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I Won't Let Him

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MARI waited patiently in the elevator as it took her to the floor that held her little brother's room.

The remnant memories of her dream last night, while mostly fuzzy at this point, still seemed to be bothering her for some reason…

She couldn't really understand why. From the bits she could still remember, she was mostly just having fun with her old friend group alongside SUNNY.

It was the regular comfort dream that allowed her to forget her real-life worries, if only temporarily. It was the reason why she hasn't gone insane yet.

But for some reason, she couldn't shake off the feeling that something bad happened near the end of the dream…

BASIL was angry at her, wasn't he? About… SUNNY...

Hm… Well, it makes sense, she supposed…

Her guilt over what she did to SUNNY must have transferred over in the form of an angry BASIL trying to torment her in her happy dreams.

No doubt, it was something she deserved. She had no right to complain or argue.

Still, waking up from a dream with a bad ending always made her feel so tired in the morning… Even now, her eyes felt heavy and her mind felt foggy. If it wasn't SUNNY's birthday today, she would have probably spent the early hours laying in her bed to keep resting. Then after that, she'd probably-

Probably just… keep resting.

Waiting.

The elevator stopped earlier than where she was going as it picked up another straggler.

Entering the elevator and standing away in the opposite corner was one of the giant POTATO BEETLES that she fought in her dreams.

It was floating in place patiently while reading the daily newspaper.

She blinked a bit, staring at the interestingly mundane sight.

The POTATO BEETLE in front of her seemed to notice her staring as it shifted uncomfortably.

"Well… This is awkward…" It mumbled.

"Yeah…" MARI responded back dumbly.

Clearing its throat, it went back to reading the newspaper and minding its own business.

After a while, MARI turned away to do the same, pretending that she never saw it.

The elevator ride to SUNNY's floor took a painfully long time… Especially with that stupid love song playing as she waited.

Eventually, the elevator stopped again, still nowhere near where SUNNY's floor was.

"Uhp, this is my mom's floor." The POTATO BEETLE murmured, politely nodding his head goodbye at MARI as he hovered away, leaving the elevator to herself.

Once the door closed and she was back to being alone, MARI had to rub her eyes clear as she wondered if she didn't just hallucinate all of that.

God, she should've used the extra hours to sleep before coming here.

No use complaining about it now.


"KEL?" AUBREY muttered in confusion.

"AUBREY?" KEL asked back, equally surprised.

The two childhood friends stared at each other in shock, never expecting to see the other one showing up in SUNNY's hospital room today.

After a moment of awkward silence, KEL was the one to break the ice first with a grin, "Hey! I didn't see this coming. You still visit SUNNY too, huh? I guess I shouldn't be surprised..."

AUBREY blinked for a bit before narrowing her eyes at him suspiciously, "What exactly are you doing here?"

KEL raised an eyebrow, before realizing how it looked and gave a sheepish smile, "Oh, right… It has been a few years since you last saw me visit SUNNY… Seeing me again all of a sudden probably took you off guard, didn't it?"

KEL had only just started visiting SUNNY again just a few days ago after all. The last time he did this, he remembered AUBREY would always come over in order to keep MARI company when she visited.

It seems AUBREY just visits SUNNY by herself now.

KEL realized that out of everyone, he was probably the only one that ever stopped coming… BASIL, MARI, and even AUBREY have been constantly keeping check of SUNNY every day, didn't they?

Only KEL ever stopped...

It kind of made him feel guilty, to be honest.

It kind of made him feel ashamed that it took this long to finally come back to visit SUNNY again.

AUBREY gave an incredulous look at KEL, before slowly responding, "I… I guess..."

For AUBREY, she was incredibly confused to see KEL in the hospital right next to SUNNY's bed. She had remembered that he stopped coming to visit around four years ago… When exactly did KEL start coming back?

Was it around the time when AUBREY stopped visiting SUNNY anymore? Has KEL always been visiting SUNNY these past few years after she stopped without her knowing?

But… that didn't make sense… She thought KEL abandoned their old friend group in order to replace them all with different friends…

If KEL had actually changed his mind and started visiting SUNNY again while she was gone… Did that mean KEL never actually abandoned them at all? Has KEL been keeping tabs on SUNNY all this time just like MARI and BASIL were?

If so, then that means AUBREY was the odd one out. She was the only one that ever stopped coming...

It was honestly confusing for her to comprehend. She had been so convinced into thinking that KEL had forgotten all about her, SUNNY, and BASIL this entire time… Had she been wrong the whole time?

It wouldn't be the first time. She had assumed BASIL abandoned her too before he ended up proving her wrong by finding her all those years ago.

It shouldn't be a surprise if she was wrong about KEL as well...

Kinda makes her feel guilty for how she treated KEL when they last saw each other a few days ago...

Kinda makes her feel ashamed that it took her this long to finally come back to visit SUNNY again...

KEL, who was noticing that AUBREY was uncomfortably shifting in place, asked, "Doing alright?"

AUBREY snapped up with a sudden, "Huh? O-Oh, yeah. I am."

"Okay…" KEL blinked, before scratching his neck awkwardly.

Man, AUBREY probably hates me just like MARI does, doesn't she? KEL thought to himself. That's why she's so uncomfortable around me.

KEL must be upset at how I brushed him off last time… I should probably apologize, shouldn't I? AUBREY thought to herself. God, this was so awkward...

The two came to their own conclusions about themselves and each other, however incorrect those conclusions might be, and decided to just stay silent in each other's presence as the awkward tension in the air overwhelmed them.

With neither of them knowing how to talk to each other, or probably just not wanting to talk to each other, they ended up staying silent as they both watched over SUNNY, waiting for something to happen.

Luckily, something did happen.

BASIL arrived with an excited smile as he opened the door, carrying a white flower in his hand.

When he entered the room though, he paused in his step for a bit before he gave an excited gasp, "AUBREY! KEL! You both showed up for SUNNY's birthday!"

AUBREY smiled back, "Hey, BASIL. Sorry it took so long for me to finally come around, but yeah. I'm here now."

AUBREY remembered the countless times BASIL had tried to get her to come visit SUNNY with him since they've reconnected with each other. Each time, AUBREY would get cold feet and gently let him down by saying that she wasn't ready yet.

BASIL, bless his heart, would give a sad yet understanding smile each time and told her not to force herself if she didn't want to.

BASIL shook his head, "Don't worry! I know you've been through a lot, so the fact that you're here now is all that matters! SUNNY would be so happy to know that you've visited today!"

KEL, meanwhile, was internally screaming as he had hyperfocused on something BASIL said just a few seconds ago.

OH MY GOD, IT'S HIS BIRTHDAY?! I COMPLETELY FORGOT!

Oh shoot- whatdoIdowhatdoIdowhatdoIdowhatdoIdo-

No. Neither of them suspects anything yet. Pretend that you totally knew this whole time.

With a carefree smile, KEL loudly cheered, "Alright! It's great to see both of you remembering SUNNY's birthday today too!" Noticing the flower in BASIL's hand, KEL asked, "Is that white flower your birthday gift to SUNNY?"

BASIL beamed happily, "Actually, this is just to replace the one that's already in the vase on the counter." He gestured over to the vase near SUNNY's head, "These are White Egret Orchids. They say you can put your thoughts into them and those thoughts will follow the person through their dreams. I've been watering and replacing these for SUNNY every few weeks so that I can let SUNNY know I'm always thinking about him."

"Aw, that's so sweet…" AUBREY smiled warmly.

KEL nodded in agreement, "Yeah, man. That's some dedication right there."

BASIL went over to do as he said he'd do and proceeded to replace the old nearly wilting flower with the brand new healthy one.

After that, he pulled out a cupcake and a small candle before setting them on the counter, "This is my real birthday gift for him. I went out and bought a cupcake in SUNNY's honor so that I could light a candle for him." Then with an embarrassed smile, he apologetically smiled, "I only brought the one cupcake though… If I knew I'd be having company with me, I would have bought more for all of us to eat."

KEL and AUBREY glanced away in opposite directions with their own guilty expression, knowing that it was their own fault, unaware that the other was thinking the exact same thing.

"I-It's cool, man! I already ate before I came here, so I wouldn't have the room in my tummy anyway." KEL waved away with an awkward laugh.

"Y-Yeah, it's fine! Same here, I already had a big enough breakfast to last me the whole day. Hahaha…" AUBREY reassured while trying to act natural.

BASIL looked between the two of them, wondering why they were acting so weird, before shrugging.

Must be because it's been so long since they've visited SUNNY. The situation must be hard for them. BASIL understands completely.

He was just happy to know that they're both at least trying just for SUNNY's sake.

BASIL looked over at SUNNY with a warm smile. It's a shame that HERO couldn't be here with them for today. It would make the entire group complete. Oh, if only SUNNY could wake up right now to see his friends together waiting for him. He'd be so touched.

In fact, he could probably wake up at any moment!

Any moment!

No? Guess not. BASIL tried.

Well, alright then. Take your time, SUNNY. Everyone will be waiting patiently for you until you do.

AUBREY stepped up to pull out a small keychain of a yellow cat mascot, "This is my birthday gift for SUNNY. I remembered back when we were kids, SUNNY would always put in a dollar to collect the stuff inside the capsule machine at HOBBEEZ. I managed to get lucky with this one." Setting the keychain down on the counter, she turned to give a forlorn expression, "It's not much, but I hope he'll like it."

BASIL gave a reassuring pat on the back, "SUNNY would love anything you give him, AUBREY. No matter what it was. You could probably even give him a cheap stick of gum, and he'd keep it under his pillow every night while thinking of you!"

KEL tilted his head in confusion as he saw AUBREY suddenly blush her face off like a red light bulb and BASIL laughing at her reaction.

KEL didn't really get what the joke was about though. Why would SUNNY like AUBREY's gum so much to keep it under his pillow instead of eating it? Was this like an inside joke between the two of them that he wasn't here for?

Well, now he just feels alienated.

AUBREY softly shoved BASIL out of her face before walking away to a corner to calm herself down.

BASIL settled his giggling before turning to KEL, "So, what did you get for SUNNY as a birthday gift, KEL?"

Well, now he really feels alienated.

Crap crap crap crap crap- Since KEL completely forgot about SUNNY's birthday today, he didn't even know he had to bring a gift!

C'mon, think think think- What did he have on him that he could give to SUNNY without arousing suspicion?!

He had a twenty-dollar bill in his pocket… Would that be enough? He felt like he owed SUNNY that much...

No way! That just seems so impersonal… Besides, what was SUNNY going to use that money for while he's still in a coma?

Hm…

"Uh…" KEL began searching all over his body before realizing something he had on him that was perfect! Pulling it out with a proud smile, he showed basil a small electronic toy, "This! I got him a PET ROCK!"

Haha! Thank goodness KEL always brought at least one PET ROCK with him for any occasion! Whether it be for battle or to get himself out of an awkward situation, PET ROCKS could do anything!

BASIL had a nostalgic smile as he looked over KEL's impromptu gift, "Oh, I remember these things! SUNNY and I used to play with these all the time back when they were just starting to get popular. SUNNY would always win every fight though. He just seems to have an unbeatable track record when it comes to video games." Smiling at KEL, he beamed, "I'm sure SUNNY will love it!"

HAHA, BASIL DIDN'T SUSPECT A THING!

Sorry JASH, but it looks like you'll have to be sacrificed in order to preserve KEL's dignity. Don't worry, SUNNY will take good care of you…

You know, when he ever wakes up.

KEL set the PET ROCK down on the counter next to the other gifts.

With everyone already done offering their well-thought-out and meaningfully planned gifts, BASIL decided to put the candle on the cupcake and light up a flame.

KEL and AUBREY watched as BASIL held up the cupcake towards SUNNY. Glancing over to them, he softly asked, "Will you guys sing the song with me?"

KEL and AUBREY glanced at each other, giving a mutual smile before they both nodded to BASIL.

Standing right beside him, they all counted to three…


MARI paused before she could open the door to SUNNY's room, hearing singing on the other side.

"Happy birthday to you~! Happy birthday to youuu~!"

MARI could make out the voice of BASIL as he was singing. To her confusion, she also heard two other voices singing along with him.

MARI took a step back to stare at the door in front of her. Her imagination painting a vision of what was on the other side.

She could see them… BASIL, KEL, and AUBREY, just like how she used to remember them. They were standing right next to SUNNY as they sang to him for his birthday.

BASIL… He invited them to join, didn't he?

"Happy birthday, dear SUNNY~! Happy birthday to youuu~!"

It had been so long since… since anyone else besides her and BASIL visited SUNNY.

A part of her felt a little overjoyed, to be honest. To see that they still remembered her little brother after all. To care enough to show up on his eighteenth birthday.

But another part of her... It was absolutely furious. How dare those two show up to visit after neglecting SUNNY for four entire years? Leaving him just to enjoy their own personal lives while MARI was still suffering alongside her little brother? Then suddenly visiting on his birthday as if they could just waltz back into his life like nothing ever happened. It was unforgivable.

Inside herself was a conflict of emotions. Of wanting to welcome them back, happy to know that they still care. Of wanting to scream at them to get out of her little brother's room, to make sure they know that MARI hadn't forgiven them.

A part of her still loved them. A part of her still hated them.

In the end, she didn't know what to do. Anxiety filled her mind as she wondered how she would go about this new stressful situation she found herself in.

What would SUNNY do in this situation, she wondered? What kind of choice would SUNNY make if he hadn't seen his friends in four years, only for them to come back to his life?

She imagined he would be happy at the very least if he wasn't resentful at being thrown away by those he cared about. But then again, SUNNY was never the type to be resentful towards anyone… He was a kind and considerate boy who put other's feelings first before thinking of his own. Even if it hurt him.

Especially if it hurt him…

...Especially…?

MARI had to hold her head as she felt a migraine starting to form.

It was hard to even think right now. Her two overwhelming emotions clashed together so hard, she could practically split in half right now.

Yet, compared to her, BASIL was completely fine. He sounded joyful, even.

How was it that BASIL was perfectly content with letting KEL and AUBREY back into his life? How was he able to forgive them for giving up on SUNNY four years ago?

Does he not realize that these were the two out of the three friends who left SUNNY? Left him to rot by himself?

It boggled her mind.

She knew that BASIL cared for SUNNY as much as she did, so surely he must feel some resentment towards AUBREY and KEL? Or maybe he was just holding it all back for SUNNY's sake, knowing that SUNNY would be happy to have them back in his life.

She didn't know anymore.

The only person she could trust right now when it came to SUNNY was BASIL. Moreso than she could even trust herself... If BASIL was willing to trust AUBREY and KEL, then she would have to accept it.

But that didn't mean she'd forgive them.

The past six years have been so lonely, waiting for SUNNY to wake up. The past four years hurt so much as everyone left her behind. The past two years, she only just barely managed to keep her sanity despite everyone moving on with their lives without her. Without SUNNY.

She was so tired… So so so tired...

Maybe it would be better if she… stayed outside here. To avoid causing trouble. The idea of facing AUBREY and KEL right now made her too unstable.

If she entered the room right now, she might… She might ruin the birthday party for SUNNY. She might do something that she'll regret…

She can't trust herself not to hurt two of SUNNY's beloved friends.

Even if they deserved it for giving up on her little brother and leaving him to rot in the first place.

As much as she wanted to see her little brother, she'll stay out here and wait.

Waiting… like she always does.


Hours passed as the three childhood friends conversed with each other.

The conversation at some point switched from reminiscing about the old days to eventually talking about what had happened in their recent lives since SUNNY's accident.

KEL was surprised to see AUBREY being more open and talkative compared to the last time they saw each other. It was only a few days ago, but he remembered her being so distant and cold. But now, as they sat around SUNNY and talked, it was like she did a complete one-eighty.

BASIL didn't even seem all that surprised, conversing with her as if they've still been in contact with each other all this time.

It really threw him in for a loop.

He wondered if this meant that AUBREY didn't hate KEL as much as she did before… Maybe all it took was visiting SUNNY again to get back on track with his old friends.

Remembering what BASIL told him a few days back, KEL was beginning to believe that BASIL might have been onto something about how SUNNY would one day help make things go back to the way things used to be.

It only took ten minutes in the same room with the comatose boy for AUBREY to start acting like a normal human being towards him again.

"So, wait a second-" KEL interrupted the conversation as his mind got caught up, "The reason why you became the leader of your own gang was because you were trying to stop the rise of gang violence that was culminating in FARAWAY?"

AUBREY raised an eyebrow at his incredulous tone, "What, you got a problem with that?"

"Well, I mean…" KEL shrugged dubiously, "I just have a hard time believing that. I never heard about any gang problem in FARAWAY before. If anything, you and the SCOOTER GANG were the only gangs that I've ever even heard about."

Crossing her arms up, she gave an indignant look as she asked, "Well, answer me this then, KEL. Have you seen any gangs bullying or mugging people in this town for the past four years?"

"Uh…" KEL around awkwardly, before giving a flat, "No."

"Have you noticed random punks from out of town trying to lay claim on the town's park?"

"No…?"

"Have you ever experienced being a victim of a gang attack in the last four years?"

KEL shook his head, "No."

"Exactly. You're welcome." AUBREY harrumphed with a prideful nose up in the air.

KEL blinked to himself, still confused. Turning to BASIL, he asked dubiously, "Hey, is she telling the truth? Or is she just trying to mess with me?"

BASIL chuckled, politely stating, "At the very least, I can confidently say that she and the SCOOTER GANG aren't bad kids. They're just trying to do what's right."

"Mhm…" KEL pressed X to Doubt, but didn't add anything further.

Well, as long as AUBREY and her gang weren't causing trouble like the rumors were saying…

Looking over to SUNNY for a bit, he wondered out loud, "Imagine if SUNNY could talk to us right now. I wanna hear what he has to say about all this." Turning back to AUBREY, he gave a teasing smile, "I bet you he'd probably be rolling his eyes at all this and not believe a single word."

"Orrrr…" AUBREY drawled out, before countering, "He'd think that I was the coolest shit on the block for basically being a modern-day vigilante superhero in our own hometown."

"What, like The Magical Girl SWEETHEART?" KEL chuckled.

"Uh, yeah!" AUBREY stated matter of factly, "She's fucking awesome, so exactly like SWEETHEART."

"Oh god, I'm suddenly imagining you constantly doing that signature laugh she always does…" KEL deadpanned, "You guys remember what I'm talking about? The laugh that got so obnoxiously overused in the TV show that they toned it down for the movie adaptation?"

"Oh yeah, she did do that a lot in the show, didn't she?" BASIL recalled, before imitating it, "It went something like… HoHohoHohoHOHO! … Right?"

"No no no, you're doing it wrong," AUBREY stated, "You gotta do it with the same stance and the triumphant face she does." Bringing her hand just under her chin and making an obnoxious-looking smile, AUBREY proceeded to laugh, "OHOHOHOHOHOHO!"

"I remember it being more like this though…" KEL cleared his throat, making the same stance and face as AUBREY as he laughed as well, "OoohHOH HOH HOH HOH HOH HOH!"

"Like this?" BASIL attempted again while following the other two's examples, "HOHOHOHOHOHOHO!"

"HOHHOHOHOHHOOHHOHOH!"

"AHO HO HO HO HO HO HO!'

"FUFUFUFUFUFUFUFUFU!"

"Oh come on, that's not even the same laugh anymore!" AUBREY broke out into a genuine laugh this time.

"It so totally is though! It just has a different inflection now!" KEL laughed back.

BASIL started giggling as well from the ridiculousness of it all.

When everyone eventually calmed their giggle fits, BASIL continued, "SUNNY might not appreciate the comparison to SWEETHEART though. I remember her show being his least favorite to watch whenever we came over on Saturdays."

"Yeah, makes sense. He was always more into CAPTAIN SPACEBOY." KEL remembered fondly, "Man, I remember back then, me and SUNNY would go sneaking out in the middle of the night just to go over to HOBBEEZ so that we could keep reading all the CAPTAIN SPACEBOY issues. By the time we'd get back home, we would only be able to get three hours of sleep before having to wake up for school."

"Oh, dude, I remember HERO actually going off on a tirade about that. He was sooo pissed when we all found out…" AUBREY chuckled fondly, "God, you and SUNNY were such idiots back then."

"Oh yeah? Well, I still managed to read further into the comic series before anyone else did, thus granting me power through the knowledge of spoilers. Who's the idiot now?" KEL challenged with a smirk.

"Still you, dude." AUBREY smirked back.

"Exactly!" KEL puffed his chest out proudly at this for some reason.

BASIL studied his two friends fondly as they began getting along with each other like back when they were kids. Despite being older and taller, despite all the changes and hardships they all individually faced, they both still acted like the bratty kids they used to be down to their core. BASIL honestly wouldn't have it any other way.

"And what are you smiling at us for?" AUBREY called out playfully, "You better not be thinking something rude about us."

BASIL shook his head, "Nope… I'm actually just really happy right now. Hanging out with the both of you makes me feel like I'm a kid again. Like nothing changed at all."

KEL nodded understandingly, "Yeah… It is pretty fun to just relax and talk, just like back then. Even though we're missing some people, I can't help but feel like things are back to how they used to be…"

AUBREY seemed pretty surprised at this revelation at how natural she was acting, as well as how much she was enjoying herself being around them. Then, with a nostalgic smile, she agreed, "Yeah… it does feel like that, doesn't it."

When AUBREY first arrived and saw KEL again, she was immediately preparing herself for either an awkward confrontation or an angry violent one. Never did she expect that she would actually manage to have fun with her old friends again.

It was almost like the past four years of silence never happened.

Almost, at least…

AUBREY looked over at SUNNY again, this time with a frown.

If only SUNNY was here with them to enjoy this too. HERO and MARI should be here with them as well.

It's just not the same without the whole group together…

BASIL and KEL noticed the sad look she was giving, before BASIL asked softly, "You're thinking about SUNNY?"

She nodded, "I wish he was awake right now. I miss him so much. I miss being together with MARI and HERO too…"

KEL and BASIL gave an understanding look, silently agreeing with her.

It's been six years now… Six years of his life that SUNNY completely missed out on.

What could life have been like if SUNNY never got into that accident? How much would change if he was still with them now, and never left?

Questions that will never get any answers. Something that they'll have to deal with on their own until he decides to wake up…

BASIL stood up from his seat to walk over to SUNNY, with KEL and AUBREY sitting by to watch curiously.

"Hey, SUNNY." BASIL began happily enough, "It's your best friend, BASIL. I hope you're doing well. I managed to get both AUBREY and KEL together to come visit you again for the first time in years. I bet you missed them both dearly, haven't you? Were you excited when you heard their voices again? I know I was when I first saw them." BASIL chuckled softly, "Sorry that we couldn't get HERO to swing by too. I'm sure you would've appreciated having him visit. College takes up a lot of free time apparently."

"I got good news about that, actually!" KEL spoke up cheerfully, "HERO said that he's going to go on a break soon once he's done with his finals this course! He's gonna come back home to spend his break! I think I might be able to convince him to come visit SUNNY when we have some free time on our hands!"

"Did you hear that, SUNNY?" BASIL looked back at his friend with a wide smile, "You might be able to see HERO after all! Isn't that so exciting?"

Despite everything being told to him, SUNNY didn't once show any kind of response.

Besides the steady breathing of his lungs, SUNNY hasn't moved a muscle in years.

"If you can, I'd like for you to wake up soon… It might be asking for much though, and I probably shouldn't get my hopes up... But still, never hurts to ask." BASIL chuckled, "I should probably mention that I won't be able to visit you for the next couple of days… The manager of FIX-IT is low on staff and is asking me to work overtime to make up for it until he finds more workers. I promise I won't take too long though! Once I get free time again, I'll be back visiting you before you know it! Even if you get lonely, you'll have KEL and AUBREY to keep you company again."

SUNNY remained steadily breathing without a care in the world.

BASIL looked down at him sadly, "I miss you, SUNNY. Take your time and wake up when you feel ready, okay?"

Finishing his talk, BASIL went back to his seat with a sad smile.

"Do you think he can hear you?" KEL asked.

"Maybe. Maybe not." BASIL shrugged, "I just find that it helps to talk to him sometimes. Even if he can't hear us, maybe our intentions might be able to get through to him somehow, you know? Reaching wherever he is in his head."

KEL looked back, humming in thought as he mulled BASIL's words over.

AUBREY looked at her tapping foot, finding herself impatient and restless. Emboldened by BASIL's example, she suddenly decided to stand up and give her own attempt at speaking with SUNNY.

Looking down at him with sad eyes, she started off, "Hey, SUNNY… It's me, AUBREY. I hope you can still recognize my voice…" She toyed with her hair awkwardly, but continued on, "I know we haven't talked in a long time… I've changed since then. I've changed a lot, actually... I've got pink hair now and blue contacts now. You probably wouldn't recognize me anymore just by looking. Despite it all, I hope you still find me cute."

KEL raised an eyebrow at this but didn't interrupt, listening with rapt attention.

"BASIL once told me your secret crush on me a few years back. Hopefully, you won't be too mad at him for spilling the secret. I… I was actually really flattered and happy when I found out how you felt about me." AUBREY started blushing again, but kept continuing, "I just want you to know that… I probably feel the same way, maybe. Probably. God, what am I saying right now?" She muttered to herself as she covered her face.

The speed of KEL reacting to this plot twist was so fast, it caused a wormhole to open up and destroyed the time-space continuum as KEL had already collapsed on the floor in shock about five hours ago as he listened to this.

"Sometimes I wonder if you'd still feel the same way towards me as you did six years ago. I'm not the same girl you used to remember, so I wouldn't be surprised if you don't have the same spark anymore... Still, it's nice to imagine what could have been... I wish I told you how I felt sooner." AUBREY took a deep breath to steady her nerves, "I really miss you, SUNNY. I really really really miss you. Happy birthday..."

Giving a huge sigh of relief as she finished her confession, AUBREY slugged herself over to her seat and went slack.

"God, that was intense. I didn't realize admitting your feelings and speaking your mind would put such a toll on the body." AUBREY said tiredly.

BASIL looked over at KEL who had been stuck in the same position for the past five hours, "That doesn't seem like a sanitary sitting position, KEL."

Ignoring the flower boy, KEL immediately sat straight up before giving a wide shit-eating grin at AUBREY, "Soooo~ You and SUNNY have had a crush on each other, huuuuh~?"

Too tired to move, AUBREY closed her eyes as she muttered, "BASIL. Punch KEL in the face for me. I'd do it myself, but I don't wanna move."

BASIL followed her wishes, giving KEL an extremely weak love top to the face.

KEL overreacted by hurling himself backward to roughly crash onto the floor again, as if AUBREY's intention of inflicting pain on him was enough to power up BASIL's weak punch.

"Thank you." AUBREY muttered, satisfied with the sound she heard.

Bouncing back up with a cheerful and excited smile, KEL patted himself down, "Okay, I'll make sure to put a pin on this and ask you about it later~! Now it's finally my time to shine!"

KEL hopped over to SUNNY, bombastically presenting himself with enough energy to kill an elephant.

"HEY, SUNNY! It's your old friend, KEL! Bet you missed me a whole bunch, huh?" KEL chuckled, "I missed you too man. You won't believe the adventures I've been having while you were gone! I met so many new friends and got along with tons of strangers!" KEL began listing off, "I managed to get into the school's basketball team, I made friends with a cute artist who can make incredible life-like drawings, I got a little sister named SALLY- Oh my god, I forgot to tell you that first! I'm totally a big brother now! Isn't that awesome?!" KEL gushed, "Mom and Dad had her about two years ago, and she's the cutest baby in the world! I know it sounds like exaggerated bias coming from her own family, but I'm telling you that she is absolutely adorable! I wish I could hold her without making her cry though… She always gets scared of my face for some reason…"

"HAH! For some reason he says!" AUBREY heckled.

"Shush." KEL bit back, before resuming, "When you finally wake up again, I gotta introduce you to her someday. I'm sure you'll love her just as much as I do!" KEL's smile slowly softened a bit as he admitted, "A lot has changed since you slept. Some good, some bad. When you finally wake up, you might have a hard time recognizing the place you used to live in for so long. But no matter what happens, I promise I'll be there for you this time. I'm not going to leave you alone ever again. From now on, I'm gonna start visiting you regularly like I used to before I stopped four years ago. I hope you don't mind hearing my voice screaming into your ear a whole lot more often than normal in the coming future. Happy birthday, SUNNY. Hope you have sweet dreams."

Finished with his turn, KEL jumped back to his seat again with a satisfied smile and a long stretch.

"Ah, it feels good to let that out of my system. Really hoping SUNNY was listening to all that…"

BASIL smiled back, "With your explosive voice and bombastic personality, I doubt he could tune you out even if he tried."

AUBREY pulled herself back up as she suddenly asked, "Wait, earlier you just said that you were going to start visiting SUNNY regularly… from now on?"

KEL looked back at her with a curious, "Yeah?"

"As in, you haven't been visiting at all since four years ago until now?" AUBREY continued.

Raising an eyebrow, he stated, "I thought you already knew that? Haven't you been visiting SUNNY along with BASIL and MARI all this time while I was gone?"

AUBREY blinked stupidly to herself as her earlier conclusions have crashed down on themselves.

Then with a groan, she tilted her head back and covered her face, "UUUUUUUUGGHH! You freakin' idiot! So I was right about you all along since the beginning! And I was totally building up all that goodwill and trust towards you too until now!"

"Okay, what am I missing here?" KEL asked as he turned to BASIL, "I suddenly feel like I did something wrong without even realizing it."

BASIL looked between his two friends in confusion, before shrugging, "I'm honestly lost in this conversation myself."

Bringing her hands down to glare at KEL, she was about to give a piece of her mind.

But then she stopped, as she noticed both KEL and BASIL were looking at her strangely. Then she remembered the past few hours today and how much fun she had been having with them both as they celebrated SUNNY's birthday.

She also realized that KEL had mistakenly come to the same accidental conclusions as she did about how either of them was still visiting SUNNY all these years while the other was gone living their own life.

If she really decided to make a deal out of it now, she'd end up exposing herself as a massive hypocrite and would have no moral ground to stand on anymore.

Was it really worth it to get angry about it, she asked herself? When bygones wordlessly became bygones today?

Was it worth souring the mood, just to fulfill her own self-righteous satisfaction?

Sigh… She was tired of being angry, to be honest.

"Ugh, never mind." AUBREY groaned annoyingly, "I'm too tired to even want to do anything about it anymore."

KEL, unaware of the massive giant bullet that he somehow luckily managed to dodge, tilted his head confusedly before wisely deciding to let sleeping dogs lie.

He had a bad feeling that if he continued prodding the sleeping beast, it'll ruin the whole day and reset everyone's progress back to square one all over again.

BASIL was clueless as to what just happened but still managed to stay happy.

Having both AUBREY and KEL speak to SUNNY after all these years gave BASIL some comfort and peace of mind. It only reaffirmed that SUNNY was the missing link that was keeping their old friend group back together. As if his mere presence was enough to get people connected again.

He only just needs to wake up… And BASIL was sure everything would be back to the way things used to be.


Eventually, the sky turned orange, and everyone decided to leave it there on a high note.

AUBREY and KEL left the hospital room with a satisfied smile, turning back to BASIL to thank him.

"Hey, thanks for having us join you, BASIL. Today was… surprisingly more fun than I was expecting." AUBREY admitted.

"Yeah, man! Me too." KEL concurred, "If it wasn't for you giving me the encouragement I needed, I probably would have still been too scared to come back after all this time. It was really great hanging out with everyone again."

BASIL shook his head, "No need to thank me! If anything, I should be thanking you! You're the ones who made SUNNY's eighteenth birthday all the more memorable. I want both of you to know that you're welcome at any time to come visit SUNNY, with or without me."

"I'll make the effort to go at it alone next time." AUBREY nodded.

"Same here." KEL gave a quick peace sign before walking away, "See you later!"

AUBREY waved farewell as well, following KEL to the elevator.

BASIL waved at the two of them fondly, "Bye you guys! It was great to be together with you two again!"

...

...

...

After they went out of sight, BASIL's smile slowly faded away as his face hardened.

Turning around, BASIL slammed the door shut to reveal MARI was hiding behind it this entire time. She jolted a bit from the loud slam, keeping her face hidden away.

"I was wondering where you've been. I knew you wouldn't miss out on visiting SUNNY on his birthday." BASIL stated before simply asking, "Why were you hiding? You could have come in and joined us this entire time."

MARI kept her eyes on the floor, refusing to make eye contact with him.

She shook her head, "I… I just didn't want to face those two."

"Why not?" BASIL stared coldly at her, "It would have been the perfect chance to reconnect and make up with them."

At this, she shook her head even harder, "There's… There's no way I could have done that…I couldn't trust myself to stay calm around those two. That's too much to ask."

"Is it?" BASIL asked incredulously, "Because you still hate them?"

MARI didn't bother responding back to that.

BASIL shook his head slowly with disgust in his eyes.

Still too busy getting lost in her own world to understand how everyone else feels around her.

Despite the fact that it was all her fault to begin with… How she managed to find the reasons to resent her friends for not willing to suffer as much as she was over SUNNY's tragedy was insulting. Both to their friends and to SUNNY.

It's just another brand of selfishness.

Hypocrite.

Unable to tolerate her any longer, BASIL had to force himself to leave before he said something he'd regret.

BASIL turned around, not bothering to say goodbye to MARI as he headed towards the exit.

By the time BASIL was long out of earshot, MARI was too late to muster up the courage to thank him for still caring about SUNNY. Thank him for still being able to forgive their friends when she still hasn't been able to herself.

Thank him for still not forgiving her.

In her eyes… BASIL was the only true friend for SUNNY that she could rely on.

She hoped that never changes…

After a while, she somehow found the strength to push herself away from the wall and open the door to SUNNY's room.

Being able to see him again sent waves of relief to her heart.

Being together with him like this felt like a stab through the heart…

It pained her so much to see him sometimes. But she still keeps visiting in order to keep him company.

And to remind herself what she's done...

Pulling up a chair next to SUNNY, she gave a weak smile as she held onto his hand.

"Hey, Little Brother." She started off softly, "Happy birthday… Did you have fun spending time with your friends again? BASIL is such a nice boy for setting it up for you. He even somehow managed to get KEL and AUBREY to join, even though they haven't visited in so long…"

SUNNY said nothing back.

"I know what you're going to say…" MARI chuckled weakly, "You want me to go find BASIL and apologize to him, don't you? To find AUBREY and KEL and apologize to them too…" She slowly shook her head, "I'm sorry, but I don't think I can bring myself too… I just… can't seem to get over it… I'm sure you'd have already done the right thing and forgiven all of them by now if you were here, but… I guess I'm just not as kind-hearted as you are…"

Looking over the counter next to her, her eyes lit up as she saw all the gifts left behind for him.

"Look, SUNNY! Look at all these gifts your friends left you!" MARI called out cheerfully, even if the smile never reached her eyes, "This big yellow cat looks so cute! Isn't it lovely?" Picking up the keychain that AUBREY left for him, she dangled it above SUNNY's head for him to see, "You collect stuff like this, don't you? I'm sure it'll look nice with all the other capsule toys you've bought." Setting the keychain back down, she picked up the next one, "Oh, I recognize these! I've seen you and BASIL play together with these all the time back then." Placing the PET ROCK in SUNNY's hand, she squeezed it tightly between the two of them, "You had plans to try to build up a large collection of this stuff too, didn't you? You've worked so hard doing chores in order to save up enough just to try to get the next piece."

Setting that back on the counter, she found a lit candle that was already blown out.

"Oh, did you and your friends make a wish?" She picked the candle up and carefully looked it over, "It's a shame there was only just one candle. I remember back when we were celebrating your twelfth birthday, you were so awestruck to find so many candles sticking out of your cake! Your expression was so cute… I think BASIL took a picture of it before you blew it all out, didn't he? I would have loved to have a copy of that photo…"

Putting the candle away, MARI turned back to SUNNY as she continued acting cheerfully, "Wow, today must have been the best birthday for you yet! I can't wait to see how you'll celebrate the next one when you're nineteen years old!"

SUNNY did not respond.

MARI, unable to keep the act going for any longer, felt her smile fade away.

Laying her head down on his lap, MARI quietly started begging, "Please wake up, SUNNY… I miss you so much… I just want you to come home to me…"

SUNNY did not respond.

Tears began trickling out of her eyes, "I'd do anything just to see your smile again… I loved your smile so much… Even though you rarely do it, it always brightened up my day whenever you did."

SUNNY did not respond.

"I wouldn't care if you'd even hated me… You can call me names, insult me, hurt me as much as you want… As long as you woke up, I wouldn't care… I'd accept it all, because I'd deserve it."

SUNNY did not respond.

Her composure slowly crumbling, MARI began sobbing, "I'm so sorry, SUNNY… I'm so sorry… I wish I could take your place… I wish I could be the one on this bed instead of you…! Because of me, you lost your eye and the last six years of your life… I don't know how I'd ever be able to pay you back…I ruined your life, didn't I? I'm such a stupid dumb sister… I can't even remember why we were arguing near the stairs in the first place, but because of that, I ruined your life…"

SUNNY did not respond.

No longer having any words left to say, MARI devolved into just sobbing uncontrollably onto his lap, the blankets soaking up all her tears.

Her hand held tightly onto his with a deathlike grip, unable to let go.

She was never able to let go.

She could never let him go.

Otherwise, she'd have nothing left.

And with nothing left, how could she find the excuse to go on?

Eventually, the tears stopped flowing.

MARI passed out on top of his lap, her hand still holding onto his tightly.

The sun began setting as nighttime came.

Visiting hours were coming to a close.

Yet somehow, perhaps due to negligence or from being understaffed, no one bothered to check in the room with the comatose boy missing an eye.

MARI was left sleeping by her little brother the entire night, as she dreamed of a space where nothing ever went wrong.

SUNNY's eighteenth birthday party was over.

The world kept on spinning without a care in the world.

Nighttime turned into day.

The sky turned from dark to blue.

The sunlight entered through the windows of the room.

OMORI slowly opened his eye as the sun shined over his face.