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A little over a year had passed since I'd returned to Japan at the news of Hiroya's accident. I hadn't let a single day slip by without coming to visit, even if I had to beg my way in after hours to spend a handful of minutes at his side before getting chased out again. And every week, without fail, I'd brought a fresh bouquet of flowers, creating a single spot of organic beauty in a room filled with quietly whirring machines and blinking monitors.

A soft smile curled my lips as I pushed open the door to Hiroya's room. Of course, you were beautiful as well, as much as you could be...

Inside, the room was dimly lit by the glow of safety lighting and a single lonely monitor that offered the quiet rhythmic beep of a slow heartbeat. Hiroya lay comfortably in the bed, every other breath coming out as a muted snore, eyelids fluttering lightly as he dreamed. The utter normalcy of it all still made my heart skip a beat. Was it really only a few months ago that he was a motionless form surrounded by a maze of tubes and wires?

I resisted the urge to run my fingers through his hair, so glossy and tempting now that it was always freshly washed, and busied myself with replacing the bouquet. When Hiroya was still lost in a coma, the bouquet had always included white camellias and lily of the valley, symbols of waiting and the promise of future happiness. The hospital florist had helped me choose that first arrangement, patiently explaining the meaning behind each blossom that caught my eye, steering me toward the ones that best represented my wishes for Hiroya's recovery. Every week, I brought a variation on that theme, with other blooms mixed in: peonies for good fortune, irises in the hope of good news. Now that he was awake, more symbols of luck and happiness were mixed in.

I wonder if you've noticed. I snipped the stems and set the flowers into the freshly washed vase, fussing with them a bit until the arrangement looked presentable.

When I returned from the small bathroom with the fresh bouquet, Hiroya's eyes were open, blinking slowly as he looked around. He turned toward the sound of my footsteps, eyes focusing in an instant, the smile that bloomed on his face more brilliant than any flower.

"Hey, Jin," his voice was thick and scratchy with sleep. His eyes darted to the bouquet, squinting a bit as he examined it.

The sight of his familiar face, active and awake, brought a smile to my own lips. "Hi, Hiroya. How are you feeling?" I set the vase down in its usual place on the nightstand and pulled up a chair, settling in at his bedside.

"Heh. Like something a dog ate, then threw up and ate again."

"That's a mental image I really didn't need," I scolded, but I was smiling. Hiroya hadn't changed a bit since our days at Bell Liberty, inserting creative complaints and sarcasm into every interaction.I was grateful that the long coma hadn't affected his personality; I'd read horror stories of patients waking up and acting like completely different people, confusing and saddening their loved ones.

"Of course you did, you just didn't know you needed it." Hiroya's smile faded a little. "Honestly, I'm completely wiped out. These doctors are slavedrivers."

"Are you sure it's the doctors? You're the one who's pushing yourself to exhaustion in every session. I've heard that you've had to be physically stopped from doing extra repetitions."

He closed his eyes, turning his face away. "Well. If I don't push myself, who will?"

"The physical therapists, that's who. You have to trust the team that's taking care of you, they have years of experience and they know what's safe." I tugged on his sleeve. "Don't be a difficult patient. Trying too hard is just as bad as not making enough of an effort."

"Hmph," Hiroya shook me off. "I was a perfectly angelic patient for almost a year, not a peep out of me. I have months of complaining and being difficult to make up for." He cracked one eye open, peering up at my face, then laughed. "Oh, don't make that face, Jin. I'm not going to be difficult on purpose. It's just... hard to accept all this help, all these limitations."

"I know." Hiroya had never been one to follow the rules, whether they were school regulations or the rules set out in the rental agreement for our shared apartment. For someone who craved independence, the inescapable prison of an uncooperative body had to be maddening. "Think of it this way, you'll recover faster if you trust the process."

"Yeah, yeah, that's what the docs said too." Hiroya stared at a spot over my shoulder for a few moments, and I realized he was looking at the bouquet again. "I know I should be grateful I'm not in worse shape, but there's something pretty sad about a man my age having 'take a piss without help' as a major personal goal, you know?"

I covered my mouth to stifle a snort. "You certainly have a way with words, Hiroya."

"Someone's gotta speak the harsh truths. May as well be me." He met my eyes again, winking, then half-raised his hand, motioning to me with a twitch of his fingers. "Hey, Jin, come closer, I want to tell you something. A secret."

I considered protesting that no one else was around to hear it, then realized that it was probably an excuse to mess with my hair again. I leaned over the side of the bed, ponytail spilling over my shoulder to pool on top of the sheets. Hiroya's fingers found it instantly, twining with the strands, tugging lightly. "A little closer," he urged.

"Hiroya, what is this?" Still, I complied, bringing my ear closer to his face.

He tilted his face up, lips brushing my ear as he murmured, "I love you too, Jin."

I jerked back, wincing as the motion pulled my hair from his grip. "W, what...? I didn't..."

"Heh, so that's what it takes to get you flustered, Jin." Hiroya's grin was maddening. "Anyway, never underestimate a man who has nothing better to do than read crap on the internet all day - assuming my arms are cooperating enough to hold a tablet. You think I didn't notice you started sneaking white roses and carnations into that bouquet? Of course I looked up what they mean."

So that's why he'd kept glancing over at the vase. I fidgeted in my chair, but there was no use in trying to deny it. "I guess I was hoping you might notice." I looked down at my clasped hands, suddenly hesitant. "It... it doesn't bother you?"

"Jin, you're an idiot. Did you forget, the only reason we became friends was because I wouldn't stop hitting on you back in high school?" His grin faded to a small, wistful smile. "I hope they're your true feelings, not just sympathy for a pathetic gimp."

"That's not... I've had a lot of time to think about everything."

"I know, you're not like that. I'm just messing with you." He shifted in the bed, inching closer, voice dropping lower. "By the way, I have a new goal now."

"Oh, what's that?" From the smirk on Hiroya's face, I knew I'd regret asking.

He winked at me. "The best motivation. Sex."

I pressed the back of my hand to the center of my forehead, more to hide my blush than anything. "Hiroya, I'm starting to think that your brain did get set back a good ten years..."

"Heh, maybe I just never progressed beyond horny teen status to begin with. Anyway, aren't you the one who's regressing? You never used to blush when I teased you."

I opened my mouth to deny it, but my response was cut off by a mighty yawn from Hiroya. "Listen, Casanova, it's time for you to get some sleep. Doctor's orders."

"I'm a doctor too," Hiroya mumbled, eyes already half-shut.

I leaned close, brushing my fingers over his cheek. "Shh. Just rest."

The only response was a quiet grunt of acknowledgement; it seemed that even Hiroya could get too tired to be sassy. I stayed with him as he drifted off, petting his hair lightly. Once I was sure he'd fallen asleep, I ducked my head, pressing a soft kiss to his lips. "I love you." It was the first time I'd said it out loud, and though the words sounded clumsy in the still air, my heart felt light and warm.

Hiroya stirred, eyelids fluttering, and I sucked in a breath. I'd made my move too soon. He pretended to be asleep, but the warm glow that appeared on his cheeks, faint in the dimly lit room, gave him away. I stayed until Hiroya was truly asleep, sinking back into the same quiet snores that had greeted me earlier. I brushed his hair back from his face, tempted by the soft skin at his temple, but I couldn't summon the nerve to kiss him again. Instead, I smoothed my fingers over his lips, smiling at their softness.

Maybe next time, I silently promised.

~ end ~