Willow knows her plants; which ones healed, which ones hurt, which ones were harmless until put under just the right circumstances that made them dangerous. When she walked into a room, she could list the plant life in alphabetical order, noting the health of each individual plant as she went along.
She could even tell you the secret meaning behind the flowers witches would gift another.
"Oh! The shorter one with the glasses is telling her friend that she thinks she has a wonderful smile with those yellow tulips."
"The man with the pipe, he's giving his brooding friend daffodils, a strange choice, maybe he just doesn't know that they mean unrequited love. They seem happy."
"Forget-me-nots, how romantic for that big guy to give them to the guy he's with!"
Usually she'd make these comments while walking around with Gus or Luz. Catching the sight of the plants in the hands of witches, she'd just gush over them. The reactions she received would vary from grossed out by the concept of romance, to moderate enthusiasm — that would get easily distracted by some other interesting thing. It wasn't really fun doing it with people around.
Until she started hanging out with The Golden Guard, well, the ex-Golden Guard. He was simply known as Hunter these days. If he needed a title, it was simply "the free loading neet," who had taken up one of Eda's empty bedrooms and a place in Luz's heart as a dear, annoying brother figure.
So, he was now the fifth member of their group, tagging along whenever Eda hadn't put him to work at her human merchandise stand, or whenever his nose wasn't stuck in a book, hidden away in some dark corner of the library.
The first time he had shown interest in her little game, was by complete accident on her part. She caught sight of a chipper young woman throwing primroses at a forlorn looking man and gasped. "What a message!" she muttered, expecting the rest of the group to pay her no heed.
"Where? A code? A cipher?" Hunter asked, his complete attention on her now.
She's getting nervous, flustered even, what was she going to say? It was Embarassing to bring up this silly little game she played, especially because usually it got to be romantic, and boys just didn't care for it.
But Amity pipes up, and answers for her, "she means the flowers," and she points across the street to the couple, now holding hands, "you give someone primroses to tell them 'I can't live without you,' without actually saying it."
Amity smiles at Willow, happy with how she helped her friend out of a jam. Willow bites her cheek, still gravely embarrassed by this development
"Oh! Yeah! I remember reading that somewhere. Maybe I saw it in Aloysius' Guide to the Modern Witch, from when was it, 1654? There were a lot of lists and terms in there..." he ponders for a moment before realising he's rambling, and collects himself, "So what, you just watch for the flowers witches give each other, and try to figure out the story?"
Willow frowns, feeling like he's making fun of her, but nods because she's been told to be polite to everyone.
"So it's just people watching with extra points," Hunter says mostly to himself, looking across the street to watch the couple walk away, primrose petals trailing after them.
From then on, it seemed as if Hunter had a better eye for the flower exchanges than she does, and she's a little insulted by it. Her pride as a Plant Witch —
"I've spent my whole life people-watching," Hunter says, "I'm just really good at spotting things out of place. Oooh, look Willow, there, that poor girl is getting yellow hyacinths!"
It ends up to be pretty fun, picking out flowers from the crowds with Hunter. He doesn't know all the meanings, and that's where she shines, and his complete attention, absorbing every word she speaks, it feels very, very nice.
They end up talking not just about the secret language the flowers keep, but about the plant life found around the isles. And not just local flora, but digging through Eda's human world junk, they found some botanical books, and look over them together, exchanging notes.
Hunter is very enthusiastic, ranting and raving with such enthusiasm, she happily sits and listens to him explain the bizarre reproductive system of the flesh eating plants found along the shores of the sea.
He'd clam up on occasion, embarassed to get so expressive over his learnings, but she'd just nod at him to continue on. It was very nice to listen to him. And the smile he would give her, shy and thankful, just before he went onto another spiel, well, what it did to her heart was really no one's business but hers.
"That's a lump of grass, does that count?"
"Hm yep, it means submission."
"Huh, you could just kneel down at their feet, like this, and proclaim—"
"—oh my Titan, Hunter get up, they're looking at us funny!"
"But there's no grass around here."
"Oh, look, garlic blooms, vampire related you think?"
"Maybe, but they also mean courage, so it could be just accepting a challenge."
"Would be funny if it was two for one, huh. Like, the vampire was the one giving the garlic, courageous to give the witch the very thing that could kill them, but they trust them so much."
"Oh, Hunter, that's, actually rather romantic."
"Uh, yeah, Amity's been dumping romance novels on my table, it's like she's challenging me? So I've uh, been reading them, can't back down from a challenge ya know."
"That's a marigold right there, now, would it be cruelty, grief or jealousy?"
"Well, look at their stances, what does that tell you, oh great and wise cryptid of the library's third floor?"
"Ah har har. They have a weapon concealed, we need to leave now. I don't want you getting hurt by a stray knife — no, no, don't give me grief, I know you can hold your own in a fight, just please follow me."
It's not until some months later, they come across a very peculiar situation.
Willow immediately assumes it's to do with the hanahaki disease, with the way the figure on the ground looks so sickly while clutching a bouquet of irises with red splotches decorating the petals. She tries to usher Hunter away, quickly, since she knows the disease is airborne, all it needed was to get it's spores consumed.
But Hunter wouldn't budge. He doesn't understand what he was seeing, and he needs to understand.
"He's all alone," he starts, "but he's got a bouquet of irises? Who would abandon him after seeing that? That's a very strong declaration of friendship, Willow!"
Willow sighs, and as quietly as possible she says to him, "it's hanahaki."
And just like that, instantly Hunter's eyes shoot up in alarm, fear overtaking his features, and he grabs Willow's wrist and pulles her through the crowds, racing to get as far away as possible, lest they get sick too.
Willow gets a check up with the Healer's Coven, and it's confirmed she hasn't gotten the pesky parasite growing in her lungs. She's very relieved because she can't quite put a finger on the person who would cause affection to bloom from her throat.
She's fairly confident she could confess, kill the disease before it got too bad.
She wonders what flowers she'd spill from her lips, maybe ivy sprigs for affection, or jonquil for wanting affection returned, or maybe blue violets for always being true, or yellow roses for friendship would be nice too.
She just can't imagine who'd bring these feelings out of her heart. But she imagines those flowers tied together with a red ribbon and Hunter comes to mind, and she slaps her cheeks. It's no good to imagine her friend like that.
And thankfully, Hunter seems fine too. He doesn't say it, but he never says anything about his health. She can figure it out though, by looking at how dark his eye bags have gotten. They're the usual tint of grey, so she assumes he's just as healthy.
He'd totally tell her if he'd gotten hanahaki; he loves dissecting symbolism out of the flowers. They'd have a field day out of it.
It goes south. Fast, and without much mercy on her heart.
It begins after a sparring session. Some months ago, they learn of their mutual interest in athletics, in getting strong to protect, and started training together every couple of days.
All she does is touch his shoulder, maybe a little too fondly, and call his name, to just, thank him. And he keels over, clutching his chest as he coughs up what sounds to be a lung.
She wonders if he had caught a cold, and was pushing himself to do this for her, and her chest squeezes with concern.
She kneels besides him, her hand on his back, and she tries to get a good look at him, but he stubbornly hides away, curls up and does his best to escape. His ears are tinted red, and she thinks he's caught a fever.
It doesn't do him much good, because it just makes her worry more, "Hunter, are you okay? You didn't catch a cold did you? You look feverish..."
"I'm fine, don't worry about me," he harshly whispers, hiding his face with his hands.
She stares at him, completely baffled by his strange behaviour.
And then she notices it.
A flower petal, mostly hidden from her sight by his hunched pose, he's almost completely stepped on it. She picks it up, ignoring his sharp gasp, and inspects it.
"This is from an ambrosia flower." She says, baffled by the sight of it, "it means your love is reciprocated. What is it doing here?"
And his head flies back up to look at her; his eyes, so so so wide with shock, unbelieving her words or this situation. Maybe both.
She spots a smudge of red on his mouth, barely visible with how red his face is, and she looks back at the petal. She spots a small red dot, she can't believe she missed, and it all makes so much sense now.
Hunter has caught the hanahaki disease.
"This is good," she says, way too confident and full of excitement for his poor nerves, "you got the ambrosia flower! Hanahaki follows the symbolism! All you need to do is confess, and you're cured! And there's no need to be scared either, this right here confirms the attraction is mutual!"
And Hunter is a mess. He stands to his full height, towering over her. His face and ears are bright red, and his lips are twisted into a sort of scowl, like he's torn between mortification and joy. Which, she thinks, is completely understandable considering the situation.
He eventually breaks into a wild grin and starts laughing. The stress he imagined himself under evaporates as he collapses back to the ground, rolling around in mirth.
Which is a very, very, funny image, so she starts laughing along with him.
When he settles, he gives her a smile that sets her own heart on fire. He looks at her so fondly, so tenderly, she feels a pang of jealousy for whoever gets his affections. She chastises herself for thinking that, and turns to the boy, "so, are you gonna do it?"
He nods, confidence returned in full.
"I love you," he says.
And Willow smiles to that, "that's good practice,"
"No, Willow, I love you."
And that makes her pause.
So that's what it was all about.