"The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment, then where is it to be found?" - J.B. Priestley
i. a boy and his dreams
A nine-year-old boy, half his hair as white as a string of pearls, the other as red as a fine aged wine, rises to his tiptoes so that his heterochromatic eyes can peer over the window ledge to absorb the scene just outside.
He rushes downstairs after hearing the clamour; his mother tells his father, in a panicked voice, that he should go outside for fresh air. Maybe it's because he's been getting headaches all day.
In the dead of winter, Shoto can make out the two silhouettes-- broad shoulders hunched over while seated on a wooden bench, and a frail figure wrapping a blanket around her husband.
He senses that something isn't quite right the instant his father keels over, heaving dramatically. Why isn't his mother stepping away? He clutches at the wooden ledge.
His father jerks his head up, and Todoroki knows. The bandage wrapping his father's arm isn't because of a knife injury, and there's a reason the headaches started after defeating that particularly large horde. In fact, he's known it all along-- he's just never believed that his father, the strongest man he knows-- has been turned.
Todoroki meets his mother's eyes-- she has a knowing look on her face, like she's aware he's been watching the whole time-- and she smiles.
Shoto runs to the door, but the knob won't open. He tries to yell for his mother to get away, but it's as if his vocal cords have been ripped out. He bangs on the glass pane, hoping to break it, but it's a hopeless cause.
His mother pulls his father into a tearful hug, whispering something that Shoto can't quite decipher-- and his father bites down.
ii. a girl and her heart
His knuckles hurt, and his wrists are being held down-- he thrashes, his only focus to break the door separating him from his family.
"Shoto, it was only a dream. Please-- it was only a dream."
Tearful gasps burst out of his throat and threaten to suffocate him, if not for a soothing voice coming from above his head.
"It's me, Shoto. You were having a nightmare, and I'm here. I'm right here."
Your voice rouses him from the remnants of his dream, and he takes deep breaths to calm down. He's drenched in sweat, he notices, and he's trembling. His stomach grumbles. His legs are in pain from the running, and scratches he's received send a searing fire through his arm.
He remembers now-- you had fended off a horde that had gone through your food supply, and it's nearing winter. You're supposed to look for food tomorrow before losing too much energy. Your group has managed to secure a shelter for at least the night, though it's too far from anything else and much too exposed to be a long-term option.
Todoroki sits up, and you wrap your arms around him, gently pushing his head down to rest on your shoulder. The way you stroke his back and run fingers through his hair brings his pulse back to its regular state. Though it comes out hoarsely, he whispers,
"Did-- did I wake up the rest of the group?"
"No. They're all in the other room, so don't worry."
He wants to tell you how much it means to him-- the support, the comfort, the strength-- but he can never quite find the words to. All he knows is that in the few months he's spent with you since your group travelled hours up north, he's found a reason to fight again.
"Was it the same nightmare, Shoto?"
He nods silently.
"Then, I'll still keep my promise."
iii. a promise and its makers
He recalls the first time he told you about what happened on that winter night-- he's never cried as much as he did then.
"(Y/N). Can you promise me something?"
"If I were ever to turn--"
"Shoto. That's not going to happen."
"I know. I know, (Y/N), but I need you to promise me that you'd shoot me with no hesitation if that were to happen."
You see the pain behind his trembling voice; the fear that he'd put you through the same fate.
"I don't ever want to turn out like my father. It was selfish of him. It was fucking wrong, (Y/N). I hate him."
You wince at his words-- you know it's the anger overtaking him; that his father wanted to spend his last moments with the woman he loved most-- but it's fruitless to argue with him at this point. So instead, you say,
"Can... can you make the same promise to me as well, then?"
He's surprised at your words, but you continue,
"I don't ever want to hurt you like that, either. If that means anything to you. Should that day be tomorrow or years from now, I'll understand, and I--!"
For the first time, he pulls you into a hug, and you feel the air from his chest expand and release past your ear. He's warm, and he smells like the woods. Choking back a sob, he mumbles into your hair,
"It means the world."
iv. a snowfall and its brilliance
He snaps out of his thoughts, and sees you pressed up against the window like a child seeing its parents return from work,
"Sorry, (Y/N). I was just thinking."
"Shoto, there's something weird falling from the sky."
He slowly makes his way up, his body sore from the morning's fight. He looks outside, and instantly knows why you're confused, seeing as you had grown up much further down south, and had only arrived recently.
"It's the first snowfall of the year, (Y/N). See? There's the snow on the ground."
"This is snow? Don't snowflakes have lines and patterns? These are just like... ashes."
He watches your eyes carefully, seeing every spark of wonder and awe that appears as you watch the flakes dance lazily before gently touching down on top of others.
"You need to see them up close to believe it," he grins, "so let's go outside."
You slowly make your way down creaky stairs to avoid waking up the rest of the group. In the darkness, you find the foreign household slightly difficult to navigate.
"Ah, sorry to worry you, (Y/N). My arm just got scratched on a corner."
You give him a playful smack, but can't help but pull him into a hug. With only the light of the moon illuminating the hallway, you look up into his eyes-- they're weary and tired, and have seen things no man should ever see, but they're comforting and warm and resilient. He pulls you in tighter; strong forearms supporting your lower back; a strong chest against your cheek.
You pull away, grabbing his hand and leading him outside.
v. a boy and her heart
He's surprisingly warm in a simple white long-sleeved shirt-- he's not going to let you stay out long, after all. He's brought a gun in case of any nearby strays, but the night seems peaceful.
"I-- oh my goodness."
Your foot makes a crunch on the thin, untouched layer of snow. You step on it cautiously, as if could break apart at any moment, causing you to fall through. But your next step is more certain, and the ones after that; quicker.
The strange precipitation is so cold to the touch, and each individual snowflake you bring up to your eye to examine melts quickly on your fingertips.
You burst out in a fit of giggles, and suddenly he's laughing as you run ahead of him, following not shortly behind. You pick up what small piles you can out of the shallow layer, cupping the snow between your hands to form a ball and launching it behind you.
Your voice is like a series chimes in his ears, and he feels ecstasy as he never has before-- joy in its purest form, amidst a night of fascination and discovery.
"This is so refreshing. I was starting to get a headache in there, and I--"
The gun clicks.
"Shoto, what's wr--"
"(Y/N). Don't. Move."
His throat goes dry and his hands tremble violently as he notices the blood dripping off the back of your shirt, into the clean blanket of snow. He's surprised by his own quick reaction.
He doesn't want you to turn around. He doesn't want you to look at him with those curious, exploring eyes, and he doesn't want them filled with tears. It only took hours for his dad to turn after his bite and his headaches-- how long has it been for you? He can't endanger anyone as his parents did, and his decision has to be fast.
"(Y/N), I need you to close your eyes."
"Wait, Shoto, I don't rem--"
"(Y/N). Close. Your. Eyes."
"Shoto, please lis--"
"CLOSE YOUR EYES!"
The gun goes off before his mind can argue otherwise. You crumple to the ground in a heap, blood staining the pure snow. He runs over to you without hesitation, but stops before he can get too close.
"(Y/N), I had to keep our promise. Please, please forgive me."
He's determined to justify to you-- to himself-- why he had to do it,
"I'm so, so sorry. I can't-- I didn't want to change my mind, (Y/N). I'm so weak. W-we promised. I told you I wouldn't hesitate, and-- and it was easier for me this way,"
His voice rises,
"Is that so selfish of me? After everything in my goddamn life keeps getting taken away from me? Is it so selfish to want to do this as quickly as possible?!"
He keeps his distance, but you keep pointing at him,
"Y-your shirt. It-- your shirt."
You're pointing at his arm, and he looks down to see red coming through the white fabric. Frantically, he rolls his sleeve up. There are a few cuts from broken glass, others from knife accidents, but most notably is a semi-circle gash that seems to have reopened when he hit the corner earlier.
The gash that when he hugged you, touched your back.
Looking deeper-- he hasn't had a chance to check his body yet after this morning's fight-- he sees markings of various depths.
He looks into your eyes with realization, drops of red spilling onto fresh blankets of white-- you weren't the one bleeding.
A light comes on from inside the house. The others stir at the noise of the shot, and will probably be out any minute now.
He understands why his father did what he did on that cold winter night. He understands why he acted so selfishly, and he understands why he's just done the same.
But he doesn't accept it.
He can't bear to look at you and hold your hand, because he doesn't deserve to. But he knows it's the least he can do for you.
"Please, (Y/N). Please, please forgive me."
He waits for those words. He waits for you to release him from the guilt crawling up his spine and coursing through his veins. You grant him no such pleasure, your words a selfish act of their own,
"Shoto, I love you."
Todoroki cries. He bashes his fist into the ground, knuckles bleeding. You sputter, eyelids frantically trying to keep open and blood rising past your lips. His eyes are cold now; his soul much more so.
One last bullet rings into the night.