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when fall comes

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Akabane Karma is not expecting anything like a miracle.

 

He still feels the feeling of bruised skin against his knuckles and the glorious rush of adrenaline. Even if they try to discipline him, these things will forever be burned into his mind. The only thing different now is that he’s wearing another school’s uniform. It’s crisp and uncomfortable, the shirt buttoned all the way up, cuffing his neck.

 

It’s disgusting, the way the students mill about like flocks of distracted birds.
It’s disgusting how well they can fit in, like gray blocks against a cloudy sky.

It’s disgusting how he still can’t change himself, because he wants to fight.

 

He already wants to get out of his seat and leave.

 

The teacher drones on and on about some crusty Japanese war hero and Karma twiddles his pencil absentmindedly. Sitting in the back of room has its benefits, though he can barely make out the tiny characters of whatever lecture the teacher is writing on the board. The redhead leans back and makes use of the space behind him to stretch his legs and relax; his eyes start to wander and the chair squeaks.

 

There’s a twitch of the blue-haired boy sitting in front of him.

 

Karma leans back forward and mutters under his breath a muted apology, and he’s sure that he can’t hear.

 

The bored redhead goes back to staring at nothing in the classroom, and completely misses the reply of, “No problem.”

 


 

 

When the break bell rings, Karma tries his best to keep his temper.

 

He gets up to go to the washroom and splashes cold water to attempt to keep his blood down, but it simmers, ready to explode at any given moment. As he saunters back to his classroom, he can hear whispering, even if it’s not talking about him, and just the thought of it makes him angry. His nails dig into his palm and he grits his teeth.

 

Surprisingly, he makes it back to his seat, and he finds it odd how the blue-haired boy in front of him is alone at his desk, scribbling something down with his body covering it.

 

But it doesn’t matter to him.

 

Karma lets out a sigh and leans back on his chair again, the loud squeak only adding to the cacophony of school noise. He can’t help but feel bored; he’s not used to sitting at a desk and looking prim and proper, or at least as much as he can. He’s not used to not moving, or rather, not used to punching and beating people up.

 

The redhead cracks his knuckles and there’s a high-pitched squeal and words he can probably guess. He feels their fixed eyes and hungry gazes; instinctively, his eyes narrow and thinking about people fabricating his personality and his past to fit their taste makes his simmering blood boil.

 

Just as he’s about to slam his hand on his desk, the blue-haired boy turns around and catches his attention.

 

He has blue eyes, the same shade as the sky.

 

“I know you weren’t paying attention to the lecture, so, would you like to have my notes?” He offers a spiral-bound notebook with a black cover tentatively. The boy is smiling, shyly, and his eyes don’t meet Karma’s blank stare. At that instant, the redhead’s hands freeze and they mechanically take the notebook from him, but his gray eyes are still dazed and his brain reeling from the impact of that smile.

 

“Thanks,” he can only choke out dumbly and he sits at his desk, prim and proper, staring at the black cover of the notebook.

 

Yet, all he can see is that smile.

 


 

 

Karma learns his name is Nagisa. It’s a feminine name, but he doesn’t care very much for names. What he does care about is that the kid knew when to step in and how to step in, and charmed him with that dastardly smile that he’s doing right now.

 

The blue-haired boy isn’t looking him in the eyes, like before, and, with the little quirk of his lip, has drawn Karma right back into hell. But it’s a hell he really doesn’t mind, because his heart does a little flip-flop and butterflies roam at his fingers and nest in his stomach like a pleasant summer’s breeze.

 

“Thanks...for the notes,” the redhead tries to sound as if he’s not nervous at all and probably pulls it off when he smirks and shoves his hands back into his pockets.

 

“It’s no problem, Karma,” Nagisa smiles and then looks up.

 

Karma’s heart definitely stops this time when their eyes meet.

 


 

 

It takes a while for Karma to worm his way into Nagisa’s daily schedules. But the effort is worth it.

 

When Nagisa turns around to smile at him, and chats as if he’s a normal student, and not a delinquent tossed out of a private school, it makes his heart swell. He still borrows the blue-haired boy’s notes, in that black notebook that fate delivered to him.

 


 

 

Two years later, Karma can’t believe he’s stayed in school for this long.

 

He sits on the bench, with his simple bento, Nagisa beside him, staring at the sky, and the trees that are starting to change colors as vividly as a citrus light show. It’s never a distracting or tense silence between them; it’s surprising how far they’ve come without a single fight. Perhaps it’s because the blue-haired boy naturally acts like a mediator, and Karma falls every time for it.

 

He still doesn’t mind, after all, Nagisa was the one who saved him.

 

Two years later, they’re still using the black-covered notebook, but the notes no longer exist in the second half. If anything, it’s filled with ashy black doodles and ripped pages because they’ve passed notes to each other in class, like rebels. Where everyone texts with the blue illuminating light of a screen, they toss papers at each other, hiding secret grins and laughing at each other’s messy handwriting.

 

Karma was there for Nagisa when things hit the rocky waves of a turbulent ocean; he was there to wipe the tears off his face and whisper that everything would turn out alright, that his mother was a sick bastard, deserving of a lifetime’s worth of jail.

 

But even saving him then wasn’t enough to repay for what the blue-haired boy did for him that day.

 

“I still owe you a lot,” the redhead comments, out of the blue, and Nagisa glances at him with surprisingly unperturbed eyes. He doesn’t reply for a while, is silent and pondering, savoring the simple food in front of him, watching the passage of birds and time.

 

“You can make it up, later,” the smaller boy finally murmurs and sets his chopsticks down. There’s not a speck of rice in the container left and the wind blows, ruffling his neat pigtails into puffy messes; he doesn’t flinch or adjust them and maybe that’s something that strikes Karma as unique to him. “It shouldn’t be that hard.”

 

Nagisa reaches over and grabs Karma’s hand and tightly squeezes it with a smile that makes the redhead’s heart pound a samba beat against his ribs.

 


 

 

They’re happy, together.

 

After that day, Karma accompanied Nagisa home and it felt natural to hold hands. They never spoke it aloud, the part where one confesses and a date is established, but they’re not as normal and conventional as the other couples at their school. Both of them never told anyone, but their closest friends smiled knowingly when they walked in together or scooted their desks side-by-side for a partner project. No words were ever spoken, but they just knew…

 

Karma places the usual juice on Nagisa’s desk and ignores the conspiring whisperers of gossip girls and inquisitive boys.

 

The shorter boy looks up from the black notebook and smiles at him, quickly putting it back into his backpack. He grabs the juice from the warm hand holding it and thanks him with a nod of the head and a “thanks, Karma.” As he stabs the straw into the box, the redhead replies noiselessly with a tilt of his head and a loud suck of his strawberry milk.

 

“Don’t you want to try something different, sometimes?” The blue-haired boy asks his boyfriend and it takes a while for him to respond.

 

“I think this is fine,” he replies and Nagisa agrees. Nothing feels better to him than spending time with Karma, even if it’s quiet.

 


 

 

They’re still so young, that’s what everyone says, and a part of him feels like what they’re doing is too fast, but it feels perfectly right.

 

Karma’s hand is warm in his, his fingers are tight, but not constricting. It feels like he can leave at any time, but his grip is strong enough to keep him beside him, grounding him from floating into the blue beyond. But Nagisa has to focus on the way his lips brush against his forehead, then trail down to his cheeks, then kiss his eyelids. They feel like butterfly touches but his lips are slightly dry and just a little chapped; it doesn’t matter to him.

 

“K-karma,” he manages to get out, but the redhead doesn’t reply.

 

His gray eyes are hazy and almost glassy, darker than they usually are, but he never goes beyond kissing his face. He never goes beyond, without his consent, and it’s something that Nagisa appreciates so much from him.

 

The red-haired male silently goes back to kissing him, until he simply presses his forehead to his and their breaths intermingle like their fingers.

 

It’s warm and Nagisa wants to sleep, but his heart is thudding and he feels so alive at the same time. There’s a twinge of tension in his shoulder, but he ignores it, he’s so enveloped by the moment that he forgets to tell Karma entirely that the position is weirdly uncomfortable.

 

They fall asleep together, in a heap of rumpled clothing and flushed cheeks and sweaty hands, but for the both of them, there’s no other way they’d like to be together.

 


 

 

The first time it starts is when they’re walking home together.

 

Karma is beside him, slightly in front of him, leaning backwards at the waist and languidly strolling. The shorter boy has to walk faster to keep up with him and he finds himself feeling weak at the waist. It’s been a presence since the morning, a pulling kind of numbness in his legs and waist, and thinking about the possibilities makes his head whirl...

 

He suddenly remembers his family tree, and his dad’s side.

 

Grandfather had a disease, didn’t he? He couldn’t walk and he was always in a wheelchair. He always smiled, but there were tears hidden behind those lips, weren’t there?

 

Nagisa trips, but he catches himself and in that split second, he registers what’s happening. Karma is suddenly in front of him and his blue eyes meet worried gray and there’s a pit in his stomach and he’s falling so fast that he’s speechless.

 

“Are you okay?” His eyes are narrowed.

 

Are you suspicious yet?

 

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Nagisa replies and musters up a smile. He brushes his front off and puts up the mask, yet again. Karma seemingly buys it and returns to his post beside him, his arms now swinging by his sides.

 

No?

 

Nagisa can’t help but be glad that Karma doesn’t have to worry yet.

 


 

 

He figures he still has a long time before it gets serious and he shrugs, slipping the paper under mountains of other papers. His desk is an absolute mess and he sighs a little bit, not loud enough to alert his mom in the other room.

 

As he settles down to finish his homework, Nagisa’s phone buzzes from the table and the boy almost jumps up in fright. His pigtails fluff up as his eyes dart from side to side, watching and waiting to see if the woman from the other room will charge because of the disturbance in the peace. They only flatten when his heart begins to level out because there’s no noise in the house.

 

The blue-haired boy picks up the phone and greedily flicks the screen, eager for Karma’s message.

 

And it makes him laugh, but he has to stifle it in fear.

 

The pictures Karma sends always make him laugh, but maybe it’s seeing his face amidst the fright in his heart that makes his stomach warm and his cheeks flush. He clutches the phone close to him, feeling the warmth from the phone that reminds him of the redhead’s hands, and his lips curve into a smile that almost hurts his face. Nagisa’s fingers tighten and, slipping out of the chair, he flops onto the bed with a sigh.

 

Outside the window, the lamp light flickers like a still firefly and he glances at the screen again.

 

Karma, with his sinful smirk, holding his hand up in a half heart.

'Finish the heart, Nagisa!’

 

He curves his hand into a half heart and hopes that his camera is better quality than the last as he snaps the picture and sends it with the faintest grin.

 

‘Finished it. Love you.’

 


 

 

Nagisa flips through the black notebook and his eyes skim over the notes in the first half, but he pauses briefly to stare at the Japanese war hero notes that one lecture. He would never forget that lecture, but he flips the pages, passing all the neat, gray notes boxed in and written straight. There’s a period of blank pages, as if someone was waiting for more notes, but then, he gets to what he’s looking for.  

 

The second half is layered with doodles and dumb, silly things.

 

But he continues, eyes flicking past the small doodles on the lined paper, there’s one of Karma and him holding hands and smiling, it’s rough and crude and Karma laughed at it when he saw it, but it’s what Nagisa wants to draw and that’s what matters, right? And there’s the other one with the mistletoe, but he flips it and it disappears behind another sheet.

 

Near the end of the notepad, he finally finds what he wants.

 

It’s a list of things they want to do together, him and Karma.

 

Tears fill his eyes as he presses his hand against the words and hides them. His hand twitches to rip the page out, but Nagisa reaches for the black marker and with hard marks, he crosses all of them out in a fit of rage. His fingers clench around the pen with such ferocity that he hears his knuckle crack and, finally, his tears roll down his cheeks.

 

Silently, he stares at the work in front of him.

 

The only things remaining are the etched forms of pencil underneath the angry dark strokes and the innocent title that stares back at him with wide, accusing eyes.

 

I won’t be able to these things with him.

 

Nagisa’s hands crawl towards himself desperately and they grip his arms as he curls into himself, body quivering.

 

Not anymore.

 


 

 

Karma touches his hand, but Nagisa doesn’t move.

 

“Are you sure you’re okay?” His gray eyes narrow and the blue-haired boy barely nods. As they sit in the secluded area together, the sounds of crumbling fall leaves and students blend together in their ears until the only thing that they hear is a slow, methodical breathing between the two of them. Karma’s hand clenches tighter, forcefully twining his fingers through the other male’s.

 

“What are you--”

 

The redhead’s face is so close, their noses almost touch and Nagisa’s breath stops. His gray eyes are sharp and bright, tinted halfway with the light of the sun from his other side, and his eyebrows are angry as they sharply furrow downwards.

 

“Something is wrong, I know it,” Karma breathes and it makes the other boy close his eyes and hope that he won’t have to know this soon.

 

“It’s nothing to worry about,” Nagisa replies softly and musters up a smile, hoping that he’ll fall for it. “It’ll smooth itself over soon, I hope.”

 

The wind ruffles his hair and he feels two hands on his cheeks and a pressure on his forehead.

 

Karma’s eyes are closed too, and the blue-haired boy can breathe easier now. His heart thumps against his ribs because of the lie, but he ignores it.

 

“I hope so, too.”

 

Nagisa feels the burn in his throat and the gradual welling in his eyes. He forces it back and only hiccups once, and he feels the hands rubbing against his cheeks, dragging up into his hair, where Karma gently massages his head.

 

It’s odd, but it makes his tears recede, and he smiles. For real, this time.

 

“Thank you, Karma.”

 

He’s too good for me.

 


 

 

His feet and toes tingle all day, and when he walks, it feels like he’s dragging two stumps of wood. It’s hard to even stumble out of bed and something so simple causes him to feel dizzy. Nagisa falls and his mother quickly rushes to his side, her face sickly sweet and a hidden lion’s grin behind her worried facade. Her hands are like claws and they support him and he forces back his shriek of fear when she drags him to the car.

 

There’s no way he can fight her off. He subsides and she smiles.

 

Everything is alright.

 


 

 

The inside of the hospital smells sickly. Everything seems to cling onto him like slime and the warmth against his skin is damp and disgusting. The halls are white and the walls are white and the lights are a pure and blinding white; the nurses wear white, and the doctors bathe in bleach and smell like death.

 

The smell of death is strong, in front of him, a specter in the guise of a stern old man.

 

“This is a slow, and degenerative disease. With our current technology and medicine, we can only hamper the process, but you...will eventually die,” the doctor states, his face stoic and unchanging, but coldly sympathetic.

 

I don’t want this.

 

Nagisa’s fists clench, and he wonders when he won’t be able to do something as simple as that. By his side, Hiromi smiles, triumphantly in her son’s eyes, and stands up with the vigor of a spry young adult.

 

“Shall we start with a wheelchair?” Her voice drips poisonous honey and he wants to cover his ears and scream until his throat bleeds and his lungs disintegrate into the wind, but it’s so quiet and the beeping from down the hall mirrors his surprisingly calm heart, but he doesn’t know why he’s not screaming yet. “Nagisa?”

 

He can feel her fingers threading through his hair, and it feels nothing like the way Karma does it.

 

No. “Yes, Mother.”

 

Hiromi’s eyes soften and she helps him into the stiff and new wheelchair, her lips in an unchanging curve like the crescent of the moon. He shudders as her fingers brush languidly on his forearm. The wheelchair is far too large and the scent of faux leather and alcohol stings his nose like wasps; the chattering of patients and nurses and doctors sound like swarms of bees buzzing.

 

Get me out.

 

Nagisa wonders what Karma is doing as the squeaking of new wheels scrapes against the laminated floor.

 

Save me.

 

But there’s no one there to hear his calls, only the rustling branches of fall leaves and the mocking sun, both watching him with eyes that cannot see. He doesn’t feel comfort in realizing that nothing can hear him, because he wants to scream.

 

The smile Hiromi has, reflected in the car windows, chills him more than a blizzard’s wind.

 


 

 

Nagisa is absent from school for the days it takes for him to see the doctor, but when his aide wheels him past the front gates, the sudden dread in his heart reminds him that he has to see Karma and explain to him that it’s not going to go away and that he probably should’ve told him earlier, but it’s too late now and he regrets a lot of things that he can’t do anymore.

 

From the corner of his eye, he sees a girl tiptoe and kiss her boyfriend on the lips, but he turns away and covers his face with his hands. He hears the joyous shriek and the loud tapping of two pairs of shoe soles against the ground and he presses his fingers into his eyes, hoping that he can dig them into his tear ducts and prevent the flow of tears that are bound to run down his face.

 

As the aide silently wheels him into the building and replaces his shoes for him, he can feel the heavy stares from the other students. There’s whispering and it’s an anomaly, there’s a wheelchair person in the school and they haven’t seen one in forever. He’s not a laughingstock, but it feels like he’s one anyway.

 

But being in this building makes him anxious. Nagisa’s so scared to see Karma that his hands are shaking crazily.

 

When the wheelchair clatters noisily over the bump of the classroom door, all the students turn to look at him. He instinctively flinches, expecting angry eyes, but they’re all full of pity and he’s not sure if he prefers one over the other. In an attempt to keep his eyes off of Karma, he doesn’t want to see the look on his face, he points his gaze towards the tweed-donning teacher.

 

His boring face irritates Nagisa in some way he can’t place.

 

The teacher drones for a little bit, explaining a minuscule part of the disease he has, then prompts him to say something and he’s put on the spot, deer in headlights.

 

Nagisa whispers out, “Please take care of me, again,” and his stiff upper body spasms a little when he bows. The whispering starts again and his palms are sweaty; he wipes them on his uniform pants and they darken a bit.

 

Blue eyes scan the room, and he finds himself staring into gray.

 

They don’t look angry at all, contrary to what he believed he would see; they’re sad, they’re a bit shiny, if he looks into the light, and if anything, they look exactly the same.

 

He breathes a sigh of relief and his palms stop sweating, but he’s still not ready.

 


 

 

When the bell rings for break, Nagisa uses his arms and quickly pushes himself out into the hall, rolling to a place where he hopes will be isolated. His fingers are crossed that Karma will somehow be blocked by his friends and not find him, but his hopes are crushed too soon; before he even sighs in relief, he feels the familiar warm hand grip his shoulder.

 

“Nagisa, why didn’t you tell me?” His voice is surprisingly soft, and it’s painfully worried. “I was really worried when you didn’t answer my texts, I thought it was your mom--”

 

“I-I’m sorry, Karma,” the blue-haired boy stammers but a finger shushes him.

 

“You want some fresh air?” There’s a playfully mischievous smirk on his face and Nagisa is hit by how much he appreciates the fact that Karma didn’t change, that he’s acting the same way he always does, albeit ready to take more risks.

 

“Sure,” and he knows they’re going to skip.

 

The two of them somehow sneak past the teachers and escape by the side doors, also avoiding being captured by the PE teacher, who somehow doesn’t hear them. When Karma’s behind him, the air smells fresher, or maybe it’s because the familiar black jacket he’s always wearing is now draped over Nagisa. His fingers tightly clench it close to his body; it still has residual warmth and it protects him from the chilly wind.

 

“Where do you want to go?” Karma pushes hard and both of them glide on the smooth ground as his face leans into Nagisa’s front periphery. The grin on his face makes his heart skip a beat, and he smiles back, although it’s considerably smaller.

 

“The park,” he replies comfortably and sinks back into the chair. He’s getting used to the smell of leather and the sterile scent is fading.

 

As the wind blows against their faces, a relaxed silence settles between the two of them.

 

The sunlight, the breeze, the changing color of the leaves…

 

He closes his eyes and it almost feels as if nothing is wrong.

 

“Karma?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

Nagisa opens his eyes and he sees the distant outline of the park. His breaths’ rhythm slows down and the sound of the wheels against ground dims in his ears; if only a moment could last forever, he’s sure he’d want this one to be it.

 

“Thank you.”

 

“It’s nothing,” Karma grins and, with his red hair glistening orange and his skin dappled pink, Nagisa suddenly wants to kiss it off his face.

 

When they arrive at the very opening, some of the adults with their young kids give them strange stares, but with the creaking of the wheelchair, most of them avert their gaze. As the blue-haired boy leans back and his hands tremble, he can feel Karma’s grip on the handlebars tighten. No words are spoken, but both of them know they’re thinking the same thing and that alone comforts them. In the end, they don’t care what others think of them, so Nagisa’s lips quirk up and Karma’s lazy smirk reappears.

 

In a particularly shady spot in the park, where two trees’ branches entwined together, the redhead slows down and turns Nagisa around so that he’s facing not the brown trunks of the pines, but the radiant glow of children playing on vibrantly colored playground structures and adults fondly watching them. Despite the almost violent shrieking from the kids, the blue-haired boy closes his eyes, his expression unreadable, but serene nevertheless.

 

However, as time slowly drags past them with its chain-shackled legs and tired face, Nagisa’s hands begin to tremble.

 

At first, it’s small, unnoticeable, because Karma is staring straight ahead, leaning his head close to his boyfriend’s. But as time passes, he glances down, and things are not as peaceful as they seem.

 

The taller male stands up and goes around with a half-worried expression.

 

“Nagisa?” He narrows his eyes and kneels in front of him, his hands tightly gripping the paler set in front of him.

 

There are tears beading up in his closed, dark blue lashes and his lips quiver like his hands. It’s unsightly when he opens his mouth and his cheeks are red and his eyes are almost swollen and even Karma can tell there will be snot dribbling from his nose soon, but the redhead steels himself and lectures that Nagisa will always come first and his clothes will come last.

 

“Shh, Nagisa,” he breathes out and presses his thumbs against the other male’s face and brushes away the droplets rolling down his cheeks. The hiccups and erratic breaths almost make the redhead’s movements stall and he wants to comfort him, but he doesn’t know how; the tears seemingly never stop and Karma can only attempt to soothe him with his soft kisses.

 

His lips brush over his eyebrows, his cheeks, even daringly on his lips, and yet, nothing seems to work, but repetition eventually breaks through Nagisa’s shell of sadness. Nagisa’s crying become nothing more but a vague memory and red-rimmed eyes, and his partner sighs in relief, softly, sounding more like a wintry breath in the air.

 

“I-I’m sorry, Karma,” he forces out, managing to keep his voice steady. “It’s just--”

 

“It’s okay, things will work out,” the redhead consoles him and hugs him awkwardly, the positioning making his hips curve unnaturally, but it’s for him,there’s nothing that matters more than him, not even the world.

 

“N-no, it...it won’t stop,” he chokes out and he can’t even elaborate more; his throat is scratchy and the coolness of his hands feels amazing against his burning eyes.

 

Karma blinks and files it away for later, when it’s a better time to bring it up.

 

For now, he stands sentry, watching the passage of time pass them by in the form of the sun as it casts an orange glow about the blue sky, gazing silently and unmovable from Nagisa’s side.

 


 

 

The process is slow and grinding, but Nagisa makes it past the end of fall. His legs are almost unmovable by themselves now, but they twitch by themselves if he can force himself to make them. But he still feels ridiculously useless; he stares at his hands, hoping to every spiritual being out there that they won’t become as weak as his lower body. Something akin to regret surfaces within him, but that quickly disperses with her arrival.

 

Hiromi places her hands over his eyes and smiles, croons in his ear that it’s time to go to the doctor’s and he smothers the keening wail that tries to fight its way out of his throat.

 

He can’t tell if it’s better to endure as perfect doll, or feel as a broken human.

 


 

 

His fingers are slower that morning, and it’s probably not because of the cold.

 

Nagisa’s use of chopsticks decreases sharply and he watches, as if behind a static screen, as the food constantly drops from the utensils and frustration bubbles inside of him and he can’t tear his eyes away from his shaking hands.

 

“Why can’t--I just--” his words tumble out of his mouth, almost unintelligible and Karma stares at him with wide eyes. “This is so easy...I--what the hell--!”

 

He doesn’t even notice the tears sliding down his face, in broad daylight, in front of everyone. The classroom is still and his quivering fingers seem to vibrate a low noise in his ears and he wants to hide away, disappear, fall into the darkness or bury himself away. The remains of the rice that were in his grasp are splattered against the table and he hears the squeak of his wheelchair. The scene feels so far away and the edges of his vision are painted with a hazy black; who is in my body?

 

“Let’s get you out of here,” Karma breathes and his voice is unsteady and Nagisa snaps back to attention and he realizes that he’s doing this and it’s his fault that everyone is staring at them and there’s pain in his heart and his hands don’t stop shaking.

 

“K-Karma, it’s just cold, that’s it,” he laughs it away, but even to his ears, it sounds like so much of a lie and the guilt immediately slugs him in the stomach, but he can’t force another word.

 

The redhead’s hand is warm against his shoulder when he leans over to reply, “I know.”

 


 

 

When Nagisa sees his boyfriend the next morning, he’s hanging by his desk with a present in his hand. It’s wrapped with a blue ribbon and to be honest, rather shapeless. But he doesn’t say a word about it.

 

“Karma?” The blue-haired boy blinks and he eyes the wrapped gift, missing the widening grin on his face.

 

“Open it,” Karma nudges it towards him.

 

Despite the bland, but intrigued look on his face, excitement bubbles inside Nagisa and he can feel his pigtails fluffing up. Static runs through him and when he tears past the paper and opens the box, he shoves his hand inside and feels softness against his fingers. He pulls out the material and mittens meet his eyes. They’re woolen and warm, but seeing the vibrant blue-green pattern makes him want to cry good tears.

 

“Oh…” he breathes out and clutches them until his knuckles turn white and he can’t explain the warmth in his gut.

 

“You said it was cold, wasn’t it?” The lopsided smirk burns itself into Nagisa’s heart and the blue-haired boy exhales shakily, filled with emotions that rush over him like diving headfirst into water.

 

“Yeah… Thank you, again, Karma.”

 

At seeing the redhead head to his seat and watching that broad, but slender back, Nagisa realizes that he has lived for that smile for so long but it hasn’t settled in until now. The thought scares him, but as his fingers slip into the mittens, he knows that he’ll see it again and if he doesn’t, that he’ll do anything to make it happen, because that smile brightens his day more than the sunlight ever could.

 


 

 

When the two of them are in Karma’s room, Nagisa lies down on his bed and stares at the ceiling, briefly wondering what it would be like to wake up in the morning with the same view. He turns his head to watch his boyfriend chip away at extracurricular work and he studies the way his eyebrows knit down and the slight curve of his cheek, the way the light makes his hair glow when it filters through the half-closed blinds.

 

“Karma,” he says aloud and the target whips his head to look at Nagisa. The redhead looks briefly surprised, but his gray eyes melt as he tilts his head to the side.

 

“Hm?”

 

There’s a pregnant pause and Nagisa never breaks eye contact with the other male and vice versa, but he blinks and replies slowly, “I...really like you.”

 

It takes a bit for the words to settle in, and after processing them, the redhead visibly perks up and a small smile curves his lips in a pleasant crescent that has Nagisa’s heartbeat accelerating. “Hmmm, something’s up,” his voice seems to sneer but his face is too soft to constitute that tone.

 

He gets up with a low grunt and stumbles his way to the bed, crawling over the blue-haired boy to pin him down. “Something you want from me?”

 

The gray eyes above him are intense and dark as they look down and Nagisa can’t look him in the eyes. The young adult feels a flush on his cheeks and it radiates a warmth he barely feels from himself. When he turns to look at Karma, he can sense his heated stare and suddenly, things feel like they’re moving too fast, but he’s being swept up in the downstream current.

 

“Please…” The blue-haired male hears himself murmur, not sure what the word is supposed to imply, it could go both ways, and his boyfriend leans down to press an insistent kiss against his lips, but both of them don’t move; Nagisa is frozen and Karma knows.

 

“I know you really like me,” Karma laughs lightly as he separates, and his eyes aren’t as hazy anymore. Instead, he laces his fingers in-between Nagisa’s and turns his body so that they’re both facing each other, lying side-by-side. “But you don’t have to force yourself.”

 

“We have time, don’t we?” He smiles and it’s so wide and so loving and perfect that Nagisa leans forward and knocks foreheads with him with his eyes half-closed and his lips unmistakably in a wide smile. The redhead hasn’t seen it in a while and it makes his cheeks flush pale pink, but the other boy can’t see.

 

The question hangs in the air unanswered, but both of them are satisfied with that.

 

Nagisa presses a chaste kiss to his lips and in his head he says thank you a million times to the person that can truly understand him and hopes that Karma will never tire of him.

 


 

 

The visit to the doctor only brings him more pain.

 

Hiromi’s hands leave sticky, disgusting feelings on his skin and her nails scratch against his scalp as she runs her fingers through his hair. He tries not to think about her, not to think about the things she is surely thinking of him. When he grips his arm, his knuckles turn white and his eyebrows are strict lines on his face.

 

He imagines what it’s like to hold Karma and kiss him, and the stark white room changes into a hue of pink in his eyes and he wishes it would be as vibrant as the crimson of his hair.

 

He’s sorry he has to depend on him, even when he’s not here.

 


 

 

At home, in his wheelchair and food spread in front of him in his room, he takes advantage of the time when Hiromi isn’t staring at him with her dark, bottomless eyes.

 

The butter knife might be enough. It might change things, might enable everyone to let go of the burden named Shiota Nagisa. When he rolls up his pants to reveal the cream-colored thigh untouched by sun, he takes a breath and steels himself. There’s a part of him that doesn’t want to do it, but he needs to.

 

When he presses the sharper side to his skin, he can feel nothing, but when he releases, it leaves a white mark that slowly bleeds into red under the skin. Nagisa hopes it’ll bruise and he keeps pressing down, hoping that he’ll hit pain, that it’ll run straight through his veins and shock his brain and he’ll gasp and fall over because all of it comes at once, but it never does.

 

He swipes the blade against his skin repeatedly and grits his teeth.

 

“Why can’t I just--”


Against the white of his skin, he sees the beading up of blood and the sight of it makes something sigh in his heart and it feels pleasant, looking at the color of red that reminds him of Karma’s hair.

 

“Disappear?”

 

Nagisa can barely hear the shriek that echoes in the room and the vibrations feel muffled against his ears. But he can feel his mother collapse to her knees and yell at him, but they’re words that he can’t comprehend; the only sound he focuses on is the thumping and the repeated rush that accompanies the noise. Her fingers prod at his leg and when he looks down, his skin is splattered with sudden purple and red that almost shocks him if he didn’t know he made his own injuries.

 

“How could you do this to me? Don’t you consider other people besides yourself, you foolish child?!”

 

She blots at the blood from the cuts and a frustrated frown covers her grim lips. He can’t help but blithely think that it fits her and adds a contemptuous laugh in his head; he can never say it aloud, he’s too scared of the consequences to, but he’s free in his mind and that’s what matters. When she gets up to retrieve the healing cream, he debates what to do with the butter knife on the table.

 

Unfortunately, she trots back at a speed that hardly surprises him; he’s used to her being able to locate things fast, especially when he’s in danger of becoming anything less than a doll. Hiromi smears it on his thigh liberally and her stream of complaints is, once again, lost to his ears.

 

The only thing he ponders is the feeling of exhilaration at seeing his own blood for once.

 


 

 

According to the chart in the doctor’s room that’s specially chartered to his needs, his arms will give out on him soon.

 

Outside the window, the deep white of snow is receding and the branches are growing little tight buds and pale green feathers of leaves. Spring is coming and his arms feel heavy like lead, but thankfully, he can still move them. But to him, moving his fingers takes too much energy and he’s forgone using chopsticks to feed himself; he’s resorted to spoons and forks and he feels shame in doing so but for reasons unexplained even to himself.

 

Hiromi hovers about him with a pleased expression and the satin-white doctor stares at her, before continuing on.

 

“We’re speculating that with his current dosage, he might be able to live until the end of next year, around winter, but that might be prone to change, depending on his environment,” he states and his tone is bland, as if he’s said this to so many patients before, that he’s lost the ability of empathy. The dark-haired woman nods, but waits for him to continue his words.

 

“I think it’s better for him to stay in the hospital, so that we can monitor him and make sure he’s not being subject to stressors that may, possibly, accelerate his disease.”

 

Nagisa can feel Hiromi’s grip on his wheelchair tighten and he takes a breath to prepare himself.

 


 

 

After moving to the hospital and into his own private room, Nagisa has long since dropped school. Sometimes, his classmates come to visit, namely, Sugino and Kayano, and they bring goodies from trips and their keychains to show him. He puts up a smile as a front and waves to them as pleasantly as he can with his wood-like arm, but once the door shuts, it crashes to the white tile ground and he can feel the energy leave him like an exorcised spirit.

 

They don’t even bother to tell him the homework for the day, and it looks like it won’t matter anyway, but he keeps that part a secret from everyone. The chart’s not in his room, so none of them can see the red arrow that levels off then descends a smooth slope down to the black X-axis line to the bolded zero. However, it’s imprinted into his memory, the white of the chart’s background against the black of the lines, the red as startling as a flashing white light in the dark of the night.

 

And it scares him.

 

When he’s not sleeping, he feels the tremors in his body, ticking away like a timed bomb until he implodes in on himself and his brain spasms and his heart stills.

 

Nagisa wonders if when that bomb explodes, will his insides be painted white or red against the hospital’s walls? He thinks of the crimson shade of his blood and looks to the window, where he sees the barest blue sky and hears the tweeting of a bird. It doesn’t bring a smile to his face, looking at that sky he can’t touch; in the mirror, he can see the same sky in his eyes and it angers him, in a small, nonconsequential way.

 

If anything, he wonders if Karma stares at the sky and is reminded of him, but he sets that thought aside and focuses on falling back into the dream realm where there, perhaps, he won’t be hindered by his own body to do the things he wants to.

 


 

 

When his eyes blearily blink open, there’s a shock of red that he thinks is blood.

 

Sitting up suddenly, his vision swims and his head is light and dizzy, but through the blur, there’s a familiar face by his side. The hands around his are hot and he knows who it is, since his options are narrow; he only knows one person with hair the color of the tomatoes that grow outside the classroom.

 

“...Kar...ma?” When Nagisa goes to speak, it only comes out as a croak and a cough accompanies his dry mouth.

 

“Yeah, I’m here,” Karma whispers back and he feels a hand on his forehead, warm and hot, but not damp like his skin. His bangs are sticky and the bedridden boy feels the sweat making the hospital gown cling to his back. It’s so uncomfortable, but these minor setbacks fade away once he sees the little smile on the other male’s face.

 

“You were tossing around, so I took the liberty to wake you up,” the redhead continues and Nagisa closes his eyes again.

 

“...Sorry,” He breathes out, but he feels the grip on his hand tighten.

 

“Don’t be sorry,” Karma forcefully threads his fingers in-between Nagisa’s and he closes his eyes, pressing his warm forehead against the cold palm he holds. “Don’t ever...be sorry for something you can’t control.”

 

“But--”

 

He lifts his head and Karma’s eyes are startlingly hard, a blade poised to strike, but it’s not aimed towards him, and Nagisa’s words die on his lips. This part of him scares the drowsy male; the part that looks like he’ll kill anyone that stands in his way.

 


 

 

Whenever Hiromi comes into the room, it strikes the blue-haired boy as weird when no nurses ever show up when she’s there. It’s only her and her honey trap smile, her cold fingers that trail over his hair like spiders running up and down his spine. When she undresses him, he stares at the ceiling, praying for someone to whisk him away. When she slides him into the dress with the tag still attached, he tries not to look at the pleased expression on her face as she arranges his arms and legs as if he’s a pose doll for an artist.

 

“You’re so cute, I could take a picture of you,” she cooes and he winces. “But I’ll have you all to myself, so I won’t.”

 

Nagisa wonders, as his eyes follow the cracks in the ceiling like black cobwebs, when the meaning of the word ‘cute’ changed for him.

 


 

 

“Ah, the nurse at the desk called me by my name today,” Karma’s head bobs from side-to-side as he recites the interesting moments of his day to the bedridden male. “It’s funny, I think I only gave her my name once, but I do come here every day, so it’s expected.”

 

The upbeat tone of his voice sounds so fake to Nagisa’s ears as he silently nods. He doesn’t even want to speak, he’s so tired, but he knows that if he doesn’t, he might not ever be able to say a word again. Turning his head to look at his boyfriend, his eyes squint as he tries to scrabble for his hand to hold, but now, he can barely feel anything under his fingers.

 

“Karma, can you scoot closer?” The blue-haired boy blinks and waits as the scraping of his chair against the ground stops.

 

Turning onto his side, his legs flopping awkwardly as he forces his waist to turn both of them, his arms reach up to touch Karma’s face, but he feels nothing. His fingers are like pieces of rubber attached without nerves to his arm made of sticks, and seeing his own bones rubbing against his pale skin makes him want to hurl. However, the redhead only closes his eyes and lets the clumsy fingers wander over his eyebrows, his eyes, his hard jawline, the bridge of his nose, everywhere, and he never complains.

 

Karma doesn’t make a noise as his hands rise to grab onto Nagisa’s, and at this point, the frantic blue-haired boy can’t even feel his grip tighten. He only sees the bones moving under the tanned hand and the whiteness of his own hand being crushed in another. Vague unease churns in his stomach, but he lets it go, like everything else he let go months ago.

 

“I can’t feel anything, I can’t--” When his nose stings, he squeezes his eyes shut, but not even that can prevent the tears from falling.

 

“Shhh..” the other male scoots closer, his knees pressing awkwardly into the hospital bed mattress, and for a moment, he debates whether or not it would be okay to climb into it with his boyfriend. That thought is quickly chased away by the crystalline tears that he sees and immediately, his fingers are there to catch them before they fall. “It’s alright, Nagisa...Let it all out.”

 

Nagisa chokes out, his words blurred by his tears, “I just, there’s no way I’ll be able to touch your face again--I just wanted--please, I just want to hold you again and feel your skin under my hands but I--”

 

And he can’t continue; he’s a blubbering mess on the sheets and sympathy floods over Karma. His heart hurts seeing Nagisa like this and when he reaches out, his vision suddenly distorts and it feels like he’s miles away. That there’s a wall between the two of them and he’s only sliding farther and farther from his grasp. But his knuckles are desperately smashing against that wall, hoping it’s made of glass like the tears that he’s struggling to keep back, but when the tears finally break past, Karma realizes that he’s just been fighting himself, that his need to be the stronger one, to be the one that doesn’t cry, has forced him to create distance.

 

In the hall, a nurse quietly closes the door, her eyes soft and sad as she sees the first time Karma has ever cried in his life.

 


 

 

Nagisa will never forget the blades in Karma’s eyes, pointing towards his mother with the courage of a lion.

 

His body is so lax, and he feels the fiery tension in the air. The dress lies on the bed like a flower with its petals plucked and he wants to melt into the white sheets that cover him. He doesn’t want to see Hiromi pull Karma off his pedestal; he doesn’t want to see her bring her iron fist down on his pride, but to his surprise, both of them aren’t backing down.

 

She doesn’t do any damage to him, and he wonders how he can be so strong.

 

“I’ll protect you, Nagisa,” he hears and his eyes widen. Whatever Hiromi spits at him, it clearly bounces off him without him being fazed because the redhead can only see him. And his heart thumps so loudly, the two others can probably hear it. When his mother storms out of his room, leaving with her anger and stormy temperament, everything suddenly seems brighter.

 

The dress is ripped as Karma throws it to the ground with a disgusted look in his eyes.

 

“I’ll make it so that she can never see you, again,” his eyes promise him and Nagisa wants to cry, all over again.

 

His hands are warm... That, at least, he can feel.

 


 

 

Karma’s visits are shorter each time, it feels.

 

As Nagisa waves goodbye to the tired-looking red-haired male, his hand falls because he barely has the energy to raise it up and put it back down normally. The blinds were opened by his visitor to let in the light, and now, the orange cast of the sunset blankets every white surface with the sheen of a golden spectrum; even his hands are a deep hue of reddened sunflower petals and despite the creaking of the carts and the pitter patter of footsteps, it’s surprisingly peaceful.

 

He hasn’t felt this way in a long time, it seems.

 

But at the same time, it feels so lonely, sitting in the room, isolated, watching a sunset without another by his side. The blue-haired boy tilts his head back to look at the familiar ceiling that he’s gazed at for months. By now, he’s memorized the position of the thin cracks that look like alien fingers spreading over a distant land; he’s thought up a million stories for the familiar things in the room, so much that he can recite them off at the drop of a hat.

 

Perhaps that, in itself, is a lonely action, dreaming of stories to pass the time.

 

His hands curl, in and out, like a flower unfurling, but they never flatten completely, a stunted growth, a bud cut before its bloom.

 


 

 

Nagisa dreams of days of short hair, of hazy pink cotton candy skies, and of a red-haired stranger beside him, his hands as warm as a summer’s day.

 

The skies bleed into a cool white and black stars twinkle in the blank canvas that surrounds the two of them. It pries chill into his bones and he shivers, but where the stranger grabs him, its warm. He feels lips against his and it’s only natural that he responds; it’s like he’s known this man since forever. Fingers brush the fuzz of blue hair at the nape of his neck.

 

It’s short, like he’s always wanted.

 

The two of them pry apart from each other, their breaths painting frosty white clouds in the air. “I love you,” the stranger whispers and it triggers the colorless sky to suck everything up like a vacuum. The wind snatches him up too, and as he’s fading into the expanse of void, he stretches his arm out, reaching for the man.

 

He doesn’t know him, not at all.

 

Likewise, the red-haired man reaches out for him, but their fingers barely brush.

 

I love you,” Nagisa mouths, and he’s not sure if the man can even see him, hear him, and the pain in his heart multiplies until his eyes snap open and he’s sweating, staring at the electronic red numbers of the small, digital clock set into the side of his bed.

 

His gown sticks and his hair is damp, but he doesn’t want to call for help.

 

The blue-haired male doesn’t remember what that dream was about, but he suddenly wants to tell Karma he loves him, over and over again, until that’s the only thing that he knows to be the absolute truth in the world.

 


 

 

He knows Karma is busy, helping him, working to support himself, juggling the world’s worries on his shoulders, but when there’s nothing else to look at, he wishes that he were here, beside him, his presence there to chase away the aching burden in his heart.

 


 

 

“Ah, I contacted your dad,” Karma comments out of the blue and the disabled boy’s expression fluctuates between surprised, pleased, and displeased.

 

“For the…?”

 

Before Nagisa can even finish his sentence, the redhead nods with a glance to the side. “I’m sure he can also testify against her. He’s lived with you enough for that, right? He’s even offered to pay for all the hospital bills, so then I’ll have enough money to buy you something good!” As the young man on the bed watches his boyfriend speak, he notices the premature wrinkles on his face, the tired slant of his eyes and the dark circles, yet he’s barely an adult. But he can barely speak; his throat constricts and he’s left, listening, looking rapt, but feeling nothing of the sort.

 

What he does manage is a croak of, “Oh...That’s good…!”

 

But that’s enough to satisfy Karma. The healthy male yawns, before slumping over on the bed. “You know, I’m glad they’re taking care of you well. The bed is pretty soft and the sheets smell nice,” he comments, and Nagisa flushes in embarrassment, because the sheets haven’t been washed for a week, and their scent is of his sweat.

 

It seems like the words that had once poured out of the red-haired male’s mouth trickle to a nonsensical murmur as the sharp gray eyes slowly dull as they fall into a nap.

 

However, Nagisa takes advantage of his sleeping form to observe the face he’s loved for so long. The past months have taken a toll on his youth; he looks too much like an adult, and too little of the youngster that he should be. Seeing those changes squeezes the bedridden male’s heart, so much that his eyes start to burn and his breathing erratically changes. But something in him compels him to rub the top of Karma’s head, and with so much difficulty, he stretches his arm out, pulling his upper body with him, and lays his heavy hand on the soft red strands.

 

They’re as soft as they were, years ago, and Nagisa rhythmically rubs his head, like petting a dog, and he watches as Karma’s lips pull upwards.

 

Even though his upper arms burn with queasy ferocity, he never stops his movements.

 

The light changes with the time and it’s sunset, yet again, faded light shining on Karma’s face just so, just right, so that the purplish areas under his eyes don’t look as purple, and with that, he looks just like the teen that he should be.

 

It makes Nagisa smile, and for the longest time he believes, this is where he belongs, beside Karma, helping him the best that he can.

 


 

 

It comes as a surprise, when his dad walks through the doorway.

 

Graying, thinning hair, clearly dyed with a nice salt-and-pepper look, paired with tired, blue eyes and sallow skin, he walks in with a slump and Nagisa nearly jumps in surprise. He would’ve, if he could.

 

Karma follows behind him closely like a sickly shadow, and the look on his face is grim, lips set in a tight line on his face.

 

Nagisa’s dad, however, takes one look at his son, and suddenly those tired eyes are revitalized, but not by spirit and joy, but by tears and sadness. And there, right in front of the bed, he collapses, kneeling on the ground, his tears dropping onto the legs of his pants as his fingers clench at nothing, nails scrabbling against the tile futilely. From behind him, the redhead shows no sympathy and his eyes, shielded and dark gray with venom.

 

With a foot and a disgusted expression, he nudges the man forward with an persistent tap to the back.

 

“At least greet your son,” Karma spits out and the man raises his head with the blue, ocean wave eyes that Nagisa inherited staring straight at his own offspring, but reflected in those depths is nothing but the view outside.

 

“N-nagisa,” the tired, shaken man tries to say, but after seeing that pitiful show, the blue-haired boy blinks once, twice, then turns away. He ignores the wail and hardens his heart, waiting for it to ebb away, but it doesn’t and once or twice, he hears the choked whimper of an i’m sorry, or something like that. He flippantly disregards the words of the parent he hasn’t seen in years, because it just doesn’t matter anymore.

 

As long as he’s free from her, that’s what matters, because he’s learned to take care of himself better than anyone could’ve taught him.

 


 

 

“You couldn’t even look him in the eye,” Karma almost yells and bystanders around give the two of them a wide berth. Their eyes are jabbing spines at the redhead, but the male is so overcome with bitter rage that he hardly notices. What’s in front of him is the object of his ridicule, a father so cowardly he couldn’t even raise a hand to stop the abusive hand of his wife, and he’s absolutely sure that everyone on the street would also stop to ridicule him, if they knew the story behind the scene. “How can you call him your son, if you can’t even do something like that?!”

 

He chokes back the flood of desire to punch the man in the face. His tear-stricken face brings no notes of empathy in his heart; it only waters the bitter seed of the first impression he got of him.

 

Nagisa’s dad, through hiccups and forced breathes, manages to stammer, “I...I didn’t know--he--my son...Nagisa was dying,” and suddenly he can’t talk anymore, devolving into nothing more than a bumbling puddle of tears on the dirty street ground.

 

However, those words only incites more rage in Karma. Younger and stronger, he lifts the older man by the collar, into the air, eyes crackling with anger and intimidation. “How dare you?” With a swing of his arm, he punches a good, solid hit into a soft cheek. The noise attracts the attention of pedestrians, but it’s quickly brought back to their business with the startling honking of car horns and tire screeching typical of city nightlife.

 

“Nagisa is going to live, I swear on it. There’s no way that he would give up, just like that,” the redhead growls out and leans close, so that the older man’s eyes can’t help but meet eye contact with him. “You better not lose this case.”

 

His tears are startled to a stop, but the fear makes his extremities quake and a cold sweat to break out on the sides of his head and he wonders what his son sees in that brutish, red-haired teen who already looks like a tired worker, blending in with everyone else on the streets of the urban landscape.

 


 

 

The case struggles along, and Hiromi is resilient. Nagisa’s dad hasn’t come up with solid evidence, but everyone has eyewitness accounts of her disgusting habits and neurotic tendencies. The only thing that comforts Karma is that she has her right to see her child has been suspended, and he hopes that that can continue.


He recklessly hopes that things will continue this smoothly, until the very end.

Chapter Text

 Nagisa looks paler and paler as the days go by.

 

When spring brings about warmer, wetter weather, he spends his days staring outside the window at a darkened sky and dark green plants, thriving and sending their roots deeper into the ground. Thinking about new growth and life makes him feel like an disembodied spirit, reminiscing about its own death; perhaps because he won’t have that chance and the picture of the chart flashes in his mind yet again.

 

However, the sound of quick footsteps alerts his attention when they enter his room and he turns to see Karma, arriving just like clockwork.

 

The gray eyes rove over Nagisa’s almost translucently pale skin, stretched tight over stiff bones and punctured by tubes.

 

“I’m here, Nagisa,” he breathes out heavily and sets his bags down. “Today was a bit of a busy day.”

 

“I know,” the blue-haired boy replies softly, leaning harder into the pile of white pillows behind him. His breaths are slow and measured, his eyes blank and steady, the epitome of peace, but Karma reaches over and grabs his hand. He’s able to read the roiling emotions in those blue eyes; it makes up for the actions that his boyfriend can no longer do.

 

“It’ll be okay, don’t worry about me,” he states resolutely and Nagisa shakes his head slowly.

 

“Look at yourself,” he sighs, but can’t even lift a hand to show him. “You’ve got...dark circles that look like royal purple half-circles…”  

 

“Royal purple looks good on me?” Karma jokes around, but in the heavy atmosphere and in Nagisa’s silence, his playful words fall flat and his eyes dim. He can’t remember the last time he laughed, and his fingers curl into fists. Karma’s heart clenches and his eyebrows knit down, but the once-observant blue-haired boy doesn’t even take notice. He’s simply changed, and that’s that, isn’t it?

 

For the rest of the visitor’s hour, the two of them sit in complete silence, their eyes never meeting, their hands never touching once.

 

Both of them are cold, when Karma has to leave.

 


 

 

Karma slams his fist against the table with a resounding clatter and he grits his teeth, feeling his jaw lock with a sickening crunch that resounds inside his head.

 

Bitter emotion floods his system until it seems like everything around him is painted in sick red; he doesn’t want to feel this way, he shouldn’t be feeling this way at all, angry at the disgusting world for no reason. It’s no one’s fault that Nagisa is this way, it’s only how nature works and he should work around that, but he’s still hung up on how ridiculous and unfair the world balances itself. And he shakes his fist to every spiritual higher being and tells them to leave Nagisa alone, don’t you dare take him from me, but he knows no one will be listening and it’s only him and his delusional gods.

 

All of the stress slowly consumes him and he trembles when he picks up his phone. With a flick, the lighted screen illuminates his sickly pale face and he presses the contact he didn’t know he’d ever be talking with.

 

Two rings and it picks up, a rough, low voice on the other side.

 

“Karma? What’s up?”

 

“Terasaka, bring some beer, anything’s good, thanks.” And just like that, he hangs up and tosses the phone to the side. The burly high-school dropout knows where his place is, so he doesn’t worry at all about the guy getting lost. In the meanwhile, he slips into a normal T-shirt and a pair of pants lying haphazardly on his bed. He figures they’re clean, because they don’t smell terrible.

 

As he lies down on the floor, gray eyes follow the cracks in the ceiling and he wonders if Nagisa does the same thing every day.

 

It must be boring, seeing these cracks, looking out the window at an untouchable world, swathed in white…

 

He doesn’t know and no longer cares about how much time has passed. The doorbell jolts him out of his thoughts and Karma scrambles up to answer the door.

 

He swings it open and the larger, broader man stands in front of him with a half-bemused expression on his face. Terasaka is holding a case of beer in each hand, the cheap glass clinking against each other as he shifts nervously from foot-to-foot. His eyes don’t exactly meet Karma’s gray ones, but the smaller male doesn’t care.

 

“Thanks, man,” the redhead drawls and after loading the cases into his house, he looks through his pockets and pulls out a wad of cash that he sifts through, then slaps a couple bills in Terasaka’s open palm.

 

“Where’re you getting the money?” The broader male curiously asks him, but Karma shrugs with admirable nonchalance.

 

“I work,” he tosses his words, then moves to close the door, but he hesitates slightly and even the bumbling young man can tell.

 

“You alright, Karma?” The redhead is surprised to hear a tinge of worry in that tone, but honestly, who does he think he is?

 

“Of course.”

 

When the door closes and he brings the cases into the tiny kitchen area, he realizes that the entire time, a smile hasn’t crossed his face and he thinks that perhaps he really has changed a lot. Perhaps for the worse, because when his fingers rise up to touch his face, it all feels so foreign, as if he’s wearing a mask with another person’s facial features on it.

 

That night, the only thing he remembers doing is sinking deeper in the midst of his angst and swallowing bitter gulp after bitter gulp of alcohol, as if all his burdens could be placed to the side for a heartbeat. And he feels relieved, even through the salty tears that run down his face as he lets the taste of foul liquid wash away the fake mask of adulthood he has donned.

 


 

 

Let’s make it easier for him to smile in a world where I’m not here…

 


 

 

Karma comes in the hospital room with a pounding headache and a bag full of papers. In one hand he clenches a cup of hot water and as he sits himself down on the stool under Nagisa’s watchful gaze, his other holds an aspirin. He downs it and groans a bit, but doesn’t even notice the frown on the blue-haired boy’s lips.

 

“You didn’t have to come,” Nagisa frowns and tilts his head away, blue eyes as distant as the clouds. He doesn’t even bother to move his arms anymore.

 

Gray eyes narrow, even through the pain.

 

The redhead grabs the other male’s hands and squeezes them hard, and he watches for the flinch that will inevitably happen. Nagisa stares at him through uncertain eyes as he feels the twinge of pain in his hands, and a part of him is smiling because his arms are still responsive and they’re still alive. He’s trembling again.

 

“Stop it, Nagisa,” Karma growls, but it’s not aggressive at all. His eyes are narrowed and every feature of his face seems to radiate anger, but it doesn’t frighten the smaller boy at all. He calmly stares back, swallowing the emotions threatening to bubble up to the surface; he’s cried enough, he swears he’ll never cry again. “Stop trying to push me away.”

 

It’s hard to look him in the eyes.

 

“Are you purposely trying to hurt me? Is this some punishment that I deserve in some way? Tell me, Nagisa. Tell me if I’ve hurt you and I’ll never do it again,” his gray eyes are flashing, and in the light, they look too shiny. They look like he’s crying and it makes the blue-haired boy uncomfortable, in ways he’s never felt before. When his vision isn’t blurred by his tears, things suddenly seem so much closer and so much more painful.

 

“No, I--” Nagisa denies it, and Karma cuts in front of him, pulling his body closer, his face closer, so there’s no way he can escape.

 

“Then, don’t. Don’t push me away. Look at me,” The redhead’s hand cups the other male’s cheek and he presses their foreheads together. Karma smells like mint, his breath sour like alcohol and tears. “You should know how I feel, by now.”

 

His eyes are tired and sharp, his hands rough and loving.

 

Nagisa wants to cry and he wants to push him away, tell him he needs to learn to live in a world where he’s not there, but there’s nothing in him that wants to say it aloud.

 

“Your heart will break…” he manages to whisper out and the redhead hollowly laughs. His other hand finds its way to the middle of the blue-haired boy’s bony back and it’s warm, not uncomfortably hot. Both of them are fragile, like glass dolls placed so intricately; touching one would cause both to shatter.

 

“Not now, I won’t let it,” The words trembles in the air. “You can break my heart later, because…”

 

He doesn’t finish his sentence, because his voice gives up on him. Nagisa feels the shaking fingers and he’s quiet. Both of them are quiet.

 

“I’ve given it to you for a reason.”

 

Nagisa unexplainably knows what he would’ve said, and he closes his eyes. He can’t stand to see the vulnerable expression on Karma’s face, not when he isn’t crying. It’s not like it repulses him; it only pains him to see the fact that he’s not smiling, and that he’s the one that caused this to happen. He can only bring him more suffering, the longer they try to endure and yet, he’s selfish enough to want to keep the other male to himself, to drag him through the mud and ruin his youth.

 

But he knows, without them meeting, perhaps Karma wouldn’t even be able to smile.

 


 

 

A week later, and seven visits from Karma later, the eighth visit is what makes Nagisa break his promise with himself.

 

When the redhead appears, he’s no longer walking through the door, it’s more as if he’s skipping, and there’s a smile on his face. It’s wide, it’s glowing, and it turns him young again, as if the dark circles and the creased eyebrows no longer exist. Behind him, even his dad has a smile, albeit a tired one.

 

“Nagisa, you’re free from her now. She’s been proven guilty and she’s behind bars, and she’ll never be able to touch you again,” Karma speaks like he’s been freed and in that second, the bed-ridden boy bursts into tears. They roll, hot, down his cheeks, and blur his vision; for a moment, he thinks his boyfriend is crying too, but he can’t be for sure.

 

The adult man in the room awkwardly stands to the side, anxiously clenching and unclenching his fists. His mouth is itching to say the words he meant to say years, so many long years ago, before he left.

 

He only steps up when the sobbing and the comforting dies down to sniffling and back rubbing. Nagisa’s eyes flickering to him almost brings him to tears.

 

“I’m...I’m sorry,” he starts and his voice already starts to break. “Please...forgive me. This is the..the best I can do for you, and I don’t know how to make up for all those years, and I’m just...I’m sorry.” The man deflates like a balloon and his eyes search of forgiveness, for softness, for reprieve of pain, and for a moment, he sees none.

 

But his son smiles, just a bit.

 

“It’s okay. It’ll be okay, I know,” he replies and he tilts his head to the side. “Thank you...Dad.”

 

There’s something about the way he says that word, that label, that name, that makes the man snivel like a child. Perhaps it’s the undeserved love in his tone, the love returned to him that he never gave.

 


 

 

Karma’s hands aren’t as rough today when he cups Nagisa’s cheeks.

 

His gray eyes remind the blue-haired boy of the morning haze of fog that rests over the city sometimes; the mist is soft and envelops him, warmly.

 

“Let’s get you a haircut, tomorrow,” he whispers and Nagisa smiles so wide it hurts his face. Those words remind him he still has a tomorrow, and that’s something he should be so excited about.

 


 

 

Nagisa’s dad pays for the hairdresser to come into the hospital room. It costs more than going to the store, but it’s a necessary deed. He doesn’t regret his choice, because the sparkling blue eyes remind him that this is what he missed for the past years.

 

The bedridden patient is propped up painstakingly and Karma stands outside the door, his anxiety and nervous excitement clear with every twitch of his hand and quirk of eyebrow. Whenever a nurse passes by, their eyes fall to the tapping of his foot against the floor and they smile a bit, like a small, secretive one, as if they’re ridiculing him in a nice way, a polite tone.

 

It’s not like he cares, he couldn’t care less.

 

But when the hairdresser leaves with a satisfied expression and a pocket of money, the redhead dashes in, his fists clenched tightly.

 

Karma stops, as if he’s crashed into a wall, and he stares for a moment, stunned.

 

The light falls through the window like a symphony’s ephemeral chord, and there’s no longer blue hair to the neck that gets illuminated. He has an aura of a god, an expression of an angel, a smile that could charm the coldest of hearts, his hands clasped together in a pretend prayer, a holy man that could’ve chosen to ascend but stayed to bless the earth.

 

Karma feels his heart stop, in that moment. It’s enough to suck out his breath and send him reeling, mentally.

 

“Nagisa,” his mouth dries.

 

“Does it look awkward?” The other male sheepishly smiles and with sluggish hands, he reaches up to rub at the lack of pigtails. His bangs still cover his face, but his hair is messy and almost spiky, fluffing out to the sides. Instead of blue, his hair is almost illuminated to a ghostly white, disappearing under his gaze. “I wasn’t sure if it looked--”

 

“You look beautiful,” Karma breathes and he runs his hands over Nagisa’s face, then drags them to the backs of his ears, running his fingers through the short strands of soft blue. Gray eyes scan the skeptical expression on the other male’s face and he suppresses the amused laugh that comes from his heart. “Really. I’m not joking here.”

 

The blue-haired boy starts to smile; his eyes are softening and suddenly a peal of laughter escapes his mouth. A tear beads up and falls down the side of his cheek.

 

“I’m so glad…”

 

“Were you scared?” Karma bares a canine in a teasing grin and Nagisa’s cheeks flush angrily.

 

“No way!”

 

“Liar, liar--” The blue-haired boy’s hand manages to cup his mouth, but he’s laughing too hard and his grip weakens. Karma doesn’t finish his sentence; he buries his face in the short hairstyle, about to sneeze but holding it in from being tickled by the strands. There isn’t a complaint from the boy, so he wraps his arms around the smaller frame and falls back onto the bed.

 

There are some strands of blue on the sheets, and the redhead lazily brushes them off as they lie there.

 

Watching Nagisa’s face, the other male shifts his body accordingly, until he looks comfortable.

 

“Is that okay?” His arm is pinned underneath the blue-haired boy’s neck, but he doesn’t care.

 

“Yeah,” he murmurs and the blue-lashed eyes slide shut like a steady heartbeat. “It’s perfect.”

 

When Karma absentmindedly intertwines his fingers with Nagisa’s, he realizes his palms aren’t sweaty, not like before. It’s just a little change, but he finds it almost startling. But he closes his eyes anyway.

 

His smiles are still the same, though, and that’s something he can treasure.

 


 

 

When the nurse comes to tell Karma it’s closing time, she doesn’t speak, doesn’t make a noise. There’s only a fond grin on her lips as she closes the door softly, carefully.

 

They look too calm, like a still ocean's gentle lapping of the beach, for her to disturb and it’s pleasant to see a genuine smile on the redhead’s face for once.

 


 

 

In the succeeding weeks, Nagisa can barely lift his arms. He strains and strains, but even the nurses are looking at him with hopeless, dark eyes. They shift his body for him when he complains of aching in his spine, and their hands are so kind, but they feel so mocking. If anything, he’s maniacally jealous of how easily they can move.

 

With the eternal tick-tock of the clock in his room as his company, the only smell in his nose is sterility and nothing, the only color he can remember with his eyes closed is haunting white.

 


 

 

Whenever Karma touches his arms, he can barely feel anything, but he sees it, and if anything, his body makes an instinctive tingle run through his veins.

 

The dark circles under his eyes have lessened, the purple contrasting less with his still fiery red hair, but the blue-haired boy can already envision the wrinkles that will be bound to mar that beautiful face staring at him. Whenever he talks about work, angry lines already surface on his light skin and his eyes darken from frustration; for a moment, Nagisa tunes out and can hear nothing, only see the changes and the transformation of his boyfriend.

 

“Are you even listening?” The sharp bite of his words knocks him out of his stare and the blue-haired boy flushes intensely.

 

“S-sorry, I--”

 

But Karma cuts him off with laughter that sends his senses into overdrive; for some reason, today, whatever he does fills him with joy. Nagisa feels his lips curve into a smile, but he slowly finishes his cut-off words. “I just was thinking about how bright you were. Red hair and all.”

 

The older male quirks an eyebrow and comments, “True, compared to this room.”

 

He looks around and the previous laughter is clearly gone; Nagisa hadn’t meant to make him sad with his words, and he partially regrets making up an excuse, but a part of him wonders if it really was the truth that he spoke.

 

“I think there’s a flower shop by my workplace though...I could get you some flowers to brighten this place up!” Karma perks up and he has a playful grin, as if the brightness of some ephemeral plants would cure Nagisa’s inevitable death. His feelings feel void to him, worthy of nothing, because of the fact his thread will be cut sooner than everyone else’s. And yet, he feels himself being lulled into a false sense of security, yet again.

 

“That would be nice,” he murmurs. He hopes one of them will be as red as Karma’s hair. Surely, he would get better if there was another color besides white in his eyes.

 


 

 

Unfailingly, the redhead comes with new batches of flowers every other day.

 

Nagisa eyes the clearly thinning wallet shoved in the front pocket of Karma’s pants, but tanned hands wave his gaze away. “Just focus on the flowers!” He smirks and washes the cute vase the nurse brought over. A wave-like pattern wraps around the middle of the curved container and looking at it makes the blue-haired boy a little calmer, a little better.

 

The flowers today are a shocking red, and the tag reads, camellias and carnations, but he doesn’t know if they even have a meaning.

 

Karma smiles, though.

 

“You like them?” It’s almost a confident, secretive smirk.

 

“They’re very vivid,” Nagisa comments slowly, his eyes squinting as the smile only grows wider on the redhead’s face. “I do…”

 

“Good!” He plops himself down on the plastic white-backed chair and rests his head on the immovable legs under the bedsheet. “Kanzaki told me what they mean, so I’m glad you like them.”

 

“Kanzaki?” The blue-haired boy tilts his head to the side.

 

“The florist. She works for some creep that owns the flower shop, but it feels like she’s the only one that works there? I see her every other day. She knows her stuff, I hope,” Karma snorts. “She told me that red camellias stood for passionate love and red carnations stood for longing. I can’t say I don’t feel those two.”

 

Instead of a rush of love, the only emotion swelling in his stomach is a sense of guilt; a dirty, dark wave of emotion hits him and for a moment he has to close his eyes. He wants to cover his face with his hands, but he can’t manage more than a twitch anymore.

 

“I’m sorry,” he whispers out.

 

He’s trying so hard not to become a broken record, just a playable repeat of old memories and repetitive words.

 

“Wait,” Karma’s body straightens up in record time and his gray eyes go from relaxed to metal-hard tense. “I didn’t mean it like that--”

 

“I...I know, I’m just..sorry, you don’t have to do any of this, it’s just…” Nagisa looks up, the first time he’s felt this way after the disappearance of his mother, and hopes to see some kind of brightness, a light in the tunnel of darkness, in Karma, but all he sees is worry. He continues in a much softer voice, almost indistinguishable from silence. “I don’t want to be a burden anymore.”

 

The redhead stares.

 

Nagisa’s heart is thumping, weakly, but still moving.

 

“You will never be a burden. Never, okay?! I’m doing this not only to help you, Nagisa,” he whispers and moves so that he can be closer, so that he can look him right in the eye. His hand slowly reaches to touch the area where his heart is, so that he knows the other male is listening to him, breathing and alive. “This is for me, too, because maybe the only thing keeping me going is seeing you happy. Thinking like that…”

 

He pauses, and age spreads its fingers over his face, yet again. He looks twenty-five, the way his mouth twists and his eyebrows furrow.

 

“Thinking like that won’t make both of us happy in any way,” Karma smiles, in a melancholically peaceful way that tugs at Nagisa’s heart, makes it hurt and ache, makes his fingers want to curl into fists. “Don’t…”

 

The redhead hugs the bedridden male, muffling the rest of his words. But the sound of his speaking makes a little vibration in Nagisa’s body; for some reason, it quells the roiling guilt and the aching and all the pain, if only for a while. It’s strange, for many reasons. It’s only him talking, in close proximity, and yet it feels so surreal, as if it’s a dream. Karma voicing his thoughts, Karma diligently working, all of it was for him, he should, really, be happy…

 

“I won’t,” the blue-haired boy whispers into the long strands of red hair. “I won’t make you unhappy anymore.”

 


 

 

When his dad comes to visit him and catch up, he sees the red flowers.

 

“Are they from Karma?” He asks, and his eyes soften. Happier wrinkles appear on his aged face and Nagisa watches him carefully and questioningly.

 

“Oh, yes,” he replies and the older man nods almost sagely.

 

“They’re very beautiful,” he comments and their conversation veers back to normality, but his words stay in Nagisa’s mind for awhile.

 

Before he sleeps, they echo in his brain, the deep red the color of beauty and blood.

 


 

 

In his mind, he always believes Karma is attracted to this so-called Kanzaki. He doesn’t know what she looks like, but the frequency of her name in their long winded talks about nothing and everything comes up more often than anything else. Perhaps it’s his fault, his fault for needing flowers and his fault for being so needy.

 

Or in other words, good for Karma. Good for him that he has a first choice for when Nagisa expires, bless his neediness for letting him meet another woman between hours of work and hours of brainless visiting.

 

But he never says it out loud. His thoughts are too much of a burden for him and Karma never offers him “a penny for his thoughts” as the English idiom goes. And he’s fine with that; he thinks he’s fine with that and fine with everything. His current situation isn’t bad, he’s not deteriorating, the new medicine seems to be working, his hair is short, he has everything in the world to be happy. So he shoves all the bitter inside and locks it up in a little cage and never lets it out.

 

It won’t explode, he tells himself, when he wakes up to the feeling of nausea and throbbing in his head.

 

But when he innocently brings her up in one conversation, not out-of-the-blue, or so he thinks, Karma stares at him. His metal-gray eyes suddenly know, that after all this time, the poor young man had been struggling with his own feelings of inadequacy. And it takes a person years to see past the exuberant mask Nagisa puts on every day, because he’s perfected it, because he had to hide the dirty side of his family, didn’t he?

 

When the redhead figures it out, he holds the blue-haired boy’s face with two hands, tilting his chin up, kissing him for the first time in what feels like forever for the two of them. It’s not passionate, purer and more chaste than any kiss they’ve shared. It’s simple, and then Karma trails little kisses all over his face, before pressing his forehead to his.

 

At first, he’s silent, only staring with incomprehensible eyes.

 

He opens his mouth and Nagisa’s name comes out, a little more than an ashen breath.

 

“You should know better than that, by now,” he lets out a little laugh and warmth wafts over the sitting male’s face, much more pleasant than the warmth of the rough bedsheet. “Do I have to voice everything out to you to keep you happy?” But before Nagisa replies, Karma continues, “I will, if I need to. If it makes you happy, I’ll say it a million times to the world, to make sure everyone knows.”

 

The redhead’s expression changes for a moment, a split-second, but it was one of inspiration. A smirk pastes itself over his face and his hands press tighter against the blue-haired male’s cheeks.

 

“Don’t worry, Nagisa. I’ll prove it to you, you know,” there’s a moment of hesitation as the taller boy is overcome with an emotion akin to bashfulness. “You know...that I love you.”

 

It’s been a long while since he’s seen that pale pink blush dust Karma’s cheeks.

 


 

 

He doesn’t come for a week, Karma doesn’t.

 

It makes Nagisa, in short, very worried. Or rather, irritated. The nurses clean up the mess without a word or a bitter glance, because they know and in some way, even they are affected when the redhead isn’t there. It’s like a schedule gone wrong. Things just seem out of place.

 

Like a puzzle with the pieces of the wrong one.

 


 

 

When Karma saunters through his door the next day, Nagisa is so pleased to see him that he’s breathless.

 

His red hair is getting longer, and his eyes are older, but there’s still that playful aura about him, like a child in an adult’s body. The bedridden boy is glad of that, and glad of the smirk on his face that he hasn’t seen in a week.

 

“Karma!” He finally calls out and the smirk transforms into a smile.

 

“Sorry for being away for so long. I had to...arrange some things,” the young man pulls up a chair and almost falls into it. It’s clear that today he hasn’t worked; he’s wearing a black jacket and stylishly tattered jeans, casual wear, things to wear on a Friday night out. “Did you miss me?”

 

Nagisa wants to smack the dumb grin on his face, but he nods with a slight pout. “Why were you gone for so long?”

 

“Well…” The redhead takes a deep breath, and his eyes almost sparkle. Or they’re tears, wavering in his gray eyes. And in a moment of intense realization, the blue-haired boy concludes that tears really are rolling down his cheeks. He watches in faint surprise as his boyfriend uses his jacket sleeve to wipe the trails on his face, his lips curved up like the bend of a rose stem.

 

“I just…” Karma rustles in his pockets and Nagisa’s heart stops. So does his breath, and he stares at his boyfriend in speechless shock.

 

“Got you a ring.”

 

There’s a terrible, heart-breaking smile on Karma’s face. “I just thought it’d be nice to, you know, have something. Like, something to look forward to.”

 

Nagisa still can’t breathe; he can’t even speak. His chest is tight and it constricts his entire world in just a heartbeat. The ring in the little black velvet box is very simple, it’s only a gold band, shimmering in the light of the sun. It sends little yellow highlights over the white bed and the clean vase, and almost calls for him. “This feels like some sort of dream,” he laughs like it’s not really happening, but the redhead plucks the ring from the box and it makes a noise when he shuts it and it’s real, it’s real.

 

“It’s not a dream,” Karma softly chuckles and his fingers tremble.

 

He holds up the ring to Nagisa’s eyes and the blue-haired male squints to read the script written inside the ring. In an elegant font, he manages to make out the words, when fall comes. “What’s this?”

 

It takes the red-haired young man a moment to collect himself. He looks almost nervous, with his gray eyes darting here and there, meeting everywhere except for the blue eyes watching him with increasing curiosity. One hand grips onto the edge of his jacket and he musters up a smile that fluctuates for the barest second.

 

“I love you, Nagisa,” and once again, his eyes cloud with tears and they flow freely down his cheeks but he chooses not to wipe them away this time. “...I want you to marry me.”

 

“Karma…” the bedridden patient breathes out, wishing he could reach out and hug the vulnerable-looking redhead. He wishes he could touch him and feel solidity under his fingers, and he wishes he could wipe away those tears that really don’t fit Karma’s face. “Oh…”

 

“I want...to marry you in the fall,” he continues and almost chokes up. “I want the both of us to see the falling leaves again and I want you to feel the breeze against your face...I’ll hold you up, even if it means I have to drop.”

 

And Nagisa knows there a weight to those words, but he silences himself and only allows his welling emotions to take over for a minute, as he cries with his back to pillows and his body swathed in white. He doesn’t even know what he’s feeling anymore; there’s just a black hole, swallowing up everything inside of him, siphoning out his tears until he’s nothing more than a hollow husk and a gold ring. But he opens his mouth anyway.

 

Perhaps that’s what love does, sucks away everything else, leaves you with only one choice in your head like a flashing sign telling you to turn left because there is no right, in your mind.

 

“Of course I’ll marry you,” he cries out and Karma hugs him. Tightly, like he’s hoping his grip will keep him from disappearing.

 

Like he’s hoping a ring would keep him from leaving.

 

“Of course.”

 


 

 

Nagisa wears the ring hung around a thin silver chain that looks almost like thread. He knows that if he puts it on his finger, he won’t be able to feel it at all and if it’s under a sheet, he won’t be able to see it.

 

But, with the gold band on a necklace, he feels its weight, slightly above his beating heart.

 

It’s not heavy, but it’s not light either.

 

It just reminds him he has four more months until the leaves change color and start to drift to the ground. Four more months until he can really put it on his ring finger.

 

Before he sleeps, the moonlight shining on the ring casts a glow that leaves him with a smile and a warm heart.

 


 

 

For one month, everything is alright. Nagisa smiles, and Karma holds his face in two of his warm hands and kisses his nose, his forehead, his eyelids, and then his lips. He never asks for more; the two of them are content with being like this, waiting, waiting patiently for the summer cicada’s cry to end.

 


 

 

But when the outside heat rolls around, and the buzzing of insects irritates everyone, his heart begins to slow down.

 

The red chart appears in Nagisa’s mind for days, and he sometimes wakes up sweaty and with his bangs plastered to his forehead, unable to move and struggling to breathe. Maybe it’s anxiety from the nightmares he can never remember, or it’s his lungs, slowly starting to fail him, but the more he thinks about it, the stronger the feeling gets.

 

It’s crushing him. His own body is rejecting his will to live.

 

“Please,” he whispers, and the clock reads 3AM. “Let me live three more months.”

 


 

 

Karma’s distraught face never fails to bring him pain.

 

In that period of bliss, after his mother disappeared from his life, Nagisa believed that everything was going to be fine, that he would recover, but the doctor’s words were unfailingly true. They echo in his ears, now. He figures out his nightmares revolve around loss: the loss of, perhaps, Karma, the loss of his life, the loss of all the things that could’ve been, but never was. It’s the hope that still remains in his mind that drags him further down into his chaotic ocean of guilt and self-blame.

 

But the things he does tell him…

 

Nagisa sounds almost like a broken record without the static and all the damage. As the older male holds him in a vice-like hug, the blue-haired boy often whispers, “I love you, I love you, I love you so much, Karma,” as if he can’t speak anything but those six words on repeat, in different orders.

 

The two of them can’t even stay for long periods of time together.

 

His heart machine beeps and rings like an alarm in the early morning, and Nagisa can only watch as his secret fiance is told to leave by a nurse that turns his body for him with a face full of sorrow and pity. He doesn’t need to see her expression, he doesn’t need her sympathy.

 

They tell him it’s for his own good, that he can’t stress himself out.

 

“You’ll live longer like this, isn’t that a good thing?”
“Good morning, Nagisa! It’s a fine day to open the window.”
“How is the food? Is it too bland? I can sneak you just a little salt…”

 

But none of this small talk matters to him. If anything, he wants Karma to stay, to look at him with those melting metal eyes and his agonizing frown, and to touch him with his tenderly rough fingers careful to not bruise his translucently pale skin, because all of that hurts.

 

Because, he supposes, pain leaves him knowing he’s alive.

 


 

 

Nagisa can’t even cling to Karma with his own arms. His upper body strains, feverishly trembling with the effort to simply lean forwards. The redhead barely notices, his head leaning on the crook of his neck, like a tired, dead man.

 

“K-Karma,” the blue-haired boy rasps and the other male looks at him with a worried gaze. “I...I’m tired.”

 

The redhead, with a second’s worth of hesitation, lets go and Nagisa collapses back onto the bed with a tired grunt. His lower body is starting to fail him now, too; he can’t sit up for long periods of time and if he tries to twist his upper body, the amount of energy it takes is tremendous.

 

“Sorry,” Karma murmurs and runs a hand through his shaggy hair. “I know. Sorry for pushing you.”

 

It’s strange to hear those words leave his lips. If anything, it makes the blue-haired male nauseous because, he shouldn’t be the one apologizing.

 

“It’s okay, don’t worry,” Nagisa tilts his head and stares at the fluctuating expressions on his boyfriend’s face. “...Fall is coming, at least.”

 

Karma looks up and his hands are clasped tightly, fingers intertwined as if he wants to hold his hand forever. His knuckles are white and his eyes are like phantoms, haunting a house of lovers without one to be had.

 

“Yeah, it is…”

 


 

 

He wants to repeat Karma’s name; he wants it to be the last thing he ever says.

 

Because today, Nagisa wakes up and as the nurse cheerfully strolls in with his breakfast, he opens his mouth to greet her, and a dying whisper finds its way out. His tongue feels less like a tongue, more like a slab of meat in his mouth.

 

When he bites himself, he barely feels the pain.

 

The nurse stares at him for a moment, shocked and her smile wavering, and he can almost see the light bulb over her head. But just like that, her lips curve like the crescent moon again and she prattles on and on about the small nothings in life.

 

Back then, it would’ve annoyed him so much because he couldn’t partake in any of it.

 

But now, it kind of makes him happy, in a longing, wistful manner. It reminds him of the time he watched the children play, the breeze he can almost remember, the feeling of the sun against his skin, and the tears that silently rolled down his face. Wasn’t that in the past, when he still had hope?

 


 

 

Karma knows.

 

When he walks in that day, and Nagisa doesn’t call his name out in that excited tone, he knows something is wrong. Today, the blue-haired boy’s eyes are closed, but they snap open when he finally hears the footsteps that near his bed. Even so, the light behind his blue eyes are as dim as a dying spark.

 

“Kar...ma?” He breathes out and a weak smile crosses his face.

 

“...Nagisa….” The redhead feels his gut punched with a wave of despair, and he collapses beside him, his arms splayed over the bedridden male’s chest. His body isn’t warm, not like it should be, and his hands start to tremble, slowly at first, then violently. “You were...getting better…”

 

“I wouldn’t…say…” Nagisa’s voice is barely audible over the loud beeping of his heart machine. By the tension in his face, even speaking is becoming hard for him, his vocal cords straining to vibrate and work for its master. “I was getting...better…” His eyebrows crease and he coughs, only it’s sickly and soft, the telltale warnings of an inevitable death.

 

The other male is silent for a moment, his face drawn tightly over the bones of his skull, his features ghastly with hopelessness.

 

“You...you can’t just…” Karma stammers and he nearly starts to shake his fiance by the shoulders. “You can’t just leave like this…”

 

Tears start to bead up at the corner’s of Nagisa’s eyes and he scrunches his face, but they roll down the sides of his face. “I’m sorry...I--”

 

He coughs yet again, a small, pitiful sound, and his entire body is trembling slightly. The blue-haired boy strains to get up, but Karma traps him with his quivering arms. His nose is stinging, and in the effort not to cry, he bites the side of his mouth and tastes the saltiness of his blood.

 

“Don’t push yourself,” the redhead whispers and inhales with an almost dead look in his eyes. “I should be sorry…”

 

“..No…” Nagisa starts, but he can only silently cough, his body quaking from the effort of his diaphragm.

 

“Shh…” Karma wills him to calm and presses his finger against the pale, cracked lips that struggle to speak. “Don’t speak, just breathe, it’s okay…” His fingers smooth the damp blue hair that’s growing back out and brush it away from the purple-veined, white forehead that he kisses, despite the moistness that remains on his mouth.

 

“K..Karma, I love you,” the blue-haired boy cries out piteously and he tilts his head up and the tears leak all over his face. He can’t even wipe his face dry and the redhead painstakingly uses a soft tissue and mops away the sadness from his face. “Karma…”

 

“...I love you too, okay?”

 

“Stay...with me, please?” Nagisa barely moves towards the other male, but his pained expression makes him lean closer to the bedridden young man.

 

“Always,” Karma murmurs and he closes his eyes, his arms enveloping the breathing ghost in front of him.

 


 

 

When the cicada’s cries grow louder, Nagisa’s voice slowly drains from him.

 

The nurses keep the curtains closed and they check on the living corpse, occasionally. The beep of his heart is steady, but ridiculously weak. They’ve added three blankets and a heating extension to keep his body at minimum temperatures. It’s dark and gloomy as the blue-haired boy entertains himself with shadows on the walls and imaginary friends, all in his head.

 


 

 

Karma, can you hear me?

 

Karma sits beside him, the dark circles under his eyes and his sagging posture conveying his exhaustion. The whites of his eyes are dark with angry, red veins, tinted with pink from his tears; the relaxed frown of his eyebrows only show more wrinkles on his tired face. Absentmindedly, the young man laces his hands together and pensively gazes at the tubes that weave in and out of Nagisa’s body.

 

Karma, please, respond to me…

 

“Today, Kanzaki came by my workplace because I didn’t come for so long,” he starts, and glances at the almost withered flowers. The red roses, stripped of their thorns, droop, as if they reject the water in the vase. “I told her I didn’t want flowers, but I’d come to her soon.”

 

He pauses. Karma, don’t hurt yourself like this…

 

“She asked me why--” And the redhead chokes up and looks away. His tired veined hands rub at his eyes furiously, but he turns back. There’s a sick flush to his face and he looks all bone and skin underneath his structured suit. “I told her I would come because I would need flowers for a funeral…”

 

Karma, be quiet.

 

“I think...she’s starting to like me.”

 

Karma, that’s good, with a rebound, you can learn to smile without--

 

“I’m not going to like her, that’s all. I feel...sorry for her,” and here, he lets out a scathing, dry laugh, as if he’s mocking her when he’s really mocking himself. “She’s only seen the changed side of me.”

 

No, no, Karma, you can’t push her away like that--

 

The redhead leans forward and presses his fingers to his lips. He wistfully dwells his eyes on his hand, before pressing them to Nagisa’s cheeks, but his gaze never even touches the blue-haired boy’s wide-open eyes. Nagisa can barely feel the pressure of his touch. “I miss your voice, Nagisa.”

 

Karma, don’t cry...You’ll forget it soon and smile and find another person to love…

 

“I miss the times when you could smile and hold my hand…”

 

Karma…

 

“We were going to get married…”

 

Karma, I know…

 

“Did I propose too late?” Gray eyes shine, even in the darkness, the trails of his tears illuminated by the dim light. Nagisa can see his hands shaking as he presses them together. “I’m so sorry…”

 

Karma, I love you...don’t cry…

 

I love you.

So much.

Please...look at me…

 

But he stands up, his face tilted away from him so that the lights of the hallway can only illuminate the edges of his sunburned hair and his rusty jawline that hesitates for just a moment, before exiting.

 


 

 

The life support beeps.

 


 

 

The red-haired man lingers by the entrance of the darkened room. Nagisa’s eyes flicker open, two silvery slivers in the gloom; if they’re silent enough, they can hear the rasp of the oxygen entering his lungs. With each rattling breath, Karma’s heart twinges. His fists clench tightly and his blood temperature rises, his hair almost standing on end, yet again.

 

As he walks in, with deliberate, timed steps, the dark blue eyes flicker towards him, then away.

 

Karma…

 

Tears are rolling down Nagisa’s face and the redhead bends over his body to wipe them away. His fingers tenderly hover for the time it takes his heart monitor to beep. They’ve multiplied the number of heaters on his bed, thanks to his father’s contribution to the hospital. It’s probably only because of that.

 

The nurses barely visit anymore. They don’t smile and they look at me like I’m not human anymore.

 

“Nagisa...You look like you’re suffering so much…” He murmurs and stops wiping Nagisa’s tears, but they keep rolling down his face, and he resumes his duty. The tubes get in the way of his position, so Karma shifts them to the side. Slate-gray eyes glance at the life support machine and its tubes that connect to the frail body underneath the sheets, then stares at the gold band on the thread that taunts him, even in the dark. “Does it hurt?”

 

Make them stop...I’m sick of them. I’m sick of this...why me?

 

“It probably does,” the redhead sadly smiles and sits down, finally. “I don’t want you to suffer anymore.”

 

It’s not fair. It’s really not fair. I wanted to do so much…

 

“Do you think I...If I pull the life support, would you hurt less?” Karma’s hands are shaking, but he grips onto the side bars of the bed tightly so that he can’t feel his own weakness. “Would you be in a better place? I don’t care if I’d be charged for murder...As long as it’s better for you…”

 

I’m scared, Karma. I don’t want to die…

 

“Nagisa, answer me…” He sobs, but his eyes are weeping dry tears, red and insistent.

 

I don’t want to die…

 

“I’m so selfish...for wanting you to live, aren’t I?” Karma’s face splits with a wide smile and he laughs, dry and derisive, as his emotions plunge back down into its melancholic high. “I just want to see you for a little more...Even if you’re like this, because you’re still you...even if you can’t smile at me anymore, or touch me…”

 

You’re cruel, Karma. Smiling at me when I’m like this...I’m sorry for being like this.

 

“It hurts, Nagisa…” His head drops and his shoulders slump, red hair hiding his expression from view.

 

I’m so sorry…

 

“But, I guess this is fine…” Karma’s dry eyes look like a thousand suns crushed under the heel of a god.

 

I’m sorry that I can’t hear you...

 

“Will you forgive me?”

 

I can’t say anything else, Karma…But I hope that you’ll be happy in that cruel world.

 


 

 

Nagisa can’t even open his eyes anymore. His eyes flicker underneath his lax eyelids, then still. The heart monitor beeps and in rhythm, the oxygen machine shudders as it pumps air into his rotting lungs. His body festers, as it lays there, motionless and crumbling like dust in the wind.

 

He can’t hear the fading of the summer’s cicadas, and he can no longer see the leaves vividly display their dying colors; unlike the foliage outside, his dying colors consist of white and translucent gray.

 

He doesn’t know it’s fall, and he continues to think dumbly in his mind that summer will continue until eternity ends.

 

He doesn’t notice Karma beside him, unlacing his necklace with a blank expression, skin waxy and hair unkempt. The gold band slides onto his palm and the redhead, with slow deliberation, takes Nagisa’s bony arm, emaciated and snow-colored, and slides the burnished ring onto his fourth finger.

 

“Nagisa, today’s the day we were supposed to get married,” Karma whispers.

 

The body in front of him doesn’t reply; the only noise in the room is of the weak beeping and the sick croak of the life support. He sits there for what feels like a lifetime, breathing to the rhythm of Nagisa’s heart.

 

He opens his mouth, then closes it. Opens it again.

 

“Did I do well, Nagisa?”

 

Karma feels his nose stinging again and he doesn’t stop himself. His eyes water and he claps a hand to his mouth to stifle the keening cry.

 

“D-did I...save you too? In the end?”

 

He doesn’t expect a reply, but when the light filters through the now-open windows, the autumn sun breathes shadows on Nagisa’s face. It almost looks like he’s smiling, his eyes peacefully closed, and his heart slowing. And like that, he flatlines. A long beep pierces the silence.

 

Karma doesn’t move from his spot, even as nurses flock about him to attempt to resuscitate him.

 

The whirling, falling leaves outside his window mock him as he watches them alone.

 

The weight of the ring on his finger is so lonely.

 


I hope he can love the tomorrow when autumn leaves begin to turn,
I hope he can look at the cruel world’s sky and smile,
When fall comes, may he be happy.
That’s all I ask for.


 

you've saved me too many times to count...