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“Hero! KEL! Get up!” Kel woke up the same way he woke up every day, to the ear splitting sound of his mother screaming from the kitchen downstairs. He looked up at the same high ceiling, stretched his arms out in the same wide arc, and looked over at his brother’s bed. 

 

In their normal routine, Hero should already be up and dressed. His big brother would walk over to his side of the room, ruffle his hair, and race him down the stairs to breakfast. Kel would eat in his pajamas and then rush around getting ready. Hero would help him pick an outfit that matched, find the homework he had lost, make sure his shoes were tied (and matching), and they would be outside just in time to meet the rest of the group and walk to the bus together. They were always a couple minutes late, but that was okay. They only missed the bus once or twice a week. 

 

Hero was still in bed. 

 

Their mother’s shrieking hadn’t moved him in the slightest. The rise and fall of the blankets were the only sign that Hero was even alive. Things were not normal. 

 

“We’re gonna be late,” Kel tried, standing up and waiting. Hero didn’t respond. He probably isn’t even awake Kel thought to himself, Don’t bother him. 

 

Kel walked over to their shared dresser, taking out clothes but not really looking at what he chose. What you wear doesn’t matter anyway. It’s just clothes. 

 

He ate breakfast alone, grabbing his book bag that he had packed with his homework the night before and giving his mom a hug goodbye. She didn’t seem to notice him, she was busy making a plate of breakfast for Hero that Kel was sure he wouldn’t touch. 

 

The boy walked outside to be greeted by nothing, just a low fog. He turned right instead of left out of his driveway, walking next door to Sunny and M-

 

Sunny’s house. Just Sunny. Kel kept forgetting that it was just Sunny’s house now. An empty picnic basket sat on their stoop, gathering dust. Kel didn’t look at it as he rang the doorbell. 

 

Sunny’s mom answered the door, telling Kel the same exact thing she told him every day now. Sunny didn’t want to go to school, he was too tired. She told him this with a fake attempt at a smile. He gave her one back, feeling plastic and wrong, and he told her the same thing he always said back. 

 

“That’s okay. Tell him I miss him.” 

Please tell him I’m all alone. I don’t want to be alone anymore. 

 

He walked to the school bus by himself. The corner of the street where the bus picked him up was empty. Kel was early again. Being early is a good thing, he cheered himself up in vain, trying to find some form of a silver lining.  You even remembered all of your homework. 

 

It didn’t really help. The bus stop was still deserted. Before, their corner would be a meeting place for their group of six, and they would all get on the bus together. Aubrey got on at her own stop now, and Basil usually got driven in late, so Kel waited by himself for the bus. 

 

It’s only a few minutes by yourself. It doesn’t matter. The voice in his head was firm, pushing him out of feeling sorry for himself. There wasn’t a point to that, it just made him upset. A low wind rolled around him, and the occasional car cut through the oppressive silence. 

 

...Maybe if Hero knew that Sunny didn’t come to school, that would make him get up? Hero hadn’t cared when Kel didn’t go to school, and their mom had forced him to start going again. She didn’t force Hero, but she had practically dragged Kel out of his room and out the door until he had started doing that on his own. Kel had been waiting for the thing that would finally make his brother snap back into being himself again. The funeral hadn’t done it, being threatened with grounding and detention hadn’t done it, not even their mother and father begging him to get out of bed had worked. 

 

Something has to do it. Something is going to bring him back. I just have to find it. 

 

The bus screeched its brakes, throwing Kel out of his thoughts. He waited as the glass door slammed open, and then quickly climbed the short set of stairs. The bus driver, a crabby looking man with a puffy nose and balding hair, looked him over once. 

 

“Just you again?” Kel nodded, forcing his smile to stay on his face. He turned away from the bus driver to greet the already crowded bus. The other kids were rowdy, screaming at each other and hanging over the seats, none of them seeming to care about the early time or the driver’s irritation. Kel scanned the seats. 

 

No Basil again, he overslept. Maybe I need to add Basil to my route. I should wake up earlier.  

 

Aubrey was there, smashed into the window of a three seater with Kim and Angel. She was laughing about something, but when she saw Kel she cut herself off. She gave him an annoyed look, tossing her long hair over one shoulder and making a show of turning to talk to Angel. The driver honked the horn once, still idling by the corner stop. Kel sat in the front seat, separating himself out from the rest of them. No one noticed, and he heard Aubrey’s laughter start up again. 

 

It’s just a bus ride. 

 

The bus ride used to seem too short, not nearly long enough for all the fun he wanted to have. Now Kel was glad his street was the last stop before school. The red lights dragged, and the dull roar around him made the boy’s head hurt. His seat felt too big, and there wasn’t anything to do but stare outside at the darkening clouds. 

 

It’s fine. Sitting alone doesn’t matter. It’s just a way to get to school.

 

The bus stopped at the middle school, and he and the rest of the kids in his grade scrambled off. It would go to the high school next, but only Vance and Charlene got off there now. Hero hadn’t gone to school in a month, and Mari…

 

Kim jabbed into his shoulder as she passed, pushing him off track. Kel caught himself on his wrist as he fell down, scraping his hand on the cement. Beads of blood welled up, mixing with the gravel stinging his palm. Kel winced, sucking in a painful breath, as Kim looked behind at him, stopping to laugh. 

 

“Have a good trip, Kel!” It was the oldest trick in the book, but it ignited him in fury. Kel stood, ignoring the throbbing pain that ignited in his palms when he used them to push himself up. He prepared a barrage of anger to throw at Kim and her group of idiots, but his voice caught in his throat when he finally looked up. 

 

Aubrey was next to her, glaring at him with a silent fury. Kim was saying something, but he couldn’t hear her, Aubrey’s gaze stopping him short, and making his brain quiet. It was the same look she had given him on the bus this morning, the same glare she had thrown at him every day since the recital. 

 

Kel let his gaze drop, walking past the group that had congregated around Kim without saying any of the things that had flown into his mind. He ignored whatever jeers they were throwing towards him. 

 

It doesn’t matter. They’re just bullies. Stupid mean bullies. It doesn’t matter.

 

Kel was late for homeroom, taking the time to wash his wounds in the bathroom and go to the nurse for some bandaids. His teacher waved him into the class with an impatient sigh, taking the pink slip the nurse had given him and barely glancing at it. Aubrey didn’t bother to look up as he slid into the desk next to hers. They didn’t talk, they didn’t look at each other at all. Aubrey didn’t even bother to ask if he was okay. 

 

It Doesn’t Matter. 

 

He went through the motions of the day, taking notes diligently in each class. He was still not used to taking notes. Before he had gotten along well enough with tutoring from Hero, and his palms sang in agony from the pressure of the pencil, but Kel ignored it. During lunch he went to the library instead of the cafeteria, sitting in the corner by the windows and carefully making two copies of his notes. 

 

The librarian had long past the need to ask why he was sitting alone instead of at a table with his friends. She ignored the rule against food, and let him eat the lunch his mom had prepared in peace, just as long as Kel remembered to not leave a single crumb of evidence. Kel wondered if she knew how comforting that small kindness was to him. He made sure to give her a big smile and wish her a good day, the same thing he did every day. 

 

Basil came in halfway through Art, their second to last class of the day. Kel had left him a seat next to him at the long tables they worked at, and when he came into the doorway Kel waved him over. Basil chose to sit close to the door. He didn’t wave back to Kel.

 

It’s fine. You don’t need to sit next to each other every day! Sometimes a friend just needs a day on their own. Kel ignored the fact that Basil hadn’t sat near him at all since Mari. 

 

As soon as their teacher let them start packing up, Kel grabbed his papers and bounded over. He smiled wide, ignoring the harsh beat his heart was striking in his chest. 

 

“Hey Basil!” His blonde friend jumped at Kel’s voice, giving him a once over and then a shaky hesitant smile. 

 

“H-Hi Kel,” The silence between them stretched out. He doesn’t want to talk to you, his mind whispered, and Kel’s smile faltered. He doesn’t want to be around you anymore. Just like Aubrey, and Sunny, and Hero. None of them care about you anymore. 

 

“What...what happened to your hands?” 

 

“Oh,” Kel looked down. He had almost forgotten the injury, lulled into the monotony of the sting and pain. Still, a part of him was thrilled that Basil had even noticed, Nowadays, Kel was lucky to even get a few words, let alone a whole question. He ran his thumb along the rough texture of the bandage, trying to think of what to say. Lying is wrong, his brain reminded him, but the truth would be bad for Basil to hear. He remembered what Mari had told him the day he saw her sneak a cookie off Hero’s plate and pop it into her mouth. Sometimes a little lie isn’t that bad. 

 

“I uh fell.” It was strange how easy it was to say that. Lying was supposed to be hard, but it wasn’t anymore, “Not a big deal! I took notes for you in class today!”

 

Kel handed them over to Basil, who took the papers and held them close to his chest. He seemed nervous, as if the tiny act of generosity unsettled him. I do this every day, why does it scare him?

 

“Thanks” Basil managed to get out, grabbing his messenger bag and walking towards the door. “Bye.”

 

“See ya!” Kel called into the empty room. The walls pushed in on him, reminding him of how even big and open spaces felt compressed when you were by yourself. 

 

He breezed through the final period of the day, not able to pay attention after his short conversation with Basil. He didn’t know what the teacher was saying, he didn’t know when the bell rang. The next time Kel became aware of himself, he was sitting in the front seat of the bus once more, and they were stopping at the high school to pick up the older kids. 

 

Vance breezed past Kel’s seat, pushing Kim to make room in the back for him. Charlene stepped on more sedately. She stopped, looking at him from behind her too long bangs. Kel waited, even though he already knew the drill. She held out a yellow folder with his brother’s full name stuck on the front with a sticker. 

 

“These are for Hero,” She mumbled, and Kel took the stack of assignments from her with a short nod. He looked through them on the ride home, a welcome distraction from the fact that Basil had not gotten on, and Aubrey was doing her best to remind him she had moved on from their friendship. He searched through the various notes and comments Hero’s teachers had left for him. It was good that they were still wishing him well, still willing to be lenient. 

 

Maybe I should tell him his teachers are asking about him. Maybe that would do it. 

 

Last stop on meant first stop off. Kel bundled up his ever growing pile of papers and hurried off the bus, making sure not to lose a single one in his rush to get away from his own loneliness. The other kids pressed their faces to the windows as the bus went by him, Aubrey’s scooter gang cackling at him. Kel ignored the pang in his heart.

 

Notes from English, Math, and Science. We watched a movie in History, so no notes for that. We have an essay in English, so Sunny needs to work on that. He won’t do any of it, and he isn’t coming back to school, but I can pretend. I can pretend this is going to work, and that he’s going to be there for me again.

 

Sunny’s mom answered the door, the same way she did in the morning. Same plastic smile, same sad eyes. Kel used to think Sunny’s mom was exceptionally pretty with her wavy hair and her cheery clothes. She didn’t seem pretty anymore.  

 

“These are for Sunny,” Kel said as he handed her the other copy of his notes. He didn’t bother to ask if Sunny wanted to come outside. He was tired, and the day had been long, “We have an essay due in English on Romeo and Juliet. She said it’s important for our final grade,”

 

“Thank you Kel. I’ll be sure to let him know all of that.” Sunny’s mother shut the door, and Kel stared at it. 

 

How long are you going to keep this up? He’s gone. Just like Mari. Just like Hero. Just like Aubrey. Just like Basil. You’re alone now, Kel. It’s time you got used to it. 

 

Kel told his inner voice to shut up, turning around and walking back to his own house. It wasn’t forever. Hero would get up soon, and then he would help Kel to get Sunny out of the house. They would all go get Basil and Aubrey, and things could get back to normal. It was still possible, Kel just had to hold onto hope. 

 

When he entered the house, no one greeted him. His parents were in the living room, sat on the couch deep in conversation. Kel toed off his shoes and walked towards them, trying to put on a brave smile.

 

“What’s up, parents of mine?” Kel beamed, faltering when his parents didn’t even bother to look up at him. 

 

“Maybe we need to bring him to that doctor again. He got out of bed twice in the week we got him to see her,”

“No, he just needs more time,”

“It’s been over a month. We need to get him help,”

 

“Um Mom?” Kel questioned, shuffling his feet. His mother looked up at him, glancing around and then seeming to finally notice him.

 

“Kel sweetie we’re in the middle of something. Go upstairs and start your homework, and do not bother your brother. Understand?” She turned away from him without bothering to even hear his answer. Kel sighed, turning away and climbing up the stairs. 

 

Kel opened the door to their room, flicking on the lights with his free hand. The lump on Hero’s bed still hadn’t moved at all. The barely touched plates from breakfast and lunch were cold on the desk. Kel put his backpack down, picking at the bandages wrapping his hands. He stared at Hero, willing his brother to even move. Just a twitch, even a wiggle. But no- just one sedate breath after another. 

 

I need to do something. I need to find him before he’s gone. I’m losing everybody. What would Hero do? Would Hero let me go like this? I need to do something. It doesn’t matter that I’m scared, my brother needs me. 

 

Kel crept over, patting on where he thought Hero’s shoulder was. The lump moved, a low groan coming from somewhere within. Kel shook his brother, waiting as Hero finally sat up. His eyes were dull, far away and deep red with dark black circles. After sleeping so much, Kel would’ve thought that Hero would’ve looked more well rested. 

 

“Hey Hero, you missed school again,” Kel said with a casual air, sitting at the end of Hero’s bed. His brother didn’t turn his eyes towards him, but Kel forced himself to keep going, not letting the awkward silence taint his attempt, “Mikhael is still wearing that weird blonde wig, haha. He’s telling everybody to call him The Dude or something. But when the bus hit a bump this afternoon, the wig went flying off and hit Vance in the face. You would’ve died-”

 

Kel cut himself off mid-story, wincing at his word choice. It felt silly to be so particular with each word he said, but even a hint of anything that could be connected to Mari would make Hero clam up even more. It was time to switch tactics. Kel turned so he was fully facing the brother-shaped lump under the covers, taking a steadying breath, and crashing forward. 

 

“I… I miss you, Hero. Everybody misses you. I haven’t heard from Sunny since it happened, Basil is shutting himself away and Aubrey- Aubrey won’t talk to me anymore,” It hurt too badly to say that Aubrey was bullying him. Kel couldn’t even find the words to try and explain that. Hero had moved the covers away from his head, staring at Kel with harsh red eyes. It was progress, and that progress emboldened the boy to keep going. Maybe I just needed to be honest, to tell him how bad it’s all gotten. 

 

“Maybe they’d listen if you reached out. Maybe they’d come to school if they knew you were there,” Kel offered, sliding closer to Hero on the bed. His brother hadn’t responded yet, but Kel took the leap, daring to share the things he hadn’t told anyone yet.

 

“I’m scared, Hero. I want things to go back to the way they were. I want you back. I want our friends back. Mari’s gone, and it feels like we all just...stopped,” At the mention of Mari’s name, Hero settled back into the same position as before. You pushed too far. Good job . A shaking tendril of frustration wrapped itself around Kel’s throat, choking him with his own misery. He couldn’t lose Hero, not when he almost had him again. It wasn’t fair. The words slipped out before he could stop himself. 

 

“Would you please just talk to me? Mari wouldn’t want this! She wouldn’t want you to die too.”

 

Hero was staring at him, his glare worse than Aubrey’s. Kel shrank back, unable to look away as Hero slowly rose, first sitting, then standing up. He hadn’t gotten out of bed in almost a week, but he was up now. 

 

He was up, and he looked angry. Really angry. 

 

“Shut the fuck up, Kel.”

 

All of the air vanished from the room. Kel was struck dumb, his limbs siezing up. Hero had never sworn at him before. Not even when Kel had ruined the essay he had spent three days writing by spilling a can of Orange Joe on it. Not even when he threw Hero’s phone out the window in a moment of anger when he was ten. Hero had never said anything like that to him. He didn’t know what to do. 

 

“H-Hero,” What can I say? What can I do? I don’t know what to do

 

“No,” Hero barked, Kel’s jaw snapping shut immediately in response, “Stop it. What are you talking about?! Mari wouldn’t want this?” Hero cut himself off with a terrible half laugh, his eyes getting redder.

 

“Mari is dead. DEAD,” He was shouting now, towering over Kel, using his height and physical superiority to make Kel feel weaker. 

 

The twelve year old didn’t want to cower, didn’t want to move away from his brother, but this wasn’t his brother. This couldn’t be Hero. Who else could it be? His mind whispered, and fear rolled through Kel, gripping him like a vice. But Hero wasn’t finished, in fact, it seemed like he was just starting. 

 

“She is dead rotting in the ground, because she killed herself. How would you know what she wanted? How dare you act like you knew her better than I did? Like you know anything, you stupid idiot.” 

 

“Hero, stop,” Kel pleaded. This isn’t him. He doesn’t mean it. It doesn’t matter, because he doesn’t mean it. 

 

Maybe he did. Maybe he did mean it. Hero was laughing again, and someone was shouting from downstairs. Kel couldn’t hear what was being said, he could barely hear Hero over the blood rushing in his ears. 

 

“You wanted me to talk? I’m talking, Kel! You want things to go back to the way they were, well they can’t,” Hero never talked to him in that cruel voice. His brother wasn’t even capable of being cruel. He couldn’t even kill spiders, he made Kel do that. This can’t be him. He can’t mean this . No, he wouldn’t hurt me like this. Hero wouldn’t hurt anyone.  

 

“Maybe if you weren’t such an idiot things could go back to normal,” Kel’s blood ran cold, his entire body shaking, “Maybe if you had any sense of fucking tact. But no, you just want to ignore it all. Act like some happy optimistic dumbass, when the rest of us are grieving over her. I bet you don’t even care that she’s dead! I bet you’re fucking happy about it.”

 

No. No, I'm not happy. I’m scared. I’m scared, and I’m alone. I miss her too, I just wanted to pretend things would be okay. I thought things would eventually get better. I just want it to get better. Kel couldn’t make his voice work. It was like it had disappeared, like he would never be able to talk again. Maybe that would be better. 

 

Hero’s eyes got redder, and now he was crying. Hero had cried a lot since Mari died, but Kel hadn’t. He wanted to cry for Mari, but he just didn’t know how. His throat closed up, and he couldn’t breathe, and he felt like the world was crumbling, but Kel couldn’t cry. He wished he could cry now. Hero was still yelling at him.

 

“You’re acting like you’re happy about it, like we should all just move on too. For some of us it isn’t that easy. Those of us that actually loved her can’t move on.”

 

“I- I-” I loved her. I loved Mari. I promise I loved Mari. Please stop. I loved Mari. Kel was sure he was going to cry now. He was gulping in air, but none of it seemed to be in his lungs. He pressed one of his injured palms to his chest, as if the pressure would alleviate the pain that was radiating from every pore. His eyes were watering, and that only seemed to make Hero madder. There was a loud pounding on their door now, both of their parents were outside. Neither brother acknowledged them, one too petrified and the other too furious. 

 

“What, are you gonna cry now? You didn’t cry at her funeral, you didn’t cry when we were putting Mari in the ground. You didn’t care then, so don’t pretend like you care now. You’re just crying for yourself, you selfish little BRAT!” Hero was advancing towards him again, and Kel scrambled off the bed, trying to get distance between them. Hero wouldn’t hurt me. Why am I so scared? Hero would never hurt me. 

 

Hero had already hurt him. This hurt. This hurt so badly. Hero was in front of him, and Kel’s arms reflexively came up to block the other from touching him. Elder brother grabbed younger brother, grabbing Kel’s already hurt hand in a crushing grip. Kel let out a tiny pained noise, but Hero drowned it out with his final blow.

 

“I wish it had been you instead of her!,” Hero screamed this, shoving Kel away from him. Kel fell into the bed, slamming his back against the bedpost, his head knocking harshly into the wood. His body shrieked in pain, and the door to their bedroom crashed open. Hero hadn’t been able to continue after he said those final damning words, turning away from Kel and burying his face in his hands, shoulders shaking. 

 

Kel couldn’t move, he couldn’t do anything. He felt like he wasn’t in his body. Like none of it was real. It would be so much better if none of this was real. 

 

Their parents rushed in, taking in what they had seen, and what they had most certainly heard. Kel waited and watched. Watched as they both wrapped themselves around his brother. Watched as his mother soothed Hero with gentle touches and soft words. Watched as they lead him out of the room, the three of them out the door and down the hall before Kel even remembered how to breathe. 

 

He was alone. They had left.

 

They don’t care. It’s fine, you always knew that they cared more about Hero. You were just the accident child, he was the one they wanted. It’s fine they left. It doesn’t matter. 

 

Kel brought his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms tightly around them. The pressure helped to alleviate some of the ache building in his chest. The pain in his spine cried out, and his head was pulsing with a wave that flowed in and out. It was good that it hurt. Kel deserved to hurt. He was dizzy. He was alone. 

 

It’s fine. It doesn’t matter. He’s just upset, what he says doesn’t matter. You know Hero loves you. It’s okay that he wishes Mari was here instead of you. It’s okay that he wishes it was you instead. He’s right to. It would be better if Mari was alive. 

 

If Mari was alive then Sunny would still come to school. If Sunny still came to school, then maybe Basil wouldn’t be late everyday. Maybe Aubrey would be nicer. Hero would be happier. Hero would be happy if it was Kel who was dead in a box in the ground. They all would be. 

 

It’s Fine. It Doesn’t Matter. It is Fine. I am Fine. I’m-

 

It was not fine. 

 

He didn’t matter. 

 

Drops of something wet fell onto the back of his hands. Spots of water stained the bandages. For the first time since he had found out Mari died, Kel let himself cry, gathering up all of the misery and loneliness he had been holding onto and releasing it with a quiet wail. He buried his face into his knees, the act of finally letting go overwhelming him. 

 

Kel didn’t bother to try and stifle his cries, there was no point to muffling the noise. It didn’t matter how loud he was, no one was coming. I’m all alone, and I deserve to be alone. It’s time to accept that. The thought made him cry harder. It seemed like now that he let the tears escape, there was no stopping them. He was never going to be able to stop, he was going to be stuck feeling like this forever. 

 

Grief consumed Kel, throwing him into the abyss without a second thought. It was dark, and he was afraid, and oh so very alone. Mari was dead, and he had lost everyone else with her. 

 

“Kel,” He didn’t move, didn’t dare to bring his head up. If Hero needed to keep punishing him, then it was okay, but Kel couldn’t play a role in it. Hero could keep yelling at him, he could use Kel to vent out his frustrations. It wasn’t fine, but he didn’t matter anyway. 

 

Hero’s hands were on him again, and Kel couldn’t help but flinch. He shouldn’t flinch, but he couldn’t help it. Hero’s hands had let go of him instantly, as if Kel had burned him.

 

“Kel...baby I am so...I- Oh Kel, ” A tiny pain filled cry forced its way out of his throat, mixing with the burning tears that Kel couldn’t find the energy to stop. The hands were back, pulling and coaxing Kel out of the curled up ball he had hidden himself away in. Hero gently pulled Kel into his arms, caging him in and pressing him against his brother’s chest. Hero’s heart beat in his ears, drowning out the terrible voice still screaming about his lack of worth. 

 

Hero hadn’t called Kel ‘baby’ in years. When their mother had gotten pregnant, she had just called Kel ‘the baby’ and toddler Hero had latched onto that. For the first few years of his life, Kel had been primarily known as ‘the baby’ or just ‘baby’ to his big brother, but he had put his foot down about it when he was only four. The last time Hero had called him baby had been when he had tripped on the stairs while running and torn open his knee. Hearing that name now made his heart tear open a little more, and his crying intensified. 

 

“I’m so sorry,” Hero whispered into his ear, carding a hand through Kel’s hair, still crying, “I’m so so sorry baby. I didn’t mean that. I didn’t mean any of that. I couldn’t- I can’t lose you too. I can’t. I was hurting, but I shouldn’t have hurt you. I should’ve been there for you, I should’ve been watching out for you. Please forgive me,” 

 

Kel still couldn’t talk, his throat was closed up. He just clung to Hero’s chest, digging his fingers in and bawling. Letting out everything he had been bottling up hurt, but this was a cathartic pain, one that healed as it hurt. Hero dragged them off of the ground, keeping Kel bundled up against his chest. He carried them over to Kel’s side of the room, maneuvering so they were sitting up in his bed. 

 

He ran another hand through Kel’s hair, stopping when he hit the bump that had formed when Kel hit the bedpost. He went to pull away, but Kel whimpered when he did. He didn’t want Hero to go again. He didn’t want that to happen. 

 

“I never should’ve done that. I can’t believe I- I don’t know what came over me. It was wrong,” Hero murmured, holding his brother like he was fragile, something precious to be protected. Maybe that was what Kel was to Hero. Not a bother, but something precious. Someone to be protected. He muttered his sorries over and over, repeating like a broken record. Kel’s cries were finally beginning to quiet, the loosened feelings settling deep in his bones, alongside a thick exhaustion. Kel pillowed his head on Hero, eyes drooping from the exertion. 

 

“Please don’t leave me again,” Kel whispered, barely able to keep his eyes open, “I don’t wanna be alone anymore,” 

 

“Never again,” Hero vowed, and Kel believed his brother. He drifted to sleep, and for the first time since Mari died, he felt safe and loved. 

 

Kel woke up differently than he normally did. He was still in his bed, it was the same high ceiling. He still stretched, still pulled his arms in a familiar wide arc, but when he looked at the other side of the room, the bed was empty. 

 

Hero was up. 

 

Kel threw himself out of bed, tripping and tangling himself in the bedsheets. He fell to the floor in an ungraceful heap, sliding away from the blankets and hurrying to the door. He took the stairs two at a time, pushing himself off the final step and into the doorway to the kitchen. 

 

Hero was standing at the stove, turning over something that was frying in a pan. The scent of fresh bacon made Kel’s mouth water, but he stopped himself from coming in further, hesitating. He didn’t want to break the magic, didn’t want to cause an issue. 

 

Hero noticed his brother standing in the doorway. He paused, hovering a frying pan over the open flame of the stove. They watched each other for a moment, and then Hero turned away, casting his eyes down to the pan. 

 

“Come help me with breakfast?” It was more than an invitation, it was an unspoken apology. Hero had done plenty of apologizing last night, and Kel was sure he would do more before the day was up. The younger brother walked to his older brother’s side, pressing up against him and looking into the pan. Kel was hungry, and he was ready for a new normal.