Sho starts hanging out with them less and less. It’s subtle but the time he spends at Nino’s place slowly decreases as exams grow closer. Sometime at the beginning of May he stops coming to the library and takes an earlier bus home.
Nino misses him but he knows it’s not something he can change; it’s not like switching some lights on or off.
It’s a hot weekend and Nino is sprawled on his couch with the air-con on max, playing Mario on his old Nintendo 64. He hasn’t played this game for a while but he is nearly done with the Rainbow Ride segment when his phone vibrates against his leg. He sighs but pauses the game anyway and reaches for it.
we re there!! open up!
Nino frowns, trying to recall if there had been some kind of plan for the day but he comes up blank. It seems he is taking too much time to answer though, because the visual doorbell starts to blink next to the TV screen, a sure sign that whoever we encompasses are at the door.
It would be easy to ignore them, what with not hearing them and disconnecting the flashing lights. He breathes in the fresh air from the air-con before he gets up.
It’s Aiba, and Jun, and Ohno, and Nino tries to control a slight twinge of disappointment.
What took you so long? Why are you still in your pajamas? Aiba signs.
Nino shrugs and goes back inside, letting himself fall onto the couch. They probably follow after him, taking time to take their shoes off, but Nino is back into the game.
Someone is poking his side but Nino just shifts further away from the fingers, still playing. The fingers go away eventually but Aiba, arms crossed over his chest, comes to stand in front of the screen. Nino pauses the game but doesn’t make any move to get up. He lifts an eyebrow.
Go change. Aiba signs.
Nino rolls to lie down on his back, his gaze now on the ceiling. This gains him a few minutes of tranquility until Aiba enters his line of vision and lets a heap of clothes fall onto Nino’s face.
Nino pushes down the clothes to his lap while he sits up. It’s a white shirt he never wears, his favorite pair of jeans that have a hole on the left knee, yellow socks with orange stripes, and red and white polka-dotted underwear.
He waves towards the shirt before signing, what’s the occasion?
Aiba stares at him for a few seconds before throwing a helpless look at Ohno. Ohno nods before he frowns at Nino and tilts his head towards the bathroom.
Nino sighs but still squashes the bundle of clothes onto his chest and locks himself in the bathroom. He hurriedly splashes water on his face, grimacing at himself in the mirror, before he puts on the clothes.
He is trying to smooth the wrinkles out of the shirt when he comes out. He gives up quickly and looks up just in time to see Ohno carefully placing the game controller on the coffee table, Mario clearly dying on the screen.
Nino pulls at his too-long sleeves. He distinctly feels like killing someone but Aiba is already pushing him towards the door where Jun is putting on his lace-free shoes back on and, before he knows it, he is sitting next to Ohno on the bus back to the city.
No one wants to tell him where they are going and Nino mopes, letting his fingers absentmindedly trace the cool of the window.
Before he realizes it, a little :-) smiles at him from the pane. Nino sighs again before he quickly erases the drawing and turns away from the window.
His gaze falls on another commuter who is stealing glances at Aiba and Jun. They must look like a curious pair, Jun with his sunglasses and white cane and Aiba drawing words in the palm of Jun’s hand until there is nothing left to say but Aiba still doesn’t let go of Jun’s hand, intertwining their fingers.
A piece of paper slides in his hand. let people stare.
Nino sits back down abruptly, not realizing he had ever stood up. He looks back at Ohno but Ohno just shrugs before smiling at him and handing him his DS.
He is so focused on the screen that he just lets Ohno steer him off the bus. He only looks up when Aiba hooks their arms together and he is startled to see that it looks awfully like Sho’s usual bus stop.
Aiba just smiles and pulls him towards Ohno, who is leading the way with one hand on Jun’s elbow.
It takes maybe ten minutes to arrive in front of a big iron-wrought fence. Maybe ten, maybe twenty, Nino wouldn’t know because his stomach has decided to attempt an execution of somersaults.
He keeps rubbing his sweaty hands against his thighs until Aiba grabs one of his clammy hands as Ohno rings the doorbell.
It’s Sho who comes to open the door. He is all smiles and it strikes Nino how much he seems to belong in that big entrance to the big garden of that big house.
Sho grabs his other hand and Nino grips it tightly, his thoughts fading. Everything is Western and stylish to Nino’s eyes but Sho’s hand is familiar in his.
Finally, they all enter and what Nino thinks is the living room is full of overdone decoration with balloons and lights and a Happy Birthday Nino! banner.
Oh right. June 17th.
He doesn’t know what to do so he just takes in Aiba’s big smile as he gently directs Jun in the right direction so Jun can attempt signing happy birthday and it is awfully cute but he will never know and Nino squeezes Sho’s hand back before Sho leaves the room.
Aiba is telling him all about how they knew for sure he had forgotten and that Sho wanted to make it a big occasion to make up for his absence and then his family was on their annual trip or something and they didn’t take Sho because of his grades and so the house was…
Wait a second. Sho’s calling me. Aiba signs and hesitates before he adds Jun doesn’t like new places. Nino nods and lets Aiba place Jun’s hand on his elbow before he leaves.
Nino is pleased because he has never seen Sho’s place before, and his gaze now wanders to the framed pictures of a seemingly perfect family. Sho’s smile is bright on the shiny surface and Nino has to look away.
Then suddenly the lights are switched off and Nino can’t help but grip Jun’s arm tightly until Sho and Aiba arrive with a birthday cake full of candles.
Aiba is quick to understand and the lights are on once again. Nino can feel Jun’s breath against his cheek, probably saying something. Sho softly peels his fingers away from Jun’s arm and helps him sit down on the couch.
The glow of the cake’s candles, now resting on the coffee table, makes him realize what just happened and he looks up.
Sho is hovering over him, hesitating, and Nino can see Ohno’s frown and Jun’s confusion clearly written on their faces so he blows the candles before anyone says anything.
Ohno had to take pictures! Sho signs, hands on his hips.
Nino plunges one finger in the middle of the cake –Black Forest cake, not his favorite but it’s chocolate– and plops it into Sho’s mouth before Sho can scold him for eating with his hands or Ohno for not being quick enough, the small digital camera lying on the floor next to the table.
He feels Sho’s warm tongue against his skin, swirling around his finger. There’s still a bit of chocolate on it when he slides it out, with much regret, but Aiba is giving him a dirty look, and so he licks at the leftovers.
There is more cake, some gifts –games of course and two new sets of cards, which don’t count as games because it’s work– and Ohno is finally taking pictures and at the right moments too, otherwise he would have had to steal the camera to take that picture of Sho smiling at him during his magic trick.
He does steal the camera, in the end, but it’s to shoot Ohno dozing on Sho’s shoulder while Sho stuffs his face with cake and Aiba’s fingers tracing words on Jun’s hand.
Really Nino finds it quite fun, especially when he pops the balloons at unexpected moments, probably in what people call silence, what he just calls pauses. Everyone but him (and Ohno who has, either, nerves of steel or is really soundly asleep with open eyes) nearly dies of heart attacks and Aiba pretends to ignore Sho’s I-told-you-so look as Jun leaves crescent-shape marks on his thigh.
Also, Sho keeps clinging to him each time.
Am I your shield? Nice to know you wouldn’t take a bullet for me. Nino signs.
A what? Sho signs before he straightens up –Nino misses the warmth already– to look for the piece of paper they have been passing around all evening.
Nino pulls Sho back against him and at Sho’s questioning glance, he just shakes his head. He closes his eyes to avoid looking at Sho’s smug smile and leans on his shoulder. He feels the flash of the camera a split second after Sho’s lips find the corner of his.
It’s been a week since he last saw Sho when he finds him at his doorstep, a sports bag hanging tightly from his hand, eyes slightly too bright and a red imprint on his cheek.
The bag drops to the floor.
My parents know.