Woojin tries very hard to convince himself that he is not alone in his struggle to understand phototropism and photoperiodism and other -isms he can hardly pronounce. Plant Biology is an incredibly difficult course, he swears. He could quite peacefully live in the delusion that everyone else is struggling just as hard as he is in that class. That is, if it weren’t for Hyeongseob’s incessant “How are you failing introductory Plant Biology?” and “Hyung, the class average is literally an A-.” Hyeongseob, bless his theater majoring ass, knows absolutely nothing.
So what if maybe Woojin pays a bit too much attention to the pretty boy who always naps peacefully to his left, and so what if maybe he doesn’t give his full undivided attention to his droning professor. Plant Biology 2A is actually very challenging, so no one can really blame him for being on the verge of failing it.
He tries to pay attention; he really does, but sometimes college is rough. College is especially rough because Woojin liked to think that the cute boy who dozes off every day in that 8am lecture felt the same way. That is, until one day they got their first quiz back and his own wandering eyes betrayed him. His line of sight just so happened to stray away from his glaring 6/20 to the sheet of paper on his left, with a bright 20/20 on the right margin, right next to a messily scrawl reading “Park Jihoon.”
Suddenly every conversation they ever shared, about the dullness of the lecturer’s monotone voice, about what each other got as the answer for the clicker question, about how bad they were going to fail the class, was compromised. Any empathetic connection forged through mutual failure shattered. Jihoon, with his humble, quiet nature, actually understood the material completely and was a god at Plant Biology. College really, really is tough.
That was two months ago, and despite Woojin’s shock and suddenly intensified sense of inferiority in failing Plant Biology, not much has changed. If anything, much to Woojin’s pleasant surprise, they have gotten (marginally) closer. They talk sometimes, if only to complain about which homework problems were particularly challenging (mainly for Woojin but Jihoon can sympathize). Somewhere along the way, complaining about their dull professor and discussing the clicker questions turned into small, but real conversations. Today though, Jihoon is still napping in their 8am lecture, and Woojin still finds his utterly relaxed facial expression much more fascinating than anything the professor could say.
After the lecturer dismisses class for the day, Woojin walks out of the room just to find Hyeongseob waiting with two coffees and an expectant smile. Hyeongseob asks, “How did you do on your quiz?” as he hands over one of the cups. Woojin is sure Hyeongseob knows, given his less than stellar track record, but Woojin figures he has always had more faith in him than anyone really should. Woojin humors him anyway.
“Thanks, I failed, but what did you really expect?” Hyeongseob pulls a face, but Woojin continues, with increasing vigor, “I don’t know why I can’t get it. I literally go to every discussion!” His frustrations at himself, the course, and Jihoon come to a head as he practically exclaims, with frantic hand motions, “Jihoon literally sleeps through everything and he gets perfect scores! Does he learn by osmosis?! I don’t even get that.” If a few heads turn in their direction due to the ruckus, Woojin doesn’t even care.
Hyeongseob rolls his eyes and suggests, “Why don’t you ask him to study with you then? Maybe your boyfriend can help you learn by osmosis, too.”
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
“Ok, not yet. So what?” Hyeongseob retorts, absolutely unfazed.
Woojin instantly feels regret at his outburst as he is forced to confront the idea of asking a (very cute) Plant Biology god to study together. Hyeongseob has no idea, as cute as Jihoon is, how his eyes get when he starts talking about the anatomy of plants, and photosynthesis, and topics Woojin’s pretty sure aren’t even covered in their course. Hyeongseob has no idea how his eyes, that already sparkle brighter than the stars in the sky, light up looking they could hold the entire universe. Sure, Jihoon’s cute, and Woojin can handle cute, but Jihoon is also enigmatic. And as much as Woojin would like to unravel that and get to know Jihoon more, he is only a boy, with a hopeless crush and a possibly failing grade in the one class that they share.
“Well…” Woojin begins, as he searches for a legitimate, not deeply revealing or embarrassing excuse to not ask his only friend in the class who happens to be both smart and cute to study together. He can’t find one. He pauses, only to continue as part of a long, dramatic sigh, “Well…”
“Do it!” Hyeongseob insists, increasingly impatient in tolerating his best friend’s stupidity.
Woojin grimaces at the imminent threat of embarrassment at his rejection because Jihoon would probably somehow do worse if he worked with Woojin. Like somehow Woojin’s stupidity would drag him down. If only just to placate Hyeongseob, he gives in with a noncommittal, “We’ll see.”
Two days later, Woojin hasn’t quite gotten it off his mind when he walks into lecture and finds his unassigned assigned seat next to Jihoon who is scrolling through his phone as he waits for class to begin. Upon noticing Woojin, Jihoon turns and greets, “Good morning,” locking his phone and putting it down.
Woojin’s heart clenches just a little at the attention, but he manages to return a “Morning” and even throw in a “How are you?” for good measure. He’s quite proud of himself.
Jihoon responds, “Tired as usual,” softly, as if he was sharing a secret just with Woojin. “But finals are coming up, so I think I should actually try to stay awake in class today,” he finishes with a sheepish smile. Woojin thinks he could probably ace his finals in his sleep.
Rather than telling him that though, Woojin simply adds, “Yeah it’s about time for me to start cramming so that I hopefully pass this class.” He scratches the back of his neck, somewhat out of embarrassment at admitting his incompetence to a boy as a cute and as smart as Jihoon.
However, Jihoon doesn’t let him dwell on it, offering, “We should study together.” If Woojin wasn’t sure if he liked Jihoon before, the pure giddiness and anticipation he feels right then removes all doubt. But, this is college, the land of quick conversations in class, well-meaning (Sincere, even!) but empty promises, and talking to friends for half a semester before even finding out their name. Woojin knows not to rely on this dream coming true, but he can’t quite quell his hope for it to.
Once planted, his seed of hope grows a life of his own. Reaching new heights and tangling in its own branches, that hope takes a hold of him, seeing that right now - in this drowsy, stuffy 8am lecture hall - is possibly the best chance he has to get to know the boy with a severe case of sleep deprivation, with the good grades, and with the eyes that hold the answers to the universe.
Woojin is many things, but he is not a coward, so he steels himself to nod at the pretty boy and reply, “We should!”
It takes just a moment for Jihoon’s eyes to light up with something (maybe anticipation too?) and it takes just another for Woojin to compose himself enough to formulate a concrete invitation to study together over the weekend, but in the next, an “Alright, so last time we left off at population growth formulas” from the front of the lecture hall actually takes control of both of their attentions.
Ah, fuck. The universe officially hates Woojin.
Except not entirely because at the end of the class both he and Jihoon managed to stay (for the most part) engaged in, the professor announces, “Since finals are coming up, I know a lot of you are worried about your grades. After some consideration, I have decided to offer an extra credit opportunity for those who feel the need for more points in the assignment category.” Woojin immediately perks up, ready for create a redemption arc for his own grade.
“For extra credit, you can visit the university’s botanical garden and write a detailed report on your observations of a particular species of flowers. You are allowed to do this in partners if you wish.” At this, Woojin steals a hopeful look at Jihoon, and if their eyes meet like old friends who always pair up whenever they need a partner for a class project, well, there’s that.
The professor finishes, “I hope that many of you take the opportunity to explore and discover something new this weekend!” but Woojin has long since drowned out her voice in favor of building up his courage once more.
He turns, with a soft “Hey” to grab Jihoon’s attention, and asks “Do you want to go to the botanical garden with me?” He pauses. That sounds a little too much like a date. “For the assignment,” he amends. He pauses again. “But it’s fine if you don’t want to! Since you probably have a high enough grade without the extra credit.” He laughs, nervously and a bit awkwardly.
Throughout Woojin’s struggle to remember how to speak, Jihoon listens attentively, with only a slight teasing mirth in his eyes. When Jihoon is sure that Woojin is done with his word vomit, he replies, “I’d love to. Saturday at 10 am?”
Woojin, surprised but not disappointed, is proud of himself for gaping only a little before successfully responds, “It’s a date.” Which it is, but not in every sense that Woojin would ideally want it to be. That sentence is definitely out there though, and Woojin could clarify that he didn’t mean it like that, but someone ate his Wheaties this morning, took some Felix Felicis for breakfast, or something because Woojin leaves those words, for all their subtle innuendos out there. Partly because he can’t find all of the words he needs in front of Jihoon and partly because he can’t help but wonder how Jihoon reacts to his heart on his sleeve in front of him.
Jihoon falters, and Woojin has to contain his gut-wrenching feeling that Jihoon sensed that other meaning, too. But then before Woojin has enough time to overthink his reaction, Jihoon agrees, “It is,” with a soft smile that highlights his full, naturally rosy cheeks. Perhaps the universe doesn’t hate Woojin so much after all.
Saturday takes her good sweet time to arrive, but when she does, she comes down swinging. Woojin wakes up promptly at 9:30 am, giving him just enough time to get physically ready to meet Jihoon in the unit courtyard on time. Unfortunately, thirty minutes is not enough time for him to mentally prepare himself for a day surrounded by vibrant, blooming beauty. And the flowers at the botanical garden, too.
Things actually do go smoothly though, and they’re even getting a good amount of data for their report. Jihoon helps Woojin out whenever he notices that Woojin is struggling with one of the questions they’re supposed to answer, and Woojin is a surprisingly quick learner. He finds that everything just makes more sense when it’s Jihoon.
They’re making their way back after a short lunch break when Woojin spots an unassuming little silver pail outside the botanical garden’s gift shop. Taped on the pail is a little note that says “Take me! :)” and inside the pail is a bunch of different flowers that Woojin recognizes, having explored the garden with Walking Flower Encyclopedia Park Jihoon. Thanks to his new best friend The Pail (sorry, Hyeongseob), Woojin has the most brilliant idea.
“I’m not wearing that.”
Woojin starts sweating. His brilliant idea to make Jihoon a flower crown out of a few of the pink hydrangeas and white carnations suddenly doesn’t seem so brilliant anymore. “Why not?” he asks, with an embarrassingly audible pout in his voice.
Jihoon’s face begins to turn the exact shade of the hydrangeas, and Woojin’s not sure whether to feel proud or guilty for having this effect on him. “Why not? I’d look ridiculous.”
“You’d look great. You always do.”
Jihoon buries his face in his hands which is an action too cute to the point that it almost renders Woojin unable to function. However, he keeps it together enough to gently place the flower crown on Jihoon’s head. And when Jihoon lifts his head from his hands, glaring adorably, Woojin realizes that no flower can ever measure up to the beauty of the boy in front of him.
They make eye contact for a sudden moment. Jihoon tilts his head ever so slightly, as if pondering something, while Woojin feels the breath leave his chest and get replaced with something that feels like a lot like affection. As if telepathic, they look away at the exact time and do a fantastic job of clearing their throats and pretending as if nothing happened, even though Jihoon’s still wearing the flower crown and Woojin still wonders if he’s ever had a single good thought in his life.
However, he doesn’t get to dwell on that for very long. Jihoon is in the middle of pointing out the similarities between two flowers and explaining how their genealogy is connected when disaster strikes. See, Park Woojin is a man of a great pride. What he lacks in his aptitude for Plant Biology, he more than well makes up for with dance prowess. He offsets every L he takes on a quiz (read: every quiz) with his winning personality. Not many things get to Woojin, besides Jihoon. However, there is one (1) thing: bees. The scum of the earth, if you ask Woojin. Sure, they produce honey and pollinate flowers or whatever, but they are deathly creatures, practically the spawn of the Devil himself. It is precisely this reason why Tough Guy Woojin has a sudden, unwanted life crisis.
Hovering right next to Jihoon’s face is a monstrous bumblebee, and Woojin swears he really can keep it together. Maybe today is the day he overcomes his fear. What better timing than standing right in front the boy he’s been crushing on for practically the entire semester and trying his best not make a fool out of himself, right?
But as the bee, probably sensing Woojin’s self-delusions, starts flying towards Woojin ready to attack, Woojin realizes that he forgot to factor in one important aspect of his life: the universe actually hates him.
Jihoon’s eloquent explanation that the mentzelia flower and the hydrangea are actually part of the same family is cut short by a sudden ear-piercing dolphin scream. Embarrassingly startled, bewildered, and in disbelief that that sound actually came out of Park Woojin, Jihoon turns around to get a sense of what is going on. What he is met with simply confuses himself further.
Park Woojin is screaming and running away from a bumblebee. Woojin, who is normally so gruff and stone-faced, is about to die because he’s scared of a bee.
As Jihoon stares on judgmentally at Woojin’s early life crisis via deathly terrifying bee, Woojin starts to square up with the bee. As one does. With fists raised (and most definitely not trembling), Woojin starts to simultaneously strategically avoid (note: not run away from) the bee and also throw in a couple punches here and there.
Once the novelty of the sight wears off, Jihoon starts to gain his common sense back and tries to force some back into Woojin, yelling, “Hey don’t fight the bee! Leave the poor thing alone; it didn’t do anything to you. It just wanted some pollen from the hydrangeas.” He finishes with a pout that given normal circumstances where Woojin’s bodily state was not in fight-or-flight Woojin would have internally cooed at. But this is not the time, and maybe Woojin should listen to Jihoon because hey someone here is obviously better at this whole botany thing, but Woojin is not a coward. He will not back down.
Perhaps it is a good thing that the bee does.
It’s not until it does that the full weight of Woojin’s actions settles down on him, and he is able to fully realize how gravely he has embarrassed himself in front of the cutest boy he has ever known. Time to dig his own grave, he guesses, until he finally brings himself to look Jihoon’s way and gauge his reaction.
He takes a moment of reconsideration, deciding to put off the digging as his eyes meet Jihoon’s sparkly, chocolate doe ones and on Jihoon’s face there is an inexplicable expression, almost one of fondness. But then again, maybe not. Maybe Woojin really should decide which tree in the botanical garden would make for the best coffin wood because when Jihoon’s eyes meet his, Jihoon bursts out laughing. The reason why is too self-explanatory.
Woojin crosses his arms and waits. Why? Because not only is Woojin not a coward, thank you very much, but he is also a man of patience. He can wait. He can most definitely wait for this little sadist to stop basking in his misery, and that is all because Woojin has the finest, most incredible temperament. It most definitely has nothing to do with the fact that he finds Jihoon’s laugh - too loud and hearty for his face and generally quiet demeanor - more beautiful than any flower in the entire goddamn world. It’s definitely not that Jihoon, just standing there in the sunlight filtering through the trees, trying so hard to catch his breath, is stealing Woojin’s.
After what seems to a century, Jihoon finally calms down. Or just enough to, still riding off the laughter high, blurt out, “Okay, one, I can’t believe you actually just did that. And, two, I can’t believe I saw you do that, literally scream like a baby dolphin because you were next to a bee that was next to a flower, and somehow I think I actually like you even more after that. Oh my god, what is wrong with me.”
Woojin had actually started his way over to Jihoon sometime immediately following “literally scream like a baby dolphin,” with the intention to clamp a hard over the other’s pretty mouth, because wow can Jihoon not forcibly make them recollect the recent turn of events. However, he doesn’t quite make it in time, for Jihoon finishes his piece, finally completely sobered up and Woojin can’t tell if the bright flush on the other’s cheeks is a result of laughing too hard at Woojin or a result of him actually confessing feelings for Woojin. Right after the most embarrassing stunt Woojin has ever pulled, even in memories of childhood he does not want to resurface.
The weight of Jihoon’s words sink in, and Woojin - who is surely bright red because of both his encounter with the bee and with the boy - cannot quite wrap his head around the concept of the cute shy genius of a boy from fucking Plant Biology actually liking him. Because, well, how?
Someone could probably cut through the tension in the air with a knife, which is exactly what Woojin does when he replies, “Well I just witnessed the boy of my dreams laugh right in my face, and guess what I’m still here liking you. So, there might just be something a lot wrong with both of us.”
Jihoon’s eyes sparkle. “Maybe. Maybe we can be wrong together.”
“I’d like that.” A pause. “Except well maybe not on the extra credit report.” A pause. “Although with you with me, I don’t think I really have anything to worry about.”
Two months later, things are pretty much the same. Jihoon still naps in lecture and aces the quizzes. Woojin still finds his silent, mysterious dreams far more intriguing than any discussion on nonvascular plants. However, when the professor asks a clicker question, “Are nonvascular plants gametophyte dominant or sporophyte dominant?” Woojin’s first thought is that he and Jihoon may have spent a wild Sunday night playing video games until four in the morning, and while he could ask the boy next to him to wake up for the clicker question, Woojin has a better idea. He digs through his boyfriend’s backpack for a brief moment before feeling the familiar cold plastic. He takes out Jihoon’s clicker and presses it as well as his own.
Not only is the answer correct, but they’re also right together.