The first case in Spice City was a quiet one. It was a housewife - they remembered the name Kojiro but weren’t quite sure it was hers anymore - the police found in an apartment on the west side of the city. The newspapers hadn’t been able to put a single image of the body in their report, neither had the six o’clock news show, but there was of course some photos on the internet that were claimed to be from the Incident, as they had been calling it even until now.
Master Reigen could conclude after a glance at the photos in question that they were all photoshopped. Some of them poorly, some of them better, but there was always a mistake somewhere. Visual logic was a complicated thing not many humans could cover fully. Master Reigen was a man of many things, keen observation included; it took time for him to fully debunk every single one of them, but time he did have, and sooner or later all of those photos was discredited. They were still out there, of course, freaking out people surfing the internet at night alone in their room, but they hadn’t blown up the way they could have had everybody trusted the story they told.
Shigeo too could tell that they were manipulated, by the amount and types of flowers. He could see a bit of it on the portrait photo they broadcasted of her, the deceased wife and mother: it was a deep pink. Her breaths, her kind eyes, her grip on the counter she was posing next to. It was Judas flower. Just by the overwhelming scent of flowers he caught every time he came past the building, the floor was probably already covered with Judas flowers when the police got it.
A far enough time into the future, when one of them came across the morning report of that Incident (they always called it that, Incident with a capital I), they would sit down to remind themselves of it again, despite never really wanting to. It was like staring at a rabid animal as you backed away from it: they didn’t want it to sneak up on them ever again. They didn’t want to be vulnerable to it, to forget and wake up the next day to a similar report sounding from the radio on the night counter.
The woman’s name was Kojiro Shimizu.
The first case in Spice City wasn’t the first worldwide, obviously - Kojiro died two days after four people on another continent, but of the same death. Shigeo found Ritsu in his room reading an article about them months after the Incident, when the disease was most rampant. “Two highschoolers, a doctor, and a retired mechanic,” he said quietly when asked. “Except the doctor, all of them were reported missing, then were found overnight.” Printed out online articles and hand-drawn charts was scattered across his table, and he had a death grip on the red pencil they used to correct their own math homework. One of his classmates was confirmed to have caught the disease the day before.
Ritsu was smart and dedicated, but he was (almost all of them were) still a kid. They could stay up night after night trying to draw a conclusion from what seemed to be a conspiracy theory, and in the end it would go nowhere. It did go nowhere. There was no place for them among the saviors of the world.
They all felt that in their bones. Maybe that came with the power they had; the more they could do, the worse they felt about not doing. It was a faulty design they were helpless to change.
An article called the disease Kadan, and the name caught, even though it wasn’t entirely accurate.
Nobody told him to, and nobody asked it of him, but Shigeo kept count of the flowers. They stayed in a corner of his mind, came out as he wrote down was the teacher was saying on his notebook, scribbled in the margin. He remembered the victims he knew that way: name of human associated with name of flower.
By the second year in, most reports had devolved into a brief paragraph giving the deceased’s name in the same sentence as the disease’s, but the first ones during the weeks right after the Incident were much more thorough. What Shigeo thought was that the disease wasn’t much more than a foreign threat then, and its novelty could still get the newspapers some sale.
Those reports were how they knew about the way the victims died, but they couldn’t really bring the image of it into their readers’ mind. People modified photos to try to capture it: bodies on the ground, head covered in flowers like a firework spark in a glass cube, light shone weakly into their final resting place trying to make their death more intimidating. Some junkies were bolder, taking a close-up shot of someone’s head, painting thousands of cracks on their skull from which flowers bloomed. None of those photos could scare Shigeo: the visual was never what bothered him in a situation.
Someone interviewed a witness at a case’s site once, somewhere in the second year of it. “The newspapers say the truth,” the woman said in a plain, almost hollow voice. “We can never find the head. The flowers where the head should be always grow taller than the rest, as if to fill in for the lack of it.”
Coming into the later half of the second year, more and more of the city’s population could confirm that. The novelty was lost, and only then did people start wanting it back.
The TV said once, “Most infected victims were near the scene of another fatality at one point after it happened,” and immediately a silent quarantine was established by the inhabitants of the city. Parents scared their kids into submission. The streets were deserted.
Shigeo and Ritsu’s school closed for inspection after an incident nearby.
Hanazawa came by the Office in the afternoon. “Hope I’m not intruding,” he said as he walked in, “I don’t have school today and nothing in my quarter’s open anymore.”
Master Reigen just flicked his hand at him, disinterested. “’ea. Find a seat somewhere for yourself.”
Hanazawa found his place next to Shigeo around the glass table they were sitting at. Shigeo was tapping out a rhythm he remembered from a long time ago while Ritsu was copying something from his phone to a blank page in his notebook. Hanazawa seemed to recognise the words being written down.
“Kujiwara,” he said. “I remember that name from the newspaper a week or so ago. Kadan, wasn’t it?”
Ritsu didn’t answer. Hanazawa didn’t ask more, but there was a hard look in his eyes.
They talked about school, clubs, their day, anything but the crisis going on. Shigeo told Hanazawa about the field out next to the train station. They exchanged stories about pets and weird people they’d met.
The street was quiet when they went home - Hanazawa left with them and took a different turn a little bit farther down the road. Even as they checked their itinerary carefully to avoid incident sites, their voice was blanketed in a barren calm.
They made it home. They made it to the next morning. So did Hanazawa.
It took time for Shigeo to realise that he wasn’t scared. It only came to him after he had figured out that other people were scared, and had gotten over the unfamiliarity of that idea.
Despite being called rampant, the disease never killed too many people in a night. It was an awful thought to think, but it was the truth: no more than three cases were ever discovered every week. It was a steady and silent pace; they watched as the disease grew like moss, eating up the city inches at a time, putting its mark in their life one report, one article, one piece of banter at a time. Thanks to the TV and the internet, they knew that somewhere there was a battle, but more than anything that knowledge gave them a juxtaposition.
Shigeo realised Ritsu was scared when he fell asleep at his desk one night, red pencil in hand, frantic lines crisscrossed between keywords trying to get anything at all out of the sea they were all submerged in, a few paragraphs about rumors circled with the note it can’t end like this scribbled below. He realised his parents were scared when he saw them standing at the end of the stairs after he answered their wake up call a moment later than usual. He realised Master Reigen was scared when he glanced at his screen while walking past it to see articles in all kinds of language pulled up next to a translation engine. He realised how scared the city was by the silence outside. People smiled and talked and walked, but a lot of them were trying to keep it up. Some of them failed, and the waves washed over them until they stood up again.
Shigeo wasn’t scared. He worried some, of course, taking care to avoid incident sites and did what was recommended to them by the authorities, but he wasn’t afraid by any mean. Maybe it was the quiet that subdued his fears, or maybe it was the others’ fears that masked his in their midst. Maybe he was already familiar to the waves. He had seen a lot, maybe something from that list had taken that reaction away from him.
Hanazawa called them during lunch some days after Salt middle school was out of quarantine. There were only Shigeo, Ritsu, and some other kids from the media club in the classroom, the media kids helping one of them - Amano, Shigeo remembers from an encounter in the school’s lab before midterm - planning a love confession. Ritsu plugged his borrowed earbuds in.
“I think it’s love,” Hanazawa said, silently. Ritsu’s brows furrowed at that.
“What do you mean?”
“Kadan. You asked me about that a while ago, Younger Brother, didn’t you?”
“Not really,” Ritsu said. Hanazawa shrugged it off.
“Yeah. I knew two girls from my school who contracted Kadan last week. They both confessed to someone and was rejected right before they died. I think that’s the trigger, since if it’s airborn and doesn’t need anything to develop then we would all be dead by now.”
The thought of it was absurd - a disease triggered by love, of all thing - but Shigeo, like Ritsu and Hanazawa and Master Reigen, was already absurdity itself, so he listened on. “That doesn’t cover Hoshino’s case,” Ritsu argued. “He didn’t have a wife or a lover.” Hoshino died in his apartment near their neighbourhood. The man has mostly been a forgotten face because of his quiet personality, until after his death. He was buried by a relative who lived in the south.
The line went quiet for a moment while Hanazawa looked up Hoshino’s death. “But he has a dog. It died about two weeks before him, right?”
They processed that information.
“Someone in my quarter was like that too,” Hanazawa said. “I think her name was Yuuko. She posted something about her friend since childhood bringing her into a fraud deal days before her death.”
“Strong affection overthrown,” Ritsu mumbled. “Of any kind.”
“Terrible,” Hanazawa said. “But at least we have an idea of how to not die now, right?”
They doubted the idea, and even until Amano was found in the media club’s room, laying among yellow carnations with his head nowhere to be found, the doubt lingered. Shigeo guess it was because the claim couldn’t be proven fully, but maybe it was just that they couldn’t wrap their head around it. It was a faulty design, for them to be unable to take on an idea to examine it.
Some people came to the same conclusion as Hanazawa; the internet was full of discussions and heated arguments around it. None of it changed the fact that it was a variable no one could control, but the idea stayed in people’s mind.
A death by heartbreak. Plenty could be sung about that.
Hanazawa came by their house sometimes. He stayed in Shigeo’s room the whole duration of his visits, bringing some snack he had at home or bought on the way. Shigeo’s parents knew his name and face. Unnecessary pleasantries lessened.
For all of his boisterous exterior, Hanazawa’s visits were quiet. They talked, Ritsu and him about incidents and theories, Shigeo and him about everything else. Hanazawa seemed to seek their presence more than conversations, and they gave him that without too much inquisition.
Shigeo talked to him about the fear he didn’t have one day. “I can feel it too, actually,” Hanazawa said. “The fear in the air. Everyone’s afraid. You aren’t at all wrong, Kageyama-kun.”
“Are you?” Shigeo asked him. “Afraid, I mean. Are you scared?”
Hanazawa didn’t say anything for a bit, and they sat there in silence. His eventual answer was, “I’m not. Same as you, Kageyama-kun.”
Shigeo didn’t ask more. He just thought Hanazawa deemed himself out of the disease’s reach. It didn’t mean they lived happier by any mean, but it was what it was.
Kojiro Shimizu’s husband died of Kadan sometimes around then. A salt cedar tree bloomed flowers where his head should be.
Sooner or later, they found out more about the disease. Morning news shows became a whirlwind of myths and informations and proofs - they heard Hanahaki and new strain and airborne and pollen thrown around frequently - and soon all of it became white noise.
A list of possible symptoms was broadcasted on the six o’clock news one evening well into the later half of the second year, and then printed out and stuck on every surface possible in schools and bureaus. Master Reigen had it taped on his desk, probably to keep the panic to himself and not scare off clients. Shigeo had learned it by heart. Headache, breathing difficulties, sensitive and watering eyes. Headache, breathing difficulties, sensitive and watering eyes. People chanted the mantra.
According to the informations given by the news, the headache became more and more extreme the closer the victim got to the disease’s last stage. “How extreme are we even talking here?” Mom had asked. “Headaches are pretty common.”
“Probably, like, out of our imagination,” Dad said as he poured the soup into his bowl. “I mean it’s flower blooming in your head. Can’t imagine something that hurts worse than that.” They glanced at Shigeo, as if to see if he was still there, then looked away, and the conversation carried forth.
Shigeo was silent during dinner. He had some idea of out-of-imagination pain, but it wasn’t much more than an impression.
Ritsu never stopped his research, even after Hanazawa’s idea that he shared with them. He started reading up about Hanahaki - something the news mentioned - and covered his desk with notes about it. Shigeo and Hanazawa played the role of his sounding board, trading a sentence or two every once in a while as Ritsu mumbled on about diseases, Hanazawa sometimes chiming in with a question. Informations about Hanahaki was hard to come by on the internet, but they scourged up enough to deduce that it was an extremely rare and usually fatal illness. Kadan seemed to be a new strain of it, if what the news said was true.
Hanazawa stayed for the night; they sat in Shigeo’s room, Ritsu on his phone trying to find out more, Hanazawa and Shigeo taking in the silence. They had been up to too much out of place silence, to feel it again without the weight was comforting.
At two in the morning, Ritsu spoke up. “There’s a tab on a health society’s website. They list the known cases of Hanahaki in Japan. There was one in Spice City a dozen of years ago.”
“What are you gonna do with that anyway?” Hanazawa asked, quietly.
Ritsu looked down at his phone. It took him a while to answer. “I’m going to ask around for a bit. Look through the hospitals’ documents. That society only has two member hospitals in Spice City.”
Hanazawa waited equally as long to continued. “This won’t help anyone.”
Shigeo expected Ritsu to snark at that, but in the end the reply was “I know.”
Ritsu went through with his plan a month later, to find out about a Megumi Furuya who died at the age of twenty. And about what Shigeo had always known.
“You didn’t tell me,” he said to Shigeo, and it sounded like an accusation.
There wasn’t really anything to tell, mostly because he didn’t remember much: he was eight when the occasional tests stopped. He was declared healthy. The hospital hadn’t questioned it much, because he was one of the youngest one to be diagnosed with Hanahaki, and the symptoms didn’t show too clearly at that age. They had chalked it up to a misdiagnosis and let him go.
Ritsu had a better idea of that, Shigeo thought. He, like Shigeo, had a different viewing angle at the world than the common people. Human error meant a lot more to them.
Ritsu didn’t ask him more about it. The only thing he asked was whether it had hurted, and Shigeo’s honest answer was that he didn’t remember. That was how he cured himself of it.
Hanazawa invited Shigeo out for a walk on a weekday when Black Vinegar middle school was under quarantine. He seemed a bit tired, but got his energy back after a strawberry parfait.
Shigeo showed him the field next to the train station. “It’s even more beautiful than what I imagined,” Hanazawa had said, and Shigeo was glad of it.
They sat on the grass in silence. When the sky shifted to a violet-tinted orange, Hanazawa told Shigeo, “ There’s this art cafe I think you’d like, but an incident happened there last week. It’s been closed since then.”
“What was the name?” Shigeo asked.
“Higashi. It was on the news that morning.”
The name was white to his senses. Shigeo remembered it. Tulip.
Hanazawa waited a bit before continuing. “He fell asleep at a booth in the corner. He brought his wife’s framed picture with him. The flowers covered the whole booth.”
“It sounds like you were there when it happened.”
There was a beat of silence between them, and then Shigeo asked, “Did it scare you?”
“No, actually,” Hanazawa laughed. “His head didn’t even explode. It just got engulfed in tulips, and then it was gone. I think the flowers absorbed all of it or something. Took only a minute.”
For the first time, Shigeo imagined the scene fully.
“It was a quiet way to go,” Hanazawa said from next to him. “But I think it’s better than some deaths I’ve known.”
The death rates slowed down for a bit when the third year came, but the silence never really left.
Ritsu’s researches trailed off slowly since he got the knowledge of Shigeo’s old condition. Shigeo was neither glad nor worried of it, but he did take notice. He had an idea of what Ritsu might be thinking of - events that happened near each others raise the idea of them being linked to each others in one way or another.
He himself didn’t know the concrete answer, if he was to be honest to himself. Maybe his power did burn the illness out. Maybe the pain did come before his control was torn away from him and not after. Maybe his lungs did burn and the flowers did come up, but just never made it out. What he knew was that the flowers were attached to a piece of the affection he had and what came with it, and some of it was burned off along with them. Like a table losing a leg, he was on the brink of toppling over for a while; but in the end it grew back.
Maybe it could work that way for Kadan too, he thought. Maybe they could burn out the pain, and if they were lucky the emptiness would fix itself.
He didn’t know how many people would take that chance.
Hanazawa started hanging out frequently at the Office. He behaved, so Master Reigen didn’t complain. He was always there when Shigeo came by, strained smile and hands balled up on his thigh.
They didn’t really have conversations anymore; it felt more and more like Hanazawa was content with just Shigeo’s presence. He sometimes tagged along when they went out for a case, but left them to their work mostly. “My power’s not worth much when I can’t concentrate,” he said with a wink when Shigeo asked him. Shigeo let it go.
On a day when Hanazawa wasn’t there, Shigeo told Master Reigen about his old condition. “I’ve heard talk of Hanahaki,” Master Reigen said thoughtfully, “but never much. This is a big deal, Mob. Maybe we can help someone out with it.”
Master Reigen’s optimism carried them on to their next cases, and sooner rather than later, someone came by because of unbearable headache. Her name was Saeki. “I got spikes at night when I sleep next to my wife,” she told them. “It’s bad enough to wake me up. I’m tired of this.”
Master Reigen looked at her carefully before asking questions. “Have you been having trouble breathing lately?”
Miss Saeki shook her head. “No, I don’t think so… You think I caught Kadan?”
“I’m not ruling it out, but even in that case I might be able to help you. The troubles with breathing come later than the headache, so we can’t confirm anything yet. Have you been doubting you wife’s fidelity?”
Miss Saeki was stunned into silence for a moment. “What? I— no— why are you asking this?”
“I don’t ask unnecessary question, Saeki-san,” Master Reigen said, tapping his finger on the desk. “So please answer truthfully.”
It took Miss Saeki a while to be able to say the words out loud. “Ye— Yes. I have.” She grimaced as the sentence left her mouth. She was sweating.
She and her wife were scheduled for another consultation the day after. With both of their agreement, Shigeo and Master Reigen did what they could. While Master Reigen performed, Shigeo put his hand on Miss Saeki’s. He gripped firmly on the flowers - geranium - and tore them out. They withered into dust.
Miss Saeki was crying when he signaled Master Reigen to stop. Her tear smelled of flower. “It’s gone,” she said when they asked if she could still feel the headache, and a smile tentatively bloomed on her lips.
They watched it wither when she looked from them to her wife.
Hanazawa was there with them that afternoon. He was quiet through the whole process.
Ritsu heard of that event from Hanazawa, in a morning when they were coincidentally at the same place and without Shigeo.
Shigeo found him in his room reading through records of Hanahaki he copied from his in-and-out visit at the hospitals. There were pollens and contagion and development scribbled in his notebook, and red lines running between them in confusion. Shigeo didn’t know what to do more than to leave Ritsu to his thoughts.
All Ritsu could figure out after that night was that the later into development the illness was, the deeper the flowers took root, but it seemed to always be around a concrete feeling. It wasn’t a satisfying deduction by any mean, but he traded it with Hanazawa anyway. They talked in silent voices through the morning.
The six o’clock news that evening bought them some informations on the process of finding a cure for Kadan. “At least they’re onto something,” Mom said, but they were wary of hope yet.
“The scientists at Kanto Health Council HQ hope to fully engineer a cure based on their already ongoing research of Hanahaki,” the news lady on the TV said. “Until there is more update on the situation, please follow the established health code strictly to avoid contracting this disease.”
They were silent after that.
Hanazawa kept his calm facade, but only barely. Shigeo could tell that the pain was tearing at it. They went to a park near the Office - that was as far as Hanazawa could make it before he needed to take a break - and sat on the grassy hill near the lake, basked in the silence.
“It can’t possibly be worth more than your life,” Shigeo said to Hanazawa. He was quiet in response.
Only when they stood up to go back did he say something. “I can’t imagine a life without it.”
“You did live that life once,” Shigeo pointed out. “And there’s a chance that whatever affection you’re feeling will come back. You’re closer to me when it comes to power, maybe it’ll work for you as it did for me.”
Hanazawa smiled. “You know I wasn’t afraid before, Kageyama-kun,” he said in an even voice. “Now I am. The me before you could never have admitted this in any circumstances, and I’m afraid of that as much as of this damn disease right now.”
Hanazawa didn’t wake up from his nap two days later at the Office. Shigeo and Ritsu came by after a call from Master Reigen.
The scent of lilac was overwhelming when they walked in. Shigeo was tense with guilt. He recounted every moment he could have just gotten it done that he could remember since they tested the cure, went through them silently in his head as they sat down on the floor next to the couch where Hanazawa lay. Suddenly all of them seemed more plausible.
“He was in love with you,” Ritsu mumbled to himself, turned the clue over and over to find a solution. “Maybe just a confession… maybe that’d be enough. Maybe just affection towards him can override…”
“It’s not gonna work, Ritsu,” Master Reigen said, closing the door. “It depends on him. He knows Mob’s answer already.”
Ritsu heard it, but he kept muttering to himself. His hands came up to cover his eyes tiredly.
If only there were a bit more time , Shigeo thought. Suddenly he was so sure of that. If only I had a bit more time .
“Affection,” Ritsu mumbled. “Lilacs. Acceptance. It’s acceptance - it’s an established balance— of— overthrown affection. Maybe if we upset the balance…”
Master Reigen put one and on his shoulder. “Do it, Mob.”
If only , Shigeo chanted.
The sky was pink when he dove in. It took him a moment to realise that was just the lilacs.
He joined Hanazawa in an overgrown patch.
It was silent under the pink sky.
“If you burn the flowers,” Hanazawa said, “there will be nothing left.”
Shigeo didn’t want to believe him, but his voice was honest. There was no facade here.
I took him longer than it should have to say the words, but he did in the end. “It could have happened, Hanazawa-kun.”
Hanazawa laughed, tiredly, humourlessly, bitterly.
“You’re scared,” Shigeo got the words out. “I’m scared too. Finally I’m scared of this. I think it was guilt and regret I’m feeling. I don’t want this to happen.”
“Why?” Hanazawa asked, hiccupping. “I’d already figured it’s not that bad a way to go. As long as I get to— I get to keep the affection. I would have been fine with it.”
“We wouldn’t have,” Shigeo said. “Master Reigen and Ritsu and me. If only I could have a bit more time.”
“If only,” Hanazawa echoed. “If only.”
They stayed there for a long time before he said anything more. “I’m scared to take the chance.”
The lilacs started to simmer. The sun was up, slowly.
“I am too. But you’ve made the choice already.”
Hanazawa was crying when Shigeo finished. It took him another three hours of sleep to wake up fully.
“You said something about the balance,” Shigeo said when Ritsu looked at him at one time in that afternoon. “Maybe that’s what it was.”
They went out for dinner after that. Master Reigen brought them to a ramen shop he discovered a while ago while on a case. It was thankfully still open amidst the rampant health crisis. They were silent through most of it, Hanazawa focusing more on his food than any ongoing conversation. It gave Shigeo an odd, barren peace.
Hanazawa still smelled of lilac months later, whenever they met. Shigeo grew used to it as they sat in silence, the morning report sounding from the radio in the living room. The streets were always a bit more deserted than it used to be when they walked it, each following their own thoughts. They didn’t avoid the incident sites anymore.
A cure was found by the end of the third year, and Hanazawa got it. Sometimes later a vaccine was developed too, and soon Kadan withered.
Kojiro Shimizu and her husband was buried next to each other. People remembered the location, as if it was a warning about the faulty design that allowed a person to die of heartbreak. They covered her tombstone with roses.
Shigeo and Hanazawa stopped there one afternoon when they went out for a walk. Hanazawa brought roses with him. “I can’t remember the pain,” Hanazawa said after having put the flowers on Kojiro’s tomb. They chased away the lingering scent of Judas flowers. “Sometimes I think it should be there, but it’s not, and I feel like it’s not right like this.”
“That was how I was cured,” Shigeo told him, and it seemed to be good enough of an answer.
They sat there for a while, under the golden twilight.
“Thank you,” Shigeo said to him when they stood up. “For being not afraid with me. And then for being afraid with me.”
Together, they walked down the hill.