“Big Brother Shun? ...I-I’ve brought your lunch for you!”
“…Just set it here, please, Ayumi.”
From where he was standing behind the wall, Yu could just barely make out with his single eye the voices at the far edge of the hospital rooftop, and he cringed inwardly. His sister sounded so worried and uncertain, and he knew that their older brother’s response did nothing to make her feel better.
“Will… will you be able to… find it?” he heard Ayumi continue as she did as he asked, the poor little girl sounding as if she didn’t want to imply Shunsuke couldn’t, but also didn’t want to leave him without assistance if he needed it.
“…Yes, I will. …Thank you though.” Shunsuke’s voice sounded a bit more sincere and gratifying than it had before, but he still did not turn his head towards Ayumi as he always did as a formality. It was barely reassuring.
Yu watched as Ayumi waited a few minutes longer, then turned around and made her way back towards the door leading down into the hospital proper. From the brief glimpse he had gotten of her face before he was forced to hide himself from view, it looked as if she was about to cry, and it awed him and equally broke his heart. Unlike himself, his sister still didn’t have any memories of their older brother from before he had left them, and yet she had simply accepted Shunsuke as her relative when he had told her without question. Although, even disregarding that, it was true that Ayumi warmed up to and became friends with people she was around very quickly, so it wasn’t that surprising how much she already cared for Shunsuke. His pain was not something she could empathize with (thank goodness, for she nearly would have been able to, if the building had collapsed just a little bit differently), but that didn’t stop her from trying to help him in any way she could.
Indeed, Yu’s sister and brother were very kind. Too bad he hadn’t inherited the same personality himself.
And now I’ve gone and caused something irreversible brought about by my own inadequacy, my inability to think about anyone but myself, just like I did before… some sibling I am. Shichino had every right to be pissed at me.
Yu pushed the negative thoughts out of his mind abruptly, inhaling sharply and willing himself to remain calm. Now wasn’t the time to be moaning about his own faults to himself: he was here to try to make things better, at least as much as he could. He had fought for so long just to get here to see his brother, but his recovery had gone slower than he would have liked; Yu felt guilty enough keeping him waiting for this long, so he knew he had to make the most of it.
Trying not to make a sound, he moved around the corner quietly and slowly over to the bench where Shunsuke sat. He was unmoving as ever, and the little box of food remained untouched beside him. Yu knew that there would be an omelet rice inside it before even looking, and upon glancing down, he saw that written on it with the infamous secret pizza sauce were the words “I love Big Brother”, the effort she had to put into fitting all the characters on the omelet obvious. He felt his eye grow hot upon seeing it, thinking about how Shunsuke couldn’t even read the words and yet Ayumi had still taken the time to add them.
Not wanting to move the tray for fear of making noise (really, he didn’t know why he was that insistent on hiding his presence; his brother most likely already knew he was there), Yu sat down on the opposite side of Shunsuke, turning his head slightly to look at him. His brother may have been blind, but his eyes still had a unique expression and brightness in them. Now, however, they were truly dull, and it looked as if he’d been unable to sleep much lately. Yu was uncomfortably reminded of how he himself had looked back then, after Ayumi had died, once Tomori had rescued him from his spiral into insanity and he had looked in the mirror for the first time since it’d begun.
He hadn’t truly realized how bad off he had been until he saw someone else in the same state. It was awful to see, and even though Yu knew he owed it to Shunsuke to try to help make up for what he had caused, he wondered if he’d even be able to.
After all, he’d had a way to bring Ayumi back. But this time… no hope was in sight (how morbidly fitting that phrase was), or at least it wouldn’t be for ages if it ever appeared.
Say something, you idiot… god, say anything!
Yu breathed slowly, wetting his lips and forcing his voice to work.
“I… I want to say I’m sorry.”
Just voicing the apology out loud made his stomach churn even more than it already was, and he was grateful that the person he was with didn’t take too long to reply.
“…Are you well?”
Caught off-guard, Yu lifted his head from its bowed position and glanced sideways at Shunsuke. His expression was still the same as it had been before, but there was no mistaking what he had just said. Yu looked down again, his face pained, and fought to keep his voice neutral.
“For the most part… still a little sore, but I’m almost back to normal.”
I don’t want to talk about me, talk about how fine I am; that doesn’t matter…
“Is that so? …Then all is well… I’m glad…”
Shunsuke trailed off, and Yu couldn’t stand how out of it he sounded, despite the definite note of gratefulness in his voice. Continuing with the topic he came here for would only hurt his brother, but he knew he had to do it, otherwise he would go mad simply sitting here and talking as if everything was alright when it wasn’t.
“…No…” he whispered. “…Nothing is well. N-Nothing at all. I-“
“I did a horrible t-thing,” Yu continued hoarsely, not letting Shunsuke say any more before he could surely try to reassure him that he wasn’t to blame. “I failed him, I failed everyone, I failed you! I don’t even have the right to be with you all-!!”
Yu was only half aware of the trembling and the vague sensation of falling underwater, but before he could completely lose consciousness, he was jerked to the left awkwardly, his face buried in something soft and his body held protectively.
“Yu Otosaka, you were never at fault, which is why you need to listen to me and live!”
He gasped for air, holding onto Shunsuke like a lifeline to bring him back to earth, and it wasn’t long before his head ceased pounding and the scenery in the background of where they sat was brought into focus again. Yu breathed heavily after it was over, closing his eye weakly as his brother held him tighter.
“…Better?” Shunsuke asked gently as he stroked his hair, the brief moment of such strength in his voice over now.
“Again… I d-did it again,” Yu moaned pitifully, finally lifting his arms up and clinging to the back of Shunsuke’s shirt. “I’m so unstable… I can’t even hold this power back because of my own tantrums, a-and look what it d-does! This… this is all I’m good for, Shunsuke!!”
“…That’s not true at all, not in the slightest,” his brother whispered in response, softly but firmly. He wanted to protest, but Shunsuke didn’t let him.
“You raised our little sister on your own for five years. You made it through school on your own during that time. You helped Nao and your other friends at the school find and help save ability wielders. You overcame Ayumi’s death. Then later, you saved her life by traveling back in time, and gave her a life where she can live on. You helped save Nao’s life. You took down terrorists. Back in the original timeline, you helped us to all have the lives we have right now.”
“…But most of all, Yu…” Shunsuke continued, and the deep longing in and the breaking of his voice only made Yu feel more upset.
“…Most of all, you were and are my beloved little brother, who it tore me apart to leave, along with Ayumi. Those precious years I spent with you and her before everything went wrong, those memories were one of the only things keeping me going all that time… the thought of c-creating a world where both of you could live safely… and happily… so we could have that old life back again.
“…S-So never say you’re useless, Yu,” Shunsuke pleaded quietly, and Yu could feel the tremor in his arms as he held him. “Please… never…”
His heart warmed at his brother’s words, but Yu bit his lip, still uncertain. “…You say all that, but… I-I never appreciated Ayumi enough until she was taken from me and I regretted how I hadn’t; she took care of me, not the other way around… Tomori was the one to pull me out of my slump; I would have eventually killed myself from lack of self-care if it hadn’t been for her… And even her poor brother; I helped cure him in the last timeline, but since I’ve gone back and saved Ayumi, that’s been undone… how horrible of me… even the good things I do for one person doom someone else.”
Yu swallowed thickly, still held in his brother’s embrace; this person who up until a week ago was nothing but a stranger to him, but now felt like his entire world.
“…Shunsuke, I… I-I said it before, but the me of mere months ago was a selfish person. I hated school; I abused my power to cheat my way through it, to get girls to like me, to make myself look cool and like a hero… I used it for everything, not even knowing that sometimes when I possessed people, I was robbing them of their own unique ability, maybe ones that they were using for good, unlike me…
“Ayumi cooked for me every day. I always dissed and complained about it behind her back,” he whispered, all of his negative thoughts tumbling out of him without warning. It felt good, but also disgusting, to say them. “…Then she d-died, and I… I got her back, but even if it was for her sake, do I really have that right to have her back for me? …The only reason I changed was because… because I lost her unexpectedly… what kind of sibling needs that to happen for him to open his eyes, and grow up already…?”
Yu squeezed his eye shut tightly, hating himself for laying all of this on his poor brother instead of getting to the point like he needed to, but he couldn’t help but revel in how liberating it felt to release all of his past regrets and frustration at himself, and to his older brother. He’d spent the most time with his sister and Nao, but Shunsuke was the first person Yu had opened up to so sincerely, even more than Sala, despite the fact that he had only recently even remembered his past existence in their lives.
“Everything ‘good’ I have done… has been because of someone else helping me… Yusa and Takajo… Tomori… the singer who helped me save her brother, which is now null and void anyway… you… e-even Kumagami, dammit…”
His voice trailed off, and after a few moments, he felt Shunsuke letting go of him. Sniffling, he lifted his gaze up again, and saw his brother giving him a weak smile, Shunsuke’s eyes staring directly into his own somehow.
“...Yu… being helped isn’t a bad thing,” his brother said kindly. “We all need guidance sometimes, and we can all change to become better people. …I am so glad to see you have people who care about you now, even when I wasn’t with you.” Shunsuke hesitated for a moment, his brow furrowing in sadness. “…I’m sorry I had to leave you. I thought about you two each and every day… and I wanted to wait until the time was right until I introduced myself to you both again. When Kumagami first told me he had found you, it took everything I had to not… to not run to you and Ayumi right then and there.”
Yu’s breath hitched, and he reached out and took his brother’s hand slowly. It was cold, a painful reminder of how long Shunsuke had been sitting up here in the chilly fall air, in silent watch over Yu many floors down during his period of despair and mourning. His fingers and palm had calluses on them from constantly using his cane, and Yu’s heart clenched as he thought about how much Shunsuke had toiled, how much he had sacrificed for the sake of every child with an ability in Japan, how he had gladly given up his eyesight for their lives, even if it meant he would never see his siblings’ or his friends’ faces ever again.
His last memory of Kumagami’s face is from years ago… now even his voice is gone.
He clutched Shunsuke’s hand tightly, hoping his feelings would get through to him simply from that.
“…Why aren’t you upset with me,” Yu managed, his voice as weak as a child’s. “I saved Ayumi, b-but… I let… I let K-Kumagami die in return… and now I c-can’t even undo it this time…”
Yu hiccupped, wiping away fresh tears with one hand while still holding onto his brother’s like a lifeline.
“You were counting on me, a-all of you were… and I screwed up! I said I could do it, and I didn’t… I failed in the worst possible way!”
Shunsuke closed his eyes, and Yu watched as his brother struggled to keep his composure, his shoulders shaking and his hand trembling in his own grip. He looked so small and so, so tired, and Yu wanted nothing more than to reach out and hold him, to apologize, even though he knew no amount of apologizing would ever be enough.
“…It was not your fault, Yu… I promise it wasn’t, and isn’t,” Shunsuke finally whispered, his face down and looking as if he was barely managing to hold back tears. “…Rather, I… I am the one who is to blame… I let you go there alone like they wanted; I put that enormous burden on you… the burden to rescue both of them safely… how could I have ever thought such a thing was alright, after how scared you were…?”
He glanced up again, his expression terribly distressed, and reached his free arm out, his hand wavering in the air as he aimed towards the right side of Yu’s face. Yu knew immediately what he was looking for, and his instincts told him to pull away, to not let his brother confirm what he already knew and cause the guilt that he didn’t deserve to pile up even more. But he remained still, closing his other eye as Shunsuke’s hand finally reached his right one, not wanting to see his brother’s certainly pained face (but hearing his small cry of despair even so).
“Your e-eye… they… they ruined it… I’m so sorry, Yu…”
“…I shouldn’t have let it happen,” Yu murmured. “I was just… I got s-scared… froze there like an idiot… and because of that, I… I-I can’t go back… can’t redo it… I can’t but I need to-!”
Shunsuke had moved his hand from Yu’s eye to his mouth, quieting him with a finger. He shook his head weakly, and after enough time had passed for him to confirm that Yu wouldn’t try to continue, he let his hand fall again. He sighed heavily, his lip quivering in sadness.
“…Kumagami… That’s simply something he would do, Yu.”
Small tears began to stream down his face now, and Yu said nothing, rubbing his thumb over the top of his brother’s hand in what he hoped was a comforting gesture. He had spent most of the conversation apologizing as much as he could, so for once he decided to remain silent and let his brother talk out his emotions.
“…He has always been kind that way, ever so kind,” Shunsuke said gently, his face showing the faintest traces of a smile despite his crying. He moved his hand on top of the one that was already being held by Yu, as if searching for support in order to go on.
“I don’t know how much you remember, or even know, but… Kumagami was the first friend I made there. He was closely supervised because of how useful his ability was for finding new people to capture and bring to their sick facility—“ Shunsuke grimaced at this— “and they were watching me too, because although my ability hadn’t completely surfaced yet, there was evidence based on the tests so far that mine would possibly be the most dangerous to them out of all of them.
“…We couldn’t see each other very often, but we brought others into our little group too eventually… Maedomari… Medoki… Shichino. We discussed different ways of trying to escape... with your ability as our most likely chance.” Shunsuke gazed up in Yu’s general direction, his expression a mixture of apologetic and grateful. Yu looked down at their connected hands in his face downcast, thinking about how little he really knew about his brother’s time in the lab. The three of them had been in different sections, only able to see each other during mealtimes and the rare times they were allowed to roam free, but Shunsuke was always more restricted than they were. Once his ability was discovered, they never saw him at all again, and it was only then that Kumagami and the other three had approached him and formally introduced themselves as friends of his brother, and told him of their desire to rescue Shunsuke and everyone else there.
“Once I… went back… I found him again. …He was younger, of course, and not as soft-spoken as I was used to him being… but I could still tell it was Kumagami.” Shunsuke smiled a bittersweet smile through his tears, and Yu squeezed his hand tighter in reassurance.
“He was always there for me… they all were, but especially him… all those years we spent getting to this point; brainstorming ideas, getting captured, then gathering funds, building the schools… all those years, Kumagami was there, by my side.”
Shunsuke lifted his head, his gaze directed towards the horizon, the sunlight making his tears sparkle.
“…I have met him again so many times, and yet each time, we became re-acquainted so easily that it was hard to imagine I had even started over at all.”
As Yu processed Shunsuke’s story, he was suddenly struck with the overwhelming realization of how old his brother was, simply based on how much he had presumably time leapt… it was obvious when Shunsuke had first told them the details a week ago (had it really been that recent? That felt like it was ages ago now… then again, it was only a week counting the days, not looking at the actual dates), but he hadn’t really put it all together until now. The thought nearly made him cry more, and instead of mentioning it, he went in a different direction.
“I’m glad… you had him and the others… I can’t s-stand the thought of you doing everything you did for us… all by yourself…”
“I would have been truly lost without them, “ Shunsuke whispered in response. “We were all united by our abilities, our shared experience in that awful place… we all wanted that happy ending that seemed so far out of reach for the longest time… I worked so hard to get there, and I led the mission… but they… t-they saved me, just as much as you and Ayumi did. …As my sight became dimmer and dimmer with every leap, they were there to support me, and comfort me, and lead me… and… and K-Kumagami… he was there for me most of all…”
Shunsuke’s rambling speech had dissolved into sobs, his fond memories taken over again by the current, tragic situation, and this time Yu did not hesitate to guide his brother into his arms himself, hugging him close. He was fairly certain he had never comforted someone to this extent before, and he definitely had never done so for Ayumi… maybe this would make up for all the times he hadn’t, even if just a little.
“…I’m sorry, Shunsuke. …I’m so sorry.”
The words felt hollow on his tongue, but Yu refrained from saying any more; now he simply wanted to give his condolences, to grieve for the one whom his brother had formed such a close bond with, closer than Yu could ever begin to imagine.
“…Thank you… t-thank you for being here, Yu,” Shunsuke choked out finally, his voice cracking as he gripped Yu’s back so fervently and desperately. “I mean it… so much… I’m so grateful you and Ayumi are alive… s-so glad… thank god…”
Yu’s heart twisted, and he swallowed, whispering his response with childish apprehension.
“…You’re not… You’re not upset at me because of what happened?”
He heard Shunsuke gasp audibly, and his hold on him steadied, a few moments passing before he chose to speak.
“…Never, not in a million years, Yu, for all the reasons I said before.” His voice was sad but kind, weak but also firm. “I know… I k-know I have been unable to properly handle this… but I never blamed you. …Sometimes, terrible things in life happen… and we don’t always have a way to undo them, like I and then you had up until now… and a-as I said, I’m certain that Kumagami felt content saving dear Nao’s life… e-even at the cost of his own. That’s just… who he is.”
“Nao… he saved Tomori,” Yu whispered, bittersweet.
“That’s right. You were spared, and she was spared… and I-I am ever so grateful for that, at least.”
“…So you are close friends with Tomori, then?” Yu asked, slowly letting go of Shunsuke after he made certain he was ready. It was strange to think that the person his classmate had once briefly mentioned had helped her and that she looked up to was none other than Yu’s own brother that he did not remember until recently. At the same time, he could vaguely see a resemblance in their personalities; Tomori was much more upbeat and feisty than Shunsuke was, but he could see her snark and wit in his brother from when he had met him again a week ago. It amused Yu to think about. “She mentioned a friend she relied on once, when she first took me to… visit her brother.”
“Yes; Nao was appointed the head of the student council who would lead the search for ability wielders to bring to your school. I knew that she had a sibling that we were sadly unable to save from being… experimented on, due to their family’s unfortunate circumstances.” He closed his eyes in pain, his guilt about the situation clear. “I helped Nao place her brother in a good hospital with a gorgeous outdoor view where she could come see him anytime… but I wish I could have done more.”
Yu looked down at the bench, feeling his own guilt creep up, and he sighed heavily. “I need to help him… that’s one thing I can do at least. In the last timeline, the one where Ayum- …t-that one, I happened to bump into the singer of that band Tomori and her brother love on the street, and I brought her to him… and her voice brought him back to his senses.”
“What a noble and beautiful thing you did, Yu,” Shunsuke replied gently. “I’m sure Nao was ever so grateful to you.” Yu began to protest, but his brother held up his hand as if expecting it. “It does not matter that it was in the last timeline… it was still something you should be happy about. And we can make it happen again, in due time.”
Yu bit his lip, quietly voicing something he had been wanting to say for a while now.
“About that… Shunsuke… If… If at some point I come across an ability wielder with a healing power, who could heal my eye… I want to go back and s-save him. Save both of them… and then I’ll get to know him. And I’ll get to know you, become closer to you, just like I am now. ...It may never come to pass, but will… Will you at least allow me to make you that promise?”
Shunsuke was silent for a long time, before his answer finally reached Yu’s ears, barely audible.
“Yes… Yes of course.”
He paused, before tilting his head up slowly and leaning forward until he could press a delicate kiss to Yu’s forehead.
“Thank you, Yu,” Shunsuke said, lovingly and softly. “…Thank you for all the years you both supported me, even when you didn’t know it. Thank you for saving Ayumi… and thank you for being here for me today, and always… That day that I time leapt for the final time, I made sure that you and your sisters’ smiles were the last thing I saw, and I never forgot them… They were what gave me the strength to make it here.”
He leaned back into his normal position, wiping the last of his tears away.
“I love you.”
“…I love you too,” Yu replied quietly, taking his brother’s fragile and yet strong hands into his own again, squeezing them tightly. “I wish we could have stayed with you… but I hope we can make up for lost time now”—the irony of the statement was not lost on him – “and… try to become a family together again.”
Yu smiled slightly, even knowing his brother couldn’t see it.
“I don’t know where we’ll go from here, but Ayumi and I will try to help you in any way we can… you and everyone else.”
Shunsuke laughed a little, his eyes shining with tears despite the dullness of their color, and it relieved Yu to see. “I am so blessed… I always knew it, but I lost sight of that after Kumagami… but now I’m reminded again.”
“I’m just sorry I couldn’t get to you sooner,” Yu said apologetically, hugging his brother once more quickly. “But I’m glad we could finally talk.”
He took a deep breath before continuing, leaving one hand on Shunsuke’s shoulder as he spoke. “…Would you come back inside? The others really… want to see you again.”
Shunsuke frowned, clearly bothered, but eventually nodded.
“…Yes, absolutely. There is so much to be done, after all. …And you must introduce me to your other friends.”
Yu smiled wryly, shaking his head. “Yusa and Takajo? They’re a wild duo alright; Takajo is always crashing into everything with his ability as if it were the most normal thing in the world, and then Yusa’s…”
He trailed off as he suddenly realized something, his eyes widening in shock as the metaphorical lightbulb lit.
There is something I can do for Shunsuke… though it could either be just what he needs or incredibly cruel…
He jerked his head up at the sound of the call, and making sure his voice sounded neutral. “Sorry, it’s nothing; there’ll be plenty of time for talk later.”
I’ll need to think about this… and see if Misa will let me, of course.
“Yes, indeed,” Shunsuke agreed fondly. He made to stand up, but then seemed to remember something, turning his head vaguely towards the right and reaching out his hand until he found what he was looking for. “Oh… Ayumi’s lunch… I never even touched it.” The note of guilt in his voice was obvious, and Yu saddened, shaking his head even though it wasn’t necessary to.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said reassuringly, trying not to wonder about how much Shunsuke had eaten in the past few weeks. “I’m not sure if you’ve had anything of hers before, but everything is always extra sweet since Ayumi insists on adding pizza sauce every time, haha…”
“What an interesting quirk,” Shunsuke commented, sounding amused. “Still… It’s the thought that counts.”
“Yeah, and I think she’s gotten better at cooking recently” Yu continued softly, the urge to see his sister again now suddenly welling up inside of him. She was back to life now, but a small part of him still needed to be reminded every once in a while that she was truly real again. “She made you an omelet rice this time, which is what she loves to make me the most since it was my favorite when I was little… but she still thinks I love it so she keeps making it, pizza sauce and all.
“…This one says “I love Big Brother”, by the way.”
Yu heard Shunsuke let out a small mix between a laugh and a sob, and he put his hand on his shoulder, watching his brother hold onto the little box tightly.
“Let’s go back inside, and you can tell Ayumi what you think of it.”
“…Yes, I’ll do that, Yu.”
Shunsuke stood up, putting the lid on the box for now as he did so, and Yu grabbed his cane from where it was leaning on the bench, threading his fingers through his brother’s in order to guide him. As they walked, Shunsuke tilted his head to lean against Yu’s, letting out a sigh that sounded tired but also content.
“Thank you. I love you.”
There was a pause, and then Shunsuke spoke more, his voice sweet and affectionate.
“I may be a little late with saying this, or perhaps a little early instead… but happy sixteenth birthday, Yu.”