Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
'Fire and Ice', Robert Frost
In her dream she is nothing.
In waking, she is there. She opens her eyes to an almost blinding whiteness, blinking slowly to adjust herself to the vast light all around her. It doesn't take long before she's wide-eyed and staring, trying to decipher a change in the whiteness, a clue about where to go.
During her third rotation there is something, a pinprick just out of the ordinary. The light there glows a whitish blue. The blue is an anomaly, and she is not sure it is even there until it pulses a little, momentarily stronger.
She takes a stumbling step forward, and in doing so discovers she has feet. These feet are so much more useful than any she has in life, and within five minutes she has traveled the expanse of white nothingness. The blue has grown closer as she moves (walking? running?), and as soon as she is within viewing distance she begins to make out what the blue is coming from. It's really an icy color, a very light, clear blue that penetrates like the eyes of a very watery old man.
There is not a definite point where the light originates, but the place where it is the brightest is a tight lump about the size of her fist. It is a chunk of ice set in the chest of a figure about her height. It is a boy, and he has surrounded himself with little drifts of snow and ice. Each time he exhales, she can see the subtle cloud of ice crystals, snowflakes, floating and falling from just beyond his lips.
He is frozen in place, one foot in midair as if he was trying to step, maybe trying to run. His eyes are desperate and flicker to her face without hesitation.
She is surrounded by snow in miniature drifts but she is not cold. Looking down, she discovers the snow has melted and gathered into a puddle at her feet. She catches a glimpse of sparks, a line of fire whipping out of her line of vision. The very hair on her head has caught fire, changing from its normal red-orange into a glowing mess of flames struggling to find fuel, yet unable to consume her. The boy breathes out again, a steady, labored noise.
She catches the bits of snow he is expelling and is shocked to discover at the mere contact of her skin they melt, and pour, hissing and steaming, across her fiery flesh. The boy breathes again, inhaling this time, breathing in some of the steam she has created and melting bits of his lungs for the first time in many years. His eyes roll around in their sockets, panicked, brown underneath but frozen over in a blue coat. One of them cracks, a spiderweb of tiny fractures splitting the ice apart.
She places her hand on his face, over his mouth, tiny ice crystals converting into vapor, and he gasps in a breath, thawing himself further. He has just enough breath left to grunt softly, his voice hoarse from the many years he's spent frozen, suspended in life while death occurs all around him. She is sure that this nothingness had something in it once.
He melts slowly, first his mouth clearing up, the ice dripping away and leaving a pair of lips blue around the edges.
His eyes overflow with water, and they are the soggy brown of earth after the rains. He sucks in another shallow breath, clears his throat shakily, and speaks.
"Who are you?"
In her dream, she doesn't know, so she shakes her head. He looks puzzled, but lets it be.
'That's okay. I can't remember either." Only his face is free, and she begins to breathe, hissing fire into his skin. First he shivers violently, then he stabilizes, and within a moment or two he is thawed and stands in front of her. Waiting.
The ice still glows, its color muted in his chest, and she realizes he has no clothes from the waist up. His pants are a pair of wet and heavy jeans.
"You can't have been there that long," she thinks aloud.
"Time is nothing in this place," He whispers, voice frozen and fossilized still. "I may have been there five years, or five hundred, or five minutes."
He shivers again, and she can see the iciness in his chest struggle to take hold of him, dyeing his blood dark and pumping it sluggishly through him. One of his eyes is glazing over, thin blue ice spreading across the surface and stopping him where he stands. She touches his arm, water dripping from it and the darkness in his veins retracting until it lurks in his chest. His face is free again, and he nods at her. Her hands are pale and tiny on his neck, chasing the darkness away and warming him.
He leads the way, stopping only when the ice retakes his body. But she is his soldier, his army. Her hands know the battlefield, traveling hills and valleys to chase ever bit of the ice away. They leave a trail of water, slight purple, and she is a step ahead of the fire, leaving sparks behind.
Somehow in the nothingness there is something other than them. She does not know how, but they have reached a hedge, ten feet tall and looming green.
"I have tried to make it through before. I freeze, or I get lost, or something finds me." His tone is sad. "I cannot escape."
She looks into his eyes, sees the doubt there, and almost reaches for him, but changes her mind. The hedge recoils from her grasp, her hand radiating heat and threatening to catch the maze on fire.
Suddenly, the wall of vegetation in front of them splits in half, rending with a huge ripping noise. He looks at her another time, the newest wave of water running from his eyes and gestures forward.
They wander the maze indefinitely, the nowhere realm's time stretching and bending until they are somehow back where they started, the ripped hedge uprooted behind them.
"How can we be…?" She trails off. "Back here?"
He shrugs, takes her hand between his, and shudders the cold from his skin. The heart has grown stronger, its beating growing more rapid and more violent. She has been paying attention to him as he navigates through the maze, though neither of them has spoken. She has decided that he is definitely around her age, the smoothness of a child overthrown by the ruggedness of puberty and the rebellion of the body. She knows she likes him, perhaps more than she should.
He is darker, tanner; fitter than she is and surely if anyone was "fire" it would be him. His hair stands up, maybe frozen, maybe gelled, in row after row of spiky soldiers at attention. There is attractiveness about him, though she can't put her finger on exactly what it is. The subtle foreign look really gets her. She can't tell if she's just awkward at the prospect of a shirtless boy or if he's just quiet.
Not that it really matters either way, because she's enjoying it. He's oddly comforting to be around, the rhythm of the ice spreading in his veins growing more and more frequent until she has her hand permanently affixed on his chest, feeling the icy beat of the cold heart within him struggling to overcome.
They continue through the maze, burning holes wherever he feels they need to go. He guides them straight, towards the center. He tells her that in the middle lives a man who will be able to help him.
The two of them fight the plants, their struggles seeming more desperate as time goes on. Finally, there is a break in their battle, and they have reached their destination.
The walls of the maze still surround them, but she knows this is where they need to be. She can feel it. The place they have reached is a circular clearing, with a dirty-looking hut pitched in the middle.
An equally filthy man comes from the little structure, clothed in a jacket that may have been white once and a pair of khakis that is now gray. His eyes widen at seeing them. He walks slowly, carefully over to them, and with a cry of "Deuce?" throws himself at the boy, tackling him to the ground in a dirty hug. He embraces the boy for what seems like forever, and she can practically feel the poisoned blood pumping back through him and threatening to freeze him again.
When the bigger man is done, they stand, and she rushes to him, slowly but effectively coaxing the cold back into his heart. The man looks at her for a while, introduces himself as Doctor Something-Or-Other, and immediately starts grilling the boy about a witch and a curse and what little he can remember.
She stands, silent, as they speak, moving her warmth every once in a while to a slightly different place to flush the blood entirely.
They speak about coldness, ice, and spells, and she tries to remember who she is. She can remember swinging from metal bars and running down steps. She can remember a dark-haired girl and a certain set of blond-haired twins, but names, dates, places escape her. The boy, in all his familiarity, seems to have been carried over from whatever life she had before now. She remembers the music around his neck and the way his smile looked in the sun.
She is broken out of this reverie by the silence of the other two. The doctor has retrieved a black bag from his hut and is digging around in it restlessly. He finds what he is looking for, a long, thin probe, and sets it aside before continuing his rummaging.
The boy looks at her, missing her touch already, and his eyes dry as the water running out of them and down his cheeks solidifies.
"We-" His voice cracks, frozen in his chest until she chases the cold away. "He wants to operate. To get this thing out of me." He points to the ice in his chest, which still glows softly as it beats.
She is not sure what she thinks of this.
"Can it be done?"
" I would much rather have it tried and failed than to die without trying."
"As nice as being with you all the time is, there are some things I must do myself."
She blushes, nods again. He winks.
"So we will need you in the operating room, for what he calls ane- annes-"
"Anesthesia." The doctor interjects, measuring the length of a thick-bladed knife.
"Yes, that, and for containing the poison in the frozen blood. It isn't safe. The witch that did this to me enchanted me so that I couldn't die, but the effects aren't exactly positive," He continues, pointing to the thick bruising that's spreading slowly through his chest.
"The heart wants to beat. It's trying to freeze me solid. The harder we make it-" He grimaces. "The harder it tries."
The Doctor interjects, putting a tray of metal tools down on a rotting stump with a clatter. He starts on them with a foul-smelling cloth and begins to clean them for operating.
He lays the boy down on a surprisingly clean metal table that he brought from the hut. She places her hand back on his chest. The dirty blood retracts at her touch. The doctor examines the blade, rubs something off of it onto the cloth, and begins.
The scalpel slices into his chest very easily. It makes a soft snick and the doctor works his way into the boy's heart. He cuts a square around the heart and peels back the boy's perfect skin.
She is appalled at the redness of the inside of him, and at the dead purple color of the blood. It oozes slowly, trickling out of slits in veins and tissue. The boy in laying down, gritting his teeth against the pain and squeezing his eyes shut.
The doctor has a plan. There is a suitcase, a thin silver one, ten inches square, connected to a machine he has running on some sort of battery power. This machine is what keeps the heart the witch took from him beating. But the machine is yards away, in the hut. The doctor pauses.
"Would you-" He stops. "There's a-"
The girl looks at him questioningly.
"In my house. There's a silver briefcase connected to a machine. Can you go fetch it for me?"
She looks down at the boy, at her hands keeping the ice at bay. She nods.
"You must understand the severity of the situation," The doctor says. "This is most undesirable but it had to happen at this speed. You will run into the house, disconnect the blue power cord from the case, and bring it back with you."
" You will then apply great pressure to the frozen blood while flushing it from everywhere in his body. If even a drop of the infected blood remains, it will multiply and he will die."
It occurs to her later that this is a dream. She could have anything she wants, she could save him. But she lets what will happen, happen.
"We have no other replacement organs. This heart is our only chance."
She runs. She runs faster than she has ever ran, bursting into the hut with the doctor's "Faster, faster!" echoing behind her. She rips the blue cord from the wall, grabs the heart, and runs.
She runs and runs and it feels like forever, and when she reaches him with the heart the boy's face has gone white and his fingers are taking on a blue tinge. She pushes the blood, the doctor affixing tourniquets when she has finished an area in attempt to help her.
At last she reaches the last of the blood, pushing it through the large artery in his neck down into the poisoned heart. She touches the heart itself and it hisses, steam rising from it. She has blood all over her hands, a thick reddish-purple.
The doctor cuts, one, two, three, and takes the heart full of blood into his hand. It is still beating angrily and his hand slows as it works its magic into him. He drops it into the case and takes the other heart, the boy's original healthy heart into his other hand in fear of contamination. He manipulates the arteries around where the heart goes, and as fast as that the boy has a new heart beating in his chest. Something or magic has kept him alive, she thinks, because you can't live without a heart. She feels a jerk in her gut and suddenly everything melts.
The doctor watches the girl faint and takes her pulse. The boy rises slowly, a new human warmth pulsing through him.
She wakes, strangely cold, to a warm hand brushing her face. Her hair is covering her face, no longer burning. She lies on a flimsy bed in the middle of the hut in the hedge maze.
The doctor is outside, cleaning his tools. The boy is inside as well, resting. He passed out not long after the girl did. He woke almost immediately though. She has taken longer, slipping into a sleep and burning a very high fever. The doctor says this is her body's way of running her fire through the system.
She wakes from a dream within a dream. The boy next to her is healed, a normal heart beating in his chest. There is something about him.
She is no longer fire, for he has no need for searching hands to get rid of the coldness taking him over. He is no longer ice, and no longer flinches at the fiery touch, steam hissing from his skin.
They are no longer apart, so by definition, they must be together.
And so it is, and they kiss in the middle of the maze in a way that makes her insides catch fire again, his hand on the back of her neck. He pulls her closer, closer, and she is aware of everything but lost in the feel of him. They kiss and it is soft and wet and perfect.
~Three miles and a universe away Cece Jones wake up to the sound of an alarm clock.