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I Won't Let Him

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It's a long way down…

That was the last thought he had in his mind before he decided to jump.

They would have never believed in me anyway.

That was the last thought he had in his mind after he jumped.

The soaring wind brushing his face as he fell somehow made him feel so calm. None of it felt real to him, to be honest.

It didn't really matter, either way. Nothing was real to him anymore. Nothing mattered.

He didn't deserve to live anyway. This was the best outcome for everyone.

He was sure that BASIL would confess about everything, once he woke up. Confess to their friends about what really happened. This was good though. It works out in the end. This way, when everyone finds out what actually happened, they'll feel no guilt or remorse over his death.

He's sure that they'll be glad to be rid of him.

Perhaps it was cruel of him to force all the responsibilities onto his friend after everything he's been through. Once again, he chose to selfishly leave BASIL behind by himself.

BASIL always did hate being alone… Just like him.

Perhaps once BASIL learns what happened to his dear best friend after this is all over… he'll be the only one distraught about it. He may even decide to follow after him out of a sense of guilt, or obligation.

Perhaps that's for the best too… Maybe murderers like them don't deserve to live after all.

Once this was all over… OMORI will go back to sleep, and dream of White Space again. Where he'll go back to the simple life of a child, going on adventures, playing games, and having picnics. With his friends. With his sister. No longer shackled by the guilt of the waking world, he'll finally be able to dream eternally in HEADSPACE where everything was okay… Where his sister never died… His sister...

MARI…

If only things had gone differently. Time after time, For the past four years when SUNNY stayed awake, he had replayed the event in his mind over and over again, desperately wondering if he could have done something differently to prevent the way things played out.

If only SUNNY was better at the violin, he wouldn't have made MARI upset for not being perfect.

If only he didn't throw the violin down the stairs on the day of the recital, MARI wouldn't have gotten even more upset at him.

If only he was more responsible, he could have apologized to MARI instead of shouting back at her.

If only he never tried to run away… he could have prevented himself from shoving MARI off when she tried to grab him…

If only he didn't throw the violin down the stairs… MARI would have never landed on it.

If only he knew that she was still alive… he would have never let BASIL convince him to follow his lead.

If only he didn't turn around when BASIL tried to pull him back to the house after they hung her...

He would have never known that this was the moment when MARI truly died.

Sorry MARI. SUNNY just couldn't find the strength to forgive himself. OMORI just wouldn't let him…

If you're truly out there, watching over him like you said…

Well...

See you soon, I guess.

A hazy feeling.

Like a distant memory.

Like he was just waking up from a long sleep.

His vision blurry, he couldn't see what was in front of him.

A loud stream of muffling poured into his ears, accompanied by constant ringing.

Where was he? Was he dead? Did he survive the fall?

No, that can't be… A dream, maybe. It had to be. A last final dream to suffer through before the end.

"...UNNY… SUNNY…. SUNNY!"

His senses come back to him, steady, slowly.

He finally noticed that he was standing, all this time.

His eyes twitched up, his vision unblurs itself to see his sister MARI right in front of him again.

She was angry at him. Loudly upset. She looked down on him with judgemental eyes.

"Are you listening to me?! I am TALKING, young man!"

Ah, maybe not a dream then. A nightmare. Or Hell. A deserving hell…

Figures. If he were to see MARI again, of course she'd hate him too. Was she angry at him for not being able to forgive himself? Or maybe more preferably, she was angry at him for killing her in the first place…

Yes, he'd rather MARI hate him for that… He deserved nothing less.

"Look at the mess you made! Do you not realize that you just destroyed everyone's hard work at getting you that violin?!"

MARI sternly pointed downwards to the side, making OMORI look over in a daze.

The familiar scene of the violin he smashed at the bottom of the stairs.

What…? Why was he seeing this again? Hasn't he lived through this nightmare enough times already…?

"I can't believe you would throw your violin like that! On the day of our recital! Do you have any idea what you've just done, you ungrateful little brat?!"

If this is truly Hell, if he was truly dead, then does that mean that OMORI would have to be subjugated to suffer living through this scenario over and over again?

The past four years now, he's gone through this in his head. Over and over and over and over again. He never stopped thinking about it, he never once was able to stop thinking about it. Constantly torturing himself with the guilt and pain of reliving the same day every single time. Every moment he was awake, he remembered this day. The only time he could truly ever let him forget was when he dreamed of White Space, where nothing ever went wrong.

He wanted to die to get away from this. He wanted to die so that he could finally find peace, knowing that there would never be any peace if he was alive. To live in White Space for the rest of eternity.

This Hell would be no different than he was alive.

"Don't you know how hard everyone worked just to get you that violin?! How could you just throw it away like that?! Do you have anything to say for yourself, SUNNY?!"

MARI, she had been so angry at him. All he wanted to do was to get closer to her, to spend more time with her, but he was never good enough to match her skill and dedication to the piano.

He picked up the violin for her. It was for her sake, not his. Why couldn't she see that? Why couldn't she see how hard he was working just to be with her? Why did she have to be so angry, so judgmental, just because he wasn't as perfect as her?

Why was he being called a selfish brat, WHEN EVERYTHING HE EVER DID WAS FOR-

...

No… No- no Nonono Nonono-

It was all playing out exactly like it did before.

Anywhere but here. Anything but this. He couldn't stand this kind of torture!

He'd rather stab himself again. He'd rather get lost in the forest surrounded by spiders constantly trying to kill him. He'd rather struggle and drown at the darkest pits of the ocean. He'd rather see the haunting corpse of his sister hanging off of every branch of every tree in the entire world.

Anything would be better than reliving this scene again, knowing that he couldn't do anything.

He had to get away from here. He had to run…

He took a disoriented step back before he tried to turn around and run away from MARI, only to have her grab onto his arm and pull him back-

"Where do you think you're going?! I'm not done talking to you!"

No, not again, NOT AGAIN-

It was purely instinctual. In his panicked mind, it was the only thing he could think of doing. In order to prevent living through the scene again, he had to shove her away.

But when he saw MARI stumble back towards the stairs, OMORI realized in horror what he had done.

It was like time had frozen, as OMORI watched his sister fall backwards. Her bad knee hadn't healed up yet, she lost her balance and tripped, she wouldn't grab onto the railing in time. She could only reach her hand out in order to latch on to something. She could only reach her hand out… to him.

He could only look on in horror.

He could only look on in horror.

He could only look on in horror.

Just like before.

That day, SUNNY's body froze up, his mind unable to comprehend what he was seeing- instead of doing anything- all he could do was to wait for something to happen.

Waiting for something to happen.

Waiting for something to happen.

Waiting for something to happen.

OMORI won't make the same mistake as SUNNY.

Dashing forward, he latched his arms quickly around MARI's waist just as they were about to fall together.

OMORI felt his world spinning in circles as body began to get battered and bruised from colliding with the stair steps over and over again. He could feel every step breaking the bones in his arm, his leg, his wrists and ankles- he could see the stars shining up in his eyes after his head bounced on each step.

Yet not once did he let go of MARI. All he could think about was protecting her.

After what felt like countless years of falling down on an endless stairway, the both of them finally dropped to the bottom with MARI landing right on top of him.

"Owww! Owowowow! I think I busted my back…" MARI cried out in a stupor as she rubbed her back, before realizing her little brother was underneath her. In a panic, she quickly shuffled off of him before asking in concern, "SUNNY?! Are you alright?!"

OMORI could not respond. His mind was in a daze, and his body was as numb as it was in pain. Like being hit by an oncoming train.

If there was only one thing his body could feel though, it was this strange sensation in his right eye. Painful, yet familiar. Like when he tried to go visit BASIL in his room for the last time before he had to move away…

Garden shears.

"SUNNY, come on! Speak to me! Please let me know if you're alright!" MARI shouted nervously, roughly shaking his shoulders as if rousing him from sleep. "SUNNY! Come on, SUNNY!"

Unable to turn his head, he felt a hand grab on to his cheek as it gently pulled his head up for him.

There, he saw MARI. Looking down on him, not with the same judgemental eyes like before, but with horrified concern.

"Oh my god, SUNNY! Your eye, i-i-it's bleeding!" MARI stuttered in shock, "The violin, it- it got into your-"

She was alive. Alive and well. Even after falling down the stairs and landing on top of his violin.

This was… unexpected… He was so sure that things would play out the same as they always have… How was she still okay?

Was this another HEADSPACE delusion? A what-if scenario of what it would be like if OMORI was the one who fell down the stairs?

Out of the corner of his eye, the eye that wasn't being covered in pitch black darkness, he saw a familiar blond hair poking into view.

"M-MARI…? W-What happened?"

BASIL's voice. Of course he would show up too. Just like back then. Just like before. If it hadn't been for him, SUNNY would have never helped him hang MARI's body onto the tree outside. If it hadn't been for him, MARI would still have been alive. He was a murderer, same as SUNNY.

Will this scene continue to play out like he was imagining? Will BASIL suggest to MARI to hang his body on the tree, like he did for MARI in the real world?

Was his final punishment before death was to experience how it felt for MARI when she died?

"BASIL, go get help! Get someone, anyone- mom or dad, an adult, HERO- Just please find someone! SUNNY's hurt!" MARI desperately pleaded.

BASIL hesitated and trembled in fear, before running away. In the distance, OMORI could hear him scream, "KEL! HERO! SUNNY needs help!"

That's different. Everything was so different. OMORI couldn't wrap his mind around why everything was playing out so differently.

He was so sure that this was supposed to be his final punishment...

Beside him, MARI started hugging him to her body as she began shivering from the shock. Her eyes started swelling up as streams of tears unraveled down her cheeks.

"SUNNY, I'm so sorry… This was my fault… Oh god, this is all my fault- I shouldn't have- I shouldn't have-"

As the tears of his sister hit land on his face, mixing in with the blood that was presumably coming from his eye, OMORI couldn't help but wonder if maybe this wasn't really a punishment after all?

Instead of his sister, it was him that was bleeding and on the ground.

MARI was the one that was alive this time.

This never happened before. Never has this ever happened before in any of his nightmares.

If he was truly about to die from the fall at the hospital, or even perhaps already in the process of dying, then what could any of this mean?

Is this… is this a world where he managed to save his sister? Before she fell and died?

Maybe this was actually Heaven instead. How long has he always fantasized of a world where his sister was still alive?

Or maybe this was one last final delusion he's given himself before he passes on.

Heh… Heheheh…

He could feel the light in the room starting to dim… His other eye could barely keep itself open as he suddenly felt sleepier than ever before.

He could feel himself fading away.

"SUNNY? SUNNY, stay with me!"

A world where SUNNY dies in MARI's place… Where he never killed his sister… Where BASIL never hanged her body to the tree outside.

What a perfect world, indeed. One where he would gladly live in if he wasn't about to die.

MARI pulled OMORI closer, hugging him to her chest as she was sobbing.

Her heartbeat… It made such a beautiful rhythm. He could stay here and listen to it forever if he could help it.

"We're going to get you to the hospital SUNNY... You're going to be just fine! I promise that I'll be there for you!" He could hear MARI muttering in between gasps and hiccups.

No, don't cry for him, MARI. This is perfect, exactly what he always wanted…

OMORI weakly reached up to hold the hand caressing his cheek, covered in blood and tears. Looking up at her, he couldn't help but give a calm smile.

Whether this world was real or fake, some sort of premonition of what could've been, or another one of his fantasies to give him comfort… He never felt more at peace with himself as he did now.

"Don't worry… Everything is going to be okay…" MARI whimpered.

Everything is going to be okay…

Those words…Those words have haunted him for so long. Spoken by BASIL to reassure him that he wouldn't get in trouble for pushing MARI down those flight of steps that night. No matter how many times he said it, OMORI knew nothing was ever going to be okay...

But to hear it coming from MARI, he felt like he could truly believe it for the first time ever in his life.

Dying in his sister's arms… it was all he could ever ask for.

It was like the past four years was nothing more than a long-forgotten nightmare...

Everything was going to be okay…


Six years have passed since the incident.

An adult MARI, twenty-one years old, pulled up a chair and sat right beside her little brother in the hospital bed.

In just a few more days, her little brother will soon be celebrating his eighteenth birthday.

"Hey, Little Brother." MARI greeted cheerfully enough, before rummaging around her bag and pulling out a small wrapped-up plate of steak. "I know I'm just a few days early, but I couldn't help but get a bit over-excited. I wanted to celebrate with you as soon as possible."

Unwrapping the plate, she carefully placed the item right on top of her little brother's lap.

"It's your favorite! Steak!" MARI smiled, "I even made it exactly how you always liked it."

Silence was her only response, as the only noise in the room was that of a heartbeat monitor continuing to beep at a steady pace.

With a sigh, she said, "I know you can't eat it right now, so how about I help eat it for you? Best not to let it go to waste."

With that, she moved the plate over to her lap instead, and began slowly eating.

For the next half hour, MARI silently ate by herself right next to her little brother. Occasionally, she would look up to stare at him. Watching his face. Watching his arms and legs. Watching his fingers.

Just waiting.

Waiting for something to happen.

At last, she finished her last bite and wiped her mouth away with a small napkin. Cleaning herself up, she put her plate back in her bag before standing up.

"Well… I hope you liked your early birthday present…" MARI said sadly, "Only four days left to go…"

Leaning down, MARI brushed the bangs away from her little brother's face and gave his forehead a small kiss.

"Don't feel lonely, okay? I'm going to keep visiting you every single day." MARI reassured him gently.

Even then, there was still no response.

"No matter how long it takes…" She gulped, "I'll still come to visit you, okay? Until you wake up again, I'll be right by your side…"

SUNNY never woke up since the incident.

That fateful day when SUNNY protected her from falling down the stairs and landing on his violin, he was immediately rushed to the hospital. BASIL managed to get help from KEL and HERO, and their parents were able to get an ambulance to arrive right on time.

The recital she and SUNNY were about to participate in had to be canceled, of course. There was no way MARI could focus on anything other than her brother's wellbeing.

She had waited so long in the check-in room, waiting for the doctors to tell them all if he was going to be all right.

Even though she was there with friends and family, she couldn't bring herself to speak or even look at them. All she could think about was how…

How it was her fault.

When the doctors came out after hours of waiting to deliver the news, she became devastated.

He had become stable again and was breathing just fine. The doctors managed to stop the bleeding and heal his body, but they weren't able to save his eye.

It was MARI's fault that he lost his eye.

She was the first to ask the doctor to let her see SUNNY, but the doctor was hesitant. SUNNY hadn't woken up yet, and might not be conscious for a while.

It didn't matter. She just had to see him. To make sure she was all right.

When she saw his sleeping form for the very first time, she couldn't help but admire how peaceful her little brother looked. As if he was just taking a short nap to regain his energy. As if he would soon wake up at any moment.

He never woke up.

Days after days of waiting, visiting him whenever she was allowed to. Sometimes with her parents. Sometimes with her friends.

Usually almost always by herself.

He still never woke up.

There's no telling when he'll ever wake up. It could be tomorrow, or it could even be in the next fifty years.

That's all she could remember the doctors saying.

Coma. Her brother SUNNY was in a coma. It was MARI's fault that he was in a coma.

The news broke her. Knowing that her little brother would be in a coma after falling down those stairs, a fall that she surely caused, it was overwhelming for her. It felt like a part of her died.

It was all her fault. She was the reason why he was like this.

If it hadn't been for her, SUNNY would have still…

HERO tried his best to comfort her, trying to convince her that it was just an accident. But there was no way she could believe that. She knew, from the bottom of her heart, that this whole thing was entirely her fault and no one else's.

All she had to do was let herself fall by herself. She didn't have to reach out to grab SUNNY. If only she could have fell by herself, SUNNY would have been just fine.

She couldn't sleep right anymore. She barely ate properly either. Ever since then, she's been unable to focus on her schoolwork and had to be dropped out of school early.

During the years that passed, all she ever did now was wake up, cook, eat, visit SUNNY, and sleep. She couldn't bring herself to do anything else. She's barely even touched her piano ever since the incident.

She didn't even go outside anymore unless it was to go visit SUNNY. When was the last time she ever brought out her picnic basket?

At first, it used to be that everyone would be visiting him. KEL, AUBREY, HERO and BASIL, they'd all make time out of their schedules to come and visit SUNNY along with her. Not as often as her, but they still made the attempt to visit.

But as time moved on, they all eventually gave up when they realized SUNNY wasn't going to be waking up anytime soon.

KEL stopped first, as he started getting into more curricular activities in school with his sports and making new friends. Even though he would come over to her house to occasionally visit, he doesn't ever seem to want to go to the hospital anymore. One time MARI asked why he stopped. He became nervous and changed the topic.

MARI couldn't see KEL as a friend after that anymore.

AUBREY was shockingly the second to stop coming. Her last visit, she completely broke down in tears and shouted how she couldn't handle seeing him like this anymore, before running back home. Ever since then, AUBREY has been actively avoiding MARI and the others. The last time MARI saw her, she had dyed her hair pink and was hanging out with some scooter gang from the neighborhood. Carrying a nail bat.

MARI couldn't see AUBREY as a friend anymore either.

HERO… he left for college.

She'd rather not think about him. For all she cared, he was dead to her.

The only person left who ever visits SUNNY as much as she does was BASIL. Every so often, he'd come to add or change the flowers in the vase sitting right next to SUNNY's bed.

White Egret Orchids. Supposedly, in the language of flowers, it symbolizes the phrase, "my thoughts will follow you into your dreams."

BASIL was a true friend, in her eyes. Even if he absolutely hated her guts for what she did to SUNNY.

BASIL doesn't ever visit their house anymore. Even though he comes to visit SUNNY, she knew that he only specifically visits during the hours when he knows MARI isn't there.

She couldn't blame him. At least he still cared about SUNNY, unlike the others.

So in the end, she was left all alone to be the one to take care of her little brother. Besides BASIL, she was practically all alone…

All alone...

It was fine. Who cares? Not like she needed them anyways.

If her group of friends could so easily be torn apart and broken from something like this, then maybe they were never her friends to begin with…

As long as SUNNY was still breathing, she'll come visit him and stay right by his side. She'll never leave him alone.

Then when he eventually wakes up, he won't be alone.

It was her responsibility to make sure.

Because it was all her fault…

All her fault.

Buckling to her knees, she laid her head on the bed and covered her face to stop herself from crying. Her other hand reached out to grab onto her little brother's hand and tightly grasped it like a lifeline.

No matter how long it takes, she'll continue to wait.

Just wait.

Waiting until something happens.

Chapter Text

THREE DAYS LEFT…

MARI woke up with a sudden start.

Blinking for a few seconds, she tiredly rubbed her eyes before looking at the digital clock by her bed.

3 AM.

Ugh… She woke up way too early. On one of the rare nights where she wasn't having any dreams or nightmares too…

That's unfortunate…

She slowly shook her head, before noticing a blinking light right beside the clock. Her house phone, flashing to notify her that she had a voicemail.

It was probably her dad again. Used to be her phone would only get voicemails from both Dad and HERO during the beginning of her slump since SUNNY- … since SUNNY went to the hospital. She doesn't get voicemails from HERO anymore since she blocked his number though. So it definitely had to be Dad.

She contemplated whether it would be worth it to stand up and walk over just to listen to it. She felt rather sluggish, and would really rather stay in bed.

Sigh… No, the least she could do was hear his message. It might be important, like he was sending another check again to pay her expenses and last her for another month. Or it could be him warning her that his business trip was going to take longer than usual, so she won't be able to see him visiting anytime soon.

Hopefully he won't remind her to go outside more often or to take up a hobby… She wasn't really in the mood to listen to another long nagging voicemail about her mental health.

With a groan, she brought herself out of bed and trudged towards the phone. Pressing on the button, she listened to the voicemail left for her.

"... Hey sweetie! It's your father. I hope I didn't call you while you were sleeping. Time zones here are different and I forgot if the clocks over here are too fast or too slow… Anyway, I won't keep you for long. I just wanted to tell you that my business trip will be taking longer than expected, so I won't be able to come home anytime soon. I'm really sorry about this 'hun, but I promise I'll bring back souvenirs so that you can decorate your room! I'm sure SUNNY would appreciate seeing some new stuff if he ever wakes- … I mean, when he eventually wakes up."

MARI couldn't help but give another tired sigh.

"To make it up to you though, I've already sent you a check that should give you about three months worth for food, water, and electricity. That should be more than enough time to last you before I can come back home. Be responsible, don't spend it all in willy-nilly, okay? Be back home soon sweetie, I love you!"

BEEP.

Guess she'll need to be on the lookout for another check in the mail then.

Sigh…

If it wasn't for the pictures decorated all around the house, she wasn't sure if she'd be able to even remember her dad's face anymore with how often he left her alone.

She certainly couldn't remember what her mother looked like anymore. Unable to handle the grief over SUNNY, she suddenly had the urge to go visit her relatives one day and decided to never come back. Dad says that she was just grieving, but MARI honestly couldn't care less.

Sludging her feet back towards the bed, she fell over with a thump and covered herself in her blanket.

With one tired eye open, she looked over to see the other empty bed sitting just a few feet away from her own. The blanket was tucked in and the pillows were fluffed every single day. MARI made a point to always clean and wash the blankets or pillows if they ever collected too much dust. But no one ever slept in that bed anymore.

She closed her eyes, eventually finding her energy drained as she slowly fell back into sleep…

*GRUMBLE*

She was starving, she realized.

When was the last time she ate again?

Ah, that's right. The last thing she ate was that piece of steak she made for SUNNY yesterday when she came to visit. That had to be… what, fourteen hours ago?

She didn't really feel like moving though… The bed was too comfortable, and her eyes were so heavy. She wondered if she couldn't just ignore the hunger inside and just go back to sleep.

*GRUMBLE*

Apparently not.

Ugh, this would have never happened if she just ate something for dinner last night. She knew better to maintain a healthy eating schedule, but she just… she just didn't really feel like eating at the time.

Since it was coming back to bite her though, she had no choice but to go downstairs and grab something quick to eat.

Leaving the sanctity of her bed and exiting her room, she took a deep breath as she looked towards the stairway in her house.

Even though it had been six years since the incident, it never got easier for her.

Steeling herself for the trial ahead, she stepped towards the stairs and gripped tightly on the railing. She still had the bad knee, so it was important for her to take it slow.

One by one, step by step, she walked down the stairs. Never letting go of the railing. Never letting the same mistake happen again.

She was so careless that day. Why did she have to lose balance near the stairs? Why did she have to reach out and grab SUNNY like that? If only she didn't have the bad knee from that softball game back in middle school. If only she had just kept her hands to herself… Why were they even having an argument next to the stairs in the first place? She couldn't even remember what they were arguing about, it seemed so important at the time…

She couldn't believe the last time they talked, she was screaming at his face over something that didn't even matter anymore.

And now he's gone.

Was it just her, or was the stairway taking longer than usual to go down?

She couldn't help but feel like she was walking down to the depths of the ocean with how long this took.

It was so dark in this house. Why did it have to be so dark? Why couldn't the light switch for this room be on the top of the stairs instead of the very bottom?

Her breathing became unsteady. Her vision started to darken, making the room that much more harder to see.

Out of the corner of her eyes, she thought she could see hands protruding out of the walls. Hands. Hands. Hands. Hands everywhere.

Reaching out to grab her. Reaching out to push her. Reaching out to make sure that she'll fall and suffer just like she did to her little brother.

She had to stop in place and hug the railing tightly as she began hyperventilating.

MARI was AFRAID.

The hands… She could feel them crawling all over her back. If she made one wrong move, one wrong step, they'll push her down without hesitation.

Don't let go of the railing, MARI… Don't let go of the railing…

Slowly, steadily, miraculously, she managed to make it to the bottom of the staircase. No worse for wear.

The moment her foot landed on the final step, she could feel all the hands around her retreating back to the dark depths of her mind where they came from.

Letting go of the railing, she steadied herself to make sure she didn't collapse to the floor. She wasn't sure if she could stand back up if she did.

Breathe…Slow, steady breaths.

MARI took a deep breath and CALMED DOWN.

Now that the worst part of it all was over, she could finally make her way to the kitchen.


Leftover steak from yesterday.

Although steak was more SUNNY's favorite food rather than hers, she didn't really have any other option in the fridge.

Taking the steak out of the microwave, she grabbed a steak knife and fork before chowing down.

Swallowing a bite, she fought back the urge to grimace… Ugh, doesn't taste as good when it's not fresh from the grill.

She definitely should have eaten this last night instead of waiting until now.

After this, she should make sure to buy some tofu later in the morning. Not exactly her favorite either, but at least it was cheap and filling.

Finishing the meal and putting the dishes in the sink, she gave another depressed sigh.

Taking a glance at the steak knife, she went ahead and started washing it, "Shouldn't leave this out in the open. Might accidentally cut myself if I'm not paying attention."

And since she was already in the process, might as well wash the other dishes too.

It took her a brief moment before she was done, just in time for her to give a tired yawn.

Her eyes still felt heavy.

At least she was going to be heading UP the stairs instead of down this time. Walking up never seems to faze her, it was trying to go down that was the hard part for her.

*KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK*

MARI froze.

Someone was knocking at the front door.

But who could that even be? It was three in the morning, everyone in the neighborhood should be asleep right about now.

Cautiously, she exited the kitchen and stepped towards the front door.

Looking out in the eyehole, she couldn't see anyone on the other side.

Was it just her imagination then?

"W-..." She hesitated a bit, before quietly asking, "Who's there?"

MARI? It's me, SUNNY.

I stayed out too late playing at BASIL's house and now the sun is down… I've been trying to get home but the door is locked. It's dark outside and I'm really scared.

MARI could only stare blankly at the door.

Can you let me back inside? Please?

MARI could hear her heart beating loudly against her chest.

She was going insane. SUNNY was still in the hospital. There's no way he could be outside her front door right now.

What was he doing at BASIL's house? If he was awake all this time, why didn't he come back home to her?

She had been waiting for him to wake up for so long...

It couldn't be her brother.

She had to at least check though. Check to make sure it was true.

What if the past six years were only just a nightmare? What if SUNNY was still awake this entire time?

If there was even a chance that SUNNY would come back home to her...

She unlocked the door, and slowly opened it to take a peek.

A peek.

A peek.

Just a small peek.

...

A smiling three-eyed demon forced the door open and attacked her.


She woke up with a start.

MARI was still in the kitchen. She just finished washing the dishes and put the last plate away.

A nightmare. She fell asleep standing and had a nightmare.

She felt like she was going to be sick.

Nausea quickly filled her mind as her vision became disoriented and dizzy. She could feel the leftover steak from earlier quickly rising up in her throat.

Knowing what was about to come, she began speed walking to the stair room and ran up the steps.

She shoved the door to the bathroom open and sprinted all the way to the toilet, opening the lid up just barely in time before she felt her stomach hurl everything she ate.

She shut her eyes closed, the only sound to accompany her was the disgusting noise of her wretching all over the inside of the toilet.

After it was all over, she took a deep breath.

Oh god, that steak did not agree with her.

Welp, so much for her appetite. At least she wasn't starving anymore.

Flushing the toilet, she stepped over to the sink and began washing her face clean.

She was so tired… So so so tired.

She just wants to go to sleep.

Grabbing the towel to dry herself off, she looked up to the mirror to see her reflection.

Her long hair was all frazzled and unkempt, years of neglect building up to result in what could politely be considered an optimal nest for the birds or raccoons.

The bags under her eyes were completely overshadowed by her bangs, covering up half of her view.

Her skin, no longer having the healthy pink hue she used to have while she was young, was now pale and sickly white. Years doing nothing but staying in her room, waiting for something to happen.

Covered only by her white sleeping gown. Wrinkled and disheveled, just like the rest of her.

All in all, she looked like she could be a good shoe in replacement for that one ghost girl from The Ring.

She briefly glanced over to the doorway in her reflection to see…

To see…

SOMETHING… behind her.

Sitting there.

Her eyes widened. She dared not move. She dared not breathe.

Three eyes. It always had three eyes. Two left ones and one right.

It was staring at her. She knows it was there. She wasn't crazy, she could see it right there.

It had always been there, staying right behind her, ever since the nightmares started.

Judging her. Taunting her. Reminding her of her mistake.

Reminding her that it was her fault.

Gripping the sink tightly, she mentally prepared herself as she got ready to turn around. To catch it. To make sure she could grab it in time and kill it so that it could never haunt her again.

But when she finally turned around, it disappeared. Like it was never there at all.

Turning back to the mirror, she looked at the doorway in her reflection. Missing. Gone.

She wasn't crazy. No, she was not crazy. SHE'S NOT.

She was just tired.

So so so tired…

She made her way to her bedroom, making sure to ignore any and all distractions.

Slumping over the bed, she didn't even bother covering herself up with a blanket.

She closed her eyes and desperately willed herself to sleep.

MARI just wanted to hang out with her little brother right now…

..

.

.

.

WELCOME TO BRIGHTSPACE

YOU HAVE BEEN LIVING HERE FOR AS LONG AS YOU CAN REMEMBER

HIKIKO opened her eyes, waking up in a bright endless void of a room. Surrounding her was her personal knick-knacks that she used to pass the time when she wasn't busy.

A blanket to keep her tushie comfortable to sit in. A laptop to help her organize her schedule better and write her personal journals of her day. A small toy piano that she uses to express her creative freedom through music. Her pet kitty MEWO sitting in the corner taking a nap.

And lastly, a rope hanging from the endless ceiling above, dangling above a chair. For when she decided to wake up. A quick and easy escape.

Standing up from her spot, she wordlessly turned to the white door that was the only exit out of here.

Opening the door, on the other side was a small playroom. Filled with toys, games, and all sorts of fun things. The sky was purple and the stars were out. It looked like today was going to be a beautiful day to play with her friends.

In front of her, four kids around her age were distracting themselves sitting in a circle playing a card game.

A girl with a pink ribbon noticed her first and called out to the others, "Guys look! HIKIKO is here!"

The boy with short hair next to her excitedly waved at her, "Hey HIKIKO! We've been waiting for you! Let's go outside and play!"

The other boy, a little bit older than the rest, gave her a bright, warm, and charming grin, "HIKIKO! Always a pleasure to see your beautiful eyes again."

And lastly, the boy in front of them… Although usually expressionless and shy, he turned around to give her a small smile.

"Hi, sis."

HIKIKO smiled back at them.

"Hi, SUNNY. Hi, everyone. Where do you guys want to play first?"

SUNNY pointed up the stairs of the exit hole in their hide out, "BASIL said he's waiting for us at the lake. Let's go visit him."

"Sure! Let's not keep him waiting then!" HIKIKO proclaimed cheerfully.

And so, another fun adventure begins for the kids from FARAWAY.

Chapter Text

TWO DAYS LEFT…

Today, KEL was restless.

REALLY restless.

Like, the kind of restless one would feel after downing seven cups of coffee in one sitting and being told to stand in the corner to think about life.

This past week has flown by where KEL had basically done nothing but play video games by himself, play basketball by himself, and was practically doing nothing but hanging out by himself. It was starting to get really really boring without any social interactions.

Getting up from his bed, he scratched his head as he wondered to himself what he was going to do today in order to fix this restless feeling. It was already the afternoon, so there should still be daytime left to burn.

Today was the middle of Summer. The hot heat outside made it a perfect time to go do something fun and energetic. Especially with some friends.

If only he could find someone to do something fun with…

Hm…

Oh! That's it!

Maybe the best way to spend this day was to get his high school basketball team together and asked the captain if he wanted to train before school starts back up again!

With an excited gleam, KEL immediately grabbed his house phone and dialed a phone number as he mentally high-fived himself for a great idea. It'll be fun! He'll get to see the team again, reminisce the good ol' times, ask them how their lives have been and if they've gone through any adventures over the summer-

"Yeah, no, sorry man. I'm out on a ski trip with my family. Won't be able to ask anyone anything until I get back home."

"Oh." KEL blinked, not expecting the sails of his boat to be knocked out so early. Ah well, no big deal. That's life.

"Oh, but I don't mind if you want to round the old team up to do some practice games if you want. Just give them a call!"

Oh yeah, that's a great idea!

Except… Er…

"I… um… I don't have any of the other team member's phone numbers…" KEL mumbled embarrassingly.

"Seriously? You've been on the team for two years now and you only have my phone number?"

"I mean, it just never came up! I never needed anything from the team until now, and it's not like anyone calls me either…" KEL sighed, before having another brilliant idea! "Ooh! If you still know the other guy's phone numbers, how about listing them off to me?"

"Sure, man! Here, give me a sec to find my notepad. I wrote everyone's phone number on a list."

KEL patiently waited while kicking his feet, listening as his captain made rustling noises on the other end of the phone.

"Uh…" He could hear a nervous mumble.

"Anything wrong?" KEL asked.

"No, not really- Well, I mean… Hmm… Actually, yeah. I totally forgot to bring my notepad with me."

KEL sighed, "Seriously?"

"Well, I wasn't expecting to actually need it during this trip! This vacation was supposed to be family-focused, you know? Sorry man…"

"Nah, it's cool." KEL reassured, "I guess I'll just find something else to do in the meantime."

"Sure man. Hope you have a nice summer."

"Yeah, you too."

Hanging up the phone, KEL flopped right back into bed with a large groan.

Well, that plan was a bust. What now?

Hm…

OOH, maybe he could call JAY to see if he was available? The guy was captain of the football team at KEL's school, but with nothing to do until Summer ends, maybe he might be free?

"Sorry dude, can't hang out with you. My aunt's having a baby shower and my family can't miss it."

Ah, alright. Understandable, he remembered how much of a big deal it was for his parents when SALLY was just born. Good for JAY.

How about CRIS? That ocean-loving girl surely must be free during the summer!

"Er, you do realize I'm at a beach party at my old boarding school, right? As much as I'd like to hang out, I'm currently in the middle of a far-off island."

Yeah, even KEL had to admit that was a stretch on his part. Obviously, the girl who loves water, beaches, and oceans would have made plans during the Summer.

MINCY! The cute girl in red glasses who makes amazing art! He asked for her phone number a couple of years back and they've been in touch with each other for the most part. She DEFINITELY has to be free!

"I'm sorry KEL, but I'm taking a tutorship abroad. I'm nowhere near close to FARAWAY town to hang out. Again, I'm really sorry!"

Okay then…

Then what about-

"Nope, getting treatment for surgery."

Oh, how about asking-

"I take cram during the summer, man!"

What if he asked-

"Going on a date with my girlfriend in her hometown."

Maybe he should reach out to-

"Dad dropped his wedding ring in the ocean in Puerto Rico."

I mean, what are the chances that they'll be busy now if he asked-

"I am literally in outer space fighting a space monster to save the world right now. Please call me back later."

KEL did not call them back later, especially not after hearing a rather loud and ominous roar from the other end.

Welp, that was literally the last person on his contact list.

Sigh…

Glancing at the clock in his room, he saw that he had somehow managed to waste an hour trying to find someone to hang out with. Man, he wasn't expecting daylight to burn so quickly. At this rate, he'll be stuck bored out of his mind the entire day.

Hm… Well, there was still one person left he could call to see if he wanted to hang out.

Dialing another phone number one last time, he waited for a moment as he hoped his call got through.

"Hello? KEL?" He heard his big brother answer.

Ah man, it'd been a while since he actually heard HERO's voice. It was pleasant to finally find an excuse to talk to him after all this time, especially since HERO had only visited home once before two years ago.

"Hey, Bro! How's it hanging?" KEL greeted enthusiastically.

"Oh, well… It's hanging, I guess." HERO responded absentmindedly. "Something you needed, KEL?"

"Nah, I'm just bored. I was trying to find someone to hang out with, but all my friends in high school are busy doing their own thing. So I decided, why not give my big brother a call? See what you've been up to, you know? Hang out with me a bit."

"Oh, right… Um…" The tone in HERO's voice sounded both guilty and tired. "Now's probably not a good time…"

"Why, what's up?" KEL asked.

"Studying for finals. Gotta get through this semester with a good grade so that I can keep my scholarship going. Sorry, but I really do not have the time to talk to you today. Or for the next week, to be honest."

Aw man, not even HERO was free to just talk? Was KEL seriously the only high school teenager on Earth with nothing better to do?

He couldn't help but give a disappointed groan, unaware that he accidentally did it on the phone for HERO to listen to.

"Hey, is everything all right? You don't sound like your usual whiny self. This seems more serious." HERO couldn't help but ask in concern.

Realizing the blunder he made, KEL quickly reassured HERO, "O-Oh, no, nothing's wrong, man. Sorry, didn't mean to bother you during your studying session. I've just been trying to find someone that's willing to hang out with me. I've been really bored this past week, you know? I totally get that you're busy though and that this is more important than trying to entertain your whiny little brother." With an embarrassed chuckle, KEL told him, "Seriously, no worries. Good luck with your tests! I know you'll do just fine! Anyways, I'll stop bugging you now. Don't let me hold you back."

Before he was about to turn off his phone though, KEL could hear HERO give a contemplating hum.

"Hey, you know-" HERO suddenly proclaimed, "After this, I could probably ask for a break and come home sometime around the end of this month. How does that sound to you?"

KEL eyes widened in excitement.

"For real?! You're gonna come visit us at the end of this month?!"

"Sure, why not? It's been a while since I've visited anyway. I was starting to feel a little homesick. Plus, you definitely sound like you need the company."

Oh boy, does he ever!

"Aw yeah! Dude, this is totally gonna be sweet! I can't wait to hang out with my best bro again! Thanks, HERO!"

"No problem, little man. What kind of brother would I be if I left you hanging?"

"Hey, who's the little man here? I'm pretty sure I'm finally taller than you now!" KEL couldn't help but playfully pout.

"Oh yeah? Guess we'll just have to find out once again later when I get back home. Little Man." HERO emphasized in a teasing tone.

"Oh-hoh-hoh! You are totally on!" KEL accepted the challenge to his honor with gusto. "If it turns out I've gotten taller than you, you so owe me a pack of Orange Joes!"

"Deal. Oh and also by the way? Maybe keep this a secret from Mom and Dad. I think I'd rather make this a surprise visit." HERO chuckled, "Can I trust you to keep your mouth shut until the end of this month, KEL?

KEL motioned zipping his lips and throwing the zipper away.

"You know I can't see you right? Since I'm on the phone."

"I know."

HERO chuckled again, "I'll just take your silence as a yes then. Okay, but seriously though, I really need to get back to work."

"Sure thing, man! See you later!"

"Yeah, see you soon!"

Oooohhhh man! This was totally going to be so sweet! It's been so long since HERO came to visit since he started college. KEL couldn't wait to see how their heights compared now, or play all the new fighting games he's bought since then, and how much SALLY has grown the last time he visited-

With all this extra excitement in his veins, there was no way he could make himself cooped up in his room! He's gotta get out there and do something for fun!

Ah, right. The excitement of hearing HERO coming to visit completely overshadowed the main problem he was still having.

He was still alone, with no one else to hang with him. Despite the news, HERO was still a long way off before KEL can expect him to arrive.

Shoot…

Maybe his mom might need him to run a few errands or something. It'd be a waste of energy, but it still beats playing around by himself…


"You mean you're gonna be out of the house for the whole day?" KEL asked astonishingly.

"Didn't I tell you already, KEL?" His mother reminded as she carried a two-year-old SALLY in her arms, "I'm going to the local pool in order to help train SALLY to swim at an early age." Looking at the small girl in question and rubbing her nose against the little kid's stomach, "We want you to grow up to be a safe swimmer! Yes we do, yes we do little Snooky-poo!"

SALLY giggled uncontrollably from the tickling.

Bringing her back down, KEL's mother continued, "I don't have any errands for you to run. You're free to do whatever you want, it's all up to you."

"Oh… Okay…" KEL awkwardly scratched his neck.

Wow. Of all the days to have the most free time available to him, it had to be when no one else was around to play with him.

So that meant no chores. No friends. No anything to keep him busy.

Sigh… What was he supposed to do then?

Hm…


KEL continued to ponder this question for a long time, even as he sat outside under the shade of a tree. With nothing to do, he couldn't really seem motivated to play anything.

At least it was better being outside lamenting all of this instead of being inside. The wind blowing felt good in his skin.

Still, he couldn't quite shake off this restless feeling he's had since the beginning of the day.

He really really just wanted to do something with SOMEBODY. Is there seriously nobody else he knows in this town?

Well… There were a few, actually… But...

It had been a while since he last spoke with them. No doubt, asking out of the blue to hang out with them after a long period of silence would feel pretty awkward for both parties involved.

Out of all the people he knew in the town of FARAWAY, the only ones he hadn't asked yet to hang out with him were…

AUBREY.

MARI.

SUNNY.

BASIL.

He's not so sure if he should speak with AUBREY. The last time he remembered hanging out with her was over four years ago. The situation with SUNNY had definitely overwhelmed the both of them when it slowly dawned on them that SUNNY wasn't going to wake up anytime soon.

KEL just really needed something to change in his life. To keep the flow going. Waiting around for SUNNY to wake up wasn't going to help him do that. So he met up with other new people, tried to extend his social circle to as many people as possible. Shame that he accidentally managed to lose contact with his old friend group as a consequence…

He wouldn't say that he's changed all that much. KEL thought that he was still the same old KEL as he was six years ago.

The years had definitely changed AUBREY and MARI though, and not for the better.

AUBREY's change was something KEL never expected to happen. What was once a cute sweet girl with a temper problem and love for cute things, seemingly turned into some kind of gang leader while he wasn't paying attention. He had seen AUBREY hanging around the delinquents, or as they call themselves, "The SCOOTER GANG." Causing trouble around the neighborhood by breaking random things, making a mess wherever they go, and holding a turf over the secret hideout that the old friend group used to have picnics in. He's even seen AUBREY going around holding a nailed bat of all things. Seriously, what was up with that?

KEL wasn't proud to admit it, but the change had scared him a bit. He'd rather not have to deal with the potential hassle of messing with them.

MARI's change was something he saw happening years ago, ever since the day of the accident. When the doctors told everyone that SUNNY was going to be stuck in a coma for potentially the rest of his life, MARI hadn't been the same.

She rarely talked to anyone anymore. Hell, he had rarely seen her even leave the house unless it was to go visit SUNNY. In the beginning of it all, MARI was at least still on friendly terms with him, even if she became very quiet and lifeless. Ever since KEL stopped visiting SUNNY though, MARI started giving him the cold shoulder.

One time, two years ago, he remembered seeing her out in the Supermart buying groceries. When he went to say hi and ask how she's been, MARI gave him the coldest glare before walking away without even speaking a word. When he told HERO about it while he was visiting, HERO went ahead to try to have a talk with her. Something must have gone wrong though because shortly after, HERO came home saying that MARI had broken up with him. Poor guy...

It was the first time KEL has ever seen her like that… Yet a part of him couldn't help but feel like it was definitely his fault… KEL was not the brightest bulb in the warehouse, but even he had some self-awareness that he must have done something wrong to get MARI to hate him.

He just wasn't sure what, though…

As much as he would like to visit MARI and try to patch things up with her, he wasn't sure he'd get very far. Every attempt he made to visit her house, MARI pointedly ignored him. Standing outside and knocking on her door every five minutes for an entire day didn't work either. If he tried to go to her now, it probably won't end up any different.

SUNNY… Well, the reasons why he couldn't ask SUNNY to hang out with him were already obvious. KEL couldn't bring himself to visit him at the hospital either…

Whenever KEL saw him, sleeping like that… Never waking up… It brought an uncomfortable feeling inside him. One that he'd rather not confront at the moment. He just wasn't ready for it…

BASIL… Huh, actually, it had been a while since he last really hung out with the flower boy. Out of all of his past friends, BASIL actually seemed the most unchanged since SUNNY's accident. KEL also knew that he and BASIL didn't have any bad blood between them either, so he could totally just go visit his house if he wanted to.

Yet there was a reason why KEL stopped hanging out with him though, wasn't there? Hm… No, there was definitely a specific reason why, KEL just couldn't quite seem to remember. Was it about his grandma passing away four years ago? KEL remembered BASIL asking him to leave him alone to grieve about it, and KEL respectively honored his wishes. He even remembered telling BASIL that he would be there for him if BASIL ever wanted to talk about it. Was that it?

No, that wasn't it… It was a different reason why he stopped… Hm…

His train of thought was interrupted when he saw a familiar car drive down the street, before watching it slowly park right in front of his neighbor's house. Also known as SUNNY and MARI's house.

He saw her getting out of the car with tired dead eyes as she proceeded to open the trunk to carry her groceries in. It looked like she just bought a massive amount, considering she was having trouble carrying it all.

Hm…

A lightbulb flashed in his head.

This might be the perfect opportunity to make amends with MARI and get her to like him again!

"MAAAARIIIIIIIIII!" KEL decided to shout out of the top of his lungs as he made a beeline towards her.

MARI jumped with a startled expression as she heard her name being shouted in the distance, almost dropping her groceries. When she turned and saw KEL running towards her though, her expression deformed into an annoyed scowl before she quickly made her way into her house.

"Hey, MARI! Wait up!" KEL called out, "Need some help carrying those?"

MARI seemed to make a point to ignore him, even as she struggled to carry her bags with her.

In her rush to avoid the speed demon that was KEL though, her bad knee began acting up as she started stumbling forward. The weight of her hubris over carrying all these bags at once was nearly about to bite her as she almost face-planted into the pavement.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on who's perspective it was, KEL caught up with her just in time to hold her back.

"Whoa! Almost took a nasty fall there. You gotta be more careful and take things slow next time." KEL advised her with a friendly smile.

MARI did not return the smile with her own. Instead, she glared at the boy before ignoring him and trudging along. When she eventually reached her door, she dropped her bags in order to fish out her house keys. It took her a bit to unlock her door, fumbling around as she attempted to rush through it as fast as she could in order to get away from the happy-go-lucky boy in her presence.

Once she unlocked it, she took a deep breath and attempted to carry all of her bags at once. Her arms must have given out though, as she struggled to carry it all this time, much to her annoyance.

"You should let me help you carry some! You look like you're about to keel over at any second." KEL offered.

"I'm fine, KEL." MARI responded curtly.

"Nonsense! Don't be stubborn, I insist!"

KEL didn't bother to wait for her rejection, already grabbing half of the bags and inviting himself into her house.

MARI could only give a resigned yet frustrated sigh.

When KEL entered the living room for the first time in years, he couldn't help but look around with a nostalgic smile. "Aw man, it's been so long since I last stepped foot in here. God, this place brings back so many memories." Turning around to grin at MARI, he continued, "Hey, remember when we all used to come here for sleepovers and spend all night watching movies and cartoons? The Captain Spaceboy trilogy was the best, wasn't it? Heheh."

MARI didn't respond. She tiredly continued on to the kitchen, as she opened the fridge and steadily started filling it with her bags of groceries.

KEL kept admirably looking around the house, "Man, this place still looks as clean and organized as ever! I'm so jealous! Ever since HERO left for college, our room has started getting messier and messier by the day. I wish I could have been half as organized as you two were."

Hearing the nickname of her ex-boyfriend, MARI once again gave a vicious glare at the offending boy before taking a deep breath to calm down and ignore him again.

Oof. Mentioning HERO might be a touchy subject. As much as KEL would love to know more about what happened between the two of them two years ago, it might be best to leave that conversation topic for another time.

Deciding to keep the flow of conversation going, he went into the kitchen with MARI and opened up the bag in his hand to see what was inside.

To his confusion, it was a bag filled completely with plastic boxes containing tofu. Like, nothing but boxes and boxes and boxes of the same brand of tofu.

"MARI, is this all just tofu? How many boxes did you buy? Enough to outlast Fort Knox or something?" KEL chuckled lightheartedly.

When KEL walked up behind MARI to see that, yes, she did indeed fill the fridge to the brim with nothing but tofu.

KEL blinked stupidly at the sight, even as MARI roughly grabbed the bags of tofu out of his hand while still completely ignoring him.

Bleugh, seriously? Tofu was such a bland and weird meal. Sure, KEL was always a picky eater, but he couldn't even imagine himself wanting to purposely eat tofu for a single meal, let alone making it the only thing he would have in his fridge.

Is that even a healthy diet for someone? His mom always told him that eating tofu would be healthier than eating junk food, but he really doubted that eating nothing BUT tofu day in and day out would be a better alternative. At the very least, it would make every meal boring as heck.

"I, uh…" KEL mumbled awkwardly, "I see you like tofu. That's pretty cool…"

KEL honestly had no idea what else to say at this point.

After MARI finished storing all of her tofu and set the fridge temperature to max freezing, she closed the door with a sigh before turning to KEL, "What do you want, KEL? I don't have time for your nonsense."

Ouch. Looks like she's still angry at him, even after all this time. Man, he wished he knew what he did to tick her off so badly, to the point where even HERO became a casualty of it.

KEL was not a socially tactful person, he will admit. Even though he has no trouble making friends, he knows that he could be pretty oblivious to some of the more serious social cues in life.

With a guilty expression, KEL could only rub his arm as he awkwardly answered, "I mean… It's been a while since we last talked and hung out, you know? This is the first time I've seen you in months. The first time we ever actually talked in years, actually. I just wanna catch up, you know? See how you've been doing."

Looking closely at her now that he had the chance to be up close, he realized that MARI seemed a lot more frail and pale than how he remembered her back then. Man, what happened to her? She used to be so full of life and cheery and stuff, but now she just looks… half-dead.

MARI, never losing the edge in her voice or the cold stare in her eyes, scoffed, "There's nothing to catch up on, KEL. If that's seriously all you needed, then don't bother asking. Now can you kindly leave my property?"

She was so cold towards him too. If you had asked him six years ago if he could ever imagine MARI, the big sister of their old group, to ever act like this towards him, he would call you a loony.

Even though he came here in order to patch things up with her, now he was just worried…

"Hey, no offense or anything, but have you been taking care of yourself these days?" KEL couldn't help but ask out of concern.

She rolled her eyes annoyedly, "I'm fine. Will you please leave now?"

"But… You don't look so good. You're really skinny and pale. Maybe you should get some sunlight more oft-"

"That's none of your business, KEL!" MARI snapped suddenly, her patience with him quickly running dry. "I'm not asking again. Leave my house. Now."

KEL, being the nosey type that he was, couldn't back down now. Not while one of his oldest friends seemed to be living an unhealthy lifestyle.

"I feel like it is my business though!" KEL spoke back, making it clear that he wasn't going to leave anytime soon. "C'mon, MARI. Be honest with me. This is the first time I've ever gotten to see you since forever. I'm worried!"

"Why should I care?!" MARI shouted frustratedly, "I've never seen you around for the past four years, KEL! Don't start pretending to worry about me now!"

"But… But I'm not pretending." KEL felt hurt to hear that she thought of him that way. Did she really think KEL had stopped caring about her or something? "You're one of my oldest friends since we were kids!"

"Friends?!" MARI decided to laugh mockingly, "Is that what we are? Friends? You really think that's true?"

MARI…

"Of course I do…" KEL muttered sadly. Was all this anger and hatred his fault? He always thought he was trying his best to be the best friend that anyone could rely on… Did he fail to be that towards MARI?

MARI frowned again, staring into his eyes as if she was desperately searching for a lie. Eventually, she looked away to hide her face and asked softly, "... If we really were friends, why did you stop coming to visit…?"

KEL perked up at this, before immediately assuring her, "What do you mean?! I've been trying to visit all the time to make sure you were all right! But ever since four years ago, you wouldn't ever open the door for me whenever I knocked-"

"NOT ME, KEL." MARI raised her voice again, "SUNNY. Why did you stop coming to visit SUNNY?!"

Oh…

"Wasn't he your best friend?!" MARI turned up to look at him again, the light in her eyes flaring up as her expression became distraught and betrayed, "He was always there for you when you needed him, wasn't he? He would always come out to play with you whenever you invited him. He had always been looking forward to seeing you every day. So why?! Why won't you visit SUNNY anymore?!"

This… So this was the reason why…

KEL gulped nervously as he gave a guilty frown. He looked away from her, unable to find the backbone to make eye contact with her anymore.

It's not that KEL didn't care about his friend anymore. Of course, he cared! Of course, KEL still missed him, even to this day. KEL would never forget the time he spent with SUNNY and the bond they shared.

But that was exactly the problem for him…

All KEL could do whenever he visited SUNNY at the hospital was remember him. That's all. They couldn't play together like they used to. They couldn't have conversations like they used to.

It was hard to stay connected to someone when they never wake up…

In a way, KEL could understand why MARI hated him now. It was pretty selfish of him to stop coming to visit SUNNY anymore. But…

But he seriously couldn't stand being around the shell of a person that he cared about. It… It hurt. Like a constant reminder of what once was, might not ever be again.

That was why KEL had to stop visiting. So that he could move on and make sure the world around him keeps spinning. Otherwise, he'd be left behind by everyone else…

It hurt to remember.

But he couldn't say that to her. Not to MARI's face. Not to the person who was still grieving over the loss of her little brother, after all these years. It would only make her feel hurt even more if she ever realized the selfish reason why he stopped.

That's why KEL didn't say anything in response.

All he could do was silently look at the floor.

The light in MARI's eyes slowly dyed out as KEL refused to answer her question. MARI's expression turned back to the cold hard look that she had moments before.

"Get out."


And so, KEL was stuck in the park, dribbling his basketball all by his lonesome.

Back to square one…

Lining up for the shot, KEL halfheartedly shot a ball at the hoop, putting no energy or concentration behind his throw.

Surprise surprise, nothing but air.

KEL watched the ball bounce back down to the ground but made no attempt to retrieve it.

Sigh…

Dang it, KEL… You really could have done a better job at handling that situation.

Now MARI was more upset with him than ever before.

"Man, today is just… not my day." KEL sighed depressingly.

Now what was he going to do? It wasn't like he could just tell anyone about what happened with him and MARI. Who would he even talk to about this anyway?

He really wanted to know what HERO's advice on this might be. He was usually always smarter than KEL in situations like these.

Although, this was probably a unique problem that not even his big brother could solve. Not with his finals coming up, and especially not with MARI being involved.

It was evening now. The whole afternoon was completely wasted. Yet KEL still felt as restless as ever.

Dang…

"Meet up with the gang later at GINO's then, AUBREY?"

"Yeah, totally. See you later, KIM. Don't eat all the taffy in a single night VANCE."

KEL's ears perked up as he heard a familiar voice a distance across from the park.

Far off away, he saw the familiar pink hair of another old friend from his childhood. She was waving goodbye at two others riding away in scooters.

AUBREY and the SCOOTER GANG members. It seemed those three just exited the forest that led to where their old hangout spot used to be.

Now that he thought about it, when was the last time KEL ever spoke to AUBREY?

Ever since the accident with SUNNY, KEL never really saw her around anymore, not even in school. They would both meet up occasionally sometimes back then when school was over, but once they went up a grade and got forced into different classes, they never really maintained contact anymore.

It was around this time that KEL had been busy meeting other people and making new friends though, so no doubt he must have been too busy to notice.

When did she change from the old girl she used to be to the punk delinquent she was now? KEL had been curious about it for a while now, but never really had the guts or the opportunity to ever find out.

KEL didn't really like violence or negative confrontation with people if he could help it. Unless it was to help someone in need, he'd rather avoid trouble like it was the plague. Seeing AUBREY carrying a nailed bat around and messing with the neighborhood as leader of the SCOOTER GANG deterred KEL from ever approaching her anymore.

AUBREY never seemed to confront him either. From the few times they crossed paths with each other, it was almost like she was pretending not to even notice him.

Hm…

Seeing her now without her friends around, and it was also the rare day where she wasn't carrying her nailed bat in her hands, KEL suddenly felt confident enough to approach AUBREY again for the first time in forever.

Even though they used to argue and fight a lot as kids, KEL still remembered that they used to get along great as friends. Maybe he might be able to rekindle that same kind of relationship even now.

"Hey! AUBREY!" KEL decided to smile happily as he waved at the pink-haired girl.

She was in the middle of stretching when she froze up at the sound of his voice. She turned around to see him running after her with a big dumb goofy grin that he was always known for.

"AUBREY! It's been a while! How've you been?" KEL asked cheerfully enough.

AUBREY, instead of greeting him, blankly stared at him for a moment as if she didn't even recognize who was in front of her. Then without a word, immediately spun around and walked away.

KEL tilted a bit from being ignored so bluntly, before shaking his stupor off and following after her.

"Hey, wait up!" KEL called out, "Don't you recognize me? It's me, KEL!"

"I know who you are. I'm not blind." AUBREY stated matter of factly.

"Then why did you just turn around and ignore me? That was a bit rude…" KEL pouted.

AUBREY stopped walking as she turned around to face KEL again. Giving KEL a blank neutral stare, she asked, "And why shouldn't I have done that? Were you expecting me to say hi back?"

"Well… sort of? I guess?" KEL shrugged, feeling a bit less confident in himself.

"What do you want, KEL? You're bothering me." AUBREY continued with her blunt attitude.

Despite the blank stare she was giving to KEL, he couldn't help but feel just a little animosity behind that look.

Jeeze, he was going two for two at making his old friends give him the stink eye. Today seriously wasn't his day, was it?

"Sorry, didn't mean to bother." KEL smiled apologetically, "I just saw you standing around alone and decided to ask if we could maybe hang out."

"Why would you want to hang out with me? Don't you have your other friends to keep you busy?"

KEL could actually hear the bite hidden underneath that tone of hers. It was like she was accusing him of something.

"Do I need a reason to want to hang out with you?" KEL asked.

"We haven't talked in four years, KEL. This is the first time you ever even spoke a word to me since we graduated middle school."

Eheh… That was a good point…

"Right… Sorry about that." KEL chuckled nervously, "None of my other friends are around right now to keep me company. Everyone is either busy with their own stuff, or on vacation, or studying during the summer- and I guess I got pretty lonely. When I saw you hanging around the park without your usual friends, I thought I might as well try to see if you were busy."

After that, AUBREY gave a thoughtful look as she turned away. "I see. So you only came to me because I was literally the last option you had left."

KEL winced, "Jeez, don't say it like that! You make it sound as if I only came up to you because I had nothing else better to do!"

"Isn't that basically what you just admitted to me though?" AUBREY asked rhetorically.

KEL felt his nerves acting up with the way AUBREY was speaking towards him. Even though she was right in front of him, he couldn't help but feel so… distant.

"Hate to burst your bubble, but I have my own things to worry about. Find someone else to keep you distracted."

With that, she walked away and left him behind.

"Wait, AUBREY!" KEL reached out, only for her to ignore him and keep walking.

"Seriously…?"

What the heck was AUBREY's deal? Why was she acting so aloof?

Honestly, her acting this way towards him hurt even more than the cold hateful glare that MARI gave him earlier. It was like the childhood friendship they used to have together never even happened for her.

Was it… KEL's fault that she was like this?

He never did make the attempt to reach out to her after all these years…

He wondered to himself if maybe he wasn't just a bad friend all along?

The restless feeling inside KEL became more prominent than ever.

Sigh… what was he supposed to do now?

...

...

...

...

"KEL? Is that you?"

He didn't know how long he zoned out for. The moment he heard someone call his name though, KEL snapped out of his and looked around.

"It is you!"

Right in front of him was the familiar blond flower boy that had always hung out in their old friend group.

BASIL gave KEL a warm and friendly smile, "How have you been, KEL? It's been such a long time since we talked, haven't we?"

KEL had to blink a few times to make sure he wasn't just imagining him. BASIL's friendly attitude towards him counteracted the previous mood from a few minutes ago. It almost gave him a tonal whiplash.

"Hey BASIL…" KEL mumbled a bit, before shaking his head clear. Eventually, KEL was able to get himself to smile again as he properly greeted his old friend, "It has been a while, hasn't it? Nice to see you again!"

"Yeah, you too!" BASIL smiled happily, "Wow, I can't believe it's been years now. I've seen you around school, but we never really had the chance to talk with each other since we had different periods from each other." BASIL curiously eyed KEL up and down, before stating, "You've gotten taller."

KEL couldn't help but give a prideful chuckle, "You notice, have you? I've been forcing myself to drink milk every single day!

"That's good! I always know how much you dislike milk, so I'm glad to see you're still pushing yourself to overcome it!"

"You know, you don't look bad yourself! You definitely grew a few feet taller than I remember you being." KEL complimented.

"Thanks, hearing that from you is really good to hear." BASIL chuckled embarrassingly as he looked away, "There was a time a few years ago where I wasn't taking care of myself properly. I was worried it might have stunted my growth since I wasn't eating properly."

KEL wondered what he meant before realizing, "You're talking about when your grandma passed away?"

Despite the sad reminder, BASIL gave KEL a soft smile, "Yeah."

That was definitely a dark time for BASIL if KEL remembered correctly. BASIL practically locked himself away in his house for months. Almost like how MARI locked herself up after SUNNY's accident.

"I'm really sorry about what happened, BASIL. She was a real sweetheart, and I know you loved her a lot." KEL offered his condolences.

BASIL shook his head and continued to grin happily, "Don't be. It wasn't your fault. She was just at that age, you know? I'm sure she's in a better place now."

"It's good to see that you managed to move on peacefully enough."

BASIL nodded, "It was hard at first. She pretty much raised me my entire life. Knowing that she's gone really affected me." With a wistful smile, he looked up to the orange sky, "I was really sad that she was gone. Even remembering the good times we spent together was enough to get me to break down. But then, eventually, I realized something." Turning back down to look at KEL again, he continued cheerfully, "Even though remembering the memories we had together seem a little sad now, I should be happy that they even happened at all. If it hadn't been for my parents deciding to leave me with her, I would have never gotten to know and experience her love. That's why, instead of obsessing over the past, I should keep moving towards the future and make even more new memories along the way. Then once I eventually get to meet up with her again, I'll have tons of stories to tell her while I was still alive."

KEL blinked astonishingly at the flower boy, surprised at how mature and grown-up he seemed. It wasn't long ago that he remembered BASIL being the crybaby of the group. Even when they first met, he had seemed so fragile and innocent. Like a simple touch could break him apart.

Seeing him like this now, KEL felt really proud of him. The same kind of pride that an older brother would usually feel when they see their little brother all grown up.

"I'm sure wherever she is now, she's looking down on you with all the love and happiness in the world." KEL assured BASIL, slapping his hand on his shoulder.

BASIL nodded happily, "Yeah. She is."

There was a brief moment of silence between them as a moment of respect before BASIL continued the conversation.

"Anyways, what are you doing out here by yourself? You were just standing around the park like a dead zombie."

"O-Oh, was I?" KEL chuckled embarrassingly, "Yeah, sorry, I guess I was getting lost in my own thoughts."

BASIL tilted his head curiously, "That doesn't normally sound like you. You always seemed to be the type that's always focused more on being 'in the now', you know?"

"You're right, I guess it is pretty out of character for me." KEL mumbled awkwardly.

BASIL hummed curiously, before shrugging it off. Then with an excited smile, BASIL asked, "Hey, if you're not busy, do you want to spend some time together? It's been a long time, we should hang out and catch up with each other."

KEL was surprised at the offer at first before slowly growing excited himself, "Yeah! Totally! I'd love to hang out with my old bud! I've actually been trying to find something to do with someone this whole day!"

"That's perfect then!" BASIL cheered happily.

"So what do you wanna do, BASIL? Even though it's already evening, we still have time to burn, right?" KEL asked.

BASIL looked towards his wristwatch with a contemplative hum, "Let's see… They shouldn't be closed yet… We could still make it in time…"

"Ooh, where we going?" KEL started jumping in place, the hype already building up inside him, "We heading over to GINO's for a quick bite? Or maybe you wanted to head to HOBBEEZ to buy some new gadgets? Ooh, maybe we could even head up to the arcade downtown and play some gun games!"

BASIL couldn't help but chuckle at his friend's overexcitement, before correcting him, "Actually, I was planning to spend the rest of the evening visiting SUNNY at the hospital!"

KEL immediately stopped bouncing.

"Y-You are…?" KEL asked nervously.

Oblivious to the sudden shift in attitude, BASIL beamed with a radiant and innocent joy, "It's been so long since I brought anyone to come visit SUNNY with me! I'm sure he'd be happy to know that we're still visiting him after all these years!"

KEL felt sweat dripping from his head.

Ah, right. KEL remembered now. There was a specific reason why KEL stopped hanging out with BASIL all those years ago. It only took him just now to figure it out.

BASIL would visit SUNNY almost as often as MARI does. He practically had his own schedule revolving around getting as much free time as possible just to go visit SUNNY.

Shoot...

"Anyways, we should hurry on over! The sooner we get there, the longer we can talk to SUNNY and talk to each other about how our lives have been!" BASIL gestured KEL to follow as he prepared to jog over to the hospital.

He was stopped in place when KEL suddenly landed a rough hand on his shoulder.

"Uh… A-Actually, BASIL… Um…" KEL nervously stuttered, "I… I don't… think I can visit SUNNY right now…"

BASIL seemed genuinely shocked and confused at this, as he turned around to ask, "Why not? I thought you said you were looking for someone to spend time with today."

"..." KEL wondered to himself how he was going to get out of this one.

If KEL had already screwed up his friendship between two of his other childhood friends already. He wasn't sure if he could mentally take on the fact that he might have to screw up another just because he was too scared to visit SUNNY.

Would BASIL hate him like MARI if KEL just admitted the truth? That he couldn't see SUNNY because he didn't want to be reminded of a past that couldn't be brought back?

KEL remembered how close BASIL and SUNNY were back in the day. They pretty much followed each other around like a pair of overexcited puppies each time the other visited them.

He didn't want to lose BASIL as a friend too. But a part of him still wasn't ready to face seeing SUNNY again. He just wasn't mentally prepared for it.

What was he going to do? What was he going to say? How was he going to make it so that he could get out of this without hurting BASIL's feelings?

It seemed KEL took too long to respond, as BASIL seemed to notice the odd behavior KEL was displaying. BASIL put his own hand on KEL's shoulder, as he gently asked, "KEL, are you okay?"

KEL couldn't respond.

After a moment of silence, BASIL seemed to figure out the situation himself as he nodded understandingly, "I think I get it. KEL, you can't see SUNNY right now because it hurts, right?"

KEL looked up at BASIL in shock. He didn't expect the blond boy to figure it out so quickly!

With a sad smile, BASIL reassured KEL, "I get it. I do, seriously. You're not ready to face him yet. It hurts just to see him like this, knowing you can't do anything except wish and pray that he'll eventually come back. Even then, it doesn't ever feel like it's enough."

"T-That's right…" KEL nodded, a big part of his heart feeling majorly relieved at BASIL's understanding. "How did you know…?"

"You're not the only one that feels like this. Trust me, you're not alone." BASIL smiled softly. "If you don't feel like you're ready to see him again, then you don't have to feel pressured to visit. I'm sure SUNNY would understand. He'd never want to make his friends uncomfortable just for his expense. SUNNY is nice like that."

KEL smiled back, a huge weight being lifted off his shoulders. Man, he had been so scared too that BASIL would start judging him…He should have known that the flower boy would be kind-hearted enough to know what he was going through.

Rubbing his face, KEL gave a relieved sigh, "Thank you, BASIL. You have no idea how much it means to me to know that you totally get me. I was so worried that… that you'd…"

"That I'd what?" BASIL asked with genuine curiosity.

"..." KEL swiped down his face before looking away sadly, "I was worried that you'd hate me too. Just like MARI. Because I stopped visiting SUNNY. I met up with her today and she… she was really upset that I never visited him anymore like I used to."

KEL felt BASIL's grip on his shoulder tighten a bit. KEL looked up to see the rare sight of BASIL actually looking… annoyed at something. No, not even annoyed. He looked bitter.

It was not a face that suited BASIL, counteracting with his usually innocent charm.

As quickly as it came though, BASIL switched back to a kind smile, as he reassured KEL, "Don't listen to whatever MARI has to say about SUNNY, okay? She never got over what happened to him. MARI is too busy in her own world grieving over SUNNY to understand how anyone else feels about the situation. Just because her own method of coping is different, it doesn't mean yours is any less validated."

Once again, for like the fifth time tonight, KEL had to blink in astonishment at how amazingly mature BASIL was acting. It was like he knew all the right things to say to make KEL feel better.

No, for real, who was this guy and what did he do to the real BASIL?

"All that matters is that, when SUNNY wakes up one day, you'll welcome him back with open arms and treat him the same way you've always treated him. That's the best thing you can do for him."

KEL nodded back slowly, agreeing with BASIL, "Of course I'll do that! I'd do it even if you didn't tell me to!"

BASIL smiled happily, "Great! That's all I needed to hear." Letting KEL's shoulder go, BASIL continued the conversation prior, "Later when I go see SUNNY today, I'm definitely going to tell him about our conversation. When he wakes up, he's going to be so happy to know that you're still thinking about him!"

Man, BASIL was always the optimistic one. Seeing him again reminded him of the good ol' days back when the group was still together. Even despite often being weak and fragile, BASIL never once became pessimistic. He always looked at the brighter side of things, even when the situation went against his favor.

KEL was a little jealous that BASIL never let that part of him die, even six years later.

"Hey, BASIL." KEL started.

"Hm? Yes?" BASIL responded.

"I gotta ask you… How is it that you're so confident that SUNNY will wake up?" It was a terrible question to ask, now that he thought about it. But it was one that KEL really wanted to know the answer to. To understand how BASIL could be so optimistic in such a dire situation.

"I'm… not, actually," BASIL admitted honestly. With an embarrassing chuckle, BASIL continued, "A part of me is scared that SUNNY might never wake up. It's something that's always been nagging me in the back of my head." Slowly shaking his head, he went on, "But that won't stop me from believing that he'll wake up. It's the reason why I keep visiting him whenever I get free time on my hands. SUNNY is a good person, you know? I know for a fact that he would never leave any of us behind. Not on purpose."

BASIL looked up at the sky once more. KEL followed suit, looking up as well, as if SUNNY was going to be up there somehow.

"Whenever he's ready, maybe it's sometime soon, maybe not. I know SUNNY will wake up, and when he does, he'll help everything go back to the way things used to be. Where all of us are back together again, having picnics, having fun like we always do."

Hearing BASIL speak about him like this, KEL almost felt like he saw SUNNY up in the sky giving him a thumbs up.

"As long as I believe that, I can visit him without it feeling hard."


BASIL waved goodbye and left him after that, leaving KEL alone with his thoughts.

He swung on the swingset as he looked towards the sky, watching the clouds go by.

BASIL was able to visit SUNNY every day because he truly believed in his heart that SUNNY was going to wake up someday.

That kind of dedication and determination was something KEL found extremely admirable.

Maybe that was his problem… KEL had stopped believing that SUNNY would wake up again at some point.

Visiting the comatose boy over and over again without any sign of change must have put a damper on his hopes that his friend would ever come back.

This might also be why MARI hated him. Not only because he stopped visiting, but maybe in her mind, she thought that KEL had given up on SUNNY by not believing.

KEL didn't want to give up. KEL wouldn't stop believing anymore.

With a newfound sense of determination, KEL brought himself back up with a confident grin.

"Tomorrow." KEL stated out loud with finality, "Tomorrow for sure, I'm going to start visiting him regularly again. And then I'm gonna tell him sorry for not believing in him earlier."

The restless feeling that KEL had inside him all day finally melted away, leaving him with a satisfying kick in his step as he went back home.

Chapter Text

ONE DAY LEFT…

AUBREY didn't know what possessed her to pull out the photo album again after all this time.

Maybe it was from seeing KEL earlier yesterday.

Maybe it was because she looked at the calendar and remembered that SUNNY's birthday was about to come up tomorrow.

Maybe it was because she just wanted to make sure the photo album was still safe and intact.

Maybe it was all three reasons combined. Who knows? Certainly not her.

Still, when she pulled the photo album out from underneath the lockbox under her bed, she felt compelled to at least go through the memories one more time.

Sitting there in her room, in the attic of her house, she perused through the old memories of eight years ago at her desk.

It'd been a while since she took the time to go through this again. When was the last time she actually opened this ever since BASIL gave it to her for safekeeping?

Maybe… two-ish years now? Huh. That long?

She'd have to apologize to BASIL later about this then if the topic ever came up. She definitely wasn't giving it the loving treatment that BASIL would have if he was still holding on to it.

Flipping to the last page of the album, she gave a depressed sigh as her eyes fell to the very last photo of the book.

(9/22): After some begging, SUNNY came to join MARI for recital practice... Hehe... They're still working out some stuff, but they already sound so amazing! I know they're going to be great. Go, MARI! Go, SUNNY! You can do it!

The photo of SUNNY and MARI practicing for their recital six years ago. Back when he was still awake. The last photo BASIL ever took of SUNNY being awake…

She gently closed the photo album and leaned back in her chair, staring aimlessly up at her roof.

Things changed so much after all these years… Ever since SUNNY became comatose, nothing had been the same.

At first, it was small. Barely noticeable changes. When they still had hope that SUNNY would wake up sometime soon, her old friend group was still closely knit together. She made the effort to hang out with BASIL and KEL at school. She did her best to wait patiently for HERO to make time for her. She earnestly gave her best effort to try to spend time with MARI…

But when SUNNY didn't wake up, and HERO moved on to go to college, it dawned on all of them that maybe things wouldn't go back to the way things were.

KEL probably realized this first when he suddenly stopped joining them to visit SUNNY. Did his best to avoid the topic too until he eventually stopped talking to her and moved on to be with other friends.

Heh… As much as she hated KEL for that, she only just realized how she actually did the same. So she was no better than him. What a hypocrite she was to act all high and mighty and ignore him yesterday when he reached out to her for the first time in years.

Whatever. Piece of shit still deserved it.

When KEL left, it starting being only MARI and AUBREY visiting SUNNY together. BASIL would actually visit at different hours for some reason, so that was why she saw less of him during this point.

AUBREY tried… she really really really tried to keep herself together…

But seeing her best friend on that bed, over and over and over, again and again and again, with no signs of change or waking up for two years- She couldn't take it anymore.

She had to stop visiting or else she'd literally go insane.

And MARI… Well…

She loved the poor girl, but AUBREY didn't really want to go see MARI either ever since… She knew that MARI would just ask AUBREY to go visit SUNNY again.

MARI never wanted to do anything else. She never wanted to go outside and play, she never wanted to do sleepovers, she never did ANYTHING else. All she ever did was visit SUNNY, and then stay locked up in her house when she couldn't.

Looking into her bedroom mirror, she absentmindedly twirled a finger around her pink hair.

She wondered if MARI ever remembered the promise they made to dye their hair together. AUBREY was pink, and MARI was supposed to be purple.

No, MARI probably forgot all about her at this point in life. SUNNY was the only thing that mattered in her mind now.

AUBREY ran her fingers through her hair, her mood dampened from thinking about how much MARI had changed from the sweet older girl she used to be to the lonely hermit she was now.

Then her eyes were drawn in by a picture frame next to her bed.

A photo of her and her friend KIM, posing together after AUBREY just got her hair dyed.

Seeing that brought a smile to her face as she remembered how they first met.

Four years ago...

She had run away from the hospital to get away from SUNNY, didn't she? She was crying, and she didn't want to make a scene.

She didn't want to go back home, so she essentially decided to cry her heart out in the playground.

It was around this time where she truly felt alone. Nobody to talk to, nobody to comfort her, nobody to tell her that it would be okay.

HERO chose to go to college.

KEL had abandoned her and made other friends as replacements.

BASIL just lost his grandmother and wouldn't come out of his house.

MARI was unapproachable ever since she lost her little brother.

SUNNY was… gone. Just gone. And who knows when he'll ever be back, if he'll ever come back at all.

AUBREY was truly and utterly alone. When she realized this, she cried harder than she ever had before.

Until…

Um… Hey. Why're you crying?

KIM showed up in her life.


Four years ago…

"Is… Is this really a good idea?" AUBREY asked apprehensively as she held onto the wooden baseball bat that KIM just handed to her.

They were in a junkyard somewhere in FARAWAY. KIM was lining up random pieces of garbage in a straight line.

"Trust me! This is definitely going to help! I've done this countless times before, and I felt better after each time!" KIM reassured excitedly.

AUBREY remained unconvinced, both uncomfortable from the situation KIM placed her in and also by the horrible smell.

"My mom always tells me that being sad about something is only because you don't have any control over what's going on in your life! But being sad is unproductive and is only going to make things worse! So instead of lazing about, you should try to get yourself MAD instead. Like, REALLY angry. Then, all that pent-up energy could be used for something more productive and useful!" KIM explained. "It makes you feel like you have control over your life again!"

"Where did your mom learn about that?"

"From her anger management group or something." KIM casually waved off, "That's not the point though! The point is that, after some creative thinking on my end, I managed to figure out how to put her advice into practical use and eventually found out about this place here!" KIM organized the last pile of junk she could scrounge up and placed it alongside the rest of the other piles of garbage. "Whenever I get really sad or mad about something, I bring out my bat, and I PULVERIZE everything I see in sight to get me to feel better about myself."

"And you want me to do the same thing?" AUBREY asked worriedly.

"Yeah! It'll totally be rad!" KIM cheered on excitedly.

"But… I mean… I don't like being violent or angry though…" AUBREY muttered sheepishly.

Some memories of her parents screaming and arguing with each other in the middle of the night flashed into her mind, before she had to force it to go away.

"Don't be a scaredy-cat! Everyone likes being violent sometimes. They just don't want to be violent towards the things they care about." KIM encouraged her as she patted the garbage she set up, "But we can be as violent as we want without worrying about anyone getting hurt! So give it a go already! I promise you'll feel great after this."

AUBREY gulped nervously as she brought herself closer to the first garbage pile in front of her. KIM stepped back a few distances away, clearly eager to see her new friend rain carnage.

She brought the bat up to swinging position, even though AUBREY really didn't know what to do here or what she was expecting to happen. Does she… need to pretend that the garbage pile was a softball?

She liked to think she was good at softball. She remembered playing a few games during PE class and managed to get five consecutive home runs once.

She remembered the look in SUNNY's eye when she turned to see how he would react. The boy looked like he had stars in his eyes, and it was enough to get her to blush embarrassingly.

Reminding herself of SUNNY made her depressed again…

She couldn't muster up any strength in her swing, as the bat daintily bounced off the garbage pile like it was given a gentle love tap.

KIM from far away saw this and did her best to give an encouraging cheer, "Okay, that was great for a first attempt! Now do it again, but this time, hit it like you really really mean it!"

AUBREY sighed, "KIM, I don't really think this is going to work. I just don't feel like hitting stuff…"

Hearing this, KIM hummed to herself as she brought herself back into the field with AUBREY.

Taking a quick look at AUBREY's depressed stance and the garbage piles in front of them, KIM heavily brainstormed a solution before quickly coming to a eureka.

"Maybe you're just not in the right mindset! I can totally help with that!"

KIM stepped right behind AUBREY and forced her to face the garbage pile.

Talking directly behind her ear, KIM spoke, "First, I want you to look directly into this garbage pile. Are you looking at it?"

Not knowing what was happening but still compelled to play along, AUBREY timidly nodded.

"Now… Imagine the person you hate the most. Like really really really hate. Maybe it's some stupid bully from school, or maybe that one teacher that keeps giving you a bad grade. Whoever it is, I want you to really imagine them in front of you right now. Their stupid face. Their stupid voice. The reason why you hate them in the first place."

As KIM went along to describe this imaginary person, AUBREY began to think of KEL. Imagining his stupid face whenever he did something to make her angry. Imagining his whiny annoying voice whenever he teased her about something. The way he gave that annoying cocky smile whenever she couldn't prove him wrong or get back at him.

The way he just… left her. Left her to hang out with new friends. Abandoning everyone. Replacing everyone. As if nothing had ever happened.

Her grip on the baseball bat tightened.

"You thinking about them?" KIM asked.

AUBREY gave a frustrated nod.

"Good. Now imagine that stupid person is sitting right in front of you, where the junk pile is. They just said something stupid and mean to you, in front of your face! They're not even sorry about it either, they're just laughing at the way you're getting upset! God, they're so annoying!" KIM continued to feed into AUBREY's mind.

"That stupid KEL is always so annoying…!" AUBREY whispered under her breath.

KIM heard this and smiled, "That's right. Now, aim that bat straight at his face, AND SWING WITH ALL YOU GOT!"

At that, KIM immediately ran away to a safe distance as AUBREY brought her bat up again.

That idiot KEL! That stupid inconsiderate idiot KEL! Always doing whatever he wanted and never thinking about her feelings! AGH, he makes her so angry all the time! Whenever he opens his mouth to say something, it was like he was just purposely trying to get on her nerves!

She thought about KEL at that moment, standing right in front of her as she aimed her bat.

She thought about what would happen if she swung with all her might.

She thought about what KEL would look like right after.

Right as she was about to swing, she thought about KEL in the hospital. His head dented in. Bruised and injured. Wrapped in bandages. Sleeping on the hospital bed.

Never waking up ever again.

She hesitated at the last second and whiffed the shot.

The bat bounced softly off the ground, never even touching the garbage pile in the first place.

"The hell was that pussy shit?" KIM shouted out in shock.

AUBREY dropped the bat in frustration, and gave a sigh, "Don't say the p or s word… It's bad to swear..."

KIM came up behind her, "AUBREY, come on. What happened? I saw you getting so worked up just a second ago! Why did you fizzle out at the last possible moment?"

With a guilty frown, AUBREY looked away, "I was… I was thinking about one of my friends. He always makes me angry, sure, but… I mean, I didn't want to actually hurt him! He always gets on my nerves, but I didn't think he deserved to get his face caved in with a bat! It just seems so mean!"

KIM groaned exasperatedly as if she couldn't believe she was stuck with such a soft-hearted girl.

"I'm sorry… I know you're just trying to help…" AUBREY felt the need to apologize.

"No no, this is my fault." KIM waved away, "I'm the one that's going about this wrong. Obviously, different people have different problems. The things that work for me might not work for you." KIM hummed in thought again as she had another brainstorm session in her mind.

After a while, AUBREY got startled when KIM suddenly shouted with another idea.

"I GOT IT!" KIM clapped her hands excitedly, before returning to her position behind AUBREY again, "Instead of thinking of a person, why not think of an idea instead?"

AUBREY was confused, repeating unsurely, "An idea…?"

"Okay, bear with me." Making AUBREY face the garbage pile again and putting the bat back in her hands, KIM continued, "Think about all the problems that are going on in your life right now. Everything, literally anything that has ever made your life horrible. Think of all the things that have ever gone wrong, and you couldn't do anything to stop it."

AUBREY closed her eyes and thought about it.

KEL abandoning her so that she could be replaced with new friends.

BASIL losing his grandma and not wanting to come out of the house.

MARI becoming sad and depressed, never wanting to play with her anymore.

SUNNY never waking up.

Her dad divorcing her mom, leaving them to live by themselves in that rotten trash heap of a house.

AUBREY being left alone.

"Imagine… what if all those things that happened, it wasn't just bad luck? What if someone was out there, a person that was making all these bad things happen on purpose?"

A… a person? Making all of this happen on purpose?

"Why would they do that?" AUBREY asked in distraught, her eyes still closed.

"Because they want to see you suffer."

AUBREY imagined a silhouette of a person standing right in front of her.

"They did all of that because they wanted to see you cry."

No features. No descriptions. No face. Just a shadow of a person.

"They want to ruin your life. They want to make you sad. They're the reason why you can't ever be happy anymore." KIM kept going.

"But why…? Why me?!" AUBREY trembled, gripping tightly onto her bat. "Why my friends?!"

"Because they thought it would be funny." KIM continued, standing back a bit as she noticed AUBREY shivering in place. "They could have chosen anyone else in the world to do this too, but instead they decided to do it to you because they were bored. They just wanted to screw with you, screw with your life, never leave you alone, because they just love making you cry and suffer."

AUBREY could see the malicious smile on the shadow's face. Like it was mocking her.

"I hate you…!" AUBREY muttered.

"They don't care. They love watching you get upset. They love following you around and making your life a living hell."

The smile became more evil and malicious as AUBREY kept imagining it.

"Leave me alone!" AUBREY was practically seething at this point.

"What are you going to do if they don't? They know you're not gonna do anything to them. They can do whatever they want."

"I never did anything to you to deserve this!" AUBREY almost sobbed out.

She could almost hear the shadow in front of her laughing at her face.

"They don't care. It's fun." KIM continued, "And they'll keep doing it, again and again. Forever."

AUBREY imagined the shadow, ruining her life.

She imagined the shadow standing behind KEL, whispering fake rumors about her in order to convince him to leave.

She imagined the shadow being the reason why BASIL's grandmother died, forcing him to stay inside his house.

She imagined the shadow bullying MARI, mocking her for losing her little brother.

AUBREY imagined this shadow following her for almost her entire life, being the sole reason why her dad lost her job. Why they had to move away from her old town and lived in that stupid trash heap of a house. Why her parents kept arguing and never stopped. Why her dad divorced her mom and abandoned them.

AUBREY imagined that this shadow was the reason why she was all alone.

AUBREY imagined the shadow attacking SUNNY by pushing him down the stairs.

The shadow grinned at her, as if confirming this was all true.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUGH!"

AUBREY became FURIOUS.

KIM was already far away by the time AUBREY swung her bat.

Again and again and again, AUBREY kept swinging her bat at the imaginary shadow in her mind, breaking the pile of junk in front of her into smithereens. AUBREY screamed out all of her frustrations and anger and hatred, destroying the garbage without mercy.

She didn't stop there. All that pent-up rage and sadness was too much for AUBREY to handle, so after she was done with the first pile, she immediately went after another.

KIM watched on as AUBREY demolished everything in her path with the wooden bat in her hands, impressed at the display of violence.

"It's your fault! Everything was your fault!" AUBREY screamed in rage, swinging non-stop at the imaginary shadow in her mind, "I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! I HAAAATE YOOOOOOUU!"

KIM continued to let AUBREY throw her tantrum for as long as she needed. Even when all the piles of trash she set up became nothing more than rubble and broken glass. Even as the evening turned dark. Even as there was nothing left in sight for AUBREY to break anymore.

With one last final swing of the last unbroken bottle at her feet, AUBREY screamed at the top of her lungs the last bit of her frustrations to the night sky and the moon above.

After that, AUBREY finally gained control of herself as she started gasping heavily. Dropping the bat and falling to her knees, AUBREY continued to suck in as much air as possible as her stamina was completely drained out.

Seeing that she was done, KIM slowly walked up to the girl and crouched right beside her.

"So, how does it feel?" KIM asked knowingly.

Although AUBREY knew that her problems weren't solved and that the imaginary shadow she made up wasn't real, she said hoarsely, "Good… It felt good…"

"Does it feel better than crying?"

Her body was weak and sore everywhere. Her arms felt like they could pop right off at any second. Her lungs were on fire. Her heart was working overtime, beating heavily in her chest like a steam-powered train engine.

She felt so tired…

"Yeah…" AUBREY nodded satisfyingly, "It is."

KIM stayed with AUBREY until she felt all better. They continued hanging out in the junkyard under the night sky, even when it became waaaay past their usual bedtime.

AUBREY, now having since calmed down, gratefully handed KIM back the bat, "Thanks, KIM. I really do feel a lot better now."

KIM glanced at the bat a bit before turning away, "Keep it. It's yours."

"What?" AUBREY asked with a bit of surprise. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, dude." KIM nodded, "Honestly, I rarely ever use that bat anymore anyway. You might find better use out of it than I ever could."

AUBREY looked down at the bat in her hands.

"But… I feel bad just taking it from you…"

"Nah, don't think like that." KIM waved away, before smiling, "Think of it as a gift. Proof that you and I are friends now."

"F… Friends…?" AUBREY asked hesitantly, as if the word was alien to her.

"Duh, of course!" KIM chuckled, "After what we went through today, we now share a bond that nobody else could ever have."

A friend… She had felt like she was alone for so long… and now she had a friend again.

She could feel tears swelling up in her eyes for some reason.

Unlike before, they weren't sad tears though…

Clutching the bat closely to her chest, AUBREY whispered softly, "Thank you…"


AUBREY still had that bat, now that she thought about it.

Standing up from her seat, she went over to the closet in her room and opened it up.

Inside was a small collection of her clothes, random knick-knacks of her childhood, and most importantly- a broken bat that was split in half tucked away in the corner.

Yep, there it was. The same bat that KIM gave her all those years ago.

Broke it during her first fight with a rival gang from the neighboring town. KIM ended up buying her a new bat to commemorate AUBREY's promotion as the unchallenged leader of the newly formed SCOOTER GANG.

Oh man, those were the days.

AUBREY definitely didn't start out as a delinquent when she first began hanging around KIM. No, KIM was absolutely a bad influence on her.

She had to laugh at an old memory of back when she committed her first crime.

AUBREY had decided on a whim to want to get her hair dyed pink, but she didn't have the money to afford it. Lamenting this situation to her friend one day, the side-shaved girl had this brilliant idea to steal it from the local OTHERMART.

"You want to steal it? But isn't stealing bad?"

"Nah, dude. OTHERMART is a huge multi-conglomerate corporation owned by a bunch of evil rich fat-cats. We're not stealing from innocent people, we're just stealing some hair dye from some soulless rich douchebags who could easily afford replacing it anyway."

Heh, AUBREY definitely inherited a lot of her rebellious personality from KIM.

That day, AUBREY had to act as a distraction by purposely bumping into a large pile of make-up boxes on display and crying about it when the employees showed up to check on her. Her acting skills weren't bad, as she actually managed to make some tears appear while apologizing about how clumsy she was and how she didn't mean to make a mess. While the employees were eating her act all up, KIM had ample time to steal what they came for and made out like a bandit.

Right after she finished dying her hair, the first thing they did to celebrate was to take a picture to commemorate their first successful heist together.

It was actually the day right after that one did KIM introduce her to her other friends.

Back before they called themselves the SCOOTER GANG, they mostly just knew themselves as the HOOLIGANS. Mostly because they loitered around FARAWAY, doing nothing but whatever that seems fun.

Despite her initial worries, they all seemed pretty accepting about her joining the group.

VANCE was KIM's older brother, so of course, she already had his approval. It just had to be earned by bribing him with a piece of taffy. KIM and VANCE were strangely obsessive about their sweet tooths.

MIKHAEL acted snobby at first (she refuses to acknowledge his preferred name) and even tried to flirt with her despite being obviously shorter and younger. After a bit of bullying from KIM though, MIKHAEL quickly changed his tune and graciously accepted her with open arms.

ANGEL wasn't that hard to convince either, since he agrees to whatever MIKHAEL says. For some reason, he treats the blonde-wigged boy with the respect and loyalty deserving of an idol. It was creepy, but she learned to get used to it.

CHARLIE was a bit of an enigma for her at first. She was so intimidatingly large and silent, AUBREY didn't know what to make of her. She actually thought CHARLIE was a boy at first before ANGEL corrected her. CHARLIE was actually CHARLENE, she just preferred the name CHARLIE as a nickname. After a bit of getting to know each other, CHARLIE gave a thumbs up to show her acceptance to the new member of the group.

This was going to be her new group of friends for the next four years of her life.

Even though they didn't always get along, AUBREY couldn't help but feel like they were her family. Despite their obvious quirks and flaws, they were a strangely tightly-knit group that was loyal to one another.

She never would have thought that, just a few months later, she'd end up being unanimously voted as leader of their gang.


Four years ago, a few months after meeting KIM...

"Hahaha!" A pretentiously handsome-looking teenager laughed mockingly towards the HOOLIGANS, "Is this really the best fight you could put up? You're nothing but a bunch of chumps!"

The HOOLIGANS were all beaten, defeated by the hands of a group of guys wearing biker jackets and sunglasses.

Laying at their feet, MIKHAEL mustered up the energy to scowl angrily, "You foul villains! What gives you the right to come here and beat us up?! We never did anything towards you!"

The group could only chuckle in response before the apparent leader smiled egotistically, "We told you already. We're the MOPED BOYS of SOMEWHERE High. We take what we want, and we ain't gonna stop until we get what we want." Leering down on the blond-wigged boy, the leader sneered, "And we told yous that we was gonna take FARAWAY's park for ourselves. Not our fault you five dumbasses decided to jump us when we told you to scram."

"You can't just take our park!" ANGEL shouted, struggling to pull himself up, "This park belongs to the public! Everyone is allowed in this park!"

Another guy, apparently the leader's right-hand man, came up to kick the small boy in the stomach.

ANGEL coughed up a storm as he held his stomach in pain, collapsing back down again.

"Well guess what? Since we're also part of the public, that means the park belongs to us. And as owners of the park, we officially announce that you lame-oes are banned from ever setting foot in it ever again."

"What the hell do a bunch of guys from a different school want with our park anyway?! What's wrong with the park in your neighborhood?!" KIM spat out, wiping a bloody nose while trying to see clearly out of her broken glasses.

"Whatsittoya?" The leader sneered, "We don't need a reason to do nothin'. We just like this park better than the one back home, and we wanna take it."

"You're not gonna get away with this, bastards!" VANCE groaned, nursing a bruise on his leg.

"Oh yeah? And who'd be stoppin' us? The cops?" At this, the entire group proceeded to laugh mockingly, "The cops don't care about a bunch of kids! And even if they do, we'll already be skedaddling out of here before anyone gets caught."

"Face it, dweebs. You guys ain't nothin'." The sub-leader taunted, "Now get out of our park, before we start getting really angry."

The HOOLIGANS felt a deep pit of shame in their stomachs as they realized they wouldn't be able to retaliate anytime soon. This mark of defeat would end up haunting them forever…

That is, until a certain girl showed up to witness the whole thing.

As she walked into the park, one by one, everyone started noticing the pink-haired girl just casually strolling into the fray as if it was all a part of the scenery.

The leader of the gang's eyes lit up, already taken in a trance, "Oooh, hello~! Who do we have here?"

"Yoooo, who's this pretty little dame?" One of the other gang members called out, with others whistling.

Huh, AUBREY didn't realize she'd have that kind of reaction on guys. MARI had always told her that she was cute, and so did BASIL often enough…She didn't really think it'd ever come to use in a situation like this though.

"AUBREY, don't! They're too many of them!" KIM warned, her face still covered to stop her bleeding nose.

"AUBREY, huh?" The gang leader repeated to himself, before giving a smug smile, "A pretty name for a pretty girl. So, what are you doing around here? Don't tell me you're actually friends with these bozos on the floor, eh?"

As AUBREY got closer to the gang leader, she began sizing him up.

Seeing this, the leader started flexing, "Like what you see? Can't blame ya."

After studying him for a while, AUBREY dropped her bat on the ground and got even closer to him. Intimately close.

AUBREY had a sweet smile on her face as she got face to face with the gang leader and began wrapping her arms around his neck.

This was actually enough to get the gang leader to start blushing nervously. The gang members behind started whispering scandalously, wondering what was going on.

"Y-Y-Y-You… uh… You're getting pretty touchy there, g-girlie." The gang leader stuttered.

The HOOLIGANS had absolutely no idea how to react to what was happening, too shocked to even react properly.

AUBREY tilted her head in a cutesy manner.

"You put up a decent act, but when it comes down to it, you're all talk. Aren't ya?"

"W-Wha-" The gang leader could barely get the word out before he suddenly saw stars.

AUBREY had reared her head back and suddenly slammed it right into the guy's nose, launching him back a few feet away.

Instant knockout.

AUBREY bent down to grab her baseball bat as everyone went speechless.

It took them a moment to process what just happened, before one of them shouted out, "BOSS!"

The sub-leader finally wrapped his head around the fact that their leader was down, before coming up to her with violent intentions, "You got a lotta nerve taking down our boss, you little twerp!"

AUBREY didn't respond verbally, instead choosing to knock his teeth out by swinging her bat into his face.

"AGH, FACK! MAH MOUTH- SHE HIT MAH MOUTH-" The guy sprawled back, blood gushing out of his mouth. He spent the next few moments rolling around in pain before begging, "Someone! Geth me ah mirrah! I needs ah mirrah! I can'th askx JUDY outh if I'm uglyyy!"

All the other gang members recoiled in fear and shock at how easily both of their leaders went down so quickly.

AUBREY brought their attention back by slamming her bat to the ground, causing it to make a loud crack as it began splintering in half.

Pointing the nearly broken bat at them, AUBREY coldly asked, "Anyone else wants a piece of this pretty looking dame?"

Nobody jumped at the opportunity. Everyone stayed silent, except their sub-leader who was still rolling around on the floor in agony.

"No?" AUBREY asked with a tilt of her head. Then, with the meanest glare she could muster, she screamed, "THEN GET OUT OF HERE!"

"Holy shit, this girl is a psycho…!" She could hear them talk amongst themselves. "I don't want to deal with no crazy bat lady! I'm out!" "Yeah, same!" "Screw this place! Y'all are all insane!"

The demoralized MOPED BOYS retreated back to their mopeds, carrying their leaders as they sped away from the town. Never to be seen again.

AUBREY gave a sigh of relief. Shit, that was tense. She never had to act that scary before in her life. Thank god they were all convinced by it.

"AUBREY, holy shit! You actually beat them!"

AUBREY turned around to see KIM gleaming excitedly at her with stars in her eyes.

"That was a splendid, amazingly, stupendous, superflendiforous display!" MIKHAEL complimented earnestly in his own usual way, "I, THE MAVERICK, am completely in awe at your strength!"

"Holy cow, AUBREY! You're just as good as the MASTER! Maybe even better!" ANGEL cheered excitedly, still holding onto his stomach.

VANCE struggled to get up, so he instead stayed sitting but looked up at AUBREY with admiration, "That was some impressive batting skills, you crazy chick! You landed him square in the jaw! I bet we could even find that guy's teeth if we took the time to look for it!"

CHARLIE nodded silently with a bruised eye, showing her respects.

All this positive attention on AUBREY was starting to overwhelm her, as she couldn't help but blush from the praises, "I mean, I didn't really do anything that impressive. I was just trying to scare them away."

"Are you kidding me?! Dude, I wish I had that level of confidence!" KIM gushed, "You were walking up all slow-like, trying to act all flirty and cute, then all of a sudden- BAM- You knocked that guy out in a single hit! It was so cool- GOD I am so turned on right now!"

VANCE made a disgusted look, "Ew, KIM. Too much information."

KIM looked back annoyed, "Oh shut up, VANCE, I'm too busy fangirling to care!"

"Anybody else want a piece of this pretty looking dame?" MIKHAEL repeated AUBREY's earlier words, playing out the scene again with ANGEL.

"Oh noes, please don't hurt us! We're just a bunch of babies! We surrenderrrr!" ANGEL fake cried, overwhelmed by the might of MIKHAEL acting as AUBREY.

"Jeez guys, c'mon… You're embarrassing me…" AUBREY muttered awkwardly.

KIM was suddenly at her side, wrapping an arm around her shoulder as they both faced the group together.

"Welp, I think this settles our earlier debate. Wouldn't you say, guys?" KIM announced.

"Oh, definitely. She'd be perfect for the role." VANCE nodded.

"No objections from THE MAVERICK!" MIKHAEL posed.

"If the MASTER agrees, then I do too!" ANGEL fist pumped.

CHARLIE gave a thumbs up.

AUBREY looked at them with confusion. "Wait, what? Debate? Perfect for what?" Looking between the five of her friends, she asked them, "What are you guys talking about?"

"For the past few months, me and the guys have been thinking about doing something about the recent problems that's been plaguing our town." KIM explained, "Lately, FARAWAY town has been in trouble by a bunch of assholes popping up from different towns, coming here and causing mayhem."

"Lots of kids around here have been getting bullied, mugged, or even just scared off by these out-of-town gangs. You just saw a perfect example of what they look like and how they act firsthand." VANCE continued.

"Each one of us has been a victim of their evildoings for far too long! That is why I, THE MAVERICK, alongside the others here, have decided to form a vigilante group in order to stop their evildoings once and for all!"

"Yeah! We're sick and tired of having to deal with these jerks coming into our town like they own the place!" ANGEL added, "The stupid police won't do anything serious about them since they're just kids, but they're causing serious damage to everyone we care about!"

"One of them pushed my mom down the sidewalk while she was on her way to get her meds..." CHARLIE solemnly stated.

KIM continued on, "We're not called the HOOLIGANS because we're just a random group of friends that are trying to be special. We call ourselves that because we're trying to be our own gang to build up a reputation. This way, we can protect the town by making the other gangs start to fear us, leaving FARAWAY alone."

"It's been a downhill battle so far." VANCE sighed, "We've never managed to be a serious threat to any of these jerks, so none of them ever take us seriously." VANCE pointed to the bruises and injuries on his body, "And as you can see, we're not doing too well with the job of protecting either."

"If it wasn't for those villains catching me off guard, THE MAVERICK would have totally pwned those losers!" MIKHAEL lamented, nursing his wounds. "Alas, what we make up for in numbers and strength, we still find ourselves lacking proper leadership and coordination skills."

"So for the past few days, we've been thinking about rebranding ourselves with a different gang name. One that people can hear about on the streets and take it seriously." KIM further explained, "But we've been holding off on that until we could find someone that could properly lead us."

"Which is where we decided that you come in." VANCE finally managed to get himself to stand up, walking up to the other side of AUBREY and slapping a hand on her back.

AUBREY, still confused by the sudden info-dumping, had her eyes bug out as she incredulously asked, "W-Wait, what? Me? What about me?"

"As much as I, THE MAVERICK, hate to admit it," MIKHAEL started off with a dejected sigh, "I possess none of the qualities that would make for a great leader. In a role of a typical Shonen Jump manga, I would fit better as the Lancer of the group, or as the main protagonist's destined rival who also works together with him against the final villain of the series."

Ignoring MIKHAEL, KIM admitted sheepishly, "Yeah, it sucks to say, but we have absolutely no idea what we're doing. Which is why we think you'd make a perfect fit as our brand new leader!"

AUBREY, now that she was slowly caught up with the situation but still overwhelmed, pulled herself out of KIM's grasp and stepped back a bit.

"Hold on, guys. Look, I get what you guys are doing, and I honestly think it's pretty cool. But are you seriously suggesting that I should be your new leader?" AUBREY asked nervously, "I mean… I've only joined the group a few months ago. Plus, I'm only just now hearing about this whole thing about gangs and whatever. I don't really think I'm ready or even cut out to be a leader for something this serious."

"Aw c'mon, AUBREY!" KIM argued back encouragingly, "You just gotta believe in yourself! We saw firsthand how cool you are! There's no way you can't NOT be our leader!"

"As much as a low bar we represent, you are clearly the better fighter in our group. We'd rather have someone like that at least teach us how to fight better, at the very least." VANCE joined in too.

"Don't be intimidated by the fact that you're the newest member of the group! None of us have been doing this for too long either. In fact, the HOOLIGANS have only been around for a month before you joined us!" ANGEL reassured.

"Man, we really need to change that name…" MIKHAEL sighed, "I've been against it from the start. It just doesn't sound as cool as any of my ideas, like the BLACKSTARS- or maybe GHOSTRAIDERS- or even something like THE MAVERICK'S MAVERICKS!"

KIM continued, "Seriously AUBREY, at least consider it? Every fight we've ever engaged in, we've never won even once. But then all it took for us to turn the tables on those moped guys was for you to show up and teach those guys who's boss! I really think you being our leader would turn out for the better!"

AUBREY looked at all of her friends as they all gazed upon her with pleading desperate eyes.

KIM even had to put in an extra convincing, "Pweaaaaase?" for good measure.

This was a bit much for her, to be honest. She wasn't expecting her new friend group to put her on the spot over something like this. She wasn't even sure how realistic their plan about protecting the town from rival gangs was.

Still, they were all clearly relying on her… It had been a long time since she ever felt like she was part of a group…

And honestly? If it wasn't for KIM finding her in that playground that day, AUBREY probably...

She'd probably still be all alone…

AUBREY gave a resigned sigh as she looked away from their puppy dog eyes, "ALRIGHT, alright already. Stop looking at me with those doe eyes, you're gonna make me puke."

The group held in their breaths with trepidation.

"I'll give it a shot, at the very least. Besides, I'm pretty sure I owe you one, KIM. So I don't really have the option to say no to you." AUBREY chuckled.

"YES! WOO!" KIM cheered happily like she just won the lottery.

VANCE gave a relieved sigh, "Phew, I'm glad. I didn't know what we would have done if you said no…"

"I entrust myself in your care, AUBREY- No!" MIKHAEL paused for a bit with dramatic flair, before correcting himself, "THE BOSS."

"Ooh, I like that! If the MASTER calls you THE BOSS, then that means you're going to be THE BOSS, boss!" ANGEL concurred excitedly.

CHARLIE nodded silently and smiled.

Aw jeez, what the hell did AUBREY just sign up for herself? She hoped she wouldn't come to regret this anytime soon...

KIM, after ample amounts of cheering done, immediately moved on to the next part of her plan, "Great! Now that we have a new leader, we can finally get started on thinking of a new name for our gang!"

"What shall we call ourselves, I wonder?" VANCE hummed in thought.

"FISTS OF JUSTICE?" MIKHAEL began listing off, unaware that everyone else was ignoring him, "BLACK SPIDER? PAINKILLERS? Ooh, what about the original plan to call us THE MAVERICK'S MAVERICKS?!"

"Mmm… I'm not really good at coming up names, to be honest…" ANGEL lamented.

As the whole gang proceeded to think themselves to death over what to call themselves, AUBREY noticed CHARLIE twiddling her fingers together like a shy schoolgirl.

"You got something to say, CHARLIE?" AUBREY called her out, knowing she might be too reserved to speak up first.

Everyone else stopped in their ramblings to turn their attention to the usually silent giant of the group.

CHARLIE had a faint blush, but suggesting, "...SCOOTER GANG…"

"Huh? Did you just say SCOOTER GANG?" KIM asked confusedly.

CHARLIE nodded, before pointing to the pile of scooters parked haphazardly near the entrance of the park.

"Those guys earlier called themselves MOPED BOYS. That must mean every other gang does something similar with their names. We have scooters. SCOOTER GANG." CHARLIE explained her reasoning.

It took a moment for the idea to settle in their heads. Then, they all collectively brightened up at the idea.

"That's not half bad! We can call ourselves the SCOOTER GANG!" KIM agreed wholeheartedly.

"Yeah, I can see that working out for us… I like it!" VANCE agreed as well.

"Ah yes, I can see it now!" MIKHAEL envisioned, "We ride down the middle of the street on our scooters in V formation, with THE BOSS taking the lead. The sun setting behind us, villains cower in terror over the almighty visage towering above them menacingly. They all whisper in fear and awe amongst themselves… The SCOOTER GANG!"

"It's simple but memorable! Even if someone forgets who we are, all they have to do is see us riding on our scooters, and that'd be enough to jog their memory!" ANGEL nodded along.

As everyone agreed amongst themselves about the new name change, AUBREY had an embarrassed smile on her face that did not go unnoticed by KIM.

"AUBREY, sup?" KIM asked.

"So, uh… This might disappoint you guys, but I only own a bike." AUBREY chuckled nervously to herself, "I don't think I could afford to get a scooter either. The name is cool and all, but would it really be okay if the supposed leader of the SCOOTER GANG went without a scooter of her own?"

KIM shrugged, "I don't see a problem. In fact, it seems fitting to be honest."

At that, AUBREY became confused again.

VANCE agreed, "Yeah, I can see where she's coming from. The SCOOTER GANG members all ride on their scooters, but only the leader gets to ride a bike. It's a great way to show the difference in status."

"It's only fair that THE BOSS has special privileges in her own gang." MIKHAEL added in. "When you show up in fights, the other gang will know then that things are about to get serious!"

AUBREY rubbed her neck awkwardly, unsure as to what to say.

With nothing else to really add to the conversation, she could only shrug in acceptance, "Okay then. I guess I'm now the leader of the SCOOTER GANG. Without a scooter."

The SCOOTER GANG cheered together to celebrate their new name.


Good memories…

AUBREY fondly recollected the years that transpired.

Turns out, what KIM said about gangs from other towns messing with FARAWAY was true. Patrolling the town with her gang, she witnessed countless delinquents messing up the streets of her neighborhood. It was a crime that would not go unpunished.

Every time she and the others witnessed a crime happening from these other gangs, they'd immediately go on the offensive to teach them a lesson.

With AUBREY's surprisingly decent leadership skills, they were organized enough to stand a chance against most groups, driving them out of town with their tails stuck between their legs.

Over time, her gang's reputation started growing more and more as they repelled every single attempt at a gang moving in on their territory. She had become so popular that people unaware of the gang problem had started knowing her.

Unfortunately, that started bad rumors about her and her friends. Instead of being known as the protectors of the town, they were vilified as much as the other gangs instead. It seems a lot of people just don't like the idea of a bunch of rowdy high schoolers going around picking fights in their town.

Whatever though, it doesn't matter. The SCOOTER GANG wasn't protecting the town for the praise or publicity. They were doing it because no one else was willing to do it for them.

She wondered how her old friend group might have thought about her if they could see her now… Would they know that she was just doing her best to help the community? Or would they assume the worst and think she was no better than the gangs that were bullying the people?

Guess it didn't matter.

AUBREY brought her nailed bat up and gave a few practice swings. This was the bat that KIM and the others bought for her after the old one broke. She put nails on it to make herself seem more intimidating than she actually was. She never actually used it in a real fight though, but nobody was stupid enough to come near her to find out if she was willing to use it.

Swing.

Swing.

Swing.

HERO would be too busy with college to care about her.

KEL had already abandoned her, so there's no point in worrying about what he thinks.

MARI was too focused on obsessing over SUNNY to pay her any attention.

SUNNY…

SUNNY probably won't ever wake up…

She didn't have to worry about BASIL though. AUBREY already had the opportunity to tell the truth to him, and he's actually been quite supportive despite the violent nature of it all.

Remembering it now, she was actually quite shocked to see the flower boy outside his house for the first time. She had truly thought that BASIL would become a reclusive shut-in after his grandma died, just like MARI did after losing SUNNY.

She was glad to know that wasn't the case…


Three years ago…

AUBREY could only stare in shock at the sight before her.

There he was, an old relic of the past, coming back into her life again after god knows how long since they stopped.

"Get out of here, blondy!" ANGEL was shouting, kicking a defenseless flower boy as he cowered in fear, "This is our secret hideout! You're not welcome here!"

"If you don't get out of here soon, I, THE MAVERICK, will teach you a lesson you'll never forget!" MIKHAEL shouted too, posing dramatically to impose dominance.

BASIL didn't run away then. Instead, he just kept sucking in all the punches and kicks with a strained face, "But this place means something special to me! You can't just keep this place for yourselves! It's not fair to the people who've been here before!"

"MASTER, this guy is a real toughie." ANGEL said tiredly, losing his breath after countless attempts to kick him, "Should we try to get KIM or VANCE to help?"

"No need, my young apprentice!" MIKHAEL reassured, "I've already sent a message to THE BOSS! She'll be on her way to help deal with this pestering villain!"

Being reminded that she existed, AUBREY snapped out of her daze and ran up to the three boys, "Hey! What's going on here?!"

"Haha, exactly on cue too!" MIKHAEL laughed triumphantly, "You're going to get it now, you girly-looking boy!"

The two stepped away from BASIL as AUBREY approached.

BASIL nervously looked up to see the new girl arrive, quivering in fear as he didn't recognize her.

AUBREY felt chills in her bones as she saw the bruises and marks on BASIL's face. She couldn't help but gulp nervously, knowing that this was indirectly her fault.

"THE BOSS! You arrived just in time!" ANGEL cheered proudly, "We caught this snooping jerk scouting our secret hideout! He was looking around the place like a detective looking for evidence!"

"I have reasons to suspect that this guy here might be a spy for an enemy gang, trying to gather information on us!" MIKHAEL explained.

"I-I told you, I'm not! I'm not part of any stupid gang, I was just here because this place holds special memories for me!" BASIL defended himself, before pleading to AUBREY, "Please Miss, they listen to you, right? Tell them to stop! I promise I'm not doing anything wrong! This place used to be my friend's favorite spot too! That's all!"

Oh, BASIL…

With a soft look, AUBREY crouched down in front of him and gave him a gentle reassuring hug.

BASIL's body stiffened up in response from the touch, not expecting the close contact from this girl he didn't even know.

For him, it was a pleasant touch though. A bit familiar too, but he couldn't place why.

ANGEL and MIKHAEL gave each other confused looks as their boss was hugging the boy they were attacking moments ago.

"Er… You think she's just setting him up for her special move?" ANGEL asked quietly, motioning his body to mimic a headbutt.

MIKHAEL could only shrug unsurely, unable to provide an answer.

After a moment of hugging, AUBREY pulled back with a regretful frown, "I'm sorry, BASIL. This is my fault…"

BASIL could only blink in shock at the apology, before slowly furrowing his brows as he looked closer at her features. Then he slowly seemed to recognize her as he whispered, "...AUBREY…?"

"You two…" AUBREY stood up to turn her attention to the other two, "are such idiots!"

Both ANGEL and MIKHAEL jumped in fright from hearing their boss raise her voice at them.

Stomping over to them, she grabbed the scruff of their necks and pulled them closer, "What the hell makes you guys think this guy is a spy?! Have you even looked at him?! He's skinnier than bone, timid as all hell, and he wears a flower clip on his head! What about that screams enemy gang member?! Are you both blind?!"

MIKHAEL and ANGEL could only stammer in fear.

"The worst part of it all, you just started attacking him for no reason!" AUBREY continued, her face contorting further into rage, "Since when did the SCOOTER GANG attack random people?! We don't start the fights, we're supposed to end them! If all we did was pick random fights with bystanders, we'd be no better than the gangs attacking FARAWAY!"

AUBREY proceeded to grab both of their heads and slam them both into each other, causing them to grunt in pain and hold onto their heads.

"Idiots…!" AUBREY sighed in frustration.

The two members of the SCOOTER gang continued writhing all over the floor, giving her enough time to compose herself and face BASIL again.

Reaching out a hand for her old friend, she asked in concern, "Can you still stand?"

BASIL was still in dumbfounded shock as he was still processing the girl in front of him to be AUBREY. Taking her hand and steadily standing up, he could only stare at the pink-haired girl.

"Sorry about those two... I hope they didn't hurt you too badly." AUBREY said softly, checking up on his injuries. "Thank goodness those two aren't the bruisers in our group. Looks like it's nothing too serious-"

BASIL interrupted her when he suddenly launched himself at her with a full-on hug, "AUBREY, it is you! I've been looking for you everywhere!"

Now it was AUBREY's turn to be in shock.

BASIL was… looking for her?

Pulling away from the hug, BASIL happily told AUBREY, "I was so worried about you! I couldn't find you at school, I couldn't find you in the neighborhood, I didn't even know where you lived- I thought you moved away from FARAWAY town when I wasn't looking!" Running a gentle hand through her hair, he continued with a relieved laugh, "No wonder why I couldn't find you! You completely changed your look! I couldn't recognize you with the new hair and the different eye color! If I had known sooner that this was what you looked like now, I would have had an easier time spotting you out!" Resuming his hug again, he buried his face into her shoulder, "God, I missed you so much!"

AUBREY felt her eyes swelling up again as she unconsciously hugged BASIL back.

This whole time… This whole time, BASIL had been looking for her.

And she never even knew.

She just assumed that BASIL would… he would abandon her like everyone else did…

God, she was… she was so stupid and naive to think that… BASIL was one of her first friends in this town outside their old friend group… Of course, he'd never abandoned her…

She could feel her breathing getting hitched as she slowly started growing emotional at the reunion.

BASIL noticed this and called out to her in concern, "AUBREY? You okay?"

Not wanting to worry the flower boy any longer, AUBREY quickly composed herself before she could let any tears fall out. Pulling away with a gentle smile, she shook her head, "Don't worry. I'm all good. If anything, I'm just worried about you."

"Nah, these guys didn't hurt too bad." BASIL chuckled warmly, "I'm a lot tougher than I look at first glance, you know?"

Well, that was a surprise for her. BASIL was never the type to man up from personal injuries before. He was usually frail and easily sensitive. She remembered him crying over the simplest paper cut in school...

Just behind her, she could hear her two underlings recovering from their wounds as they both struggled to stand up.

"Okay… Clearly, I, THE MAVERICK, have made a grave error in assessing the situation…" MIKHAEL groaned, before asking "So, if you don't mind… Who is this guy and why are you both so friendly with each other?"

AUBREY sighed, turning around to face the idiots as she explained, "This is BASIL, a friend from my past. From before I joined the SCOOTER GANG."

Then she gestured towards the lake right beyond them.

"Before this place was the secret hideout of the SCOOTER GANG, it used to be the secret hideout of my old friends. BASIL came here because he was probably trying to remember old memories from before our group split up." AUBREY's eyes turned hard again towards the two boys, "Let me make it clear again that he is not an enemy gang member. Capische?"

"Crystal." ANGEL and MIKHAEL nodded nervously.

"Good. Now, on your hands and knees." AUBREY commanded.

The two boys looked at her in confusion.

AUBREY tapped her shoulder as she waited, before growing impatient, "Did I stutter? Hands and knees, now!"

MIKHAEL and ANGEL did not need to be told thrice, already in position.

BASIL awkwardly scratched his neck, unsure what to expect.

AUBREY walked over to stand right behind them, before commanding, "Apologize to BASIL for attacking him. Make it sincere, or else I'll make sure you'll both apologize correctly next time through the end of a tube!"

Under threat, both MIKHAEL and ANGEL proceeded to bow in unison, "WE'RE SORRY, PLEASE ACCEPT OUR APOLOGIES!"

"WE BEG FOR YOUR FORGIVENESS, INNOCENT STRANGER!"

"I, THE MAVERICK, WAS TRULY IN THE WRONG FOR ATTACKING ONE OF THE BOSS'S OLD FRIENDS!"

BASIL felt a sweat drop from his brow, overwhelmed by the sudden one-eighty from his attackers.

Feeling guilty over the fact that they were feeling guilty, BASIL quickly waved them down, "N-No, it's fine! You don't have to apologize, really! I'm sure you both were just defending what you thought was important because this place means so much to you!"

Both MIKHAEL and ANGEL looked up in surprise, fully expecting one of THE BOSS's friends to be as tough and cruel as she was when it came to dealing out punishment.

Crouching down to their level, BASIL smiled warmly, "If anything, I actually have to thank you both! If it wasn't for me running into you guys here, you would have never called AUBREY to come meet me! I wouldn't have ever been able to figure out who or where she was if it wasn't for you two!" Pulling up a hand from each of them, BASIL gratefully held onto them tightly, "Thank you so much for helping me reunite with AUBREY again!"

MIKHAEL and ANGEL could only gape in awe at the kindness of the flower boy. In their minds, they could practically see the angel wings protruding from his back and a halo above his head as he exuded so much innocence and purity.

"So kind…!" ANGEL muttered.

"So pure…!" MIKHAEL followed up.

"Nothing like THE BOSS!" They cried together.

AUBREY rolled her eyes, "Ugh. I'm literally standing right here."

MIKHAEL and ANGEL proceeded to bow down again, not out of fear this time, but out of sheer compassion.

"WE'RE SO SORRY WE EVER DOUBTED YOU, BASIL! PLEASE FORGIVE USSS!"

BASIL blinked confusedly for a bit, before turning to AUBREY and innocently asking, "Did I say something wrong?"

AUBREY couldn't help but chuckle to herself.


AUBREY gratefully looked through her second photo album, looking through the memories that she was able to capture with her SCOOTER GANG. BASIL suggested that she should get an album for herself so that she could hold onto the memories of her new friends.

Even though her old friends were gone from her life, she was so grateful for the fact that she still at least had BASIL sticking around.

She finally had someone to talk to about the problems she had with her old friend group, the depression she suffered from it, and the loneliness she felt when she thought she was abandoned by everyone. BASIL listened to everything she said with patience and understanding, before making her feel all the better in his own special way.

God, she was so happy that BASIL managed to move on peacefully from his grandma's death. She was so worried that BASIL would end up like MARI since she was the only other person she knew at the time to have lost a family member close to her.

She still had hopes and dreams that maybe one day, her old friend group could be reunited again and they would all have another picnic somewhere in the future… But she knew realistically that this might never be possible.

BASIL seemed convinced otherwise though, continuing to reassure her that SUNNY will definitely wake up one day and that things will go back to the way they used to be. Always the optimist, that boy. In a way, AUBREY was completely jealous that he could still look her in the eye and tell her that so seriously and genuinely.

She wanted to believe that SUNNY would wake up someday… But her heart just couldn't muster the willpower to actually believe it…

It would make life so much better if he did. She missed him so much, even after all these years.

But after waiting for so long, AUBREY just couldn't hold onto that hope anymore like BASIL could. The sooner she accepted the fact that she'll never see SUNNY again, the better it would be for her so that she could move on…

AUBREY's eyes widened as she just remembered something important.

Looking at the calendar in her room, she saw the day was drawing extremely near.

July 20. SUNNY's birthday… It was going to be tomorrow.

One day left until SUNNY's birthday… How old was he going to be this year? Eighteen? Same age as her, huh…

SUNNY… She would have liked to have known what SUNNY looked like all grown up as an adult. He would have been rather dashing, she was sure…

If the accident never happened and SUNNY was still with her, she wondered how differently her life would have played out…

She would like to think that she would still have met up with KIM somehow. AUBREY probably wouldn't have ever joined up with the SCOOTER GANG though, having no reason to since she wouldn't have been lonely if SUNNY was around to keep the old group together.

MARI wouldn't be the shut-in that she was now. If anything, MARI probably would have gone to highly prestigious places alongside HERO. They probably would have worked super hard in their fields to get their dream jobs and end up extremely famous. No doubt they would've gotten married sooner or later.

AUBREY, SUNNY, KEL, and BASIL would still hang out with each other since they were all around the same age as each other.

If things had played out smoothly enough, AUBREY might've eventually asked SUNNY out to be her boyfriend at some point in high school.

Dammit, why was she blushing all of a sudden? It was a realistic scenario to imagine if SUNNY was still around. There's no reason for her to act all girly and mushy over this…

Things will never play out that way, sadly…

SUNNY was gone…

AUBREY felt her mind remember back to when BASIL invited her out to his house to look through his photo album together…


Two years ago...

"You know…" BASIL brought up casually, "SUNNY has a crush on you."

AUBREY froze up from turning mid-page.

Her face became uncontrollably red as her brain was trying to process the words that BASIL just told her.

Eventually, AUBREY couldn't help but whimper out a small, "...what…?"

BASIL gave a guilty chuckle as he scratched his head, "I probably shouldn't have said that. I promised SUNNY that I wouldn't tell." Then he shrugged, "Oh well, it's been four years now. SUNNY would get over it if I told him."

"W-wait, back up a bit-" AUBREY was still wrapping her mind over this new information that suddenly came to light, "S-SUNNY had a crush… on me...?"

BASIL looked over to see a completely blushing AUBREY, no doubt overheating from the secret being revealed. BASIL looked up a bit in contemplation before remembering, "Oh yeah… I remember now. You used to have a crush on him too, didn't you? I remembered you admitted that to me after that one Christmas party. He looked so cool playing that violin, I thought my heart skipped a beat! Is what you told me."

AUBREY covered up her face as she crawled into a ball out of embarrassment, "Wait, come on! I still haven't mentally processed what you just told me yet! Don't just bring up embarrassing memories out of the blue after telling me a bombshell of that magnitude!"

"Wow, so you seriously never knew?" BASIL asked.

"OF COURSE I DIDN'T, BASIL!" AUBREY shouted indignantly, "If I knew, I wouldn't be freaking out like this! I thought he only thought of me as a friend!"

AUBREY proceeded to roll around as a ball for a few minutes as she tried to put her thoughts into order. BASIL looked on with amusement, waiting for her to calm down.

Eventually, after she finished, she laid herself on the floor looking like a dead fish. A blushing dead fish, to be fair. But it was still a dead fish expression. You know the one? With the eyes wide open and the mouth hanging dumbly? Yeah, that one.

"When did you find out about this?" AUBREY asked nervously.

"Mmm…" BASIL flipped through the photo album for a bit before his finger landed on a photo, "Around the time I took this photo of you, actually."

AUBREY sat back up to see the familiar photo of her younger self wearing a pink raincoat while winking at the camera on a rainy day.

BASIL explained, "See, I noticed that every time I took a photo of you, SUNNY would always come up to me to ask if he could see it first. When I told him about this, I teased him a little bit asking if he had a little crush on you." BASIL giggled nostalgically, "You should have seen the way his ears turned red! Aaaw, it was sooo cuuute~! I promised him that I would keep my lips sealed, but SUNNY stormed away right after in order to hide his embarrassment."

AUBREY still felt her blush practically radiating the room.

SUNNY would ask BASIL to let him see photos of her first?

Hhhhhnnnggg…

GOD, WHY WAS THIS SO EMBARRASSING?!

BASIL continued on, "Even though I promised him I'd never tell you, I was secretly trying to hint to the both of you that you were secretly into each other. Sadly, both of you were surprisingly equally dense about each other's feelings." He laughed, "To be honest, it was quite frustrating now that I remembered how many signs I was trying to give the both of you. Hahaha…"

AUBREY had to resist the urge to roll up into a ball again. Or punch BASIL in the face. Or kill herself.

Honestly, all three were really hard to resist doing all at the same time.

BASIL looked fondly at the photo, before frowning to himself, "Maybe… Maybe I should have made it more obvious that you two were in love with each other… If I did, maybe you two would have gotten together sooner…before SUNNY…"

That's right… SUNNY wasn't here anymore. There was no use feeling embarrassed about all this about a boy who wasn't even awake.

SUNNY was… probably never going to wake up again. If he was, he would have done so a long time ago…

Even if she did still have a crush on him… It would be pointless asking out a boy who was no longer with her…

"Well, I guess it doesn't matter." BASIL remarked happily, "Now that I've told you, I expect you to use this information wisely. And by wisely, I secretly mean You better be constantly teasing him about this so that he can make all those cute embarrassing faces once he wakes up from the coma."

AUBREY looked over at BASIL to see him acting carefree as normal. It was like he truly believed in his heart that SUNNY was going to wake up sometime soon…

Sigh… Why couldn't BASIL see the reality of the situation? SUNNY had been asleep for about four years now. They had waited for him to wake up for so long now, but he never did. There's no way SUNNY would wake up now… It would be better for everyone if they just accepted this fact…

But… AUBREY didn't have it in her heart to tell BASIL any of this. Her true thoughts… were probably best kept hidden away so that BASIL could stay happy.

She'd rather BASIL stay happy hoping for a day that will never come than to be sad and depressed over losing SUNNY again…

She… She didn't want him to end up like MARI…

So instead of telling BASIL what she was truly thinking, AUBREY gave him a shy nod, "Yeah… I will. It'll be fun to see his reactions when he's normally so stoic…"

BASIL smiled widely at that, as if he was extremely excited for the day to come, "Heeheeheehee! Oh, I can't wait! The two of you are going to be so cute together! The thought of SUNNY finally working up the courage to confess his feelings after all this time- and the cute smile you'll be making when you look at him- GAH, I'm so incredibly jealous!"

Wait, what?

Jealous?

"BASIL, why would you be jealous?"

The moment AUBREY asked that question, BASIL turned into stone.

Almost literally in a sense. He stilted up so much, she was worried she might have accidentally completely frozen the boy into an eternal statue of himself.

In a very robotic manner, BASIL slowly tilted his head over to look at her before asking in a stuttering fashion, "W-Whatever do you m-mean, A-AUBERGINE?"

"Okay, first off, don't ever call me that again." Ugh, she hated her full name so much. AUBREY will always be the better normal-sounding name. "Second off, you said that you would be jealous? What do you mean by that?"

"I don't remember saying that." BASIL denied way too quickly for his own good. "I don't remember saying anything of the sort. What were we talking about again? Who's BASIL?"

Overplaying the playing-dumb act, BASIL. Reign it down a bit. The word denial was practically written on your face.

AUBREY thought about it for a bit before realization hit her like a brick wall.

"No way… BASIL… Were you…" AUBREY gasped.

With an embarrassed groan, BASIL slammed his face down on the floor, "Oohh, please don't…"

"Did you secretly have a crush on…" AUBREY continued.

"Aaagh, here it comes…" BASIL lamented.

"On me?"

"YES, THAT IS EXACTLY RIGHT!" BASIL instantly recovered himself, giving an excited thumbs up and a fake smile even as he sweated profusely, "YOU GENIUS OF A GIRL! YOU FIGURED ME OUT! TEN STAR DEDUCTION SKILLS!"

AUBREY blinked for a bit before gasping again, "You had a crush on SUNNY?!"

BASIL collapsed, "Aaaugh, dammit…"

Now this was another filibuster that she was not prepared for today.

Wow…

"Oh man, BASIL… I didn't realize you swung that way." AUBREY murmured in shock, "Thinking back on it now, it actually sort of made sense. You and SUNNY were always together the most out of all of us."

Rubbing his face to clear his mind, BASIL gave a sigh, "Well, you're sort of half-right, I guess…"

"Oh? There's more to this?"

BASIL looked away embarrassingly as he tried to regain his composure. Then he gave another sigh, before admitting, "Yes, I do have a crush on SUNNY. But I'm not swinging for the other team, not usually at least. It's more like… SUNNY was a special exception…"

"Ah. Okay…" AUBREY nodded in understanding.

"And… Well…" BASIL muttered nervously as he rubbed his neck, "You weren't wrong when you guessed that I had a crush on you either."

"Ah… Okay…" AUBREY nodded again, less understanding this time. "So… wait… You had a crush on both SUNNY… and me?"

BASIL sighed now that the secret was out, "Yeah… Guess this is karma for revealing SUNNY's crush on you out of the blue. Now I had to reveal my own crush. SUNNY is probably going to find this hilarious once I tell him this a few years after he wakes up…"

"So… does that mean you've been swinging both ways?" AUBREY felt the need to ask.

"Well, like I said, I don't usually swing for the other team. I'd probably still consider myself straight in any other situation." BASIL further elaborated, "SUNNY is… special to me. In the same way that you're special to me. I cherish the both of you deeply."

AUBREY felt her face blushing again as BASIL confessed his feelings.

BASIL continued, "It only makes sense… Before I met anyone else, you were the first person who ever reached out to me and actually became my friend. Of course, I would start to develop a crush for you. Then when you eventually introduced me to SUNNY and the others, I found myself feeling more comfortable around SUNNY since he was always so quiet and attentive. I could tell him all about my problems or go on long tangents about my gardening hobbies, and he would listen with bated breath, encouraging me to keep going. He's always been a great listener…"

Yeah… He definitely was, AUBREY remembered that. She could tell him anything that was on her mind, and he would give her his complete attention, almost like nothing else was more important to him.

She missed that about him…

"I always wanted to… maybe confess my feelings to either of you. To find out if you'd ever feel the same way towards me... " BASIL chuckled embarrassingly, "But I never did work up the courage to say anything. But then when I eventually found about the two of your mutual crushes, I instantly knew that you two would be a waaay better fit together! I just had to root for the both of you on the sidelines, you know? I mean, seriously, the two people I loved the most secretly had a crush on each other? There was no way I could let the opportunity slide!"

So, BASIL had been playing matchmaker while secretly hiding his feelings away this whole time, huh? She couldn't imagine herself being able to handle that sort of thing if put in the same situation, to be honest…

"That's why I felt like I needed to keep my feelings a secret from the two of you." BASIL continued on with a rueful smile, "And I was doing a good job at keeping it a secret all this time too! Four years going, all to screw it up simply because I couldn't contain my emotions…"

"You know," AUBREY felt like she needed to console the poor boy, "If you had confessed back then, I probably would have maybe felt the same way towards you..."

BASIL shook his head with a knowing smile, "No, don't say that. We both know you're just trying to make me feel better."

Saw right through her. Damn. BASIL has gotten way better at reading people since the past four years...

"Even if you were being honest just now, I would never want to come between you and SUNNY." BASIL giggled, "You're just too perfect for each other."

AUBREY couldn't help but disagree...

Perfect for each other? Yeah, maybe four years ago…

But a lot has changed since then…

Looking back at the photo of the cute girl winking at the camera in her pink raincoat, she compared herself between the two of them.

She was so different now… No longer was she the cute innocent girl that she used to be back then. She was… rougher now. More hardened. Violent even, sometimes.

She was the kind of girl that would get into fights now. When the solution to a problem wasn't clear, she would rather resort to the quick and easy method of violence...

Would SUNNY still feel the same way towards her as he did back then? If he saw her the way she was now?

She… she was definitely not cute anymore.

No… No, SUNNY wouldn't feel the same way towards her anymore. She was sure.

She had changed too much to be the same girl SUNNY used to have a crush on.

And she'll never be the same girl ever again… No matter how much she desperately wishes otherwise.

BASIL seemed to notice her looking forlornly at the photo album. Deciding to do something about it, BASIL closed up the album and grabbed it in his hand before standing up.

AUBREY stood up as well, wondering what was going on.

BASIL gave one last look at his photo album with a sad smile, before reaching out to hand it over to her. "Here, AUBREY. I want you to have it."

"What…?" AUBREY's eyes widened in shock, "But… BASIL, this is your photo album! You treasure this thing more than anything else! This thing contains all of the cherished memories we had together… Why would you just want to give it to me?"

BASIL shook his head, "Don't worry about me. I know I can trust you to keep it safe. Please, just take it."

AUBREY looked incredulously at the album in front of her before she hesitantly reached out to take it.

Once it was in her hands, BASIL gave a sigh of relief as if a weight was lifted from his shoulders.

Turning around, BASIL walked up next to the window in his room, looking out in the night sky.

"You know, AUBREY… The day my grandma died, I thought that my life was over. I had lost too many things in such a short timespan… SUNNY going into a coma… Our old group slowly disbanding right before our eyes… Grandma passing away… I couldn't find any meaning to continue on…"

Turning to face her again, BASIL gave a broken smile.

"I truly wanted to die."

AUBREY felt her goosebumps flare up as he said it.

"It was a really dark time for me… Unable to find the motivation to do anything, I would stay cooped up in my room, getting lost in my own world. I couldn't even find myself getting up to water my plants anymore. Isn't that a scary thought? Me, being negligent towards my plants. Heheh…" BASIL laughed for a bit, before frowning, "Every night, I would dream of a fantasy world where everything didn't go wrong. It was my only escape from reality. I could only ever find happiness when I was asleep... " BASIL looked away embarrassingly, "And whenever I eventually wake up, I'd feel the despair wash over me all over again. It was like I had… SOMETHING… clawing away at the back of my mind, reminding me of everything I've ever lost… Telling me that it was pointless to go on… It was scary, having all these dark thoughts piled up in my head, almost like they were trying to take control of my body… The only way I could stop them from overwhelming me was by pulling out the photo album to remember the happy memories that I shared with everyone. I found myself constantly staring at my photos, over and over again, pretty much every single day. Forcing myself to get lost in the memories while I was awake. Then forgetting about the world as I went to sleep."

BASIL walked over to his bed and laid down, absentmindedly staring up at his roof.

"At some point though, a part of me must have gotten tired of feeling sorry for myself. I realized I was wasting away inside my own room, pointlessly torturing myself by dangling a perfect world in front of my face but never within my grasp. I thought about how Grandma would feel if she saw me the way I was. She'd be so disappointed that her grandson chose to give up on life. She'd feel so guilty, thinking that it was her fault I was like this. Then when I realized this, I thought of SUNNY. How would he react to seeing me in such a sorry state for myself? He'd never let me continue on like this. He'd be waking up every morning, forcing me out of my house and try to get me to appreciate life again. Because he cares about me. Because that's what he would have wanted for me."

BASIL sat up, giving AUBREY a proud smile.

"So that was when I decided, enough was enough. I wasn't going to stay like this any longer. I needed to find the strength to face myself, to face the dark thoughts in my head, and convince myself to live again. If not for me, then at least for SUNNY. If not for SUNNY, then at least for my grandma. On that day, I forced myself out of my room and took a deep long look at myself in the mirror, working up the courage to face my deepest fears. The fear of loss… the fear of change… the fear of having no control over my life. I didn't want to be stagnant like this any longer. I need to accept change in order to become a better person. A stronger person, one that could face reality head-on. It was… hard… facing myself, to say the least. A darker part of me wanted so desperately to cling onto the perfect imaginary world I created for myself, to try to convince myself that everything would be okay, just go back to bed and forget about everything."

BASIL sucked in a deep breath as if the memory was painful for him.

"But I persevered. I beat that dark part of myself and went outside for the first time in months. I accepted change. I accepted loss. And I truly learned for the first time what it felt like to be alive."

BASIL sighed in relief, letting out everything for AUBREY to hear.

"Ever since then, I've been doing my best to work towards becoming a better version of myself. One that I can be proud of. One that everybody could rely on and admire. One that SUNNY will look up to for guidance when he wakes up lost and confused in this new crazy world that kept on spinning without him. I think I've almost finally reached my goal too… there's just… one last thing I needed to do."

BASIL gestured to the photo album, making AUBREY look down at it.

"I have to get rid of the photo album." BASIL explained, "As much as it helped me cope when I was at my lowest… As much as it gave me joy whenever I looked through it… I figured out that I've been using it as a crutch this whole time. When things got too hard for me, I noticed that I would end up reverting back to my old habits of hiding away from reality through the world of my memories. If I was ever going to become the ideal version of myself that I aspired to be, I needed to get rid of the crutch that was holding me back. That's why I want you to have it, AUBREY. I could never throw it in the trash, it means too much for me to abandon it so coldly. It would be better if I can pass it on to the hands of someone that could get better use out of it than I ever could."

AUBREY stared at the photo album in her hands. She silently stared for so long.

BASIL patiently waited for her to respond. He would wait for as long as it takes.

Eventually, AUBREY could only silently whisper out, "Are you sure…? Are you really absolutely sure…?"

BASIL nodded happily, "Of course! Who better than you, AUBREY? Besides… I noticed that you've changed a lot since the last time we met. I can't help but feel like… you're purposely trying to forget the girl you used to be. And I don't think that's right." Standing back up, BASIL stood in front of AUBREY, "You shouldn't forget you are used to be, AUBREY. You're allowed to change, and you're allowed to grow. But you shouldn't deny the past, even if it hurts. The AUBREY from back then is as much a part of you as you are yourself. You could learn from her. Get along with her. Becoming the AUBREY that could have the best of both worlds."

BASIL had started wiping tears away from her cheeks. She didn't even realize she was crying until just now.

"Take good care of the photo album for me." BASIL reminded her, "Although it once helped me escape from reality before, I think for you, it'll help you stay more grounded in it. Then, when you eventually find yourself strong enough to not need it anymore, I hope you'll pass it on to the next person that'll need it most. Whoever you'll feel is right to give it to when the time comes."

AUBREY nodded, using her sleeve to wipe her eyes.

"Promise?" BASIL asked politely.

"Promise…" AUBREY quivered.


AUBREY looked over the photo of herself, one last time.

The girl winking at the camera in the rain.

Maybe she hadn't changed that much after all…

She smiled to herself in the mirror, before giving herself a cute wink.

You know what? Even if SUNNY might not ever wake up…

It had been so long since she last came to visit him. Maybe now was the best time for her to start again.

If not just to wait for him… then at least to pay her respects. In honor of being one of her best friends since childhood…

She looked at the calendar once again with a smile.

Tomorrow was SUNNY's eighteenth birthday, huh? She definitely needs to buy him a gift before she visited.

But before that, she definitely needs to get some sleep.

God, what time was it? 2 AM already?

At this rate, she won't even have the energy to come to visit. She better get started right away.

Chapter Text

For the kids of FARAWAY, their journey through the forest to visit BASIL's house was supposed to be a normal one…

That was until they heard the scream of a familiar boy calling out for help.

"AH! NO! SOMEBODY, PLEASE HELP!"

SUNNY, normally easily distracted and lost in his own world, had perked up immediately at the voice of his friend, "BASIL?"

"Sounds like he's in trouble." HERO murmured seriously, before quickly running after the noise, "We should probably hurry to see what's wrong!"

Not needing to be told twice, the entire group raced towards the end of the forest to reach BASIL's house as quickly as possible.

What they saw when they arrived was too shocking for words.

There BASIL was, in the middle of the chaotic mayhem, running around as he desperately begged, "No, stop it! Please, don't ruin my garden anymore! All my plants...!"

Surrounding him from all sides were a group of POTATO BEETLES, making a huge mess as they partied on top of BASIL's garden and feasted on every flower they like a buffet. Poor BASIL was left only to watch helplessly as his hard work was left to ruins by the heartless creatures.

"HYEA HYEA HYEA HYEA!" One of the POTATO BEETLES laughed, "Eat up as much as you can boys! Momma is gonna be so proud of us tonight for bringing home dinner!"

Disgusting monstrosities they are, being insects the size of an average person's head. From far away, they looked like potatoes with wings, but in actuality, the potato skin was only a camouflage for their hard shell. They were inconsiderate, rude to anyone they met, and smelled horrible to boot.

Several of them invaded BASIL's property as they laid waste to each patch of garden on sight. It must have been like a massacre for the poor boy, to have him watch his hard work being eaten like that.

HIKIKO ran up to BASIL, crouching to his level and asking in concern, "BASIL? Are you alright? Are you hurt?!"

BASIL, hearing the sound of familiar friends, turned around with a relieved cry before running up to HIKIKO and hugging her tightly, "HIKIKO! The POTATO BEETLES are eating my garden! I keep asking them to stop, but they won't listen to me!"

HIKIKO went to comfort the poor boy by hugging him back tightly, "There, there, don't worry. We're here now to help."

Stepping up from behind, AUBREY proceeded to assert her dominance as she screamed out to the beetles, "HEY! What do you bullies think you're doing to our friend's garden?! You're eating all of his flowers!"

Only one of them seemed surprised by the audacity of AUBREY calling out to them, as it indignantly replied back, "His flowers? What the heck are you talking about?! We found this place first, fair and square! These flowers are all ours!"

"Hey, that's not fair!" KEL shouted back, "What do you mean you found this place first?! BASIL has been living here his whole life! He planted all of these flowers, not you!"

"Oh yeah?" The beetle looked around for show, then asked, "If these flowers belonged to him, why don't any of them have his name on it? Nobody was around when we showed up here, so that means these flowers didn't belong to anyone! So scram you little shrimp!"

"That's not nice, Sir." HERO, ever the peaceful mediator of the group, stepped up to plate with a stern glare, "These flowers were on BASIL's property. You had no right to come waltzing in and suddenly claiming these flowers as your own!"

A different POTATO BEETLE gave a dismissive scoff as it gulped a clawful of daisies, "Property schmoperty! If he wasn't here first before we showed up, then that means we were here first! It's finders keepers, losers weepers! He should have stuck around if he didn't want anyone taking these flowers! Who would be dumb enough to leave their territory unguarded?"

"But I was just leaving for a moment to refill my watering can! I was gone only for a few minutes!" BASIL sobbed, unable to calm down even when HIKIKO did her best to comfort him.

"That's your fault, kid. Not ours! These flowers belong to the POTATO FAMILY now, and you can't do nothing to stop us!"

HIKIKO, now severely pissed off beyond all measure at the callous treatment shown, called her little brother over and politely asked, "SUNNY, be a dear and take BASIL away to a good hiding spot. Big Sister has some insects to exterminate."

SUNNY nodded resolutely, grabbing BASIL by the hand and gently pulling him away to someplace safe nearby.

Good. Since both of them were the youngest and didn't know how to fight, it was better that they'd get out of harm's way.

Standing back up, HIKIKO faced the beetles with a glare, "This is your last warning! Give back all the flowers you stole from our friend and leave, or else we'll kick you out ourselves!"

Many of the POTATO BEETLES practically seemed offended at her threat, as all of them dropped what they were doing to surround the kids in an intimidating manner, "You really trying to pick a fight with the POTATO FAMILY? You should know that us beetles don't take kindly to bullies!"

"Who's the bully here?! You're the ones ruining our friend's garden and eating all of his hard work! You're nothing but a bunch of mean jerks!" AUBREY shouted back angrily.

"We told you kids already, FINDERS KEEPERS!" One beetle aggravatingly shouted back, "If you don't leave us alone to eat in peace, we'll show you who the real mean jerks are gonna be!"

Things grew tense and silent as the two groups stared each other down.

BASIL and SUNNY were watching nervously from behind the trees of the forest.

HIKIKO narrowed her eyes, refusing to back down.

Behind her, everyone was getting ready for a fight.

The beetles in front of them grew more aggravated as their wings sped up to make an ominous buzzing sound.

Looks like a fight was inevitable.


AUBREY smiled with a glint in her eye as she readied up her foam bat.

Just as a POTATO BEETLE was about to fly directly towards her, AUBREY timed it just right as she swung.

By the time AUBREY placed her bat down and held a hand up to cover the sun out of her eyes so that she could see where the beetle went, it was already a star shining in the middle of the sky.

Just behind her, KEL was dribbling past everyone with a bouncy ball. His speed and athletic prowess were unmatched, even as countless POTATO BEETLES attempted to grab him.

"Haha! You're too slow!" KEL taunted, blowing a raspberry before hurling his ball at a group of foes.

With precision, the ball mercilessly bounced back and forth between three beetles like a pinball in a pinball machine, knocking them out of the air before KEL caught the ball as it came back.

A little way to the side, a group of beetles was surrounding HERO, circling around him like predators to prey. To them, they must have thought he was easy pickings.

Of course, it would be foolish to think so.

Before any of the beetles could charge at him, HERO had pulled out a hand to call for a timeout before he started a campfire in the middle of the fight. While the fire was lit, HERO took out his trusty frying pan and started heating it up with some cooking oil.

This caused the beetles to blink in confusion, staying back a bit as they wondered what the heck he was doing. They watched curiously as HERO even began mixing and frying something up.

After a few moments, HERO proudly beamed as he showed off the red curry in his pan, "Ta-daah! Red hot spicy curry! Cooked to perfection!"

"Er… Okay…?" The beetles looked between themselves in confusion, before one of them asked, "So, you gonna eat it or something?"

HERO had a devilish glint in his eye as he simply answered, "Nope! You are!" and then proceeded to throw the curry into all of their faces.

Several of them then screamed in agony as their eyes became blinded by the delicious hot spiciness of HERO's cooking, as they flew around like headless chickens and colliding into each other.

Breathing a quick sigh, HERO turned around to double-check how the others were doing. Over his shoulders, he saw a quick glance of HIKIKO focusing on a POTATO BEETLE in front of her, unaware of two that was sneaking up from behind.

"HIKIKO! Watch out behind you!" HERO warned.

HIKIKO heard his warning just in time as she ducked and rolled out of danger, right as a beetle nearly bit her head off with its pincer.

"Thanks, HERO! I can handle it from here!" HIKIKO nodded towards him in gratitude before facing off against her own fair share of foes.

As the POTATO BEETLES swarmed around her, HIKIKO pulled out her trusty jump rope and got ready for action.

When one beetle charred directly at her, HIKIKO slid down while holding the jump rope out right above her head, catching the beetle by the foot.

Quickly tying his feet up, she jumped back up and pulled on one end of her jump rope to swing the beetle around, launching it away right as the jump rope loosened up and causing the beetle to collide with another.

The last one in her sight started buzzing around at incredible speed, hoping to catch her off guard and confuse her.

HIKIKO straightened her jump rope out as she focused on her target, taking aim and then cracking her jump rope out like a whip.

One end of the jump rope hit directly into the beetle's wing, causing it to spiral out of control and crash to the floor like a gunned down plane.

"Nice shot!" She heard HERO complimented from afar.

HIKIKO turned to him and winked back in response.

HERO chuckled a bit with a blush as he looked away.

As the fight continued, many of the POTATO BEETLES were starting to realize how outmatched they were as they started falling one by one against the group of kids. Despite their initial unassuming appearances, it seems the kids were far tougher than the POTATO FAMILY bargained for.

"Ah boy, this isn't good…" One of them muttered bitterly as it retreated, "I need to get outta here and call Mama!"

As it buzzed away, HIKIKO and the others continued their relentless onslaught against the beetles in order to drive them out of BASIL's garden.

SUNNY and BASIL watched from afar, with BASIL continuing to worry about his plants while SUNNY was silently cheering on his sister.

Neither of them noticed the big giant bug shadow lurking right behind them.

Meanwhile, HIKIKO was beginning to feel a bit tired from dealing with so many POTATO BEETLES as they continued swarming around her. Despite taking down so many already, they were very stubborn in sticking around to finish the fight.

HERO had already noticed HIKIKO's condition and was halfway done prepping his next meal.

AUBREY and KEL continued working together to cover each other's back, their teamwork surprisingly effective despite normally being constantly at each other's throats.

"Think fast!" KEL threw his ball straight at AUBREY, who then proceeded to knock the ball out of the park and directly into a bunch of beetles grouped together.

Sound effects of a bowling ball getting a strike would be an appropriate choice here.

Despite the impressive display, KEL found reason to criticize AUBREY as he went to pick up his ball, "Aw, come on! AUBREY, pick up the pace! You could have hit it harder than that!"

"Screw you, KEL! I hit the ball back just fine! You're the one throwing it so weak!"

"Guys, stop it!" HERO piped up in between them, "Seriously not the best time to have an argument right now!"

Fortunately, HERO was just finished with his next meal. A piping fresh well-done slab of steak, ready to be eaten.

"HIKIKO, here! Use this!" HERO called out, launching the steak into the air for her to catch.

Noticing the slab of well-done meat coming her way, she lit up like a Christmas tree and caught it with her jump rope.

"Thanks, HERO! This is perfect!"

Instead of eating it like he thought however, HIKIKO actually ended up tying the steak on one end of the rope with a tight knot before swinging it around like a flail.

HIKIKO then proceeded to charge directly at a group of beetles with a war cry, knocking many of them out of the air as she passed by with her impromptu steak-flail.

HERO watched on awkwardly as he scratched his head, "Well, I mean, it was supposed to help you get your energy back- but alright… If it works, it works…"

The battle continued raging on until finally, a majority of the POTATO BEETLES were down for the count.

The remaining ones became demoralized as they watched their brethren fall like flies before most of them decided to run away in fear.

Eventually, when there were no foes left in sight for them to fight, the group calmed down and gained their bearings.

"Did… we beat all of them?" AUBREY asked first, breathing heavily to regain her stamina.

KEL, with a cocky smirk, spun his ball around his finger and loudly taunted, "Serves them right! Bet you they realized we were unstoppable together and couldn't keep up the pace! Who's the mean jerks now, huh?"

HERO wiped the sweat off his brow as he gasped for breath, "Is it over? Oh thank goodness it's over… I didn't know how much longer I could keep going…"

Rolling her up jump-rope, HIKIKO asked in concern, "Everyone alright? Nobody hurt too bad?"

Everyone shook their heads negatory, showing that they were fine if not a bit tired. Nothing a couple of juice boxes couldn't fix-up.

Seeing that the coast was clear of any danger, HIKIKO called out, "SUNNY! BASIL! You can come out now! We made sure it's safe!"

HIKIKO did not hear a response.

That… was worrying…

"SUNNY? BASIL? Can you hear me?" HIKIKO shouted louder this time.

SUNNY didn't run off with BASIL too far, did they? She knows that she told him to find a good hiding spot, but she never did specify how good it had to be, did she?

"SUNNY?!" She called out again, this time much more frantically, "SUNNY, please let me know you're alright!"

Sensing that HIKIKO was about to panic, HERO came to her side and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, "Easy, HIKIKO. I bet SUNNY's just fine. He's with BASIL after all, and BASIL would do his best to keep him safe."

Right… Right, of course. BASIL would keep SUNNY safe. SUNNY wouldn't be in any danger as long as they were smart and stuck together. She could trust BASIL.

"Come on, let's go look for them together. They couldn't have gone that far." HERO gently suggested with a calming smile.

HIKIKO smiled back and nuzzled HERO's hand appreciatively, "You're right. I'm sure SUNNY and BASIL are around here somewhere…"

"Don't worry, HIKIKO. I know how much you hate being separated from SUNNY for too long. We'll find them before you know it." HERO reassured.

Of course… They all knew how important SUNNY meant to her. Being the protective older sister that she was, she had the tendency to go a bit overboard when it involved her little brother. She just didn't want to lose him, that's all.

Before they could begin a search party to look for the two missing boys, the group heard an ominous laugh ringing throughout the forest.

KEL brought up his ball again, "They back for some more?"

HERO hurriedly sucked the last bit of juice in his juice box in preparation before pulling his frying pan and spatula out.

HIKIKO carefully looked around, ready to jump in with her jump rope at a moment's notice. "Keep your eyes peeled."

AUBREY held her bat up, already prepared the whole time.

The loud buzzing noise coming from nearby did not help make the situation any less tense.

When it started growing louder and closer, it was actually AUBREY who noticed where it came from first as she looked up at the sky and pointed out to the others, "Guys! Look!"

Everyone looked up and felt a chill run up their spine at the sight that they were not prepared for.

A big giant ladybug was flying above them, with comically huge human lips instead of pincers like the other bugs. It was almost the same size as BASIL's house and was wearing an overbearingly annoying amount of makeup on, making it look horrendously tasteless.

But that wasn't what HIKIKO was focused on right now. No, something much more serious caught her attention as her breathing hitched up.

Within the grasps of this giant ladybug's many legs, she saw both BASIL and SUNNY were struggling to break free from.

"SUNNY!" HIKIKO screamed out in fear.

KEL was already voicing what everyone thought, "Oh no! SUNNY and BASIL's been caught by that thing!"

The giant ladybug slowly hovered closer before finally landing right in front of them, menacingly standing on its hind legs as it shielded itself with BASIL and SUNNY.

BASIL gave a distraught and apologetic look to HIKIKO, "I'm sorry, HIKIKO! It snuck up behind us before we could react! I couldn't protect SUNNY like I promised…"

SUNNY vehemently shook his head even as he continued to struggle to break free, "Not your fault…!"

Neither of them looked like they were hurt or in any immediate danger of getting hurt, which eased some of HIKIKO's worries.

But that doesn't mean that they were out of harm's way, not until HIKIKO could somehow think of a way to get them free and back into her arms again, away from this disgusting thing in front of her.

Looming over the group, the giant lady began to speak in an irritated tone.

"So, here I was, having a nice family outing with all my sons today. We were out and about, having fun, enjoying the scenery, when all of a sudden we found the motherload of all meals! Flowers and plants of all variety, neatly organized and stacked together like a vegan combo meal! What a perfect day, right?" The giant ladybug asked rhetorically, before loudly screeching, "WRONG! I find out all my sons are getting annihilated by a bunch of kids who wanted the flowers for themselves! Now I need to figure out how to repopulate our family again to make up for all the boys I've lost before we start the great migration! All because of you!"

"And who are you supposed to be?!" AUBREY growled.

"I am the great MOTHER BEETLE, the matriarch of the BEETLE FAMILY!" The giant ladybug introduced herself coldly, swinging BASIL around in one leg, "And who the heck are you kids?! What makes you think you can hurt my children and get away with it?! You guys don't even eat flowers, you eat those disgusting artificial stuff like meat and post-processed sugar bars!"

"We didn't stop your dumb kids just so that we can eat the flowers for ourselves! The flowers already belonged to one of our friends, we were just stopping them from stealing and eating the entire garden!"

"YEAH!" KEL joined in audaciously, "The flowers were sitting on BASIL's property and he worked really hard to grow them by himself! You guys were the bad guys here for barging in here and suddenly eating all of it!"

"HOW DARE YOU ACCUSE MY BOYS OF SUCH A FALSE CRIME!" The giant ladybug began fuming in rage, "My boys are angels who would never steal from others! The flowers didn't belong to anyone, it was just sitting here out in the open for anyone to take! If this so-called BASIL really owned them, then why didn't he eat all of them first?! Why did he just leave all these delicious plants out here without protecting them, letting it slowly rot?!"

"The plants weren't for eating, they were for caring and decoration!" HERO spoke up sternly, "What part of this is so hard to understand? Your family invaded BASIL's home and devoured everything in sight! How would you feel if you had someone break into your houses and start stealing all of your stuff?!"

"We beetles do not live in homes! We're migrators who move where the Summer leads us! Your argument is stupid and invalid!" The ladybug screeched back stubbornly. "My family did nothing wrong, and I'm going to make sure you pay for attacking us!"

"Oh my god, it's like we're talking to a brick wall!" AUBREY muttered irritably.

"I don't think anything we say is gonna get through to her." KEL groaned in annoyance.

HERO turned to HIKIKO in concern, asking, "How do you want to go about this, HIKIKO? We'll follow your lead."

Considering the fact that this fat idiotic insect refused to accept the responsibility for what they did to BASIL, HIKIKO could only see this leading to one direction.

Stepping forward, she snapped out the jump rope in her hands to make a loud menacing cracking sound as she got ready in her stance, "No more talking. Give me back my brother and his friend, or else we're going to take you down next!"

"UGH, you disgusting kids are so rude!" The giant ladybug continued seething in rage, before taking a pause to give a considerable look at SUNNY and BASIL in her leg arms. The ladybug hummed, before asking in a mocking tone, "You want me to give you back these two younglings?"

HIKIKO was not going to say it twice, making it clear by glaring nastily at the ladybug.

What the ladybug did next, however, was beyond her imagination.

With only a smug smile, the ladybug suddenly opened her giant mouth and swallowed SUNNY whole, causing him to scream in surprise even as he was being gulped down the ladybug's throat.

Everyone began panicking.

AUBREY was screaming in terror.

KEL could only shout in, "SUNNY!"

HERO looked like he was going to be so sick that he might even puke.

HIKIKO froze up in shock, unable to grasp the sight in front of her.

BASIL looked on with a terrified expression, as he started thrashing about even harder than before, "SUNNY! NO, GIVE HIM BACK!"

"Oh, you want to be with him too? Oh well, if you insist. Bottoms up!" The giant ladybug smiled cruelly before opening her mouth to swallow BASIL as well.

Nobody could do anything but watch as they watched for a second time as another friend got swallowed whole.

The ladybug gave a loud burp, before groaning, "Ugh, disgusting. I'm going to have indigestion by the end of this, I just know it." Facing the group of four again, she smiled evilly, "Now how does it feel to know what it's like to lose family members, hm? Maybe this will teach you not to hurt anyone else and spread lies ever again!"

HIKIKO couldn't hear her. In fact, HIKIKO couldn't hear anything.

There was a ringing in her ears that drowned everything out, even covering the commotion that her friends were making behind her.

Her vision blurred, only able to focus on the giant insect in front of her.

All HIKIKO could think about was the fact that SUNNY was taken from her by this thing.

Her little brother.

He had been right there, just now. Within her grasp to save.

But she couldn't save him.

She had just lost her little brother.

Again.

And this monstrosity took him.

Something within HIKIKO snapped.

HIKIKO has become LIVID.

HIKIKO can no longer feel any other EMOTION.

Ignoring everything else that could distract her, HIKIKO took slow steps towards the monster that took her brother away from her.

Noticing HIKIKO walking towards her, the giant ladybug smirked arrogantly, "Oh? Are you upset? Did little ol' me do something naughty?"

HIKIKO gave a quick snap of her jump-rope, letting it silently trail behind her.

"What's the matter, cat got your tongue? Doesn't feel very good to lose someone important to you, does it?"

HIKIKO continued walking towards the insect, staring directly into its eyes.

At this point, the giant ladybug began wavering a bit from the cold glare that HIKIKO was giving her, stepping back a bit with a stammer, "H-Hey, why aren't you saying anything? Stop giving me that look."

HIKIKO got closer.

The ladybug stepped further back, "Y-You're not scary, you know! A little pipsqueak like couldn't lay a finger on someone like me!"

HIKIKO got even closer.

The ladybug nearly stumbled as it tried backing away even further, "Q-Quit looking at me like that! You're creeping me out!"

"Give him back." HIKIKO stated coldly.

"What?" The ladybug blinked in confusion, "But I already ate them both!"

"Give him back." HIKIKO repeated, now stretching the jump rope out between her hands.

HIKIKO got even closer.

"Look, you're just going to have to reproduce and make another one! I can't give you back what you've already lost!"

HIKIKO paused in place.

The ladybug gave a brief sigh in relief when it saw her stop, only to feel a chill in the back of it's spine as HIKIKO's glare became more murderous than ever before.

"I'll kill you."

Nope. The ladybug thought just as it spread its wings out to fly away.

Before it could get very far, something tight latched around its neck and pulled it back down to the ground.

The jump rope that had been tied into a noose was suffocating its neck, slowly becoming even tighter as HIKIKO kept pulling and pulling, mercilessly staring down at the face of the monster beneath her.

"Give him back."

The noose tightened.

It couldn't breathe.


"SUNNY, BASIL! I'm so glad you two are okay!" AUBREY cried out in relief as she hugged the two boys covered in slime, not at all caring how she was getting covered as well.

"There, there, AUBREY…" BASIL gently hugged her back as he comforted her, "There's no reason to cry! We're gonna be just fine."

HERO came up to SUNNY and gave him a soft head pat, "Man, it's a good thing we managed to pull you guys both out before that thing could digest you. You must have been so scared!"

Far back in the distance, a headless corpse of a giant ladybug sat against one of the trees in the forest. Its detached head was hanging out loosely on the ground even further back.

SUNNY shook his head neutrally, "Not really."

"Oh?" HERO tilted his head curiously, "And why weren't you scared, SUNNY?"

SUNNY pointed at HIKIKO, who was doing her best to calm down just a few feet away from them, "HIKIKO."

"Ah, I see." HERO chuckled, "You knew your big sister was going to save you, right? That's why you weren't scared."

SUNNY simply nodded.

"I don't know about you, but I was actually very scared." BASIL laughed right next to him, "When I saw you get eaten first, I was so sure we were both gonna die."

"I thought you already were dead!" AUBREY cried out, tears streaming out of her eyes like a geyser, "I didn't know what we were going to do if we lost the both of you! I was more scared than either of you!"

"Aw, c'mon. We all know that HIKIKO was the most scared out of all of us. Didn't you see her snapping like that when she saw SUNNY get eaten? Compared to her, you're just being a crybaby, AUBREY." KEL teased.

"SHUT UP, KEL!" AUBREY continued crying. "I'M NOT A CRYBABY!"

SUNNY hummed in thought, before turning back to see HIKIKO again.

She was still breathing heavily, staring ruthlessly at the dead insect corpse as if preparing to fight it again if it somehow came back to life.

Seems she hasn't calmed down yet.

SUNNY went over to her and gently tugged on her sleeping gown, "Sis?"

HIKIKO flinched before turning around, calming down considerably when she saw that it was only her little brother.

With a smile, she collapsed to her knees and wrapped her arms tightly around her little brother, "You came back to me…"

"Mm-hmm." SUNNY nodded, returning the hug.

When HIKIKO felt him hugging her back, she began quivering against him, becoming overwhelmed with relief.

"I… I thought I was going to lose you again…" HIKIKO sniffled, hugging SUNNY even tighter.

"Mm-mmm." SUNNY shook his head, "Never leaving you alone."

"I'm so glad… I promise I'll never leave you by yourself ever again…" HIKIKO sobbed, doing her best to keep her emotions steady.

"Okay." SUNNY responded simply, allowing her to cry on him for as long as she needed.

She cried for a while before her tear tanks ran dry.

Thank god…

Thank god that she managed to save SUNNY before it was too late...


Now that everything was calming down and the worst of it was all over, everyone regained their composure and resumed back to business as usual.

The whole trekked back to the main front garden of BASIL's house, surveying the carnage and mess that was left behind by the BEETLE FAMILY.

The entire place was a mess, nothing but the dead bodies of POTATO BEETLES and leftover pieces of flowers scattered everywhere.

BASIL had a miserable expression on as he walked over to the garden, only to find that nothing was left. Practically every single flower he ever planted was eaten or ruined.

"Oh, BASIL…" AUBREY murmured in pity, wishing she could do something to help the poor boy.

"Man… This place used to be so beautiful…" HERO lamented, looking over the whole garden, "Now look at it…"

KEL huffed angrily, "I can't believe this all happened in just a single day! Those stupid beetles…! if I see another one, I'm gonna beat the crap out of it!"

HIKIKO could only stand by awkwardly, not knowing what to do. She felt bad for BASIL, for certain. But even she knew that she couldn't do anything to take back what happened here.

BASIL sniffed a bit as tears started dropping before he quickly wiped it away and covered his eyes with his arm.

Seeing this, SUNNY walked up to him and gave him a pat on the back.

BASIL looked up to see SUNNY giving him a remorseful expression.

"Oh, SUNNY." Despite the situation, BASIL forced himself to smile in order to ease his friend, "It's not your fault, don't worry."

"Are you okay?" SUNNY asked in concern.

BASIL shook his head, wiping the last tear in his eye and continued smiling, "Don't worry, I'm fine! I may have lost the garden, but things could have turned out a lot worse! I'm just glad all of my friends are fine."

SUNNY didn't seem convinced, still giving BASIL a worried look.

Following SUNNY's lead, everyone else came up to BASIL as well as they gave their own comforting words.

"BASIL is right. We almost lost both him and SUNNY to that MOTHER BEETLE character." HERO reminded with a gentle smile, "We should all be thankful that nothing serious happened beyond that."

"I still feel bad for the flowers…" AUBREY frowned remorsefully, "BASIL, is there anything we can do to help?"

"Yeah, it's not the end of the world!" KEL cheerfully proclaimed, "Even though the garden is gone, we can just help you start over a new one! Sure, it'll take time, but if we work hard together and wait patiently, we can help BASIL's garden regrow back to the way it used to be!"

Slowly being cheered up by everyone, BASIL's sad smile became more genuine as he giggled, "That's not a bad idea. Sure, we can start the garden over again. Even if it'll take a long time to set it all up, I think it might end up looking better than before if we all work together."

"That's the spirit!" HERO proudly clapped on BASIL's shoulder before announcing confidently, "Okay gang, you know the plan. Let's help BASIL clean this whole mess up and start the garden over again. By the time this is over, we'll make this place look better than when it started!"

AUBREY, KEL, and SUNNY playfully saluted, as both KEL and AUBREY cheered, "AYE AYE!"

HIKIKO gave a sigh of relief, glad to see that her friends were able to get their spirits back. She wished she could have done more for the flower boy, but helping out to fix the garden seemed like it'll have to do for now.

If only she had gotten here sooner though, she might have helped prevent this whole mess from ever happening to begin with…

Another regret that'll follow her, she supposed…

KEL asked cheerfully, "Alright, BASIL. Since this is your garden, you're gonna be the leader! Where do we get started first!"

AUBREY nodded excitedly, "Yeah! Tell us what to do, LEADER!"

BASIL blushed at the attention, a bit taken aback by the sudden responsibility placed upon him in such short notice. Awkwardly scratching his neck, he hummed and stammered, "I… Uh… Hm… I guess the first thing we need to do… Um…"

Seeing the nervous boy unable to speak clearly, HERO jumped in with a helpful suggestion, "Why don't we start by cleaning the whole place up first? Pick up all the ruined flowers, throw the dead beetles in the trash, something like that."

BASIL looked over to HERO with a relieved smile, before turning to the others, "Yeah. Let's do that first. Let's clean the garden up."

AUBREY and KEL raised their fists up cheerfully, "YESSIR!" before immediately going to work.

SUNNY tugged BASIl to get his attention, pointing at the house, "Let's check to see if the house is okay."

BASIL glanced over and nodded, "Right, we should check my house too… Thankfully I locked the door before I left, so everything inside should be in one piece."

"You have seed packets, right? Let's use them to regrow the garden." SUNNY mentioned.

BASIL nodded happily, "Good idea. I'll grab those too and hand it out to everyone once the garden is cleared up."

HERO gestured over to KEL and AUBREY, "In that case, I'll be supervising the others to make sure they're focused on the job. Can't let them accidentally get into another argument and start another mess of things, you know?"

BASIL giggled, "Yeah, okay."

With everyone's roles sorted out, the group spread out into separate teams as they begin getting to work.

HIKIKO was still on the sidelines, unsure of what to do for herself. Maybe she should follow HERO's example and help out with cleaning the garden too?

Although, she felt a bit uncomfortable after everything that just happened… She'd rather take a breather to calm down and stick around SUNNY to make sure he's alright. The stoic boy didn't seem all that bothered despite being swallowed whole a moment ago. She hoped he wasn't hiding his emotions away again just to make sure everyone didn't worry about him.

He was such a considerate boy, but it was a bad habit for him to keep things inside all the time…

HERO noticed HIKIKO awkwardly rubbing her arm, before asking, "HIKIKO? Are you alright?"

HIKIKO snapped out of her thoughts, mumbling, "Huh? Oh, yeah, I'm fine."

"You sure? You still seem a bit shaken up." HERO pointed out in concern.

"I mean… I guess…" HIKIKO admitted nervously, "I just saw my little brother get eaten alive… It still hasn't left my mind yet."

HERO gave an understanding smile before reaching out to hug her, "Hey, no reason to worry anymore. He's fine. Everyone's fine. You saved your little brother before anything could go wrong."

Yeah… That's right…

HIKIKO managed to save SUNNY before it was too late…

That should be all that matters…

With a gentle smile, HERO suggested to her, "How about you go follow your little brother. Make sure they don't need any help inside. It'll do you some good to stick closer to them so that you can see that they're alright."

HIKIKO smiled back gratefully at HERO's understanding nature. No matter what happened to her, it always seems like HERO would be there to cheer her up.

Giving him a quick kiss on the cheek, HIKIKO said softly, "Thanks, HENRY. You're the sweetest."

HERO blushed and stammered a bit, the kiss taking him by surprise, "O-Oh, uh, yeah! N-No problem. Anything for you!" He chuckled nervously.

HIKIKO giggled to herself, proud that her ability to make him flustered was still at the top of its game. He was always so cute like that. It was her favorite thing about him.

Giving a final wave, HIKIKO went to follow after BASIL and her little brother to make sure they'll be alright.

Behind her, she could hear AUBREY and KEL getting into another shouting match as they argued who wasn't pulling their weight in pushing all the dead beetles into the corner.

"C'mon, AUBREY! You gotta push harder, this thing is still heavy!"

"I'm pushing harder than you, KEL! It's not my fault these things weigh so much!"

"Hey guys, settle down. No need to get heated, let's just take this one at a time." HERO mediated between them.

HIKIKO turned back to give one final look at her friends with a grateful smile.

She was so lucky to have everyone with her. She couldn't ask for a better group of friends to care for her and SUNNY.

She hoped their friendship would last forever.

Taking a deep breath as she neared the door to BASIL's house, she turned the knob and entered.


Black.

Everything was black.

HIKIKO blinked in surprise at how dark it was inside his house.

Did SUNNY and BASIL not turn on the lights?

HIKIKO went to look for a light switch near the door, fumbling a bit in the dark before she finally felt one in her fingertips.

Flicking the lights on, HIKIKO felt her breathing hitch as she looked at the sight in front of her.

This wasn't BASIL's house.

This was MARI's house.

This didn't make any sense… Why was she…

HIKIKO felt a growing headache starting to rise, causing her to hold her head in pain.

She was…

What was she doing here again?

She was just outside… doing something with… a garden, right? Then SUNNY and BASIL came in here to…

SUNNY…

Her little brother was in here… Wasn't he?

HIKIKO had to go find him.

She felt her nerves crawling up the back of her spine as she had a bad feeling all of a sudden.

"SUNNY? Are you here?" HIKIKO called out nervously, before walking forward.

She couldn't hear a response.

Maybe SUNNY was in their room? Yeah, that's it. He was just hiding out in their room, that's why he couldn't hear her.

Better go check…

HIKIKO stepped past the living room couch, pausing briefly to see the fire in the fireplace lighting up all of a sudden.

The comfortable fire was so warm… the bright red glow was drawing her in for some reason.

Inside, she could see something familiar being burnt to ashes in the fire. This made her feel good. It deserved to be burnt. That was the conclusion she came to as she saw it.

As the ashes burnt away into dust, all that was left within the fire was a small tiny piece of… whatever it was sitting there.

HIKIKO felt compelled to reach in and grab it.

The fire was strangely cool to touch.

Once the object was in her hand, she opened it up to take a closer look.

It was… one of the musical keys to a piano. What was it doing in the fireplace? It didn't look like it was supposed to belong to whatever was burning in there.

The piano key seemed… important, somehow… Like she was going to need it in the future.

She pocketed it away, making sure that it was safe.

What was she doing here?

SUNNY.

Recovering from her thoughts, HIKIKO made her way to the stair room to go up to their rooms.

She didn't expect to see BASIL standing at the bottom of the stairs though.

"BASIL?" She called out, "Where's SUNNY? Is he with you?"

BASIL looked up at her, giving her one of the coldest glares she's ever seen him give in her entire life.

She froze in place, her instincts telling her that she was in danger if she got any closer.

"B-… BASIL?" She nervously murmured.

"Why did you pull him down with you, MARI…?" BASIL asked harshly.

"W-... What? What are you talking about?" HIKIKO stuttered fearfully.

"You were older than him. You would have been just fine…" BASIL continued, staring deep into her soul, "SUNNY was young. Fragile. His injuries would have lasted longer than yours."

HIKIKO wanted to back out of this room, away from BASIL, be anywhere else in the world.

But the doorway behind her vanished, leaving only a wall to keep her trapped.

"I saw you, MARI. You were about to fall, and you pulled him down with you. Why?!" BASIL tone became harsher than before, the intensity in his words was making HIKIKO stumble back until she was on the floor.

"I… I didn't…" HIKIKO couldn't make the words come out of her mouth. She didn't even know what she wanted to say.

"Why couldn't you just fall by yourself?!" BASIL's voice started growing louder, "At least then, only you would have suffered from the fall! SUNNY would have been just fine! So why did you have to pull him down with you?!"

HIKIKO didn't know what to do.

She just wanted to leave.

"It should have been YOU! You should be on that hospital bed with a missing eye, MARI! NOT SUNNY!" BASIL began screaming at her, his face showing nothing but contempt and hatred, "You were screaming at him! He looked so scared! Why were you shouting at him near the stairs to begin with, MARI?! SUNNY didn't do anything wrong, so why were you so angry with him?! Why did you pull him down the stairs with you?! It's your fault! Everything was your fault! SUNNY is gone because of you! WHY COULDN'T IT HAVE BEEN YOU?!"

She wanted to leave.

HIKIKO crawled up into a ball to try to close herself off from the world.

She just wanted to leave.

She didn't want to see this.

SUNNY wasn't gone… SUNNY was still here with her.

Where was SUNNY? Why wasn't he here with her?

"I HATE YOU, MARI!" BASIL continued screaming into her ear, "YOU TOOK SUNNY AWAY FROM US! GIVE SUNNY BACK! MAKE HIM COME BACK!"

No- stay away- shut up- This isn't real. SUNNY was still with her, he never left!

SUNNY's still awake! He never fell asleep! He's still with her! He was just with her a moment ago!

She had saved him! She saved SUNNY before it was too late, she knows she did!

Why won't BASIL shut up and go away?!

ShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutupShutup

SHE WANTED TO LEAVE-

..

.

.

WELCOME TO BRIGHTSPACE

HIKIKO kept herself curled into a ball as she laid there in the middle of the vast emptiness that was BRIGHTSPACE.

HIKIKO didn't know how long it was before she suddenly came to and realized she was stuck in a ball position on the floor.

Calming herself down, she pulled herself together and stood back up again.

She couldn't seem to remember what she was doing. It was like she had just woken up from a bad dream.

Everything should be fine though. Nothing wrong happened to her.

Nothing wrong ever happens to her in BRIGHTSPACE.

It was a simple place. Easy to understand. Easy to live in.

Nothing bad ever happens in BRIGHTSPACE.

Taking a look around, she saw that her kitty MEWO was still snoozing away in the corner of her blanket.

All her personal items were still where she left them.

The door that led to HEADSPACE wasn't there anymore though… Maybe it was just closed off to her for the time being?

With nothing better to do, HIKIKO decided to keep herself distracted as she passed the time, waiting for something to happen.

She checked her laptop, placing it on her lap to enjoy the warmth as it heated up. She casually checked her planner to see that everything was still as orderly as it ever was. Nothing seemed out of place. Opening up her journal, she began typing as she recorded what happened today.

Today I went to visit my friends. Everything was fine.

With nothing else to do, she stared blankly at the home screen for a bit before growing bored and shutting her laptop down.

What else should she do?

Piano practice might be good. It wouldn't do for her to get rusty.

Stepping up, she walked over to her toy piano and cracked her fingers in order to play a few songs.

At least, that was the plan.

For some reason, her toy piano didn't have any of its musical keys attached.

That's weird. Did she accidentally break it the last time she played with it?

How was she supposed to play anything now if her piano was broken?

Hm…

She blinked for a bit as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a piano key.

Where did this come from? How did she manage to get this?

It felt… very important to her for some reason…

Shrugging, she went to attach the piano key back in its rightful place on the piano.

One key down.

Looking down at her piano, the single key sitting on the keyboard seemed very lonely. Hopefully, she'll find the rest soon enough.

HIKIKO looked around one last time, finding herself wondering what else she should do.

Maybe she let time passed long enough… She should probably wake up now. She had something important to do today, didn't she?

She turned to look at the rope dangling from the endless ceiling above the chair, before walking over to it.

Setting the chair up, she stood on top of it before looping the rope into a tight knot to form a noose with comfortable ease.

When the knot was done, she pulled on it to make sure it was sturdy and tight. Satisfied with her handiwork, she wrapped the noose around her neck and took a deep breath to prepare herself.

When she was all ready, she pushed the chair away from under her.

She enjoyed the brief weightless sensation for a bit before the sudden-

...


MARI slowly opened her eyes as the sun shined over her face.

Today was SUNNY's birthday. She should get ready so that she could come visit him in the hospital again.

Pulling herself away from her bed, MARI rubbed her eyes clear as she went to prepare her day.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

INTERLUDE

I was hiding in the bathroom. I had already locked the door so that nobody could come in and find me.

I couldn't breathe. I couldn't calm down. Nothing made sense anymore…

Why did I turn around? Why…? Why did I have to turn around?!

Oh god, MARI… She was looking at me…!

She was staring right at me! Why was she staring?! How could she stare at me like that?!

It didn't make any sense. Nothing made sense!

She wasn't breathing.

She wouldn't move.

I waited… I waited for so long for her to wake up, move, breathe, do anything- but she never woke up…

No matter how much I shook her awake, she just wouldn't wake up- and it was my fault…!

BASIL… He told me to do it. To help him bring MARI outside in the backyard.

I didn't know why. He kept telling me to trust him, that everything was going to be okay.

I didn't understand why. I couldn't even make sense out of anything.

But I trusted him. I wanted to trust him. He was one of my best friends… If he knew what to do, I had to trust him to help me fix it…

But… but…

He hung her body to the tree with a jump rope. He tied it into a noose and pulled her body up there to hang on the tree.

I didn't understand why. I couldn't make any sense out of it. How was this going to help?

He told me that now I wouldn't be in trouble for pushing MARI down the stairs.

Was I going to be in trouble?

No, what am I saying? Of course, I would have gotten in trouble… I just killed my sister by pushing her down the stairs- Of course I was…

BASIL just wanted to protect me, didn't he?

But… But why did MARI have her eyes open when we turned around?

Why was she staring at me?! Her eyes were closed the entire time when I moved her to our room! Her eyes stayed close even when I helped BASIL bring her outside to the backyard!

So how?! How could she look at me with her eyes open like that when I turned around?! How was it possible if she was already-

No… NO…!

It couldn't be…?

She was… She was… still alive…?

She was… still alive… and she woke up just as we hung her?

Oh god, please no… No, please God, don't be true…

NO! NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO-

SHE WAS DEAD, I KNOW SHE WAS DEAD!

I kept checking over and over and over to try to see if she was still breathing- SHE WOULDN'T BREATHE!

She never woke up.

But how could she open her eyes if she was dead...?

Oh god… MARI… She-

She wasn't dead. Not yet.

Not until I hung her. She was still alive, wasn't she?

That was the only explanation I could think of. It was the only thing I could possibly believe.

I could have saved her.

I could have told someone.

I could have called 911.

But… But instead, I hung her.

Why…?

Why did I hang her instead of calling for help?!

Why didn't she wake up sooner?!

Why did BASIL make me hang her?!

Oh god, why BASIL, why?! Why did you make me help you hang her to the tree if she was still alive?!

That's when she died. She woke up just in time to die. She was suffering, and I finished the job.

I killed her.

It's all my fault…!

I killed her.

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I killed my sister.

I could've saved her, but I killed her.

I'm a murderer.

And now SOMETHING won't stop staring back at me in the mirror.


Why was I in the piano room?

Was I still in denial? Was I still trying to convince myself that I would see MARI practicing there like she always does in the morning?

Her music was so beautiful… I just had to hear it one more time.

But it was silent.

Nobody was in the piano room. Only me.

I sat in the same seat that MARI usually sat. I stroked my fingers over the keys that MARI would always press.

The piano room would never play beautiful music anymore. Never again…

All because of me.

Because I killed my sister.

I looked over the reflection of the polished dark wood of the piano, and in that reflection, I saw a boy looking back at me.

He looked so miserable...

When I looked into his eyes in the reflection, I could only see sadness and pity looking back at me.

Why was this boy sad? Why was he looking at me like that?

What did he know about me that I didn't already?

He looked confused as I continued to stare at him. Widened his eyes as if he couldn't figure out what he was seeing.

Am I that much of a jumbled mess to him? Do I even resemble a human being anymore?

A murderer like me must seem disgusting to the boy inside the piano. An abomination of nature.

What I wouldn't give to be able to trade places with him. What I wouldn't give to leave this place and go to where he lived, inside the reflection. To escape what I've done...

He must be doing better off than I was. He looked like still had the sanity to know what was going on.

I glanced up a bit to see a name etched just right above him.

OMORI…

Was that the boy's name? OMORI? It sounded familiar.

I couldn't even find the concentration to remember what my own name was anymore…

How nice would it be to have a name again? To know what was going on. To make sense of this jumbled garbled world.

The world I was living in was a mess. Everything was too complicated for me to make any sense out of. Life might as well be a tv screen playing static.

But in OMORI's world, it looked simple. Empty. Different. Like nothing bad happens inside.

Like nothing ever goes wrong.

I want that kind of world… It seems so much easier to understand in comparison. OMORI looked like he could understand everything.

If only I could be in his shoes instead… If only I could… be OMORI…To live in OMORI's world...

Maybe then I can finally understand what was going on.

I closed my eyes… and wondered…

He had opened his eyes gently, before looking back at the reflection in front of him.

The boy was still there, staring back at him.

OMORI wondered why the boy was staring at him so? Was there something he wanted from OMORI?

All OMORI could offer him was an apologetic look. There was nothing in this world that OMORI could provide, not to the boy on the other side…

But still… He felt bad for the boy. He looked so miserable... Tired. Dead. It was like the boy couldn't make any sense of the world he was living in and wanted to live somewhere else.

If OMORI could, he would try to invite this boy over to this side of the reflection. To where he lived.

WHITE SPACE.

It was a simple place, WHITE SPACE. OMORI has been living here for as long as he could remember.

Nothing bad ever happened in WHITE SPACE. Nothing ever went wrong…

OMORI liked it like that. It was simple. Easier to understand.

Easier to live in.

OMORI wondered what he could do to help this poor boy who looked at him so desperately.

It's not like he could just reach into the reflection and pull him over here.

The boy in the reflection pressed his head against the wall that OMORI was laying against.

OMORI pressed his head back.

The only thing OMORI could do for this boy was to let him watch. Watch OMORI play by himself in WHITE SPACE.

Let him watch OMORI live his life here in a world where nothing bad ever happens and things just made sense.

And when the boy became bored, perhaps OMORI could try to invite others in the WHITE SPACE to come play with him. To let the boy watch and see how much fun OMORI could have in a world where nothing bad happens.

OMORI had tons of friends over in WHITE SPACE. OMORI could do anything in WHITE SPACE.

Because WHITE SPACE was OMORI's world.

Whatever was bothering the boy in the reflection, OMORI will try to entertain him as best he can. OMORI will distract him from whatever he was having trouble with.

Although the boy will need to confront his problems again one day, it is not a bad thing to have fun every once in a while.

Whatever responsibilities the boy needs to face, OMORI can temporarily push it away for the boy's sake…

And hopefully, he will feel better…


"You should just die."

OMORI stabbed SUNNY in the heart one last time.

SUNNY slouched as he lost his grip on his violin.

Before he could fall over, OMORI had already caught him in his arms and hugged him tightly.

SUNNY dropped the violin, allowing it to vanish into the depths of WHITE SPACE.

Despite the awful words that OMORI had spoken to him this whole fight, OMORI had no malice towards him.

Yes, OMORI hated SUNNY. He hated SUNNY with every fiber of his existence.

But everything he said to SUNNY was not said out of spite or hatred. It was just the honest truth. A fact of life.

What SUNNY did was unforgivable, and SUNNY should not forgive himself. SUNNY deserved to die.

This was the truth that SUNNY was trying so hard to remember. The truth that he had hoped would help him find comfort from remembering MARI's death. The truth that he had clung onto so desperately as they battled.

In the end, OMORI knew it would have never helped at all.

OMORI was a part of SUNNY, so he knew that the truth would kill him. That was why OMORI fought so hard to hide it, in order to protect SUNNY.

But now it was meaningless.

SUNNY's curious mind could not let go of the mysteries that he hid from himself, and all of OMORI's attempts to protect him have failed. Countless times, BASIL would jumpstart the memory that OMORI tried so hard to suppress. Once started, SUNNY would chase after the truth of what happened and never stop. Countless times, OMORI would reset HEADSPACE in order to bury the truth even further below. Yet no matter how hard OMORI tried, SUNNY's curious mind would allow BASIL to open up the keys to BLACK SPACE once more, causing it to bounce back stronger than ever.

The more he suppressed the truth, the harder SUNNY would fight back to try to relearn it.

SUNNY could never have known that chasing the truth would only lead to misery, despair, and regret. That was why SUNNY was so relentless in his pursuit. Yet OMORI did his best to keep him distracted and hide it just beyond his reach.

In the end, OMORI couldn't prevent the inevitable any longer.

The only thing OMORI could do now was to show the truth to SUNNY the hard way.

No matter how much SUNNY tried to delude himself into thinking that forgiveness was just around the corner… how his friends would still care for him if they had known what he did… how MARI would forgive him after everything he's done to her...

OMORI would have never allowed SUNNY to forgive himself once he learned the truth...

Whatever relief or comfort SUNNY was trying to look for, it never existed.

They all would have abandoned him. KEL, AUBREY, HERO. No matter what he did or how he would tell them, there would be no other outcome other than complete abandonment… Because that was what he deserved. That was the honest truth.

The person who they thought was SUNNY didn't exist at all. He wasn't the kind and considerate boy who needed help moving on. He was nothing more than a murderer who killed his own sister. If they ever knew the truth, they would hate him just as much as he hated himself. That was the honest truth.

No matter what he did, it would be hopeless. All he'll do is make things worse. It would be better to just die.

That was the honest truth.

And now, SUNNY knew.

With the truth heavily weighing down on him, SUNNY could not bother to stand up any longer.

OMORI could feel the pain, guilt, and suffering building up within SUNNY. If left alone, SUNNY would continue to suffer like this forever. All alone. Constantly torturing himself over what he's done. Lost in his own mind as the memory of killing MARI will haunt him forever.

No amount of pushing these memories back in the depths of BLACK SPACE would help now… It was too late for that.

That's why… As much as OMORI hated SUNNY for what he did… OMORI will be merciful.

SUNNY would not have the strength to finish the job himself, for he was too weak and cowardly to face it. OMORI knew that SUNNY would never be able to do it himself.

That's why OMORI would shoulder the burden and do it for him… To finally put an end to all these countless years of torture.

SUNNY's miserable existence would be over. No longer will they both continue to suffer anymore.

They'll finally be at peace…

OMORI urged SUNNY to listen to him as he hugged the slouched boy tightly in his arms.

OMORI won't let you forgive yourself. But OMORI can still take care of the last step for you, SUNNY. You've been in so much pain already… You don't need to do anything else from here on…

Let OMORI help protect you one last time.

Acknowledging OMORI's final act of kindness, SUNNY vanished in his arms.

SUNNY had succumbed.

With nothing else to stop him now, all that was left for OMORI to do...

Was to finish the last chore that SUNNY should have started all those years ago.

It's a long way down…

MARI will be avenged.

His friends will no longer be burdened.

SUNNY will be at peace.

OMORI will be at peace.

Everything is going to be okay.

Chapter Text

*FLASH*

BASIL gave a satisfied nod, "Another perfect picture!"

AUBREY immediately hopped up from the picnic blanket before swarming over to BASIL, "I wanna see! Let me see let me see!"

KEL followed after her, "Hey! No fair! I wanted to be the first to see!"

HERO sat up next, going into protective peacekeeper mode, "Hey, guys, don't crowd him! You can each take a turn to see it once the photo gets printed!"

SUNNY had somehow already sneaked by everyone and was hanging his head over BASIL's shoulder to see the photograph first.

BASIL laughed nervously at all the attention he was getting, "Guys, come on! You'll make me drop it by accident!"

It was a perfect Summer day for HIKIKO and her friends. A perfect day to have a picnic by the lake of their secret spot.

She looked up at the stars shining above, pulling her hair back as she enjoyed the breeze of the wind.

Another perfect day…

BASIL eventually managed to get everyone else to settle down as they all formed behind him in a group, waiting for the picture to finalize.

Once it did, everyone gave a happy cheer at how beautiful the picture must have been.

BASIL was always such a good photographer. Getting him that camera on his birthday was the best idea HIKIKO ever had.

Now every day would be captured perfectly and never forgotten.

"HIKIKO, do you wanna take a look?" BASIL invited her over with an excited smile.

HIKIKO softly giggled, "Of course! Show me what you got!"

BASIL handed the photo over to her, allowing her to admire his handiwork.

All of them gathered in a circle on the picnic blanket, having fun and smiling all their troubles away. KEL and HERO were having a brotherly roughhousing session, while AUBREY and SUNNY were cuddling up close with HIKIKO in the center.

Amazing as always. Another perfect memory to place in the photo album.

"Everyone looks so cute!" HIKIKO practically gushed, "Aww, BASIL, this is great!"

BASIL gave an embarrassed chuckle as he blushed and rubbed his neck, "Aw, HIKIKO! You say that for every single picture I take!"

"That's because it's true!" She giggled, "I don't think I've ever seen you take a bad photo of us before."

"Now that's not true… You're just saying that!" Despite his words, BASIL was beaming with pride.

Pulling out the photo album in his pocket, he placed the new photo on a blank page as everyone gathered together to take a look and review everything they did today.

"Look at all the photos I was able to get just from today!" BASIL said happily. "At this rate, I'm going to need to buy another photo album just to fit more!"

AUBREY moved around the picture of them penguin-sliding when they went up to the snowy mountains earlier, "The penguins were so nice to let us ride on them! I hope we'll be able to visit them again someday!"

KEL pointed to a picture of himself standing on top of a table while pumping a glass of milk into the air victoriously, "Going to the Wild Saloon was fun! I can't believe I still managed to outdrink all the other Cowfolks and not puke right after!"

HERO fondly pressed on a picture of himself swimming with technicolored narwhals when they traveled to the beach, "Aw man, I can't believe we did this one just today! Those narwhals were so much fun to hang out with, if only we could have gotten to know them a little bit longer before they had to leave."

SUNNY pointed at one picture which showed him cuddling with a bunch of adorable moon-sheep when they went up to space, "Fluffy nap."

BASIL giggled as he pulled away a photo of AUBREY and HIKIKO posing right next to a talking sunflower they had met during their travels, "My personal favorite was when we met FLOWEY! I never thought we'd ever meet a friendly talking sunflower! I wondered if asking him for seeds so that I could plant more of them would have been considered a bit creepy though…"

HIKIKO felt a wave of warmth wash over her as she perused the entire photo collection, "We sure had a productive day today, didn't we? Let's hope the next day we spend together will be just as fun!"

Moments like these were what HIKIKO would always cherish in her hearts.

"Well of course!" KEL proclaimed cheerfully, "As long as we all stay together, every day is going to be like today!"

She couldn't ask for a more peaceful life than to be able to spend time with her little brother and all their friends. She was so blessed to have all these friends who have been so loyal to her and SUNNY for all these years. To be able to spend the rest of their lives together was something that she had always wanted. Each day spent with them seemed so much better than the last, there was no room to ever feel lonely or have any depressing thoughts.

A life like this was truly all she had ever wanted.

Everything was absolutely perfect…

On her side, SUNNY began nudging her with his head to grab her attention. HIKIKO glanced over and gave a curious smile as she petted her little brother's adorable head, "Something you need, SUNNY?"

"Can we take a small walk together? I want to stretch my legs." SUNNY asked.

"Aw~!" HIKIKO giggled before giving his forehead a quick kiss, "Sure, I'll follow you to make sure you're okay."

SUNNY nodded appreciatively.

The both of them stood up and brushed their legs as they got ready to go. Noticing the two siblings preparing to leave, HERO asked, "Is it time to go already? I'll help pack up the picnic."

HIKIKO was actually about to invite anyone else who would want to join before SUNNY suddenly answered for her.

"No." SUNNY held his hand up to stop him, "We're just taking a quick walk around. We'll circle back later. Don't go anywhere, okay?"

"Ooh! Can I join you guys?" AUBREY asked excitedly.

Surprisingly, SUNNY shook his head, "We're fine, AUBREY. It's just a quick trip, you don't need to come with."

"O-Oh… Okay, SUNNY…" AUBREY blinked a bit before seeming to deflate.

HIKIKO glanced down to look at him in surprise. SUNNY was unusually forthright for some reason. He'd almost never turn down someone over a simple request, especially not to AUBREY or BASIL.

Rubbing his neck awkwardly, he sighed and clarified, "Sorry… I just need a moment alone with HIKIKO. I wanted some privacy to talk with only her…"

At that, AUBREY perked up again as she nodded, "Oh, I understand now! Private sibling moment. In that case, stay safe and don't get lost okay?"

SUNNY nodded back before quickly grabbing HIKIKO's hand and pulling her away from the group before anyone else could notice and ask to join.

HIKIKO wondered what was going on as her little brother pulled her along. Was it something serious? SUNNY usually always tells her if he has any problems, but he was usually never so secretive about it to want to hide it from their friends.

She couldn't help but feel a bit anxious and worried…

SUNNY continued pulling her along for a long while now, far away enough from the picnic site that they almost couldn't see it anymore.

Then he went on even further.

Further and further and further.

Until they reached the shores of the ocean.

HIKIKO was remaining silent all this time, trusting that her little brother had good reasons to go so far off from the group for something as just a simple walk to stretch their legs.

When they finally stopped on the edge, SUNNY let go of HIKIKO's hand.

HIKIKO took this as her cue to finally ask, "SUNNY, is something wrong?"

SUNNY looked out to the horizon of the ocean, enjoying the fresh seawater air and the sunlight bathing him.

Then he took a deep breath, before turning around to face HIKIKO, "I have to tell you something..."

HIKIKO gave her brother a patient smile as she lowered herself to reach his level, "You can tell me anything, Little Brother. My ears are always willing."

SUNNY stared at HIKIKO for a while, his eyes shifting back and forth as he studied her face. In his eyes, HIKIKO noticed that he seemed a little… sad…

But why?

"I'm… I'm going to be going somewhere else soon. Somewhere far away." SUNNY explained.

HIKIKO blinked for a bit, before turning confused, "What? What do you mean?"

"It means I'm… I'm not going to be around anymore… I'm going someplace really far…"

At this, HIKIKO nervously laughed, "SUNNY, don't be silly! You don't have to go anywhere. What about your friends? Won't they miss you?"

SUNNY shook his head, "That's not the issue. I don't have a choice. The place I'm going to go to, I'm going there whether I like it or not…"

HIKIKO frowned worriedly, her instincts telling her to grab a hold of SUNNY's hand so that he didn't go anywhere.

With a nervous gulp, HIKIKO declared, "Okay, fine… then I'm going to come with you!"

SUNNY shook his head again, giving her a sad and apologetic expression, "That… that's not possible either. You can't come."

"Why not?!" HIKIKO asked incredulously, "I'm your sister! I have to come with you!"

"It's not possible… the place I'm going to be staying, it's only available to me. Nobody else can go except me."

"Then I won't let you go then! You have to stay here!" HIKIKO reaffirmed.

"You couldn't stop me, even if you tried…" SUNNY looked away guiltily, "Actually… it's too late. I'm already there. I've been stuck there since the beginning before all of this even started…"

"SUNNY, stop talking nonsense!" HIKIKO commanded roughly, grabbing a firm hold of his shoulders, "You don't have to go anywhere! You don't need to go anywhere! I'm your big sister, and I say that you belong here with me and your friends! We can keep you safe from whatever is trying to take you away from us!"

SUNNY gave a tired sigh, before effortlessly pulling her hands off his shoulder.

HIKIKO was stunned at how easily she lost her grip on him.

Holding her hands together, SUNNY explained, "There's a boy who's going to come. He'll take my place. He's going to wake up soon, and he's going to help you heal."

"SUNNY, what are you talking about?! What boy?!" HIKIKO was beginning to grow more anxious and frantic, "What do you mean he'll take your place?!"

SUNNY gave her a soft smile, "He's a good person. He loves you just as much as SUN- …" His voice trembled and paused, before correcting himself, "-as much as I do. He can help take care of you, and you won't even be able to tell the difference between us. In fact, we're not so different at all! I know you'll love him too."

"NO! NO NO NO!" HIKIKO violently shook her head, "I don't want that! I don't want something replacing my brother! I don't care how much better he is or how much I'll love him! You're the only little brother I want! You're the only one that I need! You can't go, you can't leave me! I won't let you leave me!"

SUNNY couldn't help but giggle a bit as he smiled softly, a tear falling down his cheek, "I know…! I know exactly how you feel…!"

HIKIKO tried desperately to pull away so that she could grab ahold of him again, to hug him, to keep him safe. Keep him within her grasp and line of sight so that he doesn't try to run away.

His grip was unnaturally strong.

There's no way she could let him go! He was her brother! Her only brother! HIKIKO couldn't lose him again!

She can't… not again… please, not again…

She couldn't bear to lose him again...

"There's still a chance…" SUNNY suddenly exclaimed, "A chance to get me back."

HIKIKO looked up at him in confusion.

Continuing to explain, SUNNY resolutely told her, "You don't want to lose your only brother, right? Then you have to listen to me and do whatever it takes."

HIKIKO straightened up at this, her mind already agreeing desperately in order to keep her brother with her, "Anything!"

SUNNY gave a deep breath, explaining, "He's going to do his best to help save you. Save you from yourself. But he can't do it unless you let him first."

HIKIKO grew confused again, "W-What do you mean? What is he going to help me with?"

"HIKIKO, you've been suffering for a long time… and honestly, in your situation, I'm sure I would have as well." SUNNY sighed, "There's something… something that you're trying to forget, isn't there? Or I guess you've already succeeded in forgetting it."

Forget…? Forget what?

There was something that she had… forgotten?

"And I know exactly why you want to forget it… I'd probably have done the same thing too…" SUNNY shook his head and gave her a determined look, "But you need to remember it, and face it this time! If you can't, you'll never get your brother back again!"

"SUNNY, I don't know what you're talking about! What have I forgotten?!" HIKIKO cried.

"It's something scary, MARI." SUNNY called to her, causing her to widen her eyes in shock, "It's something so scary, you'll try to deny it and hide it away again. But if you want to get your little brother back, you have to be brave enough to keep pushing through."

SUNNY moved to grab HIKIKO's face, before he pressed his head against hers.

"You won't be alone. He'll help you through it. He'll want you to succeed just as much as I do. He loves you so much, after all…! If you can do it… if you can face yourself over the truth… you'll be all better again… Stronger, better than you ever have been before…" SUNNY continued, "And you'll need that strength for when it's your turn to help him too."

SUNNY started brushing his fingers on her hair in a comforting manner. The action somehow soothed her despite everything that was going on.

"He's just like you, MARI." SUNNY explained, "He's been suffering, almost as long as you have. But he's a good boy who's just misguided, because he can't forgive himself over what he's done. You have to be there to help him too, before it's too late and he does something he won't even live to regret… Otherwise, you'll lose your brother forever. No more second chances…"

SUNNY's breathing gets hitched as he desperately tries to keep himself from sobbing. SUNNY moved to hug HIKIKO tightly.

HIKIKO hugged him back, not knowing what else to do.

"I tried, MARI… I tried so hard to convince him, but he just won't listen…! It wasn't his fault, but he refuses to accept that! He hates himself so much, and it breaks my heart just to see him like this...!" SUNNY gasped out, sniffling in her ear, "You have to be the one to save him, MARI! You have to succeed where I failed!"

After a while, SUNNY composed himself and pulled away from her with a gentle smile.

"When he's done helping you, you have to help him back… This is the only way you can save your little brother."

HIKIKO stared at him blankly.

She stared for the longest time.

She had no idea where to even begin…

A boy will come to replace her brother. He'll help her remember something that she desperately tried to forget. Once she remembers, she'll be strong enough to help him in return.

And somehow, that'll save SUNNY.

Still lost and confused, she had hoped to ask more questions to learn more-

But SUNNY pulled away from her before she could have the chance to ask.

Turning away, he looked to the horizon of the ocean with a disappointed frown.

HIKIKO looked over as well, only to see a large window with familiar curtains draped to the sides.

She's seen these curtains before. It's been so long since the last time she last saw them, but she's seen these curtains before.

"I explained everything I could…" SUNNY mumbled tiredly, "I don't have time left."

SUNNY began stepping towards the curtains, somehow walking on water as he went.

HIKIKO shot her hands out in desperation, "W-Wait, SUNNY!"

Pulling herself up, she sprinted towards her little brother in one last-ditch attempt to not let him go. To somehow keep him by her side, where he belonged.

Unlike SUNNY, her body splashed right through the water, submerging her lower body even as she tried desperately to catch up with him.

The ocean current pushed against her, slowing her down as she tried to reach out to him.

"Please…! Please don't go!"

What will she have left if she didn't have her precious brother by her side? What would she do with herself without him in her life?

What good of a sister is she if she couldn't even protect her own little brother?

SUNNY paused a bit, before turning around.

Then he gave her the brightest smile she's ever seen him give before in her entire life.

SUNNY

"Don't be sad. When you wake up, this is going to be the greatest day of your life!" SUNNY reassured her, "You'll get the chance to fix everything! You'll have the chance for a perfect life that I wish I was able to have. I know you won't screw this up. I believe in you."

The bright light from the window behind him shined brighter than ever before, blinding her completely. For a second, she thought she could see the shadow of a girl standing where SUNNY just was.

Everything became white.

Then black.


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

Where was he?

It took a moment for his eye to adjust to the light, it felt like it almost blinded him.

How long was he asleep for…?

Once his sight was adjusted, he stared at the ceiling in the room.

White tiles. White hospital tiles.

Hospital room.

Why was he back here again?

Closing his eye again, he tried deeply to remember what happened before he woke up…

He… he had just remembered. Remembered everything about MARI. The day she died.

It wasn't a suicide. It was a murder.

He was the one that killed her.

He woke up in BASIL's house… he was there with his friends. HERO, AUBREY, KEL. They wanted to check up on him to make sure he was alright. OMORI and his friends spent the night there to keep BASIL company if he needed it.

OMORI thought about it some more, before frowning…

No, it wasn't OMORI that spent the night there. SUNNY did. SUNNY woke up in BASIL's house. SUNNY, after remembering everything, went in to save BASIL. Because he knew the flower boy was about to do something that he shouldn't.

What a horrible mistake that was…

BASIL stabbed his eye out with garden shears, didn't he? He was trying to aim for SOMETHING behind him, only to hit his face instead.

...

OMORI brought a hand up to check.

His eye hasn't healed. In fact, he couldn't feel anything at all in the area. It was entirely numb.

...

After that… SUNNY passed out again. OMORI would then wake up in the hospital bed, his head covered in bandages.

It was at that moment, he knew what had to be done.

He realized how long he had burdened his friends. How much suffering he caused to them. How much suffering he caused to BASIL.

He spent the last four years of his life, forcing himself to forget what he did, but…

There was no forgetting, was there?

OMORI knew nothing would work out. No matter what he'd do, it would only end up getting worse for everyone he cared about. He was useless. Worthless. Less than worthless.

He was sick.

It'd be better to just die.

He remembered walking up the steps to go out to the roofs.

He remembered feeling the wind in his hair as he gave his last final thoughts.

He remembered taking the jump.

How was he still alive?

He brought his hand out in front of him again, seeing no bandages, blood, or injuries. Despite the absolute numbness of his entire body, his body looked the same as it did before. Skinny, frail, pale. He was completely fine.

Or was he?

"Mmm… SUNNY…"

His eye widened as he heard a voice just beneath him.

It was… a voice… a voice that he didn't think he'd ever hear again.

Forcing himself to sit up, despite the constraints and the numbness, he looked down on his lap to see his older sister resting her head on his lap. Asleep. Holding onto his other hand.

Ah. So that's it.

He wasn't alive after all.

This must be the afterlife of some sort.

Or maybe just even a hyper-realistic dream that he crafted for himself without knowing.

So… he finally did it, didn't he?

He finally freed himself. He avenged MARI, protected his friends, and freed himself.

Staring at his sister, he lamented at how sickly and pale she had gotten since the last time he saw her. She looked exactly like a ghost… like a shell of a person. Her entire appearance looked like a mess, as if she had gone through the worst years of her life.

MARI used to look so beautiful and full of life too… It was truly a shame that she couldn't look the way she used to.

How long had she been suffering, waiting on this side? Was she waiting for him? Had she been waiting for him, all this time?

OMORI frowned.

She shouldn't have waited for him. He didn't deserve to be welcomed by her the first thing after finally passing on.

He should be rotting in Hell right now.

Taking a hand, he gently caressed the bangs of MARI's hair out of her face so that he could take a closer look at her.

She was in such a deep sleep. Despite the years of suffering that he must have caused to her ethereal spirit, OMORI couldn't help but admire her.

Out of all the places for the afterlife to look like, why did it choose to be a hospital room though?

If he was going to be comforted, he'd rather be by the lake of their old hangout spot with a picnic basket.

If he was going to be tormented, he'd expected to be sitting next to the tree where he hung MARI's body.

A hospital room gave him neither the comfort he desired nor the torment he deserved. It just made him feel lost and confused.

Maybe that was the point.

Hm…

OMORI looked back down at MARI, once again staring at her face.

It was strange for people in the afterlife to need to sleep… He wondered to himself how something like this worked. Was it like when he enjoyed the naps he would have in his dreams?

...

God, he missed her so much… Even though the dreams of HEADSPACE managed to give him temporary respite, the MARI in his imaginary dream world could never have filled the empty void that was left behind when she died.

OMORI gripped his fingers around her hand tightly.

His hands were so numb… He couldn't feel anything…

If only he could feel the warmth from her fingers at least one more time…

He didn't want to wake her up just yet. He'd rather have her rest as much as she wanted. He had taken everything from her, after all. It was only right for him to be patient and let her rest.

She must be so tired… Having to watch over a murderer like him, even after all this time...

If only… If only he hadn't…!

Dammit…!

"SUNNY!"

OMORI flinched back a bit in surprise as MARI suddenly jolted herself awake.

For MARI, she was breathing heavily, the last moment of her dream still directly in her mind. The vision of her little brother going past the curtains, as if he was moving on to the afterlife… No matter how much she begged for him to stay, no matter how hard she tried to reach him, she couldn't get him to stop.

Oh god… Why did she have to dream that? Why won't her nightmares ever leave her alone? This one had to be the worst one out of all she could remember…

She'd rather have BASIL torture her again than to see something like that. It was too much for her…

It was just a nightmare though… It was just another nightmare...

OMORI could hear MARI start whispering under her breath as MARI tiredly rubbed her eyes. She looked so shaken up about whatever she saw, OMORI couldn't just stand back to watch...

In an attempt to comfort her, OMORI pulled his hand away from her grip to reach out and rub her shoulders.

At first, she didn't seem to register the touch, still trying to get over whatever nightmare she had been having. But then, after a while, she slowly started to stiffen her body up as he continued to rub her shoulders.

MARI turned to look at him with a blank stare.

Ah. Maybe he shouldn't have touched her?

For a long time, neither of them said anything. All they could do was look at each other, soaking in the image for as long as they could.

"S...SUNNY…?" MARI could barely breathe out.

"Hi, MARI." OMORI nodded depressingly.

OMORI could see the bags under her eyes were tinted so darkly, even under the bright light of the hospital room. She really didn't get any good night's sleep, did she? Probably not for a long time.

MARI blinked. Then she blinked again.

MARI couldn't stop staring at her little brother.

Was this… another dream? Was she still asleep?

Curiously, she grabbed onto one of his hands and brought it up near her face. His hand felt cold against her skin, but she could feel every touch.

OMORI gently cupped her cheeks and used his thumbs to wipe the strand of hair covering her eye. If only he could feel the warmth of her face in his hand...

MARI still had no way of knowing if this was a dream or not…The way she usually tried to get herself to wake up was by hanging herself in the room of her BRIGHTSPACE.

MARI gulped, before hesitantly bringing her a hand up to wrap her fingers around her neck.

Maybe she should… test to see if it hurts?

MARI experimented with a tight squeeze, constricting her airflow.

OMORI grew alarmed as he flinched at the sight, the memories of what happened that day hitting him like a truck all over again. Out of instinct, he roughly pulled her hand away from that spot.

"Don't." OMORI shook his head pleadingly.

MARI's eyes widened.

It did hurt. It actually genuinely hurt. It never hurt before. She was awake. This wasn't a dream.

OMORI glazed his eyes over to the red mark on her neck, saddened that she felt like she had to do that. Was it a reminder? Was she wondering if he still remembered?

Of course OMORI remembered. There was no way he'd let himself forget ever again. It was all his fault.

"SUNNY…" MARI's voice trembled, "You came back to me…"

She had waited for so long.

Six whole years.

Six whole years of suffering, torturing herself, waiting for her little brother to finally come back to her.

He was back. He was here. He was awake. This wasn't a dream.

OMORI, looking up from the mark on her neck, noticed the tears beginning to stream down her cheeks.

Came back to her? Is that what she said?

So… MARI really did wait for him all this time. Even after all he did, she still waited patiently for him to finally be together with her…

He really… He seriously… He truly never deserved a perfect sister like her…

Solemnly, OMORI closed his eye as he felt himself beginning to cry as well.

"MARI… I… I'm so sorry…" He managed to get out, "I'm so sorry for everything…"

MARI shook her head slowly, "What are you apologizing for…?"

There was nothing to apologize about. This was everything MARI had always wanted.

SUNNY was back. Her little brother was finally back…!

"That night… on the stairs…The recital..." MARI heard him hoarsely whisper out, "It was all my fault…! Everything was all my fault…!"

What?

Why would he think that? Why would he apologize for that?!

"No, SUNNY! Don't say that!" MARI sobbed out, reaching out to grab his head and force him to look up at her, "That day wasn't your fault! Don't ever blame yourself! You can't blame yourself!"

That day was all MARI's fault.

Even though the memory was muddy, even though she couldn't remember why they were arguing on top of the stairs, she remembered clearly enough that everything was her fault.

She had been screaming in his face.

She had lost her balance and trip.

She had grabbed SUNNY down with her, and he wrapped himself around her entire body to save her life.

If it wasn't for her, none of this would've happened.

Why would SUNNY ever think to blame himself for what happened? Had he been blaming himself this whole entire time, his last thought stuck in his head as he slept throughout all these six years?

He slept, thinking it was all his fault?

What kind of horrible joke is this?! He doesn't deserve this kind of torture!

Her little brother shook his head frustratingly, as he cried out, "No- It's the truth! I pushed you…! I pushed you down- Everything was all my fault!"

"STOP IT! STOP SAYING THAT!" MARI shouted back.

OMORI flinched at her desperate tone, quickly making himself mute.

"Don't ever say that it was your fault ever again!" MARI sobbed, pressing her forehead against his, "Never! Never never never! It wasn't your fault! It was never your fault! Don't you dare say that again!"

OMORI couldn't understand why she was insisting so forcefully to not accept the fault. It was the honest truth. He was the one who killed her, all those years ago. Why would she be here to say that he wasn't?

It didn't make any sense…

Why didn't MARI hate him for what he did…? Why was she in denial…?

It was… It was the truth…

He killed her.

Murderers like him don't deserve to live…

It was the truth...

MARI stared deeply into his eye. The downtrodden look of remorse, guilt, and misery heavily weighed on his shoulders, MARI could clearly see it haunting him especially now.

He doesn't believe her. He genuinely believes that it was all his fault and he wouldn't believe her.

Oh god… SUNNY… Her precious little SUNNY… Her amazing, wonderful, innocent little brother- always so kind and considerate to everyone he meets…

Always bottling up his emotions.

Always putting other people's feelings first before his own.

Always hurting himself to make others happy.

He spent the last six years in his sleep, thinking that it was all his fault.

Even though everything was actually her fault...

MARI felt like her heart was being crushed.

"SUNNY…" MARI sobbed, "SUNNY… SUNNY SUNNY SUNNY SUNNY SUNNY!"

MARI will never let him go ever again.

MARI won't ruin the second chance that life has blessed her with.

She'll make this right, somehow. She'll make him realize the truth one day…

For now, she was just…

"SUNNY!" MARI cried out in relief as she hugged him, giving a genuine smile for the first time in forever, "You came back to me!"

She was just so happy.

So so so happy.

OMORI, overwhelmed by the genuine sound of relief and joy in her voice, couldn't help but hug her back as he cried.

He was finally back with his sister. He had missed her so much…!

It was all he could have ever wanted…

So why was this empty feeling inside him still so shallow?

Why was he still not satisfied?

Why couldn't he feel at peace?

Why didn't MARI blame him for what happened?

Maybe… This wasn't the afterlife after all…

This was just…

another…

...

dream.

Chapter Text

"Now, please take a few steps forward. Don't rush, just go at your own pace."

OMORI did as the doctors asked, steadying himself with the handrail as he slowly walked forward.

When he finally got used to walking, he decided to let go of the rail and proceeded to walk on his own as normal.

"Remarkable…!" He could hear the doctors exclaiming in pleasant surprise as they took their notes.


MARI watched with a bit of concern as her little brother passed all the physical exams with surprisingly little difficulty.

"You'd think six years of muscle atrophy would take a toll on him…" The nurse next to her muttered in awe, "He's just powering on through without a sweat… It's like a miracle."

For some reason, this actually made MARI more nervous than impressed.

That couldn't possibly be natural...


"How does it feel if I do this?"

The doctor poked at his knee.

OMORI shook his head.

"Nothing? Really?"

"It's numb." OMORI replied simply.

"Hm… Yes, I suppose we should've expected that…" The doctor murmured to himself.


"Remember to make sure he isn't straining himself." The doctors warned her, "His entire body has apparently become numb to almost all physical stimuli."

MARI gulped nervously.

She was right to be worried after all…

"Without the ability to feel things physically, he might not be able to properly react to pain or know when he's overdoing something. Keep a close eye on him, remind him not to overexert his body, and let us know after a week if his body regains the ability to touch again."


"Apparently, he thought that only four years had passed since the accident happened to him." Another doctor looked through his notes, "He says that he remembers spending all this time locked up in his house."

MARI widened her eyes.

SUNNY was experiencing something like that during his coma?

"It's not strange for coma victims to live in a fabricated reality within their dreams. Certainly, it's not the most common occurrence, but he isn't the first." The doctor hummed, muttering in thought, "Still, he seemed evasive about something… I get the feeling that he's not showing us the full picture of what he's gone through…" Then with an embarrassed cough, he apologized, "Excuse my ramblings. I just wanted to let you know. If he experiences any problems with differentiating realities or becomes negatively affected by strange dreams, I can recommend you to a psychiatrist."


"Now, sadly we have no way of recovering your eye after the injury it sustained six years ago." A different doctor explained to them. "However, we can prescribe surgery to get a glass eye to replace your old one. You'll look just like you used to, before the accident."

MARI turned to look at SUNNY, seeing him looking disinterestedly at the ground.

Laying a hand over his arm and giving him an encouraging smile, MARI brought his attention back and asked, "What do you think, SUNNY? Do you want to get a glass eye?"

It won't give him his sight back in that one eye, which MARI will forever regret for the rest of her life… But at least the option to cover it up could be the first step to making things go back to normal.

Her brother sighed as he gave it some thought.

Glancing away, he said neutrally, "No. I'd rather have the eye patch…"

MARI's smile wilted, a bit shocked and disappointed. "W-Why don't you want the glass eye, SUNNY?"

"I think… It'll help remind me to stay in touch with reality." He replied vaguely, "A glass eye will just make me confused."

"Oh…" MARI blinked.

In… In that case, MARI will just have to accept that…

She would have preferred him taking the glass eye so that she could…

Well, if that's what SUNNY thinks will help, then that's what will help. That was more important here.


It took them hours before the both of them could finally check out of the hospital. It was already night by the time they were driving back.

MARI looked over her little brother with cautious optimism.

His right eye was covered with a large white eyepatch and was properly clothed with an outfit she went out to buy earlier while waiting for her brother to finish his examinations.

He was sitting in the passenger's seat, lost in his thoughts as he looked up at the stars.

MARI smiled a bit.

He was always the type to get lost in his own head. There were times when she would remember catching him off guard or dozing off while in the middle of the most menial tasks. She was glad to know that part of him hasn't changed.

The doctors recommended she follow a strict rehabilitation process at home for him. While it appeared that he may have seemingly recovered at a miraculous rate, she was advised to keep watch over him and make sure he undergoes the rehabilitation as smoothly as possible.

Small short exercises to regain muscle strength. Soft and easy to swallow diet with tons of protein and nutrients.

Plenty of… sleep.

Sigh…

First time waking up after six years, and one of the first things she has to make sure SUNNY gets enough of is more sleep. It was a bit ironic… and sad.

There was a paranoid part of her that was worried that today would be just a fluke. That once she lets him close his eyes to go to sleep, he'll go straight back into another coma again.

It was an irrational fear, she knew that. But still, the fear was there.

She'd rather have him stay awake so that she could spend as much time as possible with him while she had the chance.

He had been missing from her life for so long… She just wants to reconnect with her little brother again.

Most importantly, she also wanted to ask him a few questions about… how he apparently was living in his coma dream.

When she heard that her SUNNY had been stuck in his own mind this entire time, she wondered how lonely he must have felt. The doctors never elaborated any more detail about the life in his dreams besides just being cooped up in his room for… four years?

Four years… The doctors did tell her that he initially thought he was only sixteen before being corrected.

She couldn't even imagine what sort of things SUNNY must have been through in his own head.

She hoped he didn't have too much of a bad time...

Hopefully, he'll open up to her later when they get home.

At a red stoplight, MARI slowed the car to a halt.

This could be a good opportunity for some small talk with her little brother.

"SUNNY… Um…" MARI cleared her throat awkwardly, before asking, "Are you doing okay? Do you have any problems readjusting to… the situation?"

SUNNY turned to look at her.

MARI could see in his one eye that he still seemed a bit shocked to see her. Almost as if he was expecting something else to appear whenever he looks at her.

Then that shock turned to sadness.

"I'm okay… No problems." He shook his head.

MARI frowned at the obvious lie.

What in the world did he go through…? What sort of things did he see in his coma to make that solemn expression every time he turns to look at her?

Reaching a hand out to his shoulder, MARI gave him a bright smile in the hopes to comfort him, "You don't have to hide anything from me, okay? I'm here to help with whatever you need. The only thing it'll cost is your love!"

Instead of comforting him like she was hoping for, SUNNY seemed to have gotten more depressed as she said that.

Should she not have said that?

MARI couldn't seem to figure out any reason why she shouldn't. It was always something she said in order to convince her little brother to open up more whenever he was feeling down or having problems. It was almost a habit at this point, despite the six years that have passed.

SUNNY took her hand and held it in between his own, looking down as if he was studying it carefully.

MARI smiled a bit, watching her little brother play with her hands. It was nice just to see him move and hold her like this. Actually, it was just pleasant in general to see him awake at all.

Playing with her fingers, he asked, "How... do my hands feel to you?"

Gripping onto his hand, she reassured him, "It's gotten warmer compared to earlier. It feels soft and smooth. Most importantly, it feels alive."

"Is that so…" SUNNY hummed, before lamenting, "I can't feel anything… I don't even know if I'm actually holding your hand or not…"

The doctors have told her that his body seemed incapable of being able to touch or feel things right now. They said that it was most likely because of the six years of muscle atrophy, possibly. It was an irregular situation for him, one that doctors were still trying to understand more.

"You just need time to heal. Your body will get its sense of touch back in just a few months while you recover." MARI reassured him, "Just remember to do light exercises every day, eat plenty of healthy soft food, and you should be able to get it to come back naturally."

"Hm." SUNNY nodded in acknowledgment but didn't seem to believe it.

MARI felt her heart pang whenever she looked at him in this state. It was like he was still having trouble coming to terms with reality.

She really hoped that she would be able to help him get used to it soon…

The light turned green, and MARI had to unfortunately pull her hand away so that she could grab the wheel and keep driving.

They were nearly home… Just a few more blocks to go…


"Home sweet home…" MARI cheered softly, flipping the lights on.

Turning to her little brother, she stepped aside and welcomed him in.

SUNNY seemed a bit hesitant at first, and she still hasn't figured out why. It was almost like he was nervous to be back at their house again.

Still, he entered after a while. His eye carefully glanced over every part of the house, almost in disbelief at what he was seeing.

Hopefully, MARI did a good job at keeping the whole place clean… In order to keep herself distracted, she usually spent her free time performing maintenance on the house. She would regularly clean and dust the whole place until she was satisfied, always making sure for the day SUNNY would one day wake up and return home to a nice clean house.

Now that the day had finally come, she was nervous at how he'd react.

He gave every wall in the room a discerning eye, one that made her wonder if she accidentally made something seem different since the last six years.

Eventually, his eyes settled on the family portrait in the room. Stepping over to it, he brought a hand up to feel the frame… Only to pull his hand back and look at it in disappointment.

Right, still numb… He probably forgot…

"I did my best to keep everything clean and spotless for you." MARI told him with a soft smile, "I didn't want to change a single thing until you came back home."

SUNNY turned to her again.

He still did that thing where his eyes would widen in shock, before turning sad.

It made her feel a bit guilty. Almost like it was her fault…

It was her fault, though…

"You… You weren't planning to move away?" SUNNY suddenly asked.

MARI blinked in confusion.

Move away?

"Why would I move away?" MARI asked curiously, "There's no reason for me to do that. I had to stay here so that I could wait for you to wake up, remember?"

"Oh…" SUNNY mumbled, glancing away.

MARI still wasn't able to quite grasp what was going on in her little brother's mind right now. She didn't know what he experienced while in his coma, so she didn't know what to say.

If only she could get him to open up to her about it… It still seemed too early to delve deep into the topic, especially since she just finally got him to come back home.

SUNNY was back home.

That's right. The shock of it all almost managed to make her forget it, but her little brother was here with her now.

He was finally back home.

After six long years of waiting for him, making sure everything was the same as it was back then, she finally had him back again…

Looking at him, standing right in front of her, in the middle of the living room…

It only just now settled in her mind that she had her little brother back.

She never thought she'd ever see him again.

She couldn't help but bring herself closer so that she could hug him.

"MARI?" SUNNY seemed surprised but otherwise didn't react negatively.

MARI couldn't contain herself any longer, a bubbling excitement and pure elation rising within her. She had a smile so wide, she wouldn't have minded if her face got stuck like that.

"Sorry, I just…" MARI timidly apologized, "I'm just so happy right now… Everything happened so quickly today, I didn't get the chance to fully appreciate it until now."

God, she felt like she could cry again.

"You're back… You came back home to me…" MARI's voice cracked a bit as she tried to hold her composure, "You don't know how long I've been waiting for this day to come… I've wished and prayed every single minute of my life that you'd come back to me again... And… and now they all finally came true…" She sniffed, before breaking out into a small giggle, "You're back. You're back home. You're finally back home. I love you so much, SUNNY…! I don't ever want you to leave me again…!"

She could feel her little brother hesitantly raising his hands up before hugging her back too.

"I… I'm sorry…" SUNNY apologized again, his voice sounding so broken, "For everything…"

MARI pulled away and shook her head, smiling resolutely at him, "Don't apologize. There's nothing to be sorry about. If anything, this is the happiest day of my life!"

Despite everything though, SUNNY never returned a smile of his own. He only looked away with a guilty expression.

In fact, ever since he woke up, MARI never once saw SUNNY look happy. Not even for a single second…

She wished her SUNNY would smile more. MARI always liked his smile. It was usually so rare for him to give one.

That certainly won't do. Once they both have the energy and time, MARI will absolutely do her best to change that.

In fact, starting now should be a good opportunity.

"Here, how about this. Since we're home, let's eat some dinner before going to bed." MARI offered happily, "You haven't eaten anything except the weird goop they put in your feeding tube bag for the past six years. You must be starving to get actual solids in your stomach, right?"

SUNNY blinked a bit before looking down at his stomach. Rubbing his stomach curiously, he looked up with a half-hearted, "Uh… Maybe? I don't know."

"Well, why don't you go to the kitchen and start the stove for me. I'll be in the bathroom for a bit and come right back down to make us some fried tofu." MARI asked, before briefly pausing a bit. Would tofu be good for him in this situation? Maybe it would be best to ask to make sure. "Tofu's fine, right?"

"Uh… Sure." SUNNY nodded neutrally.

Phew, good.

"I'll be right back." MARI smiled sweetly before heading up to the bathroom to take care of business.

She couldn't wait to eat together at the dinner table with her little brother again!


OMORI watched her leave the living room by the door next to the fireplace.

Once he was by his lonesome, he gave another scan throughout the entire house.

Every single picture frame and furniture was exactly back where they originally were, never been boxed or taken down in order to prepare for the moving company to come collect.

Everything was back to how the house used to look.

It was… disorienting for OMORI, to say the least.

He wasn't really sure what to say or expect when MARI drove him back home.

Everything today had been… so confusing for him…

They all said that he had been in a coma for six years. On the day of the incident, instead of MARI, he was the one who suffered from the fall of the stairs. MARI had explained to him that he had wrapped her body around hers in order to save her life, which caused him to go into a coma in the first place.

It was also the reason he lost his eye, somehow. Presumably due to landing on the violin before MARI could.

It was too perfect.

Everything about this was all too perfect for him to accept.

There was no way this could all be real.

It was as if the universe took pity on him and decided to give him everything he asked for.

A perfect situation, where only he had suffered from the fall.

A perfect world, where MARI never died.

A perfect excuse… Where the last four years of his life were all just a coma-induced nightmare, and nothing bad ever actually happened.

As if it all just happened in his head…

No… This wasn't the afterlife at all.

This was just a joke. What did he do to deserve something like this?

After everything he's ever done… All the people he hurt… The people he burdened… The lives that were ruined… Why did the universe decide to grant him this second chance?

It didn't make any sense. Nothing made sense.

What the hell was the purpose of him being here?

Life was never this simple. Life doesn't just hand you whatever you wanted because you asked nicely. Things don't just work out perfectly like this…

If it did, MARI would have never died in the first place.

If it did, he wouldn't have to suffer those four years, trapped in his own head trying to forget what he had done.

If it did… then it would only happen in HEADSPACE.

He didn't deserve this…

It all had to be a dream… A dream he made up in order to live out the perfect fantasy for himself. Why else couldn't he touch or feel anything after waking up in this dream?

Why couldn't he feel MARI's hands or face whenever he touched her? At least in HEADSPACE, he could pretend to feel the grass on the playground or the warmth of MARI's hugs…

But this was just… nothing. At all.

What was the point of all this? To make up for all the suffering he had to go through over killing his sister? To make him happy?

Then why couldn't he feel at peace?

That was the whole point of jumping off the rooftop in the first place… So that he could end his suffering and free himself from the guilt that shackled him in the real world.

If anything, seeing all this just made him realize his guilt even more…

To see a world of what could have been, if things had played out differently.

To see a world where MARI still loved him and smiled at him… To see her alive…

It hurt… It hurt so badly inside.

The real question on his mind though… What exactly was he going to do about it?

If this was all just a dream, just like HEADSPACE, he could decide to just…

Go with it. Forget everything that ever happened. Pretend it was all a nightmare like everyone was trying to convince him.

Live out his imaginary life here with his sister who waited for so long for him to come back. Who suffered longer than he had when she had died.

Pretend that he was never a murderer.

Pretend that he never killed MARI.

Pretend that everything was going to be okay.

This was… everything he could have ever wanted. It was all he could have asked for.

It was what he was hoping would happen the moment he jumped off that roof.

An escape.

No.

The more he thought about it, the more he realized that this wasn't what he truly wanted at all…

Accepting this dream at face value and pretending that nothing bad ever happened, it would be no different than the four years he locked himself in his house and dreamt of HEADSPACE.

All he ever did was run away from the problem, pretend it didn't exist, try to forget about everything.

All that did was make things worse in the end.

He was tired of forgetting… He was tired of running away… He was so tired of pretending that everything was okay…

Everything was not okay.

He killed his sister.

He didn't deserve any happiness. He didn't deserve any perfect dream world. He didn't deserve to be forgiven…

He didn't deserve to exist.

A murderer like him doesn't deserve to live.

With these dark thoughts plaguing his mind, OMORI looked up to see… SOMETHING… staring down at him with its large judgemental eye.

He felt himself lock up in fear.

It's not in the mirror this time. It was right in front of him.

What did that mean?

Blinking at him, SOMETHING hovered away as it flew towards the kitchen. Almost as if it was leading him.

OMORI didn't know whether to follow it or not. For so long, he had been haunted by SOMETHING ever since the day MARI died. What was it trying to tell him?

In the end, he chose to follow it.

Making his way into the kitchen, he took a careful look around to see where it disappeared off to. He wondered to himself if he hadn't just hallucinated it after all?

But when he turned around, his eyes instantly honed in on the steak knife that was lying carelessly on the kitchen counter.

His favorite weapon. His most used tool.

His means of escape.

His means of punishment.

OMORI remembered all the countless times he used this steak knife to wake himself up from his dreams in WHITE SPACE.

Was this what SOMETHING was leading him towards?

SUNNY… I love you…

Perhaps this made sense. If this was all just a dream, then it would be appropriate for him to finally wake himself up and accept the reality of the situation.

He was never in any perfect world where his sister survived. She was still dead.

He had killed her, after all.

It was naive of him to even think otherwise.

Running away from the truth and pretending it all didn't happen wasn't going to be acceptable any longer. He had entertained himself in this fake delusional world for too long, longer than he deserved.

He already made up his mind.

He wasn't going to run from the consequences of his actions anymore.

MARI was waiting for him to avenge her.

A murderer like him doesn't deserve to live.

This was the only way for him to make up for everything he's done...

Then he'll finally be at peace...


MARI took a deep sigh of relief as she went to wash her hands.

She wondered what sort of questions she should ask him during dinner to get him to open up about what he's been through. Hopefully, it won't be too invasive to ask what he had done in his dreams.

What was more important now was that she helped him get used to being awake in the real world again. If he was still confused or had questions about what happened while he was gone in the last six years, she should be able to answer everything without any problems.

Or maybe… The problem she'd have the most trouble trying to tell him would be what happened to his friends…

She couldn't decide whether or not to tell him what their friends did in the past six years… how almost all of them had given up on him so that they could go about their own lives.

How would he react to that? Knowing that KEL, AUBREY, and… HERO… had all left him by himself to rot all alone… That she and BASIL were the only ones to have taken the time to actually keep him company.

She didn't want to do anything to break his heart… MARI knew how much SUNNY cared for his friends.

Even if KEL and AUBREY decided to show up to his eighteenth birthday, it still didn't excuse the fact that they abandoned him for four entire years.

MARI covered her eyes as she gave a frustrated groan…

Now that SUNNY was back… how were they all going to react? How was SUNNY going to react to them?

It made her anxious, thinking about it…

A part of her hoped SUNNY would realize what horrible friends he had this whole time and leave them just like they left him.

A part of her wished everyone could come back together to a happy reunion where everyone could be happy again and go back to the ways things used to be…

She didn't understand why she felt so conflicted. All she knew was that she loved everyone and hated all of them for what they did.

Another sigh.

Maybe… if it comes up, she'll just tell him the truth. That AUBREY, KEL, and HERO all chose to leave him to go live their own lives without him. Only her and BASIL bothered to visit anymore.

How he chooses to react to that will be of his own accord. Whatever he ends up choosing, MARI will have to accept it and support him no matter what.

If he forgives them, then he forgives them. Simple as that.

If he doesn't… If he ends up being hurt instead…

She'll be there for him, no matter what.

After drying herself off with a towel, she looked over to her handbag to pull out the gifts that everyone left for him.

She'll definitely need to tell him eventually… But… maybe not now… Maybe after she gets SUNNY situated first.

It wouldn't be good for her to overwhelm him with everything all at once.

Shaking her head clear, she put the gifts away back in her purse before taking a look at herself in the mirror.

She still looked horrible. It's a wonder how SUNNY even managed to recognize her while she looked like this.

The fact that her face didn't scare him back into another coma was a miracle. Heheh…

She should start cleaning herself up and take better care of herself, maybe. It's been far too long since she stopped.

I have to tell you something…

MARI froze up as she felt her ears ringing.

Looking in the mirror, she saw SUNNY appear out of nowhere in the doorway.

That wasn't what freaked her out.

What was really freaking her out was that this SUNNY looked twelve years old again, exactly how he looked her dreams. Furthermore, his right eye was completely bleeding.

I have to tell you something…

He pointed at something behind him, before nodding his head to follow.

MARI immediately turned around, only to find that he disappeared.

Another hallucination again?

What was going on with her these days? Was she actually seriously losing it? Why… Why was she seeing something so morbid all of a sudden?

I have to tell you something…

She…

She suddenly had a very bad feeling…

"SUNNY." MARI widened her eyes in alarm.

She needed to go see him.

RIGHT NOW.

With a quick step, she exited the bathroom and found herself on the top of the stairs.

She hesitated a bit, her phobia manifesting again at the worst possible time. Her vision started blurring the longer she continued to stare, finding the stairs to suddenly stretch themselves to an impossible length.

If she falls, she's going to die.

But at the bottom, she could see him.

A young SUNNY with a bloody eye, pointing towards the kitchen.

Somewhere far away…

If she doesn't get to him in time, he's going to die.

...

Slapping herself in the face, her senses came back to her again before she powered through her phobia. Taking a deep breath, she focused and looked at the stairs again.

It was back to its normal length again.

It's never as scary as you think. She had to remember that for herself.

Taking a deep breath, she grabbed tightly onto the railing and speed-walked down the stairs, forcing her legs not to tremble by focusing all of her thoughts on her little brother.

Focus…

Focus…

Focus…!

She made it to the bottom of the stairs. No worse for wear.

Shaking her nerves off, she quickly sprinted her way into the kitchen.

"SUNNY?" She called out.

There he was, next to the kitchen counter.

Hands holding onto a steak knife, gripping it tightly while the tip of the blade was pointed towards himself.

A single dark miserable eye looking down at his hands, as if he had already made up his mind.

SOMETHING behind his shoulder.

One eye.

MARI trembled as her eyes widened.

"SUNNY…" MARI called out gently, taking slow steps towards him.

Her little brother didn't acknowledge her.

"SUNNY… What are you holding that knife for?" MARI asked slowly, steadily, calmly as possible.

Don't scare him. Don't give him a reason to be scared.

This time, SUNNY looked up at her. The expression on his face was absolutely soul-crushing.

"SUNNY… Can you put the knife back down?" MARI smiled gently, slowly trudging her feet forward step by step.

SUNNY looked back down again, staring contemplatively at the knife in his hands.

SOMETHING wrapped an encouraging hairy tendril on his shoulder.

MARI was starting to panic.

"Please put the knife down, SUNNY. You're scaring me." MARI started pleading.

SUNNY turned back to her again, his eye completely glazed over as if under a spell.

"Please… Please put the knife down. Please." MARI continued, "I'm begging you."

By now, SUNNY had a pained expression as he continued looking back and forth between her and the steak knife in his hand. He didn't know what to do.

"Don't do this… Please." MARI desperately pleaded, "Listen to your big sister. Listen to my voice. I don't want you to go."

SUNNY's hands began trembling as he gripped the knife tighter in his fingers.

"Won't you please stay? Stay with me? Stay with your big sister?" MARI kept begging, her feet beginning to weigh even heavier the closer she moved towards him, "Don't break your sister's heart and leave so soon. Not after I just got you back."

SUNNY looked up to her again, tears streaming down his eye. He was in complete agony over deciding what to do.

"Please stay. Just a little longer." MARI smiled desperately, "Won't you do that for me?"

SUNNY clenched his eye shut and took a deep breath.

MARI felt a chill down her spine as she prepared for what came next.

Somehow, for some reason, whatever being out there watching them was on her side.

SUNNY pointed the steak knife away from his body and shakingly placed it back on the counter before stepping away.

SOMETHING was already long gone.

Seeing her chance, MARI was already quick on her feet to grab the steak knife away from him and put it back in the knife holder.

Just to be extra safe, she grabbed the entire thing and placed it inside the top shelf cabinets before slamming the cabinet door shut.

Breathing heavily in relief now that the threat was gone, she took a moment to gather her composure.

MARI turned to SUNNY to see him staring down at his feet with a remorseful expression.

"SUNNY…" MARI breathed out with a shaky voice, running up to him and wrapping her arms around him.

Feeling him trembling against her, she took several deep breaths to try to calm down.

For some reason, the air in her lungs just won't keep still. She didn't know what to do.

"SUNNY…" MARI started off steadily, "You were just… You were just confused, right? You were trying to hold the knife, but you just forgot how to hold it properly. That's why it was pointing at you, right?."

"...right…" SUNNY nodded hesitantly.

It was a lie. It was the most obvious lie in history. There had never been a more obvious lie told in her entire life.

She chose to believe it.

"Hahahah…" MARI laughed, hugging him even tighter, "You silly boy… If you needed help, you should have just asked me. I was only just a few seconds away, you wouldn't have bothered me."

Of course. That was all. It was just her overreacting.

He wasn't going to use the knife to stab himself. He wasn't going to kill himself.

Why would he want to kill himself? He'd never do that to his big sister. Not after waiting several years for him to come back.

SUNNY would never do that to her. He loves her too much. He knows how much she loves him too.

"Next time, please ask me for help before doing anything. You're still weak and fragile." She admonished him lightly, rubbing her hands over his head to feel the hair in her fingers, "You'll promise to do that, won't you? Pretty please?"

"...okay…" She felt him nod.

"Good… Good…" She breathed a sigh of relief.

She won't ask why he was holding the knife in the first place. She won't ask why he even needed the knife.

She won't ask what SOMETHING was doing behind his shoulder. She was just hallucinating after all.

SUNNY was fine. He was alive. He was going to stay with her.

MARI managed to get to him before it was too late.

She held onto her little brother tightly, feeling his heart beating against her body like a two-ton truck.

It was the only thing that was helping her calm down right now.

She won't let go until she calms down.

She won't let go until SUNNY calms down.

She won't let go until everything calms down.

She can't calm down.

Chapter Text

One of the most important people in his life has always been his big sister, MARI.

That has never changed, not even after she died.

MARI has always been his role model. His personal hero. His greatest friend.

She was always perfect. Even in his dreams, he imagined her to be the perfect big sister that he always remembered her being.

Because of this, he had always been a bit soft towards her whenever she was around. Whether it be to ask him for help, to share chores, to discuss secrets and feelings, or to encourage him to do something he usually wouldn't think of doing before- OMORI would always find himself caving in and listening to whatever she says.

Maybe that was why OMORI stopped himself from waking up.

Hearing her desperate voice, pleading for him to stay with her just a little longer…To not leave her so soon, not after just being reunited together...

Whether she was real or not, there was no way OMORI could've denied her. He couldn't bear the thought of hurting her again.

Maybe he was crazy to listen to this possible delusion he crafted for himself. Maybe he was crazy for even thinking about leaving her at all.

Whatever the case may be, OMORI was persuaded to at least stick around just a little bit longer to see how things played out…

Which was why he was currently at the dinner table with his sister, absentmindedly poking at the fried tofu on his plate.

He hadn't even taken a bite yet. He didn't really have much of an appetite after what just happened earlier…

All he could really feel was… guilt.

Guilt for making MARI freak out so much to the point where she's become unhinged.

MARI sat right next to him, chair scooched up close by his side. They were almost touching shoulders from how close she was.

He wasn't sure if MARI had noticed, but her hands have been shaking the entire time since they started eating.

She had difficulties stabbing a fork into her tofu, oftentimes missing the mark by a few centimeters. Even so, she did her best to pretend that everything was completely fine as she finally caught a tofu and began chewing it.

He had never decided to use the knife to wake himself up while someone else was watching before. He didn't really expect someone from a dream to react so strongly at the sight of him almost attempting to stab himself.

Seeing how much her behavior had changed since he first got here, he… Well, he just feels stupid and guilty for putting an unnecessary burden on her now…

Seems no matter where he is or what he does, OMORI always seemed to screw up and make everything worse… Even in a perfect dream world…

Sigh… Worthless...

"SUNNY, you haven't taken a bite out of your tofu yet."

OMORI looked up to see MARI pointing at his dish.

He realized he had been playing around with his food for the past several minutes now. An honest habit. Lost in his own thoughts, he would often forget to eat.

Didn't help that he wasn't feeling that hungry either…

"Oh…" OMORI shook his head clear before standing up straight, "Sorry."

"Is the tofu not good?" MARI suddenly asked, before growing increasingly worried and erratic, "Is my cooking bad? Does it not look appetizing? Do you need me to redo it again?! Do you want to eat something else instead?!"

Before he could even answer a single question, MARI suddenly stood up with a manic smile.

"STEAK! You love steak! We can go get you some steak! The OTHERMART store should still probably be open right now- we can go to the meat counter and get you some steak! Let's go together, SUNNY! You can point out whichever you want, and we can bring it home and eat it together! I can cut it up to pieces for you so that you don't need to cut it and we can-"

OMORI grabbed her hand before she could go.

MARI looked back at him in surprise.

The look in her eyes did not look mentally stable. OMORI couldn't help but gulp nervously.

"The tofu is fine." OMORI gently reassured her, "Stay. Eat together with me."

MARI stared at him for several long seconds in complete silence, before nodding slowly, "...okay."

At his insistence, she sat back down again and resumed eating her food. Judging by how she was currently gripping onto his hand tightly and not letting go, she still hasn't been able to calm herself down...

MARI's grip on his hand was so tight, her knuckles were bare white. OMORI didn't think she realized it though…

Well… it was fine. OMORI decided to just let it happen. The grip wasn't bothering him anyway since he was too numb to know whether it was actually hurting him or not.

Wanting to avoid another situation from starting, OMORI started eating tentatively as he brought the tofu into his mouth and began chewing.

Nothing. He couldn't even taste anything in this world either.

That was frustrating...

No touch, and no taste. Two out of his five senses, completely nonexistent.

He wasn't able to tell if he could smell the food either, to be honest… So, that potentially makes three out of five.

Sight, and hearing. That was all he reliably had left. Not even sight either if he thought about it. Missing an eye means he didn't have depth perception anymore and was completely blind on his right side. Three and half out of five?

Sigh… He didn't really know what to do with himself.

OMORI looked over at MARI as she placed her fork down, already finished with her entire plate.

MARI had noticed that OMORI had barely even gotten started with finishing his own.

With a worried glance, she gently reassured him, "D-Don't rush yourself. You can eat as slowly as you want. I'll be here, waiting for you."

OMORI nodded silently, continuing at his own pace.

MARI still hasn't let go of his hand yet.

They silently sat together in relative peace as OMORI ate his tofu, with no new problems arising.

MARI's eyes never once wandered away from him, tensely looking him over like a watchdog ready to pounce on the first sign of trouble.

OMORI felt the situation was just a little bit awkward...

MARI's mind was probably still thinking about what just happened earlier with the steak knife. She was acting extremely erratic and overprotective, it made OMORI uncomfortable.

Maybe it would be better to say something so that she could get her mind off of it.

What to say though? He wasn't exactly a man of words. He was usually more reserved, preferring to listen to others more than partake in conversation.

Still, he had to think of something to ease the tension...

He thought back on the family portrait he saw earlier when he first entered the house. The portrait was taken back when he and MARI were only just babies.

This whole time, he never saw his mom and dad here. They didn't even bother to show up for dinner…

"Hey, MARI…" OMORI started off steadily, "Where's Mom and Dad?"

MARI blinked a bit, clearly not expecting him to start the conversation first. After a bit, she stumbled a bit as she answered, "O-Oh, uh… Well, Dad is currently out on a business trip overseas. He's part of a… paper business or something, I don't really remember… He says he'll be back home in a couple of months."

Okay… So in this world, Dad never left the family. Makes sense.

OMORI could remember the harsh look on Dad's face when he was outside chopping down the tree where he hung MARI's body on.

Stay away… you are not my son…

He had known about the true cause of MARI's death the entire time… He never said it out loud, but OMORI knew that Dad blamed him. It was the entire reason why he left… And he was right to.

In this world, since MARI was never killed… Dad never had a reason to abandon him.

"What about Mom?" OMORI asked.

He became confused when MARI had a dark look on her face all of a sudden, before turning away with a rough, "She left to go live with extended family three years ago. She doesn't consider this home anymore."

Ah.

So… Mom was the one to abandon the family instead?

What a… strange twist of fate…

"She tried to get us to move away." MARI recalled coldly, "She said she wanted to give us a fresh new start in a different town."

"...But you didn't move?" OMORI asked.

"I convinced her not to." MARI explained vaguely.

She didn't seem to want to elaborate further. OMORI felt it was a bad idea to dig any deeper than that, so he decided to let sleeping dogs lie.

MARI laid her head on his shoulder and reassured him, "Don't be sad, SUNNY… Even if our mom isn't our mom anymore, I promise I'll be there to help take care of you instead. You can forget all about her. I won't ever leave you."

OMORI didn't know how to respond to that. So instead, he just nodded and continued eating.

This dream world was throwing curveballs at him that he was never expecting, now that he was taking a deeper look beyond the surface. He had assumed that... since MARI was alive, things in this world were better than the one he left.

But… Mom left them? Because he was in a coma?

What else was different about this world that he wasn't aware of?

"MARI, how old are you now?" OMORI decided to ask, "Twenty-one, right?"

MARI nodded, "Yeah. Why do you ask?"

"I remembered back then that you were taking classes for college prep. Did you ever go to the college you wanted? Have you graduated yet?"

MARI widened her eyes at this before giving an embarrassing laugh, "I… Um… I never went to college."

OMORI stopped eating in shock, dropping his fork as he turned to her, "What?"

MARI nervously chuckled as she brought a shaky hand up to scratch her cheek, "I never went to college. I actually dropped out of high school five years ago."

"But… But why?" OMORI asked, "MARI, you were always so serious about your grades… You always brought home perfect straight A's!"

MARI smiled sadly, "I couldn't really… go to school anymore. I just didn't have the energy to attend."

"Was it… because of me?" OMORI asked tentatively.

MARI rapidly shook her head, "No! It wasn't your fault! I just… I mean, you were just more important at the time! I couldn't go to school knowing you were still suffering in a coma, so I had to drop out! It was my choice!"

OMORI couldn't help but frown at her, knowing that she gave up her academic prowess simply because she was worried about him. It seems even in this world, he was still causing problems for other people...

"What… what have you been doing then? While I was gone?"

MARI stayed silent, thinking about the question. After a while, she simply answered, "Waiting for you to come back."

"For six years?" OMORI asked incredulously.

MARI blinked, before nodding, "Yes."

OMORI furrowed his brows at this, "You… didn't do anything for six years except wait for me? What about your piano classes? All that hard work you've spent years perfecting? Friends? Hobbies? Anything?"

MARI shook her head, "None of those… It just…didn't feel right. To live a life without you in it. So I just wanted to take a break from all of that so that I could wait until you came back."

That didn't sound right at all… She must have done something to at least make her life more fulfilling. She still had a relationship with HERO! OMORI knew that HERO would never let MARI drag herself into a depressive slump for all these years. He would have at least been there to support her when she needed him the most...

"What about HERO?"

OMORI was taken aback a bit when MARI's eyes flared up in absolute rage the moment he mentioned HERO's name. It was gone as quickly as it appeared though, making him wonder if his eyes weren't playing tricks on him.

"You're more important to me than HERO." MARI stated firmly.

That couldn't possibly be a good sign...

"...What…" There was a question he needed an answer to, but his voice couldn't find the strength to continue, fearing for the answer he might hear. In the end, he pushed through and asked, "What would you have done if I never came back?"

MARI stared blankly at him.

She didn't answer. She stayed silent for the longest time.

Eventually, she glanced away with a fake smile and changed the topic by asking, "Are you done with your tofu? I can put it away for you!"

MARI quickly let go of the vice grip she had on his hand and already took his plate before he could respond, quickly leaving to the kitchen.

OMORI could only stare back at her.

This world wasn't perfect after all.

Even in this one, he had inadvertently ruined her life.

Even in this one, after somehow saving her from falling down the stairs and sacrificing himself in the process, she chose to sacrifice everything important to her because she couldn't live without him.

Even in this one, she had suffered because of him.

This didn't make any sense.

Nothing made sense.

Why was he here?

What kind of world was this?

Why was he in this world to begin with?

Is this all just a dream like he thought, or was there something more to it?

Why did he come here instead of dying?

He just… He just couldn't understand anything.

What did any of this all mean?

Was any of this even real?


Dishes were cleaned and placed away as the nighttime crept deeper.

After the tiring day the two siblings had together, some sleep would probably do them some good.

The two of them stood by at the bottom of the stairs, MARI looking at it cautiously while OMORI continued to be lost in thought.

MARI gulped, wondering how she should tackle this new hurdle.

She never really thought about how her little brother might react to the stairs that almost nearly killed the both of them. MARI didn't want him to suffer from the memories of what happened that night, so she was unsure how she should handle this.

Looking over to him, MARI could see that he wasn't even really paying attention to the stairs at all, lost in his own thoughts.

Once they go up the stairs, would her little brother react strongly to it? Would he be suffering from some PTSD that she and the doctors never found out about?

It was unlikely to be the case, but MARI still wanted to make sure so that he didn't end up getting hurt over it…

For her, ever since that day, she had always had the phobia of falling down the stairs again. Sometimes she would manage the strength to get over it, going down the stairs with relative ease. Other times, there would be days where her phobia became so strong, she wouldn't want to even look at the stairs anymore.

The only reason why she never decided to move her bed away to the bottom floor was because she didn't want to do anything to change the house, in case SUNNY ever woke up and came back home to her.

...

If MARI was suffering from this, she wondered if her little brother was too?

If he was, then MARI would have to take the responsible role and resolve herself to get over her fear so that she could help her little brother overcome it too.

Taking a deep breath, she grabbed her little brother's hand and tugged it, causing him to look up at her.

With a reassuring smile, she asked softly, "Are you scared of the stairs?"

OMORI looked between her and the stairs leading up to her room, before giving an unsure, "S-Sometimes. Not as much as I used to be."

MARI was a bit shocked to hear about this. "Used to be?"

OMORI thought back to the dream world where he overcame his fear of heights as he climbed up to the surface of OTHERWORLD. In order to search for a missing BASIL, he had to find the courage to help himself reach into outer space in case his friend was ever lost there.

At the time, he never realized that he placed the ladder there in order to intimidate him from ever leaving his comfort zone…

"I pushed myself to get over it eventually…" OMORI explained vaguely.

"You mean while you were dreaming inside the coma?" MARI asked.

OMORI paused at her words.

That's right… This MARI would have no knowledge of anything he had been through for the past four years of his life. To her, anything he tells her about what he experienced would just be taken as memories from a world inside his coma.

But… it didn't sit right with him to treat the last four years as him being in a coma. He couldn't believe that it all just happened in his mind.

It felt too real to just be another dream.

It was all too real just to be a nightmare…

So what did that make this world then?

Unaware of the mental turmoil in her little brother's head, MARI smiled encouragingly, "That's good then."

If SUNNY wasn't going to have any issues going up and down the stairs, then that eases the burden off her shoulders. One less thing to worry about.

Her little brother managed to overcome his fear first before she ever did in the last six years… Without even being awake to do it…

Kinda makes her feel pathetic in comparison… She was supposed to be the reliable older sister, wasn't she?

If her own brother was improving himself and out-growing her without help… What good was she?

Clearing her head of depressing thoughts, she cheered herself up by pulling SUNNY's hand and leading him up to their rooms, "C'mon, we should get to bed so that we can wake up early in the morning."

But her little brother didn't follow after her. He just stood there, mulling over his thoughts.

He looked like he had something serious on his mind.

"SUNNY?" MARI asked in concern.

It took a while before OMORI looked up at his sister, watching over him with worried eyes.

If this was all just a dream, then perhaps it would be better to tackle it directly and shatter the fake walls around him.

"MARI…" OMORI started steadily, "Can I ask something serious?"

MARI brought herself closer as she gave a reassuring smile, "Of course. I'm always here to help with whatever you need, little brother!"

OMORI took a deep breath and sighed.

With a disillusioned eye, he asked, "Are you real?"

MARI blinked a bit, confused by the question. It took her a while before she could even respond, "W-What do you mean?"

"Are you real, MARI?" OMORI asked again, "Is any of this real, or am I just stuck in another dream?"

"SUNNY…" MARI grabbed his hands and lightly caressed his fingers before reassuring, "Of course, I'm real! Everything here is real. You're not dreaming, SUNNY."

"Then how are you still alive?"

This caught MARI off guard.

In fact, it was so out of left field, she didn't even know what to say. She didn't even know how to comprehend the question in the first place.

"W-What?" MARI stammered.

OMORI studied her, watching her reaction with a contemplative stare.

Stepping past her, OMORI kneeled to the floor right next to the bottom of the stairs. He brought his hand up to caress the floor where he last remembered… seeing MARI.

"That night… The day of the recital…" OMORI began, looking up at the top of the stairs, "We had an argument after I threw the violin and broke it."

MARI, after a short while, began to recover her senses as she snapped out of her stupor. Looking over to SUNNY, she sat down right next to him and decided to listen carefully to what he had to say so that she could understand his question better.

OMORI continued, "At the top of the stairs, we were shouting at each other. I was trying to get my feelings across to you, but you were still angry about the violin I broke… You were so upset about how I destroyed the gift that everyone worked so hard to get for me that one Christmas party…"

As MARI listened intently, she felt a small ringing in her ears. It wasn't enough to distract her, but it did make her feel uncomfortable a bit.

Actually… They were arguing over SUNNY's violin? Did MARI… really get that upset over something like that?

It was hard to remember since it was so long ago…

Shaking her head clear, she continued listening.

"I had been so frustrated at that point… I just wanted to get away from you so that I could calm down… But… But you blocked me before I could leave…" OMORI took another deep breath, the memory of it all starting to overwhelm him. He could recall the night perfectly in his mind, recounting each moment like it was engraved in his head. "I… I was so fed up with you… The fall, it was…"

"I stumbled back, tripped, and fell." MARI continued for him, "And I ended up grabbing you down with me-"

"No." OMORI suddenly interrupted.

MARI was nearly startled back by the force of his voice.

"No… That didn't happen." OMORI continued, "I pushed you down the stairs. I remember it perfectly. I got so angry, I ended up pushing you away towards the stairs… And when you fell, I stood still and watched."

MARI widened her eyes in shock. "W-What?"

"I never saved you, MARI. You never grabbed me, and I never had the chance to protect you before you fell…" OMORI trembled as he closed his eye with a frustrated sigh, "I just… watched you fall."

MARI didn't understand what he was saying. What in the world was he even talking about? That didn't happen…

"You landed right on top of the broken violin. There was blood everywhere." OMORI's hands clenched tightly into fists on the floor as he continued recalling his version of events, "I went down to check on you to see if you were okay… You wouldn't… You wouldn't move. You weren't breathing. You wouldn't wake up…"

MARI stood still in silence as she continued listening, unable to believe what she was hearing.

"I kept shaking you, asking if you were okay. Begging you to wake up. I was still in denial about what happened." OMORI furrowed his brows and slowly shook his head, "I carried you up to our room and put you in bed because I thought you just needed some rest. Just a little bit of rest, and you'd soon wake up."

OMORI turned to her, giving her a heartbroken frown.

"You never woke up."

MARI felt her heart being stabbed.

Turning back to the floor, OMORI continued, "I was… I was trying to convince myself that it was all a dream… A nightmare… I was trying so hard to wake myself up, hoping that once I did, you'd still be there. I kept calling your name. I kept hitting myself in the head. Nothing was working. You wouldn't wake up, and I couldn't do anything to reverse the situation… But then BASIL came along. He was there with me. He had seen everything that happened."

OMORI curled up into a ball and gripped onto his hair with a frustrated hiss.

"He told me that everything was going to be okay… He told me had an idea to keep me from being in trouble. I thought I could trust him because he was my friend, but… It was the worst mistake I ever made in my entire life." OMORI felt his body shaking against the floor, "We both carried your body out to the backyard. I was in a daze, still in denial about everything. I was still convincing myself that it was all just a nightmare. BASIL laid your body down next to the big tree outside and came back with a jump rope."

MARI wanted to put a hand out to comfort him, but she was still too much in shock to even find the strength to move. Her body had locked up so tight, she was like a frozen statue. She didn't even know whether she wanted to continue hearing this...

"While BASIL was busy taking care of your body, I bit my tongue in a last-ditch attempt to wake myself up. I bit so hard to the point where I tasted blood. I still couldn't wake up." OMORI was beginning to sob at this point, and he was surprised to find that he still had tears left over to cry about this. He thought he had already dried himself up years ago over this. "He hung your body up to the tree to make it look like a suicide. He reassured me that now I wouldn't get in trouble for killing you… He kept pulling me back inside the house, but I turned around."

I shouldn't have turned around.

"I saw… you were staring at us. At me." OMORI gasped out, "You had your eyes opened and you were staring at me. That's when I realized that you weren't dead yet… You were somehow still alive, but then I… I finished the job and helped hang you. You woke up just in time to die."

OMORI felt his hands become slack as he finished recounting the memories of that night. Straightening his back up, he turned to look at MARI giving him a horrified expression.

"You're dead, MARI. I killed you." OMORI stated emotionlessly. "You died, and it was all my fault… So how are you real? How are you even alive? If any of this is real, why don't you hate me for what I did?"

MARI couldn't even find the words to say anything. She was so shocked and appalled by what she was hearing, a part of her felt like denying it.

But as she listened, slowly it began to dawn on her why her SUNNY was acting so depressed and strange this whole day.

The apology from this morning after just waking up.

The shocked looks he would give her every time he turned to glance at her, before looking so sad and regretful.

When he… When he held the steak knife in his hand and almost nearly… nearly…

K… K…

K-K-Kill-...

She closed her eyes and concentrated.

Nearly killed himself.

It all stemmed from the guilt of… thinking he had killed her. Because he thought it was all his fault.

In his morbid mind, he experienced a different life than she had. A world where SUNNY killed his big sister and was haunted by her death for six entire years in his mind. Constantly blaming himself, suffering from the guilt and trauma over what he had done to desecrate her body in some misguided attempt to escape the responsibilities of his actions.

Not even in her worst nightmares did she ever imagine herself in a situation like this.

To think that this was what he had gone through, in his own mind… Trapped in an endless nightmare of guilt.

For six years.

And he still couldn't bring himself to believe that he was awake yet.

MARI felt like she was going to be sick.

But instead of running away to clear her stomach, she kept it all inside as she forced herself to come closer to SUNNY and wrap her arms around him again to give him a great big hug.

"I will never hate you…" MARI whispered hoarsely in his ear, "I could never ever ever hate you, SUNNY…!"

"Why…?" She could hear him mutter, "It was my fault-"

"IT WASN'T!" She screamed out, "Stop saying that it was your fault!"

It wasn't his fault.

It was never his fault.

That day, when he protected MARI from the fall down the stairs… That day, when he bled out and nearly died… That day, when he became comatose…

If anything, it was all…

"It's all my fault." MARI admitted.

It was all her fault… Everything was entirely her fault.

"I shouldn't have gotten angry at you…" MARI stated out loud to herself, "I shouldn't have shouted at you and hurt you like that. I should have known something was wrong and patiently tried to understand you. But I didn't… Because I was so stupid…"

She held onto her little brother as tightly as possible.

"You've been suffering all this time… Thinking you killed me… Thinking it was all your fault…" She shook her head, "But it wasn't your fault… It was all mine. If only I hadn't gotten clumsy near the stairs, I would have never grabbed you down with me. You would have never gotten into a coma. You would have never experienced any of this!"

It's all her fault.

"It's all my fault… I'm so sorry that I put you through this, SUNNY. You've been stuck in a neverending nightmare this whole time, and I didn't even know… It's all my fault that you're like this…"

"You shouldn't say that…"

Even now, after admitting everything to him, her little brother still loved her enough to hug her back and comfort her.

She didn't deserve it. She didn't deserve his love and respect. She was the cause of all of his problems and suffering, she didn't deserve to be treated so kindly…

Her little brother was… so kind and considerate to everyone he meets. So kind and considerate, even to MARI…

She wished he would blame her instead of himself.

Pulling away from the hug, she forcefully grabbed onto his face and made him look at her. With a stern glare, she said directly at him, "You are not dreaming, SUNNY. You are awake. I am alive. You never killed me. I'm right here, and I am never going to leave you ever again. Forget everything you thought was true, and believe me when I say that it was all just a horrible nightmare."

OMORI stared back at her.

Even though her hands were grabbing a hold of his face, he still couldn't feel her touch.

He wanted to believe what she was saying. He wanted to so badly, so desperately.

But he couldn't write off the last four years of his life that easily. Not when the memory was still fresh on his mind.

There was no way it was all just a nightmare. There was just no way. It was all too real to be a nightmare.

It hurt too much to be just a nightmare.

...

He didn't know what to believe anymore.

Why was he here?

Why didn't he die?

Why was he being forgiven...?

He didn't deserve… any of this...

Seeing her little brother still looking at her with sad doubt, MARI stated resolutely, "I don't care how long it takes for you to get it through your head. I'll stay here by your side every day and every night until you realize you're not in a dream. One way or another, I'll make you finally believe everything is real. I won't ever stop until you realize it."

Even if it took the rest of their lives…

She will be here for him.

She will always be here for him.

She won't stop until she repents for all her sins.


After everything that happened today, the two siblings finally managed to make it to their room for the night.

OMORI settled into his bed as he looked around the room with a curious glance.

Everything looked exactly the way it was, back before his family put away all of MARI's belongings after she died.

He knew he should have expected to see it again, but it was still a surprise when he saw that the room contained two of their beds. It had been so long for him since his room had MARI's bed in it.

Then there was the schedule planner behind the telephone. MARI always used it to plan everything out, since she was always so perfect about everything.

The boxes containing all of his old collection of dolls and baby toys were tucked away in the corner. He never got around to throwing those out yet. Looks like MARI never had any plans to.

In a way, it felt… nostalgic, seeing their room like this again. He never thought he'd see it like this ever again.

OMORI looked over to his left to see MARI opening up the wardrobe as she held her purse. She gave a quick look inside, juggling with a decision in her mind, before shaking her head and closing the wardrobe again.

Instead of doing whatever she was originally planning on doing, she pulled out a vase containing a familiar white flower before walking over to place it next to the lamp on the counter in between their beds.

"White Egret Orchids." OMORI muttered in surprise.

"You know about it?" MARI smiled, before explaining, "BASIL gave it to you. He would always bring these flowers along whenever he came to visit you in the hospital."

"Because he wanted to give his thoughts into my dreams?"

MARI nodded, before taking a pause. Looking at the plant curiously, she turned to ask OMORI, "Did it ever work? Has anything he ever said… reach you?"

OMORI looked away as he stared up at the ceiling.

"Don't know. Maybe." OMORI answered vaguely.

Honestly, not even he knew if it ever worked or not. He always had difficulty differentiating between his dreams and reality sometimes. If BASIL ever thought about him, he wouldn't be able to tell it apart from the dreams and nightmares that involved the flower boy.

In HEADSPACE, he always went missing... And OMORI would always come searching.

Countless times. Countless cycles.

"I didn't want to leave the flower by itself, so I took it back home with us." MARI said, admiring the flower, "It just feels important, you know?"

OMORI remembered the day MARI's casket got buried in the cemetery. Her body was surrounded by White Egret Orchids as she was lowered down.

"When we have the energy tomorrow, I should get you all caught up over the last six years you missed." MARI told him, "I… I would have told you over dinner, but I thought it would have overwhelmed you after everything that happened. Sorry."

"It's okay." OMORI reassured, "I feel pretty tired, honestly. We can deal with that tomorrow."

MARI nodded, "Okay."

Turning the light of the lamp off, she settled herself in her own bed and whispered a good night to him.

OMORI returned it back, as he closed his eyes.

His mind was filled heavily with thoughts of everything that happened today.

In the end, he still didn't know what was going on or what was happening.

He was still so confused about everything…

The same question just kept repeating in his mind.

Why was he here?

It was the question that was driving him up the wall.

There had to be a reason for why he was here in this world instead of being dead. He just couldn't figure it out.

Why wasn't the universe punishing him over what he did? Why did it place him in this confusing world and try to convince him that his original life was just a coma-induced nightmare?

This world didn't bring him any peace. If anything, he's just been more frustrated and confused since he woke up.

SOMETHING still haunted him. Reminding him over what he's done.

He knew that it all couldn't possibly be just a dream.

But this world was nothing like HEADSPACE either, so he wasn't sure if this was or wasn't a dream either.

OMORI felt so tired trying to wrap his mind around everything…

So tired, he probably could fall asleep at any minute…

He wondered… Would OMORI still dream of WHITE SPACE, now that he wasn't trying to repress the truth anymore? His safe haven, where nothing went wrong… SUNNY had destroyed the light bulb that contained all of his repressed thoughts and memories of what happened to MARI.

What will happen to him once he falls asleep?

A rustling sound to his right side interrupted his thoughts, as he suddenly could hear someone breathing right next to him.

Opening his eyes, he turned to see MARI had gotten into his bed and hugged him.

She had an embarrassed and guilty smile.

"Sorry… I just…" MARI apologized, "I don't know if you think you're too old to sleep with your big sister anymore but… it's been a long time since we last slept together like this. I always remembered back then when you came over to sleep in my bed whenever you had nightmares, and I… I missed those times."

MARI brought herself closer and pulled OMORI's head against her chest.

Even though he couldn't feel the warmth or touch of her body next to him, he could still hear the sound of her heart beating in his ear...

Her heartbeat… It made such a beautiful rhythm…He could stay here and listen to it forever...

"I… hope you don't mind, SUNNY…" MARI asked nervously.

OMORI shook his head, "It's okay… I actually like this."

MARI breathed a sigh of relief, "Good… Thank you."

They stayed together like that the entire time in complete comfort.

"...I missed you, MARI."

"...I missed you too, SUNNY."

They both fell asleep soon after.

..

.

.

.

WELCOME TO BLACK SPACE

Chapter Text

MARI had been lying still for what felt like hours now.

She wasn't exactly sure what she was supposed to be doing at the moment.

Still, to feel the hectic stress and anxiety she felt building up all day melting away from her as the relief and tranquility settled it, it made her give a soft comforting sigh.

She wouldn't mind just staying here for a while to calm down a bit.

After a while of just lying still and doing nothing, a shadow was eventually cast over her face.

She gave a glance up to see HIKIKO sitting on her knees while peering down at MARI.

HIKIKO and MARI gave each other contemplative looks, waiting around as if expecting the other to do something first.

Knowing that she wasn't going to do anything until someone finally relents, MARI sighed and nodded in understanding.

HIKIKO nodded back as she stood up.

By then, MARI had already vanished.

HIKIKO gave her own sigh of relief, before looking around.

WELCOME TO BRIGHTSPACE

YOU HAVE BEEN LIVING HERE FOR AS LONG AS YOU CAN REMEMBER

She was back in her safe haven. The bright endless void that stretches on forever, with only her personal belongings to keep her company.

MEWO was purring softly as she laid on her back, continuing her nap from last time. That silly kitty was always so lazy…

Her toy piano was still broken, apparently. The lone piano key was as lonesome as ever until she looked around to try to find the rest.

Her laptop was still in the same spot as she left it. No need to update the journal yet since she hasn't done anything today.

The chair and long dangling rope were back in their original position. She'd need to make a new noose again when it was time to wake up.

Hm.

Well, looks like she has some free time on her hands. Let's go play around with SUNNY and the others.

Turning to the white door in the room, she stepped up and opened the door to visit the small playroom again.

The sky was purple and the stars were out. It looked like today was going to be a beautiful day to play with her friends.

In front of her, she spots three familiar faces gathered around playing a card game to pass the time.

...wait, three?

The moment they spotted HIKIKO entering the room, they all jumped up and came up to her in a flash with worried looks.

"HIKIKO! There you are!" HERO cried out as he grabbed her hand, "We've been looking everywhere for you!"

"Yeah! You said you were only going to take a short walk around the picnic with SUNNY, but then you both suddenly disappeared!" AUBREY had hugged her leg in relief, "We were all worried sick!"

"O-Oh…" HIKIKO felt a bit overwhelmed at all this sudden concern and attention aimed at her, before she did her best to clear everyone's worries away, "I'm sorry guys! I didn't mean to make you all scared. I should have come back as soon as I could, but something came up."

Something came up…? Huh… She wasn't really sure what caused her to actually not come back in the first place...

"The three of us thought that you might show up again if we waited here long enough, but BASIL said he was still going to go around to look for SUNNY." KEL told her.

HIKIKO's thoughts paused as she became hyper-focused on what KEL had just said.

"Wait, you mean SUNNY's not with you?" HIKIKO asked with a worried look.

"We thought he was with you!" KEL stated.

Oh no… Not again…

What were they doing the last time HIKIKO was here? She and SUNNY were out taking a quick walk to stretch their legs, right? But then…

Something about… curtains and… remembering something scary…

A boy coming to… replace...

...

All three of them began dragging a distracted HIKIKO out to the exit with them, as HERO urged, "Come on, HIKIKO! If SUNNY's not with you, then we should all start helping BASIL search for SUNNY too. He might be somewhere around here!"

"R-Right!" HIKIKO snapped out of her stupor and nodded resolutely, before taking charge of the group as they all followed behind her.

If her little brother was missing, it was up to her to help find him. She won't stop until he's safe back in her arms again. Any questions she had would need to be figured out later.

"Any ideas where we should look for SUNNY first? When was the last time you saw him?" HERO asked behind her.

Thinking about it, she remembered… they had walked near the shores of the ocean…

"First, we get BASIL to regroup with us. Then, we all head towards the beach. That was the last time I saw SUNNY." HIKIKO listed off.

"Alright!" Everyone quickly agreed as they followed HIKIKO's lead.


OMORI was sitting on the shores by the ocean for what felt like hours now.

Staring out at the vast sea in front of him, he slowly blinked before becoming aware of where he was.

Taking a quick look around, he steadily recognized the area and found himself frowning.

Big empty grey ocean in front, vast grey forest behind him...

Dark foreboding atmosphere...

So… Back here again, huh?

The entrance to BLACK SPACE…

OMORI didn't even need to find any keys this time around. He just woke up in the middle of it all.

This place…

The opposite of WHITE SPACE, it was the dark black void that OMORI would always shove all of his dark thoughts and unwanted memories into.

It was the place where he hid the truth of MARI's death for so long.

Back when OMORI was still suppressing the truth, he would have no memory of this place each and every time he stepped foot in it. In his mind, all he wanted to focus on was to save his missing friend BASIL and get out as quickly as possible.

But then… the memories of everything would seep back into his mind… The longer he stayed here, the more he would remember…

Eventually, he would realize that BASIL didn't go missing after all. OMORI had subconsciously put him here as punishment for somehow knowing the truth.

Thus, OMORI would then erase BASIL by killing him in whatever gruesome way OMORI could think of. Sometimes even he was surprised at how malicious his methods of murder could be.

It would all be so that OMORI would eventually ascend to his throne of red hands, forcing these hands to lead him back to NEIGHBOR'S BEDROOM so that he could reset HEADSPACE once more…

Force everything to go back to normal.

Bring BASIL back to life.

Erase the memories he had of BLACK SPACE.

Suppress the truth further back into the depths of his mind.

Pretend that everything was okay.

Up until BASIL would somehow remember the truth again, forcing OMORI to subconsciously send him back to BLACK SPACE.

Thus, the search for his missing friend begins all over again.

Over and over and over.

For the last four entire years of his life.

A cycle that never ends… Not until now.

...

This was actually the first time he ever set foot in BLACK SPACE with all of his memories intact. Now that he was no longer suppressing the truth, he remembered where BLACK SPACE came from.

He was the creator. The master of the realm, so to speak.

A place he created to hide away everything that would cause him to remember anything related to MARI's death. Whether it was memories, inhabitants of HEADSPACE, or anything else that would get in his way to a peaceful life.

Despite all the scary and unsettling things that resided here, everything was completely harmless as long as he was still OMORI. Nothing here could physically hurt him.

It still didn't stop OMORI from being filled with dread and misery though.

The more he suppressed BLACK SPACE, the more powerful it became. Like a spring being pushed against the wall before finally building up enough energy to bounce off and wreak havoc.

If he woke up here by the entrance instead of in WHITE SPACE, then that must mean that BLACK SPACE has overtaken everything else now. No amount of suppressing the truth would ever push it back anymore. It was too powerful now.

He still would have preferred WHITE SPACE, to be honest…

There would be no doors here this time around.

Without anything to repress, everything in BLACK SPACE would no longer be locked away anymore.

No doors. No keys to open them. No way out or in.

Everything that was once in there has already escaped out to HEADSPACE.

No access to doors means no access to the keys that reside in them. No keys mean no red door to appear.

No red door means he can't access his throne of red hands…

No access to the red hands means they can't lead him to the NEIGHBOR'S BEDROOM.

There probably wouldn't be a point to do that anyway…

Why reset the world if it didn't matter? OMORI has already given up on hiding the truth away anymore. HEADSPACE was nothing more than a distraction for SUNNY so that he wouldn't be tortured by the guilt and suffering of it all. There was no need to be distracted anymore.

Nothing he did matter.

Hiding away the truth again will only cause further problems and further suffering…

The better question would be to ask why he was still here? Why wake up near BLACK SPACE again? It wasn't like he had any unfinished business to do.

He should have been dead by now, actually. The fall from the hospital roof should have killed him, he was never supposed to be back here again… Yet, here he was...

What to do then?

"Lost in thought as always, DREAMER?"

OMORI widened his eyes as he recognized the voice appearing out of nowhere.

Now that was a voice that he wasn't expecting to hear ever again.

Popping out of the ocean in front of him, he saw the familiar face of an old imaginary friend.

ABBI.

Or at least, the haunting form that she had been reduced to.

"Surprised to see me, old friend?" ABBI asked in a gentle tone.

"A little, yeah…" OMORI nodded, growing a bit cautious.

A giant head protruding halfway out of the surface, surrounded by tentacles. Staring back at him was a single eye, reminiscent of the many forms of SOMETHINGS that haunted him.

"I thought I banished you to the ABYSS and wiped away your memories…" OMORI recalled.

"You did." ABBI stated, although she showed no sign of contempt towards him… strangely enough.

ABBI, one of the first three imaginary friends he had brought to WHITE SPACE in order to be a companion and distraction for SUNNY. The wisest one, ABBI had acted as a sort of surrogate sister-figure for SUNNY to fill the void left empty after MARI's death.

She had been the one to introduce him to HEADSPACE in the first place, conjuring the door that led him out into the colorful pastel world of his imagination. Along with HUMPHREY and the BIG YELLOW CAT, the four of them would travel on adventures together to keep SUNNY entertained.

ABBI was too wise and caring for her own good though… Knowing that SUNNY was still in pain from the guilt over what he had done, ABBI wanted to encourage SUNNY to face the truth so that he could find the strength to forgive himself.

At the time, facing the truth was the last thing SUNNY wanted to do. Thus, her attempts to help him only caused him further pain and suffering.

OMORI had summoned her to fulfill the role as a distraction for SUNNY, not to help remind him of the truth. Acting beyond her duties and hurting him in the process, OMORI became furious and banished her into the darkest depths of the ABYSS that he could think of as well as stripped away her wisdom so that she would never be smart enough to find a way out again.

Afterwards, OMORI performed his first-ever reset of HEADSPACE in order to forget that she had ever existed.

Seeing her again after so long, especially in this new grotesque form she had, it was quite unsettling for the most part. OMORI didn't know what to think of it.

"You look different." OMORI said simply.

"Yes. The ABYSS wasn't kind to me." ABBI explained sadly, "Those who wander the realms close to BLACK SPACE for too long will eventually find themselves deformed. You might have seen some familiar faces during your adventures, but perhaps didn't recognize them."

OMORI could recall some of them, yeah. At the time, they all just seemed like monsters from his nightmares… He didn't realize that they were actually all his former imaginary friends from the earliest cycles. All abandoned or punished in some ways or another for similar reasons...

"How did you get your memories back?" OMORI asked.

"The light bulb was broken, wasn't it?" ABBI stated, "Everything you ever tried to hide away and forget came back in full force. This includes more than just the truth about your sister, DREAMER."

OMORI didn't quite understand fully, but he supposed that's as satisfactory an answer as any.

Not even he knew exactly the full logic behind how his imaginary friends worked in his mind… Sometimes the inhabitants of HEADSPACE felt more lifelike than he expected for a bunch of imaginary people...

"So, you have faced the truth, finally." ABBI said sadly, "And yet, you chose not to forgive yourself. I'm truly saddened…"

OMORI furrowed his brows at this, before telling her, "Don't be. I'm not worth pitying over."

"...I guess not then…" ABBI turned her eye away depressingly. "I was just hoping that something else would've happened instead."

For someone who had spent years trapped and tortured in the darkest pits of the ocean, ABBI was surprisingly amicable towards him.

"You still care about me? Even after what I did to you?"

At this, ABBI gave a small chuckle, "It will take a lot more than erasing my mind and torturing my body to get me to hate you, DREAMER."

"For most people, it would take far less to be enough."

"And when have I ever been like most people?"

OMORI didn't answer, knowing it was just a rhetorical question.

It was odd, talking to her again after all these years. OMORI had mostly forgotten ABBI's entire existence up until now, so he didn't quite know what to say to her.

Well, there was one thing he should probably say…

"Sorry." OMORI apologized stoically.

Sorry for a lot of things, to be precise. Sorry for banishing her when she was only trying to help. Sorry for wiping away her mind so that she could suffer endlessly this entire time. Sorry for doing what ended up being a pointless waste of time to begin with.

"It's okay. I forgive you." ABBI responded simply.

OMORI flinched back, feeling like he had been hit directly in the heart.

Dammit, that was not what you were supposed to say to a horrible person like him...

It hurts to be forgiven. He didn't like it. He'd rather ABBI hate him instead…

Knowing her though, asking that would be impossible.

"ABBI, can I ask something?"

"Of course, DREAMER. What's on your mind?" ABBI responded expectantly.

"After I tried to kill myself, I woke up in a different world where my sister was still alive. She's trying to convince me that the past four years were just a nightmare I had from a coma." OMORI explained, "It all seemed too convenient to be true. I was wondering if you knew whether it was just a dream or not?"

Surely, someone as wise and smart as ABBI could help him figure this out.

ABBI closed her eye and gave a contemplative hum, before answering unsurely, "I don't think I can provide the answer to that. This is something you'll need to discover by yourself..."

OMORI sighed and looked away with disappointment, "Figures…"

Of course ABBI wouldn't know anything. If even he couldn't tell whether or not it was all real, how could he expect ABBI to know? She was just an imaginary friend after all...

"If you ask me though, I'd say this must be a second chance for you. Perhaps it would be best not to look a gift horse in the mouth and accept it."

With a dismissive scoff, OMORI hid his face in his knees and grumbled, "And why would anyone want to give me a second chance? I don't deserve it…"

"Maybe, maybe not. You feel this way now, but… maybe someday you'll change your mind…" ABBI offered.

No.

Not if OMORI could help it.

A murderer like him doesn't deserve to live...

...

Changing the topic, OMORI looked up at her curiously before asking, "So, why are you here with me, ABBI? Don't tell me you just wanted to keep me company."

Surprisingly, ABBI shook her head, "Contrary to what you're thinking, no. As much as I enjoy seeing you again, I have something important to do."

"Huh?" OMORI looked at her confusedly.

"Your friends wish to see you again. I'm here to help lead you to them."

Wait, what?

"What friends? You mean… MARI and the others? They're still around?"

She nodded.

"But I thought HEADSPACE was taken over by BLACK SPACE. I'm not hiding the truth anymore. HEADSPACE doesn't have a reason to exist. It was all just something I created to keep myself distracted, wasn't it?"

How could his friends in HEADSPACE be around if HEADSPACE doesn't exist anymore?

ABBI giggled at him before saying, "HEADSPACE is more than just an imaginary world created by you, DREAMER. It's an idea that's existed long before you ever came to be born, since the beginning of time itself."

OMORI felt himself growing confused even further.

He wasn't even sure if this was just all his overactive imagination talking or not.

"Hm… it would be hard to explain… Just know for now that your friends are waiting for you. It seems pretty important too." ABBI insisted, "Whatever they have to say, I think you should at least hear them out."

OMORI took one last look around the area.

Nothing but a dark grey ocean and a dark forest behind him.

It's not like he has anything better to do.

Standing up from his spot, he patted the sand off of him before nodding, "Okay then. Lead the way."

A red door suddenly appeared in front of him, exactly on cue.

"Travel through here, DREAMER. Everyone will be waiting for you on the other side." ABBI told him.

OMORI widened his eyes at seeing the familiar red door in front of him again. This was the door that led to the CHURCH…

Something inside him made him hesitate… He wasn't sure if he was ready to go through yet, and he couldn't understand why…

ABBI seemed to notice this, pointing out, "Getting cold feet, DREAMER?"

"ABBI… Why does it feel like I'm about to say goodbye?" OMORI asked cautiously.

"Hm…" ABBI gave a small hum, before confirming, "Maybe because you are?"

That definitely didn't answer his question.

Giving a small gulp, he rephrased the question, "Will I ever see you again?"

Unexpectedly, ABBI answered him honestly, "I'm afraid not, DREAMER. Once you go through this door, this will be the last time we ever see each other again. For real this time."

Ah.

So that's why he felt so hesitant.

"In that case… sorry again for everything I've ever done, ABBI. It would have been nice if we went on some adventures together one last time…" OMORI apologized again.

"It would have been nice, wouldn't it?" Despite it all, OMORI had the feeling that ABBI would be smiling at him if she still had a mouth to do so.

OMORI still hadn't moved towards the door yet… For some reason, he felt like he had something more important to say to her…

"Don't tell me you're thinking you might regret leaving me." ABBI said in a teasing tone, "You were planning to end your life the last time you were here, and you didn't even think to say goodbye to anyone. Suddenly changed your mind?"

Instead of answering her question, OMORI asked back, "Why is this going to be the last time we see each other? Are you going somewhere important?"

"No, DREAMER. I'm staying right here. You're the one who's going somewhere important." She replied cryptically, "You'll see what I mean when you meet your friends."

OMORI was going somewhere important, huh?

Okay then…

Knowing that there was nothing else for him here, OMORI steeled himself before opening the door.

"Good luck, old friend. You'll be needing it up ahead." ABBI said just as he passed through the door.


What he expected when he got to the other side was the familiar unrelenting cold showering his body, just like all the other times he's been here.

He definitely got that, seeing how he was shivering right now.

What he did not expect the moment he opened his eyes was to feel someone collide against him and wrap him into a warm hug.

"OMORI! You're here!"

The green hair and the flower crown covering his vision right now could only belong to one person…

"BASIL…?" OMORI muttered in shock.

Pulling away, the green-haired pastel-colored flower boy gave a humorous smile, "Who else would it be?"

The last time he had seen him, OMORI had stabbed his guts out with a knife and trampled over his body to get to the throne of red hands…

He never did make it to NEIGHBOR'S BEDROOM to force a reset before SUNNY woke up, did he?

This BASIL should still be a corpse right now…

"You look like you've seen a ghost. Something wrong, best friend?" BASIL tilted his head curiously.

God, don't even mention ghosts right now. He's seen so many ghosts recently that he was about to have an existential crisis.

OMORI shook his head, "Just surprised to see you is all…"

It was at this point that OMORI finally took a deep look around to notice that he and BASIL weren't the only ones in the area.

Lots of familiar faces surrounded him on the snowy mountain of the CHURCH. All inhabitants of the many worlds he came across during his adventures.

Many of them seemed busy conversing with each other, but the occasional few had noticed him staring and showed their greetings in one way or another.

"What's going on, exactly...?" OMORI felt the need to ask, growing confused by the situation.

"Everyone here is showing up to say their final goodbyes." BASIL explained cheerfully.

"Final goodbyes? To who?"

"Who do you think?" BASIL chuckled obviously.

So, was that how this works? Now that he wasn't suppressing the truth from himself any longer, his overactive imagination decided to give him one last final send-off with all the imaginary friends in his mind before the entire place gets overtaken by BLACK SPACE?

Seems fitting. Feels sort of like an end of the world party being celebrated…

"So where are MARI and the others?"

BASIL pointed up to the top, "They're all waiting for us back in NEIGHBOR'S BEDROOM. We're having a slumber party there!"

Is that so? Sounds nice. He wouldn't mind one last final slumber party with all his friends…

He wasn't quite sure he knew what was going to happen next after this, however. If HEADSPACE gets overtaken by BLACK SPACE, will he be left all alone? What will happen to him the next time he goes back to sleep?

Will it just be normal dreams from here on out?

"We don't have to go there immediately, you know." BASIL informed him, gesturing to the crowd of people surrounding them, "We still have some time left to say goodbye to the others."

OMORI shrugged, deciding to go with the flow and letting BASIL lead him around the area.

On their journey up to the CHURCH, the two of them met up with many familiar friends and foes alike as they exchanged their goodbyes.

The PLAYGROUND children were first, all expressing their fond farewells and thanking OMORI for the time they were able to spend playing together.

BOSS was amongst them as well, somehow getting along with BERLY of all people. He and BASIL had a quick hug as he thanked the flower boy for sticking up for him when no one else would.

After that were the people of OTHERWORLD. Various inhabitants from that world came to say their farewells before they both came across PLUTO and CAPTAIN SPACEBOY having a heart-to-heart talk with each other. Strangely enough, the various clones of SWEETHEART were standing just nearby, as if waiting on CAPTAIN SPACEBOY.

PLUTO wanted OMORI to flex with him at least one time before he had to go. OMORI decided to humor the dwarf planet by flexing his muscles and repeating the signature catchphrase.

"WHEN I FLEX, I FEEL MY BEEEEEEEST!"

"When I flex, I feel my... best." OMORI flexed halfheartedly.

He felt like an idiot, but it was fun to play along. PLUTO then asked OMORI to remember to say goodbye to KEL for him, which OMORI will try to keep in mind.

CAPTAIN SPACEBOY came up to him next, hand in hand with PERFECTHEART as MUTANTHEART and ROBOHEART followed slightly behind. Apparently, the four of them had met at some point and decided to hit it off with each other. He was now happily SPACE HUSBAND for real this time to three different clones of his original girlfriend.

Good for him. OMORI always liked the space pirate captain.

ORANGE OASIS was next in line. The wacky characters from that world all came forward to him and gave their goodbyes and wished him good luck.

He wasn't expecting to see an unlikely duo discussing something amongst themselves. MR. OUTBACK and DADDY LONGLEGS were standing together holding a conversation until one of them noticed OMORI approaching.

"How d'ya do, buckaroo!" The cowboy greeted gently, "Seems you finally made it through the end of your journey. Darn shame the fat load of good it did for ya, though…"

"So you have finally decided to embrace the truth rather than run from it again." DADDY LONGLEGS crouched down to get closer, "Yet even so, you still choose to deny your salvation. An interesting, if not disappointing, outcome. Perhaps it would have been better to live in blissful ignorance after all, DREAMER?"

"Would it have made a difference if I chose to live like that?" OMORI asked curiously.

"Hm… Perhaps not…" DADDY LONGLEGS sighed, "The end of the world was an inevitability, whether you choose to accept the truth or not. The darkness would have overtaken this world one way or another… This path just ended up being quicker."

Remembering the time when OMORI came across DADDY LONGLEGS on his adventure to find BASIL, back in the LOST FOREST, OMORI asked, "So you knew this was all going to happen from the beginning?"

Back when OMORI was still trying to suppress the truth, this mysterious dark man in the LOST FOREST had told all of them the story about HEADSPACE's origins. A door conjured by a dreamer, bored from being stuck in his room. He would wander around the world, coming and going as he pleased. Eventually, he would accidentally come across the darkness that lurked deep below the surface and began to fear it. Thus, in his fear, he forcefully piled world after world on top of the darkness to cover it up, hoping that it would never be found again. But the darkness never stopped clawing its way back out to torment the dreamer, not until he chose to forget himself and lived in ignorance as he took another name.

At the time, it seemed like a weird and cryptic story that couldn't possibly help him find his missing friend BASIL. All it did was creep him and his friends out.

Now that he knew better… He was slowly realizing just how much these imaginary people in his head knew more than he originally thought.

"As all things are born, so too must they end." DADDY LONGLEGS answered back in his usual mysterious manner, "It is not a bad thing, though. Sometimes things must come to an end so that another could be born in its place. A circle of life, as you would call it. Someday, another HEADSPACE will take its place."

HEADSPACE was such a mysterious world… The people living in it even more so.

How much of this was actually just a part of his overactive imagination? Even he had to admit, he couldn't possibly be this creative to come up with… all of this. Characters like these.

Before he could ask any further questions of how much they knew, BASIL tugged on his arm, "C'mon, OMORI! I know I said we had time, but we should really hurry up if we want to make it to the others!"

"R-Right." OMORI nodded apologetically before waving goodbye to the two more mysterious inhabitants of HEADSPACE.

So they continued on, meeting familiar character after character along their way up to the CHURCH.

KITE KID and his KITE gave them a respectful salute as he flew KITE in the air. It was nice to see him doing well.

MR. JAWSUM was apparently enjoying an increased hike in the stock market, saying that the end of the world was helping him make a killing in selling insurance. How he'll enjoy any of those CLAMS by the time HEADSPACE gets overtaken, OMORI decided not to ask in order to let him have his brief thrill of fun.

Seeing the SLIME GIRLS still alive was another surprise that he wasn't expecting. Although they were only just a trio of talking heads now, they didn't seem to have any hard feelings towards OMORI since their last encounter. Another big surprise was the fact that they converted the obnoxiously selfish SWEETHEART into the obnoxiously annoying SWEEPHEART. She was apparently going to work off the debt she owed to them by being their maid, despite the fact that the end of the world was coming.

OMORI gave SWEEPHEART his entire life savings of CLEMS as a tip, to show his support. She immediately crumpled up the valueless paper and threw it off the cliff, called him a miserable peon, then continued sweeping the mountain in a fit of rage.

Darn. A reliable source told him that CLEMS would replace CLAMS in the future. Oh well.

While OMORI was busy saying goodbye to everyone he came across, BASIL stood by the side with a smile every time before leading him towards the next character.

Seeing the flower boy acting happy and smiling, despite the gruesome death he experienced, made OMORI wonder if BASIL had somehow forgotten about it when he somehow came back to life.

On the stairways leading up to the CHURCH, OMORI actually pulled BASIL back so that he could actually ask a few questions.

"Hm? Something wrong, OMORI?" BASIL asked with a patient smile.

OMORI stared at the flower boy, wondering what to say or how to ask…

Without the truth being suppressed, OMORI remembered every single time he had killed BASIL within the depths of BLACK SPACE. Each death was more gruesome and violent than the last… If OMORI could remember, does that mean BASIL could too?

"BASIL, how much do you remember since the last time we spoke?" OMORI ended up asking.

BASIL widened his eyes a bit before looking away embarrassingly, "Oh, that? It doesn't really matter anymore, does it?"

"It does. To me, at least." OMORI shook his head, "I want to know how much you know. Do you remember any of the other cycles?"

With a sigh, BASIL rubbed his head and frowned, "Y-Yes. I do. All of them, in fact. Ever since the light bulb was broken."

The same case with ABBI then.

Somehow, OMORI knew that was going to be the case.

"Aren't you upset?" OMORI felt he should ask, "I… kinda killed you. Like, a lot of times. Several times, actually."

BASIL shook his head before giving a reassuring smile, "Like I said, I really don't think it matters anymore. Instead of focusing on that, we should be living in the moment now that we can finally spend time together before everything goes away."

"Seriously? No grudges at all?" OMORI pulled out his steak knife and pointed the handle towards the flower boy, "I wouldn't mind if you wanted to even the score a little."

"Jeez, OMORI…" BASIL quickly pushed the knife away and gave him a disapproving look, "I wish you learned to love yourself a bit more. I already told you that it doesn't matter."

Giving a tired sigh, OMORI pocketed the weapon away, "Guess I'm just feeling guilty now that I remembered everything I ever did."

"You've been feeling guilty enough these past four years. I just want our last moments to be happy now." Extending a hand out to OMORI, BASIL gently smiled, "We're almost there. Let's keep going."

OMORI nodded as he took his hand before they continued walking up the path.

On the second-highest platform of the mountain where the CHURCH sits, OMORI could see HUMPHREY casually floating by in the air.

Noticing the monochrome boy approaching, the whale grinned, "Whale, whale, whale! If it isn't my favorite sailor!"

"Sailor? You haven't called me that in a long time…"

Like ABBI and the BIG YELLOW CAT, HUMPHREY was one of OMORI's first-ever imaginary friends. Based on a book in the real world, he would often take OMORI off on adventures while living inside his stomach. At some point, OMORI must have just naturally forgotten about him when he started yearning for the relationships he used to have with AUBREY, HERO, KEL, and BASIL…

"Being stuck in a cave by yourself with nothing to do does tend to make one go a bit crazy after a while. NYUK NYUK NYUK!" The whale laughed heartily, "It's nice to be able to remember everything though, even if it's only for my last moments."

"Sorry for forgetting about you, HUMPHREY." OMORI apologized.

"Feeling sorry for me, are you?" HUMPHREY grinned mischievously, before asking, "In that case, how about tossing a few CLAMS my way? I'll be much more forgiving after having a last meal."

"Always hungry, aren't you?" OMORI smirked as he fished out his wallet full of CLAMS. Tossing the entire thing to the whale, he stated, "Savor it. Not like I'll be needing this anymore."

HUMPHREY happily caught the wallet with his tongue before munching on it, "MMMMM! Delicious!"

A quick swallow and a loud burp later, the whale gave a satisfied sigh.

Looking down at OMORI, he gave what seemed to be a very rare sad smile, something OMORI has never seen him do before, "You're a good boy, DREAMER. You always have been. I hope you know that."

A good boy, huh?

No, not even remotely close…

"I'll miss you, HUMPHREY. Goodbye." OMORI nodded back.

HUMPHREY waved a flipper goodbye at him as they made their way to the entrance of the CHURCH.

Before OMORI could open the door, BASIL actually pulled him back a few feet before staring at it.

"Uh, BASIL?"

"Just wait for it." BASIL replied simply.

Suddenly, a big giant red jar crashed through the entrance, breaking the door off its hinges and shattering it to millions of tiny pieces.

"OH YEAH!" LIFE JAM GUY cheerfully shouted, perfectly landing right in front of the two boys.

"There we go." BASIL nodded satisfyingly, somehow seeing this coming.

"Huh, I was wondering where he was." OMORI stated neutrally.

Handing a jar of life jam each to the both of them, LIFE JAM GUY stated, "Try out these free samples of LIFE JAM! It really works!"

Then without another word, the big red jar suddenly charged off the cliff and fell to the dark oblivion below.

Well, okay then.

Hope he's alright.

With that out of the way, the two boys pocketed their jam away before heading inside the CHURCH.


CHURCH was still as silent as ever.

OMORI and BASIL carefully made their way through the sermon, doing their best not to disturb the SCRIBBLES that were pitter-pattering inside.

The light shining down from the podium stairway was bright and warm. It was bright enough to illuminate the inside of the entire building.

"We're nearly there." BASIL remarked with a smile.

Making their way to the top of the stairs, their progress was blocked by a huge gap of space that was in between them and their destination.

"I can handle this." OMORI stated, raising his hand out to command the red hands to form a bridge for them.

When no red hands came, he blinked in surprise. Staring at his own hand, he curled his fingers as he wondered what was wrong.

"Or… not…" OMORI mumbled awkwardly.

Usually, the red hands always obeyed him once he became aware of himself and took control. Why couldn't he control them anymore?

Was it because of… me?

BASIL brought OMORI out of his thoughts, gently tugging his shirt and reassuring, "Don't worry. We don't need them this time."

Without bothering to explain, BASIL put two fingers near his mouth and gave a shrill whistle.

Almost immediately after, like a weird rolling of red carpet down a flight of stairs, a bunch of SPROUT MOLES began forming a bridge downwards towards the two of them, connecting each other one by one until the last SPROUT MOLE came tumbling down in front of them in a daze.

To his surprise, this SPROUT MOLE was actually one that he recognized. A pink bow on a SPROUTE MOLE could only mean one person…

ROSA stood up on her stubby feet before shaking her head clear, then proceeding to act natural as she regarded BASIL with a smooth, "You called, cutie~?"

"Uh…" OMORI mumbled, unsure how to react. "What…?"

"I managed to convince the SPROUT MOLES from the colonies to help us out one last time. We should be able to get up to NEIGHBOR'S BEDROOM now." BASIL proclaimed cheerfully.

OMORI took another deep look at the makeshift SPROUT MOLE stairs ahead of him. In his honest opinion, it didn't really look like the sturdiest thing he could trust.

Other than that, he was still a bit in shock to see ROSA of all people agreeing to help him out. He couldn't help but stare at the self-proclaimed number one SWEEPHEART fan with a discerning eye.

As if offended by his suspicion, ROSA gave an indignant huff before clarifying, "Don't get the wrong idea, stick legs. I'm not doing this for your sake. I just remembered owing BASIL-Baby here a favor from a previous life." Then with an accusatory glare, she told OMORI, "If it wasn't for a certain someone unable to handle the truth and forcing everything to reset all the time, I would have repaid it eons ago!"

Ouch. Those were the first hurtful words she ever gave him that actually managed to sting.

Also, ROSA owed BASIL a favor from a previous cycle? Man, that flower boy can get along with just about anyone…

"Alright, settle down…" BASIL calmly waved his hands at the mole, "OMORI has been through enough hardships. Think you can let bygones be bygones just for tonight?"

In a complete one-eighty change in attitude, ROSA turned to BASIL with a happy look, "Of course, BASIL-Baby! Whatever you want, ROSA will provide! Let me know if you need anything else, kay?"

BASIL chuckled, "Sure thing, ROSA. Thanks for everything."

With that, ROSA stepped out of the way to let BASIL pass her as he began taking the first steps up the SPROUT MOLE stairs.

Noticing that OMORI still hasn't moved, he turned around with a curious, "You coming, OMORI?"

OMORI gave another hesitant glance at the stairs before deciding to just go along with it as he shrugged.

BASIL smiled as OMORI proceeded to follow after the flower boy, before the two walked together up to NEIGHBOR'S BEDROOM while minding their step.


When he made it to the top, he saw his old group of friends sitting in a circle while enjoying a picnic. The beds were moved away in order to give more space to the center of the room, where MARI had set the picnic blanket on. Overlooking them from above was the BIG YELLOW CAT, guarding the place as he always does.

Everyone seemed to be in high spirits despite the fact that HEADSPACE was going to disappear soon.

"Hey guys! We're here!" BASIL cheerfully called out once they reached the room.

The moment they heard his call, everyone immediately stood up and ran over as they began crowding OMORI.

"OMORI! You're finally back!" AUBREY cheered, hugging onto his arm as she usually does to show her affection.

"Took you long enough! We've been waiting here forever!" KEL chuckled as he slapped OMORI's back.

"Glad to see you made it back safe and sound. Did you get the chance to say goodbye to everyone?" HERO asked gently, patting a comforting hand on OMORI's head

Off a few meters away, he saw MARI giving him a welcoming smile, "Hi, OMORI. Cliff-faced as usual, I see."

OMORI looked around and soaked in the atmosphere.

The welcoming smiles that everyone gave him… the sheer sincerity in their voices as they excitedly greeted him…

The fact that they all looked so happy, even though everything was about to be wiped away soon…

He wasn't really sure how to feel.

A conflict of emotions arose inside him. For the most part, he does feel a bit happy to see them all again. It felt more bittersweet, knowing that everything was going to be gone soon…

But he also felt guilty…

Despite just being the imaginary versions of his real-life friends, they had been so helpful and caring towards him throughout all these years. While he was busy selfishly indulging himself in this fake world trying to forget about the truth, their real-world counterparts had been suffering because of what he did…

Not only that, but memories of all their previous lives from previous cycles came to him in an instant.

During many adventures on their search for BASIL, he remembered the three of them dying many times in order to protect him. Although reviving them back to life was as simple as covering their TOAST with some jam, or just a quick nap in NEIGHBOR'S BEDROOM, the more scarring deaths always left a mark on him.

He was pretty sure that the bones from their previous bodies still existed somewhere… Either back where they originally died, or thrown away to the ABYSS so that OMORI didn't have to remember it.

Knowing what he knows now, he didn't think he deserved any of the smiles aimed at him. If anything… he felt like they should all hate him.

He knew that the ones from the real world would have hated him, at least…

Seeing him clamming up in silence, MARI gently pushed everyone away to give him some space before reaching a hand out to him, "Why don't you come sit with us? We still have time for one last picnic together, don't you think?"

OMORI stared at the hand of his sister, the imaginary version that he made for himself so that he could pretend that she was still alive.

Sometimes she was so life-like, it was hard to tell if she ever died in the first place.

He looked up to watch her face. MARI gave an encouraging smile back at him.

After a while, he gave a relenting sigh and accepted the hand in front of him so that she could lead him towards the picnic blanket.

There was no harm in entertaining himself one last final time, before he has to move on from this fake world. That's what he ended up deciding on.

One last final dream with all of his friends, however artificial they may be…

Then he'll accept reality.

During the time he spent with his friends, they proceeded to play a variety of games together as they waited for the end.

MARI finally helped HERO master making flower crowns, which he went ahead and donned on his head with a proud smile.

They brought out a watermelon to smash, with AUBREY being the one in the blindfold as she haphazardly waved her bat around. She managed to get lucky and hit KEL in the stomach, which she seemed happy about.

Next, they all had a pillow fight together in teams of two. MARI was paired with AUBREY, KEL with HERO, and OMORI was stuck with the life-long pacifist BASIL. It was very difficult defending the both of them by himself, but he managed to have fun since everyone was such good sports about it.

After that, they played a few board games together as they rested their tired bodies.

When that was over, MARI had this weird idea of painting OMORI's monochrome body so that he would look like everyone else. For some reason, this idea excited everybody else except him.

Still, he kept his body still even as they all took their sweet time painting over him like a blank canvas.

When they brought out a mirror for him to witness their handiwork, OMORI was shocked to see how well they did. Having the same pastel colors as everyone else, he looked like he would fit right in with all the other inhabitants of HEADSPACE. In a way, he imagined that this was what SUNNY would have looked like if he belonged to someone else's imagination.

Brushing a hand over his new dark purple hair, he gave a thumbs up to the group, causing them to all cheer at the success of their hard work.

All in all, it was a surprisingly eventful night. He couldn't ask for a better finale for his dream world.

When they played all the games they could think of, the group decided to just laze about together as they all admired the stars in the sky.

Laying next to BASIL, OMORI decided to ask something that he had been curious about this whole time but never had the chance to ask.

"What's going to happen to everyone once HEADSPACE gets wiped by BLACK SPACE?" He asked, turning his head over to the flower boy.

"Hm… That's a good question." He hummed in thought, before turning to OMORI with a smile, "I guess we all just… stop existing."

"That's kind of sad… After everything we've all been through, everything just gets erased like that?" OMORI frowned.

"Don't feel bad, OMORI. None of us are real in the first place. You made us so that we could keep you company, that's all." BASIL replied, "You don't need us anymore now that you've faced the truth."

"Is it weird that a part of me wishes that you could all just… live your own lives? To somehow enjoy being alive and have a future together?"

"A little, yeah." BASIL giggled, "But I appreciate the sentiment. I'm sure everyone else does too."

"What's going to happen to me, once HEADSPACE disappears?" OMORI asked, "Will I ever be able to come back to visit if I wanted to?"

"Do you have any plans to?" BASIL asked back.

OMORI thought about it, realizing the implications of the question.

To want to come back would mean to want to go back to a fake world and forget all about reality again. To lock himself away from the truth once more.

He wouldn't want to come back. Not when he finally broke the cycle. Not when he hasn't faced the consequences of his actions yet.

He still isn't dead, after all.

"No…" OMORI shook his head sadly.

"I guess you'll just have to settle with the regular dreams then." BASIL answered softly.

"Hey, guys…" KEL called out, coming back from the entrance of the bedroom, "I just checked out there… Everything is pitch black outside. I think it's almost time."

Ah.

The end is finally near.

"Oh well, it was fun while it lasted." AUBREY remarked happily, bouncing off the floor with abundant energy.

"I guess it's time to get ready to say our farewells too…" HERO yawned as he stretched before pulling himself off the floor.

BASIL and MARI wordlessly stood up as well.

Knowing what was about to come, OMORI pushed himself off the ground and faced all of them as they all grouped up.

Facing OMORI together hand in hand, each and every last one of them gave a great big smile and a theatrical bow, "Thanks for everything, OMORI! We're going to miss you!"

AUBREY led off first, "We hoped we managed to make you smile and have lots of fun! Going on adventures with you has been the best thing to ever happen!"

KEL continued off, "Yeah! Even though we had our good times and bad times, none of us are ever going to forget any of this!"

HERO picked up the baton, "We know how much you've been suffering these past few years. If we were able to give you even just a brief moment of happiness, then we're glad to have at least done our job properly."

BASIL continued there, "You've always been a great friend towards us, and we're always going to be thankful for that. Even during your darkest moments, you never abandoned any of us."

OMORI blinked in shock at all the kind words being lobbed at him by all of his friends. He wasn't expecting such a grandiose farewell…

He couldn't help but wonder if they were really imaginary at all... Would his imagination really create something so life-like and realistic?

For a moment, he was almost convinced that everyone here was real... And that he was going to genuinely miss them.

MARI came up to him with a smile, gesturing behind him, "You can stay a little bit longer if you want and wait for the end with us. But if you're ready to leave now, the door is sitting right there."

He turned to look at a familiar white door appearing out of nowhere by the edge of the room.

Was this a door leading to WHITE SPACE? Or was it something else entirely?

OMORI cautiously stepped up to the door and studied it as he brushed a hand on the wooden surface.

It looked exactly like the door that he always used to enter HEADSPACE.

The lights suddenly cut off, blanketing the world into darkness.

He blinked in surprise for a bit, before remembering that this was probably it.

BLACK SPACE has finally overtaken everything. HEADSPACE would no longer exist anymore…

He gave one last look behind him to see all of his friends still there, smiling at him.

With a grateful nod, he went ahead to open the door-

"Wait, SUNNY!"

His hand froze before it could even touch the doorknob.

"One last thing… before you go." He heard AUBREY whisper behind him.

OMORI hesitantly turned around to face his friends again, only for his eyes widened in shock.

Instead of the young versions of his friends that he was so used to seeing back in his childhood, all of them had changed appearance to look more like the old ones that he had gotten to know recently.

Although they were still in their regular pastel colors, all of his friends now looked like the teenagers he had met during the three days he had left in FARAWAY town.

Only MARI was the exception, as she stood by the sidelines and looked away.

BASIL stepped up first, no longer wearing the flower crown that he usually had. Instead, his outfit was an exact copy of the one that BASIL wore back in the real world the last time OMORI saw him. So was everyone else.

"So… In the end, you ended up making the other choice…" BASIL didn't seem like he had the strength to smile anymore, giving OMORI a sad frown, "I had hoped that you… that you would want to make new memories with all of us. To try to move on… I guess it ended up being too much of a burden on you, huh?" Looking down on the floor, he muttered, "I'm really sorry, SUNNY… for everything."

HERO curled his fists as he stepped up too, "Did you really have that little faith in us, SUNNY? I know it must have been hard to accept, but you couldn't have at least put your trust in us that we might have been able to forgive you? I thought you knew us better than that…"

AUBREY rubbed her arms as she sighed depressingly, "Even though we all came to cheer you on... To give you the boost of courage you needed to face the truth… You still chose to leave us the way you did… I thought we were able to help you get over it, but… it turns out that we were never enough, were we?"

KEL cried out, "I would have been there for you if you needed me! You didn't have to keep your emotions bottled up inside anymore! I told you that just because you did something bad, it doesn't make you a bad person! I told you that, didn't I?"

OMORI felt a range of emotions as he listened to all their words. Suddenly, a memory came to mind as he recalled something that happened before…

Memories of meeting up with BASIL right outside his house after chasing MEWO down the street...

The memory of the podium stage… Where he had just finished repairing the violin. After he took the trip down MEMORY LANE.

Memories of his friends all being there to give him their last words of encouragement before he had faced the truth…

Before… SUNNY faced the truth.

Before OMORI assimilated with him and took the reins from then on.

"So it was you guys all along…" OMORI said softly in recognition.

"There were more good times to come… Life could have gotten better. I know it would have..." HERO spoke out weakly, "You were the one that was supposed to make that happen… But… you still chose not to…"

"Bottling up your feelings will always lead to them coming back out eventually. What you did with those feelings, that would have been your truth…" AUBREY clenched her teeth tightly as she held back tears. "Even though we don't have the right to tell you what to do or what to think... I'm still pissed that you gave up on yourself…"

"It didn't have to be goodbye. You didn't have to leave." KEL sniffled, wiping his eyes, "You didn't even bother to take the time to at least say goodbye… We could have stopped you..."

"We believed in you, SUNNY…" AUBREY sobbed, "I believed in you…"

Was this really just his imagination? At this point, he wasn't even sure anymore.

In his mind, he truly believed that they all would have hated him if they ever found out the truth of what he did. That they would all abandon him once they knew that he killed MARI and faked her suicide.

Why would a bunch of imaginary versions of his friends be trying so hard to tell him otherwise?

Even so…

He already made up his mind.

He refuses to be a burden on his friends any longer.

A murderer like him didn't deserve to live.

Life would be better if he'd just die.

"No matter what you guys say, your words aren't going to reach SUNNY." OMORI said back emotionlessly.

This only broke their hearts even further.

"Then… I guess this really is goodbye then…" AUBREY sniffed as she wiped her tears.

None of them had anything left to say as they all faded away to the darkness, one by one.

BLACK SPACE finally consumed everything.

HEADSPACE…

What a mysterious world he imagined for himself. Even though he knew everyone who lived inside was just a figment of his imagination… somehow, it still felt so real to him.

Maybe he was insane to think that...

While he was stuck in deep thought, MARI had come up to his side and grabbed his hand.

OMORI looked up in surprise, not expecting her to still be here.

"You're not leaving like the others?"

Giving a soft smile, she told him, "I have to be there to help guide my little brother to the other side."

Looking down on the floor with a remorseful expression, he muttered softly, "You don't have to…"

"Oh just shush and walk with me, won't you?" MARI giggled lightly, before gesturing to the door again. "After you. I'll be following your lead again."

OMORI glanced over at MARI to see her give him another encouraging smile.

Knowing that he had nothing else to do, he opened the door behind him and entered as MARI followed closely behind.

On the other side of the door was a long thin sidewalk that seemed to stretch on forever.

OMORI and MARI began to walk in silence as they started their journey.

For a long while, they didn't bother saying anything to each other. They just quietly walked down the lane, holding hands together.

In a way, it felt calming and nice. When was the last time he ever had the chance to go on walks with his sister anymore?

It took a while before he noticed that white egret orchids were planted on the side of the lane. Dozens of them were littered all over the place, in fact.

He wondered what that meant…

"Hey, OMORI…" MARI spoke up suddenly, "Can I ask for a favor from you?"

OMORI glanced over at MARI curiously, "A favor? What do you mean?"

"I know you have plans to… throw your life away after this… But is it possible if I can ask you to hold off on your plans for just a little bit? There's something important I need you to help me with before you go."

"Depends, I guess." OMORI shrugged, "What do I have to do?"

"There's a girl I know that needs help." MARI began explaining, "She's actually sort of like you. She's been suffering for so long, thinking that she did something terrible to someone she loves. She's been trapped in her own mind for several years now, trying to hide away from the truth of what she did."

OMORI widened his eyes at this, "She has a HEADSPACE? Like me?"

MARI nodded, "Yeah… She's been trying to distract herself all this time just to keep herself sane… The problem is that I don't think it's going to help any longer. She might end up getting worse if nothing gets done about it."

"You want me to visit her and try to get her to face the truth?" OMORI asked.

MARI shook her head, "Not just that… I want you to try to get her to forgive herself."

OMORI furrowed his brows at this as he looked away, "I don't think I can help with that…I'm not the right person to ask. I couldn't even forgive myself, so what makes you think I would be any help?"

"You're the only person I can trust to do this…" MARI insisted, "Actually, you're the only person that could possibly help at all. There's no one else I can rely on."

"MARI… I shouldn't even be alive right now…" OMORI started off, before being quickly interrupted.

"I know how you feel, OMORI… But… please?" MARI pleaded, staring at him with a sad smile, "Won't you do it for your big sister? Just this one last favor before you go? I know it's selfish for me to ask, but I promise I won't ask you to do anything else after this. This is really important to me."

OMORI stared back at her, feeling his resolve crumble in a matter of seconds.

God, he really couldn't ever say no to her, could he?

He could never say no...

With a sigh, he asked, "Do I even know this girl?"

Seeing that as a good sign, MARI gave a relieved smile as she continued, "Yes, you do actually! You might actually know her extremely well. Better than anyone else."

"Will you at least tell me her name?"

"..." MARI went silent a bit as she weighed the answer in her head. In the end, she gave a coy smile and answered back, "HIKIKO."

OMORI furrowed his brows in confusion, "HIKIKO? I don't know anyone with that name."

"I dunno… You might recognize her once you see her." MARI said back in that smug in-the-know way that she usually does when she's keeping secrets.

"Fine…" OMORI sighed, "I won't make any promises, but… I can at least check it out to see what I can do. I'm still not sure exactly how much help I can be for her though…"

"Trust me, OMORI… You're the only one that can do anything for her." MARI reassured, before pulling him to a stop. Looking around, she spotted something in the distance before pointing at it for OMORI to see, "Can I lead you to her right now?"

With a halfhearted shrug, he muttered, "I guess."

Another sidewalk appeared out of nowhere, diverging from the main path they were traveling on. The two of them proceeded to follow this new path before finally coming across another door.

A white one. Just like the one he entered from.

Just like the one in WHITE SPACE.

"She's right inside here…" MARI told him.

Wanting to get this done and over with so that he could finally do what he originally set out to do, he stepped up to the door and opened it.

A beach. It looked similar to the one in his imaginary world.

Before he went through the door, he paused as he noticed MARI standing back instead of following him in.

"Not coming along?" He asked.

MARI shook her head sadly, "Can't do anything in a different HEADSPACE. I honestly should have vanished with the others back in NEIGHBOR'S BEDROOM by now."

"Ah…" OMORI mumbled.

"Will I ever see you again?"

He didn't know why he asked that. He already knew the answer to that.

It wasn't like she was real anyway.

MARI smiled, "As long as you keep me in your memories, I'll always be there."

With that comforting last message, she faded away from existence. Just like everyone else.

So…

One last job he had to do before ending it all.

Fine.

As long as it was for her.

OMORI looked forward again and entered the door.


OMORI was sitting on the shores by the ocean for what felt like hours now.

Staring out at the vast sea in front of him, he slowly blinked before becoming aware of where he was.

He looked around, finding himself in unfamiliar territory.

Looking down at himself, he was surprised to see that his usual monochrome appearance was still colored in with the pastel paint from before.

What was he doing again?

Right… He had promised to check up on something for MARI…

A girl named… HIKIKO? If he was remembering the name correctly.

"HEY! GUYS! I FOUND HIM!"

OMORI perked up as he heard someone shout from behind him.

Turning around, he was shocked to find a large group of familiar people running towards him.

"SUNNY! We finally found you!" AUBREY was the first to come up to him as she tackled him into a hug.

KEL came soon after with a dumb grin on his face, "So this was where you've been hiding! Jeez, you had us worried for the whole day!"

HERO arrived next, gasping heavily from his lack of stamina, "SUNNY… There… you are… Oh god, give me a minute to catch… my breath…"

BASIL was the next to appear, running to his other side and hugging OMORI as well, "Don't scare us like that! We've been trying to look for you all this time! We thought you ran away or got kidnapped!"

"Uh…" OMORI was feeling incredibly confused at seeing the young versions of his pastel-colored friends again. Didn't they all disappear? They had given him their final goodbyes before HEADSPACE was consumed, hadn't they? What was the point of all of that if he was just going to see them again shortly after?

But then one last person arrived, causing OMORI to lose his breath in shock.

MARI came up to him as she kneeled to his level before crying in relief, "Oh thank goodness! You're okay!"

She didn't have the same pastel colors as the others like she always did. In fact, her entire appearance was entirely monochrome, just like OMORI usually was.

Hugging his neck, MARI cried, "You have to stop doing this to me, SUNNY. My heart can't take any more. You know how much I hate being separated from you!"

"Uh… Sorry…?" OMORI apologized hesitantly.

What in the world was going on right now?

HERO, after finally regaining his breath, stood up and gave a calm smile, "I guess all's well that ends well. It's good to know you're safe, SUNNY." With a chuckle, he started rubbing MARI's shoulders as she softly cried, "Seriously though, you need to stop worrying your sister all the time. HIKIKO would have flipped the entire place over and under just to try to find you, you know?"

What…?

HIKIKO?

Pulling away from him, his sister gave a smile as she wiped her tears, "It doesn't matter anymore. As long as you're with me, everything is going to be okay."

OMORI stared at her, completely dumbstruck.

She's HIKIKO?

Suddenly, it all clicked in his mind.

Everything started to make sense to him now.

The reason why he woke up in a world where his sister was still alive.

The reason why he didn't die.

The reason why everything had been so confusing to him up until now.

The universe wasn't rewarding him or giving him a second chance in life. The universe wasn't giving him his sister back after suffering for four years without her.

This was the universe's way of punishing him.

This was the last job he had to do before he could find the peace he was looking for.

This was his redemption.

His final job before passing on to the afterlife was to help this other MARI face the truth and find the strength to forgive herself.

His final job was to help her do what he couldn't do for himself.

This version of his sister was exactly like him. In almost every sense imaginable.

OMORI has to stop her from going down the same path he did before it was too late.

Finally, it all made sense to him.

For the first time in a long while, OMORI felt himself smile.

Oh yeah, it's all coming together.

Chapter Text

"Gentlemen and lady! Are you ready?" AUBREY asked loudly, a pirate captain hat and eyepatch decorating her head.

"AYE AYE!" Everyone else minus one cheered back.

"In that case!" With a proud smile, AUBREY pointed her softball bat like an arrow as she stood at the bow of the sailboat, "Set sail towards the legendary island of COCKAIGNE! Full speed ahead!"

HERO hoisted the sails on her command, giving a gruff, "Argh, Captain! Full mast deployed!"

The sail of the small boat they procured immediately picked up wind as the boat began sailing out to the vast ocean. Despite the heavy wind giving them incredible speed, it felt more like a gentle breeze on HIKIKO's skin.

The legend of COCKAIGNE island. A mysterious and far-off paradise located in the middle of unknown waters. Never been marked on a map before, never been seen before. They say that the island was a utopia for children, where all who go there can rest their weary heads as all their needs and pleasures were taken care of.

Those who go there will never have a need to worry about parent's expectations regarding schools or responsibilities ever again. The magic of the island would grant you unlimited energy, letting you play outside for as much as you wanted without getting tired. The trees grew unlimited amounts of sweets and pastries like candy, cake, pie, anything else you could imagine, and you could eat as many as you wanted without worrying about getting fat!

A children's paradise world where they could do whatever they wanted without worrying about the consequences.

Obviously, it was just a silly little story that HIKIKO decided to tell during story time with the others. It was something she had read a book about and thought it might be fun to share.

To think that AUBREY would get so gung-ho about wanting to try to find the island herself was something HIKIKO did not foresee.

Despite trying to convince the girl that it was only just a story, AUBREY insisted that they grab a boat and set sail as soon as they could so that they could be the first adventurers to find on this mythical paradise island.

After lots of pleading and begging, the entire party eventually relented and decided to go see if it was real or not.

HERO thought it would be quicker to convince AUBREY by letting her go see it for herself and sate her curiosity. Reassuring HIKIKO that it'd be safe as long as everyone was under her and HERO's supervision, they went ahead and built a sailboat just for this occasion.

KEL went along with it from the start, wanting to make the adventure pirate-themed since it involved traveling by boat.

Since everyone else agreed with AUBREY's plan, BASIL insisted that AUBREY be the leader for this adventure, much to KEL's dismay.

And thus, that was how they got to where they were. In the middle of the ocean, searching for a possibly non-existent island.

"Janitor KEL! Keep swabbing the poop deck!" AUBREY commanded smugly, "I don't want to see you stop until it's shiny enough to see my face in it!"

KEL groaned as he got stuck with janitor duty, swabbing away with his boat, "Man, how come I always get stuck with chores whenever AUBREY becomes the leader?"

"Maybe it's because you always make her do chores whenever you're the leader?" HERO offered playfully.

"Oh yeaaah…" KEL hissed, cursed by his hubris.

"LESS TALKING, MORE SWABBING!" AUBREY commanded loudly.

KEL began grumbling to himself as he got back to work, "I'll show you… Next time I'm the leader, I'll make you clean something super gross, you lousy little razzlefrazzledazzle..."

Satisfied with his obedience, AUBREY looked up at the top of the boat where BASIL was keeping watch with a telescope, "How's the navigating, Navigator BASIL?"

BASIL did a quick sweep around before putting his telescope away and cheerfully shouted back, "I have no idea what I'm doing!"

AUBREY gave a thumbs up, "Keep up the good work!"

"Okay!" BASIL gave a thumbs-up back, before resuming his… telescoping duties, or whatever.

"Boatmaster HERO, make sure the boat is in perfect condition at all times!" AUBREY called out to HERO.

With a serious expression and gruff voice, HERO played along, "Argh, Captain AUBREY! You're the boss!"

Turning to HIKIKO on the sidelines, AUBREY commanded her, "Quartermaster HIKIKO! If anything goes wrong, you report directly to me or the First Mate!"

"Aye aye, Captain." HIKIKO giggled as she saluted.

With everything done and accounted for, Pirate Captain AUBREY gave a proud nod to herself before swooning all the way over to the wall where SUNNY was standing.

Leaning on his shoulder, AUBREY blushed as she snuggled up to him, "And if anything does go wrong, I can rely on you to protect me! Isn't that right, First Mate SUNNY?"

Unbothered by the intimate contact, the stoic boy simply shrugged, "Aye aye."

Seeing this from afar, HIKIKO gave a small frown as she regarded her little brother with a curious glance.

Usually, he'd be blushing red up to his ears whenever AUBREY was flirting with him. Instead, he seemed unnaturally calm despite having his crush be up in his face.

Even though SUNNY was usually the least expressive person in the group, it didn't mean that he was completely emotionless. HIKIKO knew that SUNNY was the type that could get easily embarrassed in the right situation. It was why she loved teasing him so much, just so that she could get a cute reaction out of him.

HIKIKO noticed lately ever since they found him by the beach that there was something… different about her little brother.

What was different, she wasn't quite sure. He looked the same and acted how he always does, but there was something in his eyes that always made her feel like he was… studying something.

Normally he would be the type to be forgetful or get lost in his own thoughts… Recently though, HIKIKO would catch SUNNY staring at all sorts of things as if he was trying to dissect it in his mind. He was uncharacteristically more attentive and watchful than he'd ever been before.

And when he did get lost in his own thoughts, he looked so serious and intense about whatever he was thinking about… Nothing like the usual carefree head in the clouds that she was so used to seeing.

She wasn't sure exactly what it meant… It wasn't a bad thing, persay… It was just something she noted was different.

Hopefully, her little brother was alright… If he had anything troubling him, he should know that he could rely on HIKIKO to help him through it…

"Something wrong, HIKIKO?" HERO asked curiously as he tapped her side, "You've been staring at SUNNY for a while."

"Oh, uh-" Embarrassed to have been caught off guard, HIKIKO fumbled before assuring him, "No, nothing's wrong. I was just making sure SUNNY was alright."

With an understanding smile, HERO calmly reached out to her shoulder, "Hey, it's completely fine. No matter what happens, SUNNY will be safe with us. You can count on that."

That wasn't exactly what she was worried about, but the comforting reassurance from HERO still helped calm her down a bit. HIKIKO nodded gratefully, "Of course. You're right. Thanks, HERO."

HERO smiled back before doing his rounds to make sure the boat was still in top peak condition.

HIKIKO turned back to SUNNY just in time to catch him staring at her with an inquisitive glance before he quickly looked away and pretended that he was staring at something else.

Maybe she should have a talk with him later to see what was on his mind. He always had that bad habit of bottling up his emotions for other people's sake.

HIKIKO was starting to get just a little bit worried.


They've been traveling for a decent while now.

OMORI stood by AUBREY's side as he watched the girl remain enthusiastic as ever while she performed her captain duties.

So far, his First Mate duties had remained unclear. All he ever did was just stick by AUBREY close enough for her to snuggle up against whenever she felt like it. He felt more like a personal pet than an actual First Mate.

After spending a decent amount of time in HIKIKO's HEADSPACE, he noted that there was very little difference between how she imagined their old friend group compared to how he would. They all seem similar enough to be nearly identical. If he had woken up here without any forewarning knowledge, he would have genuinely thought that this HEADSPACE was still his.

AUBREY was still as girly and flirty towards him as ever, OMORI was already used to that.

KEL and AUBREY still got into fights, just as OMORI expected.

HERO was still the reliable older brother that constantly mediates conflict within the group and was in love with HIKIKO. Whatever bad blood MARI had with HERO in this reality, it didn't seem to affect their relationship in her HEADSPACE. Perhaps that meant something that he'll need to figure out later…

BASIL acted completely the same, if not just a bit more affectionate towards him than normal. The only other difference he could notice between OMORI's BASIL and HIKIKO's was the fact that this BASIL's hair was completely blue instead of green. He wasn't sure if that meant anything yet. Probably just different preferences in color, most likely...

There were certainly some more noticeable differences outside of that, however.

The world itself was unrecognizable. It was just as colorful and beautiful as the HEADSPACE that he used to have, for sure. But the entire layout and location was completely different than his own. He'll need to stick close to HIKIKO and her friends when traveling, otherwise he might get lost.

He never figured MARI to be someone with an active imagination like him, though… The fact that her HEADSPACE was filled in with so much detail and creativity made him wonder about her mental state…

Another difference that he was able to note was how much more reserved HIKIKO was compared to how he remembered MARI back then. She seemed much more quiet and inactive for the most part, rarely getting in the way or joining the conversation unless directly asked to. In fact, even right now, she was doing absolutely nothing but sitting on the sidelines as she waited for something to happen.

That's not usually like her… The big sister that he knew was always the type to get involved with stuff and actively encouraged others so that nobody would be left out…

He knew that the MARI in this new reality was going through issues, most likely due to blaming herself for what caused his apparent coma, but the fact that she couldn't even imagine herself acting normally even as HIKIKO was… a bit sad.

Sigh…

He really has his work cut out for him, huh?

How in the world was he going to go about this? He had no idea where to even begin to try to help MARI face the truth and get her to forgive herself…

He knew he had to start somewhere… Despite the advantage of knowing that she thought it was her fault over what happened the night of the recital, he didn't really know how to approach it…

The last time someone in his HEADSPACE tried to directly get him to acknowledge the truth, he sent them to BLACK SPACE and stabbed their guts out.

He… probably shouldn't go down that route...

Although OMORI had no doubts that HIKIKO deeply cared for her little brother, he wasn't going to take that chance of finding out whether or not she's willing to murder him just to keep the truth hidden away.

If OMORI was willing to kill his own best friend over and over again, who's to say HIKIKO didn't have it in her?

Maybe as a last resort if things don't work out? If nothing else, he was willing to spend the next four years being killed repeatedly in her mind if it meant eventually waking her up to the truth. Might be good karma, make up for what he put his imaginary BASIL through. Just have to deal with the forgiving herself part, which was admittedly going to be the hardest part...

...

With that being said… What truth was exactly being hidden away here?

In this reality, it didn't seem like she was repressing the truth about what happened during the night of the recital. In fact, she seemed to remember what happened pretty clearly, blaming herself for apparently grabbing his hand and pulling him down with her as she fell.

If only something like that actually did happen in his world... He would have preferred having a guilty sister over a dead one, even if it meant costing him his own life...

Back when he was suppressing the truth about MARI's murder, he had entirely convinced himself outside of HEADSPACE that she actually did hang herself. But on a conceptual level, SUNNY still knew that it was his fault somehow for her death, blaming himself as the reason MARI died. He just didn't want to remember how directly involved his fault was at the time.

If HIKIKO was suppressing the truth about what happened, shouldn't MARI be in the same situation outside of HEADSPACE? Why didn't she convince herself that it was an accident and that her little brother somehow fell down the stairs by himself? Even deluding herself into thinking it was her fault for not being there to save him would be enough. Why still directly acknowledge what happened?

Unless… That wasn't the truth that she was suppressing at all.

If she wasn't trying to forget about the stair incident during the night of the recital, then what? What else could she possibly be repressing about?

That day was the day his life was ruined and the person most precious to him was taken away. It devastated him to the point of nearly losing his mind. He imagined that MARI had to feel the same way in this other reality…

If that wasn't the truth she was trying to suppress, then OMORI honestly couldn't think of anything else that she'd be hiding from herself.

Sigh, this was frustrating. The universe really did pick out the perfect punishment for him, huh? Who said punishment was going to come easy?

It took him a bit to realize that AUBREY was staring at him while he was busy lost in his thoughts.

Shaking his head clear, he looked up to AUBREY and asked, "Yes?"

She gave a cutesy smile, "I like it whenever you stare off into space sometimes. It gives me an excuse to admire your face for as long as I want!"

OMORI awkwardly scratched his neck, "Okay…?"

AUBREY was still as flirtatious towards him as ever. Sometimes OMORI has to reel back a bit whenever she becomes this direct with him about her feelings.

Actually… Now that he thought about it again, why was the AUBREY in HIKIKO's HEADSPACE flirting with him?

If he remembered correctly… In his HEADSPACE, he had imagined his AUBREY to have romantic feelings for him because SUNNY secretly had a crush on her ever since they became friends. He had wanted his feelings for her to be validated, but also kept things one-sided because he didn't want their relationship to change that drastically from the norm.

HIKIKO would have no reason to do that for him since this was her HEADSPACE.

Unless…?

"Wow, you seriously went back to being distracted again even after you just noticed me?" AUBREY pouted, "How rude…"

Shaking his head clear again, he muttered embarrassingly, "S-Sorry about that. Didn't mean to."

Bad habits die hard.

AUBREY giggled at his reaction, "It's fine. I was going to keep staring at you until you noticed me again, so I wouldn't have minded."

"Was there something you needed, Captain AUBREY?" OMORI asked, still keeping with the pirate motif of this adventure.

Pointing over towards his sister, who was looking uncomfortable with herself as she stared off to the sea, AUBREY told him, "Quartermaster HIKIKO looks like she's being moody again. She always gets like this whenever I keep you to myself for too long." Nudging him towards her, AUBREY commanded, "You should go keep her entertained so that she doesn't get lonely."

"Oh." OMORI hummed as he looked over to HIKIKO. It does seem like she's being antsy about something. "Alright."

"I'll call you if I need anything, First Mate SUNNY!" AUBREY cheerfully reassured him.

OMORI nodded before stepping over to go be next to his sister.

When HIKIKO noticed him approaching, her mood seemed to shift over from uncomfortable to happy in an instant. Smiling brightly, she greeted, "SUNNY! Did you need something?"

OMORI shook his head, "AUBREY noticed you were lonely."

"And you came by to keep me company?" HIKIKO giggled at this before bringing a hand around his shoulder and pulling him close, "Aw~! You're so considerate!"

HIKIKO continued staring out into the ocean, but this time with a content smile as she wrapped herself around him and laid her head on top of his.

It definitely seems like she's starved for close contact, OMORI noted idly. He could sympathize with her. It always felt nice to have MARI in his HEADSPACE stay close to him when he felt like he needed her.

In fact… it felt really calming and comfortable now, feeling the warmth of his sister hugging against his body again… Probably for the first time in years…

Unlike outside of HEADSPACE, where his body was too numb to feel anything… In here, he could feel and touch everything again. Her steady breathing behind his back. Her warm arms wrapped around his stomach. Her tender and loving hug...

He didn't deserve to feel this content, being by her side… To enjoy the comfort provided by the sister he murdered…

He wished the universe would stop dangling the unattainable fruit of his sister's love right in front of his face while he was on this mission to get her to face the truth and forgive herself. It was painful to be reminded of what he lost and could never get back…

The sooner OMORI helps this reality's MARI, the sooner he could finally die in peace.

All that torture and suffering will finally be worth something in the end…

"Hey, SUNNY?" His sister called out softly.

"Yeah, MA- … Ahem." He cleared his throat just in time to catch his mistake, "HIKIKO?"

"Is something bothering you?" HIKIKO asked, looking down on him with concern.

"What makes you say that?" OMORI looked up at her curiously.

"You've been… acting a bit weird ever since we found you at the beach." HIKIKO pointed out, "You aren't your usual self."

Was that so?

Hm… That's frustrating. He was doing his best to act as naturally as possible. In fact, he hasn't been acting all that different from how he usually acts. He hoped that would have been fine, but...

Was the SUNNY from her HEADSPACE a bit different? If so, how does HIKIKO usually imagine him being?

"I… I guess I just have a lot of things on my mind." OMORI said evasively. Hopefully, that would be a believable excuse.

"Oh? Like what?" HIKIKO asked curiously, before smiling encouragingly, "You know that you don't have to deal with it by yourself. You can rely on me! I'm always willing to help! All it costs is your love!"

OMORI stared at her a bit.

She always does say that a lot in order to get him to open up about his feelings…

Sorry, MARI… Not this time.

"Thanks, sis. I'm fine for now, but I'll call you if it ever gets too serious." OMORI reassured her with a soft smile.

This seemed to placate her for now, as she happily hugged him tighter and continued staring out into sea.

Meanwhile for him, he still had a lot of food for thought…

They stayed close like this for a while, enjoying the beautiful scenery in front of them.


"Uh… The ocean is pink."

OMORI opened his eyes, waking up from the nap as he saw KEL staring at the sea from the side of the boat. He pulled himself up from HIKIKO's embrace on him as she slowly began to wake up as well.

AUBREY tiredly pulled her captain's hat up to uncover her eyes, blinking as she just woke up from her nap as well. Tiredly, she asked, "What? What do you mean the ocean is pink?"

KEL turned to her and pointed out to the sea, "I mean that the entire ocean is the color pink."

The three of them got up from their spot as they all walked over to where KEL was standing, only to look out to the entire ocean in shock.

Yes, it was indeed pink, just as KEL adequately described.

"What in the…?" AUBREY muttered in confusion, "Why is the ocean suddenly pink?"

"Oh, hey guys! Did you all sleep well?" BASIL called out from above.

They all turned to look up at BASIL as he cheerfully waved at them.

"BASIL, were you awake this entire time?" AUBREY asked loudly, causing HERO to wake up in the background.

BASIL nodded, "Yeah! Did you guys notice that the ocean is pink now? It's really neat! It happened a few minutes ago while I was keeping lookout!"

"BASIL, why didn't you wake us up to tell us what was going on?" AUBREY frowned.

HERO rubbed his eyes clear as he came up to the group with a yawn, "Hey guys, what's going on~? Is something wro- HOLY CRAP, the entire ocean is pink!" HERO jolted at the sight of the scene.

BASIL gave an apologetic smile, "I'm sorry! I wanted to tell you guys earlier, but you all looked so peaceful… I didn't want to disturb any of you…"

AUBREY gave a disappointed sigh before shaking her head as she smiled weakly at her innocent friend, "It's fine… Keep up the good work, Navigator BASIL."

"Aye aye, Captain!" BASIL cheered in high spirits before resuming his duties.

"So," KEL began curiously, "the ocean is now pink. Wonder what that means?"

HERO leaned over the side and looked at his reflection in the water, "I guess it means we traveled a bit too far from home." Looking up to face HIKIKO, he asked, "You think we should turn back?"

HIKIKO nodded at this, "Probably. It's not safe to be out this far."

AUBREY pouted at this, "Turn back? Already?! But we only just got started on our adventure! We haven't even found the mysterious island of COCKAIGNE yet!"

HIKIKO went over to calm her down by rubbing the small captain's back, "Oh, AUBREY… I know how excited you were to find it, but we're not even sure if it's real in the first place. It was only a story I read about, after all…"

"Aw…" AUBREY groaned disappointedly, "And we built this entire boat and came all this way out too… I was really looking forward to eating the magical cakes and stuff…"

"I can always just bake you a cake back at home, AUBREY." HERO offered as consolidation.

"Yeah, but those cakes make me faaaaaat…" AUBREY whined.

"Sweets that don't make you fat are sweets that are too good to be true, AUBREY." HIKIKO imparted to the young girl with an apologetic smile.

While this was going on, OMORI noticed that KEL seemingly went missing while he wasn't paying attention.

Looking around for the boy, KEL suddenly returned from inside the boat while holding a cooking ladle.

OMORI didn't say anything, even as KEL brought the ladle with him as he went to the side of the ship.

"I'm gonna see what it tastes like." KEL announced, bearing the same stupid grin he always had when he was about to do something really dumb.

Before anyone could stop him, KEL had already reached into the water to fill the ladle before bringing it up to his lips.

AUBREY grimaced as she watched KEL drink the seawater, "KEL, ew! Why would you decide to do that?! You are so gross!"

HERO furrowed his brows as he began chastising his little brother, "KEL, you shouldn't be drinking seawater! That's not healthy, the ocean is full of salt and bacteria- You could get sick!"

KEL, however, completely ignored the two of them as he blinked in shock from the taste of the ocean's water. Smacking his lips a couple of times, he announced neutrally to everyone, "It's strawberry."

"What." AUBREY said in a flat tone.

"Strawberry? What do you mean?" HERO asked confusedly.

"The water tastes exactly like strawberry juice." KEL repeated before finishing the entire ladle with a satisfied smile, "It tastes really good, actually!"

"KEL, stop lying. You're being weird." AUBREY accused with an irritated look.

KEL got offended at this as he defended himself, "I'm serious! Just taste it for yourself, I'm not lying!"

Scooping up another ladle full of pink seawater, he brought it up to hand it over to AUBREY.

AUBREY looked at the ladle dubiously, even as she grabbed the ladle out of KEL's hand. With a bit of hesitation, she decided to bring a little bit of the water up to her lips and gave it a small taste.

Smacking her lips for a bit, her eyes widened in shock before she decided to give it another taste. Then she suddenly poured the entire thing into her mouth and gulped it down.

"Oh my god, this tastes amazing!" AUBREY smiled as she slurped her lips in satisfaction.

"Told you." KEL gave a cheeky smile.

Walking over to OMORI's side and scooping up another batch from the pink ocean, she brought the ladle up to OMORI's face. "SUNNY, you have to drink this! It's delicious!"

OMORI raised a skeptical eyebrow at the ladle, before shrugging as he let AUBREY give him a sip. Not like it was going to hurt him or anything.

Mmm…! Fruity.

He gave a thumbs-up, internally rating the drink as eight out of ten in his mind.

AUBREY beamed up with excitement as she scooped up another batch and handed it to HERO and HIKIKO with an expectant look.

After HERO and HIKIKO took their turns drinking the seawater, they too were pleasantly surprised by the strawberry taste.

"An entire ocean made out of strawberry juice?" HIKIKO muttered curiously as she smacked her lips in thought, "What could it mean?"

"What else could it mean?!" AUBREY gushed excitedly, "Think about it guys! An ocean that tastes like strawberry juice?! Doesn't that mean we might be close to the legendary island of COCKAIGNE?!"

"I think she might be right…" HERO hummed in thought, looking out into the ocean with inquisitive eyes, "I never heard of a STRAWBERRY OCEAN before. Maybe the stories about that island were true after all?"

"Right?! RIGHT?!" AUBREY bounced excitedly, "So that means we gotta keep moving forward! We just gotta! Can't we?! Can't we?!"

HERO looked over at HIKIKO and shrugged, "It's your call, HIKIKO. I'm following your lead on this one."

KEL chipped in his two cents, "I think we should keep going too! If there's an ocean made out of strawberry flavor, then that means there's gotta be one made out of chocolate or vanilla too! Or even one made out of ORANGE JOE!"

"Eww!" AUBREY shuddered at the thought, "I hope not… Only you would drink that disgusting stuff, KEL."

"Hey, ORANGE JOE tastes good! You just don't have the refined taste to appreciate it!" KEL grunted.

AUBREY turned to him with an annoyed, "Excuse you, I have plenty of refined taste! You're the one here that likes drinking caffeinated soda like some hyped-up sociopath!"

HERO pulled them apart by the scruff of their shirts as he tiredly admonished them, "Stop fighting already, you two. Don't you guys ever get tired of being at each other's throats all the time?"

Both KEL and AUBREY harrumphed at each other as they turned in opposite directions.

HIKIKO looked out at the ocean with considerable thought, wondering what to do. OMORI stood by her side as he waited for her judgment.

Looking over to him, she asked, "What do you think, SUNNY? Do you want to turn back or keep going?"

OMORI raised an eyebrow, wondering why she needed to ask him for his input. It wasn't like this was his adventure after all, since this was all entirely in HIKIKO's mind.

He nonchalantly shrugged, "I don't mind either way."

All he's really here for was to try to find a way to get her to face the truth. Maybe this island might be where she kept the truth hidden or something, assuming that her HEADSPACE worked on the same rules as his own.

HIKIKO hummed in thought, before saying, "I guess if no one objects, we could keep going then."

"YES!" AUBREY cheered, "Then as captain of this ship, I decree we keep going full speed ahead until we reach COCKAIGNE island!"

At least, that was supposed to be the plan.

Everything got interrupted all of a sudden when the entire world started rumbling and shaking.

The boat they were on was rocking back and forth, causing everyone to stumble and scream in shock.

"Everyone grab onto something!" HERO commanded, holding onto KEL as he wrapped an arm around a part of the boat.

AUBREY and OMORI latched on to HIKIKO as she did the same, keeping the two of them close to her chest.

Up above, BASIL had no idea what was going on as he panicked and hugged the railing tightly for dear life.

While this was going on, something huge had arisen from the STRAWBERRY OCEAN. A big giant mysterious object, poking through the ocean surface as it caused waves to ripple around it's location. Waves huge enough to nearly cover the boat itself.

Eventually, the waves calmed down and the shaking stopped. The boat slowly steadied itself as everyone regained their footing.

The mysteriously huge creature revealed itself to be a giant robot mecha holding a trident in its hand. He easily towered above the group five times over, intimidatingly staring down at them with its glowing yellow eye visors.

OMORI blinked a bit as he actually recognized this thing.

It looked exactly like that one action figure that KEL owned, decorating one of the shelves in his house. The reason why OMORI easily recognized it was because it was a toy he remembered buying together with MARI back during KEL's twelfth birthday as a gift.

OMORI gave a quick glance over at HIKIKO as she looked up at the action figure in shock and awe.

So, even she has a habit of making up characters inspired by the stuff in real life.

OMORI couldn't help but feel that this was a bit… excessive? Was that the right word here?

Well, it's not like he was any better in that regard… Sort of reminded him of PLUTO in his EXPANDED form.

After everything calmed down, BASIL began shouting down a warning at them in a panicked tone, "GUYS! There's a giant robot standing right in front of the boat!"

"Y-Yeah, we kinda figured that out already, BASIL." HERO shouted back obviously.

"Okay… Just wanted to let you guys know!" BASIL replied nervously.

"Who dares defile these sacred waters?" The giant toy mecha spoke in an ominous voice, "State your intentions, interlopers!"

Well, that was definitely not a welcoming greeting…

OMORI hesitantly placed his hand over to where he kept his steak knife hidden, preparing to use it if the situation calls for it. He was doing his best to keep the knife a secret from HIKIKO, but if push comes to shove, he might need to use it to protect her if necessary.

In any other normal situation, he was sure that a measly little steak knife couldn't possibly do anything to a being of this size. However, this wasn't the first time he fought a giant being before.

If he could take down PLUTO (EXPANDED) with his friends back in his HEADSPACE, he should be able to deal with something like this as well. Probably. Hopefully.

Maybe.

"Er… Um…" AUBREY nervously quivered in place, intimidated by the size of this giant potential foe. She slowly stepped back a bit while reaching out to HERO, whispering, "HERO, tag in for me? I don't want to be the leader anymore…"

HERO nodded understandably and slapped her hand, switching places with the young girl as he stepped up to plate.

Clearing his throat, he did his best to calm his nerves as he spoke loudly to the mecha, "Dear giant sea robot! We come in peace!"

Meanwhile, HIKIKO gathered the younger kids behind her as she stepped protectively in front of them with her arms out, "If anything happens, get ready to run. Got it?"

"Run where? We're in the middle of the ocean!" KEL whispered back.

HIKIKO hissed frustratingly to herself, "Right. Shoot."

"We could all probably just jump into the water, but…" AUBREY gave a worried glance over to OMORI, "SUNNY's afraid of drowning, isn't he…?"

OMORI awkwardly looked away.

Actually, he got over his phobia of drowning a while back when he needed to travel the ocean to find all of his friends in the LAST RESORT.

Not like he could just blurt that out though...

"Right… Don't worry, I can probably think of a way out of this." HIKIKO reassured them.

The giant mecha leaned forward as it peered down at them closely with a discerning eye, "State your identity."

HERO was doing his best to not let his fear show as he introduced them, "M-My name is HERO. These are my friends. AUBREY, KEL, SUNNY, HIKIKO, and the one on top is BASIL." With a gulp, he attempted a charming smile as he asked, "Can we know your name?"

"I am PROTEUS! Guardian of the fragarian sea, and loyal servant of her highness!" The mecha announced, raising his trident in the air triumphantly before pointing it down on them, "Why have you intruded on these waters, interlopers?"

Ah, PROTEUS. That was its name. $59.99 in stores, has the ability to glow in the dark when submerged in water and squirted it out of its mouth like a water gun.

Oh god, please don't tell him that something of this size could shoot water beams out of its mouth. Surely, his sister was not that inspired by the toy, was she?

HERO held his hands in a calming gesture, "We're just a bunch of kids going on an adventure, Mr. PROTEUS, sir! We didn't mean to disturb or intrude your home or anything like that!"

"Yeah, we're just trying to find the legendary island of COCKAIGNE!" KEL decided to add for some inane reason.

OMORI turned to give an incredulous glare at the boy, already predicting what was about to come next.

KEL seemed put off by the angry look OMORI was giving him, "W-What? Was I not supposed to mention that?"

"COCKAIGNE…?" The giant toy mecha repeated slowly before his eye-visors shifted the glow from yellow to a menacing red. Shifting to an attack stance, it screamed, "INVADERS! You are invaders of her highness! Your crime shall not go unpunished!"

Oh wow, who didn't see that coming?

"KEL, why didn't you keep your mouth shut!" AUBREY shouted angrily at the boy, "Now it's going to attack us!"

"Oops." KEL mumbled, sweating in fear.

"Guys?! It's doing something with its mouth!" BASIL shouted down at them, frantically pointing at the robot as its mouth began glowing up with a bright energy.

OH WOW, WHO DIDN'T SEE THAT COMING.

Dammit, MARI! Why did you have to imagine a giant toy robot?!

OMORI took a deep breath, pushing his frustration and anger aside as he kept it to himself.

Running up to HERO and grabbing his pajamas to get his attention, OMORI stated seriously, "We need to steer the boat away. Now!"

HERO seemed a bit surprised to find him shouting commands, but nodded back as he prepared to hoist the sails up again. "Someone take the wheel and steer the boat!"

HIKIKO jumped into action immediately, grabbing the steering wheel and turning it one hundred and eighty degrees.

The wind picked up at the best opportune moment, pushing the sails as the boat began turning around. They were already on a course to run away from the giant guardian robot as soon as possible.

However, it seemed to be a fruitless endeavor.

PROTEUS fired its water laser beam near the ship, the explosive force disturbing the waters as it caused giant waves to form and carried the boat with it.

Despite their best attempts to regain control, it was only a small sailboat after all.

A particularly nasty wave formed right beside them, and everyone knew that it was going to submerged the entire boat.

"BRACE!" HERO shouted.

OMORI instinctively closed his eyes and held his breath as he felt the waters push him off the boat.

For the next few seconds, he felt absolutely weightless.

He could feel his body shifting and turning, tumbling all around with absolutely no regard for his safety.

It was like the world was spinning out of control, the ocean covering his entire body.

His eyes remained shut and he kept holding his breath, waiting for it to eventually be over.

When he felt his body stop spinning, he opened his eyes.

In front of him, all he could see was darkness. Like an endless abyss was staring back at him.

It reminded him of BLACK SPACE, in a way.

Thank goodness he got over his fear of drowning. Otherwise, he wasn't sure if he could have stopped himself from freaking out right now.

Shaking himself out of it, he shifted around to look upwards and was able to see five shadowy figures right on top of him as they floated in the middle of the pink ocean waters.

There they are. Time to put his swimming skills to use again.

OMORI kept holding his breath as he began pushing himself up to the surface, paddling his feet as he swam.

But then he felt one of his feet get caught by something, before he was suddenly pulled back down even further.

Looking down to see what was pulling him down, his eyes bugged out when he saw what was below him.

OMORI felt his heart start beating rapidly, his instincts telling him to panic.

Three eyes.

The dark abyss below stared back at him with three giant eyes. Two left ones, one right.

An oversized malicious grin formed right underneath them. Like an eldritch abomination awakening under the deep ocean.

Okay, nope, nevermind- He's freaking out- HE'S FREAKING OUT-

OMORI struggled to pull away from the dark tendril wrapped around his feet, even as he desperately tried to unwrap it with his hands.

When that didn't work, his second instinct was to pull his steak knife out and begin slashing away at the tendril in the hopes of cutting himself free. This managed to work, as the dark tendril began bleeding out and loosened its grip.

Unfortunately, several more tendrils shot out from the abyss below and wrapped themselves to cover each of his limbs soon after.

OMORI pulled and pushed as best he could, struggling to get himself out of this horrifying predicament even as he stabbed and slashed at the dark tendrils surrounding him.

The dark tendrils seemed to have a mind of its own, latching on to his wrist and twisting it back painfully. OMORI muffled in pain as he lost grip of his knife.

His only weapon began floating away from his grasp, and he was powerless to go after it as he was pulled further into its depths.

The air escaped his lungs, making him struggle to breath.

OMORI became AFRAID.

This has never happened before. He's never lost control over a situation like this. Even when everything started stressing him out, OMORI would always instinctively shut down his mind and force himself to go back to WHITE SPACE before anything could go wrong. His safe haven, where nothing ever went wrong.

He doesn't have WHITE SPACE anymore, does he?

This wasn't his dream. This wasn't his reality. This wasn't his imagination.

He wondered if he could actually die like this?

What a horrifying way to go.

...

He… He could feel his consciousness slipping away…

The pink light from the ocean surface was starting to darken as his eyes struggled to keep itself open.

Well… he could imagine a worse way to die… Wasn't how he preferred to go out, but if that's how the cookie crumbles…

Maybe he wasn't cut out to save his sister after all. After all, he was completely worthless.

All he ever did was be a burden to other people anyway. Nothing he did ever mattered. He just made things worse.

If he couldn't even save himself, how was he supposed to help save his sister? He couldn't even stop himself from murdering her the first time around...

Sorry MARI… Your little brother failed you again before he could even get started.

Worthless…

Worthless…

...worthless…

He felt someone grabbing onto his hand.

Opening his eyes, he saw HIKIKO right above him with a look of relief.

The dark tendrils that covered his body seemed to vanish without him ever noticing.

This scene was… surprisingly familiar.

He felt like he'd seen this before. A long time ago…

This wasn't the first time his sister saved him from drowning, was it?

HIKIKO pulled him closer to her before hugging him tightly.

"I got you! I got you, SUNNY!" He could hear her whisper, "I won't let you go…! I won't ever let you go…"

He couldn't find the energy left within him to respond, already on his way to slipping unconscious.

"I won't let you go… I won't let you go… I won't let you go…" HIKIKO repeated over and over, hugging him close to her body like a lifeline.

This was… so frustrating.

Always relying on his sister for everything...

Why couldn't he ever do anything right by himself?


HIKIKO found herself walking down a long hallway.

She didn't exactly know where she was or what she was doing. She didn't even remember how she got here in the first place…

All she knew was that she needed to find a way out of this hallway. Her little brother and her friends were waiting for her outside. They were supposed to be doing something important…

God, why was this hallway so dark? She could barely see anything in front of her beyond a few feet.

She kept her hand close to the walls, making sure not to get herself lost somehow.

Dammit, where was she?

How long had she been here? It felt like she'd been stuck walking down this hallway for hours now.

When will this ever end?

Suddenly, she was startled as she heard a noise skittering behind her.

Quickly turning around, she backed herself to the wall as she tried to find what made the noise.

But it was so dark, she couldn't see a thing. All she could do was stay frozen as she cautiously looked around, keeping her back against the wall.

HIKIKO shifted uncomfortably, wondering if the noise was just her imagination…

When the skittering didn't happen again, she hesitantly pulled herself away and resumed walking down the hall again.

She needed to calm down and breathe. Letting her nerves get the better of her was not going to help her in this situation. She had to find a way out of here as soon as possible…

It took a while before she eventually found a door appearing in her sight. Hopeful that it was an exit, she quickly got up to it as she entered inside.

Instead of an exit, however, she found a room.

A dining room, to be precise... A familiar dining room, as three figures sat at the dining table while in the middle of a conversation.

HIKIKO furrowed her brows as she stepped closer, "Hello?"

Out of the three figures in the room, two of them were a blurry mess. It felt like trying to see through the static of a tv screen.

Only one figure, she could properly make out clearly. A young girl, with long dark hair.

HIKIKO realized that she knew this girl.

"MARI…" One of the blurry figures sitting across from the girl started off, an older woman's voice, "Your father and I have been discussing this for a while… We've decided that we should all move to a different town."

"...what…?" The girl muttered in shock as she dropped her fork on the floor.

"We think it'll do the family some good. Get away from the memories of this place." An older man's voice spoke next, agreeing with his partner.

"It'll be a new fresh start for us. A new beginning." The older woman explained, sounding almost hopeful.

For some reason, HIKIKO felt sick to her stomach as she listened to this conversation.

She really didn't want to be here…

The younger girl stood up from her chair, "You want us to move?! Why?! What in the world made you even consider doing that?!"

"MARI, please! Calm down and try to understand your mother-"

The young girl slammed her hands down at the table, "This is where we live! This is our home! This is SUNNY's home! What about SUNNY?! How do you think SUNNY would feel if he woke up tomorrow and found out we all left him behind?!"

"MARI, I didn't say that! We're not doing this because we want to leave SUNNY!"

"Listen to your mother, sweetheart!"

HIKIKO really really really did not want to stay here.

But for some reason, she couldn't get her legs to move…

"MARI… Please… SUNNY's accident affected all of us, especially me! He was my only son, and I'm just so tired of being reminded of what happened when I stay here-"

The young girl shouted back, "What's going to happen to SUNNY if we move away?! How far are we moving?! How am I supposed to visit SUNNY anymore if we end up moving too far?!"

HIKIKO was starting to find it hard to breathe… She felt like there wasn't enough oxygen in the room…

"MARI… I'm just going to come out and say it…" The older woman sighed, "We're moving away so that we can move on from SUNNY… We're not going to keep visiting him anymore."

The young girl was stunned silent, slowly backing away from the table.

"Ever since the accident, all I could do was grieve and worry endlessly about him. But it's been a year now and he hasn't woken up since then. I know how hard it is for you to lose your little brother- GOD it hurts me too to admit it- But there's nothing we can do for him anymore. Constantly worrying about him isn't going to make him wake up any sooner."

"...if he ever wakes up at all…" The older man mumbled depressingly.

HIKIKO leaned back against the wall, feeling her lose her sense of balance.

She hated this…! She hated this so much!

"I just want us to move on together, as a family. I want us to live a normal healthy life again..."

The younger girl didn't stay to listen to another word. She was already running past HIKIKO as she left through the door.

"MARI! Wait!"

The moment the younger girl left the room, HIKIKO felt like she could breathe again. She was gasping heavily as she pulled herself up from the wall, regaining her balance.

The moment she found the ability to move again, she pulled out her jump rope and began attacking the two figures in front of her.

She didn't know why, but she felt like she wanted to do it.

Both figures vanished the moment her attack landed though, causing her to become immensely dissatisfied.

Shaking her head clear, she calmed herself down and pulled her jump rope back.

Looking around the room, she clicked her tongue when she realized that she couldn't find the exit here.

Knowing that there was nothing for her in this room, she left through the door she came in.

Instead of a dark hallway, however, she found herself in a completely different location entirely.

HIKIKO stumbled inside as she looked around in confusion. It looked like a hospital room.

In the middle was a bed where she saw her little brother was sleeping. A heartbeat monitor was steadily beeping right next to his head.

"SUNNY!" HIKIKO cried out in worry as she ran over to him.

Sitting right beside his bed, HIKIKO saw the figure of that same young girl again from before. The girl was holding onto SUNNY's hand as she looked down on him with a depressed frown.

HIKIKO came over to his other side before trying to shake him awake, "SUNNY! You have to wake up! We need to get out of here!"

SUNNY did not respond.

HIKIKO paused, hesitantly pulling herself away as she looked over him again.

"SUNNY?" HIKIKO called out softly.

SUNNY did not respond.

Just then, one of the two static figures from before gently entered the room. HIKIKO watched from afar as the figure sighed deeply before coming over to stand right beside the young girl.

"MARI…" The voice of the older woman called out to her, putting a hand over her shoulder, "Can we talk, sweetie?"

"What's there to talk about?" The girl replied emotionlessly, never once tearing her eyes away from SUNNY.

"I know how you feel… I miss him too. We all do." The woman sighed tiredly, "But we can't let our love for him consume us like this… Aren't you tired of living this way? Obsessing over him like this, every single day? We'll never be able to move on like this."

The girl didn't bother responding, ignoring the older woman as she held onto SUNNY's hand tighter.

The woman sighed again, "MARI, please be reasonable…"

The girl finally looked away from SUNNY for the first time as she stared at the woman, "You two can move if you want. But I'm going to stay here."

The woman shook his head disappointingly, "MARI, we can't let you do that. You're only sixteen."

"I don't care. I'm not leaving him."

With an aggravated sigh, the woman began raising his voice, "Think about how I feel for a moment! Do you know how much it breaks my heart to see you like this?!"

The girl tilted her head in confusion, "Why should I care about how you feel? You're the one abandoning your own son."

"That is not true, MARI! I'm doing this so that we could all heal together as a family!"

The girl stayed silent for the longest time as she stared blankly at her mother.

"Don't make us force you, young lady. It's already hard enough on me to have to do this, don't make it any harder than it has to be." The woman told her gently. "This is what SUNNY would want from us. To move on and try to live a normal life again."

The girl closed her eyes in thought, before opening them again to say, "If you take me from him, I'm going to kill myself."

The woman stood still, shocked silent.

HIKIKO felt a massive feeling of gratification coming from within her.

"What did you just say…?" The woman whispered slowly.

"When you least expect it. When you stop paying attention. I'm going to end my life. You'll lose both of your children, and it'll all be your fault." The girl explained emotionlessly.

"How… How dare you say that?! How could you threaten me with something like that?!" The older woman angrily shouted back indignantly, "How do you think SUNNY would feel if he heard you say something so cruel to your own mother?!"

The girl shook her head coldly as she turned back to face SUNNY again, "Stay, don't stay. Move, don't move. I don't care what you do. You're not my mother anymore from this day forward."

"Are you seriously going to test me, young lady?!"

The girl glared back with murderous eyes, "Are you?"

The older woman flinched back under her gaze, seeming almost terrified.

"Just try it." The girl goaded, "Do it. Use whatever power you have to force me. The only way you are getting me to leave is over my dead body."

"MARI… What happened to you? When did you become like this…?" The older woman began crying.

The girl didn't bother responding. She turned back to face SUNNY again as she held his hand.

HIKIKO knew that she'll never let go.

The older woman sprinted away from her as she left a trail of tears.

From that day onward, she never appeared in her life ever again.

When she knew that she was alone again, the girl's facade became completely cracked as she started crying as well.

She laid her face against SUNNY's lap, stressfully pulling her hair as tears streamed down her face, "Oh my god, what am I doing…?! What is wrong with me, why did I…? I just made my own mother cry…!" Looking up at SUNNY, she sobbed out, "SUNNY, I'm so sorry…! I'm so sorry I did that to her…! I'm so sorry!"

HIKIKO didn't understand why she was apologizing.

This was good. Her mother was going to force her to leave him. Threatening her was the only way to stay by his side.

She had to do it. She had to in order to be with him.

HIKIKO would have been willing to do far worse if it meant protecting her little brother.

Both SUNNY and the girl disappeared in front of her eyes.

HIKIKO blinked in confusion, before looking around.

She seriously needed to get out of here…

As she walked back to the door, a small object suddenly clattered onto the floor, gaining her notice.

Looking back, she saw another piano key somehow found its way here.

Turning around to pick it up, she examined the piano key in her hand curiously. What an odd place to end up finding it.

HIKIKO will need to be on the lookout for more of these while she tries to find a way out.

Pocketing the piano key away, she turned back to leave through the door.

Reaching out to the doorknob, she tried to turn it… Only for it to end up being locked…

"Seriously?" HIKIKO huffed in frustration.

She attempted again to try to open it, growing more and more forceful with each attempt.

When that didn't work, she tried to kick the door down, and even shoulder slammed into it.

The door refused to budge.

"Great, now what?" HIKIKO sighed.

This was honestly starting to get really annoying.

MARI?

HIKIKO felt SOMETHING whispering in her ear, causing her to freeze in terror.

MARI, can we please practice for the recital together?

HIKIKO had a cold chill running up her spine as she nervously gulped, knowing that there was SOMETHING behind her.

Please? I want to spend more time with you…

Don't turn around. Don't turn around. Whatever you do, just don't turn around.

You're always so busy… I never get to see you anymore.

HIKIKO turned around.

In the middle of the room, a three-eyed demon smiled at her.

The moment she made eye contact, it instantly crawled towards her faster than anything she has ever seen move.

She could barely let out a scream before it grabbed her throat-


OMORI's eye became wide open as he was startled awake.

Blinking for a bit, it took him a moment to realize that he was awake again, back in his room.

The sun was up, shining through the window. It was daytime.

He turned over to see MARI was still in his bed with him, still asleep while holding on to him tightly.

She had a serene look on her face, as if she was in a safe place in her dreams.

Safe.

Not in danger.

Not in the ocean.

Not in a dark hallway.

Safe.

What in the world did he just witness?

Was that… her BLACK SPACE?

Oh dear god, MARI was worse off than he thought.

Chapter Text

8:52 AM

KEL woke up eight minutes early to an energetic two-year-old little sister calling him up.

"KELSEY! KELSEY!"

Despite the sudden awakening, seeing his adorable little sister's face was enough to make him shine a big bright smile at the toddler, sitting up straight and carrying her by the arms. "Hey you little munchkin! How you doin'?"

"Plane! Plane! Vrooom!" She sputtered out in between giggles.

KEL smiled, knowing exactly what she wanted.

"Alright, get ready for airplane time!"

KEL proceeded to spend the next couple of minutes waving his little sister around like an airplane while making engine noises, much to her delight.

9:10 AM

KEL was singing and whistling a random pop song that was stuck in his head in the showers, shaking his booty to the beat as he scrubbed and washed his back.

9:33 AM

KEL gave a satisfied sigh after finishing a more than healthy proportion of his breakfast, bending over to kiss his mom in the cheek as thank you for making him his favorite fried omelet with extra crispy bacon bits sprinkled all over.

9:45 AM

"Hutt Hutt- One two- Hutt Hutt- Three four-" KEL chanted repeatedly as he did a series of workout routines to burn the carbs he accumulated during breakfast.

Fifty reps of jumping jacks to loosen up his body.

Fifty pushups and situps to work his arm muscles and abs.

Five minutes shadowboxing to work on his reflexes and focus.

After he was finished with his diligent workout, he rewarded himself with a nice cold glass of the world's most divine drink known to man.

ORANGE JOE.

The perfect blend between coffee and root beer soda, mixed together to create a beautiful symphony of flavor. Even one sip was enough to energize him and keep him going for the entire day without any naps.

Which was why he immediately downed the whole entire glass bottle like a beast who hasn't had his thirst quenched in years.

10:00 AM

"Alright, time to go visit SUNNY!" KEL cheered to himself.

He hasn't visited the comatose boy since his birthday, after all. KEL had promised that he would do regular visits again, and he was a person that always takes his promises seriously.

Jumping around a bit to work on his legs and get the blood flowing, he took starting position right outside the front door of his house like an Olympic racer waiting for the starting pistol to go off.

Hm… Wonder what he should talk about once he gets there?

Counting down from three…

Even if SUNNY couldn't hear him, it was always nice to find things to talk about with the boy. It reminded him of the old days when SUNNY would always sit back and listen to KEL ramble about whatever was on his mind.

Two…

Maybe talk to him about all the friends KEL's made over the last six years? That might be interesting to talk about.

One…

Ah, whatever. He'll think of something by the time he gets there.

GO!

KEL immediately began dashing down the street like a madman on drugs, breaking every single speed record known to man.

He wasn't on the high school's basketball team for nothing, after all. If HERO's natural talent was all about his smarts and cooking skills, then KEL's natural talents definitely had to be in his absolute control over the basketball and the speed of his feet.

He'll be at the hospital in less than thirty minutes, flat!

10:25 AM

KEL pumped a fist to the air as he celebrated his new record, even as he was currently keeled over the floor and breathing heavily from overexerting himself.

"Need any help, sir?" The nurse at the reception desk asked in concern, noticing the boy wearing an orange hoodie collapsed in the middle of the waiting area.

Why wear a hoodie during the summer?

Because KEL liked the added challenge.

"I'm fine…" KEL muttered out with a satisfied nod, "Just give me a minute... to catch my breath."

The nurse shrugged before sitting back down at her desk.

After a while, KEL managed to eventually get his stamina back and hopped up to his feet like nothing ever happened.

The nurse watched him as he happily strolled over to the reception desk, before asking her, "Hi, my name is KEL. I'm here to visit a patient. He's the boy sleeping on floor seven, room 143!"

"Alright then…" The nurse began typing away on her computer as she prepared to fill out the visitation form, "Are you family or an acquaintance?"

"I'm a childhood friend! I used to visit SUNNY a lot back before high school, but I stopped at some point. Now I'm just trying to visit regularly again."

"I see… Alright…" The nurse continued typing with a nod.

KEL began humming to himself as he waited patiently for the nurse to finish recording his visit. He always gets to meet a different receptionist every time he comes here. One of these days, he should start making friends with them so that it'll be easier for him to be recognized whenever he's here.

The nurse kept typing until she gave a strange look and briefly paused.

"You said the patient's name was SUNNY, and that he was on floor seven?"

"Yeppers!" KEL smiled happily.

The nurse silently browsed something on her computer with a confused look, before slowly coming to an understanding as she turned to KEL, "I'm sorry, but the patient in that room was already discharged since last night. He's not in the hospital anymore."

KEL blinked confusedly for a bit.

SUNNY… wasn't in the hospital anymore? What?

Discharged…? What did 'discharge' mean? It sounded like something he should already know...

KEL wracked in his brain to find the definition of this word, using every ounce of his brainpower to try to remember…

All of a sudden, he remembered a very specific line in this very specific scene from this one specific episode of this specific Hospital Romance Drama he once watched a few years back together with his mom and dad during family night.

"I'm sorry, MRS. SMITHERSON." The handsome doctor, portrayed by legendary young adult actor DAVID BECKINGHAM, apologized with tears in his eyes, "But I'm afraid your husband, who was hospitalized after saving the lives of several orphans, kittens, and orphaned kittens from the great fire, has tragically passed away while under my careless care."

"Oh no!" The beautiful widow, portrayed by famous supermodel ANN WITHERS, cried in grief as she wiped her tears with a velvet red handkerchief that was given to her earlier by her late husband, "Where is my husband's body now?"

"He's been discharged to the morgue since this morning."

Coming back from his flashback, KEL began to panic as he realized what this meant.

"You mean… Since yesterday night, my friend SUNNY passed away?!" KEL cried out in shock.

Before the nurse could even answer, he already had his head in his hands.

Oh SUNNY… How could this happen to you? You were just a kid, man! You barely even experienced life yet, and you were already tragically taken away from everyone…

Ohhh, damn it! How was BASIL and MARI going to react once they find out about this?! Oh god, they are going to freak out so bad!

KEL… He has to be the one to tell them about this. He has to take responsibility and be the bearer of bad news. He'll need to be the man to tell them that SUNNY passed away…

Oh god… MARI is going to fricking kill him dead…

HERO was going to have to go into debt just to afford the funeral services!

"Uh, sir?" The nurse called out to get his attention.

KEL sniffled a bit, holding back tears as he brought his head up, "Yes, ma'am?"

"I think you misunderstood what I meant." The nurse deadpanned, before explaining, "When I said your friend was discharged, it didn't mean he died or anything."

At this, KEL quickly bounced back from his slump with a surprised, "WHAT?! But I thought discharge means that you move them away to the morgue or something?!"

The nurse raised a skeptical eyebrow, "And who told you that?"

"Well, I saw this tv show about doctors and stuff… You know the one, with DAVID BECKINGHAM?" KEL recalled.

The nurse rolled her eyes at this, "Oh god, that series? That show was such a crapshoot. Nothing about it is even remotely realistic to how actual hospitals and doctors work. Most likely, they were just spouting nonsense to try to sound more dramatic."

Oh.

Well, now he just felt stupid for coming to the wrong conclusion.

"In that case, what does discharge mean again?" KEL felt the need to ask for corrections.

"Discharge just means that the patient gets checked out of the hospital. They're not here anymore." The nurse explained.

KEL blinked for a moment, before telling her, "But wait, SUNNY has been in a coma at this hospital for six years though."

The nurse shrugged, "I guess that must mean he woke up yesterday. He's probably already back home."

Already back home.

Already back home.

Back home.

Home.

Home.

SUNNY was back home.

As KEL began to blank out, the nurse looked around with an amused smile, "You know, when the front room is empty like this, it always makes a funny echo to whatever you say if you say it loud enough. BANANA!"

Banana.

Banana.

Banana.

"Heh." The nurse giggled, only to notice KEL not reacting or moving at all. Turning to the spaced-out boy, she asked, "You okay, sir?"

KEL slowly blinked as the realization hit him like a ton of bricks.

His best friend since childhood… His next-door neighbor… His pal and buddy…

He was awake.

SUNNY was back home.

"I have to go check on someone." KEL abruptly announced before already sprinting out the exit.

He ignored the nurse's odd looks as he rushed out, bumped into a pillar, tripped on the floor, got back up again, made it to the exit, and just kept running.

KEL had never run back home as fast as he did before.

SUNNY was back home.

SUNNY was back home!

SUNNY WAS BACK HOME!


Eight o'clock or something… He wasn't paying attention...

OMORI turned on the lights of the bathroom as he entered.

Checking himself out in the mirror, he could see his usual monochrome body in the reflection staring back at him.

Furrowing his eyebrows, OMORI forcefully closed his eyes before opening them again.

His reflection showed what he actually looked like this time.

His pale frail body was reflected in the mirror. His face showed only one single eye, as the one on his right was completely missing.

Nothing was behind him… For now…

OMORI sighed as he began washing his face, his mind completely overwhelmed with thoughts about what happened last night in his dreams.

There were lots of things he wanted to focus on first.

MARI threatening to commit suicide in order to convince Mom not to make her move.

The reason why Mom abandoned the family in the first place.

How MARI's BLACK SPACE seemed completely different than how his BLACK SPACE usually behaved…

But instead… He chose to focus on one thing in particular as he stared at himself in the mirror.

MARI was haunted by SOMETHING as well. This was the first time he had ever seen it.

He didn't even know that she had one until now after waking up…

Three eyes.

Hers had three eyes.

OMORI looked up at the mirror again to study his face.

Nothing was behind him… Yet.

The SOMETHING that usually haunted OMORI always had one eye. He knew exactly why as well.

SOMETHING took the form most reminiscent of the scene that haunted him the most. The sight of MARI's eye staring back at him judgmentally beneath her hair, as her body swayed on the tree by the rope on her neck.

It was born to constantly remind him of the murder he committed. No matter how hard OMORI tried to repress the truth, SOMETHING would always follow him.

What did MARI's SOMETHING represent? When did that start haunting her?

Assuming she was like him in this reality, it was probably on the day of the recital.

What did she see to spawn such a horrific face that now follows her even in her dreams? Why did her SOMETHING have three eyes and constantly flash that demonic smile?

The shadow of its body, the shape of it reminded him of himself. Just in even worse condition.

Mangled, jagged, bent and broken. Like someone took his body to the factory and threw him in the middle of the machinery gears while it was working. It looked horrible.

OMORI studied himself as he tried to figure it out.

The eyes… What did that represent?

Two on the left, one on the right.

Why show three eyes? Why not just one, like how his SOMETHING was?

He only had the one eye now, anyway.

Looking at himself, he really couldn't see it. He couldn't imagine what MARI saw that day to make her get haunted by-

Wait…

No…

Thinking about it again…

In her perspective, his right eye would be on her left. That was the eye that went missing.

Assuming that everything she and the doctors said was true, he had lost his right eye in this reality when his face collided on top of the broken pieces of the violin at the bottom of the stairs.

He still remembered the moment when BASIL stabbed his face with garden shears, as warm blood began flooding down his cheek.

MARI must've seen his face when the violin was still embedded in his eye, most likely. He imagined the sight probably wasn't pretty.

When you take that into account and start rethinking about it…

Two left eyes. His right eye, torn in half by the violin.

One right eye. The left eye that got out unscathed.

Yeah, he could see it now. That must've been mentally scarring for her.

Why the smile, though? What was that about?

Such an evil and malicious smile… As if it was actually enjoying the pleasure of haunting her.

The different forms that SOMETHING would take to scare him would occasionally have smiles like that, but it was never the most prominent thing about them.

Was his face smiling after he landed on the violin? OMORI couldn't imagine any reason why he would want to smile in a situation like that… Especially if he was in any pain or suffering...

He always hated smiling. It made him look weird. He didn't like to smile in pictures either, not even when he was a baby.

OMORI's eye widened as an idea popped into his head.

In this reality, he had protected her. MARI told him that he wrapped his hands around her body as they fell, doing his best so that he would be the only one to take the brunt of the damage.

Because of what he did, MARI was somehow still alive in this world.

Why did he just stand there and watch her fall? Why didn't he do anything? Why couldn't he have saved her that day?

Bleeding out on the floor, a broken piece of a violin sticking out of his eye…

Yet still smiling…?

I must've been happy when I saw that my sister wasn't hurt.

...

OMORI closed his eye as the realization settled.

So that was where the smile came from.

MARI, while panicking over her little brother SUNNY bleeding out from under her, held him in her arms as she stared directly at his face…

...and saw him smile in relief.

OMORI curled up his hands in frustration.

Now that exact same smile of his was being used by her SOMETHING to haunt and torment her, constantly reminding her of that day as it overwhelmed her with guilt.

Another reason to hate his own smile.

Even when he was able to save his own sister, he always somehow ends up making things so much worse.

He should've just died right then and there to spare MARI the trouble…

Worthless.

Shaking his head clear, OMORI began thinking about something else while he proceeded to brush his teeth.

He had a long day ahead of him before he could get another opportunity to go back into his sister's HEADSPACE. He should use this time to gather as much information about this reality as possible so that he might find a way to help MARI face the truth and get her to forgive herself.

OMORI was going to kill that SOMETHING of hers or die trying.


HIKIKO laid still on her blanket as she stared at the bright endless void in front of her.

WELCOME TO BRIGHTSPACE

She was… doing something, right? Before she was here?

She couldn't seem to remember at the moment. It felt like she woke up from a bad dream.

Everything should be fine though.

Nothing bad ever happens to her in BRIGHTSPACE.

HIKIKO stood up to her feet, taking a quick look around the room.

The door to HEADSPACE wasn't there anymore. Looks like she'll just have to wait until tomorrow.

Hm… What should she do then in the meantime?

HIKIKO laid her laptop in front of her as she began recording her day in her journal.

HIKIKO began petting MEWO, watching her curl up into a ball as she purred.

"Something's already happened. Why are you still waiting?" The kitten curiously asked her.

HIKIKO didn't have an answer to respond with.

HIKIKO looked over at her toy piano as she pulled one of the missing piano keys out from her pocket.

Huh. Wonder where she found that?

She placed the key in its rightful spot.

The two piano keys sitting by themselves seemed pretty lonely. Hopefully, she'll find more.

Taking one last look around and knowing that there was nothing left to do, HIKIKO decided that now was a good time to wake up again.

She had something important to do today, didn't she?

Stepping over to the chair and rope, she began setting everything up again the same way she did last time.

Checking to make sure the noose was tight, she gave a satisfied nod before wrapping it around her neck.

She enjoyed the brief weightless sensation for a bit before the sudden-

MARI blearily opened her eyes as the sun shined over her face.

She gave a tired groan as she rubbed her eyes, feeling lethargic as usual.

Another nightmare. Again.

Why did she have to remember something like that this time? She hasn't thought about her mother in a long time now, not since she left.

Maybe it was because she had to talk about her last night with SUNNY. If she could help it, she'd rather not ever have to remember that woman ever again...

SUNNY!

MARI quickly looked around herself to try to find her little brother, only to see him missing.

She frantically whipped her hands around in order to feel him, maybe even try to look under the covers to see if he was hiding there.

Why was he gone? Why wasn't he here right now? Weren't they hugging each other to sleep just last night?

Where was he? WherewasheWherewasheWherewasheWherewasheWherewasheWherewashe-

Please god, don't let yesterday be just a hallucination! Please tell her that he was real, that he was with her, that he came back home with her!

He had to be real! He just had to be! Yesterday couldn't possibly be a dream, he had to be real!

MARI remembered.

In the kitchen. There he was, holding a steak knife in his hand.

Pointed directly at himself.

Without even thinking, she was already rushing out of the bedroom as she screamed out, "SUNNY!"

She tripped a bit, landing face-first onto the floor before picking herself up and ignoring the stinging pain in her lips. She disorientingly fumbled her way past the door and out into the main hall, pushing herself until she reached the top of the stairs.

Her phobia kicked in again, worse than before. The length of the stairs grew ever-expanding, to the point where it would be impossible not to get sick from the height itself.

Damn it! Not now! Not when her brother needed her!

She had to save him before it was too late!

But the stairs in front of her stretched out for miles and miles and miles. Even if she walked down now, by the time she reached the end, it would already be too late.

"SUNNY!" She screamed loudly again, hoping that it would be enough to stop him from even thinking about it.

Her hand was already holding onto the railing to prepare the journey down… but her legs were frozen. They couldn't move. They refused to move.

She couldn't move.

Her feet gave out, collapsed from under her as she couldn't even control them anymore.

If she couldn't move, she couldn't go down to save her little brother.

What would she have left if she didn't have her precious brother by her side? What would she do with herself without him in her life?

What good of a sister is she if she couldn't even protect her own little brother?

But then, she heard a door open behind her.

"MARI?!" She heard a familiar voice call out to her in a panic.

She turned around to find her little brother in the doorway to the bathroom, toothbrush in hand, foam on the lips, a worried look in his single eye.

Alive.

"MARI, what's wrong?!" SUNNY asked, throwing the toothbrush aside as he came up to her and kneeled down to grab her shoulder, "Why did you scream my name?"

MARI stared blankly at her little brother as he looked directly into her eyes.

He was fine. He wasn't going to stab himself. He was just fine.

The tension in her heart melted away as she felt pure and utter relief. MARI grabbed onto her little brother and held him tightly as she cried softly.

"You're alive… You're awake…" She gasped out in steady breaths, her tears soaking into his shirt.

"MARI, what's wrong?" SUNNY asked her gently, pulling her up and stepping away from the edge of the stairway with a nervous frown.

They were both laid out on the floor in the middle of the second floor, with MARI wrapping her arms around her little brother's chest.

"I… I didn't see you when I woke up…" She sobbed, "I thought… I thought you left me… Or I thought you were never here, or… I thought you…"

She couldn't even bring herself to say the last part out loud. She didn't even want to imagine it anymore.

The idea that he would want to kill himself for any reason, it just-

...

SUNNY would never kill himself. He'd never want to. Why would he want to? His big sister was right here with him, and he'd never leave his big sister alone… He loved her too much for that, MARI knew he did.

She just… She just had to make sure to remind him that she was real. That's all.

She just needed to tell him that he wasn't in a dream. None of this was a dream. She was real, he was real, and they were finally together again.

SUNNY looked down at her sadly as he hugged her back, "I'm sorry. I was just brushing my teeth. I didn't mean to scare you."

MARI shook her head, forcing herself to smile even though the tears won't stop flowing, "It's okay…Dental hygiene is important… It's good you remembered to brush your teeth."

"Yeah…" SUNNY replied neutrally, gently rubbing her back in circular motions to keep her steady.

It took MARI a long time again before she could breathe normally again.


OMORI began dabbing a small piece of cotton on his sister's busted lip, soaking up all the blood before he could treat it.

MARI had a look of pure shame and embarrassment, her cheeks blushing like a kid getting caught stealing candy.

"I'm so sorry I overreacted like that…" MARI began apologizing, "I must have scared you-"

"Shush and let me treat your lips." OMORI told her gently, pushing her chin up so that she could her mouth still.

MARI sat on her bed patiently while her little brother kneeled in front of her, continuously drying her blood with cotton. After soaking up all the blood, OMORI threw the cotton away before pulling out the drawers to search for something to heal the wound.

"There it is. Still in the same spot." OMORI nodded to himself.

This little thing was something that MARI taught him a while back while she used to treat a cut on his leg. Worried about the cut scarring his smooth skin, MARI covered the cut with powder made out of turmeric so that it wouldn't leave a mark after it naturally healed up.

He went on to apply a bit of turmeric powder on MARI's lip, covering up the wound with a gentle touch.

MARI found it impressive, watching her little brother being able to take care of her so precisely and gently despite his whole body being numb. His movements were so practiced, It was almost like he'd been treating cuts for a long time now.

It only made her feel further embarrassed, having to be at the receiving end of this situation instead of being the one taking care of him like she usually was.

"There. Now the cut won't leave a scar." OMORI told her.

After cleaning everything up, OMORI sat next to his big sister and touched shoulders with her.

MARI covered her face, still feeling the shame from earlier.

"Sorry again…" MARI mumbled, "I didn't know you were just brushing your teeth."

OMORI shook his head, "It's fine. It's my fault. I should've told you first before going anywhere."

OMORI seriously should've known better after what he witnessed in her mind. How did he not see this coming?

Of course she would freak out if she didn't see him the moment she woke up. After witnessing and stopping him from nearly killing himself yesterday, it was no wonder she would be crumbling down next to the staircase and screaming out for him at the bottom.

He was really such an idiot.

"No, really, it's not your fault." MARI said back, head in her hands as she stared at the floor.

MARI felt like such a massive idiot for coming to the wrong conclusion so quickly. Now she had her little brother needlessly worrying about her like she might snap at any moment.

She wasn't crazy. She was just...

She was just overprotective about him. It had been so long since she had him back in her life, she didn't want to lose him again.

But everything should be fine now. Her SUNNY was here with her, alive and awake. The six long years of waiting didn't mean anything anymore.

Forcing herself to calm down, she shook the energy out of her and turned to him with a big smile, "So! Did you have a good night's sleep, SUNNY?"

It would be best to change the topic to something else.

OMORI thought about how to answer this question, wondering whether it would be worth it or not to describe everything that happened.

In the end, he decided to just shrug and answer, "As good as any." without elaborating further.

Probably better to keep it a secret for now. Wouldn't want her to become more closely guarded in her dreams, if that was even possible.

"Oh, that's good!" MARI said in a cheerful tone.

MARI was at least thankful that yesterday wasn't a fluke. She still had that irrational fear that SUNNY would go back into another coma for some reason, leaving her once again. If that had actually happened, she wouldn't know how to take it.

But no, he was here and awake. She was truly blessed by life to be given a second chance with her precious little brother.

MARI hugged him again, this time in a more warm and welcoming manner rather than the paranoid relief from earlier.

OMORI gently hugged her back, hoping that she finally calmed down.

"Oh, I almost forgot!" MARI suddenly gasped, pulling away as she stood up to grab her purse.

OMORI raised an eyebrow as she began digging inside her handbag, only to see her pulling out some toys and bringing it over to him.

"Happy birthday!" MARI cheered.

OMORI looked at the objects in her hand.

A PET ROCK and a keychain of his favorite cat mascot.

"These are for me?" OMORI asked, grabbing the two of them and giving them a quick study.

"Yep! These were gifts left by your bed back when you were still sleeping at the hospital on your birthday!" MARI told him, "I wanted to give them to you earlier, but it didn't seem appropriate until now."

OMORI observed the keychain as it shimmered in the light, depicting his favorite BIG YELLOW CAT. Always the loyal guardian that protected him from danger in HEADSPACE, keeping out monsters and the like from entering NEIGHBOR'S ROOM.

In a way, it felt nice to know that the BIG YELLOW CAT was still following him even now. Like a sign that the cat was still keeping his oath to protect OMORI from danger as long as he was with him.

OMORI turned on the PET ROCK, revealing that it was his main signature pet JASH. A white round block on two stump-legs, OMORI remembered all the times this character would sell him stuff at the many shops littered in his HEADSPACE.

He was also a deceptively powerful fighter in the right hands, despite the unassuming appearance. He remembered beating the CHAMPION's own version of JASH in the OTHERMART store with this pet, claiming rightful ownership of the prestigious cap that proved he was the ultimate champion.

It was strange though… He never owned JASH until he had to buy it for himself back at HOBBEEZ in his original reality. Yet here it was, sitting in his hand as if it came along with him to this new world.

"Did you buy these for me, MARI?" OMORI asked curiously.

He was a bit confused to see MARI shifted around nervously, her smile wavering as she looked in other directions instead of at himself.

MARI nervously began running through her options as she tried to think how she should respond.

If she admitted to him that those gifts were from KEL and AUBREY, he'll be under the wrong assumption that those two have been keeping tabs on him at the hospital alongside her and BASIL.

She didn't want that. She DESPERATELY didn't want that. MARI wanted to tell the truth about how horrible all of their friends were for leaving him behind so that he could understand why she hated them so much.

But she also really did want to let SUNNY keep thinking that his friends still cared about him so that he would be happy. It would devastate her if her little brother ended up getting hurt over knowing the truth of what happened.

MARI still hadn't been able to decide how she was supposed to tackle this situation, nor figure out how SUNNY would react.

She just wanted things to go back to the way things used to be…

Yet she also still wanted to never forgive them for what they did.

Even now, she felt so conflicted about it.

"MARI?" OMORI tilted his head, curious as to why she was nervously staying quiet.

Shoot, she better picked an answer now before he ends up getting worried.

MARI took a deep breath and sighed, before admitting, "No. Those aren't from me. BASIL brought over KEL and AUBREY to visit you for your eighteenth birthday. Those gifts are from them."

OMORI nodded in understanding, looking at the gifts again.

So… KEL, AUBREY, and BASIL. They still care about him enough in this reality to visit him even while he was in a coma. BASIL, he wasn't too surprised to hear. Of course, BASIL would continue to keep caring about him.

KEL and AUBREY though? OMORI wasn't too sure just how much different this new reality was compared to the old one, but hearing that they visited him on his birthday together was a bit of a surprise.

Did AUBREY and BASIL ever have that falling out, causing her to relentlessly bully him while OMORI was gone?

How was KEL faring in this other reality? Surely, the happy-go-lucky boy would've eventually chosen to move on from him after just a few years. He was never one to want to get stuck in the past, OMORI didn't think…

Hm.

Whatever. He'll figure it out as he goes.

Clipping the PET ROCK to his belt and pocketing the keychain, he nodded appreciatively, "I should go thank them at some point."

For some reason, MARI gave a depressed groan at this.

OMORI gave a questioning look, wondering why that would make her uncomfortable.

"I… shouldn't then?"

MARI looked up at him with conflicted eyes, wondering if she should say what she was thinking or not.

In the end, she was biting the bullet as she clenched her eyes shut and just admitted it, "WHEN… When you became comatose, only BASIL and I ever believed you would come back!"

OMORI blinked in confusion.

MARI gave a huff, before emotionally continuing, "KEL, AUBREY, and HERO… They all gave up on you! KEL and AUBREY stopped coming to visit you four years ago so that they could live their own lives! None of them wanted to be around you anymore! They all thought that you were as good as dead!" MARI took a deep breath before continuing, "For the last four years, BASIL and I were the only ones that ever came by to keep you company! We were the only ones that knew you'd come back! Everyone else in the group just left you!"

There. She said it. She finally admitted it to him.

MARI kept her eyes shut, patiently waiting for her little brother's reaction. She didn't know what the fallout would be, but she knew that he had to be hurt and upset by it.

No matter what, she'll stand by him. She'll be there for him. She'll accept whatever he has to say about it.

Meanwhile, OMORI nodded to himself as he closed his eyes.

Ah… This was starting to make a little more sense now.

So… Their friend group did get dismantled at some point. For MARI, this happened four years ago.

They all went their separate ways over the years to live their own lives, huh? It was a bit sad, but based on how it went in his original reality, it wasn't unexpected. Everyone's lives became negatively affected over MARI's death...

HERO shut himself out for a year before moving on to college.

KEL had to suffer watching his older brother rot away during that time, unable to do anything to help the people he cared about.

AUBREY grew to hate everyone who left her behind, her isolation changing her into becoming the hardened delinquent of a gang leader.

BASIL… BASIL had it the worst out of all of them. Almost worse than even OMORI. At least OMORI was able to keep himself sane by going into denial, but BASIL had been forced to suffer knowing the truth all alone this whole time… If SUNNY never came to check up on him that night, he knew that BASIL would have tried to kill himself.

All his friends, suffering one way or another… All because of him.

All because he murdered the person that mattered the most.

Now he found himself facing the exact same situation again… Just switching positions with his sister this time.

He really didn't know whether this was better or worse in comparison.

Looking over at MARI, based on how resentful her words sounded, it seemed she grew to harbor some anger at their old friends.

This makes a little bit of sense too… Instead of moving on from her little brother like everyone else, she was one of the few that stuck behind to wait for him. This would explain why her HEADSPACE had her still surrounded by all their old friends. She was stuck in the past, just the same as he was. She missed the old days just as much as he once did.

But wait… Something didn't add up…

If she was still resentful at everyone for leaving him, then how did that explain AUBREY and KEL coming to visit him on his eighteenth birthday at BASIL's invitation? If what MARI said was true, why would they bother coming at all? Why would MARI even let them?

Hm… There might be more to this that he wasn't seeing…

Maybe once he had the chance, he should go around to find the others and ask them for their point of view of the last six years. At the very least, they'll be in for a big surprise once they see him again.

Whether it was going to be a touching reunion or not, he'll have to find out the hard way...

Wouldn't it be nice if MARI came back to life and brought everyone back together? Wouldn't life have been wonderful if she never died at all? If only he never killed her… If only.

MARI slowly looked up, wondering why her little brother hasn't said anything in the last few minutes.

She saw him looking at the corner of the room with an intensely focused expression as if he was heavily deep in thought. MARI had never seen him look so serious before…

Did the news that all his old friends leaving him seriously bother him that much?

Ugh, she knew she should've kept her mouth shut… She couldn't even begin to imagine what was going on in his mind right now.

"SUNNY… Are you okay?" MARI asked, before reassuring, "I know how much it hurts to find out, but I promise you that I'll always be there for you-"

"Hm?" Her little brother was jolted out of his thoughts, looking over at her with a curious expression. After blinking a bit, he realized something as he told her, "Oh, I'm fine. It doesn't bother me that much."

MARI stared blankly at him in shock.

"You… You're not bothered?" MARI repeated incredulously, "But… Why?"

He shrugged neutrally, "I was gone for six years, right? Everyone had their own lives to live, and there was no way to know if I'd ever wake up again. I probably would have done the same in their shoes."

MARI stood back a bit as she processed his reaction.

A very… WIDE range of emotions was tearing themselves apart from within her.

Anger. She was angry- No- absolutely livid that her precious little SUNNY was so forgiving and understanding towards everyone else. Here she was, spending the last six years of her life waiting for SUNNY to come back from his coma while everyone else got to enjoy living their own carefree lives like it was nobody's business. Yet instead of hating them just as much as she did, her kind-hearted little brother instantly gave them all a free pass like it didn't even bother him.

Joy. She was absolutely thrilled and proud to know that SUNNY didn't harbor any resentment towards their old friends like she initially thought he would. Instead, he understood that everyone had their own lives to worry about and knew that it would have been selfish to keep them all chained back over his tragedy. No doubt he'll be able to get along with everyone again and probably even reunite everyone back to the way things used to be, just like she always wanted.

Sorrow. Everyone had left him to die. Why couldn't he understand that? Why was he so unbothered by the fact that no one except BASIL and herself had cared about him in the last six years? Was it because he still felt guilty from what he dreamed about in his coma? Did he not think he deserved to be cared about? Was he happy to know that everyone moved on from him because he thought he wasn't worth it? She knew from the bottom of her heart that if it had happened to anyone else in their group, her SUNNY would always be visiting them every chance he got to show his concern and care. Why would he ever say that he would do the same in their shoes, when MARI knew for a fact that SUNNY wouldn't?

Relief. He wasn't heartbroken about it. He wasn't bothered or depressed about it.

She wouldn't have to worry about him finding another reason to kill himself.

But that doesn't mean that she'll forgive them. Someone had to keep them accountable, and if it wasn't going to be SUNNY, then it at least has to be her.

All these conflicting emotions were fighting for control as MARI did her best to keep it all contained. It got so bad though that it was beginning to overwhelm her, making her legs feel weak.

OMORI noticed that his sister was starting to tilt, already standing up to catch her before she could fall. She landed softly against his arms, her eyes rapidly blinking as if trying to keep herself conscious.

"MARI?" He called out in concern.

Noticing that she was starting to lose herself, MARI quickly got herself back up again and shook her head as she gave a reassuring smile, "Oh, sorry… I'm probably just weak because I'm starving for breakfast!"

Hopefully, that was a realistic excuse. Honestly, she wasn't all that hungry… But it's too late to back out now. MARI already made him needlessly worry about her from earlier this morning, she didn't want to keep adding in more things to stress him out.

Wanting to change the topic as soon as possible to keep her mind off the situation, she gently tugged at her little brother, "Hey, how about I make us breakfast?"

OMORI had a dubious look as he studied his sister.

For some reason, it felt like she was keeping so many secrets away from him just so that he didn't have to worry.

If only there was a way to find out how to get her to open up… It would make his job at helping her face the truth far easier…

"Sure…" OMORI sighed, not knowing what else to say.

It really seemed like MARI had gone through a lot these past six years… He didn't know where to start.

Hopefully nothing else stressful happens today.


SUNNYWASBACKHOMESUNNYWASBACKHOMESUNNYWASBACKHOMESUNNYWASBACKHOMESUNNYWASBACKHOMESUNNYWASBACKHOMESUNNYWASBACKHOMESUNNYWASBACKHOME

KEL shifted his speed from Turbo to MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, already in the process of breaking every single speed record in history.

At the rate he was going, he'll need to go around the diameter of the entire world just to give him enough time to slow down before making it to SUNNY's house without destroying the whole town via delayed shockwave.

Chapter Text

OMORI carefully watched as his sister began nervously taking the first step down the stairs.

MARI's knees were shaking pretty severely, to the point where the eyepatched boy was worried that she might buckle and trip by herself. Even though she was holding tightly against the rails, she couldn't seem to make her feet steady.

"This… T-This is normal for me…" MARI reassured, noticing the worried look on his face, "I mean, it's not usually this b-bad... Some days, I can get down the s-stairs easily with no trouble! It's just… for some r-reason, today is just…"

"One of those bad days?" OMORI asked, completely understanding her situation.

"Y-Yeah…" MARI nodded, having a difficult time taking the second step as she nervously brought her foot down.

She gave a gulp as she intensely closed her eyes, her vision getting dizzy from being so high up.

MARI didn't know why today was so much worse compared to any other day. Even on the days that made her stomach churn, she still at least had the willpower and focus to push herself forward so that she could go visit her SUNNY at the hospital.

But now, she could barely even manage to maintain control of her legs.

Why are the stairs so high up? Why did they have to live in a two-story house?

Worst of all, MARI lamented the fact that she was looking so pathetic in front of her little brother by acting like this. She felt ashamed that she couldn't keep up a strong act for him so that he didn't have to worry about her. Yet here she was, shaking like a leaf while walking down a simple flight of stairs. Something she used to be able to do easily so many times back before the incident happened.

A big sister wasn't supposed to be weak like this, damn it...

OMORI knew what it was like to be afraid of heights. It was something he had to live with for a long time before he was finally able to overcome it all by himself.

Seeing MARI suffer through the same situation he once did, it made him sad to see the strong and reliable older sister he always admired reduced to such a miserable state.

"Y-You can go on to the kitchen first…" MARI offered with a forced smile, "You d-don't have to w-wait up for me."

She was just slowing him down at this point. MARI left unsaid.

OMORI shook his head and offered his hand, "Here."

There was no way he could leave her alone like this, no matter what she says.

MARI looked at the outstretched hand with a bit of surprise before glancing up at him.

OMORI gestured his head towards the hand, "Grab tightly and don't let go. I'll help you down."

MARI still looked at the hand dubiously, before saying, "I… I don't want to burden you."

OMORI frowned at this, "You're not a burden. Just take my hand already." He reached his hand closer to her, "Don't you trust me?"

"It's not that, I just…" MARI mumbled nervously, before hesitating. After a bit of consideration, she finally nodded to him and decided to reach out to hold his hand with her own.

"Don't let go, okay?" OMORI reminded her.

MARI clenched tightly to the point where her knuckles were bare white.

Of course, she'd never let him go.

Never.

Slowly, one by one, her little brother gently guided her down the stairs. MARI followed obediently, doing her best not to grow overwhelmed as she fought her phobia back.

Sometimes when it became too much, she froze up and instinctively curled into a ball while tightly hugging the railing again. She would breathe heavily and shut her eyes closed, unable to keep the air in her lungs as she panicked.

"Take a deep breath. Don't be afraid." OMORI instructed her gently, "It's not as scary as you think."

MARI couldn't help but actually laugh at that as she did her best to follow his advice.

She used to tell him that all the time whenever her little brother was frightened by something. The fact that the roles were reversed, with her little brother being the one trying to get her to calm down, made her feel both proud and bitter.

Proud because her little SUNNY seemed to have become so mature since the last time she saw him.

Bitter because she hated how much she was forced to rely on him for something so simple as walking down the stairs.

Still, his words managed to get through to her as she steadied her breathing and calmed down.

Shaking her head clear, she opened her eyes again to see that the stairs were back to their normal length again. The uncontrollable shaking in her legs lessened until she was finally able to stand up once more.

MARI gave him a grateful smile as she continued down the stairs with his help

OMORI gave a relieved sigh, slowly keeping pace with her until they finally reached the very bottom.

No worse for wear.

With the trial of the day finally conquered, MARI turned to her little brother and asked, "You really aren't scared of heights anymore, are you?"

Not once did she see her little SUNNY lose his nerve while on the journey down. He kept his cool and remained focused on her the entire time, as if it was nothing more than a simple chore.

OMORI shook his head before telling her in complete seriousness, "I could climb a ladder up to the moon and not even bat an eye."

MARI burst into a giggle fit after hearing this. Her little brother always did have a strange sense of humor.

When and how he managed to get over his phobia of heights, MARI had no clue. Still, it was a blessing she wouldn't ask questions about. She was just proud to see her little brother growing up to be so strong and dependable.

At this rate, it was going to be a hurdle to catch up to him.

"I'm happy for you, SUNNY. Even if it takes a while, hopefully, I'll catch up to you and get over my fears too." MARI told him cheerfully.

OMORI nodded, "Course you will."

Once OMORI was able to help his sister face the truth, he knew that MARI would become strong enough to do anything she set her mind to. She was his perfect older sister after all.

If it wasn't for him robbing his sister of her life, MARI would've been perfect at everything.


Breakfast came by as fast as it went.

MARI and OMORI had tofu again. Apparently, that was the only thing she had in the fridge.

She apologized to him, saying that if she knew he was going to wake up, she would have filled the fridge with more tasty meals.

OMORI didn't mind at all. It wasn't like his taste buds were working, so he wouldn't be able to enjoy eating food anyway.

When breakfast was finished, OMORI and MARI shared the chore of washing dishes together. It was a nice bonding moment that gave him a brief sense of nostalgia, reminding him of all the times he would help MARI out around the house back before the incident.

Eventually, as the hours passed, he found himself wandering around the house as he explored every little difference he could find between this reality and the old one he left behind.

That included checking out the music room…

Standing by the door that led to the music room, OMORI hesitated a bit as he nervously sighed.

This room… It had a lot of memories attached to it.

Good and bad.

Almost all of it was repressed along with the truth until now.

The beautiful symphonies of music that MARI would play inside this room always put him at ease… He loved sitting on the chair outside just to listen to her practice.

The frustration of all the times he had to learn and practice the violin in this room instead of being with his friends… He dreaded when it came time for the violin tutor to appear, taking him away from everyone he loved.

OMORI shook his head clear as he resolved himself. No point in sitting in the past. There were things he had to do.

He opened the door and took a step inside, taking a careful look around.

The large window allowed the sun to shine brightly through the room, illuminating the whole area without needing to flip on the light switch.

The last time he set foot in this room, back in his old reality, everything was emptied out and packed up in cargo boxes for the moving company to collect. The only thing that was going to be left behind was MARI's grand piano. The same piano that he adopted his name from.

However, as he set his foot in the room this time around… It seemed that almost everything was put back to where they all used to be. The music books, the chairs, the pictures on the walls, even his parent's vacation souvenirs that decorated the shelves…

The only thing that wasn't where it was supposed to be was the piano itself.

OMORI blinked, confused as to why the big black grand piano was missing from the room.

Was… Was it not there because… OMORI was still repressing it in his mind? Pretending it didn't exist?

OMORI cautiously stepped forward, reaching a hand out as he attempted to feel around the middle of the room, hoping that his hand would come into contact with the piano and will itself back to existence.

Instead, all he could grab was air as he reached to where it was usually placed.

Huh.

So… It wasn't there anymore, not because he was pretending it wasn't there…

It wasn't there anymore, simply because it wasn't there anymore.

Why wasn't it there anymore?

"SUNNY?" He could hear MARI call out for him before he heard her enter the room behind him, "Oh, there you are."

When MARI noticed that her SUNNY was suddenly missing, she almost went into another panic attack before realizing that she was about to commit the same mistake she did this morning. After taking a deep breath to calm herself down again, she safely assumed that her little brother was probably still in the house somewhere.

Walking around the house and calling for his name, she noticed that the door to the music room was ajar and came to check up on it. That was where she found her little brother standing in the middle of the room.

Huh… It's been a while since she last stepped foot in here. MARI hasn't used this room for a long time now...

OMORI turned around to face MARI, seeing her giving a quick glance around the room herself. Almost as if she couldn't recognize the place either.

"What were you doing in the music room, SUNNY?" She asked curiously.

"I… Uh…" OMORI mumbled, unsure how to answer. Instead, he settled for, "Just wanted to see how much things changed, I guess."

"Oh." MARI smiled understandingly, "That's fair."

OMORI awkwardly waved a hand towards the empty spot in the middle of the room, asking his sister, "What happened to the piano? It used to be sitting right here."

MARI curiously looked over at the spot, staring at it with a contemplative expression.

What did happen to her old grand piano? She didn't really pay attention to it since she never played with it anymore…

"I think Dad must have put it away somewhere…" MARI guessed, "It was probably gathering dust and wasting space. I haven't used it in a long time, after all."

It sounds about right. Why bother keeping an instrument that she never played anymore? Surely either Mom or Dad took it to themselves to throw it out back when they were still here.

...right…?

OMORI watched as his sister MARI rubbed her head and furrowed her eyebrows as she stared at the empty spot in the middle of the room.

"You okay?" He asked.

"Yeah, just trying to remember what happened to it." MARI answered distractedly, only to shake her head in frustration and sighed, "No idea. Gonna have to ask Dad about it later."

"Oh…" OMORI looked at the spot depressingly, "It's a shame… I always loved it when I could listen to you practice."

MARI hummed a bit as she heard this, looking away in thought.

Then suddenly she said, "Wait here, I'll be just a moment."

OMORI looked at her curiously as she left the room.

MARI walked out and went over to the closet room across the opposite end of the hall. Flickering the lights on and entering inside, she began rummaging around all the old stuff that was in here as she searched for something important.

"It was… here somewhere… wasn't it?" MARI mumbled to herself, pushing away mountains of random old objects.

Eventually, she was able to find what she was looking for.

With a smile, she blew the dust off of it and checked its condition, finding it satisfactory before walking back over to the music room.

OMORI widened his eye as he saw MARI come back while carrying an old toy piano with her.

He hasn't seen MARI pull that out in a long time. He remembered MARI quickly discarding it once she was able to replace it with the grand piano their parents bought for her. It didn't have as many piano keys or looked as impressive as the grand piano, but MARI seemed pretty excited to set it up anyway.

Laying it down on the floor, she quickly got on her knees and tested the notes to see if it still worked. Playing each individual key and making sure it all produced the right musical note, MARI nodded satisfyingly before cracking her knuckles in preparation.

"I know it's not a grand piano, but it's better than nothing. Right?" MARI chuckled.

OMORI shrugged and nodded.

"Got any requests, little brother?" MARI looked over and asked with an expectant smile.

OMORI gave it some thought.

What song would he like to hear her play? It had been so long since he had the opportunity to listen to her play anything at all. The four years of silence in this music room had always been deafening. He honestly didn't really know which song he wanted her to play.

Still, he continued wracking his mind over it.

Maybe… ask her to play her part of the duet that they were supposed to play together for the recital?

No, not even OMORI had that poor sense of tact. He'd rather not listen to that song anytime soon, and he was sure neither did MARI.

Wait… Actually…

Hm…

No, maybe not at this moment. Gonna put a pin on that later. But it was definitely a lead that he'll make plans to follow up on at some point in the future.

"How about that one song you used to sing for me, back when I was still a toddler?" OMORI suggested instead, "Good Morning."

"That one?" MARI asked in surprise, "Wow, I haven't played that song in forever. I don't think I even touched that song with the grand piano before."

MARI looked down at the piano, flexing her fingers as she was about to play.

But… she hesitated a bit. Her hands trembled with a bit of anxiety, having never played in years.

"Hey, SUNNY… Just a heads up, I haven't exactly touched a piano in a long while. I might make some… goofs, you know?" MARI warned, "Bear with me."

OMORI nodded understandingly, "It's okay. Even if you make a few mistakes, I won't judge you for it."

MARI smiled appreciatively at that, feeling touched by her brother's kind nature. He was always so understanding and patient with her.

She looked over the piano one more time before she began to play.

Suddenly, a very loud and uncomfortable ringing started in her ears, interrupting her. She felt herself become disoriented as she clutched her head in pain.

Why does her heart feel like it was aching inside? Like someone was repeatedly stabbing her in the heart over and over again.

It hurts…! It hurts so bad…!

"MARI?" Her little brother called out in concern.

As quick as it came, it was already gone. Like it never even happened.

Shaking her head clear, she blinked for a moment as she wondered what came over her.

"Sorry, just trying to psyche myself up." MARI reassured gently. No need to worry her little brother over it.

OMORI raised an eyebrow at that.

His sister has never needed to psyche herself up before. She especially never did it in any way like what he saw her do just now either.

It looked more like she was hiding the fact that she was in pain.

OMORI didn't have the opportunity to delve further into that thought as MARI began singing.

"One more day the sun reaches my bed
One more day to spend alone again
Morning starts without me
I seem to find it hard to wake up

Steadily my thoughts take hold of me
It's hard to stay awake or fall asleep
Memories of the past
Both the good and the bad
Overwhelm me

There's so much I wish I could take back
Sometimes I think maybe it's too late
Though the pain remains
And though it may be hard
I'll carry on

Time to rise and shine
Good morning!

So the sun reaches my bed
One more day to spend alone again
Morning starts without me
I seem to find it hard to wake up…"

It started off slow and gentle, just like he used to remember. Then when it ended, she continued repeating the notes to the song before slowly trailing off.

Her vocal cords were more mature than the last time he remembered her singing this song, no doubt because she grew with age. Her voice still had a beautiful melody to it, however.

Despite her concerns earlier, it didn't seem like she made any noticeable mistakes at all. At least not any that would ruin the song.

All in all, it felt like the perfect performance for him.

It didn't seem like she felt the same way though, looking down in shame and embarrassingly rubbing her arms.

"Sorry… Like I said, I haven't touched a piano in years." MARI apologized with a blush. "It must have sounded horrible."

OMORI shook his head as he reassured her, "No, it wasn't. I loved every second of it. You never lost your touch."

Although still doubtful, MARI put on a smile for him as she softly said, "Thank you…"

OMORI sighed.

MARI was always her own harshest critic. Even though she was already perfect, she always felt the need to work even harder just to be more perfect than she needed to be.

He had always wished that she would learn to get over that part of herself… She never did get the chance though…

Not since she was killed by him.

Leaving those thoughts for later, OMORI changed the topic by asking her, "Where did you learn that song, anyway? I was never able to find it sung anywhere else."

MARI awkwardly scratched her cheek as she answered, "Actually… I wrote it up myself. This song was something I created back when I first got into playing the piano at a young age." Then with a chuckle, she lamented, "You can tell by how I never really worked further on the lyrics since then."

"Ah. That makes a lot more sense now…" OMORI nodded to himself.

He always liked that song. It had been a long while since he's heard MARI play it for him again.

Sigh… What the hell was he doing right now? Why was he spoiling himself, having fun listening to his sister sing him songs? The reason why he never got to hear her sing this song again was because it was all his fault in the first place…

He didn't deserve these precious moments. Not a murderer like him…

Interrupting his thoughts, MARI asked sweetly, "Any other songs you want to hear me play?"

OMORI gave it careful consideration.

Would it be worth it now to ask her to do the song that they were supposed to play for the recital? He wondered if she would be emotionally ready for it…

Hm…

"Maybe-"

Before he could even begin his sentence, someone began loudly knocking on the door.

Both he and MARI turned to look at the noise bewilderedly as it disturbed their private session together.

Turning to his sister, he asked curiously, "Expecting someone?"

MARI shook her head, "No… At least, I don't think so…"

Without even pausing for a single moment, whoever was at the door kept insistently knocking on the door over and over again. The loud banging reverberated throughout the entire house without rest.

OMORI actually felt like he recognized this style of knocking…

Yes… A very familiar door-knocking style belonging to a certain happy-go-lucky boy with an addiction to caffeine and soda combos…

MARI stood up as she headed to the front door, "Might be important. I'll go check."

MARI figured that it must be an important package or something sent by a delivery man. She was expecting a check from her Dad after all, so maybe he might have sent something along with it. Traveling souvenirs? Important belongings? Who knows…


KEL was gasping for breath like a fish on dry land.

He had his hands on his knees as he was bent down in front of SUNNY's door.

Running two marathons so quickly one after another without any substantial breaks did not do well on his body. This had to be one of the most grueling tests of stamina he had ever put himself through.

Despite the pain, KEL knew that it was going to be totally worth it.

What're a few strained muscles and overworked lungs, compared to being able to see his best friend again for the first time in six years?!

After a while of recovering, KEL managed to pull himself back together as he excitedly got himself ready.

This was it, man! This was finally the day!

He gets to see SUNNY again!

Clearing his throat and dusting himself off, he took a deep breath and calmly knocked on the door.

Or in this case, KEL's personal definition of calmly.

His fist was rapidly beating down the door like a machine gun with tape stuck down its trigger as he waited patiently for someone inside to notice.

KEL couldn't stop the huge grin that had formed on his face during the trip to come back here.

OhboyOhboyOhboyOhboyOhboyOhboyOhboyOhboyOhboy-

Eventually, all of his knockings finally bore fruit as a tired MARI came by to open the door and face him, "Yes, what do you want-"

MARI's eyes were wide open as she realized who was knocking on her door.

KEL waved at her excitedly as he quickly spouted off, "MARI! It's me, KEL! I heard SUNNY was back from the hospital and I wanted to come by and check! Is it true?! Is he back?! Can I see him?! CAN I?! Can I Can I Can I Can I Can I-"

MARI immediately slammed the door on his face.

Huh.

MARI must have mistaken him as a delivery person.

Oh well, he'll just keep knocking again until she realizes who it was.

With the huge grin never leaving his face, KEL proceeded to continue knocking on her door without rest.


OMORI stepped into the living room while listening as the knocking on the door became more fervent than ever.

MARI had her back against the door almost as if she was trying to keep whatever demonic entity outside from entering.

Walking up next to her, despite already knowing who was on the other side, he asked her, "Who was it?"

MARI turned to him with a tired look, as she sighed, "It wasn't the delivery man..."

Yeah, that sounds about right.

KEL was like this in his original reality too. Guess some things just never change.

OMORI hummed, "So, is it who I think it is?"

MARI hesitantly turned around to look at the peephole on the door. The annoyed frown suggested that she was definitely seeing who OMORI thought it was.

"Y… Yeah…" MARI muttered before pulling herself away from the door and gave it an apprehensive look.

KEL continued to keep knocking like a crazed IRS agent wanting to collect his tax money.

OMORI awkwardly scratched his neck as he stepped up to open the door for him, only for MARI to pull him back.

He glanced at her curiously, seeing her eyes nervously shift between him and the door. "MARI?"

MARI gave him a frown as she contemplated what to say. It took her a bit to work through her nerves as she eventually asked him, "Are you… Are you sure you want to see him?"

OMORI nodded, "I'm sure."

"But… Remember what I said? KEL hasn't visited you in four years. He gave up on you." MARI reminded him sadly. "You don't have to open the door if you don't want to."

OMORI shook his head, "It's fine. I still want to."

MARI hesitantly looked over at the door one last time before giving a relenting sigh as she released his arm. "If that's what you really want."

OMORI gave a thoughtful glance at her as he studied her reaction.

He was definitely going to need to learn more about this issue she had with their old friends. If he could help it, he'd rather have MARI get along with them again…

It felt wrong to have his normally caring and motherly big sister harboring such bitter feelings towards their old friends… Especially over someone like him…

Something he'll need to deal with later, he supposed…

Shaking his head clear, he got himself ready as he stepped up to the front door.

Already in his mind, his imagination painted a clear picture of the boy standing on the other side of the door.

A tall tanned boy with brown hair, wearing a basketball-themed jersey and short shorts. A big dumb excited smile donned on his face as if he was able to face all of his problems without a care in the world.

Mentally preparing himself, he opened the door.


Do you remember me? It's your old friend, KEL! I was wondering... if you wanted to hang out one more time before you go... or whatever... for old time's sake, y'know?

Don't worry, BASIL! Me and SUNNY got you covered! We'll get the photo album back for you!

Guess what, SUNNY? I'm a big brother now!

You know, SUNNY... You were pretty awesome back there, jumping in the lake to save BASIL like that. I think you deserve some recognition too! How about a high five?

You and BASIL… and everyone here… You were my best friends…

Friends… Friends are supposed to be there for each other.

KEL has always been there for me. Even though he was a bit careless at times, I knew he had a good heart. More than anything, he just wanted everyone around him to be happy. He's always been someone I could count on to lift my spirits.

I'll really miss him.

KEL loved her and you killed her.

I know...


KEL held his breath as he watched a long-time familiar face open the door for him.

OMORI blinked a bit as the sunlight hit his eye, before slowly adjusting to see KEL right in front of him.

Besides a few minor differences, the boy looked pretty much the same as he last remembered him.

Did KEL get taller, actually?

"SUNNY…" KEL whispered breathlessly as he stared at the eyepatched boy in shock.

OMORI nodded neutrally and gave a small wave, "Hey."

"Holy cow… it really is you!" KEL mumbled, wiping his eyes as if truly making sure what he was seeing was real. "I can't believe it… You're actually here."

"Yeah. Surprise." OMORI stated stoically.

With a surprising amount of control, KEL managed to hold himself back as he slowly approached his buddy to give him a hug.

"Dude… You have no idea how much I've missed you…" KEL whispered, overwhelmed with joy.

"I can take a guess..." OMORI said back, giving his friend a comforting pat on the back.

The two shared a good amount of time hugging before KEL pulled away with a huge smile.

"SUNNY, buddy! We have so much to catch up on! There are so many things I want to talk about!"

"Sure thing." OMORI nodded, "Whatever you want."

KEL opened his mouth to begin, only to end up winding up in silence. With an awkward smile, he scratched his neck and said, "Okay… Uh… Sooooo… I actually didn't have anything planned when I was running back here from the hospital. I have absolutely no idea what to say right now. Didn't think that far ahead."

Yep, typical KEL. Glad to see he wasn't that much different from the KEL in his original reality.

"I'll go first then, I guess…" OMORI shrugged, before asking, "How have you been?"

"Me?" KEL blinked a bit, before grinning, "Man, I've been great actually! Haven't felt this good about myself in years! Seeing you again is practically the icing on the cake!"

"That's good." OMORI nodded.

"How about you, man? How are you feeling?" KEL asked back, showing a bit of concern. "I mean, have you been adjusting well? Are things okay with you?"

OMORI shrugged before nodding again, "Doing good. Had a nice nap."

KEL broke out into laughter at this, slapping his knees as he heartily chuckled. Wiping a tear from his eye, KEL looked up at him with a humorous smile, "Y-Yeah! I bet you did! It took you six years just to wake up!"

"It was a very nice nap." OMORI reiterated.

Recovering from his laughing fit, KEL stood up straight to look his friend in the eye, "It's really good to see you again, SUNNY. Seriously."

"Yeah, me too." OMORI nodded.

Technically for OMORI, it was only a couple of days ago since he last saw his friend KEL... Still, it really was good to see him again. OMORI couldn't lie.

KEL chuckled again, happy to see that his friend still hasn't changed a bit.

SUNNY was always the kind of guy to keep his words short and simple. More of a listener rather than a speaker, KEL could always rely on him to be the rock that listened to all of his problems.

Even though he may be a bit shy, most of the time expressionless, and always kept himself quiet, KEL knew that SUNNY was one of the kindest and most reliable friends he could ever have.

"Oh! Dude, we should totally hang out today!" KEL suggested excitedly, before asking, "Are you free right now? Do you have anything important to do? If you don't, then we can hang out at my place or even just go to the plaza- Whatever you want man!"

OMORI hummed, giving the idea some considerable thought.

This might be a good opportunity to go gather information about what happened within the past six years. There were loads of things on his mind that he really wanted answers for, and he knew that some important questions would never be answered if he were to stay at home.

He had no idea what the full list of differences this reality had between his old one. He didn't really know what to expect when finding himself in a world where he was the one to suffer from the incident instead of MARI.

However, there was a concern that was stopping him from accepting KEL's invitation outright.

Mostly, MARI.

OMORI glanced behind him a bit before telling KEL, "Wait here, I'll get back to you on that."

"Sure thing!" KEL bounced happily, more than willing to wait for his friend to finish whatever he had to do.

OMORI stepped back inside the house to see his sister hiding behind the door in the corner, doing her best to remain invisible.

He frowned at this, asking her, "Hey, are you okay?"

MARI looked up at him and gave him a reassuring smile that never reached up to her eyes, "Y-Yeah. I'm fine."

"KEL just invited me to hang out with him." OMORI told her.

MARI looked away and shuffled awkwardly in place, "O-Oh… I see… Do… Do you want to go play with him then?"

"Kind of." OMORI nodded, before asking, "Are you okay with that?"

MARI's smile wavered a bit, clearly uncomfortable with the thought. Bringing the smile back, she said, "I would be lying if I said I was… I just got you back for the first time in years, and here he is, trying to take you away from me again."

Why should he get to spend time with her little brother?! He never waited for him like she did! MARI kept the thought to herself.

"It'll just be for a day." OMORI reminded her, "I could make sure he brings me back home when we're done."

"I mean… Yeah, he could…" MARI mumbled to herself bitterly.

"You could come with me if you want." OMORI offered, "We can both play with KEL together."

MARI furrowed her brows at this, obviously not even willing to consider it.

"I… I don't think so…" MARI shook her head, bringing her smile back to reassure him, "You and KEL would get along better without me there to get in between the two of you."

"Oh…"

OMORI gave a sad sigh, watching his sister squirm in place like this. It reminded him of himself in a way.

It seems MARI has chosen to become a reclusive shut-in just like him in this reality. The once extroverted and outgoing sister he used to know was nowhere to be found…

It felt like seeing a mockery of the MARI he once remembered. It made him feel sick to his stomach.

Once he manages to help her face the truth and get her to forgive herself, one of the first things he'll need to do is get her to return back to her old self again. He'll need to hold off on dying until he manages that…

With a frown, he asked her, "Do you want me to stay here with you instead? So that you don't get lonely?"

MARI gave him a hopeful glance, smiling at him as if she was right about to jump on that offer.

But then he saw her hesitate before she looked over him again with a considerate frown.

MARI sighed as she straightened herself up, before turning to him with a gentle smile, "You should use this chance to reconnect with your friends again, SUNNY. I don't want to keep you all to myself."

"Are you sure?"

MARI nodded cheerfully, "As long as you promise to come back before it gets too late, I'll trust you. Have fun with KEL, okay?"

OMORI nodded back sadly, "Okay… Thanks, MARI."

"Go on. He's waiting for you, isn't he?" MARI gently urged him as she slightly nudged the boy towards the door, "You wouldn't want to keep him standing outside forever, would you?"

"Right…" OMORI nodded again, before reassuring her, "I'll see you later then."

"Stay safe for me, SUNNY!" MARI waved goodbye.

OMORI took a step outside and closed the door behind him, before giving a tired sigh.

Looking up, he saw KEL raring to go as he flashed a smile, "So? We hanging?"

"Yeah, sure." OMORI nodded, "Lead the way."

"ALRIGHT!" KEL cheered brightly before marching off.

OMORI followed closely after.


The moment her little brother left the house, she released the fake smile and landed her forehead against the door as she depressingly slumped to the ground.

MARI wanted him to stay with her. She wanted him to stay so badly…

But she knew that keeping him to herself would be selfish. There was no way she could deny her little brother's wish of wanting to be with his friends again.

As much as she wanted to be together with him today, she knew that with the way she was now, all she would do was ruin his heartwarming reunion with his friends.

Even though he had already forgiven them, MARI couldn't find it within herself to do the same.

She'll just lash out at them. Scream at them, hate them all over again.

She didn't want to do that in front of her little brother…

She didn't want to look like a monster in front of him.

She was a monster.

MARI shook her head, the painful ringing in her ears coming back to bother her again.

This will be a good chance for SUNNY to understand and realize that everything wasn't a dream.

Surrounding himself with friends that he cares about will make him happy.

And if he was happy, then he won't try to kill himself again.

In the meanwhile, MARI will just… sit at home and wait for him to come back. At the very least, she knew that she could trust him to take care of himself…He'll come back for her.

...

MARI sighed gently as she closed her eyes against the door.

Yeah... It was just going to be for the day.

She could wait that long for him to come back to her. After all, she had been waiting for six entire years.

She could wait for just one more day.

That was all she ever does anymore.

That was all she could do anymore.

Just…

gotta...

wait…

She misses him already.

Chapter Text

"So… SUNNY…" KEL began carefully enough as they both began walking to wherever the heck they were planning to go.

OMORI assumed that KEL was leading him to the park, considering they just skipped past his house.

KEL had absolutely no idea where he was going either, he just wanted an excuse to hang out with his old best friend!

"Mhm?" OMORI hummed to show he was listening.

"How are you handling the whole… coma thing? It must be jarring to wake up one day and find out you're six years older than you remembered being, right?" KEL asked with a concerned smile.

OMORI shrugged, "Eh. Not too bothered by it."

He was a lot more bothered by the fact that he got sent to a different reality, initially. But he's long since rationalized and got over it.

"Seriously? Wow." KEL muttered, impressed by his friend's attitude. "Still, you must be confused by a lot of things though, right? It's not like the world didn't change these past six years while you were gone." KEL pounded a fist to his chest before proclaiming proudly, "If you have any questions or you want to get caught up on something, you can rely on ol' KEL to help you out! Count on me to be your tour guide of the future, little buddy!"

Tour guide, huh? That's a pretty apt description of something he needed right now.

He had a lot of questions that he needed answers to but now didn't seem like the right time. It would be better to wait for a more appropriate opportunity where he and KEL could have a serious discussion.

For now, KEL seemed like he was high on life and in a seriously good mood. He'd rather let the tanned boy enjoy his fun while it lasts. They have the whole day ahead of them, after all.

"Yeah, I do have some questions…" OMORI said neutrally, before shaking his head, "They can wait until later though. Kind of need to sort my thoughts first before asking."

"No problem man, take your time!" KEL said cheerfully, "I'll be right here whenever you need me!"

OMORI nodded appreciatively.

KEL in the meanwhile found it pretty impressive that his best buddy didn't seem all that fazed by the fact that he was gone for six years. Most people would probably freak out over the littlest thing, but SUNNY here was basically taking it all like a champ!

"Hope you don't mind if I want to ask a few things though. That's cool with you?" KEL asked curiously.

OMORI nodded, "Go nuts."

"How did it feel, waking up from the coma?" KEL asked, "Do you remember anything? Did you have any weird dreams?"

"Uh…" OMORI hesitated a bit as he thought up a realistic lie, before settling for a simple, "I dunno. Can't remember."

Best not to complicate things. KEL doesn't need to know about the things he experienced before coming to this world.

"Oh… yeah, I guess that's fair." KEL nodded understandingly, knowing that sometimes things could happen too quickly for anyone to really understand anything. "Do you at least remember how you got into a coma in the first place?"

"Fell down some stairs, right?" OMORI decided to answer.

"Yeah…" KEL nodded solemnly, "All of us took it pretty hard when we all found out, you know? We kind of thought we lost you that day."

"Mm." OMORI nodded awkwardly.

Did KEL know about the situation with MARI? Did she ever tell anyone that she believed it was all her fault for how he got into a coma?

Even though OMORI didn't believe that she should be blamed, if she had made the same mistake that he did in his original reality and kept it all a secret for all these years, it must be eating her up inside. Wallowing in self-guilt without telling anyone was practically torture. OMORI would need to do something about that to get MARI on the right path again…

"How about your eye? How is it?" KEL decided to ask next.

OMORI glanced at him, "Which one?"

Pointing to his right one, KEL said, "Your right one. With the eyepatch. The one you lost during the accident."

OMORI brought a hand up to that eye as he paused his steps, "Oh, KEL… I don't know how to tell you this, but I got some bad news…"

"Bad news? What?!" KEL stopped too, giving OMORI a startled look of concern, "What's wrong with it?!"

"I don't have it anymore." OMORI told him in complete seriousness.

KEL began wheezing incredulously as he humorously smiled, slapping OMORI's back, "I already knew that! Like six years ago! You almost scared me for a second there!"

OMORI shrugged, "You asked how it was."

"Yeah, but I meant more like how does it feel?" KEL clarified as he did his best to calm down.

"Uh… like I don't have it anymore?" OMORI offered stoically.

"Are you messing with me right now?" KEL asked with a chuckle.

"Admittedly, yeah." OMORI nodded.

KEL started laughing at this to the point where he had to cover his stomach to stop it from aching.

OMORI stood by patiently and watched as his friend slowly recovered.

Getting most of the giggles out of his system, KEL wiped the tears in his eyes as he glanced up at OMORI with a smile, "Dude, your sense of humor is as weird as I used to remember! I haven't had to deal with anything like that in years!"

OMORI gave a thumbs up in response.

Finally recovering from his laughing fit, KEL stood up straight again and gave his friend a fond smile.

"Aw man… Seeing you again is starting to bring back so many memories for me…" KEL happily told him as he brushed his hair in nostalgia, "We used to hang out all the time back when we were kids, you know?"

"Yeah." OMORI nodded.

"Heheheh," KEL chuckled again, standing back a bit and taking a good long look at his friend. "Man… I seriously can't believe it! Look at you! You're actually back! After all these years, you finally woke up again!"

"Mhm." OMORI kept nodding.

"Dude, it's just so awesome to finally see you again! You have no idea how much we all missed you, SUNNY." KEL told him, "We didn't even know if you'd ever wake up! All of us had been waiting forever just to see if there were any signs or hints!"

"Mm."

"Man, I can't wait to see the look on BASIL's and AUBREY's faces when they realize that you're finally baaaaaaaa…" KEL trailed off, his smile forming to a frown as his eyes widened when a realization struck him.

OMORI raised an eyebrow.

KEL realized something important. Very very important.

He was the only one who knew that SUNNY was back. Nobody else heard the news yet.

AUBREY, BASIL, and HERO had no idea that their old friend SUNNY was back in the land of the living, waiting for them to come see him.

Oh my god, he was such an idiot.

"Oh my god, I am such an idiot!" KEL suddenly shouted while slapping his cheeks together.

"I mean, sure, but don't beat yourself up about it." OMORI shrugged.

"I completely forgot about the others!" KEL explained, turning to OMORI with an excited grin, "Dude, BASIL and AUBREY have been waiting for you since forever! We have to go see them right now and tell them that you're finally awake! They are going to flip out once they see you!"

BASIL and AUBREY, huh?

So, KEL was still on good terms with everyone, despite what MARI told him. Makes sense, considering that she explained how BASIL invited both KEL and AUBREY to come visit him again for his eighteenth birthday.

So did the old friend group ever actually split at all? Or was it just recently that they all came back together again just so that they could celebrate his birthday?

If they did come back together, why didn't MARI jump at the chance to go back with them?

Hm, something to ask later. For now, it'll be nice to see how different the others were like in this new reality, as well as find out more about how they've been dealing with him gone in the past six years.

OMORI didn't get a chance to respond before KEL grabbed his hand and started dragging his body like a piece of luggage as the tanned boy began sprinting off at light speed.

Thank goodness his body was too numb to feel any of this, otherwise, he was sure he'd be in serious pain right now.


"W-We're here…" KEL gasped out, colliding to the ground right in front of BASIL's house.

OMORI crouched down next to him, asking, "You good?"

"Y-yeah…" KEL wheezed as he flashed a tired smile, "I've just… been running nonstop… this whole day... Never gave myself… the chance… to rest…"

"Ah." OMORI nodded understandingly.

"Just… give me… a minute…"

OMORI nodded again before standing up and taking a good look at BASIL's house.

It didn't seem to look all that different compared to the last time he was here. If anything, it actually seemed like it was in better condition.

The flowers and garden that decorated the outside of the house were more vibrant and plentiful than he ever saw it being before.

However different BASIL was like in this reality, it seemed he never stopped caring for his plants.

"Oh… He's stopped taking care of his plants lately…" POLLY sighed sadly while watering a potted plant next to the door, "Is there nothing I can do…?"

Well, this was a positive difference at least…

True to KEL's word, a minute passed before he was already up on his feet with an energetic bounce like nothing ever happened.

Excitedly stepping up to the front door of BASIL's house, he began to do his KEL patented knocking style as he proceeded to repeatedly slam his fist on the door like a crazed stalker trying to call out their favorite idol group.

"BASIL! BAAAASIIIIIIL!" KEL shouted happily, "BASIL YOU GOTTA COME OUT RIGHT NOW! YOU'RE NOT GONNA BELIEVE WHAT YOU'RE GONNA SEE!"

OMORI awkwardly stepped back a few distances away, hoping that if any strangers happened to be nearby and called the police for KEL's erratic behavior, then maybe he could avoid being associated with KEL when they came by to arrest him.

"BASIL! BASIL BASIL BASIL!" KEL kept knocking without a care in the world, "BASIL SERIOUSLY YOU NEED TO COME OUT AND SEE THIS!"

This would continue for the next several minutes, as KEL continuously knocked on BASIL's door like a desperate door-to-door salesman representing a pyramid scheme.

"BASIL! OPEN THE DOOR! BAAAAASIIIIIIIIL!"

After several more minutes of this and hearing no response from inside, OMORI began to believe that nobody was home.

Still, he let KEL continue his crazy knocking for several more minutes as OMORI began to drift off to space in order to pass the time.

Oh hey, a bumblebee landed on one of BASIL's plants outside.

This mundane sight interested OMORI greatly, as he stepped closer and crouched down to stare at it while it did it's pollination process.

KEL's shouting and knocking became background noises now as he thought back to something BASIL once taught him.

Two boys stared at the bee in fascination as it pollinated one of the flowers by the lake.

"You know, a lot of people always assume bees are hostile insects that sting anything on sight because of how cartoons and movies always depict them like that." The flower boy began explaining, "But that's not true at all! Bees are actually really smart and docile insects as long as they aren't provoked! They can recognize threats and they only attack as a last resort because their stingers are connected to an integral part of their body. Attacking means they're putting their lives on the line. Once they lose that stinger, they die soon after."

"Mm." The stoic boy nodded while listening carefully.

"Besides that, they're really hard workers who can be really friendly towards people." The flower boy smiled happily, turning to him, "I like bees. They're cute, they're kind, and they only ever do something drastic to protect the things they care about. In a way, they remind me of you, SUNNY!"

The stoic boy glanced back as he noted, "You always compare me to all the things you like, BASIL."

"O-Oh, do I?" BASIL blushed as looked away with an embarrassed smile, "I-I wonder why that is?"

Hm.

BASIL always thought highly of him, even when it was obvious that OMORI never deserved it…

...

They had both promised to always be there together after what happened that day…

But then he decided to lock himself away in his mind, abandoning everyone he cared about so that he could live in the past…

No wonder BASIL became so screwed up the next time they met up with each other…He was left alone to suffer by himself.

All because of what they did…

What was BASIL going to be like in this reality, he wondered...

*CRASH*

OMORI jolted out of his thoughts as he stood up and turned to the sound of glass getting broken.

KEL was nowhere near the front door anymore when OMORI turned to look.

Blinking a bit in confusion, OMORI stepped up closer to the house as he looked around, wondering where the hell KEL ran off to.

It wasn't until he heard something being rummaged around inside the house did he decide to put his ear against the door to listen.

"BASIL! Where are youuuuuu~?!" KEL shouted loudly from the opposite side of the door.

Oh god, KEL, what did you do this time?

POLLY was definitely not going to appreciate this…

OMORI sighed tiredly and stood back a bit.

He waited for a while before a sheepish KEL would eventually unlock the front door and stepped outside.

Giving OMORI an awkward smile, KEL muttered out, "Uh… He's not home..."

"Really." OMORI deadpanned.

And he couldn't have figured that out when no one came to answer him after knocking on the door for several minutes?

Seriously KEL, something like him coming back from a coma was not worth starting a commotion over...

Scratching the back of his neck, KEL mumbled awkwardly, "Er…Hey, SUNNY… Sooo, I might have accidentally broken a window just to get inside."

Accidentally, he says. Right. Sure.

"Do you… uh… know how much it costs to replace a broken window?" KEL asked, before shamefully asking, "I think I might… need you to spot me a couple… dollars…"

OMORI leaned in to give a pat on KEL's shoulder before closing his eyes and shaking his head, "No."

KEL still never paid him back for the twenty dollars OMORI lent him just to afford to get that cookbook as a gift for HERO. Sure, it might not count anymore since that was in the other reality, but OMORI wasn't going to forget about something like that so easily.

He has a very good memory.

"Aheh… figures…" KEL mumbled before sighing, "Oh, my mom is going to kill me…"

"You should at least leave a note or something behind to explain that it wasn't a robber trying to break into the house." OMORI mentioned.

KEL slammed a fist in his palm as he smiled excitedly at the idea, "OH YEAH! That's a great idea, SUNNY!"

KEL then went back inside so that he could do whatever it was he needed to do.

OMORI waited a bit before KEL came back with a bright smile.

Locking and closing the front door, KEL turned to him and said cheerfully, "I wrote a note in BASIL's room that explains the whole situation! Once BASIL comes back home, it'll be the first thing he sees! He'll be so excited to hear that you're back, he'll probably even forget the fact that I broke the window in the first place!"

Assuming BASIL or POLLY doesn't call the police first before they find the note. Sure. Whatever.

Both of them walked away and silently stood on the sidewalk as they cautiously stared at the house.

"Welp." KEL began with a thin-lined expression, "Going to BASIL's was a bust."

Yeah, a busted window perhaps.

Turning to OMORI, the tanned boy resumed his carefree smile, "Oh well! We'll just need to skip him for now and go to AUBREY next! Oooohh, she's going to be so excited to see you again, I just know it!"

AUBREY…

It would be nice to see her again. OMORI wondered if in this reality, AUBREY was still a delinquent leader of a gang?

Losing MARI back in his old reality devastated her greatly. With no one in their old group to be there for her, she turned to rely on violence and anger as an outlet for all of her depression.

He hoped that she managed to at least turn out alright in this reality.

He couldn't imagine the bow-wearing girl drastically changing herself over someone like him. AUBREY always looked up to MARI and thought of her as if she was her own big sister… Him though, she thought of him as nothing more than just a friend.

He'll be ready for any surprises of course, but he was doubtful that AUBREY would think so highly of him that she would change the same way she did for MARI.

Only one way to find out...


"AUBREEEEYY!" KEL shouted loudly once again in the middle of the park, calling out for the girl like a stalker with a crush.

OMORI sat by on the bench in an attempt to stay away from the stares that KEL was attracting from all around him, casually reading a RECYCULTIST propaganda pamphlet to pass the time.

Kids and joggers would stop in place to wonder why there was a crazy boy in an orange hoodie shouting the same name over and over again for the past several minutes.

KEL had been searching everywhere for her, going to great lengths just to be able to spot even a trace of the pink-haired girl or even any of her SCOOTER GANG friends.

He checked around to ask the nearby park attendees if they had seen her, only to get no confirmation from them.

He did his best to draw a colored picture of what AUBREY looked like before showing them to the kids, only for them to laugh at how stupid his drawing was.

He climbed up to one of the tallest trees in the park and began shouting her name once more while doing a very silly stunt of screaming like TARZAN and slamming his fist into his chest like a monkey.

"AAAAW-AAAW-AW-AW-AWH-AAAAUBREYYYY!"

When everything failed to attract her attention, KEL slouched over to his eye-patched friend and practically collapsed right next to him on the bench seat.

"Augh, I couldn't find her…" KEL groaned.

"Mhm." OMORI hummed neutrally, finding a very interesting paragraph within the RECYCULTISTS manifesto.

"Man, where is she?" KEL sat up with a grumble, "Every other time I see her, she's always loitering around the park with her SCOOTER GANG… Why is she not here now of all times?! Heck, usually even one of the members in her gang could still be found somewhere around here. They're not even in the secret hideout by the lake either!"

OMORI glanced over at KEL, listening to every word with abided interest.

Hm, so AUBREY still ended up becoming a gang leader after all.

SCOOTER GANG, though? Was that their name?

Didn't they call themselves the HOOLIGANS the last time he remembered? Although, maybe he was just mixing up what other people had called them and assumed that her gang called themselves that. He never did get the chance to ask them to clarify, not after spraying the entire group with pepper spray…

They were surprisingly nice once you got to know them though.

If their name was different, was it because of something different happening in this reality? Was it even the same group from his old reality or was he just assuming that? Maybe AUBREY was a leader of a different gang group?

Hm, not much information to go on for a proper assessment.

Before he could think any further on that, KEL suddenly bounced up with an energetic smile before suggesting, "Ooh! Maybe they're all hanging out at the plaza! Let's go to HOBBEEZ and check to see if anyone in her group is there!"

As good a plan as any. Especially in comparison to breaking into BASIL's house or screaming like a mad man in public.

Dumping the RECYCULTISTS pamphlet in a nearby recycle bin, something he was sure they couldn't get mad at him for, OMORI followed after KEL as the orange boy happily led him over to HOBBEEZ.

On their way there, KEL paused a bit near the entrance as he took a quick glance at GINO's.

"Oh hey, go check in HOBBEEZ without me for a bit, I'm gonna grab a slice of pizza to refuel!" KEL asked excitedly, before remembering to ask, "Oh right! Do you want me to get you anything while I'm in there?"

OMORI shook his head.

"Cool, be right back!" KEL gave him a thumbs up before rushing inside the pizzeria.

OMORI, now left all alone, shrugged to himself before taking a peek inside the old hobby store. Even if he couldn't find AUBREY or any of the other gang members inside, it wouldn't hurt to check the place out to see if anything was different.

Taking a step inside, OMORI wasn't surprised to see that seemingly little has changed inside the hobby shop. The walls were adorned with plenty of memorabilia and merchandising of different fandoms, and the shelves were still filled with toys, games, movies, and other neat gadgets.

Besides a few customers he actually recognized from the old reality being here, no one from AUBREY's group was in the area.

Oh well. Might as well peruse just to pass the time and wait until KEL comes to pick him up.

OMORI felt himself get gravitated towards the comic book section, hands already opening a recent issue of CAPTAIN SPACEBOY.

Huh, this issue was definitely further ahead than the last issue he read. There were a lot of spoilers here that he hasn't gotten the chance to catch up on. No doubt because of the two-year gap.

The last time he was here was only a few days ago when he was still a sixteen-year-old. Now here he was a few days later, already eighteen in another timeline.

It became quite jarring once he realized this, to be honest. He wondered if CAPTAIN SPACEBOY ever went through something similar.

OMORI flipped a page, entranced with the story.

Oh, he did!

Neat.

Satisfied with the story so far, OMORI placed the comic back on the shelf before already losing interest and moving on to the next object to catch his attention.

"Hey, I don't think I've ever seen you around here before!"

OMORI perked up at the sound of someone calling out to him.

Turning around, he found himself face to face with the shopkeep of HOBBEEZ studying him up and down.

"You new in town, champ? You got good taste in coming here!" The shopkeep complimented before flipping his puffy hair proudly, "This place is one of the best hobby stores in the area. It's so popular, even people from downtown in the city would come and visit just to check out the merchandise."

The shopkeep didn't look or acted any different than how he remembered. Seems like there wouldn't be any noticeable differences here in HOBBEEZ for OMORI to take note of then.

"I like your eyepatch, champ!" The shopkeep gestured at his eye before pointing over at a poster of an edgier version of CAPTAIN SPACEBOY, "You trying to copy the look of the dark era outfit? I must say, I admire your style!"

OMORI blinked confusedly at this.

Did this guy really think OMORI was wearing an eyepatch just to look like CAPTAIN SPACEBOY?

Well, this ought to be funny.

"Me personally, I'm always going to be a fanboy over the original design. But nothing sells like hot cakes than an alternate adaptation where everything is darker and edgier- OH MY GOD-"

OMORI interrupted the shopkeep mid-sentence as he pulled his eyepatch up to reveal the empty eye socket to the poor guy.

"O-Oh… I see, you…" The shopkeep mumbled awkwardly, before hastily bowing to apologize, "I'm so sorry! For some reason, I forgot that people wearing eyepatches for medical reasons were a thing. I was so used to cosplayers and fans playing dress-up that I didn't even think that you were just a normal guy with an eyepatch…"

"It's okay. Your reaction was hilarious." OMORI stated stoically as he covered up his eye.

The shopkeeper still seemed uncomfortable despite OMORI's assurance. With a guilty expression, he nervously offered, "Uh, to make it up to you, I can give you a fifty percent discount on the next item you buy!"

OMORI shook his head, "No thanks. I'm just here with a friend. I didn't even bring any money with me."

Pretty sure his wallet full of cash was still in the pockets of his old clothing back in his original reality. Definitely not gonna get any of that money any time soon…

A shame. An old hobo in the park won the lottery on his last day before moving away and gave him double what OMORI donated to him. Never got the chance to spend any of that before he threw himself off the top of the hospital building.

"Oh… In that case, I'll just… leave you to your window shopping then." The shopkeeper mumbled awkwardly, as he moved back behind the counter.

OMORI nodded appreciatively before going back to perusing the shelves.

At some point, KEL walked into the shop while eating a slice of pizza. Noticing OMORI near the walls, he quickly stepped next to him and asked while chewing, "Hey man! Did you find AUBREY or one of her friends?"

OMORI shook his head.

He felt like he should really tell KEL the flaws in his plan to leave OMORI alone to search for AUBREY himself like this. KEL does remember that he just woke up yesterday from a supposedly six-year coma, right? In any normal circumstances that didn't involve reality switching, how was OMORI supposed to know what AUBREY or her friends even looked like? Especially if AUBREY decided to change her hair color in this reality.

Instead, he kept quiet. Not really worth the effort to bring up, to be honest.

"Aw, that sucks…" KEL mumbled with food in his mouth, before gulping to say, "At least this was a good excuse so that you could take the time to get yourself familiar with the place! HOBBEEZ sure has changed in the last six years while you were gone. Bet you didn't recognize it at first, huh?"

OMORI shrugged, not really sure how to answer that.

While OMORI kept perusing the walls for something interesting to stare at, KEL glanced around as he ate his pizza only for him to suddenly gasp in shock as his eyes landed directly on something dangling off of OMORI's belt.

"HEY! That's the PET ROCK I gave you, isn't it?!" KEL asked excitedly while pointing at the electronic toy.

OMORI turned to him questioningly before realizing what he said.

Unclipping the toy from his belt, he brought it up to KEL and asked, "You gave this to me on my birthday, right? Back at the hospital?"

KEL nodded cheerfully, "Yeah man! Wow, I didn't think I'd ever get to see you carrying that around." Then with an embarrassed smile, he whispered conspiratorially, "Don't tell anyone about this, but I actually completely forgot it was your birthday that day when I came to visit… I didn't want to look stupid, so I pulled that out on the spot and said it was my birthday gift to you in front of the others."

Yep. Typical KEL moment. Not even surprised.

Well, that does explain who the PET ROCK came from.

OMORI handed the electronic toy towards the tanned boy, "You want it back then? Since it wasn't meant to be a gift?"

"What? Nah, man! Go ahead and keep it." KEL insisted, pushing the toy back to him, "Don't worry, I already got tons of PET ROCKS collected over the years. I actually have several different versions of JASH already, so it's no skin off my back."

It was then that KEL actually lit up excitedly before he scarfed the pizza down to quickly finish it.

Dusting his hands off, KEL pulled out his own PET ROCK with him and took a challenging stance towards OMORI as he aimed the PET ROCK directly at the eyepatched boy.

"Let's test out your skills and see if you remember how to play! It's been years since we last played a game together!" KEL challenged him excitedly, "I'll have you know that I've gotten much more practice since we last battled six years ago! Think you can handle the heat?"

OMORI didn't have the heart to tell the poor boy what a horrible mistake he just put himself in.

With a casual shrug, OMORI aimed his PET ROCK directly at KEL's PET ROCK too, "Okay."

The two toys connected with each other via magnets. OMORI watched as a familiar dwarf-planet appeared onto his screen as their pets' health bars filled up.

KEL had a smirk as he announced, "LET'S CLASH!"

Five minutes later, KEL was sprawled dead on the floor as OMORI silently praised JASH for another flawless victory.

Clipping the PET ROCK back onto his belt, OMORI watched as KEL came back to life and dizzyingly fought to bring himself back on his feet.

"Holy crap…" KEL mumbled, shaking his head clear before saying, "You didn't even let up for a second! Man, I should have known better… You always were pretty good at video games out of all of us."

OMORI gave a stoic shrug in response.

Honestly, it was more like KEL just kept spamming the same move over and over again. Powerful, but easy to counter. He'd be shocked if KEL managed to win an actual serious game with anyone else other than him with this kind of playstyle.

"Nice to know that the last six years didn't dull your senses at least." KEL chuckled heartily, being a good sport despite the loss.

KEL and OMORI hung out together at HOBBEEZ for a decent while before the two exited the shop.

KEL had a satisfied smile on his face as OMORI followed after him, "Ah man, that was fun! Anyways, what did you want to do next?"

"Weren't we looking for AUBREY?" OMORI reminded.

"Oh shoot, that's right!" KEL slapped himself in the face before groaning, "Ugh, I am such a spaz! I have no idea where the heck she is though! Was she still even in town right now?"

OMORI hummed as he wondered.

If this reality's AUBREY was similar to the one back home, then no doubt she would avoid staying at her house if she could help it.

Even before MARI died, AUBREY's living situation has never been ideal for a girl like her. With two neglectful parents who always argued with each other as they lived an impoverished lifestyle, OMORI could recount almost every single time AUBREY needed him to vent out all of the problems she was going through.

She was always so sad and stressed out, never wanting to be alone or go back home. She would often search out for him so that she could invite him to hang out at the playground, sitting on the swings just so that they could be alone to talk to each other.

He always made sure to give AUBREY special attention in order to make her feel better. Mostly because he genuinely felt bad that she had to be in that situation. Partially because he had a raging crush on her at the time and took any excuse to be as close to her as possible.

After MARI died though…

It was no surprise that AUBREY chose to hate him for abandoning her like that… Maybe if he had been there for her when she needed him…

No… He wouldn't be of reliable help towards her anyway, he didn't think. If anything, he would just make her situation worse. Especially since he was the reason why MARI died in the first place.

...

If AUBREY couldn't be found around town today, he wondered where she could possibly be…

"Well, anyway…" KEL mumbled disappointedly before turning to OMORI, "Even if we can't find the others, you want to go somewhere else?"

Actually…

"Can you buy me some flowers over at FIX-IT? I kinda do have somewhere I want to be." OMORI mentioned.

"Flowers?" KEL raised an eyebrow at this, but shrugged anyway, "Alright. Sure. Whatever you need, buddy."

They could even check up on AUBREY's house along the way. Just to make sure she wasn't at home.

Wherever she was, she wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.


Meanwhile, a few towns away from FARAWAY…

"And that's the last of them!" KIM proudly cheered as she kicked an enemy gang member to his knees.

Lined up in front of AUBREY was the entire group of an enemy gang, known as the PIT-STOP CREW of NOWHERESVILLE, completely bruised and beaten to a bloody pulp as they all laid on their knees.

Every single one of them was tied up so that they couldn't escape. VANCE and ANGEL patted their hands at a job well done before joining her up front.

The PIT-STOP CREW all trembled nervously as the entirety of the SCOOTER GANG leered down at them with either a contemptuous glare or a sadistic smile.

One particular member worked up the nerve to stutter out, "H-Hey man, c'mon! You beat us already! We ain't gonna do nothing to you guys anymore! J-Just let us go, man!"

"No can do, pal." VANCE denied without a shred of empathy for their prey, "We got personal beef with one of you guys, and we're not letting anyone go until that beef is settled."

The PIT-STOP CREW grew confused at this as they all looked at each other with questioning glances.

"Is that why you came to our town to attack us? Because you had a grudge against one of us?" One member called out incredulously, "What the hell did we even do to you guys to deserve this?! We've been avoiding FARAWAY town like the plague ever since we heard rumors about you guys!"

At this, AUBREY put on an intimidating air as she slammed her nailed bat on the concrete ground to make a loud thunk noise, silencing everyone in an instant.

Bringing her bat up, she gave a very cruel smile, "Four years ago, months before the SCOOTER GANG was born. A stupid little group calling themselves the PIT-STOP CREW came to visit our fair FARAWAY in order to cause some trouble. Vandalism, property damage, even a little bit of burglary here and there- or so I hear."

AUBREY turned her head over to CHARLIE and gestured the silent giant over to stand next to her.

CHARLIE came up front with her, her usual shy face now donning a very hateful glare.

AUBREY leaned on CHARLIE like a pillar and kicked a foot up, continuing, "None of that is what we're here for though. We're actually here for a very very special reason. You see our very big friend over here? Their name is CHARLIE. Tell them what you told us, CHARLIE."

"You. Pushed. My. Mother. Down. The sidewalk." CHARLIE punctuated, seething at the scared group underneath her.

The entire group nervously grew pale as they heard this.

"Exactly. Poor dear mother of CHARLIE busted her hip from the fall and ended up losing her ability to walk properly ever since then. She's forced to rely on a walking aid for the rest of her life." AUBREY kept explaining, her smile growing more malicious by the second, "So on her behalf, we're here to collect on that grudge."

"W-Wait a second!" One of the younger members of the beaten gang cried out, "How can you even know that it was us in the first place?! This was four years ago, there's no way you could remember who did that! Hell, none of us could remember something that long ago."

"See, that would be true…" AUBREY chuckled, "If we didn't have someone reliable to help us. Take the stage MIKHAEL! Your turn to shine."

The blond wigged boy came into view from behind CHARLIE, stepping up front as he gave an annoyed groan, "It's THE MAVERICK! How many times do I have to tell you to introduce me as THE MAVERICK, THE BOSS?"

"Whatever." AUBREY glanced away disinterestedly.

MIKHAEL gave another groan before shaking himself out of it and proceeding to pose menacingly, "You evildoers have made a graaaaaaave mistake, attacking the mother of one of THE MAVERICK'S closest allies! For you see, even if we have no evidence or clues that would even suggest who could have been the culprit of such a malicious crime, you have all lacked the foresight to predict your most fatal error!"

MIKHAEL continued to style on them boys as he menacingly waved his body around like a karate master, making noises as if preparing to attack.

"HUWAAAAAAAAH~" MIKHAEL posed again, this time pulling the bangs of his wig away from his face and making his eyes cross, "I happen to be born with the special ability of divine pre-sight! This ability allows me to instantly recall any information from the past so long as I was there to be a witness to that past in the first place!"

The entire enemy gang glanced at each other with even more confused looks, before one of them asked, "What does that mean?"

"Ugh-" KIM groaned, "It means our guy here has a photographic memory! Seriously MIKHAEL, lead in with that next time!"

"THE MAVERICK!" MIKHAEL insisted again, before telling her, "And it doesn't sound as cool if I just call it that! Let me sprinkle a little bit of pizazz sometimes, will ya?!"

"The point is-" AUBREY interrupted, bringing herself to attention again, "It doesn't matter whether you guys remember it or not. We have someone who was there to witness what happened that day and can easily remember every single moment. What we're going to be doing is having him check out each of your faces one by one until we find the guy we're looking for, so that we can teach the punk a lesson!"

"W-What exactly are you going to do to him…?" One of the gang members asked hesitantly.

AUBREY resumed her malicious smile again, "Oh, you'll see. We'll be making it a public lesson for all of you to watch together as a group! Doesn't that sound fun?"

The guy who asked the question gulped, "I want my mommy."

"Not until we get revenge for our friend's mommy first, villain!" ANGEL curled a knuckle up to the gang member with a menacing glare.

"Alright, MIKHAEL. Do your thing." AUBREY signed off.

"I told you already it's-" MIKHAEL stopped himself and moaned, "Oh never mind! Four entire years together, and I still get no respect from you guys…"

MIKHAEL started bouncing in place as he shook off his entire body. Then, going up to the first gang member in the line, MIKHAEL started chanting an ominous-sounding language that seemed like he made up on the spot.

"Ancient divine guardians of the past! Guide me to the truth that I seek!" MIKHAEL chanted slowly, "La-li-lu-le-lo! La-li-lu-le-lo! La-li-lu-le-lo! La-li-lu-"

KIM brought it to herself to step behind MIKHAEL and slap him upside the head, "Can you get this done sometime within the next year, idiot?! Stop wasting time, you're putting CHARLIE in suspense!"

"OW!" MIKHAEL grunted as his wig fell to his feet. "Alright- alright already! I'll take it seriously this time!" MIKHAEL grumbled while picking up his wig and putting it back into place. Turning around, he gave a quick apology, "Sorry, CHARLIE. I'll get started now."

CHARLIE gave an appreciative nod and smile.

For the next few minutes, MIKHAEL would begin studying the faces of each and every gang member one by one.

"Nope, it's not him."

Whenever MIKHAEL pulled a negative on the gang member, ANGEL and KIM would take them away as AUBREY forcefully grabbed the next one to be placed right in front of him.

"Nuh-uh, not him either."

The ones that he cleared up would be pushed away into a pile under VANCE's watchful eye. The burly man would keep close watch to make sure they didn't try to run away, all while silently chewing on a piece of taffy.

"Nope, definitely not this-"

MIKHAEL was startled back as this particular gang member tried to be defiant, spitting a loogie at his face.

MIKHAEL was nimble enough to dodge out of the way though, giving a mocking smile, "Haha! Missed me, you feisty little weasel!"

Not willing to let this act of defiance slide, AUBREY made a show to bring the bastard up to his feet before headbutting him into unconsciousness with one single blow.

The other gang members watched horrified as their friend slumped over instantaneously before AUBREY threw him away like a disregarded piece of trash.

"Anyone else wants to try something funny?" AUBREY asked in a threatening tone, "Go ahead. Make my day. I'm still not satisfied with the fight you guys put up earlier, if you could even call it a fight to begin with."

The PIT-STOP CREW all rapidly shook their heads in fear.

"Thought so." AUBREY smiled smugly at their obedience, before shouting, "NEXT!"

This would continue for a while before MIKHAEL would finally recognize someone.

"No, it's not him eith- WAIT!" MIKHAEL called out, pulling himself closer to study the face of the person in front of him.

He was a chubby guy with a fake gold tooth, long hair dyed completely black to try to make himself look like a heavy-metal fan.

And he looked absolutely pissing-in-his-pants scared right now.

MIKHAEL concentrated further on the details of his face before raising his voice in recognition, "It's him! We found him! We got the guy!"

"Nonononono- I have no idea what you're talking about man!" The metalhead insisted repeatedly, "Whoever it is you're looking for, I'm a totally different guy!"

Walking next to MIKHAEL, KIM looked down at the enemy gang member and asked, "You absolutely sure?"

"Positive!" MIKHAEL nodded determinedly, as he explained, "There's no way it's not him. I can still remember that day perfectly like it was yesterday. Me, ANGEL, and CHARLIE just got back from the OTHERMART store and we were on our way home. That was when ANGEL noticed CHARLIE'S mom and called out to her to say hello. She turned to wave back at us when a bunch of thugs was suddenly speeding down the sidewalk on skateboards."

MIKHAEL pointed an accusatory finger right at the gang member's face.

"This guy was the one who sped up behind her and bumped her out of the way! When she fell over and cried in pain, he was laughing like he thought it was just a funny joke! I distinctly remember because he was the only one not wearing a helmet to cover his face!"

"That's not fair!" The gang member cried out, "You can't possibly know that it's me for sure! There are loads of guys that I look similar to! It's a popular look!"

"Ahuh…" KIM deadpanned, before shrugging disinterestedly, "Welp, if MIKHAEL says he's sure, then I believe in him."

ANGEL spoke up with confidence, "When it comes to memory games, I can trust the MASTER with my life! If he says it's him, then there's no doubt that it's him!"

"Two vouches of confidence. Good enough for me." AUBREY nodded, before turning to the gang member with a sadistic grin, "Sorry dipshit, but you deserve what's coming."

"W-W-What are you guys gonna do to me?" The gang member quivered in fear.

AUBREY and the others stepped aside to make way for the giant that was CHARLIE to menacingly approach the unlucky bastard.

CHARLIE had an unforgiving glare as she peered down at the boy, blood lust radiating in the air.

Turning to the other gang members, AUBREY kept her sadistic grin as she told them, "Enjoy the show kiddos! Remember that this is what happens when you mess with the SCOOTER GANG from FARAWAY!"

Turning back to CHARLIE, AUBREY gave a thumbs-up as the go-ahead.

Now able to unleash her four-year-long pent-up fury, CHARLIE effortlessly grabbed the gang member up to the air.

Bringing him up to her face, she whispered, "You break my mom's hip. I break yours."

The following scene that comes after has been deemed too goretastically violent to be appropriate within a story rated T as for Teens. Let it be known that the gang member did not have a good time, as you fill in the blanks with your own imagination. During the aftermath of this incident, the gang member was reported to be crippled for life and was forced to be stuck in a wheelchair in order to travel. The good news for him is that he can still do sick flips and tricks on the skateboard park, impressing everyone else as he became the new WHEELCHAIR TRICKSTER of NOWHERESVILLE. Sadly, he was still in agony over the loss of his hips and fell into a deep depression soon after.

We now return you back to our daily scheduled program.


BASIL wiped a sweat from his brow, smiling at himself now that he was finally done taking care of the bonsais trees.

"There you go, Mr. and Mrs. Bonsai!" He happily congratulated, "Now you look as beautiful as ever!"

The plants did not respond back, but BASIL could feel the appreciation from them all the same.

With a proud smile, he put away his garden shears and went to clean up all the leaves and dead branches that fell to the floor. Once that was done, he moved on to take care of the next plant.

Working at FIX-IT has always been something he figured he'd like doing, mostly because he got to surround himself with plants of all varieties in the back of the garden station.

He used to come here all the time to gawk and admire the plants as a kid, so it felt only natural to want to work here part-time as an adult.

The benefits of working here weren't bad for someone like him either. Decent pay and a major discount on all plants, seeds, and garden tools? Sign him up, please!

Not only that, but it also gave him a very satisfying sense of fulfillment while he worked here.

After his grandmother died and BASIL went into that three-month-long slump, he felt like he had no direction or purpose. Without a sense of responsibility to push him out of the house, he felt like he was going to stagnate inside for the rest of his life.

That definitely wouldn't do, especially not after he had promised himself that he would work towards improving to become a better person. So he began looking for jobs to give him some meaning and responsibilities in life.

It wasn't that he needed the money to take care of himself. His parents were wealthy business entrepreneurs who would always send him a check or two every month to make sure he lived a decent life. Finding a job was mostly just an excuse to find a purpose and leave the house.

This was back when he was fourteen of course, and there weren't exactly a lot of stores around who wanted to hire someone below the required age of sixteen.

Luckily for him, the store manager of FIX-IT happens to be a very lazy and irresponsible person who jumped at the chance to hire some cheap child labor!

Proving himself to be useful by showing off his cleaning skills and gardening skills, the manager put him to work as a janitor who also happens to keep track of the garden.

For the next four years, he worked here in relative peace while moving on with life, coming to terms with his grandmother's passing and waiting for his best friend SUNNY to one day wake up from his coma.

Along the way, he met several nice people and became friendly acquaintances with other part-time employees. He also got into the manager's good graces by being a diligent worker who was able to help out customers with his knowledge of plants.

Lately, though, it seems FIX-IT has been having trouble finding new workers after the last few employees moved on to apply for other higher-paying jobs. BASIL has been required to work overtime just to be able to cover the shifts of the missing employees.

While he doesn't mind too much about the extra work, he does find it inconvenient since it cuts his free time down to where he can't even visit SUNNY as frequently anymore.

Hopefully, the manager finds some extra workers soon… BASIL hasn't had the chance to visit SUNNY since his birthday. Even though it's only been a few days now, BASIL couldn't help but get anxious for his friend's sake.

He doesn't want SUNNY to get lonely after all.

But then again, maybe he had nothing to worry about… AUBREY and KEL did promise that they'll be visiting SUNNY regularly now. Not only that, but SUNNY still had someone else to keep him company every single day.

That person was… MARI… his sister...

BASIL shook his head, doing his best not to let the thought of the girl taint his good mood.

SUNNY should be fine without him for a couple of days. He won't get lonely.

"Hey, BASIL!"

BASIL perked up after hearing the manager call out his name.

Turning around, BASIL greeted happily, "Hey bossman! Something you needed from me again?"

"A couple of customers came in asking for a bouquet of flowers called the… uh…" The manager snapped his fingers a bit as he tried to remember the name, "Lilies of the valley?"

BASIL lit up at this, "Oh, lily of the valley! Those are excellent choices!"

Stepping over to the back to grab a handful of those flowers, BASIL expertly began wrapping it all up with a beautiful design as he created a professional-looking bouquet of flowers.

Returning to hand the bouquet to the manager, BASIL noted, "It's said that these flowers are able to ward off evil spirits and help people see a brighter future! Whoever these are meant for must be a very caring and positive person!"

They used to remind him of a friend back when he was a kid. Back before the incident, at least.

"Cool, cool…" the manager nodded interestingly, "I'll tell them you said that. How much did you grab again?"

"Exactly five dollars worth, sir." BASIL informed him happily.

"Atta-boy, I knew I could count on you!" The manager praised before heading back to the counter, "Keep up the good work, BASIL!"

"Yessir!" The flower boy saluted before getting back to work.

Usually, people who come in to buy flowers as a gift don't tend to ask for specifics. It was always either the most beautiful ones or the most meaningful ones. While BASIL found them cute, he knew that most people would overlook the lily of the valley since it didn't look as lively or as pretty as most other popular flowers.

Whoever that came in to ask specifically for the lily of the valley must have known the significance behind them.

Ah, so cool! He wished he could've handed the flowers personally so that he could compliment them for how thoughtful they were.

Alas, a gardener's work is never done. At least not until 8:00 PM by tonight.

BASIL wished good luck to the person buying the flowers and hoped that the recipient would appreciate the loving gift.

For now though, he had to get back to work.

Thus, he continued on to take care of the plants in the garden section so that they would be in perfect condition for the next customers to buy.


"Uh…" KEL mumbled dubiously, "You… You sure this house belongs to AUBREY?"

OMORI nodded.

The rundown decrepit dump in front of them belonged to no other, sadly enough. As much as OMORI wished otherwise, this disgusting place was indeed AUBREY's home.

Compared to the other reality, this house was actually in worse condition. Trash bags littered all over the side of the house as if the owner couldn't be bothered to have it dumped. The roof was damaged with holes and other deterioration, making him wonder how the hell they could sleep at night if it rains or snows.

Broken windows were boarded up instead of fixed, a sign of how truly impoverished the living conditions are.

All because of a neglectful and irresponsible mother who was probably busy getting drunk off her high horse and sleeping in front of a loud static TV, rather than actually being a positive role model for her daughter.

The first time he came here to check up on AUBREY, he was shocked and disgusted at how a girl like her could live in such a horrible place for so long.

Now? Honestly, he felt more pissed off than anything else.

"SUNNY, careful! You're gripping on the bouquet too tightly!" KEL called out in concern.

At the mention of the bouquet in his hands, he snapped out of his thoughts and took a quick look to assess damages.

Still in good condition. Phew...

OMORI really needed to keep a handle on his emotions. He was usually better at hiding them than this…

"So, Uh…" KEL mumbled awkwardly, "Should we go knock and see if she's home?"

While it would be amusing to see KEL commit another break-in just to find AUBREY, the joke kinda lands flat if the house was already in such bad condition that a broken window wouldn't even make a difference.

Besides that, OMORI knew that AUBREY wasn't here. She would have already left by now at this hour in the afternoon.

"She's not here." OMORI stated.

"Are you sure?" KEL asked curiously, "How can you tell?"

"She'd never want to stay here if she could help it." OMORI explained, "Wherever she was right now, she was going to be out with friends for as long as possible until the dead hours of the night."

"Huh… okay then…" KEL glanced over at his friend with a curious look.

He was a bit surprised to see SUNNY seemingly knowing so much about AUBREY. KEL didn't even know where she lived despite being friends with her back in the old days, so it was a shock to find out that SUNNY already knew.

Maybe it was because SUNNY and AUBREY used to hang out together by themselves a lot behind everyone's backs. KEL did only recently find out about their mutual crushes a few days ago, so it seems possible.

Still, whatever he was expecting out of AUBREY's house, he certainly wasn't expecting this!

Maybe this played a part in the reason why she joined a gang? Poor living conditions?

KEL didn't know enough to be sure, and he definitely wasn't smart enough to make any proper assumptions. Best to play it safe and avoid bringing up the topic for now.

"Let's keep moving." OMORI said as he moved further down the street.

KEL took one last pitiful glance at the house before following after his buddy.

They continued down the road in silence, with OMORI holding the bouquet as carefully as possible.

It wasn't until they finally made it to the church did KEL speak up again.

"The church? Is that what the flowers were for? Are you visiting someone in the cemetery, SUNNY?" KEL asked.

OMORI nodded, "Sort of."

OMORI doubted that the person he was planning to visit was there anymore. Still, he knew this was something he had to do.

Just as a reminder for himself.

KEL kept silent as the two of them entered the church building and passed by the priest on the way. The entire building was unpopulated with the usual churchgoers since the time for the sermon wasn't today, so only a couple of stragglers were praying on the benches.

The priest saw the flowers in OMORI's hand and gave an understanding nod, leaving the two of them to their business.

OMORI kept going to the back and entered the cemetery without any distractions. KEL kept himself quiet as he followed after.

Finally arriving at their destination, OMORI carefully looked around before heading towards the corner near the back of the cemetery

There it was. The empty spot that used to house his sister's grave.

In this reality, since MARI never died, this spot was unused and empty. It was nothing more than just a plain piece of the ground outside until it would be used to make room for the next deceased person.

Still, OMORI gently laid the flowers next to the spot where MARI's tombstone would be as he gave a moment of silence.

KEL looked confusedly at his friend, wondering why SUNNY was placing flowers on a random spot on the ground instead of near any of the other gravesites. He wanted to point this out and ask about it, but after seeing the solemn look on SUNNY's face as he stared at the spot, KEL decided not to interrupt him.

He may be stupid at times, but he wasn't going to be disrespectful. Especially not to his friends.

OMORI closed his eye, his mind remembering back to when he first came to MARI's grave for the first time in four years.

He came alone with KEL, just like today. KEL confessed to him what happened to him and his brother after MARI's death.

OMORI never did properly pay his respects to his sister during the last three days he had left in FARAWAY, did he? Especially since his mind was still repressing the truth about what happened at the time…

This was his chance to fix that.

He took a deep breath to steady himself as he slowly began…

Hey, MARI. It's what's left of your little brother.

Sorry that he couldn't do this properly any sooner when he had the chance. He never worked up the resolve until now… it was kind of funny, in a way. He couldn't say anything while you were still here, and now that he was trying to speak to you, you weren't even here anymore.

Sorry for being such a disappointment.

It was such a shock to see you alive again, you know. He couldn't make any sense of it until now. He had thought he was still living in another dream.

But now that he knew better, OMORI was resolved to making sure he sees this job through to the end. He won't mess up like all the other times. Not this one.

He won't forget the promise he made to you. OMORI swears to his dying breath that he'll do everything he can to help save the version of you in this other reality. He'll make sure you come to terms with the truth and get you to forgive yourself before it's too late. He won't let you go down the same path he did.

This was his punishment after all.

Once this was all over and the MARI in this reality forgives herself, he'll promise to come follow you soon after. Wait for him until then, okay?

I'm sorry I killed you, MARI. I won't ever forgive myself for what I did…

OMORI took another deep breath to relax as he finished praying.

He felt a little better now. It won't make up for what he did, but it was definitely a start.

Turning to KEL, he said, "I'm done now. Let's go somewhere else."

"O-Oh, okay. Good." KEL mumbled awkwardly, before asking, "In that case, you wanna head over back to my house?"

OMORI nodded, "Sure."

He still had questions that needed to be answered after all. Hanging out at KEL's house so that he could get caught up on the last six years will be his next step for today.

He'll make sure the empty spot where he placed the flowers will stay an empty spot in this reality.

Chapter Text

MARI slowly creaked open the door to her room as silently as possible, doing her best to remain stealthy as she peeked inside.

There, she could see her little SUNNY busy being engrossed in his GAMEKID as he sat on his bed. His back was faced toward the door, too concentrated on the game to notice she had arrived.

MARI smiled mischievously to herself.

Perfect.

Using the sounds from the game to mask her footsteps, she slowly entered the room and tiptoed all the way to her little brother as quietly as possible.

By the time she reached behind him, she quickly pulled a surprise attack on him!

"Guess who!" MARI cheered, hugging SUNNY from behind.

SUNNY made a cute little yelp as he jolted in her embrace, his fingers instinctively pausing the game as he turned around to see who attacked him.

When he saw that it was only his favorite big sister, SUNNY breathed out in relief before fiercely hugging her back, "MARI!"

"Bingo!" MARI chuckled, holding her little brother's head against her as she set her chin on top of his hair. "Did you miss me, little brother?"

SUNNY chose not to answer verbally, instead hugging her even tighter as he nodded.

Enjoying the hug for a brief moment, the two finally released each other as SUNNY gave her a sad frown.

"You promised you'd be back by six to play with me today… I've been waiting for hours…" SUNNY murmured disappointedly.

MARI gave a guilty smile, "I know, I'm so sorry… I've just been so swamped with work and practice. I completely misjudged when I figured I'd be done. Will you forgive me?"

SUNNY looked away, mumbling, "You're always so busy nowadays… I never get to spend time with you anymore."

"I'm here now, aren't I?" MARI consoled, before smiling encouragingly, "I promise I'll make it up to you. What did you want to play? I'll spend the rest of the day together with you!"

SUNNY looked at the clock in the room before sighing, "Rest of the day doesn't mean much at this point… I'll need to sleep soon to wake up early for school tomorrow. Otherwise, Mom and Dad will get fussy."

"Oh…" MARI muttered, realizing just how late it was when she finally got home.

She really did spend a lot of time focused on her studies, didn't she? Even though she promised she'd make time with her brother today.

Shrugging her arms off of him, SUNNY lamented, "I wanted to go out with you and have another picnic today… It's been so long since we had one together where it's just the two of us. But we never have enough time to do anything together anymore…"

MARI sighed remorsefully, "I… I know. I'm sorry SUNNY, but these things just can't be helped. I need to focus on my grades as much as possible so that I can get into a good college. After that, I want to make sure I master the piano to make our parents proud. There's a recital at the end of September that I really want to make sure goes perfectly. You understand, don't you?"

SUNNY closed his eyes tightly while facing his head down. For a moment, MARI could see her little brother clenching his hands to fists. It was only for a second though, as SUNNY relaxed a moment after and looked back at her with a depressed expression, "Yeah, I do. I know how important it all is to you. It's all so that you could have a successful future."

Despite his words, MARI knew that he was still upset. He always had that habit of keeping his emotions suppressed so that he didn't worry other people.

Even though he was clearly hurting from the lack of time MARI spent with him, he was still doing his best to put on a brave face entirely for her sake.

MARI couldn't help but worry about him… She hoped that all these emotions he kept bottling up won't end up backfiring on him in the future. The fact that she even easily noticed him doing it this time spelled a bad omen.

"I just wish we had more time left…" SUNNY told her, "You're going to college soon, and when that happens, I won't be able to see you again for years. I wanted to spend as much time together with you as possible before you have to go… It's going to be really lonely at home without you…"

"Oh, SUNNY…" MARI whispered pitifully, gently cupping his cheeks, "You won't be alone. You still have all your friends to keep you company!"

"I know that, but I'll still miss you…" SUNNY muttered back while leaning into her hand, "We're not going to be kids forever, MARI… One day when we grow up into adults, we might end up living separate lives from each other. I don't want that to happen… I want us to still be as close as possible…"

MARI couldn't believe that someone so young could somehow think ahead and worry about such mature problems. Instead of thinking about playing games or having fun, all SUNNY could think about is treasuring his time with the people who were closest to him.

"SUNNY…" MARI smiled sadly as she reassured him, "I promise we'll always be together, even after we grow up to become adults. Once I'm done with college, I'm not going to leave you alone for the rest of your life. Okay?"

"You say that now, but… You and I both know we can't make those kinds of promises and keep it so easily…" SUNNY mumbled. "Not for sure."

MARI… she really didn't know how else to respond to that… She wanted to say otherwise, but it wasn't as if he was entirely wrong…

Still, the thought that his worries might end up coming true did form a knot in her stomach… She didn't want to be separated from her little brother either…

"I know it's selfish, but I wish you didn't have to go to college…" SUNNY admitted, sniffling a bit to hold back tears, "I want us to be together forever…"

"Then…" MARI slowly began, "What if I decided I don't want to go to college anymore? What if I said that from now on, I'll spend as much of my time focused on you?"

MARI knew this wasn't what she actually told him that day. But she wished she had…

"I'll quit piano practice! I'll tell our parents that all these cram and college prep classes have been stressing me out!" MARI promised him, "I can even beg them to let me be homeschooled! Then we can be together as much as you want!"

It didn't matter what she said here. It wasn't going to change anything. The future was already set in stone.

"We can have picnics every day, SUNNY!" MARI smiled cheerfully, "I won't ever come home late ever again! You won't ever have to stay up late while waiting for me anymore! I'll always have time to play with you and do whatever you want! Doesn't that sound perfect, little brother?"

If only she could have done all those things instead… Maybe she could have prevented everything from happening in the first place.

If only she could have kept him happy, maybe she would have never set him down this path to begin with. She might have never ruined his life.

If only she took his feelings more seriously.

"We'll be together forever, just like you wanted!"

It wouldn't have come to this.

"I'm sorry, SUNNY…" MARI apologized again, "I promise I'll come home early tomorrow for sure this time. Will that be okay?"

SUNNY looked up at her with a frown.

She could have stopped it all from happening if only she had just cared about him more.

"It's too late, MARI…" SUNNY said tiredly.

MARI eyes widened in shock as her little brother suddenly turned older right before her eyes.

"We're not kids anymore."

The lights from the room faded, and everything became dark.

"You had your chance." SUNNY told her emotionlessly.

Before MARI could even react, SUNNY pushed her down to the floor and began strangling the life out of her.

MARI felt the air in her lungs become stuck as his hands choked her neck, even as she desperately tried to wretch them off.

His grip was too strong for her.

As she was dying, she could only watch terrifyingly as her little brother's right eye split in half into two as blood began to spill on top of her.

His entire body cracked and snapped as it morphed into a monstrous form of himself.

Then, while peering down at her, his mouth formed into a horribly broken smile.

"Heh… Hehehe…" SOMETHING laughed mockingly at her.

MARI felt the grip of her hands weakening as her consciousness began to slip.

She won't be able to get out of this alive.

Maybe she deserved this?

After all...

Everything happened because it was her fault.

"Let's look for a duet that we can play together."

She couldn't breathe.


MARI jolted awake as she sat up from the couch.

Breathing heavily, the first thing she did was check her surroundings as she realized she was sleeping in the living room.

Hesitantly, she pressed a hang around her neck to make sure if she had actually been strangled.

Didn't feel like there were any marks. She felt like she could breathe just fine…

She suddenly remembered.

SUNNY was out spending the day with KEL. He wasn't going to be back until late.

She had been waiting for him in the living room ever since he left, hoping that he'd come back soon.

So it was just a nightmare then.

MARI gave a sigh of relief as she relaxed back on the couch.

The nightmares were getting more realistic… She never had a nightmare that was so vivid before. She really thought she was going to die for a second there.

It was just a dream. It was just a nightmare. None of it was real.

They don't mean anything.

MARI kept reassuring herself this while she rubbed her face to keep herself awake. She definitely did not want to go back to sleep after experiencing something like that.

After taking a while to calm herself down, she looked up at the clock on the wall to see that it had only been a few hours after SUNNY left her.

He probably won't be back anytime soon… She'll still need to wait for the rest of the day before he'll come back for her.

She was going to be all alone until then.

MARI wanted to spend more time with her little brother.

He had been gone from her life for so long…

She wished she could have taken the opportunity to spend more time with SUNNY back before the incident happened.

She was so focused on school and other stuff when she should have been more considerate of her little brother.

Now here she was, forced to wait for him even though he was finally back after six years.

Was this karma?

Has her little SUNNY always felt like this while he was waiting for her to be done with her studies?

She hated this feeling, She hated it so much.

It was no wonder why SUNNY was always so sad back when he was still a kid.

She probably deserved this. She deserved to feel this bad for subjugating her little brother to this kind of torture.

Knowing that she could come back at any moment, but was always being too busy not to. Waiting endlessly, hoping that she'll finally remember to keep her promise of coming back home early, only to be disappointed to find out that she'll be hours late.

...

MARI felt herself curl into a ball as she covered her face in her knees.

She hoped he'll come back soon.

She really missed him.

Chapter Text

"AW COME ON!"

KEL frustratedly stuck his tongue out as he desperately concentrated on the fighting game, doing his best to gain the upper hand again after being caught in a combo for so long.

Meanwhile, OMORI was casually playing at a steady pace. Carefully watching KEL's hands while paying attention to the TV screen at the same time, OMORI blocked and dodged every move KEL threw at him with barely any difficulty.

"PLAYER TWO WINS"

KEL slammed his face on the floor, his cry of defeat muffled by the carpet.

Alright, OMORI was just gonna mentally tally this win in his head again. Eleven to zero.

At this point, OMORI was starting to feel bad for the tanned boy for winning every two-player game in his collection.

Turning his head up from the floor, KEL asked incredulously, "Dude, this is like the hundredth time you beat me! Is there any game that you're not good at?!"

OMORI thought carefully on this question, before admitting, "Farming sims."

"Wuh?" KEL blinked.

"Farmings sims. They're too hard." OMORI explained simply. "Too much time management. I'm bad at those. Always ended up in debt."

Long-term planning has always been more his sister's specialty. OMORI tended to be better at short-sighted quick thinking.

RPGs and Action games. Those were the types that he preferred. Sometimes Bullet-Hells too if he feels particularly sadistic on himself. Mostly RPGs though.

"Well, I don't have any of those at least." KEL shrugged before sitting up and crawling over the game console. Pulling the cartridge out, KEL rummaged around his game collection as he asked, "That was the last two-player game I have so far. What else do you wanna play?" Smiling behind him, KEL told him excitedly, "I've got tons of brand new games that came out within the last six years! You will not believe how much my collection has grown since then! Zombie games, fantasy games, shooting games- We have plenty of time for you to catch up on them!"

OMORI thought a bit about it before deciding, "Mother Bound. Any from the trilogy will do."

KEL turned back with a raised eyebrow, "Really? That old series? Don't you want to play some of the newer games?"

OMORI nodded, "I'm sure."

The mindless RPG grinding will be good here. It'll give him an opportunity to talk and listen to KEL without needing to focus heavily on two things at once.

There were a lot of things he needed answers to, and KEL would be his only source of information until he could meet up with the others in this reality.

"Alright, if you say so." KEL shrugged, pulling out an old sequel of the game series and plugging it into the console. "I traded the others to get different games. This is the only one I got. Hope you don't mind."

The title screen on the TV appears, revealing that it was second in the trilogy.

OMORI has played this game hundreds of times at this point. It was one of his favorites.

OMORI wordlessly began to play, going through the introduction scenes in order to get to the gameplay.

As OMORI started playing, the door behind them opened up before a voice called out, "Oh boys~!"

Turning around, it was revealed to be KEL's mother coming in with a warm smile and a plate of orange slices.

"I brought you some healthy snacks if you want some! Hope I'm not being a bother!"

KEL pumped his fist as he cheered, "Aw yeah! Mom coming in to serve them sweet orange slices!"

OMORI nodded appreciatively, "Thanks."

Setting the plate down between the two of them, KEL's mother appraised OMORI as KEL began laying siege on the plate with his grubby little hands.

"Oh, I still can't believe you've finally come back to us, SUNNY!" KEL's mother said happily, pinching OMORI's cheek, "To think that it's already been six years! I bet your family must have been thrilled when they found out you woke up again!"

Despite feeling too numb to be bothered by his cheeks being pinched, OMORI couldn't help but feel a little belittled at the gesture.

Instead of complaining though, he mumbled out, "Yeah, they are."

MARI at least. He wasn't sure if she told their parents yet that he was here. Something to deal with later though. Heartless it may seem, but for now, his parents will only serve as a distraction for him trying to fulfill his mission.

"Your sister MARI, bless that poor girl, she's been cooped up in her house ever since that day. Did you know?" KEL's mother asked, "Hopefully now that you're back in her life, the girl can finally heal and have a healthy life again."

OMORI nodded in agreement, "I plan on that."

"Good!" She smiled happily before patting his cheek, "I'll be downstairs preparing lunch if you need me. You two get ready to come down once I'm done! Thanks again for coming to visit us, SUNNY!"

With that, KEL's mother finally stood up and left them to themselves again.

KEL, with orange slices filled up inside his cheeks like a squirrel hoarding food, looked curiously at him and asked, "Speaking of MARI, how is she doing now that you've finally woken up?"

OMORI winced as he watched KEL swallow everything without even chewing. Even though he should probably be choking to death at this point, KEL seemed unfazed.

Always a glutton, this guy...

"She's… I'm not really sure. I wouldn't say she's doing fine, but I know that she was happy to see me." OMORI answered.

KEL smiled at this, "Obviously! You're her little brother. She's been waiting for you to wake up since forever!"

"Yeah, but…" OMORI trailed off a bit, before saying, "She's different now."

KEL's smile slowly shifted into a frown, almost seeming guilty.

OMORI raised an eyebrow curiously.

KEL seems like he knows something about that.

OMORI turned to the TV screen and resumed playing. Killing snakes and all that jazz.

After a while, KEL slowly told him, "Hey… I saw MARI earlier when she opened the door for me, but she didn't seem interested in coming out to say hi."

OMORI nodded, "Yeah."

"Um… Did MARI ever… say anything about me?"

OMORI glanced at him a bit, before saying, "Yeah, she did. Just this morning when she gave everyone's gifts to me."

"Oh…" KEL mumbled awkwardly. "What did she tell you?"

"You look like you already know what she told me." OMORI stated neutrally.

"Eheh…" KEL chuckled softly at this, "Y-Yeah. I have an idea or two…"

After a long period of silence, OMORI would briefly glance over at KEL as he tried to work himself up to say something to him.

When KEL managed to work up the courage, KEL began, "Hey, SUNNY… I know MARI hates my guts… Honestly, I don't think I can blame her. I haven't been the best of friends with you. Not in the last four years, at least. Not until recently."

"Because you haven't visited in a long time?" OMORI asked curiously.

"Y-Yeah…" KEL nodded awkwardly, "I just… I wanna say that I'm-"

"Nope." OMORI interrupted.

KEL blinked stupidly as he turned to OMORI, even as OMORI kept mindlessly killing snakes.

"What do you mean, nope?" KEL asked confusedly.

"Don't apologize." OMORI stated simply.

"But-"

"No."

"But I just-"

"Nuh-uh."

"But I really am sor-"

"Cease."

"SUNNY, come on, I'm trying to-"

"Stooooooooooooooooop." OMORI emotionlessly drawled out.

KEL finally shut himself up with a disappointed frown.

Facing KEL, OMORI told him, "Don't apologize. I already forgive you."

"Seriously? Just like that?" KEL mumbled incredulously, "But SUNNY, I stopped visiting you for four entire years! I've basically convinced myself that you weren't worth visiting anymore! You're seriously not upset about that?"

OMORI shook his head, "It's not that big a deal. There was nothing you could have done about it anyway. You deserved to live your own life." Pausing the game, OMORI added, "Besides, you shouldn't feel forced to come visit if I was making you uncomfortable. Don't do something you don't want to do just for my expense."

It wasn't like OMORI was worth the effort anyway. KEL had every right to keep living his own life and make himself happy. Moving on and forgetting about him was the best call.

After saying all this though, KEL slowly blinked as he looked at the floor in careful thought.

Eventually, KEL brought himself to a small smile as he chuckled, "Heh… Just like BASIL said…"

OMORI raised an eyebrow at this.

What did BASIL have to do with this?

Before OMORI could ask further, KEL had already waved the topic away as he embarrassingly scratched his neck with a wide smile, "Heheh. Thanks, SUNNY. That really does put a load off of my mind. I mean, a part of me knew that you'd say something like that anyway, but I guess I was still feeling a little bit guilty since… I remembered how MARI kinda shouted at me for it."

"Yeah, she did seem upset." OMORI noted idly. "She made a big deal out of it. Told me that everyone except her and BASIL abandoned me to move on with their own lives. But… I honestly don't think that's a bad thing."

"She said that, huh?" KEL mumbled in thought.

OMORI resumed the game again, continuing forth until it played a cutscene as OMORI skipped past all the dialogue.

After a bit, OMORI decided to ask, "Hey KEL, you told me that you, AUBREY, and BASIL visited me during my birthday. Right?"

KEL nodded, "Yeah. The three of us celebrated it back at the hospital. We ate our share of a single cupcake and spent the whole day just hanging out with you."

"So does that mean that the group never disbanded after I got into that coma?" OMORI asked, "Besides MARI, is everyone still friends with each other?"

"Oh, that…" KEL hummed in thought, before offering an unsure, "I guess?"

"You guess?"

"Well… I'm gonna be honest, I think the group probably did get disbanded at some point…" KEL huffed as he thought back, "No thanks to me. After we all graduated from middle school, I kinda decided to just do my own thing separately from everyone else. I think I might have been avoiding AUBREY and BASIL on purpose up until recently."

OMORI nodded, showing that he was listening intently. "Any reason for that?"

"Well… Maybe I just didn't want to get chained by the past. The world was spinning, and I wanted to keep up with it. I dunno…" KEL sighed, "Thinking back, it really feels like a dumb reason. I feel happier now that I got to see the two of them again after so long."

"Well, that's good at least." OMORI stated neutrally.

KEL, AUBREY, and BASIL managed to make up with each other naturally with him in this reality.

OMORI wondered if that could've happened in his own reality? Would he have even made a difference, whether or not he left the house that day?

Hm.

...

While he had plenty of questions about MARI that he had wanted to ask, it might be prudent to get the biggest question out of the way first.

"What happened in the last six years since I was gone? How much have things changed since then?" OMORI ended up deciding to ask next.

KEL turned to him with an awkward smile, "You want the long version or short version?"

"The long version. Don't spare any details if you could help it." OMORI told him, "I want to know as much as you know."

KEL whistled softly as he ran a hand through his hair, giving it some thought. "Oh boy… Where do I even begin?"

"The beginning." OMORI requested.

KEL nodded understandingly, "Yeah, alright…"

It took him a moment to sift through his thoughts before he finally began.


"Oh, look at you! You're so adorable!"

KEL groaned as he suffered from his mom assaulting him by pinching his cheeks and smothering his forehead with kisses.

He was currently in the bathroom in front of the mirror, donned with a fancy suit and slick haircut.

KEL had just gotten home after a barber session to get his hair cleaned up alongside AUBREY and both of their dads. The reason why he was getting spruced up to look fancy in the first place was to get ready to go see his friend SUNNY and his sister MARI perform their recital.

Gonna be honest though, he was not digging how he looked in the suit.

It made him feel really really stupid.

With an excited giggle, his mom ran out of the room, "I need to go get my camera! Stay right there!"

Oh brother, Mom was going to immortalize this with a picture. KEL was not looking forward to seeing this again ten years down the line as an adult.

Speaking of brothers… Just as she left, HERO walked in from the background with an amused chuckle.

Gently patting the younger brother's head as to not mess up his hairdo whilst teasing him, HERO complimented, "My my my, KEL! You clean up good! You look like the dashing prince in someone else's fairy tale!"

"Oh shut up…" KEL grumbled uncomfortably, looking at himself self-consciously as he whined, "I look like a penguin! This outfit totally clashes with my style..."

"Ah, don't worry about that." HERO chuckled, coming to his side and putting an arm around his brother's shoulder, "We're wearing matching suits. People will think we're just a handsome pair of twins."

"We do not look anything alike to be called twins." KEL moaned while staring at the mirror, "You look way better since you're so tall. I look like a small monkey pretending to wear fancy clothing as a setup for a bad joke."

HERO reassured with a rough pat on the back, "Don't be so hard on yourself! Just because you're small, it doesn't mean you look bad because of it. Trust me though, girls will be all over you if they see you like this."

"Gross." KEL stuck his tongue out at this. "No thanks. I don't want cooties. I'll let you have them."

"Hahaha," HERO smiled confidently, "Shame for those girls then, I already have someone special waiting for me on stage." With a quick flutter of his hair, HERO gave a charming grin to himself in the mirror, "Guess I'll just have to leave a trail of broken hearts~"

"Eeeeewww."

Man, HERO was such a weirdo. It was a wonder how he managed to snag a pretty girl like MARI to be his girlfriend.

Then again, she could be pretty weird herself sometimes. Maybe people who were older siblings were just naturally attracted to each other's weirdness or something.

Well despite how his attitude suggested, KEL was actually super stoked to go see SUNNY and MARI perform today! He's been over to their house and listening to them practice for about a month now, and they sound amazing!

Sure, KEL wasn't exactly a consort of the art of classical music (Consor? Connoisseur? Conosaurus-Rex? Cole-slaw?) But even he knew a good song when he heard one.

"Man, I can't wait until we finally get to see them perform!" KEL cheered excitedly, "They're gonna look so cool up there! I'm gonna be the one cheering the loudest for them, just you watch!"

HERO chuckled at this, even as he looked at his reflection with a concerned smile, "Yeah… Hopefully, they do alright."

KEL turned to him curiously, "They should be fine. Why? Are you worried?"

HERO hummed to himself before admitting, "Well, you know how MARI can get. She always works too hard, striving for perfection even though she's already amazing the way she is. SUNNY is doing his best too, but I'm not sure if he can keep up with her level of dedication. I'm just afraid that they might end up making a big deal over a mistake or two."

"You've been over there to hear how they sound, right? SUNNY and MARI got this in the bag!" KEL reassured bombastically, "This night is going to end awesomely!"

HERO chuckled a bit with a more relaxed smile, "Yeah, you're probably right. Might just be worrying over nothing."

"I found my camera!" Their mom burst into the room excitedly, before gasping at the sight of her boys, "Oh my goodness, you two look adorable together! Stay still exactly like that and don't move a muscle!"

KEL and HERO looked at each other with a humorous smile before grinning at the mirror together.

"Cheese!"

Their mom took the picture and gave a cheerful smile, "Oh, this is absolutely precious! You two look like the perfect pair of brothers! I'm so lucky to have such a handsome duo of sons!"

"Better take as many pictures as you can, Mom." HERO warned her, "After this, KEL is probably never going to wear another suit ever again."

"I'll fight to the death if I have to!" KEL agreed with a dramatic pout.

"In that case, let me come back and record this with my camcorder! I want to cherish this memory for the rest of my life!"

Just like that, Mom was already running back to her room again.

KEL sighed tiredly, "I don't see what the big deal was. Mom can get so worked up over the weirdest things."

"Better hope she doesn't force you to keep that suit on for the rest of the night." HERO chuckled teasingly.

"Bleugh, I'd rather die."

All of a sudden, there was loud banging by the front of the house.

It sounded like someone was repeatedly banging on the door as if they were trying to break in. Whoever was banging on the door, seemed desperate for attention.

HERO and KEL gave concerned looks as they both turned around.

"Who do you think it is?" KEL couldn't help but ask.

HERO narrowed his eyes in suspicion, "I'm not sure, but it sounds urgent…"

"Do you think it's SUNNY's family coming to pick us up for the recital?"

HERO looked at the watch on his wrists before shaking his head, "It can't be. The recital doesn't start for another hour. They're still too early."

They also wouldn't be smashing the door down like this, HERO left the obvious unsaid.

Giving each other worried glances, HERO decided to go check out the commotion while KEL wordlessly followed after.

On the way down the stairs, their mom exited the room in confusion with a camcorder in her hand, "Something the matter? Who's at the door?"

KEL shrugged as he continued to follow after HERO.

By the time they both made it to the front door, the loud shouting on the other side revealed who it was.

"KEL! HERO! SOMEBODY!" BASIL's voice cried out in terror, the knocking on the door growing more and more desperate, "SUNNY needs help! Please answer the door!"

HERO quickly opened the door to let the flower boy inside after hearing that, where BASIL frantically rushed inside the house and looked around with eyes red from tears.

Seeing HERO, he immediately slammed towards the older boy in a desperate hug, "HELP! HERO, you have to call for help! SUNNY needs help!" BASIL cried out.

"Whoa, easy!" HERO kneeled down to his level and held the flower boy by his shoulders, "Calm down. What's going on, why are you panicking?"

"SUNNY! It's SUNNY, he's hurt! He's bleeding and he needs help!" BASIL sputtered out in quick bursts, his voice cracking as he gasped for breath. "He fell down the stairs and his eye is bleeding! The violin is broken and SUNNY's eye is bleeding!"

At this, HERO immediately turned to their mom who just came down the stairs to check what was wrong, and told her, "Mom, call an ambulance! It's an emergency!"

"What?! What happened?!" Their mom asked worriedly.

"Something happened to SUNNY! He fell down the stairs and now he's bleeding!"

Hearing the news, she quickly ran back into the house as she searched for their house phone.

Once that was taken care of, HERO turned back to BASIL and told him seriously, "BASIL, I need you to stay right here and try to calm down, okay? I'm going over there to check and make sure everything's okay."

BASIL made an affirmative noise as he covered his face with his arms, trying to do his best to stop crying. It didn't seem like he would be able to calm himself down anytime soon though, severely in shock and terrified from whatever happened to SUNNY.

Running outside, HERO quickly turned back to KEL and shouted, "KEL! Keep BASIL company and make sure he's alright! I'll be right back!"

"Y-Yeah, sure!" KEL nodded seriously.

HERO was already out of the front yard and running over to SUNNY's house.

Turning to the crying blond boy, KEL walked over to him and gave him a comforting pat on the back, "Sshhhh, there there, BASIL… Don't worry, HERO is already on his way. We're gonna get SUNNY help, okay?"

While he was still sobbing, BASIL nodded at KEL's words and tried to let it all out of his system.

"Everything is going to be fine. SUNNY is going to be alright…" KEL continued to whisper, doing his best to calm the poor kid down.

KEL had never seen BASIL so worked up before. Whatever happened to SUNNY must have seriously affected the flower boy if he was in this much shock and terror.

As KEL continued to comfort BASIL, KEL looked back at the opened front door with an uneasy feeling.

What in the world was going on right now? SUNNY fell down the stairs? Jeez, he really hopes the poor boy was alright… How was MARI doing? Did she know?

God, this has to be really bad timing, especially since tonight was the recital.

Thankfully, it didn't take long for KEL to hear sirens outside arriving soon after. The loud noise filling the neighborhood gave him a sense of relief that he expected BASIL really needed right now.

"See BASIL? Hear that? The ambulance is here. SUNNY is gonna be just fine!" KEL did his best to give BASIL a cheerful smile.

Hopefully, things were going to be okay like he said though...


OMORI continued grinding in-game, even as he listened intently to KEL recounting the day of the recital in his perspective.

"Did BASIL see what happened to me that day?" OMORI asked.

KEL shrugged, "I think so. BASIL was screaming about how you were bleeding because your eye landed on top of the violin."

Hm. Checks out. BASIL was there too back in his reality, and he saw everything that happened between him and MARI.

It would be safe to assume that if the timeline remained the same up until the point of the fall, then BASIL was probably there to see the argument and witness everything that happened before as well.

Once this day was over, he should try to get in contact with BASIL and ask him for his version of events.

Funny how BASIL went to get help instead of suggesting to MARI to hang his body to make it look like a suicide in this reality. Wouldn't that have been poetic for him if he died that way? Would have made for good karma.

"What happened after that?"

KEL brushed through his hair uncomfortably, before continuing, "After the ambulance took you away, we all rushed to the hospital to follow you..."


The sanitized hospital air smelled uncomfortable for KEL.

He thought about raising his complaints about it, but after checking around to see the atmosphere of the room, he thought better of it.

Probably wouldn't be really appropriate, considering they were all here to make sure SUNNY was all right.

Man, why were the doctors taking so long? When were they going to come out and give them the news about SUNNY's condition?

The longer he had to wait here, the more anxious he felt about it.

Especially whenever he looked over at MARI.

Poor girl looks like she just witnessed a world war being committed in front of her. Her blank eyes had a thousand-yard stare as she occasionally flexed her fingers in front of her face.

There was still blood on them too.

KEL grimaced a bit.

HERO was sitting next to her and noticed this, before wrapping a comforting arm around her shoulder, "You okay, MARI?"

MARI either didn't hear him or didn't bother to answer. All she could do was keep staring at her hands as if they were the only thing she could even see right now.

Man… SUNNY must have been seriously messed up if MARI was acting like this. This thought really didn't do well for his anxiety.

KEL decided to distract his thoughts by looking around the room a bit to study everyone else's reaction.

All their parents were there (besides BASIL, but KEL has never actually seen or met BASIL's parents before), standing near the side of the wall. SUNNY and MARI's parents were holding each other mournfully, looking just as anxious as KEL was feeling.

His parents stood nearby patiently. They seemed like they wanted to offer condolences, but it might be too awkward a time for that. So they just stood still as they waited like everyone else.

BASIL was sitting in the opposite corner of MARI, staying as far away from everyone else as possible. Although he had long since stopped crying, the new glare adorning his face as he burned a hole into the floor did not do much to reassure KEL that BASIL was going to be fine.

He didn't really know what BASIL was so angry about. Was it anger at SUNNY? At himself? About the violin? KEL wasn't sure if he should've asked. KEL wasn't sure if BASIL would've even answered him if he did.

...

Ugh, he didn't really know what to do in situations like these. He was never cut out for such serious or dramatic moments. The best thing he could usually think of doing at a time like this was to crack a silly joke or try to lift everyone's spirits up with something fun.

It sucked, but it was all he could really do…

Even he knew that there was a time and place for his stupid shenanigans though…

The next best thing he could really think of doing was to keep his mouth shut so that he didn't make anyone upset.

Sigh…

Man, he really hoped SUNNY was alright… SUNNY was always usually the quiet nice kid who was just a little bit shy and expressionless. He didn't deserve to go through something like this.

If only KEL knew how to help… He felt so powerless right now, just sitting here and twiddling his thumbs like this…

...

The sliding glass front door of the hospital's waiting room opened, and a girl in a fancy dress with a pink bow came rushing in.

Sliding to a stop after seeing everyone, AUBREY was breathing heavily as she frantically looked around. Seeing HERO and MARI sitting next to each other, she quickly turned her attention to them as she ran up and asked, "I came as soon as I heard! How's SUNNY?! Is he alright?!"

While MARI barely even acknowledged her existence, HERO stood up to tactfully pull her aside.

Carefully sitting her down next to KEL, HERO looked around before asking in concern, "Did you run here by yourself? Where's your mom and dad?"

AUBREY huffed angrily at this, "Mom and Dad didn't bother to make it. Never mind that, what happened to SUNNY?!"

HERO quickly hushed her as he calmed her down. Whispering gently, HERO gently told her, "AUBREY… SUNNY fell down the stairs and broke his violin. He landed on top of it and it got into his eye."

At this, AUBREY's expression went aghast as she covered her mouth. "N-No…! Is he going to be alright?!"

HERO looked away unsurely, "We don't know… The doctor hasn't come back yet. We're still waiting for them. He… He might lose his eye."

AUBREY lips began quivering as she covered her face with balled-up fists, "SUNNY… Please, no..."

When AUBREY was on the verge of crying, HERO did his best to hug and comfort the small girl, "Shhh, I know. I know. Don't cry, okay? I'm sure everything is going to be alright…"

"MARI… She must be devastated…" AUBREY sniffed as she wiped her eyes and glanced to look at the poor older sister.

MARI never stopped blankly staring at her hands.

After this was a long period of silence. Nobody else bothered to say or add anything as they all waited for the doctors to come back.

The wait for the doctors was agonizing.

KEL wished they could have done their jobs faster, if nothing else but to make this ominous atmosphere go away…

This sucked.

This really… This seriously sucked.


Huh, so that was the cover story then.

HERO told AUBREY that he fell down the stairs and broke the violin by landing on it.

Well, it was certainly better than using suicide to cover up a murder, that was for sure.

"Did MARI have anything to say about this?" OMORI mentioned, scooping a spoonful of curry into his mouth.

Despite how delicious it looked, his taste buds still refused to let him taste it. What a shame.

He and KEL were currently seated downstairs at the dinner table as they all ate lunch together. KEL's mother was busy feeding SALLY as KEL and OMORI continued their conversation.

"Not really. I think she was still in shock." KEL recalled with a sad frown, "She wouldn't talk to anyone about what happened. She wouldn't do anything except stare at her hands. I think she still had your blood on it or something…" KEL sighed.

As KEL proceeded to shovel another plate of curry down his throat, KEL's mother added her two cents, "I never seen anyone so distraught before. Neither your parents nor HERO could do anything to comfort her." With a sigh, she turned to OMORI with a sad frown, "I can't imagine what kind of thoughts were running through that poor girl's head that day. She must have seen something truly awful to stay in shock like that for so long. But I suppose I can't blame her… I'm sure I would have been the same way if anyone in my family was in a similar situation…"

OMORI hummed to himself as he continued eating.

MARI… She really went through a lot of trauma, didn't she?

Her SOMETHING was born that day, after all...

Emptying his plate, KEL went ahead and refilled it with another batch of curry again as he continued, "Eventually one of the doctors came in to tell us the news! When they told us that you were still alive, all of us were really relieved. We all checked up on you and saw that you were breathing just fine. You lost your eye, but at least you were going to live. The doctors reassured us that we could go home and rest easy. All we had to do now was wait for you to wake up." KEL smiled softly, only to resume frowning a second later, "But… You never did wake up."

She never woke up either.

"At first, we all thought that you were just taking your time to recover. The body trying to slowly repair itself or something, you know? But… after a few weeks passed and we didn't hear any news, we all started getting worried again."

KEL scratched his neck again as he sighed tiredly.

"When we had the free time, all of us would come together to work on a schedule to visit you..."


"He still hasn't woken up yet?" KEL asked disappointedly.

It had been about a few weeks by now, hadn't it? The doctors said that he should be waking up any time now.

Why wasn't he awake yet?

MARI looked up to see everyone arriving as she gave a small smile, "Oh, you're all here. Thanks so much for coming again, you guys."

MARI was sitting next to her little brother's side while holding his hand. It seemed like she'd been here for a long time now before they all arrived.

"Of course we would come!" AUBREY reassured as she returned the smile, "We all care about SUNNY just as much as you do!"

"Yeah. If you ever need us, we'll be here to keep you company." HERO added, walking up behind MARI to gently massage her shoulders.

MARI leaned back and smushed her face to HERO's arm in appreciation, "I'm glad to hear that."

KEL stood next to SUNNY's side, watching him as he steadily breathed. The heart monitor was beeping in a slow rhythm.

BASIL silently placed a vase containing a small white flower of some kind on the counter next to SUNNY's head.

Noticing this, MARI smiled gratefully, "Thanks BASIL. I'm sure SUNNY would appreciate the thoughtful gift…"

Even though he was being thanked, BASIL didn't seem to want to acknowledge her. He silently walked all the way over to the wall of the room to give himself some space and stare at the floor.

"You okay, BASIL?" KEL felt the need to ask.

BASIL simply nodded but didn't say anything else.

Although everyone was a bit worried about how unusual the flower boy was acting, they all figured that BASIL was probably still sad about what happened to SUNNY.

No one could blame him. Everyone was worried about SUNNY too.

AUBREY came up to stand next to SUNNY as she looked down on him sadly.

The pink-bowed girl sighed as she held SUNNY's other hand, "Please, SUNNY… Wake up already… Everyone's really worried about you. Don't you want to see us again?"

SUNNY did not respond.

MARI sighed depressingly at this, "He's been like this for weeks now… No matter what I do, nothing seems to wake him up."

"That… doesn't sound good…" HERO mumbled in concern. "Did the doctors say anything about it?"

MARI shook her head, "Not yet... I'm gonna ask my parents about it soon."


"He's in a coma." HERO mumbled weakly from his bed.

KEL instantly stopped as he heard this, slowly letting the toy ball he was spinning drop to the floor and bounce away.

"W-What?" KEL asked nervously, "W-Who do you mean?!"

"SUNNY." HERO answered forlornly as he stared at the floor. "His parents told me earlier today when I came by. The doctors say that he was showing no signs of waking up. They have no idea when he'll regain consciousness, or if he'll even regain it at all."

Oh my god.

SUNNY was…

His best friend was in a coma?

...

Shaking his head clear from the shock, KEL quickly stepped up to his brother and asked desperately, "Then what do we do?! How are we going to help SUNNY?!"

HERO shook his head at this, "I don't we can…"

"But there had to be something that we could do, right? This can't be something permanent!" KEL shouted as he kept shaking HERO, "How long will SUNNY stay asleep for anyway?! He's only just a kid! Comas are supposed to be something that only happens when you get into an extreme accident or something, right?! All SUNNY did was fall down some stairs, there's no way he could just go into a coma from something like that! RIGHT?!"

SUNNY was only here just a few weeks ago! They had been playing together and having fun just earlier this month! How could something like this have happened all of a sudden?!

"I don't know what else to say, KEL." HERO mumbled remorsefully, "I'm sorry. But we might not see SUNNY again for a long time…"

"T-That can't be right…" KEL mumbled in shock.

Stepping a few feet back, KEL felt himself tumble back and land on his butt.

"That can't be right… SUNNY was just here! He was supposed to be playing the recital with MARI just a few weeks ago!" KEL kept telling himself, his vision growing blurry as tears flooded his eyes, "We were all supposed to go see them play! How could he be in a coma?!"

It wasn't fair.

It just wasn't fair.

What was he supposed to do now?

His friend SUNNY needed help from them. All of them. He was in the most dangerous situation that KEL could possibly think of.

They had to do something, shouldn't they?

How could they have let this happen?!

It…

"It's not f-fair…" KEL choked up.

How could he feel so powerless right now? Was there seriously nothing he could do?

Was the only thing he could possibly do for SUNNY was to just… accept it?

"It's not fair!" KEL shouted out.

He couldn't even register someone wrapping their arms around him until they started whispering next to his ear.

"Shh, I know... I know." HERO whispered gently, rubbing KEL's head as he comforted him, "I'm sorry. I know."

The gravity of the situation finally settled in at that moment. Seeing HERO doing his best to comfort him like this showed just how serious everything was.

His best friend from next door was in a coma, and there was nothing anyone could do except wait.

The floodgates opened before KEL could even stop it.

He cried so hard that day, letting his tears stain his big brother's shirt as HERO did his best to keep a hold of him.

This…

This seriously sucked...


OMORI felt an uncomfortable frown forming on his lips as he watched KEL somberly recall that day with a sad smile.

SALLY was in between them as they all played together with colorful building block sets. SALLY kept making all these unique architectures just from her imagination alone, stuff that looked strangely beautiful in its chaotic nature.

This girl probably had a talent lying dormant somewhere.

"I'm… I'm sorry you had to deal with that, KEL…" OMORI mumbled, "I didn't realize you took it so hard."

KEL shook his head as he gave a curious smile, "Why are you apologizing? It's not like it was your fault or anything."

In a way, it kind of was…

But OMORI kept that to himself since he knew KEL wouldn't understand.

"Besides… I wasn't the one who took the news the hardest." KEL continued on, helping SALLY by adding in his own decorations to the toy monument in front of them, "HERO told me that MARI really didn't take it well. When the doctors told your family, she apparently kind of just… shut down."

OMORI furrowed his brows as he listened intently, "Shut down?"

"Yeah…" KEL nodded pitifully, "She kept herself locked up in her room for about an entire month or two. Wouldn't come out for any reason… Sometimes we would come to visit her and check to see if she was okay, but… She was practically a zombie in her bed. She'd rarely eat either, not unless it was HERO's cooking for some reason… When we asked her if she was okay, she'd always just say the same thing over and over again…"

"And what did she say?"

"That it was all her fault." KEL shrugged softly, "She kept blaming herself over it."

Hm.

OMORI could remember a time like that. Keeping himself locked away in his room to avoid having to do anything outside.

At some point, he managed to work himself up to finally leave the room in order to travel around the house, but… That was only after he began suppressing the truth.

"It wasn't until later when she finally got better and started leaving the house again!" KEL smiled optimistically for a bit, before toning it back as he remembered, "Or at least, seemingly got better. She still wasn't the same as she used to be, but at least she was finally talking to other people again. I was pretty relieved to see her, even if it was only to go visit you at the hospital."

The reason why he locked himself up in his room in the first place was because of the world he created in his mind. He couldn't deal with anything outside, so he would spend most of his time in his make-believe safe space where nothing went wrong.

WHITE SPACE.

This must have been when MARI started going through the same process too. Hearing that her little brother was going to be stuck in a coma for who knows how long must have triggered something within her. She was slowly forgetting her memories to keep herself sane again, if OMORI had to guess.

The question he had to figure out though, what were those memories that she was trying to forget in the first place?

"Did MARI ever tell anyone why she thought it was her fault?" OMORI asked.

KEL shook his head, "No, I don't think so. I think she just blames herself for not being able to save you. Like she feels responsible that she couldn't have prevented it from happening in the first place, you know?"

OMORI widened his eye at this.

A crucial piece of information finally came to light.

MARI never told them about what happened, just like OMORI didn't in his reality. KEL and the others were all convinced it was just an accident that MARI couldn't possibly have been a part of.

Judging by how KEL still didn't seem to know even to this day, then that must mean that BASIL was still keeping it all a secret too or he genuinely didn't know either.

"Hey, SUNNY…" KEL called to him, knocking him out of his thoughts.

OMORI blinked before returning his attention to his friend, "Yeah?"

"I'm worried about MARI sometimes." KEL admitted, "The way she's been living, I don't think it's healthy. I've tried getting her to come outside the house to hang out plenty of times, but she would never budge on it. Then when I stopped visiting you, she grew even colder and distant than I've ever seen her." With a sigh, KEL told him, "If she's still blaming herself over what happened to you, I hope you find a way to get her to snap out of it. At this point, I think you might be the only one who can convince her to go back to normal again."

The only one, huh?

He'll certainly do everything he possibly can.

But…

SALLY came up to him while he was distracted, grabbing onto his shirt while staring at his eyepatch.

OMORI looked at her curiously, before gently greeting her, "Hello, SALLY. Something you need?"

"SPACEBOY!" She suddenly shouted while pointing at his eyepatch.

OMORI raised an eyebrow at this.

That was the second time today someone thought he was wearing an eyepatch just to look like CAPTAIN SPACEBOY. What are the odds?

KEL gently picked his little sister up and placed her on his lap as he looked at OMORI with an embarrassed smile, "Sorry about that! I've been letting her watch the Saturday cartoons ever since she was born. She doesn't know any better, I haven't taught her not to point and stare yet."

OMORI shrugged indifferently, "It's okay. She's just a kid."

Bringing his attention to the younger girl, KEL began to tickle her as punishment, "Lookie here you little rascal, you can't be pointing and shouting stuff like that. Alright? It's not very nice."

SALLY laughed happily, having lots of fun playing with her older brother even as she was tickled all over the place.

"How old is she now?" OMORI asked.

Looking up at him, KEL smiled, "She's turning three in about three more months. Babies grow up so fast, you know?"

Considering that the last time OMORI saw SALLY, she was only about nine months old, then yeah. They definitely do grow up fast.

Two years could go by just as fast as a quick jump down from the hospital.

Heh. That was a good one. He'll need to use that later.

Resuming back on topic, OMORI decided to ask next, "Did something happen between MARI and HERO?"

KEL frowned a bit after hearing this, even as he continued playing with her little sister.

"Yeah." The tanned boy nodded, "I think it might have been my fault."

"How so?" OMORI tilted his head curiously.


"Hey, MARI!" KEL shouted out after seeing the older girl leave her house.

"Oh, KEL. Good morning." MARI returned a weak smile and wave to the boy.

With an excited grin, KEL ran across their yard and came up to her, "MARI, you wanna hang out at our house today? HERO's learning how to make some kind of Asian food thing called Bang Shoe or something."

"Bang shoe?" MARI mumbled, before realizing, "Oh, Bánh Xèo."

"Yeah, it's some sort of weird pancake thing that you eat with meat and shrimp!" KEL said with a bounce, "You wanna come over and try it when he's done tonight?"

With a sad smile, she shook her head, "Sorry, KEL. Not today. I'm about to go visit SUNNY again."

"Oh, in that case, let me come with you!" KEL offered happily.

It had been a while since he last visited his friend. It'll be nice to see his face again.

Besides, it's the least KEL could do for him. He'll just have to keep visiting again and again until his best friend finally wakes up!

MARI smiled gratefully at this, "Of course! I'm sure he'd love that!"


"Hey, MARI!" KEL shouted after seeing the older girl leave her house.

"Oh, KEL. Good afternoon." MARI returned a weak smile and wave to the boy.

"Summer's finally here! Don't you just love that sun shining down at us!" KEL asked happily, "Days like this just make you want to go out and do something energetic!"

"Heh," MARI laughed awkwardly, before shaking her head, "Maybe for someone like you, KEL. For me, I'm just planning to visit SUNNY again."

"Oh… Okay." KEL nodded understandingly.

MARI hasn't been doing anything except visiting SUNNY anymore. SUNNY sure was lucky to have such a devoted sister.

"AUBREY and HERO said they'll be joining me today." MARI told him, before asking, "You want to come with us?"

"Sure!" KEL agreed.

It'll be nice to see his friend's face again. It's the least he could do for him after all. He'll keep visiting until SUNNY finally wakes up again!


"Hey, MARI!" KEL shouted after seeing the older girl leave her house.

"Oh, KEL. Good evening." MARI returned a weak smile and wave to the boy.

KEL couldn't help but feel an uneasy pit of deja vu forming in his stomach whenever they said hi to each other like this.

Ignoring the weird thought, KEL came up to her with a smile, "Winter's finally here. Nice weather to sometimes just stay cooped up inside and enjoy the heater with a warm blanket, you know?"

"I guess." MARI smiled half-heartedly.

"You wanna come over and hang out with us? We're having smores and hot chocolate by the fireplace! It'll be fun!" KEL invited.

"Sorry, not now." MARI shook her head, "I'm just visiting SUNNY again."

"Oh, again." KEL mumbled with a neutral frown.

How long has it been now? It had to be about a year since the accident, wasn't it?

"Do you want to come with me?" MARI asked expectantly.

"Uh… Um…" KEL mumbled uncomfortably before saying, "Sure. I'll let HERO and my parents know."

I mean, he might as well. It'll be the least he could do for his friend. He'll just need to… keep visiting until he finally wakes up again.


"Oh. Hey, MARI." KEL greeted with a small smile, seeing the older girl leave her house.

"Oh, KEL. Good morning." MARI returned a weak smile and wave to the boy.

KEL calmly walked up to her as he dribbled his basketball over, "How are you doing today? Is everything good?"

"I guess." MARI shrugged, not bothering to elaborate further.

There was an awkward silence between them as KEL tried to think of something else to say to the girl.

Scratching his neck, he decided to ask, "Uh, you still keeping in contact with HERO? I know that ever since he left for college, it's probably been a bit lonely for you."

MARI shook her head reassuringly, "It's fine. HERO still calls me sometimes when he's not busy. We talk a bit and catch up on small things."

"That's good… That's good." KEL nodded neutrally at this.

It's been about two years since the accident. KEL's been managing to be fine on his own without his older brother watching over him, even as he prepares to transition from middle school to high school.

MARI was supposed to be going to college with his older brother, wasn't she? But… She still hasn't moved on from SUNNY yet...

He hasn't seen AUBREY or BASIL in a while either. Mostly since he's been busy hanging out with a new group of friends. They were probably doing alright for themselves, hopefully.

KEL would usually try to hang out with them, but…

"Are you busy?" MARI asked, before inviting him, "Do you want to come with me to see SUNNY?"

Again?

SUNNY… How many times has KEL visited him at this point?

Too many times to count. Too many for someone like him.

It was always the same thing, over and over again...

What was even the point anymore?

Was SUNNY ever even going to wake up again? He already missed out on all his middle school years.

It felt so… tiring, to be honest. Seeing him, sleeping on that bed. With absolutely no changes whatsoever. He never gives any hints of coming back. All he ever does is sleep now.

No matter how many times KEL came to visit him, it's not like SUNNY was ever going to pop out of his bed and play with him anymore.

Nothing ever changes.

It…

Seriously…

Sucked.

"Not today…" KEL decided, before awkwardly apologizing, "Sorry, but I kind of have plans."

"Oh." MARI blinked in surprise, before gently smiling, "It's okay. Next time then."


BASIL's grandmother passed away.

They held a private funeral for her in the church. KEL wasn't invited, so he didn't join.

Poor BASIL… KEL tried to visit him one time to offer condolences, but BASIL asked him to leave him alone and give him some time to grieve.

KEL didn't want to be pushy or be disrespectful, so he accepted BASIL's wishes and left him alone.

He hasn't seen AUBREY around in a while. The only time they ever see each other was after school when everyone was going home, but KEL was usually too busy with other friends to make time for her anymore.

He was actually on his way to meet up with someone, only to be surprised to see MARI hanging out right outside his door.

"Oh. Hi, MARI." KEL greeted softly.

"KEL. Hi." MARI nodded curtly.

The way MARI was staring at him made him feel uncomfortable. He really didn't know what to say or do here. KEL hasn't seen her in a long while, so having her pop up all of a sudden kinda spooked him a little.

"Need something, MARI?" KEL asked awkwardly.

"I'm about to go see SUNNY today." MARI told him, before asking expectantly, "Do you want to come? You always used to come visit with me before."

Oh…

"Erm… Sorry, MARI. Not today." KEL sheepishly declined, "I already made plans to hang out with someone right now."

"You always make so many plans lately." MARI noted bluntly as she narrowed her eyes at him, "Why don't you ever visit SUNNY anymore?"

KEL didn't know why, to be honest. He didn't know how to answer either.

So instead, he did his best to dodge the question with an embarrassed, "Oh, you know! Sometimes things just pop up without me realizing! A-Anyways, I should probably go now! I can't keep my friend waiting for me!"

Without another word, KEL awkwardly ran away from her as he sprinted over to the plaza.

He seriously did not know how to confront her over something about this.

He didn't even know how to confront himself with this problem either.

Visiting SUNNY should be something he had to do, shouldn't it? It was the least he could do for his friend.

But…

He just…

He just couldn't for some reason.

He just couldn't.

Not anymore.


It's been four years since the accident.

He's now a healthy high schooler living a normal comfortable life.

His parents gave birth to a cute baby girl earlier this year. They named her SALLY. KEL felt really happy to become a big brother to someone now. This must have been how HERO felt when their parents gave birth to him!

He's met and made tons of new friends over the years. He's practically surrounded himself with all sorts of amazingly cool people. Every day is basically a busy day of him making connections with others and living life to the fullest.

Later this month, he has plans to try out for the basketball team! Hopefully he gets accepted. He liked to think he was pretty fast and good with the ball, so he's not too worried about it. Still, the thought does make him a bit excited and nervous.

On his way to OTHERMART, he was on an errand to pick up some beef for his dad. The old man recently got into a new hobby of grilling food, buying tons of books that taught him how to make the perfect burger. KEL was fully supportive of this, as he could not resist the idea of eating perfectly grilled meat.

As he went down the aisle though, he spotted someone very familiar. A girl with long black hair that he hasn't seen in a long while.

"Hey, MARI!" KEL shouted after seeing the older girl walk past with a shopping cart full of random frozen food.

MARI stood up straight in surprise, slowly turning around to see the tanned boy coming up to her with a big dumb smile.

"MARI! It's been a while! How've you been?" KEL asked happily.

Instead of returning the greeting, MARI stared at him blankly as if she didn't even recognize him.

For the longest time, she didn't say anything.

KEL was beginning to feel a little bit creeped out from the prolonged staring contest.

"M-MARI?" KEL greeted again, this time with an awkward, "It's me, KEL! You recognize me, don't you?"

The moment he mentioned his name, MARI suddenly snapped just like that.

The odd stare became a very cold glare, one that he never thought he'd ever see MARI give to him before in his life. It was enough to knock the sails off his boat as he stumbled back in surprise.

"Don't bother me."

That was all MARI had to say before briskly walking away.

KEL was completely floored by the response.

He was stuck there frozen in place as he kept mulling over her reaction towards him.


"And she just walked away? Without another word?" HERO asked in concern.

His older brother finally came back to visit the family again. He was taking a small break from college, meaning he'd be able to hang out for the next few months until he had to go back to continue.

During this visit, KEL brought up what happened with MARI to HERO so that he could ask for some advice.

"Yeah…" KEL muttered sadly, "I've been trying to visit her sometimes to see what was up. Been knocking on her doors pretty much every day, but… She's been ignoring me ever since then."

HERO hummed in heavy thought, his eyes narrowing as he stared at the ceiling.

"That's weird… MARI never brought anything up whenever I called her on the phone. I saw her just a bit ago too, and she doesn't seem all that weird to me. In fact, she was pretty happy when I came to visit."

"Aw man… That must mean I did something wrong then." KEL groaned, lowering his face on his hands.

"Do you even know what you did to make her act so cold towards you?" HERO asked.

KEL shook his head, "Not really… I mean, I haven't even seen her in a while before then! Up until that point in the OTHERMART, I was too busy with other stuff to really think about MARI. This has been the first time in forever. I seriously can't think of anything I did wrong…"

Or maybe… it was because of the fact that KEL hadn't seen her in a long while that made her so angry at him?

Whatever the case was, HERO nodded resolutely before standing up, "Alright then. I'm gonna go over and try to figure this out. See if I can't fix this old bridge again."

"Should I come with?" KEL asked, moving to follow after him, "I can come to apologize to her, face to face."

HERO waved him away with a reassuring smile, "I appreciated the thought, but maybe now's not the best time. Wait until after I figure out what's going on first before doing anything. An empty apology might just make things worse if you don't know why you're apologizing in the first place."

"Oh… Yeah, okay." KEL nodded understandably, before sitting back down. Looking up to his older brother, KEL muttered, "Thanks, HERO."

"No probs. Just give me a day to sort everything out."


It took him about nighttime before HERO came back.

Heavy rain pounded against the window as brief sounds of thunder rumbled across the town. It was the heaviest storm to ever pop up since this season.

KEL was surprised to see HERO coming back soaking wet as if he was standing outside in the rain for half the day.

"Dude, you okay?! Do you need me to grab a towel or something?" KEL asked in concern, jumping off his bed and rushing to his brother's side to help.

Instead of answering, HERO had a far-off look with a miserable expression donned on his face.

"HERO…?" KEL called out weakly.

"MARI broke up with me…" HERO said despondently.

He didn't bother uttering another word before moving all the way to his bed and collapsing on top of it with barely an expression changing.

Oh.

Shoot.

KEL didn't know what else to say or what to do.

He wanted to try to comfort his older brother about what happened, but…

Maybe it would be better if he just left it alone.

KEL was the type to somehow mess things up a lot without meaning to, after all.

Maybe he should have kept his mouth shut about MARI being angry about him in the first place. It seemed like a problem he could've easily solved himself without bringing HERO into all this.

Damn it.

This sucked.

This seriously sucked.

This…

Ugh... Why was he so useless?


KEL gave a frustrated huff as he started scratching his hair, "It was probably my fault for this, but when HERO became concerned about the way she was treating me, he went to go visit her. I don't know what happened between the two of them, but they broke up after that." KEL rubbed his face down as he continued, "HERO wouldn't tell me why. I think it was because he didn't want me to feel guilty…"

HECTOR excitedly returned to them while carrying back the tennis ball.

Putting it down in front of OMORI's feet, he waggled his tail and gave a happy bark as he waited for it to be thrown again.

Picking the ball up, OMORI obliged the good boy as he gave his best attempt to throw the ball out into the yard.

HECTOR quickly chased after, leaving the two boys alone again.

"That really does suck." OMORI stated.

"Yeah…" KEL mumbled back.

Hm…

That explains why MARI flared up when OMORI mentioned HERO yesterday… They must have had an argument over something important, maybe…

Did HERO notice how unhealthy MARI has been living her life? Did KEL bringing up what happened between them become the hint that caused HERO to delve further into his sister's problems?

HERO would never let MARI become a reclusive shut-in… He loved her too much to let her waste away. He would've done something drastic to pull her out.

Did MARI feel like HERO was trying to take her away from her little brother? Was she upset at how HERO was trying to push her to move on?

If MARI was willing to threaten their own mother about committing suicide just so that she could stay with him, OMORI could only imagine what sort of things MARI had to say to get HERO to back off.

Poor guy…

What a damn shame. Those two were perfect for each other too. OMORI had never seen a more amazing relationship than those two.

Even now, OMORI somehow inadvertently caused the two lovebirds to get separated from each other again.

Sigh…

At least it wasn't murder that tore them apart this time. OMORI had the chance to fix this while he was still here.

"HERO never told you anything about what happened?" OMORI asked to make sure.

"No." KEL shook his head disappointedly, "He didn't want to talk about it when I asked."

Hm… If only OMORI could figure out more about what happened…

Let's recap then.

Everything from before the day of the recital stayed exactly the same. Nothing different between this reality and the other one.

The turning point was when he had somehow managed to save MARI from the fall, sacrificing himself instead.

After going into a coma, MARI became devastated over him and started blaming herself. She made the mistake of not telling anyone why she thought it was her fault. Everyone thought it was just an accident, but to MARI and even potentially BASIL, MARI almost nearly killed her own little brother.

The group stayed together for two years before HERO left for college. MARI and HERO still had a good relationship at this point.

KEL began to lose faith and broke away from the group in order to move on with his life. This was when MARI began resenting him.

OMORI still didn't have a clear picture of what BASIL and AUBREY did during this time. Judging by how MARI also resented AUBREY as well, and how AUBREY still ended up becoming a leader of a gang, perhaps AUBREY must have stopped visiting at some point during this time too.

BASIL's grandmother died two years earlier than he remembered happening in his original reality. How and why that was different, OMORI wasn't sure. No doubt it affected the flower boy negatively though, so that was something he'll need to check out later when he has the chance.

Maybe he should ask again to make sure.

"What about BASIL and AUBREY? How have they been doing in the last six years? Do you know how they feel towards MARI?" OMORI asked.

KEL hummed, "Well, like I said, I haven't been really a part of the group in a long time. I'm not too sure what happened to AUBREY, but she's also really different than how she used to be. BASIL's actually been doing pretty fine for himself at least." KEL began thinking about it some more, before continuing, "I don't know about how they're dealing with MARI, but I do know that MARI has been avoiding the both of them. Kind of like how she's been avoiding me…"

Really?

Hm…

That aligns with how MARI feels about AUBREY, KEL, and HERO…

But BASIL? She was avoiding him too? That doesn't match up…

MARI had told him earlier this morning that both BASIL and her were the only ones to have been visiting him these past four years. She didn't seem to sound resentful towards him at all.

Why would she be avoiding him too if she didn't have any reasons to hate him?

Was it because… BASIL knew what happened that day?

Hm.

Yeah, going out to look for BASIL was definitely gonna be next on the priority list for OMORI…

Back to recapping the events so far.

So, AUBREY left the group as she began to form her own gang, presumably. MARI begins resenting her.

BASIL never stopped coming to visit him, so MARI still regarded him positively. KEL said she was avoiding him too though? Not enough information to go off about this.

HERO came back to visit and got worried about MARI. They must have gotten into an argument before they broke up. MARI begins resenting HERO.

At some point near his birthday, KEL, AUBREY, and BASIL reunited together to celebrate. They didn't seem to be on bad terms with each other if they're able to get together like that, so MARI was the only outlier here.

Okay…

Yeah, things were clearing up now.

A game plan was starting to form in his mind as he thought about how to help MARI overcome her guilt from this. It wasn't quite finalized, but the foundation was there for him to get started. He just needed to fit more pieces into the puzzle.

At least he was partially caught up with the timeline of events in this reality now. Enough to give him a basic idea of what was going on.


Eventually, the sun began to set as nighttime hit.

The stars lit up brightly as they adorned the sky.

No matter how many times he had seen this before, the image still took his breath away.

So beautiful…

Both KEL and OMORI enjoyed themselves as they laid out in front of KEL's grassy yard.

KEL gave a small giggle as he shivered, presumably because of a gust of cool chilly wind passing by.

OMORI could only watch with mild jealousy as his friend enjoyed the weather since his body was still too numb to feel anything.

Still, he couldn't complain. This had been a very productive day for him.

After a while, KEL's mom came out to remind the two of them, "Oh boys! It's getting late! I'm about to finish dinner soon."

At the sound of dinner, KEL immediately hopped up to his feet with inhumane speed, "Aw yeah, din-din time!"

OMORI slowly pulled himself up and wiped the grass away from his pants.

"SUNNY, would you like to stay over for dinner? We have enough room for one more!" KEL's mom invited him in with a warm smile.

OMORI shook his head apologetically, "Sorry, but I can't. My sister's waiting for me back home."

"Oh, that's too bad." KEL's mom smiled understandingly, "In that case, give her our regards! Hope to see you soon, dearie."

"Thanks for your hospitality, ma'am." OMORI nodded.

"Oh, can I actually walk SUNNY back home, Mom?" KEL piped up with an energetic bounce.

"Sure! Just don't stay out too long, okay? I'll be waiting." KEL's mother smiled encouragingly before stepping back inside and closing the door.

Turning to the tanned boy, OMORI told him, "You don't have to, you know. I literally live a house next to you."

"I know that!" KEL chuckled obviously, "I just want to spend as much time with you as I can before you have to go!"

"Oh." OMORI mumbled.

KEL gave him a wide grin before hopping over to the sidewalk and gesturing for OMORI to follow him, "C'mon! Let's get going before MARI tries to kill me for taking too long!"

With a quick nod, OMORI trailed after the athletic boy, calmly walking next to him even as his friend proceeded to do small mini frog jumps over every crack in the sidewalk.

Making their way to the front door of his house, KEL turned around to face OMORI with a huge smile, "SUNNY, this has been one of the greatest days I've ever had! I seriously haven't had this much fun in a long while! Thanks for hanging out with me today."

OMORI awkwardly rubbed his neck, feeling lost as to how to respond with such earnest words. Instead, he ended up going with a small, "No problem."

"Dude, we should seriously hang out again soon! I can't wait for the next time!" KEL suggested excitedly, hopping side to side.

"Sure. Same here." OMORI nodded.

Seeing KEL being happy-go-lucky like this was honestly a bit of a relief for him. OMORI could always rely on him to have a positive attitude in his life, despite whatever gets thrown at him. Even in this reality with its own sets of problems, KEL managed to do his best to get by unscathed.

KEL was weird, but he was a force of nature not to be reckoned with.

He was glad to have known such a good friend.

Hopefully, someday, KEL would end up meeting a better friend than OMORI to take his place.

"I guess I'll be seeing you then." OMORI waved softly before turning to the front door.

Before he could begin to knock, KEL actually stopped bouncing in place as the tanned boy held an arm to stop him.

"KEL?" OMORI turned back, wondering what was wrong.

He was a bit surprised to see KEL giving him a tear-stained smile.

KEL moved faster than he expected, already coming in for another hug before OMORI could react.

"SUNNY… I really am happy to have you back." KEL managed to choke out, his voice becoming hoarse as he continued, "I'm… I'm so seriously happy to a point beyond where you won't even believe it."

OMORI widened his eyes, unable to react properly.

KEL's lips began quivering as he began hugging OMORI tighter, his hands balled up into fists.

"For the longest time, I thought for sure that you'd never come back again. I was ready to call it quits and leave you to whatever you might've ended up becoming. If it wasn't for BASIL opening my eyes, I probably would have never even considered going back to visit you again." KEL cried softly, "I'm so glad he was right about everything… I can't wait for things to go back to how they used to be now that you're back… I missed you so much, buddy…"

Sigh…

OMORI truly never deserved to have such loyal friends looking after him. All this goodwill, all this kindness and love, all wasted on someone like him…

Still, OMORI hugged KEL back in appreciation for everything he's ever done for the stoic boy. Both in this reality and the old one.

If it wasn't for KEL encouraging him, OMORI probably wouldn't have ever stepped outside his front door. He was the catalyst that led him to face the truth to begin with.

OMORI owed KEL everything.

Closing his eye, he allowed himself to enjoy the hug with one of his best friends as KEL softly cried into his shoulder.

After a while, KEL managed to grab ahold of himself and pull back with an optimistic smile.

Hopping back and forth again like nothing ever happened, KEL chuckled embarrassingly as he wiped his tears, "Sorry about that! Don't know what came over me. I guess I've been holding myself back this whole day."

"It's not a problem." OMORI flashed a thumbs up.

Flashing a thumbs up back, KEL grinned widely, "Hey, tell MARI that I'm sorry for everything. I want us to get back together so that we could all become friends again. I don't care how long it takes or what I need to do. Even if she doesn't think so, I still consider her to be one of my closest friends too!"

Yeah. OMORI will do his best to get MARI to open herself back up to everyone else again. It might even be one of the steps to help get her to face the truth.

"Of course." OMORI nodded.

Happily hopping away from him as if he was a human pogo-stick on steroids, KEL cheered out with a giant wave, "Thanks again for hanging out with me today!"

OMORI waved back, "Anytime."

With that, the night ended on a cheerful note as OMORI prepared to reenter his house again.

Now… Time to see what he could do for MARI tonight.

Chapter Text

BASIL casually spun the small garden shears around his fingers in thought as he looked at the two bags in front of him.

It was almost around the annual time to replace all the soil for the plants again. The old soil was about to outlive its usefulness in providing nutrients for the plants, so he'll need to move them all over to make sure the plants remain healthy.

The problem he was having trouble deciding was whether to use Long Lasting Soil From Nature, or his usual favorite Fast Sprout Growing Mix.

Which would be more important here? Getting ready to have the plants they already have to last longer, or to get ready to plant new ones quickly just in case the old ones die?

It would have to depend on whether or not the old plants will sell. If not, it'd be a safer bet to plant new ones… It would be a waste to have the old ones die out though...

Decisions decisions decisions… Hmmmm.

BASIL hummed as he flourished the garden shears in his hand, carefully spinning it with practiced precision as he watched his reflection on the metal surface.

Just a small little habit he picked up about a few years ago. For some reason, he just liked to spin his shears around for the fun of it. He got good to the point where he could even do some pretty neat tricks if he concentrated enough.

The time he spent practicing just to be skillful at this was definitely an embarrassing amount though. Not to mention the fact that he's accidentally cut his own fingers multiple times while doing this.

A small memory came back to him as he continued looking at himself in the reflection.

The plants were all watered and the photo album was filled out from today's adventure. The door to HEADSPACE was gone for the time being, and he knew he wouldn't be able to see it again until tomorrow.

He should get ready to wake up now, shouldn't he?

PRINCE gave a contemplative stare at the garden shears in his hands, giving it a quick spin around his fingers before ultimately plunging the blade into his stomach.

The warm blood seeping out of him felt comforting, before…

...

BASIL closed his eyes as the memory washed over him.

To think that he was in such a damaged state at one point that suicide seemed like a reasonable idea to consider.

He'd like to think that he's been doing well for himself these past four years since those dark times. He certainly hasn't had any suicidal thoughts anymore.

Although his past will still follow him, he wouldn't let that affect how he planned to shape his future. One day, he'll be the cool and reliable older BASIL that he always dreamed of being for the people he cared about.

Grandma would be proud. Maybe SUNNY too, if only he knew.

...

Anyways, plant soil. What do?

Hm...

Eh, he'll just do half and half. Couldn't hurt to play it safe both ways.

BASIL gave himself a shrug before moving to cut both bags of plant-soil together as he went to work.


A day in the life of BASIL was usually a simple one.

Most of the time, the day would usually play out with him waking up, going to work, visiting his best friend SUNNY at the hospital, then returning back home after a hard day's work.

It wasn't rare for his day to be filled with fun little distractions to keep him company though. Occasionally he would make time to hang out with friends that he's made while growing up in FARAWAY.

And he's definitely made a decent amount of friends, surprisingly enough.

AUBREY and her SCOOTER GANG were one such example. Being friends with their leader gave him the virtue of being one of their honorary members. It was basically a fancy way of announcing that he would be considered a valued friend, even if he doesn't participate in the nitty-gritty aspect of the gang lifestyle.

They weren't the only ones though. BASIL had plenty of examples of such friends that he's met along the way these past six years.

Working at FIX-IT, he'd gotten to meet all kinds of unique and fun people that kept him company. Some wacky, some normal, but always a pleasure to be around for the most part.

A day doesn't pass by without something happening. That was the charm of his small little town FARAWAY.


Early in the morning when he was mopping the floors, he met up with KIM and VANCE'S dad as he perused the house section. The old man was burning a hole into the products with a fierce glare that only a warrior like him could muster.

"Another broken pipe again, sir?" BASIL asked humorously as he passed by.

"Hm?" The old bearded man turned to him before busting out a big hearty smile, "Oh! Hey there, BASIL! On the contrary, it's not a broken pipe." With a proud smirk, he gloated, "I've actually been upgraded to a leaky hole in my roof this time!"

How that was an upgrade to be proud of, BASIL wasn't sure. Still, the flower boy smiled politely and nodded, "As long as you don't charge head-first directly into the roof and make a human-shaped hole when you get mad. I'm sure you'll be fine."

"Ah pssshaw- Like that's going to happen again! I've practically had enough experience from watching your friend AUBREY to know exactly what I'm doing this time." The man laughed boastfully, only to pause and frown, "Maybe."

"Good luck and please don't die, sir."


Then later in the afternoon when he needed to be on cash register duty, another familiar person of interest would appear to brighten his day.

An effeminate pretty boy with black hair came in with a smile, greeting the flower boy with a soft-spoken, "Hello, BASIL."

"Oh! PB!" BASIL cheerily smiled back, "I haven't seen you since you graduated! How's college going?"

"Better than High School, I must admit." PB replied pleasantly, "It's been a bit lonely, especially with JAY being held back for a year. We make time to visit each other often though! JAY and I have been keeping our relationship under wraps this time around, so we haven't been harassed by anyone so far like back then."

"That's good then, I think..." BASIL offered, "At least the guys who bullied you won't bother you again. Not after what AUBREY and her gang did to make sure!"

PB and JAY often had their lockers vandalized and were once physically assaulted back when they were together in high school. BASIL was lucky enough to have connections with an influential person like AUBREY to have her get the bullying to stop before things got too bad.

No one messes with the SCOOTER GANG on their turf, after all.

The pretty boy chuckled, "JAY and I still owe you and your friends for that. Don't think I'll ever forget it."

"Ah, it's nothing." BASIL waved away, before asking excitedly, "How are things working out with you and JAY by the way? Sounds like things have gotten better between you two."

With a shy smile, P.B. glanced away, "JAY's actually about to come back from a baby shower. I was hoping to get some flowers and surprise him with a visit when he gets home."

A lightbulb lit up in BASIL's head.

"Say no more, I got you covered!" BASIL excitedly went to the backroom to grab some purple and yellow flowers that he knew were perfect for this occasion.

Coming back, he returned with a bouquet full of colorful flowers and presented it to the pretty boy.

The effeminate college student looked at the bright colors in awe, "Ooh, what are these?"

"Iris flowers with yellow acacia. In the language of flowers, the purple Iris flowers represent that they hold an important or secret message for the person they're meant for. By itself, it usually means good news or good luck." BASIL explained softly, "The yellow acacia flowers surrounding them are the real hints though. On the surface, it can mean a highly regarded and cherished friendship… But its other meaning is that they also represent a hidden love."

PB blushed, "Oh… do you think JAY will get the message?"

"Maybe not." BASIL shrugged playfully, "But it's the thought that counts, don't you think?"

The college boy smiled back and nodded, "I can always count on you to teach me something new about flowers whenever I come here. I'll buy it."


It wasn't long after that when another character of interest came into the shop.

BASIL had been busy staring at the tool displays with a bit of annoyance as he thought about how to rearrange them again this time.

Seriously, it was almost as if people couldn't be bothered to put them back where they were originally displayed. This has been happening every week now.

Hearing the door jingle brought him out of his concentrated thoughts though, as the flower boy turned around to see a young middle schooler entering the shop.

Oh, a new customer he hasn't met before! Someone so young too! Usually, a shop like this never gets any interest from kids. BASIL always thought he was the exception.

Watching the kid timidly enter the building as he cautiously looked around, BASIL felt the need to walk up to him with a welcoming smile as he gently greeted, "Hello, little guy! Welcome to FIX-IT! Do you need help with something?"

The small boy gave a bewildered look at him before quickly shaking his head, "No- Well- I mean- Actually- Um…"

BASIL tilted his head curiously, wondering why the kid was so anxious and stuttery.

Clearing his throat and snapping himself out of it, the young kid took a deep breath before staring astutely at BASIL and asking, "Are you the manager?"

With a polite smile, BASIL responded, "I'm sorry. The manager's on a break right now. I'll be more than happy to help you look for whatever you need though."

At this, the kid gave a disappointed frown before shaking his head, "I-I don't think you can. I need the manager specifically. The shopkeep at HOBBEEZ told me so."

"Oh?"

Now this was a strange request. So he was here because PEDRO sent him? What did he need from FIX-IT that he couldn't just go walk over and get himself? Why send a kid?

Seeing the confused look on BASIL's face, the kid blushed as he quickly pulled out a familiar electronic toy from his pocket.

"C-Clash! I need him so that I can clash with his PET ROCK!" The kid quickly explained, hoping that it would make things clear. His face was bright red as if it dawned on him how embarrassing the whole situation was.

As soon as the words left his mouth however, BASIL slowly realized what was going on.

BASIL felt his smile become cocky.

"I see…" BASIL nodded as he chuckled ominously.

Now it was the kid's turn to be confused as he watched BASIL's demeanor shift from a polite employee to a sinister devil.

Looking down on the boy, BASIL narrowed his eyes, "So you're the little upstart that the shopkeep warned us about. I was expecting you'd show up sooner or later."

The kid's eyes went wide in surprise as BASIL pulled out his own PET ROCK as well.

Turning it on to reveal his signature pet, KING CARNIVORE, BASIL continued, "The manager's retired in this sport. I'm his successor. If you want to complete the shopkeep's challenge and beat all the veterans in town, you'll have to face me instead."

The young PET ROCK duelist took a moment to let his shock subside before narrowing his eyes back at BASIL, "So you're one of the veterans?"

"Indeed. I've been playing this game back when you were still in diapers, buddy." BASIL chuckled, "If you can beat me, I'm sure the shopkeep will be impressed. Think you got what it takes?"

The young child briefly looked back and forth at BASIL and KING CARNIVORE, giving a small nervous gulp before nodding resolutely, "Yes! I do!"

BASIL nodded back, impressed with the passion in that answer.

The kid's got some spirit in him. PEDRO was right to give this boy the veteran's challenge.

"Just to warn you, I won't hold back just because you're a kid. Fight me as if your pet's life is on the line and don't show any mercy!" BASIL felt the need to remind the young boy, holding his PET ROCK towards him.

The kid mirrored the gesture, shaking his head, "I'm not a kid! I'm gonna prove that I'm the very best that no one ever was!"

The PET ROCKS connected via magnets as SHARK PLANE appeared on BASIL's screen.

The two clashers stared each other down as their health bars filled up.

"LET'S CLASH!"

Five minutes later, BASIL was panting heavily on his knees after facing an amazing battle against one of the strongest fighters he's ever faced off against.

"I did it! SHARK PLANE and I won!" The kid cheered happily, celebrating with his PET ROCK as he affectionately rubbed the electronic toy against his cheeks.

In the end, BASIL proved to be no match for the next generation of duelists. He and his KING CARNIVORE fought with all their might and put up a decent fight. Alas, the hurdle that BASIL was supposed to represent was toppled over so easily.

"Congratulations. You fought well, young man." BASIL smiled, congratulating the small boy. "I'll let the shopkeep know what happened here."

At the flower boy's words, the small boy beamed with pride as he gave a toothy grin.

"Your next challenger will be working at the candy shop. She's a girl with pigtails and a pink bow, can't miss her. Be prepared to bring your A-game." BASIL warned, standing back up and dusting himself off, "Compared to me, she's a bulldozer. Don't take her lightly just because she's a girl, okay?"

The boy nodded vigorously at this, "Alright. Thanks, MR. BLONDEY!"

MR. BLONDEY? Seriously? He has a name tag on his shirt that clearly says BASIL, you know…

Before BASIL could correct him, the young boy was already sprinting out the door as he waved goodbye.

BASIL gave a soft sigh, smiling fondly at the kid as he ran off.

Ahh, youth. He remembered back when he just first started out playing with PET ROCKS. He and SUNNY started together when it was slowly growing popular.

He wondered briefly how SUNNY would manage to fare against the same kid he just finished fighting against? Surely, the stoic boy would prove to be more than a match with his talent at the game. BASIL never won once against him after all, no matter how hard he fought.

Knowing SUNNY, the stoic boy would've easily steamrolled the entire veteran's challenge without a sweat.

Maybe the CHAMPION of FARAWAY would've even revealed themselves just to personally challenge SUNNY and see who was better.

Wouldn't that be the sight of the century?

So anyway, what was he doing again before he got interrupted?

Oh right, the tool displays. Still need to rearrange them back in order again. Should get back on that before the manager comes back.

Seriously, they needed to put up a sign or something just to stop people from messing the display around.


"And then we have this ceiling fan here with blades made out of mahogany wood, which I think gives off a really homey aesthetic if that's what you're looking for." BASIL explained as he showcased the item to the customer in front of him.

A young girl around his age with light-brown hair smiled as she stared at him intently. Not even once did she ever have her eyes off of him, her pupils studying his features like a predator eyeing up a piece of meat.

BASIL felt a little bit uncomfortable from the prolonged staring after a while, awkwardly asking her, "Y-You said that you're buying a ceiling fan for your mom, right? Do you have any idea what sort of ceiling fan she asked you to buy specifically or are you in the market for just about any?"

Instead of answering the question, the girl instead asked back, "Hey BAGELS, do you have a girlfriend?"

BASIL blanched incredulously at the random question, before awkwardly answering, "Er… No. Not really."

Bagels? What? Did she really just call him that?

"Oh, so you don't?" The girl smiled hopefully at this before giggling, "That's good. So that means you're up for the market, riiight~?"

"BEBE, I'm just… trying to help you look for a ceiling fan." BASIL mumbled as he glanced away.

"I'm single too by the way." BEBE hinted, throwing subtlety into his face like a brick, "I also like confident blond guys. I wonder if you know where I can find any around here, BAGEL-CAKES?"

Seriously, where did the bagels come from and why does she keep calling him that?

BASIL nervously laughed, "I… I'm not really looking for romance right now."

Sheesh, this always seems to happen nowadays ever since he had his growth spurt. For some odd reason, girls just seem to like to flirt with him whenever they have the chance.

BASIL really couldn't wrap his mind around why. It wasn't like he was that handsome or something, right? He was just an average high schooler like any other guy. There's no reason why girls should be attracted to him, is there?

"Aw, really?" BEBE frowned disappointedly, "Are you sure? That seems like such a waste…"

"S-Sorry to dash your hopes…" BASIL awkwardly apologized, unaware as to how he was supposed to talk to her. "S-Should we go back to the ceiling fans?"

"You're really cute too!" The girl continued on despite BASIL's attempt to stay on topic, "A guy like you would be an absolute steal for any girl worth their salt."

BASIL did his best to maintain his smile, even as he felt the corner of his lips repeatedly twitching from anxiety.

"Maybe you're interested in a casual relationship then? It doesn't have to be romantic if you don't want it to be…" BEBE asked in a teasing tone, casually touching shoulders with him as she kept flirting, "I'm just really interested in you, flower boy."

As he felt a bead of sweat dripping down his forehead, BASIL silently prayed to the ethereal realm in hopes of calling out for his dear best friend, SUNNY, please give me strength to get through this alive.

A cynical part of his mind imagined a ghostly image of his stoic friend giving him a thumbs up before casually floating away, making BASIL fend for himself with a quick, "Good luck, BAGELS."

Uuuuuughhh, SUNNY would totally do that if he thought it'd be funny, wouldn't he? What a cruel sense of humor…

BASIL sighed tiredly, doing his best to go back to the ceiling fans, "The next one is made of hard resin and is very cheap if you're buying for a small home-"

BEBE continued rubbing up against him the entire time in an attempt to woo him, much to his dismay.


A few hours later after somehow surviving that dumpster fire of a mess, he found himself in the middle of a conversation with CURTSEY while he restocked the shelves.

Lugging around a box full of wallpapers and colored tiles, he carefully arranged them onto the shelves as he started small talk with his friend.

The cute girl who worked at the candy shop within OTHERMART had come in all of a sudden while she was on her break. A pleasant surprise for BASIL, to be sure. But the downtrodden and tired look on her face made him a bit concerned.

"You don't seem so hot. What's up, CURTSEY?"

As if realizing that she had been acting strangely this whole time, she quickly went to fix her attitude and brightened up as she smiled at BASIL, "OH! No, it's nothing!"

BASIL frowned at the obvious lie.

The silver-haired pig-tailed girl has been visiting him frequently when they both started being friends a few years ago. Being fellow part-time workers and high school students, they found that they had lots of things to relate with each other as they got along over the years.

Stressed out from her job, working under CANDICE's heel and being constantly monitored for imperfections, CURTSEY would often come to vent while BASIL dutifully listened. In return, BASIL would often cheer her up by telling her stories of his life and other silly little things to take her mind off of the stress plaguing her own.

BASIL seemed to have made a very strong impression on the girl, as he had begun to suspect that CURTSEY might be a bit more attached to him than he fully realized.

While BASIL was not dense, he decided not to act on this realization as he was not yet comfortable with the idea of a relationship beyond just being friends.

That didn't mean that he wasn't going to ignore her problems if she was in trouble though.

Noticing that she was clearly bothered by something, BASIL decided to push his luck a bit and asked, "Has CANDICE been overworking you again?"

"Nothing like that anymore, no. I've more or less gotten accustomed to the lifestyle of working under her." the girl quickly reassured, "It's not like all those years ago where I used to fantasize about murdering her whenever she insisted I finish my sentence with SMILEY SMILEY all the freaking time. Eheheh..."

Hm… if it wasn't work problems, then what could cause the girl to be so downtrodden and guilty today?

As if able to read his mind from the concerned looks he gave her, CURTSEY gave a small sigh and finally admitted to him, "I guess I was just a bit bothered by something that happened earlier while I was working. You know that one kid that the shopkeep all warned us about? The kid that's taking the veterans challenge?"

BASIL's eyes lit up at this, "Oh yeah! He came by earlier today and challenged me to a clash! Did he come by to challenge you too?"

CURTSEY fluffed her hair a bit with a small frown, "Yeah… He showed up out of nowhere and asked to clash with me when he saw my PET ROCK. I ended up beating him pretty easily, though…"

BASIL winced at the news, "Oof…"

Guess BASIL shouldn't be too surprised by this. CURTSEY's signature pet OCOTACO has always been a very complicated pet to fight against.

BASIL was going to assume from her guilty expression that the young kid did not react very well to the defeat.

"How did he take it?" BASIL decided to ask.

With an awkward glance at the floor, she remorsefully recalled, "He tried really really hard to take me on seriously, but couldn't seem to outmaneuver my tech-moves. In a way, I kinda humiliated him by being absolutely relentless. When he realized he couldn't put a dent on my health bar… Well… he kinda got so upset that he almost nearly cried."

Yikes. An understandable reaction. The boy was just a kid after all. Probably looked around twelve or something.

"I felt really really really bad about it." CURTSEY mumbled as she covered her face in shame, "He seemed so excited at first, and here I was literally stomping on his hopes and dreams. So to make it up to him, I tried to give him some free candy so that it would cheer him up, you know? But then Candice came in at that exact moment to see me handing off just a single piece of chocolate and was all like 'CURTSEY WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT HANDING OUT FREE CANDY TO BRATS SMILEY SMILEY-' and then went on a tirade in front of the kid."

That definitely didn't sound good. Candice was always known to be a slave driver on top of being spiteful towards children.

Why open a candy shop if you hate children? BASIL never understood that. That old hag was an enigma beyond his comprehension.

"Anyways, I had to keep apologizing to CANDICE over and over again until she finally let me off with a warning by docking my salary."

"Oh… I'm sorry that had to happen to you." BASIL offered his condolences, knowing how little CANDICE was paying the poor girl already.

"No worries, I'm used to it by now." CURTSEY sighed, before continuing with a small smile, "At least I managed to make the kid feel better. I told him that I'd be willing to give him a second chance tomorrow if he was really serious about trying to beat me. He got all excited and told me he'll come back again with even more practice under his belt. You should've seen the fire in his eyes by the time he left. Almost gave me chills."

"Heh, I know what you mean. I saw that passion in his eyes as well when he came to clash with me." BASIL smiled happily, before asking curiously, "So you're not gonna tell PEDRO that the kid failed the veterans challenge?"

"Nah. Let's just keep it a secret between the two of us, yeah?" CURTSEY gave a cute wink at the end.

BASIL winked back, "Sure."

CURTSEY must have not expected him to do that, as she quickly glanced away with a small blush as she frantically fidgeted her pigtails.

Heheh.

Either CURTSEY was just that easy to read, or BASIL was getting much better at reading other people's feelings. Whatever the case, he couldn't help but find the awkward reaction adorable. It reminded him of how AUBREY would act around SUNNY.

"Well, you know what they say. One good deed deserves another." With a gentle smile, BASIL offered happily, "I can help make up for what you had docked from your pay! You don't have to be worried about money if you're still sad about that."

At this, CURTSEY widened her eyes in shock before frantically waving his offer away, "NONONO! BASIL, I can't just take even more money from you again! I haven't even paid you back for the last time you loaned me money!"

Being a part-time working high school girl, CURTSEY had not yet matured in the financial sense. If it had not been for BASIL helping her out, she would probably be stuck in financial ruin more times than not.

Luckily for her, BASIL was more than willing to help out a friend whenever they were in need.

"CURTSEY, I already told you that it wasn't a loan. It was a gift to help you make ends meet. You work harder than anyone I've met, it's not right for you to not be paid properly for that."

He still hasn't figured out why CURTSEY continued working under CANDICE's tyrannical thumb yet either. Poor girl should've run when she had the chance, and yet she still chose to stay working at that candy shop. One of these days, BASIL will figure out why… One of these days...

With a guilty frown, CURTSEY resumed fidgeting with her pigtails, "Still, I feel terrible taking money from you all the time. I feel like I'm just leeching off of your own hard work..."

"Aw, no worries! It's not like I'm strapped for cash." BASIL reassured her, "I'm just working here for fun, not for the money. Remember?"

His parent's monthly checks were often more than enough to pay for his living expenses. Any money he makes during his part time job was honestly just for emergencies. It wasn't like he ever needed to buy anything beyond the essentials. Plants and food were all he needed to keep him living happily.

CURTSEY stared at the generous flower boy for a long while before giving a relenting sigh, "BASIL, seriously, you can be too nice for your own good. One of these days, someone's going to take advantage of you if you're not careful."

Perhaps. While BASIL wasn't dumb, he couldn't say that he wasn't naive either. There may come a day where his kindness will be exploited.

Still, he only acts the way he does because he knew that SUNNY would do the same. Everything was all so that he could one day face his best friend and show off just how much he's matured since the last time they met.

"In that case, at least let me still act cool and reliable until that happens." BASIL chuckled.

CURTSEY shyly looked away and muttered, "I already think you're cool and reliable."

You know, if you're going to keep your crush a secret, at least be more subtle about it.

Then again… Thinking back on it now, he wasn't exactly any better. He was just lucky enough to have both AUBREY and SUNNY be dense enough not to notice.

With that said, time to follow their example.

"Aw, thanks!" BASIL smiled politely.

This only caused CURTSEY to blush even harder as she completely faced the other direction.

God, BASIL really hoped he never acted this obvious towards his crushes before. The embarrassment would kill him if he ever found out that he was.

An awkward silence ensued as BASIL continued restocking the shelves. CURTSEY, meanwhile, continued acting like a shy blushing schoolgirl as she stared at him from afar while leaning against a wall nearby.

BASIL was going to keep acting naturally though and allow his friend to regain her composure for as long as it takes.

It wasn't until BASIL noticed CURTSEY psyching herself up from the corner of his eye did he suddenly get a very bad feeling in his stomach.

Pushing away from the wall and stepping up next to him, she fiddled with her clothes for a bit as she worked up the nerve to say something on her mind.

BASIL noted the extremely conflicted blushing madness that was displayed all over her face.

Oh geez, this wasn't going to end well…

Finally gathering her courage, the girl started sputtering out, "H-Hey, BASIL? I… Um… There's this n-new family restaurant o-opening downtown in the c-city. It looks like a fun place to h-hang out, and I-I'd prefer if somebody could c-come along with m-m-me… a-a-and since I still owe you for everything you've ever done t-to help me… um… UM…!" Clenching her eyes shut, she flinched up as she squeaked out, "D-DO YOU WANNA GO WITH ME?!"

Ah, damn it.

BASIL took a deep breath as his mind ran through a million scenarios in his head whilst working at hyperspeed.

Okay, so let's just make things clear.

It wasn't that BASIL wasn't attracted to CURTSEY or that she wasn't his type. Matter of fact, the cute girl actually fulfills a lot of things on his checklist on what kind of girl he was into. A girly-girl with a cute voice, likes to wear pink all the time, wears a pink bow on her head, was willing to rely on him and trust him with her problems- It was safe to say that she was definitely his type.

So why was he so hesitant in accepting her offer? Why act so oblivious towards her obvious crush towards him?

It was complicated. There were things he had to do first before he felt comfortable with dating. Waiting for SUNNY to wake up, specifically. It just didn't feel fair for BASIL to go ahead and start his own love life when SUNNY and AUBREY haven't even…

...

To oversimplify the answer a bit, he just wasn't ready for a relationship yet.

Perhaps one day, he'll find himself ready to face his feelings and go out looking for romance. Sadly, today was not that day just yet.

Which led to this problem he was having now.

How was he going to turn her down after something like this? BASIL never had to worry about directly rejecting her before since she had never been upfront about her feelings like this. The flower boy was usually able to play it safe by acting dumb up until this point.

He really didn't want to hurt her feelings. If he could, he'd rather keep CURTSEY close by just as a friend. He was always worried that rejecting her would end up breaking her heart and leading them to grow distant from each other. Or even worse, she might even start hating him.

If there was one thing BASIL hated the most out of anything in the world, it was being alone. He didn't want to lose a friend. He had already lost one already, and it still ate him up inside…

Sigh… damn it, MARI.

So how was he supposed to go about this?

Pretend to be dense and think she was just asking him out as a friend? Yeesh, even he's not that cruel and tactless enough to lead her on like that. That would end up practically being torture for her.

Make up a random excuse as to why he couldn't? What could he even say? It wasn't like he was busy with school or anything. It was still summer after all.

Busy with his part-time job maybe? No, he still has days off on Sundays and she'll just try to make a schedule around that in order to spend time with him.

The only logical thing to get out of this was to be upfront and honest towards her by directly saying no. He'd rather keep that as a last resort though…

Sigh…

Relationships can be so hard to maintain sometimes. If only he could ask SUNNY for advice right now. Surely, he'd know what to do. He's always been good at dealing with people and solving problems by listening to others.

Realizing that he would have to answer sooner or later, BASIL forced himself to smile as he prepared to give his friend a response that he hoped would be understandable.

Before he could even begin to form a sentence though, CURTSEY suddenly gave an ear-piercing shriek in front of him as she jumped into the air and stumbled forward.

BASIL was quick to catch her into his arms, already going into protective mode as he firmly shouted, "What's wrong?! What happened?!"

"I just felt something crawling on my back!" CURTSEY panicked in a shrill tone, slapping her entire body with her hands as she shouted repeatedly, "GET IT OFF GET IT OFF GET IT OFF-"

It didn't take long for the girl's panicked maneuvers to cause something to fall off and land onto the floor in a daze.

Realizing that the offending crawler was finally off of her body, she quickly ran behind BASIL as the two of them stared at what landed on the floor.

The creepy crawler was none other than just a harmless little beetle, BASIL quickly realized.

The beetle disorientingly buzzed its wings as it tried to pull itself up from its back, taking the moment to become upright again.

Seeing it flapping around all over the floors didn't sit well for CURTSEY, as she was already shrieking again and using BASIL as a protective shield.

"Oh my god, it's still alive! PLEASE KILL IT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!"

Opposite of CURTSEY'S reaction, BASIL carefully and calmly approached the insect with soft movements before crouching down and collecting it into his palms.

"Aw, there's no need to be scared of this little guy! It's just a beetle that somehow got inside the store!" BASIL reassured her gently. "It's perfectly harmless."

BASIL made a point to bring it up near his face to study it closely. The beetle did nothing except crawl around his hand like a little fly.

Hm, a Japanese garden beetle?

Lucky that there's only just one. BASIL usually liked insects, but these particular buggers always tended to be the bane of his gardens. Unlike most other crawlers that were beneficial to gardens like spiders and bees, these little guys always kept killing his plants by eating everything in sight.

Grandma always called them POTATO BEETLES as a nickname out of habit, classifying anything that eats plants under the category. It always reminded her of her time back as a farmer in the countryside.

Seeing BASIL casually playing around with the insect, CURTSEY began shivering in fear and disgust, "Harmless?! Look at that thing! Its legs are so creepy and weird! How can you even stand touching those things?!"

"Aw, you don't like bugs, CURTSEY?" BASIL asked innocently enough. "They're usually good for the environment most of the time."

CURTSEY feverishly shook her head, "I don't care what they're good for, I hate insects! Name one girl who could stomach the idea of being surrounded by bugs?!"

BASIL could name two immediately off the bat, but he got the feeling that CURTSEY wouldn't be appreciative of that if he did. So he wisely kept his mouth shut.

MARI and AUBREY must be built differently since they could play with bugs just fine. CURTSEY would probably get along better with SUNNY and HERO as fellow bug-phobics, he'd bet.

Ah well.

Knowing that CURTSEY wouldn't calm down unless he got rid of the little fella, BASIL spoke gently to the bug, "You heard the lady, Mr. Beetle. It's about time you go back to nature where you belonged."

Not wanting to waste another second, BASIL went up to a nearby window to open it up and gently threw the bug outside for it to fly away.

With that situation over with, BASIL turned back to CURTSEY and gave a simple smile, "See? What did I tell ya? Harmless."

CURTSEY took multiple deep breaths to calm herself down before finally giving a huge sigh of relief. Eventually, after regaining her composure, CURTSEY gave an embarrassed look at BASIL as she awkwardly glanced away and poked her fingers together like a shy schoolgirl.

"Aheh… Sorry for overreacting. I just… I really hate bugs." She excused herself shamefully, as if thinking he would start thinking less of her for acting sporadically at that moment.

"No worries. I used to know two buddies of mine who were huge anti-bug advocates just like you. It's not that uncommon to be afraid of them if you don't have the stomach for it." BASIL reassured her gently.

Technically spiders are arachnids, but that's semantics at this point.

At that, CURTSEY smiled back with a bit of relief. "Uh…. thanks."

If anyone should be thanked here, it should be that beetle who saved his bacon from nearly getting fried. That little bug managed to save his life from having to deal with the earlier situation of getting asked out by his friend.

Seems like she completely forgot about the whole thing, too caught up with the whole beetle embarrassment to even remember what they were previously talking about earlier.

Phew! Nice save!

Now able to freely change the topic to literally anything else, BASIL asked "Your break is almost over, right? There's no way you can go back to CANDICE while you're riled up like this." Gesturing to the back of the store, he offered, "Let's go visit the flowers and take a breather. I always find myself calming down after a few minutes there. The oxygen will do you wonders!"

When BASIL held a hand out for her to grab, CURTSEY's face became flushed red once more as she nervously stared at the hand with a bit of trepidation. After a while, she finally gulped down her fears and took the hand in hers, giving a resigned, "Y-Yeah, okay. Sure."

The moment their hands connected, BASIL could practically see the smoke coming out of her head like a short-circuited microwave.

A small part of BASIL felt flattered that he could produce such a reaction out of a girl like her.

Oh, if only he could watch SUNNY and AUBREY make each other freak out like this someday. If he was blessed enough to be granted the chance to witness those two lovebirds blushing red just from holding each other's hands, he would burn the memory into his mind and cherish it forever.

Gently leading her towards the back of the shop into the garden section, BASIL pretended to treat her flustered reactions as if she was still freaking out from the beetle earlier. "There, there. Nothing to fear. We won't be seeing Mr. Beetle again anytime soon, okay?"

"R-Right." CURTSEY smiled back softly, grateful for the excuse.

Entering through the garden section, BASIL took the time to breathe in deeply and take in the pleasant aroma of all the plants and flowers that filled the room.

Most of the plants here have been grown by his own two hands over the last four years working here as the gardener of FIX-IT. All his hard work and efforts were put on display in bright colors for anyone to admire. Seeing all the plants here always made him feel so proud, as if he was contributing to something bigger than himself.

"Take a deep breath. Relax. Enjoy the scenery." BASIL gently told his friend.

The girl did so, taking in the calming effects that the room gave off.

After admiring the flowers alongside BASIL, CURTSEY gave a small chuckle as she turned to him, "You really do like gardening, don't you? This place looks so vibrant and beautiful compared to before you started working here. It's practically a night and day difference when I think back on how this place used to look."

"You think so?" BASIL asked hopefully.

"Yeah. This place always seemed boring before you came along." CURTSEY explained, before admitting, "I… Um… I always like visiting whenever I have the chance to see how much you helped change things. It always feels like everything you touch turns into something beautiful. It's fascinating."

"Oh stop~" BASIL began blushing from pride as he listened to her compliments, before humbly waving away, "I don't think I do that much. I just help maintain the plants so that they stay as healthy as possible."

CURTSEY began fidgeting around in place as she admired his face. Even at this distance, BASIL could hear the heart pounding inside her chest.

The pig-tailed girl has long stopped observing the flowers, instead choosing to spend the rest of her time staring longingly at BASIL's skinny face.

The longer she stared, the more BASIL grew uncomfortable as he awkwardly scratched his neck. He seriously was never any good in positions like these.

Shuffling closer to the flower boy while clutching onto his hand even tighter, CURTSEY her head on his shoulder with a newfound courage that not even she knew what to deal with.

BASIL felt himself stiffening up from the touch while he felt the hot melting temperature of her face being so close next to his.

They stood like that for a while, unsure how to really go further from here.

BASIL felt like he should really excuse himself and try to get back to work… Would that be a rude move on his part though? He felt that would be too rude…

Unable to do anything himself, CURTSEY decided to use up all of her remaining courage within her body to begin, "BASIL, is there someone you like? Because… There's someone that I like. I really like him a lot, actually."

Welp, he's boned.

"He's smart… He's confident. He's really gentle and good with words. He's always so nice and generous towards others even when they're such a bother. I can't help but feel like I'm destined to be with him." CURTSEY listed off in a soft tone, before turning to him and almost confessing, "I really like-"

Before that thought could even be finished, BASIL was startled as CURTSEY suddenly screamed and backed away from him in terror.

Oh thank goodness, something came in to interrupt her at that moment.

Wait, no. Why was she screaming and backing away from him in horror? That seemed like a much more pressing matter to focus on right now.

"W-What's wrong?" BASIL asked worriedly.

"B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-" The poor girl stuttered heavily, struggling to form the word as she used the last of her strength to point at him and shout out, "BEETLE!"

Blinking a bit, BASIL carefully examined himself before finding out that another beetle was crawling around his shirt.

Grabbing the offending insect up with his fingers, the flower boy carefully stared at it in suspicion.

Another one? Seeing one beetle hanging around was usually just a fluke. Seeing two was always a bad sign though…

While he was busy examining the one in his hand, he managed to notice out of the corner of his eye another beetle straggling under the bottom of the table.

To BASIL's increasing worry, it was busy chewing on a leaf that looked like it originally belonged to one of his-

One of his plants.

...

Suddenly, all thoughts of worrying about CURTSEY left his mind. His mind began getting wracked with paranoid thoughts as BASIL looked over his garden plants in worry.

Stepping up to a nearby group of potted plants with a nervous gulp, BASIL carefully examined the first flower he came across to check and make sure that his paranoid thoughts were baseless and unfounded. Maybe it was just a fluke? Maybe there were only just a couple of beetles straggling around?

To his horror, he found evidence of something chewing holes in the leaves of his sunflowers.

Oh no… BASIL felt his anxiety flare up as he carefully looked through the rest of the flower pots.

With each passing plant showing leaves with chewed holes on it, BASIL felt himself getting more and more stressed out.

At this point, he was rushing through every single plant as fast as possible to try to find the offender who was eating his precious plants.

"BASIL! ANOTHER BEETLE!" He heard CURTSEY scream again.

Dashing over to where she was pointing, BASIL's sharp eyes managed to locate another beetle that was currently in the process of eating another one of his flowers.

Quickly scooping the beetle away, BASIL assessed the damages to make sure it wasn't that bad.

Tarnished. Tatters. Ruined.

In the process, he found another beetle chomping away at another plant.

Then another.

Then another.

Then another.

It took him a bit to realize as he carefully spun around the room to find that beetles were everywhere, surrounding the entire place like an infestation.

His vision began to darken as his ears suddenly became extremely sensitive to the noise of chewing.

A flower being ruined as it was eaten alive.

A beetle trampling over a corpse of a dead white tulip.

Every single potted plant in this room was being gnawed away, as he was powerless to stop it.

BASIL felt his breath hitch as he crouched to the floor and began to severely panic.

Was it beetle season already? Why didn't he prepare earlier for this?! Did he seriously forget to make sure to protect the plants from beetles?!

Oh god, all of his hard work. They were going to ruin him. He'll need to start from scratch all over again!

Nononononononononono- What was he supposed to do?! What was he going to tell the manager?! What was he going to do with all these plants once they're all destroyed?!

It was so hard to breathe. It was so hard to think. He couldn't make sense of anything. All he could do was wallow in despair as he realized how severely he messed up and lost ALL OF HIS PROGRESS WITH HIS GARDEN!

WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY?! WHY DID THIS HAVE TO HAPPEN TO HIM NOW?! EVERYTHING WAS RUINED!

He could already feel tears start welling up in his eyes as the darkness spread around him, trying to eat him whole.

Oh god, what was he supposed to do?!

STUPID!

WORTHLESS!

IDIOT!

What… What was he supposed to do?

...

BASIL, you're having a panic attack.

The flower boy could hear a voice in the dark, gently calling out to him.

You have to calm down.

BASIL looked up to see SUNNY crouching down in front of him as he comforted the flower boy with a pat on the head.

Come on, take a few deep breaths.

BASIL did as he was told, closing his eyes and taking multiple deep breaths as he did his best to regain his composure.

Repeat after me. Everything is going to be okay.

Everything is going to be okay.

Everything is going to be okay.

Everything is going to be okay.

BASIL opened his eyes and calmly stood back up again.

The image of his best friend nodded proudly at him before disappearing, knowing that BASIL had a handle on the situation now.

BASIL rubbed his face as he cleared his head and felt himself returning back to a rational state of mind again.

Man, he almost nearly relapsed for a second there. Thank goodness he managed to get himself out of that before it got any worse.

"BASIL, there are beetles swarming all over the place!" CURTSEY screamed out in a panic, unaware of the mental turmoil that just happened in his mind, "What do we do?!"

At the mention of the beetles again, BASIL carefully looked around the area to assess how bad it really was.

Now that his mind was calm enough to not freak out over the situation, he could see now that it wasn't as bad as he was making it out to be.

A few dead plants here and there were definitely unfortunate, but it wasn't something he couldn't recover from. He could get those replaced with brand new healthy plants in no time.

With that said, if he doesn't do anything about these beetles soon, then he really will need to grow the entire garden from scratch again. The manager probably wouldn't appreciate having to find out that a whole stockpile of healthy plants was suddenly ruined in a single day.

His face hardened as he cracked his neck dramatically, already prepared to go into action mode.


CURTSEY watched on mesmerizingly as BASIL proceeded to deck himself out with gear fit for battle against the entomo-menaces.

He donned his riot helmet. (It was just an insect head net.)

He flexed his fingers through his combat gloves. (Simple gardening gloves.)

He proudly slammed a hand against his armored vest. (It was more like an apron, to be honest.)

He twirled his twin submachine guns before smoothly placing them back in their holsters. (Insecticide spray.)

Last but not least, he painted dark splotches of eye shadow onto his face to prove that he was a soldier ready for battle. (There wasn't any tactical advantage for doing this, he just thought it'd make him look cool.)

Walking out of the supply closet in slow motion like one of those action heroes in the movies, CURTSEY's eyes were completely wide in awe as she was unable to handle the level of manly testosterone emanating from the flower boy's body.

Slugging his heavy machine gun over his shoulder (it was just a plastic tank of insect repellent with a spray gun), BASIL warned in a serious voice, "You should stay back, CURTSEY. The battlefield is no place for a lady like yourself."

"I want to have your children." CURTSEY confessed immediately.

"I'll give you a call when I get any." BASIL replied back smoothly.

The silver pig-tailed girl proceeded to faint on the spot, overwhelmed from the sheer awesome force that was BASIL.

Without wasting any more time, BASIL went up to the garden section and kicked the door down (there wasn't any door there to begin with since it was already open, so it was more like he just kicked the air as he passed through the entrance) as he took aim of his weapon at the swarm that dared to invade his castle.

"YOU MIGRATED TO THE WRONG HARDWARE SHOP, YOU BUNCH OF SIX-LEGGED-"

The rest of his sentence was drowned out as he opened fire, spraying the entire room with abandon as he watched the insects start flying all over the place in a frenzy.


At some point in the evening, the manager finally returned from his break and excitedly bursted into the room, "BASIL, my dude! I got great news! I just got back from one of my drinking buddies and he agreed to have his son start working here! No more overtime for you, buddy! You can finally go back to regular hours aga-"

He was stunned silent as he just now noticed the carnage that took place in the room.

A shell-shocked BASIL sat on a nearby bag of plant soil, licking his wounds by drinking out of a box of juice.

Several dead beetles were laid waste everywhere, as if a battle of epic proportions had just happened.

The part-time girl from the candy shop was on the floor, snuggling against BASIL'S feet like a stereotypical damsel who just found her personal hero.

The manager looked over the scene with a loose lip, giving himself time to process his thoughts before reassuring BASIL, "I'll come back when you're done reenacting Vietnam, I guess."

Without another word, the manager left BASIL to bask in his victory by his lonesome.

Finishing his box of juice, he threw the plastic box into a nearby recycling bin to protect the environment.

A day in the life of BASIL was usually a simple one.

It wasn't rare for his day to be filled with fun little distractions to keep him company though. This was sometimes how it would usually go.

A day doesn't pass by without something happening. That was the charm of his small little town FARAWAY.

Chapter Text

Nighttime.

The sun was down, letting the moon shine brightly overhead.

Stray cats littered all around the parking lot in the middle of the plaza. With no human presence to disturb them, they were all free to roam the town throughout the night.

A particular building still had its lights on though. If you listened, you could hear the rambunctious noise of a group of teenagers coming from within the walls of the popular GINO'S PIZZA.

Inside, AUBREY looked on with a smile as she silently watched her group continuing to discuss a job well done over their quick trip to the distant town of NOWHERESVILLE.

ANGEL kept on gushing over how cool MIKHAEL was, which the blond-wigged boy took with the level of humbleness and politeness that was expected out of him. Read: None.

KIM and VANCE were having a playful sibling argument about who took down the most gang members between the two of them. Whoever had the least amount of knockouts under their belts would have to do the dishes tonight, apparently.

CHARLIE drank her soda in peace, a healthy radiant glow emanating from her like a Buddhist statue. The satisfaction from today's mission seemed to have lifted her spirits up immensely, making her look happier than AUBREY has ever seen her.

Six people sitting around waiting for pizza, too busy having fun to care about the world around them...

"PIZZAS ARE DONE! COME GET THEM WHILE THEY'RE HOT!" The pizzeria owner called out while ringing the bell.

KIM was quick to cut her argument short (most likely because she was losing) as she went to grab the pizzas. Returning to the table, everyone cheered at the sight of their reward for tonight being placed in front of them.

The smell of cheese and pepperoni practically filled the air that night as everyone took their share of the pie.

Before anyone could eat though, AUBREY decided now was a good time to stand up and grab their attention.

Tapping a fork on her glass, she called out, "All right everybody, listen up! Got something to say to you all."

Immediately at her command, everyone quieted down and looked towards their leader.

Clearing her throat, AUBREY started off, "Tonight has been a long time coming, as you all know. After several months of sleuthing, we were finally able to track down the bastard who hurt CHARLIE's mom and give him a taste of his own medicine. Safe to say, I'm really proud of you all right now."

Everyone exchanged smiles with each other as they continued to listen to her.

"We should all give thanks to each and every member in our gang that managed to help us get to where we are now. First off, ANGEL," She turned to the young boy with a pompadour, "who spent days doing nothing but going around to try to find anyone and everyone who could help us find a lead about where the PIT-STOP CREW came from. Hats off to you buddy."

As everyone clapped and cheered for the boy, he nervously chuckled, "Aw, come on guys! You know I only did it for CHARLIE!"

"Next up, KIM and VANCE!" AUBREY turned to the two siblings, "Thanks to you guys working your butts off with part-time jobs just to help all of us afford bus tickets. Imagine if we had to use our scooters all the way there? Round of applause for them saving our legs the trouble."

KIM puffed her chest up proudly as everyone cheered for her, "All in a day's work!"

VANCE smirked, allowing the cheers to wash over him as he continued eating his pizza.

"And of course, there's no way we could forget the key figure that helped us ID the culprit in the first place." AUBREY turned to MIKHAEL, only to pause as the boy began looking at her with expectant trepidation.

Seeing the hopeful expression donning his face, AUBREY couldn't help but sigh as she clearly knew what he wanted her to say.

"MAVERICK." AUBREY relented as she rolled her eyes, before continuing on, "Being the only one of us who ever saw the guy's face clearly and remembered it with his photographic memory. If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't even know who we were looking for to begin with. Thanks for the assist."

MIKHAEL basked in the spotlight for a bit as everyone cheered him on, before pointing out to AUBREY, "Actually, you forgot to add a THE before saying-"

"Don't push your luck."

"Yeah, okay." He backed down quickly, "Quite frankly, I'm just glad to be properly acknowledged."

With that out of the way, everyone slowly turned to face CHARLENE.

"Last, but certainly not least. CHARLIE." AUBREY smiled proudly, "For being the most badass out of all of us and kicking that guy's ass to kingdom come! For being able to show off just how deadly the SCOOTER GANG can be! For finally being able to serve sweet sweet justice in the name of her own mother after all these years. I think you deserve a round of applause just for that, don't you guys think?"

CHARLIE blushed heavily as everyone showered her with attention and praise.

"Dude, the way you held that dumb nerd by the legs like a bat and repeatedly slammed him into that tree? Talk about hardcore!" KIM applauded, clapping vigorously. "God, I wish I was buff enough to do that!"

"I didn't think you had it in you! Man, you were so cool, I almost couldn't believe you were CHARLIE for a second!" ANGEL whistled appreciatively.

"Yeah, you go girl! Ain't nobody gonna be stupid enough to mess with you after seeing that!" VANCE fist pumped.

"After seeing such a beautiful display of violence, one could only assume that had this been written down as a fictional story, it would have been absolutely censored in order to keep it within Teen age ratings. The Korean translator would need to come up with something clever as a replacement in order to properly localize it for their regional audience since western comedy is culturally different and ultimately subjective in the eyes of those with different values." MIKHAEL said in a strangely specific manner, as if directly referring to something or someone outside the realms of this reality as we all know it.

"Yeah... Uh... What MIKHAEL just said. I guess?" AUBREY mumbled confusedly, before continuing on with a warm smile, "Congratulations, CHARLIE. You did good."

Overwhelmed by the positive emotions being sent her way, not even the silent giant could contain her emotions.

As everyone continued cheering for her, they soon slowly stopped when they realized that their giant friend was quietly crying. Waves of concern were washed over them as they saw tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Woah, CHARLIE! What's wrong, buddy?" ANGEL was the first to hop out of his seat just to stand next to CHARLIE, already rubbing a comforting hand in her back.

Despite the tears rolling down her face, CHARLIE looked up at them with a smile, "Nothing's wrong guys. I'm just... I'm just so thankful for everyone's help... I just..." As if unable to hold in her emotions any longer, the dam within her burst as she started bawling her eyes out, "For the longest time, I wanted to do something about what happened to my mom! I was so frustrated and lost that the person who hurt her managed to get away without any repercussions! I can't believe that I was finally able to do something about him after all these years! It's all thanks to you guys! If you guys weren't my friends, I would have never even been able to know how to start looking! I wouldn't have been able to do anything!"

Everyone watched in shock as their usually silent friend sobbed her heart out, speaking the most words they've ever heard her speak for the first time since they've all known her.

"Thank you so much!" CHARLIE continued crying out with the deepest grateful smile she could muster, "Thank you all so much! You're my best friends! I love you guys!"

"Aww~!" ANGEL coo'ed gently as he continued rubbing her back, "There there, you big lug. We all love you too! We're family after all!"

"Obviously we'd want to help you out, CHARLIE! Come on, quit crying already... you're starting to make me tear up too!" KIM sniffled, already feeling the waterworks starting as she took her glasses off to wipe her eyes, "Oh damn it, too late! Gah, I'm so lame!"

"No need to thank us, CHARLIE. We would have helped you out either way." VANCE chuckled, "Dry those eyes already! We're supposed to be celebrating, not crying!"

"Not all heroes wear capes. Some simply do what is right for right's sake." MIKHAEL spoke wistfully, "Had it been any of our family members who lost their hips from that fiend, you would have surely done your best to help us get revenge as well. Take pride in today with your head held up high, my dear comrade-in-arms! Wipe those tears away!"

Despite their encouragement, CHARLIE was still overwhelmed with emotion as she continued a small laugh, she sobbed out, "I'm trying, but I can't help it guys! I'm just so happy!"

"Hey, guys." ANGEL looked around with an expectant smile, "You know what this calls for, right? I think we can all agree that this is the best time for it."

"Oh god, ANGEL." KIM groaned as she did her best to stop crying, "Please don't say what I think you're about to-"

"GROUP-HUUUUUUUG!"

As the pompadour-haired kid shouted out joyfully, he had already latched on tightly to CHARLIE's side.

"Goddammit!" KIM cursed out. Despite the annoyance in her voice, her face didn't match her tone as she smiled brightly and jumped into the fray as well, "Group hug!"

Following his sister's lead, VANCE set his pizza down and opened his arms out, "Ah, what the hell? C'mere you giant loveable teddy bear! Group hug!"

"Do not leave out me, THE MAVERICK, from this joyous occasion!" MIKHAEL posed extravagantly, before joining into the pile, "Group-hug-ninjutsu!"

CHARLE accepted it all as she wrapped her arms around everyone and gently sobbed in their warm embraces.

Meanwhile, AUBREY could only watch on in the distance with a small smile.

Seeing her gang come together like this and celebrate so closely with each other definitely warmed up her heart. Despite all the trouble and fights they could get into with one another, the SCOOTER GANG really was one big giant happy family.

It...

It made her feel so nostalgic. It reminded her of a better time, back when she was still a kid...

Even now, as she carefully watched everyone come together and hug the daylights out of each other...

AUBREY could see the image of her old friends. All of them, ganging up on her as they hugged her with a smile. A small tiny AUBREY with dark-brown hair, stuck right in the middle of it all as she cried her eyes out.

...

...

...


"I'm so sorry... This is all my fault..."

It was supposed to be a normal Summer afternoon just like any other.

AUBREY had been invited to come over to hang out with her new friends at their house. SUNNY, MARI, KEL, and HERO.

It was the first time she had ever been in someone else's house before. The experience was both exciting and nerve-wracking.

Still, she did her best to be on her best behavior. She wanted to be the perfect guest so that she didn't embarrass herself in front of her new friends. She was worried that if she had made one wrong move, her friendship with them would have been over before it could even begin.

She had only known them for a week, after all. They were the first friends she ever made since she and her parents moved to this town. She didn't want to do anything to screw it all up.

But this was AUBREY we were talking about. Of course she'd screw it up the first chance she gets.

"I'm so sorry..." AUBREY sobbed uncontrollably, tears and snot coming out of her face like a constant stream, "I'm so so so sorry, I didn't mean to do this!"

SUNNY looked over at her confusedly, silently tilting his head as if asking what was wrong.

AUBREY couldn't do anything but stare and cry at him as he continued to bleed, the deep gash on his leg pouring so much blood that it made her sick just from looking at it.

They had been playing outside in the backyard, fooling around and doing all sorts of things as they relaxed under the shade provided by the big tree.

One of them had the idea to start climbing up the tree in order to enjoy the breeze. Everyone had the same idea and followed after him soon after.

Even SUNNY, who at this point never developed a fear of heights yet, climbed the big tree as well. He had somehow already found a relaxing position on a sturdy branch and was using it as a napping spot.

Seeing everyone having fun without her, AUBREY felt out of place. So in her attempts to fit in with her new friends, she had wanted to climb up as well to hang out with them.

She never climbed a tree before, though. She was inexperienced in climbing. She was stupid and dumb.

Some part of her must have felt competitive, probably because KEL kept egging her on to go higher and higher. His stupid irritating voice grated on her nerves, and AUBREY just felt like she had to do something cool just so that he could shut up and stop teasing her.

She was so dumb.

HERO was warning her to be careful. MARI cautiously watched on with a nervous hand over her mouth.

KEL kept telling her to go even higher to prove that she was serious.

SUNNY peeked with one eye open from his position.

Everything in her gut told her to calm down, stop being so hot-headed and realize that she was doing something dangerous. She kept ignoring it.

She didn't want to look stupid in front of her new friends.

God, AUBREY was so stupid.

Picking one of the branches higher than the rest, AUBREY decided it was a good spot to sit on while gloating at KEL from below. Seeing the irritated pout on his face almost made her feel like it was worth all the trouble.

Until the branch revealed that it couldn't hold onto her weight.

When it cracked and snapped off, she really thought she was going to die for a second. She couldn't stop screaming all the way down to the bottom.

Something caught her as she landed, cushioning her fall.

It was SUNNY. The silent kid who never once spoke a word to her. For some reason, he decided to risk his life just to save her.

They both landed roughly on the ground, AUBREY being no worse for wear other than a bruise.

SUNNY, however, was bleeding from getting his leg cut by the branch that fell down with them.

AUBREY could only freeze up in terror as she saw pieces of wood protruding out of his skin, a deep crimson of red spilling out everywhere.

When SUNNY looked at his leg, she could remember seeing the agony and shock on his face for a brief second as the pain settled in.

Yet instead of crying, he clenched his hands tightly and bit his lip until he was able to control himself and relax again.

"Ow." SUNNY muttered. The first word she ever heard him utter since they met.

That was how everything led up to now.

SUNNY winced a bit as he shuffled around on the couch, setting his injured leg down after he just finished pulling out most of the wood that was stuck in him.

AUBREY squealed in a panic as she saw blood continuing to gush out of his leg. It was the most blood she's ever seen a person bleed out before, and she couldn't calm down.

KEL slapped her back and gave a reassuring grin, "Oh come on! Stop being a baby! You've never seen a cut before? It doesn't even look that bad."

True. Even though SUNNY was the one who got hurt, he didn't seem to be fazed at all by the cut on his leg. Perhaps it only looked worse than it seemed because it was the first time AUBREY has ever seen an injury like this. Maybe the severity of it was all in her mind.

But the nonchalant way KEL was treating her only made her more irrationally upset.

AUBREY started crying even harder now in response.

HERO stepped in and pulled KEL away with a tired sigh, "Not helping, KEL."

KEL sheepishly rubbed his neck, "Sorry. Dunno how to talk to girls."

At that moment, MARI finally returned from their closet while carrying a first-aid kit under her arm and a bottle of some kind of orange powder in her hand.

"Don't worry, I got the bandages and turmeric powder!" MARI reassured everyone with a smile.

AUBREY was able to finally settle her crying fit down as she watched the older girl meticulously prepare to treat SUNNY's wounds.

SUNNY scrunched an eye shut as MARI straightened his leg, but pretty much stayed completely silent as he was being healed.

MARI gently cleaned the blood from his wound with a small piece of wet cloth. After that, she went ahead and applied a healthy dose of the orange powder all over his skin.

SUNNY gave a curious head tilt before pointing at the powder with a questioning look.

MARI noticed this, bringing the bottle up, "These? It's called turmeric powder. Mom and Dad taught me this trick." She went on to explain, "Whenever a person gets cut or injured, they always usually leave a scar behind once it heals up, right? But if you put these on the wound while it's still fresh though, the skin absorbs it and it prevents a scar from being formed. This way, we can keep your leg looking clear and smooth even after it's done healing! Pretty cool, huh? Sort of like magic dust!"

SUNNY silently nodded in understanding as he looked at the bottle in fascination.

It took a while before everything was finally done. MARI stepped back with a proud look as she finished patching up SUNNY's leg.

The silent boy slowly brought himself standing as he tested his bandaged leg out. Judging from the small irritated looks of pain whenever he set his foot down, it still seemed like it hurt a small bit. Otherwise, he was completely alright.

SUNNY gave a thumbs up to show that everything was going to be okay.

Everyone in the room gave a small sigh of relief.

Walking up to her little brother, the older sister gave a gentle bop on the head as she sternly told him, "Be more careful next time! You could have gotten seriously injured. What would I have done if that branch landed on your head or your neck or something?"

Rubbing his noggin with a small frown, the usually silent boy spoke a full sentence for the first time as he pointed to AUBREY, "Couldn't help it... I wanted to save AUBREY before she got hurt."

Being reminded that this whole situation was her fault, AUBREY began tearing up again as she covered her eyes in shame.

"I'm sorry! I'm really really really sorry!" AUBREY sobbed out, "I didn't mean to get you hurt!"

With the adrenaline and worry from earlier wearing off, AUBREY felt her knees collapse as she sat on the floor.

"I... I didn't mean to screw up! I didn't mean for it to happen! I'm so sorry!"

God, she was so stupid.

This was her only chance to make a good first impression for her new friends. She was supposed to show off that she was normal and fun to talk to.

Now everything was ruined because of the stupid mistake she made. Not only did she make herself seem like a complete screwup, she also managed to get one of them to injure themselves in the process just to try to save her from getting hurt.

After this, no one was going to want to hang out with her again... Whenever they see her, they'll just remember this exact moment where she caused one of their friends to get his leg cut up from her mistake. They'll do everything they can to avoid her from here on out.

She was going to be stuck all alone in this stupid town with absolutely no friends for the rest of her life.

This was all her own stupid fault.

Stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid-

She felt her thoughts get interrupted as a small hand landed on her head.

Looking up confusedly through teary eyes, she saw SUNNY sitting closely in front of her while petting her head.

Although his face didn't show any emotion, AUBREY could see in his eyes that the boy didn't harbor any resentment towards her.

His face was so close though... AUBREY felt herself heating up from the small gap between them.

"Looks like SUNNY's already forgiven you, AUBREY." MARI chuckled as she sat down by her side. "You don't have to cry anymore."

AUBREY blinked as she looked around the room.

Instead of scorning her or looking at her like she was some kind of sick disgusting alien from off-planet, they were all giving her warm smiles as if nothing was wrong.

AUBREY couldn't really believe it, to be honest. She was fully expecting them to try to get her to leave after this.

"B-But..." AUBREY sniffled, rubbing her eyes clear, "It... It was my fault. I got SUNNY injured... I should have been more careful, but I ended up hurting one of you... You guys don't hate me or think I'm horrible?"

"What?" HERO asked audaciously, "Of course not! Why would we ever think that? It was just an honest mistake."

SUNNY nodded in agreement.

KEL came up behind her and smiled brightly, "Yeah, there's no way we could ever think someone like you would be horrible! If anything, you're just a little bit weird for crying so much over a little accident!"

"KEL!" HERO quickly reached over to grab his pipsqueak of a brother by the ear, "Seriously, time and place."

KEL chuckled heartily, even as he hissed in pain from his ear being pinched.

"S-So..." AUBREY sniffed again, looking up at everyone and whimpering out, "So I didn't mess everything up? You guys still want to be my friends?"

"Is that what you're worried about?" MARI asked in surprise, "You were worried that we wouldn't want to be your friends anymore?"

AUBREY nodded with a hiccup, she continued wiping her eyes from the constant stream of tears flowing down, "I was... I was really scared that you guys would think I'm dangerous or something... I was trying really hard to be polite and kind so that I could fit in... I didn't want to give anyone any reasons to hate me... You're the only kids I've gotten to know since I moved here, I didn't want to lose any of you already... I don't want to be alone..."

She had been so alone before she met them. No one wanted to be her friend.

No one wanted to hang out with the new girl who lived in a trash heap of a house.

She was smelly. Dirty. Creepy.

She couldn't even afford more than a single pair of shoes.

That day when she accidentally lost her right shoe, it was almost the worst day of her life. Her dad had warned her frequently to not lose her new expensive pair of pink shoes. He worked really hard to save up money just to get it for her, after all.

If it wasn't for these four kids who had found her crying in the middle of the sidewalk and helping her find her shoe, she didn't know if she would have the strength to come home and face her parents that day.

These four kids were the only ones who have ever been nice to her since she came to this town.

She didn't want to lose any of them...

She didn't want to be alone...

She was so sick and tired of being alone...

...

Someone began hugging her before she could even realize it.

Pulling her hand away from her eyes, her bleary vision could make out SUNNY wrapping his arms around her body in a warm embrace.

"No more crying. I forgive you already." SUNNY said softly.

For some odd reason, AUBREY felt her face heat up again from feeling SUNNY hugging her so tightly.

This was the first time a boy her age has ever given her a hug before. She honestly didn't know how to react.

How was she supposed to even react?

Before too long, she felt another pair of arms wrapping around her from behind.

"I didn't realize you were going through something like that." MARI said, before reassuring her comfortingly, "Poor girl... I promise, AUBREY. None of us hate you at all. You're not going to lose any of us as friends."

"Yeah, especially not when we've only just gotten to know you." HERO joined in politely, leaning down to hug them all from the side, "Don't worry about being alone anymore, okay? If you want, how about we hang out more often? Would that make you feel better?"

"Yeah, you should totally hang out with us more!" KEL cheered happily, before coming in to hug everyone as well, "If you promise not to cry anymore, we'll let you play with us as much as you want! So don't feel bad, okay?"

With every single one of them dog-piling on top of her, AUBREY felt like she was being suffocated under all that weight.

Still, the warmth and love that exuded from them made her feel so much better than she did before. Hearing all of them reassure her that they would stay friends relieved the massive weight in her heart instead.

"Okay... Okay..." AUBREY sniffled, her lips slowly forming a small smile as she calmed down.

These people were so weird, already accepting her as part of the group so quickly before they had the chance to know her.

She was so thankful to have friends though. She always wanted friends but never had any before.

It felt nice to finally be a part of a group she could get along with.

AUBREY began relaxing into the group hug as she started hugging SUNNY back.

She could feel all their hearts beating steadily around her.

SUNNY's heart was beating just a tiny bit faster.


AUBREY gave a satisfied yawn as she stretched her body outside, enjoying the night's breeze stroking her skin.

She managed to sneak out of the pizza parlor around the time MIKHAEL and ANGEL brought the karaoke machine out. As much as she liked music, she was a horrible singer. She'd rather not get involved with anything that could cramp her style.

Even now while outside, she could hear the terrible screaming coming out of MIKHAEL's mouth as he sang some kind of Japanese anime theme song or whatever. AUBREY couldn't help but chuckle, imagining the carnage inside.

Ah, poor JOHN. She definitely needed to remember to give that pizzeria owner a big fat tip later for putting up with her and her friends.

...

...

...

The stars were beautiful tonight.

AUBREY admired the sight before her as she looked up at the night sky in awe.

She and her old friend group used to lie outside and stargaze a lot, didn't they? It happened to be one of SUNNY's favorite activities.

It was easy to see why. For a boy with an active imagination, seeing a sight like this must inspire some truly amazing thoughts to go on through his mind.

...

She's been thinking about him a lot more recently, hasn't she?

Ever since she came to visit him on his birthday, thoughts of the comatose boy kept popping up in her mind.

Almost everything reminded her about him in one way or another.

It was weird to think about, now that she realized it.

She thought for sure that she had already accepted the fact that he'd never wake up again. For the longest time, she accepted the fact that he was already gone from her life.

It was what gave her the strength to go visit SUNNY for the first time in years.

To accept the reality of the situation and come to terms with the fact that SUNNY was no longer with her.

It was hard to come to grips with this fact at first. She so desperately wished that she was wrong, that SUNNY would miraculously wake up the next day and tell her that he was fine. It was the reason why she had such a hard time visiting him anymore.

Because she knew that having hope in that belief would only disappoint her in the end.

When she finally found the strength to go see him again, it was supposed to be so that she could pay her respects to the friend she lost.

Seeing him again was supposed to cement that fact...

And yet...

All it did was cause everything to remind her about him again.

All she could do was think about SUNNY now.

It...

It was honestly kinda annoying.

Was this... proof? Proof that she didn't move on after all? That some part of her still held on to some naive hope that he might still wake up again?

AUBREY felt herself bitterly laugh a bit at the revelation.

Was she actually still holding out hope that SUNNY would wake up again? After all this time?

Wow. She couldn't believe it.

To think that there was still a small part of her that was holding out for hope.

...

...

...

Why couldn't she move on from SUNNY, she wondered?

Why does she still think about him, even after all this time?

At this point, she was more disappointed in herself rather than angry. Despite everything she did to finally convince herself otherwise, it seems her default settings were to revert back to thinking about SUNNY.

Why was it so hard to just... move on from him?

...

Why was she trying so hard to move on from him?

Why was she so dead set into firmly believing that he wouldn't come back in the first place? It's not like he was dead yet. There was always a chance that she could be proven wrong.

...

She was just terrified of being disappointed, she guessed. Of being proven wrong. Maybe... maybe that was why she kept trying to convince herself that he wouldn't come back. To lessen the impact in case the bad news of the worst-case scenario ever reached her ears.

God, how the hell does BASIL do it so easily? What makes him so optimistic that SUNNY would just pop back into life as if it could happen at any moment?

What gave him the willpower to stay so naive and innocent, despite everything going against him?

Wasn't he scared that he might be wrong too? Wasn't he scared that all that hope would end up being for nothing?

Was he even prepared for the possibility that SUNNY wasn't going to make it?

...

The sound of a door opening up nearby caused her to lose her train of thought.

Turning over to the noise, she was pleasantly surprised to find a weary BASIL exiting FIX-IT as he prepared to lock up shop.

Speak of the devil.

BASIL gave a great big yawn after a hard day's work, finally finished with all of his tasks. Locking up shop was the last thing on his list, and after this was going to be some well-earned sleep.

When he prepared to leave though, he paused in his tracks as he noticed a familiar pink-haired girl out of the corner of his eye.

With a smile, BASIL waved at the girl and came up to her, "Hey, AUBREY! Fancy seeing you here late at night."

"Hey, BASIL." AUBREY smiled back, "You look like a mess."

Looking down at himself to see his disheveled state, he casually asked back, "Do I? Guess I must be. Not too surprising, considering everything I've been through today."

"This is the first time I've seen you working so late." AUBREY noted, before asking, "Right, didn't you say something about how FIX-IT was lacking employees the last time we met up together? You had to work overtime, right?"

"Heh, yeah. Luckily for me, the manager managed to find someone to share the shift with me. Now I finally get to have a day off tomorrow." BASIL chuckled happily, before asking, "And how about you? I wasn't expecting you to be out this late in the night."

Gesturing behind her, AUBREY told him, "I'm out with the gang over at GINO'S. We're celebrating a successful mission today back in NOWHERESVILLE."

"NOWHERESVILLE? That's about a two-hour bus ride from here, isn't it?" BASIL asked incredulously, before giving a knowing smile, "Was it a gang thing? Should I even ask what you guys were doing there?"

"Probably not." AUBREY shrugged casually, "Just settling some personal vendettas. Nothing you need to concern yourself about."

BASIL probably wouldn't condone the idea of getting revenge on someone. He always was a bit of a goody-two-shoes about stuff. It'd be better not to burden him by getting involved with her gang's trouble.

"I wanna say Please don't get into trouble, but I feel like that's sort of going to end up being inevitable with you guys." The flower boy sighed playfully, before shrugging, "As long as I don't wake up to police officers at my front door asking me if I've seen a pink-haired girl that recently murdered someone."

"Oh please," AUBREY teased, "If I ever kill anybody, they'd never find out about it."

"Hmm. Just what my anxiety needed to hear tonight. Thanks." BASIL deadpanned.

They stared at each other for a bit before they both ended up laughing from the banter.

Looking up at the stars, they both admired the beautiful sight together.

It took a while before BASIL piped up again, "Remember when we used to stargaze a lot as kids? It used to be SUNNY's favorite past-time."

"Funny, I was thinking about that earlier myself." AUBREY remarked.

"Sometimes we'd just spend hours laying out there by the lake, talking about random stuff." BASIL reminisced fondly, "It was the only times we'd ever get to hear SUNNY speak his mind more often. He'd tell us little bits and pieces, finally giving us clues as to what goes on in that brain of his."

"Oh yeah... Those little adventures he'd go on in his own imaginations whenever he zones out." AUBREY giggled, "All six of us, going far and wide, helping people and having fun traveling together."

Sometimes he would draw these adventures out on paper too with colored crayons before sharing it with everyone else. The little doodles that represented all of them always seemed to be having the times of their lives.

Didn't he use to have a sketchbook?

Yeah, he did. AUBREY remembered now.

SUNNY always had this sketchbook over at his house that was filled with drawings like that. All these amazingly colorful drawings of worlds and imaginary friends that came from SUNNY's mind. A sky made of purple and constellations of random toys. Even though most of the drawings baffled her, she always found it amazing how she was able to sift through what his mental process was like.

It felt like she was able to understand the stoic boy a little bit easier, just by looking through it. Like seeing through a window of his soul or something.

What happened to that sketchbook anyway? Did MARI still have it?

She always hoarded all of SUNNY's toys and belongings ever since he was in a coma. No doubt the older girl must be preserving it somewhere in her room, waiting for the day to finally give it back to her younger brother.

...

That sketchbook probably won't ever see the light of day ever again if MARI still had it.

Kinda sucks. AUBREY would've liked to go through it one more time if she had the chance.

"Yeah, SUNNY always seemed to be a pretty active daydreamer." BASIL smiled, "Makes me wonder if he's still dreaming even now. What do you think he'd be dreaming about?"

If SUNNY could still dream... She could only hope that it was a pleasant and beautiful one, free from hardships. Something that could give him peace and respite.

"I dunno. Something crazy humongous like an epic journey across the world to save the person he cares about most?" AUBREY offered with a shrug.

"Oh? You mean someone like you?" BASIL smiled teasingly.

Huh. She wasn't really even referring to or thinking of herself when she said that. It was just sort of the first thing that popped into her mind.

"Or maybe more like someone like you?" AUBREY countered back.

"Agh, jeez. That would be embarrassing. I'd rather not be seen as the damsel in distress if I could help it." BASIL blushed and chuckled. Looking back up at the stars, BASIL said, "I figure that he'd be dreaming about being friends with CAPTAIN SPACEBOY or something silly like that. Oh well, guess we'll never know for sure until we ask when he wakes up."

...

AUBREY slowly turned to stare at BASIL.

There it was again.

That endless supply of optimism towards SUNNY's recovery. The sheer confidence in his voice that left no room for doubt that SUNNY will wake up.

Even after six entire years of nothing changing, he was still as firm and steadfast as the day she first reunited with him.

How the hell does he do it? What gave him that confidence in SUNNY to begin with? What did BASIL know about SUNNY's coma that AUBREY didn't know herself?

What made him so sure that SUNNY would come back?

"How do you do it, BASIL?" AUBREY ended up murmuring out loud.

BASIL glanced at her curiously, "Huh? Do what now?"

"How are you so sure about SUNNY? Even after all these years? How are you able to say that SUNNY will be alright with such a straight face?" AUBREY continued, "I just don't get it..."

She had given up hope on him so long ago.

Or maybe it was more accurate to say that she had to force herself to give up hope on him...

It hurts so much to keep believing. It made her feel so stupid and naive. Every single time she walked into that hospital room, expecting that day to be the day that SUNNY would finally open his eyes again.

Only to end up in utter disappointment every single time.

She had so much she wanted to tell him. She had so much in her heart that she wanted to say. She had been keeping everything inside for so long, and she desperately wanted to see SUNNY again just so that everything would return to normal again.

She wanted to go to the park and play on the swingset with him again. Just the two of them, by themselves.

Together again.

But he never woke up.

Why does BASIL still cling onto hope? Was he really that naive?

AUBREY had to seriously fight with herself just to be able to move on from SUNNY. It was the only thing that gave her the strength to go visit him again after all these years. The fact that she accepted he was gone made her come to terms with seeing him again.

She never told BASIL about any of this, of course. To him, AUBREY was as hopeful and confident as he was because of... true love or some bullshit like that.

She kept it to herself because she didn't want BASIL to be depressed or disappointed. She didn't want him to crumble down and end up exactly as MARI.

But...

Something about this whole thing was starting to infuriate her. It just didn't seem fair that she had to be the only one to try and move on when everyone else seemingly didn't.

And now after going to visit him again after avoiding him for so long... She found out that a small part of her still never moved on at all.

She seriously doesn't get it... Was there something wrong with her? Was there something wrong with BASIL?

Who the hell was in the wrong here? She had to know. She had to come to grips with something solid, otherwise she might go insane.

BASIL studied her for the longest, his eyes slowly going over the features of her face.

"KEL asked me the same thing a couple days earlier." BASIL told her. Facing forward and looking out to the parking lot, he asked, "Before I tell you what I told him, how about answering my question first so that I have an idea of what's going on? What do you think about SUNNY? How do you feel things should be like in your own honest thoughts?"

"What do I think about SUNNY?" AUBREY repeated slowly.

"Don't be afraid to admit your true feelings." BASIL reassured her, "I'm not a kid anymore. I won't be upset or anything over something like this. I just wanna know what your thoughts are."

AUBREY considered his words as she thought about her answer.

...

"I think that SUNNY's already gone." AUBREY finally admitted out loud, "It's been six years now. If he was going to wake up, he'd have woken up sooner than that. There's no way he'll ever come back if it was taking him this long. I think it'd be better if we all accepted that fact and moved on from him so that we can keep going with our lives." AUBREY paused and gave a small trepid gulp, before finishing with, "Holding out for hope at this point will only end up with all of us wasting time getting disappointed."

BASIL closed his eyes, slowly processing her words carefully.

AUBREY looked down at her feet, a small pit of shame forming in her stomach.

She didn't want to admit any of that to him. She had been keeping her true feelings inside so that BASIL wouldn't ever have to find out about it.

What was going through his mind right now? Was he angry at her? Disappointed?

Will he start to hate her now, just like MARI does?

BASIL took a moment to take a deep breath and gathered his thoughts.

"Guess I should have figured... you always did seem a bit uncomfortable whenever I talk about him like he's still with us." BASIL murmured.

She felt herself wilting back at that.

"To answer your question earlier, I'm not confident at all. In fact, I'm pretty terrified that SUNNY might not ever wake up again." BASIL sighed tiredly, "I have absolutely no idea for sure if SUNNY will ever come back."

AUBREY widened her eyes in shock.

That...

That was not the answer she was expecting.

"B-But... I thought-" AUBREY mumbled confusedly, only for BASIL to interrupt her.

"It doesn't mean that I'm going to stop believing though." BASIL continued, looking out to the parking lot wistfully, "As long as SUNNY still has a heartbeat, there just has to be a chance that he's still fighting. Somewhere in there, he's alive and trying to get back home. He'd never leave any of us behind, not on purpose. SUNNY is a good person, you know?"

All of a sudden, a small orange cat appeared at their feet and looked up at them with curious eyes.

"Meow?"

"Oh! Hello, Mr. Kitty!" BASIL greeted happily, crouching down to pet it. "Sorry, neither of us have any treats for you today."

The cat didn't seem to mind the touch, purring softly as it enjoyed its ears being scratched. It seemed pretty friendly towards people despite being a stray.

AUBREY watched BASIL continue playing around with the small orange cat, before asking him, "What if you're wrong? What will you do if SUNNY doesn't ever wake up at all? What if he ends up passing away after all this?"

It was a cruel question to ask, AUBREY had to admit. But it was a question that she had to deal with for a long time now. It would be better to face it head-on rather than tiptoe around it.

BASIL sighed at this as he thought about his response.

"I guess then I'll be wrong. I'll just have to accept that he's gone too, eventually. Not after spending some time mourning for him, of course." BASIL answered softly, "But I'll just have to move on when the time comes. SUNNY wouldn't want me to obsess over him after all. He'd want me to keep going to see how my life plays out."

...

...

...

A small feeling of relief surged in her heart as she heard this.

Wow... She...

She must have been really overreacting with all of this, hasn't she?

For some reason, she thought for sure that BASIL would end up exactly like MARI. It was something that she had always been secretly worried about this whole time.

Instead, BASIL reacted much more maturely than she was expecting.

Knowing that she was worrying over nothing made her feel... kinda comforted.

Even if the worst happens, AUBREY would still have BASIL in her life to keep her company.

"I must have been acting a little carefree, haven't I?" BASIL chuckled sadly, "Going on and on about SUNNY this and SUNNY that around you without ever really caring about how you felt. I was probably really annoying to be around."

"No! No, that wasn't what I was thinking at all!" AUBREY quickly denied, "That wasn't the issue here. I mean... I just... I was just..."

Oh man, how exactly was she going to explain that she had been keeping all of this baggage inside her heart simply because she couldn't trust him to react properly?

"It's okay. Really, I get it." BASIL waved her away with a gentle smile, "I don't blame you at all for thinking this way. It's only natural for some people to lose faith after waiting for so long."

The small orange cat seemingly had its fill of attention as it decided to scurry off into the dark.

BASIL stood back up, taking the time to readjust the flower clip on his head and putting his hands in his pockets.

"Hey, AUBREY." BASIL began, "I'm not asking you to change how you think. You don't have to believe that SUNNY will come back if it makes you uncomfortable." Turning to her, he continued, "But at least... At least keep an open mind about him. Until we know for sure that he's gone for good."

...

"I'll... I'll try." AUBREY smiled.

Wasn't even a lie this time like all the others. She won't have high hopes about it... but she'll be ready and willing if SUNNY does end up proving her wrong.

Honestly, that would be a really awesome day.

"Eh, good enough answer for me." BASIL smiled widely with a chuckle. "I'll try to be a bit more subtle too. Make things easier for you."

BASIL looked back up to admire the stars again, letting AUBREY follow suit.

You know, she didn't expect this day to end with her opening up her feelings and having her worries fixed up.

Man, talking to friends and being honest with them about your feelings was awesome! She should totally do this more often. She couldn't imagine why she didn't do this before!

A lot of problems seem like they could be solved just by talking it out like this.

The two of them continued stargazing in comfortable silence for a while, before their session was cut short as someone came out of GINO'S.

KIM sludged her way through the door, looking like she could pass out at any moment. Despite that, her eyes began sparkling the moment she saw both AUBREY and BASIL standing together in front of the pizzeria.

"AUBS! There you are! I was looking everywhere for you!" She greeted first, shambling over to the two friends and wrapping a loose arm around both, "And the flower nerd is here too! That's awesome!"

"Hi, KIM. How are you today?" BASIL greeted politely.

"Oh, I'm doing much better now that you're here, cute stuff." KIM wiggled her eyebrows at him.

Oh god, here we go again. This familiar sensation of a migraine was starting to form in AUBREY's head as she prepared herself to ask the obvious question.

"KIM, please don't tell me you're drunk..." AUBREY sighed disappointedly.

"Okay. I'm not drunk." KIM said resolutely.

Then she immediately tipped forward and almost smashed her face to the ground if it wasn't for BASIL quickly catching her on time.

"Ooh, nice strong hands~!" KIM giggled drunkenly in his arms, "If you wanted to cop a feel, you should've just asked!"

"DAMMIT KIM, you are drunk!" AUBREY shouted, before asking incredulously, "How did you even convince JOHN to sell you alcohol again after what happened last time?!"

"Nah man, I'm didn't buy from JOHN man..." KIM corrected as she brought herself upright. With a hand still around BASIL'S neck, she said, "I brought my own!"

"WHY?!" AUBREY screamed in exasperation.

"Pfft, what kind of nerd celebrates without at least consuming just a tiny little bit of alcohol?. Besides, it's not like Mom was gonna notice a small tiny bit of her wine goes missing." KIM laughed, waving away AUBREY's concerns before changing the topic entirely, "Nevermind that for now! Where were you?! I was waiting the whole night to finally see you suck at karaoke!"

As AUBREY rubbed her face from her friend's behavior, she sighed tiredly and answered, "I snuck out here while nobody was looking, okay? I just wanted some fresh air."

KIM slowly brought her eyes up to stare at her friend, tracing it back to BASIL, then back to AUBREY again.

Then she suddenly had a shit-eating grin that AUBREY recognized immediately was trouble.

"Oh, I see how it is! You were hoping to score some pollination with our resident flower nerd, ain't ya? Trying to keep him all to yourself?"

AUBREY gave an aggravated groan as she covered her face while BASIL started laughing.

"It's not like that, Jesus Christ..." AUBREY insisted.

"Oh yeah?" KIM asked doubtfully, before saying, "In that case, you don't mind if I flirt him up a bit, do ya? You won't get jealous, riiiiight?"

KIM proceeded to then start smushing her face into BASIL's cheek, rubbing against him affectionately.

"How about it, BASIL? Won't you have some fun with your favorite girl?" KIM asked in a cutesy way.

With a cool head, BASIL chuckled at her before respectfully declining, "Sorry, KIM. Not too interested in a romantic relationship right now. Even if I was, I wouldn't try to start one with someone who's obviously inebriated."

"Well shit." KIM pouted disappointedly, "Aren't you boring?"

Flinging herself out of BASIL'S grasp, she launched her body over at AUBREY to force her to catch the punk-girl before she fell.

Now deciding to rub her face against AUBREY's, KIM announced, "In that case, I'll just set my sights on you! Won't you show your little KIM some sugar?"

As KIM puckered her lips and leaned in for a kiss, AUBREY rolled her eyes and pinched the drunk girl's lips shut.

"KIM, you are such a disaster." AUBREY stated flatly.

Clearly annoyed at being rejected twice in a row, KIM began to throw a drunken tantrum, "Oh come on! If neither of you want to make out with me, then at least start making out with each other already! It's been three years, when are you both going to do something scandalous?! I've had my money staked on the two of you making a move behind the school bleachers for years now and I'm still waiting!"

"Uh... wow." BASIL murmured to himself with a blush.

Face glowing red from both embarrassment and outrage, AUBREY screamed out, "KIM, SHUT THE FUCK UP! That's it, no more candy for a month after tonight! You hear me?!

"You're not my mom! And stop dodging the issue already!" KIM shouted back disorientingly, "Come on! Be a friend and help me score fifty bucks! I'll even give you half if you let me watch!"

This continued on for several minutes as AUBREY and KIM did this back and forth bickering together while BASIL casually observed from the sidelines.

After a while, BASIL began to feel a bit awkward as he waited around long enough for things to escalate.

Checking the time on his watch, he saw just how late it was and realized he was eating away precious sleeping time.

"Welp, I can see you two are having fun." BASIL stated cheerfully as the two girls began wrestling for dominance, "I'll let you guys have fun celebrating then. I should be heading home now."

"Alright! Take care and good night, BASIL! Thanks for the talk!" AUBREY responded back, even as her face was being squished by KIM'S massively thick thighs.

"No, wait! Come back!" KIM called out desperately, "Make out with at least one of us before you go!"

"SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP-" AUBREY held KIM back in a leg necklock, "I can't hold her back when she's like this! Run, BASIL, run!"

BASIL gently waved goodbye and headed back home, ignoring the cries of despair coming from KIM'S drunken tantrum.


Phew. Finally, home sweet home.

BASIL felt a wave of relief wash over him as he unlocked the door and set foot in his house, breathing in the aroma of his flowers to calm him down.

Today was a very tiring day, but he had to admit that it was very fulfilling as well.

Being able to have an honest talk with AUBREY about her true feelings with SUNNY was unexpected. He was happy to finally get that cleared, even though he was just a tiny bit disappointed that she didn't have any faith left for SUNNY...

Ah well, it's no big deal. It just means that her reaction will be that much more fun to watch when SUNNY eventually comes back.

Giving a big yawn for the second time tonight, he felt himself slightly swaying side by side as his body relaxed and his head filled with sleepy thoughts.

God, he couldn't wait to get to his bed.

Passing through his house, he silently greeted each and every plant in his path as he imagined them welcoming him home from a long day's work.

Making it to the bathroom, he went ahead and finished his nighttime rituals of brushing his teeth before bed.

Swirling the water in his mouth, he gargled for a bit and spat it out before tiredly rubbing his face clear.

In the mirror was a young man with blonde hair staring back at him with a peaceful smile.

An image of his best friend SUNNY stood behind him over his shoulder.

"Good night, SUNNY. I'll see you tomorrow." BASIL told him happily.

SUNNY nodded before disappearing.

With that done and over with, BASIL gave one last hearty sigh as he prepared to head to his room.

Opening the door, he expected to see his neat and tidy room exactly the way he left it, alongside a nice comfy bed.

BASIL felt the corners of his lip slowly drop to a neutral frown as he looked at his room again.

The window was shattered, as if someone outside had broken in.

Glass shards were strewn about all over the floor.

An ominous note with big capital letters was placed on his bed, spelling out his name.

...

Sigh...

He was this close to calling it a night too.

Shaking his head clear, he forced himself to stay awake as he prepared to assess the scene.

Carefully going through his belongings, he was able to safely conclude that everything he owned was still in one piece and nothing was stolen. Thank God for that, he supposed.

Besides the broken window, it didn't seem like anything else was vandalized either. All of his plants and furniture were still intact.

That left only the note on the bed to give him any clues as to what was going on.

Grabbing the note, he unfolded it and put the paper in front of his face as he stared at the contents.


Dearest Basil,

Tis I, your dear old best friend from childhood, KELSEY. As you may have noted whilst you've returned home from your ventures, I mayhaps accidentally committed the crime of vandalism and trespassery as I attempted to access your house through the entrance of your window, which is now unfortunately shattered into smithereens by my careless behavior. I do apologize, and hope that you might find it in your heart to forgive this poor wretched fool, for I have a decently adequate explanation regarding the reason why I have committed such tomfoolery. For you see, I have appeared before your estate earlier today in bearing great news, that of which I most dearly wished to share with you before the morrow. In my haste, I have attempted numerous times to call out for your attention under the assumption that you were still currently occupying your estate at the time. After many foiled attempts to grab your attention, however, I decided that it was worth intruding on your estate through any means possible in order to locate your person as soon as I possibly could, for the news I bring was of much importance. Sadly, it is with much regret that I realized too late that you were already away from the premises long before the time I have arrived.

In this case, I have decided to do the next possible thing. Knowing that you would eventually return to your humble abode, my detailed plan involved leaving this note behind to provide you a series of clues in which you could accurately guess the grand news that I've come to tell you. By the end of this adventure, you will soon be able to reunite with a friend that has been lost to us for many moons.

Are you prepared? The first clue is going to be a letter that reminds you the most about a snake-


BASIL stared intensely at the note in his hand for the longest time as he did his best to decipher the words written on it.

...

...

...

"I can't read this."

BASIL looked up confusedly from the chicken-scratch block of text hastily written on the note, wondering who the hell was crazy enough to do something like this.

The bad handwriting made it impossible to make out any words.

This was obviously either the work of a kid, or someone who had a weird twisted sense of humor.

In either case, he should probably call the cops and have this reported to let them know that there was some sort of maniac on the loose.

Sigh...

His droopy eyes began weighing heavily as he struggled to keep them open.

A voice in his head clearly called out to him, begging him to do all of this tomorrow when he had the free time to do so.

Right now, he needed sleep.

Making a mental note to clean his room tomorrow, he collapsed right on top of his bed and found sweet relief as his face felt the nice fabric of his mattress.

Before BASIL closed his eyes for good, he took one last look at the note in his hand and gave it a stern glare.

Honestly, what kind of prank was this to begin with? At least the guy who did this wasn't out to rob him when he had the chance.

Still, if you were going to leave behind a note, at least make it legible to read.

Crazy kids...

Giving the note a passing glance, BASIL turned the note around to see how long the terrible handwriting would go on for.

Big blocky letters, written in clear English.

BASIL! SUNNY IS BACK! :D

...

The flower boy's eyes widened in shock.

A burst of adrenaline courses through him as he sat up and reread the text again.

It took him a moment for the words to settle into his mind before he dropped the note and immediately ran out of the house.

Sleep can wait.

Chapter Text

It was nighttime already, wasn't it?

MARI sighed as she idly pressed the same musical key on her toy piano over and over again.

She had been doing this for hours now. The piano key was eventually going to wear out if she kept going like this...

Sitting in the living room with nothing to do, MARI had spent the whole day finding excuses to keep herself busy. She had already swept the house and dusted the corners numerous times today to keep the place looking spotless for SUNNY.

When that eventually bored her, she had an idea pop up in her head to perhaps prepare some activities to do with her little brother once he got back.

Back when they were kids, SUNNY would always look forward to spending time with her by playing whatever they had on hand together. MARI thought it would be a good idea to have something prepared so that they could both play together, just like in the old days.

Excited by the idea of being able to make up for lost time with her little brother, she rummaged around the closet to search for every single toy she could find.

It's certainly no picnic, but… Well, this would have to do for the time being.

She didn't know which he'd want to play first, so she decided to play it safe and just grabbed anything that looked remotely fun.

It had been so long since the two of them ever spent any time playing games with each other. Even before the incident, she had always been…

She had always been too busy to play with him…

She won't make that same mistake ever again.

Eventually, she found herself surrounded by a fortress made out of toys, board games, and all other knick-knacks from her childhood as she waited for her little brother to come back.

It would be comical if it wasn't so depressing.

Still, she was excited to surprise him with all of this once he got back home. Hopefully, SUNNY will be thrilled at the idea of being able to play games with her again.

They can finally be together again.

So… Yeah.

SUNNY should be back any minute now.

Just gotta keep waiting...

Waiting for something to-

*KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK*

The gentle knocking on her front door made her perk up instantly. MARI didn't waste any time setting her toy piano aside on the couch and rushing to the front door as fast as she could.

OMORI didn't have to wait long after knocking before he heard someone sprinting all the way over to the door.

The door flew open, revealing an ecstatic MARI on the other side.

"SUNNY! You're home!" MARI's eyes practically lit up in pure joy before she went ahead to hug the daylights out of her little brother.

OMORI wasn't expecting the energetic greeting, almost nearly losing his balance from getting tackled out of nowhere.

After enjoying the brief hug, MARI pulled herself back and asked, "How was my favorite little brother's day? Did you have fun spending time with KEL?"

Caught off-guard by her enthusiastic behavior, OMORI awkwardly replied back, "Uh… Yeah. I did."

"That's great to hear!" MARI cheered happily as she ushered him in, "Come on inside! We don't want you to get cold now!"

OMORI was gently pulled inside by the arm as MARI closed the door behind him.

Looking around, he was slightly confused by the sight of all these old toys and board games lying around in the middle of the living room. They almost nearly filled the room to the brim, surrounding the couch and table like the pillars of Stonehenge.

Seeing her little brother's confused face, she hopped right in front of him and gave him a huge smile, "While you were gone, I thought I might as well prepare some games for us to play when you came back! We can play as many things as we want together! Doesn't that sound fun?"

OMORI blinked at her a few times before slowly looking over the entire collection of their old toys.

It had been a while since he even touched some of these things. Ever since MARI died, he never found the motivation to go through all the old stuff he had. The only time he ever remembered pulling them out for any reason was so that he could either throw away the stuff he didn't like anymore or pack up for when the movers arrived.

He never really thought that he'd…

OMORI had to admit, the idea was tempting. MARI had always been so busy with her studies and piano practice back then to spend time with him anymore. Being able to play together again would be…

He… He had always been so selfish, hadn't he? Badgering her to always spend time with him, even when he knew she was busy… He just couldn't accept the fact that she was going to live her own life one day and kept forcing her to waste time entertaining him as much as possible.

He just had to get involved with her in any shape or form… He just had to bother her about letting him join her recital. A recital he was never even interested in…

Only to kill her.

MARI felt her smile falter when she saw her little brother stare sadly at the toys in front of him. Instead of being excited at the opportunity like she thought he would be, he seemed so depressed at the idea.

Did he… not want to spend any time with her anymore?

Don't force him. He didn't do anything wrong, so don't force him.

It's your fault he's like this.

"If… if you don't want to play, then that's fine too. You don't have to if you're too tired." MARI offered with a reassuring smile.

OMORI turned back to her, noticing the sad smile etched on her face, and thoughtfully studied it.

Even though OMORI knew he didn't deserve to have any fun with his sister… She had gone through all this trouble to prepare everything for him.

The MARI in this reality had no school anymore. She had no college prep studies or piano practice to attend to. She had nothing to keep herself busy.

She must've been waiting for him the entire day… Waiting for him to come back.

All alone.

He always hated being alone.

Even though he didn't deserve to make new memories with her, he felt it would be cruel to deny her after she went through all this trouble just for him…

"I'm not tired." OMORI told her, "Let's play something."

OMORI saw his sister immediately became ecstatic once she heard that, giving him a big excited grin.

"Yeah! Of course!" MARI cheered, clapping her hands together and bringing them next to her cheek. Swiveling her hips happily, she told him, "Go ahead and pick any game in the pile! Choose what you want to play with the most!"

The sight of seeing his sister so excited to spend time with him almost made him smirk.

She always did that pose whenever she was happy like this. Unlike him, she was never any good at hiding her emotions. Spend time with her long enough, and you'll eventually learn that she could never contain herself. She always made her feelings quite clear and obvious for anyone to see.

Perhaps this would be a good opportunity to speak with her about some stuff he's been meaning to bring up in the meantime.

Ask her for more details about why she hated their friends. Ask her about what happened between her and HERO. Maybe even some other stuff if it comes up.

Get more information before he tracked down the next person for details about the past six years here in this reality. If he's lucky, he could find AUBREY or BASIL tomorrow. HERO would be hard to get a hold of, but he could wait.

Hm.

Carefully looking through the pile of toys around then, his eyes began to settle on one before he pointed it out to her.

"Maybe chess?"

A simple game like chess would give him enough time to think about what to ask her in between turns. He also picked out chess because he knew that it was MARI's favorite out of the bunch.

"Sure!" MARI quickly went over to the boxed board game and grabbed it out from the pile. Turning back to him and holding it up with a smile, she said, "Let's play some chess!"


"Aaaand check!" MARI announced, taking a white knight piece away with her black rook.

"Already? Wow." OMORI hummed.

MARI chuckled as she toyed around with her recently captured piece, "You should know by now that I am and forever will be the goddess of all things strategy, little brother!"

Her little brother was never any good at these sorts of things, so it was always easy for her to beat him. The trade-off was in her favor though. If SUNNY was good at video games, MARI was a master at the board games.

Chess, checkers, mahjong, Clue, Monopoly, Dominoes, UNO- You name it, she was already perfect at it.

OMORI looked at the chessboard with a contemplative stare as he wondered exactly what play he should utilize here.

He was really out of practice. He hasn't even touched a chess piece in years.

He was definitely in for a bad time if he was going against his own sister at these types of games.

In the end, OMORI decided to just move his king away, figuring that was the safest option.

Judging by the tactical glint in her eye, OMORI figured he must have chosen poorly.

The game continued on like this for a few moments, the two of them trading pieces as each of their strategies were soon laid bare. MARI was proving to be the winning side, as always.

OMORI wasn't exactly putting his heart into the game though, too busy stuck in his own mind as he organized all the questions in his head and figured out which was more important to ask first. Only a partial amount of his attention was spent on the board game, at best.

Noticing the intense look of concentration on her little brother's face, MARI smiled appreciatively as she thought her little SUNNY was taking the game seriously and giving it his all. It had been years since she ever saw him so lively, she couldn't help but stare at his cute adorable concentrating little face.

Although he wasn't really all that good at the game, it didn't matter. Her little brother was perfect just the way he was. All that mattered was if the two of them were having fun.

Nothing else mattered.

"Checkmate!" MARI officially declared, locking down her brother's white king into a corner.

"Nice." OMORI nodded impressively. He saw this coming a mile away. MARI was just too good at this game.

MARI giggled proudly, before offering, "Wanna play another round? I'll go easy next time to give you a shot!"

"Sure." OMORI shrugged before moving to reset the pieces.

Round two began shortly, with OMORI with the black pieces this time.

Giving her little brother a handicap by only using fifty percent of her brainpower to play the game, the other fifty percent thought it would be fun to start a conversation with him.

"Soooooo? How was your day with KEL?" MARI asked innocently enough, starting off with a king's pawn to E4. "You said you two had fun together, right? What did you two do today?"

OMORI looked at the board with some thought before moving his pawn, mirroring MARI's move.

"We went to the park for a bit, I guess. Didn't do much there besides read some pamphlets." He answered simply. "After that, we went to the plaza to hang out there. I got the chance to check out HOBBEEZ with him."

"Oh, did you? That's awesome! You always loved that place!" MARI giggled, moving a knight to F3 before asking, "And then?"

OMORI almost considered telling her about the flowers and the trip to the cemetery, only to realize that it might not be the best idea. All that would accomplish was get MARI confused, as well as open a line of questioning that he'd rather not spend answering.

So instead, he skipped ahead a bit as he continued copying MARI's chess moves with his own knight, "After that, KEL took me back to his house so that we could spend some time together for the rest of the day. Play video games, spend time with HECTOR, meet his baby sister… Just talk about things."

"Aw~! That's nice!" MARI beamed as she studied the chessboard.

Hmm, looks like she could challenge his E5 pawn by breaking the center with a Scotch opening… There were a multitude of ways she could take advantage of this and try to lead the game to a win… she had a thirty-six percent chance of winning, with a thirty-three percent chance of the match ending in a stalemate...

Oh shoot, she was overthinking again, wasn't she? Didn't she just promise to give him a handicap?

Moving queen's pawn to D4, MARI began to relax her brain by resting her head on her hand as she smiled at her little brother. Continuing the conversation to unfocus her mind, she asked, "And what did you two get to talk about?"

"Well…" OMORI attacked her pawn with his own before answering, "He gave me a long recap of the last six years. Told me about how everyone reacted when they heard the news. How he and HERO dealt with it. Even told me how you dealt with it."

At this, MARI's smile twitched.

OMORI stared at her inquisitively, watching her movements becoming stiffer than usual as she grabbed her knight to take his pawn.

Despite the pleasant smile adorned on his sister's face, OMORI could easily tell that it was fake now. Her robotic movements didn't match it at all, almost as if she was desperately trying to hold herself back.

"Did he now?" MARI stated with a stilted edge in her tone, "I see."

MARI was feeling… rather ticked at the fact that KEL had to be the one who told him about the past six years.

Knowing KEL, if he had been the one to bring her little brother up to speed, no doubt that idiot would have fed a whole bunch of lies and nonsense to get himself to seem more innocent than he actually was.

What sort of crocodile tears did he shed just to convince SUNNY that his backstabbing friend had always been waiting for him this entire time? What sort of excuses and horseshit did he come up with to explain why he wasn't there for his friend?

The worst part of it all was that SUNNY would've believed anything he said without a second thought. Her innocent little brother would have no reason to doubt KEL.

Just thinking about it made her want to strangle something.

As her brother moved a bishop ahead, MARI sweetly (almost mockingly) asked him, "What did he tell you, exactly? Did he tell you the truth? That he left you four years ago? Did he admit that he abandoned you, leaving you to rot by yourself? Did he acknowledge the fact that he was a horrible friend who gave up on you like the selfish brat he is?"

OMORI shuffled around in his seat, feeling uncomfortable at the way his sister was acting. This was a side of her that he has never seen before. The MARI he knew would never hold a grudge against her friends like this…

OMORI knew she could be vitriol and scathing if pushed far enough, but… this was almost on another level.

With a small sigh, OMORI simply answered, "He did."

MARI's hand froze just as she was about to move her next piece on the board.

Looking up at her little brother, MARI blinked in shock before asking, "H-He… He did?"

OMORI nodded, "It was the first thing he mentioned. He wanted to apologize to me for not visiting me at the hospital all these years. He thought he was being a bad friend and wanted to make it up to me."

KEL said that?

He apologized for it?

Her hands fumbled with her next piece as she moved a random pawn ahead before she quickly asked, "W-What did you say back to him?"

OMORI shrugged, "I forgave him. Like I said, I was never bothered by it."

"Oh, right…" MARI mumbled, rubbing her face as she took in this information. Shaking her head clear, she then asked, "Did he say anything else?"

Her little brother nodded again, "He told me that the reason he felt he needed to apologize was because of you, actually."

B-… Because of her?

KEL wanted to apologize because of her?

OMORI moved his queen up diagonally, before continuing, "Right before he dropped me back home, he told me to tell you that he was sorry for everything. He wanted to make it clear that, even though you might not feel the same way anymore, he still considers you to be one of his closest friends."

She couldn't believe it.

It's just… None of this felt real at all.

She thought for sure that...

"Was he being sincere…?" MARI asked softly, a distracted hand mindlessly moving her knight over to take one of his pieces. "Did he truly mean any of it?"

OMORI looked up from the board to see his sister staring off in the distance. Unlike moments before, her attitude shifted from being bitter to disbelief and confusion.

"Is it that hard to believe?" OMORI asked back.

MARI closed her eyes in thought.

Was it really that hard to believe?

No, not really.

Was it that hard to accept it?

Well…

...

Within MARI was a wide range of emotions threatening to tear her apart again.

On the one hand, she was truly ecstatic. To think that KEL would be the one to pass the olive branch of peace by apologizing to them first. Remembering what he told her the last time they spoke, she realized that maybe KEL was telling the truth after all when he said that he still thought of her as his friend. Only a real friend would feel guilty and apologize like this.

On the other hand, she was frustrated. It felt so disingenuous. Why did it take him this long to say sorry in the first place?! You can't just fix four years of continuous neglect and silence with a simple apology and expect everything to be kumbaya! You can't just go waltzing back into their life as if everything was normal, as if everything was okay- apologizing just so that it could all be conveniently swept under the rug! He didn't even have the decency to apologize to her face!

On the third hand… She felt remorseful. Maybe she had been too hard on the boy? The last time they spoke, all he wanted to do was make sure she was okay. Yet she couldn't help but shout in his face, mock him for insinuating that they were still friends, only to kick him out of her home straight after. It wasn't like it was his fault that SUNNY was stuck in a coma, and yet she acted so… Ugh, he probably couldn't even apologize to her properly because of that. He was scared of her, wasn't he? That's why he told her little brother to relay the message to her for him. If it wasn't for her, maybe he would've been able to apologize much earlier...

...

MARI…

She wanted to forgive him.

She wanted to tell him to screw off and leave her alone forever.

She wanted to be friends again.

She wanted to never see his face ever again.

She wanted KEL and SUNNY to get along together and make up for lost time.

She wanted KEL to stay as far away from her little brother as possible.

She wanted…

She… she wanted...

What the hell does she even want…?

God, nothing seemed to make any sense anymore… She wasn't prepared for any of this.

She just wanted to spend time with her little brother. Why did she have to be stuck in this mess? Why did she have to mention KEL at all?

Why couldn't she just pay attention to SUNNY?

"MARI?"

After her little brother called out to her, MARI quickly shook her head clear and blinked up at him.

"Oh right, sorry." MARI mumbled embarrassingly, "We were still in the middle of a game, weren't we? Did you make your move yet?"

OMORI nodded, "I have you in check."

MARI smiled politely as she looked down at the board again.

Alright then, let's see here… She moved a pawn to C3 to defend her knight from his bishop, then he went ahead and moved his queen to F6… and then after that, she moved...

Oh.

"SUNNY, this isn't a check." MARI pointed out, "You have me in checkmate."

Her little brother blinked confusedly as he looked down at the board again.

The queen that cornered her king at F2 was defended by one of his bishops diagonally at C5. She made the earlier mistake of attacking his knight instead of defending herself. She couldn't take his queen or make any other moves without being captured.

"Huh." He mumbled in surprise, "Wasn't paying attention to that."

Neither was she…

She lost against him in only six turns? Guess that was what she deserved for not paying enough attention to her little brother.

...

It… It was what she deserved…

Six years, because of her.

There was a brief period of silence as MARI stared blankly at the chessboard.

OMORI studied his sister's expression, trying to do his best to peer into her mind. What was she thinking about right now? How was she feeling?

It was almost as if she was so overwhelmed that she couldn't even properly function anymore. This wasn't the first time this has happened, he suddenly realized. She has been acting like this ever since he met her in this reality.

She looked so tired.

MARI felt so so so tired.

Usually almost always when they were talking about their old friends…

Maybe… if he could try something...

OMORI decided to break the silence as he told her, "I know that you have a problem with him because he couldn't visit me anymore, but it seems like he really wants to make up for it. I think you should give him a chance, at least. Won't you forgive him too?"

MARI looked back at him with a blank stare.

Of course!

Absolutely not.

Maybe?

She didn't know.

She really didn't know.

And because she didn't know, it made everything all the more frustrating for her.

So instead of answering the question, she forced herself to give a bright smile as she suddenly stood up and headed to the kitchen.

"I'm going to make us some dinner! Hope you're hungry!" MARI announced cheerfully, leaving the conversation abruptly.

OMORI blinked stupidly as he watched his sister flee to avoid his question.

She really just left the conversation like that? Before they were even done?

OMORI massaged his face with a frustrated sigh… He thought for sure that he was really close to breaking through to her for a moment. It would have been great if he could somehow convince her to forgive KEL then and there.

He knew this wasn't going to be easy, but…

Trying to help MARI was going to be harder than he thought if she was going to be like this.

Guess he might need to brainstorm a different approach to tackle this...


OMORI ate his tofu as his eye periodically glanced up to look at MARI.

She smiled back sweetly at him as she continued to stare at him while he ate.

Long since finished with her plate, MARI encouraged her little brother to take his time eating and not to rush. There would be plenty of time to keep playing after he finished, she told him.

"We can stay up as late as you want! Mom and Dad aren't here to get on our case for sleeping late and there's no need to go to school tomorrow! Isn't that great?" MARI told him happily.

Sure, the doctors told her to make sure he gets plenty of sleep for his recovery process, but everything should be fine! She'll let him sleep in tomorrow morning to make up for it!

This means more time to spend together with her little brother! Everything should be perfect!

OMORI didn't share her excitement, unfortunately. While he might have liked the idea of playing late into the night with his sister back when he was a kid, he didn't want to waste time playing around when he could be helping MARI find the truth in her HEADSPACE instead.

Still, he silently nodded at MARI as he continued to finish eating his dinner.

"Is the tofu still okay?" MARI asked in concern, before apologetically saying, "I know this must be the third time you've eaten tofu by now. You must be getting bored of it, right?"

Without his sense of taste, OMORI really couldn't answer that.

So instead, he shook his head, "It's fine. It tastes good."

Despite his words, MARI still felt the need to offer him, "If you want, we can go out and buy some steak together in OTHERMART tomorrow! We can throw out some of the tofu to make room for it!"

"No, really. I'm fine." OMORI insisted, "I'd rather not go through the trouble."

It'd be a waste of time and money to buy him any steak anyway. He's not worth it.

"Oh. Okay…" MARI hesitantly relented.

OMORI kept taking small bites out of his tofu as MARI continued to watch over him.

Resuming her smile, MARI decided to scoot her chair over next to her little brother to get closer to him.

OMORI carefully glanced at his sister, wondering what she was up to.

With a small giggle, she went ahead and brought a hand up to pet his head.

OMORI had a dumbfounded look as he watched his sister rub her hand through his hair.

"You always liked it when I did this." MARI mentioned, stroking his hair in content. "I remember one time, both you and MEWO were laying next to my side on the floor, and all I would do was just stroke both of your heads over and over again." With a chuckle, she recalled, "Both of you purred so loudly, I almost didn't know which one was the cat and which one was my little brother!"

Yeah… OMORI could recall something like that a long time ago.

Back when MARI was still alive and MEWO was still around, OMORI would regularly play with the black cat by acting like a cat himself. MARI found it completely endearing and adorable, so he decided to keep acting like one just so that she could pay more attention to him.

MEWO… she ran away when MARI died. No one was properly taking care of her anymore, so she ran to live somewhere else.

He wondered where that cat was right now? Did she leave too in this reality? He hoped she was somewhere nice and comfortable at least.

I miss her.

MARI brought him out of his reminiscing thoughts, asking him, "Does it feel good, SUNNY?"

Awkwardly glancing away, OMORI coughed and said, "Um… I still can't feel anything."

"Oh." MARI blinked, remembering about his numbed senses. Slowly pulling her hand away, she mumbled apologetically, "I'm sorry. I completely forgot that you…"

OMORI shook his head, "It's okay. I appreciate the thought."

MARI gave a small sigh to herself.

Well, that was embarrassing.

Might be a good idea to change the subject before the moment lingered any longer than it has to.

What else did she want to talk about with him? She already asked how his day had been, so all that was left to talk about was…

Actually…

There was something important that she had been meaning to speak with him about.

Glancing at him as she curled her hair over her ear, she considered how to properly ask him.

"So, today has been a pretty productive day for you, huh?" MARI started off pleasantly enough.

OMORI shrugged as he finished his dinner. In a sense, yeah.

After spending the whole day gathering information from KEL's point of view of the previous six years in this reality, OMORI felt that he had a basic idea behind what was going on with MARI.

It wasn't enough to fill out the complete picture though. Hopefully, tonight's venture to HEADSPACE will grant him some further insight into MARI's mental state.

"So… Um…" MARI awkwardly shuffled in her seat a bit as she slowly grew nervous. With a bit of hesitation, MARI gulped before she timidly asked, "Um… So, now that you've spent the day outside with KEL… D-... Do you still think everything is a d-dream?"

OMORI blinked before looking up at her.

MARI gulped.

This was something that she had been worried about ever since yesterday.

To think that he had gone through such a horrible ordeal for the past six years in his mind. Dreaming of a life where he killed his own sister on that day on top of the stairs. The guilt that weighed on his mind must be devastating for such an innocent sweet boy like him.

She wanted to do anything she could to help him forget all about it. Make him understand that she was alive and well, ready to accept him with open arms. That there was nothing to be guilty of.

OMORI, meanwhile, stared back at his plate in silence.

This was… something OMORI didn't quite know how to answer properly.

For the most part, he's generally accepted that he was transferred to another reality. How he managed to do so, he still had no clue.

If the answer to how this came to be was that this whole thing was just some kind of hyper-realistic dream he subconsciously crafted just to punish himself, he'd suppose then that this answer would make the most sense.

If everything happened to be real though, then it would mean that the universe was truly giving him this last task as punishment before he could finally move on to die in peace.

But if he had to question whether this was real or a dream though… He'd… He'd probably hope that it was…

No.

Whether it was real or not didn't matter.

He needed to help MARI to forgive herself. To make sure that she doesn't go down the same route he did.

Nothing else mattered.

"Not anymore, I guess." OMORI eventually answered, hoping that it would be enough to satisfy her.

"You guess…" MARI whispered softly to herself as she looked away in thought.

MARI… Honestly, she didn't know what to do. She had no idea how to tackle this sort of situation.

Hearing him say that he didn't think he was dreaming anymore, it almost made her feel relieved.

But there was something about his response that just… tickled her gut the wrong way.

Like… Like he was just saying that so that she wouldn't have to worry about him anymore.

He was always such a considerate little brother...

Maybe she was paranoid… Maybe SUNNY was truly going to be fine after all.

But after seeing him point a knife at himself firsthand, MARI did not want to take any chances.

"Hey, SUNNY?" MARI began softly.

"Yeah?" OMORI turned to her curiously.

"Can you tell me about… about the stuff you experienced? While you were in your coma?" MARI asked, carefully holding onto his hand, "The things you had to deal with… The things you went through… I want to know more about it."

OMORI widened his eyes at this.

"W-... Why?" He stuttered.

Why would she want to know something like that? It wasn't like he could tell her anything that would be important or interesting…

MARI felt like she had to do something though.

"I just… I just want to make sure you realize that everything you see now is absolutely real." MARI explained with a soft smile, "Maybe if you told me all the things that happened to you, I can point out the differences and prove your memories are wrong. I can prove that nothing in your head actually happened."

Carefully bringing his hand up, she moved his fingers to caress her neck.

"Like for example, you told me that you and BASIL hung me to fake a suicide and cover up my death, right? Well, I can already tell you multiple reasons why that would never make any sense!" MARI exclaimed cheerfully, "For one, I'm still alive and kicking! Can a dead person tell you that she still loves you? SUNNY, I love you!"

Yes, all the time. Cruel words to make him feel more guilty for taking the life of someone who cared so much for him. One of the many words that haunted him wherever he goes.

"Another thing, why would BASIL try to help you fake my suicide in the first place? He's a responsible and smart boy, he'd never do something crazy like that! The first thing he'd do would be to get someone to help! Just like how he helped you when… when you fell down the stairs that day…" MARI felt herself falter a bit at the memory but shook herself out of it as she kept her smile up.

BASIL just wanted to protect him. He wanted to make sure his best friend didn't get in trouble for killing his own sister. Even if it meant at any cost. Trusting him was the worst mistake OMORI could have ever made.

"Third of all, didn't you say that I was the one who fell down the stairs? Wouldn't that mean that there'd be bruises and marks and stuff to show how I died?" MARI pointed out, "Even if you did try to fake it as a suicide, the police autopsy report would disprove it for sure! No one would have believed it was a suicide from the beginning!"

Mom and Dad knew. They knew and they protected him by keeping it all a secret. Mom didn't want to lose the only child she had left, not after losing her daughter. Dad disowned him because of that. Dad was the only one who could see his son as the monster he truly was.

"So you see?" MARI reassured him, "As long as I can explain why it doesn't make any sense, then that means for sure that none of it was real!"

OMORI silently stared at his big sister.

"So won't you please tell me what you've been through?" MARI pleaded, rubbing her face against his hand, "I just want to help…"

Please… Please accept her help. Please let her be the reliable older sister she was supposed to be…

She had to do something to protect him…

She had to do something to make up for the fact that this was all her fault to begin with.

Please, SUNNY… Open your heart and mind for her. It won't even cost your love if you don't want it to...

OMORI frowned as he brought his hand up to pet her head.

She softly smiled back and leaned in against his touch.

He still couldn't feel it. He still couldn't feel anything.

His sister was right here, and he still couldn't even properly feel her. Not her warmth, not her hair… not anything.

It was so frustrating...

It was the cruelest punishment he could think of. Worst than anything else he could imagine. At least he would've been able to feel something in any other punishment… but this...

He knew that he deserved this.

And yet...

...

"The last four years…" OMORI began miserably, "They… they were…"

MARI looked at him expectantly, patiently waiting for him to finish his thought. Her attention was completely on him, and nothing was going to distract her.

"They…" OMORI struggled to get the words out.

Before he could utter another word, someone began loudly knocking on the door.

Both he and MARI turned to look at the noise in bewilderment.

Without even pausing for a single moment, whoever was at the door kept insistently knocking on the door over and over again. The loud banging reverberated throughout the entire house without rest.

Just like this morning.

KEL.

...

MARI grit her teeth as she suddenly stood up from her seat.

Each loud bang against the front door only served to piss her off more and more.

KEL… That idiotic, selfish, attention-seeking little brat!

Why couldn't he just give her a single moment alone with her little brother?!

Was it not enough that he had to take SUNNY away from her this entire day?! Was it that hard to just give them a moment of peace and quiet, to just leave her alone so that she could spend some time with him herself?!

And he had to gall to knock on her house in the middle of this hour at night?! WHY?! WHY DID HE HAVE TO BARGE IN JUST WHEN SHE WAS ABOUT TO DO SOMETHING IMPORTANT WITH SUNNY?!

WHY COULDN'T HE JUST LEAVE THEM ALONE IN PEACE?!

AAAAAARGH! SHE HATED HIM SO MUCH!

OMORI leaned back in his seat with a startled expression as MARI stomped past him with the cruelest glare adorned on her face.

MARI was about to give that inconsiderate brat a piece of her mind!

Selfish, stupid, lousy, rude, noisy, nosey, inconsiderate BASTARD.

Her unending rage never once lessened as she stomped her way to the door. Each loud knock further accentuated and amplified her anger by the millions.

How dare he steal her time away from her SUNNY?! How dare he intrude on her when all she wanted was to spend some time with her little brother?! Why couldn't he just leave her ALONE?!

She hated him.

SHE HATED HIM.

SHE HATES HATES HATES HATES HATES HIM!


It wasn't KEL who was knocking on their door.

It was BASIL. The town's resident plant efficianando and well-known flower boy.

He breathed heavily as he did his best to catch his breath, his hand already knocking down the door with all his might.

His body was practically running on pure adrenaline at this point.

BASIL had to know. He had to know for sure whether or not the note he read was telling the truth.

With it being after visiting hours, he knew that there would be no way for him to check up on SUNNY at the hospital at this hour of the night.

That left him with only one other option.

MARI would be the only one to know for sure. As the sister of his best friend, she was the only one besides him to visit SUNNY as often as he does. These past few days where BASIL was too busy to visit, he was sure MARI was still able to maintain her visiting schedule.

If SUNNY really was back, MARI would know for sure. He had to ask her, even if it meant knocking on her front door for the entire night until she finally woke up.

Thankfully, it wouldn't come to that.

The door was wrenched open in front of him faster than he was expecting, as a livid MARI came out to glare at him with all the hatred in her heart.

"DAMN IT! I ALREADY LET YOU SPEND THE WHOLE DAY WITH HIM! WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM ME, YOU MISERABLE BACKSTABBING SUBHUMAN PIECE OF GARBAGE-"

The moment MARI's eyes realized the person in front of her wasn't the recognizable tanned boy she was expecting, her anger halted as she grew confused.

But when she saw a familiar pair of blue eyes glaring back at her, she felt she made a horrible mistake.

The flower boy was unimpressed.

"B-... BASIL…" MARI immediately withered back in fear.

His eyes were practically glowing in the middle of the night, his stare piercing through her soul with silent disapproving judgment.

Barely even startled by her initial screaming, BASIL bitterly muttered back, "MARI."

The older girl felt a pit in her stomach open. A pit filled with nothing but dread, embarrassment, shock, and unadulterated shame.

She couldn't believe she ended up screaming in BASIL's face…

"I'm… I'm so sorry…" MARI whimpered nervously, "I-I thought you were someone else. I didn't mean to…"

Despite being taller than him, MARI couldn't help but feel so small whenever he looked down at her like this.

"I'm so sorry… I'm so sorry... I swear, I didn't mean to shout at you, I'm so so so sorry…" MARI kept whimpering out apologies after apologies.

She curled her arms up against her chest as she looked away to the floor, unable to handle his glare.

"Whatever. I don't care." BASIL said dismissively as he entered the house.

MARI's legs instinctively paced backward to avoid getting close to him.

"I'm sorry… I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry-" MARI couldn't help but continue whimpering.

"Stop mumbling already! I told you that it was fine." BASIL irritatedly commanded her.

MARI recoiled back and felt her mouth immediately close itself shut out of fear.

BASIL briefly looked over MARI before giving an annoyed sigh out of frustration.

She certainly hasn't changed in the slightest since the last six years.

If it was for anything else, BASIL would've preferred not needing to come here to speak with her. Seeing her always tended to bring the worst side out of him.

BASIL slowly allowed his eyes to wander around the house, taking in the atmosphere.

It's been a really long time since he last stepped foot in here… Since the day of the incident, to be precise.

He could remember with a nostalgic fondness all the times he came over here to play with his old friends… The sleepovers they would have together. The movie marathons they would watch at night. The morning cartoons on Saturdays. The treehouse they built and played in together further in the backyard…

If only things could go back to how they used to be...

There was a tense brief moment of silence as MARI snuck a nervous glance up at BASIL to see him studying the house in thought. After a while, she awkwardly offered, "D-Do you want some tea? Or tofu? I can… make something for you since you're here-"

"I'm not here to exchange pleasantries, MARI." BASIL interrupted.

MARI gave a small whimper again as she closed her mouth and eyes shut, keeping herself faced away from him.

Realizing that he was wasting time, BASIL turned to face MARI only to see her cower in fear in front of him.

Ugh… It was always like this, wasn't it? At this rate, this was going to go nowhere fast.

He needed to calm down and speak with her like a proper person. For SUNNY's sake, he needed to set his grudge against her aside for now.

BASIL took a deep breath as he softened his face, forcing himself to stop feeling unpleasant around her.

With a smooth and gentle voice, he looked over MARI again and began, "Look, let's set aside everything between us for now. I promise I didn't come here just to yell at you all night."

Despite his reassurance, MARI was still trembling as she refused to look up at him again.

Taking another deep breath, BASIL relaxed and gently told her, "Look, I'm sorry for intruding. I promise I'll leave as soon as I'm done. Can you please calm down and relax?"

...

It took a while before MARI was able to work up the courage to look up again.

Seeing him staring into her still made her feel anxious, but his softened expression and calm voice at least managed to make it easier to look him in the eye.

With a nervous gulp, she forced herself to give a welcoming smile, "Of course… What did you need from me, BASIL?"

Good start so far. Now it was time to ask what he came here for.

"I came because I wanted to ask…" BASIL began slowly, putting his thoughts into words as he asked her, "I heard that SUNNY was back. Is this true?"

When BASIL ran all the way over to MARI'S house, a part of him had been excited at the idea of learning his best friend was finally awake again. But another part of him still left room for doubt.

If the note ended up being a complete lie, then it would be a cruel prank to pull indeed. He would've come here for nothing and made MARI confused just for simply asking the question.

But the way MARI lit up with a smile in response to that question, the first pure genuine smile BASIL has ever seen her give in the last six years…

"SUNNY! Yes, of course! KEL must have told you!" MARI happily exclaimed.

KEL? Wait, does that mean that KEL was the one who broke into his house just to leave that undecipherable note on his bed?

Well, that certainly sounds like a KEL thing to do…

Wait…!

BASIL felt an excitement grow within him as he asked back, "So it's true then?! Is SUNNY really awake again?!"

MARI could see the look of pure hope and joy in his eyes as she confirmed the news to him. The look reminded her of a simpler time back when BASIL was still just an innocent sweet little kid.

Oh, the look on his face when he finally sees her little brother again will be priceless! BASIL had waited for him to wake up for so long now! He can finally see his best friend again, and MARI will get to watch it all happen with front-row seats!

BASIL… SUNNY's one and only true loyal friend, who never once gave up hope and abandoned him like all the others.

If anyone deserves to reunite with her little brother, it would be him.

"Wait right here! I'll go get him! He'll be so happy to see you again!" MARI told him as she prepared to leave.

At that, BASIL's eyes widened in shock.

"SUNNY is actually here in the house right now?!" He asked in surprise, "He's not at the hospital anymore?!"

"Absolutely! He was discharged just a few days ago!" MARI turned back to announce excitedly, "It's hard to believe, but it's really true! He's finally back with us again!"

With that said, MARI hurriedly left to get to the dining room to bring her little brother over.

BASIL was left in the living room, his mind still reeling over the fact that not only was his best friend awake again, but he was also physically here right now prepared to greet him.

This… This wasn't a dream, right? This was truly real and happening, right?

MARI wasn't going crazy, right? KEL wasn't lying just to pull a tasteless prank on him, right?

Right?!

"Guess whoooo~?" MARI finally called out after waiting for so long.

BASIL felt his breath hitch as he saw MARI pulling his best friend by the arm into the living room.

Although his eye was covered in a white eyepatch, that was the only difference he could see.

Other than that, there was absolutely no mistaking the person in front of him.

With a calm stoic expression, his best friend gave him a small wave.

"Hi, BASIL."

Oh god…

"I was right… I can't believe it…" BASIL muttered softly.

He knew it… He knew he was right.

SUNNY… His dear best friend…

He was finally back.

BASIL couldn't stop the tears from leaking out of his eyes as he smiled happily.

"SUNNY...!"

Chapter Text

"HEY, GUYS! OVER HERE!"

BASIL stood by nervously as he saw AUBREY shout and wave at a group of kids who were just arriving at the park.

When the group finally noticed the pink-bowed girl, they all started happily waving back to let her know they saw her.

BASIL couldn't help but feel a bit intimidated at the size of the group. Four kids, and two of them seemed much taller and older than he was…

"Come on, BASIL! Let's go meet them! I wanna introduce you!" AUBREY giggled excitedly as she pointed at them.

BASIL nervously fiddled with his hands, "A-Are you sure, AUBREY? I mean… I don't think this is a good idea. I don't want to intrude or do anything to embarrass you. I'm not exactly a social-"

AUBREY quickly interrupted him by pulling on his arm, insisting as she said, "Don't be like that! I promise you that they're all really awesome and friendly! You'll get along great with them! Don't you trust me?"

Trust her? Of course! BASIL felt he could trust AUBREY to do anything!

Trust himself, though? That was what he was having trouble with. There was no way such a large group like that would welcome a weird kid like him. He always tended to keep to himself, and people always considered him weird because of that.

Honestly, he'd prefer just being AUBREY's friend in secret instead. That way, they could still hang out together and he wouldn't do anything to hurt AUBREY's reputation…

AUBREY seemed adamant about introducing him to her group of friends, though… BASIL had no choice but to follow along with her.

As she led him closer to the group, she cheerfully waved out, "Guys! Guys! I want you to meet my new friend, BASIL! I met him in school! He's really smart and cool!"

Smart and cool? Agh, jeez… AUBREY shouldn't need to lie like that. If she went ahead and set up expectations like that, how was he supposed to live up to them?

Still, he did his best to give a friendly smile as he nervously rubbed the back of his neck.

Agh, jeez, he was sweating so much! He really hoped nobody noticed.

The small tan boy of the group greeted him first, "Hi there, BASIL! My name is KELSEY, but everyone calls me KEL! Nice to meet you!"

"Oh, uh… Nice to meet you too." BASIL respectfully nodded back as he reached out for a handshake.

KEL seemingly mistook this as a sign for a high five and gave it a big slap instead, "Aw yeah! New friend acquired! And it's a boy too! Finally, we can outweigh the girls in our group!"

BASIL did his best not to show pain as he pulled his hand behind him and rubbed it soothingly. "Uh… Thanks?"

The next person to introduce themself was a tall boy who seemed to exude charm and confidence, "Hello, BASIL! Nice to meet you! AUBREY likes to talk about you a lot whenever we hang out. I'm HENRY, KEL's older brother."

BASIL felt himself blush when HENRY mentioned that AUBREY apparently talked about him a lot to the others. He didn't realize that AUBREY had been bragging about him before.

Nobody ever brags about knowing BASIL before… This was a first…

"H-Hi. I-I'm not that special, but thank you." BASIL felt the need to downplay himself as he waved at the tall boy.

Agh, jeez… Looking over him once more, BASIL felt incredibly inadequate. HENRY looked so tall and handsome, like he was someone you would expect to be really popular with people. Compared to him, BASIL was just a skinny-looking weirdo…

"Just so you know, we all usually call him HERO!" KEL told him, "So don't get too confused if you hear us call him that instead of HENRY!"

"HERO?" BASIL repeated curiously.

Heh, what a nice nickname. Yeah, he could totally see HENRY being some kind of hero. Wonder what he did to get that nickname in the first place?

After him, a girl who looked slightly older than him bent down to his level and cheerfully greeted, "Hi, BASIL! I love your name! It's so adorable! Thanks so much for being friends with AUBREY, I really appreciate it! My name is MARI, and it's a pleasure to meet you!"

Thanks for being friends with AUBREY? If anything, BASIL should be thankful to AUBREY for being friends with him…

If it wasn't for her reaching out to him first, BASIL honestly would've been stuck all alone…

"I-It's no trouble. AUBREY is a nice girl. I like being friends with her." BASIL responded back politely.

Looking over MARI again, he couldn't help but blush a bit from the sight of her. The older girl seemed to radiate an aura of elegance and maturity. Not only that, but she was really pretty! Maybe not as pretty as AUBREY, in his humble opinion, but he wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that MARI was really popular with boys in her grade.

The last person in the group that BASIL hadn't greeted yet was this small boy his age that was standing from afar.

Instead of greeting him like everyone else, he chose to stand back and give a small awkward wave. No hellos, no introduction, not even bothering to put up a friendly smile.

BASIL felt himself growing nervous again as he went to greet this strange boy. "Uh… Hi. I'm BASIL."

The boy nodded stoically but didn't bother responding with anything else.

"Uh…" BASIL anxiously kept continuing on as he did his best to smile, "Are you AUBREY's friend too? I-It's nice to meet you!"

Once again, the only thing the boy was willing to respond with was a small tiny nod of acknowledgment.

Did… Did BASIL do something wrong to offend this boy? Why was he acting so strange compared to everyone else?

Did this boy think BASIL wasn't worth even speaking to?

It was as if he was already giving BASIL judgment before BASIL had the chance to do anything wrong…

Noticing the awkward tension in the air, MARI was quick to swoop in from behind and push the boy closer, "This is my little brother, SUNNY! Sorry if he doesn't talk much, he's just a bit shy. He has a hard time talking to strangers, but I'm sure once he gets to know you, you'll hear him speak more often!"

As if embarrassed or ashamed of this fact, SUNNY glanced away to the ground.

Oh… SUNNY was shy just like him then? In that case, this made a lot more sense.

He could totally understand the feeling. BASIL has trouble talking to other people too!

"I-I see." BASIL smiled and offered back, "Well, I hope we can be friends then, SUNNY."

Even though the silent boy still refused to speak a word to him, SUNNY turned to look BASIL in the eye before giving a thumbs up in response.

"In SUNNY's language, that means I'm sure we will!" MARI reassured with a giggle.

SUNNY reaffirmed this by nodding.

Haha… Maybe SUNNY and BASIL had a lot more in common than he initially believed.

You know, this might not be so bad. The entire group seemed friendly enough. At least they're actually giving him a chance to hang out with them.

It would be nice to finally have some friends if this all ends up going well…

He was getting sick and tired of being alone. Having more than one friend would be nice.

"Thank you for welcoming me, SUNNY!" BASIL smiled back politely.

SUNNY nodded again.

Little did BASIL know, from here on out, these five would end up being his closest best friends in the whole wide world.

Little did BASIL know that SUNNY would end up becoming the person he would cherish most of all, above everyone else.

He thought so little of them at first. He was sure that such a friendship would end up becoming forgotten sooner than later. He was almost convinced that they would leave him eventually...

But they ended up being more like a family to him than even his own parents…

SUNNY…

It really was great to have you back again.

But…

Where did you go in the first place? What have you brought along with you?

You can see it too, can't you? SOMETHING behind you?

Why do you keep looking at me like that?


A dark room in the middle of the night.

The only light source coming from the moonlight shining through the window.

There was a heavy atmosphere in the air, threatening to suffocate me just from standing here.

In front of me, a young boy with blonde hair was staring back. His blue eyes glowed in the dark.

I wanted to leave. I wanted to run. I wanted to hide.

But when I turned around, SOMETHING was blocking the door behind me, leaving me trapped inside.

Don't worry… Everything is going to be okay… No matter what happens, promise me that we'll always be there for each other… Promise me…

"Where are you going?!" A rough hand pulled me back and forced me forward again.

Staring back at me was the crazed desperate eyes of a boy who could no longer find any sense in the world.

"Stop trying to LEAVE ME!" He shouted, before psychotically chanting, "Stopitstopitstopitstopitstopitstopitstopitstopitstopitstopitstopitstopitstopit-"

Look at all of us… These are all of our memories together. They're a little sad now… but we should be happy that they happened at all. Let's make some new memories together, okay?

All of a sudden, he drops dead silent before turning around.

I could hear him sobbing to himself. Whispering something cryptic. Something crazy. Something nonsensical.

"...I don't want to be alone anymore…"

I understood every single word of it.

When… we… used to be friends… Do you remember how I used to take pictures of everyone? Well… AUBREY… She…

Before too long, he turns around again with a broken smile.

"No… You wouldn't leave me. That's not like you, SUNNY!" He told himself, trying so desperately to convince himself, "SUNNY is a good person… SUNNY would never leave me! It's SOMETHING behind you again, isn't it? When SOMETHING killed MARI… When SOMETHING ruined the photo album… I didn't say anything! I didn't want people to think it was you, SUNNY!"

It's hard to remember now, but… I think, at the time, I took photos of what I was most afraid to lose. Flipping through the album, you can still see the good times… Maybe one day, things can go back to how they were before.

The darkness formed around him, shadows rising up out of his feet. SOMETHING protrudes out into the floor as it swallows him halfway up to his waist.

He lets out a scream before pulling out a pair of garden shears, desperately stabbing away at the darkness.

"STAY AWAY! STAY AWAY FROM SUNNY!"

Once again, he suddenly drops dead silent as his arms limp to his sides before staring at me.

Resuming his smile, he reassured me, "I'll protect you no matter what, SUNNY. You can count on me!"

There's no way out of this, is there SUNNY?

I wanted to scream, but my lungs fought to breathe.

I wanted to run, but nausea overwhelmed me.

I wanted to cry, but I couldn't hold steady.

SOMETHING grabbed me with its dark tendrils, bringing me closer to him.

The garden shears shined brightly in the dark from the pale moonlight.

I felt terror coursing through me as his deranged blue eyes stared back at me.

"Don't be scared, SUNNY. I'll save you again!" He kept reassuring me, even as he cried through his broken smile, "I'm scared too… But this is for the best. I'll get rid of SOMETHING once and for all. Everything is going to be okay…!"

This was all my fault, wasn't it?

I'm… I'm so sorry… Will you forgive me? My best friend...

"EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY!"

BASIL raised the garden shears up in the sky.

Maybe one day, things will go back to the way they were before.

BASIL… My best friend… My closest friend. He was unlucky enough to witness the day I killed MARI. He couldn't handle the truth, and instead chose to do whatever he could to protect me. He thought he was preventing me from getting into trouble… but… he ended up ruining both of our lives instead.

If it hadn't been for me, maybe he would've…

...

I'll see you soon, BASIL.

BASIL loved her and you killed her.

Yeah.


There was a brief moment of shock shared between the two boys as they stared at each other.

BASIL couldn't believe his eyes, tearfully wiping through them with his sleeves as he did his best to wake himself up from this dream that he was surely in the middle of. He must have passed out in his bed after reading the note and was just living out his greatest wish, surely?

OMORI couldn't help but study the flower boy, noticing all the differences that this version of BASIL showed.

He looked… healthier? If that was the correct description to give.

The last time he saw BASIL, the boy used to have such bleak skin and a lanky body. Almost like a twig that could be broken from a simple breeze. His eyes would also give away his constant anxiety. He would often look too tired to even function.

This BASIL… he had none of those traits.

For one, BASIL seemed to have gotten himself a healthy glow. Not as tanned as someone like KEL, but the fact that he goes outside more often than most people was noticeable.

His body was no longer as skinny as it used to be either. While he didn't exactly acquire any obvious muscles, it was clear that this BASIL has been eating a healthy diet and lived an active lifestyle to keep himself in shape.

But most importantly, his eyes…

There was no guilt or paranoia behind them anymore. These weren't the eyes of a murderer. Just a friend who was in disbelief to have him back.

OMORI briefly looked over at MARI, seeing her watch the both of them with an anticipating smile.

In this reality, BASIL never helped him kill MARI by hanging her on the tree. The trauma of her death never affected him.

This was a BASIL who grew up entirely innocent. Untainted by the sins that OMORI committed in his original reality.

It was almost perfect.

With the initial shock finally wearing off, BASIL was able to confirm that everything was real and totally not a dream! The moment he realized this, he had already rushed up to his friend to give him a great big hug.

"SUNNY! I KNEW IT!" BASIL cried out happily, "IKNEWITIKNEWITIKNEWIT! I knew you'd wake up again! I told everyone that you would! I was right all along!"

In a way, it felt like OMORI was reuniting with an old friend he lost years ago. A friend he once had before the incident happened.

To think that he'd ever see BASIL like this… it never really crossed his mind until now.

Even though it wasn't entirely accurate to say this, he felt like it was the only appropriate thing to do.

Hugging his friend back, OMORI gently told him, "It's… it's good to see you again, BASIL."

"I can't believe this is finally happening! I've been waiting for this day for so long!" BASIL hiccupped, holding onto his best friend as tight as he could, "I never gave up hope that you'd come back to us one day… I told everyone that you'd wake up eventually! I knew you would! I- I knew you would…!"

BASIL couldn't do anything to hold back his emotions, crying into OMORI's shirt as the stoic boy calmly comforted him.

MARI stood by the sidelines as she watched on with a silent smile, enjoying the heartwarming reunion for all it was worth.

This was something she had been looking forward to for a long time. To think that she would finally get the chance to witness it first hand after waiting for all these years.

It was every bit as beautiful as she could possibly imagine it to be. The sight of her sweet little brother and his best friend BASIL, hugging the daylights out of each other after waiting for six years…

If only she had BASIL's camera right now. This would be such a wonderful picture to place in the photo album…

The hug looked so warm. She wanted to join them. Would they make space for her if she asked?

MARI quickly silenced that selfish thought, knowing how important it was for BASIL to have his moment alone with her little brother. She shouldn't try to ruin things by getting in between them already.

After a long while of their heartfelt reunion, OMORI finally patted BASIL on the back and awkwardly told him, "Uh, I think that's enough hugging. You're crying on the only shirt I have that fits me right now."

Everything else he owned in this reality was back when he was twelve. Too small to fit into anymore.

BASIL laughed at this, pulling away as he wiped his tears again.

"Sorry… I couldn't hold myself back…" BASIL sniffed, before chuckling, "I'm just… You have no idea how happy I am to see you right now!"

Finally grabbing a hold on himself and drying his dramatic tears away, BASIL quickly began circling around OMORI as he carefully observed his friend from all sides.

OMORI stood still, his eye curiously following BASIL around and around.

"Oh man, I just can't seem to wrap my head around the fact that you're really actually here!" BASIL marveled in joy.

He always figured that he would be the first to witness SUNNY regaining consciousness again during one of his hospital visits. It was all he could ever fantasize and mentally prepare about. No amount of preparation could ever have prepared him for this scenario though.

To think that he'd already be up and about…

If only he begged the manager to let him work regular hours these past two days instead of taking overtime.

Which actually begs the question.

Stopping right in front of his friend, BASIL suddenly asked out in confusion, "But how can this be? When did you even wake up?"

OMORI thought about it for a bit before answering, "The day after my eighteenth birthday, I guess."

"What?! But that was literally just yesterday!" BASIL cried out in shock, "I visited you on your birthday, and you were still in your coma! Actually, hold on-"

BASIL quickly reorganized his brain as he deeply thought about it, hands massaging the temple of his head.

"Let me get this straight, you woke the day after your birthday and got discharged from the hospital… on the same day?!" BASIL asked in pure confusion.

OMORI shrugged.

"But how?! Why?! You suffered through a six-year coma! You weren't even able to lift so much as a finger during that time! You should be going through six years worth of massive muscle atrophy! There's no way the doctors would ever let you leave that early! How are you even walking?! How are you even standing?!" BASIL gestured wildly at OMORI, "You shouldn't even be able to talk right now, and yet here you are standing here in front of my face while holding a conversation with me!"

OMORI slowly blinked as he awkwardly looked side to side.

Unable to come up with a real answer to that, he simply gave another shrug, "I dunno."

MARI quickly stepped in as she explained, "The doctors haven't figured it out either. It made them just as confused as you were. The only thing SUNNY's going through right now is that his entire body is too numb to feel anything anymore. Other than that, there really doesn't seem to be anything wrong with him." Looking towards her little brother with a soft smile, she continued, "And since the doctors couldn't find anything else wrong with him, we both insisted on being let out early to go home. So that's why he's here."

BASIL looked over OMORI with a stupefied expression, still trying to digest the information in his mind.

Eventually, BASIL brought his hands up in surrender, "You know what? I'm not even going to bother questioning this anymore. This is a miracle that doesn't need to be answered! I'm just happy that you're alive and awake again!"

Surely, whatever being that was out there was finally kind enough to give back his best friend after BASIL spent his life dedicated to waiting for him for so long. That was all he needed to know.

Stepping up and gently laying his hands on his best friend's shoulders, BASIL asked, "Just… let me get a good look at your face for a moment."

Goodness, just look at him…

Those six years sleeping in the hospital did not do any wonders for his complexion and body frame.

His skin was so pale… his body looked so lithe and frail…

SUNNY was never exactly the epitome of health and vigor, even before the incident. Being the youngest out of all of them, he had always been treated as the baby of the group. That comes with the overprotectiveness of all of the others watching out for him.

Yet he couldn't deny that despite all this, there was still a beauty at seeing his best friend opening his eyes again.

Er, well… Eye. One eye now.

"How's your eye? Have you adjusted to it yet?" BASIL asked in concern.

He couldn't imagine what it must feel like to suddenly wake up with a missing eye… Hopefully SUNNY didn't freak out when he first realized it was gone.

"Doesn't really bother me anymore, so yeah." OMORI shrugged.

Actually, thinking about it again, OMORI was never bothered by it at all in the first place. Despite the lack of depth perception that came with it, he was rather quick towards adapting to it. Much quicker than he expected.

BASIL carefully observed his friend, pulling a hand up to gently touch the side of his head with the missing eye.

Poor SUNNY… If only that night never happened… If only MARI had just…

No, this wasn't the time to think about that anymore. His best friend was finally back! He should be focused on celebrating right now!

After a while, he pulled away with a wide smile.

"This honestly feels like the greatest day of my life," BASIL stated. Holding one of OMORI's hands, BASIL brought it up as he excitedly told his friend, "I've dreamed about this day for years now! I've practically visited you every day at the hospital because I knew this day would come! And I was completely right! Oh, SUNNY! There are so many things I've wanted to say to you! There are so many things I need to tell you! Oh god, we can finally be together again and spend our lives just like the good old days!"

OMORI watched on as BASIL was practically giddy with joy, bouncing on his feet as he continued rambling on.

"I have to get you caught up on the last six years you've missed out on! I have to tell you everything that's happened! I made so many new friends by myself that you have to get to know! There are so many places I've always wanted to take you to! So much has changed since the last time you were awake and I can't wait to see your first time reactions after I show you every single-"

BASIL then proceeded to snore as he fell to sleep on the spot, mid-sentence.

OMORI blinked confusedly, watching BASIL seemingly pass out on his feet in front of him and snoring like an Olympic runner going through sudden narcolepsy during a world record run.

"Uh…" he mumbled, before giving a questioning look over at MARI.

MARI could only offer her own surprised expression with a confused shrug.

After a while, MARI gently whispered, "Should we wake him or set him down on the couch or something? I don't want him to fall over…"

It was honestly impressive to see BASIL somehow maintaining balance while asleep like this. A part of OMORI was curious to let it play out just to see how long BASIL would last upright.

Deciding to take the matter into his own hands though, OMORI went to poke the sleeping flower boy on the cheek, "BASIL? Hello?"

BASIL did not respond.

Raising an eyebrow, OMORI proceeded to choose a rougher approach by grabbing onto BASIL's cheeks and slowly smushing his face until he did respond.

Eventually, the flower boy was startled awake as he blearily opened his eyes in surprise.

Slowly realizing his surroundings, BASIL curiously stared at OMORI as his smushed face asked, "Whth thare you thoing?"

"Making BASIL pancakes for breakfast." OMORI told him casually, "Good morning, by the way. Did you sleep well last night?"

Pulling OMORI's hands off of him, BASIL took a moment to blink his eyes clear and rub his face, "Sorry about that… Did I seriously just fall asleep while I was in the middle of talking?"

"On your feet with perfect balance too," OMORI mentioned.

Giving a quick yawn and shaking his head clear, BASIL gave an embarrassing smile, "Haha, I'm so sorry for that! Today has been a long day, and I haven't had the chance to rest at all. I was actually about to hit the hay before I got that note from KEL telling me that you were back! I've been running on fumes up until now."

"Think you'll be alright?" OMORI asked.

"I should be fine, I think. Just on the brink of passing out at any moment. No big deal." BASIL answered cheerfully.

That was certainly not a typical BASIL response.

Giving a glance up at the clock, OMORI noted, "It is getting late. If you're tired, you should head home to rest."

BASIL quickly shook his head at this as he asked, "Are you kidding me?! There's no way I can go home now, not after knowing my best friend is back again! You've been in that coma for six years, SUNNY! I want to spend time together with you as much as I can!"

"It's not like I'm going anywhere." OMORI reminded him, "Besides, you'll end in an eight-hour coma yourself if we talk any longer."

BASIL made a face similar to that of a kicked puppy whining in pain, clearly disappointed at the prospects of leaving so soon right after reuniting with him. It was almost comical to look at.

It went as soon as it came though, as BASIL practically lit up with what he must've thought was the most brilliant idea in the history books.

"How about I stay here for the night?! Like a sleepover!" BASIL suggested with a grin.

"W-Wait, what?" MARI spoke up with a surprised look, "A s-sleepover?"

"Yeah! A sleepover!" BASIL turned to her excitedly, "Just like the ones we always used to have back when we were kids! I can bring over my old sleeping bag and we can all hang out in the living room, just like the good old days!"

"You… You w-want to sleep over? H-Here? T-Tonight?" MARI asked politely, even as her hair began to fray and her fingers became twitchy as she became nervous at the idea.

"OH!" BASIL slapped himself as another seemingly amazing idea popped into his head, "We can go invite everyone else to join us! It's still not too late, I can go out and grab KEL and AUBREY! Let everyone know that you're back if they didn't know already and we can all spend time together as a group again! It'll be amazing!"

If MARI was able to somehow grow paler than she already was, she definitely would have done so right then and there.

"I-Invite everyone? KEL? AUBREY? H-Here?!" MARI squeaked out in silent horror.

MARI couldn't possibly handle something like that! It was way too soon! She never agreed to anything like this!

How can she face KEL and AUBREY like this? She still hasn't gotten over what they did to her little brother, and now she was expected to just sit still and stay silent as BASIL brought everyone over to her house?!

What could she even say to stop this? BASIL looks so happy and excited, there was no possible way MARI could say no to him while he's like this!

Does she even get the right to have a say in this…?

What did SUNNY think? Did he want to have a sleepover too? If… If he agrees with BASIL, then there's no way she would be able to stop both of them…

She'd… She'd have to…

She can't… SHE CAN'T!

But… She can't say no either!

MARI was starting to become AFRAID.

BASIL kept rambling on about his sleepover idea, completely oblivious to the mental breakdown happening inside MARI's mind.

Although MARI did her best to keep up her happy appearance, OMORI was able to notice the way his sister was slowly starting to grow uncomfortable as the conversation continued on. She was practically shaking at this point, almost to the point of getting stressed out.

Sigh.

OMORI calmly walked up to BASIL before steadily shaking the overexcited yet also sleep-deprived flower boy until OMORI caught his attention.

Noticing his best friend shaking him by the shoulder, BASIL quickly stopped himself before turning to him, "SUNNY? What is it?"

"BASIL, I'm too tired tonight. I don't think I can handle a sleepover with everyone right now." OMORI made up a believable excuse, hoping that BASIL would get the hint. "Can we put that idea on hold for later?"

The idea of a sleepover seemed efficient if he was being honest. Having everyone in the same room would allow OMORI the chance to talk to each of them while also giving him a chance to learn more about this reality.

But not at the expense of his sister. She was clearly not going to be willing, not yet. OMORI would need to warm her up to the idea on his own time after he finally learns the big picture. Any earlier will be a waste of time.

The flower boy gave him a look of surprise as his eyes looked him up and down.

Before too long, BASIL was able to get a grip on his emotions as he calmed down considerably. Rubbing his neck with an embarrassed blush, he told his friend, "Oh, r-right! I'm sorry, I was getting ahead of myself for a minute there, wasn't I?"

"Admittedly." OMORI nodded stoically, "I get that you're happy to see me again, but reign yourself back a bit."

"Right, right!" BASIL laughed, feeling a bit shameful of his recent behavior. "Sorry again!"

MARI stared at her little brother in shock, somehow already coming in to save the day even though she didn't say or do anything.

Did he somehow notice that she was freaking out? Has he always been this attentive?

MARI felt herself give a small sigh of relief, no longer worried about having to deal with KEL and AUBREY invading her home anymore.

Still… A part of her felt just a bit sad for some reason.

Maybe she just felt ashamed for making SUNNY step in and try to protect her at the expense of turning away all of his friends. He didn't have to worry about her like that.

She felt so worthless right now. All she ever does is make SUNNY worry about her. What kind of reliable big sister does that to her own brother?

A monster.

She hissed a bit from the return of the sudden ringing in her ears, followed by a huge spike of pain in her head.

Before she could make a big deal about it, it was already gone before her brother and BASIL could notice.

This has been happening way too often, recently. Was something wrong with her? Maybe she should get that checked out? Something to remind herself later.

Although BASIL was apprehensive, he still didn't want to give up so easily. His dearest best friend was in his grasp for the first time in six long years! There was no way BASIL was going to lose out on the chance to spend time with him as soon as possible! So instead, he decided to suggest a compromise.

"In that case, let's hang out tomorrow!" BASIL told him cheerfully, "This is perfect timing actually! I just so happen to have a day off from work tomorrow, meaning I'll have plenty of time to spend the whole day with you!"

MARI looked up at BASIL again in surprise.

"Wait… tomorrow?"

But… But that was so soon!

She was barely able to spend any time with her brother today…

Now BASIL wanted to take him away from her for another day…?

"We can go all over the town! I can show you everything that's changed since the last time you were here!" BASIL began listing off, "They finally finished construction on the town a few years ago, so FARAWAY is a whole lot bigger than it used to be! There are tons of different shops that have opened up since then! We can even try to get KEL and AUBREY to join us and hang out as a group!" Then he suddenly gasped out before squealing in excitement, "I know that KEL already knows since he left me that note, but AUBREY doesn't know you're back yet! We literally just had a conversation tonight talking about you, wondering if you were ever going to wake up again! Oh my goodness, I can't wait to see her reaction when she finally sees you again- THIS IS GOING TO BE AMAZING!"

OMORI couldn't help but stare in awe at how jovial and cheerful his old friend was. This bundle of energy was practically nothing like the BASIL he knew back in his original reality.

Without the mental scars of that night holding him back, it seemed as if the BASIL here managed to grow up just fine to be a healthy young functioning member of society.

It was mind-blowing to think about, to be honest. The last time he saw his version of BASIL, that boy was a walking bomb of anxiety that was always close to exploding the moment his limit was broken. Having a pair of garden shears stabbed into his right eye was the result of that bomb exploding in his face.

Seeing him in this new alternate light, where his life was never ruined because of OMORI…

It was interesting, to say the least.

The offer to join him and hang out tomorrow was tantalizing. Both in the sense that it coincided with his plans to learn more about this reality, and to also get to know this new BASIL to see just how much different he was.

But…

Looking over at MARI once more while BASIL was busy talking, he could see her staring off in the distance with a depressed frown.

If he had to hazard a guess… MARI was disappointed at the fact that OMORI might have to leave her alone again for another day.

She had already spent the entirety of this day waiting for him to come back home after going off to adventure with KEL. She spent all that time picking out toys and games for them to play with, and they weren't even able to spend enough time to play more than one.

OMORI had mixed opinions on this right now… The decision was clearly laid out on the table for him, and it was up to him to choose.

Does he leave MARI to wait another day by herself so that he could go out and spend time with BASIL, learning more about her condition and this reality from BASIL's perspective? Or does he decline the offer in order to stay at home with MARI so that she could be happy with his company?

Both outcomes have their own flaws and benefits. Going out with BASIL, he could ask him questions as to how he spent the last six years in this reality ever since the incident on the stairs. He could learn more as to how he was like without the death of MARI hanging over him, as well as understand what BASIL's impressions on MARI's condition were. There was also the chance of encountering AUBREY as well, if she was going to be in town. It seemed like BASIL and AUBREY had been keeping contact with each other on friendly terms, something completely different from the original reality. He could kill two birds with one stone and learn both of their perspectives in a single day.

However, he could also choose to stay at home with MARI. Having more time to spend with MARI would make her happy, and she should hopefully be willing to share information about the past six years herself. Learning about her perspective of the last six years couldn't hurt, even if most of those memories end up being repressed for one reason or another. With him here, he could even try to coax them all to come out, bit by bit, in order to help her learn and accept the truth and try to get her to forgive herself. And if not that, maybe he could even somehow convince her to open up more to leave the house and reconnect with all their old friends again.

Not only that, but… She won't have to suffer another day alone. If anyone could understand her, it would be him.

It was a hard choice to make, however. OMORI didn't know which was more worth his time…

MARI… She looked so sad.

Real or not… Dead or alive… She was still his sister. He couldn't bear the thought of hurting her.

Maybe it would be better to change his plans for now and decline BASIL's offer. If only to give her some temporary peace of mind.

OMORI went ahead to try to give his answer, only to have MARI beat him to the punch.

"I think that's a great idea, BASIL." MARI exclaimed with a fake smile.

OMORI turned to her in surprise.

"It seems to me that you've had this whole thing planned out for a long time while you were waiting for SUNNY to come back." MARI giggled, "Just goes to show how much SUNNY means to you."

MARI wanted SUNNY to stay with her. She didn't want him to go again, not so soon. She wasn't even able to spend any time with him today as it is.

But she knew that holding him back from reuniting with BASIL would be selfish of her. BASIL spent just as much time waiting for SUNNY to come back as she did. He had every right to want to spend time with her little brother.

Besides… If it hadn't been for her, SUNNY would have never been in a coma to begin with. BASIL had more of a right to be with SUNNY than… than she ever could.

She knew that SUNNY wanted to spend time with BASIL too. SUNNY would never say no to a sleepover, not when it meant having all of his friends over. SUNNY loved all of his friends so much, after all. He always wanted to spend as much time as possible with them back before. The only reason why he said no now was probably because he was worried about her. If not for her, she was sure SUNNY would be all in for a sleepover party just like the old times.

He should never have to do anything he doesn't want to do because of her. Never.

Never ever ever.

Waiting for another day wouldn't hurt.

She waited all this time, anyway. Six entire years.

She could wait for just... another day.

For the sake of her little brother and his friends.

Turning to her little brother, she gave him a pleasant smile that he could tell didn't reach her eyes, "How about it, SUNNY? Don't you want to play with BASIL tomorrow? He hasn't seen you in a long time. It'll be a great way to catch up with him."

"Oh please! Please please please!" BASIL pleaded, "I promise I'll go home to bed if you promise we can hang out tomorrow! I won't be able to sleep comfortably otherwise!"

OMORI looked between the two of them in bewilderment. MARI was giving him an encouraging smile, while BASIL was practically begging him with puppy dog eyes.

After a while, OMORI gave a small sigh as he gave in to the peer pressure and responded back, "Alright. Sure."

He wasn't quite sure what MARI was trying to do here. It seemed to almost go against what she wanted...

If MARI was going to insist though, OMORI won't go against it. If MARI suggests he spend time with BASIL instead, then that means she has to be okay with the idea. Right?

With a clap of his hands, BASIL gave a hearty cheer, "YES! I can't wait for tomorrow morning!"

BASIL has been waiting for this day his whole life! Finally, a chance to be with SUNNY again! Tomorrow was going to be the greatest day ever!

All the things he's ever wanted to do with SUNNY, all the places he wanted to visit, all the people he had wanted SUNNY to meet-

It was going to be so much fun!

With him back in all of their lives again, pretty soon the entire friend group will reunite and be back again too! All six of them, hanging out together, having picnics just like the good old days!

It almost feels like everything was going back to the way they were before!

He knew this would happen once SUNNY came back! He knew it, he absolutely knew it!

Elated at the new plans to spend time with his dear best friend again, BASIL couldn't help but glomp the stoic boy into another hug.

"SUNNY… It's so good to see you again!" BASIL squeaked out as he held back another round of tears, "I've missed you so much!"

OMORI patted the flower boy's back, "I know."


The two siblings watched together as BASIL left the house by slowly walking backward into the front yard, waving excitedly all the while.

"I promise I'll come by to pick you up tomorrow morning! I'll see you then, okay?" BASIL called out.

OMORI nodded back with a small thumbs up.

Satisfied with the gesture, BASIL began walking back to his own home with a spring in his step and humming a dainty tune.

When the excitement was all over, MARI let loose a massive sigh of relief as she closed the door shut.

Well, that was certainly intense. She was honestly glad that it was finally done with.

Turning around to face her little brother with a smile, she asked, "Seeing BASIL again must have been fun, wasn't it? I didn't expect to see him showing up tonight all of a sudden."

But her little brother didn't respond, seemingly lost in his own thoughts again with the same serious expression as before.

She's not sure if she'll ever get used to that. It always seems like SUNNY has been a lot more serious lately.

Whatever happened to the cute dazed-off look he always did whenever he was busy daydreaming? What was going on through his mind to make him have such a concentrated face nowadays?

"SUNNY?" MARI gently called out in concern, gently laying an arm on his shoulder, "Is something wrong?"

Noticing his sister trying to get his attention, OMORI quickly cleared his head before turning to her, "Sorry. I was just thinking about something."

Tilting her head, she asked curiously, "Penny for your thoughts? You were making a really intense face for a second there."

Was he?

Huh. OMORI never really noticed, to be honest.

Glancing at his sister, OMORI decided to ask something that was on his mind ever since BASIL arrived, "You treat BASIL a lot different than everyone else. When KEL came over this morning, it was almost like you couldn't stand the thought of him coming over to our house." Looking at the door, he brought up, "But with BASIL, you were still friendly towards him."

MARI blinked in surprise at this.

"Well… Of course." MARI answered simply, "KEL and the others all abandoned you. BASIL was the only one who ever still kept visiting you. Waiting for you. He's… He's our friend."

"It doesn't seem like BASIL hates everyone else though. It looks like he's still friends with KEL and the others." Turning back to her, he asked, "Didn't you say that he invited KEL and AUBREY together to visit me on my birthday?"

MARI was stunned into complete silence.

She… How was she supposed to respond to that?

"They were all together, right?" OMORI asked, "Did you not join them?"

MARI quickly glanced away to look up at the clock, she suddenly exclaimed, "Oh, look at that. Has it really gotten this late?" Turning back with a pleasant smile, she told him, "We should hurry and get to bed. Don't want to stay up too late. The doctors told me that you still need plenty of sleep to recover, after all."

With that, she hurriedly made her way to the kitchen to avoid the conversation.

OMORI was left behind with his thoughts once more.

Once again, she chose to run away. Every time OMORI tried to get into the heart of the matter about her problem with their friends, that always seemed to be her default response.

Does she even realize that she was doing it, or was it just some sort of defense mechanism that she wasn't even aware of?

Sigh…

Looks like they weren't going to stay up all night to play games like she promised after all. Pity.

Well, whatever. This goes in his favor anyway.

The sooner he gets back into HEADSPACE with MARI, then all the better.

OMORI could do a lot more in there to help figure out what was wrong with his sister than he ever could in the real world.

Real world? Hm.


After MARI finished cleaning up their dirty dishes, the two siblings went upstairs back to their rooms to prepare to end the night.

The White Egret Orchid remained in the same spot as it was last time, looking as healthy as ever.

There was a bit of relief at seeing his bed again. After spending the entire day hanging out with KEL, playing chess with MARI, and reuniting with BASIL... he was honestly pretty tired. Sleep will probably hit him like a truck the moment he laid down and closed his eyes, letting the comfort of the mattress envelop him.

With that in mind, OMORI brought his body over to his bed and plopped down, expecting for the mattress to work its magic.

Oh, right.

Realizing that his entire body was still too numb to feel anything, he let out a disappointed sigh.

That was pretty annoying. He'll never get used to that, will he?

Just as he readjusted himself to get comfortable (or as comfortable as he possibly could be in his state), OMORI felt the presence of someone else laying down right next to him.

Turning to his side, he saw MARI looking at him with an embarrassed smile again, just like the night before.

"You want to sleep together again?" OMORI asked.

"Y-Yeah…" MARI nodded awkwardly, "Is… Is it okay? I know I should probably sleep in my own bed, but… I don't know if I can sleep well without you in my arms."

OMORI could understand that.

It used to be hard for him to fall asleep too, back when MARI was gone. The nightmares and hallucinations sometimes made it unbearable for him. If it wasn't for WHITE SPACE, he would have never been able to function properly anymore.

Facing the ceiling, he scooched over to the side to allow his sister more space, "I don't mind. You don't even have to ask next time if you want to do it again."

Whatever helps makes her more comfortable.

MARI smiled appreciatively as she snuggled up closer to her little brother, hugging him tightly against her chest.

The sound of her heartbeat pulsed loudly next to his ear again.

It made such a beautiful rhythm. He could stay here and listen to it forever if he could help it.

They stayed like that together for a while, enjoying each other's presence.

Before OMORI had the chance to nod off though, MARI decided to call out to him, "Hey, SUNNY?"

"Yeah?" He glanced at her, keeping his eye open.

"Right before BASIL came in and interrupted us, we were still talking about something important." MARI brought up the earlier conversation in the dining room, "I… I asked you if you could tell me more about what you experienced in your coma. You were about to tell me something, weren't you?"

The last four years. Four years of living life without her. Four years of having to deal with the guilt and trauma of what he did to her. The four selfish years where he kept himself secluded in his room, unable to accept the truth and responsibility of it all as all of their friends suffered over what he did.

What exactly was he planning on telling her? How would he go about explaining everything that happened in his reality?

Would it even help her get over the guilt she had in this reality? Would anything he said even matter?

"The last four years…" OMORI continued where he left off before, "Honestly, they don't matter to me anymore."

He'd rather just focus everything he could on helping MARI forgive herself.

Nothing else mattered.

Especially not him.

"Oh…" MARI mumbled sadly.

MARI was only left with disappointment from that answer. She had hoped that she had finally been able to convince her SUNNY to open up a bit for her. She was completely ready to do everything she could to help make him realize that nothing he had experienced was real.

It doesn't seem like he was ready to talk about it yet...

She won't try to push him if he doesn't want to tell her yet. This was fine. Stuff like this took time.

However long it took, she was willing to be patient and wait for him to come to her.

Until then, she'll be right by his side to support him. No matter what.

Making sure that SUNNY was happy was all that mattered to her.

Nothing else mattered.

Especially not her.

Hugging her little brother tighter, she whispered out to him, "I'm right here, SUNNY. I'm alive. I'm alive and I still love you. I hope you remember that."

OMORI... didn't know how to respond to something like that.

"Good night, MARI."

"...Good night…"

It wasn't long before the two of them drifted off to sleep.

The White Egret Orchid bounced a bit in its vase as a draft of wind flew by.

Chapter Text

..

.

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WELCOME TO THE FIELD OF ORCHIDS

MY THOUGHTS WILL FOLLOW YOU INTO YOUR DREAMS

OMORI slowly blinked his eyes open before waking up on a sidewalk over a grassy field.

Sitting up from where he was laying, he looked around to see the field surrounding him filled with White Egret Orchids.

Huh… This place again… Just like before.

In the middle of the field at the end of the sidewalk, a white door appeared. The same white door that allowed him to go inside HIKIKO's HEADSPACE just like last time.

Ah… OMORI was starting to get it now.

The White Egret Orchids… They were what was giving him access to MARI's dreams, weren't they?

Was all of this possible because of the single White Egret Orchid placed on the counter in their room?

Guess BASIL wasn't lying about these things when he said that they could let your thoughts follow into other people's dreams. OMORI never figured that it would be this literal though.

He didn't quite understand how it fully worked. It almost seemed like magic, to be honest.

No point in questioning it. He should be thankful that it works the way it does at all. Not like there were any other methods of traveling through people's dreams that he was aware of.

Standing up from his spot, he took the time to stretch out his twelve-year-old body before curiously examining himself.

OMORI stretched his fingers out, looking over his pastel-colored frame. Seems like the paint job from before still hasn't worn off yet.

It was almost like she knew everything was going to play out like this… He should make a mental note to thank the MARI from his HEADSPACE for preparing him for this journey beforehand.

Assuming he'll ever see her again, of course. As unlikely as that was.

OMORI stepped up to the white door and placed a hand on it, feeling the grainy texture as his fingers rubbed along the surface.

His sense of touch was back again. Seems like all five of his senses would only be reliable when he was dreaming.

At least he'd be in his top condition while he was venturing forth into the unknown territory of his sister's dreams. That much by itself was a blessing.

Taking a deep breath, OMORI cleared out his thoughts as he refocused on his mission.

The last time he was in HIKIKO's HEADSPACE, it ended up with them falling overboard in a pink strawberry ocean after encountering a very rude toy robot. He ended up encountering her SOMETHING in the depths of that ocean, and he almost nearly drowned if it wasn't for HIKIKO coming in to save him at the last moment.

OMORI checked his back pocket, feeling nothing there. He gave a frustrated sigh at that.

He lost his knife during the struggle against SOMETHING, didn't he? Damn it…

Without that knife, he felt naked. How was he going to get his hands on another one?

...

After that, the dream ended prematurely as he was forced to wake up after witnessing what he could only assume was HIKIKO's version of BLACK SPACE. How she ended up there, he didn't know. Why he couldn't interact with anything and was only able to watch, he didn't know.

But the uncomfortable truth that she was hiding away lied inside that place. He needed to find out where the entrance to her BLACK SPACE was and try to enter it for himself.

Only after that would he be able to focus on getting her to forgive herself.

...

He could only imagine where he'd end up being once he opened that white door in front of him. Since it wasn't his HEADSPACE anymore, he had to be ready for every possibility. Who knows what sort of situation he was about to get into within his sister's mind?

Well… Time to find out.

Pushing the door open, OMORI stepped inside.


WELCOME TO BRIGHTSPACE

YOU'VE BEEN LIVING HERE FOR AS LONG AS YOU CAN REMEMBER

HIKIKO opened her eyes to see a familiar bright empty void in front of her.

Sitting up from where she was laying, she looked around to find herself surrounded by all her belongings.

MEWO in the corner of the blanket, napping away. The broken toy piano, still missing almost all of its pieces. The laptop in the other corner, awaiting her input. The rope and chair in the far back.

All in all, the same as always.

HIKIKO walked over to pet MEWO. The lazy cat purred softly against her touch.

"Something's already happened. Why are you still waiting?" The cat asked her.

HIKIKO still didn't know how to answer.

After that, she slowly inspected the chair and rope that was dangling from the endless ceiling above.

They were back in their original positions. Looks like she'll have to set up another noose all over again when she decided to wake up.

Well, looks like she has some free time on her hands. Let's go play around with SUNNY and the others.

Turning to the white door in the room, she went ahead to go open it and stepped inside.

Today was going to be another perfect day, as usual.

...

...

...

Instead of entering the familiar playroom she's been so used to seeing whenever she entered the door, she instead found herself laying on top of warm sand as the sun hit her body.

Blinking in confusion, she slowly stood up and checked her surroundings.

This… didn't look like the beach that she was familiar with.

The ocean was entirely pink, for one... the sand that she was standing on didn't feel like sand at all, it felt more like clumped up brown sugar…

Behind her was a forest with different colored trees that she had never seen before...

Wait…

Pink ocean…?

Right, weren't they all going off in the middle of another adventure? They built a small boat, and then… they came across an ocean made of strawberry juice…

A giant mecha with a trident showed up and destroyed the…

Where was SUNNY?

The memories of the day before slowly came back to her as she was starting to grow increasingly worried.

The ship was destroyed, and they were all lost at sea. SUNNY was drowning in the depths of the ocean, but HIKIKO managed to save him before it was too late!

She saved him before it was too late, right?!

"SUNNY?!" HIKIKO called out nervously, spinning around and around as she looked for her little brother.

What happened after that? Where did SUNNY go?

If she managed to save her little brother, where in the world did he disappear to?

Where were all of her friends? Why was she all alone on this random beach she's never been to before?

"SUNNY?!" She called out again, "KEL?! AUBREY?! HERO?! BASIL?!"

No response from anyone.

She was completely alone.

"SUNNY?!" HIKIKO shouted out desperately once more.

Why did this keep happening to her?! All she wanted to do was spend time with her little brother!

Why does everything have to keep getting in her way?!

...

No, don't freak out… Don't freak out, HIKIKO. Just stay calm…

SUNNY wouldn't want HIKIKO to freak out. He'd want her to be completely calm and rational, to not stress herself out.

Like how a responsible older sister should be acting.

Calm down...

The monochromatic girl took several deep breaths to remain steady on her feet. Right now was not the time to panic.

The most important thing to focus on right now was SUNNY. He was missing again, and she had to go find him. Everything else could wait until then.

She had to make sure her little brother was all right.

The last thing she could remember was holding onto him before she woke up here… They were still together at that point.

Whatever brought her here, SUNNY couldn't have gotten too far, right? They had to have landed here together.

Slowly traveling around this sugary beach, HIKIKO did her best to search out for her little brother, repeatedly calling out his name in hopes that he would come back to her.

This was such a weird place… It was unlike anything she's ever seen before.

Could this place be… the island of COCKAIGNE?

"Hey look, Papa! I found another one!"

A shrill childish voice came out of nowhere, startling HIKIKO out of her thoughts.

Pausing in her steps, she saw a small little person with a grape for a head run-up to her with an excited smile.

"Wow! You're so tall!" The little grape person said in awe.

"Uh… Thanks?" HIKIKO blinked.

This creature looked like one of those so-called VEGGIE KIDS that SUNNY nicknamed, or at least it looked similar enough. She and her friends came across a few of these guys along their travels around the world.

Not sure if the grapes counted as a vegetable though… would SUNNY call this person a… FRUIT KID, perhaps?

It wasn't long before another FRUIT KID appeared, following after the first one.

This second one seemed much older, slowly walking towards them with a stick. Its head was all dried up and wrinkly like a prune, unlike the one currently in front of her.

Not a kid then. FRUIT ELDERLY? FRUIT ADULT?

She's just gonna keep calling them FRUIT KIDS in her mind.

This older FRUIT KID slowly shambled up to her before stroking its wise-old-man beard as it looked up at her, "Well look at that. Seems we just can't stop running into stragglers these days."

"Er… Hello." HIKIKO waved awkwardly at the two. "Where am I, exactly?"

"Welcome to the mystical island of COCKAIGNE! The greatest paradise for kids in the whole entire world!" The younger FRUIT KID remarked excitedly, only for the older FRUIT KID to give it a small whack on the head.

"Shush, lad. You're too loud." It scolded.

"Sorry."

The island of COCKAIGNE?

So, the stories about this place were true then… It really did exist after all...

"You truly are lucky to survive, young miss." The old FRUIT KID told her, "Not many seafarers are able to survive the wrath of PROTEUS. It is because of him that we haven't had any visitors in the last five hundred years…"

PROTEUS…?

Right, the name of that giant mecha robot…

"No doubt you have many questions. We'll do our best to help answer them, should you have any." The old FRUIT KID told her.

There was only one question in her mind right now that took precedent above all others.

"Have you seen my little brother, SUNNY?" HIKIKO asked, before explaining, "He looks a little bit like me, except shorter. Just about a few inches taller than you, maybe. I got separated from him somehow when I landed here."

"Ooh! Papa, she must be talking about the others!" The younger FRUIT KID exclaimed cheerfully.

Others? Did that mean everyone else managed to regroup and stay safe somewhere? Was SUNNY with them?

"Hmm, yes, I know who you speak of, lass." The older FRUIT KID nodded reassuringly, "Before we came across you, the boy that you describe did come along these parts."

"Really?!" HIKIKO quickly crouched down to their levels as she grabbed a hold of the small elder's body, "Can you tell me where he is?! Is he hurt?! Is he in danger?!"

The elder gave a quick strike to her head with his cane in response, causing HIKIKO to let go as she reeled back from the attack.

"OW!"

"Now, now. No need for hysterics." The elder FRUIT KID remarked calmly as it dusted its body off.

Rubbing her head, she gave an irritated glare at the small creature, "What was that for?!"

The nerve of this little piece of… Who the hell just strikes a girl for no reason?!

Ignoring the glare, it instead answered, "Your little brother is safe and sound in our small village. He was brought in by another young boy who was asking for aid. A gentle speaking child with a flower crown on his head."

Her previous thoughts evaporated from her head, as she focused on what the older FRUIT KID just said.

A flower crown...?

That must be BASIL! He must have somehow found SUNNY after they were separated and rescued her brother!

Bless that beautiful flower boy! She knew she could count on him to protect SUNNY when she wasn't around!

"Can you take me to them?! I want to see my little brother to make sure he's alright!" HIKIKO asked pleadingly.

"Yes, yes, of course." The elder politely nodded, "We shall lead you to our village so that you may reunite with your friends."

"Thank you so much!" HIKIKO responded gratefully.

HIKIKO stood back up as the three of them went on their way to wherever they were leading her. Despite knowing that she was going to see SUNNY soon, she continued to feel an anxious pit in her stomach that threatened to grow every second he wasn't in her arms.

Oh… She really hoped they would get there soon…

All she wanted was to spend some time with her brother...

"So hey, uh… What kind of fruit are you supposed to be?" The younger FRUIT KID asked curiously while she was lost in thought, "Are you like… meatloaf fruit or something?"


The moment he stepped through the door, he found himself lying in a comfortable bed looking up at the ceiling.

With a small blink of confusion, OMORI moved to stand up from his spot and looked around the area.

A curtain surrounded him, covering him up from the outside to give him privacy. Beyond the veil, he could hear a familiar voice speaking gently to someone else.

"And this should take care of your wilting problem. Be sure to hydrate yourself more often next time."

Another voice responded with a happy, "Thanks Doctor BASIL! You're a lifesaver!"

Moving out of his bed, OMORI gently moved the curtains out of the way to see where he was.

A small office room. Almost like a school nurse's office. Paint was chipping off from the walls. Cabinets and furniture were deteriorating. Mildew growing in corners of the room.

Not exactly a place he was expecting to see first...

He saw a young twelve-year-old green-haired BASIL waving goodbye to a small fruit creature as it left the door.

Hearing the curtains behind him, BASIL looked back to find OMORI up and about before smiling, "Oh hey! You're here, SUNNY."

OMORI nodded awkwardly, finding himself unable to say anything in response.

Even though this BASIL looked so similar to every other BASIL that he knew of, he still wasn't quite sure how to deal with this new BASIL that existed in HIKIKO's HEADSPACE. He acted similar enough as the one in his own HEADSPACE, but not knowing any of the potential differences made it hard for OMORI to gauge him.

Add in the fact that HIKIKO apparently imagines her SUNNY to act differently as well, OMORI really didn't know how he was supposed to act without arousing suspicion.

"You had a long day today. You're allowed to relax a little, you know." BASIL smiled warmly, "Sit down and let me get you some fruit juice."

Actually, he'd rather get a move on to continue whatever adventure was in store and help out HIKIKO. Not knowing how to say that though, OMORI ended up following BASIL's suggestion and sitting back down on his bed.

BASIL brought out some glasses and a bottle of juice as he made his way over to sit next to OMORI. Pouring their glasses, BASIL gently encouraged OMORI to drink, "Cheers."

"C-… Cheers." OMORI nodded awkwardly as he gulped his drink down.

Oh man, this tasted amazing. He wasn't sure whether it was because it was HEADSPACE making this taste so good, or the fact