The green neon sign outside flickered from time to time, throwing strange shadows over the counter Tsukishima Kei was working on. Headphones blasting music loud enough to drown out his thoughts, he concentrated only on his hands, on bending flower stems, cutting wire into pieces and arranging another bouquet of pale pink roses and lily of the valley. It was after midnight and the shop had long been closed after a slow day full of heavy rain and few customers, but the bride who certainly was hoping for a sunny tomorrow would not be amused to find her wedding lacking flowers.
So Tsukishima, who had no lectures the next day and was procrastinating on a paper anyways, kept working. He liked those hours best, deep in the night when the only thing to disrupt his peace were his own thoughts. With those he had learned to live for a long time now, a constant companion he could drown out, most days. The music and the flowers helped.
He would never have thought that he of all people would have a thing for flowers. His hands were big and used to hitting volleyballs as hard as he could. He had never been a gentle person, nor an emotional one. And yet… not even he was mean enough to refuse to help the old lady who owned the flower shop right underneath his apartment. When she asked him one day, as he was about to leave for the university library, to help her carry a delivery of roses, there was no way of him leaving her to that task alone. She talked less than he had feared, but she offered him a cookie and a job after they were done. Unsure if he was the right person, he declined that day.
Two weeks later, on a rainy morning just like this one was, he had been back. A professor in a lecture told them how, as future archeologists, they needed to be able to work with steady hands, gentle and precise. Tsukishima dreamt that night of finding parts of a dinosaur skeleton and crushing them with his too rough of a grip. Kaneko-san agreed to teach him how to work with flowers without any other question.
“Ouch!” A sudden pain pierced through his thoughts. Tsukishima, lost in those memories of the past, had failed to clear all the thorns of a rose. Sticking the bloody finger into his mouth to stop it from bleeding all over the flowers, he rummaged through the items on the table to find a band aid he was sure to be there, somewhere. His eyes lingered for a moment over his phone screen. 2:14 am. Maybe it was time for some sleep after all.
“How long have you stayed awake yesterday night, boy?” The question and the big mug full of coffee placed in front of him startled Tsukishima back out of his half-asleep state, leaning against the counter in the back of the shop.
“I had to finish up the bouquets for the wedding, Kaneko-san. It was no problem, you know I don’t need much sleep.”
“Well, I also don’t need that occasional slice of strawberry shortcake, but wouldn’t you agree it makes you feel better nonetheless?”
“I will not argue with that logic, Kaneko-san. Thank you for that coffee. I will catch up on sleep tonight, I promise.” Over the last half a year the older lady had surely figured out how Tsukishima worked - fueled by sarcasm, caffeine and a lot of sugar to balance his saltiness.
“I also need you to make another big bouquet of red roses for Yamamoto-san until lunchtime.” Tsukishima stared at her unbelievingly.
“This man either is the most lovestruck fool I’ve ever seen, or his wife should think about how many of his apologies she will accept before leaving him.” Kaneko-san did not answer, but he could hear her soft giggling as she returned towards the front of the shop to open up for the day. Now that the wedding bouquets were gone and all that was left to do was to arrange some roses, Tsukishima found himself lost in thoughts once again.
He wondered if he should be the person to judge Yamamoto-san for his love life when he himself had no one to give flowers to - and in the next moment scolded himself for being such a sap. But apparently even he got lonely. Leaving his hometown for university in Tokyo meant leaving behind a lot of his… teammates. Friends. Yes, friends, if he was honest with himself. He surely didn’t miss all of them, and some more than others, but after almost three years even the most peaceful silence could be deafening and the few video calls he had with Tadashi felt like a weak excuse for an actual meeting.
Not that he actively tried to make friends. He had his lectures, his job and his little spare time he wanted to have for himself. How did one even make friends after highschool? Talking to people in lectures seemed strange and distracted from the learning, he had not even bothered looking at the pamphlet for clubs and activities and he had no roommates-
A sunflower hit him on the head.
“Are you sleeping over your roses, boy? We have a customer and I need to finish an order. Out there with you.” Kaneko-san had thrown the yellow flower at him and was now busily collecting flowers along the back room. She almost looked like a dancer, the way she moved around boxes, collecting and arranging on the go. An old, grey haired dancer with a bad back, but yet, a dancer.
“I am sorry, Kaneko-san, the rain always makes me think too much.”
“I’ve noticed. Out with you now, we shouldn’t leave that nice young man waiting!” There was a sly undertone in her voice and a strange smile around her lips. Nice young man? Was this yet another try of the old woman to set him up with someo-
For the second time in a few minutes Tsukishima felt like something heavy had hit him on the head. Right there in front of him, wet all through, black hair plastered onto his forehead, stood a quite miserably looking Tetsuro Kuroo. A sad little stream of rain trickled down his leather jacket onto the ground beneath his feet.
“K-Kuroo-san! What are you doing here?!” The other looked at Tsukishima with confusion for just half a second. Then his face lit up like the sun into a bright smile upon realizing who was there in front of him.
“Tsukki! Here to get some flowers of course, and I should be asking you the same thing!”
“Don’t call me that,” Tsukishima murmured, not quite loud enough for Kuroo to hear it. It had been years since he had seen the other, a ghost from a volleyball past. Someone he had left behind with so many others when he moved to Tokyo. But now he was here right in front of him, hitting Tsukishima with a wave of emotion he had long thought forgotten.
“Well, I work here,” he heard himself saying, fighting his consciousness back from the deep swamp of memories to the logical part of his brain, “and Kaneko-san said you needed some flowers, so, what is the occasion?”
This had to mean nothing. They hadn’t spoken in years and if Tsukishima had had a little crush on Kuroo in high school that really didn’t mean his heart should beat as fast as it did now. He had not known that Kuroo also lived in Tokyo, but then Tsukishima knew he would not have contacted the other if he had known, either. He was doing fine on his own. He didn’t have the time for any fuzzy feelings.
“Oh, they are for a date, something nice and fitting for a young woman, please,” Kuroo told him casually with a short look over all the flowers, returning his attention right back to Tsukishima.
“I had no idea you also lived in Tokyo! This is not even far from my apartment, do you live close by? What are you studying, by the way, did you manage to get into that archeology course, I remember you talking about that - you know what, we really should catch up over a coffee soon!” Kuroo still had that happy smile on his face, acting more like a puppy than his usual, more cat-like behaviour.
“For a date,” Tsukishima repeated, a bit too late, over the excited chatter of the other. Of course they were for a date, it only made sense that a man like Kuroo had long found someone here in the big city - or that he was enjoying dating like every normal 20-something year old did. The logical part of Tsukishima's brain of course knew that he was by far not the only person not searching or actively wanting love or dating and that there was nothing wrong with that, but sometimes…. sometimes it still felt like it.
“Wha- oh, yeah, like I said, something with pink flowers or so would be nice. But come on, tell me more about you, we haven’t seen each other in ages, Tsukki! Bokuto and Akaashi also moved here a while ago.” He leaned his hip against the counter, watching Tsukishima arranging flowers into a bouquet. Tsukishima made sure that his fingers were not shaking. Deciding that it would be too impolite to not talk to Kuroo, a paying customer, he began to answer the steady stream of questions.
“I moved to Tokyo three years ago but I am always pretty busy with the work here and studying. I really got into that course, yes… you remembered that?” Tsukishima had mentioned his love for archeology only in passing, not wanting to be that one highschooler who was still into dinosaurs at that time.
“I live above this shop, Kaneko-san was looking for help and I was looking for a job so… that’s how I ended up here.” He shrugged and came back to the counter and a still slightly dripping Kuroo, who had watched him picking the ranunculus and calla lilies that Tsukishima now handed him. Their fingers touched for a moment and Kuroo’s hands felt freezing - of course, he was soaked with rain - and Tsukishima knew that Kaneko-san would berate him later for not offering Kuroo some tea to warm up.
“Here you go.” Better to get this conversation over soon, before his traitorous thoughts would go any further down memory lane, or imagine what could come from this meeting. This was no fate or something like it, this was a pure coincidence.
“Oh, they look really nice, thank you!” Kuroo handed him over some money and flashed another bright smile at Tsukishima, whose stomach made a strange somersault. Or maybe he was just hungry, he hadn’t had any breakfast this morning.
“And before I forget, here…” Kuroo grabbed a pen from the counter, tore off a piece of his receipt and scribbled something onto it.
“Text me, yeah? I really hope we can catch up a little! But now I gotta hurry, I’m sorry - see you soon, yeah?” With that, Tetsuro Kuroo turned and left the flower shop. Tsukishima stood there for a few moments, dumbstruck, overwhelmed from what had just happened.
“Don’t you dare not text that boy.” Kaneko-san walked in right as Tsukki was about to crumble up the piece of paper with Kuroo’s number on it. With a sigh he stuck it into his pocket, just folding it once to protect the writing.
“You talked more in that five minutes than you did with me in the first five weeks, Tsukishima-san.” He knew she was right. He also knew that he was going to hurt himself by letting Kuroo back into his life. But then… maybe he was a little lonely from time to time. He would have to think about it.
He sat on the windowsill watching the rain fall, heavy drops knocking against the glass in a rhythm of their own. The room was only lit by the screen of his half-closed laptop, the essay on it long forgotten. His fingers played absentmindedly with the piece of paper Kuroo’s number was scribbled upon.
The older boy had swept him right off his feet back then, with his messy hair, sharp mind and cat-like grin. Back when Tsukishima hadn’t even been sure whether he liked boys or girls or anyone at all, the one thing he knew was that he couldn’t get Kuroo off of his mind. But then, of course, they only saw each other a few times at training camp and when Kuroo graduated they lost contact and Tsukishima was fine with it. Really, he was fine. Maybe.
The screen of his phone lit up, the sudden light blinding him but at least it scattered the dark thoughts clouding in on him. It was long after midnight, who would contact him at that time? Tsukki shouldn’t have been as disappointed as he was when his phone only notified him of his battery getting dangerously low.
“This is stupid,” he murmured to himself as he lifted himself off the windowsill, stretching his aching legs to stumble towards his bed and look for a charger. But still, his eyes caught the sight of the paper snippet now left by the window.
“Absolutely stupid.” He typed the number into his phone and pressed save. It was late now, he should probably text him tomorrow. Or never. Kuroo had been buying flowers for a date and now was probably either asleep after a nice evening or still out…
“One of the dumbest ideas you’ve ever had, Tsukishima,” he scolded himself as he opened the messenger app and started to type. He hesitated only for a moment, pressed send and threw his phone onto the bed. He refused to look at it again until he fell asleep.
03:25 from: Tsukishima Kei
Hello, this is Tsukishima.
03:28 from: Kuroo Tetsurou
Tsukki! What are you doing up this late hour?
03:30 from: Kuroo Tetsurou
Are you asleep now?
03:32 from: Kuroo Tetsurou
Good night, Tsukki :)
09:15 from: Tsukishima Kei
What were you doing up so late?
09:26 from: Kuroo Tetsurou
Good morning to you, too. :) Watched a show and totally forgot time over it.
09:28 from: Tsukishima Kei
Ah, I guess that counts as a good reason.
09:30 from: Kuroo Tetsurou
And your excuse for staying up that late? Also, when do you have time to meet over a cup of coffee?
“What are you doing on your phone, Tsukishima-san, when there are boxes to unpack?” He almost dropped the phone when Kaneko hit him with yet another flower, this time a peony. For a woman so tiny she was strong and Tsukishima never wanted to end up on her bad side.
“I am sorry, Kaneko-san, it will not happen again!” He busied himself to help her unpack and maybe it was a good thing that he had a bit more time to think about meeting Kuroo again. It wasn’t even like him to just text someone like that, even Tadashi often had to wait a few hours for his replies when there was no emergency.
“Were you texting that boy you met yesterday?” There was a smile on her lips and a look in her eyes that made Tsukishima wonder if she really needed him to answer the question.
“I was. He wants to meet me for coffee.” Her smile got a bit wider and she nodded while rummaging through a drawer full of wire and clippers.
“Good, good. You can have tomorrow afternoon off, it’s always quiet on Mondays.”
“Thank you, Kaneko-san.” Tsukishima knew better than to argue with her. It would be the best day for the meeting. He had only one lecture tomorrow morning and the rest of the day off. The rain was said to finally stop and make way for the sun to come out. So when the shop owner went to fetch them both some tea, he quickly fished his phone out of his pocket and sent his answer.
10:47 from: Tsukishima Kei
Couldn’t really sleep, I’m often up late.
1 0:48 from: Tsukishima Kei
How about tomorrow afternoon? There’s a little coffee shop down the street from the flower shop.
11:26 from: Kuroo Tetsurou
Perfect! I’ll meet you at 3 :)
Seeing Kuroo again was both better and worse than running into him for the first time. It was better because Tsukki was prepared. Because he had slept an almost normal amount of time after calling Tadashi and telling him all about what had happened. It was worse because Kuroo looked better than ever when he showed up at the flower shop, leather jacket, spiky hair and sunglasses that should have looked ridiculous but didn’t.
Tadashi had been surprised at Kei’s call, because once his friend had started to talk, there was no stopping. He told Tadashi everything, from his crush in highschool (Tadashi had known of that, apparently Kei was more obvious than he thought) to the meeting at the flower shop and the coffee date that was not a date. Tsukishima had felt better after that, and with his head finally empty of all the overthinking, he fell asleep before midnight.
Now the overthinking and nervousness were right back. The walk down the street was a bit awkward, neither of them really knowing what exactly to talk about, but when they finally sat down and ordered coffee and cake, the ice slowly started to melt. Tsukishima was glad that Kuroo was much more a talker than he was, because he could mostly just listen and take the time to look at Kuroo. He had gotten older, of course, they all had, but it gave his face something even more handsome. Kuroo had graduated from university a few months ago and had started his “real, actual adult life, can you imagine, Tsukki?”.
He insisted on paying because of that and when they walked back towards Tsukishima's apartment, there was no trace left of the awkward beginnings earlier. When they said their goodbyes with the promise of another meeting soon to come and a hug, Tsukishima really smiled for the first time in what must have been weeks. Maybe he could do this. Maybe it would all be fine.
It was not fine. It was not fine because their second meeting went even better than the first, talking for hours. Because the third meeting was a night out for a movie and drinks with Bokuto and Akaashi, and Tsukishima was actually happy to see them again. The two had confessed their feelings for each other over two years ago, as he learned that night. About how Bokuto just blurted out an “I love you” as Akaashi came home from the store with the others favourite snacks in hand. Tsukishima never imagined the thought to cross his mind, but the evening felt almost like a double date and it had been fun. It had felt right and Tsukishima was falling hard and fast.
It was absolutely not fine because Kuroo came by the flower shop again a day before the movie night to get another bouquet of flowers for a date. A few days later, when Tsukishima opened the shop in the morning, there was a letter slipped in under the door, telling him to stay away from Kuroo, threatening him. He stayed quiet about it, even as they continued to be there every few days, until Kaneko found one of them before he could.
That day Kuroo came in for yet another bouquet.
It was not fine.
Tsukishima was working late again, his eyes burning and his fingers aching from arranging an extravagant order of table decor for someone's banquet or something, which required a lot of wire, dethorned roses and glittery things. Drinking coffee past midnight probably was not the best idea, but he had to finish yet another paper when he was done here and it curbed the hunger growling in his stomach. He had forgotten to eat once again, the whole situation robbing him of the little appetite he had in general.
He looked at his phone and noticed some new messages in the group chat he had been just added to. Akaashi and Bokuto sharing a picture of their late night snacks. A picture of Kuroo, grinning next to a sleeping Kenma, his video game still in his hands. They all seemed happy.
Maybe it was time to let them go. They did not need Tsukishima. They had been doing just fine before Kuroo ran into him on accident, they would be doing fine now.
At first he deleted the group chat, then the conversations he shared with them. Then their numbers. He knew it would be best to block them, but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to do it. His fingers trembled over the screen before he chose to “cancel” the blocking.
It would all go back to normal. The letters would stop when whoever Kuroo was seeing had no need to be jealous anymore. Tsukishima’s heartache would fade to an acceptable amount with time, one he could endure and carry on with his life. He was good at being alone. Tsukishima wished he could cry and be angry about the situation, but all he felt was emptiness. From the start he should have listened to his brain and not his heart. He should have known better than to let anyone in.
Six days after not answering messages or calls from anyone, the door to the flower shop swung open and Akaashi entered. Tsukishima was in the back, fixing another set of roses for Yamamoto-san, who apparently had messed something up with his wife yet again.
“Tsukishima-san, there is someone who wants to talk to you!” Kaneko yelled towards the half-closed door separating them. He took a deep breath, tried to think of what he would do if it was Kuroo standing there in front of him, but then she called out to him once again.
“It’s not the young man who doesn’t know what a comb is, Tsukishima-san!” He almost smiled. Almost.
“Akaashi.” He nodded his head as a greeting once he stepped out into the front room, trying to stay as professional as he could. It was better this way, for all of them. It was-
“What on earth do you think you’re doing, Tsukishima?” Tsukki tried to think of a good answer, to defend himself and his actions, but Akaashi went on. It was a bit scary to see him get angry like this.
“Bokuto’s been almost crying because you left the group chat, Kuroo’s been moping all week because you won’t call him back and even Kenma’s been asking why you just disappeared off the face of earth all of a sudden.”
“Why are you shutting yourself out, Tsukishima? You know you can talk to us, right?” Tsukishima heard the door to the back room close behind him. Kaneko was giving them as much privacy as they could have, standing in the middle of an opened shop.
“It is better this way, Akaashi.” The other raised his eyebrows, unbelievingly, but let Tsukishima continue.
“I… can’t do it. I can’t… sit there with Kuroo as he laughs and flirts with me while he buys flower bouquets for his dates with someone else. I can’t have his jealous boyfriend or girlfriend leave letters at the shop door, threatening me to leave him alone. I can’t keep my feelings and I also can’t confess them, so I can’t see Kuroo again.” He talked faster and faster as he went on, just letting out everything he had kept inside for the last few weeks.
“I can’t love Kuroo and not have him love me back and so I will be here, alone, because I want him to be happy, Akaashi. I am sorry.”
Akaashi stared at him for a good few moments, not saying a word. He hadn’t seemed surprised at Tsukishima confessing his feelings for Kuroo and once again Tsukishima had to ask himself just how obvious he had been in his pining. Had Kuroo known all the time and just didn’t say anything to not hurt Tsukhishima?
“I… understand.” Akaashi finally broke the silence and Tsukishima tried not to be hurt at how fast the other gave up on him. It was what he’d been expecting all along. They would be fine without him. They didn’t need him.
“I have to leave now, I am sorry, there are… I almost forgot I have a meeting.” Basically watching Akaashi flee the shop confirmed Tsukishima's thoughts. The door to the backroom opened a bit and he could see Kaneko looking at him, thankfully not with pity, but with a sad sigh.
“Oh, dear boy, this is a bit of a mess you got caught up in, huh?” All he could do was nod. She wanted to add something more, but the door swung open and a small man with a sheepish look on his face entered.
“Good day, Yamamoto-san, your flowers are ready in just a minute.”
“Good Morning, Tsukki.”
“Good Mo- Good Morning, Kuroo-san.” This could not be real. Why was he here, back at the shop. Why would he return, after two weeks, as if nothing had changed. There were 7 other flower shops close enough, Tsukishima had looked it up online.
“If you have some time I would like to order another bouquet.” Tsukishima bit his lip, trying to use the pain to stay calm. This was his job. Kuroo was just another customer.
“Sure. What were you thinking of?” His voice might not be as steady as he wished for it to be, but at least he didn’t stutter. He hadn’t looked Kuroo in the eyes, though. He didn’t dare.
“Aquilegia, for how foolish I have been.” Tsukishima turned around and began to search for the flowers as Kuroo spoke, a way to keep his hands busy and his mind from racing.
“Daisies, because I hope that I can fix this.” Tsukishima's hands were shaking.
“And red roses…” He added the flowers to the bouquet, tied them up and turned around to see Kuroo standing close to him, behind the counter.
“... to say I love you.” Tsukki tried to hand the flowers over to Kuroo, who shook his head, closing his hand around Tsukishima’s cold fingers. His heart skipped a beat.
“You know they are for you, don’t you? You must know.” Kuroo smiled at him, but there was an uncertainty in his eyes, as if he was not sure if Tsukishima really knew.
“But… all the other bouquets…”
“Were for my boss, who likes to use me as his personal errand boy. He needed someone to fetch flowers for his girlfriends.” Kuroo shook his head thinking about how many times he had to fetch flowers for his bosses affairs.
“And the letters-"
“Are from an ex-boyfriend who can’t seem to accept that it’s over. When Akaashi told me about it I almost smashed something.”
“So…. what you’re saying is…” Tsukishima didn’t dare hope. Even after all of this, he wouldn’t dare to hope. Good things didn’t happen to him.
“That I am in love with you, Tsukki, and have been for a long time. That… I thought we were going on dates and that I was too obvious about liking you and that you… noticed and decided to not talk to me anymore.”
“You’re in love with me?” Maybe good things could happen to him.
“I’m sorry that I ever made you doubt that.” When Kuroo leaned in, his warm fingers on Tsukishima's chin, Tsuki allowed himself to close his eyes and let his feelings take the lead. The kiss was short, a bit awkward and... perfect.
“Finally!” they broke apart, cheeks glowing red and giggling a little embarrassed when Kaneko came into the shop with the biggest smile Tsukishima had ever seen on her face.
“I’m glad the two of you talked that out, your moping has been making the flowers wilt, boy.”
One week later Kuroo’s still angry ex-boyfriend stormed into the flower shop, just as Tsukishima was about to place a daisy behind Kuroo’s ear.
“Oy, Kuroo, what are you doing with that dumb flowerboy, huh? You really left me for that… beanpole softie?” Tsukki should not have cared, but knowing that this guy's letters almost had led to him losing Kuroo… Tsukishima’s face turned into the cold, calculated look that Kuroo hadn’t seen in quite some time.
“What did you just… hold my flower.” He pressed the daisy into Kuroo’s hand.
“I got your flower, Tsukki. Kick his ass!”