Word Count: approx. 7,700 words
Pairing/Focus: Aimiya, Sakumiya
Summary: It is supposed to be just one fake date to remind Aiba that Nino is not to be taken for granted. Unfortunately, Sho is just too good at what he is supposedly pretending.
Notes: Written for silver_crystall in Nino Exchange 2017. My attempt on romantic comedy that quickly turned into light-angst.
Nino met Aiba in Biology 101, which was a requirement for all Sciences majors. Because of its large class size, the professor assigned seating for every student in class so he could call their names and ask question without too much confusion.
Nino was assigned to seat D7 – not a bad seat in Nino’s opinion. It was a little to the left of the room and was not too up front. It had got a good enough view of the whiteboard but the right-handed professor didn’t look his way too often during lecture.
And in the seat next to him, in D8, was Aiba Masaki.
Since the first day, Aiba told Nino he believed they were destined to be best friends. It was a little weird but Nino liked the quirkiness of his new friend. Besides, Aiba was diligent during class and he wrote up good notes. Nino did not plan to spend a lot of energy on this class so he did not see it as a bad idea if Aiba would stick with him throughout the term.
But one semester turned to one academic year, and one academic year turned to what seemed to be a life time.
One day after a lecture, rain came down pouring. Nino stood in the front of the building steps, deciding what he would do with next. He forgot an umbrella. He hated rain and he hated being wet. Then, Aiba stepped next to him; his face looked up the dark sky. Nino heard a small ‘Hmm’ from the tall guy next to him.
“I am hungry. Let’s go eat.”
Before Nino knew it, Aiba’s hand grabbed his and Nino was out in the rain, being pulled after a running Aiba. Within a minute, Nino was soaking wet.
It was supposed to bother him but it didn’t.
Nino wasn’t sure what was going on. He could only hear Aiba laughing happily. Aiba’s wet, smiling face was the only thing Nino could see in the mist of the heavy rain.
Nino’s heart beat strangely. That warmth of Aiba’s hand despite the cold autumn rain caused a stir in Nino’s heart. Nino had read about this but he never felt it in his life.
Nino thought, for the first time in his life, he might be in love.
Nino never admits it to anyone.
Nino walks into his shared apartment and lets out a heavy sigh of frustration. He has just got back from a nice dinner at a very fancy restaurant. It was a special treat from Aiba for Nino’s birthday.
Nino should be happy. But he is not.
“You don’t look so happy.” Ohno, Nino’s roommate, voices from the sofa. It is almost mid-night but Ohno is still up. Nino suspects that Ohno must have been waiting for him. Even Ohno is worried about his date with Aiba.
“What happened?” Ohno asks. Just one look at Nino and it is clear the night didn’t go like Nino had hoped.
Nino does not reply right away. Instead, he sighs again before dropping onto the sofa next to his long-time roommate. Ohno doesn’t press. He knows to give Nino time when he needs it.
Minutes pass and Nino still does not know what to tell. In fact, he doesn’t have anything to tell.
That’s the problem.
It is Nino’s birthday and Aiba has invited Nino out for dinner at a fancy restaurant. Nino has refused any other invitations so he could celebrate it with Aiba. The dinner started out quite promisingly. Aiba even dressed up in a nice suite just for the occasion. He was very cute and very nervous for the whole evening. Nino was so sure Aiba was about to surprise him at any given moment. After all these times, Nino would finally get to hear “I love you, let’s go out” from Aiba.
But that’s not what went on…
“Well, nothing happened tonight,” Nino sighs, “Again.” Absolutely nothing. Nino isn’t sure he should be angry or sad.
“He wants to ask you out, you know?” Ohno mutters as he sees Nino sighs for the nth times. Of course, Ohno knows about that because he has heard it from Aiba in one drunken night out. And Ohno isn’t the only one. That makes Nino even more frustrated. The fact that other people, except him, have heard Aiba’s confessions.
“Well, you know it is hard for him to say those things. And you guys are together for so long.” Ohno, who normally is a quiet man, continues to speak.
“How could we be together if he doesn’t have the nerve to ask me out?” Nino questions with a fake annoyance. He moves around the room and pretends to be looking for the TV remote, when in fact he just wants to get away from Ohno’s worried stare.
“You already know he likes you.” Ohno pauses a little. “Why don’t you ask him out instead?” This is not the first time Ohno suggests such thing. In fact, Ohno has been constantly bugging Nino with this proposal since Aiba confessed his love for Nino to him. It seems Ohno knows Aiba would take too long to muster enough courage to ask Nino out.
“No way! I am not going to ask a guy that likes me to go out with me.” Nino protests rather strongly. “He likes me, doesn’t he? So, he MUST be the one that asks me out. Not the other way around.”
Nino cannot tell anyone that, even after all these years, Nino still feels insecure. If he hasn’t heard from Aiba, how can Nino be sure of Aiba’s feelings? It’s not just that. How can their relationship last forever if Aiba does not even have the courage to ask him out?
Nino has been waiting for too long for those words. He feels that he is reaching the limit. This time, Ohno can feel it too; so he offers something different.
“Aiba may need a little push. Maybe if you give him a hint or nudge him a little bit…”
Ohno’s suggestion gives Nino an idea.
A little push, huh?
It is five minutes to seven in the morning. Nino is standing in his usual spot on the platform waiting for his usual train. There are shades of dark circles around his eyes from the lack of sleep over the weekend. Nino has been thinking, a lot, probably too much, and it keeps him from sleep.
“Yo!” A familiar sound rings close behind Nino. Nino turns and sees a familiar face greeting him.
Sakurai Sho takes the same train as Nino almost every day. Sho works in the headquarter of an international cooperation a couple blocks away from Nino’s office. Several months back, Nino almost lost his bag because people were pushing to get into the train. Sho came to Nino’s rescue. He picked up Nino’s dropped bag from the platform and returned it to him on the train. They struck up conversation on the walk to the offices that day. And they become friends – the special kind of friends that you can be with a stranger on a train. They would interact mostly during their daily morning commutes. Sometimes Nino would tell Sho stuffs that are on his mind on any given day. For some reason Nino doesn’t fully understand, he feels relaxed around Sho.
‘You look horrible. What’s up?’ A message pops up on Nino’s cellphone screen. Seeing the message, Nino stares at the guy next to him and is greeted by a curious face. Nino sighs before typing into his cellphone.
‘Too early.’ That goes with a sleepy face emojicon. It can be read both ways.
‘Come on, it would ruin my day to know that you are in troubles.’ Nino feels that Sho’s words are strange sometimes. Nino debates against telling Sho about his problem but Sho continues to press on. Messages and stickers keep popping on Nino’s phone screen. Finally, Nino gives in. Well, what harm can it do? It is not like Sho is going to tell anyone what is troubling Nino anyway.
As he continues to type words after words retelling his problem, Nino is surprised that words easily come out despite how ridiculous and embarrassing the situation is to Nino. Sho keeps nodding as he reads series of Nino’s messages on his phone screen. With an exception of ‘so, you have a boyfriend’ message that Nino decides to ignore, Sho is surprisingly understanding and quick to grasp the general idea of Nino’s problem.
Nino wants to fake a date with someone, so Aiba would feel the need to confess before someone else snatches Nino away from him. Just one appearance from a potential suitor to urge Aiba to move, that’s all Nino needs. The problem is that anyone that Nino can ask for such ridiculous help would also be Aiba’s friend. It is going to be tough to pull a fake date on Aiba with any of these guys. Aiba would know right away it’s not real.
Nino is tired and desperate. Why couldn’t Aiba confess to him already and save Nino from all the troubles?
“Hey, cheer up.” It’s no longer a message but an encouraging voice from the guy next to him. Nino turns and is greeted with a teasing but warm smile. Sho leans in slightly so Nino can hear him better. His shirt sleeve brushes with the skin of Nino’s forearm. Suddenly, Nino feels conscious about how close they are standing.
“I can help you,” Sho says softly and looks directly into Nino’s eyes. “Whatever you need, you can tell me.”
Nino has a strange feeling about this but he is desperate enough to give anything a try.
Nino has his secret plan all work out.
Jun is organizing a big birthday party to celebrate Nino’s birthday. Aiba will be there, along with many other college friends. Sho is to show up at the party with Nino in hope that, when Aiba sees Nino is with a “special friend”, Aiba would know he must up his game. After seeing a competition, Aiba should learn to be more active in his pursue of Nino. Then, everything Nino hopes for would follow.
Nino has discussed with Sho beforehand and they have their fake story ready in case anyone asks. Sho suggests that the best lies should base on the truth, so they will stick with their real story – plus the new, fake relationship. They are supposed to be friends that start considering each other more seriously just recently. Sho would be the one that proposes a more committed relationship and Nino is considering. However, nothing is serious between them, not yet. Nino does not want his fake relationship with Sho to scare Aiba away.
If Nino shoots for attention at the party, he clearly succeeds. Nino has requested that Sho deliberately improves his pleasantry and likability to Nino’s benefit. And it works. Sho is extremely popular. He is funny and charming, even more so than the Sho that Nino is accustomed to. Everyone is impressed. Ohno, despite not knowing about Nino’s plan, keeps asking the right questions, especially the ones that Nino prepares with Sho ahead of time. Nonetheless, there are other stuffs Nino forgot to prepare. Yet, Sho plays along expertly. It is the first time Nino knows that the place Sho’s working is owned by Sho’s grandfather and Sho is in a junior executive position. The only reason he takes a train to work (and meets Nino there) is because he doesn’t want to rely too much on his family’s fortune.
“How did you catch this guy, Nino?” Jun whispers to Nino privately as it becomes evident Sho is above their league. Jun, who has always been paying attention to details, keeps asking Sho about his background and responds with approving nods that make Nino feeling slightly exposed and embarrassed.
Everyone seems to be amazed and supportive of Nino’s new “friend.” Well, almost everyone.
Aiba, who is sitting opposite to Nino, has this anxious look throughout the dinner party. Clearly, Aiba is in shock that Nino brings someone he does not know of to the party. Every time Sho leans closer toward Nino, either to listen to Jun on the other side, or to whisper something into Nino’s ear, Aiba would make this weird sound as if he is frightened of something.
Looking across the table, Nino notices the change in Aiba’s demeaner. He loves every minute of it. Now Aiba would know not to take him for granted. Now, Aiba would build up a nerve to ask him out before Sho can.
After An hour into the party, Nino excuses himself for the restroom. Aiba is quick to follow him. Nino notices and cannot hide his smile. He does not expect his plan to work this well and this quickly. However, instead of Aiba wooing Nino properly, Aiba puts Nino into an interrogation.
“Who’s that guy?” Aiba asks in a rush while they are alone in the restroom.
“Sho?” Nino raises his eyebrows as if wondering why Aiba would ask such a thing. “He’s a friend.”
“Why haven’t I heard of him before?” Aiba questions in an accusing tone, as if he knows Nino is faking it. Nino is alarmed but decides to pretend to be annoyed instead.
“Well, now you have,” is Nino’s very short, dry reply.
“He isn’t someone special, is he?” Nino doesn’t know why Aiba asks it so directly. Aiba is supposed to read the atmosphere and makes conclusion himself.
“Why?” Nino gives Aiba a questioning look. Secretly, Nino is hopeful. Maybe this is where Aiba would claim that they are together and Nino cannot have any other guy. That would not be as good as a romantic confession, but it will still be a confession nonetheless. Nino would be okay with that too. However, Aiba remains quiet. He looks reluctant and unsure. Nino presses on in hope that he would get a positive response from Aiba.
“Why is it important to you who Sho is to me? Aren’t I free to see anyone I like?” Nino asks a very suggestive question. He cannot be any more obvious. But instead of a favorable respond, Aiba startles Nino with something unimaginable.
“It is impossible for you to have a boyfriend.” Aiba spurts it out almost immediately. It seems he does not realize how offensive his statement is. Nino, on the other hand, realizes it fully well.
“What do you mean?” Nino’s voice turns cold in an instant. He doesn’t like what Aiba said. “What’s so wrong with me that I cannot have a boyfriend?”
“No, I didn’t mean that. No, no.” Aiba quickly corrects himself. He stumbles to find the right words, “I mean, you never have anyone as long as I know you.” And it gets worse. “I thought you have zero interest in having a real relationship.”
Nino’s face turns red hot from both anger and embarrassment. Is Aiba saying what he has on his mind all these times? Is this why Aiba never confess to him? Because Aiba himself does not think Nino deserves to be with anyone?
Nino snaps. He has heard enough. Nino walks out.
Seeing Nino walking back, Sho raises from his seat and pulls the chair out for Nino. Despite still feeling angry, Nino is pleasantly surprised by the overly polite gesture from Sho. He mutters a thank you to Sho. No one has ever done anything like this to Nino. Aiba surely never pays attention to anything like this.
As soon as Nino is in his seat, Jun nudges, “How come you haven’t tell Sho about our Nagano’s trip? Are you afraid we are going to scare him away?” Jun teases and laughs happily. It is clear Jun is satisfied with the background check and he approves of Sho and Nino together. If their relationship was real, Nino would feel it is a great accomplishment.
But Sho is not real. And the guy that Nino wants to be real just says something so hurtful to Nino.
Nino’s plan is not going the way he hoped.
Jun does not seem to sense any of Nino’s sentiments and presses on, “Nino, why don’t you ask Sho to go with us? We promise to give you and your boyfriend a lot of private time.” Jun suggests happily. He means the weekend get-away Nino, Jun, Ohno, and Aiba have planned for in the next few weeks. Sho lets out a hearty laugh but doesn’t protest.
“What?!!” Instead of Nino, it is Aiba that yelps out loud. He almost jumps out of his chair.
Jun looks at him innocently as if wondering why Aiba reacts like that before he turns back to Nino.
“So, what would you say, Nino? Is it OK for your boyfriend to come with us?” Jun looks like he already starts re-arranging the plan to accommodate the additional member. Aiba, who almost chokes at Jun’s words, quickly turns to Nino in anticipation.
Nino looks at Jun, then Sho, and then Aiba. He thinks of what Aiba has just told him in the restroom.
“Of course, I wouldn’t mind.” Nino replies. His hand moves to catch Sho’s arm. Nino can feel Sho stiffen from the touch. However, Nino ignores it and tries to keep his tone as natural as possible. “It would be fun if Sho comes along.” Nino concludes with a big smile.
Aiba has got a lot to learn.
Aiba isn’t sure how his life is led to this. Only a couple weekends ago, he just celebrated Nino’s birthday exclusively with Nino. Now, he is riding in the back seat alone in Jun’s car heading toward a lake-view resort in Nagano, while Nino rides with his “new friend” in a fancy sport car. Looking through the windshield behind him, Aiba sees Nino smiles and giggles, Sho is telling him something animatedly.
“Aiba, stop looking through the back window already. I am sure Nino is fine.” Jun speaks to Aiba from the driver seat.
“But, but…” Aiba stammers. He still cannot take his eyes off the bright red Ferrari behind their SUV.
“Seriously, I am sure they will be OK. Sho told me he has been to the area before and he knows the way. He’s not going to get lost.” Jun says without taking his eyes off the road.
“That’s not what I worry about.” Aiba mutters.
“Are you worried about Nino?” This time, it is Ohno from the front passenger seat speaking to Aiba. Of course, Aiba is worried about Nino. He is worried because Nino is laughing and enjoying himself in Sho’s company.
“Nino should come with us.” Aiba says weakly. Jun chuckles.
“Why didn’t you tell Nino that? He asked if you would be OK with him riding with Sho, didn’t he?” That is true. Nino asked Aiba before they left Tokyo but Aiba didn’t respond either way. So, Nino told his friends he would ride with Sho. Aiba wishes he had the courage to tell Nino he did not want Nino to go with Sho. But he doesn’t. Now he has to live with the consequence. But Nino riding with Sho is not the only consequence Aiba has to endure, Aiba also didn’t tell Nino he is not OK with Nino rooming with Sho.
“You should tell Nino how you feel about things, you know.” It’s Ohno’s voice entering Aiba’s conscious again. This time, Aiba can feel hidden concern in Ohno’s words. Normally, Ohno acts aloof and worry-free, but inside, Aiba knows Ohno worries about his friends, constantly. However, saying what he is thinking is not an easy thing for Aiba. And it is not just about telling Nino about the trip.
Nino has been special to Aiba since college. They had been very good friends until one day Aiba’s feeling changed. Aiba cannot pinpoint exactly when that special feeling turns into love. Maybe it was in his senior year. Maybe it was right after graduation. But it doesn’t matter. Aiba knows he has to tell Nino how he feels. He has to let Nino know what has been inside his heart. However, every time he tries to talk about his feelings, he gets extremely nervous. His hands turn cold and sweaty. His brain turns to mush. No words come out of Aiba’s mouth. Aiba knows not being able to tell Nino how he feels means he cannot give Nino what he truly deserves. It also means Aiba is never able to put “’s” on Nino. Luckily, Nino is a man of habit and his friends are mostly from college. There has never been anyone new and significant in Nino’s life. Until now.
Outside, the sun is setting. The view from the room that Aiba is sharing with Jun and Ohno is breathtaking. The sun is lowering down and its final light is shining through lush hills and flourished woods. Its reflection shines on the large lake near the resort. Aiba would probably appreciate it a lot more if he gets to share it with Nino.
There is a click on the door. Aiba turns to see Jun and Ohno enter the room looking refreshed.
“You should try the outdoor onsen. It’s really refreshing.” Jun comments. As soon as they arrived at the resort, Jun and Ohno went to check out the resort facility and came back particularly excited about the open-air onsen adjunct to the main building. However, Aiba decided to give them some private time and refused to go with them. He still feels rather gloomy about the trip and there is no point in making everyone else miserable with him.
Maybe some time alone in an onsen would do him some good.
“Sure, why not.” Aiba accepts Jun’s suggestion. He changes to light, comfortable cloth and takes a hotel towel along with him.
A good long bath may be just the thing he needs to clear his mind a bit.
After taking a quick shower, Aiba walks into the bathing area. The smell of sulfur and the warmth of hot spring greets Aiba as soon as he steps outside. The hot spring area has a wonderful view of nearby forest and a small waterfall. It is quiet and peaceful. Aiba breathes in and out deeply. The atmosphere is helping. He feels calmer already.
That is until he sees who is already in the onsen.
“Ah, hello Sakurai-san.” Aiba does not know why he greets Sho first, and so formally. It is not like Aiba wants to talk with Sho. Then, he surprises himself by walking toward Sho and sinks into the hot spring next to the man.
Sometimes Aiba does not understand himself.
“How’s the drive?” Aiba starts a small talk. He would feel strange to be in such proximity with Sho in silence. That friendly smile of Sho also scares Aiba a bit.
Despite Sho’s outgoing nature, Sho’s eyes give Aiba a feeling that Sho is playing and challenging him somehow.
“It was nice. I haven’t driven to this part for years.” Sho answers with a smile. “And this place is incredible. I will have to thank Jun for this.” Sho probably means the invitation to join their trip. Aiba wants to point out that it is really Nino who lets Sho come along.
“Have you guys been here often?” This time Sho asks the question. Aiba shakes his head.
“Not here exactly. We tend to switch from one town to the next every time we travel, Ohno likes it that way.” That’s how their group travel. Jun would pick a place and arrange everything. He keeps in mind that Ohno likes to travel around Japan and he tries to find nice places where various kind of activities are possible. Aiba isn’t picky. He likes both mountain and sea. Nino likes neither but he would enjoy everywhere that they go together.
Speaking of Nino…
“Isn’t Nino with you?” Aiba asks although he already knows the answer.
“Nah, he said he does not like onsen.” Aiba secretly sighs in relief. If Nino makes an exception to join Sho here, Aiba would be extremely worried. More than that, the naked Sho isn’t something Aiba wants to see with Nino. He would hate to see Nino staring at the muscular, sloping shoulders, the ripped chest and abs, the nice firm arms… Aiba restrains from swallowing. He feels a bit self-conscious seeing how Sho’s body really looks like. And to think that Sho would be sleeping in the same room as Nino tonight…
Aiba submerges completely. He counts from one to ten, trying to get rid of the image of Sho and Nino together. However, when he opens his eyes again, Aiba is startled by Sho’s face. Sho has moved to Aiba’s front side and is looking directly at him.
“Umm… yes?” Aiba tries to keep his voice from shaking. Despite having a light smile on his face, Sho still looks very intimidating.
“Aiba-san, since you are very close to Nino, may I ask you something seriously?” Sho tilts his head and bends forward a little. Aiba does not like where this is going. “Is Nino with someone? Does he like someone?”
Yes, he is with me. That’s what Aiba wants to say.
“Errr… No?” Aiba does not know why he answers with a question.
“So, Nino is not seeing anyone.” Sho interprets it directly. Aiba gulps before replying weakly.
“Ah... I guess so.”
“Thanks goodness.” Sho’s face brightens up. His eyes gleam at Aiba’s words. He moves back to sit at the edge of the hot spring and lays back relaxingly. “I am hoping to ask Nino out. This weekend seems appropriate and this place is so beautiful. I think it will work to my benefit.”
Aiba is jaw-dropped. This soon? It has been years for him and he hasn’t asked Nino out.
Aiba is lost in his own thought until the body next to him stands up and climbs out of the hot spring.
“I am heading back now. Nino may be wondering if I am gone too long. I guess I will see you at dinner, right?” Sho bows his head slightly to say good bye. Drops of water cascaded along muscle lines on various parts of Sho’s body. Just thinking that Sho is going back to Nino makes Aiba’s heart drops.
His life has gone terribly wrong. What would Aiba do if Nino is really gone?
At first, Nino was tensed about the trip. It wasn’t supposed to happen. He didn’t mean to trouble Sho this much. Nino just got very angry at the party and one thing led to another. However, Sho was nice enough to play along. He even agreed to come to the trip with Nino. Nino is thankful.
Nino sits on top of the bed he shared with Sho last night. Jun, with his good intention and overthinking, has changed the reservation from double beds to one queen size bed. When Nino and Sho discovered that the room only had one bed, Sho immediately offered to sleep on the floor. Of course, Nino couldn’t have it. Sho was here to help; how could Nino take advantage of him more than he already did?
The first night wasn’t so bad. It was a surreal experience, having to share the bed with Sho. Nino didn’t feel too awkward sleeping next to Sho. In fact, Sho was quite cute in his sleep. His mouth opened a little and he purred and mumbled softly in sleep. Waking up to Sho’s smile was also surprisingly pleasant. Sho looked different in the unruly morning hair but Nino thought it’s kind of cute. Nino didn’t know he could have felt something like this with someone who, just a few weeks ago, was just a friend on a train ride.
“What are you thinking?” It is Sho who brings Nino back from his internal thought. He is back from the bathroom, already changes from his sleepwear to a comfortable shirt and knee-length pants. “Have you tried the scented salt in the baht? It’s nice.” Sho mentions as he drops on the bed next to Nino. Nino feels the surface of the bed shifted from Sho’s weight and Nino suddenly feels self-conscious. They are sitting quite close. Nino gulps and shifts away from Sho slightly. He hopes it isn’t too obvious. Then, he realizes Sho smells kind of nice, and he doesn’t necessary want to move away.
“When did Jun say we should meet up? Is it 9?” Sho continues to ask Nino questions.
“I think so. After breakfast.”
“Do you want breakfast? Are you hungry?”
“Not really. I don’t usually eat breakfast.” It is more like Nino never bothers to wake up for breakfast and Ohno is not a morning person. Normally, there’s only cereals in their apartment that can pass for a breakfast material, but Nino also does not like it. “But if you want to eat something before we go hiking, I can go there with you.” Nino offers, not wanting to have his unhealthy habit affects Sho’s seemingly heathier nature.
“It’s OK. I am also not hungry.” Sho replies. He puts his phone away after checking a few emails. “We have a bit of time to kill. Would you like to check out their garden?” Sho doesn’t just ask. He stands up facing Nino and extends his hand in Nino’s direction. “Would you come with me, please?” Sho asks sweetly, looking playful. Nino cannot tell whether Sho means anything by his rather romantic gesture.
“Ah, right. Okay.” Nino agrees. He cannot help thinking that Sho is a little too sweet even when it is not necessary. It is not like Aiba is watching. Then, Nino guesses Sho prefers to stick to their fake relationship just to make his life easier. Staying sweet, adorable, and charming all the time is probably more convenient for Sho.
“Let’s go.” Nino extends his hand out and catches the one that Sho offers. Sho’s hand is soft but his grip is firm and comforting. They walk together, hand in hand, toward the resort garden. Nino feels that Sho would not let go of his hand. Sho can be a constant, a permanent figure in Nino’s life. Unknown to himself, Nino cannot help thinking, what would his life be if he and Sho was real?
The program Jun has planned for the group for the day includes a walk in the wood, a short hike, and a picnic at a nearby lake. It wouldn’t be something that Nino ever plans to do himself, but Nino suspects that is the exact reason why Jun plans these activities for them. He wants Nino to do and enjoy something different. And Nino does enjoy it. The morning hike offers a nice change of atmosphere. Nino has good sweating and builds up good appetize for lunch. Jun has picked a spot in a small clearing next to the lake. They take one of the few tables in the area and lay out their lunch. The area is quiet, save for another group on another side.
After they are done with lunch, they look for activities that they can all do to relax.
“Hey, they have boats.” Ohno points out. Ohno never refuses an opportunity to go out in water. There are a handful of boats for tourists lining around a small pier.
“Let’s take them out for a bit. It looks like fun.” Sho supports Ohno’s idea. He looks at Nino in particular for support. Nino is surprised by the invitation directed at him. Boat ride seems a bit too adventurous for Nino’s test. However, Sho has been very attentive throughout the morning and Nino feels obliged. Nino sees Aiba is surprised by Nino’s acceptance of Sho’s invitation. Even Nino is surprised.
With Jun opting to clean up the place, it ends up being a four-person activity. They take two boats out. Nino and Sho are in one boat while Ohno and Aiba are in another. Having to row the boat is a very different experience for Nino. Nino seldom went out on a boat. And when he did, Aiba usually did the rowing for him. Sho, on the other hand, is a city boy. He does not look comfortable with rowing and controlling the boat, but he is still having fun with it. Nino learns Sho is like that. He is not afraid to go out of his comfort zone. It is a quality that Nino admires. While Nino and Sho are struggling with their boat, Aiba and Ohno are sailing along not far behind. Aiba keeps looking at Nino’s boat worryingly. Nino does not understand why Aiba has to worry. His boat may be a bit wobbly but there is nothing to worry about. Or so Nino thought. Nino struggles to lift his oars. One of them seems to get stuck in something in the water. He exerts more force to lift the stuck oar up when it is suddenly released, and Nino is push back by his own, released force.
It happens in a flash, Nino feels his body losing balance. He cries out, startled. The last thing he knows is his body and his arms flailing in panic. Then, he falls backward into the water.
Nino struggles in the water. He can swim but he does not do exercise regularly. He can get his head above the water right away but trying to stay afloat seems to be a bit of work. His cloth, particularly his sneakers, are dragging him and make his movement in water sluggish and slow. It is difficult to support himself and keep afloat. Nino wipes away the wet hair covering his face and looks up to his boat instinctively for help. The first thing he sees is Sho’s worry face as Sho bends down the side of their boat. reaching out toward Nino.
“Oh God, Nino! Are you okay?” Sho sounds so worried. The look on Sho’s face makes Nino feels warm on his face. Sho’s hand reaches out, trying to get to Nino but the tide quickly pulls the boat away. It seems evident Sho would not be able to reach him from the boat.
It is not dangerous, Nino knows it. Despite the water being cold, it’s still not freezing and Nino’s body gradually adjusts to the water temperature. He only worries that he wouldn’t be able to stay afloat for long.
Then, the unexpected thing happens. A hand reaches out for him from behind. Nino immediately turns and finds Aiba’s face emerges from the water next to him.
Unknown to Nino, Aiba has jumped into the water as soon as Nino fell. Aiba seems to struggle a little to keep himself afloat, probably because his oversize jacket is soaking wet and dragging him down.
“Nino!” Aiba cries. “Ohhh… the water is sooo cold!”
Nino looks at Aiba in shock. What the heck that guy is doing? Nino can swim, Aiba knows that. There is no point in going into water because Nino wouldn’t need rescuing from this end. Instead, what Nino really needs to help him get out of water comes from Sho. Sho throws an orange lifebelt from the boat at him. Nino and Aiba catch it and let Sho pulls both of them in. Ohno also rows his boat to the spot to help pull them out. After several failed attempts to climb up the boat, Nino and Aiba manage to get back on their boats. They waste no time getting the boats back to the shore. Wind continues to blow at them and the soaked cloth sticks to their skin. Water drips all over the place. Aiba sneezes a couple times and Nino turns to shout at him.
“What the hell were you thinking jumping into water like that?” Nino says in almost a scream. Aiba sneezes a few more times Nino is sure this guy is getting a cold.
“I am sorry.” Aiba mumbles apologetically. He uses his wet sleeves to wipe away whatever come out with his sneeze before looking straight at Nino with a beaming smile. “It’s OK though, you got out fine.”
Nino gets even angrier. That was stupid and unnecessary. But Aiba still smiles in relief at Nino. His face is warm and the bright smile turns into a soft one.
“You are fine,” Aiba repeats “So it’s OK.”
Nino does not understand Aiba’s logic. Or maybe he does, but he refuses to admit it.
What started out as a small prank turns out to be something too complicated for Nino now.
What Nino hoped for was something to urge Aiba to move forward with their relationship, but it does not seem to work so well. Now Nino is left with the still scared Aiba and a very, very nice guy named Sho.
Only if his life can be a bit less complicated.
They are back from the outing and have their dinner together. Despite falling into the lake earlier, Nino still thinks the trip was fun. Walking through woods with slightly damn cloth and wet sneakers sure is a brand-new, exciting experience, although Nino isn’t sure he wants to repeat it again. When they are back in their room after dinner, Sho asks Nino to walk the ground with him again. This time Nino accepts Sho’s proposal almost right away. They stroll along the path that circles the main structure. Small garden patches scatter around the resort and there are a few more larger gardens. The weather is perfect. The lake winds blow like a breeze.
Nino shouldn’t feel worried. He is walking the ground with Sho and there is nothing strange about that. And if Aiba see them together, it will be just like what Nino wanted since before coming on this trip. But the truth is, Nino is extremely worried that Aiba would see him with Sho. Somehow, Nino begins to feel guilty about it. He doesn’t want Aiba to see him with Sho. He doesn’t want Aiba to know that his heart beats a little too quickly when he is holding Sho’s hand like this. Nino knows that Aiba’s room has a good view of hotel ground, so there is a chance that Aiba would see them. Nino is betting that Aiba is still out shopping for souvenirs with Jun and Ohno.
“What are you thinking? You look a little warry.” Sho asks and squeezes Nino’s hand a little. His voice is full of concern.
“Ah, nothing.” Nino denies and shakes his head. He also feels bad telling Sho that he is thinking about Aiba. What has he led himself into?
Sho smiles softly at Nino’s refusal. He stops walking and turns Nino toward him.
“You are thinking about Aiba, aren’t you?” Sho’s voice is so soft and sweet. It is full of understanding. Nino should have felt relieved but he doesn’t. He only feels guilt.
“Do you still need me to do anything more this weekend? Do you need any other proof of Aiba’s feelings?” Sho’s eyes are kind. Nino has to turn his face away. He cannot look at Sho directly like that. Sho smiles and continues, “You cannot get anything better than the guy jumping in the water to save you, you know?” Sho says in a teasing voice but there is a hint of sadness. Nino feels burning on his face.
“It is you that saved me.” Nino mumbles. The lifebelt Sho threw into the water saved him and Aiba. Sho lets out a sigh. He looks at Nino knowingly. Then, his hand reaches forward and touches Nino’s cheek. Reluctantly, Nino turns to look at Sho in the eyes. Sho gives him a smile.
“Aiba loves you, even I can see that now.”
“He hasn’t told me yet.” Nino still protests.
“Do you still need it, Nino?” Sho asks quietly.
They stay in silence for minutes but Nino can feel the tips of Sho’s fingers caressing his cheek. Then, the caressing stops. Sho’s eyes brighten up.
“I think I should do this before I don’t have a chance to.” Sho says quietly. He looks at Nino as if to ask for permission.
Then he lowers his face toward Nino. Their lips meet.
Nino should have been surprised but he isn’t.
It is a moment before Sho pulls away. Yet, the feeling of Sho’s full lips lingers on Nino’s.
“Sho… I…” Nino sounds hesitant. He doesn’t know what or how to respond. He doesn’t know how to convey what is on his mind at that exact moment.
“I just want to tell you.” Sho’s voice is still so soft and tender. Nino’s heart skips a beat. “That all this time, I have never pretended.”
As if Nino hasn’t already known… But knowing isn’t the same as accepting.
Sho is a good guy. So much better than what Nino could ever hope for. Yet, Nino’s heart is saying something different. Nino does not realize that until now. Sho may be able to make his heart beat faster. But there is only one guy for Nino. There has always been one guy for Nino.
Suddenly, Nino hears a soft whimper from behind. It is the voice that he knows. Nino turns instantly.
Nino feels like his world has just collapsed on him.
Aiba is standing just a distance away, with his hands covering his mouth. His eyes widened. Jun and Ohno are standing just behind him, looking as shocked as Aiba is.
Before Nino can do anything, Aiba turns and runs away.
The past few weeks have been the worst in Aiba’s life. After seeing Nino kissing Sho on their vacation, Aiba uses every single measure to avoid Nino. He begged Jun to drive him home right away. Since then, Aiba buries himself in work and tries not to think about Nino.
Nino probably thinks Aiba is angry at him. Aiba is not. On the contrary, he is happy for Nino.
The only problem is Aiba still needs time to accept that Nino has someone better than him in his life now. It is easier to know that you are happy for someone, but to fulling accept it in his heart, that’s a different thing.
For just a brief time that he has met Sho, Aiba knows that Sho would be a perfect partner for Nino. He is a good guy. He is caring, considerate, good-natured, funny, clever, understanding, and kind. Sho is also successful and well-to-do. He would be able to make Nino happy.
Aiba sighs. He really needs to stop thinking about Nino. So Aiba turns to the menu ahead of him. Ohno has asked him out for a dinner, and possibly some drinks later. Aiba is certain Ohno is worried about him and makes a mental note to act as cheerful as possible when Ohno shows up.
Ohno is already 15 minutes late though. This is unusual.
“I heard the fish here is good.” A voice comes from in front of him. Aiba lowers the menu and sees Nino.
“Don’t get angry at Oh-chan. I told him to set you up. You know how he can never say no to me.” Nino says nonchalantly and lowers himself into the chair opposite Aiba. “I should have thought of a fancier place, but then you would know it’s not Oh-chan that invites you out.”
“Err.. hello, Nino.” Aiba isn’t sure what to say. He is not even sure why Nino is here.
“’I miss you’ would have been better.” Nino sounds casual but his words are enough to stop Aiba on track. Why would Nino say such a thing? Aiba does not know how to react to Nino’s words so he remains silent. Aiba keeps his eyes at Nino, who is staring directly at him.
“I miss you, Aiba.” Nino breaks the silence. Aiba is startled. Nino never says anything like this. Never to him, at least. Aiba feels that he needs to respond.
“How’s…everything?” Aiba asks in uncertain voice. He cannot even keep his eyes on Nino’s.
“Did you mean how is everything with Sho-chan?” Aiba does nothing to either confirm or deny it. But of course, Nino would know. Nino always knows him.
“I am happy for you and Sho.” Aiba wishes he could have said it more firmly because he really means it. “Sho is a very good guy. He would make you happy.” Nino nods in confirmation. Aiba’s lips purse up a little. He really is happy for Nino. It is just that he still feels sad and unhappy at the same time.
Then, Nino’s hand reaches across the table and places on top of Aiba’s.
“But Sho is not whom I want. I don’t want to be happy with him.”
Aiba instantly looks up and right into Nino’s gleaming eyes.
“I love you, Aiba.” Nino’s words are loud and clear. “I have always loved you.”
Aiba is jaw-dropped. What is it that he is hearing?
“I assume I have to say it first since you don’t want to tell me.” Nino’s fingers rub over Aiba’s backhand. Aiba can feel his hands shaking slightly. He is dumbstruck.
Nino stands up and walks toward Aiba until he stands next to him. Nino’s hand still holds on to Aiba’s.
“That’s your cue.” Nino looks serious. Aiba is still confused.
“But what about Sho?” Aiba stammers.
“What do I have to do to stop you talking about other people?” Nino asks teasingly. He pulls Aiba up from his chair. They stand so close to one another. Then Nino reaches for Aiba’s nape, pulling him in for a kiss.
And Nino’s lips reach Aiba’s.
Aiba has kissed Nino before, multiple times, but none of them is ever like this. This time the kiss is different. Aiba is relieved. Aiba is certain.
Nino wants him, and only him.
Nino pulls away and lets Aiba breathe. Aiba is already panting.
“Now, can I hear what I have been waiting for all these years?”
Aiba can finally smiles as the reality sinks in. Of course, from this point on, Nino can hear it as often as he wants to.