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Nino liked Ohno right away. The older boy was weird and funny, if quiet most of the time, and Nino could respect how talented Ohno was because Ohno never bragged about it. Ohno also tolerated Nino’s physical shows of affection without blinking an eye, which is something not all of Nino’s friends can manage. So Nino is glad that it’s Ohno who ends up debuting with them, and doesn’t think twice about manhandling him just as much as—occasionally even more than—he does the other members. And Ohno doesn’t seem to mind.

But Nino is still seventeen and still doesn’t really like being told what to do. He’s gotten used to it, working for Johnny’s, but there’s a line, one Nino doesn’t even recognize until it is crossed.

“There seems to be a market for it,” Nino’s manager says, as they ride to their next location in the company van. “The skinship with you and Ohno-kun, I mean. You should keep it up, we want to see where it goes.”

Nino doesn’t respond—his manager isn’t even looking back, anyway—but he feels his face fall into a familiar neutral mask. He grunts out a noncommittal response and folds himself up in his seat.

Ohno just blinks, once, then puts his head back and closes his eyes and says, “Okay.”

From the seat in front of them, Aiba and Jun hoot lasciviously. Sho just chuckles, currently going through a phase in which he is too cool to be immature. Neither reaction really makes Nino feel any better.

In the backseat next to Ohno, Nino pouts silently, angling his body towards the window, just in case anyone present didn’t already know that the last place he wants to be is right here right now.

“What’s wrong?” Ohno asks eventually, cracking his eyes open only slightly.

Nino just shrugs. Something else he doesn’t like: talking about his feelings. Ew.

After a moment, Ohno lays his hand on the seat between them, palm up. Nino recognizes the gesture for what it is—a bribe and a peace offering—and lays his hand atop Ohno’s. But that’s all he’s willing to give for now, and Ohno doesn’t press him. Nino’s not even really sure why he’s upset, exactly, and when they climb out of the van at a studio downtown, he keeps himself apart, despite the instructions he was just given.

But a job is a job, and you don’t get a paycheck unless you do it right, so Nino plays up the skinship—lots of handholding and snuggling, but even to him it feels stiff and unnatural, and as soon as the cameras are off, he retreats to his GameBoy or to a quiet corner with his headphones on. It is several weeks before Ohno asks about it again, but Nino knows immediately what he’s talking about.

They’re at the beach for a summer-time photoshoot, except that it’s actually only April and it’s about seven o’clock in the morning, which means the temperature is not really appropriate for just swim trunks. Nino and Ohno are off to the side, watching everyone else frolic around in the surf like the water isn’t freezing cold. Nino knows Ohno is staring at him, but he ignores it.

“What’s wrong?” Ohno asks finally, laying a light hand on Nino’s shoulder.

Nino tries to shrug him off, but Ohno’s grip just tightens. When Nino turns to glare at him, Ohno just glares back, slowly moving his hand down until they are palm to palm with their fingers tangled together. And it’s only now that Nino finally gets it. He doesn’t like wondering whether Ohno’s doing this because he wants to or because he’s been told to. He doesn’t want Ohno—or any of his friends—wondering the same thing about him.

“This,” Nino says, giving Ohno’s fingers a squeeze, “is just for fun. And now it’s work. You know?”

Ohno blinks, looking a little surprised that he got an answer, then hums thoughtfully, turning his gaze back to the water.

“You’re just thinking about it the wrong way,” he says eventually.

“Oh?”

“Yeah.” Ohno grins. “Think of it like: now they’re paying you to have fun.”

After a moment, Ohno’s expression softens, and he throws Nino an almost furtive glance. “Don’t do it because you have to, do it because you want to.”

Despite himself, Nino smiles.

But the pleasant moment is shattered when Jun looks up from his sandcastle and yells: “Gross, they’re holding hands!”

*

It’s less awkward after that, because Nino is less aware of what he is doing, he just lets himself reach out when he wants to, or when he knows it will get a good reaction. He gets used to instigating and having everyone else—including Ohno—complain about how disgusting it is. But despite the complaints, Ohno always lets him. Nino doesn’t think about this too hard. Being all over Ohno becomes natural, easy. Ohno is a teddy-bear, a security blanket. He is solid, reliable, and so warm.

Nino just doesn’t think about it.

So, alone in their hotel after a location shoot, Nino is not ready for it when Ohno leans in. He jerks away instinctively, realizing too late what it was Ohno was trying to do. His heart is suddenly rabbiting around in his ribcage, and he can’t decide if he’s glad he moved away or not.

“Whoa,” Nino says belatedly. “What was that?”

Ohno watches him, and Nino thinks that the people who say Ohno looks blank all the time are idiots. His expressions are there, but they are more subtle, sliding across Ohno’s face like shadows over deep water. Right now, he looks monumentally embarrassed, but then the tightness in his jaw shifts slightly to something more like determination.

“I was trying to kiss you,” Ohno mutters, still looking straight at Nino.

“I figured,” Nino answers dryly. “But why?”

Ohno’s brow furrows, just a bit. “Because I wanted to?”

Okay. So, Nino gathers from this that Ohno has not been mediating on or pining over this, he’s just acting on his impulses. Per usual, which is comforting somehow.

“You don’t?” Ohno asks when Nino doesn’t respond right away. There is just a touch of disappointment in his voice.

“Well,” Nino says, feeling awkward. “I never really thought about it.”

“Really?” And Ohno sounds honestly surprised. Understandable, with the way Nino treats him like a body-pillow most of the time, but.

“Yeah. Really.”

There are a few moments of shifty-eyed silence, aimless repositioning of limbs, and Nino gives a little cough. He feels very aware, suddenly, of how they are both wearing only boxers and t-shirts, and how it is just warm enough in the room to be uncomfortable.

“I’m kind of thinking about it now, though,” Nino eventually confesses to the room at large, and Ohno’s eyes snap back over to him.

After another pause, Ohno shifts so he’s facing Nino more directly and starts to lean in again, asking without actually speaking, if this is okay. Nino doesn’t move this time.

It’s awkward, in part because they both have their eyes open. Nino is too stiff, hardly moving a muscle, and Ohno is trying too hard, puckering his lips against the tense line of Nino’s mouth. Almost at the same time, they start to giggle.

“Okay, no,” Nino says, when Ohno has fallen back against the headboard. “That was just…no.”

When his giggles subside, Ohno sits up again. “We can do better.”

Nino blinks in surprise, but something in his chest clenches in anticipation at the focused look on Ohno’s face.

“Okay,” Nino says again, as Ohno starts to move forward. “But,” he adds quickly—his proximity alarms start to blare now that Ohno has gotten so serious. “Don’t—just…slow. Okay?”

Ohno nods, pointedly keeping his hands to himself. It’s just a thing, Nino and his personal space and how he is all about invading other people’s but rarely ever allows anyone to invade his. Luckily, Ohno understands. He is patient. He leaves room for a few slow breaths, then leans forward again, tilting his head and slanting his lips against Nino’s for a better fit.

Nino lets his eyes flutter shut, and concentrates on breathing in through his nose, and feeling.

Soft, is his first impression, that special kind of soft that only lips are, different from any of the other softnesses of Ohno’s body. Warm, too, but this is reassuringly familiar, as Ohno is always warm, except sometimes the tips of his fingers and his nose. And wet, his lips are just wet enough to stick a little when he pulls back.

“Okay?” Ohno asks, barely a whisper, a tingling breath across Nino’s damp lips.

After a moment, Nino realizes his eyes are still closed. He blinks them open quickly.

“Yeah,” Nino answers. “Yes.”

Ohno starts to lean in again, his lips just slightly parted. Nino feels something changing here, something shifting and pulling between them, and he panics. After the briefest touch, Nino jerks away.

“Not—sorry, no, not okay,” he mutters, laying a hand flat on Ohno’s chest to stop him. He feels the other man’s heart pounding.

Ohno searches Nino’s face, eyes flickering minutely back and forth. Then, with a simple nod, he moves away, back to his own side of the bed, and lays down. Nino turns off the bedside lamp, and is left staring straight ahead into the dark hotel room, listening to the muffled sounds of voices and footsteps in the neighboring rooms, and trying to ignore the way his fingers tremble in his lap.

*
In the daylight, the whole thing seems even more ridiculous and awkward. To Nino, anyway. Ohno doesn’t mention it, acts exactly the same as he did before, like he never kissed Nino, like nothing is different. Nino tries to tell himself it isn’t different, that nothing has changed. But he can’t stop thinking about it.

Why would Ohno do that? Normal guys just don’t go around kissing their guy friends—on the mouth, Nino clarifies for himself, as he kind of does have a tendency to go around kissing his guy friends. But not like that. Not alone in a hotel room, not when it isn’t a joke.

Ohno remains blissfully unaware, until Nino just can’t stand it anymore.

“What was that about, anyway?” he demands, taking advantage of a brief moment of privacy in the corner of the rehearsal room.

Ohno cocks his head curiously. “What?”

“The—other day,” Nino says, struggling to sound less invested in this than he really is. “When you—in the hotel room. Why did you kiss me?”

“Because I wanted to?” Ohno repeats his original answer, with exactly the same little furrow in his brow.

“No, I mean—” Nino fusses with the towel wrapped around his head. “—why did you want to?”

Ohno becomes silently thoughtful for a moment, and Nino steals glances at Ohno’s face out of the corner of his eye. He wonders if Ohno has an answer but is debating over sharing it, or if he honestly doesn’t remember, or possibly doesn’t even know what inspired the kiss in the first place.

“I haven’t dated anyone in a while,” Ohno begins eventually, and Nino is instantly confused, but he waits it out. “And I just haven’t met anyone I’m interested in. Girls, I mean. So I wanted to see if it would be okay with a boy. Kissing and stuff.”

Nino feels his ears go red at “and stuff”, and he just misses a full-out bluster. “So, what, I was your test dummy or something?”

“No, it wasn’t—” Ohno says quickly, then leans back against the mirror with a sigh, and scrubs a hand through his hair. “I like you. We’re friends, you know, so it felt…safer.”

After a pause, Nino swallows, dislodging his heart from his throat. “Oh,” he says faintly. Friends. Right, good. Because anything else would be…complicated.

All of a sudden, Nino is tired of it—of caring so much, being so stuck on this. It’s just Ohno. And really, nothing is that different.

“So,” Nino asks, “was it okay? With a boy?”

Ohno looks up, blinking in surprise before a little smile curls across his lips.

“Yeah. It was okay.”

“Well, good!” Nino huffs, dropping into his Yuuji voice and affecting an offended air. “Where would we be if Ohmiya SK had no chemistry, huh?”

“Taka was never very good at chemistry,” Ohno replies, falling into his role easily. “We could try biology?”

“The universal language,” Nino agrees sagely, standing and pulling Ohno to his feet as well.

In the mirror behind Ohno, Nino can see the rest of the members starting to take notice of them, and decides to test this new and different level of skinship, now that he has an appreciative—and traumatizeable—audience. He grabs Ohno dramatically by the front of his shirt.

“C’mere, big boy!”

Strangely, kissing Ohno in the brightly-lit rehearsal hall is less nerve wracking than it was in the dark hotel room, even with Jun’s retching and Sho’s scandalized “OH MY GOD!” and Aiba’s hysterical giggles. Though it’s not quite a kiss—just Nino’s face pressed up close to Ohno’s, the very edges of their mouths touching.

Still, Nino likes how he can feel the corner of Ohno’s smile, and Ohno’s little huffing breaths of laughter against his cheek, and Ohno’s arms around him, tight, tight, tight.

Yeah. It’s okay.

*
So it becomes a joke, a bigger part of the joke they already perform whenever they have an audience, whether it’s a full studio or just the rest of the members. Kissing is just skinship, after all, Nino reasons. And it’s Ohno. And Ohno always lets him.

It goes on for years like this, and Nino is aware of the balancing act he’s doing. He’s always one step further than casual friendship allows, and one step away from something that would probably get him in trouble. But it’s just for fun, he reminds himself, it’s just a joke. They put it in the skit, even, and the crowd eats it up. Then something strange happens.

Nino had noticed Sho watching him and Ohno with an odd, unreadable look on his face. He had seen Aiba’s little grins, and how, rather than getting used to it, Jun seemed to get more and more uncomfortable with each successive kiss. But none of them ever said anything, not to Nino anyway, and he didn’t even think to see it as a warning sign.

“Perhaps it’s time to tone it down a bit,” Nino’s manager says delicately—a different manager than that first one so many years ago.

“Okay,” Nino agrees, feeling a little dazed. He’s not sure where this is coming from: the fan response is still wildly positive, and it’s not like either of them mind. But protesting would be weird, wouldn’t it?

“Why?” Ohno asks, brows furrowed, and Nino recognizes it as an annoyed furrow rather than a confused one.

“Well,” the manager says, lacing her hands over her knee. “You’re both getting older, more mature. All this hugging and fooling around—it seems a little childish, don’t you think?”

“Not really,” Ohno answers before Nino can even open his mouth. “I don’t see what the problem is.”

Nino and the manager both blink at him in surprise. When Ohno notices this, he withdraws a bit, hunching his shoulders and slouching further into his seat.

“Just seems weird,” he mutters, tracing the fashionable rip in his jeans and not looking at anyone.

The manager sighs and seems honestly apologetic when she continues. “It’s sudden, I know, but this decision is coming from above me, non-negotiable. I’m just the messenger.” She looks between the two of them with something like pity in her gaze. “I know this will make things harder, but…I’m sure you two will figure something out.”

For a moment, Nino has no idea what she is talking about. Then it hits him—the way she’s looking at them now, the way everyone else has been looking at them for so long. She thinks they’re together. Like that.

“Oh, no,” Nino blurts out before he can catch himself. “We’re not—I mean, uh…we’ll be fine. It’s not a problem. Right, Leader?”

Ohno glances up at him then, such a quick flash of eyes that the manager probably doesn’t even notice it. But Nino does, and he wishes suddenly that he couldn’t read Ohno so well. He wasn’t ready to see the disappointment there.

“Yeah,” Ohno murmurs. “No problem.”

*
Nino decides to leave it at that. It’s fine, toned down a little. There’s still hand holding, arms around shoulders, butt-grabbing, things that can be passed off as horsing around instead of unrequited love. They don’t need to push anything, or challenge these new rules, they’re still friends. It’s fine.

But then there’s Ohno, and while he might seem completely out-of-it and unaware, Nino ought to know better. Because really, behind the glazed expression, Ohno is there, watching, and thinking. And he’s sneaky, too, he sneaks in when Nino is weak and pliant and so, so tired after the concert and all he wants to do is sink into the mattress and drown in unconsciousness.

Nino is so tired, and so close to sleep, he’s half-convinced he’s dreaming when Ohno slides under the covers with him. They all have their own rooms this time, Ohno is already asleep in his own bed, so Nino must be dreaming. And it’s like a dream, the blue-grey darkness, and Ohno’s warm breath filling the space between them, low and steady.

“Oh-chan,” Nino sighs, half question and half simple acknowledgement of the other man’s presence.

“Nino,” Ohno answers. He is very still, but Nino can see the faintest gleam as his eyes travel over Nino’s face.

“Nino,” Ohno says again, and Nino pulls himself back from the brink of sleep, only just.

“Hmm?”

“Wanna kiss you again.”

Ohno’s voice is barely audible, a breath, the idea of a phrase drifting through the charcoal air, and Nino wonders if maybe he didn’t really say anything at all, it’s just that Nino can see it in Ohno’s eyes, in the crescent curve of his body, and the way he keeps licking his lips with just the very tip of his tongue. And if it’s a dream, Nino thinks, then why pretend he doesn’t want it, too?

“Yeah,” he agrees on an exhale. He lets his eyes slide shut again.

There is a pause, the hissing rustle of clothes against bed sheets as Ohno moves closer, and then Ohno is kissing him. There is hesitance there, but it is more like being careful than being scared. Nino sighs into it, slides into it, warm and slick. He’s becoming more awake now, but that doesn’t stop him, not now that Ohno is tasting along Nino’s lower lip with his tongue, asking to be let in. And with another sigh, Nino lets him.

It stays slow like this, close like this, but Nino can hear the blood rushing in his ears, and by the time they finally stop, Nino has his fingers clenched in the front of Ohno’s t-shirt. They are both breathing hard, long ragged breaths that give away how much this means. Ohno’s hand is heavy at Nino’s waist, and Nino doesn’t remember him putting it there.

Ohno kisses him one, two, three more times, short and almost apologetic little touches. When Nino doesn’t speak, doesn’t respond, Ohno murmurs: “I should go.”

“Don’t,” Nino says without meaning to, but meaning what he says, and his grip on Ohno’s shirt tightens. It would be harder if Ohno left, Nino knows—because then Nino would be thinking about him all night, his mouth and his warmth and what will happen tomorrow. But if he’s here, then it’s just them, it’s not so unusual to share a bed and be close like this.

“It’s just us,” Ohno whispers, echoing Nino’s thought. “Nothing’s different. No one knows,” he adds, and it sounds like an excuse.

“This is the end of it,” Nino says, turning so he can fit his back against Ohno’s chest, tugging Ohno’s arm around his waist. “Just tonight.”

Ohno becomes thoughtfully silent at this, his lips resting comfortably against the nape of Nino’s neck. After a time, his lips part on an indrawn breath, and Nino shudders as Ohno’s fingers start to worry the hem of his t-shirt.

“If—if it’s just tonight,” Ohno begins, but—

“Don’t,” Nino says again, because he knows if Ohno carries on like this, Nino won’t stop him.

Ohno pauses, sighs. Then, he shifts, getting his other arm around Nino too, somehow, and pulling Nino so tight to his chest it’s almost claustrophobic. But Nino doesn’t protest, just concentrates on how they are touching from ankles to shoulders, the lean line of Ohno’s body all along his back, and how he can feel Ohno’s ribcage expanding against his own with every breath.

Ohno’s lips move against Nino’s neck again, tracing out words that Nino pretends not to understand.

*
Of course, it’s not that easy. Nino should have known better than to think he could just say “this is the end” and expect it to be true.

They don’t talk about it, but after that night, they seem to take a step back. Nino keeps an extra inch between them when he would usually be pressed comfortably into Ohno’s hip, and Ohno doesn’t gravitate towards Nino anymore, just stares off pensively into space, sometimes forgetting to talk to the guest on their TV spots, or to answer the questions during magazine interviews. It’s foreign and disconcerting to feel this buffer between them, but Nino doesn’t know how to break through it without awkward questions being asked.

As it turns out, awkward questions are asked anyway.

“Did you fight?” Aiba asks, leaning in for a hurried whisper while Ohno is in the bathroom.

“No,” Nino replies flatly.

“Did you break up?” Sho tries, and Aiba and Jun both suck in a startled breath.

“We were never together,” Nino says, slamming his DS shut in annoyance. “And if it was such a big fucking deal, why the hell did you wait ten years to ask about it?”

“It wasn’t our business,” Sho mumbles half-heartedly, but then Jun speaks over him.

“It was our business, actually,” and he casts an irritated glance at his bandmates. “But some people didn’t want to get involved.”

“So you weren’t dating?” Aiba asks, and Nino just sighs, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes.

“We weren’t, we aren’t, we never will be,” he says. “Yes, it’s fucked up. No, I do not want to talk about it.”

Before anyone else can say anything, Ohno shuffles back into the room. He either doesn’t notice or ignores the strange, tense silence that greets him and plops himself down on the couch opposite his bandmates. After a moment, he leans forward and starts flipping through the copy of Myojo that has been left open on the coffee table.

Sho coughs and strikes up a very forced conversation with Aiba, while Jun wanders away to fiddle with something at his dressing table. Nino stares at his knees and hates everything about this moment. It’s so, so awkward, so unlike them—not just him and Ohno, all of them—and he just wants things to be normal again.

So, fine then. He’ll fix it.

Nino stands, scooping up his DS, and crosses to the other couch, extremely aware of the eyes following him as he does so. He sits down next to Ohno, then bossily rearranges the other man’s limbs until he can comfortably pillow his head in Ohno’s lap. He opens his DS and resumes his game.

There is a pause, filled with hesitant shufflings from across the room, Sho losing the thread of his soccer story briefly, Jun knocking a tube of mascara onto the floor. Ohno holds his magazine awkwardly above Nino’s head for a moment, and Nino wonders if this is too much, if Ohno is about to politely ask him to move.

But then Ohno shifts a little, so he can use Nino’s side as an impromptu magazine rack, freeing his other hand to tangle loosely in Nino’s hair.

Nino lets out a slow sigh, and can almost swear he hears it echoed through the whole room. Once everyone else stops paying attention to them, Nino lowers one hand to Ohno’s knee and traces out two letters.

“O-K?”

And after a moment, he feels Ohno’s fingers moving in answer against his shoulder: “O-K.”

And Nino smiles.

*
“Not okay,” Nino says—moans, actually, giving very little conviction to his words.

But it’s hard to sound convincing when Ohno’s got him pressed up against the door of his apartment, kissing him and kissing him like Nino is the best thing he’s ever tasted, like he could live off that taste for the rest of his life.

“Then why,” Ohno asks, pausing in the middle for another kiss, “did you take me home?”

“You—” but Ohno doesn’t let him finish, tilting his head further, kissing deeper, sliding his hands up Nino’s back under his shirt. You got me drunk, Nino wants to say, but he knows it’s a lie. Sure he’s a lightweight, but even he needs more than a couple drinks to start making bad decisions like this.

Good decisions, says a wicked, mutinous part of his brain. Really, really good decisions.

It had started out innocently enough, the five of them in a private room at a restaurant of Jun’s choosing. Nino had meant to turn down the beer, but Leader insisted, and then Aiba insisted, and Nino found himself drinking anyway. He knew it was a bad idea, because he was already feeling kind of giddy from the way Ohno kept sliding into his space, touching him in little surprising ways that were strangely intimate—a hand on his thigh under the table, at the small of his back when they were pressed together in the tight space of the room.

Surprising because Nino has been so careful. They still touch, they still goof around together—it’s part of their image, and in a lot of ways it’s still second nature for both of them—but Nino keeps it as platonic as possible. He knows he has to do this, because if he lets himself cross that line he won’t be able to go back. When Nino falls, he falls hard, and he’s afraid of what he might give away.

But Nino had a drink, then another, let himself get silly with it, because otherwise he would have to start pushing Ohno away, and he really, really didn’t want to do that. He knows this makes him a hypocrite, but they’re in public, so he figures nothing could happen, really.

But then, when everyone separates for the night, instead of asking Jun or Sho for a ride like he usually did, Ohno just wrapped himself around Nino from behind.

“I’m going with Nino,” he said with a lazy grin, swaying and digging his chin into Nino’s shoulder. Nino just shrugged, pretended to believe that Ohno was drunk, too. He should have said no. He should have taken Ohno back to his own house. But he didn’t.

“You’re drunk,” Nino told him in the elevator, when Ohno was still standing too close, that big grin still on his face. “I’m drunk. We’re going straight to bed.”

“Good idea,” Ohno replied, but not at all in a tone of voice that suggested he would be sleeping.

Nino shivered, gaze fixed on the flashing numbers on the panel by the door.

They stumbled down the hallway, encumbered by each other’s limbs and giggles, and Ohno stayed glommed onto Nino’s back while he wrestled with his deadbolt. Then, when he turned to tell Ohno to stand on his own two feet, Ohno just dove in.

“We can’t—in the hallway,” Nino manages, but only barely, because Ohno has started leaning his hips into Nino’s, just a hint of pressure.

“Then let me in,” Ohno says against Nino’s mouth, with a little flicker of tongue on the last syllable. Ohno’s looking at him with heavy-lidded eyes, barely a breath away. “Let me in, Kazu.”

Nino hates when Ohno calls him that, because it sparks a flash of heat in his stomach, makes him do stupid things like reach back and open the door for them to go tumbling through.

It’s dark in the apartment, and Nino’s genkan is a mess of shoes and umbrellas and other unidentifiable detritus. But Ohno keeps pushing, demanding, and somewhere between trying to get out of his shoes, lock the door, and walk backwards, Nino’s ankle hits the little step up into the living room, and he trips, falls, straight back onto his ass.

As well as knocking the air from his lungs, the fall knocks Nino right back into reality. He feels hot and sticky, all he can taste is beer and the yakiniku they were both eating, and he realizes suddenly that one of the pieces of detritus by the door is a bag of trash he forgot to take out, and it stinks. There is nothing romantic or sexy about this, and Nino closes his eyes. He stays where he is, prone, covering his face with both his hands while Ohno chuckles softly. Nino hears shuffling—probably Ohno taking off his shoes—then a creak as Ohno steps up onto the hardwood before sitting down next to Nino on the floor.

“You okay?” Ohno asks, laying a gentle hand on Nino’s stomach.

“No,” Nino answers petulantly. “My back hurts.”

Ohno hums sympathetically, but offers no further comment.

“What are we doing?” Nino sighs after a few moments of silence. “This is weird, isn’t it?”

“We’ve never really talked about it,” Ohno points out. Nino sighs again.

“That’s because it’s…awkward. Complicated.” He lowers one hand to rest on Ohno’s knee, curving his palm around it, stroking the denim of Ohno’s jeans with his thumb. “Did it turn out like this because they told us to act like we were in love? Or did we really—”

“Fall in love?” Ohno finishes when Nino can’t.

Nino just nods and stares up at the ceiling, at the lines of light and shadow thrown across it by the streetlights through the vertical blinds. Ohno doesn’t answer right away, but Nino is used to these long pauses.

“Do you remember,” Ohno says eventually, “the first time I kissed you?”

Of course, Nino thinks, but he just says: “Yeah.”

Ohno shifts. Nino can hear him breathing through his nose, and it sounds loud and thoughtful in the dark apartment.

“And I told you it was because I wanted to see if it was okay with a guy?”

“Yeah.”

“That was a lie.”

Nino looks up, finally, craning his neck to raise an eyebrow in Ohno’s direction. Ohno is staring at his own hand on Nino’s stomach, his fingers flexing occasionally and scrunching up the fabric of Nino’s shirt.

“Really,” he says, “really, I wanted to see if it was okay with Nino. With you.”

Nino stares for a moment longer before dropping his head back to the floor with a soft thump.

“So…what? Back then, you already…?”

Ohno doesn’t respond, but Nino glances up to catch Ohno staring at him. When their eyes meet, Ohno looks away quickly, and Nino knows.

“Oh,” he says softly. His shoulder blades and his hips are starting to ache against the hard floor, but he doesn’t sit up. Ohno loves him. Has loved him. He thinks about that for awhile, rolling the idea around in his head. It’s not that he’s never contemplated it before, but now it’s not just a theory.

“I don’t—” Nino starts to say, was going to say “I don’t know if I’m in love with you”, but as soon as he thinks it, he knows it’s wrong. Instead he says: “I don’t remember falling in love with you.”

It’s not especially romantic, but when Nino looks up again, Ohno is smiling and smiling like Nino just handed him the keys to his very own fishing boat.

“But that means you did, right?” Ohno murmurs. “You fell?”

“I guess so,” Nino grumbles, thinking briefly how funny it is that Ohno—who confesses his love to Nino in magazines, on TV, at concerts—now, when it’s finally the two of them alone and being honest, Ohno dances around the word like he’s suddenly shy.

Before Nino can say anything else, Ohno has collapsed across his chest, almost knocking the breath out of him again. Ohno rolls them to their sides, wrapping his arms around Nino’s shoulders and tangling their legs together.

“Oi,” Nino protests, his voice muffled by Ohno’s proximity, “what are you doing, weirdo?”

“’m happy,” Ohno says. “Really happy.”

And somehow, this is better than a little distance. This is familiar, easy, the feel of his arms around Ohno’s chest is reassuring, and the way his face fits into the curve of Ohno’s neck. Nino breathes him in—the lingering restaurant smell, and sweat, and aftershave—and breathes out slow so they fit even closer together.

“Oh-chan,” Nino says at the end of his long exhale. “Do you think we could move this touching moment to a more comfortable surface?”

Ohno laughs, low and breathy, and gives Nino one last hard squeeze before standing and pulling Nino after him. Nino gets to his feet, but doesn’t let go of Ohno’s hand. They stare at each other for a few long moments, and Nino’s still not sure what to do with this. All his other experiences with love have been aching, dramatic, sudden and world-tilting. But this feels so soft, so hesitant and delicate, he doesn’t want to break it by grabbing on too hard.

“Do you want to go to bed?” Ohno asks, then clarifies: “To sleep?”

Nino nods, and follows when Ohno tugs him towards the bedroom. Part of him wants to continue where they left off, but he knows he has time, now. There’s no desperation, no hurry. They climb under the covers with all their clothes still on, and for a while they just lie there facing each other, holding hands, and Nino feels like a teenager again, like he’s never done this before.

“Scared?” Ohno asks eventually, sounding half-asleep already.

“No,” Nino says. “Yes. I don’t know. Maybe.”

“S’okay,” Ohno breathes. He murmurs something else after that, but it’s too soft and slurred for Nino to understand.

“What?”

“—catch you,” Ohno says on a sleepy sigh. “I’ll…catch you.”

He’s probably dreaming about fishing, Nino reasons, but still. He appreciates the sentiment.

*
Which is not to say that everything just works out. There is a bit of a blur, now, between what they do in play and what they do in earnest, and Nino has to relearn how to touch Ohno—in public, and in private—and it makes him seem a little bipolar at first. During their next PV shoot, he spends his time alternately glued to Ohno’s side or standing a good yard away with his arms crossed.

He has just peeled himself off of Ohno again and retreated to a corner when Aiba narrows his eyes and demands to know what’s going on.

“Filming?” Nino guesses, glancing pointedly around at the set and camera crew.

“No, no,” Aiba huffs. “With you. You’re awful…jumpy.”

“You’re imagining things,” Nino says. He turns to the coffee pot on the catering table, meaning to end the conversation, but Aiba is suddenly a dead weight on his back. Nino attempts to ignore him, but then Aiba is hissing in his ear:

“You slept with Leader!”

Nino chokes on his coffee, and stands there dripping and coughing, trying not to get any stains on his wardrobe, while Aiba cackles and grabs a handful of napkins.

“Nice reaction,” Aiba tells him in English. “Wow, it must really be true, or else you’d be telling me about how you tied him up and covered him in whip cream or something.”

The sad truth of the matter is that nothing nearly that exciting happened. Once they had finally worked up to it, it had been clumsy, awkward, and Nino had come too soon and Ohno not at all. Not that he’s going to tell Aiba any of this. He does, however, make a mental note about the whip cream. Leader does love food.

“There’s nothing going on,” Nino starts to say, but before he’s even halfway through the sentence, Aiba is smirking and shaking his head.

“Really? That’s what you’re going with? Come on, Nino, I’ve known you since you were thirteen, I know your love-struck face.”

“I’m not—! We’re—it’s just—” Nino splutters, falters, eventually admits defeat. “Don’t tell anyone, okay? Please?”

Aiba looks like he wants to question this, but in the end he just nods and gives Nino a hearty thump on the back. Luckily, he is called away for some solo shots before Nino has to suffer further interrogation.

Nino pours himself another cup of coffee and hopes that’s the last he’ll hear about it.

*
But then they get caught.

Nino supposes he should be grateful it isn’t a staff member, or a manger, or—god forbid—Johnny himself, who finds them in the prop-closet. Things could have been a lot worse, it could have turned into a scandal, or a suspension, if it had been anyone other than one of their bandmates.

Even so, having Jun walk in when Nino’s got his tongue in Ohno’s mouth and his hand down Ohno’s pants is pretty mortifying, for everyone involved.

“I can never un-see that,” Jun says again, scrubbing more water over his face and glaring at Nino through the mirror in the men’s room. “Never.”

“Jesus, I’m sorry, okay,” Nino says from his spot against the wall. “Stop being such a baby, Junnosuke.”

Ohno is standing a few feet away by the door. “Are you mad?” he asks softly.

Jun’s face softens immediately, and Nino thinks it’s completely unfair.

“Not really,” Jun tells him. “Just—you shouldn’t do that where people might find you. It could be really bad for the group.”

“You don’t mind us being together?” Ohno asks.

“No, of course not,” Jun says quickly. “Hell, we all thought you got together years ago, after Nino got back from America.”

Nino blinks in surprise at this. But, thinking back, he was a bit clingy after being gone for three months.

“I just wish,” Jun continues, “that you’d told us. You can trust us, you know.”

Nino and Ohno exchange a guilty glance, and Nino takes a step forward. “We know, but it’s—we’re still getting used to it, too, so…”

Jun looks over the two of them silently as he dries his hands, then leans back against the sink with his arms crossed.

“You do realize that Aiba told me and Sho as soon as he figured it out, right?”

Nino’s mouth drops open, and he lets out a few choice curse words, before Ohno steps up to pat him consolingly on the shoulder.

“The whip cream was a good idea, though,” Ohno says with a little grin.

“I did not need to know that,” Jun says faintly, and makes for the door. He turns back to them before he exits completely.

“I’m happy for you,” he says, soft and earnest. “We all are.”

Nino leans back into Ohno as the door swings shut, letting out a sigh.

“He’s played too many heartthrobs,” Nino tsks. “So dramatic.”

“It’s good, though,” Ohno says simply. “That’s Jun.”

Nino nods, hums his agreement, then steps away before turning to face Ohno.

“I guess we should be more careful, though. At work.”

Ohno, however, is on an entirely different train of thought. After staring at Nino pensively for a moment, he says, in a small, worried voice:

“Are you happy?”

Nino blinks. “What?”

“With—with me. Like this,” Ohno clarifies. “Is it too weird, after all?

For some reason, Nino finds himself grinning. He shakes his head a little.

“I’m not having this discussion in the bathroom. Come on, we’ve got to go back anyway.”

Ohno follows when Nino leaves, but he looks dissatisfied, a pout working its way onto his face as they head back to the dressing room. Nino reaches out and takes his hand, and is glad for all the years of skinship that allow them to do this without turning any heads.

“Weird is fine,” Nino says quietly. “Awkward is fine. That’s us. It’d be a bigger problem if it was too easy, right?”

Ohno contemplates this, swinging their linked hands gently between them.

“Mm,” he agrees eventually. “As long as you’re happy.”

“I am,” Nino says. “Are you?”

Ohno smiles, and though he doesn’t actually respond, Nino knows that smile—soft, sheepish, completely infatuated. He still doesn’t really understand how it is that he deserves that smile, but he knows he has the exact same look on his face when he grins back at Ohno.

Nino wants to say more, feels like he ought to say something sappy and heartfelt, but nothing good comes to mind. The rest of the walk back to the dressing room is silent, and Nino drops Ohno’s hand after a little squeeze, right before they go through the door. He spends the rest of the time before filming starts punishing Aiba for being a gossip-hound, and Sho for not letting on that he knew the whole time. This involves several Alka-Seltzer’s finding their way into Sho’s coffee, and Aiba’s curry bento finding its way into Nino’s stomach.

Ohno just watches everything from the couch with a little smile.