“I can't marry you, Masaki-kun.”
Every word that falls from Sakurai Sho's lips falls like a heavy weight upon Aiba Masaki's heart, making the man wonder why he even plucked up the courage to ask in the first place; but of course, the answer is painfully clear. Because I love him. Because I've loved him for years. Because I thought we really stood a chance of being together forever. And he knows that whatever happened, he would have had to have ended up asking the question sooner or later anyway.
When had it even started? Possibly on the set of one of their music videos, when Sho had been doing his best to perfect a difficult dance move whilst Masaki had watched with admiration; he had had an interest in the other man for some time, and although he'd always lacked the confidence to approach him, he could at least watch Sho and admire him from a distance. Had it been Satoshi who had noticed, or was it Kazunari? The details escape him now, but he can certainly remember Sho turning to look at him and winking, causing his face to turn almost as red as the set dressing. One of the Ohmiya pair had picked up on Masaki's adoration of Sho and told him, and Sho had had a lot of fun taunting poor Masaki once he'd found out...
...until he'd asked him out on a date. That had been the first time Masaki had caught a glimpse of Sho's more vulnerable, sensitive side as the man had poured him sake and footed the bill for the meal, at a small, secluded table in an exclusive restaurant. The media had only seen two band-mates from one of Japan's most successful acts going for an evening meal together, which in itself wasn't so unusual. They weren't to know the details of the dinner itself, the way Sho teasingly brushed his foot along Masaki's lower leg, the way he smiled and ran his tongue over his lips between courses.
“How long?” Sho had asked, pausing over their starter to ask Masaki the damning question. “How long have you liked me for, Masaki-kun?”
“I...I don't know.” He'd stumbled awkwardly over his words, hoping that Sho would put the flush in his cheeks down to the alcohol. “Weeks. Months. I just never... I didn't...”
“You didn't think I'd be interested.” Sho had laughed, but not unkindly. “Is that because of the women I'd been with before?”
“I didn't think I was good enough.” Somehow he had managed to stutter the words out, studying the tablecloth intently as he'd done so. “You've always been so popular, Sho-kun!”
“And you haven't?” The other man had leaned forward, placing a hand softly but firmly over Masaki's own. “You really think I haven't noticed what you're like, huh? So bright and friendly, always so enthusiastic when it comes to talking about the things you love – about dogs. Especially about dogs.”
Sho's calm manner had put Masaki at ease.
“I... I guess I do love dogs.”
“And you always pick the celery out of your nabe.”
Without even noticing his smile had grown wider and wider, and he hadn't even noticed Sho's face almost pressing up against his until the man's lips were practically on his own.
“You're my sunshine, Masaki-kun.”
Sho had led into their first kiss that evening, tasting the sweetness of the wine from Masaki's lips, sealing it with a soft moan and the gentle caress of his fingers across his cheek.
Later that week he'd taken Sho back home to meet his family, to sample the food in their restaurant not only as a co-worker and as a friend, but as a lover; Sho, of course, had been over the moon at having the chance to sample every single dish on offer, and perhaps it had partly been his genuine appreciation of their cooking which had caused Masaki's parents to accept the situation as it was. After all, they could see how happy this Sakurai Sho had made their son, and that was all they could really have asked for.
...and then had come their first night together. Neither of them had been with a man before, yet somehow they had muddled through things with the shameless enthusiasm of eager teenagers and both been pleasantly surprised and satisfied by the results. It hadn't taken long for the rest of the band to notice – after all, Satoshi and Kazunari had been together for as long as anyone could remember – and after that nobody had batted an eyelid at the two of them sharing a hotel room together as often as they could. It wasn't as though they hadn't already been doing it for years; now, though, they always made sure to lock the door.
Those initial happy days had quickly become happy weeks, then stretched into happy months and even happy years, the two of them content to spend as much time in each others' company as they could despite their hectic schedules. After all, working together meant they were often side by side for days on end anyway; the difference now was that they spent most nights side by side too, keenly feeling the loss of the other when filming called for one of them to be on location for a while. But no matter what happened they always returned back home to each other in the end, which was why Masaki had decided to finally formalise things, to put down on paper what they'd known in each others' hearts for so long---
“I can't marry you, Masaki-kun. You know I can't.”
And now this. Sho doesn't need to say it again; once was enough, and the tears are already threatening to roll down Masaki's cheeks. He can't bear for his hoped-for fiance to see him like this – weak, upset, pathetic – and so he turns on his heel and starts to walk away, almost stumbling from the humiliation-
“It's not legal in Japan yet. You must have known that!”
“Huh?” That stops Masaki dead in his tracks, and he slowly turns to glance back at Sho, his brow furrowed into a frown. “What do you mean...?”
“I mean we literally can't get married here, you idiot!” Sho seems as confused by Masaki's readiness to leave as Masaki is upset by the perceived refusal. “Why, what did you think I was going to say? 'Sure, let's have a ceremony at Asakusa and invite the best photographers from Arama! Magazine?”
“I... I thought...”
“If you think I'm ready to cast you aside just because we can't make things official here, you're even more of a fool than I thought.” His words might sound harsh but the sentiment behind them is heartfelt and sincere, as Masaki recognises full well by now, and Sho is smiling as he slides a protective arm around his partner, kissing him gently on the forehead. “If you really want to do it that badly, we could always go to Hawaii. Guess things have changed a lot since our debut, huh?”
His laugh is accompanied by another loving kiss, and Aiba Masaki is left in no doubt that Sho's answer to his question is a very firm yes.