Chapter 16: Frozen in the ashes
“Have you ever seen a flower die? Watched something that was once so beautiful, so full of life, collapse and rot from within?”
~ Victor Fries (Mr. Freeze)
Celeste wasn’t sure how things ended up the way they did. If you asked her where she thought she’d be at this point in her life three months ago her answer certainly wouldn’t have been where she was now.
And where was she now exactly?
She was hanging out at Ross Gustin’s house not just to study, but just to hang out. There was no other reason for the meeting and that meant Celeste had to stop pretending that Ross meant nothing to her when he obviously didn’t mean nothing anymore.
She would find herself actually enjoying herself during the school day with him. Arctic Frost, the super villain, was actually having fun in school without causing chaos. It was unheard of.
If Wild Fire saw her now, he wouldn’t be able to place her as the heartless villain she really was inside. She was different because of Ross.
Oh, and don’t think Celeste wasn’t aware of how cliché and awful that sounded. A boy was all she needed to be happy and carefree? Ugh, that sounded like the plot to a badly written fanfiction. The old her would’ve laughed in the face of romance and affairs of the heart. In fact, she should’ve been terrified at her sudden change of heart, but she wasn’t.
It was strange to suddenly realize all of your assumptions about the world were wrong.
Ross’s little sister was still always the highlight of her visits. She went out of her way to display all of her pretty drawings to Ross’s friend. Angela was, as Celeste soon found out, completely obsessed with Arctic Frost. It was hilarious. If only she knew the villain was in the flesh right in front of her, complementing the stick figure crayon smudges on cardboard paper.
For the first time in Celeste’s life, she was happy.
“Did she put the test grades in yet?” Ross asked, peering over Celeste’s shoulder at her phone.
“No, stop smothering me or I won’t be able to see.” The latest test grade in their history class, a huge one, was supposed to be up on the district’s website at any minute. They were both anxiously waiting to see hers.
Her phone pinged and Celeste pushed Ross away before he could steal her phone. It was her grade, she wanted to see it first.
“Well, what did you get?”
Ross was painstakingly nervous. After all, he didn’t just want her to get a good grade to claim testament to his tutoring abilities, he wanted her to get a good grade because he thought she truly deserved it.
Celeste stayed silent, not letting any emotion pass through her face.
Ross’s own face fell, despair clearly written across it in full view. “Oh, I’m sorry. Hopefully next time we can-”
“I got an A.”
She said it so quietly Ross had to ask her to repeat it.
Celeste nodded, suddenly flooded with joyousness. “I got an A!”
She jumped in Ross’s arms. It was unbelievable. She was horrible at history, but with Ross’s help she not only passed the test, but passed it with flying colors. It was a few moments before she realized exactly what position they were in. Celeste pulled her head back and met Ross’s gaze.
“I’m so proud of you.”
The next minute was a blur in her mind. All she knew was that they ended up falling on his bed, laughing in a tight embrace at the awkward positions in which they’d fallen. It didn’t take long for things to get serious again. His lips on hers again.
They hadn’t talked yet about the whole label thing. It would feel weird, after all, calling him anything other than an acquaintance. It was how she kept him separate from her life, not really placing an impact. But now she had to face the music and realize that Ross meant more to her than she thought he ever would.
When she finally pulled away Ross was looking back at her with simple wide eyes.
“How did this happen?”
Celeste furrowed her eyebrows, “I’m sorry?”
Ross chuckled and shook his head. “No, I mean this. How in the world did you ever . . .”
“Believe me, I still ask myself that.” She smiled, tucking a charcoal strand of hair behind her ear. Celeste herself couldn’t even believe what was happening.
Ross frowned, confused.
“No, I didn’t mean that as an insult,” Celeste corrected, leaning back and sitting up on her bottom. “What I meant was . . . I never saw myself ever being here, with you, but now that I am I can say I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. You make me the happiest I’ve ever been.”
It was hard For Celeste to admit the words out loud. She was allowed to be happy. She was allowed to be here with him and enjoy herself.
She was allowed to smile.
Ross stared up at her for a moment and grinned at her crookedly. “Let’s go see a movie together.”
“Yeah, right now.”
Ross was already getting up, practically bursting with energy.
Celeste sat back on his bed, giggling at his unbound enthusiasm (God, she was actually giggling. It was revolting), “What are we going to see?”
“No idea, but as long as you’re there, it’ll be a great one.”
As he went into his adjoining bathroom to change into something more comfortable than the clothes he wore to school, Celeste slid off the bed and reached for her phone, which had somehow fallen on the floor near the bottom of Ross’s bed. However, she saw something much more interesting past her phone and under the bed.
Ross’s backpack was sitting there, which struck Celeste as quite strange since a smart kid like Ross shouldn’t be hiding the backpack with all of his homework and assignments, but place it out in the open where he could reach it better. Even Celeste kept hers on the couch so she could remember any assignments.
When she unzipped the back pocket of the bag she didn’t regard her actions as intrusive, just curious. Was Ross’s backpack messy or neat? Behind the expected binders and papers, there was a folded up piece of red cloth in the very back. She wouldn’t have noticed it if she hadn’t seen the bright fabric out of the corner of her eye.
Celeste was lifting the thing out of his bag when Ross exited the bathroom.
“Um, I can totally explain.”
But, he couldn’t. There was no explanation on earth that would change the fact that Wild Fire’s super suit was held in her right hand, clear as day and as bright as his the superhero’s namesake.
Or, should she say, Ross’s.
A million emotions trailed through Celeste’s face at once. Too many that she would never be able to sort through them all, not in a thousand years.
Ross, of course, noticed nothing but shock in her eyes. Why would he have any reason to suspect she was feeling anything other than that? Everyone in town loved Wild Fire. Though everyone just happened to exclude the one person sitting in front of him.
Celeste didn’t speak. She couldn’t.
“I guess you caught me though,” Ross added, mistaking her continued silence for resolution as he scratched his neck, thinking for the right words to say. “There was probably no luck of me keeping it to myself for much longer. In fact, I probably should’ve told you, you know. Finding out Wild Fire’s identity by accident was not how I wanted you to know.”
Surprisingly, tears were starting to cloud Celeste’s eyes. Ross noticed and immediately ran forward to comfort her, “Hey, it’s alright. I . . . if I could go back and tell you sooner I would.”
Celeste had only ever cried twice before in her life that she could readily remember. Once a couple of years ago when she saw the neighborhood stray dog get beaten to death by some kids (who she frosted so hard afterwards that they all got hypothermia) and once the first time her late father had hit her.
This would make the third time.
Ross had never seen Celeste cry, she was the tough girl who insulted him at every chance she got. Seeing her cry was weird and for the first time he saw her as something vulnerable.
“You’re . . . him.”
He didn’t detect the disdain in her voice at the word.
“Yeah, I am.” Ross was getting uncomfortable. What was really the big deal? So what he was a superhero? He was a good guy. This should’ve been a happy moment.
Celeste met his eyes fiercely, “You can’t be.”
Ross laughed uncertainly. “You kind of found my super suit in my backpack. What more evidence do you need? I mean, I can always do this,” at the words a small pocket of fire appeared at his palm.
Celeste reared back, eyes fixed on the final bit of proof in his hands. It was too much. It was undeniable. Panicked, she darted out of the room, down the stairs, and out the front door. Ross, confused, ran out after her seconds later.
“Celeste! Wait, stop!”
But, she couldn’t. Oh no, she couldn’t stop running. If she stopped running she would have to turn around and face the truth. Sometimes the truth was too painful to be met head on. It would be better for him and her if she got as far away from the truth as she could run.
Ross was faster than her, even in her adrenaline infused state. He grabbed her arm and pulled her in the alley behind the neighboring house, stopping her forward motion.
“You can’t just leave me like that. What’s wrong?”
Celeste peered at him through the strings of dark hair that had fallen over her paled face. A deer stuck in the headlights with nowhere safe to run.
“Tell me how I can fix this.” Ross’s face was pleading her to give him a way to help her, to understand. It broke Celeste to realize how quickly that expression would twist into something awful when he knew.
Arctic Frost erupted from her chest, icing the entire alley way and frosting the grass. Ross was blown back by her icy blast and stared back from the ground in utter awe at the girl he thought he knew.
Her tears were icing and breaking off when they met her skin. Shaking, Celeste pulled her arms around herself, trying to protect herself from his fire-filled gaze.
“You’re . . .”
He couldn’t finish the sentence, just as she couldn’t earlier. The evidence was all around them.
Celeste sniffed, shaking her head. “You can’t fix this, Ross.”
There may have never been a word ever spoken with as much emotion as his name in that moment.
Ross slowly pulled himself off of the alley ground, trying to sort through the facts. Trying to make sense of the situation.
“But you’re not evil.” He sounded like a little kid faced with facts that didn’t make sense to his simple world.
Celeste would’ve broke down if she had any tears left. “Don’t you get it?” Her broken heart was being filled with rage and anger at the sight of Ross. Why wasn’t he lashing out? Why wasn’t he screaming in outrage? His greatest enemy was right in front of him.
“I’m the big bad villain and you’re the righteous hero,” she spat. The air was suddenly growing colder, creeping up on them like an unwanted deadline. “Are you happy now? You got to see your most infamous villain stripped raw and defenseless right in front of your eyes. It’s what you’ve always wanted, isn’t it? To capture me and throw me to the dogs where I must belong? Well, here’s your fucking chance!”
The ice was swimming around them in the air, crystalizing and sharpening into accidental weapons. If Celeste wasn’t so numb she would feel their sharp pricks on her skin cutting like knives.
Ross stood his ground. It was hard to think of the malicious villain he fought and the caring girl he loved as the same person. But, here was the proof right in front of him.
“Just calm down, Celeste, we can figure this out, together!” Ross pleaded through the gathering storm. She was getting blurred by the ice and snow swirling around her like a barrier protecting her from the world.
But Celeste was no longer in the realm of reason. She had left it as soon as his suit touched her palm. “Was this your plan all along, huh? Make me trust you, make me love you even? Just enough so you could act like a common villain and turn on me? How can you stand there and act morally right when you were willing to do something so awful to me?”
“Celeste, I didn’t know!” Ross yelled back, catching her off guard in the storm of snow. Hopefully no neighbors looking out at the scene from their back windows could see either through the storm. “How could I have known?”
She couldn’t process it. The odds were impossible that she found her arch nemesis and fell in love with him by accident. It just didn’t seem plausible that two opposites found each other without either knowing the truth.
“You should’ve known!” Celeste yelled, now venting her frustrations. If he had known he would’ve stopped it before they got too far. Heroes were like that, not stooping low just to win.
Inconsistency was not a word Celeste liked to associate with herself, but what else was she supposed to do but spurt wild accusations? She certainly couldn’t blame herself for the situation. It had to be someone else’s fault. Someone’s fault. Someone had to be blamed.
Ross ran forward towards her, to comfort or attack Celeste never found out because as soon as he met her skin, he fell to the ground in a convulsion. Blue toned skin and frosted white tipped hair and lips. Celeste couldn’t control her powers, the storm growing only bigger than life around her.
“Please,” it was barely a whisper. All Ross could get out as he laid on the icy concrete ground, snow flying around him.
At the sight of his still hopeful face, a face she couldn’t deny she still loved, weakened and hurt by her, Celeste yelled out again, this time trying to reel herself back in. With great effort, the winds died down and the snow fell to the ground around her.
But it took too much out of her. The emotions and her powers combined together drained her, and it was all Celeste could do to land in a comfortable position before she blacked out on the alley floor.