Disclaimer: Of course I don't own Bungo Stray Dogs, its characters, or the franchise. This is fanfiction after all.
Story: It started with white petals. Atsushi had gone on to become fond of the smarmy, prideful jerk, but honestly Francis could just make her so happy and laugh so much. And then the sneaking suspicion that maybe she cared for him more than she should, more than the friendship she thought they shared. Then the striped petals came. By the time the red carnations came spitting out of her mouth, she was too in love and longing for him to stop Hanahaki from taking over.
Set as a Hanahaki AU. Sometime after season 3 of the anime, no further manga arcs/spoilers after.
Spoilers: Maybe.
Warnings: Age disparity. Violence, death, and cursing is a given. Slight gory image.
Pairings: Francis Fitzgerald/Fem!Atsushi

Shades of Petals
Chapter Seven: We Both Know How This Story Ends

It took no time for her to fall asleep against him, breathing labored and body still suffering shakes. For some time still, he continued to hold onto her in silence, watching the setting sun and trying not to think of a time where this wouldn't be able to happen anymore.

It was unfeasible and the idea of it made him more upset than the thought of losing The Book forever.

It was a startling fact, but one he realized was true right then. If he lost Atsushi to this stupid disease, there was no way he could recover again. Not after what he'd already lost.

This whole world would mean nothing to him then and he wouldn't care if it burned down around him.

As the sun disappeared and the skies turned dark, he finally decided to move, moving up and carrying Atsushi into his arms. Heading towards his room attached to his office, he went in and headed for his bed, carefully settling her onto it and pulling the blankets over her, tucking her in.

On top of his huge bed, burrowed under the blankets as she was, Atsushi looked so small and fragile; so dwarfed in it that he was afraid she'd disappear in it if he looked away for a second. He had to convince himself that that wouldn't happen, his eyes glued on her for a few moments just to make sure.

"I'll be back," he murmured.

He headed towards his office, only partially closing his door in case he needed to listen in on her and if she needed him. He headed to his liquor cabinet and bypassed the wine; instead, his hand hovered over the top shelf vodka bottle, before eventually choosing the brandy.

He poured himself a glass and then headed to his chair, slumping over his desk as he nursed his drink. His eyes traveled over to his photo on his desk, the picture of himself and Zelda and their daughter staring back at him.

Was it awful that he'd thought less and less of his family these days?

Louisa May would tell him he was moving on, while he wasn't sure how he felt about it.

He loved and missed his daughter, and always would. He'd been grieving over her for years and likely would keep doing so until he'd died. But maybe it was okay to let go of his grief a little…? Was that…would she be okay with that…?

And there was Zelda, his beautiful wife of ten years —only, was it really ten? Part of those years had been a handful of them married. Three of the five, two were he'd chased after her and threw parties to gain her attention, and then Ellaria had been born and died and the next four years he had been far away from her and leading The Guild, and finally chasing after that Book. The final and last year and a half had him staying in Yokohama and rebuilding himself, and eventually creating a truce with the Agency.

Some marriage —he and his wife had barely been together, and it had been years since the two of them had last talked, much less seen each other. His phone calls were always to a dead end that left him feeling emptier every day that he'd tried.

It was a hard truth to face and one he wasn't sure he was ready to.

Taking a deep breath, he took the frame and was about to place it down, when instead he hesitated. Taking it apart, he took the photo hidden behind that one and stared at it, frowning at first before half smiling at the newer photo.

It was of the day he and his Guild had formally treated with the Agency, and he and Atsushi had taken the photo together. It hadn't been on purpose —one of the others, probably Lucy, had been taking photos and there had been a candid moment where Francis and Atsushi had somehow found themselves together and had awkwardly stood by each other.

She'd been wary and he'd been stiff and formal. But then he'd made himself apologize to her and she'd briefly been surprised, and then suddenly he was confronted by her brightly smiling at him for the first time. He'd been taken aback and even slightly awed by not only her happy, beautiful smile, but by her actually smiling at him. The moment had been captured on film and then imparted to him.

Francis hadn't known what to do with it, but even then he knew he hadn't wanted to get rid of the picture. Eventually, he'd put it behind the photo of his family, hidden away. And then after a while, he had gotten urges to look at it, and it had become a more frequent habit recently to do so.

So now he kept it, still behind his family photo, in his office, and within easy reach. He thought of framing it too, but it would probably be strange to others, especially if he were to put it beside the photo of his family…

There was loud knocking and he shoved that picture in his desk, along with the dismantled photo frame and his family photo, blearily looking at his glass and wondering when had it become empty. Had he really been drinking it this entire time?

"Pardon the intrusion, Fitzgerald-san," Yosano said, entering his office. "I thought we should catch each other up. Is Atsushi-chan here?"

Francis pushed his glass away from him and closed his eyes tightly. "No," he finally said, opening his eyes to stare at her blankly. "She's…asleep. She'd had a hard day."

"I heard," she said softly and that had him looking up at her and trying to focus. "Lucy-san told me and Louisa-san told her."

He gave her a lazy smile, leaning back in his chair. "Gossiping women?"

She smiled a little. "Something like that."

"I don't know if Atsushi gossips," he mused.

The lighthearted moment was gone as soon as it had appeared, and the two were back to being melancholic and reminded of the situation hanging over their heads.

He reached into his pocket and tiredly took out the flower bud, placing it on top of the desk.

"She started coughing up these today," he muttered. "I…had a bad reaction to it."

Yosano picked it up, examining it with a hard to read face. "You confined her in your office with you. I would say that was a bad reaction."

There was plenty he could say to that —he wanted her near his doctors, near to where there was medicine and equipment that could help her and ease her pain and her needs…

But the truth was that he'd freaked out and hadn't wanted to let her go anywhere or be far from him, so he decided to just lock her into his office with him.

"The flower bud scared the shit out of me," he admitted. "What if she started spitting out…"

Full flowers.

"She's already nearing that stage then," Yosano put the flower bud back onto his desk carefully. "Do you really think confining her here will help her? That it would be the best place for her in her last days?"

"These aren't her last days!" he snapped at her, but Yosano smiled sadly at him.

"Dazai and I found nothing, the same as Ranpo. Both Lucy-san and Poe-san was helping him. Fukuzawa-shishou talked to his acquaintance…and the fact is that the man was unable to find anything to cure Hanahaki, except for death or for their loved one to return their feelings."

"The surgery," he started weakly and she shook her head.

"Isn't possible. Aside from no guarantees that it would actually work, not only are those flower vines too wrapped around her organs in a vice grip, they're dug into them and are almost parasitic, it seems. Besides that, do you really want to chance Atsushi coming out of it emotionless?"

"She wouldn't be emotionless, just unable to love," he muttered…but could he really deal with that?

No. He was selfish and greedy and he loved that she cared so much about him. He wouldn't be able to deal with it if he'd lost the love he'd gained from her, that equaled the one she'd given freely to her friends in the Agency.

Then again, if it was just romantic love —he'd be able to keep her by him and never have to let her go, see her with someone else and be at someone else's side while leaving him behind. And if she forgot about and stopped loving the person she loved, then all the better for him, right? Her attention and affection wouldn't leave him and she'd stop suffering.

"Are you really okay with that, with doing that to her?" Yosano asked him curiously, giving him a strange look he didn't understand. He also realized he'd been ranting that aloud.

"Why not?" he asked, starting to become feverish. "If we can risk the surgery, use it as a last resort, we can save her and she'll be happier for it —unable to love the idiot who wouldn't love her, and we can still keep her to ourselves."

Yosano gave a strangled laugh, oddly looking sadly at him.

"You really don't get it, do you?" she asked, shaking her head.

"What am I supposed to get?" he asked in a short tone, gritting his teeth.

"Never mind," she said, shoving her hand into her bag and then scattering whatever it was onto his desk. "Do me a favor, look these up."

He stared at them, the various petals that Atsushi had been coughing up. They were as pristine as the first time they appeared, unnatural and not crumpled and wilted as they were supposed to be.

"She told me they were carnations," he remembered.

"They have meanings," she said. "I'm pretty sure that's why the petals changed, because her feelings became more evident as time passed."

"What do you mean?" he asked but she just gestured to the petals.

"Look them up."

And when she left him, he avoided looking at the flower petals still scattered on his desk and looked up the meaning of carnations on his computer.

White —innocence and pure love, the way Atsushi must've felt as she was around that person she loved.

Striped for refusal, a denial. Did that person deny her? Had she been denying her feelings? What had happened?

Then there was red. Red carnation petals.

My heart aches.

Francis went back to his liquor cabinet and grabbed the bottle of vodka, taking off the cap as he went back to his desk and started drinking from it, keeping his eyes on those damned flower petals mocking him.

༻❁༺

When he awoke, his office was completely dark. A glance at his computer showed that the time was just an hour over midnight. Head pounding, he sat up slowly and felt the blanket drop from his shoulders before he even saw it happened.

When did…?

He looked over to his bedroom door and saw it was fully opened, and sighed as he guessed that Atsushi had woken up and found him here. Of course she'd still end up taking care of him in her state.

Grabbing the blanket, he noticed the bottle he'd been drinking out of had been recapped and put back on top of his liquor cabinet and the flower petals had been cleared off his desk. He had no clue where they'd gone as there was no sign of them.

She shouldn't have been out there, trying to take care of him and his mess.

Swiftly heading to his room to check on her, he saw her awake and by his windows, staring out of them and at the moon. She was humming and he strained his ears to hear her, startled when she sung a little louder.

"He said
Oh Mary, contrary how does your garden grow?
Come with me, and you'll be the seventh maid in a row
My answer was laughter soft as I lowered my head
You're too late, I'm afraid this flower's already dead~"

He shivered and snapped out, "Stop singing that."

Surprised by his sudden entrance and words, Atsushi unsteadily turned to face him and he quickly moved to join her so that he could keep her steady.

"I didn't mean to startle you," he said, feeling exhausted. "And I didn't mean to snap at you. I'm just…" he trailed off.

"Worried," she ended, giving him a sweet smile he wanted to memorize.

She leaned up and, as her habit, poked his forehead before soothing him by brushing his hair back.

"I'll be okay if you're here," she said happily. "We'll be fine."

Will we really?

He didn't know. He really didn't. He did know he wouldn't be okay if she…

Atsushi tugged at his sleeve. "I want to go out," she said pleadingly. "Like we used to. I miss you dragging me around like a lunatic."

"Okay," he choked out because he actually didn't want her last days to be miserable.

Her beaming smile made him both happy and sad, and he hated how this situation made him feel so helpless.

༻❁༺

"The zoo?" she asked him in amusement. "You're taking me to the zoo?"

In front of the sign emblazoned with ZOORASIA, the Yokohama Zoological Gardens had been one of the places he'd wanted to go to before and had been the place he had been about to take her to yesterday, before he had grown upset at her coughing up a flower bud.

"I was thinking we might find your family here," he deadpanned and she let out a loud growl, glaring at him as she reached behind her to try to hit him.

He laughed, moving away from her and giving her a smug look, doing his best to act normal.

But her sitting in the wheelchair with a blanket on her lap and the IV bag filled with pain medicine discreetly rigged up, reminded him that things were not normal.

"Ready?" he asked her and watched her cough several times, spitting up petals and buds in equal measure. She shoved them into a small bag by her side and he leaned over her to wipe her mouth with a handkerchief.

"I'm ruining all your handkerchiefs," she gave him a lopsided smile that twisted his heart up.

"I can buy more," he shrugged and began to wheel her into the zoo.

And when they stood in front of the Asian Tropical Forest, he promised he'd take her to the Cup Noodles Museum. When they were in front of the Subarctic Forest, he said that they'll go sometime to see Yokohama Cosmoworld. By the time they'd gone to the Amazon Jungle and the African Tropical Rain Forest, he'd made promises for them to visit Yokohama Minatomirai Manyo Club and the Yokohama Hammerhead.

"That's a lot of places," she giggled quietly, leaning back against the wheelchair and closing her eyes as they entered the Japanese Countryside.

"Apparently Yokohama has a lot of places," he quipped. "And I'm a tourist here, so you have to show me around."

"I have to, huh?"

"Yes, exactly."

She hmmed, opening her sunset eyes to gaze at him fondly. "Wherever you want," she murmured.

"That's my line," he reached over and tugged her braided side bangs lightly.

"Hmm…I'd like to go to the Sankeien Garden with you," she said. "It's supposed to be r-really beautiful," she took a shaky breath. "Cherry blossoms in March and April, thousands of-of pink lotus blossoms in a pond somewhere inside during July and August, and late autumn the leaves change. Then winter…winter the plum blossoms bloom."

"Then we'll need to go together there each time," Francis told her tenderly. "We'll be able to watch the seasons changing each visit."

He cherished the bright smile she gave, reminiscent of the one she first gave him in that photo of his.

༻❁༺

"I'm staying over again?" she laughed and he just smiled along.

"Every waking moment together," he forced the dry tone, playing along to her cheer.

She opened her mouth to reply, but her coughing had her bent in half and practically falling out of her wheelchair. Alarmed, Francis quickly moved forward to catch her and hold her up, holding her to him.

"I've got you," he murmured, closing his eyes and trying not to think of the blood splattering behind him and dripping on his shoulder and down his back.

He definitely didn't think of flower petals and flower buds, and he refused to think of flowers at all.

After a moment, they stayed like that and he didn't let go of her. She had collapsed on him, her weight a heavy reminder on his mind, thinking too much of how she was too worn out because of the Hanahaki disease. Her body trembled every few moments and all he could do was hold onto her tighter.

"M'tired," she murmured against him and he picked her up.

"Okay," he said quietly. "We can go straight to sleep."

The futon he never put away was there, ready and waiting. He picked her up and carried her to it, gently laying her out. He hesitated and then he made himself look behind him. A trail of blood and petals had followed them and where they had been, wheelchair forgotten and pushed aside, was a puddle of blood, petals, and flower buds.

And full flowers in bloom.

He closed his eyes and turned back to her, leaning down to bury his face against her prone figure and let out a few tears.

"Are you crying?" he heard her ask in a voice so quiet, he had to strain to hear her. "I hate making you sad. I just want you to be happy."

"I'm not happy," he said, refusing to lift his head or open his eyes. "And I won't be if you die."

She didn't say anything to that, but he felt her fingers brush against the nape of his neck, trying to soothe him. She started humming and he recognized it from earlier, flinching at the reminder.

"'Don't leave me, please don't be the seventh maid in a row. My answer, a whisper soft as he lowered his head. Set him free…I'm sorry, this flower's already dead…'"

"Don't sing that song. Please."

"…Sorry," she said tiredly and he finally moved, barely shifting so that he was on his side and had then pulled her up against him, adjusting her to be as comfortable as she could be, back resting against him as they curled in.

"It hurts," she said then and he flinched.

"What hurts?" he asked.

"Everything," she wheezed and she curled in more, almost like in a ball.

He curled in with her, continuing to hold onto her and be a presence, knowing there was nothing he or anyone else could do. Her entire body shuddered as she began hacking up petals over and over, and then the petals stopped and there were just fully bloomed flowers that she was choking up, scattering around them as she threw up blood and flowers.

Francis cried against her, admitting what he had realized.

"I love you," he said brokenly against her neck, kissing it over and over as he held tightly to her while she was literally not just dying in front of him but in his arms. "I love you, Atsushi. Please don't leave me."

He realized he loved her far too late.

Started 3/2/21 – Completed 3/3/21

A/n: Second to last chapter! Yup, still one more to go~ I might add on separate stuff like on the side, but this is pretty much done, like I said. Hope you guys have been enjoying so far! Lemme know how y'all feel.


Quick Points:

1. Fitz and Zelda's Timeline is pretty loose, though I worked it out on paper. He's just 32, so I figure they married and had their daughter pretty young? If you want a timeline, I guess I can type it out and put it on my tumblr for y'all. I had one for this fic and a separate one that I might use for a headcanon; depends on the age of their daughter I want to work with.

2. I named their daughter Ellaria because it's pretty and I HC Fitz as a fan of Game of Thrones XD

3. My Rare_Pair_Queen Twitter decidedly has a lot more writing, now that I've resolved to focus on it~

4. Or if you enjoy my writing, you could buy me a ko-fi? No pressure though. :D I also do commissions.