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To Imagine A Spring Without You

Winter

Luke pulled his coat around him a little tighter.

The frigid cold sent a chill down his spine as breathed out cold air, stretching his long limbs as he rubbed his hands together.

“I can’t believe I forgot my scarf and my gloves. Now Brian’s gonna kill me for coming in so late. This day couldn’t get any worse-“

Luke’s voice abruptly cut off as the blond collided against someone while walking. A small figure wearing a hat came into both boys’ line of sight, instantly making Luke grin.

“Well if it isn't the world’s smallest employee. You’re so short I couldn’t see you even with your tacky hat, Eileen.”

The blond expected a flurry of insults to be thrown back at him after insulting both Eileen’s height, hat and job, only to receive nothing in response.

Eileen stopped for a brief moment and turned her head in Luke’s direction.

Emerald eyes slightly widened as they took in Eileen’s physical appearance. The girl's shimmering brown hair had lost its sheen and hung limply around her face. Eileen’s blue eyes that normally held the same amount of strength as a fierce ocean storm stared back at him, all trace of her vibrant personality absent.

After exchanging brief eye contact, Eileen walked away without a word as Luke blinked in confusion, wondering what that was when his phone went off as he dug the small device out of his pockets, pressing the button.

“Hello?” He asked into the phone when a loud shout from the other side made him pull the phone away from his ear as Luke let out a sigh before hanging up without another word and put on a cheerful smile

“Let’s hope I don’t die.”

***

Luke ran into the garage before Brian could give him even more of a scolding, the manager pointing out his 8th time of being late to work as the brunette inside looked up to see Luke slam the door close behind him.

“What did you do this time?” Adam, his coworker, asked as Luke grinned, shrugging as he sat on the stool.

“Why do you always assume I did something?” Luke asked as Adam sighed, rolling his eyes.

He didn’t even get to reply when Luke abruptly stood up, hopping back to his feet.

“Hey, I need to go check on something. Surely you’ll be able to clean this place yourself, right?,” Luke explained when his coworker gave him a perplexed look.

“Hey that’s not-”

The blond male ignored the brunette and waved at him, already at the back door.

“Better hurry or Brian’s going to get angry again if he finds this place messy.” Luke said, making Adam stiffened at the mention of their crazy manager and hurried to get the work done.

Luke grinned successfully before closing the door with a click, and made his way.

***

The sound of knocking against his door broke Eileen’s plans for a quiet afternoon. She groaned and pulled a blanket over her head, hoping the person trying to bother her would take the hint and leave her alone. It was wishful thinking, and yet she tried anyway.

Eileen soon heard the door open as the annoying disturbance let himself into the apartment.

“I gave you that key for emergencies, Luke,” She muffled into the blanket, not bothering to uncover her face. “Get out.”

Luke’s cheerful voice rang throughout the emptiness. “That’s no way to greet someone who’s come to visit you!”

“I never asked you to come annoy me.”

She could hear Luke’s footsteps drawing closer to him. Not having the energy to deal with the blond's antics, Eileen continued to ignore the other’s presence.

“Eileen!” Luke whined in a childish voice over and over again till Eileen finally uncovered herself, unable to ignore her irritation any longer.

“What do you want?” She spat out as she glared at the other.

Luke smiled at her, still keeping a cheerful mask over his face.

“When was the last time you slept?”

Eileen’s eyes widened at the sudden question before she turned her head away.

“That’s none of your business.”

“Eileen.” Luke’s hands grabbed onto the girl’s wrist, making her look at him into his green eyes.

Sapphire ones glared straight back at him in defiance, but Eileen didn’t draw away.

“What,” She questioned, her voice lacking its usual biting tone.

Luke sighed. “Why don’t you tell me the truth.”

Eileen huffed, “Just one day,” She muttered under her breath.

“Liar.” Luke said.

Eileen pushed Luke away from her with both hands.

“Okay fine. It’s been several days.”

The dark tint in Luke’s eyes faded at the honest answer, and he fully drew away.

“Eileen, you really need to sleep more.”

The girl let out a deep sigh. “You don’t need to tell me that-“

“In fact, you’re sleeping right now”

“Wait, what-”

Eileen didn’t get to finish her question as Luke threw the short girl over his shoulder, ignoring Eileen’s protests and insults.

“You’re getting sleep, before I call Ben-” Luke started as Eileen stiffened when he mentioned her overprotective brother’s name.

“Fine then! Shut up and get out.”

The blond hummed a happy good night and silently left the room.

***

Luke’s encounter with Eileen was soon forgotten as the blond boy found more and more clients asked to get their cars fixed.

Eileen was pretty much the same, taking as many hours of work as she could, which probably led to her overexertion.

The intensity of Eileens’ work ethic reminded Luke of Brians’, and a smile stretched out on his lips as he leaned back on his chair. The two would most likely get long given the amount of suffering Luke put both of them through. Luke hummed to himself as he continued leaning back lost in his own thoughts till Adam entered the room.

“Luke, we’re all closed now.”

The blond sighed and stood up. He was going to go to McDonald’s, just to check up on Eileen. Not that she’d be very happy about it.

***

The blond was walking over to the fast food chain, wondering just how to tease Eileen when he spotted a familiar brunette, just not the one he was looking for.

“Hey, Ben. Didn’t think you’d be here.” Luke said as Ben made no attempt to speak to him.

The strange behaviour concerned Luke. Normally Ben would be the one to make jokes, he was never the silent one. Throws insults at Luke quite a lot too, especially since his younger sister was dating the blond. Or kinda was… It was complicated. They had been dating in the past but Luke had left to go to London for 2 years, 5 years ago without telling Eileen. He wasn’t even sure what they were anymore…

Luke’s eyes slightly widened. Speaking of insults…

“Where’s Eileen,” Luke questioned. “Is she still working?”

Facing away, Ben muttered his response in a voice so low Luke strained to hear it.

“Eileen is in the hospital.”

***

Eileen groggily blinked eyes and struggled to open them fully. The IV drip placed into her arm as well as the beeping of the heart monitor alerted her that she was currently in the hospital, but no matter how hard she tried to remember, she couldn’t recall why she had been admitted. The only thing that came to mind was an overwhelming fatigue that seemed to seep into her bones and the throbbing of her head.

The girl slightly groaned as she attempted to sit up, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort and laid back down. Layla entered the room, concern on her face, and Eileen suddenly bolted upright on her bed, ignoring the screaming protest of her muscles.

“Layla.”

Eileen’s manager motioned for her to relax.

“How are you feeling?”

She sunk back into the bed. “Exhausted.”

Layla gave her an understanding smile.

“You haven’t been sleeping much have you.”

Pale blue eyes darted to Layla’s face. “How did you know…”

Her manager approached the side of her bed and handed her several papers.

“This came out today." She explained with a solemn face.

Eileen gave the papers a quick look over before sighing and setting them aside. Layla gently pulled her into her arms, bringing the smell of spring and flowers with her. At first Eileen protested. She wasn’t a child anymore, but after seeing the pain in Layla’s amber eyes, she realised the embrace was not only to comfort her but also to comfort herself.

Layla was Ben’s childhood friend, and had taken care of Eileen for years. Now she was Ben’s wife, which made her Eileen’s sister-in-law.

Giving into her warmth, Eileen buried her face into Layla’s shoulder like she had so often done as a child and wished that the soothing hand running through her hair would lull her to sleep like it had done so many years ago.

***

The news of Eileen’s hospitalisation came as a sudden surprise to Luke since despite her past extreme work ethic, the girl never had landed herself in the hospital before. Not even when she was working as an assistant at the huge company, which had unfortunately gotten bankrupt, which was why she was working at the busy fast food chain.

Luke found himself standing in front of Eileen’s apartment as he debated turning around. He wasn’t even sure Eileen had been released yet, but his curiosity and underlying concern caused his hand to knock on the door. The blond waited a couple moments, and in the silence, he concluded Eileen hadn’t been released yet and turned to leave when the door opened, revealing a very disorganised Eileen.

The girl ran a hand through her unkempt hair.

“Who is it-“

Eileen’s face instantly turned hostile upon meeting Luke’s eyes.

“Eileen-“

The door slammed shut in his face.

“Eileen! That’s so mean!” Luke whined from outside and continued to pester the other while counting down the seconds it would take for Eileen to reopen the door.

Luke’s countdown reached zero and right on cue, Eileen reappeared.

“What do you want, Luke?” She mumbled under her breath, the normal bite absent from her voice.

The boy easily slipped past the short girl and entered the apartment much to Eileen’s irritation. Once inside, Luke reanalyzed Eileen’s physical state and discovered she had gotten worse over the course of several days.

The brunette ignored Luke and sat back down in front of the TV. The lack of response to her sudden intrusion slightly concerned Luke. Normally the fiery tempered girl would have thrown a book at his face while attempting to kick him out the door, but Eileen remained motionless on the coach almost as if she couldn’t be bothered to deal with the annoying intrusion invading her home.

Luke searched around the room, looking for anything out of the ordinary, when his eyes fell upon several papers lying on the dinner table.

“Eileen, what’s this?”

“Why don’t you just read it yourself,” Eileen retorted. “Or have you hit your head too many times on cars, so many brain cells have been destroyed that you’ve lost the ability to read.”

A faint smile tugged at the corners of Luke’s lips as the familiarity of their routine returned for a brief moment. However, scanning the pieces of paper in his hand quickly, the smile fell from his face as his eyes grew larger and larger with every word he read.

“Eileen this…”

“It’s exactly what you think it is, Luke.”

The papers from the hospital wrinkled in his hand as Luke reread the diagnosis.

Eileen Spade.

Diagnosis: FFI- fatal familial insomnia.

Spring

“Fatal familial insomnia (FFI) is a rare genetic degenerative brain disorder.” Luke’s eyes trailed down the bright screen of his laptop. “FFI has no known cure and it is characterised by an inability to sleep (insomnia) that may be initially mild, but progressively worsens, leading to significant physical and mental deterioration which leads to hallucinations, delirium, confusional states like that of dementia, and eventually, death. Average survival time for patients after onset of symptoms is 18 months.”

Luke reread the same sentence over and over again. “FFI has no known cure.”

Numbness crept into his system as he blankly stared at the sentence. No cure. Eileen’s condition had no cure. Realisation dawned upon him as he slid down his seat. Eileen was going to die, and he couldn’t do anything about it.

Luke slammed his laptop shut. He refused to accept this. Even if there was no cure now, he could hope that one would eventually be found. Clinging onto the small glimmer of hope, the blond prepared to leave for work. There was no way he was going to merely accept this.

***

Another employee walked into the kitchen only to find Eileen agitatedly pacing around.

“Eileen?”

Eileen whipped her head towards the intruding voice.

“What.”

The irritation in the brunette’s voice caused the younger employee to slightly step back. Sapphire eyes flickered towards his face.

Eileen sighed. “It’s just you Keiran.” She straightened out. “What is it?”

“Number 67’s drink still hasn’t been made. They’ve been arguing and you were assigned-”

Eileen’s frustrated voice cut him off.

“That’s what I forgot.”

The girl pinched the bridge of her nose and shut her eyes tightly.

“I'll make it right now.”

Keiran paused, watching the brunette rush to make the forgotten drink.

“Eileen, is something wrong? You’ve been forgetting many things recently.” Black eyes asked, filled with worry.

“It’s nothing,” She responded.

Kierran stared at her a second longer than he normally would before moving back to the counter

Eileen sighed once she was alone. The heaviness of her bones felt as the weight of the world was upon her shoulders, and she swayed slightly as she fumbled to grab everything and put it in the bag. The brunette brought a hand to her eyes and wondered if Layla would give her the rest of the day off. Eileen sighed. It was worth a shot.

***

Her days were relatively quiet, and Eileen found the silence welcoming in her exhausted state but also somewhat lonely. Her insomnia had progressively gotten worse as she found herself restlessly turning in bed only to blankly stare at the ceiling till the sun rose.

Eileen sat down on the couch and stared at the quiet city outside her window. The city slept as it should, leaving Eileen alone in the darkness. She debated moving to do something semi-productive when a sudden knock on the door drew her attention.

She stared at the clock, barely able to make out the time with only the moon as her sole source of light, but nevertheless, somehow managed.

3:24 AM.

The girl groaned. Only one person would be insane enough to bother her at such an ungodly hour. The knocking persistently grew louder as Eileen reluctantly dragged herself to the front of the door.

“Who is it,” She asked in a bored tone, despite already knowing who was on the other side.

“Eileen! Glad to know you’re still up.” Luke’s muffled voice came from outside.

“What do you want at this time of day?”

“I want you to let me in!” The blond responded in a cheerful voice.

The brunette turned away from the door.

“Go back to your own apartment.”

“But this used to be my apartment too.”

“Then you should be able to let yourself in.” Eileen retorted as she walked away from the door.

Luke sighed as he rummaged through his pockets, searching for the key. Within several seconds, Luke entered the apartment bringing several suitcases with him.

Sapphire eyes fell upon the luggage around Luke’s feet.

“What’s this?”

The smile on the blond’s face grew even brighter.

“Guess what. My apartment needs to be renovated after it caught on fire so I’m moving in with you!”

The glass of water between Eileen’s fingers almost slipped out of her hand.

“You’re what?!”

Luke tilted his head.

“Did you not hear me the first time? Seriously you have to pay attention when people are talking. It’s a surprise you actually got a job like this.” Luke shook his head. “I said I’m moving in with you.”

“Who said you could come back here,” Eileen asked in a deadly tone.

“Eh, well I’ve already asked Ben and he’s fine with it. Actually, he said it was a relief, weird of him, isn’t it?” Luke commented as Eileen continued to glare at him before sighing.

“Fine. Do whatever you want.”

“I always do.”

The boy brought his suitcases into the living room.

Eileen only continued to ignore him and shuffled into the bedroom. Feeling the lack of sleep himself, Luke followed him only to have a pillow thrown against his face with more force than a normal human should be able to muster especially when sleep deprived.

“Nope, you’re sleeping on the couch or something.”

The blond peeled the pillow from his face and gingerly touched his nose.

“I see your brute strength hasn’t been affected in any way. You could have broken my nose.”

Eileen scoffed. “It’s a pity it didn’t.”

The girl wrapped herself in the blankets when she felt the mattress shift beside her as Luke crawled under the covers next to her. Her multitudes of insults proved to be in vain as they fell upon deaf ears.

“El!” Luke whined as Eileen snatched all the blankets away. “The couch is so uncomfortable, and you’re so warm.”

Eileen sighed, too tired to argue.

“Fine,” She grumbled, getting up and throwing him a blanket.

Luke hummed in satisfaction and quickly fell asleep, leaving Eileen with only her thoughts for company.

***

The two fell back into the familiar routine they had established many years ago.

The familiarity of the routine both relaxed and terrified Eileen. She wondered how long Luke would stay this time before suddenly vanishing again without a word. Pushing the thought from her mind, Eileen decided to focus on the time she had with the blond right now regardless of how short it may end up being.

Despite her attempts, doubt continued to linger in the back of her mind.

Eileen exhaled and stepped into Layla’s office ready to face another day.

***

Eileen entered the apartment after a long day. She rolled back her shoulders in attempts to relieve herself of her exhaustion as well as the tolls of the days. Luke had already arrived before her and was seated on the coach.

The blond motioned for Eileen to come over with his hand. Eileen approached the other perplexed by the sudden request.

“What do you want?”

Luke patted his lap.

“Sit down.”

“Why would I do such a thing?”

Smooth yet rough hands continued to motion her closer. “Just do it, El.”

Grumbling, at the nickname Eileen sat down with her back towards the car engineer.

“Now what-“

Her words were cut short as she felt a brush gently combing through her hair.

Luke softly hummed. “This always helps you relax doesn’t it, Eileen?”

The blond began to undo the tangles from the silky, brown hair.

“Just relax and close your eyes. You look terrible. What would Ben and Layla say if they saw you right now.”

“Mind your own business.” Eileen retorted but nonetheless leaned into the soothing and comforting sensation.

Luke often brushed her hair back when they were still dating those years back.

“Hey Luke…”

“What is it?”

Eileen slightly paused.

“Why-”

Another pause broke Eileen’s sentence as she debated asking Luke why he had left without telling her.

“Eileen?”

The brunette sighed as she gave her need to know the reason.

“Why did you leave?”

Luke stilled a little, pausing in brushing her hair before carrying on.

“Remember when you were working for that really fancy company?” Luke asked as Eileen hummed a reply.

“Well… do you remember how I was working just like you now? Part-time jobs here and there?” Luke continued as Eileen nodded.

“I wanted to get a job… I wanted to be the one who could buy you food and tickets on dates. So I wanted to get myself a job. I left for London because my friend was a car dealer. I interned there.” Luke explained as Eileen was silent.

“Why’d you leave without telling me?” Eileen asked as Luke paused.

“Because I didn’t want to leave you. I didn’t want to see you cry if you knew I would leave.” Luke said as a scowl formed on the girl's face.

“I wouldn’t have cried.” Eileen said as Luke chuckled.

“Sure, sure.” He said as it was silent again before the brunette spoke up.

“Are you happy?” Eileen asked quietly as Luke blinked, taken back by the sudden question.

“Yes.” Luke said.

“Then why are you wasting your time here?' Won’t you regret spending your days with a dying person.”

The presence of Luke’s hands in her hair left her as the arms wrapped themselves around her waist. Luke nuzzled the top of Eileen’s head gently.

A quiet response was whispered into her hair.

“I’ll never regret spending my days with you, Eileen.”

Summer

Spring’s warm days gave into the coming summer’s heat as it brought the sunny season with it. However, today was one of the days where rain fell from the grey skies. Eileen watched the rain splatter onto the windows as the droplets drenched the city beneath them. Her increasing forgetfulness and exhaustion prevented her from attending work, and even if she wanted to. Layla had given her an extended leave until she was physically capable of performing the responsibilities she held as a worker. She had been reluctant to leave given how busy things were, but with Ben’s urging, Eileen had eventually given in. Now, she spent most of her days watching the rain fall while listening to its pattering against the windows. She wished the rain would wash away her fatigue and lull her to sleep.

The gloomy overcast prevented most of the sunlight from breaking into the living room, but a few rays managed to hit Eileen’s sky blue eyes. Shifting around, Eileen closed her eyes in attempts to block the intrusion from her face.

It was one of those rare days where Luke didn’t have any tasks at work, not that the blond would have gone even if he had to.

The brunette dragged her fatigued body into the bedroom where Luke slept. Seeing his peaceful face struck a chord of envy in Eileen as she wasn’t able to sleep herself to escape reality any longer. She sighed and carefully slipped under the covers beside Luke to avoid waking him up and brushed away the blond bangs covering his face.

There was no question that Luke was indeed attractive. His fluffy blond hair that looked soft to the touch along with his twinkling eyes and catching smile. Despite their many years together, Eileen had never really gotten a good look at Luke’s face when he was asleep. Curiosity compelled her to draw a little closer.

The blond’s long lashes nearly touched his cheeks while his chest fell rhythmically with his breathing.

Luke stirred in his sleep and rolled over onto his back. Pushing the blond’s wavy bangs out of his face once more, Eileen softly laughed at Luke’s childlike face when her eyes drifted towards the window. Pale blue eyes slowly widened.

“Luke!”

Eileen shook the sleeping figure.

“Luke, wake up.”

“Hmm?”

Luke groggily rubbed his eyes as he sat up. Yawning, he turned towards the other.

“What’s wrong, Eileen?”

Eileen pointed towards the window.

“Look. It’s snowing.”

The blond blinked in confusion. “What? It’s the middle of summer.”

Given Eileen’s persistent claims of snow, Luke looked in the direction Eileen was pointing.

Grey skies with a cloudy overcast greeted him as rain fell from the heavens as he was expecting. Not a single flake of snow in sight. He ran a hand through his hair, still confused as to why Eileen would wake him up when snow during the summer was unheard of. The girl should know it was impossible for the frozen water to fall given summer’s heat.

He looked outside the window then back to Eileen. A mix of confusion and wonder lit up her sapphire eyes as Luke’s heart slightly sank. In her sleep deprived state, the pouring rain mixed with the cloudy sky gave off the illusion of white snow scattering from the heavens to coat the waiting city in a blanket of white. The pounding of the droplets against the window should have alerted Eileen that it was indeed rain not snow, but after seeing the girl’s face, Luke couldn’t bring himself to tell Eileen the truth. A list of the symptoms Eileen would experience given her growing insomnia echoed in the back of Luke’s mind when a voice pulled him out of his thoughts.

“Luke, let’s go out. We haven’t been out in the snow in so long.”

The request brought panic into Luke’s mind.

“But you’ll end up with a fever because of your terrible immune system.”

A pillow was chucked at his face taking his breath away.

“Shut up. That was one time when we were, like, nine.”

“But Eileen still looks the same as she did when she was nine.”

“SHUT-“

Laughter filled the room as Eileen slowly forgot about wishing to see the snow as Luke continued to tease her. Relief flooded into him. He didn’t want to see pain flickering in Eileen’s already worn out eyes.

***

Ever since that one gloomy summer day, Eileen mentioned seeing snow almost every evening, always stating it was the oddest thing she’d ever experienced during the summer. Luke could only nod in agreement, unable to bring himself to tell Eileen the truth.

‘As long as it’s not hurting her, I don’t see why not.’ Luke thought as he watched Eileen sit in front of the window. Eileen spent most of her days sitting on the couch clearly exhausted but unable to give into her body’s desire to sleep. The brunette always greeted him from the living room when Luke returned, even during early hours of the morning.

Luke walked into the apartment expecting to find Eileen sitting on the couch like always.

“Eileen, I’m back-“

However as soon as he walked in, he noticed the lights were all dark in the room as he panicked a little, his chest tightening as.

“Eileen?” Luke called out, concern lacing his tone when he fastened his steps to her room.

He walked in and almost sighed in relief when he saw her standing in the doorway between her room and the bathroom, however paused as he saw a nasty red burn on her hand.

“Eileen, what happened?” Luke asked, rushing forward as he gingerly took her hand.

“I tried curling my hair.” She said as Luke looked past her shoulder to see the curler in the bathroom as he let out a sigh.

“You should’ve waited, I could’ve done that for you.” He said as Eileen sent him one of her glares.

“I’m not a baby so you don’t have to act like it.” Eileen said as Luke just hummed a reply before leading her outside and grabbed the first aid kit, treating the wound carefully.

He had finished as he pulled his hand back, however a shy finger wrapped itself around Luke’s own without a word. A smile tugged at the blond’s lips as Luke fully held Eileen’s hand.

“Let’s go to bed. It’s getting late.”

Eileen lay in bed beside the softly breathing blond. Luke had fallen asleep rather quickly instead of reading for hours before he would eventually fall asleep. Eileen glanced at her phone, squinting at the brightness that hit her face.

4:36 am.

Eileen returned her phone to the bedside table and shuffled closer towards the sleeping figure.

A fluttery kiss landed on Luke’s forehead, and Eileen whispered in a quiet voice.

“Happy birthday, Luke.”

***

The wispy smoke trailed after her even as Eileen blinked in confusion at the foreign surroundings.

“Luke?” She called into the darkness, receiving no reply.

“Luke?” Eileen called a second time, hoping for an answer but instead, her foot caught on something on the ground, causing her to stumble a step forward and fall to the ground.

However, the ground was softer than what she had expected.

Her hand beneath her body trailed what she had fallen on as she turned her head.

Eileen let out a small scream as she stared at the face that resembled Luke’s.

Suddenly, she could see the entire body as Eileen stared in horror at Luke’s mangled body. Deep red blood leaked out of the deep gashes as lifeless eyes stared off into nothing.

“L-Luke. No, no, no.” She whispered as she raised a shaking hand to his neck, checking for a pulse, any sign of life, a breath.

There was nothing as Eileen let out a choked sob when she looked around.

Somewhere in the distance she saw a figure as she watched as it slowly inched closer towards her.

As the figure neared, she soon realised that it wasn’t just a figure, but it was a reflection of herself.

However, in the reflection, her face was covered in blood.

Luke’s blood.

And she was grinning as Eileen screamed in horror, moving back as her reflection tilted her head, still smiling, still grinning-

A sudden jerk on her arm yanked Eileen back into reality.

“Eileen!”

Luke’s concerned voice brought the girl back to her senses. Mentally exhausted, Eileen gave Luke a quick glance before crumpling onto the floor.

“Eileen?!”

The blond fell to his knees as well and knelt beside the trembling figure. Worry filled his eyes.

“Did you have a hallucination?”

Eileen was barely able to nod. “Luke..you..you died….” Her sentences continued to come out in shaky breaths. “I think- I think… I killed you.“

Tender hands ran through Eileen’s hair causing her to slightly relax.

“I’m still here, Eileen. You didn’t kill me,” Luke reassured. A hand made its way into her own.

Closing her eyes, Eileen sank into Luke’s chest trying to shake the horrible image of blood and lifeless eyes from her mind.

Luke glanced down at the shaking form as he looked around the room. Chairs had been turned over with books scattered over the floor, and shards of glass glittered in the light.

Never had Eileen torn through the room in attempts to fight against the cruel hallucinations that had begun a few weeks ago. His grip on Eileen’s slightly shaking figure tightened as he pulled Eileen even closer.

This had been Eileen’s worst reaction to a hallucination yet.

Autumn

Summer’s golden hues slowly crept into the leaves as autumn made its presence known. As the months progressed, Eileen deteriorated faster and faster as she rapidly lost weight rendering her always fatigued and barely able to speak.

Luke wrapped his scarf around his neck a bit tighter, protecting it from the wind’s bite. He couldn’t afford to get sick, not with Eileen already so physically weak. The girl’s insomnia had progressively gotten worse to the point Eileen was unable to sleep at all. Luke bit down on his lip in frustration. He had gone to many hospitals for information about Eileen’s condition only to return with what he already knew.

They did indeed inform him that sedating her may help lengthen her time, but it would not prevent death. And patients with FFI tend to react poorly to sedates, and overmedicating may be at risk.

So they told him the only thing he was able to do for Eileen now was to keep her as comfortable as possible.

The blond felt his frustration rise up as he reflected on his own helplessness. Regardless of what life had thrown at him, he always managed to find solutions with ease. However, Luke found his hands tied behind his back, unable to do anything but watch as sleep deprivation slowly consumed Eileen both physically and mentally.

Luke opened the door to the apartment. “Eileen, I’m back!”

False cheer echoed through the room, and Luke cringed at the sound of his own voice.

Slowly blinking open her eyes, Eileen greeted him from the living room.

“..wel..come b..back, Luke.”

The blond walked over to Eileen’s side and sat down. Taking her cold hand into his own, Luke rested his head against Eileen’s, asking the same question he asked every day.

“How are you?”

Eileen shifted her head to meet Luke’s eyes. Exhaustion laced her normally sparkling sapphire eyes. The girl rested back against Luke’s shoulder before whispering out her response.

“Tired.”

Luke could only bring an arm around the other’s head, drawing her closer and silently comforting her the best that he could.

The two sat in silence as Luke was preoccupied with his thoughts and Eileen her own.

The first to break the quiet atmosphere surrounding them was Eileen.

“L-Luke?”

“Hm?” He hummed in response.

Soft hair tickled Luke’s cheek as Eileen turned to face him.

“I.. I w-want to se-e the sun..set.”

Luke’s eyes widened at the request.

“Do you think you’re up for it?”

Luke couldn’t help the concern laced in his voice even though he knew the other would notice. Eileen’s rapid weight loss accompanied by her inability to sleep had weakened her to such a degree Luke worried a strong gust of wind would knock the girl over like a delicate paper doll.

Eileen merely scoffed at Luke’s doubt. “Of cour-se I a-am. I w-wouldn’t ask… it if I wasn’t. Besides…” Eileen gave Luke a tired smile. “If it’s too much… you’ll c-carry me won’t you Lu…ke?”

The blond chuckled. “Sure.”

Luke unwrapped himself from Eileen’s side and proceeded to grab their coats. He had originally reached for Eileen’s signature black coat but remembered the biting wind and grabbed a thicker coat of his own.

He threw the clothes in Eileen’s direction, ignoring the complaints about them being too large on the tiny girl.

“My clothes are much thicker and warmer than yours, Eileen,” Luke retorted as he approached the girl with a scarf in hand. The blond wrapped the soft grey fabric around Eileen’s neck, once, twice, as sapphire eyes watched him without protest.

Confusion flickered across the brunette's face as she brought the scarf up to her nose.

“Luke this.. s-smells like you.”

“That’s because it is mine.”

The girl glared at him. “Why’d…you wrap m-me with yours..w-when I have m-my own.”

“Your scarf wouldn’t go well with the coat you’re wearing,” He responded without turning around. “Besides, mine’s warmer anyway.”

Luke proceeded to wrap Eileen’s scarf around his own neck and opened the door to the apartment.

“Better hurry, or we’ll miss it.”

***

The physical burden of walking in her weakened condition soon proved to be too much for the petite girl. Unable to ignore her strained breathing any longer, Luke bent down and motioned for Eileen to climb onto his back.

Blushing slightly, Eileen obliged, too exhausted to protest.

“You know… I-I was on..ly jok-king right.”

Luke laughed at the statement. “You might have been, but I wasn’t.”

The blond continued down the path leading to the beach as Eileen buried her face into Luke’s back, resting her face comfortably between his shoulder blades.

The slowly changing colours of the sky from blue to a light pink alerted Luke of the rapidly passing time. With each step he took, the burden in his heart only grew heavier and heavier in contrast to the weight on his back. Luke had once complained about how heavy the petite girl was despite her short stature, but now, he could hardly tell he was carrying someone at all.

The salty smell of the ocean greeted them as they drew closer to the beach. Seagulls cried as they flew off into the horizon while the sound of the busy city rang behind them.

Luke nudged Eileen gently. “We’re here.”

Too worn out to respond verbally, the girl only nodded in acknowledgement. Luke didn’t need to hear what Eileen wanted to say to understand what she meant.

The clouds glowed orange under the setting sun’s rays as the sky shifted from a soft pink to a golden red. The scene took Luke’s breath away as he came to understand why Eileen was so fond of watching the sun slip behind the horizon. He nudged the girl once more as the golden orb slowly began its descent.

Eileen meekly lifted her head from Luke’s shoulder and watched the sun bid farewell to the city, its dying rays catching in her cerulean eyes.

The two watched the final glows slip behind the horizon with only the sounds of seagulls, the city, and the crashing of the waves to keep them company.

Luke broke the silence as night fell upon them.

“Hey Eileen…”

“Mm?”

“If you could wish for one thing, what would it be?”

Upon asking the question, Luke had been expecting Eileen to think for a moment or two before answering, but instead Eileen responded almost immediately.

“D-do you re..mem..ber the will…ow t-tree we saw t-toget..her as chil-dren.”

“Yeah. The place where Ben and Layla took us, right?”

“Mm. I..I want to visit… there again.”

Luke let out a breathy laugh. “To think one of McDonald's most fearsome employee wants to go see a tree.”

Eileen gently rammed her chin into the taller one’s shoulder.

“Shut… up L-Luke. What w-would you… wish for.”

A silent tear trickled down Luke’s cheek as he turned his face out of Eileen’s line of sight, preventing her from catching it. Contemplating his answer a few moments longer, Luke hummed.

“I’d wish for-”

***

Stars blinked in the night sky as Luke carried Eileen back to the apartment. Without the sun’s warmth, the wind felt even colder than it had during the day.

After hearing Eileen sneeze, Luke stopped on the edge of the sidewalk. Slowly he let Eileen down and threw his coat he was wearing around the brunette’s shoulders before picking her back up.

“Layla will skewer me with an umbrella if you get sick from all this,” He explained as they continued towards the apartment.

Finding comfort in the blond’s warmth, Eileen kept her forehead against Luke’s back without stirring.

It wasn’t till Luke abruptly stopped, Eileen looked up.

“Look Eileen…” Luke shifted the weight on his back and stretched out one of his hands. “It’s snowing in November. How odd is that.”

The girl simply lowered her head back onto Luke’s shoulder blade, seemingly unimpressed by the unnaturally timed phenomenon.

“What ar…e you talk..ing about… it’s always snow..ing.”

Luke felt his breath catch in his throat as the statement caught him off guard.

“Oh you’re right. It’s always snowing.”

The two had almost reached the apartment when the stillness of the night broke once more as a soft voice whispered into Luke’s ear.

“Than..k you”

Luke clenched his jaw ever so slightly and didn’t respond.

It felt too much like goodbye.

Winter

The soft “thank you” spoken in the midst of the quiet autumn night was the last time Luke heard Eileen’s voice. As the days grew shorter and colder, Eileen’s voice became weaker and weaker till it finally disappeared altogether.

Luke spent most of his days in silence, performing his daily tasks without the other’s company. Eileen’s body eventually grew to reject food all together which only added to her rapid weight loss. The boy often ate alone in the living room while searching for news about Eileen’s illness in hopes that a cure had been discovered. Nothing new ever appeared. He knew it was futile to keep hoping, to keep longing for a miracle, and yet, Luke couldn’t bring himself to give up completely. Not when it came to Eileen.

Luke made his way towards the curled-up figure on the couch. Having lost her ability to walk in addition to her speech, Eileen’s sole method of communication lay within gentle touches and soft gazes leaving it up to Luke to interpret her thoughts. Luckily, all those years spent together proved not in vain as Luke managed to understand Eileen’s thoughts as clearly as if they were his own.

He picked up a beautifully embroidered quilt that had been tossed over to the side and wrapped the soft fabric around Eileen’s body.

“You know better than to not use the quilt Layla made for you,” Luke gently teased as Eileen’s tired eyes glared at him with as much bite she could put into them.

The quilt depicted two birds the same shade as Eileen’s eyes perched upon a branch while snow gently fell around them. The scene was a simple one, but with Layla’s elegant technique, the longer Luke stared at it, the more it seemed as if the birds were about to take flight any minute.

Eileen kept her eyes closed, ignoring Luke as the blond drew the quilt higher up onto Eileen’s form, covering her mouth in the process.

“Weren’t you cold anyway, Eileen?”

Luke was no stranger to the silence that greeted his question, and yet, he couldn’t help but feel a slight tug in the bottom of his heart. As much as he would never admit it, he missed the sound of Eileen’s voice, whether it was spouting insults nonstop or just simply calling his name.

The girl wearily opened her eyes and blinked her thanks before burying her face back into the soft covers. The dark bags under Eileen’s eyes, sunken in cheekbones, and pale face only served as painful reminders of the brunette’s exhaustion.

Luke gently pulled the quilt over himself as he settled beside Eileen. He received another look, but the softness in Eileen’s normally piercing eyes betrayed her inner thoughts. The blond smiled as he drew closer to the other, feeling the weight of the quilt covering them both.

The two sat in silence with only the snow gently falling outside as company.

Ever slowly, Eileen leaned her body against Luke’s shoulder, a gesture she often did during her sleepless nights long ago. In response, the blond reached over and gently held Eileen’s hand. He felt the brunette’s fingers twitch at the unexpected contact and couldn’t help but sadly smile at the action. Even if Eileen was unable to walk, she still reacted to Luke’s touch.

At this point, it was the little things that mattered the most.

Being in such close proximity to the exhausted girl, Luke could make out the gentle rise and fall of Eileen’s chest moving in time with each breath. He squeezed Eileen’s hand ever so slightly. Eileen was always the warmer of the two and the blond often used Eileen as a personal heater given the other’s short stature, which made it perfect to cuddle her under his chin when sleeping. But now, Eileen felt too cool to the touch, and Luke found himself pulling the girl even closer in an attempt to share his body heat.

When met with a questioning gaze, the boy took the opportunity to speak instead of explaining himself.

“Hey El, did you know, if you hold hands while sleeping, you’ll have the same dream?”

Verdant green eyes stared off at the falling snow before them almost as if the statement was for Luke to hear alone. The barely noticeable squeeze against his palm was the only response he needed to know Eileen had heard him as well as the thoughts he couldn’t bring himself to say.

As comfortable as he was, Luke knew Eileen preferred to not remain seated on the couch for extended periods of time, and the ticking of the time alerted him just how late into the night it was. The blond untangled his hand from the other and slipped out from beneath the quilt.

Without a word, Luke gently picked up Eileen’s fragile form along with the quilt and brought them into the bedroom. Normally, Eileen would put up a fight claiming she could move around just fine without help, but she didn’t protest and simply closed her eyes and sank into Luke’s arms.

After setting Eileen down and wrapping her up again, Luke repositioned himself in the same manner they were before relocating and slipped his hand back into Eileen’s.

Minutes passed as Luke slowly felt his own eyes grow heavy with sleep. He struggled against the urge to give in, desperate to keep Eileen company even if only for a minute longer, but as the minutes grew into hours, sleep claimed him as darkness fell onto his eyes.

***

Morning’s light hit Luke’s face, bringing him out of his sleep. Still not completely awake, Luke rubbed his eyes with his free hand when the weight in the other caught his attention. Dread filled him to the brim. Something felt unexplainably wrong.

Eileen’s hand rested limply against his own. Luke felt his heart drop to his stomach.

Unable to turn towards the brunette’s face, Luke spoke in a shaky voice.

“Hey, Eileen… I just had the most terrible dream…You slipped away while I was asleep so I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”

Emerald eyes quivered as Luke stared at the still form next to him.

“Eileen… This is all just a bad dream right..”

Luke pulled himself closer and brushed his lips against Eileen’s throat, searching for any signs of life.

Skin too cold to the touch and the absence of a pulse met him.

Devastation flooded into him as if someone had suddenly released the dam that had been holding his silent emotions. Pain seared into this soul, devouring his every thought, rendering him unable to speak.

A sob wretched its way out of his throat.

As if triggering a snowball effect, tears continued to flow down Luke’s face as his grief consumed him whole. Unable to break his deeply engraved mentality of preventing himself from expressing his pain verbally, he silently screamed deep inside as hot tears slipped past his face and onto Eileen’s closed eyes.

Luke clutched onto Eileen’s limp body, sobbing into the lifeless body’s shoulders and clung onto everything Eileen was before life so cruelly snatched her away. He stayed by Eileen’s side the whole morning and allowed his pain to wash over him relentlessly like ocean waves as grief continued to strangle his breath and thoughts, robbing him of his very sense of self.

He couldn’t bring himself to speak or even alert anyone of Eileen’s passing. No words could express the degree of his suffering.

***

The ringing of his phone drew Luke’s attention. He had been ignoring the device since Eileen’s passing away, wanting to be alone in his grief. He gave one glance at the screen with every intention of ignoring whoever was contacting him when the contact name caused him to draw closer. Surprise crept into dull green eyes at the name flashing on the phone screen. He picked up.

“Ben. It’s not like you to call me.”

The older male wasted no time getting straight to the point.

“Luke, where are you right now?”

“Inside.”

“Don’t go anywhere, I need to speak with you.”

He blinked with exhaustion. “Sorry Ben, but I don’t want to see anyone-“

Ben’s voice cut into his statement. “Luke… please… I need to know.”

Luke sighed, unable to ignore the painful plea in Ben’s voice.

“Fine, but I’m coming to you instead.”

He could almost picture Ben nodding.

“You remember where it is?”

A ghost of a smile flashed across Luke’s face.

“How could I forget?”

***

The streets were covered in snow when Luke finally stepped out of the apartment. He hadn’t bothered bringing out an umbrella which resulted in the white powder dusting his hair and lashes.

Joyful memories from his childhood flooded his mind as Luke approached the familiar path he had visited so often, he found himself automatically taking all the twists and turns leading to the building without a second thought. Luke found himself standing before the familiar building too soon.

Ben greeted him at the door and motioned him with a swoop of his arm. Layla was standing next to him too. The older male motioned for Luke to sit and wordlessly placed a cup of tea before him before sitting down himself.

Staring down at the teacup in his hands, Ben spoke in a soft voice. “How…how did she look, Luke.”

It took Luke a while to respond. “Pale. Sick. Dead. She looked dead, Ben.”

Pain-filled sapphire blue eyes looked up at his face, searching for some trace of emotion.

“How did you know…”

Parted lips and a peaceful face flashed across Luke’s mind.

“Her hand was too heavy against mine to be someone who was awake.”

“You didn’t show up to her funeral.”

“I didn’t know I had to.”

Despite the monotone voice, Ben didn’t fail to pick up on the bitterness hidden deep within Luke’s answer. Ben gave him a sorrowful look. Luke chose to ignore it.

“Is that all, Ben?”

Ben nodded and brought his eyes to Layla’s. “Yeah.”

A pause filled the room before Ben spoke again.

“Thank you.”

Luke felt his throat constrict as his own pain threatened to devour him again. He rose from his seat.

“I’ll be leaving then.”

Concerned blue eyes stared at him, almost as if they were trying to convey words Ben couldn’t bring herself to say.

He had already reached the door when Layla’s voice called out to him.

“Luke-“

The blond stopped.

“She cared deeply for you. Even after you left.”

Fingers tightened around the doorknob as Luke forced back the grief threatening to spill over.

Stepping out, he turned back towards Ben and Layla, and held the door slightly open.

“I wish I told her…” Exhausted emerald eyes met their faces. “I cared for her too.”

Spring

Birds chirped in the trees as Luke made his way down rows and rows of many trees. The leaves were swaying side to side, petals blooming, blowing in the wind and coasting the path in a colourful blanket of flowers. He stopped in front of one of many trees in the park.

Luke brushed his hand against a faded carving in the bark of the willow tree. When teasing Eileen about her height during their childhood, he had carved a “Petite El” into the tree, high enough that Eileen couldn’t reach to cross it out.

The memory brought a tired smile to his face. Eileen hadn’t thought to use the rocks nearby to reach the carving. Instead, she had been too preoccupied with arguing with Luke saying she would eventually grow as tall as him. Luke fondly traced over the characters with his finger. Eileen never did end up as tall as him. Luke wondered if she remembered the carving when she mentioned the willow tree the day they watched the sunset together.

The blond stretched out his legs as they had gone numb from crouching so long. He pulled out a small photo framed with a simple border from inside his coat pocket and gingerly set it against the base of the tree trunk. Then placing the scarf he had in his hand next to it, Luke got up, giving the photo and scarf a sad smile.

“Happy birthday, El.”

He stood in front of the tree for a while before giving the items one last glance and turned his eyes towards the willow tree. The spring breeze tousled his hair, and Luke rubbed his eyes before proceeding back towards the city.

Sleep didn’t come as easily as it used to.

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