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Freeze, Thaw, Warm for Me

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To others, the gijinka might have been dozing on the park bench. Despite the fiery sun beating him, he still kept his gray jacket over his black shirt and jeans with a tilted, black belt. In his slump, the dark muffler around his neck almost covered the red spots at the corners of his mouth that could also be found around his eyes. If that wasn't enough to make a gijinka sweat, his voluminous, bloody hair complete with inky tips reached all the way below his knees. A jade bangle secured it in a ponytail. He also wore black boots and fingerless gloves, both accommodating his crimson claws.

The way his gray ears twitched belied his guise of a nap. They finally stopped flickering when the zoroark opened his light blue eyes. This happened to coincide with another gijinka's arrival, a small smile reaching all the way to her cherry eyes. She wore a golden-white, short-sleeved robe that reached just beyond her thighs and covered her orange shorts. A golden obi around her waist accentuated her slim figure. Her long hair, edged in amber, flowed freely in the light breeze. While she seemed better off in terms of clothing in this warm weather, the gijinka also had nine shining foxtails that other gijinkas desperately avoided. Yet even then, the heat didn't bother her thanks to her natural typing.

'You're early for once, Zaiden. Looking forward to today?' the ninetales asked in her teasing voice. Zaiden looked at his girlfriend somberly for one brief second before a huge yawn assaulted him. Once the yawn cleared, the zoroark gijinka mirrored her grin lopsidedly.

'Of course. Why wouldn't I?' he asked, eyes clouding briefly. Truth to be told, he had wondered whether he really wanted to go through with this date. However he dismissed his misgiving as quickly as it surfaced. Of course he wanted to go through with this. Why shouldn't he? It was Valentine's Day after all, and his girlfriend deserved something special considering all the times he had failed to delight her.

She laughed lightly at his response. 'Heheh! You did get the tickets for the latest Proteam Omega movie, right?' She eyed him skeptically.

'Of course,' Zaiden repeated, standing up from his seat. He reached into his pocket and showed her the paper. 'Who do you take me for, Nikki?' Nikki smiled again at the mock-hurt tone he used. She simply shook her head with a shrewd smile as an answer. Zaiden sighed as he scratched the back of his head. He knew what she was insinuating with her silence but didn't elaborate. Instead, he held out his arm for her. The ninetales cheerfully accepted the gesture, and they started to walk to the movie theatre. Despite the swarming city street, they had no problems carrying a quiet conversation. Anybody eavesdropping would have to lean in quite close to hear their thoughts. However everybody else was occupied with their own issues, whether it had to do with the love-stricken holiday or the other jokingly-yet-also-quite-seriously-lonely holiday. The large crowd did little to impede Zaiden and Nikki as they quickly arrived at the entrance of the cinema.

The cinema was packed with groups, mostly in pairs. Some chatted excitedly, some about Proteam Omega that everybody was itching to watch, while others simply enjoyed the company of their loved ones, or lack thereof. As more and more gijinkas appeared, Nikki slid closer to her boyfriend. All the while the zoroark lent a patient ear to the ninetales's predictions. Perhaps Nikki's voice passed the time rapidly for Zaiden as he soon found themselves walking into the building much quicker than he had hoped. He offered to buy popcorn and soda but his girlfriend refused politely.

'Aren't we having lunch later?' she hinted with a small smile. Zaiden conceded but couldn't stop himself from a little jib.

'Snacks wouldn't make a difference considering your weight.' The ninetales growled and pushed her boyfriend away from her. Zaiden quickly regained his balance with a mischievous chuckle, ignoring the strange looks some gijinkas gave him. He tailed Nikki strolling indignantly into the theatre. Multiple gijinkas, many he recognized from the line, already filled in most of the seats. Fortunately as it had been some days since the movie first came out, Nikki had managed to find two empty seats. If it hadn't been for her shifting to comfortably accommodate her tails, Zaiden might have never found her. The smirk was still on his face as he slid into his seat. Then they waited again, this time for the movie's beginning.

Cheers arose when the lights dimmed. The watching gijinkas then fell silent as the movie opened. The only sounds foreign to the show's were the occasional shuffle and creaking as somebody attempted to get more comfortable in their seat. Fortunately, nobody was offensive enough to pull out their phones during the movie. Everybody's eyes focused on the film.

Zaiden became aware of the small breathing sounds everybody made, at times hearing nothing at all as the audience held their breath. Yet unlike everybody else his pulsing heart encouraged his lungs to hitch constantly as if there wasn't enough oxygen for him. A good twenty minutes in the film, it suddenly leapt slightly when he felt a familiar sensation on his shoulder. He knew immediately what it was and began to shift his arm to wrap around Nikki's shoulders. However something stopped him when in the middle of his motion so his arm was some centimeters above the armrest. He held that position for a second as his logical side struggled against his emotional side. The former eventually won, convincing his arm back to its initial position and gluing his eyes to the movie. When the question of why he didn't go through with the cliché action pounded his head, Zaiden buried that thought with the rest of the emotions he usually hid. Even if Nikki had noticed, she didn't say anything. The couple continued to watch in required silence until the movie finished with a cliffhanger.

After a moment of hesitation, Zaiden joined in with everybody's standing encore at the satisfying end. He stretched out the fatigue that always came at the end of each movie before feeling Nikki latch herself onto his arm again. Despite himself he grinned as his girlfriend nuzzled his limb. The couple made their way slowly to the exit, quietly listening to their acquaintances' criticism. Once they left, Zaiden blinked his eyes rapidly to prevent the sunrays from blinding him. He familiarized himself with daylight just in time to see a gijinka ride up to the couple on his motorcycle.

The lucario cut his engine and kicked his stand down, making sure that his parking was legal. He didn't need to be arrested today, unless he was going to be arrested by a cute gijinka. He saluted Zaiden with a wide smirk. "Hey, Zaiden. Just saw the latest Proteam Omega movie, I'm guessing?"

The zoroark nodded in confirmation before adding his own greeting. "Hey, Luka. It was good, but I still think its predecessor was better." Luka chuckled in response.

"I should have known. After all, it was her favorite movie. But hey, want to come to this mixer with me? It'll be a lot of fun-."

"No, I'm good," Zaiden responded quickly.

Luka's eyes showed a surprised light before drifting slightly off to the side to look at Nikki. His smile faded somewhat as he returned his attention back to his old friend. "Zaiden…"

Said gijinka felt Nikki tighten her grip. "I have other plans today."

"I don't think that's such a good idea, dude…"

"Whoever said my plans have been good ideas?" The zoroark's short bark of laughter lacked his usual humor. Luka gave him a strange look, letting the silence stretch. He wondered to himself whether he should try harder in convincing his friend to join him. Not to boost his own chances of getting more out of the gathering. It's more that Luka couldn't stand seeing his best friend in such a pitiful state. Zaiden didn't deserve this treatment, especially today of all days, yet the zoroark persisted in his little façade. More than once, his friends attempted to dissuade him from his situation. Yet Zaiden never listened to their advice, or "completely unnecessary therapy sessions" as the dark-type called it.

The lucario unheeded the frowning Nikki beside his friend. It was clear that she wanted him to leave them so they could continue their date yet she remained silent in respect for the two friends. He tried again. "Come on, Zaiden. I'm not saying you should forget about her, but if you continue to go through with this-." Luka stopped in midsentence when he noticed Zaiden's frosty stare, a glare that put even ice-types to shame. The lucario flinched visibly at that and dropped it immediately. The awkward silence stretched between the three gijinkas as Zaiden continued to glower at Luka. Even passing pedestrians could feel the painful tension as they attempted to pass quickly and peacefully. Finally Luka gave up. Shaking his head ruefully, he sighed and revved up his motorcycle. "Fine, you do you, man. But don't do something stupid like this again. You're going to lose your sanity."

"Can't lose something I never had in the first place."

Despite his anxiety for his friend's health, Luka couldn't help grinning at the joke. At least it seemed as if Zaiden had forgiven him, and he was extremely grateful for that. He gave a small salute to the couple with the parting words, "No wonder why Gawain and Gale can't get to you. Or maybe it's just your typing. Anyways, take care."

Nikki shook her head as she watched the dust clouds from Luka's motorcycle disappear from the wind. Despite her serious expression, the beginnings of a smile almost broke through. 'He's as rash as ever.'

'I'll say,' Zaiden muttered. Although he appreciated Luka's concern, the zoroark already knew what he was getting into when he decided to go through with this date. Still he wondered whether he should take his friend's, all of his friends', advice in consideration. He was still mulling over it when he felt a familiar tug on his arm.

'So, ready for lunch?'

'Actually…how about I give you your gift first?'

'What? You do know that gifts are usually given at the end, right?'

'I know but, I want to. Since the restaurant's near our usual meeting spot, how about you head first? I'll come back with your present soon.'

Nikki gave her boyfriend a slightly skeptical look, but the plea in his eyes convinced her. 'Okay, but don't take too long!' Zaiden watched his girlfriend slip through the crowds. Once she disappeared from his sight, he walked a little ways in the opposite direction until he arrived at a small shop. Despite it being the day of couples, the shop wasn't as crowded as expected with latecomers desperately trying to save their relationship with some roses. The shop owner must have had a great deal of experience when it came to Valentine's Day as there were still a nice variety of blooms to choose from. Zaiden eventually exited with a bouquet of white flowers in his arms.

The afternoon brought more people and couples onto the streets. He held the roses close so others wouldn't bump into it but not too close that he smothered them. Zaiden quickened his pace, nearly crashing into others at times and giving the impression of being late for a romantic meeting. Thankfully though, the closer he got to his destination, the less gijinka there were. Soon he passed only the occasional gijinka until he finally reached his and Nikki's meeting place.

He paused at the opened gates. Now that he was here, a certain shyness and uncertainty overtook him. His heart pulsed rapidly in his chest, from his brisk walk or the anticipation of what's to come, he couldn't tell. The zoroark had to breathe several times to calm his jagged nerves. When his heart settled down enough, Zaiden walked through the entrance. He carefully picked his way through the freshly-cut grass without worry of bumping into another gijinka. He focused, rather, on the beautiful gijinka waiting patiently for him. The closer he got to her, the larger the lump in his throat swelled. Too soon he reached her, and all the words he had prepared to say beforehand died as the emotions became almost too great for him to control. The zoroark blinked rapidly to stop tears from showing his deep sorrow.

Zaiden could only smile sadly as he placed the white roses on the gravestone. He opened his mouth to say something but only a choked sob came out. He drew a shuddering breath to steady himself again. Then he attempted to speak again. No sobs this time yet his voice still shook.

"Happy Valentine's Day, love. I'm glad I was able to enjoy this day with you…"

With that statement he could feel the tears threatening to fall again. He inhaled but had to knuckle his eyes this time. He could think of no more words to say but was still content with silently standing in front of Nikki's grave, the companionable silence just as familiar as when his former girlfriend was alive. There wasn't a day he passed by without remembering his loss.

Finally, he had to turn away to leave, only to have a bouquet of flowers smack his face. Zaiden started at the unexpected action. He didn't realize that the wind had picked up throughout the day. Somewhere in front of him, he could hear somebody apologizing profusely:

"Oh, I'm so, so sorry about that! I didn't know the wind would blow that right out of my hands!"

Picking the bouquet off, he saw a blue gijinka running towards him with a relieved look in her eyes. He began to shake his head with an indifferent response but his head stopped in its movement to stare at the female gijinka fast approaching. Her wavy, curly, blue ringlets fluttering gracefully with the wind. It nearly threatened to blow her navy skirt edged in white fur up towards her light blue blouse. Thankfully she made it to him without incident. He froze at the vision of his revived girlfriend. Then his blasé logic stopped his hopeless heart, and he realized that this wasn't Nikki.

"Thank you so…" The gijnka trailed off, her blueberry eyes widening at the sight of Zaiden. She blinked multiple times, as if she herself couldn't believe who she was seeing. "L-Landen?"

Then she shook her head. "No…no, I'm sorry. I can't believe I mistaken you as my late boyfriend. He was a midnight lycanroc. You're a zoroark."

"It's fine," Zaiden muttered as he handed back the bouquet to the Alolan ninetales. "Actually, for a moment," he said with a humorless smile, "I thought you were my girlfriend. She was a Kantian ninetales."

"Oh! Oh…I see…" She rightly guessed the reason for the other gijinka's presence here reflected her own. She chewed on her lip as she looked away to save the atmosphere from the rising discomfort, shifting the flowers to the other side of her arms. She couldn't see what Zaiden was doing, yet it didn't seem like he was keen to break the tension. So she took it upon herself to do so. "Um…thank you, for catching my flowers."

"Of course."

"…I'm Nixie, by the way," Nixie introduced. She felt a flash of surprise when she saw the zoroark stiffen a bit. She wondered the reason for the strange reaction. She soon found out as he relaxed with a weary chuckle.

"For a moment, I thought you said 'Nikki'. That was my girlfriend's name."

"Oh…well, I hope your name isn't similar to my late boyfriend's."

"Well…" Zaiden scratched his head sheepishly. "Does 'Zaiden' sound like 'Landen'?" The Alolan ninetales blinked as she let that sink in. Slowly, a small smile formed into a giggle at the strange coincidence the two gijinkas found themselves in. Her giggle infected Zaiden as the zoroark also chuckled. Their laughter disturbed no one, allowing them that brief moment of respite. When Nixie got her laughter under control, she spoke again:

"Close enough, I suppose. At least they don't sound virtually the same as in my case."

"That's true…" Zaiden studied the shorter gijinka before him. He felt a genuine liking for her, and he instinctively knew that she felt the same. He wanted to keep this conversation going but he wasn't sure what else to say. Eventually the zoroark gestured towards the bouquet apologetically, to show he meant no offense. "I'm assuming those flowers are for your boyfriend."

"Yes, yes they are."

Zaiden nodded several times as he considered this, his mind racing towards one thought. It was a risk, and he wasn't sure it would work since it seemed so crass and arrogant to the other gijinka. Like he had told Luka, lately his ideas bordered on lunacy. Yet this idea might be the craziest of all. While he had believed that he wouldn't be able to fall in love again and nobody could replace Nikki, perhaps he could try again with somebody who also knew the heart-wrenching sensations he dealt with. Nixie wouldn't completely replace Nikki and Zaiden mightn't completely replace Landen, but they didn't need to. They could start anew without the previous burdens they had to shoulder. The zoroark mentally argued with himself, though his deadpan expression showed no signs of it. Finally, his brain relented to his heart. "Would…would you like some company?"

Nixie actually started in surprise at the unexpected question. A small blush colored her cheeks, the light pink contrasting the pale blue nicely. A smile replaced her wonder as she suddenly found a great interest in her bouquet. "I…I think I'd appreciate that very much." Zaiden almost couldn't stop the smile on his face. Yet that wasn't enough. He still had the rest of the plan to enact. He paused a moment before tentatively asking:

"And if…if you're not doing anything after…" He got no further as he felt an icy hand slip into his. Somehow though, that sent a glow of warmth through his own hand. Light blue orbs stared into spheres a shade darker than them, yet those spheres reflected a gentleness that brightened them immensely. For an instant, both gijinka thought they saw their past significant others before them again. Then their minds cleared and allowed them to realize that now they could move on with the beginnings of a new life together, without the pain and regret of betrayal.

"I would love to."