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Embers in the Wind

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Giana is aromantic. She's the first one he's ever met.

"The fuck does that even mean?" Leon says to her, holding out his lighter. The end of her cigarette catches, and it's with reluctance he pulls it away. They're sitting on hard metal bleachers, the sun dipping in and out from behind clouds, and it's the kind of day when humidity sticks tight to your skin. The whole world feels like a cruel oven, simmering just enough to make everyone uncomfortable. Giana takes a long, slow drag, squinting dark eyes at him. She's That-Girl-Who-Smokes-On-The-Bleachers to most of the teachers, and Leon is The-One-Who-Likes-Fire, and together they sit sometimes, feeding each others bad habits. He doesn't smoke, not yet, but he's considering it more and more these days.

"Means I don't get that whole romance shit," she drawls. Smoke curls out and down from her nostrils, coiling like dragon smoke for a moment before being snatched away. "It isn't a part of me. I don't do the romance thing. Just doesn't compute in my brain."

Leon considers this. Seems logical. He knows, vaguely, about asexual people, because someone in class threw a fit when some other person made a plant joke. Aside from that, he's up a creek without a paddle.

Giana's cigarette sparks, distracting him, and they spend the rest of the afternoon setting fire to leaves and newspapers.

oOo

Hugo is a nosy brat on the best of days, but he's a pretty nice nosy brat, so Leon doesn't really care when his little brother comes in with what is definitely not his credit card. In fact, that's definitely Leon's name on it.

"Any reason you had this?" Leon asks dryly as Hugo hops on his bed, looking curiously at the screen of Leon's laptop.

"I bought this thing called Minecraft. Some people were talking about it at school and I wanted to try it. It was only 25 bucks." He tosses the card to Leon, who catches it easily and resists the urge to burn it. Dad will definitely get mad if he destroys another card this week. Hugo leans in, looking closer at the screen as he settles in next to Leon. "These guys need to put more spaces in."

Leon looks over at him, raising an eyebrow. Hugo points.

"Oh." It clicks. "No, it's supposed to be spelled like that."

Hugo frowns. "Aromantic, not a romantic?"

"You got it."

Hugo stares, fascinated. He curls into Leon, and in a rare moment of cooperation, Leon lets him stay. Together they read through the website, Leon occasionally explaining the bigger words Hugo hasn't learned yet to him. It's 9:35 at night when Hugo finally drifts off, and Leon carries him back to his room before finishing his reading. Sometimes he can be a good brother.

Franky's waiting in his room when he returns, scrolling through the page. Leon's long since given up trying to have any privacy in this house.

"What do you think?" Leon asks, flopping onto his bed.

"Weird," Franky says, but he sounds just as fascinated as Hugo. He seems to be focusing on the section about demisexuality that was mentioned. "Where'd you find this shit?"

"Giana's aromantic. She was talking about it today. Thought I'd learn more about it."

Franky makes a noncommittal noise, scrolling through. "What about you?"

Leon considers the ceiling. There are a few cobwebs in the corner, and he irrationally wants to set fire to them. But he's not allowed to have flames by the walls anymore. A strand of the cobwebs swings in the faint air from the vents, fluttering pathetically. It doesn't look as though the spider has been back in quite some time. "I don't know. I mean, maybe? But I don't think so. I don't think it's me, exactly. You get me?"

"Since when do you say shit like, "you get me", Leon?" Franky drawls, but he says nothing more until Leon is finally starting to nod off. The laptop is quietly closed, and Franky murmurs, "Something to think about, I guess."

oOo

Giana is gone when he gets to school on Monday. No one is too surprised. Giana skips a lot of school. He asked her about it once or twice and she just laughed. He wanders the halls, laughs and pretends that he's Franky when people come up to him, and slips away to go to out to the bleachers. It's a much nicer day, slightly windy and a welcome relief from yesterday's cruel, stifling heat. A few puffy clouds coast across the sky, and he irrationally imagines them bursting into steam with the touch of a flame.

He climbs the bleachers, and sees the rock and pack of cigarettes by a pile of ashes. Leon picks up the note under the rock, turning his back to the sun to read better.

Sorry, it reads. Thought it was time for me to get out of this godforsaken town. Good luck, I guess.

Leon sits down, holding the paper in his hands. Her scrawl is terrible, and he thinks of soft brown curls and dark eyes and sets the paper ablaze. It burns at his feet, embers being pulled off into the wind and far, far away.

oOo

He's one of the people they ask to identify the body when they find her dead in an alley on the outskirts of town two days later. There are no clues as to the killer. Neighbors report a black car roaring away, and that's it. Nothing to go on. Leon pushes the words of rape, positioning of the body, and sadistic killer out of his mind, and goes through a pack that day. His lungs feel like they're on fire, silently boiling him alive in the quiet of his room. He only stops when Hugo knocks on his door, pushing open the window and lighting candles to clear the smell before his brother can come in.

She's cremated four days after the autopsy is complete.

It seems fitting.