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Wilt (and Blossom Again)

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“Tulips?”

Guren starts at the voice, turning to face its source. A woman, much shorter than him, stands behind him, watching him with interest. She smiles at him as he turns to look at her. Her eyes are a very bright hazel, shining almost as if they emanate sunshine itself.

“Yeah,” he says carefully, standing up straight. “I don’t know much about flowers, but I’ve always found them pretty, I guess.”

She steps up beside him and leans down to inspect the flower he was just looking at. “They are very pretty. Not my personal favourite, but I like them a lot.” She rises again and meets his eyes. “All flowers are pretty in their own way, though, I think.”

He shifts slightly. “I don’t know if I agree,” he says carefully. “I don’t think it’s possible for everything to be beautiful.”

Her lips twitch up somewhat. “Well, they do say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think that maybe you just don’t know enough about flowers, though. Were you planning on buying these?”

“I was thinking about it, yeah.”

“Tulips are a flower of love,” she tells him. “These ones, red ones, represent perfect love. Enduring love.” She pauses, thoughtful. “I’ve never really believed in that, though.”

“In perfect love?”

“Yeah. There’s no such thing as perfection.” She seems to hesitate a moment, then adds, “Will you let me buy these for you?”

He stares at her. “I...I’m sorry?”

“Maybe not the red ones,” she says, giving a short laugh. She gestures to the flowers beside the red tulips. “I think you’ll find that these ones—pink ones—are a little more appropriate, maybe?”

“What do they mean?”

“They represent a kind of love, too,” she says. “Just...not a perfect one.”

Guren looks down at the flowers, considering, then brings his eyes back up to hers.

“Why?”

Her smile is very soft. “I guess I just feel like doing something kind for a stranger. Will you let me?”

He opens his mouth to respond, then closes it again. No, it would be unfair to tell her no, because…

Because she wants to do it.

“Okay,” he agrees.

“Wonderful,” she says, beaming. “The pink ones?”

“If that’s what you think.”

She laughs. “It doesn’t really matter what I think. Are you planting them for any specific reason?”

“Yeah,” he says, looking away from her, suddenly feeling a little cold. “They were my mother’s favourites.”

“I see.” Her voice is so gentle, like a summer’s breeze. “Then, I think I’d buy the pink ones.”

Even as they gather the pink ones to take to the counter and purchase, though, Guren can’t help but wonder what it is about perfect love that this girl doesn’t like.

And then realizes that he doesn’t even know her name.

She sets their goods on the counter and the worker begins to put things through the register.

“Hey,” Guren speaks up.

She glances over at him, one eyebrow raised. “Yeah?”

“I never caught your name.”

She laughs. “You’re right. How rude of me. I’ve just been thinking of you as tulip boy all this time.”

“Tulip boy?”

“It fits, I think.” She pulls out a bank card to pay, turning away from him to face the cashier.

“Guren,” he says. “Not tulip boy.”

When she looks at him again, it is with a dazzling smile.

“Pleasure to meet you,” she says. “I’m Mahiru.”

Mahiru.

He has a feeling he won’t forget that name any time soon.

She finishes the transaction and puts away her card, then picks up the flowers and hands them to him gently.

“Thanks for letting me buy them,” she says. “I hope they grow beautifully wherever you decide to plant them.”

“Why are you thanking me? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”

She shakes her head. “You let me do something that made me happy. It’s only fair I should be grateful.”

“But…”

“Really,” she says firmly. “Why are you arguing about it? We both got something out of it.”

He watches her a moment, then sighs in defeat. “Yeah, I suppose so. Thanks for buying them, anyway, and you’re welcome, I guess.”

He thinks her smile could rival even the sun.

“No problem,” she says. “Maybe I’ll see you around. So long for now, tulip boy.”

She turns around and leaves the greenhouse. Guren stares after her, heart beating a little fast, the tulips heavy in arms.

Minutes after she is gone, he realizes she didn’t even buy anything for herself.


The first flowers that start to die are the tulips.

Maybe that’s ironic. Maybe it’s just the universe being sadistic, as always. Guren doesn’t know, but it doesn’t really matter. It makes him ache, regardless.

Mahiru’s garden was her favourite pastime. How many times did Guren come outside to see her tending it? It’s not as if he never did his fair share of work—after all, technically speaking, it’s actually his garden—but he supposes she was just around more. And, anyway, he always liked to watch her. She looked most at peace when she was amongst the flowers she loved so dearly.

In her last years, she always said that this garden was her favourite thing in the world, right after her loved ones.

...Right after Guren, she often said.

He closes the garden door, noticing his jaw beginning to tense and his eyes beginning to sting. It’s stupid, really, but he’s not really sad about everything. More, he’s angry. He doesn’t think fate has ever been kind to him—except for one time, that first moment he met Mahiru.

Now, he’s not so sure if that was a good thing at all.

As terrible a feeling as it is, he just doesn’t know.

He can feel her lack of presence like a goddamn illness. Like something twisted, tangled, broken, a heaviness in the air, an utter lack of life. He felt it for months, to an extent. All those trips to and from the hospital, often without her by his side.

“Take care of the garden,” she told him. “And then when I come back home, we can admire it together.”

She said that, at least, until she couldn’t really speak at all anymore.

Mahiru hadn’t been forecasted to die. Or, she had, but not until just a couple years ago. Nobody had ever known that she would die young. Nobody had ever thought the world was cruel enough to rob the life of someone so gentle, so loving, and yet.

And yet.

Guren hates the garden.

But he doesn’t, not really. He has so many fond memories of it, so many memories shared with Mahiru over the past few years. It was the garden of their dreams, really. Mahiru took Guren, a man with a dedication to his passed mother and a thought of a garden he didn’t think he would ever be able to grow, and planted a seed of her own inside of him, guiding his hands gently to build his thoughts into reality. The kind of flowers Mahiru brought into his life could hardly be described with just this garden. She made breathing easier. She made living easier. She made everything worth it.

The sun has continued to shine outside, but Guren gets the feeling like the sun has not shone for weeks and weeks.

He cannot look at that garden without feeling sick.

He knows that it is the thing they grew together, but his chest aches and sears and aches, because Mahiru made this thing out of nothing. Mahiru helped him bring these flowers to life. Mahiru told him every passionate bit of trivia she had ever learned, every little odd thought she had about the flowers she thought beautiful—and she did find them all beautiful, she did; there was no flower Mahiru would have ever considered unaesthetically pleasing to her eyes.

Mahiru was a lot of things, but above all, she was this:

Passionate.

Guren always saw passion in her eyes. He always saw love there. Even up until her last moments, she looked at him with eyes brighter than a thousand twinkling stars.

“If I die,” she said, and he fervently shook his head.

“No, you won’t die, you won’t, don’t talk like that, you won’t die, Mahiru, you won’t—”

She held his hand, then, and gave him the saddest smile he had ever seen from her.

“If I die,” she continued gently, “I want you to know that there is nothing in my life that I regret doing.”

Because she did everything with passion.

Guren doesn’t hate the garden.

He hates that he doesn’t know how to keep it growing when he can barely keep himself breathing anymore.

What is the point of life, after all, if Mahiru isn’t in it?


“Hey, tulip boy, right?”

Guren’s lips twitch slightly. “It’s almost unfair that you have a nickname for me and I don’t have one for you.”

She laughs. She is mesmerizing, in every single way imaginable. Her head tilts back slightly, and her hair bounces on her shaking shoulders. Her eyes sparkle with amusement.

“I can’t believe you’ve worked at the coffee shop closest to my apartment all this time and I’ve never seen you.”

He shakes his head. “I don’t actually work here. I just come in occasionally to help out when they need a few extra hands. My best friends own this place.”

“Maybe it’s fate that I came in today, then,” she jokes, but the way her eyes shine, the way her lips pull up, Guren can almost believe it is.

“So, what do you want, then?” he asks. “I may not be getting paid, but I can still make you a good cup of coffee.”

“Is that your secret skill? Coffee-making?”

“It’s not very secret anymore, is it?”

She laughs again. “No, I suppose not. Just black is fine. Anything sweeter will just put me to sleep.”

“Maybe that’s your body telling you you’re sweet enough already,” he says, moving to grab a cup.

“That’s doubtful,” she says, scrunching up her nose slightly. “And, uh, are you going to tell me how much this costs?”

He shakes his head, filling her cup completely and passing it to her over the counter.

“On the house,” he says. “It’s the least I can do, really.”

Her gaze softens. “Thanks. But you really don’t have to—”

“I want to,” he says firmly.

She gives him a gentle smile. “Okay,” she agrees. “Thanks, then.”

She turns and makes her way to a table near the window. He watches her go, not even noticing as the next—impatient—customer steps up.

“Hey, uh, Guren.”

He glances back to see Mito looking at him rather oddly.

“Why don’t you go talk to her?” she suggests. “We can manage without you, I’m sure.”

“Huh?”

“You like that girl, don’t you? Go talk to her. It’s fine.” She beams at him. “We just want you happy, anyway, so go ahead and go sit down with her.”

He moves aside, dazed, to let her take his place and deal with customer he didn’t notice.

After she has taken the person’s order and receive their payment, she glances at him again.

“Go,” she urges. “I’m telling you to, so you have nothing to lose.”

He hesitates a moment, then nods. “Yeah, okay. Thanks, Mito.”

She flashes him a smile, then turns to deal with the onslaught of customers.

He slips out from behind the counter and makes his way to the table Mahiru sat down at. She looks up at him as he approaches, one eyebrow raised.

“Hi,” he says, heart beating rather fast. “Can I— Uh, sorry.” He coughs, looking away from her. “Can I sit here?”

She gives a small chuckle. “Of course you can. What happened to working, though?”

He seats himself across from her. “Ah, well, I’m just a volunteer, you know…”

“I don’t think that should mean you can just leave your job, still.”

“I was forced,” he confesses. “See that girl over there? With the red hair? She told me to come over here.”

“Oh?” Mahiru’s eyes dance with amusement. “And why is that?”

“She likes to meddle in other people’s business, mostly.” He smiles fondly. “But she’s one of my best friends. I think she just wants the best for me. Most of the time,” he adds. “Sometimes she might want to kill me. It’s hard to say.”

Mahiru’s smile could put the nighttime stars to shame, Guren thinks.

“So, why’s she meddling?” she presses. “I get this feeling like you aren’t being completely honest with me, tulip boy.”

“Will you ever say my real name?”

“I kind of like the way the nickname makes your lips twitch up like that,” she tells him. “It’s cute. And, anyway, doesn’t everybody just call you by your name? Where’s the fun in being the same as everyone else?”

“Right,” he says. “Because you’re not normal. You couldn’t be. You drink your coffee black.”

She laughs. “I actually don’t like sugar at all. Too much of it makes me feel really sick.”

“I almost wish I could say the same.”

She takes a short sip of her coffee, then gently sets the cup down again. “I guess I just always liked the thought of being healthy. I want to live a long time, so I can see more people happy. So I can be happy. I think that the ultimate goal of life is happiness. Prosperity. Endurance through hardship, and the power to keep loving even when you’ve been hurt.” She looks down at her drink. Guren thinks her eyes look a little sad. “Sorry,” she says. “You barely know me. That’s just how I see life.”

“I don’t know how I see life just yet,” Guren admits. “But I think I agree with you. I’d rather see people be happy and prosper than to suffer.”

“I want to live for a long time,” she says, looking back up and meeting his eyes. “My dreams aren’t very ambitious, I guess, but all I’ve ever wanted was a family. A group of people I could make happy for the rest of my life. I think I’m pretty content with where I am now. I love my siblings and friends greatly. But, still, sometimes I see strangers that look unhappy, and I feel unhappy, too.”

“Which is why you bought my flowers.”

“Yeah,” she agrees. “You looked sad, Guren-san.”

“I want to build a garden,” he tells her. “I want to love the things my mother did in her absence.”

“Did she have a garden?”

Guren shakes his head. “She always admired them, though. She was too sickly to have one of her own. She died about a year ago, and she’d never gotten to have one of her own. So, I guess I just thought that it was the best way to remember her.”

Mahiru considers him for a moment.

Then:

“If you’d let me, I’d love to help.”

Guren stares at her. She reddens beneath his gaze.

“Ah, but we just met, I know, so it’s a little weird. I’m—”

“I’d love that,” Guren blurts.

“Sorry?”

“Your help, I mean.” He rests a hand on the table and slowly taps one finger against the surface. “I’d love your help.”

She smiles.

“Thanks,” she says.

“Isn’t this backwards again?” he asks, sceptical, raising his eyes to meet hers.

It’s like galaxies swim beneath her eyes, a thousand solar systems so bright with the power of their enthusiastic stars. There’s an unmatched passion there, not quite a flame but something so very close to one. She is friendlier than fire, but there is no doubt she could ignite if given the materials to.

“Everything’s backwards depending on how you look at it,” she tells him wisely, but as the words come out, she cannot keep a straight face, and Guren isn’t so sure she meant it wisely at all.

Still…

“You’re right, I guess. But I should still be the one thanking you.”

She shakes her head.

“My dream,” she says, “is to see every person happy. Maybe it’s impossible, but I think that’s the point. If I keep living for my dream, I can see happiness and help create it until the day I die. That’s all I’ve ever really wanted.”

Guren wonders if she even realizes how brightly her eyes shine. It’s almost infectious, really. He smiles at her in a way he feels he has not really smiled in a long time.

It’s very clear, he thinks, that she will certainly follow her dream through until the day she dies.


Guren rejects to read her eulogy.

It’s not fair, he thinks. There’s no doubt they were dear to each other, but Guren’s time spent with her was limited. After her family asks him and he declines, they ask her best friend, Shinya, instead, and Guren wants to curse him for how smoothly he is able to deliver the speech, when Guren knows he would’ve been crying if it had been him.

Guren’s heard that funerals are an important stepping stone in healing after losing a loved one. It’s like a chance to say good-bye, maybe, but Guren already said his good-byes. He refused to at first, but Mahiru begged him and begged him even as her body grew frailer and her speech began to fail her.

Finally, a week before her death, he said good-bye to her.

And he cried then, too.

He leaves her funeral without a word to anyone. He notices a few people try to approach him, but he refuses to speak with them. He only stays for the service itself.

When he gets home, his cell phone rings. Mostly out of habit, he picks it up and checks the caller ID, then scowls and drops it on the kitchen table.

Mito. Of course she’d be the first to call him after the funeral.

But as he heavily takes a seat at the table, chest empty, even more phone calls pour in.

Sayuri. Shigure. Goshi.

Shinya.

Shinya.

Shinya.

Shinya.

On the fifth call, he finally grabs the phone and answers it, snapping out a hoarse, “What do you want?”

“Good to see you finally earned the ability to answer your phone,” Shinya says dryly. “I need to talk to you.”

Guren scowls at the wall.

He opens his mouth to respond, then closes it again. He pulls the phone from his ear and hangs up.

Within seconds, it is ringing again.

He drops it on the floor—or perhaps he throws it; he doesn’t really know—but it continues to ring.

He abruptly stands and leaves the room. It’s all rather pointless, anyway, he thinks. He has no good reason to talk to Shinya. And why would Shinya even want to talk to him? In her last years, Guren essentially stole Mahiru’s attention from Shinya.

He enters his bedroom, slamming the door shut behind him, mostly just to gain the satisfaction of hearing the noise it makes (he gains no satisfaction from this at all, however; in fact, it kind of makes him feel worse).

He sits on the bed and look down at his hands. His engagement band shimmers on his left hand.

He stares at it a moment, then pulls it off. His hands shake slightly.

He holds it between two fingers carefully, looking down at it. He doesn’t know why he’s still been wearing it. The one to match is in a drawer on Mahiru’s side of the bed. He still isn’t sure why he wanted it back in the first place, but…

They were supposed to get married in September.

It is currently the middle of August.

He presses the ring between his fingers so tightly his hand trembles violently. Exhaling shakily, he lets the ring fall. It hits his leg, then rolls down to the floor, almost in slow-motion.

But his hand still shakes.

He presses his elbows against his knees and holds his head in his hands, breaths coming fast.

There’s nothing left but grey.


“I love the tulips.”

Guren raises an amused eyebrow at her. “That’s all there is.”

“But they’re pretty,” Mahiru says, smiling. “I can tell you’ve been taking care of them. I always feel like flowers grow a little differently when they’re taken care of lovingly rather than begrudgingly.”

“Yeah?”

She laughs. “I doubt it’s really true, but I like to think it is. I think that love makes everything a little more beautiful.”

“But you don’t believe in perfect love.”

She shakes her head. “I spent a long time striving for perfection,” she admits quietly. “It took up my entire life. What was the point, if I couldn’t be perfect? If I could love perfectly? But the point isn’t to be perfect. It’s not even to strive for perfection. It’s to be happy, even though things aren’t perfect. Perfect love sounds like...fake love. And I don’t want to have anything fake.”

Guren has never been a perfectionist, per se. He has always known he could never be perfect, but…

He has only known that, because he has always felt inferior.

“Don’t you think people might call it perfect love because it’s the love they deem to be perfect?”

She pauses. Considers.

“But why deem it perfect at all?”

He doesn’t know what to say.

She sighs, then offers him a weak smile. “I guess it ultimately doesn’t matter, right? Perfection is just a word. A concept. It doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.”

“I think I know what you mean, though,” he offers. “I don’t want this garden to be perfect. I want it to be representative of what I love, and none of those things—those people—are perfect.”

“I’m glad you think so,” she says. “Then, let’s agree that you can plant every colour of tulip, except for red.”

He knows from the mirthful lilt in her voice that it’s a joke.

But…

“Okay,” he agrees. “No red tulips.”

The look of surprise, and then the gentle smile that overtakes it, he’s sure he will never forget, for as long as he’ll live.


Maybe it was as a joke, but once they moved in together, they planted red tulips.

“They’re starting to grow on me,” Mahiru confessed. “They just make me think of you.”

Guren finds that she’s the first person he thinks of when he sees red tulips, too. They never went into things looking for perfection, but what they found in each other was such an easy love, something so simple, it would be hard not to think it was perfect.

But perhaps Mahiru was right when she said that perfection didn’t exist. What were they, but two young, imperfect fools trying to make a life together? They didn’t always agree on things. Sometimes they argued. On occasion, they got massively frustrated each other and wouldn’t be able to communicate the way they normally would’ve.

There is no doubt about anything but this, though:

Guren loved Mahiru—loved her then, and still loves her even now that she’s gone.

However, rather than the passionate fullness his love for her had once inspired in him, now there is a gnawing feeling, a painful dagger twisting in his heart.

It is her absence. His lack of power to save her. His complete and utter inferiority.

Maybe they were a perfect couple. Maybe they were too perfect, and so the world planned a tragic ending for them. Maybe, in some other, kinder universe, they were a little more imperfect and a lot less tragic.

A list of endless maybes, but none of them will ever bear fruit.

She’s gone. Dead. Killed at the hands of a cancer neither of them could have ever anticipated.

Their time was limited. Four years, and almost half that time was riddled with her pain and her suffering and her constant acceleration towards death.

Like a flower, she wilted.

And as often happens, the flowers around her began to wilt, too.

Guren doesn’t know who he is, anymore, without Mahiru. She took his empty backyard, his empty life, and made something out of it. She planted seeds with such tender, loving care, and brought them into full blossom, until they were flourishing, until they were beautiful.

And then she could no longer offer them their sunlight. The passion, the life which she held, never really died out until her last moments, but…

But she could not help the feelings that tore her down, in the end.

They both knew she was dying. They both knew that she would pass on and leave Guren and their ever-blossoming garden for good. They both knew.

So why was it so painful?

Mahiru could bring happiness with nothing more than her presence. A smile, a touch, her gentle words. She was, in every way, godly.

A goddess.

But immortals are not meant to fall to the diseases of man. Ultimately, Mahiru was fallible, there is no doubt, but Guren will surely never understand how she could have been so. She deserved the world and more, and yet the world had taken her away.

Hiragi Mahiru wasn’t a perfect person. She hated perfection more than anything else, in fact. She was unruly, in some ways, but valued kindness. She could have been chaotic, if she desired it, but she never had a reason to be. Her passions kept her tethered to the ground, more than they allowed her to drift away. Her dreams were nothing large, after all; she just wanted a family.

A family, to love and cherish, above all else.

Guren locks both their engagement rings in a box and tucks it into the corner of the drawer beside their bed.

He takes the key, and he throws it in the garbage.

He cannot stand to look at either of those rings another day.


 

“So, you scored a date with the coffee girl?”

“That’s not her name.”

“But you are going on a date with her, right?”

Mito and Goshi are here, sat at his kitchen table, to gossip about the developments of the past two weeks. They sort of invited themselves here, honestly, but it doesn’t matter; Guren, for all he’ll complain about them to their faces, cherishes every moment spent with his friends.

“Yeah,” he says. “Tomorrow.”

“That’s so exciting!” Mito squeals. “See, Guren, I knew you could get a girl to like you!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!”

“I think she means that, with a hot guy like me around, it’s much harder for you to get chicks to like you,” Goshi says smartly. “Thankfully, I wasn’t there when you two met, so there was nobody more attractive for her to lay eyes on.”

“Guren is more attractive than you are,” Mito says, sniffing.

“That somehow doesn’t feel like a compliment,” Guren says tiredly.

Goshi laughs. “It’s probably not,” he agrees. “Mito-chan is always so mean.”

“I’ll show you mean when I break your stupid neck,” she snaps.

“Maybe save that for later,” Guren suggests.

“But, really, that’s not what I meant,” Mito tells him. “I would never think that. I just mean that you’ve never really been one for dating. I always just assumed you never found anyone decent. Because you didn’t,” she adds quickly. “In high school, you dated terrible girls.”

“I took a girl out for ice cream, like, one time.”

“And who was it?”

He shrugs. He’s almost completely certain that date wasn’t really of his own volition, anyway. Shigure and Sayuri spent a lot of their time in high school encouraging Guren to branch out and date a bit. Mito did the same, but she was considerably less forceful about it. Goshi, on the other hand, seemed more than content with Guren being single. Guren suspected then (and still somewhat suspects so now) that it was really just a matter of him not wanting to be the only single guy in their friend group.

“See, but you’re even defending coffee girl’s name,” Goshi points out.

“Her name’s not coffee girl.”

“See? My point exactly.”

“What is her name?” Mito asks.

“Mahiru.”

“That’s kind of ironic,” Mito muses. “Midday… You know, when she smiled at you, I thought she could’ve rivalled the sun.”

“Mito-chan, you really are a romantic!”

“N-no I’m not!” she protests. “You weren’t there. I’m sure if you were, you’d agree with me!”

“Well, from the look on Guren’s face, I can tell he agrees with you.”

“Well, obviously.” Mito laughs. “He looked so star-struck by her. It was almost funny to watch.”

“I—I wasn’t!”

Goshi and Mito share a dubious glance with each other.

“Even now, just talking about her, you look kinda sappy,” Goshi tells him. “I think I’m a little more inclined to trust Mito-chan on this one.”

“Of course,” Mito says cheekily. “I’m usually right.”

“That’s definitely a lie,” Guren grumbles.

“Even so,” Goshi says, shrugging, “you’re pretty soft for coffee girl. I’ll be expecting an introduction soon, you know.”

“Seconded,” Mito says. “Otherwise, I’ll have no choice but to just chat her up myself next time I see her at the coffee shop.”

Guren blanches. “Maybe don’t do that.”

Mito and Goshi laugh at him.

He supposes he really is in a little deeper with Mahiru than he first intended to be, if his nosy friends will call him out on it, but…

Still, he doesn’t think he’d change anything that has happened in the past month or so. Really, it feels like Mahiru has been around far longer than that, anyway. Already, she is completely irreplaceable.

“You can meet her soon,” he promises.


 

When the doorbell rings, Guren has half a mind to ignore it, just as he has ignored his phone calls, just as he has ignored his friends’ desperate attempts to reach him, just as he ignored everything else that once mattered to him. He goes through the motions, but only just. It’s a miracle he still looks himself. For the most part, at least; his eyes are perhaps a little more tired than they should be.

But he eventually gives into the persistent dinging of the bell, and is immediately assaulted with, “God, you look terrible.”

He scowls, hand tightening on the door.

“Shinya,” he says tightly. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to talk.”

“What’s there to talk about?”

“Mahiru?”

Guren stares at him a moment, then slams the door closed.

“I’m not going to leave!” comes Shinya’s muffled voice from the other side. “You can’t just shut me out, idiot!”

Guren locks the door.

“I’ll stay here all day!”

Guren sighs, turning away from the door and making his way back into the deeper parts of the house. It’s not like he’s planning on leaving anytime soon, anyway. He’ll eventually need to buy groceries, sure, but Shinya won’t stay out there for days waiting for him to come out.

He thinks, anyway.

But Shinya doesn’t seem willing to give up for now. He knocks relentlessly on the door between ringing the bell. Guren’s jaw is clenched tightly in frustration. In an attempt to soothe his irritations, he goes to make himself some tea, but, when he grabs a cup and makes it set it down, he slams it against the counter with enough force that it cracks on the bottom.

“Fine!” he snaps, even though Shinya can almost definitely not hear him. “You win!”

He makes his way back to the door. Shinya offers him a winning smile.

“So, can we talk now?”

“Talk about what?” he demands. “How—how unaffected you are?”

Shinya’s eyes darken slightly. “I wouldn’t say I’m unaffected, myself,” he says quietly.

He pauses. Guren cannot find the words to respond around his suddenly-very-dry throat. The silence is thick, a little strangling.

Finally, he says, “Will you let me inside?”

Guren swallows, watching him carefully. They meet eyes for a moment, and then Guren abruptly, almost completely unconscious of the action at all, steps aside and allows Shinya entrance.

“Thank you,” Shinya says thinly, closing the door behind him and removing his shoes. “I’ll admit, I expected you to put more of a fight.”

“It would be pointless,” Guren says. “Do you want some tea? I just made some.”

Shinya frowns a bit. “Sure, but don’t think that means I’m not going to make you talk to me.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Guren says, as he leads Shinya to the kitchen and, far more gently, finds two teacups.

“Clearly,” Shinya says dryly. “Or you’d pick up your cell phone once in a while, wouldn’t you?”

Guren scowls as he pours their tea. He turns and hands one of the cups to Shinya.

“I don’t mean that,” he snaps. “I mean that talking is pointless. It’s not like it can change anything.”

“Of course it can change things! It can help you come to terms with it, can’t it?”

“I came to terms with it a long time ago.” He grabs his own teacup with trembling hands. “I had no other choice.”

“Pretending to be strong so that Mahiru could die happily and coming to terms with her death really aren’t the same thing, you know.”

He grips his cup more tightly. “Who ever said I was pretending?”

Shinya is quiet for a moment, considering him. Then he says, “Let’s sit down. I’m not leaving here until you’re honest with me, you know.”

As Shinya turns towards the table, Guren snaps out, “Why do you care?”

Shinya freezes. He turns very slowly, and Guren almost expects his eyes to be cold, as they often are, but instead he is met with something much fiercer, more like fire than ice. It’s unnerving, to say the least.

“Why shouldn’t I care?” he demands. “We’re your friends, you dumbass! And, believe it or not, you’re not the only person who lost someone vital to their life! If you honestly think you can lock yourself up and feel sorry for yourself like this, I don’t think you deserved Mahiru’s love at all!”

Guren’s hands shake so badly that, within seconds, his cup is slipped from his grip and hitting the floor. Vaguely, he recognizes that the tea is hot, that it is searing at his feet, but he doesn’t register the pain he should.

All there is are Shinya’s words.

I don’t think you deserved Mahiru’s love at all!

They stare at each other for a long time, and Shinya inhales deeply, turning to the table and setting his cup down.

“Sorry,” he mutters. “Let me help you clean this.”

Guren can’t even react.

Shinya doesn’t seem to need him to, though. He finds a cloth and wipes away the spilt liquid, carefully dealing with the shards of ceramic. Within just a few minutes, he is completely done, and he stands so that he is face-to-face with Guren.

“You’re right,” Guren tells him hollowly. “I didn’t deserve her.”

Shinya shakes his head, lips twisting a little sardonically. “Of course you didn’t. None of us did.”

Guren glances up at the ceiling, chest heavy, then down to Shinya’s eyes again.

“What are you doing here?” he asks again, a little more weakly.

“If there’s one thing Mahiru wouldn’t want,” Shinya says, “it would be for us—for you to be unhappy. Not to mention, you’re my friend, too. We’re worried about you.”

“I can’t be what Mahiru wanted.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I never have been.”

“But Mahiru loved you.”

“And the world took her away.” Guren raises an eyebrow at him. “What part of that doesn’t make me seem powerless?”

“And what could you have possibly done to save her?”

Guren cannot respond.

“Exactly,” Shinya says. “Please sit down.”

Guren does as he’s told, and Shinya sits across from him. Without a word, he pushes his tea across the table to Guren.

“I didn’t really want it much, anyway. I figure you need it more than I do.”

It’s probably the truth, so Guren doesn’t argue about it.

“Guren, no offence or anything, but you’re fucked up.”

Guren takes a small drink from Shinya’s cup. He really can’t deny it, he supposes.

“I guess we all knew you would be, but after I talked to the others, I realized that I wasn’t really thinking about it very clearly. And that makes sense, because I’d just lost my best friend. But even though she’s gone, I’m still functioning. I’m doing what I can in honour of her memory. You’re not.”

“I can’t,” Guren says simply, setting the cup down and resting his arms on the table.

“You can’t,” Shinya echoes dully.

“I can’t,” Guren agrees.

“Why not?”

He looks down at the tea in his cup.

“I don’t know,” he admits hoarsely. “But I can’t.”

“That’s stupid.”

“...I know.”

Shinya sighs, glancing towards the garden door. He is very quiet for a moment. Guren steals a look up at him, and finds that his look is purely contemplative.

Finally, Shinya turns back to him and meets his eyes before he can put them down again.

“They’re dying,” he says sadly. “And you’re letting them.”

Guren downs the rest of his tea.

“I can’t let you do this, you know,” Shinya continues.

“Do what?” Guren asks, head beginning to ache somewhat.

“Destroy everything Mahiru loved.”

Guren flinches.

“I guess I can understand that it’s hard for you, and we’re dealing with our losses in different ways, but…” He shakes his head. “I knew Mahiru pretty well. She talked about you and this garden you built together like it was the best thing that had ever happened to her. And, honestly? That’s probably what it was. Meeting you changed her life.”

“But she still—”

“That’s not your fault.” Shinya frowns at him. “How could you possibly think that you could’ve done something to stop it from happening? It’s not like she caught a fever and died because she didn’t get treated for it. She had cancer. What could you have possibly done to save her from that?”

Guren clenches his hands into fists and scowls down at them. “Nothing. That’s the problem.”

“I won’t let this garden die,” Shinya tells him quietly. “And I won’t let you die, either.”

“How can you prevent that from happening?” Guren snaps. “Everything dies. It’s just a cycle.”

Shinya shakes his head. “These deaths are preventable. As long as there’s someone around to take care of the garden—and you, because you clearly need it—it won’t die. It’s not like with Mahiru. She wasn’t a flower.”

“Neither am I,” Guren points out harshly. “What’s the point in worrying about me?”

Shinya laughs. It is a cold, mirthless sound that Guren could liken to the painful sound of nails against a chalkboard.

“You’re so stupid sometimes,” Shinya says. “Isn’t it our job to keep loving the things Mahiru did, now that she’s gone? And she loved you. Not to mention, we’re friends, aren’t we? Of course I’d worry about you, idiot. The last thing any of us want you to do is shut yourself out from the world and stop having a reason to live. That’s the last thing Mahiru would’ve wanted, too.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Stop asking me that.”

“I just don’t understand.”

Shinya sighs. “Then, what’s the point in explaining? Do you not understand because it doesn’t make sense, or because you aren’t even bothering to listen?”

They both know the answer, Guren is sure. He looks away, scowling.

“So, I’ll do what I can. For you. For Mahiru’s memory. It doesn’t matter. I want to.”

“How can you fix anything? It’s not like—”

“I’m moving in.”

Guren turns his head to look at him so quickly his neck twinges slightly.

“I’m sorry?”

“I’m moving in,” Shinya says again. “I’ll tend your flowers for the rest of the season, and I’ll make sure you aren’t wasting yourself away.”

“You can’t just…”

“But what reason do you have to decline?” Shinya raises an eyebrow at him. “Guren, you’ve probably lost, like, half your weight since I last saw you. If nothing else, at least let me stay and make sure you’re even moderately healthy.”

“This is ridiculous.”

You’re ridiculous,” Shinya corrects. “Why are you arguing with me about this? You know I’m just going to stay anyway, right?”

He supposes he does know that, deep down. It’s how Shinya is, how Shinya has always been. The person he loves most—

The person he loved most, is Mahiru.

And so, now that she is gone…

“Fine,” Guren says tightly. “I don’t care.”

He can’t decide how he is supposed to feel about any of this.

“Good,” Shinya says, but his voice feels far away. “It’s just until you can take care of yourself again.”

But there is no way to say how long that could take.

Shinya can’t fix him, after all.


 

“Guren, this is Shinya.”

Mahiru’s smile is dazzling, as it always is. Next to the man she introduces as Shinya, her best friend, she looks far more sunshiny than she probably ever has. Shinya’s eyes are a cool, calculating blue, nothing like the warm hazel of Mahiru’s. Perhaps they balance each other because of their opposing natures.

Like the sun and the moon, midday and midnight.

Guren says, “Nice to meet you. Mahiru’s told me good things.”

Shinya laughs. “That’s because Mahiru doesn’t know how to say bad things. Still, she certainly hyped you up quite a bit, too. I don’t really know what I expected.”

Mahiru frowns. “Shinya, be nice.”

“I’m not being rude.”

Guren nods. “Well, I’m not really looking for your approval, to be honest.”

“Really?”

Well, he is a little bit, he supposes. Mahiru would choose Shinya’s opinion over Guren without a doubt, if it came down to it, but…

Well, Shinya doesn’t need to know that it’s something he’s worried about.

“No,” he says. “It doesn’t matter to me at all.”

“Mahiru, you’re dating a terrible liar.”

She giggles. “I know. Isn’t he cute, though?”

“H-hey!”

“I guess I see the appeal,” Shinya says, considering him. “He scowls too much, though. He’s got a bit of a resting bitch face.”

“He’s like a grumpy cat,” Mahiru explains. “Still so lovable and soft, even though he wants everyone to think he’s mean.”

“That’s not true!”

Shinya snickers. “You know, I can kind of see it. He’s probably really touchy and affectionate, too, right?”

How embarrassing…

“A little bit,” Mahiru allows. “But just look how easy he is to fluster.”

“That’s a good point,” Shinya concedes. “He’s so red.”

Mahiru offers Guren a small smile. “It’s okay. We’ll stop teasing you. For now, anyway.”

Guren doesn’t like the wicked look she immediately shares with Shinya, though.

“Really, though,” Shinya says, “it’s nice to finally meet the guy that Mahiru’s so head-over-heels for. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her so happy.”

Guren blinks, looking between them. It’s hard to believe that there is any version of Mahiru that isn’t infectiously happy.

“Thanks for that,” Shinya tells him. “I figure you can’t really be a bad person, if you already make Mahiru so happy. I trust her judgement, above my own, usually.”

“Is this you saying I have your approval?”

Shinya’s lips twitch slightly. “Not that you were seeking it out, though, right?”

“Of course not.”

“Then, yeah, I guess it is. Really, whatever Mahiru wants, I want for her.”

“That’s how we’ve always been,” Mahiru tells Guren. “We do everything for each other.”

“I guess that’s what friends are for, huh?” Guren exhales slowly. He supposes he’s the same way with his friends, after all.

“I don’t know what I’d do without her,” Shinya says, smiling cheekily. “She’s my mischievous other half. So take care of her, okay?”

Guren meets Mahiru’s eyes. She smiles at him. He cannot help but smile back.

He looks back to Shinya. “I will,” he promises. “Though, I’m sure she can take care of herself, for the most part.”

Shinya laughs. “I concur. Still, she doesn’t always take perfect care of herself.”

Mahiru smiles sheepishly. “That’s kind of true, yeah…”

“No part of me doesn’t want to take care of her,” Guren assures. “I’ll take care of her as long as she’ll let me.”


 

A little less than two years later, he vowed to take care of her for the rest of their lives.

He proposed to her in their garden. Their relationship had moved very quickly, but they clicked so instantly, so wholly, it felt more like an eternity, anyway.

Nobody said it was a bad idea that they were moving so quickly. Their love, though imperfect, surely, was natural. Mahiru fit into Guren’s life more easily than anything ever had. She filled an emptiness inside him he hadn’t even recognized was there.

Now that she is gone, he knows the emptiness is there. It aches and it tears and he doesn’t know how to keep it from eating him from the inside-out.

He can only really call this feeling one thing:

Loneliness.

That’s not quite right, but it’s a part of it, at least. He misses her. He misses waking up beside her. He misses getting to hold her and kiss her and make her smile because, dammit, her smile was the most beautiful thing in the world. He misses brushing her hair in the morning while she softly told him about whatever obscure thought had crossed her thought most recently. He misses watching her tend their flowers from the garden door and having her turn around and offer him a bright smile.

He misses Mahiru.

And so, when he wakes up and the house isn’t empty, it takes him a moment to gather himself.

He finds Shinya in the garden.

For the first time in weeks, he opens the garden door.

Shinya turns to face him, waving.

“Morning, Guren.”

“Morning.”

Shinya gestures around him. “It’s crazy how quickly things get out of hand, huh? You and Mahiru really were more dedicated to this than I think most of us ever gave you credit for.”

Guren sits on the step leading down into the garden, leaning his head in his hands, elbows digging into his knees. “Mahiru did more than me. She loved it more than I did.”

“I don’t think that’s true.”

But, right now, it feels true.

The garden doesn’t have the same bright feeling it used to. It has been growing darker and darker for years now. He barely remembers it as the place he proposed to the girl he loved; more, it represents the place he was desperate to look after, for her sake.

The place he was desperate to keep beautiful, for her sake.

...She never did get to see it again, though.

“Mahiru always loved flowers,” Shinya says. “I remember a time when we were, like, ten and she would drag me around her family’s garden. She never had to learn to garden, herself, but she was always in there helping out the people they had hired. Kureto used to get so irritated with her when she would come back into the house, dirty from tending their gardens.”

Guren’s heard these stories from Mahiru before, but coming from Shinya, they seem to hold a different tone entirely. He recalls them fondly, but there is a sadness in his eyes like Guren has never seen there before.

Or, no, that’s not quite true.

During Mahiru’s funeral, Shinya looked the same as he read her eulogy.

“I’m sorry,” he says abruptly.

Shinya pauses. Blinks at him.

“For what?”

“For saying you were unaffected.”

Shinya shrugs. “I understand why you’d think that,” he says honestly. “People react to things in different ways. Death doesn’t really bother me that much.”

Guren’s lips twitch, but he can’t really say that he finds anything overly funny.

“I can’t say I’m the same,” he says. “I don’t really understand what makes us so different.”

Shinya comes closer and sits beside him. There’s a watering can by where he was just standing. Guren stares at it, unseeing.

“I lost my parents when I was really young,” Shinya says. His tone is oddly conversational. “At first, I guess it felt like a tragedy, but as I got older, I came to understand that people die.” He pauses a moment, seeming to hesitate. “I wouldn’t consider myself overly religious, but I guess I do think that, if there’s anything in our fates which we can’t control at all, it’s our death. To an extent,” he adds. “I think you can change some kinds of death. I already told you that, yesterday. But what happened to Mahiru was far out of our control. And as long as she died happily, then I think I can be at peace with her death.”

“How?” Guren turns to look at him, finally, throat burning. “Don’t you think it’s too cruel?”

“Of course I do. I think the world was cruel to her. I think the world was cruel to us, for letting us love someone so magnificent and then taking her away, but…if her death was inevitable, I want to think she died knowing she was leaving something good behind in her memory, and that that would be enough for her to pass happily.”

“Doesn’t everything feel like...so much less to you?”

Shinya turns his eyes up to the sky. The late summer breeze seems to breathe out monotones. The sky is blue, but it does not feel as though there are any colours left in the world at all.

“Yeah,” he says quietly. “It does.”

Guren follows his gaze. A lone cloud drifts across the expansive blue, slowly spurred on by the gentle wind.

Shinya turns to look at him. His eyes are still deeply sad, but he smiles, anyway.

“I’m less okay with it than I seem, though,” he admits. “I just know that Mahiru wouldn’t want me to lose myself completely.”

“Does it matter what she would’ve wanted?”

Shinya stares at him a moment, then laughs and stands up. “Of course it does, you idiot. Let’s go inside and have some breakfast.”

Guren watches him enter the house again, a little lost, but eventually picks himself up and follows.

It is the first time, he thinks, since even before Mahiru died, that he has walked away from the garden not feeling like he’s hated it.


 

“You said tulips were your mother’s favourite, didn’t you?” Mahiru hands ghost over the petal of one of the pink tulips—the first flowers he planted here.

He lets out a surprised laugh. “You remembered that?”

“How could I not?” She turns to face him, smiling softly. “I think that was what intrigued me about you the most.”

“Why?”

She straightens up. “I thought you looked a bit sad,” she confesses. “But, more than that, I thought you looked really determined. I guess to live her memory on, right? I wish I’d gotten a chance to meet her before she passed away.”

“She would’ve loved you,” Guren says. “It would be hard not to.”

Mahiru laughs, but her cheeks look a little pink. She takes a few steps closer, until she’s just centimetres away from him. “Are you speaking from experience?”

He meets her eyes briefly, then hastily looks away. “N-no, I just mean…”

One of her hands comes up to brush against his cheek. He swallows, then looks down at her. She meets his eyes, her lips twitching slightly. “You just mean…?” she asks innocently.

He scowls. “Well, I mean that I… You…” He huffs, turning away from her again. “Of course I’m speaking from experience.”

She jolts slightly. He glances back at her, scowl falling away.

“I didn’t expect you to admit it,” she says, cracking another smile. “C’mon, Guren, don’t look so worried. I love you, too, you know.”

She smiles so softly, like he is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.

“I do love you,” he murmurs, leaning down and resting his forehead against hers. “It’s easy to love you.”

Her breaths tickle against his lips. “That’s funny,” she whispers, “because you’re pretty easy to love, yourself.”

She presses a chaste kiss against his lips, then pulls away quickly. Guren’s lips tingle with the absence of hers, but he sees the serious look in her eyes and allows her to take a step away from him, her hand falling back to her side. He straightens, watching her curiously.

“But I wanted to talk to you about something,” she says. “I’ve been thinking about this garden, and what it means to you, and I...I want to know more, I guess.” She flashes him a nervous smile. “You made all this for your mother, but you let me help you, even though I was basically a stranger to you.”

“Oh.” He frowns, thoughtful. “I never really thought that I could do it, I guess. I was glad when you offered to help. It feels like you belong here, you know? This isn’t my mother’s garden...it’s mine. Mine and yours. Ours. We made this thing together, Mahiru. It represents a little bit of both of us. There are things here I want to believe carry a bit of my mother in them, but there are also things I want to believe carry a bit of my friends in them. And you. So much of this garden is yours.”

Something in her face darkens a bit. “But...is that really okay?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Well, I mean, it’s...it’s not really fair, is it? I’m still alive. You see me every day. You don’t need something to remember me by.”

He shakes his head. “That’s not important. This place should be representative of what we love. And, Mahiru…”

She lifts her gaze up to his. He wonders if her eyes will ever stop captivating him. Their beauty, that mesmerizing hazel, like looking up to the night sky on a cloudless night, endless and enchanting in every way, never fails to take his breath away.

He smiles at her. “You’re the one I love most, you know.”

It is the first time they have ever said they love each other, but it feels like they have known each other over countless lifetimes.

No, maybe there is no such things as perfect love, but…

With Mahiru, he thinks he is pretty damn close to it.


 

They quickly fall into a routine. Guren marvels at how much easier it is to become accustomed to Shinya’s presence than the lack of Mahiru’s. It’s obvious that she’s still gone, even now, of course, but Shinya’s presence and Shinya’s presence alone, seems to demand him to stop wallowing. Before Guren knows it, his own birthday is upon them.

It doesn’t really feel worth celebrating, though, if he’s completely honest.

Shinya doesn’t seem able to accept no as an answer, however.

“You need to see your friends,” Shinya presses. “They’re all worried about you.”

“I don’t want them to worry about me.”

“Then why let yourself get to a place where people have no choice but to worry?”

Guren says nothing.

Shinya sighs. “Honestly, I think you’re being selfish. You think we don’t want to see your pain, or that you don’t want our pity, but what’s wrong with that? We’re your friends. It’s kind of our job to help you feel better during times like these. Let people worry about you. Even if you don’t show them quite how hurt you are, at least let them see you and know you’re still alive.”

“I don’t care if it’s selfish,” Guren tells him. “I don’t want to see them.”

Shinya drops the topic.

Until the next morning.

“It’s your birthday,” he says. “You’ll be lonely without Mahiru, even if I am here. You need other people, too, Guren.”

“I didn’t even ask you to come,” Guren reminds him, tiredly, fixing himself a cup of coffee.

“And can you really say it’s been all bad?” Shinya presses. “Honestly, that is. And I’ll be able to tell if you lie to me.”

Mahiru, you’re dating a terrible liar.

Guren’s throat suddenly feels very tight. He is still for a moment, lungs searing. Shinya says nothing into the silence, and Guren finds that it only seems to press down on him more this way.

He leaves the coffee and exits the kitchen entirely. Shinya doesn’t call after him.

They spend the rest of the morning and afternoon away from each other. Guren can’t honestly say that he does anything worthwhile at all. He keeps to his own room and sorts through some old photos. Finally, at dinnertime he emerges.

Shinya’s made curry. Perhaps as an apology, or perhaps as a way to soften Guren up.

It doesn’t matter much, either way.

“I’m sorry,” he says, once they’ve both sat down to eat.

“It’s fine.” Shinya hesitates a moment, then adds, “Can I ask what it was I said that bothered you, though?”

Guren feels like a little kid, suddenly.

“I don’t know,” he says—snaps, maybe. “Maybe it’s the fact that you won’t leave me alone.”

“I doubt that’s it,” Shinya says mildly. “I thought about it most of the day, honestly. You left when I said I would know if you were lying. Why?”

To avoid responding, Guren takes a large mouthful of curry.

But Shinya seems perfectly content to wait.

He thinks about it as he chews and swallows. He knows the reason, of course, but he doesn’t know why it bothered him so much.

His coffee cup still sits on the counter. He wonders if Shinya left it there for a reason.

Finally, he says, “It reminded me of the first time we met.”

“...That was a long time ago.”

“I know,” Guren says. “I’ve been thinking about a lot of things that happened a long time ago, lately. I wish they had happened longer ago.”

“The present is what’s important.”

“What’s the point of the present, if Mahiru’s not in it?”

Shinya doesn’t respond for a long moment. The entire house seems to echo with Guren’s shaky words.

Just as Guren opens his mouth to fill the silence, Shinya says, “I feel like you don’t even realize how difficult it is to hear you talk like that.”

Guren looks away from him.

“If I asked them, would you let our friends come over on your birthday?”

Guren sighs. “Will you leave me alone if I say yes?”

“Depends what you mean by that.”

“I mean, will you stop bothering me about stuff like this? I don’t care if you live here and take care of the garden and make me curry, but stop asking annoying questions all the time, even after I tell you to stop.”

Shinya’s lips twitch in mild amusement. “That just sounds like you’re exploiting me for my curry.”

“I might be.”

“Well, deal, then,” Shinya says. “I don’t mind if you exploit me for my curry. I don’t think I could eat this every single night, myself, though.”

“Maybe you should learn how to do that,” Guren suggests. “If you’re going to live here, at least respect how often we should be eating curry.”

“Did Mahiru agree to eating curry every night?”

Guren laughs. It’s a bit of a harsh sound, even to his own ears. “Of course not,” he says. “But she probably would’ve done it, anyway, just because it would’ve made me happy.”

“Yeah, probably.” Shinya frowns. “You know, I always wondered at what kind of relationship you two had. It was like you would’ve moved mountains for each other, if you had to.”

“You would’ve done the same for her.”

“Would I have?”

He looks troubled, Guren thinks.

“Yeah,” Guren says. “I’ve no doubt about it. And she would’ve done the same for you. You were her best friend.”

“I guess I just never understood how quickly you two fell in love,” Shinya confesses. “It was like you were destined to meet. You were perfect for each other.”

“Maybe,” Guren says quietly. “I don’t know that perfect is the right word.”

“Because Mahiru hated perfection, right?” Shinya shakes his head. “She wasn’t always like that. When we were kids, she was relentless in her pursuit of perfection. If her grades weren’t between ninety-five and one hundred, she got frustrated and cried. If she wasn’t doing something exactly as she wanted it to be, she either gave up on it entirely or had to start over and over again until she did get it to where it was perfect for her. Kureto was exactly the same as she was, but the difference is, he still is like that. Mahiru wanted to change, because her perfectionism was making her unhappy. Our entire senior year, she worked tirelessly to break her habits. Then, you two met the next year, and it was like she finally found her happy medium. Mahiru didn’t hate perfection in the end, I don’t think. She hated it, until she met the person that she felt embodied it. And obviously she didn’t think you were perfect, but you had the power to make her life perfect.”

Guren’s throat sears. “I...I don’t think I could’ve done that for her. I couldn’t even save her, in the end.”

“But you did,” Shinya presses. “Mahiru left her life content with it. Content, because she met you. Your time was limited, sure, but I think that, even when she was losing her good health, the five years that she knew you were the best of Mahiru’s life.”

Guren’s eyes sting. He cannot find any words to respond with.

“Mahiru loved a lot of things,” Shinya continues, “but above all, I know she loved you the most. You changed her life in every way she possibly could’ve wanted and more. What you two had was timeless.”

“Timeless, but only lasted five years,” Guren mutters.

“So? You got to know each other. You got to love each other. What more could you have possibly asked for, in the time you had?”

Guren doesn’t know.

“The world is cruel, I guess, but it’s not like you can’t keep living. Live on for her, Guren. If you feel you couldn’t save her, then at least hold onto her memory.”

He can see nothing behind the mist over his eyes.

“It’s what she wanted, after all.”

His tears spill slowly, one by one.

Shinya says nothing as Guren cries. They stay like that for a long time. Hours, maybe, spent in silence, save for the small, gasping breaths Guren takes every few minutes.

He supposes that, really, there is just nothing left to say.


 

By the time they have been together for a year, Mahiru has adjusted herself perfectly—or as perfectly as a girl hell-bent against the entire concept of perfection can be, at least—into Guren’s life. His father loves her. His friends love her. He loves her.

They can do anything together, it feels like. She always knows exactly what he needs when he needs it, and he can only hope that he is able to do the same for her.

On his twentieth birthday, all of their friends come over to Guren’s for the day.

Guren can admit that he’s nervous. Over the past few weeks, he has slowly begun to notice a trend in his daily routines, on top of some other thought-provoking things.

He asked Sayuri about it just a few days ago, and she offered him simple yet excitable advice:

“Just ask her to move in with you!”

Because, truly, Mahiru exists in his home even when she isn’t here. He has a drawer of some of her clothes. Four out of seven mornings in a week, he wakes up beside her. He often finds strands of her hair on his pillows (and everywhere else, really, but this is the only place where he really takes the time to care about it). When she isn’t here, it often feels as if the house is completely empty, but there is always something around that is uniquely hers, and that’s enough to soothe the feeling.

Still, the very idea is nerve-wracking. They’ve sort-of-not-really been living together for weeks now—hell, maybe even coming up on months—but the thought of formalizing it feels somehow arbitrary. He cannot help but worry she isn’t seeing the same things that he is, though the signs are quite clearly laid out before them.

The general consensus between his friends seems to be that Sayuri is right, though. They all remark on it at some point during the day, and as they leave, Mito is very insistent to him that she’ll have some choice words for him tomorrow if she finds out he backed out of asking Mahiru to move in with him.

Mahiru and Shinya are the last ones left. They’re in the kitchen, talking to each other quietly, and as Guren returns to them from seeing the others off, they immediately quiet entirely.

“Well,” Shinya says, “I think that’s my cue to leave. I’ll see you tomorrow, right, Mahiru?”

Mahiru smiles at him and nods. “Right at noon! Don’t forget!”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.” He turns to Guren. “I’ll see you soon, too, I’m sure. Happy birthday again, by the way.”

“Thanks,” Guren says. “Uh, you—”

“I’ll let myself out,” Shinya says quickly. “Bye!”

He’s gone before Guren can manage another word.

Mahiru laughs behind him. Guren gets the distinct impression that she’s nervous about something.

Well, that makes two of them, he supposes.

“You look like you have something to say,” Guren tells her.

She bounces on the balls of her feet slightly. “Y-yeah, I do, but you look like you do, too.”

“I do.”

“Then...we’ll speak at the same time?”

Guren lets out a small snort of laughter. “If that’s what you want,” he agrees.

“Okay. On three, right? Ready...One...two...three—”

“Will you move in with me?”

“Can I stay the night?”

They stare at each other for a long moment, equally flabbergasted.

Finally, Guren says, “Why in the world would you be nervous to ask that?”

“I—I don’t know! Because I didn’t know you wanted me to move in with you, I guess!” Her voice is quite high, cheeks flushed red. “Now I feel kind of stupid for saying it. I just...I’ve never asked before. It always just happens, where we sleep together or we just actually fall asleep and I...I didn’t know you would ask me that.”

Guren’s heart seems to skip a beat. Or two. Or maybe ten. “Is it not okay?”

She shakes her head quickly. “No, it’s fine, I just… God, I feel like an idiot. I’d love to move in with you. I’ve been thinking about it, too. That’s why I asked. I didn’t know if any of this was intentional or if it was all an accident, s-so…”

“Of course it’s intentional. I love having you around.”

She steps forward and closes the gap in between them, resting her forehead against his chest. His arms automatically come to wrap around her shoulders gently.

“I know,” she murmurs, voice slightly muffled by the fabric of his shirt. “I love being around.”

He runs a hand through her hair absently. “I’m glad.”

“It’s silly to worry about asking these things,” she says, laughing slightly. “We always seem to think the same things.”

That does tend to be the case, more often than not.

“It doesn’t matter,” he tells her. “I was worried, too.”

“We must be soulmates,” she jokes, but…

Secretly, Guren thinks that could very well be the case.


 

On his twenty-fourth birthday, all of their friends come over to Guren’s place.

No, not all of them. It’s a different atmosphere without Mahiru. But it’s been like this for a long time, really. Even when she was still alive, she was too sickly. After her diagnosis, her health hit a heavy spiral, and the next year and a half were almost impossible to get through. He knows that, in her last months, she often felt guilty for taking Guren’s time, but he was genuine when he told her that he would rather be by her side than anywhere else, and it always seemed to be enough.

Guren wants to believe Shinya when he says that Mahiru died content with life. He does, more than anything, but he’s not sure if that’s the case.

Maybe she loved her life, but that does not mean she was happy.

That does not mean she loved herself.

His thoughts make for a depressing soundtrack on a day he is surely supposed to be celebrating.

Mahiru died a week and a half after her own birthday. The day itself, she was barely even aware of it.

Guren thinks, of any of the moments before her death, that one was the hardest.

He did not buy her a gift. She no longer had the capacity to be truly grateful for one, or to even really acknowledge it. They both knew that she was going to die soon, anyway.

Still, there was something so tragic about it.

On Hiragi Mahiru’s twenty-fourth year, she passed away.

They always found it kind of funny, how close their birthdays are. Mahiru liked to joke that he was so much younger than she was, but…

But that won’t be the case for much longer, he supposes.

Only one of them will reach their twenty-fifth year, after all.

They both loved summer. Their respective favourite things were born then, after all. Not to mention, there was really nothing like the love for nature that Mahiru had. She surely knew every type of flower off the top of her head, and its entire etymology, to boot.

He remembers asking her why, when they were still just stumbling through the beginning of their relationship, and, even now, her answer sticks out to him:

“Because I can’t spend the rest of my life feeling like the things I learn don’t have purpose.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that I learn about it because it interests me. The purpose is that. Nothing more.” She smiled, then. “And I guess it also makes it more than worth it when you ask me questions and I know the answer, and I get to see that cute look on your face.”

But that was a long time ago.

Now, she’ll never be able to tell him the things she knows.

In the morning, Shinya makes breakfast, and then they move outside to the garden. Guren sits on the step and watches Shinya tend the flowers, as he has done almost every single day since Shinya moved in here. Really, Shinya and Mahiru are very different people, but in his movements, there is something distinctly reminiscent of her. Guren supposes that’s only properly fair; after all, they were friends for a long time. It’s understandable that they would’ve picked up some mannerisms from each other.

Guren tries not to dwell on these facts too much. Shinya is definitely not unaffected by Mahiru’s death—in fact, in truth, Guren thinks he may be hiding the full extent of his pain over it—but he is still doing what he can to help Guren.

Perhaps, in some sense, they are made to fix each other.

Shinya finishes his round of the garden and comes to join him on the step.

“So,” he says teasingly, “feeling old yet?”

“I have to admit that I’ve been feeling far older than my age for a few years, now,” Guren says, staring out at the garden.

Shinya really has done a stellar job of keeping this place as it should be. Guren doesn’t envy him for it, exactly, but there is certainly a part of him that wishes he could do the same thing. This garden is, he thinks, the closest he will ever be Mahiru again. A part of her soul resides here. She poured everything into this garden, after all.

“Yeah,” Shinya says quietly. “Me too.”

Guren hesitates a moment, then turns to look at him.

“Thanks,” he says.

Shinya blinks. “For what?”

“For doing all this. It hasn’t been easy for you, either.”

Shinya watches him a moment, then laughs softly.

“W-what?”

“I think this is just as much for my benefit as yours,” Shinya admits. “At first, I really was just worried about you, but the longer I stay, the more I start to feel like I can get past what happened. This garden… It’s like she’s here, still. And I want to think that that’s good, you know? To be close to her, even though she’s not here.”

“Yeah,” Guren says thickly. “I think I understand.”

“But it’s different for you, isn’t it? You never come out any farther than this.”

“It feels oppressive,” he confesses.

“Oppressive…?”

“Maybe that’s not the right word.” Guren looks back out over the garden. “But everything here is ours, technically, and I know that, but it always felt like so much of this place was hers. The thought of going near it, now, knowing that it can’t be ours or hers anymore is terrifying.”

Shinya is quiet for a moment. Guren steals a quick glance at him, suddenly feeling quite sick.

“Okay,” Shinya finally says, standing up and turning to face him. “Then, won’t you push yourself a bit? You don’t know that you can’t come any closer. You just haven’t tried to yet.”

Guren doesn’t move.

“Even if it’s not right now,” Shinya presses. “Even if it takes time. You can’t get better if you refuse to try, Guren.”

“I—I’m not—”

“You are.” Shinya leans down slightly, frowning. “I guess I understand why, but I don’t think this what you want for yourself, either. You need to make peace with her death. That doesn’t mean moving on from her or forgetting about her. It means finding a meaning in life even though she isn’t in it anymore.”

Guren looks away from him. “I…”

Shinya straightens, sighing. “But it doesn’t matter now. Just think about it a bit. I think by letting me invite our friends over, you’ve made a step towards the right path, anyway.”

Shinya watches him a moment longer, then steps past him and makes his way back inside.

Guren stays seated on the step before the garden, mulling over his words, for a long time after that, but only manages to come to this conclusion:

Shinya is right.

He is refusing to get better. He’s refusing to move on. Everything he has thought in the past month screams that he feels worthless without Mahiru.

In his head, he knows that’s not true. He was never wholly dependent on Mahiru, and it’s not like he doesn’t still have other people that he loves. But everything feels so empty without her.

Except for the garden, which still blossoms with her presence. Close enough to feel, but not to touch, not to see or hear or hold onto.

After some time, he finally gets up and makes his own way inside. Shinya is sat the kitchen table, nursing a cup of what is presumably coffee. He raises an eyebrow as Guren approaches.

“You look like you’ve been doing a lot of thinking,” he remarks.

Guren sits across from him. “I have been.”

“And?”

Guren pauses a moment, tongue feeling rather dry and heavy, then says, “I want to tend the garden myself.”

Shinya’s eyes flicker in surprise, but he is otherwise guarded. “Is that so?”

“Or, not by myself, I mean,” he says. “With you.”

Now, everything on his face reads as shocked. “Huh?”

“I don’t want you to leave,” Guren says.

Shinya’s lips twitch. “Really,” he says.

Guren scowls. “Well, when you’re not an ass, you’re pretty decent to have around.”

Shinya laughs. “I guess that’s all I can really ask for, huh?”

They spend the short remainder of the morning together in silence, and, eventually, the doorbell rings.

“That’s almost enough to give me traumatic flashbacks,” Guren says.

Shinya stands up. “Yeah, whatever. You can only listen to a doorbell ring for so long before it starts to get on your nerves and make you take action. I was just trying to help.”

Guren stands and follows him to the door. “If you’re looking for thanks, I’m not going to give it to you.”

Shinya shrugs. “It was worth a shot, I guess.” He opens the door. On the other side are Sayuri and Shigure, who both break into large smiles as they see Guren standing behind Shinya.

“Guren-san!” Sayuri cries, barrelling past Shinya to throw her arms around Guren.

Shigure follows behind her, throwing an apologetic look to Shinya and closing the door gently behind her.

“We’ve been so worried about you,” Sayuri says, holding the fabric of the back of her shirt very tightly. “You’re such an idiot!”

“It’s good to see you,” Shigure says quietly, drawing Guren’s gaze towards her. “She is right, though, you know.”

Shinya snickers. “Oh, he knows it.”

Guren scowls at him over Sayuri’s head. “What, and you’re not an idiot?”

“Perhaps it really does take one to know one,” Shinya muses. “Anyway, come on, Sayuri-chan, take of your shoes and come inside. Guren won’t go anywhere.”

Slowly, Sayuri pulls away from him. She sniffles slightly, and her eyes look somewhat glassy with tears, but she beams, regardless.

“Happy birthday, by the way,” she says. “Sorry, we didn’t get you anything. It’s been so…”

Shigure touches her shoulder gently and she falls silent.

“We didn’t get a chance to speak to you at the funeral,” Shigure says. “We wanted to, but you left so fast…”

“Not that we blame you,” Sayuri adds hastily. “It’s understandable that you left.”

“But we still never got a chance to tell you we were here if you needed us,” Shigure finishes. “And I figured when I called after and you didn’t pick up, you probably just needed space. I planned to try again later, but the very next day, Shinya-san called and told us that you were okay but needed space for a while, and we shouldn’t try to call you or anything until you had had some time to separate your thoughts and feelings…”

Guren blinks. “He...did?”

He looks at Shinya, uncertain, and Shinya looks almost sheepish as he meets his eyes.

“There’s a reason I’ve been trying to whittle you down to this,” he says. “You can’t make a difference unless you want the difference to be made. And the way things were two weeks ago, I think you would’ve been an asshole to anyone who came around. I can deal with it, but, well…”

Sayuri wipes at her nose. “Guren-san, I’m sorry we didn’t come sooner. I wanted to, but Yuki-chan thought we should listen to Shinya-san.”

“That was probably for the better,” he says carefully. “I’m sure I haven’t been overly pleasant to be around.”

“That doesn’t matter!”

“It does,” Shigure tells her mildly. “You both would’ve left that situation feeling bad. It wouldn’t have been worth it.”

“But—”

“She’s right,” Guren says tiredly. “Let’s come inside, okay? We can talk about this more once Mito and Goshi are here.”

Sayuri sighs. “Okay…”

She takes off her shoes and sets the aside neatly, then Shigure leads her inside.

Shinya casts Guren a dubious look. “You’re sure you’re up for this?”

“Why are you asking me that?” Guren says, exasperated. “Weren’t you the one that invited them?”

“No, I mean the heavier conversation you pretty much just said you would have. Are you sure you’re up to that?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Of course.” Shinya frowns at him. “You always have a choice.”

Before Guren can muster up a response, the doorbell rings again. This time when Shinya opens the door, he admits Goshi and Mito. The former flashes them a quick, charming smile, the latter wears a scowl on her face like Guren isn’t sure he’s ever seen before.

“You idiot,” she fumes, removing her shoes and coming to stand in front of him so that she is mere inches away from him. She presses a forceful finger against his chest. “You absolutely fucking idiot. If it weren’t for Shinya-san, we’d all think you were dead!”

“Now, now, Mito-chan,” Goshi says. “Let the man explain himself. I’m sure he has his reasons.”

Mito continues to glare at Guren. “I’m sure he does, but that doesn’t make him less of a dumbass!”

“Any bad name you could call me I’m sure has already been said,” Guren tells her dryly. “Why don’t you come inside? Maybe you and Sayuri will emotionally balance out.”

Shinya snorts. “Guren, you’re such an asshole.”

“Part of his charm, right?” Goshi grins. “It’s been a while, but happy birthday. You’re finally old like the rest of us.”

“What am I?!”

“Aw, Mito-chan, you’re far too cute to get old. You know that, don’t you?”

She huffs. “Whatever.”

Shinya laughs. “Well, come inside, will you? I’m sure we won’t have a very good conversation standing around here all day.”

“Fine,” Mito says. “But I’m still mad at you, you know.”

Guren shrugs. “That’s fine. I’m sure I deserve it.”

She opens her mouth to say something, then falters, blinking up at him.

“Right,” she says, sounding a little dazed. Without another word, she makes her way past him and into the next room, where Sayuri and Shigure are.

“She’s been a little irritable lately,” Goshi remarks. “She snapped at a customer the other day. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her do that.”

Guren glances at him, trying not to frown. “Yeah?”

“We’ve all been worried, I guess,” he says, shrugging. “You know how Mito-chan is, though…”

Mito is…

Too emotional for her own good, probably.

“Yeah,” Guren affirms. “I do.”

Shinya sweeps past him, following Mito’s trail, and Guren hesitates a moment before following, Goshi right behind him.

Sayuri and Shigure sit at the table, but Mito is standing at the garden door, a rather heavy look on her face. She turns to face Guren as he comes near.

“I’m sorry,” she says tightly.

Guren stares at her. She shifts slightly under his gaze.

“I—I didn’t realize how…” She takes a deep breath, then glances out the garden door again. “Mahiru-san feels so far away, doesn’t she?”

“Guren-san,” Sayuri says suddenly voice quiet, before he can even think of how respond to Mito. He looks down at her, chest aching slightly.

“What?” he asks.

“You took off your engagement ring.”

He nods slowly.

“Why?” Shigure asks.

“It felt like the best thing to do.”

“Too much,” Shinya declares. “One thing at a time, yeah?”

Guren sits down beside Shigure, who offers him a thin smile and holds her hand out to him. He takes it, if only because she offers, and she gives it a reassuring squeeze. But she doesn’t drop it after that, instead holding onto it gently, and he finds he doesn’t mind much. It probably reassures her in a way, too.

“What did you do with it?” Sayuri asks. “You didn’t get rid of it, did you?”

He shakes his head. “I locked it away.”

“Away,” she echoes.

“With Mahiru’s,” he clarifies. “It’s been good for me, I think.”

He doesn’t really notice it anymore, in all honesty. He supposes he’s grown used to the feeling of it not being there.

Goshi leans against the wall by the garden door. “Well, I’m sure it has been. It’s not like you need a constant reminder of what happened, right?”

“But don’t you want to preserve her memory?” Sayuri asks, tilting her head slightly. “Don’t you want something to remember her by?”

“Ah, Sayuri-chan,” Shinya says lightly, “that’s what the garden is for.”

“The garden…” Mito sighs. “I don’t think I’d be able to take care of it, myself.”

“I don’t,” Guren says.

They’re all quiet for a moment.

“You...you don’t?”

He shakes his head.

“One day, though, right, Guren?”

Guren turns to look at Shinya. The smile that tugs at his lips is the softest one Guren has ever seen there. It makes his heart squeeze a bit.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “One day.”

“I’m sorry,” Mito says again.

“For what?” Guren asks, tearing his gaze away from Shinya.

“For not realizing, I guess. I was so mad at you, but I just...I think, what it would be like and I…”

“Mito-chan, nobody’s asking you to think like that,” Goshi says quickly. “I don’t like the thought that you might be implying something about my death, here.”

They all laugh, but Guren can’t help but wonder a bit.

Would Mito really be the same?

She and Goshi are nothing like Guren and Mahiru were. They’re roommates, best friends, nothing more as far as Guren is aware, but…

Really, imagining a Mito without Goshi is an impossible task.

“Really, though,” Mito says. “I think you’re doing what you can. And that’s fair. I hope...we can see you as you were again, but…”

“You won’t,” Shinya says casually.

The three girls all look at him in alarm.

“Well, isn’t it obvious?” Shinya asks. “Mahiru changed Guren’s life. He’s not going to be exactly as he was when she was alive ever again. And that’s fine, isn’t it? It means that she meant something to him. And it means that she’ll live on with him forever. I’m sure we’re all the same. Mahiru gave us all something special, and we have to carry that with us a little differently now that she’s gone.”

“Yeah,” Mito says quietly. “I guess you’re right.”

“But, hey,” Goshi speaks up, “we didn’t come here to be all mopey, right? We came here to cheer Guren up.”

Sayuri immediately perks up.

“Right!” she declares. “We should bake a cake!”

“Huh?” Mito suddenly sounds quite panicked. “S-Sayuri-chan, you know I can’t bake!”

“That’s the fun!” Sayuri says cheerfully.

Shinya laughs. “Well, why not? What do you say, Guren?”

“I say good luck finding the ingredients to bake a cake around here.”

“Well, someone goes out and buys groceries, you know,” Shinya says, snickering.

“I can make a cake out of anything,” Sayuri says confidently. “Just leave it to me.”

“I thought we were helping!” Mito protests.

“Oh...Mito-chan, I thought you didn’t want to!”

Mito steps away from the garden door. “I didn’t say that!”

Shigure smiles in amusement, dropping Guren’s hand and standing up. Sayuri quickly gets to her feet as well, leading the other two girls to the kitchen to flip through the cupboards and cabinets.

Goshi follows after them, a little more slowly.

Shinya watches them go, hesitant, then turns back to Guren for a moment.

“What?” Guren asks.

“Nothing,” Shinya says. “I was just thinking about how much things have already changed.”

Guren glances back towards the garden door for a moment, then raises his eyes up to Shinya’s again.

“Yeah,” he says. “Things have changed a lot.”

Shinya sighs, coming around the table to sit beside him. “You make it sound like such a bad thing.”

“I haven’t decided yet.”

Shinya hums in thought. “I guess it could be a bit of a bad thing and a bit of a good thing, depending on you look at it. But I’m glad to see the change, myself…”

“Well, of course you are. You’re the reason that change exists at all.”

Shinya laughs and shakes his head. “No,” he says. “I’m not. The only person capable of creating change in your life is you. Take that as you will.”

He stands and follows the other four into the kitchen. Guren can only manage to stare after him, flabbergasted, until Sayuri calls his name and begs him to join them, too.


 

The next summer blooms rapidly around them, and Guren finds himself in the garden with Mahiru almost constantly. After Mahiru moved in with him, he decided to stop living off of his inheritance money and get a job, however, and so he spends half his time at the coffee shop working under Mito—thankfully, for actual money this time—and the other half of his time at home with Mahiru.

However, as time presses on, he finds himself going back to the idea of marriage again and again.

He asks her about a few times, and she always responds with, “If it makes you happy, it’ll make me happy, too.”

Which is barely an answer at all, in Guren’s opinion.

But in late April, he goes out and buys a ring anyway, with Sayuri at his side to assist him in picking one that will suit Mahiru. They decide on something simple at first, silver and thin, but then Sayuri stops him before he can purchase it and points out a different ring. It is golden, and wraps around the top, where a single ruby is embedded.

“Doesn’t it look like a flower?” she says. “I think this would be perfect for Mahiru-san!”

He blanches. “It looks a little pricey, though.”

“Well, sure, but don’t you think it would suit her really nicely?”

Well…

He looks a little more closely at it. He supposes she’s right, and it’s far more representative of their relationship as a whole.

“What if she says no, though?”

Sayuri rolls her eyes. “She’s not going to say no, silly. The way she looks at you…” She shakes her head. “Guren-san, I have no doubts that Mahiru-san wants to spend the rest of her life with you.”

And that’s that, really. He takes her word and buys the ring…

Then he keeps it tucked away for another two months.

He’s sure he has a lot of chances to ask her in that time, but he never has the courage to. Instead, he’ll just ask her again about marriage, and she’ll give him the same old, “If it makes you happy, it’ll make me happy, too.”

By the time July is upon them, Guren has almost accepted defeat.

Which is, by some chance, when he receives a phone call and a lunch invite from Shinya, of all people.

“Yeah, yeah, don’t take that disbelieving tone with me,” he says. “I just want to talk to you about something. Nothing bad, but something that’s been bothering me for a while.”

“Something, bothering you? I didn’t even know you were bothered by anything.”

Shinya laughs. “Yeah, whatever. Can you come or not?”

“Sure,” and that’s the end of it.

The next day, they go out for lunch together. Shinya doesn’t beat around the subject at all; as soon as they’re both sat at a table, he immediately starts out with:

“So, when were you planning to tell me about your marriage plans?”

Guren stares at him.

He laughs a bit. “Oh, come on, you’re terrible at hiding things. Mahiru keeps asking me what she should do.”

“What she should do…?”

“Well, duh. You keep asking her how she feels about marriage, but you aren’t asking her to marry you outright. Are you ever going to propose?”

“O-of course I am!”

“So, what’s stopping you?”

Guren scowls at him.

“It’s a genuine question,” Shinya says, putting his hands up defensively. “Mahiru’s been tearing her hair out over it for months. She isn’t sure if she’s reading too much into it or not. I told her, ‘Hey, Mahiru, just ask him. You know Guren better than I do, anyway, so if you think you’re seeing something, just say so.’ And she looked at me like I was crazy and just asked me if I was stupid.”

“Well, aren’t you?”

“That’s beside the point,” he says dismissively. “You’re totally missing what I’m saying.”

“I’m not missing it at all,” Guren says. “You’re right. I want to propose, but…”

“You’re a chicken,” Shinya finishes thoughtfully.

“That’s not what I was going to say.”

“But it’s true, isn’t it?”

Guren huffs.

“Don’t even try to deny it,” Shinya advises. “So, tell me your plan.”

“I don’t have one.”

“Of course you don’t.”

Guren bristles. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Exactly what it sounds like.” Shinya leans a little closer. “Believe me when I say I only want the best for you both, but sometimes I wonder how Mahiru deals with your idiocy.”

“Good thing you don’t live with me, then,” Guren snaps.

Shinya laughs. “We wouldn’t last a day under the same roof.”

“And whose fault would that be?”

“Yours, I’m sure.” He grins. “Really, though, you don’t have a plan going forward with this?”

Guren hesitates a moment, then shrugs. “Wing it?” he suggests weakly.

“Yeah, okay, and how’s that been working out for you?”

“I didn’t come here so you could be an ass,” Guren complains. “Are you going to offer anything helpful?”

“Yeah, of course.” Shinya leans back casually. “I’ll tell you exactly what I think you should do.”

Guren sighs, but gestures for Shinya to say his piece. They discuss it over the remainder of their lunch, and though he is loath to admit it, he finds that Shinya is definitely right about what Guren should do.

Once they’re finished, Shinya insists on paying the bill, saying, “You just have to promise me my best friend will be wearing a snazzy engagement ring by this time next week.”

Guren agrees, but he’s not entirely sure if this will be the case.

Shinya seems to catch his doubt, though, because as they leave he says, “And, by the way, she already told me that if you asked, she would say yes, so don’t worry about that, yeah? She loves you, for whatever stupid reason.”

It’s oddly reassuring.

The next day, Guren follows the procedure he and Shinya came up with over lunch:

He makes Mahiru breakfast before they go out into the garden in the morning, and he asks her there.

It’s where their dreams started, after all.

When she smiles at him after he asks, he can almost believe that they’ve reached their dream. But as he slips the ring onto her finger, he knows that they won’t be there for a while, yet.

Still…

After that, the summer sun seems to shine a little brighter on their little garden.


 

Over the next few days, Guren works to follow Shinya’s advice.

He ventures a little farther from the step every day. Some days it hurts more than others, and he can only stay there for a few seconds before retreating again, but other days…

Other days, that’s not the case.

By the time autumn is beginning to sing in the crisp air, he finds himself able to spend time with Shinya in the garden—not just on the step, watching for ghosts.

Still, just because he’s not watching for them from a distance doesn’t mean he can’t feel them.

On the third week of September, he goes out alone.

The sky is a little overcast and there is a gentle breeze curling around him, but it’s otherwise comfortably warm for the time of year. He wanders the garden a little aimlessly. He can remember when they planted each type of flower. The first were the tulips, and then roses—because they were Mahiru’s favourite—and they continued to plant pink or red flowers, for a while, with the occasional yellow or white one. And it’s fitting, he supposes. There are few flowers of dark colour at all. This place was always supposed to be happy, above all else.

...It doesn’t feel happy now.

He leans down in front of the tulips—the pink ones, the first flowers that were planted here—and reaches out for it lightly. His hand shakes slightly as his fingers brush against the petals.

The air smells somewhat of rain.

He pulls his hand back, dropping it to his side heavily.

He doesn’t remember what Mahiru was like, completely. He can’t recall the way she smelled and he can’t remember the tone of her voice when she thought he’d done something adorable and he can’t imagine exactly what her eyes looked like when she felt truly, genuinely happy.

He wants to remember it all, but it feels so far away.

Feels so far away, except when he is here.

But it’s not better, really.

In a way, it’s worse.

He can’t have all of her, as he used to. He can just have this piece of her, this part of her soul that resides her, but he cannot carry it with him, nor can he make what part of her that exists her whole.

He barely registers it when the garden door opens. He stares at the tulips, unseeing, until a hand lands on his shoulder.

Slowly, he looks back. Shinya looks somewhat misty through his eyes.

He gingerly runs a finger beneath his eye, only somewhat when it comes back wet.

“Okay?” Shinya asks.

“...Is that a joke?”

Shinya laughs softly. “Well, it wasn’t, but I guess it is kind of a stupid question.” He comes to Guren’s side and kneels beside him. “I was watching you from inside. I wasn’t going to come out, but…”

“Why did you?”

“I decided you probably needed me to.” He hesitates a moment, then adds, “You just need to stop looking for the past.”

“I like the past.”

Shinya’s lips twitch. “I know you do. You like it too much.”

Guren sighs, wiping his already-drying tears away to the best of his ability. “Doesn’t it feel like she haunts this place?”

“I don’t think that’s the word I would use.”

But Guren doesn’t know of any other word that could explain this feeling.

This feeling…

But it’s not really there anymore. The air still smells of oncoming rain, but it doesn’t feel heavy, anymore.

“I think you feel guilty,” Shinya tells him honestly. “You feel guilty, because you couldn’t save her, and then, even after she died, you couldn’t salvage every part of her. Every reminder of her is painful, because it doesn’t feel like enough. Right?”

Guren’s throat hurts. “Yeah,” he says. “I guess so.”

“So, you couldn’t save her. None of us could. You’re not powerless, Guren. You’re just human.”

But isn’t humanity defined by its significant lack of power? Only some people are privileged enough to have the power to make change. Guren has never been one of those people.

“You did enough,” Shinya tells him firmly. “You gave her a love like nothing else. She wanted to spend the rest of her life with you. And, Guren, she did. She didn’t get very long, sure, but she was here and you were with her in the end. You understand, don’t you? She got what she wanted out of life. She died with no regrets.”

Guren has countless memories of sitting out here with Mahiru, talking about anything and everything. But as he listens to Shinya now and recalls those memories, they don’t feel painful, really.

More like they bring a small smile to his face.

“You’re so similar,” he says, turning to look at Shinya. “I wonder if, maybe, she would say the exact same thing.”

Something on Shinya’s face looks distinctly unsettled.

“You think so?” he asks. His voice is quite cautious.

“...Don’t you?”

“I...I don’t know.”

They watch each other for a moment. The wind seems to pick up around them. A small drop of rain hits Guren’s arm.

“Let’s go inside,” Shinya suggests tightly.

But he doesn’t make the effort to stand up.

Guren looks up the sky. The sun is completely obscured by clouds.

“Shinya.”

It’s quiet, for just a couple seconds. Then:

“Yeah?”

“You’re the same as I am, aren’t you?”

A few more droplets land on him, but he barely notices them.

“You’re going to have to be a little more specific than that.”

The warmth that was in the air earlier seems less like an outward warmth…

...And more like a warmth deep inside him, that only seems to burn more fiercely as the seconds pass on.

“Guilty,” he says. “You feel guilty, too, don’t you?”

He brings his gaze back down to Shinya, who meets his eyes somberly.

“I guess I can’t really hide from you, huh?” Shinya laughs lightly, but there is no mirth in the sound at all. “This has helped, though. Helping you… It makes it feel lighter. Less like I’m suffocating and more like I’m figuring out how to breathe again. Mahiru always made me feel...free, I guess. You’re lucky, to still be surrounded by so much of her. I suppose all this time, I’ve been using you. In the beginning, it was about you, but now…”

The rain is starting to pick up. Neither of them move, still.

“So, we’ve been using each other, I guess.”

“I guess so.”

Guren looks back to the tulips in front of him. “Shinya?” he says again.

“Yeah?”

“Do you believe in perfect love?”

Shinya doesn’t respond immediately, and when Guren glances back at him, he notices that his face has softened significantly.

The sky opens up completely and rain pours down on them by the bucketful.

“I think I do, to an extent,” Shinya says slowly.

Still, neither of them make to stand.

“An extent,” Guren echoes.

“Yeah. I think that any love is what you make of it. If you think it’s perfect, then isn’t that perfect love? It all seems pretty subjective, to me.”

“Do you think we had a perfect love?’

This seems to startle Shinya slightly. “What?”

“Me and Mahiru. Did we have a perfect love?”

“I…”

Guren shakes his head, small drops of water falling from the ends of his hair. “Never mind,” he says, moving to stand up. “It doesn’t—”

Shinya grabs his arm tightly and he stumbles slightly, twisting to face Shinya again.

His eyes burn quite fiercely. It would be impossible to look away from them.

“You did,” he says quietly. “You had a perfect love.”

The rain continues to pelt down on them, but Guren can only manage to stare at Shinya. More specifically, at his eyes. They’re passionate yet cool, so stunningly, beautifully blue, and then his eyes wander down to his lips, wet with rain, parted slightly, releasing a small exhale that Guren can barely just make out in the sudden cold.

But it doesn’t feel cold at all. The warmth that burns inside Guren only grows. Where Shinya’s hand touches his arm, flames seem to ignite, licking up his arm and to the rest of his body.

Dully, he registers that they are very, very close. Their vaguely visible breaths mingle together between them. If Guren were to move any closer, they would be—

Shinya inhales sharply, dropping his arm.

Guren can only manage to watch him, chest very tight.

They stare at each other for a moment, both knowing exactly what just happened, and yet…

Neither of them will say it.

“Let’s go inside,” Shinya says shakily, and he turns and does exactly that before Guren can find a reply.

The rain suddenly feels a lot colder, Guren thinks.


 

“I’m going to die.”

“No, you aren’t.”

She flashes him a small smile, then leans down to trim the roses. “You say that like it can change things. But, Guren, I’ve accepted it completely.”

“But why?! How can you accept that?! You aren’t even— You aren’t even fighting!”

“Fighting,” she echoes. “How could I possibly fight this, Guren?”

He swallows, unable to come up with an answer.

She sighs, standing and turning to face him. “I don’t want to die, you know. But I’m going to, so you need to make peace with it when I do. Guren, when I’m gone, promise me you’ll move on, okay?”

“D-don’t talk like that! There could be a treatment tomorrow! I don’t know that you’re going to die and neither do you!”

She shakes her head. “If you think like that, it’ll just hurt more if it doesn’t happen.”

“Don't you want to live?!”

Her smile is so sad. “Of course I do.” She reaches up, fingers gently ghosting over his cheek. “But I need you to promise me that you’ll move on from me if I don’t.”

“I can’t!”

Her eyes are glassy with tears. “Please, Guren.”

“You’re not going to die!” he says fiercely, reaching up to grab her hand in roughly in his own.

“It’s terminal.”

“That doesn’t mean it always will be!”

“Guren…”

“You’re asking too much of me,” he says tightly. “I can’t—I can’t just accept your death while you’re still here, living and breathing!”

“They basically gave me a death sentence,” she reminds him gently, rubbing her thumb over his hand. “Maybe I won’t die. Maybe there will be a treatment that works. But…”

As he watches, her tears spill down her cheeks, one by one, painfully slowly.

“But, Guren, if I do. I don’t want you to be unhappy. I love you.” She holds his hand tightly, her knuckles turning white.

“I love you too,” he says. “That’s why—”

“Promise me!” she begs. “Promise me you’ll move on once I’m gone!”

He looks away from her.

“I can’t,” he murmurs.

She doesn’t speak again, but her hand remains tightly clasped around his. He glanced back to her, and her shoulders are hunched, head down, as tears spill from her eyes.

“Mahiru…”

“I don’t want to die,” she whispers shakily. “I don’t want to leave you.”

Guren doesn’t know what to say.

“Promise me,” she says again, voice tight. “Even if it’s a lie. I don’t care. Just promise me you won’t stay hung up on me once I’m gone.”

She still has a few years left, according to the doctors they’ve seen, but…

Even now, she is growing frailer by the day. A vicious cancer eats at her from within.

...So, how is it fair of him to deny her the words she needs to hear?

“Okay,” he says quietly, and she looks up at him, eyes red and cheeks tear-stained. He brings his other hand up to wipe away her tears, then presses a chaste kiss against her forehead. “I promise I’ll move on if...if you die.”

She exhales shakily. “Thank you,” she whispers. “Thank you… I just want you to be happy. I’m sorry…”

Her tears overwhelm her again, and Guren can do nothing but hold her as she cries.

Never in his life has he felt more powerless than he does in this moment.


 

When Guren wakes the next morning, it is to an empty house.

This is unsurprising, in all honesty. After whatever happened in the garden the day before, Shinya stubbornly refused to talk to him, leaving the room as soon as Guren entered it and mostly keeping to himself in the spare bedroom.

It’s uncomfortable, if Guren is completely honest.

He makes himself breakfast and goes outside to tend the garden. Summer has stretched on this year, but it’s fading out fast now that September is coming into its closing weeks. Today, though, the sun shines brightly. It’s easily at least twenty degrees above zero, if he had to guess.

He does a round of the garden, but everything feels wrong, somehow. Lethargy pulls at his bones. He wondered, before, what the point was without Mahiru, but now…

He shakes his head. No, he can’t think like that. What happened yesterday doesn’t need to mean anything.

They used each other, this entire time. As much as Shinya became Guren’s emotional crutch, the opposite was happening, as well. Maybe Guren knew the whole time that they were just tools of convenience to each other, but…

Still, the emptiness in his chest is worse than he thinks it ever has been since Mahiru’s death.

What did Shinya give him in Mahiru’s absence? A reason to live? No, that’s not quite right…

A reason to tend his garden, maybe.

He comes back inside, deep in thought, and then decides there is nothing he can really do.

...After all, didn’t he almost kiss his dead fiancée’s best friend?

The guilt of it is bad enough, without all the emptiness within the halls of his home.

So, he does the only thing he can think to do:

He calls someone who knows how to keep a straight head in bad situations.

Shigure was the first of his friends that he say he properly trusted. They met as kids, in middle school, about twelve years old, alongside Sayuri, but Shigure and Sayuri were—and still are—very different people. Shigure has a level head on calm shoulders, while Sayuri is a bit more...well, fervent, perhaps.

Thankfully, Shigure picks up on the second ring.

“Guren-san?” she asks tiredly. “What’s wrong?”

“I need some advice,” he allows carefully. “Do you think you can help me?”

“Yeah, of course.” She sounds far more alert, now. “What’s the problem?”

“Shinya left.”

Silence.

And then, “Did something happen?”

“I don’t know.”

“More specific, please.”

He sighs heavily. “We…”

She’s quiet for a long moment, but he still cannot find the words he needs to explain the situation.

She exhales slowly. “Guren-san, I don’t have all day, as much as I wish I did, so—”

“We almost kissed.”

She lets out a small squeak. “W-what?”

“I think,” he rushes out. “Honestly? I don’t know. I wanted to kiss him, but I don’t—I can’t, obviously I can’t, so—”

“Guren-san.”

He stops, inhales sharply. “Yes?”

“What do you want?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t lie,” she says gently. “No part of me wants to judge you for whatever you’re feeling right now.”

He swallows. “I want him to come back.”

“So, how are you going to get him to?”

“I’m not.”

“Why?”

“I can’t.”

He can only hear his own heart beating for a moment.

“I don’t think that’s a good enough answer,” she tells him.

“What else am I supposed to say?”

“You value your friendship, right?”

“Obviously.”

“So, why let this ruin it?”

He doesn’t know.

“Guren-san, just…” She pauses, and then sighs. “The way I see things, you’re just guilty about what happened. You don’t want to move on from Mahiru-san, and definitely not so soon.”

She’s right, of course, but…

“How would I know if these feelings are real?”

“Oh.” She’s quiet for a moment, considering. “I guess...you don’t.”

“We used each other,” Guren continues. “Maybe I saw Mahiru in him. After all, she loved him just as much as she loved me, didn’t she?”

“Then, you just have to separate them, right? You need to know Shinya-san outside of Mahiru-san. She brought him into your life, but that doesn’t mean she has to be the reason he stays.”

Oh.

So…

“I should talk to him?” he asks, unsure.

“Yes,” she says firmly. “Talk about what happened, and move past it. Be friends again. You’re moving past Mahiru-san’s death, aren’t you? Since he started helping you, things have improved for you both. Maybe what you both need now is time. You have the foundations. Now, move forward, right? Build yourself back up with what Shinya-san gave you.”

Because…

He can tend the garden himself, now.

“You’re right,” he says thickly. “This is ridiculous.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“No, but it is.” He runs his other hand through his hair. “I know what I need to do.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he affirms. “Thanks.”

“No problem. Er, Guren-san?”

“What?”

“Ah, I was just thinking… You know we’re always here when you need us, right? All of us.”

“Yeah,” he says.

“Okay. Then, I’m going to go. Ah, good luck! Just remember that whatever happens will take time, so don’t fret too much, yeah?”

“I don’t fret.”

She laughs. “Sure you don’t. Bye!”

She hangs up before he can even respond.

Slowly, he lowers the phone away from his ear, letting out a small sigh. He could just call Shinya, he’s sure, but…

Well, maybe it’s just payback if Guren goes to his apartment and obnoxiously refuses to leave him alone.

But he won’t do it today. Maybe not even tomorrow.

Everything comes with time, after all.


 

“Okay?” Shinya asks.

Guren looks up at him tiredly. He offers him a bottle of water.

Guren accepts it with a sigh. “Is that a joke?” he asks.

“Well, no,” Shinya says, sitting on the chair beside him. “It was a stupid question, though.”

The hospital waiting room is empty, save for them and a mother and her child on the other side of the room. It’s quite late, Guren supposes, but it’s still a bit surprising how quiet it is.

“Thanks for coming,” he says, glancing at Shinya briefly. “I’d probably go crazy on my own.”

“Yeah,” Shinya says quietly. “It’s no problem. It’s a bit scary, huh?”

“They told us it could happen.” Guren tightens his grip on the water bottle. “Still, I don’t like the thought that it’s out of our control.”

“Yeah,” Shinya says again. “I get that.”

Her diagnosis came after they addressed some of the other symptoms she had been experiencing. The doctors warned them that there were other things to expect, but…

Still, Guren can’t really say that he was prepared for it. He’s only twenty-two years old.

“I never really thought I’d ever have to learn what to do if someone has a seizure,” he admits. “Or any of this, really. I’m worried I’m doing it wrong.”

“Nah,” Shinya says casually, leaning back in the chair. “You’re doing what you can. That’s more than enough, I think.”

“It doesn’t really feel like it.”

“That’s probably inevitable.”

“I guess so.”

Shinya is quiet for a moment, thoughtful. Guren opens the water bottle in the silence, hands shaking slightly as he takes a drink from it.

“I don’t think I could do it,” Shinya finally says.

Guren lowers the water bottle and puts the cap back on it. Slowly, he turns to face Shinya. Shinya looks over to him with a raised eyebrow.

“Are you serious?” Guren asks.

“Well, yeah.” Shinya frowns. “I’m a coward, honestly. Some part of me has thought about abandoning Mahiru completely in all of this.”

Guren drops the water bottle.

They both look down at it, similarly dazed.

“I...I don’t understand what you mean,” Guren says, swallowing.

“You feel powerless, don’t you? There’s nothing you can do. I’m the same, but the difference is, I don’t live with Mahiru. I’m not her primary caretaker. I can’t imagine how you must feel, and, frankly, I don’t want to.”

“Why would you ever—?”

“Abandon her?” Shinya shakes his head. “I told you already. I’m a coward. I don’t like pain.”

“I don’t think I would consider you a coward.”

“Maybe just selfish, then.”

“I wouldn’t consider you selfish, either.”

“No?”

“…No.”

Shinya sighs, leaning down to pick up the water bottle. He hands it to Guren again, eyes dark and thoughtful.

“You don’t have to lie. I recognize that what I said is selfish. And I recognize that it’s probably something that hasn’t even crossed your mind. But I won’t go anywhere. In this world, there’s very little that matters to me except my friends. As painful as it will be, I want to spend as much time with Mahiru as I can before she’s gone. That’s selfish, in a way, too, maybe.”

“You’re contradicting yourself a bit, you know.”

“Am I?” He laughs. It’s not a happy sound at all. “It’s late, I guess. All I’m saying is that I’d like to avoid the pain of losing her, but I know it’ll hurt anyway, so…I just want to be with her. I don’t want her to die and remain here, regretting all that I never did for her.”

“How’s that selfish?”

Shinya blinks slowly.

“I don’t know,” he says. “That’s just how I feel. Are you planning on going home tonight?”

Guren hesitates. “I don’t know. Not yet, at least.”

“You need to take care of yourself, too, you know.”

“I don’t like going home to an empty house.”

Shinya looks away from him, exhaling thoughtfully. “Yeah,” he says hollowly. “I guess that makes sense.”

“Are you…?”

Shinya meets his eyes again. “Do you want me to go?”

Guren considers him a moment.

“No,” he says. “I want you to stay.”

Shinya nods. “Then, I will.”

And Guren doesn’t really know how to say it, but he’s grateful, anyway. There’s something about Shinya’s company that makes it easy to find peace, even in such trying times.

Really, it’s not hard at all to understand why Mahiru loves him so much.

...No, Shinya isn’t a coward. He isn’t selfish. He’s Mahiru’s best friend and…

He’s suffering, too, in all of this.

Perhaps Guren’s company in these moments is just as appreciated by Shinya as Shinya’s is by Guren.


 

Three days later, Guren decides to visit Shinya.

First, though, he stops by Mito’s coffee shop.

A few months before Mahiru’s death, he quit his job and returned to living off the money he had inherited from the Ichinose family, coupled with Mahiru’s own inheritance from the Hiragis, in order to take care of her completely. Mito told him that if he ever returned, she would still have a job for him. Honestly, he doesn’t like the thought of being able to just come back, but he supposes he should be thankful, regardless.

She seems surprised to see him, though.

“Er, morning,” she says as he approaches the counter. “Something I can help you with?”

It’s not overly busy at this time of day, later in the morning, thankfully, which is why Guren chose now to come here.

“Morning,” he says. “I’d like to speak to a manager around here, maybe?”

She rolls her eyes. “Yeah, speaking.”

He laughs, leaning against the counter. “I’m looking for a job,” he tells her. “But you’ll have to go easy on me for a while. Between you and me, my fiancée just passed away, and I’m still emotionally compromised over it.”

“Is that really something you should make a joke about?”

“Of course not,” he says. “I’m not joking, anyway. I do think that working again will be beneficial, though. I don’t really think Mahiru would want me doing nothing, anyway. She was so happy when I applied for a real job here, you know? She said that she always figured I was bored.”

“Boredom often is the enemy of the rich.”

“You say that like you aren’t pretty well-off yourself,” he remarks.

“I say that like I’m the manager of a local business and dealing with my own boredom through my work,” she corrects. “But I don’t think you want to come back out of boredom.”

“No, I don’t,” he agrees. “I want to come back so I can stop thinking about everything all the time.”

Mito hesitates a moment, then says, “Shigure-chan said that Shinya-san moved out.”

Guren frowns. “She did?”

“She didn’t say why. I figure, if you’re here, he must’ve moved out because he’s done all he can for you...right?”

“Well, not exactly, but yeah.” Guren straightens up. “I have somewhere else I have to be. Will I be able to come back to work here?”

“Of course,” she says. “I’ll, uh—I’ll call you later and we can sort out the details, okay?”

“Okay. Thanks, Mito.”

She blinks. “Uh, Guren?”

“What?”

“Where are you going?”

He smiles at her, but it only seems to unnerve her even more.

“I’m going to figure out how to un-fuck things,” he says. “If I can, at least.”

“What?”

“I’ll talk to you later, Mito. I look forward to coming back to work with you.”

She stares after him as he exits. He feels a tad guilty for not telling her the details, but, well, knowing Mito, she would’ve kept him there chewing him out for what happened for another two hours, and he really can’t afford the lost time anymore.

Guren admittedly hasn’t been around Shinya’s apartment much. Shinya was always at their house, or meeting them in some neutral middle ground. Before Mahiru moved in with Guren, though, she lived in the same apartment complex as him, so Guren at least remembers the building…

But, amazingly, his memory doesn’t fail him. He gives his name to the speaker and anxiously hopes that Shinya won’t be as stubborn as he knows he was before.

Thankfully, this isn’t the case, because Shinya buzzes him up almost immediately.

As he makes his way up to the fifth floor, he tries to figure out what he’s going to say, but he reaches Shinya’s door before he can decide.

Shinya lets him in without a word, and he closes the door behind him and quickly removes his shoes before allowing Shinya to lead him inside.

Finally, Shinya turns to face him and says, “Are you taunting me?”

“Taunting you?”

“Maybe that’s not the right word,” he mutters. He sighs and leans against the wall, watching Guren cautiously. “Why are you here, Guren?”

Guren stares at him, dry-mouthed.

“I know that it’s not fair,” Shinya snaps. “I know it was wrong. I used your pain and I made you think I meant something to you. You don’t need me. It’s not like I—”

“Shut up,” Guren says.

Shinya closes his mouth, but his jaw tightens up.

“That’s bullshit and you know it.”

“Don’t—”

“Don’t what? Tell the truth?” Guren scowls at him. “I didn’t come here to give you shit. What would the point of that be? And, anyway, you’ve clearly beaten yourself up for it enough.”

“I used you.”

“And I used you. We’ve already talked about this. I don’t—”

“You’re misunderstanding me,” Shinya says. “Yeah, I used you to cope with Mahiru’s death, but that’s not all I did. I exploited your feelings. I let you think you were—what? That you were falling for me or something? That’s what I did, isn’t it?”

Guren opens his mouth to deny it, but he can’t. There’s nothing to deny.

He aches with this truth, if he’s being completely honest.

“I already told you that I’m selfish. Even when Mahiru was still alive, I…” He scowls, looking up to the ceiling. “It’s not like I could’ve done anything then. And, really? I shouldn’t do anything about it now. Who am I to talk about honouring her memory if I…”

“It doesn’t matter,” Guren tells him firmly.

Shinya meets his eyes. He looks amused, and yet deadly serious all at once.

“Doesn’t it?”

“No.”

“What about Mahiru?”

Guren shakes his head. “I don’t want you to be Mahiru’s best friend forever. It never felt like you were using me for anything. I cared about you before this all happened, but…”

Shinya laughs. It’s a sharp, painful sound.

“We’re both absolute shit with feelings, you know.”

Guren sighs. “Yeah, but we can figure something out, can’t we? Just—hear me out, won’t you?”

“Well, it’s not like I won’t listen to you,” Shinya mutters. “I don’t think I would ever be able to turn you away. That’s the problem.” His voice has thickened somewhat. “Don’t you understand? It’s not just—this. Guren, I’ve had feelings for you for years.”

Guren swallows. “Oh,” he says.

“And it’s not like I came to you because I wanted you to feel something back, but as the time passed on, I—I felt like maybe that’s what I had done. I knew it was wrong, but I stayed, anyway, because I liked the way you were depending on me, and how open and honest you were being with me, and, God, what kind of terrible person must I have been to fall for the guy my best friend was supposed to marry? Now, I know I’m even more terrible than that, because I used her death as an excuse to make you need me, and that—that wasn’t…”

Guren can barely process his words. They stand in silence for a few moments, both thinking quite rapidly.

Then, Guren says, “You’re not a terrible person.”

“Yeah, of course not,” Shinya says dryly. “I only used your suffering to my own selfish advantage.”

“You didn’t.”

“I did.”

“You’re suffering, too!” Guren snaps. “Stop pretending like Mahiru’s death isn’t bothering you! I know that, the entire time you were living with me, you barely slept. I know that when you did it was restless. I know that sometimes you woke up in the middle of the night and sat out in the garden. To be close to her, right? You miss her, too, just as much as I do!”

“W-what are you talking about?” Shinya demands. “That’s not…”

But it is true. Guren never brought it up. He let Shinya find his own way, and…

“It wasn’t fair of me to ignore your pain,” he says. “When it was right in front of me. But you were obviously trying so hard to hide it from me, and I’ve been hurt over it, too, so I didn’t know what I was supposed to say. But for fuck’s sake, Shinya, you can’t just—sweep your emotions aside! You’re guilty, and it’s for a different reason than I am, isn’t it? You accepted you couldn’t do anything. You knew we were all powerless to stop it. You’re not guilty because you didn’t save her. You’re guilty because—”

“Because of you, yeah.” Shinya crosses his arms over his chest, as if he is trying to hold something in. “I feel guilty because she probably saw right through me. Mahiru knew me better than anybody else. There was nothing I could hide from her. But she never said it, and I was thankful for it, but now that she’s gone, I wish that I’d just been honest with her. And now it’s too late for honesty, right?”

“Aren’t you being honest right now?”

“Yeah, and Mahiru’s not here to hear it, is she?”

“It doesn’t matter. She wouldn’t hate you for it, anyway, and it’s not like…” Guren stops, takes a deep breath. “It’s not like she didn’t want something like this,” he finishes. “She was always telling me, before she died, that she wanted me to move on from her. I…”

“Don’t say that.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t say that, like it’s easy for you. You can’t just—”

“I’m not.”

Shinya stares at him, disbelieving.

“I don’t want to move on from her. Not now. Fuck, right now, I don’t feel like I’ll ever want to. But I—I can’t stay hung up on her forever, when she didn’t want that for me. I don’t want to rush into anything, but I don’t want to lose whatever we have, either. Just… Time,” he says firmly. “We give it time, and we see what happens. You helped me come back from her death. You helped me feel alive again.”

“I used you,” Shinya says again. “Are you even listening to me? You can’t excuse what I did, Guren. Just because you’re righteous and all that shit doesn’t mean you should just look past what I did to you.”

“You didn’t do anything, you idiot. You fought so hard to make me listen to you, now won’t you at least repay the favour?”

Shinya is quiet for a moment, then says, “Fine. Say whatever you need to.”

“Only if you’re listening.”

“I’m definitely listening.”

“Good. Then, tell me you agree. You’re my friend, right? Before you have feelings for me or before you feel guilty for having them, you’re my friend?”

“Of course.”

“So, you don’t want to let this go?”

“Obviously not.”

“Right. Me either. But we can’t change what happened, so—”

“So, it’s pointless to try,” Shinya finishes blandly. “Right?”

No. That wasn’t what I was going to say at all. I was going to say that we should just move past it.”

“Because you’re so good at moving past things, right?”

Guren’s jaw clenches tightly.

Shinya sighs, dropping his hands back to his side and straightening up. “Whatever,” he says. “Just forget about it. I doubt I’m someone you want in your life, anyway.”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Guren snaps. “You don’t get to decide what I want and you sure as hell don’t get to put those words in my mouth for your own benefit. If you can even say it’s beneficial. What are you doing, Shinya? You’re just trying to ruin something we both worked hard to make over what’s essentially nothing.”

“It’s not essentially nothing,” Shinya says quietly. “If you don’t mind, I’d like you to leave now.”

Guren opens his mouth again, furiously, but closes it immediately as Shinya meets his eyes.

“Please,” Shinya says, and Guren cannot even hope to argue with him, not when his voice is so fragile and his eyes are so pained.

“I’ll come back,” Guren says. “I’ll come back until you’re too tired to fight back anymore.”

Shinya’s lips twitch slightly, but it doesn’t change the look on his face at all. If anything, it just makes him look even more miserable.

“I wouldn’t expect anything else from your stubborn ass,” he mutters.

They’re not so different, in that sense, after all.

Guren leaves the apartment with a heavy heart and an even heavier determination.


 

Guren only just manages to catch Mahiru before she falls.

They’re out in the garden, as she often likes to be these days. It’s March, but the sun is quite warm for the time of year. Guren suspected she was growing tired, but she didn’t say anything, so he chose not to press the issue much.

“You okay?” he asks, helping her stand up straight again, keeping on hand on her arm to keep her steady.

“Fine,” she mutters. “It’s just a headache.”

“Just a headache,” Guren echoes.

“What else do you want me to say?” she snaps, then winces. “Sorry, I didn’t mean…”

“Don’t apologize,” he says softly. “It’s not—”

“It’s not fair,” she says tightly. “It’s not fair to lash out at you when I—when I can’t—”

“Don’t stress yourself,” he tells her. “Take a deep breath. Hey, I won’t go anywhere, okay? I’ll be with you through all of this.”

“That’s the problem!” she cries. She’s shaking, now, tears streaming down her face, and Guren stares down at her, dry-mouthed.

“What do you mean?” he asks cautiously.

“I’m hurting you, and I can’t—I can’t make myself stay away from you, even now, even knowing how hard it is for you. I’m so selfish, but I just—I just—”

“Mahiru.”

She stubbornly keeps her gaze down.

“You’re not selfish.”

“I am.”

“You’re not.”

“D-don’t lie to me. That’s…”

“I’m not lying,” he says. “What’s selfish about this? I love you. I want to be close to you. What’s selfish about you wanting the same?”

“I’m going to die.”

“You might not.”

“I will.”

“You can’t say that yet.”

“It’s the truth.” She swallows, glancing up at him. “I’m worried about leaving you behind.”

“Don’t worry about me,” he murmurs, leaning a little closer to her.

Her arms wrap around his waist and she buries her face in his chest.

“Can’t help it,” she mumbles. “I’m worried about you, and I’m worried about Shinya, too. You’re both so…”

“Both so what?”

“So stupid,” she finishes. “When I’m gone, don’t blame yourself, okay? And...don’t let Shinya blame himself, either. You both did more than enough. I—I love you both. I don’t want…”

Guren can hear her heart beating against his, a sign of her ever-dwindling life.

“I don’t want you to regret anything.”

Her breaths rattle against his own ribs.

She looks up at him. Her eyes are glassy, but they still hold that passion, that love for life that they always have.

“After all,” she says quietly, “I know that I won’t have any regrets.”


 

True to his word, Guren returns to Shinya’s apartment the next day. And the next. And the next. And the next.

The thing is, though, is that they don’t argue the entire time. In fact, on the second day, Shinya makes him tea and they don’t talk at all. The next day, they talk about Guren’s return to working. The next day, Shinya admits that he’s been planning to go to Mahiru’s grave soon, before autumn starts to turn to frigid air.

Guren asks if they can go together.

And so, on the last day of September, they do exactly that. It’s surprisingly less difficult than Guren expected, but, then again, he felt similarly after his mother’s passing.

...It’s just a slab of stone, after all.

They leave roses there. Not because of their symbolism, but because Mahiru loved them best. After laying the flowers there, though, they don’t stay long.

They stop by the coffee shop after. The weather is beginning the chill as they descend into October. Guren suspects that their prolonged summer last year will translate to an earlier winter this year. He doesn’t mind much, though. Even if he can’t do much for the garden over the winter, he can look forward to spend more time tending it in the spring.

He only hopes that Shinya will be there to help him.

“Afternoon,” Mito greets them. “It’s nice to see you, Shinya-san.”

Guren scowls. “What am I?”

She rolls her eyes. “I see you every day.”

Shinya laughs. “Good to see you, too, Mito-chan. How’s business?”

She gestures around them, raising an eyebrow at him. “Take a guess,” she says dryly.

“A little dead?”

“A lot dead. You’d think more people would come in as the weather starts getting cold, but apparently not.”

“That’s a shame,” Shinya says. “Guess I’ll have to stop by more often…” He pauses a moment, thoughtful. “You know, she didn’t say it much, but Mahiru loved this place. She always admired you a bit, I think, Mito-chan.”

“W-what?” Mito squeaks. Her cheeks redden enough to rival even her hair. “N-no way! Mahiru-san was a much better person than I could ever be. I only know how to make a decent cup of coffee, after all.”

Shinya shakes his head. “That’s not true. Mahiru loved you just like the rest of us. She found your business impressive, that you’d started this place so early in your life. She thought it was amazing how quickly you found your dream and chased it.”

Mito looks like she could pass out, Guren thinks.

“W-well, thanks for telling me,” she manages. “I… Wow. Er, can I get you guys something to drink?”

They both order something, then Shinya hands him the cash for both their drinks and says, “I’m gonna go sit down, yeah?”

Guren nods absently, passing the money off to Mito. She puts it through the register, then returns him the change. She leans against the counter and grins at him.

“So, you two have been getting awfully close again, huh?”

He rolls his eyes. “Yeah, sure. Make our coffee, will you?”

She pouts. “You’re no fun.”

But she pushes herself up and begins to do as he says. Even so, she doesn’t seem inclined to stop chatting.

“I think you two make a good pair,” she says conversationally. “Even if it’s just as friends. I’ve thought that for years, honestly. The three of you were pretty...dynamic, I guess. I think we all envied you, a little bit. We’ve known you a long time, Guren, but the way you love Mahiru-san and Shinya-san...it’s different, is all.”

“I’m not in love with Shinya.”

“No?” She hands him both cups over the counter, one at a time. “You could’ve had me fooled.”

“I don’t…”

“I think there were moments, even before Mahiru-san passed away, where we all wondered a bit.”

His teeth hurt with how tightly he is clenching his jaw. “What are you trying to imply, Mito? I loved Mahiru. I still love her. I wouldn’t—”

“No, no, you don’t understand,” she says quickly. “Just… Guren, nobody’s saying you can’t love more than one person at a time. Do you...really think you’d be trying this hard now if you’d never had any feelings for him before?”

Guren stares at her.

“I’m not trying to make you feel bad,” she rushes out. “I—I didn’t mean it like that. I’m just saying what it looked like to the rest of us.”

“You’re wrong,” he says coldly. “Thanks for the coffee.”

He turns away from her before she can say anything else.

As he approaches the table, Shinya raises an eyebrow at him.

“Looks like she pissed you off,” he remarks as Guren passes him his drink.

Guren sits across from him, silent.

“What did she say?” Shinya presses.

“How did you know Mahiru knew you had feelings for me?” Guren asks.

Shinya blinks, sitting back slightly. “Sorry?”

“She never said anything about it, right? How do you know she knew?”

“Well…” Shinya looks away from him, clearly uncomfortable. “She never said anything directly, I guess. She… As she got closer to the end, she said some things to me that felt...kind of suggestive, I guess.”

“Like what?”

He shrugs. “She told me to take care of you. She told me to love you even when she couldn’t anymore. Maybe I read into it too much, but I don’t think that’s the case… Mahiru knew me really well. I couldn’t keep a secret from her, no matter how much I tried.”

“I see,” Guren says quietly.

Shinya meets his eyes again, a bit hesitant. “Why do you ask?”

“Just curious.”

“I know you’re lying.”

“I know you do.”

“I won’t force you, though, I guess.” He sighs. “Thanks for coming with me today.”

“I think I needed it as much as you.” Guren frowns. “Time feels...wrong.”

“It’s only been a couple months,” Shinya says quietly. “It feels like it’s been much longer.”

“I’m glad it’s not just me,” Guren mutters. “I feel kind of bad for thinking like that, but…”

“I guess when you can’t just forget about it, all you can do is adjust to it.”

“Yeah.”

“Guren?”

“What?”

“Thanks for bothering to fix things.”

When he meets Shinya’s eyes, Shinya shoots him a smile.

“I can’t really imagine life without you in it. I’m glad you came back for me, even after I was an ass.”

Guren laughs. “Yeah, because I wasn’t an ass first, right?”

“Karma’s a real bitch, huh?” Shinya shakes his head, smile falling. “Really, though. I guess I was just bottling things up. I miss Mahiru more than I want to admit. I feel like I’m betraying her, maybe. But I know I’m doing what she wanted me to. Maybe except the trying to kiss you part,” he adds. “That was mostly just a dick move on my part.”

“I think I was the one doing most of the attempted kissing,” Guren says awkwardly. “And, anyway, I doubt she would consider it a betrayal. Well, maybe if she was still alive, but—” He stops. Sighs. “You get what I mean, right?”

“I get what you mean.”

“She wanted me to move on from her, more than anything.”

“Give it time,” Shinya advises. “We have plenty of it.”

But time has always been cruel to Guren, hasn’t it? First he lost his mother and then he lost Mahiru…

“I don’t want to lose you, too,” he says quietly.

Shinya watches him intently. He takes a long drink of his coffee to avoid saying anything more.

Finally, Shinya says, “You won’t.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do,” he says easily. “I’m a stubborn, rotten bastard. Only the good die young, you know.”

“I guess that means we get to grow old together, then.”

“You’re not allowed to flirt with me, asshole.”

Guren raises an eyebrow at him. “I don’t know why you would consider that flirting in the first place.”

“Romantic connotations,” Shinya says. “Growing old together is something married couples do.”

“I wouldn’t know. I never did get to get married, after all.”

“Sick bastard,” Shinya remarks. “You treat it like a joke.”

“And you don’t?”

“Yeah, well, coping or whatever, I guess. We’re both pretty fucked up, in my opinion.”

“Clearly.”

“But it’s only been a couple months. I think we’ll be okay with time.”

“...Yeah?”

“I hope we’ll be okay with time,” Shinya corrects. “I don’t think we have to stop being pained by it, exactly. But the guilt and the emptiness and whatever else there is will fade away eventually. We just have to make peace with things. And I think, today, by visiting her grave, we took the first step in doing that.”

“Yeah,” Guren agrees. “The rest takes time.”

But they’ll be okay.

They have to be.


 

The day she dies is the worst of Guren’s life.

It’s like every clock in the world stops ticking at the same time. Gravity seems to shift in its entirety, so that the entire weight of the world is pressing down on him.

He thinks there is nothing, anymore, that matters in this life, if Mahiru isn’t in it.

“Guren.”

Everyone else feels far away from him.

“Hey, Guren, listen to me.”

He can’t.

“Guren!”

A hand lands on his shoulder. He turns to look at whoever it is, feeling quite sick.

Shinya looks back at him, eyes glassy and pained and concerned, concerned for him, even though he should be concerned for himself…

After all, the girl the doctors are telling them has just passed away is his best friend.

“It’ll be all right,” he says quietly.

It’s a lie, but…

When Shinya looks at him like this, he almost wishes it could be true.

He turns away and Shinya’s hand falls from his shoulder.

It doesn’t matter, he thinks numbly. Nothing matters.

There’s only this empty life, the dead girl in that hospital room, and his own broken heart.

He leaves Shinya behind, staring after him, without another word.


 

Autumn fades to winter and winter fades to spring and before Guren can even count the days, a year has passed.

He and Shinya visit Mahiru’s grave again, then spend the rest of the day of her death in each other’s silent company.

Not every day is perfect. Some days, Guren catches himself unable to function, just knowing she’s gone. Some days, he can’t manage to do anything but cry about it. He takes the box with their engagement rings and picks the lock until it opens up again. He eventually manages to sort through her belongings. Some of the things, he gives to Shinoa. Others to her brothers. Some he gives to Shinya. The rest, he either keeps for himself or donates locally.

The garden blooms again, even though Mahiru isn’t here to nurture it anymore.

One day, in the later days of August, Shinya stops by to admire it with him.

“It feels happier here than it has for the past few years,” Shinya muses.

“You think so?”

“Definitely.” Shinya leans down to consider the tulips. “I think Mahiru would be proud of you.”

“I couldn’t have done it on my own.”

Shinya straightens up to face him, deadly serious. “You could’ve, I think. But I’m glad I got to help you.”

Guren glances up to the sky. A lone cloud drifts lazily across the endless expanse of blue.

“Do you think this is what she wanted for us?” he asks, still not bringing his eyes back down. “I don’t think she wanted me to have a rebound relationship of anything. She wanted something...real for me. With someone she knew she could trust.” Slowly, he meets Shinya’s eyes. “Do you think she planned this?”

Shinya laughs, but it sounds a little startled. “I doubt she wanted this exactly, but maybe. I guess she was selfish in some ways, too.”

“Yeah,” Guren mutters. “I guess so.”

“But that’s okay. We all are, a little bit.”

“It’s like a circle, huh?”

Shinya takes a step closer to him, considering. “How so?”

“Everything leads back to this garden,” Guren says. “It’s the pinnacle of the things I love. It’s why Mahiru is so prominent here, and…”

He hesitates, but Shinya does not speak into the silence.

“And it’s why you fit in here so well,” he finishes.

“Yeah?”

“You say that like you expected me to say it.”

“Well, I can’t say it’s a huge surprise.”

“I’ve loved you for a while,” Guren admits. “I didn’t want to admit it for a long time. But I think Mahiru knew that there were some mutual feelings between us. I...guess I feel bad for that, to an extent, but I don’t think she ever really doubted my love for her.”

“And for good reason. Your love was something special.”

“Yeah,” Guren says thickly. “But she was so adamant that I move on once we knew she was going to die. I think she specifically meant with you. Because I was already falling in love with you, and she knew it.”

Shinya exhales softly.

“Hey, Guren?” he asks.

Guren meets his eyes. They’re so beautiful. They always have been.

“What?”

“Can we...try this again?”

Guren takes a moment to realize what he’s saying, then slowly blinks at him.

“It’s not raining,” he points out.

“Does that make a difference?”

“Yeah. Everything is more romantic in the rain, you know.”

“Is that true?” Shinya hums. “I’ve never been much of a romantic, myself. Though, I am pretty suave, I think.”

Guren snorts. “Yeah, right.”

Shinya rolls his eyes. “Come on, Guren. You know it’s true. Besides, you’re ignoring my question. Can I kiss you or not?”

“Here?”

“Circles, right?” He steps a bit closer, until Guren can feel his warm breaths billowing between them. “Isn’t that what you said?”

“Mm, yeah, I guess I did.” Guren looks down to Shinya’s lips briefly, then up to his eyes again.

Before Shinya can say anything else, Guren closes the small space left between them.

They kiss somewhat like starved animals, but with a type of gentleness that can only accompany a moment like this. One of Shinya’s hands comes around his back, pushing into him slightly, while his other comes up to his neck. Guren brings his own hands to rest over Shinya’s shoulder blades. Their lips mold together firmly, moving in perfect harmony with each other.

Shinya is the one to break the kiss, but he doesn’t move very far.

“Thanks,” he murmurs.

“For what?”

“Shh,” Shinya says. “You’ll ruin the moment.”

“I don’t—”

“I mean, thanks for everything. For helping me get through this.”

“You helped me, too.”

“You’re ruining it, Guren.”

“You already ruined it yourself!”

Shinya laughs, taking a step back. “No, that was all you.” His expression quickly falls again, though, returning to the same serious look he had before. “I hope she’s happy with this.”

“Me too.”

“I think she is,” Shinya continues. “And if not...I at least know that I am. Or I’m going to be, at least.”

Guren surveys the garden, thoughtful. “Yeah,” he says slowly. “I think...I will be too.”

“That’s enough,” Shinya says. “Come on. Let’s go inside.”

Shinya leads the way to the garden door, but Guren hesitates at it, looking back behind him.

It’s true that the garden looks a lot brighter this year. He wonders if it is the absence of his misery, or if it the absence of Mahiru’s.

Mahiru exists here, in a way she doesn’t seem to anywhere else. But this place is not sad for it. It is bright and beautiful, just as she was.

He hopes that, whatever happens from here on, he’s doing the things she asked of him before she died.

He turns away from the garden again to see Shinya looking back at him expectantly, eyes very warm.

And, yes, he thinks, entering the house and closing the garden door behind him, joining Shinya inside, he is doing those things.

After all, this feeling, though not quite perfect, is at least a part of the happiness she always wanted for him.