Word Count: ~11,500 words (in two parts)
Pairing: Ohba, Sakuraiba (bff)
Genre: Slow Burn, Drama
Summary: Aiba family loses the famous annual baking competition for the first time in years. It becomes Masaki’s responsibility to figure out how to trump the new winner and win the family’s honor back.
[“I am home!” Sho cries out excitedly as he enters the apartment.]
“I am home!” Sho cries out excitedly as he enters the apartment.
“Welcome home, Sho-chan.” Aiba calls out brightly from the kitchen. “I bake some tarts again.”
After putting his bag and coat away, Sho walks straight into their kitchen and sits at the counter watching Aiba removing the tray out of the oven.
“Wow… It smells delicious! And right no cue too. It’s like you time it so the tarts would be ready exactly when I am home.” Sho jests. Aiba giggles happily before answering, “Of course, I do. Otherwise it wouldn’t be perfect. I make sure they are ready when you arrive.” Aiba puts a freshly baked tart on a small plate and Sho takes it right away.
“Umm~… Yum!” Sho comments. “I like this one better than the one last week. This is not too sweet.” Sho has been so much better at noticing the taste and texture of cheese tarts than months earlier. He has to be, after countless cheese tarts testing he has done for Aiba over the past few months.
“And?” Aiba still waits for the only comment he wants.
“Sorry, Masaki. It is still not like Ohno’s." Sho admits but quickly adds, "The texture is close though. I love the gooey center.” Sho tries to be encouraging. He hates seeing Aiba looking disappointed.
Aiba understands Sho's intention and gives him an appreciative but reserved smile. Aiba has been trying to figure out the cheese tart recipe for months now. He can figure out some bits, like the texture of the crust, the gooey middle, or the lightly sweet but tangy taste of the filling.
But Aiba can never incorporate all the partial successes into one perfect tart.
He still cannot make a tart like Ohno's.
“By the way, does Ohno know you still try to copy his recipe?” Sho changes the subject.
“For the nth times, Sho-chan, this is not copying.” Aiba insists rather strongly.
“Okay, fine, 'recreating'. You are recreating his recipe.” Sho corrects his wording rather teasingly, “But, seriously Masaki, does he know?”
“Yes, he does. He asks me pretty much once every two weeks.” Aiba replies as he takes a few cheese tarts from the tray and leaves them on a plate for their after-dinner dessert.
“Well, what did he say?” Sho inquires. He secretly has been worried, especially because the Aiba and Ohno relationship has grown stronger week after week. Not that Aiba would notice, Sho does not believe his friend understands what really is going on.
“It's more or less the same. He looks indifferent. But it bugs me, Sho-chan. If he doesn't care, he would not ask, right?” Aiba sounds genuinely confused.
“Maybe he wants to know if you are still obsessed with him. You have to admit you are pretty stubborn about this. If I were you, I would have given up ages ago.”
“I am not obsessed! Not with him. Not with his tarts.” Aiba denies grumpily. “Why are you making it sounds so weird? This is just a simple task I do all the time with my job.” Aiba ends in a pout.
“Well, your job doesn't include dating the original recipe baker." Sho jests lovingly. "And I am getting chubbier eating your tarts. My pants are too tight now. You have to stop making them. You know, they may not be like Ohno’s but they are delicious.”
“Half of your pants are tight pants, Sho-chan. That's how they are supposed to look and feel. I thought you aim for being sexy in those pants.” Aiba reminds Sho with a knowing smile.
“Whatever, Masaki. What I am trying to say is, I think you should confront the real issue here. Are you sure they are separated things, dating him and copying his cheese tarts?”
“Once again, Sho-chan. I am not dating him. And this is not ‘copying’. 'Copy' sounds so distasteful. There is art in what I am doing.” Aiba tries to sound annoyed, yet he evades Sho’s teasing stare. Aiba is not sure why his face feels hot. He tells himself it must be the heat from the oven. This has nothing to do with what Sho said.
“You really should see how you look right now, Masaki.” Sho comments affectionately. He reaches to pinch Aiba’s cheek. “You are so adorable.” Aiba cries from the surprise. But before he can react, Sho has darted toward his room while still shouting out to Aiba, “Think hard, Masaki! I am serious!”
Aiba pouts. What is there to think about?
The more Aiba gets to know Ohno, the more he realizes Ohno is lonely. He does not particularly like Chiba and he has always missed Hokkaido. Aiba is convinced more than half of the time that Ohno sits still and thinks pensively is the time when Ohno thinks about his hometown.
“Why did you move here?” Aiba cannot refrain from asking the question one late afternoon while they are preparing dinner. He notices Ohno’s chopping movement stops for brief seconds when he hears the question. However, Ohno’s facial expression does not change when he replies,
“I can have my own shop if I move. Jun’s relative could give me a good deal on shop rental right here.”
“I am sure Hokkaido must have some good shop locations too.” Aiba counters.
“It might. I wouldn’t know. I never checked.” Ohno answers uninterestedly. It surprises Aiba. “But you love Hokkaido! It is clear you still miss it so much. It was natural to look for a place in Hokkaido first, wasn’t it?” Aiba protests.
“No, it was not. You got it wrong.” Ohno replies shortly and remains quiet. Aiba gauges the mood and decides against asking Ohno more questions. But Aiba still wants to know.
Since Ohno is not going to give him anything, Aiba decides it’s better if he asks Jun. Jun and Ohno used to work at the same famous bakery back home. When Ohno decided to move, Jun left with him and became the shop assistant at the new bakery. Aiba gets a feeling that he can learn more about Ohno's life in Hokkaido from Jun than from the man himself.
From the time he started hanging out with Ohno, Aiba has gotten to know Jun better too. Jun often remains at the bakery long after closing time, doing account, checking inventory, and generally making sure that everything is in proper order; so Aiba and Jun meet and talk at the shop from time to time. Jun does not live at the bakery like Ohno. Instead, Jun stays near his relatives on the other part of town. Nonetheless, he occasionally has dinner with Aiba and Ohno on Saturday when he does not have any other plans. Aiba likes Jun because he is charming and quite talkative when he is in a good mood. Jun is friendly and caring, especially toward Ohno. But he can also be very quiet and pensive, like how Ohno is. It makes Aiba wonder how Jun and Ohno are like when they are alone.
When Aiba asks Jun the same thing he asks Ohno, the answer is different.
“It’s not that Ohno did not bother to look for a place in Hokkaido. It’s more like he could not look for a place there. Staying in Hokkaido wasn’t an option.” Jun’s explanation ends with a heavy sigh. He looks gloomy when Aiba asks about Hokkaido.
“Not an option? Why?” Aiba knows that Ohno had been an apprentice of Hokkaido famous bakery. Maybe he wanted his own bakery. That makes sense. Still, it doesn’t mean he cannot have a place in Hokkaido though.
“It makes perfect sense if you know the real reason, really.” Jun assures him, “The thing is, when you want to run away, you would go as far as you possibly can.”
“Huh? Who was he running from?” Aiba’s thought runs frantically. It pains him to think that Ohno is running away from someone. A lost love? A fail relationship?
“It’s not who he ran away from, Aiba-san. It's what he ran away from.” Jun stresses the vital difference. “It was his dream he ran away from. The dream of running the old place." Jun's voice trails off. He seems unsure whether he wants to add the last part. Then, he decides it is better that Aiba knows. "Ohno ran away so Master Ninomiya could not give the bakery to him. He wanted Nino to have it all to himself.”
Aiba first knew of Nino’s existence through a picture. The only picture displayed in Ohno’s apartment tells Aiba that there are only two persons of significance in Ohno’s life. One is Jun. Another is Nino. Ohno keeps a picture of the three of them standing in front of their old bakery back in Hokkaido. They look quite young in the pictures, probably no more than fifteen. Aiba learns from Ohno that he and Nino grew up together. And that they are very close, like brothers. Ohno mentions about Nino affectionately and he seems happy reminiscing on the past.
Nino has always been like a distant shadow for Aiba until one day Ohno asks Aiba to come straight to a dinner at the bakery in the evening instead of their usual afternoon meeting. Nino is the reason for the change. He is in Chiba visiting Ohno and Jun. Ohno also asks Aiba to bring a date to the dinner. It is a request that confuses Aiba. Even though he insists to Ohno that he is not currently dating anyone, Ohno insists that Aiba should bring someone along anyway. "You would need someone for a company," Ohno explains, not that Aiba understands what he means by that though.
Unable to refuse Ohno, Aiba asks Sho to accompany him.
“And who is this Nino?” Sho asks after agreeing to join Aiba. Aiba decides to tell Sho everything he knows about Nino, which is not a lot. However, by the end of Aiba’s explanation, Sho turns grim. “Masaki, this is serious.” Sho looks at Aiba bleakly. “This is like ‘Meet the Family’. You are going to be grilled.”
Aiba does not understand what Sho means and he isn’t sure he wants to.
Ohno has decided to close the bakery for the weekend so they would be able to enjoy the Nino’s visit. The dinner is set up in the bakery kitchen area instead of Ohno’s small living room, and Jun is responsible for cooking for the special occasion. It is supposed to be a farewell dinner as Nino is about to leave early in the next morning.
It is the first time Aiba meets Nino in person. Ninomiya Kazunari, or Nino as Aiba has known him through Ohno’s and Jun’s stories, is a small man with a youthful look and an air of confidence. He is now the sole proprietor of Ninomiya bakery in Hokkaido – the shop that has been in his family for many generations. From the first impression Aiba has, Nino is quite friendly and chatty even with strangers. Within minutes of their meeting, Nino has Aiba and Sho calling him ‘Nino’ instead of ‘Ninomiya-san’ and he starts talking livelily with both of them. Nino is interested in all things Aiba and the friendship he and Sho has. Sho is too obliged to tell him many stories, which create so much laughter around the table throughout the dinner. During that time, Aiba notices Ohno, who sits quietly listening to those stories, steals glances in his direction from time to time. For some reasons, Aiba feels uncomfortable by Ohno’s glances. The way Ohno is looking at him is different from what Aiba is used to.
After they are done with dinner, they continue drinking. As far as Aiba can tell, drinking and getting drunk are not something Ohno has the privilege to do often since he has opened the shop here. Ohno does not waste the time to get right to alcohol and he is soon nodding off on the kitchen counter, along with Sho. After Ohno falls asleep, Jun volunteers to the dish-washing job and excues himself to tidy up the place. Aiba, who is Sho’s designated driver (thus, remains sober), notices that Nino is looking straight at him from the other side of the kitchen table. Without any other conscious souls nearby, Nino speaks what really is on his mind.
“So, you and Oh-chan hang out every Saturday, huh?” Aiba does not like the way Nino is looking at him while saying it. The friendly Nino from earlier seems to disappear. Aiba is certain he’s imagining things. Nino is certainly up to something.
“Yes, Ohno asked me to be his friend,” Aiba replies affirmatively. He tries to keep his tone normal and not at all intimidated.
“Oh-chan does not make friends.” Nino gives Aiba a sharp look. Aiba unknowingly retreats a bit in his chair. He isn’t sure what Nino wants but he definitely does not like where this conversation is heading to.
“The thing that bothers me is that I still cannot figure it out. What is your angle?” Nino narrows his eyes, “Oh-chan told me you wanted to copy our cheese tarts. So, what? Do you think Oh-chan will let you in on our secret?” Nino asks in a hostile tone. Aiba wants to protest that it is not ‘copy’ but Nino looks scary so he doesn’t. Instead, he denies it all together.
“What? No, no.” Aiba babbles. “Why would Ohno tell you something like that?”
“You should know, Aiba, Oh-chan tells me everything.” Nino emphasizes on the word ‘everything’. “You should also know he is not going to give you our secret recipe. It’s MY family recipe.” The strength in Nino’s voice is just enough to make Aiba knows he is serious. “So, really, what are you doing here? What is it that you want?”
“You’ve got it all wrong, Nino. I don’t want anything from him.” Aiba protests desperately. “He asked if we could hang out, so we did. It is just that.”
“What? you are going to tell me you hang out with him because he’s fun to be around, really? Come on, I have been with Oh-chan all my life. That’s one thing he isn’t. Fun.” Nino scoffs.
“He looks like he could use a friend here. That’s all.” Aiba says in all seriousness. Of course, it’s the truth.
“I told you, Oh-chan does not make friends.” Nino repeats what he has said earlier. This time with added annoyance. Then, Nino moves forward until his face is so close to Aiba’s. “Tell me the truth, do you like him?”
“Oh, God, no! No. Why would you ask that? We are friends. There is nothing of that kind.” Aiba squirms. Nino looks irritated. “How many time do I have to repeat myself until you get it?” Aiba evades Nino’s sharp gaze. He wishes Ohno or Sho would wake up or Jun would return so he would be relieved from Nino’s interrogation.
“Look, Aiba,” Nino falls back into his seat. His hand reaches to caress Ohno’s hair. Nino starts to get these serious looks again, “Oh-chan is very dear to me but he can be so stubborn sometimes. He should not be here. He should be back in Hokkaido, running our bakery. He has been avoiding it for long enough.” Now, Nino turns to face Aiba with the most serious expression. “If you guys are in a relationship, I would hate to make Ohno suffers by breaking it off. But if you are telling the truth, if you are truly his friend, it would be okay.” Nino narrows his eyes, “I am going to bring him home.”
“And he said that to your face?!?” Sho asks in disbelief when Aiba fills him in on what happened while Sho was drunk and sleeping. They are back at their apartment and Aiba is safe from the scary Nino.
“Yes, he did. He made it sound like I have something to do with it. You know, like I am keeping Ohno here.” Aiba crinks at the idea.
“Of course, you have everything to do with it! You are dating Ohno. Why didn’t you tell him that?!?” Sho almost yells at him.
“I am not dating anyone!” Aiba cries in frustration. What’s up with people around him trying to put wrong label in his relationship?
“Okay, fine, Masaki.” Sho sighs. “For your sake, I hope it’s true. Because if it’s not, you are running out of time.”
After many months of hanging out together, Aiba admits it is not only Ohno that changes; he also does. Aiba has learnt to accept and even appreciate silence and tranquility that associate with being around Ohno in his natural state. Aiba no longer feels strange staying in silence together with Ohno from time to time. He no longer needs to fill in the silence with his own voice every moment he and Ohno meet. It seems Ohno appreciates Aiba’s understanding of his nature. Now, they would spend some afternoons at the park like they did the first time they hang out. Ohno would bring desserts and Aiba would bring a book. As Aiba eats and reads, Ohno would stare into the lake, the sky, or the line of trees, lost in his own thoughts. They would just sit in silence. Strangely, Aiba thinks it would still bother him if it were other people. But somehow it seems alright when it’s Ohno. They may not talk but Aiba still feels that they are connected and Ohno is there with him.
However, things seem different after Nino’s visit. Aiba notices that Ohno’s quietness is not the same kind of quietness Aiba has grown to accept and appreciate. Ohno’s recent quietness is disturbing. Aiba tries to avoid mentioning about it as long as he can. Until finally, he can no longer pretend everything is okay.
“Oh-chan, something is bothering you. What is it?” Aiba finally asks. Ohno seems reluctant to say anything so Aiba urges him a few more times. Finally, Ohno caves in.
“It’s Nino.” Ohno lets out a heavy sigh. “He asked me to move back home.”
Since his talk with Nino a few weeks ago, Aiba has been expecting this. Yet, it still takes Aiba by surprise. Aiba is not sure how long it is until he gathers enough strength to breaks the silence again.
“What did you say?” Aiba's voice sounds dry even in his mind.
“I said no.” Aiba breathes a relief but Ohno is not finish. “Nino hasn’t given up though. He still asks every time we talk on the phone.” Ohno looks troubled and glum. “I don’t know how long I can keep saying no.”
Aiba keeps thinking about the conversations he had with Nino and Sho. About what is best for Ohno. About what it is that Ohno truly wants. Maybe it is time.
“Oh-chan, why don’t you say yes?” Aiba suggests with the most encouraging and supportive smile he could muster. “You have been missing home all these time. I think you would be happier there.”
“But, what about my life here?” Ohno glances at him and sighs. “What about the thing what I have here?”
“What do you have here that you cannot have back in Hokkaido, Oh-chan? Think about it. You will have a bakery there. Jun would return with you. And there will be Nino there too.” Aiba knows that Nino would offer co-ownership of the bakery to Ohno. It would be everything Ohno has wanted but has refused to accept before. “I really think you should go. There is nothing else for you here.” Aiba says firmly.
Ohno has a forlorn look on his face. The way he is looking at Aiba is undeniably piercing. Yet, Aiba pretends he does not realize the shift in Ohno's sadden eyes. Aiba pretends to be oblivious and continues to smile at Ohno encouragingly.
“You really mean that?” Ohno finally asks almost too quietly.
“Of course, I do.” Aiba sounds convinced. "You really should go."
This would be the best for Ohno.
Aiba has a bad feeling about their meeting the week after. He waits for Ohno at their usual spot in the park. The weather is warm and breezy. It should have been a nice day if it is not for something that Aiba knows is going to happen. Although Ohno hasn’t told him anything, Aiba knows in his heart Ohno is leaving. Ohno is going back home.
Aiba does not have to wait long until Ohno arrives. Aiba notices right away that Ohno does not come carrying his usual pastry box. Instead, there is a small paper-wrapped package under his arm.
“Hello, Oh-chan. How’s today?” Aiba greets Ohno with his usual optimism. He tries to sound cheerful. Ohno does not response with the same enthusiastic greeting though. He only mumbles a hello. Then, Ohno hands Aiba the package he has brought with him.
“I want you to have this.” Ohno says with a soft smile. Aiba takes the package and unwraps it to reveal an old notebook with a dark blue cover. He flips though pages of the notebook slowly. The pages are filled with hand-written notes and hand-drawn illustrations of bakery and pastries. Aiba realizes it’s a recipe notebook.
“What is this?” Aiba asks weakly. In truth, Aiba has guessed.
“It’s my note of all baking recipes I have learned from Ninomiya family.” Ohno answers matter-of-factly. “I am giving it to you.”
Aiba turns page after page until he finds what he suspects would be there. He points to the page.
“Is this what I think it is?” Aiba's mouth feels dry as he utters the question.
“Yes, it’s Ninomiya’s cheese tart recipe.” Ohno answers in affirmative. Aiba feels his hands are slightly shaking as his eyes glance through the details on the page. It is filled with a lot of hand-written notes and added comments on almost every line. “There are quite a bit of tricks and additions to the regular cheese tarts recipe. Maybe that’s why you find it’s hard to replicate. I also add the list of our suppliers in there, so you know where to get all ingredients. Master Ninomiya, my mentor, had always been very specific about that.” Ohno smiles as he reminisces.
Aiba cannot believe what he is holding in his hands. “How is this possible? Nino said he would not let anyone have it.” What Aiba actually means is that Ohno’s notebook is too valuable to be given to him.
“I make an exchange with Nino. I promise him I would go back to Hokkaido if he lets me give you this. I guess Nino is desperate enough to make an exception and agree to such exchange.” Ohno jokes. Aiba does not know what to say. He is completely awestruck. With Aiba staying quiet, Ohno continues, “This is what you want, isn't it? The secret to our first prize dessert. Now, you don’t have to be obsessed about it anymore.”
“What?! No. God, no." Aiba cannot find a proper response to continue. Of course, finding the secret to Ohno’s cheese tart has been Aiba’s wish for several months; but this is not how he wants to figure it out. Why would Ohno entrust him with something so important and so valuable? Aiba hastily hands the notebook back to Ohno.
“I cannot accept it. This is too much.” Aiba's voice is shaky, his eyes are pleading. Ohno cannot possibly be doing this to him.
Ohno shakes his head. He would not take the notebook back.
“It's okay, really. I want you to have it." Ohno’s hand reaches out and rests on Aiba’s. Ohno presses his hand lightly. The touch sends a spark through Aiba's skin. “It is my thanks to you for spending those Saturday afternoon with me.” Ohno smiles, “I am flying to Hokkaido on Tuesday. Maybe you will visit me sometimes.”
Many thoughts run through Aiba's mind at that moment but Aiba cannot make himself to say a single thing. He can only blink while staring into Ohno's gentle eyes.
Aiba bites his lips. Ohno is leaving.
Of course, Aiba has encouraged Ohno to go. It would be what Ohno has wanted. But this is not what Aiba wants. Aiba looks up at Ohno who is still standing close. Tears threaten to fill Aiba's eyes. He takes a deep breath. Why would he cry? He should not cry.
Ohno is staring at him. Then, Ohno bends over slightly and plants a kiss on Aiba’s forehead.
“Thank you, Aiba-chan. For everything.”
With that, Ohno walks away.
Aiba remains on the bench. His hand grips the notebook tightly. Ohno has left him.
Ohno loves Summer time in Hokkaido. When the temperature rises, trees are full of leaves, and birds are singing, Ohno would go to his usual spot in a park near Ninomiya bakery. Here, he would do the same thing he always did growing up. He would spend his afternoon sitting alone in silence and enjoying the serene surrounding.
He never tells anyone the park was the reason why he picked that location of his bakery in Chiba. Because he planned to spend his free time the same way he did in Hokkaido. Because it would remind him of home. However, for the majority of his time in Chiba, he ended up not sitting alone in the park. Ohno had found someone in Chiba, someone that stayed with him, someone that made his day brighter, someone that made him happier. Ohno thought he had found his new home.
But that was all in the past. Ohno has been back in Hokkaido for over three months now. Nino begged him to return because he could not bear running the kitchen by himself anymore. Ohno is working at the same place he did before he left for Chiba. The only exception is that now he is the head baker. Jun is also back at the front. He had helped Ohno closing the store in Chiba and reunited with him and Nino at their Hokkaido store. He was visibly happy to be returning. Jun had never said it but Ohno was certain he missed Hokkaido a lot more than Ohno did. Because of that, Ohno would forever be grateful that Jun went away with him for his sake.
Aiba keeps in touch with Ohno after he returns to Hokkaido. It is to be expected from someone as nice and friendly as Aiba. After all, the guy agreed to hang out with him for such a long time. Ohno knows he can be a difficult person to be around. It usually requires a lot of energy and patient to stick around him. Lucky for Ohno, Aiba has both. Ohno think it’s a miracle that Aiba sticks around as long as he did despite not being interested in Ohno the same way Ohno was interested in him. Their only connection was probably the cheese tarts Aiba had been trying to make. Ohno was convinced it was the only thing that made Aiba interested in being around him. It was only a mystery Aiba wanted to solve.
Aiba is kind enough to give him a call from time to time. But it is usually just Aiba talking. Ohno doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t not have anything he wants to say. What’s the point, really? What Ohno wants is to be physically close to Aiba. He got that when they met every week back in Chiba. It didn’t matter what Aiba thought or felt about him. It didn’t matter what was the reason Aiba agreed to spend time with him. Aiba might not think about their time together as a date but so what? Once a week, Ohno got Aiba to himself. Ohno was happy that at least they were together. Now they are far apart, what good is a phone call to him?
Call him coward, selfish, or whatever. Ohno wants a relationship not a friendship. And he does not want a long-distance relationship.
Now Ohno is back to the same old routine. He comes to the park right after his work at the bakery ends. He sits on the same bench and rests his eyes on the beautiful scenery around him. Everything is exactly the same as it used to be before he left. Everything, except this strange feeling of an empty hole in his chest, as if something has been taken away from him. Ohno knows something is missing. It probably will remain missing for as long as he lives. Ohno is learning how to live with that.
Ohno has lost in his own thoughts until something appears in front of him. Ohno blinks at a yellow pastry box and the man holding it.
It’s Aiba. How can Aiba be here?
“Please have some tarts.” Aiba smiles as he opens the box and thrusts it in front of Ohno. “You may want to try them.”
Surprised and perplexed to see Aiba standing in front of him, Ohno reluctantly takes a cheese tart for a bite. What he feels and tastes in his mouth surprises him further. He looks at Aiba in confusion.
“Aren’t these tarts from the bakery? But, I didn’t make them.” Ohno absorbs the taste and the feel of tart crust and cheese filling in his mouth. He slowly realizes it does not taste exactly the same as his. It is not his tart.
“No, you didn’t make these tarts. I did,” Aiba smiles happily, “They are for my job interview.”
Ohno jumps to his feet. A job interview. It can only mean…
“Yes, I just had an interview with Nino. He seemed approve of my baking skill.”
Ohno gasps. He knows Nino has been wanting to get another baker to help Ohno instead of him for weeks. Nino has never been the one that enjoys working in the kitchen. The workload is killing, really, but Nino has to do it. Ohno understands Nino’s hesitation to let anyone in on his family secret. Now, Aiba has applied for the job. Aiba who already knows all about Ninomiya family recipe. Nino's perfect candidate.
“Are you going to work – here?” Ohno cannot stop the quiver in his voice. If this is a joke, his heart would not be able to take it. Aiba seems to understand how Ohno is feeling because Aiba sits down beside him and looks right into Ohno’s frightened eyes.
“I wasn’t sure about the thing we had back then. Our weekly meetings, the time we share, I didn’t know what they were.” Aiba starts to explain. “I didn’t understand you, not really. And more importantly, I didn’t understand myself.” Aiba’s eyes glister at every word. Ohno holds his breath as he waits for Aiba to complete his train of thoughts. “I still do not understand those things, nor these feelings, but whatever they are, I would like to find out more.” Aiba squeezes Ohno’s hand a little as if to reassure him before he continues. “Would you help me understand?”
Ohno does not realize he has cried until Aiba’s soft palm wipes a strain of tear on his cheek.
“I am sorry I haven’t been very understanding before.” Aiba whispers an apology.
Ohno's hand cuffs Aiba’s hand on his cheek and Ohno allows himself to cry.
In the years after, Ninomiya bakery still prospers. Like any other working day, Nino spends his time sloughing behind the counter while observing Jun taking care of their customers. The bakery is busier than before because of the store expansion since last year. It was Aiba’s idea, really. Aiba told them they had to think about future and claimed the expansion was a logical business strategy. Larger kitchen, more customers, and higher profit. Nino is not going to complain.
Now, Ohno and Aiba work together side by side in the kitchen. Occasionally, Nino would pop inside and pretend to boss them around even though they are all the owners of the bakery and have the exact same authority. Nino still steals a taste of the bakery famous cheese tarts from time to time, pretending to do quality checking. It is unnecessary, really. Nino can no longer differentiate the difference between Ohno's and Aiba's tarts. If it was before or if it was someone else, Nino would be very angry. But this is Ohno and Aiba and it is now. It is okay that both can make his grandfather’s most treasured recipe to the exact taste that his grandfather would approve.
After all, Nino continues to keep his promise to save the secret recipe only for the family members.
Because they are all family now.