Summary: Who did that bush think she was, butting in with her… her slutty leaves and mysterious air and… and Sun-damned delicate blossoms?
Author's note: For kensieg. Sorry I didn't manage to include make-up pollinating, but it didn't fit. I'll try to make the next snippet pornier.
Fifth (!) in the sunflower/tulip series. Though, chronologically, it follows Life in Full Bloom, i.e. the first instalment.
How the heck did this become a series, anyway?
What tulip never told either of his offspring was that in the summer after their first successful cross-pollination – although they didn't yet know how successful – the breeder had the gall to place a shrub between him and sunflower. A common, dark-green shrub, with, okay, prettyish digitate leaves of a size that simply invited staring at, and tiny white flowers that tulip supposed could be described as delicate, if one was so inclined.
Tulip wasn't. He really, really wasn't, because sunflower regarded the new arrival with obvious interest, and even though there had never been any promises of exclusivity after their one experiment at interbreeding, tulip had to admit, at least to himself, his resentment at that… that betrayal.
Sunflower was his friend. Who did that bush think she was, butting in with her… her slutty leaves and mysterious air and… and Sun-damned delicate blossoms? She probably thought she was tantalising, an exotic plant in a greenhouse full of ordinary flowers. And with the way sunflower was fawning over her, he seemed to agree.
"Would you stop staring," tulip hissed at him after the breeder had left the greenhouse. "She's a shrub, for Sun's sake!"
"She's our guest, tulip! And she's obviously not from around here," sunflower hissed back. "If you can't be polite, then shut up!"
But sunflower had already turned his attention back to the intruder, and tulip could have sworn that her leaves twitched triumphantly in his general direction. "Welcome to the greenhouse. I'm sunflower, and the grouchy bulb over there is tulip."
"My name is cnidoscolus chayamansa. But you may call me chaya."
Even her voice is pretty, tulip thought bitterly.
"Chaya," sunflower repeated. "Nice to meet you."
Thus began tulip's torment. Chaya's glossy leaves were admired at length by the stupid giggling daisies, her multiple slight blossoms the target of envy from the pansies, and even the serene thistle seemed to like her. And of course, sunflower did his best to charm the newcomer, coaxing her into telling long, poetic tales of the greenhouse she'd been bred in, the orchids amongst which she had grown up.
Orchids, his stem! If that shrub was an exotic flower, tulip would ingest his own phloem tissues.
"Stop staring at her anthers," he snapped after two days of having to listen to chaya's dribble and sunflower's chuckles; chuckles that should have been tulip's. Chaya bristled – leaves fluttering enticingly where sunflower could see them, tulip noted furiously – and sunflower shot him a glare.
"Even if I were staring – which I'm not – it's none of your business, tulipa."
A gasp seemed to run through the greenhouse at the use of tulip's botanical name, and he jerked back at the dryness in sunflower's voice.
"Leave it alone."
Tulip swallowed, mineral salts burning in his xylem, but he refused to let them spill into his mesophyll cells. Fine. If sunflower wanted to be left alone to fall victim to the wiles of a lying bush, tulip wouldn't stop him. He didn't care much, anyway. Never had. He'd just… pollinated with the other flower out of a sense of curiosity, that was all.
Now he only had to keep telling himself that. Perhaps he'd be able to convince himself eventually.
Ignoring the sympathetic gaze of the Czech aster, tulip stared out of the milky window, at the blurred greens and browns and reds and yellows outside. He wondered what it might be like, being an outside plant. To breathe air that was damp from rain and heavy with dust; to feel insects crawl into the bulb of his blossom and collect his nectar; to photosynthesise under the Sun's rays. Well. He'd probably end up getting his leaves burnt and wilting from systemic shock.
And yet. How vast life had to be out in the open.
The rest of the day was spent in silence; at least as far as tulip was concerned. No one bothered him with inane questions about the exact chemical composition of the latest fertiliser the breeder was testing – tulip had loved the one with a hint of molybdenum but without any trace of sulphur, which had made it nicely bland – and he kept to himself, brooding. Ignoring chaya's inane chatter, his leaves shaking with disgust at the way she was trying to give herself the semblance of mystery, at the way everyone was falling for it. He was actually glad when Sun's blossom dipped beneath the horizon and Moon, the ever-changing nightflower, showed itself as a slim, curved petal. The greenhouse fell silent, and tulip shot one last, longing glance toward sunflower's quiet form before he, too, fell asleep.
Morning came with a fresh swell of water that tasted of barely anything at all. Tulip sighed. Why the breeder had to keep fiddling with systems that worked perfectly fine until he broke them was something he'd never understand. Perhaps it was a human thing.
"Quit nagging like little seedlings," he told the worrying flowers around him. Chaya, of course, worried in silence, ever-so-slightly leaning toward sunflower. With an effort, tulip refrained from commenting. "The breeder will simply administer the fertiliser from the bottle. Like last time," he added, you cacti clearly implied.
They did calm down a little after that, and indeed the Sun had not moved very far before the breeder came in, carrying two bottles of fertiliser that stood almost as high as lily. The margaritas came first, then aster, thistle, sunflower, tulip, pansy one through seven, and the rest of the greenhouse, each flower getting a carefully measured dribble of fertiliser close to the rim of its pot, followed by a bit of water. Then the breeder picked up the second bottle and carried it over to chaya. A little something special for our exotic and delicate orchid, eh? tulip thought sourly and craned his neck to get a look at the label. He couldn't make anything of the symbols, of course, but there were usually pictures too, and indeed the bottle cheerfully displayed an assortment of… tomatoes, corn, and beans.
Tulip gaped at the label, chaya, and the label again, then he blurted, "You're a vegetable! Look! She's a vegetable!" Then it struck him. "Oh Sun, you're a vegetable?!"
An outside plant?!
Chaya had stiffened, her leaves held straight and tight. "Indeed I stem from the fields of Proculus, in the garden of Athar," she said, her voice clipped. "My goddess has brought me here to seek shelter from a plague."
Tulip barely noticed the breeder carrying the bottles out of the greenhouse, he was staring so hard.
"You… fields? A garden?" he repeated stupidly, then he pulled himself together, his excitement rising until he felt like it was seeping through every semi-permeable membrane. "Outside, that is… I have so many things to ask you! Is it true that insects tickle? Does rain really hurt? By goddess, do you mean your breeder? What about snow, have you ever-"
"Tulip!" sunflower snapped. Chaya sat mutely between them, tiny white flowers turned away from tulip in an obvious pout.
"What?" All the time, she had been lying to all of them; how was tulip the bad root in this tangle? And oh, all the time, all the questions he could have asked, all the things he'd always wanted to know-
Suddenly, chaya's pot was lifted from the shelf. Tulip startled as he himself was pushed a little closer to sunflower again: the breeder! When had he come back in?
"I shall now return to my people," chaya declared as she was carried out of the greenhouse. "I am indebted to you for your hospitality. If you were ever to visit my field, know that there will always be a place for you."
Sunflower sighed forlornly and watched her leave. "She was such an interesting plant," he muttered, his leaves sagging dejectedly. "I think her roots touched mine."
Then the pouting started.
On the first day, sunflower wouldn't even talk with tulip. On the second day, he declared, "Excuse me, I'm feeling heliotropic today," and turned away to stare into the Sun until it disappeared. On the third day, tulip caved.
"Look," he said, nervously shifting his petals, "I… It's entirely possible that I was just a little… I mean, I only wanted… And anyway, she was clearly…" He broke off, took a deep breath, started again, "Just, perhaps I was a little bit jealous, but only because… Of course, you can do whatever you like, but…" Tulip shrugged helplessly. "I'm just not good at-"
"Tulip," sunflower interrupted him, his voice soft and kind, "shut up."
Tulip did, deeply unhappy, but then sunflower turned to him, leaning in until their leaves tangled and tulip could feel the light rasp of sunflower's florets against his petals.
"She was pretty," sunflower murmured, "but I wouldn't have cross-pollinated with her."
Some tiny hard stone that had been knotted up in tulip's roots came loose. "You… really?" he asked in what even he knew was a pathetically grateful voice, but sunflower just brushed his hairy leaves over tulip's waxy ones.
"Yeah. You're, um. You're the only one I want to do that with."
Their leaves brushed again, and no warm breeze could have ever felt so good. Tulip opened his petals to stroke them softly over sunflower's florets.
The only one.
Additional author's note: Cnidoscolus chayamansa is Tree Spinach. Which tickles me to no end. Also, if you look up "plant" in the wikipedia, there's a picture of a tulip right above one of sunflowers. :D