"You have to kill me," Kuroto said.
He stood worn, bowed, motionless. He stood with his hands limp by his sides, his fingers slack, his shoulders slumped. He stood stark against the backdrop of silvern frost and sleet-gray sky, his silhouette dark and his face shadowed.
The sight wrung Hanashiro's heart, but all the same, he had never seen anything more beautiful.
"Hanashiro," Kuroto said, desperate.
"No," Hanashiro replied, and he turned around and continued forging his way through the snow.
The air barely stirred, but snow kept drifting down, flake by flake, soft and beautiful and deadly. The chill was bone-deep, but Hanashiro kept his back straight and his head held high, did not pull up his hood or huddle deeper into his cloak, because the winter was his. The brittle, stinging cold was his. The deceptively gentle snow was his. The dampness seeping through his sturdy boots was his. The eternity of white spread out before him, and the ominous clouds overhead, and the dying forest behind him, they were all his.
This winter was because of him, and that meant it was his.
He pushed on, slogging through the knee-high snowdrifts with numb feet, and sure enough, after a few moments of agonizing stalemate, Kuroto surrendered and followed. "Hanashiro," he called out. "Hanashiro, wait."
Hanashiro stopped and turned back around. "Kuroto," he said, and the name tasted like new-fallen snow on his tongue, sharp and crisp and pure. His heart clenched again, but for a different reason this time.
Kuroto trudged along, sinking deeper into the snow with each step, until he at last caught up and fell in beside Hanashiro, where he belonged. "Hanashiro," he said again, frustration coloring his voice black and bitter. "Stop it. You can't keep this up. You know what you have to do. We both do."
Hanashiro shook his head. "I don't have to do anything," he said. "Just because I can kill you doesn't mean I will."
"You have to," Kuroto pressed.
Hanashiro smiled, somehow. He forced it onto his lips and gazed up at Kuroto and did not weep. "No," he said, "I don't."
Kuroto's brow furrowed, but Hanashiro refused to have this argument. He reached out and grasped Kuroto's sleeve, giving it a little tug. "Look," he said, and gestured out to the desolate, snowbound wilderness before them. "Look at this. Forget everything else. Just look. Isn't it beautiful?"
Kuroto gazed off into the distance, his ice-blue eyes faraway. Hanashiro, too, turned to look--at the mounting snow, at the terrible sky, at the vast emptiness that threatened to swallow them all. "Beautiful," Kuroto said at last, but Hanashiro couldn't tell if it was awe or doubt in his voice.
Relentlessly, the snow continued to fall, like delicate white blossoms tumbling from the heavens.
A chill swept over him, and Hanashiro shivered suddenly, violently. It was cold, so cold, but he had made his choice, and he would take responsibility for it, would own it. He owned this winter, and its cold, and the cruel silence it wrought. And he accepted it, because as long as this winter was his, it meant that Kuroto was his, too.
He could end this winter, end it with a single merciful thrust of his sword, but he did not, would not. Instead he reached out and took Kuroto's hand in his, clutching with all the strength he had in his stiff, frostbitten fingers. After a moment, Kuroto squeezed back, and Hanashiro closed his eyes and bit back the tears before they could fall and freeze on his cheeks.
It was so, so cold. But Kuroto, still, was warm.