Word Count: approx 12,000 words (in two parts)
Pairing/Focus: Aimiya, Junba
Warnings: Moody and angsty Nino appears in this story.
Summary: Aiba has made too many wrong choices of boyfriends so Nino encourages him to go out with the best choice in Nino’s opinion – Matsumoto Jun. The Problem is Jun is not the one Aiba truly wants.
Notes: Written for murrponchan in ninoexchange this year. The dear nino_mod and the exchange beta reader were absolutely awesome. It has been really fun, thank you! On personal note: I can never get anything posted on my account unless it's an exchange fic :P
[It is well past midnight when the call comes.]
It is well past midnight when the call comes.
At first, Nino hardly moves from where he has been in the last six hours. He has spent his entire evening on the couch in front of his big flat screen plasma TV. His eyes concentrate on the human-like characters moving around on the screen. It is just like they say, games nowadays look just like real movies. And Nino is not intending to miss a second of the show.
The ringing stops, only a few seconds, before the cellphone starts ringing again. It is late at night. No one in the right mind is going to call Nino at this time because of the fear for Nino’s revenge. Well, no one, except THAT person. The person Nino knows never to bother with any etiquette when dealing with him. Nino does not have to look at the caller ID to confirm who it is.
“Hey. What’s up, Aiba?”
Nino is half-expecting Aiba to begin chatting like usual. It is not uncommon for Aiba to call him on trivial matter. But there is no word coming from the other end. Just the familiar faint breathing tells Nino that Aiba is there. It is awfully quiet.
“Hello? Anyone there?” Nino sounds annoyed but his worry is causing a stir inside his chest. It doesn’t sound right. Yet, Nino continues to pretend, “If you are a pervert calling, you can wait till the morning. I am busy.”
“Nino,” Finally, a voice comes from the other end. Aiba’s voice is hoarse. Something is definitely wrong. “Are you really busy?” Aiba sounds uncertain. “I mean, really, really busy….”
Nino has to bite his lip. Aiba’s voice sounds so pleading even when he does not mean it. And although Nino would never admit it, that voice is Nino’s kryptonite. He does not want Aiba to know but he cannot say no to Aiba’s request.
“What is it, Masaki?” The change in name would let Aiba know that he now gets Nino’s full attention. It is like their secret code. It is a signal that lets both of them know that they have entered their private space, their own private world.
There is another pause, this time longer than the one before. Nino is holding his breath but he tries to remain as calm as possible. It has been too long since the last time Nino is not strong in front of Aiba.
“Kei-chan,” Aiba breathes out the name of his current boyfriend. Why is it that Nino knows it must be about him? “I left him,” Aiba adds.
Nino waits for more explanations, complaints, or any stories Aiba would like to share. But there isn’t any. Instead, Aiba asks.
“Can I come over?”
“Sure. Of course.” Nino replies automatically. His mouth has done its job way before his quick brain starts to process. In front of him, the TV screen is still showing a pause of his game. He’s two-third into killing the big boss of the last stage. There is no save.
Nino presses a button on the controller initiating a shutdown of the console.
It is going to be a very long night and his game will have to wait.
It takes Nino several hours to calm Aiba down.
It is the same as most of Aiba’s past relationships. It starts out promisingly. Kei seems to be the guy Aiba is looking for. Kei is a fun and outgoing guy. He seems to understand Aiba and never complains about Aiba’s weird hours and strange rules that come with being a national idol. But after a while, Aiba comes to feel he cannot be himself in front of his boyfriend. The more Aiba spends time with him, the more stressed Aiba becomes. Until Aiba feels he cannot stand the relationship anymore.
Nino feels sad for his best friend. Aiba worries too much. He cares too much about what others thinks. He does not want to disappoint anyone, especially those who are close to him. That is why Aiba always keeps what he really is to himself. He never lets out what he truly feels if he fears that it can make the others unhappy. Even within Arashi, Aiba is always slightly reserved. To the others, Aiba looks shy. But for Nino who has grown up with Aiba, Aiba is not shy. Aiba is someone who is too afraid to show his real self to the others. So he does not talk about anything too personal. He does not share his true feelings.
Except with Nino.
Now, Aiba is lying in Nino’s bed and feeling too tired from all the crying. He turns on his side to face the man who has been consoling him over the past hours. Tears still trail from his eyes but he does not look so sad anymore. Aiba's puppy eyes glitter even more in the dimness under Nino’s bedroom light. He looks at Nino expectantly. His lips pursed into a line resembling a smile.
"Nino..." Aiba's voice is slightly breathy. It still cracks slightly from so much crying in the past hours. Aiba's hand slowly leaves the safety and comfort of the warm blanket and reaches toward Nino's smaller hand resting on the bedside. Aiba's warm hand takes Nino's slightly colder one and squeezes it lightly. Nino switches his glance from Aiba's face to his hand, and back to Aiba's face again.
“Thank you, Nino.” Aiba looks grateful. All of Aiba’s body language states very clearly that he appreciates and values what Nino has done for him.
“What would you ever do without me, huh?” Nino teases. His free hand reaches out and ruffles Aiba’s hair. Aiba lets out a light-heartedly laugh. He squeezes Nino’s hand a little.
"I love you." Aiba's voice resonated warmly in Nino's small bedroom. Aiba smiles and closes his eyes. Soon, Aiba has fallen fast asleep.
While Aiba is sleeping soundly, Nino looks at the man on his bed with heavy heart. This is the fourth time this year that Aiba comes crying his heart out over some fail relationship. It is an alarming rate even for someone who changes boyfriends and girlfriends often enough like Aiba. Every time, it ends like this – with him hurt and dejected. Every time Aiba comes crying, Nino sees something inside Aiba die a little. It is like the light that is usually in his eyes has dimmed from the heartbreaking experience. It's clearly taking its tow on Aiba's mentality and his overall emotional strength. Thinking about how miserable Aiba has been, Nino feels something stirring inside him. He is angry. He does not know what is he angry at but he knows he cannot continue like this. Aiba should not continue on like this. Aiba has been searching for that love of his life. He has been searching for someone that would complete him and would make him whole. He tries and he fails. The story has repeated itself for several years already. Nino has seen his best friend getting hurt so many times already. It has to come to an end.
Nino knows Aiba better than to hope that after today everything would be alright and that Aiba would learn from his previous failures. Aiba is not going to change, no matter how many failed relationships he has. Aiba’s nature is to keep pushing, hoping, and believing for the best to happen. Aiba believes that someday he would find someone that understands him. It is someone that he could be himself around that person and could share his thoughts, his happiness and his sorrow. And that someone must be the one that Aiba can love wholeheartedly.
Nino does not want to burst Aiba’s bubble. But Nino doesn’t believe anything like that exists. In a soap opera, maybe, but not in real life. Irrational love is cruel illusion that only causes heartache. Nino knows nothing good would ever come from love like that. What Aiba needs is someone practical and suitable for him. Aiba needs someone that is “right”. But Aiba wouldn’t realize this by himself. After Aiba picks up all the pieces and mends his heart, he would continue looking for love in the wrong place again. And it is not going to end well once again.
What Nino fears is true. Only two weeks has passed when Aiba starts mentioning about a new guy (or guys? Nino isn’t quite sure) he meets at some bar. He keeps on and on about how fantastic he is. Nino knows it is the first sign of Aiba falling in love – to the wrong kind – again.
While listening to Aiba chatting and chirping about his sexual encounter the previous night, Nino’s mind keeps going somewhere else. Nino still does all the “u-hu” and “a-ha” at appropriate times; but he is not really paying attention.
This is too much, Nino tells himself. He cannot let Aiba continue on this road anymore. Whether Aiba realizes it or not, Aiba needs a stable relationship. He needs someone reliable in his life. Someone that he can depend on. Someone that can take care of him.
Aiba clearly is not capable of picking such a guy all by himself.
It is up to Nino to do something.
Nino’s eyes pan around their surroundings. Staff is running around, removing the old set and installing the new one. The audiences are talking, smiling, and waiting for the show recording to resume again. Ohno is sitting in front of him, seemingly looking straight into nothing in particular. Sho has disappeared from where he is supposed to be. He probably has gone backstage with Aiba. Nino notices the two have been chatting quite a bit since the start of the day. Next to Nino, their plus-one guest is standing, having a conversation with the competitor team.
Off-camera, Nino has spent the whole day thinking about his resolution last week. He is going to find a good guy for Aiba. Nino needs to find someone who is good enough to be Aiba’s boyfriend, someone that would pass Nino’s approval.
Then, Nino sees what he is looking for, right in the middle of the studio. Nino scolds himself quietly. How could he overlook such a perfect choice so close to them all this time?
Reliable. Dependable. Caring.
Who is going to be better than MatsuJun?
Arashi have been together for so many years. Nino knows what kind of person each and every one of members are. Ohno is free-spirited, quiet and temperamental. Sho is well-organized, good-hearted but overly serious. Jun is, as Nino wants for Aiba, passionate, caring and considerate. Just the right type for Aiba. The type that would stay with Aiba. Jun is the best candidate for Aiba’s long-term, dependable boyfriend. Jun clicks all the boxes. He has all the things that Aiba needs. Jun would be a constant in Aiba’s life. Jun would be caring and thoughtful. Jun would be able to care for and look after Aiba the way that none of his earlier boyfriends cannot.
Looking at Jun talking attentively to staff, Nino smiles proudly at himself. Aiba has overlooked the best candidate but Nino has not. Nino is certain Aiba would find the piece that has been missing in his life with Jun. Now that Nino has decided on the person, what is left for him is to make the relationship happen.
Arashi has been together for so long. They know each other like the back of their own hands. For the others, this intimate knowledge may be useful when they are on variety shows, so they can tell anecdotes and other entertaining stories in the interviews. But for Nino, it also means he can manipulate the other members if he ever wishes to.
Matsumoto Jun may appear to be a bossy and moody perfectionist. But Jun is also a sensitive and caring guy. As long as Nino has known him, Jun always thinks of the others. He always makes sure that everyone he cares about is well-taken care of. If Jun knows Aiba is in trouble, Jun would certainly come to his rescue. On the other side, dealing with Aiba isn’t hard. Nino knows all Aiba’s preferences. It is the result of growing up and going through many tough times together. Because of that, making Aiba falling in love with someone is not exactly rocket science for Nino. Aiba is almost always complying. He seldom argues. And he is a softie. Just knowing someone is interested in him can make Aiba half-fall in love with that person already.
Getting Aiba and Jun to start considering one another romantically is not much of a challenge for Nino’s mastermind brain.
“Nino, you are looking at me funny.” Aiba voices out as Nino intentionally stares at him a little too often during their weekly variety filming. “What’s wrong?”
“I think Jun has looked at you several times now. Don’t know why.” It may be a lie but it does not matter for Nino because the end justifies the means.
“Jun?” Aiba looks puzzled. Nino pretends to look at Jun and Aiba questioningly for a brief moment then he goes back to focusing on something else.
Next to him, Aiba still cannot stop looking at Jun with a questioning gaze. Nino hides his smile. It’s Aiba’s nature to be curious. Now, he won’t be able to stop thinking about this. About Jun and why he would want to look at him. Not long after, Jun turns to their direction and his eyes meet with Aiba’s. And that’s the beginning.
Nino continues dropping a hint here, a suggestion there, telling either of them (separately, of course) that they look like they are interested in one another. Aiba is curious and adventurous while Jun looks pleasantly surprised. None of them looks averse to the idea. That’s a good start. Nonetheless, it’s not like both of them believe Nino much at first. That’s why Nino needs to recruit Sho to help him with the scheme. When two members randomly start mentioning similar stuff, it is not difficult to believe there may be a grain of truth in it.
“You know this is a bad idea, right?” Sho’s voice enters into Nino’s consciousness as Nino is looking at Aiba and Jun from afar. Aiba and Jun are chatting by themselves – the product of Nino’s month-long plan to get them more personal time together.
“Yet, you agreed to help me, didn’t you?”
“You were very convincing.” Sho admits. When Nino wants Sho’s help, he tells him about Aiba’s chronic boyfriend problem and the road it is leading Aiba to. Nino plays it into Sho’s weakness. He lets Sho picture Aiba being sad and miserable, spiraling toward a doom future. Nino, Aiba’s best friend, pretends to be very worried and distressed, as if he is certain Aiba’s disastrous end is near. Sho cannot say yes to Nino fast enough.
“I hope you know what you are doing, Nino.” Sho says weakly, thinking about the reason he decides to help Nino in the first place. He still trusts that Nino would do what is best for Aiba but something else keeps bugging him.
“Of course, I do. Who do you think I am?” Nino replies confidently. This is a good plan, Nino is certain. This is going to be great for Aiba.
Nino’s plan does work eventually.
After two months, Aiba finally comes to him asking for an advice.
“Jun has asked me to join him for a dinner this weekend.” Aiba bursts out one day when they are sitting on a sofa in Nino’s living room. Aiba has dropped by with grocery and Nino asks him to make dinner. After the meal, they end up like they usually do – on a sofa side by side, Nino playing his game and Aiba watching and being a distraction.
It has been five weeks after Nino begins his plan. Things are moving exactly in the direction Nino has hoped for. Aiba and Jun interact more when Arashi are together. Nino sees Jun’s number in Aiba’s phone call history. Some are in the late hours. They are certainly talking.
“You know. This is Jun.” Aiba looks frightened and a little disturbed. “Dinner. And it’s at his apartment.” Aiba looks like he is going into panic mode. He most likely hypes himself up, like usual.
“Well, so?” Nino sounds amused and innocently surprised. Nino knows Aiba is almost there; he just needs a little push.
“I don’t know.” Aiba said in uncertainty. Aiba is clearly afraid. “It’s Jun.” He repeats, as if that word infers a deeper meaning to Nino.
“Jun is a nice guy. We all know that.”
“That’s the point!” Aiba’s voice is suddenly louder almost like a shout. “We all know him. We’ve been together for so long, Nino, I don’t want anything to change.”
That comment causes some strange feeling inside Nino. It hurts a bit and Nino is not sure why. He discards that feeling quickly. His facial expression remains the same. His plan is almost completed. Nino needs to focus. The thing is they both know what is going to happen if Aiba accepts the invitation to Jun’s place for a romantic dinner, there will certainly be more than just “dinner”.
“Aiba, don’t fret. You know it in you that you really like him. He will make you happy.” Nino reaches out. He wraps his hand around Aiba’s shoulder pulling him in for a comforting and friendly hug. “Believe me, Aiba. Jun is right for you.”
Aiba glances at Nino with an uncertain eyes. He contemplates on Nino’s words for a moment. Then, he slowly nods.
The weekend passes and Aiba calls him the next morning with the juiciest details of what happens the night before at Jun place. Some part Nino wishes he did not hear.
All in all, it is safe to say that Nino’s plan is a success.
Nino has to admit that Jun is really discrete when it comes to courting another member. It is hardly noticeable that Jun and Aiba have more interactions than usual even inside the greenroom.
When all of them are outside of the public eye, Jun doesn’t approach Aiba any more frequently than he does the other members. Yet, Nino knows things are developing between these two. The way Aiba looks at everyone is different. Aiba looks like a teenager sneaking a peek into something prohibited. Somehow, Aiba can look excited and guilty at the same time. Maybe, that’s exactly the appeal of it. Getting into a relationship with Jun is something Aiba feels he shouldn’t. It is both frightening and fun at the same time. To tell the truth, Nino does not see why Aiba has to worry. No one is going to object if these two go out for real.
The only time Aiba and Jun look like a couple publicly is when they go out for drinks. When Aiba is drunk, he forgets about his worries. When Jun is drinking, he lets out his caring and considerate part of him a lot more.
So when several of their entertainment friends get together after a concert of their senpai, Nino gets a chance to observe what Aiba and Jun really are like together privately. Nino normally wouldn’t come to any party or get together after work. But this one is different. It’s for their senpai. And most of all, it is Aiba that calls and asks him to come out. So Nino does. And now he is sitting quietly on a sofa sipping his beer. On the other side of the room, Aiba is sitting almost on Jun's lap. The clearly drunk Aiba is all over Jun. He snugs his face on Jun's neck, almost burying it inside Jun's lightly curled hair. His lips kiss Jun's soft skin before moving to Jun's ear. He must have whispered something amusing or interesting to the man because Jun's eyebrows rise up noticeably and he chuckles a little. Aiba moves back. He looks at Jun with his glittering eyes and smiles so widely Nino can feel it radiates to his side of the room.
“It does not make sense to drink an empty glass, you know?” Sho says to him nonchalantly. He deposits himself next to Nino, almost too close, given the sizable empty space between Sho and another Jr next to him right now. Nino can feel his sleeve brushing the skin of his arm but decides to ignore the strangeness. He lowers his glass on the table and allows Sho to fill it with new cold beer. Nino takes a sip. The cold beer goes down his throat and Nino feels slightly refreshed. He lets his back fall into the sofa again. Unlike Nino, Sho does not sit back and relax. With his back propped up straight, Sho keeps staring meaningfully at Nino. The stare makes Nino uncomfortable but he does not break away from the gaze. Instead, Nino looks intently at Sho and asks, “What do you want?”
Nino knows he sounds slightly ruder than he intends to. Yet, Sho does not seem to mind.
“Just want to see how you are holding up.” Sho sounds so concerned and overbearing it annoys Nino almost immediately. However, a look into Sho’s eyes makes Nino forgive Sho’s intrusion into his personal space almost immediately. Sho really is worried.
Nino just does not understand why.
“I am not drunk, if that’s what you are asking.”
“You know I did not mean that.” Sho’s tone is still condescending it starts to really get on Nino’s nerve. “Do you still think it’s a good idea? You know, Aiba and Jun.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Nino replies with a fire. He wants to ask Sho to clarify his question when, on the corner of his eye, Nino sees a movement from the other side of the room. His eyes automatically follow. On the other side, Aiba’s sleeping figure is left alone on the sofa while Jun heads directly toward him. Nino feels his throat closes up as his eyes meet with Jun’s. He quickly turns back toward Sho.
“That’s what I mean.” Sho says under his breath. But he does not leave a chance for Nino to react. Sho stands up and walks away, almost at the same time that Jun reaches Nino.
“Aiba fell asleep. I am taking him home.” Jun says plainly. Nino looks at him with questioning eyes.
“Well, it makes sense. You being his boyfriend and all.” His tone is so sarcastic Nino himself feels a bit bad about it. What is it with him and his mood tonight? Why is he attacking Jun?
“I think Aiba would want me to tell you. So you wouldn’t be worried.”
“I am not going to be.” Nino says almost too quickly. There is a silence between them for a few seconds. Jun still does not leave. Instead, He drops on the sofa next to Nino and looks at Nino with unreadable expression. It makes Nino feel uncomfortable.
“Aiba talks about you a lot.” Jun finally says. “Are you okay about us?” Jun must have seen Nino looking confused so he adds, “You know, Aiba and I, are you going to be cool about us going out?”
Nino almost spits out his beer. The comedy of that question is too much, especially when it is Nino that has played matchmaker for both of them in the first place.
“I don’t know why you need to ask me about that. I am not Aiba’s parent.”
“I can assure you we are not at that level. Not yet.” Jun looks at him, amused. “But who knows. I think I really like him.” Jun pats Nino’s thigh lightly. “I am glad you are cool with this.”
And with that, Jun leaves.
Nino look follows Jun. What does Jun want from him by saying these things?
Even with them officially going out, Jun has remained discrete. Nino thinks it is Jun’s personal preference. He never likes to have his private life to be shown to public. In fact, he does not want his private life to be shown to anyone, including Arashi members. Nino is impressed at the degree of secrecy and Jun’s effort to keep things in his life private.
Yet, this is Aiba Jun is going out with. Aiba is not like Jun. He lives and acts on impulse a lot. And Aiba doesn’t keep quiet with Nino. He would call at all time of a day to talk to Nino about various things he and Jun do. Aiba sounds like a teenager on his first date. Aiba still comes to Nino’s house sometimes. It’s far less often than before because he spends a lot more time with Jun now. Nino also hardly visits Aiba’s place nowadays. And every time he does, there are some remanences of Jun scattering around the apartment, which makes him feel like he is intruding into someone else’s personal life.
As time passes, the house visit stops almost completely.
Nino tells himself that it does not bother him. He likes being alone anyway.
Since Aiba and Jun become an item, Nino’s mood hasn’t been the best. Nino feels something inside him has changed. He just cannot pinpoint what exactly but that change makes him moodier. Despite this, Nino tries his best to keep it to himself. His work must not be affected. Yet, it is difficult to hide it completely from the others. On a good day, most people would just look at him strangely but leave him alone. A moody Nino is a scary Nino. It is best to avoid a scary Nino.
Today, however, is not a good day.
It is almost fall now but their location shoot is hot like hell. Nino is sitting on the side waiting for member close-up shot. The three layers of clothing he is wearing for the MV is making it worse.
“You look miserable.” It turns out Sho is the only person brave enough to irritate Nino with an intruding but well-intended comment. But it is his look that gets on Nino’s nerves. Sho probably intends for it to be caring but it is also condescending.
“It’s hot. I hate the outdoors.” Nino’s reply is filled with fire. He is not in the mood and he cannot help latching on anyone coming close enough.
Sho glances toward the pair standing just a distance away. Sho is implying the cause of Nino’s anger and irritation. It is true that in front of the staff Aiba and Jun are exceptionally discrete. They don’t even hold hands or touch each other. They don’t smile those crushing smiles of happiness they often do when they are in the green room. But, just seeing both of them standing close to one another makes something inside Nino stir like never before. In the background, Sho is going on and on about something that includes words like "awkward," "uncomfortable," "unhappy," etc. Nino isn’t paying attention. He cannot help staring at Aiba and Jun. They are standing so close to one another. Aiba is chatting lively. Jun is tugging his hands in the pockets and rocking his body a little. The way Aiba is looking – staring – at Jun…
Nino is not angry at Aiba and Jun. That, he can truthfully say. He just isn’t comfortable seeing them. Of course, it’s not their fault. Nino just wishes he wasn’t here seeing all these things.
“You should talk to them.” Sho’s voice reenters into Nino’s consciousness again.
“Huh?” Nino does not quite gasp the meaning of Sho’s most recent sentence.
"I think you should talk to them." Sho restates his opinion again.
“Talk to them? About what?” Nino is not going to admit he feels strange about the two. This is pity. Jealousy is pitiful.
“Well, for a start, about what you are feeling.” Sho sounds almost too hopeful. Nino looks at Sho unconvincingly. Sho is the type that believes in talking. As if everything can be solved by all parties involved getting together to discuss and brainstorm for the solution. That’s not going to work. In real life, you don’t talk everything through. And many things are better left a secret.
“And what do you think I am feeling right now, Sho?” Nino looks at Sho fiercely. He directs his stare toward his longtime friend. Nino hates talking about his own emotions and feelings with others. Maybe he used to do that when he was in his teens. But he does not anymore. Now Nino believes talking about feelings and emotions, particularly with the object of your emotions, never leads to something good.
Seeing Nino does not budge at his suggestion, Sho lets out a sigh.
“At least, think about it, okay?” Sho knows when he is defeated, but he is still optimistic. Nino thinks Sho is just over-worried like usual. Yet, Sho remains adamant in his conviction. He truly believes Nino needs to do something, to clear things up.
“I am serious, Nino. For everyone’s sake.”
Nino wonders what Sho means by that.
Sho leaves to do his close-up shots. Nino is left to his own thoughts. No matter how much he denies Sho’s concern, Nino cannot stop thinking about it. Nino does not know why or what he should talk to Jun and Aiba. His strange feeling, the discomfort he has every time he look at Aiba and Jun together. They are his problem, not theirs. They are problems that even Nino does not understand them just quite yet. There is no need for him to burden the others with his problem.
“Nino!” It’s Aiba calling for him from afar. He is jogging toward Nino. Jun is trailing behind him unhurriedly. Aiba is waving at him excitedly, as if he is so happy to have seen Nino for the first time in ages, when in fact they have just finished shooting together less than half an hour ago.
“Nino,” Aiba is beaming, “Jun just has the best idea. Let’s go to New York! He can arrange the trip for us. We will get Oh-chan and Sho to join. And we can spend time there watching baseball games, visiting the Statue of Liberty, and going to concerts. Jun says his cousin will let us stay in one of his apartments. It’s going to be just a few days. We can go there next month before we get busy with the tour prep meeting. It’s going to be like our recharge!” Aiba explains the plan animatedly. The more he talks the more excited he gets. His eyes spark and his lips curl up in a wide smile while he is talking. Aiba looks so happy. Aiba probably loves the idea of his best friend joining him and his boyfriend for an overseas trip so much he’s gotten hyped up already just thinking about it.
Nino is glad Aiba is happy. He has always wanted Aiba to be happy.
Yet, what Nino hears his voice reply is firm and strong, “No.”
Aiba clearly does not expect that answer. He looks at Nino bewildered. Nino continues, “No. I don’t want to go to New York with you and Jun. I hate going abroad. It is going to be expensive. I don’t want to see anything there.” They are lies. Nino would love to go abroad with Aiba. He would love watching a baseball game with him, sight-seeing with him, and going to a concert with him. He does not know why he says otherwise. Yet, his mouth does not stop. “Can you stop pestering me with all these stupid ideas? Go ask Leader. He’s probably free enough to be your third wheel.” That is totally uncalled for. Nino frightens himself. Why would he say such things? Aiba’s eyes widen in shock. Aiba steps forward and about to reach toward Nino when Jun takes his arm, stopping him on track. “Aiba, stop.” Jun’s voice is calm. He glances at Nino just for a second before switches back to Aiba. “Let’s not bother Nino now. We can talk again later.”
Jun pulls Aiba back and Aiba retreats closer to him. Their bodies almost touch one another. That’s the last straw for Nino. He walks out.
Aiba, Jun and Ohno go to New York together. At first, Sho was going to go with them but an urgent schedule change in his variety filming forces him to cancel the trip. Nino completely ignores any talk about the trip, hence he implicitly refuses to join. He spends all those free days when Aiba, Jun and Ohno are in New York staying home playing zombie games. Somehow, spending time shooting zombies’ heads off is a really satisfying way to spend those few days. That is until Nino checks Arashi’s LINE group. He almost spits ramen through his nose when he sees the picture of Aiba and Jun kissing in Central Park. Ohno accidentally sent it to all members’ LINE group instead of sending to just Aiba. And below the picture is Sho’s comment teasing the couple and an animated LINE sticker of two cats kissing passionately. Nino spends the next 10 hours shooting zombie heads non-stop.
Ohno stops by Nino’s apartment the day after he returns from New York with a wrapped gift. Inside is a yellow T-shirt with a monster-eating Pac-man logo on it. Only one look at it and Nino can tell.
“You didn’t buy this.” Nino states it like a fact.
Ohno is half-sitting, half-lying on the sofa with half-open eyes. It’s hard to tell whether it’s the effect of jet-lag or it’s the usual Ohno. He turns to look at Nino with a half-smile.
“Of course, I didn’t.” Ohno smiles amusingly. If it was any other person, Nino would probably feel offended. But Ohno certainly harbors no ill-will. “Aiba thinks you are still angry at him.”
“I am not. What give him that idea?”
“Maybe because you didn’t pick up any of his calls while he was in New York.” Ohno’s tone does not change. It’s smooth, calming, and slightly playful as ever.
Nino does not reply to Ohno’s slightly questioning glance. He does not want to indulge Ohno with the story. Normally, Ohno would leave him alone but today it’s different. Ohno presses on.
“What’s going on, Kazu? Why are you avoiding Aiba-chan?”
Nino stares at Ohno in confusion. His mouth parts slightly as Nino is unsure of what to say. Nino would not imagine in a million years that Ohno would get involved.
“Talk to me, Kazu.” Ohno’s voice is full of concern. Nino should have realized Ohno is always watching over them. With things that are going on with him and Aiba (and by default, Jun), Ohno certainly notices.
“I am not angry with Aiba. Or Jun.” Nino keeps his eyes on the coffee table and tries his best to avoid Ohno’s constant glance. “The only person I am angry at is probably myself.”
“Why is that?” Ohno asks the question slowly as if to give Nino time to find the right answer. Nino remains silent for quite some time. Finally, he speaks in a quiet and accepting voice.
“Aiba is happy but I am not.” Each word comes out like a whisper. “I want to but I can’t. I want to be happy for him.” The last words taste bitter in Nino’s mouth. He turns to face Ohno, who is already looking straight at him. Nino’s look is pleading. What he is thinking, what he is feeling, it is wrong.
“Oh-chan, why am I like this?”
Ohno does not offer anything in reply. Instead, he pulls Nino in and wraps his arms warmly around his trembling frame. Nino lets himself be absorbed into the only comfort he has felt in a very long time.