He could hear a sing-song voice faintly far ahead of him, a voice he recognized all too well.

"Loves me, loves me not~."

Agh! It hurt! Every time that sing-song voice sounded, growing ever louder as they got closer, it felt as though he'd been sliced across the chest with a razor. He kept his teeth clenched tightly to avoid crying out and alerting the determined child in front of him as his fist clenched in the clothing across his chest. Was Mary…? She was. She was plucking the petals from his rose. He could feel each of them fall to the ground, could feel the weakness and the pain that accompanied each rip of the blue pieces. It was agonizing, and this time Ib could not save him.

"Loves me, loves me not~."

How sadistic. Mary must have known what was happening to him. she must have realized the pain she was infliction . She was doing this for fun. To hurt him. His head was spinning, and he was stumbling in his following steps. He couldn't remember what was going on, exactly. Something about a…about a rose? About protecting something, finding something. Where was he? What was he doing, again? He couldn't think right…

"Loves me…"

He collapsed, gasping and shouting.

"Loves me not…"

The girl in front him – Ib, yes, yes, that was right, he was with Ib in a bizarre, frightening world and he was supposed to be protecting her – turned to face him, eyes wide with desperate, half-mad fear. She ran back to meet him where he'd fallen, kneeling next to his body, grabbing at his shirt, mouth opening and closing to silently convey unvoiced fears. She was just a little kid, after all. She couldn't handle this any better than he did, despite her normally stoic, silent nature. She'd been being strong, but she could only be pushed so far. He would push her no farther.

He tried to force a smile.

"Go on, Ib. I'm fine."

"Loves me…"

"I…I don't want to lie to you…"

"Loves me not…"

"But I don't want to tell you the truth either."

Her desperate eyes turned confused.

"If you need help, I'll come running. Go on," he assured her quietly, one thin, shaking hand coming up to cup her face. He was lying. He knew he was lying. But the truth would undo her as it had undone him long ago in that sickening room full of dolls… She was just a child, a beautiful child who didn't deserve this. So the least he could do was lie to her, convince her that he was fine. She would have to fight Mary all alone...

"Loves me…"

He had failed her.

"Loves me not…"

Ib stood uncertainly, staring at him as tears leaked from her eyes and down her face, and then took off running towards the girl who was killing him. He wanted to believe that Ib could save him. That she could get there before all of his rose's petals were gone, grab the rose, win the fight and bring it back in time to save him. But he knew…he could feel that she wouldn't. He could feel that it was already too late for him.

"Loves me..."

He fought to survive, really he did. But he was only human.

"Loves me not..."

And finally the pain was too much, and he gave up.

"Loves me…"

Everything was black.

"Loves me not."