Jung Jaehyun lived in a world where people were born with a flower over their heart, one that symbolized who a person truly was. It was their life force, their essence, their being; all concentrated in a set of forever blooming petals embedded on their skin. And with new experiences came new flowers as a token and eternal reminder of the most detrimental moments of one's life.
No one knew why they appeared, no one knew how it was possible that their meanings echoed in their thoughts like second nature. It didn't matter. The flowers were there and they were another language that didn't need learning. However, just because it was instinctive, it didn't mean it was fair.
Five-year-old Jaehyun knew that his parents loved him very much. So much, in fact, that when he didn't burn breakfast, they let him have the leftovers and when he didn't cry after the beatings, they let him sleep on the hallway instead of outside in the cold rain. Maybe he didn't have toys like the other kids, but he had the beautiful helenium buds, the perfect image of tears, that bloomed wherever his dad hit him, and he couldn't ask for anything else.
Until one day, when he was ten years old, he was sent away and given out for adoption. He didn't comprehend why his parents didn't want him anymore. Had he forgotten to mop the house? Had he cried too much after the last beating? He swore he wouldn't make a sound again, he promised that he would be a good boy. They didn't listen.
As soon as he arrived at the orphanage, Jaehyun looked at his reflection in a small and broken mirror that stood in the corner of his new room. The image staring back at him wasn't clear, yet that didn't stop it from being mocking. In that exact moment, he understood why the white and pink anemone in his heart represented bad luck and neglection. Still, he bit his tongue until it bled, clenched his jaw until it hurt and through gritted teeth told himself that his flower was a protection against evil and ill wishes.
He lied even when purple hyacinths of sorrow painted themselves across his forehead like a makeshift flower crown taking control of his thoughts, and citron spread through his clavicle for the world to see the sadness beyond his eyes. Even when yellow marigolds could be traced from his elbows down to his wrists and he could feel them tightening and screaming despair, he lied.
Soon enough, he turned eleven and more flowers appeared. A pink rose drew itself on his right shoulder blade for his first ever friendship with Jungwoo, and the little sunflower on his pinky finger showed how grateful he was. Daisies were born at the tips of his fingers, trying to communicate through touch the innocence of a broken and abused child.
Of course, when it came to him, nothing good could last forever.
To this day, the memory of his friend covered in blood and dying in his arms after being hit by a car still haunts him. Yet, his memories were not enough torment, especially when mourning willow branches were wrapped around his upper arms and a few purple harebells, full of grief, peeked through just to remind him of what he lost.
He tried to make new friends, the blue periwinkles made of early friendships and extending all over his palms were proof of that. However, the fish geraniums over his knuckles expressed the disappointment that came after all his expectations fell to the ground when they all left. So, more pink anemones grew over his back and hips, spreading like a plague with the help of branches from the Judas tree. Betrayal. Abandonment. Rejection.
I'm hurt. I'm lost. I'm sorry.
He earned columbines that scattered over the soles of his feet, anxious and trembling, for each and every step he took lead him through the only path he knew: tragedy. When everyone told him that it would get better, lavenders settled around his ears and planted distrust on their words, furiously whispering about lies and deceit.
Burdocks encircled his wrists and ankles; unescapable chains shrieking 'don't touch me'; the three words beautifully reverberated his pleas when the bullies at school used him as their favorite punching bag.
Jaehyun was fifteen when he was told he was going to be adopted. He refused to believe it. How could anyone want him? The doubts fueled his hopelessness; thus, it was no surprise that an Amaranthus had chosen to rest at the back of his knees. He counted the days, patiently waiting for the moment where everything went wrong. He needn't wait long, for three months later, Krystal and Mingyu, his soon-to-be adoptive parents, were murdered. The two pear blossoms —affection— were etched on his knees before he had the chance to stop them.
Later, his calves burnt with scabiouses mourning the loss of every single source of happiness he had ever encountered. People had the audacity to say that things will get better, that it never rains forever, but he kept searching for the sun and was only struck by thunder; he kept looking for the light, yet found himself in darkness.
He hated it. Hated it so much, so much, he felt the exact moment the basil started squeezing his ribs and lungs, leaving him breathless with the effort it took to live with so much contempt. The basil continued its path, covering each ridge, each bump until no patch of skin could be seen. The green quickly morphed into the deadly purple of the nightshades just over his stomach. Silence. Although starving for affection, for acceptance; he was subdued, reduced to silence by society.
Jaehyun's head screamed 'I'm sorry', his hands showed false expectations, and disappointment, while his ears whispered 'don't trust them'. His shoulders and back said friendship, treason, disdain — his arms burnt with sorrow and loss, yet his legs and feet were painted with anguish and affection. His ribs shrieked with hatred, that was rapidly silenced, while his heart drowned in neglection and pain.
And Jaehyun just put a mask on and smiled.
He wore that mask so often it started breaking.
His body screamed. I'm tired of the pain, I'm sorry I want to die, I'm lonely, I'm not okay — don't lie to me. Don't you dare breathe.
No matter how much he tried to cover his flowers up, they found a way to show the world what a broken soul truly looked like. Suddenly, his oversized jumpers, his scarfs, his concealer weren't enough... nothing was enough.
I'm sorry. I tried. I failed.
Two years passed, and he gained three lilies of the valley on his neck – return of happiness. They stood for his new friends: Johnny, Doyoung, and Mark that came along with an orange rose that settled just over his vocal cords. His passion. Music.
As any good friends would, they noticed something was wrong almost immediately. They noticed because they cared enough. After all, they weren't blinded by prejudice to see what was right in front of them. They tried, oh they tried, to make Jaehyun talk but he wouldn't budge. Not when he knew it would make him too vulnerable, more than he already was. He wasn't about to open up and hope for the best, the flower on his heart knew it was hopeless either way.
A year later, Taeyong joined their little group.
"I know you don't want to talk about it," he had said once, "but if you ever change your mind, I'm here for you."
After that, Jaehyun just observed him. A few times Taeyong caught him staring and smiled at him, an expression so sincere and open, like the honesty flower that rested on Taeyong's right forearm, that it felt like maybe he had found that ray of sunshine he had so desperately been looking for.
Jaehyun felt the red roses growing on his chest, felt them like a thousand knives stabbing him at once.
He had fallen in love.
Jaehyun had gone and fallen in love with the one he could never have. It hurt, it burned, it scratched, it stung until he was cut open and bleeding. Love was suffering, and he didn't want it, especially when he knew Taeyong wouldn't reciprocate because he was broken and sad and miserable and forsaken and who would want that?
Jaehyun didn't want to risk it and allow himself to hope. Hope was sugarcoated torture. Hope was losing everyone he had been close to. Hope was getting hit by those who he considered his guardian angels. Hope was being close to dying but never being able to because he was always being ripped back to life to suffer more. They always asked for more.
He cried the day he was proved right by yellow tulips mixed with goldenrods on his thighs. Hopeless love. Be careful.
One evening, they had all decided to go out for dinner. It didn't take long for Jaehyun to notice the beautiful red rose petals on Taeyong's neck. He died a little bit inside and could already feel yellow roses on the side of his neck bitterly laughing with jealousy.
Halfway home he started silently crying. When they finally arrived at the dorms, a loud sob left his throat and he ran to the bathroom before any of his friends could ask him any questions. They knocked so hard he was sure they were aiming to break the door down. He didn't open.
"Jaehyun, p-please," stuttered Taeyong, his voice raw with emotion, "open the door."
Seeing Taeyong's face streaked with tears of impotence, broke something inside him. He didn't want to talk but, he was sure that at this point, anything that Taeyong wanted, he would get.
"I'm sorry." He said looking straight at Taeyong's melancholic eyes.
"Why are you apologizing?" Taeyong mumbled while wiping the tears off of his face with the sleeves of his black hoodie, "you did nothing wrong."
"Now that's a lie." Jaehyun laughed bitterly. "I've screwed my entire life up. I did everything wrong."
"Listen, you must have done something right to make me fall in love with you."
"What are you playing at? I saw the roses on your neck, Taeyong. You're in love with someone else."
"You know what? You're right." Jaehyun felt as if all air had been punched out of him. He was right. The moment he most wanted to be mistaken and he was right. Fuck. He could already picture the yellow roses and the helenium buds marking his body with heartbreak in the near future.
"I'm in love with a boy that carries the world's sorrow on his shoulders, yet never seems to slump. I fell in love with a smile that despite its hollowness, shines brighter than the stars at night. I'm enamored with the way he fights through the loss and the pain, even though it's never-ending. I'm completely smitten with a heart made of anemones and a body tattooed with grief and remorse and guilt and betrayal and abandonment. So yeah, I'm not in love with the guy sitting on the bathroom floor thinking he is worthless. I'm in love with the one who undeterred by the lies society tells him, gets up with his head held high and shows the world you can be broken, yet still be a fighter."
Taeyong offered his hand to help him up and sitting there were a few cress buds signifying the stability of his new life if he decided to take it.
Perhaps the flowers would be on his skin forever, and the pain they brought would accompany him for a long time but… Taeyong was looking at him like he had given him the sky and for the first time in his miserable life Jaehyun could say that things were going right. He smiled so wide it hurt and let his emotions speak for themselves.
"For the record, I love you too." He whispered against Taeyong's lips before kissing him softly. He felt himself relaxing in Taeyong's arms and when they separated, two tiny honeysuckles spread through both of their cheekbones – bonds of love.
They were tied through love and compassion, and when primroses appeared on his shoulders spelling 'I can't live without you' after just a few months of being together, he knew that this love would last for eternity.