[identity profile] stormymood.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] arashi_exchange
A piece of rainbow for [livejournal.com profile] rainbow_teatime Part 2


+ + +

"You're friends with Nino, aren't you, Aiba-kun?" Sho asked his teammate during practise, a few hours later.

"Huh?" Aiba, who was wiping his sweaty forehead, looking at Sho, wondering, who nodded to the upper row of the gym, where some girls had gathered to cheer for their favourite players, and Nino was leaning on the banister too, in a further corner. "Yeah, I am, why?"

"Does he come often to watch you play?" Sho continued curiously. "I never saw him here before."

"No, I often try to make him come and play with us, or at least watch us, but he always refuses," the taller guy replied. "It's just recently that he drops by watching, I guess he's bored..."

Sho frowned at those words. "Bored?"

Aiba shrugged. "Well... I guess he just has nothing better to do."

Wondering, Sho let his gaze wander up to where Nino was standing again. If anything, he was pretty sure that Nino wasn't just bored or did he misinterpret? Nino turned his head and Sho averted his look almost at the same moment. Did their eyes just meet?

Since Sho joined the basketball team when he entered high school, he had to admit that he had never paid much attention to who was watching them play. The team, especially since Aiba joined them in Sho's second year, was used to having some audience, usually consisted of a bunch of Aiba's fangirls cheering for them, sometimes some classmates, but up to now, Sho had never cared. But now, there was Nino, and the fact that the other was watching – even if he was probably watching Aiba more than him – made Sho seriously nervous and horribly aware of every movement he made. What the hell was that?

"Do you know that people talk about him? That they think, he's weird?" Sho continued questioning Aiba as they took a small break.

"Of course, I know about that," his teammate replied.

"But you're friends with him nonetheless?"

Aiba shrugged while reaching for his water bottle. "Yeah, why shouldn't I?"

"Don't you think that he’s weird?" Sho asked, Jun’s strange behaviour from before still not completely leaving his mind. "Not that I do…," the student quickly added. "Well… I don't know…"

"He's different," Aiba admitted. "But I don't care. I like him. We shouldn't judge people from other people's opinions, right?"

Sho felt his lips curling up into a smile at the warm feeling of being understood by someone. This was exactly what he was thinking. He had allowed Jun to unsettle his mind a bit, but deep inside, Sho agreed with Aiba, 100 %!

"Right!"

+ + +

Just how could he approach Nino, Sho wondered a few days later. Even if he decided on befriending the boy, Sho didn’t make any progress at all. After offering his help to teach him English, Sho didn’t really know what else he could tell Nino. Asking him to join their lunch table didn’t work any longer, even if Ohno invited him casually, and as long as Nino didn’t accept the initial offer of Sho’s English coaching, the older student would feel strange, even annoying, if he tried offering it again.

To be honest, with Ohno not really caring about Nino’s lone wolf attitude and Jun being immensely against Sho’s plan to befriend the weirdo, Sho soon had run out of ideas and motivation. Thus, people might be able to imagine his surprise when one day after school - completely unexpected - Nino approached him. Well... kind of.

It was in the late afternoon already. Sho had decided to stay in school for a bit longer to do some research for homework in the library, and all of his friends and classmates had left already. Checking his watch, Sho started hurrying through the corridors, exited the school building and making a real sprint over the schoolyard to catch the next bus that was stopping nearby. However, Sho was still a distance from the school's gate when he saw the bus passing. He cursed.

Knowing that at this rate it was very unlikely for him to reach the bus stop in time, Sho wasn’t even sure if he should try running faster. In the end, he did, but sometimes bus drivers could be assholes and so, Sho wasn’t surprised when the bus's doors closed and the vehicle drove away just the second he reached the stop.

"Oh crap! Thank you very much!" the student yelled ironically after the bus with his last bit of energy before he put his hands on his knees.

Once he caught his breath, Sho checked the bus schedule again, just to make sure, but it was just as he expected. Great, with that, he would also miss the next train home and would have to wait for the first train of the rush hour, crowded and stuffed with dissatisfied adults riding their way home, packed like sardines in a can. Sho usually tried to avoid taking public transport during these times.

The student was about to start walking down the street - if he had to wait for the next bus, he could also walk to the train station, at least time would pass a bit faster than instead of waiting – when he suddenly heard the ringing of a bicycle bell coming from behind. The student quickly turned around, even more surprised to find Nino, stopping his bicycle right next to him.

"Yo," Nino simply said, lifting one hand, his hem slipping back a bit, revealing another bruise unintentionally.

"Hey," Sho replied, confused.

"Young Master going home by foot?" the other boy arched an eyebrow as he bent over, placing his elbow on his bicycle’s handle bar. "How come, don't you have a private carriage or something?"

Sho rolled his eyes. He had almost forgotten why he initially didn’t really want to befriend with the boy. He definitely didn’t miss the annoying comments and strange nicknames the other used to give him.

"Believe it or not, I'm going to school and getting home just like every other student," he explained.

"Where do you live, nearby?" Nino asked, and Sho wondered if it was real curiosity.

"No," he said. "Not too close. I missed the bus to the train station so I planned to go there by foot now."

"Hmmm… I see."

"You live nearby?" Sho asked, pointing at Nino’s bicycle.

"Well, not too far away," Nino simply replied.

"Right...," Sho slapped his forehead. How could he forget?! "Same neighbourhood as Ohno, right?"

Nino nodded.

"Nice…," Sho replied before their conversation died down again.

He started walking when he didn't know what else he could talk about to the other boy – cursing himself inwardly for his lack of ability, wasn't this a chance to get closer to him? He was honestly a little surprised when Nino started pedalling again, slowly though, just fast enough to be at the same pace as Sho, accompanying him. It made Sho nervous and he stopped after a few more steps.

"Is it the same way for you?" the student asked, insecurely, turning to the boy.

"Do you want me to give you a ride?" offered Nino to Sho’s sincere surprise, instead of replying.

"You are offering me a ride to the train station?!" Sho had to hear it again or he might think he was suffering from acoustic imaginations.

Nino shook his head slightly. "Home."

"It… it's quite a distance…," Sho said after digesting the first shock of Nino’s surprising offer. That guy was joking, wasn’t he? He just wanted to tease Sho again...

But Nino shrugged. "And? I have some extra time on hand." He sounded sincere.

Sho frowned at him, still being suspicious over the unexpected kindness of the younger boy. "Are you actually being nice or do you just do not have anything better to do than giving me a ride?"

"Make it the latter," the other pouted.

Of course, what else. Sho should have known not to ask.

"You could use your time for studying," he pouted too, resuming walking. Nino hopped onto his bicycle again too, letting it roll to catch up with Sho until he passed the other and came to a halt just in front of him, blocking his way.

"You could just shut up and hop on," Nino said, his eyebrows furrowed as he pointed at the carrier behind his seat. "How is it?"

Sho would be lying if he said his heart didn't jump a little in this second. So Nino was really serious. And maybe, this was Sho's chance to get a step closer to become Nino's friend. So after considering his options for a moment – he could probably trust Nino enough that the boy wouldn’t kidnap him at least - the student finally decided.

"If you insist…," he murmured, trying to hide his happiness. He would use this chance, but he could play Nino's game too, hiding his real feelings and motives. Not so sure, if this would lead to success, but it would probably make things a bit easier to control for now, Sho assumed.

After Nino nodded in agreement, Sho hopped behind the boy onto the bicycle. He desperately tried to find something to hold on to when the younger student started pedalling; not really knowing where put his hands. In the end, Nino sighed heavily and reached back with one hand to grab Sho's and place it around his waist.

"Hold on to me properly or I'll drop you! And make sure to tell me the direction," Nino instructed in a sharp voice.

Shortly after, Sho found himself wrapping his arms around Nino, probably holding a bit tighter onto the boy than absolutely necessary, blushing slightly from the sudden closeness, and grateful that the other couldn’t see his face. Gladly, Nino didn't say anything about it and he also didn't push Sho's hands away.

The wind was blowing through Sho's hair when he peeped his head at the sides of Nino for a better view to show him the way. It was warm, even if the sun was already setting and the lights along the streets switched on one after another. Nino was fast and with Sho’s hints now and then to get the right directions, it actually didn’t take them as long to Sho’s place as he expected.

Of course, due to the extra weight, the ride had been exhausting for Nino, so it wasn’t surprising to find the student panting when they finally stopped in front of a big modern house in one of the chicest parts of the city. The house held two floors, there were balconies in front of the windows of the upper floor and when they approached the path up to the garage, people could look over a gate into the spacious and wonderfully built, neat garden, which was surrounding the house. It was filled with beautiful flowers, bushes and trees and there was even a little pond surrounded by large stones with a little fountain. The garage was huge and looked like it would be able to fit in two cars next to each other without any problem, and even if Sho didn’t tell the other, Nino knew that there must be two fancy cars in it.

"OK wow," the boy said, impressed, as he was staring at the view in front of him – the house was even larger than Ohno’s. "That's… nice."

Sho, who had already climbed off the bicycle's carrier, stepped forward and rubbed his neck, trying to hide his embarrassment, and failed. Then, he approached the gate, which led into the garden, showing a way leading to the front door of the house.

"Uhm... Do you want to come in?" he asked, a bit shyly. He didn't want to admit it but his heart was pounding. He was nervous. "I'm sure my parents don't mind if a...," he wondered how to refer to Nino, pretty sure that it was too early yet to call them "friends". "Do you want to join for dinner maybe? You must be hungry."

"What?" Nino chuckled, his eyes still fixated on the fine house before he looked at his schoolmate. "Are you kidding me? I'm not going inside there, no way!"

"Why not?" Sho frowned.

Nino arched a critical eyebrow at the other boy. "Do I look like someone who fits in there? I know where my place is in society. I am not going inside such a fancy house, forget it, Richtboy."

Sho swallowed. He already had heard from Ohno that Nino came from poor background, but was it that bad? And why would that mean that he couldn't come into his house? Sho didn’t like the tone that
Nino used when talking about this. Nevertheless, the boy didn’t lose his good manners, feeling indebted to the other for sending him home.

"Don’t you want to get something to drink at least? This was quite a ride after all."

"No, thanks. I feel like even your expensive tap water would be wasted on me," Nino tried to joke. It was a very lame joke, in Sho’s opinion. "Well, I'm better on my way home now…"

Just when the boy wanted to hop onto his bicycle again, the older student reached out his hand, touching Nino’s arm.

When Nino looked at him, wondering, Sho stumbled slightly. "Uhm… thanks for the ride."

He didn’t expect a "You’re welcome" so it wasn’t a big deal when Nino didn’t reply in the normally polite manner. But Sho also didn’t expect what followed next. Nino suddenly seemed a bit embarrassed, and then, he turned to face Sho, as if he wanted to say something. Sho frowned slightly, wondering what it could be, when it took Nino a few more minutes to get the words he wanted to say out loud.

"Ah… Sakurai?" he started. "To be honest, there’s something I wanted to ask you."

"Hm?" Sho wondered. Was it connected to his home? To his family? To his money? He didn’t know what to expect, so when Nino finally spat it out, at first he couldn’t connect the boy’s request.

"Well… uhm…," Nino looked nervous, for some reason, something that Sho hadn’t seen before. Somehow, he had to say it, it was adorable. "As I thought, I guess, I might really need a bit of your help…," the younger boy said almost in a whisper, averting his eyes.

"My help?"

"With English I mean…," Nino clarified.

"Oh!" Now, Sho got it. He smirked crookedly. "Is that's why you gave me the ride? You wanted to ask for my help?"

Nino furrowed his eyebrows and pouted slightly, taking a defensive posture. "Not particularly, I told you I had nothing better to do, so..."

Sure… if Nino wanted to make himself believe that, Sho should better leave it like that.

"You really don't want to come in now?" the student tried again, pointing at the house in his back. "We could talk about the details over a cup of tea."

Again, Nino shook his head, "I told you, no."

"If I remember correctly, Jun mentioned a test at the end of the week for your class," Sho said, hinting on the urgency that must be pressuring the other student.

"Yeah…but..."

"OK," Sho chuckled softly, giving up. "I won't force you. If you really don’t want to come in, shall I come over to your place after school tomorrow? Or do you prefer studying at school together?"

Nino seemed to honestly think about it, and in the end, he surprisingly replied, "That… would work, I guess. You coming over to my place, I mean..."

Sho smiled at the other student. "OK, So let's do that. I'll pick you up from your classroom once I finished."

"OK," Nino replied before they awkwardly said good-bye and the younger left.

+ + +

Sho was leaning against the doorframe of the back entrance of the classroom, watching students packing their stuff, chatting with each other and leaving one after another. Nino was sitting at his usual table, middle row, window place, and watching outside. Nobody talked to him, or said good-bye.

"Sakurai-senpai," a female student said when passing by, a wide smile on her face, her eyes shining. "What are you doing here? Matsumoto-kun has already gone home," she explained.

"Thank you, I'm waiting for someone else today," Sho replied with a polite smile.

"Ah, is that so?" the girl asked surprised, her eyes wandering back to the remaining students in her classroom, curiously, to check who Sho could refer to.

Sho followed her look and noticed that Nino had turned around in his seat, watching him and the girl. Sho smiled and lifted his hand to wave at him. Nino averted his eyes, not reacting to the greeting and instead pushed his remaining stuff into his backpack and got up to walk up to Sho. The girl standing by him looked at Nino, shocked, when she realized that he was approaching the other student. Hurriedly, she bid farewell to Sho and left the room, sending the two boys a last critical look. Admittedly, Sho thought, it must be uncommon for anyone, seeing the two of them together, since they seemed to have nothing in common, right? But Sho didn't care about what others might think about them.

"You're ready?" he offered a friendly smile.

"I didn't see that you're here already…," Nino murmured. "Did you wait for long?"

Sho slightly shook his head. "Didn't want to draw too much attention, sorry."

Nino shook his head in response before he exited the classroom and started walking along the corridors. "No, it's OK. So let's go."

Sho followed him. "By bus?"

"Bicycle," Nino replied. "You're riding with me again. It's not far."

"Oh, OK. Thanks," Sho answered, unable to prevent the happy smile forming on his face. His heart jumped a little. Maybe it was silly, but he was looking forward to their ride.

+ + +

"Don't expect it to be clean, I didn't really have time for cleaning...," Nino said when he turned the keys of his apartment door and pushed it open to let Sho inside.

"No problem," Sho replied, bowing slightly before he entered.

There was a pair of guest slippers ready that Nino gestured at and Sho quickly changed into them, before he followed the boy inside the apartment. As expected, it was a small place, but it was neat and nicely arranged and it gave off a comfortable feeling. At first sight, contrary to what Nino announced, everything looked pretty clean in the apartment. It was only with a closer look, like when Sho's gaze fell over the counter in the living room into the kitchen part, he could see things stacked in the sink, trash overflowing a trashcan. In one corner of the living room next to a small couch, which was facing an old television set, there was a huge basket of washed laundry, ready to be folded. Initially, Sho thought Nino had been talking about his bedroom, knowing himself how messy boys can be about their own rooms, but apparently, Nino was referring to the whole apartment and the other closed doors in the apartment seemingly implied that Nino didn't plan to show Sho his bedroom anyway.

"Take a seat," Nino gestured at the low table in the middle of the small living room before dropping his school bag and went around to the kitchen. "Something to drink? Water, tea?" the boy asked.

"Ah… tea please," Sho replied. "If it's not too inconvenient."

Nino just nodded and took a slightly rusty kettle, which he filled with water and placed on the gas stove. While the water started boiling, Nino reached to a box of tea on one of the upper shelves and prepared a small pot with tea leaves.

"Oh damned," he then cursed as he bent down to rummage through a small cupboard. "I forgot the snacks…"

Sho, who had been examining the boy curiously, the whole time – as if watching someone preparing tea was so thrilling, he scolded himself – quickly reached for his bag, pulling out a box and jumped up to hand it over to Nino who took it with a questioning look.

"I brought some homemade cookies from my mom," Sho explained in a low voice, a bit embarrassed. He wouldn't tell Nino that he had specially asked his mother to make some of her best cookies for his "new friend". But he had to admit, when he saw how Nino's eyes sparkled for a moment when he unboxed the cookies and placed them on a plate, he felt like it had been all worth it.

"They look delicious," Nino murmured. "…Tell her thanks," he added.

Sho smiled, taking the plate filled with cookies that Nino handed him to place on the table. The kettle whistled and Nino whirled around to switch off the heat and pull the kettle from the stove. He waited for a bit, while arranging the prepared tea pot and two cups on a small wooden tray and then poured the hot water into the small pot to bring everything around to the living room, where Sho was already munching one of the cookies. The student tried to hide it, finishing the cookie as fast as he could and brushing away a few crumbs before he pushed away his already arranged English notes to create some space for the tea. Nino settled at the opposite side of the table and then reached for his bag to pull out his own English stuff.

"Uhm… Where are your parents?" Sho asked as he watched the boy arranging his stuff.

"Out," Nino replied drily without looking at him.

"Work?"

"Hm."

Obviously, Nino didn't seem to be in a chatty mood, Sho thought, but this didn't satisfy his curiosity. "What do they do for a living, if I may ask?"

"You may not ask," the other boy simply replied.

"What? Why not?" Sho frowned, surprised by Nino's reply.

Nino looked up to lock eyes with Sho for a second and then reached to pour some tea from the pot into the two cups. "I want to study English now, please. Here, tea." He pushed one of the cups towards Sho, who bowed slightly. Before opening his notes, Nino reached for a cookie, trying it carefully. He munched a bit at the small bite, then took another bite and finished the cookie with the third. "Delicious…," he said, almost in a whisper and Sho smirked slightly.

"OK then let's start."

Time went by fast, once Sho and Nino had found the rhythm of questioning English problems, working them out together and then making Nino practice some examples by himself. Sho even offered to test Nino's vocabulary for a change. Even if Nino seemed to be frustrated at himself for his mistakes, all in all, Sho had to admit that the boy was much easier to handle than expected.

In between they talked a bit about school, about which subjects they liked and which they didn't. While Sho was surprised to find out that Nino was interested in most subjects and apparently just too lazy to put more effort in most of them to get better grades, Nino wasn't any less surprised to find out that Sho was not really interested in natural science subjects. This was the complete contrary to what Nino expected from the son of a family of doctors.

The cookies and tea didn't survive long. As if he never had eaten homemade cookies before, Nino ate so many of them that he started complaining about feeling sick, but Sho couldn't help but smile at it, looking forward to report to his mother how much his friend enjoyed her baking.

Soon, the afternoon turned to evening, it was getting dark outside and Nino started checking the time frequently. Sho didn't notice it in the beginning, but the boy seemed to become a bit nervous the later it got and this was making the older student slightly nervous too. Was he getting in the way of something?

"Probably, I should leave soon," Sho said when he followed Nino's gaze to the clock again.

"Ah… you don't want to have dinner here?" Nino asked, resuming the task of taking some more notes.

"Dinner?" the older one asked, surprised.

After scribbling a few more words, Nino lifted his look. "I thought I heard your stomach growling." Sho blushed, slightly embarrassed. "Want me to make you something for dinner?"

Sho gaped at him. "You can cook?!"

"Well, how do you survive without cooking?" Nino arched an eyebrow. "Oh wait, I forgot, you must have a private cook, don't you?"

"Don't over exaggerate," Sho chuckled. "My mother is the one cooking."

"Must be nice though...," the younger replied before he got up and went into the kitchen, starting to search the fridge.

He pulled out some boxed leftovers, murmuring something about being sorry that it was only something he cooked the previous day, but when Sho waved his hand and said it was fine, Nino put everything into a pan, added a bit water and started heating everything, with Sho curiously watching him from behind the counter.

"Aren't your parents coming home for dinner?" Sho asked a few minutes later when everything seemed ready and Nino started dividing the food on two plates that they took with them back to the living room table, due to the lack of a proper dining area.

"I told you they are out."

"But for so long?" this time, Sho checked the time. "Maybe I'm naïve but I thought mothers are supposed to make dinner for their families… and people eat together, if possible." Sure, Sho's father wasn't always home either, depending on his shifts in the hospital and he didn't know what’s the job of Nino's parents, but still… "It's rare that I tell my parents not to wait for me with dinner because I don't know when exactly I'll be back home… like today."

Nino chuckled. "You've got a very old-fashioned way of thinking, I suppose, Mr. Richboy."

Sho pouted and averted his eyes. "Don't call me like that…" They started eating. "Thanks for the meal!"

"But you are, aren't you?" Nino wanted to confirm.

"Maybe my parents are rich, but I'm not."

Nino snorted. "I bet your pocket money is 10 times higher than average."

"Actually, no," Sho said quickly, wanting to clarify whatever misunderstanding could pop up. "It's maybe a bit higher than average but the fact is my parents are saving money for when I'll attend university."

"University?" Nino tried some of his food, and seemed satisfied with the taste. "That's nice. What are you going to study?"

The meal was really delicious, Sho thought, pleasantly surprised by the other boy's cooking skills. "… Medicine I guess?"

"You don't sound so convinced, do you?" Of course, Nino was smart enough to pick up the hint of insecurity in Sho's voice. Sho wasn't even surprised about it anymore.

"Well…," he started, wondering how much he should tell Nino. For now, he decided just to state the facts. "My whole family consists of doctors. My father owns a hospital. My mother was a doctor before she got married and became pregnant with my big sister. My sister worked as a nurse before she got married. My brother is studying Medicine… Of course I'm going to study Medicine too."

"…Of course," Nino repeated, lifting a sceptical eyebrow.

Sho swallowed another bite. Probably, Nino already knew that even if Sho's path seemed to be carved into stone, he wasn't as pleased about it as people might expect him to be. However, he didn't ask further and so, Sho didn't say anything more either.

"What about you?" the older student asked instead, looking at Nino, curiously.

"Me?" the other asked, not lifting his gaze from dinner.

"Yeah, what are you going to study after school?"

"I'm not going to university," Nino slightly shook his head.

"What? Why not?" Sho asked, surprised. "I mean, yeah, your English sucks but your other grades aren't that bad, and I think if you just study a bit harder from now till graduation you will have no problem getting accepted at a university –"

Nino stopped eating, letting his chopsticks drop. "You probably think it's easy for everyone, Sakurai," he said, his voice sounding slightly bitter.

"Ah… no, I mean… I just…," Sho immediately understood that he touched a sensible topic here. He didn't really know how to react, so offering help seemed to be the safest option from his perspective. "Do you want me to help with some other subjects too, maybe?"

"Sakurai," Nino replied, sighing deeply. "I'm not planning on going to university. So my grades don't matter and they are of no concern to you. Except English. Because I really suck at it and I… I just wanted to fix that…"

If grades didn't matter in Nino's future, why would he bother to improve his English in first place, Sho wondered, frowning. "What are you planning to do instead?"

Nino shrugged. "Don't know… find a reasonable job, earn some money…"

"It might be a waste if you didn't try to get into university at least, don't you think so too?" Sho chimed in. "Which subjects interest you?"

"I'm not interested in anything," Nino said in a low voice.

"That's not true," Sho objected, remembering the talk between them just a few hours ago. Apparently, Nino was interested in a lot of things, Literature, Music, History… Then suddenly, something clicked in Sho's mind. "If it's about the money, you can always try to apply for scholarship but for that, your grades need to be better, so as I thought, I can help you if you want-"

"I said stop that!" Nino suddenly raised his voice. "Just because for some rich boy like you it's natural to attend university after graduation it doesn't mean that everyone has to follow that path! Stop meddling with me! What is this about, are you looking down on me? Because I'm poor? Because I don't have a nice house like you do? Because my mother doesn't cook dinner for me? You assume I can't afford university just by looking at me and my home, no? But you know what? Maybe I just don't want to go to university!"

Sho couldn't help but gape at the other, surprised at the sudden outburst. It was a first to hear Nino speaking so much at once and hearing the hurt tone of his voice, Sho realized immediately, that he had gone too far. "Sorry, Nino, I –," he tried to move backwards, but apparently, it was too late.

"Get out of here!" Nino said, his eyes glued onto the living room table. Shit, he really seemed to be offended…

"Nino…"

The boy finally looked up, and glared at Sho with a dark look. "I mean it, take your stuff and get out of here!"

"What about… English?" Sho asked in a low voice. They hadn't finished yet… so if they weren't going to continue after dinner, he at least wanted to try make another appointment for continuing studies.

"I don't need your help!" Nino exploded, angrily.

"OK," Sho said after hesitating for a minute. This wouldn't lead him anywhere, he concluded. "OK, I get it. I'm leaving. I'm sorry, Nino."

The student packed his English stuff and his mother’s empty cookie box in silence. He didn't touch the dinner anymore and stood up, not even daring to ask Nino where the next bus stop would be. So, after murmuring good bye, Sho left behind an angry Nino, and left the apartment, hoping that he didn't screw up completely and that with a new day coming, they would be able to make up.

+ + +

They didn't make up for three days.

First, Sho had felt horribly guilty. After realizing that he had stepped into grounds that were definitely too deep to talk about with Nino at their current level of friendship (if you could even call it like that), he had wished to be able to turn back time and not talk about Nino’s future. The boy was right, it wasn’t Sho’s concern and he had no right to talk to him as if he knew him forever and would be allowed to go against Nino’s plans. He had messed up.

Then, Sho became angry at Nino, his mind telling him that he did nothing wrong, that he said nothing wrong and that he was just worried about the boy wasting his potential. Because despite having the image of a troublemaker, Sho was convinced that Nino wasn’t dumb. He was smarter than he let show and he must know exactly that Sho only meant well when he tried to encourage him to aim for university. If Nino didn’t want his help, yeah, he couldn’t force it on him. But there was no reason for the boy to yell at him and to throw him out of his apartment when Sho came over to help him.

The next stage of dealing with the fight with Nino was that Sho started worrying about the other. His heart had already forgiven Nino for the harsh way he ended their studying session and what was left now was the question - Why? Why did Nino react that much to what Sho was saying? Why had he felt so offended that he couldn’t handle it any longer and thought that kicking out Sho was the only way for him? And why, if he apparently didn’t care about his grades, did he finally accept Sho’s offer for helping him to improve his English? There must be a reason behind it, Sho thought, and he was eager to find out more.

Though, when he came to think about it, considering that Nino hadn’t even looked at him from afar for the past three days, Sho doubted that the boy would allow him to ask deeper questions about anything. If they would ever be talking again. And who could he ask about something like that? Probably nobody knew Nino well enough to know what was going on... So in the end, Sho became depressed.

"You look so down, Sho, what happened?" Ohno - whose seat was one row in front of Sho - asked when he turned around and placed his elbows on his friend’s desk, just like the boy himself.

They were still waiting for the teacher for the afternoon classes and Sho had been completely out of it, when he heard his friend’s worried question. After the initial surprise of Ohno actually asking Sho about something like that - which was pretty seldom - the student tried to smile slightly. It didn’t feel like a smile.

"Nothing…," he murmured, not really wanting anyone else to hear.

"Come on," Ohno slightly tilted his head. "I'm not blind and I’m sick of your strange mood swings. So tell me."

"…I had a fight," Sho admitted, letting his hands drop onto the top of his desk, his eyes glued onto his fingers.

"With Jun? I thought you two are fine again," the other wondered.

"Ah no… we are, we are fine," Sho waved his hand to dismiss Ohno’s assumption.

At least for now, Sho thought, remembering how he and Jun had made up two days ago with Jun apologizing to Sho for trying to dictate who he should be friends with and Sho promising Jun that no matter what, he would never forget his other friends, especially not his best friend. Jun was happy with that promise and so he joined Sho and Ohno during lunch break again, more or less being his usual self. Though Sho couldn’t help but suspect that the lack of contact between him and Nino was what made Jun quite happy, even if they didn’t talk about anything yet. Nino has somehow become a taboo topic in front of Jun. Just to be on the safe side.

"…Nino?" Ohno asked in a low voice and Sho looked at him in surprise before letting out a deep sigh.

Bingo. Nino had also been kind of a non-topic between him and Ohno but that was more to blame on their general lack of communication and the un-necessity of talking about certain stuff. With Ohno, things were easy. Don’t wanna talk about something? You don’t have to. Considering that, it was rather surprising that Ohno didn’t give up now and even started the Nino-topic.

"Yeah… somehow. He got pretty angry at me…," Sho whined.

"About what?"

"…About some school related stuff."

Ohno nodded slowly probably considering if he should ask his friend further or not. "I see…"

It was Sho then who couldn’t get out of his skin and finally leaned a bit forward, giving in to his curiosity since thinking alone didn’t bring him anywhere in this case. "Satoshi, what do you know about Nino's parents?"

"His parents?" the other student lifted his eyebrows.

"When I visited him-"

"Wait," Ohno stopped him, confused. "You visited him?! Seriously?!"

Sho continued, ignoring his friend’s surprise. "Well...for helping him with English studies, I visited him and his parents weren't home, not even in the evening... There was a pile of washed clothes in the living room, ready to get folded, the kitchen was a mess… he made dinner for us using leftovers from a meal that he seemed to have cooked himself-"

"He made dinner for you?" Ohno - as untypical as it was for him - cut his friend again.

"And when I asked him where his parents are, he simply said, they were out," Sho finished.

Ohno gaped at him before he found his composure again. "OK, fact aside, I have never heard of Nino cooking dinner for anyone or even letting someone into his apartment since we graduated from elementary school... To answer your question, Nino doesn't have a father," the student explained.

"What?" Sho looked at him, puzzled.

"Well, obviously, biologically, he has, but no-one knows what happened to him," Ohno continued, lowering his voice. "When we were in elementary school, it seemed that one night, his father left the family and never came back. I remember it was a huge topic in the neighbourhood for quite a while... I felt sorry for him."

His eyebrows furrowed, Sho looked at his friend, trying to process what the other just told him. "That's horrible... What about his mother?"

Ohno shrugged slightly. "I can only repeat what my mother and her friends are gossiping, so I don't know if it's true. She seems to be a waitress in a family diner and when she's not on duty, it’s said she spends pretty much all of her spare time in pachinko halls or bars. She seems to be drunk quite often..."

"So he's basically home alone all the time?"

"Well, or at school..."

Sho swallowed hard. Now it all made sense. Why nobody had been home, the unfolded laundry, the uncleaned kitchen... Nino’s apartment had been as clean as a 16 year old high school student would possibly be able to keep it clean during school week, without any help from his mother which - if the rumours were true - he surely didn’t get any. It made sense now why the boy was used to cooking for himself or why he was not used to homemade cookies. Also his nervous checking of the time when it became later was understandable now too. Nino had probably been waiting for his mother to return home after her working shift... Sho sighed once more, even deeper than before.

"Do they have money problems?" he asked after running through the conversation with Nino in his head once again.

"…I don't know. Maybe... Probably."

Nino’s outburst about Sho assuming he was poor... it made so much more sense now. It was probably true. And Nino was probably ashamed of it and didn’t want to be pitied. Exactly what Sho might have implied with his words during their talk. Crap.

Was Nino right? Was Sho looking down on him? It's true, he felt sorry for him. But it didn't mean he was looking down on him, right? At least, that wasn't his intention. Not at all! If anything, he would like to help in whatever way possible. But he doubted that someone like Nino would allow that to happen. He just didn’t seem to be the type who would accept help... it has been a surprise already that he had accepted Sho’s offer to help with his English after all...

Despite not having any real good idea on how he could support Nino, Sho quickly decided that he didn’t want the progress he had made with Nino go to waste. True, they had a fight and it was most likely that Nino considered their relationship back to zero, like it was when the two boys met in the baseball field. But Sho could be stubborn too and he hadn’t given up on Nino. He still wanted to help him. Still wanted to be his friend. Wanted to be with him...

After the next basketball practise, Sho asked his teammate Aiba for Nino's phone number. He almost expected the boy not to have any - nothing about Nino would surprise him anymore - but luckily, Aiba told him that Nino indeed was using a phone ("One of those old things that you can flip open, remember?") and he willingly gave Sho Nino’s number.

It took Sho almost until midnight before he found the right wording for an apology which would contain his most sincere feelings. He then ended up retyping the actual message at least five times before he finally sent it, nervously. He was saying how sorry he was for assuming things that he couldn’t know, that he didn’t want to cross a line that Nino wouldn’t let him and that it was his real intention to help Nino - even if it was only with his English skills - and to become his friend. Hopefully, his words would reach Nino...

+ + +

Sho didn’t know if Nino actually believed him or if he just decided to give in so that he could profit from Sho’s offer to continue English lessons (after all, a test was drawing close). Whatever the reason was, the next day after classes, Nino was indeed waiting on the school’s roof top to meet Sho, like Sho had begged him in his message from the previous night.

Since Nino had not replied to Sho’s message in any way, the older student was honestly surprised when he spotted Nino sitting there on the ground, his back leaning against the staircase’s wall, his ears covered with headphones and his eyes closed. Sho’s heart started pounding dangerously fast when he approached the student, slowly, not wanting to disturb him. When he settled right next to him, and Nino still didn’t seem to notice him, he used his chance to take a closer look at the boy.

His headphones seemed to be from an expensive brand, but they were a very old model, used and slightly damaged all over, looking as if they were in use for years. Nino’s lips - Sho’s heart skipped a beat when he looked at them and was powerless against the flash of memory of their kiss on Ohno’s balcony - were slightly parted. They looked dry and the one corner of Nino’s lips looked like there was a cut, the wound was already healing but still... When Sho inspected Nino’s face even closer, he could see that there was a large bruise, slowly but surely turning blue, covering half of his face, reaching from his mouth up to his cheek, where a small band-aid was stuck and looked slightly swollen. His eye was surrounded by a dark blue shadow. Sho cringed. That looked definitely painful... where did Nino get those bruises from?

Suddenly, Nino opened his eyes and Sho backed off. First, Nino’s eyes looked hazy, he looked as if he wasn’t in this world right now, but then, he focused and the boy backed off too a little when he spotted Sho being so close to him.

"Fuck, couldn’t you approach me like every normal person?!" Nino cursed, pulling his headphones down around his neck. He took a deep breath. "You... surprised me!"

"Sorry," Sho murmured, not allowing his amusement over Nino’s reaction to show. He would risk nothing that might push the other away, after all. "I didn’t want to disturb you. What were you listening to?"

"...Convergence by Thirty Seconds to Mars," Nino murmured before he went back into position.

For the next few seconds, nobody said anything. Honestly, Sho didn’t really know how to start. Should he repeat his apology again? Should he just talk about English and ask Nino when he would be ready for a new meet-up? Whatever words Sho had prepared to say to Nino, in the end, something completely else left his lips.

"What happened to your face?" Sho asked without thinking further, probably the question he really was most interested to ask at this very moment.

"Nothing," Nino replied, drily.

Sho suppressed a sigh. "Did you get into a fight?"

"Probably," the other boy shrugged. He obviously didn’t want to give any more details about it.

"Nino. You have a blue eye, if you didn't run into a street lamp; I assume you got into a fight," Sho said, trying to not sound as worried as he was now.

"Then you're probably right, Detective." Nino tried to smirk, but his lip seemed to hurt so he cringed and stopped halfway.

"What happened?" Sho repeated, seriously.

Nino averted his eyes and pouted, stubbornly. "Forget it, I'm not going to tell you."

"When did that happen?" Sho continued. Yes, he could be stubborn too. "Let me see that bruise..." He slipped a bit closer, reaching his hands up to Nino’s face.

"Are you crazy?!" the boy yelled and tried to back off but behind him was a wall and so there was no escape and in the end, Sho could touch Nino’s face, carefully. "Hands off!"

"Does it hurt?" Sho asked with a frown, even if he knew the answer. In fact, he was more trying to examine the injury closer, using some tips his parents gave him when it came to first aid treatment.

"…I said… hands off...," Nino repeated, but this time in a lower voice, until he gave up on trying to escape from Sho. "Don't touch me…"

"It looks like it hurts," the older student concluded, a strict look on his face.

"Of course it hurts... you don’t need to be an aspiring doctor to tell that much," Nino murmured.

"And you look sad!" Sho added.

Nino snorted, rolling his eyes. "Well, can you believe it?! Getting beaten up isn't exactly fun."

"I suppose…," Sho sighed, sinking back into his position next to Nino.

They were now both leaning their backs against the wall and lifted their faces to look at the blue filled with various shaped clouds wandering over the slowly darkening afternoon sky. There was silence again.

"…Have you ever experienced it?" Nino finally broke it, a few minutes later.

"Getting hit by someone?" Sho asked before he shook his head. "Never..."

Nino chuckled but for some reason it sounded fake. "Surprises me, considering what an annoying jerk you can be."

"There are ways other than violence to clear a fight, Nino," Sho said, ignoring the offence. He could feel Nino’s look on him, but he didn’t dare to dart his eyes at the boy, too scared to find disgust, amusement or even rejection in the boy’s face.

"Just for the records," Nino replied after a moment of hesitation and Sho finally looked at him, surprised to find only sadness in Nino’s expression. "I wasn't the one who hit someone." Nino sounded desperate, somehow, his voice weak, about to break. "I did nothing at all…"

So Nino wasn’t the one starting the fight? For some reason, Sho’s heart felt a bit lighter now. Then he frowned, worried. "Didn't you defend yourself?"

He would have bet that Nino was used to fights, judging from his bruises he often showed (well, tried to hide sometimes but were visible to Sho since the day they met). He didn’t expect this rather weak, almost broken Nino that suddenly claimed that he hadn’t been the one searching a fight and surprisingly seemed to open up in front of him right now.

"If I had, I wouldn't have a blue eye now," Nino pouted.

"Why didn't you?"

The younger man pursed his lips, slightly, as much as they allowed him to do before making him cringe from pain. "I have my reasons."

For a few seconds, Sho just stared at Nino, fighting the urge to fling his arms around the boy and to pull him into a hug.

"You know what, Nino?"

"Hm?"

"I think you're not as bad a guy as you try to make others believe," Sho said frankly, offering a small smile. He felt like he was carrying his heart on his tongue, and he was a little nervous saying those words, but he honestly meant them.

"…You don't know me," Nino stated and the other student couldn’t even deny that fact.

"Maybe I want to get to know you," Sho replied, honestly, looking at Nino.

"You're weird...," Nino replied and if Sho wasn’t suffering from hallucinations, he’d say that he spotted a tiny smile on Nino’s face.

"So are you," Sho countered. "Maybe we have more in common than we think."

They were locking eyes for a few seconds and Sho could almost swear that there was some kind of tension in the air between them. Not an unpleasant tension, rather an attraction that made his heart beat faster and his thoughts run wild. He wondered if Nino felt the same at that very moment. A part of him hoped it would be the case. Their faces were close, so close, and if Sho would move forward just a tiny little bit...

In the end, Nino was the first one to look away again and Sho blushed when he realized what he had just said - and thought. He cleared his throat.

"Uhm... want me to get some ice for your bruises or something?" the student then offered.

Nino shook his head, heavily. "It's fine, I'm used to it."

"Sure?"

"Yes…"

"And you really don't want to talk about what happened?" Sho tried once more.

Silence, after Nino shook his head again. Sho didn’t believe it. There was surely something weighting on Nino’s heart that the boy wanted to talk about but for now, those weights were invisible, still. So instead of forcing the other into a reply, Sho finally suggested something else.

"Is there anything I can do for you?"

Nino turned at him, confused, his eyes looking desperate. "Do for me?"

Sho blushed slightly. "Uhm... well... just... if there is anything I can do to make you feel better..."

Nino hesitated for a bit, Sho could see how the boy was thinking, trying to figure out how to formulate his reply. "Just… can you shut up and stay for a while? Here, with me, I mean…"

"Well… If you want?" Sho shrugged, surprised by the request.

So they stayed for a bit longer, next to each other, looking at the sky, without saying anything for minutes. Sho didn’t know what to say and Nino probably didn’t want to talk. It was a somewhat peaceful moment, if Sho wouldn’t still feel this nervousness, this confusion over the other boy’s wish, over so many things concerning Nino. Maybe there would be a chance for them to become closer after all, even if Sho still didn’t know how that would work, but he knew he was willing to try a lot of things for Nino’s sake.

"Sakurai?"

"Hm?" Sho looked at the other boy, shocked about their suddenly interrupted silence as well as being addressed directly without hearing the usual sarcasm throbbing from Nino’s voice.

"Thanks," Nino whispered and if that wasn’t enough to make Sho breathless, Nino leaning his head slightly against Sho’s shoulder definitely made the older lose his composure.

Feeling the slight weight against him, the student stared at the other in disbelief. It was the first time that he ever heard Nino saying "Thanks" (not counting the one time he let Sho convey his thanks for the cookies to his mother). It was surprising, even confusing, and it did some strange things to Sho's heart. He wasn't able to speak a word after that, and so he just hummed in a low voice and kept silent as the two of them continued spending the next few hours up there on the school’s rooftop, doing nothing but being there, together.

+ + +




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