"You know," sunflower said casually one morning, "I think my pollen are ripe."
Tulip, who had been greedily sucking up the day's first dose of water and fertiliser, nearly swallowed his own roots at that.
"Are you insane?" he demanded. "You're not supposed to tell me... stuff... like that."
He went back to his breakfast, trying his best to ignore the other flower. They were friends, yes, best friends even, but even though tulip sometimes wished the helianthus were a tulip as well, and as much as the mere thought of losing sunflower at fall's end was hurting him, he didn't talk about it, for fear of making a fool out of himself. Liking a flower of another genus was one thing; asking them to... to hybridise was something else entirely.
And yes, they were friends, but they certainly didn't tell each other about the state of their reproductive organs.
"Hey, tulip," sunflower wheedled and waggled his petals in what he probably thought was an inviting manner. "Want to cross-pollinate?"
There was a short pause when every flower in the greenhouse held their breath.
"You... I..." Tulip stuttered, finally asking in a small voice, "really?"
Sunflower nodded his head, and the daisies sighed in disappointment.
"Really." Then he seemed to think of something. "Unless, um, you don't want to?"
He sounded unusually shy, and tulip hurried to reassure him.
"No, no, I mean, yes, I do. Want to. That is, um." He trailed off, feeling utterly and irrevocably stupid, but he didn't quite see how they could cross-pollinate without either wind or insects. Outside, bees were happily bumping against the greenhouse's glass walls, and for one bright, shiny moment, he hated them. "How, uh, how do you want to do this?"
"Well, I thought I'd lean forward, like this," sunflower stretched towards tulip as much as his stiff stem would allow it, petals fluttering in excitement. "And then, maybe, if you'd cooperate..."
Tulip didn't need to be told twice, trying to bend his own stem as much as he could without cutting off necessary cells. It hurt a bit, but then their leaves touched for the first time, and it was like a second sun rising. Sunflower's leaves were rough and a bit hairy against tulip's own, feeling scratchy as they slid across his waxy skin, and he couldn't entirely suppress a shiver.
Then their petals brushed together, soft and smooth, a sensation so completely alien and yet... and yet...
Sunflower gasped and jerked, bumping awkwardly against tulip's blossom.
"I'm sorry," he muttered dejectedly, "my filaments are too short-"
"No, I can… we can do this."
Tulip spread his petals as far as he could, exposing the vulnerable stigma that was already slightly sticky, ready to take the pollen. Stretching out towards each other, they touched, came together in a mass of quivering leaves and shaking stems. Tulip trembled as he felt sunflower's pollen stick to his stigma, hoping against hope that at least one of the grains would produce a pollen tube that would grow down his style all the way down to his ovule.
He was sentimental like that, even though he knew better.
"Tulip..." sunflower whispered, his large head of florets shaking against tulip's petals as they nestled together, their leaves trembling with both the strain and delight at the physical contact. But flowers weren't really built for that kind of thing, and eventually, they had to part.
Tulip pulled back, caressing sunflower with a last brush of his large petals that incidentally spread the helianthus' pollen all over his own florets.
"Hey!" Sunflower shook himself. "You want to clone me, or what?"
Tulip didn't answer, and sunflower shook his head. Leaning forward again, he managed to swat the other flower lightly across the blossom.
"I'm a perennial plant."
Oh. Tulip's leaves bristled as he snapped, "I knew that."
"Of course you did." Sunflower grinned at him.
And they stood in silence, sunflower's pollen prickling against tulip's sensitive stigma, basking in the sunshine of a bright late-summer morning.
It was a warm day when sunflower broke through the damp earth of his flowerpot, blinking into the light.
"Hey," an unusually gentle voice greeted him, and he turned towards the sound. Towering over him, tulip had already opened his bright blue petals, a sight so familiar it felt more like home than the rest of the greenhouse.
Next to them, there was another tulip, small, yellow, and with fuzzy leaves.
"Hey," sunflower greeted back. "Who's your friend?"
"He's a hybrid," tulip said, sounding oddly proud. "First of his kind; he's going to win the Breeder's Prize for sure!"
"Yeah?" Sunflower turned to the yellow tulip. "Congrats."
"His name is Tulipa Heliantha," tulip offered helpfully.
Sunflowers shocked splutter could be heard all over the greenhouse.