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Melted Snow

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Hide had never been very knowledgeable when it came to symbolism, -that had always been more of Kaneki’s thing,- it was only natural, he supposed; he’d always preferred climbing trees or hanging out with friends over sitting down and reading something. He’d always needed some form of motivation in order to finish the books they’d been assigned in Literature over the years, and even then, he rarely finished them. Heck, more than half of his Literature work had been done by Kaneki (a process that required lots of begging, and promises to buy him that new book he wanted, or a trip to the nearest coffee shop).

However, there had always been one thought of his that Hide considered to be sort of symbolic: Kaneki was snow.

Even when he first met Kaneki, Hide had mentally compared his silvery grey eyes to the stormy clouds that usually accompanied the beautiful phenomenon of nature, and his pale skin to the soft snowflakes that fell from the sky, littering the ground in deceivingly comfortable mounds. He was sure that he wasn’t the first to arrive to this conclusion, he wasn’t the only person Kaneki hung out with, after all, and those were some of the most memorable aspects of his quiet friend.

But Kaneki’s similarities to the cold mark of winter ran much deeper than just his appearance, it was also reflected in his attitude. He was quiet, always in the background even in the more festive of occasions; he was gentle, with a careful touch that you didn’t always notice, even when you were prepared for it (Hide had once teased him about it, and he'd laughed at Kaneki’s responding blush); even the tiny fact that he always felt cold, and wore long sleeves throughout the whole year were big signals. But most importantly: he was calm, always being the gentle balance to Hide’s matter-of-fact and at times brash nature.

Hide had always been captivated by Kaneki’s mannerisms, how he could stay quiet for hours straight as long as he had a book with him; how he always waited exactly two minutes after his coffee had been made before he had his first sip (he never liked getting burns); how he’d always nervously scratch his cheek whenever he was asked for his opinion; but most importantly to Hide, how he always reserved his smiles for him. Never once had he caught the anxious, raven-haired bookworm smiling at anyone else, he’d twitch his lips into an imitation of one, and occasionally laugh along if the situation called for it, but the real smiles, the ones that reached his eyes and set them alight with joy, those were always cause by Hide. It was an accomplishment he would boast about if it wasn’t so precious.

He himself had always been linked with the sun, his vibrant hair and outfits being the first, and more obvious of the reasons for his comparison, but there was also his constantly positive attitude, his habit of yelling out whatever came to his mind, his natural ability to comfort others just by being there, and most notably: his smile.

Kaneki himself had called him out on it a few times, after a discussion about symbolism in novels when they’d been studying gothic horror back in middle school, as well as when they’d taken up poetry, and had peer reviewed each other’s work (Hide couldn’t even really remember what either of their poems were about, he just remembered asking Kaneki about the usage of the word, and him being linked to it).

They had always been a pair. Sun and snow, one warm and reassuring, the other calm and quiet, completely different, but inseparable at the same time.

Until nature drove them apart.

Hide could never express with words the regret that he felt whenever he thought about that night. The ecstatic phone call from Kaneki, his elation at being given a shot to finally have what he wanted, to have something he thought to be unattainable, had lifted Hide’s spirits as much as it’d sunken them. He wanted to be happy for his friend, but something about the situation seemed off to him. In hindsight, he cursed himself for never asking for more details, for letting Kaneki imitate him and rush into something without thinking about it first. He should have been there to hold him back and apply logic to the situation, like Kaneki had done to him so many times, and told him to wait a little, he should’ve listened to his instinct. But his friend was happy and he deserved it more than anyone, so he ignored it and told him to go through with the date.

That night was the last time he ever turned on the news.

When he first arrived at the hospital to visit, he’d almost broken down into tears at the sight of his best friend lying still on the hospital bed, skin as pale as the sheets covering him, looking tired and drained, and every bit the child that the world had never allowed him to be. But he waited until he was back home before he let himself cry, Kaneki already had enough on his plate, he didn’t need to worry about him.

The next few weeks he tried his hardest to make Kaneki smile again, the trip to Big Girl (another thing Hide beat himself up over), the invitations to hang out after school, even offering Kaneki his notes, as bad and inaccurate as they were, just so he could check up on his friend after the horrible experience he’d gone through. But it was hopeless, Kaneki had built up a wall around him that not even Hide could break through, for the first time in his life, he truly felt like he and Kaneki were from different worlds, sunshine and snow, not allowed to meet.

As bad as it sounded, he was actually kind of grateful for Nishiki’s attack, at least he got the reassurance that Kaneki still cared about him, even if the entire experience had been filled with terror, and not something he wanted to experience ever again.

After that day, Hide realized that there really was no point in trying to breach into Kaneki’s world again. It was a place he didn’t belong, and he knew putting himself in danger would only put more stress into the already distressed ghoul. He could only hope that the people at Anteiku would be enough, and that Kaneki wouldn’t cut him off completely.

The first few months after the attack, things were pretty good; Kaneki would sit down with him during lunch (Hide never bringing attention to the fact that he never ate anything, or the bruises and scars he sometimes spotted whenever Kaneki’s sleeves rolled up), and they would share notes after class. Whenever Hide didn’t have to go to his tutoring, or part-time job, he would go to Anteiku and talk to his friend there. The staff were friendly (it was so hard not to flinch when he first saw Nishiki working behind the counter), and he was glad that Kaneki finally had other people than him to hang out with (he would constantly deny the feelings of sadness he felt when Kaneki would genuinely smile at someone who wasn’t him). for the first time in a while, Hide sort of felt like their worlds were intertwining again, going back to the harmonious balance they used to have.

Then Kaneki went missing.

Hide never got all of the details, but he knew that the destruction he’d seen couldn’t have been caused by a gas explosion, no matter how much the Anteiku staff insisted upon it. All he knew and -all he really needed to know- was that Kaneki was missing, and that the Aogiri Tree had taken him (he was never more thankful for Hinami’s habit of nervous rambling, he was also never more thankful for his foresight of slipping a tracker onto Jason when he ran into him).

After he’d gotten as much as he could out of the Anteiku ghouls (and by that, he meant pressing Hinami for details without sounding too desperate or suspicious), he threw himself into learning as much as possible about the organization that kidnapped his friend. He spent what little free time he had praying at shrines; he’d never really been religious, but at this point, he’d give a million souls to the devil to make sure that Kaneki returned to him safe and sound.

It was unbelievably hard to give his tip to the CCG without letting them know that the person he cared the most about in the world was in their custody, he’d been quite tempted to mention it at least once, but he knew that it wouldn’t prioritize the case, and if they did find Kaneki, they'd realize he was a ghoul and would probably terminate him even before setting him free.

He also found out pretty soon that Kaneki was, to Hide’s horror and dread, being watched by Yakumo “Jason” Oomori.

At first, he’d been glad the tracker had a built-in microphone, But after the first sessions of Kaneki screaming and wailing in agony, -nearly drowning out Jason’s demented laugh and the rattling of chains- Hide had to lock himself in the bathroom for almost two hours, vomiting and jamming his hands into his ears, trying to block out the noises of his best friend screaming for mercy at the hands of the psychopath who made even the most experienced workers of the CCG tremble.

After a week of barely getting sleep and failing class, Hide finally received news of the CCG’s move to break into Aogiri’s headquarters. It didn’t matter that he’d been in the middle of a shift, he cried for almost an hour before he finally pulled himself together in order to continue working.

As soon as he was dismissed, he rode his bike as close as he could to Aogiri’s HQ, using the binoculars he’d gotten as a joke from Kaneki when they were kids (the memory of those simpler times made Hide’s chest ache), he tried to keep himself updated on the action, only later recognizing Touka, figuring that Anteiku must be raiding Aogiri too.

The raid lasted too long, Hide had almost given up hope that Kaneki was still even alive (he hadn’t been able to listen to another one of Jason’s “sessions” after the first few), until he finally saw Touka stand up in shock as she conversed with a white-haired figure. It took Hide a painfully long time to realize that the person Touka was pleading with talking to was the shy bookworm that Hide had once spent hours joking and fooling around with.

Kaneki.

Hide knew, then and there, that his friend had become so cold, not even his sunlight would be able to warm him.

He’d hoped expected that after the Aogiri raid, Kaneki would come back into their simple routine: going to class with Hide, working at Anteiku, trying to figure out how to tell him that he’d known about the ghoul thing for months, you know, life as usual.

But all they’d gained from the raid was the crushing realization that Kaneki was truly gone, and couldn’t be brought back.

Hide wouldn’t stand for this, Kaneki had been taken because of his fear for his friends’ safety, including Hide’s. The fact that his friend had worried about him, to the point that he put himself through all that pain just to keep him safe, told Hide that he needed to become stronger, he also had to find his friend, and there was only one way he could achieve both of those things: joining the CCG.

So he did, he quit his old job, (not giving his boss much of a reason why besides, “The work’s kinda getting to me”, he supposed it was kind of true), and applied, he got the job surprisingly fast. Apparently, the demand for errand boys at big companies was bigger than he thought, (he’d have to keep that in mind if he ever decided to quit). It was a bit of a pain, having to run around all day carrying papers and delivering notes, but Hide understood how these places worked, it was all about working your way to the top, and if it meant he had to spend his entire day being bossed around by pricks who wanted his best friend dead, then he’d keep at it.

He supposed his previous knowledge of the Aogiri Tree was enough to earn him a few promotions, since according to his colleagues it was rare to see somebody get promoted so much in such a short while. Even Amon-san was kind of impressed, if his “keep up the good work”s were anything to go by.

The entire time he worked, he kept his ears peeled for any mention of a white-haired ghoul wearing an eyepatch, never really sure if he should feel disappointed or relieved at the lack of information.

Then, out of nowhere, the reports began to pour in, and Hide still couldn’t decide if he should be happy or scared for his friend.

“Eyepatch was spotted by the 11th ward with members of the Aogiri Tree, be on guard!” “Eyepatch sighting has been confirmed!” “Sir, Eyepatch and Black Rabbit are in pursuit!”

They were everywhere.
Hide supposed if there was one thing he should be thankful for, it would be that with the sudden workload the units had received, he’d finally been allowed to perform in the field, even if he was still inexperienced and wasn’t allowed to use a quinque (he was actually quite glad for that, he couldn’t imagine the idea of holding the remains of something he now knew once had a life).

He’d actually seen Kaneki out in public once, the revelation shocking Hide so much he had to skip work the day after.

Kaneki’s once raven locks had turned as white as the snow Hide had once linked him to, his skin paling enough to match, his nails were now a dark black (Hide kept telling himself it was nail polish, even though he knew better) he still wore a simple, medical eyepatch over his left eye, but it didn’t cover his right, so Hide could see that Kaneki’s silver eyes had hardened to an unbendable steel, cutting anything it focused on.

Hide couldn’t believe that that person had once been his best friend.

Kaneki was now ice. Cold, harsh, and cutting. All of the gentle quietness that had linked him to snow had been cut out by Jason’s merciless hands and tools, they’d cut out Kaneki, and replaced him with this cold being that showed the world no mercy.

Hide was quite glad that there were so many people that Kaneki hadn’t noticed him, because he couldn’t stand the idea of being caught by that gaze. He didn’t want to see his best friend looking at him like that.

That night, Hide had to question himself, was he really the sun, like other once called him? If so, he should’ve been able to save Kaneki and keep him warm amongst the cold cruelty and madness of the ghoul world. He should’ve been able to keep him from slipping into the frigid waters of insanity. He should’ve been able to keep him safe.

All he’d done was let him down.

And so it continued, Hide kept working, and kept an ear out for any more mentions of Eyepatch, as well as for any dove activity in the 20th ward (the place meant so much to Kaneki, the least Hide could do was keep an eye on the place after he’d let him down so many times.)

When mentions of Eyepatch possessing a Kakuja form began to travel throughout the office, Hide had to be sent home early after nearly passing out during work.

Kaneki, his Kaneki, was out there, cannibalizing ghouls to the point where he’d become a monster amongst his own kin.

Stupid, Hide told himself They’re not his kin, Kaneki’s not a ghoul, he’s human.

He might be, but Eyepatch wasn’t, and unfortunately, the CCG couldn’t tell one apart from the other.

Finally, the Owl Suppression Operation came around. Hide was at the end of his sanity, but he knew he didn’t have a choice. He’d have to destroy Kaneki’s safe haven.

----------------------------------------------------

It was absolute madness.

Hide had never gotten a quinque, and being sent to the field with only a gun whilst facing hordes of A-rank to SSS-rank ghouls was even worse than a suicide mission. This was the most guaranteed death sentence anyone could receive.

There was so much blood. All the bodies, both ghoul and human, were littering the once peaceful streets. All he could hear were the screams of agony and terror as more and more corpses began to pile on the pavement. Almost like snow.

Hide ran about, trying not to get killed, either by friendly fire, or one of the enraged, blood-thirsty Aogiri ghouls that were still wandering around, looking for a meal.

Guess he wasn’t careful enough, since next thing he knew, he was looking at a tall ghoul wearing a long white coat, and one of the most terrifying scarred faces he’d ever seen. If Hide hadn’t already seen so much death and mutilation, that ghoul’s face would’ve haunted his nightmares.

Not that it mattered, he could tell since the beginning that the blow he’d received was fatal, the only reason the ghoul didn’t finish the job was because it had gotten its attention drawn by some other doves, he knew he was a coward, but Hide wanted to see the coffee shop at least one more time before it got destroyed.

Ignoring the pain in his side, and the warm trickling of blood, Hide made the slow trek through the streets he’d once visited on an almost daily basis, the units hadn’t reached this area yet, since most of the ghoul concentration was back at the center. The little coffee shop would be left alone for a little longer.

----------------------------------------------------

Stepping into the café, he noticed that, apart from a few knocked over tables, the place was practically identical to how he remembered it, if the lights weren’t off he could almost pretend everyone was taking a break, or it was a slow day with almost no customers.

After going through a couple of the fonder memories he had of the place, Hide came to the realization that he’d never actually tried to make coffee in the shop before.

“We can’t have that now, can we?” Hide asked himself (a habit he’d picked up a little after Kaneki had been taken by Aogiri), letting out a pained noise as the movement caused his wound to bleed more than it already was.

He set to work, pulling out the ground coffee beans, the kettle, and the coffee filter for the actual teapot the coffee was going in, finding everything with the help of the streetlights that were (miraculously) still on outside. Hide attempted to make coffee based of what he’d seen the staff do when he still went there. Quickly, he realized that the ghouls made it seem a lot easier than it actually was. He'd had to scrap the first batch of coffee beans because he'd ended up putting too many, then he couldn’t find more filters, or he'd ended up dropping something because his wound started throbbing, it was honestly really annoying.

Finally, after more failed attempts than he would like to admit, Hide had everything down. Now he was just waiting for the kettle to finish heating up the water, the pain in his side a lot more constant and noticeable than it had been before, but he kept himself from wincing, remembering that he’d seen people go through way worse.

A sudden jingling of a bell broke the calm silence and almost made Hide drop the kettle. He heard the quiet padding of footsteps walking to the windows that made up the right wall of the café. The initial trepidation he’d felt at first quickly settled down when he spotted the somewhat familiar white hair and pale skin.

White as snow.

Hide was kind of glad that he’d used enough coffee beans for two cups, remembering how much Kaneki liked coffee. (Did he still like it? Or had that changed along with everything else Hide knew about Kaneki?) Pouring the hot water into the filter, he internally snorted at how coincidental this whole thing was. What were the odds that the two of them would end up going at the same destination at the right times, so that it almost looked like it had been scripted? Like the ending to a tragic story, with the protagonist as the victim.

He hadn’t been noticed yet, (although he could sense that Kaneki was tense, and could smell the higher concentration of the metal smell in the air, he was also injured) though the second the china sweetly clinked against each other, the other was gasping and turning around, immediately in a defensive stance. Hide calmly picked up the cups, and made his way around the counter to the table, trying not to falter in the face of his old friend.

“Tell you what, making coffee’s a whole lot harder than it looks.”

The light of a passing helicopter illuminated the room for a few seconds, but it was enough for Hide to see the look of shock and recognition on his friend’s face, as well as hearing the small gasp.

He kept walking, not letting himself stumble.

He finally looked into his friend’s mismatched eyes (so beautiful, reflecting purity and taintedness side by side), and let his lips curl up into their natural reassuring smile.

“Hey, it’s been a while.”

They stared each other down, Kaneki’s shock so clear (he’d never been good at hiding his emotions, Hide off-handedly recalled his friend’s habit of touching his chin whenever he lied), as if he’d come across a specter.

Finally, the ghoul snapped out of his stupor, flinching down and covering his left eye with one hand, soft sniffling and sobbing audible across the café. Hide let his smile fall, and looked down as well, feeling dismal as he realized that his friend probably thought he was a monster that had to hide from everyone, even the person closest to him.

Shaking away his own despair and letting his face fall into a blank expression, he let himself do what he did best: comfort.

“It’s okay, I know.”

Kaneki stiffened, sobs quieting down, but still trembling. He looked up, eyes still shaded, and still not making eye contact, but at least he wasn’t looking at the floor anymore.

A small, mirthless smile decorated Hide’s face.

“I’ve always known.”

Drip, drip

He felt more blood dripping down his wound, and he thought he could see a little drip onto the floor near Kaneki, but he chose to ignore it, placing one of the cups on the table near the other, and turning around to face the window.

“I’m warning you, it might not taste very good,” voice raspy as he stared at the street without really seeing it. He took a small sip, and cringed at the sour, burnt taste that filled his mouth, a small noise of disgust slipping past his lips.

“Yeah, it’s pretty nasty, I wouldn’t drink it if I were you,” he added, lifting his tone as an attempt at lightening up the atmosphere, turning around to see his friend still hunched over, covering his eye.

“Guess I should’ve known it wouldn’t be that easy,” he muttered, looking dejectedly at the floor again. This wasn’t some scuffle with Kaneki's family, this wasn’t somebody picking on him, this was torture Kaneki had gone through! Isolation, the feeling of having no one who could help you, Hide didn’t know how to cure that.

A sudden memory of a glasses-wearing punk, with orange hair and an attitude gave him an idea.

“Oh! Hey, remember when you first met Nishio? That bastard beat the ever loving crap out of me that day.”

That got a reaction, Kaneki was even more stiff now, horror clearly reflected in his posture, Hide kept going.

“Yeah,” he leaned his weight against the table, taking some stress off the wound, “I tried playing dead but Nishio wasn’t showing me any mercy, I can’t even begin to tell you how I scared I was,” (for Kaneki, not himself), “That was the closest I’ve ever come to dying,” he stood up again, nervously scratching his ear, “…well, at least till today, heh.”

He took a small pause for breath, looking back at the window just as another passing helicopter illuminated the window (out of the corner of his eye, Hide could spot Kaneki doing the same), he looked back at the table before continuing.
“Kaneki, you put your life on the line in order to save me, thank you for that,” finally, the two made eye contact again, at least he'd managed that much.

Drip, drip

“There was something about the folks at Anteiku, everyone was full of life, ya know, always smiling,” the memories flooded his mind, quick flashes of laughter and light, of the smell of brewing coffee, and of friendly chatter passed through him.

“And you fit right in, you’d finally found a place where you belonged,” he let some of his relief slip into his words, he was honestly happy that his friend had found joy, even if he wasn’t a part of it, “You were happy, I wanted to do whatever I could to keep it that way. I tried my best, I really did. But who would’ve thought that things would’ve ended like this?”

Truthfully, who would’ve? Who could’ve orchestrated a tale as melancholy and twisted as this? He wondered, as he glanced back at the cold expression in his friend’s steely eyes, trying not to show how it much it affected him.

Another breathless chuckle.

“I wanted to help, so you wouldn’t have to take the burden on all by yourself, you see, you don’t always have to be the hero, Kaneki,” he reprimanded jokingly, memories of all the times the other had said something similar passing through his mind.

A sad smile graced the other’s lips, looking down again, “Thanks,” it wasn’t much, it wasn't even genuine, but it was the first thing he’d heard his friend say in months, so he’d take it.

Drip, drip

He forced himself to walk, even though he could barely feel his legs as they dragged behind him slightly.

“You’ve become quite the celebrity, my friend,” he managed to grit out, focusing on bridging the gap between the two of them, “Wanna know your codename?” He covered his left eye, mirroring the other, “The Eyepatch,” he growled out, jokingly referencing the tone other doves adopted when mentioning the name, “Ha ha, funny huh?”

Hide was internally jumping up and down in glee as he saw Kaneki smile and let out a small sound many would’ve thought was just a quick exhale, but he recognized as laughter, motivated by this small success, he kept going:

“Told ya, you’re more hip than me,” he pouted childishly, overdramatizing it for the sake of getting a few more laughs.

Bingo.

It started out as a small chuckle, slowly gaining more energy, turning into a sad, broken laugh that was as beautiful as it was devastated. Hide wondered how long it had been since the last time the half-ghoul had actually laughed.

He grinned, glad to have succeeded. But it was quickly overrun by the wave of pain that flowed through him. Grimacing, he looked down at his wound.

Splat! Splat!

It was no longer a few drops, now it was a constant stream of the red, vital fluid. He gasped and grunted, legs giving out and sending him tottering and stumbling like a newborn fawn, until finally they stopped, falling down and sending him to his knees. He tried standing up again, but his legs weren’t having it, buckling almost as soon as he put weight on them.

“Hide…” Kaneki’s voice was once again devoid of joy, now just trembling with terror, and Hide cursed his body for giving out just as he’d broken down the wall that had been keeping him and his friend apart for so long.

He clutched at his injury in a vain attempt at trying to keep some of the vital fluid inside him, letting out gasps of pain as he tried to ignore enough of the agony coursing through him to reassure and smile at his friend.

“I might’ve screwed up… just a little… out there,” he mumbled out, pain slurring his words as he felt more and more lightheaded, managing a brief smile before collapsing into his friend’s arms.

He could feel the other shaking, holding onto Hide as tightly as he could without hurting him, trying to ground himself as much as he was trying to ground Hide.

“You’re okay, you’re okay… you’ll be fine… you’re okay…” Kaneki repeated, each one sounding as desperate as the begging Hide had heard across the tracker when Kaneki had been with Jason. Even though he was the one bleeding out, his heart broke at hearing the distress in the other’s voice. He honestly felt that if he died, so would Kaneki, he didn’t want that, -the other had so much to live for-. But he was fighting a losing battle, had been from the start.

“No I’m not…”

He’d been fighting against nature itself, ever since he met the shy, young boy with a passion for books and staying in the background.

He’d always been told, as long as he could remember, he was the sunlight, and Kaneki was the snow, they could never stay together, the sun would melt the snow, it just wasn’t possible.

But Hide had fought, and he’d kicked and he’d screamed, every time somebody told him those words, he’d shouted that they were wrong, they could be together and they would be, forever. Every time the bullies had told Kaneki he didn’t deserve to be with Hide, he’d beat them up, and told them to leave them alone; and afterwards, when Kaneki would take care of his wounds and scold him about fighting fights he couldn’t win. Hide would just smile and say, ”Then I’ll make it a fight I can win! It’s worth it if we get to stick together!”

And every time, Kaneki would look at him like he’d hung the moon, and would either respond with a quick ”Silly idiot,” or he’d just smile, that pure smile that, even amongst the members of Anteiku, had been reserved just for him ( “You know, he only ever smiles like that when you’re around,” ”You’re so lucky! Big Brother has a special smile just for you!”). He remembered the first time he’d said those words to Kaneki, the younger boy had cried, transparent tracks painting their way down his pale cheeks.

It wasn’t so different from now, Hide thought, as he saw the same tears make their way down Kaneki’s face, so similar, yet at the same time, there were lifetimes of difference between the two. One track remained transparent, pure, like the child Hide had befriended decades ago; the other was a watered down red, the color of blood, of suffering, of hours spent locked in a dark room, screaming for help that wouldn’t come, of hours spent starving in buildings because of the fear of tearing another family apart.

Who would’ve thought that Hide would have the pleasure and the privilege of befriending someone as pure as the snow itself.

With the last of his strength he grabbed onto Kaneki’s shoulder, shaking with the strain, looked him straight in the eye, and smiled with a lightheartedness he wasn’t feeling.

“God," he gasped out, tone finally turning dismal, "Let’s go home.”

The last thing he saw before it all turned black was the determination and conviction in Kaneki’s eyes, but he knew, then and there, that that was the last the world would ever see of the shy, raven-haired bookworm ever again.

It might have been the blood loss making him see things, but Hide swore that out of the window behind Kaneki, he’d seen the beginning of a steady snowfall commence its descent from the sky.

How fitting.

Then it was just the dark, and the cold that was so familiar, yet so unwanted.

----------------------------------------------------

Everyone had always thought that the sun would be the one to melt the snow, the cold would give, and the sun would take. But in this story, the sun melted the snow, just as much as the snow froze the sun, they both took from the other but at the same time gave. And when it was all done and the final words had been said, all that was left was a puddle of melted snow, and a burned out sun.