Nino's rolling suitcase teetered as he jerked it along the sidewalk.
"A best-selling author. In a decrepit hotel. In Chiba. At midnight."
No one was listening to him bitch but it relieved a little of his irritation just to complain about it.
"Don't worry about it, Ninomiya-san! We'll make all the arrangements, she said. Arrange me right into death by tetanus or food poisoning. Having to sleep on a scummy--"
Nino cut himself off as he entered the hotel, not wishing to receive even worse service than he was expecting already.
"Welcome!" boomed a voice from behind the counter, the source of which was a tall, beaming man in a white dress shirt and a gray vest.
Nino's irritation sputtered at the sight of so much cheerful enthusiasm, then died. It was replaced by a wry amusement at the receptionist's flapping motions, as if Nino hovering in the doorway was a failure of the hotel's hospitality.
Once he got to the counter, Nino said shortly, "I have a reservation. Takeuchi Yuu, if you please."
"Excellent choice, Ninomiya-sama," the man said conspiratorially. When Nino just stared at him, blank-faced, he coughed and amended, "I mean, your name is very distinguished, Takeuchi-sama."
When he showed no inclination to get a key, Nino cleared his throat impatiently.
"Ah yes! Um, my name is Aiba, I'm at your service for the entirety of your stay. Unless you stay past eight, 'cause then I go home, but it's okay because Sho-kun's really better at servicing people anyway."
Nino snorted, and Aiba blinked at him in confusion before laughing loudly, saying, "I didn't even think! I don't think Sho-kun... but he must, right, everyone has sex."
"Do they," Nino said dryly.
"Don't they?" Aiba breathed, considering.
"My room?" Nino said, tiring of the farce, although not so much as he would have if Aiba weren't so irrepressibly charming. (And far too pretty, but Nino quashed that thought quickly.)
"Yes, people have had sex in your room," Aiba answered, tilting his head. "Probably not Sho-kun, though, he's very professional."
"And you're not, obviously."
"Not very. Ah, your key! I'm so sorry, sir, let me just..." He typed away at his computer before handing Nino a white plastic room key. "And if you need anything! Or just want to talk! I mean, enjoy your stay. But you could come visit, Nino--Takeuchi-sama, it does get lonely overnight."
"Most people sleep at night," Nino said, edging toward the elevator.
"Unless they're having sex," Aiba agreed.
"Thanks," Nino said, holding up the key, and made good his escape before he could get sucked in again.
Nino's room was Western-style, as he suspected all of them would be at this sort of place. He deposited his suitcase on the bed after pulling the comforter off and tossing it into a corner, then turned on the television.
He should be sleepy; it'd been a long day of promotions and book-signings and he could feel a crash coming. He hadn't had much time to himself lately, which always exhausted him, but the next day was an off day, and Nino intended to make the most of it. That meant he should go to bed, so as not to waste any of the day by sleeping in, but he found himself strangely restless.
Maybe something to munch on would help, he thought, and then remembered that there were vending machines in the lobby. Knowing himself well, he then wondered if he really wanted munchies or if his sub-conscious had just prompted this as a way to get back to the lobby, but he decided he didn't care. Snacks were needed, and that was that.
When the elevator dinged for the lobby, he could just imagine the receptionist's smile at the sound, and he had to restrain himself from hurrying forward to see for himself.
"Ni-Takeuchi-sama!" The guy was just as unreasonably pretty as Nino remembered, and Nino tried not to smile too foolishly.
"Just call me Nino already," he crabbed, and was rewarded by a breathtaking grin.
"Did you come to see me? What could we talk about, or we could play cards! Or watch tv, but there's not much on at this hour, hmm..."
"I came to get a snack," Nino said hastily, motioning to the vending machines.
"Oh," Aiba said, ludicrously disappointed.
When Nino came back with his bag of chips, Aiba was fiddling with his name-tag and didn't look up. Nino slowed on his way to the elevator, hoping Aiba would say something, but finally turned, giving in to the clerk's magnetic pull.
"Want a chip?" he asked, letting himself smile as Aiba nodded vigorously, already starting a conversation.
"Why do you use a fake name?" Aiba said, leaning against the counter as Nino did the same on the opposite side.
Eye-contact with Aiba was making Nino feel dizzy, but he made sure to lean in a little too close and smirk, to mask his genuine interest.
"A pseudonym. And I'll tell you why, Aiba-san. It's not because of my books, or my celebrity, it's because I am just too handsome."
Aiba considered this. "But Nino-san, that doesn't make sense, you're handsome no matter what your name is. And if you didn't want to get recognized, you shouldn't put your picture on your books." He reached under the counter and emerged with Nino's latest novel.
"Ah, a reader, I see," Nino said, hoping his attempt at suaveness wasn't as noticeable to Aiba as it was to himself.
"No, but Jun-kun loves your books. He'll probably hit me for being the one to meet you instead of him. Or... could you sign...?"
"Fine," Nino said, and signed the inside cover quickly. "I'll be on my way, then."
"Oh, do you have to? Well, enjoy your sleep." Aiba sat down on his stool, shoulders slumping, and Nino reminded himself that this was the guy's job, not to mention that they'd only just met.
"You said you had cards," he said, hating himself.
"Cards!" Aiba said, over-excited.
"I can show you a magic trick, and then I'm going to bed."
A look at Aiba's wide eyes at the end of a trick, and one turned into two, then three, until Nino looked at the clock and realized it was three in the morning. His card tricks hadn't held out but it hadn't been long before he and Aiba were just talking, and Nino was finding he liked the chatty receptionist far more than he'd even feared.
It turned out that Aiba was working this job to help support himself through grad school in biology (which knowledge was not imparted without a joke about extra-curricular biology study), and that he usually studied his way through his shifts but had forgotten all his books at home, instead accidentally bringing back his backpack full of clean laundry he'd washed in the hotel's laundry room the night before. When Aiba ran of out words at last, Nino told him stories about his roommate, who fished more than he slept and frequently forgot he even had a job as an illustrator.
It could have been Nino's imagination, but he thought he saw a hint of disappointment in Aiba's expression at the mention of Ohno. He tried to be cool, but heard himself say, "And Oh-chan has been my friend for years, um, a lot of years, and he got engaged to Becky-chan last month, I'm going to give them our place as a wedding present and find somewhere new just for me."
There was definitely an answering sparkle in Aiba's eyes at this clumsy statement, and he draped himself over the counter, closer to Nino. "What are you doing tomorrow, Take-chan?"
Nino tilted his head at Aiba's presumption, grinning as he said, "Working, all day. I'm very busy and important, I can't be expected to have free time at the whim of some over-sexed hotel clerk."
"You already said you had tomorrow off," Aiba laughed. "Let's have dinner! I know the best place, and no one will bother you there."
"Except you, of course," Nino muttered, but when Aiba didn't even blink, Nino added, "But that might be acceptable, if you really insist."
"I insist, then," Aiba said. "Now go get some sleep, Takeuchi-sama, and I'll get started on this book I found back here. I've been hearing good things about this author lately."
Nino looked at Aiba's hand patting his book, right on top of all the blurbs about how beloved Nino's books were, and snorted. "Do you provide wake-up calls, dear reader-slash-receptionist?"
"Well, not usually," Aiba said. "But I get off work at eight, and I could stop by."
"Come at noon," Nino said, already turning to leave. "And if you can tell me the three major themes of that book, I'll agree to dinner."
"Hey, you already agreed!" Aiba protested, but Nino could hear the laugh in his voice.
Nino just gave a saucy salute with one hand, working on composing his face while his back was turned. The last thing he saw as the elevator doors were closing was Aiba, leaning perilously far over the counter and waving goodnight. Nino's blank face broke before the doors dinged safely shut, and he brought a hand up to cover his smile.