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My so-called Love Life

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“Did you have a good stay, Mister?” Nino asked the usual question as he stood behind the reception of the grand hotel he was working at.

The black haired, small built receptionist glanced at the man standing on the other side of the counter, a tall, well-built Japanese businessman from Sapporo, who had stayed in Tokyo for the last few days in order to attend some kind of congress meeting or whatever it was, that he had told Nino but the latter had already forgotten again. The almost stranger had just handed back his room's key card to the other man for the checking out process and it was impossible to miss the hungry smirk that was dancing on his lips.

“The best, I could imagine,” the guy in about his early thirties answered satisfied, still smirking when Nino turned back to him and provided him with the friendliest smile he could show off right now, hiding the fact that he just wished that the man to disappeared from his counter, his hotel, his whole life.

“I'm sure about that,” Nino smiled and tried to brush off the memory of the stranger's panting breath brushing his neck while thrusting into his slim body from behind, as he remembered the one-night-stand from last night that had taken place in one of the most luxurious suits this hotel was providing for its most willing to pay guests.

Leaning onto the counter to come a bit closer to the young receptionist, the businessman from Sapporo asked, “Can I call you when I'm back in this area?”

“Sure,” Nino smiled again, mentally making a note to remember that guy’s name for later on so that he could make sure to switch shifts with another employee of the hotel if he ever showed up on the guest list again.

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Ninomiya-san,” the guy finally said, darting another seductive look at the other man. “See you.”

“Have a safe trip home, Ayano-san,” Nino replied, his face still masked with his friendliest smile.

As soon as the man had turned around and passed the entrance of the hotel lobby, the smile on Nino's face was wiped away, replaced by a slightly tired, sulking look. He went back to the list displayed on the monitor in front of him to check on something and wished to forget about that man and last night as soon as possible. It wasn't, that last night wasn't enjoyable, in fact it had been one of the better nights in the last few weeks and it wasn't that he was disgusted by the other man, since he was indeed a good-looking, sexy man but there was one simple rule, Nino was following, no matter what and that was – never go back to a one-night-stand.

A short look at his watch as well as the silent grumbling of his stomach told Nino, that it was almost lunchtime and reminded him that he didn't eat anything for almost 24 hours. His colleague would replace him in a few minutes and he would make sure to grab something to snack on from the kitchen then, before taking care of some paper work in his office upstairs.

At least, that was his plan.

“Nino!” a voice pulled him out of his mental planning and as Nino raised his head again, he recognized a tall, familiar man with dark brown curly hair standing in front of him, providing him his typical happy, wide grin.

“Jun...,” Nino said, not bothering to hide his non-amusement as he tried to fake a smile for the man, “You were nearby? Why didn't you call me before coming?”

“Because I wanted to make sure that you're not running away from me,” the man answered with a chuckle.

Nino sighed, “You know me just too well, don't you?”

“Of course, I'm your big brother after all,” there was another grin on the man's face, so loving and friendly that Nino wanted to run away now.

Halfbrother,” Nino reminded the other instead, just earning a slight wave of Jun's hand as if he was brushing away that fact like it was nothing.

It’s true that they shared their mother but had different fathers. It did not seem to be a matter for Jun, but it was always a big deal for Nino, as it always seemed to be a big deal for their mother too. While Jun had always been her beloved first son that she had been presented with by the love of her life, the brilliant doctor Matsumoto. Nino was just the younger son with an old hotel owner, who might have been rich but in terms of his mother's feelings, nothing more than a second class replacement for the lover that left her just after almost two years.

“So what brought you here?” Nino asked.

“I wanted to talk to you.”

“Couldn't you just give me a call? I'm in the middle of work right now,” Nino complained, stapling some papers and putting them into a drawer.

Jun challengingly looked at him, “Would my depressive little brother have picked up the phone? I dare to remind you that it took me 20 calls last time to reach you when I wanted to talk to you! I know, you weren't in the right mood to talk but -”

“I'm sorry,” Nino barged in, slightly rolling his eyes and Jun sighed before he continued.

“You're not, but that's OK, I know you need your space. Nevertheless, this is going to be an important talk so do you have the kindness to spare me some of your precious time?” the man asked and smiled again.

Another sigh escaped Nino's lips but he finally gave in, “Give me ten minutes to finish my shift. You can wait upstairs in my office.”

“Thanks,” Jun said with an even wider smile than before. He left the counter and walked straight to the elevator, disappearing with a little wave when he entered.

It really took Nino no more than 10 minutes to finish his tasks and to hand over the shift to another receptionist, a young woman called Ishihara, who just had started to work here about a week ago. Nino gave her some last advices and reminded her to call him if she needed something urgent, before he left the reception. He skipped stopping by the kitchen to get some snacks and immediately headed for the elevator instead, like his brother.

As soon, as he exited on the highest floor, Nino pulled out a package of cigarettes from his trousers’ pocket and fumbled to find his lighter shortly after. When he entered his office - the office of the hotel's boss, which once belonged to his father - Jun was already sitting in one of the comfortable arm chairs in front of Nino's large desk. After closing the door behind him, the young man took off his receptionist jacket, hung it up on some old-fashioned coat rack, and walked around his brother to the desk to slump into his own big arm chair. He leaned forward a bit, placed the cigarettes and lighter onto the table in front of him and pushed back the sleeves of his dress shirt a bit, before placing his elbows onto the dark wood. With a cigarette in his hands that he lighted shortly after and took a first deep puff from it, he slowly took in the taste of tobacco and exhaled just as slow, before he finally paid attention to his brother.

Jun had crossed his arms and the friendly smile from before had vanished completely, as he observed his little brother bringing the cigarette back to his lips.

“When will you finally stop ruining your lungs?” he asked, concerned.

“Once I drop dead from smoking, Matsumoto-sensei,” Nino replied sarcastically, referring to his brother's doctor's degree.

“I mean it, you will regret it if you're addicted and can't quit when you finally realize how bad this actually is for your health -,” Jun started again but got interrupted quickly by Nino.

“I can quit whenever I want to, don't worry. That is, if I ever want to.”

Jun sighed. As always, Nino was acting stubborn and the doctor knew that he wouldn't be able to convince his brother to quit smoking today either.

“So you wanted to talk?” Nino continued, puffing out some cigarette smoke, at least not darting it at the other man in front of him and stubbing out the cigarette in an ash tray after that. “I’m sure, you didn't want to talk about my smoking habits.”

“How's business going?” Jun finally asked. “So today you are a receptionist?”

“Going fine, thanks and yeah, today I'm a receptionist, at least part time receptionist,” Nino answered.

Since he had taken over his father's hotel a few years ago, it had been his favorite part to slip into all the different job roles in this hotel, whenever he found time to. Sometimes he was a receptionist, sometimes a lift boy, a chef, a waiter, an electrician or a manager, whatever job there was to get filled in the most or what he simply felt like doing. He was the owner of this place after all and he enjoyed being part of it.

“I see. That's nice,” Jun continued, followed by an awkward silence.

Nino sighed. “That's not what you wanted to talk about either, isn't it?”

Jun nodded slightly before he changed the topic again.

“You look awful,” he murmured after he had taken in the slim and tired appearance of his little brother, not missing the slightly cavernous cheeks and dark circled around Nino's eyes.

“How charming,” Nino murmured, faking another smile. “Can we go back to the job topic then, please?”

“How are you doing lately?” Jun ignored his brother's inquiry and asked him with sincere concern in his eyes, the look on his face was still serious. “Are you eating properly? Are you still taking the pills I gave you? Can you sleep better now?”

“You don't really want to talk about that either, don't you?” Nino sighed, fumbling with a new cigarette between his fingers but not enlightening it. “And just for the record, I had planned to get something to eat after my shift ended but then, someone who wanted to talk to me about something important showed up and I didn't have time to grab something yet.”

“Nino, you and your health are important!” Jun continued, ignoring Nino's biting comment. “It's been two months now since he passed away and it's understandable if you don't feel that well. I'm also well aware of the fact that you don't really want to talk about this but I'm really worried about you! So, if you need someone to talk or if I should introduce you to someone that you can talk to about this whole thing, let me know, will you?”

Nino looked at his brother, almost piercing him with his look.

“I told you, I'm not going to see some therapist, thank you very much,” the young man responded, the cigarette between his now slightly shaking fingers started to crumble. “Can you just get to the point of why you've shown up here, already?”

“Alright,” Jun gave in finally, leaning down to pull something out of his bag that he had placed next to his chair.

He handed an envelop to Nino, nodding at him to take it.

“What's this?” Nino asked wondering when his fingertips touched the white paper.

“Open it,” Jun replied with growing excitement, biting his lips slightly.

Finally, Nino did as he was ordered, just to find himself staring in disbelief at the blue letters of a familiar clean handwriting that were decorating a cotton-rag paper a second later.

"MATSUMOTO JUN & OHNO SATOSHI
Are honored to invite you to their Wedding Ceremony
on June the 13th, 2015
3 PM, at...."

The last line wasn't finished, leaving the space as if it was still waiting to be filled in to seal the deal. Nino let his eyes wander across the written invitation again, just to make sure that he wasn't dreaming.

“This is just a draft, but...,” Jun said, his voice low and his cheeks burning as he squirmed nervously in his seat.

Nino lifted his head, staring at his brother.

“Really?! You proposed to Satoshi?” he asked and Jun nodded, his cheeks blushing even more.

“And he accepted. What do you think about it?”

“Congratulations!” Nino said, still a bit surprised but nevertheless not able to prevent his lips from curling up into a happy smile and he truly meant what he was saying right now from the bottom of his heart.

Finally, he thought, after about 10 years, the love story of his older brother and his boyfriend Ohno seemed to be ready to enter a new chapter. Although he was a bit surprised that Ohno had agreed to take part in something like that, ceremony stuff, since he didn't seem to be into such things usually. But anyways, if this was what made them happy, Nino would be the last one standing in their way, even if Nino himself had given up on believing in something like true love a long time ago. He had always thought that if it existed, Jun and Ohno would come closest to it and with that, they deserved to be happy for their life time. Nino might act a bit cold towards his brother sometimes but he truly wished him all the best.

Jun was all smiles and obviously seemed a bit relieved, seeing the honestly happy reaction of his little brother. Excitedly, he came a bit closer, leaning forward to place his arms onto the other edge of Nino's desk.

“Thank you Nino, this meant a lot to me!”

“Sure,” the young man answered, adding a question after thinking for a second, “What did Mom say?”

“She's happy for us and she loves weddings.”

“After 7 marriages, I bet she does!” Nino commented tartly.

“Stop that, Nino!” Jun scolded his brother. “But talking about the ceremony, there is something I would like you to do for me.”

“What is it, Jun?”

“Would you be my best man?”

Silence.

“Really?” Nino asked to confirm, wondering, if he heard correctly.

“Yes, this would mean a lot to me, so... please?” Jun reinforcing his request.

Nino just sat there and gaped at his brother, his brain searching for hints, for clues or at least some vague ideas on why his brother might think that Nino deserved to take over this meaningful task of playing such an important role during his brother's wedding. Didn't he have much better, closer people, friends, who would fit better into this role than his weird little brother?

“Of... of course, it would be my pleasure,” Nino finally answered, still caught in surprise.

“Really? I'm relieved then!”

“Alright,” Nino continued, a bit unsure about the whole thing. “So what will I have to do? Organize the bachelor party? Book the band?”

“I made a list,” Jun replied in excitement, rummaging through his bag the second time until he found the desired list that he put onto the dark desk in front of his brother.

“You're such a control freak..., “ Nino murmured, his eyes wandered over the list - a pretty long list, he added mentally – after he grabbed it with both hands, the half-ruined cigarette finally thrown away into the ash tray next to him.

“I'm not!” his brother protested. “Whatever, you won't be alone in this, don't worry. Sho-kun will help you.”

Nino clenched the paper in his hands as he heard that name, his brain going completely blank for some seconds.

“Sho-kun?” he finally repeated, feeling his mouth becoming uncomfortably dry in an instant. “You mean Sakurai Sho?”

Jun nodded. Of course. Of course, it had to be Sho...

“He'll be Satoshi's best man?” Nino asked, stating the obvious, trying hard to not let his voice break apart.

“Yes,” Jun continued, eying his brother carefully before he continued. “He's Satoshi's only really close friend and my working partner after all.”

Of course...

“Look, Nino,” Jun cleared his throat and tried to find Nino's eyes who was still darting them across the list of duties for the upcoming wedding, the letters not making sense to him in this very moment. “I don't know why you hate him so much, you didn't see him in what... more than five years? Whatever happened between you two, now it's high time to act like an adult and to bury that old grudge, right? Sho-kun agrees on that too, he said, he's looking forward to meeting you after so long.”

“Sure, he is...,” Nino chuckled bitterly, the sarcasm in his voice more obvious than ever. He wasn't sure what shocked him more right now, the fact that Jun had already inducted Sho into this whole thing before he had asked him or that this meant that he would be forced to actually face the one who was haunting the dreams of his past years, soon.

“Don't act like a child now, Nino. He meant it. And you could be a bit nicer, Sho-kun is having a hard time right now,” Jun pointed at his brother.

“What, he broke his leg?” the sarcasm continued flowing out between Nino's lips.

“Funny. He's divorcing. His wife has another man,” Jun said with a serious voice.

Nino's heart cringed, not sure which feeling this statement was actually causing right now.

“And?” he finally asked dryly.

“Come on Nino, please, this is for me and Satoshi,” Jun started pleading with his puppy eyes. “You're not going to take your words back, are you? You're my best man, right?”

Nino swallowed hard but then tried to come up with another smile, this time surely failing. “Of course, I am.”

Happily, Jun started bubbling a bit about some details for the upcoming meetings and what not, but Nino's mind was absent from the whole event already. He barely noticed when Jun finally packed his stuff and bid his brother farewell, promising to call soon and threatening to show up unannounced again, if Nino didn't pick up the phone then.

As soon as Nino came back to his senses and finally processed everything that had just happened, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone, dialing Ohno's number, who picked up finally after some beeps of the free-line signal.

“Hey Nino, brother!” a calm familiar voice at the other end of the line greeted the caller.

“Don't brother me, Satoshi,” Nino grumbled. “A wedding ceremony, huh? Why did you even accept, I thought you're not into that stuff?”

“If a perfect man like your brother wants to marry me, I'd be the most stupid man on earth to decline his proposal, wouldn't I? I really love him, after all.”

Nino sighed. “Of course, I know that. Congratulations, by the way. But couldn't you at least warn me about this best men thing?”

“Sorry Nino, Jun wished for it so much, I didn't want to spoil it for him,” Ohno answered, his voice sounding a bit guilty, “You still have such huge problems with Sho-kun?”

Nino didn't bother to answer.

“You know, I couldn't talk Jun out of this thing without being suspicious. And by the way, Sho-kun is having a hard -”

“A hard time, he's getting divorced because his wife is cheating on him,” Nino exasperatedly continued the other man's sentence. “I know that but you know what? I don't give a shit!”

“He can need some distraction right now and I'm sure, you do as well,” Satoshi continued.

“What's this supposed to be, wedding preparations or a group therapy for lonely people?!” Nino snapped.

“Come on, Nino, act like an adult! It's been six years -”

“Five years and nine months!”

“Fine, it's been five years and nine months but you know what I mean. It's been a while, how does it help to still be mad at him?”

“I don't want to see him,” Nino stated frankly.

“I know that,” Ohno said understandingly, “But this is for me and Jun. Please pull yourself together. You'll see, once you meet him, you'll realize how much things have changed. Maybe, you'll forget your anger right away and can go back to being friends.”

“You think so?” the young man didn't even bother to hide his sarcasm at all.

“Let's give it a try,” Ohno suggested. “Have lunch with us at home, tomorrow. He'll be there too.”

“You're crazy.”

“Maybe. You'll come?”

“Maybe.”

And with that, Nino ended the call.

 

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text


Chapter 2

 

- - Tokyo, Matsumoto Hospital; January 8, 2015; 8 am - -

“How are you Ohara-san?”

“Pretty well, Sensei. Thanks to you.”

The doctor, Sakurai, just began the morning visit when less than one hour ago a bunch of new interns barged into his office, wearing brand new lab coats, so clean that it was almost suspicious. By the end of the week, half of them will quit and by the end of the month he would choose two among the remaining to become his students. Sakurai-sensei was very famous in the little medical universe of Tokyo and medicine students from the entire district used to jockey to receive his teaching. Yet he wasn't a permissive teacher, far from it, but if he was strict, he had a serious reputation of genius.

People said, he used to work more than all the medical staff reunited. They said, he wouldn't ask to his colleagues something he won't do himself and everybody respected him for that. He could be strict or tyrannical with his students sometimes but he would offer them the best lessons they could receive in the health field. He didn't really take the time to speak to them, he wasn't a talkative man, except when it was to offer to his patient the comfort they needed.

He left the fluffy dog which followed him around at the door and entered the first room without introducing the new students to the people waiting for him inside. They had no choice but to join the other interns and residents who were already gathered around the patient's bed, staring at Sakurai as if he was God visiting ordinary people.

“Yuuta-sensei?”

“Yes, Sakurai-sensei. Ohara Shiori, 42 years old, breast cancer, stage III. She’ll be operated on the day after tomorrow by Matsumoto-sensei. Her blood tests are good.”

“Perfect. Are you ready, Ohara-san?”

He took the file handed over by the one named Yuuta and skimmed through it, raising his gaze to question the patient.

“I guess, I am,” said the woman in her 40's in an undertone.

Sakurai stroke the back of her hand gently. “We’ll do our best.”

“Thanks, Sensei.”

“I'll assist Matsumoto-sensei, you won't be alone.”

He left the bedroom after a last nod to the woman. The new interns stood idiotically in the bedroom, waiting until the last doctor left the place.

“What are we supposed to do?” whispered a guy to another one.

“Following and taking initiative, I guess.”

“Oh… okay.”

Not totally convinced, they followed the visit and Sakurai was really admirable. He’s a jerk, thought Yamada, one of the new students, he talked to his interns as if they were crap - not a “please”, no politeness of any sort and his questions were monosyllabic- but he was nice with the patients and extremely professional.

The day ended with the evening visit and once again, the new incomers felt like the third wheel. No one seemed to be taking care of them and Sakurai even less than the others. As they were about to enter the room of the woman they saw this morning, Yamada's attention was attracted by the sound of a sob behind. A teenager was sitting on the bench outside of the bedroom and after a shrug, he walked towards him.

“Are you Ohara-kun?”

The boy nodded and rapidly wiped his tears while Yamada sat by his side. “Are you a doctor?”

“I am.”

“Are you taking care of my mother?”

“The entire staff does their best to take care of your mum.”

“Sensei, will you save her?”

Yamada felt his heart clenching painfully and he patted the boy’s shoulder and smiled. “Matsumoto-sensei and Sakurai-sensei are the best doctors of the town, they will save her, I swear to you. Now wipe your tears and eat something. You have to be strong to support her.”

“Thank you, Sensei.”

The boy raised and Yamada joined the crowd of the interns already exiting the bedroom, Sakurai ahead. A last meeting and he would be free to go back home. Perhaps he will treat the other interns tonight? They survived their first day, and it was a matter of rejoicing.

They were sitting around the big table with the entire staff, nurses, helpers, physiotherapists, psychologists, doctors and trainees. In the middle of it, Sakurai and Matsumoto, the two heads of the hospital. The two cancer specialists used to work together and if Sakurai took care of the consultations, Matsumoto was the surgeon of the team. The new students stood behind, their hands on their notebooks, ready to answer to any question about any patient they visited today.

“I have to choose the intern who will assist me in the OR for Ohara-san's operation. Yamada?”

The boy leaped on his feet and blushed, feeling the hateful gazes of his colleagues upon him and the astonished version from the rest of the staff. It was unusual for Sakurai to remember the name of an intern and totally impossible for him to ask for one in his OR.

“Yes, Sensei?”

“You talked to Ohara-san’s son earlier. What did you say?”

“I told him to be confident. That you will save his mother.”

“Okay. You’re in.”

Did he really deserve such a reward, thought Yamada? He didn’t give a shit after all, he didn’t steal to get this place.

“Thank you, Sensei.”

“She’s your patient from now on. And if she dies, you’ll have the task of announcing it to her family.”

“Yes… What?!”

“You heard perfectly. You promised him that we’ll save his mother and if we can’t? Did you even study her file during your all so interesting first day in our hospital?”

“I… but I gave him hope. That’s what doctors ought to do,” stuttered the boy.

“A doctor does his best to save the life of his patient and gives the necessary hopes to his family to fight the disease. But we’re not God, we can’t save everyone. Only a kid would believe that.”

Yamada swallowed hard, feeling those looks of victory in the eyes of the others, feeling the sudden urge to run away and hide himself far from Sakurai’s cold look. The other interns were right when they called him Darth Vader, he was able to cut your breath with one sole look.

“I thought~”

“That you were cleverer than everyone? Let’s see what you’re worth in an operation room. Something to say?”

“It’s unfair.”

“Congratulations,” Sakurai looked at his watch. “You held on for almost 10 hours. It’s unfair? What is fair here? You don’t agree with my teachings methods? Ask your dean to change your assignment, Yamada. Oncology isn’t for kids.”

The people in the room laughed out loud and the boy clenched his fists.

=+=

Sakurai Sho felt Matsumoto Jun's gaze on him but he didn't pay attention to his colleague and friend, and opened the next file. The conversation was over.

At the end of the day, as he was sitting behind his desk, someone knocked at his door and he didn't have to raise the head to know the identity of the visitor. Jun sat down cross-legged in the armchair facing the desk and grabbed a pen on Sho's desk to play with it.

“You were harsh with the boy earlier.”

“I know. A hospital isn't a playground and the sooner he learns that, the better.”

“Don't lecture me, I know my job but you could have cornered him in your office, not during the staff meeting.”

“You're surely right,” Sho sighed, leaning back on his chair, taking off his glasses to rub his tired eyes. “I'll see him tomorrow.”

“Fine.”

“That's all?”

“No, I...to be totally honest, I'm worried about you,” Jun said. “You're tired and it tends to make you lose your temper. When did you go back home for the last time?”

“I don't know, last week perhaps... our schedule is insane.”

“We have the same one and yet I can't stand more than two days without seeing Satoshi.”

Sho smirked like always when his friend conjured his lover with this idiotic sappy smile. They were meant to be together, it was so obvious, almost comforting for this so resigned man.

“Jun... Aoi decided to leave me. She asked for divorce and of course, I agreed.”

“You...what?! Why?”

“She has someone and they want to marry as soon as possible, that's the most basic reason, I guess.”

“Who?”

“An associate of the cabinet. Her Boss.”

“But why did you accept?” Jun wondered. “I can't believe, she cheated on you! You got along well, right?”

“We need two to be married, if she's in love with someone else, I can't keep her by force.”

“As a matter of fact but~”

Sho chuckled and caressed the head of his dog. “It's not a big deal, thousands of couple are splitting up each year. We did our time.”

“But... how are you?”

“Pretty well. This man seems to be a good man.”

“You're so~ you're an alien! How can you be so quiet?!”

“Jun, I love Aoi-chan, I want her happiness and if I can't be the one who brings it to her, I can't blame her for searching elsewhere for it.”

“Is she still living with you?”

“Yeah. She'll move out in a few days. But you're right, I have to go back home to take some rest.”

“I'll treat you tonight? You could sleep at our place and talk to Satoshi perhaps.”

“No need. I'll finish this and I'll be home in one hour.”

“Okay, but call me if you need me.”

“No problem, thanks Jun. And let me call Oh-chan to tell him.”

“I know you won't, you're like my brother, a real air stream,” Jun said.

“How is he?”

“Who?”

“Your brother?”

“Stop acting as if you'd care about him and give up your pitiful attempts to change the subject. Call Satoshi.”

“I'll do my best,” Sho concluded.

Jun patted his shoulder and exited the office, leaving a perplexed Sho behind. It was said and he didn't flinch. Perhaps it was the occasion to raise the veil to Jun on a side of his life he always kept in the dark until now but the words were stuck in his throat. It's been so long now, lying was like a second nature. Well, he didn't really lie, he simply hid the truth, thought the doctor with a total bad faith.

If he had to be totally honest with himself, he had to admit that diving into work all night and day long for years was comfortable. By focusing on his brilliant career, he didn't have to think about the mess that was his private life. He was married to Aoi for almost 6 years now and the routine between them was somehow very easy to get accustomed to. With the divorce, he would have to find new habits, a new way of life and he already began to think he would live most of the time within the four walls of this hospital. But wasn't it already the case? He took off his lab coat, went to the nurses' office to tell them he was taking his leave and with his dog on his heel, drove back home.

=+=

The lights of the house were turned on and the door was unlocked.

“I'm back home.”

“Oh, Sho, welcome back!”

He left his shoes and his coat in the entrance area, following the delicious odour floating in the air.

“I didn't know, if you would come back home, you should have called, I would have cook something better.”

“Don't worry, compared to the hospital's cafeteria your cooking is paradise. I'll miss it.”

Aoi whirled around and Sho crossed his wife's gaze, so sad and so full of guilt. He scolded himself mentally.

“I'm so sorry, Sho.”

“Don't be, please. I'm glad for you. You deserve to be happy and Okada is a good man.”

“He really is.”

“And you're in love with him for years. Don't regret anything. We tried our best and it didn't work, we can't help it.”

Aoi walked to him and hugged her husband tenderly, resting her cheek on his torso. “I'll cook for you and once a week I'll leave meals in the fridge. I know, you're strong but you have to promise me to take care of yourself and perhaps... to find someone?”

“I swear,” Sho caressed her back and he wondered for a second, if he managed to fool her with his white lie.

He would take care of himself, but finding someone... He forgot the idea for years now. He tried a bit during the early times after their wedding but a relationship without love wasn't his thing. He moved back and smiled.

“When will you move?”

“Are you that rushed?!”

“I'm just enjoying the last days with my cute little wife.”

She sobbed once again and hugged him. Well, it won't be that easy, thought Sho sadly.

- - Tokyo, Matsumoto Hospital; January 10, 2015; 11 am - -

“Yamada? YAMADA! Open your eyes!”

The new intern, Yamada, was leaning on the patient, the sound of the beep machine so strong at his ear, his OR outfit already covered by blood, a suction probe in the hand. Jun and Sho were working together on the patient, totally focused on their task.

“Sorry, Sakurai-sensei,” the intern apologized. How could things go this bad, he wondered?

“Suction, please. I can’t see anything.”

“Yes, sorry.”

The boy did what he was told and took a glance up at the line of interns watching them by the panoramic window.

“Can you see something?” Sho asked in a stern voice.

“I… I see the tumor.”

“Right here-,” Jun showed him the awful mass of misshaped flesh, “and these are the metastasis.”

Yamada opened his eyes wide, unable to believe that so many and visible little cells were running along the vessels, invading the muscles and the flesh on their way.

“What can we do?” he asked sheepishly.

“Usually, we scrub the tumor and send it to the lab,” Sho answered. “They tell us if they find healthy flesh, if not, we keep on scrubbing. In our case, there’s nothing to do. We’ll close her and that’s all.”

“But it’s impossible!”

“We have reached our limits. We can’t do more. Sorry.”

Yamada clenched his jaws, so angry and frustrated to be so useless. Sho knew, he was totally right but he could understand the new intern's displeasure. In a blur, the boy assisted them to close the wound and watched the team transport her to the recovery room.

As soon as Yamada exited the OR, the father and the son ran to him, a smile full of hope on their faces and he didn’t run away. He announced the terrible news and when it was done, walked to the on-calls room to hide his tears.

“You did well.”

Sho was behind him, yet the new intern was so sure to have locked the room.

“She’s almost dead, she will be in a few days and… I did well?”

“You didn’t run away and you did your duty very courageously. The announcement to the family is the most difficult part of our work. Look… sit down. Yamada-kun, please.”

The student sat on the chair Sho handed him and looked at him. The doctor had lost his usual coldness and the intern perceived a compassion in his look he didn't see before.

“You said, your job was to give hope to the patient and his family but you forgot something. By keeping this hope alive when there’s nothing to hope for anymore, you hinder them from preparing for the unavoidable and saying goodbye to the dear one. But you spent time with her, with her family, with the nurses who are taking care of her day after day. No one else did it and it’s the reason why I chose you. The human being is the center of our job. Not the test results or some other details. But it’s a tough work, you have to protect yourself.”

“I…I can’t.”

“Of course you can. I'll teach you.”

Sho left the place, leaving the boy alone after designating him as his new intern.

“Are you free for lunch?” asked a voice he knew well behind him.

He turned around and smiled to his older friend, “Oh-chan. Don't know why but I was pretty sure I will see you today. Jun told you?”

“Yeah. So this lunch? It's been ages since I enjoyed your joyful presence...”

Sho couldn't tell if he was positively delighted to share his friend's lunch. He didn't feel like talking about the failure of his marriage once again, but Ohno was right. He avoided him for too long.

“Are we waiting for Jun?”

“Nope. It's just you and me today.”

“...Okay.”

They took the elevator to the top level of the hospital, taking advantage of the splendid weather to eat on the terrace overlooking the town. They grabbed some meals - the less hospital-like ones – and sat on the sunny side of the place.

“So, how are you?” Ohno asked right on the bat.

“You're always so subtle, my friend.”

“That's what a friend does. So?”

“According to the circumstances, I'm not bad at all. I was prepared for it for some time. Things didn't precisely work between us.”

“This is only a new start.”

“Exactly.”

“Sho-kun, I know you weren't an ordinary couple but Aoi-chan was your safety buoy.”

“What do you mean? That I'll drown without her?” Sho chuckled.

“Into work, yeah. It's already all your life.”

“So I have nothing to fear.”

“If you say so. By the way I'm gonna marry Jun.”

“You~,” Sho almost choked and spat his mouthful of rice ungraciously. “What?” he stuttered finally.

“Jun proposed and I accepted.”

“It's so like you! You throw a bomb with a smile and don't even understand why I'm shocked. But... Congratulations. I'm happy for you.”

“Thanks. And despite of what you're thinking, I'm perfectly aware that it's not the best time for this kind of news, but I thought it could help you to feel better too.”

“You're right. And it will be a splendid wedding.”

“Speaking of which... would you accept to be my best man?”

“Sure,” whispered Sho, touched like he didn't think he would be. “I suppose, Jun listed the things to do?”

Ohno burst out laughing. “You know him so well. He planned to leave it on your desk.”

“Sincerely, it will be my pleasure. I didn't really do anything for my own wedding, my parents almost pushed us to the altar. It will be my revenge.”

“Nino will be Jun's best man,” Ohno added, leaning forward on the table.

Sho kept his smile but his eyes darkened slightly. Of course, Nino would be his brother's best man, who else? He couldn't say he didn't think they would meet again one day, he already tried once or twice but was he ready now? Six years was a very long time, wasn't it and he was not in good shape recently. Recently? Since five years and nine months he was nothing more than the shadow of himself. He raised his gaze to his friend who stood still, waiting for a reaction he was unable to offer.

“Perfect,” Sho concluded, taking a sip of water to swallow the knot in his throat. “I'm looking forward to meeting him.”

 

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Nino's POV

- - Tokyo, Ninomiya Apartment; January 11, 2015; around 11 pm - -

When the doorbell of Nino's apartment rang and the inhabitant rushed to open it, he found a familiar man standing nonchalantly in the doorway, just as expected. His guest was wearing a warm looking marine colored coat and holding an almost finished cigarette between the thumb and index-finger of his left hand, that he was pulling out from between his lips. The dark-haired guy with a defined nose and cute teeth, showing when he parted his lips slightly for a seductive smirk, looked directly into Nino's eyes, who just stared at him, waiting.

“You called - here I am,” the visitor said. “So what are we up to tonight?”

“Finally. Just come on in, Toma,” Nino murmured, reaching out to grab the other man's coat and pulled him in, slamming the door behind him.

The dark-haired guy, Ikuta Toma, didn't complain and quickly got rid of his shoes and coat in the hallway while Nino was already heading back to the living room of his apartment.

“I just ate pasta, you want something too?” Nino offered, as he picked up an almost finished plate and brought it into the kitchen where he put it into the sink.

Toma followed him and shortly after was standing behind Nino. He reached out to wrap his arms around the slim figure of the young man, pulling him a bit closer. He brushed his nose against Nino's neck, earning a small disagreeing grunt because of the cold touch and he giggled about the smaller man's reaction.

“I ate at work, don't bother,” he finally answered and started kissing Nino's neck. “By the way, why didn't you drop by in the hotel kitchen? You could have eaten there too.”

“Felt like going home.”

“Something happened?” Toma asked, humming.

The man was actually working at Nino's hotel as the head chef and usually, Nino would drop in at the kitchen at least once a day to check on his friend. Usually, Toma would have something delicious ready to eat for his boss then, that the other couldn't refuse to taste.

“Don't know...,” Nino murmured and finally turned around in the embrace, looking up to the other man. “So...”

He couldn't even finish his sentence as Toma had already leaned forward and captured Nino's lips in a kiss. Nino wasn't surprised, already knowing this procedure. But when he started kissing back and suddenly Sho came up his mind, the one that he was trying so hard to forget for the entire day, he cringed. The young man put his hands up onto Toma's arms and pushed himself slightly backwards as he broke the kiss. He gulped while dropping his look onto Toma's chest, not wanting to look into the other man's face. Nino brushed one hand over his face, trying to calm down as he felt one of Toma's hands brushing over the small of his back, a gesture that felt like a caress.

“Nino, what's up?” the other wondered and Nino sighed as he finally was able to look at him again.

“I'm sorry. I... I just don't feel like kissing today, not your fault,” he murmured and rubbed his forehead before he dropped his hand onto Toma's arm again. “Can we just get straight to the point tonight?”

Toma still looked a bit puzzled at the other man but didn't question any further and nodded. “Alright, no problem. So just releasing some stress this time?”

“Yeah...”

“That's OK, don't worry, that's what this little thing between us is for after all, right?” Toma smirked. “I'll make you come so hard that you will forget whatever is troubling you.”

With that, the man didn't hesitate any longer and pulled Nino towards the living room and the king sized bed, which was standing in the large, open designed penthouse, close to the red brick wall interrupted by large windows that led outside into the never sleeping night, showing the black city, peppered with countless colorful lights.

Nino didn't protest when Toma kissed him again, first on his cheek, making sure to avoid his lips, then his neck, ghosting over his collar bones while starting to undress the smaller man. He didn't protest either, when the dark-haired man pushed him down slightly to sit onto the soft fabric of the large bed and began to unbuckle his belt.

It was true, Nino wasn't looking for love tonight or for caress or someone who was there for him. Tonight, he only wanted to numb that aching pain in his heart that he had hoped to have finally forgotten over the years, that he had again been proven wrong about. So. Damned. Wrong.

=+=

Nino checked the watch around his right wrist, the hour hand and the minute hand of the clock were approaching the 12 in the middle and the second hand was ticking closer and closer to guide the world towards midnight. He and Toma were lying on top of his bed, both completely naked, the black white patterned blanket crinkled underneath them as they shared a cigarette. Nino let his arm fall back onto the soft fabric while he allowed his gaze to drift off to the ceiling. He was trying to follow the pattern which the smoke was drawing in the air, before he gave up on it, his thoughts still occupied too much with things he didn't want to think about. Toma had done a great job to distract him, at least for a short while but now it seemed like everything was going to break down onto Nino again. Did the walls and the ceiling really move closer or was this just his imagination?

The young man tried to calm down, closing his eyes and taking some deep breaths to ease the nervousness. It seemed to help a bit. His eyes still closed, Nino felt Toma shifting besides him, turning towards him and then he felt a slight poking of the other man's finger on his cheek.

“Something's up?” Toma asked, trying to pick up the topic from before their act of distraction.

Nino didn't answer. Instead, he asked, “Are you staying tonight?” as he turned his head and opened his eyes again.

“No, Masaki said, he'll arrive at around 3 am. I want to pick him up from the airport. He surely will be tired from his shift.”

Nino hummed understandingly and took the cigarette again that Toma was handing over to him. The filter still felt a little warm from the other man's lips.

“You ever felt guilty?” the young man finally asked, letting some smoke dance upwards, imagining trying to push the ceiling back up a bit so that he could feel like having more air to breathe in his apartment again.

“Towards Masaki?” Toma wondered.

“Yeah. After all, you come here in the middle of the night to fuck me and then you'll just go to pick up your boyfriend from the airport?” Nino turned towards the other again, his eyes questioning, showing that he still didn't really understand the other man's way of thinking.

“You know about the agreement between him and me,” Toma smiled and rolled onto his back too to let his eyes gaze up to the ceiling. “Open relationship. No details, no jealousy, no “I love you”s to other people and it will stop as soon as I or Masaki claim for it to stop. For now – it works just fine like this and I can... well, enjoy being with you and such.”

“You don't mind sharing him with other people?”

“No, as long as it's just about sex and I know that whatever happens, I will always be the only one he loves.”

“Do you love him?”

“What's going on, Nino? It's not like you to talk about such things!” Toma said a bit confused.

“You guys are strange,” was everything that Nino answered.

Toma shifted again so that he was pinning Nino down onto the bed, looking into the smaller man's hazy eyes.

You are the strange one here!” he then chuckled, reaching out to the cigarette between Nino's fingers before he put it between his own lips again, sitting up next to the young man. “On the one hand, you're subliminally trying to lecture me, questioning my love towards my boyfriend because I sleep with other men but on the other hand, you are the one who calls me in the middle of the night so that I can come over to fuck you.”

“Well, I am not the one who is cheating on his boyfriend. I'm single, did you forget?”

“For me it isn't cheating either. I'm allowed to sleep with you, if you want to call it like this,” Toma smiled, poking his cheeky friend again.

“You guys are really strange,” Nino repeated, ignoring Toma's poking.

“Tell me what happened, Nino. I'm your friend after all, maybe I can help you.”

Toma stopped poking the smaller one since he wasn’t getting the reaction that he had been hoping for, anyway. He stood up to stub out the cigarette in the ashtray placed on the couch table which wasn't located that far from the bed.

“My brother will be getting married,” Nino finally spit out.

Toma lifted an eyebrow. “And that's the reason why you're so gloomy? I thought something more... scary happened, you saw a ghost or something.”

“Exactly,” Nino sighed. “A ghost from my past.”

“Family? I thought you like your brother.”

“I do! It's not him. It’s some... ex-don’t-know-what... friend, lover... boyfriend?”

“Wow...,” Toma looked at his friend, amazed from the sudden insecurity of the other. “I didn't know you're still in love with someone from your past!”

“What?!” Nino grimaced as if he bit onto a sour lemon. “I'm not! Didn't you listen to me? I said ex. It's over.”

He lifted his hands, trying to underline his statement with some meaningful gesture but he failed. The man sitting next to him smiled, with pity slightly shining in his eyes.

“Well, that's not how it looks like to me.”

“You want to provoke me?!”

“That's not what I -”

“Why are you here, anyway?!” Nino suddenly burst out, interrupting his friend. “In bed with me, I mean. Because you pity me?! You don't love me after all, you love your boyfriend.”

The young man sounded angry.

“It's not pity, Nino, you know that,” Toma tried to calm him down again, daring to try a small flirt to lighten up the situation again. “Maybe it's because I can't resist you? You're handsome and fascinating after all -”

“I'm not,” the smaller man barged in grumpily but Toma decided to ignore that comment.

“And I love you as a friend. Even if the man I love is Masaki, true.”

“Love only brings misery,” Nino dropped and turned around, facing away from his friend.

“You really must have been deeply in love with that man,” Toma murmured.

Nino turned around again, darting a mean look at the other man. “I told you, this is not about love!”

“Who are you trying to fool, Nino?”

After staring at Toma for a second, Nino faced away from him again, letting his body slump back into the soft fabric of his bed's blanket.

“Anyway, he only brought me misery,” he whispered almost voicelessly.

“So you admit that it was love?”

“Shut up, you!”

A pillow met Toma's face but as the patient man he was, he didn't react to that and just looked at his friend again.

“Seriously, Nino. What happened between you and him?”

Nino, who was now sitting up as well, sighed deeply and averted his eyes, staring at the black and white pattern of his blanket, which was revealing, on a closer look, that the print on the fabric actually wasn't just a simple pattern but the black white images of over-sized, stylized stamps showing famous places from all around the world.

“We were together... somewhat...,” he finally started, letting his hand brush over his face. “At least I thought we were. I don't know, after a while, he just dropped me like a hot potato to marry some stupid girl. He just treated me like a whore until he didn't need me any longer...”

“Sounds like a real jerk,” Toma grimaced and reached out one hand to tousle Nino's soft black hair consolatorily.

“Exactly,” the other man agreed. “We didn't see each other after that for almost six years now. Five years and nine months, to be exact. But now, I'm supposed to be my brother's best man and he... will be the best man of my brother's groom.”

“So you two will meet again, sounds tough.”

“Yeah, and the best of all is – the bridal pair expects both of us for lunch. Tomorrow.”

“And now you wonder if you should show up or not,” Toma nodded and Nino didn't even wonder how his friend seemed to know his thoughts so precisely. “You still didn't forgive him for what he did?”

No answer. Nino just bit his lower lip slightly.

“So it's time for you to make a choice,” Toma continued smirking, earning a puzzled look from Nino. “To forget your pain, be an adult and move on or...”

“Or?”

“Or to take revenge.”

After staring at his friend for a short moment, Nino burst out into laughter.

“Seems, like I'm surrounded by crazy people today,” he said after he calmed down.

Toma looked at him a bit confused but Nino just waved it off.

- - Tokyo, Ohno & Matsumoto Apartment; January 12, 2015; 12:20 am - -

Nino was standing in front of Ohno and Jun's apartment and he knew that he was late already. But he just couldn't bring himself to ring the doorbell, he was just too nervous.

Seriously, this was worse than every first days of school or tests that he ever had to participate in. He took some deep breaths, trying to calm down as always and right now he just wished he had on hand one of those pills that his brother gave him against his sleeping troubles. Maybe, they would help in situations like these, too. The young man felt as bad as he looked. He didn't even need a mirror to know that. When he was getting ready at home in the bathroom, which took him longer than ever, he had seen how terribly pale and unhealthy he looked.

Right now, his stomach felt like it was turning upside down, his heart was pounding so fast and loud, that he felt like it was positioned somewhere between his ears and Nino's hands felt slightly sweaty. This was disgusting. And ridiculous, really. It wasn't like he was going to die, he would just be meeting his ex-whatever-he-was-exactly, right? He shouldn't be that nervous.

Well, if it was only some random ex-lover, it wouldn't be so difficult for Nino, he was sure about that. But it was him after all. It was Sho and as much as he tried to convince himself, Toma or whoever about the contrary, yes, he once had been deeply in love with that man and he didn't forgive him about what had happened in their past.

And now, he would have to face him again. Now, after five years and nine months of avoiding him as much as possible. Nino even left the country after his graduation from college, just to not to be present at the time when Sho got married to that woman. He had told Jun and Ohno that he never ever wanted to see that man again – even if he didn't tell them the reason why - so they arranged things in a way so that he didn't have to face Sho. Even if Jun never understood what happened, since he thought that Nino and Sho had been good friends. Well, his brother didn't know the whole circumstances, after all. He didn't know about what had been or not been between Nino and Sho or why they broke apart so suddenly and if it was up to Nino to decide, he would never find out.

How the hell was Nino supposed to face Sho now, after so many years? What would they talk about? Well, most likely, Jun and Ohno's wedding. But how should he even address him? He couldn't call him “Sho” or “Sho-chan” in front of the others how he used to do during their best times. What would Sho look like, what would Sho think about how he looked like? Would Sho find him attractive? Certainly not, he would more likely be disgusted for sure.

Now, Nino has closed the circle and was back to thinking that he just looked horrible. Horrible, unhealthy, and pale like a zombie. But on the other hand, even if Nino looked horrible and Sho would find him disgusting, would it matter? He wasn't here to impress his ex-whatever, after all it wasn't like he still loved that man. He was here just to talk about Jun and Ohno's wedding preparations, that he would have to take care of... together with Sho.

Maybe, he should just go back and skip lunch with the others this time. There would surely be another time when his brother and Ohno would talk to him about their wedding preparations and if Sho would be present then again, fine. Nino would at least have more than one day to prepare himself because right now, he wasn't prepared for this at all.

Just as Nino wanted to turn heel, thinking that this was a really good idea, the door opened and Ohno was standing there, reaching out for Nino's wrist to hold the slightly shaking man back from running away.

“Look, I found a scaredy cat,” Ohno smiled and teased the younger man who just sighed, feeling caught. “You're late. Come on in, everybody is waiting for you.”

“Please, Oh-chan, don't do this to me... I'll call you and Jun later on, alright?” Nino whispered pleading, still trying to escape the situation somehow but the other just shook his head silently.

“Don't be a child, Nino. Come in now.”

And Nino gave in. He stepped into the apartment right behind Ohno, who handed him a pair of slippers, so that he wouldn't freeze. Nevertheless, Nino was sure that even with the slippers on, he might not be able to stop shaking slightly from his nervousness. In addition, he felt unease in this apartment. He always tried to avoid coming here, even if sometimes it couldn't be helped. He had always hoped and also suggested, that Jun and Ohno should move to something new, something bigger, something that was closer to Jun's hospital but so far, they had decided to stay here because the rent was cheap and of course, because of the memories.

This was Ohno's old apartment, which he moved in years ago when he started to attend the arts college and in which he and Jun had met for the first time and met so many times after that. But this was also the apartment, in which Ohno and Sho were living together as roommates during the first few years, which made it a place of Nino and Sho's joined memories too...

Now, Nino felt like he wanted to throw up.

“So, Sho is here already?” he stupidly asked the obvious, but glad that it was only words that spilled out of his mouth. Not only did he count one more pair of unfamiliar shoes in the entrance area, he also knew that Sho had never been late to anything and he was quite sure, that this would never change, but somehow, he just couldn't come up with anything else to say right now.

“Yeah, Jun is already talking to him,” Ohno agreed and smiled at Nino, trying to smooth his obvious panic a bit.

After he failed twice before managing to put on his slippers properly, almost losing his temper, he nearly ruined the wardrobe while hanging up his coat, which created the loud noise that got his brother shouting from the dining room, if everything was OK. Nino then was finally ready – more or less. Just, that he could never have been ready for what was awaiting him.

He passed the hallway, following Ohno into the dining room, where Jun jumped up happily to greet his brother, flinging his arms around him like so often when there wasn't a reception counter or something similar between them. Nino hugged his brother back a little to answer the greeting, but it was then, when his eyes fell onto the other man, who was just standing up from his seat, looking straight into his eyes and bowing slightly. Right in this moment, Nino felt his heart skipping a beat and he wished to vanish within Jun's warm hug.

Of course, he didn't vanish and neither did the well-built man on the other side of the table, who was a bit taller than Nino himself and now looked at him with a friendly smile. A smile, that Nino had seen so often in his past and dreamed about so often in his dreams. A smile, that hadn't really changed much, just like the overall impression of the man standing there with his dark brown, friendly eyes, the full, red lips and the cute pits at the corners of his mouth, that only showed when he was smiling, even if they had deepened a little bit, maybe. His hair was dark and shorter than it had been some years ago, when they last met, the top of his hair a bit longer than the rest but nicely styled so that it didn't fall over his forehead, while the hair at the sides of his head was trimmed short, similar to an undercut and he looked as handsome as he used to be, no, even more handsome than before, Nino thought.

Sakurai Sho.

Nino felt even uglier than he thought he was when he looked into the mirror earlier and he felt ashamed that Sho saw him like that, but he also felt something more. He felt the butterflies in his stomach that he had tried to kill over the years rearing up again, trying to break free. And suddenly, he felt like he was a teenager again, sent back to the time long before he and Sho had been “together somehow”. Long before Sho had dumped him in favor of entering marriage with that girl.

- - Tokyo, Matsumoto & Ninomiya Apartment; April 26, 2004; 4 pm - -

Until today, Nino had always hated Mondays and this Monday had been one of the worst in his entire history so far. He had forgotten to do his homework and even worse, he also had forgotten that there was a test in English in the second period and of course he had failed it hopelessly. Shibutani from class B, who seemed to hate him for some reason that Nino didn't know, had taken his money for lunch again. Moreover, the girls from his class had made fun of his new hairstyle, calling him “cute” instead of the “cool” which he had been aiming for by styling his now slightly shorter black hair a bit more “wild” with some hair wax – most likely for the last time in his entire life.

Being 16 sucked, in Nino's opinion, and he doubted, that things would feel better a few months later when he would turn 17.

Exhausted from his school day and thinking only about his guitar that would be waiting to get played in his room, the boy opened the door of the apartment that he shared with his two years older brother, Jun, who just had moved in here together with him at the beginning of the school year, that was not even a month ago. At least, he didn't have to share his life with that woman called his mother any longer, who didn't give a shit about him anyway, Nino thought.

He let his backpack drop to the floor next to the table, as he entered the kitchen and turned to the fridge to get some fresh juice before he let himself sink into his usual seat, taking a sip. He closed his eyes, annoyed, trying to brush away the unpleasant memories of the day, when he heard his brother Jun entering the room and heading for the fridge as well, as the clicking of the door revealed.

“Welcome back, Nino,” Jun said in his usual friendly tone and even if Nino didn't open his eyes, he could imagine the happy smile on his brother's face. “How was your day?”

“I'm back home,” Nino simply murmured, sinking even deeper into his seat, his head thrown back and ignoring his brother's question.

Just then he heard the footsteps of someone else approaching from behind and someone slightly cleared his throat. Nino bothered enough, to open his eyes again to risk a look. Not, that he could see that much from this angle, so the boy sat up properly and turned around, facing the stranger. It was a young man, most likely his brother's age, tall, slim but not as bony as Nino was, and a sharp face with friendly eyes and the most beautiful smile that Nino had ever seen.

“Hi,” the stranger greeted him friendly with his beautiful smile, waving his hand a little.

“Hi,” Nino replied, a bit irritated.

“Ah,” Jun finally barged in. “Sho, that's my little brother I told you about, Ninomiya Kazunari, but everyone calls him Nino, we're half-brothers, you remember?” He handed his friend a glass of juice before pointing at his brother, who was still staring at the other man. “Nino, that's Sakurai Sho, he's my friend from university and my partner in Bio-chemistry, so I'll bring him over for studying sometimes from now on.”

“Nice to meet you, please call me Sho,” Jun's friend said politely.

“Nice to meet you too,” Nino murmured and nodded his head slightly in response.

“By the way, did you do something to your hair?” Jun asked, as he gave Nino a wondering look and reached out, to tousle his hair a bit, getting brushed off by his brother.

“I... not much,” Nino blushed and tried to comb it straight again with his fingers, a bit shyly.

“Don't ruin it!” the one called Sho said, smiling his beautiful smile. “It looks cute.”

And suddenly, being called “cute” didn't bother Nino that much any longer and Mondays weren't that bad any longer either.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Chapter 4


Chapter 4

Sho's POV

 

- - Tokyo, Sakurai House; January 10, 2015; 11 pm - -

“Fleetwood Mac, you keep?”

Sho raised the head up from the divorce sheets to look at his wife who was holding a CD above her head. She wore one of the pullovers she knitted herself and it was... Sho searched for the most appropriate word... impossible to wear outside of the house. Yet, he always found the way she never gave up, even with something she was so bad at, touching.

“It's yours.”

“But you're the one who listens to it. It's too nostalgic for me,” she got up and toddled to him a little stack of albums in the hands, putting it on the low table before Sho. “I'll keep those. Or rather you'll get finally rid of what you call 'the crappy-sappy-stuff-my-wife-adores' when I'm not around.”

“I'm not... okay, it's true. Are you sure? You love the Jackson five one,” Sho pointed at the shelves of CD.

“I'll buy it again, it's not a big deal and for the rest of our goods...I asked to Yuriko to be our lawyer, is it okay with you?”

“No problem. Anyway, it won't be complicated since the both of us agreed. You can take everything you want.”

“Except my clothes and my books, I won't touch anything. Plus, Junichi-kun already bought everything we'll need.”

“How's his divorce going?”

Aoi sat on the couch by Sho's side, finding her place, against him.

“His wife was very angry and she decided to ruin him. That’s all she can do to make him pay, she said to him. It's the price to pay for being together I guess, I don't really mind.”

“Not everybody is as understanding as I am,” Sho falsely boasted, stretching his arms above his head, not really surprised to feel his wife nestling against his torso. “Are you happy?”

“I am.”

“So that's all that matters.”

“Sho?”

“Hm?”

“Your mother called me today at work. She asked me to lunch with her.”

Sho stroked her arm gently to comfort her. “Refuse. She always traumatizes you and you hate her, now you don't have to meet her again. We're not a family any longer. Anyway, you know what she will say - don't you think you will ruin the rich Sakurai family by asking for a divorce. Your family is as rich as ours and you're a lawyer but she won't take the effort to mention it.”

“She said, she was glad that you decided to leave an infertile wife,” Aoi said sheepishly.

“What a bad witch. I'll call her, don't worry. Just forget her.”

“Sho, do you remember the first time we met?”

“We were probably wearing diapers at that time.”

“No, I mean, our first common memory.”

“As if it was yesterday.”

- - Tokyo, Sakurai Mansion; July 12, 1994 - -

Sho loved those family events. His father was the president of one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the country and he was a very busy man. At the ripe age of eight, this impressive father was the most important and powerful man on earth and the occasion to talk to him were too rare for the clever boy.

“Rome was not built in one day,” he used to say and in his child's mind it meant that he couldn't go back home each time he wished to.

That day, acquaintances, relatives and the most prominent members of the company were gathered in the Sakurai mansion for the anniversary of the head of the family. Sho was in a corner of the hall hidden from his parents, his most precious treasure - a huge red notebook - squeezed against his belly, waiting for his chance to show to his father his new trophies, patiently collected during those last months.

“Miyazaki-san, how kind of you to join our little party,” Sho's mother said loudly while she was bowing respectfully at the new incomers.

The boy knew them as a matter of fact, his mother talked a lot about the main concurrent of the Sakurai enterprise. Yet, he was circumspect about her attitude. Did she like them or not, he was unable to say.

“Sho, be a polite boy and greet our guests,” she grabbed his wrist and pushed him towards the couple.

They smiled to him and the woman caressed his round cheek.

“And this is Aoi-chan,” she gently dragged the little girl hidden behind her back to introduce her to Sho.

“Nice to meet you,” Sho said clearly.

The girl nodded and Sho found her very pretty. Her round face was surrounded by two long braids and she wore a pink kimono where butterflies were flying freely.

“She's very shy, Sho-kun, perhaps you could play together?” whispered Aoi's mother. The little girl sent a desperate look at her mother but Sho reached out to take her hand.

“Do you want to see my entomologist notebook? I found a new butterfly yesterday.”

Aoi put her little round hand in the boy's and they were leaving the hall when he heard his mother saying for the first time “What a lovely couple they will be!”

- - Tokyo, Sakurai House; January 10, 2015; 11.30 pm - -

“Do you think, they have already decided to marry us at that time?” the woman asked.

“It was decided as soon as your mother gave birth to you. My parents had a boy and when yours had a girl, our fate was sealed.”

“I guess, we made the best of a rotten situation,” Aoi uttered.

“Jun proposed to Oh-chan,” Sho said out of the blue.

“Really?!” Aoi moved back, startled. “Why didn't you tell me before?”

“I heard the news today, I had lunch with Oh-chan at the hospital. He asked me to be his best man.”

“Obviously! I'm so glad for them. Jun is certainly making tons of lists for you now.”

They chuckled together and Sho realized that it would be the first official event he would have to face without Aoi by his side.

“He gently left one on my desk this afternoon and I promised to share their meal tomorrow.”

“Tell them, I'm sorry for not coming along,” Aoi said.

“They will understand, don't worry.”

She fathomed his gaze seriously. “What bothers you, Sho?”

“Jun's best man will be his brother,” Sho said seriously.

“Oh... I see. Are you anxious?”

“It's been so long. I don't think, it will touch me anymore, I almost forgot his existence to be true.”

“...”

“You know, I'm lying, isn't it?”

“You still let him under your skin, love. He has always been the third person in our marriage.”

“Should I say, I'm sorry?” Sho asked.

“Certainly not! You don't have to apologize to be the man you are, and being still in love with your first love after so many years is... so precious.”

“I'm not in love with him, I don't know him anymore. We were kids at that time.”

“That's what you fear for tomorrow? To find him changed or worse, not changed at all?”

“Both, I guess.”

“Sho,” Aoi putting her palms on his husband's torso. “Why don't you see this like the occasion to catch up for all those years? After all, you're single now and as far as we know he's too... tell him. Tell him, you never forgot him.”

“Let's see first how things happen tomorrow. For now... we should go to bed now, it's late.”

He got up and his dog followed him to his bedroom which was officially the study of the couple since they bought this big house. Aoi kissed him good night and went to bed after a last stroke to Clover. Sho laid down and with a smirk, observing the tenderizing ball of fur turning around in the bedroom, waiting for permission to climb on the bed.

“You can come,” Sho said after a minute and the dog joined him. Soon, he sensed the bounteous warmth against his leg and he gratefully caressed him.

- - Tokyo, Ohno & Matsumoto Apartment; January 11, 2015; 12 am - -

It was still strange to pass the threshold which had once been his own, as a guest. Yet, the place had nothing to do with the student's apartment he shared with Ohno when they were at university anymore. It had become very... Jun-like..., Sho thought with nostalgia. It was very neat and clean - but he used to do chores too when he lived with Ohno - every little thing had a predetermined place. Ohno had never been the picky type. He had the wonderful capacity to find happiness by his own, wherever or with whoever. Which meant, practically speaking, that he was able to do chores if you were comprehensive enough to give him precise instructions. Initiative wasn't his forte in the matter but it never really bothered Jun or Sho who were used to taking the lead in every circumstances.

“Come on in. Jun went out to buy a cake at the pastry shop at the corner of the street, he will be back soon.”

Sho took off his shoes, noticing with relief the absence of an unknown pair and followed Ohno into the living room.

“Sit down. Beer?” Ohno proposed.

“It's a bit too early but a tea will be perfect.”

“It works.”

The doctor took advantage of this moment to gaze at the stack of pictures on the table, admiring the work of his childhood's friend. Ohno had always been a genius photographer as long as Sho could remember. He met him at school when they were kids and Ohno followed him everywhere to take pictures of every insect Sho hunted with his net. He smiled at the sweet memory.

A few minutes later, Ohno came back with a tray and poured two cups of tea.

“Is it your latest work?” asked Sho, showing a beautiful mountain landscape.

“I applied for the Nat Geo magazine and they asked me to send them something I'd like to see published. Do you remember this?”

“'Course. We did trekking on this very trail. How old were we?”

“It was our last summer before university,” Ohno answered with a smirk.

“Our lives changed drastically after that. We moved in together and soon after I introduced you to my new university's friend, Jun. Who would think you could be newlyweds one day?”

“Not me. Not you, right? Sho...”

“Hm?”

“We didn't really have time yesterday but did you find someone? Is it why you get a divorce?” Ohno asked.

“Aoi-chan found someone.”

“I know, but you~”

“I didn't. It's not for me you know. I tried but I'm useless in love matters.”

“You were married and falling in love was complicated, okay, I get it but when we were younger, I mean, this guy with me on this trail was a damned seducer. You couldn't count the number of your conquests.”

Sho leaned back on the couch, staring at his friend directly. It was not in his habit to take such a circuitous way to ask questions. “I changed when I married Aoi-chan.”

“And you drew a line on your sexual life?”

“Are you... are you asking me if I'm still gay?!”

“After being married to a woman you could have become bi at least. Perhaps will you accept a new wife, after all, you don't have children and your parents~”

“What's your point Oh-chan?”

Ohno lowered his head, almost embarrassed. “I know, we never talked about it and in our little universe it didn't even exist but... Nino called me and I think that he~”

“Hi guys! I bought a strawberry cake, Satoshi's favorite,” Jun's voice cut at the door.

“Such a considerate husband,” Sho said ironically, unable to figure out if he felt relieved or frustrated to avoid this conversation he feared for years. He always suspected Ohno to know more than he could tell and now he was undoubtedly Nino's friend but did he really know what happened between them? And if yes, to what extent?

Ohno's face changed immediately and he displayed the pictures on the low table before Sho.

“What were you doing?” Jun asked, sitting on the floor at Ohno's feet.

“I was showing my pictures for Nat Geo to Sho.”

“My husband will be published in Nat Geo,” Jun said proudly and his groom-to-be cupped his chin to kiss him.

“Please guys... I'm divorcing.”

Jun moved back, mortified, but Sho laughed with Ohno, “I'm joking. You can kiss to all your heart’s content, it's not as if I never had to endure your disgusting love demonstrations before.”

He particularly remembered an afternoon when he came back home too early and found them on his kitchen counter, playing with food. He thrilled at the thought and seeing the other two’s faces, they knew perfectly what he had in mind.

“I never looked at my kitchen counter the same way after that. You traumatized me.”

“Poor little thing,” Ohno said, slapping his head playfully.

“By the way, did you find my list?” Jun asked, pouring a cup of tea.

“To be honest, the #1 at the right corner frighten me a bit. Does that mean it's only a beginning?”

“Perhaps we should wait for Nino? He won't be long, he promised Satoshi.”

Sho crossed Ohno's gaze and tried to keep a poker face which was his daily mask but he was perfectly aware that he couldn't totally fool his best friend. “What did you cook, Jun?”

“I didn't. Satoshi cooked the entire meal.”

“Oh my God,” Sho said, hesitating between stupefaction and laughter.

“I worked hard, cruel man, I even burnt my index finger. I did my best and you will eat everything I'll offer you because that's what a friend is ought to do.”

“And I double-checked, it's totally edible,” Jun completed in an undertone.

“Ahh guys, you never fail to amuse me. Let's eat,” Sho sat at the table. He almost forgot the reason why he was here.

“You're right, Nino will catch up. Ah, it should be him! Sit down, I'll open the door.”

Ohno toddled to the entrance and Sho began to panic. So there it was, the moment of truth. Sho felt the sudden urge to run away, far from him, but where? In the restroom, perhaps could he pretend he was suddenly ill? An emergency? No way, Jun owned a pager too, his lie won't last for long. Crap.

And why did it take so long?

“What are you doing, guys?” groaned Jun as they heard a loud bang from the entrance.

Sho took a quick glance at the mirror on the wall and clenched his jaws, lowering his head. He felt awful. Those last month hadn't been kind to him. He was appalled and the young man Nino had known, totally disappeared to let in place an adult, muscular and dry. The little piece of flesh appearing at his black V-collar displayed too visible collarbones, a too white skin. He felt like a skeleton.

And suddenly, Nino was there, in Jun's arms.

How could Sho think, he won't feel anything? Nino changed too, true, he lost the last traces of his adolescence, true but... he had never been so gorgeous. He was still too thin but today it conferred him a kind of sexy masculinity.

In Sho's opinion, Nino had always been cute, the cutest man he ever met, and the fact that Nino ignored it, made it far more exciting. Yet, the man he was facing now was sexy. Sensual. Erotic. Or was it only the vision of a man starving for sex? He crossed his gaze and his heart missed a beat. Oh God. When was the last time he felt this crazy attraction, this electricity in the air? Images popped up in Sho's mind. He remembered Nino's abandoned look each time he took him, each time he made him lose his ground, his moans, his screams of delight when he... Sho scolded himself, it was not the time nor the place for this.

“Sit down, we were talking about the wedding. Sho-kun, you remember my little brother?”

How could I forget, he was dying to say but he simply nodded and murmured an “Of course, I do.”

Nino sat at the table, facing him and Sho admired him leisurely which was pretty easy, since Nino avoided his gaze so obviously. He was looking everywhere but in his direction but Sho didn't really care. He had already been so shy when they were together. It was part of his charm and to be honest, it was Sho's type of man. His perfect type.

“Sho, what do you think about it?”

Suddenly, the three men were looking at him and he moved back, flushing like an idiot caught red-handed.

“I... excuse me, what did you say?”

Jun frowned and sent him an offended stare. “We were talking about the place for the ceremony. Satoshi has an exhibition and I already planned the interventions I couldn't postpone in order to take two entire weeks for the honeymoon. We won't help you that much. Well, since I booked the OR room for my patients, you'll have some free time. That was my question. Are you still okay?”

It meant spending time with Nino, having the opportunity to create new bonds between them.

“I'm still okay. If Nino doesn't mind. He's surely very busy with the hotel,” Sho answered, playing with his glass to hide his feelings the best he could.

“Working in a hotel offers me some possibilities. I'll see with my usual suppliers, if they can give me some leads. If Sakurai-san doesn't mind.”

The sudden use of his surname and the suffix of politeness set a distance between the two men and Sho grimaced without realizing.

“Sakurai-san doesn't mind,” Sho answered more dryly than he had wished to. “But you can call me Sho. We're not strangers after all.”

“Really? We're not precisely friends either,” Nino murmured.

“So what are we?” Sho stared at him squarely and the other narrowed his eyes, sending blades of lightning.

“I wonder. Nothing, which deserves to be remembered at least.”

“Okay, okay,” Jun cut. “Time's out. I won't allowed you to ruin our wedding! We asked you to be our best men because you're our dearest friends. Because we're family. I don't know why you're hating each other so much but I don't give a damn shit! You will make an effort and once the wedding is over, I'll let you kill each other or never see each other again. Okay? Nino, where are you going?”

“I'm getting out of here, I need a smoke.”

“Don't you dare~”

“Jun, leave him alone,” Sho said, patting his friend's forearm.

“Yeah, leave me alone brother, I won't be able to behave anyway.”

Nino took his leave and Ohno threw an irritated gaze at Jun and Sho. Then he got up and ran after his soon to be brother-in-law.

“What just happened? Why... why are they leaving?!” asked Jun, startled.

“I think it means, that your brother is angry with me.”

“So do your best to apologize. Whatever you did to him.”

 

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Nino's POV

- - Tokyo; Ohno & Matsumoto Apartment; January 12, 2015; 12:30 pm - -

Sho was looking at him, Nino thought and this was everything on his mind right now, almost driving him crazy. He wanted to run away or no, he wanted to run towards Sho and hug him, cup his face, kiss him, tell him how much he missed him, then punch him and then run away. What a mess his feelings and thoughts were right now, Nino cursed.

“Sit down, we were talking about the wedding. Sho-kun, you remember my little brother?”

Was it something like that, that Jun asked, Nino honestly wasn't sure, if his eyes and ears were still showing him the truth. He felt like he was observing the scene from inside a huge bubble, his surroundings mumbled and far away.

“Of course, I do,” Sho answered, his eyes still darted onto Nino and the younger man couldn't help but wonder, what exactly Sho did remember about him.

He finally sat down at the table, glad that he could hide at least parts of his body not to reveal the nervous shaking of his hands to the other man. Nevertheless, Nino cursed whoever it was, who had decided onto the seating order because now he was facing Sho – even if he rather stared at the table's pattern or whatever instead of the other man. The table between them was too small for the appropriate distance that Nino needed right now. He was sure, that the feelings that were bubbling up his chest right now were dominated by stress, fear, rejection and the usual missing self-confidence. Yet, when he was sitting so close to Sho, so close, that he could even smell the man's aftershave, there still was also this pure craving for that man's love and that man's body. Nino hated his body for betraying him that much, hated himself for not being able to lock out those old feelings and desires, hated Sho for everything he had done in the past and for being still so damned gorgeous.

While ignoring the food, they had been served, almost completely, since he didn't want to risk really throwing up because of his weak stomach right now, Nino at least tried hard to concentrate on the conversation that Jun was starting. His brother had begun briefing on what he called the time management for the upcoming events. It seemed, like even if the actual wedding ceremony was still months from now, the schedule would be busy as hell. Everything had to be planned, organized, checked and booked in time, whether it was the location, the food, the music, even the flowers, everything. Somehow, Nino eventually caught himself thinking for the first time in his life, that maybe, Jun's lists weren't such a bad idea after all.

Anyway, what shocked him even more than the almost minute by minute planned schedule for the next few weeks, was the understanding that all of this meant especially one thing – that he would be forced to spend a lot of time with Sho – who was by the way staring at him the whole time. Why the hell was he staring at him that much?! And most of the time, he would be even forced to spend time with Sho without having Ohno or Jun around them.

Nino honestly started doubting that he would be able to do that and in his imagination, he was in his penthouse, packing his stuff to just disappear again for at least the next six months. Of course, he knew that he couldn't do that to Ohno and especially not to Jun, but that’s what fantasy was there for, wasn’t it?

When Jun made some checks on one of the countless lists right in front of him, Nino just humming and nodding in agreement to this and that, instead of screaming out loud that he wanted to run away right now, the talk finally became a bit more concrete. Bringing up the topic of the search for the perfect wedding location to the top.

It seemed, like Ohno and Jun had already decided on two different locations. First, the ruins of an old catholic church that once had been re-built after the model of a European church with gothic architectonic features – more to show it to the people than to actually hold catholic events there – which had turned into a popular wedding location during the last few years. When Jun placed a flyer on the table, Nino immediately got, why his brother had decided on that location, it looked stunning, classy and just beautiful, as if it was ripped out of a fairytale and with that, it was just perfect for his romantic brother, Prince Charming himself. Nino looked at Ohno though, feeling a little sorry as he could imagine this wasn't really to his friend's taste but he would let their wedding take place there, just because Jun wished for it that much. That was the kind of man Ohno was after all.

Ohno smiled at Nino, realizing the slightly worried gaze of the other on him and waved his hand to show him, that he was totally fine with that. He even proudly announced, that Jun had agreed on holding the dinner after the ceremony in a much more modern location after that, a hip building, that was more to Ohno's liking. Nino smiled back, relieved.

Nevertheless, there were still a lot of formalities and stuff to be checked and done and both of them would be busy with work. Jun and Ohno begged Sho and Nino to check out the location and to take care of some things even without them if necessary, like searching for a good catering service, and a band for example. Their tips were highly appreciated and Jun said, that money – almost – didn't count.

“Sho, what do you think about it?”

When it was Sho's turn to answer, if he was OK with Jun's plans regarding their schedule, the expected answer didn't come and so, Nino finally risked to curiously take a look at the other man who was – as embarrassing as it was – still staring at him.

Sho looked surprised as he turned to Jun, “I... excuse me, what did you say?”

Nino averted his eyes again, hoping that nobody would see his blushing cheeks. Was he imagining things or had Sho just been distracted from the conversation because he had been observing Nino the whole time? The young man felt ashamed, Sho must have been thinking what kind of an unattractive, sick looking man he had become... too shocked to concentrate on what Jun and Ohno had to say. Nino wanted to hide and suppressed the urge of lifting his hands to simply do that – hiding his face behind them at least.

“We were talking about the place for the ceremony,” Jun continued, obviously annoyed from Sho's behavior. “Satoshi has an exhibition and I already planned the interventions I couldn't postpone in order to take two entire weeks for the honeymoon. We won't help you that much. Well, since I booked the OR room for my patients, you'll have some free time. That was my question. Are you still okay?”

It didn't take Sho long to return to his usual composed self, but now, he also returned to look at Nino again.

“I'm still okay. If Nino doesn't mind. He's surely very busy with the hotel,” the man answered, his fingers playing nonchalantly with his glass.

Nino was irritated. So Sho was OK with it, he thought. Not like himself, who wasn't OK with it at all. Wait, had this last statement been directed to him? Was he supposed to answer to that? Nino started panicking, searching his brain for an answer for something as stupid as the damned question, how on earth he should address Sho now in front of the others after such a long time, until he finally came up with a solution that somehow sounded to be a good idea.

“Working in a hotel offers me some possibilities,” he said, trying to keep his own – faked – composure up as much as he could. “I'll see with my usual suppliers, if they can give me some leads. If Sakurai-san doesn't mind.”

Now, Nino wasn't that sure any longer, if it had been a good idea, to address Sho like that. The other stared at him, puzzled.

“Sakurai-san doesn't mind,” Sho eventually answered dryly. “But you can call me Sho. We're not strangers after all.”

Not strangers, Nino thought and frustration overwhelmed him. No, not strangers, more like the king and the whore or what had it been? He didn't know what to think about this statement, he just felt the anger and the pain from years before, building up again.

“Really? We're not precisely friends either,” he spat, letting the pain talk for him.

“So what are we?” Sho stared at him and the anger and pain remained as Nino felt like Sho treated him as the stupid little boy, as of whom he might have been thinking as ever since.

“I wonder. Nothing, which deserves to be remembered at least,” he couldn't hold back and if it wasn't Jun who cut in, Nino might have thrown more, much more, much more hurting stuff towards that man in front of him. The one who wasn't a stranger, no, but the one he didn't really know nor understand either, after getting betrayed so miserably by him.

“Okay, okay. Time's out,” Jun said, lifting his hands, pointing with his index-fingers to Nino and Sho while raising his voice to make his point clear. “I won't allow you to ruin our wedding! We asked you to be our best men because you're our dearest friends. Because we're family. I don't know why you're hating each other so much but I don't give a damn shit! You will make an effort and once the wedding is over, I'll let you kill each other or never see each other again.”

Kill each other after the wedding? Nino would rather kill himself right on the spot than stay only a second longer in this room.

“Okay?” Jun wanted to confirm.

Of course, this was not OK and Nino had enough for now. This room suddenly was too small for that many people, he thought and it felt like it was getting smaller and smaller with each second and with each breath, he was taking. Nino felt like he has started having trouble to breathe. He needed to get out of here. Now.

“Nino, where are you going?” Jun asked puzzled as Nino jumped up suddenly and passed his brother's seat, not looking back at the others.

“I'm getting out of here, I need a smoke,” he just murmured a hurried explanation, his hand instinctively loosening the narrowness of his shirt's collar.

“Don't you dare~,” Jun wanted to get up but it was Sho, who cut him off, instead of Nino.

“Jun, leave him alone.”

Surprised, Nino stopped, turned around, glancing for a last time at Sho. So he wanted him to leave. Well, of course. Why would Sho want him to stay? It felt, like blood was rushing loudly in Nino's ears, he couldn't breathe properly, started to feel dizzy, he really needed to get out.

“Yeah, leave me alone brother, I won't be able to behave anyway,” Nino spat some last sarcastic words before rushing towards the door, grabbing his shoes that he just put on hastily and his coat, not caring about the hanger which clashed onto the floor somewhere.

He stormed out, slamming the door behind him and he almost stumbled down the stairs until he was finally outside of the building. His breath was hitching and he only felt a bit better when he came to a halt on the walkway, with the cold air hitting his face. He breathed in and out a few times, the dizziness slightly retreated but he was still feeling nervous and stressed like hell. Not till when his shaking hands let the package of cigarettes that he had drawn out of his pocket fall down to the ground and it was someone else, who was picking it up for him, Nino realized that Ohno had been following him.

“Nino? You OK?” his friend asked carefully.

“Sorry, Oh-chan, really,” Nino apologized quickly and started walking along the street, trying to get away.

“Don't apologize to me, you should come back and apologize to Sho and Jun, I'm pretty sure, you ruined his day,” the other replied as he followed him and Nino just snapped at him.

“If your prince's day is ruined, you should be with him right now and not with his hopeless brother.”

Ohno didn't care about Nino's accusing, knowing that it was only the pain and anger spilling out of his friend right now. He sped up, finally caught up with his friend, and continued walking next to him.

“I think, you're more in need of someone to talk to right now. Besides, Sho is with him and I'm sure, he'll take care of the situation.”

Nino chuckled bitterly before he took on a sarcastic tone. “Oh, right, I forgot that Mr. Sakurai Perfect Sho is sitting up there, how could I? Now, the world will be OK.”

“You're talking nonsense, Nino, stop that. It won't help, let's go back,” Ohno stayed strict with his friend.

“He pisses me off!” Nino grabbed his cigarette package out of Ohno's hand without thanking him for picking it up but he was too enraged right now to watch his manners. Well, he had lost them some time ago in his brother's apartment anyway.

“Do you still love him?” Ohno asked, whispering, putting his hand onto Nino's shoulder.

“What?!” Nino shot Ohno with a death glare. “I do not! I never did and he didn't love me either, end of story. And don't you dare telling anything about this to Jun or Sho or whoever, you get me?”

“Sure... Then why are you so angry, huh?”

Ohno got ignored by his friend. It seemed just too obvious that Nino was just trying to make himself believe the lie he was telling right now. Ohno only knew Nino's side of the whole story, who had been so deeply hurt and disappointed back then. Back when things between Nino and Sho had stopped because of Sho's upcoming marriage, but now Ohno wished, he could just ask Sho about the whole situation too. Something didn't fit, something must have gone terribly wrong between those two, that was for sure and Nino wasn't being honest right now, that was for sure as well.

“Nino, don't you think you should talk to him -”

“There's nothing to talk about. In fact, I don't want to talk to that person ever again!”

“I get it,” Ohno nodded. “But you agreed on becoming Jun's best man and with that, you're in this now, whether you like it or not. Please, pull yourself together and come back up together with me. I don't say that you have to act like best friends with Sho, but just... come up again and try to at least get along with him for a while.”

“I... I can't...,” Nino stopped walking and turned around to look at Ohno desperately. “I can't act as if nothing happened!”

“Nino, listen,” Ohno trying his best to get through to his friend. ”I know, you're having a hard time, since your father died and everything and then suddenly, you're forced to meet Sho again. It’s just normal that it's a shock for you and that you're over strained. But fact is, Sho didn't treat you so badly up there today, he tried to get along with you and that s even if he's not having it easy lately either.”

“Is that my fault?!” the younger man stared at his friend stunned. “He wanted to marry that woman, it's not my fault if their marriage doesn't work out! Should I feel sorry for him now after he dumped me for her sake?”

Nino was stubborn. Of course, he was confused and hurt, Ohno understood that, but nevertheless...

“That has nothing to do with this now, Nino,” the older man sighed. “What I wanted to say is that he at least tried to get along with you like an adult for Jun's and my sake until you over-reacted – no, don't give me that look now, you really overreacted! It would be nice, if you would just try to get along with him too. Bury your old grudge, please. Just for a while. For me and Jun.”

Nino let out a huge frustrated sigh and hunkered down on the walkway, hiding his face in his crossed arms that he folded on top of his knees. He knew that Ohno was right and he knew that he was acting like a child but was this all his fault? Sho wasn't that nice to him either, Nino thought. In fact, he had hurt him so badly, that after so many years Nino still didn't know how to deal with it and now, should he just pretend as if nothing had happened? Maybe he had overreacted a bit but nevertheless... This was just so unfair, really...

“Nino?” Ohno hunkered down next to his friend, his hand again on Nino's shoulder.

No, Nino wasn't crying, but honestly, he was on the verge of starting to cry and even if it was Ohno - who had become one of his closest friends over the past few years - he didn't want him to witness that. Nino had never cried in front of others, always holding back his tears until he was on his own, somewhere, hidden from other people's eyes. He hadn't cried in front of his mother, when he had to endure all the disrespectful words of that woman over and over again when he was younger. Not even at the funeral of his father two months ago had he shown his tears to others and he surely wouldn't start with it now, just because of... yeah, because of what? Because of Sho? Because of his own stupid behavior? He didn't even know the exact reason why he wanted to cry...

But honestly, this was a lie... Actually, he did cry in front of someone else – not only once - but Nino didn't want to remember the warmth that he had felt at that times when he got comforted so nicely. He didn't want to remember anything about Sho, not the bad things and not the good things because with that, it would even hurt more...

- - Tokyo, Matsumoto & Ninomiya Apartment; June 7, 2004; 1:45 am - -

It was late at night and Nino knew that he had to be quiet, if he didn't want to wake up Jun, who would definitely scold him for coming back that late at night when there was a school day lying ahead. Originally, it hadn't even been the teenager's intention to stay out for so long but a friend's birthday party had kept on like forever and it had been hard to break out of the celebration atmosphere. Even if Nino had tried to, so that he would get home at a reasonable time, in the end he had ignored Jun's calls that came in after around 10:30 pm, stayed there together with his friends and well... also drank a little bit of alcohol.

Actually, the alcohol – it hadn't been much, just one and a half beer or something like that - indeed had done its work on Nino, who wasn't used to it and so the teenager felt a bit tipsy. It had been a first time for him to taste alcohol and it had been more of the group pressure that brought Nino to try some, not the curiosity of the taste of the beer itself or the intention to get drunk. Now, the boy found himself a bit troubled with the keys to his and Jun's apartment, until he let them drop to the floor two times in a row. Nino cursed loudly, forgetting that he shouldn't raise his voice in the corridor at such a late hour. Then, as he tried to push in the key into the apartment's lock again, the door swung open as if by an invisible hand...

Well, the hand wasn't really invisible, since it belonged to Jun, who was standing in the door, giving Nino a serious look, who in turn looked up to his brother, caught red-handed.

“Nino, where have you been? Did something happen, are you OK?” the young man asked in a serious but low voice, almost in a whisper.

He sounded worried and Nino felt a wave of guilty conscience bubbling up in his chest.

“I was outside, I told you, birthday party,” he answered plainly.

Jun sighed and continued questioning his brother with crossed arms and this time sounding upset but still in a low voice, “Alright, good to know that you didn't get hurt or kidnapped or killed, I was worried about you! You shouldn't ignore my calls, you hear me? And do you have any idea how late it is? You have to go to school tomorrow!”

“You sound like Mom,” Nino giggled, not sure himself why he found that funny. “No, wait, not that stuff with being worried about me, but the stuff with school. School is soooo important! I know, I know.”

He pulled off his shoes in the entrance area, the act giving him trouble with his sense of balance, until he crushed down clumsily from tripping over his own feet. He didn't get hurt, or rather, if he did, the alcohol numbed the pain and the boy just slightly cursed. Stupid, not working coordination...

“Are you drunk?!” Jun hissed in disbelief, as he bent down to help his brother up and could finally smell the slight scent of beer, coming from his mouth.

“What if?” Nino asked.

“Damned, Nino, you're 16! What are you thinking?!” and suddenly, Jun's whispering tone was gone.

“Sorry to disappoint you, Mr. Perfect, but just because you were never out having fun or drinking a single beer, it doesn't have to apply for me too,” the younger brother answered, defending himself.

“But I'm responsible for you if you live here with me!” Jun argued. “You can't go out and drink alcohol, you get it? That's dangerous! What should I tell Mom if something happens to you?!”

“Mom wouldn't actually give a shit about it, if something would happen to me. All she cares about is if my grades are perfect enough for her expectations, which well, they are not, no matter if I stay out or stay up studying the whole night so who cares?!”

I do care and besides, you're not supposed to talk like this about our Mom!” Jun scolded him and Nino was at the end of his tether.

Your Mom, Jun!” he pointed at his brother. “She's your mommy! I don't know what that woman is for me, she might have given birth to me but she doesn't act like how a mother should at all!”

“Nino!” Jun seemed puzzled.

“Leave me alone!” Nino rushed towards his room.

“At least, be a bit quieter, Sho-kun is sleeping on the couch in the living room, he'll wake up!”

“Oh, really?! Well, since you are yelling quite loudly already for a while, I guess, this is probably too late!” Nino yelled and slammed the door to his room.

He switched on the lights, let his school bag fall onto the ground carelessly and ripped off his school uniform's jacket, throwing it right next to his bag before letting himself drop onto his bed, placing his elbows onto his knees and hiding his face in his slightly shaking hands. His eyes were burning suspiciously and he felt the lump in his throat swelling. He couldn't hold back a small sob. Damned, was he really crying now? How pathetic...

“Sorry, Sho-kun, I didn't want to wake you up,” Nino could hear Jun's voice muffled from outside but he didn't give a shit about all this. Everything he was caring about right now was to get rid of his tears that he felt so ashamed of.

A slight knock on his door shortly after made the boy cringe and he faced the door angrily, ready to slam a pillow right into his brother's face but -

“Nino, are you OK?”

The one poking his head through the half opened door wasn't Nino's brother.

“Sho-kun...,” the boy said, surprised, and let the pillow he had grabbed a second ago sink, placing it on his lap and folding his arms on top of it.

He blushed, hurriedly tried to dry his eyes clumsily with his fingers, even if he knew that it might already be too late to hide his red, slightly swollen eyes from the other man. Damned. Why? Why did Sho, out of all people, have to be around at such a situation and why did he have to come in now that Nino was in such a miserable state?

“I'm sorry, I'm staying over because Jun and I still have to finish our homework and...,” the young man said. “Well, I couldn't help but overhear your conversation.”

“You mean our fight? Sorry for waking you up,” Nino felt awfully ashamed. He knew, he had been acting ridiculous out there and he surely couldn't blame this only on that one and a half beer he had been drinking.

“Don't mind me, it's OK. But what about you?”

Nino couldn't help but face the young man standing in his door, who looked at him with so much care and friendliness, that the boy wondered what he did to deserve that. And suddenly, he wished to pour his heart out in front of Sho, who he adored very much ever since he had met him for the first time just a few weeks ago.

“You don't hate your brother, do you?” Sho asked and sat down next to Nino, who had slightly shifted to make some space for him.

“... He doesn't understand...,” Nino just murmured, after a short moment of thinking how to answer.

No, he didn't hate Jun, of course not. Jun had always been nice to him, he had always been there for him and when Nino had begged his brother to take him with him when the older moved out from their mother's apartment as he started university, Jun had gladly taken care of his brother. But Jun never understood and never would understand the problem, Nino thought in frustration. How could he, always being the perfect son with great grades, the good son, loved by his mother, no matter what he did.

“But I do,” Sho answered, friendly.

“Hm?” Nino didn't get it and shot him a questioning look.

“You can't reach you mother's expectations, that is what's troubling you, right?” Sho asked and Nino just continued looking at him without saying anything. “I can understand this feeling... for me with my parents, it's the same.”

“Really?” Nino finally asked in disbelief. “But... you're a good student, you're smart, you're becoming a doctor!”

“Maybe, but I never managed to be good enough for my parents, no matter how many points I got in a test or how many trophies I won in all those stupid competitions as a child,” Sho continued talking. “It always feels like it's only barely enough to catch up to the plan that they have for me since I was born and sometimes, it's pretty hard to deal with that,” the young man admitted honestly.

Nino felt his heart tightening at the mixture of relief to have finally found someone who understood him and pity, that this also meant that Sho – someone he had come to like very much already - was going through something similar to him. His eyes started burning again and he wanted to say so many things to Sho, to thank him, comfort him, but he just couldn't.

“Don't cry,” Sho smiled.

“I'm not crying...,” Nino answered quickly, his fingers wiping away some small tears.

“Sure, you aren't,” Sho's smile got wider and then he pulled a handkerchief out of his pajamas pockets to hand it to the boy next to him. “Here, take this.”

Maybe, this one time Nino could blame it onto the damned alcohol that he was being so emotional right now. He didn't try too hard to not get overwhelmed by the countless feelings he was having right now, or stopping the tears that were dropping from his eyelashes again. He took Sho's handkerchief and pressed it against his wet eyes, not holding back any longer his sobs. He felt sorry, not only for himself but also for Sho. Nino felt frustrated that he wasn't able to face the world head up high, just as Sho seemed to be able to. He felt sorry, that he had yelled at Jun and he felt ashamed, that he was now crying like a baby in front of that young man, who had become something like Nino's crush, even if he didn't want to admit that, yet.

Sho lifted his arm and carefully put it around Nino's shoulder, slightly pressing the boy closer to his chest. Nino didn't complain and just let things happen. His face was leaning against that strong body of the man sitting next to him, until his last tears had dried and his exhausted mind had drifted off to sleep. His body was slumping against Sho, who then must have laid down the boy and pulled the blanket over him, since Nino found himself covered completely in the next morning as he opened his eyes and heard Jun and Sho chatting happily outside in the kitchen as they prepared breakfast.

- - Tokyo; In front of the Ohno & Matsumoto Apartment; January 12, 2015; 2:15 pm - -

Back then, Nino hadn't know yet what would happen between him and Sho. He didn't know yet that the two of them would feel connected in a strange way, that they would start to get along really well with each other, hanging out together more and more until they finally became friends and then... even more, until Nino even lost his virginity to that man, almost two years later. He didn't know much about love, but back then, he had been convinced that even if he never talked about it, it was love, what he had been feeling towards Sho.

Nino had no idea about what Sho had been thinking about the whole situation, since they had never talked seriously about what was going on between them, hiding it from the rest of the world, but he had always been friendly to Nino. Nevertheless, this didn't make it easier for Nino when Sho, after some time, told him that he would get married immediately after his graduation, making Nino feel like he got thrown away just like some toy that Sho didn't need any longer. In fact, hearing that out of Sho's mouth was hurting even more, feeling so betrayed from such a friendly person, he had always been. Maybe, that was, why Nino was still hurting and unable to forgive what happened almost six years ago.

“Alright,” Nino murmured.

“Eh?” Ohno wasn't sure if he had heard right just now.

“I said, it's alright,” Nino repeated, still not facing the other. “I'll try to get along with him, I promise. But for today, I'm going home. Tell them, I'm sorry and that I felt sick,” this wouldn't even be a lie, Nino thought.

“...OK.”

“I'll apologize next time,” Nino added and finally stood up again, Ohno following him. “See you.”

The young man then tried to give his friend a smile, not sure, if it worked, and started walking again, this time into the direction of his car that he had parked not far from the apartment. On his way, he fished a cigarette out of the slightly crunched package in his hand and lit it to pull in the taste of the tobacco.

It wasn't, that he just had given in easily, despite it might look like that to Ohno right now, but truth was, that Nino had just remembered Toma's words from last night. He had the choice now, to either bury his grudge, get over the past like an adult or... to take revenge.

Again, Nino could just think what a stupid thought that was. Stupid and childish. He wasn't such an asshole that he really thought about taking revenge on Sho. He wouldn't even be able to pay him back what the other man had made him suffer from because this would require Sho to be in love with him – which he obviously never had been – and that Nino would be able to seduce the other man and to dump him after that. This was a really stupid thought... And with that, Nino had to agree with Toma and Ohno, he should get over that, forget everything and move on. This was not about him and Sho, this was about Jun and Ohno and their wedding.

To be continued...

Chapter Text


Chapter 6

Sho's POV

 

- - Tokyo Medical University; April 26, 2004; 9 am - -

Sho was facing the door of the amphitheater, observing the fully packed place, yet unable to make a step forward. He didn’t sleep at night, restlessly turning and tossing in his bed, thinking and re-thinking the decision he took.

Entering the medical section of Tokyo University was his first act of rebellion. Since he was born, he was destined to become the new chairman of the family company when his father would decide to retire and refusing his mother to enter the economic sector hadn’t been an easy task. Becoming a doctor wasn’t far from the family field yet his mother cold-shouldered him for months, especially when he announced to her that he would move in with his best friend, Ohno.

Those past weeks had been so hectic and new, he lived them in a blur. He had the feeling of fully grasping his new situation only now, once things settled. And it was exhilarating.

“Something’s wrong?”

He turned around and faced a guy, slim, wearing big frame glasses and a leather bag bigger than him by his side.

“What?”

“If you’re not entering now we’ll be late,” completed the man, pushing him with his free shoulder, “Matsumoto Jun, nice to meet you.”

Sho didn't know that guy yet but he remembered that he saw him in Ethic classes too. Now, he shook his hand clumsily and had no choice but to follow him inside.

“Which specialty are you aiming for?” Jun asked as they were settling in the first row.

“I still don’t know. You?”

“Surgery. Nothing else.”

This self-confidence was stunning, thought Sho. So unusual and somehow… stimulating.

“I guess, you’ll find out during your internship,” Jun said confidently. “Oh it’s about to begin.”

They stayed together all day long, ignoring who clang on the other, enjoying naturally each other’s company and when the moment to choose a partner for the Bio-chemistry’s class came, they didn’t think twice.

“Are you living on your own?” Jun asked by the end of the day as they exited the building.

“I have a roommate, my best friend, Ohno.”

“Student too?”

“Yes but in Art section, he’s a photographer.”

“It sounds interesting,” Jun smiled. “I’d like to see his work.”

“I’ll introduce you if you wish. And you, are you living with your parents?”

“I live with my little brother, Kazunari.”

“Kazunari? It’s a pretty name. Unusual.”

“It’s the first name of his father. We're sharing our mother but not our father. Long story. Do you want to work with me for our project tonight?”

“Hm… I guess it’s a good idea if you don’t mind.”

“My place?”

“Let me call my Oh-chan first.”

“No problem.”

They had planned a karaoke party to celebrate the first completed project of Ohno for this year but Matsumoto was right, this day showered their self-confidence, so he felt like working rather than dragging his feet all night long through the streets. The standard was very high, it won’t be easy, even for those two brilliant students.

Sho called Ohno, who wasn’t at home either – the man was very oblivious - and they headed to Jun’s apartment. Surprisingly, they had to walk only for a few meters, since Jun and his brother lived on the other side of the campus in an upper class building. The kind of place, Sho’s mother could have chosen for her son.

They left their shoes in the entrance area, Jun gave Sho a pair of slippers and they entered the big apartment. Sho noticed immediately the quality of the furniture, the expensive flower on the wall, the kind his mother ordered in England. It was very clean and well organized, not a book on the table or clothes hanging from a chair like in his own apartment.

“My brother should be here… come on in.”

For a second, Sho wondered what this Kazunari would look like. With such an older brother, he probably had the same kind of strong features.

“This is his bedroom, and mine is on the other side of the corridor. We’ll work in the living room?”

“Okay.”

This place was really nice and ideal to work peacefully. By the panoramic window, Sho could see the roof of their university.

“By the way, where should we begin? Ethic?” Sho asked while opening his bag.

“Yeah, Ethic. Oh he’s here,” Jun said, hearing the door unlocking. “Do you want something to drink?”

“A coffee please, I’m a coffee addict.”

“I’ll make some. Orange juice for the time being?”

“Yes, please.”

Jun left the room and Sho opened his first book moaning a ‘crap I didn’t ask for milk'.

He followed Jun into the kitchen and stopped short before the cutest person that he had ever seen on earth. He was sitting at the table, a slight pout adorning his face, a fresh and short haircut enhancing his prettiness. He didn’t look like Jun at all. He was smaller and his frowned face gave Sho the desire to pinch one of his cute cheeks. Sho crossed his gaze and he smiled irrepressibly.

“Hi.”

“Hi,” groaned Jun's brother. Bad day?

“Ah, Sho, that's my little brother, Ninomiya Kazunari, but everyone calls him Nino, we're half-brothers, you know? Nino, that's Sakurai Sho, he's my friend from university and my partner in Bio-chemistry, so I'll bring him over for studying sometimes from now on.”

Sho took the glass, Jun handed him.

“Nice to meet you, please call me Sho.”

“Nice to meet you too.”

“By the way, did you do something to your hair?” Jun asked, playfully tossing his brother's hair.

“I... not much.”

He blushed and Sho’s heart melted, the boy was so embarrassed. He was definitely the prettiest little brother he had ever met.

“Don't ruin it! It looks cute,” Sho said.

The boy lowered his head and flushed a bit more. For the very first time of his life, Sho thought that having a little brother was a blessing and that sometimes sharing his family life with a sibling would have been a very sweet thing.

- - Tokyo, Night Club “The Babylon”; June 5, 2004; 11.30pm - -

This place was crazy.

Sho couldn’t believe, he never heard about it. He felt a bit guilty to go out on Sunday night but he just obtained a top grade for the last anatomy test on Friday and it was the first party of the year for Ohno’s promotion. As a matter of fact, he invited Sho, eager to introduce his friend to his classmates.

The club situated downtown was fully packed and the electric atmosphere led the clients to all kinds of abuse. It was late and drunk people began to invade the dance floor and the couches all around the place, losing inhibitions.

It wasn’t the first time, Ohno dragged him into a gay club, totally assuming his homosexuality. Even if he never really searched for a true love story, he liked spending of an unbridled night of sex with a stranger from time to time. Sho, even though he was more cautious, would allow himself without remorse the kind of pleasure he could find in this kind of place when he met someone who pleased him. And tonight, in this club, he crossed the gaze of this guy on the dance floor swaying too tantalizingly for his sanity.

“Do you know this guy?” Sho asked, vaguely pointing at him.

“Ah yeah, it’s Tsumabuki-kun, he’s in my class. Why? You like him?” Ohno answered while playing with his cell phone.

“Perhaps. Come with me on the dance floor?”

“I was wondering if I should call Jun-kun. Do you think he would come?”

After weeks of failed occasions, Jun finally had met Ohno and Sho began to think, those two could get along pretty well. But not tonight. Not here.

“Please don’t call him. He doesn’t know I’m gay and I don’t intend to tell him.”

“Why?”

“You know, why. It’s a secret I want to keep for myself, my life is complicated enough. I’ll tell him when the time comes.”

Ohno observed his friend for a moment and nibbled the inner side of his cheek, then put his phone in the back pocket of his slacks. “Let’s dance,” he concluded.

They weren’t dancing for longer than two minutes when a man approached Ohno and when Sho whirled around, he faced the cute guy he had spotted earlier. The man put his arms on Sho’s shoulder and smiled seductively.

“You are Sakurai-kun, Ohno’s friend, right?”

“You’re well informed,” Sho said, sliding his hands to the guy’s hips.

“You’re noticeable and I already saw you at the college. You had lunch with Ohno.”

“Are you a stalker?” Sho smiled, feeling the other moving closer.

“Would you like me to be?” Tsumabuki caressed Sho’s cheek and the corner of his lips, then kissed him slowly, pressing their two bodies together without any ambiguity.

“Should we…,” continued Sho when they broke the kiss, “Continue elsewhere?”

“On a couch here?”

“My place?” Sho hated making out on one of those uncomfortable couches or worse in a toilet cubicle, both overcrowded and awfully dirty. And this man was cute enough to give him the reason to take his time.

“I’ll follow you,” answered Tsumabuki, taking his hand.

Sho patted Ohno’s shoulder and told him he was leaving first.

=+=

When the alarm clock rang the next morning, Sho woke up painfully, patting the silhouette by his side. The man emerged from the blanket and pouted, when Sho showed him his clock.

“Why so early? Are you a firefighter?” he moaned.

“Not really but I have to go,” Sho pecked his lips and raised from the bed.

“Sho?” the man stared at his lover putting on a pajama hastily.

“Hm?”

“If I have a fire to shut down… one day… may I call you?”

“It will be my pleasure to help you. Have a nice day.”

He exited the bedroom, showered and grabbed a bite on the counter of the kitchen, then ran to university. Jun kept a place for him in the amphitheater and he barely had time to sit down before the beginning of the course. Jun gazed at him amused.

“Tough night?”

“Yeah, I was in a club with Oh-chan.”

“Did you… did you find someone?” Jun asked with a smirk.

“Yes. I did.”

“Lucky boy. How was she?”

“…Cute,” Sho hated to lie to the man who became a precious friend during these last months but it was too early to confess his preferences. Later perhaps.

They were in the cafeteria for lunch when Jun spotted an unknown girl wearing the uniform of an elite High School from the area, walking to them. He pushed Sho’s elbow.

“Do you know her?”

Sho’s heart skipped a beat, it was more than unusual to see Aoi here. “Yeah.”

“The girl from last night?”

“No, it’s another one.”

“You’re a real lady-killer!” Jun said appreciatively as the girl sat at their table.

“Sho, we have to talk.”

“Okay, I leave you alone. See you later,” Jun took his leave.

Sho stared at his childhood friend. She was pale and her face was tensed. She was playing with the extremity of her sleeves like she did when they were kids and their parents scolded them.

“Your mother came to my parent’s place yesterday,” Aoi began. “She had a contract. A real contract.”

“What kind of contract?”

“For our wedding.”

“Holy shit, she didn’t give up already?” Sho groaned, pinching the edge of his nose.

“She didn’t and not my parents either. They decided together and by contract that I won’t go to university next year.”

“W… What?!”

“I’ll be a housewife, nothing more. Why should they take the pain to send me to university, when I won’t have the right to work?! Thus, we’ll begin to give them heirs as soon as I’ll be graduated from High School.”

“Aoi… I’m so sorry. We’ll find a way to convince them.”

“How?”

Sho thought about this eventuality becoming true, for the first time he understood that his mother had no intention to have a daughter-in-law who would work outside.

“We’ll meet them, together, and we’ll threaten them and refuse the wedding if they forbid you to go to university.”

“Do you think it could work?”

“And why not? They have nothing to lose, after all, we won’t tell them you’ll work after your graduation and when we’ll be married, we’ll lead the life we want to lead. We’re still young after all, they will return to their senses.”

Aoi looked directly at Sho and eventually smiled with relief. She took his hand and kissed it gratefully.

“This is the best way for both of us,” Sho concluded.

He showed her out and all the afternoon he ruminated about it. This situation was unbearable. He had already threatened his parents to break up the engagement if they didn’t allow him to enroll in medical university and they had no choice but to allow him so. Now it was Aoi’s turn. She wanted to be a lawyer, it was her dream but their parents didn’t care. Who needs to go to university to learn how to make and take care of children?

However, a lot of money was at stake and threatening them to screw up the accords was the only card to play for the two friends. Aoi was aware that Sho liked boys, she was his confidant since their childhood and he was hers. It was their strength. Perhaps the only one, but they had decided to utilize it.

“What’s wrong?” Jun shook him. ”Bad news?”

“More or less,” Sho grabbed his bag to put it on his shoulder.

“What are you doing tonight?”

“Nothing. Oh-chan is out of the town for the weekend and I have sleep to catch up.”

“Come to my place. We’ll work a bit, we’ll play. My brother bought a new video game. A soccer one.”

He was right, Sho didn’t want to be alone tonight. He followed him and they ordered pizza, played this new soccer game and Sho fell asleep on the couch. When he woke up, it was dark outside, he had a blanket on him and someone was yelling.

“Sorry, Sho-kun, I didn't want to wake you up,” Jun apologized, approaching him after a door got slammed. “My brother came back home pretty smashed.”

“Really?! What’s wrong with him?”

“I guess it’s our mother. She doesn’t love him like she should, only cares for his grades and he suffers from the situation.”

“Why?”

“She married Nino’s father for his money and she used Nino to obtain a big financial compensation. I guess, he heard about it.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah,” Jun patted Sho’s thigh. “Let’s leave him alone. He’s proud. Tomorrow will be another day. ‘Night, Sho-kun.”

“Good night, Jun-kun.”

Sho looked at his friend leaving the living room and after a second, laid down again. In the silent of the night he heard a sob coming from the other side of the wall. He didn’t think further and walked to Nino’s door. If he could help him, he would do so.

“Nino, are you OK?”

“Sho-kun…,” Nino wiped his tears quickly, trying to erase the traces of his sadness.

“I’m sorry, I’m staying over because Jun and I still have to finish our homework and… I couldn't help but overhear your conversation.”

“You mean our fight? Sorry for waking you up.”

“Don't mind me, it's OK. But what about you? You don't hate your brother, do you?”

Sho thought that if he had to live with a brother like Jun, who was adored by a hateful mother, he would surely hate him. Yet, the two brothers lived together and Sho knew that Jun was the one who asked that favor to their mother after Nino had begged him to take him with him. Now, it made sense, Jun tried to protect him. Somehow, they were lucky since they had each other. Sho was a single-child.

“...He doesn't understand...,” whispered Nino sadly.

“But I do,” answered Sho from the bottom of his heart.

“Hm?”

“You can't reach you mother's expectations, that is what's troubling you, right? I can understand this feeling... for me with my parents, it's the same.”

Was it the reason why he liked this little brother that much? Because he recognized in him a melancholy, similar to his own?

“Really? But... you're a good student, you're smart, you're becoming a doctor!”

Sho smiled despite himself. Nino was so touching and cute. Even drunk. Aoi’s visit popped in his mind.

“Maybe, but I never managed to be good enough for my parents, no matter how many points I got in a test or how many trophies I won in all those stupid competitions as a child. It always feels like it's only barely enough to catch up to the plan that they have for me since I was born and sometimes, it's pretty hard to deal with that.”

Sho saw new tears rolling on the boy’s cheek. “Don't cry.”

“I'm not crying...”

He was really proud, just like Jun said. Sho nodded and fetched a handkerchief from his pocket.

“Sure, you aren't, here, take this.”

The boy began to sob stronger and Sho gently lent him a shoulder to cry to his heart’s content, lulling him sweet words to comfort him. He felt a weight falling off his shoulders and he realized that comforting Nino had healed his own sadness far more than every one-night-stand or drunk session. He felt him weighing more on his chest, as Nino fell asleep and slowly laid him down onto his bed. The teenager was exhausted and sleeping would help him to forget his sorrows. For the night at least.

Sho took off Nino’s socks and covered his slim silhouette with the thick blanket. He sat by his side and couldn’t help but stroked his pretty face. Nino half-opened his eyes and grabbed Sho’s arm firmly, moving his face in the pillow, visibly searching for the position they had previously. He was about to wake up. Crap.

The taller laid down and put his arm back around the boy who smiled happily in his sleep.
Sho looked at him in details leisurely, admiring those pretty lips moaning incomprehensible words. He hushed him and kissed his forehead, feeling a cloud of butterflies taking off inside his stomach.

“God… what are you doing to me, boy?” Sho murmured.

- - Tokyo, Ohno & Matsumoto Apartment; January 12, 2015; 12.50 pm - -

Sho looked at his friend. What could he say, except that he was sorry for this catastrophic almost-lunch? Jun was looking for an answer, he clearly feared for his wedding and Sho was unable to reassure him. He couldn’t promise that he could convince Nino to share those preparations with him. The other hated him so much. He clearly saw it in his gaze, Nino couldn’t even stand his presence. Yet, Sho hoped. He hoped that things weren’t totally dead between them, that perhaps they could find back the companionship they shared ages ago.

“Sometimes, I wonder if he hates me,” Jun said in an undertone.

“He doesn’t, Jun, don’t think that. He admires you, he always admired you. That’s only because of me.”

“You know, he lost his father recently and he took care of him until the end. He’s still mourning and I have the feeling of being so useless… I thought that maybe you could comfort him. He liked you so much when we were students.”

“Until my wedding and his departure. Now, we’re strangers.”

“Perhaps is it the occasion to create new bonds with him. Friends are precious, don’t you think?”

Sho smiled sadly. “Aoi spoke those words too.”

“Sho… explain it to me, I don’t get this sudden divorce and your resignation. Satoshi told me to ask you.”

Sho sighed. “It was an arranged marriage, like you know. And Aoi, like me, we found some advantages in it. She became the lawyer she dreamed to be and… I had an appearance of respectability. But we were not in love.”

“What do you mean?” Jun frowned.

“It means… I’m not into women. I’m gay. And my parents ignore it, of course.”

“I see,” Jun concluded after a few seconds of silence.

Sho wondered if Jun would make the link with Nino’s behavior. He was very smart and knew them well, thought Sho. The chance for him, to avoid the real confession was thin but there. They heard the front door once again and Ohno came in, then sat at the table.

“Nino will call you tomorrow, Sho-kun. He said he’s sorry.”

Sho took a last glance to his old friends. And tomorrow he would give his best shot to bury the hatchet with Nino.

 

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Nino's POV

- - Tokyo, Matsumoto & Ninomiya Apartment; September 6, 2004; 5 pm - -

This Monday, taking another sip of his glass of juice, Nino was waiting nervously for the return of his big brother. Well, he didn't only wait for his brother, if he was honest. Nino took a look at the clock hanging above the entrance to the kitchen, letting his eyes follow the ticking hands that pushed the time forward – much too slow for his taste today.

Finally, he heard the door from the corridor and slightly stiffed in his sitting position. He listened closely... hearing only one pair of shoes getting pulled off in the entrance and approaching the kitchen. A second later, Jun poked his head into the room, smiling widely when he spotted his brother already there.

“Hey Nino, I'm back!” he said cheerfully.

“Welcome home,” Nino answered. “Where's Sho-kun? I bought taiyaki with red beans for all of us.”

“Oh, really? That's nice of you, Sho-kun loves those!” Jun smiled.

I know, Nino thought. Sho had mentioned it once.

“So? Isn't he coming today?” Nino repeated his question.

Jun shook his head slightly. “Autumn holidays are coming up, so we finished the tests that we could study together for and decided to do the rest on our own since it is too different work. I guess, he's working on his papers tonight.”

“I see...,” Nino said, disappointed. Maybe, he had gotten too used to Sho's and Jun's weekly study meetings on Mondays, he thought.

“What is it?” Jun wondered and took a glass of fresh juice for himself too, sitting down and fishing for one of the taiyaki, Nino had placed on a plate in the middle of the kitchen table. “You needed something from him?”

“Ah, no...,” the younger brother tried to make it sound harmless. “I just wanted to ask him something regarding mathematics homework.”

“Ask me, you know I'm pretty good with mathematics!”

“I know but no, thanks,” Nino declined.

“Why not?” Jun wondered.

“Because you get angry with me every time I don't get your explanation. Sho-kun is much more patient and friendly, I prefer asking him,” Nino stated honestly.

Jun pouted, “Ah, is that so... well, then...”

It was true that Sho had been helping Nino a lot with his homework for the last few months. Jun didn't mind, since he was happy that Nino had at least started to properly do his homework and some studying again after a small rebellious phase. Sho came to visit almost every Monday since April now and soon after, Nino had started to accompany their study sessions, working on his own stuff, asking Sho for help every now and then. Jun was relieved to see his brother warming up to his friend quite well, he didn't know much about Nino's social behavior since the other never brought friends home, so he had been a bit worried. Furthermore, Nino wasn't stupid, Jun knew that. He was a smart and clever boy, maybe not fit for something like studying medicine, like he was, but Jun was sure, that Nino would make it big as soon as he found out what he wanted to do with his life. And he had sworn to himself, that he would support him, no matter what it would be and what their mother would say.

“What should I do with his taiyaki then, it will get dry if it doesn't get eaten soon,” Nino sulked, not feeling like touching his own either, without Sho's company.

He stood up, put the two remaining pieces into a box, and stowed it in the fridge. Maybe, he'll drop by Sho's and Ohno's place for a short visit the next day to give it to Sho, he thought, to eat it together with him then. The teenager didn't pay attention to his brother's wondering look as he left the kitchen, heading for his room where he grabbed his guitar to play a few songs.

Nino didn't know how to name his feelings but according to what he had heard and seen from his friends as well as various movies and whatnot, he slowly but surely got the vague idea, that he was about to fall in love with Sho. Yes, with a man. Up to now, he hadn't really paid attention to stuff like love, relationships or sex... He couldn't remember if he ever fell in love so far and had only witnessed people being in love, for example his mother with one of those countless men she had brought home after Jun's and his father, or Jun and Sho's friend Ohno, who seemed to have started dating some time ago already.

The boy wasn't sure, if he was even able to love and his interest in other people had never gotten any further than having thoughts like “She's cute”, “He looks good” or stuff like that. But what Sho triggered in Nino, ever since that one evening in which he got comforted by the other after a fight with Jun, was a strange but strong bond developing between the two of them. Those feelings and thoughts were something different. Nino wasn't completely sure yet how to name them and they were growing stronger and stronger with each day.

Every time, they met - was it for studying, for going out with Jun and Ohno or whatever - this had become the most precious time for the teenager but it also seemed to be never enough. Nino wanted to see Sho more, wanted to talk to him more, to touch him, even if it was only a slight comforting hug or an accidental brushing of their hands when they lined up for movie tickets together. He wanted to spend more time with him, talking about their sorrows, like they used to do from time to time when Jun wasn't around, to cuddle up to the other when they fell asleep after comforting each other with nice words... He wanted to kiss him...

Nino hit the wrong chord on his instrument, as this thought crossed his mind – not for the first time, he had to admit - and he blushed badly when he realized, that for some reason, he had become quite aroused, just from thinking of Sho's lips. Damned.

- - Tokyo, Ninomiya Apartment; January 13, 2015; 4.30 am - -

When Nino woke up – quite too early – he had a boner. Well, that wasn't that unusual, especially when he dreamed of Sho which he did quite often, even if he wished, he wouldn't. This night too, he had dreamed of him. Of course, after seeing him again for the first time in years... It might have been frightening and painful, but it was also exciting and so, Nino's memory of the countless times they had shared their beds had mixed with Sho's current appearance, his damned hot haircut, his handsome and defined face, his still so strong ad attracting presence. As a result, dreaming of being taken by that gorgeous man was enough for Nino.

He cursed, as he pushed back his blanket and went to take a shower – and to take care of that little problem between his legs.

Once he came back, drying his hair with a towel, Nino grabbed his cell phone to check it, as he found an incoming mail from Ohno from yesterday evening.

 

Hey, little Troublemaker,

I hope you calmed down and feel better again. About today, I told Sho that you would call him tomorrow, so make sure to apologize properly. Jun is also waiting for your apology! Because you were up and away before we could hand you the first to-do list, I listed a few things below. Thought, you might have one or another supplier who could take over those tasks if they have capacities. Please let me know if it's possible.

List:
Florist for flower decorations
Catering service for the wedding dinner
Band for the party after the dinner

Thanks,

Satoshi

 

Great. The young man sighed. So Ohno pulled strings and now he was forced to talk to Sho again. Secretly, Nino had been hoping that he could postpone the apology until they would meet again, sooner or later. But because of the wedding preparations, well, it couldn't be helped and he wanted to pull himself together so maybe this was a good start.

Nino checked the short list that Ohno had sent him. Indeed, he had agreed on asking his usual suppliers if they could work for the wedding. He could ask Toma and his crew if they could come up with a menu for the dinner, he had contacts with a few bands in town that might gladly take on a gig in a wedding party and for the flowers, Nino would ask his usual florist from which he ordered the flowers for the hotel. He was sure, Nana wouldn't mind the extra money of such a job.

After hesitating for a moment, Nino dialed his brother's number and shortly after he heard a tired voice answering the phone. Crap, he forgot, that it was still that early...

“Nino?! What's wrong?” Jun sounded confused, indeed, it was unusual for Nino to call him, especially at such a time.

“Jun...,” Nino started. “I'm sorry, it's still early but... I wanted to say Sorry because of yesterday.”

Alright, the first apology was out and surprisingly, it hadn't been as hard as Nino had first imagined it to be.

“Hm... Thanks. Are you OK now? Ohno said you didn't feel well. Was it because of Sho?”

“Well... I guess, I'm OK now. I'm sorry for behaving like an idiot when it was to talk about your important wedding. I'll apologize to Sho too and we'll get along for the time being, alright?” Nino said, trying to believe in his own words.

“So you won't drop out of being my best man?” Jun asked to confirm.

“Of course not,” the younger answered quickly. “We're brothers and I promised to you.”

“Alright, great! Thank you, Nino!” now his brother sounded pretty happy and pretty much awake compared to before.

“Ah yeah,” Nino continued. “I was thinking about asking the flower shop that is providing the flowers for the hotel to do the flower decoration at your wedding. What do you think about going to talk about that with a shop employee tomorrow? I can make an appointment.”

“Sounds perfect, thanks Nino! Maybe after 3 or 4 o'clock? I have the early shift in the hospital, so I should manage it around that time. Maybe Satoshi can accompany us too.”

“Ok...”

“Something else?”

“Ehm... could you send me Sho's cell phone number? I don't have his new one and I would like to invite him too,” Nino finally managed to say.

Jun gladly agreed and shortly after, he sent his brother a mail with Sho's contact data as well as a happy smiley and a short message that he was looking forward to visit the flower shop all together, as the four of them, like in old times. Nino smiled at his brother's message, before he saved Sho's number in his phone's address book.

After getting ready for work, Nino stopped at the coffee shop nearby the hotel and picked up two latte macchiato to pay his friend Nana a short visit in the flower shop. She happily greeted him and thankfully took one of the coffees. They agreed on an appointment for the next day at 3.30 pm, Nino quickly typed a mail to inform his brother and Ohno and then went into the hotel to do some paper work.

It took him quite a while to work up the courage to call Sho, but when he finally did it, he was surprised on how well he did on apologizing and inviting him to the flower shop visit despite the terrible nervousness. So they would meet again the next day, Nino thought, his heart still racing.

- - Tokyo, Flower Shop “Yume no Hana”; January 14, 2015; 3.30 pm - -

“Nino, Nino! I'm here!” a young, energetic woman with shoulder long black hair and a friendly smile on her face waved at the young man, as he entered the shop just in time, Jun, Ohno, and Sho following him.

He had just picked them up. They were waiting for him in the hotel lobby and after walking just a few meters, they had arrived at the “Yume no Hana”, a middle sized flower shop filled with tons of beautiful flowers in every color people could ever dream of, as well as countless, nicely decorative items lined up in shelves, some of them presenting the greatest beauty of different flowers.

“Nana!” Nino greeted the young woman who jumped next to him and casually clanged to his arm immediately, like she did so often. Nino smiled widely.

“I've been waiting for you guys! So who is your famous big brother and his groom?” she asked excitedly, when she took a look at the three men behind Nino.

The young man blushed a little, he thought that nobody had to know that he was talking a lot about his brother, but Jun already caught on and stepped forward, flashing Nana his usual friendly smile.

“Famous?” he chuckled. “I wonder... but I am his brother, Matsumoto Jun, nice to meet you. This is Ohno Satoshi, my fiancé and over there, that's our good friend, Sakurai Sho. He and Nino will be our best men,” Jun finished the introduction, leaving behind nothing for Nino to tell.

“Ah... I see,” the young woman said, looking at each of the men.

Maybe, Nino was imagining it but was she staring at Sho for a bit longer than the others? Of course, she knew about him, since he had told her – almost – everything once, but couldn't she be a bit more discrete?

“Nana-chan, my brother and my friends,” Nino said quickly, trying to get her attention back, “Guys, this is Eikura Nana, she's in charge of the flowers for the hotel and she said she'd be overly happy to help out with the wedding decoration.”

Nana let her head drop onto Nino's shoulder to cuddle a bit closer, still smiling widely. The three men looked at them for a few seconds, not reacting. Was something wrong? To break the slightly awkward silence, Nana finally spoke up again.

“That's right, I'm Eikura Nana, nice to meet you all,” the woman finally bowed her head and then looked back at Nino with a cheeky grin.

“You never told me that your brother is so handsome, that must run in the family,” she giggled and reached her finger up to poke Nino's cheek joyfully, who just ignored her. “Alright, would you like me to show you around first, or do you prefer going into the conference room to talk about design suggestions directly?” Nana let go of Nino and turned towards Ohno and Jun, who were gradually taken away by the beauty that was surrounding them, seeming a bit lost.

“I have to admit, I don't have any idea yet about the flowers...,” Nino could hear Jun. “What about you Satoshi?”

“Hm... I thought that the majority should be white, with a hint of blue and purple maybe?”

“Ah, our favorite colors? That's a nice idea!”

“I see! Well, please follow me, I'll show you some possible candidates and we can talk about the details after that,” Nana answered and Nino saw them moving on, Sho catching up slowly.

Nino took some steps forward too to follow them, but then got distracted by a huge variety of different colored tulips that were lined up in several buckets and displayed in three rows. He slowly reached out one of his hands, letting his fingers touch the soft petals of a deep red tulip. The sight reminded him on his first trip to Europe a few years ago.

“Nino?” Sho seemed to have stopped, watching at the other man. “Are you coming?”

“Hm?” the younger asked, distracted by his thoughts but then blushed involuntarily. “Ah yeah, sure.”

- - Tokyo, Narita Airport; March 21, 2009; 11.30 am - -

After not even two days of preparation, Nino had just packed some stuff, met his father in the hotel, to bid him good bye, telling him that he would be traveling for a while according to his suggestion to get to know different hotels all over the world and caught the first cab he could get to the airport.

He didn't care that he had only left behind a bunch of fully stuffed packing cases in his room as well as a message on Jun's voice mail, begging him to take care of his stuff as long as he would be out of country. He hadn't told his brother yet about his plans, well, he hadn't be sure himself if he would realize his so-called plans until two nights ago when he found Jun's wedding gift for his friend standing on the living room table, in the middle of even more packing cases.

Now, after graduation from university as well as college, Jun and Nino were about to move out – Jun to Ohno's place and Nino had found a small apartment not too far from them too. But now, plans had changed dramatically.

The huge, luxurious coffee machine, displayed together with various packages of different types of coffee from all over the world, wrapped up in cellophane and a huge white ribbon was smashing by itself but what made Nino – again – lose ground completely had been the congratulation card lying on the table with a yellow sticky note on it. It showed Jun's handwriting, begging his brother to sign the card too. With shaking hands, Nino had taken up the card, a pair of white paper doves embraced by pastel colored bows in the shape of hearts on the cover seemed to laugh at him and even if he didn’t open the card, Nino would have known what was written in there. Nevertheless, the young man gulped as his eyes had wandered over Jun's simple but honest message.

To Sho and Aoi,

May your love last forever.

Jun & ...

Nino's sight had blurred and he had let the card drop immediately. No way he would sign that, had been his one and only thought at that moment and after that, he had stormed away, outside into the dark night, to hide somewhere where nobody could see his tears. This was just too real. Even if he already had known that this would happen, this was just too real.

Now, two days later, arriving at the airport, Nino had snatched the first flight to Europe that he could get – which was one to Amsterdam. He arrived there after more than 11 hours of flying and shortly after entered a short distance train to travel a bit out of the city, his destination a hotel that he had searched up for on his cell phone when he was waiting for his departure at the airport.

- - Amsterdam; March 21, 2009; 2.30 pm - -

Only when he arrived in the foreign country, he had never been there before, he finally felt a bit of the weight that was pressing onto his chest falling from him and was able to take a deep breath again. The young man had decided to live in a dream for a while – even if it was not for long – he just needed to get away from the cruel reality. He wanted to forget, to block the knowledge of the upcoming marriage between Sho and that girl, Aoi or whatever her name was, Nino couldn't care less. He wanted to imagine that he was just taking a break, going onto a journey and that when he went back, Sho would be there to pick him up from the airport, telling him that he realized his mistake and that he couldn't marry that woman because he was in love with Nino.

Well, Nino knew, that his thinking was stupid and unrealistic. Sho had made things clear. Very clear. He would marry that girl in a few days. He had told him that just before their graduation a few days ago and that has been the last time he had ever talked to Nino. Even if Sho had tried to reach him on the phone after that conversation, when Nino had just left without saying more than a simple congratulation, Nino had ignored his calls. What else would that man tell him anyway?! He didn't even explain himself clearly, he didn't even tell Nino that he didn't love him anymore. Well, that would have required him at least to be in love with the younger man at one point of their so-called relationship, but it seemed that did not even apply, so what was left for Sho to tell Nino?

Whatever it was, Nino didn't want to hear it. He just wanted to forget. To forget his endless foolishness that had made him hoping that what’s between him and Sho had been something special, something serious, even if they never officially called it love. To forget the memory of Sho telling him that he would get married to someone else, and to forget the pain of his broken heart.

In that train, the first thing that Nino's blurred mind managed to clearly catch again was an endless ocean of beautiful multicolored tulips. The scene rushed by when Nino was looking out of the window to rest his mind a bit from his sorrows. He automatically reached into his bag, taking out his camera, a present from Jun and Ohno on his last birthday. A camera that they gave him since he had developed the hobby of photography about a year ago.

Snap.

- - Vancouver; February 14, 2010; 2.30 pm - -

Snap.

His fingers covered in black gloves, Nino let his camera sink from the height of his eye, checking the picture he just had taken. The small bird on the bald branch that had been sitting in the tree in front of him flapped its wings and was gone. A bit of snow fell from the tree, burying some foot prints of a dog that must have walked underneath it earlier. Nino lifted his head again, readjusting his scarf to protect his neck from the cold air and took a few steps further to search for another subject to catch.

There it was! A young couple crossed his path, the girl clinging to her boyfriend’s arm was holding the strings of some heart-shaped balloons in her hand, one of them white, the other red and a pink one. Nino lifted his camera again shortly after and checked out the low-angled picture of the see-through colorful balloons breaking the light of this cold day with their forms in an interesting way.

It was Valentine's Day and Nino couldn't have missed it. All the nice decorated shops and the countless, happy couples everywhere. Yes, they celebrated that day too in Vancouver, and even if it was more or less the same commercial feel as in Japan, the Valentine's Day tradition in Japan was a bit different, Nino thought. While it was common for couples in Canada and the USA as well as Europe, to exchange presents on that day, in Japan, it was a bit different. Only girls and women gave chocolates to their crushes, beloved boyfriends or husbands as a form of love confession. Well, there might be exceptions, but that was how the tradition worked in Japan. In exchange, the boys presented to the girls a present done in white one month later on “White Day”, something that seemed to be unique to Japan. If the boy was feeling the same way as the girl, he would give her white chocolate or another nice present in white, if not, he would reject her chocolate right away, or even more cruel – hand her a white handkerchief on White Day so that she could dry her eyes.

Nino had to think about Sho, remembering, that two years ago, he had tried to give Sho chocolate on Valentine's Day too. But he had failed to do so miserably, because he had been too shy and too afraid that the other would reject it.

Nino sighed heavily. Even after almost a whole year of being away from Japan, having traveled the world and gotten to know several cultures and people, he still was not able to forget that one man. No matter, how far he traveled, no matter how much he tried to devote himself to his work at the various hotels that he checked out during his trips, no matter how many people Nino slept with to forget Sho, Sho was always present on his mind, just as if he was right by his side.

From checking his e-mails once in a while, because Jun had become pretty angry towards Nino when he couldn't reach his little brother for almost one month after his departure from Japan, Nino knew that Sho was indeed living happily together with his wife, Aoi, since their wedding last year. Jun had told him right away and didn't even hesitate to update his brother in each e-mail about “Sho-kun is doing fine, he and his wife are very cute and happy together”. Even if Nino had never begged him to do so. Well, he couldn't blame his brother, since he didn't tell him about what had happened between him and Sho, Jun might still think that they were friends. Maybe, his brother would be a bit more delicate, if he told him but still, Nino didn't intend to tell him anything about the whole situation. Not, that it would still matter now, anyway.

- - Tokyo, Matsumoto & Ninomiya Apartment; February 14, 2008; in the evening - -

Nino couldn't believe it. He, an almost 20 year old man, really had done it. He had stayed up all night long, to prepare some fucking self-made chocolate pralines, just like one of those stupid girls from his classes at collage, who he used to make fun of, usually. What has gotten into him?!

Well... Sho.

Ever since then, Sho was everything he could think about, even if Nino wouldn't admit it. And now because of that, he had ended up being part of this stupid, once a year, commercial dominated “Love-event” that usually was nothing of his taste. He had to admit though, that it had felt good, embarrassing, yes, but good to prepare something sweet for the one he loved. He was even a little bit proud of himself that he had managed to create some simple but quite delicious chocolate-mocha pralines that even looked more or less like pralines, and everything without hurting himself or drowning the kitchen in a complete mess. Thank God, that Jun had been staying over at Ohno's and Sho's place last night, or Nino would had wanted the ground to swallow him up if his brother had found him doing something this embarrassing.

Nevertheless, even if Nino had gone through all this and was really honestly playing with the idea of giving the chocolate to Sho this Valentine's Day, the later it got and the closer Sho's visit came, the more insecure Nino became.

Even if they didn't call it a “date”, Nino had invited Sho over for the evening, knowing that his brother and Ohno would be out for their Valentine's date and most likely be sleeping at Ohno's place again. The two of them had become inseparable over the last few years and if Jun didn't show up once in a while or Sho didn’t spend that much time at Nino's place, the younger would think that he was all alone in this world. It wasn't all that bad, honestly, Nino thought. Like this, he and Sho were undisturbed in whatever they wanted to do and didn't have to hide in Nino's room, putting effort to be quiet so that Jun wouldn't find out about that thing going on between them. That thing that Nino still didn't know how to name...

Nino considered himself lucky that Sho was free this evening to come over and spend time with him. He hadn't asked Jun, if Sho, who was rumored to have a lot of one-night-stands, was officially dating someone at the moment, because he honestly preferred not knowing. He and Sho never talked about that issue, anyway. So when Sho arrived, they just ordered pizza to eat in front of the TV while watching a movie – nothing romantic, just something they had randomly picked from Jun and Nino's movie collection. Soon after the pizza was finished, Nino and Sho had devoted themselves to their desert in the form of sweet and hot kisses that they exchanged eagerly, not paying much attention to the movie any more.

Even before the ending credits rolled over the TV screen, Nino's legs had found their way onto Sho's thighs and Sho's hands had found their way underneath Nino's shirt, caressing his sides. Nino brought himself as close to Sho as their position allowed, stretching his back while he was reaching his hands up to cup Sho's face and pull him down to him. The young man put all his heart into their kisses and like always, it felt like heaven, but he also felt that deep sadness inside his chest, knowing, that Sho might not feel the same as he did.

Their relationship – if they could even call it one – was intimate, yes, but it wasn't something serious, at least not to Nino's understanding of a serious relationship. It hurt him, but the signs were just too obvious. Sho had never, not even once taken Nino's hand when they were out together with Ohno and Jun. In order to keep their connection a secret, not even when they were out as just the two of them, did he show any intention of making it obvious that he and Nino were together. True, Nino never demanded something like that and he never tried to hold Sho's hand by himself either, afraid to get pushed away. He also understood that Sho didn't want to tell Ohno and Jun about them, since he himself didn't want them to know either. Nevertheless, it hurt.

Sho had not even once said something like “I love you” to Nino. Of course, Nino knew, that Sho must at least like him a tiny little bit or he wouldn't be his friend, wouldn't help him with studying, wouldn't kiss him and wouldn't sleep with him. But liking someone and loving someone were two different pairs of shoes – that much, Nino had already learned.

He had tried though, tried to tell Sho himself that he loved him, secretly hoping that he would then maybe hear the same words out of Sho's mouth in return. But Nino had never been brave enough to say those three little words. He was just too afraid. Too afraid to hear from Sho, that the other didn't feel the same way. He knew that if he'd tell Sho, the other could tell him that he was sorry, that Nino wasn't the only one he was seeing and that he couldn't love him like he did. Maybe, he would even end their relationship because Nino scared him away with his feelings. Nino knew that, no matter what, he didn't want to hear that. He wouldn't be able to cope with it and rather than losing Sho completely, he preferred things to stay as they were.

Thus, even if he had tried again this evening, even if his self-made chocolate was wrapped up carefully with a simple but classy crimson colored gift paper and lying underneath the couch table, hidden under some old newspapers but ready to be presented to Nino's most important person, the young man today failed to tell Sho again.

Nino was shaking slightly, almost ripped apart from the passion and the pain that he was feeling right now. This moment with the warmth of Sho's hands on his skin, who held him gently felt just too good to ruin it. Sho's hot lips on his own, his pleasant moans, the feeling of Sho's soft hair between Nino's fingers, all of this was just too precious right now to ruin it. So Nino just kept on kissing Sho with as much love as he could convey through his actions and the words he wanted to tell and hear so badly, stood unspoken, and the chocolate hidden underneath the couch table.

- - Tokyo, Meguro Catholic Church; January 17, 2015; 2 pm - -

Usually, Nino never felt the urge to take pictures of people. He preferred nature and animals as the choice of subject for his photos. Maybe, he had gotten influenced by Ohno on this area, because the pictures Ohno took of mother earth were the most beautiful and stunning pictures Nino had ever seen. The magic spun by the photos were so unique, that after some time it had even triggered the wish to take such pictures by himself in Nino. Ohno had been the one who realized Nino's interest in photography years ago and he had taken good care of Nino. He was teaching him lots of stuff, happy to see the boy developing a hobby that interested him so much. With their common interest, the two had also developed a good friendship between them, leaving Sho and Jun speechless sometimes, when they enthusiastically held conversations about art. Well, it was only natural, since the other two were more the scientist types and didn't understand that much about arts. But Jun didn't mind and continued to be happy about Nino and Ohno getting along so well.

There was only one person that could make an exception to Nino. Only one person, who would trigger in Nino the wish to take a picture of him and that was Sho. Nino had once taken a photo of Sho as he was sleeping next to him, his face relaxed and innocent and the rays of the morning sunlight painting bright colors on the soft skin. The peaceful picture of the man who had made love to him so passionately the previous night, had made Nino instinctively grab his camera, wanting to hold onto this beautiful moment that belonged to him and only him forever.

Now, with his fingers clenching to the camera that he had brought along to take some pictures of the locations, Nino felt that very same urge again.

Sho was just standing there in the middle of the beautiful, antique ruins of the gothic church that Jun had chosen for his and Ohno's wedding ceremony. The light was so pretty and it made Sho look even more attractive than Nino ever remembered him to be. But of course, Nino didn't take his camera to capture that moment, not yet. He was too proud to give in to his desires and now that Sho looked in his direction, the young man could be also too shy to even think about something like that, anyway.

“So, you're still into photography?” Sho asked, maybe just to start a random conversation.

Nino felt that he was blushing like an idiot, as he always did when Sho was talking to him. He just nodded, not sure how else to react.

“That's cool! Jun always shows me your pictures, you know? I'm not a pro of course but I think, they are pretty good. You are talented,” Sho smiled at him.

“It's just a hobby,” Nino responded, his hands playing insecurely with the camera in his hands.

“Don't do that again, Nino...”

Nino looked up again, facing a sad look on Sho's face. “Do what?” he asked wondering.

“Devalue your own skills. If someone tells you, you're good at something, just believe it once in a while and say thank you.”

“Sorry,” Nino blushed even more. He wasn't sure how to react to Sho's words, but he didn't want to start a discussion again and so he thought that it would be better to just give in. “Thank you.”

He got rewarded with a friendly smile from Sho that made his heart melt.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Chapter 8


Chapter 8

Sho's POV

 

- - Tokyo, Sakurai Mansion; October 7, 2004; 6 pm - -

Sho stared at his friend, feeling more uncomfortable than before ever in this tailored gray suit. His father on his right, his mother on his left and on the other side of the low table, his future family-in-law. The young man signed and sealed the contract after a last look, then slid it to Aoi, unable to send her an encouraging smile in this solemn moment.

“I guess, everything is in order,” said Sho's father, skimming through the contract a notary established at his and Aoi's father's request. “You are officially engaged, congratulations! Should we celebrate the event, dear brother?”

They stood up and left the hall, congratulating each other without paying attention to the new fiancés who were still sitting on their cushions. How ironic was that?

“So it's done,” said Aoi, lowering her head.

“It's done,” Sho answered, trying to take an assured tone. “Now you have the right to study at the university by contract. And when we are married, you will be able to find a job.”

“Thanks Sho, if it hadn't been for you...“

“You'd have probably met a boy who would have fallen for you.”

“We don't have to draw a line on love, Sho,” said Aoi firmly.

“Do you think so?” Sho seemed suddenly bitter.

“Do you have someone?”

“Not someone precisely. Some affairs from time to time. I can't afford more. You?”

“Idem. We still have time to find a way. At least until the end of your studies.”

“I'll do my best for you to be happy, I swear.”

“Me too.”

They exchanged a comforting smile.

“Should we go celebrating too?”

“We could run away, they won't even notice us,” Aoi smiled and reached out, taking Sho's hand to get up.

Sho always knew things would happen this way, it was written since he was born, yet he couldn't appease the knot in his stomach, this bad feeling he had since the announcement of the engagement. Their fathers accepted the conditions they set, but of course, as prudent businessmen they asked for an assurance, the signature of a contract sealing their engagement and determining the date of the wedding.

He went home at the end of the day and found Jun on his couch, reading quietly, his head on Ohno's lap. This peaceful marital bliss became part of Sho's scenery even if he couldn't tell what those two were doing together.

“Hi guys.”

“Oh Sho! How was your day? What's with that suit?!” Jun mocked him.

“I had a family event,” Sho said vaguely, avoiding Ohno's puzzled gaze.

He knew, the latter won't reveal anything about his private life to Jun, he wasn't talkative, especially when it was to gossip about someone else. Yet, he was aware that hiding his sexuality and his engagement to a man who became one of his best friend sounded a bit extreme.

“And you, what's up?” Sho asked to divert attention.

“We spent a lazy afternoon.”

Sho smirked and went to his bedroom to put on a sweater and sweat pants. Jun amused him. He tried to seduce Ohno for months now and Sho began to wonder when he would finally catch on to the way Ohno worked. They made out – a lot, according the numerous times he caught them in some compromising position - but as far as he knew, they never had sex.

Surprisingly, Jun waited for a kind of commitment from his future boyfriend and Ohno wasn't precisely this kind of man. He wasn't against the idea of having a regular sex-friend, for sure, but an almost fiancé... no way. In Sho’s opinion, Jun had too high of an expectation. Well, maybe those months of eager kisses and teasing of all sorts would help Ohno to make a decision after all...

Sho grabbed a beer from the fridge and when he came back to the living room, Jun was alone.

“Where is Oh-chan?”

“I sent him buying a pizza at the convini,” Jun said in a conspirator tone. “I wanted to talk to you alone.”

Sho took a sip of his beer and leaned back in the big armchair.

“He accepted to have dinner with me tomorrow night. Here.”

“Are you trying to kick me out of my apartment?” Sho chuckled.

“Not really, but yeah somehow.”

“What do you mean?”

“I promised Nino to go to a baseball game tomorrow with him. His favorite team plays in the national stadium and I bought the tickets months ago. Would you take my place?”

For some reason, Sho felt his heart beating faster at the idea of spending an entire afternoon with his friend's brother. “I don't know if Nino would accept... he probably wants to be with you.”

“Stop it! He adores you. He will be delighted to have you instead of me. If you asked to be his brother instead of me, he won't think twice.”

“Oh... Okay. I never saw a game in a national stadium, it will be a nice occasion.”

For a few weeks, Sho was helping Nino with his lessons and time after time, he figured how much he liked his company. The boy was clever, attaching, and so adorable. Surprising too. Everything, he had wished for his own little brother to be, if he have had the chance to have one.

“And Sho... if you could sleep at my place it would be great. I won't have to come back home.”

Sho smirked and taking another sip added, “You will owe me one, my friend.”

- - Tokyo, National Stadium; October 8, 2004; around 3 pm - -

The stadium was fully packed. The fans of the “Yomiuri Giants”, came on full force to support their team and Nino, dressed entirely in blue, white and orange, was like a kid on Christmas. His gaze running from Sho to the stadium, to Sho again, and back to the players.

Jun got two very well placed tickets (like every little thing that man did, he aimed for perfection) and Sho could even see in details the facial expressions of the players. This little outing with Nino was perfect to forget his sorrows. Like the boy's brother predicted, Nino didn't complain and accepted the switch Jun between Sho enthusiastically. He didn't even protest when Jun announced that Sho would spend the night at their flat.

“Have you been a supporter for a long time?” Sho asked, sincerely curious.

“My father brought me to each game of the Giants when I was a kid. He's too old now, so Jun took his place. I think, I never missed an official match.”

“Really?!” Sho asked impressed, “Do you play yourself?”

“At school but I'm not very talented.”

“I'm sure you are. Don’t devalue yourself.”

Nino blushed nicely and Sho tousled his hair playfully, keeping his arm around his shoulder to keep him warm.

“You'll have to explain to me, I never saw a pro game and I hadn’t play for ages.”

“You played at school?” Nino asked.

“I was in an all-boys school, my comrades talked about girls and baseball only. But I never really paid attention,” to one or the other, Sho thought to himself.

Nino took his role very serious and for once played the teacher. The Giants won the game and the two boys followed the crowd outside of the stadium and to the subway to head back home.

Quickly after they entered in the train, Sho noticed Nino's frightened look.

“Something's wrong?” Sho asked, worried.

“I'm not at ease in confined space. It will be fine, don't worry.” Nino smiled bravely.

Sho kept his eyes on him. On their way to the stadium, they had been early, the train hadn't been that stuffed and so Sho hadn't noticed before. “Come here,” he said, pointing to his side.

“No need, don't worry,” Nino repeated stubbornly.

The boy grabbed the train bar with all his strength as if his life was at stake but soon, he froze, panicked.

An old man who was behind him and took advantage of the crowd to stroke him surreptitiously. Sho reached out, furious and nailed Nino against the wall. He made a barricade with his body, protecting him from the crowd, his forearms on each side of Nino’s face.

“I'm sorry,” Nino whispered, crimsoned.

“Did he touch you?” Sho growled.

“My hand. He only touched my hand.”

“It's your fault, you're so careless. Why didn't you come to me when I told you?!”

Sho tried to ignore the reason he was so upset. It happened to him several times, men touching his butt when he was in the crowded subway. He used to laugh about them, but now he wanted to punch this miserable man because he dared to touch Nino's hand.

He took Nino's wrist in one hand, the other still on the wall to keep him safe, and observed his palm as if it had been soiled by the pervert. Eventually, Sho took Nino's hand, caressing it with his thumb carefully to erase the bad memory. He released his hand after the opening of the door and they walked side by side along the subway's corridors then on the outside, remaining silent. But Sho felt guilty for his burst of anger, it was so unusual, he always kept his composure under any circumstances.

“Nino, I'm sorry. I yelled at you and I shouldn't have. It wasn't your fault,” Sho said once they reached Jun's apartment.

“I know.”

Sho turned around and laughed. “You know? Good. But you're still too adorable to take a fully packed subway. People will want to touch you... promise me you won't let anyone touch you, except if you're willing. Okay?”

“...I promise,” Nino said, putting his hands in his pocket.

They grabbed a bite, a meal that Nino had cooked before the game, and showered one after another. Nino came back to the living room when Sho was unfolding the couch to make his bed.

“Do you need some help?” Nino asked, approaching him.

“I'm used to it, you know.”

“I guess. Do you want to play a game?”

“No thanks. I'm exhausted but do what you want, I won't tell Jun.”

“May I... stay with you here? To watch a movie,” Nino clarified, embarrassed. “I don't feel like staying alone after this outing.”

Sho's heart melted and he lifted his blanket to his companion. They turned on the TV and Sho put on the first channel. It was an old horror movie, one of his favorites.

“You know “Dawn of the Dead”?” Sho asked Nino, who couldn't take his eyes off the screen where a zombie was eating what looked like his own wife.

“I don't. You?”

“I saw it thousands of times. Do you want to watch it?”

Nino nodded and they laid down quietly in the bed, focusing on the screen that was displaying repulsing zombies cornering the heroes in a huge supermarket.

“Are you sure, you're okay with it?” Sho asked.

Nino was encroaching his space slowly and he was almost touching his side now, with a cushion hiding half of his face. Nonetheless he nodded and Sho reacted as if nothing had happened when he felt Nino's temple against his shoulder. When the movie had finished, Sho moved a bit but Nino had his eyes closed. Yet he wasn't asleep, Sho was positive about it. Even so, he didn't have the heart to send him to his bedroom. He couldn't resist to this almost childish but so cute way of asking him to let him sleep in his bed.

“Next time, I won't let you watch this,” Sho said gently.

“Next time, I'll choose the movie,” Nino moaned vaguely. He turned his back to Sho, slowly moving until he was touching the other's stomach with his back. “I'm cold,” he said in a whisper.

Sho caressed his hair and snaked his arm around Nino's waist, protecting him from the cold night and from nightmares.

- - Tokyo, Sakurai House; January 13, 2015; 4.30 am - -

Sho woke up with a start, sitting in his bed, his breath hectic and a huge bulge misshaping his pajamas. How long has it been, since he last dreamed about the night he had spent on Jun’s couch, holding Nino in his arms all night long for the first time? It had been an eternity…

At that time he had left the bed in a hurry to hide a very inopportune erection due to a too stimulating rub against his lower belly. Today, he was all alone in his bed but this memory subtly slid in a dream produced the same effect. Of course, by seeing Nino again, so close, he expected this kind of reaction. He had tried so hard to forget every little memory concerning Nino, eventually burying them in a corner of his mind because erasing was impossible.

It had been so vivid.

In his dream, Sho could feel Nino’s hair tickling his chin, the sweetness of his wrist wrapped in the hollow of his own hand, the firmness of his butt rubbing his lower belly tantalizingly while sleeping… This was precisely this sensation which woke him up.

What time was it? 4.30 am?! God… Sho's alarm clock would ring in 30 minutes, he had no time to sleep any longer, better to go to the shower to take care of this almost painful hard-on.

He arrived at the hospital, greeted his colleagues, taking news from his patients, then went to the big white board in the ER corridor to check out his schedule for the day.

“Sakurai-sensei?”

Sho turned around and greeted his new intern Yamada. The guy had taken on the habit to follow him everywhere, just like his dog Clover.

“Hello, Yamada.”

“I was wondering if you would allow me to assist you and Matsumoto-sensei on the brain surgery of Tomoda-san today.”

“Did you sleep here?” Sho asked, noticing the wrinkled outfit and the big black circles around his eyes.

“Yes, I’ve been here since yesterday morning.”

“You should sleep.”

“I’ll do the visit with you if you don’t mind, Sensei.”

“Go to the call room and sleep for one or two hours at least. An exhausted doctor commits mistakes plus I don’t want to hear you yawning behind me, it will disturb me.”

“But Sen~”

“I'm your Boss,” Sho cut strictly. “Stop arguing with me and go now. I’ll wake you up if there’s something interesting. We’ll talk about this surgery later.”

The young man beamed and after a nod, turned tail, almost running to the call room. Sho smirked. He and Jun had been like that too, during their first years… enthusiastic and lacking of sleep.

He went to Jun’s office, not surprised to find it empty when his cell phone rang.

“Sakurai.”

“…Hi, this is Ninomiya.”

Sho sat on the verge of Jun’s desk, so glad to be alone to hide his sudden agitation.

“Nino, I’m sorry for yesterday,” Sho said out of the blue, accepting the fault in order not to embarrass the object of his affection.

“It wasn't your fault,” Nino answered after a moment of silence. “I’ve been a bit emotional lately and I released my stress on you. Nothing personal.”

He sounded to be so tired, Sho thought, was it because of his loss? Was he trying to take the entire responsibility for yesterday’s disaster?

“Jun is okay to meet the florist of the hotel tomorrow at 3, can you make it?”

“I’ll be there.”

Once again, this awkward silence. Would they be able to feel at ease in each other’s presence again one day? Sho began to doubt it.

“I... wanted you to know that I’ll do my best from now on to be a decent best man for my brother. See you later~”

“Nino?” Sho cut in quickly.

“Hm?”

“I was… happy to see you yesterday and to hear you today. It’s been so long since~”

“~Since the day you told me you're getting married...”

Sho swallowed hard. ”Yes, since that day.”

”Well, see you.”

Nino hung up and Sho folded his cell phone, sliding it into his lab coat's pocket. He cupped his hands in front of his mouth, desperately looking for something positive from this conversation. Did he really misunderstand or did Nino really reproach him his wedding? Was it bitterness or jealousy? Impossible, not after all those years, not after the way, Nino bid him farewell almost joyfully when Sho told him he was about to marry Aoi.

- - Tokyo, Ninomiya Hotel; January 14, 2015; 3pm - -

It wasn’t the first time that Sho entered Nino’s hotel. He had come here once or twice, foolishly hoping that he might catch sight of Nino. He hadn't been stalking him. Not really. But if by chance, he could come across him in the lobby or at the restaurant, it would be fate, wouldn't it? Certainly not the result of a shameless spying session... Sho felt pitiful sometimes and Aoi's sweet words of comfort didn't help him to feel better.

He spotted Ohno and Jun sitting in the grand lobby around a round table, visibly waiting for the owner of the place.

“Hi guys,” he said, taking a chair.

“Hi Sho. He won't take long,” Ohno answered immediately to reassure his companions. Nino wasn't a model of punctuality lately. “I wonder who he is today.”

“What do you mean?” asked Sho, suddenly interested.

“When he started working here, his father pushed him to try every job in the place. I guess, he kept the habit. Sometimes, he's the guy behind the reception counter, sometimes he's in the kitchens... it amuses him.”

“It’s just like him, he has always been curious...,” Sho smirked and frowned when he met Jun's questioning eyes. “Oh, he's here.”

Saved by the bell, Sho thought in relief. They stood up and walked towards Nino who wore a refined black suit.

“Excuse me, I had an emergency.”

“No problem,” Jun said, gently taking Ohno's elbow to guide him to the exit.

Sho nodded to greet Nino and the latter answered the same way, a pretty smirk at the corner of the lips. “How are you?”

“I'm fine. Thanks,” Nino answered, showing Sho the way.

The flower shop at the corner of the street was very pretty, vividly colored but stylish. Sho stayed outside for a bit, admiring the splendid and original compositions displayed in the shop window. When he joined Jun and Ohno, a woman was holding onto Nino's arm and he seemed to be pretty embarrassed, as if he was reluctant to display such an intimacy publicly. He even blushed and Sho's heart constricted. Was she the possible girlfriend Jun had mentioned some months ago? So it was true, Nino had found a girl and Sho's old fears were confirmed.

Back then, Nino might have been only searching his identity, testing if he was gay, doubting his sexuality, and eventually Sho was his first experiment. Probably his only gay experiment. Now, Nino was with this girl, this Nana. Yet, he didn't seem to be happy.

The woman was staring at Sho shamelessly and he looked around, refusing to cross her gaze. He heard her flattering Jun and cheerfully explaining her job, what she could do, the way she would satisfy his requests. Did Sho dream it or did she really gawk at him from head to toe? He hated this, he hated this creepy situation where he had to face Nino’s girlfriend without any psychological preparation. If he had known…well, even if he had known, he couldn’t have escaped this. For Jun and Ohno's sake.

Sho smiled bitterly and wandered around the place, letting Jun taking the lead. Instinctively, he looked for Nino. The young man was standing there, staring at some colorful tulips.

“Nino?” Sho asked. “Are you coming?”

“Hm?” Nino seemed distracted but then agreed. “Ah yeah, sure.”

- - Tokyo, Meguro Catholic Church; January 17, 2015; 2 pm - -

They met again on the following Saturday to visit the potential locations for Jun and Ohno's wedding ceremony and just like the other days, Sho only had eyes for Nino. The young man was taking pictures and Sho stopped short of a few meters from him. He was so beautiful, it hit him madly once again, like the last time, like the very first time. He still felt so attracted to him. Insanely…

Without thinking further, Sho walked towards Nino and stood next to him, with his arms crossed against his chest. “So, you're still into photography?”

Nino nodded and turned back to his picture.

“That's cool! Jun always shows me your pictures, you know? I'm not a pro of course but I think, they are pretty good. You are talented.”

“It's just a hobby.”

Sho felt a sudden anger. So he was still here? After all those years? What was that girlfriend doing with Nino, if she couldn’t help him to be more self-confident? Well. Sho was angry with himself too. So much.

“Don't do that again, Nino...”

“Do what?” Nino asked confused.

“Devalue your own skills. If someone tells you, you're good at something, just believe it once in a while and say thank you.”

“Sorry. Thank you.”

Jun barged between the two best men, disturbing them, putting his arms around their shoulders, “Are we going to the next church? Satoshi has an appointment but I’ll keep chaperoning you.”

Fortunately, the flower shop was open today, so at least, Nino's girlfriend wasn't accompanying them, Sho thought in relief. He was lucid enough to know that this inopportune jealousy was idiotic and out-of-place. After all, he was the one who got married.

They took a cab, Jun in the middle on the back seat and after 15 minutes - which was an accomplishment considering Tokyo in the afternoon - landed on a sidewalk, facing a splendid little church.

Sho couldn’t believe that he never noticed such a lovely place before. When was the last time he set a foot outside of the hospital, he couldn’t even remember. This time, it was a cute, small chapel in the purest European style, the kind you can visit at every corner of every street in Italy or France, too small to house more than a hundred people but positively lovely.

“Should we go in? The priest lent me the keys,” Jun said, nudging an appreciative Sho.

It was cold inside, far more than outside, and it would be perfect in summer. Contrary to traditional churches, there were no aisles, only an empty hall waiting to be decorated.

“We could put some candles here and there and I’ll take some pictures for Nana, she will do marvels with such a place,” Nino said, enthusiastically. “Jun?”

Sho whirled around looking for his friend who had magically disappeared. Nino arched an interrogative eyebrow and Sho shrugged in answer, pointing to the ajar door with his thumb. They approached it and heard a very angry Jun yelling into his phone.

“Yeah. Now. Don’t let him pass through the door of the hospital. I don’t fucking care. Do it. I’m on my way.” He sighed deeply, his face distorted by anger and put his phone into his inner pocket.

“Guys, I’m sorry I have to go. A problem with a member of the hospital’s administration. I have planned the visit of the party location after this, an employee will be waiting there for you. It’s in that building, 22th floor,” Jun pointed at the huge glass building only a few blocks away. “Will you make it on my behalf? Promise me, you’ll behave.”

“Sure,” Sho patted his shoulder.

“I’ll take pictures for you,” said Nino, raising his camera.

“Thanks. You’ll join us for dinner tonight? We’ll cross out some items on the list.”

Nino smirked and took a glance at Sho. Jun hailed a cab and climbed in immediately, leaving the two men behind on the sidewalk all alone for the first time since years.

Without a word, they found their way to the tall building, Jun had talked about. It was so strange and exciting to walk through the city by Nino’s side, Sho thought, so natural and surreal at the same time. Sho couldn’t admit it but he was glad that Jun left sooner. It would give him the occasion to apologize properly to Nino and perhaps fix some misunderstandings of the past to start from scratch. The not so innocent remark about his wife perturbed Sho deeply but no matter how he thought about it, he couldn’t find any satisfying answer.

They traversed the humongous hall following the signs and found the elevators leading to the upper floors. The first cabin came and a bunch of people walked in. As Nino stepped forward, Sho gently grabbed his arm to keep him in place. He didn’t plan this but Nino didn’t protest and followed him into the next totally empty cabin.

“Sorry for this,” Sho said once the door closed, gazing at his companion straightforwardly. “I remember you dislike crowded, confined place.”

“You remember?” Nino asked in an undertone.

“Of course I remember. I remember everything. Nino…I wanted to apologize for~”

Suddenly, the floor jolted and they gripped the rails in order not to fall. Nino hunkered down not to lose his balance. The elevator had stopped and Sho tried to push the buttons one after another but nothing happened.

“Please be patient, we’ll fix this problem as soon as possible,” a voice said through the speaker.

“I guess, we just have to wait. Nino?”

The man was still crouching on the floor, his head resting on his knees, in the very same position he had been when the elevator had stopped.

“Hey, what’s wrong?”

“I still suck with confined place, I suppose…,” Nino murmured, appalled and trembling.

 

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Nino's POV

- - Tokyo, Sunshine Building; January 17, 2015; 3.30 pm - -

Nino couldn't believe that Sho still remembered that he didn't like confined, crowed places. But Sho did remember and even held Nino back so that he didn't enter the elevator together with some other people and could take an empty cabin as just the two of them. Sho's consideration made Nino happy, it made his heart beat faster and even, if he had overcome his fears pretty well over the years, so that at least it wasn't that much of problem to ride a full elevator or subway any longer once in a while, Nino didn't say anything and just let Sho do how he pleased.

Well, Nino had thought that he didn't have any problems with elevators any longer. That was until this time, the fucking elevator suddenly got fucking stuck in the middle of its ride. That was no good...

When the cabin jolted and suddenly stopped, Sho stumbled slightly and Nino instinctively grabbed the bar right next to him to get some support, hunkering down in order not to lose his balance. The lights went out until just a second later some dim standby lamps lightened the small cabin again. At that time, things were still right with Nino but when Sho started pressing the elevator's buttons to make it move again and the voice of some employee of this building told them that they had to wait until they fixed the problem, things weren't that right any longer.

Thoughts such as they were stuck and would never make it outside or that the elevator would suddenly start moving again and rush down to the ground, rushing him and Sho to death, started to invade Nino's mind. Or what, if they couldn't get out and they ran out of air? What if they would be trapped for days and died of thirst?

Nino's heart started to beat faster. He dropped his head onto his knees, his eyes closed and forehead frowned, trying to get rid of those thoughts.

“I guess, we just have to wait,” Sho repeated the employee's words from before.

Nino heard a small whimper escaping his lips. Shocked, he hoped that Sho didn't hear it.

“Nino?”

Sho must have become irritated since Nino didn't answer, however, he wasn't able to. He was too busy to try to forget those fears that suddenly broke over him and clenched the elevator's bar as if he would fall into a deep deep hole if he let go of it. Right now, he realized that he was trembling like crazy, his heart beat rushing.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Sho suddenly asked, bending down in front of Nino and the other slightly lifted his head just to meet Sho's worried eyes.

The young man slightly parted his lips that felt awfully dry suddenly. When was the last time that he drank something?

“I still suck with confined place, I suppose…,” Nino finally managed to murmur, trying to play it down and to make it sound ironic and funny but he knew he failed.

This wasn't funny at all! The young man's eyes wandered above Sho's head to the display in the elevator, indicating which floor the elevator was currently on. Somewhere between the 10th and 11th floor. Damned, that meant, they probably couldn't even just open the door, get out and climb the stairs up to their appointment, Nino ridiculously thought at that moment.

They couldn't just simply get out.

That thought triggered a sudden panic in Nino that he never felt before. It was like something had exploded in his head, something that made him feel more unease and scared, than he ever had.

“We have to get out of here,” he murmured.

“Nino...,” Sho started in a calm voice, but the other didn't listen to him.

Nino jumped up from his position, storming to the front. He put one hand onto the elevator's door which of course was firmly closed. Panicking, he, with his other hand, pressed the button that usually opened the door of the elevator. He pressed it once, twice, countless times, faster and faster but nothing happened. He gave up and started trying to open the door with his own strength but nothing moved at all and so he slammed both hands against the elevator's door, screaming for help until suddenly, Sho was behind him, grabbing his wrist and turned him around.

“Nino! Stop that!” the other man said, looking into Nino's panicked face. “They are fixing the problem, we just need to wait a few minutes, alright?”

“But -,” Nino pulled in some air. “We have to get out of here!” he repeated, trying to free his arm, “We can't get out of here, what if we can't get out of here?!”

“It will work again and we will get out of here, Nino, don't worry!” Sho smiled. How could he smile in a situation like this, Nino thought in disbelief.

He let his eyes wander through the cabin. There was no other exit, was there? What about the ceiling, wasn't there supposed to be an emergency exit like in all those movies he had seen? But Nino couldn't see any traces of it. Damned... was the ceiling getting closer? Nino tried to take a deep breath but it seemed like only half of the air reached his lungs. Was the air already becoming thinner in here? He took another breath, again and again, another one and another one, until his breath started hitching, his sight suddenly blurred and his lungs just felt like there wasn't any oxygen reaching them. The walls were coming closer. The ceiling was coming closer. Sho was still holding his wrist, increasing Nino's feeling that he couldn't escape. He couldn't breathe. He felt dizzy. Everything around him started to swirl.

“Nino!”

He felt Sho's hands tightening around his arms, shaking him slightly to get his attention but Nino didn't care.

He needed to get out of here...

- - Tokyo Central Hospital; May 26, 2013; 09.30 pm - -

Nino didn't want to be here. He wished he was not in this hospital, waiting for the doctor's news regarding his father, he didn't want to be in Japan or even on this world. This fear of losing his one and only loving parent, it was just too unbearable and after experiencing this fear for the third time already, Nino just couldn't bear it any longer.

His hands were trembling, his eyes were closed and he desperately tried to think about something good – but nothing came to his mind. It was, like his head was completely blank, the only thought filling it was that his father might die this time.

It took another 30 minutes, until finally the doctor came back to Nino and bowed slightly, an encouraging smile on his lips. Nino felt nervous and stood up.

“Your father is still alive, Ninomiya-san, he's alright for now,” the doctor said.

Nino didn't feel at ease from that statement. “For now? What does this mean?” he almost didn't dare to ask.

“Well... we have to be honest, we don't think that your father will survive another stroke,” the doctor explained slowly. “His body... his heart and his brain already took a lot of damage from the two previous strokes he suffered. But for now, he's alright.”

“For how long?”

“It's impossible to predict something like that. Maybe he will live for years, maybe it will happen soon. We just want you to know so that you can be prepared.”

Nino tried really hard not to let a desperate laughter escape and placed his face in his hands to rub his eyes, “Prepared you say?! Yeah, sure...”

As if someone could be prepared for another person's death.

“Ninomiya-san...”

“Can I see him now?” Nino cut the doctor. He didn't need a stranger's sympathy right now, he didn't need further explanations. He just wanted to see his father.

“Yes, of course. He's sleeping right now but you can visit him. I'll show you the way and we can talk about everything else tomorrow. I suppose, you want to take him back home with you?”

“Of course.”

When Nino entered his father's room, he could hardly hold back his tears. There was the man lying in the white bed, old, thin, broken. His current condition and surrounded by countless machines as well as medical equipment that made the scenery look even worse, led Nino to think that his father was much older than his actual 72 years. He looked miserable.

Slowly, Nino approached his father’s side, taking a chair, pulling it next to the bed and sat down. He took a deep breath and reached out to take one of his father's hands.

“Dad?” Nino asked in a weak voice. “You're not allowed to leave me now, you hear me?” The young man started sobbing. “I came back just for you! There's so much that you need to teach me about the hotel and everything... and what am I supposed to do without you? I don't want to lose you.”

Of course, the old man didn't answer, sleeping silently on the bed, his head resting on the huge white pillow. Nino finally collapsed onto the bed, crying his heart out until he fell asleep.

- - Tokyo; Ninomiya funeral service; November 10, 2014; 11.00 am - -

Just like Nino was told, the doctors had not been able to predict, how long his father would be alive and so, the past one and a half years had been filled with fear and unease for Nino. Now, that his father had died three days ago from a fourth stroke, the fear of losing him finally came true. Even if this also meant that the fear was gone now, it had just been replaced by an endless sadness that pulled the young man into a dark hole.

He wouldn't be able to laugh ever again, Nino thought. The prayer of the Buddhist priest was ringing in his ears, as he tried to focus onto what was going on in front of him. Several people, most of them employees and business partners of his father, took place on a small cushion in front of him, first facing the altar where the picture of a friendly smiling, old man was displayed in a thick black frame. White flowers were arranged beautifully and a small bowl for prayers as well as several incense sticks laid next to it. The incense sticks were lighted by the mourners as they chant a last prayer for their friend, before they turned to face Nino, bowing in front of him to show him their condolences. Nino just sat there, bowing at each of them in return to show his gratitude but honestly, he just wanted to flee.

He couldn't cry. Not in front of all those people. He had to stay strong, his father had wanted him to be that. He had been so proud of Nino, who had done great to become the qualified successor of the great hotel owner Ninomiya. Now, Nino had to take over the responsibility for a lot of people, a lot of employees as well as guests. He didn't want any of them to see him crying.

When it was Jun's turn and he bowed in front of Nino, tears running down his cheeks, Nino knew that his brother was crying also his share of tears for him. He could see that Jun wasn't only crying for that nice old man who had treated Nino's big brother as if he was his own son, but that he was also crying for his little brother's sake. Jun bowed, maybe a bit longer and deeper than others and when Nino mirrored the gesture, he tried hard to hold back his own tears, overwhelmed from gratitude and love towards his big brother. Even, if he tried not to depend on him that much, Jun was always there for him, after all.

When people gathered for the funeral feast afterwards in the hotel's restaurant, which was closed for the private function, Jun and Ohno didn't leave Nino's side, trying to make him at least eat a bit, but the man just ignored everything and everyone around him, lost in his thoughts. Hence they kept on shielding him from others, apologizing to the other guests that Nino wasn't feeling well and didn't feel like talking. Of course, everyone could understand.

The young man had organized everything on his own, the funeral, the feast, and now finally he seemed to be at the end of the rope. While all the guests around him talked cheerfully about the late Ninomiya to celebrate the fulfilled life the man had lived, Nino couldn't bring himself to be cheerful at all. Right now, he couldn't remember all the good things he had experienced with his father, the only loving parent that he had, as a kid, a teenager, a grown up. He would lose his composure now, if he did. He could just think about the hard and painful time he and his father had spent together before his father's death.

Nino had taken care of his father for almost four years now, living together. He was present during three of the four strokes his father had suffered from, missing the first one because he was still on his journey at that time. Nino remembered clearly the time when Jun had called him in the middle of the night, when he was working in a French hotel as a receptionist. Jun told him that his father was in hospital. Nino had quit his job right away and caught the next possible flight to Japan. Happy to find out that his father survived but would need a little help in his daily life from now on, Nino declined his father’s proposal to search for a nurse who could take care of him and immediately moved in with his father to fill the spot.

Back then, his father's condition hadn't been that bad, he seemed to recover quite well and was able to spend a good time with his son, preparing him for taking over the hotel one day, which made Nino really happy. Even if Nino as a teenager hadn't been convinced what to do with his live, he had quickly learned. He wanted to be like his admired father and with that, had developed the wish to take over his father's hotel one day. His “training” in hotels all over the world had helped him to get a wide view of different cultures and possible guests. After that, he received training from his father first-hand, with a lot of patient and friendliness, taking over more and more tasks in the hotel as time went by.

When his father suffered from his second stroke, Nino had already advanced up to be his father's substitute, introduced to all the different tasks he would have to take care of as the future owner of the hotel. Nevertheless of course, Nino had hoped not to be forced to take his father's place that quickly but since May 2013, when his father was in hospital for the last time, his condition worsened so much that he wasn't able to work any longer at all. It was now all in Nino's hands.

Nino remembered all those different feelings from these past months. The fear of losing his father, what could happen every day, the pressure from taking over the hotel, the whole responsibility... The countless sleepless nights that Nino spent by his father's bed because he was afraid that he would die as soon as he fell asleep. In the end, Nino's own substitute Kusanagi-san had taken over his position for the time being, giving Nino the time to fully devote himself to the caring of his father, maybe knowing that it wouldn't last for long anyway. Nino didn't leave his father's side and spent a long time separated from the real world out there, locked in with the sick, old man who once had been his cheerful and bright father.

To be prepared, was what the doctors that visited his father at Nino's and his home where he had been bedridden for the last months had told him every time, his condition was worsening. But how could you be prepared for a beloved one's death, Nino wondered? He had known that it could happen that there could be another stroke and that that one could be fatal. Nevertheless, it had hit him unprepared.

After the funeral party, Jun had offered Nino that he could stay overnight at his and Ohno's place, but Nino thankfully declined. That he had to take care of some more stuff was his excuse, even if he knew that he wouldn't be able to go back into that apartment he had shared with his father for the last few years. Too many memories were hanging there in the air, too much stuff that was depressing him. He would take care of everything, yes, but not now.

Instead, Nino hadn't told anybody, but he was staying at his friend's Toma's place since the night of his father's death. Toma was currently living alone, since his boyfriend Aiba was out of town because of his job. Toma didn't question or chaperon him too much, like Jun would surely do. He just let Nino be and offered him his companion if he wanted it or a little distraction if he needed it. This night, he would surely share his bed with his friend again.

Nino was too lost in thoughts to be able to help the catering team, including Toma, to clean up after the last few guests left the funeral feast. He just waited in the lobby of the hotel for his friend. Toma then picked him up and together, they drove to his apartment. Nino didn't say a word until he murmured his thanks as his friend unlocked the door and let him in again. After Nino had taken a shower and returned to the living room, where Toma was still watching some late night shows, the other gestured him to sit next to him.

“Don't you want to cry?” Toma asked suddenly, causing a puzzled look on his friend's face. “This day must have been awful for you, even I feel like crying and it wasn't my dad who died, even if I respect your father a lot and everything.”

“I don't cry in front of other people,” Nino just answered coldly, trying to get back his composure. No, he didn't cry in front of other people... not in front of people other than...

“Want some comfort nevertheless?” his friend cut his thoughts and offered him a smirk. “I'm sure, you'll feel better after.”

Toma didn't wait for Nino to answer but leaned toward the other and captured his lips in a kiss. Nino closed his eyes. Yes, some comfort would be nice, even if he would prefer to get comforted by...

Again, his thoughts drifted to one specific person. Someone that he had tried to forget over the past few years, to hate, so that he wouldn't miss him too much but too often, Nino couldn't lie to himself about his true feelings. It had always been Sho, who had offered Nino comfort and warmth in the past, it did not matter if he had problems with his mother, his brother, or at school. Sho had always listened to him and whenever Nino cried, Sho had been there to comfort him. Nino wondered what words Sho would offer him now in this situation if he was here and if those words would be able to heal his hurting heart a bit. In the past, Sho had always found the right words, it had been like magic...

Nino reached his hands up, tangling them around Toma's neck to pull the other closer, deepening their kiss. How much he wished to be with Sho right now, just like those countless times they spent their evenings and nights together. How much he wished that those lips that were kissing him right now didn't belong to Toma but to Sho.

Toma and Nino as predicted spent a night full of comfort in the form of physical contact. It was, like Nino was hungering for love, for getting hugged, kissed, and touched. Toma like always was able to give his friend what he needed, making them both profiting from their usual friendship with little extras but this night, Nino felt pretty guilty for using Toma the way he did, namely imagining Toma to be Sho. He imagined, that Toma's hands that were caressing Nino's face caringly belonged to his old lover, that his lips were actually Sho's and when their bodies were finally connected, he fooled himself, imagining that it was Sho who was hugging his too slim body while making love to forget all those sorrows, even if it was just for a little while.

Nino had a hard time not to scream Sho's name that night.

- - Tokyo, Sunshine Building; January 17, 2015; 3.30 pm - -

“Nino, pull yourself together, everything will be alright,” Sho's voice sounded calm and friendly, like most of the time when they had talked to each other.

The man was still slightly shaking Nino, trying to make eye contact with him. But Nino was still busy with trying to catch his breath, which in some way didn't seem to work right. Again and again, Nino pulled in the air between his dry lips, trying to fill his lungs with it but nevertheless, he felt like he was suffocating to death. His hands and forehead felt sweaty. It was so damned hot in here... The walls were still coming closer, couldn’t Sho see it too? They would get squashed by them if they couldn't get out of here! Nino's panic increased. He wanted to warn the other. They needed to get out, no matter what!

“Sho-chan!” Nino finally managed to whimper in between two hitched breaths, trying to focus onto the man in front of him who was still trying to talk to him. “We need to-” Another breath, he almost choked on his words.

“Nino, calm down,” Sho said again, calm like nothing had happened. “Listen to me, everything is fine, OK? You're only having a panic attack right now and you're hyperventilating but you can handle that. There is no need to panic, alright? We will get out of here, everything will be fine.”

Nino just stared at Sho, his eyes wide opened. Only a panic attack!?

“Try to slow down your breathing. Nothing will happen, I promise. We're safe here, there is enough air for both of us for days, weeks if you want to, since there is an emergency system providing the elevator's cabins with enough air, OK?”

Nino wasn't sure, if he understood what Sho was telling him. Was he stupid? There wasn't enough air at all, they both would die in less than a few minutes!

“Alright, we will make you breathe normally again now, alright? Nino? Trust me, I'm a doctor, OK?”

Suddenly, Sho was reaching out his hand to Nino's face, the young man stumbling back a little, until his back met the still closed elevator's door behind him. Then, there was Sho's hand covering Nino's mouth and nose and he was ordered to continue breathing and to focus on Sho. First, Nino panicked even more, trying to get rid of Sho's hand with his own trembling hands, but he quickly realized, that it wasn't like Sho was trying to stifle him. Nino knew that. Sho was a doctor after all. He was Sho, after all. Sho would never do that to him.

Looking right into Sho's friendly brown eyes, who was so close to him right now, close enough that Nino could feel the warmth coming from the other man's body, he decided to trust that man once again in his life, just like he did so often in the past. He kept on breathing and looking into Sho's eyes, which somehow had a really calming effect on him right now. It took a short while but then, Nino really felt his breath slowing down. Breathing his own breath had seemed to be effective. It finally felt, as if his lungs were filling with “real” air again, just as they were supposed to. He was able to breathe. He wouldn't have to die, not here, not today, he thought relieved.

Feeling his legs giving way, Nino loosened his grip on Sho's hands, who pulled them away from his face. The young man slid down along the elevator's door, until he was sitting on the floor again, leaning against the door behind him, his knees and hands still trembling and his heart racing but his breath gradually becoming stable again. Sho followed Nino down to the floor.

“That's good, Nino. You see? Everything is alright,” Sho smiled, kneeling in front of him.

The worst part seemed to be over, Nino thought. His thoughts became a bit clearer, at least, the walls had finally stopped moving and he knew that he wouldn't have to die. Nevertheless, he was still feeling nervous and unease as hell. Parts of the fear were still there.

“Just a little more and we will be rescued, you'll see,” Sho continued talking, even if Nino still didn't say a word. “We can kill the time by talking a bit, can't we?”

Nino looked at Sho, still puzzled. Talking about what? But Sho had already started anyway.

“Do you remember the first time when we went to watch a baseball match in the national stadium together?” the man in front of him asked, confusing Nino with the sudden change of topic. “Jun couldn't make it because he wanted to seduce Oh-chan with a romantic dinner,” Sho chuckled. “We watched your favorite team winning! What is it called...”

“The Yomiura Giants,” the young man answered.

“Exactly!” Sho smiled again, grabbing Nino's hands, brushing his thumbs slightly over them. “Then on the ride to yours and Jun's apartment after that, some old pervert touched you and I -”

“You rescued me and protected me for the rest of the ride,” Nino blushed when he remembered the scene the other was talking about, as if it happened yesterday. Sho even then had taken his hand, just like now, the one that the old man had touched, and had let his thumb run over it, erasing traces of the stranger.

“I'll always protect you, alright? So there is no need for you to be afraid of anything.”

Sho's sweet words found their way into Nino's heart, even if he knew that Sho was just distracting him, so that the time might go by faster, until the elevator would work again. Even if he didn't mean what he was saying right now, Nino was thankful for Sho's words, which at that moment warmed his heart and made him feel much more at ease and very moved...

Suddenly, Nino didn't think that he didn't want to show Sho how he felt. Well... after that disaster right now, he didn't care any longer anyway, at least not for the moment. His sight slightly blurred again and he felt some tears forming in his eyes. He sobbed once as the first tear rolled down his cheek, and answered the comforting pressure of Sho's hands with his own, not willing to let the other go right now.

The other man looked a bit surprised and maybe he mistook Nino's emotional outbreak with another upcoming panic attack and so he searched for something more to talk about.

“Ah... we watched a movie together on that same evening, you remember?” Sho asked, lifting one hand to wipe away Nino's tears.

Nino nodded, another sob escaping, “That old one with the zombies. I hated it...”

Sho laughed and cupped one of Nino's cheek with one hand, stroking it comfortingly, “Right, but nevertheless you watched it together with me.”

“Because Sho-chan loved it and wanted to watch it,” Nino nodded slightly.

“Right! That was so cute of you. And then I let you sleep in my bed, because you were too scared to go back to your room all alone.”

Nino sobbed again, a small laughter mixing within it, “I really was...”

“When you chose the next movie that we watched together, it was Mrs. Doubtfire. You couldn't stop laughing and in the end you were so moved that you cried like a baby!”

“You still remember that?! Oh my God, stop that, it's embarrassing!” Nino giggled.

“Hey, you were the one choosing that movie!” Sho teased the other.

“That was only, because I felt like we needed a counterpart to that horrible zombie thing, it's not that I watch such movies, usually.”

“Don't lie, you loved that movie! And actually, I enjoyed it pretty much too. We watched a lot of different movies, right? I think, I remember all of them,” Sho's smile was just adorable, Nino thought and he couldn't avert his eyes from Sho's.

“Yeah... me too,” Nino admitted, feeling his cheeks blushing.

He suddenly realized that he had not only stopped crying but that Sho had come closer and closer, so close that he was sitting right next to him now, his one hand still caressing Nino's cheek, while his other hand was slowly trying to find its way behind Nino's back. The younger man shifted a little, so that Sho could settle his arm around Nino's waist, pulling the other a bit closer.

What the hell was going on here, Nino wondered, still unable to look away from Sho's eyes. His heart was racing like crazy.

“I remember so much more things... and you?” Sho whispered, his eyes filled with an expression that Nino would read as love if he didn't know that it couldn't be true. “Do you remember for example... our first kiss?”

When Sho's face came even closer than before, Nino instinctively closed his eyes, just to feel Sho's still so familiar, warm, plum lips on his own a second later, feeling like he was back home in heaven, as if he had never been away.

Of course, he remembered their first kiss. How could he ever forget it?

- - Tokyo, Matsumoto & Ninomiya Apartment; September 5, 2005, 5.30 pm - -

“Sho~... I can't... can we stop already, please?” Nino whined over his textbooks while chewing on his pencil and ruffling his hair.

“There are only two problems left to solve, come on, you can do it, Nino!” the other cheered for him, sitting at the other side of the table in Nino and Jun's living room while concentrating on a book, like every Monday afternoon.

Even, if Jun didn't accompany them any longer, Sho had kept the habit to come over to the two brothers’ place on Mondays, studying together with Nino. Over the last few months, the two of them had become quite good friends and that was why Sho definitely wanted to help Nino to get good grades at school. Recently, the boy had told him that he – just about half a year before he would graduate from High School – finally had found what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to study at college so that he would be able to take over his father's hotel one day in the future. For that, Nino had to pass the entrance exams of a good college and even if he had become pretty good in most subjects, Mathematics was still his weak point.

“Impossible! My head will explode! How will you explain to Jun that my brain is spread all over the room when he comes back?” Nino complained, reaching his pencil over the table to poke Sho's arm.

“Your head won't explode, we're not in Pulp Fiction here,” the older one chuckled.

“By the way, didn't we want to watch Kill Bill 2? I bought the DVD lately,” Nino tried to change the topic, ready to jump up to get the movie.

“We can watch it on Friday evening, if you want to. Now, it's Maths, young man!”

It couldn't be helped. Sho stood strict and Nino sighed, turning back to his book, staring at some complicated equations that he couldn't even properly read. He tried though... he really did. But it was helpless. He threw his pencil across the room, moaning frustrated and knocking his head on the table.

“You see? It's impossible for me! I'm too stupid for this crap!”

“You're not!” Sho disagreed. “You're just too lazy because you don't like Maths but you're definitely not stupid!”

Nino smiled and lifted his head a little, meeting Sho's serious look. “How come you always believe in me like that?”

“Because you're a clever young man,” his friend answered frankly.

“Really?” Nino asked innocently.

“Really.”

“Praise me more!” the younger chuckled, resting his head on top of his folded arms.

Sho laughed and lifted his own textbooks to let it sink onto Nino's head, pretending to slap him with it, “Stop the distracting tactics, little brat! Concentrate on your studies now!”

“But it's no fun at all!” the boy still didn't stop complaining.

Sho sighed and looked at him for a while, seemingly thinking about something. Nino raised his eyebrows questioning. Then, Sho slammed his hands onto the table, making the other boy cringing in surprise from the sudden action.

“Alright,” he started. “You know what? If you manage to get more than 90 points out of 100 in the upcoming test, I'll grant you a wish!”

“A wish?” Nino asked curiously and Sho nodded. “No matter what?”

“No matter what. But only one,” the older answered and grinned as he saw Nino's eyes lighting up, happy that his plan seemed to be successful. “Anything comes to your mind already?”

Nino suddenly sat up straight, as hit by lightning. “I...,” he started but somehow he couldn't bring himself to continue.

Sho looked at him, questioning, “Hm?”

“Actually, I...,” again, Nino stopped in the middle of the sentence, dropping his head slightly.

“What is it? You can't tell me?” Sho chuckled and started teasing the boy further. “Is it something embarrassing? Come on, you can tell me everything! Want to watch some porn together or what is it?”

Nino blushed deeply but then, he lifted his head and faced Sho firmly. “Actually, if I get more than 90 points...,” he gulped. “I want you to kiss me.”

Now it was out, Nino blushed again, and averted his eyes immediately. Did he really say that out loud just now? He couldn't believe it himself. But this was his chance, maybe his only one, even if he had to admit that the chances that Sho would call him crazy and turn down his wish immediately might be much higher than the chances for the actual desired kiss.

“You want me... to kiss you?” Sho finally wanted to confirm, gesturing between the two of them.

Nino already regretted to have even asked and quickly lifted his hands in innocence.

“Ah, no, well... it's just...,” he started stumbling. Crap. “I never kissed anybody in my whole life and I'm just... curious, you know?” That was a lie, he just wanted to kiss Sho and nobody else. “So I thought, maybe you could show me how...” Oh Gosh, this was the most embarrassing thing Nino had ever talked about, he thought.

Then, Sho suddenly stood up and Nino feared that he had scared him away now, that Sho would leave this place without saying another word, never coming back and telling Jun that his weird little brother had said something inappropriate. But different from Nino's expectations, Sho just went to pick up the pencil that the boy had thrown across the room earlier and brought it back to the table, sitting down and placing it in front of the other.

“Alright,” Sho simply answered. “I'll do it.”

“What?” Nino asked surprised, “Really?”

The other nodded seriously. “But only if you get more than 90 points. And now – finish your Mathematics problem! You're not allowed to play any video games if you can't solve them!” He grinned and Nino bit his lower lip, excitedly.

“Alright!” he answered, grabbing his pencil and focusing on his textbook again.

- - Tokyo, Matsumoto & Ninomiya Apartment; September 9, 2005, 11:30 pm - -

Friday of the same week, just as planned, Nino and Sho watched Kill Bill together. Not only the second part that Nino recently had bought, but both parts in a row, turning the evening into a Tarantino evening. Jun was out of the apartment, doing something somewhere together with his boyfriend Ohno and Nino had prepared popcorn, Sho's favorite taiyaki and some other snacks for the two of them.

“Wow... that was intense,” stated Sho, impressed, as they watched the ending credits.

Nino just nodded and stood up, taking the half emptied dishes back into the kitchen. Honestly, he hadn't been able to concentrate on the movies much, because his thoughts had been occupied with something completely different. He hadn't shown it to Sho yet, but in the kitchen, folded in half, there it was – his Mathematics test from yesterday. Nino took a deep breath and looked at the result again. Just then, he heard Sho's voice coming from the living room.

“Ah right, Nino? You didn't tell me about the result of your Maths test yet! Was it that bad that you can't even tell me?”

What a teaser, Nino thought, grabbed the piece of paper and returned to the living room with it. He stopped in front of Sho, who looked at him smilingly.

“You know, it's not that bad if you didn't get a good result. There is still some time left until college entrance exams, I'll help you, don't worry,” Sho said, friendly like always and Nino blushed.

The boy reached out his hand, his test sheet facing Sho, who then curiously checked out the amount of red circles indicating the correct answers and the summed up result written in a red ink at the top right corner of the paper. Sho gaped looking from the result to Nino who was averting his eyes embarrassed, back to the number.

97 points.

“Oh my Gosh, Nino!” Sho said excitedly. “That's awesome! You did it!” He cheered for him. “I knew you could do it, I just knew it! See?”

“Yeah... I did it,” Nino said shyly, his cheeks flushed.

Then there was silence between them. Some really awkward silence. Nino wished, the ground would just swallow him up right now. He couldn't bring himself to say it anyway. Did Sho remember his promise? The boy was just about to give up on his stupid wish that he had voiced to Sho a few days ago. It was stupid, wasn't it? And childish. No way, that Sho would...

“So now I have to grant your wish, right?” Sho asked smiling.

Nino looked at him, surprised. Sho remembered...

“Do you want to... change your wish or...”

Nino shook his head slightly.

“Alright,” Sho continued. “Then you shouldn't just stay there, come here again.” Sho giggled, obviously amused about Nino's shy behavior.

After hesitating for a second, Nino did as Sho had told him and sat down again on the spot next to the other on the couch. He pressed his hands onto his lap nervously, not paying attention that his test sheet got crinkled from his grip. He didn't dare to look into Sho's eyes. The young man next to him cleared his throat and then turned a bit to face Nino completely. Nino glanced at him quickly. He was so damned nervous, no exam nerves could be compared with the nervousness he was feeling right now. The boy focused on his clutched hands again.

“Face me, Nino, it's a bit difficult to kiss you like that, you know?” Sho chuckled and reached his hand to touch Nino's face and to turn it a little. “Relax, it's just a kiss, isn't it?”

It was a kiss, Nino thought, but it wasn't just a kiss, it was his first kiss and it would be Sho who would kiss him, the one that he wished to be his first kiss so much, even if it was just because he won a bet. How could he relax in a situation like this?

And then, it happened. Sho slowly leaned forward, his hand keeping Nino's face in the right position. He tilted his own head slightly, his eyes closed, the long eyelashes drawing small shadows on his soft skin. Nino's heart pounded like it wanted to escape from his body and quickly he closed his eyes too. Trying to remember everything he had ever read in magazines or on the internet regarding kissing, he tried to relax his lips a bit after wetting them quickly with the tip of his tongue since they felt so damned dry.

Just a second later, there were those unbelievable soft, warm lips slightly pressing against his own, brushing them slightly, and moving only minimally. Nino's heart exploded, the army of butterflies in his stomach took off and for a while it was like his body froze and he wished that he could keep this position until the end of his life. Sho's lips, he thought, those were Sho's lips and the kiss felt so damned good, so much better than Nino had ever imagined his first kiss to be...

Just as Sho seemed to draw back again, Nino got a tiny bit curious, parting his lips slightly, and starting to answer Sho's kiss carefully. Maybe, Sho was surprised, but he didn't show it and instead pressed his lips against Nino's again, deepening the kiss as his own lips started dancing with Nino's, still innocently and playfully. Nino suddenly reached up his hands, cupping Sho's face in order to keep the other close.

Exactly this. Exactly this was it, what he had been longing for. This kiss from this man in front of him, only this and now, Nino didn't want it to end.

But then, when breathing became a bit difficult, they finally had to part and Nino immediately started wondering. What had happened just now? Was it a dream? Was it real? He looked into Sho's eyes, searching for a hint and he found the other smiling like always.

“So...,” Sho finally started as that awkward silence threatened to fall over the room again. “Did you enjoy your first kiss? I have to say, I think that was a pretty good one.”

Nino could just nod nervously, his eyes unable to move away from Sho's. Could they repeat that again, please? Like... right now?

“Alright, shall we go to bed now?” Sho asked after clearing his throat again.

So no further kisses, Nino thought disappointed... of course not. Sho had agreed to grant him one wish only – one kiss only. This had just been a game for Sho after all. To settle their bet. He was a gentleman after all.

Nino nodded again and then, hastily stood up. He stupidly bowed in front of Sho, as if to thank him for the kiss, making the other chuckle, before he wished him good night and ran to his room, slamming the door behind him. Nino let his knees give way and sank to the floor, his hands covering his mouth, his fingers slightly brushing over his lips that still felt warm, the feeling of Sho's lips against his own, not completely vanished yet. Nino's heart was still pounding like crazy and in his head there was only one thought – he wanted to do that again...

“Don't tell me, Kill Bill 2 scared you so much that you want to sleep in my bed now,” Sho joked with a smirk, as Nino suddenly stood in front of him again, dressed in his pajamas.

“I'm not scared...,” Nino just stood there, pulling his lips between his teeth, too shy to say anything more.

Then, Sho lifted the blanket of his usual already made couch-bed and after hesitating for just a few seconds, Nino climbed into the bed, cuddling close to the other man, who had already opened his arms for him. The boy's heart was pounding like crazy and he was glad that the dim light in the living room didn't reveal the crimson color of his face. He must be dreaming... he had kissed his friend, the man of his dreams, just a few minutes ago and if he was lucky, maybe the same thing will happen again in just a few seconds... He didn't want to ask for it that was just too embarrassing but it seemed that Sho understood the pleading gesture as Nino reached out his hand and shyly grabbed one of the T-shirt's sleeves that Sho was wearing for sleeping. He slightly pulled at it, while he lifted his face a little bit, trying to get closer to Sho.

Fortunately, it didn't need any words or pleadings and somehow, Nino wondered, if Sho had wished for the same thing, because just a second later, he found himself wrapped in Sho's embrace, the man's soft lips pressed against his own again. Nino closed his eyes, almost moaning into their kiss and almost automatically parted his lips, welcoming Sho's hot tongue in his mouth, searching it with his own. He let his hand slip from Sho's arm up to his neck and his fingers started to play with Sho's hair. Sho touched Nino's face, brushing his fingers over the younger's cheek, caressing the soft skin right underneath Nino's ear until his hand found its way to the back of Nino's head, burying his long fingers in the boy's black hair, pulling him closer to deepen their kiss further.

This time, Nino moaned for real and embarrassed, he cringed a bit, wanting to pull back but Sho didn't let him escape and leaned forward, slowly pushing Nino onto his back, climbing on top of him. He leaned down again, pecking the boy’s lips once, twice, until Nino reached up so that their lips couldn't part again.

The kisses they shared were of a sweet taste, playful, passionate and filled with curiosity to get to know each other in much more intimate ways than they did until now. Nino still felt like being in a dream, his heart melting every time Sho's lips touched his, feeling dizzy and surreal from the drug called love.

Nothing more happened between them that night, other than the many kisses they exchanged and that they fell asleep in each other's arms, legs tangled and Nino's head resting on Sho's chest. But Nino was pretty sure, that if he wasn't still a shy virgin and Sho wouldn't be such a gentleman, there might have been the possibility for more to happen.

- - Tokyo, Sunshine Building; January 17, 2015, 6.30 pm - -

Finally, after almost two and a half hour being stuck in that damned elevator, they were free again. Nino didn't pay attention as someone explained to Sho exactly what the problem had been as he apologized for the inconvenience. The most important was just the fact that they were free again, Nino thought, wondering if those were really his true feelings.

Instead of going up to meet the appointment for checking the gallery for Jun and Ohno's wedding dinner (too late anyway), Nino insisted on going back to the ground, as soon as the elevator moved again and so, Sho pressed the first floor's button again, to bring them back onto the ground floor safely. Now, Nino was sitting there in an armchair in the lobby of that huge building, still trembling a little, still nervous a little, recovering from his – how had Sho called it – panic attack.

The young man was embarrassed. So embarrassed. He had never experienced something that extreme before, even if he had often felt unease in elevators, crowded places, subways, and what not. But this had been the first time that he really thought he was going to die, even if his head now clearly told him that this fear had been irrational and stupid.

Nino was even more embarrassed that something like that had happened in front of Sho of all people. Why? He hadn't intended to show such a weak side of himself to Sho, he hadn't intended to cause trouble to the other and to almost suffer from a nervous breakdown just because a fucking elevator had gotten stuck. Nino blushed deeply, when he remembered the scene between them... his sudden panic which he didn't know where it so suddenly came from, Sho's calming words and gestures, the heartwarming care he had shown towards Nino to calm him down... like the professional doctor he was.

And of course... the kiss.

Nino was sure that this had been just a mistake. A stupid mistake, coming from the extreme situation. Sho had tried his best to distract Nino from his panic and to make him feel calmer, right? With bringing back all those beautiful memories and feelings, of course this had worked brilliantly. Nino had almost forgotten his fear when the elevator started moving again, until Sho stood up again, leaving Nino without the embrace that they just had shared, checking for any further progress of the problem with the elevator.

With the return of the elevator's movement, the reality and the present had returned too. The present in which Sho and Nino weren't so close that they shared happy memories, embraces and kisses, no matter, how familiar and natural they felt. It was time to wake up again from that little dream that had happened in that small cabin that had been separated from reality for about 3 hours.

“Jun? Sho here, listen, we will arrive a bit later for dinner, there was a delay here,” Nino suddenly heard Sho talking on the phone nearby. “I'm really sorry, there was an incident and so we couldn't check out the gallery, do you think we can make another appointment soon?... What?! No, Nino and I didn't fight! The elevator got stuck and... Are you even listening to me? We didn't fight! …Alright, see you in half an hour.”

After Sho had finished the phone call, he came back to Nino and hunkered down in front of him to meet his eyes.

“Are you feeling better now?” Sho asked, still worried.

Nino just nodded and when Sho's eyes suddenly turned cold, the younger felt a short stab in his heart.

“OK, we should go then. Jun and Ohno are waiting for us with dinner,” Sho just said.

“Jun summons us?” Nino asked and stood up, irritated by Sho's sudden change of mood. Nino sighed as he headed off to leave the building. “He will kill me,” he said, feeling guilty that he and Sho weren't able to keep up the appointment as promised to his brother.

 

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Chapter 10


Chapter 10

Sho's POV

- - Tokyo Sunshine Building; January 17, 2015; 3.30 pm - -

“We have to get out of here.”

“Nino…”

Sho observed Nino as the latter jumped up, began to push the buttons of the elevator and was visibly looking for a way to escape from that narrow space. Sho did remember Nino's uneasiness when in confined room but today it was clearly turning into a panic attack. If he didn’t contain the crisis now, Nino could even collapse and in an elevator stuck between two levels… well, he didn’t want to think about it now. Everything in its own time. He gripped Nino’s wrist to force him to focus on him.

“Nino! Stop that! They are fixing the problem, we just need to wait a few minutes, alright?” he stated as calmly as possible.

“But… we have to get out of here! We can’t get out of here…”

Nino’s gaze was full of fear, going from right to left without focusing on anything. He began to be incoherent, letting the panic overwhelming him, and he was already gasping for air. Sho offered him a reassuring smile, opposing his perfectly calm attitude to Nino’s angst. Yet nothing seemed to work and Sho had to watch him helplessly as the other gradually turned pale and started sweating profusely.

It wasn’t a big deal for a doctor who saved lives every day, Sho repeated to himself like a mantra, it was only a panic attack. But what if Nino’s heart was weak like his father’s? He rapidly reviewed the numerous secondary effects of the panic attack in his head and scolded himself for that. If he showed his own concerns to Nino, he wouldn’t be able to help him. It was the first rule of his job, the one he repeated again and again to his students.

Easy to say, but when it’s about a person you cherished it’s far more complicated.

Sho recollected the payoffs from his lesson in psychology about the panic attack, clinging to the theory to step back. What did the professor say?

RSUAC. Relax, Stop negative thinking, Use coping statements, Accept your feelings because minimizing it serves to perpetuate it. He stepped in front of Nino, grabbing his arms slightly, trying to catch his gaze - Create a physical contact.

“Sho-chan! We need to~”

He called him Sho-chan. It’s been so long. This familiarity, revealing the obvious weakness of Sho's former lover, constricted his heart painfully. Once again he repeated the same words, pinpointing the symptoms of the crisis and whispering the solution to remedy to it.

“Try to slow down your breathing…,” Sho breathed out and breathed in slowly, hoping that Nino would follow his pace, but once again it didn’t work.

Why was Nino so deeply and quickly drowning in this panic? Sho had seen this kind of manifestation before but only with people who suffered from seclusion or had been deeply traumatized by an assaulter. What had happened to Nino since their separation? Too many things to be summarized, undoubtedly, but Jun would have told him if something so significant did happen, right? Nothing happened… nothing except his father’s death.

Oh Gosh, Nino.

- - Tokyo, Ninomiya funeral service; November 10, 2014; 11.00 am - -

Sho was perfectly aware that he wasn’t wanted here. Yet, he couldn’t help it. He had always been there to comfort Nino when he was sad, when he needed someone in front of him to pour out his sorrows and his pain. For years now they didn’t exchange a gaze but Sho needed to see him. He couldn’t let Nino live through this awful day alone.

What a moron he was, Sho thought. Nino didn’t need him, he himself was the only one who was still suffering from their breakup.

Sho had met Nino’s father once or twice and he admired him. He admired the way that man had loved his son in spite of his deplorable wife. That woman wasn’t even here today to support Nino.

Sho spotted Jun and Ohno sitting on the cushions reserved for the family and in the first row facing the picture of his deceased father, was Nino. His head was hanging and his clenched fists were resting on his knees. He wasn’t crying but Sho knew he was keeping his tears for later. Did Nino have a shoulder to cry on, Sho wondered, someone who supported him? According to Jun he probably had a girlfriend but Sho couldn’t see any woman befitting of the role around. Perhaps he misunderstood? Was Nino single? At this very moment, Sho sincerely hoped Nino had someone so that afterwards, when the night would fall, he won’t be alone.

“Sho?” Suddenly, Ohno was facing him, and he didn’t sound surprised, just sad.

“I thought, I should be here.”

“He will be glad to see you. Jun is with him, come, we’ll join them.”

“No! I… don’t tell him I’m here. I can’t, you know, it’s been so long, an eternity.”

“Don’t be silly, he needs you. Today more than ever.”

Sho smirked bitterly. “I don’t think so. Just tell him… no, just keep him company, I don’t want him to be alone tonight, he’s afraid of so many things.”

“He changed, you know.”

“No, I don’t know. I have to go, Aoi is waiting for me.”

“Okay. Call me.”

“Certainly.”

Sho drove back home to change his dark suit for a casual outfit. He decided to work for the rest of the day to forget this painful memories.

“I’m home! Are you here?” he heard a voice calling.

Sho exited his bedroom and immediately noticed the blush on Aoi’s cheeks, the embarrassment in her look.

“You’re early,” she said.

“I had something to do, but I was about to go to the hospital. Something happened?”

“No. Why?”

“I don’t know. Your strange gaze, the blush on your cheeks...”

“It’s cold outside,” Aoi said, taking off her knitted cap and her scarf.

“Do tell me,” Sho sat at the table, pushing a chair for her to sit.

“I’m going to make a tea and~”

Sho grabbed her wrist and smiled encouraging. Aoi bit her lip and sat down slowly.

“I… I’ll ask for divorce.”

“Okada?”

“Okada. He proposed to me today.”

“And his wife?”

“He filled the divorce papers last week.”

“I see. It’s good news, right?”

Aoi did her best not to smile too bright but Sho burst out laugh.

“I’m happy for you. Really.”

Despite the promise he made to Aoi during the ceremony of engagement, Sho had failed to make her happy. He never had been able to be a real husband, a man who could make love to his wife and could give her children. He had been her best friend, nothing more.

“Come here,” he stood up and hugged her tenderly, wiping the tears which rolled on her cheeks. “Shh don’t cry. We won’t really be separated, I’ll always be there for you.”

Sho didn’t miss the irony of the situation. How much he would like to say those words Nino earlier…

“I won’t move out immediately. We still have a lot of things to settle.”

“Take all the time you need.”

“Oh Sho…,” she cried again, for a long time, and he had to wait more than one hour to pass the threshold of the house. She had always been such a cry-baby.

Less than fifteen minutes later, Sho entered the hospital and was putting on his lab coat when the emergency alarm went off. Sho checked his pager and ran to the room where two nurses were already massaging the unconscious patient.

“For how long?”

“Three minutes since the heart attack.”

“Okay, shock delivery. One, two, three-”

After ten minutes of effort, Sho had to give up and declared the patient dead, out of breath. He stood next to the bed of the man that he knew for years, who was already part of this hospital when he started working here. He was in bad shape, fighting a terminal cancer who ate him alive.

“Sensei?”

“Shall I call his family?” the nurse asked.

“He has no family, only his precious dog.”

“I’ll call the dog pound right away.”

“Don’t.”

The nurse stopped short and stared at him, puzzled.

“I’ll take care of him.”

“You… you will adopt the pet?”

“Yeah, why not?”

Sho crouched and caressed the head of the fluffy dog. When he exited the bedroom, the animal followed him as if it knew that there was another human needing comfort from now.

- - Tokyo, Sunshine Building; January 17, 2015; 3.30 pm - -

Nino was against the wall, struggling, but Sho's hand didn’t release his mouth and nose, making a cup with his hand to force the other to breathe properly. Because of the panic attack, Nino was breathing in too much oxygen and breathing out too much carbon dioxide, which increased the flow of blood in his body, spreading adrenaline to his system, increasing the panic. It was a self-perpetuating problem.

By controlling Nino's breath and forcing him to breathe his own carbon dioxide, he would short-circuit the crisis. Even if in the beginning Nino had the feeling of being suffocated. The man struggled hard, trying to push Sho's hand away but Sho was stronger, he had always been. Strong enough to protect Nino when he was weak and somehow Sho hoped, it would help his mind to let go.

Nino finally loosened his grip on Sho's wrist and Sho, relieved, observed Nino's gaze changing gradually.

“That’s good Nino. You see? Everything’s alright. Just a little more and we will be rescued, you’ll see.”

The panic was leaving Nino but they were far to be rescued. This damn company didn’t seem to be afraid of letting them stuck there for hours. In other circumstances, Sho would have laughed off the situation but now, there was the possibility that Nino could dive into panic again. Sho needed to distract him and decided to do so by bringing back happy memories.

“We can kill time by talking a bit, can we?”

Naturally, the first thought that popped up in Sho's mind was the day he saw in his dream recently. Jun’s dinner to seduce Oh-chan, the baseball game – which team was it? Ah yeah the Giants - the subway and that old pervert. The way Sho caressed Nino's hand for the first time, hoping so hard that he would be the only one who Nino would ever allow to touch him. That he would ask him for more.

“I’ll always protect you, alright?” How many times Sho had dreamed to say those few words to Nino. Always. Yet, at that time it had been a word he couldn’t afford, since he was already engaged back then.

Sho felt a knot in his throat, the unbearable desire to cry his heart out but the tears that suddenly rolled down Nino’s cheeks stopped him. They were like a gift. Perhaps it was only the after-effect of the terror Nino just felt, maybe he was releasing his angst but he was crying in front of Sho and knowing Nino the way he knew him, it wasn’t weakness, it was trust.

Sho kept on unwinding the line of their story as if they were two old school buddies drinking a beer in a pub after years of separation. Mrs. Doubtfire. He almost forgot! No, that was a lie. Sho tried to forget that wonderful night like every night he had spent with him, each of them pushing the limits of his temptation.

But it was so vivid now, just like the moment Nino asked him to be his first kiss partner. Now, here, in the stuck elevator, embraced by their precious memories, before he knew what he was doing, Sho was kissing Nino as if there was no tomorrow and before he knew what was happening, the images of the first time they made love overwhelmed him, dragging him into an ocean of desire.

- - Gstaad; December 23, 2005 - -

“I’m not sure this is a good idea. I’m not really sure. It’s a huge commitment,” mumbled Ohno. “Isn’t it too early to meet Jun’s mother? I mean…we’re barely together and~”

Sho nudged Ohno who was standing on the threshold of the hotel, frozen. Jun was already at the reception desk, his leather luggage in a bellhop's hands.

“A problem?” Nino asked, passing them to join his brother.

“Let’s go,” Sho said stepping forward.

This chalet, lost in the middle of the high mountains of Gstaad, was a splendor like most of Nino’s father’s hotels. The small lobby, mostly in Swiss style, was overcrowded by Japanese clients that came to spend one or two weeks in this luxurious place.

Nino and Jun came here every year for Christmas to enjoy the ski season and this time they had insisted on bringing along their friends. And for so many reasons Sho was enthusiastic about that.

At first, Ohno had announced to his parents that he found someone, that this someone was a man and to say that they weren’t happy about that was an understatement. They had become so angry to the extent of asking their son to get out of their house and never to come back if he didn’t change his mind…which was of course impossible. The situation frustrated him and he definitely needed a change of scenery.

Second, Sho had always been fond of skiing and third, spending an entire week with Nino was a bliss.

Sho couldn’t say that Nino was his boyfriend, they never tried to name their strange relationship, simply going with the flow, kissing, cuddling a lot, but one thing was for sure, Sho had never felt this for anyone before.

Sho couldn’t say he never thought about Nino as more than his friend’s little brother, not since the day they met and especially not after their first kiss… That innocent request, followed by almost a week of reflection to weigh the pros and the cons, had tortured him madly. But in the end, Sho had kissed Nino and his world began to turn upside down.

In his life, Sho had a lot of affairs with different kinds of men but he had never felt something comparable to what he felt the first time he put his lips on Nino’s. Of course, Nino was inexperienced and clumsy but this kiss had blown Sho away. It had been so sweet, so sensual and tender that Sho had a hard time curbing his desire to go further with this virgin boy. Since then he had the feeling that he was playing with fire.

Sho feared the work sessions with Nino, the moments that would be just the two of them but at the same time, he craved for him dreaming about him day and night. Nino had become his reason for living.

Ohno and Jun mocked Sho's permanent daydreaming, harassing him to find out the name of the one who had the chance to be so loved but Sho only smiled and kept his secret.

Being in love for the first time in his life was a precious gift but Sho couldn’t help himself but be worried. He was engaged with a girl who he had to marry because of his parents, Nino was a virgin and Sho didn’t intend to push him to have sex with him, which led to the next problem. Sho didn’t sleep with anyone since his and Nino's first kiss and those months of abstinence undermined his resistance to the too tantalizing Nino. He at least tried to forget the problem with Aoi because he was convinced that she would understand if he had to cancel the wedding and it was still too early to talk about future with Nino anyway. Nino was so young and there was a high possibility that the boy was simply using Sho for his sexual experiments. Most likely, Nino wasn’t in love with him at all.

It was painful to think that, but Sho thought that it was worthwhile as long as he could be Nino's initiator.

When Jun asked him to go to Gstaad with them, Sho didn’t think twice. It was an occasion he couldn’t seriously refuse, especially because Ohno would be there and he needed to support his best friend. Losing his parents’ support was the worst thing that could occur, thought Sho painfully. Even if Ohno had Jun by his side.

Sho still remembered that evening when he was working at home with Jun. Oh-chan came back from his parents’, clouded in sadness, telling them about his catastrophic coming-out. Jun had simply hugged his boyfriend, saying firmly that from now on, he would be his family.

“Ninomiya-san booked two suites,” Jun said in English to the charming receptionist who gazed at him, and blushed shyly.

“Certainly, Sir. One bedroom for Mr. Matsumoto and Mr. Ninomiya. The second suite for Mr. Sakurai and Mr. Ohno. Here.”

She handed him the badges for the ski runs, the equipment, the different services proposed by the establishment and the access to the restaurant as well as the keys for their suits.

“You are on the first floor, suite 12 and 14.”

“Merci, Mademoiselle,” Nino answered in perfect French which attracted the attention of his three companions.

“You speak French?”

“What? After all, my father is half French…”

Sho took a new mental note, not so surprised now to discover another string to the boy’s bow.

He then took the time to look around, seized by the feeling of being in a fairytale scenery. A fire was burning in a huge fireplace, on the floor fluffy white carpets was laid out and on the walls, entirely in wood, some old portraits were hung. All around him there were people coming and going, talking foreign languages but he could only grasp some words. The snow was falling outside as if they were in the middle of a snowball. Everything was so perfect. Spending Christmas here would be a unique experience. Sho crossed Nino’s tender gaze and followed him upstairs, where Jun handed him one of the keys.

“Nino agrees to share your suit, I’ll be with Satoshi. It’s okay for you?” Jun asked under the amused gaze of Oh-chan.

“If Nino agreed…,” Sho moaned, trying to sound irritated.

“See you downstairs in twenty minutes? We have to enjoy the runs before night falls.”

“No problem.”

Nino opened the door and Sho closed it hastily, immediately pushing Nino on the closest bed to do what he had dreamed of doing since they took off from Narita - to kiss him.

Nino giggled and struggled a bit, finally giving up when Sho hovered over him, his forearms at each side of his face. The younger gently caressed Sho’s arms with the tip of his index finger, before he finally cupped his face to take his mouth. Sho sighed, the long awaited contact was almost painfully twisting his stomach.

“You never told me~”

“What?” Nino asked in a whisper, his eyes narrowed by the pleasure.

“That you speak French.”

“I learned it from my father. It's pretty convenient. By the way, after my graduation, he plans to send me to the hotels he owns all over the world to learn the ropes. He says the European clients are particularly exigent,” Nino smirked cutely.

“Oh, really?”

Since his childhood, Sho dreamed about visiting Europe, perhaps this would be the occasion? After Nino's graduation from High School in March next year, Sho could maybe take a break from university, they could maybe leave the country together for a while.

Sho caressed Nino’s face amorously and pecked his neck, pushing aside the collar of his sweater to continue his exploration.

“Sho-chan…we have to go. Or they will find out about us,” Nino murmured without conviction, stroking Sho’s hair encouragingly.

“You’re right,” Sho leaped on his feet, hiding his hardness by turning his back to his lover. He grabbed his bag and walked around, trying to forget the ‘emergency kit’ that was well hidden inside his toiletry bag. Not that he really thought he would have to use it but…

Actually, the suite had two bedrooms which were linked with a common bathroom. They won’t have to sleep in twin beds thought Sho relieved and a bit disappointed. It was a splendid place with high beds, surrounded by curtains, the same fluffy carpets, Sho saw earlier at the reception. A desk, a fireplace, a giant TV, nothing was missing.

“Well I’m gonna…if you don’t mind…,” Nino had his ski outfit in the hand, Sho nodded and then went to his own bedroom to put on his own snowsuit.

As a matter of fact, they had to wait for Jun and Ohno but they took advantage of the time to retrieve the equipment at the hotel shop and thirty minutes later, all four of them were on the ski run. Sho was experienced enough to be far ahead with Jun, looking back only when they had reached the bottom of the slope.

“Fuck!” he heard Jun cursing by his side and saw him taking off his ski to climb up the ski run again.

Sho followed him without thinking further. He spotted Nino and Ohno a bit higher on the slope, sitting on the snow, and the younger’s face adorned by pain.

“What happened?” Jun asked, immediately starting on his brother’s auscultation.

“He avoided a guy and fell. Seems that he twisted his ankle,” Ohno answered sheepishly.

“It was my fault” Nino said, like always shouldering the responsibility of the incident.

Sho watched Jun doing his job and crouched to keep a balance threatened by the fear he felt.

“It’s not that bad. Just a sprained ankle,” Jun concluded, relieved.

“Are you sure? And if you missed something?! Let me take a look,” Sho said and took Nino’s leg without paying attention to Jun’s startled look.

“Sho…leave me alone,” Nino said, pushing him gently, reaching for his brother’s support to get up. Of course, Sho embarrassed him.

“But~”

The two brothers climbed down the run quietly and Ohno patted Sho’s shoulder.

“Leave him to Jun, he knows what he’s doing.”

“I know, sorry.”

“Let’s go back to the chalet, we need a warm wine.”

Like that time when a man touched Nino in the subway, Sho was angry because Nino had been careless and he could have been badly injured or worse. Just the thought that something bad could happen to the other drove Sho crazy.

=+=

“Ce n’est qu’une foulure, rien de bien méchant, mais fini le ski pour vous.”

The doctor of the town had been called, just in case, and after a quick consultation handed a prescription to Jun.

“What did he say?” Jun asked, once the man was gone.

“He said it is a simple sprained ankle, nothing to be worry about,” Nino said, gazing straightforwardly at Sho. “But I'm not allowed to ski for the rest of our trip.”

“Whatever. We have video games and TV, a sauna, a pool…who needs to ski?” said Jun tossing Nino’s hair, trying to cheer his brother up. “You can go back guys, I’ll stay with him.”

Sho left the bedroom reluctantly scolding himself for being so emotional. What was a sprained ankle? Nothing at all. Yet that night he slid under Nino's blanket, spooning him all night long.

“I’m fine you know?” Nino mocked him.

“Shut up. You scared me to death.”

- - Gstaad; December 24, 2005; Morning - -

When Sho woke up, he pretended to have a painful throat and generously offered Jun to take his shifts at Nino’s side for the next few days. They played video games and watched movies the first day, tenderly cuddling on Nino’s bed. Sho gave Nino his medication three times a day, changing his bandage and massaging him when it was needed.

“My ankle is still blue,” Nino grimaced, gazing at Sho who was kneeling at his feet, closing the bandage.

“You hurt it yesterday, of course it’s still blue. Did I ever tell you that I like your feet?”

Nino blushed and put his feet on the armchair, folding his legs shyly.

“They are ugly, like my hands, they looks like… hamburgers.”

Sho laughed joyfully. “They are cute. The cutest I’ve ever seen.”

“Did you see so many before?” Nino sulked jealously.

“None like yours,” Sho straightened and kissed him.

Nino unfolded his legs slowly, opening them to make a room for Sho. The latter put his hands behind Nino’s back, getting him to let him wrap his legs around his waist. Soon their kiss became eager and Sho felt Nino hardening against his stomach. He wanted him so much… but he couldn’t. He moved back.

“We should stop. I think.”

“Why?” Nino asked innocently, shredding Sho’s resolution to stand firm.

“It’s a huge step. We can’t… after all you’re Jun’s little brother and I’m older than you. I took your first kiss so I guess you never had… sex… before?”

Nino slightly shook his head.

“I had lovers, Nino.”

“And? It’s a good thing that one of us knows what he has to do, don’t you think?”

Sho pinched Nino's nose and stood up, refusing to listen to the siren’s song. Yet he was dying to carry the younger to his bed and make love to him until the end of times.

“You could be my little brother.”

“But I’m not. Sho-chan, and I’m 17, in this country I’m almost considered as an adult.”

“Stop tantalizing me, Nino, please.”

A knock at the door interrupted them and Sho opened it on an enthusiastic Jun. “Mom is waiting for us at the restaurant! Quick!”

Sho caught Nino’s suddenly gloomy gaze but went to him and helped him to stand up.

They spotted the woman immediately in the restaurant, sitting at a table with Ohno and Jun. She was really beautiful and she knew it, thought Sho, no wonder that her sons were so charming. How old could she be? If he had ignored Jun’s age, he would have bet on 35 - 40, not more. She wore a soft pink dress, enhancing her pale consumption and her light make-up.

Jun raised to welcome them, putting his hand on his mother’s shoulder proudly. “Mother, this is Sakurai Sho, my comrade at university.”

“Nice to meet you,” Sho said, friendly.

“Nice to meet you, Sho. May I call you Sho?”

“Of course.”

“Call me Shizuka,” the woman smiled seductively and Sho gazed at Nino as she looked at the younger. “By the way, what happened to your ankle, Kazu?”

She hastily kissed Nino’s cheek, who didn't respond at all and they sat down. Immediately, a waitress took their orders and Jun told their mother about the university, his boyfriend, of course, Nino’s progress at school. She smiled nicely, listening to him without answering.

“How is your father, Jun?” she then asked after a long silence.

“He’s fine. His wife gave birth to twins three months ago.”

“I see...”

Sho felt Nino’s hand grabbing his under the table. He noticed his clenched jaws and his gaze obstinately focused on his plate.

“I don’t really care after all,” Shizuka said, smiling again. “By the way, Karl and I decided to live here in Gstaad.”

“W…What?!” Jun stared at her, baffled. “But when we’ll see you? Nino is still in High School and~”

“Don’t worry brother,” Nino spoke for the first time since their dinner started. “I don’t care at all. She can do what she wants to do. Now if you would excuse me, mother...” He got up to go back to his bedroom.

“Your brother is so emotional. Leave him alone, I’ll call him later,” the woman concluded with a pout, preventing Jun from following Nino.

When she left, the remaining three men stayed for a while at the bar, each of them ignoring what they could say to dissipate the awkward atmosphere after those news. What could they say to comfort Jun?

“Hey guys, tonight it’s Christmas and this country can pretend what it wants, it’s a celebration for people in love like us. Merry Christmas, Jun,” Ohno said, pecking his lover’s lips, making him smile.

“Well, I won't disturb you two any longer and take my leave,” Sho said, before leaving the bar. “Nino must be sleeping. Enjoy your night.”

“We’ll do,” Jun said, caressing Ohno’s thigh.

When Sho opened the door, Nino was already in bed. He passed by him and went directly to the bathroom. He took off his shirt and his watch, brushed his teeth and when he raised his gaze to the mirror, Nino was leaned against the frame door. Sho reached out his hand, caressing Nino's cheek to wipe the traces of almost dried tears.

“How are you?”

“Tired.”

“Did you sleep?”

“I was waiting for you. Did you drink?”

“Two beers. Jun needed a break too.”

“I’m sorry to have such an awful mother.”

“It’s not your fault,” Sho said, not taking the pain to deny the obvious.

“She only wanted to obtain information about Jun's father, the only man she ever loved. Nothing more, she didn’t really want to see us. Somehow I hoped that coming here could… forget it.”

In one step, Sho was in front of Nino and a second later he held him tight, caressing his back to comfort him.

“Sorry to be such a mess. I’m always pouring out my sorrows when I’m with you,” Nino whispered against Sho’s neck.

“I’m glad to be your confidant. I’ll always be there for you,” Sho said, cupping Nino’s face to look at him point-blank.

Nino tiptoed and pecked Sho's lips gently. Once. Twice. He put his hands on Sho’s torso, caressing his belly and the jewel at his navel. They stepped back in unison and in a soft move, Sho gripped Nino’s butt, lifting him up from the floor, sticking his back to the wall to rub their two lower bellies against each other.

How did Nino make him lose ground so quickly? Sho slid his hands into Nino’s pants caressing his butt, slowly sliding an index finger between his butt cheeks. Nino broke their kiss, gasping for air, moaning his delight before taking Sho’s mouth eagerly.

“Let me sleep with you,” Nino said, his look blurred by desire.

It wasn’t reasonable. It wasn’t reasonable. It wasn’t reasonable. This damn little voice kept repeating in Sho’s mind but he was already moving back, carrying Nino to his bed, gently laying him down.

“Are you sure?” Sho said with a husky voice, already tossing Nino’s tank top onto the floor.

“I am, I am.”

Nino lifted his hips up to help Sho letting take off his pajama, revealing a pretty much already erected virility.

“Just… relax,” Sho said, straddling him like he did tons of time.

He kissed the boy's neck while his hands were already roaming on his warm skin, making him moan deeply. He moved slowly, keeping on his exploration all along Nino's collarbones, licking his hard nipples one after another, and pecking his navel.

“Open the toiletry bag on the nightstand.”

Nino did what he was told and gazed at his lover who came back to his lips.

“Give me the condoms and the bottle.”

Nino handed them to him without a word, his breathing still hectic and Sho opened the foiled package, gently parting Nino’s legs, unfolding a condom on top of his member.

“What are you~”

“Hush…. trust me.”

Nino watched Sho placing his pulpous lips on the tip of his sex, licking it slowly, taking it in his mouth sensually. Nino arched his back with a groan of pleasure unable to refrain from a too sudden orgasm. Sho released him and smiled.

Nino was scarlet. “I’m… I’m so sorry, Sho.”

“Don’t worry.”

Sho took off the condom and Nino noticed the huge bulge misshaping Sho's briefs. The older read the fear of being mocked in Nino’s eyes, the embarrassment for coming so quick.

“You’re so cute,” Sho said, lying next to him, caressing Nino's face tenderly.

“Stop telling me I’m cute!” Nino was angry and he turned his back to Sho, already putting a foot on the floor to leave the bed. Sho gripped his wrist, forcing him to lay down again.

“But you are,” Sho pecked Nino’s lips. “Cute and adorable. So beautiful. And sexy. Clever. Touching. I’m so crazy about you.”

Sho gripped Nino’s hips to make him rolling over, placing his legs high on his own waist.

“The night is still young… are you already satisfied?”

Nino shook his head and Sho saw him swallowing hard.

“Touch us,” Sho susurrated sensually and Nino slid a trembling hand between their two bellies, wrapping it around Sho’s hardness and his again semi erected sex.

The sperm still wetting his foreskin made his movements easy, the smallness of his hand accentuating the divine touch. Meanwhile Sho had slid a hand behind Nino’s back, parting his cheeks to reach his puckering hole, oiling it with the lubricant that Nino gave him earlier.

“Relax, you can stop me every time if you change your mind. Just…trust me and let yourself go.”

“I trust you.”

“Now…”

Sho rolled over, laying down on his back, dragging Nino along. He kept on his administration, a hand between Nino’s parted legs, pushing softly a first finger into him.

“Tell me if it hurts or if you feel uncomfortable. If you’re prepared enough, you won’t feel anything else but pleasure.”

A second finger and Nino gasped for air, leaning on Sho’s torso. He found the boy's soft spot and Sho observed him, fascinated. He added a third finger and soon, Nino was moving on his own, slowly, pushing Sho's fingers deeper inside him, his turgescent member proudly pointing against his belly.

Sho felt a moan passing his lips, unable to curb this insane sensation overwhelming him, pushing him to the verge of a climax. He breathed slowly and took a new condom that he handed to Nino while he withdrew his fingers. Nino covered Sho’s member quickly and without hesitating placed it between his thighs.

“Just go down slowly on your own pace~,” instructed Sho as calmly as possible but his last word disappeared with a moan of delight as the tip of his sex entered Nino’s tightness, “Oh Gosh, Nino…”

Sho was ready to ask Nino to take his time, that if he felt uneasy they could stop, that they had so many nights to spend together… but Nino didn’t care. He already took Sho entirely, his face displaying an obvious ecstasy.

“I want to move,” Nino said in an undertone.

“Don’t move yet,” Sho said in a groan.

“But I want to move.”

“Let me just get used to the sensation or I won’t last for long…”

Nino chuckled. “It would be my revenge.”

Sho lifted up his hips and rolled over carefully, his full weight pressing Nino down into the mattress. He kissed him tenderly and gently swayed his hips from right to left.

“Brat.”

Nino flushed a bit more, his cheeks scarlet, his breath short and Sho began to move. Tenderly, unforced with all the love he felt for this incredibly perfect young man. He caressed Nino’s foot, bringing it to the small of his back and soon, he felt the second foot, the injured one on his butt.

Sho never took anyone's virginity before but he was totally convinced that Nino's extreme tightness wasn’t the only reason why it felt like paradise. He was making love to the man of his life and that thought hit him violently. He moved faster and faster, unable to curb his desire any longer, slipping his hand behind Nino’s butt to feel him better, to go deeper, and his scream of pleasure freed them both at the same time.

Sho wanted to laugh, to cry, to lose himself inside of Nino once again, to confess his love at least, to keep him for himself until the end of their lives.

“You’re mine…,” Sho said, immediately regretting the excess of possessiveness which was so different from the man he was. He was about to take back his word with a joke when Nino cupped his face, looking at him straightforwardly with his piercing gaze.

“Yes, I’m yours.”

- - Tokyo, Sunshine Building; January 17, 2015; 6.30 pm - -

“Ah it moves. Finally.”

Sho stood up, reaching out to help Nino up. It was high time. Ten minutes more and he would have totally lost control over himself. He didn’t have sex for ages but that wasn’t the reason why.

It still existed. This magic link between them, this insane sensual electricity making him lose his mind, pushing him to commit craziness to quench the thirst he had for Nino. Sho already did that so often during the time they were together. He had to take his distance again or…

They went back down to the lobby and Sho called Jun, it was already too late for the appointment to visit the gallery and he won’t ask to Nino to go back into that damned elevator again. Of course, Jun insisted on seeing them nonetheless.

“Are you feeling better now?”

Nino began to recover and Sho came back to the harsh reality.

“OK, we should go then. Jun and Ohno are waiting for us with dinner,” Sho said.

“Jun summons us?”

“…Yes.”

“He will kill me,” Nino said, raising up from the armchair to exit the building, leaving behind him a confused but definitely in love Sho.

“I’ll protect you.” He said in an undertone before moving forward.

=+=

“You really didn’t visit it at all?!” Jun eructed.

“We just spent three house stuck in an elevator, don’t tell me you intend to yell at us?!” threated Sho, surreptitiously placing himself between Jun and Nino.

“No, of course not. Sorry guys.”

“At least we can forget this gallery. Imagine if it had been the day of the wedding!” Sho said, sitting on the couch.

“You’re right. The thing is that I have no other choice for the moment. Where will I find another location that is able to house our guests?”

“I’ll find another place with Sho,” Nino cut and the three other men gazed at him in unison. “I already have an idea…”

“Okay,” Jun said with a smile, visibly relieved. Hearing his brother calling his friend Sho again and taking an initiative gave him hope for the future. Nino has always been so gloomy since his father’s death… to be true, since his departure for Europe years ago.

“So, what’s the next point on the list?” Sho asked, grabbing the named list off the low table.

“The suits. I already booked an appointment for the day after tomorrow in the best shop of Tokyo. Can you make it?”

Nino crossed the amused gaze of Sho.

“Seems we have to, isn’t it?”

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Nino's POV

- - Tokyo; January 17, 2015; 7.00 pm - -

While looking outside of the cab's window as they were rushing through the already nocturnal city, brightened up by the countless lights from the many cars, buildings and luminous advertising lining the streets, Nino somehow felt as if he was inside a huge bubble.

He had experienced that feeling of being right here but not all that present at the same time quite often lately and it felt so damned strange. If he had to describe it, he probably would say, it felt similar to a dream. Nino wasn't sure though, if it was a good one or a nightmare. Plus, he was suffering from an incredible headache, maybe an after effect of his panic attack from before. Right now, the young man had real trouble grasping what was real and what not, overwhelmed by so many different feelings and of course, all those memories. He didn’t know what to think or to feel. He was just so damned confused about… yeah… everything.

The young man craved for something real to hold on and he had a hard time suppressing the urge to reach out and grab Sho’s hand, who was sitting on the other side of the cab’s rear bench seat, just a bit away from him.

Nino sighed and brushed his hand over his face instead. He closed his eyes for a while, started to massage his temples slightly and try to organize his inner chaos. So many things had happened lately and somehow he had the feeling that it's slowly but surely going to be too much for him to cope. First, there was his father’s death that he still didn’t overcome, then the happy news regarding Ohno and Jun’s upcoming marriage, the honor he felt when his admired brother asked him to become his best man and the horror he felt when Jun told him that Sho would be in the whole thing too.

Then of course… Sho.

The man, he hadn’t seen for about 5 years and 9 months because Nino was running away from him since the day of their break-up, sad, angry and disappointed and afraid to get hurt again, had just took steps back into Nino’s life. Showing his friendly attitude – one of his charming points, of course – acting as if nothing bad had happened between them in the past and this was what drove Nino crazy the most. As if nothing bad had happened...

Nino remembered the encounter with Sho after such a long time, the lunch at his brother and Ohno’s apartment. How Sho had acted as if they were old buddies and Nino had just felt sick from that because that didn’t fit his own image of their “relationship” at all. He remembered his outburst and his chaotic feelings after that. This strange mixture of not wanting to see Sho ever again and wanting to be back right by his side until the end of his life.

He knew that he couldn’t fool himself much longer. Ohno was right, Toma was right. There were definitely still feelings for Sho left inside of his cracked heart, and it wasn’t only disappointment, anger, and hatred. There was also the pure and deep love he had always felt for that man, maybe more than he himself wanted to believe.

After accepting that, there was no way out of the situation because neither Jun nor Ohno would kick either Sho or Nino out of their wedding preparations, things started to change. There was no option for Nino to even try running away without disappointing a bunch of people, and most important of all his beloved brother, who he had surely already disappointed so many times with his behavior. Nino knew that and so he tried to accept the situation and to at least get along with Sho for a while. And well, what could he say? Once he had decided on that, things seemed to work somehow. Sho was friendly – like always -, he was considerate, he was… Sho.

Nino knew, that Sho’s nice behavior towards him had nothing to do with himself, because that was just how Sho was plus the other didn’t want to make things complicated for Jun and Ohno either. Nino wasn’t something special.

Nevertheless, he had to take good care not to fall into that man’s trap again. He had to make sure that he didn’t get himself wrapped up in that man’s nice words and gestures again. He wasn’t ready to forgive the other for what he did to him. Sho hadn’t only hurt his pride; he had hurt his feelings like no-one else before and yes, Nino was still traumatized from that.

Being occupied by his thoughts, Nino hadn't realized, that they had already reached Jun and Ohno's place but then, there was Jun, yelling at him and Sho. Nino cringed a little as the bubble around him burst, letting the reality get close to him with full force again. He felt the guilty conscious climbing up his chest, for not being able to meet the appointment his brother had entrusted to them.

Sho defended them, again explaining to Jun that it wasn't their fault that they got stuck in an elevator. Nino tried to lighten up his brother's mood by telling him that he might already have another idea for a fitting location and that he and Sho would find something else. Jun seemed satisfied with that and Sho looked at Nino, smiling too. They fixed another appointment for the day after tomorrow to try on the wedding suits and the suits for the best men and then, Jun served dinner.

Nino didn't touch much of it because his head and stomach still felt sick. In addition, he was busy not to stare at Sho – especially his lips - throughout the course of the dinner, which seemed to be much more difficult than he imagined. So many thoughts regarding this man were raging through his head and he just didn't know what to think about them.

Don’t get too close to him, Nino had told himself multiple times since Sho entered his life again, as if he wanted to burn this sentence into his head. You’ll get burned, he will hurt you again… don't get too close to him. But that was easier said than done.

Eventually, Nino weakened as he experienced that fucking panic attack just a few hours ago. An extreme situation that he didn’t see coming at all. He had broken down in front of that man, emotionally as well as physically, letting his guard down completely. He had Sho taking care of him, having to be comforted by him and then, Sho had – for whatever reason – kissed him.

So much for not getting too close.

Nino would lie if he said that he didn't enjoy the kiss. Instead, he had gotten lost in that kiss and had wished that it would never ever end. God knew, what could have happened if that damned elevator hadn't started working again when it did when their kiss had gotten deeper, more passionate, desperate, as if they were trying to make up for all those years they had been separated.

But that wasn't the case. It was just something that happened with the flow, triggered by their teenage memories which had been so damned exciting. It was just logical that they wanted to bring them back, even if just for a while. But Nino had to react now, he had to put some distance between him and Sho again, to clarify their status and not to let things get out of control again. There was just too much unknown between them, too much pain to even think about starting anew, wasn't there? Wait, was Nino really considering a start over right now?

That couldn't be true. He had to stop thinking in that direction. Plus, there wasn’t any guarantee, that Sho intended to start anew, right? They might have kissed but what does that mean? Maybe nothing... And anyway didn’t Sho act a little strange after their kiss? Even if he had been so considerate and caring, after the elevator had started working again, Sho had kept his distance from Nino again. So in the end, pretty clearly, Nino might just be over thinking things. In the end, there wasn't any chance left to start over again anyway and he was just confusing himself right now...

Nino started feeling even sicker, as if his stomach wanted to turn upside down. Slowly, he brought up his hand to his mouth, covering his lips slightly, trying to calm down, and taking deep breaths. He wondered what it was. Was this really an after effect of what had happened before or was it just his nervousness?

“Nino, are you OK?” Sho, who was sitting at the other side of the table, sent the younger a worried look, just like the other two men.

Nino swallowed hard and didn't dare looking directly at Sho. “I... I just feel a bit sick,” he answered honestly, still feeling Sho's gaze on him. “Maybe I should leave.”

Jun immediately went over to Nino, checking his forehead if he might have a fever, but Nino was sure, that he might just feel sick because of some after effects from the panic attack earlier – which he still didn't want to tell Jun – and the stress that was piling up again. Nevertheless, he was thankful for his brother's concern, who then offered to drive him back home, immediately. Just for once in a while, Nino decided to gratefully accept his brother's help and shortly after bid farewell to Ohno and Sho.

After Jun dropped his little brother in front of the apartment complex and was out of sight again, Nino stepped into the tall building, only to realize, in front of the elevator that was supposed to bring him up to his penthouse suite on the 27th floor like usual, that his feet didn't want to move. His hands felt sweaty and his breath started getting shorter again as he couldn't help but remember the scene in the stuck elevator from a few hours ago, the feeling of being locked in, the walls coming closer, the heat, the fear to not being able to escape. Memories of the time when he had almost locked himself up into his sick father’s room flashed through his thoughts and the nausea almost overwhelmed Nino who was forced to lean against the wall next to the elevator.

That couldn’t be true… He couldn't get into that stupid elevator! He was scared, he almost panicked again. Fuck. The sudden wish of calling Sho to help him popped up in Nino’s head. Of course, he brushed it away, immediately. Out of question. But what was he supposed to do now? He couldn’t take the elevator and the prospective of having to climb up 27 floors in the building's staircase didn't look really inviting either...

Damned.

=+=

Another taxi ride and about 20 minutes later, Nino was ringing the doorbell of Toma's apartment, which was located only on the 4th floor of the apartment complex, so it hadn't been too troublesome, to reach it by climbing up the stairs. Nino wasn't completely sure, if Toma's shift in the hotel today was already over, he didn't check the other's working plan today, but his friend – even if a little surprised – eventually opened the door, so Nino was lucky as it seemed.

“Nino! What are you doing here?” Toma asked shocked. “Gosh... you look horrible, what happened?” he added, concerned as he saw the pale figure standing in front of his apartment.

“Can I stay over tonight?” Nino just asked, ignoring his friend's question.

“Oh, tonight? Uhm, you know…,” the other started, blushing a bit.

“I really just need a place to stay,” Nino interrupted him, rubbing his forehead. “Can't I sleep on your couch? I promise not to disturb you and whoever.”

Toma obviously hesitated, well, that was just logical, Nino thought, Toma seemed to be busy with something – or someone - else, maybe one of his other affairs, but Nino just couldn't come up with anyone else living close that he could ask for a favor. Nana's apartment was on the 24th floor of a huge building around 40 minutes away from Nino's place, Sho of course wasn't even an option to think about (plus Nino didn’t even know where the other was living with – even worse – that woman) and Jun and Ohno's place... well, it would have been a possibility but he didn't want to show his weak side to them now. This afternoon had been embarrassing enough already.

“Honey, what is it, did the delivery boy forget something?” another man approached Toma from behind and as he spotted Nino, he looked surprised. “Oh, that's not the delivery boy... a friend of yours? What's wrong with him, he looks sick,” he then added in a small voice to Toma before he turned to Nino again and offered friendlily, “Would you like to get a glass of water?”

“Oh...,” Nino looked at the man, surprised too.

The man was taller than him and Toma, his skin was tanned, his hair dyed in a nice brown color and the smile on his face was friendly and joyful. Even if Nino had never met him before, he immediately recognized the man from the countless pictures in Toma’s apartment, showing the two of them in various places all around the world – most likely during their holidays. It was Toma’s boyfriend. How was his name again? Aiba… something...

“You’re a friend of Toma? I’m Aiba Masaki, nice to meet you,” the friendly man reached out his hand to greet Nino, who just surprised shook his hand in return, mumbling his name. Aiba then turned around to face his boyfriend again. “What are you waiting for, get him inside.”

It was obvious, that Toma didn’t feel comfortable with the situation. Maybe, Nino should better leave then, the young man thought. He could sleep at… well, at the hotel for example! Why didn’t he think about that earlier?! He was so stupid, really! Where did he leave his brain today? But then, Toma already reached out for Nino’s wrist, dragging him inside.

“Come on in. Of course, you can stay.”

Thankful but also feeling guilty to disturb the two of them, Nino followed Toma and his boyfriend Aiba into the living room. Refusing the offer to join them eating the pizza they had just gotten delivered a bit earlier, he accompanied them while watching TV for a while after gulping down an aspirin and a big glass of water, promising to leave early tomorrow as soon as he woke up. Glad, that Toma and Aiba didn’t ask for any further details about why he had shown up here, Nino curled up with a blanket on his friend's couch pretty early, letting his mind get lulled in by the small voices of the television. Toma's boyfriend had been so considerate to lower the volume. What a strange, friendly guy, Nino thought as his thoughts drifted off to sleep.

- - Tokyo, Ikuta & Aiba Apartment; January 18, 2015; 7.10 am - -

Nino heard a small chuckle not too far away from his bivouac, followed by a short clank, most likely from something getting placed onto the couch table in front of him. The scent of freshly brewed coffee made its way over. He felt much better than the day before.

“He's really cute, your friend here, and he has this aura as if he is in need of protection, no wonder you’re taking care of him,” Nino recognized the voice of Toma's boyfriend. “You are sleeping with him, aren't you?”

Toma coughed. “First of all, he's one of my best friends, that's why I take care of him and he's my boss at work...”

And you are sleeping with him, aren't you?” Aiba asked again. “Don’t get me wrong, you know that I’m OK with that. It’s just... interesting to meet him. I never met anyone of those other guys you’re sleeping with and I didn't know that you're actually friends with one of them…”

Toma didn't answer any longer and Nino finally managed to sit up, feeling a bit irritated from this kind of conversation behind his back, so early in the morning. Letting the happenings from the past day sink in, Nino realized again, what an absurd situation he had created with his behavior. He – Toma's fling - had spent the night on the couch at their place, in the presence of Toma and his boyfriend. How stupid could he be?! Why did he come over to Toma's anyway? Right... because he was scared to take the elevator up to his apartment. Nino sighed. He really just should have slept in one of the empty rooms at his hotel.

Suddenly, Aiba was sitting right next to Nino, surprising the other, and handing him the cup of coffee that he just had placed on the table a minute before.

“You look like you can need it. Are you OK?” Aiba asked him and flashed him a friendly smile that irritated Nino even more. Was this the way you smile towards your boyfriend's fling?

Once more, Nino remembered that he could never understand Toma's talking about that “open relationship” stuff. Was he used to such awkward situations? If he was in Aiba's shoes and his boyfriend's fling showed up to stay over, he would at least want to kill one of them... and not offer coffee with a friendly smile. That was just strange!

“Thank you,” Nino just said and looked into the warm cup in his hands a bit critically. Aiba didn't put any poison into that, did he? “I'll be away in five minutes, sorry for bothering you two.”

Aiba shook his head. “Don't worry, take your time. Toma's friends are my friends.”

Somehow, out of that man's mouth, those words sounded kinda weird, Nino thought and he couldn't help but wonder, if the man in front of him was maybe even hinting on a threesome... Nino slightly shook his head. Again, he could slap himself for his stupid thoughts.

“Are you in love with Toma?” Aiba suddenly asked out of the blue and Nino stared at him surprised.

“What?! No!” he answered quickly.

“OK. Then, it's fine. You two can do whatever you want but don't make him fall in love with you, because he's mine, you know?” the strange guy next to him smiled friendlily.

“I know,” Nino said, not sure if Aiba's words had been just a statement or a hidden threat. He eyed his coffee suspiciously again before he finally took a sip.

Not really knowing, how to escape from this strange situation, the young man just focused on his cup of coffee and fortunately, soon there was Toma, telling Nino that he should get ready so that they could leave for work together.

After apologizing again to Aiba and Toma for his disturbance, Nino then tried to concentrate on work for the rest of the day. Avoiding elevators, instead he chose to climb the stairs up and down 7 floors several times in the day, crazy. Nino hoped, that his sudden antipathy to elevators was just because of the shock of yesterday and that he would again be able to overcome this quickly. He couldn’t avoid that, not in his job and he had to get back home into his apartment again someday too!

During lunch break, he called Jun, who had left tons of messages on his voice-mail, wanting to confirm that Nino was doing OK. After confirming his brother's well-being, Jun reminded Nino of the time for the appointment to try on the suits for the wedding the next day and Nino promised, to be there on time. He also received an e-mail from Sho, asking him about his condition as well as what that idea about the wedding location was, Nino had hinted on the previous day at Jun’s place but Nino didn’t reply to it because he simply didn’t know how to react to a mail of Sho…

This evening, Nino didn’t go home but stayed in one of his hotel’s rooms that he sometimes used when he had to work through the night and was glad, to even find an extra change of clothes in the closet. Tomorrow would be another day to face his fears, he thought. Not only the elevator in his apartment complex, but also his feelings for Sho.

- - Tokyo, Harajuku; January 19, 2015; 09.47 am - -

Nino was almost 20 minutes late and apologized quickly to Jun, who was standing in front of the address of their today’s appointment with crossed arms. He wasn’t that mad at Nino, thankfully, quickly releasing his stressed expression and patting his brother’s shoulder. The younger man sighed in relief, not only because his brother wasn’t angry with him but also when he realized that the building they were about to enter wasn’t one of those extremely tall skyscrapers but only a 4 floors high building in a side street of one of Tokyo’s most popular shopping districts. Yes, he was being ridiculous, but he was still having these... issues...

When Jun linked his arms with Ohno to guide him inside of the fashionable shop, Sho settled his pace next to Nino. After a short awkward silence, Sho turned to Nino, who stopped in surprise as his heart seemed to skip a beat and faced the other in return.

“Did you get my mail?” Sho asked simply. “I wasn’t sure if I got the correct address.”

“Uhm, ah yeah… thanks,” Nino stuttered. “It’s the right one, I was just too busy with work to answer, sorry,” he fibbed.

The situation between them was so damned awkward again, Nino thought. He couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened in the elevator two days ago, Sho’s concern, Sho’s words, Sho’s embrace, Sho's lips on his… and the sudden distance they had put between them afterward, trying to get back to acting as normal as possible. If normal was even possible between them…

“Guys, what are you doing? Come on!” Jun complained as he had to wait for the others.

Inside, after asking someone at the counter for the employee Jun had made the appointment with, they got sent up to the 3rd floor and as the four men approached the elevator, Nino casually told them, that he needed to take a few more steps and thus would take the stairs. Jun and Ohno just nodded, not really wondering but Sho gave Nino a frowning look that the other quickly avoided. Damned, he must have been found out already. He quickly turned heel and headed for the door that led to the stair case, taking his steps upstairs.

“Nino, wait!” Sho came after him. “You are having problems with the elevator, right?”

Caught, Nino stopped to wait until Sho had caught up to him but didn’t really feel like talking. He felt ashamed, even more, when Sho put his hand onto his arm.

“Don’t worry,” the doctor continued. “It happens that after a panic attack you’re still shocked from the situation and it’s natural that you want to avoid getting into such a situation again. That’s OK for a while. But you have to try not to let the panic overwhelm you already before you are in a specific situation, you know? It was just one incident, usually, elevators don’t get stuck, right? It was an exception,” Sho lectured him and Nino felt even more ashamed. He knew that. Even if he wasn’t a doctor, he knew that. But as the coward he was… “So you need to get used to riding the elevator again as soon as possible.”

“I know!” Nino burst out embarrassed, shaking off Sho’s hand.

The young man wanted to get up quickly and hurried to take his steps but then, suddenly, he slipped, twisting his ankle. Even before Sho could react and reach out for Nino’s hand to catch him, Nino fell down the stairs. Fortunately, it wasn't such a big distance but even the small fall had some impact. Nino cringed slightly and his hands automatically wandered down to his ankle.

“Oh my God, Nino, are you hurt?” Sho asked worrying, heading down the stairs to check on the other. “Wait, let me take a look at that,” he knelt down in front of Nino and pushed up the fabric of his trousers to get a better look at the injured foot. “Gosh, you are still so careless! You have to take care of yourself, Nino!”

Sho’s scolding suddenly felt like it’s coming from far away, as Nino’s gaze followed Sho’s beautiful hands, seeing them carefully touching his ankle. The feeling of Sho’s warm hands there was so familiar, Nino thought and then he remembered.

It was like déjà-vu. Sho checking on Nino’s foot… the same foot that he had injured years ago during a skiing trip in Switzerland. Sho had been holding his foot just like this, examining it carefully as he had changed his bandages as they spent Christmas together, lazing around in a magnificent hotel suit surrounded by the dreamy winter mountains.

Nino blushed deeply when he suddenly remembered what else had happened on that day…

- - Switzerland, Gstaad; December 24, 2005; 9.10 am- -

Sho, his breath heavy from sleep stroking the boy’s nape, was still holding Nino in his arms, when the latter woke up, even if his grip had loosened a bit due to the overwhelming sleep. Sho must be really tired from their journey as well as their skiing tour yesterday. Nino tried to not wake up the other as he carefully turned around in his embrace, eager to see Sho’s cute sleeping face that he loved so much. The boy smiled tenderly as he observed the other, letting his fingers run over Sho’s handsome face to caress it lovingly.

Being here, in the mountains of Switzerland together with the man he was in love with, felt like a dream for Nino. And maybe, this trip was an occasion to bring the “thing” between them to the next level, the young man dared to hope. He wasn’t that naive to think that he was the only one for Sho, Nino knew that the older man was popular and a playboy. Jun had told him, Ohno had hinted on that more than once, Sho had never denied anything either and Nino never asked. He was sure that he was just one among the many men Sho spent his time with. After all, Sho was a desirable man; it would be foolhardy to think that he wouldn’t take advantage of that. But Nino didn’t care, as long as this meant that Sho also shared his time with him now and then. No matter who else might be with Sho at other times, right here, right now, during his yearly Christmas holidays in a romantic winter wonderland in Europe, Sho was with him and him only.

Since the day on which Nino lost his first kiss to Sho, the boy had also lost his heart completely to the other man. If he had a crush on Sho before, he didn’t know what he should name his feelings and desire for that man right now. Nino was just crazy about him. He wanted to be with him, kiss him, hug him, hold his hand, share his bed with him – and lately, not only in the innocent way they shared their bed already countless times before.

Nino was positive, that he wanted Sho to be his first. To be honest, his only. He wanted to cross the line of his virginity together with the man that he was so insanely in love with and lately, it seemed that his brain couldn’t think about anything else in Sho’s presence. Nino was ready. He was prepared. He knew that this would be a huge step for him but he also knew that he wanted to take this step together with Sho and no one else.

Right now, Nino was getting excited just from watching his beloved lying next to him in bed. His handsome face, his alluring lips, the strong built of his body, the strong arm muscles showing under the plain white shirt that Sho was wearing for sleeping. Nino just desired everything about that man and dreamed about doing things with him that made him blush instantly.

So far, nothing more than kisses and hugs had happened between them. Even when Sho and Nino had developed the habit to exchange countless kisses, sweet ones, hot ones, and exciting ones; and even when there indeed had been situations in which they touched each other in not-completely-innocent ways already, they had never crossed that line. Nino definitely wanted to, even if he was too shy to actually ask for anything specific. Sometimes, he tried to initiate something, shyly, not sure if his hints were even obvious enough to reach his lover but so far, Sho had not given in.

Nino started wondering what it was. Why didn’t Sho want to sleep with him? Because he was his friend’s little brother? Because he was afraid to get found out? Or was it because Nino was so unmanly, too short, too skinny, too pale, not sexy at all? Because he was a virgin?

Questions and more questions were invading the boy’s worrying mind and he was too afraid to answer them. Anyway, he had decided. He wanted to try again to seduce Sho during this trip while making use of the advantage of the different surroundings, far away from the apartment that he shared with his brother or the apartment Sho shared with Ohno, where they always had to watch out not to get caught by the others during their kissing sessions. If this wouldn’t work here in a foreign country, surrounded by the romantic white of Christmas time, Nino would have a serious word with Sho.

When Sho slowly opened his eyes and saw Nino lying in his arms, looking at him, he smiled and immediately hugged the younger tightly again, brushing his nose against Nino’s before he placed a small good morning kiss on the tip of his nose. Nino’s heart skipped a beat.

“Merry Christmas, little one,” the older murmured against Nino’s face.

“Merry Christmas, big one,” Nino chuckled and Sho snorted amused.

“How’s your foot?” he then asked, his voice still a bit rough from sleep.

“It hurts but I’ll survive, don’t worry,” Nino answered, blushing a bit.

He was still embarrassed about what happened yesterday. Again, Nino had been careless and he knew that he didn’t only scare his brother or Ohno, who had witnessed the small accident, but also Sho. He felt guilty, because now that he couldn’t continue skiing because of his sprained ankle, Jun had insisted on staying with him at the hotel so that he wasn’t alone all the time. However, Jun loved skiing so much and was looking forward to their Christmas holidays in Gstaad every year, and this year he even brought his beloved boyfriend Ohno with him.

Nino had decided to tell Jun that he didn’t have to accompany him, that he, Ohno and Sho should continue to enjoy their skiing trips and he would find other ways to keep himself busy. It was his own fault that this had happened, after all. But then, Nino didn't expect Sho's plans.

“What do you think about the idea that we send Jun and Ohno up the ski run and I’ll stay here with you, today?” the other suggested still sounding tired while he let his hand tenderly run over Nino’s back.

“Eh? But what about skiing?” Nino asked wondering. “You guys don’t need to worry about me, don’t you want to accompany them?”

“Hm… no, I prefer staying here with you. I don’t want you to spend Christmas all alone.”

And with this, Sho had the last word. His heart pounding happily against his chest, Nino didn’t dare trying to change the other’s mind because actually, he couldn’t think of a more perfect way to spend Christmas than cuddling with his crush all day long either. Grateful, he pecked the taller one’s lips and smiled at him widely.

During breakfast, at first Jun wasn’t that easily convinced by Sho’s plan to stay with Nino so that the lovebirds, Jun and Ohno, could enjoy their togetherness on the ski run. Sho finally pretended to have a painful throat, telling his friend, that he didn’t plan to go outside today anyway. Jun then gave in but announced that he and Ohno would try to come back earlier so that they could enjoy dinner all together.

Sho and Nino then spent a relaxing day playing video games with the console that Nino had brought with him – just in case – and watching movies, some of those sappy American Christmas movies that Nino secretly loved so much, even if he wouldn't admit in front of others. Sho took care of Nino and his sprained ankle and spoiled the boy endlessly. He even massaged his ankle to relieve Nino from the pain!

After changing the bandage in the afternoon and complimenting Nino's feet, which the younger found pretty strange, since he didn't like his feet at all, the two found themselves again in each other's embraces, Nino's legs settled around Sho, who was bending over the other to kiss him. Their closeness and the hot kiss made Nino lose ground. He felt that unstoppable desire burning up inside him, the fire in his lower belly, the excitement that built up gradually each time he and Sho kissed. Sho was excited too. Really excited, Nino could feel it when their bodies pressed against each other... maybe, this was his chance? But again, Sho refused to cross the line.

“We should stop. I think,” he said, pulling back.

“Why?” Nino asked. He was frustrated. Why? Why didn’t Sho want to sleep with him? Was it his fault?

“It’s a huge step,” Sho started explaining. “We can’t… after all you’re Jun’s little brother and I’m older than you. I took your first kiss so I guess you never had… sex… before?”

So was he really troubled because Nino was still a virgin? And because of Jun?!

“I had lovers, Nino.”

“And?” Nino knew that. He wasn't stupid. And he didn't care at all. “It’s a good thing that one of us knows what he has to do, don’t you think?”

But no matter, how frustrated Nino was and how much he tried to change Sho's mind, it didn't work. Nino was just about to clear the topic once and for all but, there was a knock on the door and Sho got up to open it. Of course, it was Jun, most likely calling them for dinner as promised but he had a surprise – their mother, who was spending her holidays with her lover, was here too and would join them.

Nino frowned. How long has it been since he met that woman? Not long enough to forget that she always ended up hurting Nino with one or another comment or her behavior in general. Or maybe she had changed? Even if Nino tried to tell himself that it would just be the same like always, he still couldn't completely mute that small, hopeful voice inside of his head that turned him into a child craving for its mother's love.

=+=

She looked beautiful as always, Nino thought as he and Sho entered the restaurant, approaching the table where Ohno and Jun were already accompanying the woman. She looked young for her age and when Jun introduced Sho to her, she flashed the other her most friendly smile and begged the young man, to call her by her given name, Shizuka. Nino hated it when she did that. As if she was a young girl... even he and Jun were supposed to call her that but Nino had always refused to do that.

The woman finally placed a hasty kiss on Nino's cheek to welcome her second son too. She didn't even bother to look into his eyes directly and asked him half-heartedly what had happened to his ankle. Nino ignored her as much as possible. Actually, he was surprised that she even noticed that he was injured.

Jun, as always kept the conversation going – Nino would call it a monologue – with stories from his daily university life, stories about him and Sho, stories about him and Ohno and what not, trying to get the woman's interest. He also mentioned Nino's grades that had become much better during the last few months, but no matter what he talked about, his mother didn't really bother to involve herself into the conversation.

In the end, the only thing she showed interest was the question, how Jun's father was doing; and when she found out that he was doing pretty well without her, she seemed to sulk. Nino secretly grabbed Sho's hand underneath the table, seeking a little comfort, trying to not burst out in his anger and disappointment towards that woman. She hadn't met her two kids for such a long time and everything she wanted to talk about was what she was interested in, it was unbelievable.

Shortly after, she dropped the bomb that she and her current lover – Karl, whoever that would be – had decided to live here in Gstaad, just for the records. That was enough for the two brothers. Jun demanded an explanation, arguing that Nino was still in High School but Nino barged in before Jun could end his sentence.

“Don’t worry, brother,” he said. “I don’t care at all,” not more than she did, at least. “She can do what she wants to do.”

What was holding her in Japan anyway? Her ex-husband Matsumoto, the only one she ever truly loved was doing fine with his new wife and newborn kids, Jun was doing well at university so that she didn't need to worry about him and if it came to Nino... Well, since Nino had told her that he had decided to take over his father's hotel in the future and had buried her last hopes that Nino might at least become a splendid doctor too just like her beloved ex-husband and her beloved first son, it seemed like not even his grades were of interest to her any more. Well, if she didn't need Nino, he wouldn't need her either, the young man thought.

“Now if you would excuse me, mother...,” Nino let go of Sho's hand as he almost jumped up and left the table, leaving behind a half-finished meal, three troubled looking young men, as well as his indifferent mother who even held back Jun – her only beloved son – as the latter was about to follow his brother.

“Your brother is so emotional. Leave him alone,” Nino could hear his mother's voice getting softer and softer the farther away he got. He exited the restaurant and climbed the stairs with his still hurting foot.

Nino's lips started trembling, as soon as he was leaning against the closed door to his and Sho's suite. He allowed himself to burst into silent tears just for a moment, covering his mouth as he hunkered down. He was angry. Angry at that woman of course, but also angry at himself for allowing his heart to ache from that woman's words. Wasn't he used to it? He was just so helpless. Why did he even let himself be bothered by that woman's selfish behavior? Why did he wish so much that she would actually once look directly at him, asking him how he was doing with life and everything, praise him about his grades that had gotten so much better lately, or maybe congratulating him that he had finally found what he wanted to do with his future?

Depressed, Nino went to take a shower, trying to wash away his tears and sorrows with the hot water. In reality, the burden in his heart just couldn't get washed away so simply, no matter how long he stood there, staring at the glazed tile of the bathroom as he slowly locked his pain into his heart.

His hair half dried, Nino sat down on the bed in his room, the only bed that was actually used so far in his and Sho's joined suite. Sighing, the boy let himself drop into the sheets, staring up to the ceiling from the high bed surrounded by curtains. He wanted to quickly forget what had happened with that woman who was supposed to be his mother. He just wished that he could wish himself back to this morning, when he had been lying in Sho's arms and the world had been just right...

It felt like hours as the boy laid there, wrapped up into his blanket, his eyes closed as he tried to sleep but remained fully awake, waiting for his lover's return. He hoped, that at least the other three guys could enjoy their Christmas evening a bit, even if his was already ruined. Nevertheless, Nino missed Sho's presence next to him. He missed his comfort. Maybe he had already gotten too used to it but he felt like he could only be himself in front of Sho.

As the other finally came back into the dark room, a wave of relief overwhelmed Nino. He took a deep breath when he heard Sho going straight into the bathroom, preparing for bed and Nino couldn't prevent a few small tears from coming out that he quickly wiped away. He then got up, ready to welcome Sho back. Leaning against the bathroom's door frame, Nino patiently waited until Sho realized his presence and it didn't take long before Sho was holding the younger in his arms again, hugging him tight, caressing him, and whispering things to comfort his pained heart. Actually, when Nino could be here, in Sho's arms, nothing else seemed to matter. Suddenly, the boy felt ashamed for being so weak and emotional all the time, for running away every time when things became tough...

“Sorry for being such a mess. I’m always pouring out my sorrows when I’m with you,” he whispered against Sho’s neck.

“I’m glad to be your confidant. I’ll always be there for you,” Sho answered and Nino's heart melted. How much he wished that those words could be true...

Nino couldn’t hold back any longer, he needed to kiss that wonderful man, needed to be his. And so he did, reaching up to peck those beautiful lips that he was so addicted to. He let his hands explore Sho's torso, which the other had freed from his clothing earlier in the bathroom. Nino let his fingers ghosting over Sho's belly, playfully drawing small circles around his belly bottom piercing that Nino found to be so cute and sexy at the same time. Just a second later, Nino was surprised as he found himself lifted by Sho's strong arms, as the other pressed him against the wall. Nino's legs tangled around Sho's waist as their bodies pressed closer, their excitement obvious and not able to stay hidden any longer.

As their kiss became more and more intense, Sho slid his hands into Nino’s pants and the younger took a deep breath as he felt Sho's warm hands caressing his bare skin, wandering to places the other had avoided so far. He couldn't prevent a moan from escaping his lips and felt his heartbeat increasing, his blood rushing through his body. Maybe, Sho had changed his mind for now, Nino thought; maybe, his wish would actually come true. He broke their kiss.

“Let me sleep with you,” Nino begged Sho, whispering. He just hoped that he didn't sound as desperate as he felt.

This time, Sho didn't refuse Nino's wish, no, because just a second later, Nino got gently laid back on his bed again, Sho on top of him, sharing kisses over kisses.

“Are you sure?” the older one wanted to confirm but his actions were already contradicting his spoken doubt, as he had started to undress Nino.

“I am, I am.” Of course he was, the boy reassured him and helped getting rid of his clothes. He was already so excited, nervous, yes, but excited. This was exactly, what he had dreamed of.

“Just… relax,” Sho said, as he straddled him.

After they shared another kiss, Sho explored Nino's body not only with his hands but also with his hot lips, spreading kisses all over his neck and chest, playfully tickling his nipples and wandering to his belly to caress his navel with his tongue, turning Nino quickly into a moaning mess. This was heaven.

Soon, Sho asked Nino to hand him some condoms and a bottle of lube from a small toiletry bag on the nightstand. Nino couldn't prevent his heart from skipping a beat. Despite Sho being so against having sex with him before, he was prepared? Maybe, his chances hadn't been all that bad to begin with, the boy thought, a wave of happiness washed through him.

He was confused, when Sho unfolded a condom on top of his erected member and nervousness almost overwhelmed him but it resolved quickly as Sho asked him to trust him. Just a second later, Nino felt Sho's tongue and lips slipping over his glans as he took him inside of his hot mouth, causing him to forget himself.

The sight of Sho doing this to him as well as the unknown sensation was enough to drive Nino over the edge. Soon he was arching his body, releasing into the condom, too quickly as everything was over just as fast as it had begun. When Nino realized what had actually happened, all the blood from his body seemed to rush up to his cheeks, obviously showing the deep embarrassment that he felt right now.

“I’m… I’m so sorry, Sho,” he stuttered but the other told him not to worry and just smiled at him.

Sho came up to lie down next to Nino and called the latter “cute”, caressing his face.

“Stop telling me I’m cute!” Nino answered angrily.

No, he wasn't angry at Sho. He was just too embarrassed about the situation, about Sho calling him cute and everything so he turned his back to the other, ready to flee but Sho held him back, insisting on Nino being cute, adding an amount of other complimenting descriptions that Nino just wondered how he could even come up with them and who the hell Sho was talking about. He wasn't cute, not at all. He wasn't adorable or beautiful or sexy either. Clever? Not really. But even if those sweet words out of Sho's mouth weren't true, Nino was thankful for the other man's concern and comfort like always and so he decided to not run away now. After all, he had been the one who wanted this too, right?

“The night is still young… are you already satisfied?” Sho asked and Nino shook his head, swallowing down a bunch of nervousness.

“Touch us,” Sho encouraged Nino whispering and the younger tried his best to follow Sho's lead, trusting the other man as he slipped his hand between them and touched both of their erections while Sho got ready to prepare Nino for the next step.

Nino took a hitching breath and unconsciously stiffened a little, as he felt Sho's with lube covered finger at his entrance. God damned, he was so nervous...

“Relax, you can stop me any time if you change your mind. Just…trust me and let yourself go,” Sho assured the younger man who tried his best to relax.

“I trust you,” Nino answered.

“Now…,” Sho rolled over, to lie down on his back, dragging Nino along.

He parted Nino's legs more to have easier access and slowly pushed his finger inside the young man.

“Tell me if it hurts or if you feel uncomfortable,” Sho repeated, caring so much for Nino's well-being. “If you’re prepared enough, you won’t feel anything else than pleasure.”

The preparation kept on a little, Sho patiently giving Nino all the time the boy needed to get used to all those new sensations. It didn't really hurt, not much, it just... felt strange. Slowly, as Nino grew accustomed to the feeling of having Sho inside of him, the older added a second finger, quickly finding Nino's soft spot, which filled the other with overwhelming pleasure, washing away the slightest feeling of pain and making the following much easier with the increased lust. When Sho added a third finger, spreading Nino even more, the young man already dared moving on his own, eager to feel more of Sho. More and more.

Sho now handed a condom to Nino that the other carefully rolled down to Sho's shaft. Then, Nino intuitively placed Sho's covered member between his legs, ready to take him.

“Just go down slowly at your own pace~,” Sho instructed. But Nino was faster than expected. “Oh Gosh, Nino...,” Sho moaned with pleasure.

There wasn't any need to tell Nino to take things slow because the younger was more than ready for everything that could happen now. He wasn't afraid. He trusted Sho and everything he wanted to do right now was to make Sho and himself satisfied and happy. Inch per inch Nino lowered himself onto Sho's erection, not minding the slight pain that accompanied the pleasure he felt. More than painful, this was exciting, new... something completely different from everything the young man had ever felt before.

“I want to move,” Nino said as he had fully taken in Sho's length and had gotten used to that feeling.

“Don’t move yet,” Sho groaned.

“But I want to move,” Nino got inpatient.

He wanted to continue spreading those awesome, excited feelings, he wanted to make Sho feel good, wanted to make himself to feel good but Sho claimed that he needed some time to get used to the sensation. Nino joked of getting his revenge for what had happened to him before but Sho just smirked and took over the lead again, rolling both of them over carefully until Nino was lying beneath Sho again, his back pressed into the soft bed sheets, their lower bodies still connected. Sho covered Nino's lips with a tender kiss while he moved slowly against the other's body, seeking for even more closeness.

“Brat,” Sho whispered and Nino's cheeks felt like they were burning.

His breath became short and his heart rate rose when Sho began moving tenderly, triggering so many good feelings that Nino almost forgot everything about the world around them. This! He had wanted this so much...

Sho was moving slowly, his lips and hands were everywhere, caressing and kissing Nino, increasing the boy's happiness and excitement with each little contact. The older brought Nino's feet up to his hips to make the position more comfortable for Nino and the younger settled them around Sho's waist almost naturally, pressing him slightly closer. He reached out with his hands, touching Sho's warm skin lovingly. He wanted to feel more of Sho, wanted to have him closer, and deeper, as deep as possible. Sho settled his arms around Nino, supporting his lower back, pressing them even closer to intensify the sensations more as his speed increased gradually, driving them closer to the edge.

Heaven must feel like this, Nino thought, when he and Sho finally reached their climax, Nino throwing back his head, holding his breath while Sho was screaming in pleasure as he came inside his belly. After a few seconds on their joined high, Nino slowly came back to his senses and when he opened his eyes again, he looked right into Sho's warm, brown eyes, his red flushed face, so beautiful.

Right now, Nino was so filled with love for that man that he feared his heart could explode. He wanted to belong to Sho completely and he wanted Sho to completely belong to him. They were so perfect together, weren't they? How much did Nino wish he could just once be brave enough to say such words of love to Sho?

“You’re mine…,” Sho suddenly said, surprising Nino who then looked at the other a bit irritated.

But the irritation didn't last long since Sho's words were fitting into Nino's thoughts just so perfectly at this very moment. As if the other had read his mind, Nino thought, and before he knew what he was doing, Nino had cupped Sho's face, having eyes only for the other.

“Yes, I’m yours,” he whispered and it was the truth.

- - Tokyo, Harajuku; January 19, 2015; 10.10 am - -

“Guys, really, what are you doing?! Come up here, finally!” Jun's voice pulled Nino out of his thoughts and with his flushed, deeply red face Nino pulled his foot out of Sho's grip when the other looked upstairs. Jun had stepped into the stairwell and looked down from two floors above them.

“We're there in a minute, your clumsy brother fell down the stairs and twisted his ankle,” Sho explained and Nino almost reached out to slap the other. He didn't need to tell it like that, really!

“Nino, are you OK?” Jun asked worried.

“I'm OK,” Nino answered and sighed.

“Come on, I'll help you,” Sho offered Nino a hand to stand up. “Can you walk?”

“I think I can, thanks,” Nino answered, but Sho had already put one of Nino's arms around his shoulder and his own arm wrapped around the other's waist, the sudden close body contact almost triggering a heart attack with Nino.

“You are really clumsy.”

“You said that three times now, thanks. I know it, alright?!” Nino reacted maybe a bit too annoyed and struggled to get rid of Sho's help, but the other refused to let go of Nino and with his arm firmly laid around him, helped him up the stairs.

As they arrived on the 3rd floor, Jun scolded Nino too for his carelessness and Nino wanted to run away but of course, he couldn't. During the next few hours, Jun and Ohno had to be separated – of course, because they didn't want to see each other's suits so that they could surprise each other on the day of their wedding. With that, it was the designers', employees' and of course, Sho and Nino's task to check on the two of them, to guide them into the right direction so that the two suits of the bridal pair would fit together perfectly in the end.

Jun was really annoying, Nino thought, acting like a diva. He freaked out on little details. If something wasn't perfect, Nino almost feared that his big brother would burst into tears. He knew that people who were getting married tend to get nervous and emotional during their wedding preparations but honestly, Nino had thought that this applied only to women. How wrong he had been...

Ohno on the other hand was really uncomplicated, he tried on everything that the shop's employees recommended, everything was fine for him. Nevertheless he made a good figure in all of those suits. But then, each time when Jun freaked out over a detail of the suit he was trying on right then, Ohno had to try something new – because the suits weren't compatible any longer – and with that, Ohno's mood soon got worse with each new suit he had to try on.

In Nino's opinion, the most irritating of all though was Sho. Sho kept an eye on him every minute, as if he was afraid that he could hurt himself again. He wasn't that clumsy, Nino thought. Well, he appreciated Sho's concern but he was also completely irritated by his behavior. Two days before, the other had taken care of him as he needed help, he had kissed him, then he had been acting distant, then sent him a mail and now, Sho was taking care of him again, even if Nino had assured him that his foot didn't hurt any longer and he could take care of himself.

After a few hours, Nino felt like being in a madhouse and tried to ignore the other around him while giving his opinions about Jun's and Ohno's suits to the employees of the designer. Unfortunately, because of copyright issues, Nino wasn't allowed to take pictures of the clothes with his camera and so, all that was left was to wait.

Another few hours later, Jun finally found the perfect suit – a beautiful white one, classy but also with some detailing of beautiful patterns, perfect with a small beautiful bouquet of the flowers that Jun and Ohno had chosen at Nana's shop, for the front pocket. It didn't take long to find the perfect counterpart for Ohno – a similar suit with similar patterns but all in silver instead of white. The two of them didn't know about the other's suit yet but Nino and Sho assured them that they looked gorgeous and that they would look even more gorgeous when they would stand in front of the altar on their big day. Jun, overly happy, ordered a few small changes on his suit so that it would fit his size perfectly and Ohno did the same as well, even if there wasn't much to change.

Nino had to gulp down a few tears in order not to start crying, somehow, he just felt so overwhelmed and touched as he imagined his precious brother and his precious friend finally getting married, after so many years. He was so damned happy for them, he almost forgot his own sorrows.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

 

Sho's POV

- -Tokyo, Sunshine Building; January 17, 2015; 10.30 pm - -

Sho really tried to not think too much about the kiss they exchanged in the elevator. But for so many reasons it was impossible.

At first, it hurt his good conscience.

He kissed someone else’s boyfriend and he hated that. Generally speaking, he especially hated the fact that Nino had a girlfriend, but actually it was pretty obvious and ordinary for a man of his age. Not a second Sho hoped to find a single man, ready to be seduced by his old flame. He didn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore…who would be idiotic enough to long for somebody after so many years? Except him, yeah. He knew that Nino had someone and yet he didn’t manage to control his desire more than 3 hours in a row. He felt pitiful and pathetic.

Sho had the feeling to take advantage of the sudden weakness of Nino to quench the insane thirst he still had for him. If the latter didn’t reject him, it didn’t help to appease Sho’s tortured mind. When they were younger he had more than his share of this damn guiltiness and still today he had the feeling of being punished for those years spent at heaven’s door. Being in love with a man he couldn’t have, couldn’t touch or even see was like living in hell. And now he had to live by his side, finally separated from Aoi but knowing that Nino was already taken. What an irony.

This wedding of his best friends was a new test he had to succeed and to be honest, he wasn’t sure at all to be able to keep his mouth shut until the ceremony. As long as Aoi was in his life it was easy. He had to hide his feelings as it was matter of fact. But now that they were about to divorce nothing should hold him back, he could confess the love he always felt for Nino. Would it help him to find some peace of mind? He couldn’t bet on it. Sometimes, truth hurt far more than a lie, he knew that.

But the kiss… it had been wonderful and it was another reason for his anger. How could Nino be such a wonderful kisser, why was it so intense when Nino felt nothing else than distrust for him? He could be seduced so easily, he was still so sensual, it drove Sho crazy. Like at that time, he was so fast to abandon himself in Sho's arms.

When they were together the question haunted Sho endlessly. If Nino had met someone else, another friend of Jun, maybe a girl, would he still have chosen Sho to be his first lover? Certainly not. And now that he was with that Nana girl, was he faithful to her? Sho refused to think about it or it would drive him mad once again. It was senseless, thought the man, to be so indifferent about the lover of his own wife and to be so jealous about his former lover’s hypothetical affairs.

When they returned to the main floor after the elevator incident he had been so full of hope, still on a cloud that the sudden reminiscence of this girl’s existence popping in his head devastated him.
Should he call her too to tell her that Nino felt sick? He was about to ask but he thought that if it was necessary, Nino would do it himself. It would definitely be too awkward, wouldn't it? Did Nino speak his name in front of her? Did he tell her that he liked men before, that his first lover was no one else than his brother’s friend, his job partner at the hospital? He sincerely hoped that Nino kept the secret. It belonged to their common past, sharing it with his actual lover would soil this cherished memory. Aoi knew about it, but that was different. She was Sho's best friend and more than once she comforted him when Nino had broken his heart.

- - Tokyo, Sakurai House; January 18, 2015; 10 pm - -

Sho had barely slept the night following the elevator incident and he finally sent Nino a mail to be sure that he was fine. In spite of the years apart, he still felt the need to make sure that Nino was fine. What an idiot he was. Under a fallacious pretext he asked him if he felt better but the answer never came.

He had worked all day long, consultation after consultation, meeting after meeting without taking more than ten minutes to grab a bite. He barely saw Jun who was out of town and when he came back home, he had a pleasant surprise of seeing Aoi sitting on the floor among dozens of pictures.

“Welcome back.”

Clover ran to her, licking her cheek before slouching by her side.

“What are you doing?”

Sho took off his knitted jacket and his tie, before sitting on the couch behind his wife. She joined him, a photo album in her hand.

“I’m organizing our photo albums, I’d like to do some copies if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t, but Okada?”

“He will understand,” she said with a nostalgic smile. “Look. This is you and Ohno in High School. What were you doing exactly?”

Sho took the picture displaying two teenagers smiling to the camera in Yankee’s disguise. “It was the school festival, we played the Yankees.”

“I never understood how two so different men could be such good friends.”

“It’s a long story.”

“And this,” she nestled against him and they watched the pictures of their splendid wedding. They had been so unease back then, as if they were ready to run away.

“How was it yesterday? Did you talk to him?” Aoi asked.

“I… we got stuck in an elevator for three hours.”

“No way! So you told him?!”

“Things are complicated,” Sho said as if it was enough to explain the entire situation. “But… we kissed.”

“Way to go!” Aoi chuckled and gazed at him. “Isn’t it?”

“He has a girlfriend.”

“Oh…”

“Yes.”

“But you kissed.”

“He was panicked, it didn’t mean anything for him.”

“Don’t give up, Sho. Or I will feel guilty until the end of my life,” Aoi added maliciously.

“I’ll do my best to ease your conscience.”

“Good boy.”

Sho smiled, ignoring the slight pinch of guiltiness he felt for this white lie. Nothing was possible with Nino and he was perfectly aware of it. He had to keep his distance and leave him alone, it was too late to fix their tumultuous relationship.

Tokyo, Harakuju; 19, January, 2015; 09.30

“How are you guys?” Sho had never seen his friends together so frequently since the time when they were students. It was unexpectedly fun despite of Jun’s stress.

“We’re fine. But Jun is angry,” Ohno said, while hugging his friend.

“I’m not angry. I’m irritated, it’s different.”

“Tell me,” Sho said, amused.

“My dear fiancé will be sent to Africa for a job.”

“Nat Geo?!”

Ohno nodded and Sho hugged him once more. “It’s great news! When?”

“Next month for about four weeks.”

“Are you fearing for the wedding’s preparations?” Sho asked Jun.

“He’s not, he’s simply afraid that something happens to me,” Ohno snaked his arm around his lover’s waist.

“You can’t pretend that nothing happens out there,” Jun sulked.

“Oh-chan is a cautious man when it’s about work.”

“Anyway, I’m totally confident about the wedding. We still have plenty of time and I’m positive that Nino and you will do a great job.”

“By the way…,” Sho looked around. “Where is he?”

“Late. As always,” Jun groaned.

At least it was a small building, thought Sho, considering the possible after-shock state Nino might still be in from the panic attack, the travel to the highest level would be short. The other arrived five minutes later and without losing time, the future husbands walked into the building.

Sho approached the new incomer slowly. “Did you get my mail? I wasn’t sure if I got the correct address.”

“Uhm, ah yeah…thanks. It’s the right one, I was just too busy with work to answer, sorry.”

It was disappointing somehow but Sho couldn’t pretend that their relationship allowed him to request an answer. Nino was certainly still embarrassed and perhaps angry?

“Guys, what are you doing? Come on!”

They entered the building and Nino followed Jun and Ohno to the elevator but when the doors slid open, he stepped back.

“I’ll take the stairs if you don’t mind. I am lacking of exercise lately, I’ll meet you up there,” he said.

Jun looked at Sho, surprised and Sho frowned. Did he have the right to be worried for Nino? He had decided to keep his distance with him but if Nino kept on being so touchy and waking up his protective side, it would become very complicated…

Without thinking further, he followed him.

“Nino wait! You have problems with the elevator, right?” Sho caught up to Nino and gently put his hand on his arm. “Don’t worry, it happens after a panic attack.”

He tried to be as reassuring as possible, hoping that Nino would accept to come back to the elevator with him. If he didn’t face his fear now, he would let time pass by and only God knew when he would be able to ride in one again. As a friend, as a doctor, Sho wanted to help Nino.

“You need to get used to riding the elevator again. As soon as possible.”

“I know!” Nino eructed and turned his heel, taking the stairs resolutely.

Before Sho could react, the man suddenly fell and then, he was moaning with pain. Sho ran to him and immediately checked his ankle which Nino seemed to have sprained, but fortunately, he wasn’t seriously hurt.

“Gosh, you’re still so careless! You have to take care about yourself, Nino!”

Sho was so angry with himself suddenly. Again, he had been so afraid for Nino, how could he keep his distance if he persisted to be so careless?! Impossible. Jun entered the stairwell some floors above to ask them to hurry and Sho yelled a bit more. Out of mind and without asking for permission, he put his arm around Nino’s waist to help him to climb the stairs.

“You are really clumsy,” Sho repeated again and again.

Falling down the stairs, was that better than taking a damn elevator?! He wanted to piggy back him at first but he knew that Nino wouldn’t endure it, he sounded so furious with him. Sho knew, he was too emotional, that his behavior was unreasonable but he figured out deep in his heart, he blamed Nino.
If he didn’t leave the country so precipitously years ago, if he had listened to Sho, if he had accepted to stay with him, Sho would have protected him like he promised. He would have been by his side when he had fallen deep, he would have been here when his father passed away… he would have kept away the terror that Nino surely was feeling now.

But Nino preferred falling down the stairs and worrying him. Nino preferred this damned Nana girl. Sho felt Nino’s heart beating against his own ribcage, he felt his warmth against him and his heart constricted. He forgot how being in love with Nino was painful. How physically painful it was not to touch him, not to be allowed to kiss him when he was dying to do so.

“I can walk by myself,” Nino said, once on the workshop’s threshold, visibly embarrassed that Ohno and his brother took this kind of tender gesture from Sho for granted.

“You know, years are passing by but you’re still the little brother of the bunch,” Sho said in an undertone while Jun shook the stylist’s hand. He saw Nino blushing again, opening the mouth to argue once more but Sho stepped forward at his turn to greet the stylist.

“Do you have something in particular in mind? We have a lot of choices for men. This is a man-man wedding isn’t it?”

“Exactly. Actually I consulted your website and I made a list,” Jun said, taking out a bloc note.

Nino chuckled nervously while Sho laughed out loud quickly followed by Ohno. Jun looked at them ominously.

“Sorry Babe, it’s irresistible. You’re so cute… in a creepy way,” Ohno said patting Jun’s head. The latter grinned and handed the list to the stylist.

“I see. Would you like to try some suits? Separately to preserve the surprise?”

“I’ll be with Ohno and you can help Jun?” Sho proposed to Nino who nodded in agreement.

The stylist took care of Jun first, seemingly he knew who would be the most difficult to satisfy. Sho and Ohno wandered around the large fitting room, admiring the numerous and classy suits hung on the wall.

“What would you like?” Sho asked, taking a glance at his friend.

“Something light-colored? Jun is pretty traditional, he will surely go with a white suit, right?”

Sho grinned gently. “You’re amazing, you know? You know each other so well, you’re so different but so… benevolent regarding the other.”

“We’re a couple for years…,” Ohno shrugged with an embarrassed smirk.

“That’s not the only reason. Lots of couple are splitting up after years, ignoring what united them before. But you two are different. You’ve become closer with the years.”

Sho didn’t mention about Aoi and him, obviously, but Ohno sent him a smile full of compassion.

“And I’m glad about your contract with Nat Geo, it’s a dream come true, right?”

“It is. Thanks.”

“Who would have thought that we would be here together one day?” Sho said with nostalgia. They were so different, Aoi was right and they weren’t that talkative, their friendship was kind of a miracle after so much time.

“Stop it already or I’m gonna cry. I tend to cry for nothing nowadays so if you begin to talk about High School…”

“Okay, okay, my bad. So this suit? Grey pearl?”

“It will be perfect.”

The stylist came back to them after a moment and raved about Ohno’s perfect body, turning around like a shark around a safety boat, pretending he could be a model.

“I bet you told this to his future husband too, isn’t it?” Sho mocked him but the man was dead serious.

“Indeed. And according to my humble opinion, you and the other best man could be too. It will be such a pleasure to dress you all!”

Ohno tried a suit and Sho took advantage of the moment of freedom to sneak into the other fitting room. Ohno was right, Jun was wearing a white suit and Nino was nowhere to be seen.

“What do you think about it?” Jun asked eyeing his silhouette in the mirror.

“I like it. It fits you very well, it’s very… wedding-like and Oh-chan will love it. Where is your brother?”

“He’s trying a suit,” Jun pointed at the cubicle behind him.

“Did he~”

When Sho turned the head, Nino opened the curtain and appeared in a dark grey suit, with a blue tie untied on his white shirt, looking gorgeous. Sho swallowed hard, trying in vain to remember what he was about to say.

“Sho? Sho!”

“Ah yes, what?” Sho whirled around to face Jun.

“What were you about to say?”

“I…whatever.”

“Did you try something?”

“No, I wanted to discuss with Nino before deciding on our suits.”

“You’re right. Nino? Show me,” Jun walked to his brother tying his necktie automatically before stepping back to admire him. “You’re very beautiful. Right, Sho?”

“He is. Indeed,” Sho mumbled awkwardly.

“Here,” Jun handed him a similar suit, not totally alike but in the same nuance of grey.

Sho took it and went back to Ohno who had the stylist at his feet.

“The legs are a bit too long but it’s really splendid!” The man drooled, noticeably under a spell.

Sho passed by and hid himself in the cubicle, taking advantage of the curtain to pull himself together. He shouldn’t be that disturbed, it had to cease and the sooner the better.

“Do you need some help?” The stylist asked and Sho tsk-ed. This man was definitely too invasive and yeah, too aggressive for him.

He put on the pants and the jacket, struggling nervously with the necktie. The curtain moved again and Sho groaned against the zealous artist, grabbing the material to keep it in place when it was Nino who barged into the cubicle.

“I thought you would need help. For the necktie… you know,” Nino pointed at the necktie hanging loosely around Sho's neck. “But perhaps, did you learn?”

“I… no I still don’t know how to do it. If you don’t mind.”

Nino skillfully took the two sides of the material and began to knot the necktie, looking down, his eyes focused on his task.

“I’m sorry…,” Sho whispered, his heart manhandled by this unexpected proximity.

“What for?”

“For still being helpless with a necktie.”

“I don’t mind.”

“For earlier in the stairs, I yelled at you.”

Nino chuckled and pulled up Sho’s collar to slide the necktie. “I’m used to it. You yell at me each time I’m in danger. It’s your way to be protective. I guess.”

“You’re right,” Sho admitted with a gentle smile. “I’m sorry for the kiss too.”

“Don’t. I know it didn’t mean anything, you just tried to comfort me.”

Holy God, why was it so hard to convey his feelings, thought Sho. “I feel bad for your girlfriend. You don’t have to tell her, you know.”

“My girlfriend?”

“That Nana girl.”

“What?” Nino chuckled. “Nana isn’t my girlfriend, Sho!”

“She’s not?!” Okay, his reaction was a bit bold and a bit too revealing but Sho was so happy to hear that.

“She’s my friend, my best friend and my colleague too. But no… she’s not.”

An awkward silence fell between the two men. Perhaps it was his lucky day, thought Sho, he lost so many time before, already.

“Nino, I~”

“Gentlemen?”

The irritating stylist disturbed them again and Sho was about to gently send him to hell when Nino took advantage of it to leave the cubicle. He was always so talented in running away at the best time…

In the end, as expected, Ohno was willing to try absolutely everything the stylist was ready to propose and if Nino and Sho weren’t there, only God knew what he would have tempted. They finally selected four suits, one for each of them and when they exited the shop, Nino walked to the stairs again but Sho grabbed his arm firmly, dragging him to the elevator.

“Don’t give up, Nino. I’ll be there, all you have to do is focusing on something positive. We already did it, the both of us. If you can take it, you can make it, remember?”

Nino’s face flushed suddenly and he didn’t even struggle when he felt Sho gently grabbing his elbow to lead him to the damn elevator for a new ride.

Tokyo Medical University; June 21, 2006; 10:25 am

“Sho, are you daydreaming?”

“Ah, no, sorry Jun.”

Sho came back to his bench-top, cautiously pouring the solution just created by Jun. Protected by the thick glasses they watched the liquid maturing and changing color.

“Tell me… this ugly green is normal, right?” Sho said skeptically.

“Didn’t you ask for a wit-sharpening potion?”

“Put away your cauldron, Harry Potter…,” Sho smirked, mocking Jun’s addiction for the wonderful Wizard World of Harry Potter.

“If you can zero in our chemistry lesson for more than ten minutes, I’ll probably be able to do that too.”

“I am focused.”

“Sho, are you in love?” Jun asked out of the blue, breaking the implicit rule of respecting the private life between them. “Satoshi doesn’t want to answer so… you know it’s not that I mind but please, please don’t drag our partnership down because of a girl.”

Sho tilted his head, wondering if telling Jun the truth like he was dying to, would be the solution. But to tell what? He couldn’t say, he was Nino’s boyfriend, their relationship wasn’t that defined, it was complicated. They still kissed, they watched some movies and slept together in the same bed from time to time, like they already did before the holidays in Switzerland and they made love too but they had two perfectly separated lives.

Nino had High School and now college, his music and perhaps friends and Sho had university, his family and a fiancé. Those two universes never met, expect from their studying sessions and when they met secretly, what for, Sho tended to think. Not once, Nino asked for a commitment, not once Sho confessed.

Yet, he smiled for himself, thinking of the wonderful night they spent three days ago.

Tokyo Medical University Campus Café; June 17, 2006; 4:00 pm

Months passed, the situation was harder to withstand for the older and when Nino’s birthday approached, he decided to make a move. Then, finally it came. But Nino wasn’t at home and Sho came back to his apartment to discover Jun and his own roommate making out in his kitchen. He screamed and exited the flat rapidly, horrified and somehow amused by his friends’ inventiveness. He sent a message to Aoi and she accepted to meet him in a little coffee shop on the campus. She recently started university and she loved her student life. Sho hoped, it would ease his difficult task.

They talked a lot, exchanging latest news (they rarely found time for this kind of outing) and Aoi touched the subject first.

“What happened, Sho?”

“I… I met someone and I’m in love.”

She reached out and caressed his hand. “It’s great news!!”

“You think so? And what about us? Our wedding?”

“We still have three years ahead at least. Who knows where we will be in three years? Enjoy this love story.”

“I don’t know if it’s a love story, you know, we never confessed.”

“So make the first move. Perhaps it is only he is shy? Try your luck.”

“And if he rejects me?”

“…I guess… you’ll know. It’s better than ignoring the truth, right?”

“You’re right, thanks. I’ll do that. I wanted to make something for his birthday today, but he’s not at home.”

“Who said you couldn’t celebrate someone’s birthday a few days later?”

- - Tokyo, Business College Campus; June 18, 2006; 10.25 am - -

After Jun told him that Nino was at college this Saturday to work on some project together with his colleagues from a course, Sho was waiting for Nino in front of the campus to pick him up. His heart was beating hectically. He blamed himself for being so emotional, so hopelessly romantic. But Nino managed to reveal a totally previously ignored side of his personality.

Nino exited the college building with two girls, one of them holding his arm as if he was more than a mere comrade. Sho shut down the pinch of jealousy, which was increasingly frequent since Nino entered his life. He stepped forward and when he crossed Nino’s gaze the latter smiled and crossed the street to join him on the sidewalk after a quick wave to the girls.

“We had a lesson today?” Nino asked surprised.

“Nope. But it was your birthday yesterday, I thought we could celebrate.”

“Celebrate?!”

“Absolutely. Jun and Oh-chan are busy tonight so… I’ll drive you home and then you will leave your bag and dress a bit more casually so that we can head elsewhere, okay?”

Nino nodded enthusiastically and less than ten minutes later they were passing the threshold of Nino and Jun's apartment. Nino tossed his shoes into a corner and put his arms around Sho’s neck to kiss him eagerly. Sho pushed him gently.

“If you begin this way, we will never go anywhere. Go now, I’ll wait for you.”

He didn’t miss the look of disappointment but Sho knew he was right. For once he wanted a real outing, not only a sex session… even if he had to struggle to not lay Nino down right here and right now. Truth to be said, he couldn’t get enough of his body and it frightened him. How could he be so sure that it was not only desire that he felt for him?

“Where are we going?” Nino asked, getting ready his things in the living room.

“It’s a surprise.”

Sho thought a lot about the ideal place to go and he figured out that he had zero imagination. Where the couples went for a date? He had called his joker, Aoi and she mocked him, suggesting a place that every young couple would visit once.

=+=

“An aquarium? Really?!” Nino turned around, arching an eyebrow.

“Did you already visit it?”

“With school once.”

“Oh… we could go somewhere else if you want, perh~”

Nino laughed and grabbed Sho’s wrist to drag him inside. The place was almost empty, with only some young couples (like Aoi said) and old people taking their daily walk along the covered corridors. It was spectacular and for a long time, they wandered inside the maze-like tunnels where they could observe the fishes from beneath.

Sho ignored almost everything about the fishes but he was talented in following a map and after about an hour they sat on a bench, facing a giant fish tank. Sho opened his back pack and handed a small package to Nino.

“Melon pan?”

“A birthday cake didn’t fit in my back pack,” Sho whispered and Nino pecked his lips taking advantage of the emptiness of the place.

“Don’t do that Nino.”

“Why?”

“We’re not alone. What if someone who knows us sees us?”

Nino looked around, skimming the unoccupied room.

“There are cameras all around,” Sho pointed out.

“Oh.”

“Let’s go,” Sho said, rising to exit the place. “So what are we doing now?”

“I thought you planned everything?” Nino arched an eyebrow.

“I left a room for improvisation…”

“I can ask for anything?”

“You can ask for anything.”

Sho wondered what Nino would wish for. Probably going back home to spend a lazy, sexy evening.

“I want to ride that,” Nino pointed at the horizon where a huge big wheel drew a shadow on the floor, touching their feet.

“…Okay.”

The younger began to walk faster and Sho followed unwillingly. He was pretty bad with height and Nino knew it. He knew it, right? Like he knew that Nino was bad with confined place. They surely had talked about it... or didn't they? So why are they riding in this traveling coffin?!

Nonetheless, Sho got the tickets and the man at the big wheel closed the door as they took their seats on the bench in a cabin. Nino put his both hands on his knees and looked at Sho straightforwardly. The machine began to move with a big noise of metal and the younger closed his eyes.

“You know I’m really helpless with high places, right?” Sho asked clearly, making Nino jolt.

“Are you?! But why did you accept to climb in then?”

“Because you asked me to… why did you ask?”

“To be alone with you,” Nino said sheepishly.

“Oh God… and now we’re stuck here for… how long?”

“Twenty minutes. At least.”

“Okay,” Sho breathed deeply. “My father always says “If you can take it, you can make it”, let’s keep that in mind.”

“You’re right. Let’s take it.”

“It’s a good idea. Somehow. We could talk to think about something else? You begin?”

Nino was thinking for a moment before he asked. “Do you like being a doctor?”

“Well, technically speaking I am not a doctor yet but yes, it’s a dream I always had. I’d like to help people and that’s basically what doctors are doing. What’s yours?”

“I don’t have any dream for the future,” Nino said firmly, looking outside where the roofs of the house began to appear. “And I’m studying economics to take over my father’s business. Not that I hate the idea but it’s also not as if I have much of a choice.”

“You always have the choice. Your father seems to be a good man, he will allow you to change your major if you ask him.”

“What would I do?”

“Why not something artistic? You’re talented in music and I saw the short movie you created for the High School festival, it was great.”

Nino jerked and gazed at Sho. “You think?”

“I’m positive.”

“What kind of movie was it?” Nino smirked.

“…The samurai movie? Something with a very stoic character.”

Nino burst out laughing and Sho felt a weight falling off his shoulders. As long as he didn’t look at the scenery outside, as long as he was with Nino, he could control his fears.

“I’m not that stoic,” murmured Nino with a seductive smile.

Sho leaned forward and put his two hands on Nino’s thighs before kissing him gently, unable to resist longer. “With you, I’m not either.”

Nino moaned into the kiss and moved a bit to lean against the backrest, clearly inviting Sho to a deeper exploration.

“Are we…,” whispered Nino, his eyes blurred by a desire he couldn’t hide, “Alone here?”

Sho rubbed the already firm bulge misshaping Nino’s pants and the latter gulped desperately.

“Was it your plan?” Sho murmured against his lover’s lips.

Nino shook his head quickly, yet opening his thighs wider despite of himself, seeking for a stronger caress. Sho kissed him again, opening his lips to allow his tongue to play with Nino’s, enjoying his muffled groans of pleasure. He slowly knelt down onto the floor between Nino’s parted legs without breaking the suffocating kiss. He used his both hands to quickly free his lover’s erection from the confining clothing, smiling as it sprang between his thighs.

“Now show me your stoic resistance, Samurai,” Sho whispered.

A condom magically appeared from his pocket, which he unfolded without a look onto Nino’s shaft. He lowered his head and licked the length of it slowly, sensually. Nino caught his breath with a gasp when Sho took him into his mouth. Nino moaned and arched his back up into Sho’s hand as he swirled his tongue around the head of Nino’s long, straight erection and swallowed him down.

Sho smiled and released him only to recapture the swollen head with his lips and strum the delicate underside with his tongue. He observed Nino’s face from beneath, his own desire fed by the look of ecstasy he could read from it. He resumed his administrations with Nino caressing his hair, calling his name softly.

“We’re going down…,” Nino stuttered.

“So… you should better release quickly or we’ll be found out.”

“Oh God…”

Sho took off the condom and wrapped his hand around the turgescent member, making fast to and fro movement to achieve his goal. Soon, Nino screamed and freed his semen into Sho’s hand, his entire body tensing under the violence of his orgasm.

Sho took out a package of tissue and cleaned the mess they made while Nino was catching his breath with difficulty. He put the softening member back into his shelter of cotton without a word, enjoying this delicious moment of lustful intimacy.

When Sho raised, Nino wrapped his arms around his waist strongly, putting his cheek against Sho's stomach.

“Nino…,” Sho caressed Nino’s hair after a second of confusion, startled by this gesture of tenderness when he almost expected a passionate kiss. “Let’s go back to your place after this.”

They made love all night long, surprised by dawn’s arrival, surprised by the way they couldn’t get enough of each other despite their bruised skins, their sore bodies and the absence of sweet words. These words were stuck in Sho’s throat, laid on the tip of his tongue and once again he blamed himself for his cowardice. Did he have the right to drag Nino into his complicated family life, with the knowledge of what they would have to deal with once the truth was revealed? He would be a pariah among his own people while Nino was craving for nothing else more than for a well-balanced family. He was still so young…

Sho cuddled him and let him slowly catch up with his sleep, promising to himself that he would confess the day he perceive Nino’s behavior to be something else other than a physical desire.

- - Tokyo Medical University; June 21, 2006; 10.25 am - -

“Sho, are you in love?” Jun’s voice woke him up from his reverie.

“I… am,” Sho breathed deeply wondering how the other would react when he spoke his brother's name.

“Oh Gosh, that’s the season… Nino is in love too.”

“W…What? With whom?”

“A girl from his college. I came back home sooner, the other day and they were kissing on the couch. I already found condoms a few days ago when I washed his clothes but I didn’t know he had a girlfriend. Did he tell you?”

Sho’s heart constricted painfully. He was the only one who bought condoms usually, it was his prerogative. So if Nino bought these condoms…

“No. He didn’t.”

“But tell me about you? Is it the girl you’re dating? What’s her name… Aoi-chan?”

“I… no it’s someone else.”

“Such a lady killer,” Jun smiled and patted Sho’s shoulder, ignoring that he had just stabbed his friend.

- - Tokyo, Harajuku; January 19, 2015; 0.30 pm - -

Sho observed Nino exiting the elevator, hiding a smirk of victory. The other didn’t panic even if during the ride Sho could feel Nino's arm slightly trembling against his.

“Well… we have another square to cross out!” Jun said satisfied that things worked so well with the stylist. “I guess it was the last thing we had to do together for now. Satoshi and I have decided to leave the rest to you, except – of course - if you ask for help.”

“Really?!” Sho looked for Nino’s gaze and read the absolutely same expression. Where was the trick?

“My dear future husband asked me to be more lenient. Let’s say, he’s not confident about my faculty to let things go, so this is my personal way to show him that from time to time, I can.”

“Nice proof of love,” Nino mocked him gently.

“So… for the dinner, the band for the party after the wedding ceremony, we leave the rest to you,” Ohno said with a bow.

“This is an honor. We’ll do our best,” Nino bowed at his turn and put on a pair of sunglasses. “I have to go back to the hotel guys. Have a nice day.”

He was still visibly shaken and Sho ran after him, finding him on the sidewalk, hailing a taxi.

“Nino! Wait!”

Nino turned around and putting his hands into the pockets of his coat stood still.

“How was the ride with the elevator?”

“…Better than expected, thanks. Perhaps I will sleep in my apartment again tonight?”

“You didn’t manage to ride your elevator? Why didn’t you call me?” As the question came out from his lips, Sho figured the ridiculousness of the situation. “I mean… you can. Call me.”

“I’ll think about it,” Nino raised the hand again with a skeptical smile. Sho grabbed his wrist.

“I mean it. Really. Call me. The day I promised you I will be there for you, it’s still true.”

Nino sighed irritated.

“Look, Sho… I know your wife left you for someone else but… I’m not a consolation prize. Not anymore. I told you that Nana wasn’t my girlfriend, it doesn’t mean I’m single or that I can be an easy-laid or a sex friend.”

Sho stepped back, his face suddenly closed. “We’ll have to endure each other’s presence for a while, I was simply trying to be polite,” he muttered immediately regretting his detached remark.

“Polite? You definitely are. But making a promise you couldn’t keep isn’t necessary.”

Nino sounded so hurt, so bitter… Sho swallowed hard. “I’m sorry for hurting you. But I always cared about you, I’m sincere.”

“Stop toying me! You can’t barge into my life this way after such a long time. Pretending to fix an unhealthy relationship, reminding me of those moments we spent together, hoping for what? I’m fine! Totally fine. So stop playing the doctor with me, as if all of a sudden everything could be wonderfully right because you appeared to save me. I’m not a teenager anymore.”

“...You’re so hard with me.”

Sho lowered his head to hide the pain he felt with this unexpected burst of honesty. Truth hurt, it was so true. But he couldn’t deny the fact that he was right. Things were too broken to be fixed and the fickle link they had, disappeared the day Nino turned his heel to travel around the world.

“Sorry,” Nino said in an undertone.

“Don’t be, you’re right. I can’t pretend to fix anything and I was very presumptuous to hope that you would need me. This is a mistake I won’t commit anymore.”

“Thanks.”

“Still… we have to do our best men work and if we could at least pretend to get along, Jun would really leave us alone. Nothing personal between us, no more memories, no more inappropriate and unnecessary comforting moments, just the wedding’s preparations. We could work on it separately and, I don’t know, twice a month we could exchange a phone call to see how things are going? I’ll have a conference to attend out of town and I’ll be absent for almost 15 days but...”

“It works for me. If you could find some pictures of Jun and Oh-chan in the meantime, it would help. I thought, we could display pictures of them all around the gallery.”

“The gallery?”

“I contacted the gallery where Oh-chan did his first exhibition to ask if we could use it as location for the wedding party, seems that it still exists…”

“It’s very considerate of you. They will like that.”

“I think so too. I… have to go now.”

“I know. Have a nice day.” Sho smiled awkwardly and whirled around.

“Sho!” Nino suddenly called out. “I’ll call you in 15 days.”

Sho kept on walking and as he was about entering the building again to join Ohno and Jun he changed his mind. He needed a drink. Now.

 

To be continued…

Chapter Text

Nino's POV

- - Tokyo, Harajuku; January 19, 2015, 00:40 pm - -

When Nino climbed into the taxi to get back to the hotel after meeting the others for the suits try-on, he was irritated. He was very much irritated by Sho’s behavior, by his own reaction toward that, by everything.

He had lost his composure in front of Sho – again – this time getting angry, almost furious. He had thrown words at Sho's face, accusations that he could imagine that have hurt the other, who usually was a nice guy who did never hurt other people on purpose. Usually. Nevertheless, Sho's apparently thoughtless behavior and his casually spoken words had hurt Nino, even if that maybe wasn’t Sho’s intention, and it had made Nino so angry that he wasn't able to keep in his thoughts.

Sho had offered to Nino that he could call him. Told him that he would be there for him, just like he promised years ago but for what? What did Sho want from him that he brought up the old broken promises? What did he look for? Did he want to go back to their “relationship”, did he want to sleep with him again on a casual basis like they used to do when they were younger? Sho even kissed him, right? But if all this was just for the purpose of having sex again, Nino didn't want to have to do anything with it any longer.

He didn't like to admit it still, but yes, he was dying to be back in Sho's arms, to feel his touches again, his kisses just like the one two days ago, which still felt like a dream somehow. He'd die to let himself get lost in Sho's embrace again, to let himself get carried away when they made love just like they did countless times since their first time in Switzerland that Nino would never be able to forget. But the young man wasn't willing any longer to let his heart get hurt by that man.

Nino wanted Sho, yes. He always wanted him and he still did. But not only his body, he also wanted Sho's heart. He couldn't tell him that, too afraid that Sho could laugh at him and tell him that all this was just about sex. More than that, after all those years, how could Nino demand a love relationship with that man? So sudden, when they had become even more estranged during the last few years than they already were before? There wasn't even a guarantee that things would work, even if they would love each other equally. It was just stupid to get up any hopes, Nino knew that. But he also didn't want to be just a sex friend or a time killer. He was not a damned consolation prize!

And exactly that was what he had told Sho. That and so much more. He had told Sho not to make empty promises, not to play with him and not to pretend to actually care about him. That he should stop trying to fix what was already too broken to be fixed.

Maybe, Nino had been a bit too direct. He had seen in Sho's eyes, that the other had been hurt by his words. Maybe, Sho really cared about Nino - as a friend - and Nino had been too harsh. But better, Sho knew now what Nino was thinking and stopped making halfhearted affords to get the younger laid again just for fun, than Nino falling into Sho's sweet trap again, and letting himself get hurt. He had been suffering enough already. He still was suffering.

Nino had apologized to Sho for his outburst and Sho – and that made Nino even angrier somehow – had been understanding and didn't get mad at him. Maybe he should have. They could have yelled at each other and maybe, they would feel better now or at least would understand each other better. But like how things went in the past, they just came up with a lousy compromise, dividing their best men tasks and planning to talk on the phone about their progress once in a while, pretending that they would get along.

They had mutually decided not to see each other for now. Nino truly wondered if this plan was even possible to keep up with as after stepping into the cab, he immediately felt the urge to look back at Sho. His heart cringed. Why must everything be so damned painful? He wanted to stop the taxi driver, to jump out of the cab and run into Sho's arms. He wanted to be brave and ask Sho, if he was maybe really sincere with Nino, if there was a chance that there was more than just the old flame for his yearlong sex friend that made him want to be with Nino again. But Nino was a coward, like always, preferring to run away from the uneasy situation.

In the end, he had only promised to call Sho because of the wedding preparations; the two men had to take care of. Nino would call him when Sho came back from some kind of conference, in 15 days. 15 days, in which they wouldn’t see each other and Nino was already quite sure that those 15 days would be pretty long. Was he already that used to see the other in spite of the uneasiness he felt in his presence? Was he really so addicted to that man? Nino cursed silently, burying his face in his hands. How should he keep this on? He would turn crazy sooner or later if nothing changed.

Nino was desperate, frustrated, he was angry and in a pretty bad mood for the rest of the day, hating himself and Sho, as well as the rest of the world. He locked himself up in his office in the hotel, making it pretty clear to his employees that he didn't want to be disturbed except for really urgent emergencies. Fortunately, nothing happened and when the evening came, Nino had calmed down a bit.

=+=

At least, one good thing that Sho had brought to the day - besides Nino's hurting heart and enormous confusion – the doctor had really helped him to overcome those ridiculous fears about riding an elevator just because it happened one time that he had gotten stuck. Sho had reassured Nino, he even proved to him that riding an elevator didn't automatically mean getting stuck in one. So there was no reason to panic, right?

Nino had considered the words, if he wasn’t irritated by thinking about them coming from the same man who made him so angry just a few hours ago, had helped him so much. He had not only been able to take the elevator in the hotel but he also was back in his apartment complex right now. He would be able to face the monster too, determined to go up there into his fucking pent house. It was his home after all, damn it!

He survived, even if he had become quite nervous after halfway through the ride, but thinking about what Sho had told him about breathing properly and thinking about something good had helped pretty well. Even if the “something good” had been Sho... which confused the other again somehow. Anyway, Nino would overcome this completely, he was sure about that. He wasn't that weak, right? He wouldn't let a stupid elevator defeat him and rule his life. He wasn't a helpless teen any longer. Damned, then why was he still so in need of that man?!

Nino showered to get rid of his thoughts and when he wanted to distract himself from the happenings of the day with some stupid television programs, his phone rang. First, Nino cringed, afraid that it could be Sho, who tried to call him but then, why should he? It was Nino's turn to call Sho... in 15 days.

The young man grabbed his phone and checked the caller's ID on the display.

“Ah, Nino? Are you alright?” he heard Nana's worried voice once he had picked up. ”I was in the hotel today to deliver some flowers and wanted to see you but Ishihara-san told me that you didn't feel well and didn't want to get disturbed. I was worried.”

“Sorry, Nana-chan,” Nino said. “I forgot, that today was flower delivery... Somehow, this wasn't my day.”

”What happened?” the girl asked concerned.

“Well... it's complicated...,” Nino started, not sure where to begin. He hadn't talked to his friend properly the last few days, so she wasn’t up to date. Nino had been too busy with his own thoughts...

“Nino, you know I never force you to talk if you don't feel like it but... You want me to listen?” the girl then offered in a soft voice and Nino didn't need another push to pour his heart out to his best friend, immediately.

He told her everything. Good that she knew most of his and Sho's story already as he had once told her everything during a pretty alcohol and confession heavy karaoke/drinking session that the two of them had a few years ago. She immediately could catch up with the happenings, understanding Nino's confusion, sorrow and frustration like no-one else could. It was somehow comforting to know that there was someone in this world who understood him, Nino thought. Even if he had Toma and Ohno, even the latter didn’t know all the details and Nino felt embarrassed to tell them. Sometimes, he wished he had met Nana earlier; his life might have been a bit less miserable.

When Nino reached the part of telling how Sho had mistook Nana as his girlfriend, the girl burst out laughing – but to Nino's surprise not because of Sho's stupid thinking but much more because of Nino's ignorance towards the nature of the misunderstanding.

”Come on, it's not such a big surprise that he thought we were together, we acted kinda close,” Nana chuckled.

“What? Well yeah, but not that much closer than usually.”

“May I say that I really love your naive side, Nino? But it makes you also pretty careless sometimes, sorry dear.”

“Eh? Careless?” somehow, this was trending to become Nino's taboo word of the year.

- - Tokyo, Ninomiya Hotel; March 21, 2011; 8.45 am - -

After recovering from the first shock of his father’s stroke, Nino had finally settled down again in Tokyo. Fortunately, his father had recovered quickly and had returned home just a few days ago. He even returned to work already today. Nino’s father loved his job and his hotel, he couldn’t bear taking much time off, even if he should take care of his recovery process properly. At least, Nino had made his father promise that he wouldn’t overdo it and that he would entrust the work to his substitute and to Nino if it was too much. His father took him at his words but instead of entrusting something specific to Nino, he signed him up for different jobs almost every day.

At first, Nino found it a bit strange and irritating to switch his job duties on an almost daily basis. It was a bit annoying that he even had to work as the lift boy a few days, and that he had to accompany the cleaning stuff to set up the rooms for the guests, or to wash dishes in the kitchen. But soon, he understood, why his father made him do all this work.

This wasn’t only to find out, which work would fit Nino best, this was also to learn what the work of his future employees felt like, so that Nino could take into consideration everything in the best way when it comes to organizing tasks later on. The young man experienced the hardship and the joy of each and every job in his father’s hotel. He got to know the staff personally, which was also very important, because he soon felt that having a personal relationship to them in one or another way made it easy to work with all of them. It created a pleasant working atmosphere.

Nino became friends with a lot of people and it was as if his shy personality bloomed into a more confident one with his roles. He learned how to act confident and responsible in front of other people. He learned how to encourage his colleagues and he learned how to treat the hotel’s guests the best, even if he had to put on an act. This sort of training was brilliant, Nino thought, it was efficient and made things easy to understand. And it finally made him like this job. It might still not be his dream job but he could understand his father’s affection for this kind of work more with each day he spent here. This was so much better than the halfhearted training Nino had put onto himself overseas.

The young man had to take care of organizing stuff regarding the hotel’s decoration today, namely to receive the new order of flowers and to arrange the exact placement of each and every one of it. He was dressed in a black and grey striped suit and wearing a golden yellow necktie as he was holding a list consisting of multiple sheets of paper in his hands. The list showed the exact number of flower arrangements that the hotel had ordered from the nearby flower shop “Yume no Hana” as well as a description which flowers were meant to be placed in which room and what other details he had to know.

When the door opened, there were three people coming in, each of them carrying a huge bunch of flowers – most likely for the hotel's restaurant, Nino thought as he saw them. He quickly took a few steps forward to welcome the business partners and introduced himself to the friendly woman in her 40s in the front who seemed to be the boss. She replied, introducing herself as well as her two staff members and Nino led them to the restaurant to place the flowers there.

Among the staff members of the flower shop there was a young woman, most likely around 20, who looked a bit lost and hectic in the whole situation. Maybe she was a newbie and Nino gave her an encouraging smile, knowing exactly, how she must feel, regarding the countless times he had switched his job and experienced another “first day” in Europe and America during the last two years. The young woman nodded thankfully, smiling back at him shyly.

When the group of florists went into the restaurant, the young woman suddenly tripped over a wrinkle on the carpet and lost balance. She squealed and squinted as she saw the fall coming. It was sheer luck that Nino was just walking a few meters away from her and so he could react quickly and stepped forward to prevent the young woman from crashing. The beautiful flower arrangement the woman was carrying got a bit crunched between her and Nino as he caught her in his arms, but fortunately, they weren't ruined and slowly, the young woman opened her eyes again. A strand of her hair that was loosely staked to a nice braid had fallen in front of her bright eyes.

“Ah, I'm so sorry,” the woman stuttered, stepping back as she found her balance again and bowed slightly in front of Nino.

“Watch out, it's dangerous,” Nino told her with another smile.

The young woman blushed sheepishly and nodded before she went back to work, this time paying more attention to her feet and the floor in order not to trip over again.

This had been Nino’s first encounter with Eikura Nana.

As Nino found out later, Nana had just graduated from women’s college at that time and started her job as a florist in her aunt’s shop on the day of their first meeting. Since she was new to everything, she was still a little clumsy at first but she was eager to learn her tasks and with her bright and friendly smile, she was soon winning over the shop’s customers’ hearts without any problems. That bright and cheerful nice girl would soon become an important part of Nino’s life. Of course, he didn’t know that back then. With the two of them meeting frequently because of their jobs in the following weeks and they got along pretty well with each other, they quickly developed a deep friendship.

- - Tokyo City; May 14, 2011; 9.35 pm - -

To tell the truth, Nino had no clue about the fact that Nana had a crush on him. Not until the day he went out with her on a date (not knowing that it actually was supposed to be a “date”) and she tried to kiss him.

Frankly, he was shocked. And confused. And sorry.

Nana had just asked him to go to a movie together with her the day before. This wasn’t the first time. They both liked movies and went to the cinema frequently, casually taking friends along - like Nino's buddy from the hotel, Toma for example or Mizukawa, a colleague from Nana - or not, just like things got together. Nino didn’t know that this time, Nana had only asked him exclusively to join her, so how was he supposed to realize that she was actually inviting him on a date?

Maybe, he should have gotten suspicious when he saw Nana arriving at their meeting spot, wearing a really cute dress, her hair done in an even more beautiful way and her discreet make-up a bit more flashy than usual. Or when she acted shy, cute, smiling at him even brighter and friendlier as usual. Or when she picked a sappy love comedy to watch after the two of them played rock paper scissors for the pick of movie and Nino lost.

But Nino didn’t get the hints, not at all. He had never minded to share popcorn with friends and he didn’t even question her actions as Nana clung to his arm or slightly leaned her head against his shoulder to cuddle a bit in the dark cinema. He knew – or let’s say, he thought – that girls just acted like that sometimes without having anything deeper in mind. After all, a lot of female friends from college had acted like that too with Nino. But maybe, he had been wrong.

Since it was dark already outside after the movie, and he didn’t want his friend to get into trouble, Nino offered Nana to bring her home, riding the bus together with her for a few stations, and walking her to her apartment complex. They chatted lively about the movie that both had found quite ridiculous in the end and laughed a lot. When they were walking side by side through a small park, Nana again clung to Nino’s arm. He didn’t wonder but just thought that she might be a little scared because of the dark and because they heard some Yankees hanging out nearby. He still didn’t get it.

Soon, Nana was fumbling in her bag to find her keys and shortly after, she unlocked the door to her apartment.

“Would you like to come in? I can make some tea,” the girl offered with a friendly smile.

“Ah, no thanks, I have to go home to make sure my father isn’t working still. You know, he's still such a workaholic. Good Night,” Nino said and waived his hand to say good bye before he turned around.

But Nana seemed to have other plans with Nino. She took a step forward and reached out to grab his wrist.

“Wait,” she whispered.

Nino stopped and turned around again, looking wondering into her bright eyes. Then suddenly, Nana stepped closer and leaned forward, slowly closing her eyes, her lips slightly parted. She came closer and closer, putting her hands onto the young man’s chest to find some support in an embrace and then, it hit Nino.

“Nana…,” he backed off a little, surprised. “Wha– what are you doing?” he asked to confirm, even if right now he was getting quite a precise idea of what was going on.

“Hm?” she looked at him confused; making puppy eyes and her cheeks slightly blushed. “I thought, we… could kiss good bye, maybe.”

“...What makes you believe that we should kiss?” the young man asked innocently, yet not realizing how much potential his words had to hurt someone else's feelings.

Nana’s eyes lost their sparkles suddenly and she blinked at him, wondering, slowly letting her arms sink again.

“Well… I like you,” she started. “And I’m sorry that maybe I misunderstood but… I thought, you like me too.”

Nino stared at her, shocked, as he realized that his suspicion on what was really going on was true. He looked into the disappointment in Nana’s eyes and wondered, did he ever do anything that made her think that he liked her in that way? But he just could not come up with an explanation, and everything must have been a huge misunderstanding. They acted close, yes, because he thought that they were close friends and because Nana was extroverted and cheerful. She liked to be clingy and close to him. He never minded that. But if he had known that she misinterpreted his compliance with her behavior as more than a friend’s affection...

Damned, he really should have been more careful. Hadn't there been a similar misunderstanding once? Nino remembered a girl from his class during his college time, whom he had invited to his and Jun's apartment to work on a project for their course together. Then, suddenly in the middle of working, the girl kissed him. Nino was so caught by surprise that at first he didn't react at all. When he came back to his senses, he gently pushed the girl away. After all, Sho was the only one he wanted to kiss. The next thing Nino remembered was a sharp slap on his face and the eyes of that college girl filled with tears over the disappointment of not finding in Nino what she had been searching for.

“Nana, oh my gosh, I – I’m so sorry, I -,” Nino started, guilt bubbling up his chest. “It's not, that I don't like you, but not in that way. I mean, Nana, look...“

On that evening, Nino had opened up to the girl he had come to like so much – as a friend at least. He apologized again and explained Nana, that even if he was deeply thankful for her feelings, it was impossible for him to answer them, since he liked men.

It was kind of a surprise for the girl to hear that, but only at first, fortunately. Once she got used to the idea, she understood immediately and at least didn't seem to be mad that her crush couldn't like her back the same way she did. In first place, they were friends and Nino’s sexual preference wasn’t his fault after all.

Actually, Nana even laughed again, when Nino admitted, that if he would be into girls, Nana would be the first he'd ask to be his girlfriend. She didn't know if the young man was serious or just being nice to comfort her, but his friendly words made the situation a bit easier to deal with and since that day, their friendship was even deeper than before.

- - Tokyo, Ninomiya Apartment; January 19, 2015; 08.30 pm - -

“It's really my fault, sorry. I was provoking it on purpose,”Nana admitted finally. ”To be honest, when I heard that your Sho-chan was coming along, I wanted to test him.”

“What?!” Nino asked, wondering if he really was so naive as not to get what Nana was talking about. And what was that about his Sho-chan? That sounded strange. It's not that Sho belonged to him... unfortunately.

”Didn't he get jealous?” the girl asked cheekily.

“Jealous?” Nino wondered. “I'm not sure, if he got jealous...”

”But he asked you about me, didn't he?”

“Yeah, because he thought that we betrayed you with the kiss. He said that he felt sorry for you.”

”Really? What a considerate guy,” Nana concluded and judging on her voice, Nino wasn’t sure, if her comment was sincere or just ironic.

“Anyway, he should be considerate before something like that happens,” Nino murmured.

”Would you like to kiss him again?” the girl asked out of the blue.

An awkward silence followed.

”Nino?”

What a stupid question, he thought.

- - Tokyo, Ohno & Matsumoto Apartment; January 31, 2015; 10.05 am - -

Smiling, Ohno placed a cup of coffee in front of Nino who had joined him for breakfast in his kitchen. Ohno had called Nino to ask him for a bit help with some wedding preparations that he wanted to get done before he left to Africa for his Nat Geo photo shooting in about a week.

“Bad timing, isn't it?” Nino started, taking a sip of his coffee. “Jun is still on that conference and then you have to leave for a month on - when was it - next Friday?”

Ohno sighed. “Yeah exactly. That means all in all, we can see each other only for three days in a time span of almost 6 weeks. I think we were never separated for so long before…”

“Sounds tough. Will you two be alright?” the younger asked.

“Of course! It's just -”

“You miss him,” Nino finished Ohno’s sentence understandingly.

“Yeah,” the older answered, letting his eyes wander to a photo calendar that was hanging next to the fridge, showing a picture of him and Jun. He then looked back to Nino. “What about you? Do you miss him already?”

“Who, Jun?”

“Idiot,” Ohno chuckled. “I mean Sho, of course. He's on that conference too.”

Nino almost choked on his coffee. Caught.

“Why should I?” he asked, trying to play down his reaction.

“Don't play dumb.”

“No, I don't miss him,” Nino answered coldly. “I didn't see him for almost 6 years and made it through. I'm pretty sure; I'll survive not seeing him for two weeks. Honestly, I wouldn't mind never seeing him again.”

So much to pretending to get along with Sho.

“Liar.”

And yes, he was a liar but Nino didn't want to admit in front of his friend that he was already desperately counting the days until Sho's return.

3 days left. It was just too embarrassed and so against his own plans that he was just irritated thinking about it. To be true, Nino had thought about calling Sho earlier or sending him a message to ask how he was doing but of course, he had forbidden himself to do that. He was supposed to be angry with him... or at least not too friendly. In addition, it wasn't as if Sho cared about the separation anyway; at least Nino didn't receive any signs of life at all from the other since their last meeting, not even a short mail... Sho didn't seem to bother, so why should him?

“Did you say something? I thought I heard something but it sounded so stupid that I already forgot what it was, sorry,” yeah, Nino could be really charming if he wanted to be.

“Did you two fight again?” Ohno asked but Nino didn't answer and so, he gave up.

It seemed pretty impossible to get Nino talking seriously about Sho, even if Ohno tried from time to time. He wanted to help his friend in some way or another but if the other didn't want to talk about it, it couldn't be helped, right? With that, the older let drop the topic - at least for now.

“Did you make a proper guest list already?” Nino then asked, obviously referring to the wedding ceremony and party. After all, Ohno had called him over today to help with some preparations.

Ohno nodded. “The list is done.”

“What about... your parents?” Nino carefully asking. “Will they come?”

“I don't know yet,” Ohno said honestly and stood up to get another cup of coffee, coming back with the pot, offering Nino some too. “I want to send them an invitation but I'm not sure how they will react. We didn't talk for years and they don't even react onto my New Year’s cards.”

Ohno sounded sad, Nino thought and of course, he understood the reason why. Nino still remembered it, the fiasco that his friend had created years ago when he had told his parents about his relationship with another man. Nino might only know from a second hand source, since back then it was Jun who told Nino about what had happened but he had always felt sad for what had happened between Ohno and his family.

Actually, the relationship between Ohno and his parents had never really been good, at least that was, what Nino knew about the whole situation. Ohno told him once that his parents had been against his decision to study arts in Tokyo and that he had to pay for everything on his own since his parents had cut all financial support for their son. They had wanted him to take over the family's traditional restaurant but Ohno had other plans for his future. He wanted to fulfill his dream of becoming an artist. With that, he had been pretty much on his own. Nevertheless, his parents got used to their son's choice of path and even if they didn't support him financially, somehow they still got along as a family.

But that changed, when Ohno had his coming out in front of them, telling them about his relationship with Jun – another man. Ohno’s father was too much of a traditional man to be able to accept that his son was gay and his mother sadly supported her husband's opinion. It had been really tough for Ohno but Jun had been there for him, telling him that he would be his family from then on. Now with the wedding, they would finally make it more official, Nino thought and he and Ohno would become brothers-in-law too.

Nino smiled and put his hand onto Ohno's shoulder, flashing him a smile. “Let's ask them and if they don't want to join the celebration – their loss. You still have us.”

- - Tokyo, Ohno & Sakurai Apartment; August 30, 2007; 8.25 pm - -

Nino and Jun might not be the closest brothers the world had ever seen. They might fight over small stuff and get angry and they might not know every little detail about each other's lives but they undoubtedly loved each other. In general, Nino wasn't the type to get close to people that easily. He didn't really have many friends back in High School and he didn't have much friends now in college either. He got along with his class mates and when they had to work together for projects or homework, everything was fine but Nino couldn’t really develop any deep friendships that easily.

If there was someone that Nino would call his “friend”, he might have probably said that was Sho. Sho had always been an exception. But then, when Nino thought about how complicated their relationship was, he wasn't even sure if he could call it a friendship. Even if they were close, and seemed to like each other in one way or another, and were definitely attracted to each other, Nino didn't know much about Sho's private life. He didn't know much about Sho's hobbies, besides the fact that he likes movies. He didn’t know much about his family, only that they seemed to be pretty wealthy and that Sho sometimes had a pretty hard time reaching their expectations. Sho didn't really talk about himself, his family or friends.

The only friend of Sho Nino knew was Ohno. And even with him he somehow knew more about him thanks to Jun, since Ohno was his brother’s boyfriend for the past few years. With that, somehow Ohno had slowly but surely and almost naturally become part of Nino's life. Nino liked Ohno, the older was a cool, uncomplicated character, he was talented in arts and Nino admired him deeply.

Nevertheless, even if Nino happened to hang out with Sho, Jun and Ohno pretty often, he couldn't say, that he was particularly good friends with Ohno. He didn't know him that well and Ohno didn't know him that well either. At least not until the older found out about Nino's secret and Ohno became something like the younger's accomplice.

It happened on Jun's 21st birthday. They had met in Ohno and Sho's apartment in the afternoon, celebrating Jun's big day just the small circle of the four of them. They had chatted a little and ate from a big birthday cake that they had bought together for Jun and after that, Ohno literally kidnapped his boyfriend. His plan was, to take him with him for a few days, just the two of them to a romantic inn in the mountains. Ohno had saved up money from his part-time job to finance the trip and Jun, even if he wanted to decline such a generous present at first, had finally accepted it and was overly happy.

So in the evening, Ohno took Jun with him, borrowing Sho's car, and drove to Jun and Nino's apartment to get a few clothes and whatever Jun would need for their trip before continuing their journey there directly.

Nino and Sho were suddenly alone in the apartment.

Nino had pretended that he needed to ask Sho something for his college course and so he had stayed at Sho's apartment, even after the two lovebirds had left the nest. But actually, Nino didn't need any advice from Sho for college, not today. What he needed was more of Sho himself and the prospect of having Jun and Ohno out of town and the apartment for them alone for the next few days, sounded promising in Nino's ears.

Sho hadn't complained about the idea either, but somehow, the older seemed to be a bit distracted today. Nino didn't know what was wrong with his friend, but he definitely wanted to find out. He was worried for the other. Maybe he was sick? Or just deep in thoughts? If something was troubling him, Nino wanted to comfort Sho but would he even tell Nino what was wrong?

No, Sho wouldn't, Nino was pretty sure about that. Even if it had become some kind of habit of Nino to pour his heart out in front of Sho, seeking for advice and comfort that Sho gladly and willingly offered every time. But for Sho... Lately Nino had just noticed again that Sho didn't really talk about himself, especially not about what was troubling him. Nino couldn't remember when Sho had ever consulted him with a problem. Not even once. And he felt pretty bad about that. Maybe, he didn't trust him enough, the younger thought, trying to ignore that slight stab in his heart that came with that thought.

“Something happened?” Nino asked Sho as he broke a kiss they were sharing.

“Hm?” Sho asked a bit irritated, looking up to Nino who was sitting on his lap, bending over Sho, pressing him slightly against the couch’s backrest. Sho had placed his hands on Nino’s sides, his fingers already reaching a bit underneath the boy’s shirt to feel his soft skin.

“You're so deep in thoughts today, I was wondering if something's wrong,” Nino continued, his hand unconsciously stroking Sho’s cheek, as if he was comforting the other.

Sho smiled and shook his head slightly. “It’s nothing, don’t worry, Nino. I just thought about some project at university that’s a bit troublesome.”

Nino wondered if Sho was telling the truth but even if not - he couldn’t change it. So he decided to go with what Sho had provided him and tried his best, to encourage the other. The young man leaned forward again and pecked Sho’s lips once, twice.

“You’re so smart, Sho-chan. I’m sure, you’ll find a solution. Don’t give up,” he smiled at Sho and looked into his eyes, hoping that his cheers reached the other.

Sho then just pulled him into a tight hug. Nino chuckled a bit surprised and joked that he couldn’t breathe properly when Sho released his grip a bit. He then placed his hand in Nino’s nape to pull him into a passionate kiss. Nino closed his eyes happily, his heartbeat raising as he melted into their kiss. He cupped Sho’s face as if he needed something to hold on to. He felt the growing desire between them, the need to be even closer to the other, to share closeness like he did with nobody else.

“I want you. Now,” Sho whispered as he broke their kiss again and reached his hand slowly between Nino’s legs to slightly rub the bulge within the younger’s pants, causing the other to take a deep breath and blush.

“Then take me,” Nino whispered back voicelessly.

Sho didn’t need another invitation and let his hands run over his lover’s body shamelessly, starting to undress him. He tossed away Nino’s shirt just a second later and started fumbling with his belt impatiently. Shortly after, both of them were naked and Nino’s hand was on Sho’s already hard member, while the other was preparing Nino. The younger moaned from the sensation of Sho’s lubed fingers spreading him carefully and he fumbled with a condom that Sho had handed to him, before finally rolling it on, causing Sho to moan as he threw his head back onto the couch’s backrest. Nino was shaking slightly from the excitement; seriously, he couldn’t wait to feel the other deep inside of him.

“Ready?” Sho asked and Nino just nodded, his face flushed red.

He leaned a bit forward, supporting his body with one hand on Sho’s shoulder while he reached back with the other, to guide Sho’s protected erection to his hole. The warm hands on Nino’s right and left thighs slid up to the smaller one’s hips, and Sho stabilized him, making it easier for the young man to settle.

Nino let the tip of Sho’s member slid inside, slowly, carefully, inch per inch. He leaned his forehead against Sho’s, looking into the other’s warm eyes as the other penetrated him. This was so intense. This was the best, Nino thought. They moaned in unison and while Nino let himself sink onto Sho’s length slowly, the older obviously had a hard time not to thrust into the small body right away. When they were fully connected, Sho lifted his head just a little bit more, crushing his lips against Nino’s. He wrapped his arms around the slim body and pressed closer, burying his member deep inside his lover. Nino moaned into their kiss, with the proud standing member between his legs pressed hard against Sho’s stomach, as he felt his body tensing.

They broke their kiss. While Sho let his hands settle again on Nino’s hips and started moving slowly, Nino lifted his upper body into a riding position. His hands placed on Sho’s biceps, as the slow speed increased gradually. When Sho wrapped his hand around Nino’s arousal, the other bumped into the tight grip, creating a double sensation that almost drove him over the edge. Nino threw back his head, almost abandoning himself to the situation but he wanted to endure it, wanted to prolong the awesome feelings for his and Sho’s sake.

“Gosh, Nino,” Sho’s panting voice reached his lover’s ears. “You feel so good…”

Nino dropped his head forward again, wanting to look at Sho, to see on the face the ecstasy that the other must be feeling right now. But then, his sight got caught by something – someone – else.

Nino’s body immediately stopped moving, causing Sho to stop abruptly too. But his heart continued racing. The door to the living room was half opened, Nino hadn’t noticed that before, and Ohno was standing outside, watching them with a surprised face. Nino blushed deeply. What the hell was Ohno doing here?! Wasn’t he gone already? Did he come back to pick something up that he had forgotten? So many thoughts rushed through Nino’s mind. The most prominent one, that Ohno saw him; saw him and Sho in such a delicate situation…

When Ohno realized, that Nino had spotted him, he immediately backed off and turned around.

“Nino?” Sho’s husky voice pulled him out of his shocked state.

The younger quickly averted his eyes from the door and focused on Sho again.

“What’s wrong, did I hurt you?” the older lifted his hand, caringly brushed it over Nino’s cheek. When the boy looked at him, Sho’s eyes were full of worry.

It seemed like Sho hadn’t realized that they were caught and so, Nino quickly decided to act as if nothing had happened. He didn’t want to create turmoil. He didn’t want to interrupt what he and Sho were doing right now but he also didn’t know how to react. Nino tried to collect his thoughts and to act normal and when the young man dared to let his sight drift towards the half opened door again, Ohno was gone.

Nino placed a kiss on his lover’s slightly sweaty forehead and smiled. “No no, don’t worry, everything’s fine.”

“You sure?”

Nino glanced again at the door for a moment but then, he nodded with another reassuring smile and Sho let his arms slid around the boy’s slim waist again, supporting the other as he continued moving. They quickly found their rhythm, causing both of them to moan and it didn’t take too long before they reached their climax together.

- - Tokyo, Matsumoto & Ninomiya Apartment; September 3, 2007, 6.50 am - -

Nino was still half dreaming when he was standing in the bathroom. The door was carelessly unlocked and in the washbasin there was a mess of a white-green striped toothpaste as the young man had failed to aim precisely onto his tooth brush. He was so damned tired after all he wasn’t able to sleep properly for the last few nights. This wasn’t only because he had spent his time with Sho and they had much better things to do than sleep, but also because he was such a worrywart and couldn’t forget about the fact that Ohno had seen them.

Since Ohno had witnessed him and Sho having sex, Nino was a bunch of nerves. They had been careless and now, this was the result. Ohno didn’t say anything after the incident, Nino didn’t receive any calls or mails from the other man, nor from his brother regarding this topic either. So he assumed that Ohno hadn't talked about what he saw but just the thought of his next encounter with Ohno and about having to deal with the topic of him and Sho made Nino nervous like hell.

Nino sighed and let his head lean back into his neck, which felt awfully stiff. When he reached his hand back to knead his cramped muscles, the door suddenly swung open and Ohno was standing there, his hair disheveled and holding a small, open toiletry bag in his hand. Damned. He and Jun must had returned from their trip last night...

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t know the bathroom is occupied,” Ohno stated, staring at Nino who was frozen in his movements. After a few seconds of awkward silence, Ohno pointed at the washbasin in front of Nino and his own toothbrush. “Do you mind if I just quickly…”

The younger shook his head and stepped back a little to make space for the other who then joined in the tooth brushing session quietly. The two men stood next to each other in front of the mirror and Nino felt like he was in a bad movie. He had thought about catching Ohno alone, to have a proper talk with him about what happened the other day in his and Sho’s apartment but then again, the boy was just too shy to say anything at all. Maybe, Ohno had already… forgotten? What a stupid hope, Nino scolded himself mentally.

Finally, Ohno turned his head a little, eyeing Nino from the side, before he bent over the sink to rinse his mouth for the first time. He then cleared his throat and eventually talked to the younger again, before he continued brushing his teeth. Nino knew exactly what was about to happen next.

“So… you and…?“

Ohno didn’t dare to say Sho’s name, just in case the walls had ears but Nino knew exactly, whom the other was talking about. Nino rinsed his mouth, wiping a bit of foam from his lips with the back of his hand.

“Ah… no no, it’s just…,“ he started, not sure, how much he should say to actually make sense to the other man. It’s just sex, he wanted to say – at least that was how it was officially. Well, sex and kissing and cuddling and being there for each other but all of these without any deeper meaning, right? “You know what I mean.”

“Hah… I see…”

Was Ohno really able to grasp the situation from that one moment he witnessed, Nino wondered? Well, Ohno knew Sho probably much better than he did and he must also know that the other man was having various partners for sex and stuff… most likely, this wasn’t so unusual, Nino thought. Ohno continued brushing his teeth and Nino avoided looking into the mirror so that his eyes and Ohno’s wouldn’t meet. He was so damned embarrassed about the whole thing, being caught in such a situation was bad enough. But then together with Sho, the two of them had agreed to keep that thing between them a secret…

Ohno rinsed his mouth again. “Well,” he said, washed his tooth brush and was about to go when Nino suddenly reached out to grab the edge of Ohno’s shirt to hold him back.

The older man looked at Nino surprised and waited patiently, until Nino had rinsed his mouth too, ready to speak again. His cheeks flushed red; he finally managed to look into Ohno’s eyes, a pleading expression showing on his face.

“Could you… please, don’t -,” the boy started, not sure if Ohno would get the hint but the other just nodded slowly.

“I won’t tell Jun, don’t worry,” Ohno then answered in a low voice.

“You won’t? Really?”

“That’s your business and if you decided not to tell your brother or anyone else, there must be a good reason for that, right? So my lips are sealed,” he flashed the younger a small reassuring smile and Nino’s face clearly showed the relief he must feel right then.

“And please - don’t tell him that you saw us, I promised not to tell anybody about... us,” Nino added, this time referring to Sho.

Nino felt guilty. He hadn’t been able to keep his promise and now, although Sho obviously didn’t want Ohno or anybody else to know, they had been found out.

“No problem. Just… if you want to talk about it one day, I’m here.”

Finally, Nino smiled a bit and nodded to the other. “Thanks, Oh-chan.”

Nino didn’t know back then, how many questions and worries he had triggered in Ohno. The man wondered if Nino and Sho were really in a sexual relationship only. He knew that Sho used to be popular and that he could be quite a playboy. He might not know most of the people Sho slept with, but the other usually didn’t make a secret out of something like that on purpose, even if he wasn’t one who bragged about his achievements either. Nonetheless, Ohno thought that the man would at least have the decency not to seduce the relatives of his closest friends.

More than that… Did Nino know that Sho was engaged? Did they agree on some kind of “affair”? The younger didn’t seem to be the type for affairs. What if he was sincerely in love with Sho? Ohno started to worry about Nino but as long as Nino didn’t have any problems with the situation, Ohno decided that it would be better not to barge in and if the other needed him, he had offered to listen to him. Things might have been easier to understand, if he could ask Sho about the exact situation but then, he had promised Nino not to say anything. For now, it might be for the best just to stay quiet.

- - Tokyo, Ohno & Matsumoto Apartment; January 31, 2015; 11.30 am - -

“Sometimes, I think, I should have told you back then,” Ohno suddenly murmured, pulling Nino, who was seriously examining all the different examples for the wedding invitations that Ohno had spread in front of them on the living room table, out of his thoughts.

“Hm?” the younger asked confused. “Told me what?”

All of the invitations were self-designed by Ohno, showing different shapes and colors, some of them detailed and playful, others simple and classy. It was truly hard to decide on one of these cards and according to Ohno, Jun had already given up on making this decision and had left this task to his fiancé and his little brother, who he thought had a much better sense for art.

“About the fact that Sho was going to get married,” Ohno finally continued after hesitating for a while, “It’s not that I didn’t know about it.”

Nino didn’t react and just stared at one of the invitations in front of him, trying to ignore the stabbing pain in his heart, triggered by that memory. The card his eyes had fallen onto was a simpler one; white with a beautiful silver heart imprinted on the cover and two thin ribbons, one in blue and one in purple, wrapped around the front of the card vertically just a cm next to the folding. It was simple but somehow, it was also cute.

“If I had told you –,” Ohno continued but Nino honestly didn’t want to talk about any ifs.

“What would have been different?” he cut Ohno in the middle of the sentence, trying hard not to sound too desperate. “Nothing. He would have still married her and we would have broken up.”

Ohno frowned. “But maybe, it wouldn’t have been such a shock to you. Wasn't it the reason why you left for Europe?”

Ohno was completely right. Nino always thought that he knew. And he wondered. Hearing about the wedding sooner or later, out of Ohno’s mouth or from Sho directly, would both have been just as shocking? And what would have changed? He didn’t see the point in this. No matter who had told him about Sho’s upcoming wedding and when, his foolish heart would get broken anyway.

“I don’t know if something would have been different, it’s not your fault,” Nino then stated, slowly reaching out his hand to the wedding invitation that he had been staring for the last few minutes. “I’m the only one to blame for even thinking about the chance of something serious between him and me.”

“…He really liked you,” Ohno then said after a small pause.

“I know. I was a good fuck whenever he needed me. Of course, he liked that,” Nino tried to hide his pain behind his typical sarcastic manner, but who was he trying to fool?

“That’s not what I mean, I think, he really liked you,” the other repeated seriously.

“Well, as a friend maybe, because otherwise, he wouldn’t have got married to someone else.” Nino sounded bitter, even if he wished he wouldn’t. Wasn’t it pathetic to bear a grudge at someone for so many years? He knew that but nevertheless, in this case, he was just acting childish and he couldn’t do anything about it.

“Nino, it’s not that simple, you know?” Ohno sighed.

“Simple enough for me to get the hint that he didn’t love me the same way I loved him,” Nino didn’t get his point. “That’s everything I needed to know.”

“And what about now?” Ohno dared asking.

“What do you mean?” the other looked at him confused.

“Even after all those years, it isn’t over yet, not for you, is it?”

Startled, Nino stared at his friend, and then suddenly he averted his eyes, feeling that he was caught again. Why did Ohno know him so well, was he really so easy to read? Why didn’t he give up trying to talk with Nino about this topic? It was so annoying. Nino didn’t want to admit anything. He wished he didn’t even feel like that. He wanted it to be over, everything would be so much easier then.

“Of course it’s over, what are you talking about?” Nino decided to act stubborn.

“He’s divorced now,” Ohno started. “And he obviously still likes you, – in one way or another. So maybe -”

“I’m not interested in reviving a sex-only relationship, if you’re implying on getting back to where we had been,” Nino cut his friend’s speech again, almost furiously. “It wasn’t enough for me back then and it wouldn’t be enough for me now. I’m not masochistic enough to hurt myself with something like that again, you know? I can have affairs with other people, without getting hurt.”

“I said, I think he likes you.”

“Fine… I think, he doesn’t.” Stubborn.

“I think, you two need a proper talk,” Ohno stated, feeling sorry for his friend who was obviously confused and still hurt from the whole situation. And stubborn.

“And I think, you should use this card,” Nino pointed at the card in his hand. “It fits you and Jun perfectly, it’s cute but also simple, the ribbons have your two favorite colors–“

“Nino, don’t change the topic,” Ohno was serious.

“I’m getting along with him during the preparations, what else you want from me, Oh-chan?” now, Nino sounded desperate.

“But you’re suffering, I’m not blind, you know? I really think you should talk to him properly about your feelings or you’ll never be able to overcome this mess.” Why did Ohno sound so damned reasonable? Feelings weren’t reasonable. “Come on, Nino, try it.”

“The hell I will!” Nino suddenly slammed his hand on the table, the invitation card underneath it and pursed his lips.

“Nino, for God’s sake, don’t be so damned stubborn and proud for once in your life! This could be a chance,” Ohno said, almost pleading, reaching out to put his hand onto Nino’s arm.

But the other who was at the end of his tether, jumped up and yelled at him angrily. “Gosh, darn it, this is NONE of your business! FUCK!”

Ohno slightly parted his lips again to shoot back but in the end he didn’t say anything and just let his head hang, sighing silently. This wouldn’t be helpful at all. Nino, clenching his fists and biting on his lips, was obviously close to bursting into tears but he pulled himself together. He was so damned angry. Not at Ohno but at himself and his stupid feelings.

It wasn’t that Nino didn’t understand Ohno’s way of thinking but he had enough of hoping. He didn’t dare to start hoping that Sho had really been jealous when he thought that Nana was Nino's girlfriend, or that he was acting nice to him because he actually liked him. Nino didn’t want to start hoping that Sho kissed him in that elevator out of more than just an old pleasant memory or because he was, yeah, what, not just craving for sex because his marriage hadn’t worked out? Even if Sho wanted to kiss Nino or to sleep with him, it was obvious that it would be just because Nino was an easy lay for Sho, wasn’t it? Not because he actually wanted him. No, Nino didn’t want to get any hopes up, because if everything fell apart again, what would Nino do? He would be so disappointed again and he wasn’t sure if he could handle that once more. This was all so damned confusing, so damned frustrating, Nino wished he could just stop thinking about it all.

In the end, the young man just slumped back down onto his seat and buried his face in his hands to collect his mind again. Ohno just sat there, patiently waiting until the other found his composure again.

“I’m sorry Oh-chan, I didn’t intend to yell at you,” the young man finally whispered, unable to face the other properly.

He put down his hands and Ohno could see Nino’s watery eyes, but he still did his best to hold back his tears. He reached out again at the card he had held in his hand just before, handing it to Ohno who took it into his hands carefully.

“I think, you’re right, we should go with this invitation,” Ohno responded and smiled at the other to show him that his little outburst was forgiven.

- - Tokyo, Ninomiya Apartment; February 3, 2015; 8 pm - -

Nino was sitting at home on his couch, his hands clenching the cell phone that was pressing against his ear. He had been waiting for this moment for so long and today had been the worst. The young man had wondered when would be the best timing for the phone call, what exactly he should say. But he just really couldn’t be prepared for his heart to be beating so fast and the free signal in his ear making it beating faster and faster with each sound. He tried to calm down.

“Sakurai?”

And failed, as the other picked up.
Oh gosh… Sho’s voice…

“Hey~… Nino here. How’s it going?” the young man asked, trying to sound casual and he could slap himself because he just ended up sounding weird.

“Hey~”, did Sho imitate him?! “Well… everything is fine, I guess.”

Nino cleared his throat. How was it possible that he, a grown up man, was so damned nervous over a little phone call? “Are you back from your conference already?”

“Yes, I arrived a few hours ago. How are you?”

“Fine and you?” this time, Nino really slapped his forehead.

He must sound so stupid. He already knew that Sho was fine, he just told him. He heard a small chuckle through the cell phone and blushed from the embarrassment.

“You’re keeping your promise, aren’t you? It’s been exactly 15 days.”

I missed you, Nino wanted to say. Of course, he didn’t. Instead, he tried to sound casual again, “Well, I try to keep the promises I make.”

That was followed by a pause and Nino just realized that his comment could have been considered as an evil side blow. But Sho did not seem to realize it – or at least he decided to pretend he didn't.

“You want to talk about the wedding preparations?”

“Well, yeah,” Nino started. “But actually, I thought it would be better... to meet up instead of talking over the phone... What do you think?”

The young man bit his lower lip nervously, waiting for Sho’s answer. He wondered, if his request was reasonable – no, it surely wasn’t, how would he even be able to meet that man when he was such a bunch of nerves already on the phone?

When the other didn’t reply, he added, “I know you weren’t at home but did you maybe find some pictures for the gallery already? I’d like to take a look at them.”

His heart hammered so loudly against his chest that for a moment Nino was afraid that he couldn’t even hear Sho if he had answered. Well, his request might be strange anyway. Hadn’t he agreed with Sho not to meet for a while? He had been the one pushing the other away after all and it had been obvious that they wanted to keep their distance. Sho would surely not be willing to meet him. But still, Nino hoped…

“Actually, I found a few nice ones, I think,” Sho finally said and after a short silence he added, “What do you think about joining me for lunch in the hospital tomorrow? I’m too busy to go out eating in town but I have a break for about an hour and the food in our canteen isn't that bad.”

“Better than nothing,” Nino said and squinted, hoping that Sho hadn’t heard the desperation in his voice. Honestly, he was really craving to meet the other, it was insane.

“So tomorrow at twelve?”

“Tomorrow at twelve,” Nino agreed.

There were another few seconds of silence before Sho replied again.

“Alright then… see you tomorrow. Good night, Nino.”

“Good night, Sho.”

Nino hung up and slumped down on his couch after taking a deep breath, burying his face in the soft fabric of a cushion. His heart was still beating like crazy.

 

To be continued…

Chapter Text

Chapter 14


Chapter 14

 

Sho's POV

- - Over the clouds of London; January 20, 2015; 3.25 pm - -

“Is everything all right Sir?” a voice by Sho's side asked, a warm and reassuring voice. But he was too preoccupied by his damn uncontrollable fear to answer.

“Sho, are you okay?” Jun took a glance at his neighbor who seemed to be having the worst time of his life, keeping his eyes firmly closed and his hands gripping the edge of the armrest as if his life was depending on it.

Sho half-opened an eye and smirked painfully. The steward was bent over his seat with a concerned look adorning his face.

“Is that really a question?” Sho muttered, his mouth awfully dry.

“Yeah, sorry. We're landing and you'll be free in a few minutes.”

“I suffer from acrophobia, I'm bad with height. And I'm also afraid of flying. Especially for taking off and landing... the rest is perfectly fine.”

The steward chuckled joyfully and patted his shoulder in a familiar way, putting a little bottle of water on the table.

“You should drink some water, it will help you to swallow the knot in your throat.”

“Thanks. Even if I'm a doctor, I'll follow your professional advice. Thanks a lot.”

“If you need something, just call for me, my name is Aiba,” the man bowed elegantly and left them after making them promised they would call if help was needed.

Jun opened the bottle and poured a glass of water before handing it to his friend. The latter drank, struggling against the nausea. It felt good indeed.

“Keep talking, try to focus on something positive,” Jun said.

Sho chuckled ironically. What positive thoughts could he summon now? His divorce, the way Nino rejected him once again yesterday, all the lies he told to his best friends for almost ten years? The choice was pretty extensive...

“Why does this damn conference have to be in London, tell me?” Sho stopped the parasitic flow of self-loath, focusing his anger on something totally safe.

“Maybe because the research team is set in London?”

“Don't make me laugh please, I could puke on you.”

“Please don't. My suit is a bit wrinkled but still clean.”

“I'll do my best.”

“Thanks, my friend.”

Sho closed his eyes again, breathing in and breathing out slowly and calmly moaning his father's quote “If you can take it, you can make it” like a mantra. What did he say to Nino the previous day? That there was nothing to be afraid of?

He had always been so bad following his own preach. And this persistent hangover didn't help at all. He didn't even remember the way he went back home this morning and he was ashamed to discover that he had called Aoi. He was so mortified. How could he let her leave the house with a peaceful mind if he called her each time he reached the bottom? He was especially sorry for Okada who had to drive her to a bar downtown in the middle of the night to look for her soon-former-husband who was dead drunk. At least, it meant that he slept all alone. Drunk sex would have been so pathetic, more than he could cope with today. He wanted to keep his dignity intact for what it still was worth.

They landed safe and sound after an - according to Sho – endless amount of time and he managed to not kiss the floor once they stood on the tarmac. Jun was physically so close to him that Sho could sense the way he put his palm around his elbow from time to time, he was surely in an awful state.

“Don't move from here, I'll hail a cab.”

“Okay.”

Sho sat on a huge suitcase and waited quietly for a taxi that allowed them to climb in. The driver started his engine and immediately, Sho forgot his headache and his gloomy mood.

London was splendid in winter. Covered by a thin layer of snow, the town looked like a giant snow globe. The Thames was totally frozen and people were skating on it as if it was the most natural thing on earth. For a second, Sho wondered if Nino came here too in the past, but he chased the idea away, he couldn't stand the very thought of him today. It was so painful. He had the feeling of falling again into the worst moments of his life.

- - Okinawa - March 22, 2009; 6 pm - -

“Sho, you okay?”

Sho opened his eyes and smiled bravely at his wife. His wife. It sounded so strange and so familiar at the same time, yet he still had hard time recognizing it as the truth. He was a married man since the previous day and nothing could change this fact anymore. He looked outside through the pothole admitting that despite his bad moral shape, they had just landed in paradise. Okinawa was spectacular, the ideal place for a honeymoon. He visited it several times, since his family owned a splendid villa on the main island but coming on his own, or rather with his wife was a brand new feeling.

He felt restless.

The wedding day had been nerve-wracking and to be totally honest, he didn't remember anything but flashes of it. To be true, he lived those past days in a secondary state. Since Nino's departure for a foreign country, nothing really mattered to him. All the married young man wished for now was forgetting those dreadful last moments they spent together in that shabby hotel room and move on with the new life which awaited him.

“Yes, I am,” Sho said, lying with a frank smile.

“No you're not,” Aoi knew him so well.

“No, I'm not. But I will be, I just need time I guess.”

“I'll help you to recover.”

She caressed her husband's cheek and together they exited the small airport, climbing into the black car with a driver waiting for them. The villa was located by the sea and surrounded by a private beach on one side and a little wood on the other. It was only when they exited the car that Sho noticed that he was still holding Aoi's hand. He apologized awkwardly and let her go.

“It's a wonderful house,” Aoi exulted looking around again and again, her gaze unable to stop on a determined point. “And the scenery is like nowhere else.”

“When I was a kid, I hunted bugs in the little wood. I'm pretty sure that my tools are still here... somewhere.”

“I remember your big red book. Maybe we'll hunt bugs together? After all, we will have nothing else to do during the week to come,” Aoi smiled benevolently, blushing a bit before stepping forward to enter the house.

They had an entire week to spend here before resuming the course of their lives. Aoi would go back to university after this short period of time generously offered by the Dean to the newlyweds and Sho would begin his work in Jun's father's hospital. Their studies were not totally over, a doctor has to study throughout his professional's life but their internships were over and they would finally work in the field they chose. Sho as oncologist and Jun as neurologist. Working in a place led by Jun's father had been a natural choice, not because it was a family business but because it was the best hospital of the prefecture. After Nino's departure, Sho wondered if it was really a good idea to meet his brother each and every day of his life. Yet it was too early to cut the last bond linking them. He had to mourn their relationship and not a second he dared to think that it would be easy.

Sho followed Aoi, wondering if the famous red book was still on the library shelf where he left it the last time he came here. He was 12 at that time and he was persuaded that a big 12-year old boy couldn't spend his time to observing bugs. That was what his mother told him the last time. The inside of the house was fresh and the guardian even made fire in every room equipped with a fireplace.

“My parents called the guardians and ask them to prepare the place, I'm pretty sure we'll find a meal in the fridge.”

“Bingo!” Aoi shouted from the kitchen. “I guess, your mother doesn't trust my talents in cooking matters.”

“My mother trusts no one, ever,” Sho said leaning against the door frame. “I'm afraid, she will never change.”

Aoi turned around, putting a plate of fruits on the kitchen island, then she sat on a chair.

“She hates me, hum?”

“She doesn't~ yeah she hates you. But she's a witch, she hates everybody.”

“You can't say that! She's your mother after all.”

“When we're just the two of us, we can badmouth her.”

Aoi smiled and took a big bite of an apple.

“Shall I show you around?” Sho proposed.

Ten minutes later they were wandering in the house again. They climbed the stairs and Sho played the guide very convincingly.

“This is my parent's bedroom, only the guardians have the key. This is my own bedroom,” said Sho opening a red door.

“Why is everything linked to you red?” Aoi laughed frankly, surprised to notice this for the first time.

“Don't really know. I didn't choose. It's manly, right?”

“Like a power ranger?”

“Like Spiderman.”

“Spiderman isn't that manly,” Aoi sat on the huge bed, opening a book that was on the nightstand.

“I beg your pardon?! Spiderman is so manly!”

“He wears stokers!”

“And so?!”

“Are you fantasizing on Spiderman?!”

“Well, he's...cool, right?”

“...”

Sho hang the head and felt once again a wave of despair overwhelming him.

“What happened between you and him, Sho?”

It was almost a whisper and Sho could chose to pretend not having heard the question. But Aoi had the right to know since she followed their story from the beginning. Since she was his wife.

“When I told him I was about to marry someone he hugged me and congratulated me. That's all. He said he asked to his father to work in Europe for some years and that anyway, we won't see each other. Wedding or not.”

“Oh Sho... I'm so sorry.”

“Don't be...,” Sho began, the tears already gathering at the corner of his eyes. “I knew from the start that he didn't love me, that's why I never dared to talk about love to him. I've been a coward, I was afraid he'd bid me farewell once he knew... I wanted to keep him, at all cost. I feel so pathetic to be crying for someone who doesn't give a shit about me.”

“But you, you love him,” Aoi caressed Sho's back to comfort him and Sho curbed his tears, smiling at her.

“What a honeymoon...”

“What a honeymoon.”

“From now, I swear to you I won't talk about him. I won't speak his name before you.”

“But~”

“I know you don't mind but I do.”

“Alright.”

“Shall I show you your bedroom?” Sho leaped on his feet and exited the bedroom, leaving behind a very startled Aoi.

- - Tokyo, Sakurai House; April 21, 2009; 10 pm - -

“I'm home.”

“Welcome! I'm in the bedroom.”

Sho took off his shoes and his jacket, carefully putting his leather bag onto the couch and walked to Aoi's bedroom.

“Can you help me?” She wore a new dress and was visibly struggling against the zip of the back. Sho zipped it and she whirled around.

“How do you find it?”

“It's very summer-ish.”

“I bought it for the barbecue organized by your parents in July.”

Sho sat on the bed, leaning back his two arms tensed behind his back.

“It's in three months, are you aware of that?”

“I am, smart boy. But I wanted to buy something's new and... let's say it was for the occasion.”

“Something to celebrate?”

Aoi smiled and sat precipitously by her husband's side. “I visited the lawyer's office I talked to you about today for my internship and they said they were willing to give me a chance.

“Congratulations!”

“And Okada-sensei is a great lawyer. I already watched him pleading at the court, he's so eloquent! I can't wait to learn from him.”

“How is he?”

“What do you mean?”

“Is he nice?”

“He's married! And yes, he is, but I don't care. I'm a married woman now,” she admired her ring and Sho's heart constricted.

“It's our birthday today,” she muttered and Sho understood suddenly the reason behind the pretty dress. “One month already.”

Sho felt her hand touching his shyly.

“Aoi...”

“We could try at least!” she exploded suddenly. “We never ever slept together and I'm not that ugly, perhaps you could~”

“You're the most beautiful woman I ever met, the most tender and kind too.”

“So?!”

“I can't. Could you make love to a woman if it was the standard of our world? I'm sorry if I let you believe that~”

She suddenly cupped his face and pecked his lips before looking at him directly. Sho let her laid him down on the bed and didn't resist when she lied by his side, resuming her kiss with her hand roaming along his body. She was right, they had to at least try. If there was a chance that they could be a real couple, he had to do his best. Everything would be so simple. They would sleep together, they could even hope to have children one day, perhaps would he forget him too?

Aoi straddled him clumsily and together they tried to wake up a virility which refused to answer to their persisting solicitations. Out of breath they gazed at each other for what seemed to be an eternity, then Aoi laid back down on the bed.

“At least we tried,” she said clearly.

“At least we tried,” repeated Sho.

“It felt like kissing my brother.”

“We're friends, not lovers. And we were more or less raised together, no wonder we're feeling like siblings.”

“True.”

They intertwined their fingers, linking their hands between them.

“You're my soul mate, you know it, Aoi?”

“I know. We'll keep on watching over each other like we always did.”

- - London; January 21, 2015; 7 pm - -

The first day of the conference had been exhausting for the two men, but it always was. Jet lag and the weather's changes were hard to bear for the two doctors who had to focus on very dense sessions right from the bat.

Sho felt sleepy all day long and he was unable to stop his mind from wandering. He didn't sleep the previous night, wondering how he could manage not to explode before the wedding. His last encounter with Nino hurt him badly and he was now unable to decipher his own feelings about the other.

Several times he had been tempted to dial Nino's number to speak to him, to explain his strange attitude, to comfort him perhaps and appease his angry heart. But he had to leave him alone, Nino had been pretty clear about it. They will be in contact in 13 days and if everything worked as planned, they won't have to see each other until the wedding day. And to be honest Sho couldn't tell if he was relieved or not. He lived so many years without seeing Nino, thinking of him only as a bittersweet memory that this sudden turmoil of his heart was painfully traumatic. Somehow, Sho had to admit that he craved for his former peace of mind even if it meant having a heart rate dangerously bordering flat line.

Jun and Sho ate at the restaurant of the hotel, a charming place where one could eat what the English considered as the best sample of international cooking they could offer to starved foreigners.

“What about a drink at the bar?” Sho proposed to his friend while they were standing at the restaurant's door. He didn't feel like staying alone tonight.

“I... think I'll pass. I have a Skype session with Satoshi and with the time difference...,” Jun said apologetically.

“Sure. Say hello for me.”

“You're tired too, you should rest.”

“...You're right, I'll listen to your advice, Matsumoto-sensei.”

Jun left Sho at his doorstep but after a refreshing shower, the latter decided to return to the bar, this bedroom - as charming as it seemed - was too far depressing for him.

He donned a black V-neck sweater and a black slack, a pair of boots and slipped into a jacket before exiting his room.

The luxurious hotel possessed three bars. A big one which had a dance floor for the guests who wished to party until dawn, a middle-size one, used for the business meeting and a small, cozy one, akin to an English pub. Sho didn't think twice before pushing open the door of the last one. He didn't feel like seeing a lot of people and a night club was out of question. How long ago was it when he dance all night long? Since the end of his studies surely.

He sat at the bar and ordered a Scottish whisky, not one of those imported alcohol he could find in Japan. Behind him a pianist was playing a jazzy song and if his ear wasn't deceiving him, he could swear that it was a personal version of Tank by Kanno Yoko. He loved this piece so much...

“Long time no see Mister Firefighter,” said a voice by his side and if Sho was surprised to hear someone speaking Japanese in this bar, seeing a ghost of his past startled him equally.

He smirked to his neighbor. “Well... it's been a long time indeed. Tsumabuki-kun.”

The man smiled charmingly. He didn't change that much, thought Sho. He was still handsome, manlier perhaps, grown up, small wrinkles marked the corner of his eyes now.

“I'm impressed,” the man said, elbowing on the bar, his temple on the palm of his hand. “I didn't think you'd remember me.”

“You're someone to remember. Definitely.”

“I'm pleased.”

“May I buy you a drink?”

Tsumabuki watched Sho's glass and raised his index finger to order the same drink. He then offered a cigarette to Sho, which he refused, and the man smoked in silent for a while. A strange feeling of comfort settling slowly between the two men.

“So, what are you working as?” Sho began.

“Do you remember when we met I was in Satoshi-kun's class?”

“Of course I do. You wanted to be photographer too, right?”

“Well, actually I am. And you, did you become a firefighter?”

Sho laughed genuinely. “I'm a doctor. Oncologist. I'm in London for a conference. You?”

“I'm here for an exhibition.”

“In London?”

“Yes, in London.”

“Congratulations! What about?”

Tsumabuki fetched a card in his jacket and made it slide to Sho, his mouth curled up at one side. “You could come, perhaps? I mean, if you stay for a while. We're not so many Japanese in this big town, we have to stick together.”

“It will be my pleasure,” Sho said observing the pretty card.

Tsumabuki stood up, a light of regret in the eyes. “I have to take my leave but...to be honest I'd rather stay here with you.”

“I'll come to see your work.”

“When?”

“When? Hm... tomorrow I can't but the day after tomorrow?”

“7 pm?”

“Is it a date?!” Sho joked and the other man smiled seductively, biting his inferior lip before stepping back slowly.

- - London; January 23, 2015; 7 pm - -

Sho stepped into the little gallery not far from the hotel. It made sense now that he accidentally ran into Tsumabuki in the bar. It must also be visited by people from the area too. Jun had booked tickets for a musical (he had booked a lot of tickets, even one for the Harry Potter's studio as a matter of fact) and if he was surprised to learn that Sho met a Japanese friend, he didn't show it. Jun had always been perfectly fine on his own anyway, thought Sho wisely.

He didn't know what to think about this unexpected encounter. When the man asked him to come and visit the exhibition, he postponed for one day, giving himself time to decide if it was reasonable to go onto a 'date' with Tsumabuki. But after spending the entire night trying not to dream about Nino, he gave up struggling and at the appointment time the cab left him near Piccadilly Circus.
After all, an outing wasn't a commitment and being so far from home, this was his chance to escape for a few hours from his not so pleasant reality.

He pushes the door open cautiously.

The place was pleasant and wide, lit only by some dim and scattered illuminations. On the white walls, big photographs were soberly displayed at eye level. Men, women, couples kissing or holding hands, simply cuddling tenderly, the peculiarity to portray only gay people. It was absolutely splendid, subtle and each scene enhanced the power of the feelings shared by the models. Sho's heart constricted a bit, thinking how beautiful a shared love could be, even to a stranger's eye.

“So you came?”

Sho whirled around, startled and faced Tsumabuki, a charming smile adorning his face, his hands linked behind his back playfully. “You scared me. I was lost in my contemplation, and yes, I came.”

“I'm grateful. Should I ask if you like the photographs?”

“Why not?”

“I hate negative criticisms.”

“So... Ask.”

“You like them?”

“I'm very surprised to be honest. If someone would ask me who was the photographer, I would have sworn it was a woman. It's tender and subtle, committed on the same time.”

“Is it a praise?”

“It is. Definitely.”

“Thanks. Should I show you around? Then I'll offer you a delicious meal for being so kind to me.”

Sho laughed joyfully and nodded, following the man, listening to him attentively speaking about his travels all around the world for this ambitious project. They were in a restaurant before Sho even noticed it how far later into the night they were, and still talking about their lives.

“May I ask you something personal?” Tsumabuki asked while pouring another glass of red wine.

“Go on.”

“You're married?” he pointed at the gold ring donning Sho's finger.

“Actually, I'm getting divorced.”

“A man?”

“A woman.”

Tsumabuki's mouth formed a little interrogative pout.

“It's a long story.”

“I love long stories. And we still have a bottle of wine to drink.”

The man rested his chin on his palm and remained silent. Sho wasn't ready to tell the story of his life, he never did except to Aoi and even for her he kept so many things to himself in order not to hurt her more than she already was. Yet, after the very first sentence “I was fated to marry the daughter of a business partner of my father since I was ten...,” the story flew by itself.

He told Tsumabuki everything. About his friendship with the one who became his wife, his studies, the encounter with Jun, Ohno, the secret about his sexual preferences, the wedding and then the divorce. And for the first time he talked about Nino to someone. Someone who hasn't any preconceived idea about him or about the couple they were once.

“And now you're the two best men of Satoshi's wedding?”

“Exactly. Twisted, isn't it?”

“Ironical. Well, it's your chance too to sneak again in his life.”

“Aoi told me the very same thing. But she tends to see the bright side of the things in every little thing.”

“Annoying little wife,” Tsumabuki joked.

Sho chuckled and murmured a “yes”.

“I want a smoke, do you join me outside?”

“They will let us leave the place like that?” Sho said looking at the waiter.

“They don't but they are already waiting for our departure to close the restaurant since at least one hour ago.”

“Crap. Let's go.”

They stood up and Tsumabuki walked to the exit. Sho went to the waiter who surprised him by telling him that the man with him already paid the bill.

“Thanks,” Sho said to his companion who took a big puff of smoke before turning tail.

“I'll drive you back to your hotel.”

Sho didn't argue and for once accepted to be pampered a bit. He was reluctant to admit it but from time to time it was a pleasant feeling.

“A last drink?” Sho offered at the hotel's door.

“Why not,” Tsumabuki answered with an enigmatic smile.

Sho felt strangely at ease with him, serenely attracted by him and when Tsumabuki asked for permission to kiss him once the threshold was passed, Sho nodded without thinking twice.

- - London; January 24, 2015; 6:30 am - -

“What are you doing, Mister Firefighter?”

Sho smiled and buckled his belt before going back to the bed to peck his fling’s lips.

“I have a lecture to hear this morning. I envy you, you don't have to be at the gallery all day long.”

Tsumabuki laid down on his back, stretching his naked body lazily while Sho finished dressing up. “Sho?”

“Hm?”

“It was fun last night. And good.”

“It was.”

“You know... I'll be in Tokyo the next months, perhaps could we, I don't know, see each other from time to time?”

Sho was about to refuse, thinking it was dishonest to make a commitment he won't be able to honor. Beginning a relationship was out of question since he was so foolishly in love with Nino. But reality struck him once again. Nino hated him, he didn't want to see him. Never. Maybe it was time to draw a line on his silly dreams about love.

He opened his wallet and after a tender kiss, gave his card to the man. “Call me.”

“I'll do.”

=+=

Jun didn't miss the change in Sho's mood that day.

“What happened last night?” he asked curious. “This guy and you~”

“Yeah. It was fun.”

“I have to get used to the idea that you like man, you know. But... I'm glad you're able to move on.”

“Let's say it's a first step to get out of the closet,” Sho said with a little smile.

Jun patted his shoulder friendly and when he tried to obtain more information on the identity of the man, Sho kept his mouth shut. If Jun were to learn that he was a former classmate of Ohno, Sho was pretty convinced that he will find Tsumabuki one day quietly sipping tea in Jun's living room.

- -Tokyo, Matsumoto Hospital; February 4, 2015; 11.30 pm

Nino's phone call the day before, destroyed Sho's assertiveness in a micro-second. Hearing the sound of his voice so unexpectedly made his heart beat faster again, making him fall again in his own personal heavenly hell. It was so good and so painful at the same time, so when Nino proposed to meet him the next day, Sho chose a place where he was at ease, a place surrounded by familiar people, people for whom he was the almighty Sakurai-sensei.

He barely slept the previous night and he could assert that it wasn't only the effect of the jet lag. Nino sounded strange and Sho couldn't decipher the reason behind. Why was the other asking him for a meeting if he was the one who asked him to stay away from him? Yet, the idea to reject the proposition didn't cross Sho's mind, not even a second. He still craved for him so much.

Sho entered the hospital very early that morning, he had work to catch up and he was not really surprised to come across a very busy Jun in the corridor. Contrary to the original plans, which Ohno was supposed to leave for Africa on February 6, he had to leave earlier and Sho knew that Jun wouldn't go back home to his empty apartment, except for the bare necessities, and rather stay at the hospital for the next month. Home without his man wasn't home for this exclusive man. Sho found that very touching and if he had to be totally honest, he would admit that he envied him for having such an absolute love. Sho kept himself busy until the last moment and when noon came, he walked slowly to the cafeteria. Nino would be surely late like he used to.

“Sakurai-sensei?” Sho turned around and Yamada ran to him to catch up with him.

“Oh, Yamada-kun, it's been a long time. Where have you been this morning?”

“You... You looked for me?” The intern stopped suddenly, blushing in a very revealing way.

What was that, thought Sho, pretty surprised. “Of course not,” he answered dryly. “You're always turning around me like a bug, I was wondering why I was suddenly so free to move.”

“Ah... I have a day off today.”

Sho gazed at him interrogatively, waiting for an explanation.

“I knew you came back from London yesterday and I was wondering if you would be able to tell me what you have learned about the new heart transplant procedure.”

“And why would I do that?” Sho moaned, resuming his walk.

“Because I beg you?” the intern tried, his hands joined before him in a pleading posture.

“Because you won't leave me alone if I refuse?”

“I won't dare, Sensei!”

“I bet you would dare.” Sho sat at a table and the boy stood by his side, his hands still joined, his puppy face remaining silent. He ignored the young man for a while but eventually, seeing all the looks around and some chuckles, he gave up. “What are you doing exactly, Yamada?”

“Sakurai-sensei, I can't sit at your table without being invited.”

Sho laughed out loud, startling himself, amused by the boy's foolhardiness. “Later. For now I have to eat if you don't mind.”

“You'll tell me?”

“If you go home and vanish now.”

“Thank you so much, Sensei! You won't regret it!!”

“I'm already regretting it. Now shoo!”

The boy nodded enthusiastically and ran away. Sho watched him leaving the place, smirking in spite of himself.

“I'm here,” a stern voice said behind him.

Sho turned the head and his eyes fell on a very serious Nino.

“Hi, Nino.”

“Hi, Sho,” did he mock him by mimicking him?!

“Did you see your brother?”

“Not yet.”

“Sit down, I'm gonna grab something to eat.”

Sho raised and went to the counter to sooth his sudden agitation. He had to keep calm at all costs, he could not be the man he used to hate so much. Easy to say... He came back to the table with a stray full of plates and shared the bowls and plates into equal parts.

“I'm not really hungry,” Nino mumbled.

“Do as you wish,” Sho said, starting to eat without losing time. “I don't have time to spare, sorry, my schedule is fully packed.”

He stole a glance at Nino who didn't move at all. The former Sho would have scolded him, gently forcing him to eat but he had decided to change the way their relationship worked. Sho fetched his phone in his pocket and opened the pictures folder before sliding it to his companion.

“Here are the pictures.”

Nino grabbed the phone, sliding the pictures, skimming through them slowly, a light smirk adorning his face.

“Though I could have sent them to you by mail,” would Nino seize the implied question? And would he respond?

Nino gave the phone back to Sho. “Actually, I wanted to apologize for the last time. I overreacted once again. Like that time at Jun's apartment.”

“Nino... I didn't want to hurt you, I meant what I said. I just wonder why you refuse to hear it,” Sho said in an undertone, forgetting the place and the time. “Water has been flowing under the bridges since then. Why won't we just forget everything and rebuild from scratch?”

Nino chuckled, his eyes focused on the table. “Sounds easy for you.”

“It isn't, but you seem to hate me so much, it's almost unbearable,” Sho confessed, pushing himself to be honest. “If the only way for you to bear my presence is forgetting what we were once, I'm willing to.”

“...I don't hate you,” Nino said after an sheer endless silence, finally raising his gaze to meet Sho's. “Yet, I tried.”

“I can't tell you I will forget our story, it was... very meaningful for me,” Sho felt his cheeks flushing badly. “But this best men stuff is our chance to draw a line on it once for all. Let's use this as an occasion to appease our relationship, to act normally in each other’s presence. I'm tired of avoiding you.”

“And I am too.”

“So let's be adults. You could perhaps come to my place, without preconceived ideas, only for our friend's sake and I’d show you all the well-organized photo albums I own and we could choose the photographs we'd like to use together.”

When Nino nodded and picked up some food, Sho scarcely believed that he managed to convince him. It was almost too good to be true.

- -Tokyo, Sakurai House; February 7, 2015; 8 pm - -

Sho opened the door and stepped aside to let his visitor enter. “Welcome.”

“Sorry for barging in,” Nino said, taking off his shoes to put on the slippers handed to him by Sho.

The latter couldn't help watching Nino avidly. He was so handsome. Each time he faced him, he found Nino more beautiful than the previous time. He was so fucking biased, thought Sho desperately. The other was almost too thin, always gloomy, always surrounded by a hypersensitive aura, waking in Sho the most intimate and excitable strings of his heart.

“I was cooking, do you mind if~,” Sho pointed at the kitchen and Nino smiled gently.

Sho's heart skipped a beat and he turned his heel, followed by his guest. He resumed his previous task, wetting the shrimps with a cognac he bought in London.

“You're skilled,” Nino said appreciating.

“I'm not but I try to eat regularly and healthy, with my job it's easy to eat sandwiches and only sandwiches,” Sho said humorously.

“You took off your ring,” Nino said softly, his eyes on Sho's hands.

“I... yeah. I'm divorced now. Officially. I sent in the papers when I came back.”

“I'm sorry.”

“Why?” Sho laughed.

“Don't know. I guess that's what people say in this case.”

“So.... thanks.”

“You're welcome, Sho. May I help you?”

“You cook?”

“I worked in the hotel's kitchens for a while and still help out there sometimes. I'm pretty good.”

Sho smiled genuinely, happy to hear for once Nino bragging about himself.

“You don't have to... you know... I left the photo albums in the living room for you,” Sho said, openly leaving to Nino the choice to stay or not.

The other could perfectly fetch the books and go back home like that, after all, nothing forced him to dine with Sho. The doctor figured out that he never did this with Nino. He had always been directive and acted like what an elder brother would do with a little brother. Except in a bed, matter-of-factly.

“I'm not in a hurry,” Nino said, turning back to grab an apple as if it was the most natural thing on earth for them to cook together. “I cut this?”

“...Sure,” Sho said gently, biting his lower lip to repress a smile, enjoying this surreal moment of domestic bliss.

They were sitting at the low table when Sho's dog suddenly appeared, running straight to the newcomer. Obviously surprised, Nino jumped to his feet.

“What's this?!”

“This is Clover, my dog.”

“You have a dog?!” Nino asked in disbelief.

“He's nice you know... but if you're afraid, I can put him outside.”

“No... no need to. I was just surprised, I'm not very good with animals.”

Sho gently pushed the dog after a brief hug and Clover crouched by his side. Nino sat down again, taking a glance at the pet from time to time, obviously not totally assured.

“He was the companion of one of my patients.”

“He didn't want him anymore?”

“He died.”

“Oh...I see,” Nino said, embarrassed. “And you took him home?”

“Yeah.”

“You're such a Good Samaritan, you always have been.”

Sho didn't miss the almost bitter tone of Nino. It wasn't a reproach, of course not, but Sho could feel a hidden sense in this casual remark.

“To be totally honest, I was pretty low at that time and I grabbed him as a life buoy,” saying those words, Sho realized how much Clover helped him to live through all those recent and difficult moments. “Sometimes the Good Samaritan isn't the one you think.”

Sho wanted to tell Nino so much how important he had been for him at that time, how much loving him made his life worthy to be lived, how much by losing him, he lost a part of himself, surely the best part. But he couldn't. Not yet, not now that Nino had accepted to have dinner with him and was so comfortable. Letting him eat quietly, Sho grabbed the first photo album on the top of the stack. He opened it onto the first page and pointed at a picture of him and Satoshi during their high school time.

Nino laughed out loud. “What's that?! Were you Yankees at that time?”

“No, it's for the school festival,” Sho chuckled. “Did I tell you about my first encounter with Oh-chan?”

“Never. Tell me.”

Sho smiled and said, “It's still the strangest encounter I ever had. I was a kid at that time and Oh-chan was in my school but he was already... how should I put things~”

“In his own world?”

“Exactly. He didn't have friends, kids can be cruel and with him, they were absolute. I had some problems with my parents at that time, especially with my mother and I wanted to take revenge. I figured out, the best way to do so was to get scolded at school.”

“Sneaky~”

“Yeah,” laughed Sho. “I... stole my teacher's cigarettes and with my scissors I pierced all of them.”

“You've been grounded?”

“I've been grounded. And I found myself with Oh-chan.”

“What did he do?”

“That's a mystery. He never told me... Those Yankees' disguise was a sweet reminder of that time.”

“That's the way you became friends?”

“Yes. We stick together since that day.”

“I'd never guessed,” Nino murmured with an unwavering smirk. “But this picture is worthy to be displayed at the wedding party for sure.”

“We have the suits, the flowers, the place for the wedding and the gallery...,” Sho listed.

“I took care of the invitations with Oh-chan during your absence.”

“Great. What do we have to do after?”

“Find a band and the menu and~”

“The bachelor party?”

“Yeah. Any idea?” Nino asked.

“Should we do it together? I mean, Jun and Oh-chan's parties together as one?”

“It could be fun. In a nightclub perhaps? I know one which will be perfect.”

“Okay.”

“I have some connections to find a band too and I can ask the chef of the hotel to create a menu?” Nino suggested.

“I have the feeling of being helpless suddenly,” Sho feared especially Nino's rejection. Once those details were settled, he wouldn't need him anymore, technically. Was this the purpose of this dinner?

“Perhaps could you come with me?” Nino said very quickly.

“For the band and the menu?”

“And the nightclub. If you're too busy, I~”

“Why don't we do as we proposed? We just replace the phone call with a meeting?” Sho proposed.

“Every two weeks?”

“Every two weeks,” the older confirmed.

“I'm okay with that.”

 

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Nino's POV

- - Tokyo, Matsumoto Hospital; February 4, 2015; 11.55 am - -

Actually, this time, Nino was on time, to be true, he was even early. It was exactly 5 minutes before 12 noon and he had found his way into the canteen of his brother's hospital without any trouble even if he had never been there before. So far, Nino had never set a foot into this hospital, since he always knew that Sho was working here as well, and for the last few years, he wanted to avoid meeting that man as much as possible.

Well, those times were in the past now. This time, Nino was actually here with the purpose of meeting Sho out of his own free will. He had decided. He wanted to do everything he could to get close to him again. Nino wondered when exactly this change of mind happened inside of him. Hadn't he been totally mad at that man just a few weeks ago? Didn't he try to forget him by having affairs and blocking their joined memories in order to do so? Didn't he still resent Sho because of his wedding?

But did that really still matter that much? Things had changed. They had met again. Nino was still single and Sho was getting divorced. Maybe… it was fate.

Anyway, Nino had completely lost sight of his original plan to stay away from Sho as much as possible, not to let him get close. In the end, he gave up on that because he could pretend as much as he wanted to; nothing would change his desire to see the man he loved and maybe, just maybe, Ohno was right and now it was the time to see if there was a chance for the two of them.

A bit shyly and his heart already beating faster from the anticipation to meet Sho, Nino had entered the canteen, looking around but the other wasn’t to see anywhere yet, just a bunch of other doctors. So the young man decided to wait and leaned against the wall, close to the door. He supposed that it was the best option to wait for Sho here. He didn't feel like sitting down here all alone between those white coats.

Nino still felt a bit uneasy in hospitals, there were just too many negative memories linked to such places. The time when his father had been sick, the time when Nino had been in hospital once during his time in Europe... no, those weren't exactly things he wanted to get reminded of. But Sho was a busy man and had suggested this place to meet up and Nino didn’t dare to ask for more. He was lucky that Sho – after Nino's verbal outburst – was even willing to meet him. Nino took a deep breath. “No need to be nervous,” he thought, “everything will be alright”, he tried telling himself, “calm down…”

When Sho entered the canteen, Nino immediately wanted to approach him from behind but before he could call out for the other, he realized that Sho wasn't alone. There was someone else following him and talking to him as if he was pleading for something that Sho seemed to be refusing.

It was a young man – really young, most likely at the beginning of his 20s – small, thin, brown hair, big eyes and a slim, fine face. To make it short, he looked really cute. Too cute to be that close to Sho, according to Nino's opinion. Nino slowly followed the two men with a bit distance so that they didn't see him immediately but he could follow parts of their conversation. Nino couldn’t stop wondering, who the hell this cute young man was and why the heck he was following Sho like an affectionate pet. It was troublesome.

In the end, it sounded like the young man was some sort of colleague of Sho, maybe a new assistant or an intern or something. Anyway, Sho promised him to tell him something the next day and Nino, who hadn't heard the whole conversation, just wished that it was only something related to work. He was a bit relieved, when Sho shooed the boy away as if he was really annoyed by him, just for a moment Nino had feared that Sho would like that cute young man... just like he had liked the – as he always called him – cute, young Nino (in one way or another, like Ohno used to call it) years ago.

When the young man finally left, Sho was still watching after him, a smirk adorning his face. A smirk. Nino didn’t like it in this connection. The young man was now standing pretty close to the other and looked at him with slightly slit eyes. He had to pull himself together to not pout like a little boy who didn't manage to get other people's attention.

“I'm here,” he finally said and his voice might sound a bit too pissed, Nino feared.

When Sho turned around to him a bit surprised, the older greeted him friendly. “Hi, Nino.”

“Hi, Sho,” Nino repeated unconsciously in the exact same tone as Sho. No, he wasn't jealous and trying to hide that and no, he wouldn't ask Sho now who that cute man was. He didn’t even want to know!

“Did you see your brother?” Sho asked and Nino shook his head.

The other told him to sit down which Nino did but then, Sho jumped up and went to go get something to eat. A few minutes later, Sho was dividing the brought food to the two of them but Nino didn't feel like eating and just mumbled something providing that information.

“Do as you wish,” Sho said and started to eat. “I don't have time to spare, sorry, my schedule is fully packed.”

Nino was a bit surprised. Somehow, he had expected Sho to try to convince him to at least try something of this or that since it wasn't the first time that he wasn't eating and Sho had always been concerned about his neglectful eating habits. But this time, Sho seemed not to care. Suddenly, Nino felt ashamed how much he seemed to unconsciously expect to get pampered by the other. He had always been relying so much on Sho and now, it had not taken him much time to fall back into the very same pattern.

Instead of trying to talk Nino into eating, the doctor searched for his phone and showed Nino some pictures on it, which the latter found pretty entertaining.

“Though I could have sent them to you by mail,” Sho added, still eating his lunch. So, he was wondering about their meeting after all, maybe he just agreed to meet Nino out of politeness... Nino had to say something reasonable quickly.

“Actually, I wanted to apologize for the last time,” it wasn't a lie but originally he had planned to say this at the ending of their meeting, “I overreacted once again. Like that time at Jun's apartment.”

Sho sighed while letting his hand with the chopsticks drop to the table. He seemed troubled, maybe even a bit desperate. “Nino... I didn't want to hurt you, I meant what I said. I just wonder why you refuse to hear it. Water has been flowing under the bridges since then. Why won't we just forget everything and rebuild from scratch?”

So Sho wanted to forget everything? Nino had wanted that too at some points of his life, thinking that it was the easier way to deal with things. He had tried to forget but people weren't able to forget something precious like what had happened between them so easily. Further, the thought of losing those memories, even if not all of them had been good but were also painful, scared Nino. They had been an essential part of his life; they still were influencing his daily life. No, Nino would never be able to forget.

He chuckled bitterly, not able to get his eyes away from the table where his eyes were focusing on the entire time. He was afraid to face an annoyed look or something similar on Sho's face. Last time, he had really overdone it. Even if there had been the slightest chance that Sho might have been interested in him in one way or another, and even if it was only for sex, now the other must really be annoyed by the younger's attitude. He surely had given up on wanting to be nice to him...

“Sounds easy for you,” Nino said in a low voice, not knowing what else to reply and fearing Sho's answer.

“It isn't, but you seem to hate me so much, it's almost unbearable,” Sho answered and Nino had to admit that the other sounded sincere. “If the only way for you to bear my presence is forgetting what we were once, I'm willing to take it.”

Nino stared at the table in front of him, the plain white surface, blank like his own mind right now. There was only one word popping up inside his head after that statement. A big, bold, screaming “No”. No, Nino didn't want to forget, he didn't want to forget Sho or what they had and he didn't want Sho to forget either. How much he wished he could turn back time...

“...I don't hate you,” he finally managed to say after a sheer endless silence, looking up straight into Sho's eyes to admit at least that much. “Yet, I tried.”

And now, he wanted to do everything so that he could chase Sho's thoughts about wanting to forget everything away.

“I can't tell you I will forget our story, it was... very meaningful for me.” Sho said and Nino wanted to say exactly the same thing. Did this mean that there was still room for hope? “But this best men stuff is our chance to draw a line on it once for all. Let's use this as an occasion to appease our relationship, to act normally in each other’s' presence. I'm tired of avoiding you.”

“And I am too,” Nino replied. Sho was so damned right.

Then, Sho suggested that they could meet at his place to look through some photo albums together that he had been organizing. Actually, Nino liked the idea pretty much and so he agreed nodding without thinking any further. He then even felt like trying some of the food in front of him, wondering where the sudden appetite came from.

- - Tokyo, Ninomiya Apartment; February 5, 2015; 10.20 pm - -

“Nino, you know that I totally support you with everything usually but... do you really think that's a good idea? You should be careful!” Nana sounded truly worried about her friend.

Just as promised, Nino had called her to keep her updated about the progress he made (or not made) with Sho. That was what he was doing, telling her about his change of mind, his sudden positive feeling about the whole thing, his tiny bit of hope and about how excited he was that Sho had invited him over to his place. But right now, his best friend was pretty much annoying him because somehow, she didn't make any sense at all.

“What's wrong Nana? Suddenly you don't think it's a good idea, last time you said I should try my luck again. Decide on what you really think, dear!”

“I know, I know and I still support you but…,” Nana sighed audibly into her phone and Nino could just imagine her forehead getting crinkled with some small worry lines, “It's just... I came to think, what if it doesn't work? I'm just worried about you. You won't do something like THAT again, would you?”

Nino was stunned. Did she really ask him that? Nana was the only one who knew about that secret and that was only because he had told her once – during another drunken karaoke session. Not even his father or Jun knew about that.

“Nino? Say something!” Nana pleaded with a worried voice. “You won't do anything stupid, right?”

The man sighed and closed his eyes for a moment as he took a deep breath.

“I am touched that you’re worrying for me that much, Nana-chan but of course, I won't do something stupid! You know that.”

“Sometimes I wonder, if I really know what you're thinking inside of your pretty head, Mister I-change-my-mind-like-my-clothes,” the young woman answered, half-jokingly.

“I know, I can be a bit complicated sometimes,” Nino admitted chuckling. “How often do you think I wasn’t able to understand myself? But let’s not talk about that for now, I wanted to ask you something else.”

After a change of topics and some small talk about upcoming cinema visits – wondering if they should invite Sho to come along one day but postponing those plans for now -, Nino wished his friend good night and ended the phone call. He let his hand and his cell phone sink into the soft fabric of his bed that he was lying on currently and his sight wandered over the ceiling. He then slowly lifted his right hand and took a look at the watch he was wearing as usual. He followed the second hand ticking on the clock face for a while until he turned his hand so that his wrist was facing him.

Nino lifted his other hand and his finger slipped underneath the broad wristband of his watch which was hiding one of his secrets so well each and every day. He slightly lifted the wristband and pushed it away by a bit, letting his fingertip run over a long scar, starting from one side of his wrist to the other. A scar that was placed there forever, to remind him about what he did.

“Don't worry,” Nino whispered to no one in particular. “I swore to myself that I'd never ever do something like that. Promise.”

- - London; July 3, 2009; 0.20 am - -

Deep red drops kept dripping onto the wooden floor in front of Nino's bed. One, two, three, and more, and finally, they formed a small dark puddle of blood.

Blood...

Taking a deep breath, the young man seemed to come back to senses finally, pulling himself out of the dark hole that had threatened to swallow him up just a second ago.

“Shit... No!” realizing what was actually going on, Nino suddenly felt panic overwhelming him.

He let go of the broken piece of glass he was holding in his left hand and as it fell down with a dull noise, the young man desperately pressed his now free hand against a long red cut on his right wrist from which the blood was still dripping down to the floor.

What the fuck had he done?!

- - London; July 2, 2009; 3.00 pm - -

Nino was frustrated. After staying in Amsterdam for a few weeks, he had decided to continue his journey to another country. He was still feeling so restless, unable to settle down anywhere. His father had suggested to him a small romantic inn owned by an old friend, located in the middle of London in a small side street near Piccadilly Circus, which he was working in for the past two weeks now.

Again, Nino had been hired as a receptionist but frankly speaking, things weren’t going that well. Nino still had trouble with his English pronunciation and his colleague; an older British woman called Ms. Winters always picked on his accent and pretended not to understand a single word when he was speaking. Nino tried his best to improve and he had even searched on the net for a language exchange partner and this evening, he would be meeting him in a few hours.

Nino had taken the afternoon off to prepare his English materials and look up directions to the location his potential language partner had suggested for the meeting. Plus, he had promised Jun to write him a mail at least once in a while. Nino was lodging in one of the inn’s smaller rooms. There wasn’t much space but it was enough for him and the little stuff he brought with him. His laptop and his camera were placed on the small desk in front of the window and he didn’t even bother to pull out his clothes from his suitcase and had just put the whole thing into the closet opposite his bed to have it out of the way. He wasn’t sure how long he would be staying here after all.

Not that he didn’t like London. The city was interesting, there was a lot of sightseeing that he still wanted to do. He still wanted to take some beautiful pictures of the area around the Thames at night and he wanted to improve his English after all. Nonetheless, he felt unsettled and unhappy, still traumatized from what had happened in Japan and the old lady from the reception didn’t make it easier for him.

When the young man checked his mails this afternoon, there was an incoming mail from his brother, coming with numerous attachments. Nino took a sip of the cup of tea he was drinking at the moment and he almost choked on the liquid when he opened the attached pictures. Suddenly, he faced a grinning Jun hugging Ohno who smiled into the camera too showing a peace sign, both of them nicely dressed up in the middle of the turmoil of a wedding – Sho’s wedding.

Nino put down the cup of tea as he felt his hand starting to tremble slightly and gulped down the swelling knot in his throat. He folded his hands in his lap, starting to knead them nervously. Ne wasn't sure, if he wanted to skim through all the pictures that Jun had send him, surely with good intentions, to share an important and beautiful memory about a common friend with his brother, or not. Nino just stared at the screen for minutes, not able to move. The number in the shared folder showed a double figure and the young man could only assume that those pictures surely weren’t only about the same two men in the same position 20 times.

Taking a deep breath, he reached his hands out to his laptop again and slowly started clicking through the other pictures. Most of the pictures really showed Jun and Ohno (and a couple of friends, most likely from Jun and Sho’s classes at university) having the time of their live, drinking, eating cake… but there were also some pictures of the bridal pair of course.

The bride – Nino didn’t even want to think about her name – was impudently beautiful. She didn’t show her widest smile, Nino assumed, since she looked a bit shy on the pictures but she was stunning. Her strapless white dress with countless little white and silver butterflies stitched onto the shining fabric around her belly and bell-bottomed skirt of the dress looked beautiful and fit her small slim size perfectly. She wore her black hair in a nice bun with several braids, and a big white butterfly out of net lace sitting on the left side. A few wavy strands of hair fell onto her decollete which was decorated with a blissful silver necklace with small stones that looked like diamonds. White long gloves covered her arms that were linked with Sho’s.

Sho looked just stunning in his wedding suit. It was a classy black suit and he wore the most expensive looking silver necktie Nino had ever seen in his life. Sho looked a bit tired, surely the wedding preparations and the ceremony and everything had been exhausting, Nino thought. Sho’s hair was freshly cut so it was a bit shorter than the last time that he had run his fingers through those soft strands of hair when he had pulled Sho close into a passionate kiss. Memories of their last time months ago flashed through Nino’s mind and he quickly chased them away, not wanting to think about the good moments they had shared.

Had Sho miss him during the party? Surely not…

Nino wondered if those two would be happy. They had to be… after all, Sho dumped him for that woman's sake. He must love her from the bottom of his heart. If Sho had loved him, if Nino had been a woman? Could Nino be the one standing next to that adorable handsome man at their wedding party now, if he had been a woman? The thought might be stupid because Nino simply wasn’t a woman, he didn’t want to be a woman and so he would never be one but honestly, it wasn’t the first time he was wondering about that.

His hands started shivering again so that he pulled them closer to his body. His throat feeling so awfully dry, Nino continued staring at the picture of the bridal pair. He just sat there, paralyzed for another couple of minutes until something cold wetted his clenched hands on his lap. He looked down at them surprised and then suddenly realized, that he was shedding silent tears that ran down his cheeks. He sobbed once as he felt his heart cramping even more at the realization that even his body was sad about the happenings and then it was like he had breached the dam that surrounded him since his departure from Japan.

He finally cried his heart out.

=+=

“I’m sorry for being late,” Nino said in his best English a few hours later as he arrived in front of a nearby English pub where a young man with gloriously blue eyes was standing, carrying a small sign displaying Nino’s name.

“Don’t worry. I just arrived a minute ago. I am Jake and you are Nino?” the young British asked and reached out his hand.

Nino hesitated for a second but then reached out to shake his potential language partner’s hand while nodding to the other man’s question. He was still not used to that European way of greeting and since he didn't really feel like socializing, Nino felt even weirder. In fact, he had considered canceling the meeting or at least postponing it to another day and to stay in his room, crying, for the rest of the day. But what would it help? Nothing. And the amount of tears Nino could shed within one day seemed to be used up already anyway.

The man – probably around his age – smiled friendlily. “This pub is really great, the food is good and they have a large number of different sorts of beer, want to get in and try some?” Jake continued, pointing at the door behind him.

Nino nodded after sighing deeply. “Sounds good. I could use a drink.”

“Something bad happened?” the other asked curiously.

Nino thought about what to say for a moment before he tried to answer. “Well… you could say my best friend got married and doesn’t need me any longer.”

“Sound’s tough…”

The young man waived his hand. “Anyway, I need a beer now.”

Or two. Or three…

However, just a few hours later, not only Nino’s English but also his ability to count properly had become worse due to the rising alcohol level in his blood. His British companion with whom he had been chatting the whole evening chuckled, he found it just too amusing learning how low his new Japanese friend’s tolerance for alcohol was – at least compared to his own. Jake was still pretty sober while Nino was already almost knocked out around 8:30 pm. From that time on they decided to order only water for Nino for the rest of the evening.

The two young men got along pretty well. Nino told Jake what he was doing here in Europe and that he wanted to improve his English so that he could use it properly in the future when he was working in his father's hotel in Tokyo. Jake had told Nino quite a bit about his life too. He was currently working at a supermarket owned by some Japanese friends of his mother and that was why he wanted to properly learn the language and practice talking. Besides, he was attending an acting school for two years now, and he was aiming to become a global actor.

Nino found that pretty amazing and with Jake’s looks, he was sure that the other would become popular in no time – in any case his talent would be something worth considering too. As he said that to the other candidly (blame it on the alcohol, Nino tended to become bubbly when he was drunk), Jake blushed sheepishly, thanking Nino for the compliment. When Jake replied that Nino was pretty good-looking too and reached out to take Nino’s hand in his, brushing his thumb slightly over the soft skin, it then began to dawn on the young Japanese that the man sitting in front of him was gay. The world was small...

Nino gulped, suddenly sobering up a little and not sure how he should react towards the sudden gesture of affection. Maybe, he was imagining things. He was in Europe after all, being touchy here was on a completely different level than in Japan, a bit of physical contact could mean much less than it would in his home country. For now, Nino tried not to think too much and as planned, stuck to drinking water for the rest of the evening but the later it got, the closer Jake came and when his arm settled around Nino’s shoulder then, he finally asked.

“Shall we go somewhere where we can be alone? Undisturbed, if you know what I mean,” Jake whispered into Nino’s ear, his lips casually brushing his earlobe – uncertain if it was planned or not.

Nino gulped again and blushed. He could easily push the other away or just say “no”, jump up and leave but somehow, his broken heart and the alcohol in his body kept him in place. Jake was nice, he was good-looking and the closeness somehow made Nino feel good. He was all alone here in Europe, how long had it been that someone touched his hand or hugged him or even told him some nice words?

Of course, that man wasn’t Sho, the one he wished to have. But Sho was married now, surely holding his cute little wife in his arms and not wasting another thought on Nino ever again – if he ever had done that in the first place. It was time to move on, Nino thought, trying to ignore the stabbing pain in his heart. He turned around and looked into Jake’s deep blue eyes.

“I have a room in the hotel I’m working at… it’s just a few streets away. Wa- want to come along?” he offered in a shy voice and Jake flashed him a wide grin.

“Sure.”

=+=

It was the first time that Nino had kissed someone else than Sho (and that college girl that had tried a move on him once). It was strange. It was the first time that Nino had slept with someone else than Sho. It was different. So different… Not that it felt bad, he had been able to reach his orgasm quite well and it seemed like Jake had enjoyed his time too but now, Nino felt just dirty, as if he had betrayed someone and there had been something essentially missing, Nino realized painfully.

Love.

After having sex with Jake, Nino had felt so bad that he had wished he could just throw up that huge knot he felt in his chest. He felt like he had completely lost ground and he could only think about how he didn’t want to see Jake ever again. No matter how nice the other was, how much he could help him improve his English or how good he was in bed. Nino felt sorry for the other but as soon as they had finished, he asked him to leave.

First, Jake was shocked, trying to argue with Nino, asking him what he did wrong. Nino didn’t know how to explain the mess of his feelings right now, he wouldn’t even have been able to explain it in his mother language and so he gave up before even trying and just repeatedly begged for Jake to leave. The other wanted to yell at him, angry for getting treated like a disposable toy but when he saw how close to tears Nino was, while murmuring how sorry he was, he might have understood that things weren’t that simple and left him alone after bidding him farewell.

Midnight was approaching, when Nino sat on the edge of his bed after he had taken a quick shower to get rid of that dirty feeling and had wore his pajama, consisting of a black jogging pants and a gray T-shirt. His hair was half dried and Nino stared at his hands, the same hands that had run over Jake's naked back when the other had been bending over Nino. Jake was well-built and he was tall. Taller than Sho. But as expected, only Sho's body felt like home for Nino.

But Sho was in the past. Sho was taken by someone else. And Nino still had a hard time accepting that. Why couldn't he be with Sho? Why couldn't Sho love him? What was Nino's life worth without Sho?

Work wasn't going so well. Nino didn't really have much friends. He didn't mean anything to his mother and he didn't mean anything to the man the loved. The gaping wound of his heart was too big right now to get healed by the caress of a one-night stand and Nino knew that even if he could seek for caress and comfort from other people in the future, no one would be able to heal this wound again.

In an outburst of frustration, feeling the pain attacking him again, Nino reached out his hands angrily and pushed an almost empty glass of water alongside with a small plate on which once held some snacks, from his desk. With a loud clank, the dishes fell to the ground and the glass broke into several pieces. The last bit of water ran over the wooden floor, soaking into the wooden boards almost immediately. The light from Nino's nightstand caused one of the broken pieces of glass to shine and attracted Nino's attention.

The young man stared at it for a moment and then slowly reached down to the floor to pick it up. It looked sharp.

What followed then must have been something like a knee-jerk reaction...

- - London; July 3, 2009; 0.25 am - -

Ironically, it was the thought of Sho that pulled Nino back to reality. The thought of not being able to see Sho ever again if he would die here right now. And the thought of Jun and his father who had always supported him. The thought of Ohno who had become his companion. He hurt those people with his sudden unannounced departure and he had caused enough trouble already with running away and disappearing from their lives. How disappointed would they be if he completely vanished from the surface of this world now? They might think that everything that they had done for him was all for naught and Nino didn't want them to believe that. He owed them so much, he couldn't to this to them.

Suddenly panicking, Nino grabbed the half dried towel which was lying right next to him on the bed and with some nervous but quick movements, he wrapped it tightly around his wrist, pressing his hand against it. This seemed to be the most reasonable thing he could do right now. He had to stop the bleeding before there was caused a damage that couldn't get repaired. He stood up and went out of his room, his slightly cracked voice screaming for help.

Just a second later, the door at the end of the corridor opened, Ms. Winters from the reception who was also residing at the inn peeking her head through the gab in the doorway. Even in the dim light, she seemed to catch the situation immediately and hurried towards the scared young man, looking at him with a shocked expression on her face.

“Oh my gosh, Nino, what happened?” she asked worried.

However, Nino was still in a state of shock, unable to explain the situation and so he just repeated his asking for help, this time in a lower voice, directly addressed at the woman in front of him. She put her arm around the young man's shoulder so that she could bring him out of the inn, pulling him down the few steps of the side road until they picked up a cab a minute later on the main street.

“To the closest hospital, please,” the woman ordered the taxi driver as she gently pushed Nino inside and climbed in by herself shortly after, reaching out for Nino's arm to press the towel down onto his wrist. Realizing the urgency of the situation, the driver took off immediately, driving maybe faster than he should.

Fortunately, it didn't take long until they arrived at a nearby hospital and until Nino got accepted at the emergency ward. Help was quickly there to take care of them. Nino already felt a bit dizzy from the loss of blood since the wound didn't stop bleeding completely and the towel was already colored from the red liquid but it wasn't too late. One of the doctors took care of him immediately, calming him down with nice words, cleaning the wound and sewed the cut at his wrist.

Nino had to stay in the hospital for now just in case and he received infusions to recover quickly from the temporary anemia. Ms. Winters stood by him for the night. She put her hand onto the young man's shoulder and her look was filled with sympathy. She apologized for being an old witch and teasing Nino because of his Japanese accent and Nino tried his best to talk proper English when he thanked her for everything. Even if he wasn't ready to tell her what happened, Nino was grateful for her care. In the end, he made her promise not to tell anybody about the incident and with that, Nino's suicide attempt remained a secret for years.

Back then, all alone in London, Nino had been at the lowest point ever of his whole life. Since then, he never ever wanted to come back to that point. Instead, Nino wanted to become stronger, he wanted to become someone who didn’t need Sho but could live pretty well on his own. He wanted to become someone that Sho wouldn't just pity but more than that find desirable. Someone, who could make Sho regret that he had chosen someone else over him.

- - Tokyo, Sakurai House; February 7, 2015; around 8 pm

In some aspects, Nino never managed to do so – to become strong – even if he tried. There had been up and downs… well, if Nino was completely honest, there had been far more downs than ups in his life so far. He was aware of the fact how weak he was, how weak he always had been, especially without Sho and at the same time with Sho. It was only him who knew about his weakest areas, after all. If Nino had been stronger, maybe he would have been able to overcome his broken heart. Maybe he would have coped better with the situation about his father. He wouldn’t have showed Sho his weakness while almost suffering from a nervous breakdown simply because they got stuck in a stupid elevator.

Nino sighed. There was still a long way to go to change this part of him, this essential part of his character and maybe, he would never be able to become as brave and strong as… well, Sho for example, who had always been solid like a rock, an ideal Nino could and would never reach.

Nervously, the young man stood in front of Sho’s door after a cab had brought him to the address that Sho had sent him via e-mail. As expected for a doctor (and surely also thanks to his rich parents), Sho lived in a nice house, surrounded by a garden in a quiet and not so cheap area of the city. It wasn’t too big, wasn’t too snobbish, and it was inviting. Nino was impressed. He tried to push away the thought that this was the place Sho used to live with his former wife for years. He really didn’t like that idea. But it was over, wasn’t it? At least, Sho was in process of a divorce and according to him, that woman had already moved out. Maybe, Nino could finally stop seeing that woman as his rival…

Rather than resenting the woman who had stolen Sho away from him years ago, he now should better start making moves to try winning over the heart of the man he desired for so long already. Nino did not want to be the pitiful boy who needed support and he didn’t want to be the easy lay either. He wanted to become someone Sho liked, found attractive and worthy of his love.

After Nino prepared enough mentally for the coming night, he pressed the door bell, and Sho opened the door with his friendly smile and a “Welcome” on his lips.

“Sorry for barging in,” Nino answered as he walked inside.

Impressed, his eyes wandered through the house. It was spacious and it looked modern, different colors and shapes decorating it, in order not to make it look cold due to the modernity. It was so different from his own apartment but Nino liked it.

“I was cooking, do you mind if~” the owner of the house said while pointing to a room that must be the kitchen and Nino smiled as he followed Sho immediately.

He looked at Sho skillfully preparing some shrimps and since he had been trained in a kitchen too, he could see that Sho knew what he was doing. He commented Sho's cooking appreciatively and the other joked a bit about his job leading to unhealthy eating habits and that he tried to avoid that by cooking for himself. Nino observed the other closer, Sho looked so damned handsome... he was wearing a not too chic but casual pullover in dark red with dark blue stripes over a light gray dress shirt. His hair was a bit styled but not too much. Nino almost could not take his eyes off Sho's handsome profile, his cute cheeks and the plum lips that he formed when he was concentrating. It was only the sound of the shrimps getting put into a frying pan when Nino's look automatically dropped down to check on them – just to find Sho's adorable hands in his sight. And there was one more thing that caught Nino's interest in that instant.

“You took off your ring,” he stated without further thinking.

Sho looked at him before he answered. “I...yeah. I'm divorced now. Officially. I sent in the papers when I came back.”

“I'm sorry,” Nino said, wondering if this was the right thing to say in this situation.

Maybe not, because he caused Sho to laugh. Nino then offered the other to help in the kitchen, earning a surprised reaction that he took as a chance to praise his own cooking skills a little bit. After all, he had learned from professionals. He might not be the most talented chef ever but he wasn't bad.

“You don't have to...,” Sho answered to Nino's offer to help him. “You know..., I left the photo albums in the living room for you.”

Nino wasn't sure if Sho wanted him to take the photo albums and leave, or if he was only polite to leave the choice on what he preferred to Nino – taking the pictures and heading home straight or staying here with Sho for dinner. He wasn't officially invited to dinner after all but seeing the amount of food Sho was preparing, Nino doubted that it would be only for one person. Anyway, Nino had made up his mind. He didn't even think about leaving now. He was invited to Sho's place and he would make good use of this chance to win over Sho's affection. At least that was the plan.

“I'm not in a hurry,” he said to make clear his intention to stay and grabbed an apple to cut and add it to their meal.

Strangely fitting to the more modern feeling of the house, the environment in Sho's rooms was more or less simple and leaned towards traditional Japanese style. For example, the dining room didn't show a modern western table with high seats but a typical Japanese low table, surrounded by comfy looking seat cushions which colors fit the traditional paintings hung up on the wall next to it.

Together, the two men set the table and took place to start eating. Suddenly, something furry entered the room, rushing straight towards Nino, causing the latter to suddenly panic and he jumped up to his feet, letting his chopsticks drop onto the low table. He lifted his hands and looked down irritated just to find a middle-sized fluffy animal bustling around his feet curiously.

“What's this?!” Nino burst nervously.

Sho smiled. “This is Clover, my dog,” he introduced the furry ball.

“You have a dog?!”

No way... Nino was honestly surprised and not very pleased. He was weak with dogs, he had always been since he had been attacked by a dog once as a young child. He didn't remember the exact incident and most likely he was to be blamed for having annoyed the dog or something like that. But the dog then bit him and had almost scared the not even five year old boy to death.

“He's nice you know,” Sho started. “But if you're afraid I can put him outside.”

Nino considered the other's offer for a moment but then decided strongly against it. Taking a closer look at the dog - “Clover” - who had settled next to Sho already made him think that this animal might not be that bad after all. At least, Clover wasn't that big... and the dog looked rather cute. Nino wondered how this breed was called, it reminded him of a long-haired but smaller-sized sheepdog that he once saw on TV but since he had no clues about dogs, he couldn't say. Nevertheless, even if Nino had declined Sho's offer to bring the dog outside again, that didn't mean that he trusted the animal. So for now, he would keep an eye on it, just to make sure...

“He was one of my patient's companion,” Sho started and soon, Nino found out the kind of sad story about how Sho and Clover had got together.

“You're such a Good Samaritan,” Nino commented more in thoughts than actually addressed to Sho in particular. He found it pretty adorable when someone decided to take care of an animal... or about other people, like Sho had taken care of him years ago. “You always have been.”

“To be totally honest, I was pretty low at that time and I grabbed him as a life buoy,” Sho suddenly confessed and Nino would lie if he wasn't surprised, especially after Sho's next comment that made him wonder if he was only talking about the dog... “Sometimes the Good Samaritan isn't the one you think.”

Not knowing how to react further to the way this conversation was heading, Nino decided to continue eating instead. As they didn't talk for a while, Sho finally reached out to the stack of photo albums he had placed onto the table and when he opened it to show Nino the first page, the awkwardness of the situation was completely forgotten.

Nino couldn't hold back his laughter and was laughing out loud when he spotted Sho and Ohno wearing a Yankee disguise in a picture.

“What's that?! Were you Yankees at that time?” he laughed.

Sho smirked. “Did I tell you my first encounter with Oh-chan?”

“Never,” Nino answered, putting down his almost empty bowl. “Tell me.”

It was rare for Sho to talk about himself and his past, it already had been rare back then when they still were... together. Of course, Nino was eager to find out more about Sho, how he met other people, how he was during school time, he wanted to know everything that Sho would be willing to share with him.

The following was a funny story about how Ohno, a strange kid without any friends, had gotten himself into trouble with something that nobody knew about and how Sho ended up at the same detention class with that daydreamer. Sho had caused trouble to one of his teachers because he wanted to take revenge on his mother for something. Nino had a hard time trying to imagine Sho doing something that would make his parents angry with him, to Nino he always seemed to be the model-student; but it was interesting to see another side to that man. Just with such a small piece of information, Nino remembered, how mysterious Sho always had been to him. Maybe, he had a completely wrong picture of that man, stamped by the ideals he always had superimposed onto Sho, but nevertheless, he was burning to find out more.

“That's the way you became friends?” hearing this story about Sho's encounter with Ohno was one step into the right direction, Nino thought.

“Yes. We stick together after that day.”

“I’d never guessed,” Nino smirked. “But this picture is worthy to be displayed for sure.”

Sho nodded and then suddenly changed the topic, leaving Nino a bit disappointed about the fact that he did not seem willing to share a few more episodes from his past. “We have the suits, the flowers, the place for the wedding and the gallery...”

“I took care of the invitations with Oh-chan during your absence,” Nino added.

“Great,” Sho answered. “What else do we have to do?”

Nino tried to recollect everything from Jun's list, “Find a band and the menu and~”

“The bachelor party?” Sho barged in.

“Yeah. Any idea?”

“Should we do it together?” Sho asked, making Nino wondered. Of course they would do it together, after all that's why they were here talking about it. But Sho quickly corrected his words. “I mean, Jun and Oh-chan's parties together?” Ah, so that was what he meant.

“It could be fun,” Nino agreed after thinking about the possibilities quickly. “In a nightclub perhaps? I know one which will be perfect.”

“Okay.”

“I have some connections to find a band too and I can ask to the chef of the hotel to create a menu?” Nino suggested.

“I have the feeling of being helpless suddenly,” Sho said in a worrisome tone but Nino was fast to react.

“Perhaps you could come with me?” Nino asked, hoping that Sho would accept.

“For the band and the menu?”

“And the nightclub,” Nino confirmed. “If you're too busy, I~”

“Why don't we do as we proposed?” Sho suggested then. “We just replace the phone call with a meeting?”

“Every two weeks?” Nino's heartbeat raised.

“Every two weeks.”

This sounded like regular dating in Nino's ears. “I'm okay with that,” he agreed and smiled a bit shyly at Sho.

They finished their meal with Nino complimenting Sho on his cooking skills and Sho complimenting the other on his skills to improve his cooking even more with his tricks. The scene was really pathetic and Nino almost felt like he was on a real date.

After dinner, the two men settled down on the floor with the staple of photo albums in front of them, they skimmed through all of them, laughing at some funny pictures, being embarrassed about others. Nino was surprised, how many pictures of himself he found in Sho's photo albums – at least considering how little time they spent together compared to the rest of their lives and how little pictures of Nino actually existed. Of course there weren't couple like pictures of them - just a view of group pictures together with Ohno and Jun (and most of the time Sho and Nino were just somewhere in the back, looking like a couple of friends dragged along by the other two men) but somehow, it made feel Nino good to know that he had been part of Sho's life, even if just a small part.

Sho told Nino a few small stories from his past here and there, he told him more about Jun and Ohno and Nino had the feeling of getting to know completely different sides of these people. It was fascinating. Sho avoided to talk about his ex-wife, Aoi, Nino realized, since he must feel that this topic was somewhat like a taboo between them... but from looking at the pictures, Nino pretty much got the impression that Aoi might not be as a bad woman as he always had thought she was.

From time to time, Clover tried his luck again in getting Nino's attention and after backing off nervously a few times, Nino reached his hand out and following Sho's instructions, who chuckled at Nino's shy efforts, he was finally able to pat the dog properly. He couldn't suppress a proud smile as he looked up and met Sho's smiling eyes. The dog was really cute, Nino had to admit. And so unbelievably fluffy! The soft fur under Nino's hands felt really good and somehow... comforting. For the rest of the evening, Clover lay down on the floor, sleeping between the two men, who casually took turns to pat him.

- - February 8, 2015; 2 am

Drowned in their tasks to pick the best pictures for the gallery, marking each and every one of it with sticky notes, the two men completely lost track of time. When Nino started yawning as his eyes almost fell shut while they were checking the last of the photo album, Sho took a look at the clock on the wall, shocked to note that it was already 2 am of the following day.

“Oh my gosh, it's that late already?!” he wondered. “I didn't notice at all!”

“Me neither,” Nino yawned again and rubbed his tired eyes.

When he wanted to get up to take his leave, Nino noticed that his legs had went numb and he almost crashed down to the floor again if Sho hadn’t reached out to stabilize the other, who then burst out laughing as he settled down to the floor again, cursing at the prickly feeling in his feet.

“Aw, crap! I'm sorry, Sho,” he chuckled.

“You know what? It's pretty late already and you're so tired, I'd be worried if I let you go home alone in this state,” Sho finally said, sitting next to Nino and averting the younger's eyes. “You can stay over if you want to.”

Nino stared at the other in disbelief.

“Ah, I mean, I have a study with a bed for guests, you could sleep there and head home as soon as you wake up,” Sho continued to avoid any misunderstandings.

Nino nodded slightly. “Hm. I think that would be nice. I'm really tired.”

“Alright. I'll show you the way then.”

“Just give me and my feet another moment, please,” Nino pointed at them and blushed a little as Sho smiled at him again, nodding.

And so, Nino spent the night in Sho's study, dressed in one of Sho's shirts since he didn't want to sleep in his clothes. Nino's eyes fell shut just a second after he had settled down, covering himself with the warm blanket. He couldn't ignore the fact that everything around him smelled like Sho – his shirt, the pillow, the blanket, everything. Sighing happily, a small smile on his lips, Nino drifted off to dreamland.

The next day, Sho woke him up with a cup of coffee. They ate a small breakfast and after putting Sho in charge of the pictures for the gallery – like organizing the files, ordering the prints and everything – the two men fixed a new date for their next meeting. Nino would call Sho and let him know the details where to meet up then and promised to make an appointment with his hotel's chef to test some dishes for the wedding dinner for Saturday in two weeks time.

Nino left the house in high spirit, his heart beating as fast as the butterflies in his stomach. The young man had to admit that he hadn't slept that well for a long long time. When Sho gave Nino a ride with his motorbike, surprising the other especially with the fact that Sho actually owned one -, Nino almost couldn't believe it. Sitting behind the other man, letting his arms settle around his strong waist, made him blush and feel like a young school boy again, his heart spilling over with happiness.

=+=

“Is your boyfriend here?” Nino asked Toma as the other opened his apartment door a few hours later.

Toma looked at his friend surprised and shook his head. “No, he's supposed to be somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.”

“Alright, I don't want to make him jealous when I'm hugging you,” Nino chuckled and almost jumped at the other guy excitedly, giving his friend a big hug.

Toma stumbled backward a bit, tangling his arms around Nino’s slim figure and dragging him almost down to the floor just before he could prevent their fall. The man was a bit irritated, it was pretty unusual for Nino to show such strong actions and as he felt the slightly trembling man in his arms, he wondered if he was crying. Concerned, he turned his head but was surprised when he found out that Nino wasn’t crying but actually giggling. Giggling! Nino! That he was allowed to see his usually gloomy friend lively and giggling like that could almost be certified as a miracle.

“Wow, Nino, what’s with that good mood?” Toma giggled. “Are you even real?! Did you get kidnapped and brainwashed by aliens?”

“Very funny, Toma. Very funny,” Nino said, after he stopped giggling, still burying his face in the other’s neck. “I just had a pretty good time.”

“Really? That’s great! You want to tell me what happened?”

“Well… nothing, actually. At least not what you might think,” Nino started and poked Toma’s grinning cheeks. “But Sho - you know, the one I told you about – invited me over, we had dinner and took care of some wedding preparations for my brother and his fiancé. It wasn't a date but... we got along pretty well and he even let me stay over – in his study, not in his bed,” Nino poked Toma’s cheeks again before the other could answer.

“Wow, that sounds pretty good,” Toma smirked, ruffling his hand through Nino’s black hair who had been blushing badly as he told Toma about his meeting with Sho.

Nino shared a little more details, updating Toma on the happenings between him and Sho. He had only told Nana everything in details but Toma, who found out about Nino still being in love with Sho pretty early, had the right to know everything too, Nino thought. His friend listened carefully and nodded from time to time. They had settled down on Toma's couch and Toma had put his arm around Nino's shoulder, patting it encouragingly once in a while.

“And that is...,” Nino finished his talking “...Why I can’t sleep with you any longer.”

Toma chuckled. Well, he wasn't that surprised. “So you believe that there's the possibility that you could get back together and want to save that for him?”

Nino blushed. “I... I sound like a stupid virgin, don't I?” he then said a little shocked. “But... I don’t know but just in case, I want to be, well… not in some sexual relationship with someone else,” he concluded, cheeks flushed.

“I get it, I get it, don’t worry, Nino,” the older man couldn’t resist pulling his friend into another hug and even dared to tickle Nino’s sides, who then reached a hand back to push Toma away. “It's great that you finally admit that you’re still in love. I like that being-in-love-Nino.”

“Don't tease me,” Nino pouted.

“I don't! I'm serious!” Toma laughed. “I think, you should confess.”

“It’s far from something like a love confession, Toma,” Nino scolded him but couldn’t prevent his cheeks from turning crimson red. “And first of all, I want to confirm something…”

“To confirm something?”

“Yes, I want to confirm… what he feels. He was friendly to me, yes, but he had always been a friendly guy, so that doesn't mean anything!” Nino started explaining. “He thought that Nana is my girlfriend for some reason and I’m not sure but I think he reacted strangely to that. I think, he was pretty relieved when I told him she was not.”

Now Toma, interested, raised his eyebrow, his lips twirling up into a smirk. “And now... you want to make sure and check, if he gets jealous, when he sees you with another guy, isn’t it?”

Nino nodded.

“Isn't it too risky? Challenging him like that?”

Of course, Nino knew that his idea might be childish and stupid, testing some adult’s possible jealousy and he couldn't imagine how Sho would react and what it would cause, but he felt so excited, excited and unease.

“I don't know but I have to do something. No risk – no fun, right?” he replied and Toma didn’t hesitate to join Nino in creating a specific plan.

To be continued...

Chapter Text


Chapter 16

 

Sho's POV

- - Tokyo, Sakurai House; February 8, 2015; 3 am - -

It was so strange to feel Nino's presence all around him. The cushions on the floor were still misshaped by his little silhouette, the glass on the table half-finished, his coat and his shoes still behind the entrance door. With Clover on his heel, Sho went through the house, cleaning, skimming some photos once again, unable to go to bed knowing Nino was sleeping not so far from him. It was surreal. Sho didn't have to work the next day, but he didn't spend a day far from the hospital since he worked for the Matsumoto's hospital, it was part of his daily routine. Not going there would be too strange, as if his life was suddenly empty and hollow. Sho was thinking by himself, filling the dishwasher with the empty dishes when he noticed the unusual calm at his feet.

“Clover?” he called softly in order not to disturb his guest's sleep. He walked to the door of his study, which was ajar, and cursed in silent.

When Sho offered Nino a roof for the night, he immediately realized that he was still sleeping in the study of the house. Actually, it was a bedroom equipped like a study in order to make his friends and family believe that he and Aoi were sharing a bedroom. Which was obliviously wrong. It's been weeks since Aoi's moving, yet he never planned to change his habits. He was still sleeping in the bed, which he was used to and... he couldn't pretend offering his own bedroom to Nino for the night, it would have been too odd. Especially because this bedroom was clearly a woman's one and totally untouched for weeks. Sho didn't even set a foot inside, why would he have to? Thus, Nino slept in Sho's bed and Sho had to sleep in Aoi's. The main problem was that Clover shared Sho's bed and the only bed he knew matter-of-factly was... the study's one.

Sho risked an eye inside, calling the dog in an undertone again and again and by the ray of light he spotted him comfortably sitting on the foot of the bed. Ignoring his master the best he could. Sho tiptoed and grabbed the dog's collar when the man in the bed suddenly moved, rolling on his back, pushing the warm cover in the process. Sho froze, reluctant to explain his presence in this bedroom in the middle of the night. Not now when things seemed to be better between them...

He stepped back slowly when...

“Sho...”

Sho hung his head and murmured a “Yeah?” but Nino didn't answer and moved again, stopping in one of this strange postures he used to take when he was sleeping.
He called him in his sleep? Was it a nightmare?

Sho knelt by the bed's side and stared at the sleeping figure for a while as Nino was smiling and calling him again. Sho dared to reach out, brushing a strand of hair behind Nino's ear in an almost ghost-like caress.

“You're still the most stubborn... and beautiful, wonderful person I ever met in my life, you know...,” Sho whispered at Nino's ear and soon he was rewarded with a smile.

=+=

When Nino exited the bedroom the next morning, Sho was working on the living room's table and welcomed him with a fresh ground coffee.

“It smells delicious,” Nino said, stretching his arms far above his head.

“How did you sleep?”

“Very well, I dreamed all night long. You?”

“Idem,” Sho hid the fact that he didn't sleep at all, only daydreamed. “Are you hungry?”

“I'm starved.”

“I bought some croissants and melon pans.”

“You remember?” Nino said sitting on a chair facing Sho.

Sho smirked and poured two cups of coffee. “Are you working today?”

“I'm a workaholic,” Nino laughed, folding his legs on the edge of the chair like he did when he was younger. Sho didn't imagine he was still doing this now that he was a grown-up man with so many responsibilities. He was still so cute, so unaware of it. “And you?”

“I have to see my patients. I'll go there later.”

“I see.”

“May I offer you a ride?” Sho asked.

“A ride?”

“I have a motor bike sleeping in the garage,” Sho said, taking a sip which didn't totally hide his smile.

“You have a bike...it's so...unexpected.”

“To be totally honest, I don't use it as often as I'd wish. This will be the occasion.”

Sho laughed and they took a well-deserved breakfast in a quiet atmosphere. Nino even caressed Clover before running to the shower. Ten minutes later he was ready and Sho handed him a helmet, scolding him because he was smoking.

“For the record, I don't let anyone ride with me after the first night,” Sho mocked his so plain life.

“I am very honored to be the exception,” Nino said, gripping Sho's waist as if his life was in stake.

- - Tokyo, Ninomiya Hotel; February 21, 2015; 9 pm - -

Sho parked his car on the sidewalk in front of Nino's hotel in a hurry and threw the keys to the attendant who was welcoming the guests at the door. He hated being late. Especially for a date. Even if technically it wasn't a date. Well...in Sho's mind it was. He felt the same angst, the same turmoil of the heart, the same excitement.

It's been 15 days since Nino had spent the night at his place and he couldn't help but hope that something was – again - possible between them. The endless dinner, the conversation until the middle of the night with Nino had been so unexpected and so wonderful, as if everything was finally right between them. And somehow Sho began to think that letting things go wasn't bad at all. He had been honest, more than he should in order not to frighten Nino and when he proposed for him to spend the night at his place, he was startled to hear an acceptation.

The following night, the sheets, the pillow and the T-shirt he lent to Nino were covered with his subtle and sweet odor and in spite of the little voice in Sho's head telling him that he was childish – creepy? - he couldn't wash them. With time the odor would fade away, he had to enjoy it as long as it still existed.

He strode to the reception desk and asked for the director after introducing himself.

“You can wait for him in the lobby, Sir.”

Sho thanked her and sat on an armchair, checking his cell phone. He sent a message to Nino earlier but he didn't answer. Perhaps he already was at home, after all, he was 2 hours late. It was unacceptable. He stood up, sighing with relief when Nino appeared, walking through the lobby with a charming smile on his lips.

“I'm so sorry, Nino. I'm unbelievably late.”

“What happened, nothing worrisome, I hope?”

“An accident on the highway.”

Nino put his hand on Sho's forearm, his eyebrows frowned.

“Not to me but we had to take care of the people involved in it at the hospital. I couldn't come sooner. I'm sorry,” Sho explained.

“Stop apologizing, it's not your fault if you were needed and I'm here for the night anyway. Shall we go?”

“Sure.”

“I hope you're hungry. My chef prepared the entire menu for us.”

“I can't wait,” Sho said, feeling the burn of Nino's hand that was still holding his elbow.

They walked along a corridor and once again, Sho admired Nino in his natural environment. He changed so much, Ohno was right. Nino was a man now and Sho felt a bit pitiful compared to him. He felt like a middle-aged man, workaholic, without any social life.

For once, Sho allowed himself to think about the person who shared Nino's bed, Nino's life perhaps. Jun told him several times that Nino had a girlfriend. Sho thought, it would be Nana, but since Nino told him she was not and she wasn't part of the scenery anymore, who was this person? A woman? A man? Sho chased away the torturing idea and realized they reached an elegant place, which was certainly set up as a private dining room. The entire place looked like an old and cozy English library. On the wall a strip of brown wallpaper and a fireplace where a small fire was burning.

“This is the place where my father tasted the new meals, it was his study. It's a bit theatrical but I like it. Sit down please.”

Sho did what he was told and Nino disappeared for a minute. He came back with a young man, around his age, very, very cute, a disarming smile adorning his face.

“This is Toma-kun, our chef and my friend. Toma, this is Sakurai Sho, the other best man for my brother's wedding.”

The chef reached out and Sho shook his hand like an automated robot, his eyes focused on Nino's hand negligently resting on Toma's back. This man was his friend while Sho was the other best man. Charming.

“Nice to meet you,” Sho began. “I have to apologize for being so late.”

“No problem,” answered the Chef. “I was busy with the service, it is easier for me now.”

“Thanks,” Sho replied. Toma must be lying, obviously, who wished to be staying longer at his work? Well, Nino said he would spend the night at the hotel, did he plan to stay with him? Sho scolded himself for the nauseous jealousy he always felt when it was about Nino.

“No one waits for me at home anyway. I'll keep Nino-chan company,” Toma achieved with a smile that Sho judged immediately as evil.

“I see,” Sho moaned almost for himself.

“Shall we begin?” Nino asked his employee with a luminous smile.

“I'll be right back,” Toma left the place and Nino gazed at his guest.

“Does it happen often?” Nino asked.

“What?”

“This kind of unpredictable event at work?”

“All the time,” Sho said, leaning back on his chair. “I guess this is the problem with my work. People can't count on me, although I do my best to respect my commitments.”

“Your wife was surely mad at you,” Nino said glancing down at his napkin, playing with it with the tip of his fingers.

Sho frowned. Was it the reason why you got divorced, was the implied question.

“She wasn't. Aoi had her own life and I had mine.”

“Did she work outside?”

“She's a lawyer. And to be honest, she's very devoted to her work too. She never blamed me for being late.”

“Yet...”

“Yet, she's happy now with the man she chose.”

“Sorry Sho, I didn't want to be that intrusive. Or clumsy. It's none of my business.”

Sho was about to protest, telling him he had the right to know, after all he didn't want to hide anything from him anymore but the chef came back with a tea-trolley.

“I'm sorry to interrupt you, gentlemen. May I?”

“Sure,” Nino said, grabbing the menu Toma was handing.

 

MENU

Menu « Les Larmes d'Amour »
Mise en bouche
Le gazpacho de melon jaune à la viande des Grisons et oignon frit

L’entrée froide
Le millefeuille de foie gras au Sauternes et magret de canard fumé, Chutney de mangue fraiche et basilic

L’entrée chaude
La brochette de coquille de noix de St-Jacques au beurre de champagne et son crémeux risotto safrané

Le Plat principal chaud
Le grenadin de veau de nos prés rôti dans une fricassée de morilles, jus de veau court
Le gratin dauphinois et son fagotin d’asperges vertes

Fromages
Le buffet de 6 fromages et sa salade verte, vinaigrette Balsamique

Desserts
Mignardises sucrées
Escalier de douceurs de 5 gâteaux
La fontaine de chocolat noir
Les gourmands s’amuseront à tremper des brochettes de fruits frais dans un fin chocolat

Show time
Pyramide nuptiale de champagne (champagne des Mariés)
Le pain cuit au feu de bois ; le café, thé et la Soupe à l’oignon gratinée et ses croutons à l’ail

Sho frowning skimmed the elegant card, unable to catch more than three words in a row.

“This is a french menu,” explained Toma. “Nino told me that his brother and his future husband decided to visit France for their honeymoon, I thought it would be a good lead.”

“You're totally right, Toma and it's elegant, Jun will love it. Sho?”

“I...I don't understand the biggest part of the menu.”

“We'll explain it to you. Toma?”

“Yeah sure. We'll begin with the title, 'Les larmes de l'amour', it means "the tears of love".”

“Isn't it a bit sad?” Sho asked skeptically.

“It's romantic,” Nino chuckled idiotically, looking at his employee straightforwardly.

“Exactly!” Toma added, “This is the entrée: Le gazpacho de melon jaune à la viande des Grisons et oignon frit.The melon jaune, yellow melon has a taste very close to watermelon, it would please a Japanese palate. The 'viande des Grisons' is a kind of dry meat, very low in calorie, pretty thick and delicious. Both fit well together. It’s a salty/sweet taste, very refreshing in summer!”

Sho took a bite at the colorful plate and he had to admit that it was delicious.

“I already tasted it,” Nino said appreciatively. “In the south of France.”

“Indeed, this is typical for that part of the country.”

“Did you live in France?” Sho asked, surprised. He knew that Nino traveled throughout Europe but he never heard Jun spoke about France.

“I spent a few months out there. In Paris and in Bergerac.”

“Tu connais Bergerac?!” exulted the Chef in French.

“J'y ai vécu plusieurs mois et toi?”

“Moi aussi!”

Sho hated this. He didn't understand a single word of their conversation and it irritated him deeply. Plus, those two were far more than simple employee/employer and more than friends too, it was crystal clear. He stood up unceremoniously, jolting the two.

“Excuse me, I have to go to the restroom.”

Sho left the place without a glance, without taking the pain to ask where the restrooms were. He needed a moment all alone to find his composure back.

Tokyo, Nightclub The Babylon; December 31, 2008;, 10 pm

This place was insane.

It's been ages, since Sho didn't set a foot in this nightclub but Ohno dragged him here almost against his will. It was New Year’s Eve but Sho was hidden inside his flat for two days now and he didn't intend to come out. His life was such a mess. The countdown before his wedding has begun, his mother called him at the beginning of the week to tell him that the invitations were sent out and Sho realized with horror that he was terrified. He didn't want to get married. He didn't want to lead the life his parents created for him and beyond everything, he didn't want to lose Nino.

Nino.

Nothing changed between them. Or worse. They were still lovers, Sho was still totally crazy about him, and still paralyzed by the idea of losing him. Several times he thought about breaking up with him to stop this torturing relationship, yet totally unable to make such a painful decision. Sho placed some distance between them, spaced out their encounters gradually, getting used to their imminent separation. What could he do? Keeping Nino as lover once he was married? Eloping with him? If only he could find out if his love was shared, he would have been able to move mountains. But Nino didn't love him. Nino never spoke of words of love, not even during their most intimate moments.

Sho was in a deadlock, cornered by the situation, lost in the throes of doubt. And for the first time of his life, he was stuck in his bedroom, overthinking the problem, trying to find a solution when Ohno found him. He didn't talk that much, simply pushing him under the shower and throwing him an outfit before forcing him to climb into a cab. Jun was working that night, thus, Ohno was alone but he planned to join some friends in a nightclub downtown. The Babylon was decorated for the occasion in silver and gold and party goers, already drunk for the biggest part, invaded the place noisily.

“Did you miss it?” Oh-chan said, nudging his friend.

“Not at all.”

“Liar.”

“A bit perhaps. But with my studies, I didn't have time to party.”

“Tonight we'll catch up! Let's think about ourselves for once.”

“You're probably right.”

Not once, Ohno mentioned Nino or Aoi. More often than naught, Sho wondered what the latter knew or suspected about his complicated relationships. Some remarks, some stares seemed to contain innuendos. But Ohno had never been clear, so Sho stayed silent about something that he couldn't understand himself.

“Did you hear from Nino?” Ohno asked as if reading Sho's thoughts.

“I guess he's partying with friends from college.” Sho made his way through the crowd, walking toward the bar, Ohno on his heel.

“Did you ask him?”

“Why should I?” Sho answered unable to hide his irritation.

He didn't meet Nino for three weeks now and his lover didn't contact him either. Why, since the very beginning, was he the only one to take the initiative? It enhanced the feeling that he was the only one who cared and it hurt.

“Don't know. You're close, right?”

“Not that much, not like we used to be.”

“Hi pretties!” the barman behind the counter called them. “What would you like to drink? A rainbow cocktail?”

“Two draft beers please,” Sho said, taking his wallet from the back pocket of his black slack.

“It's been a long time, Ohno-kun,” a man patted Ohno's shoulder and Sho looked at the tall man behind him. “Who's your friend?”

“Sakurai Sho. Sho, this is Nagase Tomoya-san, we worked together for an exhibition.”

The man reached out, gazing at Sho as if he was ready to eat him alive. Immediately, Sho remembered why he didn't come to this kind of place anymore, the way people behaved here.

“Are you together?” the man asked with a carnal smile.

“We're not, I'm still with my boyfriend. Sho-kun is my old friend and Jun's work partner.”

“I see, you're a doctor too?”

“Yes I am.”

“Sho-kun, do you dance?” Nagase gently put his hand on Sho's forearm, visibly showing his intentions for the young doctor.

“I don't, even if my life was in stake.”

“Too bad. Well, if you change your mind...I'll be around,” with a last wink, the man stepped back.

“He likes you.”

“I'm not interested.”

“When was it?” Ohno said turning around to sip the beer while facing the dance floor.

“What are you talking about?”

“Your last fuck.”

“It's not really your business but not so long ago,” three weeks and probably...six hours and thirty minutes, Sho thought.

“You should try your luck with Nagase. He's a good guy, not complicated, he's not a drama queen.”

“Who's a drama queen?”

“Your affair, obviously.”

“He's not. It's just me, I'm a bit insecure when it's about him,” Sho understated with reserve.

“Why?”

“Because he's more than a crush for me. And it isn't reciprocal.”

“Did you tell him?”

“Why? To make him run away?!”

“Who knows?”

“I do. I know things are not what like I'd wish them to be but it's better than not seeing him at all.”

“So you simply endure it?”

“Simply? Yeah, I guess.”

Sho glared at his friend and imitated him, watching vaguely at the dancers. Maybe he was right. Maybe it was the solution that he was looking for in vain? Finding an easy-laid to forget the love of his life. Yeah...said like that, it was unthinkable.

“Sho...,” Ohno stuttered pointing at someone behind Nagase.

Nino was on the dance floor swaying among the dancers and Sho froze.

His partner was a guy with spiky black hair and enough piercing in his face to give him trouble getting past a metal detector. Despite the spotlight, Sho could see perfectly his wild eyes and dilated pupils. The guy was clearly high. Sho watched them dancing to a natural rhythm and moved with a graceful slinkiness that made Sho feel clumsy in comparison. So was this one of the friends Nino went out with? A junkie and who else? Sho was suddenly so angry. No, he was more than that, he was out-of-mind furious.

“Sho, don't do anything inconsiderate,” Ohno gripped his arm and Sho noticed, he stepped forward without thinking.

He didn't answer but firmly took off Ohno's hand to resume his walk. Sho pushed his way through the crowd. He stood in front of the couple as the guy was trying to press something small and round into Nino's lips. Sho slapped the hand of the man, making the drug fall onto the floor.

“Stop this.”

The guy glared at Sho, ready to argue back but clenched his jaws instead, visibly intimidated by the infuriated newcomer.

“Who's this guy? You know him?” he grumbled annoyed.

“Sho?” Nino mumbled, dumbfounded, stepping back.

“You, you come with me!” Sho seized Nino's wrist and dragged him forcefully to the exit, then to his car.

He pushed Nino inside unceremoniously and slammed the door before sitting behind the steering wheel. They didn't exchange a word during the journey, Sho was still too furious to unclench his jaws and Nino was bent against the door as far from his lover as possible.

“Get out,” Sho hissed when he stopped the engine in front of the condo he shared with Ohno.

Nino obeyed in silent and when Sho entered the building he followed, his head hung.

“What crossed your fucking mind?!” Sho exploded as soon as the threshold was passed.

“I didn't do anything except~”

“Except going to a gay nightclub with some jerk who tries to drug you?! Was this what you were about to say?”

“I was about to refuse and for the rest... it's none of your business!”

“IT IS my business! Everything concerning you IS my business!”

“Why? Because I'm your little incestuous brother?!” Nino eructed angrily, trying to move away.

“Go fuck yourself!”

Sho grabbed Nino's wrists with anger and they struggled a second but Nino wasn't strong enough to resist. Soon, he was nailed to the wall, moaning under Sho's eager kiss, ignoring the question of was he moving under his firm body to run away or to encourage the contact. The kiss deepened, turning them on in a blink of an eye. Sho's body weighted on him more languishly, intertwining their fingers as he was nibbling Nino's lips playfully. He wanted him so much that it was painful. When they broke the kiss, they caught their breath, foreheads against foreheads.

“You knew I'd be there,” Sho said with a sudden certitude.

“Maybe...maybe Oh-chan mentioned it earlier.”

“You know, you're a little cheat,” Sho groaned falsely furious between two craving kisses.

“Maybe you should punish me then?” Nino suggested out of breath, his wrists still nailed to the wall with Sho's powerful hands.

“Yeah? Would you like that?”

“I think I would.”

“So maybe I shouldn't then. Wouldn't be much of a punishment if you enjoyed it, would it?”

“Do whatever you like with me.”

Sho felt his heart jumping in his chest, so excited by Nino's shameless and unexpected proposition. One hour ago, he was mopping in the nightclub and now he was about to make love to his love, already aroused, surely more than he should. His problems weren’t resolved, when daylight would come, nothing would have changed, but once again he couldn't resist to the siren's song.

He seized Nino's butt and lifted him up from the ground, then carried him to his bedroom, tossing him on the bed carelessly. He took off his T-shirt and undressed Nino in a rush. He admired him during a second, the pale gold tone of his skin, and the perfectness of his slim body. Sho tossed his clothes onto the floor, stripping very slowly reveling in Nino's lustful gaze. He let him admire his well-built body and the already significant hump at his crotch, misshaping the plain white but so sexy trunk. Once again, he cupped Nino’s face, kissed him eagerly, smothering a moan as their skins finally touched.

“Your head on the feet of the bed,” Sho commanded with a husky voice.

Nino turned around on the king size bed, resting his head at the feet of the bed, and grabbed Sho’s hips in front of him to take down his trunk, exposing his turgescent manhood. Even from above, looking at Nino from this angle, he was so totally handsome. And Sho wanted him. He craved for him. For the first time of his sexual life, his desire was totally free and unleashed, the mad jealousy he felt before drove him crazy. He wanted to fuck Nino hard and all night long and fuck the politeness and silly tenderness. Nino never gave him such a look, as if Sho was the sexiest man on earth.

Nino elbowed on the bed to lift himself up and he licked the head of Sho's member, tearing him off a low moan. He sucked deeper, further, in this position he could forget the gag reflex and he was clearing enjoying it. Sho was big in Nino's mouth, invaded it totally and smothering his moan of pleasure as Sho leaned on him to take his arousal between his lips. Nino wanted to scream his ecstasy, Sho was perfectly aware of it, but he couldn’t, so he opened his legs wider and swayed his hips to guide his lover’s mouth. Nino lied down on the bed and finally was able to use his hands to caress Sho's body which was pleasuring him so much.

Sho grabbed the lube in the drawer of the night stand, massaged Nino's puckering hole skilfully, and kept his tongue on toying with Nino’s member. Nino arched his back when he felt the knuckle of Sho's thumb penetrating him. Back and forth, back and forth and he was already wishing that he could beg for mercy. Sho bent on his lower belly and once again Nino had to straighten to reach his lover’s shaft fully. A second finger and very quickly a third, Nino couldn’t wait anymore.

“Sho. Please.”

Sho stared at Nino from under his arm, without totally releasing the shaft he had in the mouth. It was too much for the younger's sanity. He felt the wave of the orgasm growing from the small of his back and he had to move to curb his desire.

“I forbid you to come now,” Sho murmured bossily.

“I’m about to explode in your mouth. Take me now, please.”

Sho tsked and turned around to lie down on Nino, kissing his mouth again and again. A strange salty taste on the tip of their tongues. Then, he knelt, put Nino’s left calf on his right shoulder, straddling his other leg and thrusted inside him, both of them groaning their pleasure in unison.

Nino couldn’t keep a scream to himself as Sho caressed his hot spot right on the bat, totally rejecting the idea that he felt like a sexual beast. Was it normal to love fucking someone so much? He moaned shamelessly, moved his hips frenetically to search for his own delight and Nino climaxed noisily on the blue satin sheet chosen by Sho's mother in person. What a wonderful way to inaugurate them, thought Sho with a fulfilled smile, watching Nino's white semen soiling the perfect material. He observed the face of his lover, so lost in his pleasure but totally focused on him. Eyes in the eyes he kept on moving his hips, more slowly now and Nino hardened once again, causing Sho to lose his control absolutely.

Sho felt the hotness of his load filling Nino and slowly, Nino took off his leg from his lover's shoulder to capture him between his thighs, searching for a contact that he already missed. Sho weighted heavily on him and it was so good to feel Nino's slim body ondulating under him, to feel his mouth on his, his hips gently swaying from right to left to rub their wet shafts against each other. It was so improper and exciting.

“Sho, I don’t do this usually,” Nino whispered with a voice veiled by emotion.

“Do what?”

“Going to a nightclub and dancing with a stranger. It’s my first time.”

“And I've never been that furious. I can't recognize myself.”

“I loved it.”

“What?”

Nino pushed him and made him roll on his back to straddle him. “Being manhandled by you.”

“You’re insatiable.”

“Are you?”

“Let’s see.”

Nino fumbled between them and his hand met an already half-hard sex. He leaned forward and kissed his lover. This time they would take their sweet time to savor each other. Sho didn’t want to waste a single second of this night. He would cry his tiredness tomorrow at the hospital but in that moment, he didn’t give a shit.

A persistent whistle hurt Nino's ear and Sho straightened to grab his pair of jeans. He fetched the phone in his pocket and after a quick glance put it on the floor.
“Who’s this?” Nino asked.

“Oh-chan. It seems that it's time to wish a Happy New Year.”

“So...,” Nino kissed him deeply, possessively. “Happy New Year.”

Sho closed his arms around Nino and cuddled him. He sighed loudly. “Sometimes, this desire I feel for you terrorizes me.”

Nino pecked his neck and with skillful movements totally woke Sho's virility once again. And everything was said.

- - Tokyo; Ninomiya Hotel; February 21, 2015; 10 pm

Sho hadn't been this furious since that memorable New Year's Eve. But this sudden burst of anger he just felt reminded him painfully. His stomach was twisted, his legs felt like jelly, his fists clenched by themselves against his thighs, and blood beating at his temples giving him a huge headache. He leaned against the wall and massaged his forehead, breathing in and out deeply to calm his nerves. He won't make it. Falling again and again in this torturing agony was unthinkable.

For the past several minutes Sho struggled against the desire to run away, to go back to his car and drive back home, forgetting this silliness once for all. He had more than his fair share of this emotional roller coaster. He was an adult now, a divorced man, and if he had to be honest with himself, he needed some peace of mind. This insane jealousy, this turmoil was too much for him to cope.

Without thinking further he took out his phone from the inside pocket of his jacket and dialed Nino's number.

“Sho? Everything's fine?”

“I'm sorry Nino, I have to take my leave, the hospital just called me. They need me. I leave the rest to you.”

“...Okay. I guess we can't help it... You didn't say good bye.”

Sho couldn't miss the disappointed tone, “To be honest, I'm already at my car.”

Sho began to walk along the corridors, the phone still at his ear, making his way toward the exit. He greeted the car attendant quickly and the man ran to the parking to search for Sho's car.

“Don't overwork yourself.”

“Sure. I'll call you in 15 days,” Sho said flatly, erasing, with that simple sentence, the small step forward they took those last few weeks.

He hung up and got into his car, starting the engine immediately. The town was quiet, almost empty and for a moment, Sho drove without a goal, surprised to arrive in front of the hospital. He parked the car in its usual place and used his card to access to the closed building.

“Good night, Doctor.”

“Good night, ladies.”

The nurses who were sitting in their office stood up to greet him, not surprised to see the hard-working doctor Sakurai in the middle of the night.

“I'll be in my office if you need me. Who's the doctor in charge tonight?”

“Doctor Tsubasa Imai.”

“Let him rest for the time being. Thanks.”

Sho entered his office, feeling his anger decreasing bit by bit, regaining his usual composure. He didn't feel like working, he simply sat in his armchair, turning it around to face the window. Giving up was relieving somehow. He sighed deeply and turned around, grabbing the first file from the stack that was waiting for his expertise.

A knock at his door distracted his attention rapidly, as expected.

“Come in.”

“It's me.”

Sho's heart skipped a beat, hearing Nino's voice when he was so determined to not hear it anymore.

“I watched you leaving the hotel with your car, I was on the sidewalk,” Nino said softly. “Did they really call you? You don't seem particularly busy.”

Sho rose and walked by the desk, crossing his arms against his chest as he rested his butt on the edge of the piece of furniture.

“You know, they didn't.”

“...Why?”

“I can't do this anymore Nino. I was bad with this kind of triangular stories years ago, tonight I discovered, thanks to you that I'm still bad with them. Is that what you wanted to display with your little scene?”

“You knew?”

“Of course but it worked anyway. I felt it again, this anger, the way you drove me crazy then.”

“And?”

“And I refuse to feel it again, I refuse to endure it again, I~”

The end of the sentence died under Nino's hungry kiss.

 

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Nino's POV

- - Tokyo, Ninomiya Hotel; February 21, 2015; 10:00 pm - -

“I overdid it...,” Nino stated, devastated, and buried his face in his hands as he ended the phone call with Sho.

Toma, who was about to serve the next course of the splendid menu that he created, looked at him wondering. “What did he say?”

“He said he got called back to the hospital and had to leave and that he would call me again in 15 days,” as if they were forbidden to talk to each other in between... Nino sighed again. He of course had taken the clear hint of Sho wanting to get some distance between them – again – and Nino saw the little progress they had made during the last few weeks crumbling down.

“Oh...,” Toma simply voiced.

“I'm pretty sure, he lied. Leaving without saying good bye? That's not like Sho. Only if he's mad,” Nino sighed as he leaned against the back rest of his chair. “He's mad at me.”

“Didn't you intend to make him jealous? It worked, you should be happy,” Toma said. Like so often, his friend didn't really make sense.

“How am I supposed to be happy if he's mad at me?” Nino asked, even if he knew that Toma was right.

Everything worked according to plan – maybe even better than planned – but Nino also felt bad. He had used Sho's tendency for jealousy and still he didn't have an answer to the real question of the problem. Even if Sho was jealous – why was that? Was it just because he was a possessive person? He had always been possessive towards Nino, even when they were younger but that was because he didn't want to share his toy or was it because maybe... he really liked Nino?

“Then go after him and apologize,” Toma suggested, putting the dishes back onto the tray.

“But...,” Nino hesitated.

“Nino, go! Or do you want to regret again?”

“No... You're right. Thanks, Toma!”

The young man jumped up quickly and headed out of his father's study. He sped up his steps and almost ran through the corridors until he arrived outside. He spotted Sho entering his car and if he had reacted quickly enough, Nino might have caught the other before he left but somehow, his legs couldn’t move. What was he going to say? And what if it was true and Sho was really being called to the hospital? Sho would be irritated if Nino suddenly apologized for setting up a flirting scene between him and his chef and think that the other was crazy, right? Nino brushed his hands over his face, wondering what to do and just then, he saw Sho's car passing.

Damned, now, it was too late, he thought and unconsciously took a step forward as if he was about to run after the other. He wouldn't catch the car, no matter how fast he would run and so Nino took the next available cab, ordering the driver to follow Sho's car, feeling like being in one of those car chases from those countless movies that he used to watch with Sho years ago. If the situation wasn't that messed up, Nino might have laughed with that thought but now this was not a laughing matter at all. At least, following Sho would give him the time to think what he would actually tell the other.

Somehow, it had always been hard to talk to Sho. Not when they were chatting about movies or when Nino poured his heart out in front of the other about his teenage sorrows, but talking about stuff that concerned both of them, their feelings – or at least possible feelings - had always been hard. Like back then, when Nino wanted to talk Sho into sleeping with him. At least, that had worked out in the end... somehow. But there were countless examples when Nino was dying to talk to Sho, to properly talk to him about things. Like on that Valentine's Day in 2008 when Nino so desperately wanted to tell Sho that he loved him and wanted to ask the other what he felt about them. Like on that New Year's Eve on which he had been burning to ask Sho, why he had become so jealous about seeing Nino dancing with a stranger...

- - Tokyo, Matsumoto & Ninomiya Apartment; December 31, 2008; 9:30 pm - -

When the New Year was approaching, Nino was sulking lazily at home on the couch, his arms settled around his knees as he tried to decide which game he should play to kill the remaining time of the old year. The young man had declined his college comrades' invitations to their New Year's parties, Jun was working for his medical training in the hospital, and Nino didn't have any other plans besides playing games all night long on his own.

In fact, he would have liked to share his evening with Sho – in one or another way – watching a few movies, gaming, making love or whatever the other wanted to do. But Sho hadn't called him. Not for three weeks now and Nino was too anxious to make a call on his own. He had once tried to initiate something and called Sho, but Sho had declined to meet Nino because he had to work on some presentation for university. Well, that was most likely true and Nino didn't have the right to be upset because of that, but he couldn't brush away the little jealous voice inside his head that Sho might have lied to him, that he preferred to spend his evening with someone else... one of his rumored one-night-stands maybe.

Well, Nino thought, if he didn't call, he couldn't get rejected, that's how simple it was and that was, why he didn't call Sho after that. Usually, it was Sho taking the first step anyway, so that Nino could be sure of not interfering with the other man's plans. He didn't want to be a burden on the man he loved.

Nevertheless, Sho hadn't met with Nino even on their usual Monday evening study dates lately, most likely because things at university were getting tough. Sho would graduate next spring after all, just like Nino was supposed to graduate from college. The soon-to-be doctor was surely busy with preparing for his tests and surely he was better off concentrating on his own studies instead of getting distracted by sleeping with Nino, which was how those “study dates” mostly ended sooner or later.

Or, the little jealous voice in Nino's head whispered, he had just found someone else he preferred to spend his time with...

Nino couldn't completely ignore that Sho had become quieter somehow. That he didn't talk that much to Nino any longer, that he didn't look straight into his eyes that often any longer – only when they were having sex. He had noticed indeed that Sho's mood had changed and Nino could only wonder what the reason was. But asking the other directly about what was troubling him had never led to a result and so Nino had given up. Obviously it wasn't him who was allowed to see that side of Sho, it wasn't him the other trusted with his deepest sorrows. Sho was so damned hard to approach lately, and Nino was desperate.

Suddenly, Nino's phone rang and the young man, who was still staring at the game covers in front of him, cringed. He reached out his hand to the couch table, grabbing his phone and his heart skipped a beat as he looked at the screen.

Despite what he had secretly wished for, the call wasn't from Sho. It was Ohno.

“Hey,” Nino answered the phone lazily, not bothering to hide his disappointment.

“He's here with me. In a night club,” Ohno's voice, almost swallowed by the too loud disco beats and something that was supposed to be music, screamed into the receiver so that Nino had to pull the phone away for a second until he adjusted to the noise level.

“What?” he asked in a loud voice to make sure the other heard him, not getting what Ohno was talking about.

“Sho! He's here with me, in a night club!” the man on the other side of the phone repeated.

Nino's heart cringed. Sho in a night club. Well, that surely wasn't a premiere and this most likely meant that if Sho wasn't already with some other guy, he might at least search for one for the night... some guy that wasn't Nino.

“...And?” did the other want to put salt into the wound?

“I thought, you might want to know! He looks really hot! If you don't pay attention, someone else will snatch him away for New Year's Eve that would be a pity, right?”

“What do you know?!” Nino blushed and knitted his eye brows.

“Enough to know that you might not like that. So, you should come over. I'll mail you the address!”

“What? Oh-chan?! Wait, I-” but Ohno had already ended the phone call.

Nino cursed. Not only that he was irritated about the thought of Sho being in a night club, picking up or getting picked up by another guy, he was also irritated by Ohno. Ever since Ohno knew about the “thing” between Nino and Sho, he had never talked to him about it and they had ever since avoided the topic in amicable silence. Ohno couldn't know about Nino's true feelings towards Sho... could he?

OK, he might know. He wasn't dumb after all, Nino had to admit.

=+=

About half an hour later and having to prove his legal age twice - first with his identification card and second with his driver license to a critical, grumpy security man - Nino was finally inside “The Babylon”, the club of the address Ohno had sent him. It was a large night club, Nino once had heard about it but being inside actually excelled what he could imagine about such a place completely.

The young man had never been a fan of going out – except from going to the cinema or having a cup of coffee once in a while – and honestly, the thought of visiting a gay night club had never once crossed his mind. Why should he come here? He wasn't interested in dancing, he wasn't interested in any other men other than Sho and he didn't even search for adventures or anything. On the contrary, somehow, even the thought of Sho coming here on a regular basis to search for adventures made Nino feel like throwing up.

The club was crowded, the men around him – some of them eyeing the newcomer critically, some of them trying to flirt with him – obviously came from different ages and classes. It was just a mass of much more different types of men than Nino could have ever imagined. Ohno had sent him a message, telling him that he and Sho were still at the bar and he should just join them. Searching for the said bar, the young man tried to make his way through the crowd.

He didn't feel well here among all those strangers. The music was too loud, the floor trembled in an ominous way and the looks of these people around him almost drove Nino crazy. He wanted to find Sho quickly and... yeah and then what? Beg him to come with him instead of picking one of those other guys? Nino tried to ignore the fact that his clumsily picked black band T-shirt and the old pair of jeans couldn't compete at all with any of the splendid outfits that the other club visitors wore and that compared to them he might just look like a teenager, mistakenly dragged to this place.

Suddenly, Nino felt a strong hand on his shoulder that held him back. Wondering, Nino turned around and spotted a tall, muscular guy in a tight white shirt and with blonde colored hair.

“Where you're going, honey?” the stranger asked, tightening his grip a little around the small shoulder.

“Uhm, I-” Nino didn't really know how to react. “I'm here with some friends, they wait at the bar for me...”

“You're the innocent type, huh? I like that. Want to dance?” the man ignored Nino's comment and just when he was about to let his hand slip onto Nino's hip, someone else had already put his arms around Nino's waist and pulled the smaller into a hug from behind.

“Sorry, but he's here with me,” an unknown voice behind Nino exclaimed and the young man couldn't hide his irritation as he looked back up into the unfamiliar face of a tall, slim stranger dressed in punk-styled clothes and covered in piercings.

Wondering, if he should actually be happy with the turns of events, Nino tried to free himself and found himself caught in between two strangers – not sure which one was more frightening right now – the pierced punk that came to his rescue or the original intruder, the blond muscleman.

“I'm sorry. Have a nice evening,” the muscleman suddenly said and walked away without giving Nino another look, who didn't get what was exactly happening right now.

“I'm Taguchi, nice to meet you,” the punk then introduced himself and leaned his arm leisurely onto Nino's shoulder as he leaned to his ear. “You're new here, right? You're really cute so better watch out. If you don't want to dance or flirt or whatever with someone, just say you already have a boyfriend. Nobody will touch you then.”

You are touching me right now,” Nino said, eying the other critically.

The punk chuckled and laughed about Nino's comment, maybe more than even would have been adequate, if it had been intended as a joke. “Well, do you have a boyfriend?” he then asked, looking challenging into Nino's eyes.

“I... well, let's say, it's complicated,” Nino blushed.

“Hm... lovesick, huh?” the punk chuckled again.

That guy must be pretty drunk already, Nino thought. Again, the man leaned towards him and Nino felt the cold material of the other's lip piercing touching his ear. He was slightly surprised and cringed to the other side.

“I have something for you that will make you forget all your sorrows. Swear,” the punk said and smiled at Nino. “But first, I want to dance with you, cutie.”

Not really able to protest, Nino got pulled onto the dance floor, the tall punk quickly putting his hands onto Nino's hips to guide him to the music's rhythm and somehow, Nino just moved along, not really thinking about what he was doing. Amused, the guy called Taguchi grinned at Nino and pulled him a little closer so that he could speak into the smaller man's ear again.

“Looks like you know how to sway your hips, right? I bet, you're making someone else pretty happy with that,” he chuckled again and Nino blushed deeply red. “Ah, you're just too cute, what a pity that you're already taken.”

“I – I have to go to the bar,” Nino finally said. “You know where it is?”

The guy nodded into a specific direction. “But I can't allow you to run away already. The song hasn't finished yet.”

Kept on dancing, Nino stretched his neck and he spotted a bunch of people a bit away with drinks in their hands. When Nino's eyes finally caught sight of Ohno and Sho's figures standing at the bar, accompanied by another tall, good-looking guy, he stopped dancing for a moment to watch the scene for a while. Jealously bubbled up Nino's chest as he saw Sho smiling at the stranger...

“Alright, let's dance,” Nino said, driven by the irritating jealously that filled his heart again.

Maybe, it wasn't such a bad thing to dance with another guy, the young man thought. Sho might see him and maybe he would get jealous too. So he focused onto Taguchi who just giggled now and then, moving closer to Nino, letting his hands settled on Nino's hips. He even dared to let them slip underneath Nino's T-shirt once but the younger slapped away his hands, his face flushed red.

“Shy, huh?” the other giggled again. “Or you don't like getting touched by someone else than the sorrow of your dreams?”

Nino averted the other guy's eyes.

“I told you, I've something for you, right?” Taguchi then said with a smirk and his hand slipped into one of his pockets to pull out a small bag with white pills. Well... even Nino knew that those might not be normal pills.

“I'm not taking drugs,” Nino said and shook his head to emphasize his statement.

“Don't call it drugs... it's some kind of medicine, you know? It makes you forget all your sorrows and you look like you have quite a bunch of them,” the punk said and let his head drop from his right to his left shoulder, fiddling with the plastic bag until he had a white round pill between his fingers. “Trust me, you should just try it once before deciding that it is not for you.”

Nino eyed the other critically. He had never thought about using drugs. Of course not. His brother had spent evenings lecturing him about the danger of that kind of stuff. Not only because he learned a lot about drugs in his studies, but also because he was always worried that Nino might get carried away. But no, even though Nino might be weak and even if he sometimes wished to get rid of all the sorrows that were lying on his shoulders, no drug on earth could make him forget. No drug other than the one called “Sho”.

When Taguchi reached out his hand and pressed the small pill slightly against Nino's lips, the young man wanted to refuse and turn away but just before he could do so, someone else slapped away the punk's hand and the pill dropped to the floor.

“Stop this,” next to them, Sho's voice growled and Nino stared at him, holding his breath.

Maybe, it wasn't such a good idea getting caught with another guy in such a situation, Nino thought. Sho seemed furious as he stared at the punk. In fact, Nino had never seen Sho that angry. The man seemed ready to jump at the punk and kill him and Taguchi seemed to feel it because he stepped back voluntarily.

“Sho?” Nino mumbled dumbfounded.

“You, you come with me!” Sho darted his angry look at Nino now and grabbed his wrist.

Shortly after, he had forcefully dragged the young man outside and pushed him into the car, setting off without saying a single word, not about the situation he had found Nino in, not about where he was about to drive to. Nino felt horrible and he prepared himself for getting yelled at. After all, Sho had found him in a really delicate situation. Not, that Nino had planned to take those drugs but he was much aware of the fact how the scene must have looked like. And Sho, just like Jun, was a doctor after all, knowing about all the horrible things about drugs and the likes. Of course, he would give Nino a lecture.

“Get out,” Sho finally hissed when the car stopped.

They had arrived at Sho's and Ohno's apartment and of course, Nino followed the other without arguing.

“What crossed your fucking mind?!” Sho burst when he closed the door of his apartment.

“I didn't do anything except~,” Nino wanted to defeat himself.

“Except going to a gay night club with some jerk who tried to drug you?! Was this what you were about to say?”

“I was about to refuse,” Nino spoke up. “And for the rest... it's none of your business!”

“IT IS my business!” Sho exploded. “Everything concerning you IS my business!”

“Why?” Nino truly wondered, why suddenly what was happening to him was important to Sho. “Because I'm your little incestuous brother?!”

“Go fuck yourself!”

Gosh, Sho was so angry, it was almost scary, Nino thought and his breath hitched, as the man suddenly grabbed his wrists. After a short struggle that Nino wasn't able to fight against at all, Sho angrily slammed them against the wall behind.

A second later, Sho crushed his lips against Nino's and kissed him eagerly. At first still trying to escape, Nino quickly gave in, after all, he would never be able to resist Sho and actually, he had the other where he wanted him – focused only on him. Nino closed his eyes and parted his lips, desperately seeking for a deeper kiss and of course, Sho didn't hesitate to fulfill his wish. The older pressed his body closer and fully covered Nino, who felt not only his heart pounding in his throat but also his awakening arousal pressing against his jeans' fabric.

He wanted Sho to take him. Here. Now. If he couldn't have the other's love, he at least wanted to feel his desire. And there it was, Sho was obviously turned on too and passionately intertwined his finger's with Nino's as he nibbled on the smaller man's lips and pressed his lower body closer, making Nino to pull in the little air he could catch between their kisses, desperately. Right now, there were only Sho and him and their desire for each other. Nothing else mattered.

When they broke their kiss, Sho leaned his forehead against Nino's and just before Nino could stretch forward a little with the aim to claim Sho's lips again, the older started talking.

“You knew I'd be there.”

Caught.

“Maybe...,” Nino admitted. “Maybe, Oh-chan mentioned it earlier.”

“You know, you're a little cheat,” Sho groaned but nevertheless kissed Nino again.

“Maybe you should punish me then?” the younger suggested, wanting to feel more of Sho's power overwhelming him. He was ready to devote himself to that man fully if the other wished for it.

Shortly after, Sho had carried Nino into his bedroom and tossed him onto the bed, and hurriedly starting to undress the young man. Sho was even more eager and passionate than ever before, this time, he was even a little dangerous but Nino didn't care. He wanted to belong to that man and he was ready to follow his guidance to where ever Sho would lead them to.

Indeed, Sho guided them towards points they had never visited together before, exploring new things and feelings that both of them might not have been fully aware of their existence yet. Nino discovered a side of Sho in bed, other than the usual sensual and careful man he used to be, always caring about that nothing would harm Nino. This time, Sho was wild and that gave him a strange but undeniable sexiness that made Nino lose his ground. Sho was controlling the situation, he was bossy. He was dominant in ways that Nino hadn't experienced yet.

He always knew that Sho was strong, but feeling the man's firm grip around his ankle as Sho adjusted Nino's position precisely before he penetrated the younger man and the speed and strength in which Sho was performing with each and every thrust into Nino's body, almost drove Nino insane.

Surprisingly – or not – he enjoyed it. So much. He enjoyed seeing Sho knowing exactly what he wanted and at the same time so desperately graving for him, so abandoned to his purest, animalistic instincts. Nino felt good, secured to abandon himself to Sho, to scream out his pleasure without holding back and to fully enjoy what the other was willing to show him, to give him. In one or another way, Nino thought that Sho had never been that honest with him, letting him feel the anger and the desire Nino had triggered in him and this made Nino himself feel strangely... strong.

Nino drowned in Sho's eyes, those eyes that the other didn't let him see too often lately. He had to memorize those beautiful eyes, since he didn't know for how long Sho might retreat for the next time... it had been three weeks after all since he last saw him.

As they both have climaxed, Nino was finally allowed to hold Sho in his arms and he didn't intend to let him go so fast again. Not after those unbelievably long three weeks...

“Sho, I don’t do this usually,” Nino finally admitted whispering. “Going to a nightclub and dancing with a stranger. It’s my first time.”

“And I've never been this furious. I can't recognize myself,” Sho answered.

“I loved it,” Nino couldn't hold back.

Tough, he was dying to say that he loved Sho, instead. Even, if he still wasn't able to say it, he wanted to make Sho feel how much he loved him. They got interrupted though, as suddenly Sho's phone was buzzing somewhere on the floor. After fetching it, Sho crawled back into bed, back to Nino. He announced that it was time to welcome the New Year.

Nino reached up to kiss Sho deeply. “Happy New Year.”

And they celebrated the New Year in their very own, special way.

- - Tokyo, Matsumoto Hospital; February 21, 2015; 10:20 pm

Honestly, Nino was a bit surprised as the taxi came to a halt and indeed he found himself in front of the hospital. Did Sho tell the truth? He could have sworn that the other lied and would drive home just to leave the place but well, Nino would have lost that bet.

After paying the driver, Nino climbed out of the car, trying not to get caught by Sho who just arrived a few seconds earlier and was heading to the entrance of the hospital right now. In order not to attract Sho's attention too quickly, Nino waited for a few minutes before following the other. He also took a look around, at least there were no signs of an emergency... inside maybe?

But inside it was calm too, well, it was night-time already. The patients must be in bed already, just like they were supposed to be and only a few doctors and nurses were passing the entrance area. One of them – his brother.

“Nino?” and of course, Jun's worried eyes spotted him right away. “Nino! Is everything OK?”

“Jun! Uhm... yes,” Nino replied, not sure how to get out of this situation.

“What are you doing here?”

“I – uhm...,” stuttering, the younger brother searched for words but Jun was faster.

“Ah, don't tell me, you're here to talk to Sho about the wedding planning?” the young doctor grinned and put his arm around Nino's shoulder. “I guess, since you're being so mysterious, it's about something I'm not supposed to know, right? The bachelor party, maybe?”

Nino tried to smile, feeling a short stitch of guilt in his chest. Indeed, he should better be talking to Sho about something related to the upcoming wedding, but actually, everything the two were really struggling with was their own fucked up problem. Nevertheless, Nino didn't want his brother to be disappointed, tough... or to know the truth, so he played along.

“Well, you caught me, I guess,” he said.

Jun nodded his head. “It's a bit late though and that you come driving here especially to meet him... Actually, Sho isn't working tonight but maybe you're lucky and can find Mr. Workaholic in his office,” the older of the two brothers continued and quickly explained to Nino how to find the said room.

At least, it was clear now, that Nino had been right with one thing. There was no emergency and Sho didn't get called to the hospital, at least not to Jun's knowing and Jun was something like a boss here after all... Nino thanked his brother and promised him not to integrate something “dirty” into the bachelor party plans – a promise, which Nino most likely wouldn't be able to keep, it was a bachelor party after all – before he went up the stairs, following Jun's directions.

As Nino arrived at the floor at which Sho's office was located, he felt a bit lost. Did Jun say turn to the right corridor or to the left? A nurse who found Nino looking around, was irritated and asked him who he was and what might be his concern. The young man explained to her that he was a friend of Doctor Sakurai Sho and needed to talk to him urgently and quickly, the young woman led him to Sho's office. He nodded thankfully and after mirroring the gesture, the nurse went back to her station.

Nino took a deep breath. To be honest, he still didn't really know how to face Sho. But now that he was here, he might just try and see what would come out of his mouth. He hoped that at least he wouldn't make it worse... and knocked on the door.

“Come in,” he heard Sho's voice from inside and opened the door to sneak into the room.

“It's me,” Nino said in a low voice and Sho turned around to look at him, obviously surprised, caught. “I watched you leaving the hotel in your car, I was on the sidewalk. Did they really call you? You don't seem particularly busy.”

Sho stood up from his armchair, moved closer and settled at the edge of his desk while Nino was still standing close to the door. “You know, they didn't.”

“...Why?” did you leave then, Nino wanted to ask, instead of addressing the problem? Well, talking about problems had never been Sho's forte, right? Not that it had been Nino's...

“I can't do this anymore, Nino,” the doctor finally admitted. “I was bad with this kind of triangular stories years ago, and tonight I discovered thanks to you that I'm still bad with them.” So Sho indeed had been jealous. “Is it what you wanted to display with your little scene?”

Nino felt caught. “You knew?”

“Of course, but it worked anyway. I felt it again, this anger, the same way you drove me crazy at that time.”

“And?” maybe, Nino thought, he had preferred Sho getting angry, like he did years ago...

“And I refuse to feel it again,” Sho said and Nino's heart hurt from hearing this. If there was still a flame inside of Sho's chest, if there was really still a sense of jealousy, maybe even desire, Nino couldn't allow to let it burn out, not now. “I refuse to endure it again, I~”

Before he knew what he was actually doing, Nino had stepped forward, quickly, lifted his hands to put them onto Sho's arms, leaned forward, and captured Sho's lips with his.

He kissed him, hungrily, letting his lips dance over Sho's lips but something was wrong. Sho wasn't answering the kiss... instead, Nino felt Sho's shoulders lifting, pushing his hands to rest on his arms. Sho broke their kiss, pushing Nino away slowly. The younger felt as if his heart, made of glass, fell to the floor, and shattered into thousand pieces.

“We have to stop that,” Sho said, averting Nino's eyes, his hand still resting on Nino's arms.

“Why?” Nino whispered desperately.

“Just because there's still that attraction from years ago between us, it doesn't mean that we can give in to that desire. We're already grown-ups,” Sho stated coldly. “Wasn't that your intention too? If we want to start anew as friends, we have to do it properly,” As friends? So that was everything, Sho had in mind? “This is completely improper for friends.” And even though, they had done it so often when they were younger... and “friends”...

“You said, you would be there for me,” Nino murmured disappointed, a little surprised himself by the sudden voicing of that fragment of his feelings.

Sho stared at him, obviously at a loss on how to answer to this.

“You kissed me first, in the elevator,” the younger continued, knowing full well that he couldn't deduce any commitment from that but nevertheless...

“I – I tried to distract you, you were in panic!” Sho defeated himself, as expected.

“Was that really all to it?” even if Nino saw this coming, he felt hurt. So damned hurt.

“Nino... you wanted to get some distance between us after that incident, you remember? We want to get along again, but with something like this, we're making things complicated, aren't we? Look, where it brought us. Really, I don't get you, what is it that you want? Do you even know it yourself?” Sho asked, obviously struggling.

I want you, Nino wanted to say but the words were stuck in his throat. Sho had clearly stated that they should be friends, right? Nothing more. Sho would push him away, if he voiced those words out loud right now, Nino was sure about that. And he didn't want it to happen. He was hurt enough for tonight. He wouldn't be able to take more than that and so he had to draw a line before it was too late.

“I'm sorry for disturbing you this late at work. I'm leaving,” Nino murmured and turned around, heading to the door.

Maybe... maybe one day he would be brave enough to tell Sho the truth. That he wanted more. Not only being friends with benefits, and of course also not being only friends without any benefits at all. He wanted them to be lovers, friends, and family. He wanted them to be a real couple but how good were his chances that Sho would answer his feelings? Most likely, they were non-existing from the start.

- - Tokyo, Bar High Five; March 8, 2015; 6:55 pm

It's been 15 days since they last saw each other. Not two weeks, not 16 days, just like the last time, 15 days. 15 days without talking to each other, 15 days without Nino getting any response from his messages to Sho, not even on the one in which he sent him the time and place for their meeting with the band for Jun and Ohno's wedding party. Nino didn't even know, if Sho was coming or not.

Nervously, he waited outside, in front of the bar of an acquaintance who used to let the band in question perform there on a regular basis. The band, lead by one of Nino's former classmates from college, had agreed to play a few songs for Nino and Sho before they started their gig this evening. Nino was there about half an hour too early, which was pretty unusual for him. Usually, he had quite a problem being on time, somehow something always happened that made him come late, like if he only left something behind that he needed and for that he had to go back. But again, like the one time when he visited Sho at home, he was more than on time. And now, he was waiting again and it drove him crazy. What if Sho continued to ignore him? What if Sho wouldn't show up at all? Well, Nino would listen to the band on his own, tell them if they were picked for the job or not. Honestly, he wasn't sure, if Sho knew much about music anyway. Maybe, he didn't care at all which band they used.

Nino nestled with a cigarette, the fourth one in a row, since he was standing here and waiting for someone who might not even show up. It didn't even really help to calm his nervousness so if Jun would be here scolding him for smoking, he couldn't even use this excuse. Damned, if Sho at least had answered to his mail if he would come or not... Nino cursed, threw away the cigarette stub and ground it on the asphalt. Just a second later, he reached for the next one and put it between his lips while checking the time. 5 minutes left until their appointment...

When the young man searched for his lighter, not remembering in which pocket he had put it after the last cigarette (yeah, that was how messed up and nervous he really was), he cursed again but then, suddenly, his cigarette disappeared from between his lips. Wondering, Nino looked up and his heart almost forgot how to beat as he looked directly into Sho's eyes.

“You should really stop smoking, it's unhealthy,” the doctor said in a scolding tone and threw away the cigarette.

Nino opened his mouth but he didn't protest. “Sho...,” was everything he was able to pronounce.

“Let's go inside,” Sho just said and Nino followed him without hesitation.

“Nino, hey!” the drummer of the band that already arrived and checked the instruments came towards the two men and patted Nino's shoulder. “It's been a while, I'm glad you called us.”

“Ohkura, good to see you,” quickly, Nino introduced his friend to Sho. “Everyone's fine?” he then asked and letting his eyes wander around, he spotted the other guys from the band, Maruyama checking his bass, Yasuda polishing his guitar. One familiar face was missing.

“To be honest... Subaru just called. His mother fell ill and he had to go there immediately, so he can't join us today. Now, we lack our singer and guitarist,” Ohkura explained.

“I hope it's nothing too bad with his mother?” Nino asked, worried but Ohkura didn't know any more details. “So, is Yasu going to sing?” the young man asked.

“In fact... we wanted to ask you, if you could fill in tonight,” Ohkura admitted and Nino went blank.

“What?!”

“Come one, I know you can play the guitar and you can sing. You proved it with Karaoke back then, you remember? You'll see, it will be fun!” the drummer pushed Nino's shoulder slightly who just turned around to Sho, seeking for help.

“I can't – I mean, I haven't sung in a while and I'm not a pro, I can't just play your songs...,” Nino stuttered.

“Don't lie,” Sho suddenly spoke up. “I heard you singing under the shower lately and I'm sure, you're still great with the guitar. Don't be so shy.”

“Oho!” Ohkura grinned and Nino blushed badly. He couldn't even remember that he had sung under Sho's shower the other day but sometimes, he did it involuntarily, instinctively... The drummer smiled at the young man, patting his shoulder, “He's right! Don't be so shy, Nino. Just tell me which songs you know and we'll come up with a set list.”

Again, Nino looked at Sho desperately, searching for a way out of the situation but it couldn't be helped.

“Do it, Nino,” Sho nodded at him and how was Nino supposed to say “No” now?

Nino blushed deeply. At least, Sho didn't look as stoic and serious as just a few minutes ago when he just arrived. There was now an amused smile dancing on his lips and Nino wondered, if Sho wanted to mock him as a punishment or whatsoever. In the end, Nino agreed, nervously, of course, since he had never ever played in front of other people except for Sho years ago on an occasional basis; or the few times he had sung his heart out at Karaoke sessions. The latter weren’t even supposed to be taken seriously, Nino thought, most of the time at Karaoke he was quite drunk.

Sho settled down at the bar and ordered a drink as the bar keeper kindly offered to take an order, even if the bar wouldn't be open before 8. Nino got pulled along by Ohkura, greeted the other band members and they put their heads together, talking about different pieces of music. Yasuda brought Subaru's guitar that was already prepared and handed it to Nino, who quickly adjusted to the instrument, trying a few chords and small melody patterns. The unfamiliar guitar felt different from his own but it was a really good one and lay well in his hands.

After jamming for a bit and hurrying into deciding a set list for the evening, Ohkura opened the gig around 9 pm when the bar was already quite filled. He introduced Nino as their guest singer and guitarist for the evening and begged the guests in the bar to be nice to him since this was his first time playing in front of an audience. A bit laughter, a few “How cute!”s, “Give your best!”s and a few encouraging hints of applause welcomed the new guy and Nino was ready to die on stage – from nervousness.

Of course, he screwed up the first chord of the first song and had to beg for another chance to start. How could he end up in such a delicate situation, Nino thought desperately. But then, his eyes fell onto Sho, who was still sitting at the bar, a drink in his hands. The older man looked at Nino and flashed him a smile, lifted his drink for a toast. “You can do it”, his lips seemed to form and Nino remembered the words the other had spoken so often.

“If you can take it, you can make it,” Nino murmured to himself and just as if Sho was able to read it from his lips, he nodded encouragingly.

Alright. He could do this. Nino focused on the guitar again, adjusting his fingers and he leaned forward to the microphone, asking for forgiveness and announcing the song again. And this time, everything went well. His fingers seemed to move on their own and the sung words left his lips as if he had never done anything else. His voice sounded a bit rough and shy in the beginning but when he sang the first refrain, the nervousness seemed to have vanished almost completely as if some kind of switch had just been turned on.

The audience liked Nino and cheered for him after the first song, which encouraged the young man immensely. Yasuda jokingly bumped his hips into Nino's side and flashed him an approving grin and Sho at the bar clapped his hands while smiling widely at Nino.

“You wanna hear another song sung by our friend?” Ohkura's voice from behind the drums could be heard. He used a mic too since he was providing the background vocals and the audience cheered for the band and their guest vocalist. “So here we go!”

They performed another few songs and Nino seemed to get braver with each song. Maybe his voice didn't fit the more rockish songs that well, but he gave his best. It wasn't perfect, but the audience was satisfied and the band too. Nino started thinking that maybe, he wasn't doing such a bad job right now and especially the slower songs seemed to be his thing. More than that, Nino felt strangely alive while performing on stage. The songs they performed went under his skin, some of them were songs he used to sing and play years ago, they had accompanied him through his hard times and more than once they had described the situation he was in so perfectly.

Fired up and encouraged, feeling as if nothing in the world could stop him now, Nino at the end of the gig turned around to Ohkura, requesting for another song to play. The drummer smiled happily and quickly instructed his band mates on the newly added song.

Nino's heart was beating like crazy, but he had to take this chance, he thought. He might have finally found his way – his way of communicating to Sho. If words and gestures didn't work, maybe a song would do it, he dared hoping and so he pulled all of his courage together, hyped up by the adrenaline from the gig that was still rushing through his veins. He went back to the microphone.

“Thank you very much, everybody, I'm happy you enjoy your evening,” Nino started, “Uhm... to be honest, I just added another song to the list,” his eyes fell onto Sho, who looked at him amused, maybe surprised about Nino's sudden enthusiasm. “In fact, I'd like to sing this song... for someone special to me,” he cleared his throat. “I know that this person is here tonight too. Please listen carefully...”

The audience applauded and cheered for him before it became silent again in the bar. Nino didn't look away from Sho's eyes and waited for another second. The smile on Sho's face suddenly got replaced by a surprised expression.

“This is “Silly” by LEO Ieiri...,” and then, Nino lowered his head, breaking the eye contact with Sho, focusing onto his guitar and his rapid heartbeat, starting with the first chord.

It was a slow song and Nino's voice in the first verse sounded, as if it was breaking, filled with despair and emotion, before it exploded in the first chorus as Nino let his voice fill the song's lyrics with all the sorrow he was feeling right now.

Too much love is an embarrassing thing
Today also without change, the rain continues to fall
Taking a deep breath, I call your name
Rainy day, oh rainy day
I am swallowed by a creaking wave.

Oh, it's so silly
I am living today because I want to make sure
That I am searching for something
Oh, it's so silly
If I can deceive you, reality is not necessary
The sorrow that you cannot escape from
Oh, it's so silly...

Nino's voice returned to the fragile, almost breaking state at the end of the chorus, slowly blending in with the guitar's instrumental as if he was swallowed up by the music. Still, he hadn't dared to look at Sho again and instead he let his gaze wander over the small audience in front of him, not focusing onto anything specific. His slowly but surely blurring sight made it impossible to make out anything particular, anyway... He closed his eyes.

The marks of the tears which I pretend to be tough and hid them
Without noticing it, overlaying our bodies into the night
I am checking the importance of the existence next to me
Even while we are repeating a light sleep
Rainy day, oh rainy day
I haven't become an adult yet.

Oh, it's so silly
I am living today, seeking for salvation
Wanting to be fulfilled
Oh, it's so silly
If allowed, I only want to embrace this love
Even if this pain cannot be escaped
Oh, it's so silly...

Overwhelmed by the countless memories he shared with Sho, Nino let his eyes fall onto his love again and then it really felt like he was singing for that man only, hoping desperately that he would finally understand his feeling.

Tomorrow is meaningless, there's nothing
Pretending not to see, not to understand
I'm running away, so silly
Shivering, I should lose my innocence
I want this warped feeling, I want you...

Oh, it's so silly
I am living today because I want to make sure
That I am searching for something
Oh, it's so silly
If I can deceive you, reality is not necessary
The sorrow that you cannot escape from
The wound even now, is dear to me
Oh, it's so silly...
Oh, it's so silly...*

After the last chorus, Nino took a deep breath. The audience stood still for a while as if they were shocked by the naked confession of feelings of the young man on stage whom they just met for the first time in their lives this evening but then, they started to applaud again, cheered for the band and the noises around Nino blurred to a mass of undefined sounds as he saw Sho staring at him with big eyes.

Nino felt the urge of running away but then, Sho slowly stood up and came closer to the stage, his eyes not letting go of Nino whose breath was hitching now from the excitement. What? What was Sho up to, he wondered. He wasn’t prepared for the moment after the song, not knowing what to expect...

The older man then stopped just in front of the stage and lifted one of his hands, as if he was reaching out for Nino. The young man slowly got rid of the guitar, handing it to Maruyama and as if driven by ghosts, his feet went closer to the edge of the stage, he bent down and reached out his hand to take Sho's.

Sho's warm fingers embraced Nino's and he slightly pulled his hand to make him jump off the stage. The drums started playing again and it seemed like the rest of the band had added a powerful jamming session to the audience's zeal, making them shake their bodies in joy. Standing in front of Sho now, Nino wasn't sure what to do. For a moment, it felt like time had stopped. He wanted to embrace him and being held by Sho's strong arms. Wanted to put his arms around Sho's neck, reach up and kiss him again.

They were still just standing there, looking at each other and holding hands innocently, as suddenly someone accidentally bumped into Nino, making the other lose his balance. His hand slipped out of Sho's and he stumbled against the bar, his right wrist getting crushed between the wood and his body. It didn't hurt much but Nino realized that his watch suddenly dropped from his hand. The wristband must have broke.

“Oh, crap,” Nino cursed.

He reached down to pick up his watch again but when Sho bent down too and his face got pretty close to Nino's hand, the other panicked and quickly pulled it back to cover it in a knee-jerk reaction. Sho looked at him wondering.

Damned, that was too obvious, he might not even have seen it... Nino stood up again, blushed and tried to turn away before Sho would find out but Sho was smart and he was fast enough to grab Nino's hand. Nino struggled, but the other man pulled him back, making him expose his wrist, the slightly silver shining long scar clearly visible, even in the dim light of the bar. Sho turned pale and Nino tried to pull back his hand but the other grabbed it even firmer. Then, Sho pulled Nino with him, out of the bar and released him only when the cold air hit their faces.

Sho whirled around and went a step closer towards Nino who had dropped his look to the ground. Light from a lantern, shining from above, casted onto his face, illuminating him and Nino felt like being questioned by the police for a crime as Sho grabbed Nino's hand again, exposing his wrist again to the strong light.

“Nino... what's that?” Sho asked, his voice cracking a little. Nino bit his lip and as he wasn't able to answer immediately, Sho got furious. “Nino, TELL ME what that is!”

“Can't you guess, what it is?” the younger murmured finally, not willing to say more about it. He tried again to get his hand out of Sho's firm grip but it was pointless.

“I can't believe you did something crazy like that! When? Why?” he asked, shaking Nino's shoulders as he finally let go off Nino's wrist and the other brought his hand close to his body to hide the scar. “Tell me!”

“There's nothing to tell about,” Nino locking his heart again and wished so much that Sho hadn't seen it...

“Gosh, Nino, stop behaving like a Drama Queen and just tell me what happened!” Sho exploded.

“A lot of stuff happened!” Nino finally burst out, yelling back. “And I had a weak moment during my journey through Europe some years ago. That happened.”

“Are you crazy?!” Sho asked, his voice high-pitched.

“Thanks, that's exactly what I want to hear now, very charming, Sensei,” the young man said. “By the way, it's long time ago, I never ever did something like that again, there’s no need to freak out that much.”

“Does Jun know about this? Or Oh-chan?”

“No, they don't...,” Nino murmured. “And I'd prefer them nor finding out, if you don't mind.”

“Why didn't you call me?!” Sho asked, his look turning desperate. “You could have told me what was going on, and maybe I would have been able to help!”

“To help?” Nino couldn't suppress a chuckle. “Yeah, sure! You know what Sho, actually, you were part of the problem!”

The other man stared at him in disbelief and Nino bit his lip in regret.

“What did you say?”

Nino sighed. Actually, he didn't intend to ever mention this to Sho. It wasn't, like Sho was the one to blame for this... even if he really was “part of the problem”, it was only Nino's fault for being weak. Nevertheless, he finally wanted to let Sho know his thoughts. Maybe, this was the only time he could be brave enough to tell him.

“You got married, you were out of reach for me...,” Nino finally let out, not sure what words to pick and again he earned a puzzled reaction by Sho.

“What... was that thing about my marriage all the time? You hinted on that so often now... I must be really stupid to not get your intention about that!” Sho looked almost desperate and Nino wondered, if Sho could really be so blind... was he really not aware of what this meant?

“You left me behind,” Nino whispered.

Sho looked at him, puzzled. “What? I didn't -”

“You got married and left me behind!” the younger repeated, this time with more stress.

“Wait a minute,” Sho said confused. “You went on your trip through Europe! It wasn't me who left the country, you left me behind.”

“Yeah, poor you and your beloved little wife!” Nino spit, deciding to ignore Sho's irritatingly sad voice in the last few sentences. He was too busy with being angry right now to think about that. “Just that you know, I wouldn't have left the country if you wouldn't have gotten married!”

“What the – I thought you wanted to prepare for taking over your father's hotel? You talked about going overseas before, I thought, you just picked up the chance after graduating from college!”

“I would have stayed with you... if you haven’t gotten married...”

“I – I don't get this,” Sho said, trying to catch the situation. “You're telling me you would have stayed with me? What do you mean? Why?”

“Because I wanted to be with you...,” Nino admitted, not caring about anything any longer.

“Then why did you leave?”

“Because you got married! How often must I repeat that?!” Nino lost his temper. “You know what? Actually, I loved you. I loved you so much, all the time but you never saw it! I liked you since the day we first met but you might have forgotten that day already... I wanted you to be my first kiss, I wanted you to be the first person I sleep with, I only wanted to be yours and I wanted you to be only mine. Always. But you got married to that girl and... everything was over.”

Sho just stared at Nino, stunned by the sudden flood of words and Nino took a deep breath before he continued, trying hard not to burst into tears.

- - Tokyo, a shabby Hotel; March 18, 2009; 8 pm - -

Nino didn't know, why Sho wanted to take him to a hotel this time. Maybe, he just wanted to be undisturbed, which had become more or less impossible. Lately, Jun and Ohno were hanging out in either Jun's or Ohno's place in turns. They had decided that Jun would move in with Ohno after Jun's graduation and were already busy with packing some stuff from the one apartment to the other. Nino had found a small apartment pretty close to them, thanks to his father who had heard about an apartment being empty in a friend's apartment complex. And Sho had said that he already found something new too but couldn't go there yet. Which meant, that they didn't have any place to do... what they liked to do so much when they were together.

Since the incident at New Year's Eve, Sho had started to stay in contact with Nino again, he had helped him pretty much with his last few tests before graduation, with his final thesis and everything. Nino had started to hope that the relationship between them might improve again, that it might even develop sooner or later into something more than what it was right now. Nevertheless, even if the contact got more frequent, Sho's behavior was often still strange. Sometimes, it was like Sho wasn't there... like his thoughts were somewhere else. Or maybe his heart?

When Sho made love to Nino, it happened more and more often, Sho was a bit rough, he took over the control, often bringing Nino to do what he wanted without even talking. Their sex as well as the kisses they shared were often passionate, but also desperate. Nino could feel a sadness in Sho that he couldn't explain. But again each time when he tried to find out more, Sho completely locked himself up to the other. It was impossible to get any information out of that man. Nino, for now, just endured the circumstances. What else could he do? Sho didn't want to talk and he couldn't force him. Jun and Ohno didn't know anything either – or didn't want to say anything. Though Nino wasn't sure, especially with Ohno, who always seemed to know more than people thought he would. So he endured it. As long as he could.

“Nino, I have something to tell you,” Sho said as soon as they had arrived the hotel.

Sho's voice sounded serious, maybe even troubled and Nino would have lied if he said that this didn't make him worried. He had already given up hope that Sho would confess to him, telling him that he loved him and wanted Nino to be his boyfriend officially. Nino wasn't so naive to believe that something miraculous like that could happen. But he also didn't want to believe that it was something bad, like the other wanted to break up for example... even if that might be the most possible thing that the older man could probably tell Nino right now.

“What is it, Sho?” Nino asked carefully, slowly approaching Sho, putting his arms around Sho's neck and pecking his lips caringly.

“Later... first, I want to...,” there weren't any more words needed, as Sho pressed his lips against Nino's and slowly pushed the other towards the huge bed.

Nino didn't struggle. Sho seemed in a desperate mood again today, he thought and immediately, Sho's mood seemed to overtake him too.

They made love countless times that night, passionately as if that was the last time they would ever do it, slowly as if they never wanted the act to end. Then fast and loud, giving in to their desire for each other, before they returned to a careful round, taking care of each other properly, making sure that everything was perfect.

Nino received countless hickeys that night, he was sure that he would treasure every single one of them and that he would be grinning like an idiot when he saw them in the mirror the next morning. Nino buried his fingernails in Sho's back too, to leave his marks. He even scratched the other's skin a little as the passion was too overwhelming, but Sho hadn't complained at all and only moaned in pleasure when what’s Nino doing made him lose ground completely and he shot his hot semen into Nino's body. The young man screamed Sho's name when he followed, spreading his sperm between their bellies.

Nino looked into Sho's deep brown eyes before he reached up to capture his lips in a tender kiss. A kiss he put all his love into, as if somehow he was already knowing that this might be a last gesture of love they would share.

Shortly before midnight, the two men fell asleep, curled up in each other's embrace. Sho had brushed his hand lovingly through Nino's hair before his movement became slower and finally faded away. Nino had let his fingertips draw different patterns on Sho's torso until he tiredly rested his hand on Sho's hip as he cuddled closer, seeking the other man's warmth. How Nino wished that he could freeze time and stay here with Sho until the end of times.

- - March 19, 2009, 9 am - -

When Sho finally told Nino what he had wanted to tell him, it was already the next morning. The younger wasn't that surprised by Sho, who was telling him something that would eventually make them break up. It had been obvious that their “relationship” was drifting towards its end and after Sho's secretiveness, this wasn't really such a big surprise. Nino was more surprised about what Sho had been hiding from him all these times, on how much it hurt, and on how well he could hide his hurt feelings.

After hearing Sho's words and feeling his heart breaking, there was nothing left for Nino to feel. Nothing. As if there was a black hole inside his chest, swallowing up each and every emotion the young man could have. At least, that black hole in his chest made it possible for Nino to cope with the situation – somehow – and to take it with... well... poise.

“I'm getting married,” Sho said.

That was, when Nino's heart broke. “What?... When?”

“In a few days.”

Nino's heart shattered further until it felt like nothing was left that could get broken any longer. He was devastated. A marriage... that was so unexpected and nevertheless it made so much sense... And of course, Nino just had to lose to that.

“Is... is she beautiful?” This wasn't really what he wanted to ask right now. The voice in Nino's head was more screaming questions like “Why?” but he tried to ignore it. Why would Sho marry a girl? Because he couldn't marry a man, obviously. Because he loved her, obviously.

“Well, she is...”

At least, Sho didn't lie any longer. Well, in fact, he had never lied. He just hadn't told Nino anything. That he had a girlfriend, for example. A fiancé, to be correct. Someone that he would marry. In a few days. Nino still wasn't sure, which of those information he found to be the most shocking.

“Congratulations, Sho,” Nino said and tried to smile, not sure if it worked because his face, just like the rest of him just felt strangely numb right now.

The young man took a step forward, hesitating first and then, he gave Sho a tight hug.

“Nino?” Sho asked in a wondering voice and Nino could feel Sho's arms closing slowly around his back.

He pulled back from the touch of the other man. He couldn't endure that right now, as he felt that his heart had to return to his chest, and it’s continuing to hurt immensely. What was that? Was Sho going to comfort him now? To pity him? Nino didn't want that to happen. He had received years of Sho's comfort and pity and now, it was over, that was all, right? For Sho, this wasn't a big deal. He just settled things before his marriage, like what every responsible man would be doing. Nino was the only one for whom this was a big deal... This was just too pathetic...

“You know, I'm planning to go to Europe,” the young man finally burst out spontaneously, triggering a puzzled look on Sho's face. “I didn't tell you yet because the details aren't settled but my father has connections and...”

It was a lie. Well, Nino had once dreamed about traveling through Europe, checking out his father's and other hotels. Seeing the world... but he had imagined himself next to Sho on their travel, spending a good time, jokingly counting the numerous countries they would have sex in, and maybe comparing a French bed to a German one while tasting foreign food for breakfast. But now that picture was broken.

“Oh... I see,” Sho simply answered. He must not really care about this, after all.

“Yeah...,” Nino dropped his eyes to the floor.

He then lifted his head again, biting his lips, and went towards the bed, collecting his stuff and tossing everything into his travel bag. Sho just watched him in silence. Nino had a hard time holding back his tears, which were blurring his sight already and he blinked a countless time to blink away the tears. He didn't want Sho to see them.

“I'm heading home, first. See you,” Nino said as he quickly turned to the door, putting his hand onto the door knob as Sho took a step closer and spoke up again.

“Will you be there? At the wedding?” Sho asked in a low voice and Nino didn't dare to turn around and look into Sho's beautiful eyes again. Was this supposed to be a joke? Because Nino didn't think it was funny...

“Sure,” Nino said, as he went out of the hotel room and closed the door behind him, running through the corridors, his sight blurring again.

Surely, not.

- - Tokyo, in front of the Bar High Five; March 8, 2015; 10:15 pm

“Sho, I can tell when I'm not needed,” Nino continued in a sad voice. “And I always knew that you didn't love me. I couldn't tell you that I did love you, I was a coward. I didn't want to give you the occasion to reject me. But now, I thought about all those years, maybe... maybe there was just a tiny little chance that this thing between us back then was more than just being friends with benefits or something like that shit. Not only for me but also for you. But obviously, I was wrong and I'm so tired of it. Almost every time we meet, we end up in a fight! I might not be a pro but even I can tell, that relationships don't work like this, no matter if friendships or love relationships or whatever. Let's bring this fucking best men thing behind us and never ever see each other again. I'm still the coward I was back then and I will spare you the necessity of having to reject me. I guess, that would be the best for both of our mental health, I can't bear your presence any longer!”

And then, Nino ran away again, not even giving Sho the slightest chance to say something about this matter too.

- - Tokyo, Ninomiya Apartment; March 13, 2015; 9 pm

The following days, Sho tried to reach Nino but Nino just ignored him. After two days, he pulled the cable off his answering machine at home, he turned off his cellphone, deleted all e-mails that Sho sent him without even reading the subject. When Sho showed up at the hotel, he told the security personal to bring him outside, and when Sho called at the hotel, Nino hang up. He had enough. He didn't want to hear any “We need to talk”, “You're right, I didn't love you” or maybe even some “If I had known...”, or “I loved you too”, because right now, he wouldn't believe in them anyway.

After the fifth day, Sho even showed up at his apartment complex, the address most likely handed to him by Jun or Ohno. Nino didn't let him in and just yelled into the inter phone system, “I said, I loved you. Past tense, Sho. Right now, there's just anger and disappointment. That's all. Stay away from me.”

After that, Sho stood silent, not trying to contact Nino any longer. The younger man didn't know if he should be happy about that or not, but that night, he cried himself to sleep, hating himself so much that it hurt. Honestly, he didn't know any longer, if it was Sho who was hurting him continuously, or if it was himself. He just knew that he was unable to handle the situation.

He felt so stupid...

To be continued...

Chapter Text


Chapter 18

Sho's POV

 

- - Tokyo, Apartment Complex at which Nino's Apartment is located; March 13, 2015; 9 pm

Seems that the emotional roller coaster wasn't about to stop, thought a totally resigned Sho. Yet, nothing was the same anymore, those last 5 days had crumbled away his world of assertiveness. Nino confessed his love to him, the love he had felt for him since they were younger.

Sho's entire life, everything he had always been thinking of was a total mess, nothing less. It was almost laughable if it hadn't been so ironically sad.

Above all, he was angry with himself. How many sufferings could have been avoided if he had had the guts to confess at that time? If he had been courageous enough to take the risk to lose Nino? They hurt each other so badly for so many years, and Sho thought he was the only one to blame. He didn't love Nino like he deserved to be. He didn't give him the confidence he needed to believe he was the only one for him. Now Nino had to pretend to be not in love anymore.

“I said, I loved you. Past tense, Sho,” Nino said through the intercom as Sho tried for the umpteenth time to see him face to face.

But he was lying, Sho was convinced of it. And there was no way he would fall once again into this shitty trap. Nino still loved him and if Sho understood correctly his way of thought now (not so far from his) he loved him enough by staying true to him for 9 long years. In spite of all the misunderstandings, in spite of Sho's wedding, in spite of their numerous separations, in spite of the sufferings. They lost so much time, there’s no way he would let Nino run away from him once again and if it meant harassing him, Sho was ready.

Theoretically.

Because Nino was as stubborn as a mule, to the extent of being almost ridiculous. Ohno was right after all, he was a drama queen but he was his drama queen and this time Sho wouldn't let him down. He would chase him even if he had to spend the rest of his life pleading for his own cause. Sho couldn't deny the fact that -somehow- he was now a happy man.

Leaving Nino's condo, he fetched his cell phone and dialed the number of the man of the situation.

- - Tokyo, Matumoto & Ohno Apartment; March 16, 2015; 8 pm - -

Sho left the hospital sooner than usual. He had waited three days to spend an entire evening with his best friend. Ohno came back from Africa some days ago but besides a phone call, Sho had not heard from him yet. Jun had been laconic about Ohno's travel, pretending that he was only relieved that his man came back in one piece from such a dangerous place.

Sho did his best to not drag his feet for too long in the corridors of the hospital and he was definitely not late for the appointment.

=+=

“Come on in,” Ohno held the door opened for his guest who handed him a brown bag which contained cake and the bottle of wine he bought along the way. “Thanks.”

He took Sho's jacket and scarf, lending him his usual slippers.

“I'm glad you called. It's been a long time,” Oh-chan began, heading to the living room where the table was already set. “It will be just the two of us tonight, Jun is still working.”

“I know,” Sho sat onto the couch, spreading his legs and resting his forearms on his thighs, intertwining his fingers like he used to do. “He was still in the OR when I left the building, a last minute's emergency. Did he call you?”

“He calls only when he's on his way,” Ohno sat on the floor, pouring a glass of wine to his friend. “No call, no Jun.”

“Don't you mind?”

“I don't. I like my loneliness from time to time. We're an old couple...”

“Does it mean that you don't need to be together?” Sho joked with a smirk.

“It means we don't need to be reassured about each other’s feelings, at least less than before.”

“I envy that,” Sho took a sip of alcohol and swallowed it.

“Aoi scolded you when you were late?”

“We weren't that kind of couple, you know. And she was pretty nice with me, she still is though.”

“Did you meet her recently?”

“We planned to lunch together next week. I guess she will have to come to the hospital. Divorcing didn't change our habits.”

“It's enviable too. So many couples hated each other after a divorce.”

“One way or another, divorce is always a failure. But we were friends before and we still are. I want her to be happy more than anything.”

“And her new man?” Ohno asked a bit curious.

“Okada? He's nice and he loves her, I bet, he will make her two or three children.”

“I don't know if I can ask but...why didn't you have children?”

“We never slept with each other,” Sho answered with a sudden burst of honesty, leaving Ohno speechless. “I'm definitely gay, physical love with a woman is out of reach.”

“I see,” Ohno drawled bluntly and raised.

A few seconds later, he came back with a tray full of bowls filled with various dishes. Fish, pickled and fried vegetables, rice, omelet, a good family meal like the one Aoi used to cook for Sho. They ate without wasting time, not to let the dishes cool down, exchanging only moans of delight and appreciative gazes during the meal. They never talked much, Ohno was the kind of friend Sho could remain silent with without being unease. It gave him the necessary time to think over the way to touch the subject, which was a brand new way to communicate with this man who had always hidden cautiously a huge part of his life.

After dinner, they looked through the pictures of Ohno's travel for Nat Geo and he told Sho the adventures he lived out there.

“Do you plan to travel again?” Sho asked, taking a picture of a gorilla to observe it closely.

“If I have the opportunity to, you mean? I'd like to, but Jun...we still have to discuss about it, we're in a deadlock currently.”

“He's stubborn.”

“It runs in this family,” Ohno shrugged and Sho put the pictures on the table, facing his friend seriously.

“Since when do you know about Nino and me?” Sho asked very quickly, surprised by his own frankness. Perhaps it wasn't the best way to touch the subject subtly but it was high time for him to open his heart.

“Since that weekend I spent out of town with Jun for his birthday. I came back before we left because I forgot something. I saw you,” Ohno said quietly, gathering the photographs properly.

“Why didn't you tell me?”

“Because you hid your relationship. Both of you. And Nino asked me to keep the secret.”

So Nino and Ohno shared this secret. Sho felt so blind and idiotic suddenly. He came back to the couch and poured two glasses of wine, handing one to Ohno.

“It wasn't only sex you know. I loved him, I always loved him.”

“I know. Although you never spoke his name, I knew who you were talking about when you said you were in love. I...I think he loved you too.”

“He told me he loved me the other day and~”

“He ran away?” Ohno assumed.

“Yeah. I should get used to it.”

“What do you intend to do?”

“Chase him. What else?”

“Sounds like a good plan,” Ohno knocked his glass against Sho's to celebrate a good resolution. “So I guess I don't need to ask you if you're still in love with him.”

“It's crazy, right?”

“The craziest thing is to keep running away from each other when both of you only wish to be together. It's a bit pathetic to be honest.”

“I feel pathetic! I was so afraid to lose him that I let him leave me, I didn't understand he needed me,” Sho admitted.

“So stop messing around already and make a move.”

“I'm working on it. But he plays hard to get. He refuses to take my calls and refuses to open my mails. We have to visit the place for the bachelor party, I guess he won't wait for me.”

“I know the place,” Ohno said quietly, fetching a card in his wallet. “There it is.”

Sho gazed at the little card elegantly decorated. “The Kit Kat Club, Speakeasy Club, what is this?”

“Speakeasies were the clubs selling alcohol illegally during prohibition. This one is a replica, you drink, you dance, you gamble all night long...,” Ohno explained.

“How do you know? Nino told you?”

“I found this the last time I visited him. It's exactly the kind of place Jun would like.”

“Inspector Ohno. Who could imagine this?”

“I'm not that clueless. Jun is far more that than me.”

Silence fell between the two men. Jun was another problem.

“Do you plan to tell him?” Ohno asked gently.

“When Nino accepts to be with me, please remain silent for the time being.”

Ohno sighed deeply and took another sip of wine. “It's not as if it was new...,” he concluded simply.

“Do you know when he plans to go there?”

“Nope, you will have to find that out by yourself.”

Sho gazed at the card once again, already establishing a plan to meet Nino there coincidentally.

- -Tokyo, The Kit Kat Club; April 3, 2015; 10 pm - -

A rapid phone call to the club the day after the evening with Ohno had been enough to find out which day Nino had taken an appointment with the owner of the place. Sho didn't know what to expect from this club as it was as secretive as the prohibition ones were at their time. During the long day, while he was waiting for the appointment, he found some information about speakeasies and he was curious to go to the place.

The Kit Kat Club was set downtown in a dark back alley, barely signaled by a little flashing red arrow pointing to a narrow flight of stairs. Sho didn't feel well tonight. He felt dizzy and tired but there was no way he would cancel his maybe only chance to meet Nino. He took a deep breath and climbed down the stairs, grabbing firmly the banister. He knocked on the door and immediately a man opened a peephole.

“I have an appointment with Miyake-san. I'm Sakurai.”

Without a word, the man opened the door and Sho gazed up to thank him. He was tall, wearing a tuxedo, and had a splendid vintage mustache. Ohno was right, Jun would love this. The man showed him a corridor and from here, Sho could already hear a jazzy music but nothing prepared him to dive into such a splendid set. Men and women were elegantly dressed, dancing on a smoky dance floor facing a scene where a band, typical from the 20's, played enthusiastically. On the side of the room, several card tables were set and a roulette table surrounded by players.

The bar was on the left and a waitress walking through the place was selling cigars. Sho thought that if he had been feeling well, he would have really enjoyed the place. But he wasn't and not spotting Nino, he chose a table and sat down.

“Sir?” the waitress asked with a wide smile displaying a perfect row of white teeth.

“I know it's a sacrilege for such a place but I'd would like something without alcohol, please.”

“Of course Sir,” she winked at him and walked to the bar.

Sho followed her with his eyes and immediately recognized the man with his back to him at the bar. He wore a tuxedo too and was chatting passionately with a man whom Sho supposed to be the owner of the place. For a second he wondered what he should do, wait for him here or go to him?
Sho stood up clumsily, suddenly feeling an unpleasant warmth overwhelming his aching body. He pulled himself together and dragged his feet to the bar, crossing the owner's surprised gaze.

“Hi, I'm Sakurai. The other best man of the wedding.”

“Of course, Sakurai-sensei, we talked on the phone,” Miyake shook his hand and Sho gazed at a very blank Nino. “Ninomiya-san was telling me he thought he'd be alone. Luckily you made it.”

“I made it, indeed. I wanted to be here tonight.”

“Are you feeling well, Sensei?” Miyake asked, visibly worried.

“Everything will be fine,” nevertheless Sho took the bar stool that the man was offering to him.

“Sho, you okay? Your eyes are too shining, do you have a fever?” Nino touched his forehead and Sho smiled despite himself.

Nino sounded so worried, almost panicked. Frightening Nino with bad memories wasn't Sho's intention.

“I had to see you,” Sho murmured sheepishly.

“And soon, you won't see me any longer, because you'll faint! Are you crazy?! You should be in bed. I'll drive you home. Sorry, Miyake-san, we have to take our leave,” Nino said surly.

“Of course, I'll book the club for the date you told me about anyway. You can call me anytime you want if needed.”

“Thanks a lot,” Nino said, grabbing Sho's waist to help him to stand up.

Sho felt suddenly so tired that he didn't protest. He followed Nino willingly and gave him the keys of his car when he asked him.

- - Tokyo, Medical University, Cafeteria; March 18, 2009; 6 pm - -

Being in the cafeteria on the campus made Sho feel very uneasy. The wedding was imminent now and he still couldn't find a way to reconcile his own aspirations with his parents'. Canceling the wedding sounded totally crazy and unreasonable, especially now since it would take place in just a few days. Yet, marrying his childhood friend would kill him.

Sho refused to marry a woman and continue an affair with Nino. He was the man of his life, his most precious person, and he couldn't find the courage to leave him. Lately, their encounters were painful and intense and Sho discovered he could be a passionate man, sometimes a bit too much for his own sanity. But he couldn't resist Nino and the more he loved him, the more he was dying abut not being able to possess him totally, to claim him as his.

Asking him to be his lover? It sounded impossible. Impossible for a man in love but Nino never mentioned a common future or any life project including Sho, so...would he accept to stay in the shadow? To keep on seeing him from time to time to quench the thirst they have for each other? Sho's stomach struggled against that thought.

He saw Aoi pushing the heavy door open and walking toward him with a smile. She ordered a coffee and took off the huge scarf she was wearing, putting it aside onto a chair. She took off her gloves, and Sho frowned when a shining ring appeared on her finger. His own engagement ring was burning the material of his wallet in his back pocket.

“Hey Sho, what's up?” Aoi asked, thanking the waiter as he placed a warm cup of coffee on the table.

“The wedding is close, right?” he said, embarrassed.

“Yeah. Had never had been this close. Are you scared?”

“I'm terrified. You?”

“Me too. Nino?”

“I...planned to tell him tonight.”

“Oh Gosh...why did you wait this long?!” Aoi asked shocked.

“I just can't. He will turn his back on me, I don't want to spoil our last moments.”

Aoi played a moment with her ring, then lost her smile. “I know I'm an awful woman but...perhaps you could keep him anyway?”

“As lover?”

She nodded and taking a sip of coffee to hide her flushing cheeks.

“It's unfair to him. He doesn't deserve this,” Sho disagreed.

“And yet nobody knows about you two. How would it change?”

“I know. I always hoped...somehow...that one day we could walk side by side along the street, holding hands like a normal couple. Seems impossible now.”

“Look. Tell him. Tell him you're about to marry someone. Tell him you love him and that if he agrees, you'll elope together,” Aoi suggested.

Sho opened his eyes wider, unable to believe what his fiance was saying. Of course, he dreamed of taking Nino's hand and run away, to escape from this destiny once and for all, but~

“But what about you?” Sho asked sadly.

“Seize your chance. And if it fails, I'll still be here, I'll marry you and we'll get through this, together.”

He reached out and squeezed Aoi's hand gratefully. Then he nodded and dialed Nino's number.

- - Tokyo, a shabby Hotel; March 18, 2009; around 8 pm - -

The hotel, he entered a few hours later, was ugly and impersonal but it was the best Sho could find in such a short time. He didn't know when Jun and Ohno would barge into his or Nino's apartment and he refused to be interrupted, the stake was too high. As they were climbing the stairs, Sho took Nino's hand and they passed the threshold of the bedroom together. He felt restless and his hands were covered with sweat, he squeezed Nino's little hand tightly, not releasing it.

“Nino, I have something to tell you,” Sho began, wanting to put an end to his ordeal as soon as possible.

But Nino kissed him lightly, making him taste all he would lose by losing him. So he held him harder and laid him on the bed, deciding to make love to him as if there were no tomorrows. He let himself go, and allowed himself to take Nino hard, to love him harder than before to make him feel all the love he felt for him, all the despair he would feel by losing him and if this had to be the last time, at least he wanted to feel no regrets.

An entire night of love couldn't replace an entire life but Sho was willing to carve those memories into his mind and if by miracle Nino would agree to elope with him, it would be only the first night of a long list. Sho didn't close his eyes that night, he watched Nino smiling while he was asleep, cuddling him again and again, whispering words of love to his ears that he never dared speaking out loud.

=+=

When Nino woke up the next morning, Sho had already showered and was sitting in the armchair on the side of the bed.

“Good Morning,” Nino moaned, his eyes half-closed. “What time is it?”

“Almost 9, you should take a shower and then we'll talk.”

Nino reached out and grabbed Sho's hand. “This night has been fabulous even if I can't move a muscle.”

Sho kissed his knuckles amorously. “The best we've spent, yes.”

Nino got out of the bed and bare naked ran to the bathroom under Sho's gaze. He came back after a while and dressed up, his eyes gazed in Sho's but they didn't exchange a word. The atmosphere was suddenly heavy and Nino's smile had faded away. Then he sat on the bed, twining his fingers perfunctorily.

“So tell me.”

Sho took a deep breath then... “I'm getting married.”

Nino's eyes arched, sincerely surprised. “What?... When?”

“In a few days.”

It sounded so harsh, so brutal even for Sho who had repeated this sentence again and again in his head. But he couldn’t find a better way to tell the truth. He wanted to tell Nino about his family, the engagement he had to make for Aoi's future, this life which wasn't worth living if Nino didn't share it anymore but~

“Is... is she beautiful?”

What was with that question?!

“Well, she is...”

Did Nino really think that Sho could fall in love with a girl?! Even the most beautiful girl couldn't be compared with Nino, even the most beautiful girl couldn't move Sho and turn him on like Nino did. Sho raised from the armchair and walked toward Nino, to erase those silly doubts, to tell him how much he loved him, for such a long time now.

“Congratulations, Sho,” Nino smiled at him as he took him into his embrace, crumbling Sho's last hope. He felt his heart constricting painfully.

“Nino?”

Sho held him tighter in order to stand firm, not to flinch, not to fall into an inopportune drama. Nino stepped back and told him he planned to travel through Europe in order to learn more about hotels, for his father's sake. They were heading nowhere. It's not as if Sho ignored it but...

“I'm heading home, first. See you,” Nino drawled and turned his back to him as he walked toward the door without another look.

Sho couldn't believe that this was the end, that his unrequited love story was about to end here. “Will you be there? At the wedding?” Was he such a fool to be still waiting for him?

“Sure.”

But Sho knew for sure that Nino wouldn't be there.

=+= - -Tokyo; Sakurai House; April 4, 2015; 3am- -

Sho pushed back the blanket with a kick, this warmth was unbearable. He was thirsty and his face burnt. He had a fever, no doubt about it. Something was weighting heavily on his forehead and he tried to push it away too but a firm hand prevented him from doing so.

“Don't,” Nino said softly. “This is an ice pouch for the fever. I don't know where I can find painkillers.”

“Where are we?” Sho mumbled.

“Your place. I thought it was the best place to go.”

Sho turned the head and indeed he was at home but in Aoi's bed, Clover at the feet. His head was hurting like hell.

“I have painkillers in the bathroom.”

Nino raised and Sho closed his eyes again. Soon, he felt the edge of a glass against his lips and a firm arm behind his back to straighten him. He swallowed the pills and the water, then laid again on the pillows. Nino moved by his side and Sho was suddenly overwhelmed by an unreasonable fear, so he gripped Nino's wrist.

“Please don't leave me.”

Nino froze and gazed at him before sitting back on the armchair, pulling the blanket on Sho's body. “I'll stay. Now sleep.”

“Thanks for not yelling at me,” Sho murmured before sliding into a dreamless sleep.

“I'm not that cruel. I'll wait a bit.”

=+=

Sho stretched his sore body, mentally thanking Nino for having the great idea to close the curtains of the bedroom. He couldn't endure the sun today. On the armchair by the bed's side he found a note:

“I had to go to work, I left a bottle of water on the nightstand with the painkiller and a breakfast in the kitchen. I'll be back in the evening. Nino.”

Sho sat up in bed and took the medication. He hadn't been feeling this bad for years, he couldn't even remember when was the last time he had been sick. Though lately, he barely slept and he worked too much.

He fetched his cell phone, noticing in the process that he was wearing only his brief and a tank top, and called the hospital. Sho canceled the appointments he had for the day and the next day, contaminating the patients was unthinkable, then he asked for his intern.

“Sakurai-sensei?”

“Yamada-kun, I contracted the flu, could you send me an errand boy with some meds? I faxed a prescription to my office. It's sufficient if they get delivered later in the day, no need to stress.”

“Of course, Sensei. I'll take care of it.”

“Thanks, Yamada.”

Sho slept a bit more and when he woke up it was already dark outside. 7 pm. Crap. He slept all day long. He got out of the bed and took a shower, then walked through the house. Nino had left a bowl of porridge on the kitchen island and a miso soup. Sho even found rice in the rice cooker. He was surprised that he was starving. When was the last time he ate? Probably yesterday morning.

Around 8, the door bell rang, announcing the arrival of the errand boy but Sho found Yamada on his doorstep. The latter reached out and handed him a little brown paper bag.

“Your medication, Sensei.”

“Thanks but you didn't have to come by yourself.”

“To be honest, I was a bit worried, I...happened to know that you are single and perhaps there's no one to take care about you.”

“It's only a flu, Yamada, I'll rest and take the treatment you kindly brought me. Thanks.”

The boy shrugged visibly disappointed, turned his heel after a quick bow, with Sho closing the door. But Sho heard a muffled scream outside and he re-opened the door to see Yamada apologizing to a surly looking Nino. He opened the door wide and stepped aside to let him come in under Yamada's gaze.

“How do you feel?” Nino asked, looking at Sho straightforwardly.

“Better. I slept all the time and my intern just brought me the pills I asked for.”

“How nice of him,” Nino said wryly.

Sho caressed Nino's cheek tenderly, it was so good to see him after so long. To see him flushing under the palm of his hand.

“Thanks for yesterday,” Sho said without thinking about anything else other than the joy to be in his company again.

“It's not as if I had a choice,” Nino mumbled, awkwardly moving back to escape from Sho's burning gaze.

“Thanks anyway.”

“It was silly of you to come to the club. I didn't want you out there,” Nino took off his coat and walked into the kitchen, taking the empty dishes to put them into the sink.

“I had to see you and since you have been avoiding me...you left so quickly the last time.”

“I couldn't stay. It's stronger than me,” Nino said in an undertone, still working.

It was so typical of Nino, thought Sho, not looking at him, being busy to find a support in the difficult moments. He walked slowly to Nino, stopping only when he was at one inch from his back. Sho slid his fingers along Nino's arm slowly until he took his wrist gently into the hollow of his hand. Then he pulled it to his lips, kissing religiously the scar he had never noticed before the other night.

“You scared me to death..don't do this ever again. I mean it,” Nino said huskily.

“I won't go anywhere if you don't move away from me. I want to be your boyfriend, for real, not a one-night-stand, not the person who hurts you, I want to be your most important person, the one who makes the world go round for you. The one who will please you. Would you give me another chance?”

“I...”

Sho kissed the nape of Nino's neck, pushing the little tuff of hair aside with a caress, gently roaming his mouth to the crook of his neck.

“The fever makes you delirious,” Nino said.

“I've never felt better.”

Nino sighed deeply, leaning his head back against Sho's shoulder, his eyes closed.

“Kazu. Say yes, please, you won't regret it.”

Nino swallowed the knot in this throat and whispered an abandoned “yes” between his sealed lips.

They didn't kiss that night but they talked all night long despite of Sho's tiredness and when dawn raised, Nino put him bed. Sho accepted to let him go only with the promise of a date. A real date.

- - Tokyo Sealife Aquarium; April 8, 2015; 2 pm - -

It sucked.

Sho had totally forgotten how to date someone. To begin with, he never really dated anyone. With Nino things weren't like that, they didn't date, expect of that one attempt on Nino's birthday. Basically every time they met they jumped each other and nothing more. But this time, Sho wanted to take his time and the night spent at his home had been kept chaste on purpose. It didn't mean he didn't dream of laying with Nino, he was dying to but he was also deadly serious about living a true couple relationship and he wanted to prove that. He would be totally discredited if he followed his instincts rather than his brain. Not that it was easy. Far from it.

He called Nino everyday without fail in order not to let him change his mind, Nino tended to run away from a situation when he feared it. Now he knew it.

Sho was pacing up and down for almost 15 minutes, waiting, when his cell phone rang.

“Yeah?”

“Sho, it's me.”

“Oh-chan?”

“Jun asked me to call you, he wanted for us to visit you this afternoon. I guess, he's not that assured about the organization of the wedding.”

“I'm not at home. I...have a date.”

“A date?! He accepted?”

“Yeah,” Sho said, kicking a rock with the tip of his foot.

“I can hear your smile,” Ohno chuckled and Sho couldn't help but imitating him. ”May I tell him you have a date?”

“...You can.”

“Great. I'm glad for you. Where are you?”

Sho gazed up the huge sign with a dolphin above his head and smirked. “I won't tell you. I have to go, he's here.”

“Sho~”

Sho hung up and pushed his phone far into his inner pocket, already smiling. Nino was handsome today. Well, according to his opinion, he always was but today he was stunning. He wore a pair of worn jeans and low boots, a V-neck shirt and a three-quarter length black coat. He had cut his hair a bit, clearing the nape of his neck. Sho swallowed hard.

“Hi,” Nino said, stubbing out his cigarette in a public ashtray.

“Hello.”

They smiled for a while, idiotically, clearly embarrassed, then Nino arched his eyebrows. “Shall we go in?”

“Sure,” Sho took two tickets and they entered the aquarium they had already visited so long ago.

Like the first time the visitors were young couples and busy parents with small kids and no one was paying attention to the grown up men roaming side by side along the vast corridors.

“It didn't change that much, right?” Nino said, dropping on a bench facing the giant tank full of exotic fishes.

“The color of the walls perhaps? I'm not even sure,” Sho added with a skeptical smile.

Sho sat at his turn and he remembered that it was the place he offered a melonpan to his lover. “I'm sorry for bringing you here, Kazu. I still suck for dates.”

Nino burst out laughing and took off a package from his coat. “To be honest, I think it's cute. You're the only person I ever dated anyway, I don't know what people usually do on dates.”

“Me neither. What do you think they do?”

“Watching a movie?” Nino wondered.

“I thought about a movie but being in a dark place with you for our first date was a really bad idea,” Sho took a glance at Nino and smirked mischievously.

“As long as we don't climb into the Ferris wheel again, things should be fine.”

Sho blushed like a teenager when the image of Nino lost in ecstasy popped into his mind.

“Here.”

“What is this?” Sho took the package handed by Nino.

“Open it.”

“A melonpan? You remember?” Sho smiled and shared the huge pastry in two equal parts, offering one to Nino.

“'Of course I remember. Happy belated Birthday, Sho.”

“Thanks,” he took a huge bite. “I can't believe you remember after all these times.”

When was the last time someone other than Aoi, Jun or Ohno wished him Happy Birthday? Although it was more than two months ago, this belated birthday wasn't the most surprising thing for Sho. So Nino remembered his birthday's date? He sighed happily and took a glance at his blushing boyfriend, zeroing in on his too tantalizing lips.

“If you're hungry, we could find a restaurant maybe?” Nino mumbled awkwardly.

“I'm not and we're fine here. Right?” Sho grabbed Nino's hand gently and played with his fingers like he dreamed of doing since they sat down.

“And if someone sees us?” Nino whispered, looking around.

“We don't care, right? We're only two consenting adults on a date...,” Sho intertwined their fingers, kissing Nino's hand with love.

“Sho?”

They jerked, surprised in their moment of intimacy by a woman's voice.

“Aoi?” Sho stood up and kissed his ex-wife's cheek tenderly, nodding to the man behind who observed them benevolently.

It's been such a long time since the last time they met. She looked beyond Sho's shoulder and smiled to Nino.

“Oh!” Sho moved back and put his arm around Nino's shoulder, “Aoi-chan, Okada-san, this is Ninomiya Kazunari, my...boyfriend.”

Aoi blushed and put her hands before her mouth to muffle a little scream. She reached out and shook Nino's hand vigorously. “I'm so glad to meet you at last! Sho told me so much about you! So you're officially...together?”

“If this date is a success, perhaps he will accept me as his official boyfriend,” Sho said boldly, yet he didn't dare to look at Nino in the eyes. “And you, how are you?”

“We're very fine,” Aoi reached out, taking her future husband's hand. “We're expecting a baby.”

“Oh God, congratulations!” Sho exclaimed.

“Thanks. We're so happy. And I'm so happy for you two~”

“Darling, we're disturbing them,” Okada pushed her gently and she managed to slid a “Please take good care of Sho” to Nino before leaving them.

“I'm sorry, it's definitely not something written in the manual of a perfect date,” Sho said apologetically when they left.

“Meeting the ex-wife you mean?” Nino chuckled.

“Yes.”

“But you called me your boyfriend.”

“That's what you are, right?”

“Shall we walk?” Nino proposed, touching Sho's hand lightly. They walked quietly and exited the aquarium to wander around the park.

“Tell me now. This wedding...you weren't a couple, right?”

“We're friends but our family were business partners~”

Sho told him everything. The arranged marriage, his relationship to Aoi, the way she fell for her boss, their strange couple life.

“The bedroom I slept in was yours?” Nino asked.

“Yes.”

“I thought so. It smelled like you.”

“And after that night it smelled like you. I have to admit that I couldn't wash the sheets for weeks,” Sho confessed sheepishly. “That night I told you I was about to marry Aoi...I hoped you would hold me back, I was just a fool, if I had been clearer~”

Nino cut him by taking his mouth, giving him the first kiss of their new life. He caressed Sho's cheek and put his forehead against his.

“We have to forget, Sho. To forget the past and forgive ourselves the mistakes we made,” Nino murmured, his voice broke with emotion.

“We'll make it. Together.”

Sho opened his arms and Nino nestled against him. The taller smiled like a fool. He was home.
Finally.
To be continued...

Chapter Text

Nino's POV

 

- - Tokyo, Parking Lot nearby the Kit Kat Club; April 3, 2015; 10:15 pm - -

Nino couldn't believe that Sho was actually that stupid to come when he was obviously sick. Was he a doctor or a stubborn child? But scolding him now won’t help much, the only thing that Sho repeatedly said was that he wanted to meet Nino, that he wanted to talk to him, no matter what. And more than anger, Nino was of course feeling one thing – worry. Seeing Sho in such a state, made him worry like hell. He hated seeing other people being ill or suffering. He had seen his father suffering, had witnessed him in really bad stages of his life and he had hated it so much. The thought of his father suffering, the knowledge that he couldn't help, and most of all, he had hated that immense fear of losing him.

Of course, he knew that he wouldn't lose Sho to a flu, which seemed to be what the other had caught, so Nino quickly brushed away that stupid thought but nevertheless fear was dwelling in his chest. The young man brought Sho outside, supporting his waist to help him walk straight. He sat him into Sho's car and the sick man just dropped his head against the backrest, closing his eyes. Nino felt guilty. He had never intended to drive Sho to such an extent just because the latter wanted to meet him. Maybe, Nino shouldn't have played hard to get, it wouldn't kill him to talk to Sho and he would still have preferred it over seeing Sho suffering like he was now because of him. Nino had overdid it. Again. And Sho was suffering because of that. Well done, Nino thought angry to himself, really well done...

Nino fixed the safety belt around Sho's tired body, who seemed to be close to a delirium due to his fever and when he was about to start the engine, he wondered, if he should drive Sho home or if it would be better if he drove to the hospital right away. But the doctors there might laugh over Nino's panic and it might be embarrassing for Sho as a doctor himself to get taken to the hospital because of a fever...

Insecure, Nino turned again toward Sho, biting his lips in worry when he saw the sweaty forehead of the other man. He reached into his pocket, fetching a packet of tissues and pulled out one of it. He leaned a bit toward Sho and carefully cleaned his face a bit. Brushing back his sweaty hair, then he again tried to feel the temperature. It seemed to be quite high...

“Nino...,” Sho murmured, turning to the other and his eyes flickered open. “Nino, we need to talk, really.”

Nino gulped. “We'll talk later, Sho, OK? I'll take you home for now, you need a bed and some meds. Try to sleep a little.” Then finally, he started the car and a minute later they were driving on the highway, toward Sho's house.

Despite having been there only once in his life, Nino remembered the way perfectly as if it had gotten burned into his brain. Once they arrived, Nino took care of getting Sho inside, who was half asleep and not really able to move well. Probably, he wouldn't even remember how he got home. Clover, who came running to Nino immediately, surprising him a little, accompanied the two men, as if he knew something was wrong. It was quite an act to bring Sho into his bedroom and Nino decided to just get Sho out of the evening attire first and helped him to climb into the freshly made bed. When he pulled the blanket over him, Sho seemed to fall asleep right away on an instant, so that Nino didn't even have the chance to ask him where he kept his things but he couldn't bring himself to wake the other up again.

Slightly panicked, Nino left Sho's side and took a look around. The room looked pretty girlish, surely it had been Sho's ex-wife who had chosen the decorations, Nino thought. Her stuff was obviously removed since she had moved out already and so the room gave off an empty and rather sad feeling, as if nobody would live in here. Nino wondered. He tried to be silent not to wake the other while searching for some painkillers in the nightstand and a freshly washed pajama in the closet that he could dress Sho. In the drawers, he couldn't find anything besides a couple of towels and bed linen, not even a fresh T-Shirt. How was this possible? Cursing to himself, Nino turned his head aimlessly, thinking about where he could look further. He then whispered to Clover to stay at Sho's side (just realizing that the dog would do so anyway) and hurried into the kitchen to at least continue his search for the painkillers there.

Again, he had no luck with the medicine but underneath the sink, he found a typical ice pouch that he quickly prepared for the other. To begin with, this would at least help to get the fever down a little. Back in Sho's room, Nino reached out to Sho who seemed to be having nightmares, brushed back his hair and carefully placed the pouch on Sho's head, causing the other to moan slightly. At least, Sho stopped moving and his face shortly after showed an expression of slight relief. Nino sighed. He hoped that Sho would feel better with this.

The young man then pulled an empty armchair that stood in a corner toward the bed and sat down, his eyes not leaving Sho's face. Sho moved again, pushing the blanket away, but Nino reached out to place it back again. Looking at Sho, Nino realized that his heart was still racing from the panic. He still felt unease, he still was worried about Sho, maybe more than what’s considered to be reasonable. Most likely, after sleeping for a few hours, the other would feel already better. Nevertheless, Nino wished, he could do more for Sho but since between the two of them he wasn't the doctor, he felt pretty useless and lost...

After hesitating for a bit, he then let his hand slip under Sho's blanket, searching for the other's hand. It felt hot and a bit sweaty, but Nino didn't care. He placed his own hands around Sho's, pressing it slightly and to his surprise, Sho calmed down again. Nino felt relieved and he had to pull himself together not to start crying. How stupid would that be, Nino scolded himself mentally. He was such a crybaby, especially from the time he had met Sho again, it was pathetic. He should learn to control his feelings better but instead, he was pulling off dramatic behavior with crying, running away and being stubborn just because he was afraid of getting pushed away by Sho again. And now, this was where he had brought the two of them with his stupid behavior, Nino blamed himself. He had to take care of this now, he had to try to fix what he could fix, at least...

- - Tokyo, Sakurai House; April 4, 2015; past midnight - -

Nino sat there for hours, taking care of Sho, placing the ice pouch back in the right place, whenever it slipped away, and holding his hand. Finally,Nino's eyes fell shut as exhaustion overwhelmed him too and his face sunk into the soft fabric of Sho's blanket as he drifted away to sleep for a bit. He couldn't sleep long though, his sleep was too disturbed, too restless, filled with the worry about the man he loved.

Around one and a half hour later, Sho started moving more and more during his sleep again and Nino decided to refill the ice pouch again. He quickly left the room and hurried back to put the pouch onto Sho's forehead again, as the other woke up. Only a small light on the nightstand was switched on so that the room wasn't really lighted, but Nino could clearly see Sho's eyes flickering open, who then looked at Nino immediately. Nino had to prevent Sho from trying to push away the ice pouch.

“Don't,” he said. “This is an ice pouch for the fever. I don't know where I can find painkillers.”

Sho groaned and took a minute to catch on. “Where are we?”

“Your place,” Nino explained. “I thought it was the best place to go.”

“I have painkillers in the bathroom,” Sho murmured and he sounded like he could really need them, so Nino headed there immediately.

Of course, they were in the bathroom, Nino scolded himself, why didn't he think about looking for them there? As if his brain had refuse to work properly... He felt a little angry at himself, but the anger quickly got replaced with relief as he found the desired painkillers right away on the shelf behind the bathroom mirror. He took the pills and a glass of fresh water with him and went back to help Sho to take some of the medicine. When he wanted to go refill the glass so that Sho had something to drink later, he suddenly felt Sho gripping his wrist. Nino turned around.

“Please don't leave me,” Sho whispered desperately and Nino froze before he settled down again, placing the blanket back over Sho.

“I'll stay,” he answered whispering. “Now sleep.”

“Thanks for not yelling at me,” Sho closed his eyes again, drifting back to sleep. He still didn't let go Nino's hand but slightly loosened the grip so that Nino could move his hand a little, intertwining their fingers.

“I'm not that cruel. I'll wait a bit,” he murmured, trying to act tough but probably, Sho couldn’t hear him anyway.

=+=

Sho didn't wake up again and slept calmly throughout the next few hours. Nino had prepared something light for Sho to eat, a little breakfast and some soup, since he didn't know when the other would wake up and what he would like to eat. He would like to stay with Sho until he opened his eyes again and Nino even considered taking the day off and informed the other staff at the hotel, but then an emergency came up and he had to leave anyway.

Nino cursed as he left a small note behind for Sho, promising that he would come back after the work was done. He had to rewrite the message three times, since he was completely insecure about his choice of words. He didn't want to leave behind a sappy love letter or anything after all... so he tried to keep the message as neutral as possible.

“I had to go to work, I left a bottle of water on the nightstand with the painkillers and a breakfast in the kitchen. I'll be back after work. Nino.” That should do it...

Hesitating, Nino looked down at Sho and then he quickly bent down to place a small kiss onto Sho's cheeks, hoping that the other wouldn't wake up right that moment. Sho didn't, but Nino blushed anyway and hurriedly left the house.

He tried to take care of the problem at work as fast as he could, planning to go back to Sho as soon as possible, but it was like the day was cursed. Problems kept popping up. First, Ishihara-san called in sick just an hour before her shift was about to start and so Nino had to take over a few hours at the reception, dealing with lots of horrible hotel guests and an annoying bug in the reservation program. He was switching back and forth between the reception and the kitchen as a problem with the fridge occurred and all free hands were necessary to bring fresh stuff into substitute ice boxes. As if this wasn't enough, Nino had to take care of the reclamation of an order of towels with the wrong logo stitched on. It was like cursed. In addition, his thoughts were with Sho, the whole time, which didn't really help to concentrate properly. Nino wondered if he should call to check on him, but he decided against it, he didn't want to take the risk of waking Sho when the other was trying to recover from his sickness. With that, there was nothing left for Nino but to wait until someone could replace him at the reception.

Finally, around half past 7, Nino was able to leave. He went into the kitchen and asked Toma for a few groceries that he could use to cook something healthy for Sho. Just a few minutes later, packed with a paper bag, he left the hotel in a hurry with Toma waiving behind him.

=+=

“It's only a flu, Yamada, I'll rest and take the treatment you kindly brought me. Thanks.”

Nino could hear Sho's slightly cracked voice as he set his foot onto the driveway to Sho's house. He looked up wondering as he spotted a young man standing in front of the entrance door which was getting closed again. The young man – Yamada – stood there, letting his shoulders sink, a disappointed sigh escaping his lips. It was that young doctor, Nino had already seen in the hospital once. That curious boy who had followed Sho around like a puppy, Nino thought slightly annoyed. Maybe, this wasn't the time to get jealous, but he had to admit, he didn't like to see that boy here, and he didn't even bother to hide his feelings as he stopped behind the other, ready to shoot him with a death glare.

Exactly that was what he did when Yamada finally turned around to take his leave. The boy obviously hadn't heard Nino coming since he let out a little surprised scream as he almost ran into Nino. The young man bowed and apologized quickly and when Sho opened the door again to let Nino in, Yamada stared at the two of them, dumbfounded. Nino still didn't say a word and immediately focused on Sho when the door was closed once again. He felt relieved, seeing the other was feeling fit enough already to get up but still, he was worried.

“How do you feel?” Nino asked immediately.

“Better,” Sho answered. “I slept all the time and my intern just brought me the pills I asked for.”

“How nice of him,” Nino replied, not bothering to hide the sarcasm in his comment.

He immediately fell silent when Sho raised his hand and brushed it over Nino's cheek in a caring move. As Sho was looking at Nino with an overwhelming sense of tenderness, Nino's heartbeat sped up on an instant. Embarrassed, the young man could feel his face turning red.

“Thanks for yesterday,” Sho said smiling slightly.

Nino tried to escape from the situation, this was a bit too much to handle for him right now. “It's not as if I had a choice,” he mumbled.

“Thanks, anyway.”

“It was silly of you to come to the club,” Nino continued a bit irritated before he took off his coat and went into the kitchen. At least Sho had emptied the dishes he had prepared for him, this seemed to be a good sign. Still, Nino tried to act mad, even if he was far from it already, “I didn't want you out there.”

“I had to see you,” Sho started again, “and since you have been avoiding me...you left so quickly the last time.”

Of course, now Nino couldn't run away any longer from this conversation. It was high time, he had played stubborn long enough. Nevertheless, this didn't mean that he was ready. Still, there was that unbeatable fear deep inside him that Sho would call him crazy because of the confession Nino had thrown at him the other day. That he would tell Nino that he had been stupid, wasting his time with him, thinking that “love” existed between the two of them years ago when everything was just a juvenile experimental phase. Nino didn't want to get pushed away, he didn't want to get his heart broken again; the little flame of hope, which was still desperately burning in his chest getting blown out by a simple statement from the love of his life. Still, at the same time, he didn't dare to hope for much...

“I couldn't stay,” Nino admitted, keeping his hands busy in order not to be forced to face the other man as he confessed, “It's stronger than me.”

Nino waited. Waited for the negative comment that he expected, something that would finally erase the last of possibilities between them. But nothing came from Sho and Nino wasn't sure if he could bear the tension much longer. He almost dropped the bowl that he was washing for the third time already into the sink, his hands were shaking nervously right now. Then finally, he felt Sho approaching him from behind. Still, Nino didn't dare looking back. When Sho stopped behind him, Nino held his breath for a moment.

Suddenly, he felt Sho's warm hand slowly sliding down his right arm and Nino just realized that his wrist was still naked since his watch was broken and he didn't bother to get it fixed yet. His scar was all visible and since Sho - the only one that he really had wanted to hide it from - had already discovered it, hiding it had become meaningless anyway...

Sho laid his fingers gently around Nino's hand, turning it so that the scar on the young man's wrist was facing upwards. Nino didn't fight against it when Sho came a step closer, his body almost touching Nino's back. He also didn't fight against it when the other brought his wrist up to Sho's lips and placed a tender kiss onto the old scar. Pulling in the air sharply between his teeth, to make sure he wouldn't faint, Nino just let the other man do as he pleased, his sight starting to blur a little with Sho's warm gesture and Nino was ready to melt away.

He took another breath, searched his head for words, he had to say something... anything would do it...

“You scared me to death...,” he then said, remembering the fear he had felt when he saw Sho being sick. “Don't do this ever again. I mean it.”

Nino could feel Sho's breath against his wrist and a warm shiver ran down his spine. Sho's following confession sounded like a dream to the young man.

“I won't go anywhere if you don't move away from me,” Sho started, his soft voice next to Nino's ear embracing the other. “I want to be your boyfriend, for real, not a one-night-stand, not the person who hurt you, I want to be your most important person, the one who makes the world go round for you. The one who will please you. Would you give me another chance?”

Nino was speechless... Boyfriend, most important person, another chance... did he mishear those wonderful words right now? Did this mean that Sho had loved him too? That he still loved him?

“I...,” the words got stuck in Nino's throat, like so often and he cursed himself for his inability to voice his feelings.

Sho's soft lips brushed against the skin of Nino's nape. A small, tender caress. One that Sho had let Nino feel so often when they were still young, when they had shared such a closeness despite the insecurity of their feelings for each other. Though, Nino thought that this so familiar and long missed gesture had never felt more exciting, more meaningful, than before.

“The fever makes you delirious,” Nino said but couldn't help wondering, if it was really Sho who was in a delirium or maybe it was himself.

“I've never felt better,” Sho said, unwaveringly.

Nino sighed deeply, he felt his body giving in and finally, he allowed himself to lean against Sho, to seize for the support he had longed for for such a long time. Leaning his head back against Sho's shoulder, he closed his eyes, still unable to respond.

“Kazu,” Sho whispered in a begging voice, using a nickname for the young man that he had never used before, which made his heart melt completely. “Say yes, please, you won't regret it.”

And finally, Nino allowed himself to believe, to trust the other and with a whispered “yes”, he allowed Sho to enter his heart again.

The two men spent an innocent night together, just like the one when Nino had slept over at Sho's place for the first time. They didn't kiss, didn't hold hands or share any other intimate gesture besides that tender embrace in the kitchen before. It was too early for them. Even if they didn't speak it out loud, both of them knew that they didn't need to rush now. They had to take their time with each other, now that they finally allowed more things to happen between them than just their blind desire. They had to treasure each moment, no matter how innocent or intimate it would be.

Nino insisted on Sho going back to bed and the other listened to him but refused to sleep, since he wanted to talk to Nino. To talk to him about everything that came up his mind. The two men talked about the past, about the old times they spent together, bathing in their memories and discovering smaller and bigger misunderstandings that finally completed the puzzle of insecurities that they had shared unconsciously. Nino sometimes couldn't prevent a more or less bitter laughter. How could they have been so stupid? So blind to each other's real feelings? Why didn't they talk back then as openly as they did right now? How could they have been so damned afraid? They might have been able to prevent a lot of pain and suffering on both sides. But maybe they weren't gown-up enough back then, maybe they weren't completely ready for each other. Maybe, at least Nino wanted to believe in this, fate had made them wait until now, all for the best...

- - Tokyo Sealife Aquarium; April 8, 2015; 1:55 pm - -

Nino lighted a cigarette as he exited his car at the parking lot of the Aquarium. He was just on time for his date with Sho. His date. Like a real date. Nino still couldn't believe it but the other day, Sho had made him promise that they would take their new start slowly, that they would try dating, just like what every normal couple did. Well, they might not be normal, not until now, but it was never too late to start again, they had agreed. With that, Sho had not only developed the habit to call Nino each and every day to make sure that Nino didn't change his mind, but had also invited him to the aquarium, a place of their shared memories...

Nino felt nervous, even if there was definitely happy anticipation mixed under this feeling. Their one and only date, which had been at this very same place years ago had more or less been a flop. The two of them didn't know how to act. Nino had been so foolish and desperate and even if he had tried to get close to Sho back then, the other had acted cold, not willing to let anyone see the relationship between them. But today, everything was different, Nino was sure about that. Well, not sure... but he firmly hoped that their date this time would be a success.

When Nino approached the entrance and Sho, who was already waiting and putting away his cell phone at the moment. He stubbed out his cigarette in an ashtray and greeted Sho, trying to sound casual. He was still too shy to greet the other enthusiastically as he would like to. Sho smiled at him happily. Nino blushed and rubbed his nape with his hand, feeling the shortened hair tickling his fingers. He wondered, if Sho would like what he saw. Nino hadn't only tried to pick his best looking – not too formal – clothes, but he had also visited the hair saloon yesterday to bring his slightly messy hair back into shape.

They had a little embarrassing start, staring at each other for a few seconds before Nino couldn't stand it any longer and suggested for them to go in. Once in, they quickly fell into a comfortable rhythm, walking next to each other, chatting casually and enjoying the view of all those fascinating creatures that seemed to be from another world.

When they returned to the place of their memories – a bench in front of a huge tank with colorful exotic fishes - Sho foolishly apologized for bringing Nino here but the latter just laughed, somewhat amused. Maybe, it was destined, he thought. They chatted for a bit, joking about both their lack in dating experience and then finally, Nino was brave enough to take out something from his pocket that he brought for Sho and handed it to the other man.

“What is this?” Sho asked wondering.

“Open it,” the other encouraged him. Maybe, Sho would find it cheesy, Nino thought, but somehow, he couldn't come up with anything more befitting.

Sho's face lightened up immediately as he unwrapped the small but meaningful present. “A melonpan?” he giggled cutely. “You remember?”

“'Course I remember,” Nino said still shyly before he faced the other again. “Happy belated Birthday, Sho.”

Smiling at Nino, Sho grabbed the young man's hand gently as they shared the melonpan. The slight touch on his hand felt like it was burning Nino in an exciting way. The warmth of Sho's fingers seemed to spread over to Nino, reaching up through his veins, warming his fragile heart. How much Nino had wished to hold Sho's hand here, like that, years ago when Sho refused to show any connection to Nino.

“And if someone sees us?” Nino whispered, looking around, the insecurity from the past returning.

“We don't care, right?” Sho replied and for Nino it felt as it was a load off from his mind. His heart started beating faster with Sho's sweet words, who then intertwined their fingers and brought Nino's hand up to his lips for a small kiss. “We're only two consenting adults dating...”

“Sho?” Suddenly, their innocent intimacy got interrupted, as a female voice spoke Sho's name a few steps away and Nino cringed, turning his head to her direction quickly.

Surprised, he recognized the beautiful woman whom he knew only from pictures so far. For a moment, unease fell over him as he saw her just standing there, her hand linked through a tall man's arm. It was Sho's ex-wife, Aoi, probably with her new lover. A happy smile lightened up her cute face, as Sho stood up and greeted her with a small kiss onto her cheek. Quickly, Aoi's attention switched toward Nino, who was just sitting there, dumbfounded, not knowing how to deal with this sudden confrontation.

“Oh!” Sho finally came back and put his arm around Nino's shoulder. “Aoi-chan, Okada-san, this is Ninomiya Kazunari, my boyfriend.”

“I'm so glad to meet you at last!!” Aoi seemed to almost freak out – from enthusiasm, it seemed – as she shook Nino's hand who just continued staring at her a bit irritatedly. “Sho talked so much about you! So you're officially...together?”

“If this date is a success, perhaps he will accept me as his official boyfriend,” Sho said boldly and Nino blushed.

Sho asked about how the couple was doing and Aoi happily announced that she and her soon-to-be-husband were already expecting a baby. Sho smiled broadly, honestly excited about the happy news and congratulated the couple enthusiastically. Okada then hinted to his wife that they should better take their leave and continue on their own date. Aoi bent toward Nino's ear and asked him to take good care of Sho, making him blush even more. He nodded and bowed slightly when Aoi and Okada left.

“I'm sorry, it's definitely not something written in the manual of the perfect date,” Sho said apologetically as the two went out of sight.

“Meeting the ex-wife, you mean?” Nino chuckled.

“Yes,” Sho was a bit embarrassed.

“But you called me your boyfriend,” Nino wasn't able to hide his happiness.

He could embrace the world in gratefulness for finally having Sho officially calling him his “boyfriend”. Touching Sho’s hand lightly, Nino wanted to continue the walk out of the aquarium to the nearby park. After a few steps, Sho grabbed Nino’s too shy hand firmly with his. Nino felt a bit embarrassed. Surely, he would be able to win any blushing competition that probably existed in this world today, but he couldn’t deny the fact that he enjoyed the cute tenderness, shared between him and Sho. Actually, he couldn't get enough of it. After all, it was everything he had ever wished for.

Finally, Nino asked Sho about the whole story behind his wedding, a topic that they still had not touched in detail, even though they had talked about a lot of things already during that one night at Sho’s house or even their now daily phone calls. Now, Nino needed to know the whole truth and Sho told him everything. He told him that he married Aoi because their parents had forced them to sign an agreement to connect the business relationship between their parents' companies but they had never loved each other more than friends or maybe something akin to siblings. They had been allies, supporting each other during their tough times, to find their paths, job-wise and in private. Sho told Nino more about Aoi and her boss, Okada, how they fell in love, how Sho supported them and how they finally filed for their divorces so that Aoi could walk her new personal path of happiness with the man she chose.

Somehow, Nino was touched by their story. And he felt stupid. Stupid for hating Aoi so much in the past, despite the fact that he had never really known the woman. Not only, did she never really steel Sho away from him, like he had assumed, she also had to deal with difficulties in her life and resenting her had been really unfair. Nino promised himself, that one day he would apologize to Aoi properly and thank her for taking care of Sho for such a long time on his behalf.

Nino chuckled when Sho admitted that the study Nino had slept in the other night was actually Sho’s room. Nino had already suspected something like that since the bedroom he had brought Sho into when the other was sick was so untouched and the study in comparison had felt (and smelled) so much like Sho... He chuckled another time when Sho admitted that he didn’t wash the sheets Nino had slept in, just to be able to smell him a bit longer. This should sound creepy but Nino just found it cute because he knew that he was the same kind of love fool. Maybe, both of them could be a little creepy, but who cared? They were creepy for each other, so it was fine.

“The night I told you I was about to marry Aoi...,” Sho finally reached the most critical point.

The unpleasant memories of that day washed over Nino again once more but it was clearer now that the situation back then had just been a huge misunderstanding. If they hadn't been such fools, both of them, everything could have been different. If one of them had spoken about his true feelings for the other earlier, maybe if Nino hadn't reacted that stoic on Sho's confession about the wedding, maybe if both of them had just been more honest, everything might have turned out different. Maybe.

But things had happened the way they did and nothing could change that. Nino suddenly realized that all the despair, the anger, the wish to go back in time to maybe have the chance to change something, nothing mattered any more. They had to forget, they had to forgive. They had to move on and not get stuck in their past. What mattered now was that they finally got back together, that fate hadn't given up on them and that now it was the time to make use of their second chance.

“... I hoped you would hold me back,” Sho continued. “I was just a fool, if I had been clearer~”

Nino went a step closer to Sho and reached up a little, not even letting him finish his sentence as he slightly pressed his lips against Sho's. It was the first kiss of their new life together and Sho might be a little surprised as he looked at Nino with big eyes. The younger smiled slightly, his fingers caressing his boyfriend's cheek as he leaned his forehead against Sho's.

“We have to forget, Sho,” he murmured, voicing his thoughts from before. “To forget the past and forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made.”

“We'll make it,” Sho agreed. “Together.”

Sho opened his arms and allowed Nino to nestle against him. Nino leaned his head against his chest, closing his eyes for a while and inhaling Sho’s scent that he had missed so much already. They stood there just like this for a moment and if it was up to Nino, he could have spent the rest of his life in this hug that he had wished for for so long.

“We wanted to take it slow, right?” Nino asked as he stepped back a little, shyly looking into Sho’s face.

“Yeah, we don’t need to rush, right?” Sho was right, but…

“Kissing allowed?”

“Kissing allowed and if I may add, much appreciated,” Sho said smirking with a reassuring nod.

“Then… may I kiss you again? Now?” Nino asked, blushing like a fool and Sho was also the same, which made Nino almost burst into laughter. He felt like a stupid, totally in love teenager… like back then when he had first fallen in love with Sho, just with less insecurity.

“I beg you to,” Sho answered in a whisper, flashing his typical gorgeous smile at Nino. When he bent forward a little, Nino reached up to meet him halfway, his lips tenderly capturing Sho’s for the second time.

The kiss was innocent. Innocent like the one from just a few minutes ago and innocent like when their lips had touched for the very first time years ago and Nino felt that it was like the exact same army of butterflies taking off in his stomach again. Despite its innocence, the kiss was so full of love, at one point Nino started wondering again, maybe he was only dreaming. The warmth of Sho's hands though, one resting at the small of Nino's back while the other was brushing through Nino's hair tenderly, reassured him and proved how real all of this was. Finally.

- - Tokyo, Ninomiya Hotel; April 18, 2015; 6:30 pm - -

Another reality caught up to Sho and Nino quickly and that was the reality of work. Despite the fact that now they were dying to spend as much time together as possible, they still had their work and with that, they were separated for the bigger part of the day. They tried to meet at least every other day, even if it was just for a cup of coffee in the city or for lunch in the canteen of the hospital. There, the couple still pretended to just meet to talk about the preparations for Jun and Ohno's wedding –in case Jun showed up. Sometimes, Sho had to work night shifts and sometimes, Nino had to stay over night at the hotel too. With that, on some days when times were busy and their working shifts overlapped, they had to be satisfied with a simple phone call in between their duties. But even if it was just for a couple of minutes, the two treasured those little conversations and fed their desire for each other with them.

Not only because of the lack of time, but because they didn't want to rush. Hence, the two of them didn't have sex again yet. As if they were waiting for a special occasion, a special moment. It was hard sometimes not to just jump at Sho, Nino thought when his happiness and the still insane desire for the other man threatened to take over the control of his body. But of course meeting in public places made it easier for him to control his behavior. Nothing more than innocently holding hands or exchanging small kisses had happened during their dates so far and Nino had sworn to himself that he would be patient and treasure the pleasant anticipation.

This Friday, both Nino and Sho had finally managed to get the evening off again. Originally, they had planned to go out for a fancy dinner somewhere but when Sho was picking Nino up from the hotel and just as they wanted to leave, Nana suddenly barged into the lobby, greeting Nino enthusiastically. She smiled at Sho broadly, greeting him too and Sho mirrored her gesture. She had a young man in tow, someone called Kubota and introduced him to Nino and Sho as her new boyfriend. Nino widened his eyes in surprise, he knew about the guy for a few weeks but he didn't know that the two of them were already together. He congratulated them and then, Nana invited him and Sho to accompany them to the cinema. Nino looked at Sho with questioning eyes, not sure if Sho would like the change of plans, but Sho just nodded, smiling, and said that if Nino wanted to watch the movie, it would be a pleasure to go with them.

“We can go to a restaurant afterwards. Just as the two of us,” Sho whispered into Nino's ear and the young man smiled happily.

In the cinema, Nana chose a comedy to watch and the two couples found seats in the last row where they could be more or less undisturbed. Nino and Sho really appreciated that. The dark in the cinema was welcomed and it hid their touches and their kisses they shared from time to time well, despite the movie being quite interesting. Well, not as interesting as they were to each other, obviously.

“Guys~,” Nana giggling poked Nino on the side as the young man was again leaning toward Sho to brush his nose against his cheek. “I suggest, you two to get a room,” she whispered, smiling at her best friend.

Nino decided to ignore her and focused on Sho who once again brushed his lips against his boyfriend's. Nino obviously enjoyed Sho's open affection. It was so exciting and so different from what they had shared in the past, the hidden life, seen by nobody. This time, they could show their connection without having to hold back and Nino would rather eat grass than miss this.

As promised, Sho took Nino out for dinner after the movie and they enjoyed their time as a couple in a nice restaurant, sharing their food and tangling their legs underneath the table, laughing at what they had to tell each other. They simply had a great time. Even, when the atmosphere became more serious and the topics heavier, they enjoyed their time together. Nino started telling Sho more about his father and how it was to live the last days together with him, how he had been grateful for so many things that man taught him in his life. Sho reached his hand out over the table, intertwining his fingers with Nino's, pressing them slightly to show him his support. After Sho called the waiter to ask for the bill and paid, Nino begged him to drive him somewhere and Sho, even if a little surprised, agreed, of course.

After about 20 minutes ride in Sho's car, they finally arrived at Nino's destination, which turned out to be a graveyard. It was quite dark and there were only a few lamps at the perimeter of the yard, spreading a little light over the silent place, but Sho knew exactly, where Nino wanted to lead him. They strolled through the rows for a few minutes, Nino's hand firmly linked with Sho's and it didn't take them long until Nino stopped in front of one of the graves. He took a deep breath, looking at the name engraved into the dark gray stone. It still hurt. Hurt so much to know that this dear person had left this world already. Nino still had trouble accepting the fact sometimes, he was still mourning and he only realized that he was shaking slightly, when Sho pressed his hand again and turned to face him with a friendly, reassuring smile.

Nino bent down to take an incense stick and lighted it with his lighter, put his hands together to pray silently for a while and Sho did the same. As they had finished, Nino's fingers immediately searched for Sho's again, who grabbed his hand to ensure him that he was right here by his side.

“You know,” Nino finally started in a low voice. “I haven't been here since the day of his funeral. I just... couldn't bring myself to come here...”

Sho nodded understanding but didn't say anything. He just held Nino's hand and continued to listen when Nino spoke up again.

“It was too painful... Maybe, because I still didn't want to admit that he's not there any longer,” Nino whispered.

After a few seconds of silent, Nino finally chuckled despite his own grief and Sho gave him a wondering look. Nino looked into Sho's eyes, unable to completely hide the sad expression in his face, but his lips were curling up into a smile as he faced the gravestone again. He took another deep breath before he started talking again.

“Dad? I would like to introduce someone to you,” Nino pressed Sho's hand. “This is Sakurai Sho, my boyfriend. No, the love of my life. I wished I could tell you sooner but... we took a little detour. Please give us your favor.”

The young man then fell silent again, looking at the gravestone. Eventually, he lost the battle and his eyes were filled with tears. He lifted one hand to quickly wipe them away, but no matter how often he repeated this gesture, he couldn't stop the flood of tears any longer. Nino felt Sho's hands on his, pulling it away from his face. Sho turned Nino toward him and then bent forward a little, his hands still holding Nino's. His lips touched Nino's cheeks, kissing away the young man's tears. This tender gesture of comfort made Nino break down further and now, his whole body was shaking uncontrollably.

Sho finally wrapped his arms around Nino firmly, pulling him into a comforting hug and he let the other cry his heart out for a while. He was rubbing his back slowly, pressing him closer, brushing his hair, whispering words of comfort into his ears, trying to get through to Nino's suffering heart. When Nino seemed to calm down a bit, he stepped back a little, apologizing to Sho for his emotional outburst, Sho just shook his head and kissed again away the last tear on Nino's cheek before he pressed his lips against Nino's for a tender kiss.

“Actually, I was there,” Sho finally confessed. “At the funeral.”

Nino looked at him surprised. “You were there?”

Sho nodded. “I'm sorry though that I didn't comfort you back then, I was too shy to come forward...”

“Don't be sorry,” Nino said, shaking his head slightly. “Even only hearing about it now, I'm happy that you were there. This means a lot to me, thank you.”

“From now on, I'll never leave you alone in your sad times,” Sho promised, hugging Nino again.

As Nino answered the hug, he said. “And I'll be there for you too.”

- - Tokyo, The Kit Kat Club; May 16, 2015; 7:30 pm - -

Just a few days ago Nino and Sho had finally finished organizing everything that was left of the wedding preparations. Now, just about a month away from the actual wedding, it was finally time to party – at the bachelor party, to be exact. Despite their busy lives, they had pulled off a good job – Nino had to pat their own shoulders – and they had even managed to keep Jun calm, who was slowly but surely freaking out from worrying if everything would really work according to plan.

As expected, with the wedding getting closer, Nino's brother had an increasingly hard time to accept the fact that he and Ohno let go of the steering wheel of their own wedding preparation and handed it over to the two “problem kids”, which was what Jun had called Nino and Sho at their last meeting to talk about the details a few days ago. Ohno had just chuckled back then, stating that he was sure that the “kids” were grown up already and he had eyed Nino from the side, giving him a knowing look, who then blushed a little.

When Nino had told Ohno about the progress he made with Sho, he was shy but happy to share those news with him. The other confessed that Sho had already told him everything. Nino wasn't that surprised about this, knowing that Sho and Ohno were still close friends and he was somehow relieved to have Ohno as their ally. Nevertheless, he didn't want to talk to Jun about the whole thing yet. He was a bit insecure on how his brother would react. He had never talked to him about love matters, knowing that Jun might be overprotective and maybe even make things a bit complicated, since he always had the tendency to act like his mother in such aspects. Considering the complicated mess that Nino and Sho had went through, Nino didn't want to imagine, what Jun might think of all that and so for now, they had decided to make Jun think that they were just friends who overcame their difficulties.

The atmosphere in the Kit Kat Club was just as what Miyake-san had promised for the evening. It was splendid. Jun had almost freaked out from enthusiasm when Nino and Sho allowed him and Ohno to disembark the car. They had to pick them up to bring them to the “surprise location”. As expected, everything fit Jun's taste perfectly and seeing Ohno smiling, satisfied at the sight of his happy fiance, ensured Nino that he picked the right choice for the bachelor party.

The jazzy music from inside the club was swashing to the entrance where Nino and Ohno had lined up to welcome the first guests while Jun and Sho were in charge inside of the club to keep everyone busy. Everyone was dressed up nicely relating to the style of the 1920s, the gentlemen wearing tuxedos, the ladies expensive, glittering, beautiful dresses, with their hair styled perfectly. Everyone was smiling, greeting Nino and congratulating Ohno on the upcoming wedding who in turn, thanked them sheepishly.

Nino didn't know many of those faces, he had just invited the names he had found on a list that Jun had once slipped onto Nino's desk at the hotel. He assumed that most of them were friends and colleagues of Jun but a handful of the guests were also acquaintances of Ohno it seemed, just a few former comrades from college and a few fellow photographers.

“Tsumabuki!” Ohno greeted one of them happily, a tall good-looking guy with a charming broad smile who patted Ohno's shoulder as the other shook his hand. “It's been a while, right? I'm happy you could make it, good thing you're in Tokyo lately. I heard, your exhibition is doing great? I'm sorry that I was too busy to go there yet.”

“Don't worry, Oh-chan,” the man called Tsumabuki answered. “I'm sure you were really busy with the wedding preparations and since you have that contract with Nat Geo now, you're surely busy with that too.”

“Indeed. But I promise, I'll visit your exhibition soon,” Ohno smiled.

“I'd be honored. And feel free to bring along your fiance and your friends, Sakurai for example,” Tsumabuki smiled and Nino listened up.

“I will,” Ohno replied. “Let's talk a bit more later on at the bar?”

“Alright, see you inside!” Tsumabuki waved at his friend and bowed slightly toward Nino.

The young man just mirrored his gesture without saying a word but he didn't take his eyes off the man's back, as he entered the club mixing with the guests who have already arrived, until he was out of sight. So that guy knew Sho? Nino didn't know it yet, but this wasn't going to be the last time he would have to face that man for this evening. But for now, he continued to welcome a couple of more guests with a friendly smile, introducing himself as Jun's brother and one of the wedding's best men.

Around 9, it seemed like everyone had arrived and the guests were chatting jollily and enjoying the party. A few couples had already started to keep themselves busy on the dance floor, swaying their bodies to the music, while a few guys were curiously inspecting a card table on which Nino had started to casually perform a few simple card tricks that he had learned during his journey through Europe. Again and again, people joyfully clinked their glasses to Jun or Ohno – or both if they managed to not get pulled apart by their guests – and congratulations filled the air, the jazzy music in the background forming a solid base for the celebratory atmosphere.

The evening went on, drinks got handed out, appetizers and small snacks too, to keep everyone satisfied. Stories were shared among the guests, laughter filled the air and then, a few hours later, it was finally time to fire up the party a little – at least according to Sho and Nino's plans. They might have promised Jun not to do anything embarrassing at the party, but of course, they had something up their sleeves and were prepared, even if Jun might maybe hate them for the rest of the evening.

As the dancy song which had been currently playing - a cover version of one of Nino's favorite songs “Seibutsu Gakuteki Gensou” by Sekai no Owari – ended on its last note, Nino excused himself from the small group of people whom he had been talking to. The singer of the band on stage mentioned that there was someone who wanted to make a short announcement and the guests turned their heads curiously when Nino stepped up to the microphone and smirked. Sho smiled at him from just a few steps in front of him and slowly, Jun and Ohno approached the stage, which was extended a little into the middle of the room, with a wondering look on their faces.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Nino started after a quick clearing of his throat. “I'm pleased to see that all of you are having a great time. As you might know, we're here tonight, to celebrate the upcoming wedding of my dear older brother, Jun -,” Nino smiled at him, “and my dear friend Oh-chan. Let's wish them all the best and the patience to endure the last month before their big day,” Nino lifted his glass, half filled with sparkling wine to punctuate his toast and the audience mirrored his gesture.

“Here's to the dear couple!” Sho spoke out loud with another toast and the guests joined him.

“To make the waiting time a bit more fun, we came up with a small idea,” Nino then admitted as the audience fell silent again and his smirk got even cheekier. He couldn't prevent a small giggle from escaping his lips as Jun's face went blank for an instant. “We invited one of Oh-chan's old friends tonight and he agreed to help us to produce a little show for you! Please welcome the designer Fujigaya Taisuke!”

A tall, tanned guy, wearing a black tuxedo, a pink necktie around his neck and huge black-framed glasses on top of his nose, stepped on the few stairs up to the stage and shook Nino's hand enthusiastically before bowing to the guests who conveyed a round of applause. Jun looked irritated, as he didn't know what was going on but Ohno's jaw seemed to drop – of course, he recognized his old friend from university and Nino was sure that Ohno might now have a small idea about what was going to happen...

“Good evening everybody, it's nice to meet you. Nino here -,” he patted the young man's shoulder slightly, “asked me for a favor and of course, I can't say no since it's for my old dear friend Satoshi and his soon-to-be-groom, right?”

The audience applauded again while Jun shook the slightly panicking Ohno to make him talk but Ohno was looking at Fujigaya with a slightly shocked expression. Nino couldn't prevent to his laughter.

“I came up with a new collection recently and Nino made a list with a couple of voluntarily participating models for me for a small fashion show. Thank you very much, I will call out your names and beg you to get to backstage for now,” the designer pulled a piece of paper out of his jacket's pocket and started reading out loud a few names. One after another of the guests jumped on stage, earning applause and disappeared to backstage like told. “And then, I have a few more - not voluntary - participants for my special projects at the end of the show... I know this will catch you by surprise but please participate and go to the backstage too. That would be... Matsumoto Jun~”

“WHAT?!” Jun let out a shocked shriek. “What's going on?!”

Ohno face-palmed.

“Ohno Satoshi and~,” Fujigaya continued, adjusting his glasses as he read out the last name on the list. “Sakurai Sho.”

Nino bit his lower lip, suppressing the urge to burst out laughing as he saw Sho's suddenly shocked expression. The other knew about the plan with the fashion show, but he didn't know that he was set up to participate in it too! Especially, when he thought about the “special projects”, which would be the highlight of the show! Sho pointed at himself and shot Nino a wondering look, but the young man just pretended to ignore his boyfriend and instead went a step forward to pull Jun up onto the stage, who was obviously not fond of the whole idea and tried to escape. But under the cheering and feeling Ohno's supporting hand on his back, he didn't struggle too long.

“Come on, darling. We'll make it through this together, it's just for the fun,” Ohno said to his fiance and placed an encouraging kiss on Jun's cheek who looked at him a bit desperately.

Nino in the meantime offered Sho a hand to help him up too.

“You brat!” Sho said, still looking surprised at the pretending to be innocent Nino. “Why am I part of this now?”

“You heard Oh-chan – it's just for the fun, darling,” Nino smirked and pressed his hand slightly.

“You're going to do this too?” his boyfriend asked.

Nino shook his head. “Nope, I'm going to watch and enjoy the show from first row. Do your best!” He winked and Sho sighed but nevertheless decided to give in and followed Ohno and a still slightly protesting Jun backstage.

Fujigaya thanked everyone for participating in his show, then the band started playing again, and the first model came onto the stage under Fujigaya's casually added descriptions of his collection's pieces. The first participant was one of Ohno's acquaintances, a tall man, wearing black trousers, a half unbuttoned flashy dress shirt with pink and brown leopard print on it, a jacket casually hanging over one of his shoulders and a black hat on top. The man walked along the small catwalk like stage and posed for the audience, earning screams and applause and then went back to make space for the next one. A female friend of Jun, Nino remembered that she was working at the hospital as a head nurse, was wearing a turquoise short dress, ending a few centimeters above her knees. Around her neck there was a collar of fake leopard fur, continuing the show's topic and when she posed, she threw a little kiss at the people standing in front of the stage and the audience cheered with her. A couple of more outfits got presented, the mood was fabulous and then, it was time for the big finale – the last three participants.

Nino almost burst out into laughter when he heard Jun struggling behind the stage, wanting to refuse to go out there while Ohno tried hard to convince him. It was Sho though, who stepped onto the stage first. He stumbled forward, seeming a little lost and his head was flushed red as he arrived at the middle of the stage. He was wearing black boxer shorts, small lines of leopard print pattern at its sides and an unbuttoned, deep red dress shirt. Nino's eyes went bigger when he saw Sho's defined six pack showing between the loose fabric and he bit his lip as he spotted a small shining sparkle – Sho's belly button piercing.

Despite looking a bit confused and insecure, Sho started walking forward and the men and women in front of the stage let out appreciating whistles and cheering as the man stopped in the front to start posing. He shot a look at Nino, who blushed and then, Sho's nervousness seemed forgotten. His eyes not leaving Nino's, he reached up to his collar and slowly started to pull down the shirt, freeing his shoulders and torso while trying to move smoothly to the music in the background. Sho wasn't a good dancer and Nino knew that Sho didn't like dancing much but he tried his best and no matter how clumsy the man's movements might be, it didn't change the fact that he revealed the most sexy and desirable body that Nino had ever longed for...

As Sho winked at Nino and put back on his shirt as he turned around to leave the stage again, Nino had to pull himself together in order not to jump onto the stage and rip off those clothes from Sho again. He cleared his throat and tried to hide his red face behind a new glass of sparkling wine.

“And now... our big finale!” Fujigaya announced and the audience started clapping to the rhythm of the band's music.

They had to wait for a few more seconds until finally, Ohno managed to drag Jun onto the stage behind him. Applause welcomed them and then they started walking, Ohno showing off a wide grin, while Jun looked obviously not as pleased as his fiance. Just like Sho, they were dressed in underwear. Ohno was wearing a leopard print patterned boxer shorts and a black, tight tank top with a really low cut. It was bearable, Nino thought and Ohno didn't seem to feel that uncomfortable, on the contrary, maybe he liked that outfit too much, the young man thought. He then felt a bit sorry for Jun who still tried to hide behind Ohno but it couldn't be helped. He was wearing a short unbuttoned hem in leopard print, which matched the collection perfectly and in addition a deep purple, tight brief, showing off... well, let's say a bit more than Ohno's more comfortable looking boxer shorts.

The highlight though, and what made the audience cheer louder in laughter and with whistling to encourage the couple to step forward, was the fact that between them, their hands weren't only joined through their intertwined fingers, but that they were also connected with a pair of furry handcuffs. Ohno raised his hand, dragging Jun's with him and made a victory pose on the front stage before he turned to his left and pecked Jun's cheek. Then, they turned around, Ohno shook his butt a little bit and earning more laughter and clapping before Jun sped up his steps and dragged his fiancé off to backstage as fast as he could.

“Ah, no no, don't run away now!” Fujigaya spoke into the microphone and under the joyful laughter of the audience, Ohno dragged Jun back on stage. “Please line up on stage here, all of the models, please!”

Sho showed up again, feeling embarrassed as he lined up next to Ohno, accompanied by the other models. Everyone clapped their hands and cheered for the models and Fujigaya again thanked them for their brave participation and for presenting his new collection.

“Some last words, maybe?” the designer joked as he went a step toward Jun and Ohno, directing the microphone toward them.

Jun cleared his throat as he leaned forward to the microphone, his face flushed deeply in red. “I... I'm really sorry for this,” he stuttered.

The microphone got handed forward to Ohno who eyed his boyfriend standing next to him shamelessly with an appreciative smirk, “I have to say, I am not!”

The audience burst out into laughter and Jun blushed even more.

Soon after, the models had gone backstage to get back into their own clothing. Jun still complained about how embarrassing this little act had been and when Ohno amusingly suggested that he could ask Fujigaya if they could keep the plush handcuffs, Jun tried to muffle his fiance's words with his hand, pulling him away from their group of friends to scold him. Sho had returned back to Nino, who handed him something to drink with a smirk on his face.

“Thank you, I really need this now,” Sho said and tried to avoid looking directly into Nino's eyes.

Then, suddenly, just when Nino wanted to reach out and take Sho's hand into his, telling him how cute he was right now, embarrassed about his hot performance, someone barged between them. The man toasted toward Nino before he focused onto Sho. Nino immediately recognized the guy from before, who had invited Ohno to his exhibition and had asked him to bring Sho along.

“Sho, may I say how much I appreciated your little performance up there? My gosh, Mr. Sexy, like always...,” Tsumabuki said, letting his eyes run shamelessly over Sho's body as if he was mentally undressing the other. Nino gulped, witnessing the scene suspiciously.

“Please stop that,” Sho said embarrassed, scratching his neck.

“You have nothing to hide,” Tsumabuki continued and turned to Nino, asking for his agreement, “Right?” He clinked glasses with the two of them before concentrating on Sho again. “By the way, I tried to call you a few times but couldn't reach you. Busy?”

Sho took another sip of his drink and then moved a bit closer to Nino, letting his arm slip around his boyfriend's waist. “Yeah, I'm sorry. I'm pretty busy lately.”

Tsumabuki eyed the two of them and then nodded understanding. “I see, well... then I don't want to disturb you guys any longer.” He smiled and Nino wasn't sure if he believed in that smile or not, “Enjoy the rest of the evening and good luck with everything. Please make sure you come and visit my next exhibition.”

“We will,” Sho agreed and then, Tsumabuki turned his heel after another toast toward them, blending into the small crowd to go find someone else to chat with.

“Who was that?” Nino asked questioningly, turning to Sho. He felt Sho's hand tightening the grip around his waist.

“An acquaintance.”

“He was undressing you with his eyes, don't tell me he's just an acquaintance,” Nino murmured grumpily.

“Well…,” Sho started.

“Did you two have sex?” Nino burst out. “Be honest, Sho.”

“Yes we had. Twice. But it was before us and it didn’t mean anything to me,” the other confessed. “A one-night-stand, nothing more.”

“You mean, a two-night-stand...,” Nino murmured. “He tried to call you?”

“I ignored him. I'm with you now.”

“Oh, really?!”

“Don’t tell me, you’re jealous?” Sho chuckled.

“Well… maybe?” Nino admitted, taking another sip of his drink. They had to be honest with each other, right? “But...,” he continued. “I know, I don’t have the right to be, it’s not like I was completely chaste during all those years of separation...”

“Toma?” Sho asked bluntly, indicating that he might know what had took place between Nino and his chef behind the scenes. Nino nodded after a second and Sho sighed. “I knew it…”

“Jealous?” Nino asked, smirking at Sho with a challenging sparkle in his eyes.

“Maybe…”

Nino smirked. Seeing Sho getting possessive over him was exciting and made his heart beat faster. The two men stared at each other for a few seconds, the atmosphere was getting a little awkward, their unspoken affairs of the past hovering over them. The slight jealousy lying between them was so silly, it didn’t count any longer, did it? They were together now after overcoming countless obstacles and that was everything that mattered.

“I didn’t sleep with him though, since I met you again in January. Not even once,” Nino was the first one to give in and he took a step closer to his boyfriend, putting his hand onto Sho’s forearm. “Now you’re the only one I want to sleep with,” he sheepishly added.

Sho took away Nino's almost finished glass and alongside with his own handed them to a passing waiter, asking him to take them away. Then, he focused onto Nino again, quickly pulling the smaller into a hug.

“And you’re the only one, I want to sleep with,” Sho whispered, adjusting his one hand around Nino's slim waist and brushing the other slightly through Nino’s hair at the back of his head.

Totally forgetting that they had wanted to act not too close at the party in order not to blow their cover in front of Jun, the younger nestled into Sho’s embrace. Sho buried his nose in the crook of Nino’s neck and they just stood there like this for another few minutes. The music around them blended in with the cheerful chatting of the party guests, making the situation feel unreal for Nino, as if everything was separated from them; and the only thing that existed in the world now would be him and Sho. Nino stepped back a little so that he could reach up to peck his boyfriend’s lips. Sho closed his eyes and willingly answered Nino’s kiss, deepening it a little before they broke the kiss again.

“Do you think, Jun and Oh-chan will miss us if we leave now?” Nino suddenly asked.

“What do you have in mind?” Sho asked, grinning as he brushed a strand of hair behind Nino's ear.

“Well...,” Nino started. “You’ve not been to my place yet, right? I would like to show you my~”

“~Bed?”

Nino punched Sho slightly and the other groaned in surprised. “You pervert! I would like to show you my apartment!”

“I get it! I'll text Oh-chan so that they don't look for us later,” Sho laughed and Nino joined in before he grabbed Sho’s hand to drag him out of the club.

=+=

As soon as they had exited the taxi they took to Nino's apartment and after Nino had finally managed to unlock the door, Sho pushed him gently inside of the dark apartment, hastily taking off his shoes before he pinned Nino against the wall next to the shoe cabinet. Nino giggled and jokingly struggled a bit with his wrists that Sho had captured with his hands. Of course, both of them knew what they were up to. Nino tried to move under Sho's weight a little but when Sho captured Nino's lips in a hot kiss, the other stopped struggling immediately, moaning appreciatively and deepening the kiss without hesitating. The two men pressed their bodies together, not bothering to hide the growing desire between them any longer. Nino pulled in the air between two kisses and arched his back so as to press his hips closer to Sho's, who then moaned shamelessly.

Screw the “take it slow”, Nino thought. They had taken it slow enough, they had been separated for years after all and now, they were officially together for about one and a half month. They had been able to control their desire for each other up until now and enough was enough. Nino couldn't handle it any longer, he wanted Sho to take him. Here and now. Well, maybe not against the wall, but his bed wasn't too far away, so this should be a small problem.

Nino broke their kiss again and pushed his nose slightly against Sho's, nodding his head then into the direction of his living room to indicate to Sho that he wanted to move there. The taller then released Nino's wrists and Nino immediately wrapped his arms around Sho's neck, kissing him again, while Sho grabbed Nino's butt and lifted him to carry him over.

It was still dark inside the apartment but the colorful lights from the city outside were shining into it, lighting the room enough so that Sho didn't have any problem to find his way through the corridor into the wide, open living area with the joint kitchen at one end and the king-size bed at the other, facing the huge glass windows of Nino's penthouse. It seemed to be quite a luxurious loft but at the same time it felt comfy, like in those movies set in New York. It didn't take long before Sho tossed Nino onto the soft blanket of his bed, laying him down just to crawl over him. Placing his elbows on the right and left of Nino's head, Sho reached down again, searching for another kiss but Nino slightly turned his head so Sho missed his lips and kissed his cheek instead.

“I haven’t shown you around my apartment yet,” Nino joked but didn't do anything to escape Sho's stormy embrace. Giggling, he let the other kiss his chin, his neck, his collarbones as the latter started unbuttoning his shirt.

“It's dark already anyway,” Sho murmured. “I think, I'll take a proper look tomorrow. For now, I'm satisfied with this view.” The man continued unbuttoning Nino's dress shirt and the other started to do the same with Sho's after he threw away the crimson necktie.

They shared more passionate kisses while undressing each other hastily. Nino's heart was beating like crazy. Finally, he was allowed to touch Sho's body again, to hold him in his arms again, to claim him as his, and finally he was allowed to completely abandon himself to that man again like he did in the past so often.

It had been such a long time and Nino was a bit nervous because of their “first time” after so long but nevertheless, it felt like home, like nothing else mattered. Sho's body felt almost like the same as it had felt years ago, except that his muscles had became more defined, his body shape turned a bit more manly and adult-like. Nevertheless, Nino's hands seemed to fit each and every curve of Sho's body perfectly. He let his hands run along Sho's neck, along his torso until he found his fingers playing a bit with Sho's belly button piercing, and he smiled to himself. How had he longed to touch the love of his life again like this? How often had he dreamed about this exact situation? How lucky could he be to be allowed to experience this again right now... for real?

Sho's hands hovered over Nino's body, slightly brushing the sensitive skin. For Nino, it felt like he was burning. He moaned into another kiss as Sho nestled with his fingers at his belt and finally freed the young man from his trousers, pulling his briefs down with them before he tossed the clothes onto the floor.

Sho broke their kiss, slightly nibbling Nino's lip while he let his hands stroke Nino's sides, letting his fingers slip along his hips until he brought them forward, tickling the other playfully until his hand reached the obviously already awakened virility. Nino moaned and instinctively spread his legs to allow Sho to settle between them comfortably. Slowly, Sho let his hand move up and down Nino's shaft, not adding too much pressure for now and Nino immediately arched his back, pushing his growing erection toward his boyfriend, hungry for more contact. Sho carefully pushed Nino's hips back onto the soft blanket and then bent over to kiss the tip of Nino's penis. The young man moaned and buried his hands in the bed sheets underneath him.

“Oh Gosh, Sho!” Nino lifted one of his arms to muffle another moan.

The other man didn't let himself get distracted and just concentrated onto his task. He gripped Nino's hips, which were shaking from excitement and pressed them down onto the bed to keep them still while he slightly parted his lips and slowly welcomed Nino's proud member in the warmth of his mouth. Nino muffled a scream with his arm, the long awaited sensation was driving him nuts and his heart was about to jump out of his chest. Sho took him into his mouth fully and started sucking him off carefully, letting his mouth run up and down Nino's cock repeatedly, until the other was close to exploding. Sho then suddenly stopped, letting the proudly erected member slip out between his lips and he lifted his body, making Nino's spread legs pressing against his still dressed thighs as he bent over him to share another kiss. Nino's chest was rising and falling quickly, his breath was hitching and his cheeks felt like they were burning.

“How would you like me to take you?” Sho asked straightforwardly, giving his lover the opportunity to choose, who in turn looked at him in a bit of a surprise. “You're easy to please, I know, you like it soft and tender...,” Sho kissed Nino's cheek. “But you also like it a bit hard and rough...,” Sho was slightly biting the soft skin at Nino's neck, making the other shiver, proving his assertion. He whispered into his ear before he sat up again, facing his lover and stroking the inside of his thighs, “So how do you prefer it this time?”

Nino brushed his hands through Sho's soft hair, catching his breath and smirked at him. “Be gentle, please, it's my first time...”

Sho chuckled. “Liar. I know exactly that you aren't a virgin any longer.”

“You do not say, Inspector Sakurai!” Nino teased back and Sho couldn't resist crushing his lips against his boyfriend's who then continued in a low voice. “But I mean it. Be gentle for the start... and afterwards,” his lips curled up in a bratty smirk, “...you can do whatever you like with me.”

Sho smirked, satisfied and after another kiss, Sho asked Nino where he kept his things and the latter just reached out to his bedside table, diving his hand to take out condoms and lube while Sho quickly got rid of his pants, freeing his own already proud erection. Nino blushed as he saw it. He handed the lube to Sho and with slightly shaking fingers, he opened the package of a condom and carefully rolled it onto Sho's member, making the other moaning at the sensual contact.

Nino then let himself sink back into the soft bed sheets, his heart beating quickly and he willingly spread his slightly bent legs again as he felt Sho's lubed finger searching for his entrance. Sho hovered over Nino for another kiss and while he started preparing him skillfully, slowly pushing a first finger inside, Nino reached his hand between them to stroke Sho's member, making the latter's breath hitched. Soon, their movements became faster and a bit messy.

“Sho?” Nino asked, his breath panting from the excitement.

“Hm?” The other looked at him with hungry eyes and cupped his face with his free hand.

Nino placed one of his hands onto Sho's and nestled against it, as he whispered his most sincere words ever, not taking his eyes from Sho's. “I love you.”

Sho bent down again, kissing Nino passionately and then looked into his boyfriend's eyes again. He brushed his hand tenderly through Nino's hair. “I love you too,” he answered whispering and got rewarded with probably Nino's most beautiful smile ever.

When Sho finally placed the tip of his cock between Nino's legs, he took his time to push into the latter's body inch per inch and the sensation was almost driving both of them crazy. Nino's legs trembled in excitement and he had placed his hands on Sho's shoulders to find some support before trying to pull him closer to embrace his lover. Once Sho filled Nino completely, he gave him a moment to adjust while Nino brushed his lips against Sho's neck, eagerly. He nodded then to signal that he was ready and Sho started to move, slowly first, back and forth, speeding up a little each time they moved together.

Nino threw back his head in pleasure, not bothering to hide the moans escaping from his lips any longer. He closed his eyes, almost seeing stars when he felt Sho's hand taking his erection, massaging it in the same rhythm with his to and fro movements. Sho's hot panting breath against his neck told him that his lover was close to his orgasm, too. A few more moves, quicker, messier and soon the two of them climaxed at almost the same time. Nino's voice broke off completely as he spread his semen between their bellies, dirtying Sho's fingers while Sho groaned against Nino's ear when his hot load filled his lover.

Feeling Sho's weight on top of him, Nino slid his arms around his lover to press him close. He didn't care that they were sweaty and sticky, he didn't care that they were still gasping for air. They laid there for a while, not leaving their embrace and just enjoying the moment of their reunion. Now, there was no turning back. Now, there was nothing that could hold them back any longer. Now, they could finally truly be themselves – together, as they had dreamed to be.

“I love you so much,” Nino whispered into Sho's ear before he pecked his cheek, once, twice. He still couldn't believe that this miracle happened between them.

Sho chuckled. “I love you more,” he answered lovingly.

“Impossible.”

“Brat,” Sho captured Nino's lips hungrily and rolled him over so that Nino was lying on top for a moment as they shared their kiss, just to slam him back into the sheets again, causing him to giggle.

Nino jokingly complained about Sho being heavy but Sho didn't intend to leave his lover's side. Nevertheless, they had to clean up the mess they created first, if they wanted to go for another round. And exactly that was what they did afterwards. They basically jumped at each other as soon as they were separated, not being able to keep their hands to themselves. Their hungry desire took them over once again and Nino felt his heart bursting from the overwhelming happiness he felt this night. As announced, he abandoned himself completely to Sho, who spoiled the latter in his own unique way. Having sex with Sho had always been great, always been wonderful, exciting, adventurous to some extend, Nino thought. But tonight, knowing that they mutually loved each other and didn't have to worry about anything any longer, it was only one thing – perfect.

- - Tokyo, Ninomiya Apartment; May 16, 2015; around 2:00 am - -

Nino could hear Sho's steady heartbeat as he pressed his ear against his boyfriend's torso while they were lying in the huge bed, still sweating a little, calming down from their high. Sho slightly pressed his lover's shoulder and the latter didn't hesitate to cuddle even closer. He sighed in satisfaction and placed a small kiss on Sho's chest before letting his arms slip higher, nestling them once again around Sho's neck who adjusted their embrace to hold Nino in his arms perfectly. They whispered a few more sweet words of love to each other, exchanged a few tenderly gestures and touches and slowly but surely, both of them were drifting off to sleep.

The two men couldn't have slept longer than just a few minutes, when Nino suddenly startled from a sudden, persistent attack of bell ringing. He irritatedly sat up. Sho, wondering what happened, followed his gesture as Nino stared angrily at his door at the entrance. Who the hell could possess the unbelievable impoliteness to ring his bell at such a late hour, disturbing his precious cuddling time with Sho?

“Nino? Nino! Open up, I know you're there!”

As the ringing didn't stop and the person with a muffled oh so familiar voice in front of Nino's door started to knock persistently, Nino sighed deeply, rubbing his face. He pushed back the blanket and stood up, fishing his boxer shorts and a dress shirt from the floor and hastily put it on before rushing towards the door.

“Is he crazy?!” Nino murmured to himself.

On his way, he switched on the lights in the corridor and he could hear Sho starting to dress too at the back of his apartment. Nino unlocked the door, which got pushed open immediately by the nocturnal intruder.

“When did you two intend to tell me?” Jun burst out. He looked pissed off. Really pissed off.

“I'm sorry guys,” Ohno murmured from behind his fiancé. “I tried to hold him back and to explain things but he just doesn't want to listen...”

“Jun...,” Nino started, sighing.

“Sho! I know, you're here! Come here immediately, we need to talk!” Jun screamed. Even if Nino tried to make him lower his voice, considering the late hour and sleeping neighbors, Jun didn't listen and tried to push through into his brother's apartment.

Nino was caught by surprise and couldn't keep Jun from rushing inside, heading immediately into the living area. Ohno slipped in too and Nino closed the door behind them. He sighed deeply before following his brother, who had already spotted the half dressed Sho. The latter looked at him in surprise before he let his questioning eyes wandered over to Nino. Jun had stopped in front of his friend but suddenly, he jumped forward again, pushing Sho's shoulders so forcefully that the other stumbled back a little in surprise.

“You thought you could hide this from me?” Jun asked in a frightening voice as Nino came closer nervously. “Satoshi told me what happened, after I forced him to spit it out, you thought you could hide this from me forever?!”

Not able to predict what Jun was up to, Nino anxiously tried to calm his brother down. “Jun, wait... listen...”

But Jun didn't listen and jumped forward at Sho again, pulling back his clenched fist. “This is for taking my little brother's virginity!”

He reached forward and his fist met Sho's chin with full force. Sho stumbled backward, falling against the side of Nino's bed.

“JUN!” Nino shrieked and clapped his hands over his mouth, unable to move his feet. Great... This was definitely not how he had imagined Jun to react to the news about him and Sho.

Sho sat up, groaning and holding his chin all of a dither as Jun fell forward again, punching his friend again. “And this is for breaking his heart and marrying another person! And this is for deceiving him again and cheating on him!”

Jun wanted to punch Sho a third time, who already had lifted his arms to defend his face and just before Jun could touch Sho again, Nino had thrown himself over his boyfriend to protect him, shielding him with his back, while Ohno had jumped forward to hold back his freaked out fiancé, dragging him away from the couple. Nino looked at Sho with a worried face, checking on him if he was OK. He must have bit onto his lip accidentally, which was bleeding and looked like it really hurt. Sho cringed as Nino touched it gently. The latter snatched a tissue, pressing it carefully against the cut on Sho's lip and then he whirled around, facing Jun with a death glare.

“Jun, stop that! Don't hurt him!” Nino yelled at his brother who seemed to have a hard time accepting Nino's reaction.

“Nino, are you really that stupid to believe that he's sincere with you?!” he asked in disbelief.

“I didn't cheat on him!” Sho finally spoke up, cringing his face as he felt his hurting lip.

“Then tell me, what's with that Tsumabuki-guy?!” Jun burst, confronting Sho again after he had struggled free from Ohno's grip.

“Tsumabuki?” Sho wondered sincerely, “What does he have to do with this?”

You tell me!” Jun yelled at his friend. “I met him at the bachelor party and he talked about you, saying what a pity that you were now officially taken and that he enjoyed being with you so much... You met with him in London in January, didn't you? I saw you!”

What did Jun say? Nino didn't understand and irritatedly searched for Sho's eyes... Tsumabuki, the guy he had met at the party just a few hours ago and Sho met in London, during the time of the conference? Why? Nino collected his thoughts. That must have been during the time when Nino had began to hold some hope for him and Sho again for the first time after years. Hearing this now, imagining that during that time Sho had met another guy, had slept with another guy, of course it triggered a slight pain in his chest. Did they really... but even if, Nino and Sho hadn't been a couple back then. Thus, it was unreasonable to blame Sho for something that happened before them, right? But...

Jun continued, furiously and spoke out Nino's biggest fear that was buried deep inside his mind, “Are you having an affair with him?”

“What?! No!” Sho stared at Jun in shock and started to defend himself, helplessly grabbing Nino's arm to make the other look at him. “No, really, Kazu, I swear-”

Jun cut him off. “Then why did you -”

“I met him there, yes and yes, we had sex then but I wasn't together with Nino at that time!” Sho burst out enraged, darting his gaze at his lover's brother. “I was struggling, I thought that I ruined my last chances with Nino. I was desperate, I thought, I had lost him forever!”

“So you jumped the next best guy?!”

“You know what?” Sho stood up, passing Nino and facing Jun squarely. “I can see that you're pissed off because we didn't tell you, because I didn't tell you, since you're one of my best friends. I can see that you're frustrated that your little brother never talked to you about his love life, but that's not my fault! I think you misunderstood a pretty big bunch of this whole thing!”

Jun wanted to object but Sho was angry now, really angry and continued his speech without letting the other talk. “Let me finish! I waited for your brother for almost 6 fucking years! I never had sex with anyone else in the meantime, not with Aoi and not with any other person. I had hoped that something was still possible between us and so I waited. We had our own misunderstandings and it made things pretty hard but I still wanted to hope. But when this last hope was crushed at one point, I couldn't take it any longer and for once I slept with another guy. It didn't mean anything though and I forgot about it right away. I'm not interested in any other man but Nino, I'm sincere with him and I'm faithful!”

“Sho...,” Nino whispered, staring at his lover's back, his face was still as blank as his mind.

His heart was racing. His head was spinning, suddenly getting filled with questions over questions. It was hard to process the new information and Nino had to admit that he was a bit shocked, that he didn't know about that part of Sho's past, despite the fact that they had talked about almost everything since they had gotten back together. When Sho had told him that he had slept with Tsumabuki before them, he thought that Sho was referring to their teenage days, not to an event that had taken place only a few months ago. Was Sho saying the truth? Was Tsumabuki not even worth getting mentioned because the thing with that man had meant nothing to Sho in comparison to what he had with Nino? Was Nino even allowed to judge Sho because of what he did? And if the other really had been leading a sexless life for years, waiting for a possible chance to get back together with Nino, wasn't the bad guy actually Nino, “cheating” on Sho by having one-night-stands and sleeping with Toma on an occasional basis?

“Kazu, you're the only one for me, really! You have to believe me,” Sho said desperately, turning around. He cupped his boyfriend's face, looking into his eyes with a pleading expression on his face. “Please, trust me!”

Nino slightly parted his lips, not sure yet how to respond to Sho. He was confused, so confused...

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Chapter 20

Sho's POV

- - Tokyo, Sakurai Mansion; April 12, 2015; 1 pm - -

Sho parked his splendid black SUV in the alley of the Sakurai mansion and after taking a deep breath to find the courage he needed for this so postponed moment, he got out of the car.

“Sakurai-kun!”

A pulpous old lady in maid outfit welcomed the prodigal son with open arms and he nestled into her embrace for a second before stepping back.

“Shi-chan! Are you going to scold me for skipping so many family Sundays?” he offered her a false contrite smile.

“I know you're a very busy man so I won't but I'm perfectly aware that you don't miss us the way we're missing you.”

Sho caressed the cheek of the woman who raised him, far more than his own mother and kissed her briefly.

“I'll do an effort, Shi-chan.”

“That's all I ask. Did you lose weight?!” she pinched his butt and Sho jumped aside to avoid the all too curious hand.

“Can you stop pinching me?! It hurts!”

He laughed out loud, glad to reminisce in his childhood for a while. She was right, he avoided the family mansion the best he could and unfortunately it meant not seeing his parents' employees too...

“Sho! You're finally here!”

Sho and the benevolent maid stopped their game and Sho bowed slightly. “Hi, mother.”

“Shigure-san can you tell my husband that our son is here? He's in the library.”

“Certainly, Madam,” the old lady walked by the son and his mother and entered the house.

“Lunch is ready, we waited for you,” Sho's mother said gently, taking her son's elbow to push him in the right direction.

Thank God, Sho thought as he entered the dinning room, the table had been set for three only, for once they won't have any guest to entertain. Did his mother guess the reason of his visit? After all, since his divorce he didn't come back, not once and to be honest, he didn't enjoy being near his parents since too many years ago. He couldn't endure their innuendos and all those lies he had to tell them any longer.

“Sho!”

Sho whirled around to face his father and bowed at him respectfully. When he straightened back what he read in his father’s eyes puzzled him.

“How are you father? You seem to be tired. Are you working too much?”

“Leave your work at the door of this house, my son, don't worry for me, I'm fine,” his father said, mocking Sho's professionalism.

“Let's sit down,” Sho's mother said and the two men obeyed willingly.

They exchanged some banalities about Sho's job, about the family company and of course one thing leading to another, they had to touch the difficult subject of Sho's divorce.

“Miyazaki-san doesn't blame us, of course, his daughter is the only one responsible for the failure,” Sho's mother said, pinching her lips as always when she spoke about her former daughter-in-law.

“The failure? Are you talking about my wedding?”

“Of course. You got divorce. That is not what one would call a success. Anyway, I feel relieved. She didn’t give you children.”

Sho took a deep breath, deciding to keep the calmness he needed in order to do what he planned to do today.

“Aoi wasn't the only person in this marriage and we divorced on a friendly basis.”

“Because she cheated on you and now she will marry her lover.”

“And this is none of your business mother!” Sho said firmly, taking a glance at his father who left them fighting like he always did. Sho's education had been his mother's work since he was a kid and it never really changed. His exchanges with his father were cordial but too rare according to Sho.

“You are right, sorry,” she conceded with a smile and Sho knew what would come inevitably.

“Tell me mother, you already planned a new omiai?”

She moved on her chair awkwardly. “I know you're a grown man Sho and that you probably won't need me to find you another woman but you're so busy with the hospital. Your father and I are getting old you know and we'd like to meet our grandchildren one day.”

“Don't try to make me feel guilty, please, it won't work. Anyway...,” Sho stared into their eyes alternatively. “Actually, I'm dating someone. It is serious.”

“Is it true?” his mother asked enthusiastically.

“It's true...”

“This is a wonderful news, isn't it, dear?” she looked at her husband, hoping for a reaction that didn't come.

“Is it a man?” Sho's father asked softly and Sho nodded, not so surprised to know that his father figured it out already.

“Since when do you know?” Sho murmured, asking for an honesty that they never had shared under this roof.

“I always knew, I guess.”

“Sho...what are you talking about?” The two men gazed at Sho's mother who blanked out. “You can't...I mean you can't marry a man, you can't have children with a man!!”

“I can. And I will if I'm lucky enough and he accepts me as family.”

“...But what will people say?” Sho's mother stuttered as if it was the ultimate argument.

“We don't care, darling,” Sho's father said out loud against all odds. “Sho did what we asked him to do once, we can't condemn him to another loveless wedding.”

“...Thanks father.”

Sho was about to say he won't pass this threshold anymore if they were unable to accept the man of his life, that they won't ever meet their grandchildren if they rejected Nino but it seemed that his father already took measure of his determination.

“I can't tell you we're glad about it and we will need time to accept him but with time...”

“Thanks for trying to understand. I know it's unusual but I promised myself to be honest from now on. And I thought I had to start being honest with you.”

They didn't ask him if this man was already his lover when he was married to Aoi although Sho was keen to answer to every question they would like to ask about Nino. His mother didn't utter a word for the rest of the lunch, she needed time to digest the news, although she probably already knew about his true sexual orientation, too. She thought he would comply once more but now she had to draw a line on her dream of the perfect wedding for her son.

Sho wasn't very optimistic to be honest, he doubted that his mother would ever open her heart to Nino but he hoped that his parents would eventually understand. With time they would be able to prove themselves and it might take years but Sho had no doubt about his relationship so he kept hope. If one day Nino would accept to marry him or have children with him, his parents would have to give them their benediction in one way or another... Well, Rome wasn't built in a day and his parents were not the most open-minded people Sho knew.

When he left the house in the middle of the afternoon, Sho was pretty proud of himself. He didn't fight too much with his mother, he didn't slam the door (like what had often happened for the last few years) he had kept his composure and in his mind it was for one and only one reason. He was happy and nothing could spoil his good mood. Nevertheless, he asked to his father to meet him at the hospital for a check-up, which the man had skipped every year with an unwavering consistency.

- - Tokyo, Matsumoto & Ohno Apartment; May 16, 2015; 4:30 pm - -

Sho and Nino rang the doorbell of Jun and Ohno's apartment, Sho gazed at his companion mischievously. When Ohno opened the door, the two casually dressed men pushed him unceremoniously to go inside with or without the consent of the owner of the place.

“W...What are you doing here?” Ohno muttered, startled.

“Who's there?” Jun's voice asked from the living room and the newcomers took off their shoes then walked in resolutely with bag packs in tow.

“Guys, what are you doing here?!” the man asked, when Nino kissed his cheek joyfully.

“We came to kidnap the two of you! Tonight we're partying!” Nino said, taking off Jun's glasses and taking his hand to make him stand up.

“Is it the bachelor party?”

“You'll see, Mister Curious...Sho?”

“Okay~”

Sho took out the jackets for the two and gave them to the two surprised men. Ohno and Jun complied, skeptically but didn't protest when Nino handed them their shoes.

=+=

They took the elevator and once in the underground parking lot, Sho pointed at his SUV. He let them climb in but not without putting on the blindfolds that Nino had prepared for them.

“Okay, now I am freaking out, guys,” Jun groaned uneasy.

“Hold your fiance's hand, brother, and for the record, he seems to enjoy this a lot, ”Nino said.

Sho took a glance at Ohno who was smiling like a fool on the backseat of the car. He took advantage of this moment to peck Nino's lips. Anyway, the two others couldn't see them.

“So, what are we waiting for?!” Jun growled but Ohno took his hand and patted it to reassure him.

“Jun. Having control is a very overrated notion.”

Sho could perfectly imagine what Jun had in mind in this very moment. Not being able to control a situation must be the source of an endless angst for this control freak.

“Here we go,” he said, starting the engine.

On the road, Sho enjoyed feeling Nino's hand on his thigh, gently caressing him. Gently. He was the one who wanted it after all. Let's take it slow, no rush, it had been Sho's idea.

The first time, they had rushed and sex had been the core of their relationship, so in his mind, it was the origin of their problems. If they had put their feelings in first position instead of their desires, none of the following would have happened. Sex would have just been the natural continuity of their relationship. But this time, Sho wanted to do things right and if it meant some months of abstinence, it will have to work for him.

Theoretically. Because being Nino's boyfriend and not allowing himself the slightest dirty touch was such an ordeal. No caress under the belt, no too hot kisses, no too close skin contact since all this would lead them inevitably to sex. Yet, Sho had a hard time repressing his attraction for Nino. He felt like a kid that had received candies with the strict forbiddance to eat them. Of course, he enjoyed the tenderness he never had with Nino before, taking his hand whenever and wherever – almost - he wished to, kissing him lovingly while he murmured words of love to him. Everything they never had shared before.

But...there was always a but.

As time passed, he ended being afraid of losing control. What would Nino think if Sho went too far when he was the one who had asked him to wait?! That Sho wasn't able to keep his promise? And he would have to control himself because they belonged to each other, they would be together for the rest of their life, so one month or two of waiting wouldn't change anything...

Sho was turning on the highway, changing their originally planned route to the Kit Kat Club, when Nino bent toward him.

“Where are you? Daydreaming?” Nino asked in his ear.

“I was thinking about you,” Sho said in an undertone.

“So continue. By the way~”

Sho smiled. This kind of remark was so typical from his boyfriend's general behavior. Nino liked to be spoiled rotten even with his lack of confidence and Sho had figured out during this past month how much he loved cherishing him. It has become his favorite past-time.

“Hm?”

“Where are we going?” Nino whispered, lingering more than necessary against Sho's neck making him excited.

But Sho didn't move back, on the contrary, he caressed Nino's nape to encourage him to deepen his administrations. “Surprise.”

“Tsk.” Nino moved back but didn't take off his hand from Sho's thigh, teasing him on purpose.

“Hey guys, what are you two doing?!” Ohno asked loud and clear.

The two men startled , jerked. Sho cursed silently, the desire he felt for Nino made him too careless. He took a glance at his boyfriend who blushed furiously.

“Here we are,” Sho said coughing a bit to hide the trembling of his voice.

“No kidding...,” Nino's smile got wider. “Guys, you can take the blindfolds off.”

“No way...,” Ohno mumbled, his face showing a real surprise.

“A school?!” Jun asked.

Our school,” Sho specified, before getting out of the car followed by his friends. “That's where Oh-chan and I met.”

“Okay,” Nino said, putting his hands on his hips, watching the beautiful wrought iron-gate hiding the classical building. “But why are we here?”

“We'll complete Oh-chan's masterpiece. Here.”

Sho opened his backpack and handed baseball caps to the other three men, putting one on his head backwards. Nino bit his lips to repress a giggle. With his checkered shirt opened to show a T-shirt and his worn pair of jeans, a brand new Sho was born, and Nino had to admit, a very hot one.

“Jun probably ignores it but when we were in middle school, me and Oh-chan were grounded together. I destroyed a package of cigarette of our teacher and... Oh-chan had always been very elusive about the reason of his punishment. But! I did some research and I'm proud to tell you, I discovered your secret.”

“Re...really?!”

“You pissed off a teacher? You?!” Jun crossed his arms against his chest, the cap on his head conferring him a comical look as he questioned his fiance.

“It wasn't a big deal.”

“Cut the crap, what did you do?” Nino asked impatiently.

“I did a graffiti on a wall,” Ohno admitted pitifully.

“That's all? I imagined something bigger, something far nastier,” Nino chuckled. “What did you draw?”

“I didn't draw, I planned to write a quote but I've been caught after the first letter.”

“Which quote?”

School sucks,” Sho said unmercifully mocking his friend.

“So lame!!” Nino laughed out loud, patting Ohno's shoulder.

“When you say we'll complete Satoshi's work, does it imply that we have to break in into the building?!” of course, Jun had to point out the only flaw in Sho's plan.

“Not really break in, we'll only...scale the wall,” Sho mumbled, brushing his mouth with his hand.

“Scale the...? Do you intend to put us in jail?!” eructed Ohno and Jun grabbed his hand.

“There's a guard walking around every two hours,” Sho completed. “We have one and half hour ahead us. Okay?”

A heavy silence fell on the bunch, each of them stared at the others to find an agreement.

“Let's go, baby. Let's complete your master piece,” Jun said surprisingly, slapping his hands together.

“Hallelujah!” Nino raised his hands and began to climb the iron-gate, immediately followed by a transfigured Jun.

Sho put his arm around Ohno's shoulders and they proudly looked at the two brothers breaking in into an official building together.

“I must confess that sometimes I'm glad to see them acting like brothers,” Ohno said with emotions.

“Me too. Come on old man, let's break some rules!”

Climbing this kind of barrier wasn't that complicated, as Sho had expected, and once inside, the brothers followed the ex-schoolboys' directions without a word. It was so great to act stupid from time to time, thought Sho. The blood running faster through his veins, the feeling of being one with his friends, this irrepressible wish to laugh like a silly kid....they felt so great!

“Let's walk by the building, the famous wall is on the back facade,” Sho murmured as he bent forward and hastened his pace.

The back of the school faced a splendid little wood so they were sure of not being spotted for the time being, but they had to work fast. Sho placed his backpack on the floor and opened it, handing the others the cans of spray paint he bought the previous day.

“I can't believe, we're doing this,” Jun said amused like never before, as he shook his can.

“What are we writing? We can't possibly write School sucks?”

“Oh-chan?” Sho asked, nudging the future groom.

“Let me think...,” Ohno murmured, already uncapping the can. “Why don't we use this opportunity to convey a positive message? We're too old to use graffiti to protest, right?”

“Like what?”

They moved back while Ohno stepped forward to begin spraying an elegant arabesque and after a few words, Jun joined him, followed by Sho and Nino. One sentence for each of them. It made sense somehow, since they listened to this song so many times together in the past.

They worked for the next hour without talking, following Oh-chan's instructions zealously to emblaze their statement. When it was done, they stepped back together, admiring their work.

“Love is old,
Love is new,
Love is all,
Love is you.
The Beatles”

“Classy...,” Nino stated, wiping the sweat off his forehead.

“Better than what I expected,” Sho added.

“Feels like us,” Jun kissed Ohno's cheek tenderly. “Shall we go back home?” he asked to his brother.

“No way, the party is about to start now,” Nino said. “But first, let's drive back to Sho's place. We'll shower, change and then we'll go!”

“Okay...I leave the rest to you,” Jun said, putting his arm around Ohno's shoulder.

“Go to the car, I'll erase our traces,” Sho crouched, grabbing the cans on the floor to put them back in his bag.

Jun snaked his arm around his lover's chest and they walked off as Nino was bending over to retrieve a tissue they used while spraying the wall.

“How did you know?” he asked with a smile. “About Oh-chan's doing, I mean?”

“I called the principal actually and she found me the address of our ex-teacher.”

“And this wall?”

“I promised, I'll pay the repainting fees.”

Nino chuckled and kissed his boyfriend amorously. “My hero,” he said, grabbing the bag to go back to the car but Sho gripped his wrist.

“I have something to tell you later, okay?”

“Tell me now~”

“Later,” Sho said walking forward, his tension suddenly raising again.

=+=

It was Nino's idea to come to this club for the bachelor party and Sho had to admit that he won't have a better idea. Yeah, he sucked at finding a place for a date, for a meeting or even finding an original theme for a party. But even if he was good at it, he won't have found anything better.

After a rapid shower at Sho's place, the four men changed for the party, tuxedo and bow-ties for the fiances, colored neckties for the best men. Jun and Ohno didn't protested, the graffiti session had made them very happy and they were more than willing to accept their friends' whimsicality.

Sho loved the jazzy atmosphere in the Kit Kat Club, this falsely smoky atmosphere (Miyake used a special appliance to simulate it) and all those guests who played the game by dressing up elegantly were the icing on the cake. On stage, a jazz band was providing the entertainment with recent songs rearranged in the manner of the 1920's. “Stunning” was the first word that popped up in Sho's mind when he looked around and Jun, by his side, seemed to be in the same state of mind.

Nino and Ohno were welcoming the guests at the entrance while Sho and Jun were officially taking care of the organizing the inside, unofficially drinking some first glasses of champagne while they chatted leisurely. There were a lot of their colleagues from the hospital, from the ambulance drivers to the most eminent doctors. It was a rare occasion to meet them outside of work, a chance to approach the usually very strict Matsumoto-sensei in a joyful atmosphere.

“So?” Sho nudged Jun and handed him a glass of champagne.

“So?”

“How is it?”

“It's splendid. You did a great work, you and Nino. I must confess that I was a bit skeptical at first.”

“We had a bad start but we caught up.”

Jun put his arm around his friend's shoulder and they clinked their glasses. “You seem to be happy,” he whispered. “Did you meet someone?”

Crap. Here they were at a topic he wanted to avoid. Sho casted a side glance at Nino who was smiling to him from the other side of the club.

“Yes, I met someone. Rather...I got back someone, someone I was with before my wedding. Someone I'm in love with for years~”

That was the very moment Sho noticed a presence he didn't expect to meet here, at all. Tsumabuki was shaking Oh-chan's hand, greeting Nino and in an instant he would be in front of Sho. As a matter of fact, Sho had not called him back when Tsumabuki tried to reach him recently, he didn't even think about him. Nino was the only man he had in mind since his return from London. Sho had never promised anything to Tsumabuki, and they didn't plan to meet each other on regular basis or anything, Sho thought. Yet, he couldn't help but be worried to spot Tsumabuki here. Now that everything was working well with Nino, he feared a new misunderstanding might lead them to a fight or worst. His boyfriend could be so insecure, too often his lacking in self-confidence pushed him to jump to quick conclusions...

Well, the thing with Tsumabuki was from before, before them. They moved on together, nothing bad could occur if he warned Nino, if he was totally honest. Sho looked for him and when he finally spot him among a group of friends, Nino moved away and climbed onto the stage to announce the highlight of the evening, a fashion show starring friends of Jun and Ohno as well as the couple (unwarned of course), organized by Fujigaya Taisuke, a designer and friend of Ohno from college days. When Nino suggested it for the first time, Sho had found the idea very amusing, especially when his boyfriend described the very flashy style of the designer. It would be fun to watch Jun the proud doctor walk the catwalk donning an outfit diametrically opposed to his very classic and elegant style.

That was, until Sho figured out when he was waiting backstage that this oddball ofa designer wanted for Jun to walk almost naked in front of the crowd in addition to the other “models”.

“No, no, no way! I refuse to show myself in briefs,” Jun said firmly. “In this club all my friends and colleagues are gathered, what will they think of me?!”

“That I am a lucky man,” Ohno kissed him and Sho chuckled seeing the flashy trunk of his best friend. “Let's do this for fun, once in our life, plus...” Ohno whispered something into his future husband's ear and seeing Jun flushing badly, it must be a very nasty thing, Sho thought.

“Sakurai-san, this is yours,” the assistant of the designer said, giving him a black and leopard patterned trunk and a red shirt. “You can change behind the panel.”

Sho panicked a bit. How the hell was he supposed to parade on a stage in underwear?! He was a doctor, a serious man he couldn't...and yet it was Nino's wish. Nino had challenged him and Sho refused to give up, he was a fighter! Plus, he could turn the table and beat him at his own game. He dressed up - undressed up - by leaving the shirt opened on purpose, revealing his pierced navel and a stomach that he knew was muscular, after all he went to the gym several times a week.

“Go, go, you should go!” a stylist pushed him outside while he tried to convince Jun to follow his fiancé.

Sho took a deep breath and walked forward under the whistles and shouts of encouragement. Ohno was right, it was all for fun. After a second of hesitation, he grinned and strode off like an idol, making some absurd poses, pushing the game until he took off his shirt, setting off the place in fire. He stopped before Nino who wasn't smiling at all, his eyes were showing a desire he managed to hide so well until then. After a last wink, he put his shirt back on and went backstage again. He couldn't suppress a fit of laughter, when he noticed the handcuffs linking Ohno and Jun when it was finally their turn. At least, they found a way to convince him...

After another round for the grand finale, Sho thanked the designer who had offered him the “outfit” and received a little extra bonus as a reward for his courage. He was dying to find Nino, to be totally honest, this little strip had turned him up a bit and he was ready to offer a private session to his boyfriend now if he was up to it. Thanks God, Nino wasn't far away and he passed the glass he was holding to Sho who gratefully took a quick sip.

“Let's go elsewhere...,” he murmured hastily but Nino didn't hear him because Sho's ex-fling Tsumabuki suddenly barged in and his look was anything but innocent. No need to ask any further to know what kind of relationship they shared.

“Sho, may I say how much I appreciated your little performance up there? My gosh, Mr. Sexy, like always...,” Tsumabuki remarked.

“Please stop that,” well done, Sho thought, crimsoning.

“You have nothing to hide. By the way, I tried to call you a few times but couldn't reach you. Busy?”

“Yeah, I'm sorry. I'm pretty busy lately.”

Things couldn't get any worse, the more the man spoke the more Nino's face was blanking out. Sho put his arm around his boyfriend's waist to support him, to show him that he was the only one for him, although the situation was currently against him. Eventually, Tsumabuki got Sho's message and left them alone.

“Who was that?” Nino said surly.

“An acquaintance.”

“He was undressing you with his eyes, don't tell me he's just an acquaintance.”

“Well…,” how could he put things without hurting him. Of course it was before him, but...

“Did you two have sex? Be honest, Sho.”

“Yes we had. Twice. But it was before us and it didn’t mean anything to me,” Sho said honestly. “A one-night-stand, nothing more.”

“You mean, a two-night-stand...,” Nino pouted. “He tried to call you?”

“I ignored him. I'm with you now.”

“Oh, really?!”

“Don’t tell me, you’re jealous?” Sho tried to hide his embarrassment. Of course, Nino was jealous and he couldn't blame him. Plus honestly, he would have felt worse if Nino didn't care at all.

“Well… maybe? But..., I know, I don’t have the right to be, it’s not like I was completely chaste during all those years of separation...”

So here they were, the last veil they never dared to lift up. But Nino was right, they shouldn't hide anything, it was the basis of their new relationship.

“Toma?” Sho asked.

Nino nodded, gazing down.

“I knew it…,” the older said.

“Jealous?”

“Maybe…”

Sho wasn't just jealous, he was out of his mind jealous. As time passed, he had almost forgotten the charming chef. Not really forgotten, since it was impossible for this super possessive man but he had put it aside. Imagining Toma's hands on Nino's white skin drove him crazy. They gauged each other for a while, their eyes conveying their emotions. The powerful desire, the lingering jealousy, the need to erase all memories of other bodies.

“I didn’t sleep with him though, since I met you again in January. Not even once. Now you’re the only one I want to sleep with,” Nino said in an undertone.

“And you’re the only one, I want to sleep with,” Sho answered.

It was idiotic and so obvious, no one could compete with the love of his life but he learned the hard way that spoken words were essential to leading a healthy couple life. Sho didn't think twice before drawing Nino into his embrace, hiding his face at the crook of his neck. No one but them existed in their bubble, not even the dozens of guests surrounding them, no friends, no family, no colleagues...

Nino tiptoed and kissed Sho lightly, gazing at him with all the love the man ever dreamed to see during all those years of sufferings. And like every time they kissed, Sho lost ground, claiming Nino's mouth eagerly, firmly gripping Nino’s hips to rub their lower parts together. He was about to drag him off into a dark corner of the place when Nino broke the kiss.

“Do you think, Jun and Oh-chan will miss us if we leave now?”

Oh God, finally, Sho's body screamed, thrilling with anticipation.

“What do you have in mind?” Nothing as nasty as what Sho had in mind, that’s for sure.

“Well...You’ve not been to my place yet, right? I would like to show you my~”

Anatomy?

“~Bed?” Sho murmured, keeping to himself his darker thoughts.

“You pervert!” Nino scolded, “I would like to show you my apartment!”

“I get it! I'll text Oh-chan so that they don't look for us later.”

Sho typed his message with a trembling hand. He then gripped Nino to drag him outside as fast as their feet would allow them to.

=+=

When Nino opened the door of his apartment, they jumped each other immediately. What Sho's brain had forgotten so efficiently for the past 6 years, protecting himself against the too painful memories, his body didn't. Nino's slim body was still made for him, so easy to carry, perfectly fitting to the hollow of his arms, so responsive to each caress, each kiss that Sho gave him.

Soon, Sho was in the eye of the hurricane, unable to refrain from the passion overwhelming him, this desire was silenced for too long. He laughed when Nino laid naked under him, pretended to be virgin but Sho felt the same. The day he stole Nino's virginity Sho had felt restless, afraid to disappoint the other but eager to initiate him because as he had already guessed, Nino was made for love. His sensuality had already been so...awfully attractive and addictive. And today, Sho felt it again almost painfully, he wanted him so much, he waited for him so long, waiting to see love in Nino's eyes.

“Be gentle for the start...,” Nino whispered softly into his ear and Sho was thrilled with anticipation.

He would be.

Sho groaned when he entered him, finding again the crazy sensation, Nino's tightness making the blood pulsating harder in his aching member and in his head. Sho held himself back, observing Nino's reaction, ready to stop at the first sign of pain. But Nino clang to him harder, complying to his movements, accompanying them sensually.

When Sho felt Nino trembling harder, he slid his hand between their united bellies and freed him, allowing himself to climax at the same time. It was still so powerful, but more so than when they were younger.

They cuddled a while, Nino's mouth murmuring words of love that Sho had dreamed of hearing so many times . Those I love you more than you love me sounded so silly to his ear, but so rejoicing too as if they were catching up for all the wasted time they spent far from each other.

When they finally laid side by side, Sho stared at his lover, his temple resting on his palm.

“Tomorrow, you'll come to the hospital, anytime, for a blood test. I'll do it myself.”

“What for?” Nino asked confused.

“I want to get rid of those plastic protections as soon as possible. Only you and me, nothing more.”

Nino bit his lips but smiled genuinely. “I'll come.”

“Good.”

“Something else, Sensei?”

Sho gazed at Nino seriously, his free hand slowly snaking around his waist.

“That night... do you remember? When you sang for me on stage with the band for the wedding before running away again.”

“...Of course I remember,” Nino groaned in an undertone.

“You made me hope, you made me see the hell you lived in, you told me you loved me, then you ran away,” Sho paused for a while, wondering if it was wise to keep going on, but Nino's interrogative look gave him the necessary courage. “You killed me, you know. You have this power over me, you always had, don't misuse it anymore please. I lived in hell since we broke up in that hotel room years ago, I dreamed of this moment so much, the moment of you telling me that you love me...”

Nino kissed Sho's lips tenderly and Sho moved back with a grin. “Can you fetch something from my jacket please?”

“What?”

“You'll know when you see.”

“Okay. I hope it's not...,” Nino said exiting the bed to grab Sho's jacket on the floor. He laughed when his hand met the coldness of a metal. “A pair of handcuff, really?”

“Your dear friend Fujigaya gave this to me tonight as a bonus he told me. There's something else, keep digging.”

Nino tossed the handcuffs on the bed and dived once again into the inner pocket. He found a little box and sat on the bed to hand it to Sho.

“Open it, it's for you,” Sho said.

Nino frowned but did what he was told. It was an old box with a pretty gold arabesque and the name of a famous manufacturer of Europe.

“This is the watch my grandfather gave to me on his dying bed, I think you broke yours.”

Sho took the delicate watch and after a kiss to Nino's scar he clang the beautiful article to his lover's wrist. “If you don't want it, I understand, it's an old watch and~”

Nino jumped at Sho, holding him tight, as tight as his thin arms allowed him to.

“Hey...” Sho murmured, as he felt Nino sobbing against his neck. “Don't cry.”

“I'm not.”

Sho laid him on the bed, gazing at him intensely.

“Don't lie to me,” Sho said seriously. “I want to see you the way you are, I love everything about you, never doubt it, Kazu.”

He bent over to kiss him, his hand already roaming on Nino's skin, from his thigh that his lover had folded perfunctory to his soiled stomach.

Nino chuckled. “I'm dirty. We should shower before continuing.”

“You're not and I don't intend to go anywhere for the moment.”

“Sho, your fingers are covered with my sperm,” he chuckled awkwardly. “It's gross...”

Sho broke the kiss and raised his hand to Nino's mouth, letting him taste his own cum before kissing his lips again.

“Is it gross?” Sho asked as Nino's breath became erratic, his cheeks flushed with excitement. “Or is it arousing?”

It wasn't the kind of game they used to play when they were younger, they weren't confident enough in their sexuality, in their relationship but Sho wanted to give in to his fantasy for once. He always kept his yearnings deeply buried, even if he had the feeling that Nino would like it. Watching Nino's member suddenly erecting vigorously without any help showed him that he was right.

“You like it?”

Another nod from Nino. Sho slid along Nino's body and without breaking the visual contact with him, he licked away the last traces of semen, making the other moaned and moved shamelessly. Nino cupped Sho's face.

“I want to see you the way you are too,” he murmured with a voice broken with desire.

Sho straightened to hover over Nino. “Sure?”

“I am.”

“On your stomach and raise your hands above your head.”

Nino rolled over immediately and Sho straddled him, caressing his erected skin with delight. He felt Nino tensing under his fingers, his toes curling against the mattress.

“Don't be tensed, relax.”

“Yet, there's a place where I'm very tensed.”

Sho chuckled and moved back to be sit on Nino's thighs, immobilizing his waist with his two hands.

“Don't move.”

“I~,” Nino groaned deeply when Sho moved his hips between his two perfect cheeks. Making Nino feel his hardness, so thick, so ready to fill him entirely.

Sho took him tenderly earlier but that didn't quench his thirst. It was still there, this insane desire, these deep yearnings waiting to be unleashed. And Sho didn't want to struggle against it, Nino deserved to know exactly how he felt about him. Even if it meant displaying his possessiveness, perhaps the violence of the desire he felt for him, was even more powerful today.

When they were younger, Nino had liked to be treated roughly from time to time but the pleasure felt by Sho in such moments was always taint by a lingering sense of guiltiness. Each time he took him hard, each time he refused the orgasm Nino begged for, each time Nino wasn't able to breathe because he had pushed his stomach against his diaphragm with each powerful thrust, Sho couldn't help but think that perhaps, perhaps he was punishing him, for not loving him, for letting others enjoy his body.

Yet, he was aware that at that time he always held himself back. Nino was so thin and fragile...and he still was today. But he wasn't weak and he loved him, just the way Sho loved him. Sho grabbed the lube and a condom, rapidly unwrapping it on his length before pouring a generous amount of lube onto Nino's butt. With his index finger, Sho wet his entrance which still had traces of his last penetration and gently slid a knuckle in. Nino groaned louder and Sho watched him grabbing the sheets of the bed not daring to move too much.

Sho moved back his pelvis and led his sex against Nino's hole, making its way against his clenched buttocks. The blunt head of Sho's covered cock passed the small resistance of Nino's tight ring of muscle. He thrust deeply, squeezing his legs as his hips pushed forward. Then he laid down on Nino's back, nestling his mouth at the crook of his neck, covering him entirely, pushing him into the mattress.

“Are you fine?” he asked huskily.

“Just...keep on please.”

Sho began to move, almost leaving Nino's warmth to dive his shaft deeply once again and was encouraged by Nino's groan of pleasure. He thrust faster, following his instinct. It was so good, so wonderfully tight that Sho almost lost control. Nino's body tensed underneath him, his back arching, his hips moving seeking more urgently, needfully and Sho complied willingly.

Sho reached out his hand to turn Nino's chin to kiss him deeply, swallowing his erotic cries. He felt the taste of Nino's still potent cum on his tongue, so heady that he blew his load deep inside his lover powerfully, devastatingly.

Nino sobbed and released his semen on the bed.

“Oh God...,” Nino said after a while as Sho was withdrawing. “It was fantastic, the best sex I ever had...”

“I'm so dead,” Sho said, hauling Nino to him unable to stay away from him more than an instant.

“We should sleep perhaps?”

Sho fetched his cellphone and check the time...1:50am.

“What are you doing?” Nino asked, seeing him playing with his phone.

“I'm setting the alarm.”

“What for?”

“I want to wake up early to pick up where we left off. One hour?”

“Pervert...”

“Two hours?” Sho proposed.

“Two is better.”

“Now sleep, love.”

Sho put the phone back onto the floor and after some last words of love he slid in a peaceful sleep.

=+=

But it did not last for long. Soon, violent knocks at Nino's door and the voice of his friend and working partner were disturbing Sho's dreams. He woke up startled, sending an interrogative look at Nino who shrugged and went to the door.

Sho dressed in a hurry and when he heard Jun calling his name, he was about to rush into the living room, fearing the worst when Jun barged into the apartment. What could be the cause of such a fuss?! An accident? Yet, when they left the party everything was fine! He was about to ask, when a furious Jun welcomed him with a push against his shoulders, which sent him stumbling.

“You thought you could hide this from me?” Jun asked furiously. “Satoshi told me what happened, after I forced him to spit it out, you thought you could hide this from me forever?!”

Sho gazed at Satoshi who looked dead worried. Of course, he had expected a very irritated Jun, once the other found out about him and Nino, but not such a hurricane. His eyes were flashing and Sho didn't recognize the Jun in front of him. To be totally honest, he was scary. Sho vaguely heard Nino trying to reason with Jun when a first punch hit him hard at the jaw and immediately blood filled his mouth. Fuck. With his tongue Sho brushed the hole made by his teeth inside his lower lip. He barely had the time to sit up when a second punch hit his cheek with a sound of breaking bones.

Sho didn't get exactly what was Jun howling about, the rush of blood in his head blurring every noise around but he could grab some words; “Virginity”, “Broken heart” and “cheating”.

Nino bent over him, his eyes filled with angst and he felt him wiping his lips with a tissue while Jun was still screaming behind them, accusing Sho of being the worst man on earth. Sho felt a sudden burst of anger overwhelming him. And fear. What if Nino believed his brother?! Not now! Not when everything was finally right between them!

“I waited for your brother for almost 6 fucking years! I never had sex with anyone else in the meantime, not with Aoi and not with any other person. I had hoped that something was still possible between us and so I waited. We had our own misunderstandings and it made things pretty hard but I still wanted to hope. But when this last hope was crushed at one point, I couldn't take it any longer and for once I slept with another guy. It didn't mean anything though and I forgot about it right away. I'm not interested in any other man but Nino, I'm sincere with him and I'm faithful!”

How did they arrive in this situation, Sho wondered? It was nobody’s business but Nino and his. He had planned to tell Nino about his one-night-stand with Tsumabuki in London during the conference but certainly not under such circumstances and certainly not with his brother and his best friend in the room. Sho wanted to hide himself, as he was so aware of the ridiculousness of the situation but he refused to take the slightest risk, to let the smallest bit of doubt undermine in his relationship. And if it meant pushing his pride away, he was willing to pay this price.

“Kazu, you're the only one for me, really! You have to believe me, please, trust me!”

Nino looked around, confused and Sho's heart skipped a bit. “Is it...what you wanted to tell me earlier?”

“Actually, I wanted to ask you to move in with me,” Sho admitted sheepishly, frowning as a new pinch of pain reminded him the wound inside his mouth.

A deadly silence fell across the room then Ohno's voice sounded. “Apologize, Jun. I mean it.”

“Sato~”

“Now! You're embarrassing us. Your brother, your best friend and me. I never thought I'd one day say this but you disappoint me.”

Jun's face blanked and changed immediately. Sho gazed at Ohno who seemed to be more sad than angry and this was probably the worst. At least it reduced Jun's anger in an instant. Sho stepped forward and took Jun's hand who frowned.

“What an idiot,” he said lowering his head to observe Jun's injured knuckles. “How will you operate with a swollen hand, can you tell me? Nino do you have an ice pouch?”

“I don't,” Nino said, putting his hands on his hips, clearly deciding not to help his brother. “Let him suffer, he deserves it.”

“Please, Kazu.”

“A bag of frozen vegetables?” Nino groaned.

“It will do for now.”

Nino went to the kitchen counter and the other three men followed him. Nino switched on the lights and they sat around the counter as he fetched several package of frozen vegetables. He tossed one to Jun and sat by Sho's side, making him turned in order to apply the other bag to his swollen lips gently. Sho smiled despite himself but the pain made him groan.

“Stay still idiot,” Nino scolded him.

“...I'm sorry guys,” Jun started. “I...don't know why I was so angry.”

“And?” Ohno asked seriously.

“I'm sorry for hitting you, Sho. I shouldn't have. Now, if you refuse to see me from now onward I can understand.”

“I guess stubbornness isn't the only common point in the family. Such a drama queen...,” Sho murmured for himself.

“Hey!!” Nino took off the bag threateningly. “Fortunately, you're already hurt and I'm in love with you, I can forgive you this time.”

Sho bent forward to kiss his boyfriend when Jun whistled.

“Okay. It's strange.” Jun said with an incredulous gaze “...But I'm going to have to get used to it. Keep on.”

Sho turned his seat and faced Jun. “I wanted to tell you. Really. When we were together years ago, when I married Aoi, when I found him back. I swear. But you can be so...”

“Passionate?” Jun smirked.

“A douche-bag?” Nino whispered.

“Protective,” Sho said.

“He's my little brother.”

“And he's the man of my life, always has been.”

“You should have told me. Until tonight I didn't even know my brother was gay and I only know that you are because of your divorce. It was a shock to learn about you two,” Jun whispered after a minute.

“I know. Things were complicated. I should have talked to you, and to Oh-chan...and to Kazu,” Sho said caressing the nape of Nino's neck amorously. “But we're together now, can you accept it?”

“I think I can. You're not that bad.”

“Thanks,” Sho chuckled and groaned.

“Would you please stop moving!” Nino knitted his eyebrows and Sho nodded.

“Kazu?”

“Hm?”

“Would you move in with me?” Sho asked tenderly.

“Didn't we want to take things slow?”

No answer.

Nino sighed. “...I'll think about it.”

- - Tokyo, Sakurai House; July 11, 2015; 7 am - -

Sho cursed the alarm clock which disturbed his precious sleep. He hadn’t had enough sleep lately and his job had nothing to do with it. Each morning when he woke up, he promised himself that he would turn off the lights and go to sleep immediately when it was bedtime, to catch up on his lack of sleep. However, each night when he went to bed with Nino, he would forget his good resolution. Who would be foolish enough to sleep in the same bed with Nino without actually sleeping with him?! Not him.

Months passed by and Sho didn't notice the slightest change in the desire he had for Nino. Perhaps, it was even worse nowadays. To the extent that he couldn't spend a day without making love to him and if they didn't have the chance to share a bed, they would find another ways. If Sho's quench for Nino was endless, Nino's fantasy was like no one else. How did he do it before him? Ah yeah, he didn't do anything...

Sho half-opened an eyelid, checking on the time before groaning inelegantly. “Oh crap...”

“Hmm?” The man resting on his back, his cheek resting between Sho's shoulder blades mumbled in answer.

Sho grabbed Nino's hands and slid them under his belly, enjoying the morning cuddle.

“Is it the great day?” Nino whispered and Sho felt him smiling against his skin.

“It is.”

Nino moved away and laid on his back. Sho turned around, kissed his lips briefly and nestled in the crook of Nino's neck.

“I hoped we didn't forget anything.”

“We didn't,” Sho reassured his lover. “We spent months preparing this day. Somehow I feel relieved.”

“Did you see my shoes yesterday in my bag?” Nino groaned following his thought.

“It's too early to be so grumpy, Ninomiya-san and if you had accepted to live with me, you won't have this kind of problem...”

“It's too early for this kind of serious discussion.”

Sho sighed deeply and gazed up at Nino.

“Is it too early for this?” Sho said caressing Nino's lower belly tantalizingly.

“...My brother will kill us if we're late.”

“I'll be very quick,” Sho grinned and crawled under the sheets, making Nino laugh.

=+=

Nino and Sho arrived at Nino's hotel before noon to prepare themselves along with the two grooms. The two best men had spent their morning reviewing each and every little details, visiting the church and the gallery once again. Everything was perfect and they could be proud of themselves, thought Sho.

Jun and Ohno had spent the night separately - Nino mocked Jun so much for being so old fashioned - each of them in a suite of the hotel. They would rest in Jun's tonight and the next day they would take off for a honeymoon in Paris.

Sho kissed Nino good bye since they had decided to go separately to the church with Jun and Ohno respectively and afterwards, he knocked on Jun's door.

“Come in,” Jun's voice sounded safe and clear.

“Wow,” Sho stopped short before the flawless silhouette of his friend so elegant in his white, tailor-made suit.

“Thanks, you're not bad either. Come here.”

Sho stepped forward and Jun hugged him. His heart was beating so fast against Sho's chest.

“Tell me, you're not hugging me in order not to faint, right?” Sho mocked him.

“Smart ass.”

“Let me take a look at you my friend. You're splendid.”

During the last months, Sho had discovered a brand new Jun. A less assertive, less confident perhaps but so much sensitive Jun. Figuring out he had known so little about his brother and his best friend had hurt him badly but he grabbed this opportunity to challenge himself. Ohno had helped him a lot and the latter confessed to Sho and Nino that everyone found a second wind in their relationships thanks to the situation.

“Are you happy?” Sho asked with a smirk.

“I am but I'll be more tonight when this entire day is over. There’s so much pressure.”

“For years you are operating on dying people, you are used to dealing with pressure.”

“But this time it's my life, this is different.”

“I know what you mean but everything will be fine and in a few hours you'll be a married man.”

“God hear you.”

Sho sat on the bed, observing Jun as he put on his jacket and readjusted his necktie.

“Has my brother accepted to move in with you?”

Sho burst out laughing. “Not yet, but I'm the persistent type. What I can't get is why he keeps on refusing since we're spending our nights together anyway?”

“Perhaps he is refusing to live in the house you bought for your wife?” Jun stated wisely.

“I could move into his apartment~”

“Where he cried for you for years,” Jun achieved.

He was right thought Sho, but he couldn't understand why Nino didn't tell him... “Do you think~”

A new knock and Nino poked in his head at the door.

“Excuse me. Sho, can I see you a second?”

“Sure,” Sho patted his friend's shoulder and exited the room.

Once in the corridor, Nino's face changed.

“He refuses to go to the church,” Nino whispered panicked.

“W...What?”

“Oh-chan. He refuses to go to the church, he is freaking out!”

“Ok, let me see him.”

Sho strode to the next suite and froze before a Ohno standing in his underwear.

“No kidding? You're not even dressed?”

“Sho,” Ohno sent him a desperate gaze.

Sho sat next to him. “Oh-chan, it's normal to panic, this is a huge step to take.”

“I...We're so different,” Ohno said softly.

“You're complementary.”

“And if...Jun wants a family what if I suck at being a father?” the nervous groom asked.

“You'll find a way together. Everybody sucks at being a father at first.”

“He's such a control freak,” Ohno said again.

Nino crouched at his feet. “Oh-chan. Breath deeply. In and out, that's it. Now tell us. Do you love Jun?”

“Of course, I love him.”

“That's all it matter. And Jun loves you more than his own life,” Nino reassured him.

“You think?”

“I think that he shouldn't have left you alone last night, you thought too much,” Sho said firmly keeping to himself the fact that his own method of not letting Nino over-think things was to make love to him all night long.

“You think?” Ohno repeated again.

“I do and now, stand up and dress up as fast as you can, Jun will be the guy in front of the altar, don't miss him, okay?”

Sho raised and after tousling his friend's hair went back to Jun's suite.

“A problem?” Jun asked.

“Nothing at all. Shall we go?”

“I'm ready.”

=+=

The church was splendidly decorated for the occasion with wonderful flower arrangements.

Sho crossed his hands on his thighs, looking around at the guests of the wedding who were gathering at the church.

He could see so many friends. Nana, who became a good friend of his, accompanied by her boyfriend, even Toma and his companion Aiba, who Sho recognized to be the friendly flight attendant he met on his flight to London. Jun's parents of course with their respective new families, some colleagues, and some friends of Ohno. No Tsumabuki, of course.

Sho felt pleased, the atmosphere was quiet but intense, filled with love and friendship.
He gazed at his friend who was biting his lips nervously and playing with his gloves restlessly.

“Do you have the rings?” Jun asked, his voice broke with emotions.

“Don't worry, my friend,” Sho said gently and suddenly at the main door of the church appeared the groom and his best man.

Everybody raised from their chairs and in unison, Jun and Sho caught their breaths.

For a second, Sho imagined how it would feel to watch Nino coming in to the front of this altar to him. He smirked for himself.

They had time. An entire life to spend together.

 

THE END...