Hero stood beside Kel and Aubrey as they hovered over Basil’s still body lying in the hospital bed. A heavy silence blanketed the room as all three of them studied the bandages on his face, and the dark bruises under his eyes. The shallow rise and fall of his chest was the only indication that he was even alive.
“When’s he gonna wake up?” Kel asked quietly.
Hero let out a weary sigh. “I don’t know. The doctor said soon.” He focused on a bit of red in Basil’s blond hair. “At least he’s doing better than Sunny…”
He trailed off, unable to clear his mind of the horrific nightmare they’d all just been through. It had been in the early hours of the morning, still dark outside, when yelling and screaming had pierced the air, startling everyone awake, and Hero had told Aubrey and Kel to stay in the living room as he threw Basil’s door open. He froze, knowing that the scene in front of him would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Pale moonlight cast a soft glow on the bedroom floor where Sunny lay motionless, his right eye a bloody mess. There was blood everywhere. Pooling around Sunny’s head, staining his clothes, staining the carpet. It slid down his face towards the ground, a crimson streak on white canvas, and it was all over Basil’s trembling hands. Basil, who sat beneath the window, his knees drawn to his chest, eyes wide, shuddering in terror.
Hero had rushed to Sunny’s side, gathering him into his arms, heart plummeting as his head lolled to the side, lifeless. Tears stung his eyes as he shouted for someone to call 911, and panic set in as he called out Sunny’s name over and over again, frantically shaking him and begging him not to go. Sunny was like a little brother to him. He was the last bit of Mari that Hero had left. He couldn’t die. He couldn’t. Hero couldn’t go through that. Not again. It would destroy him. Please, not again.
Hero shook his head, trying to rid himself of the memory. “I’m gonna go get some fresh air,” he muttered, moving towards the door.
“I’ll go with you.”
As he was leading the way down the hall and towards the main entrance, Hero noticed Aubrey had stopped following them. Confused, he glanced around until he saw the familiar head of vibrant pink hair walking down a hallway to their left. He ran to catch up with her, Kel right behind him.
“Aubrey, where are you going?” Hero asked, falling into step beside her.
She pointed at a sign on the wall that read ROOF ACCESS. “The roof.”
Hero frowned. “I don’t…think we’re allowed to go up there.”
“Probably not,” Aubrey said nonchalantly. “But I like roofs. They’re good for sitting on and thinking. I do it all the time at home.”
“Yeah, but that’s not-”
“I’m with Aubrey on this one,” Kel chimed in. “Roofs seem more fun.”
Aubrey gave him a nod of approval, and the two of them continued on ahead, leaving Hero behind.
Hero stood there in the middle of the hallway for a moment before rolling his eyes in exasperation and quickly walking after them. “Wait! You guys…we’re gonna get in trouble!”
The three of them eventually made it to a heavy-looking door that Hero was surprised to find unlocked. In fact, the door was slightly ajar, allowing a ray of sunlight to illuminate the dimly lit stairwell.
“See,” Hero said, gesturing to the door. “There’s already someone up here. We should go back.”
“Maybe the last person up here just forgot to close it all the way,” Kel suggested.
Aubrey impatiently shouldered her way past them and pushed open the door. “If anyone asks, we’ll just say we got lost or something.”
“I don’t think anyone would believe that,” Hero muttered, stepping outside against his better judgment. He squinted in the bright light, enjoying the way the cool breeze played with his hair. Aubrey was right. It was nice up there. Quiet and peaceful. The rest of the world was far away below them.
As his eyes adjusted, Hero’s gaze landed on a figure standing at the edge of the roof where a portion of the safety railing had fallen away. They wore a white hospital gown and had dark hair with clean bandages wrapped around their head. It almost looked like-
“Sunny?” Aubrey cautiously approached the figure, a single hand stretched out towards him. She stopped a few feet away from him and withdrew her arm. “What are you doing up here?”
Sunny didn’t respond, continuing to stare off into the distance where the sun was beginning to sink below the horizon.
A cold feeling of dread washed over Hero as he watched Sunny balance precariously on the building’s ledge. Something was wrong. Something was so very, very wrong. He tried to tell himself that it was just Sunny’s head injury. That he was confused and disoriented and probably didn’t know where he was, but a part of Hero knew better.
“Hey, you shouldn’t be out here,” Hero told him gently, moving to stand beside Aubrey. “C’mon, we’ll take you back inside.”
He took a step forward, and Sunny finally turned towards them, stopping Hero in his tracks and rendering him speechless. He felt his heart drop as he caught sight of Sunny’s one good eye, pitch black and devoid of all emotion. There was no life left in him, no spark. Nothing. Just emptiness.
Hero sensed it happening before he saw it. A small shift in the air, a feeling of finality as Sunny tilted ever so slightly towards the darkening skyline, letting gravity pull him over the edge. Aubrey screamed, and Hero acted on impulse, throwing himself forward, desperately reaching out before it was too late.
Please don’t let it be too late.
His fingers brushed against fabric, and Hero grabbed what he could, his mind going blank as momentum propelled him forward, and for one terrifying moment, he felt weightless. There was barely a second for him to process that this was quite possibly the end of his short life before there was a sudden violent tug at his back, and Hero was pulled away from the ledge.
He felt the back of his head collide with the hard ground as he fell onto the roof, but shock reduced the pain to a dull throb. He lay there with Sunny on top of him, trying to catch his breath, taking in as much air as he could get. He needed a moment for his brain to catch up. Sunny had almost died. And Hero had nearly died right along with him.
Tears in his eyes, Hero turned to look at Kel, who was sitting beside him, also crying and out of breath. He could clearly see the fear in Kel’s expression, the fear of having almost lost his brother and his friend too.
Aubrey hadn’t moved from where she’d been standing, hands covering her mouth as she stared in horror at what she’d just witnessed.
With shaking hands, Hero carefully sat up, holding Sunny in his lap where he frantically looked him over for any sign of injury. After finding nothing, he let out a deep sigh of relief and pulled Sunny into a tight hug.
Sunny didn’t move, didn’t say anything, didn’t react at all.
They sat there like that for a minute while Hero tried to control his wildly beating heart, assuring himself that Sunny was alive, they were both alive, everything was okay, but as he continued trying to calm his racing thoughts, what had just really happened finally sank in.
This was no accident. No misunderstanding. They’d just narrowly avoided having to go through the exact same thing that they’d gone through all those years ago.
“Aubrey,” Hero said brokenly. “Go get a nurse or a doctor or…or someone. Please.”
Aubrey just stood there, unable to tear her gaze away from Sunny.
She jumped, startled, then spun around and ran back into the hospital, furiously wiping tears from her face.
After Aubrey had left, Hero turned back to Sunny, hands on his shoulders, holding him at arm’s length. “Hey, Sunny. Can you talk to me? What happened? What’s wrong?”
Sunny didn’t answer, just stared at Hero with those dead eyes and blank expression.
Kel crawled over to them and placed a comforting hand on Sunny’s arm. “We want to help you, but you have to tell us what’s going on.”
“Is it because of whatever happened between you and Basil?” Hero asked.
“Please just let me go.”
The words were barely audible, so soft that Hero thought he may have imagined it. “What did you say?”
Sunny spoke again, this time a little louder, his voice rough and worn from disuse, but still lacking any sort of emotion. “I did this. It’s all my fault. I hurt all of you. You should all hate me.”
Hero gripped Sunny’s shoulders a little tighter. “What? I don’t- I don’t understand what you’re saying. What are you talking about? What did you do?”
“I’m doing this for you. You’ve all been so good to me, and I…I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve to live.”
The words just weren’t registering. They didn’t make any sense. The Sunny that Hero knew would never say that. It was like he was talking to an entirely different person—a stranger. He refused to believe that this was the same boy who used to be one of his best friends, who used to talk and smile with them in the treehouse they’d all built together.
Kel couldn’t keep his mouth shut any longer. “Don’t say that! Just stop.” He squeezed his eyes shut in frustration, hands balled into fists at his sides. “We take care of you because you’re our friend. We do it because we want to. But we haven’t been able to do anything since you disappeared on us, so let us help you now!”
Hero could feel his brother’s pain. This was all happening so fast, and after the night they’d all just had…he wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take. “Kel’s right,” he said. “We already lost Mari. I don’t wanna lose anyone else.”
“But it’s a lie. It’s all been a lie,” Sunny muttered.
“We don’t know what you’re talking about!” Kel shouted at him. “Can you just help us understand? We want to help you!”
“I took her from you. It was me. Please, just let me die. Just let me do this one thing for you.”
Every word was like a blow to the chest. Hero had spent so many years trying to piece himself back together after Mari had died, and here was Sunny, tearing him apart all over again. “No! I’m not gonna…I can’t just-” He stumbled over his words, trying to pull his thoughts together. “Remember what I said? About how the biggest mistake we all made over the last few years was not being there for each other?”
Sunny stayed quiet, but Hero didn’t let that discourage him.
“We’re gonna fix that. Right here, right now, starting with this. I don’t know what happened, and I’m not going to force you to tell me, but don’t think for a second that you’re alone in all this. Whatever’s going on in your head, we’re gonna fight it. Together. I’m here for you, and Aubrey, and Kel, and Basil. And Mari’s here too, right here.” He pointed to Sunny’s chest, right where his heart was.
Hero looked at Sunny, eyes glistening with tears and gave him the brightest smile he could manage. “You’ve made it this far. Don’t give up now.”
And that was when he saw it—a spark in those eyes. A small flame in the darkness that only lasted a split second, but Hero was sure he’d seen it. A fleeting look of recognition, a moment of sudden realization.
Before anything else could be said, however, the door to the roof burst open, and suddenly, Hero was surrounded by hospital staff, pulling Sunny from his arms and asking if everyone was okay before shepherding them all back inside.
After he’d finished answering questions, Hero sat in a plastic chair outside Sunny’s hospital room, legs outstretched, staring blankly at the ceiling. He was so tired of this. Too tired to feel anything anymore. So much had happened in just the past few days, the past few hours that turned Hero’s world upside down, and he knew nothing would ever be the same again. It had happened with Mari, and it was happening again, and Hero didn’t know if he could make it through.
The first year after Mari had died was the worst. It still hurt to remember all the nights he’d spent stifling the sound of his own crying in his pillow so that he wouldn’t wake up Kel, the hours spent trying to understand why Mari had done it, only for Hero to realize that it was his own ignorance and selfishness that had prevented him from seeing what was happening to Mari and helping her past it. He couldn’t go through that again.
Hero agitatedly ran a hand through his disheveled hair as he realized that he was also a liar. He’d told Sunny that they would be there for him whenever he needed them, but Sunny was all set to move to the big city as soon as he was released from the hospital. There was only so much Hero could do from this far away.
He wouldn’t be surprised if this were the last time he ever saw Sunny. The issue was clearly a mental one, and Hero didn’t think there was any more he could do about it.
Once again, he found himself completely helpless.
It was just like when Mari died. However, unlike Mari, Sunny was still here. But he sure didn’t want to be.
Hero would give anything to know what had happened. This couldn’t have been because of Mari’s death. If it was, Sunny certainly wouldn’t have waited years to off himself like this. While he was sure that Mari’s suicide had some part in this, there had to be more to it. It had to have been whatever happened between Sunny and Basil. There was no other explanation.
It bothered Hero to no end. It was like he was so close to fitting the puzzle together, but there were still a few pieces missing, and the only people who had that information were Basil, who was still unconscious, and Sunny, who didn’t seem to want to talk to anyone.
Everything just seemed so pointless.
At that moment, Kel walked out of the room, gently closing the door behind him, and slumped into the seat beside Hero.
“Where’s Aubrey?” Hero asked, his voice monotone.
“She wanted some time alone with Sunny.”
Hero nodded in acknowledgment.
“I’m happy we got to see Sunny before he moved away,” Kel said. “Even if it ended up like this.”
“Yeah.” Hero closed his eyes and leaned back.”Me too.”
“Is he gonna be okay?”
“I hope so.”
Kel frowned. “Well, I gave him our phone number and told him he could call us whenever he wanted. And he can come visit us too. Or we could visit him.”
Hero gave his brother a tired smile. “Yeah, that was a good move, Kel. We’ll make sure he’s okay.”
As Hero nodded off, he couldn’t help but feel like he was reaching his limit, like he’d finally taken on a responsibility too big for him to handle. But there was that brief second when he looked into Sunny’s eyes and saw something through the despair that made him think that there was still hope. All was not lost. Not yet.