“Let’s go,” Sho says and extends his hand. Nino takes it without a word or a backwards glance.
It wasn’t too long ago that Nino began to pretend to be a lone wolf, a sole stoic statue on his own personal Rapanui Island. Jun knows that his claims to hate people/prefer video games/”there’s no point to putting in the effort” was a lie; it was all laziness, and Jun was willing to bet, a little bit of fear. Jun has known Nino since they were in diapers, after all. But outside of Jun’s company Nino just goes to his part-time job at a convenience store where he spends half his time poking minuscule holes into the wrapped pastries, then going home to play MMORPGs in the middle of the night so he could yell vitriol in slangy Japanese at ignorant Americans.
Jun really loves Nino, and that’s the only reason he continues to put up with his shit. He’s taken less from his own sister.
“Look, Kazu,” Jun says exasperatedly one lovely Sunday morning as he stands in the middle of Nino’s apartment, which is, predictably, a pigsty. There are store circulars everywhere, covered in holes from where Nino has clipped all the coupons. Nino is wearing the rattiest sweatpants Jun has ever seen and has been awake for close to 30 hours now due to “look, Jun, my guild had raids one after the other!” Jun is pretending not to see the meticulously cultivated cup noodle tower perched precariously on his coffee table (that Jun had bought him).
“Look, Kazu,” Jun repeats, “you are going to shower and then eat this soup and then go to bed.”
“Who died and made you my mother?” Nino says sulkily, peering at Jun peevishly.
“Your mother’s not dead but she told me to do her job in her stead,” Jun says patiently, then grabs Nino by the forearm and starts dragging him towards his small bathroom. “If you don’t go shower then I will hose you down with the garden hose, and that water is freezing.”
“I’m going to call the police,” Nino says, but he shuffles into the bathroom anyway.
So, Nino has Jun. And Nino isn’t sure whether he has Ohno or not, but their shared shifts are the highlights of his week, mainly because it means he can sit and play his DS while Ohno stands at the counter picking his nose.
“Who wants to bet that foreign girl is gonna go straight for the idol magazines,” Nino mutters one day as Link grabs a 50 rupee piece. “Bet you five hundred yen she likes that new stupid group with the five guys wearing plastic suits.”
“Okay,” Ohno says, and doesn’t make a face when he ends up paying Nino. This is why Nino likes him and is totally willing to have him as a devoted follower on his Rapanui. But Ohno never says yes to Nino’s invitations to hang out. He either has plans or, one awful day, looked at Nino and said “why?”
Ohno is lucky he’s cute because Nino would have stopped liking him a while ago.
Sometimes Jun brings Aiba along and Nino used to like Aiba a lot but then Nino discovered WoW and Aiba discovered girls.
Nino doesn’t know Sho, but Sho knows Nino. Sho works at an office on the same block as Nino’s convenience store, so he sees him when he goes to pick up cans of coffee. (He stopped buying food after he noticed Ohno enthusiastically digging for gold in one nostril, which is a shame because the chicken nuggets were pretty good late-night project-gone-overtime snacks.)
To be more accurate, Sho doesn’t know Nino, but he recognizes his kind. (Plus, Nino has a Phantasy Star Online-related phone charm.) Sho wishes he had more time to play MMORPGs but it’s difficult with a full-time job, even if it’s a full-time job you don’t even necessarily want.
Plus Nino is pretty cute. No one at work knows Sho is gay, much less that he likes the waifish, sickly, milk-bun-diet type.
So Sho keeps going to that convenience store despite the terrible service and wishes he could be suave and come up with a better pick-up line than, “orc or elf?”
“Nino, if that guy stares at you any harder you’re going to spontaneously combust,” Jun says casually one day after Sho has bought his coffees and gone.
“That guy is a suit,” Nino replies, staring at a package of cream pan intently, “and he is staring at me because I am a foreign creature to him.”
“Creature, yes,” Jun rolls his eyes, “but foreign, no. I’ve seen him multiple times and I don’t even come here that often because I know what you’re going to do to that bread. By the way, I don’t approve and you’re going to get fired.”
“You don’t approve of anything I do,” Nino says, taking a pushpin from his pocket. “And if they fire me they’ll only have Oh-chan around and he’s not allowed to touch the food anymore.”
“That is disgusting and you’re both terrible people,” Jun announces, crossing his arms. “You should ask that guy out, Nino.”
“You should mind your own business especially when it’s wrong,” Nino finally pokes a hole into the center of the packaging, narrowly missing the bread itself. “A job well done,” he sighs happily, and places the bread back on the shelf.
“I’m going to call the health department on you,” Jun threatens, “and you’ll have to move back home.”
“You would do that to my poor mother?” Nino stares at Jun until Jun wilts.
“…no, I wouldn’t,” Jun sighs, “but I will if you don’t take that guy out.”
“Get out before I push holes into you,” Nino waves his pushpin in the air before shoving Jun towards the door.
“Don’t think I’ll let this go!” Jun calls before the doors close behind him.
“Oh-chan, do you think that guy in the suit likes me?” Nino asks one day during a leisurely round of Mario Kart.
“Which guy in what suit?” Ohno says.
“Nino,” Nino says when Sho gives him exact change for his coffee, all 230 yen counted out meticulously into the little bowl.
“What?” Sho says, staring at Nino as he snaps his change purse shut. Nino thinks it is dorky, but kind of cute in a girly way.
“Your receipt, I said,” Nino pushes the paper towards him and Sho drops it into the garbage bin.
“You are never going to get laid and I don’t want to hear about it when you get desperate,” Jun says one day after he makes Nino hamburger for lunch (but only after he disinfected the kitchen, of course).
“You put vegetables in this patty,” Nino says with slitted eyes. “This is a trick.”
“Because I want to make sure you don’t die preserved like a Twinkie,” Jun throws a dishtowel at him and frowns when Nino swats it out of the air.
“I thought we were supposed to leave pretty corpses. Isn’t that why you use 7500 yen eye cream?” Nino takes a delicate bite of his hamburger, wrinkling his nose at Jun to show just how much he dislikes the idea of carrots.
“I use expensive eye cream because I want to age gracefully,” Jun says haughtily, but doesn’t argue the point.
Sho quietly attaches a figurine of his character on Gaia to his phone. He carries his phone around obnoxiously as he walks around the store (only to go to his usual canned latte) in the hopes that Nino notices.
If he does he doesn’t say anything and Sho thinks maybe he should go to Flirting 101. College prepared him for a career in economics and in kowtowing to superiors, but somehow he slept in on the day they learned how to seduce the skinny convenience store boy.
“He’s getting kind of creepy,” Ohno notices as Sho keeps his arm bent at the elbow so his phone is by his shoulder as he walks around the store.
“Oh, I didn’t know you were awake! You’re getting better at this,” Nino congratulates.
“I play too,” Sho says suddenly, desperately, one day as Nino counts out his change. “WoW and Gaia and PSO and Starcraft…I play all that stuff,” he confesses, and he wonders if the heat surrounding his ears is embarrassment or if he’s spontaneously combusting. He hopes it’s the latter.
Nino stares at him, three 10 yen coins in his hand.
“I haven’t been able to join a raid in a while because of work,” Sho keeps talking, “but I try to play at least a little every night no matter what time I get home from work.” This was a terrible idea, because Nino hasn’t blinked at him in about a minute.
“So, um, basically, I was just wondering if you would like to play…together one day…” He could get his coffee from a vending machine from now on, right? Maybe he’ll hire an intern just to go to the convenience store for coffee, because Sho will never be able to step foot in this store again.
Nino glances at Ohno, who is watching them bemusedly, and he pulls off his apron dramatically and tosses it on the floor. “Freedom,” Nino declares, “I have been rescued from Gannon once and for all.”
Sho laughs a little longer than appropriate, the relief visibly leaving his body.
“Let’s go,” Sho says and extends his hand. Nino takes it without a word or a backwards glance.
“Bye,” Ohno says.
“I feel vindicated,” Jun says with a relieved sigh as he sits on Nino’s older-than-Jesus armchair one Saturday night, watching Sho and Nino sitting on the couch with their laptops. They’re at opposite ends but their legs are tangled as they both concentrate on their screens, the sounds of raids filling the room.
“I feel happy,” Sho admits with a shy smile.
“I feel like I’m getting laid on the regular and it’s pretty nice,” Nino says, “so can we all shut up and let me concentrate?”
“Only if you promise to stop sending me texts describing your sex life, because that’s not okay with me,” Jun shudders. Sho turns as bright red as his laptop case, which has a Yatterman sticker on the front. Nino thinks it is cute, in a Kaibutsu-kun is totally better kind of way.
“You wanted me happy so you deal with the aftermath,” Nino replies carelessly, and he wriggles his toes against Sho’s calf. Sho smiles absently before healing Nino’s mage in-game and Nino thinks that this is love.