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Strip Away the Ice

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Thornhill was enormous. Full of dark shadow and empty space, the mansion loomed over the Blossoms more like a mausoleum than a home, but Cheryl had always felt safe there. Things weren't always quite so simple, of course--there was no denying that oppressive sense of something not quite being right within these walls--but she had never been afraid. Whatever darkness lie in the heart of the Blossom legacy, Cheryl had always known that it could never reach her, and she had never given a second thought to fear.

What was there to be afraid of, after all, when one had their soulmate to protect them? And Cheryl had always had her brother, right from the very day she was born.

They had protected each other, always. When Cheryl had been young and fanciful enough to think that perhaps the undeniable wrongness of the place could be something more magical than mundane, Jason had hugged away the thoughts of ghosts and ghouls and wicked spells that kept her awake late into the night. And years after that, when the two of them reached an age at which they could truly understand that the suffocating sense of oppression in their lives was all their parents' plan, Jason was the one to gladly bear the brunt of their parents' wrath. He always did everything he could to keep her safe. He loved her, and they had always counted down the days until they could leave their parents' world behind.

But that was all before Polly came along. The pretty Stepford blonde--the Capulet to the Jason's Montague--proved to be exactly what any romantic dreads: a girl with the power to convince a man who already had a soulmate that he had somehow made some mistake. And it was a simple enough story. Convincing, really, when Cheryl was feeling charitable enough to actually give it a fair thought. Polly had watched her soul-timer count down to zero just as she was meeting the Blossom heir for the first time, and Jason was never one to resist a romantic notion. So from the minute Little Miss Cooper bore out her soul, suddenly Jason would move the moon for her.

And Cheryl... Cheryl lost her brother, her soulmate, her love just because she tried to help.

Ever since Jason's body was found, cold and bloated with his brains shot right out of his skull, Cheryl had burned. An unquenchable inferno had blazed inside her body, all the way from flaming locks to pedicured toes, and she had kept it locked beneath the ice of her exterior as best she could. She would get her revenge, she told herself, once Jason's killer was found. Only then would she unleash her fire and make that bastard burn.

She had almost let it go more than once. FP Jones's false confession had tested her the way nothing else ever had. But now that she knew the truth...

For the longest time, Thornhill had been divided. Cliff and Penelope on one side; Jason and Cheryl on the other. The elder Blossoms--excluding, thankfully, Nana Rose--had never taken kindly to what they called their children's "unnatural" bond. They had never believed in the thought of twin soulmates; it would be too big a scandal, too dark a stain on the Blossom name, and so they meant to stick their heads in the sand and pretend it never happened. All they wanted was for Jason and Cheryl to grow up into the children they imagined: a powerful businessman and a pretty trophy wife, each married to whoever offered the family more prestige.

Not their soulmates. Certainly not each other.

And absolutely not a girl like Polly Cooper.

Cheryl understood that. Her parents' expectations were what she had realized all along... except she hadn't realized just how far the wrongness went. Her parents were cold and cruel, but Cliff Blossom was an entirely different kind of man. Cliff Blossom was a murderer, a filicide. And he had stolen Cheryl's brother from her in a way that Polly never could.

Hanging wasn't good enough for him. It didn't quench the flame in Cheryl's gut, but it made the ice around it thicker, so thick that all Cheryl could feel was a cold numbness holding back the pain.

All she wanted was her brother.

But they wouldn't let her have the ice. Archie, Betty, all of them; they stopped the ice from taking her even after she offered herself up to it just as she'd given herself to the water back when Jason had been alive.

So there she was, lying in her own bed with a body so wracked with chill that she finally felt something. Pain. She felt the pain of the cold, the pain of muscle and flesh exposed to a deadly freeze, and the pain of anguish, the pain of having loved and lost and then lost forever, and Cheryl sobbed until she felt the pain of that, too.

And then, slowly, tucked in tight beneath the covers of her bed, Cheryl grew warm. The fire inside rose, unextinguished, and spread through her once again. It was rage and wrath and pride and hate, and above all else, it was determination. Jason was dead, and Cheryl had lost everything, and that meant Cheryl was free.

She rose from the bed, her body draped in a warm black cotton robe, and she walked toward the fireplace with the first touch of a smirk on her lips.

She wasn't ice. She'd never been ice. Cheryl's ice had always been a lie.

Thornhill was going down in flames.

"I hope you're watching, Jason," she murmured to the flame, her lips still faintly purple beneath the inescapable red paint. "This is for you." She laughed softly, and she shook her head. "No. This is for us."

The fire crackled in front of her, blazing bright and dangerous, and Cheryl could've sworn that somewhere in the shadows of the room, she heard a very faint and familiar laugh.