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is it us who made it difficult? (but it was us who made it possible)

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"Oh-chan! The air-conditioner in the staff room is broken again!" Nino called out as he walked to the bar from the staff room. Nino was fanning himself with his right hand while looking utterly bored.

"Again?!" he heard Ohno groan from the back of the counter.

"Again," Nino confirmed. "This is the third time in two weeks."

Ohno grumbled under his breath. Nino couldn't really catch him, or rather he wasn't interested enough on what he's saying to try and understand.

"I told you to buy a better air-conditioning. But as always, you’re blockheaded,” Nino commented, occupying one of the stools in front of the counter.

“I’m your boss, stop talking to me like that,” Ohno said grumpily.

“Only on papers,” Nino retorted cheekily.

“I’m the one who pays you!”

“And I’m the one who brings you those customers,” Nino grinned. “Come on, Oh-chan, we both know that most of the regulars come here thanks to me.”

“You’re just a little devil, why do I even bother with you?” Ohno pouted, however, he knew Nino was slightly right. Not fully, but slightly right. The only thing that irritated Ohno was that Nino knew how to annoy him; which was by using that fact.

“You love me,” Nino said as he placed his elbows to the counter and let his chin rest on his hands and offered Ohno a wide gummy smile.

Ohno snorted. Yes, that was also true. The little devil was just so loveable no matter how annoying he was. Finally, Ohno sighed in surrender. “Go up to the office and tell Sho-kun to call Nagase-san,” he said.

“Go tell your lover yourself,” Nino shot back. Since that one time he had ‘accidentally’ caught Ohno and Sho naked in Ohno’s office, he had never missed a chance to tease them. Ohno never believed Nino’s claim of ‘accident’. Nino was just too smart for accidents to happen, really.

Ohno just sighed loudly. “I’ll go and talk to him myself,” he said with resignation as he left the counter to walk towards the small staircase slowly. But once he stepped on the first step, he stopped and turned back to Nino. “By the way, the new guy will be coming in today,” Ohno informed him. “I trust you to teach him.”

Nino raised an eyebrow. “He knows how to mix cocktails? And he’s not going to be like Chinen-chan, right?”

“Chinen was competent,” Ohno said with a frown.

“Chinen was fancying you,” Nino said with a roll of his eyes. “And your cute lover was getting uncomfortable.”

“I didn’t fire Chinen and Sho-kun had nothing against Chinen,” Ohno said.

“We all know that, old man,” Nino waved him off.

Their bar, a small place called Monochrome in Shinjuku, has been established for more than 10 years already, with Ohno as the owner. It was a bar with live music where Sho and Nino take turns in playing. Monochrome contained only three full-time employees which were Nino, Ohno, and Sho. Well, he wasn’t really sure if Ohno counted as an employee since he was the owner of this place.

When Chinen started working here, they were relieved mostly because Chinen was a good, hardworking boy. The only problem was that he liked Ohno way too much. He would sometimes slack on his work just to admire Ohno. Despite that, their small bar still loved Chinen, so all of the employees were sad when Chinen graduated from the university and got into a full-time job.

Since then, Nino had been alone in the bar mostly and he had been switching with Sho to play and sing. They couldn’t afford to hire a full-time singer or a pianist but luckily Ohno had two excellent players and singers. However, if they manage to secure a new bartender to help Nino in the field, none of them would have to juggle too much in one hand anymore.

They had been in search of someone for a while already. The ones that Ohno interviewed either demanded too much money or they weren’t really intending to work hard. And if the bartender didn’t work, then the drinks would stall and none of the customers would like that. Really, what would a bar be if they don’t serve any drinks?

“So? How’s the guy this time?” Nino asked curiously. He prayed to whatever divinity listening for Ohno to find the person. It was getting irritating not to be able to go on stage because he had to deal with the cocktails.

“Oh, right,” Ohno said. “He seems nice. Bright, on that matter. Actually, he’s probably the opposite of you.” Ohno shrugged.

Ohno liked Nino very much. They had been friends for more than twenty years and Nino had been the only one who had helped Ohno to open this bar and stay in the business long enough to afford for more. They were still small, compared to those fancy bars out there in Roppongi but they had gained a good number of regular customers thanks to Nino’s efforts since the beginning. Nino might be annoying most of the time but he was the most competent employee Ohno had ever seen.

“I also personally had him mix our most requested cocktails before I hired him,” Ohno added.

Nino sighed, relieved. If the new guy knew how to mix cocktails that meant Nino had less to teach the guy, unlike what he had to do with Chinen. Nino remembered it wasn’t exactly fun to teach how to mix cocktails to Chinen while Ohno’s presence was there, distracting the younger one. “Thank God,” he voiced his relief. “I’m thankful to you for hiring someone else, seriously.”

“Why, that’s unexpectedly nice of you to thank me!” Ohno mocked him. “I’ll go and see how our budget is for another repair,” and with that, Ohno climbed the stairs and got lost in the office where Sho was working in.

Nino took his phone out of the pockets of his uniform to check the time and play one or two rounds of Puzzle & Dragons. He looked at the time briefly, knowing that they still had pretty long to open for the night. It was a Friday night and tonight was usually Nino’s night on stage. However, if there was a new guy coming in, it meant Nino would have to watch him. He sighed. “Sho-chan!” Nino called out towards the office. It only took thirty seconds for Sho to come out.

Nino didn’t wait for him to ask as he continued. “Can you take my place tonight?” he asked. “Oh-chan said there’s a new guy coming in today, so I’m going to have to watch him and show him around,” he said.

“Oh, I heard from Satoshi-kun just now,” Sho said while nodding. “Of course, no problem with me,” he said with a smile. “I’ll have to use yesterday’s sheets and change your name from the board,” he continued, mostly talking to himself.

“Thanks,” Nino said as he turned around on his chair to lean against the counter. He opened the application of Puzzle & Dragons and got lost in the game absentmindedly.

He didn’t know how long he actually had been playing when the door opened and a lanky guy walked in. Nino raised his head, eyeing the guy who was looking around suspiciously. “We’re not open yet,” he called out to draw his attention.

The tall man’s eyes found him and a smile formed on his lips. “Hello!” he greeted Nino cheerfully before walking towards Nino. His tone was excited for some reasons that Nino couldn’t understand. “My name is Aiba Masaki!” the man introduced himself when he stopped in front of Nino. “I’m the new bartender,” he added, bowing respectfully.

“Oh,” Nino nodded, immediately remembering what Ohno had said about the man. He seems nice. Bright, on that matter. Actually, he’s probably the opposite of you.

Well, he certainly looked bright and the opposite of Nino. Not that he was going to voice that out. “Nice to meet you, too,” Nino said, not letting the silence fill in the place. “My name is Ninomiya Kazunari, and I’ll be showing you around and do what a senpai does in general.” He shrugged.

“Nice to meet you, Ninomiya-san! I’m looking forward to working with you!” Aiba said offering another bright-as-sun smile to Nino. Nino arched an eyebrow. Bright is definitely the right adjective to use for Aiba.

“Well then,” Nino said as he hopped off the stool. “Let’s get you settled and I’ll brief you about what kind of place Monochrome is before we open up for the night.” Nino motioned for Aiba to follow him.

They walked to the stairs, going up to the office which Aiba probably hasn’t been to. “So this is the office of our boss,” Nino said before he knocked on the door and waited patiently. He didn’t want their new employee to witness an ‘accident’ on the first day. However, what he had been afraid of never came true as they immediately heard Ohno’s steady voice clearing them to come in.

Nino opened the door. “Our new guy is here,” he announced Aiba’s presence to them before turning to Aiba. “This is Ohno Satoshi, our boss, but I assume you already know him.”

Aiba nodded. “It has been a while, Ohno-san,” he greeted Ohno respectfully. Nino tried to keep himself from grinning. Then his eyes met with Sho. They were both betting on how long this new guy will call Ohno Satoshi as Ohno-san. Sho showed two fingers and a sign which meant “week” between them. So, Sho was betting that Aiba would drop the formality in two weeks. Nino tilted his head before motioning, only a week. Then he cleared his throat and continued.

“And this is Sakurai Sho, I assume this is your first time you’re meeting him. He’s our accountant slash singer,” slash our boss’ boyfriend, Nino wanted to add but decided against it as it wasn't the time for that. “He’s the guy who keeps us from going bankrupt and we take turns with the singing since we don’t have the budget to hire a singer. And yeah, we don’t have too much space which is why our accountant is working here too,” he summarized as best as he can.

It was then when Sho stood up and performed a proper bow towards Aiba. “Pleasure to meet you Aiba-san, I’m looking forward to working with you.”

Aiba bowed too. “The pleasure is mine. I’ll do my best,” he answered, finishing his sentence with the bright smile that Nino was now sure that it was his trademark.

Nino tapped Aiba’s shoulder, leading him out of the office towards the opposite door. “This is the staff room,” Nino said as he led Aiba inside. He walked towards the lockers and pointed out the fourth one which stood closer to the wall. “This will be your locker, you can leave all your stuff here. The key is on it, you can use it however you’d like,” Nino added. “This room is usually hot as hell, which I bet you noticed, and the air-conditioning is terrible too. It’s currently broken so let’s hope that your beginner luck will send us a repairman soon,” Nino explained.

“It certainly is hot,” Aiba commented.

“It’s Oh-chan’s fault,” Nino clucked his tongue. “He’s the one who got the cheapest air-conditioner out there.”

Aiba chuckled. “How long have you been working here, Ninomiya-san?”

“Since the first day,” Nino smiled cheekily.

Aiba’s eyes widened. “Wow,” he let out. “That’s longer than I expected. You look young,” he commented.

Nino let out a hearty laugh. “I’m thirty-five,” he informed Aiba.

“You certainly don’t look like one,” Aiba said with a low chuckle.

“I’ve been told so,” Nino said as his lips curled up to a cheeky grin. “So, let me explain who I am then,” he started explaining when he realized that he never explained what his job is to Aiba. “I’m the bartender slash singer. And people around here like to call me as the magician."

Aiba looked confused. “The magician?”

Nino shrugged. “It was Oh-chan who started that, you should have him explain.”

“Oh, okay,” Aiba nodded, still slightly confused but he looked like he made a mental note to ask Ohno about that nevertheless.

“Now, Aiba-san, tell me, why do you want to work here?” Nino asked, tone suddenly serious.

Aiba shrugged. “I just got back from Paris,” he informed Nino. “I have been doing my best to be a first-class bartender but failed on the way,” he said grimly. “And Ohno-san was nice enough to see me through mixing some cocktails.”

Nino hummed. It wasn’t a weird history. And Aiba seemed nice enough. “Well,” he started as he studied Aiba’s form from head to toe before he held out his hand. “Welcome to Monochrome, Aiba-san!”

Aiba showed the brightest of smiles that he has shown Nino that night as he shook Nino’s hand. “I’ll work hard, Ninomiya-san!”

“Just call me Nino,” Nino grinned. “Everyone does so.”

Aiba nodded before Nino leaned towards him. “By the way,” he whispered. “Our boss is sleeping with our accountant, so be careful when going into the rooms here,” he threw a wink towards Aiba who looked at Nino with wide eyes before giggling uncontrollably.

It seemed Aiba liked to gossip. Good thing that now Nino wasn’t alone.

 

 

***

 

The Friday night of Monochrome was usually where Nino stole the spotlights. However, that Friday was an exception since he was supposed to watch over Aiba.

To Nino’s most pleasant surprise, Aiba knew what he was doing with the cocktails and he looked really charming in the bartender outfit. Nino, of course, was wearing something different than what Aiba was wearing. But that didn’t matter because everyone in the Monochrome knew who Nino was.

"I thought today you were going to sing!" An eye-catching, beautiful woman whose name was Satomi said as she leaned towards the counter when Nino was placing her drink in front of her.

Nino offered an apologetic smile to her. "I'm sorry, Satomi-chan, we have a new recruit here," he said, inclining his head towards Aiba. "So not today."

Satomi's eyes turned towards Aiba. "I see you guys scored another eye candy," she said with a knowing smile.

Nino just smiled before looking at Aiba who was cheerfully talking to some regulars. “He’s good,” he commented.

“Not as good as you,” Satomi said sweetly. “You’re my number one if I were to choose a boyfriend from Monochrome,” she winked playfully.

Nino threw his head back and laughed out loud.

“You’ll be singing tomorrow?” She asked.

“Yeah,” Nino answered. “He’s capable enough so there’s no need for me to watch over him tomorrow.”

“Good,” Satomi said approvingly. “I’ll come tomorrow too then.”

“Thank you for always keeping us in your favor,” Nino bowed slightly, amused and happy. Satomi was one of his favorite regular customers, she was fun to talk to. She had been coming to Monochrome for a long time already and she had always claimed Nino as her favorite, which never failed to amuse Nino. He excused himself again before moving to another customer who was waiting for a renewal of his drink.

As he talked to customers, Nino didn’t neglect to check on Aiba too. He seemed fine and Nino’s regulars seemed like they were pleased too. Satomi showed a thumb up when Aiba served a cocktail for her and Nino felt relieved.

Usually, Nino was the one who did the main job to charm the customers but it seemed like he wasn’t alone in this anymore as Aiba was effortlessly charming their customers. He was a natural, Nino realized. It didn’t take him long to realize that his smile was probably Aiba’s biggest weapon and yet, the person himself probably wasn’t aware of it.

So Nino let him be. If there was no reason for him to pry, then he wouldn’t really need to tire himself. Now that he realized that Aiba didn’t really require much attention, he wished he hadn’t given the Friday night to Sho.

Just at that moment, the lights of the stage were dimmed and Sho walked towards the piano confidently bowed to the crowd and sat down to the stool that had already been adjusted. Soon he was playing a melody that softly filled Monochrome, making all eyes turning to him.

Sho was an awesome performer, Nino knew that. It was just by coincidence that they discovered Sho could sing and play. Sho had been working in the Monochrome for four years and around the time he started working there, Nino ended up catching a cold. He was hardly able to stand let alone playing the piano and singing. They had Chinen at that time to take care of the counter but they had needed a pianist. While he and Ohno were panicking that they need to find someone to play the piano so that Ohno could sing, Sho volunteered to play. That night, Ohno sang and Sho played the piano, and Nino was sure that Sho had had a crush Ohno since then.

Their relationship didn’t stay as mere crushes and Nino secretly felt disheartened since he had no one to gamble on how long it would have taken for them to get together.

Sho started singing regularly not long after and thanks to that, Monochrome had live music every day. He even had some loyal fans that come to listen to him when it’s his day to perform.

They had come a long way, really. But they still had a long way to go.

The whole place was listening Sho’s first piece intently when someone came inside and walked towards the bar with slouched shoulders. Nino eyed the person carefully. It was definitely his first time coming here.

When the new guy sat down one of the stools, he maneuvered from where he was standing to stop Aiba and told him that he would handle this one.

Nino put his best face up as he stood before the man. Nino’s first impression on the man was that he was simply breathtaking. Nino had seen numerous of handsome guys and beautiful girls in his life, thanks to working at Monochrome. But he never came across someone like this. He was… beautiful. That was the only adjective that he could come up with to describe the man’s beauty. But he was also tired. He looked utterly tired.

"Good evening," Nino greeted the man with a soft smile. "Welcome to Monochrome."

"Um… good evening?" the man sounded surprised. Unlike normal bars, Nino had a habit of striking a conversation with his customers which gave them a unique impression. And he simply liked being unique.

"This is your first time coming to Monochrome, right?" Nino asked curiously.

"Uh, yeah?"

"Thought so," Nino chuckled. "I would remember that handsome face if you had come before." The guy blinked with surprise until Nino continued. "You see, compared to the other bars, we tend to talk to our customers," he explained. "Otherwise how would we know if they liked Monochrome or not?"

The man tilted his head. "If they come again, wouldn’t that mean they enjoyed their time here?"

"If they come again, that is," Nino confirmed. "But what if they don't come again?"

"So you're here to make sure that they come again?" The man asked with a smile.

Nino smirked. "You're catching up!" then he leaned onto the counter, a bit closer to the man's personal space. The man arched an eyebrow to Nino's brave movement but didn't say anything nor did he back away. "So, dear customer, what would you like for a starter?"

The man leaned towards Nino slightly before crossing his arms in front of his chest. "If you're as good as you're claiming, give me something you see fitting."

Nino arched an eyebrow. The man was challenging him. And Nino loved challenges. "As you wish, sir," he said with a slight bow of his head before shuffling behind the counter efficiently. He knew what to make for this gorgeous man.

A few moments later, Nino slid a glass of Manhattan towards the man. The man arched an eyebrow before asking, "Manhattan?"

Nino nodded.

"Why?"

Nino tilted his head, offering a cheeky smirk. "You look like someone who loves New York," Nino said. The man looked like he was slightly taken aback by Nino's claim, simply staring at him in question. "This," Nino inclined his head towards the cocktail, "epitomizes elegance, offering a simple special balance of herb and grain, spice and fruit," then he lowered his voice and leaned towards the man to finish his words, "...purr and bite."

Nino backed away after a beat of silence, enjoying the stunned expression on the man's face. If the man wasn't impressed, he swore to himself that he would throw ten years of experience away.

"How did you know?" the man asked curiously.

"How did I know what?" Nino asked back sweetly.

"That I like New York," the man said, his eyes shining despite the dim lighting.

"Lucky guess," Nino shrugged, not wanting to reveal his hands.

"That's not true, and we both know that," the man challenged.

Nino chuckled. "You are smart."

"And?"

"Your clothes and your accessories are screaming fashion with capital letters. I just took a bet on that. I think you would love to see New York Fashion Week," Nino replied to him.

The man's eyes widened before he let out a soft laugh that mingled perfectly with the melody that Sho was singing.

"You're interesting," he commented. "What are you? Sherlock Holmes?"

"People call me the magician," Nino told him.

"The magician… does the magician have a name?" the man asked, looking at Nino with a charming smile.

Nino chuckled. "Call me Nino," he answered. "Everyone does so," he added just like he told Aiba.

The man nodded. "Nino," he repeated his name as if he was trying to hear how it would roll on his tongue.

"And you?" Nino asked. "Won't you present yourself even after I dutifully introduced myself?"

The man let out a hearty laugh this time. "You're really interesting," he said, clearly amused. "My name is Matsumoto Jun."

Nino nodded approvingly. "Matsumoto Jun, the man who likes New York," he confirmed. "Your nickname must be MJ then," Nino commented, equally charmed.

Jun smirked. "Sadly, my nickname is Matsujun."

"That's a pity!" Nino said overly dramatic. "You could be Japan's MJ!"

That made Jun laugh again. "You're the first person who thought of that kind of nickname."

"I’m going to take that as a compliment," Nino stated.

Jun giggled. "Yeah… Yeah, please take that as a compliment," Jun said between his giggles.

Nino smiled just when someone who was sitting at the opposite side of the counter called out for him. “Well then, duties are calling me now,” he said but didn’t leave before saying his usual last words. “But I’d like to see you again, Matsumoto-san,” he offered a gentle smile one last time before attending to his other customers.

 

***

 

They closed the bar after the last customer left slightly drunk but with a huge smile. The time was reaching five in the morning and Nino felt sore from attending too many customers. Fridays were always as busy as the weekends and he was aware that tomorrow was going to be busier. Nino liked working in Monochrome though, so the workload has never become a problem.

Ohno and Nino had been childhood friends since they were in junior high and Nino had been the first person Ohno had called when he established Monochrome. The original plan had been to open a jazz bar, but no matter how talented Nino was in singing, he hadn’t been trained as a jazz singer. So they opted to make it a bar with live music.

At first, they were the only ones in the Monochrome. They had a few other employees that were now their regular customer. Matsuoka-san was their first bartender who then ended up going back to Sapporo to take care of his old parents. He still came to visit whenever he could and it was always pleasant.

Their second employee, a woman named Haru. She was… just like Ohno, if Nino had to compare. They were both silent in nature but working with her was nice. She left when she got married. She still came to visit with her husband from time to time.

But mainly, it was Ohno and him who did nearly all the work. Nino remembered those times as the busiest. Ohno would cover the bar when Nino was singing and Nino would do the accounting as best as he could until Sho came.

Sakurai Sho was a decent guy with a decent background. Why he wanted to work in Monochrome had been a mystery to Nino and he didn’t really pry on his private matters until Sho told them himself one day.

His mother, who had been the only support in his life was ill and he needed more money to support himself and cover the hospital bill, which led him to have two jobs. It was Ohno’s sweet nature that saved Sho from collapsing since he reduced his work hours but didn’t reduce the money so that he could get some rest. Ohno was a good boss, he didn’t care about the working hours as long as the job was done decently.

It took two years for Sho’s mother to get better and by the time she did, Sho was already an irreplaceable member of Monochrome. Partly because he was now Ohno’s boyfriend but mostly because he was also talented. And when Sho decided to stay in Monochrome, both Ohno and Nino were overjoyed.

So that led to them working as three until now, but Nino had a feeling that Aiba would be a permanent member of Monochrome. From the way he was working, Nino could tell that the guy was proper and fun to work with.

Ten years in Monochrome, and not once did he feel bored working here. He had felt tired, overwhelmed, and troubled many times and he had no intention to deny that he was never bored. He simply liked working in Monochrome.

When Nino reached home that night, he was tired but excited for tomorrow since it was his day to sing. They already had a good amount of regular customers that came to Monochrome to listen to him on Saturdays and now that he knew that Aiba was competent enough, there was no need for him to stay behind to watch him.

He forwent his usual gaming session for the sake of the rest he needed for the next night. While feeling the usual excitement of being on the stage wrapped his mind, he let sleep claim him.

 

***

 

It was crowded. The board in front of the Monochrome had his own name for tonight's singer. The grand piano was sitting on the small stage, calling and waiting for Nino. His fingertips were tingling with the sweet excitement as he looked at the stage from where he was waiting.

This is what his calling was, Nino thought while never taking his eyes away from the grand piano. He remembered the time when the conservatory teachers thought that Nino’s talent wasn’t enough to enroll into their college. He’s reminded of that feeling of failure every time he faced the piano. But he has never been able to give up on music. He was rotting in the dull office job when Ohno found him and offered him this life. A piano, a stage, and a place that he belonged to. He had his own doubts but when he first stood on the small but rewarding stage of Monochrome, he knew that this was his calling.

And he hadn’t regretted his choice ever since.

From the office, Ohno dimmed the lights to emphasize the light of the stage. That was Nino’s cue as he started to walk up the stage. The bar going silent with each step that he took. He loved this thrill. He stood in the center and bowed. He then smiled as he sat down on the adjusted chair and took a deep breath. He placed his fingers on the black and white tiles of the piano and allowed a minute of silence before starting to play a mellow, soft melody that resounded in the bar. His performance was different from Sho’s which didn’t come as a surprise since he wasn’t Sho.

At one point in his life, Sho had a proper education on piano. He’d had piano classes meanwhile Nino never had one. His piano was more experimental. That made everything unique since Nino never used sheets, unlike Sho. He just played whatever felt right at that moment, whatever his fingers led him to play. And he’d get lost meanwhile. He would forget the world around him and play for hours until it’s time to stop.

Nino would start singing after playing a few melodies to warm up the atmosphere and when he started singing, all eyes turned to him.

They said his piano was addictive. And that his singing was captivating.

Ohno said that this was the reason why he called Nino Monochrome’s magician. He said that Nino could add colors to their black and white lives. That’s why he was the magician.

Nino sang until his throat was dry and his vocal cords were hurting. It was nearing midnight, time to finish his stage. With one last song, he tied the closing. He got up from his seat when the biggest of applause erupted and he stood in front of the piano and bowed elegantly. The way sweat dripped from his face, the heat enveloping him, the sound of the cheers… Ah, Nino loved this.

He had the brightest of the smiles he could ever have as he got off the stage, heading towards the staff room to change his stage costume which was just a white v-neck t-shirt and jeans.

Another successful night, Nino thought, feeling pleasantly sore.

It took him half an hour to get his adrenaline down and go back to the bar. There, Satomi greeted him with a wide smile.

“You were awesome as always!” she said, her eyes sparkling.

“Thanks, Satomi-chan,” Nino replied with a sheepish grin.

“You charmed everyone again,” Satomi said dreamily. “How do you do it anyway?”

“That’s a trade secret,” Nino said with a serious expression, making Satomi laugh.

“Dear Lord,” she huffed between her laughter. “You’re annoying. Why does everyone love you?”

Nino smirked. “That answer relies on you,” he winked before moving to other customers.

Some of them congratulated him for delivering an awesome performance, while some of them relayed their impressions of him. It was a normal night until Nino stopped in front of one particular customer. Nino remembered him immediately. Matsumoto Jun.

“You came again,” Nino stated in happiness when he stopped in front of him.

“I did,” Jun answered, his expression hard to read.

Nino tilted his head and offered a knowing smile. “I guess now I know that you liked Monochrome.”

Jun mirrored him. “And I think now I know why you’re called as the magician.”

Nino blinked. “Oh, really?”

“Really,” Jun said, he licked his lips in a way that made Nino think that it was on purpose. “I liked it.”

“You liked it?”

“Yes,” Jun answered calmly. “You’re charming when you’re here, in front of me, but you’re stunning up there,” he said, pointing at the stage.

Nino smiled. “Thank you for the compliment,” he said genuinely.

“Any time,” Jun raised his glass towards him. He was drinking red wine tonight.

“Not a cocktail?” Nino asked.

Jun chuckled. “Yeah, I’m more of a wine person.”

Nino touched his chin. “I’ll remember that,” he said and added, “for next time, of course.”

Jun smiled. “Next time,” he confirmed.

Nino loved next times.

 

***

 

That promised ‘next time’ chased one after another and now there was no denying that Matsumoto Jun had become a regular customer of Monochrome.

Of course, he didn’t come every night. But he never missed the nights when Nino was on stage. Everyone noticed that and somehow it felt weird to be the one who got teased in Monochrome. Nino was so used to being the teaser and he hated that cheesy grin on Aiba’s face and the knowing smile on Ohno and Sho’s face. Damn, even Satomi started to tease him after seeing Jun every night watching Nino so intently.

However, Nino couldn’t say that he didn’t like Jun’s presence.

The truth was actually the opposite. Nino liked having Jun listen to him very much. It wasn’t the first time that Nino had someone who came to listen to him on a regular basis, but Jun felt different somehow.

Nino never felt the need to impress someone when he’s playing but now, knowing that Jun was there, watching him, made Nino want to impress him.

“Come on! You like him!” Satomi said, eyes gleaming with joy. “It’s obvious that you want to impress him! And you never try to impress anyone!”

“That’s not true,” Nino said arching an eyebrow. “Charming people is my job, in other words, impressing people is my job.”

Satomi gave him a look. The kind that Nino didn’t like. But before he could say anything, Aiba joined in the conversation. “It’s because you’re being overly charming,” Aiba commented. “You have this killer smile on your face whenever you’re speaking to him.”

“Oh, shut up, Aiba-shi,” Nino groaned. “I don’t have a killer smile whatsoever.”

“He does, doesn’t he?” Aiba asked Satomi while placing her drink on the counter.

“He totally does,” Satomi said with an approving nod.

Nino rolled his eyes. “Don’t you have anything better to do other than gossiping?”

Satomi smiled sweetly. “I don’t.”

“And I’m doing my job,” Aiba answered.

Nino sighed. “Aiba-shi, go and make some cocktails,” Nino ordered.

Aiba pouted. “Spoilsport,” he commented before leaving an annoyed Nino and a giggling Satomi together.

“You’re so cute when you’re embarrassed, you know that, Nino?” Satomi said between her giggles.

Nino rolled his eyes again. Then he took out his playing cards from the pockets of his trousers.

“Just shut up and pick a card,” Nino said as he started shuffling his cards smoothly. Satomi looked at him with a confused frown marring her beautiful face.

“Eh?”

“Stop me wherever you like,” he said not really minding Satomi’s confusion with this huge Cheshire-like grin on his face.

“Stop!” Satomi said as she leaned towards Nino curiously.

“Okay,” Nino said calmly, extending the card towards Satomi. “Look at the card and memorize it, but don’t tell me what it is.”

Satomi took the card, looked at it intently until Nino spoke again. “And now place it into the deck again,” he instructed.

“Anywhere is fine?”

“Anywhere you like,” he reassured Satomi.

Satomi carefully pushed the card back into the deck. Nino hummed and showed the card Satomi again. “This is the card you choose right?”

“Right,” Satomi approved, she already had sparkles in her eyes.

“Okay,” he said before starting to shuffle the deck again. “Now, I’ll find that card,” he stole a glance to Satomi. She was already lost in the trick. “Don’t you think it would be awesome if the card you chose comes forward when I snap my finger once?” he asked Satomi.

“It would!” Satomi said, excited to see Nino’s trick.

Then Nino stopped shuffling and snapped his finger once. The sound was lost against the crowded bar but it had the effect he was aiming for anyway. “Here,” he said calmly as he turned the card on the top and Satomi let out a smitten gasp.

“That’s awesome!” She exclaimed.

“It was the Queen of Diamonds, right?”

Satomi nodded, her eyes wide with surprise and Nino smirked, before bowing to Satomi like a good entertainer.

“Oh my, Nino, that was awesome!” She exclaimed. “I’ve been coming to this bar for years already! How come this is the first time I see this?!”

Nino tilted his head as he stuffed the deck to his pockets again. “I wouldn’t want to bore you so soon, you see.”

“That’s not an excuse!” She protested.

However, Nino only offered her a knowing smile before leaving her alone to attend to other customers. That was the moment his eyes met with one certain person whom Nino was expecting the least.

Nino blinked, taken aback by surprise to see Jun sitting at a dark corner of the counter, a glass of whiskey in front of him. He was looking at Nino intently. Nino licked his lips unconsciously. Today is Monday, he thought distractedly. Jun never came on Mondays. He had been coming to Monochrome for six months already, but never once he came to Monochrome on Monday because Nino never played on Mondays.

Nino knew. Because Jun had said so.

But there he was, his shoulders were slumped in a way Nino has never seen him before and clearly tired. Nino didn’t know how he should feel about seeing him there like that. However, somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that he was actually happy to see him there.

His train of thoughts was interrupted by Aiba. “He came a few minutes ago,” he said. “I thought he would wait for you to order but he asked for whiskey.”

Nino hummed. “Can you take care of the rest?”

Aiba nodded with the stupid grin that Nino hated on his face. “Leave it to me,” he said confidently. Nino heaved a sigh before walking towards Jun.

“You never manage to fail me,” Jun started talking the moment Nino was close enough to hear.

“About what?” Nino asked.

“One day, I came here in search of a strong drink,” he raised his glass towards Nino before continuing, “And I found a brat who knew how to talk his way into his customers’ heart instead. The next time I came here, I found a flawless, breathtaking musician on the stage, who didn’t have any fear of the eyes that were focused on him,” he took a breath before continuing. “And when I thought nothing about you can surprise me anymore, I witnessed you using your magic,” Jun slurred. Nino could clearly see that he’s already slightly drunk.

Nino chuckled. “Are you drunk already?”

Jun hummed. “Maybe…” he admitted. “I went to another place before coming here.”

Nino frowned. “Why?”

Now it was Jun’s turn to chuckle. “I wonder why,” he said, mostly to himself. “I don’t know why, but I had this unbridled need to see you.”

Nino felt his face heating up with Jun’s words. “You’re drunk,” Nino commented instead.

Jun leaned towards the counter. “Fortunately…” he said, his voice low but Nino could hear him no matter how loud their surroundings were. “Because if I weren’t, I wouldn’t know how I would say all these without feeling stupid,” he said as he downed his whiskey in one go.

Nino arched an eyebrow. “Did something happened?”

Jun laughed, his voice bearing no humor. “Am I that transparent?”

“It’s not like you to drink like this,” Nino commented.

“Like what?” Jun asked curiously.

“Like you want to knock yourself out.”

“That’s because I do want to knock myself out, dear magician,” Jun answered truthfully. “Maybe that would help me.”

“Tell me what happened,” Nino demanded.

“It will solve nothing,” Jun spoke reluctantly.

“But it will clear a lot for me,” Nino shot back.

Jun took a deep breath. “Only if you give me another glass of this.”

“I will not,” He denied Jun’s request immediately. “I need you sober enough to pay your bill.”

“Such a cheapskate,” Jun pouted.

Nino rolled his eyes.“It’s called the business.

Jun heaved a sigh. “You see, I’m working in this one famous fashion magazine as an editor,” he started talking. “But I’m not doing well. I haven’t been. They had warned me that at this rate my column would get canceled…” his voice trailed off and Nino understood what Jun wanted to tell.

A moment of silence fell between them, with Jun’s eyes focused somewhere far away as Nino watched him intently. Nino had no idea about fashion. He didn’t even care what he wore as long as they weren’t too damaged and he wasn’t an editor. Hell, he had no idea what an editor does in a fashion magazine. He had no idea what kind of comfort he could offer Jun…

Then his hands moved on their own as if Nino had no control over his own body and he stroked Jun’s head. Jun jumped because of the sudden contact and looked at Nino with wide, surprised eyes. Nino didn’t say anything. None of the words he would offer would make Jun feel better at this point. Nino had nothing to offer him from the beginning, but this much was allowed, right?

“Nino…” Jun whispered.

“You worked hard,” he said softly.“You’ve worked hard, Jun-kun.” He repeated.

“Apparently it wasn’t hard enough,” Jun murmured weakly.

Nino just continued to caress Jun’s hair. He was probably messing with the perfect way Jun had styled them but neither of them cared at that moment. “It’ll be fine, Jun-kun…”

“I feel like I could believe that when you’re the one who is saying those words,” Jun commented. “Is that your magic again?”

“My magic only works on those who believe it,” Nino told him.

“Will you make me believe, then?” Jun asked hesitantly.

“Haven’t I already?”

Jun answered to him by leaning forward and planting a quick kiss to the corner of Nino’s mouth.

Nino inhaled sharply, Jun backed away quickly before anyone can realize what they were doing. It was only a moment, it lasted only for a few milliseconds but it was enough for Nino to feel the flames all over him.

“You did…” Jun whispered, his eyes looking sober enough to Nino. “You have made me believe,” he closed his eyes. “And it’s so hard to stay away from you,” he added. Nino gulped at the subtle way of Jun’s confession.

“You should go home,” Nino contented himself. “Come on, I’ll help you haul a taxi,” he added quickly turning away from Jun to leave the counter.

He told Aiba that he was going to help Jun out and left before he could question anything. He only managed to realize that Satomi had already left and the place seemed somewhat emptier.

Nino called a taxi while Jun paid his bill. After that, Nino escorted him out, only to trap him on the first dark corner where no one was around to crush their lips into a heated, messy kiss. Nino placed his hands around Jun’s nape, pulling him down towards himself almost forcefully. Jun didn’t protest as he let Nino claim his lips just as he liked. It was rough, with some teeth crashing included. Jun placed his hands around Nino’s waist, pressing himself closer to the petite guy and moaning towards the soft lips of Nino’s.

Nino pulled the strands of the hair around Jun’s nape before parting for a moment to let a small bit of oxygen into his lungs, before surging forward to continue kissing Jun’s full lips. He could taste the whiskey that Jun was drinking mixed with Jun’s own unique taste.

Nino bit Jun’s lower lip, not showing any mercy and simply claiming whatever Jun was willing to give him. Jun just let him take whatever he wanted until they had to part due to the need for oxygen.

Nino’s body was still pressed against Jun as they panted, out of breath.

“Your taxi is here,” Nino managed to say.

“I know.”

“You should go.”

“I know that too.”

“But you will come again?”

“I will,” Jun answered, resting his forehead against Nino’s. “You know that I will.”

Nino smirked. “Good,” his voice clearly showing his satisfaction. “Now, go. And come back to me.”

 

***

 

The next few weeks were spent with Nino and Jun sharing secret kisses here and there. Every single one of those kisses got more addictive than the previous one and yet, Nino didn’t know how to feel about all these.

He liked having smart conversations with Jun whenever he came to Monochrome for a drink or to watch Nino. He liked kissing Jun. He liked it when Jun’s skilled hands sneaked under his shirt. He liked all of those maybe more than he wanted to admit himself. Jun felt like a dangerous zone. He made Nino feel like once he fell for him, he wouldn’t be able to recover from it.

However, as much as he was afraid of that, it was impossible to stay away from Jun. Maybe a part of Nino didn’t want to stay away from him or he was simply getting addicted to this unknown relationship.

But for now, he decided not to think about it. Not when Jun’s sinful lips were tracing a wet line down to his neck. Nino’s back was pressed against the wall of a small stall in the bathroom, quick breaths leaving between his swollen lips. He moaned when Jun’s knee came into contact between his legs. He was afraid someone was going to hear them but thankfully Jun was a quick thinker as he sealed Nino’s lips with his own, swallowing the sounds Nino made.

His lungs were screaming when they finally parted. “Stop,” Nino managed to whisper as Jun let him a few moments to respire.

Jun nipped his neck as an answer, his hands touching various places, setting Nino on fire.

“I said stop,” Nino said with a lustful moan. Even he was aware that it didn’t sound convincing enough. “I don’t have enough time,” he rasped when Jun bit his earlobe.

“What about after this?” Jun asked.

“You have to go to work,” Nino tried to reason.

“Not until noon.”

“Wha-?” Nino tried to ask but he couldn’t utter a word when the door of the bathroom opened.

“Nino, we need you on the bar,” Ohno’s voice echoed in the bathroom. “Aiba is having trouble with all the orders.”

Nino closed his eyes and tried to steady his voice for a second before answering. “Coming,” he told Ohno.

Ohno didn’t answer and Nino waited to hear the bathroom door closing. “I gotta go,” he said as he pushed Jun back.

But Jun didn’t let him go before stealing another kiss and Nino simply let him. “You’re addicting,” Jun said when they finally parted.

Nino smirked. “I can see it clearly from your expression.” A blush crept up Jun’s face but Nino decided not to comment on that for the sake of fixing his appearance. He fixed his shirt and his hair and looked at himself one last time before going out of the bathroom hurriedly.

Ohno was waiting for him just in front of the bathroom. Nino stopped dead in his tracks. “Oh-chan…”

“Nino…” Ohno heaved a sigh. “I know we’re friends and that you’ve been working here for ten years, but if you could please stop making out with one of our customers during working hours that would be a great help.”

Nino averted his gaze. “I’m sorry…” he mumbled.

“I am your friend,” Ohno started. “But I’m also your boss, so please be careful about that,” he added before turning on his heels and leaving Nino standing there.

 

***

 

That night, Nino served the customers with his usual charming smile. However, he didn’t face Jun even once. Jun tried to catch his eyes, and speak a few times but Nino was either serving another customer or ignoring Jun entirely. That night, Jun went back confused and defeated.

This all was just too familiar, he couldn’t help but notice. It was almost that time when he had been deeply in love with one of his colleagues when he still had been working in that boring office job.

He messed up again, just like that time. Okay, this time he didn’t mess up that much but still, he was so lost in this thing he had with Jun so he neglected his duties for… what? He felt a pang in his heart. He didn’t know what they were. He didn’t know what he meant to Jun.

Nino couldn’t help but remember his past relationship… That time when he was nothing but a friend-with-benefits. And how everything went awkward and suffocating when Nino wanted to be more than just a one-night-stand. It was always Nino who wanted more and who ended up losing everything.

So when Ohno offered this place in Monochrome to Nino, he just left everything behind and he swore to himself that he would never repeat that kind of mistake again. He just… didn’t want to risk his life for someone who wouldn’t be able to give Nino what he wanted.

He was wiping the counter when Aiba’s voice interrupted his train of thoughts. “You seem lost.”

Nino arched an eyebrow. “I’m not,” he denied immediately.

However, Aiba didn’t seem to buy that. “Is it about Matsumoto Jun?” he asked softly.

Nino chose to stay silent at that.

“Is it?” Aiba insisted.

“It’s not,” Nino denied again firmly.

Aiba smiled gently. “Come on, let’s have a drink,” he pushed Nino out of the bar, indicating him to sit down on a stool.

Nino threw him an annoyed glance. “Since when do we drink in the bar that we are working at?”

Aiba shrugged. “Oh-chan didn’t say that we couldn’t.”

Nino looked away and pouted. “So what? Are you going to give me a cocktail to heal my heart or something?”

Aiba looked at him, confused. “Why should I do that?” he asked as he placed a glass of cold beer. “You’re not heartbroken or anything, Nino-chan,” Aiba said knowingly. “You’re just being block-headed, that’s it.”

Nino narrowed his eyes at him but deep down he knew that Aiba was right.

“So,” Aiba started once again. “You like him, right?”

Nino let himself think for a moment, however, the answer that was threatening to come out of his mouth scared Nino.

“You like him,” Aiba voiced out for him.

Nino looked away. “I don’t,” he denied for the third time that night, his voice coming out weak.

Aiba patted his head. “What’s the problem, Nino-chan?” he asked gently.

Nino took a deep breath, contemplating if he should really talk to Aiba. But then again, he had no one else to talk to, since well, he kind of made Ohno angry.

“He’s a customer…” Nino mumbled.

“And?”

“And… well… He’s a customer,” he was unable to explain in a better way. “And I don’t date our customers. It would be so unprofessional,” he grimaced.

“You don’t date our customers but it’s okay to make out with them in the bathroom?” Aiba asked. That made Nino blush. “See?” Aiba said knowingly.

“But I don’t…” Nino licked his dry lips before continuing. “I don’t know if he…” he struggled.

“You are not sure if he likes you or not?” Aiba blinked with surprise.

Nino only nodded. He felt small under Aiba’s gaze but that was the truth. Nino wasn’t sure if Jun actually liked him and that was scaring him. The insecurity was too much to bear. Normally, he wouldn’t care. He would take whatever he could from the other party, be it a fling or just a one night stand. But there was something about Jun that made Nino want more and he was afraid of that.

Aiba chuckled when Nino didn’t say anything. “I’ve been here for months and I’ve seen you charming everyone without even putting out an effort,” Aiba commented. “You are always so sure of what you’re doing! But here you are, so insecure about whether he likes you or not!”

Nino bit his lower lip.

“You really like him, don’t you?” Aiba asked, his eyes gleaming with understanding.

Nino lowered his head before giving a firm nod. “And I don’t want to ruin it…”

“Ruin what?”

Myself, Nino wanted to say but he contented himself with a small shrug.

“Nino-chan,” Aiba started, his voice soft and soothing but Nino was still scared of what he’d tell him next. “Sometimes you have to let your heart break if you really love that person.”

Nino only looked at him, not being able to say anything. A storm of emotions was raging behind Aiba’s eyes and Nino understood that those words were the answer that Aiba struggled to reach.

“If he returns your feelings,” Aiba continued gently. “That will be awesome and you will think how stupid you were for worrying for all these. But if he doesn’t return your feelings, then I’ll be here to prepare a cocktail to heal your broken heart,” he patted Nino’s head like a big brother which miraculously soothed Nino’s worries.

 

***

 

After that one night, everything seemed to fall back to the previous rhythm in Monochrome. Ohno hadn’t said anything more about the incident and had been acting as if nothing happened. The only thing that changed was Nino’s opinion about Aiba. Until that night, he had always thought that Aiba was a clumsy man with too much energy loaded into him. But it turned out that he was more like the older brother that Nino never had. A clumsy one who often needed Nino to look after him, but an older brother nonetheless.

Sho also hadn’t said or implied anything even though Nino was sure that he knew what was going on because well, he was that close to Ohno. Nino had expected them tease him more since that was what he had done after he had walked into their office ‘accidentally’. But no, everyone had been acting like an adult so far.

Jun also continued coming to Monochrome regularly. However, Nino had been deliberately avoiding to attend to him since he still wasn’t sure what to do or what to say to Jun. Nino simply let Aiba attend to him while he continued to entertain the other customers. He could feel Jun’s eyes following his every movement but he couldn’t quite face him. Instead, he would look at Jun whenever he’s not looking. He looked paler than before, Nino observed. Slightly thin and terribly dark circles, obviously caused by exhaustion under his eyes. He was worried about Jun but his own hesitation kept him from going to Jun.

Nino wanted to do as Aiba told him. He really wanted. But wanting it and actually doing it was completely different. He felt stupid for acting like this but he couldn’t help it. He was going to be thirty-six in a few weeks! Why the hell was he acting like a high school student who’s helplessly in love?! But nothing seemed to change the way he was acting. He felt like a coward and all he could do was to do was scolding himself for not being braver…

Nino snapped out of his thoughts when the lights went off. It was Friday, Nino’s scheduled night on stage. He felt anxious, not just because of the usual thrill he had felt before going up the stage but also knowing that Jun would be there watching him. Those nights where Nino was singing were the most difficult ones for him. He felt so naked under Jun’s gaze but despite that, he never avoided the stage.

He walked towards the shiny grand piano and he bowed to the audience. His eyes scanned the crowd just to get a glimpse of Jun, quickly looking at every face. His blood went cold when he couldn't find him. Because Jun wasn’t there.

Jun wasn’t there.

 

***

 

Nino sat down on one of the small stools in the staff room, sweating profoundly because the damn air-conditioning stopped working again. He should change his sweaty clothes and head down to the bar, but he didn’t really feel like it.

He was thinking about Jun. What if something happened? What if he was fed up with Nino’s petty behavior? What if he found someone else, someone better than Nino? What if…

The questions were looping inside his head when the door slowly opened and Sho slid inside the room. Nino looked at him and sighed.

“I’m coming now,” he said before Sho could say anything.

Sho hummed and walked towards Nino to sit down next to him. “I’m not here for that,” he told Nino gently. “Satoshi-kun is helping Aiba-kun in the bar anyway. It’s nothing they can’t handle.”

“Is that so…”

“Yeah,” Sho replied, leaning his back against the cold wall in that hot room. “I also got a call from Nagase-san. He said he would come to repair the air-conditioner here tomorrow.”

Nino grimaced. “You should talk your lover into buying a proper, new air-conditioner.”

Sho shrugged. “It’s not my fault that he’s acting like you.”

“Like me?” Nino questioned, already not liking the answer that he was going to hear from Sho.

“Like the cheapskate you are,” Sho answered with an amused grin.

Nino pouted. “I should have told him to fire you when I had the chance.”

“But if you had done that, you wouldn’t have a buddy to make bets with,” Sho shot back.

That smart-ass, Nino thought. “Does that overly busy mouth of you come with the Keio diploma?”

Sho laughed out loud. “Maybe I learned it from you.”

Nino crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned back too. “Terrific. Totally terrific. I’m your senpai, Sho-chan. Where’s the respect I deserve?” he clucked his tongue, disapprovingly. “Seriously, kids these days…”

Sho hit his arm playfully. “I’m older than you, brat, just so you know.”

“But I’m the senpai here,” Nino gloat.

“Very unfortunate,” Sho said dramatically.

Nino laughed, already feeling better after talking to Sho. “Thanks, Sho-chan,” he murmured.

Sho hummed again. “You’re welcome.”

A few beats of silence fell between them before Sho spoke up again. “Why don’t you call him?”

“I…” Nino looked away and started but was unable to complete his sentence. I don’t even have his number and I’m scared that I might have pushed him too hard…

Then Sho held out a piece of paper. “You should call him, Nino,” he said reassuringly. “Aiba said you definitely should call him and see if he’s okay.”

Nino frowned. “What do you mean?”

Sho looked away. “I don’t know. I don’t work at the bar, you see.”

Nino grabbed Sho’s hand. “You know something.”

“All I know is that you should call him,” Sho insisted. “Come on Nino, we both know you want to call him.”

Nino lowered his head, looking at the piece of paper that he held in his hand. He wanted to call Jun. He realized that it was already too late for him to deny that he didn’t want Jun there. Because he wanted it. He wanted Jun there. He missed Jun’s kisses, Jun’s heartfelt laugh, Jun’s voice… everything about him.

“You see, Nino,” Sho started, cutting Nino’s train of thoughts. “I was really scared to be together with Satoshi-kun.”

Nino frowned. “Why?”

“Why?” Sho chuckled. “He’s my boss! And I’m his employee. Also, I wasn’t sure if he liked me like that or not. It’s just too complicated between us, you know. And I had a lot of things going on in my life. My mom was in the hospital, I was juggling two different jobs… I had no one aside from my mom to lean on. But one night, I don’t know if you remember but I got an urgent call from the hospital about my mother’s condition and Satoshi-kun came with me,” Sho smiled while looking somewhere far away. “I didn’t even notice him there until he wrapped his arms around my shoulders. Like I said, I was so worried about him being my boss and that I’m taking a huge risk but then… I got to realize that when you love someone, you tend to accept all the risks that come with them as a package. Because I simply wanted to be with Satoshi-kun.”

Nino chuckled. “But you know, Oh-chan was already head over heels for you at that time.”

“Well, it’s obvious to you since you’re observing from outside but once you’re in it, you can’t help but feel insecure,” Sho answered sincerely.

Nino stayed silent at that.

“Well,” Sho said as he stood up from where he was sitting. “The decision is yours,” he smiled gently before leaving the staff room.

Nino looked at the piece of paper once again. Was he ready to take the risk again? Was he ready to accept Jun and everything Jun could give him? Even a heartbreak?

Nino exhaled loudly. “I must be crazy,” he murmured to himself as he took out his phone from his pocket and dialed the number quickly without giving himself time to back out.

It never occurred to Nino that he would find the neutral sound of dial tone to be this nerve-wracking. It rang and rang until Nino was starting to feel hopeless but he decided to be brave and waited until the line is cut. He could hear his own heart beating. He tried to take a deep breath but at that moment, Jun answered the phone.

“Hello?” Jun’s voice croaked from the other side of the line.

Nino gulped. He inhaled shakily, not even realizing that he was trembling. “Hi…” he almost whispered. “It’s Ninomiya…” he said hesitantly.

He heard an audible gasp from the other side of the line which was soon followed by a wild cough. “Nino…” Jun managed to get out between his coughs.

Nino frowned. “Are you okay?”

“I…” Another cough which started to worry Nino. “I’m fine…”

“What do you think I am? A kid that you can fool that easily?” Nino shot back.

“It’s just a cold,” Jun said tiredly when his coughing finally calmed down.

Nino bit his lower lip. Jun sounded terrible and he had no idea what to do.

“Nino…” He heard Jun after a beat of silence.

“Hm?”

“I missed you,” Jun blurted out with a voice that was no more than a mere whisper. “I am sorry I couldn’t come tonight…”

Nino gulped, scared of what he’s going to say next and more scared of Jun’s answer. “Since…” he started, pausing for a moment before he continued. “Since you couldn’t come tonight… is it okay… if I go to… you?”

A few seconds of silence fell between them as Nino waited anxiously.

“Yeah,” Jun’s answer came, softly. “I’d love that very much…”

“Okay…” Nino smiled unconsciously. “Just send me your address and I’ll be there.”

“Okay…” Jun said and Nino thought he could hear the smile on his voice behind the exhaustion. “I’ll leave the door unlocked, you can let yourself in.”

“Okay. See you soon, J,” Nino said gently.

Jun hummed. “See you, Nino…”

Nino ended the call with a smile on his face. It didn’t take Jun more than a minute to message the address and Nino quickly walked towards the staircase to find Ohno. It was barely thirty minutes after midnight so it was still crowded. Ohno was behind the counter, helping Aiba. Their eyes met immediately and Nino caught Ohno smiling knowingly. Nino watched him saying something to Aiba before getting out of the counter and climbing the stairs.

“You want the night off,” Ohno said the moment Nino was close enough to hear him. He had the cheekiest smile Nino had ever seen the whole time they’ve been friends and Nino would mock it if it was another time.

“Can I?” he asked instead.

“Hmm… Depends on the reason. Have you called Jun-kun?”

“I did. But… Wait, why are you calling him like that?” He questioned, the confusion all over his face.

“Well, we are friends,” Ohno replied, his voice dripping with pride.

“How do you… okay, please don’t answer that,” he said with an exhausted sigh. “So? Can I go now?”

“Of course,” Ohno nodded. “But I’ll have you cover for Sho and me sometime in the near future, just so you know. I’m planning to take him somewhere with Ohno-maru,” he added with a serious face.

Nino laughed at that. “Okay, old man. Whatever you say,” Nino patted his back. “Thank you.”

“No problem,” Ohno grinned.

Nino had great friends.

 

***

 

Nino reached Jun’s place half an hour after their phone call. He was happy to know that Jun was actually living in Aoyama-itchome which was around ten minutes away from where Monochrome was located. He also didn’t forget to stop by a pharmacy to get some pills. And before he realized it, he was standing in front of Jun’s door.

Nino took a deep breath. He couldn’t believe he was here, but there was no backing out. He was worried about Jun. He was also worried about what will happen but before he could overthink about it more, he opened the door.

True to his words, Jun left the door unlocked for Nino and he easily let himself in. Nino locked the door behind himself since they didn't need an unwanted guest. He took off his shoes and made his way inside. The only light in the house was coming from the door that Nino assumed to be Jun’s bedroom. He was walking into Jun’s bedroom even before seeing the living room. Oh, sweet irony, Nino thought, and he could have laughed the situation if it wasn’t for the nervousness that was eating him.

Nino opened the door and slid inside the room. His eyes immediately zeroed on Jun who was buried under the covers. “Jun?” he called softly as he walked closer and kneeled next to Jun’s bed.

Jun didn’t answer and Nino tried to move the covers a bit further from him. He looked so pale, beads of sweat were gathered around his forehead and he seemed restless. Nino placed his hand on Jun’s forehead, and his eyes widened.

“You’re burning up…” Nino said, worry dripping from his voice. Determined, he shook Jun to wake him. “Jun, wake up,” he continued until Jun opened his eyes.

Jun looked at Nino blearily for a moment. “Nino…” he whispered weakly.

“Where is your thermometer?” Nino asked, ignoring everything for the sake of helping Jun.

“Nightstand… The second drawer…” he managed to get out before closing his eyes again.

Nino opened the second drawer of the nightstand. It didn’t take him long to realize how organized Jun was as he managed to find the thermometer quickly. He then pushed the covers aside and sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Sorry for the intrusion,” he mumbled as he opened the first three buttons of Jun’s expensive looking pajamas. He tried not to blush as Jun’s creamy skin was revealed. This is not the time to think that you idiot, he scolded himself as he placed the thermometer under Jun’s armpit and started waiting.

He gasped when Jun’s hand gripped his with an unexpected strength considering his current condition. Nino gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. None of them talked until the thermometer started beeping.

Nino took it and looked at it. 38.2 C… Nino let out a relieved breath. It wasn’t something he should be panicking about. He untangled his hand from Jun, going to the kitchen to retrieve a glass of water and returned quickly, opening the medicine that he got before coming here. “Jun,” he said softly, sitting on the edge of the bed once again. “Come on, you should drink this,” he helped Jun sit on the bed and helped him drink the medicine.

Nino helped Jun lie down once they’re done and darted to the kitchen once more to get a bucket and a towel to wipe Jun’s sweat. When he came back to the bedroom, he found Jun already fast asleep. Nino smiled as he set the bucket and towel on the nightstand before soaking the towel in it and sat down next to Jun again. He wiped Jun’s sweat gently. He looked somewhat more peaceful than before when he came and Nino couldn’t help but wrap his hands around Jun’s. He didn’t want to let go of Jun’s hand. He wanted to hold onto Jun and he could only hope that Jun wouldn’t push him away.

 

***

 

The next morning, Nino woke up with his head pillowed on his left arm. He had no idea when he fell asleep but he was still holding Jun’s hand. He blinked and untangled their hands for the sake of checking Jun’s fever again. He placed his hand on Jun’s forehead, satisfied to see that the fever has gone down.

His eyes focused on the digital clock that was placed on the nightstand and saw that it was only six in the morning. He slowly got up, trying to stretch his body as his back started to protest for spending the night in a weird position.

Nino quietly walked out of the bedroom to the kitchen in the purpose of cooking some porridge. Since his fever went down, Nino hoped that Jun was feeling better. He had no idea what kind of reaction Jun would have… Maybe he only told him to come because he didn’t want to be alone when he’s sick… or maybe… Nino took a deep breath. There’s no use in thinking like this, Nino thought firmly. If Jun didn’t want him there, then he was going to say that when he’s awake. He focused on making the porridge.

“You really came.”

Nino jumped at the sudden voice that came behind him. He quickly turned around to look at Jun who was leaning on the door frame of the kitchen, his eyes piercing through Nino and a smile adorning his full lips.

“Jun…”

Jun took a step towards Nino. “I thought I was dreaming,” he started. “I thought it was my selfish subconscious playing its tricks…”

“Eh?”

“I really wanted you here,” Jun said, finally close enough to touch Nino. His hand caressed Nino’s cheek softly and brushed the fallen bangs away from Nino’s eyes. “I thought it was because I missed you so much that not being able to go to you was making me crazy…”

Nino gulped, wondering where his voice had gone to.

“Kazu…” Nino gasped when his name fell from Jun’s lips. “Please don’t avoid me anymore,” Jun pleaded, his voice a mere whisper.

Nino took a deep breath, willing himself to talk. “I… I can’t, J…” Nino started. Jun’s hand stilled the moment those words spilled from Nino’s lips. The hurtful look he saw in Jun’s eyes was enough to break even Nino’s heart. He wondered how he fell this hard for Jun. “You see… I can’t just settle with sex…” He forced himself to talk. “I want you, only God knows how much I want you but I also want more. I will want more…” Nino confessed.

Nino looked down as silence fell between them. The only thing that kept Nino from breaking down was the warm hand that never left Nino’s skin.

“Kazu…” Jun started softly. “Do you know what I want right now?”

Nino only shook his head, not trusting his own voice.

Jun gently moved his hand under Nino’s chin and softly made him look into his eyes. Then he placed both of his hands around Nino’s face as he leaned his forehead against Nino’s. “I want to kiss you and never let you go ever again. And then hold you tightly for the rest of my life…” he whispered, his voice bearing no humor. “Too bad I have a fever that could be infectious.”

“Jun…” Nino grabbed Jun’s forearm. “Are you… really?”

Jun chuckled. “I can’t have enough of you for a lifetime, Kazu,” he admitted. “Don’t expect me to let you go after one night when I can have you for myself for the rest of my life.”

At that, Nino started to cry. But this time, he had Jun to wipe his tears away.

 

***

 

Everything went back to normal as Nino kept working in Monochrome and Jun continued to be his regular customer. The only change was that they had become a couple since that night.

However, Nino wanted to punch himself for thinking that his friends were adults. Since the day he came to Monochrome as Jun’s boyfriend, there was no stopping of their teasing. Even though deep inside, Nino was aware that he kind of deserved it.

Nino also got to learn that Jun was extremely hard-working, to the point that he often pushed himself too hard which worried Nino sometimes. Nevertheless, he was still impressed. If it weren’t for that night with his fever, he would barely get a full night sleep. It was dangerous, but he was still impressed by Jun’s work ethic.

That evening, Nino was sorting out the stocks behind the counter when he heard the back door opening and a rush of footsteps coming towards him.

“Kazu!” Nino looked up when he heard Jun’s voice calling for him. His voice sounded higher than usual and his face was adorned with one of the brightest smiles Nino had ever seen on him. “I got it!” Jun said excitedly, basically bouncing on his place. “I got the new column!!”

Nino’s eyes widened. “Oh my! Jun!! That’s awesome!!” he exclaimed as he got out of the counter. Nino clearly remembered how sad Jun was when he had lost his column. “Congratulations!” he said with a gummy smile.

Jun circled his arms around Nino so tightly that Nino would be complaining if it weren’t for how happy Jun was at the moment. But being wrapped by those arms felt so comfortable that the only complaint would be that he can’t spend the rest of the night in Jun’s arms. That’s why he decided to savor the moment, burying his face into Jun’s chest and letting his body be enveloped by Jun.

Jun buried his face in the crook of Nino’s neck, inhaling his scent. “Thank you, Kazu,” Jun murmured before planting a kiss on Nino’s neck.

Nino shivered, his hands clinging onto Jun’s probably expensive shirt, wrinkling it. He couldn’t help but press himself closer to Jun. They were pretty busy lately. And thanks to the different working hours, they were hardly able to see each other save for when Jun came to Monochrome or when Nino went to wake Jun up after he finished his work in Monochrome. Even during those times, it was either Nino or Jun being too busy for anything more than a few heated kisses. And sadly, his boyfriend being terrible with mornings didn’t help too.

“I didn’t do anything,” Nino whispered, determined not to leave Jun’s arms.

Jun hummed. “If it weren’t for you, I would probably be jobless now.”

Nino snorted. “Maybe Oh-chan would hire you then,” he said. “He was talking about how awesome would be to hire you and make me full-time performer so that he can have Sho-chan all for himself.”

Jun laughed at that. “Well, relay my apologies to Ohno-san, then. Because I’ll be going to Paris.”

Nino froze at that. He pushed Jun away a little to look at his face. “Paris?”

Jun nodded. “Well, the whole ordeal of this column is covering the fashion weeks,” Jun told him.

Nino bit his lower lip, slightly anxious about asking the next question. “For how long?”

Jun blinked, then he let out a hearty laugh. “Only for two weeks, Kazu,” he said as he watched Nino letting out the breath he had no idea that he was holding.

“Don’t scare me like that,” Nino hit Jun’s arm lightly.

“I’ll bring something nice from Paris for you,” Jun said instead.

“When are you leaving?” Nino asked.

“June 16th,” Jun answered.

Nino smiled. “Alright, don’t forget to bring something nice for me.”

 

***

 

Nino drummed the counter with his fingers, his expression going between bored, annoyed and worried.

“Why is no one coming?!” He finally gave in.

Aiba shrugged next to him, still concentrating in wiping the glasses. “Maybe today is one of those empty days?” he offered.

Nino huffed, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “There’s no such day in Monochrome, Aiba-shi! And look at this!” he pointed at the empty place. “There’s literally no one beside us! This is not normal!”

Aiba gave him a confused look. “I can’t possibly know, right?”

“Oh, but you should! You’ve become a full-time employee for this!” Nino protested.

“And you’re my senpai,” Aiba shot back. “You should know better than me.”

Nino narrowed his eyes. “I see Sho-chan has been teaching you.”

Aiba grinned but didn’t say anything more as he just kept wiping the glasses.

Nino groaned, frustrated. “I’ll go up to talk to Oh-chan!” he announced, stomping out of the counter and heading the office. He didn’t even bother to knock as he opened the door. “Oh-chan!” he walked in. He took a quick look around the room, glad to see that he didn’t walk into another ‘accident’. Ohno seemed barely awake, which made Nino release a frustrated breath.

“What?” Ohno asked while clearing his throat.

“Don’t give me that crap,” Nino scolded him. “There’s no one in the bar! In your bar! Do something about it instead of sleeping on the boss’ desk!”

Ohno frowned. “But I’m the boss. I am allowed to sleep on my desk.”

“Oh-chan!” Nino warned him with a low voice.

Then Ohno took a look at his wristwatch and started to chuckle. “Well, that’s because we’re closed today,” he said.

It was Nino’s turn to frown. “What?”

Ohno didn’t answer. Instead, he got up from where he was sitting and put his arms around Nino’s shoulder, leading him out of the office. “Oh-chan, wait, what the hell does this mean?!” he continued to ask until he heard someone popping confetti.

He blinked when he saw Aiba, Sho, and Jun holding confetti in their hands. They were smiling widely and there was a cake placed on the counter behind them.

“Happy 36th Birthday, Nino!!” Aiba exclaimed while trapping Nino into a bear hug.

“Aiba-shi,” Nino struggled. Aiba was too strong and he probably wasn’t even aware of it. Then it was Sho who gave him a fairly normal hug.

Soon, he was in front of Jun.

“Happy birthday, Kazu,” Jun said with a huge grin on his face.

“I thought…” Nino started.

“Yeah, I changed my ticket,” he said before pulling Nino closer and trapping him into a hug. “I still have to leave in a couple of hours but I wanted to be here to wish you a happy birthday.”

Nino buried his face into Jun’s chest. He loved doing that. “Sappy,” he commented.

“Brat,” Jun shot back with a chuckle.

Nino laughed. He had great friends and an awesome boyfriend.

 

***

 

Later that night, when Jun had to leave, Nino escorted him out to the taxi.

“Don’t drink too much, okay?” Jun told him once they were out.

“Look who’s talking,” Nino rolled his eyes. “As far as I remember, you’re the one who got drunk last time.”

Jun laughed. “Oh, I remember,” he said, a mischievous glint behind his eyes. “How could I forget the best kiss of my life.”

Nino blushed and hit Jun’s arm in order to hide his embarrassment. “Shut up.”

Jun merely continued to laugh as he reached over his bag, taking out a box wrapped by a purple wrapping paper and a yellow ribbon on it. Nino arched an eyebrow as Jun held out the box in front of him.

"You didn't think I didn't get you anything, right?" Jun asked, amused.

"Well, I guess you're too MJ to not give me anything," Nino mocked as he took the box from Jun and started opening it.

"Well, I know you're not the type of person who would wear accessories but I still wanted you to wear something from me," Jun said when Nino finally opened the box and looked at the wristwatch. It was something Nino could use. Not too fancy-looking, but still classy and efficient. And it would certainly go well with his daily clothes. Not that he was concerned about how it would match with his clothes but Jun had really took Nino’s preferences into consideration rather than just simply getting something he himself would like. And that was enough for Nino to like the present.

"Will you wear it?"

Nino looked up to meet Jun's eyes. He smiled and nodded. "I really like it. Thank you, Jun-kun," Nino said.

Jun's eyes widened. Nino rarely called him that and apparently, Jun was aware of it too. He grabbed Nino's hand and pulled Nino towards himself. He buried his face in the crook of Nino's neck. "I love it when you call my name like that," he murmured.

Nino hugged Jun tightly, not saying anything in particular. He just savored the moment wondering how he had resisted Jun this long and how he would endure the next two weeks.

"Jun-kun…" Nino whispered softly when the taxi stopped in front of them. "Take some time off from work when you're back," he said as he placed a kiss on Jun's cheek.

Jun looked at him with hopeful eyes.

"I'll be waiting for you," Nino said with a huge smile. "Go and show them how awesome you are!"

 

***

 

Nino popped his joints tiredly as he turned off the last lights of Monochrome. Ohno and Sho had been absent for four days, thanks to Ohno's insistence about taking Sho out on the sea with Ohno-maru. He owed Ohno for letting him go to Jun so he hadn't complained but managing Monochrome with Aiba had been tough. Nino was happy that Aiba was competent enough to keep the bar under control so Nino could sing but it was hard. Nino suddenly felt like they were back to the old days where only he and Ohno were managing the place together.

Nino yawned as he made his way out, fumbling with his keys. All he wanted to do was to go home and sleep in until the next evening. The sun has already started to go up when Nino got out, only to find Jun in front of him.

Nino blinked and rubbed his eyes. Was he that sleepy? Jun still had two days before he came back… right?

"Jun?" Nino still voiced out just in case.

Jun who was leaning on the wall with a huge suitcase next to him smiled widely. "Good morning, Kazu."

“Eh?” Nino blinked. “Jun? Why are you here? But you were supposed to come back on Friday!” He blurted out in one go.

Jun laughed at Nino’s confusion. “People call this a surprise,” he said. “But I can go and come back again two days later if you want?”

Nino looked at Jun blankly for a good three seconds before leaping and hugging Jun tightly. "Don't even joke about it!"

Jun chuckled but circled his arms around Nino. "I missed you too, Kazu."

Whatever was the reason for Jun to come back early, Nino decided to be grateful for it.

 

***

 

The moment they closed the door of Jun's apartment, Nino found himself trapped between the wall and Jun. His lips crushed by Jun's full ones. Their kiss was messy, filled with the craving from the last two weeks. Jun's hands crept under Nino's worn out mustard t-shirt. Nino moaned into Jun's mouth when Jun softly caressed his skin, his touch igniting the desire that Nino had been trying to keep under control until now.

Nino grabbed the strands of hair on Jun's nape, pulling them aggressively. They had to part for the sake of breathing. Jun ducked his head down to Nino's neck, showering his skin with light but burning kisses. Nino held onto him for his dear life as Jun kissed, licked, sucked and nipped on his neck.

"If you want more, please take me to bed," Nino managed to whisper, eyes closed, breathing erratic and his arousal already starting to build.

Nino heard Jun chuckle wickedly. "Oh, I definitely want more," he spoke directly into Nino's ear, the closeness making Nino shiver with anticipation. "I want to see every part of you, and mark you as mine… Kazu, I want to make you mine," Jun whispered into Nino's ear as his hand traveled south and palmed Nino's half hard member through his jeans.

Nino inhaled sharply. Trapped between Jun's body and the wall, he had no escape and that alone already added more to Nino's arousal. Jun continued to play with his manhood through the fabric, making Nino harder with every move of his hand. Nino's breath hitched when Jun increased the pressure of his hand. "Jun-" Nino's plea got cut by the insistent lips of Jun’s.

Nino parted his lips for the sake of providing better access for Jun's tongue into his mouth. He had already forsaken himself to Jun, pretty much aware that it was Jun who was holding him up. At that moment, Nino didn't care at all. Jun hoisted Nino up, indicating him to wrap his legs around Jun's waist. Soon Jun was walking towards his bedroom while holding Nino tightly.

When Nino's back hit the soft mattress, he sat up and backed away a little to pull Jun towards himself. He hadn't really paid attention to what Jun was wearing until now but now Nino’s cursing Jun for choosing a buttoned shirt. His fingers fumbled with the buttons, trying to open them. He didn't bother to mask his frustration.

"Because you have to wear a damn dress shirt," Nino grumbled. Jun chuckled, leaning down to kiss Nino once again. Despite Nino's frustration, Jun didn't seem like he was planning to make things easy for Nino.

However, after a few misses and frustrated groans, Nino managed to open Jun's shirt and Jun let it slide off of his broad shoulders.

Nino licked his dry lips while taking Jun's glory in. All he could do was to look at Jun as the latter quickly removed Nino’s t-shirt too. Jun’s lips were soon attached again to his collarbones, his teeth grazing the skin. Jun made sure that Nino was able to feel everything. Every touch of his hands, every hot breath landing on Nino’s creamy skin, every kiss that left a burning aftereffect in Nino’s mind.

“Jun…” Nino gasped sharply when Jun’s lips closed around Nino’s left nipple. Jun hummed, making Nino moan. One of his hands was playing with the other nipple. Nino tried to keep his voice down as he bit his lips but it was getting harder to.

He felt confined inside his jeans and he wiggled under Jun, feeling like he should nudge Jun a bit to make him hurry. He raised his knee, deliberately brushing between Jun’s legs. When Jun released a moan and shuddered, Nino smirked. “Just get on with it, Jun,” Nino demanded with a low voice.

Jun huffed, not really fond of being rushed but his own needed pressing as he stood up, fumbling with his belt and quickly got rid of his slacks. Then Jun helped Nino undress.

There was nothing between them now. No fabric to dress them into a lie, no lie to keep them away from each other, no pretense to hide their desire, and no hesitation to shadow the moment.

“You’re so beautiful,” Nino murmured as he stroked Jun’s body, saying the words that he had been thinking since he first saw him. Jun blushed at those words and Nino thought, how precious he was.

Nino leaned forward, placing a rather soft kiss to Jun’s lips. Such a contrast to their current situation. “I’ll cherish you for the rest of my life,” Jun whispered against Nino’s lips. His eyes glowing with the joy of finally being with the person he loved.

Nino’s heart swelled at those words. So raw, so far from any misunderstanding, so strong like an oath. He placed both hands on Jun’s face, softly keeping him where he was as he looked into his eyes deeply. Nino wanted the words to be the simplest to convey, not leaving any space for any kind of misunderstandings. And he whispered the same words Jun used with all the feelings that kept his heart full, those words that he wanted to share with Jun, as if repeating the oath: “I will always cherish you every day, for the rest of my life.”

 

***

 

They made love until both of them were too tired for more. The sleep that came afterward was just another act of love as they let the sleep claim them, their arms wrapped around each other, only savoring the provided warmth.

They had each other; and as long as they had that, nothing else mattered.