"Urgh," Aoba muttered, sidestepping to avoid a broken pane of glass that had shattered against the ground, "this place has gone downhill."
"It has," Ren said, picking up his old allmate self and following the same path around the mess that Aoba had. "Be careful, Aoba."
"It's fine," Aoba said, looking back over his shoulder at Ren. "More importantly, are you feeling okay?"
Ren nodded, and Aoba turned his attention back to the road ahead of them. Ren had been out of the hospital for a few months now and although he was a lot better than he'd been previously, there was still moments for Aoba where Ren's health caused him concern. Once he'd been discharged, Aoba and Grandma had gradually built up his strength to the point that Ren could walk unassisted, then to the point where he could take short walks with Aoba, and then finally to the point where he was able to leave the house for hours and not get tired. This was their first real outing since Ren had left the hospital, and somehow they'd ended up back in the remains of Platinum Jail.
The unsafe ground safely navigated, Ren placed the allmate in his arms back on the ground to walk for himself. Aoba smiled a little and pressed ahead. It seemed right to be back here, even if it was different to the last time they were in Platinum Jail together. There had been territorial disputes between the Rhyme and Ribbers when Oval Tower had first collapsed, with even the smallest teams taking part in the scuffles for the best strategic territory. After the fighting had died down, the residents of the Old Ward had moved in to take over every day operations of the businesses there, and everything slowly began to return to normal.
Midnight Blue Coast had taken the brunt of the damage when Oval Tower had collapsed, and was therefore in the worst state of repair. Despite the new calm that was now coming over Midorijima, there were still some places that needed to be tended to.
Like the street they were travelling through now, and the place where it ended.
The fake night sky above Platinum Jail had stopped working shortly after the collapse of Oval Tower, and rays of late afternoon sunlight were peeking through the glass roof and between the heavy steel beams that supported it. Allmate Ren's paws pattered on the dusty ground, and the dark blue lights from the surrounding buildings gave the abandoned street a sense of calm. Aoba looked up and to the left, catching sight of a large screen that had probably once displayed Toue's image... And Sei's.
Ren was staring too, and Aoba unconsciously reached for his hand.
"Come on," he murmured, linking his fingers with Ren's, "it's just around the next corner. I remember."
"... understood," Ren responded, and he grasped Aoba's hand like a lifeline.
They rounded the corner and came face to face with the ruins of Oval Tower, a pile of stark white rubble in a world of midnight blue. It had been cordoned off with thin strip of yellow caution tape that suggested that they were counting on the danger of the surroundings to discourage people from getting close. No one quite knew what to do with the remains of the tower, and so thus far it had been left alone to rot, a reminder of what had been.
Aoba stopped at the edge of the tape and squeezed it between his hands, felt it cut into his skin.
"We're here," Ren murmured, but his focus was on the remains of the tower. Aoba stood stiffly, feeling as if every muscle in his body had tensed up. He hadn't expected to react like this, but bad memories crept into his mind uninvited and wove dark shadows through his thoughts.
Aoba felt the steadying pressure of Ren's hand on his shoulder and reached up mindlessly to cover Ren's hand with his own.
"Are you alright?" Ren asked. His voice was full of uncertainty. Aoba nodded, swallowed against the lump in his throat and then shook his head instead.
"It's harder than I thought."
Ren frowned, thumb smoothing over the curve of Aoba's shoulder. "What is?"
"Coming back here. To the place where I thought I'd lost you forever."
He remembered it well: the anguish he felt at Ren's sudden panic and distrust, the rush of emotion he'd felt echoed in his own mind at the evidence of Ren's longing and love for him, the feeling of allmate Ren's tongue pressed against his cheek, chasing his tears, and the inescapable feeling of loneliness that had come over him when he thought of Ren when he'd believed he'd never see him again.
Allmate Ren curled around his legs and pawed at the toe of his boot with a distressed whine. Aoba was about to reach down to pet him, but the hand on his shoulder suddenly applied enough pressure to make him spin around in surprise. Ren's lips were on Aoba's own the moment that he'd regained his footing, and Aoba shut his eyes as Ren's gloved hand carded gently through the back of his hair.
"Aoba... I'm sorry," Ren murmured against Aoba's lips when they parted, "I couldn't do anything by myself, but I..."
"I know," Aoba said, voice muffled against Ren's neck, "If you could have done something... I know you would have. But I... I could have done more."
Ren grinned and gently butted his forehead against Aoba's.
"Don't blame yourself. There's no way you could have known what Sei was going to do."
"I know," Aoba said, managing a smile. "It hurt, to lose him so soon. But to get you back... I felt so happy."
"Aoba... I'm glad to hear it. Always," Ren said.
Aoba nodded, rested his cheek against Ren's shoulder and closed his eyes. "Yeah."
"I'm not sure, but... I think that's what he would have wanted."
"... I know," Aoba said, pulling away slowly. "Let's go home. There's nothing else for us here."
"Understood," Ren replied. Allmate Ren bounded ahead of them as they turned their backs on the ruins of Oval Tower and began walking back the way they came.
It didn't hurt now, not as much as before. Regardless of what happened in the future, Aoba would always have Ren by his side.
That thought alone was comforting beyond words.