Hello and welcome back to sad-ish things with happy endings that won't leave me alone 'til I write them. I own nothing. Enjoy!
She was terrified.
One moment, she'd been watching Tsuruga-san thank Momose-san for acting Mizuki so well during the Katsuki test. Then those forbidden thoughts - ones of being good enough, of standing next to him as an equal, of him looking at her like he looked at Mizuki because dear god he did sometimes, of what that might mean, what she might want - exploded into her head. He must've noticed, because he'd asked her what was wrong. She meant to reply with a simple "Nothing."
What she had done instead was bolt to the bathroom and cough up a lotus flower. Or at least, most of it. It wouldn't leave - she couldn't spit it out. The vine was deep in her throat, attached to something down there. She coughed harder, and a goddamn lily pad came out next, still clinging to its vine. She couldn't breathe. Her grudges flailed around her, screaming. What were they saying?
She patted down her pockets and could have cried from relief if she hadn't been crying from pain already. The angle was hard, and her teeth pressed against her hand as she snipped, but then the flower and lily pad fell onto the floor. The vines slid back down her throat, and Kyoko collapsed, shaking, onto the bathroom floor.
She picked up the flower with shaking hands. But then she heard heels coming down the hall, and she scrambled to her feet, not quite sure why she was shoving the flower and scissors into her pocket. She yanked off the lily pad and threw it in the trash just as Iizuka-san came into the room. "Kyouko-san, are you alright?"
"Yes, I'm alright now! I suppose that breakfast didn't sit well with all the nerves." She smiled at her onscreen mother, who was showing a concern that her own mother never had. The woman had warmed up to her since approving of her version of Mio. "Thank you for your concern! I'm sorry to have worried you." She bowed, hating how hoarse her voice was, how sore the flower had left her throat.
"Alright, then. If you're sure you're alright, let's go back. We've got a fair amount of filming to do." She held the door open for the younger girl, and together the two walked back to set.
She should have known that this would happen, she muses as she presses the lotus for safekeeping. I guess this is kind of morbid, but it's such a pretty flower. I can't waste it. Her mother had suffered from the same thing - one of her earliest memories was of her mother coughing up thorn-apple blossoms. So she knew what she had to do; she would have to get the surgery, just like her mother. To remove the roots and with them, her ability to love.
Her hands stilled over the book of fairy tales she was using to press her flower. But what about Maria-chan and Moko-san? The surgery, after all, didn't just get rid of romantic love; it got rid of familial and friend love, as well. I… I don't know if I can do that to them. And can I still be an actress, if I can't feel love at all anymore? She swallowed, hard, and hugged the book to her chest. But if I don't, I'll die.
Her grudges swirled around her, trying to comfort their mistress. They didn't know what to do. Romantic love was trash, certainly - it was literally killing their mistress, after all - but other love…. Could they really give up Maria-chan? Moko-san? Acting, the new Kyoko? They landed on her head, back, and shaking shoulders, some leaning up to wipe away her tears.
Wasn't it enough to be unlovable? To lose that emotion? Does love really have to kill me?
She carried on, as she always did. It would take her a while to save up for the surgery (and the battery of doctor's appointments that it would take to get her to the operating room), so she could figure things out in the meantime. Until then, her daily life changed very little. She took down the posters on her wall (she didn't need to see his face more often, and it was just wrong to have Sho's up without his) and started carrying scissors with her everywhere. She had a little less energy, especially after a coughing fit.
But there was one major change, concerning Shotaro. She simply… gave up the fight, the quest for revenge. Because if her days were numbered, were they really worth spending on Shotaro? Wasn't it better to spend them acting and being with the people she actually cared about?
So when the Beagle first touched her skin, he wasn't interested. She was not a living Mio, filled to the brim with hate; she was a girl doing her best to live out what time she had left. Too bad, then, that Shotaro didn't get the memo. Too bad that he'd seen the petals on her lips when she'd passed by his room after Japonet Scope, and believed that those had been for him. Too bad that he was still an anteater on Vain Day.
Too bad that when Ren tried to fix the situation afterwards, with a kiss to her cheek, he only made it worse. And after he'd left the room, Kyoko had coughed up a whole bouquet. Because he was just a playboy. He could never love her back. These roots would grow in her lungs until they found her heart and strangled it. And until he'd clarified it was just a thank-you (god, why), she had kept pausing on set, mid-sentence, when she could feel the flowers creeping up her throat.
She used the best lotus from that day to make a paperweight. She gave it to him as "an apology for the late birthday present." He'd given her a smile that had her choking on vines.
Kanae knew, and understood her decision. She even offered to help, however she could. Offered to threaten him with the point of Kyoko's scissors for making her suffer like this. But she also promised to keep it a secret. And if Kanae took on the more taxing LoveMe jobs after that - it would just make Kyoko miss her more, make her question the surgery.
Maria knew, but knew less. She didn't know who Kyoko loved. So she cast spell after spell, calling true love to her big sister. She didn't want to lose her.
Playing Setsu had been beautiful torture. A reminder of what could be, in its own twisted way. She lost count of the times she'd turned the hairdryer on full blast to cover up her coughs. He held her hand as they walked, and she'd - no, Setsu would press up against Cain's side. She had to keep it separate, had to rely on the actor's rule of the heart. Cain would ask where the hell the bouquet of lotuses on the table had come from, and she'd laugh it off. "Nii-san, don't you remember ordering them when you were drunk last night?" And she'd see just enough doubt in his eyes, just enough did I? So she carried on.
Then Lory had seen.
After the hug, Setsu had sent Cain on ahead to the studio, saying she needed to use the bathroom. She didn't lie; she needed to go there to hide the flower forcing its way out of her throat. But she hadn't quite made it. She'd gotten as far as a disused hallway before she dropped to her knees, coughing. There was a reason she'd made Cain only get things with pockets; she needed her scissors. It wasn't until after she'd pulled the cut lotus out and felt the vines retreat down her throat that she had realized Lory was hunched over next to her, devastation and worry intermingled on his face. But she was Setsu, and Setsu didn't know the man dressed in such an obnoxious work uniform. So she'd shrugged him off, tossed the flower in the trash, and gone to look for Cain.
Lory had been left frozen on the floor. He knew the two loved each other, so... why? Was it because it wasn't love yet? No, that couldn't be right, or else she wouldn't have been an effective omamori. He'd gone home and researched it. Then slammed his face onto his desk with a groan. In rare cases, Hanahaki can exist even when the love is requited, if the patient truly believes that there is no chance of it.
He'd had his meeting with her. She left, still unconvinced.
Kuon hesitated on the beach, staring at the dejected Kyoko. Talking to her like this was a risk, but… she'd been so weak lately. He'd heard her coughing through the bathroom door, even if she'd denied it. If she wouldn't talk to him as Ren, she would talk to Corn. So he'd gone back to her, borrowed a voice. Later, he would wish he hadn't pretended at all.
"It's good to see Kyoko-chan again," he said. "But what's wrong? Are you sick?"
"What do you mean, Corn?" she looked up at him, eyes a bit too big for her face.
"I didn't mean to, but some of your memories - you were coughing a lot." He hated the panic that shot across her face, followed by a sad resignation.
"But Corn, didn't you… didn't you see anything else?" She dug her toes into the sand, covering them. Not looking him in the eye.
"It was blurry." He pouted at her. "Please won't you tell me?"
She swallowed around a petal. "It's called Hanahaki, Corn."
His blood ran cold.
"I'm… I either get the surgery, and I can really never love again, not even Maria-chan and Moko-san, or… or I die."
"Or they could love you back," he offered, voice cracking.
"It's not possible, Corn. They have… they have someone else." And she'd coughed up lotuses enough times after being Bo to prove it. Sometimes it was just the memory of helping him realize he was in love with that high school girl - sometimes that was enough for the Ishibashis to find her doubled over, spitting petals.
"Who is it?"
"Please don't make me say what you already know, Corn. I know you saw it." She couldn't look at him for this; couldn't see the face he borrowed.
"Is it your 'prince' from before?" I'm going to kill him - no, I'm going to beat him into realizing he's an ass for making her suffer like this.
She snorted. "Corn, if it was Sho, I would've been hacking them up since before we met the first time."
"Let's please not talk about this, Corn. I - I just want to enjoy however much time I have with you. Please," she begged, finally looking up at him. She only meant the day, since Corn would have to go back to fairy land, but he heard something much more sinister. So he'd agreed. And everything else had played out the same, including the kiss. He left that encounter thinking that there was no way it could be him.
After Guam, the lotuses changed to cornflowers.
The auditions for Momiji went the same, but with Kyoko coughing up cornflowers instead of talking about Chiori's supposed crush. Kanae rubbed her back, the pair baffled by the change in flowers. And Kyoko now knew the name of the girl whom Ren loved - or thought she did. She wept that night, wondering how fate had led him into the arms of a girl who would throw someone off a building for a part.
But Kyoko got the part, Kana and Sho pulled their stunts, and Kyoko decided to distance herself from Ren - especially after what he'd said in the car. She was doing better, really, until they were rehearsing a scene for Sacred Lotus and she had to pull on those feelings. It came upon her suddenly, and she was on her knees on the practice set, cutting cornflowers out of her throat in front of everyone. Cornflowers didn't catch in her throat as much as the lotuses had.
She laughed, doing her best to put everyone at ease. "Too bad these aren't lotuses. It would've been so much more thematic!"
Koga had stopped teasing her about Ren after that.
And then, they were in the elevator. "How can you run that fast with those things growing in your lungs?"
Her question about why he'd been chasing her died in her throat. She squeaked, "What?"
"Hanahaki. Kyoko, please-"
She crumpled into a ball, her hands over her ears. No, he knows, he's going to reject me, I don't want to die. Please don't say it. I don't want the roots to speed up.
If there's the smallest chance that it's me, I can't let her die. He joined her on the floor and pried her fingers off her ears. "Please, can we talk somewhere?"
"I don't want to hear it," she whispered.
"Please, Kyoko," he begged, tilting his head so he was in her line of sight. "Please."
"Don't call-" A cough cut her off, and she swallowed against the flowers in her throat.
"Mogami-san, five minutes. We can go talk in my dressing room. And then we can never talk about it again, if you want. Please." I can't lose you. I can't let you die.
"Fine," she choked around the petals. "Five minutes."
Soon they were in his dressing room. She sat down (who got chairs this nice in a dressing room?) and was startled when he knelt in front of her, both knees on the ground. "Who is it? Please," he whispered.
She couldn't stand the expression in his eyes, knowing that he had someone else he loved. She shook her head. "Why?"
"Why, what?" His fingers twitched; he was aching to bring them up and cradle her face.
"Why are you asking me? Why do you want to know?" She swallowed, hard, trying to keep the blossoms down.
"Because if I can help -"
"You already have Morizumi-san -"
"Don't play with me. The ring, you gave her a ring, put it on her finger and wished her good luck. Morizumi Kimiko." Her nails dug into her palms. Four minutes left.
This part of the conversation went the same, until -
"Kyo- Mogami-san, please. If… If I can ease your suffering at all - I want you to know. It was never her, it was never Kana-san. It's been you for a long time."
She stared at him, eyes blown wide and questioning.
"I've been," he glanced down, then met her eyes again, begging her not to misunderstand him when it was literally a matter of life and death, "I've been in love with you this whole time. You, and no one else."
She doubled over in a coughing fit, the most violent one she'd ever had. She felt something move in her chest, in her lungs, and she was barely aware of the fact that she'd fallen off of her chair. Kuon held her as upright as he could, watching in horror as blue cornflowers forced their way out of her throat - followed by roots.
Kyoko wheezed into the sudden silence of the room. She hadn't breathed this easily since before the Katsuki test. She picked up the flower with shaking hands and traced the roots. It was over. The flowers were out, without surgery. She wouldn't have to give up anyone to live.
He loved her back.
That knowledge, and the fact that she was practically sitting in his lap, hit her like a bowling ball. She flung herself off of him, face beet red - and was startled to find him in tears. "Tsuruga-san?"
"Mogami-san," he choked. "You're okay?"
"It's over, then? The Hanahaki. You're going to be okay?"
"Yes. The roots… the roots are out. I'm okay."
"Thank God." He wanted to hold her, but knew better. Instead, he held out his hand. When she went to hand him the flower, she instead grabbed her pinky and kissed it. "I'm so glad that you're okay."
Her blush spread to the tips of her ears, but she let her pinky stay in his hand when he lowered it. Her throat ached.
"And I'm so sorry for letting you suffer like this."
"Eh? No!" She sat up properly. "You didn't know. And I didn't say anything, either. I didn't - I thought you had someone. And I didn't want to guilt you into anything just because I was sick. And I'm… I'm not sure if I'm ready to actually… be together. Despite what the flowers might suggest. I don't think I'd be able to focus on anything else."
He curled his pinky more securely around hers. "I'm not either, really. I have a goal to achieve, before I can be in a relationship. But I'm glad that I told you now." He swallowed and wiped the last tears away with his free hand. "I was so scared for you. Of losing you." Of being the reason you died. I wish I could have taken your place.
"I'm okay now," she said. "I promise."
He still gave her his necklace, but this time, she decided to make a keychain out of the very last cornflowers for him. In a way, she was still giving him Corn.
Later, she texted both Kanae and Maria a picture of the roots, with the caption "all better." Kanae gave her an earful about sending cryptic messages but was beyond relieved that her best friend was okay and not rushing into things. Maria cried from relief that her spells had finally worked and that her big sister wasn't going to leave her. Her sobs were how Lory found out, and jumped to an inaccurate conclusion about the status of their relationship. Ren received a late-night phone call from him and had to explain the situation.
Content, the LoveMon sat back to await the next chapter of their love story.
...So, yeah. Review and tell me your thoughts!