WARNING. This is not my usual angst fic. There is no happy ending here. You have been warned. I own nothing, etc. etc.

Sho had never made it in Tokyo.

Not because Kyoko wasn't with him - she had been, every step of the way - but because the music industry is a fickle, incestuous thing where you have to both know the right people and be able to pay your way in. So Sho had never made it in Tokyo. Discouraged, he had given up on his dream. The two of them had returned to the ryokan together, gone through high school, and gotten married. Sho's parents had been thrilled.

Kyoko had never been happier. Life in Tokyo had been hard on her; working three jobs was harsh, and here in Kyoto she only had one. As Fuwa Kyoko, she was the new okami of the Fuwa Ryokan. Sho's parents had stepped back, letting the young ones take over most of the responsibility while they were still there to oversee it all. As a result, the ryokan thrived. Sho had settled into the taisho role as well as he could, sometimes bringing out his old guitar to entertain guests in the evenings. Kyoko performed the tea ceremony with a grace that came from years of practice. They were together, and Kyoko had never been happier - at least, not until a few years later, when she had their son. They named him Haru, after his great-grandfather.

Pregnancy had winded Kyoko, and she never quite recovered her full lung capacity afterwards. It wasn't until Haru was five that Kyoko realized that there was a reason for it.

Sho had been different lately. He loved her - she knew he did - but he no longer showed it. It happens, her mother-in-law had assured her, as men aged. They forgot to show their wives affection as often as they did when they were younger. So Kyoko did what she could to draw her husband back to her, wearing what she knew he liked to acting just so for him. Flattering and praising the way he had always loved - the way she knew he deserved to be adored.

But even that didn't draw him back into her arms, and one day, she felt a strange tickle in her throat. She swallowed it down and finished her tea ceremony. Then, when she was alone, she coughed up a single rose petal.

A white rose petal.

She stared at it, baffled. She had served rose tea - maybe she hadn't noticed it in her cup. Yes, that must be it. After all, her husband loved her.

LINE BREAK

Sho doted on Haru the same way he always had, and even bought the boy a miniature guitar. He taught him the chords, and together they played their way through one of Sho's old songs. A song he had written back in their Tokyo apartment, so long ago. Kyoko stood on the other side of the door, listening. Every note warmed her heart, reminded her of times when it had been just them. Times when he had looked at her with eyes full of determination, full of hope and life.

These days, he didn't even look at her with a smile.

Haru burst through the door and ran to his mother, mini-guitar in hand, eager to show her what he had learned.

The petal she swallowed down was pink.

LINE BREAK

That winter, a film crew rented out the ryokan for a romantic holiday special - one for a show Kyoko had never heard about. She didn't have the time for television between running the ryokan and being a mother. Not to mention tending to Sho. He had been acting so strangely since they had decided to accept the company's offer - it was quite a substantial sum, after all. She worried her lip as she cleaned. Maybe he was thinking about who he could have been - what he could have become. That made sense to her. But Sho was so talented… maybe if he did one of his evening shows for their guests, they would recognize what she always had.

When she suggested this to him, he didn't even answer her. He just turned his back and went back to preparing their guests' dinners in stony silence.

She felt her lungs constrict. She'd said the wrong thing, rubbed salt in an old wound, He didn't even reply to her apologies. So she'd fled the room, and felt a horrible pressure in her throat. She was going to be sick.

When she made it to the bathroom, it wasn't bile that made its way out of her throat. It was deep, blood-red rose petals.

No.

No, this didn't make sense. She stared at them for a moment before another wave took her, and she realized that it wasn't just petals.

Thorns scraped her throat as a beautiful red rose forced its way out of her mouth. She caught it, pricking her fingertip in the process.

But he loves me.

She'd had this before, back in Tokyo. Before they had come home to be together. She had never told Sho, never wanted to bother him - she couldn't, not when he was working so hard to make his dreams come true. She had spent so many of her breaks spitting white rose petals in the staff bathrooms. She never thought that she would be doing that again here.

It was absurd. They were married. It just had to be a flare-up, that's all. Surely it wasn't some sort of relapse. Not when he loved her.

"Mommy?"

Not when they had a son.

She set down the rose and turned to see her baby's horrified face. "Oh, sweetie, come here."

He ran into her arms and clutched at her tightly.

"Don't worry, Haru. Mommy's fine." Once she'd soothed him, she sat back, just enough to see his face. "Don't tell Daddy, okay? He has a lot to do right now with all of our special guests." An idea hit her. "Why don't you go work on that song he's been teaching you?"

And like the good little boy he was, he had nodded and gone to practice his music.

LINE BREAK

She met the leading man - Tsuruga something-or-other - two days into their guests staying with them. He was handsome, certainly, but didn't have the same charm as her Sho. There was something a little too fake about his smile. Still, she responded with her best customer smile and answered his questions. Yes, she'd lived here all her life. Yes, she loved being the ryokan's okami. Yes, she could get him another drink.

All the while, she could feel something taking root in her lungs, limiting her breath. She tried to ignore it as she helped arrange Christmas lights for the drama's scene. It struck her as odd that they were filming so close to the actual holiday. Didn't that make things harder on the editors? She shook her head and went back to making sure that the crew didn't damage the fragile old walls of the inn.

She didn't notice the way Sho sulked just out of view, or the way the leading man's eyes followed her curiously.

LINE BREAK

All too soon, it was Christmas. Haru woke her up early - far too early - but who was she to deny her little boy his joy? He loved the holiday, the fried chicken that his grandfather always made, the lights - everything. The day was a bustle of activity, with her running around trying to make sure all their guests were happy while also keeping her little bundle of energy out of trouble. Thank the gods for his grandparents. They were happy to step in and keep the darling boy entertained.

It wasn't until late that night, after everyone else had gone to bed, that she realized Sho hadn't even wished her a happy birthday. Haru had, and her in-laws had - even some of their guests had, when they'd overheard Haru singing to her. He'd gotten out his little guitar and strummed at the strings while singing, off-key and perfect.

But Sho hadn't said a word to her all day.

Unable to hold it in a moment longer, she grabbed her little purse, some boots, and a coat, and walked down to her clearing.

It was a beautiful night. They had woken up that morning to a rare snowfall - part of the reason Haru had been so excited. There was barely a part of their yard that wasn't covered in his little boot prints. She smiled down at them, lips quivering from more than cold, as she made her way to her clearing. The chill air soothed and burned her throat all at once, so she took great gulps of it.

The moon danced on the water in the clearing, and reflected off the pristine snow. She had never shared this place with anyone - not with Haru, not even with Sho. This was a place just for her. A place where she could let go without burdening anyone. She brushed the snow off of the biggest rock and sank down onto it, winded. Then she took out her stone and held it tightly.

The snow muffled all sound, so she didn't hear the footsteps from the path.

"I don't know what to do, Corn," she told her stone. "I don't know why this is happening."

She thought back to the times they'd had.

In high school, after they'd come back, she was somehow more popular than before. She'd made real friends with the girls who had ignored her before. She had sleepovers and learned about makeup. Boys had even started noticed her, but she'd never even thought of straying from Sho's side - especially since he had not strayed from hers. Once they'd gotten back, he had asked her out for real. They dated all through high school. It was everything she'd ever dreamed of.

"What happened to us?" she whispered, swallowing against the thorns she could feel digging into her esophagus.

Their wedding had been nothing short of magical, straight out of a fairy tale. She'd felt like a princess, and he'd looked at her like she was one. The expression on his face when he saw her for the first time that day was something she kept stored in her mind's eye forever. They'd danced together that night, in more than one way, and she had never felt more loved.

"Corn, I -" a harsh cough cut her off, and she covered her mouth with one hand, the other clutching her stone tightly. The rose's thorns ripped at her throat, leaving it raw as it pushed its way out. When she spat the flower out onto the white snow, drops of blood bounced with it.

It was only when she felt a hand on her back that she realized another person was in her clearing. She just about fell off her rock in shock and looked up to see who it was. The hand was too big to be Sho's.

For one wild, fleeting moment, as pain wracked her throat and tears blurred her vision, she thought it was Corn. The moonlight hit the stranger's hair just right, and who else had she ever seen here?

"Are you alright?"

Oh. It was that actor - what was his name again? She cleared her throat - gods, that hurt - and spoke. "Yes, thank you."

He paused before crouching down in front of her so they were closer to eye-to-eye. How tall was he? She was glad Sho wasn't that tall. It would make kissing him difficult. "You don't look fine."

She tried to smile, but winced. "I'm alright, really. It's just something that happens now and again." She fiddled with her stone, making it catch the moonlight. She didn't notice the way the actor's eyes widened when he saw it.

"I don't think that hanahaki is really something to brush off," he said. His hand twitched, like he was trying to stop himself from doing something. "Do you need to go to the hospital?"

She shook her head. "It's fine. Just a little relapse - it's not like that."

"Not like that?"

"My husband loves me." She looked up at him, finally, and was startled by the worry in his eyes. Sure, she was sick, but he was a stranger. There was no reason for him to be looking at her like he - like he cared!

When he spoke, it was so gently that it sounded like he was trying not to cry. "Are… are you sure?"

How rude. She stood up in a huff. "Yes, I'm sure! And I don't think it's right of you to be asking that!" She started to storm away.

"Wait!" He caught her hand, the one that held her Corn stone.

She turned her head and gave him a look colder than the snow around them, and he let her go.

LINE BREAK

She woke up two days after her trip to her clearing with her lungs burning. Her throat was bleeding again, she could tell. She tried to sit up, but she didn't have the energy to move. The room - the room was spinning.

"Mommy, time to wake up - Mommy?"

Haru. Haru was here - she couldn't answer him. Her throat hurt too much. Why did her throat hurt again? She could hear her heartbeat, thick and slow, in her ears. She could vaguely hear someone screaming - Haru? It sounded like Haru. She wanted to go to him, to let him know that everything would be okay, but she couldn't move, couldn't get the breath to reassure him.

The edges of her vision were darkening. She thought of Haru, watching this; she wished she could hold him. She thought of Sho, and how she wished he would hold her one more time.

And lastly, she thought of Corn, and how she wished she could have seen him again.

LINE BREAK

The screaming woke him up - how could it not? It was unlike anything he'd ever heard, fear and pain and panic all ripped from a child's voice box. Ren ran out of his room, pulling on a yukata as he went. His feet pounded the floor, and he saw the ryokan's taisho running ahead of him. Saw him burst through a door, and followed moments behind.

Saw her, lying on the floor, eyes unseeing and the head of a black-petaled rose barely pushing against her lips.

Gone.

Kyoko was gone.

The taisho picked up his son and held him tightly, soothing him as he carried him out of the room, pushing through the crowd. He didn't even check for his wife's pulse.

Later, Ren sat in stunned silence in his room. He'd watched the taisho talk to the police, to the mortician, and to all the stunned guests. Never once did the man shed a tear for his wife. His wife, who knew that he loved her. His wife, who was gone - gone, and he didn't seem to care.

That night, Ren coughed up a brown, wilted rose petal.

The end.