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Never Been Away so Long

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Rose was pacing the length of the living room, equal parts frustrated and excited. It had been far too long since her husband had last been home. He'd gone out for a quick delivery run, then a vacation, then immediately set upon another task. In total, he's been gone for nearly two months now. At most he'd be gone a week or two at a time before, maybe a late dinner here and there. But two whole months of him not being here was just too much. She knew it wasn't quite Olimar's fault. The company was at risk of shutting down and if Olimar lost his job… she didn't want to think about that, really. But she was still annoyed at the situation as a whole. All that time gone was too much of a toll on her and the kids. They had to sort something out.

Her ears wiggled as she heard the sound of a door unlocking. She turned to the front door as it slowly opened, taking a deep breath as she willed herself for what would probably be a rough conversation. Whatever she had to say died in her throat, however, as Olimar slowly stepped inside. It looked as if the great gods below had torn her poor husband asunder, with heavy bags under his eyes and the lower half of his left ear gone. His fur also seemed duller than it was supposed to be, a sure sign that he either hadn't had proper meals or proper sleep over the past few weeks. Probably not both, it wasn't that dull… unless it was in the early stages. "Hey, honey." He managed a small smile, but his voice sounded so tired.

At a complete loss for words now, she simply pulled him into a tight hug. He winced but still hugged back as well. It felt almost like he was leaning on her, he was just so heavy in her arms. Eventually she managed to pull back, her ears now drooping as she gently touched her husband's left cheek. "Oli, your ear…"

"I'm alright," he assured her as he put a hand on her shoulder. "It's nothing to worry about, I promise."

"But - you look so tired - and - honey, what happened ?"

Before Olimar could respond though, the sound of many little feet rushed down the stairway. "PAPA!"

"Kids! Y-You're up early-"

The two little ones ignored their mother in favor of running straight to their father for tight hugs. Olimar seemed to brighten then, his smile growing wider and uneasiness fading from his face as he knelt down to Luna's level. He ruffled both kids' hair. "Ah, there's my favorite rascals. How have you been?" 

"M-missing you." Nova managed out, squeezing his father tighter. Olimar winced again and frowned, brushing the boy's hair back.

Luna quickly nodded as well, trying to snuggle in next to her brother. "You were gone for so long !"

"... I know." Olimar quietly managed out. "And I'm sorry. That shouldn't happen again, it was just an unlucky coincidence. Okay?"

The kids nodded, still clinging tightly to their father. Nova paused a moment before managing out a quiet "okay". It was soon followed up with "Wait - Papa, your ear-"

"I'm alright buddy, I promise."

"But half of it is-"

"I know it looks scary. But please, just trust me when I say it's okay." He gently planted a kiss on both of their foreheads. "I have such an exciting story to tell you all. But first: I got you all gifts!"

At that the kid's eyes lit up. "Really?"

She expected this. When he emailed her saying he was on his way home, he said he'd pick up gifts for them all. He also asked for her permission to get Luna something in particular. After just a bit of convincing, she went ahead and agreed to it. 

Olimar nodded, reaching into his bag. "Nova can go first. Here…" he handed the young boy a small figurine of a green frog, seemingly made from polished scrap metal. It was hard to make out what it used to be before, but whatever it was had a frog snapped logo on it. The eyes were made of some kind of yellow dyed crystal. "Saw it at a lil' shop, thought you'd like it."

Nova squeaked, smiling wide. "Oh! Thank you!!! Thank you so much!!!" He had it cupped in his hands, as if he was holding an actual frog, though it was much smaller. 

Olimar nodded gently ruffling his hair a bit before turning to Luna. "Alright Luna, here you go-" Olimar was beaming as he pulled out a small white mouse plush. "Just like you asked for, see?" He flipped it over to show its underside, where velcro could be seen. Opening it up revealed a very cartoonish rendition of its insides, akin to what you'd see on a kid's edutainment show.

Luna's eyes went wide as she reached out for it. "OH SHE'S PERFECT!!!" She held it close to her, a goofy smile plastered across her face. "Thank you Papa! Now I can go and make her feel better! See why she has a tummy ache!!!"

Olimar ruffled her hair affectionately. "Ah, such a good little doctor. You let us know how that goes, okay?"

" Veterinarian ." She corrected him with a whiny squeak and a tight hug. "And yes!!! I will!!! Thank you thank you thank you!!!!"

Olimar's smile only seemed to grow wider. He then stood up again, pulling out a small box. "This was being sold at the same trinket shop Nova's frog came from." He opened the box, revealing a hand-made beaded necklace. It was turquoise, with three triangles made of woven beads hanging from it. The centers of each had four bronze beads in the shape of a diamond. 

Rose reached out and gently touched the smooth beads. She couldn't say it was her usual style, but whoever made it clearly put a lot of love into it. "Oh goodness, it's beautiful! Thank you so much!"

Olimar nodded quickly, his smile at this point livening up his face. He didn't look as tired, but still worn down. "Ah… it doesn't quite fit what you're wearing today, but can I put it on you anyways?"

Rose nodded, tuning around and letting her husband clasp it around her neck. She watched him in the hallway mirror as he did so. He was right, it didn't match the best with what she wore, but it didn't matter. She touched it again when he was done. "Oh, it looks so pretty dear. Thanks again. Now that everyone's really awake, would you all like breakfast?"

She was greeted with three equally squeaky "yes!"s. Chuckling, she nodded her head. "Alright, I'll be just a bit. Kids, go ahead and get dressed."

It wasn't long before everyone was ready and breakfast was done. A pot of coffee was also brewing, and wouldn't take much longer. Rose and Olimar hummed a bit as they worked together to serve the eggs she made.

Olimar and Luna got scrambled eggs. Luna’s were lightly seasoned, but Olimar… well, his breakfast was almost more ketchup than egg. Trying to season it would be a waste. Rose had fried eggs, the yolk still a little runny. Nova had gotten up to get himself some cereal. He hated eggs, insisting they were “slimy” regardless of how his mother (or anyone else for that matter) prepared them. He brought back what he usually had; a dry bowl of chocolate cereal and a glass of milk to the side. He never poured the milk in the cereal, they always stayed separate. 

Rose poked at her eggs a bit, eyeing her husband nervously. “So, could you tell us about your trip dear?”

“Hmm?” Olimar looked up, food still in his mouth. He swallowed before smiling nervously. “Ah, yes… uh, hmm, where to start…”

By this point both kids looked towards their father intently. 

“Uhh…” Olimar still seemed lost in thought, sending small red flags to Rose. He normally didn’t have trouble recalling these kinds of stories. “Well, I realized I… had to make some emergency repairs to the Dolphin. So I-I…landed on the nearest planet to do some work.” 

The kids seemed sucked into the story already, watching with wide gleaming eyes. Rose, however, just looked on with worry. He never struggled with his stories so much before, it was almost as if he was making details up on the spot.

“I realized I’d be stuck there for a bit but thankfully I wasn’t alone!” He seemed to relax then, now having an easier time speaking. “There I met the pikmin! They helped me repair my ship, and so I made my way straight back home!”

“Pik…min?” Nova asked, head tilted slightly. 

Olimar beamed at that, now ignoring his meal to clap his hands together excitedly. “Ah yes! Pikmin are these small little creatures, most barely make it past my hip in height, though some reach my chest. One species is so small that they only make it to about my knee height! Er, all of that being measured to the top of their head. They have stems on their head and it can make them seem taller. Anyways, anyways, they’re half plant and half animal and look a little like the Pik-Pik branded carrots we get which is why I called them pikmin-”

“Wait, you named them?” Luna squeaked out. 

Olimar nodded. “Ah, did I mention the planet was uncharted…? It seems they haven’t had any interstellar visitors ever. I may have been the first-”

“THAT’S SO COOL!” Nova spoke out this time, bouncing in his chair a bit.

“... yeah, yeah I guess so!” Olimar was smiling wide now, already seeming so much happier. It was relieving to Rose. “Anyways the pikmin speak an undocumented language, so until I can ask what they call themselves its a temporary name. Then again they don’t seem to mind being called pikmin? They do know it's what I called them, they responded to the name, so who knows-” at that Olimar paused, ears wiggling as he heard the coffee finish brewing. “Ah, one moment, Papa needs coffee if he's to keep going like this.”

Rose couldn’t help but sigh affectionately as she watched her husband get up to find one of his mugs in the cabinet. Yes, he'd need coffee, that or a post-breakfast nap with how quickly he talked. He then set his mug down as he opened a drawer, though he quickly frowned. “Uh… honey? Where’s my spoon?”

“Next drawer over, dear.”

“Hm.. OH! Yeah, heh…” Olimar laughed sheepishly as he opened the other one up and pulled out his spoon. It was small, with a well decorated wooden handle. The only one in the house like that, something he got soon after finding his first apartment back when he was eighteen. Soon he was preparing his coffee the same way he always did - practically more creamer than coffee. And way too much sugar. Frankly, he preferred tea, but tea made him sleepy. Olimar didn’t sit back down after preparing his drink, instead electing to pace a bit as he drank and talked. He… may have still had eggs left? She couldn’t tell through all the ketchup. 

On and on and on Olimar went, sharing everything he knew about the pikmin. It was… a mildly overwhelming amount of information, not helped by how he jumped around topics at random, but he was clearly enjoying himself so much that Rose didn’t really mind. In fact, she knew this would be a regular occurrence - if she did mind, she wouldn’t have married him. The kids kept up with him better than she ever could, regularly asking questions about the pikmin and other creatures Olimar mentioned. 

“Oh, and you should have seen Louie’s face when - LOUIE!” Olimar’s ears wiggled. He set his mug down to clap his hands together. “Oh okay okay okay - so, I rushed back here first thing when the Dolphin was repaired. But - and I think you know this, Rose - when I got here I found out that Hocotate Freight was in some trouble. Someone lost an important shipment, and the company had to spend more than what we actually had to make up for it. So when he heard the pikmin’s planet had some treasure hunting opportunities, well, my boss sent Louie and I in to find some and save the company.”

Yes, she did know that. The company’s president had called her to let her know, then set her up with a galactic email account to be able to send him messages from home. It took hours to get emails back and forth, but it was something at least. 

“And you did it? You saved the company?” Nova asked, still bouncing in place. 

“Well, I couldn’t of done it without Louie or the pikmin - who helped yet again. I owe everything to those little guys.” He sighed before continuing on. “Well, Louie is a really nice kid. He’s nineteen, new to the company. I’ve been showing him the ropes, so I guess I finally got my own crew now! Even if it is just us two.”

“COOOOOOL!” Nova practically squealed. “So was he there when your ear got torn?”

“Huh - oh.” Olimar reached up to the torn ear. “I keep forgetting that happened. Uh, no, it was an accident when the pikmin were helping me repair the Dolphin. I let some on board, a small flying insect also got in. One of the pikmin was chasing it around - I’ve mentioned they have high prey drives - and the fly landed on my ear. And the pikmin jumped for the fly…” he winced a bit. “Another pikmin patched me up. The one who tore my ear was crying, so I ended up having to console it. It never meant to, it just got a little too into its game… heh…”

That was a huge relief for Rose, though she hoped the torn ear was the only injury. 

"Did the pikmin say sorry?" Luna asked.

"Well, they can't . At least not in words I'd know. But it did cry and hug me. Closest it could get to apologizing in this case." 

Nova had finished his breakfast now, standing up out of his chair to bounce in place a little easier. "So what else happened???"

Olimar paused then, as if thinking. After a few moments he answered "Well, other than general work? Not too much. I can save specific tales for another time though. Can't use up all of my stories in just one morning!" 

Nova frowned but nodded. "O-Okay Papa…"

"If storytime is done, can I go play?" Luna asked.

"Of course dear." Rose smiled at the two kids.

Nova took that to mean he could leave as well, both children hugging their parents before slowly heading out of the kitchen. With the children gone to do their own things, Olimar began to pick up the plates to wash real quickly. "I think I'll head outside after this."

Upon hearing the word "outside", Bulbie looked up and quickly ran over to Olimar, claws tapping against the linoleum floor.  Olimar sqeaked a bit, stepping away from the excited pup who then put its paws on his legs. 

"Seems someone needs to go." Rose teased at first, only for her ears to lean back quickly. Olimar was pressed up against the counter, his eyes wide, ears leaned back, and fur raised on end as he stared back at the family dog. "H-Honey-?" Rose asked, gently touching his shoulder.

Olimar flinched, looking at her in terror, before suddenly calming down. "O-Oh - sorry-"

She shook her head. "Don't be - just…" she paused a bit, unsure if she wanted to push him regarding this, before deciding it best to try anyway. "I - I know you didn't share some parts of the story, for the kids. But - did something happen there?"

Her husband was quiet for a long time, gripping the counter behind him tighter. Eventually he managed out "Well… as I said, there were… other creatures on the planet. Not just the pikmin. They… they're animals, of course, they just act to survive. But they're still - some did try to prey on the pikmin."

Rose then froze a little herself. "So - they were dangerous…?" And what did that have to do with their dog?

"Well - " at this point, Olimar had knelt down to gently pet Bulbie between his eyestalks. "I had the pikmin. They're fierce little fighters. It's like - there's predators here too. But how dangerous they are… it - it changes the moment you have a hunting tool. A knife or gun or whatever. With the pikmin to protect us, I had nothing to fear."  

Her ears leaned back a bit then. She knew there was more he wasn't telling her. " Olimar , please d-"

"O-one of the species, one of the most common, actually, uh - I called it a bulborb. Named after Bulbie here. They look a lot like Hocotation dogs." He ruffled the pup's floppy ears as he spoke. 

Rose wasn't sure how to respond.

"I actually tried to pet the first one I saw!... I'm glad the pikmin were there, they helped me aft- they stopped me before I could be bit. Anyways - that's all. He managed to spook me a little. Guess I have reflexes to unlearn. I should take him out now-"

As he stood up, though, Rose put a hand on his shoulder. Her ears were pinned back as she stared at him intently. "Olimar, what happened on that planet ?"   

Olimar flinched slightly before looking down. "I - I told you… I - I fixed my ship with the pikmin, then hunted for treasure with them. T-there were some predators but… that's it."

Her ears then drooped, a sigh escaping her as she pulled him in for a hug. "S-Sorry, I didn't - mean it like that. I just… I'm worried about you." 

Olimar sighed as well then, snuggling in close. "I know. But you don't have to be, I promise. I've - I've got my ear torn in a friendly accident but that's it. There was never any threat of anything worse happening. I'm okay. I'm okay ." 

Rose nodded then, gently kissing his forehead. "Okay… okay. Still, please take it easy?"

"Of course dear." He chuckled and tapped her nose affectionately. "No matter what, work is work and I'm tired. You try to relax too, okay? I'm gonna go take this pup out with me to garden."    

Rose nodded, smiling as she let him go. Olimar called for Bulbie, walking over to the back door and letting the both of them out. Rose then turned to the sink and - oh. Olimar forgot about the rest of the dishes. With a sigh she filled the sink up so they could soak. He could finish them later, and that would at least make it easier on him. She looked back out the window, watching as Olimar pruned their flower garden with a smile. 

It ended up being a good day, and yet it felt so short. Maybe that was because it had been a good day. Regardless, it disappointed Rose. She and Olimar spent a good deal of the day resting and watching TV together. They even got to plan out the vegetable garden this year. It wasn’t anything too fancy, just household favorites, but it was still something she looked forward to. Nova had gotten Olimar to help him with some homework and he did agree to sit and play with Luna for a while. So soon the sun had set, and it wasn’t long afterwards that they began getting ready for bed.

Rose hummed as she put her day clothes in the hamper. Now she was in her night clothes; some sweat pants and an oversized tee shirt she had permanently borrowed from her husband. Olimar too was changing behind her, having quickly grabbed his favorite pajama set. The fabric used for it was so soft, she couldn't blame him for wearing it so often (even if it was worse for wear now). As she turned around to get in bed, however, she let out an audible gasp. "Honey, your back !"

Olimar had only changed into his pajama pants, leaving his upper half exposed. Through the dulled fur, Rose could make out the shape of a massive bruise. It was long and narrow, stretched across his entire back, was pointed at one end, and if it looked this bad through his fur…

"Oh… yeah. I, uh, may have been hurt near the end stretch." Olimar replied sheepishly. He turned to her as he spoke, revealing similar bruises along his sides and a large, circular bruise on his chest.  

"Honey, I can see it through your fur! What happened ?"

Olimar was quiet for a long moment before mumbling "A co-worker was… in a jam. I helped him out, took a few hits for it though." 

"What do you mean, took a few hits, those look-"

"Rose, please, I know you're worried but I just need some sleep."

"Wha - no !" Rose shook her head as she approached her husband, laying a hand on one cheek. "Honey, no. You were gone for two months and have come back hurt . I just… need a partial answer, at least, please. "

Olimar didn’t respond to her, standing quiet as his ears leaned back. “I…” tears had begun to well up in his eyes then, which he quickly whipped away as he avoided her gaze. 

Rose let out a sigh before pulling him in for a gentle hug, her head perched right on his. Olimar hugged back tightly, holding onto her as if she’d vanish should he let go for even a moment. He shook slightly in her arms. 

Olimar and his wife hugging, his wife looking woried and Olimar looking tired.

“They’re my fault.” he eventually mumbled. “I’m just an idiot. I did something stupid and got hurt, it won’t happen again.”

Rose gently kissed his forehead. “Please don’t call yourself that.”

“I left a crewmate behind!” he suddenly snapped, before shaking more and practically burying his face against her shoulder. “I’m… ‘m sorry. I - I forgot about him, n’ had to go save him, n’ got hurt because of where I left him. It won’t happen again.”

He… left someone behind? That didn't sound like him, something was off here, and Rose didn't know what she could do about it. Can you really promise me it won't happen again? “Look, I… I know I can’t make you say anything you don’t want to. But I’m worried for you, dear. I’m so worried…”

"I… I don't want to worry you."

"Oh, I know honey. But you're my husband. I love you. I'm always going to worry a bit." She gently rubbed his back, ears now drooping. 

Olimar sniffled then. "I love you too." He then sighed. "... 'm sorry."

"It's okay dear. It's okay." Rose pulled back just a bit to gently kiss his forehead. "I won't make you say anything. But please, know you can always tell me what happened. Okay?"

"... okay." He sighed. "Okay." Olimar then paused before looking up at his wife. "Before we go to bed… can I tell a happier story? Just some antics the pikmin got into? You'd love them. The pikmin, I mean - b-but you may also like the sto-"

Rose giggled a bit before kissing his forehead again. "I always love your stories, dear."

Olimar blushed hard then, smiling goofily. Over the years, he never seemed less love-struck. "O-Okay - yeah - yeah!"

Rose knew something happened on that planet. She didn't know how bad it was, or what exactly happened. But she also knew she held little power here. Olimar would say what he needed to in due time. All she could do was her best to be there for him. As she watched her husband finally find his favorite pajama shirt and slip it on, and as they laid in bed, he talked softly about the pikmin he had come to adore so much.

As far as she knew, this was all he needed to feel better.

She couldn't have been more wrong.