Chapter Thirty Five: Don't Give Up

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Hiro felt like he fell for a long time. It was hard to even begin to guess how long, especially since he had no actual sense of time, nor had he for some time, if he thought about it. It could have been moments. It could have been days. Anything was possible. And it didn't help that he couldn't see squat.

Was Tadashi still beside him? Had he disappeared? He hoped he hadn't disappeared. He didn't know if he could get through this without the help of his brother. Good old Tadashi, steady as a rock and always there when he needed him, even in death.

Everything stopped with something that felt like a jolt, though Hiro couldn't be sure he'd actually hit anything. He just wasn't moving anymore and the shock of it sent quivers of excess energy up and down his spine. "Ouch," he said more out of habit than from any actual pain associated with the phenomenon.

"Gotta watch out for those sudden stops," Tadashi joked, though Hiro still couldn't see him. At least he knew his brother was still there.

In fact, Hiro still couldn't see anything, not even his hand when he waved it in front of his face. "Okay, so now what?" he asked, not sure if he expected an answer or not. Was he still in that pocket of nothing? Or was this some other place? He wasn't sure.

Before Tadashi could answer, however, the area around them began to change, faintly at first, but enough that it no longer looked like they'd landed in a pitch-black puddle of ink. Hints of deep purple and blue filtered into existence, along with traceries of darker pinks and reds, looking very much like arteries and blood vessels.

"What is this?" Hiro asked, not sure he understand what his eyes were seeing. "It almost looks like something from a biology class." When he turned to look around, he realized Tadashi wasn't there. "Hey! Tadashi!"

"Relax, bonehead," Tadashi's voice said calmly in his mind. "I'm not going anywhere. Welcome to your brain. Or at least a visual representation of it."

Pink and blue cotton candy clouds seemed to explode around Hiro, much like in the portal the first time he'd gone through it. "It looks like the Rift," he commented in awe. The colors constantly shifted, as if from a kaleidoscope constantly being turned. And the tendrils of darker purples and reds continued to twist and turn around the whole area, like a vast network of roots supporting a complex plant. Only there were darker tendrils, reminding Hiro of the cancerous looking vines from that first episode at the Lucky Cat Café. He cringed away from the nearest one that floated past.

"You shouldn't do that," Tadashi admonished. "Those are the memories your brain is trying to reconnect. I know you thought they were filaments of the other universe trying to infiltrate this one, tearing the two apart, but that's not the case. You have to reconnect each one or you'll never wake up."

Hiro stared ahead in horrified shock. "What?! But the last time I touched one—"

"It filled you with agonizing pain?" Tadashi finished for him.

Almost as if scuffing his shoe dejectedly against the floor, Hiro looked down. "Well, yeah." He did not like this, not one bit.

Tadashi seemed to sigh in his ear. "I thought we went over this. It's going to hurt. But this way you can take these memories on one at a time. That way it won't be quite as bad. But remember, if you don't reconnect them all, chances are good you won't wake up."

Looking around, Hiro saw hundreds, if not thousands or more of the partial fragments floating around. How on earth was he supposed to reconnect all of them? There were just too many.

"This sucks!" he complained, but he knew his brother was right. He could feel it in his bones, if nothing else. Acting as though he was reaching out to touch a poisonous snake, he reached for the closest dark tendril, grabbing on like he held a stinging nettle. A half scream of pain escaped his lips as the vine came to life in his hands.

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