So, for my newer readers (the thought that this fic still gets new readers is positively other-worldy to me), I would like to apologize. This is probably not the ending you were expecting at all. Especially given all that happens in the chapters building up to this. I'm sorry you've been reading six years' worth of material only to find it ends on a chapter that was not written for you. I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.
To all of the readers who have been reading this since the beginning (or rather, to any of you who are STILL HERE - I'd be amazed if there was even one of you), I want to apologize to you too. Because this chapter was written with you in mind, but not exactly for you. This chapter was written for me, because I needed this fic to end.
It took me years to admit to myself that this fic was not going to end the way I first intended. I meant for there to be a grande finale. But growing up and maturing, I realized not only would I never be able to accomplish that, but the mere fact that life made me drag this story out for so long assured me no ending would come close to satisfying my audience. This story grew past it's prime, and I grew past this story in a lot of ways.
It's been almost exactly a year since I posted the last chapter; I turned 20 a month ago; I've been working on this fic for six years... And it'll officially be my longest piece of completed writing now, at a word count of about 65,800 words. There are many things about it I hate now, but it's still very... important to me. It means a lot. So I had to finish it, no matter what.
I could go on, but I have other plans. Please read this next bit carefully, especially if you're a long-time reader:
- I know a fuck-ton of things are left totally unexplained, so I'm going to post a not-Epilogue of sorts. If you have any questions, please ask them in your review, and I will endeavor to answer everyone's questions and explain everything left unsaid/unexplained/ambiguous. I'll wait about a month or two and then post the Epilogue, answering whatever I get.
- I'll post some little fun-facts about the overall, uh, process and production behind this fic. Even the embarrassing tidbits. I feel like I need to write about what this fic means to me exactly for me to have a full sense of closure. Hopefully you guys will find that interesting. Again, as me any questions you have on that topic and I'll talk about it if I can think of a good response.
And, last of all, thank you to everyone for reading. Life is ridiculous. This fic is ridiculous. But you are all lovely, and I hope you're all doing well.
Thank you so much for reading.
Flaky awoke stepping off the edge of a soft dream, and the last thing she remembered was Evil's eyes - bright and emerald, full of confusion and something like regret, then- flat, dead as glass. Coming into consciousness, Flaky was haunted by that image. She tried to open her eyes, but instead her hands shook. Tears swelled and began to seep into her fur.
She only remembered bits and pieces of what happened. Flaky remembered being with Flippy in the back of the van… Then there were explosions, and shouts, and... One of the raccoons - Flaky couldn't remember who was driving - had crashed into something. They all tumbled in the van before flying out the open back doors. In the snow and dead grass, Flaky and the others had pulled themselves up to see…
It all seemed to go blank after that. Only shapes were left - strange animals Flaky had never seen before, and dozens of shadows painted over in a strange light.
Then, only vaguely, Flaky could recall the feeling of a knife in her hand.
And Evil's eyes, staring up at her from the below, wide and surrounded by a growing pool of red.
With a gentle sob, Flaky gasped and opened her eyes, desperate to escape the disjointed memories and the guilt seeping into her heart.
She was in a hospital bed. Flaky blinked away tears, wondering where she was. This couldn't possibly be the hospital tree, right…? The tree had been destroyed, totally uprooted and torn asunder by those strange creatures - those gods, or perhaps demons was more fitting. Whoever had done all this.
It couldn't possibly be the hospital tree, yet this room looked familiar, painfully so. Same beds, same wood walls, same ache in her bones.
Actually, no, the hurt was not the sort Flaky was used to. It was not the dull, deep throb of old wounds which came from being Reborn. It felt more like before, after Flaky had taken her own life with the sharp edge of a blade: fresh and hot, strangely healthy, strangely real. Flaky tried to sit up and struggled, but eventually managed to sit upright on her bed of pillows.
The porcupine looked out of the window and saw sunshine. It was beautiful, a warm honey color. Light lit the room like a shy blush, glinting off metal surfaces and painting the plain white sheets. Flaky couldn't remember the last time she'd seen the sun, or felt the warmth of sunlight on her fur.
She wanted to move, get up, go outside and breathe, because something felt very safe in that moment. Flaky took a deep breath and let it out. She tried to think, but… All she wanted to do was feel something. See someone. Where was everyone? The room was quiet and no one else was around. It put a damper on her swelling happiness, being alone in this room, so beautiful and full of sunlight.
As if hearing her silent plea for company, the door across the room suddenly opened. It was Sniffles, and Flaky saw he was back to his old self. Small, simplified features and his body back to it's singular, solid blue color. Only then did Flaky look down at herself and realize she was back to normal, too. How strange.
The anteater grabbed a chair on his way over, settling it by Flaky so he could sit at the foot of her bed. "Hey, Flaky! How are you feeling?"
"I hurt in a few places… but I feel fine." Flaky gave him a smile. "Great, actually. But… what happened? Are things… is everything back to normal?"
Flaky remembered something else, and she was struck with that old fear, but more so guilt and alarm. "Sniffles! You… you were dead! You died protecting me. I'm so sorry. Thank you so much, Sniffles. Are… Are the others back too?"
Sniffles nodded. "It's been quite the last few days, Flaky."
"You were asleep for two days," the anteater explained. "Though, I was one of the first ones to wake back up, so I'm not sure exactly how long it's been since... When things went back to normal."
"I don't understand…" Flaky rubbed her head, and bits of dandruff fell. It reminded her of the snow and she shivered, wiping it off on the sheets. "How did I get here? Did I die?"
"From what I understand, Flippy brought you here. He told me most of what happened after the two of you… you know. He told me."
Flaky nodded sadly.
"Do you want me to go get him?" Sniffles asked, standing up. "He's downstairs talking to some of the others."
"Yes!" Flaky smiled at the thought of seeing Flippy again, of making sure he was safe and alive with her own eyes. "Thank you, Sniffles."
The anteater smiled back at her, but did not leave, instead staring at her for a few seconds. Then he said, "You were amazing, Flaky. Y'know? When you were acting as nurse for all of us. I wasn't able to do anything to help us, and in the end I guess it wasn't even necessary. Everything I did that put more work on your shoulders was for nothing. But you did such great job taking care of all of us, Flaky.
"I've noticed… Now that things are back to normal, everyone's different. Or, rather, it's more like everyone's the same again." Sniffles fiddled with his glasses. "There haven't been any of our regular deaths as far as I know yet, but it's almost like things never changed. Petunia's OCD is back in full force, Nutty devoured a tub of ice cream as soon as he could get his hands on some - it was disgusting, I assure you."
He paused when Flaky giggled, smiling himself, but his face returned to it's serious look when he went on, "Lumpy's braindead as ever… Mole is blind again. Lammy has her Mr. Pickles back. Everyone's… back to normal." Sniffles frowned. "It feels so strange."
Flaky nodded. She understood what he meant. In the time they all spent trapped in the hospital tree, it'd felt like everyone was becoming less themselves - their unique traits draining away like the life of the tree itself. Flaky suspected it had something to do with those strange creatures she'd seen after she killed herself, but even now…
"It's… hard to remember parts of it," Flaky admitted woefully. Sniffles nodded, sad as well.
"Such as it always seems! Toothy certainly doesn't remember anything that happened - neither does Pop or Cub or Disco Bear, beyond the barest details. It seems those who were sickest remember most, but even now the only ones who seem capable of remembering most of what happened are you, Flippy, and myself."
Sniffles tilted his head. "And?"
"Is… Is he still here?"
Sniffles scrunched his eyebrows in confusion. "Who? Flippy?"
Flaky's heart was heavy and cold, but she forced a smile for her friend. "Nothing. C-can I see Flippy?"
"Of course! I just wanted to say thank you for everything you did, Flaky."
The porcupine blushed, and she hoped he couldn't see. "Y-you're welcome, Sniffles."
"Your stutter... I haven't heard it in ages." He gave Flaky a reassuring smile when she cringed. "It's okay! I kind of missed it." It seemed the male's turn to blush. "Anyway, I'll leave now. Talk to you later?"
Flaky nodded and watched him leave, left alone again with new thoughts and worries.
So, things were mostly back to normal then. Closing her eyes, Flaky couldn't help a sigh of frustration. Would it just feel like a bad dream, then? After all they'd been through… She would slowly forget it all, just like how it was when she died all those other times? Or maybe she wouldn't forget until her next death.
And… did this mean… she'd be scared like she was before? Before she had to take responsibility, before she felt… strong, and confident, and capable? Taking care of everyone had been difficult and scary, but there had been times when Flaky was oddly content. Mainly, she suspected, because her heart did not constantly hammer in her chest at a frequency not unlike a hummingbird's wings.
Flaky recalled that moment when she and Giggles had attempted to leave the hospital tree and head back to town. She remembered that feeling, like fear would tear her apart the further they walked. The memory made her whimper, because Flaky didn't want that, she hated the thought of becoming that person again.
Couldn't she be different? After all they'd been through, couldn't she walk out of this tree a different person? Could she change?
The porcupine swung her head up, alarmed, and saw Flippy standing there. He was in his usual attire - cameo jacket and beret, dog tags hanging at his neck. He smiled at her.
She wanted to get up, run to him, but she didn't want it to hurt. Instead she held out her arms, calling him with her eyes, and it wasn't until he came over and wrapped his arms carefully around her that the porcupine realized she was crying.
"It's okay." A soothing hand rubbed her shoulder. Flippy's body was arm against her's, rocking her back and forth while she stained his jacket with tears. "It's okay. We're all safe."
"I-I-I'm, I'm s-s-s-so…" Flaky made a pitiful sound in the back of her throat, angry and irritated with herself. She pulled away and forced her breath to return to normal. "I'm.. s-so happy, I'm so happy it's o-over…"
"Me too," Flippy said. He made to sit in the empty chair Sniffles left, but Flaky clung to his sleeves. "Yeah?"
"Sit with me on the bed, p-please," Flaky said. "I don't… I'm… s-sorry, I just… Sniffles said. He said we're the only ones w-who really r-r-remember what happened."
Flippy gave her a sad smile, moving to rest beside her. They both leaned back, sharing a pillow - their shoulders touched. "Yeah. Everyone remembers bits and pieces, but I think we're the only ones who remember everything that happened."
"It… I'm glad. A little," Flaky admitted. "It's not a happy thing to remember."
"But… I dunno. It's a little sad too, isn't it?"
"What do you mean?"
Flaky frowned, looked down at her hands. She wasn't sure what she meant.
Another dark worry resurfaced, and the porcupine had to clear her throat a few times. It was so dry now, aching, and her head hurt from crying. "W-w-what about… Him. Is he…?"
Flippy turned to look at her, but Flaky couldn't see his face, saw only her little fingers twitch and twisting in her lap. She bit her lip and waited.
"...No. You don't… remember what happened?"
The girl took in a sharp breath. "I think I do. What do you remember?"
"Mostly it's blurry." Flippy sighed and turned away, thinking. "I remember saving you from him. We were all in the truck, but then suddenly we weren't. We were out in the grass, and everything around us was going mad. There was so much noise, so many things happening. I can barely remember seeing you grab the knife."
"Why did I…?"
"He was going to kill me."
Silence for a few seconds.
"You shoved him off of me. He was trying to rip my throat open with his teeth. And then you climbed on top of him and stabbed him between the-"
Flaky made a sharp sound of protest, hand flying to her mouth as she resisted the urge to puke. She felt Flippy's hands on her shoulders as she gagged. "Flaky? Flaky, I'm so sorry, are you okay?"
"No," she wept, hands wet with tears and spit. She took in a few shuddering breaths. "No. I… he's gone. I killed him. Evil's…"
Flippy rubbed her back and leaned his forehead on her shoulder. "I know. I'm sorry. You two… became friends, right?"
Flaky sniffled and wiped her face in the blanket, trying to stop the tears, but they just wouldn't cease. "S-sort of. He was n-n-nice to me. H-he… He helped me. He was so… He wasn't like what I w-w-was expecting at all. A-and…" She paused, getting choked up again, but she swallowed the ball of tension and forced herself to go on. "The last time I s-saw him - when he was… himself, anyway - he was being dragged away. And I couldn't do a-anything to help him. It's my fault they got him. A-and maybe if… if they hadn't, he might still be here. With us."
Flippy was quiet, letting her cry it out. The last few days had been extremely draining, especially without Flaky to talk to, but he'd been ready for the chance that she might break down.
Flaky pulled her head from the blanket and looked at him, eyes pink. "Is he… um, back in you? Like, in your head? Sniffles said things were m-mostly back to normal, but he said no one had died yet. So… is he a part of you again?"
Flippy pursed his lips and found he could only shrug. "I don't know. Maybe? It… It doesn't feel any different than before. Maybe he is back, uh, back where he came from. Back in my subconscious or whatever."
Flaky nodded, and then they were quiet. She leaned into his shoulder, letting out an exhausted sigh.
They stayed like that for who knows how long. No one disturbed them. The sunlight shifted and changed in color, but didn't disappear.
"What happens next?" Flaky asked. Flippy could tell it wasn't exactly directed at him. Perhaps she was posing the question to herself.
He offered a response anyway. "I want to go home," he admitted. The bear pushed himself up, stepping off the bed. He turned back to Flaky and offered her a paw. "Come with me?"
The porcupine blushed, but her face was still wet with tears, still achingly sad, and Flippy felt his heart seize. He didn't understand most of what had happened to them. He didn't understand why. And, most of all, he didn't understand how Flaky felt about it all exactly. She watched her clench the sheets with her small hands, and he wanted nothing more than to hold them and tell her it would all be okay… even though he wasn't sure.
"I'm… s-scared." She laughed a little, as if she'd just told a funny joke. "I'm afraid if I go out… I'll be back… to the old me. S-scardey-cat Flaky, who dies all the time, and is w-worried about everything and w-w-who cant… I don't want to…"
Flippy could only offer her a kind, reassuring smile. "Hey. I know it's scary. And I don't know if I can make it, uh, not-scary, but... "
He faltered, unsure of what to say. What did she want to hear? What did she need to hear? The male didn't know. He'd never been especially eloquent.
Despite his failure to convey his feelings, though, Flaky looked at him and tried to smile. She didn't succeed, but it was enough to make Flippy think she might be okay. The porcupine reached a hand and shakily took his.
Breathing deep, Flaky closed her eyes and steadied her heart.
Then, she said, "Thank you, Flippy. I'm ready to go. I want to go home."
They left together. The sun was bright and it shone down on them, warm as it ever was. The trees were green and the air tasted like spring. Flippy and Flaky held hands all the way back home, and then for a little while after that.