They’ve been on the road for a few hours, sun blazing hot and not a cloud in sight, just like it’s been the past days since they left the last city they stopped at.
Neither of them had the will to loudly complain about the situation but they all knew that they were at the end of their rope soon — food cans slowly reducing in numbers, stations where they could refill their water getting scarce, and worst of all, Hokuto’s mood declining into hell on its own. Their only saving grace was Juri’s solar panel driven car.
He leans on the open window in the backseat of the car, trying to enjoy the slight breeze of wind he can from the movement of the car, not minding the half sunburn he might get on his exposed arm. It’s weirdly calming watching the surrounding pass by, even if it’s barely anything out there anymore. Rubbles of cities that once were glorious, streets that once shone with lights and life, places where people walked and kept dreaming and dreaming. It feels like yesterday but Hokuto knows that it’s been years.
It’s been years since the world collapsed, like a wave of nothingness sweeping over and turning it all upside down, cities are broken, countries divided, people scattered, and life on standby. A nightmare in broad daylight.
To Hokuto, it’s all been counting days until he can see Taiga again. They were once six, the imperfect kind of perfect group but amazing together, and he’d just collected the courage to let the older know about his long harbored feelings when the city alarm rang.
They ran to the city hall together, trying to find the others and their families, and when Taiga found his family, he hesitated to leave Hokuto.
“Go on,” Hokuto urged, biting the inside of his cheek. He didn’t want to leave him either but he had to find his own family, and he also knew how important Taiga was to his family too.
“I’ll find you later, okay?” he said as he tugged at Taiga’s sleeve, a desperate, subtle attempt to not let him go, even if he knew he had to, and he’s held onto that promise ever since then.
Because he never saw Taiga again after that.
He still believes that Taiga is somewhere out there, waiting for him, because he knows that what they could have been, would have been the best, undefeatable, and that’s how he managed to drag Juri and Shintaro with him on this ridiculous journey because Yugo and Jesse also disappeared with Taiga. Even if it’s been years since they heard anything from the others, Hokuto firmly believes that they’re out there, somewhere, and he’s determined to find them - to find Taiga. At any cost.
Juri rubs his eyes as he pulls over at an abandoned gas station, and Hokuto leans over to rub his shoulders as comfort, knowing very well that it’s taking a great toll on him to keep driving like this.
“I’ll drive next,” he says, and Juri only lets out a hum in agreement.
Shintaro is already out of the car, checking out the station when he shouts for them to join him.
“It’s working! The water is working!”
Hokuto gives him a small smile as he unloads their bag of empty bottles, and their portable mini fridge, watching how the youngest is jumping up and down in excitement. How he manages to exude that kind of energy is beyond Hokuto, but so is the way Shintaro wears sandals and shorts into winter too.
He does a quick test on the water first, making sure it’s safe to bottle up, and to their luck, it is. They down a bottle each of water on the spot, feeling hydrated again, and if they’re lucky, something edible might still remain at the station.
With some searching, they manage to salvage a few cans of food, their expiration date not passed yet, and while Hokuto thinks it’s probably stuffed with all sorts of different, weird, chemicals to make it last this long, it’s better than nothing. At the same time, he doesn’t know when this station got abandoned either. Considering the surprisingly clean state of it, and the fact all facilities still work, it might not have been that long ago. It makes him wonder if the owners left for a city or if they got wiped out.
When they head out on the road again, with Hokuto behind the wheel, it doesn’t take long until Juri passes out in the backseat, eyes half-open, and he can’t help but find it weirdly adorable, and if it wasn’t for the strong desire to find Taiga again, he’d believe this was just like any other road trip they’d done before.
Shintaro wakes Juri up when they spot the towering border of the city, and it feels surreal to see another city alive and somewhat stable - or so they believe at least because their city is on the verge of giving up. They park the car in a safe distance from the border, in case anything happens, but from what they see, it shouldn’t be a problem. The people around the borders are not dressed in any military clothes, unlike other places they’ve visited.
Their excitement and joy are short-lived though, as a ray of light shines down on them, and a thundering voice blasts out of a speaker, demanding them to identify themselves. Soon enough, they find themselves stripped bare on the other side of the wall, trapped between cold, metal walls, only to be handed new clothes to change into.
It all feels too sterile, too perfect, and Hokuto briefly wonders if this is what everyone has to go through the moment they cross the borders, and it’s, in his own opinion, a bit too controlling. Both Shintaro and Juri are relieved they’re not getting their ass kicked, and while Hokuto agrees on that, something doesn’t quite sit right.
He makes mental notes of the route they’re getting escorted through, and despite every wall and every corridor looking exactly the same, Hokuto trusts in his instincts and memory. If he has to get them out here single-handedly, then so be it.
They’re separated into small rooms, almost like a prison cell. Someone tells them it’s just protocol. It takes way too long before someone walks through the door, and even then, they’re looking like they’re here to dissect you, and Hokuto doesn’t want to entertain that thought much more.
He feels a shiver run down his spine, not sure if it’s because of the air conditioner, or because of his gut telling him that something is up, or because he’s getting very cranky.
He tries to initiate some kind of conversation with the white-clad people in the room, who stay at a comfortable distance from him as if he was some kind of foreign animal, but none of them respond.
"I'm cold, I'm tired, and I'm going to kill one of you unless you find me some coffee," he says as he visibly shudders, trying to prove his condition and make a point, but they keep ignoring him. It’s not quite a lie, he is cold, and he’s tired of the chitter-chatter that’s going on in front of him, either they include him, get rid of him, or just get the hell out of his sight. He also wants a damn cup of coffee. Like really badly.
He sighs loudly, sprawling himself over the small table in front of him, resting his cheek on the cold surface, barely noticing how the door opens once again, and the chatter dies down, replaced by polite tunes and words of respect.
The short, barely audible, acknowledging sound the new person makes is enough for Hokuto to whip his head up, and take a look at who walked through the door. The second his vision is focused after a moment of blinking, he sees him.
He sees blond hair, tied up in a half-ponytail, so bright compared to the dark, virgin hair Hokuto remembers running his hands through from time to time, he sees a chiseled jawline, cheekbones more prominent than before, the baby fat is all gone, all dressed in a clean-cut suit, not too far off from what he used to see him wear years ago.
Time goes in slow-motion as he stands up at the same time as Taiga turns around, eyes widening as he sees who’s in front of him. He drops the papers he’s holding, breath evidently stuck in his throat, and Hokuto doesn’t know what’s more stunning - the way Taiga’s eyes still shine brighter than any star in the night sky or how his lips form his name silently.
Taiga looks so much better than what he’s been imagining the past years and he doesn’t quite know what to say, words long gone, and he’s sure his brain stopped functioning too because all he can think of is Taiga. Only Taiga. Because he’s here. He finally found him.
He vaguely hears Taiga asking the others to leave the room, assuring them all that he’ll be fine. They all leave respectfully, bowing to Taiga before leaving the room, one after another. Hokuto suspects that Taiga is someone with a higher position, as he should be, and while it doesn’t really matter to Hokuto, it’s weird to realize that some things never change. That he was right all along. Taiga is still Taiga.
The moment they’re alone, Taiga speaks up, a small smile spreading over his face - happiness, relief, affection, hope.
“You found me,”