The melting point of ice is the same as the freezing point of water: thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit.
As the student council president, Kugayama knows body language is something one needs to pay attention to; Irisu has honed hers into a straight-backed glacier, but Kugayama is known for being warm-hearted, so perhaps he can be the one to defrost her.
He can't keep track of how many underclassmen gawk at her when she passes, and even though the thought of a corridor full of open-mouthed first-years amuses him to no end, he can't really blame them—Irisu is undeniably cool.
"Her family runs the Kamiyama general hospital," Tanabe had said, when they'd spotted her at the entrance ceremony, and Kugayama had thought: that is a heavy burden for someone so young; a year later, he still thinks the same, even if he knows she is more than capable of handling it.
On their first year, they had both been members of the student council; Irisu had been the most punctual of all, always looking displeased if Kugayama was the last one to arrive.
When Irisu had decided to leave the council, he'd waited until everyone had left before he asked her why, because somehow it had felt wrong that she wasn't working to make the school a better place; Irisu had given him no more than a passing glance as she left the room, but then she'd stopped, hand on the sliding door: "It's regrettable, but the student council takes up too much time, and high school isn't my first priority."
He still thinks her voice had been gentle, at that moment, gentler than he'd ever heard before, which is why Kugayama hadn't been able to bring himself to ask more questions; so he simply said: "It can't be helped."
Kugayama is already used to finding his shoe locker full of chocolates on Valentine's, but he still appreciates each one, because they carry the feelings of the giver; however, he refuses to feel guilty over the fact that he prizes Irisu's dark chocolate bar over the sweetness of the other handmade candies (Tanabe asks if he's a masochist after all, and he just laughs in reply, taking a bite).
He knows Irisu's family is both old and powerful, along with other thousand students, but he thinks the only giveaway is the way she carries herself, always closed-off and in control; it makes him reflect a little on his regular family and on the easy-going life he is allowed to have, but in the end he thinks he's rather happy with how things have turned out.
A group of first-year students have taken up to calling him Kamiyama's king, which awards him a serious case of embarrassment when Tanabe hears of it from Irisu: "The king and the empress," he says, covering his smile with his hand, "you guys would make a pretty good couple!"
Kugayama's weak point is English, so during exams it's usually Tanabe who helps him out; a week before midterms, Tanabe catches a nasty cold, and Kugayama decides to ask Irisu to help him out instead, not really expecting her to say yes — she looks at him, blinks, and then tells him to be at the library on time.
Sometimes he thinks about graduation, about leaving school and entering college, and life afterwards, and it seems like only yesterday was his first day at grade school; he tends to get a little overwhelmed by the blur of time, how it collapses under his memory, because he likes taking one day at a time and he feels like he's getting nowhere fast, you know?
Irisu cuts in with a glance, delivering him the petition her class had requested for the movie's location, and saying: "I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean, Kugayama-san, but perhaps you should focus on the now instead of waiting for the future," and he feels suddenly guilty of flaunting a life full of choices to a girl who hasn't any.
He supposes he hasn't changed much since middle school, except for getting taller, and he doesn't know if that's good or bad; Tanabe just smiles at him when he asks about it, saying: "Doesn't that just mean you're sure of who you are?"
The year he becomes president, his considerably large fanclub multiplies, much to his embarrassment; Irisu only comments on it once, in passing amusement: "It must be something about your commandeering air."
His most private secret, he thinks, is probably how much he likes to look at Irisu's hands, at how slim and pretty they are, and how much he'd like to hold them.
He has always been a simple guy, despite whatever Tanabe believes, enjoying things like karaoeking with friends, like going on group dates (even if he always turns down phone numbers), like watching a pretty girl make her way across a sunlit hallway; despite his maturity, his calmness, the choices he makes regarding his attitude, he's still just a boy, and he doesn't need to be anything more.
When the mystery-themed movie hits the classroom for the rest of the school to watch, he's already seen it thrice; Irisu had asked him for his opinion in an off-hand sort of way, and he'd grinned at her, telling her that if she wanted him to watch it, why not keep him company while he did so – not really expecting a positive answer, he was pleasantly surprised when she nodded, after a beat.
He notices the way Tanabe watches Irisu on their first high-school year and tells himself he will never pay Irisu more attention than she deserves; he fails to, but Tanabe understands, and when the other boy gradually moves on, Kugayama stands immobile.
He sees her between the group of people around the shrine, pressing her hands together and closing her eyes, her lips moving in silent prayer; he's starting to wonder how long it would take him to push and elbow his way to her when Tanabe drags him off, telling him he needs to go and greet his family's friends already, or a kappa will pull his soul out in punishment.
There's a cosplay booth in the Festival, but the student council is too busy running around trying to replace stolen items, so Kugayama spares it a glance, smiles a little, and keeps walking; by the end of the day, he passes by it again, looking at the posted pictures distractedly and almost tripping when he finds a picture of the Chitanda heiress hanging off Irisu's arm – he's never stolen anything in his life before, but Irisu is wearing a cheerleading costume, and the choice is too easy.
He hears about Oreki, about his unwitting script writing, about his usual apathy being broken by Irisu, and he wonders, for the first time, if Irisu has ever made him the fool without him realizing it, or if she never had the need to.
Tanabe's kindness pales after the school festival and Kugayama feels the need to take a step back, reassess his choices, his life; they didn't get Juumonji, but he doubts Tanabe's pissed over that until Irisu steps inside the classroom he's secluded himself in, a smooth, soft tone on her voice and an accusing truth in her eyes.
Kugayama is an only child, but he doesn't feel like one, never did, and he knows it's all because of Tanabe's friendship; Irisu is an only child, and it shows in the way she talks, in the way she's used to grasping attention, in the way she always walks alone in the halls.
His career counseling goes terribly wrong when Kugayama realizes he doesn't have any particular career he'd like to follow – his maths teacher almost shouts at him in frustration, looking aghast at the combination of his impeccable grades with his indecisiveness – and he spends the rest of the afternoon in the park, looking at the sky and thinking about the present.
He's never really been in anyone's shadow, he figures, and maybe that's why he's never had any real issues with other people, or even with his parents, who only want what's best for him and have always supported him despite his lack of self-assertiveness; it's only when he feels jealous over Irisu's predestined future that she snaps at him for the first time ever, those cold eyes narrowing as she tells him, "just because you don't see your shadow doesn't mean it isn't there."
They graduate on a bright, sunny day, but it's still cold, and Kugayama feels strangely lonely; his hands feel numb as he gets asked for one of his buttons by the fourth underclassman in half an hour, but when Irisu glides in, curtly telling the younger girls he's already promised that one to someone else, he feels the back of his neck heat horribly (he ends up not giving it to her, but she still nods her head and tells him goodbye, and good luck, and Kugayama feels that's enough).
"Why didn't you tell me you were frustrated with me?" he asks Tanabe one day, looking out the window of the student council room; Tanabe's hand stills, interrupting his writing for a brief moment, and then proceeds, "because I was more frustrated with myself than I was with you."
His dad is a salaryman and his mom is a grade school teacher, but Kugayama has always had everything he needs, from toys to clothes to books or video games; his classmates always widen their eyes at the small fortune Kugayama carries in his pockets, unaware that he's not rich – he's simply been taught how to save money the right way.
He's known that Tougaito's been a smoker since middle school, and he's always let it be, because it's not any of his business, and it's not like he understands old families anyway, but the minute he walks inside the News Poster Clubroom and he picks up on that smell of nicotine, he feels disappointed (he still doesn't say anything, lest their classmates notice).
Kugayama has always been terrified of ghosts; he walks slowly, feeling his breath come out in uneven gasps, and when Irisu – with whom he has been paired up (thanks, Tanabe) – turns to him, eyebrow impatiently raised and arms crossed, he feels embarrassed to be so scared, but then she clicks her tongue and holds out her hand, and he doesn't even notice Sakimichi-san creeping up on him, an extra eye glued to her bloody forehead.
Irisu likes to read, and Kugayama can count on her to be in the library if there is nothing else she has to do; he starts volunteering to take the class journal there every time they need someone to do it, and Tanabe laughs, but Irisu only glances at him, her expression unreadable.
"You've got honest eyes," Irisu tells him once, glancing at him dully, her hand on her hiked chin, "you probably can't tell a lie to save your life," she adds, and stares at him until he grins at her, "I like your eyes, too, Irisu-san."
Irisu rejects an upperclassman in her second year, and the school buzzes with tiny snippets of their conversation, such as 'attraction', 'nonexistent', and 'never'; Kugayama feels sorry for the guy, and when he comments on it with Irisu, she merely replies that she's not a piece of meat to be gawked at, and that she wouldn't say 'never' to someone like Kugayama, anyway, so why is he even bothering her with this?
Kugayama sings well enough for his classmates to tease him, calling him Idol-san between karaoke breaks; reversely, Irisu always turns down karaoke invitations, and when Kugayama says he's never heard her sing, Tanabe smiles awkwardly, pushing his glasses up his nose and telling him there certainly must be a reason for it.
"You're going into pediatrics? Where did this come from?" his math teacher asks, looking over his grades again, looking over Kugayama again, and the young man only says, "it's my option, isn't it?" and that's that.
The first time he tells her he doesn't agree with her actions is when she shows up with a script written by an underclassman, remorseless over having cheated it out of him; he gets loud and he fists his hands and he tells her this is something he can't possibly overlook, and though Irisu doesn't apologize, she has the decency to look away.
He gets in the same college as she does, and when Irisu's eyes pause on his during the entrance ceremony, the dull coolness of them shifts into surprise, but then the second passes and she nods at him before turning away and walking off.
"Don't you think it's time you washed your hands of Irisu," Tougaito asks one day, cigarette limp between his teeth, and Tanabe's eyes lower to the floor awkwardly, but Kugayama only smiles kindly, "you think I haven't tried?"
He learns Irisu is attending marriage interviews during their second year in college, and he wants to do something about it, but he's learned from experience Irisu doesn't like anyone interfering with her life, so he calls Tougaito and convinces him to go out drinking with him instead.
Irisu's favorite subject was history, he remembers dimly, during an anatomy lesson; he looks across the amphitheater, finds her looking at the teacher with a focused, yet distant look, and thinks Irisu has remained as adept at masking her disappointment as she was back in high school.
He still asks her out for coffee when he has something planned with Tanabe or Tougaito, and Irisu always turns him down, deflecting his advances effortlessly, showing off her power of refusal like he's just one more man (he guesses that's what really bothers him – aren't they friends?).
"You are bothering me, Kugayama-san," she tells him, not looking up from her book, and Kugayama only smiles as he sits down; Irisu's eyes flicker from anatomical chart to anatomical chart, Kugayama takes out his notes quietly, and they spend the afternoon together.
"Do you believe in destiny? In God?" Irisu asks him, watching Tougaito and Tanabe drunkenly fight over the only swing that is still working; she doesn't turn to him, but he does, his breath coming out in short puffs of white, halting only when he says "no" curtly, momentarily overwhelmed by the urge to kiss her.
The most awkward moment of his life is when he walks in on Sawakiguchi Misaki, the girl who was once publicity manager for a class-made movie, being held up against a wall by a red-faced Tougaito, whose color intensifies after Sawakiguchi helpfully informs him the President is here to see him; later, Tougaito bemoans about girls, smokes an embarrassed cigarette, and listens to Kugayama laugh.
It's one-forty in the morning when someone knocks at his door curtly; he expects Tanabe, panicking over a vital piece of his thesis gone missing, or maybe even Tougaito, freaking out over continuously thinking about engagement rings, but he doesn't expect Irisu to look up at him, looking heartbreakingly transparent for the first time in her life, and ask him if she can step inside.
The year their class goes to a two-night stay in Kyoto, Kugayama is in charge of the microphone during the bus drive there, and by the time he reaches the hotel, he's almost voiceless; Tanabe expresses worry and amusement, but Irisu blankly pulls some honey-glazed candies from her pocket and hands them to him, and Kugayama thinks it was worth losing his voice after all.
"I'm not good for you, Kugayama-san," Irisu says, very slowly, and Kugayama can only smile at her, "we're too different, and while I do appreciate the fact that you harbor romantic feelings for me—" and here he sees it, sees the line her eyes make as they shift aside, looking bright and glassy in the sunset-lit library, "I don't think a relationship would work between us."
Tougaito proposes to Sawakiguchi after he graduates, and presents her with a ring that she spends months gushing about; Kugayama focuses harder on his thesis and less on the world, but he still can't help smiling at Irisu when he sees her in the reception (she doesn't smile back, but she nods).
He's always known what he was getting into, always known that Irisu was meant to be watched from afar and that no highly coveted position as council president or college T.A. would be of any help, but it's only when their class organizes get-togethers (that are nothing but an excuse to get drunk) that he realizes the weeks he spends without seeing her are tortuous; one night, someone shouts that it's egregious that the empress and the king never wound up together, "as it should've been, what the hell," and Kugayama just laughs, because he doesn't mind, not really – but when he walks her home, both of them tipsy, he can't help but to ask her if she's as hungry as he is, and he's talking about food, but Irisu clearly is not, because she gives him an unreadable look, says yes, and then she kisses him (tasting of salted sake, smelling of expensive perfume, feeling like he's trying to grasp water).
"I'll never really get over you," Kugayama says, sipping his coffee with a smile, watching Irisu look at him unflinchingly; she stirs the foam on her coffee, watches it fade, and then returns his warm smile with one of her cool ones, "I think you will, eventually," but Kugayama doesn't think, not for one second, that she believes what she's saying.
Kugayama becomes head of the pediatric intensive care unit, Irisu becomes the top neurosurgeon and the head of the board, and they do a good job at pretending they don't know each other outside of work until Kugayama walks into her office, resolutely sets down a velvet box on her desk, and waits for her choice.)