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dripping with flowers

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Trixie isn’t shy when it comes to flowers, and her runway look says that better than she ever could without admitting her deepest secret, which of course, she would never do.

 

The first time she had ever coughed up a flower petal, it was in this very room, and as she gets ready for the runway, decked out in flowers, it’s impossible not to think about it. She had just returned to the competition on her season, and her emotions were running rampant. It was exciting to be back, but intensely overwhelming, despite how supportive everyone had been. There was something about having missed so much that made her feel behind . Out of the loop. 

 

But then, out of nowhere, Katya gave her a little wave across the room, and Trixie’s chest was flooded with warmth—a simple gesture that validated her return and it hit her all at once how happy she was that she’d gotten this second chance. 

 

And then she started to cough.

 

It felt like an itch in the back of her throat—something that could be cleared out with a good cough or two and the help of a bottle of water, which she turned in her station to grab. She’d just gotten it open when, on the last cough into her arm, she noticed a single petal fluttering to the ground. She reached for it immediately, trapping it between her fingers and feeling its silky smooth texture. It was bright red, like a rose, and Trixie frowned, wondering where it had come from.

 

She realized only moments later that the itch in her throat was gone.

 

When she coughed up another after her second elimination, she couldn’t deny what was happening. She just didn’t know who was causing it.

 

It took a long time for her to figure it out, though in retrospect, the answer was always right there in her face.

 

Katya.

 

From the bright red of the petals to the circumstances she found herself coughing them up—always after spending any time with her, sometimes during their phone calls or while looking at her social media posts. Sometimes before filming, sometimes after, and sometimes in the middle of it, while Katya was taking one of her smoke breaks.

 

It was obvious for the longest time, but Trixie didn’t connect the dots until All Stars 2 aired and she went into coughing fits during every one of Katya’s runways. It was a little hard to hide from the cameras at premiere parties, and even harder to hide from Katya herself, but as far as anyone knew, it was just a coincidence, and something that was happening petal free.

 

After the first few episodes, she made herself scarce during the runways, watching most of them later in the night when no one was around. The amount of flowers she coughed up had grown exponentially since the first time, but it wasn’t something she considered detrimental .

 

Although, realizing was detrimental in its own way.

 

From the beginning, Trixie knew the flower petals meant unrequited love, but since she wasn’t harboring any deep feelings, she wasn’t sure how to approach it. And then in the months after, as she grew closer to Katya, those feelings were the ones that stood out, even if Trixie convinced herself time and time again that they were platonic. Her denial only seemed to make the petals appear in larger clusters, but the realization made it happen with more frequency.

 

Trixie realizing she had feelings for Katya changed everything.

 

For one, Trixie had always regarded hers and Katya’s feelings for each other on the same level. They were even. They worked so well together and seemed to exist on the same wavelength. 

 

Now, it was impossible for Trixie to tell herself this was true. Her feelings for Katya were, and had always been, unrequited.

 

And then of course, keeping the petals a secret from Katya had been one thing before Trixie knew , but now the secret held a weight that felt impossible to carry. And considering they don’t normally keep secrets from each other? It was almost too much.

 

Being back in the werkroom for her own All Stars season has been a relief in and of itself, mostly because Trixie has no contact with Katya or any way to stalk her socials or see anything that’s likely to trigger another coughing fit. Not that it hasn’t happened while she’s been here.

 

Every morning she wakes, hacking up handfuls of red petals, so much that she thinks she could make an entire look out of if she saved them up. Sometimes it happens in the middle of the night, but most nights she’s lucky enough to get a decent amount of sleep in before the coughing starts. 

 

Several times she remembers the dreams that cause them: Katya and her laughing together, Katya’s hands gripping her arms, Katya pulling Trixie impossibly close, Katya’s lips brushing against her ear, exhaling soft breaths that make Trixie shudder. But other times, there is no recollection of the dreams—just a hollow emptiness in Trixie’s chest near her heart and the awareness at the distance between them, and how long its been since she’s heard Katya’s voice.

 

Hanahaki disease isn’t all that common, and it definitely isn’t the kind of thing you visit a physician about. In fact, most people don’t tell anyone about it, and to that, Trixie is no exception. To this day, nobody knows, and since out of all her friends, Katya is the one she would be the most likely to tell, Trixie plans to keep it that way.

 

Everything she knows about hanahaki disease, she learned from browsing forums in incognito mode and wading through troll comments for any useful content, or anything that made Trixie feel less alone as she dealt with it, not that anything ever helped.

 

She felt like she was tearing at the seams, desperate to talk about it, or find someone going through what she was, but doing so didn’t feel like an option, especially not while she was filming for national television. Instead, she did the next best thing. She let her disease inspire her, especially for this flower inspired runway. 

 

Dripping with flowers . It was all too fitting.

 

Decidedly, she wouldn’t do red. For obvious reasons. But she let herself lean into influences like cherry blossoms and anime, and even though the connection between hanahaki and her runway look is minimal, looking at herself wearing it, almost ready for the runway, she’s filled with a sense of strength she almost forgot she possessed. 

 

Everyone tells her she looks great, and she believes them, because she knows its true, and looking around at everyone else’s looks as they head to the main stage, she’s relieved that no one’s look focuses on red flowers ( thank you Sasha Velour , Trixie thinks), and as expected, no one mentions any correlation of flower petals to the hanahaki disease.

 

So when Trixie is walking the runway for the judges commentary, the last thing she’s expecting is for anyone to mention hanahaki. She didn’t even realize it was common enough or accepted enough to mention, even for a joke, especially on national TV. And what are the odds that they would mention it for Trixie’s runway out of everyone’s? Although, that was her angle wasn’t it? Subtle, impersonal, and hidden, but that was what she had on her mind when the look was being created.

 

She holds herself together for the runway, the words hanahaki never looked so good spiralling through her head so loud that she can’t hear anything else. She’s almost to the end of the runway when she feels it—the flowers blooming in her lungs, and the petals itching their way up her throat. 

 

The runway ends as normally as she can manage, and as soon as she hits the stairs, she’s running, around the corner behind a curtain, coughing dozens of petals into her hands. It won’t be easy to hide this, but as long as there aren’t cameras around, she almost doesn’t care. All she can think is that she wishes Katya were here.

 

“Trixie?”

 

She’s just finished ridding herself of nearly fifty petals when she hears her name. It was only a matter of time before someone found her, and really, she was lucky it took this long. That, or production had followed her to make sure she was fine, saw what was happening, and chose not to intervene. For all she knows, the whole studio will hear about it by the end of the day.

 

She feels a hand at her back as someone says her name again, the same someone, and she knows it isn’t a member of production.

 

It’s Shangela.

 

There’s no point in hiding the petals—they’re all over the floor, and Trixie can’t help but think she should have done red for her look, because it would be easy to pass off the hefty pile of flowers off on a wardrobe malfunction, but no one will buy that. She surrenders, dropping the last handful to the ground and turning to face Shangela who is crouched down next to her. Her brown eyes are soft and concerned, a contrast to the angry fire she had seen yesterday.

 

“You okay, girl?” 

 

Trixie wants to say yes, but she can only shake her head. “How many people saw?”

 

“Just me. You got lucky. I told the other girls to make sure no one came over until you were okay.” She offers Trixie a smile as she holds up a black garbage bag and some paper towels. “Everyone just thinks you’ve pulled a Willam.”

 

That gets Trixie to laugh, even just once, and it’s enough to make her feel just normal enough. No one saw, only Shangela knows , she doesn’t know the whole story, she repeats to herself, and sure enough, that helps too. “Thanks,” she mutters as she starts scooping the petals into the trash bag, grateful for a way out of this.

 

Shangela nods, brow furrowed in thought, and it makes Trixie want to say something to make all of this go away—not necessarily to ease Shangela’s worries, but to make her not think so much about it. But there’s nothing.

 

“If you ever need someone to talk to…” Shangela starts, but she doesn’t finish. She doesn’t have to. “I’ll tell the others you’re okay. We need to get going.” Trixie nods as she drops the last few petals into the bag and ties it shut, discarding it in the first trash can she sees. Someone from production offers her a mint and several of the other girls gently pat her shoulder or ask if she’s okay. She thanks them all and nods with tight smiles.

 

The strength she felt before is gone in its entirety, and even though she’s been eliminated on this stage twice , she doesn’t think she’s ever felt weaker standing here than she does in this moment. She knows she didn’t do great in her Snatch Game, but she had hoped her runway might save her. It doesn't of course, and the judges' critique that it was too much makes her wonder if they knew about the extra flowers she had hacked up backstage.

 

Now she stands in wait, tears pooling in her eyes again , as she awaits what she thinks is going to be her third elimination from this show from the one person in the entire world who knows her biggest secret.

 

But it doesn’t come.

 

Shangela didn’t pick her lipstick, and Trixie is speechless.

 

There are a thousand thoughts running through her mind as they walk back to the werkroom, and it’s all Trixie can do to meet Shangela’s eyes after they’ve read and erased Chi Chi’s mirror message. She isn’t sure what she’s expecting, but it’s definitely not a hug. Shangela has already done so much for Trixie today, it seems more and more unreal with every gesture.

 

The other girls congregate across the room, and Trixie watches the cameras follow as Shangela stands next to her, asking her in hushed tones how she’s feeling, and Trixie knows she isn’t talking about what went down onstage. She shrugs, not used to anyone checking on her about this . She doesn’t know where to start. But then again—  

 

“Look,” she starts and her voice comes out nervous, as she eyes the cameramen's focus on Dela after yet another win, “you’re the only person who knows about this,” Trixie says, watching as Shangela only nods in response. Trixie doesn’t think she was clear enough. “Not just out of everyone here,” Trixie clarifies. “I mean everyone ever.

 

And there it is. Shangela’s eyes widen. “You’ve never told anyone?”

 

Trixie shrugs, half laughing and half scoffing as she says, “How could I?”

 

“True,” Shangela nods, seeming to get it without Trixie having to explain too much. She wonders for the first time if maybe Shangela has experience with this as well, but she doesn’t ask. “How long?”

 

“Since my season.”

 

This surprises Shangela. “And you’ve never told anyone? Not even Katya?” Just hearing her name makes a new wave of petals start to bloom in Trixie’s lungs, and she tries to fight it off with as little effort as possible. 

 

She shakes her head. “No one knows,” Trixie says, swallowing hard in an attempt to drown the petals out, but she can still feel them in her throat.

 

There’s a beat of silence before Shangela asks, “Do you know who?” And Trixie feels relieved that she’s asking, genuine curiosity in her eyes. She doesn’t suspect that it’s Katya. Trixie swallows again and looks away, not sure how she should answer. “It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me. I just know…” Shangela hesitates. “I just know that it gets worse when you know.”

 

That gets Trixie’s attention. She looks up, eyes wide. She can’t help but ask this time, “Do you…”

 

Shangela shakes her head, catching the question before Trixie has to finish it. “One of my friends from home. It nearly killed him. He had to confess everything just to breathe normal again, and not cough up petals all day long.”

 

“What happened?” 

 

“He still coughed them up, but it was less and less every day when he started getting closure. With everything on the table, and no chance of reciprocation, he was able to be okay. Both physically and emotionally. It took a lot of time.” Shangela pauses, worrying her lip between her teeth. “I know not everyone is so lucky.”

 

Trixie nods. She can only imagine. There aren’t many accounts of people moving past hanahaki disease, just suffering through it. The people in the forums who seem to have it the worst usually stop posting one day, leaving everyone to wonder what happened to them. Fatalities from hanahaki disease are unspoken, but undeniably real. Without reaching true closure or experiencing the miracle of those feelings being reciprocated, death is the only way out.

 

“I know who it is,” Trixie admits softly, the tickle of the petals in her throat making her voice crack. She coughs once, and catches the three bright red petals that come out. Shangela looks down at them before giving Trixie a sympathetic smile that says she probably knows who it is after all. 

 

“I’m here for you, girl,” she says, giving Trixie a soft squeeze on the arm. “Come on, let’s go before the others yell at us.”

 

Trixie keeps her fist tight around the petals, her discontent clear on her face, though the rest of the girls assume it has to do with the pressure of almost going home and everything she admitted on the runway. Only Dela asks her if she’s feeling better, referencing how she got sick backstage, and Trixie does all she can to reassure the rest of the group, jumping back into making jokes.

 

It works well enough, and they’re de-dragging only moments later and getting ready to head back to the hotel for the night. Trixie holds tight to the petals until she’s back in her room where she flushes them down the toilet.

 

.

.

.

 

The rest of the competition goes by without a hitch.

 

Well, there are some hitches, but nothing like that day. Trixie’s flower petals still mostly come up in the morning after her dreams, or sometimes at night when she gets back to the hotel. The stress of the competition has affected her body in countless ways, one of which must be the ways and times the flowers push at her lungs and release their petals.

 

She’s gotten some practice, hearing Katya’s name and not being phased by it. She can smile and keep the itch at her throat at bay just enough to make it through a conversation. When she has a chance she tries to clear out her lungs as much as she can before it happens again. A lot of people ask about Katya or about their work together, not as much in here as in the real world, but here is where she learns to manage it.

 

She makes it to the final two, and even though they won’t know who wins for a while, Trixie feels a weight off her shoulders as it all feels done . The competition is over, even though the results aren’t in, and everyone gets to go home. Trixie can’t wait.

 

The first person she sees when she gets back is Katya, because of course it is.

 

He dances into her apartment and pulls her into a tight hug, and Trixie’s chest is in full bloom. She buries her face against Katya’s neck and returns the hug, chalking up her near inability to breathe on how tightly she’s being held. She thinks maybe she’ll be able to hold it together until Katya leaves, but when she pulls away and feels a petal on her tongue, she turns away. “Be right back,” she says over her shoulder as she casually walks to the bathroom, switching on both the fan and the water before coughing into the wastebasket.

 

The heaves are violent but don’t last long, and after the last one, Trixie struggles to catch her breath, leaning back against the tub as she does. This is probably the worst it’s ever been, but that makes sense, right? It’s the first time she’s seen Katya in weeks, and it would only make sense that her body would react to their reunion like this. But even so, she isn’t prepared for the amount of petals scattered both in the trash can and on the floor. It’s the most she’s ever let out in one go, and more than she knows how to dispose of with company over.

 

She attempts to stuff as much of them in the trash as possible, but there isn’t enough room, and she’s considering putting a bunch in a bowl of potpourri and acting like they belong there when Brian knocks on the door. “Are you okay?” 

 

Trixie hesitates before calling back, “Yeah, just… Yeah, I’m fine. I’ll be right out.” She drops the last handful into the potpourri. What does it matter? Even if Brian comes in here, why would he look at those petals and be like hey, Trixie, did you happen to cough those up a few minutes ago? It’s unlikely, and Trixie feels too spent from ridding the flowers from her body to bother ridding them from the bathroom in secret.

 

She flushes a handful down the toilet, ties the bag in the trash to hide the rest from view, and washes her hands. When she opens the door, Brian is still out there, waiting for her. His normally bright eyes are full of concern, and he doesn’t hesitate to reach for Trixie, bringing one of his hands to feel her forehead. “Are you sure you’re okay? It sounded like you were sick.”

 

Trixie wants to stay in his grasp, but she doesn’t think she should, so she pulls away. She wants him to make some kind of stupid joke about wow I didn’t think I was that disgusting , but he doesn’t. Instead he just looks more worried by her behavior. “I said I’m fine,” she says, more harshly than she means to, and he looks hurt. She sighs. “I’m sorry. I’m just tired.”

 

“Hey, it’s fine,” Brian says as they walk back to Trixie’s living room. “I know how it is.”

 

The air between them feels wrong, but Trixie can’t place why. She gets the feeling that she isn’t the only one keeping secrets, and she considers asking Katya what’s going on with him, but she wouldn’t feel right—expecting him to share all his secrets when Trixie is adamant about him not knowing hers. 

 

Instead they cook dinner and watch a movie, and when Brian uses the bathroom, he doesn’t mention the flower petals in the bowl of potpourri.

 

.

.

.

 

After that, it isn’t too bad. In fact, it’s almost normal. It isn’t like life without hanahaki, but it resembles the way it was in the beginning.

 

Trixie sees Katya frequently, but doesn’t release too many petals throughout the day. Like when she was filming drag race, most of the petals come up in the morning, and any that she feels scratching at her throat throughout the day, she has the chances she needs to disappear to get rid of them.

 

It becomes almost a routine—the petals, filming with Katya, her other projects.

 

Getting the petals under control feels like a huge step, and Trixie feels confident that she’s found a sort of manageable consistency about it that will allow her the chance to take on something she’s always wanted to: filming her own documentary. 

 

She doesn’t have reason to believe that her hanahaki disease will be any worse before she can finish filming it. Besides, she kept it hidden well enough on Drag Race, and since this will be a production she has some control over, it should be a piece of cake.

 

But then her world tilts on its axis.

 

Filming has been running smoothly up until this point—so well in fact, that she doesn’t see any of this coming. Sure, she’s been worried about Katya lately, an emotion that has caused the petals to grow in number, but it hasn’t left the realm of manageable —not yet. But when it rains, it pours, and when Katya quits their show, the flower petals feel like a downpour pooling in Trixie’s lungs.

 

She can’t breathe. 

 

Trixie wants to stay strong until she isn’t at the studio anymore, and she goes for as long as she can, but eventually she feels the petals at the base of her tongue and just breathing through her nose isn’t good enough anymore. She fights back a gag as the petals brush the back of her throat and finds a private place to release them before they suffocate her.

 

It’s blinding and painful, and there are so many petals, she almost passes out. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to talk for a short period of time, and she starts trying to think of excuses to explain her voice loss logically. Fortunately, filming is done for the day and she’s free to go home.

 

But ultimately, Katya is gone.

 

Navigating this world—filming with Bob instead of Brian, having Fena to talk to rather than Katya—it’s harsh, heavy, and honestly, a blur. Drinking to forget? certainly. Sleeping more than the average person? of course. Lying in bed like there’s no higher purpose until the camera crew shows up for the times you planned? obviously.

 

The problem is, Trixie had accounted for everything. Or at least, she thought she had. As a determined and hard worker, she knew the kind of breaks they would need, the amount of time off, but what she couldn’t have known was that her best friend would disappear.

 

Katya hadn’t been doing great , but she’d been doing okay .

 

She hadn’t mentioned that she had been using again, and it was always with a confident smile that she had looked at Trixie and assured her that everything was okay. She wasn’t tempted, she wasn’t using, she was fine .

 

Until nothing was fine. 

 

Trixie knew. Somehow, she could tell. Not just because she coughed up more petals than normal, but because Brian’s eyes were more distant. He was scattered and wild, and it unnerved Trixie. She made efforts to help in ways that she knew couldn’t backfire and avoided doing things that might set him off. Through it all, he assured her it was fine, but when she joked about drugs, Brian’s laugh was so distant that she wished she’d never said it at all, and not long after, when she risked a joke about hanahaki, it felt like she had already lost him. 

 

And eventually, it all spilled over and ended so fast that it was like the flower petals in Trixie’s lungs had to fight three times as hard to grow. It’s felt impossible to breathe ever since. 

 

Every episode premiere night for All Stars 3 feels futile, sometimes she even shows up out of drag. As for her tour, she planned it before Katya had even left, and with every new place, she feels like she would never find it in her to take another breath. She trips up a few times, and even though the fans don’t seem to care, she does. 

 

Trixie knows Brian is getting help, but it isn’t enough. Things aren’t okay. Not with him, not with them , and certainly not with her. She needs help, too. She can no longer ignore the fact that her hanahaki won’t disappear just because Brian is no longer in her life.

 

When she hears from him again, it’s in texts that are mean and harsh and so hard to read that Trixie doesn't have time to tell Fena to go before she starts vomiting petals. It’s no longer a matter of coughing a few dozen up, but throwing them up, losing them in a pool of heartbreak and bile.

 

She remembered Shangela with the trash bag and the paper towels—the behind the scenes crew at drag race, and she almost longs for that now. Even though Shangela knew the truth, it was a front. With Fena, there are no walls to hide behind, no excuses to make. Blood spotted petals speak for themselves. and in sweatpants, there is even less possibility that this could be talked off as a wardrobe malfunction, even if it it was a matter of color scheme.

 

“It’s Katya isn’t it,” Fena says, not even missing a beat.

 

Trixie nods. She isn’t much of a crier, but she doesn’t fight the sob she releases right then. It’s better than another bushel of flowers after all, and it’s not like she isn’t already entirely exposed. She can’t fight it anymore, and as determined as she is, it’s exhausting going through this year after year without anyone knowing its extent. Having someone know everything , the what , the why , the who , it feels like a weight off Trixie’s shoulders, even if Fena has always been more Brian’s friend than hers.

 

It's something she forgets until—

 

“He has them too… The petals.”

 

“What?” Trixie blurts, looking up so fast that she feels dizzy. Fena looks guilty but pained, and it strikes Trixie that she has been so distracted with her hanahaki and her own situation that she hasn't stopped to consider what he’s been going through. Or anyone for that matter. Katya having hanahaki had never registered with Trixie—not even as a possibility.

 

“I never imagined that you’d both have it. I thought it was just him.”

 

Trixie is speechless but manages to sputter out a cohesive “ Who ??” It’s louder than she expected it to be, and it rings back in her ears—a question she knew to ask but fears the answer of. Hanahaki only happens when unrequited love is involved. Trixie already knows her own case is unrequited, especially now that Brian’s gone , but the silence that rings after she asks the question is deafening in the worst of ways—so loud, so obtrusive, she almost wants to leave.

 

But she stays.

 

The camera is gone, and Trixie wonders when. 

 

Fena leans against the makeup counter. He shrugs. “I always thought it was you.”

 

Trixie’s breath catches in her throat.

 

“I shouldn’t be telling you this.”

 

“It’s not like anything can be done about it now,” Trixie shrugs. “He’s gone. You’ve read what he’s texted me. It’s obviously not me he has feelings for. And even if it was…” Trixie adds after a beat. She shakes her head. “We both have it. His can’t be for me, if mine are for him.”

 

Fena looks shocked for a moment as he takes this information in. “Are you sure it’s him?”

 

The laugh that escapes Trixie is wet and bitter. She always thought it would be sexy to feel like a truly scorned woman, but this feels miserable. She just wants to wipe all the makeup she’s put on right back off and crawl into bed. It feels uncharacteristic and depressing. She doesn’t need to answer Fena’s question, he knows as well as she does.

 

“Who else could it be?” she says anyway.

 

The air feels thick, and the two of them sit in silence until Trixie’s ready to go.

 

She doesn’t think about it that night. She doesn’t

 

If she happened to cough up about a hundred red petals that night, she claims it’s a coincidence. And anyway, the petals look like they’re dying. At this point, the blood is a brighter color than the flowers themselves. The logic of it feels like an alarm blaring inside her, but the part ready to dismiss what’s really happening is insistent that it doesn’t mean anything, and honestly, she’s more than on board to agree.

 

She can’t imagine this breaking her.

 

She doesn’t want it to.

 

No matter where she is on tour, no matter where Brian is on his recovery, she can’t let this be it for them. Maybe she imagined their career building together, but that isn’t an option now. Trixie has to move forward, and she hopes that one day, Katya can catch back up. And at the very least, she hopes she and Brian can be friends again.

 

Despite it all, it’s impossible not to feel that same prickle of petals in her throat, that same burn in her heart, that same longing that no matter what happens, Katya will be okay and happy. Trixie doesn’t give any thought to hanahaki outside her own case—she figures it’s best to let whoever Brian’s petals are for speak for themselves, and as far as their careers and lives go—how could she not want the best for him? Even after all that happened, Trixie is unwilling to consider that she’s actually upset with Katya for all that had occurred, and anyway, she doesn’t even think that’s the case.

 

Wrapping the Trixie and Katya Show without Brian feels extreme, but it doesn’t register to Trixie on the side of negativity, the kind of thing that could hurt. Because it doesn’t hurt, necessarily, it just feels wrong.

 

A few people have asked about her feelings on the matter—bigger than the casual w here’s Katya been? Mostly from people who care about her and Brian both, asking more complex questions like are you still friends? when’s the last time you talked? how do you feel about it all?  

 

Often, Trixie relies on the same basic questions from all the random people who ask. All she needs are the same rehearsed answers. But when it becomes more personal, she hesitates, torn between wanting to end the conversation and just be honest. It usually starts with a shrug. “Katya means the world to me. I can’t imagine not being here waiting with open arms when she comes back.”

 

She doesn’t remember who asked, but they followed that up with, “Do you think she’ll do drag again?”

 

Without a second thought, Trixie said, “I don’t care. I just want us to be okay again.”

 

She hadn’t realized how much it would impact her. She hadn’t gone into All Stars filming thinking that when it aired—when she found out she fucking won —Katya wouldn’t be there for it. 

 

She had imagined her there at all the viewing parties, winning or losing or eliminated. She had imagined that when she toured, Katya might come with her, or maybe make a surprise visit that Trixie hasn’t been expecting. She would have never guessed that Katya wouldn’t have been present for any of it.

 

It didn’t matter how many flower petals she coughed up, it didn’t matter how gray her skin looked, it didn’t matter how skinny she was now or how much her appetite had waned, she was still holding on to Katya, and she didn’t think she could let go if she tried. 

 

Remembering all the forum posts about closure when it came to hanahaki, Trixie had to wonder if those people were making it all up. It wasn’t a question of if hanahaki would go away once closure was achieved, but a question of whether or not it would go away at all. How could you let someone you love go like that? Even if unrequited, even if that person was no longer a part of your life, how could you let them go? Trixie hadn’t, and she didn’t plan to. It was Katya .

 

Some fans told her she looked ill, her fellow competitors in All Stars 3 told her they were worried, and Bob and Kim assured her that those types of questions and concerns were legitimate. She didn’t look good, and looking back at old pictures, looking back at the All Stars 3 footage, she knew everyone was right. it wasn’t drastic , but it was enough. 

 

The hanahaki was taking its toll on her, and she knew that had to be the reason because since the first time she coughed up those petals, they’d turned ugly. They were no longer silky, but wrinkled—sometimes threatening to crumble. They were a dulling grayish red rather than bright. They were dry other than from whatever came up with them.

 

She coughed them up more than ever, and more than once, Trixie had been afraid she would choke on them. They hurt coming up and tasted bitter and metallic on her tongue, and for a long stretch of time, she wondered what would happen if the person causing them were to die. What if something had happened to Katya? What if that was the cause of such a drastic shift in petals?

 

But the breach in their time and space together was undeniable, and it couldn’t be denied that that would be the effect, even without research to prove it.

 

When Brian texted her near the end of the tour, she was so overwhelmed that she coughed up another handful of flower petals. They weren’t bright red, but they were brighter than they’d been in a while.

 

Breathing came just a little bit easier after that.

 

.

.

.

 

The day she and Brian are supposed to meet up, Trixie is a nervous wreck. It's the first time they’ve seen each other since he walked out on their show, and so much has changed since then. Brian’s recovery, Trixie’s win, hanahaki

 

According to Fena, Trixie isn’t the only one who has it. She isn’t sure she wants to ask Brian about it, but she knows she’ll have to if she doesn’t want to choke on the flowers blooming in her lungs, thriving and insistent and determined. It’s now to the point where she coughs up hundreds a day. Even from just last night and this morning, there’s enough to fill up the trash can in her kitchen, and she doesn’t even notice how visible they are until she hears the doorbell ring.

 

Part of her thinks she should make a dash to shut the lid or tie the bag or just to pull it completely, but Trixie isn’t entirely sure she won’t be coughing up flowers by the bucketful the second she opens the door.

 

Regardless, she’s expecting the topic to come up one way or another, even if she’d rather it didn’t.

 

So she takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and opens the door.

 

There’s a beat of silence, and then—

 

“Hi,” she hears. Brian sounds choked up, and when she finally opens her eyes, she’s surprised to see that he isn’t crying. He clears his throat a few times, and she imagines a flurry of pink petals scratching at his throat.

 

Seventeen seconds. 

 

That’s how long they stand together by the front door before Trixie opens her mouth to respond and Brian dives in for a hug at the same time. She stops speaking before she even starts and melts against his chest. He still smells the same. He feels the same. He looks a little worse for wear, but given everything he’s been through over the past few months, Trixie expected as much. It’s not like he ever weighed more than a beanpole after all .

 

She’s surprised when he says, “You feel skinny.” His eyes are wide when he pulls back, “Skinn ier , skinn iER !!”

 

Trixie screeches, and just like that, things feel almost normal again. “Shut up!!” Brian laughs in response, shaking his fists, and the sight makes Trixie so indescribably happy that she feels the petals bloom up in her throat too suddenly, and she immediately starts to cough. She turns away, feigning just a cough —the kind that might be contagious and she doesn’t want to risk getting Brian sick—even though there are petals actively spilling from her mouth into her hands, and before she knows what to do, she feels Brian’s hand on her shoulder, soft and hesitant. 

 

The itch is still in her throat, and she doesn’t need to cough up any more at the moment, but the damage is done. She curls her fists, trying to close all the petals soundlessly within them, already strategizing how to drop them in the trashcan while simultaneously closing the lid and hiding the past twenty-four hours worth of evidence.

 

What she doesn’t expect is for Brian to take her hands. He’s in the middle of asking if she’s okay when he realizes something’s off . He frowns as his fingers graze over her tightened fists, white knuckled and firm, and Trixie tries to act casual when she turns away. She’s not quick enough to make a joke of it, nor is she quick enough to move. She hadn’t been smooth or efficient enough to contain all the petals, and as she turns back, she’s forced to watch in a blend of horror, humiliation, and relief, as one of the brighter red petals slips free and falls to the floor beneath them. They both stare at it, saying nothing.

 

“Brian—” Trixie finally starts after a long pause, but she doesn’t know what to say or how to say it, and she doesn’t stop him when he reaches out to uncurl her fists. More petals fall, but a lot of them stay in her palms, out in the open for Brian to stare at and analyze. He reaches out as if to touch them, but he hesitates. His blue gray eyes flicker up to meet hers, and she doesn’t know what to make of his expression. “I never knew how to tell you,” she says in explanation.

 

His face remains unchanged. He opens his mouth and closes it once before asking, “How long?”

 

It’s the way he asks how long rather than asking who . It’s the way he came over wearing a red t-shirt. It’s the way he holds her gaze, his eyes soft and so welcoming that Trixie expects to cough up another few handfuls of petals. But she doesn’t even feel them coming.

 

“When I came back to the competition on our season,” she tells him. His expression remains soft and unflinching, and even though Trixie answered the question, she knows it isn’t specific enough. “You waved at me across the werkroom the next morning like you were happy to see me. That’s when I coughed up the first petal. Right after that.”

 

“I was happy to see you,” Brian tells her as his hands come up to rest on her shoulders. They rest there for a beat before his fingers start to trail down her arms. They glide gently over her wrists and to her hands. She twitches at the intimacy of the gesture, and all the petals fall to the floor. Brain intertwines their fingers and pulls her closer. “I am always happy to see you.”

 

It isn’t platonic, but it isn’t quite more

 

Trixie is stunned, but she doesn’t have it in her to pull away, not that she wants to. “I missed you,” she says out loud, just as the thought crosses her mind. With her own hanahaki out in the open, she wants to bring it up, but she doesn't know how and she doesn’t want to incriminate Fena and she doesn’t want to upset Brian after only just getting him back, so she just leaves it at that. I missed you .

 

Brain doesn’t smile, but somehow Trixie knows that he’s happy she said it anyway. “I’m sorry…” he starts to say, but Trixie shakes her head. 

 

“I’m just happy you’re here. We don’t have to talk about everything right now.” Her eyes fall to the petals scattered between them. She wants to clean them up, but more than anything she wants to ignore them. Brian’s gaze follows hers, and without a word, he walks to get the dustpan to clean them up, and Trixie’s heart stutters at both the gesture and the fact that he remembered exactly where it’s kept. When he sweeps them up and goes to drop them in the trash can, Trixie forgets that the bin is already near spilling over.

 

Brian freezes in front of it for a long moment, just staring, before setting the dustpan next to the bin and running his fingers over the petals on top. Trixie looks away, not noticing that he’s holding on to a couple as he guides her to the couch and they sit down together. 

 

She watches as he strokes them silently for a long moment before muttering, “They’re bright.”

 

Trixie can’t help the way she snorts and says, “You should have seen them a couple of weeks ago.” She doesn’t know how to even get through this conversation without dragging herself. If she still coughed up petals today, her love is still unrequited. Regardless, if Fena was right about Brian also having hanahaki, it’s clear who his feelings aren’t for. But the way he’s looking at her now is both gentle and serious and patient, and she doesn’t know what to think.

 

“Was there blood?” Brian asks suddenly. He sounds concerned, but not alarmed. It’s almost like he’s seen someone cough up bloody petals before. Maybe even himself. She meets his eyes before nodding once. He nods back in understanding. He looks like he wants to say something, but he hesitates, clearly unsure. Trixie doesn't take her eyes off him—not just because she’s expecting him to speak but because she doesn’t think she wants to ever look away again if she can help it. Looking at him now, her lungs feel so clear it’s like hanahaki never existed.

 

“I wanted to tell you, but I didn’t want to lose you,” she says with a derisive snort. “I can’t help but think if I’d been more honest with you, about everything, then—”

 

Brian’s hand comes to rest on her knee almost urgently. “Nothing that happened was your fault, Trixie. I need you to know that.” She nods. He opens his mouth again like he wants to speak, but ultimately closes it again. Her eyes don’t leave his, even though he’s looking away. She startles when he looks back at her, his eyes wild and desperate and beautiful. “My first petal was bright yellow,” he says. 

 

Trixie blinks. Yellow ? She doesn’t know what it could mean—or for who. She doesn’t say anything, just waits for Brian to continue. “It came up the first day in the werkroom, but I ignored it. I didn’t love anyone, or at least, I didn’t know I did. And of course, by the time I had a suspicion for who it could be, he was already gone.” Trixie’s mind races, recalling everyone from their season, the outfits they all wore both on and offstage. Yellow, yellow, yellow

 

Brian’s eyes don’t meet hers as he continues. “Next time I saw him, I wasn’t sure he was the reason. I still thought he couldn’t be, because of the color of the petals. I thought if it were him , the petals would be pink . I was so sure of it, that I let myself let go. I wasn’t going to dwell on it or think about it.” Brain glances up at Trixie for a moment before looking away. “But then, after filming, we started talking more. And before I knew it, all I could think of when I spoke to him was the brightness of the sun. Yellow. Even though I knew who was causing it, I didn’t let myself think about it. I couldn’t destroy us like that, especially not with so much on the line. Our friendship. Our career.” His eyes meet Trixie’s again, like she should know exactly what he’s saying by now, but she still feels lost.

 

Who could be yellow ? How did I miss everything, all the signs ? What does our friendship and our career have to do with this?

 

“I got really good at ignoring it. But when you left to film All Stars, everything got so much worse. I couldn’t breathe. I felt lost. People from my past, people I had broken contact with when I got sober reached out, wanting to help. At first I didn’t want them to, but eventually I did, and after that everything is fuzzy and painful and awful. On drugs I didn’t cough up any petals. I thought that was peace. I thought I’d found some form of closure that I could never have otherwise.” He hesitates. “But when I left, the petals came back with a vengeance, despite the drugs, despite it all. I thought it was because you hated me. I wouldn’t have put it past you…”

 

Brian is still talking, going on about recovery and yellow petals but Trixie is still hung up on all of his you ’s, like she is the reason for his petals. She blinks again, closing her mouth as she realizes it’s ajar. 

 

“The yellow was so grayed it was like the full life was out of them. I thought it was out of me . The petals were all but dead, and I felt pretty dead so it only made sense. There wasn’t ever blood though. You really coughed up blood? When?”

 

Trixie shrugs. “It was more than once.” She wants that to be enough, but there are Brian’s eyes urging tell me , and she knows she has to say more. She swallows. “You texted me after the first episode aired. Remember?” Brian’s expression clouds. “It was then. In front of Fena and everything. That happened for a while after. With the blood.”

 

“I thought you hated me,” Brain repeats, soft almost like he’s talking to no one. “I gave up,” he says, clearer this time.

 

Trixie is still lost, so when she asks, “On what?” She’s genuinely asking. He’d given up on drag, she knew that. He’d given up most of what his life had been for a while up until that point. Had he given up on life too?

 

She isn’t expecting him to laugh, but he does, and she loves the sound so much that her heart skips and she laughs in a way that’s more of a breath than anything else. “On us,” Brain says, looking at her with eyes so full of concrete answers she doesn’t see, meaning she can’t make anything of. Not yet. “On us ,” he says again. “On us, Brian.”

 

And Trixie is too stunned to keep wondering—to even ask at all. She’s still staring speechless and in awe at Brian when he reaches into his pocket for two yellow petals and places them in one of her hands. “I lost most of them on the ride over. These two came up just before I knocked.” Trixie stares at them. Her mind is spinning. She doesn’t even have to ask before Brian says, “It’s you . You’re yellow. You’re sunshine. You’re the brightest light I’ve ever known. I can’t bear the thought of us never speaking again, but I understand if you don’t want that.”

 

Trixie shakes her head, half in answer, but half in shock. “I don’t…” Brian’s expression is anxious, waiting, as Trixie trails off. “I don’t understand,” she says. They’re both still coughing up petals. Sure, she doesn’t feel hers blooming anymore. Her chest feels full of something , but it isn’t petals, it isn’t flowers. And Brian just admitted to the ones he lost seconds before coming in. Trixie doesn’t know everything about hanahaki, but from what she does know, she feels certain that by us it can’t mean what she wants it to mean.

 

But then Brian’s fingers trail up her arm and around her neck, and then they are kissing. It happens so slow and yet so fast that Trixie feels like she’s falling behind, or maybe just falling . She doesn’t have to think about it when she kisses him back. 

 

A noise sounds from between them and she isn’t sure which of them it came from but she doesn’t care. She’s soaring. Maybe her mouth is occupied, maybe her nose is a little squished, but she feels as though she can breathe better than she’s been able to since the day the petals started.

 

Brian’s lips are soft against hers, hesitant but insistent, tender but turbulent, gentle but desperate. Trixie is helpless, melting into him until they have to part for air. Trixie keeps her eyes closed, afraid that all this is somehow too good to be true. 

 

Yellow, she reminds herself. I’m yellow. 

 

Instead of opening her eyes, Trixie relishes in the way Brian’s breaths feel against her cheek, the way his cool fingers brush against the back of her neck. She’s gripping onto his shirt with one hand, the petals he handed her still in the other. She gasps softly as she finally opens her eyes to look down at them, crushed but still intact. 

 

“I forgot I was holding them,” she says, apologetic. She feels terrible until Brian opens the palm of his other hand right next to Trixie’s. He’d been holding tight to her petals just as she’d been holding tight to his. 

 

It’s unspoken that these are the last few petals they’ll both ever release.

 

Trixie’s doubts had disappeared, having been nothing more than a matter of disbelief that this could be real. But even still, they have so much to talk about, so much to get through and move past and address, hanahaki being near the bottom of the list.

 

But she doesn’t want to tackle it all tonight, and not even in that order, so instead, she leans forward to kiss Brian once more before pulling back with a patient smile. “We’ll just take it one stap at a time, okay? We’ll talk about things when we’re both ready to. I’m just glad you’re here and that you’re okay. I’m glad we’re okay.”

 

“Me too,” Brian says. He smiles back, but it’s pained. Trixie wishes it wasn’t, and she knows it’s going to be a matter of time, but they’ll get there.

 

For now, she and Brian take a deep breath together, hands clasped as their final petals rest on the coffee table in front of them. For the first time in years, Trixie’s lungs feel full, her heart feels content, and no matter what lies ahead, she’s ready for all of it, with Brian at her side.