Language of Flowers

A hundred and eight roses means "will you marry me?". A striped carnation means "no". An ExT about subtlety and the problems thereof.

--

Chapter Two—Flattery will get you everywhere… and vice versa

--

"Who was it?" demanded Sakura, hands on hips, as she towered over Tomoyo's desk.

"Well, good morning to you too, Sakura-chan," breezed Tomoyo, looking up and grinning.

"Tomoyo," she warned, darkly. Well, as darkly as it was possible for Sakura to, in any case. "If you don't tell me, this very instant, who your secret admirer is, so help me god…"

Eriol, who was sitting behind Tomoyo as per usual, leaned in closer as her mouth opened.

It happened gut-wrenchingly fast.

The classroom door slid open, and three heads snapped up to see the newcomer. Kioshi Raiden, a classmate of theirs, walked in. Sakura and Eriol nodded to him, and then turned back to Tomoyo.

But she… her eyes were bright and shining, her lips curved in a soft smile, and she was absolutely crimson.

"Kioshi-san," greeted Sakura, politely, as the boy approached them. He was just an acquaintance, another guy in their class.

"Good morning," he said. "Kinomoto-san, Hiirgizawa-san." He didn't look at them, his eyes were focused elsewhere. "Tomoyo-koi."

Sakura and Eriol gasped… and did a repeat performance when Tomoyo responded;

"Good morning, Rai-chan."

--

"What the hell?"

Sakura winced, and shushed Syaoran quickly. "Ne, don't be so loud, they might hear us!"

"Who the hell is 'Kioshi-san'?" he asked, quieter but still irritated.

"Syao-chan, honestly, do you listen? Kioshi-san from our homeroom, my chemistry class, your math and history classes, Eriol-kun's English class, and Tomoyo-chan's literature, biology and chemistry. Oh, and Tomoyo-chan and Eriol-kun's music class. Don't make me say it again."

"'Kioshi-san'…" muttered Syaoran, glancing over at the pair. "Where have I heard that—oh!"

"What?"

"You don't mean Kioshi Raiden? Raiden-san is a defensive midfielder on the soccer team! I didn't know Kioshi was his last name."

"What! Syao-chaaan, you have to tell me everything you know about him."

"Um… okay…" He blinked, and leaned over to whisper to Sakura. "Oi. Why is Eriol-baka all mopey today?"

"I can hear you," came Eriol's voice, muffled, since he had his head buried in his arms. "And I am not 'mopey'. I just don't feel well."

Sakura ignored him. "Oh, he's just sulking because are Kioshi-san and Tomoyo-chan over there being all cute when he loves Tomoyo-chan."

Eriol's head snapped up, and his face turned scarlet. "I am not!"

"Okay," conceded Sakura. "You're not sulking, you're glowering and glaring and acting like your heart has been ripped out and fed to Kero."

"I am no—I mean, there's nothing to be—which is—I don't— wait, Kero?"

Sakura shrugged. "He'll eat anything."

"Eriol-baka," interjected Syaoran. "You have no one but yourself to blame. If you had just told Tomoyo-san how you feel, you wouldn't have to watch her fawn over Raiden-san like that."

Eriol mimicked holding a phone up to his ear. "Hello, pot? This is kettle. You're black."

Syaoran looked offended. "What's that supposed to—"

"Not like she returns my feelings anyway. If she did, she wouldn't be over there, in the private little clearing in the forest, giggling with that idiot Kioshi-kun."

--

Tomoyo and Raiden were not giggling. They were, in fact, not talking at all. Tomoyo shifted awkwardly, as the silence became uncomfortable.

"Um…" she said. "Thank you… again, for the flowers."

He smiled. "I'm glad you liked them. They… they… well, they didn't remind me of you as such, it was more sort of like they represented emotions I wanted to express to you."

She nodded solemnly. "Yes, I got that."

"I knew you would. That's one of the things I really like about you, Tomoyo-koi."

"Er… thank you, uh, Rai-chan."

"I was wondering if maybe you wanted to go on a date? Tomorrow maybe?"

"It's a Saturday right?… yes, I'd like that."

"Sure. I gotta run, I have a soccer game. But I'll see you tomorrow at, say, four-ish?"

She blinked. Wasn't that a bit early? But she shrugged it off and smiled. "Sounds good."

Rai got to his feet, then turned back to Tomoyo. "Actually…" he said. "Would you like to come watch me in the soccer game?"

"Um, actually I've got homework that I—" She trailed off at Rai's crestfallen look. 'Daidouji Tomoyo', she scolded herself, 'if you're going to date Raiden, you're going to have to make the effort to notice as many good things about him as you do about Eriol!' "Actually, Rai-chan, I'd be delighted to watch your soccer game."

And that was how she found herself sitting on the bleachers beside Eriol, alternately cheering Rai, Syaoran and Sakura's cheerleading squad.

"Oh, did you see that move? Rai-chan is so talented! Of course, Syaoran-kun is extremely good too. He's definitely better at scoring and running and dribbling, but I think Rai-chan is better at drop kicks, ne? Isn't he adorable? Rai-chan, I mean. Do you like him, Eriol-kun? I think he's so sweet. He was so romantic when he revealed himself yesterday. I think he must have got music playing in the background, 'cause I'm sure I heard music. Ne, Eriol-kun? Do you think that we'd make a good couple… if we, when we, you know, go out?"

Tomoyo applauded enthusiastically as Rai booted the ball into the air, then turned to Eriol. He was hunched over, glaring at something in the middle distance. She tapped him gently.

"Ne… you okay, Eriol-kun?"

Eriol-kun. Rai-chan. He grimaced. "Sure."

"You don't seem happy. We're winning 5-2, you know." She offered him a tentative smile, but he didn't see it.

He shrugged. "I'm fine. What could possibly be wrong with me?"

"That's what I'm asking."

"Well, I'm fine."

"Eriol-kun," Tomoyo said, patiently. She patted his shoulder gently. "You're obviously not 'fine'. We've been best friends for six years. Have some faith in my perception."

Eriol leaned back against the bleacher and shut his eyes. "It's… it's…"

Suddenly, Tomoyo recognized that expression. Eyes closed tightly, brow wrinkled, pained grimace. That was a face she'd seen often in their junior high days, after Kaho had left him. She gulped, wondering when breathing had become so painful. His lovesick face.

"Oh, Eriol-kun…" she breathed, and he opened his eyes to look at her. "Oh my god, I'm so sorry."

His eyes glazed for a long second. Tomoyo drew a deep breath, trying to replenish the air that had been sucked out of her lungs.

When he focused on her again, his voice was very bland. "What are you sorry for, Tomoyo-san?"

She gestured vaguely. "For prattling on about Rai-chan, when you're obviously… upset about… something to do with Mizuki-sensei." Oh god, oh god, that name.

Eriol looked at her blankly. "What?"

Tomoyo turned away. It was always Kaho. 'I don't care,' she told herself firmly. 'I don't care that he's still in love with her after five years. I don't care that he's never looked twice at me. I don't care that all I've ever been is his best friend. I'm over that. I have Raiden—Rai-chan. I have Rai-chan. And the best I can do for Eriol is just be his friend.'

"I'm so sorry, Eriol-kun!" she gushed. "I wasn't paying attention, and I didn't realize, and I'm so sorry. You should've stopped me."

He slumped down. "It's fine. Not your fault."

"Stop saying it's fine! It's NOT fine. If there's just one thing in the whole world that it isn't, it's fine. What happened?"

He shook his head. "Tomoyo-san," he professed, voice choked. "You're right. I should tell you, before it's—"

"TOMOYO-KOI!"

Her head snapped up, a guilty flush on her face. 'Tomoyo-baka!' she admonished. 'You should NOT be coveting Eriol. Especially not NOW.'

Eriol watched bleakly.

"Rai-chan!" she called back.

"Did you see that shot?"

She hadn't. "I did! It was wonderful, Rai-chan."

He beamed. She beamed back.

"—too late."

Eriol slid off the bleacher and walked away.

--

"It's Saturday morning."

Spinel looked up at his master, across the breakfast table at Reed Manor, and exchanged a look with Nakuru.

"Yes," he said, finally.

"Way to state the obvious," laughed Nakuru.

"Tomoyo and I usually go out for brunch on Saturdays."

"Yes," repeated Spinel, nonplussed.

"But now she's going out with Kioshi-baka."

"Eriol-sama!" protested Nakuru. "That's Syaoran-sama's name for you!"

He glowered. "Kioshi-baka deserves it more."

The guardians blinked. "Sure."

"I don't see what the problem is," said Nakuru. "I mean, you and Tomoyo-sama weren't going to brunch as a date before. That doesn't change now."

He sighed. "I know, but—"

"Call her," advised Spinel.

Eriol shook his head firmly. "No, I can't! I won't! Absolutely not."

Nakuru was dialing before he finished the sentence. "Moshi, moshi Tomoyo-sama!" she greeted, excitedly. "Eriol-sama is being a stupidhead—"

"I am not!" spluttered Eriol, indignantly, hearing Tomoyo's giggles on the other end of the line.

"—so I decided to call you and ask you where you two are going for brunch today!"

Eriol slumped down in his seat, half annoyed, half relieved. At least Nakuru hadn't said that he had been agonizing all morning over whether she'd still want to go with him. "Lemme talk to her!" he whined.

Nakuru passed him the phone with a triumphant flourish.

"Tomoyo-san?"

"Ohayo, Eriol-kun. I know it's tradition for us to eat at Seychelles, but I was wondering if we could go to Inamorata instead? It's the one near the mall."

"Sure, Tomoyo-san." He was glad he didn't sound as deliriously happy as he felt. She hadn't even been considering not meeting him today! "Any particular reason?"

"I have to go shopping afterwards," she said.

"Alright. Do you want me to come with you?"

"I don't want to be a bother… but if you want to, that would be fantastic."

"Of course, anything for my dear Tomoyo-san."

She paused for a fraction of a second. "Right. Good. Okay. I really need a male opinion on this, anyway."

Suddenly, he felt the lead dropping into the pit of his stomach. "What are you shopping for?"

"A dress. For my date with Rai-chan."

And the bitterness rose to the back of his throat. "Oh."

"Eriol-kun? Are you okay? You're not still mad about yesterday?"

"Mad? I'm not mad. I'm just…" 'unbelievably fucking jealous' "…preoccupied."

"Oh, that's good. I was afraid you were angry with me when you disappeared yesterday."

"No! I'm not angry with you at all, Tomoyo-san. Something just occurred to me, and I had to leave."

"Yeah? What was that?"

"Don't worry about it. It's really all taken care of." 'Hah, right.'

"Oh, okay. See you later."

--

Tomoyo rifled anxiously through her closet. White, white, purple, red, pink, pink, red… 'Oh, for the love of--- don't I have anything blue?'

Not that it mattered, of course. Because she certainly wasn't determined to wear something in Eriol's favourite colour—in the colour he'd always maintained looked best on her. Because she obviously was not trying to impress him or dazzle him or distract him from thoughts of Kaho.

She gritted her teeth. Kaho. The beautiful redheaded teacher and Eriol had been vaguely something of an item for a while. He'd maintained that nothing serious had ever gone on, but she wasn't blind. Mizuki-sensei, she noted sourly, always did have something for Junior High boys—first Touya, then Eriol. Mizuki-sensei had never seemed to realize that while the boys were the same age, she was getting older… and the whole situation was getting increasingly creepy.

Tomoyo shook her head, shocked at her own unkindness and not sorry in the least.

Then, abruptly and without warning, Kaho had left him and moved back to England. For months, Eriol had been despondent, depressed… and had that look on his face. She had spent a lot of time with him over those months, and though he had never spoken of Kaho, she sometimes caught him gazing at her, Tomoyo, with a look of such frustrated despair. As if he was looking for something he could never have.

She hated that more than anything. That every time he had looked at her, she knew he was wishing that Kaho was beside him instead.

She loved him, nevertheless. But it seemed that no matter how hard she wished, he never returned her feelings. Six years of being nothing but his best friend, of unrequited love, were beginning to weigh heavily on her… Perhaps that was why she had been so eager to get into a relationship with her secret admirer, with Raiden. So that, just once, she could be the object of affection. If not of love then at least of like.

'Aha! Blue silk shirt! Now to find blue jeans…'

Because she wasn't obsessing over the fact that she was in love with Eriol. No. Clearly not.

--

"Ne, Tomoyo-san?" said Eriol, when they were seated and had ordered their food.

"Hai, Eriol-kun?"

"What happened exactly… when you and Kioshi-san met for the first time?"

Tomoyo sighed happily. Not the right guy, sure, but she could appreciate how sweetly romantic the scene had been.

"I went up to the roof," she began, "like he had said in his note. It was strung with hundreds of fairy lights. Really beautiful…" Purposely leaving out the fact that it had been broad daylight and so the lights had been fairly pointless. "… there might've been music playing in the background, though I think I imagined that. Hmm… it was pop music, now that I think of it, so it must have actually been playing—I'd have imagined something classier. Then Rai-chan stepped out and presented me with one single red rose. You know what that means; 'love at first sight'."

She looked at Eriol out of the corner of her eye, and could swear she saw him grimace.

"He gave me a long speech on how much he liked me and…" she trailed off. 'And he told me that he knew I really liked someone else, but he was okay with that and just wanted a chance to know me better.' "Well, anyway, doesn't matter. We just agreed that we'd be seeing each other and that we'd be using the informal honorifics."

Eriol nodded. "Ah. Yes, 'Tomoyo-koi' and 'Rai-chan'."

She shrugged, wondering why she wasn't blushing at all. "Yes, well…"

"And you return his feelings, of course? You like him?" his tone was perfectly bland, and she frowned. He may as well been asking how many scones she wanted.

"Ye-es…mostly" muttered Tomoyo, realizing that as much as she hated telling him that, lying hadn't even occurred to her.

"Mostly?" asked Eriol, raising an eyebrow.

Tomoyo glared. "Well, I barely know him!" she protested. "I just learnt his first name yesterday! I like him, but I can hardly say whether I return his feelings."

He tilted his head. "Yet you're willing to go out with him."

"I don't see why I shouldn't give him a chance." She began to tick off his attributes on her fingers, just because she knew how much it annoyed Eriol when she acted gushy and lovelorn. "He's really really sweet, handsome, kind, pretty intelligent, a good soccer player, romantic—"

"Oh, alright! I get the idea!" he huffed. "But you don't like like him yet?"

She winked at him. "Give it a week."

Eriol's hands fisted involuntarily, and he shoved them into his pockets, scowling.

--

Brunch had gone well… after they'd stopped talking about Raiden. But then, it always did. Eriol and Tomoyo's Saturday brunch tradition had started in the eighth grade, when they'd used the time to plot ways to get Sakura and Syaoran together. Although that little endeavour had succeeded within months, the tradition had just never faded. It had quickly become their favourite time of the week, though neither particularly wanted to admit that.

The shopping that followed, however, had not gone so well, since Eriol seemed to be in a particularly contrary mood.

White sparkly dress.

"Eriol-kun, what do you think?"

"We-ell…"

"What? What is it? You can tell me; I won't be upset!" She was going to regret those words later.

'White makes your legs look longer, and he is not allowed to see that!' "It's a little short…"

"Do you think so?"

"Oh yes!"

"Our school skirts are shorter though!" she protested. "It goes to my knees."

"Too short," he repeated firmly. "Practically screams 'I'm easy: come and get me'."

"Seriously? Alright, I'll go change then."

He didn't think of it as sabotage, really. That was too strong a word. Think of it more as… like… damage control. Yeah. Or, y'know, creative protection. Exactly. His way of protecting her, y'know, virtue. Yes, it was the fifth store in two hours and yes, they were both on the cusp of their sanity, but it wasn't his fault that Tomoyo looked sinfully smashing in everything she wore.

Yellow sundress.

"How about this one?"

'Brings out the golden tones of your complexion.' "Too bright."

"But Sakura wears this colour all the time! In fact, I wear this colour all the time."

'…and it makes your eyes look really limpid and luminescent.' "Tomoyo-san, I'm afraid it's garish."

"Too bad. I thought it looked sweet."

Green spaghetti strap.

"This one?"

'Makes you look like a rain goddess.' "Not your colour. Clashes with your hair."

"Oh… okay…"

Pink formfitting mini-skirt.

"Please let this be the one."

'Holy hell, those curves!' "Too tight."

"Tight…? But is that a bad thing?"

"Too tight," he repeated emphatically.

"O…kay…"

Black sleeveless.

'Hubba, hubba, hubba…'

"Eriol-kun, are you okay?"

'…oh my GOD…'

"Hey, say something!"

'Oh, yeah, was I supposed to— Oh, fuck, she's twirling.' Mute, vehement shaking of head.

"That bad, huh? Right. I'll go change."

'Hey, wait, come back! I wasn't done ogling!'

Red corset-style.

'Fuck, fuck, fuck! One girl can't be that sexy!'

"Well? How is it?"

'Shit, say something! Say anything. She wears that dress tonight and Kioshi will be all over her.'

"You look incredible!" he blurted out.

Her eyes lit up. "Really?"

A pause, then enthusiastic nodding. "Yeah! Just like Kaho-san!"

She glowered and spun around, slamming the change room door behind her. He winced.

--

Tomoyo fumed silently. Three hours, twenty-eight dresses, and the one positive comment he could come up with was "you look incredible… just like Kaho!". That idiot.

She stomped out of the dressing room, muttering mild expletives under her breath. Eriol greeted her with a sheepish smile.

"Shall we move to the next store?" he asked, offering her his arm. She pointedly ignored it.

"If you're so sure you know what suits me, you pick a dress," she snapped.

Eriol flinched inwardly. Oh, to tell her that he would rather gnaw off his own arm than entertain thoughts of her looking that maddeningly, unthinkably, celestially gorgeous for anyone else.

"How about that one?" he volunteered instead.

Tomoyo followed his gaze to the maternity section, to a turtleneck, ankle-length, long-sleeved black dress, and then she glared at him, eyes flashing dangerously.

"That one?" she repeated. "The one that covers more than a nun's habit?"

"Um… yeah?"

"Thank you for your help, Hiirgizawa-san—" He winced again. "—but my date starts in an hour and since all the dresses I've tried on today look so hideous on me, I think I have to bid you goodbye."

Her voice, altogether too venomous for his sweet Tomoyo, made him feel like that biggest asshole on the planet. 'Which you just about are,' his subconscious reminded him.

"T-Tomoyo-chan, wait—"

"What?"

"I—I—"

"Goodbye, Hiirgizawa-san."

'Fuck.'

--

Tomoyo was crying and she hated herself for it. But there's really only so much bashing a girl's self-esteem can take in one day.

Every single dress had been met by a snide little remark or a disdainfully raised eyebrow. She had never felt so demeaned, so despised, so utterly repulsive in her whole life. And to be made to feel that way by the one person who she… who she thought was…

She tried, to no avail, to quell the sick twisting feeling in the pit of her stomach. He'd never been like that before. Always a little protective, in that infuriating big brother sort of way, but it was always sweet how much he cared. This time though…

She got up and dried her tears angrily, then inspected her reflection in the mirror. Her eyes were a little red and puffy, but that would abate after a little time, a shower and some concealer. And her unsettled hair could easily be fixed.

Tomoyo strode over to her closet and picked out a particular dress. It was royal blue satin, tapered with gold, with a low neckline and a skirt that flared around her hips. She'd worn it only once before to a dance, last year, when Eriol had said that since neither of them had anyone they especially wanted to go with, that they'd go together. She had made this dress, in his favourite colour, with him specifically in mind. When he'd come to pick her up, he had been astonished, enchanted, admiring, had waxed poetic about her "midnight beauty" and "ravishing charm".

Later that night, as they danced the last dance together, he had made her promise that she would never wear this dress for anyone else. She had acquiesced, telling him that it was all his, only his. She'd break that promise today. He didn't deserve her loyalty right now… not after that comment about Kaho.

Tomoyo smiled humourlessly at this inadequate revenge. Like he would know. Like he cared.

The next hour passed in a blur of showering, hair, makeup and accessorizing. At 3:45, one of her bodyguards announced that someone was at the door to see her. She descended the stairs, smiling widely and mostly genuinely.

Instead of Rai, Eriol stood there, shifting nervously.

"Oh," she stated, flatly. "It's you."

He gasped. "T-Tomoyo—"

"If you're here to apologize, there's no need. It's fine." Her contemptuous expression attested, rather nicely, she thought, to the fact that she did not care what he thought of her looks.

"Tomoyo… Tomoyo-san…" Apparently that was all he seemed capable of saying.

"Tomoyo-koi!" interrupted another voice. Rai stood in the doorway, staring at Tomoyo appreciatively. "You look stunning. No, you look better than stunning. There aren't even words to describe how good you look. That's an awesome dress!"

Now that was the reaction she'd been going for. "Thank you, Rai-chan." She gestured at her dress and threw a pointed look at Eriol. "This old thing? It's nothing special."

Rai seemed to notice Eriol for the first time. "Hiirgizawa-san," he said, looking from him to Tomoyo anxiously. "I didn't realize—"

"Oh, no, Rai-chan, it's nothing like that. Eriol-kun was just here to drop something off. Weren't you, Eriol-kun?"

"Er…" he said stupidly, still staring at Tomoyo. "I…er…what?… um… yes…"

"Shall we go, then, Tomoyo-koi?"

"Yes, let's."

Tomoyo brushed past Eriol, and then they were gone.

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