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Different Shade of Silence

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Staring in the mirror at your flawed self, and at what you’ve done, brings epiphanies that are hard won. Your fingertips are gripping the countertops, and your fingernails would be scraping into the surface, but you’ve found that the strength to do so has left your limbs, energy sapped through mental exhaustion.

So, what now?

You’re teetering on a precipice fueled by insecurity and self-doubt, and are facing off with that same impassive expression you’ve grown to loathe for the past four, grueling, hellish years of your life. Your dark hair is tousled, and a bandage runs over your pallid, pasty face, the other eye’s sclera red with strain and tears.

You wouldn’t think that such a monster could be hidden in such a feeble form.

But here you are, and for better or for worse, you’re left with a decision, and the realization that you can’t live like this anymore. You can’t let this destruction continue. Why? You’re not sure, because for all accounts and purposes, you would’ve been content to succumb to a painful, deserved death but a few hours ago. Omori’s words linger within you, and chart your course.

“Your friends are wrong about you. The person they love isn’t you at all. You let them believe in a lie to protect yourself. You’re nothing but a liar… and when they see the truth? They’ll hate you as much as you hate yourself.”

Ah yes, that vehement spit of a statement. You’ve been confused, disoriented, and clammed up ever since you deigned to open that door and return to some semblance of reality three fateful days ago. Kel’s had to scrape responses out of you, Aubrey’s been fearful and disgusted by your mere presence, and Hero’s been politely confused, and oh-so-painfully distant, finding himself at a distinguishable loss whenever he’s had to kindly speak at you, rather than with you. You’ve had nothing good to say anyway, regarding all this pain that’s haunted you and your friends. Pain that you’ve caused, and pain that you’ve continued to cause through your isolation and cowardice.

Better to not speak at all.

But despite all of this, you ask yourself if you’ve truly lied in your refrain, as Omori claimed. From your loop of separation, and from the repeating melody of your silence and neutrality, have you lied? Those times, all those times and those laughs, and those quiet smiles, all from that elusive utopia of a gentle before, were not fake, no matter how much you have wanted to paint yourself as an eternal patron of disgust and contempt.

In choosing nothing, have you lied?

You step away from the mirror, and take a deep breath, calming your nerves and your mind both. Your guilt still remains, practically brimming over like a weeping fountain, but you find the typical sting behind it to be gone. Mari’s words… or perhaps your wishful ideations of what you wish her words would be, act like a salve, saving you from the call of the void.

“You’ll forgive yourself… won’t you, Sunny?”

If it was her, and you so dearly wished it to be, she was asking so much of you, and you were so small, so feeble and frail. How could you do something so impossible? Your tears still stained your cheeks in your realization that you were alive, and had come to the truth of both the travesties and cheerful trivialities of the past. The pain… and the pleasures that came with finally achieving that distilled reminiscence. It was a lot to ask of you… to not just give in to the hate that you feel, and feel you deserve.

You’ve seen the results of them, your actions. Your rashness, and your fearful, sniveling response to your mistake. You’ve seen how Aubrey mourned through her rage; she mourned the loss of her dearest friends, her safe haven from the rues of life, and had all of it slip through her fingers, while she was young, oh so young. She watched her security fall away, those years ago, and stomped and cursed at the sky, and made the cathedral’s stained glass shake with the tremors of her futile mission to find peace. The upset and justified rage at the world for not letting her keep that one thing, that one thing that brought her joy.

Because you ripped it away from her. Because you left her when she needed that one person.

You’ve heard Kel murmur over your shoulder at your sister’s graveside, seemingly at grips with his reality now, but shaken and dulled at a bright shade of childhood leaving a part of his cheeky grin. Those who have things under control aren’t like that all the time, and sometimes you’ll be left to drift to your own devices. He would have found that out eventually, of course, but he never deserved to have the rose-colored glasses taken from his face so soon, and so cruelly. Not like this, not like this.

Because you made him grow up. Because you made Kel lose a source of understanding he needed.

Hero lost his mantle, and became a withdrawn husk of who he once was, a debilitated mask of grief, who only wished he could love without his heart being punished for such an innocent thing. The beauty of a quiet confidence, and the wiggle room to grow and be imperfect, a simple, adolescent forgiveness in a world that asked for a slew of capabilities from someone so young. Hero had that, and then he didn’t, and flocked to a nest of insecurities. He was asked to let go of his feelings all too soon, because despite your desperation and your despair, the world keeps turning, and you have to step up to the plate despite it all. He still was a hero in his own regard, but he was never allowed a moment to breathe. A moment of forgiveness that was so justly deserved.

Because you broke his safety net. Because you weren’t a kind ear of understanding after he’d done so much.

All these things, you wouldn’t, and still feel like you aren’t able to offer. And how could you? How could you dare to offer someone solace when you are the cause of what has hurt them?

You turn this reality over and over in your head, and wish that you could easily be cleansed of it all. That feeling to run away, and to abandon a structured, real push towards involvement and accountability is a terrifying one indeed. It was easier to die to yourself, rather than being forced to live through the reality you had a hand in creating. You didn’t even need to wonder if that was selfishness- you’re pretty aware that selfishness probably makes up a disproportionate amount of your character, but… oh well. What’s new?

So what could you do to remove this weight, this filth that soaked your soul? If any sort of established moral creed, religious doctrine, or elementary school teachers had taught you anything, step one would be to be honest. You’ve finally overcome the lie you’ve fooled yourself into believing- that running away from everything, forgetting it all and manipulating the realms of reality to swim before your eyes was the best way to live. You’re aware now, that you’ve just been a bottom feeder of sorts, a vegetative soul that’s relinquished passion and fervor for a cheap peace.

So what honesty is left? Well, you’d imagine… the truth for all to know.

And at that thought, you immediately feel bile in your throat, balking at even the hint of an imaginative scenario where you are on social trial for your sins. Despite your prior decision to leave the stage of life, leaving you simply a memory in stasis for all who knew you before, this would effectively make you a piece in play once more, and irreparably alter any perceptions your friends would have of you.

Does that matter? This isn’t about you; it’s about what you’ve done to them. You have to atone! You have to… make things right.

…However you can.

But what can you salvage from an unfixable scenario? What happened… happened. You can’t bring… you can’t bring Mari back. If you could trade your life to bring hers back, that would probably be the most direct way to enact something of substance, but the supernatural and paranormal doesn’t exist outside of your deranged head.

So… say you tell them. Tell them the truth of what happened. Be honest, be courageous, and take a stand for once. Condemn yourself to their faces, and proclaim you’re the scum of the earth. Not for pity, you don’t deserve it. Just so they can finally get the transparency they deserve.

“If they know the truth, you’ll never be able to regain their trust. No matter what you do, it will be hopeless. All you’ll do is make things worse. It would be better to just die.”

No! It wouldn’t be better to die, because this would be the one good thing you could actually offer them! A reason for their pain- an outlet to fuel their unresolved grief, at least. The transparency they deserve. The honesty they deserve. After everything they’ve…

You crouch down, and peer at the white, peppered tile design with your good eye. Your vision’s falling apart, and tears have swathed your sight once more. You’re unused to crying, and you’re unsure if it’s anchoring, cathartic, upsetting, or some weird mix of the three that just seems to augment the simple fact that feelings are really annoying.

You tuck your arms around your legs, making yourself small. You need to think.

After everything they’ve gone through.

Sure, it would be honest. Sure it would be putting everything out in the open, and giving them the real picture of what happened. No, your friend didn’t kill herself, she was killed by her stupid little brother. No, Aubrey, Basil didn’t turn his back on the group by blotting out the photo album. He’s actually been trying his best, in his similarly messed-up way, to keep everything from completely falling apart. You were actually the one who did that, already at that point wanting to distance yourself from everything that made you remember. From everything that made you justifiably hurt. At least Basil tried. What did you do? Land him in the hospital? Is he even okay?

And speaking of Basil…

It was like the mere thought of him itched something in your brain, provoking you to cast your gaze to the empty corner of the room. Like you still expected to see some Stranger standing there, prompting your next move with a small nod, and wistful melancholy. You wished you could have some sort of audience with him now, because at least in the most tumultuous places of your mind, some things came in crystal clear.

How would he react? After what he and you have constructed together, for better or for worse, he’s been fighting to retain it, so that you could enjoy your little pity party for some undisclosed amount of time. In the meanwhile, you’d both cope in your respective, outlying corners. But at least you’d be in your comfortable bed that’s likely memorized the shape of you, while he was getting kicked and clobbered.

You almost let out a small breath of a laugh, despite it all. If Aubrey had been hating him until just recently, just imagine what’d happen next? What would you do? Try to stop her? She’d probably serve your ass on a silver platter, which would be deserved, all things considered, and then treat Basil as the second course. Despite how your lip quivers to think about him, you’re sure that as much as you don’t mind getting whatever punishments you deserve, you don’t want to see him be pushed anymore. You’ve seen what could happen. You’ve seen what was going to happen. You just wish Basil hadn’t tried to help you in the first place. If only he hadn’t been one to be so happily involved. If only he hadn’t been one to think he could fix everything.

But… he was involved, though. So… maybe you should go ask him?

You almost slapped yourself at your naivety, your inability to decide things for yourself. What, is Basil going to clear headedly fix everything? Do a little magic trick- smile and make the big, scary problems go away? That worked great last time. You’ve got to have a say in this. You’ve got to actually think about this. Think, think, you idiot! Clean up your mess!

You pull on your hair, and shake your head around, squeezing your eye shut. You hope a nurse won’t come in, because if you’re not in one yet, you’re pretty sure you’re one wrong move away from being left to rot in a ward until you die. Hey, maybe you can talk it out with Basil, there.

You take a deep breath. Okay, try to actually consider this, aside from anxious spirals. If you told them, how would that help fix things?

They’d get mad. We know that. Basil might get worse than he already is. Okay. So those are the icky initial effects to be expected. But there’d be positives after that, right? Everyone would realize they didn’t miss any “signs,” and they wouldn’t have to feel inadequate. Those are good things! They don’t have to deal with that pain.

Except… they already did. And they have been carrying it still, for four years. Telling them a different story, albeit the true one, wouldn’t be taking that away. They’d still… they’d still have had all that pain be real during that time, and this wouldn’t cancel that out. This would just be new pain to carry, as well as more distrust. That this secret had been kept from them this whole time, it would likely wrack them to their core, but maybe in a way beyond you just getting your just deserts. Aubrey’s already been distrustful since you’ve seen her, and this might just be the final straw for her. Hero would realize, surely, that he’d been forced to believe a painful lie for all that time, and grow some sort of contempt that even his everlasting forgiveness might not reach to. Hero’s… he’s still so kind. And strong. You don’t want to see that kindness exploited through his realization. Kel’s got a similar kindness, but more than that, it seems like he’s found some kind of peace. He’s got new friends from school, and he’s got a baby sister! And… and Hector’s still around! He’s still that lovable goofball that was your very first friend, even if he’s more mellow, now. If Kel found out the truth, he’d have all of that steadfast power set back to stage one. He’d have to deal with Hero’s grief once more. He’d have to deal with his own grief once more.

All of them would.

And for the sake of your cheap confessional… your attempt to atone for everything…

…Would it be worth it?

Oh, every fiber of your being is telling yourself that you’re still a slimy snake who’s just trying to run from his problems and deserved condemnation, but you can’t help but feel like you’re onto something, here. You can’t help but feel like through this… your silence, but in a different shade, you’ll actually be doing someone a favor for once.

But one thing was for sure, you had to do the first part of confronting the new reality of what you’ve been placed with. That despite your feelings of sole responsibility for the crimes of the past, you still hadn’t done any of that alone, and that there was one other person on this planet who knows the full picture- and of what you’ve done.

You have to talk with Basil.

The rubber of the underside of your slipper drags awkwardly against the floor of the surprisingly empty hospital corridors, and you feel like you’re still in some place that’s not connected to reality. Are you secretly in some sort of horror movie? Are all the staff on coffee break at the same time? Are you so pumped with painkillers that everything in front of you is an illusion? The white, fluorescent light from the glass tubes above your head flicker and buzz, making you jump. The aloneness is killing you, suddenly, and you wish something cluttered these halls other than your own thoughts.

You turn the corner, and see three shining and familiar purple heads. Dream Aubrey gives you a wide grin of excitement, and ushers you to follow her. Dream Kel bounces after her, and Dream Hero gives you a modest wave, before shaking his head in light-hearted exasperation and following his illusory companions. It’s good to see them again. You’re glad they’re doing well, and your innate sense of curiosity and jittery visage tempts your feet forward to follow their direction, unsure of where else to go, before you spy a cloud of black to your right.

It’s him. The familiar Stranger with the bright eyes and distant air about him. All of the sudden, your Dream friends seem nothing more than child’s play, and you think, as you follow the murky footsteps of your silent guide, that you’re probably being led in the right direction. Sometimes, following the objective advice of a Stranger can do you well in snapping you from your own mind.

You’re very thankful you’re not taking an insane gamble, and that the nameplate beside the hospital door you’ve been led to has “Basil” written on it. That means that, by all accounts, this should be the right place, and not some random person’s room, that you’re about to barge into. Unless someone else in the hospital is named Basil. Wouldn’t that be crazy?

You feel your hand shaking as it settles on the knob, and your expression has contorted into some horrendous thing, you’re sure. But you’ve got to do this. You’ve got to.

You push open the door, and are greeted with the sight of a bleak, white-washed hospital room similar to the one you woke up in. There’s an IV pole at the bedside where Basil was laying, looking like he was out cold, and a humble nightstand at his side, with a pot of flowers atop of it. Lily of the Valley.

Hero stood at Basil’s left, Aubrey at his front, and Kel at his right. All of your friends, your real friends, are right here, and at his side. Brought together to a shock and a travesty. But they’ve been brought together nevertheless. You feel your resolve steel. You do this for them. This is your atonement. Look at how strong they are.

They’re all looking at you, and you feel yourself sweating. They seem to be just as much at a loss as you are. The door creaks shut behind you, and you take that as your cue. You’re locked in.

“...I have to tell you something.” Your voice is weak, and hoarse, a perfect portrayal of how you feel.

You feel pushed into the room, your feet involuntarily pushing yourself forward despite your quivering knees and legs. You’re halfway to the foot of Basil’s bedside before you’re petrified, and you crumple to your knees. Aubrey and Kel cry out, rushing to your side, with Hero quickly joining them.

“God, Sunny! I don’t know what you want to say, but if you’re gonna die before you can even say anything, it’s kind of pointless!” Aubrey practically growls at you, trying to bring you to your feet. Hero shakes his head at her.

“Let him sit down here, Aubrey. He’s probably very fatigued. Kel, could you pull that armchair sitting in the corner over here? Sunny looks like he could use a nice, comfy seat right about now.” His tone is coaxing, like he’s trying to egg a nervous animal into visiting the vet. Don’t worry, Hero. He wouldn’t have to tell you twice to sit down and get comfortable.

“On it, boss!” Kel, with his superhuman athlete strength, drags the armchair over, grating your ears as the legs scrape haphazardly across the floor.

“Kel, could you actually pick up the chair? That’s annoying as hell!” Ah, Aubrey. Voicing the thoughts of the public.

You’re helped into the chair, and all eyes again are on you. You open your mouth again. Attempt two.

“I… have to tell you something. I’m sorry.”

“Sunny, don’t apologize. We’re here to listen to you, but you’re probably being hard on yourself.” Hero’s eyebrows curtsy, a sympathetic expression on his face almost appearing demonstrative. Kel affirms his brother’s words.

“You’ve been through a lot, buddy.”

Aubrey glares at the brothers two. “If you guys would shut up, maybe we could actually hear what Sunny wants to say.” She folds her arms.

You bow your head, and play with your hands. The guilt is so strong, but you have to fight through this. It’s for them, you keep telling yourself.

“...I wanted to apologize. For everything you’ve gone through these last four years.”

Aubrey’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?” Her tone is curt, and you feel your soul shrivel. You swallow.

“I…I just… hate that I left all of you alone. I sh-hould have been a… a better friend.” Your words are barely a whisper, and you hope they can all hear you.

“Kel… thank you for dragging me out of… there. I’ve been busy hating myself and everything for so long…. and… I feel like I couldn’t have left that without you. I’m sorry that I wasn’t the friend you needed.”

Kel looked at you with something that you would think to be pity, but it couldn’t be, because it’s from Kel. It’s just common sympathy, but it’s quick and a unique kind, because Kel doesn’t like to linger on soft sentiments for too long. It’s one of the reasons you’ve liked him so much. “...Sunny… if I’ve learned anything in the last few years…” He paused, casting a look between Hero and then to Aubrey. “...and recently, I guess it’s that… everyone deals with pain in a different way. It’s hard to judge anyone for it. I just… I missed you… and everything. And at least, I didn’t want to feel like I just let something happen to another one of my friends that… really shouldn’t have.”

You want to cry. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know. But…

“...Thanks. I can sorta say the same thing to Aubrey. ‘M sorry. Thanks for… smacking me out of my loop, and what I thought the world was like. You helped me realize just how much things have actually changed because of me, and since I left, I guess.” You sniffle. She doesn’t realize how much you really needed that rude awakening, despite how much it hurt. Without her yelling yourself back to attention, you might have felt it fit to roll back over, and go back to sleep on it all. “...I get why you were upset. I… I wouldn’t have been a good person to have you rely on, but that’s not an excuse. I didn’t even… try.” You frown deeply. God, you’re just a piece of garbage, aren’t you?

Aubrey looked like she was about to punch you lightly on the shoulder, but instead placed a firm hand upon your matted head of hair. You’re probably super greasy, and you’re sure that she didn’t want to subject herself to that. Oh well.

“Sunny… I’ve been an ass. Like, a big one. I… don’t really feel like I deserve an apology, to be honest. I’ve still got to give one of my own,” she said as she looked over at Basil sheepishly. “...But thanks, I guess. I’ve still got to unpack everything that’s happened, recently. I think. But… it’s nice to hear that you’ve thought about what’s happened. For the record.” She cleared her throat, looking a little awkward about her mini monologue. That’s fair, because you feel extremely stretched by this whole endeavor, yourself.

“And, uhm… Hero?” You actually try to look him in the eyes for this one. It’s the least amount of respect you feel you can afford him.

Hero looks back, merely looking curious. “Yes, Sunny?”

“...I….I’m really sorry. A lot. I want you to be happy, and stuff. You deserve to be able to feel things, and not have people see you as less of… well, you, I guess, for it. I just feel bad… that you’ve had to blame yourself for things that aren’t your fault. Are you… do you…” Your lip is beginning to quiver and you hate yourself for it. Can’t you hold yourself together just for this moment?

“...Do you still blame yourself?” You’re able to hold his gaze at least, and you’re glad you feel the pain when you see Hero’s eyes flash with recognition. He holds your stare for a short, but eternal moment. You could almost hear a pin drop, before Hero breaks the silence with a resigned sigh.

“...Sunny…. I feel like we both have, and do, to some extent. But we can’t keep doing this, okay? I care about you, you know. And you’re not the only person who… well, left, when others might have needed him. We can’t keep doing this to ourselves, because where’s that going to lead us?” His eyes are sad and genuine as he reaches forward suddenly to hug you. You don’t know what to do with your hands, but you settle for settling them on Hero’s back. It’s the least you can do for him. To help him reach his solace.

A soft murmur issues from near your ear. “Let’s keep fighting past the guilt together, okay? And try to be here for it. We can’t run away anymore.”

“Mari would… she would want that for us.”

You feel your eye well up with tears, and burrow your face cowardly in Hero’s broad frame. He’s strong, and so caring and kind, but he’s felt the things you’ve felt. Maybe not to the same degree of nuance, but he’s probably the closest thing without knowing the truth.

He drew away. “...You’re like another little brother to me, you know that, Sunny?”

You’re practically whimpering like a stupid puppy, now, and you can imagine that Aubrey would roll her eyes at you if she wasn’t trying to be respectful of your waterworks. Kel only beamed, and slung an arm around your neck.

“I’ve always considered us two partners in crime, so to speak, Sunny m’boy. If adoptive siblings is the next stage of our dynamic relationship, I am one-hundred-percent cool with that.”

You manage a cough of a laugh out, and wipe at your eye. “...Good to hear. Uhm… I’m sorry to ask something of you guys, but…” You clear your throat again. “...Uh, could I talk to Basil for a little bit? Alone? ‘M sorry…”

Aubrey looks panicked, which is understandable, and Hero looks a bit incredulous himself.

Kel’s the first one to say something, though. “I mean, that’d be cool, but you’ve got to get why that might not work out considering… ahem recent events….” He shrugs, showing that he’s helpless.

“I’m actually going to agree with Kel on this. No way in hell. That’s a bad decision, and you know it.”

“...How about we let him, you guys? Just for a little bit?” Hero muses, a hand to his chin.

Kel and Aubrey whip their heads around to face him. You can’t see their faces, but you’re sure they’re filled with shock and betrayal.

“Have you lost your mind?” Aubrey whisper-shrieks.

“We’ll be right outside, ready to interfere if something sounds like a scuffle. And also…” Hero looked at you with an almost challenging stare. “...I get the feeling that there’s something you guys need to deal with, and I get that it might not involve us, but I can’t allow you two to put your health at risk. I’m going to notify a nurse to sit with us, in case we need to jump in at any moment. And in the event things get out of control, whatever this is is done, alright?”

You nod. When Hero sounded stern, woe be to the man who defied him. And there was nothing wrong with a little safety net, to be honest. You just needed to make sure that you two would keep your voices down.

“...That’s fine. I’ll come get you when I’m done.”

Aubrey and Kel still looked a little flabbergasted. “So just like that? Are you sure, Hero?”

“Yes, yes, you two. Now come on. Let’s go sit outside.” He waved them to come along, which they did, surprisingly. The room now felt ten degrees colder as the door shut behind them, and you felt your shoulders begin to quiver with the weight of your decision.

You hadn’t told them. And this was the last part of this plan. The reiteration that you’d potentially seal the coffin with, depending on how this final phase went.

With your brittle arms, you strained to drag the armchair back over to Basil’s bedside, content to sit until he awoke again. He probably needed the rest. Now, to move the seat.

It was, no surprise, extremely difficult. This stupid blue-gray hunk of wood frame and cushion was going to pull your shoulder out if it wouldn’t give a bit more. Come on, it was just a few feet, even with the physique of a hermit who never exercised, this shouldn’t be this hard, right?

“...Sunny? What are you…?”

Well, that’s embarrassing.

“...Chair,” you pointed at it, and then the spot to the now-awoken Basil’s right, where the seat originally sat. Basil followed your finger, and then nodded in realization, his mouth formed into a small ‘o’ of understanding. Leave it to Basil to infer meaning from a single noun. You supposed you’ve spoken sentences of absolute nonsense to him enough times for him to be able to figure it out. Sunny-speak, if you will.

“I could-”

You shook your head. Absolutely not, you wounded hospital-attendee. You’re not going to lug around an armchair.

“...Oh. Then, you can… you can sit at the bedside… if you want,” Basil spoke slowly.

Well, better than nothing. You wouldn’t lie and say you didn't feel a bit tentative sitting nearer to him, but it’s not like he was armed, and whatever state he was in last night wasn’t too unfamiliar to episodes you might have had yourself, in the past. It’s just that you had the luxury of freaking out in a dignified solitude. Basil had you barging into his room in the dead of night. It was for a good cause.

You sink into the thin lining of the hospital bed, and bump against the small lump that must have been Basil’s feet pinned underneath the tightly tucked in blankets.

“Sorry.”

“You’re fine.”

Your eyes wandered over to the Lily of the Valley at the nightstand, before meeting Basil’s anxious stare.

“...Mari’s flower.”

Basil’s mouth opened in surprise, before he shut it quickly. “...You remember.”

“...I remember all of it, now.”

Basil held his hands together, sitting up more in his bed. His eyes looked cold and haunted as he watched his fingers dance among his grasp. “...I was right, then.”

You looked at him questioningly.

“W-Whenever you looked at me, when you finally came back, it was like you didn’t recognize something about me. It was scary. I wasn’t sure if you just hated me or…” Basil shook his head. You felt dirty once more, thinking of all that this has cost him.

“...No. It was like you were only half here. And… when I tried to get you to talk… in the room with my grandmother… it was like you didn’t know w-what to talk about. I ended up just giving up my album to you, to see if that would help. But it was like you were gone.”

“...I sort of was.”

“...You were the only person the photo album could have gone to, in the end. The only person who… understood what that would’ve meant. It’s m-more than just memories. It’s… it’s a lifeline. It was a lifeline. It showed that things might… might’ve gone back to the way they were. I needed that… that memory of it, to be carried on after I…” His eyes looked as distant as yours have in the bathroom mirror. You reached a clammy hand out to clasp his, as they had gone limp. He couldn’t think about that road. It’d kill him.

“...Don’t leave.”

“...But that’s what you did.”

“I came back. I want to fix it.” You shook your head. He succinctly called out your hypocrisy, and the only answer was that you couldn’t be used as the standard for the course of action to take. He couldn’t do what he was going to have done. It would ruin everything. “...No one could’ve fixed what you were about to do, Basil.” Your voice was raw, and grating. You weren’t sure if it was from exertion or emotion, or a combination of the two.

Tears slipped from Basil’s eyes, luckily both still intact, and wept a matching watery blue, pitter-pattering into the sheets below him. You scooted closer, still sitting along the bedside, and watched as he bent his forehead to where your hand and his hand met. You allowed his tears to water your sorry branches, if this was the smallest catharsis you could give him.

“...Basil.”

He muffled something into the sheets.

“Basil.”

He turned his head over to the side and peered out at you with one eye. “...What?”

“...What should we do?”

“W-With what?”

“...About what happened. I haven’t told them.”

Basil looked stricken, and it looked like he was about to descend into a fit of tremors. “...Don’t. Please don’t.”

“I don’t think we should.”

He looked stricken at that, too. Indecisive as always. “But… why? Isn’t it awful how… they’ve had to… for so long, Sunny. We can’t keep doing this.”

You shake your head furiously. “You’re right. We can’t keep hating ourselves. But it doesn’t mean we have to say anything.”

Basil lifted his head, still holding onto your hand, a little too tightly, but oh well. His mess of hair collapsed into the pillow, and his far away look seemed like it was searching for something in the ceiling. “...How, then? I don’t know how to not hate myself, anymore. And everything. It’s all been chaotic. Never ending. I want it to stop, Sunny.”

“...How would us telling them help? Look outside of how it hurts. Think about them.”

Basil closed his eyes and took a deep breath. In. Out. A deep, the deepest exhale. You hope something pent up was released with that.

“Think about them,” Basil repeated in a murmur, as though savoring the words. “Okay. I know Aubrey h-hates my guts.”

“She wants to apologize to you.”

“She does?” Basil looked shocked.

“Yes. And I’m going to tell her I was the one that messed up the photo album.” You stared Basil down, and made sure those words were delivered with enough straightforward confidence to dispel any lingering delusion. It was you. You were the culprit. Do with that what you will, Basil. “And Kel wants to be your friend, and Hero wants to involve himself with everyone. Make up for lost time.”

Basil looked at you, still somewhat impassively. “...I don’t deserve it.”

“Neither do I.”

“Sunny, but… you-”

“Neither do I.”

Basil looked at him sadly. “...Okay,” he admitted, softly.

“Telling them… it would take all of this away. How they’ve been able to get better, and realize things.” You still feel wretched about this, but you can’t erase wretchedness. The past is the past. You’ve made a stain, but honesty will not be your bleach. “What matters… is that we keep living. M-Mari would want this.” You think. You hope. Be strong, right now. For him, and for the rest of them. You need to get through to him.

“...You think she would? I think she’d want me to die.”

“No. Mari would never want that. That’s what we want.”

“...You’re right. Mari was… Sunny… you have a better memory than me. I forget everything, unless I write it down. What was… what was Mari like?”

You laid your head back, resting it over Basil’s legs, watching the lights above you both. Too bright. The IV stand swung with Basil adjusting his arm to hold your hand in a more comfortable position.

“She was… kind. And bossy.”

“Bossy? Really? I thought she was caring.”

“...Maybe to you. She’d nag on me. She was beautiful… and deliberate.”

“Yeah. She was so graceful…” Basil sounded wistful. He gave your hand a small squeeze. Good, this is helping him.

“Yes. But… she also could be a little too deliberate, is what I meant. How she’d talk to my parents, or act like she had everything under control. Then when stuff would pile up… boom.” You made a gesture like your brain was exploding. Basil laughed quietly at that.

“I remember… when she was really stressed while we were getting things ready for Christmas. She snapped at Aubrey, and she almost cried, but Aubrey didn’t show it to Mari. I gave her a hug. I guess you’re right. She could be a bit snippy when she wasn’t in top form.” Basil confirmed your observation through his reminiscing.

“...Always in top form for Hero, though.”

You and Basil mockingly ‘ooo-ed,’ with accompanying head wiggles, at the silly prospect of teenaged romance.

“She was forgiving.” And there wasn’t a downside, there. Despite her occasional perfectionism, she never held grudges. That was something you were certain about. Basil needed to know that.

“...Forgiving.”

“Mhm.”

Basil seemed to muse for a little bit. You gave him room to think, listening to the whir of the air conditioning while you waited. Ah, that felt good. You loved air conditioning.

“...So if we don’t tell them… how are we going to be any better than we were before? And… don’t say something vague, or just try to say it’ll be fine, like I would. We can’t do that, can we?”

“Yeah. We can’t brush it off.”

“So what do we do?”

“...We help them. We get better. We try to be better than we’ve been before. We’ve just been focused on surviving, haven’t we?”

Basil nodded slowly. “...Yeah. I’ve just been living each day, the same, all the time. It’s like…”

“...Nothing’s been real? Yeah.”

Basil gave you a small smile, even thought there was nothing to smile about.

“So what do you say… we make new memories? Think of them.”

“...Give them the truth that Mari would want to show them. I see.” You were proud of Basil making that connection. He was always able to make things sound like they were wrapped up in a pretty little bow.

“...Through how we treat them. Our actions. And along the way… we’ll try to live too. Not because we deserve it, but because we can’t try to live the truth Mari would want us to do… if we were dead.”

“...That’s… that’s fair. Sunny, will you be leaving?”

“Probably. But I can’t do the same things I’ve been doing before. I’ll send letters, don’t worry.”

“...I’ll send them too, if that’s okay.”

“...It’s fine.”

A pause stretched between you both, and Basil gave you a vulnerable, worried look. “...Don’t give up, this time. And I won’t, either. You have to persist.”

“...I will.”

Basil looked to be at peace, through that. Just in time for a knock that sounded on the door. Hero’s voice came through.

“You guys? You’ve been in there for a little while, and I just wanted to make sure everything was okay. Am I disturbing you?”

You look to Basil, and he gives you an affirming nod. You both sit up straight, ready to face the door, with a driving mission in your minds not set in desperation and delusion. You’re unsure if you’re up for this task, that could easily consume you if you’re not careful, but this is the least you can do for them. Think of them.

“...You can come in,” you both called out.