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when it flowers

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every morning, jeongguk wakes up, makes his coffee, and waters his plants.

it is very important that he gets his morning routine exactly right. his alarm goes off at exactly 7:45am every day, and he will stay in bed until 7:50am, checking his phone for anything of importance. after that, he will roll out of bed, pull on his hoodie over his pyjamas and slide his glasses on. then he makes his way to the kitchen.

depending on the season, it will either be light or dark when he reaches the kitchen. he prefers it in the light — he is able to stand at the kitchen sink stirring his mug of coffee and look out over the sleepy city, all pale in the weak morning sun. the glass of the buildings will shimmer and glint in the light as slowly, slowly the city rubs its eyes, yawns, and prepares for a new day ahead.

in the dark, jeongguk feels considerably less at ease. it is cold in seoul in the winter, feeling like miles away from break of dawn. no matter how hot his coffee is, he will always shiver.

nevertheless, jeongguk will stand there until his coffee is drained from the mug, and then he will wash it in the sink and leave it on the draining board to dry.

and then —

then.

he will water his plants.

not all of them need watering all the time. he takes his moisture meter and sinks it deep into the soil of each and every plant, down to the roots; if the little arrow in the dial lands on the red or orange zone, jeongguk will water them. if not, jeongguk will simply leave them be.

he starts with the succulents and the pothos (neon and satin) on the windowsill, looking out over the city. succulents never really need much watering, so they tend to be left alone — the pothos he will water more often. he moves onto the collection of hoyas he has by the balcony windows, his hoya carnosa, hoya obavada, hoya curtsii, and then onto the kentia palm tucked into the corner beneath a south facing window. in his bedroom, jeongguk keeps his higher humidity plants — his begonia maculata wightii, hoya compacta and his tiny oxalis rubra — all regulated by a humidifier he keeps on his bedside table at around fifty percent.

jeongguk’s apartment is too small to keep many of the plants he wishes he has; there simply isn’t enough light. but the few he has, he loves.

they keep him company in this big strange city where everything is made of concrete or metal.

this morning, the sun is up when jeongguk reaches the kitchen sink. he drinks his coffee quietly, counts the number of clouds he can see in the sky, and then the amount of windows he can see from his own. the apartment sighs around him, a soft exhalation of something gentle. words unsaid. jeongguk finishes his coffee, sucks a lungful of breath in and holds it there until he has to exhale. in for seven, out for eleven, jeongguk-ah namjoon’s voice echoes in his mind.

he obeys inner namjoon. it helps.

 

‘good morning, marvin,’ jeongguk says to his hoya carnosa when he reaches it on his usual round, trailing his fingers over the leaves. they are thick and waxy and cool beneath jeongguk’s fingertips. ‘how are you today? feeling a bit dry? need some more water, you reckon?’

the dial is just nudging towards the orange section, so jeongguk waters marvin — not too much, just enough to bring the dial back down.

‘and what about you, ursula?’ jeongguk says to the hoya obavada. ‘and you, monty?’ — his hoya curtsii.

he greets all his plants in the usual fashion, working his way around slowly until, by the time he’s done, the sun is now high in the sky and seoul is well awake — blinking, breathing.

after that, jeongguk goes to work.

 

-

 

work at the nursery isn’t much money, but it’s something. something small and sweet and precious that lives at the very centre of his soul.

jeongguk loves the nursery.

his coworkers consist of 74 year old jieun who speaks softly and reads tarot cards in her spare time, and her grandson, sungmin, whom jeongguk doesn’t see an awful lot because he works all the hours that jeongguk doesn’t.

so, for the most part, jeongguk is left alone among the plants, sat behind his desk beneath an overhanging palm, soaking in the cool green light of the nursery.

there is every plant that jeongguk dreams of here. the combination of heat and light creates a perfect environment for hundreds of species of plant that jeongguk has the pleasure of knowing, trailing down the aisles, softly feeling their leaves and stems beneath his fingertips, cool and smooth.

it is grounding. it smells of something clean, fresh.

 

it is a friday, the day of relative calm just before the rush of the weekend.

jeongguk is sat behind the counter, recording the condition of the sick pothos he’s nursing right at the back of the store. there are two ‘marble queens’ and one satin, like the one he has at home. unfortunately, this young satin pothos is doing particularly badly, overcome with some infection that jeongguk has been trying to identify.

he’s distracted by the bell over the front door tinkling, indicating the arrival of a new customer.

the boy that walks through the door is one of the younger patrons the nursery has seen of late. most of them tend to be at least over the age of forty five, all shopping for elegant plants to fill their conservatories, dining rooms, a neat decoration for the back porch.

but this one is younger.

he’s carrying a big terracotta pot between his palms, holding it delicately, as if he’s afraid he might drop it. he weaves his way through the rows of plants, right up to the desk where jeongguk sits.

jeongguk switches on a smile.

‘hello,’ the boy with the plant says. ‘i was wondering if you might be able to help me with my plant.’

he sets it down on the counter, and jeongguk sees —

it’s a hoya ‘krinkle 8’, relatively big with the trademark thick, dimpled leaves. but it is in pretty bad shape — the leaves drooping and a little sun scorched, and (most heart breaking of all) the stems by which the plant will eventually grow its flowers brutally cut down to stubs, robbing it of all chances of flowering any time soon.

jeongguk pulls the plant towards him, feels the leaves between his fingertips.

‘it’s not in very good shape,’ jeongguk says, and the boy makes an agitated sound.

‘i know,’ he says. he sounds a little frantic. ‘it’s not my fault. well. maybe it is. but it’s my mama’s…it was my mama’s, so i need to keep it alive. can you help?’

jeongguk licks his lips.

‘who cut these?’ he runs the tip of his pointer finger over one of the stubs of the cut down stems.

‘my roommate,’ the boy says, running a twitchy hand through his hair. ‘i went away for like a week and i came back and he’d cut them. thought it would help.’ the boy rolls his eyes.

‘okay, well,’ jeongguk says, studying the hoya carefully. ‘it should be fine. it looks a little sick, so i might have to keep it. it’s also been overexposed to the sunlight.’ he takes hold of a leaf, pulls it towards the boy so that he can see one of the scorch marks. ‘see? the leaves are burnt. he’s probably a little—’

‘she,’ the boy interrupts, then cringes. ‘sorry. it’s a she. her name is mabel.’

jeongguk has to smile at that.

‘sorry,’ he says. ‘she’s probably pretty dehydrated, and could do with repotting.’ he taps the terracotta pot. ‘she’d be better off with a ceramic pot, i think. one that’s a little bigger, too.’

‘okay,' says the boy, nodding frantically. jeongguk likes how much he cares about this plant.

‘i can do that for you,’ he says, and the boy nods again. ‘also, don’t worry too much about the stems. with some luck they may grow back. the flowers are pretty difficult to achieve in this climate, of course, but still, you never know…’

‘she flowered once,’ the boy says, a little calmer now. ‘never saw anything prettier.’

jeongguk smiles at it.

hoya flowers are beautiful,’ jeongguk agrees. ‘don’t give up hope. i’m sure she’ll flower again.’

‘thank you,’ the boy says. ‘no, seriously. thank you so much. i was so scared.’

jeongguk feels himself flush.

something unhelpful in the back of his mind decides to point out that this plant boy, whoever he may be, is really quite pretty. honey skin, dark eyes, thick eyelashes and brows. his hair is a golden blonde, clearly dyed, but it suits him. his wrists and fingers, exposed beneath the loose cuffs of the shirt he wears, are thin and elegant; skilled.

‘don’t worry,’ jeongguk says, swallowing hard. ‘i’ll take care of her.’

‘how long will you need?’

‘not long,’ jeongguk says. ‘a few days, maybe? just to give her time to settle. can i take your number?’

the boy looks at his blankly for a second before reacting, taking jeongguk’s phone from him as he offers it and tapping in his number.

the contact is saved as kim taehyung 🌱 .

taehyung, jeongguk thinks. pretty.

‘how much?’ kim taehyung asks, pulling his wallet out from his back pocket.

jeongguk considers. looks between taehyung and the plant, and then to the wallet in taehyung’s pretty long fingers.

‘nothing,’ jeongguk says finally. ‘it’s free.’

taehyung splutters.

‘really,’ jeongguk says. ‘she’s a beautiful plant. she deserves to live, and i want to look after her. you don’t need to pay me a thing.’

‘but the pot,’ taehyung says, aggrieved. ‘that’s gonna be expensive, at least let me pay for—’

‘we have spares in the back,’ jeongguk continues calmly. ‘it won’t cost me a thing. trust me, taehyung-ssi. if you’re still set on it after a few days, we can discuss it then. but until now, i’m fine. really.’

taehyung frowns at him, clearly unconvinced but unwilling to argue further.

‘okay,’ he relents. ‘okay, fine. thank you. that’s really kind of you.’

jeongguk feels his face warm.

‘it’s really nothing,’ he says to the countertop.

‘what did you say your name was again?’ taehyung asks.

‘i didn’t,’ jeongguk says, running his fingertip along the rim of the pot in front of him. ‘i’m jeongguk.’

‘ah. well, it was nice to meet you, jeongguk-ssi.’

‘and you, taehyung-ssi,’ jeongguk bows his head slightly. ‘should i text you when she’s ready?’

‘yeah, please,’ taehyung says. ‘thank you so much.’

‘enjoy the rest of your day.’

 

taehyung goes and jeongguk takes the little plant to the back room and sets her on the desk.

‘oh, baby,’ he whispers, rubbing her leaves gently with his thumb. ‘you’re so sad, aren’t you? it’s okay, we’ll make you better.’

he checks the humidity in the room, then gives her some water. there isn’t an awful lot he can do until he gets home, but for now, he supposes she’ll be okay set beneath the clear morning light streaming through the window.

‘rest up,’ he says quietly, and slips back into the shop.

 

that evening, namjoon brings him takeout, and they sit on jeongguk’s floor with the tv on playing spirited away, jeongguk’s knee pressed up against namjoon’s; a comforting warmth against his thigh.

taehyung’s hoya sits on the centre of the table in the kitchen among a debris of soil where namjoon had helped jeongguk to pot the plant in a new ceramic pot that jeongguk had brought home with him from the nursery.

‘so why bring it here?’ namjoon asks, sucking noodles into his mouth from his chopsticks. ‘the plant. why not just leave it at the nursery?’

jeongguk glances behind him at the plant on the table, and then goes back to poking his chopsticks around in his chicken.

‘i dunno,’ he says. ‘i considered leaving her there. but i didn’t want to. i felt safer bringing her back home.’

namjoon hums, nods.

‘who’d you say it belongs to?’

‘i haven’t seen him around before,’ jeongguk says. ‘he looks like a student. younger than the usual clients. his name is kim taehyung.’

‘i know a kim taehyung,’ namjoon says, swallowing a mouthful. jeongguk looks at him. ‘he’s in my spanish class. you know the night class i take down at the community centre? he’s pretty.’ he says the last sentence as more of an afterthought.

‘weird,’ jeongguk says, staring intently down at his chicken.

‘he’s blonde,’ namjoon continues. ‘super thick eyebrows. wears pretty clothes. wouldn’t have him down as a plant parent, but you never know.’

jeongguk frowns.

‘you know, he sounds pretty similar actually.’

namjoon raises an eyebrow at him.

‘you think he’s pretty too?’

jeongguk flushes.

‘the ‘i wanna hold his hand and kiss his cheek’ kinda pretty,’ jeongguk says resolutely, face hot, and namjoon chuckles.

‘are the kisses limited to his cheek only?’ namjoon teases, and jeongguk blushes harder. ‘any cuddling permitted?’

‘i…may be able to make allowances for those things,’ he mumbles. ‘just no dick stuff.’

namjoon kisses him on the temple. fond.

‘of course. no dick stuff.’

jeongguk pushes him off.

‘this is dumb though,’ he says. ‘we’ve had one conversation. why are we romanticising this?’

‘fair enough,’ namjoon shrugs. ‘but still. you think he’s pretty. you’re saving his plant for him. pretty romantic, don’t you think.’

jeongguk scowls as namjoon waggles his eyebrows.

‘also don’t take this the wrong way, but i think you could do with some more friends.’

‘hey!’ jeongguk elbows him. ‘i have friends,’ he mumbles.

‘friends that aren’t me or the plants, jeongguk-ah.’

jeongguk sighs heavily through his nose.

‘you think i should ask him out then?’ he asks.

‘if you want to.’

jeongguk finishes the last of his chicken.

‘if that plant flowers, i’ll ask him out,’ he says. namjoon just rolls his eyes at him.

‘that plant is never gonna flower, you said it yourself.’

jeongguk just shrugs, reaches across to steal some noodles from namjoon’s bowl.

‘you never know, hyung.’

 

-

 

that evening, after namjoon has left, jeongguk sits on the carpet and sings to his plants.

he drags taehyung’s hoya over to the rest of his collection by the balcony doors and sings them silly little songs of his own, sings with his eyes closed as the light drains slowly from the room and the sky outside fades from blue to orange to black.

and then he lies on his stomach in front of taehyung’s hoya, runs his fingers along the dimples on her leaves, sings to her softly and privately as if his voice may, miraculously, prompt the sad little plant to bloom right there and then.

but then you’ll have to ask taehyung out, inner namjoon says.

maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

 

-

 

on the next day, jeongguk decides to do something reckless.

 

jeongguk

hello taehyung-ssi !

just wanted to let you know that she’s doing super well !

i hung her up today

thought she might like the gravity

 

and after that he throws his phone into his bed and focusses on the washing up for half an hour.

 

kim taehyung 🌱

omg!!

she’s gorgeous

i miss her :((

thank u so much for this jeongguk-ssi, ur an angel!

 

jeongguk would love to pretend that he didn’t flush bright red at that.

 

jeongguk

it’s really no problem taehyung-ssi

 

kim taehyung 🌱

u can drop the -ssi it’s okay

how old are u ?

 

jeongguk

20

 

kim taehyung 🌱

im ur hyung then :D

(im 22)

 

jeongguk

okay hyung

would 6pm on friday be good ?

to pick her up i mean

 

kim taehyung 🌱

sounds good jeonggukie

 

jeonggukkie!?

 

jeongguk

:)

 

kim taehyung 🌱

:D

 

 

‘i took a selfie with kim taehyung today.’

jeongguk nearly spits out his soup.

‘you did what?’

namjoon grins at him, fishes for his phone out of his back pocket.

'this him?' he asks, tilting the screen around to show jeongguk.

sure enough, there is namjoon posing with none other than kim taehyung, the latter half-smiling for the camera, fingers stuck up in a peace sign.

‘that’s him,’ jeongguk says, resisting the urge to zoom in on the mole he’s only just noticed just beneath the tip of taehyung’s nose. ‘what the fuck, hyung? you just asked to take a selfie with him? just out of the blue; hey man, wanna take a selfie after spanish class? what the fuck, namjoon?’

‘i wanted to check whether we had the right kim taehyung!’ namjoon says, snatching his phone back.

‘and you couldn’t have, i don’t know, found his facebook? asked for his instagram? instead of being a total weirdo.’

‘jeon jeongguk, i am not a weirdo and you know it!’

jeongguk giggles. he falls back against the edge of the sofa, takes another spoonful of soup.

‘you’re ridiculous,’ jeongguk says, and namjoon shrugs, unable to deny it.

‘he’s pretty, jeongguk-ah,’ namjoon says. ‘at least i have a selfie with him. do you have a selfie with him? huh?’

‘no, but i am looking after his plant.’

‘fair enough,’ namjoon says sagely. 'a way to a man’s heart is through his hoya plant.’

‘thank you,’ jeongguk says, sipping his soup. ‘i'm glad you have finally reached this conclusion.’

namjoon leaves it a moment before asking,

‘so that’s your game plan? woo him with the plant?’

jeongguk scowls at him.

‘i already told you, hyung. i’m gonna ask him out if that plant flowers.’

‘you’re so boring, jeongguk-ah.’

‘least i’m not a weirdo.’

‘least i have friends.’

‘i have friends!’

‘you have plants.’

 

-

 

as the days crawl closer and closer to friday, jeongguk cares for the plant.

‘hello, baby,’ he says on thursday morning. he kneels in front of her pot, runs a thumb along her leaves. ‘looking good. do you feel better? you’re gorgeous. just like your dad.’ jeongguk pauses before muttering, ‘don’t tell him i said that.’

it is true, however. the little plant is looking already much perkier than it had done when taehyung had brought it to him.

‘if only your flowers would grow,’ jeongguk says to her. ‘if i sing, will you make them grow?’

he thinks of sending taehyung a picture of the new buds, promising beautiful pink flora. thinks of the text he has promised himself (and namjoon) he’d send right after.

jeongguk knows it’s probably futile, but he sings anyway. a soft song namjoon showed him the week before; he can’t quite remember the lyrics, but the melody is just about there.

‘rest up,’ he tells the plant. ‘it’s almost time to go home.’ he leaves to wash his coffee cup.

 

-

 

friday finally arrives and jeongguk takes the hoya and straps her into the backseat of his car, being careful that the seatbelt doesn’t crush any of her leaves.

and then he slides into the driver’s seat and drives to the nursery.

he can’t help but feel strangely nervous as he does his routine checks on the plants in the back before taking his seat behind the counter. jieun notices. 

‘what’s got you so jittery?’ she asks as she unlocks the front doors and flips the sign hanging in the window from closed to open.

‘nothing,’ jeongguk says quickly, placing a hand on his thigh to physically stop it from bouncing up and down.

jieun sighs.

‘i’ll be in the back all day if you need anything,’ she informs him. ‘you want tea?’

‘yes please,’ jeongguk says. ‘thank you.’

she brings jeongguk a small cup of steaming green tea and jeongguk begins his day, serving the costumers that begin to trickle through the door.

his heart thumps uncomfortably every time the bell tinkles to indicate a new arrival, but falls heavily each time the person at the door is not taehyung.

he absently strokes the leaves of the hoya perched on the desk.

‘you’re going home today,’ he whispers. he cannot ignore how the idea tugs at his chest a little.

the clock crawls to 1:30pm. jieun gives him some japchae for lunch. jeongguk drums his fingertips on the desk.

he helps a costumer to find a succulent he’d had his heart set on for a while. advises another on how best to pot the new snake plant she’d purchased the day before.

the sun rises in the sky, peaks, and finally begins to fall.

 

joon

good luck!

 

jeongguk

for what

 

joon

your date!

 

jeongguk

shut up it’s not a date

 

joon

whatever you say jeonggukkie <3

 

5:30. 5:45. jeongguk can barely think straight.

what if he doesn’t show?

at 5:58, he’s so on edge that he ducks beneath the counter and starts sorting through the jumbled mess of fliers and paperwork they keep below there, crouched on the floor, shuffling it into piles as inner namjoon reminds him to breathe in for seven, out for eleven —

‘how much for that hoya?’ someone asks.

‘sorry,’ he says as he straightens up. ‘i’m afraid she’s not for sale—’

kim taehyung smiles back at him on the other side of the counter. jeongguk’s heart falls splat on the floor.

‘hi!’ jeongguk says a little too brightly. ‘sorry. i didn’t hear the bell go.’

‘sorting something out?’ taehyung asks. there’s a smile in his words, jeongguk can hear it.

‘uh, yeah,’ he says, hoping in vain that his face is less red than it feels. ‘well. here she is.’

he grabs the hoya, pushes it across the counter to taehyung.

‘oh my god,’ taehyung breathes. ‘look at you!’ he coos. ‘so pretty!’ he looks back up at jeongguk. ‘jeongguk-ah, this is amazing. thank you so much.’

‘it’s nothing,’ jeongguk squeaks. ‘at all. really.’

‘don’t say that,’ taehyung says. he runs his thumb across the dimples in the plant’s leaves. ‘you’re amazing. you patched her right up. how did you do that?’

‘uh. well.’ jeongguk rubs the back of his neck. ‘just gave her lots of water. repotted her. kept her in a place at home with lots of light, but indirectly. hoyas don’t love a lot of sunlight.’

‘you took her home?’

‘oh, yeah,’ jeongguk says. ‘i hope that’s okay. i have lots of plants at home. they’re…they’re like my friends.’

he cringes immediately at that. taehyung laughs.

‘i think i get what you mean,’ taehyung says. ‘i can’t say i have too many, but i like their company.’

‘me too!’ jeongguk says. ‘that’s why i work here.’

‘how long have you worked here for?’

jeongguk swallows, unable to believe that taehyung hasn’t just taken the plant and left already.

‘three years,’ jeongguk says. ‘my first and only job.’

‘you’re very good at it,’ taehyung remarks.

jeongguk really does blush then, stares resolutely down at the counter. taehyung looks around, unperturbed.

‘it’s a really pretty place,’ taehyung says. ‘i like it in here.’

‘me too,’ jeongguk says. ‘makes me calm.’

‘would you give me a tour around? there are so many plants here, i wanna see them all,’ he says. ‘wait, sorry. i know you’re closing. it’s fine if—’

‘no!’ jeongguk cuts him off. ‘of course. i’d love to.’

 

and so jeongguk slides out from behind the counter, beckons for taehyung to follow him to the rear of the shop.

they start at the back, work their way forwards, traipsing along the rows and rows of plants. jeongguk recites their names — ‘pothos. succulents. sansevarias…’ he shows him the whale-finned sensevaria that he is so fond of, the zizi plants, the kentia palm. taehyung likes the string of pearls and the burros’ tail succulents in particular.

the fading light outside floods the nursery in a strange half light; long shadows and an odd haziness that makes everything inside seem soft. the rest of the world outside seems miles away, comfortingly muffled behind thick panes of glass.

‘and this,’ jeongguk says, lifting up a tiny pot to show taehyung. ‘is an oxalis rubra. a fire fern.

taehyung gasps — a small, gentle inhalation of breath.

‘it’s like a tiny tree!’ he says in a hushed voice, reaching out a finger as if to touch but letting it hover midair, afraid to touch its delicate branches properly.

‘she’s one of my favourites,’ jeongguk admits. ‘so tiny and delicate. so pretty.’

‘does she have a name?’ taehyung asks.

‘i don’t tend to name the nursery plants,’ jeongguk says. ‘so no. but what would you name her if you had the opportunity?’

taehyung thinks.

‘something pretty,’ he decides. ‘like elodie. or felicity.’

‘i like elodie,’ jeongguk says.

‘elodie it is then.’

 

they return to the counter.

‘thank you,’ taehyung says, running a hand through his hair. ‘for the tour.’

’s no problem,’ jeongguk smiles.

‘i was wondering if—’

‘do you know kim namjoon?’

taehyung blinks at him.

‘in your spanish class?’ jeongguk prompts.

‘oh. ur. yeah,’ taehyung says. ‘there’s a kim namjoon in my spanish class.’

‘he’s my best friend,’ jeongguk says fondly. ‘took a selfie with you, right?’

taehyung laughs uneasily.

‘don’t worry,’ jeongguk says. ‘i think he’s a weirdo too.’

‘oh,’ taehyung says. ‘good.’

they stand in silence for an excruciating two seconds before they both choose to speak at the same time —

‘well, here’s your plant—’

‘i was wondering if maybe you’d like to go on a date with me.’

jeongguk nearly drops the hoya.

‘what?’

‘oh my god,’ taehyung says, backing away from the desk. ‘i’m so sorry. totally misread. pretend i never said that. just—’

‘yeah,’ jeongguk says in a rush of breath. ‘yeah. i would love to go on a date with you, hyung.’

taehyung looks so relieved that he could collapse.

‘oh, wow,’ he breathes. ‘okay. wow. um. cool. well.’ he flushes an aggressive shade of red.

‘wanna get dinner?’ jeongguk asks, ignoring his heartbeat thundering in his chest.

‘yeah,’ taehyung says. ‘i’d really like that, jeonggukkie.’

 

jeongguk

HYUNF

HYUNG

NAMJOON

HE ASKED ME OUT

HE !!!!!!! AJAKJHJDKHFKJDH

HE ASKED ME OUT !!!!!

AND I SAID YES !!!!!

AND WE’RE GOING TO DINNER !!!!!!

 

joon

oh my god

nobody panic

nobODY PANIC

(im panicking)

JEONGGUKKIE !!!!!!!!

IM SO HAPPY FOR YOU !!!!

gimme his number so i can tell him to

treat u right

 

jeongguk

i think absolutely the fuck not

(thank u i’m happy for me too :D)

 

joon

just wanna tell him that you like having

your hand held :(((

 

jeongguk

i don't want him to have that power

u know how weak i am hyung

 

 

jeongguk closes up the shop, says goodbye to jieun, and emerges out into the still warm air outside, saturated with evening light.

taehyung takes him to a ramen place nearby; a sleepy little shop on the corner of a busy street with misted windows and warm orange lights glowing from within. it smells of spice and frying meat as jeongguk steps through the door and is guided to a little table right in the corner.

‘have you been here before?’ jeongguk asks, and taehyung nods, eyes flicking over the menu but not really taking it in.

‘all the time,’ he says, deciding he’s finished with the menu and placing it back down on the table in front of him. ‘it’s mine and my roommate’s favourite restaurant.’

‘the one who almost killed the plant?’

taehyung rolls his eyes.

‘that’s him,’ he says. ‘park jimin. my best friend, soul twin, partner in crime. also the biggest idiot i know.’

‘sounds like namjoon,’ jeongguk muses. ‘except namjoon is very smart.’

‘so is jimin-ah,’ taehyung says. ‘but you can be smart and also super dumb, right?’

jeongguk snorts.

‘yeah,’ he agrees. ‘that’s namjoonie.’

 

they talk and talk about everything under the sun. they talk about how long they’ve been in seoul for — jeongguk for three years, taehyung for five. what their lives were like before they left, back in busan for jeongguk and daegu for taehyung. what they love about seoul, what they hate. their food arrives and taehyung asks him when he first became interested in plants, and jeongguk asks taehyung why he wants to learn spanish. what they studied in university, the neighbourhoods they live in, their other favourite places to eat. favourite songs, favourite weather, favourite books. they identify a mutual love of studio ghibli franchises, as well as a particular fondness for classical piano.

jeongguk wants to memorise it all, file it away for later. the way taehyung speaks is fascinating — he speaks with all his body, his hands, his eyes. jeongguk likes the way the skin around his eyes creases when he smiles, often when he’s talking about something he likes. he likes the way he looks at jeongguk when he’s speaking, offering undivided attention that makes jeongguk feel listened to.

he says that in a city as big as seoul it’s sometimes difficult to feel listened to. taehyung says he agrees.

i think you are very interesting, though, guk, taehyung says. i think seoul deserves to listen to you.

my plants listen to me, jeongguk says. that’s why i like them.

 

on the walk home, after taehyung insisted he pay for dinner, after the sun has truly disappeared from the sky and they stand soaking in pools of yellow light from the street lamps, jeongguk asks,

‘you said that the plant was your mama’s. how come it doesn’t belong to her now?’

taehyung swallows.

‘that plant is really old, funnily enough,’ he says. ‘it was my mama’s. but my mama got sick when i was really young. like, young enough that i don’t remember her at all, so it’s not terrible, don’t worry. she didn’t leave much, but she left the plant, back when it was a barely a planted seed. so i wanted to look after it for her.’

‘oh,’ jeongguk says, staring down at the pavement. ‘i’m very sorry, taehyung-ah.’

‘don’t be sorry,’ taehyung says, smiling at jeongguk. ‘really. don’t be. that’s why i’m so grateful to you, anyway. you saved my plant. my mama’s plant. i can’t thank you enough for that.’

jeongguk feels something warm unfurl at the centre of his chest.

‘bet jimin must have felt pretty bad about that,’ he says.

‘he cried,’ taehyung laughs. ‘he was the one who found you, actually. spent two hours searching the nearest plant nurseries on naver. but it wasn’t entirely his fault. i haven’t been taking particularly good care of it of late. my sister had it for a long time, and she was really good at that kind of stuff. but i’m…not so good.’

‘it’s okay,’ jeongguk says brightly. ‘i’ll teach you to look after her.’

‘thank you,’ taehyung says. ‘i’d love that.’

 

-

 

‘so who’s the lucky girl?’ jieun asks him on monday. he’d seen taehyung again just the day before — they’d gone for a walk in the park near taehyung’s apartment.

jeongguk nearly drops the plant pot he’s holding.

‘what do you mean?’ he asks, carefully setting the pot down.

‘you’ve been oddly happy,’ she says suspiciously. ‘i figured it must be a girl. nothing makes a boy happier.’

jeongguk smiles to himself, angled away from jieun so that she can’t see.

‘there’s no girl,’ he says, still smiling as he says it. ‘i’m just happy.’

jieun raises an eyebrow, unbelieving.

‘i don’t believe you,’ she says before shuffling into the back room.

 

jeongguk

jieun is onto u

she asked ‘who the lucky girl’ was

 

taehyung 🌱

‘lucky girl’ lmmaaooo

unfortunately no

this shit gay

 

jeongguk

the gayest

 

taehyung 🌱

homosexuals only

 

jeongguk

hets go home

 

taehyung 🌱

<3

 

jeongguk

<3

 

-

 

‘i’m shocked by how fast this came on,’ namjoon says one day over dinner. ‘you really like him.’

jeongguk feels his face heat up.

‘he’s nice, hyung,’ he mumbles into his soup. ‘he’s easy to talk to.’

‘have you kissed yet?’

jeongguk cringes at the question.

‘no,’ he says. ‘not yet.’

‘do you want to?’ namjoon asks.

‘i do,’ jeongguk says. ‘wanna do lots. wanna hold his hand. cuddle. i want him to stroke my hair.’

namjoon sighs.

‘my sweet jeongguk-ah,’ he says. ‘you deserve the world.’

 

-

 

taehyung comes to visit him at work. jeongguk thinks that jieun has begun to suspect that taehyung may be ‘the lucky girl’, but if she does, she doesn’t comment on it.

they get tea, and ramen, and go for long walks in the parks, soaking up as much green as they can. the days that pass are warm and everything is just…

simple.

jeongguk’s breathing comes easy, his lungs free and unrestricted.

amidst the smog of seoul, taehyung is as fresh and clean as the air at the summit of a mountain.

 

-

 

taehyung 🌱

can i come over?

i have a surprise

 

 

 

when jeongguk opens his door approximately thirty minutes later, taehyung is holding the hoya in his hands.

but there’s something different.

the hoya has flowered. one tiny globe of pink flowers, clinging to one of the branches that had once been cut so short.

‘oh my god,’ jeongguk breathes. taehyung is nodding.

‘i came back today, and found it,’ taehyung says, stepping inside and setting the hoya down on the kitchen table. ‘and it’s all you. it’s all thanks to you.’

jeongguk sucks in a breath.

‘once, i had a deal with namjoon that i would ask you out if that plant flowered,’ he says in one breath. ‘you beat me to it, but i gotta keep my word.’

he wraps his fingers around taehyung’s wrist, pulls him closer.

‘can i kiss you, hyung?’

taehyung is nodding before he can finish his sentence.

so jeongguk rocks forward on his toes, cups his hands around the sides of taehyung’s face and presses their lips together.

it is something so gentle that jeongguk barely feels it — a whisper, a silent exhalation of breath. taehyung places his soft, warm hands on jeongguk’s waist and pulls him close. simple, sweet. unhurried in the quiet light of jeongguk’s apartment as the sun slowly sets outside the windows.

and after, jeongguk buries his face in taehyung’s chest and lets taehyung wrap his arms around him.

you should probably tell him, says inner namjoon. but taehyung’s chest is beginning to shake with laughter beneath him and jeongguk is laughing too, pulling away to look up at taehyung’s face.

‘why are you laughing?’ jeongguk asks.

‘it’s just funny,’ taehyung says. ‘my dumbass roommate almost kills my plant yet it’s ended me up here. doing this. with you.’

jeongguk flushes deeply.

‘have you told him that?’ jeongguk asks.

‘unfortunately.’ taehyung grimaces. ‘jimin won’t shut up about it now. it’s his proudest moment. i have to keep reminding him that he did almost kill my plant.’

‘but luckily,’ jeongguk whispers, leaning closer again so his words ghost across taehyung’s lips. ‘someone saved it.’

‘yeah,’ taehyung breathes, closing the final distance to bring their lips together once again. ‘someone did.’

 

later, on the couch with ponyo playing in the background, inner namjoon speaks up again.

you should really tell him.

it takes taehyung leaning over to kiss jeongguk on the cheek, and then across to his bottom lip, and then finally —

‘i’m asexual,’ jeongguk blurts, and taehyung lurches back.

inner namjoon cringes. hard.

‘oh my god i am so sorry did i make you uncomfortable? fuck, jeongguk, i’m sorry, i didn’t—’

‘no, wait, shit—’

jeongguk reaches out, attempting to pull taehyung back to him again.

‘i didn’t mean—’ he tries, face heating up. ‘you didn’t make me uncomfortable, not at all, i like…kissing, i just thought — if you…i dunno…wanted to go somewhere. with the kissing. i thought i should. i dunno. tell you? i’m sorry.’

‘no no no,’ taehyung says, shuffling a little closer again to jeongguk’s relief. ‘don’t be sorry, jeongguk-ah. i don’t have a problem with it at all. i just wanted to make sure i hadn’t made you uncomfortable.’

‘you didn’t,’ jeongguk insists. he steels himself, reaches out and laces his fingers with taehyung’s. the older boy squeezes back. tight. ‘not at all, i just — how do i explain? i dunno how to—’

taehyung pats jeongguk’s knee and gets him to shuffle around on the sofa so that they’re facing each other, legs crossed and their interlinked hands rested on jeongguk’s thigh.

‘start with the basics,’ taehyung says calmly, looking him right in the eye. ‘what do i need to know?’

jeongguk takes a shuddering breath.

‘uh. well. i like kissing,’ jeongguk begins, picking at a hole in his jeans. his face feels burning hot. ‘but not with tongues. just. gentle kissing. and i love cuddling. please cuddle me.’ taehyung smiles at that. ‘and obviously no…sexy stuff.’ he stares hard at his lap. ‘at all. please.’

‘okay,’ taehyung says simply and jeongguk’s head snaps up.

‘okay?’ he asks, and taehyung nods, shrugging a little. ‘you’re taking this…awfully well.’

‘it’s no big deal,’ taehyung says. ‘i mean, obviously how you feel is a big deal, but the no sex thing? sex isn’t the be all and end all, jeonggukkie. i like it, but i don’t have to have it.’

‘oh,’ jeongguk says, a little floored. ‘oh. thank you.’

‘don’t thank me,’ taehyung says. ‘can i cuddle you?’

jeongguk nods quickly.

‘yeah,’ he says, breathless. ‘yeah, please.’

so taehyung holds out his arms and jeongguk turns around so that his back is to taehyung, resting against his chest between his legs with taehyung’s arms around his middle. taehyung presses a barely there kiss to the back of jeongguk’s head.

‘thank you,’ jeongguk says quietly.

‘i said don’t thank me,’ taehyung says, gentle. jeongguk can hear the smile in his voice.

‘but i want to,’ jeongguk insists. ‘thank you for being good.’

 

they watch to the end of ponyo, jeongguk still sitting back against taehyung’s chest and feeling it rise and fall steadily behind him, a grounding weight.

‘i can’t believe she flowered,’ taehyung murmurs as the credits begin to roll and jeongguk has just begun to feel his eyes slip shut, all caught up in the warmth and gentle haziness of the apartment in the evening. ‘what are you, magic or something?’

‘no,’ jeongguk says, eyes still closed. ‘m just jeongguk.’

‘well, just-jeongguk,’ taehyung says, lips against the shell of his ear. ‘i think you’re a little magic.’

‘m not,’ jeongguk mumbles. ‘just…spent too much time around plants. namjoon-hyung thinks i need more friends.’

taehyung laughs, a low rumble in his chest seeping across into jeongguk’s back.

‘i like him,’ he says. ‘he’s the smartest in the class, you know. blows us all out the water.’

jeongguk smiles fondly.

‘that’s joon-hyung,’ he says. ‘he’s always the smartest. he always knows what to do.’

‘i’m glad you have someone like him,’ taehyung muses.

‘do you have a joon-hyung?’

‘i have a jimin-ah.’

‘oh yeah. is he gay?’

taehyung snorts.

‘yeah,’ he says. ‘jimin-ah’s the gayest.’

‘cool,’ jeongguk says. ‘because namjoon is gay and lonely and i want to set him up with someone.’

‘i’m sure that can be arranged.’

 

taehyung leaves soon after, letting jeongguk kiss him once sleepily at the door before he goes, hoya in his arms.

jeongguk grins as he shuts the front door, as he says goodnight to the plants, as he brushes his teeth, changes into pyjamas, slides into bed and turns off the lights.

he grins at the ceiling in the dark, before rolling over to update namjoon.

 

jeongguk

i told him !!

about the asexual thing

 

joon

oh yeah?

how did it go?

 

jeongguk

he was really nice about it ???

he said it didn’t matter to him

im happy hyung

 

joon

oh jeonggukkie

im so pleased !!

 

jeongguk

we watched ponyo and cuddled

 

joon

damn

sounds like your ideal date

 

jeongguk

it was :(((

he’s rly cute :(((

ouch my feelings

 

joon

im happy you’re happy

now go to bed jeonggukkie

 

jeongguk

love you hyung <3

 

joon

love you too <3

 

-

 

one evening, perched on jeongguk’s couch as they often are, jeongguk’s head in taehyung’s lap and taehyung’s fingers in his hair, jeongguk says —

‘did you know that i sing to my plants?’

taehyung looks down at him.

‘you sing?’ he asks, and jeongguk nods.

‘would you like to hear?’

 

jeongguk finds himself on the floor, knelt by the plants by his balcony doors, taehyung watching curiously from the sofa.

jeongguk opens his mouth and sings.

 

in the night when

everyone falls asleep

the colour of ocean waves

the stars playing in the sky

on the day when they fall

we lie under the sky

 

it is dark now, the city a rippling wave of blinking lights and headlamps crawling up and down the roads, a hazy glare in the sky from all that light below.

‘oh wow, jeongguk-ah,’ taehyung whispers when jeongguk closes his mouth again, turns over his shoulder to look back at taehyung. he has his chin rested on the arm of the sofa, legs curled up beneath him. he looks sleepy. ‘you didn’t tell me you could sing like that.’

‘like what?’

‘like that. an angel.’

jeongguk’s face floods with heat.

‘oh,’ he says, picking at a loose thread in the carpet. ‘i’m not a — hyung.’

‘c’mere,’ taehyung says, and jeongguk goes. he lets taehyung cup the sides of his face, pull him in to press their lips together slowly.

‘all of you is so pretty, jeonggukkie,’ taehyung breathes. ‘every part.’

jeongguk doesn’t know what to say to that, so he opts for burying his face in taehyung’s chest and letting himself be held.

‘will you sing to me again soon?’ taehyung asks.

‘of course,’ jeongguk says, lifting his head a little. ‘anything you want. i’ll sing it for you.’

‘does it work? singing to the plants.’

‘i think it does, actually,’ jeongguk says, rolling onto his side so that his cheek is pressed against taehyung’s sternum. he closes his eyes. ‘it’s in the vibrations. they like it.’

 

that night, taehyung stays over. they lie in jeongguk’s bed, legs tangled, jeongguk’s face in taehyung’s neck, breathing as one.

 

-

 

as summer slips into autumn, autumn into winter, the leaves on the trees outside begin to die.

but inside, in that bright, warm cocoon of the nursery, the plants stay green no matter how cold it becomes.

taehyung smiles just as bright as he did in the summer, kisses jeongguk just as sweetly as he did right back at the start. the hoya’s flowers are long gone.

but inside the nursery, in that back room, lives a row of brand new hoyas, bathing in the warmth and humidity of the hanging lamps. they are young yet, but jeongguk and taehyung take good care of them. a project of their own, they do it together.

and jeongguk knows, when the summer comes,

the plants will bloom.