The image only lasted for a moment.
More an afterimage than anything as blueish xenon, bright as an ignited flare, carved over Hizashi before stuttering out. Blocked by the slats just meters above their heads.
Tears built at the corners of Hizashi's face as he covered his mouth. Side bleeding, a festering wound torn open as he tried to stifle a choked cough- Shouta kneeled in front of him, hands smoothing down his hair, fingers cupped around his neck. He stared at him. Where he knew Hizashi was. Just the edges of him etched in darkness. And not towards the flashlights slicing through their hiding place.
They huddled together under the rusted tracks and loading platform of an abandoned coaster, Shouta shuffled on the rock gravel. The years had been unkind to the dyed rocks beneath them. Faded blues and reds dug into Shouta's knees through his pants as he clutched Hizashi to his chest.
He lifted a palm. Shouta could barely see under here. There were no welcoming lights anymore. No reliable electricity to power a dead carnival. Just the flashlights- searching as they occasionally passed through the slats of the coaster track above.
His fingers shook. Brushed gently at the wound he knew had been reopened when he had pushed Hizashi down through the tracks.
He did it to save them both. But maybe it was what would get at least one of them killed.
Hizashi's whole body shook. Puffs of air leaving him as he lurched against Shouta in a cough. He trembled the side of his face pressed into Shouta's chest. He hissed out air as he bit down on Shouta's scarf.
They couldn't afford to make a sound. Hizashi would need to choke it back down.
He stopped shaking. And Shouta pulled his hand away. He trailed a thumb over his fingers.
They were wet.
"Hizashi your bandage," he said, voice barely there as the flashlights, white beams slicing through the drifting rust and tangled weeds, searched farther down the coaster track.
Hizashi just wheezed out through his nose, clutching onto Shouta tighter. Even through his clothes Hizashi's skin was sweltering. Doused in a fever pitch, radiating off of him as they both shook in the inky darkness.
Shouta shifted. Just barely on the rocks. The gravel crashed together. At any other time. Perhaps not in a world where he was a teenager with a gun strapped to his hip, would that noise have sounded like a report ringing out in the moon-dipped night. But here. Under the atrophying coaster tracks, peeled paint hanging down above them like dangling vines, it was piercing. The flashlight beam stilled. Bootsteps became silent. And for a dreaded moment Shouta couldn't snap his gaze away from the unmoving light. It was the only light that consumed his vision.
He waited. Waited for it to make a break towards them. For it to illuminate him and Hizashi one last time. It would flicker over. It would stay hovering over them. And he'd see his hands. Knuckles white, bloodied. Scraped with cuts as they almost crushed Hizashi to himself.
But the lights pulled away, like vultures leaving their sky high gyre, sparing their meal for the time being.
The tension bled out of Shouta's shoulders. He didn't let himself move. Not all at once. The skin on his fingertips tight as he let time tick by, long enough for the blood to dry on his hand.
"Shouta," said Hizashi, breaking the silence in a rasp.
"It's okay," he said, loosening his grip, letting Hizashi peel away.
Hizashi coughed immediately. The sound pierced the air and he winced. Once. Twice. Hizashi muffled the last one. It echoed and rattled the metal flooring of the loading platform they'd huddled under.
Shouta looked up, craning his head to stare up through the coaster tracks. He couldn't see the night sky. Not entirely. Concealed by what was left of a star-spangled canopy. But just barely there, like a ripple through the choking darkness under the belly of the tracks, were the edges of moonlight.
"We're fine," said Shouta. Another whisper, more strength around the feathered edges.
Hizashi sat back, crashing onto the gravel. He hissed out a sigh. Then slumped onto his unwounded side. Shouta could just barely make out his hair. Short and smoothed up in a crest. Impossibly silky, even without a proper shower and comb, as it curled against the rocks.
"My bandage," Hizashi said, hissing out the words.
Shouta crawled forward, stony edges digging into his palms. He slipped the backpack off, taking a moment to untangle the strap from where he'd gotten it trapped in the gun holster. He dug out the first aid kit and a blanket. "You can sleep," he said.
Hizashi picked his head up, moonlight barely exposing the movement. "Yo, you need to sleep too."
"Not as much as you."
"It won't matter," said Hizashi, settling his head back down.
"You sound like me," muttered Shouta. He rolled up Hizashi's tattered shirt.
"Because you're always right-" Hizashi broke off in a hiss. Shouta cracked open the kit.
"Just this once, I hope I'm not." Shouta clicked on his flashlight. It flickered once. An orange and cracked light ghosted over Hizashi. He held the end of it between his teeth as he fumbled for a rag and tweezers.
After he'd cleaned the wound, stripped what was left of the bandage and dropped it to pool blood on the rocks beside his thigh, Shouta sat back. He dug through the backpack flashlight out of his mouth as it guided him through what was still left inside. He paused.
"Yo, what is it?" asked Hizashi.
"There's no alcohol left in the flask."
"So," said Hizashi, eyes squinting when Shouta turned the flashlight on him. The dark circles under his eyes almost looked like bruises. Deep bluish-purple, hand in hand with the green bruise on his cheek, and in contrast with the harsh red of his irises.
"I don't want to torture you."
Hizashi wheezed out a sigh, it morphed into a cough at the end. He slumped against the rocks, draping a hand over his eyes. Carved in the fading orange light, face concealed by his fingers, he looked impossibly drained of all other colors.
"You sound like me," he mumbled towards the flowered weeds arching away from the gravel. "Stop being so nice, yo. It's concerning."
"Tch, I'm not being nice-"
"Stop lying too."
"Listen, it's the same old track. It'll be fine. I'll be fine."
Somehow, Shouta couldn't hear the certainty of truth in Hizashi's words. They were filled with holes at best. And they were the same ones he'd been parroting at Hizashi every night before they found themselves trapped under these tracks.
"At least take the CD player," said Shouta, angling the flashlight back towards the backpack and pulling out the player and headphones. "There's still some battery life. And this is a somewhat logical use of what's left."
Hizashi fumbled to take it. His fingers, half covered by leather gloves, curved around the twisted wires to bring it towards himself.
Later, after the bandage was reset and Hizashi slept, Shouta stared up through the tracks. The sharp-edged gravel dug into his back. He listened to Hizashi as the blond wheezed, waiting for blue-white light to cut through the world again.
And just barely, over the wind and the creaking metal of the roller coaster swaying ever slightly on a dying foundation, he could hear the sharp drumbeats of Babymetal drifting from the headphones strapped over Hizashi's ears.
In the morning- despite Shouta's hesitance and uneasiness on seeing the abandoned amusement park in the daylight, Hizashi insisted they explore. Just for awhile.
"Come on, yo. Shouta," He whined, wearing a teasing grin that didn't quite match up with his sputtering breathing.
There was only one good thing about Hizashi's incessant smacking on his shoulder. As Shouta pulled himself out from under the coaster tracks and onto the platform, he decided it was the way Hizashi seemed better than the shaking, gasping mess he'd been last night.
"We're kids," he said, as if that would convince Shouta.
Shouta huffed out a breath. "Tch," he said, tightening the backpack's straps and checking the button on his gun holster.
Hizashi watched him fiddle over the yellow-painted hilt of the pistol. The blond briefly waggled the machete strapped to his side. His fingers lingered there as Shouta ground out an eventual, "Fine."
Hizashi pumped a fist in the air, before wincing. A smile twitched at his lips as he held a hand over his body, just brushing at the exposed bandage on his side.
"But not too long," said Shouta.
"I know, I know," said Hizashi. The wire of the headphones he still wore danced across his forearm, as he adjusted the CD player where he'd slipped it into his hip bag.
"And we've got to be careful," said Shouta, already walking away, back out through the turnstiles. He wound back and forth.
Hizashi, even with a wound in his side, simply ducked under them, cutting off Shouta everytime he walked back from a turn.
"Why ya gotta follow the path even after the end of the world, yo?"
"Because you're injured," Shouta grabbed Hizashi's wrist before the blond could duck under another rail.
"Not like it matters if I get hurt, man…"
"I care. You're not ruining my hard work," Shouta tugged Hizashi beside him without even meeting his eyes.
At the entrance to the coaster, both him and Hizashi had stopped by the line attendant's station. Shouta narrowed his eyes as Hizashi gaped, leaning in, tilting his head, hair bouncing to and fro, blazing gold in the morning sun.
"Yo!" Said Hizashi finally, smacking a hand against the chest of the towering figure.
Shouta darted a glare over at Hizashi. It probably wasn't smart to just go around hitting things in a place that looked like even a weak monsoon could grind it to dust.
"Wait," said Hizashi, looking between Shouta and the more than life size figure. The man towered in front of them sporting a fading grin. "Do you not know who this is?"
"...No." Shouta crossed his arms.
"It's All Might!" Hizashi threw up his hands. He brought his fingers up to the corners of his mouth and pulled his smile up into something impossibly wide.
Shouta hated it. But the light blazing in Hizashi's eyes, as bright and warm as the sun crawling purple over the sky, was something he wouldn't dash unnecessarily.
"Who?" asked Shouta.
"Did you not- yo." Disbelief rattled Hizashi's voice. "Were you raised under a rock before everything went haywire?"
"I just don't understand," said Shouta, he looked over towards the ride across the way, it had long since snapped off its support, half of it smashed into the earth. "He's everywhere."
"Duh," said Hizashi, he poked at All Might's latex strapped chest. "He's the most important. Yo, he's the star of the show!" Hizashi broke off to cough into his elbow. He cleared his throat before meeting Shouta's stare. His eyebrows knitted together.
Shouta looked up at All Might. Hizashi sighed. But in all honesty it could've been the creak of the old coaster.
Hizashi went on about who he was. Talking and draining Shouta of his unease as he walked beside him. Regardless, Shouta always kept one hand curled around the pistol's hilt.
"It's a manga," he said, voice exuberant. He titled his head towards Shouta, and winked as he said, "Or at least it was. And everyone was a hero-"
"Heroes," snorted out Shouta.
"Don't knock it! It is-was pretty decent. We could probably find a volume or two here, yo."
"We might need it once the CD player battery dies."
"Yeah! See a practical thing to scavenge for."
"Sure," Shouta tightened a hand around the pistol's hilt as they walked, snapping his attention back and forth between heroes that looked dog-like and those that watched them faces calm and sure and tracking the pair as they walked over broken glass and shredded maps.
He was looking into the tagged and overgrown window of a gift store when Hizashi tugged on his backpack.
"Hey, found the hero I was looking for-" he paused, a chuckle dying on his lips in a wheeze as he let go. "Why are you so soft?"
"What?" asked Shouta, snapping the question out. He knew full well exactly what Hizashi meant. What he referred to as he turned his back on the glass.
"You can just you know, yo." He made a gesture like throwing something over Shouta's shoulder at the glass. "Take one."
Shouta glanced back over his shoulder. He crossed his arms. "I don't need one."
"It's the end of the world, baby. You can take whatever you want."
"Where would I put a cat plush?"
Hizashi shrugged, and glanced down at a fallen flag. The metal pole had broken off a lamp post that loomed overhead. It was nothing more than a burnt out scarecrow now.
"Just forget it," said Shouta stalking past Hizashi and not looking back.
He wasn't sure where he was going. How was he supposed to know what Hizashi wanted to show him?
He heard the drag of metal across the ground as the pole was lifted up. "Hizashi, let it go."
There was a pause. Silence lingered between them. Shouta knew if he turned around he'd see Hizashi, hands clutched around the rusted pole, red eyes as full as rain clouds.
"Yo, you suck, Shouta."
"Yeah," he said, voice hushed as Hizashi curved back into his peripheral. "What's that hero you wanted to show me?"
"Oh, yeah! Yo, he kinda reminds me of you-"
"Great," mumbled Aizawa.
"So hey, don't hate before you see him."
Hizashi took him past the corner of the intimidating mystery house. Guarded by a hero Hizashi had called Ms. Midnight. He'd teased Shouta, stopping briefly to ask if he wanted to go in. It was the easiest decision Shouta had made since the world became sick.
He even smiled as he said no. A wide toothy grin, one that used to scare away anyone with common sense when he was younger.
But it never scared Hizashi away.
At first when they stumbled upon the ride, Shouta's footsteps crawled to a stop.
It was loud.
"This-" He hated being lost for words. "He reminds you of me?"
Present Mic's Soundwave loomed in front of them. Small boxy manga panels crawled up the legs of the gateway that arched over the turnstiles winding up towards the ride.
"Not him," said Hizashi. He waved a dismissive hand at the man holding a microphone. The hero was trapped mid-yell by the gateway, his eyes wild and spiral-spoked as he threw up a peace sign.
"Oh," Good, thought Shouta.
"Him," said Hizashi, pointing to a hunched figure, much more subdued than the other hero. So much more that Shouta had overlooked him.
'If you're shorter than this, don't even bother entering,' said the speech bubble. Shouta could only imagine how listless this character might sound based on the unimpressed stare boring into him.
"Looks like they didn't give him his own ride…"
"What's the resemblance?" Shouta blurted out the question following behind Hizashi as he bypassed the turnstiles and headed towards the exit gate.
He kept glancing back, he could no longer see the fading print on the front of the character cut-out. But he could still make out the outline of the hand, and the edges of the wild hair.
"He's got a scarf," said Hizashi, so simply it almost made Shouta stop in his tracks.
"Really? Sheesh, that's quite the comparison." Shouta pointed a thumb to another cut-out of the screaming hero. "That's like me saying you're him cause you're annoying."
"Is that it?" asked Hizashi, his footsteps stumbling as he shot a look at Shouta. His lips scrunched up as if he'd eaten something sour.
"No, as a matter of fact," said Shouta continuing his point as Hizashi scrabbled for a way to open the exit gate from the outside. "You both like leather and have dumb hair."
He got it open and rolled his eyes as he swung it out too fast. Shouta barely side-stepped in time.
"I mean there's more, yo," A smirk tugged at the corner of Hizashi's mouth. "It's just you know. I'm gonna need more time to explain it ya dig?"
“Fine,” Shouta followed him inside and up the ramp.
Shouta watched the afternoon sun. High and buzzing with warmth.
He had slipped into one of the carts on Present Mic's Soundwave at the apex of the circular wave. The carts radiated around a central point. And if there was electricity and the ride was more than wasted bolts, Shouta could imagine it as something akin to a fast-paced carousel.
He'd probably have enjoyed it as a kid. Might've enjoyed it now at seventeen.
He stretched his legs out as he slumped over the side of the car. The side closest to the metal grating. He'd meant to just rest as he watched Hizashi. The blond stood by the two heroes Present Mic and Eraserhead as they fought back to back in one of the large panels lining the border of the ride.
Shouta had been enraptured.
Hizashi coughed the whole way through. But regardless he barreled through his spiel. Bouncing around as he announced, making voices even sound effects that made Shouta bury his smile into his forearm. He was a force of energy.
Something Shouta had missed seeing. Had thought maybe he wouldn't get to after the infection set in.
Hizashi roamed through their whole story. How they were friends. What they could do. What their powers were. And Shouta had been lining up comparisons between Hizashi and Present Mic the entire time. Silently finding that maybe he was more interested in reading this manga than he originally thought.
But somewhere between the golden grin and sweeping hand gestures Shouta drifted to sleep.
Hizashi faded away. And Shouta woke up immediately clutched by the panic of Hizashi's absence.
He tried to scramble up but was caught by the bar over his thighs. "Fuck" he said, trying to push it away instinctively.
It was stuck. It wouldn't move. He needed it to move. He twisted towards the seat, still warm from where he'd been asleep on it and-
"Oi, hey-" Gloved hands pushed down onto his shoulders. He snapped his head over to look at them, writhing and growling expecting to meet the barrel of a gun or sharpened teeth and hungry eyes.
He saw Hizashi instead, a pastel green bag dangling between them as he held the flat strap against Shouta's shoulder steadying him. "It's me," he said, grip steady.
"You left," hissed out Shouta unable to focus on much else.
Hizashi retreated. "Yeah I didn't go far, yo." He pulled the bag up so it was bundled in front of him. "I'm sorry though."
Shouta slumped back onto the ride. He craned his head to look up at Hizashi standing high above on the metal grating beside the circular track.
"Mind if I sit, man?"
Shouta scooted down the bench seat. And Hizashi slid in slowly, bag in hand.
"Found some stuff," he said. His hip bag was no longer on his waist. The headphones and CD player out of sight.
He unzipped the bag.
"No," said Shouta before he even pulled out what was inside.
Hizashi brought out a plush cat, big enough to be a small pillow. It was round and yellow with a cute, simple face.
"Just take it," said Hizashi. He pulled out a thick manga volume next and stopped leafing a thumb over the pages to watch Shouta hold the plush.
Shouta's calloused grip was soft. Just brushing over it. As if the moment he pressed harder he'd cause irreparable damage.
"Found some volumes too," Hizashi flicked the cover open. "I grabbed the ones that had more of Present Mic and Eraserhead. You seemed kinda more interested in them before you fell asleep, yo."
Shouta hesitated to look over. He didn't want to seem too interested. He pushed his fingers into the cat. Just a little extra pressure. "Why'd you steal them?"
"Yo," Hizashi dragged out the word. "First off, that is not stealing. Not anymore. And secondly, it's something you can keep, ya dig?"
"I have… plenty of things to keep."
"Yeah, but this is something I gave you, yo."
Shouta's eyes flicked to the pistol at his side.
"Something better than that gun." Hizashi closed the bag but left it unzipped as he dropped it onto his lap. He slung his arms over the rail. A nervous, leg-bouncing energy was wrapped up in the way he tapped out a rhythm with his foot. He looked out to the blue sky. Fixed on the light breaking through a gap in the manga panels. "Something that'll last a little longer than me."
Shouta's grip loosened on the cat. He felt drenched in ice water. "Hizashi you don't know if you are-"
"Everyone does. Alright. It can't be undone. That's just how it plays out." He wrapped his hands around the bar now and breathed in, deep and rattling. "Everyone turns sick and I should've a long time ago."
Shouta knew he sounded foolish. "I don't want to play what-ifs, but what if you don't?"
"That's not possible, yo. Look I wish-"
"But you haven't. You haven't and you should've so maybe if-"
"Shouta," said Hizashi reigning in silence with just his name.
Shouta's fingers dug into the plush again.
Hizashi coughed. Barking this time. He gasped for air. Shouta watched him through the whole fit.
Hizashi's shoulders slumped he picked at the bag's open zipper as he said, "It'll be fine."
"Yeah," said Shouta, "it'll be fine."
He took one of Hizashi's fidgeting hands. As he lifted it, uncurling the fingers, he felt how warm the skin and leather were.
Hizashi was still warm. But one day Shouta would grab for Hizashi and he'd be cold. Cold and withering away in the daylight.
He placed Hizashi's hand on the cat plush where it was braced on the bar strapped over them.
Hizashi's grip was loose at first. It tightened up.
He stopped staring at his legs stretched out towards the front of the cart. He looked at Shouta. Eyes red and heavy, dimming sunlight trapped there, "It's soft," he said.
He didn't stray away from Shouta as he spoke, voice and hair framed for the moment by the sliver of blue sky. His hand left the round plush and rested over the edge of Shouta's. Wrapped around the cat's smooth side in tandem, barely there.
Sunlight cut across the exposed skin of Hizashi's fingers. Just painted over his knuckles. Shouta watched it, wondering if maybe he could spot the moment the skin started to burn away.