Flowers don't tell, they show.
— Stephanie Skeem
Matt knows Foggy is sick before even Foggy does.
Foggy hurries into work and he’s a few minutes late. Not long enough to worry, not long enough to mean anything happened. But when he greets Matt with a cheery good morning, his voice is pitched a little lower, rougher, the way it used to get when he’d surface from his bed in their dorm and curse those 8AM classes.
Foggy’s appetite is unaffected, but when he digs into his lunchbox (it’s a new thing he’s trying, packed lunches. Matt knows he’ll tire of it eventually), he chokes on a bite of his cheese sandwich. Matt instantly jumps up from his seat, but Foggy swallows the soggy lump of bread and hurriedly washes it down with tea. His voice is smoothly reassuring as he lets them know he’s alright. Matt sits back down at his desk and keeps an ear out until Foggy finally has nothing more than an empty, lunchbox and a crumpled napkin.
Three days later
Foggy’s getting a cold. It’s there, a subtle wheeze in the back of his throat. He coughs randomly throughout the day. Matt finds himself counting the coughs. Three, four, nine...
Foggy’s voice is thick with cold. He drinks tea at work and has chicken soup at lunch. Karen offers him a crusty bread roll and he declines because he says his throat is sore and the bread would irritate it. He coughs and wheezes, he absent-mindedly rubs his neck with his palm, he swallows reflexively and politely refuses the candy and other treats that Karen offers him. But he doesn’t sniff or sneeze. His nose sounds perfectly dry. He doesn’t smell sick.
Movie night. Foggy picked the movie, Jaws. This is just guy’s night, like back in college.
They drink and eat (Matt devours half of the pizza and Foggy picks at slices, and this worries him. He drinks more.)
At some point, as the credits roll, and the song peters out, Matt lists over, slumps against Foggy’s warm, solid body.
His ear rests on his friend’s chest and he lets himself be lulled by the steady rhythm. Thump thump thump like heavy fabric rolling around in a washing machine. Thump thump thump. He could live his life according to that sound. Hell, replace the ticking of a clock with the thump of his heart.
Foggy yawns widely, an adorable sound and Matt smiles.
But when Foggy yawns again, opens his mouth and draws in air, Matt catches the scent of his breath. Meat feast pizza and sour beer and something strange and sickly-sweet. It makes him think of cloying air freshener or heady incense. It makes him think of walking in lush gardens with an orchestra of scents hanging in the air.
Monday morning, Foggy coughs more violently than before. Matt and Karen wait on tenterhooks, he with water and she with her cellphone in her hand, her finger hovering over the call button. He coughs wetly and then rushes from the room.
Matt follows him to the restroom and wastes no time, barges straight in and Foggy--
Is heaving over the toilet bowl. His stomach clenches and his throat convulses and when he finally lets out one last, wild retch, Matt can’t smell the bitter stink of bile. That floral scent is back and Foggy eases back from the cubicle, his hands cupped out in front of him.
“What?” Matt asks him urgently. “What is it?”
“Leaves,” Foggy gasps. “They’re leaves.”
It’s Karen who finds the Wikipedia entry. Hanahaki Disease. It’s a condition that anybody can get, caused by unrequited love. Flowers grow in your chest and can suffocate you if they’re not removed.
She leans over Foggy’s desk, typing rapidly, calm despite her hammering heartbeat. Matt stands with her and Foggy sits. He hasn’t stopped touching the flower since it was ejected from his throat. The soggy clump of plant life has since dried, and Foggy rubs the velvety petals between his fingers, apparently fascinated. Matt has to restrain the urge to rip them from his fingers and flush them down the toilet.
There appear to be two options to beat the disease. The first and most palatable choice is to have your beloved reciprocate your feelings. The second is to have an invasive surgery.
Matt doesn’t know who Foggy’s love is, but if it’s Marci, he thinks Foggy stands a chance of her reciprocating. She’s brash and rude, yes, but she likes him. Maybe even enough to love him, if she gave Foggy a chance. He tells him this and Foggy sighs.
Grotesque flowers sprouting up. He thinks of thorny stems and ugly, diseased petals, mottled like fungus. Wet clumps of flora, squatting in his chest cavity. Pushing against Foggy’s lungs, wrapping around rib bones and squeezing.
He dreads the day he hears Foggy’s ribs groaning under the weight of tangled buds and stems.
He corners him one evening, when Karen has already left. He paces as Foggy’s packs away his files.
“There’s a surgery. It can remove the flowers.”
“No.” Foggy says shortly. Matt wants to throw something at him.
“But it’ll save your life!”
“No surgery, I’m not doing it.”
“You’re having the surgery,” Matt snarls. He’ll make him if he refuses. He’s stronger than him, he can bundle Foggy’s protesting body into a taxi and frogmarch him to the operating theatre, if it comes to that. He’d do it. Anything to save him.
“No. I’m not.”
“Is it a matter of expense?”
“It’s not money, it’s — look, I don’t want to talk about it. We’ve all got work to do, can we ple—” He breaks off to cough and the sound is so winded, so ragged that Matt’s heart convulses with fear.
He drops the matter for now.
Foggy has begun collecting the leaves he coughs up. Matt can smell them, the sour smell like expired milk dampened by Foggy’s mucus. Foggy keeps them in a jar on his desk like cookies. Matt doesn’t know why Foggy would do that, surely he wouldn’t want to be reminded of them every time he sits at his desk? But it’s not his call to make.
They’re meeting with a client, an elderly woman called Mrs. Stone. It’s a simple case, she’s a friend of Foggy’s mother and wants advice on leaving her business to her grown-up children. When she tells them she’s a florist, Foggy laughs so hard he coughs. He tells her it’s ironic.
The meeting passes by without event and it’s only when she’s buttoning up her thick winter coat that she spots the jar on Foggy’s desk.
“Leucadendron salignum. It’s a shrub.” she remarks.
“That’s a mouthful,” Matt says tiredly. It’s a play-on-words and one that is noticed by Foggy. He cringes beside him.
“It is, isn’t it? Well, you can always call it by one of its nicknames. Like, Red Devil…”
Foggy’s heart spikes in alarm.
Matt waits for the client to leave before he lets Foggy have it. Mrs. Stone’s heels click like clockwork as she vacates the office, but Matt can barely hear her over his ragged breathing. His hands keep flexing into fists and his skin feels too tight. He could kill Foggy. Stupid man, what the fuck is he thinking?
When Foggy returns from bidding the client goodbye, he must clock the grim expression on Matt’s face because he sighs heavily and sits down at his desk.
“As soon as she recognised the flower, I knew you were going to blow your top. Am I gonna get interrogated by Daredevil or Matt, huh? Go on, buddy, do your worst.”
“When were you going to tell me?”
“I didn’t think it mattered.”
“So, you were just going to keep me in the dark?”
“It’s me,” he spits out. It physically aches to say the words. “You’re in love with me.”
Foggy is silent for a long moment and then, very quietly, “Yeah.”
“Fine. I’m in love with you, Matt Murdock. Happy now? You think I don’t feel bad about this? You think I’m not aware of how fucked up this all is? I hate it. I hate knowing that I’m ruining our friendship and that I’ve got these stupid feelings—”
Matt’s ire ebbs away like a foaming wave, and he feels like a complete bastard for kicking a guy when he’s down. This is Foggy. Foggy’s his best friend, Foggy is everything. And he’s hidden his feelings for so long because he doesn’t want to harm their friendship. A friendship that has been brought so close to the point of destruction in the past, by Matt’s lies, He feels like the biggest scumbag in the world.
“Hey, hey, you’re not ruining — Foggy, listen! — you’re not ruining anything. We’ll still be friends. Always. Avocados for life, yeah?”
“Even if I’m puking up flowers—”
“Even if you’re puking up rose gardens! We’ll find a way to help you, okay?”
“Alright. Um, thanks, buddy. I know you don’t feel the same way and I just wanna say...it’s fine. I’m just… I’m really glad to be your friend. I lucked out with my college roomie, you know?”
“I’m the lucky one,” Matt tells him and he means it.
Not the delicate lilies or passionate roses that you might expect. Red Devil. A shrub. A shrub growing in Foggy’s body, pushing aside his internal organs, poking his insides with tapered bracts. Oh, Matt’s done all the research. He’s wasted hours on medical journals, reading up on Hanahaki Disease. And a decent chunk of time on gardening forums, dredging up every scrap of information on Red Devil. He knows all the jargon now, the plant-specific terminology. Red Devil can grow up to two meters high.
He tries, once more, to make Foggy see sense.
Anger didn’t work, so he attempts to speak kindly. He asks him why he is so reluctant to have surgery that could potentially save his life.
They’re walking through Hell’s Kitchen as they talk, and Foggy’s words are sometimes lost in the medley of strangers’ voices. Matt walks with him, with his hand curled around Foggy’s thick, steady forearm.
“The surgery doesn’t just remove the flowers, it removes the feelings too.” Foggy says bitterly and at once, Matt understands.
“So, this person you love—” This is how they survive, by not mentioning it. Stick your fingers in your ears and close your eyes and maybe it’ll be okay. “—you won’t love them anymore?”
He still doesn’t quite get it. “What kind of love are we talking about? Romantic or—”
“Everything. Just. Everything. In fact, in a lot of cases, the patient ends up...uh...hating their…beloved. Or forgetting them completely.”
A cold chill runs down his nape and he instinctively clutches tighter at Foggy’s arm.
“That’s why you don’t want the surgery. You might forget—” Me.
“Bingo. Two steps forward, one step back, huh?”
Matt swallows. Mucus slides slickly down his throat, unimpeded by flowers and he instantly feels guilty. “You should… You should still get the surgery.”
“The man you love,” he presses on. “—if he knew about it. He’d want you to get cured. He’d want you to be safe.”
He feels Foggy turn to look at him. “Would he be okay with me forgetting him? Or hating him? For the rest of my life?”
“He’d have to buck up and deal with it.”
Foggy laughs and there’s that earthy, yeasty smell again.
“He sounds like a tool.”
“Yeah, he kind of is. He might—I mean— he could...” His own heart is beating so loudly he wonders for one mad second if Foggy can hear it. “He could kiss you, if you wanted. Make you feel better.”
“Make me feel better as in use the power of newly-requited love to send the disease packing — or make me feel better as in put a smile on my face?”
“The second one.”
Foggy considers it. “Yeah, alright.”
“Can’t make it any worse. Lay one on me, Murdock.”
“You got it, counselor,” Matt murmurs and they sidestep into an alleyway, away from the crowd.
As kisses go, it’s not too bad. Foggy’s lips are warm and dry, and he doesn’t open his mouth so there’s no coffee breath or any unpleasantness like that. Matt assumed Foggy’s lips would feel rough. He doesn’t know why he’d had that assumption, certainly Matt’s lips don’t feel rough by his own judging. Possibly, he’d expected chapped lips because Foggy is male, but now that he considers it, Foggy uses chapstick sometimes. They’re soft. Soft as the rest of him. Matt presses harder, wants to know if that thick, plushness will yield under his own lips, and Foggy moans, a small, quiet sound that’s muffled by the shrub in his chest.
Foggy’s lips tremble and he wonders if he wants to say something, but he doesn’t think he could bear to hear him speak right now. Speak with that rasp in his throat or that horrible wheeze. So he paws at his face and the back of his head, tangles fistfuls of hair between his fingers. Soft, soft, impossibly soft. Soft as the sheet he lies on every night. And when he pulls on it, crushes silken ropes beneath his fingers, scents are released in the air. Coconut shampoo and coffee and a trace of Karen’s perfume. He squeezes strands of hair, winds them around his fingers, fascinated. It’s a whole other world of sensory information, ones that gives him a clearer picture of Foggy Nelson. Foggy moans on his lips with every tug of the scalp and his hands wander their way across Matt’s shoulders and down his back.
Matt freezes. Under the melody of Foggy’s gentle sighs and moans, there’s a low bass note, something underneath. Something quiet, barely audible, and he concentrates, feeling an eerie dread.
A quiet creaking. A creaking of bones. He thinks of Foggy’s ribs groaning under the weight of the flowers and stems. What if the shrub grew too much? They were already pressing against his lungs and lining his throat? What if his ribs collapse under the weight? What if his throat fills with flowers?
Matt pulls away, and swallows down a lump of burning bile. He can’t die, Foggy can’t — Matt won’t let him.
“You’re getting the surgery,” he tells him firmly and Foggy must be so weak from the sickness that he doesn’t even argue.
The night before the surgery, Matt sits with Foggy, and they watch a movie. Matt can’t concentrate on the plot — Foggy is too weak to narrate and there’s nothing more interesting in the movie than the man sitting beside him. He feels guilty when he thinks of the disease and guiltier still when he thinks of Foggy’s lips.
Does Foggy want him to kiss him again? Is he expecting a kiss? Should Matt kiss him or would that be cruel? He wishes that he could be the sort of man who could reciprocate these feelings. If it was a religion, he’d convert. It would harm his soul but he’d do it. But this. He’s not gay. He’s never felt a flicker of attraction for a man before. He wishes he could be what Foggy needs.
If he was gay, it would be so easy to lean over, grab his face and plant his lips on his. And Foggy would be so grateful, so receptive. He’d open himself up, let Matt taste and smell him, give him the keys to that hidden world of sensory data that Matt had never been able to explore before. He wondered what Foggy’s breath would taste like in the morning. Or after a few glasses of wine. Or if Foggy’s tongue would absorb some of Matt’s scents and he’d begin to smell like him. If Foggy was his, Matt would be privy to that knowledge. Foggy would let him and Matt could, he could—
Foggy snores gently on his shoulder and every exhalation smells like wet dirt. Matt grinds his teeth, curls his fingers into fists. He wishes he could reach down into his friend’s throat and yank out every last cursed leaf and root.
Matt doesn’t accompany Foggy to the hospital. He offers to go but is secretly relieved when Foggy refuses. Karen’s better for that sort of thing. Hospitals are hell on his senses, the stink of decaying bodies in the morgue, the constant buzz of machinery, the chemicals and bleach. And to sit in a waiting room and listen to Foggy get sawed open. He doesn’t think he could bear it.
So, he paces at home, then burns a bit of tension at Fogwell’s but he’s sloppy and distracted. It’s too early to go patrolling and anyway, he doesn’t trust himself to be professional right now. It would be too easy for him to take out his rage on an unsuspecting petty thief. He needs to cool down.
Eventually, Karen calls him and gives a brief run-down. She tells him Foggy had the surgery, it went fine but he’s still really groggy so she took him back to her apartment in a taxi. She wants to monitor him, make sure he’s okay. When he’s standing there, listening to her with his phone glued to his ear, a brief thought occurs. Thinks he should tell her about the kiss. Since that night, he’s been plagued with thoughts of Foggy’s mouth. To tell her might be a relief. But there’s nothing to tell. He isn’t gay. Nothing can come of this. He asks her to inform him of any changes and hangs up. It feels like too much effort to bind his fists and resume the workout, so he slopes off home instead.
The surgery went excellently, according to Karen. Foggy takes a couple of weeks off work to recover and he doesn’t text Matt and Matt doesn’t text him. He figures it's probably best. They’d speak when they were back in the office. The last thing Foggy would want would be having to hear Matt’s voice. Matt was, after all, the reason that Foggy had to opt for surgery in the first place. But he hasn’t gone so long without talking to his friend...since...well, ever. He thinks of him throughout the day, will remember little inside jokes or of funny anecdotes. In a way, it almost feels like mourning and maybe it is. Grieving their friendship, but giving space to build a new one.
And the dreams.
He shouldn’t have kissed him. Now, Foggy keeps guest-starring in Matt’s dreams. The phantom sensation of soft lips and warm breath, his hair, God, his hair… Matt wakes up and sleepily nuzzles a silken sheet, thinking of blond locks spread out on his pillow. Foggy, you’ve done something, what the hell have you done to me?
It’s not fair.
Karen reminds him of the day Foggy is due to return to work. Matt counts the days with increasing anxiety, fearing freshly-born hatred or worse, surgery-induced amnesia. He wouldn’t be able to handle Foggy forgetting him. He should have kissed him harder, bitten those fat, fluid-filled lips. Left tooth marks and bruises. Foggy would remember him then. He would trail fingers down every hickey on his body and love it.
Monday morning, Matt gets dressed, spends too long combing his hair and trying to coax it into something that feels neat, and skips breakfast. He wouldn’t be able to keep it down.
He hears Foggy’s voice from a block away, chatting to Karen about the weather forecast. His cane slips in his sweaty palm as he makes his way into the office. He doesn’t know what he’s expecting, but whatever reaction he wanted, he doesn’t get it.
Foggy is polite. Calls him Matthew, not Matt. At least he knows who Matt is.
There’s no rising heartbeat, no heat flush to his cheeks, no warmth in his tone. He’s polite but distant. He could just as well be talking to a member of Landman & Zack. The thought makes nausea overtake him.
He rushes to the bathroom and heaves over the bowl, but nothing escapes him. Afterwards, he sits there for a few minutes, coughs violently until his chest aches. He’s been coughing a lot lately.