Schroeder and Lucy are seventeen and on the cusp of seventeen respectively when Lucy first coughs up a petal.
It's one belonging to a red carnation, Lucy recognizes, because red carnations are Schroeder's mother's favorite flowers - and by extension his favorite flowers - , and as such, the pianist's whole house has at least one red carnation in each room, a small burst of red in what may have otherwise been a drab and dreary room. Lucy doesn't know why she coughed up a petal - as far as she knows, she hasn't eaten any flowers, much less red carnations, and Rerun would have told her if Linus had finally gone batty and tried to choke her in her sleep with the red blooms - , but with a single glance at Schroeder, who continues to play despite the momentary interruption caused by her cough, she decides that it isn't very important, and tucks it away in her pocket.
Leaning back on his admittedly larger piano, Lucy opens her mouth, ready to continue her usual spiel, when she coughs up another petal, and another. Schroeder, irritated, ends up shutting the cover on the piano's keys, and asks, "Lucy, if you're sick, you should go home. I can't concentrate with you hacking up a storm."
"Aw, Schroeder, that's so s-" Lucy hears the underlying concern, and is understandably pleased with its existence, but her sentence goes unfinished when she coughs up a few more petals, though she doesn't show this to Schroeder, catching them in her hands and immediately tucking them into her pocket as quickly as she can. Standing up shakily, she mutters a farewell to him before stumbling out the door, his mother asking if she would like to stay for tea, to no avail.
Lucy manages to get home, and Rerun greets her brightly, only to raise his eyebrows in concern as his older sister stumbles up the stairs and into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her as red carnation petals fall past her lips and into the toilet, slowly filling it with bright red.
"Lucy?" Linus calls out, minutes later after Rerun alerts him to their sister's presence. He raps his knuckles on the door before calling again. "Lucy, are you okay?"
She doesn't answer.
Linus jiggles the doorknob, but it's locked. Sharing a glance with Rerun, he informs Lucy, "Rerun and I will be out here if you need us, okay?" before they promptly position themselves on either side of the door, waiting for their sister to come out. At some point, their father returns home, and asks why they're there, but just then, the toilet flushes, and Lucy finally emerges, red-faced and exhausted, but seemingly alright.
"Lucy!" Rerun and Linus both embrace their sister, and, as usual, she shrugs them off after a few minutes, chuckling. Rerun voices his concerns, asking, "You were there for almost an hour, Lucy, are you okay?"
"I'm-" She coughs, but smiles. "I'm fine, Rerun. Your big sister is tougher than that, c'mon."
"Are you sure, my diamond?" Their father asks. "You can stay home tomorrow if you're not feeling well; Linus will bring your excuse letter."
Lucy ponders this. "... I don't... know... I don't really like missing school, and Miss Othmar's scheduled a test tomorrow..."
"That's alright; she'll excuse you! You're one of her top students, right?" Rerun grins, and Lucy can't help but shake her head and ruffle what little of his hair he had on his head. "Right, Linus? Lucy's one of the top students next to Marcie and Franklin, right?"
Linus gives him a lopsided grin. "No one's as good as Marcie and Franklin, but yeah, she's still top three. I'm sure Miss O will excuse you just this once."
"... Thanks Rerun. Thanks Linus. Thanks Dad," Lucy smiles, but her chest is still tight, so she excuses herself for the rest of the day, and they leave her alone in her room, where she goes to her computer and types up a few keywords - 'coughing up flowers'.
Results pop out within minutes, but most talk about one topic.
She picks the first one she sees and reads.
hanahaki byou (花吐き病): brought on by one-sided love of the worst kind. It causes the infected to cough up flowers symbolizing their unrequited feelings.
Lucy's brow furrows, and both her heart and her chest grow heavier at the next set of words.
Hanahaki byou is fatal - if not remedied with reciprocation of the feelings or removal of the flowers, it can lead to certain death after two months. With removal of the flowers comes the removal of the unrequited feelings, along with any memories of the person who is the subject of the unrequited feelings.
"Schroeder," Lucy whispers, and immediately, she hunches over her keyboard and hacks up a maelstrom of carnations until she has enough to cover her whole bed in them and still have some left over.
Of course. Of course it's Schroeder. Lucy's had a crush on him ever since they were children, but only now did those feelings blossom into more concrete ones - fleeting feelings had become stronger, and with it, came the flowers. Oh, God, the flowers.
Lucy Googles the meaning to the red carnations, remembering that the flowers symbolized the unrequited feelings, and once she sees the meaning she sighs, and coughs loudly again, more flowers escaping her mouth.
Red carnation - Deep romantic love, passion, “My heart aches for you,” “Alas; for my poor heart!”
Of course it's Schroeder.
Of course it's Schroeder causing these red carnations to bloom in her chest. It couldn't have been anyone else; Lucy hasn't had another decent crush or shown interest in other guys since Schroeder - who else could have caused her hanahaki byou? No one else other than the quiet, reclusive Beethoven fanatic, who had repeatedly shut down Lucy van Pelt time and time again over the years that they had known each other.
Lucy throws all the carnations out the window after that, coughing up more as she does so. Linus mistakes them as early Fall leaves, and ends up camping out at the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin, much to the whole van Pelt clan's chagrin.
Rerun recognizes them though.
Lucy knows he recognizes them, because after fetching Linus from the pumpkin patch, he gives her a look, and it's so piercing, Lucy looks away, though whether it's in shame or fear, she doesn't know.
All she knows is that Rerun knows.
Linus finds out days later when he walks in on Lucy coughing up a storm while doing homework.
He's in a panic, trying to figure out what his sister's problem is, but a quick Google search quickly turns his facial expression from panicked to saddened, and with a gentleness that he only reserved for his blanket, he holds his older sister in his arms when she finishes her latest round of coughing, red carnations - with some daffodils here and there mixed in ("Unrequited love," Rerun says) - scattered all around them as though this is some anime death scene and Lucy's about to disappear into balls of light.
And she might as well be dying, Linus thinks, because she's as pale as a sheet and the carnation petals are like splotches of blood against her usually fair skin, and the fact that she seems so tired makes it seem so unlike his sister that he wonders if it's actually a doppelganger and that the real Lucy is somewhere in the area, waiting to jump on them and yell "HAH! Pranked you!".
"You're gonna be okay, Lu, you're- y-you're gonna be okay," Linus whispers. "Dad - he's calling the hospital - you're gonna - they're gonna fix you, Lucy. They're gonna - t-they gotta-"
Lucy wheezes, clutching weakly at the back of Linus's shirt, and he looks at her. Despite the weakness, her blue eyes are defiant of her fate, and as the paramedics carry her off, Rerun walks up to his older brother, tugging on the edge of his shirt.
"Linus?" Rerun asks before showing him what Lucy had read a few days before.
Linus's face pales, and he pulls out his phone before speed dialing all their friends.
He leaves Schroeder for last.
When Schroeder receives the call, he immediately slams his homework on his bed before hastily pulling on a coat and running towards the hospital where the van Pelts are currently staying, heart thumping faster than ever before. He refused to admit it ninety percent of the time, but he really was concerned for Lucy, even if he did find her presence somewhat grating from time to time. She was - is - a friend, and friends care about each other, don't they?
He bumps into Sally Brown on the way to the hospital, and the blonde immediately invites him to walk with her to the hospital instead, because Charlie Brown had gone to buy flowers for Lucy in case she was confined to a room with a flower vase in it, and for some reason, a flare of jealousy pops up in his chest, though he was loath to admit it. Both of them make their way over to the hospital, where the likes of Violet Gray and Franklin and Peppermint Patty and even Pig-Pen are hanging around the waiting area, all of them worried for Lucy's wellbeing.
Linus looks up at his arrival, and sighs. "Hey Schroeder. Glad you could make it."
"Is she okay?" Schroeder's first words to him are, and the other boy rolls his eyes before shaking his head. The pianist feels a dead weight in his stomach. "What... what does she have?"
Linus looks around at everyone else, and with a whisper, he asks them all to huddle, before pulling out a bunch of red carnations - red carnations that make Schroeder blink.
"My mother's carnations did this?"
"No... she coughed these out on her own," Linus explains. "It's a disease called hanahaki byou - born of..." At this, his voice grows quieter. "Born of unrequited love."
Oh, Schroeder thinks, and then it sinks in. Oh. OH.
"The doctors say she's in bad shape," Linus begins, but he's interrupted by Violet pinning the pianist to a wall, furious.
"This is your doing!" She screeches, and he's in no position to defend himself, because she's caught him by surprise and quite frankly there's no stopping an angry Violet Gray when she's on a rampage. Quite similar to Lucy, in a way, but Lucy, at least, knew how to stop.
"Violet, please, calm down, we're in a hospital-!" Patty's words fall on deaf ears as she grabs at her best friend's arm and tries to tug her away, to no avail.
Violet continues to shake Schroeder by the shirt angrily, yelling, "Lucy wouldn't even be coughing up stupid carnations if you weren't here, you stupid, stupid, pianist! This is your fault! You and your stupid, stupid Beethoven and your stupid idolatry and your stupid, wannabe bachelor life-"
"Violet!" A quiet voice commands, and immediately everyone falls silent, because it's the Little Red Haired Girl - Heather, Schroeder remembers offhandedly - and she didn't usually speak up loudly enough like this. She reaches out, and pries Violet's fingers off of Schroeder's shirt before murmuring, "This won't change anything. Hurting Schroeder won't stop Lucy from loving him."
Violet wilts, withdrawing from the blond boy. "I... I know, but..."
"What are they planning, Linus?" Franklin asks.
"They're planning to perform surgery on Lucy, but..." Linus and Rerun both look at Schroeder, and in a few minutes, after looking up the hanahaki disease on her phone, Marcie does so as well, giving the boy a sad look.
Schroeder is unsettled. "What? What's going to happen?"
"They're going to remove all the flowers in her lungs to get rid of her feelings for you," Linus begins.
"Good riddance then," Schroeder huffs, but it's halfhearted - even Peppermint Patty can see that.
"But... in the process, she's going to forget all about you," Charlie Brown whispers in a voice low enough only for their group to hear, after reading the article over Marcie's shoulder. "Schroeder... Lucy's going to forget you."
The pianist raises an eyebrow. "Like... forget she ever had romantic feelings for me in the first place?"
"Let me see," Shermy reaches over for the phone and reads it before his eyes widen. "... No way."
"What?! What's going to happen?!"
"Schroeder... dude, she's going to forget about you."
"I know that-"
Marcie holds up a hand. "You don't get it, Schroeder - she's going to forget you ever existed."
"..." Schroeder's world stops. "... What...?"
"Every single memory of you - it'll be gone with the flowers. All that will be left of you in Lucy's mind... holes, where you would have been. In order to get rid of the feelings for you... she's going to have to forget... everything about you. And," Marcie looks down. "That includes you yourself."
After the surgery, Lucy wakes up, and, like the others said, has no memory of Schroeder at all.
When he enters the hospital room, she peers at him with the curiosity of a child, and subconsciously, somehow, as if commandeered by fate, she can recognize him a little, but not enough. "You...?"
"I..." Schroeder looks down. "It's... it's Schroeder."
"Oh," She says, and after a moment's hesitation, she smiles. It sends the weirdest of feelings through Schroeder's body. "The... others told me what got me here. Were... was I really that bad before? And... were we really best friends?"
He scratches the back of his neck. "You always sat at my piano every afternoon whenever I started playing, ever since we were kids and I only had a toy piano to play around with. Does that count?"
"Eh. It probably does," The noirette stretches before giving him an apologetic look. "I'm... I'm really sorry, Schroeder - I can't remember you at all. Some best friend I am, huh? And... I'm sorry. For what I did before, I mean. Declaring marriage and stuff. You must have been pretty irritated."
"It... it's fine," Schroeder stammers out, because this isn't his Lucy - this isn't his Lucy van Pelt. His Lucy would have swooned at the sight of him visiting her in the hospital, would have thrown her arms around him or sighed dreamily in his presence. Or probably would have chucked the heart monitor at his head - it depended entirely on the day and her mood. This girl on the bed, this wasn't his Lucy-
- and yet it was, because she's still as lovely as he remembered her the last time he saw her, stumbling out of his room after a particularly bad bout of coughing, leaving him to wonder what was wrong with her and whether or not she was sick, because the idea of sickness taking down Lucy van Pelt was almost absurdly alien to him - he associated Lucy with strength; she was a pillar of strength and willpower, and could not - would not - bend to some sickness.
But she had... and it was his fault.
His fault entirely.
"I... I hope you feel stronger in a few days," Schroeder stumbles over his words before running out of the room, Lucy waving at him in curiosity.
He doesn't stop running until he reaches his house again and locks himself inside his room, bracing himself against the door and sliding down to the floor, one hand clutching at his heart and the other gripping the blue carpet of his house.
He screams for the Lucy he lost.
In the hospital, Lucy falls back asleep, content and peaceful once more, her heart and lungs now free of the red carnations that burdened her before.
"Schroeder, would you get me flowers for Valentines' Day?"
A ten year old Schroeder looks up from his toy piano, and for once, he humors her, because she humored him and got him yet another Beethoven birthday celebration. "Maybe just this once, since you were nice on Beethoven's birthday."
"REALLY?!" She turns and faces him. "Oh, Schroeder, you're finally realizing your true love for me!"
"Don't push it," Schroeder grumbles. "Anyway, your favorite flower? I'm not getting you roses, but maybe I can... get your favorite flowers?"
"Rainflowers," Lucy replies immediately.
"Yes, the pretty pink ones!" The girl smiles as she drapes her arms over the toy piano. "I like them because they mean 'I will never forget you' and 'I love you back', and it's pretty symbolic, isn't it?"
Schroeder raises an eyebrow. "Are you sure you're not just saying it's your favorite because it means 'I love you back'?"
"Nah, that one's just a coincidence," Lucy smiles, and Schroeder rolls his eyes. "Fine."
Playing alone, days later, Schroeder suddenly feels a tickling in his throat, and with a gasp, he chokes out a flower petal, which lands on the C4 key delicately. He picks it up and turns it over in his hand before he ends up coughing a waterfall.
After a few minutes, it stops, and Schroeder pants, chest heavy with the blooms that had burst forth from his mouth. With a heavy heart, he stares down at the flowers, and recognizes them.
Rainflower - I love you back, I will never forget you, I must atone for my sins.
Lucy's favorite flower.
It had always been Lucy.
It had never been anyone else.
Schroeder presses a full rainflower bloom to his lips once, and lets it fall from his hands back onto the piano keys.
He sobs, for both the Lucy he had lost, and the love that had almost been requited.
Because it had always been Lucy who had his heart - he just hadn't known it until it was too late.