This one is for Yam, who keeps lotuses in the home in her heart. I own nothing.

Kyoko had recovered from her hanahaki - not because she'd gotten over her feelings, but because they were returned. And wow was that unreal for her. The thought that Tsuruga Ren of all people loved her… well, it didn't feel real, but the roots didn't lie. She'd given him a keychain she'd made out of the very last cornflowers. What he didn't know was that the bracelet she'd taken to wearing was fashioned out of the roots, braided and preserved. She needed something tangible to remind her that this was true. That he loved her back.

That she wasn't going to die a slow, painful death.

What she didn't know was that Ren needed a reminder of that, too.

He'd been terrified - terrified - for her when he'd learned that she was sick. And now that he knew the truth, he blamed himself for not seeing it sooner. For making her suffer for so long. All because he hadn't been able to see that he was the reason she'd choked on flowers for months - been half-strangled by their roots.

So now, he was determined that she would never suffer again.

It had started out simply, with him texting or calling her every day. But then his Hizuri blood took over, and he started sending her gifts. Chocolates, little trinkets, even going so far as handbags and jewelry (and boy had he gotten a scolding for those) - but never flowers. Never, ever flowers.

Never again.

LINE BREAK

He'd stopped taking romantic roles. It wasn't the best choice for his career, but frankly, he didn't care. He didn't want to give her even a hint of a reason to be jealous, even if she still believed in the actor's rule of the heart. Because he couldn't risk it. Not again. The public explained it away as him not wanting to make Kana jealous.

What a joke.

Fortunately, Kana adored Kyoko - who wouldn't? - and quickly accepted her into her entourage. This meant that he was able to spend even more time with her, under the guise of taking his so-called "girlfriend" and her friends shopping. Kyoko's wardrobe more than doubled under his and Kana's combined efforts.

She'd tried asking Kanae for tactics to combat them, only to be swiftly shut down. An actress's wardrobe was an important tool in her arsenal. And if she could get it upgraded for free - well, she should just say thank you.

Kyoko almost wished that she still had an endless supply of flowers with which to make thank-you gifts. Almost.

LINE BREAK

Things were going well. Kuon had dialed back the gifts somewhat, though he had progressed to calling her 'princess' on their nightly phone calls. They saw each other as often as their schedules allowed. Kuon's fears were mostly set aside.

Then Kyoko caught a cold.

And Kuon lost his mind.

He canceled his entire day and showed up outside the Darumaya with everything google-sensei had told him she might need. Okami-san had, fortunately, been the one to meet him at the door, and ushered him upstairs.

Kyoko took one look at him and told him to leave before he caught her cold. He didn't listen, instead hunkering down next to her bed and trying to spoon-feed her soup. This absolutely did not help her fever. He'd panicked further and made her lie down while he dug through his bag for a cooling pack - or so she thought.

Instead, he'd pulled out an engagement ring.

Kyoko didn't really remember much after that. All she knew was that taisho appeared and forced Ren to leave. Later, Okami-san had come up with a proper cooling pack. She'd made an off-handed comment about "Kyoko's nice young man" that nearly caused the poor girl to pass out again.

Taisho had not let Ren in when he'd returned the next day.

LINE BREAK

Ren (though really, it was Kuon) threw himself into reading relationship books, determined to do this right. Kyoko deserved nothing but the best, after all, and he was far from it - at least, in his eyes. He knew next to nothing about relationships when there were actual feelings involved. Or how to handle this weird not-quite-dating situation they'd found themselves in… chosen to be in. Why had they done that again? It sucked.

No, he knew why. Knew that it was important - knew that it was for their dreams and her safety.

It was a delicious sort of torture to know how she felt, to be near her, and yet be unable to touch her. Because now he knew. He knew what laid behind those little smiles, the way she ducked her head. Knew that she thought of him the way he dreamed of her - or at least, now he could allow himself to hope she did. But he knew, he knew, that she loved him.

She had almost died because of it.

So he read and read and read, determined to never give her a reason to spit petals again.

LINE BREAK

Some nights, when he couldn't sleep, Kuon thought back to what could have been - what might have happened.

What if he'd told her who he was as Corn? Would she have been spared further suffering then, or would she have hated him? Would the roots have vanished if she did? Or would they have grown thick in a heartbeat and strangled her?

None of his reading ever told him what happened in hanahaki when love turned to hatred.

Or what if he'd pushed the issue as Corn, found out it was him, and then used "magic" to read his own mind and tell her that he returned her feelings? Would she have believed him? Or would he have only made it worse? Would she have rejected it as Corn trying to make her feel better in what she thought was a hopeless case of unrequited love?

Oh gods, what if -

He had been so reckless in the elevator. How could he have done that - he chased her down and trapped her, all when she could barely breathe for the roots in her lungs. What if he'd been wrong, and it wasn't him? He'd have forced her to think about it, to think about her beloved, and then have to reject him on top of it. What if that had been the final straw for her lungs? She could have wasted her last breaths on him.

But it was him, he had to remind himself. It had been him for -

The paperweight.

His head snapped over to the lotus she'd preserved for him, resin reflecting the streetlight. A shining reminder of that Valentine's Day disaster, sitting innocently on his bedside table.

A flower.

He thought back to that night as the Heels, when in his half-asleep state he thought he'd dreamed her emerging from the bathroom after a coughing fit with a bouquet of lotus flowers. Yet the next morning, the bouquet had been sitting on the table.

Lotuses, like his paperweight.

Lotuses, like his stage name.

She'd loved him from Valentine's Day at the very least. He'd let her suffer for months out of his own stupidity, out of his own twisted sense of propriety. Of not wanting to risk scaring her away. Of selfishly, selfishly wanting to keep her close without tainting her with the mess that was him.

And in doing so, he almost lost her forever.

But another thought occurred to him as he stared at the gift in horror, wondering if the flower was one of hers.

Hadn't the flowers she'd coughed up, hadn't the roots that she'd spat onto his dressing room floor - hadn't those been cornflowers?

Cornflowers.

He'd found those in the bathroom trash can in Guam. After Corn had kissed her. Had she known, then? Did she know, deep down? But then why -

He did not sleep that night.

LINE BREAK

"Kyoko," he'd whispered one night into the phone. "Kyoko, let me say it. Please."

He knew she had to be a violent shade of red as she let out a little squeak, then another. He could practically see the squirrel shaking.

"Princess?"

"I don't - my heart can't handle that. Not yet."

And as she said that, something occurred to him: Could it really not? She'd said the same thing about him using her given name, and he'd had to ease into that. Had the hanahaki made her heart weak? Had it made it so any affection had to be spooned out carefully, lest it overwhelm her?

So he'd let it go, waited until she'd hung up the phone to tell her he loved her. Because he couldn't risk causing her further pain, not with everything he'd already put her through.

LINE BREAK

Relapse.

He'd read all about hanahaki after learning she had it, and hadn't stopped once she'd been cured. All because of that one word: relapse.

Kyoko was a special case, according to the studies he'd read. Because she had so firmly believed that there was no chance of him returning her feelings - even though he'd been head-over-heels for her by the time he knew that she'd started suffering - she'd still had to fight the roots. The studies he'd read had warned about relapse happening when the object of the sufferer's affections fell out of love with them.

He knew that wasn't possible, but did Kyoko?

If she thought his affection waned, if she doubted how much he loved her - would the roots come back? Were the seeds still there in her heart, waiting for him to stray?

How could he convince her that would never happen?

LINE BREAK

The next time he'd had her over for dinner - this time under the guise of her teaching him how to make omurice properly - he'd asked her. Not how could she think he would stray - on the off-chance that she wasn't thinking it, he wasn't going to go putting it in her head - but something close. What made her feel loved. What made her feel cherished.

She looked at him blankly for a minute, her mouth slightly open. At last, she said that she didn't know. That it was nice when Kanae didn't dodge her hugs. That she liked it when Maria would tell her about her day. That she - that she didn't know.

And then he had a crying Kyoko in his kitchen. So he had done the only thing he could think of, and wrapped her in his arms. In return, she'd gripped his shirt like a lifeline in a storm. And a storm it was, raging inside the poor girl in his arms. A hurricane whose winds were built from a lifetime of neglect and abandonment.

She'd cried herself out in his arms, and he'd moved them to the living room. Eventually, she wore herself out enough to fall asleep in his embrace. Any other time, he would be thrilled to have her in his arms. But now….

He'd have to tell her who he was sooner than planned. She needed proper Hizuri-levels of affection. And if he couldn't give it to her yet for the sake of her heart, then his parents absolutely would.

LINE BREAK

It was springtime, which meant everything was blooming. In the past, he had always welcomed the first signs of warmth - he was a California boy, after all, and not really made for winter.

But now?

Now, he dreaded the first blossoms. Everywhere he looked, there were reminders of the way Kyoko had almost died.

Kyoko, for her part, was fine with flowers, as long as they weren't forcing their way out of her throat. Which is why one day, she bounced up to Ren at LME with a giant smile on her face and told him about the flower viewing Lory was holding. About how he should take Kana. And because that was the closest she could come to saying she wanted to go with him, he agreed.

So there they sat - Kana, her "friend" Yuri, Kyoko, and him. On a blanket in the middle of a goddamn windstorm of sakura petals. He was doing fine, not great, but fine, until -

"Kyoko-chan, you've got a petal on your mouth," Kana said with a smile, tapping her own lips to indicate where.

Kuon's head snapped over to Kyoko. Not again.

But Kyoko just laughed and plucked it off. "I hadn't even noticed!"

She was that used to the sensation. She hadn't even felt it. It was an act of pure will to not stare at her, to not count her breaths. To not grab her hand and squeeze hard enough to anchor her to him - to feel her pulse. To be able to feel that she was still here, still alive.

And somehow, like she always did, she knew that something was wrong. So she set her hand down next to his on the blanket - not quite touching, but enough for him to feel the heat of her skin.

He drove her home that night and watched until the light went on in her bedroom window. Only then could he exhale.

LINE BREAK

She healed slowly, and somehow days turned into weeks into months. Before he knew it, a year had elapsed. How much had changed.

She could touch him now without bursting aflame, without her root-weakened heart threatening to beat itself asleep. Could laugh with him, have him call her name - and call his real one in return.

And she finally, finally, finally could hear those words he'd longed to say almost as long as he'd known her. So he said them again and again, until both her heart and his knew that she could never grow roots again.

And one day, she was able to say them back.