Actions

Work Header

My Heart in Your Orbit

Chapter Text

+ 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

Chapter Text

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. MAY 12, 2018. 05:00 AM, JST. Ninomiya and Matsumoto apartment +

 

Although it was still early in the morning, Sho couldn't sleep. It was not the fault of Aiba's snoring coming from the couch, but rather because everything Sho could think about these days, was Nino. And because his stomach was growling, as he was hungry. Like always.

It wasn't something special, to be hungry, at least, for Sho it had never been, back on Ar-Rash. It never was a big deal. He simply would grab some nutrition bars from a food machine and eat it without much thinking, without much enjoying, just because it did the job to kill his hunger and provide his body and brain with the energy it needed. But ever since Sho landed on planet Earth, things had become different. Eating had become a big deal.

He had experienced such fantastic tastes, something the food on his home planet had never delivered. He had become kind of addicted to all these new and exciting things, making it a very serious mission to gather every information possible, and to try as much different food as he could. Yes, ever since Sho tasted Nino's cooking on their first day, food had become more than just a necessity. It had become something Sho was looking forward to, every single day. Just like he was looking forward to seeing Nino and spending time with him.

Perhaps, there was a connection, Sho thought. After all, Nino was the one providing him with all this incredibly delicious meals, and maybe, that really was the reason why Sho was happy to see Nino. However, he quickly noticed that he was not only happy to see Nino when the young man was about to cook something for him, but also when he saw him in general and there was no food involved, like when they sat in the living room together, Nino telling Sho things about life on Earth, or when they were just hanging out with each other.

All this started to manifest in a form that Sho had never experienced before, thus, the confusion, perhaps. But with each day passing, Sho's suspicion about what was going on, became more and more clear. He was developing a specific liking for Nino. Or something of that sort. Which was rare for Sho, to be honest, and so, even more special.

It wasn't like Sho was a complete stranger to liking someone. There was Aiba, of course, but that was a whole different case compared to the one involving Nino. Sho's relationship with the second prince of Ar-Rash was rather the kind of connection between two men who grew up like brothers and friends, like they did ever since Sho entered the royal court. From an early age, it had been his primary task to take care of the prince as his assistant and playmate. He also was on good terms with Aiba's brother, even if the older prince was more of a loner and mostly didn't want to accompany the two younger men, so it was probably just a natural conclusion that Sho and Aiba would develop a deeper companionship over the years that followed.

Moreover, Sho's connection to Aiba was probably the only one the man could remember as one he would categorize as affection. With the king and queen, he did not have any deep emotional connection as they pretty much treated him like a servant, which he technically was, even if back then, a boy at his age might have needed guidance of parents more than anything. With his own, physical parents – since he never saw them again after coming to the court – Sho wasn't connected either, memories faded. The concept of affection, or going deeper, love, which was rare, but theoretically not non-existed on Ar-Rash too, was something Sho was not very familiar with.

It was common practice, that on Ar-Rash, people used to connect or be connected in ways that were rather practicable than based on their own choice or feelings. Strong feelings were not meant to be displayed as the primary motivation of people's doing. One didn't often have the chance to choose, not the people they worked with, not the people they would socialize with (if there was even time for that), not even the people they would marry and build a family with.

Usually, almost everything that an Ar-Rashian would be able to expect from their life, was decided at a very early age. Due to the advanced technology on their home planet, Ar-Rashians were able to test genetic information and sort their people into categories of jobs they might fit in, as well as assign them to people they would make good DNA-matches with. While friendship was culturally accepted, even if in most cases still underdeveloped compared to its presence on planets like Earth, as Sho had to learn, love, was not. It existed, but rather as an exception from the norm and nothing people were supposed to yearn for. Instead, it was something for sentimental folks like the Earthlings with no advantage for the greater mean, only taught briefly in the curriculum as part of interspecies studies.

Anyway, people were aware of the concept and secretly, these ideals borrowed from that tiny blue-green planet called Earth, from galaxies far away, had set themselves into the heads of some Ar-Rashians too, made them want to dream, and to experience those emotions, even if this opinion was not very welcomed, and mostly kept secret.

Sho had not been too surprised when Aiba some years ago confessed to him that if he ever needed to marry someone, he wanted to marry a person he was in love with and not someone who was going to be assigned to him by some stupid software. After Aiba's parents turned their son's feelings on this issue down completely, Sho had just nodded, pretending that he understood Aiba's longing, even if he did not. At least, not at that point. Further, he was advised by the king and queen, not to encourage the crown prince to dream nonsense like that, and to ignore his talks about that issue, so after that, Sho tried to avoid any conversation surrounding that topic.

According to the royal family, if Aiba wanted to be a good ruler one day, he should rather focus on how to make the best out of the planet for his folk's sake, than having his head in the clouds and his heart in dreams that were not meant to become true.

Much to the disappointment of the king and queen, Aiba had always been a bit different from other Ar-Rashians, though, and same went for his brother, even if for different reasons. While Aiba's rather atypical soft personality, his open mind and his loving traits had quickly been filed as flaws, his brother tended to be much more pragmatic, however, his interest in becoming a ruler one day was practically non-existent.

"Why am I even supposed to become a leader if my talents and interests obviously do not fit the profile?" Aiba's brother had said just a few days before his escape from the planet.

He had a point, Sho had to admit. If there wasn't the lineage from the royal family, the princes would probably both have ended up somewhere completely different, in fields that matched their desires and potential more than the crown. But even with all modern technology, royal was royal, and the princes would have to learn how to fit in their roles.

Knowing that the situation was not perfect, the king and queen wanted their children to become rulers together in the future, making up for each other's flaws and using their strengths combined as a team. Sho, known as an intelligent young man with the desire to obtain as much knowledge as possible and an actual interest and talent in politics, was supposed to stand in the back as their confidant, be their voice of reason, help them and motivate them. It wasn't a coincidence that he had ended up in the royal palace, he had been sorted there for this purpose, after all. He was there to make up for what the princes lacked, and Sho even used to feel proud for his purpose.

Slowly, but surely, though, Sho started to wonder, if there wasn't more to the princes' flaws, like Aiba's way of seeing things, his longing for dreams, and for romance. Especially, since the young prince recently confessed to Sho, that he thought he was falling in love with Jun, Sho had become curious about the whole topic too. So he had started to do a bit more in-depth research, browsing the databases accessible through his AI-port for files with the keyword "love" in particular (mostly research material from planet Earth directly, as Kee-ko has connected to the biggest database available on this planet, called "the internet"), in order to gain a better understanding for it. Actually, he learned quite a bit of theory regarding the topic of love this way, even if he himself had no experience on that emotional concept yet, at least not before coming to this planet. Their landing here had changed everything, though and the more Sho learned, the more he wondered. Maybe, he should give those emotions a chance too?

One sentence in particular had stood out to Sho during his research. The saying read "The way to a man's heart goes through his stomach", which sounded gross if taken literally, however, reading it with various contextual examples quickly showed Sho what this saying really meant.

It referred to the possibility, that the task of cooking could gain a special meaning if done for someone the one carrying out the task held special feelings for. Those feelings became the motivation of being extra careful and putting extra effort into the task, "putting one's love and soul into making something". On the recipient's end, there were also very important factors. The feeling of gratefulness towards the other person, and the positive effect of a delicious meal onto the well-being, which would lead to satisfaction and joy, all feelings that could enforce an already present affection, and strengthen a bond between two people on emotional basis, especially if the meal was consumed together. (Earthlings were quite strange with their rituals surrounding food, Sho found, but he also found, that he personally very much liked them and got quickly used to joint breakfast or dinner with Nino and the others.)

Maybe the saying did not fit to Sho's situation with Nino exactly, as Sho was not able to read Nino's mind, but after a couple of days of self-reflection, he found it strangely fit to his own situation in respect to the position of the food's recipient. He was aware of the fact, that Nino was most likely not cooking for him specifically in a different way he was cooking for others, the man was a professional in this field after all and did it for a living. However, Sho could not deny the effect all this had on his end. The gratefulness he had developed for Nino had exceeded any type of gratefulness he had experienced before. He also had to admit that the delicious taste of all the meals Nino prepared, had not only triggered a positive feeling towards food in the Ar-Rashian, but that he had quickly proceeded to experience those positive feelings also – especially, even – towards the young man. Up to the point, at which Sho selfishly started to wish, Nino would cook for him only, with specific feelings in mind.

Sho soon realized that with the growing affection towards the man, his interest in him started to broaden far over the lines of "what might he be cooking next for me". His interest in Nino himself, the man's own preferences when it came to food, curiosity about his personality, about his past and present, his interests and hobbies, had become something that was dominating Sho's thoughts more and more. In the end, he had to admit, that – using his superb cooking skills as a way to enter Sho's heart – Nino had long arrived in areas of Sho's emotional space that no one had ever touched before. No matter what Nino's intention was, if he even had any intention at all, for Sho, the connection to this young talented man felt very special and important.

So far, Sho had not spoken with Aiba about this, but he was convinced, if he told his friend about his recent thoughts and feelings, the prince would tell him too, that it was clear – Sho was falling in love with Nino. And perhaps, Aiba would be right.

In the beginning, rationality, something that had always been very present within Sho's mind, had tried to convince Sho to step away from the issue. There were countless reasons, why it was not exactly a good idea to give in to such feelings. First, Sho's determined plan for his life did not include him falling in love with someone, especially not someone from a different galaxy, as this might cause various problems which were yet to discover in detail. His plan told that he would assist the royal family with all his might, to find the best way to rule their planet together with Aiba and his brother, and he better should focus on his job than anything else. Second, Sho had no experience in this field, at all, and third and most important, if Nino did not answer Sho's feelings, everything would go to nothing, anyway.

However, it was tempting to give in to all those newfound feelings, Sho thought. At least, it was rather rational to try this whole thing as long as he was away from home, in order to gain experience and file it as inter cultural studies. Love – according to what Sho had learned about it so far, especially with the newfound material from Earth – seemed to be a largely positive thing to discover, so it probably wouldn't hurt to broaden his horizon and enable him to become a person with a larger variety of social and cultural insight to draw from in the future. And since he had even been lucky enough to find someone who boosted his interest in going deeper with this complicated but fascinating mixture of feelings, Sho did not see any reason why to hold back and was motivated to explore the topic of "love" further. He knew, that affection was essential in this regard, so it would be impossible to just pick some random person for this, but since Sho liked and respected Nino so much, he seemed like the perfect choice.

Sure, there was no guarantee, that Nino would join Sho in this experience. The Ar-Rashian knew that, and of course, he did not plan to force himself on the young man in any way. However, he started to consider that he might at least try to get closer to him, and see if the interest would be reciprocal, or if Nino at least would be willing in helping Sho gain experience in all this. Against all odds, Nino had accepted Aiba and Sho in his home, even if he had felt uncomfortable with it at first, and Nino had introduced Sho to the beauty of Earth's food. That man had made him smile, something that Sho had not done that often in his life yet, simply because he tended to be on the lower side of experiencing positive emotions and did not easily get excited – in contrary to Aiba for example. But with Nino, things were different. And maybe, chances weren't so bad.

+

Nino looked cute when he was sleeping, Sho realised, taking note that this perception might not be just a simple fact, but also evidence for his developing feelings for the young man. He had decided to pay close attention towards any shift of his feelings, any new sensation, might they be interesting and unsettling at the same time, so different from what he had been before. It was fascinating, and Sho wondered, where all this would take him, eventually.

Right now, it had literally taken him into Nino's room, which he had entered a bit precautious upon knocking at the wooden door, but not receiving any reply from the inside. Thus, the man had let himself in, noting that this was the first time he saw Nino's room, which made him very curious, but right now, he had other things in mind than looking through Nino's personal stuff (not that he planned to do so without asking for permission, anyway).

"Nino?" Sho asked, his voice low, when he approached the bed the other man was sleeping in, peacefully.

The man's body was spread out over the whole width of the bed, bedsheets askew and exposing his upper body as well as parts of his legs. He was wearing the new shirt Jun had bought him the other day as pajamas, apparently, the grim looking face of a fictional character named Castiel over his chest (yes, Sho had done a little research last night) in contrast to Nino's relaxed face. The shirt had slipped up a bit, revealing some skin, and Sho wondered if he didn't feel cold, only half covered by the blanket. The young man's hair was a black mess.

Nino didn't move, and so Sho sat down on the man's bed and took the chance to simply watch the sleeping man, studying his features and taking note of every single one of it – the smooth skin, the cute small nose, the short straight eyelashes, the tousled black hair... his beautiful lips... Sho swallowed when he noticed that his throat had become dry upon watching the young man's face so closely. Yes, Nino was definitely a person who Sho would classify as cute, which in his mind equated to beautiful. Adorable. Desirable, if he wanted to take it further. Which, eventually, he probably did.

Sho became slightly nervous, something he did not experience often, which just might show how important all this was to him. How important Nino has already become despite the short amount of time they knew each other.

He didn't even realize it when he reached out to brush his fingers softly over Nino's cheek, but apparently, this was enough to pull Nino out of his sleep, as he first shifted, surprised at the touch, and then slowly opened his eyes, sighing relieved at the realization who was there with him. At least, Sho concluded that Nino was probably more delighted to see him in his room instead of... a burglar or something, maybe.

"Sho?" Nino asked a bit confused, trying to sit up after a few seconds and lifting his hand to rub his face. His voice sounded rougher than usual, Sho noticed. He also noticed that he liked that. "What are you doing in my room?"

"I apologize for surprising you," Sho replied, his hand long pulled back.

"Well, it's OK. But why are you... is everything OK?" Nino sounded worried, and when taken in context that worry, the social subtext, often implied affection, Sho wondered if he could take this as a hint thereof.

"Everything is OK," Sho nodded. He was about to say something along the line that he just wanted to talk a bit with the other man but started wondering if it was appropriate the second he parted his lips, so he shut up. Maybe it had not been such a great idea to wake Nino up.

"Good," Nino replied, yawning.

"Except, that I'm hungry," Sho added after a second of thinking. Maybe, that sounded a little more appropriate than "I woke you up because I missed talking to you"? Sho wasn't so sure. He still had to get used to those feelings he experienced, these new desires. He didn't quite know yet, how to handle them properly without appearing like a complete fool. However, at least asking for food was something he did quite often, so Nino wouldn't be so surprised about it, so he decided to use that as an excuse. "Can you help me out, please?"

Nino stared at the other man for a few seconds before he reached to his nightstand and turned the device standing there, checking the time. Another sigh, even if this time it sounded rather unnerved than relieved, as Sho noticed. The other man's reaction made Sho's feelings shifting a little more to the unpleasant nervous side of things. Did he do something wrong already?

"Sho, listen," the other man started. He pointed at the digital clock in his hand. "It's 5:30 in the morning and I have the late shift today, so I planned to sleep in as long as I can... Go make yourself a sandwich, will you?"

"I'm still not allowed to use the kitchen," Sho replied drily. "So I wanted to ask if you could kindly prepare something for me instead."

Nino pinched the bridge of his nose. "Ah yes... I remember. Well, you know what? I allow you to use the kitchen for making yourself breakfast. Just make yourself a simple sandwich, that should be safe. Do you think you can do that?"

Sho shrugged. "I think I can try."

"Good," a cute sleepy smile formed on Nino's face before the young man pulled his blanket up to his chin and let himself drop back onto the bed. He yawned again, before closing his eyes again. "Then see you later..."

+

In the end, however, it didn't take long until Nino came running into the kitchen.

"Sho! What are you doing, what's that smell and what was that noise? Are you hurt?!"

"Oh, Nino, I did not intend to wake you up again," Sho replied when he lifted his head from his crouching position on the floor. "I am trying to make a sandwich, like you said. In the process I broke a plate, for which I apologize. I'm about to clean up."

"Watch out you don't get cut," Nino mumbled as he carefully stepped around the other man and the countless pieces of the shattered plate, to come rescue the situation on the stove instead. "And you probably should not leave your food unattended here, look what you did to it..."

Sho stood up, putting a handful of shards on the kitchen counter and turned to Nino, who had already turned off the heat and pulled away the smoking frying pan Sho had been using with his sandwich in it – or what was supposed to be a sandwich – from the still heated hotplate. A skeptic frown appeared on Nino's face as he tried to identify the mess of ingredients that Sho had put together, checking if something that was not completely burned yet could still be saved. It was a hopeless case, unfortunately.

"I did nothing to it," Sho explained as he stepped right next to Nino.

"That's the point," the other man said. "You are supposed to make a grilled sandwich on medium heat and turn it regularly so that it doesn't get stuck, and the most important thing is to get it out of the pan before it turns to ashes. Apparently, you did not even use any butter or oil, no wonder everything stuck to the pan and got burned. I guess there was cheese?"

"I intended to make a tomato – cheese sandwich with a few more ingredients," Sho confirmed.

A second later, Aiba pushed his head into the kitchen, looking curious and critical at the same time. Apparently, Nino was not the only one who was woken by Sho's kitchen experiments.

"Good morning, what strange smell?" the alien prince asked.

"Your assistant here almost set my kitchen on fire," Nino explained.

"Again?" Aiba raised his eyebrow at his friend.

"Again!" Nino nodded.

Aiba sighed, looking at Sho who just stood there, slouched position and feeling slightly guilty.

"You trying to do Earthling stuff, nice, but burn kitchen is no good," Aiba said, coming around to witness the failed experiment.

Sho lowered his head. "I know. I apologize."

Upon giving the remains of Sho's breakfast attempt one last check, Nino sighed deeply and then turned to the trash bin to get rid of everything before he cleaned the pan.

"Well, it can't be helped," Nino concluded. "I guess, I have to make a new sandwich for you."

"That's very kind!" Sho replied, excited.

"I fear, it's necessary to prevent you from starving for real...," the other man gave him a tired look. "Aiba, you want one too?"

The prince of Ar-Rash nodded excitedly before Nino sent him out of the room to go and ask Jun if he wanted to join breakfast as well. Then, Nino reached for a small empty bag from one of the kitchen drawers, put in the shards Sho had picked up, and grabbing a dustpan, crouched to the floor to check if there was anything left that needed to get disposed. When he had put everything away, he turned to Sho again.

"You sure you didn't get hurt?" he asked concerned, reaching for Sho's hands to check them.

Sho pulled in the air between his lips upon the touch, holding his breath. He was not injured, but the sensation of Nino's small warm hands on top of his, made his heart stumble a little. A simple sign of nervousness, he tried to remind himself, just a side effect of feeling affectionate towards someone... He swallowed. He still had to get used to this.

"OK, seems like everything's fine," Nino gave Sho a relieved smile, before his expression turned serious again. "I'm reinstating the kitchen ban! At least... don't use the stove. Or the oven or any other electronic devices or stuff that can cause a fire, OK? You can also make a sandwich without toasting and grilling, you know? Even cold, if you choose fitting ingredients it can be really delicious too, I'll show you later on."

"Thank you," Sho replied.

"You can help me assemble the sandwiches, if you like?" Nino then offered while grabbing some fresh slices of bread and heading to the fringe. "Just leave the grilling to me, OK?"

Sho nodded, relieved that Nino did not seem to be too angry with him. Maybe, he was just too tired to make an effort to scold the other man, but Sho appreciated it, and was eager to help and make up for his mistake.

"I heard something about burnt sandwiches?" Jun stepped into the kitchen, yawning and stretching his arms. He frowned shortly – perhaps at the still slightly burnt smell in the kitchen but dismissed it once he saw Nino and Sho preparing new food. "Shall I make coffee?"

"Gosh yes please, that's the best idea I heard today so far," Nino chuckled.

Seeing the appreciating look on Nino's face, Sho noted that he should probably learn how to make coffee, too, but for now, he focused on assisting his friend in assembling the sandwiches. Soon, the smell of freshly brewed coffee and melted cheese filled the kitchen, and hearing his stomach growling, Sho only realized now within the whole tumult that he was indeed hungry. Aiba had already set up the table, while Jun was now serving the coffee and Nino divided the deliciously smelling grilled sandwiches on four plates. He handed one to each of his friends as they all settled down around the small table.

"Thank you, Nino!" Sho said, searching for the man's eyes. "Your cooking is the best!"

There was a smile on Nino's face, making him even more beautiful as he already appeared towards Sho, and Sho couldn't help but feel his own lips shape into sort of a smile, automatically.

"Don't mention it," the young man replied, picking up his own sandwich and starting to busy himself with eating, but the smile in his eyes did not vanish.

Nino did not only look cute while sleeping, or cooking, Sho realized. He also looked cute when serving his dishes to hungry people and especially, when people thanked him for his effort or complimented the outcome of his hard work. Sho swore to himself that he would never forget that. Seeing Nino smile, made Sho want to smile, too, and triggered him to feel all warm and cozy. He really started to like this newfound sensation.

 

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. MAY 16, 2018. 6:40 AM, JST. Ninomiya and Matsumoto apartment. +

 

Time went by pretty fast, and even if Aiba and Sho didn't seem to be very successful with the search for Aiba's brother, they seemed to have settled pretty well on Earth, Nino thought. Apparently, the aliens were capable of adapting quite well to their new surroundings – even if Aiba still had some language issues, but it was getting better – and so it wasn't too much of a surprise that one day, Jun came up with an idea. A great one, if anybody asked him, a questionable one if anybody asked Nino.

"Come on, Nino, it's been over a week now that they moved in-" moved in, Jun said, as if this had become something permanent, "Don't you think it's finally time for a house warming party for them? On Saturday? Aiba thinks it's a great idea!"

Of course, Aiba would think it's a great idea, Nino thought, rolling his eyes. He wasn't the slightest surprised. It was clear that with his cheerful and open personality (apparently, he was even able to communicate with dogs, which Nino had not witnessed himself yet, but didn't even doubt for a second), Aiba shared quite some traits with Jun, and so Jun surely only needed to suggest the word party, and the prince was on board.

Nino didn't even make the effort of starting to list all the reasons, why this could actually be a bad idea, like the fact that the aliens did not officially move in with him and Jun (Nino assumed that Jun saw this as questionable anyway) or that they did not really need to make acquaintance with other people. That it was even rather dangerous for them to get into contact with others, since their camouflage could come down. But Jun (and Aiba) surely would have enough contra arguments against Nino's worries and so, he decided that struggling wasn't worth it.

"Whatever," he gave in – even too quickly for Jun, as his best friend's surprised face showed –, "But we need to make sure that those two are not going to jump around and tell everybody that they are aliens!"

"Hah! Nobody would believe them anyway," Jun chuckled, making a dismissing gesture with his hand and rolling his eyes.

Nino looked at him critically. "We believe them, apparently."

"Well... OK, OK. I'll tell them to be cautious and secretive, like they have been so far. No problem," Jun promised after a moment of consideration.

"And please, don't invite your whole company, we don't have that much space in our apartment and I don't want to cook for an army," Nino added, knowing his friend just too well and hoping that this would keep the circle a bit smaller than usual when it came to Jun's parties.

 

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. MAY 19, 2018. Evening. Ninomiya and Matsumoto apartment complex. +

 

To Nino's displeasure, Jun had solved the space problem by relocating his planned welcome party for Sho and Aiba from their apartment to the rooftop of the building. Like this, there was no reason why he couldn't add a few more people to the guest list, he had said to Nino, who had just rolled his eyes and let his friend do as he pleased. Instead of starting a fight, he had taken it upon himself to make sure with Aiba and Sho once more, that the two of them wouldn't spill the beans on their true origin, no matter what people would ask or say.

As always, Nino was absolutely not in the mood for partying, but since he would have the late shift at the restaurant on the next day, he didn't even have a good excuse not to participate or to leave early. If he didn't want to leave town, there was no escape. Well, probably it wasn't that bad if at least someone would have an eye on the aliens during the party.

Further, Nino worried a bit about Sho, who seemed not to be as much of a party person either, compared to Aiba and Jun – and kind of felt responsible to keep him company. He also might have to pay a bit attention that Sho wouldn't eat the whole buffet and get a bad stomach-ache from that. The alien had developed such a deep love for food over the last two weeks that he mostly tended to overeat. Nino was surprised, that this did not show at all, as Sho didn't seem to gain a single gram, but then, he wasn't familiar with the true physics of those aliens and had no idea how their metabolism worked. Still, even they could feel sick when eating too much, and it had not been a pleasant view to see Sho with a stomach-ache a few days ago.

Jun was well prepared for the party, currently setting up a last few details on the rooftop and checking the music boxes that were placed in each corner of the rooftop, to make sure everything would work. The day before, he even had dragged a very uncomfortable feeling Nino with him to go from door to door and apologize in advance to their neighbours that it might get a bit loud Saturday night, offering them some sweets as excuse, and inviting them to join them, if they felt like it.

The party scenery consisted of a bunch of high tables (wherever Jun might have gotten them from), a huge buffet providing drinks and finger food (which was half bought, half prepared by Nino) and... the alien's spaceship. The metallic, round object had been made visible to everybody's eyes, the side door opened, as if to invite everyone in, and the whole thing blazoned with countless fairy light strings, which were wrapped around the object and spread to both sides of the scenery, surrounding the party area.

"Isn't it dangerous to make the ship visible?" Nino asked, a crease between his eyebrows and his arms crossed in front of his chest while watching the object in worry. "What shall everybody think about that?"

"Isn't it more dangerous to keep is invisible and risk that people bump into it all the time and get injured?" Jun gave back, raising his thick eyebrows. Well...

"You could have chosen a completely other location for the party then," Nino suggested, knowing well that everything was too late now, anyway.

"Then nobody would be able to see that awesome spaceship!" his best friend hissed, his lips spreading into a grin, not able to hide his excitement any longer.

Nino sighed in resignation. Once more, he gave up. He didn't stand a chance against party king Matsumoto Jun and he did not even have the energy to try doing so.

"Come on, Nino, chill out and smile!" Jun exclaimed, putting his hands on his friend's shoulders. "Nobody will believe that it is an actual spaceship, anyway. We'll just sell it to them as some kind of dummy that I'm using for a photoshoot for my new collection."

Nino raised a sceptical eyebrow. "You actually plan to use it as that too, right?"

Jun pulled in his lips before forming them into a pout, averting his eyes. "Aiba said it's OK... I mean, he is the prince. His words are our demand!"

"They are not, this here is still our planet, just in case you missed that," Nino said. "He might be a prince elsewhere, but here he has to obey to our rules, also for his own safety! I bet it was your idea, anyway. Don't lie to me!"

"Maybe...," Jun mumbled.

"You can be so manipulative, sometimes, really!" Nino said, the frown on his face growing. "This is risky. I don't feel good about it... what if something happens? To them? To us?"

"You are so not fun, Nino," Jun flashed his friend a smile. "You're over thinking everything again. We'll be careful, OK? Now come on, the party will be awesome!"

"You will be the one cleaning up the mess afterwards. So at least don't get drunk to the point of falling sick and leaving all that crap to me again, OK?" Nino concluded, and Jun nodded heavily.

"Don't worry, I'll take care of everything!"

+

As expected, it wasn't only Nino who found the idea not as great as Jun and Aiba obviously did. That's how a few hours later, once the party had already started, he found Sho standing near the edge of the roof top, looking down on the puzzle of lights through the roof top's security fence. So far, Sho had pretty much held back from all the business and Nino couldn't help but smirk. At least, he wasn't the only killjoy at the party.

Music was blasting in the air, and the fairy lights all over the place lightened up the night that had started falling over the city. Numerous voices by Jun's happy and well entertained friends could be heard from all around, Jun's and Aiba's voices especially prominent.

Sho looked kind of out of place here, just like Nino, and so, he instantly felt that there was a connection between him and the alien, as strange as it sounded. In fact, over the past two weeks, Nino had found several things that linked him and Sho. First and foremost, they both seemed to be the cautious type of person – the complete contrast to Jun and Aiba, who tended to be pretty carefree, cheerful characters.

He and Sho, though, they were the reasonable ones, trying to keep everything in order. They were quiet and did not need much talking, but if they spoke, it tended to be an interesting exchange of thoughts and words rather than just small talk. Also, they both seemed to be a bit weird, and were easily misunderstood by others. Not that this was a trait to be very proud of, but the fact, that they shared it, made Nino feel strangely understood by the other man.

Nino also appreciated that Sho's enthusiasm about food – especially Nino's cooking – was just as big as Nino's enthusiasm for cooking, so he figured, they were a good match in this respect. The young man had to admit that each and every compliment out of Sho's mouth felt like honey dripping into his ears. Because of their straight-forwardness, and because Nino could feel that Sho really meant was he said, the man's compliments felt stronger than any the man had ever received, and he would be lying if he said he didn't like that.

Nino breathed in and out, slowly, as he took a few steps closer to Sho. He hesitated to disturb the man in his observations, and even became slightly nervous at the thought of talking to the other man, wondering if he couldn't just keep standing there and looking at that pretty face. Nino quickly tried to brush that thought away. It wasn't like he was going to hit on him or anything, he just wanted to talk to him, right? So why was he even so nervous?

"Uhm... Hey," Nino finally started. "Beautiful night isn't it?" he asked, when Sho looked at him questioning, before Nino slapped himself mentally. That just sounded like a cheesy pick-up line. What was he even doing?

"It's indeed a beautiful night," Sho agreed in response, looking at Nino with his piercing dark brown eyes.

Not only the night was beautiful, Nino thought, his throat suddenly becoming dry and narrow, and his heart doing a strange little jump that he tried to ignore with all his might, but he couldn't. Maybe, he actually wanted to hit on Sho, and just didn't want to admit it to himself? Thinking about it, perhaps the connection he felt between himself and Sho wasn't just something like feeling understood by a similar personality, or a probably strange but strong friendship, maybe, there was even a little more. Jun had hinted on it several times now, even if he had been joking, Jun's teasing was mostly built on truth. So well, screw that, Nino finally thought, maybe he was attracted to Sho, maybe he indeed wanted to get to know him better, maybe he wanted to test the waters, even if he most likely still had no idea where this would be going, if even, and what he should do with his confused feelings, but so what? It didn't mean he couldn't just talk to Sho and spend time with him, right? Because if he was completely honest to himself, that was everything Nino wanted to do right now.

"Uhm... Want me to get you a beer or something?" Nino offered, when he saw that Sho was lacking something to drink.

"No, thank you," the alien replied. "It seems like my species is not good with what you call alcohol."

"Ah, right," Nino murmured, remembering Sho passing out a few days ago from a small glass of white wine that was served for dinner with a salmon dish. "I could get you some orange juice perhaps?"

"That's very considering but thank you, I am not thirsty at the moment," Sho replied.

"OK," Nino gave up.

"I... would very much appreciate to taste some of the – how did you call it – hand food, though," the alien then added after a few seconds of silence, causing Nino to smirk.

"It's called finger food," the man replied, amused. "Sure, I'll get you some. Any preferences?"

"The ones you prepared, of course."

Nino felt his cheeks blushing when he turned on his heel and rushed to the buffet to gather some food samples from all the plates he had prepared by himself, and got a bottle of beer for himself, before returning to Sho's side and settling right next to him, sharing the view. Sho gratefully took the plate from Nino's hand as the other offered it to him, and Nino couldn't help but smile warmly at Sho's eyes growing wide in anticipation. While the alien started digging in with visible vigour, Nino tried to calm that upwelling happy feeling inside of him down. However, it was just too much of a pleasure to see the other man enjoying his food to such an extent. It was impossible, not to feel proud.

"How can they do this to my shell? Sho, help!" Kee-ko's voice suddenly could be heard, making Nino startle as he was pulled out of his thoughts.

He looked around, a little confused. His eyes fell onto the from fairy lights lit object, just in time to see a couple disappearing inside.

"Look at them! They will ruin everything!"

Nino finally managed to locate the AI's voice coming from that small, flat device similar to a smart phone (Nino believed Sho called it an "AI-port" once, short for portable AI, most likely), pushed inside one of the chest pocket of Sho's brand new striped dress shirt that Jun had picked for him during that recent out of control shopping trip. (It looked really good on Sho, too good, for Nino's taste.) The device functioned as some kind of transmitter, a branch of Kee-ko's core that Sho and Aiba were able to bring with them and still connect to their ship. Sho apparently also could scan things with the device, take snapshots, and use it as a voice recorder among others. It was a very handy thing but the most impressive about all this was Kee-ko's personality – or what Nino recognized as one. He knew that an AI did not have a real personality but was rather shaped after its creator or owner and developed its own behaviouristic patterns the more it learned by itself from that point on. Kee-ko apparently had picked up not only the cheerful and emotional characteristics of Aiba, but also Sho's more sceptical and cautious trades, making her an interesting mixture of the two characters, which right now became manifested as a whiny, worried person. Understandably, concerning the circumstances, Nino had to admit.

"I tried to talk them out of it, Kee-ko," Sho said. "But you know Aiba, he can be very stubborn, especially if he thinks something is a great idea."

"How can this be a great idea, using the ship as attraction for this strange gathering?!" Kee-ko snapped.

"I'm sorry, I wasn't successful either. Jun can be very… persuading. Even I fall for his ideas, sometimes, or at least I cannot do anything against them being put into action...," Nino added, remembering especially the drunken night in which he first met Aiba and Sho, and thinking of the current party that had been forced on him here. The second party he was attending, within only a couple of weeks, it was ridiculous by itself.

"Nothing will happen to your shell, Kee-ko," Sho tried to sooth the AI.

"Yeah, don't worry," Nino said.

"Nothing will happen?!" the AI almost freaked out, surprising Nino that she was capable of showing so much more emotion that he had ever seen from Sho, who compared to her was an actual living being. "Did you ever do research on Earthling parties?! They will all get drunk and not mind their surroundings any longer and they will damage everything, and puke everywhere into the cockpit and everything will be ruined–"

"You might be a little bit exaggerating here, Kee-ko. They won't puke everywhere," Nino took a sip from his beer. "I hope..."

"We'll see, we'll see! Right now, this Earthling couple is making out in my cockpit, I... I can't believe it but I am at a loss of words. Oh, this is horrible…"

"Sometimes, she is over worrying," Sho explained to Nino in between two bites from a salmon-avocado sandwich.

"I can relate to that...," Nino murmured.

With Kee-ko voicing her doubts and worries continuously in the background before she finally decided to go in stand-by mode in order to not have to witness any mischief happening in her shell, and watching Sho finishing his sandwich with a satisfied expression on his face, Nino smiled. He let his eyes wander over the scene, brushing over a few more or less familiar faces of Jun's friends, and looked back to Sho, strangely feeling home. Yes, he actually could relate much better to a mostly emotionless alien and an AI, than to most people on his own planet. Life was weird.

+

Nino would have preferred spending the rest of the night feeding Sho (in moderation, of course) to being pulled into the actual party on the rooftop. But, of course, Jun would sooner or later try what he always tried to do – make friends of Nino and his own friends, even if he knew, that so far that had never turned out to work.

However, Nino was used to get pulled to Jun's side once in a while, and clinking glasses with him – and Aiba (who was drinking orange juice, just as a precaution after Sho's experience with alcohol). He left behind Sho for a while, promising to come back, not knowing if the other man even cared and while Sho continued watching down on the city lights, Nino spent a little time with his best friend and the alien prince. He was rather shocked, when he suddenly spotted an indeed familiar face – Yuriko.

The girl had not approached Nino yet, but apparently, she had spotted him already, and was even making eye contact with him now, while she walked by, apparently aiming for... Sho. Nino frowned, when he saw the young woman trying to start up a chat with the man.

"J, what's she doing here?" the young man asked, taking a sip from his beer, slightly growing nervous.

His friend gave him a meaningful look. "Nino, she's one of my closest friends at work, of course I invited her to our party. Besides, I think there's something you have to finish with her. She told me what happened that night and that you smashed the door in her face-"

"That's an exaggeration!" Nino protested. "I only closed the door before she was able to enter."

"Same thing, isn't it?" Aiba asked between two sips of his orange juice and Jun nodded.

Nino kept on, ignoring the two men's reaction "And what's she doing with Sho now, anyway?"

"I don't know? Go find out?" Jun suggested, smirking.

"Is she flirting with him?!" Nino asked in disbelief when he witnessed the young woman stepping closer to Sho and touching the alien's elbow. An unpleasant shiver ran down Nino's spine and he cringed.

"Don't tell me you are getting jealous now that she's going for another guy, all of a sudden?" Jun challenged his friend with a smug grin, even if he exactly knew that Nino was still not interested in any woman, and in particular not in Yuriko.

Nino just punished him with an unnerved look. He wasn't sure what exactly he was feeling right now, but he'd rather die than tell his friend that he was feeling quite unsettled, not about the fact that Yuriko was apparently flirting with Sho instead of with him, but that she was the one flirting with Sho, instead of... Nino refused to end his thought and lifted his beer to his lips, hastily, trying to drown anything that might come up his mind right now. As if flirting had ever been his field of expertise...

Jun shrugged. "However, I told her you had a bad evening because you were sick and everything, and that there is something you have to tell her. She still really likes you, you know? So, I hope this time you'll be man enough to explain things to her properly. And don't forget to apologize for your behaviour! Now go save Sho."

"Fine, fine, whatever," Nino sighed, giving in. He downed the rest of his beer before he abandoned the empty bottle, and set off to the corner of the rooftop, approaching Sho and Yuriko.

The man cleared his throat when he reached the two. "Hello. Uhm... Hi!"

At once, the young woman as well as Sho turned to look at Nino, Sho with his usual neutral expression, while in Yuriko's eyes, there was something glittering that Nino couldn't completely get a grasp on.

"Oh, it's you, hi there," the young woman said, pretending as if she hadn't seen Nino before he started talking to her.

She sounded upset. Well, Nino couldn't blame her for that, but he had a hard time not to simply roll his eyes and groan in frustration, trying to remind himself that it was his own fault the woman was trying to upset him now in return for how he treated her a couple of weeks ago. Still, he had no idea though what exactly he should say now, so he just let out what tremendously occupied his mind, anyway.

"Excuse me but could you stop flirting with him?" Nino asked, trying to smile and not to look upset. He was pointing at Sho now, who was still standing there, stiff like a broom, showing no reaction at all towards neither the young woman's advances, nor Nino's question at her.

"Oh, sorry," Yuriko said, acting shocked. She took a step back from Sho and brought her hands over her heart, clenching them. "I didn't realize that you were jealous. I can flirt with you instead, if you want," she directed at Nino, before quickly sending a look at Sho. "No offence."

"Yuriko-san... listen," Nino started, shifting from one foot to the other and lifting a hand to scratch his eyebrow. He looked at her, a serious expression on his face. "I know I wasn't exactly polite to you last time we met... and I apologize for that -"

"Exactly, Ninomiya-kun, you weren't very polite, that's true," the girl said, pouting her lips slightly and crossing her arms in front of her chest.

"You know, the point is that I haven't been completely honest with you, and I am sorry for that too," Nino continued. He took a step forward. "There is something I should have told you from the beginning..."

By now, the young woman looked at Nino with big eyes, obvious that she was still crushing on him and that her advances towards Sho had only been a desperate move to catch Nino's attention – which she succeeded in, obviously, even if not in the way she might have intended. A mixture of hope and fear was shining in her eyes. She gulped when Nino came another step closer.

"And... and what would that be?" the woman asked, her voice slightly shaking.

Nino stepped forward again, eyes still on Yuriko, but then he slightly changed directions, so that he slipped besides her and came to a halt right next to Sho. He quickly exchanged a look with the alien, who obviously had no idea what was going on, then looked back to Yuriko. He took a deep breath.

"Please let me introduce you to Sho, my... boyfriend," Nino said, his voice slightly shaky.

There was a moment of silence and blank stares, before Yuriko got a catch of herself again.

"Your what?!" the girl couldn't believe her ears. Her arms dropped from in front of her chest to next to her hips, and her chin almost hit the floor.

Nino cleared his throat and shifted even a little closer to Sho for demonstration purpose. He looked at Sho again before he finally was brave enough to lift his arms and slowly but surely snuggle into a hug that Sho luckily – probably intuitively – played along with. The two of them quickly found themselves entangled in an embrace, Nino's arms around Sho's waist, while Sho had put an arm around Nino's shoulder, and the latter leaned his head back to rest against Sho's chest. It felt warm. Warm and cozy, Nino realized, and like something he hadn't really had in a long time. However, before he could get too lost in this, he pulled himself together and gave Yuriko, who blanked at him, a crooked smile.

"My boyfriend. That's what I couldn't tell you, I'm... already taken. And gay, obviously," he continued, trying to hold eye contact with Yuriko, who was still gaping at the two men in disbelief. "So... it's not your fault, it's my fault that this with us...," Nino somehow gestured between the three of them with one hand that he loosened from his embrace around Sho, not sure who he should really refer to at the moment, "Won't happen. I am really sorry."

"I... oh," finally, the young woman's brain seemed to resume working. She blinked, tilted her head, and was silent for a moment, until she finally found back her speech. Her arms back in front of her, she crossed them, steadying herself. Then, she awkwardly broke into a laugh. "Well, you really could have told me! I completely embarrassed myself, now."

"You couldn't have known," Nino replied, smiling – not less awkwardly – at her, feeling really guilty now.

"Oh, but Jun knows, doesn't he? Of course, he does," the woman wanted to confirm, earning a nod form Nino before she puffed up her cheeks. "Why didn't he warn me?!"

They kept talking for a little longer, awkwardly laughed a bit more here and there, until the topic seemed to be over and Yuriko seemed to be done with Nino. Finally, after he apologized once more, she was off to probably complain to Jun for not warning her.

Nino sighed deeply, looking after her, before he realized that he was still holding on to Sho very closely. He blushed deeply, and backed off, leaving the other man look at him confused.

"I – I'm sorry for that, Sho, I didn't mean to-," the man started, embarrassed.

"Boyfriend?" Sho asked.

"I'm really sorry!" Nino repeated, nervously. "I just – you know, I wanted to get rid of her and last time I wasn't brave enough and, now I wasn't exactly brave either but then she started flirting with you and I... I don't know what I was thinking. It was just easier like this to pretend having a boyfriend and showing her that I'm not interested, I guess..."

"So you lied," the alien concluded. "And you used me as your alibi."

"Sorry that I made use of you. It wasn't my intention to make you feel uncomfortable," Nino mumbled.

Sho slightly shook his head. "If I could be helpful to you in this situation, it's fine. I don't mind."

"Really?"

"Actually, I wouldn't mind being your boyfriend."

Nino couldn't help but feel his cheeks blushing, and his heartbeat picking up at this statement. Sho looked at him, straight forward like he always did… Was Sho trying to be funny? He didn't look like he'd be making fun of Nino, but he couldn't be serious, either, could he? Nino wasn't even sure if Sho – who was smart, but as far as he got to know him, lacked social competence quite a bit – could completely grasp the concept of a boyfriend, and if, what it meant here on this planet.

"You're the reason why I am not starving to death here on Earth, of course, I don't mind helping you out in return," Sho explained.

Nino's heart fell. Not only that, it surprisingly hurt. What did he expect? Did he really think Sho meant his words literally? Even if Sho would know what it meant to be one's boyfriend, of course, why should he actually choose Nino as his crush and why should Nino even want that? Just because he liked Sho, it didn't mean he wanted to date him, right?

The young man averted his look, trying to pull his thoughts away from the topic. Sho had meant his agreement with the previous situation solely as some kind of pay back for the food, Nino provided him with. There were no deeper feelings involved, and it was good like that.

Not sure how he should handle the situation best, Nino eventually decided to ignore what Sho had just told him – trying to forget everything and trying to bury his disappointment, – and instead fell silent next to the other man. They both turned their looks back down through the meshes of the security fence. The music playing in the background intruded Nino's blurry mind and he tried to focus on the catchy beat of the song instead of the heavy beat of his hurting heart. A sudden, small gust of wind hit his face through the fence, and Nino closed his eyes for a second, allowing the cool night air to refresh him. He took a deep breath, opened his eyes and when he saw Sho staring at him, he smiled.

"By the way, you never really talk about your home planet," Nino said in a low voice, partly to break the silence between them, and partly, to try and distract himself from having to deal with the disappointment that was still nagging him, even if he tried to ignore it.

Sho looked back at him, slightly wondering. "There's not so much to tell about. It's not a very interesting planet and nothing interesting happens there. Different to that TV-show you recently talked about. How did the next episode go, by the way?"

"I'm sorry Sho, I'm not in the mood for nerdy talk right now. I'm really curious, so please share some things with me," Nino replied, leading his look back down on the city. He wasn't lying, because, when did someone have the chance to hear stories of an actual alien planet? However, in first place, de didn't feel like talking about himself. "Does it look very different from our world? How are the people there? How are the king and queen and how's your life there?"

Sho paused, maybe considering what he could risk telling an outsider, and what not, before he finally started to speak. "The king and queen are good people. They take care of their folk very well and keep everything in order. That's why it's so important to them that their successors will do just as a good job as they. Both of them."

"Why must it be both of them who take over the throne?"

Honestly, Nino had always wondered about that. The concept of a king – or emperor – ruling a country, or a whole planet in Ar-Rash's case, apparently, had long stopped working in his own and most other countries on Earth. At least, the political significance had changed from back then, but Nino remembered from history books that it had been rather usual that only one person was sitting on the throne, not two.

"Each of their sons has his own strengths, but also weaknesses," Sho started to explain. "They are still young and inexperienced, after all. But together, they would complement one another very well. They will make a great team."

"But with two people being at power, isn't there always the risk of disagreement and fights?" Nino voiced his doubts.

"You might be right, but a good team can figure out things and find to an agreement in the end," the other man replied. "That's why we need to find Aiba's brother. We need to talk to him and find a solution to get him back."

Nino hummed. "What's your part in all this?"

"I'm assisting the princes and will continue to do so."

"But... are you more Team Aiba or Team Aiba's brother?" Nino chuckled, trying to be funny.

Sho didn't find that funny, unfortunately. "I am closer to Aiba as we spent much more time together since childhood, but when it comes to assisting them in their royal duties, it's my obligation to be fair and loyal to either of the princes. So I am."

Again, Nino hummed before he added after a short silence, "You know, that sounds like a quite tough job. You must be really good at this. My respect."

"Uhm..." Sho looked at him, a little confused. Cute and confused.

"What?" Nino asked, raising an eyebrow and trying hard to hide a small blush.

"It's just...," Sho started. "I can't remember that anyone told me before that I was doing a good job or that I deserve respect."

"What?" Nino frowned. "Seriously?"

Sho shook his head. "Since it is assumed that we – I mean people living and working on Ar-Rash – are usually perfect for the job we get assigned to, there is no need to point out good work."

"Wow, that... sounds harsh," Nino replied. He fought the urge to hug the alien on the spot.

It was never nice to be taken for granted and to work your ass off and never get to hear you did well. There had been times Nino had gone through something similar, it wasn't like his cooking skills had been well developed from the start, but it had been a learning process and with getting better, the appreciation from his surroundings had grown too, and Nino was glad about that. Even if it should be a matter of course that one did their best, it was always nice to hear some appreciation.

"Considering that you people don't seem to be much used to praising others for their actions, I wonder how it comes you praise my cooking so often," the young man added, glancing at Sho, questioning.

"Well, it's just...," Sho started, looking Nino in the eyes. "It-'s just so good, I can't keep it to myself."

Nino laughed, now blushing for sure. "Thank you, Sho. Seriously."

"I'm just saying what I think."

"I like that," Nino smiled. "Your directness, I mean. It can be disarming but... honesty is a good trait that not everybody is capable of. You should keep that."

Sho still looked a little confused but nodded slowly. "I will."

"So, won't you tell me a little bit of your world?" the other man continued. "Now that you've gotten a taste of mine during these past two weeks, what are the differences? How does it look like, your planet? Come on, I can be curious too."

"Where shall I start..." Sho began, still a little hesitant, but once he found his starting point, it seemed like nothing could stop him. "Technology standards are quite high, so most things are designed to be easy and convenient, with the usage of AIs, either far developed ones, like Kee-ko, or simpler ones to organize and simplify everyday tasks, like for example in those food machines I told you about, you remember?" Nino nodded. "Most parts of our planet look similar to your cities, but a little more… advanced. We don't have such beautiful green landscapes as you do, and our water does not come from resources, but is made artificially by a chemical composition, on demand, whenever needed, just like our food."

Nino cringed at the imagination of the latter. Even if here too, chemicals were part of most foods nowadays, it still sounded strange to be able to produce water and food simply from chemical compositions. Where was the nature in this aspect?

"All this sounds really practicable... but not very beautiful," the young man said, looking at Sho, wondering how the alien felt about all this. He was used to it, after all, and only had two weeks otherwise to compare to his usual life and standards.

"I did a bit of research on the internet, and I'd say, our planet would fall into a category of modern aesthetics, when it comes to Earthling terms," Sho continued. "We use a monochromatic scheme and lots of plain and smooth surfaces to build things. No variety in structure or material, except for our spaceships which need to be more robust and are made from several layers.... compared to the variety of styles here on planet Earth though, I'd say our planet is rather boring."

"You really think so?" Nino wondered, although he knew Sho must be telling the truth. It was a little surprising though, weren't people usually more drawn to what was familiar to them? However, Sho nodded, enforcing his statement.

"The longer I stay here, the more I think so."

The two men exchanged a long glance, Nino's mind drifting off to wondering how it would feel for Sho when the day of his return to his home planet would arrive, if he would miss this planet here. If he would miss Nino...

Nino cleared his throat and quickly tried to distract his thoughts. "So, what do you like most about our planet?"

"Besides the food?" Sho asked, dead serious.

"Besides the food," Nino chuckled.

The alien took a thinking posture and looked at Nino, for a few long seconds, so focused, that Nino eventually started wondering if Sho was considering to say "You", or something along that line, which made the young man blush slightly. But then, why should Sho do that? And why should Nino even want that? He cursed himself and his slightly faster beating heart and tried to get rid of that stupid thought. Those thoughts concerning him and Sho needed to stop, seriously!

"I like what you call nature," Sho said. "Even if some parts of it might be cultivated, or also partially artificial, I like that natural style in between everything, even your cities, even within your apartments and houses. On Ar-Rash, nobody would care to create something like a park or a pond, or get themselves a house plant... It's beautiful, but inconvenient. It would cease to exist if someone created something like that on my home planet."

"That sounds pretty sad," Nino murmured.

"It's not like we are not aware of the potential aesthetic of nature," the alien man next to him continued. "It's just, that we can provide our planet and our people with everything they need in other ways. If someone wants to experience nature, we can re-create it with our technology. We can enter it in a virtual reality, so to say. But it's only a mimicry of what we saw on other planets, like yours and what we learned from files and reports. We can recreate the look, but nobody bothers to recreate the sounds, the smells, the texture, the feeling... it's an empty projection, nothing more."

"I can only try to imagine how this would feel like," Nino said. He wondered, if the virtual realities gaming companies were slowly but surely bringing on the market since a few years, could kind of compare to what Sho just described. He only tested one of those during a gaming convention a couple years ago, wearing a huge sample pair of 3D gaming glasses, and he didn't go well with it, as it caused major motion sickness to him.

"You know, where I come from, your planet is filed as to be a very romantic, peaceful planet," Sho continued, filling the silence between them.

Nino raised his eyebrows. "Romantic and peaceful?"

"The various landscapes, as mentioned, the variety of living beings, all sorts of animals – we don't have animals where I come from – all living in harmony… or that's how the legend goes."

Nino snorted. Even if he liked the idea of harmony, sadly, this was only something that could be found in the small things, within moments, but not as a whole, representing living on this planet.

"I'm sorry to crush your dreams but here's definitely not everything living in harmony. We had wars, we still do have wars, maybe more than ever and you can't even see all of them."

"Yes, I learned about that fact too," Sho agreed. "But at least your planet wasn't blown up completely by other species, other than many planets during wars in our galaxy."

"Well, true, Earth hasn't been blown up yet, but believe me, humanity will manage to destroy themselves and their planet on their own, sooner or later."

"You are referring to your climate change problem, aren't you?" Sho wondered.

"I am, among others. There are a lot of things going wrong here," Nino replied.

"But still, there are beautiful things too, here," Sho added in a low voice. "A lot of them."

Nino nodded slowly. "That's for sure."

"So, since Planet Earth is kind of an ideal for our folks, we assume that this is the reason why the older prince chose it to flee to. In order to retreat. And probably, because he thought we won't follow him that far."

"But he was mistaken, obviously," Nino said, biting his lips before he could add and I'm glad you came after him.

"We followed him right away and we managed to keep track of him quite well, until he got into the comet shower over Japan..."

"If your technology is so advanced, why is it so hard to find your prince then? Don't you have any... tracking system or such?"

"We lost the signal," Sho explained. "Which either means, his ship and the AI travelling with him was completely damaged, or that he disconnected the AI from the locating system."

"Which would mean he does not want to be found," the other man concluded. "Did you ever consider about just leaving him be?"

Sho looked at Nino, frowning. "But we need him. The prince needs him."

"I know, you explained that much," Nino replied. "But... it doesn't sound like your folk is very good in... letting people do what they want to do. Maybe the prince just needs a break from all this and will return by himself once he's ready. Ever thought about that?"

Sho gave Nino a dumbfounded look. Obviously, he – or any other member of his race – had not thought about that option. Sure, there was no guarantee that the runaway prince would come back after spending a few weeks of holidays on another planet, but more often than not, runaways tended to go back home sooner or later. It was probably a poor example, but when Nino had been a kid, he had run away from home too once, after a fight with his father, just to find himself returning only a few hours later. Not only, because he was too young to get around, or because he didn't have enough money on hand to even buy himself dinner, but because he wanted to be back with his family. Because no matter if they would fight and about what they might disagree, in the end, they loved each other. They needed each other. Maybe, for the first prince of that faraway planet, it would be similar.

"If Aiba needs his brother, his brother probably needs him too, and will come back when the time is right. Just an idea," Nino shrugged.

"Maybe you're right...," Sho murmured. "I admit I really did not think about that option."

The two men fell into silence again, the party around them still going strong. Aiba and Jun were still the centre of attention, the music playing, the wind blowing slightly, and Sho continuing to chew on some snacks that were still left on his plate (he had abandoned them during the conversation with Nino, which Nino counted as a very polite gesture). Nino smirked. It was nice to talk to Sho like that, and he hoped that they weren't done yet. It was interesting to learn more about his and Aiba's home planet, but what Nino really wanted to learn more about, was Sho himself. He knew, it was dangerous, and possible that the more he found out about Sho, the more he'd like him, but he just couldn't help himself.

"Can I ask you another question?" the young man eventually broke the silence. "It's completely unrelated, but I'm curious."

"Uhm," Sho glanced at him, hurrying to finish a juicy piece of karaage. "Sure, what do you want to know?"

Nino leaned his back against the fence surrounding the roof top and crossed his arms in front of his chest. He let his look wander over Sho's full height demonstratively, from head to toes and back up until they met eyes.

"How come you look like Asians?" he asked. "I mean, if it's not a huge coincidence that your folk looks exactly like mine... You even have Japanese names, but I assume those are not your real names, right?"

"Indeed, no," Sho picked up, putting his now finally empty plate aside. "Actually, our species looks quite a bit different from yours, even if there are similarities to the Earthling species."

Nino frowned critically, shifting a little nervous. "So... what does that mean? How can you look like that then? Are you..." he lacked another word, so Nino just said what came to mind. "Shape shifters?"

"Well, when the prince and I entered your planet's atmosphere and realized where we would have to land, we adjusted our physical forms to the most common race represented in that part of planet Earth. About the names, we transcribed our Ar-Rashian names to your language, based on the similarity in phonetics."

Even if all these information was a little hard to process for Nino (shape shifter? Like those in Supernatural?) the young man couldn't help but ask, curiously, "So, what's your real name, then?"

Sho replied, voicing a line of syllables and strange noises that sounded something like, "Za-coo Ra Eesho."

Nino blinked. He wasn't even sure if he had just imagined recognizing the "Sho" part in this, or not. "And... how would you transfer my name into Ar-Rashian? My full name."

Immediately, Sho made a few more of those strange noises that sounded just a little bit familiar if someone paid very close attention to it, making the other man cringe in even more confusion.

Finally, Nino chuckled. "That sounds horrible."

"Really?" Sho slightly tilted his head. "I think it has a beautiful sound. At least to my ears."

Nino burst into laughter, feeling his cheeks blushing slightly.

"But if you feel uncomfortable, I won't say it again."

"It's OK," Nino waved off. "I'm glad you like it, just... here on Earth, keep calling me Nino, will you?"

"Certainly. Nino."

The soft tone of Sho's voice when he said his name, sounding much more emotional than usual, and the hint of a smile on his lips, made Nino's heart jolt. He took a deep breath. He wanted to stay, talk even more to Sho, maybe even dig up the topic about Sho's comment regarding being OK with being Nino's boyfriend and wanting to discuss the seriousness of that statement, considering that it could also only mean the Sho wanted to be nice because Nino made his food... But in the end, Nino was too scared. This was too risky. Those were grounds he better did not step on. He should better leave before he said or did something he'd regret.

"Uhm... I think, I'm going to bed now."

"Oh, already? I thought you don't have an early shift tomorrow," Sho asked.

Nino cleared his throat and finally averted his eyes. "You're right, I don't, but if I stay here with you.... things might become complicated."

"I don't understand...," the alien next to him gave him a puzzled look, cutely tilting his head.

"Ah," Nino tried to play over his nervousness with a chuckle. "Nothing important, Sho, don't worry about it. I guess, I'm just tired."

"Too bad. I appreciate your company," the other man replied. "It's been nice to talk to you."

"Thanks. It was interesting to listen to your talk," Nino answered with a smile. "Do you think you can manage alone here?"

Sho looked around. "Probably I'll leave soon too. Parties are not quite my thing."

"I know what you mean," Nino smiled. "Ah, hey, before I forget about it, what do you want for breakfast tomorrow?"

Nino grinned widely when he saw Sho's eyes becoming bigger at that question.

"Oh, oh, wait," the alien started. "I really liked that dish you called something like French bread or so, a lot."

"French toast?" Nino chuckled and Sho nodded, excited.

"Alright. I'll prepare some for you when I get up and for lunch, I will precook some vegetables and rice and put it in the fringe. You know how to use the microwave correctly now, right?"

"I studied the object and will not make it explode again!"

"Good," Nino chuckled. "Well then, good night, Sho."

"Good night, Nino. Thank you," Sho smiled.

Nino answered with another smile and slowly turned away, waving his hand slightly at the other man before tucking it into his trousers pocket and making his way across the roof top to the door that lead downstairs. He couldn't help but turn his head to look at Sho for a last time, a few steps later, just to find the other still smiling at him. Nino had to watch out not to trip on the rest of his way. He bid Aiba and Jun good night on his way, who were both still having fun, now dancing closely together to the rhythm of a catchy pop song, and about fifteen minutes later, he was downstairs in his room and ready for bed.

It was becoming really dangerous, when Sho smiled, Nino figured. It had become too effective on him. By now, he had not only developed an immense pride when receiving compliments by the other man, he also had started feeling all warm and fuzzy around Sho, even became jealous, which was never a good sign... He liked, and didn't like that, at the same time. He knew for sure though, that he better had to regain control over this situation, over his feelings. Falling in love had not been an option for Nino in such a long time, and falling in love with an alien now, was certainly not a smart idea.

Love on its own was a complicated thing, according to Nino's opinion, even without having to bother about cultural differences and a bunch of other interstellar difficulties that might arise, and Nino was definitely not ready for losing his heart to someone from another galaxy. Especially not, if that someone only considered him primarily as his source for food. It had been surprisingly disappointing to realize his role in Sho's life, Nino thought, but that was enough.

No, whatever that growing feeling in his chest was, and whatever the growing affection towards Sho would mean, Nino would get hold of it, and store it away in a corner of his heart, so that it wouldn't be able to hurt him. Sho might be good at being honest, but Nino preferred to keep some things secret. It would be better for everyone.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. MAY 20, 2018. Early morning. Ninomiya and Matsumoto apartment. +

 

Apparently, Sho wasn't the only one who had to sleep on the floor past night, Nino had to find out when he passed through the living room on his way to the kitchen the next morning. Jun must have allowed some of his friends to crash at their place.

Besides Sho in his usual awkward sleeping position on his futon, there was also a young man – Nino knew his face, not his name though – lying in one corner of the room, only his jacket stuffed underneath his head as a pillow. Two girls were cuddling in the opposite corner of the room, sharing a blanket. A few more passed out drunkards were spread over the floor. On the couch, there was an entangled couple, one part of which Nino recognized as Jun's friend Toma, the other an unknown woman.

He frowned. And where was Aiba? This was his usual sleeping spot, after all. Well, maybe some of their guests were sleeping on the roof top, Nino assumed, shrugging.

Kicking an empty beer bottle out of his way, he continued his way, glancing at Sho, who still seemed to sleep peacefully despite the whole mess. When one of the drunkards yawned, stretched his limbs and kicked Sho in the process, Nino cringed. Suddenly, he felt a little guilty. He probably should have seen this coming and offered Sho a place in his room for the night. Just on the floor, of course, just on the floor, and just to save the alien the trouble of having to share a room with a bunch of strangers. Nino's heart stopped beating for the split of a second as he caught himself staring at the man, wondering how it would have been to share his room with him, before he quickly cleared his throat and pulled of his mind, shuffling on.

"I'm not going to make breakfast for everyone, though," Nino grumbled with a pout, ruffling his hair.

When he passed Jun's room, the door flew open, almost hitting Nino, and half-dressed Jun, smelling from alcohol and his dark locks standing on end, appeared in the doorway. As soon as he spotted his best friend, he smiled at him, sleepily.

"I wish you a wonderful good morning, my dear Nino!" Jun chimed in his happiest voice.

Nino frowned at his friend, just to earn another broad grin. That man was currently spreading the aura of a stoned hippie – even if Nino knew for sure, that Jun had and never would touch any drugs. Instead, Nino already had an idea what happened last night that would set the other man in such a good mood. Happy Jun was one thing, but overly relaxed and overjoyed Jun was another. Nino quickly scanned the area around Jun's neck, and just as expected, he could spot a few hickeys there.

"Morning. I can see you had a lot of fun, last night, didn't you?" Nino asked with a challengingly raised eyebrow.

"Oh, you can count on that," Jun replied, chuckling.

The man looked completely satisfied with himself and the world. Well, good for him, Nino thought. He didn't expect – nor want – to find out though who was the one setting Jun's world so apparently right. However, the unasked question answered itself when another person showed up besides Jun, gently pressing against the man's shoulder to make him shift and let him pass through the door. Nino's eyes almost popped out of their sockets, when he recognized the person standing in front of him now – completely naked.

"Good morning, Nino!" Aiba flashed his usual charming smile at the young man, before he turned back to Jun. "I'm shower, you come too?"

Nino's jaw dropped.

"Go ahead, Ma-chan, I'm there in a minute," Jun replied with a smug grin on his lips and a look in his eyes that could have undressed Aiba on the spot, if he wasn't naked already.

"Ma-chan?!" Nino repeated in disbelief, glaring at his best friend once the alien's naked butt had vanished into the bathroom. "Wait, wait!"

"Hm?" Jun tilted his head, but Nino already reached his hand and grabbed Jun's wrist, pulling his confused friend behind him through the corridor into the kitchen where he slammed the door and took a deep breath before he faced his flatmate again and started to interrogate him, trying to keep his voice as low as possible.

"You had sex with Aiba?!"

"Well... yes?" Jun shrugged, rubbing the wrist that Nino had kindly let go off.

"No," Nino shook his head heavily. "Let me rephrase that. You had sex with an alien?!"

Jun just grinned at him again, even broader than before. He crossed his arms in front of his naked chest. "Well... yes," he repeated. "And I have to say, you should try it too."

"Excuse me?!" Nino couldn't believe it.

"Not with Aiba, probably, I might be a little possessive when it comes to sharing my sexual partners," Jun continued. "But if you can get your hands on another alien, if you know what I mean," Jun wiggled his eyebrows, unsettling Nino even more, "I do really recommend it! Did you know that they can... shift forms? Like... you know, even down there?"

Nino just stood there, dumbfounded, his lips parted, but not a single word coming out of his mouth. So, Jun just rambled on.

"He was just as big as my body possibly could handle it and what he did... Really, it was just amazing! The best sex I ever had! It was incredible, really –"

"Jun, please, stop!" Nino finally managed to say, squinting his eyes and lifting his hands in defense. His face must be as red as a tomato by now. "I really don't need to know that, oh my gosh!"

"Just saying, you should try it too," Jun replied, raising his eyebrows and flashing his friend another wide grin. "I'm sure, Sho will volunteer, what do you think? He's your type, isn't he? And I think he likes you. He has that look on his face when you're around and he's basically following you around all the time, in case you didn't notice."

"He likes me, because I feed him," Nino replied, even if he felt his cheeks flushing again, and his heart-rate picking up.

"Oh, you're already that far?!"

"Not literally!" Nino exploded unnerved, before he turned around and started to gather what he needed to prepare Sho's breakfast. How ironic. "But... if I didn't cook for him, he'd possibly have starved to death by now, that man cannot cook for his life."

"Or he would be living on convenience store food," Jun shrugged. "But he chose yours. And did I mention the way he looks at you..."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Nino rolled his eyes. "He's probably thinking about the next dish I will make for him, nothing more!"

"Are you sure?"

"He is not – unlike Aiba, obviously – here examining earthlings in any way. Get it?"

"Maybe he changed his mind. Or he thinks he could actually eat you and that's why he looks at you like that," Jun started laughing at his own joke. "Smile Nino, I'm just teasing you a little. They said they won't eat us, remember?"

"I know that was a joke. A bad one, I may say," Nino growled, throwing an annoyed look at his friend. "Seriously, what was in that alien cum, did it damage your brain? No, wait, please tell me you used a condom!"

Jun rolled his eyes. "We did. And it's not like I could get pregnant, so calm down."

"You never know if they have some kind of... alien diseases or something else that could be dangerous for our bodies," Nino intervened, dead serious.

"Wow, come down, man," Jun raised an eyebrow. "It's fine, we're being careful, OK?"

"You're planning to repeat that?!"

"Well, I'm quite fond of Aiba, so if this does not stay as a one-night stand, I wouldn't be disappointed," Jun said, his lips transforming from his broad satisfied grin into a soft and gentle smile.

"Oh I can't believe this...," Nino murmured, his heart clenching at the thought of what all this might mean, what all this might bring...

There, he himself tried to keep himself from developing any feelings for someone coming from galaxies away, who was apparently only here on earth temporarily in order to find a missing person, and then there was Jun who stepped into that trap completely. Nino really wished, his friend did not invest too much feelings, or have too high hopes on this, so that his heart would not get broken, eventually, but the soft smile on his face told a rather different story.

"Now chill, Nino! And I didn’t say you should fall in love with an alien, I just think it would do you good to unleash some of your weird tension with something else other than your dildo, once in a while and wow... did I mention how awesome it was?" the smug grin on Jun's face had returned.

"I don't -", Nino sighed, he honestly didn't even want to give Jun the satisfaction of finishing his protest, but it was out faster than he could stop himself from talking. "I can still find a sexual partner here from earth, if I wanted to. And you're damned right, I am not interested in falling in love with an alien, heaven knows!"

At least, Nino wanted to cling to that one last bit of rationality within himself, that knew better than to do so, no matter what his heart would say.

"You should enjoy life a little more, my friend. As for me, I'm going to the bathroom now, taking care of Aiba's and my body hygiene," Jun said, putting a hand on Nino's shoulder. He wiggled his eyebrows again. "And you, continue feeding your alien, who you are not interested in."

The sarcasm dripping from his friend's voice made Nino almost angry. He sighed.

"Don't forget to kick out your other friends, as soon as they wake up," the man said instead of picking up Jun's teasing. "I'm not going to feed them!"

 

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. MAY 23, 2018. 06:40 PM, JST. Ninomiya and Matsumoto apartment +

 

"There's something I want to talk about," Nino announced a few days later while he was serving dinner to his friends. He looked at Aiba and Sho in particular, the latter only looking up from his plate when Nino said his name. "Now that you two seem to be staying here for a while, how do you plan to afford the rent?"

"Rent?" Aiba tilted his head, slightly confused.

Jun frowned. "Rent?! Do you expect them to get a job here?"

"I just mean, don't get me wrong, it's not like we're kicking you out or anything and I don't mind cooking for more than two people," Nino continued. "But don't you agree that if you stay here you should provide something in exchange for the place you sleep and live in, like contribute a little to the living expenses? Plus, I still think we all should pay for our own clothes."

"Let me ask this again, you expect them to search for a job?" Jun asked, as if Nino had gone nuts.

"Why are you so surprised?" Nino frowned. "Do you not mind paying for other people's living expenses? We're not their parents and we're certainly not the welfare! It's one thing to have guests over for a few days but it's another to let someone move in with you and provide everything for free, I believe."

Jun gaped at his friend before pointing at Aiba. "Let me reword this again. He's a prince, and you expect him to search for a job?! Also, they still have to find Aiba's brother, if they are working, when shall they focus on that properly?"

"If you allow," Sho interrupted them, drawing everyone's attention on him. His mouth was covered with curry sauce, the plate before him half empty, and Nino had to resist the strong urge to lean forward and wipe Sho's lips clean with his napkin. "I think Nino is right. It's just logical. If we plan to stay in a foreign place that we call home, even if temporarily, it cannot be assumed that we get everything for free. It might be a bit uncommon, indeed, for a prince to pay rent, however, we have to adapt to Earth's customs. And about the search for Aiba's brother... we will have to try set up a better strategy first. Wandering around aimlessly, obviously doesn't work. And as Nino told me recently, maybe it even just better to give him some time to relax and then, he'll probably contact us by himself."

Nino sighed, feeling relieved. "Thank you, Sho! Finally, someone understands where I'm coming from!"

"Oh, I agree too," Aiba said between two munches. "Sorry, did not come to that idea myself."

"Really?!" Jun flashed the other a surprised look.

"Sure!" Aiba smiled. "Nino and Sho right. Look, Jun, I'm glad you think of me… highly, but here I'm not prince, I'm visitor. It is nice you and Nino letting us stay and give us food for free. I also like sleep in your bed, but now, time we add something too!"

"Aiba, I think you will be a great king one day," Nino said with an appreciating nod.

"Thanks, Nino!" Aiba beamed. "Also, I think it will be fun! Jun, can you help find a job?"

Jun looked at the alien prince for a moment, before he hummed. "Well, if that's really what you want, of course. I'm sure we'll find something fitting for you."

The young man blushed when he received a hug from Aiba in return.

"Do you need help too?" Nino asked Sho, who was about to finish his curry, carefully picking up every last tiny bit of rice he could find on his plate.

"If you could show me how to search for a job," he said between two spoons of sauce, "That would be very appreciated. I'm sure I can handle the rest of the process on my own then."

"You will need a CV and an Earthling ID, that could be a bit complicated or do you have a plan for that?"

"CV?" Sho wondered.

"A piece of paper with all your personal data like name, birthday, address, and information about your previous work places...," Nino explained, already wondering if it would be even possible for the two aliens to provide something like that. "I guess we'll have to make up the information and see how we can fake your IDs." Saying things like these out loud made Nino wonder. Was this really a good idea?

Sho nodded slowly. "I get it. Well, we'll just design something with Kee-ko's software and print everything we need, including the wrong IDs. They should be sufficient, and nobody will realize that they are not our true IDs."

"Is there anything you would like to do, specifically?" Nino asked.

"Hm… I would like to cook," Sho replied, his eyes sparkling.

Nino chuckled. "Sho… we already had this topic."

"I know that I can't cook," the other man replied. "I just thought it would be nice to help you out in the kitchen…"

Actually, Nino found that idea adorable, as it seemed to imply that Sho wanted to spend more time with him – if he wasn't imagining this right now – but in the end, this was probably still not a good idea. "I fear we are not in need of another assistant in the restaurant currently. Anything else that comes to mind? I mean, you're pretty good with language, aren't you? You could work as a translator or an interpreter, or maybe translator is better."

"What does that mean? Translating as a job?"

Nino blinked before his thoughts caught up. Sure, with Aiba and Sho being able to adapt to other languages, probably where they come from the issue of translating things into other languages was not really an issue. However, Earth had so many different folks and countries, and it was simply impossible for humans to learn that many languages, that translating has become something essential in order to ensure the access to worldwide knowledge and entertainment.

"Well, you see, not every species is as talented in picking up languages as you guys are," Nino started to explain. "Hands down to your perfect Japanese and Aiba with his talking to animals?! It's amazing! But normal people need a lot of time and endurance, even a bit of talent to learn another language or two and believe me, there are a lot of them! So we use to translate books from other languages into Japanese, stuff like that. That's what a translator does for a living."

Sho hummed "That sounds like a pretty easy job," he looked up to see Nino and Jun frowning at him. "Sorry, I don't mean any offence to humans' language studying skills…"

Nino shook his head with a soft smile on his lips. "I know, don't worry. But yeah, that's what I meant. For you it would be easy. It would be the perfect job for you. Let's see if we can find some open positions on the internet somewhere, after dinner."

 

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. MAY 28, 2018. 03:20 PM, JST. Ninomiya and Matsumoto apartment +

 

Finding a job had been surprisingly easy, at least for Sho. Nino had been absolutely right, with Sho's talent for languages, he quickly found a job in this field. While browsing the internet together with Nino the other day, the two men soon found a Japanese tourist website which was supposed to gather blogs and travel reports from all over the country and put them all together in one place, providing translations into several languages to make the site accessible for international travelers. They were short on translators and everything it took was sending in a CV, ID and a quick work example, followed by a video call interview about two days later, and Sho was hired. And the best thing was, Sho could work flexible hours from home or from wherever he could bring a laptop with him (Nino kindly had lent him his for that purpose as the young man did not really need it that much anyway when he was working for the whole day). Plus, the company behind the website paid on a yen per word rule, so the more Sho worked, the more money he could make.

Since – to Nino's surprise – Sho was able to not only speak Japanese but also English, French, Chinese and lots of more languages flawlessly (for him it wasn't such a big deal but Nino seemed very impressed, which somehow made Sho strangely proud) he could easily double or triple the amount of money he made by translating one report into several languages, which was a good thing. But what he actually enjoyed the most about his job was the content of the travel reports and log posts. More often than not they were not only telling stories about interesting places all over Japan, and also included a lot of descriptions about fascinating food and restaurants recommended to try, which made Sho really curious. Luckily, he managed to convince Nino to cook some of those things for him, which – as expected – was great.

For Aiba, things had not been as easy. The thing with the fake CV and ID was not the problem, actually, both, Jun and Nino were surprised about how credible the papers Aiba and Sho created for themselves turned out, and how real the prints looked. Jun even assured them that not even a specialist might be able to tell the fakes and real ones apart. Since Jun wasn't a specialist, Sho took the comment with a grain of salt, but nevertheless, he counted it as a compliment in his books.

The problem with Aiba was that he had no idea which job he wanted to try, as there were so many different options and he never had really thought about what his strengths might be. The only thing he was being taught at home, alongside with his brother as well as Sho, were basic politics and social studies, as well as war strategies, which were all meant to make a good ruler out of him one day. However, Aiba had not shown a real talent in those things, except that he was good in connecting with people. On earth though, he did not have the same connection to the people like on his home planet, naturally, and so he was quickly lost on what to choose.

In the beginning, Jun had suggested to take Aiba with him to his company and introduce him as a new intern who should assist him in designing and sewing clothes. However, it quickly turned out that Aiba's creative ideas were a bit over the top (even for Jun's taste, the designer had confessed, surprised) and apparently, he had two left hands so even holding a pair of scissors turned out to be very dangerous for Aiba himself, and Jun quickly decided that he better not operate with such items. Sure, Jun had considered hiring Aiba as a model, but after giving this a try, but it turned out not to be the greatest idea. First, as beautiful and handsome as Aiba was, he wasn't really a good actor and so photoshoots proved to be difficult for him and second, despite Aiba's lack of talent as a model, Jun still found him so hot that he just wanted to jump him right away, as he described it. Thus, this idea had quickly died too.

One evening, Aiba tried to become a bartender in a nearby establishment. At first, with his good looks, the owner of the bar was thrilled to hire him, and he also showed an amount of talent in mixing different kinds of alcoholic drinks into several fancy cocktails, but as soon as he was supposed to join drinking, which apparently was expected in this kind of job, it was over. As Sho had already experienced, their species did not go well with alcohol, and the prince ended up dancing half naked on the counter of the bar, smashing some expensive whiskey bottles, before Jun and Nino came to pick him up and rescue the rest of the bar's interior.

"I think I have the perfect idea for a job for you, Ma-chan!" Jun suddenly said.

The young man was working from home on that day, his design sketches spread over the whole living room floor, while Sho was sitting on the couch with Nino's laptop doing some translation work, and Aiba sulking in a corner of the room, trying to talk to a house plant while caressing its long green leaves.

"Hm?" the Ar-Rashian prince lazily turning his head towards Jun.

The man seemed uncharacteristically sad, which was really a very rare sight, and almost broke Sho's heart. He felt guilty to have failed his prince. He wished he could do something to help him get out of that mood slump, but he had no idea how. Thus, Sho turned his attention towards Jun, too, hopeful.

Jun sat up straight, abandoning the pen he was holding and the sketch he was working on, his eyes suddenly bright, as if he just had the best idea in the universe. Well, Sho really hoped he did.

"What about working with animals?" Jun suggested, with excitement written all over his face.

"Work with animals?" Aiba repeated, a small confused crease forming between his eyebrows. "How?"

"I can't believe I didn't think about this earlier...," the man murmured, robbing closer over the floor towards Aiba until he reached him and took the prince's hands in his. "You really like dogs, don't you? And you can even communicate with them!"

Aiba slowly nodded and Sho frowned, a bit puzzled. Was there actually a job on this planet that involved communicating with dogs?

"You could take dogs from the neighbourhood for walks for a fee," Jun started to explain. "There are lots of people who have to work the whole day or have other reasons why they can't take their dogs out into the park or for a stroll around the block, and for this purpose, people pick up those dogs and go for a walk with them before bringing them back to their respective owners and getting money for that service. It's usually something that kids do to make a bit more pocket money, but who says that a grown man can't do the same thing? Especially since dogs like you so much, I think you would be very popular with them."

"Going for walk with dogs for money?" Aiba repeated, stunned. The confusion in his eyes was long replaced by sparkling excitement though.

Jun nodded heavily and pulled Aiba with him to get started right away. "Let's design a proper advertisement with a picture of you and your contact details and distribute them in the area, I'm sure, a lot of people will call and demand your service."

"That sounds like a really good plan!" Sho jumped in.

"Sounds perfect!" Aiba agreed.

For the rest of the evening, the three men – Sho joined to help the others – doodled several designs on paper. Jun's fashion sketches were long forgotten, as well as Sho's half-finished translation on the laptop screen, when Nino came home, calling "I'm back home!" from the entrance area of the apartment.

Sho quickly jumped up to go greet the young man, who just a few seconds later approached the living room and shot him a questioning look about what was going on. Sho quickly explained the situation, and just a minute later, Nino joined the group too, trying to take pictures of a friendly smiling Aiba that they could use for the flyer. He even went the length of going to knock on a neighbour's door and ask if he could borrow their corgi for a few pictures, which turned out to be a very intelligent move. The pictures Nino took of Aiba holding the dog and playing with it turned out to be gorgeous.

In the end of the evening, when Nino provided them with some salad and delicious egg sandwiches that they ate together loitering around the coffee table, Sho found himself smiling. Not because of the sandwiches – well, they were absolutely amazing and thus definitely smile worthy too – but rather because he was amazed about how passionate both, Jun and Nino had been about helping his prince. Sho really appreciated that and when Nino smiled at him, pointing amused at Aiba and Jun who had borrowed his laptop to try out some different fonts for the flyer, Sho couldn't help but smile back. They held eye contact for a few seconds, until Nino averted his look.

Sho definitely noticed the slight change of colour on Nino's cheeks, as they turned from their usual pale whitish colour to a soft pink. Immediately, Sho's heart beat started becoming a bit faster. He recognized this behaviour of Nino form his research, he remembered. It was called "blushing" and its definition read that someone became pink in the face, usually from embarrassment, which could either be triggered by situations like speaking in public or other tasks that might make a person nervous, or, which hopefully was rather the case right now, by people the respective person liked, usually more than other people. Their favourite person, so to speak. Sho wondered – not quite daring to hope – would that mean that he was Nino's favourite person?

If Sho could be sure about one thing, it was that Nino had become his favourite person. Nino did not sound convinced, when Sho told him during the party on the rooftop a few days ago that he didn't mind being his boyfriend. However, the truth was, he had meant what he said. Word for word. He understood that Nino used the boyfriend term as an excuse to get rid of an unwanted admirer, but since then, Sho couldn't help but wish, he was not just an alibi. Maybe, he wouldn't be a great boyfriend, he was inexperienced in being one, but with the amount of research he had done on that topic recently, he was convinced that he could at least give it a try.

Remembering the talk with Nino on the roof top, Sho also recalled how Nino complimented his trait of being straight-forward and honest, so maybe, Sho should just give it a try and ask Nino, he thought. However, as soon as he parted his lips, even before one single word could leave his mouth, Sho was interrupted by Aiba, squealing enthusiastically and announcing that he and Jun had finished their project of creating a flyer for Aiba's future dog-walking business.

"Look at this, look at this, isn't it look amazing?!" Aiba exclaimed, lifting the laptop from the coffee table and showing it around to Nino and Sho, who both agreed. "Jun such a talented designer!"

Aiba turned back to Jun, who just sat there, looking proud of his work, his smile turning into a silly grin as soon as Aiba kissed him on the cheek after yelling a big Thank you at the man.

"You're welcome," Jun replied, wrapping his arms around Aiba and pressing him a little closer. Sho couldn't help but look at them. They were really cute together. He was happy that his prince had found such a good match. "With this, I'm sure you'll quickly get some work. Just let me e-mail the template to my e-mail address so that I can make some prints tomorrow in the office. Sho also needs the laptop back, I guess," he added, and the two men got to work.

As relieved as Sho was that there was finally hope that his prince would find a job here on this planet too, he was disappointed that the moment between him and Nino was now gone. He was even surprised for a second that he recognized it as a "gone moment", however, the longer Sho spent time with these nice human men, the more he felt like his social skills improved, even if it’s just a little. Seeing Jun and Aiba as a working example of human boyfriend and alien boyfriend, also helped, or... did not really help, at least not in this particular moment, because seeing them being so close to each other and so happy, only made Sho wish he and Nino could be like that too. However, they were still far away from that point, Sho knew that, and if he wasn't going to at least try to change something about the situation, something like that would probably never happen between him and Nino.

He could just blurt out his question at the other man now, sure, however, he felt like it was probably better to keep it for another day. It did not mean that he wasn't honest with Nino, it just meant, that he was waiting for a more proper moment, right?

Twenty minutes later, Sho had the laptop back and returned to his usual working spot on the couch, working on the article he was currently translating, Aiba and Jun were playing a board game on the coffee table, and Nino had settled in the opposite corner of the couch, his legs crossed in front of him and a book sitting on top of them. Sho tried to focus on his translation, even if he found himself rather wanting to just look at Nino for the rest of the evening, but he did his best to concentrate.

The article he had started translating was quite interesting – if someone could pay attention –, Sho had to admit. It featured an apparently very popular retreat surrounding around one of the most ancient hot springs in Japan – Arima Onsen, near Kobe in the Kansai region. Apparently, the hot springs, which were supposed to have healing effects on body and soul, were not only very popular with locals as well as tourists, but also the food served in several of the traditional restaurants and hotels there were ranked as extremely high quality. Most impressive – not only according to Sho – seemed to be the so-called Kobe beef, which claimed to be the best beef in the whole country, maybe even on the whole planet.

"Oh wow... I need to try this," Sho murmured, more to himself than to anybody else in the room, as he had to pull himself together not to try licking the extremely appetizing picture of a serving of Kobe beef which was provided with the article.

"Hot spring? Kobe beef?" Aiba, who had popped up behind Sho, asked curiously, scanning the article on the computer screen. "Looks amazing!"

There was a chuckle coming from Nino's corner of the couch, and he and Sho locked eyes for a second as they both looked up from their currently doing. And it was Sho this time, who felt his cheeks blushing and decided to look back onto the screen. At least he knew why he was blushing, because indeed his most favourite person in the galaxies made him feel embarrassed.

"Hot springs are great to retreat and enjoy delicious food, indeed," Nino then said, still looking at Sho, his book closed by now.

Sho continued reading the article for a while, Aiba, and now even Jun, was behind him, sharing his curiosity. Then, upon reading more and more about this seemingly magical place, the man had an idea. He quickly turned around to face the prince, who just looked back, a little confused.

"Doesn't this sound like something your brother would enjoy?" Sho asked, and Aiba blinked at him. "The complete relaxed atmosphere connected with nature, hot water, taking baths, being served delicious food..."

The prince's face lightened up and he parted his lips, starting to dart his eyes between the computer screen and his assistant. "You absolutely right!"

"Wait," Jun intervened. "You think, your brother might actually be there?"

"It's definitely possible," Sho confirmed.

"This is first usable trace!" the prince next to him continued. "Jun, can we go there? To check?"

"Uhm...," Jun sounded a little reluctant. "You know, Kobe isn't just an hour away from here, hot spring retreats can be quite pricey, especially if you want to stay there, and the area does not sounds exactly small so I guess we would need to go there for a few days..."

"Can we go there?" Aiba repeated, making big eyes at the other man.

"Please, Jun, the prince is right, this is our first trace!" Sho added.

"Is it even an actual trace?" Nino mumbled, frowning critically. "Who said he's be there? It's just pure speculation..."

Aiba starting fidgeting after glaring at Nino for a second. "Jun, please!"

"Uhm...," Jun reached his hand to scratch his neck. "I fear I already spent all my money on clothes this month so... we actually need to ask Nino if we want to go there."

"Nino?" Sho started, looking at the young man sitting opposite of him, again. "Please, could we..."

Nino frowned at him even stronger. "Are you sure you don't just want to try Kobe beef?"

Sho stilled for a second, before he replied. "Well, I would definitely not pass on the chance to try some if I had the chance to. However, I truly believe that Aiba is right and we might find a trace of his brother at the hot springs, and maybe even the first prince himself!"

Sho hoped, he was as convincing as he thought he was, knowing that Nino was often someone who needed quite a bit of persuading.

"If it is about the money," the man continued, now seeing Nino still for a moment. "I promise I'll pay back whatever it costs for travelling there and staying there for a few days, once I receive my pay check for the translations I'm working on," Sho promised and upon a second thought, he added, "For travelling, we even could use our ship, it's fast, comfortable and-"

"It's a spaceship!" Nino exclaimed, shocked.

"Oh my gosh, yes! Let's do that!" Jun chimed, throwing his arms in the air.

"Jun, no!" the other human said. "We can't just travel around with a spaceship!"

"Why not?" Sho asked, confused. "You don't need to be concerned about being seen, as we can use the invisibility technology to stay hidden from the eyes of other people. In invisible mode, our ship does not even show up on any radar, I promise."

"Plus, it's for free," Jun added, grinning widely.

Nino's gaze wandered from Sho to Jun to Aiba, back to Sho. They kept staring at each other for a few more seconds, Sho was determined not to give in this time. Eventually, it was Nino who lost their staring contest. The young man sighed and lifted his hands in defeat.

"Fine, you guys won. But I swear, if anything goes wrong, I'm out of the whole thing and you can leave our apartment, get it?" The young man looked at Sho in particular.

Sho just nodded in return, determined. Even if it sounded horrible to his ears that he and Aiba might have to leave the apartment and Nino and Jun behind, he was convinced, this would not happen, so there was nothing to fear.

"Thank you, Nino," Sho said.

Jun was still freaking out, more excited than ever. "Oh wow, we're going to fly in a spaceship!"

"We're going to hot spring!" Aiba joined the other man's excitement.

Sho turned back to his work, planning to get as many translations done during the next days, in order to be able to pay Nino back as soon as possible. His look fell back on the amazing serving of meat, popping out from the article. He pressed his lips together, feeling the inside of his mouth turn wet.

"I'm going to taste Kobe beef...," the man murmured, not even realizing that he had said it out loud, before Nino shot him another glare.

"We're going to search for Aiba's brother!" the man corrected them all.

"Sure."

"Yeah, of course."

"What else."

Nino sighed again, but the crease between his eyebrows slowly vanished and the strict look on his face was soon replaced by the soft smile Sho liked so much seeing on him. Again, he felt his own lips mirroring Nino's expression, and he felt warm and happy with Nino's kindness.

"Seriously guys...," Nino mumbled, when he broke eye contact with Sho again, his cheeks again showing that cute blush, on which Sho still planned to ask Nino about, one day. "Give me my laptop for a few minutes, Sho, I'm going to book some rooms for next weekend."

 

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. JUNE 1, 2018. 05:35 PM, JST. Arima Hot Springs, near Kobe+

 

The flight with the alien's space ship was over very quickly, just as promised. With invisibility mode on, everything had gone according to plan, and nothing had happened, much to Nino's delight. Jun was not as delighted as he was, but that was because Sho did not allow him to try flying the spaceship by himself, much to Nino's relief. He kind of understood his best friend's excitement, but that did not mean that he supported his curiosity to the extent that could put them in real danger. Sho on the other hand, seemed to be a very reliable pilot, careful, calm, and trustworthy, like always. And he seemed really proud and happy when Nino told him that.

Upon their invisible landing in a park and checking into one of the many traditional hotels occupying the area, the group of friends immediately started strolling through the streets and parks surrounding the hot springs. There were a lot of tourists from all over the country, but also some foreigners, all of them enjoying the amazingly beautiful nature. Indeed, this place had something magical, Nino admitted.

He couldn't help but smile when he turned to Sho and spotted a twinkle in the man's eyes. He obviously enjoyed the landscape around here, too, and Nino thought this was enough to call the trip a success. However, they were still on their mission to find Aiba's brother, and watching the aliens walk around aimlessly, Nino started wondering what exactly their strategy on finding the missing alien prince, was. Admittedly, due to his working hours, he did not really have the chance to join them on their search, and whenever they met at home, it was all about dinner, breakfast, or random talks. Rather than the search for Aiba's brother, the talks had become all about the men's daily life. Something they – all of them, probably – had become used to just too quickly and too easily.

In fact, Nino already started thinking about how things would be when Sho and Aiba were gone again, as soon as they found their missing prince and left this planet again. The more he thought about it, the more he realized he did not want to think about it. Aiba and Sho had become a part of his life already, an essential part. Just a couple weeks ago, he wouldn't have said that, however, right now he could definitely say that he'd miss them. Especially Sho.

Nino ended up being in his thoughts for a while, simply walking next to his friends, but not really paying attention to what they were doing or talking about. Suddenly, someone laid their hand on top of Nino's shoulder. When the young man – pulled out of his own world – turned around, expecting one of his friends, he was surprised to realize that it was an unfamiliar face instead.

"Hey, are you all by yourself here?" the man – a tall, slim foreigner with blonde hair and light brown eyes – asked him in an accent-free English, flashing him a wide smile. "Want to go for a walk with me?"

"Excuse me?" Nino asked, feeling perplexed, darting a look on the man's hand, which was still on his shoulder, before looking back at him, not sure what the stranger really wanted from him.

The man obviously did not even think about pulling his hand back, which already confused Nino more than enough. Instead, he seemed to even enforce his grip a little bit harder – not to the extent that it was hurtful, but so that he could make Nino focus on him.

"I saw you walking all by yourself and thought you might want some company," the foreigner explained further. "You're really cute, you know?"

"Uhm… I-I am with my friends, actually," Nino stuttered his best attempt in English and tried to step aside in order to get rid of the stranger's grip. By now, he had assumed that the guy was hitting on him, which he definitely did not appreciate.

"Really?" the blonde man asked. "Don't you want to spend the evening with me instead? I'm sure you'll like it," he said, the smile on his face forming into a challenging smirk, his eyes narrowing a little.

"No, thank you, I will stay with my friends," Nino said with an apologetic smile and wringing his shoulder in a swift movement, he was still trying to get rid of the man's hand. Unfortunately, even if the foreigner's hand slipped from his shoulder, the man didn't give up and instead grabbed Nino by his elbow, which almost freaked Nino out.

"I can't see your friends. Come on, don't be shy, I know you'll like it."

"No, really, I am sorry, but I am with my friends," Nino repeated, wondering if his accent was so strong that the other man did not understand him properly. He tried to pull back, but the man's grip was firm, and Nino suddenly felt unexpectedly weak. His heart started beating nervously.

"Come on, Cutie," the blonde guy tried again, now stepping even closer to Nino, trying to reach for his other arm too. "You don't need to be scared. I just want to take a walk and talk with you."

Feeling more and more uncomfortable, having his personal space invaded by a stranger in such an incredibly aggressive way – it was one thing to be hit on by someone, another, if that person became rough – Nino quickly glanced around to seek help. He spotted Aiba and Jun already quite a few steps ahead, talking animatedly about something, but couldn't hear them properly, so they were out of earshot and most likely didn't take notice Nino's situation. Sho on the other hand, was quite a bit behind Nino, but completely distracted by a tree, where he was taking snapshots with his AI-port of its leaves. Damned… Looking back at the stranger and feeling the man's grip tightening around his arm, panic started to rise inside of Nino.

"Please… leave me alone," Nino asked again, trying to stay as calm as possible.

The stranger took another step closer, and this time he reached for Nino's other arm. He was successful, locking the man in his firm grip. Nino winced, and tried to back off, unsuccessfully. He was about to scream for help, when suddenly, he felt a strong arm wrapping around his waist from behind, before he was pulled back.

"Uwah?!"

The foreigner's grip around his arms loosened and there was at least as much surprise written on the man's face as what Nino felt. He instinctively put his hands on the arm wrapped around him and turned back, confused, to see who just rescued him. But before he could turn around, Nino was pressed against the firm chest of his rescuer in a tight embrace, in a swift movement. Nino's nervously beating heart stopped for a moment, when he realized it was Sho, who was now trying to stable the young man pressing against him, determined but gentle at the same time. Nino was surprised by the sudden closeness, the heat of Sho's chest against his cheek and hands, and his strong arms circled around him, not too tight, but in a protective way. Nino's heart started beating again, now even faster than before, but not driven by fear.

"Excuse me, but could you please leave my boyfriend alone?" Sho grumbled in perfect English, his voice firm, even if a little rougher than usual.

"Your boyfriend?!" Nino heard the foreigner remarking in surprise, but he didn't turn to look at him and instead allowed his eyes to search for Sho's face. The unamused look mixed with the usual serious expression of the alien made the man look extremely pissed.

"Boyfriend?" the young man whispered under his breath, not being able to tear his eyes from Sho. He blushed.

"I understand that you try to hit on such a cute guy," Sho continued, tightening his embrace a little bit and causing Nino to blush even more. "But I fear I have to inform you that he's already mine."

"Ah... well, I didn't know that, sorry dude," the foreigner chuckled, nervously, finally giving in, as he lifted his hands in defense. Sho just continued glaring at the man until he took a few steps back. "Well then, lucky you, enjoy your evening, guys."

"Thanks, you too," Sho replied, seemingly polite, the look in his eyes still stern and strict.

He watched the man leave, but did not let go off Nino, not even when the stranger was long out of sight. He continued standing there, pressing Nino close, in protection. By now, Nino felt all hot, the warm afternoon air around them, and the heat radiating from Sho's body, as well as his own glowing face, each paying their tribute to the situation. Even if Nino did not really mind it, when people passing them started giving them suspicious looks, he started to slightly shift in the other man's embrace.

"Uhm... Sho?" he asked, his voice sounding a little croaky. He cleared his throat before he continued. "I think he's gone now, you can…"

"Oh," Sho immediately picked up.

He quickly loosened the grip around Nino and allowing him to take a step away from him. Still, he didn't break their body contact completely, letting his hand rest on Nino's upper arm. In comparison to the grip of the stranger from before, Nino did not feel the urge of backing off, at all.

"I apologize, Nino. I hope I didn't grab your shoulder too tightly," the alien said, even starting to slightly rub his hand up and down on the spot he was touching on Nino's arm, which caused the other to chuckle slightly, feeling amused.

"No, no problem, it's fine," Nino replied, offering a smile. "I'm just… uhm... boyfriend?" he asked, lifting one of his eyebrows, hoping he could express his confusion to the other man.

Sho blinked, and for a moment, Nino thought he saw his face slip, the man cleared his throat and averted his eyes before he quickly got hold of himself again.

"I am sorry if this made you feel uncomfortable, Nino, but I thought it might be a good idea to use myself as your alibi, so that those guys won't harass you any longer," Sho said and Nino smiled at the familiar sound of the phrasing. Hadn't he said something similar during the party on the roof top when he needed to make clear that he wasn't interested in Yuriko?

"So you lied and told them, I'm your boyfriend...," the man murmured. Probably, it was just that, but as Sho last time said he wouldn't mind being Nino's boyfriend, maybe this time he meant it again?

"Was that a bad idea?" Sho asked.

Nino shook his head, smiling. "Uhm... no, it's fine."

"Good," the alien replied, and finally let his arm sink. Nino was almost disappointed, but not for long, as Sho soon after reached for Nino's hand and took it into his, before prompting him to continue their way. "I suggest, you stay close to me and we will continue pretending to be boyfriends, so that nobody else will hit on you accidentally."

"If you ask me, guys, you don't even need to pretend," a familiar voice said with a chuckle.

When Nino looked up from his and Sho's joined hands, he looked right into his best friend's grinning face, Aiba, next to the young designer, grinning even wider.

"Oh, shut up, Jun!" Nino murmured, trying not to blush. He did not let go of Sho's hand though but instead pressed the alien's hand tighter.

"Aren't they cute?" Jun asked Aiba, who just nodded.

"So cute!" the alien prince cooed.

Before Nino could protest or say anything else, Jun turned around, grabbing Aiba's hand in the process, and pulled him forward. "Come on, Ma-chan, I'll take your hand too, so that everybody see that you belong to me and will not dare hitting on you."

"Okay~!"

Nino found Sho staring at him, when he looked to his side, but he didn't feel uncomfortable, instead, he felt protected. He sent Sho a grateful smile, which the other man reciprocated, before they started walking after the other couple, hand in hand.

+

Surprisingly, Nino did not really mind walking with Sho, holding hands, not even, when people around them started staring and whispering behind their hands. At least, like this, no one had the nerves to hit on anyone of them again. Further, Nino found himself liking the connection between his and Sho's body. It was exciting and calming at the same time. He just felt good. He realized just once again that being with Sho felt really good, but he told himself that it didn't matter, since he would never start anything with the alien anyway.

However, just because Nino was ready to share some personal space with Sho, it did not mean that he was also ready to share a room with the other man. Nino had booked two rooms for two people each, and his initial plan was to share a room with his best friend, while the two Ar-Rashians sharing the second room. With Jun and Aiba teaming up once they were back in the hotel, it soon became apparent that they planned to hijack Nino's plan.

"Wait, Jun, where are you going?" Nino asked, when he stopped in front of his and Jun's assigned room, but his friend kept walking behind Aiba.

"Huh?" the young designer turned around, raising his eyebrows. "I'm going to my room," he stated matter-of-factly.

"No no, this is your room. We're sharing," Nino said, pointing at the door in front of him and then gesturing between him and Jun. The way Aiba looked at Jun, and Jun looked back at Aiba, though, gave him an inkling that he might have gotten something wrong. Well… of course.

"No no, this is your room," Jun replied, just as expected, pointing at Nino and then at Sho with a wide grin. "You two are sharing, and I'm sharing with Ma-chan."

"But-," Nino spoke up, already feeling his cheeks turning red at the premise of sharing a room with Sho.

He couldn't even finish his intervention though, as Aiba immediately jumped on the other man – literally, grabbing his arm and starting to jump up and down with an excited, "Jun, come on, I want see our room!"

"Are you serious?!" Nino's voice broke, as he flashed his best friend a desperate look.

He should have known that Jun wanted to spend some alone time with his new alien boyfriend, sure, however, somehow, Nino had hoped his best friend would not leave him alone with the other alien, especially as he already seemed to know how uncomfortable it would make Nino feel. He had been naïve, of course. Nevertheless, this insight didn't sooth his upwelling panic. He quickly grabbed Jun by his elbow and flashed Aiba an apologetic smile as he asked him to kindly lend him his friend for a second, and pulled him away, along the corridor and around a corner, to be able to talk to him, alone.

"You can't leave me alone with him," Nino hissed, knowing how desperate he must sound and how red his face must be.

"Come on, Nino, what's the problem with sharing a room with your boyfriend?" Jun whispered back, obviously teasing him with the reference to the small play from before that the two men used to scare away the stranger. "I bet you two will have a great time. Now loosen up and enjoy. We're on holiday."

Nino quickly shook his head. "We're still on a mission, if I may remind you -"

"Which doesn't mean we cannot have a little fun, can we?" Jun shot back, wiggling his eyebrows.

Trying to suppress a frustrated groan, Nino rubbed his hand over his face before he turned back at Jun, "I don't want to-"

"As I told you, I do really recommend sleeping with an alien," Jun interrupted him right away. "And by now I am one hundred percent convinced that Sho would definitely be willing to share such kind of experience with you. Now don't act as if you aren't interested in him, I see the way you look at him, Nino, you really like him and he's your type, so?"

"He's still an alien," Nino whispered, stubbornly, even if he was not able to negate the rest of Jun's observation right away.

"Argument invalid," his best friend shook his head. "It doesn't matter."

Nino frowned, searching for a working counter argument. He looked Jun right in the eye, before he parted his lips again, took a deep breath.

"But what if-" I really fall in love with him and he breaks my heart when leaving to return to his home planet galaxies away Nino was about to say, when he suddenly got interrupted by a much too enthusiastic alien prince jumping him from around the corner and making him squeal internally in surprise.

"Guys!" the alien yelled, excitedly.

"Gosh, Aiba, don't scare me like that!" Nino exclaimed, pressing his hand over his heart to calm himself down.

"We want go down to the outdoor hot spring and take a bath together, come on!" the alien prince said with a wide grin, reaching for both, Nino and Jun's hands to pull them with him, back to Sho.

"Good idea! Let's take a bath, chill and go for dinner afterwards. You'll join us, Nino?" Jun immediately jumped on the train.

"Surely not!" the other man replied, trying to free his hand from Aiba.

"Why?" Sho asked, once Nino came to halt right in front of him.

"Nino, come one, you're not shying away from joining a public bath with us, are you?" Jun asked, rolling his eyes.

Nino stayed stubborn, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "I don't have to. I pass."

"Oh, come on Nino, don't be such a prude!" slowly but surely, Jun seemed to become unnerved by his friend too. He leaned it towards Nino, lowering his voice to a whisper. "I'm sure, Sho wants to see you naked too, so no need to be shy."

A not successful whisper, apparently, as Sho seemed to have picked up Jun's comment and immediately added, "I wouldn't mind, indeed."

As much as Nino appreciated Sho's honesty and straightforwardness, sometimes it was just a little too much to handle. Embarrassed, Nino averted his eyes. Seemingly, there was no escape.

"Anyway, we should get changed, go down to take a bath and then enjoy dinner together. I saw their menu when we checked in before; they have a luxury menu on sale for couples, so we'll get four for the price of two!" Jun grinned.

"We are not a couple!" Nino mumbled.

"We can be," Sho replied, looking directly at Nino, who slightly blushed. His mind was carried back to just about half an hour ago, when Sho was holding his hand, protecting him.

"You mean, we can pretend," he murmured.

Sho shrugged. "Whatever you prefer."

It sounded so neutral, almost indifferent that Nino couldn't help but feel a jab in his heart upon hearing Sho voicing it like that. But what did he expect? What did he even want? He himself didn't know it any longer.

"I'm confused," Nino sighed heavily.

"Why? I think it's pretty simple," Jun intervened.

"But-"

"I want to eat Kobe beef...," Sho murmured, slightly distracted, his mind obviously drifting away to other spheres, and Nino felt like something hit him right into his chest. So, this was all just about food, wasn't it?

"In case you're worried about him seeing you naked, don't worry, his mind seems to be completely distracted by the upcoming dinner," Jun chuckled, turning the knife, grinning.

Nino frowned. "I didn't-"

"Don't tell me, you're disappointed now," his best friend asked in his much too sweet voice, mocking Nino.

"I'm not-"

"OK, then let's get started!" Sho exclaimed, unexpectedly sounding very excited, surprising his friends, but Aiba immediately joined.

"Taking a bath together, yei!"

"Why does nobody let me finish my sentences?!" Nino groaned, frustrated, but was too tired to fight back when Jun finally pushed him and Sho into the same room. He gave up, and just turned around, embarrassed, when Sho started to get undressed right in front of him, to change into the yukata the hotel provided for each guest.

+

Eventually, they ended up taking a bath together. It was relaxing and exciting at the same time, the heat of the water making Nino sleepy, while the view of Sho's – admittedly gorgeous – naked body woke parts of the young man he was glad he could hide under the water.

He tried to put as much distance between him and his friends, as possible, saying something about wanting to enjoy the bath by himself, and luckily, they didn't bother him too much. So, while Nino tried to calm down his head and body, letting the warm water surround him and take off the stress of the day, the only thing he could hear from the other men was a bit chit-chat and laughter in low voices, in order not to disturb any other visitors at the hot spring.

It was an outdoor bath, which was just the best they could have, the hot water warming them up and the fresh evening air cooling their heads. The sky was darkening with every passing second, until stars after stars were popping up in the darkness above them. In the end, Nino really managed to relax, so much, that even when the others let him know they were going back and change for dinner, he told them he'd just enjoy the water for a few more minutes and would follow them soon. Jun quickly reminded Nino not to fall asleep in the water, and they vanished.

Nino didn't fall asleep and he kept his promise and joined his friends for dinner not much later, slightly hungry, happy and in complete harmony with the world. The three men had only ordered something to drink, waiting for their friend, who sat down on the empty seat next to Sho, who was sitting around the corner of the table. When their knees met for a second, Nino blushed a little and pulled back. Sho, whose eyes he met in the process, didn't look away but instead offered him a smile that Nino couldn't help but answer. Jun then indeed managed to convince the waitress that they were two couples. On our honeymoon, he added with a wink and putting his arm around Aiba to highlight his point, and the young girl's cheeks flushed as she turned away bashfully to place the order with the kitchen staff.

Soon, they enjoyed the first course consisting of cabbage salad, pickled pumpkin and fried gyoza (which were good, even if not as good as Nino's, as Sho assured him), before the main course was served – Kobe beef. With that, Sho's attention was completely gone, and Nino (in order not to get jealous of the restaurant's chef who triggered one of the most delightful expressions on Sho's face he had ever seen) had to remind himself that the only reason why Sho was so over the moon was that he never had Kobe beef before.

All of a sudden, as if Sho was reading Nino's mind, he stopped himself in an attack of delight, turning to Nino after swallowing a piece of meat, and looking at him all serious.

"Of course, I'm convinced, if you were the one cooking this meal, it would taste even better, Nino!" Sho said, before returning to his plate full of delicious meat.

He left the other man with flushed red cheeks. How could he even blurt something like this out so straightforwardly? Not that it didn't make Nino's heart stumble a little, not that Nino didn't appreciate Sho's thought, and he sincerely did not doubt that Sho really meant what he just said. It was incredible but on top of it all, absolutely embarrassing. Still, Nino couldn't help but smile, even if his smile was wiped out of his face and replaced by a nonchalant look, as soon as he caught Jun grinning at him widely.

After a gorgeous dinner, the four men decided to shift their position from the restaurant into Nino and Sho's room upstairs, to continue chatting and drinking for a bit longer. While Aiba and Sho, as the responsible aliens they were, kept drinking their Oolong tea, Nino and Jun had switched to beer, which very soon showed its effects. Jun eventually became quite touchy with Aiba, not minding that Sho and Nino watching, which Aiba seemingly enjoyed, as they soon stuck together in an embrace, exchanging small touches and kisses over and over again. Sho did not seem to mind, at all, however, Nino eventually started feeling uncomfortable, as the actions the two men were sharing right in front of him reminded him so much on the things he wanted to do with Sho. Oh well, the alcohol had done its thing and made Nino admit that now, at least to himself. He still wasn't interested in admitting it to any other people inside this room yet, though.

To distract his mind, Nino kept asking Sho questions throughout the whole evening, about his planet, about his and Aiba's journeys, about space in general, trying to take note of every piece of information he got – which were very interesting – but only to find out that he found Sho's moving lips even more interesting after all. He was about to start trying to convince Jun again to stay in this room with him tonight, but when he spotted his best friend and Aiba sharing a heated kiss, he advanced to kicking them out to "get their own room" instead.

With that, in the end, Nino was left with what he initially wanted to prevent so badly – him and Sho alone in a room. His heart beat picked up the second he closed the door behind Jun and his alien boyfriend, and it did not become better when he turned around and saw Sho sitting at the coffee table, sipping from his Oolong tea and realized just once more how adorable and sexy the man looked in that hotel yukata. Just a second later, Sho locked eyes with him.

Nino felt his cheeks blush, cleared his throat and averted his look, starting to walk through the room, passing Sho, until he reached the balcony door and pushed it open to step outside. The cool night air welcomed him, brushing against his face softly, and the sounds of nature embraced the young man immediately. There was the serene rustling of leaves from the trees in beautiful backyard of the hotel, and the soft burble of a fountain. It was wonderful, and wonderfully distracting, when Nino put his arms on top of the wooden handrail, at least, until he heard shuffling footsteps from behind and Sho appeared right next to him, just a minute later.

"Are you OK, Nino?" the man asked in a low voice. "Did you drink too much beer?"

Nino actually considered the possibility to blame it on the beer – just everything. Not just the fact that he indeed was a little tipsy, but also the fact that he felt more and more attracted to Sho, the more time they spent together, as if his heart didn't mind his brains interventions of not falling in love with an alien, might there be just as many reasons for why it was better not to. Maybe, if things got a little out of hand, he also could just blame it on the alcohol, Nino wondered. Jun was right, after all, even if Sho was not that easy to read, the signals had become more frequent over the last couple of weeks, and even a blind man could see, that Sho at least wouldn't be opposed to become a bit experimental, most likely. But wouldn't that be sly of Nino to just go with the flow and then blame the alcohol? He had never been the type for a one-night stand. If something happened, he wanted it to happen in a relationship. He also had never been the type who believed in love at first sight or anything, but what he felt towards Sho was coming very close to that. But if it was just for one night, would he be satisfied? Most likely, not.

"Nino?" Sho asked again, pulling the young man out of his thoughts. "Are you feeling sick?"

Nino slightly turned his head and looked at the alien. His heart was beating faster, and he could really feel the urge of his body to lean sideward against Sho's strong chest, wanting to feel that warm embrace again that they had shared two times now, first on the party of the roof top and for the second time just a few hours ago. Both times it had just been for show, in order to keep other people away, but nevertheless, the body contact felt good. At least so good, that Nino was seeking more of it.

"Ah no, I'm fine, don't worry," Nino finally replied, and if he wasn't mistaken, he thought he saw Sho's serious face relax a bit.

"I'm relieved to hear that," the alien answered just a second later, and Nino smiled, slightly desperate.

On the one hand, of course he liked hearing that Sho was worried about him. It made him feel special, made him get his hopes up that Sho might really feel about him the same way Nino was feeling about him, but at the same time, it just felt difficult. Complicated.

"It's a beautiful night, tonight, isn't it?" Sho continued, when Nino didn't jump on the conversation.

It immediately reminded Nino on their conversation on the roof top during the party. He smiled and, mirroring Sho's answer from back then, replied, "It's indeed a beautiful night."

"This planet is just fascinating. I really like it here," Sho continued. "I can understand why the prince chose this planet to hide."

Nino had to pull himself together, not to say "You could stay". It wasn't his place to make such a suggestion, especially not, knowing how much needed Sho was on his home planet, how much he was needed by Aiba, and how fulfilled he was from his purpose. What could he offer Sho in exchange?

"Recently, I was wondering, if I couldn't stay," the alien suddenly said, making Nino's face slip in surprise. "I mean... I thought about what you said about the prince. Why not wait until he has enough of rest and comes back to Ar-Rash by himself? It might take a bit longer, but, even if the princes' father said he wants to retire soon, I don't think he will retire fully until he can't be sure his sons are ready to take over the lead of his nation. And if we stay here, just a bit longer... there would be no harm done."

Nino was truly surprised by the man's words. He had expected Sho to want to find the prince and get back home as soon as possible. It was true, their search wasn't really crowned by success so far, but it was still their mission. Nino's thoughts surrounding the whole situation ran wild. He was wondering about Aiba and Sho, he was wondering about Aiba's brother, about the search, about the man's escape from his home planet. He wondered again, if it was the right thing to try finding him, in the first place. He wondered, if things weren't better if everybody was free. If the aliens were free, what might they want to do? What might Sho want to do? If he really would want to stay on earth, if he had the possibility to? Maybe, even, forever? Honestly, Nino really wouldn't mind spending more time with the alien, getting to know him better. Even, if he still was scared of getting too close, of getting his heart broken when he found out that it wouldn't last.

"I would like to stay here," the alien kept on talking when Nino still didn't reply, tongue-tied as he was. He looked straight into Nino's eyes, unwavering, for a few long seconds, and Nino just looked back. "I would like to look at the stars every night. Together with you."

Nino held his breath for a moment upon hearing Sho saying those last words. It wasn't quite a confession, but it felt like one. He blushed, searching his mind to say something smart, something witty, something to make the whole situation appear as a joke, not in order to make fun of Sho and his words, but in order to place himself safe, to run away, to not say the words back right away, like his heart told him to do.

"Say, Sho...," Nino finally started talking. He broke their eye-contact and instead guided his look over the balcony down into the beautiful traditional garden. "If you guys are shape shifters, as you already told me, I assume that Aiba's brother is a shape shifter too, right?"

He could almost hear the confusion about the sudden change of topic in Sho's slightly hesitant reply. "Well... yes, we all are, indeed."

"So he must have changed his appearance too, right? For hiding purposes?"

"He's quite smart, so yes, I assume he probably changed his appearance."

"How are you going to recognize him, then?" Nino asked, curious.

He did not receive any reply. Sho had frozen. Nino frowned.

"Sho?"

"It's really beautiful tonight, isn't it?" the alien asked, guiding his look towards the garden.

Nino started having a bad feeling about the situation. Could it be...? It couldn't, right? But he had to make sure.

"Sho... Is it possible that you don't even have any idea for whom you're looking for, exactly?"

Sho sighed, not able to keep the mask of ignorance on his face any longer. He looked at Nino, and it was the first time that Nino saw something like a hint of despair in the alien's eyes.

"I just hope we will kind of recognize him when we see him," Sho said. "We don't know his human form, that's true, but maybe there'll be other hints or some kind of... connection, maybe? His behaviour? I know it's a shot in the dark, but what other choice do we have?"

"You don't sound really hopeful," Nino slightly shook his head, sympathetically. "What about Aiba?"

"I think he kind of relies on me having an idea how to figure things out, so he probably thinks I really can recognize his brother when he crosses our path," Sho admitted. "But honestly, I reached a point at which I rather hope the prince will follow your strategy and get into contact with us by himself, sooner or later, or activate the location system of his AI again..."

"I guess then it's really just a matter of waiting, isn't it?"

Sho didn't reply. He looked demotivated. As if he felt like he lost. Nino's heart tightened. He knew Sho was being serious, but not like that, it was horrible to look at and he wanted to help the alien feel better. If he could maybe cheer him up a little bit? Nino tried to smile, even if it might look a little forced, and leaned a bit closer towards Sho, until his elbow poked Sho's. The alien looked at him, wondering.

"So actually, you only wanted to come here because of the Kobe beef, right?" Nino asked the other man, challenging, his lips pulled into a smirk. "How sleek of you, Sho," he continued, chuckling.

For a moment, Sho just looked back at Nino, but eventually, his lips curled up too, slightly. He smirked. "It was worth it."

"You food junkie," Nino replied, jokingly.

"But I'm glad we came here," Sho said with a sincere smile. "It's a really wonderful place and I enjoy spending time with all of you. Thank you for booking this wonderful hotel for us, Nino."

The young man felt warmth spreading in his chest. He definitely liked smiling Sho way better than desperate Sho, he thought. He stretched his arms and took a deep breath. "Well, at least the trip isn't completely wasted. Let's count it as experience for you and Aiba."

"You're too kind, Nino," Sho replied, before his look turned more serious again. "Even if I wasn't completely honest with you..."

Slightly confused, Nino frowned, letting his arms sink to his sides. "What do you mean?"

"You said you like my trait of being honest, and so I tried to continue being honest with you but recently...," Sho averted his look, he looked bashful. "I feel like there is a misunderstanding between us which is to be blamed on my inability to clearly say what I am thinking in this respect."

"Sho?" Nino's frown deepened. He wasn't going to say it, was he? Nino was just imagining things, why should he -

"Nino, I like you."

Crap. He said it.

Nino shut his eyes, tight, trying to think what this actually meant, or if he was interpreting it wrongly. Wondered, what to do next.

"Sho, you don't know what you're saying," the young man started in a whisper. He couldn't mean it.

Sho shook his head but did not break eye contact with Nino. "I know exactly, what I'm saying," he said, turning to face Nino straight on. "And I'm being honest. I might be not good in this, as I never felt like that before, but I mean it, I like you, actually, more than just like you. I think it's rather a feeling falling into the category of what you earthlings call being in love with someone."

Nino looked at Sho, slightly shaking his head. No, it couldn't be true. And if it was, it would only make things complicated. This was cruel. Why was the alien raising hope in Nino if there was no way things between them would work out in the long run? Why would he make Nino's heart feel like it was bursting, from the joy, and from the pain that would surely come?

"What you love is the food I cook for you every day," Nino tried a way out with a broken chuckle in his voice and a crooked smile on his lips. If there was any chance to talk Sho out of this, he should better try it.

"Well, I truly like your food, that's true," Sho admitted, nodding in appreciation. "However, I can very much distinguish my feelings for food from the feelings for people. I learned quite a lot since I've come to this planet. I learned a lot from Jun and Aiba, I learned a lot from TV shows and movies-"

Nino laughed, hoping his laughter did not sound as desperate as he was feeling right now. "Not very trustworthy sources, if you ask me-"

"Please, let me finish," Sho intervened, all serious and reaching out to grab Nino's hands, making the other man stand still. "And please, don't look down on me. Just because I'm not from here, and not used to feel and show as much emotions like earthlings, it doesn't mean I can't feel. And now, I want to show you my feelings."

Nino swallowed. He looked at Sho, and those beautiful dark brown eyes looked like they were trying to convey the truth. Nino's heart beat fast. The warmth of Sho's hands tickled over his skin and spread over his whole body, even reaching inside Nino's chest.

"Nino, the most I learned from you, since I came to Earth," the alien continued, slightly pressing Nino's hands. "I learned about people's kindness through you, about how important interaction between people is, how important it is, that food is made by hands who care about the food's recipients. You inspired me to learn about things that I never really thought about back home, where I was only functioning the way I should, and not living the way I wanted to. I learned about people's mixed emotions, about contradicting feelings and behaviour, about pride and about friendship, and about love. I learned about you, how conscientious you are fulfilling your job, how much you care for your friends and family. You even care for the friends and family of strangers, or you wouldn't have suggested to help me and Aiba to find his brother. I learned what a wonderful person you are, and I learned, how much I like you. Please, don't look down on me or deny me my feelings."

"I... I don't look down on your feelings, Sho," Nino finally said. He was deeply touched by Sho's words. He took a long breath before he continued. "Listen, I'm sorry. I'm bad in vocalizing myself sometimes, I'm real clumsy when it comes to stuff like this. It's not my place to file your feelings as valid or invalid, you are the only one who knows what you feel, so if you say it... I believe you."

It was true. It wasn't Nino's right to judge the validity of Sho's feelings, and rather than only thinking about all the complicated consequences this confession would bring with it, shouldn't he be grateful that someone as fascinating and pure as Sho was actually genuinely interested in him? He at least should acknowledge the other man's feelings and respect him for voicing them so boldly.

When Sho came another step closer, shortening the distance between the two men, Nino didn't back off, nor did he pull his hands away or avert his eyes. Instead, he looked back at Sho, unwavering, even if his heart was pounding like crazy, even if he felt his cheeks flushing.

"I love you," Sho whispered, and Nino's heart melted.

The next thing, Nino realized, was the sensation of Sho's soft plum warm lips pressing against his own, as if their lips had been drawn together like magnets. He was a little surprised at the sudden action, at the boldness of the man in front of him, and at the same time he was not. A kiss was the logical conclusion of a confession, at least that must be how Sho's train of thought must have went, and honestly, Nino quickly had to admit, that he could get used to that feeling. He found himself loosening the tension that had made his body feel stiff, and even leaned a little forward into the kiss that he now reciprocated. It felt just wonderful. Like something he had dreamed about and finally gotten. Sho let go of Nino's hands, just in favour of pulling him closer into an embrace, and while his hands wrapped around Nino's shoulders, Nino found his own hands passing Sho's sides and sliding to his back, his fingers burying in the fabric of Sho's yukata. It was like they couldn't be close enough to each other...

The kiss heated up, and soon, Nino was short of breath. He drew back a little, his heart pounding in his throat, his mouth hot and wet, his mind and heart both drunken from the affection he felt towards that man in his arms, alien or not, the desire he felt whenever he was close to him, wanting to be even closer, the love Nino had developed for Sho over this short period of them knowing each other. It was like a miracle...

"I... I have to breathe, I'm sorry," Nino chuckled at the slightly confused look of Sho. He let his hands wander forward, until they rested on Sho's chest. "Don't you aliens need to breathe?" he joked, but was quickly shut up by a peck on his lips.

"I'm sorry," Sho whispered as he drew back a little and then leaned a bit forward again, to rest his forehead against Nino's. "I just... I guess my feelings became too overwhelming so that I lost control over myself. I hope you excuse that I did this without asking for your consent."

Nino chuckled. "It's OK."

"Really?"

Nino nodded. "Really. Usually, it's not even something you ask about before doing it, anyway... Which doesn't mean you can just run around and kiss random people, of course, you have to sense if the other person would like it too or not and -"

The young man was interrupted by another kiss, and – of course – he didn't complain. Nino's hands found their way up, to cup Sho's face, intensifying their kiss. It was incredible how right this felt, Nino thought, as he realized, how badly he really had wanted to kiss Sho. Despite the odds, despite he didn't know what the future could offer them. His heart had decided that tonight, it didn't matter.

Their second kiss was softer, longer, and rather consisting of several smaller ones than their first passionate kiss. It was easier for Nino like this, to breathe, and to drag out the enjoyment as long as possible. He felt all warm in Sho's embrace, all safe and right, and when they ended their kiss and Sho gently hugged him closer, Nino instinctively wrapped his arms around him again. He let his eyes closed, when he snuggled his cheek against Sho's warm chest. He could probably spend the eternity of time, standing here like this with him.

"I would like us to go inside and take you in my arms when falling asleep," it was Sho, who broke the silence first. His face, unreadable before, was now showing a soft smile. Nino loved it, and when Sho continued, Nino wasn't so sure if he could really believe his ears. "I never want to let you go."

Nino still felt like he was in a delirium. All this was just so surreal, still so amazing, he indeed started wondering, if anything of this was true or if he was simply dreaming. If he was, he now felt snapped out from his dream, as he took a step back from Sho and looked at him, as if only now realizing what just happened between them. Suddenly, panic rushed over him. No, why couldn't he just enjoy the moment and let things happen? Why did his brain need to interfere now, bringing up all his doubts again?

"I – I'm not tired yet," Nino finally stumbled, torn apart between wanting to go inside and cuddle with Sho for the rest of the night, and wanting to run away and hide and pretend nothing had happened between them. Still, he didn't fully pull away from Sho, as if clinging to the man's yukata would help him make a decision. For now, he probably simply needed a little bit of time alone to clear his mind. "You can go ahead and... I will come inside in a couple of minutes."

Sho smiled softly and lifted one of his hands to gently brush over Nino's face. Instinctively, Nino reached up to put his hand on top of Sho's, slightly snuggling into the warmth.

"Then I'll wait for you inside," Sho said in a low voice. "I'm ready for you, whenever you are."

Not quite sure to which extent Sho was referring right now, Nino became a bit insecure. He didn't want to get the wrong ideas or make Sho have the wrong ones. "Y-you aren't asking me for-"

"I will not force you to have sex with me, Nino," Sho immediately cut him, but this time, Nino was actually grateful that he did not have to finish his sentence by himself.

"So, just cuddling while we fall asleep...," the young man concluded.

Sho nodded. "Right."

"I guess, we can do that," Nino replied. Probably. If they did not cross that last line, maybe things would stay OK.

Sho leaned forward and placed a small tender kiss on Nino's forehead, causing the man to inhale sharply and close his eyes for a second. This closeness between them, no matter how passionate or innocent the touches, felt so intimate, it left Nino with feeling sensitive all over his body. Damned, this man had control over him, it was almost scary. But it was a good sense of excitement, Nino's heart told him. If just his brain would follow this argumentation too.

While watching Sho getting inside to prepare for sleep, Nino tried not to let his inner battle win over the need for relaxing and enjoying the peaceful environment. He took a few long breaths, letting the fresh night air fill his lungs and clear his mind. In the end, it took Nino about ten minutes to be ready to go inside. He paid the bathroom a short visit to get ready for bed, and then found Sho already spread over the floor, occupying one futon of two that he had laid out right next to each other, apparently, waiting for him.

The smile on Sho's face was sweet but insecure, and Nino's heart constricted at that sight. If his behaviour had managed to make Sho feel insecure, the alien might probably be deeper invested emotionally, as Nino had expected. He really had to learn not to expect to know other people's feelings, especially not, when they were usually hard to read, like Sho was.

Nino lay down, following his heart, and cuddled up to the alien. Sho's smile lost the bit of insecurity upon Nino getting closer, and they exchanged a sincere smile, before Sho moved, turning his full body towards Nino and capturing him in an embrace. After pecking Sho's lips, Nino smiled, and closed his eyes.

"Good night, Sho," he whispered, cuddling closer into Sho's hug.

"Sleep well, Nino."

 

TBC

Chapter Text

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. JUNE 2, 2018. 07:30 AM, JST. Arima Hot Springs, near Kobe+

 

"So?" Jun asked.

"So?" Aiba mirrored.

"So what?" Sho repeated, puzzled.

He had just sat down on one of the small floor cushions spread out all around the coffee table in Jun and Aiba's room, which had been designated for letting breakfast for the four guests be served at, since Nino was still asleep in his and Sho's room and did not expect to be bombarded with confusing questions. Sho had made sure that Nino was tucked in properly and had left a small handwritten massage beside his pillow, asking him to join them once he was awake.

"How did it go last night?" Jun prompted.

"With Nino?" Aiba continued.

"Did you-," Jun made a strange gesture Sho couldn't quite fit with a meaning, so he just gave him a slight frown.

However, he had picked up, of course, that the two must be referring to his progress with Nino in regards to love. To them, it wasn't a secret that Sho liked Nino. Really liked him. Aiba had probably known it even way before Sho himself had admitted that his interest in researching about love had never really been that in the first place but simply him falling in love with Nino. Still, Aiba had never pushed the topic on him and had just been the overly happy adorable friend he always was, when Sho finally spilt the beans some time ago and went to his prince for advice. And Jun, well, Jun did not seem to have any problem with imagining his best friend dating an alien, either, as he wasn't a hypocrite but full-on supporter. Convincing Nino about all this had turned to be the most complicated part. Sho had to admit, that sometimes, he did not understand Nino that well. He seemed to be a rather complicated personality among the Earthlings, however, this fact added up even more points on the list why Sho liked him. Nino was interesting. Fascinating. Sho wanted to get to know him better, his mind, his heart, his body, everything of him.

"I told him that I love him," Sho eventually reported.

"Oh!" Aiba clasped his hands before his mouth, mumbling an entranced squeal.

"I think, he didn't believe me," though, Sho added, lowering his look.

Breakfast had already been served, a variety of traditional Japanese small dished, but for some reason, even if they looked delicious and very appealing, Sho did not feel like eating. He frowned a little at himself. Was he sick?

"What?!" Aiba apparently couldn't believe it, whereas Jun just rolled his eyes. Did he expect such a reaction from his best friend?

"At first, at least," Sho continued, trying to make sense. "Well, I don't know if he really does believe me now, but I tried my best to explain my feelings. I'm not used to that and I admit, I was a little... scared. Which I'm not used to, either."

Aiba was pressing his lips together, tightly, and for some reason, he looked like he was about to start crying. The prince leapt over the table in an attempt to hug Sho, just to have Jun hold him back so that he wouldn't swipe all the dishes from the table in that process. In the end, the man jumped up and dashed around the table to fall around his best friend's neck.

"Sho, I so proud of you!" the prince exclaimed, making Sho feel all warm inside at the appreciation.

"So?" Jun asked again. "How did it end?! Tell us!"

"I kissed him."

"Oh my gosh!" Now it was Jun's turn to clasp his hands in front of his mouth, almost freaking out. "That's amazing news! Did he kiss you back?"

Sho nodded, the memory of the scene on the balcony from last night making him feel all excited all over again. He knew he wasn't good in showing emotions, well, he had not been the best in feeling emotions either, before coming here, so this was quite a new experience for him, a little frightening but not just in a negative way.

"Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!"

Sho couldn't help but smile a little. It was kind of cute, how excited Jun became too when hearing about Sho's experience. This human emotion – empathy, as Sho had already learned – was another thing that fascinated him so much about the Earthlings. Feeling with someone, even if they did not share the experience first-hand, was something that most people from his folk – Aiba excluded, as he was an emotional exception all along – was not too big on. But spending time here on Earth definitely had helped Sho with starting to admire empathy, and even slowly but surely develop this skill by himself. He liked that.

"Good, good!" Aiba chimed in, happily, patting Sho's shoulder in approval.

"So? What happened then?" Jun asked further.

"I told him I wanted to hold him in my arms while sleeping."

"How innocent," Jun chuckled.

"How cute!" Aiba cheered.

"He did not agree right away, though... so first, I feared he wouldn't want to. I guess he needed a moment to think about everything I told him," Sho admitted, remembering how long that moment hat felt to him until Nino had finally joined him, and the relief he had felt when he finally had been able to hold him close.

"That's so Nino!" Jun groaned. "I hope he didn't overthink everything, he's a master at this..."

Sho shook his head before he proudly said, "He came to bed a little later, and allowed me to hold him in my arms while sleeping."

Jun chuckled. "Thank God!"

"So cute!" Aiba said again.

"I wanted to kiss him again... but I felt I should better wait and then he pecked my lips and we went to sleep," Sho finished his report. It had been more he had been hoping for. He shouldn't become greedy.

"Sho, I've got a good feeling about this," Jun said, crossing his arms in front of his chest while smirking at him. "You're doing it just right! Give him a little time, I'm sure, everything will turn out well then."

Sho nodded, glad to hear confirmation for his plan, and thankful to receive advice from someone more experienced in this field. He might come back to Jun for relationship advice in the future if needed. Well, if there would be an actual relationship, that was, which Sho truly hoped for. The concept of a relationship here on Earth was so different than from how it was supposed to be on Ar-Rash, but the more Sho had learned about it, from research, but also from Aiba and Jun, the more appealing it sounded to his ears. He might not be a perfect partner, but he would be willing to learn. For Nino, he would be willing to do a lot of things.

There was a knock on the door, making the three men turn their faces, and a second later, Nino entered the room, still wearing his sleeping yukata, his hair standing on ends. He looked tired, but just as much adorable. Sho's heart started pounding a little faster, happy to see the other man.

"Good morning," Sho immediately greeted him.

"Good morning, guys," Nino replied, breaking in a yawn. He shuffled closer, to the empty space on the floor next to Sho, that Aiba just had freed for the newcomer, returning to Jun on the other side of the table. Nino frowned a little, stopping short. "What's that happy look on your faces, did I miss something?"

"Oh, nothing," Jun answered, but the suspicious grin on his lips didn't leave his face.

Nino shrugged and continued approaching the group. "I was a little confused when you were gone in the morning," he said to Sho in a low voice when he settled down next to him, slightly brushing the man's shoulder with his hand in the process. It was just a short touch, but it made Sho happy.

"I'm sorry," Sho replied. "I thought I was hungry when I woke up so..."

"You didn't touch your breakfast yet, though," Nino pointed out, the frown between his eyebrows increasing. He quickly reached his hand out to cover Sho's forehead, making him startle a little in surprise. Sho could feel his face turn warm from the sudden touch. "You're not sick, are you?" Nino asked, critically.

"I'm not," Sho replied, but it would be a lie if he said he wasn't grateful for Nino's worry. "I was just about to start," he continued, telling the truth. Upon the conversation with Jun and Aiba and Nino's appearance, his appetite had definitely returned. "Doesn't it look delicious?"

"Let's dig in," Nino nodded, lazily clapping his hands together before reaching out for a glass of water to down it first before he picked up his chopsticks and a small bowl filled with rice and egg. He tried it, chewing slowly until he let his look wander around between his friends. He put down the chopsticks and rice bowl again. "Seriously, guys, don't think I don't notice you staring at me. What's going on here? Jun? Aiba? Sho? Sho! Did you tell them-"

Feeling caught, Sho quickly nodded. "They asked me what happened last night, and I told them."

"Oh, great...," Nino murmured.

Sho swallowed, the unamused look on Nino's face making him feel insecure all of a sudden, again. It was like there was a pit opening in his stomach and his appetite immediately felt non-existent again. What was this?!

"Are you mad at me now?" Sho asked, worried, leaning a bit forward and searching for eye contact with Nino, who just flashed him a little smile and shook his head. Sho released a long breath that only now realised he had been holding.

"He's just shy," Jun smiled broadly, winking at him. "As I told you, just give him a little time."

"I hate you, Jun," Nino grumbled before he returned to his breakfast.

Jun beamed. "No, you don't."

"No, I don't," Nino gave in, chuckling.

Sho might not have understood the content of that last bit of conversation, but while the choice of words between Nino and Jun did not make complete sense to him, he figured, that there must be affection between them, judging from the looks on their faces. Earthlings were still complicated, but Sho learned more and more about them with each passing day and was willing to continue his studies in order to become able to understand them and their twisted emotions even better. He exchanged a smile with Aiba, as if wanting to practice those human conventions, and then focused on enjoying breakfast again, his appetite back to normal, thankfully.

+

Of course, the mission "searching for the first prince of Ar-Rash" had not really made any real progress during the group's trip to Arima. Well, at least Nino now knew why, even if it was a slightly shocking moment when he found out about how clueless Sho and Aiba really were about this whole search, how little information and references they really had, and how lost Sho felt about the whole mission. It must stress the other man quite a bit. However, on the other hand, he did not seem too opposed to the option of staying still and waiting for things simply to happen and enjoying his time on Earth in the meantime.

During their trip, things had changed quite dramatically, Nino thought. He was still sitting on the fence while following the inner battle between his heart and brain about the whole thing with Sho, feeling a little lost too. He enjoyed kissing Sho and cuddling with Sho. There are no doubts about that, but he still wasn't ready to lose his heart to someone who could literally vanish from Earth's surface tomorrow. The idea alone caused Nino's heart to break a little.

Maybe, as long as they did not end up sleeping with each other, Nino would be able to file everything as a crush and nothing more. Then he might be able to keep himself sane and his heart from getting broken completely. He didn't know if it was in Sho's favour, maybe the other man wanted more, or wanted an adventure as long as he was on this planet. Nino did not doubt Sho's feelings towards him, he had learned about Sho's honest nature a long time ago, but he doubted that Sho's view on the situation was the same as his. The cultural differences – as Sho himself had already confirmed – were just different, so Nino wasn't sure if Sho wasn't able to mute his feelings as soon as it became necessary. The man was loyal to his friends and folks after all. He held an important position in the future reign of their planet, and he was bound to the royal family, wasn't he?

During their ride back home to Tokyo with the spaceship, in the evening, Nino's thoughts drifted off. He started imagining the ship changing course and returning to Ar-Rash, with Nino and Jun on board. He tried to imagine how it would be like, visiting a faraway planet if he and Jun could even survive on its surface, and he even tried to imagine how it would be to stay there, together with Sho, Aiba and Jun. It sounded like an adventure, but Nino was not sure if he would be ready to do that. What would become of his parents? His job? Earth? Nino was a person of habit. He liked his small world, his small circle of friends, and he loved his family. Most likely, he wouldn't be able to leave them behind in order to follow the man he had a crush on to a star in a distant galaxy. His heart ached at that realization. He might not be able to make such a decision, and he didn't want to. He tried to grasp the meaning behind all this, the miracle, the insanity of having an alien asking him to start a relationship with him, as Sho did after breakfast, and the madness of truly considering agreeing to that request.

Nino tried to occupy his thoughts with different things in order not to fall into a depressing state of mind. He should try and enjoy the moment, shouldn't he? That was what Jun kept telling him, and Jun was a master in enjoying life. So why was it so hard for Nino to follow his best friend's advice?

The man's mood did not really improve, not even when they reached Tokyo and Sho – who had been piloting the ship – had left his position and joined Nino in the back, while Aiba was busy with showing Jun a little more about the ship and Kee-ko's skills. Sho reached for Nino's hand, who let him take it into his, the warmth of the touch immediately spreading between them. It felt so good, Nino had to admit, he wanted more of it. They exited the ship together, leaving Jun and Aiba behind, and went back into the apartment.

Their hands were still linked when they settled down next to each other on the couch in the living room, and Nino absent-mindedly reached for the TV remote to switch on some random program. He wasn't sure what to talk about with Sho, or what to do, so he just waited for things to happen. They ended up watching a music program, featuring music videos from the latest charts.

"Are you OK, Nino?" Sho finally asked after minutes of awkward silence.

Nino turned his face, and when his eyes met Sho's, he swallowed. He wanted to say yes, but what left his lips was, "To be honest, Sho, I'm not sure."

"Is it about this?" the alien asked, pointing at their still linked hands. "Do you feel uncomfortable? I thought you like it, too. I don't want to force you into anything. Do you... did you change your mind about us?"

He sounded worried, and it hurt Nino to put Sho in this state, but if the alien was being honest with him, the least he could do in return was also being honest with Sho. Still, no words were willing to come out of Nino. He simply did not know what to say.

"Is it because I'm not an Earthling?" Sho eventually asked. "Are you perhaps scared about my true form?"

"What? No, Sho... it's nothing like that," Nino replied, frowning. Gosh, was he really making Sho overthink about his form of being already? This was truly not his intention, at all. "I mean, I don't know your real form yet, but I'm sure I won't mind it."

"I don't have a problem if you only like my human form, just a precaution," the alien intervened. "I can stay in this form forever if you want me to. I mean it, I'd do a lot of things for you if it makes you feel more comfortable."

"That's not the point, Sho," Nino didn't initially intend to jump onto that topic, but now that Sho started it; it made him worry about the other man, too. "But... wouldn't it be like betraying who you really are?"

"I appreciate your concerns, but for my species, as we are shapeshifters from birth, our appearance is not as big of a deal as it might be for you Earthlings, who only have one primary shape, so to say," Sho started to explain. "We can change appearance depending on our liking, there are almost no limits and almost no rules except that the crown wishes us to dress adequate to certain events, of course, but that's it. I can decide on how I want to look like, also based on your wishes."

As if to reinforce the sincerity of his statement, Sho pressed Nino's hand, and Nino could feel, that Sho's determination was true. That every single word he just had said, was true. And he couldn't even describe the feeling all this triggered inside him. It was overwhelming to hear someone talking like that, telling they'd be willing to adapt to such an extent. It was heartwarming, and Nino honestly wondered what he had done to deserve all this.

"Sho, my real problem here really does not have to do anything with what you're worrying about, believe me," Nino replied, answering the pressure of Sho's hand. "What I am worried about is what if I really like you and we get together and are happy and then, one day, I'll wake up and you're gone? Back to space, to your home, back to somewhere I could never reach you...," the imagination alone triggered Nino's eyes to become wet. He swallowed. "I... I'm scared. I don't want my heart to get broken."

"And I could never ever break your heart, believe me," Sho replied, almost immediately, reaching his free hand out to place it on Nino's cheek. With a swift motion, his thumb brushed away a single tear that fell from Nino's eyelashes.

"I wished I could…," the man smiled bitterly, but when Sho leaned forward to capture his lips in a soft and tender kiss, he didn't fight it. He couldn't.

"I won't leave you, I promise," Sho whispered as he drew back.

It was too late, though, to keep Nino from crying, as the young man's dam broke and all his emotions flooded over him, setting free big tears, clouding his vision, and unstoppable shaking of his whole body.

"How can you say that when you're the first assistant to the royal prince?" Nino sobbed. "Once you find the missing prince, even if you still don't know how or when that will be, you'll all be gone again, right?"

"But... I don't want to," Sho replied. "I don't want to leave you, and I won't. I promise. Please, Nino... There will be a way for us to stay together. There are other people on my planet who can take over my job –"

"Aiba needs you," Nino continued, slightly shaking his head, but Sho wasn't finished yet.

"Maybe I can find a way to do my job from here, I can consult the princes from the distance and I can travel back and forth if something urgent comes up... or I'll just run away, like the prince and continue with my translator job here on Earth..."

The sweet promise coming out from Sho's mouth sounded so alluring, so hopeful, so irresistible, that Nino's heart melted, and his mental wall crumbled down in an instant. Nino didn't know how realistic Sho's suggestions could be, but the man apparently had thought about various possibilities, and that alone showed Nino that he was indeed being serious about all this. And maybe, he was right? If Sho was really willing to find a way, maybe it would work?

"But..." Could Nino really hope?

Determined, Sho cupped Nino's face with both of his hands, forcing him to look him straight into his eyes. Nino took a deep breath, and held it, looking at Sho. Looking at all the honestly, the other man confronted him with. The sincerity, the passion. Love.

"Aiba will understand," Sho said. "He supports us. He wants us to be happy too. Please, Nino! If you like me the way I like you, let's try. I want us to be happy, and if you agree, we will be happy, I swear!"

The softness of Sho's voice in his ears, the warmth of his hands surrounding him, the connection Nino felt between them, it all felt just so real and he really wished he never would have to miss any of them ever.

"We can manage this together," Sho added, his voice almost a whisper.

Again, the man let his thumbs brush over Nino's from tears smeared face, catching a couple of new tears. He leaned closer then, slowly, as if waiting for Nino to push him away or show him his consent, but all Nino could do was keep crying out all his feelings, all the pain, all the swelling hope, all the love he had developed for Sho.

He didn't want to lose him, he really didn't want to. He wanted to believe in his words, wanted Sho to keep his promise. He didn't struggle, when Sho kissed him again, instead, he leaned in, too, reaching for Sho to pull him closer, desperate, needing, and it was almost as if their kiss had some healing effect on Nino's heart, as it immediately made him feel better. When they broke apart again, and Sho looked at him, his eyes filled with hope, Nino couldn't help but simply nodded. Sho smiled softly and brushed the last tear off Nino's cheek.

"OK. We-we can try," the young man eventually whispered voicelessly, looking right back into Sho's eyes.

"Really?" Sho asked, hopefully, and Nino nodded again, smiling.

"Sorry for the crying. I'm just... it's complicated," Nino said.

"Don't be sorry," the alien replied. "I'm a bit confused about it, but I think I slowly get a hunch on what your body is trying to express with this reaction."

Nino chuckled at this strange remark, embarrassed, and reached up his hands to rub over his face by himself to remove the traces of his emotional outbreak.

"But it doesn't mean that you are sad, right now, right?" Sho wanted to confirm.

Nino shook his head. "I'm not sad. I'm happy. I'm happy to be with you."

Sho's sincere smile was the best reward Nino could think about. He answered the smile, as best as he could. He took a deep breath, collecting himself again. He could do this. They could do this. And maybe, just maybe, they really had a chance.

Even with all his doubts, in the end, Nino just wasn't able to deny his feelings for Sho. His affection, as well as his desire. And he just wasn't able to resist. They kissed again, forgetting the world around them, and soon, Nino took Sho's hand and pulled him into his room, closing the door behind them. Tonight, hugging wasn't the only thing Nino and Sho did in bed. Tonight, Nino allowed Sho getting closer to him than he had allowed most people, in a long while.

 

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. JUNE 3, 2018. 06:25 AM, JST. Tokyo, Ninomiya and Matsumoto apartment+

 

The first emotion Nino felt after waking up in the morning following the night in which he and Sho had sex for the first time, was panic. He didn't want to feel it, but it was there, nagging him like a persistent annoying virus he couldn't cure. He hated it, he hated himself for feeling that way.

He woke up, wrapped in Sho's arms but no matter how good that embrace felt, it wasn't enough to make Nino's doubts disappear.

"I think this was a mistake...," Nino murmured, sighing deeply.

"Why?"

Nino froze, surprised when Sho mumbled a reply. He thought the alien was still asleep.

"Didn't you like my Ar-Rashian's features?" Sho asked lazily, referring to his naked body underneath the blanket. "I can hide them, if you prefer, change them..."

"No, no that's not it...," Nino immediately tried to make clear. He didn't want Sho to bend himself too much, just because of something he said.

"Would you prefer me being a woman? I can switch gender for you if that is what you want."

Nino sighed again, the frustration he already felt was growing. "In fact, Sho, I really do prefer a male sexual partner, so that was not the issue either. Just in case you haven't noticed yet, I am indeed gay."

"So where is the problem?"

"You are a fucking alien, that's the problem!" Nino exclaimed, just to snap his hand in front of his lips right after those words left his mouth.

He really did not intend them to sound like they did. What he really meant, was the fact that he still had an issue with the possibility of Sho leaving him behind. Where did this incredible persistent fear of loss come from? Why couldn't Nino fight it? Why wasn't Sho assuring him he would find a solution to the problem enough for him to trust him? Luckily, Sho did not seem to take Nino's words badly.

"I can let you fuck me next time if you prefer?" he instead offered, nonchalantly.

Nino blushed deeply. "No, Sho, I like the way we did it."

"So where is the problem? I just want to understand!" Now, even Sho sounded a little annoyed. Or at least truly confused.

"You... ah, forget it, this is frustrating!" Nino groaned before he pushed away the blanket and jumped up. He searched for a set of fresh clothes and put them on, hastily. "I'm going out," he then announced, leaving Sho looking at him, confused. "You know how to make yourself breakfast, don't you?"

"I... yes," Sho replied but kept frowning at Nino. "Why are you leaving? I am terribly sorry if I did something wrong..."

"No, it's...," Nino rubbed his forehead, completely stressed out by now. "Listen, it's not your fault, OK?"

"I don't get then, why you are so angry."

"I am angry at myself," Nino sighed.

"Why?" Sho asked, truly puzzled.

For falling in love with you Nino thought, but it was like his throat was constricting, unable to let those words out. He couldn't say it out loud, but it was the truth. He was angry at himself, for ultimately, non-arguably, irreversibly falling in love with Sho – an alien – risking his heart to get broken. He was angry at himself for being a coward, for not wanting to take that risk for him and Sho, but the panic was overwhelming. Was it because he hadn't been in a relationship for so long? Was it because all his past relationships had failed? Was it because Nino doubted himself so much that he just couldn't believe that he was able to lead a healthy relationship?

He just couldn't imagine that Sho, even if he might have meant what he said back then, would manage to really stay here with him, here on Earth, far away from home and from Aiba and his brother, forever, once they returned back there. Would Sho be happy if he was apart from the people he grew up with? It wasn't just like moving to another city to stay with your partner, it would be like moving into another galaxy. For him. Was he really worth that much?

If it was Nino, he was almost certain that he wouldn't be able to do that. He wouldn't be able to just leave his place, his home, his people, behind to move to another galaxy. He had thought it through, well, not really, but as far as he had managed to go. And it had scared him. Wouldn't it scare Sho too? Wouldn't he regret it? If Nino tried to imagine leaving his life behind, he expected it to break his heart just as much as being apart from Sho would. No matter what, this was not going to end in a good way, for neither of them, he was convinced about it, so shouldn't he better end it before it was too late?

Nino hated that he allowed himself and Sho to taste that thing between them, to taste how it would be like if they truly were together. It felt good. Just so, so good. He just didn't know if he would be able to give up everything else. Not even for Sho, and so, he couldn't expect Sho doing the same, either, could he?

"You wouldn't understand," Nino sighed. "Just let me go get some fresh air, I'll be outside for a while, and when I'm back, everything will be fine again, OK?" Nino wasn't so sure about that, and he felt bad about giving Sho hope when there probably wasn't a reason to.

"I really do love you, Nino," Sho said as if he felt like it was important to say it right now. "And I liked what we did last night. I don't mind though if you prefer our relationship to be different, I just want to be with you."

Nino looked at the alien, and his heart ached at the sweetness of his comment. He swallowed. "Thanks, Sho, really. We'll talk about that later, OK?"

"Wait!" Sho called after Nino when the young man turned to leave the room. "It looks like it's raining outside, so don't forget to wear a jacket. Earthlings are getting sick so quickly..."

"I'll take care," Nino smiled at Sho.

+

It was indeed raining, and Nino had taken Sho's advice to heart, wearing his rain jacket as well as waterproofed shoes, and even carrying an umbrella with him on his way. He had not told Sho, nor Jun or Aiba, where exactly he planned to go, had not even mentioned that he had a plan before he had stormed outside, but he exactly knew where to go in such a situation.

The young man just made a call to his workplace, asking for another couple of days off and promising to work even harder once he returned, and the next moment he was riding the train home to his parents, to a district at the edge of Tokyo. He would just hang out in his parents' restaurant for a little while, help out with what he could maybe have a heart-to-heart talk with his mother once she could take some time out of her busy schedule. His parents were usually happy to have him back in their home, and in their restaurant, that they still wished Nino would take over one day (the possibility was not non-existent but for now, Nino very much enjoyed his current job in the heart of Tokyo). He wasn't so sure though if they appreciated it if their son came running home because he was a lovesick idiot.

During the train ride, Nino tried to ignore his vibrating phone and the incoming messages from Jun as best as he could until he decided to switch the device off. As much as he loved his best friend, and he could imagine about what Jun wanted to talk about, he just didn't have the nerves to share his tumultuous inner world with him right now. He needed to get his head free, first. Needed his mother telling him that everything would be fine, or his father talking him out of this jam.

Usually, Nino's first place to go when he had a problem was his best friend Jun's room. He always had an open ear for Nino, and some advice on hand, most useful. However, in his case, Nino felt like Jun might not be able to understand him. Because Jun had managed to do something that Nino was obviously struggling with, no matter how the odds were. For Jun, it seemed so easy, and Nino admired that and wished he could follow his friend's example, but for him, everything right now just felt painfully complicated.

If Nino had to name one person on Earth that he envied the most, he would say he envied his best friend Jun. Not because Jun was tall, good-looking, charming, and was successful in his job and with people (which he definitely was, all of that, and more) but first and foremost, because he was brave, and he always found a solution for any problem someone might have. He had been brave enough to drop out from the law studies his parents had talked him into, to pursue a career as a fashion designer even if it meant he'd be constantly broken for the next few years. He had been brave enough to challenge every day with a smile and an easy statement on his lips, and he even was brave enough to enter a relationship with an alien.

It wasn't just envy what Nino felt towards his best friend, of course. Even more than that, it was admiration. He really admired that Jun didn't care about anything when it came to taking risks, he didn't occupy his mind by overthinking each and every single step he took, unlike Nino, who was a master in that discipline. Jun didn't ask each and every why and when and what if. Instead, he simply jumped into the situation and tried to make the best out of it. Even if it was just for the moment. Even if he did not know where something would lead him.

He had told Nino that he didn't know if Aiba really was the big love everyone talked about, everyone dreamt about, and if it would last or if it would crumble once the alien prince and his friend would finish their mission and be ready to get back home. Maybe their love was big enough and they would last, maybe they would file it as a wonderful time in their lives, glad to have had the chance to experience it together.

Jun simply didn't know, but he also didn't care, and he said that it was OK not to know everything from the beginning. Finding answers wasn't something that happened like the impact of lightning during a thunderstorm. It was a journey. Every new thing, every new challenge, every new love was a new adventure, and there were lots of things to be discovered. Everything was a discovery, a learning process. If people knew everything from the beginning, there would be no use to try, and there wouldn't be the need to be brave.

Nino had never been that good with trying or being brave. Once he had an inkling about what he was good at, what he liked, what he wanted, he tended to stick with it. He liked it when things were easy, and he liked going the easy way. He knew, it wasn't always the best thing to do, but was it the wrong thing?

Accepting Aiba and Sho in his life had been easy after a bit of convincing. Falling in love with Sho had been too easy, even with all the obstacles Nino had put into his way. But considering and thinking of their possible future together was not easy. It was hard. It was painful. Because Nino didn't see a way of this happening, and it scared him. It hurt.

He wished, he could see things like Jun did. He could just try and see how and where things with Sho were going, he could enjoy their time together, and that would be OK. Why couldn't it be that way for him too?

Running away, from the situation, from Sho's feelings, from his own feelings, was easy. Nino had simply grabbed his jacket and an umbrella jumped on the next train and was off to see his parents. He didn't know yet what he was expecting, what he was hoping to find there, but running home to the place where he grew up, was easy.

He reached his parents' restaurant about almost two hours later, surprising his mother, who immediately broke into a wide smile and abandoned her serving plate on the restaurant's counter in favour of welcoming her son in a warm embrace. However, her smile quickly vanished, when she realized that her son seemed troubled over something. The woman lifted her hand, brushing it through Nino's hair in a loving gesture, but did not immediately ask what was being wrong. Nino was really grateful for that. His mother had the ability to sense people's emotion, and not to push herself onto them but wait until they were ready to talk by themselves about their worries. And with her lovable personality and her warm smile, usually, it didn't take long until people would be ready to talk.

First, Nino went to say "Hello" to his father in the kitchen, who he hadn't seen in a while and was happy to see his son before he went back in the front and joined his mother with preparing the restaurant for opening hours, which would start soon. They talked about bits and pieces, the focus lying on Nino's mother reporting about the current state of Nino's sister and her kids, with whom she had only spoken on the phone this morning, before they switched to exchange some funny customer stories happening in their respective restaurants until the restaurant opened and a few first guests started coming in. Nino helped out during the working hours. As a matter of fact, around noon, he enjoyed his father's best ramen. He continued exchanging a bit chit chat with his mother in between during the rest of the day. They laughed together, and Nino loved how quickly he felt like being right back home. And then, when it became later and later in the evening, and the restaurant slowly became empty... he started talking about Sho.

Of course, he did not mention about Sho being an alien, but he mentioned how adorable he was, even if slightly awkward, which made him like him even more. He mentioned how well they clicked together and how much Sho loved Nino's food. Of course, his mother immediately picked up that Nino and Sho had already passed the stage of simply being friends, even before her son had to mention it, just by listening to her son talking about Sho.

"You really like that man, don't you?" she asked while they starting to clean up the tables, just a bit before closing hours. "But it sounds like there's something troubling you about it."

Sure, she already knew. She was Nino's mother after all. The young man looked at her, trying to smile, but he probably failed halfway. She patted his arm.

"You know, everything would be perfect if he wouldn't be from such a faraway place," Nino started. "He's just here to visit, together with a friend. But I fear they will leave soon again and I have no idea how it – we – should go on after his departure..."

Nino's mother was about to answer her son's question when suddenly the phone in front of the kitchen rang. Both looked at each other, rather confused. It was unusual to have the phone ringing at such a late time in the restaurant. It rang a few times until Nino's father picked up, grumbling his name into the phone and then called for his son.

"Kazu? It's Jun-kun," Nino's father said. "He says he can't reach you on your cell phone. What happened, did you guys have a fight?"

"Ah... no, we didn't," Nino spoke up before he hurried towards his father. "Sorry, please hand me the phone."

"Nino?" "Thank God, I'm trying to call you for hours but can't get through to your phone. Finally, I reached you!"

"What's the matter?" Nino asked, even if he almost expected the reply he got.

"It's about Sho."

Nino sighed and bit his lower lip. "Jun, I'm sorry, but I'm really not in the mood to talk about Sho with you, at the moment..."

"No, you don't get it. Sho, he's sick!"

"What?" Nino felt his face go pale.

Jun sounded serious. "He spent the whole day outside in the rain, searching for you, idiot! Why are you not reachable via phone?! Why didn't you tell us where you'd go or when you'd be back? I admit I should have thought about trying at your parents' place earlier, but that's not the point -"

"Wait," Nino cut in. "What exactly do you mean by sick?"

It took Jun a moment to reply. "I think it's really bad."

"How badly sick can someone get from being under the rain?!" Nino couldn't hold back, even if he – again – knew that his words sounded more offensive than he actually meant them. What he meant that he was worried, immensely. Why couldn't he just say it like that? "And why did he even do that... I told him, I'd be back," the young man added in a lower voice.

"I don't know, maybe he panicked, just like you did before you ran away!?" Jun shot back, and Nino knew that he deserved it. "Did you even consider his feelings for a second?! Anyway, it's how it is now, but he's not like we Earthlings, this might have a completely different effect on him! He passed out and when he woke up he's just murmuring your name. I'm really worried, Aiba is worried, we don't know what to do and we can certainly not take him to a doctor or a hospital, it's too risky! Now, if you please could get your butt into the next train home?!"

Jun was right. Nino had been an idiot running away and leaving Sho behind, confused and insecure about how things between them would continue from now on. Now it was his fault that Sho was sick. He was a prick, and he felt horrible.

"I'm on my way," Nino simply said and hung up.

"Darling?" His mother asked behind him. "What happened?"

"Sho it seems he's sick and wants me to go back," Nino replied softly. "I still don't know how to make this work but... I think he needs me now, so I have to go home."

"Just a minute, Kazu," his mother reached out to touch her son's arm. "What I wanted to tell you before, you need to know it." He looked at her with a questioning frown, so she continued. "You know that I'm from the north of Hokkaido, don't you?"

"I know, but..." What was her point?

"And your father was born on Okinawa," she finished. "We met during a school trip. Completely randomly and fell in love. Back then, we both were still living in our respective hometowns. We were young, too young to just move across the country in order to be together. So you know what we did? We lead a long-distance relationship, for years."

Nino's eyes widened. "I didn't know that..."

"Well, you never asked too many questions about our past," the woman chuckled, shrugging nonchalantly. "I guess it's just something children don't do too much. But let me share this with you. So we were living apart from each other and could only meet a few times a year, but still, our love was strong enough to go through that time, until we were old enough to move together, here to this small town. I don't say that it was always easy, but it was possible. And if you and Sho are truly in love, then no matter the distance, it will work out too, believe me."

Hearing his mother speak like that, made the blinders fall off Nino's eyes. She was right, and he had been so stupid. He had been obsessed with the thought of having to leave this galaxy or make Sho leave his home planet behind, in order to make their relationship work. Yes, maybe, the distance between Ar-Rash and Earth was considerably farther than between Hokkaido and Okinawa, however, the same thing should apply – there was always still the possibility of a long-distance relationship. If Sho and Aiba had managed to come down to Earth once, there was no reason to think that there wasn't a chance that they could come back, right? Somehow, that thought alone was enough for Nino to feel his cracked heart healing. Maybe this was the solution.

Nino immediately felt guilty about being so stupid and almost breaking his head over worrying about the situation between him and Sho so much that he obviously had missed the forest for the trees. He leaned towards his mother and placed a kiss on her cheeks, making her giggle.

"Thank you, Mom," he said with a smile.

"Now quick, your boyfriend is waiting! If you hurry, you might be able to catch the last train," the woman answered, mirroring the smile. "And next time, bring him with you. And Jun, of course."

"He has a boyfriend too, now," Nino added.

"Then bring them all with you, I'll cook dinner for you."

+

Nino quickly bid his parents farewell and took the next available train home. It indeed was the last one, and on the way, there was construction work, so he had to take an alternative route and decided to go the last few stations home by foot. Or rather, run. He was worried like hell for Sho, not knowing how bad things truly were about him, and he couldn't wait to be back with him. He didn't know if he could help, but the thought of having Sho alone, due to his fault, was unbearable.

He reached his apartment a few minutes after midnight, gasping for air and holding his side.

"Did you run here from your parents' place?" Jun asked when Nino entered the living room

"Very funny," Nino panted. "The last few stations... At least, now I know why people are always running like stupid during dramatic scenes in animes and doramas... it feels more productive to run than to just sit in a stupid taxi where you can do nothing but wait..."

"How cute," Jun said, putting his hand over his heart. "You literally came running for Sho. You know, it's not that bad. He just caught a cold, and Aiba says, he'll be fine again in one or two days."

"He, what?!" Nino asked, still busy to catch his breath. "You said it's bad!"

"It was a joke, calm down," his friend lifted his hands. "I just wanted you to come back quickly."

"So he's OK?!" Nino almost freaked out. "So we don't need to find some alien hospital or a crazy doctor and... he just has a cold?!"

Jun nodded. "Just a cold, I swear."

"Do aliens even get colds...," Nino's voice broke when he lifted his hand to his eyes. A second later, a sob escaped from his lips.

"Nino?" now, Jun sounded slightly nervous. "Nino! Oh Gosh, you're crying!"

"I'm not!" Nino shot back, but when lifted his head, facing his best friend again, he felt the tears running down his cheeks betraying him. Damned, why was he weeping so easily nowadays?

"Well, then your face is raining I guess," Jun replied with a smirk on his lips, but reaching his hand to pat Nino's shoulder, who somehow just couldn't stop crying now.

"Sorry, this... it's just... it's all a bit too much, OK?" Nino sobbed. "I thought he... oh Gosh..."

"There, there it's all right," Jun said, pulling his friend into a hug. "I'm sorry, OK? I didn't mean to scare you or anything."

"I hate you, Jun," Nino mumbled under tears.

"No, you don't," Jun replied, rubbing his friend's back, soothingly.

"I don't," Nino agreed before they broke their embrace again. "But now, where's Sho?"

At least, he was nowhere to be seen in the living room, his futon folded and put unused into a corner to not take up space when it wasn't needed.

"He's sleeping in your bed," Jun said, matter-of-factly.

"MY bed?!" Nino exclaimed.

"Well, I guess that's where he belongs now, doesn't he?" his friend replied, offering him a challengingly raised eyebrow.

Of course, Jun would know what happened, Nino thought. Why was he even surprised?

"Indeed," he just admitted, starting to approach the door to his bedroom.

"Wait!" Jun suddenly grabbed Nino's elbow, holding him back. The young man just looked at his friend, wondering. "Before you go in there, I think I should warn you that Sho..."

Nino frowned. "What's wrong? I thought he just has a cold?"

"Right, but you should know that he...," Jun seemed to hesitate for a moment, searching for the right words. "He changed his appearance so that he could focus his energy resources on recovering."

Confused, Nino blinked. "What exactly do you mean by changed his appearance?"

"He turned into his true form."

Nino blinked, letting Jun's words sink in for a moment. He felt his heart skip a beat. He remembered the talks with Sho, about their race being shapeshifters. He remembered how he told Sho boldly, that he wouldn't mind his "true" appearance. But was he prepared enough to see him in his true form, just like this?

"Nino? Nino! Are you OK?" Jun waved a hand in front of the young man's face. "Are you ready for this?"

The young man swallowed. He had to be ready. He couldn't let Sho down, could he? "I... sure..."

OK, so Nino wasn't completely ready. He had hoped to be able to see Sho's true form one day, after talking to him about that topic again, after telling him that he was ready for everything Sho was. So far, it didn't go according to plan, and Nino apparently was horribly un-spontaneous, but so what? It was Sho they were talking about, the man who he had fallen in love with. It was out of question, he had to be ready. It was as easy as that.

When Nino entered the room, first he could only see Aiba's back, who was sitting next to the bed, Then he turned his head to face the newcomer.

It took Nino a moment to prepare himself mentally, as he had no idea what to expect when he would see Sho in a second, another form of Sho from what he already knew. The images of countless characters from science fiction-based movies and TV shows popped into his mind, and he wondered if Sho would rather look like an Asgard or a Lurian. He shook his head. Probably, an American TV show had nothing to do with that. However, so far he had received little information about how the Ar-Rashian's true form looked like, from Sho. Nino knew, that they were able to switch gender, but used to prefer one, which was then called their "primary gender", which for both, Aiba and Sho, was male. Sho said, they looked similar to an Earthing species, even if they were taller, their skin looked a little different, their features were larger and their limbs longer... However, no description was as accurate as the actual thing.

"How's he doing?" Nino asked after clearing his throat.

"Don't worry, Nino, I gave him a bit of Ar-Rashian emergency meditation that I found in our ship, he will be fine," Aiba replied with a smile.

"Meditation?" the other man frowned, and Aiba frowned back.

"Did I use the wrong word again?" the alien prince asked. "I meant things that earthlings take when sick. Small pills or liquids or injections..."

"You mean medication?" Nino offered.

Aiba smiled at him widely. "Medication! That's the word!"

"OK, good…," Nino murmured.

"Nino?" the young man was distracted by a whisper coming from his bed.

Relieved to hear Sho's voice, but his heart pounding like crazy, Nino took a few steps forward, until he had a better view on his bed. He had no idea what to expect, no idea what might be appropriate to hope for and what would be OK to fear without hurting the alien's feelings. Of course, he didn't plan to run away again, or anything, but it was legitimate to be a bit nervous, wasn't it?

In the end, though, Nino was simply surprised at the unfamiliar sight. Surprised, but also fascinated.

Sho was lying there in his bed, and while Nino still recognized him by his features and voice, he at the same time looked completely different. His skin was white, whiter than any pale person, Nino had ever seen, himself included, white like a canvas, and yet he was very shimmery, even sparkly. For a silly second, Nino felt a bit reminded of the Twilight series he once had watched the first part of together with Jun, but he quickly brushed the thought away. Sho's face was still the round and cute face Nino loved so much, even if his ears were way bigger, his nose was flatter and his hair was long and rather resembled the texture of water than actual hair, shining in rainbow colours, changing by itself. It was very interesting, but still not as fascinating as Sho's eyes... Nino took in a sharp breath and his heart stopped beating for a moment at this sight of incredible beauty. Had he loved Sho's brown, human eyes before, he couldn't say that he loved those eyes any less. Sho's eyes were slightly bigger than before and looked like white pools with a tiny galaxy orb in them.

"Sho...," Nino finally gasped, but he wasn't able to say more.

"You're back," Sho whispered with a smile on his lips, the same, full lips he had in his human form, even if its colour was much paler, almost as white as his skin before he broke into coughing.

His voice sounded different, and Nino wasn't sure if it was because of the cold or because he changed his appearance, but he sounded tired and sick, and when he weakly lifted his hand, Nino did not even take one second of hesitation to dash forward and take Sho's hand in his. It felt just as soft as human skin, even if Sho's fingers were much longer and slimmer compared to his human hand, which was a little strange. Still, it felt warm, that was no different from usual. Nino carefully tightened his grip around Sho's hand and offered him a smile.

"Hey you, how are you feeling?" Nino asked, looking right into Sho's fascinating eyes as if they hypnotized him.

"Tired, but OK," Sho replied. "I was so scared... I didn't expect you to come back..."

"And I didn't expect you Ar-Rashians to fall sick so quickly," Nino chuckled softly, referring to what Sho had said about Nino's race before he headed out into the rain.

"I obviously underestimated the weather...," the alien admitted.

"I'm just happy it's just a cold," Nino replied, reaching one of his hands to caress Sho's cheeks.

"Aw..."

When the two men realized that the Ar-Rashian prince was still standing behind Nino, closely watching the scene between them, Nino cleared his throat.

"Uhm… Aiba? Could you please go into the living room… keep Jun company or so?"

Aiba looked at him surprised for a second, but apparently, quickly caught on, thankfully. "Oh, you want be alone? Sure, sorry."

"Thanks," Nino smiled, watching the prince walk backwards to the room's exit, still smiling widely, and stopping when he reached the door. Nino raised his eyebrows. "Please close the door behind you."

"Oh, OK," Aiba grinned and then – finally – left the room.

"He's just worried about me," Sho said with a small smile on his lips. "About us, to be exactly."

"I figured," Nino sighed, but a second later, he answered his alien boyfriend's smile. "I don't think, there's need to worry, though. Of course, I'd come back, especially after Jun called me and made it sound like you were going to die!" the slightly desperate chuckle that left Nino's mouth, quickly died down and he became all serious again. "I was so worried…"

"He can be very exaggerating. I really am fine. I don't feel pain, I just need to rest a little and get rid of that annoying cough," Sho grinned. "Ah, I forgot," he added, and the next thing Nino realized was how Sho tried to change his appearance back to his human form, his face's colour starting to shift.

"Wait... wait, stay the way you are," Nino immediately intervened, stopping Sho in his doing. Slowly, the parts of Sho's face that had started to shift, changed back to his Ar-Rashian form.

"Really?" the alien asked, sounding insecure. "Doesn't it make you feel uncomfortable?"

Nino shook his head. "No, it doesn’t, and you have to take care and use your energy wisely don't you? I can't be the one guilty for your recovery progress to slow down just because you..."

"It really doesn't bother you?"

Nino had not expected Sho being that insecure about this, but then, putting himself into the alien man's shoes, he would probably feel the same, worry needlessly about his appearance, if the other would accept him, still find him attractive... seeing it like that, Nino was rather impressed, that a beautiful species like the Ar-Rashians were even attracted to someone looking like a plain human being as he was. But then, didn't it just show that looks did not always matter that much when it came to love?

"You are still you, and no matter which shape you are, it does not bother me, I promise," Nino started to explain. "This form of you might be a bit unusual and unfamiliar, but it doesn't mean it's not beautiful. You are beautiful. No matter in which form."

Nino's heart clenched when he saw relief wash over Sho's face. Throughout the past few days, Sho had become much keener with showing emotions, apparently, and he liked that. It made things easier. The young man took a deep breath before he continued speaking, and carefully brushed his hand over Sho's cheek, pushing aside a strand of hair in the process. It felt off, but not in a bad way.

"I love you too," Nino said, almost in a whisper. "I'm sorry I couldn't say it before. To be honest with you, the only thing that scares me is our future. And my own inability to properly talk things out with you instead of running away. But I'm back, and when you're feeling better, everything will be fine. I am sorry for what I did this morning. I didn't mean to leave you behind like that, I was just…," such an inconsiderate, panicking idiot, Nino wanted to say, but the words got stuck in his throat, and Sho took over.

"You needed some time to think. It's OK, I understand. All this is new to me too, exciting, thrilling, in a good way, but also a bit intimidating," Sho contributed.

Nino sighed. Even if Sho understood, he felt really bad about his behaviour. "I should have considered your feelings too, though. I felt overwhelmed by everything and I was worrying too much about my own feelings, instead of worrying about yours too."

"I'm not mad at you," the alien said, pressing Nino's hand slightly.

"You're too good of a person, you know that?" Nino chuckled softly.

"Really?"

"Really. I don't deserve you," Nino whispered.

"But I still want you."

Nino blushed slightly. "I'm glad to hear that."

They smiled at each other for a long moment, and when things became awkward and Nino felt like they should either say or do something more, he pulled himself together, got up and leaned closer over Sho, until he could place a kiss on his forehead. Something strange happened when Nino's lips touched Sho's skin. His hair started glowing stronger, suddenly, as if releasing a wave of light, that ran down his strands from the roots to the ends.

"Whoa, what was that?" Nino chuckled surprised, backing off a little, but not letting go off Sho's hand.

"That was an indicator for great happiness," Sho explained.

Nino broke out into a wide grin, his cheeks feeling warm. "That's a pretty cool feature, I might say."

"It's not easy to trigger that, but you did," the alien admitted. "You're the only one who can. Well... and your food, perhaps, I didn't check yet."

Sho smirked, and Nino wasn't sure if the last part of the man's confession had been a joke or the truth (he still had to get used to this slight change in personality that Sho had developed since being in his company), but he felt his chest filling with warmth, and no matter what, Nino couldn't deny how proud and happy he was feeling right now. He must be grinning like a fool by now.

"If it's not asked too much...," Sho continued, "I want you to kiss me, please. I mean... a real kiss."

Usually, Nino wouldn't be able to hold back upon such a request, but Sho was still sick, so he wasn't sure if he wanted to take the risk. "I'll kiss you insane once you've recovered properly, OK? I am not fond of catching some alien cold, sorry. I hope you understand."

"Hm... Sure thing," the alien agreed after a second.

"So, get well soon, you hear me?" Nino replied, kissing Sho's knuckles. There was another wave of light running through Sho's hair, and Nino grinned once more. This was adorable!

"I'm doing my best!"

Despite not wanting to risk getting sick too, at the end, when Sho assured him once more, that he was truly already feeling much better, Nino let himself get persuaded to not go sleep on the couch in the living room but to share the bed with Sho for the night. They were both tired, so they only talked for a few more minutes, Nino holding Sho from behind, in a tight embrace, assuring him in a whisper, that he would never run away from him again. With an "I love you" on his lips, Nino snuggled closer, burying his face in Sho's neck, and in a matter of seconds, they both had drifted off to sleep.

 

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. JUNE 4, 2018. 06:30 AM, JST. Tokyo, Ninomiya and Matsumoto apartment+

 

"Oh, finally!" Jun exclaimed, when in the next morning, Sho and Nino showed up in the kitchen, together, holding hands.

Sho felt much better after a few hours of sleep, his cold was almost gone, and he had even gathered enough energy to shapeshift back into his human appearance. Nino really wondered what was in that medicine Aiba gave him. However, he was happy that Sho was doing better. His appetite, at least, seemed as big as usual, which was always a good sign.

After last night, things seemed so much easier, Nino thought. He had no problem holding hands with Sho in front of Jun, which meant, he wouldn't have a problem with showing the whole world, if necessary, that he and Sho belonged together. Screw their difference in species, screw the miles and miles of distance between their two home planets. Now, finally, Nino was convinced that all of this didn't matter. What mattered was that they loved each other.

When Jun stood up to get his coffee refilled, Nino had to ask Sho to let go of his hand – so that he could prepare his favourite breakfast for him. Sho obeyed, but only for the sake of his growling stomach.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. JUNE 22, 2018. 06:45 PM, JST. Tokyo, Japanese Restaurant +

 

Since all that relationship drama, and Nino finally stood true to his feelings, not much happened. Nino and Jun went back to work, as usual, also Sho focused on his translation work, in order to pay Nino back for the trip to Arima as soon as possible, and even Aiba started working. Jun's idea that Aiba would be the perfect dog walker had struck like lightning, and by now, the alien prince had become by far the most popular dog walker of the whole neighbourhood. Sometimes, one of the others would accompany him on a stroll, and all three of them agreed that it was pure pleasure to see Aiba walking those small groups of dogs, talking to them, and being extremely excited and happy about it. It was like the man had found his purpose in life.

The two couples got along very well, all in all, even if there were, of course, a few small quarrels now and then about all and nothing. Nino had tried to stop worrying about his and Sho's future, and to enjoy the time they could spend together as much as possible – and mostly, he succeeded.

They had even almost forgotten about Sho and Aiba's real mission – finding Aiba's brother. Admittedly, there hadn't been any helpful hints about the possible whereabouts of the alien. There had not been any suspicious sightings or anything, and with Nino knowing that the two might probably be unable to recognize the prince in his human form, even if they would run into him openly, made him wonder if there was even any hope for the mission to succeed. In his opinion, waiting was the only option, and he did not mind at all, if Sho and Aiba stayed with him and Jun for longer, while doing so. The two men had settled into their new lives so perfectly. They had adjusted to Jun and Nino's lives so well that Nino was convinced, it would feel wrong once they would be gone. He didn't even want to think about it. However, he also wasn't as naïve to believe that this day would never come.

With Nino being busy at work, and Sho being flexible about working hours as well as his working place, it soon became a habit for him to pay Nino visits at the restaurant and sit in an empty corner or at the bar, if space allowed it, with his laptop, working on translating articles. Sometimes, Jun would join too, when he didn't have to be physically present at the design company, and Aiba usually dropped by in between or after taking different groups of dogs for a walk. It was such a day when the group of four decided to gather in the restaurant and eat dinner there together before Nino could go home. Once in a while, he thought, it was nice, not to have to cook again right after work, so it was a welcomed change from the usual. He had just finished his shift when bringing his friends' orders to their table, when he found them watching something on the internet with his laptop, as Sho was apparently taking a break from his work.

"What are you guys watching?" he asked when setting the food on the table and taking the empty seat next to Sho.

The alien immediately reached for his order, thanking his boyfriend for preparing it, and took the first bite before he even replied.

"Some TV show about small local successes or something like that," Sho explained between two bites.

Nino just hummed, deciding to watch along for a while. He'd rather watch an episode of one of his favourite TV shows, but if Sho found this interesting, he should keep watching. Over the past weeks, he had learned that Sho and Aiba's interest in human things and matters had grown even more since their arrival, and it was fun to watch their reactions.

"Wow, that's a monster fish!" Aiba exclaimed, pointing at the program, where a young woman was happily chatting about a rare fish catch, while in the background there was a young man standing with an immensely huge fish on his arm and an awkward but proud smile on his face.

It seemed to be a specific type of fish that was thought of being extinct in this area of Japan, however, that man apparently had managed to catch one of them in the lake near the forest north from Tokyo, after days of patiently waiting. Nino frowned, wondering if people didn't get bored during such activities, and already calculated in his head how many books he'd be able to read when there would be nothing to do but wait for a fish to take the bait.

"How many sushi pieces can you make out of one of these?" Sho asked Nino curiously, pulling the man out of his thoughts, and Nino started thinking.

"Well, given the fact that I have never heard of that fish before and I don't know how it looks inside, I can only guess from the size," he started. He tilted his head. "Probably enough for a wedding reception?" Nino offered his boyfriend with a smile, which turned into a teasing smirk quickly, though. "Or for one dinner for you."

"Oh, I'm sure I could manage," Sho broke into a cute laughter, a still strange gesture from the young man, but even more adorable.

Jun, on the other hand, suddenly seemed to be distracted by something on the screen, his expression turned serious. He frowned, leaning a bit closer to the laptop. "Wait… something…"

"Is something wrong?" Nino asked, confused.

"That thing around his neck... doesn't it look familiar to you, somehow?" Jun asked, pointing at a flat, triangular-shaped object with brighter lining around the frame, which was hanging from a strap.

Nino squinted his eyes to see a bit clearer, and indeed, it looked like a familiar device! He turned around to Sho, who had already pulled out Kee-ko's AI-port from his shirt's pocket – the same triangular shape and about the same size as the object hanging around that stranger's neck. Shocked, Jun pointed at the device, voicelessly and Nino parted his lips, but before he could say anything, Sho, who looked all serious again now, was faster.

He turned to face Nino again. "How do you pronounce that name on the screen?"

"What's that question, Sho? You can probably read way more kanji than I am able to," Nino said, completely puzzled.

"I think I know how to read them, indeed," Sho nodded. He tightened the grip on his AI-port. "This cannot be a coincidence, but I need to confirm this, so please tell me how you would pronounce them."

"Ohno Satoshi," Nino read out, looking at Sho, curiously. "Is that what you expected?"

"I knew it… it's Ou-no."

"WHAT?!" Aiba yelled so loud that almost the whole restaurant turned their faces towards the group.

Nino just kept frowning, but something tickled his memory. "Wait... I think you mentioned something like that before, didn't you?"

"Our first prince!" Sho exclaimed. "Ou-no Zat Osh!"

"Oh gosh," Nino murmured, finally settling down his bowl of fried rice.

Could it really be true? Did they really just find a trace to the missing Ar-Rashian prince while randomly watching a TV program during dinner, when for the past almost two months they had just been blindly searching and waiting for someone, none of them had any idea how he exactly looked like?

"My brother!" Aiba meanwhile had jumped up from his seat, spreading over the table and holding the computer screen with both hands.

"Are you sure? It could be just a new version of a smartphone and a similarity in his name or -," Nino asked his boyfriend, slowly but surely becoming a little nervous.

If that man was really the missing prince of Ar-Rash, and they would find him... Nino didn't dare to finish his thoughts. He wasn't ready for it, and apparently, he wasn't as chill about the situation, as he thought he would be.

Instead he tried to calculate the possibility of Sho being right. First, there was the similarity in name, which could or could not be a coincidence. And Sho had mentioned that the man looked a bit familiar to him. Considering the fact that Sho, even when he had turned back into his Ar-Rashian form once, had still had at least a little resemblance with his human version in his features, maybe it was difficult, but not completely impossible to trace the similarities from Ou-no's human form back to his usual form too?

"I am not one hundred percent sure, but it would be really a big coincidence if it wasn't him. It fits, the name follows the same pattern that Aiba and I used for coming up with our names to use for Planet Earth, and the device around that man's neck looks too alike to our technology. It must be an AI-port for Zat-Uhm," Sho said.

"We need to check!" Aiba added, and Sho nodded.

"What's he doing at a lake in the woods?" Jun wondered.

"Fishing for a wedding reception," Sho remarked.

Nino snorted, amused, and a wave of affection for his boyfriend immediately washed away his worries. He was just irresistible. "Don't tell me you're learning how to make a joke?"

Sho looked at him, proudly. "I learned from the master."

"Guys, you know, I approve when you're flirting," Jun interrupted them, "But could you postpone that for later? This is serious! We need to find him! Where did they say the fish was caught?"

Nino leaned a little forward, almost crawling onto Sho's lap (which the other man didn't seem to mind) in the process, and carefully pushed Aiba aside so that he could reach his laptop and scroll down on the website, checking out the video description. It was a recording from earlier that day, so the basic information was already available there, and he quickly read out the location, while Jun took notes with his phone.

"It's our real first trace, it really could be something, this time," Sho said, his face all serious. "However, first, we should finish dinner!"

Of course…

+

"Can we take the spaceship again?" Jun asked, completely excited, once the group had finished their meals and left the restaurant hurriedly.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Nino intervened, immediately. Seriously, his best friend was just too obsessed with that spaceship.

"Oh come on Nino, you're always such a killjoy!" Jun pouted.

Nino glared at him. "I'm not a killjoy, I'm trying to be reasonable here! I mean sure, we could use the spaceship to travel to a village near the forest, however, we have no idea where exactly Aiba's brother could be and do you plan to explore the whole area by foot then? I suggest we rent a car and take that so that we're a bit more flexible once we reached the forest. Sounds reasonable enough?"

"Reasonable enough...," Jun had to admit, but didn't stop pouting. "Ah, shoot, I really wanted to take the spaceship again!"

"What about I take you on a ride another time?" Aiba suggested, squeezing the other man's hand as they walked down the streets next to each other, following Nino's instructions, who had already searched via his phone for a nearby place that rented cars.

"Can he?!"

Sho hummed. "Well, if he's doing an invisible flight-"

"And they don't end up making out in my cockpit again…" Kee-ko's unamused voice popped up from Sho's chest pocket.

Jun just grinned widely, and Nino rolled his eyes. Jun shrugged in response as if he wanted to say that none of this was his fault.

+

About an hour later, the four men were already on their way, leaving Tokyo, driving north. With Jun behind the steering wheel and Aiba occupying the front-seat passenger's seat, Nino and Sho shared the back row. Nino tried hard, not to worry too much. There was a lot to worry about, but theoretically, he knew exactly that there was no use worrying, and it would be better to simply let things happen and see how everything would go. Sho must have noticed though, that Nino was becoming more and more nervous, even uncomfortable. The man offered his boyfriend a smile, which Nino tried to answer, his heart still filling with warmth every time he saw Sho smile. When Sho reached his hand between them, to take Nino's and intertwine their fingers, Nino didn't pull back but tightly grabbed Sho's hand in response. Everything would be fine...

"I want drive too!" Aiba announced a little later.

Jun chuckled. "Can you even drive a car? I bet you don't have a Japanese driving license, do you?"

It was Sho, who replied. "Of course we do not have a Japanese driving license specifically, however, we are capable of flying spaceships so I'm confident to assume we are able to drive a car. Also, for the driving license, we can print one, if that's the problem."

Nino released a slightly nervous chuckle. "I am surprised how normal forging documents is for you guys…"

Sho shrugged and looked at Nino with a small smirk on his lips. It looked way too sexy, and Nino started appreciating this new side of the alien quite a bit, he had to admit.

"So, you want to try it, Ma-chan?" Jun asked challenging, and the alien prince nodded heavily.

"Really?" Nino first glared at Jun and then frowned at Sho. He obviously not as enthusiastic about the plan as the others, but Jun already pulled to the side of the road and switched seats with Aiba just a minute later, who broke out in cheers and excitedly started to press random buttons on the dashboard in front of him.

For a few seconds, the radio blasted parts of a heavy metal song on high volume, causing Nino to jump and the whole vehicle to shake, before Aiba turned down the volume with a short, "Whoops, sorry for that."

"Is he a good pilot?" Nino asked, turned to Sho, obviously critical.

The only time he had taken a flight with the aliens' spaceship, Sho was the pilot, flying all chill and safe, just like his calm personality. Thus, it would make people suspect that with Aiba and his energetic personality, it would be a completely different story. Sho, in response, grabbed Nino's hand tighter. This time, when Nino's heart started beating faster again, but it was caused by a wave of panic, rather than from the touch. He already feared the worst.

"He's an... adventurous pilot," Sho replied, face straight. "I can assure you, he never crashed a ship or anything. However, it could be a little shaky, so I recommend holding onto something," he continued, reinforcing the grip around Nino's hand.

"Oh holy...," Nino sighed, clinging to his boyfriend's hand and searching for more hold with his free hand at the car's door handle, preparing for the worst. "Please, be careful, Aiba!" he added

"Roger!"

+

It turned out to be a very adventurous car ride, indeed, and just as Nino had already suspected it turned out to be a not so brilliant idea to let Aiba drive, even with Sho's assurance that the alien prince had never crashed a ship before. However, a spaceship was still something completely different from a rental car and just because someone could pilot the one thing, it didn't automatically mean the same for the other. At least those were Nino's arguments, however, nobody seemed to care and just let him ramble on until he shut up and kept his worries to himself.

It was a nerve-wracking ride for Nino, who had soon reached a state in which he worried to have broken Sho's fingers from gripping his hand too tightly. Further, he felt sick, and he just wanted them to reach that damned lake that they had picked as their goal and point from which they intended to start a search for Ohno by foot. However, even before they could reach the said lake, it - not that much surprising to Nino – happened.

Aiba caused an accident.

Well, kind of.

It wasn't a rolling over a sharp stone and ruining the tire kind of accident or a losing control over the car and crash into a tree one. No, worse than that, it was an almost running something over kind of accident!

Maybe the bad lighting along the bumpy road through the forest (the car's front lights were the only real sources of light) was to be blamed, or the fact that Aiba was simply driving too carelessly, especially considering the darkness and bumpiness of the road. However, it led to Aiba and the others completely overlooking something walking on the road in front of them. It was probably not the smartest thing to walk in the middle of the road in a dark night, and so it was understandable that Aiba seemed surprised.

When the driver spotted the obstacle on the road, it was almost too late, and it went so fast that Nino barely took notice of what was really happening. Jun yelled, Aiba stamped onto the brake, and the car slowed down, however, the thing on the road couldn't jump aside fast enough and so ended up being hit – maybe not as bad as it could be, but bad enough to be pushed aside and stumble to the ground, as Aiba turned the car into the other direction in order to limit damages and ended up in the bushes. The alarm system of the car started blinking and beeping, which Aiba quickly took care or in the form of hitting the dashboard to make it stop, and then, there was complete silence.

"What the hell was that?" Nino freaked out.

"Did we just hit something?" Sho asked.

"Maybe it was an animal...," Jun wondered.

"Oh no, do you think its dead?" Aiba clashed his hands in front of his lips.

"We should better go check," Nino started, letting go off Sho's hand (which must be hurting from Nino's grip, by now) and unbuckling his seat belt before the motion sickness caused from Aiba's reckless driving hit back in full force. "Oh no, sorry, first I –"

The young man pushed open the door of the car as quickly as he could, stumbled a few steps outside and had just enough time to lean over before he threw up. Great. Once he had finished, he searched his trousers' pockets for a tissue and was lucky enough to find one, but he wasn't really feeling that much better. When he thought he'd faint from the dizziness turning his world, someone caught and stabilized him – Sho.

"Nino? Are you OK?" the alien asked, worried, helping him stand straight and putting his arm around the young man's waist to hold him stable.

"It'll be fine, it'll be fine," Nino replied, but the painful look on his face must make clear that he had not reached that state yet.

While Sho was helping Nino, Aiba and Jun had also exited the car, Jun carrying a flashlight, and ran over to whatever the car had hit just a minute before. When Sho and Nino followed them, they quickly got a better view. In front of the two men, there was a young man crouching on the dirty dusty ground of the forest. Nino froze. They hit a person?! This must be a nightmare... The man immediately sent a quick prayer to whatever god who might be listening right now, hoping that the person wasn't badly injured from the crash.

"Are you alright, Mister?" Jun asked the man, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"So Sorry! Didn't see you!" Aiba immediately added.

Jun continued asking questions one after another, trying to figure out the state of the. "Are you hurt? What's your name? How many fingers am I holding up? Shall we call the ambulance?"

"No no, I'm fine, don't worry," the other man simply replied to the last question, dismissing the others, and Nino sighed in relief. If he could talk like that, it couldn't be that bad, right?

"You sure?!" Aiba asked, sounding quite a bit hysterical by now.

"Really!" the stranger ensured him. "You were already slowing down and I was just a little too slow. I just hit my butt and my head a little."

"Good, that nothing bad happened," Sho added, once he and Nino had reached the others. He frowned then, exchanging a short glance with his boyfriend before he faced the other man again. "Wait… you… I know you!"

"Excuse me?" the stranger asked, frowning back at Sho.

It was then, when Nino realized the similarities – a slightly long nose, slightly pouting lips, tired eyes, and brown hair, staying on edges. He couldn't believe it. Was this coincidence even possible?

"We saw you on TV today, we are looking for you," Sho continued. "Ohno Satoshi, right?"

"Yes, that's me, indeed. Ah, is it because of that huge fish?" the man asked, "I'm sorry, I already ate it for dinner, together with a group of villagers. Actually, I was on my way back to my hut right now, before you guys showed up here."

"It is not about the fish," Sho shook his head, "Although… I cannot say I am not interested in how you prepared it… Anyway, Ohno Satoshi, that's not your real name, is it?"

"Who... are you?" The man's frown grew even wider, and he started looking nervously from Sho to Jun, Aiba, Nino, and back to Sho, before his eyes widened in recognition. "Wait… I saw you in that shopping centre, didn't I?"

"Shopping centre?" Nino wondered, looking at his boyfriend, confused.

Sho frowned and tilted his head a little, obviously trying to remember. Then, his eyes lightened up and he took a breath. "I indeed saw you there!" he replied. "Why didn't I realize that earlier…"

Ohno looked at Jun, raising a flirtatious eyebrow at him. "I remember you too. Hey, Pretty."

"Hey back," Jun replied, grinning before he quickly turned to Nino as if he had felt his death glare on him. "What? I'm not flirting."

"It was marginal," the young man noted, obviously disapproving.

Jun pouted. "I'm just being polite, there's nothing Ma-chan has to worry about. You know that, Ma-chan, don't you?" he said, brushing Aiba's shoulder with his hand.

Aiba nodded heavily. "I thrust Jun!"

"Trust!" Nino yelled frustrated. "It's trust, gosh, I thought you would have learned that word by now…"

"I bumped into you by accident," Ohno continued, when Jun focused back on him.

"Oh, right, you were the one trying glasses, right?"

"Wait, just so that I get this right," Nino interrupted them. "You basically all saw each other already, before. I mean, seriously?!"

He just couldn't grasp the whole situation. There Aiba and Sho were, searching for Aiba's brother for weeks, knowing they didn't even know how he looked like as a human, then, they almost ran him over with a car after they randomly spotted him on TV and decided to follow the clue, and now they realized that they had already met in a stupid shopping centre, weeks ago?!

"So, let me ask you this one more time," Ohno said, ignoring Nino's rambling. He had stood up by now, showing that he indeed wasn't injured. At least! "Who are you guys and what do you want from me? Why are you following me? This can't be a coincidence…"

"You are Ou-no Zat Osh, right?" Sho finally asked the most important question.

"You know me?" the man – now officially admitted as the alien prince they had been searching for, asked, confused.

"It's me, brother, Ah-ee Ba Mashak! We came here to search for you and take you home, brother!" Aiba exclaimed, completely excited. "And that's Za-coo!" he pointed at his friend.

"Or like we called on Earth, Aiba and Sho," the other alien added.

"So it's really you!", Ohno said, and when Aiba offered him a hand to help him up, he took it with a grateful smile.

Still within the motion of pulling the man up to his feet, Aiba pulled him into a tight hug. Ohno laughed, answering the embrace, and then, when Aiba finally let go of him again, he turned to hug Sho too, who looked a little surprised, as if he wasn't used to such an affectionate gesture by the other man. Well, probably, he wasn't, Nino figured, remembering how Sho once told him that he was quite close with Aiba, not so much with Aiba's brother, though.

"And I already thought I was imagining things... When I saw you in that shopping centre, I thought you in particular," Ohno gave Sho a critical look, "were familiar. I guess it's your posture. Those sloping shoulders, I should have recognized them in any form you're in."

"I am not sure if that is a compliment or not…," Nino murmured, but Sho did not complain and Jun just shrugged his shoulders.

"And these – Nino and Jun," Aiba explained, pointing at his friends to introduce them to his older brother.

While Jun nodded politely, Nino simply lifted his hand for a greeting and Ohno acknowledged their short introduction with a "Nice to meet you," before he turned back to his brother and friend. "So, you're here to take me back to Ar-Rash?"

Sho and Aiba exchanged a look, both a little hesitant. Of course, this was the plan, wasn't it? But as simple as this might have sounded in the beginning, now it was a completely different situation. Also, would the first crown prince of Ar-Rash run away when they told him they were searching for him?

"Well...," Sho started, hesitant.

"OK, great!" Ohno said, smiling, and causing the other four men to gape at him as if he was nuts.

"What?!" Aiba asked, exchanging a perplexed look with Sho, who frowned a little, too.

"What?" the older brother raised his eyebrows, questioning.

"We thought since you fled from our home planet, you would need a bit more conviction to return. I did not expect you to agree right away," Sho explained. He was surprised. He couldn't believe that apparently, they had worried for nothing.

"Well, to be honest, I just needed a break," Ohno said, lifting his arms and crossing them behind his neck. "And it was great, don't get me wrong, Earth is a wonderful planet, I was able to relax, try a few different human past-times… but, in the end, I think I'm getting bored, things here are more complicated and inconvenient than I thought and… to be honest – and I really did not expect that but – I miss you guys."

"Really? Brother!" Aiba rushed to hug his brother again, his eyes slightly wet.

"Now, that's enough hugging for today," the older alien brother chuckled, but still patted Aiba's hair in an affectionate way before he continued talking. "Also, my ship is damaged, and I don't have the right things here to fix it, I already thought about contacting someone back home soon to get an emergency shuttle sent here, but then that crazy thing with that crazy big fish happened and I postponed it," the man added with a smile. "But it's great if you're here to pick me up."

"I can't believe it," Nino murmured, more to himself than anyone in particular. "He would have contacted them anyway… so we basically came out here for nothing…"

Apparently, Jun heard him, who added in a low voice, "It was a fun car ride, at least."

"Yeah, very fun!" Nino rolled his eyes.

"So, where's your ship?" Ohno asked.

"In Tokyo," Sho replied.

"Then let's go there!"

"Get in the car," Jun invited the older alien brother, pointing at the vehicle. "Oh, I better drive back, I think," he then added with a chuckle, putting his hand on Aiba's arm to hold him back, as the prince just wanted to sit back behind the steering wheel.

"Thank God," Nino murmured.

A little disappointed, Aiba gave in, once Jun pecked his cheek lovingly.

"So he can stay with us in your apartment for the night?" Sho asked while reaching for Nino's hand to pull him back towards the car.

"Well, I mean, the couch is empty now," Jun grinned, exchanging a glance with Nino, who rolled his eyes again at the small side blow. "So, there'd be space for one more person, I guess."

"What are you even talking about?" Ohno asked a little confused, once he had sat down in the car, next to Sho who had slipped into the middle. "Aren't we going home?"

Nino froze. Now, the time to talk about how things would go on from now on had arrived, apparently. Nino feared that moment, ever since he set foot into the car. He tried to mute his thoughts and worries about the situation and the consequences of actually finding the missing prince, only partly succeeding, and with all the tumult he had almost forgotten about it. But what about that? No immediate answer came neither from Aiba, nor Sho. They both, hesitated, again.

When the young man felt Sho's gaze on him, who, a second later, offered his hand again that Nino took immediately, desperately.

"We are currently residing in the home of these two very kind Earthlings," Sho explained. "Jun is a very talented fashion designer, and Nino is the best cook in the world!"

"You're flattering me...," Nino babbled, more to distract himself than to actually provide a reaction to Sho's not so hidden compliment, but Sho just squeezed his hand a little and Nino shut up.

"They took us into their home when we lost your trace and had no place to go," Sho continued. "They gave us a place to sleep and food, they allowed us to stay as long as we wanted to, and when we found out about you, they were instantly there to help us find you."

Ohno looked at Sho as if he did not quite understand. "So… what about home?"

When he did not receive an immediate reply, it was obvious that the older prince was confused over the sudden hesitation coming from his brother and assistant.

"We're not going home tonight," Sho said, slightly shaking his head. "This, finding you, happened so fast, I am not ready to leave right away. It's the same for you, right, Aiba?" Sho asked, and his friend, who turned around from his position in the passenger's seat, nodded.

Jun, a soft smile on his face, lifted his hand up to Aiba's cheek, brushing it slightly, and Nino bit his lip, trying to fight back tears. His heart beat strong and fast in his chest, the thought of Sho not wanting to leave yet, made him feel warm. He knew it was a complicated situation, but he just couldn't help but feel touched knowing that he wouldn't be the only one having a hard time when it would be necessary to part ways.

"Let's drive home into the apartment first," Sho concluded. "And there, we need to talk."

+

And talk, they did. During the car ride, Aiba and Sho asked Ohno about his ship's crash, what happened to his AI, Zat-Uhm, where he had been, what he had done, and they asked him again, why he wasn't that eager to stay here anymore. He went into a bit more detail, admitting that he had expected life on this planet being a bit easier than it actually turned out to be, and that even if he definitely enjoyed fishing and carving wood (he had created some quite impressive figurines, apparently, which he tried to sell off to the villagers, even if they weren't as enthusiastic about them than their creator), he simply missed the comfort he was used too on Ar-Rash.

In the meantime, the AIs, Kee-ko and Zat-Uhm connected via a green coloured signal and took just for a few seconds to update each other silently, distracting Jun for a few seconds, who was extremely impressed by their technology, before Nino scolded him to focus his eyes back on the road.

Once they reached Tokyo, they returned the rental car at a twenty-four-hour service terminal and walked back to Nino and Jun's apartment, where they sat down in the living room to continue their talk. Aiba and Sho told Ohno about how they had followed him to Earth and lost his ship's signal, how they were welcomed by Nino and Jun into their apartment, and what they experienced together since their arrival. Ohno was impressed, especially by the stories of how Aiba and Jun, as well as Sho and Nino, got together.

When it became a little too embarrassing for Nino (he found it cute how detailed Sho remembered everything that happened between them, and he didn't need to sit next to him with a crimson red face, while Sho talked about it to another alien), the young man went to the kitchen. He planned to prepare some snacks and get some drinks, and quickly found himself regretting that he did not bring someone to help him – or at least to distract his thoughts from downward spiraling into the ocean of a negatively painted future. Nino took twice as long for standard processes like making easy puff pastry cheese sticks and a simple salad, almost spoiling the latter with salt, but he couldn't help but fear the direction the conversation between the aliens would go next. Ohno had already asked when they planned to return to Ar-Rash, and even if Sho and Aiba tried to avoid answering the question, it was clear that they couldn't leave it unanswered forever. They would talk about it, and eventually, they would leave this planet...

With his heart beating fast, his thoughts spinning like crazy, and his hands slightly shaking, Nino tried to take some juice from the fridge. He almost dropped it, if there hadn't been Sho, who caught the paper carton and put it on the kitchen counter.

"Do you need any help?" he asked, turning to his boyfriend.

"I'm beyond help," Nino murmured after releasing a sigh. Frustrated, he rubbed his face. No, he wasn't crying. There was no reason to, not yet.

"You're shaking," Sho said softly, taking his boyfriend's hands in his and pulling him slightly closer. "Are you still feeling sick?"

Nino glanced at the alien, whose eyes were filled with worry before he averted his eyes and slightly shook his head. He wanted to reply, to tell the man that he was fine, but he couldn't. Instead, he stepped forward, freed his hands and wrapped his arms around Sho, embracing him tightly. He buried his fingers in the back of his boyfriend's shirt and pressed his face against his chest. A little surprised, Sho seemed to hesitate for a second, but then he wrapped his arms around Nino and they simply stood there, saying nothing for a while.

Nino enjoyed the warmth of their embrace, Sho's soft touches, and he tried to turn his negative thoughts into positive ones. He thought about the conversation with his mother, he thought about how deeply he had fallen for the alien he was holding in his arms, thought about the promises Sho made. That he wouldn't leave him. Well, even if it would come as far as Sho going back to their home planet together with Aiba and Ohno, it did not mean that they would need to break up. They would find a way. They had to. They were too deeply invested in their relationship already to turn back.

"Don't worry. Everything will be fine," Sho whispered eventually while running one hand through Nino's hair, causing the other man to look up at him. "We'll figure things out, I promised, and I intend to keep my promise."

"No matter what, I love you," Nino whispered and pushed his head a little higher, capturing Sho's lips in a gentle kiss.

"I love you too," Sho replied once they parted, "No matter what."

After Nino smiled at him and hugged him tightly once more for a second, they took the snacks the young man had prepared, the juice package and glasses, and went back into the living room, where the others were laughing about a joke Jun apparently made.

 

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. JUNE 28, 2018. 09:50 PM, JST. Tokyo, on the rooftop of the Ninomiya and Matsumoto apartment +

 

In the end, Ohno was persuaded to stay a little longer on planet Earth. Both, Aiba and Sho were just not ready to leave yet. They had gotten used to their daily life here, and losing their hearts to two Earthlings, so Ohno did not really have much of a choice. Eventually, it was probably thanks to the fact that he had a soft couch to sleep on, some Earthling TV to watch all day long, and Nino's cooking, that made the older alien prince feel comfortable around the apartment.

There had not really been a need to hurry with a report to Ar-Rash, either, which Aiba and Sho had been neglecting more and more anyway, over the past few weeks, not feeling comfortable with sharing the news of "not finding the first prince" each and every day. The current status on their home planet was that they would get in contact once they found the prince, instead of reporting daily. Well, nobody said that they couldn't wait with their report just for a little longer.

There had been a lot of talks during the past few days about how things should go on from now on. A few thousand possibilities had been discussed, the option of simply not reporting to their home planet and staying on Earth altogether, sending Ohno back by himself, or the most popular one among the aliens – taking Jun and Nino with them, so that Nino could give cooking classes on Ar-Rash and Jun could design clothes for all interested Ar-Rashians – those were just a few of them.

In the end though, of course, the group found to the most reasonable and probably best solution – at least for now. Aiba, Sho, and Ohno would travel back home together, following their original plan, and Nino and Jun would stay on their home planet as well, just where they belonged. It would be a hasty decision to abandon their respective homes. The Ar-Rashians had their family and their responsibilities at home, a lot of things to take care of, while Jun and Nino had their jobs, their friends, and also their families, and it was impossible that any of them gave up their whole lives completely from one day to another.

Of course, all this did not mean that things had to stop. There were definitely plans to see each other again. Neither Aiba nor Sho even considered the option of ending their relationships with Jun, and respectively Nino, for even a second. And so, their only chance to make things last was, to lead long distance relationships for now, until things were settled. It wouldn't be easy, but somehow, they would make it work, for sure. And it wasn't set in stone that this would be the end result. Things could change, could develop, and with the goal of leading a joined life one day in the future, everyone had something to think about, to work for and to look forward too.

For now though, it was time to say goodbye, so the five men were now standing on the rooftop, ready to pack a last few things into the still functioning ship, like tons of precooked meals that Nino had cooked for them, all Sho's favourites, of course, and a few bags filled with the clothes that Jun had bought for them.

They had transported Ohno's broken ship to the apartment block just the other day too, having to pull quite an act to manage the transport without being caught (the invisible blankets had been quite useful in this aspect, however, bringing the ship up to the rooftop had almost been impossible and had needed the help of Aiba and Sho's ship) and now belonged to Jun, who had promised to make good use of it. He indeed still planned to get some photoshoots for his designer collections with the ship as futuristic setting, so he was excited that Ohno had allowed him to keep it. Of course, the young man promised Aiba that he will be the only one he'll be making out with in the cockpit.

"At least, you're not connected to that shell any longer," Kee-ko's voice came from Sho's AI-port, directed to Ohno's, carrying the ship's previous AI, Zat-Uhm. "Believe me, you don't even want to know what these two did in my cockpit during that so-called party... it was horrible!"

"I am truly grateful for not having to experience that then, sister," Zat-Uhm agreed.

"Oh yes, I bet," Kee-ko said, followed by a slightly metallic, bitter chuckle.

"Next time, I invite you to my planet. Want to introduce you to my parents," Aiba promised Jun, who had tried to play cool until now but had finally broken out into tears while clinging to his boyfriend.

"Brave…" Ohno chuckled, obviously not convinced that this was such a good idea, however, Aiba didn't let him unsettle his plans.

"They will not kick him out for having a relationship with an Earthling," Sho, who was standing next to Nino, holding his boyfriend's hand firmly in his, added, determined.

"You think so?" the older alien prince asked, critically. "And what if they do?"

"They did not want to kick you out when you ran away from home," the other man replied, raising a challenging eyebrow at Ohno, who eventually took the side blow and shrugged it off.

"And even if," Jun sobbed, "Then Ma-chan can live here with me and Nino, forever."

"And I have to reign Ar-Rash all by myself? No, thank you!" the older brother exclaimed.

"You will be a great king," Sho said, teasingly.

"I really have to get used to you being humorous now, Sho. Seriously, don't joke with me, I am still not interested in becoming king…," the prince rumbled on, squinting his eyes at Sho.

Nino couldn't help but chuckle at this remark, and when Ohno offered to take their luggage inside the ship, and Aiba and Jun were busy with their own goodbye, Nino and Sho could finally take a moment of silence and focus on each other. Sho pressed Nino's hand when the other man looked at him and reached his free hand around Sho's waist to embrace him. He would miss this, that was for sure, and the longer Nino could hug that still a little awkward but more and more adorable alien, the better.

"I will be back," Sho said, leaning his head against Nino's. "I promise."

"When?" Nino asked immediately, even if he had intended not to do so. They had talked about it. Countless times.

"As soon as I can," the alien continued.

"I will be waiting for you," Nino said, smiling slightly. "Until then, you need to take care and… try to send me a message once in a while, will you?"

"Of course! As often as I can!" Sho replied.

The alien had managed to save a copy of Kee-ko's basic system on Nino's laptop as well as Jun's smartphone, which theoretically should enable the computer and phone to connect with Kee-ko, so that they should be able to communicate even via the distance that would lie between them. Live communication would be unrealistic, however, sending voice or video messages was definitely an option for both sides, the aliens, as well as Nino and Jun, counted on that technology, to make their long distance relationships more bearable.

When Nino leaned closer, Sho's lips met him halfway, and they shared one of the most intimate kisses, they ever had. It was hard to describe the whole mix of feelings that whirled inside of Nino's heart and mind right now, but their kiss right now had captured all of those emotions just perfectly. There was no need to further say anything. Whatever Nino wanted to say to Sho, Sho already knew. When their hands parted, Nino's heart hurt immensely, but he tried to remind himself, that they would find a solution, that it wouldn't be long until he could touch Sho, feel Sho, kiss Sho again.

Eventually, the aliens stepped towards their ship, waving their friends from Earth goodbye and thanking them again for all their help and support, before they got on and the ship closed up.

Even before the aliens activated their spaceship's invisibility mode, Jun was already clinging onto Nino's arm, still crying. Nino, who had a hard time himself to hold back his tears, chuckled, reaching his hand into the mob of Jun's brown locks and ruffled through them, caring.

"I miss him, Nino!" Jun whined.

"They are not even out of sight yet," Nino replied, pointing at the ship which was now being activated, and slowly started floating in the sky.

"But..."

"Who talked big and said it's no problem at all to lead a long-distance relationship with an alien over galaxies?" Nino chuckled, glancing at his friend. "I believe it was you! Pull yourself together, J!"

Jun pouted. "I hate you, Nino!"

"No, you don't," the other man smirked.

"No, I don't...," Jun replied, sighing.

Then, the ship in front of them had vanished into thin air, and only a silent swooshing noise indicated the invisible spaceship's departure. Suddenly, it was too quiet on the rooftop, without the voices of the aliens. All at once, even with Jun by his side, Nino felt lonely. And he knew, Jun must feel the same.

"I really miss him...," Jun whispered.

"I know," Nino murmured.

Jun's body started shaking again from a wave of crying. "It hurts so much."

"I know…," Nino whispered in return. He knew so so well... he felt just the same about Sho. A first silent tear rolled down Nino's cheek, followed by another, and another until he was sobbing a strange duet with his best friend.

"They'll be back, right?" Jun asked, turning to Nino in order to take his best friend into a hug. At least, they had each other.

"They'll be back," Nino confirmed, wrapping his arms around his friend, thankful to have someone to hold onto at that moment. "Soon, you'll see."

 

+ PLANET EARTH. JAPAN. JULY 1, 2018. 11:05 PM, JST. Ninomiya and Matsumoto apartment +

 

It had been a long, exhausting day at work when Nino finally entered his room after sharing a quick late dinner with Jun. He opened his laptop and was excited to see a notification from the interstellar message system that Sho had installed on his computer.

He finally got mail! Even, a video message, as it seemed. Not that he had been counting the hours since his boyfriend promised to reach out to him as soon as possible...

Three days ago, Sho, Aiba, and Ohno had left with their spaceship, and Nino had been wondering how long they'd take to reach their home planet. This whole space stuff was a little much for his brain to process, especially since what Sho had tried to explain to him just sounded like complicated science fiction to Nino's ears, but when his boyfriend assured him that he should be able to send him the first message within a few days, Nino focused on that, and now, it finally happened.

Excited, the young man immediately took a seat in front of his desk and with his heart beating faster from the pleasant anticipation to hear that deep wonderful voice again, he clicked the unread message from his alien boyfriend. A new window popped open for playing a video message, the frame showing an almost empty, futuristic looking room, kept entirely in white, only an empty seat in front of the camera. Then, when Nino heard a familiar voice, his heart skipped a beat.

"Kee-ko? Video message recording START.
Language setting: Japanese.

Current Position: Planet Ar-Rash, royal headquarters, living accommodations.

Video message to Ninomiya Kazunari No. 1."

Nino couldn't help but smile, his heartbeat was back, tumbling happily within his chest. He could hear shuffling in the background, then, Sho appeared on screen, taking place on a seat and making himself comfortable. He was in his human form, which he preferred having in Nino's company, probably to feel more equal to the other man. The man formed a slightly awkward smile with his beautiful lips, his cute teeth showing, and then started talking.

"Hello, Nino... uhm... this is a bit awkward... how am I supposed to start this? I am sorry, I am not used to messaging... a boyfriend..."

There was a little blush on Sho's cheeks, which Nino found adorable, but then, Sho cleared his throat, shuffled a bit in his seat, and there was the edge of something that reminded Nino on an iPad or something similar showing in the camera's frame, that the alien man checked out. Maybe a cheat sheet? Anyway, as soon as Sho checked it out, he put it down again, looked back into the camera and continued.

"Maybe I just start with, how are you doing? I really hope you and Jun are doing well. We finished our journey without encountering any problems, and thanks to the jumps through hyperspace in just a very short amount of time. Considering the distance between our two home planets, I am happy to have access to such advanced technology as the one built in our ships.

I wanted to get in contact with you as soon as possible, however, once we landed here, things got a little bit out of control. The king and queen were not exactly amused that we took so long to come back to Ar-Rash, honestly. Well, I have to admit that I am not very surprised about that. Thankfully, they were up for a talk so we could explain the whole situation to them. It was not easy, but we did it. The results are... mixed, I would say."

Nino frowned at his boyfriend's words, but he probably would not be surprised. Sho and Aiba's trip to Earth definitely had not turned out as what they had initially planned, after all. Nino just hoped they were not in too much trouble now.

"About Ohno, he has been grounded for a few days as punishment for leaving Ar-Rash without prior notice, I guess this is the king and queen's way of expressing their worry for their eldest son. Ohno does not seem to mind, though, he is as carefree as always. His parents say, he still has a lot to learn before he can actually take over the responsibilities of a leader.

They were pretty shocked when Aiba told them about his relationship with Jun, and had a pretty nasty fight over it, but Aiba is stubborn and made very clear that he does not plan to abandon his boyfriend, so they have to live with his choice. I admire the prince, honestly, after hearing them fighting, I did not feel like sharing the news about my relationship with you, yet, I hope you understand. I am not planning to lie to them or anything, of course... and it is not like I want to hide things about you, definitely not, it's just... I am waiting for the right moment to tell them. To introduce you..."

There was it again, that slight cute blush on Sho's cheeks when he tried to explain the last part. Nino chuckled softly, put his elbows in front of his laptop and bedded his chin in his hands, as he continued to watch his boyfriend talk, who apparently took another short look at his cheat sheet before he continued. It was really cute to see Sho slightly puzzled like this, but it made Nino feel special. He heard Sho doing voice reports to Kee-ko before, during his time on earth, and even if he couldn't understand them due to the different language setting, they always sounded to be very professional. This was different, though. This was a message coming from Sho's heart, as he tried to fit in information as well as emotion, as best as he could. It was so cute...

"Besides these issues, we also had a long talk about our trip to Planet Earth, shared our experiences and everything. Surprisingly, the king and queen seemed to be quite interested. As you remember, we came up with the plan to organize holiday trips to your planet in order to provide our folks with a deeper understanding for Earthling culinary art and bring them closer to the subject of hobbies, so that our people can find a better balance between working and their private life. The royal counsel seemed a bit skeptical at first but after the three of us held a presentation about the advantages, they seemed quite positive about the idea. It will take some time to plan everything out, but first test travels will happen very soon. In fact, the king and queen themselves volunteered to make a first travel to Planet Earth this summer! To be honest, I personally think that they simply want to get to know Jun, so you should maybe warn him..."

Laughing out loud at Sho's comment, Nino leaned back in his seat. Well, this would become interesting, wouldn't it?

"Further, we could convince the council and the king and queen to consider slowly changing the system of our regime," Sho continued with the earnest things in life, and Nino continued listening closely.

"Especially with Ohno making clear once again that he does not see himself very fit to inherit the king and queen's duties and responsibilities, they agreed on thinking to change from a monarchy to a democracy. A lot of research has to be done to present them an actual concept, however, if everything works out, we might try and find people on Ar-Rash who are actually interested in politics and guiding the folks here, so that they can contest against Aiba and Ohno in order to find the most fitting leader for our planet. Now, the best thing about this, in my opinion is, that in the range of the research that is to be taken, the king and queen agreed on the idea that someone should be sent out to Earth for a few months in order to study as much about political concepts and democracy in particular, as possible. Guess who got assigned to that task?"

Sho made a dramatic pause, his lips now decorated with that rare but genuine smile of him that Nino loved so much, and the young man's heart started beating faster again upon the excitement building up within him. Could it really be?!

"Exactly, it's me!" Sho continued, all smiled, Nino immediately mirroring his expression. It was so adorable how Sho tried to stay professional, but there was no doubt that his private feelings were coming through, which made Nino feel incredibly happy. "I am really excited already. Of course, officially, my main task is to study but this also means that next time when I come back to Earth... to you... I will be able to officially stay there for quite a while, what do you think about this? Honestly, I can't wait. I want to see you again, as soon as I can. I want to -"

"Sho, you finished? I want record message for Jun now!"

The man was suddenly interrupted by the younger of the two alien princes, turning around in his seat, while Aiba – also in his human form – walked up behind his friend. Nino chuckled.

"Hey Nino! All good?" the alien prince waved into the camera a second later, flashing his typical broad grin and Nino couldn't help but smirk. "You finished flirting?" Aiba then asked, turned to Sho, who slightly blushed. Nino bit his lower lip upon that cute gesture of his boyfriend, who now focused back on his video.

"Well, I will show you what I want to do... when we meet again," the alien said, addressing Nino again. "I have to finish now, Aiba wants me to help him with his video for Jun. I will check in again when I know the exact date of my travel to Earth. Take care Nino, I love you!"

The video message stopped, still showing Sho's face, wearing a soft smile, in the frame, and Nino couldn't help but slowly reach out his hand and touch the surface of his laptop's screen, tracing the lines of his boyfriend's face. He let the message sink in for a little longer. The aliens were fine. They were making progress. And the most exciting news – he would be able to meet Sho again, probably very soon. He honestly had not expected it to happen so soon, had even been nervous, worrying – too much, as always – that something might come up, something might go wrong, that Sho might forget about him once he was busy again back on his home planet... but once again, his worry had been proven wrong. He sighed at himself, knowing that he still had to learn to have more faith, in everything. As it was now, things were looking great, and Nino honestly couldn't wait to see his boyfriend again.

"Jun?" the young man then yelled through his closed bedroom door.

It just took a few seconds until his friend came running, pushing the door open to see what was wrong. "Yes?"

"Looks like you're going to meet your future parents in law sooner than expected," Nino replied, turning towards the door and grinning at his friend, triumphantly.

The young man couldn't help but chuckle at his best friend's puzzled look, before he shooed him out of his room again, ran his fingers through his hair, just in case there was something to get fixed, and got to work to record a video reply to his alien boyfriend.

 

THE END