Word count: 10,653 words (in 2 parts)
Genre: Drama, Angst, Non-AU & Aiba-centric
Summary: The signs are always there but Aiba never notices.
Note: The story was originally written for the lovely mangamistrezz in Ohba & Junba Exchange. Big Thanks to my awesome beta-reader silverdoll14 without whom this story would never end up making me as happy as this. Thank you so much <3 Any remaining mistakes are my own.
[Aiba thinks it is only a simple request from one bandmate to another.]
Aiba thinks it's only a simple request from one bandmate to another.
Arashi have spent majority of their waking hours together. Certainly, it’s more than the time they have spent with their family and friends. Still, Aiba often longs for the chance to spend time with other members outside of work. He thinks it would be enjoyable. When Aiba wants something, his eyes show, and members start taking hints. No one can resist Aiba’s puppy and pleading eyes. So Aiba ends up hanging out with Nino at his home, going shopping with Sho, and partying with Jun.
But it’s never with Ohno.
“Leader, when will you let me go drinking with you?”
“Leader, I am free tonight. Let’s drink.”
Sometimes, Aiba says those things in the greenroom to the amusement of Sho and the annoyance of Nino. Every time, other members will offer various comments along with it. Ohno will just smile. He never says anything.
Aiba keeps wondering why.
For Aiba, it happens out of the blue.
It's not often Aiba ends up in the recording studio with only Ohno and no other members. He often listens to Ohno's raw voice in some other places, during concerts, in their dressing room, or just randomly somewhere during location shoot for Arashi shows. He thinks Ohno’s voice is the best especially without seasoning from instruments like in CDs. Ohno is the real talent in their group when it comes to singing and dancing, and Aiba always admires Ohno for that. Aiba, on the other hand, often struggles just to hold his notes throughout a long section.
Tonight, his photoshoot ends early, so Aiba arrives at the studio in time for Ohno’s recording session. He sits on a sofa in the control room of the studio. The sound engineer has given him a headphone, so he can listen to the session. Aiba hears the producer’s voice directing Ohno’s singing. Next, it is Ohno’s voice singing a piece from their new album. The pattern repeats as they move from one part to another.
While waiting for his turn, Aiba begins flipping through pages of magazines Ohno has seemingly left on the sofa along with his other belongings. They are the ones with Ohno in it, probably his manager gives them to him to check on his work, like how Aiba’s manager would do.
Aiba glances through pages of Ohno’s stoic faces. The smooth, round eyes staring back at him. At the exact moment, leader’s clear voice rings in his head.
That night, for the first time, it hits him.
Aiba suddenly stands up and looks straight through the glass panel separating the control room from the recording studio. Ohno is concentrating hard on singing, oblivious to anything else. On the other hand, Aiba is jaw-dropped. He feels a sudden warmth in his chest before the sensation spreads through every part of his body. Then, panic takes over.
Shit, Aiba thinks, not with Leader. Please, not with him.
Aiba walks out of the studio as quickly as he can. He has to clear his mind. It is not the first time he suddenly realizes he has a feeling for someone. But this is Ohno. It is impossible. It will ruin everything. Aiba keeps walking until he hits a convenient store and suddenly, he realizes he only has a cellphone with him so he sits there in front of the store catching his breath.
Don’t panic, Masaki. It’s okay. It is just a feeling. It’s only temporary.
Aiba tries to be calm. He has to be reasonable. After all these years, why now? Surely, it’s just his tiredness mixed with those overly sensual photos and the romantic song. There is nothing to be worried about. He will certainly feel better after a good night sleep and be refresh in the morning.
So Aiba walks back to the studio, pretending that he wants something from the convenient store, but he forgets to bring his wallet. Everybody laughs. Everything is all good and well.
Morning comes, and Aiba does not feel any different. As soon as he wakes up, he tries selecting an Ohno’s solo track on his iPod. As Ohno’s voice rings through his headphone, Aiba gets goose bumps all over his arms - the goose bumps and that heartwarming, goo-ey feeling. Oh, no… Aiba begins to panic. He rushes to his living room, frantically searching for a stray magazine that has an Arashi photoshoot. He turns to the pages of their scoop and looks at Ohno’s photo. It makes his heart warmer.
Now, Aiba’s experiment has confirmed it. Aiba is in love and in trouble.
If what he is feeling right now is real, Aiba’s biggest concern is Nino.
Aiba has always been close to Nino. The two of them have entered the Jimusho on the same year. They hit it off right away. Somehow, Aiba's awkward and shy nature and Nino's slightly anti-social characteristic are a perfect fit. As time goes by, the two seem inseparable. When Nino has been chosen to be in Arashi, Aiba is picked soon after. Aiba thinks Nino has something to do with it. Nino will never admit it, and Aiba doesn’t ask.
Now, they have been together for so long. Nino is one of Aiba’s very few real friends in the industry. More often than not, Nino can describe what Aiba is thinking better than Aiba does himself. When Aiba speaks, sometimes other people get confused, but Nino never does. Nino always understands what Aiba means. Nino knows how Aiba feels. Nino is his best friend and Nino is Arashi. There is no one more important to Aiba than that. Aiba will always be grateful to have Nino in his life.
Aiba and Nino are best friends, yet even Aiba has to admit that the person closest to Nino is Leader. Maybe Aiba should have asked Nino straightforwardly about his relationship with Ohno. Are they best friends? Lovers? Or soulmates? But, it does not seem necessary. Aiba believes Nino doesn’t like answering that kind of question anyways. Nino values his privacy – even with Aiba. Nino hates social norm. He does not like being branded or labeled, Aiba knows that. Anyway, no one in Arashi ever raises the question. There is no need to ask. The evidences are all there - the way Nino and Ohno act around each other, the way they touch, the way their fingers intertwine perfectly when they hold hands. Just look at the way Ohno gazes and smiles at Nino, and how Nino returns his gaze. They are all too apparent.
Aiba knows Nino and Ohno is an item. Nino seems happier around Ohno and the older male around him. Aiba is happy for both of them.
Aiba is certain his feelings for Ohno will soon disappear. He just needs to hide it from Nino before then. Who’s going to know?
As it turns out, it is difficult to hide your crush when you are forced to be in the same room as him for the whole afternoon.
They have an urgent meeting to readjust some details for their upcoming concert tour. Jun is trying to gather ideas from members on their final preparation. The concert tour is about to start in a few weeks, and Jun is agitated that there are several parts that still need improvement. However, it is almost impossible to get any opinions from others. Ohno is staring blankly at the table, nodding at anything coming out of Jun’s mouth. Sitting close to Ohno is Nino, who is playing his PS Vita like usual. He seems to be uninterested to everything else beside his game. Next to Aiba is Sho, looking rather tired. It probably from his tight schedule in the past week. He remains quiet throughout the meeting. Aiba has no problems with brainstorming. There are always plenty of them in his head at any given moment. He just has problem taking his eyes off the tea mug right in front of him. Aiba does not want to look at Nino or Ohno on the opposite side. He is afraid his overly sincere eyes would tell them something is wrong.
“Can I at least get some comments for the last change?” Jun says, a little too loudly, and Aiba knows they are in trouble. “I have been going on and on about this for the last fifteen minutes.” Jun shifts his deadly glare from one member to another. When it falls on Aiba, he quickly returns his eyes to the mug, frightened even more than earlier. That’s another person in the room he cannot meet the eyes. That makes it three out of four.
“Please, we do not have time.” Jun’s voice is filled with frustration. He has to make sure the concept is finalized and confirmed by all members before the other divisions can continue their works. Sometimes Aiba feels Jun is a little too serious and overworked for his own good. “I think what you have suggested is already really good. We should just follow what you have planned.” Sho breaks the silence. It seems like a sincere comment, but Jun takes it the wrong way. “If you don’t care about it either way, you can just say so. No need to say that every single thing I propose is good." Jun snarls.
“If you did not think they were good, why did you propose them?” Nino suddenly speaks up. He just cannot stop his mouth when he’s irritated.
Jun’s eyebrows press closer and his lips are in perfect straight line.
Aiba does not realize he hunches down even more. Aiba hates confrontation. Jun really is angry.
“What do you think is good then, Ninomiya Kazunari?” When Jun uses Nino’s full name, Aiba knows Jun is close to exploding. Nino looks up from his game, staring directly at Jun. Nino is getting annoyed. He’s probably irritated at the fact that Jun barked at Sho earlier. Nino is like that sometimes, he does not like anyone showing authority.
Jun looks like he wants to kill.
“I don’t know. Maybe you can ask Aiba.”
Nino just throws a hot ball on his lap, and Aiba wishes he could just disappear.
“I…err. I…don’t...” Aiba stammers.
He hears Jun’s voice continues. “I don’t think Aiba heard anything I said anyway. The only thing he learned in the last hour is probably the content on the side of that mug he kept staring at since we started the meeting.” Jun grouches. Sho suddenly intervenes, “Stop it already, Jun. I know you are anxious, but there is no need to let it out on the other.”
Aiba feels his face turn completely red. Jun and Sho are in a silent shoot out. Aiba does not dare saying a word. Nino is the only one looking like he is having a blast.
After a period of total silence, a voice breaks out. “Your ideas are perfect, Jun.” Ohno speaks in his usual quiet voice, as if he is oblivious to the tension that is going on. The effect of Ohno’s words is instant. Sho drops his tensed posture, and Jun stops his aggression immediately.
When the leader of Arashi speaks, everyone will listen.
Nino peeks at Ohno and returns to his PS Vita. Jun stares at Nino disapprovingly but decides to let go and continues with the adjustment in some costume changing routine. He seems to forget about Aiba’s lack of interest entirely. For the first time since Aiba entered the meeting room, he dares look at Ohno. He is surprised to see the man looking at him pensively.
Right then, their eyes met. Aiba swears the end of Ohno mouth lifts up slightly just for a second. Aiba’s heart drops, and his stomach churns. Aiba feels like he’s about to faint. But the next thing he knows, everything is like what it has been minutes before. Ohno is no longer looking at him or anything to that matter. He is back to his usual absenteeism.
Aiba feels Ohno has jumped in to rescue him, effectively protecting Aiba from Jun’s wrath and painfully uncomfortable moment. Ohno, like always, is looking after him. With that thought, Aiba’s heart flutters. This is certainly NOT helping at all.
If anyone asks who is the nicest person in Arashi, Aiba would have a hard time picking among Ohno, Sho and Jun. Jun always takes care of the other. Sho is worried for everyone. And Ohno looks after all members in his own way. But if anyone asks which member is nicest to Aiba, he can answer in the instant. It is definitely Sho-chan.
Aiba never really knows why Sho is always drawn to him. Of course, they say Sho is Arashi's mother hen, so it is only in Sho’s nature to be caring and protective to Arashi’s members. But Sho’s caring nature tended to be a lot more subtle than Jun’s. A touch here, a pat there, some kind words during interviews, Sho is generous with these gestures. Everyone knows Sho worries about them.
However, when it comes to Aiba, Sho’s actions multiply several folds. Maybe it's because of the way Aiba is. His television persona is that of silliness and vulnerability – that may pull Sho in. It is easier to act out all caring for someone who’s practically begging for it. People think it is fan-services, a little something to get the hearts of their fans jumping. However, Sho’s affection is not just for the show. Aiba knows Sho cares about him off the screen too. When the cameras are off, when no one is watching, when there’s no need to pretend anymore, the affection is always there.
For Aiba and Sho, it starts with just a hand-holding, a hug, and fan-services. Now, it becomes something much more. Sho looks out for Aiba and shows affections to Aiba openly on national television and in their concerts. Sho, who used to be afraid to appear close to anyone, has let go of those fears and embraces his feelings for Aiba in full. On the other hand, Aiba returns the favor with the same level of love and affection both in public and off screen. Before Aiba knows it, Sho and he talk to each other all the time. They spend time together when their schedule and time allow it. They mention each other a little too often in interviews and television shows. Sometimes when they hang out in the greenroom, Aiba catches Nino watching them just from the corner of his eyes, pretending he does not care.
But now, when his mind keeps wondering back to Ohno every so often, Aiba cannot help but notice Ohno more than he ever has. To his surprise, he finds Ohno sometimes steal a glance towards Sho and Aiba. Ohno is certainly paying attention more than he lets on.
Almost two weeks have passed since the day at the recording studio. Aiba is still in trouble.
Today is their Arashi ni Shiyagare taping. It’s triple episodes actually. It is to stock programs for when their concert tour starts. That means three times longer that Aiba will be close to Ohno. When Aiba’s crush goes overload, Aiba flutters too often during their taping. Sho is the only one that walks to him backstage and asks worryingly if something is wrong. Aiba looks at Sho with his doe-like eyes. He wants so bad to let someone knows. But it is a secret Aiba is afraid of sharing. So he does not say anything.
Sho probably takes Aiba’s silence as something bad is bothering Aiba. Maybe Aiba is not feeling well. Maybe he is over worried like usual. Aiba has just lost a game to today’s guest and that makes Arashi the loser of that particular taping. It is just a game. Sho does not think anything of it and other members do not either. But Aiba probably does. Aiba always feel bad when he lets others down even when it is just a silly game.
So when the taping is done, and all of them walk back to the greenroom, Sho moves a little closer to Aiba. His arm is practically brushing Aiba’s side constantly. He wraps his arm around the slim waist and literally steers Aiba to the sofa on one side of the dressing room. Because that sofa is furthest from the table where all of Ohno’s stuffs are, Aiba lets Sho steer him to the seat. Aiba’s only objective is to get as furthest away from Ohno as possible. He cannot even look at their leader in the eyes anymore today. The burning inside him is too overwhelming.
Aiba probably looks like he’s sick. That is why Sho nurses Aiba into a nap on the sofa while he takes care of getting medicine and water. Aiba takes the role of a sick patient pretty well, letting Sho be a good nurse. Nino and Jun only stops to check on Aiba briefly before heading out. They aren’t worried with Sho right there. Aiba is in the best hand. Ohno, who for some reason decides to sit by the table, is the only one left. He resumes working on the artwork he has been doing earlier. The older man keeps looking back at Aiba and Sho but does not say anything.
Because Ohno is the reason why Aiba feels unwell, Aiba does not feel better with Ohno still there. That makes Sho worry even more. Finally, he decides to let their managers know that he would be the one that drive Aiba back home. Ohno only nods at them when they leave the room together. Aiba is too pre-occupied with himself to realize that Ohno’s eyes are kept on them until they exit the hallway.
What transpires in the week after also does not help Aiba escape from his predicament.
Aiba have been trying to avoid Ohno as much as he can. It is impossible not to meet – with them being in Arashi together, but it is not hard not to interact with Ohno. Leader is usually quiet and interacts very little with the others except Nino anyway. Aiba just tries to stand a bit further away from Ohno, and he’s almost contact free with the man. He only has to face him eye-to-eye during Korokoro Viking game as they are to take the paddles on opposite sides – but that’s it. Aiba feels relieved. He is feeling better. Aiba is certain everything is going back to normal soon.
Or so he thinks.
After so many times of asking Ohno to go out with him in the past, Aiba has gotten his wish at the time when he least wants it. After they finish taping of double episodes of VS Arashi, Ohno asks Aiba whether Aiba wants to accompany him for a drink. Aiba should have declined, but his mouth is faster than his better judgment, and he could not have said yes any faster.
Three hours later, Aiba finds himself half-drunk, half-asleep on a surprisingly comfy, leather couch in one of member-only clubs in Roppongi. Ohno is in a similar state, his eyes slightly glossy and his hand playing with Aiba’s ruffle hair. He is laughing so hard at Aiba’s silly anecdotes - a little too much for the actual jokes if Aiba has to admit. But Aiba would never complain. Silently, Aiba has hoped for those moments when they are not constrained by their works and other obligations. They would get a chance to loosen up and enjoy themselves and each other’s company.
In that brief moment, Aiba forgets that Ohno is not the person he should be falling for.
Aiba shoots a blinding smile at Leader. His doe-like, glossy eyes stare at Ohno expectantly. Aiba isn’t sure what he wants. Only that he wishes he can look at Ohno likes this without having to care about anything for a little longer.
Then, Ohno stares back and smiles brightly at him too.
Aiba thinks his heart freezes at that moment. He forgets to breath.
The way Ohno is looking at him. It’s… different.
Suddenly, Ohno's hand reaches forward. His long slim fingers touch Aiba's smooth hair just to the side of his eye level. Aiba blinks several times but does not pull back. Carefully, Ohno tugs strands of hair behind Aiba’s long ear. The light touch lingers on Aiba’s skin. Aiba could not take his eyes off the older man. His beautiful, slightly perky nose matched with the oval shape face. Aiba’s lips parted unknowingly just a little in anticipation. "Aiba-chan..." The sound of Ohno calling his name is so breathtaking Aiba has to hold his breath. He has never heard his name being called this beautifully. Ohno's hands move to cuff his face, and Ohno moves in. His lips touch Aiba’s once, then again. The second kiss is deeper and more passionate. Aiba loses in time until Ohno pulls back from him. This time Ohno lets out a heavy breath. His hands are still holding Aiba’s face.
“Aiba-chan,” Ohno seems to try to find his words. Finally, he adds, “Do you like me?”
Aiba’s heart drops. Aiba feels like time itself freezes. His eyes widen in surprise. Before Aiba can sum up his wit to react, Ohno adds the last words to his sentence.
“I hope you like me…” Ohno pauses a little, looking at Aiba’s confused state calmly, “…because I like you.”
There is an unwritten code of the universe - your best friend's boyfriend is strictly out of limit. God knows how much Aiba loves Nino. The last thing Aiba wants is to cause any misunderstanding between them. Yet Aiba couldn’t stop himself looking at the pair today.
It has been only two days ago since Ohno has kissed him, twice. Nothing else has happened after the kisses because Aiba has stormed out of the club as soon as the realization sinks in. All day yesterday Aiba has been on the location shoot. He hasn’t call nor text Ohno. Neither Ohno has contacted him. It’s a relief.
Aiba has been dreading today since he would meet Ohno again for the first time.
But nothing happens. In fact, everything is exactly the same as before.
It is as if nothing has happened two nights ago.
Today, while they are waiting for custom fitting, Nino teases Ohno mercilessly. He keeps poking the man who pretends at first to be unaffected by it. Soon enough Ohno starts giggling, and he yelps at Nino jokingly. Nino smirks and pokes Ohno on the side again causing the older guy to yell out in surprise. They fell on the sofa. Nino tries to tickle Ohno and Ohno tries his best to defend himself – or pretending to - Aiba thinks. It is so loud Jun turns and stares at them disapprovingly. He is about to say something but decides that he cannot really be bothered. So the teasing continues throughout the fitting session. Aiba, on the other hand, has been watching them from the corner of his eyes. There is that little pang in his chest. It hurts.
Aiba pretends to focus on the magazine in front of him. It starts to be a bit difficult being around these two. Of course, he is happy for both of them. Ohno and Nino are two of the persons Aiba love the most in the whole world, but what happened two nights ago bothers him. Why would Ohno kiss him if everything is good and well with Nino? Surely, Ohno is not a cheating type, and Nino certainly deserves the best. Aiba is confused, very confused. He has no idea how he should react. So throughout the day, Aiba laughs a little too much and talks a little too loudly. Aiba does not realize he is most obvious when he wants to be most secretive.
A body plants itself on the sofa next to Aiba. Before Aiba even lifts his eyes from the magazine, the body slides closer to him. The warm skin brushes with his own. Aiba swallows hard and closes the magazine. There is no use in pretending to be reading anymore.
“Do you remember that yakiniku place Toma-kun talked about the last week?” Sho starts the conversation, right on cue.
“Yeah…” Aiba feels obliged to answer. He knows he does not sound very enthusiastic. But it is Sho. Aiba knows nothing escapes Sho’s observation.
“I figured out where it is. Let’s go for a meal there after this.” Sho says it a little too cheerily. Sometimes Sho does not know how to be subtle. His urges to look after Aiba, to make sure he’s okay, are too strong.
Aiba does not know what to say so he says yes.
That night after the meal, they continue at some club whose owner is an acquaintance of Sho. Right there, Aiba lets it all out. He is so drunk that he hardly remembers how he gets to Sho’s house. He does, however, remember kissing Sho mercilessly before the other man responds back. Aiba knows Sho will look after him and makes sure that Aiba will be okay. When Aiba feels down, it is Sho that provides him support. Sho has gone to the extra length of taking care of him before. It would be the same this time.
Aiba wakes up to the soft comforter filled with Sho’s scent. Next to him, Sho is sleeping peacefully with an arm extended out to cover Aiba’s bare back. Aiba inhales deeply, taking in the scent of the person lying next to him. It smells like a mixture of beer and Sho’s scented shampoo - the one Sho has bought from his last vacation. It’s the same one he has given Ohno. With the sweet scent still lingering in his mind, Aiba closes his eyes, thinking of another person who isn’t there.