"Uncle Kippy, what's wrong with uncle Renji?"
"Is he sleeping?"
Tachibana Kippei looked down at his five-year old identical-twin nephews, and his heart broke all over again. For how does one explain to children that a beloved uncle is no longer alive? That he would never again read them stories and watch videos with them and teach them data-style tennis? How do you say, so a child will understand, "he's dead?" It was something nobody ever wanted to have to do.
He kneeled down, coming eye-level with his nephews. "Yes, he's sleeping. But it's a special sleep; one he'll never wake up from."
"Why won't he wake up?" Large brown eyes blinked at him.
"Remember when uncle Renji was in the hospital?"
"When he had the bump on his brain?"
"That's right." Tachibana reached up to pet his nephew's soft hair. "Well that bump made it so he would sleep forever. He can't wake up now."
"Then how will he play wif us?"
"But..." Tears began to fill the children's eyes as they took all this in. It was so much for someone so young to have to understand. "But we wanna play wif uncle Renji!"
"I know," he said as he pulled his nephews to him, wrapping an arm around each and burying his face between them. They too each rested a head on his shoulders. "I do too."
"He...he still has to finish reading Sherlock Holmes to us."
"Uncle Renji tells it the bestest!"
All he could do was cling to the children and cry with them.
He was too young. Far too young to be gone. Too young to have his mind taken over by a tumor that he'd been able to fight off twice before. But there was no denying, the third time had been the last; Yanagi Renji had refused treatment that time, tired of it all. And after several painful weeks, he finally passed away, quietly in the night.
Tachibana had been there the entire time, holding his hand.
An stopped by the hospital often, bringing the children to visit and delivering food to her brother, who absolutely refused to leave his life-partner's bedside. And she always made sure the room was adorned with fresh flowers - white gardenias, at Yanagi's request. He liked gardenias, liked the way they smelled.
That fondness was carried over to his funeral as well. The whole room was adorned with the large blossoms; the casket was surrounded with them.
Everyone in attendance approached in turn to give their final respects. Most all had tears in their eyes and on their cheeks. Tachibana stood nearby, receiving people's sympathies and thanking them for coming as they bowed.
The twins approached hand-in-hand, each carrying a white gardenia, which they placed before the photograph of their "smartest uncle Renji." And then they ran to Tachibana, giving him the biggest hug their little arms could muster.
Their loss was the hardest of all to bear.
Time passed and slowly Tachibana adjusted to living alone. The apartment seemed so empty without Yanagi's presence, and yet...it was at least two months before he could stand having people over again.
The first night he had the twins over since Yanagi's passing was so hard. They missed their uncle Renji. And though Tachibana watched their videos with them and played their favorite games with them, he couldn't help them practice their data-collection. He continued where they'd left off in Sherlock Holmes, but he couldn't read to them the way Yanagi had; couldn't manipulate the words so that a five-year old mind could understand like that.
But he was glad they were there, and so were they. And they told him as much when he tucked them in for bed and kissed them goodnight.
"We want you to be happy, uncle Kippy."
"We want you to smile."
And for them, he did.
"Uncle Kippy?" a small voice whispered in the dark. "Are you 'wake, uncle Kippy?"
Tachibana's eyes slowly opened, and in the dim light he was able to make out the form of one of his nephews standing next to the bed. "Satoshi-kun? Is that you?" Despite them being identical, he was still able to tell the twins apart. He'd spent enough time with them to know the tiny differences in their mannerisms. "What time is it?"
He glanced at the bedside clock - it was 2am. "Are you alright?"
"I saw uncle Renji!"
"Did you have a dream?" he asked with a gentle smile.
"Mm-mm," the boy shook his head in the negative. "He came into our room and I woke up and he sat on the bed next to me and talked to me. He wanted me to tell you he loves you and misses you and said he'll be waiting for you."
The child must have been dreaming. Tears welled up in Tachibana's eyes as he reached out to stroke his nephew's small arm. But then his look turned to one of utter shock when the boy held something out to him.
"He told me to give you this."
It was a white gardenia.