The pain first bloomed on a Tuesday evening. All he was doing was passing the time by leaning over the side of their hotel room, admiring the breath-taking sights the ever-busy New York achieved. His mind had subconsciously flickered over to Josh, wondering what the man could possibly be doing. (Making a sandwich? Practising his drums? Pumping himself up for their concert tonight?) And then, a dull ache had suddenly begun to stir in his lower abdomen, inducing a sharp pain in the said area in which made Tyler take in a sharp intake of breath before the pain was making a rapid ascent, crawling upwards through his lithe body till he was left gasping for air.
It was only a matter of seconds before he was clawing at his face pathetically, most likely resembling a rabid animal. He felt like he was suffocating, that there was something clogging up his airways and squeezing and squeezing till there was no air left in his shrivelled lungs – he couldn’t breathe.
And then, so abruptly that he didn’t even have a chance to wrap his head around anything that was happening, something was falling out from his mouth and into his palm. It took him a few minutes for his mind to fully register what it was he was seeing in his hands.
Petals. Yellow hydrangea petals. In his palm. In. His. Palm.
To Tyler’s dismay, Jenna suggests for him to go and see an apparently trusted Doctor who was ‘specialised in cases like this’ and wouldn’t tell anyone that the lead singer of a famous band was suffering from some sort of sick curse, as soon as she finds out what had happened later into the night, although what she had said, wasn’t really a suggestion, more of an order. (Tyler, however, could see the underlying hint of worry behind Jenna’s ocean-blue orbs, he knew the woman only meant well).
In the end, he only goes to see the Doctor (apparently named Charles Leeks, not that he really cared to learn the mans’ name) to stop Jenna from worrying about him anymore than he already does. Because he knows he’s fine, (thinks he is anyway).
Doctor Leeks is gentle with him, soothing, calm, understanding. His words are soft-spoken and he explains everything very clearly to him, tries to anyway, (Tyler doesn’t really believe anything he’s saying, because surely people don’t just grow flowers in their lungs, it’s absurd).
“It’s a very serious disease, Tyler, caused by unrequited love.” Doctor Leeks explains to him slowly, and Tyler begrudgingly motions for him to continue, despite the urge to immediately deny the fact that he isn’t in love with anybody, he’s happy how he is, single.
(That’s a lie, he desperately wants Joshua Dun).
“It’s a – not particularly rare – disease, but, definitely , life-threatening if it manages to get to its final ends.”
Tyler agrees with himself that that doesn’t sound very reassuring.
“There are three stages to it,” Doctor Leeks begins once Tyler is seated on a plush chair in front of him, his eyes hold a certain pity to them, (Tyler chooses to dismiss it though, not wanting any pity from the man).
“The first, the ‘love’ stage. The victim in question begins to form a dull, almost painful ache in their chests, usually around the areas where their lungs are located. For the majority of people in the world - a good 85% of the earth’s population - this has happened to them before, but it eventually, after a short period of time it naturally goes away. For you? It’s developed into something more.”
Tyler has just a slight suspicion that whatever Doctor Leeks is going to tell him over the next few minutes won’t be pleasant for anyone.
“The second stage, or the ‘petal stage’ as some like to call it. The leftover Bacteria from the first stage starts to cluster together inside of your lungs, bursting from the thin interior lining of your organs into stems.” A picture showing just that appears on a hologram next to Doctor Leeks, (Tyler is slightly horrified, but not that he would ever admit it).
“The stems form buds and then, eventually, the buds bloom into flowers, resulting in the petals inevitably falling off. They end up slowly overcrowding your lungs with, in your case blue hydrangea, petals.” Doctor Leeks pauses, sighing and taking a sip from his water before continuing with his explanation.
“While this is process is going on inside of you, you will be forced to cough them up constantly, in pain a lot of the time and breathing will be much harder, (with this happening there’s also chances of serious throat damage). Although,” Charles adds on solemnly, “With each amount you manage to expel from your lungs, the more that grow in their place. It’s a never-ending process, really.” Doctor Leeks explains quietly.
Tyler’s hands have already begun shaking against his sides as he cautiously asks what the third and final stage is.
“The final stage, or the ‘flower stage’. If the victim has even let it get this far, to this stage, death is inevitable.” Tyler wants to laugh, pretend this is all a big prank somebody is playing on him, but the serious tone in Doctor Leek’s voice says otherwise.
“You will end up dying, Tyler. The buds will grow into much larger flowers, not just small petals anymore. They’ll succeed in blocking your airways and you’ll, quite painfully, choke to death from lack of oxygen. Your lungs will fill up with them and you’ll be gone. Forever, Mr Joseph.”
Tyler doesn’t know if he should ask, too afraid of finding out the answer to his question, but he really has to know.
“Can-Can you cur-“ Tyler begins, his voice is shaky and he doesn’t really trust it not to start cracking as soon as he speaks.
But Doctor Leeks (thankfully) interrupts him before he can even manage to get his question fully out as if he anticipated the question. “Yes. Just like the three stages, there are three cures. There’s ‘the happy ending’, the person you love comes to realise they love you back, returning your affections for them, thus making the love no longer unrequited, the flowers will shrivel up and die and the bacteria will become dormant once again, this probably being the nicest ending to the illness.”
Tyler hopes for that one to come true (not that he even has this disease because he’s definitely not in love with anyone).
“There’s the most common, agreeably saddest, option; the victim allows the bacteria to grow and grow, filling up their lungs and in turn cutting their air supply off, leading to their untimely death, although it’s sad, some find it better than having the third option performed.”
Tyler is curious now, curious about what ‘the third option’ is going to be, if it’s supposedly worse than choking to death.
“And then the last and final option, for some this is too much to partake in, but for others, it’s just right, just what they need.” Doctor Leeks takes in a sharp breath, pushing up his glasses which have slid slightly down his nose before continuing, “The victim suffering from the Hanahaki Disease can undergo a rather,” Doctor Leeks pauses again, as if maybe rethinking what he was about to say, “Emotionally painful, operation, where the flowers have to be surgically removed..” He trails off, and Tyler knows something is up.
“What’s the twist then?” Tyler remembers Doctor Leeks saying some people don’t want to do this because of something, so what was it? Surely having them surgically removed would be the best way?
Charles sighs, long and hard, his voice holding a thousand emotions all at once. “Well you see, when the flowers are removed from your lungs, they take away with them any love and affection for the person who caused the illness in the first place. You wouldn’t ever be able to feel love for that specific person/s. It can also – only sometimes – erase the memories of the said person. Some people would rather die than lose their love for somebody.” Doctor Leeks explains carefully, reaching out to gently pat Tyler on the shoulder, but the boy simply flinches away, shaking his head in denial.
“I’m not in love with him.” He chokes out, the underlying feeling of something in his throat edging him on from the back of his mind. This can’t be real, this can’t be real, this can’t be real. He repeats the mantra in his head over and over again as he coughs and coughs, because it can’t be. It just can’t be.
“This is all some silly joke,” He chokes out pitifully from around the growing amount of yellow petals spilling from his mouth.
But it’s not a silly joke, not now, he realises.
Tyler had hoped it would be, when he was in the earlier stages of the disease because everything still seemed so surreal to him, so fake. But as the pain worsened and the lump in the back of his throat grew, he knew it was too late for him.
Obviously, the surgery was still a choice back then, but Tyler doesn’t think he could ever bear the thought of not having any sort of love for his (very much taken, and straight) red-headed best friend.
It hurt too much to think about.
So now Tyler walks slowly down a rather wide aisle, and he can only name a few of the people towards his left, he can’t even recognize anyone from his right, although it doesn’t really surprise him, seeing as most of the people in the church are actually close with Debby, not just Josh (he wouldn’t have expected Josh to invite him to meet any of his new friends, anyway).
Tyler’s busy holding a small basket tightly in one hand, his other grabbing fistfuls of black petals and throwing them down onto the ground in front of him as they wait there patiently, narrowly avoiding being stepped on and trodden into the ground.
Tyler tries to be careful as he walks around, not wanting to force any of the beautiful flowers into the carpeted floor, it’d be a shame to waste such pretty things, he thinks to himself sourly, as if making up some sort of metaphor in his own head that only makes sense to his own ears.
He’s a good few feet away from Josh’s smiling face when there’s a strange tightening in his chest, it’s like an invisible hand has wrapped around his lungs and throat, squeezing and then filling them to the brim with lead so they’re heavy and resting in the pits of his stomach, similar to his heart in that very moment of cold, unforgiving time.
There’s a slight, insistent, tickle at the back of his throat, he coughs once, and then again, and again once more.
The basket falls from his hands, hitting the floor with a loud ‘bang’ but he can’t bring himself to care, to immersed in the fact that he can’t fucking breathe.
It’s all too much, all at once together and squished into a burning mess, and then there are yellow petals falling to the ground in front of him and he collapses to the ground, his sharp knees digging into the soft material of the carpet. He distinctly hears the sound of other voices murmuring but nobody’s gotten up to help him just yet.
He continues to pathetically dry heave, yellow petals spilling onto the floor underneath him and mixing in with the black roses.
It’s quite beautiful, Tyler thinks to himself, the yellow and black complement each other rather nicely, and it’s almost symbolic, he supposes. It reminds him of when he used to be free, a good singer who could hit high notes and actually sing without their voice shattering into millions of pieces each time they tried to sing, just one, single song. Not that it matters anymore, because, from his sheltered view, nobody had even cared, he was alone to the very end, he realises rather solemnly.
And he almost misses it, too, the touring, the band, the red-headed best friend actually caring for him, but it’s been sort of a relief, almost like a holiday. It’s been quite, nice, simple.
And, after everything, he thought everything would be okay, with less singing it meant less time spent with everyone, which In turn meant less time spent around Josh – saving him the pain of the Hanahaki Disease. (Tyler still hasn’t learned why it’s even called that, doesn’t think he will now though, because, oh god he can’t breathe).
There’s lots of screaming and shouting but the thing he narrows in on is a soothing rubbing motion in between his shoulder blades and he assumes its Josh because of the sense of familiarity seeping through his thin clothes from every touch, but he can’t bring himself to even care anymore, because he’s dying and he thinks he’s okay with that now.