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Summer is coming. Summer is good for business. That puts Aone Takanobu in a good mood.

Not that, he’s been told, anyone would be able to tell that from his face.

Standing at a towering 6’3” and weighing in at 200 lbs, his physical presence is intimidating enough without factoring in his lack of eyebrows, his “resting mean face”, or his natural reticence. The apron he wears, emblazoned with the flower shop’s logo (Bluebell Flowers, the final ル in ブルーベル shaped like a bluebell), doesn’t do much to soften his appearance.

There’s only forty minutes until closing, and he’s clearing away discarded stems from a bouquet he just sold, when a surprising customer enters.

The customer is nearly a full foot shorter and probably 90 lbs lighter than Aone, but he feels—inexplicably afraid.

Is afraid the right word? The nerves he feels aren’t related to social awkwardness, at least.

Is this man—boy?—is this man… yakuza?

Unruly orange hair (dyed?) sits above intense and direct amber eyes. He wears a tank top, showing off half sleeve tattoos on both arms.

Has Aone ever seen someone with so many tattoos outside of an action movie? He can’t recall.

Aone moves past his shock to think, this guy knows his flowers.

An imperial yellow chrysanthemum blossoms over the entirety of the man’s right shoulder, sprawling with its long, stylized petals. Beneath that, pink hibiscus, symbolic for gentleness, shoot upright with their long stamens. Honest violets bloom around the hibiscus, their petals dark against the yellow and pink. Tangled grass grows from the man’s elbow, obscuring childish freesia and joyful dandelions.

Aone is distracted from examining the other arm by the customer’s behaviour. He stands in front of one display of flowers, leans in, steps back, shakes his head, moves on to the next display, and repeats the pattern.

Finally, having traversed the entire shop, he stands in the middle and—puts his face in his hands.

Aone’s heart shatters into a million pieces just watching him.

He comes out from behind the counter and goes to stand beside the customer. Puts a hand on his shoulder, the left, bursting with camellias; red for love, white for waiting, and yellow for—yellow for longing.

What if—what if the person these flowers represent—what if they—

They stand quietly like that for several moments, the breathing of the customer falling to a steadier pace under Aone’s dry palm.

“Thanks,” the customer says at last. His voice is charmingly boyish, but too deep for him to actually be young. And anyway, thinks Aone, what parent would allow tattoos like this, even if they were beautiful?

Aone hesitates. “Did…” he searches for the right words. “…did you lose someone?”

Aone is glad for his reticence now, because ‘in a shootout?’ doesn’t come tumbling out after the question.

The customer startles, looking up from his hands and up at Aone, eyes wide.

“No…” the customer says, processing the words. “No,” he shakes his head. “My friend’s dog just had puppies.” He sighs. “It’s a big occasion. I don’t know what’s—” he spreads his arms out, taking in the shop, the displays. “—appropriate.”

Aone is too shocked to even remove his hand. He looks down at the customer and tries to understand his own emotions at the revelation, what this says about the customer, and what Aone’s assumptions say about himself.

“Congratulations,” Aone says at last, voice serious—deadpan, he’d been told, once.

“Thank you,” the customer says, just as solemn.

Aone’s hand is still on the customer’s shoulder. The red camellia is warm.

“May I recommend the pink tulips?” he asks, removing, at long last, his hand from the customer’s shoulder.

The customer looks at him with eyes shining with gratitude.

“I’ll prepare a bouquet for you, if you’d like.”

The customer slaps his hands together and bows low in thanks. “That’d be amazing, thank you!”

#

Aone still isn’t sure how it happens. One moment he’s tying the stems of the tulips together with a ribbon while calmly listening to the customer—to Hinata Shouyou—chat at him, and the next he’s being invited over to supper.

Hinata’s energy, after he had recovered from his flower overwhelm, is so infectious that Aone accepts without thinking.

“Okay,” he says, managing what he thinks is a smile.

Hinata beams at him.

Aone had been a quiet kid. Well—quiet was perhaps a little bit of an understatement. Silent was probably more apt. Controlling your facial muscles, shaping your features into something others found pleasing had all seemed like magic available only to other people.

Aone still struggles with those things, with being adequately social and friendly, with letting people glimpse something more than impassivity, but he likes to think that he’s improved.

Maybe that’s why he’d said yes. Skill building.

Hinata accepts the bouquet, pays, then rushes home to change after leaving Aone with instructions to meet him at the station.

Hinata shows up to the station looking fresh and respectable in a button-down shirt. Aone understands the half-sleeves now—even with his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows, Hinata looks like a normal member of society. Just a cheerful salaryman on his way home to his wife with some flowers.

The Tanaka’s live four stations away, he’s told, and Aone feels calm as he rides the train with the bright and smartly dressed Hinata chatting away beside him.

“This is Aone Takanobu!” Hinata announces when they arrive. “Aone, this is Tanaka Ryuunosuke.” A fit man with a closely shaved head nods at him, eyes narrowed like he’s ready to fight Aone at a moment’s notice, just give me the cue, punk. Aone bows. “And this is Tanaka Yuu, but you can call him Noya. They got married last summer in Tokyo after it was legalized.”

“Hinata!” Tanaka says, shocked. Noya, a shorter man with bleached bangs, looks equally scandalized at his introduction.

Aone is grateful, again, that his face doesn’t show much of what he feels. Hinata had said the last like he was reciting the weather, and Aone nods like it really was that commonplace.

“Congratulations,” Aone says. He holds up the potted flower he brought, guessing by the names that these are the hosts. “Yellow orchid,” he explains. “Symbolizes friendship and new beginnings.”

Hinatas eyes go wide as saucers. “Smooth,” he says, awed.

A dark haired guy with a nasty expression gives Aone a tight nod, impressed as well.

Noya accepts the plant with a look of pure emotion. “That’s so thoughtful,” he says. “I’ll treasure it forever.”

“Or until it dies,” Tanaka cracks, fully recovered from being outed, as far as Aone can tell. Noya elbows him, hard.

“Then I’ll treasure the pot,” Noya says.

It’s Aone’s turn to be overwhelmed with emotion.

To save face, he turns to the nasty guy.

“This sourpuss is Kageyama Tobio,” Hinata says. “He works at the garage Noya’s family owns.”

“Nice to meet you,” Kageyama mumbles, either because he’s as awkward as Aone, or because he’s not sure if the sentence is true or not—is it actually nice to meet Aone?—and he doesn’t want to commit to it.

“Likewise,” Aone says, bowing.

Introductions over, Aone feels like he’s successfully navigated white water rapids for the first time. He surreptitiously wipes his hands on his pants and congratulates himself.

Hinata holds out the tulips. “For Lightning,” he says.

Tanaka and Noya—

They—

They tear up.

Aone feels—. He doesn’t know how to feel.

“That’s so thoughtful, dude,” Tanaka says, taking the flowers. “She’ll love them.”

The dog. Do they mean—the dog?

Aone looks at Kageyama, who rolls his eyes with so much force he could be mid-exorcism.

Hinata is as overwhelmed as—Aone wants to laugh at his own genius—as the grandpupparents.

They all end up crowding into the room where Lightning—a beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog, eyes bright, nose wet, and coat glistening—is relaxing (relatively speaking) with her litter.

Hinata breaks down and sobs. Real tears flow from his eyes, his nose stuffs with mucus. He’s a mess. Aone understands his breakdown in the flower shop a little better.

Hinata collapses to the floor to ruffle Lightning’s fur around her face and ears. Lightning is in heaven.

“What a good job!” Hinata sobs. “They’re so precious! You did so well, Lightning!”

Tanaka and Noya are getting emotional again. They end up in a group hug on the floor with Hinata, a pleased Lightning in the middle.

Aone looks to Kageyama.

“They’ve been this weird since high school,” he says. Then, looking at the group huddle and then back to Aone: “It never gets less weird.”

And yet, Aone thinks, you’re still here.

He, as usual, says nothing. As far as weirdness goes, this is the less offensive kind.

“I’m fucking hungry,” Kageyama announces to the room. Then he leaves.

The hosts and Hinata finally pull themselves away from the dog. Hinata gives her one last pet, and gazes down at the puppies wiggling in their pen. He sighs.

“Alright,” he says, pulling himself away. His body is moving but his eyes are firmly locked on the puppies, like Kageyama is still in the room and is literally dragging him away by the shirt sleeve.

When the others have left, Aone takes a moment to crouch down in front of Lightning. She blinks, then affectionately whuffs his outstretched hand.

He’s glowing when he rejoins the group.

“Have you seen Hinata’s arms?” Tanaka asks as Kageyama adds some finishing touches to the meal. (Does he live here? Aone wonders. This group is so mysterious.) Tanaka points at his own shoulder, clearly meaning Hinata’s tattoos.

Aone nods.

“Have you seen his back?” Noya asks, exchanging a wicked and mischievous look with Tanaka.

Aone shakes his head.

“Show him,” Noya says to Hinata, nodding his chin at Aone.

“Yeah,” Tanaka prompts. “Show him.”

“You guys!” Hinata says, face colouring.

“C’mon!” Noya says. Then he—

Then he starts unbuttoning Hinata’s shirt. Hinata tries to push his hands away, but Tanaka grabs Hinata’s arms from behind. Hinata is so embarrassed there are tears forming in his eyes.

What the hell is Aone watching?

He turns to look at Kageyama, who stares back at him over the kitchen counter.

Is this normal? Aone silently asks him.

Maybe it doesn’t show on Aone’s face, or maybe it is normal. Kageyama returns to cooking.

Noya has successfully stripped Hinata, ripping the undershirt off with a flourish. He and Tanaka exchange a look, hands on their hips, a nod that says, a job well done! Hinata covers his chest with his hands, shamefaced, and turns around to show Aone his back at Tanaka’s request.

Aone stares.

“There’s nothing there,” he finally says.

Tanaka and Noya burst out laughing. Hinata hastily grabs his shirts while they’re distracted and dresses again.

“There’s nothing there!” Tanaka agrees, overcome with mirth. “His specialty is backs, but he doesn’t have a back tattoo!”

Aone would furrow his brows if he had any.

“His specialty?”

“I’m a tattoo artist,” Hinata explains.

“His specialty is back tattoos,” Kageyama finishes.

Several things click into place.

  1. Hinata is a respectable member of society.
  2. Tanaka and Noya probably did not meet in prison, and, what the fuck Aone, why would you even think that.
  3. Aone has made a lot of assumptions today.
  4. Literally none of these assumptions have panned out.

He stares at the group as his mind catches up.

“Why don’t you have a back tattoo?” he asks. He guesses this is the next logical move in the conversation.

Hinata glances away. Pouts. Mutters: “My back isn’t big enough for the designs I want.”

Tanaka and Noya bite their lips, but end up roaring with laughter anyway. Even Kageyama is snickering.

Hinata catches on that. “Shut up, Kageyama!” Then, to Aone: “I’ll probably tattoo my thighs next instead.”

“Are you sure?” Kageyama asks, straight faced. Then he bites his lip, all bad natured amusement. “Your legs are pretty small, too.”

Hinata goes as red as the camellia on his left shoulder.

“Screw you, Kageyama!”

Tanaka and Noya are both in tears from laughing so much. Hinata and Kageyama are yelling at each other. It’s chaos. Lightning starts barking from the other room.

“I can’t fight anymore,” Hinata announces. “We scared Lightning.”

Aone turns to Tanaka. “Is that why you got the dog?” he asks. He means it as a serious question, but something about the delivery must make it funny. Everyone but Hinata and Aone start laughing.

“You guys are so embarrassing!” Hinata says. “I only met Aone-san today!”

They eventually make it to the dinner table. Aone figures this is a situation where he’ll be expected to talk about himself, so he goes first: “You’ve all known each other since high school?”

He starts eating. His work here is done.

“We met through the volleyball club,” Tanaka says. “Hinata and Kageyama were in the year below us when we were in second year.”

“Kageyama had no respect for us as senpai,” Noya declares. “Always yelling and glaring.”

“He didn’t have respect for anyone,” Hinata says, snickering.

Kageyama bristles, but his mouth is full so he doesn’t argue.

“Does he have respect for people now?” Aone asks. Again, he means it as an honest question, but his delivery is too straight. Everyone but him and Kageyama laughs.

“No!” Noya and Hinata both shout. Lightning barks. Tanaka is trying not to choke.

“All of you are fucking idiots!” Kageyama shouts, mouth free of food.

“See?” Hinata says, wiping tears from his eyes and chuckling.

“I wanna get a tattoo,” Noya says, eyes catching on Hinata’s skin as his sleeve hitches higher. “Something sweet, maybe here—” he points at his shoulder.

“No,” Tanaka says. “Absolutely not.”

“You’re such a square!” Noya protests.

Plot twist, thinks Aone, looking at Tanaka. The guy looks wild enough for a tattoo or two.

“I want to actually take onsen vacations with my husband,” Tanaka says, fumbling over the last word like it’s still new in his mouth. His voice says that the rest of his sentence is obvious, and Aone would have to agree.

“He won’t let me get piercings, either,” Noya says to a disappointed Hinata.

“You let him tell you what to do?” asks Kageyama.

“Are you trying to destroy their marriage?” Hinata asks, just as Noya says: “Only outside of bed.”

Bigger plot twist, thinks Aone.

Tanaka is red, but not protesting.

“Not entirely unexpected,” Hinata says at last, voice contemplative as if he were discussing a wine pairing.

Kageyama furrows his brows. “Are we really discussing this at the dinner table in front of a stranger.”

“Aone-san isn’t a stranger!” Noya protests, scandalized. He points at the yellow orchid.

Aone glows.

“We’re not discussing this, don’t worry,” Tanaka says, calmly holding up a hand. “I’m not drunk enough.”

“So if you were drunk enough—” Hinata prompts.

“Anything is possible,” Tanaka and Noya say together. They look fondly at each other, then burst out laughing.

Dinner progresses. The food is good, the company better. Aone feels pleased with his decision to accept.

Aone is waiting at the door with Kageyama as Hinata takes a last dash to look at the puppies. The silence between them is unusually tense. Aone thought that they’d both take the opportunity to rest from the whirlwind of the evening.

“Hinata,” Kageyama says, chewing on the word like he begrudges giving it to Aone. “He has a way of worming his way into people’s lives. If you don’t want that, you should run away now.”

Plot twist, Aone thinks again.

He’s saved from answering by Hinata coming barrelling down the hall and then skidding to a stop near them in his sock-feet.

“Alright!” he says. “I’m ready! We’re not going to miss the last train, are we?”

“I factored in the puppies,” Kageyama says. “We’re right on schedule.”

Hinata pats Kageyama’s arm appreciatively as he slips into his shoes. “Ever the organized captain,” he says.

Kageyama scoffs, but he looks pleased at the praise in a reserved way that Aone recognizes in himself.

Aone has someone sitting on either side of him on the train ride back. Kageyama, the last one he’d suspect, falls asleep on his shoulder. Aone doesn’t move an inch until his stop is announced.

He goes home with a skip in his step.

#

Aone realizes after that in the excitement of the night, he hadn’t thought to get anyone’s numbers or email addresses. Not that he was any more talkative by phone than in person, but thinking that the evening might be a fluke, never to occur again, put a damper on his otherwise incredible mood.

But it hardly matters in the end. Hinata comes into the store the next day. His shirt sleeves, thankfully, are long, so Ms Takahashi isn’t at all scandalized by his arrival.

“Thank you again!” Hinata says, bowing unnecessarily low. “For the flowers and for coming to dinner and—”

“It was no problem,” Aone says. He hesitates. Then, because he doesn’t want to repeat his mistakes from high school, he says, honestly, “I enjoyed it a lot.”

Hinata beams.

Ms Takahashi pays for some seeds and bulbs, sighs over her late start this season. “My hip,” she laments, and Hinata, standing near the cash, nods sympathetically. “Make sure to do your homework, young man,” she says, patting Hinata on the head. “It was nice chatting with you both.”

She leaves. Hinata turns to him, face red.

“I’m 26,” he says, mortified.

Aone doesn’t need to bite his lip to keep from laughing, though he finds the situation hilarious.

“I’m 27,” he says.

“Har har,” Hinata says. “Rub it in… You could be 17 and they’d still think you were older!”

“I had finished growing by then, so—”

Hinata covers his hands with his ears. “Suddenly I can’t hear!” he announces.

Aone feels like laughing.

So he does.

Hinata drops his hands, stares for a moment, then huffs a small laugh. “Yeah, yeah,” he says, scratching the back of his head and smiling fondly.

Hinata sticks around. They talk about Lightning—there’s baby-daddy drama, apparently. The owner of the father didn’t want to split any of the vet costs, but is now demanding a share of the puppies. The Tanaka’s, understandably, are not pleased and are putting up a fight. The topic comes around to volleyball, and Hinata’s eyes light up when Aone says he used to play middle blocker.

“Same position as me!”

Aone tries not to laugh.

To his horror, he fails.

Hinata turns red. “Just wait til you see me play!”

“You still play?”

“A community league,” Hinata explains. “It’s a team with most of the guys that didn’t go away to university—we call ourselves the Stay Home Club. We even have one of our old managers! She works at Starlight Aesthetics with one of our wing spikers, Azumane-san.”

A plethora of information comes tumbling out. Noya is their libero—he’s crazy good. Kageyama is their setter—also crazy good, but demanding, bossy. He and Tanaka go through phases being captain, depending on various factors, like, Hinata says, exasperated, the alignment of the stars and Kageyama’s many moods. Tanaka is a wing spiker, and plays a really calm, intense game. They have a couple other players, but they’re older, having graduated before Hinata and his club.

“I love volleyball,” Hinata says, sighing happily. “You should join us!”

Aone considers that. “Are you sure?” he asks. He holds his hand out, just barely touching the tips of Hinata’s hair. “We play the same position.”

Hinata’s eyes go wide again. He turns to the side, fingers on his chin. “That’s true… Giving away my own position…” he mumbles, half-joking. “I’ve been a fool.”

The conversation turns to different topics. Aone eventually starts working, watering and repotting plants, and Hinata follows him around with a never ending stream of stories and anecdotes.

Finally, Hinata looks at his watch. Hums. “Can I get another recommendation?” he asks.

“Anything in mind?”

“For… For when things are going really well,” Hinata says. “When you’re peaceful and happy. That kind of occasion.”

“A potted plant, or a bouquet?”

“A bouquet.”

“Mixed flowers or one type?”

Hinata taps his chin. “Mixed!”

Aone thinks about it, then gathers the flowers to the cash.

“Bluebells for gratitude,” Aone says. “Purple irises for good news, sprigs of lily of the valley for sweetness, and colour balance, and,” Aone hesitates. “Orange lily, not for meaning but for the colour contrast.”

Hinata “ooooh”s appreciatively at the selections. “What does the orange lily mean?”

“Hatred and revenge,” Aone says, deadpan.

Hinata bursts out laughing, grips the counter as he bends double. “Sounds like the type of bouquet Kageyama would give!” he says, dissolving into another fit of giggles. “It’s perfect. Give me all of them!”

Aone gives him all of them.

Hinata gives him his number and email address.

“For a friend?” Aone asks as he finishes the wrapping and hands the flowers to Hinata.

“No,” Hinata says, voice soft as he takes the flowers. He holds them close, partially obscuring the bottom half of his face. His eyes shine with happiness. “They’re for me.”

Aone’s heart is still beating rapidly when the bell announcing Hinata’s departure finishes ringing.

#

They’ve been talking for weeks, either through texts or Hinata’s frequent visits to the shop—it turns out he works across the street, but there’s no sign for the tattoo parlour on the main street. Aone becomes a permanent member of the Tanaka’s Board Game Night, which usually consists of 20% gaming, 30% Kageyama yelling, and 50% digressive tangents that the Tanaka’s and Hinata all goad each other into.

Aone loves it.

One day, Hinata invites him to dinner.

The front door opens onto a modest entrance way, flows forward into a large square kitchen table that’s set in front of the kitchen sink and stove on the back wall. Hinata’s bed is set against the left-most wall, closest to the entrance, and the bed is neatly made with a blue duvet, lime green sheets poking out from beneath. A large window sits between the bed and a nook with a bookshelf and red armchair. Aone can’t make out many of the books on the shelf, but he spots the miniature cactus Hinata bought from him three weeks ago.

A loft, Aone thinks, awed a little.

Hinata seems embarrassed by it.

“It fits my style of thinking,” he explains. “It’s easier for me if everything’s together, then I’m not racing between rooms trying to find something.”

Aone nods, taking in the art supplies and sports equipment. He can see how this setup would appeal to Hinata.

Hinata serves a variety of dishes for supper, noting for Aone the balance in nutrients. “Kageyama started studying nutrition at some point and it all got stuck with me,” Hinata says with a sigh.

“Is he thinking of going to school for that?”

Hinata looks surprised. “No, but I guess he’d be good at it… I kind of thought cooking school might be good for him.” Hinata snickers, “Yelling at people with a knife in his hand would suit Kageyama perfectly.”

“You played for Karasuno, right?” Aone asks when the topic swerves back to volleyball. “I played them a couple times, but I don’t remember you.”

“I probably didn’t make a big impression from the bench,” Hinata says with a sigh. “My Jr High didn’t have a volleyball club—or, it did, but there weren’t enough members when I arrived. A senpai that lived near me recommended I check out the art club to pass the time, since I didn’t want to compromise on sports. I was the single member of the Yukigaoka Volleyball Association until third year.” He laughs, though not happily. “High school came, and I was mediocre at art and volleyball. I tried for volleyball. But—there was this thing—well, we—me and Kageyama—we lost a game in our first week—after being complete brats—and because of that, Kageyama wasn’t allowed to play setter until Daichi graduated.”

“Your setter?”

“Our captain. Scary guy when he was mad. I don’t think our next captain, Ennoshita-san, really knew how to use me, so in second year only Kageyama was upgraded to a starter.” Hinata looks across the loft and out the window at the fading colours of the evening sky. “I practiced really diligently, so it was—disappointing, frustrating. I went three years waiting to play the game, and only played one match! How many more years was I going to have to wait? Was I going to play at all? When Kageyama and I were third years, he became captain, and he made me a starter first thing. We practiced for hours past everyone else, on Sundays, everything. It was crazy. ‘Don’t give me a single reason to bench you,’ he said. ‘I’ll make you invincible.’”

Hinata rubs at his nose, looks back to Aone. “But I guess you had already graduated at that point, right?”

Aone nods, thinking Kageyama is also a little different than expected.

After supper, Aone offers to do the dishes, and Hinata grins impishly and accepts, choosing to sit at the table and sketch instead. Occasionally Aone will feel his gaze on the back of his neck.

“You’d make a good canvas,” Hinata says out of the blue.

Aone glances over his shoulder. Considers that.

“Oh!” Hinata says, smiling wryly. “Is… that weird of me to say?” He groans, scrubbing first at his face and then his hair. “It is! Isn’t it! Sorry!”

Aone takes longer than he wants to take to say: “No. It’s probably the nicest compliment I’ve ever received.”

Hinata flushes, relieved.

Aone finishes the dishes and comes to stand in front of the table, across from Hinata. He’s been sketching bodies, and flowers, and flowers on bodies. It’s the type of poetry Aone can appreciate.

“Can I draw you?” Hinata blurts out. Aone is too startled to respond. “I mean—” Hinata looks down at his sketchpad, then back up to Aone. “I’m probably going to end up drawing you anyway, but if it’d be creepy if you came over some time and you didn’t know and you found all these drawings of you.”

Aone stares at him.

What he’s said dawns on Hinata. His flush goes darker.

“I mean—um—oh—oh my god—that’s. That’s not any less weird, is it?” Hinata’s voice pitches up an octave. “I’m so sorry.”

Aone looks at the sketchbook. “So you’d be drawing me with tattoos?”

“Yeah,” Hinata says, beaming, awkwardness already forgotten. “You’d look rad with a back tattoo—like—lemme—actually, can you take your shirt off?”

Aone blinks. This is moving fast.

“I haven’t said yes yet,” he says. He wonders if it sounds confused or just flat.

Hinata is—Aone wants to laugh—Hinata is shocked. His face goes through a wild range of emotions. “I’m so—! Oh my god!” he says. “I’m—!”

Aone takes off his shirt. Hinata’s sentence drops off before it can take meaning, and he stares. Then he starts furiously sketching.

“And it’s fine,” Aone says, mesmerized by the rapid marks on the page coming together to form something vaguely Aone-like. “If you want to draw me.”

“Well,” Hinata says, a devilish glint in his eyes. “I would hope so, after that.” Then, imperiously, like Aone was a paid model: “Now turn around.”

Aone turns around.

#

Hinata begins to come into the shop with sketches.

“Consider this one,” Hinata will say, giving Aone a picture of his own back with a full spread tattoo.

“Looks painful,” Aone says the first time. Hinata laughs.

“Give me a floral tattoo,” he says once, and Hinata considers him for a long moment, sketches a couple flowers in the shop, and comes back later with a brilliant design. (The 23rd draft, Tanaka says later, laughing, as Hinata sputters and Kageyama rolls his eyes.)

Aone enjoys the flower one so much that one day, without meaning to, he asks for another.

“Like what?” Hinata asks, eager. “Any specs?”

“Make it match yours,” Aone says without thinking.

Hinata goes bright red and his lips thin almost to nothing. He looks away, looks down, shy as a schoolboy. “Yeah,” he says. “Okay.”

He leaves the store quickly after that, even though he’d just arrived. Aone is a little disappointed.

Hinata comes back with a design just after Aone had forgotten he had asked for one. The chrysanthemum bursts like a sun across Aone’s right shoulder blade. The camellias hug his left hip and trail upward, a jungle of foliage between and surrounding the two points.

“I love it,” Aone says, in awe.

Hinata sputters, says something incomprehensible, and dashes out of the shop.

Aone puts the picture with the others, a growing collection, courtesy of Hinata, in the apartment he keeps above the shop. For reasons he can’t quite explain, the matching one makes him feel the happiest when he looks at it.

#

Hinata had adopted one of Lightning’s puppies, but because of how their schedules worked out and the puppy taking long vacations at ‘Mom’s House’, it’s almost a year before Aone is in the same place at the same time as the dog.

It’s spring again, almost to the time when he first met Hinata, and they’re meeting for a walk in the countryside like a couple of geriatrics. Aone’s in a good mood.

“Meet Tobio!” Hinata says, snickering a little as the dog obediently sits. He only fidgets a little bit, looking up at Aone with eager eyes.

It takes Aone a minute to put it together.

“You named him after Kageyama?”

Hinata laughs. “Finally!” he crows. “Kageyama is giving me the respect I deserve! Don’t you, boy?” Tobio wags his tail, pink tongue lolling out. Those eager, adoring eyes turn up to Hinata. “The more obedient Tobio is, the angrier Kageyama gets.” Hinata cackles. “I’ve never trained a dog so fast or effectively!”

I bet, thinks Aone. He bends down, petting Tobio around his face and ears, earning kisses and an enthusiastic tail wagging for his efforts.

They walk. Tobio runs wild and free off his leash, Aone and Hinata following at a more leisurely pace behind him. Tobio bounds through the tall grasses, snaps at bugs, and tumbles over his own ungainly puppy feet. At one year old, he’s not yet his full size, and Aone suspects he’ll be heavier than Hinata when he’s done growing. The thought amuses him.

It’s a warm day, so Hinata is in short sleeves. Out here, surrounded by field and forest, it’s not important for him to keep up appearances.

“Do you ever worry,” Aone asks him when there’s a lull in the conversation, “about the impression you give?”

Hinata tilts his head to the side, uncomprehending.

“You mean—” he touches a hand to his bicep. He looks up at the sky, thinking, then looks out to check on Tobio. Calls out his name to bring him back in to a reasonable distance. “Not really,” he says, scratching Tobio’s ears before sending him off again. “I mean—I wear long sleeves when I’m out and about, for the most part, and I have a habit of getting cold, anyway. And, hm. I dunno. I just don’t think about it.”

A surprising answer. But then—most things about Hinata are surprising. Aone enjoys that. He wishes, a little, that he wasn’t so concerned with his own first impressions.

Aone chews on the next question for a minute. “Do… do you have any customers that aren’t—um—?”

Hinata stares at him, pretending not to understand. Aone feels like decking him. Affectionately. Can you deck someone affectionately? (Tanaka and Noya’s relationship point to yes.)

“Customers that aren’t—?” Hinata prompts, voice innocent.

Aone glowers. Hinata laughs.

“Aren’t—you—you know—” Aone feels like an ass saying this out loud. Maybe that’s why Hinata is making him. “—yakuza?”

Hinata bursts out laughing. He laughs so hard he has to grip Aone’s bicep to keep upright, so loudly that Tobio starts barking in alarm and comes racing back to check on him. This only makes Hinata laugh more.

Aone looks away, covering the lower half of his face with his hand.

“Asking—asking the real questions now, aren’t you, Aone-san?” he gasps, wiping his tears with one hand and reassuring Tobio with a pat on the head with the other. He recovers and stands back upright, hand still warm on Aone’s arm.

“I get some foreigners,” Hinata admits, taking his hand back. “Not many, since we’re not exactly a tourist hot spot. Plus I get some more stylish or adventurous types, university students—well, not too many of those, it’s hard for them to enter the workforce after—but, yeah, I get all types. I do get that type,” Hinata admits, his grin sly. “They have really interesting stories. They’re great customers: tip well, interested in maintenance, usually good pain tolerance, though not always. They’re more likely to be repeat customers, filling out a sleeve, that type of thing. You don’t get many salarymen with sleeves.”

“Or full back tattoos,” Aone says. “Your specialty.”

“My specialty,” Hinata agrees. Hinata sighs happily. “Nothing better than a good back tattoo.”

Aone nods.

Hinata sighs melodramatically. “If only I could convince you,” he says. “I’ve done so much consultation work for you already—”

Aone snorts. “46 drafts,” he quotes Tanaka, referencing the last design, the one that had matched Hinata’s sleeves. Hinata goes bright red and drops the topic.

They walk a bit more, then call Tobio in and head back. Aone feels as clear and peaceful as the blue sky.

#

Supper at Hinata’s becomes a regular occurrence, almost as frequent as nights at the Tanaka’s.

Sitting at Hinata’s kitchen table one evening, Aone marvels at how accurate Kageyama was one year ago—here Hinata is, wedged completely into his life.

“What were you like in school?” Aone asks, feeling a loss at never having met the kid in the #10 jersey.

“I was a hellion,” Hinata says, laughing as he pours Aone more beer. Aone pours him one in return, amused at the formality. “I got along with Tanaka and Noya right away,” I don’t doubt that, thinks Aone. “Me and Kageyama fought like a cat and dog, though.”

Hinata takes a long drink of beer and leans back in his chair. Continues.

“I had a lot of energy and a lot of ambition, but not much outlet for the second, since I was on the bench. Maybe with Kageyama as a setter, I could’ve—” he shakes his head. “It was frustrating. I painted a lot at home in the evenings, instead of doing homework. It felt like something I could control. I was embarrassed at the time, though. I didn’t think it suited me, and I wasn’t very good, I thought, so I never told anyone or showed anyone anything. It seems silly now.” He shrugs.

Aone nods. He doesn’t—he’s not good at reciprocating things like this, but Hinata doesn’t seem to mind.

They sit across from each other, silent, looking at the other. Maybe it’s the beer, but Hinata doesn’t move to fill the silence. It’s comfortable, and Aone relaxes into the peace between them.

Finally, Aone heaves himself up from the table and begins to stack the dishes. Hinata lets him. When the table is clear, Hinata gets up, too, first turning on some music at a low volume—Aone is surprised to discover that it’s enka, a female voice describing the seasons over the sound of calm string instruments—and then he grabs his sketchbook and art supplies from the bookshelf in the corner. He sits back down at the table, sitting on the side that lets him look at Aone as he does the dishes.

“It makes me think of my grandparents,” Hinata says after quietly sketching for a time. It takes Aone a moment to figure out he means the music. “They lived further in the country then even I did growing up, and I had to bike thirty minutes through the mountains to get to school. They had a great garden. Grandma was more concerned with the apple tree—she always said she wanted to eat something that wasn’t sour from it before she died,” Hinata laughs. “The worst apples you ever tasted, they were awful. I was always climbing up and stealing them to eat anyways. Grandpa liked the vegetable garden—mostly for bok choy, he grew soooo much of that. He’d always play enka as he gardened, and grandma would sing along in her worst voice, as a joke, and grandpa would tell her that’s why her apples were so sour, she was mean spirited.” Hinata laughs again, shaking his head. An argument that played out over and over again, funnier each time it was repeated.

They’re both silently working away when Hinata sits upright. “They’re alive and well, by the way! I just realized I told the story in past tense and it sounded—” he makes some unintelligible noises. Then he sighs. “I should visit them more. But you have to drive there, there’s no train service.”

“Do you have a license?”

“Not… yet,” Hinata says. “Kageyama and Noya keep telling me to, so I can support their business.” Hinata scoffs. “Then I say, ‘I’ll support your business when you support mine!’, Noya says, ‘Sure!’, Tanaka says, ‘Absolutely not!’, Kageyama looks thoughtful, and we all tell him he looks scary enough without tattoos, he gets mad, starts yelling,” Hinata laughs. “And I don’t get any closer to getting my license.”

Aone can picture it so well. He holds in a laugh.

Aone finishes up the dishes to the sound of enka only, and when he turns around, wiping his hands, Hinata is gazing at him thoughtfully, supporting his head in his hand as he leans his elbow against the table.

“Using me as a canvas?” Aone asks, expecting Hinata to laugh or get flustered.

Instead, Hinata’s expression softens and he just says, “Yeah.”

Aone doesn’t know what to feel or say, so he crosses the space to look at what Hinata’s been drawing.

It’s the garden he described, with plentiful bok choy and sour apples. The first layer of paint is drying, the greens fading into the white space Hinata has left.

#

 

In the quiet of his apartment, Aone will sometimes imagine what it would be like to hold Hinata’s hand. The thought is innocent enough—especially considering the way Hinata lands a thousand different touches on friends—but in the privacy of his mind it feels indecent.

It escalates, as Aone was afraid of.

Holding Hinata’s hand turns into cupping his face, running hands through hair, leaning in and—

And kissing him.

Chaste kisses, closed lips against closed lips. Even when his daydreams get handsy, Aone’s hands running down the gardens of Hinata’s arms, they kiss chastely. Aone feels shameful enough.

Has he read the signs correctly, he wonders. Would he stand a chance if he confessed?

How would that happen? he wonders, stomach cramping and chest constricting. And how would things change after?

Maybe it’s just that—permission to touch Hinata, to cup his cheek in his palm. But Hinata already lets people touch him, invading people’s space as joyfully as he invades their lives, filling the empty space with colour.

One night he imagines lounging on Hinata’s bed with him, enka singers mourning lost love in the background, reading as Tobio stretches out over the two of them, wagging his tail whenever either of them reach down absently between pages to pet him.

This is it, he thinks after the daydream, this is the end.

He decides to confess.

#

Aone isn’t too concerned about the timing. He never was. Something would happen, would slot together, and he’d think, ‘maybe now’, and then—

He tries to ignore the possibility of Hinata dating someone else before he gets a chance to even confess. For the most part, he succeeds. If Hinata finds someone else, that’s up to him. Controlling Hinata isn’t something Aone is interested in, dating or no.

So summer charges on, and Aone feels himself warm at every touch and every glance, and he feels gratitude for the simplicity of the moments.

One such moment arrives after a game night. Tanaka had spilled an entire beer over the board, descending the room into stunned silence and then into explosive laughter. The night ended early, early enough that Aone suggests they take a scenic route instead of the train. Kageyama opts for the train, but Hinata’s eyes light up, as they always do when Aone is brave enough to suggest anything.

They’re walking through a park, Hinata in a silent break between stories, when Aone asks: “Do you know the meanings of all the flowers on your arms?”

Hinata looks up at him , startled. Grins sheepishly. “A few. Mostly I just did it on appearance.”

This both startles and doesn’t surprise Aone at all.

“Don’t you tell your clients to consider all angles of their designs before committing?”

Hinata scoffs, a that’s them, this is me. “I don’t want people coming back angry. Customer satisfaction after a tattoo is kinda…” he shrugs.

Aone shakes his head, the gesture so small Hinata might have missed it.

“Why?” Hinata asks. “Do you?”

Aone nods.

Then: “I can show you,” he says, pointing at them through Hinata’s button up.

Hinata laughs. “Here? Now?” he looks around, at the mostly empty park, the streetlight they paused close to.

Aone looks at him, wondering what he’s getting himself into.

Hinata laughs again. Always laughing, always easily. Aone likes that, almost envies it. “Well, I did make you take off yours,” he says, cheerfully undoing his buttons.

Aone wonders if this might be considered stripping or indecent exposure, but Hinata is wearing an undershirt, and anyway, it’s done now. Hinata is standing in front of him with a expectant look, shirt draped over his right arm.

Aone starts at the elbow of Hinata’s left arm, cups the bend with his hand and traces the light pink amaryllises and white anemones with his thumb.

Hinata’s breath comes shuddering out, startling Aone, his hand still resting on Hinata. IT was like this at the beginning, Aone thinks, distantly, remembering that day at the flower shop.

“The amaryllis is shy,” he says, meaning the flower and—and also himself. “The anemone—sincere.”

Hinata isn’t even looking at the flowers. He’s looking at Aone, who is doing his best to look at the flowers.

“Pink rose,” Aone says, thumb moving up to brush the large flower. “Trust, happiness, confidence. And the forget-me-nots,” Aone’s hand slides higher, fingers cupping the back of Hinata’s bicep as his thumb sweeps over the tiny blue flowers surrounding the rose. “Represent true love.”

Hinata’s pulse is quick under Aone’s hand. Aone thinks it is probably always quick, like Hinata.

Aone’s hand trails up again, and he ignores the sweetpeas—goodbye—to press his thumb against the bursting white camellia that begins the pattern on the shoulder.

“White camellia is waiting,” Aone says, thinking of himself. He moves his hand up. “Yellow camellia means longing.”

He removes his hand, brushes his knuckles across the top of Hinata’s shoulder. The red camellia there is vibrant, even in the dim lighting, bursting like a fresh fruit.

“And red camellia,” Aone says, voice soft, heart pounding painfully in his chest, “means ‘in love’.”

Like me, Aone thinks, wondering if Hinata can hear him.

He looks to Hinata’s face, and he’s open-mouthed, stunned, colour brushing his face.

Aone doesn’t remove his hand. The warm summer air presses against them.

They stare at each other for a long moment, two—

Then, unable to take it, Aone ducks his head and glances away, feels the blood warming his ears and turning them pink.

“If,” Hinata coughs, and Aone looks back. “You know,” he continues, practically pouting, “If you want to kiss me, you’ll have to bend down. I can’t reach.”

Aone is stunned into silence and inaction once again.

He swallows. Darts his tongue out, wetting his lips. Hinata follows the movements, and Aone is blushing more than a little now.

Finally, he leans in, brushing his lips against Hinata’s in the chaste kiss he imagined.

“People only do this in movies,” Aone says when they part, his face still impolitely close. He can hardly believe what he’s just done.

Hinata’s eyes sparkle. He laughs.