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like ghosts in the sun, like ghosts in the snow

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The day before the apocalypse begins, Oikawa stops Hajime in the fraction of a second it takes for him to turn towards the street by grabbing a section of the sleeve of Hajime’s jacket, shaking fingers clutched into blue-black fabric, and very quietly, like he’s scared that someone might overhear, he says, “Iwa-chan, I’m in love with you.”

 

It’s winter and the snow falls from the sky like powdered sugar from the bottom of a fine sieve. A generous layer of white covers the spaces between the wild flowers by the wall of Oikawa’s house and their leaves, some snow lightly dusting the petals and the smiling anthers like pollen in spring. The layer of grass underneath is invisible. Narumiya-san drives by them on the street in her scooter, and briefly, Hajime wonders how they must look. Two boys, one holding onto the other’s jacket sleeve and staring daggers into the ground and the other with his eyes shell-shocked as they bore into the wild flowers. It must be a strange picture.

 

Hajime turns. He’s surprised to see that Oikawa isn’t looking down at the ground and is, in fact, looking straight at him. It’s snowing enough that he’s muted and blurred, but his eyes cut through the snow like blades in the wind. They’re defiant, like they are when Oikawa is staring at an opponent across the net during a game or at a particularly tricky calculus question he can’t quite figure out. 

 

He’s also stiff like the snow on the threads of his coat has sunk through his skin and settled atop his brittle bones and the yellow marrow inside has soaked the cold in like a sponge. Even with a layer of moving snow in between them, it’s easy to tell that Oikawa’s lips are twisted into a grimace. 

 

“Did you hear me?” He asks. Amidst the snowfall, Hajime sees that the top of his ears are burning red. “I said I’m in love with you, stupid.”

 

Hajime has thought about this since he was fifteen, thought about the saccharine sweetness of Oikawa’s voice draped around the word love like a stubborn, thick coating of maple syrup, thought about how it would cut through his skin like a knife and crack his sternum like a whip and settle into his heart, but now that it’s here, he finds that it’s nothing like what he thought it would be.

 

It’s not soft and dreamy. There’s no sunshine and spring and cherry blossoms, there’s no Paul Anka singing Put Your Head on My Shoulder and the world doesn’t burst into fireworks. There’s just snow and the top of Oikawa’s red ears and the force of his fingers on Hajime’s jacket. It’s clumsy and awkward and Oikawa looks like he’s swallowed a slice of lemon. Also, he definitely just called Hajime stupid.

 

“I heard you the first time.” Hajime says. He thinks he’s burning up too, which is nothing short of humiliating. Then he adds, “I’m in love with you too, dumbass. Have been, for a while now.”

 

They’re seventeen years old. It’s fucking cold, even with all the layers they’re wearing, but the core of his heart feels like it’s been filled with liquid light when Oikawa’s lips part in a silent, oh . There’s a white cloud of mist where the words should be. His hands aren’t shaking anymore.

 

“Tomorrow.” Oikawa suddenly says, and his fingers move from the jacket until they’re curled around Hajime’s wrist. It’s warm, even though it’s over the fabric. “Let’s go on a date. Properly.”

 

His eyes aren’t defiant anymore: they’re caught between hope and surprise. Whatever is beyond him, the snow-covered streets and the starry sky and the moon smiling; it all must be beautiful, but Hajime wouldn’t know if the snow on the road melted into a mini ocean and the stars fell into the water and drowned in it, wouldn’t know if the moon broke into chunks and fell onto the ground like it’s raining silver blades. 

 

He’s just looking at Oikawa through a snowfall film, at his red ears and hopeful eyes, at his tense shoulders and the flakes of white in his messy hair. The entire world could fall apart and he wouldn’t care. 

 

“Okay,” Hajime says, and the corner of Oikawa’s lips curl up into a half-smile, genuine and warm like ocean waves at his ankles on the hottest day of summer even though it’s winter and blistering cold where they live. It’s a promise when he says, “Tomorrow, then.”

….

 

Their tomorrow does not come. Instead, Hajime wakes up at 10AM on the dot to find that the sun is bright and burning in the center of the bright blue sky scattered with white and grey clouds and that, miraculously, all the snow on the ground seems to have disappeared without a trace. It feels like a summer day although a cursory check on the calendar confirms that it’s mid-December. 

 

There’s a note from his mother on the kitchen table, right beside her keys and her phone. Her gun and badge are missing. Had to go to the station, something’s strange about today, it reads, in her messy, hurried scrawl, don’t go outside unless it’s important. Stay safe, Hajime. Be back soon. 

 

There’s a chorus of shrill screams down the street where the noodle house is, and Hajime sticks his head out the window just in time to see a thing sink its teeth into Hikaru-san’s neck. For a moment, the rest of the world melts away and he sees the spray of red where the thing’s teeth sink into Hikaru-san’s dainty neck, sees the way her lips part in a horrified scream that ricochets through the street like a grenade hitting the ground and exploding into a million pieces. She falls to the ground limply and the thing licks the blood off it’s dry mouth. 

 

And then the rest of the world comes to focus. Down the street, precisely from the direction of the cemetery, more things come into focus. Their skin is the same shade of hollow green and they all have blood on their mouths. There are people running from them. Some get bitten. Some get into their houses with their children. Some scream. It’s a scene straight out of those shitty zombie movies that Oikawa was fucking addicted to in junior high. Hajime can’t describe the fear that grips him like a vice. 

 

He’s dreaming. There’s no other explanation for this. He’s fucking dreaming, and if he pinches himself, he’ll wake up and it’ll be winter and his mother would have brought over noodles from Hikaru-san’s place and he’ll watch the streets fill up with laughing children and giddy adults and tired high schoolers and he’ll go on that stupid date with Oikawa and hold his hand and kiss him dumb until they have to go home. He’s dreaming and if he pinches himself, everything will be back to normal.

 

He pinches himself, hard, but the screaming continues outside, and it only becomes louder. 

 

Something’s strange about today. Don’t go outside. Stay safe, Hajime. Be back soon.

 

He opens his eyes to the sound of more screaming, shoves himself off the ground, locks all the doors and windows to his house, leaves Oikawa a voicemail to not go outside and let Hajime know that he’s alive, leaves a message on his mom’s phone to ask her what the fuck is going on, reaches out to Hanamaki and Matsukawa to make sure they’re in one piece, and then switches the television on. 

 

The news anchor, her hands clenched on the marble countertop where her papers are, grimly says, “Many think it’s an apocalypse. All citizens are advised to stay indoors until authorities give further instructions.”

 

Outside, dead-Hikaru-san passes by Hajime’s window, grey with a bloody mouth, and she bites into Nanabe-san like he’s tonkatsu atop her noodles. Dead-Nanabe-san gets up a few seconds after he’s discarded by Hikaru-san, and his face is grey and his eyes are yellow and veiny. The dead don’t stay dead anymore. It’s the end of the world. The things bite people and the people become the things .

 

It’s 10:13AM. Hajime is starting to draw blood where his nails are digging into the mass of muscle on his forearm he’s pinching, but he wills for it to be a horrible, terrible nightmare, and he doesn’t let go. 

….

 

Mid-afternoon, the streets clear. 

 

The things disappear further down the street and into the city, and the road where Hajime’s house is remains completely deserted by the time the sun takes its spot in the center of the sky. There’s just a whole lot of blood on the street where the people got bitten. In place of the screaming and the dead rising where they’d been dropped, there’s the wind rustling the green leaves of the trees and the emptiness that comes from being stranded. 

 

Hanamaki replies to his text an hour to noon. He’s awake, has been for a while, he has no idea what the fuck is happening, he’s with Matsukawa and they’re both barricaded upstairs in Hanamaki’s room. They’d seen a couple of people get eaten. His parents aren’t answering their phones and Matsukawa’s entire family is in Tokyo. Oikawa texts back in a while too: he’s been awake and he watched Hikaru-san get bitten and turn into a thing and he’s under his bed even though his doors are locked and the streets are empty. His parents are accounted for: they’re in the US with his sister and the little runt, and they’d called to check on him.

 

Hajime’s mother hadn’t come back. She didn’t answer her work phone when he called and it leaves a sour taste in his mouth. He’s not afraid to admit that he’s fucking terrified, but he hopes that she’s fine. He just wishes she’d taken her phone with her and answered when he called.

 

At one thirty, Hajime finds her gun stashed in one of the drawers in the living room, clicks it experimentally, and decides that he’s going two houses over to find Oikawa. He puts on his coat, shoves the gun into the pocket along with spare bullets with shaking hands, ties his shoes in asymmetrical bows, tells himself that it’s okay, it’s okay, the streets are empty, the news says the things move slow and you can outrun it, there’s no one there, it’s okay, it’s okay, you need to find Oikawa as he shoves his mother’s note into his pocket along with his phone, and only hesitates for a split second before he opens the front door. 

 

Hajime’s entire world is this street: it’s the road he walks to and from school everyday, Oikawa at his heels with some pretentious story or another. He knows all the houses lining both sides by heart. The people he’d watched rise from their own graves after being bitten are the people who’d ruffled his hair and told him he was a handsome high school student who made them proud. Hikaru-san always placed an extra helping of chashu on his noodles and placed an extra serving for Oikawa on the days when he smiled less. He’d picked up volleyball here, him on one side of the street and Oikawa on the other. His mother made him pose for pictures at the beginning of every school year by Nanabe-san’s rose bushes. 

 

And now, the street is deserted. Void of the people he’d grown to love, empty of the laughter and the brightness that used to be in every crevice and every corner even on the darkest of days. 

 

His heart is in his mouth the entire time he runs to Oikawa’s house. It takes him forty five seconds, at most, but it feels like time has turned into liquid. He can hear the thrum of his heart like it’s in the center of his brain and every pulse echoes in his ears individually. He looks over his shoulder once, twice, thrice. There’s nothing. The gun is cold even through the layers he’s wearing. It’s December and he thinks, Oikawa, I need to find Oikawa and braves forward even when he steps into a puddle of blood. 

 

He doesn’t have to knock or ring the doorbell. It opens as soon as he’s standing on the welcome rug and then there’s a hand, Oikawa’s hand, slender fingers connecting to pale knuckles connecting to a strong wrist, and the next thing he knows, he’s being tugged into the house with a strong grip on the front of his shirt. The door shuts behind him with a resounding slam. Oikawa’s hands are shaking.

 

The first thing he notices is that Oikawa is in an ugly tie-dye shirt with unholy art of Jesus with a penguin head printed on the center. His hair is sticking up in all directions and he’s still in his pajama pants. His face is pale and blanched like a peeled potato in hot water and his shoulders are as tense as a string of a guitar. He doesn’t let go of Hajime’s shirt even after the adrenaline from the run has settled and it dawns on him that it’s just him and Oikawa. No open street, no things . Just them.

 

“Iwa-chan,” Oikawa says, and his voice breaks, tapers off like the echo of pebbles dropping into the surface of a stagnant well, “Iwa-chan, what the fuck were you thinking? Why did you do that?”

 

“The streets were empty.” Hajime curls his own fingers around Oikawa’s wrist until the grip on his collar loosens. It’s warm where their skin meets, like a little piece of real summer instead of the faux one outside, and he holds Oikawa’s hand until he isn’t trembling anymore. “And I wanted to see you.”

 

“You idiot ,” Oikawa breathes, and Hajime looks at him and sees the exasperation and fondness in his eyes in equal measures and wills his stupid heart to beat in time instead of skipping one or two beats occasionally. 

 

“That’s my line,” Hajime says.

 

“You fucking dumbass ,” Oikawa says, and he hugs Hajime like they’re the last two people on earth, like everything else has disappeared and it’s just them in the hallway of Oikawa’s house. He exhales like he’s breathing air for the first time when Hajime twists his fingers into his hair and holds him. Their hearts are off-beat to one another. Oikawa’s words are a brush of air against the shell of Hajime’s ear when he says, “Don’t do that to me again, Iwa-chan.”

 

“I won’t,” Hajime murmurs. He lets his eyes flutter shut, nose pressed against Oikawa’s ugly tie-dye shirt that smells like cinnamon and happiness, and for a moment, just for a bare moment, as the hand of the clock pauses in the space between the lines separating a minute from another, everything feels okay.

….

 

It’s at nine in the evening when a delivery truck pulls up outside Oikawa’s house and Hanamaki stumbles out, dazed and exhausted, followed by a bleary-eyed Matsukawa who looks like he’s about to keel over and die in seconds if he doesn’t get water anytime soon. They’re both so tired that it shows on the lines of their faces when Oikawa opens the door to let them in. 

 

“I know we promised to go on that road trip after graduation and get shit faced on a shitty beach somewhere,” Hanamaki starts, “but the radio just said that the things are headed this way again, and that they know how to open doors, so let’s book it out of here and hit the fucking road.”

 

And so it goes. Hajime leaves his mother another message on her work phone as he leaves, telling her that it isn’t safe and that he’s headed somewhere with his friends and that they’ll drive safe and that she should do the same too, and stupidly, his voice catches in his throat when he says, I love you, mom

 

“Iwaizumi-san’s a tough cookie,” Matsukawa says. He squeezes Hajime’s shoulder and it’s comforting even in the dark. “She’ll be fine, and she’ll find us. She always does, doesn’t she?”

 

Oikawa offers him a hand when he’s put the last of the boxes into the truck. His hands are cold from the night air but his eyes are warm and reassuring. 

 

“We’ll be okay,” he says, and Hajime believes.

 

Twelve hours into the apocalypse, the four of them leave. Hanamaki drives and Matsukawa keeps him company in the passenger seat. It’s just him and Oikawa in the back of the truck along with the boxes of food and water, so he leans against Oikawa’s shoulder and slots their fingers together, like he should have done yesterday when the snow hadn’t disappeared and the world was still the way it should be. 

….

 

Out of the four of them, the first to kill a thing is Matsukawa. It’s strange because he doesn’t even scream as he does it: he just sees it coming straight at Hajime from a distance, its dead legs a steady thump-thump-thump-thump against the sunbaked concrete as it runs towards him, and where one look into its cold hard eyes rimmed red and white and sclera aged and yellow stills Hajime and freezes him solid even as Hanamaki and Oikawa scream at him to move, Iwaizumi, fucking move, Iwa-chan from the back of the truck, loud enough to startle the crows from the top of the trees and the phone lines, Matsukawa just merely runs until he’s between Hajime and the thing and slits its throat.

 

And all of a sudden, it’s so silent that it hurts. Matsukawa doesn’t scream and neither does the thing , but his hands are fucking shaking as he tears his knife away and jumps backwards to escape the spray of dead, clotted blood that forms an arc in the fake-summer sky. Then he pauses, half a second or even less, and he turns, grabs Hajime by the wrist, and says, “Come on, let’s get out of here,” in a tone that implied that his mind was miles away. 

 

He has blood on his own neck, the thing’s blood that had splattered onto the pale skin stretched taut over his Adam's apple, and long after the streets are empty and they’re in their truck, his hands shake too much to wipe it away on his own. It’s Hajime who took the rag from him and wiped the blood clean until Matsukawa looked like himself again. When all the blood is gone, Hajime hesitates only for a split second before hugging the other boy tight enough for his ribs to creak, like they’re in first year again and muffling their tears into each other’s shoulders after a crushing defeat at the hands of Shiratorizawa because they didn’t want anyone else to know how frustrated they were.

 

“Thank you, Issei,” Hajime says. The words are muffled into his hair and it feels like he’s swallowed a boulder. 

 

“It was dead already,” Matsukawa murmurs, and his hands are shaking when he clenches his fingers into the material of Hajime’s coat. He’s repeating the words that the voice on the radio says while talking about what to do during an encounter. “I just put it to rest.” 

 

The thing is, it’s impossible to exist on Earth without leaving a few traces behind. Every human leaves their mark, whether it’s on the bench they sit on in a park to exist in loneliness, whether it’s on the stranger they brush against on the train. Some people leave behind friends and family and loved ones. The things aren’t human anymore, but once upon a time, they must have been. They must have had their benches and their strangers and their mark. 

 

It’s not Matsukawa who cries. Instead, seven hours later when they’re on the highway in the pitch darkness of the night and Matsukawa is fast asleep under Hanamaki’s jacket a few feet from him, it’s Hajime who presses the heels of his palm to his eyes and thinks Issei has that dead man on his conscience because of you, because of you, because of you and cries until the spaces between his heart and his lungs feel normal again. 

 

He makes the mistake of thinking that Oikawa might be fast asleep by the time he crawls under the blanket next to him. They always sleep like this, Hajime facing one side and Oikawa facing the other though they’re under the same blanket, and he always wakes up with Oikawa’s nose pressed against the nape of his neck and his arm over his waist. 

 

Instead, he finds that he’s wrong about that too. Oikawa doesn’t turn, but he says, “It wasn’t your fault, Iwa-chan,” quiet like he’d said, “Iwa-chan, I’m in love with you,” the day before the world ended. 

 

He bites the inside of his cheek, blinks away the microscopic sheen of tears glazing his eyes and doesn’t respond. It’s a long, long night, and the three of them let Matsukawa sleep in the next morning.

….

 

The things keep multiplying and adapting. The only way to escape them is to drive like hell is behind their stolen delivery truck, stopping in deserted districts to restock their supplies and fill up the gas tank, and to never look back. 

 

In the two months they spend like that, confined to the truck and driving past places they’ve never seen before, Hajime learns a lot. He learns that the one and a half minute it takes to fill up a gas tank lasts for eternity in an open area where the things could come running straight at them any minute. He learns how to shoot the gun. He learns how to drive the truck so he and Hanamaki could drive in shifts, him in the passenger seat when Hanamaki drove and Hanamaki sprawled unceremoniously in the back of the truck under the blankets when he did.

 

When it’s Oikawa’s turn to keep him company, they play I-Spy and hold hands around the gear shift knob. It’s the middle of an apocalypse and the reassuring squeeze Oikawa gives his fingers from time to time makes his heart feel like it’s been cored like an apple and filled with the sunlight that comes after a long period of heavy rain. 

 

He learns that Oikawa mumbles in his sleep and that Matsukawa doesn’t sleep often since he killed his first thing and that Hanamaki still calls his parents every night in hopes that they answer their phones. He learns that Matsukawa can run with upto five cartons of water at a time and that Oikawa could pick any lock if he had a piece of wire or a baseball bat and that Hanamaki had better aim than he did with the gun. He learns to be a light sleeper and that one of them should always stay guard in case the things appear when they’re resting. 

 

He learns that there’s nowhere to go except forward. If they look back, they slow down, and slowing down isn’t an option when hell burns at the wheels of their stolen truck, the thump-thump-thump of the thing’s feet echoing like pebbles falling into stagnant water on the surface of a well.

….

 

The end of the world should have come with a purple sky the color of a day-old bruise and red lightning like the veins on the grape vines in his father’s hometown. It should have come with a giant wave of tsunami that drowned the buildings they’d spent millions on, drowned the people and filled them with saltwater and pushed them under until all that remained was their bodies dredged in the sea bed. It should have come with rain that never stopped and thunder that roared until everyone left was deaf.

 

Instead, the world ends mid-December, no snow and no disaster, the sky as clear as the warmest day of summer.

 

Summer is Hajime’s favorite season: summer meant that he could go to the ocean, which meant that he could surf and rope his mother into swimming with him. Summer meant watermelon popsicles and volleyball on the beach with Matsukawa and Hanamaki and Oikawa. It meant going over to Oikawa’s house to play with Nori even though he wasn’t his dog and spending the days lazing in Oikawa’s room while playing video games and messing with Takeru. Summer is good.

 

But this summer isn’t. This summer isn’t real . It’s supposed to be winter and he’s supposed to carry an extra scarf with him because Oikawa always forgets his. It’s winter and he’s supposed to stand at the bus stop with his shoulder pressed to Oikawa’s, no distance between them because of the cold. It’s winter and he’s supposed to watch the red on the top of Oikawa’s ears and his stupid cheeks and the tip of his nose and think, oh, that’s kind of cute.

 

Instead, it’s fake-summer and he’s helping Oikawa take inventory of the things they’ve managed to keep in the back of the truck.

 

“We’re low on water,” Oikawa says, shaking the thermos he carries around. It doubles as a weapon: Hajime has seen him slam the thermos against a thing’s jaw and cleanly dislocate it. “And Mattsun ate the last of the Pocky last week.”

 

He sounds more distressed about the Pocky than the water. It’d be funny if it wasn’t sad: they haven’t gotten to eat a lot of sweet things since the apocalypse began, instead surviving on noodles cooked over the portable stovetop and dried fruits stolen from nameless convenience stores, and Hajime knows that Oikawa’s sweet tooth is barely tolerating it at this point. He says he dreams about milk bread and Hajime’s mother’s chocolate chip cookies with the toffee chunks in them and that he misses his mother’s chocolate pudding more than anything else in the world. It’s why Hajime had let Oikawa have his share of the Pocky sticks. He never liked sweet things anyway.

 

“Maybe we’ll find some in the next town,” Hajime muses. He shuts the lid of the box labeled CONTAINS SHRIMP DON’T FEED MAKKI HE’LL BE SICK with a variety of exclamation points and crooked biohazard signs and scribbles twelve next to the name on the sheet. “Hopefully it’ll be enough that we don’t have to split again.”

 

Oikawa hums. There’s nothing in the truck save for the sound of wheels grinding against the tar and the steel creaking from the bumps of the roads. Shift up, and shift down. Through the glass divider, Hajime sees that Matsukawa is laughing at something Hanamaki says, one hand over his mouth and the other punching Hanamaki’s shoulder. He wishes he could hear it, but he can’t.

 

“Iwa-chan,” Oikawa starts, his knuckles turning white around the thermos, eyes bright in the dim light of the truck, “do you think it’ll ever end?”

 

It was Oikawa who had looked down at him from the truck two months ago and said, we’ll be okay , it was Oikawa who heard him cry and said, it wasn’t your fault , it was Oikawa who had always said, there’s next time, whenever they got their asses handed to them on the volleyball court, it was always Oikawa who said, I’ve got your back, every time they’re planning an elaborate scheme to steal from Oikawa-san’s cookie jar, it was Oikawa who always, always stayed.

 

He wants to reassure him, but he can’t lie either.

 

“I don’t know,” he finally says. It’s horrible and he hates how resigned he sounds, but there isn’t much he can do about it. “I don’t know, Oikawa.”

 

Outside, the birds don’t sing anymore. 

 

There’s a split second where it’s just the grating sound of wheels on tar and steel clenching against steel, and then Oikawa puts a gentle, warm hand on Hajime’s cheek like they’re in a Nancy Meyers film instead of an apocalypse, and the rest of the world stutters and stumbles and bleeds out into nothing at the contact. He runs his thumb over the aged scar that Hajime has on the side of his lips from the time he was eleven and had fallen off a tree and he’s so close that Hajime can count the individual dots and freckles scattered on his face like dispersed stars on a cloudless night.

 

Their noses brush. Oikawa’s eyes are bright and it reminds Hajime of their houses, forty five seconds apart, and reminds him of the snow and the red at the top of his ears and a loud, assertive, I’m in love with you, stupid . It reminds him of how he’s looked at those eyes almost every day since he was five years old and struggling to say his own name. It reminds him that forever is long and the time beyond that is even longer, but everyday since the world ended and took everything they had and forced them to the streets, Oikawa is still there.

 

“It’s okay as long as I have you,” Oikawa says, and then he kisses him, clumsy and summer-warm, and for a moment, nothing else matters.

….

 

It’s the last day of February when the apocalypse ends. 

 

It starts snowing that morning and none of them have enough layers, so they huddle around the radio with their bodies pressed together under the flimsy blanket they used to sleep on. Hanamaki is stuck to Hajime’s side like a leech and he’s clutching Oikawa’s sleeve where his hand is carelessly tossed over Hajime’s stomach, knuckles blotched red. Oikawa is on Hajime’s other side and he’s got his face buried in the crook of his neck while shivering like a weed in the desert wind. Matsukawa is wrapped around Oikawa like a fucking vice and his teeth are chattering. 

 

“Let’s never talk about this again,” Hanamaki says. “I don’t think I’ll survive if people have to hear about how we fucking cuddled under the same blanket because it started fucking snowing out of nowhere two months after the world ended.”

 

“No one is proud of this,” Oikawa mutters. “I don’t want to be known as the guy who cuddled Hanamaki Takahiro for body heat either.”

 

“Shut the fuck up,” Hajime says, because it’s fucking cold and they’re not helping. Matsukawa makes some sort of noise that must be agreement, and it’s all quiet for a while.

 

Twenty minutes later, the radio crackles to life, and the static voice announces that the end of the world has passed, that the things are gone, and that the world was theirs again, and everyone stops breathing for a split second.

 

It’s over doesn’t feel real. They’ve lived months like this, on the road with hell at their heels and slamming the things against walls and running as fast as their legs could carry them. Matsukawa killed someone, for fuck’s sake. To think that it’s over precisely as it began, in silence and in snow, all of a sudden with no warning, feels harrowing, to say the least.

 

Hanamaki is the one who unlatches the truck and steps out first, his hand gripped in Matsukawa’s. 

 

And it’s empty.

 

There’s no thing for miles. There’s no blood and screaming. Instead, there’s a thin layer of snow on the ground, like powdered sugar from the bottom of a fine mesh sieve, covering the spaces between the grass and the petals of the wild flowers. There’s people coming out of trucks, dazed and disoriented, and there’s light. 

 

There’s so much light.

 

Hajime stumbles out and the cold hits him like a tidal wave, his toes curling into the snow, but he doesn’t flinch or wince or scream. He just stands there, and he stares at the bright, bright world unblinkingly, like it might disappear if he closes his eyes for too long. 

 

On the day when the apocalypse ends, it snows like the sky is crying frozen tears after months of holding it in, and Hajime is about to turn to the street when he feels Oikawa’s shaking fingers curl into his sleeve like it’s the day before the apocalypse began. Then, very quietly, like he’s not afraid of being overheard but wants the moment to stay in the snowy spaces between them, he says, “Told you we’d be fine, Iwa-chan.”

 

He’s seen better days. Oikawa’s shirt is torn and his jacket is stained with dirt and filth. His hair is messy and he has dried blood on his wrists. He’s so tired that the bags underneath his eyes stick out like grey, dead moons, but he’s smiling, and Hajime can still tell where the moles and dots and freckles on his face are, can still map them out even though he’s far enough. He’s beautiful. There’s just no other way to put it. He’s beautiful, and bridging the gap between them is the easiest thing Hajime has ever done.

 

“I believed you from the start, dumbass,” he says, and the snow settles onto the outline of their figures like silhouettes cutting into a background, and he kisses Oikawa with a gentle palm splayed on his cheek, resting atop the freckle where another person would have a dimple. 

 

When he pulls away, the top of Oikawa’s ears are burning red. He laughs and it’s almost swallowed by the freedom in the air, and he pulls Oikawa close, twisting his fingers into his hair and closing his eyes, and everything is finally, finally okay again.