AN: So I am a recent fan of Kaze no Stigma (just finished up the series today to be honest). I decided that I would love to do random one-shots about the adorable pair that is Kazuma and Ayano. If I get enough interest, I'll definitely continue. If not, then I'll update when I feel like it. I'm just here to add a little bulk to this small but amazing fandom.

Please, read and review if you enjoyed!

Summary: Ayano holds herself up and against the terrors of the world, but she's not impervious to the one man who causes her pain every day of her life.

Warnings: OOC-ness with some angst. I wanted to do some introspection on Ayano's feelings so she's much more thoughtful in this fic. She is twenty here.


Bedtime

Sometimes, even Ayano got tired.

As she sat off to the side, watching with wearisome eyes, she felt the pain in her chest tighten. Tonight, the Kannagi household hosted a party for a number of prestigious spell casting clans, all of them gathered in the main house for food and socializing. It was meant to strengthen bonds, bring peace among the families and help ease tension among the individual members of their respective clans. For her though, it was just agony.

Because of course Kazuma would be there, the only one in western clothes and doing his best to make every woman in the vicinity fall in love with him. And it was working, if the group of young maidens around him were anything to go by, all lovely in their brightly colored kimono and pretty, smiling faces. During another time, she would have gotten angry, would have taken out her frustrations on those simple girls and reclaimed what she believed was so rightfully 'hers'. But not tonight. She was just so tired of it all.

Turning her head away from the sight, the next Kannagi head sighed, a welling of self-pity accumulating deep in her stomach. If anyone took a good look at her, they'd know that this definitely wasn't the fiery, scarlet-haired girl who used to act much faster than she would think. But at twenty years old, one can only blame youth and inexperience for so much. She wouldn't shame herself with ill manners on such an occasion, nor would she put her family name through such dishonor for one moment of satisfaction.

So she stood, holding herself up to full height and exited the room, an easy task considering the number of people and the energy running through it. All she wanted was some air, a little space from the tension that was filling her body. And, if it was possible, a clean break from these feelings that he caused.

Finding a stone bench in the garden, she took a deep breath, settling it deep inside her chest before releasing it. For such a large room, the main house was oddly stifling tonight, though why she wasn't sure. Or maybe she did and she just didn't want to acknowledge it. As she sat there, Ayano looked up at the bright moon in the dark sky, sitting all by its lonesome. The symbolism didn't go unnoticed by her.

"Nee-sama?"

What was once the high-pitched voice she was used to was now a deep bass, as she turned her head towards the source. The once pretty boy member of her family was slowly transforming into a young man, more masculine and yet somehow still so childishly beautiful. Most people went through an awkward stage during such a transition. Kannagi Ren was not one of them.

"Ah, Ren. What are you doing out here?" she greeted, watching as he took a seat beside her. She was surprised to note he'd grown taller, shoulders wider and with a face more angled than she remembered. It was an odd but not uncomfortable change. Eventually, he'd be holding down a fan club like his brother's one day soon. The very thought of the brown-haired man caused a frown to erupt on her face.

"Are you alright, Nee-sama?" His worry was always his most defining element. At least there are some things that never change, she thought with a grim smile.

"Of course," she replied, trying to brighten for him. "I'm always fine. You shouldn't worry about me, Ren."

"It's Nii-sama, isn't it?" Her voice caught in her throat when she tried to deny him, but then those pretty green eyes that had always stared so helplessly at her fell on her form with no delusions. She was naked to them in the most literal sense, her barriers stripped away totally and completely. A part of her wondered how he'd learned to use them so effectively. What a heartbreaker this one was going to be.

"Yes." She didn't elaborate, but being beside each other for so long meant that she didn't have to. Her feelings had been laid down long ago, even without her knowing. And it had been too long since the older man had stomped all over them, not looking where he was going as he went through life as if he hadn't a care in the world. Or, maybe he knew exactly what he was doing. Kazuma was always too bright for his own good. It wouldn't surprise her in the least to know he knew exactly where he stood with her and he'd carried on as if it didn't matter.

He was always so good at breaking her heart.

"You should tell him, you know. He won't do anything unless you say something to him directly," Ren said with conviction, fists balled and looking at her with expectancy. She could only grin at him sadly, her cowardice getting the better of her. In any other aspect of her life, she was strong and courageous, ready to jump head first into any situation. But time has worn her thin where Kazuma is concerned, and she wonders if she'll get any of it back.

"If you know, then he knows. There's nothing to tell." It was a cop out, one she'd told herself many times before.

"Even so, maybe if you—"

"That's enough, Ren!" she yelled, eyes hidden beneath the fringe of her hair, body stiff in her tightly wrapped kimono. The silence that followed bit into her skin more than the night ever could, as that disappointed gaze cut through her. Deep down, her pride was screaming in retaliation, throwing her insides around at her weakness. When she stood, Ayano looked down at her cousin, smiling with all the pain she'd hidden deep down inside, all of the indecision she held because of her unrequited love for Kazuma. It made his eyes widen, surprised by the amount of emotion on her face. She knew it would; her own control over herself during the last few years had been amazing, even to herself. Patting his head gently, she turned away, her voice just an echo of what it usually was.

"I wish I'd fallen in love with you, Ren. Maybe then I'd get to know what real love is like."


Closing the door behind her, Ayano leaned against it, hating the helplessness that was coursing through her. She wasn't so pathetic, so easily trounced on by her own emotions, nor was she second to a man who wouldn't even acknowledge her. So, just for a moment longer, she'd allow herself a bit more sorrow, a bit more anger, and when she woke up she'd be back to normal. She'd train with Enraiha, go shopping with Nanase and Yukari, treat Ren to lunch and do her job with Kazuma. And she'd keep that scowl on her face, trained and arrogant as was her character.

As she took off the yukata and belt with care, she took her pajamas out and dressed herself for bed. After brushing her teeth and washing her face, she went to sit in front of the mirror to brush her hair. She'd have to apologize to her father for her rudeness. Leaving one's own party was a definite no-no, but knowing Ren he'd find an excuse for her. Perhaps she'd buy something for him while she was out, a thank-you gift that was long overdue. So deep in her thoughts, she didn't notice how the door magically unlocked or how another presence entered until it was too late to react.

"You have really un-sexy pajamas."

Spinning in her seat (and nearly falling over in her haste), Ayano was met with a bemused look Kazuma, who inspected her room with interest. But then his eyes came back to her, and that infuriating smirk was back, all teasing and no substance. It was still as potent as ever though, as she felt the fury boil up in her veins, her body well trained to his presence. The thought only made her angrier.

"Kazuma! You pervert!" She threw the nearest object (her hairbrush, funnily enough) but he caught it with his left hand without as much as a blink. "What are you doing here? Get out! Don't you know it's rude to barge into a girl's bedroom uninvited?"

"I wouldn't know. I've always been asked in." Unfortunately, his face was so serious that Ayano believed him. There was no doubt he had more experience than her, probably more experience than a dozen men his age. Just the thought had her deflating, and it was enough. For today, couldn't he let her be tired by herself? Couldn't she go back to the time when she didn't even know he existed, couldn't remember him as her protector and sometimes-friend and the ever-reckless flirt? So many questions, but with answers she'd never find.

"Please leave, Kazuma. I'm not in the mood for games right now." It was a dismissal, the first one she'd ever said with such calm and probably the only one she'd ever mean. Because, no matter how hard she tried to keep her feelings at bay, he was there to trounce on them, happily and without a second thought.

"Are you okay, Ayano?" he asked, his face folding into something that resembled worry. She took a good look because she doubted he'd ever show it to her again. At least, not without a price attached to it. "You know, you've been strangely quiet all night."

"Oh, so you notice me when I'm quiet?" she asked, bitter as she stood and moved to sit on her bed. That scowl of his was still there, following her without fail. Climbing under the covers, she didn't even turn her head, the quick wave of her hand a silent command. "You may leave now, Kazuma. I'm sure you're being missed as we speak." Leave and don't come back, you bastard. He paused for a second before his voice broke through the quiet.

"No, I don't think so. I'm pretty tired myself."

Before she had a chance to blast him into pieces, a weight settled on the opposite side of her bed, preventing her from flinging the covers off. She sputtered beneath them, sticking her head out and glowering at the dark, spiky hair beside her. Not only was he in her bed disrupting her sleep, he was taking her pillow too. Damn him to hell…

"Oi, Kazuma! Get your own bed! Preferably, somewhere in another country!"

"Don't be like that. We haven't spent much time together recently." He grinned, trapping her under his arm and tucking her protectively under his chin. It only made her squirm more, face heating in anger or embarrassment, she wasn't quite sure.

"We had a mission just yesterday! One that I did all the work for, by the way!"

"Then you should be resting, no? Calm down. Just go to sleep." His voice was deceptively soothing, a skill he had mastered over their years together. And it still worked, as Ayano felt the thudding of her heart transform into a soft beating instead, her own eyes dropping as if he was casting a spell. It didn't help that the heat from his body was so easy to slip into, that strength of his hidden deep inside him. Her last thought before she drifted to sleep finds her, her body scooting closer so she could be held just a bit tighter, feeling more secure in this single moment than she had ever before in her entire life.

Please, Spirits of Fire, give me strength, especially against him, my greatest weakness.


AN: And the first one is done! Please let me know if you'd like further updates. As much as I adore writing, I love knowing that people are enjoying them as well. Thank you for reading, everyone. :)