Aiba laughed loudly as the corgi zoomed around the room, no pattern or direction, just zipping from place to place with high energy. It wasn't unusual for Cosmo to get restless at different points of the day. His owner had written occasionally possessed by friendly demons on his application, which had been the deciding factor in taking Cosmo into his care. Aiba loved a dog with personality.
"Go ahead, tire yourself out!" he encouraged, "Maybe you'll finally settle down at nap time."
There was no official nap time, of course. Nap time was whenever enough of the dogs decided they were ready to curl up somewhere, or when he put them in their individual pens when one was scheduled for grooming. It could be a lot of work, but it was something Aiba enjoyed. It was much better than the 'suit and commute' lifestyle he might have had otherwise.
He'd started his doggie daycare business after several years of working in HR for a large company. Though he'd had a reputation for being kind and helpful, Aiba had known that he'd had little power to actually improve people's work lives with the less than flexible company policies in place. At first he had thought he'd simply apply to work somewhere else, but then one day it hit him.
He was numb.
Nothing about his life was what he wanted for himself at all, and the only way to fix it was to take matters into his own hands. After a particularly moving program on television late one night about the state of pet adoptions and abandonment in Japan, which had him crying loudly into his beer, Aiba had come to a decision. He'd seen firsthand what working life could be and knew how easy it would be to neglect an animal by mistake. He couldn't save every pet in Japan, but he could do something for a few.
It hadn't been an easy venture, requiring an investment of time, money, and energy he barely had. But now! Now he was fully up and running, and proud of his work. The relief he'd seen in some of the pet owners' faces had been enough of a sign for Aiba that he was doing the right thing.
"Your Friend My Friend, this is Aiba speaking," he answered his phone, keeping a watchful eye on a still hyperactive Cosmo.
"It's Nagase. Can you keep Cosmo an hour longer today? I'll pay you."
"Will you give me your bike?" Aiba joked.
"I'll let you borrow it. You can drive, but I ride on back and we go somewhere romantic."
"No deal," Aiba teased, but quickly added, "Of course I'll keep him. See you at seven then."
When demand had grown to be more than Aiba could handle, he'd enlisted some help. There was only one person Aiba knew he could trust with setting up a proper online presence for his company, his former coworker and good friend.
"You're going to need an application process," Sho had said, "And do you have Outlook? Google? Let's get you a calendar so owners know your availability."
It had probably saved his life. As a thanks for keeping his business afloat, Aiba still made Sho coffee every Monday morning. Sure, Sho had to come by his place to pick it up and there was additional help involved, but sometimes Aiba had cheesecake waiting for him too. He was very grateful.
"I can get this inbox set up on your phone," Sho reminded with a shake of his head, handing the printed application over. "I don't know why you insist on doing it this way."
"If I could do everything by email, you wouldn't see me as much and your mood would be terrible," Aiba replied.
Sho, clearly having no good argument against Aiba's logic, laughed and nodded at the paper.
"You'll appreciate the name on this one."
"Krillin?" Aiba read aloud, smiling brightly before commenting, "Like Dragonball!?"
Dog's Name: Krillin (Rin-chan)
Breed: French Bulldog
Likes: Chewing socks, sleeping
Dislikes: Being alone, boats :(
Reason for overnight stay: Fishing weekend
Interested in grooming services?: No
Anything else: He really likes cake, but I never give him chocolate so don't worry. I almost gave him a grape once but I didn't so he's okay.
It was one of the shortest applications he'd ever read, that was for sure. Most owners had a lot more to say about their pet when they were leaving them in a stranger's care, especially for more than a few hours. Something about it, however, spoke to Aiba. Maybe it was the idea of needing company, or maybe it was the bit about the cake. Aiba could certainly relate to both.
"I do like this one," Aiba agreed, "Guess I'll be working this weekend."
Sho looked as if he'd expected that answer, but still sent a quick expression of concern Aiba's way.
"Remember you can say no sometimes. If at any point you have more dogs in your house than oxygen, I'll shut you down myself," Sho warned lovingly.
"I know you will, Sho-chan. Don't miss your train," Aiba replied, swatting the man's butt and encouraging him to the door.
He was right! Definitely right. But Aiba had a feeling he wasn't going to regret saying yes to this one.
It wasn't a surprise to Aiba that Rin was as delightful as he sounded. He'd greeted Aiba with excited kisses and happy snorts, and seemed right at home when Aiba scooped him up into his arms. What surprised him, actually, was how delightful his owner turned out to be as well. An attractive and gentle looking man with a well-worn baseball cap, glistening lips, and crinkles at the corners of his eyes named Ohno Satoshi.
Aiba was still processing what had shown up at his door as they sat on his sofa, going over the few details he'd received on Rin's application.
"Rin-chan gets seasick, I'm pretty sure. He curls up and won't move and he looks miserable the whole time," Ohno explained with what sounded like a frustrated sigh.
"Poor Rin-chan," Aiba sympathized, scratching behind the dog's ears.
"You know what I didn't even think about? Where was he going to do his business? There's a toilet for me, or if I get really lazy I can pee in the ocean, but Rin-chan can't lift his leg high enough. And poop!? I couldn't figure that out," Ohno continued.
Aiba laughed loudly at that, trying to imagine Ohno suddenly realizing they were out in open water and his dog had nowhere to go but on the boat itself. There was probably a solution, something to Google, but Aiba didn't think he'd have known what to do either.
"So no fishing for Rin-chan, then," Aiba concluded.
"No," Ohno agreed.
Aiba would have typically launched into a description of the weekend plan for Rin, asking Ohno for any feedback and letting him ask questions in return. Instead he found himself letting a quiet pause linger. It was peaceful, Ohno gently rubbing his dog's back, Aiba watching them both and making note of how warm and friendly they both seemed.
He had to admit, Ohno wasn't hard to look at either. Aiba liked the contrast of his manly jaw with his soft cheeks, the way he let some stubble grow but kept his sideburns neat. His outward appearance was calm, but he had an energy when he spoke that hinted at more under the surface. Yes, Aiba liked that a lot.
"I'll give you my number," Aiba said finally, amused by how that might have sounded if he'd spoken any of his other thoughts aloud, "So you can message me and check in if you want. Or not! Up to you."
"Sounds good to me."
"I'm not always available on the weekends, but if you give me a head's up when you're planning your trips, I'll see what I can do."
Aiba stood up from the sofa, offering his hand. A very professional handshake would be good about now. To make things official, of course, not because Aiba's entire body was buzzing with a giddy sort of discomfort. Happy nerves! He didn't remember the last time he'd felt those.
As much as Aiba sincerely loved his job, it was nice to have a day off now and then. A day where the new shirt he was excited about wasn't immediately covered in hair. A day when he could eat without several pairs of eyes watching him intently, desperate for him to lose control of his chopsticks and send food to the floor. A day when he could go for a walk at his own pace and not get pulled in four directions at once.
He'd already arranged karaoke with Kazama later, and had plans to run some errands and maybe visit the baths in the afternoon, but his first priority? Cake. He'd been exceptionally good lately, doing his ab exercises in the morning and evening. He'd earned something sinfully sweet.
Aiba wiped the sweat from his brow, then sighed happily as he was hit with the café's air conditioning. He headed straight for the display case. Even though he'd been here before, he liked to remind himself of what was available - and sometimes new items appeared!
He'd been so focused on shortcake that he'd not even noticed the other man near the counter.
Suddenly, Aiba felt hyper-aware of every bead of sweat still present on his person. He ran his hands quickly through his hair in the hopes that it might still look decent, then gave a little bow of greeting.
"I came! You told me this was the best place, so I came," Ohno informed him cheerfully, pointing at something behind the glass, "That's the éclair you like, right?"
Aiba nodded a bit more enthusiastically than necessary, but it really was a great éclair. He liked the way the chocolate on top sort of melted against his tongue. But thinking about chocolate and tongues was more than dangerous right now.
He was amazed that Ohno would follow up on a recommendation he'd made during small talk, the kind of conversation you had to be polite when you'd only met one another twice. Well, four times if he counted dropping off and picking up his dog as separate meetings. Still, it was pleasant to know he'd been listened to and taken seriously.
"You aren't with dogs," Ohno pointed out, glancing around Aiba's person as if a few might appear.
"Ah, no! I'm not working today. And I don't actually have a dog myself. Maybe because I'm around them so much already," Aiba responded.
"You can share Rin-chan if you want," Ohno joked, "He's cute but he can't really breathe when it's this hot, so I let him stay home."
It was a more tempting offer than Ohno might have realized. Rin was one of his absolute favorites already. He could be stubborn at times, not wanting to follow Aiba's direction if he wasn't in the mood, but he was adorable. Loving, friendly, and great for cuddling!
"Rather than share a dog, would you like to share some dessert?" Aiba suggested, "If you don't have somewhere to be?"
Ohno didn't answer right away, instead reaching into the pocket of his pants and pulling out his phone. After a few very focused taps, he returned the phone and gave Aiba a thumb's up.
"I'm free for a bit. I wanted to try the shortcake you were looking at. Want to get that and something else?"
A mix and match! Aiba liked Ohno's style. He resisted the urge to lick his lips as his eyes scanned over the sweet creations once more.
"Yeah! I'll get them if you find us a table," Ohno replied.
Aiba hadn't really thought about how they would work out sharing - if they would each pay for one, or if he'd treat Ohno since he'd brought it up. And if he did treat Ohno, was it like Ohno treating himself, since Ohno's money had paid Aiba before? He laughed to himself as he twisted his mind up in knots, deciding to follow Ohno's plan and find them a nice spot to sit and eat and get to know one another.
Maybe, if they ever spontaneously met up in a completely improbable way in a city of so many people again, Aiba would be the one to pay next time.
It was turning into every other weekend that Ohno took his fishing trips, not that Aiba was complaining. It was nice to spend that time with Rin-chan, and equally nice to greet Ohno each time he returned sunkissed and satisfied.
Though he'd initially given Ohno his number to keep updated on his schedule, more and more often he received messages from the man that had nothing to do with his dog or his fishing trips. Something had changed after that shared shortcake. Aiba's thoughts wandered to Ohno at random moments. What was he up to? Why did he think to send Aiba his thoughts about a song he heard in the combini, and not someone else?
Aiba was discovering that you could learn a lot about a person in the small things, the details others might find inconsequential.
He was learning about Ohno's sense of humor, the things that made him want to snap a photograph, the skill he had with emoji and line stickers. He didn't know if Ohno was single, had a family, where he worked, or what he'd been like in school. But he did know that Ohno loved strawberries, brushed his teeth in the shower, and was into mobile games lately.
They may not have been lengthy conversations they were sharing, but they were something. Small glimpses into an interesting person's life that made Aiba want to share parts of himself as well.
"I know it's getting late, and I'm sure you have work in the morning, but would you like to stay for a drink? I feel bad all this time I haven't offered you anything."
Ohno accepted the invitation easily, making Aiba relax a little. He'd been thinking about asking for a whole week now, ever since he'd seen Rin pop up on his schedule.
"So you quit your job and started doing this? That's brave," Ohno commended Aiba after he'd finished telling the story of starting his business.
Brave wasn't a word he'd heard used to describe it before. Aiba smiled and responded, "That means a lot. To be seen as brave. Thank you."
"They'd say it's clever or genius when you succeed, but risky if you fail, right? Either way it's brave to decide to do something you want to do," Ohno said.
Aiba didn't think twice about retrieving another couple of beers from the fridge. Ohno deserved some kind of reward for the wisdom he'd dropped then. Aiba loved his friends dearly, and they'd supported him all the way, which he'd badly needed. But they were also close to him, and to have someone with a fresh perspective compliment his choice was comforting. Something Aiba must have wanted deep down, even if a little selfishly.
"I'm glad I did it when I did. If I hadn't, who knows if I would have ever met Rin-chan," Aiba spoke, glancing down at the sleeping dog.
Rin had given up on the idea that they might have food in addition to their beers, and had lost interest in them shortly after. He was curled up and napping cozily between their chairs.
"And maybe I wouldn't have met Rin-chan either! Who really knows how time works, it could have messed up everything," Ohno added playfully.
Aiba didn't get the impression that Ohno was the type who would actively choose to have a pet. It seemed rude to ask him about it, so he never had, but after a few beers it suddenly didn't seem like such a bad idea anymore. Especially when they were already at the edge of the topic.
"So how did you meet this little guy?"
"He was wandering around my neighborhood. The first time I heard him I was a little drunk and I thought there was a pig hiding somewhere, so I really wanted to find him," Ohno explained.
Although a period of quiet followed, Aiba could sense that Ohno wasn't finished with his explanation. He nodded and waited patiently as Ohno scratched the side of his nose, looking as if he was trying to remember.
"I found him and he was kinda skinny? I've seen dogs like him before and they're usually really round? So I went to the combini and bought some crackers and fed him and he followed me. For a couple of days he would be there. When I went to work and such. He wasn't really anybody's dog? And then he was mine."
Aiba knew it was silly to get emotional about such a simple story, but not everyone would think to do what Ohno had done. Maybe they'd care, sure, maybe give the dog something to eat, but people were often afraid or uncertain about stray animals. Ohno had seen a living thing in need and had stepped up without worrying about himself.
Aiba rubbed his eyes in an attempt to stop them from tearing up any further, then cleared his throat.
"You have a good heart," he commented.
"Not really. You don't have to be so kind about it," Ohno responded with an airy laugh, "You're the good one!"
Aiba shook his head. He wasn't being kind about it, he really believed it. He liked knowing that there were good people out there. Not everything had to be some extraordinary feat to be considered good anyway.
The conversation turned to some lighthearted topics, about comedians they liked and sports they'd been meaning to get into, until Ohno remembered he was meant to be to work early in the morning and apologized for not being able to stay longer.
"No, no, this was nice," Aiba told him, bowing in thanks once they reached the door.
There was something about being around an attractive person that made all sense of how to socially interact fly out the window. Aiba wanted to indicate that he was happy to have Ohno stay again, or maybe meet at that café for another slice of cake, but each time he tried to put the words together his brain seemed to short circuit.
In the end he could only come up with, "Keep in touch!"
At least Ohno was receptive to it, promising he would.
But it was Rin who ended up kissing him goodnight.
Aiba jumped at the sudden and loud buzz of the doorbell. He wasn't expecting any packages, and all of the dogs had already been dropped off for the day. He was cautious and quiet as he moved toward the front door to take a look. Too much noise and they'd know he was in, and if it was NHK...
Aiba glanced through the peephole, grinning as a familiar face came into view. Definitely not NHK.
"Ohno-san! You're even more tan than the last time I saw you," Aiba greeted in surprise.
"It's summer," Ohno answered with a casual shrug.
Aiba enjoyed the outdoors in the summer, too. Even with how hot it had been the last few years, almost unbearable some days, it was probably his favorite season. He had more energy to spare for the dogs and for himself when he wasn't plagued with hay fever.
He didn't have time to communicate this, however, bending down to shoo his now curious and active group of dogs away from the door. He laughed at the way Rin fought Ohno's hold on his leash, clearly ready to run and join the others.
"Forgive me, Ohno-san, come in," Aiba encouraged, closing the door quickly behind them, "And sorry, but I don't think I had you on my schedule?"
Ohno looked apologetic as he picked Rin up.
"It's an emergency," he explained, bowing his head slightly, "An unplanned work trip and I didn't really know where else to go."
It wasn't the first time that Aiba had taken an emergency client (a term he'd always find funny but Sho often used). But it was the first time that Aiba was considering it more because of the human standing in front of him than because of the animal. The realization of that made his cheeks turn a little warm, but Aiba hoped it didn't show.
"Rin-chan is perfectly welcome," he promised.
He reached out to pet the top of Rin's head and was met with Ohno lifting his instead.
"Sorry, sorry!" Aiba apologized, biting his lip as Ohno scrunched up his nose.
"It's okay, Aiba-chan, I'm really grateful," Ohno responded with a soft smile.
Aiba tried not to immediately melt into a puddle at the man's feet. It wasn't as if he'd never had a crush before. It didn't have to turn into some big deal! Ohno could be that happy secret of his - someone who showed up in Aiba's life and brightened his day, someone to talk about to friends over drinks and wonder 'what if?' for fun. Aiba wouldn't mind all that, so long as he could stay functional when Ohno was paying him to provide a service. He needed to pull it together.
"Rin is in safe hands," Aiba promised.
"CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED CODE RED!!!" Aiba shouted in his phone, already in the process of slipping on his shoes and searching for his car keys.
This was exactly what he'd been dreading since opening his business, the first time he'd be taking an animal in his care to the vet in an emergency. Maybe if it had happened before, he'd feel less panic about it, but he couldn't quite keep himself from freaking out. One minute he'd been confident that he was a good caretaker, the next he was wondering if it was best to shut everything down.
It only took about five minutes for Nino to arrive at his doorstep, though in Aiba's state of unrest it felt like an hour.
Until Aiba could afford additional help, Nino had promised to be his emergency backup plan. He worked down the street and had flexible hours, not to mention owed Aiba for every video game he'd unintentionally paid for, every dinner he'd picked up the tab for when wallets were deliberately forgotten, and every unconditional moment of love Aiba had given him over several years of friendship.
And he had dogs once.
"Hey, listen, breathe," Nino greeted, patting his friend on the back, "I've got this. The rest of the dogs will be fine with me. I'm sure it's going to be fine and the owner will understand."
The owner. Oh.
That was the other thing. Aiba was never going to feel comfortable facing anyone when it came to this failure, but knowing it was Ohno's dog? Somehow it was so much worse.
"You can puke in my car if you need to, Rin-chan. You're a good boy, you can puke all you want," Aiba reassured him as they headed to the vet.
If he was honest? There was nothing in Rin's behavior that suggested anything out of the ordinary was happening. He didn't look so much as queasy, even with his history of motion sickness. But who knew what might be taking place inside him? Dogs couldn't communicate what they felt! If he was suffering, Aiba might never know!
"Ohno-san, I have to apologize to you. I let Krillin out of my sight and he got into something he shouldn't have. I know you aren't supposed to be back until eight tonight, but if by any chance you finish early please get in touch with me. I may still be at the emergency vet when you hear this, I'm texting you the address," Aiba conveyed to Ohno's voicemail.
Having been knowledgeable enough to call ahead, it didn't take long for the vet to bring Rin back into an examination room. And it didn't take much longer than that for the vet to conclude that there was really no imminent danger, and no need for any blood work done. Having shown no symptoms, it was likely that Rin would have no worse consequences than an upset stomach later.
"Rin-chan! What did you do!?"
Aiba felt his heart leap unpleasantly in his chest at the sound of Ohno's voice. Although he'd left that message earlier, he'd not really expected the man would be able to come. Knowing there were other people in the reception area made Aiba feel all the more awkward about his immediate reaction of getting to his knees, but his body acted without much input from his mind.
"I'm so, so, so, so, so sorry!!" he apologized, surprised by the feel of Ohno's hand on his arm as he was helped back up.
"We had just come back from a walk and Hana-chan had something stuck in her paw. I was so focused on that I didn't realize I'd left my bedroom door open when I got my hat before we left. Rin-chan wandered in there and found a bag of mixed nuts in the backpack on my chair in the corner. It would have been fine if there weren't macadamia nuts in there! I couldn't tell much he'd eaten and what percentage of what he ate was macadamia so I didn't want to take any chances, but the vet says he should be fine and to observe him for today. I understand if you never want to use my services again, but if you do I promise the next stay is free and so is this one, and sorry again I'm so sorry!!"
He couldn't bring himself to look at Ohno, so embarrassed about the events of the day. But instead of the disappointment he expected to hear, Aiba was met with the soothing sound of Ohno's soft laughter.
"Sounds like he was a sneaky bastard."
Aiba whipped his head back in shock, jaw dropping slightly as he finally looked Ohno in the eye. He really didn't seem angry.
"Sorry he caused you so much trouble. He was probably getting back at me for leaving him this long. It's not like you had them out and about, right? He tracked them down. He's a dog, so."
Aiba hadn't really considered Rin's intent. He hadn't really thought about why or how it had happened at all, just that it had. He didn't know what to say, his body starting to shake with the release of tension he'd been carrying. Rin was comfortably sitting by Ohno's feet, looking completely at ease.
"Please don't worry? I know you did your best, it was just an accident. And you looked after him, didn't you? That's why we're here," Ohno added, reaching out his arms.
It took a moment for it to register with Aiba that he was being hugged, but once he recognized it, he wrapped his arms tightly around the man in return. It felt like coming home after a long day and crashing into bed surrounded by soft pillows. He closed his eyes and relaxed, thankful for the way Ohno pressed a steady hand against his back. He smelled like what Aiba imagined would be labeled 'A brisk walk in the forest' or 'Midnight breeze' if packaged in a fancy bottle. It was nice. Nice enough that he simply forgot that he and Ohno only knew each other in a casual, business relationship turned semi-friendship sort of way.
He needed this hug.
He'd been needing this hug a long time, really.
"Thank you, Ohno-san."
Aiba had just been about to eat dinner when the knock sounded at his door. Thinking that Ohno must have ended work earlier than he'd thought, Aiba answered without looking first. He was caught off guard by the unknown person staring back at him. Aiba would have asked him what he wanted if he weren't so in awe. It wasn't every day that a man dressed head to toe in Louis Vuitton ended up on your doorstep. It seemed like one surprise after another for Aiba lately!
"You must be Aiba-san? I know you have no idea who I am and I'm so sorry for coming here unannounced like this, it's embarrassing what I have--"
The man stopped talking as Rin appeared at Aiba's feet, wagging his tail excitedly and starting to leap up on the man's leg.
"--hey Rin-chan. Hey buddy."
"You know Rin-chan?" Aiba asked in confusion. Obviously this was someone Ohno knew, but he'd not said anything about sending someone else to pick Rin up. In fact, he'd sent a message that he'd be running late not that long ago.
"Yes! Sorry. I'm a friend of Ohno-san. I owed him a dinner, but he needed to pick Rin-chan up, so I said I'd meet him here outside and give him a ride to my place. But that was supposed to be an hour ago and I really need to pee."
Aiba may have been highly confused, but he wasn't cruel. He gestured the man inside and directed him to the restroom right away. He bit his lip to hold back his laughter as the man cursed and tripped over his shoes trying to get them off quickly.
Does your friend who has to pee have a name?, he typed and sent in a message to Ohno.
He grinned when he received several poop emojis and an OOPS with an angel in response.
"Matsumoto Jun," the man introduced himself after what was likely one of the more awkward pee experiences of his life. Aiba happily introduced himself in return, though the man seemed to know of him already.
"I have a lot of questions," Aiba stated.
"I bet," Jun responded with a sigh.
It turned out that Jun and Ohno had met one another through work several years ago, when they had been cast in some stage plays together. Work had never come up in conversation with Ohno so far. Aiba would have never guessed he was an actor.
"A fantastic one! But not anymore. He works as a choreographer these days," Jun clarified.
Aiba allowed himself a moment to daydream about the many ways that dancing would enhance the fine qualities of Ohno Satoshi's body. There was still so much he didn't know about the man. But learning that he had a famous friend and an exciting career and was still so very normal? It made him that much more appealing to Aiba.
"Why couldn't he meet you at your place?" Aiba asked, trying to refocus on the matter at hand.
"He could have, but I was trying to save him a trip on the train or in a cab. He doesn't have a driver's license," Jun answered, clicking his tongue in annoyance before adding, "It's a shame I have to murder him for not using his phone properly and humiliating me in front of one of his friends."
Aiba was trying to process too much information at once. That Ohno had a license to operate a boat, but not a license to drive a car. That Ohno considered him a friend, or at least Jun thought he did. That Aiba didn't know whether it was a positive step or a strike against him to be considered a friend. That Rin was currently chewing on his sock that was still on his foot and it was starting to feel a little gross.
"I don't know how often you um, have him at your place, but I can drive him if you want? Sometimes? I mean, if I don't have other dogs here it wouldn't be a big deal, I'm not usually very busy..."
It finally caught up with him that the possibility of Jun being more than a friend to Ohno was very real. Aiba foolishly suggesting he could chauffeur another man's boyfriend around seemed very, very silly to him now that he couldn't take his words back.
It felt as if Jun was staring through him, looking straight into his core, where a not-so-secret affection was growing. Aiba was glad to have the moment interrupted by Ohno's arrival.
"He didn't cause you any trouble, did he?" Ohno asked, then nodded at his friend, "I mean Jun-kun, obviously, not our angel."
Aiba snorted with laughter. It sounded like something Nino might say. It was amazing how quickly his mind started piecing together what Ohno would be like around his friends -- how they'd get along right away. How Sho would find him charming and Nino would probably like his face.
"I wouldn't have been any trouble at all if you'd bothered to tell me you'd be late," Jun reminded him.
"And I told you that you were too good looking and you should wait in the car," Ohno complained, smacking the man lightly on his upper arm. "You're hurting my chances."
"Oh, I don't think so," Jun replied with a grin flashed Aiba's way.
Aiba tried not to read into that exchange too much. It was easy to get caught up in hidden meanings and imagined signs when you were eager for someone to like you. If he let his mind start racing, he knew it wouldn't stop anytime soon.
"I'm sorry again for coming here without warning, Aiba-san. Maybe we could all go to dinner together sometime," Jun suggested.
"Not until I take him to dinner first," Ohno replied. Aiba watched in amusement as Ohno tried to put Rin on his leash and nudge Jun toward the door simultaneously.
"I'd like that," Aiba answered.
His heart beat a little faster as Ohno turned back toward him. He looked as if he was about to say or do something, but whatever Ohno had wanted, he appeared to change his mind at the last moment.
Aiba nervously choked out his goodbye to them all after that. As soon as the door closed behind them, he headed straight for the sofa to curl up. He was an adult man. It should have been easier than this to test the waters, maybe flirt some more.
Instead he buried himself in throw pillows and promised himself he'd do better next time.
Hana-chan was one of his very first clients, the most beautiful golden retriever Aiba had ever seen. Aiba had fallen in love with her almost instantly, something he could admit was becoming a habit. But she was special! She was almost like an older sister to the other dogs in his care. She lead by example, never getting into trouble, giving up some of her fair share in treats to the others, and always looking back to Aiba on walks as if to check up on him from time to time.
Her owners hadn't dropped her by that morning. Starting to worry, he'd called in concern after an hour or two, and while he was so relieved to hear that nothing was wrong with her, he was crushed to find out that the family would be moving to Nagoya.
Aiba's mood had taken a drastic dive since then. Maybe because it would have been nice to have had a chance to say goodbye to her, had he known what was coming. It was the first time he was facing the reality of what looking after pets that weren't his own could mean. He tried to hold it together, but when everyone else had gone and only Rin was left, suddenly the weight of it all was too much.
He tried to smile as he handed Rin back to Ohno, but he could feel the disappointment of the day tugging at the corners of his lips.
"Is everything okay?" Ohno asked, sounding a little hesitant.
Aiba hadn't meant to be so obvious in how he was feeling, but he was having a hard time shaking himself out of his current mood. It wasn't something he wanted to burden Ohno with if he could help it.
"It will be fine, thanks for asking."
"Maybe it will be. But it doesn't seem fine right now, so do you want to talk?" Ohno offered graciously.
"I wouldn't want to bother you."
"You're the last person in the world who would bother me I think," Ohno responded with a chuckle, "Sorry for intruding, but I'm coming in!"
There was something about Ohno Satoshi that didn't make sense to Aiba entirely. For as much as he seemed like this free-floating ball of good nature, there was an authority in how he carried himself. Like now, when he invited himself inside Aiba's home. Aiba had no desire to stop him. Ohno was going to do what he was going to do and Aiba was going to follow him into his own kitchen.
"We need beer," Ohno decided, opening up the fridge, "If that's okay?"
Aiba wondered why he was bothering to ask when the man was already taking two cans out for them, but for the first time today he felt himself smiling without having to force himself.
"It's okay with me," he responded.
Before long they were sitting side by side on Aiba's sofa, Rin curled up contentedly on Aiba's lap. Ohno must have known that this was exactly what Aiba had needed.
"I didn't think about my own feelings in all of this. It's something I'm going to have to get used to, I guess? People move, and their pets go with them. Maybe they stop being as busy. For one reason or another, sometimes I'm going to have to say goodbye," Aiba worked through his feelings aloud.
It was good to put it out into the universe instead of dealing with it all in his own head.
"You'd be kind of bad at what you do if you didn't like dogs," Ohno added.
He looked so serious about it, as if he'd said something incredibly wise. And in a way, maybe he had. Aiba began to laugh, leaning back against the sofa cushion and closing his eyes.
"Do you think I'm ridiculous?" he asked in a near whisper.
"I think you're wonderful," Ohno answered quickly, "Super wonderful."
Aiba took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. He wasn't always confident, but he was observant enough to know that Ohno wasn't only saying that to make him feel better. He opened his eyes again, watching Ohno for any indication he had read the atmosphere wrong.
When Ohno began to lean in, Aiba followed, happily meeting him in the middle. He slid his hand up Ohno's neck, resting it just behind the man's ear as they kissed.
He was confused for a brief second when he felt a tongue against his cheek, knowing that Ohno's mouth was otherwise occupied. Aiba snorted with laughter and broke the kiss as he realized it was Rin, jealous of the attention that was not on him.
"Not now!! What are you doing, seriously?" Ohno whined at his dog, but his eyes were shining with joy.
Aiba beamed at them both.
He gave Rin an affectionate pat on the head before standing up. He helped Ohno to his feet as well, keeping hold of his hands and squeezing them tightly in his own.
"Now," Aiba spoke softly, "Where were we?"