Post-Ambidex Game life was difficult - and no, it wasn't just because of the circumstances Dio found himself in.
Once the Soporil finally managed to clear out of his bloodstream, the blond gained some sense of bearings. Things were still fuzzy and confusing as all hell, so while he probably looked like death, at least he didn't feel like it as much. Fading in and out of consciousness wasn't exactly healthy for the body and mind, though, so he hoped that they wouldn't give him another injection anytime soon. (As if he had any fucking control over that, anyway.)
The moment he blearily looked around the room - same place he blacked out initially, he noted apathetically - a pair of bright blue eyes met his. Someone was kneeling extremely close to him, someone easy to recognize by the freckles on her face and the pale orange curls atop her head. Coincidentally, this person was also the only Ambidex Game player he didn't want to kill on-sight.
"Are you okay?" Luna asked, her gaze as soft and inviting as ever.
His mouth hung open like a fish, trying to grasp at sounds to form into words, or at least some intimidated hisses and snarls like a feral animal. Despite his bias towards her during the Game, he knew that this was the correct time to be furious at the girl, and he should want to wring her neck between his fists… but he couldn't summon the rage yet. It was there, he was sure it could be dug up eventually, but it was as if his brain was stalling like a fucking car or something. All he could do was continue to stare pitifully, wondering why she was here with him. No plausible reasons reached him, and the only thing his groggy mind had to offer to him was one other thought: She's pretty.
Now, was Luna pretty? Yes, undoubtedly, but that was not helpful at the moment, and had zero relevance to his current imprisonment. In fact, Dio knew better than anyone that thoughts like that were poisonous, leading to all sorts of certain feelings - none of which were within Free the Soul's creed.
He tried his best to swallow back those instinctive emotions, eventually finding the vitriol to hurl in retaliation against her kindness.
It became a fucked-up routine of sorts; day after day, he'd yank on the chain binding him to the sink and yell for her to release him, cursing out her and Kurashiki and Zero and whoever else he possibly could. But no matter how cruel or mean he was, she'd continue to come back to check on him.
"How are you feeling today, Dio?" she'd ask, and usually he had something snarky to respond - until one day, he just… didn't.
One day, Dio was worn out from being constantly angry and just heaved a deep sigh, hanging his head down low. He wasn't sure if they intended to interrogate - or even torture - him, but there came a time when he just didn't want to fight any longer. Maybe they broke him, or he broke himself - hell, maybe he was never whole to start with. Whatever the case, there came a time where he decided, apparently of his own fucking volition, to try being nice to Luna, or at least civil. In fact, he tried his best to stop lashing out altogether.
And once he did, things started to get a little better. He was offered an actual room - with its own bathroom so he didn't need to embarrass himself by asking Luna to escort him - and allowed time on his own to just be alone. Yeah, it was still a prison, and the room was nothing but a cell, but… it was a more homely cell, at least.
Luna was the only person he saw in the facility, and that didn't bother him one bit. He wasn't sure how he knew, but her concern for him didn't come from a place of deception; she seemed genuinely interested in his wellbeing. And since he could easily spot treachery due to his own experience with it, he was keeping close watch for anything suspicious. But for some reason, she was honest through and through… and it was alarming.
That kind of treatment was dangerous, because like an abused animal, Dio tended to get attached to people that regarded him as anything above gum on their shoe. He didn't show it too much outwardly, but any trust placed in him made him roll over like the dog he was and want to obey.
Usually, and more often than not, it was Brother giving him the praise, keeping his tail wagging. But Brother wasn't here, and Dio was open to outside influences - open to Luna's influence.
And as the weeks went on, as Dio was met with more and more compassion through Luna... it only grew that much more terrifying - and, of course, brought natural consequences.
When she gazed at him with that smile - that pure, fucking innocent-to-the-core smile - he didn't miss the way his stomach churned and his breaths grew shaky, escalating into fatigue. He grew more tired each day, choosing to spend more time in bed as wheezes racked his lungs.
These sort of symptoms weren't normal, and he could deny it all he liked - even pretend he didn't feel anything - but they spoke for themselves. The truth was unavoidable: the moment he noticed that smile, the moment it became something special, Dio's world started to crumble. The seams he'd sewn his heart shut with were ripped to shreds, and he felt naked - exposed. Like he'd been ripped open for all to see the sinful, disgusting mess underneath.
As more time went on, the only thing Dio could really hope for was the symptoms subsiding, but with his luck (or lack thereof), things didn't look promising. The combination of trigger and symptoms didn't exactly let him think otherwise; this had to be the same sickness that made him so ill once before.
This… disease, or whatever, was what earned him a nasty blemish on his otherwise perfect record with Free the Soul and Brother. And though it wasn't too recent, he still felt the trauma from it all; the scars on his heart and body weren't going to recover anytime soon, as the memories still haunted him in clear-fucking-crystal high definition.
It was just one dream - something his mind cooked up after meeting some attractive lady out on a mission. Images flashed before him that night - hands caressing his, bodies pressed together in the dark, hushed whispers. a feeling of ecstacy, then…
He woke up, hair plastered to his forehead and his whole body shaking. To this day, Dio couldn't remember the face of the girl that gave him that dream, but… it had been terrifying just to know she could bring him to that point.
He could've kept himself quiet, hid his sins… if it weren't for the hard evidence beating the shit out of his immune system. He hadn't realized it yet, but seeds were beginning to churn in his lungs, eventually forming into purple petals and expelled through his mouth.
One thought of the same woman triggered the 'hard evidence' spilling all over his brothers - in in the middle of a sermon, no less. He couldn't stop himself, curling up on the floor and continuing to vomit the petals until his throat was sore.
They hauled him off to his room, locking him inside until they came to a decision. The punishment was harsh, and he'd never be rid of the scars, but he learned a bit later it could've been worse.
Petunias, he was told, were flowers that meant resentment and anger. If his flower petals had been anything sweet and related to devotion, his brothers warned, they would not have been merciful to him. Getting the sickness in the first place meant he'd suffered an unrequited love to some degree, and there were very few cures.
Apparently, a very expensive surgery was available to rid Dio of the disease, but his brothers wouldn't waste Free the Soul's funds on it - not that Dio could've ever asked that selfish request of them. Another 'remedy' was for the person of desire to return his feelings, which was also out of the question.
And then there was the third and definitely most controversial fix…
Dio spent the night in his room alone and fearing what his brothers' decisions could entail for him - he didn't even think of the woman affecting him.
The next morning when he awoke, he found his sickness was gone - but apparently, so was she.
He'd spent so long hating himself for his mistakes, knowing that he was the writer of his own misfortune. In the end, though, it was his shame that saved him: had he not felt that piercing, burning remorse for his own emotions, he could've been ostracized even further from the cult. They were not shy about warning him of his possible fates, and he understood the grave sins he committed.
Years went by after that incident, and though the memories stuck around like shadows in the corners of his mind and the thought of nearly losing everything he had was paralyzing, Dio shrugged it off as best he could. But it wasn't easy - at random times, he'd remember, and feel sick again - not in the same way as he had, but out of disgust. He was so utterly revolted at the thought of his own weakness, he sought to make sure no one could sway him in even the slightest way again.
And for a while, for so goddamn long, it had worked. He'd kept any feelings at bay, blocking himself off from humanity and busying himself in his holy missions.
It had worked so perfectly until Luna came along.
"Dio, um… I know this scenario isn't… ideal for you," Luna pointed out one night, sitting opposite him in his room. "Is there anything I can do to... help you be more comfortable here…?" Her laced hands fidgeted in her lap, a nervous smile on her face.
They'd had basic exchanges like this before, and usually he'd scoff and suggest something blasphemous, like a Happy Meal or some shit. Sometimes, she'd ask questions that he dared not acknowledge, let alone answer, deciding instead to brush her off. As time went on, he tried to just flat-out ignore her kind acts, in fear of them growing to mean something to him, but in the deepest corners of his heart, Dio knew it was a losing battle.
Once he felt something, he couldn't un-feel it - things didn't work like that. It became more and more difficult to respond to her attempts at conversation; the words he wanted to say were there, of course, but simply refused to leave the tip of his tongue and push past his lips. A steady, loud thrumming in his chest made him hesitate, and oftentimes he found himself growing silent and trying to will her away with his thoughts alone.
"Dio…?" she repeated, and it was fucking disgusting how much he liked the sound of his name in her voice.
He had to bite down hard onto his lip to avoid replying. If he gave her a response, that would begin the whole process of conversation, which would open him up more and more for her to tear at what was left of his heart's lousy thread.
Usually, anytime he'd present silence as an answer, she'd give up and choose to ask him something different the next day, but this time… this time she seemed stubborn, like she didn't want to give it up just yet. Her hands timidly touched his face, bright blue eyes focused entirely on him.
The movement stunned him, and not just because it was sudden; he was always adverse to touch, but this was such a gentle gesture that he felt completely caught off-guard.
A sweetness splashed the back of his throat, the scent so sickening it was as if he'd swallowed perfume. He sucked in a shaky breath and clamped a hand over his mouth, making a strong effort to hold back whatever his body was threatening to spew. He managed to keep it down this time, but feared it wasn't gone for good just yet.
He took a step back, releasing her palms from his cheeks, and mustered up as fierce a glare as he could.
"L-leave me the fuck alone," he spat, all of the words escaping like vomit - and hopefully nothing else. "I don't want this - I don't want you to keep checking in on me, Luna. It's not helping me any. I'm still fucking trapped here, and I know Kurashiki has no intentions of releasing me. So stop making this prison as 'comfortable' as you can - it's still a fucking prison!"
His words made her eyes widen in a way that churned his stomach - and began to block his airway. Oh, fuck. He couldn't block it any longer, the bubbling sensation returning to his chest; as swiftly as he could, he shuffled her to the door.
"Leave me alone," he ground out, trying to keep the sweetness at bay in the back of his mouth. In desperation, he even offered up a quiet, "Please."
Luna took a quick look at him, probably very aware he wasn't well, but she mercifully decided to leave. "I'm sorry if I upset you," she murmured, lowering her eyes. "I'll be back tomorrow. Goodnight, Dio," she whispered, shutting the door behind her.
Dio paused for a few moments, feeling somewhat relieved that she wouldn't witness this. If she saw him so sick, she'd probably frown because she was that caring - she'd still give a shit about the likes of him, her enemy, despite everything. The thought just made things worse, though. Hands went again for his mouth, but he couldn't hold them back any longer. Just like last time, it was uncontrollable and unpredictable - not to mention cruel.
He rushed into the bathroom, head drooped over the toilet as he expelled the sweetness from his throat. It was a strange sensation, but also very unique. Unlike vomit, the petals didn't burn, and actually had a sort of comforting taste as they left his mouth.
The aroma of the flowers filled that small room, and Dio couldn't decide if they made him feel sick or placated. It certainly wasn't the worst smell in the world, he admitted to himself. One thing did alarm him, though: this time, he was spending a much longer period throwing them up. The petals were also a different color, the dark purples and pinks of the past being replaced with a stark white. These were smaller, more delicate - but they were higher in number.
Though he wanted to know what these flowers were and what they meant, Dio knew that was last on his list of priorities right now.
He continued to puke his guts out - or rather, his lungs - until he couldn't taste any more. A numbness washed over his insides as he put his head down on the toilet seat, feeling disgusting in more ways than one. With a shaky hand, he flushed down all the petals that had landed in the water (he couldn't be bothered to clean up the ones around the bowl). Lifelessly, he watched his mess disappear in a swirled vortex of white.
With a groan, Dio forced himself to stand and slunk over to his bed, flopping onto the soft mattress. His chest burned and his throat felt dry, but the flowers had stopped for now. He was sure there were more growing in his chest, but at least he had some time to rest - and as exhausted he was from retching, he was able to slip into sleep quickly.
A knock on his door woke him the next morning, and he didn't even have to guess who it was. Letting out a mumbled groan, he wished he could keep her away from him with the noise alone, but he knew it was pointless. No matter how much he wished to be alone, he knew he wouldn't be granted it - there was no complete solitude in prison, after all.
Dio sat up, rubbing his eyes and sluggishly getting to his feet. He still felt a bit queasy after last night, feeling like a weight was settled directly onto his chest. He stumbled towards the door and leaned against it, not yet ready to open it.
"What do you want?" he demanded, his voice terribly hoarse.
The soft voice on the other end made him shiver. "I brought breakfast, Dio. I'm, um… I'm sorry about last night."
What did she have to be sorry for? Yeah, she pushed a little harder for him to answer her, but why shouldn't she? All she really did was touch him, and that was enough to set it all into motion; she really should stay away from men as good as dead, but he wasn't in a position, as her prisoner, to tell her that.
"I'm not hungry," he muttered, pressing his fists against the door.
"Are you sure…?"
"Yes, I'm fucking sure!" There was a heavy pause, and Dio suddenly felt a little bad for snapping. "Uh. Sorry. I am sure, though."
"Okay," she called back, her tone as sweet as ever. "Are you feeling alright…? Would you like to go walk around in the garden for a bit?"
Damn her, she knew that he enjoyed that almost as much as she did. There was little to do in this dumb facility, after all, and Dio had taken a bit of a liking to the B. Garden. Entering the garden was a bit like stepping into the past, as it was one of the only places that looked like Earth before Radical-6 fucked it up. And while the artificial version of nature was calming, it was hard not to feel a twinge of guilt at destroying the real thing.
"I want to," he admitted, his eyes shutting tightly as his chest began to hurt again. "I want to… it's not like hanging out with you is the worst thing in the world, y'know." Despite himself, he chuckled; seemed like he wasn't able to be fully cruel to her anymore.
And she laughed in return, sending shockwaves of pain through his ribcage at each inflection. "I enjoy spending time with you too, Dio," she said, sounding earnest. "I know you can't exactly leave, and I hope you don't mind me saying, but when I'm around you… I don't feel quite so alone."
The effect of her words hit him immediately; he coughed violently, gagging on fresh flowers. They dripped from his mouth, this time with some blood to stain the white petals red. The sight should've alarmed him, but he almost felt detached from reality as he hacked and hacked.
"Dio-?!" Luna's concerned voice grew muffled as he collapsed onto his knees, his eyes screwed shut in pain.
Globs of scarlet and white covered the floor, and Dio absentmindedly noted their beauty. He had trouble believing the sight originated from him, but he supposed even thorns have roses attached to them - no sick pun intended.
Though he was lost in a fit of coughing, he knew the inevitable truth of the situation: in a fucked-up way, his life would end up being sacrificed here in Rhizome-9, but not in the way he originally intended.
He continued to retch, the sweet smell mixed with blood fermenting in the air, so thick and nauseating and he couldn't breathe. His lungs struggled to push air through his mouth, but the flowers caught in his throat and there were too many, too many petals and blood and oh fucking god was he going to die right now-!?
There was a faint sound of a door opening, and a hand on his shoulder. As he choked, Dio looked up into the eyes of the one responsible for his suffocation. Even still, he couldn't make himself blame her.
It hurt. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt so badly, why did it hurt so badly?!
Memories squirmed around his mind like worms, their presence just as disgusting and dirty. Thoughts of dreams and purple flowers bit into him, reminding him of the burning shame that still haunted him.
His brothers' disappointed faces flashed before his eyes, their threats to make him leave the only home he'd ever had echoing in his mind.
"This is not how a soldier of Brother should behave," they hissed. "You have committed another serious sin. What say you in defense?"
"I'm sorry," he murmured in between hacks, already too familiar with the taste of the flowers. "I'm sorry, I- I-"
"Silence! This is unacceptable. We've given you too many chances. How can your soul be saved now? Do you think you are still deserving of His mercy?"
"I'm not worthy. I'm not worthy." He could hear himself repeating it, but it sounded almost too far away - like someone else was saying it. But it was all him, he knew, because who else would be so pathetic as to succumb to this disease twice? Who else would take the second chance Brother had given him and waste it like the wretch he was?
"Do we need to dispose of this one, as well?"
"No. No. No! Don't!" He could feel himself growing hysterical, but couldn't help himself. The images of his brothers were threatening to kill Luna, and this time… this time he didn't want that at all.
I don't fucking want her to die!
It was useless. It was so goddamn pointless that it was almost laughable. He was weak, pitiful compared to any divine wrath Brother or Free the Soul could deliver. It hurt him to admit, but he wouldn't be able to protect Luna from any attacks due to his pathetic state.
His body swayed dangerously, the tips of his fingers brushing against the bloody blossoms as his arms gave out, no longer able to hold up his kneeling body.
Just a few kind words from her, and he was gagging on flowers all over again. There really was no escaping it - if Dio was here, he'd see her, hear her, or at least think of her... and this would continue to plague him.
As the world became blurry and darkened, it dawned on him how trapped he was. There was no doubt that this disease would kill him if he continued to love her.
Dio woke to the sensation of fingers through his hair, and an extra-soft surface below his head. Squinting through the blurry world, he noted that everything was sideways - and that was… not as alarming as it probably should be. The haze cleared, and he connected the dots: he was on his side, his head lifted on top of someone's lap, and that someone was stroking his hair softly.
Dragging his gaze to the floor, he instantly noted that his mess had been gathered into neat piles. His hat was sitting on the nightstand beside his bed, and there was some kind of light tune playing near his ear.
The delicate touches didn't bother him as he thought they would; perhaps he was too tired from his whole ordeal, but he couldn't bring himself to fear them. He knew it was Luna, too - the noise was from her music box necklace, he realized all at once - but he didn't have the strength to fight it.
His chest throbbed, his throat felt like sandpaper, and his tongue was dry - but at least the petals were kept at bay for now. Of that, he could at least be grateful for.
He must've made an involuntary noise upon his rousing, for Luna spoke up without warning, her soft voice fluttering through the air.
"Why didn't you tell me this was happening?" Her tone was closer to concern than any kind of accusation.
His exhausted mind couldn't bother to mask his emotions any longer; he knew firsthand what would happen if he tried to hide, after all. With a defeated sigh, he muttered, "I was ashamed."
Luna hummed thoughtfully, brushing back a few loose strands of his hair. "If you weren't feeling well, um… I have medical training..."
He snorted. "I doubt you've encountered this before."
"I haven't, you're right," she admitted with a sheepish chuckle. "However… I've read about it. Expelling flowers growing in the lungs… Hanahaki Disease, it's called."
"Neat." He didn't give two fucks about the name, but wasn't in it to argue. Now that she knew his little secret, it all felt even more pointless. And the implications weren't lost on him; he would continue to get worse until he completely suffocated on the flowers. It would probably be very painful and slow, but the emotions or whatever were no better. One-sided or not, Dio knew love was toxic; Hanahaki just proved his point further.
Her fingers continued to comb through his loose blond strands, and it brought a weird sort of calmness. He felt warm, but not uncomfortable or in pain - right here, just for now, things were alright. He released a long sigh from his aching lungs, closing his eyes briefly and just focusing on the sensations.
"I've heard there are cures," she offered, "but I'm not quite sure if they work."
"Oh, I've heard of some, too," he sneered bitterly, cracking an eye open to look up towards her. "None of which I'm willing to try." Luna returning his affections was impossible, he didn't know shit about the operation necessary, and he feared what Free the Soul could do to Luna if they got their hands on her.
(Not that he thought they really could, given that they were on Earth and he was on the moon, but… hypothetically-speaking.)
"Well, I suppose in spite of it all," Luna murmured, bringing him back to reality, "they're very beautiful petals."
He couldn't help but snicker, too placated by the atmosphere to say much. It wasn't like he disagreed, either; even speckled with blood, they were much more easy on the eyes than the petunias of the past.
"What's the name of the flower?" he heard himself ask. If anyone, he was sure Luna would be able to identify them.
Thankfully, she answered rather quickly. "Daisies. I've always wanted to see them in person, but… admittedly, not like this."
"Yeah, me neither," he agreed, rolling his eyes. "This Hanahaki disease, or whatever… it's so fucking gross."
He could see the curls hanging off her face bounce about, a telltale sign she shook her head. "No, it's… the petals don't look ugly," she said gently, clearly being careful with her words. "But they caused you so much pain, and I don't like that."
His heart started to pound against his sore ribs, so he opted to change the subject a little. "Flowers have meaning, or so I'm told."
"Yes, it's called flower language!" Luna exclaimed. "I find it fascinating. If you like, I can show you some examples in the B. Garden sometime."
Truthfully, he didn't think he'd last long enough to make it back to the garden, but he didn't have the heart to tell her that. At the very least, he could enjoy what time he had left with her, here; the thought of that didn't scare him as much as before, oddly enough.
"Sure, whatever." For once, he was lulled into a state of peace; he felt relaxed at her touches, the fading music box tune, and the relief of his chest no longer hurting.
Why doesn't it hurt, anyway? He asked himself, then decided it didn't really matter. Why should he question good things?
"A lot of flowers have multiple meanings, you know." Luna said, her voice once more snapping him out of his mind. "Daisies, too."
Remembering the harsh associations with petunias, he was fearful his lungs' choice of plants this time around would be just as horrible. But he made it this far into the conversation without anxiety, so he might as well continue. Hesitantly, he asked, "What do daisies mean?"
"Purity. Innocence." He could practically hear the smile in her answer, and there wasn't even a twinge of pain in his chest. "New beginnings."