she understood the basics of it with her mind, she hadn't ever been able to do such fine tuning on her flames before.
She looked at her hands and felt the weight of her powerlessness. "What a useless fire magic user…" he had said and now it stung even worse than it initially had. She truly was pitiful, a sad excuse for a future head of the Kannagi – unable to even temper her own element well enough to assure that her companion wouldn't freeze to death next to her, unsure if she wouldn't burn his skin off if she tried to help despite her insecurity with herself.
"I'm starting to think that I didn't ask for enough monetary compensation for this job before leaving," Kazuma joked half-heartedly next to her while rubbing his hands together and heaving a sigh.
It was supposed to have been such an easy mission…
As time wore on and the hail continued wailing outside, making the little cabin shudder with the wrath of Mother Nature outside, the two of them sunk into silence. The only sound that could be heard over the wind raging outside was the wind magic user's deep breaths that came out in puffs of smoke in the coldness of the room.
Just how long was this going to last, anyway? He couldn't help but ponder as he rubbed his hands together some more.
"Hey, Kazuma?" she began quietly, her voice so tiny he would be barely able to recognize it if he didn't know it was her.
"How long will we have to stay here?"
He tightened his hold on the cover at her question, looking to the boards of the floor beneath them.
"Who knows? It could be minutes, it could be hours," he responded emotionlessly as if the answer didn't concern him the least. She threw him a disbelieving look at his statement.
"But wouldn't it get bad for you if it turned out that long?" He shrugged lackadaisically as though it didn't really matter. "Can't you stop the storm with that power of yours?"
He was starting to lose count how many times she had made him sigh today. Seriously, it's as if that head of hers was given to her just as an accessory and without any other functions.
"Look here, I've already told you several times that being a Contractor doesn't make me almighty or anything. I can't do stuff like just choosing to disperse a storm."
"Then can't you at least change its trajectory?" she pursued, making him shake his head in dejection of her hard-headedness.
"Like I've said—I can just arbitrarily choose to mess with the atmospheric conditions anywhere I please." He exhaled and stared half in wonder at his breath as it turned to steam in front of him now. "What does it matter to you anyway – it's not like you feel cold or anything."
Ayano surprised him when she let out an angry growl and faced away from him.
"Ahh, you're absolutely right! It's not like I care! I'm totally fine here anyway. We can just stay here until you turn into an oversized icicle for all I care!"
She was positively seething. What was she thinking, really, being worried for a jerk like him! He could just drop off dead for all she cared!
Just as she was getting carried away with calling him all the various curse words she could come up with, a gentle hand was placed on her head, quelling her mounting fury instantaneously.
"Don't get so worked up. It takes more than some cold weather to finish me off." He reprimanded her softly and for some reason his words were truly reassuring.
The moment quickly ended with him sneezing and retracting his extended hand back underneath the blanket, rubbing it together with his other one. For a while, his attempts at keeping the blood circulating in all his appendages was all the sounds that could be heard within the cabin.
"Kazuma." He gave her a non-committal grunt to show her he was listening. "Give me your hands."
At this, he actually turned to look at her with a passive, surprised look on his face.
"What?" she demanded irately, giving him a mean look as he scrutinized her.
"Nothing. I was just thinking that it's really kind of you offering to do lewd things with me so I can avoid freezing. But I'm pretty sure you'll regret it later so I'm planning on passing up the opportunity, difficult as it is." His smartass comment made a vein on her forehead pulse angrily but she made no other indication of her mounting anger besides that.
"Just give me your hands, you perverted bastard," she growled out, starting to doubt whether she should do as she had thought at first. Maybe he deserved to meet a painful, freezing death.
However, when he complied with her order and she took hold of his hands and felt just how cold they were, her fury siphoned away and she directed her attention to what she was trying to do. She enveloped his larger hands with hers as much as possible, channeling the heat she was accumulating to her fingers and palms. If she mediated with her own body between the fire and him, it became a piece of cake to only let him feel the warmth but not the burn.
Once she had stabilized the flow of chi did Ayano take notice of the fact his breathing had eased some while she warmed him. She smiled lightly as she looked at their hands and let out a tiny sigh of relief. It was good to know that even her amateur control of fire could serve as some help to him in this situation.
When he took his hands out of her hold she started to protest. However the sound got strangled in her throat when instead of shaking her off, he just replaced her palms from his hands to his cheeks.
Her instincts made her want to wiggle out of his grasp and get as far away as she could get within the tiny premise. This kind of touch seemed too intimate for her to be acceptable even under the extreme conditions they were in.
But the touch of his hands covering hers as he held her dainty digits against his cheeks made her resolve waver. She couldn't bring herself to have given him a chance at some warmth and then rip it out of his grasp. Even she couldn't be that cruel to anyone, even him.
So instead of following her instinct like she usually did, she pulled herself closer, getting up on her bent knees and easing her forehead against his. Her nose touched his and she almost flinched at the coldness of the touch. She closed her eyes and focused on emitting the warmth, completely missing the wide-eyed look he was giving her from up close.
"Don't you dare freeze on me now, Yagami Kazuma," she chastised half-heartedly. "Who's going to collect the reward money if you were to turn to ice now?"
He felt her warm breath on his face as she spoke and he couldn't help the smirk that spread on his lips. For a girl as unsexy as her, she sure made a delightful sight when she was so close with her eyes shut and that tiny pink blush dusting her cheeks.
They stayed like that for what felt like a long, long time for the Kannagi heiress. She wondered why it was that she felt so comfortable like this, even though her body's position was anything but comfortable. She couldn't explain the odd serenity this kind of obstruction of her personal space gave her either. Any other day, she'd be screaming and hitting anyone who invaded her space like this.
Was the cold getting to her too, she wondered.
She didn't have much time to ponder that though, because her thought train was very abruptly interrupted. Before she could realize what had happened, he had opened the cover from around his shoulders and undone the buttons of his coat, pulling her within the protective layers he had made for himself.
She let out a squeak of surprise as he hugged her closer to himself. She struggled to free herself from his hold, stuttering out half-sentences without much sensibleness as she grappled for her release.
"Hmmm, you're far better than a hot blanket, do you know that, miss Kannagi?" he teased her.
"W-w-what was that?" Ayano sputtered, voice full of indignation. "Let go of me right now, you—"
"What's the problem with staying like this for a while? It's not like I am asking you to do some strenuous labour or anything…" he whined dramatically as he continued to hold her in his vice-like grip.
"H-h-h-how dare you! Unhand me right now, you vile, despicable creature—"
"Stay like this for a while," he asked, no trace of his previous mirth in his voice.
And as he spoke, she felt his chest rumble beneath her.
Her heart started racing and her face turned an even brighter red than it already was, beginning to put the exotic colour of her hair to shame.
She fully intended on wiggling out of his grasp. That was until he said,
"Please. Just stay still for a bit."
The one and only great and arrogant asshole extraordinaire Yagami Kazuma had asked of her in such a soft-spoken and timid manner something which was fully within her power of doing. This for some reason made her somehow unable to resist him.
She wiggled a bit around so her back was facing him before she eased herself into his embrace.
"J-j-just for… a bit… okay?" she murmured petulantly, blushing even harder as she looked at how funny a sight their legs sprawled from beneath them were.
Kazuma smiled gently as he wrapped his arms more securely around her tiny frame. He couldn't help but note with those astute observational skills he prided himself for just how snugly she fit in his embrace.
"Yeah, just for a bit."
And after he said that, the silence reigned supreme once again. Of course, in Ayano's ears, there was not much room for silence, as she could hear very well every heartbeat of her pulse ringing in her ears. It wasn't like she was counting the seconds until he let go of her but it felt like it was hours since they had entered this way, way too privacy invasive position.
And even though she had complained so much at first, she couldn't bring herself to move a muscle or make a sound as he embraced her closer to himself.
Only when she started regaining control of herself did she notice that she could feel just how cold his body was under the coat.
She exhaled softly through her nose and allowed herself to relax into his hold as much as she could, her face still burning with the blush on her cheeks.
The Kannagi heiress was almost getting used to the situation when she felt her captor's breath fanning against her neck. Her whole being wired with tension and she was about ready to start demanding what he was doing and insisting that he should stop trying to tease her when she was doing her best to keep his sorry ass from freezing.
Just as she was opening her mouth to let out an inhuman shriek of bloody murder, she noticed that he had fallen asleep. His head was resting on her shoulder and his arms were tightly wrapped around her while his legs made her trapped in his hold.
She swore she was about to yell his ears off his head for his audacity at touching her like he was, she really was.
But then the tranquility of his sleeping face made her stop in her tracks. She couldn't bring herself to rouse him from sleep as blissful as this.
Especially when he was borderline hypothermic not some ten minutes ago.
She heaved a sigh and closed her eyes as well, resting her head against the crook of his shoulder. This was quite the situation they had gotten themselves into. God only knew how long it would be before the storm let up. She might as well let herself rest a bit and preserve her power for when they had to leave.
As she let go of her jitteriness and her nervousness, she let herself be swept off into a peaceful slumber until the time came for her to wake up and get back to being her usual self – loud, inexperienced and uncertain.
But in the meantime, she allowed herself to enjoy the feeling of being lulled to sleep by the embrace of the person she was not at all indifferent to (even though she wouldn't be caught dead admitting that little truth to anyone).
A/N: For something not really all that sensible, this went through some really long and strenuous checks and double checks and quadruple checks. And I am still not entirely satisfied by it, but at least it doesn't suck as much as it initially did. Though I am still largely unsure about the title but meh.
I think that for a first, uncertain venture into a new fandom, I did acceptably. I have at least another thing or two planned for this pairing and I hope that I don't run out of desire to write before I have written out those thoughts.
Thoughts and constructive critique are appreciated and encouraged.
Yours sincerely, Dark Hope Assassin.