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Sneaking Glances Behind His Back

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Mayuzumi Chihiro hated himself for not stepping into the small and quaint bookstore around the corner sooner. He would've saved himself the late night scouting of new reading material that easily made permanent bags under his eyes. It wasn't until an old friend of his- wait, no, scratch that -old short redhead of a tyrant slightly hinted that there was a new bookstore in his local area with a more than understanding clerk who didn't judge you on what you read, which Mayuzumi thanked the gods for. Looking more into the bookstore’s background later at home, he found his extremely high standards for a new hangout spot surprisingly well met, if not exceeding his standards a bit.

The bookstore was new, which didn’t surprise the silver haired man, as he had never heard of it. What did surprise him was the fact that the bookstore was being run by a fairly young man who was only in his early twenties. There wasn’t any pictures or descriptions other than the praise said in reviews on the bookstore. The store was reliable, as many stated, and very calming for anyone who entered. It didn’t feel like a bookstore, another review said, as it was more familiar and friendly than any store in the area. Curiosity took over the young man as his eyes skimmed over multiple reviews, a few praising articles, and the ever-growing list of what the store had in stock. It was Mayuzumi’s dream come true. The store had every single one of his favorite light novels, manga, comic books, and science-fictional sensations that he could ever hope for. Deciding that he had to go see the store for himself, Mayuzumi quickly shut off his laptop, put on his coat, and left his small apartment. Luckily, the store was only a few minutes away, adding even more reasons for why he’s an idiot for not choosing to go to the store sooner. As he stepped through the doors, he was overwhelmed.

His eyes immediately landed on one fairly attractive clerk relaxing on his left land while he held ‘Quiet Odyssey’ in the other. A puff of soft blue locks curled around the man’s face, complimenting the faint definition of his jaw. Under long lashes were a set of blue eyes that had Mayuzumi’s breath caught in his throat, even if they did hide behind a pair of blue glasses. However, sensing another presence in the store, the man looked up from his page and sent a small smile to the silver haired fellow. Setting his book down, although he made sure to bookmark it first, the clerk took off his glasses and made his way to the front of the store.

“Ah, welcome. How can I help you?” The clerk’s voice was as soothing as a lullaby, continuing to make him swoon. Tucking a loose lock of hair behind his ear, he continued, “I’m the clerk of the store, Kuroko Tetsuya. Are you looking for anything in particular?”

Snapping out of his daze, Mayuzumi remembered to respond. He brought his hand up to the back of his neck and rubbed awkwardly. “Um, yeah, I was wondering where I could find the light novels? Ah, also, is it possible to read them here for a bit?”

Surprising him, the clerk in front of him chuckled. “Of course you can. If you just head that way,” He pointed behind him to a sign marked with the number 5, “You can find light novels on the second bookshelf towards your right. Seating can be taken up in the front near the windows or in the back right corner for those who prefer solitude.” He also pointed to a small station where a tall redhead stood, grumbling about something. “If you’re up for a drink, our part-time barista will have no trouble whipping something up for you, free of charge.”

Waving a thanks, he quickly sped off to the direction he was pointed to and skimmed over what was offered. Glad to see the internet hadn’t lied to him this time, his grey eyes sparkled at the selection in front of him. He would never admit it so openly, but he was a completely different person when it came to books. Books were his paradise when he had been feeling down during hard times. Sure, he sounds like a nerd, but he was okay with silently sending the finger to anyone who dared call him that. Grabbing a few of his old favorites, he sat down in the back corner and sighed contently as he was finally able to feel the pages turn instead of aimlessly hitting the right arrow on his keyboard. The silence around him filled him with a sense of relaxation as he felt like he picked a great seat.

Of course, his seat was really great for more reasons than one. He really did enjoy the silence the spot provided, but the thing that really caught his eye was the blue haired clerk clear in his view, yet again reading that book of his. His glasses are back on, which probably means he’s reading seriously. Not that any of that mattered to him, but he couldn’t help but let his eyes linger on the small figure for much longer than expected.

Even with his seat in the far back where no one would bother him, noises still managed to ring through the entire bookstore. Looking up from his book, he could see there were more customers; a small family who was all too familiar with the clerk. He watched as the clerk’s eyes brightened up a shade when he saw the children running to give him a hug, which he of course gave. The adults chatted amongst themselves before Kuroko nodded off towards a different aisle. The parents thanked the man and said something to the children, making them giggle. The giggling children jumped out of Kuroko’s arms and started running towards what could be assumed as the children’s area, making the blue haired man sigh. His eyes watched the children go but then met with a pair of dull grey eyes who quickly looked away, making the clerk chuckle lightly.

Hours had passed before it was notably dark outside. Sighing, he set down his book and turned to see how many was actually stacked in the I'm-gonna-buy-it pile. Counting the pile, and including the book in his hand, it came to around 6 books. Checking the back of the books for their prices, he merely shrugged and went to the counter to ring up the books. As he walked towards the counter, he noticed Kuroko was almost done with his book. Debating internally whether or not to bother the young man, Chihiro stood in his place and wore a puzzling expression. Running a hand through his silver hair, he sighed.

Bother him. Wait, no, that's rude. But it’s his job. From one reader to another, that's a dick move. Since when did you care? Fuck.

As if sensing a greatly confused being near him, Kuroko looked up and merely blinked at the sight in front of him. His face free of any expression had made the customer tense up even more. "Ah, finished?" Kuroko put down his book, although his fingers were used as a temporary bookmark. "I'm assuming you're going to be buying those, then?"

"Nah, I was just taking these books for a walk. It isn't good to be sitting down for several hours without a good exercise now and then." To his surprise, the words of sarcasm roll off Mayuzumi's tongue rather naturally. He didn't mean to, but it was better than staying silent, he supposes.

"Is that so?" The clerk murmured to himself, although under his blank tone was a sense of amusement. Glancing up briefly, Kuroko's eyes did well to conceal any emotions he held at the moment. "Although if you're worried about books getting exercise, I'm very worried for you myself, sir."

"You offend me, Kuroko." Mocking a pout, he dramatically held his hand to his heart. "I'm in very good shape, which I could prove to you if you'd allow me to." Freezing for a minute, he didn't know if he wanted to slap himself for the shameless flirting or slap himself for not doing this earlier. Who knew he could be so smooth under pressure? What a slick guy.

"My, my, proposing such things me without any formalities when you haven't even taken me out to dinner first? And then there's the fact that I don't even know your name." A simply reply, but there was challenge there, and it sparked something between the two.

"Mayuzumi Chihiro." He clicked his tongue. "I have a feeling you'll see me a lot more then, Kuroko. I do hope your attitude takes a turn for the better, though." He chuckled when he saw the clerk narrow his eyes, even if it was a quick moment. Had shots been fired?

"What attitude, Mayuzumi-san? I have many attitudes, last time I checked anyway, so you'll have to specify." Shots fired back with full power, it seems.

Rolling his eyes, Mayuzumi took his purchased items and bid farewell to his new interest. Once he stepped out of the store and walked down the streets to enter his apartment, he couldn't help but lean against his door and let out a few chuckles. His interest has been piqued far too much today. That guy, Kuroko Tetsuya, sat on his mind far longer than he wanted. Not that he cared, of course.

----

The next day, Mayuzumi entered the bookstore and found it a bit more chattier than usual. There were more groups of teenagers surrounding the seats near the windows, laughing and taking pictures in their groups. He walked over to Kuroko and caught a book that just fell out of the large stack he currently held. The clerk turned around to meet the eyes of his helper and quickly smiled a smile of thanks before heading off to his destination. Looking in his hands, Mayuzumi realized he didn’t return the book and ended up following Kuroko to the ‘Young Adults’ section. He didn’t realize how many boxes there were, as he almost tripped on a few, but he managed to dodge them nonetheless.

The blue haired boy sat down his stack of books before tending to a nearby box. “We got a new book today, something the teens have been fawning over for a while. ‘A House in the Sky: A Memoir’ by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett, it seems. Have you read it?” Blue eyes stared briefly into the pair next to him before he continued looking through the boxes around him. “Do you mind helping me stack the books in the top row on the third bookshelf there?” He pointed to the bookshelf in question. “I’m afraid I can’t reach that space so simply.”

“Are you implying you’re too short?” This earned a glare. He held up his hands in defense. “Ah, just messing with you, Kuroko. Of course I’ll help.” He picks up a stack of the books with ease and makes his way to put them in place, one by one. As the shuffling of book placing overwrites the teenage excitement, he couldn’t help but glance over to the shorter man. “How come you work alone?”

“Hmm? I wasn’t aware I did. After all, I have quite a few staff members to help me, but I appreciate your concern.” Simple and out of courtesy, just as expected.

“Staff members? Like who?” Mayuzumi walked over to Kuroko and planted a hand on his head. “Don’t tell me you and your multiple attitudes count as staff members.”

The hand on his head was immediately rewarded with a mocking pout and was slapped away. The clerk huffed out an annoyed sigh, although it wasn’t really what the man felt. “Mayuzumi-san, please, how could you be so judgmental to me?”

“I never said I was nice.” The reply was cautious but still on the edge of playful.

“Personality-wise, you aren’t very nice at all.” There’s the stab through the taller man’s ego. “But on other matters, I suppose you’re sufficient.” A wink later, the blue beauty was gone, leaving a flustered silverhead behind. He grumbled to himself and set off to grab some books to read in the back corner in order to avoid any more unnecessary flirting.

The next few hours went by just as planned: Sitting behind a mountain of books while hopelessly staring at the blue haired clerk once in a while. Sometimes it became difficult to spot the man, as he wasn’t very noticeable at all behind the bookshelves, but he still managed to come into Mayuzumi’s line of sight every so often. He had a different book in his hand this time, one that said, ‘Saving Fish from Drowning’ in graceful lettering. As Kuroko sat down to read it, the teenagers from earlier eagerly talked about the new book in stock today and took plenty of pictures with their phones and said something along the lines of how they were ‘totally’ going to enjoy the book. Eyes rolling, Mayuzumi turned his eyes back to his sci-fi comic in his hand, a new addition to his waiting collection.

Again, it was getting dark out, and Mayuzumi finally realized he never grabbed something to eat. Taking up the suggestion on visiting the store’s small café, he stared at the tanned man with cropped dark blue hair. Wasn’t there a redhead yesterday? It didn’t matter, he decided, and he picked up a small menu anyway. The tanned man didn’t see Mayuzumi at all, which meant he’d have to put extra effort into getting the man notice him. It was only natural, as the silverhead wasn’t very bold in his approaches, but he didn’t want to waste the energy in getting just one drink. Then it hit him. He would grab two drinks and use it as an excuse to talk to the clerk once more.

He coughed into his hand, although lightly. When it didn’t work, he coughed a bit more loudly. When that didn’t work, he simply went behind the counter and tapped the man’s shoulders, earning him a screech that he never expected to come out of the muscular man’s mouth. He debated about laughing in the man’s face, but decided to save him further embarrassment in front of the teenagers looming in the window seats.

“W-What?! Tetsu, there’s a ghost in the sto- Oh. Hey, I know you want a drink but you gotta get in front of the counter for that. How’d you even get back here?” He paused and rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. “Um, don’t tell Tetsu I screeched like that. He’d take that and use it against me forever.”

Mayuzumi just simply waved his hand and raised his eyebrow. “So your voice is deep after all?” The tanned man growled lowly, making him chuckle. “Just messing with you. I won’t tell, since I get that reaction a lot, although I’d like something in exchange.” He took up one of the stools near the counter and rested his head on the back of his hand as he saw the barista shrug nonchalantly.

“If you want a free drink, tough luck buddy, everything’s free already.” He replied.

“I knew that. Are you close friends with the clerk over there?” He pointed to Kuroko and saw the man’s eyes light up at the mention of the small man. The man nodded. “I was wondering if you could hint me at what kind of drinks he likes. He’s been doing a lot of work around here and I just wanted to strike up a conversation.”

The man’s eyes narrowed at the reasoning but shrugged nonetheless. “If you want to catch Tetsu’s eyes, just a simple vanilla drink has him swooning. I’m Aomine Daiki, by the way. You might see me and another redheaded idiot hanging around Tetsu if you’re planning on flirting with him. We got eyes like a hawk, I can guarantee.” Using two fingers, he pointed at his eyes and swiveled them to the pair of grey staring at him in amusement.

“I’ll be sure not to scare you and the so-called redheaded idiot then when I make my move. Wouldn’t want dear old Kuroko knowing how high your voice can pitch.” He smirked once he saw Aomine stiffen at his words. “But in all seriousness, I’ll just take an affogato and a café au lait, then.” Aomine nodded and returned a few minutes later with the drinks before glaring at the man some more. “Thanks for your kindness, Aomine.”

“Whatever.” He murmured.

Mayuzumi walked to the clerk and slid the affogato silently, just to make sure he didn’t disturb the reading. When the man looked up in question about the drink, the silverhead merely shrugged and walked back to his seat in the back. Walking back, he couldn’t help but feel a stare following his back, but he didn’t want to turn around and meet those beautiful eyes that kept him up at night. Instead, he strode off with confidence that shriveled back to nothing when he sat down and saw the small smile that graced the clerk’s face as he took a sip of his drink. He was going to have a hard time going back to the counter to ring up his growing stack of books. He sighed into his café au lait, almost forgetting to be cautious of the heat from his drink.

Refusing to let himself get lost any more into his books, Mayuzumi picked up his stack of books and walked towards the counter to ring them up. To his surprise, there wasn’t a monotone blank-faced blue bespectacled beauty anywhere. Instead, he found a blonde cheerful fellow who’s looks made all the heads turn in admiration. Of course, he wasn’t really fooling the silverhead in front of him, but he was certainly eye catching. Not in a good way, however. Once he heard the stack of books being placed on the counter, the blonde man rambled on and on about how he was surprised at the lack of presence the customer held. Apparently, Kuroko was the same way, but Mayuzumi barely caught that point in the midst of the blonde man’s ranting.

“…And then I told Kurokocchi that he should’ve spoken up earlier, you know? An-” It had already been a full 30 minutes before the blonde man finally noticed there was no customer anymore. Instead, there was a note left on the counter that told him to go die, which he took very seriously and bawled all over Aomine, much to his irritation.

----

By the time he noticed, it had already been a month and a half since he started going to the bookstore regularly. The fall air was getting colder and colder by the day, but Mayuzumi still went to the bookstore to purchase a small amount of books every day. The amount of money he spent on books was a mystery all on its own, but that didn’t matter. By now, the routine was quite clear for every day he went into the small and comfortable store.

Starting on Mondays, he would find the clerk reading a new book for the week. He would then greet the man, be greeted back, and walk towards his new home of aisle 5. The books would gain another member at least once a week, which of course, always ended up being purchased. By the time 4:00p.m rolled around, Mayuzumi would go greet the barista of the day, a man he learned was named Kagami Taiga, and get two small pastries. One was a simple vanilla tart with small fruit on top and another would be a chocolate chip cookie. The vanilla, of course, always went to the blue haired man, who’d mutter a thank-you very politely before going back to his reading. Mayuzumi would go back to his seat and every now and then, he’d sneak a glance at the clerk in hopes of seeing a small smile, even if it didn’t happen very often. He also made sure to cast a glance to the baristas every now and down, to see whether or not it was Kagami or Aomine who was giving him the death stare, to which he always returned from behind the men, making them scream very often at the new presence.

Tuesdays were restocking days for the store, which always brought in new customers ranging from picture-taking teenagers to cranky adults who didn’t have the patience with the outside world. Every morning, Mayuzumi would enter the store, walk over to Kuroko, and help out the shorter man in any way he could. This meant he would grab half of the stack being carried in the smaller set of arms next to him and go towards the designated area in order to put the books wherever was specified. Although the clerk could easily do this job, he was glad someone reached the taller shelves for him, which Mayuzumi teased about now and then. By 5:00p.m, Kuroko would leave his post at the counter and walk towards the children area to read to the kids found there at the time. The books read to the children always ranged from fairy tales such as ‘The Little Mermaid’ to simpler titles such as ‘The Cat in the Hat’. To see the softened expressions on the clerk’s eyes as he read to the children was always a mood-changing experience for the silverhead.

Wednesdays and Thursdays were the days he dreaded the most. While Kuroko went around the store organizing, making Mayuzumi’s sneaky glances almost useless, the person at the desk was more than the silverhead could handle. The blonde, he later found out as the famous model Kise Ryouta, was like a parrot who felt like reciting the entire history of gossip magazines and teenage blog posts. He always brought in more female customers, which was somewhat of a good thing for business, but the females would only be there for his autographs. During these two days, he would catch the staff on duty during their lunch break and join them at the small café. Small talk was made, although it was mostly made of the blonde’s whining and the fiery redhead’s/indifferent dark bluehead’s groaning over the noises emitting from the model. Sometimes a Kiyoshi Teppei would join the party with his friend Hyuga Junpei and make the atmosphere even more friendly and lively, as they were probably the only ones to notice the two light haired readers. He feigned annoyance at the two, causing Hyuga to go absolutely livid, but nevertheless enjoyed the company.

The weekend days were mostly the same, if not exactly the same. Occasionally, Kuroko would sneak his dog into the store, which always ensured a screaming Kagami somewhere in the distance. The dog was small and adorable, making it a no-brainer that it scared Mayuzumi the first time he saw it. It had jumped into his lap and slept there when the boy was in the middle of a very saucy manga, which resulted in the book being thrown across the room and a strange noise piercing the air. Kuroko was absolutely trying his hardest not to burst out laughing at the scared idiots in the store, which made them glare at him in a furiously flustered way. He’d apologize politely, not meaning it in the slightest, and call the dog back to him. The dog would immediately stroll back to its owner innocently and lick the life out of Kuroko’s face when picked up. The blue eyes they shared were always bright and glistening with joy, making the silverhead sigh at just how ridiculous this store’s owner was. He didn’t mind it one bit.

Mayuzumi Chihiro told himself that every time he'd sneak a glance towards the insanely attractive bookstore clerk without striking up a conversation, he'd drown himself in light novels and shounen-ai manga until he got enough ideal courage to approach the man without fail. Days went by without a second for the silver haired man to catch his breath before he realized he had at least 43 different types of material to read, all of which was neatly stacked next to him when he wasn't paying attention by a ghost of a figure. He didn't even need to crane his neck too far before he looked straight into the everlasting ocean eyes belonging to a face wearing the faintest of amused expressions.

He managed to stutter out an inhumane noise and fall out of his chair, causing Kuroko to try to not snort at the sight. He tried to cover his reddening face with his arms, but curiosity got the better of him and he snuck a glance at the person towering over him. “Do you always do that?”

The clerk took off his glasses and set them on the table before offering a hand to his fallen friend. “Sometimes, I suppose. I thought you could tell when I was around, Mayuzumi-san. Perhaps we haven’t spent enough time together, then?” He pulled up the silver head before loosening his grip on the larger man’s hand. “Don’t tell me you’ve fallen for me already?”

Mayuzumi snorted. “Kuroko, I would’ve never thought you would use a pun like that.” He reluctantly let go of the smaller hand and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Might I ask why you suddenly decided to come so close to my face? Or are you the one who’s fallen for me?”

“Mayuzumi-san, you’re awfully cocky.” Kuroko hummed in thought. “I came to tell you that as a friend, I’m worried for your over-bearing stack of reading material. Did you forget that you’ve already bought maybe half of this stack already?”

“Oh.” He looked at his stack. Was it really over-bearing? He started skimming over the titles and counted them from start to finish. “Did I really? Shit, I just grabbed whatever came to mind.” Picking out the ones he was 100% sure he had at home, Mayuzumi went to go return the books to their original spot, not noticing the blue haired man behind him organizing the books into neat little piles.

When he returned, the blue haired clerk was nowhere to be seen, but his glasses were still on the table. He picked them up and started searching for the owner. It was troubling to locate the shorter man, but when he did, he almost wished he didn’t. The man was talking to an all too familiar redhead with mismatched eyes, and Mayuzumi immediately wished he wasn’t there. When the redhead saw him, however, he smirked and bid goodbye to Kuroko.

“Chihiro,” He started out coolly. “Are you enjoying Tetsuya’s company?” His voice was sweet. Too sweet. He knew something that the other didn’t and it made him overly sweet.

“Akashi? What are you doing here?” He paused to make sure his face didn’t hide any of the annoyance he felt at the moment. Forget giving back the glasses. He needs to have a showdown with his former colleague. “How do you know Kuroko?”

“Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know Tetsuya beforehand. I just came to see how he was doing.” His eyes flickered down to the glasses in the other man’s hands before continuing. “Why else would I recommend this bookstore? Tetsuya is a very interesting person, wouldn’t you agree?”

Snorting, the silver haired man rolled his eyes at the shorter one in front of him. He didn’t know what to say to Akashi, but he did know one thing. He wanted to flick him off so bad, the desire was almost overwhelming. “Yeah, I guess. Look, I’m just going to go return his glasses before he ends up tripping over nothing. Later.” He made an extra effort to not look back as he heard Akashi trying to hold in his chuckling.

“How hostile.” Was all he heard from Akashi before Mayuzumi went right up to Kuroko.

Kuroko was finishing up his book of the week, ‘The Well of Loneliness’, when Mayuzumi reached him at the front counter. “Geez, are you really trying to read without your glasses?” He looked up and saw grey eyes staring straight into his blue ones. “Or do you just wear them to look cool?”

“Does Mayuzumi-san think I look cool?” He tilted his head.

“Not at all.” Kuroko chuckled at the bland reply. “Don’t get offended, but I think you look like a nerd.”

“Says the one who grabbed 43 light novels, different pieces of manga, comic books, and laid them all over the table. Who’s the real nerd here, Mayuzumi-san?” He put back on his glasses. “I think these glasses are rather nice, even if I wear them for reading purposes only. Akashi-kun gave them to me, after all.”

He scowled. “Akashi did that? And he didn’t want anything in return?” When Kuroko shook his head in a light sway of his head, Mayuzumi was shocked. “Really? Nothing?”

Kuroko set down his book, bookmarking it first like always, and turned to the man in front of him. “Are you implying Akashi-kun is someone who always wants something in return?”

“I can’t help it, that guy gives me that impression. I’ve known him since my freshmen year in college and I still can’t help but think he’s out for my head.” He sighed. “How would you know if he wasn’t out to get you, Kuroko?”

Kuroko placed his head on the palm of his hand and hummed in thought. A few minutes later, he stared right back into Mayuzumi’s with challenge in his eyes. “Mayuzumi-san, could you be jealous?” When he saw the man stiffen, he couldn’t help but let out a small smile, even for a moment. “I would’ve never pegged you to be that sort of man.”

“I’m not!” He huffed out in annoyance. Kuroko raised one of his eyebrows. “I’m seriously not jealous!”

“I wouldn’t mind if you were.” Kuroko merely whispered the sentence, but Mayuzumi caught it anyway. His ears turned red and he let out a frustrated sound before stomping back towards his usual seating area, trying hard not to feel Kuroko’s eyes following his retreating figure.

----

It’s the beginning of winter when Mayuzumi Chihiro feels a warmth in his chest just looking at the blue haired clerk. They both currently sat at the café counter in the store, trying hard not to laugh at Kagami’s reactions to Kuroko’s dog, Nigou. The dog’s blue eyes stared into Kagami’s, yet the large muscular man was the first to shriek and run away in fear of the smaller dog. The dog eagerly followed the taller man, making him shriek even more as he tried to ditch the small animal. Kuroko’s eyes followed Nigou, but Mayuzumi’s eyes followed along Kuroko’s face structure. Every little nook and cranny was embedded into Mayuzumi’s heart, even if he didn’t notice that yet. He couldn’t help but smile at the person in front of him.

Christmas was coming up, making it a full 3 months since Mayuzumi walked into the bookstore. He was absolutely baffled at what to get the clerk. Kagami and Aomine were easy enough, as he had been around them enough to know they had an ever-lasting love for basketball, so he got them special basketball shoes signed with every well-known basketball player’s name from around the world. Connections were so great to have. Kiyoshi and Hyuga let it slip that they’ll be at the store during Christmas, so he respectfully got a very stylized harmonica for Kiyoshi and a limited edition warlord figure for Hyuga.

But what about Kuroko’s gifts? He didn’t talk about himself very often, nor did he let on what he wanted for Christmas. Books? He had a bookstore with every single book he could ever hope for. Vanilla flavored goods? He had the mini café in his bookstore for that. It’s like he planned to stump the silver haired man on the gift-giving holiday for once and for all. What could he do? He didn’t have any special talents like singing, dancing, or cooking. He groaned in frustration, catching Kuroko’s attention. Deciding not to say anything, Kuroko decided on raising an eyebrow instead, to which Mayuzumi didn’t roll his eyes at. He just let out another groan, although he dragged it on and made it sounds like a desperate whine. Kuroko chuckled.

“Mayuzumi-san, you seem a bit down. What seems to be the matter?” He slid his head off of the back of his hand and stared into the grey eyes of his companion. “Are you upset I haven’t been paying attention to you lately? My apologies.”

“Kuroko, what do you want for Christmas?” Kuroko’s eyes widened a bit before returning to their natural state. Before he could say anything, Mayuzumi beat him to it. “And don’t say you don’t want anything because I’m going to go fucking nuts if you do. Please just spare me the trouble and tell me what you want.”

“Ah, is that all?” The silver haired man nodded. “I was going to say nothing as you predicted, but hearing that obscene language used in such an act of desperation, I’ll pass. What I want, hmm…” He tapped his index finger to his chin and looked genuinely deep in thought. A few minutes later, he looked back at Mayuzumi. “I don’t have a preference for anything other than your company, I suppose.”

“Are you hitting on me?” To answer his question, he saw Kuroko’s mouth twitch upwards, almost seeming like a smirk.

“Mayuzumi-san, I believe you’re mistaken. I’ve just come to enjoy your lesser known presence, that’s all. Is that too much to ask?” Kuroko took both their finished beverages and briefly brushed his hands against Mayuzumi’s. “Saying things so blunt ruins the mood, you know. Try a more flirtatious approach like the ones you see in those light novels of yours. Taking a few pointers on how to woo someone such as myself can be quite beneficial, I’ve been told. I’m quite interesting when you get me alone in your company.” Before Kuroko completely disappeared behind the café’s counter, he slightly turned his head back to meet the shocked gaze full of grey wonder. “Just kid~ding.”

“Kuroko, oh my god.” Mayuzumi hid his reddened ears with his hands and hit his head against the table. He couldn’t believe what he just heard flow out of his friend’s mouth. Are they even friends? They’ve known each other for a few months now, so he could assume it would be a yes. But would they be stuck as friends forever? At this rate, the next time he’ll get a chance to impress Kuroko is his birthday, and even then he’ll never have a gift ready. Things would’ve been so much simpler if that man wasn’t so complicated in his own little way. Things would’ve been so simpler if he never stepped foot into this bookstore, came here regularly, let people into his quiet little heart, and…

Things would’ve been so much simpler if he didn’t fall in love with Kuroko Tetsuya.

He hated to admit it, but he fell in love with the blue haired bookstore clerk the moment he stared into those eyes of his. The eyes pulled him in and refused to let him go, much like the ocean. They were vast and deep, never ending the adventure lying behind the eyes. And before he knew it, he had already drowned in those thoughts of his. He wanted to explore everything about Kuroko, whether it be mentally or physically. To finally be able to stop sneaking glances behind his back and actually stare straight into those eyes without any guilt was his lifelong dream. But that dream had to unfortunately wait.

----

The bookstore was closed on Christmas, but regulars still came to enjoy the celebration. Mayuzumi ended up meeting more of Kuroko’s old friends, ones of which he didn’t have any problems with whatsoever. Midorima Shintarou, a local doctor, had come to quietly and quickly greet the bookstore clerk before handing to him what looked like a present. A fashion designer had also come by, but she stayed once she saw Kuroko smile at her. Momoi Satsuki was a kind-hearted girl and reacted quite positively to the presence of Mayuzumi, but not before screaming that there was a ghost in the store. She ended up being teased by Aomine, jabbing him in the ribs, and hung out with Kise for the remainder of the party. Surprisingly, Akashi came by to greet the lively party as well with hugs and smiles, scaring Mayuzumi to a large extent. He was accompanied by a larger man with purple hair, Murasakibara Atsushi, who eyes dazzled at the sight of Kagami’s cooking.

Hyuga and Kiyoshi were here, just as promised, and even brought a few of their friends. None of them particularly stood out to Mayuzumi other than a rather loud girl named Aida Riko. She screamed twice that evening as she didn’t see Mayuzumi or Kuroko. She would instead giggle and say something along the lines of an apology before returning to Hyuga’s side. He later learned that the two were actually engaged and their wedding was planned for Valentine’s Day.

The gift giving began a little before 5:00p.m. Everyone received their gifts with wholehearted happiness and thanked their friends in return. The last ones to receive gifts were Kuroko and Mayuzumi themselves, but that was mostly due to the fact that no one saw them. They both really didn’t care in the slightest and actually enjoyed each other’s company while the rest of the group searched frantically for their two phantoms. Mayuzumi realized that this was his chance to give Kuroko his present and silently thanked the gods for letting him have this moment.

He tugged on Kuroko’s sleeve. “Kuroko, close your eyes.” The man gave a confused stare but complied nonetheless. With his eyes closed, he could hear shuffling and silent swearing. “Okay, now if you open your eyes, you have to swear you won’t laugh or judge me in the slightest.” He nodded. “Fine, open them.”

When Kuroko opened his eyes, he expected a flustered silver haired man who tried his best to not look at the clerk, but he didn’t expect what the man was giving him. It was a professionally done digital painting of the close group of friends gathered together in the bookstore, almost like he took a group picture when they weren’t looking. The picture was in a silver frame, one of which was carved with swirls and curls for the outer design. Looking on the back, Kuroko could see Mayuzumi’s signature and cliché title for the piece, which made him chuckle.

“Mayuzumi-san, I didn’t know you could draw.” The taller man huffed out an irritated sigh. “I’m very grateful for your present. It’s beautiful.”

“Whatever.” He simply muttered under his breath.

“Now it’s your turn to close your eyes, Mayuzumi-san. No peaking.” Kuroko shuffled around in his bag to find the desired object. Once he found it, he nodded in approval at the object. “Okay, if you’re ready for it, I suppose you can open your eyes.”

“What do you mean if I’m ready for it-” Mayuzumi started but once his eyes landed on the present, they showed more emotion than they did in his entire life. “Holy shit! Is that the unofficial yet somewhat official fan book for- Is that signed? Oh my god, how did you get this? I’ve been searching my whole life for this!” He immediately grabbed the book and flipped through the pages with an expression filled face resembling a kid getting a new toy.

Kuroko’s lips turned into a ghost of a smile. “Mayuzumi-san, did you forget I was a bookstore clerk? This is nothing really. I’m glad you enjoy it.”

“Dude, this is probably the best thing ever, hands down. I take back everything I dissed about vanilla.” Kuroko chuckled. “Where in the world have you been all my life?”

The shorter man rolled his eyes, clearly amused at the overly exaggerated praise. He was about to say something, but was rudely interrupted by a surprise tackle hug from the blonde model. “Kurokocchi!!! There you are!!! We were all so worried~”

“Kise-kun, please. I was here the entire time. Mayuzumi-san can vouch for me.” This only resulted in the whining model clinging even tighter to the small bluehead. “Kise-kun, you’re hugging a bit too tight for my preference.” He groaned, knowing full well that the model wasn’t going to let go anytime soon. Mayuzumi simply stared at the sight, wondering if he ever had friends like this. Thankfully, he didn’t.

“Say, Mayuzumicchi, you’re not going to keep Kurokocchi all to yourself, are you? I simply won’t stand for it!” Kise sent a mock glare in extra emphasis. “You’ll have to go through all of us before you could lay your hands on our darling Kurokocchi!”

“Kise-kun, enough.” Kise whined as Kuroko managed to slip out of his grip. When he tried to lock the bluehead again in a tighter hug, he dodged again and hid behind Mayuzumi. “And for starters, I’m starting to enjoy Mayuzumi-san’s company far more than yours. Please leave me alone.” His response shocked the blonde and left him bawling over Aomine once again, causing the muscular man to become even more irritated.

Hours went by as the party was nearing its end. Many had already left, leaving only the staff members behind. Staff members plus Mayuzumi, anyway. The man helped with the cleaning and mingled with the remaining staff before Aomine and Kagami had to leave before the big basketball game ended. Kise also got a call from his current girlfriend, whined about leaving his precious bluenette, and left in a sulking manner. The air suddenly became thick between the two nearly forgettable men, and it certainly didn’t go unnoticed.

Coughing into his hand, Mayuzumi decided to start a conversation. “Kuroko, your birthday’s on January 31st, right?” The bluenette nodded. “How old will you be?”

“I’ll be turning 21.” Pausing, Kuroko took a moment to predict the next question. “Please don’t take that as an excuse to take me out to a bar and get me absolutely wasted. I still have work, you know.”

Mayuzumi gave Kuroko a look of irritation before sighing. He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly and turned his head away. “I won’t do that to you. It wouldn’t be good to get you drunk straight away. Maybe once you reach my age, you’ll decide to take a swig of vodka now and then. You can’t hide behind your lies about drinking forever, Mr. Blank-Stare.”

“And how old are you, Mayuzumi-san?” Kuroko was indeed curious. They’ve never dug this far in terms of personal information. “You must be an avid drinker.”

“Shush. I’m only 2 years older than you, for your information. I’ll be turning 23 in March. Right on the 1st day, too.” He slightly narrowed his eyes at Kuroko. “I only drink because I want to drown my woes of desperation after my favorite couple doesn’t get together in my novels. The frustration eats me alive, you know. Try reading manga like ‘Seven Days’ and you’ll understand right away.” When Kuroko raised his eyebrows, he turned away in embarrassment. “I like certain people together. It’s a thing I picked up a few months after I started reading these things when I was little.”

“So you’ve been dreaming about the perfect couple in each of these novels? You must be the perfect match-maker when it comes to these things, then.” The taller man let out in inhumane sound in a flustered manner. “It makes me wonder what kind of thoughts you have going through your head, Mayuzumi-san. Are you perhaps imagining these things during dates too?”

“I’ve never been on a date…” It was a simple whisper, but it took a hell of a lot of courage to say it out loud. Kuroko chuckled, making Mayuzumi unable to hide his reddening cheeks any longer. “What? Don’t laugh!”

Kuroko clicked his tongue and stared into Mayuzumi’s eyes. “That simply won’t do. You’re going to be 23 soon and you’ve never been on a date? And I thought Akashi-kun was hopeless.” Mayuzumi glared, making Kuroko even more amused. “That man didn’t even hold hands with anyone by the time he was 20. Aomine-kun tried to drag him into one of those clubs with flashy women wrapping themselves around the patron’s fingers and he didn’t budge.”

“Aomine took him to a strip club?” He gasped, although half because Aomine dragged a dangerous man to a strip club, and half because Akashi refused a stripper.

“Unfortunately, I was dragged there as well. I’ve made quite a few friends, though. They were nice company when you sat them down and explained you didn’t want the sexual part of the experience.” He smiled at the taller man’s shocked expression. “Would you like me to introduce you to them?”

“Oh my god, no. Do you have any pictures of Akashi’s reactions?” Kuroko shook his head. “Damn.”

“I suppose it was an unfortunate experience, seeing as how I never got any pictures of the group’s reactions. Aomine-kun and Kagami-kun were absolutely livid at the fact that Kise-kun attracted all the ladies. Akashi-kun quietly sat in the corner with me as we watched the whole thing unravel. When a few girls approached us as well, he excused himself and actually abandoned us at the club. How cruel.” Kuroko laughed lightly, reminiscing in the shenanigans of his old friends. “I was almost certain Elektra-san and Persephone-san would’ve enjoyed teasing the poor man.”

“Kuroko, you’re something else on your own after hearing that story. To think you’d actually enjoy such a place is beyond my comprehension.” He stared into the blue eyes before him. “And you didn’t hit on them?” Kuroko shook his head once more, making Mayuzumi sigh at the innocent angel’s naïve attitude. “They didn’t dirty up your mind, did they? Teach you unnecessary things and the sorts?”

“What things are unnecessary, Mayuzumi-san?” Kuroko emphasized the unnecessary part just to irk Mayuzumi, he could just tell. His mouth even twitched trying to hide his mocking smile. “I have no idea what you thought I learned.”

He brought the palm of his hand and hit his own face, making sure he was fully awake and hearing the words exchanging between them. He didn’t expect this to take such a turn after his humiliating admission of never going on a date. “Whatever, forget I said that actually. Does this even change anything about my lack of dating experience?”

“Well, would you like to go to the club-” The taller man shrieked at Kuroko to stop.

----

Another month passed, which meant that Kuroko’s birthday came quicker than Mayuzumi thought it would. He didn’t exactly have a birthday present ready for the man, but he still had a little bit of time. It was only the 24th, so he decided to spend the next week trying to squeeze personal information out of the staff members on duty. He immediately started with questioning the baristas, as they seemed to be the closest to Kuroko, but the two refused to let on anything about the clerk. Kise also reacted in a similar way, accusing the silverhead of trying to snatch his precious bluenette away, and proceeded to cling tighter onto Kuroko. He didn’t have very many options left, which meant he’d have to dig a little deeper into his connections. By the time he realized who was left on his list of connections, he frowned deeply. Akashi Seijuurou was the only one left on the list of people Kuroko was close to.

Sighing, Mayuzumi pulled out his cellphone and called Akashi. Making sure he was out of earshot of the clerk, he leaned against the back walls of the store and hid in the shadows. A few rings later, Akashi picked up. “Ah, Akashi, are you there?”

“Chihiro,” He started off. “To what do I owe the pleasure of you calling me for?”

He waited until the bluenette was out of his view before speaking again. “I need to know whatever I can know about what Kuroko would like for his birthday. It’s very urgent.” He heard the other line chuckle at his reason and frowned even more. “If you’re not going to help me, then I’ll just hang up right now.”

“Now, now, don’t be hasty. I’m afraid I can’t help you, as Tetsuya never did prefer anything fancy. Just go with what your heart tells you to go for and hope none of us got him the same thing.” He paused for a moment to hear Akashi move his phone to the other ear. “If it helps, I’ll let you in on something only I know. Tetsuya is very fond of stargazing.”

“And how in the world do you know that?” Mayuzumi clenched his fists, although he wasn’t aware of the action until he felt his knuckles turning white. Jealousy was a fickle thing.

“You didn’t know? Tetsuya and I have been childhood neighbors since I could remember. The same goes for the circle, I suppose. I met him first, to be clear.” Something on the other end clicked and he heard Akashi sigh. “Chihiro, I must leave for now. If you have any other questions, I believe Tetsuya himself will be more than willing to answer them if they came from you. Goodbye.”

“Later, Akashi.” He clicked the end button on his phone and leaned back into the wall. He was getting a headache from all this present nonsense. If he was a more sentimental guy, he’d probably do the thing where he takes the other person out on a romantic night of endless feverish kissing and tight embraces.

But Mayuzumi Chihiro was not that kind of person.

He wasn’t very open about his feelings. Hell, he had a hard time opening up to Kuroko in the first place. But he guesses that’s what makes it special; knowing what kind of things the other one goes through. Determined and ready to take on the challenge, the man walked over to where the clerk was currently stationed. The clerk in question was stacking books into a nearby bookshelf, although he was almost finished and ready to go to the next one. Mayuzumi caught him just in time before the bluenette was in the eye view of the stubborn barista. He pulled the shorter man closer to him until they were only a few inches apart.

“Mayuzumi-san?” Kuroko couldn’t deny the heat he felt between the two as he stared into grey eyes that once held a dull gaze. The more he looked into them, the more emotion he saw in them. Was it always like that? “Is there something on my face?”

“January 30th.” He simply replied.

“What about it?” The bluenette tilted his head in confusion. Yes, that’s the day before his birthday. Was Mayuzumi implying something about it?

“Meet me at the front of the store at midnight.” And with that, the silverhead let go of Kuroko’s hand and walked away, leaving him very confused.

Needless to say, there was a very loud thumping in Mayuzumi’s chest as he tried his hardest to calm down. He just asked out the fairly attractive bookstore clerk from down the street and he didn’t even wait for a reply. Oh well. He had a week to prepare himself to stand in front of the bookstore at midnight looking like a complete tool. That was okay. Mayuzumi Chihiro was never one for romance anyway.

----

A week had rolled by surprisingly quickly and Mayuzumi had dodged the staff members of the bookstore with ease. All he did was make sure he didn’t attract extra attention to himself and keep a low profile. He even refused to buy the new additions of light novels just so he wouldn’t bump into a certain blue haired clerk. It was a very heated internal struggle, which resulted in Mayuzumi crying to himself in the corner of his mind. But he would wear a confident mask and stroll into the store, get a drink from the back of the counter without any of the baristas noticing, and stroll to a different seat. Instead of sitting in the far back right corner in the 3rd seat to the left, he sat in the 4th seat to throw off the blonde who always looked for him. It was a foolproof plan.

But Kuroko Tetsuya was not a fool. His eyes would always catch Mayuzumi’s in the midst of his staring. He would then casually walk over to say something but would be immediately interrupted with the sound of a new customer walking into the store. His lips would press together into a thin line and promised himself he wouldn’t let the grey man go without questions. Of course, he would never actually question the man, but the end of the week rolled by and the fated date had already become a present thought.

January 30th, at 11:54p.m, Mayuzumi had waited in front of the store for Kuroko. He almost thought he was getting stood up before he saw a flash of blue out of the corner of his eyes. He titled his head and gave Kuroko a sincere smile. “So you weren’t that repulsed by my sudden request to show up, huh?” Kuroko stared right back into his own grey ones. In the dark, only the moonlight could show the two, albeit a bit dimly. “C’mon, I’ll show you what I have planned.”

Kuroko complied and the two silently walked down the dark avenue. The only sound that was shared between the two was the soft and subtle breathing. The cold air contrasted against their warm auras, creating small puffs of clouds around their scarf-hiding mouths. When they reached a building, Mayuzumi slyly stepped behind Kuroko and covered his blue eyes.

Kuroko pouted. “Mayuzumi-san, I can’t see.” He heard the man chuckle behind him before feeling a small push against his back. “Don’t tell me you’re kidnapping me to add me to your favorite character collection?”

“Kuroko, I’m sincerely hurt at your razor sharp words.” He gave another push for Kuroko to move forward, although gave the small man time to adjust to his new way of walking. “Trust me, you’ll be fine. I’m going to guide you to your present, alright? Now be good and cooperate because I went through hell to gain the balls to do this. It’s for you and only you.”

“I’m touched. Quite literally.” He smiled beneath his scarf. “Are we going up stairs, by chance?”

“Don’t worry about it. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” Another nudge and Kuroko moved.

It took a little bit of time before the two made it to their destination. Just as predicted, Kuroko had to walk up a few steps before he felt solid ground again. He had to walk a few more paces before he was motioned to stop. “Mayuzumi-san, can you please reveal what you’re planning now?”

“Just a minute.” He laughed lightly. “It’s almost midnight.” Shuffling behind the blue haired man, he made sure everything was in place. The subtle yet very illuminating candles? Check. The specially made cityscape lanterns that go over the candles? Absolutely perfect. Now the only thing left on his list was to woo the man who was currently in front of him. Checking his watch, he watched as the second hand ticked closer to the bold 12. “Alright… Are you ready, Kuroko?”

“I’ve been ready ever since I decided to play your silly little game, Mayuzumi-san.” Kuroko was still smiling in anticipation.

Clicking his tongue, Mayuzumi decided to ignore that snarky little comment. He instead slowly let his hands slide from Kuroko’s soft face to the smaller hands at his side and watched as the bluenette gasped at the sight. Around them were several hand poked lanterns with several landscape designs. One was a cityscape while another resembled a meadow of some sorts. The lanterns themselves glowed around the small candle inside, making them stand out in the dark atmosphere. To make up for the missing stars in the sky, Mayuzumi chose to set up a light blue veil so it would drape over the area and string the lanterns together. Against the blue, the multi-colored lanterns mixed together in a sight that took Kuroko’s breath away.

It turns out that they weren’t on a rooftop, but a secluded lounge area that Mayuzumi spent a couple days convincing the landlord to let him use for that special occasion. The landlord was fond of the bookstore clerk, so she allowed access to this special spot for as long as they needed it. He made a mental note to thank her later before tilting his head to see Kuroko’s eyes reflect the many shades of lanterns flickering around them. Their hands were still intertwined with each other, yet none of them seemed to want to let go just yet. After a few minutes of staring, Kuroko turned his head to meet the gaze of his companion.

“Happy Birthday, Kuroko.” Whispered Mayuzumi as he brought one of his hands up to gently graze the bluenette’s face. “I’m relieved you didn’t kick me in the shins and run away.”

Kuroko let out a quiet and lighthearted laugh. He leaned into Mayuzumi’s hand and smiled a heartwarming smile to the taller man. “I’m impressed, Mayuzumi-san. I’d say your first attempt at a date was a success.” He closed his eyes for a minute before opening them to a half-lidded gaze. “It really makes me glad how much effort you put in to make this happen for my birthday. I thank-you from the bottom of my heart in shear gratitude.”

The silverhead sighed. “You’re a horrible influence on me. I think I’m too sweet on you for my own good.” He couldn’t help but lean closer to close the gap between them. “…But that’s not entirely a bad thing, right?”

“…Right.” After a small whisper left Kuroko’s lips, Mayuzumi gently planted his on top, needing no more words to be spoken. The kiss was simple and sweet, letting the two lose themselves in each other’s company. They didn’t need to hungrily explore each other’s mouths or trail kisses down their jawlines. They just both moaned softly at the touch and took their time to adjust.

Because Mayuzumi Chihiro was the kind of person to finally learn what it meant to fall in love with someone he cherished.

And he was glad he met Kuroko Tetsuya. He was glad he fell in love with the snarky short somewhat ridiculous bookstore clerk down the street. The bookstore clerk who was a youthful man with many gentle features that could make the most delicate of flowers look like hard steel. He was fragile and yet he still held his ground against the world, still ready to accept any challenges for him in this not-so-quiet place he resided in. His eyes shone with determination and confidence, enticing the simple-minded Mayuzumi further and further until he finally fell too deep to surface. It didn’t bother him one bit that he would easily lose his grip on his sanity just to fall deeper in Kuroko. He was much happier this way.

----

Not wanting to be rude to the birthday boy, Mayuzumi invited Kuroko to spend the night at his place with no implications of doing naughty things at all. The shorter man agreed and teased the silverhead for needing to explain his reasons for wanting the sudden sleepover. They were both flustered in their own way, yet none of them let go of the other’s hand as they made their way to sleep in the same bed. The two had wrapped themselves around each other, enjoying the warmth of the other person against the cold winter air surrounding the apartment. The two laid in silence before Kuroko decided to step things up a notch.

“Mayuzumi-kun,” He started off with a new preference for saying the taller man’s name, much to his embarrassment. “Are we dating?”

“Do you think we are?” He leaned his forehead against the bluenette’s. “I honestly wouldn’t mind if we were.”

“That’s very cliché of you, Mayuzumi-kun.” He chuckled as grey eyes narrowed slightly at his words. He pecked Mayuzumi on the lips and sank deeper into his arms. “I honestly wouldn’t mind it myself, to be honest. I think I prefer this over relying on blind dates set up by my friends.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Who sets you up on these dates?”

“Elektra-san and Persephone-san, of course. I told you they were a lively bunch, didn’t I?” He felt Mayuzumi scowl at the mention of his dancer friends. “The people they set me up with are very kind people, but I’m afraid they show off a bit too much skin for my liking. I think I prefer people like you, Mayuzumi-kun. At least you hide yourself pretty well under all those layers of clothes you wear.”

Kuroko,” Mayuzumi grumbled low. “What were these people like?”

“Well to be blunt, they were also dancers. Birds of a feather flock together, you know.” He laughed as his new boyfriend groaned. “They don’t beat you in any way, if you’re worried about that. I love you just the way you are, Chihiro-kun.”

The sudden mention of his first name had Mayuzumi blushing to no ends. He silently thanked the gods for the dark bedroom, so Kuroko didn’t catch on to the growing redness of his cheeks. He felt warmth in his chest as he held the small boy tighter to his chest. “…I love you too, Tetsuya.”