---Welcome to White Space. It's
not your fault...---
Mari woke up in the endless expanse of White Space. She looked at her own hands. She was wearing the long-sleeved shirt she was wearing when she fell asleep. She afforded herself a look around. She, personally, hadn't been to White Space, hadn't explored it, in so, so long. Her footsteps echoed endlessly, finding nothing to hear them, until a white blanket came into view. There was a black tissue box, a sketch book, and a laptop on it, all under a black light bulb that was hung from the ceiling. Wherever the ceiling was. Standing there, in the middle of it all, was a girl who was just barely shorter than her, with waist-length black hair. Her black dress sharply contrasted her white skin. She stood and silently watched Mari with a look that would have been disdain, if it wasn't so hollow.
Mari ignored her, walking past and under the light bulb. It was time now. All of her friends, all of the feelings she could have felt with them, all of the emotions that fell on a dulled heart. It would have to be over. It was time to stop running from them.
The light bulb fell into her hand. She considered it a moment, and its black glow. Well no, it didn't quite glow black, all darkness here was drawn to it, like a reverse of a normal light bulb that casts light. That's why everything was white here.
Mari smashed the light bulb, and everything was dark.
One spot of red existed in the dark. A red ooze with limbs poking out of it at odd angles and a shadowy center where there was a single crimson eye. Mari stood across from Something, and the two seemed to consider one another. Then, in a slow, creeping moment, The hands with bleeding fingers reached for her and dragged her into the shadows. She thought, first, to swipe at it with her box cutter. Then remembered her arm, the new marks. She couldn't just run and slash. She had to collect herself.
The scene lurched and now there was Something at the bottom of the stairs. Something that pulled her down. Something with long hair and a jagged, wooden mouth. Right over the place there could have been another body. Where she said there was a boy's body.
She tried to calm down again, finding herself at the top of the stairs, in the flashing thunderstorm. The crooked face in the window with its instant stabbing teeth and grasping hands. The lighting that cast shadows on the floor that looked like a familiar boy.
She had to focus on what was really, truly happening, on what her real target was. She could see it more clearly before she found herself upside-down, under the water. Her lungs began to burn, she saw the reedy tendrils wrapped around her. She made to cut them, to get out. She was afraid, but she had to still her heart, she had to keep trying. She had to keep persisting or she would drown here. Like the boy almost did that day.
Something fuzzy, white and red was on the dark ground in front of her.
Red oozed from it. Mari couldn't bear to look at it once again, but she had to. The thing that haunted her and Hero's dreams, that followed them wherever they went. Calm down.
Red kept oozing out, but it was still a blur. She had to focus. Her heart was hammering out of her chest. It felt like she might have a heart attack, her entire body was screaming at her to leave.
She had to stay and see this. She had to properly stay there and see. Persist.
Her lungs tightened and she couldn't breathe. Is this what he felt? In his last few moments? His body simply refusing to work? No, she had to see this properly. Persist.
She felt sick and unsteady. The feeling of spinning overtook her. She felt faint. Her back burned, her arms burned, her heart felt like it would explode. Persist!!
The red blot of the floor was mostly in focus. It would be over soon... She just had to hang on. She steadied her heart little by little. It was time to really open her eyes. Overcome.
Her eyes had a tinge of light for the first time since she got here. She found a light bulb where something had once been, and picked it up.
Mari found herself on her home street. It was a touch too bright, too pastel, but it was home. She walked numbly to her house, just to find Hero in front of his own.
"Mari... You finally came." He gave her a smile. "The truth of that day as been hidden for a long time, hasn't it? Seeing it might set us both free but... Well. You have to stay strong when you do see it. Are you ready?"
"...I... I don't know."
"If you don't know in your head, then what does your heart tell you?"
"To go forward."
"Then go on. Be ready, Mari."
Hero stepped out of the sidewalk and allowed her to continue. She slid her key into the door of her and Sunny's house. She opened the door to a shadowy room filled with a red light. It was her living room, fully furnished again. A picture of a mom, a dad, a brother, and a sister hung on the wall. The television was on, showing scenes she recognized.
A mother hugged her daughter in the bathroom, begging her not to go too. The girl's arm was bleeding. She had a box cutter in her left hand.
A girl told classmates that she was studying and couldn't join a club. She just went home and laid on her bed.
A girl wrapped herself in a blanket and ignored the knocking on her door. Her arm was covered in red lines.
A girl told all of her friends she was going away to college. She hadn't studied or applied anywhere. She stayed in her room, ashamed. When she was alone, she wouldn't have to lie anymore, she didn't have to be okay to the people who relied on her, because no one would rely on her.
Mari felt something dripping down her face. A spot on her head was bleeding. She continued to the next room and found herself on top of the stairs.
It was time.
A brother argued loudly, saying that he would never be good enough. He threw his violin down the stairs. His sister shouted at him for all the hard work that was lost. She got close, into his face. She couldn't believe that he could be so callous. He just shut off though, so she yelled louder, she got closer, anything to break through and make him understand that what he did, what he's been doing, was wrong and that pain is all part of practice! That he had just forsaken all of his friends' hard work and this wouldn't be a problem if he just practiced more and-!
The sister was pushed away. She had confronted him on the stairs. She fell down, crumpling at the bottom, motionless. The brother's eyes went wide with fear and he ran down to check on her. He reached out a hand to touch, but saw the broken splinters and shards embedded firmly in her back. Tears gathered in his eyes and he began panting, clutching at his shirt. Repeating over and over again how he hadn't meant to do that, that he was sorry, that she needs to wake up. Instead, she was still, and the boy walked to the kitchen, his eyes had gone dead.
Mari felt something wet on her back, the impaling shards dug into her all over again. She walked into the darkened kitchen. She took out the light bulb and screwed it into the lamp. The brother was sitting on the floor, knife in hand. His breathing was ragged, and became steadier and steadier as time went on. As he put the point to his chest. He offered his apology again. He begged for mercy for his sister. The only that he found though, was when he plunged the knife in. The front door opened. Mari felt the scars on her arms open again, red dripped down her fingers. She watched the rest play from the doorway of the kitchen.
Hero walked in, wondering why it was so quiet. He found Mari lying at the foot of the stairs. He rushed to her and worked to rouse her, being so very careful with the bleeding girl. She gently woke, and was held as tight as he dared to. She asked where Sunny was, and what had happened. The pair wondered as they heard a gurgling rattle from the kitchen. With Hero's help, they both made it to see Sunny. He was lying in a pool of his own blood, limbs at all angles, and a crimson wound in his chest.
She watched as the past Mari told Hero to never say that Sunny had killed himself. He was the one who had fallen down the stairs tonight. They had to protect the others, if they knew Sunny had killed himself after an accident...
No. If they knew she had killed Sunny. She was always yelling at him. She brushed off the time his fingers bled from playing. She was the perfectionist that held them both to such a standard. She had pushed him farther than anyone else had and never listened in return. She had extra classes and clubs and food to make and a little brother to appease and parents to make proud and gifts to buy and a relationship to hide and-!
She had pushed into him too much. She was responsible for his death, as sure as if she had held the knife. If she had been that much more disciplined to not even take a step forward, to hold her tongue, Sunny might be alive. She might have had a chance.
The past three days she had just begun to think about setting them free. She and Hero weren't just some second group of parents. The more the others called her a friend, and not just Mari, the more they had made themselves available, the more they went out of their way to check on her and her feelings, the more she felt that maybe, just maybe, they would listen to her too.
"You always do this." Nieta said from behind Mari. "Basil just lost his grandmother, and now you're going to open this old wound? You're despicable." Nieta's voice was always dispassionate. "Feelings are dangerous. That's why I exist. Do you want proof? Just a few days of trying and you can almost feel like you deserve to be with them. Then what happens when it all comes crashing down? Basil just lost his grandmother. Tear his friends apart with a new revelation and you'll be responsible for his death. Because you couldn't hold it in. Because you wanted attention."
Nieta drew within a few inches of Mari.
"All you're good for is your image. We won't be here tomorrow anyway. Let me protect it... and stop controlling my dreams."
Mari woke with a start. No one else was awake, all sleeping soundly.
Aubrey was sleeping on one end of the couch. She had rough edges but a heart full of convictions, full of care for the people who cared for her. Mari would miss her.
Basil slept on the other end of the couch. He looked worn out. The boy who was skittish but held his treasured memories close at hand and heart. Mari would miss him.
Kel snored loudly in his blanket on the floor. He was always impulsive, but he also carried a strong sense of right and wrong, and always fought for what he thought was good. Mari would miss him.
Hero had been sleeping next to her. He always put others before himself, but he was kind and giving and the person she l-
Mari would miss him.
She quietly left for the night air, wandering to her street in a daze. The night sky seemed to tumble overhead. She knew the way back home. One foot, the other foot. She saw vague images of her dreams. Giant tulips and space pirates. Crocodiles at a campus. The Magical Hearts... Then finally Kel, Aubrey, and Basil. All in their pajamas and bluish, dreamy tones. They were all playing in her front yard as Sunny and Hero came out to join their picnic. She smiled blankly and went into her house. To the backyard.
Mari was moving tomorrow.
She easily passed the living room, through the glass door and over to the tree with the stuck-out branch. Her heart was hammering in her chest but her hands were steady. She had done this many times before, hadn't she? To wake up? The old jump rope by the tree, the last toy that was left out as if by providence. Mari tied it into a loop one one end, and then the other around the branch. She would need a box. There were plenty inside, she would just grab one really quick.
Sunny was standing there. The bluish, well-dressed one from her dreams. He stepped into the moonlight, though, and became the paler boy. The one in the conservatory.
"Oh... I'll see you soon, Sunny."
"Is this really what you want?"
"It's what I have to do."
Mari looked back to the noose. "It's what I have to do."
---A noose swings in the breeze. Would you like to hang yourself? Y/Y---
Hero woke up and stretched. Sometimes he had a hard time sleeping, tonight was one of those nights. He was having a dream about the time he was doing cannonballs with Sunny and Kel. This time though, Mari was there instead of Sunny, she froze and fell into the lake, causing Sunny to dive in after her. Neither surfaced. Hero dove in after them, only to find Something at the bottom of the lake. It grasped him and pulled him in.
He shook his head and sighed, wondering if the others had the same problems. As if trying to look into their dreams, he looked at each in turn. His eyes stopped at the front door. A pale boy stood there, looking at him with a familiar distant expression. He turned and left through the front door, without opening it. In a fluster he was about to wake the others when he noticed Mari wasn't at his side. He thought, for a moment, to wake the others, but with what they had been through in the last three days...
Mari was right, he had to take care of them. He quietly got up and left, finding the specter taking a right turn. Unease kept building. Why him, now of all times? Ever since Sunny died, he'd been seeing things every so often. It's why he couldn't bear to cook. Occasionally the floor would be a sea of red so vivid that he could smell it. Or he'd see the reflection of Something he didn't know the name for in a knife. It was only very recently that he could bear to stomach it. That he could put it down long enough to be the responsible one again. Just as he saw Mari for the first time in years, too. Old feelings and memories made a tangle out of his heart, and he wasn't sure what it was he was supposed to be feeling.
Only now, he felt like he knew. Trepidation. Something about this night felt wrong, like it would weave into the cracks in anyone's mind. He hadn't always been the type to think of those sorts of thoughts, but after all he had seen... It changed him a little.
The specter had led him to her house. Of course. Was she here because she needed her bed? Because she couldn't stand being far from home for so long? Or was it because..?
The door was open. He saw her through the sliding glass door. He felt relieved to see her standing. That relief was cut short when she turned and he saw the look in her eyes. They looked almost red in the light. She had turned and was talking to someone. He raced out the door in time to see her turn to a makeshift noose.
"It's what I have to do."
"It isn't!! Mari!!" Hero shouted, panting heavily.
"Hero..? What are you doing here?"
"What am I doing here!? What are you doing here? Why is that thing in the tree? What's going on, Mari?"
"... You know. If I had been the one who died, none of this would have happened. Sunny had a way of keeping everyone together, look at how fast everything ripped apart when everyone lost the person they trusted to listen to them."
This was the first time she was talking about it in years. Hero couldn't believe his ears. He let her continue and took a cautious step forward.
"I can't be the person they look up to anymore. I'm a failure in every respect. The person they love is just an image. She's gone now. She has been for awhile."
"That's not true... They're still there, they all still love you, the real you..."
"The person who murdered their Sunny?"
"Mari..." Hero took another step closer.
"Hey... I see what you're doing." Mari reached into her pocket and pulled out the box cutter. It gleamed in the moonlight like ice.
"Please Mari, put that away. Let's talk."
"The person who does this to herself?" She rolled up her right sleeve. There were more scars than Hero remembered. Some were new.
Hero felt like she was getting farther and farther away from him. He instinctively took another step.
Mari blankly slashed at her arm. "The person who calls out for attention when everyone else is suffering more?"
Hero took two steps forward. The blood running down her arm seemed to join more that was pooling at her feet, dripping from the noose behind her.
"The person that doesn't deserve someone as good as you all?" She took a step back.
Another two steps. Hero fought hard to control his breathing.
"...The person who doesn't deserve to be forgiven..." She went a little limp.
Hero was nearly in arm's reach.
"Stop right there." Mari held the blade to her neck. She had a pained, wild smile on her face. Tears just barely gathered in the corners of her eyes. Hero could see that she was breathing at a wild pace. He could practically hear her heart. Or was that his own?
"This needs to happen. I need to leave. Then everyone will stay peaceful, and I'll just move away."
"...No." Hero gained a determined look to his eyes. "I won't hide that from them. You deserve better than that. We deserve better than that. They're our friends, think about it, Mari! Why are you lying to them about what you're about to do!? It's because you love them!! As much as they love you!"
Mari stood still for a moment. Her eyes seemed to regain some piece of their luster, some spark of emotion. A moment was all Hero needed. He closed the distance in a heartbeat and took Mari's left hand in his own holding the blade up and away from her. But her grip on it was surprisingly strong for someone who hadn't left her house in so long, she simply wouldn't relinquish it.
"Let go!!" She shouted. It wasn't anger, she was suddenly afraid of losing her blade.
"No. Please Mari, stop it!"
"This is for all of you..." It wasn't happy memories that she was thinking of, this was an emotionless decision to her.
"Please... Let go, I don't want you to get hurt!"
"I have to... I have to... I have too... You can see it too, can't you..? Something... Something all at our feet. Something that won't stop..!" It wasn't sorrow, Hero could hear the stress from Mari, she was completely frayed.
Mari's eyes were somehow both wild and blank all at once. The world seemed to fade into shades of black and white, and the red all around their feet. Mari couldn't move the hand Hero held the blade in. He would win, he would save her this time.
She looked desperately at the blade, and jumped for it.
Half of Mari's vision went black. She could feel tears running down her left side. She wiped her eye to find red. Mari looked back to Hero, back to his panicked face. She felt her legs go weak, and dropped into a position where Hero cradled her.
"You... deserve... better..."
"Mari!! Mari no... No! Can't you tell, I only wanted----"
Her senses were taken over by darkness. A steady beeping noise overtook her. She felt the world drop away.
---Everything is going to be okay...---
Mari was in Faraway. More specifically, she was standing in a crosswalk. Home was one of these ways. She really wanted to go home. She checked herself. She wearing her usual clothes, and felt her hair brush the back of her knees. There were no scars on her arms though, and her left eye wasn't... well it was there. Maybe she would see something familiar, to help her find-
Mewo? Sunny always really loved that cat. More often than not he acted like her too. Sleeping wherever, and somehow seeming bored and curious in equally endless amounts. Mari decided. Mewo new the way home. She always did.
Her home. Hero's house was on the way home. She always loved being there. Hero's parents always seemed eager to see her and Sunny. They often overlooked, if not outright approved, Hero and Mari being so close with one another. It was a warm place, as warm as her own could be. Or was.
When she came up to her house, she found Hero standing in the driveway. Not the apron-wearing Hero of dreams.
"Hi Mari." He gave a small smile. "You've been on a long journey, but you found your home again now."
Hero shuffled his feet a bit.
"I don't know if I ever said this to you, but I'm sorry for not being there for you. I feel like if I had been, maybe things might have turned out differently. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't been late to come over. Or if I had seen him first... If I had been more responsible, I guess. But we're.... We're not even that much older than any of them. Sometimes it's easy to forget that they're not our responsibilities, they're our relationships. They take just as much work, but it's a two-way street. Maybe if I had learned that even a few minutes earlier, you would be okay now.
"All the pain we've kept hidden away has been leaking out into everything we do. There's no real way to keep a lid on it. Aubrey, Kel, and Basil are all good friends, I'm sure they would want you to forgive yourself too, and forgive us for keeping the truth from them.
"Sorry, I guess I'm going on a bit, huh? At the end of the day, it's you who decides what'll happen here. I wish I could swoop in and save you, but I think we both know that's not quite how life turns out. People choose their own way forward. But I'll be cheering for you."
Hero gave a smile and began to walk away. But turned and crossed the distance between them in two steps, and wrapped Mari in a hug. Just like he used to.
"Let's meet again, and see lots of new things together. Maybe I'll even get to cook new, yummy food for you. I hope I can."
Hero walked to his house, leaving Mari on her driveway. She entered her own house.
The first thing she noticed was the sound of a violin. It was her house again. With the off-green couch, and the television that everyone used to watch cartoons around. A picture of her mom, her dad, Sunny, and herself hung on the wall. Sunny was a newborn in this one, and Mari was much much smaller. She remembered how her parents had brought him home one day, her own baby brother. More pictures of Sunny lined the mantle. She noticed that he never seemed to smile in them, but she would always be. Mom used to say that she got all the smiles because Sunny gave his to her.
In the dining room there was fruit on the table. She was always adamant about fresh fruit. She said it was to eat healthy but the truth was that she just liked colorful things. Eating them was a bonus. On the table, a porcelain vase was missing. Sunny had broke it while running around the house, but Mari had taken the blame for it because he was looking forward to a sleepover at Kel's place. He would sneak her candy for a week after that.
Mari let herself reminisce awhile longer before following the music to the conservatory. Sunny was there, focusing on playing the violin aside the piano.
"Mari... It's time. Right?" He didn't look up from his violin. "You've gone through a lot because of me. I know you said you forgive me but..." He scratched a note and sighed, looking into his big sister's eyes. "Forgiving yourself is hard. Even when other people want you to." Sunny took up his bow again and began to play. "It's easy to see everything you've done wrong. It's easy to forgive someone you love. But doing things for yourself... You'll forgive yourself too, right? You've worked hard at it."
Mari stood in silence, looking at the piano. It had the word "OMORI" etched into the center. Sunny always liked that name for some reason. But there were no keys on the piano.
"You know who has the keys. It will be hard to get them back but as long as you keep trying then..." Sunny put his violin down. "If you want me to play with you again, you just need to think about me. I'm here for you. If you want me to be."
Mari stepped forward, then wrapped her little brother into a hug. He didn't always smile. But this time... This time he did.
It was time to move along. Mari exited the house. She found herself on a long, long highway. The highway that would go to the recital hall. She began to walk. Even though rain fell, it wasn't wet at all. Mari could see scenes from before all of this in the beams of streetlights.
One was of the time she brought cookies to the treehouse. She never thought they were better than Hero's, but he always insisted that there was more love in them. She did love her friends very much. Even if she didn't want to admit it, she was always glad that Hero said things like that. Playing cards like this was something she remembered very clearly. Mari reached into the beam, and her hand found a sheet of paper. Music was written on it.
She continued to the next one, a memory of a time they had all gone to the beach. Kel and Aubrey were spitting watermelon seeds at one another, with Kel shouting about cooties whenever she retaliated. Mari saw the chair she imagined getting a tan in, next to the bags she and Hero had bought. She had bought hers shortly after his, hoping to match. She still remembered how Hero came over to lay down with her right after trying to out-swim Kel, and how they got to share another secret moment together. Well, secret until she had seen Basil's photos. She reached in and got another piece of music.
Now the park spread out before her. Everyone was practicing making flower crowns. She had learned how and was eager to teach everyone else. Sunny and Kel had run off, and Hero was diligently, slowly practicing, but Basil and Aubrey were naturals. Flower crowns really suited Basil, even Sunny would give it his seal of approval. This scene became another sheet of music in her hands
Everyone had gathered for a picnic. Kel and Aubrey had fallen asleep, and while Sunny was laying on her lap, she felt like he was just resting his eyes a bit longer after waking. Basil took a photo and complained that Hector had ruined it a little, he'd have to tape over that part. She and Hero watched over everyone else while lightly touching hands. This scene, too, turned to music.
Mari saw a scene where she was walking down a hallway at school. A boy with hair as messy as ever was crying in the hallway. She asked him what was wrong, and he explained how he was teased for his grades. First she tried to cheer him up by saying that studying was easy, but it turned out he was being called a nerd for scoring too high. This is where she met Henry, who would one day be called Hero after devouring an entire sandwich a year later. This was the day they learned that they were next door neighbors. Another sheet of music fell to her.
It was Sunny's birthday. Mewo was running around the house like the wild kitten she always was. Mari and Hero had worked together to get him a gigantic building block set, but all day long, he would play with the box, eventually napping in it along with the kitten. Sunny never seemed especially excited if you looked at his face alone, but in his actions, you cold see how content he was alongside all of his friends. This too, was another sheet.
The recital was ahead. Mari checked the notes on her sheet music. It was a waltz. Her favorite waltz. She hadn't needed sheet music for this song in a long time, instead she gave it to Sunny to show him how the measures went together, how they meshed with one another. She gripped the music tight, and entered the hall ahead.
She was backstage of the recital hall. Mari always felt nervous being here. All of her practice made her a strong player, but mistakes do happen. It was hard to tell if tonight would be a fluke or not. Kel, Aubrey, and Basil all stood before her. They were all shorter.
They were all how she remembered them from four years ago.
Aubrey wore a pink dress that matched her ribbon, while Basil wore his old blue overalls. Kel had an orange shirt with a cat stamped on it. Aubrey was the first to notice the new friend's arrival.
"Mari! You made it!" She cheered a bit and stood alongside her two friends. "After this point, it's up to you... So..." Aubrey looked to the other two as they nodded. "I was always scared of losing my friends. I never had any that stuck before you guys. When Kel said he thought I was just a thug, or Basil pushed his album to me like he was going away... I thought I was right. But the way you kept everyone together, and always did things with me to make me feel closer, I felt like I had a place to belong."
Kel stepped forward. "I've been really thickheaded lately... But even then, after years apart, you and Hero helped me and made sure that I had the chance to make up with everyone. You've done a lot for me, and I want to do the same because... You're all my best friends."
"Mari." Basil started. "You've always been really good at taking the lead and being someone we all look up to. But it's okay to cry too, when you need to. We'll all be there for you. I believe I can be.
Mari took another look at the three friends, and found that their appearances changed to match the voices she heard. Slightly older, as she's seen them in town recently.
"We're cheering for you, Mari, we hope you'll come back to us."
She wasn't sure if one of them said it, or all of them did. But she approached the stage. There was a piano there, alongside a music stand. There were only enough keys to play the first few notes of the duet she had loved.
Each one struck its way deeper and deeper into her heart. Farther than the words and actions of the past three days. The final one at long last, broke the shell around her heart.
Mari was crying. Tears fell from her eyes as the few memories she elicited had come calling for her. She cried until her vision had gone white. Something had dragged her away from all of this feeling in her heart. Not Something, but something. Something she had to go and face now.
Mari was in White Space again. There were no meager furnishings this time. Only Nieta standing opposite her.
"You... Coward." Nieta said.
"...I'm not the coward here. I was, but I can't be anymore."
"Do you think they'll accept you back? With what you are?"
Mari firmly took one step forward. "I don't know."
"Maybe that's because you forgot." Nieta extended an arm and piano keys rose up. She pointed and one hurled itself towards Mari. As it struck she heard a voice. Her voice.
You're better than that, Sunny.
It stung, it hurt her right down to her newly exposed core. She took another step.
"This is you." Another was flung.
Well!? Answer me!
Mari took another step, she wouldn't be deterred now.
"Not like me. I never say these things."
You messed me up, now I have to start all over again!
"I always care. I always fix everyone's problems. I never get angry or sad and need their help." Now she sent a flurry out. Each one brought more and more of the words she had used in the final months.
She took another step. She was next to Nieta now. Mari had no box cutter or jump rope or knife. She merely punched. Nieta went down to the single blow, closing her eyes. She then rose, and leapt back further into White Space.
Nieta did not succumb. More keys flew at her like hail, more hurtful words, more hand waves, more excuses to ignore someone.
"This is you. No burdens to take on. No goodness."
Mari took two more steps. Two more keys hit her. She didn't need to be told that it was her. It was her! It was just as much her as any other part! She reached Nieta again and gave her the hardest punch she could manage. There was a sickening snapping sound, and her opponent went limp.
Nieta did not succumb.
"Fine then." She raised her arms and white was dyed in red. They were in Mari's backyard. A noose hung from Sunny's favorite tree. The shadow showed a noose as well, but with something dangling in it. Rounded at the top, and drooping to three points below. Mari knew it was her. It was meant to be her. More keys caught her by surprise, each chipping away at her.
"You say you're responsible for everyone, but it's just for your own ego." Nieta snapped and tendrils of hair caught Mari's legs.
Mari fought them and found no purchase.
"You're sick. Everything is a grade to you."
Mari fought as she was struck by more of her own hurtful words.
"You're just a lie. Everyone loves a lie you made up."
Mari ripped free and took several more stabs into her heart to level another lethal punch.
Nieta will not succumb.
"You belong up there. They would be free of your constant manipulations."
Mari struggled and fell to one knee. More tangles of hair held her in place.
"You belong at the bottom of the stairs. The wrong person died that night."
Mari fought and tore but could not.
Nieta stared blankly at her prone target. Then readied the last keys she had orbiting her.
"Aubrey loved Sunny, and you killed him." Just leave me alone!
"Kel loved Sunny, and you killed him." Sunny, you've barely practiced at all!
"Basil loved Sunny, and you killed him." I'm glad you barely speak if that's what you have to say for yourself!
"Hero loved Sunny, and you made him watch as you killed him." It's cram stuff, you don't get it, I can't be there!
"You say you loved Sunny, but you killed him." Look at what you did, this is all your fault!!
The last one embedded itself into her life a knife. Mari grit her teeth... And collapsed. The world fell to darkness.
Every key was another line. Every key was her worst moments. She had taken all of them. It was simply too much to breathe, let alone stand. Sunny must have been so scared and alone, and she hadn't listened. No. She hadn't talked to him. About anything she was going through. About anything that mattered to her. Did it even matter now? Nieta was right, wasn't she? She wasn't emotionally involved, she had none to speak of. Mari had made her that way. She watched her solve all of her problems perfectly, never letting anyone come to harm. What did Mari have, ultimately? Feelings? Feelings didn't do her a lot of good with the layer of ice building around her heart. At least it soothed the hurts of each insult-laden piano key she had taken. And she had taken all of them.
She had taken all of them.
They were hers. But it was still only half. Never the full story. Never complete without its other half. Mari reached around in the dark and found the music sheets with her. They weren't hers. She knew hers by heart, after all.
He asked for forgiveness... But would he ever forgive her?
One last try.
Mari got up in the scarlet replica, watching Nieta as she stood silently by the noose. Mari raised her arms, and the stage she was on before came back. The piano fully remade itself, key by key, as she put the music onto the stand.
"...If you're perfect... I don't... want it... anymore..." She panted out the words, watching the lonely figure under the noose. Mari sat at her piano, and began with a flourish.
She was scared. Scared of what would happen after the first few notes. But she didn't care for a flawless rendition. Just playing would be enough.
Tears fell freely as the violin joined her after the first line. She didn't dare to look back, instead letting her mind fill with images of her friends. Of her brother coming home for the first time. Of the day they met Hero and Kel. Of consoling the girl they would know as Aubrey. Of the day Basil had been brought to them. Of flowers planted together and come to bloom. Of lazy days and silly fights, Of picnics and parties. Of saving her brother. Of Mari smiling happily across from Hero. Her Hero. Of Sunny, playing the violin behind her as though he had never left.
Of Sunny's funeral, and his last sleeping face.
Mari played the concluding note and wiped her eyes. Nieta was sitting on the bench next to her. Just staring at her in the endless white space the piano and Mari had found their way to. Mari leaned into her, and slumped onto Nieta's shoulder.
"I see." Nieta said. She put an arm around Mari, and gave her a hug. A final hug.
---A white door stands before you. It is time to go.---
Mari woke. Her left eye hurt, a lot. She couldn't see out of it. Her arms hurt. Her scars were full on display in the hospital gown. Her back hurt, she was sure someone who had changed her could see. But more than all of that, the last notes of her favorite waltz played. That hurt most of all. Right down to her heart, where it lurched and turned, and finally, after four years, came out. Mari cried. Mari honestly cried without holding back. She let out as many tears as she could.
When her tears had finally subsided, she removed herself from her bed. She struggled at first, things looked strange with what she would have to one day accept would be her new vision. One step, and then another. One foot in front of the other. Someone else needed her help right now.
She opened the door and found them all outside. Basil, Aubrey, Kel, and Hero sitting in a chair. His eyes were the most red out of anyone. It looked like he hadn't slept in a very, very long time. The four of them all looked at her with stupefied expressions.
Mari gathered her thoughts. She wasn't hiding anything anymore. She took a breath, and in the strongest voice she could manage in her state, she said...
"I have to tell you something."