They slowly made our way through the snow-clogged mountain path. They let out white breaths as they used their snowshoes like skis.

Couldn’t we have waited until spring? Alice, who was almost buried in the snow, complained away. Well well, Ai calmed him down, and they hurried on. They crossed a peak, went past a stream, and got lost twice before arriving at the place.

The hometown was buried in snow.

There was hardly a trace of the destruction that Hampnie had left behind. The scars left by a year of wind and snow were emphasized. The warehouse was ravaged by animals and houses were crushed by the weight of the snow.

“Are you okay?”

Alice said.

“A little weird.”

Ai answered and almost fell towards him. Alice hastily held her up. She beamed at his anxious face, and he too smiled back as he threw Ai into a pile of snow. The rest was war.

They decided not to go to her old house. She had better things to do than that.

They left the village and entered the hill again. They crossed fallen trees and bypassed falling rocks. Ai took three wrong turns, even though she used to be able to walk this path with her eyes closed..

It was as if the land had been created to be a graveyard.

The hill, which had once been fertile, was desolate, and fossilized stumps squeaked in the wind as the snow fell. There was no sign of life on the barren slopes, and the Dead were buried under the snow, not even breathing.

“Woah, they are buried under the snow.”

“It’s a tough job.”

The warehouse that was supposed to be at the foot of the embankment of the hill had already collapsed, and the two of them dug through the snow and wreckage to find shovels and hoes.

They shoveled snow, polished headstones, and tended to the graveyard.

They were sweating, and their white breaths melted the powdery snow.

Surely they would be buried under snow again the next day. She understood that. Despite that, Ai brushed off the snow.

She cleaned the graves of Yoki and Anna.

Yuto and Yoanna, Yuki and Abel. Kyon and Cain….

They cleaned up everyone, and finally, Ai,

“─ It’s been a long time. Mom. Dad.”

She felt like she was saying that she had returned home

Ai fell silent. For no other words came out.

Alice too was silent. He sat down next to Ai while silent..

The only thing that passed was a sad moment. Sadness, confusion, sleepiness, pain, love, hardship…

Kizuna Astin and Hana Astin.

They knew those two were not present here. All that remained here was a cold slab of stone and an old rotting body.

Still, Ai spent a long time there. If she could, she would have stayed with them forever, buried in the snow. But,

“It’s cold.”

Alice unfolded the front of her coat and wrapped Ai in it. The impatience weakened a little and soon became something different.

Ai smiled. She beamed, and grinned.

“…It’s almost sunset.”

“Are we done?”

Yes. She answered, and slipped out of Alice’s coat. She stood up.

—If you ever feel lonely, you can come back. We have all the time in the world.

“Shall we go, Mr. Alice?”

Ai reached her hand out as if inviting him to dance.

“Yeah.”

Their warm hands joined together, and together they stood up.

“Fufu, Mr. Alice.”

“Hm?”

“We’ll be together forever, won’t we?”

Alice was surprised. He probably never dreamed that Ai would say such a thing. But,

“Yeah.”

He grinned as he said so.

Overjoyed, he took that hand and walked away, holding her tightly.

There was an endless world before them. And there was an endless amount of time.

 

 

She still had an inkling of a feeling that she was dreaming.

 

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