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garden of flowers

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Peony is Mark's first favorite flower.

The fondness he feels towards it has grown since he was four, running around his grandparent's house trying to catch and pet Myeongso, grandpa's beloved munchkin cat. He remembers, how he tried to give the cat a kiss, only for Myeongsoo to flail and get himself out of fetus Mark—Minhyung's grip. Before Minhyung had the chance to give it a try again, Myeongsoo had run, all fast and sneaky with his four short limbs. Minhyung, with his short-but-much-longer-than-Myeongsoo's legs, had run and extended his hands, trying to capture the small little minx.

But his eyes had caught a flash of delicate pink, rounded blooms and soft petals. He remembered flowery fragrance, subtle and familiar, like the smell of his and mama's fabric softener.

Peony, grandma had told him, eyes twinkling and smile calming. Minhyung had nodded, and continued to stare and wonder, in awe with the flower's beauty.

Do you know, Minhyung-ah, that it symbolizes prosperity and joyous romance? It was also said to bring good fortunes... Grandma went on, more like talking to herself than to Minhyung. Her eyes glazed over, her smile faltered. Minhyung glanced at her for a few seconds, but when his eyes caught the sight of Myeongsoo pawing at the couch, he backtracked and tiptoed his way toward the cat.

Minhyung remembers all of this, because at that day, he got his arm broken for the first time, trying to save the vase of single peony from tumbling over and crashing the ground after Myeongsoo had hit it head-on.

At the hospital, after getting his broken arm fixed and casted, grandma had visited him with two different seeds in both her left and right hands. Her eyes gleamed, her smile as calming as ever, even with some kind of renewed vigor in his eyes.

She extended both of her hands, then asked him to choose. Minhyung chose her right hand, and she revealed a yellowish-green, flower-shaped pods, with black and some dark brownish seeds inside the pods. Minhyung took it, handling the seedlings carefully.

You had saved my heart, Minhyung-ah. And for that, you get one kind of seed—peony seeds—from your mother's side of your family. Minhyung didn't know—and he still doesn't know, what grandma had meant. But then she whispered something secretly and quietly at him. This, Minhyung had forgotten what she had told Minhyung. But maybe, it went along the line of taking extensive care of the blooms once they had grown.

 

 

Na Jaemin is flashy and popular, fairly known among almost all of the people in their uni. He's handsome and flirty, girls and guys flock near him like he is a bright, burning-ablaze flame and they are an eclipse of moths.

Na Jaemin is flashy, popular, very flirty and plenty much handsome, and Mark feels a pull towards him.

The boy is like a ball of energy, and if they are in an anime universe right now, there must be a flowery, pinkish, glimmering aura that surrounds him. He looks like a walking and living daydream, all attractive smiles and gentlemanly acts, pretty face but toned body.

(And no, Mark doesn't know about the toned body part. He heard it from people. It's not like he had accidentally caught Na Jaemin changed his clothes in the locker room. Nope, Mark would never.

(But actually, yes, he was. He for real had thought that the sound coming from the locker room was imaginary, but the clanking of metals continued, so Mark had to check up. He had freaked out so hard after he saw Jaemin, with no top and unbuttoned jeans low on his hips, that he dashed away without closing the door. Fortunately, it seemed like Jaemin still doesn't know that Mark was the one who accidentally saw him almost fully naked inside the locker room.))

Jaemin is kind and well-mannered, flirty but never too overbearing. He opens the door for his fellow classmates, giving out praises and compliments like it is his job. He helps out the lecturers and friends who do not understand the topics of their lesson, and when he doesn't know it himself, he says sorry with the most apologetic expression, like it is only his fault that they do not know. He is stern, firm on his belief and has a strong determination. He calls out when something is done incorrectly, asks people politely to apologize if they do wrong.

He's also childish and funny, sometimes ridiculous. He drinks four shots of espresso with no additional water or sweeteners, he doesn't like the taste of artificial strawberry flavor in foods, he babies his little brother so much, and he sticks with Lee Jeno all the time which makes people assume that they are dating.

"We're not dating, as far as I know. Because the last time I checked, the word 'dating' is for two people who are in a relationship and in love. And I may love Jeno, and Jeno may loves me, but not that way. Jeno told me he has set his eyes on someone, though. Someone which is not me."

Mark only laughs, especially after Jaemin told him that with a ridiculous-but-cute frowny face. The part of the library they are in is secluded, hidden far back behind rows and rows of tall bookshelves. Jaemin continues to throw some witty jokes, which results on Mark laughing so hard tears come out of his eyes. His earlier plan on tutoring and helping Jaemin tackles down English Lit is long forgotten, replaced by the funny remarks and humorous comments. Behind all that, a strange fluttery feeling has taken over Mark's stomach.

At some point, Jaemin has stopped laughing, but Mark's giggles are still unstoppable. And Mark has probably just imagined it, maybe it is just a trick of his eyes, but Jaemin has stared at Mark with unreadable eyes. His smile is still there, etched beautifully and perfectly. But the looks he sends to Mark have turned deeper and more intimate, and now not only his stomach is fluttery, his heart is in chaos, too.

The pull, it turns out later, is a growing feeling of love and adoration. It pushes and pulls on his heartstring, always giving him an almost heart attack whenever he sees Jaemin. Even nothing else but a glimpse of his soft-looking cotton candy hair can set Mark's heart on fire, marching inside his ribs like it is in the middle of a huge, never-ending war.

And as the realization sinks in, the peony plant that has never bloomed is finally showing its small buds.

 

 

Mark was still called Minhyung back then, up until he was ten and he moved to New York from Vancouver.

Mama, for some reasons unknown to his young self, had proposed the idea of moving temporarily abroad since he was five. Minhyung was okay with that, and his brother, Youngho, who was thirteen at that moment, had suggested to move to Canada, where their grandparents from their papa's side were residing.

Papa had agreed wholeheartedly, since the distance between New York and Vancouver is closer than the distance between New York and Seoul. Papa had even asked them to move permanently, but mama seemed like she didn't like the idea. So they sticked to the plan on staying temporarily, but mama and papa had agreed on lengthening the stay from five years to eight years.

Minhyung was six when he met his grandparents from his papa's side for the second time in his life. He had actually met grampa and grama before, but it was when he was still unable to walk yet. He couldn't remember their face, so he was kind of excited to see them again.

Minhyung's second impressions (since he forgot about the first) of grampa and grama are that they were warm and looked a few years younger than their age. Not as young as mama and papa, though. Grampa loved to tell stories to Minhyung, because fourteen years old Youngho liked it more when grampa taught him to fish in a lake nearby. Grama always baked some sweet chokochibseu cookies for him and Youngho. Both also liked to spend their time teaching Minhyung English, since Youngho was a little more fluent than Minhyung, because he had felt how it was to live abroad from he was born to when Minhyung was born.

Four years into living in Vancouver, Minhyung experienced his first crush to one of his schoolmate.

He was ten, and there was an upperclassman who had the entirety of Minhyung's attention. A boy, twelve years old, who loved to play soccer and joked around. He had nice smile, big and showing his gums, and his hug was the warmest of all Minhyung's friends. Minhyung liked it when James, the boy, hugged Minhyung after they had won the small soccer competition.

When he told him, though, everything suddenly crashed and broke and ruined. James suddenly didn't want to talk to him anymore, some of his 'friends' turned against him, and the bullying started.

Minhyung had cried a lot that time, even after almost all of the bullies were beaten by Youngho. With tears running down his reddened cheeks, he told everyone there—mama, Youngho, grampa, and grama—about his newly-discovered feeling towards boys. He felt like a freak, an anomaly in his perfect family. After all, he was the only one who was different. Grampa was with grama, like how grandpa was with grandma. Papa was in a happy marriage life with mama, and eighteen years old Youngho was already dating a pretty Korean noona, Wendy, but Youngho liked to call her by her Korean name, Seungwan.

You're not a freak, Minnie-ya, Youngho had argued, followed by an agreeing nod and a comforting pats on his back from Seungwan noona. Mama was busy calling papa to calm him down, since he was so worried about Minhyung's wellbeing. After that, grampa had taken Minhyung to the lake he frequently visited with Youngho. The view was nice, the moonlight was mirrored on the surface of the rippling water.

His hand gently gripped a small plastic package filled with a batch of fresh-baked cookies from his grama, and with a small encouraging smile, she had pushed Minhyung inside grampa's old jeep. Along the way to the lake, grampa had stayed silent, opting to turn the radio on and let the voice of the man in the radio filled the silence.

When they arrived, grampa had told him to sit by the pier on one side of the lakeside, while he went to search something nearby. Minhyung had waited for fifteen minutes now, and grampa had yet to show himself. Minhyung fiddled with his fingers before he finally snatched a cookie, stuffing it inside his mouth and chewing it to subdue his nerve and restlessness. His feet dangled a few centimeters from the water surface, swung around uncoordinatedly from the jitters and anxiety.

Five minutes later, his grampa sat down beside him, and he handed over a small packet of sunflower seeds. Grampa's smile was serene and understanding, and his palm felt warm on top of Minhyung's head. Grampa then proceeded to narrate funny recounts from his experiences years ago. Minhyung laughed, for the first time since the accident with he-who-shall-not-be-named, and grampa looked at him with apparent fondness in his eyes.

You'll grow to be a fine young man one day, grampa had mused loudly. His eyes crinkled with deep platonic affection, before he continued on, You are so brave, and I know you're strong. Unbreakable, maybe, in the future.

Grampa had looked at Minhyung right in his eyes, strange expressions etched on his aged face. That's why a sunflower would have fitted you so well. Grampa sighed, his eyes darted upward to the clear cloudless sky, showing arrays of glinting stars.

You have earned your worth, and that's why you get to have the sunflower seeds, Minhyung-ah. And just like grandma, grampa leaned to whisper on his ear. Some kind of private matters, forgotten, about the secret of flowers and feelings. Minhyung had forgotten about that, too, but maybe it was about how to protect himself and his flowers.

 

 

Somehow and somewhat, not long after Mark has grown closer to Jaemin, Donghyuck comes in between.

Lee Donghyuck was Na Jaemin's best friend, and apparently, he is the real boyfriend of Na Jaemin. The entire uni has been chaotic after the revelation, some are heartbroken and some are supporting, calling them something in the line of 'OTP', whatever that means. Lee Donghyuck is brave and brash, the complete opposite of the soft and proper Na Jaemin. They're polar opposites, yet they complement each other so well. Like pieces of puzzle arranged, they fit perfectly, and there is no place for Mark to intervene, let alone join them.

The heartbreak comes in fast and hard, like the collision of sea waves with sea side coral reefs. Mark is left in pieces, only to be picked back up by a boy named Lucas.

Lucas is kind. Lucas is comforting, and he is protective and steady. He brings Mark foods and hoodies, drowning him in familiar scent and snug hugs. His cuddles are cozy, and he would gladly let Mark be the small spoon. Lucas is caring, attentive and considerate. He's always so thoughtful, never demanding. He's perfect, and he loves Mark.

He loves Mark, who could never free himself from the pain of unrequited loves. He is perfect, but he loves an imperfection, a sore-thumb, a loser. He is perfect, and the way he treats Mark makes him feel like he worths the world, like Mark is his everything.

But Mark is no ones everything, had never been and probably never will be.

Lucas strongly and stubbornly disagree with that. Lucas knows Mark is usually stuck in a whirlpool of negative emotions when he is like this. And so, he will always tilt Mark's chin up, cup his cheeks in his huge hands, and stare deep into Mark's soul. He will always build Mark's confidence up, by making him repeat on what Lucas said plenty times, even when Lucas is not there.

"Repeat with me, Mark Lee: I am perfect."

"B- but I'm not─"

"I am perfect."

"I- I am perfect."

At that, Lucas will smile, wide and sunny, like the sun. He will pat Mark's cheek lovingly, before leaning down to kiss Mark's forehead. He will praise Mark, raining him down with kisses and comforting words. He will make Mark repeat it over and over, until his head clears up and he starts to love himself a tad bit more.

Lucas loves Mark, and maybe, Mark can learn to love Lucas, too.

 

 

The incident with he-who-shall-not-be-named, had left Minhyung with two choices: either he stayed in Vancouver and be stared at and isolated like he had two head grown in his torso, or to move away and start a new life in a new surroundings.

Grampa told him it was his choice, but he also said that a new surrounding sounded like a fresh start to the brighter future.

Then, after some deep thorough discussions and negotiations via phone calls with papa, mama had decided it was probably best for them to move with papa. Papa seemed like he was overly ecstatic about it, from the sounds of loud thudding of his footsteps as he went around the house to 'clean up a bit'. Minhyung, for the first time in like, two weeks, could finally heaved a long relieved breath.

He is away from them now. The chance of them meeting again are slimmer—close to none, and he is finally free.

When they arrived in New York, papa greeted them with big smile and waving hand. He welcomed each one of them with a longing kiss on their forehead, temple, and cheeks, before he engulfed them in a big papa-bear hug. Minhyung could feel it; how papa's hug felt like it lingered longer at Minhyung's turn. He looked at papa's eyes, and there were unspoken words of apprehension and tenderness.

"I'm so proud of you, bub. Strong and unyielding, my lion cub." He hugged Minhyung more, trying to convey the love and pride he felt towards him. Minhyung could taste the tears coming before he could feel it down his cheeks. He hugged back, as strong and as love-filled as the one papa gave. He was able to feel the smile that crept on mama and Youngho's face, as well as the change of papa's mood. Papa smiled bigger than before, and he led them towards his car.

Papa never changed. He was still the same hardworking, honest, family-before-work man. He was respected in his workplace, although he was not in the highest position. Everyone was equal in his eyes, and he was the most open-minded. Minhyung was proud to have him as his papa, and sometimes he vocalized the thought to papa, in turn making him almost teared up because he was touched.

In New York, his name was changed. Not really changed, actually. Papa and mama only gave Minhyung and Youngho English names. The Korean ones stayed, they just added more.

And so, Minhyung became Mark and Youngho became Johnny.

Mark and Johnny were still in touch with their grandparents, both from their papa and mama sides. Johnny was also still in a strong relationship with Seungwan noona, going close to a five year relationship now. Mark nearly always found them talking through the phone, whispering sweet words and giggling over nothing. And everytime Mark found them like that, his inside grew warm, and he felt happy for them.

Somewhere inside him, behind all the happiness, though, lied a faint feeling of longing to be loved.

 

 

Lucas has been a constant in Mark's live for quite a while, and he is now close with all of Lucas' Chinese friends. Now, he can openly laugh at Hendery's jokester nature, be in a heavy discussion about the best pet between cats and dogs with Xiaojun and Yangyang, eat lunch made by Kun, be dolled up by Ten, and pinch Winwin's cheek out of fondness. Renjun sometimes called him a softie, and Chenle loves to call Mark a cutie or uses banmal to tease him.

But Mark has never stopped looking out at the direction of Na Jaemin and Lee Donghyuck, though.

He feels worried sometimes, since both of their relationship appears to crumble. Donghyuck has become a lot brasher, and Jaemin quieted down. Mark has heard more about Donghyuck's fights, but less about Jaemin's cheekiness. They seemed to be torn apart bit by bit, leaving only shells of what they were before.

And it truly breaks his heart; how they looks like they suffer more than Mark, how they are more taken aback about all this rather than Mark.

It leaves Mark desperate—both for reconciliation and for peace. Mark wants both of them to fix whatever their problems are, and he wants himself to just forget and move on. He has Lucas, what else is he thinking twice for? Lucas is good for him, he is handsome and sturdy and more importantly, available. What else does his heart need to be convinced that Lucas is indeed the one for him?

 

 

When Mark was fourteen and ready to go back to Seoul, papa had gifted both him and Johnny each a regular-sized box. After they had arrived back in their apartment in Seoul, Mark found out that he was given another pack of seeds. Daisy, papa had said before he handed Mark his box. He neither gave other explanations nor information. He only asked Mark to keep remembering the messages his grampa and grandma had told him.

But the message was like a fast blur in his head, like it was either an unimportant stuff or it was long forgotten, buried down under all other things in his mind.

And so, he planted the daisies, too. He placed them next to the small pot of budding peonies and sunflowers, not far from Johnny's fully-blooming petunias, mama's forever-blooming gladiolus, and papa's lovely roses.

Mark had tried to love daisies, but it is kind of hard to love the beautiful flower when something inside his heart told him not to. It was disturbing, how the voice in him insisted on just taking care of the flower, with no such thing as it being in a list of his favorite flowers.

He told papa about it, and the next minutes after, he could only hear papa's jolly laughs echoing through. He had huffed and pouted, before he remembered that papa couldn't see his pout. He dejectedly asked about it, but papa only said a short sentence which made Mark a lot more confused.

One day, Mark.

 

 

Before he befriended Lucas' friends, Mark had told them he was sorry that he couldn't reciprocate their friend's feeling. He truly felt bad about that. He had tried so hard to love Lucas. It was not a hard thing to live Lucas; his easygoing nature and the care he had provided to Mark was more than enough for the love to bloom. The problem lies on the type of the love itself. Mark loves Lucas in a platonic way, so he couldn't accept Lucas' romantic love towards him. Theoretically, he could. But it would be too cruel and unrighteous for Lucas. Lucas is already too kind and good for him; it would be downright heartless to accept his feeling when Mark could hardly love anyone other than Jaemin and Donghyuck or move on from both of the boys.

Trying to love Lucas nostalgically feels like trying to love the daisies papa had given to him.

"I'm okay. I know you are already too deeply in live with them. I also know you wouldn't be able to love me. Maybe we aren't destined to be." Lucas calms him, once he apologizes for the umpteenth time for not being able to love him.

Mark wants to scoff, wants to frown in distaste. Destiny and fate are such bullshit. If both are real, then Lucas should have been with someone who worth the entire universe to him, not with Mark. If both are real, Mark shouldn't have been stuck in a circle of Jaemin and Donghyuck, trying to escape but he can't. Not because he's incapable to—well, he is incapable to fall out of love, but just because his heart has yearned too long for both of their loves and affections.

It is frustrating and honestly annoying, how his heart is weak for Jaemin and Donghyuck.

 

 

That morning, Mark has run down the stairs in a hurry. Never had he been that fast at flying down the staircase, but the sight in his embrace is quite terrifying for him.

"Mama, mama!" He yells, breath coming out in short gasps as he panics. His hair is messy, curls falling down to his eyes and tickling his eyelids, but he doesn't seem to care. His eyes darts, and when he catches the sight of his older brother, he sprints.

"Johnny, oh my god, I- the plants-"

"Oh woah, wow wow wow calm down Markie. You have to breathe less quickly if you don't want to end up hyperventilating."

Mark sucks in a sharp breath, trying to calm his rattling heartbeat. His hands shake as he shows Johnny his plants. The never-blooming peonies are starting to wilt, some of the leaves shed and yellowing on the soil. The stems are a bit limp, colored in an unhealthy mix of dark green and yellowish-green.

"The peonies, and the sunflowers- Johnny, my flowers are dying!" He sobs, heart shattering to pieces. He doesn't know why he cries so hard like he has just been broken up by his boyfriend when it is nowhere near that. It seems like an exaggeration, to cry over wilting flowers. But his heart feels like it is squeezed tight, and not long after, he is left breathless.

"What- why- why am I crying so much?" Mark gasps, body lurching from the intensity of his sobs. "Why does it hurt?"

Mark can see the glimpse of something that looks akin to pity in Johnny's eyes, before it's all masked by a certain panic and worry. Mark struggles to breathe, his exhale comes out in short pants and each of his inhale feels painfully restricting.

"Mark, baby bro, breathe. Slow down, breathe properly. Don't end up hurting yourself more. This- the wilting plants, you have to find out a way yourself to keep it alive. It's not just a matter of watering and putting it under the sunlight. The plants represent something significant in your life. I can't tell you much, but if you could fix something that goes wrong in your life, your flowers can definitely go through all these."

Mark is a lot calmer, but still, Johnny's words are a lot more confusing than informative. His heart still clenches painfully tight sometimes, and his breathe hitches once in a while. The flowers do not show any signs of being healthier. Jaemin and Donghyuck are yet to leave his mind, and both are still in a chaotic stage where they are in a mess of what was once their old self.

Another leaf falls to the soil of Mark's peonies, and the sunflowers' stems change color to a sickly yellow-green. But the daisies stay alive, healthy and unbothered, although there is no sign of blooms in it.

 

 

Eighteen years old Mark has realized that he loves two sunny and lovely boys who are dating, and that those two boys are in a serious need to fix their relationship. Eighteen years old Mark has gone through a lot; fighting with his own feelings and yearning for someone to love him how he loves them. Seventeen years old Mark had tried to fall in love with Lucas and failed terribly, but eighteen years old Mark tries to make peace with his feelings and just keeps it down low.

And so, Mark has decided to face both Jaemin and Donghyuck.

I am brave, he repeatedly thinks as he also tries to build up his courage, at least, that was what papa and grampa had said so.

He takes a long stride to where Jaemin is sitting with his little brother and some seniors at lunch. His shoulders look hunched, like he holds the weight of the world on top of it. He approaches their seat, but when the people around Jaemin has turned their heads to see him, Mark almost recoils back in nerve and anxiety.

You are brave, the voice of his grampa is heard continuously inside his head. He takes a deep, heavy breath, and he keeps marching on.

"Na Jaemin, I want to talk to you," his voice catches a little, and Jaemin's friends stare hard at him with unreadable gazes, but he continues, "Preferably alone, just the two of us. So please meet me on the roof afterschool."

Surprisingly, no one protests, and Jaemin agrees so willingly. Mark counts that as a win. He smiles, a small nervous smile, before he goes out of the cafeteria to find Lee Donghyuck.

Mark finds Lee Donghyuck behind the school building, trying to beat up a whole six feet and three inches senior who has ganged up with some boys from the neighboring class. It's an unfair fight, with only one Donghyuck versus three boys. It's the most unfair fight Mark has ever come across—even when he has only seen three fights at most.

Thus, when one of the boys sneakily goes behind Donghyuck with a wooden bat lifted up high, Mark panics. He runs with all his might and buts his head to the body of the boy. Stars erupt behind his eyelids, probably from the intensity of the hit he has received—or well, it's more like he has done it on purpose, rather than received.

"Fuck! Why- you little shit!"

Mark's breath hitches as he is pushed harshly towards the hard wall behind him, his vision dots up in black spots. He pulls himself altogether, supporting his body up with some difficulty. His head hurts like hell, and it feels so heavy and disoriented.

"What the fuck?! He's not a part of this fight, asswipe! Get your hands away from him!"

"Oh? Interesting.." The oldest boy there chuckles darkly, moving away from Donghyuck's exhausted self towards Mark's swaying frame. He hums, gripping Mark's chin so hard Mark gasps in pain. He runs his eyes all over Mark's feature, before his gaze lits up in interest.

"For a fucker like you, you sure have attractive bitches around you, hm? That pinky boy you date is not my style, but this one though," he cackles, eyes flashing in faux delight. "This one is pretty and seems innocent enough to corrupt. And he's not even your boyfie. Looks like it's a win for me, huh?"

"Motherfucker," Donghyuck spits out in disgust. His eyes glow dangerously, and his teeth grit in distaste. "Release him fucking now, or I will make sure you will never see tomorrow."

"Oh, I don't know," he taunts mockingly, enjoying the way Donghyuck glowers. He runs his hands on Mark, gripping his hips hard enough to bruise and pushing his face close. His breath hits Mark's lips, too uncomfortable and too close for Mark's liking. He struggles to release himself just to be pinned roughly to the coarse brick wall. He lets out a painful whimper.

"Such a nice voice, too. Maybe I can use him a little. You would allow me to, right, Hyuckie? Don't worry, I will return him to you once I have a taste of his cute perky a—"

Before the senior can finish his last sentence, a flying fist has collided his cheeks. He lets go his grip from Mark and swears. The intruder growls angrily before he pounces and beats the senior up mercilessly. A flash of pink catches Mark's attention, and only then has he realized who is the one fighting the senior.

It is Jaemin, with furious eyes and mad expression. His fists are clenched so hard veins pop up from under his arms' skin, and his knuckles are white from the rigidity. Mark watches it all unfold with wide eyes, both in awe and terrified for Jaemin. He is so lost on the fight that he doesn't realize a pair of hands have slithered its way to pull Mark away from the scene.

He almost screams, afraid that the one who pulls him is one of them. But the hands are steady and firm, aimed to protect, not to harm. And Mark really wants to cry in pure relief when he sees his savior.

"L- Lucas—"

"Shh, sweetheart, you're okay. You're fine. Deep breathe, okay?"

Mark draws in a ragged deep breath, his fingers holding tight onto Lucas' shirt to the point of trembling. He tries to block his tears from falling down, and luckily, it works. He blinks, eyes staring at Lucas with a broken look and miserable face. His face falls even more when Lucas tries to let go, big hands covering Mark's wrists in a warm, comforting but urgent manner.

"Stay here, Mark. Don't move, I will come back to you."

"No!" He grips harder, voice sharp and terrified and begging. He shakes his head wildly, body shaking in fear. "No, Lucas. You can't go there. You will be hurt!"

Lucas smiles softly, but he tenderly moves his hands to hold Mark's fists and releases them from the hem of his shirt. He rubs Mark's cheek, and he looks deep into his eyes.

"Calm down. I won't leave you, I won't be hurt, and so are Jaemin and Donghyuck. You will be okay, too, as long as you obey me and hide here until I come back to you. You can do that, right, love?"

A hitched sob escapes Mark's throat—defeated, troubled, anxious—but he nods in surrender. He helplessly watches Lucas smiles comfortingly at him, before the boy quickly walks away to help stopping—or joining, maybe—the fight. Mark crawls back so his back hits the wall, curling himself into a small ball. The room where Lucas has left him seems like an abandoned classroom, and while it is dark and the curtains are closed tight, Mark doesn't have any courage to stand up and either turning on the lamps or opening up the curtains. He's terrified, he can feel himself trembling with excessive worry and fear. His limbs are restless; his feet bounce in anxiety and he subconsciously bites his fingernails—a long outgrown habit tumbles back to him in a time of high tension and heavy atmosphere.

And after some long minutes that feels like even-longer hours, footsteps echo through the hallway outside the room he occupies.

Mark doesn't know what to expect. It could be one of those three—Lucas, Jaemin, or Donghyuck—but the thought, the possibility of them turning out to be one of the bad guys sends a chilly shiver down his back. He hugs his knees a little tighter and curls himself a little more. His breath quickens, but for the sake of his safety, he tries to control his breathing and make it quieter.

The door handle rattles, and Mark represses the urge to just cry. A few tears might have slipped, but he counts his quietness and barely there self-control as a win. As the door swings, he holds his breath. His heart beats really fast and loud, and he's afraid that whoever it is that comes inside can hear it as loud as Mark can.

The footsteps get nearer; Mark shuts his eyes tight and prays.

Please, he begs, please, let it be Lucas or Jaemin or Hyuck.

The footsteps halt, and Mark can feel the presence of someone standing in front of him, because the presence crouches down to try and match his stance.

"Oh, pumpkin," a familiar voice cooes, and Mark opens his eyes to the sight of Johnny with a sad look on his face. "Come here, baby, you're safe now."

 

 

Mark nearly dries his tear glands that afternoon, but he still finds some tears to let out as his eyes catch the sight of Jaemin, Lucas, and Donghyuck standing all tall and strong. Few bruises and cuts litter their gorgeous faces and decorate their exposed arms, but other than those minorities, they seem fine and healthy and not in pain.

Mark feels so glad, so very much glad, that he ignores the weak state he is in just to run to the three boys who have captured his heart. Half of the distance they were in, Mark sways, unbalanced and distorted. He feels like falling, but three sets of arms safely engulf him in a warm huge embrace, and Mark swears, nothing has felt this right in his life.

"Hey, hey. Take it easy."

"Oh my god, why are you suddenly running like that? It's not safe, especially in a state you're in."

"Are you okay? He slammed you and you hit your head pretty hard."

A weird, foreign feeling of warmth blossoms inside his chest, spreading a good feeling of happiness and affection inside. He smiles throughout the tears that run down his cheeks, laughs out loud despite the stream dripping his chin.

The boys scold him for pretty much everything; for his stupidity (as he charged towards the bullies even when he never knows how to fight), his carelessness, and his attempt on fooling Jaemin and Donghyuck to meet up.

"Such a dumb boy," Jaemin snips with a whipped smile, followed by a snort from Donghyuck. Jaemin narrows his eyes for a few hot seconds, before he adds, "But fortunately, still smarter than the real dumbass over there."

"Hey!" Donghyuck protests, pretending to look affronted as he glares weakly to the pink-haired boy. Mark giggles, but it halts as he sees one missing boy. He whips his head just to catch the back of a figure walking away from them. Mark takes a step, only to be stopped by a pair of arms that hooks on his waist. He turns to see Donghyuck shakes his head.

"Give him time, he's been through a lot today."

"He worries a lot about you, Markie," the other boy whispers, eyes downcast with a weak smile. "He deserves you more than us."

Mark inclines to disagree, but he couldn't. Lucas has took such a huge part now in his life, and the feelings he has, have gradually changed. The hoards of butterflies in his tummy flutter the same way as when he's with Jaemin and Donghyuck, and maybe, just maybe, he's pretty much doomed for real now.

Mark's heart falls, his feeling turns and negativity has reared its ugly head. If he can't even correctly love one boy, then how could he loves two, let alone three boys? He feels bad, like he's being much too greedy for loving not only one or two, but three boys.

 

 

From then on, the peonies in his pot and the sunflowers he moved to the backyard have grown healthier, even growing small pretty buds. And while the daisies are still in the same condition, Mark feels relieved. At least, two of the flowers—and two of his relationships—have been fixed and is now flourishing.

His feelings for Jaemin and Donghyuck have developed from a mere crush into a big, full-blown like. Meanwhile, he's now pretty sure that the jumbled up mess inside his head and the fluttery churning feeling inside his tummy everytime he is with Lucas is big signs of love.

Now that he's settled his own fucked up feelings, he has to fix whatever mess he has made of his relationships. Accepting the realization that you might have fallen in love with three boys is hard, but redefining a once-very-close relationship which is now cracked is another type of hard.

At least, Mark thought, eyes trailing over the sight of his unbloomed daisies, at least these relationships are not unfixable.

 

 

Mark accidentally meets Lucas—for the first time after the fight—right in front of their usual cherry tree spot, where they always went to at lunch before all the problems arise. The cherry tree has blossomed quite beautifully, with its pink petals falling down and swept away by the wind. The sight is beautiful and calming, but Lucas is more beautiful and his heart can't really understand the concept of being calm.

They lock eyes for a few seconds. And while Mark contemplates his decision—to go near him or to keep their respective distances—Lucas seems to take the initiative on deciding. He takes a step closer, another step, and another steps, until they stand close, chest-to-chest with Lucas' arms wrapped around Mark's waist and Mark's palms holding softly onto Lucas' shoulders. Their eyes never stray, like they were each captivated by the otherworldly being in front of them.

Lucas first opens up his mouth, but Mark beats him to it.

"I'm sorry," he starts, voice a mere whisper but sounds so sincere, "I'm sorry for worrying you, for not thinking twice to fight those people, for getting you tangled with my problems. I should've thought about how the people around me cares about me and never wants me in trouble. I've been so reckless and stupid. Thank you for saving me, for helping me all these times when you can just leave me and all my insecurities and weaknesses behind. Thank you for making me feel like I'm worth to be loved; that I am just as important to this world as other people. Thank you for giving me your loves. I'm sorry if I never consider your feelings and just do whatever I want, regardless of your concern."

"Mark," Lucas croaks, eyes swimming in delicate despair and mouth forming a small weak smile, "It's okay. How can I be mad at you when all you've done to me is making me feel alive? You're worth everything, Mark, and I swear, wherever you are and whenever it is, I would always be fast on my feet to save you and whisk you away from the bad side of this world." There is a heavy feeling, a phantom sound voicing Lucas' thought of 'I love you's that doesn't go unheard by Mark. Lucas closes his eyes, inhale deeply and exhale slowly, but when he opens his eyes, a pair of lips lands on top of his own. Fires are lit inside his chests, fireworks erupt inside his stomach, and sweet taste lingers on his lips from where Mark's lips have touched his.

"M- Mark—"

Another kiss is stolen right under his nose, taking away his breath and sanity, leaving him breathless and wanting more. Lucas growls as Mark tries to break their kiss, pulling the smaller body tighter and pressing his lips deeper. Mark gasps, melting right in Lucas' embrace.

The kiss breaks when they hit three minutes. By then Mark's lips redden and swell from the biting kiss, his eyes dazed. Lucas grins giddily, swiping his thumb to rub off a small patch of saliva on the corner of the smaller's plush lips before stealing another kiss—a light, innocent, barely a peck kind of kiss. The blush on Mark's cheeks spreads, crawls to the tips of his ears in a pretty pink splatter.

"I think— no, I definitely am in love with you, Lucas."

Lucas' smile is warm and contented as he goes back on his newly-found addiction of pecking Mark's lips. His thumbs stroke the apple of Mark's cheeks delicately, before he touches his forehead with Mark's.

"That's funny, Mark Lee. Because I'm pretty sure I've never been this in love in my life."

 

 

Just as how Mark's relationship with Lucas blooms, his relationship with Jaemin and Donghyuck also blossoms prettily. After both of them have fixed whatever their problems are, they go to Mark and confess—which are such a huge surprise for Mark because, wow, he feels quite loved right now. And while Mark really loves Lucas with all his heart and soul, he also loves both of the younger boys as much. Lucas understands this. After all, he was the one who helped Mark went through all his self-worth issues and got him back on his feet again.

But it seems like Mark doesn't share the same sentiment.

"No, I- I don't think I can do this," Mark hiccups, eyes screwed shut as he tries to remember the breathing technique to calm his accelerating heartbeat. His palms are clammy on top of Lucas', and unshed tears brim underneath his eyelashes. Lucas can feel his heart cracks and shakes in tender pain as he sees the smaller boy struggles.

"Baby," He coos, skimming a delicate long touch under Mark's chin, before proceeding to press a chaste butterfly kisses on his face. Mark takes in a shuddering inhale, face mushed on the soft fabric of Lucas' hoodie. "Love, look at me. It's fine. Everything is going to turn out okay. Even if it's not, I'll still always be right beside you."

"B- but— I love them, I love you all so much, Lucas. So, so much. It hurts me to think that one day you all will grow tired of me and decided to leave me alone."

"Hush, none of that negative thoughts. We will never grow tired of you. We love you so much too. After all, how can we get tired of you, when you look like an angel sent from the heaven?" Lucas pulls Mark closer to him, reaching out to press a loving kiss on his forehead—and as fast as it comes, the anxiety goes away, then the negativity morphs into giggles and sweet blush. Lucas smiles softly, thumbing the tear tracks on Mark's cheeks delicately with such a visible glint of adoration in his gaze.

"Thank you, Lucas."

"No problem, baby. I love you."

Mark giggles, patting Lucas' cheeks with playful fingers before planting a small peck on them. "I love you too," he whispers.

 

 

When Donghyuck steps on the place where he and Jaemin had asked Mark to go, he's not surprised to see Jaemin there. The younger boy looks skittish and nervous, long fingers either fiddling with loose threads on his sleeve or picking on the stray curls that fall attractively on his forehead.

The sight reminds him of what makes the mighty Lee Donghyuck falls in love for Na Jaemin.

And when Mark comes, in all his soft hoodie and tousled hair glory, smiling a little bit shyly while waving his hand and giggling along with Lucas, Donghyuck and Jaemin could never find the reason of why they couldn't be together.