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My Heart in Your Orbit

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+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. MAY 4, 2018. 8:40 PM, JST. Nationwide Television Broadcast. +

 

Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.

My name is Koyama Keiichiro and on today's "Starry News," I am reporting about an upcoming meteorite shower, which will be visible during the night hours over Japan – especially over the northern regions of Tokyo. Star-gazing friends all over the country are looking forward to the nocturnal spectacle. However, as always, experts demand caution, when searching for a proper spot to witness the event.

According to the opinion of experts from the Tokyo Astronomical Observation at Tokyo University, which operates as part of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, short NAOJ, the chance of meteorites falling down on earth is relatively small, as most debris use to burn up when entering the atmosphere, dying in their most beautiful shape – a shooting star. The results of calculations show, that only a few debris from the biggest of the meteorites – named "Baetylus IV" by specialists, which will certainly break into smaller pieces from the impact with the atmosphere – could reach the Earth's surface.

Further calculations showed that the spot for a possible minor crash is located in a rather rural area of northern Tokyo, most likely in the woods – as shown on our map here for demonstration. Experts strongly recommend avoiding this area during the night hours, just to be on the safe side!

Bearing this in mind, I ask you all to take care and wish you a mesmerizing night.

This was your host Koyama Keiichiro from TBS' "Starry News". Take care, and see you tomorrow night!

 

* + * + *

- - Note on: Baetylus IV
- A comet's name, given by specialists of the Tokyo Astronomical Observation at Tokyo University, part of the NAOJ
- Derivation of name: "Baetylus" (also Bethel, or Betyl, from Semitic bet el "house of god") is a word denoting sacred stones that were supposedly endowed with life. According to ancient sources, these objects of worship were meteorites, which were dedicated to the gods or revered as symbols of the gods themselves. (Source: Wikipedia)

* + * + *

 

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. MAY 5, 2018. 00:07 AM, JST. Somewhere in a Forest, North from Tokyo +

 

Something was strange with the sky tonight. It was bright, brighter than usual, and it was moving, faster than usual. Bits of it, at least. It wasn't a common sight, at least not too common, and every time something like that happened, it was something to keep a close eye on, just in case it became dangerous.

A deer, hidden behind a line of bushes close to a pond, observing the situation, put up its long and steady ears and was ready to move even to the smallest noise coming from inside and above the woods. Its eyes were wide, staring into the night, taking notice of all the small white dots in the sky above its head. The deer's small, stressed heart was racing, its long legs trying to stand still, but shaking. It was ready. Ready to turn around and run, run as fast as it could, leaving everything behind, its hooves quicker than anyone or anything could even get a glimpse of it.

The deer was waiting, patient, nervous, anxious. There, the sky was moving again! A small piece of white, dropping, fast, almost too fast to catch the motion, but it was there. And then, there it was again. And again.

Still, the noises around were familiar to the deer's ears, like the soft rustling of leaves tickled by the night wind, a minor swish in the grass behind, caused by a rodent on its nightly foray. The distant howling of a night bird. Nothing unusual, nothing worth more than a slight flick of the deer's ear into the source's direction, before it focused back on the indeed unusual spectacle in the night sky beyond the trees' crowns.

The deer could hear it, before it came into vision, could sense the strange vibrations that made the pond's surface break in tiny little waves, before it realized what was going on. The noise cut through the cool night air, a swoosh, growing constantly louder, frightening.

The deer's large furry ears twitched, irritated. Suddenly, there was something flickering in the darkness of the sky and the deer froze. It flickered again, and again, and each time it did, it - whatever it was – had come closer and closer, until the deer finally decided that things were getting too dangerous around here.

Eyes wide open and shaking, the animal shied, rose its front feet, hooves high at its chest, before it turned on its hooves and dashed back into the woods, fast like a flash, tramping its way over the grass and earth and jumping over obstacles, as if on springs. With a last rustle of bush leaves, the deer was gone.

+

Just a few seconds after, just in the same place the animal had been standing, something big and round, with birdlike wings attached to its sides crashed to the ground with considerable speed, splitting off one of the wings. The impact was strong enough to cause a ditch in the forest's ground. The shrieking of metal could be heard, accompanied by the dull bounce of further debris flying off into every direction. The damaged object that had just fallen from the sky blinked at the edges, then flickered again, giving space to nothing, as if it had disappeared just now and then, before it fully came back into vision, and this time, it stayed, dark and dead.

Silence. Only the moon and the starry night sky, shooting stars still highlighting the black, were shining on the object.

Then, there was a loud hum; the edges started blinking again, in no recognizable pattern. Shortly after, hammering and clanking came from the object, and finally it gave another shriek, long and metallic, as if something was trying to break free from whatever this was.

A second later, some part of the metallic object – a door? - fell open, bouncing off the ground and raising dust, before it stilled, and someone – or something – resembling a human figure, but with considerably longer limbs and long, stringy wavy hair, emerged.

The figure looked around, lingered for a moment, as if in awe. The moonlight – just like the lights blinking from the inside of the object, which was accompanied by beeping noises – was reflecting strongly off the figure. Or was it its clothes? It was hard to tell, but the reflection was almost like a glow in the dark. After about a minute, the creature lifted its long limbs that must be functioning as its arms, to its body, wrapping them around before it slumped. It started trembling a little, and then, its shape started to shift. The figure shrunk in size and its limbs lost in length until it reached the size of a rather short man. The shiny glow was gone, replaced by matt, ordinary skin and a short haircut. Whatever it was, at a close look it was visible, that it had shifted into a normal man with brown hair and Asian features.

+

The man stretched his arms, wide, before he brought them together, clumsily, as if he still had to get used to the measurements of his new body. His clothes' sleeves were definitely too long for his short, slender body now, which made moving a bit tricky. He took a few steps, jumped, lifted one foot, then the other, while rolling up his sleeves and pulling up his too long pants. Good thing he had prepared and put aside some more fitting clothes somewhere inside of his ship. He could quickly change into them before continuing his journey.

He groaned, frustration painting the noise when he turned back to the crashed object behind him and took in its deformed shape. He walked up to the ruined plate lying on the ground and leaned against the metallic frame of the door that he had created, looking inside. Colourful lights, coming from all over the place, as the whole cockpit seemed to be almost turned upside down, were lightening up his face, and if anyone would be able to understand the unfamiliar language, the content of the conversation could be understood in a way of the following.

"Zat-Uhm, damage report, please," the man said, as if this was a simple routine check. "What says the first quick-scan?"

"I tried to re-start all systems but did not receive answers from all of them yet," a female voice – no, a female but somewhat artificial sounding voice – replied. "Obviously, the shell is damaged. One wing is almost completely missing."

It was hard to grasp the exact sound of that voice. It cut the edges of each syllable, not always noticeable, but still slightly different, and there was kind of a small echo to it, as if the voice was speaking into a tiny box. There was no visible source of the voice resounding from the inside of the cockpit, but there were colours flashing over a small monitor in the front, mimicking the voice's intonation and volume with a dance of short and long coloured stripes. Either, someone was speaking through a connection, or, the whole object must be the source of Zat-Uhm's voice.

"What’s with that reproachful tone?" the man asked, frowning, a cute pout on his lips.

"You kicked out one of the side walls instead of exiting normally." Zat-Uhm summarized the happenings neutrally, before her voice turned a little miffed. "Just because I can't feel pain, it doesn't mean that you can kick around and damage my vessel as you please."

"Sorry, Dear," the man sighed, reaching his hand to gently touch a nearby metal plate, as if he really wanted to convey a feeling of apology. "Normally just wasn't possible, since the door is currently kissing the ground, as you surely noticed."

"Indeed, I noticed that. And I know there wasn't any other option to exit. Still, damage was done. I am just stating the facts."

"OK," he lifted his hands in resignation. "I get it. I should have been more careful. I underestimated the meteorite shower, I admit."

The man climbed back further inside the metallic object and started climbing up to the ceiling – the actual floor of the cockpit – to take place in something that reminded of a stool, in front of thousands of displays.

"Arti-grav system rebooted," the voice from the cockpit said, a warm hum echoed through it, and immediately, the man's steps became easier and shortly after, he was able to sit down on his pilot's seat without being bothered – or even effected – by Earth's gravity at all.

He crossed his arms tightly in front of his chest and glanced at the displays in front of him, humming as he let his thoughts wander. In the process, he quickly brushed his fingertips over the display that indicated any change of the female, artificial voice – Zat-Uhm – in a caring gesture, before he reached his hand to touch another one of the displays. With only a slight touch, he activated a small beam of turquoise light that shot into the air in front of him and formed something like a list created from strange symbols. The hologram flickered and died. Upon another try of activation, it didn't react, and the man cursed under his breath.

"Holo-creator temporarily offline," it sounded from the cockpit, and maybe – just maybe – there was a slightly mean undertone lying in the female voice.

"I know," he sighed, slightly unnerved by the stating of the obvious. He tried to calm down, trying to remind himself that after all, it was his fault that all was ruined, and that actually, none of this truly mattered any more. "OK... Anything else?"

"Base board system running. Or else you couldn't use the displays at all," she really didn't have a good night, obviously. "I shut down the engine as a precaution to avoid an explosion."

"Good idea," the man chuckled, slightly nervous. Just because he didn't need this any longer, didn't mean he didn't mind getting blown up by it accidentally, now that he finally reached his goal.

"Navigation system most likely faulty, but I should be able to correct it quickly. Detailed damage still being calculated. You want a first estimate?" Zat-Uhm offered.

The man shrugged. "Sure."

"Our ship is broken."

"You don't say!"

Silence.

Humming, the man nodded slowly. "Well, to be honest, the only thing I am truly concerned of at the moment is the invisibility shield that broke right before the landing…"

"Damage noted and confirmed. I am not sure whether I will be able to fix that without a replacement of certain tech. This will be a problem for the return," for some reason, the artificial voice sounded worried.

"I told you, I don't think we will need it again, so I don't mind. I just hope nobody saw anything."

"Calculating the number of damage report messages that the invisibility system sent to my core, taking the intervals between them and crossing everything with our last trajectory – as far as those are trustworthy, due to the damaged navigation system – and considering the coverage we might have received from the still ongoing meteorite shower –"

"Zat-Uhm," the man said, softly but determined. "Please keep it short."

"Sure. Don't worry. I am sure, nobody noticed."

"OK. We'll take care of everything later on," the man then decided after a short pause. "For now, let's go check the area!"

"I hate to stop you in your enthusiasm, but first, shall I call for an emergency shuttle to pick us up again, your Highness?" Of course, she tried to get them back. Not only that, her voice did not only give a suggestion, but it could also be understood that she was really upset with her pilot, especially when considering the emphasis, she used on the title to address him. Which was rare, to begin with.

"Do I hear sarcasm here?!" the man arched an eyebrow before he continued in a calm voice, trying his best to soothe her temper. "You know not to call me that. I'm your friend. And no, we don't need an emergency shuttle to come here, thank you very much. You know the plan."

"Noted. Friend who damaged my shell," still, her voice was dripping with sarcasm.

The man should really know better than making her angry. Carefully, he tried to get her into a better mood. "Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate your sense of humour. Not every AI is talented in reproducing something like that."

"An AI can only be as smart – or as witty – as its creator," Zat-Uhm gave back adroit.

"Now, is that a compliment or criticism?" the man in the pilot's seat wondered, crossing his arms again and raising his eyebrows challengingly. After all, he was the one who fine-tuned and programmed Zat-Uhm, which was based solely on a basic AI that he fed with tons of databases to make her the best possible over years.

"Criticism is not necessarily a negative thing. Just sometimes. But mostly, it depends on the recipient and how capable they are to deal with the criticism they receive."

The man released a sigh, but the corners of his mouth curled up into a smirk. "You're too smart, Sweetie."

"And you are too smart to waste your talents hiding on a primitive planet like this one," Zat-Uhm shot back. "Are you sure we don't need the emergency shuttle I suggested?" she added stubbornly.

"I said I appreciate your sense of humour, I did not ask for your opinion," the man replied, his voice turning a bit stricter. "As I said, no, we are not going to call anyone; I am finally out of there. Now let us find a quiet place."

"But what about our ship?"

"We don't need it anymore. We'll just leave it here," the man suggested immediately.

"Excuse me?!" the artificial voice reached a higher volume than usual, echoing back from the cockpit. "And what will happen to me?!"

"No need to panic!", the pilot replied, lifting his hands and started to gesture. "I'll take you with me, of course. I'll carefully disconnect your core from your current vessel and we'll find you a new one... After all, you're the only one I need."

"You're trying to soothe me with your flirting, but that does not work with me!" the AI replied strictly. "What if somebody finds the ship? The invisibility shield is broken, like you noticed."

"I could just drown it in the lake," the man shrugged.

"What a waste!" Zat-Uhm exclaimed in shock. "Besides, my measurements showed that it's only some kind of pond. Probably not even deep enough to drown anything."

"What did I say about offering your opinion, honey?"

"If I was a living being, I would feel offended now," Zat-Uhm huffed.

Smiling, imagining the AI as a person with red, puffed cheeks, the man laid back in his seat in amusement and said, "You have been feeling offended since we crashed! I'm still amazed your personality is even capable of being like that."

Neutrally, but with certainty, Zat-Uhm answered. "It's not designated in my system to voice an opinion. I am solely following learning patterns and algorithms taught by you. So basically, I am imitating some of your moods of which I have data on over the past decades, and most likely I am currently voicing your own doubts."

Ouch.

"Too smart…"

"So, what if we need it one day? In case of an emergency?"

The man considered their options. He had to admit that indeed his AI did have a point.

"Hm… I guess we better hide it then. An invisible canvas will do for now. We brought some with us, didn't we?" the man voiced his compromise.

"According to my inventory record from before the start of our journey, yes. Two of them, in the storage space in the back," the AI agreed. "Granted, if they are not damaged from the crash, they should work just fine. Then everything that is left is to hope that no one finds the covered ship."

"Sounds like a plan."

"Not a very good plan, if I may say."

"You may not," the man said, lifting one hand to dismiss the cheeky AI's comment. "Oh, and don't forget to switch off your locating system when I put you off the core –"

"But—"

"No, Zat-Uhm, we talked about this! I don't want anyone to find us! Make sure, it's deactivated, or I will make sure of it!"

"Yes, your Highness…"

The man rolled his eyes but said nothing and got to work.

 

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. MAY 5, 2018. 00:42 AM, JST. Somewhere in Tokyo +

 

Nino always thought his life was pretty boring, and he himself probably too. Sometimes, just sometimes, he wished that he had a more thrilling life, maybe a more interesting job, or some kind of special talent… but most of the time, he was content with his boring life, his boring job, his not so special talents, and he even very much liked being considered as a boring person by other people.

It meant that they would leave him alone. Which meant that most of the time, he had enough time to focus on his hobbies, like reading, watching good movies or his favourite TV-shows, or losing track of time over a thrilling game that he played all night until he would fall asleep just to wake up the next day, crouching over his controller, and almost running late for work.

Despite Nino's low opinion about himself, for some reason, there was always one person that did not consider him as boring, just because he did not have an outgoing personality. His best friend since childhood – Jun.

Nino and Jun were as different as day and night, but somehow, things with Jun were easy and comfortable. So easy, that it seemed to be the most logical decision to move into an apartment together after graduating from school. They were so comfortable that even now, years later, they still didn't even consider moving apart.

They had figured things out, and made things work. While everyone was responsible for keeping their own room tidy and clean (whatever their definitions of those terms were), for the common area of the small apartment, they had reached a silent agreement over time, derived from their preferences and talents, which had grown into habits. In short, this meant that Jun took care of the cleaning as well as shopping for groceries and other necessities in their household, while Nino took care of the laundry and the cooking.

Jun had a lot of friends, so he didn't spend each and every second at home, and Nino knew how to make good use of those precious hours of solitude, before the two met again and spent some quality time together in the kitchen or the living room. Jun was there, when Nino needed someone to lean on, and Nino was there, when Jun needed someone to listen to him. Nino was a good listener, and Jun benefited a lot on his friend's tips when he needed some. Still, Jun never forced Nino to talk when they spent time together, nor did he call him too quiet or anything like that. That was different from other people, and Nino appreciated that very much. However, Jun always made it clear that he was interested in Nino's opinion, in what he had to say about the sun and the moon and the world, and he also made clear that he was ready to listen to Nino too, whenever his friend was up for a talk. Which happened, sometimes. Pretty often, even, considering that Nino wasn't much of a talker with most people. But with Jun, Nino felt comfortable talking, and shared more secrets with him than with his family.

What Nino did not feel comfortable with was accompanying his friend to parties. Jun loved parties, and as the funny and interesting guy he was, he usually was the centre of them, surrounded by a considerable number of friends and people who mostly wanted even more from the good-looking young man, and usually with quite a few beers or cocktails in his system.

Even though Jun accepted Nino's tendency to be an introverted homebody, it happened, that for some special occasions, he would ask – no, beg - Nino to come with him to this party or that celebration. Especially when they were parties thrown for his sake, like Jun's birthday, or like his recent promotion at the fashion company where he worked as a designer. Talking about the latter, this was exactly what they were celebrating tonight, in form of a costume party.

Of course, as Jun's best friend, Nino made the sacrifice and went with him on these rare occasions (he even dressed up in a video game character's cosplay for Jun's sake tonight!). Though, Nino made mental notes that in exchange for each party he accompanied Jun to, Jun owed him a cinema ticket for a motion picture screening, he would accompany Nino to. The young man was of the opinion that this was a fair one-hand-washes-the-other-hand deal, especially because he was generous enough to pay for their snacks, in return.

So, bearing in mind his upcoming reward, Nino usually managed to go through such party evenings with Jun, somehow. When things got too loud or stressful, Nino would just search for a safe and calm corner to watch people while sipping on a drink, instead of pushing himself to have mundane small talk with people he didn't know or care about over much too loud and heavy music. Sometimes, he even ended up searching for a pet to keep company instead of dancing with the party people in the living room at a house party. Jun was OK with Nino disappearing from time to time, as long as Nino was available for a drink or two by his side, in between, and Nino was OK with that too.

Which leads us to why tonight was not OK, though.

First of all, Jun had introduced one of his co-workers to Nino, who apparently had seen him at another party that Nino already successfully deleted from his memory, and had developed a crush on him.

"She likes your cool, chilled aura, right?" Jun had said, throwing Nino a wink, who wondered if anybody had described his introvert behavior like that before.

Nino looked pretty confused with the situation and he was definitely not dealing well with it, especially, after Jun whispered into his ear that Nino should be the one breaking this poor girl's heart by himself instead of having Jun do it – which was what he had hoped for, to be completely honest. Just a little piece of information would have been enough to make the girl understand that she was wasting her time, but Jun was adamant about each dealing with their own shit, if possible.

Since Nino was not really used to and not really good in such things (when was the last time that someone had a crush on him?! As convinced single, he had long stopped paying attention towards such things), he had completely failed in telling the girl (dressed in a horribly trashy fairy outfit) that he was not interested. Not because she wasn't cute or friendly, or beautiful, but for other reasons that he didn't manage to convey. He just didn't have the heart to tell her that he didn't like girls that way. It wasn't that he had a problem with admitting that, per se, but apparently, he just really sucked at turning people down.

While Nino hoped to bore her away by being awkward rather than talkative, like he usually do with people other than Jun, that girl somehow made it to hanging around him for the whole evening. It was surprising, and at first, Nino honestly wondered, what made her interested in him in the first place, but as time passed, the more uncomfortable and anxious Nino became.

Which was probably the reason why, second, tonight it had not been over after just one or two beers, no, it had definitely been more that he drank and if just due to the nervousness caused by that friend of Jun. The problem was, actually, Nino wasn't used to more than two beers, and he wasn't going well with too much alcohol. The results thereof now were an amazing headache and a very uncomfortable feeling in his stomach.

In the end, Nino somehow managed to shake off the girl for a moment, and went searching for Jun, who was dressed like a pirate coming from a plunder, and – as expected – partying on a table, dancing with one of his male colleagues from work – Toma, if Nino remembered the name correctly - in a very tight embrace. One arm slung around the man's neck, the other occupied by a poisonous looking, red drink, Jun swayed to the rhythm of the music, the tons of fashion accessories hanging from his neck bouncing off his outfit.

"Jun! Hey, J!" Nino called him twice, when his best friend didn't turn around to him after the first time. "I'm feeling sick, I'm heading home!"

"What?!" Jun asked, excusing himself from his colleague and jumping down from the table, the drink in his hand swapping over the edges of the glass and the peacock feather at the brim of his pirate head swaying heavily, when he landed right in front of his friend. Concerned, he looked at him, reaching out his free hand to ruffle through Nino's black hair in a caring gesture, a worried look on his face. "You really don't look so well… Are you OK?"

Nino hummed. "Just too much beer, I guess…"

"Shall I walk you home?" Jun offered immediately, before taking a sip of his drink in an attempt to at least finish it and not let it go to waste, if he was about to leave the party.

"No no, it's OK," Nino replied, waving a hand in dismissal. "Stay here and enjoy the night. It's your night, after all, Head of Design."

Instantly, at the sound of his new job position, Jun lifted his glass and a joyous high-pitched cheer left his mouth, which got immediately echoed by the people around him. The young man grinned proudly, before he turned back to Nino, face all serious again and putting his free hand on his friend's shoulder.

"But I don't like the idea of you walking through the city just by yourself when you're feeling sick, Nino! I'm your best friend, I should take care of you," the young man said, nodding to himself.

Nino wasn't so sure if it was him who needed guidance, or if it was actually Jun, seeing how he swayed (it was amazing though how he was able to formulate full sentences, still, considering the amount of alcohol he must have consumed by now). However, Nino was sure, that someone – or more – would end up volunteering to bring Jun home safely later on – if not taking him with them for the night, which wouldn't be the first time either.

"Really, it's OK, I'll manage-" Nino said before suddenly, he got interrupted by a girl's voice.

A cold shiver ran down Nino's spine when he recognized the voice. Damned, and he thought he had gotten rid of her for tonight...

"I'm sorry, I accidentally happened to hear your conversation…," the girl – Nino had already forgotten her name again – said and the young man wondered if it really was an accident or if she had been stalking him. "I'm free, shall I walk you home?" she offered with a smile.

Oh no, please, no, Nino sent a silent prayer to whoever might be listening, but he feared it didn't work.

"Nino?" Jun arched an eyebrow. "You seem to get along well, don't you?"

Actually, Jun knew exactly, that Nino was not getting along well with that girl at all – even if it had turned out as a one-sided dislike – however, Jun was also of the opinion, that it was Nino's fault if he made people misunderstand his behaviour. Admittedly, he was right. Still, Nino didn't give in. Not yet.

"I'm OK, I don't want to bother you–" he started, before his friend cut him.

"Oh, I'm sure, you won't bother her, Nino," Jun sing-sang. His eyes though said, "Get rid of her like a gentleman, and don't get her hopes high."

Traitor, Nino thought.

"No, really, it's no problem," the girl smiled shyly, pushing back one of her long strands of wavy black hair. Damned, she really got her hopes high.

"You're not going home alone in your state, Mister, end of the discussion!" Jun decided.

Nino sighed, finally giving up when Jun's strict gaze didn't even leave him when the man aimed for another sip of his drink – missing the edge of his glass by an inch at first.

"OK. Well, then… Thank you," Nino bowed slightly into the direction of the girl, trying to bring as much distance between them as possible.

"Do you need help walking?" The girl asked hopefully, moving a little closer, which caused Nino to shy away again, though, smiling at her apologetically.

Jun was right. He really should make clear that he wasn't interested in her, before she was getting even more annoying.

+

Nino didn't manage to set things right until they reached his and Jun's apartment – which was actually located only a few blocks away from tonight's party – a distance he definitely would have managed by himself, Nino kept insisting in his mind. Instead, Nino managed to get rid of the girl by quickly thanking her for the walk and closing the door right into her face, faster than her lips could even form the words "Good night", let alone try other things that Nino definitely wasn't in the mood for. This admittedly had neither been the most gracious nor gentlemen-like or grown-up way to handle things, but it was effective nonetheless and if Nino was lucky, he would never meet her again.

Right now, more important than his reputation, was definitely the urge to search for an aspirin and a glass of water, as well as the not to ignore the call his bed was making.

Clumsily, he found the desired medicine in the bathroom in the mirror cabinet over the sink somewhere on Jun's side. He grabbed a not-so-clean-but-it'll-do glass that was hanging around there for some reason he couldn't remember, and while the aspirin was fizzing and bubbling up the water, he slouched through the apartment into his bedroom to pull out his pajamas from under the pillow, that were much more comfortable than his stupid costume, and changed into it.

He picked up the glass – the aspirin now fully dissolved, the fizzing noise gone – and brought it to the living room, where he slumped down on the couch, the room lit only by the low glim of a lamp behind the furniture. Nino sighed, shifted and leaned back his head, bedding it against the couch rest while stretching his legs that didn't even reach the other end. He closed his eyes just for a second, before he remembered the medicine. He gulped down the liquid, stopping halfway for a second to remind himself that his stomach was still upset, and he should probably drink a bit slower. He carefully finished it and put the empty glass on the coffee table in front of him before he leaned back again.

The world was still swirling a bit, but Nino willed himself to feel the medicine getting to work and focus on the healing process. He had no idea if that really helped, but trying to relax at least took his mind off the stress he had felt throughout the whole evening. He sighed deeply, relieved, before allowing his mind to slip away...

+

Nino had no idea how much time had passed before he opened his eyes again. Just a little bit perhaps. It was still dark outside, the dim lamp in the living room was the only source of light, and his head still felt heavy and thick, pictures blurred into Nino's tired mind, so that it was hard to tell if he was actually awake, or still half asleep. However, it wasn't a coincidence that the man had reacted to something, rather than just the strange set of noises that filled his surroundings.

Frowning, Nino closed his eyes again, trying to put the last bit of focus he could come up with on one sense – his hearing – to at least have a chance to figure out what was going on.

When Nino tried listening more closely, he figured that the noises he heard were actually voices - and they sounded like two men discussing over something. Increasing the frown between his eyebrows, Nino wondered, if he had forgotten to lock the apartment and some of Jun's friends followed him to find a place to crash for the night – which wouldn't be the first time – or if he was simply dreaming.

"Aiba, you should start speaking Japanese now," said one voice, lowered to almost a whisper. "We're here now, and we have to adapt properly."

Start speaking Japanese? Who was that person the voice was talking to, a foreigner? Well, if they were some of Jun's friends from the fashion company, that wasn't so unlikely, was it? Jun mentioned that he used to work with international colleagues from time to time. Though, "Aiba" sounded like a very Japanese name to Nino.

"And be quiet," the voice added. "There is an earthling sleeping."

Earthling?! Was that guy referring to him!? Maybe, someone was taking the costume party a bit too serious here, Nino assumed, but his eye lids were still too heavy from the sleepiness layering on top of his blurry mind, so he couldn't check if that comment was somehow related to him in particular.

"Ah, I am sorry, Sho. You sure we in right spot?" another whisper joined.

"We will still have to practice this a little bit," the other voice – Sho – replied calmly. "Well, the ship's last traceable signals were located somewhere above this area before disappearing from our screens, and Kee-ko's calculations on where it would be a safe spot to land came to this."

What kind of nonsense was that guy talking, Nino wondered. A ship? What kind of ship? The memory of Jun in his pirate costume slipped into Nino's mind, which lead his fantasy to imagine a pirate ship flowing on clouds over the top of the apartment building. As he thought – nonsense. Nino felt his mouth slightly twitching into an amused smirk before slowly, he tried to open his eyes again. He blinked a few times, trying to clear his blurry vision, lifting one tired hand to rub his eyes.

"But I can't see brother!" the second voice – Aiba –, who seemed to forget some words, if Nino heard correctly, tried to force in his whispering, before he stepped a bit forward, towards the couch, and he crouched over Nino, who froze in shock when a handsome man's head appeared in his vision and their eyes met. The stranger blinked. Nino blinked back. "This earthling not brother," Aiba then noted, pointing at Nino, slightly poking one of his cheeks. "And not sleeping!"

"Excuse me," Nino murmured, his voice slightly hoarse. "Could you please put your finger out of my face?"

"Oh, sorry," the man said, pulling back and standing up again.

"You woke him," Sho sighed, causing Nino to struggle sitting up a bit more and turning his head into the direction of the voice's source.

Again, Nino blinked, confused, when he took in the strangers' figures, who were both standing behind the couch, not too far away from him. They both were probably not that much taller or older than himself, and glancing at them from head to toes, Nino had to admit, if that Aiba guy was handsome, that Sho guy was gorgeous. What struck him strangely though, were the mismatching outfits of the two men. Shiny, silvery jumpsuits, with their sleeves and trousers rolled up, as they seemed to be a few numbers too big to fit them, which he considered strange, assuming that they were working in a clothing company, like Jun. Still, their appearance was impressive, and Nino seriously wondered, how came he didn't notice that strange couple before at the party. His lazy brain still tried to connect the dots, while Sho was rambling on in his warm but serious voice.

"However," the man said, "This spot can serve us as headquarters for our search. It’s not too tall, not too small, unimpressive and inconspicuous."

"Hey!" Nino frowned at the stranger. What a nice way to describe the unexciting and admittedly run-down apartment complex he and Jun were living in. He knew, it wasn’t fancy, but it was their precious home, so anybody who dared saying bad things about it should beware!

"Oh, he wants talk!" Aiba exclaimed, a wide happy smile on his face when he turned to Nino.

"OK, then," Sho cleared his throat and tried straightening his posture, pulling his slightly sloping shoulders up a bit, his look as serious as before. "We should try to apply our social skills to this new situation."

"Skills, sure, yeah, try," the other man nodded, turning his attention to his friend, waiting for him to start. "Sho, are you nervous?"

"He's an Earthling," Sho whispered, as if he really thought Nino who raised a questioning eyebrow at the repeated usage of that term, couldn't hear him. "It’s my first time to encounter this species, so yes, I am a little bit nervous."

"Relax," Aiba smiled.

"Will you finally tell me who you are?" Nino ended up asking, making the first step to reach out. "And how did you get in here? Did Jun give out a pair of spare keys again without consulting me?" the young man sighed.

"I am sorry for disturbulancing," the slightly taller guy said. "Name is Aiba Masaki and this is Sakurai Sho. Nice to eat you."

"What?!" Nino frowned, his look alternating between the two men, until he settled on the one called Sho. "What did he say?!"

"No worries, earthlings are not included on our menu," the man replied. "He just wanted to say it's nice to meet you."

Nino snorted. Maybe, that Aiba Masaki was a half-Japanese, half-something-else guy, he considered, bearing in mind the small linguistic misuses.

"Who are you trying to portray, some kind of alien species?" the young man then asked between two yawns.

Sho slightly tilted his head, which made him look unintentionally cute, Nino figured.

"Well, your species might see us as an alien species, indeed."

"I'm not in the mood for mind games at the moment...," Nino growled, more to himself than to the two strangers. He truly wasn't up for role playing games, now less than ever, but this was just too absurd. Maybe, he really was dreaming and mixing up bits from the party with his dreams, Nino wondered. The alcohol probably had a more confusing influence on him, as he expected. "If Jun allowed you to spend the night here, fine, but please, stop pulling me into this and just let me go back to sleep, OK?"

"Uhm.... OK," Aiba simply said.

"It wasn't our intention to make you feel uncomfortable," Sho added politely, but Nino just waved it off.

He tried pushing himself up from the couch, supporting his slightly swaying body with one hand lying on top of the back rest and shortly lifted his other hand to massage his right temple a little bit. The headache was becoming stronger again.

"Where we sleep?" Aiba asked, holding Nino back.

"You guys can figure out who's going to sleep on the couch and who's going to take the floor. There's a spare futon in the closet over there," the man pointed into said direction and then turned to leave after another big yawn.

"What a futon?" Aiba asked, but Nino was already out of the room, deciding that he could leave it to Sho to take care of the rest. He seemed a bit more capable than the other guy. Nino would deal with those strangers tomorrow when he was sober again – that was if they were still present and didn't turn out to be dream figures.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. MAY 5, 2018. 09:35 AM, JST. Ninomiya and Matsumoto Apartment +

 

Eventually, it turned out that Nino did not just dream about those strangers in the living room. When he woke up the next morning and passed the living room on the way into the kitchen to brew up some coffee, they were still there.

He stopped short, frowning at the strange way Sho was using the futon (the pillow placed on top of the blanket which was lying across the completely stiff lying man, revealing his feet) who apparently was the one who took the floor, while Aiba was draping half from the couch. Nino slightly shook his head, but ignored them and resumed his way, rubbing his forehead.

He opened the kitchen cabinet, pulling out the package of fresh coffee beans as well as his and Jun's favourite mugs. He didn't know if his friend was home yet, however, Jun also liked cold coffee, so he surely wouldn't mind. Nino hesitated for a moment, turning his head into the direction of the living room when he heard a loud snore coming from there, and then reached back to put out two more mugs before he started on measuring the coffee beans he would need for a whole pot of coffee. The coffee machine got to work – Nino cursing its loudness – and soon after, the scent of freshly brewed coffee pleasantly tickled his nostrils. He sighed, feeling comfortable, when watching the brown, magic liquid running in a thin stream from the top of the machine into the coffee pot.

When the machine had finished its job, Nino poured himself a cup of coffee, smiling at the warmth spreading from the mug between his hands, and taking in the delicious scent of the beverage. He smiled. His headache hadn't gone away completely, even if sleep had helped, but the caffeine would probably be enough to finish the task, and those strangers surely would appreciate a wake-up drink too, before Nino kicked them out.

Considering his options, bearing in mind his still a little upset stomach, Nino settled on choosing a not yet ripe banana, just so that he didn't only drink coffee for breakfast, and sat down at the small kitchen table which just held enough space for him and Jun to gather around in the mornings. He slowly started munching on the fruit and sipping his coffee, while listening to the apartment. The morning silence was only disturbed by a few snores here and there, and then, Nino could hear doors opening and closing, before the shower being turned on in the distance. Apparently, Jun had returned home last night, Nino thought, relieved. At least, he wasn't alone with those strangers anymore and could leave Jun to kick them out, as they were his friends, after all.

A few minutes later, Nino had just finished his banana, when Jun showed up in the kitchen, only wearing fresh underwear and a half-wet towel around his neck, his dark brown locks still dripping. He looked tired, which wasn't surprising, but he didn't look hangoverish. Nino couldn't help but envy his friend for that fact. He didn't even want to know how he looked like.

"Good morning," Jun chimed happily, flashing Nino a smile while reaching for his already prepared mug and the coffee pot to pour himself a drink too before joining Nino at the kitchen table. He took in the scent of coffee and took a sip, sighing contentedly. "You know, you're the best, right? Are you feeling better?"

"Better," Nino mumbled with a nod before focusing back on his own coffee.

They sat there in silence for a while, sipping their hot drinks, as they often did, before Jun finally tried to pick up the conversation again.

"By the way, who are those two guys in our living room?" he asked casually.

Nino frowned at Jun over the edge of his mug.

"I thought you left with Yuriko," Jun continued. "I mean, I'm not surprised not to find her around, but what did I miss that there are now two guys in our apartment, who I don't know?"

Nino's confused expression by now had grown into a sheer panicked face, and his heart was racing nervously in his chest as he slammed down his almost empty mug onto the kitchen table. Jun just raised his thick eyebrows at his friend, questioning, when Nino – his face pale like a ghost – leaned over the table towards him, his eyes widened in horror.

"What do you mean, you don't know them?!" Nino started, trying to keep his voice low. "I thought those are your friends and that they followed me from your party!"

Jun simply shrugged. "As I said, I don't know them."

"Oh gosh," Nino clasped his hands at the sides of his face, panic rising. "Who are those people then?! I allowed them to stay over at our place, for god's sake! They are even dressed up, how many costume parties were in the area last night?!"

"I have no idea," his friend replied.

"Considering that, you seem pretty chill about those strangers in our living room, don't you!?" Nino tried to not freak out completely. He didn't do all that well, he figured, especially when his hands started trembling and his breath started to hitch.

Jun quickly lifted his hands in a soothing gesture. "Wow, wow, and you are not chill at all right now, Nino. Calm down, OK? Breathe in, breathe out... keep going... slowly. That's it. Now... they didn't do anything strange to you, did they?"

"One of them poked my cheek last night...," Nino pouted and Jun frowned at him. He continued, "Besides that, no. They just talked a huge amount of nonsense and I sent them off to bed before I went to sleep..."

"OK, so there's no damage done," Jun summarized, nodding in understanding. "They don't seem to be dangerous people, and they simply crashed at our place. We'll wake them, and they'll explain who they are and how they got in here. And what kind of horrible costume are they wearing..."

"Seriously, that's your biggest concern about them?!"

"Sorry, matter of habit," Jun giggled before his face lightened up. "Oh, coming to think of it, they could be new interns or something... I don't know everyone in the company and I might have sent a circular mail to invite people..."

Nino sighed.

+

"Can we trust him?" Sho asked, about twenty minutes later, addressing Nino as well as Aiba, his look lingering on Jun.

"I think he look thrust worthy," Aiba immediately replied.

"Trustworthy!" Nino exclaimed, blushing embarrassed. "The word you're probably looking for is trustworthy."

Jun – by now fully dressed – burst into laughter before he turned his look at Aiba, wiggling his eyebrows at him. "You know, I probably wouldn't mind the alternative. You should get rid of that horrible jumpsuit first, though."

Nino rolled his eyes. Aiba's lips curled up into a silly smirk, and he glanced sideward at Sho, as if wanting to brag, but his friend didn't show any reaction. By now, Nino had figured that while Aiba seemed pretty carefree, and possibly with a tendency of being hyper, Sho to the contrary didn't seem big on showing emotions, and tended to be a rather serious guy. He was surprised though, that someone like him was so committed to a role-playing game, as Sho and Aiba seemed to be.

"Do you mind keeping your flirting for later, J?" Nino finally said. "And you guys, just stop fooling around and tell us already who you are and where you came from."

Sho cleared his throat. "As my companion already introduced us properly yesterday, his name is Aiba Masaki and I am Sakurai Sho."

"Right," Nino sighed. "And you are... from Jun's fashion company?" he offered with a question mark.

Even before any of the two men could reply, Jun jumped in. "To be honest, I think I would certainly remember some good-looking guys like you," the man glanced at the two strangers, a smug grin on his face and his eyes lingering a little longer on Aiba, who – again – grinned like a fool. Nino – again – rolled his eyes.

"Anyway," Nino continued. "Recollecting what they told me yesterday, they might be two lunatics, if you ask me – no offence – they claimed to be aliens."

"You called us aliens," Sho noted, directing at Nino.

"And you didn't deny it and refuse to give more information, so?" Nino gave back, challenging.

"Aliens?" Jun chuckled, deciding to pick up their role-playing game, even if just to tease Nino a little bit. When the two strangers didn't react on his question, he added, "Do you guys come from planet Mars or what?"

Aiba shook his head strongly. "No, not planet Mars. Our home planet is way farther away, it's not even located in your galaxy. Name is Ar-Rash."

"Never heard of it," Nino said, frowning as he tried to figure out to which Sci-Fi franchise Aiba might refer to. He exchanged a look with his flatmate, hoping he would be more successful. "Do you know where that comes from?"

"Excuse me," Sho chimed in, "But I doubt your species ever had any contact with one of us. According to my information, just now was the first time that our planet's name was mentioned in front of an earthling. Saying this, I hope it goes without saying that you are obliged to keep this information confidential, or we need to make sure you won't tell anyone."

Nino narrowed his eyes, considering for a short moment if he should take it as a joke or a serious threat.

"Jun, if anyone knows this strange Arash planet or how it's called, it's you." He turned to Sho and Aiba, pointing at Jun with his thumb. "He's a Treky, you know? If you're trying to fool me, he can tell."

"What's a Tracky?"Aiba frowned at Sho, who just shrugged.

"You're kidding me. The Sci-Fi TV show? Star Trek? He's an immense fan of that show – not so much of the current movies, although I have to say that I myself pretty much enjoyed them – so-"

Jun on the other hand, his cheeks slightly flushed, chuckled embarrassed. "That's too much, Nino. I'm a considerable beginner." However, he seemed to take the challenge and quickly fell in a thinking posture, as if he was actually scanning his brain for that name of the mentioned planet. To Nino's disappointment, the result was only a big frown, though. "Sorry, never heard of that…"

When Sho shrugged his sloping shoulders again and Aiba looked at Nino as if he just tried to explain astrophysics to a kindergarten child, the young man sighed. "Forget it."

They must be either stupid, or very good actors if they still tried to make fun of him. He had to admit though, that slowly but surely, he was losing patience.

"So if this isn't the name of some fictional planet –" Nino started. "Then they must be-"

"Real aliens?!" Jun concluded hastily, his eyes suddenly sparkling, Nino's "liars" getting completely drowned by his friend's enthusiasm.

"Seriously, Jun, you're too obsessed with Sci-Fi, recently, you can't be serious!" Nino directed at his friend, shocked, and definitely not in the mood for jokes.

"Calm down. Let's just assume, they are telling us the truth, for a moment," Jun said, trying to sound put together, but he wasn't able to hide his excitement from Nino. Jun cleared his throat and addressed the two strangers again. "Do you come in peace?"

Nino face palmed.

"We don't meany any harm to you," Aiba confirmed, flashing a bright smile.

"What brings you here?" Jun continued questioning.

"Searching for someone," the other man replied.

"We are searching for Aiba's brother, Ar-Rash's first crown prince," Sho offered in addition, to help clarify the matter.

"Wait, you are a prince?!" Jun burst in surprise, and Aiba nodded.

The sparkles in Jun's eyes grew with every second, exponentially to the frown between Nino's eyebrows. Those guys couldn't be serious!

"He flew away!" Aiba kept on, making an open gesture with his arms. "We need to find him! Need to take over throne together with him, or dad won't be able to retrire."

"Retire," Sho corrected.

"Retire," Aiba repeated, nodding thankfully at his companion.

"So… why did he run – I mean – fly away?" Nino threw in with a sceptically raised eyebrow, tagging along.

"He lazy," Aiba stated, rolling his eyes, as if this explained everything they needed to know.

"This is getting more and more absurd!" Nino exploded. "You show up in our living room, in the middle of the night, poke my cheek -"

"You're really salty about that, aren't you?" Jun threw in.

"I'm sorry that I'm not very comfortable with being touched by strangers!" Nino shot back, defending himself before he rumbled on, addressing Aiba and Sho. "I have no idea how you managed to get inside, unless I forgot to lock the door behind me, and now you claim to come from a faraway planet called Arse?!"

"Ar-Rash," Sho corrected, calm but determined.

"Oh please, stop being such a know-it-all, I don't care how your planet is called," Nino grumbled. "You tell us some stupid stories about runaway princes and whatnot, you must be crazy!"

"We not crazy," Aiba pouted, his cheeks puffed.

"Then prove it!" Nino demanded, finishing his speech.

+

They ended up on the rooftop, the wind was blowing, and Nino – wrapped up in his sweater – still tried to process what was going on in front of his eyes.

There was a metallic ball – a huge ball with freaking wings, in a strange way reminding Nino of a disproportionate version of the Snitch from Harry Potter – parked on top of their apartment building, in front of his very eyes, flickering into nothing and reappearing in his view, with Aiba pushing the surface of a device in his hand.

"Aiba, please stop," Sho asked his companion. Aiba played around once more, and eventually obeyed.

"This is our ship," Sho continued, directed at Nino and Jun, pointing at the huge metal ball. "What Aiba just demonstrated was the invisibility shield that we use to keep it hidden."

Nino still couldn't believe his eyes. He pitched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes, trying to come up with a reasonable explanation on just how on earth those two guys were able to trick his eyes so badly. They were crazy. Or was he the crazy one? Or, the most preferable option, perhaps, was he just still dreaming? What was in those drinks yesterday?!

"This is so cool!" Jun exclaimed, his eyes sparkling from excitement.

"This is insane!" Nino growled, a crease between his eyebrows and a disbelieving look on his face. He fell into a mumble. "This must be a joke..."

"Would be a bit too expensive for a joke, don't you think? I mean, look at this, Nino, it's a freaking spaceship!" Jun said, putting his hands on his best friend's shoulder, shaking him. Then, he turned sharply at Aiba, his eyes shooting a determined look at the supposedly alien prince. "Can I fly it?"

"NO!" Sho and Nino said in sync, immediately, leaving Aiba with his mouth open, even if Nino's voice was bordering on hysteria, while Sho sounded unexpectedly calm, considering this concerned his spaceship – in case it really was one.

Nino and Sho made eye contact, the straightforward look of the alien making Nino shy away.

"Anyway, do you need any more proof?" Sho asked, as he came closer to Nino, stopping right next to him. "We can show you a few pieces of technology inside if you want, or the stored star cards in our ship's system or you can talk to our AI system."

"AI system?!" Jun freaked out from excitement.

"Come here, come here!" Aiba, who had approached the spaceship and touched a spot on the outer shell which then opened slowly, said, waving at Jun and Nino excitedly.

Jun immediately started running towards the other man, his look resembling the one of a child, excited to try a new toy, while Nino kept standing there, looking very sceptical, until Sho gestured him to walk before him, and he carefully took a few steps closer to the strange object.

"Can we really go inside?!" Jun asked, receiving Aiba's nod as a positive reply, who reached his hand to help Jun inside. Jun gratefully grabbed it to get pulled into the ship.

When Sho offered a hand to Nino to help him climb up, the young man though refused, carefully examining the whole thing before he eventually decided to give it a try. He managed to climb inside on his own, even if it was a bit of a struggle, before he was followed by Sho. On the inside, everything looked as if it just sprang free from some new Sci-Fi movie, showing futuristic designs and countless screens, attached to the inner shell of the ship, as well as lightening up the air in turquoise, as holographs. Nino's mouth had fallen open, but unlike Jun, who immediately started asking questions about this and that, Nino wasn't able to voice a single syllable, and just kept staring, in awe. Oh yes, this was definitely too expensive to be a joke...

"Kee-ko, activate!" Aiba ordered after answering a few of Jun's questions.

There was a hum coming from the ship, before a female, somewhat artificial sounding voice echoed from the inside, talking in an unfamiliar tongue, and leaving Nino and Jun completely confused.

"Kee-ko, language setting: Earth language, modern Japanese," Sho added and shortly after, the voice returned, this time speaking in perfect Japanese.

"Welcome aboard. Greetings, Prince of Ar-Rash, and First Assistant to the royal prince."

"Don't be so formal," the prince chuckled. "For now, call us Aiba and Sho."

"Noted in my system. Welcome, strangers too," the voice directed at Nino and Jun. "May I ask for your names for easier reference?"

"These are Nino and Jun. They are our new friends," Aiba replied for them.

"Nice to meet you, Nino and Jun," the friendly voice said.

"Nice to meet you too, uhm… what was her name?" Jun asked, turned to the alien prince.

"Kee-ko."

"Or Keiko would be the Japanese equivalent," Sho contributed. "The AI system helps us to navigate through space, calculate jumps between space-time units and –" Sho said before a completely excited Jun cut his attempt for explanation.

"OK, wait! Slow! So... all the alien stuff is true?! The UFOs, the sightings? That we – here on Earth, I mean – are not alone in this universe?!" the young man almost freaked out – in a positive way. Nino on the other hand simply stood there, dumbfounded.

"In fact, there several universes," Aiba offered as a piece of knowledge.

Sho replied, "It's likely that some of the reported events were truly originating from research excursions from non-earthling species, indeed."

"So the UFO sightings, say that famous one in America, Roswell, was that you?" Jun asked.

"According to my information about the Roswell incident and the descriptions of the aliens sighted there, it sounds like a folk from one of our neighbouring planets has been responsible for that specific one," Kee-ko offered.

Jun clasped his hands in front of his mouth, marveling. "Oh my Gosh… And do those research teams really do all that probing and the experiments and –"

"Jun!" Nino finally snapped out of his rigor, his voice cracking from a trace of panic. "Don't give them any ideas, they could be dangerous!"

"Excuse me, but who allowed them to crash on our couch?" Jun gave back at his friend, raising one eyebrow.

"I thought they were your friends!" Nino almost lost his mind. He wasn't in the mood for being teased. "I blame you for all of this, just so you know!"

Jun slightly rolled his eyes. "But look, do they appear dangerous to you?"

Nino sceptically glanced around, taking in Sho with dark brown friendly eyes in his serious face, his stiff posture and his slightly sloping shoulders, and Aiba, smiling broadly at him with shining eyes, resembling a bundle of energy. While their behaviour was kind of strange, they definitely did not appear to be dangerous.

"No," Nino admitted.

"See?" Jun grinned at him, expectantly. "So, can we keep them?"

+

"OK, they can stay, but only until they found Aiba's brother!" Nino had said back up of the rooftop, arms crossed and a serious look wandering from happily cheering Jun and Aiba, to Sho, who just looked him straight into the eyes, serious as before, but with a hint of what maybe was gratefulness, until Nino slightly blushed and averted his eyes.

Back down in the apartment, they started to discuss some arrangements, like how they could make the sleeping situation a bit more comfortable (although Sho said he didn't mind using the futon on the floor while his prince took the comfier couch), or some other basic rules, until Jun dragged an enthusiastic Aiba into his bedroom, to go through his closet with him in order to find some more appropriate clothes.

Nino already had a very strong suspicion that Jun planned to turn Aiba into his new "victim" to stand as a model for his new collection, and to be completely honest, Nino didn't mind if he didn’t have to assist Jun in that, once in a while. Jun always emphasized on how much of a natural talent Nino was in modelling, and well, maybe, Nino wasn't completely crappy at it. He had to admit that some pictures Jun took for his portfolios, even Nino thought he didn't look that bad. He was quite rocking that "dreamy" look, and no matter what Jun dressed him in, he kind of looked "cute", but that was probably it. Nino knew, that he was by far not an ideal model and he seriously did not pursue that as a career anyway. He was thin, yes, but he was too small, especially for male clothes, and yes, Jun had put Nino in female clothes before, and Nino still wasn't sure if he should take that as a compliment or insult. Aiba on the other side, seemed to be perfect. He was tall, he was handsome, he had this carefree and self-confident aura that Nino completely lacked, and he would surely rock every single piece of male clothing that Jun might put him in.

"You can't wait to dress your new mannequin, right, J?" Nino joked when Jun was looking at the new flatmate with big sparkling eyes just a few minutes before, as soon as Aiba voiced his agreement on Jun's demand to change into appropriate clothes before they could leave the apartment to visit the convenience store.

"I don't mine to be man naked!" the prince said, smiling at Jun.

"Eh?" the other man chuckled, exchanging an amused look with his best friend.

Nino just bit his lips in order not to laugh out loud. After quickly getting used to Aiba's not perfect usage of Japanese, he had to admit that some of the man's phonetic accidents and misunderstandings were kind of funny – even if they could be completely embarrassing.

"He means, he doesn't mind to be your mannequin... at least I guess that's what he said, although I wouldn't guarantee..." Sho offered as a translation. Aiba giggled, sticking out his tongue cutely. "Sorry, his Japanese is not perfect yet. Even if we can learn languages quite easily, it's sadly not his forte."

Nino was about to ask how the two of them even managed to speak Japanese at all, considering that apparently, they came from such a faraway place (or maybe all of it still was a joke to begin with?) but decided to keep that topic for later.

"I have other forte!" Aiba said, his chest proudly swollen.

"Oh, I'm sure about that," Jun flashed Aiba a smug grin, and Nino would bet a fortune that at that very moment Jun was seriously considering Aiba's – accidental – statement of not minding to be a naked man, before he finally pulled him away.

As expected, it didn't take long until Nino heard Jun's ecstatic squeal from the designer's bedroom - obviously overly delighted on how amazing Aiba looked in that T-shirt from last spring's MJ - Collection, and the new cardigan Jun bought two weeks ago.

Of course, Jun promised that he would take care of Sho's outfit too, later on, but the latter didn't seem a quarter as enthusiastic and curious about earthling clothes, as Aiba, much to Jun's disappointment and Nino's amusement. He could relate to that feeling. Clothes were not everything. First and foremost, they should be comfortable. But don't you dare tell this to a designer...

Instead, Sho was now sitting there on the couch in the living room right next to Nino, stiff and still, not saying a word, and making Nino feel uncomfortable. Nino himself still had a hard time trying to grasp the situation, and he hadn't yet fully decided whether or not he truly should believe that his and Jun's temporarily new flatmates were real aliens. However, he couldn't come up with another reasonable explanation for all the things that were happening and all the things he saw and heard for the last few hours. He wasn't dreaming anymore, either – he checked by pinching his arm several times, until a bruise started to form, and Jun had to slap Nino's hand in order to keep his friend from hurting himself – and he was pretty certain, that he wasn't turning insane. OK, almost sure.

So now, he and Sho were sitting there, alone and in awkward silence. Nino didn't know what to talk about, if he even wanted to ask further questions, or what kind of talk might entertain the other man. Maybe he was lucky and Sho was just as a non-small talker as Nino and they could just keep each other company in silence. Admittedly, Nino could have retreated into his own room, but honestly, leaving someone he didn't even know for 24 hours alone in his living room did not sound like a very good idea, for several reasons. Not only because Nino had no idea what the alien would do to its new surroundings once it was not being watched. (Break things? Steal something?) But also because deep inside Nino, there was at least a sense of social obligation that told him that he probably shouldn't abandon a guest at the first possible chance.

However, right now, nature was calling and so, Nino – after clearing his dry throat – excused himself to the bathroom, only after receiving a short "OK" from Sho who continued staring into the air in front of him.

For a moment, Nino hesitated, wondering if the other was getting bored. Suddenly, he felt guilty for being such a wordless companion. Just considering that if this whole crazy story was true, and if that man really came from a planet far away from Earth... and if Nino put himself into the shoes of the stranger, wouldn't he at least have some questions? Wouldn't he be curious and want to talk to one of the inhabitants of the strange planet he landed on?

It was possible that Sho was just being polite, holding back, kind of sensing that Nino felt weird about the whole situation, or was he actually shy? Question upon question built up in Nino's head, until he decided that he should at least try reaching out a little bit and see how it would go. Lacking other good ideas, he eventually reached for one of his books that was sitting on the lower shelf of the coffee table and handed it to Sho. It was a start.

"Wait here," he said a bit awkwardly, blushing slightly at Sho's front-on questioning stare. That man had really beautiful eyes, Nino noted, and he already hated how nervous they made him. "Uhm... In case you're bored. And if you have some questions, I'll be right back and we can talk, if you want."

"Thank you," the other man replied, considering the object in his hand before looking back at Nino. "I'd appreciate that."

"OK," before leaving the room, Nino tried to force a smile, which might have gone wrong. Sho's neutral reaction didn't give any hint on that.

When the young man came back from the bathroom a few minutes later, Nino found Sho still sitting in place, just like he told him. He was still clenching the book Nino gave him, staring at it intensely, and Nino frowned a little confused. He stepped in front of the other man, watching him, and waiting for him to do something with the book, or at least say something. When Sho finally moved, the only thing he did was slowly pushing his tongue out between his lips and licking the book cover hesitantly. Nino blinked, seriously questioning himself if his brain just tricked him, but then, Sho did it again. He licked on Nino's book!

Surprised, Nino leaped forward, and quickly snatched away his book from Sho's hands, glaring at him.

"Excuse me, but what do you think you're doing to my book?!" Nino asked, directing a confused look at his guest.

Sho just looked back at him, blankly, before he started, "I just wanted to try-"

"To eat it?!" Nino snapped. "This is a book! It's for reading purposes, you know?"

A small frown formed on Sho's forehead. "I know, but I...," there was a growling sound coming from Sho's stomach.

Nino blinked once more, his eyes now glued to Sho's stomach.

"I was desperate," the alien said in a low voice.

"OK, I get it," the young human replied. "You're hungry, right? But seriously, what made you think that this-" he lifted his book again, holding it up by the not soggy edge, "-is something to eat?"

"It smells good," Sho stated simply.

Nino looked at him, dumbfounded. Well, Sho had a point. Most books smelled kind of good, even if in an odd way, and definitely not one that made Nino want to eat a book. The man sighed.

"When was the last time you ate?" he then asked Sho, whose eyes suddenly became bigger with hope.

Nino found it very cute, especially when the alien bit his lower lip, not breaking eye contact with the other man, before he finally said, "I... It's been a while since I ate, it was a long journey so-"

"You could have said something," the other man chuckled. "I guess I have to apologize, I just remembered that you and Aiba didn't even have breakfast today, right? It's my fault. I should have given you some proper food and you wouldn't need to lick my poor book...," Nino said while setting his book back down on the coffee table.

"I am sorry about your book," Sho said.

"Ah, don't worry, nothing happened," Nino waved off, flashing Sho a smile.

"So...," the alien continued, "Can I eat something else in here?"

His eyes wandered across the living room's interior, hopefully, lingering a little longer on one of Nino's house plants, an aloe vera, which technically could be eaten, but not without preparing it in a specific way.

"We keep our food in the kitchen, usually," Nino smiled at the other man. "So come on, let's get you something proper to eat, OK?"

Sho stood up from the couch, nodding heavily, and Nino couldn't help but smile again. He pointed in the direction of the kitchen, and gestured the other man to come with him, which Sho did immediately, following him like an obedient puppy.

In the kitchen, Nino rolled up his sleeves to free his arms before opening the fridge, scanning it for something he could offer his guest. While he was digging through a bunch of different vegetables, some fresh herbs, fruits, some leftovers from the past two days, and whatever else he and Jun stored in there, he could feel Sho walking up to him, coming closer. Knowing the alien so close behind him, Nino became a little nervous, and carefully glancing over his shoulder, he tried to read Sho's expression. The man's face wasn't easy to read, but his behaviour obviously showed his curiousness about the food, even if the small crease on his forehead looked kind of sceptical. While hearing the man making some interested noises, Nino began to wonder.

"Say, Sho... what kind of food do you usually have?" he slowly turned around, closing the fridge.

Sho – who was standing dangerously close to Nino, so close that Nino could almost count his eyelashes, but made no move to bring some distance between them – took a very serious thinking posture, his face growing a huge frown between his already slightly strict eyebrows, and his lower lip pushing forward, enforcing their plump look. Again, Nino realized, how cute the other man looked, even if he tried to pull his thoughts back as soon as Sho seemed ready to answer.

"If I try to translate the names of our food, I think it would sound very weird to you. I can't think of a proper equivalent in your language, so I'll spare you that," the man said, looking at Nino. "Our food looks very different from those things in there," the reached his hand and put it against the closed fridge right behind Nino, trapping the young man between himself and the appliance. Nino gulped, feeling his heart beat picking up. "But I'll gladly try everything you have to offer."

Calm down, Nino told himself. Of course, having his personal space invaded by an alien would make him feel nervous. It would make everyone feel nervous, Nino thought as he let his back slip down along the surface of the fridge in order to flee from the situation. Sho let his hand drop back down, watching Nino with expectancy. Ah sure, the alien was still hungry and wanted some food, and Nino promised to get him something.

"Hm...," Nino frowned, pacing the kitchen as he lifted his hand to slightly scratch his nose.

Doubts started coming up, especially after Sho's statement. Nino wasn't completely sure anymore, if this wouldn't actually turn into a problem. What if these aliens usually only ate some strange kind of supplement paste, like this tubed space food Nino saw on TV, and if they didn't go well with human food? But then, they wouldn't know if they didn't try, right?

"Uhm... Will a sandwich do for now or shall I make lunch already?" Nino asked, just to see Sho tilt his head in confusion.

Right, the man probably didn't even know what a sandwich was or at least didn't get what Nino implied with his question. Even if he might recognize the word – Nino had no idea how far Sho's Japanese vocabulary went – it wasn't granted that the man could actually picture what it meant. Nino glanced at the digital clock displayed on the microwave. Almost midday. Well then, lunch would be appropriate, he decided.

"How about pasta?"

"Pasta?" Sho repeated, trying to make sense of it.

"It's a dish originating from Italy," Nino started explaining. "Do you know about Italy?"

"A little bit, yes," Sho agreed. "I read some files about Earth's geography, among others some European nations. However, while I can understand political history and grasp intellectual concepts like a country's particular art, music or culture while comparing it with ours, it's hard to try recreating other senses. Like to imagine the texture of things, smells, and tastes..."

Nino nodded. "Makes sense. So, just let me tell you a bit about it, and if you don't think it sounds completely disgusting, I'll make some, OK?" When Sho simply nodded, Nino continued. "In short, pasta is noodles with sauce. There are different options, but since you're already hungry, I guess spaghetti with tomato sauce will do. It's simple, quick and delicious. Do you think you'll like that?"

Sho just continued staring at Nino, probably not understanding what he was talking about, but looking kind of curious. Nino took it as agreement.

"OK, let's give it a try then," the young man smiled. "I hope you'll like it."

+

"You are really going to cook it by yourself?" Sho asked, surprised, once Nino had gathered all the necessities for the dish he planned to make near the stove.

He had already filled a large pot with water, which he set onto the stove to let it boil. Next to it, he had collected a fresh tomato, a round white onion, some garlic, herbs, salt, olive oil, a package of tomato puree, and of course – a package of spaghetti.

"Of course, what do you expect?" Nino asked his spectator when he started to chop the onion and garlic while the water started to boil. He looked at Sho, raising his eyebrows. "How do you get your food done where you come from?"

Again, the image of tubed space food for astronauts popped up in Nino's head and he cringed when he tried to imagine the taste of that stuff. He proceed with putting the ingredients for his tomato sauce into a smaller pot one after another – first the oil to heat it up, then shortly after, he added the onions and once they were translucent , he poured in the tomato puree as well as the chopped tomatoes, and dropped in the garlic, herbs and salt to let everything cook on low heat. Once the water in the large pot was ready, he added salt, and the noodles. Sho watched every single step very closely, and in fascination.

"We have machines doing such kind of work... of course we can't really see how they actually do it, and we only see the finished product," the alien started to tell. "Cooking is a mundane everyday task that's only consuming time, after all, so we figured, it's better to leave it to machines -"

"A mundane everyday task?!" Nino, who was currently gently stirring the tomato sauce, burst out. He turned at Sho, gaping at him before he fell into a small sulk, adding in a low voice, "I kind of feel offended now..."

"Why?" Sho wondered, completely oblivious. "Did I say something wrong?"

"Well... You couldn't have known," the other man started, focusing back onto the food on the stove (not because it became hard to bear Sho's gaze, of course, just because he needed to pay attention...) "I'm a professional chef in a restaurant nearby. It's my job to do this mundane task every day."

And yes, even if on some days, Nino's job could be quite boring, cooking the same dishes over and over, spending the whole day in the kitchen, there were at least just as much days during which Nino very much enjoyed his work, and he indeed held a bit of pride in it and considered it as important.

"Oh, I see...," the alien nodded. "Well, I have to admit, watching you doing this, is indeed fascinating and not as boring as I expected it to be but still, it's time consuming, isn't it? Don't you mind it?"

Nino shook his head. "No, I don't mind it. How about you, do you think eating is a mundane everyday task too?"

Sho looked right into Nino's eyes, obviously thinking of what to reply.

"Well..." the man started. "It can't be helped, we have to eat to stay alive, but still, it doesn't matter where the food comes from and how it is made, does it?"

Nino sighed. He seemed to understand now. There were two possibilities – either, Sho wasn't that big of a glutton (strange thought, since he had classified the smell of books and an aloe vera plant as interesting), or other, the food on his home planet simply sucked. Nino probably shouldn't take it personal. However, this kind of motivated the young man even more to give his best. He tasted the sauce from the tip of his spoon and reached for some herbs to refine the mixture. Let's see, if he would be able to please that alien's tongue with his cooking and change his views on it.

The young man cleared his throat, before speaking again. "I personally think that it's important that someone – an actual person – is carrying out this task. I don't think it's mundane or low, or whatever you people might have classified it as, it demands a lot of caution, and... love."

When voicing the last word, Nino blushed slightly. It sounded weird saying cheesy stuff like that out loud, and he really wasn't used to it, however, trying to defend his job, the thing he was doing to pay his bills, and which he indeed truly loved, he wasn’t able to come up with any better word.

Nino always put a lot of heart and care into his dishes when cooking, especially when he was cooking for others. Having learned his skills and his attitude from his parents, who owned a restaurant in another part of the city, Nino's goal was it to create something that other people liked and helped them enjoy their day a little bit more than they already did. Food was important to stay alive, Sho was right when it came to that, but food was also so much more. It was something magical, something comforting, something... sensual. OK, now this was drifting off into a strange direction, Nino thought, however, his opinion stood. Cooking wasn't a mundane every day task, or at least, it shouldn't be. It was something supposed to make people stronger, and happier. It was important! And the more passion someone put into cooking, the better the result, at least that was Nino's philosophy.

"I did not mean to offend you," Sho said after a few seconds of awkward silence, while Nino was still stirring the sauce.

"Well, I will file this under cultural differences," Nino then simply replied, waving it off and trying to will away the red colour from his face. When he thought, he was ready, he turned to Sho and smiled. "Now, come and help me set up the table, it's almost done."

+

Just a little bit later, when Nino, Jun and their two strange new flatmates were sitting around the dining table in the living room, the young chef was extremely satisfied. Never before in his life had he seen someone eating a simple dish like spaghetti and tomato sauce with more zeal than what Sho was doing right now.

Especially after the conversation the two men had in the kitchen before, Nino was extremely proud of himself. OK, probably it wasn't his cooking skill or the exact recipe that made Sho almost lose himself, right now, more likely, the alien's usual food really tasted that boring. However, Sho's reaction made Nino strangely proud and happy, nevertheless. Not only, because it was the first time that he saw Sho showing any kind of emotional reaction to someone (or something), namely pure enjoyment, but also because he was really relieved that the man seemed compatible with human food and on top of that he honestly seemed to like Nino's cooking.

"Aiba, you have to try this, it's amazing!" Sho told his friend, completely excited. "I never ate something so delicious before in my entire life! I didn't even know food could be that delicious!"

"What you do to him?!" Aiba frowned at Nino, showing the most serious expression on his face that Nino had ever witnessed since he encountered the alien. "I not recognize this person, he's so... enthusiastic!"

Nino felt his mouth form into a proud smile. As it seemed, he really managed to get an obviously pretty uncommon reaction from Sho. He liked that.

"Does it really taste so different from your food?" Jun wondered, considering his fork full of delicious but not so special noodles with sauce.

"Our food tastes like nothing compared to this," Sho said nodding heavily, his mouth half full. Table manners where obviously something he still had to internalize.

Aiba agreed with a furious nod. "True, our food boring!"

"Not every food is as delicious as his, though," Jun added, pointing at Nino with a grin on his face. He was obviously proud of his best friend. "You're lucky you ended up in our apartment, guys!"

"Jun, please," Nino slightly rolled his eyes while he rolled up some noodles on his fork.

"Nino?" Sho's voice came from the other side of the table. When Nino lifted his head, the alien was holding his plate towards the other man, empty. His mouth to the contrary, was surrounded by stains of red tomato sauce. "This is truly delicious! Can I get some more, please?"

When Nino's heart made a little happy jump, the man jumped up from his seat, simultaneously. "Sure!"

"Aw, look, he's blushing, isn't that cute?" Jun said, leaned sideward to Aiba, pointing at Nino, who blushed even more.

"Stop that, Jun," he said, before he reached for Sho's plate as well as the noodle pot to arrange refills. "Eat up guys," he murmured after topping the portion with more sauce and pushing the plate back into Sho's grateful hands. He offered the small sauce pot around, in case someone else wanted more – which Aiba did.

"Truly delicious!" The prince smiled at him.

Even if he was a little embarrassed, Nino couldn't prevent himself from grinning like a happy fool. "Eat up!"

 

TBC

Chapter Text

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. MAY 8, 2018. 05:00 AM, JST. Ninomiya and Matsumoto apartment +

 

Voice-Log recording START.
Language setting: Ar-Rashian.

Current Position: Planet Earth, Japan, capital Tokyo.
Mission: Find the missing prince.

Entry No. 3, 2018-05-8 Earth Date, 05:00 AM Earth Time.

 

It's been three days since the second prince of Ar-Rash and I landed on this planet called Earth.

So far, we have not been successful in finding his older brother, the first prince, at all. Apparently, the locating system of his AI was deactivated, same goes for the prince's implanted chip. We do not know for sure if this happened on purpose or because it got damaged when the ship presumably crashed on Earth. Of course, we hope, the latter is not the case, as it might mean that he got hurt or worse.

The meteorite shower was a good thing to give the prince a cover for his escape from Ar-Rash, however, it's a dangerous thing to come into such a shower, and chances are indeed high that his ship got damaged. Since the second prince and I have been very cautious about our landing on this planet, we lost sight of the first prince's ship too early in order to locate and calculate the exact spot of his landing.

The area in which we chose to build our headquarter while spending our time on earth, is still to be further explored by us in order to find the older brother. First searches in the closest surroundings stayed unsuccessful so far.

Luckily, our hosts – Japanese earthlings Nino and Jun – have been very cooperative and are treating us nicely, although we jumped right into their home without asking for permission, which even I know is not a polite thing to do.

Besides a place to sleep, one of the earthlings – Nino – even kindly provides us with the most essential thing to guarantee us having enough energy for the continuous search – food, which is a delight, as we did not come with enough provisions to keep us energized for more than a couple of days. I admit, this is to be blamed on my inconsiderate planning before the unexpected journey.

[Personal note 1: I am strongly of the opinion that the dishes Nino cooks – by himself, by the way! – are a thousand of times more delicious than any Ar-Rashian food-machine will ever provide and I very much appreciate his talent and effort. Personal note end.]

For research purposes, since Earth-related data on food is almost non-existent in Ar-Rashian files, I take up the challenge to try gathering as much information as possible on this topic and file as many accurate information and descriptions as possible.

It is to be noted that for Earthlings, food is not solely a source of energy, even if this is still the primary function of it, but – other than on Ar-Rash – food also seems to serve as a source for enjoyment. Here, the focus does not only lie on nutrition, but also on taste. Earthlings apparently had enough time to find ways on upgrading their food with different ways of preparation, like among other cooking methods, frying or baking, and tend to refine their dishes with a variety of seasoning and herbs. Apparently, they accept that preparing food takes a lot of time and effort in order to create the level of taste they are aiming for. Some people took their skills to such a high level, that they do not only cook for their own needs, but perform on a professional level, even getting paid for it. Since this is a completely different concept to how the topic food is handled on Ar-Rash, I find this very interesting and worth filing information.

Our host Nino is one of those professionals who earn their livings by cooking food for other people. According to his information, he learned his skills at an early age from his parents, who own a restaurant (an Earthling facility focused on providing food, where people can go and order dishes from a menu) in an outer district of Japan's capital. After graduating from school, he decided to deepen his knowledge and skills on cooking and underwent several years of professional training, until he reached a level that qualified him to pursue a professional career. He is currently working as one of four chefs in a middle-sized restaurant nearby his home.

The dish Nino cooked yesterday evening, he called "Cha-Han", which is a Chinese origin rice dish adapted to Japanese tongues, seemingly varying for each family or even individual.

"Rice" is the seed of an Earthling grass species called Oryza sativa (Asian rice) or Oryza giaberrima (African rice), mostly consumed in Asian countries as popular side dish or base for various meals. The one that Nino used in his version of Cha-Han is a white form of Oryza sativa rice with the special trait of becoming soft and sticky when being cooked.

Find the complete recipe including instructions and information/pictures of all there mentioned ingredients, as well as of the finished dish, in attachment for later reference. Preserved samples of each food are stored in the space ship for further research purpose.

[Personal note 2: Both, smell and taste of the dish were fabulous, and I highly admire Nino for creating such a wonderful food. I will surely try to find a sufficient substitute for this kind of food, once I am back on Ar-Rash, although I doubt to be able to recreate the exact taste, even with the recipe I got from Nino (see picture thereof in attachment). Unfortunately, it turned out that I myself am not very capable of the task of cooking. After a first attempt, that did not go so well, I was banned from the kitchen – at least temporarily. I do not blame Nino for yelling at me. However, I hope I will get a second chance in the kitchen one day, and/or find a way to program a food-machine back on Ar-Rash to provide us with something similar to his cooking. Personal note end.]

The plan for today is to further search the area to find the first prince of Ar-Rash.

[Personal note 3: Also, hopefully we will get the chance to try out another new dish made by Nino, he said he's on early shift today at work, so he should be back for dinner... Personal note end.]

Will report again, tomorrow.

Voice-Log recording END.

+

Sho and Aiba truly had intended to search for Aiba's brother in city today, but – again – they had been way too distracted. To their defense, it was always interesting to land on a foreign planet, so a bit of exploration could not be prevented, no matter how important the initial mission was. And even if Sho quickly found quite a few similarities between his home planet and Earth, the differences were definitely overwhelming.

On the first day after the landing of the Ar-Rashians, Nino and Jun had taken a few hours from their day to guide their two new flatmates around, showing them nearby shops, in case they wanted to buy some necessities and just to find out that neither Sho nor Aiba were in the possession of Earthling money. Well, it was to be expected, since the two of them had not been prepared for a long stay on Earth, and thus had not come up with any plan to get Earthling money – Japanese Yen in this case.

Sho quickly had done some research, learning that on Earth paper money was a big thing, even if there was a digital option too. However, getting through the whole progress of opening a bank account sounded like a long and complicated process to him. Further, it seemed likely impossible for him and Aiba anyway, as they obviously lacked important documents they would need, like an Earthling ID, or any proof of Japanese citizenship and the likes.

According to Sho's opinion, the Earthling's way of handling those things was quite impracticable. On Ar-Rash, every citizen was provided with a small chip, which got implanted into their neck after birth. This chip did not only contain important information about the person wearing it, which gave it a similar function to an Earthling ID, but it also could be credited with Ar-Rashian currency to buy things and be registered to services that were charged on a regular basis. Registering the specific code of the chip or a simple scan was everything that was needed to pay and transfer money.

First, Aiba suggested that they could produce some Earthling money with the help of a system that would translate into Japanese as a "3-D printer software", however, Nino and Jun were strongly against that idea, explaining that reproducing money was considered a criminal act in their society.

In the end, the two Earthlings agreed to gather some of their own money in order to sponsor at least some toothbrushes and a few other necessary things that the two newcomers would need during their stay on Earth. (Sho made a mental note that modern Earthlings seemed to have a general sense of pride and fairness, that should not be underestimated, although his knowledge about Earthling history showed examples speaking of the contrary.)

There wasn't the need to buy clothes, as Jun was eager to lend Aiba and Sho some of his own. Nino had offered the same, but both, Sho and Aiba were a bit taller in size, so most of his things did not fit that well. The two guests were also allowed to use the other men's bathroom supplies, even if they were asked to use the products in small portions only, after Aiba had used up a whole bottle of Jun's shampoo on his first evening.

Something else that the Earthlings bought for Aiba and Sho, was a ticket for public transport within the city, so that they could freely use any means of transportation in the area, might it be the bus, the train, or the subway, by checking in and out of stations with a so-called "Suica Card".

Sho noted that the system was similar to the chips he and Aiba were wearing, however, by far not as developed. He found it a little old-fashioned, however, as planet Earth was apparently quite behind on technology compared to Ar-Rash and other planets, they had to take what they could get. Further, Aiba seemed to be very excited about the whole situation (even if he kept reminding his assistant that they weren't here as tourists), so Sho did not plan to diminish his prince's enjoyment.

As the prince and Sho had planned to go on their search for Aiba's older brother on their own this day, Sho had already looked up several maps of the area and uploading them through picture scan onto his AI-port, a small device that was functioning as a portable extension of Kee-ko, which he could carry around with him all the time. Sho recognized a similarity between this device and the things Earthlings called "smart phones". Additionally, he had memorized the maps within a few minutes, so that he and Aiba could move through the city without losing much time by asking or looking for directions. Then, they were good to go.

However, apparently, Jun, who sometimes seemed to carry out his work as a fashion designer from home, decided to take a break from drawing sketches, and offered his companionship to the two men and they gladly accepted any extra help.

"How do you even plan to find your brother?" Jun asked Aiba curiously once they stepped out of the apartment complex and started walking. "Yesterday we just walked around and completely distracted you. I guess we haven't been very helpful, sorry."

Although Sho wouldn't say that Jun and Nino were not helpful to them, what Jun said was true. Yesterday, exploring the area, the group of men had gotten lost in this shop and that store, checking out shop windows. Nino and Jun were recommending places to Aiba and Sho in which people could have fun (Nino had referred to something called a "game centre", while Jun had talked about "bars" that provided the best drinks in town). Today though, they had to take their search a bit more seriously.

"Hm... I don't really know," the prince replied, looking at Sho, searching for help. "We don't really have a strategy, do we, Sho?"

Honestly, and Sho did not like to admit it, the prince was right. They were blind. They had no idea where to start with their search and what they would find – or not – if they kept searching. They did not even have an idea on how Aiba's brother would look like. He surely would be in disguise here on Earth, too, just like they were, but Sho hoped that somehow, they would recognize one of their own species if they encountered him.

"I hoped to find some hints in the surroundings, maybe some people saw something strange, or someone strange... An Ar-Rashian here on Earth should stand out a little bit, I expected," Sho said.

However, he quickly learned that "standing out" was something that a lot of people did, especially in specific areas of this city called Tokyo. There were people dressing up in ways that stood out, compared to the norm, Jun called them "cosplayers", "lolitas", "punks" and more. While Sho had a hard time to memorize all the terms and apply them to certain styles, Aiba seemed much more interested, asking questions after questions regarding clothes and trends, much to Jun's delight, who gladly provided more insight.

Without much of a plan, the three men eventually ended up wandering aimlessly through the city again, until they reached a huge park, which radiated a strange calmness within the busy hustle and bustle of all the skyscrapers and shopping streets. Considering the character of the first prince of Ar-Rash, Sho for the first time had the feeling that this might be a place the man could be visiting, so he suggested checking it out.

"Nino could tell you more about all the flowers and trees here, he has a secret plant obsession," Jun grinned at the two men while he guided them throughout the park and tried giving them some more information on what exactly they could see here.

Actually, they did not really have the time for checking out plants anyway, Sho tried to remind himself, but he wasn't able to completely ignore his curious nature (he remembered seeing some of the flowers in files about Planet Earth, but not everything), so he stopped and took a few snapshots with his AI-port a couple of times of plants he did not recognize, in order to ask Nino about them later.

In the meantime, they had passed lots of people, obvious tourists, but also lots of families – especially mothers with their children –, often accompanied by what Sho recognized as an animal species called "domestic dogs". Sho was amazed upon how different these dogs looked from each other, wondering if they possessed a similar ability like Ar-Rashians, but he quickly learned from Aiba that their variety only came from the fact that there were lots of different breeds and cross-breeds counting towards the family of the species of the canis lupus familiaris.

As much as Sho was fascinated, he could not reach the level of Aiba's excitement when encountering those animals. The prince always had an interest on other species, especially those who used to live as either domestic companions or working animals, which was both not common on Ar-Rash, but often seen on neighbouring planets in their galaxy, and obviously also something common on Earth. If Sho had studied the files about history and politics of other planets curiously, Aiba had inquisitively studied material about animals, including dogs, who he was especially fond of, apparently.

To both – Sho and Jun's – surprise, they even found out that Aiba had learned a way of communicating with that species, starting with lowering his body height when bending down or kneeling on the ground, to be able to make eye contact with them, and finally starting to imitate their sounds ("He's barking!", Jun had called it, completely surprised). Apparently, the animals did understand Aiba's communication attempts very well, at least that's what Sho was able to discern from their behaviour.

The two men weren't the only ones fascinated by the prince's ability, the dog owners themselves were even more impressed, especially when Aiba started to tell them in his still rather broken Japanese things like "Your dog loves you much" or "He says his leg is hurt". As Aiba had gathered quite a bit of knowledge about dogs, he quickly fell into conversations here and there, exchanging some tips and gaining happy and grateful smiles, which he just as happily returned.

Aiba just had waved (and barked) good bye to a mother with her son and their family dog, before he continued walking through the park together with Sho and Jun.

"How come you can talk to dogs when you can't handle Japanese properly?" Jun marveled after he witnessed Aiba's special skill in action. He was completely dumbfounded. He turned to Sho. "Is this normal for you guys?"

Sho shook his head. "While it's not unusual that we quickly pick up language patterns with similar structure and sounds to our own, like most Earthling languages, it is uncommon to adapt to a language of a species that is categorized lower – like your animals. I cannot speak their language," Sho made clear. "But it seems to be a talent of Aiba."

Aiba smiled. "I honestly not know how I do it. Talking to dogs so much easier. They understand me!" he explained, the happy smile on his face growing even wider.

"You're really impressive," Jun complimented the prince, laughing.

"Tank you!" the other flashed another smile at him.

"However, we really should try to focus our search for your brother now," Sho added, remembering their initial plan, and earning a heavy nod from Aiba. Unfortunately, the park did not turn out as the place where they would find the missing man, so they should better move on.

"So, any further ideas?" Jun prompted, raising an eyebrow.

But instead of a reply, he received a horrendously loud grumble coming from Sho's direction that cut into their conversation. Both, Aiba and Jun looked down Sho's body, their eyes settling on the man's stomach.

"First eat something?" Aiba suggested with a grin, and Sho just nodded.

Jun grinned. He immediately knew where to go to take care of that problem.

+

"Welcome!"

Despite working clothes that consisted of a dark blue traditional Japanese styled uniform and a white hat, it didn't take Sho even a second to identify the young man who was looking up from his current task behind the counter with a friendly smile and a friendly greeting on his lips as the three men entered the restaurant. Nino, too, seemed to recognize his guests right away.

"Oh, hey guys, what are you doing here?" the young man added, surprised.

Jun quickly approached his friend, Sho and Aiba in tow.

"Hey Nino, everything good?" the man started before pointing at Sho with a grin on his face. "This gentleman here appears to be very hungry, so I figured we could pay you a visit and get some of your sushi. Aiba doesn't mind a snack either, right?"

When Jun turned to the Ar-Rashian prince, the latter flashed him his typical wide smile while nodding enthusiastically.

Sho noted that Nino's smile grew a little wider when he locked eyes with him for a second – or did he just imagine it? - before the young man averted his eyes and chuckled, amused. Sho didn't get what could be funny about the situation, and so he decided to say nothing and just wait.

"Then be my guests," Nino said.

Jun waved Aiba and Sho to step closer and the three men took place on the high stools right in front of Nino, a small row of tabletop and a glass plate separating them from the chef and the ingredients for the food he was preparing.

There was a number of small containers in front of the young man, which held different things that Sho did not all know how to name, yet, but he definitely recognized the rice which was placed in a large bowl next to Nino.

The restaurant appeared to be a so-called izakaya, as Jun explained, a traditional Japanese restaurant, and the most interesting part of it – according to Sho at least – was, that there was apparently the possibility of watching Nino from their position while he was preparing food behind a counter. Of course, Sho had to check that out – for research purposes. He had decided that it was necessary for the greater good back on his home planet, to learn more about the skill of cooking and food in general. He was indeed lucky to have chosen Nino and Jun's apartment as their headquarter. In this manner, he had the chance to witness the man cooking over and over again – at least once his kitchen ban was lifted, or like now where Nino couldn't keep Sho from watching, as he was an official guest of the facility. Sho became very excited about that, which he admitted to himself.

While a servant (or waitress, how Jun called her) greeted the three newcomers and handed them some print-outs (the infamous menus, apparently, which Sho had already learned about from Nino), Sho curiously craned his neck a little more to examine what was going on in front of Nino.

"So, that is called sushi, right?" he asked Nino, remembering what Jun had said during their entry.

Nino looked up, meeting Sho's eyes again shortly and then looked back down immediately, focusing on the plate in front of him and a large piece of something in bright orange that Sho did not recognize. He frowned slightly, but thankfully, Nino was quick to explain some details about sushi, what it was, how it was made, and Sho also learned that the orange block Nino was slicing into pieces evenly right now, was called salmon and apparently one of the most popular fish meat forms in Japan. After getting permission, Sho pulled out his AI-port, took a few snapshots and with quick finger movements took notes about a few things, while eagerly listening to what Nino could teach him about this new, interesting dish. With each piece of information, Sho felt his curiosity growing, something that he barely experienced, and exponentially, he became hungrier, until his stomach growled again, even louder than the last time, and interrupted a conversation between Aiba and Jun that he wasn’t paying attention to and only noticing now after taking in the sudden silence between the two men.

He glanced around, brushing off Nino's amused smile and Jun's raised eyebrow, before the latter reached out for the menu in front of Sho and tapped his hand against it.

"Did you choose what you want to eat? We have to place an order," Jun explained.

Sho quickly scanned the menu again, however, all the pictures and the letters depicted on it, indicating which type of sushi was suggested to go well with together, didn't matter at all. Feeling the excitement growing, he nodded, determined. Then he turned to Nino and searched for eye contact again, which he was immediately granted.

"I want to try everything, please!" Sho simply stated.

In front of him, Nino raised his eyebrows, Sho wasn't sure though if he should read the gesture as surprise or skepticism – he wasn't so good with distinguishing those human emotions yet, mostly – but the following comment from Jun made him think that he might have said something inappropriate.

"Uhm, listen Sho, I am not sure if you won't get a stomach-ache if you try everything, this is a hell lot here on the menu!" the man pointed out, and Sho felt his excitement vanishing at the outlook of missing out a chance he really, really wanted to take. But he was more or less at Jun's mercy, as he himself was not even carrying any Earthling money with him, that he would need to pay for the food he wished to have.

Sho let his look slide back to Nino, who just grinned before he voiced a suggestion. "You know what? I'll prepare you a normal portion of those types of sushi you're most curious about and for the rest, I'll make you a bento that you can take along for later. Deal?" he then quickly glanced at Jun. "And don't worry, I'll let my boss write everything down on my bill."

"Deal!" Sho replied after considering the offer for a second, before he started pointing out what looked the most interesting to him, to try those first, and Nino got to work.

The search for Aiba's brother, the intention of which Sho had started his day, was long forgotten once Sho finally tried his first set of sushi. Apparently, creating these tiny bits of rice topped or filled with meat and vegetables, were a delicate food that needed lots of care and skill to be prepared properly, and watching Nino's talented hands had Sho on edge, but now he could only think about trying those creations. He felt the inside of his mouth becoming wet at the sight of the food, wondering excitedly, if it would taste nearly as good as it looked, and his question did not stay unanswered for long as he immediately pushed the first piece of sushi into his mouth.

It was... impossible to describe.

Sho quickly decided that the sushi Nino prepared was his new favourite food, and that he definitely wanted to come back here to eat again, as soon as possible. He probably should start thinking about a possibility to gain his own Earthling money in order to have something to spend on food, instead of relying on Nino and Jun's kindness to provide him and Aiba with everything they had. Sho understood that this was and should not be taken for granted. Aiba might be a prince from a faraway planet, and he would be more than willing to pay for something this amazing, but probably, this was a topic for another day.

+

The shopping centre was crowded and loud. It was uncomfortable. A young man, looking a bit taller than he probably was with his brown hair standing on end, wearing a plain white T-Shirt, a pair of used blue jeans and a pair of sneakers was shuffling slowly through the corridors, a blend of different shops passing by as he walked. He was pressing a phone to his ear and looking around, a little lost, before he entered the next best clothing store and started to randomly brows the items closest to him, a stand of accessory. His look was brushing critically over the items, of which he had to admit that he did not know the purpose of most of them.

"Satomi, tell me again, why am I here?" he asked frowning, directing the question at the apparent receiver of his call. "It's full of people, it's too warm, it's loud, and I just want to relax... Do I have to remind you why I left home?"

"I thought you could need a proper shopping experience, now that we're here," replied a female voice from the device he was holding. "And you need more appropriate clothes."

The man looked down on himself, examining his outfit. He had grabbed those items in a shop nearby his hideout, getting them cheap for just a few bills that he had received from a kind old woman some days before, who he had encountered in the forest a few days before and who he had helped carrying wood to her house. It was a simple outfit, but it was clean and it served the purpose of not having him run around naked well enough.

"I can just stay inside all day and nobody will have a problem with which clothes I wear... or if I even do wear any," the man said with a silly grin on his face.

"I am sorry to ruin your dreams, but if you want to stay here, you will have to become a proper part of society, you have to fit in, get accustomed, and get a job, which is much easier with a proper set of clothes. The small amount of money you received from that kind lady is almost used up, so better invest what you have into something useful. This isn't just a fun holiday, is it? We're either going to do this right, or not at all. Enough with your laziness!"

"You sound more like a mother than a friend," the man pouted, reaching for a pair of sunglasses handing on a stand. "Why do these people care about clothes so much, anyway? It's enough if they are functional, isn't it?" He shifted a little until he could see in a small mirror that was stuck to one side of the small stand and checked out his appearance. "Oh!"

The pair of sunglasses sit well on his long nose; he could still see his defined slightly creased eyebrows over the upper rim of the glasses, which covered half of his slightly tanned face. The colour of the tinted glasses fit well to the colour of his skin and hair. He relaxed his expression. His well-shaped lips rounded the appearance. He hummed. Kind of, he liked what he saw.

"Do we have need for one of those?" the man quickly held the device in his hands in front of him as if showing himself to the person on the other side of the call and tried to look extra cool.

"I am not convinced that this is really useful for our purposes," sounded the voice from the device. "I rather suggest you get a few dress shirts and a nice pair of trousers. And don't forget a tie."

"I may say you are too well informed about this whole thing," the man rolled his eyes. "I don't even know what a tie is!"

"Those long colourful pieces of fabric that you tie around your neck. I thought you did some research about your new home? Customs and all."

When the man did not reply, it was clear, that his research - which he had done, occasionally – apparently had its flaws.

"Wait," the voice from the device in the man's hand said before it beeped. "I will send you a short clip for reference."

"Hm… Looks complicated. And dangerous," the man said when he glanced critically at the video that appeared on the small screen and played by itself, showing a man tying the long piece of fabric around his neck.

"Well, you have to do it right, of course. At a second thought, maybe you should not try one of those."

"Does that mean you think I can't handle it?" the man put the phone back to his ear, one of his eyebrows lifted challengingly.

"I am only concerned about your safety."

"I survived other things, as you might know!" the man countered, pride slightly showing in his tone.

He was ripping the pair of sunglasses from his eyes and pushing it back where he got it, before turning on his heel. In the process, he accidentally hit his elbow against something – no, someone – passing him.

"Oh, excuse me," he immediately murmured as the other person shortly stopped in his movement.

"No problem, I should have watched my way too," the other man immediately said, an apologetic smile on his face.

"Hold on for a second, Satomi," the other man said, the device in his hands slowly sinking a bit lower.

He took in the appearance of the stranger, letting his gaze wander all over the man. His hair was a mess of dark locks, and his eyebrows were even more defined than his. They were impressive! His long eye lashes surrounded the most beautiful brown eyes he had ever seen, and there was a small brown spot beneath the man's full reddish lips, making them look even more fascinating. Their short eye-contact broke just a second later, when the dark locked man turned back to another guy who was following him. "Come on, Aiba, I saw some really cool sweatshirts over there!"

For a moment, the man with the phone frowned at the slightly familiar sound of the name the other man had called out, but he couldn't quite make out why it sounded familiar. There was no chance that he knew anyone around here. He came from the forest in the north of the city by bus, it was his first time here, and in general, he didn't know many people besides the old woman living at the edge of the forest, maybe, if someone could even call that "knowing someone". The man had left home by choice, had left family and friends behind along with his responsibilities, to start a new life.

Still, something made him hesitate for a second, and he continued watching the scene and how another man followed the one with the dominant eyebrows, a wide smile on his face.

"Sho, you too!" Eyebrow called for a third man, who apparently belonged to the group too and was still standing at the entrance of the shop, holding two bags each in his hands, and a somewhat bored look on his face.

"I don't think I need more sweatshirts," the third man – Sho – replied.

Wait, didn't that sound a bit familiar too? Aiba? Sho? The man was sure that those could simply be common Japanese names, however, the sound reminded him strangely on the nicknames his brother and their friend were using. Could it... could it actually be? No. No, that would be just too much of a coincidence, the man thought, frowning at his own vivid imagination. Maybe he was a little paranoid...

"Just come and check them out nevertheless," Mr. Eyebrows tried to get his other friend to follow him, however, the man stayed stubborn.

"I'll wait here with the bags, just go on."

"Fine, but don't go anywhere by yourself, I don't want you to get lost. We'll hurry," the man said to his friend before he was pulled away at the hand by his other companion, who was already a step ahead of him, pointing at a display of bright coloured sweatshirts in the middle of the store with excitement.

The man with the phone drew his attention back to the conversation he had been holding, ignoring the tumult surrounding him. "Ah… yeah, what was I just saying?"

"What was that? What did just happen?"

"Nothing, I just met the most beautiful creature I've ever seen," the man replied snazzily. Not that he had planned to pay that much attention, however, the man with the impressive eyebrows surely stood out.

"Excuse me?!"

The man started laughing. "No need to get jealous, Darling."

"Oh please...," Satomi huffed. "As if!"

She was jealous, the man thought, smirking to himself, but decided to drop the topic and return to their former conversation. "So, we stopped at -"

"You claimed you can survive a tie," Satomi summarized.

"Absolutely!" the man replied, strolling further into the store, watching out for said items.

"Just don't tie yourself up by accident. Pick one you like and I'll teach you properly once you're back home in the hideout, I quick searched the internet for more specific instructions," the woman at the other end of the call said.

"Perfect, thanks, Satomi!"

"Your well-being above everything, your Highness."

"Joker," the man chuckled at the hint of sarcasm he could pick up, and then focusing on a variety of ties spread on displays in front of him. He lifted his eyebrows, slightly overwhelmed by the large choice, and in the end simply reached for a blue one, that surely would do.

When he exited the store, some new clothes in tow, that Sho guy was still standing there at the entrance of the shop, not moving at all. The man frowned a little and for a second, a familiar feeling washed over him. Something about that man, the way he stood there, the look on his face, he knew it. His thoughts drifted off to his brother and his assistant once more. No, it couldn't be, right?

Passing through the exit, suddenly, their eyes met, just for a second. Shocked, the man averted his eyes and kept walking, trying to pretend that nothing happened. No, he surely just imagined things. There was nothing to worry about.

+

"I'm home!" Nino called when he entered the apartment.

He dropped his keys in the small basket placed on top of the shoe cabinet in the entrance area, got rid of his jacket and sneakers and walked straight into the kitchen, carrying bags filled with groceries for dinner, that he placed on the kitchen counter. When he realized that he did not receive any reply (neither Jun's usually "Welcome back" yelled from the designer's room, nor an overly polite "Welcome home" by a curious Sho trying to sneak into the kitchen, accompanied by his cheerful companion Aiba, pushing him), Nino frowned.

"Hello? Anybody here?" he asked when he stepped back into the corridor, but still, there was no reply.

The young man shrugged and went back into the kitchen to unload his grocery shopping and to start preparing dinner. Honestly, he was a little surprised to be the first one, returning home. Actually, he had expected to return to a bunch of hungry mouths, asking him what he'd cook for dinner, especially after he had promised his friends during their visit in the restaurant earlier that day, that he would think about something new and exciting for the aliens to try. Especially Sho had shown immense interest in that, as always. The memory caused a happy smile to ghost over Nino's lips, until he caught himself in the act and forced it to disappear.

Well, according to their report, the men had been on their search for Aiba's brother, with which they did not seem to be very successful yet, so maybe they just forgot about time, or they actually found a trace and had to follow it. Anyway, somebody could have texted him, either Jun, or even Sho (who seemed to have managed to hack into the Japanese internet with a small device and was technically able to use it like a smart phone), Nino thought when pulling out his phone. No messages, no unanswered calls. He selected Jun's number on speed dial, just to check in.

"Hello?" It wasn't Jun's voice that replied.

"Oh, hey, Sho," Nino said, surprised. "Why are you picking up Jun's phone, where is he?"

"He and Aiba got very excited about something and they left their stuff with me... I don't really get what this is about, but I guess I am supposed to take care of it until they are finished."

Nino frowned. "Where are you?"

"A large building with different shopping facilities. In this particular one they seem to offer Earthling clothes," Sho's voice explained. "A lot of them..."

Sighing, Nino brought his free hand to his face, rubbing the inside of his eyes. "I understand," he murmured, knowing that he had lost Jun (and probably Aiba too) for at least a couple of hours. So probably, it would take quite some time until the three men would return.

"Did you find any trace of your missing prince?" Nino added.

"No…," Sho said, but for a moment, Nino thought he sounded hesitant. Did he find a clue or something? "No, not really. I think it was nothing."

"Let me guess, you guys completely forgot about your mission halfway?"

No reply. Nino chuckled softly. He seemed to have hit the nail on the head.

"Oh well, that's a pity. Anyway, I'm starting to make dinner so don't come home too late, OK? Tell that Jun," the man continued. "I'll make potato gratin. It'll take a while but still..."

"Potato gratin?" the sudden interest in Sho's voice was not to be overheard.

Nino smirked. "I'll explain to you later what exactly it is, OK?"

"OK! I will tell Jun that we have to return to your apartment as soon as possible! I'm looking forward to dinner!" Sho replied.

Nino smiled once more at the audible enthusiasm in the alien's voice, before he bid him good-bye and hung up. He couldn't help but find Sho's enthusiasm cute and even caught himself looking forward to seeing the reaction on Sho's face when he would try the actual dish. He really hoped it would be to the man's taste. Shaking his head to distract his thoughts, Nino forced himself to focus on his task.

About two hours later, Jun and the aliens returned home. The gratin Nino had prepared, was almost done, and the young man – the book he had been reading while waiting for the dish to finish cooking, resting somewhere save on the counter – was about to check on it. The cheese on top of the assembled ingredients had still not melted perfectly, when he heard the door open and Aiba calling to announce their return.

"Welcome back!" Nino yelled from the kitchen.

Just a second later, Sho entered the room with big eyes and a sincere, "Hello, Nino, it smells amazing in here!" on his lips.

Much to Sho's obvious disappointment, Nino was in the movement of pushing the casserole back into the oven to let the cheese get just a little crispier, in that very moment. He smiled at the alien, amused.

"No worries, it's almost done," Nino said, smiling even wider at the visible relief in Sho's eyes. His attention got caught by a set of four large paper bags that the other man was carrying, his surprised look growing wider when Aiba followed behind Sho with another at least four bags. "Did you guys buy the whole store or what?" the man prompted, his eyebrows raised.

While Jun – carrying even more bags – entered the kitchen too with a greeting, Sho and Aiba lifted the bags to place them on the kitchen table. One of the bags even fell down, since it did not fit on the table anymore, but Jun didn't care, just picked it up and reached inside to pull out a few clothes.

"Only half of it," Jun grinned, placing his bags underneath the table. "You should have seen the sales section, it was incredible! And before you say, anything, listen to me!" he began, lifting his hands in a defensive posture before Nino even said a single word. "As much as I like to lend my clothes to our two new friends here," he gestured at Aiba and Sho, as if Nino might have forgotten who he was talking about, "But... you know, it just did not feel right, OK? I think with my clothes, which are a bit..."

While Jun was searching for a word, Nino – his arms crossed in front of his chest – jumped in to help out, "Strange, at times?"

"Special!" Jun decided. "Let's call them special. Anyway, I figured that they do not represent everyone's style and as you know, I highly respect the personal style of people."

Nino simply pulled in his bottom lip slightly to chew on in order to not say anything and let Jun continue. He knew where this was coming from and going to, and he didn't like it, but basically, Jun was saying the truth - his truth, at least.

"I mean, look at Aiba. He's more of the casual sporty type, don't you agree?" Jun smiled, and Aiba nodded supportively. "I don't really have sporty clothes, so we needed something new, some T-Shirts, Sweatshirts and so on. And for Sho here," he turned to the other alien, "He's more the dress shirt type, not too fancy, but let's say smart casual, you'll see what I mean when we make a little catwalk show for you after dinner. Plus, we had so much fun, right?" he grinned. Sho only looked at him without any comment, but Aiba loudly confirmed how much fun he had while shopping with Jun. Nino still didn't say anything, so his friend asked, "Uhm... you can follow my reasoning?"

Nino glared at his friend, his arms still crossed, before he turned around to put the gratin out of the oven, which should be finished by now.

"Tell me, what did all of this fun cost you?" Nino challenged Jun while he pulled out some plates from the kitchen cupboard and asked Sho to put away all those bags so that they could set the table up for dinner, which the latter obeyed immediately.

"It...," Jun cleared his throat. "It was on sale."

"That's not the answer to my question, Matsumoto," Nino shot back at his friend with another glare, now holding a spatula in his hand, which made him appear a little dangerous, even if he was probably just planning to divide the food on the plates in front of him.

"Uhm... honestly... I might have you pay our rent for this month," Jun replied and if Sho had not been there to catch the plate Nino dropped at hearing that comment, things could have ended pretty ugly.

"WHAT?!"

"I'll pay you back once I get my pay check, of course, I swear!" Jun immediately set right, while Sho placed the rescued plate on the now empty kitchen table and then guided Nino, whose knees had become pudding in the meantime, to one of the stools to help him sit down.

Immediately, Nino pushed his elbows on the table, hiding his face behind his hands. "I don't even want to know the numbers anymore, Jun, I don't even want to know...," he murmured.

Not that it was a problem for Nino to jump in and pay the rent for the whole apartment by himself for a month or two. He had done so before during times when Jun had not been such a successful designer as he was now, but a quick calculation about how freaking much money Jun must have spent on clothes in order to reach this stage again, broke his heart.

Jun sat down on the stool next to Nino and tried to make him look at him.

"Listen, I... bought you a Supernatural fan-shirt," he said, offering a crooked smile when Nino put away his hands and sent him a confused, not less shocked look, despite the mention of his favourite TV series. "It looks pretty cool, black with a grey printed line art of your favourite character on it, that angel in the dirty trench coat who's in love with Dean Winchester, what's his name?"

"Oh, Jun, seriously!" Nino jumped up, heat rushing to his face as he blushed at the mention of his OTP. "As if this makes the situation any better!"

"No?" Jun asked, making puppy eyes at his best friend.

Nino groaned and aggressively grabbed two more plates before slamming them on the table (Sho had already taken one plate for himself), the pieces of gratin in the middle of the plates shaking slightly. He glared in the round, Jun looked guilty – at least –, Aiba confused, and Sho's eyes – of course – were glued on the dish in front of him.

"Now eat, and then you'll do your stupid catwalk, based on which we'll decide on a few pieces that you might keep, and the rest will be returned to the shop tomorrow!" Nino commanded while dividing forks and knives, frowning strictly at Sho, who froze in motion upon Nino's glare.

"Table manners, Sho, table manners," the young man murmured at the sight of the alien licking the fingers that he just had used to taste the gratin, clean. He looked at Nino slightly guilty, and Nino averted his eyes. He couldn't be mad at that man, he simply couldn't.

"But that's unfair!" Jun protested, returning to the clothing topic. "It's my money I spent on all the clothes! I even bought you something!"

"We both know that you have a serious shopping obsession when it comes to fashion, Jun, and no, the fact that half of the clothes you bought are for Aiba and Sho or even me, does not make it better!" Nino continued.

Jun gaped at him before he pulled a pout at him. "Then I'll bring back your Supernatural shirt too!"

"No no no," Nino immediately said. "Nobody touches Castiel. I'll pay for it, then," he set straight, and Jun couldn't help but smirk.

"Now, who's the one with an obsession here?"

Once again, Nino glared at his friend. Good that he didn't have any supernatural powers.

+

Nino did not want to admit it, but Jun had been right. Sho absolutely was the type for smart casual fashion. Wearing those chic blue jeans with different coloured but not too flashy dress shirts and on top various blazers, really suited him. Also, Nino couldn't help but notice that Jun had unbuttoned the last two buttons on top for Sho, which caused the alien to show a little more skin than Nino was used to see him do in the plain shirts and pullovers he had picked from Jun's spare clothes wardrobe section for the last few days. Yes... all those new outfits looked good on Sho. Or rather, Sho looked good in everything, and it would indeed be a hard choice on which pieces of clothing would be allowed to stay and which had to go back.

Jun killed Nino when he gave Sho a pair of trendy non-prescribed glasses with thick black frames, to round off the appearance and making Sho look not only more intelligent, but even a little nerdy. Nino knew exactly, that Jun was aware that Nino liked this look, and therefore, Nino wanted to slap his friend on the head. But if he didn't, despite Jun's triumphant grin that he sent towards Nino when he saw the other blushing at the sight of nerdy Sho.

This, followed by an overly happy Aiba dancing down the imaginary catwalk in front of them in order to present his new sets of bright and colourful clothes, made Nino give up eventually. Bursting into laughter, he told the three men that they should keep what they want, and took the T-shirt Jun bought for him – now insisting on Jun paying for it, though, as punishment, so to say. Jun didn't mind, Aiba cheered, and Nino – after accidentally locking eyes with Sho, who was still wearing the pair of glasses and looked simply gorgeous – blushed. He probably really wouldn't mind, seeing Sho wearing such an outfit more often, he thought to himself.

TBC