milesofspace: (i won't go home without you)
tiye, take five. ([personal profile] milesofspace) wrote2009-07-02 06:59 pm

encaustic

Title: Encaustic
Pairing: Ohno/Nino
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: ~23,000
Summary: Come help with the farm. Art school won't miss you for one month, right? Ohno is an art student working on his family's acerola farm and Nino is the paper boy.
Notes: This is the exact same version of the fic found at singability, just in one big chunk! Dreamwidth is wonderful like that. :) All the previous notes are still the same, including big fat panda thankyous to [personal profile] aeslis for beta-ing and Caetlin for helping me out with some of the art things.



ENCAUSTIC - a painting technique in which molten wax is blended with pigments and then fused onto a surface with intense heat, which renders the image permanent.


i.

When Ohno gets the postcard he is ridiculously excited. Come help with the farm, it says, in calligraphy from some ancient school that only his mother knows how to paint, with all the grace in her body. Art school won't miss you for one month, right?

It turns out that she is wrong, and all of Ohno's professors, after having a friendly reminder of who Ohno Satoshi is, are devastated. It is the last term before the next school year and the exhibitions are all calling for the best students--Ohno is one of them, even though he hardly ever says anything, and so his teachers send him off with promises to create some things to bring back and show off.

"Have fun," they all say, patting him on the back. "You will love Okinawa! The ocean is beautiful and the sun dazzles like no other!"

Ohno has never been to Okinawa. His parents moved there to inherit some hundred year-old acerola farm, and while Ohno admits that he likes the fruit and loves his family, he is not really looking forward to harvest time.

ii.

Harvest time is hell. Ohno is bent over every single day and he feels like he has been in the same position for his entire life just after six hours of working in the trees. When he stands, he swears his back cracks in eight different places.

"What a baby," says his sister as she hands him an empty tray--a call for a new batch. "Art school has turned you into mush, Satoshi. It's pathetic."

Ohno is indignant and sticks his chin out, but can't do anything more than grunt. The sun in Okinawa seems an orange monster compared to the tiny child of a sun that rises over Tokyo. He almost misses the smog, but has to remind himself that this air is good for him. Sea salt cleanses the body, after all. He read it somewhere.

"Satoshi, pick!" someone calls to his far left, and Ohno buries his head in a tree and breathes deeply.

iii.

On the third day, he is excused.

His sister isn't too happy about it, and sulks all throughout breakfast, dishwashing, and suiting up for the day. "I can't believe this," she mutters as she ties a towel forcefully around her head. "Your pansy ass has only been here for three days and they're already letting you off. Tell me, Satoshi," she says, knotting the headband with a jerk, "tell me how long I've been here."

Ohno sits for a minute, staring blankly at the shoes lined neatly against the entrance wall, and then mumbles, "A year."

He feels sincerely apologetic, and wishes he could somehow comfort his sister--he knows that she really wants a husband and an apartment in Osaka and her own oven to bake in--but he also knows that he hasn't done anything wrong. Art school had been a goal since he was twelve, when he took a field trip to the art museum and the college kids there had been so nice to him and had complimented his drawings, even though they were truly only doodles in a math textbook. But that had been encouragement enough, and his parents--especially his mother--had told him that if he worked for it, he would be just fine.

Eight years later, and everything worked out exactly the way it was supposed to. He made it into the first semester, full honors, all of the teachers loving his work (though not exactly remembering his name). And here is his sister, a beautiful girl, ready to get out into the world and say I do instead of harvesting acerolas in the crushing heat.

"Sorry," he says to her as she slides open the door with her foot. It's bad manners, and she would always call him out on that, but he can't find it in him to do the same.

She looks at him, not for long, and then shrugs before turning away. "I shouldn't be mad," she confesses. "You're doing fine, Satoshi. Just fine."

He missed her, all her opinions and her stubbornness and her way of loving, which sometimes hurt. She pinches him, now, and tells him that she's happy for him, really she is. He doesn't fully believe her until dinner, when she gives him an extra-large glass of acerola juice with a third helping of rice.

iv.

The night on the island runs by in stilts, chopping up the twilight into slivers of violet that Ohno wishes he could bottle up and bring back to Tokyo with him. Every day so far has been a flurry of burning reds and evergreen and too much blue above his head; it is an overwhelming amount of color, even for Ohno. It almost makes him miss his dorm room, all its grays and off-whites. But not quite.

Ohno doesn't sleep most days until after midnight. He tries to go to bed early because that's important when you have to work the next day, says his mother, but past the zero hour all the colors come out to splinter the neutral tones of his bed sheets and throw streaks of lilac and moon-color over his body. He thinks to himself, as the night wears on and his eyes grow heavy, that these shades are purely of the island. He has never seen anything like them in any art supply store in Tokyo.

He tries to stay up to wait for the tropical hues to greet him, the playful pinks and all of the oranges that Okinawa has in its treasure chest of a sun. But he never can; he is too tired, there is too much work to do. Eventually all the thoughts in his head clear away and the colors fade, too, as Ohno falls into dreams of swirling lines and giant spaces of white to fill in.

v.

The next day, the paper boy shows up.

"Ah, so sorry!" he says before he has even turned into their courtyard. Ohno is on break, and eating watermelon like a complete pig. He is also not wearing a lot of clothing, but he figures that this is Okinawa and it's perfectly acceptable practice, in such heat, if a man in his early twenties is sitting on his own veranda, wearing a threadbare tank top and old boxer shorts soaked pale pink in watermelon juice.

When the boy finally turns the corner, Ohno is glad of his assumption.

"I don't usually look like this when people move in," says the boy after a pause, smiling with only one upturned corner of his mouth. He is dripping sweat from his brow and the ends of his hair are spiked with moisture. "I wasn't aware of your, uh, visiting."

Sweat Boy (Ohno calls them as he sees them) is wearing striped shorts and a white tank top that looks newer and cleaner than the one Ohno is wearing, but thinner; Ohno can see clearly the color of the boy's skin through the fabric. It clings to his torso where his bones jut out, and Ohno can tell already that he has the body of a teenage boy, all angles and topographical surprises.

"Do you live here?" Ohno asks, taking another bite of watermelon and slurping loudly. Then he remembers that his mother used to teach at a finishing school. "Oh--do you want some?"

Laughing, Sweat Boy tosses the newspaper down onto the veranda and plops down next to it. "Of course I live here," he says, and Ohno swears he sees him wink. "And only if it's okay?"

Ohno carefully removes, with his pinky, a line of seeds from his slice. "This entire one's mine. Go ahead," he says, nudging the plate over with his knee. "I'm visiting from school."

"I'm Nino--Ninomiya," Nino says, picking up the smallest piece of melon with only his thumb and forefinger. It reminds Ohno of the way baby birds eat--the tiniest portions between the tips of their beaks. "I'm your age, then."

As he chews Ohno watches the sweat fall from a long strand of Nino's hair onto his shoulder, where it slides down from the rounded edge to the inside of his forearm and disappears. "Ohno Satoshi," he mumbles, still affixed on the drop, which has reappeared near Nino's wrist.

"Right," Nino says, nibbling at his watermelon. "The acerolas. I know you--your family, anyway."

They eat in silence for a few minutes, and then Nino puts the melon rind back on the plate carefully, near the edge so that it is not touching any of the other slices. He gets up and Ohno watches him stretch, every single muscle revealed for only a second underneath the surface of skin.

"Well, I come by when I can," Nino says, already walking back. "I'll see you tomorrow, maybe, Ohno-san."

Ohno wants to correct him--you're the paper boy, aren't you? Won't you come back every day?--but figures that this would only make him sound needy, like he is a little boy just moved in from the big bad city and wants, craves, a friend his age to play ball and catch bugs with. So he just waves, even though Nino is turned the other way. Still, he thinks, it's the thought that counts.

vi.

Two slices of watermelon are waiting for Ohno on the kitchen table when he comes in for break the next day. The house is shady and breezy, and he has the first piece of melon in his hand before the rest of him is even on a chair. The first few bites cool him down immediately and he stretches out, content, across the table.

He is slurping away at the second piece and counting the number of seeds on the plate when he hears a crash outside. For a second he thinks that maybe he should get up to make sure that nobody is trying to break into their house, but his feet just don't seem to be cooperating, so he remains sitting and keeps on chewing. He keeps listening just to be sure, but he doesn't hear anything much except for some rustling.

Then--

"This is what I get for coming back," somebody mutters, and Ohno freezes mid-chew.

He gets up slowly, still clutching at his watermelon slice, and tiptoes to the sliding doors where he gently pushes the frame back. Through the tiny space he manages to catch a glimpse of somebody, small and thin, hobbling along the edge of the veranda.

"Um," Ohno says, sticking his entire face out of the doorway now, "are you okay?"

Nino looks up. "I am," he says, "but your cat might not be."

Ohno is pretty sure that his family doesn't have a cat, unless his sister is keeping one secretly, and he tells Nino this as they walk around the house to the site of the crash. Nino explains that he was just coming by to drop off the paper when he noticed a commotion, and when he turned he saw something furry, a falling box, and then lots and lots of dust.

"I guess they're just hungry," is how he finishes his story. He and Ohno are standing side-by-side right next to the wreckage (even though it's actually only an overturned box full of leaves). "They probably thought they could find something in the box."

"Poor cats," Ohno says, and he means it. "I'd let them have some watermelon if they just asked."

"Is that so," Nino asks, though it sounds more like a statement than anything he's really curious about.

Ohno thinks about it. "Well, we have a lot of watermelons since we get them from down the road," he explains, gesturing lamely in a random direction. He's not entirely sure where this conversation is going, but from the way Nino is trying to slowly edge his way over to the kitchen, he thinks he knows.

And for a second it annoys him--who does this kid think he is, that I'm going to give him all of my watermelons?--but Nino is standing there, lips curving into a maybe-smile, expecting sweet things and an invitation into Ohno's kitchen. He's got one of his hands on the veranda, fingertips barely touching the wood, like he's about to sit down and stay anyway even if Ohno says no.

Well, he thinks, still squinting at Nino, there is nothing wrong in paying the paper boy with food for all the work he does (or says he does). It's the thought that counts, after all, even if they are practically strangers and Ohno likes to keep his food for himself.

So Ohno lets Nino into his kitchen, where he sits on the opposite end of the table and eats a slice of melon that is only slightly meatier than the one he had yesterday. It's an improvement in Ohno's eyes, and he is even more pleased when Nino promises, cross his heart, to deliver the paper the next day without fail.

"How much do we owe you?" Ohno yells when Nino is just a rippling pin in the distance, so tiny that Ohno has to squint against the sun to make sure he is not seeing a mirage.

Nino just raises an arm and waves.

vii.

Ohno quickly discovers that the local newspaper is not really full of news. Instead, there are entire pages devoted to weather forecasts, harvest predictions, and upcoming bargains at the supermarket in town. There are perhaps one or two sidebars devoted to Japanese and worldwide news, but they seem to be there more to fill up white space than anything.

"Well, that's what's important to us farmers," Ohno's father grunts when his son dares to ask. "That other stuff comes up on the television a lot. I don't need to read about it again if I've already heard it."

This baffles Ohno, who, after living for so long in a city like Tokyo, has come to believe that the world revolves around daily numbers, bulletins from the warfront, and stock market feeds. Here, though, in the deepest reaches of Okinawa, he is not so sure.

So he brings it up the next day over watermelon.

"Your dad is right," Nino says, nodding, after Ohno has explained himself. "I mean, everyone down here just cares about what they grow and how it'll grow, you know, stuff like that. What you think is news," he mumbles, pausing to extract a few seeds from the last bite of his slice, "they think of as just extra stuff from the 'outside world.'"

Ohno is nodding, but he is paying more attention to the way Nino is nibbling on his melon and how there is a thin, very pink line of watermelon juice running from his bottom lip to the underside of his chin. It contrasts sharply with the skin tone there, which is pale, though not quite white. Not knowing the name of the color annoys Ohno, until he realizes that this is Nino's neck he is thinking of. Surely there is something wrong with that.

Nino has delivered the morning paper faithfully for the past three days, and every single time there is watermelon on the table to be shared by the both of them. While they eat, they talk, which is a little better than the two of them going out to catch beetles or throw baseball pitches at each other. Ohno is grateful that Nino has not mentioned the fact that his watermelon slices have gotten bigger and bigger since the first day he delivered the paper, and Ohno doesn't talk about the way Nino is getting a little bolder with their pseudo-friendship each time he arrives. Today, he has his feet up on the edge of Ohno's chair (and it is a little strange, but it's not like he minds at all; Nino's toes wiggle every so often and it's somehow extremely fascinating).

"Why?" Nino asks, cutting into Ohno's thoughts. "I mean, do you learn a lot about current events in college?"

Ohno absently looks away from Nino's feet. "Not really. I go to art school."

Nino frowns and Ohno can't help but wonder if it's because he doesn't believe it. But then again, it's not like he looks all that intelligent, even with glasses on and a stack of books in his hand. "So you draw?" he finally asks, looking straight at Ohno. "Or do you paint?"

"Both," Ohno replies, and again he feels like he's not sure where Nino is trying to take this conversation. But he plays along, because he doesn't want to go back outside to work, and also because he would feel bad if he had to push Nino's feet off the chair. "I sculpt, too." He pauses. "Sometimes out of newspaper."

"And melon rinds?" Nino suggests, tapping at his finished pieces of melon. "What about squashed acerolas? The fruit of your labor?"

"Ah," Ohno says, smiling now. "That's for the ink."

There's a smear of almost transparent red across the bottom of Nino's chin. Ohno wants to reach out and touch it, to say, ink like that, and thinking about streaks of ink makes him want a bunch of pens in his hand and a thick piece of paper on the table, fresh and unscarred.

Nino reaches up to wipe his chin with his fingers, and Ohno is just a little let down.

"Well," Nino says, pushing his plate away, so far across the table that his fingertips brush the edge of Ohno's hand, "I should be going."

His feet slide off the chair, but his fingers linger for longer seconds until Nino finally turns to leave. He is halfway out the door when he mentions something about how the evening edition of the paper sometimes comes in late, so he will try to bring it to them sometime in the next week.

"Okay?" he says, and walks away slowly. "Bye, watermelon kid."

Ohno just hums something in reply. He is only kind of listening; there is a certain way the sunlight grabs Nino that makes him a part of the scenery--twenty, thirty, fifty colors rolled into one upright position. Ohno tries to count them all, and uses what he remembers from classes to label the hues, but Nino picks up the pace as he walks down the road. Soon he is just another heat wave, and Ohno has to look away.

viii.

There should be a tally. This is what Ohno thinks after he has finished his sixth tray of the day on Friday morning, a week and a half after his first day in the orchard. There should be a tally somewhere on the farm, and if there were such a tally Ohno's line would be steadily growing right now, the hash marks splitting into new ones by the second, representing all of the trays, so many of them, that Ohno has filled with cherries--

"Mom, I've done my twelve, can I go now?"

Ohno throws his sixth tray dejectedly to the side.

"Hey, Satoshi, make sure you put away the cherries where you're supposed to," his sister says as she hurries past him, already pulling off her gloves, tugging at her towel. "Oh my gosh, you're only on your sixth?"

Ohno just looks at her. But she pays him no mind and just rushes into the house to get ready for her date with a country boy down the road whose name is Yamamoto--first name forgotten, but it's not like it really matters in the end. They are going to Naha, the city, in his car.

"Have fun!" calls his mother cheerily, waving her hat to the little truck that is driving away now, kicking up the dirt behind it. Ohno can see his sister, a perfumed form of denim and pearls, smiling coquettishly in the passenger seat.

For the next few hours his mother sighs to herself, over and over again, and in between trays turns to stare wistfully at the road in front of the house. It worries Ohno, mostly because he has never seen his mother like this before, and wonders if she needs to go lie down. It is hotter than hot today--the reds aren't even familiar to Ohno anymore. They've stopped being colors and have turned into deadly sirens with fires for eyes that go after the humans, stealing body fluids and dehydrating everything in sight.

Dusk starts to settle in only a few hours after Ohno's sister has left, and he puts away his trays for the day, still thinking of and hoping for the tally. As he walks silently beside his mother toward the house, she takes his hand as they near the entrance and he turns to her, expecting words, but she just smiles sadly at him.

She lets him go at the doorway, to prepare dinner. "We'll have one less anyway," she sighs again, and Ohno bites his lip. "Since your sister is out with Yamamoto-kun."

"Ah, well, she always eats too much anyway," Ohno says, trying to be helpful, and his mother laughs, her other hand coming up to stifle the sound. Then she pats her son on the elbow and tells him to be nice, and also to go get the paper.

ix.

Ohno was not aware that the evening paper came with a free dinner guest.

"I was just dropping it off," Nino says amusedly as he sets the paper down onto the veranda. "You're deaf, aren't you? I definitely told you I was coming back tonight."

Ohno does not remember that. All he can recall are thoughts of Nino's feet on his chair and the watermelon seed contest that they had (whoever had the most seeds on their plate in thirty seconds won the last slice)--nothing about Nino coming back to deliver the evening paper.

"I don't have any watermelons for you," he says finally.

For some reason this strikes Nino as entirely too hilarious and Ohno is almost stunned to see him this way: Nino's laughter makes him bend over and his face brightens considerably. He has, Ohno thinks, a cute face, and right now, a smile that Ohno would kill to draw. His fingers twitch again, and a strong tug in his stomach reminds him briefly of the colors he sees in his bed at night, and his awful forgetfulness; why didn't he bring any of his colored pencils, his watercolors--?

There are still tiny puffs of laughter tumbling from Nino's mouth and Ohno has to smile. "Wait," Nino says, still kind of breathless, "You do know that I actually get paid to do this job, right? In money, not in fruit."

Ohno has to think about it. In the back of his mind surely he had some knowledge that Nino was getting a weekly, or perhaps monthly, wage for his work, and that he wasn't just delivering newspapers for the fun of it (because Ohno has gotten the hint that Nino doesn't exactly love to work).

But a part of him chose to believe that Nino came to his house with the paper every day because Ohno gave him watermelons and an air-conditioned environment and a break. And sometimes, Ohno knows--though his parents would beg to differ--that kind of reward is better than actual money. He doesn't dwell on it much, because he doesn't get paid himself. But he knows it's the truth.

"Yeah," Ohno answers a little indignantly, but he doesn't look at Nino when he says it. "I know that."

Nino just shakes his head. "Sure," he says, though his lips are still twitching, and picks up the newspaper. Ohno can see that he has ink all over his hands, smudged jet-black streaks on his nails and muted rainbows smothering his palms. It's just a little too uncanny, and Ohno is sure that somebody from Tokyo has to be playing a joke on him.

He accepts the paper from Nino and then blurts out, before he can stop himself, "Do you want to have dinner with us?"

Nino stills and Ohno automatically prepares himself for rejection, for that stinging punch to the gut that he has received so many times from countless girls and his sculpture professor, who is a hard grader and an alcoholic. His fingers tighten around the coil of paper in his hand and he sucks in a breath, already planning to make his dad get the newspaper from now on, even if he has to pick three extra trays of acerolas a day to seal the deal--

Ohno looks over when he feels Nino's hand on his shoulder.

"Well," Nino says, breath tickling the edge of Ohno's neck, "as long as you insist paying me with food, then I don't see why not."

He has this look on his face that says let's go, shall we and his fingers are ghosting Ohno's elbow. Part of Ohno wants to tell Nino that he never insisted on anything, but he knows that arguing with a boy like him would just be tiring. So he leads the way.

x.

Nino introduces himself to Ohno's parents first as Ninomiya Kazunari and then as "the paper boy." It is such an ambiguous title and yet Ohno feels like it is the best way to describe him, unless he goes off on a full-on description about how in the afternoons he is Sweat Boy, or boy with the rainbow palms. But Ohno will keep that to himself.

"Ah, yes!" his mother says, beaming so brightly it's almost inappropriate. She has always loved guests, though, and Ohno is not one to deny his mother's small pleasures. "Thank you for all your hard work. I really feel like we don't pay you enough..."

"No, it's just fine," Nino says, and he has a smile on his face that Ohno is positive he reserves only for mothers and girlfriends (he wonders if he can borrow it to use in his sculpture class). "Anyway, your son gives me all the watermelon I could ask for."

Ohno's mother almost swoons. "Yes, well, I taught him to treat people nicely," she says joyfully as she ushers them all into the living room. "It's all because of--oh, let me just tell you a little bit about my teaching days. Satoshi, set the table, please. You've heard all of this already."

He does, and tries to make as much noise as possible in the kitchen without having his mother notice. Nino keeps shooting him looks over his mother's shoulders, and Ohno just blinks back at him.

At the table, Nino is given, along with the most rice, the condensed version of all the finishing school stories combined. Ohno listens to his mother speak, in the kindest language, about her unruly girls and knitting classes and exam time behavior--and then decides that as long as the hotpot is unoccupied, he might as well start. All of that talking to Nino about food, it seems, just made him hungry.

He has a thick piece of meat hanging off the edge of the bowl when his mother finally notices. "Satoshi," she snaps, and Ohno jumps. It's been a while since he has had to deal with a woman's moods, but he has already discovered that the heat in Okinawa just makes them worse. "We have a guest and you're already going first? You know that's rude."

Nino coughs, but Ohno hears him snort anyway. He watches mournfully as the piece of meat gets swept away by broth bubbles, and this time Nino doesn't try to hide his snicker.

"Boys," Ohno's mother says sternly. "Manners at the dinner table, please."

Five minutes later Ohno feels Nino's elbow jab him in the gut.

xi.

Ohno quickly learns that extended periods of time with Nino are nothing less than painful.

"It's not my fault you're not more sufficiently padded," Nino says to him after dinner, when he's clearing the table without having been asked. "I have long arms, and you were sitting too close to me."

"I was not," Ohno mumbles as he stacks the saucers on the table. "You were sitting too close to me."

Behind the empty pitcher of acerola juice, Nino snickers. "Yeah," he says, but Ohno isn't too sure whether he's agreeing or not. "But you can make it up to me. Let me see your room when we're done," he says, and disappears into the kitchen before Ohno can say anything.

Nino is already on the first step of the stairs when Ohno comes out of the kitchen with leftover soap bubbles drifting down his arms. Nino takes one look at him and shakes his head.

"You have," he says, and gently swipes his hand down Ohno's arm, "soap bubbles on you, still. You're kind of a mess, aren't you?" But he's grinning, and Ohno knows that's a good thing.

Nino climbs the stairs like he lives there. He only sort of waits for Ohno to catch up, and there are not even that many stairs for him to catch up on--he just likes to keep his own pace, which is not a very fast one. With each step Nino turns to make sure that Ohno is still behind him, and of course he always is, but Nino's face, his eager expression, both startles and amuses Ohno.

"It's the one on the--," Ohno starts to say as he is only a few steps away from the top of the staircase.

"Left," Nino finishes casually, and then his lips curve into a sly line. "Lucky guess?"

Ohno accepts it all without even thinking and agrees with Nino without really turning the thought over in his head. "Yeah, you're lucky," he says as he pushes open the door in front of them.

It's not much, but Ohno secretly thinks that his room is some sort of architectural masterpiece. In reality it is far from that--the paint is peeling, the hardwood floor creaks in too many places and the window is too large for any sort of privacy--and yet in Ohno's head it is three million steps above his drab studio apartment. It is something close to heaven.

He has the room with the balcony and the window leading out to the landing takes up the entire wall facing his bed. The view goes far beyond the neighborhood and extends all the way out to the ocean, which is why Ohno took down the curtains his mother had put up as soon as he could. When the sun rises and sets on the sea there is a sudden palette of colors on his white bedroom walls, every color on the wheel and each one in between revealing itself in pale shadows where the paint still is. And where it isn't, the light seeps through the hairline cracks in the wall; it reminds Ohno of the way the paints bleed into the water when he cleans his brushes.

Ohno tries to imagine what his room would be like without the window, but he can't--or maybe he stops himself before the image comes up. Whichever one it is, he just doesn't feel right imagining a room of his own without light and shade and color. It's all kinds of wrong to him, and he won't go there even in his head.

"Ah, you--," Nino says, and Ohno looks up at the window before he realizes that Nino is the one talking. "You have sketchbooks?"

Oh, Ohno thinks, frowning, those. "It's all old stuff," he says nonchalantly. "I don't have any new ones."

"Why not?" Nino asks. He's already pulling out the stacks from the shelves and lining them up in front of him, ready to flip through Ohno's drawings for the next day or two. Ohno plops down next to Nino on the floor and arranges the books in a neat pile, taking care to assemble all of the stray pages in straight stacks.

"I mean," Nino continues, wondering aloud, "isn't this your job?"

Ohno has never thought of it that way before and it disturbs him, a little, to think of his windowpane utopia and pangs to draw as some sort of occupation, something that he is forced to do. He blinks, uncomprehending, and then says, "It's my hobby." To him, this is a fact of nature.

Nino nods and opens the first sketchbook carefully, fingers pressing only against the very edges of the heavy paper. When the cover finally gives way and the first page comes into view Ohno hears Nino exhale, and it's surprising to him that Nino would be so delicate about something like this.

But he is. He treats every page in the same way and he rests his eyes on every sketch for at least five minutes, pupils wandering, lost, all over the hazy lines and undefined shapes. He gets through three sketchbooks this way and Ohno can feel his crossed legs numbing but it would be too difficult to get up right now and anyway he is fine right here, watching Nino.

Behind them the sun is setting and there is a tangerine glow playing round the edges of Nino's ears. When he moves, so does the light, and Ohno is mesmerized by the radiant dancing spots on the sketchbook and across the backs of Nino's hands. The farther the sun sinks the more Ohno feels like he is losing something as Nino fades into an almost-darkness.

When Nino puts aside the last sketchbook and looks up Ohno knows he should look away--common sense tells him to--but he doesn't feel like listening to it. He keeps his eyes fixed on Nino.

Nino says something, and Ohno has to jar himself out of his own little world.

"What?" he asks, coming slowly back to reality.

"I said," Nino says, re-stacking the books, "that you're pretty good at this."

Something in Ohno's chest rattles. "That's what my mom tells everyone," he says, and looks away quickly. Nino laughs, and the sound is bright like sunlight breaking through the darkness of the room.

xii.

Ohno's sister comes back just before midnight and just after Nino has left. They pass each other on the road leading into the house and he bows, politely and just the way he should, but she is too baffled and tipsy to do much of anything back to him.

"Who was that?" she asks her brother when they're sitting at the table, after he has made a pot of tea. "It was a boy!"

He smiles. "Very good, 'nee-chan," and she just pinches his elbow.

Still, Ohno isn't sure what to tell her. He's sure that his night was nothing compared to his sister's--from the looks of it, and her vague, two-minute explanation, she lost a pearl earring on the dance floor and Yamamoto-kun tried to make a pass at her but she fended him off with a cocktail stick.

Nothing as exciting happened in the Ohno household, and Ohno recounts the entire night to his sister: they had hotpot and Ohno was not allowed to have nearly as much meat as he wanted, their mother recounted her entire teaching career to Nino throughout dinner, and their father said two words the entire time as per usual. He doesn't tell her about his bruises or the sketchbooks.

She laughs about everything else, though, and reaches across the table to pat her brother's hand. "You know mom loves any kind of company and dad--well, yeah..." She trails off, looking into space, and absentmindedly swirls the tea in her cup.

Then she asks, "What else, what else?"

Nothing, he says, that's all.

He looks down into his cup. What can he tell her, after all, that wouldn't make him seem like a crazy person, like a love-struck fool?

"Nothing? Really?" asks his sister, staring intently at Ohno, her head tilted and cheeks flushed pink with slight intoxication. "But he came here at--around seven, right? What did you all do for four and a half hours?"

Ohno takes a hurried sip of his tea and ends up burning his tongue. "We--talked," he says, hoping that his sister won't catch the hesitation in his voice, or, even worse, ask what they talked about.

To his relief, she only nods and then downs the rest of her tea in one long gulp. "I'm just glad to see you've made a friend, Satoshi," she says, still grinning. "Maybe you'll quit complaining as much."

He wants to protest, to say, I never complained, but she gets up then and wobbles to her bedroom unsteadily. Ohno watches her go and then, when she is out of sight, exhales. He lets it all go, for one second, even though he knows in the back of his mind that this is all far from over.

xiii.

Tonight, in Ohno's bedroom, the sky is all about him, closing in on him, taking all the uncertainties in his head and squeezing them until they produce an inkling of sad gray. He lies awake, sheets kicked to the floor, and pouts at the world outside of his window. He doesn't want to look at the colors tonight, not if they're going to do anything but taunt him.

So he sketches with his fingers, instead. The air inside of the house is comfortable, if slightly muggy, and Ohno sleeps without a shirt on, so when he lifts his hands to stretch his fingers above his head he can see the lines of shadow splayed across his bare chest. After a brief stint of shadow animals (because Ohno will never tire of that childhood game, even when he is fifty, he just knows it), he draws.

Just going through the motions of sketching calms him down. His fingers behave as if they are holding a pencil and the long sweeps of his wrist and the movement of his entire arm are the same, were he using a piece of paper instead of the air. He draws from memory, but doesn't think, and then he starts to lay down the colors for his masterpiece--the shade of the sand on the beach nearby for skin, the dark chocolate warmth of the palm tree trunks for eyes, for shadows. In his head he lifts the island palette off the earth and smoothes it over what he has created.

Of course he knows who it is, when it is finished. Even if his eyes only see the ceiling, he knows.

It scares him a little--what do you do, after all, when you don't even know what's going on inside of your own head?--but he figures that something will happen, something that will let him know which way to go.

xiv.

Ohno's mother (without her son's permission--even though there is no plausible reason to need his permission for doing this) tells Nino the next morning, as he is dropping off the paper, that he can come over anytime to help with the acerolas.

"I don't know," Nino says. Ohno can hear them speaking from his room where he is lying in bed, still half-asleep. "I've never harvested anything in my life that wasn't in a video game."

She just laughs, high and tinkly, like Nino is speaking nonsense. "Don't you worry," she says, and Ohno can just imagine her reaching out to touch Nino on the elbow, to reassure him that she knows best. "It's easy. Satoshi will teach you!"

Their voices fade away and Ohno, relieved, falls right back to sleep. By the time his eyes open again he's convinced that what he heard was a dream and that his mind, still stuck on imaginary nighttime paintings of Nino's face, made it up completely.

But when he shuffles into the kitchen, hair sticking up on one side and still shirtless, there is Nino sitting at the kitchen table with his chin in one hand a glass of juice in the other.

"Tekken 6 is due out," he's saying--to Ohno's sister.

"No way!" she says, leaning forward across the table. "Yamamoto-kun told me that, but I didn't believe him."

Ohno, seeing that they are occupied, tries to escape. He has most of his body out the door and in the hallway when he suddenly hears his name.

"Satoshi," calls his mother. "Aren't you going to join your sister and Ninomiya-kun?"

When Ohno turns back to the kitchen he sees Nino looking at him, almost surprised, and his sister, smiling widely. His mother has a plate of piled croquettes balanced on her hand, and she is looking at her son expectantly, waiting for a response.

"Shirt," is all Ohno says. If he tried to say anything else, anything even remotely coherent, he would fail miserably. "I just--got up."

"We can see that," his sister jeers, and Nino laughs, then quickly clamps his mouth shut (even though Ohno can still see him laughing in the way his shoulders shake underneath his t-shirt).

He comes back with a shirt on and with his mouth still tasting of toothpaste and sidles back into the kitchen. His sister and Nino are still chattering away like noisy little birds, and don't even try to stop when Ohno plops down dejectedly on the seat next to his sister.

While they talk (still, they are still talking about video games), he reads the paper, front to back, and manages to get away with eating three croquettes, which is one more than equal division allows him to take. By the time he has taken his plate back to the sink and put the paper back in its exact order, he is ready to go outside and pick some berries.

Nino stands just as Ohno puts his hand on the door, ready to push.

"Are you going? I'll come," he says. "Your mom said I could. She said you'd teach me how to pick acerolas."

"There's not really anything to teach," Ohno mumbles, not looking at Nino--though truly there is nothing in him that doesn't want Nino to come with him, into the scorching heat, with the sirens back and the intense blue overhead. "You just pick things off a tree."

"Oh," Nino says, and Ohno expects him to go back to the table, to keep on talking about video games with his sister (who has another date with Yamamoto-kun, this time in the afternoon). "Is that so?"

But he only moves closer, so that his hand is on the door as well, right next to Ohno's. "I'm not a farmer's son," he says, speaking more now like he is in on some secret that only Ohno is allowed to know about. His voice is lower, quieter, and it makes Ohno want to listen. "You'll still have to tell me what to do."

He looks at Ohno, who can see the flecks of charcoal in his eye, set against a backdrop of deep brown. It's almost too much for him to not reach out and touch Nino's face, to memorize it, to have the tiny details etch themselves onto his hand like the newspaper ink rubs off on Nino's palms--

"You'll need a towel, the both of you," Ohno's sister says suddenly, from her spot at the table. The tone of her voice is curious, wondering, and Ohno feels as if he has just been caught red-handed in the middle of doing a naughty thing. "It's hot out there."

"I know," Nino says, this time smiling, his voice lighter, eyes no longer looking at Ohno but past them, to the harsh sunlight outside. "We should be alright, though."

xv.

If Nino's definition of 'alright' is drowning in one's own sweat, then Ohno's not sure whether he wants to keep taking Nino back with him to pick acerolas. It's true that he learns fast--Ohno demonstrated the routine just a couple of times, and Nino had an entire tray filled in less than two hours--but Ohno's not sure if he can keep up with the amount of skin it feels like he's shedding from all this damn heat.

Nino, though, seems completely fine, despite the way the droplets are gathering on the nape of his neck, threatening to slide down his back at any given moment.

Ohno says, with a little difficulty, "Do you want a towel?"

Nino wipes his forehead with the crook of his arm, takes one look at Ohno and smirks. "I think you're the one that needs a towel," he says, and whips his own off his neck. "Here, have mine."

He throws it to Ohno, who catches it in one hand. It's damp and overused, but for some reason it's still drier than Ohno's own towel and so he slings it around his neck (and smells Nino--hot and homely and sweaty).

They've been picking acerola for almost four hours, and Ohno can tell that Nino doesn't exactly hate the work. He seems calm here, amongst the trees and the little ripe berries, and it looks like he enjoys resting his chin on the branches, searching lazily with one hand for missed fruit. Even though his hair is practically drenched, Ohno thinks he looks relaxed, like he could stay here for a long time and not be bothered by much. The only thing about him that suggests discomfort is the slight twist of his eyebrows, but that's all.

"We should go to the beach," Ohno says, kicking absently at a tray on the ground. (He has finished two. Nino, on the other hand, has done four.) "Where it's cooler."

Nino looks up then, with a grimace on his face, and it emphasizes the sheen on his nose and forehead. For the sixty-eighth time since this whole thing started, Ohno wishes he could paint that.

"Not the beach," he says, nose now wrinkling. "At least, I won't go in the water."

He sticks his head back into the tree and explains: it's not that he hates the water, he just doesn't care much for going in it, and if you tried to put him on a boat he would kill you. Ohno believes him, and the image of a seasick Nino, green and hanging limply over the railing of a ship, amuses him somehow, and he smiles.

"And--hey, are you laughing at my pain?" Nino says, poking Ohno in the side. "It's not funny."

Ohno just snorts and bats Nino's hand away. "No," he says, shaking his head slowly. "It's not funny."

But in his head the image stays, and as they continue on with their harvest Ohno can't stop himself from sneaking peeks at Nino, who is picking away like the newspaper doesn't exist, like it doesn't have to be delivered. The sun is going to set soon, and everything, everyone, will be glowing in outlines of muted oranges and reds. Ohno can't wait for that to happen.

Before it does, though, Nino says, while his hands are buried in berries and his face is so close to the tree that the leaves are tickling his nose, "How about next time you come with me to deliver the paper?"

Ohno closes his eyes.

"Only if you come back tomorrow."

xvi.

Nino comes back the next day. When the sun is about to set, he proposes the same idea, and Ohno makes the same deal. This goes on for another three days, and in that period of time Nino has claimed his own towel, his own set of gloves, and the tally that still exists in Ohno's head--because no matter how fast Ohno picks, Nino is somehow always better at it without even trying.

They discover a lot of things in those three days, in those long, drawn-out hours, so many of them that they've quit keeping track. Ohno finds out that Nino needs a lot of water, and also that he needs to sit for long periods of time, but that a lifetime in Okinawa has forced him to reconcile with the heat. And Ohno is sure that he has revealed his affinity for colors, already, in the way he has made Nino stand next to the greenest trees and the reddest patches of fruit. He is also positive that Nino knows he is a Tokyoite by heart, because he can't stand the heat for more than an hour before he has to go in and take a break.

But there's more, and Ohno could make a list of these extra finds: Nino likes to touch things. Nino likes to make his fingers travel, and Ohno is sure that if he was allowed to he would traverse the entire orchard with his hands outstretched. Ohno lets Nino touch him, though, with stained or clean fingers, even if it only lasts for a second. It's enough.

He has also figured out that Nino doesn't really read the newspaper (except for the comics and parts of the sports pages); he just delivers it, and not usually on time. ("But everyone here is old," he says, "so I don't even think they notice.") And, more recently, he's learned that Nino likes pickled eggplant.

"Tell your mom," Nino says, as they stretch out on the veranda. It's the fourth day, just as quiet and just as siren-hot, and Ohno's mother has told them that they've done enough. Yamamoto-kun and Ohno's sister have replaced them in the orchard. "Maybe she'll make it next time I come over."

With anyone else's mother the comment might have been offensive, but Ohno knows that his mom probably would make pickled eggplant just for Nino. She likes him, even more so than the first day, and she is absolutely enamored with his "work ethic" (even though all he really does is lean against the tree and pick the berries closest to him).

"'Kay," Ohno mumbles. The sun is shining in his face, but with his eyes closed he doesn't half-mind it. One of Nino's legs is thrown over his own, but he doesn't really mind that either, nor the hand that is currently groping his cheek. "She probably will. If they don't take that long to pickle."

"Ferment," Nino snaps. "I'm pretty sure it's ferment."

"But then that would make them fermented eggplants, which...isn't the same thing."

The next time Ohno looks over at Nino, the smaller boy is napping, head resting on his arm in what looks like an uncomfortable angle. Just watching him like that, with his mouth almost parted, and his eyelashes casting the littlest of shadows, makes Ohno sleepy. He touches Nino's hand--the one still against his cheek--and dozes off.

When he wakes up it's nearly seven, and someone has left a pitcher of acerola juice and two glasses by them.

One of the cups looks used, and Ohno rubs his eyes until Nino, who is still licking the sweetness from around his mouth, comes into focus. "Hi," he says brightly. "You should have some, because we have to walk everywhere."

"Walk?" Ohno says, squinting. Every part of his body feels like an anchor. "Why?"

Nino just smirks, and tweaks Ohno's ear.

xvii.

They end up delivering newspapers like this: Ohno holds them and Nino actually delivers them. Ohno doesn't mind the huge stack; it's still warm, even though it's been more than twenty minutes since they heaved the pile out of the box, and he likes the smell of the paper and the ink.

It takes them, all in all, about two hours to go through all the houses that Nino usually frequents. He also drops off ten or so copies at one of the local inns, and the grandma there pets him like he is a puppy and talks to him in Okinawan dialect. Nino nods and laughs in what Ohno thinks are all the right places, but when Ohno asks him what she was talking about and Nino gives him a look, it turns out that he is just a very convincing actor.

When they're done, they end up at Nino's house, which looks like Ohno's only smaller and without the ever-present shadow of trees on the walls. It only takes them a few minutes to put the leftover rolls of paper back into the cardboard box they came in and fold it back up again.

Once they're finished Ohno stands, doing nothing, expecting something. He's not even sure that he's really breathing. He's not sure that Nino is, either, because he doesn't move when Nino does--closer--and he can see Nino's throat moving more than he can his chest.

"I'd invite you in, but--," Nino says, and he is so close now that he's almost bumping noses with Ohno.

His hands fumble for something to hold onto, and Ohno provides his own hand, just because it seems like that would be the right thing to do.

"I understand," Ohno whispers. They are bumping noses now, and Ohno is finding that this not-breathing thing isn't exactly compatible with the way his heart is behaving.

Nino squeezes his hands and makes a sound that is almost laughter, but comes off more like an embarrassed snort.

"No, my--my mom has a cooking class, so there's, like, twenty middle-aged women in our kitchen..."

Ohno tries not to find that funny, but it's hard and when he sees Nino, eyes all scrunched up and biting his lips to keep from giggling, he finally lets go. He swears that their laughter can be heard all over Okinawa--it's not a huge island, anyway, and he figures that he feels big enough right now to be louder than bullet trains, than thunder, than the sound of the ocean when he's awake at night.

"I'll see you tomorrow," Nino says, still smiling. He pulls away slowly.

"Are we going to pick some more acerolas?" Ohno asks. He feels better about harvest time now, and the sirens don't even bother him as much; their wailing has since subsided into the regular drone of the cicadas.

"Maybe," Nino calls, waving behind him. "Good night, Oh-chan."

xviii.

All Ohno can think about as he walks home is the next morning. He just wants to see Nino smiling; he wants to hear him say, "Hi, Oh-chan!" It's the first time in his life someone has ever called him that, and it makes him feel like there's a crown on his head that isn't too heavy, that feels just right.

But he has to get through the nighttime first, even though it doesn't feel like night, now--he feels wide awake. The colors that live behind his eyelids feel like they're pulsing against his pupils, demanding to get out, to leap from his eyeballs and cover not only the Okinawan island but the entire country of Japan, and maybe the whole world.

He closes his eyes and thinks about Tokyo, about going back. The city is a puddle of neon hues, all the colors shining above crosswalks and in convenience stores--but they get harsh if you look at them too long, and Ohno always loses the battle. He has to look away, squinting hard, until the flashes in his field of vision subside.

In Okinawa, that doesn't happen. Ohno can stare at the flora, at the sea, at the sky here forever and it never feels like a staring contest. It's enough to make him want to stay here for the next year, even with the extra job.

But wasn't it enough once to have gotten into art school, to have proved that there was more to him than doodles in a math textbook and a blank stare on his face? All his life he had only wanted art school. He had ever only wanted to tell people that he was finally learning to love his lifelong partner in the proper way, with the right hand motions and the correct swatches of color.

So for some reason, when he flew down here to Okinawa, he didn't even think to bring a single part of that love affair with him. He'd abandoned his tubes of oil paint, his kits of colored pencils, his jars of clay and his blank, thick sheets of drawing paper. Something in his head just told him that this was the easiest way to go about things, and that he would find something else to keep him occupied.

And that wasn't a lie--he did (the echo keeps on going, Oh-chan, hi, good morning, all complete with that piercing, single-corner smile). But he doesn't know himself as well as he should, and perhaps leaving behind all of his art things was not the best idea, especially not with the kinds of dreams and wants he has right now.

The next morning, as soon as he hears his mother letting Nino into the house, he rolls out of bed and nearly flies downstairs. He's not even fully in the kitchen before he starts to say, "I need to buy--," but then he hears keys.

He looks up, and there's that damn smile, not only on Nino's face but in the mess of his hair, the slide of his neck and the way his hand is stuffed into his jeans (jeans!) pocket. In his other hand, there is a set of car keys dangling off his index finger, and he's swinging them round and round.

All Nino says is, "I thought we could use a trip to the city."

xix.

Naha is like Tokyo, only more Okinawan and thus better. This is the only way Ohno can describe it without going off in his head on long tangents, mostly about how there are a lot of stores with the name A&W ("That's an American restaurant," Nino explains, because Ohno asks. "Hot dogs, root beer--don't hang out the window like that"). They also pass what looks like a house being held up by a monstrously large tree, and Ohno doesn't even want to ask about that. He just wants to keep on staring at it until he's figured out how it was made in the first place.

"Help me look for parking," Nino says. He has one hand on the radio dial, the other barely on the steering wheel, and his face is almost pressed against the window. Ohno doesn't have a license, but he's pretty sure that Nino is not driving the safe way. "I don't park anywhere that has a higher rate than three hundred yen per hour. Three-fifty is pushing it."

For a city boy, Ohno thinks he knows a lot about parking and therefore isn't so sure that Nino's cheapskate tendencies are all that sensible. He's about to point out that they're zooming right past a lot that advertises four hundred yen an hour, and that he would be more than happy to provide the extra in the total, when Nino takes a sudden swerve and practically throws the car into a teeny, teeny lot.

"Two hundred yen per hour and twenty minutes," he says, more than satisfied, and it amuses Ohno how cheap parking can make someone so happy. "You can't go wrong if you just look for the right places."

Ohno unlocks his door and quickly discovers that the only way he can get out of Nino's car is if he transforms into a sheet of paper. Nino just tells him to suck it in, but even that proves to be impossible, so he helps Ohno slide out of the car through the driver's side. It's a little awkward and he almost stabs himself with the gear shift on the way out, but finally he's standing with both feet on the pavement.

"Come on," Nino says, stuffing his keys in his jeans and gesturing toward a random direction. "Let's go, Oh-chan."

Ohno feels like 'Oh-chan' is just becoming a silly nickname for his feeble heart, but he follows Nino anyway as they thread through the afternoon rush of teenage girls and elderly shoppers. He doesn't know where they're going, and the scene reminds him of the crime notes in the paper--overexcited boy follows stranger into crowd; goes missing--but Nino is not a stranger. Between them, there are stories of fruit and "accidental" touches and finishing each other's thoughts.

He has to admit that this is strange, though. He is staring at Nino's back like getting lost right now would be the worst thing in the world, and when Nino reaches back to grab his wrist as the crowd gets thicker he suddenly feels like running, jumping, yelling at the top of his lungs. It's not like anything he's ever felt before, and he can't say it's a pleasant feeling, but he cherishes it. Something in him, something in the way Nino's grip on his arm is tight and secure, makes him want to.

"Come on," Nino says, speeding up, "walk faster, we're almost there."

Ohno breaks into a half-skip, half-power walk and scurries to keep up with Nino, who is tiny and threads through the crowd like there is nobody around him. Everyone on the street manages to bump into Ohno, though, even though he swears he's moving as fast as he can--as fast as he feels like he should be moving, anyway.

"You are the slowest person ever," Nino scowls as he takes a couple of quick steps back to save Ohno from getting swept away. "Am I going to have to hold your hand?"

He does anyway, and Ohno keeps up without difficulty.

Gradually the streets get thinner and thinner and the amount of people dies down considerably until they have reached an alleyway fit for three people at the most. But this is okay with Ohno, who lets Nino press up against him in the tiny space, so close that he can smell the faint mixture of sunshine and shampoo in his hair and hear every puff of breath he takes. In, out--Ohno blocks out all the sound around him just to listen to each of Nino's rippling breaths.

At the end of the alley, when Ohno is on the brink of not being able to take it anymore (he likes to touch girls, he likes their angles, their curves; having Nino against him is something else entirely, something that Ohno can't keep at bay for much longer), Nino stops him. He says, "We're here."

Ohno blinks. "Here?"

Nino sighs and yanks Ohno into a wide open, barely noticeable side door. Inside, Ohno has to bend down--the ceiling hangs low and even in his stooping position he can feel his hair brushing the wall above--and depends on Nino to guide him to wherever he is meant to go.

Even before they're out of the cramped corridor he smells the paint and the plaster and the wax and it all comes back to him: supply stores in Tokyo, five in a row, so big that he could spend an entire day in one. Suddenly he is thrilled and so awake and he wonders--what is this? Am I dreaming, is this all in my head?

It's not. Nino bumps his head on a low-hanging canvas when the tunnel opens up and he erupts into a string of curses, and Ohno feels it when Nino grabs onto him for support and consolation. His hand is warm and Nino is still yelping and the aisle signs are all throwing familiar words at him--crayons, pencils, fabrics. Ohno breathes in and shuts his eyes. He doesn't know where to start.

"Oh, by the way," Nino says, fingers still massaging his bruise, "your mom wants you back by dinnertime."

So Ohno starts everywhere at once. He grabs two baskets and shoves one in Nino's arms ("Hey!" he says, disgruntled, "I am not your personal shopper!" But he takes it anyway) and makes his way down each aisle at least three times. This art store is nothing compared to the ones by his school, but it doesn't matter: paint is paint, pencils are pencils, paper is paper.

And Nino is Nino. "So expensive," he mumbles, turning over a box of colored pencils to frown at the price. "Why would anyone buy this?"

Ohno plucks the box right out of Nino's hand and drops it into the basket.

He makes his way through the store like he works through a sketch--he doesn't think and just moves. When the object, the model, is placed in front of him, he takes a moment to look at it, to note its shape and style and the way it takes up space, and then his sketch simply begins. He thinks to himself, you're going to draw now. And he does every time, without stopping until the piece is finished.

This is no different. Ohno looks into an aisle, sees what he wants, and thinks, you'll need that. Then his body simply moves towards the object and moves to put it in the basket along with the rest of his purchases.

Nino, who has gotten bored quickly and is standing leisurely by the counter, glances at Ohno's pile of things to buy and immediately cringes.

"I don't know why I brought you here," he mumbles, but he takes the basket from Ohno and places another one in his hands. "Just hurry up, okay?"

xx.

Ohno hurries up, and in his rush ends up buying nearly half the store. The woman at the cashier looks vaguely amused as he lays out what seems to be a deck of thousand-yen notes.

"Are you an art student?" she asks, tilting her head cutely. Out of the corner of his eye Ohno swears that he sees Nino glare at her.

"He is," he answers, instead of Ohno. "He's got a big project coming up. Total recluse, this one. Won't bathe for weeks until you tell him that paint isn't soap. Isn't that right, Oh-chan?"

Ohno smiles pleasantly. "It's my hobby," he says to the girl. She just hands him the receipt, her mouth in a straight line.

Outside the shop, the sun is dimming now and it occurs to Ohno that he has just spent hours shopping for art supplies with Nino. Weeks ago, this would have sounded impossible in his head, but now the thought just makes him giddy.

"That girl was nice, wasn't she?" Ohno muses as they head back. "I think you scared her, though."

"Yeah, well, good! I bet you she just took that job to hit on poor, unsuspecting art students," Nino scoffs, and snatches one of the many bags away from Ohno's hands. "Stop swinging them like that, you'll stab somebody with one of those damn brushes."

Ohno decides that he likes this new, jealous Nino. He bumps shoulders with him on the way back to the car and they have a mini-race a few feet away from the lot, with the loser having to pay for parking. Of course, Ohno loses, but he has no qualms about handing over a couple hundred yen.

"Parking with Ninomiya is safe, easy and cheap," Nino says smugly, dropping coins into the machine as they back out of the parking lot. "But shopping with Oh-chan is expensive."

Ohno just laughs. "I don't even shop for clothes," he says while Nino proceeds to zip down the now-empty roads. "My mom and sister do that for me."

"I can see that," Nino says, but he's smiling.

The drive home takes a little over an hour and Ohno falls asleep within the first thirty minutes. He can feel himself drifting off and only kind of tries to stay awake, but he figures that Nino knows the way home well enough and doesn't need his company. So he lets his eyelids droop closed and his mind fade away and doesn't think to shut his mouth when he barely feels it fall open.

In his half-dreams Ohno sees a mixture of the outside world and the images in his head, all blurred together to form some kind of fuzzy wonderland. He can't really tell what's going on, but he hears the top ten pop songs of the day from the radio bouncing through the thoughts in his mind, and there are nearly transparent outlines of him and Nino, riding together in the car, walking and laughing through art store aisles, picking acerolas.

That thing in his chest rattles again, just like it did the night Nino was in his room, looking through his sketchbooks, only now it is somewhat more tangible, harder, and fiercer. Whatever it is plunges through his stomach and he jerks awake, hitting his head on the window at the same time.

"Good, you're awake," Nino says. "I was about to pull the window down and see what you'd do. Oh, and please don't drool on my car seat."

Ohno wipes a hand across his mouth and yawns widely. "Are we there yet?" he asks groggily. "Home?"

"In about twenty minutes or so," Nino says, looking at the clock and then quickly back to the road. "You can go back to sleep, if you want."

He tries, but Ohno ends up watching the signs instead. There are signs for the military bases, all seven hundred of them (that's what it feels like to Ohno), and even twice as many for the beach.

The beach--

All roads in Okinawa lead to the ocean. At least, this is the notion that Ohno came to the island with, since everyone in Tokyo would not stop telling him about all of the beaches they had been to, and all the hours they had spent swimming their lives away. He has heard so much about the diamond-blue waves and the silky sand and the swaying palm trees--at least, that is what all the of the travel shows have told him.

But he hasn't been to any of those legendary beaches yet, even though he has been on the island of Okinawa for no less than three weeks. He's had enough time, but he's been spending most of it with Nino. Not that he minds at all--he just wishes Nino liked the water, too.

So he asks Nino to take the exit to the beach. He figures that he has nothing left to lose if he says no and anyway, he has never been late to dinner before. Just once in his life he might as well eat a cold meal.

At Ohno's request, Nino makes a face and mouths, the beach? He is so close to not giving in and Ohno can tell, so he tries to look as eager as possible.

"Oh God," Nino groans. "Please stop making that face."

Ohno doesn't, but Nino takes the exit anyway.

xxi.

When they finally reach the beach Ohno is just as ridiculously excited as he was when he got the postcard in the mail from his mother almost a month ago. He has no time to go to the ocean in Tokyo, and anyway the water there is gray and bleak and too cold. It can't be like that in Okinawa, though, Ohno is sure. Here, the cool water will tickle his feet and the sun will welcome him with open arms. He just knows it.

He tries to get Nino to go in the water, but the other boy refuses.

"I'll stay here," he says, and digs the soles of his feet firmly into the sand a few feet away from the water's edge. "Where it's dry."

"Okay," Ohno says, shrugging, and runs into the ocean. "Ah, it's cold!"

He can't help laughing as he splashes through the sea, which is chillier than he expected but just as beautiful, just as clear as he wanted it to be. When he stands still he can see his toes wiggling in the muddy sand and the tiniest of fish swarming around his ankles.

"Hey, these little guys are cute," he says, bending down into the water to run his fingers through the school of fish. "Come see, Nino!"

"No, thanks," Nino groans. He has a hand near his eyes to shade the blinding hues of the setting sun. Ohno has half a mind to drag him into the water, but he decides in the end that pushing Nino into an ocean would be, while fascinating, not the best idea.

Standing at the edge of the sea in Okinawa is different than lying on his bed watching the colors drip from the sky into the ocean. Here, Ohno is right in front of the horizon and can feel every single tint that the sunlight washes onto the sand--there is warm amber on his fingers and darkening violets just dyeing the tips of his eyelashes. Maybe his art teachers were right to love Okinawa so much, if they felt the same thing that Ohno is experiencing now.

When he stands facing the sun he tries to blink as slowly as possible, to preserve this all in his mind, to not forget this so that when he goes home he'll still have this image with him.

"Are you done yet?"

Ohno turns to find Nino staring curiously at him. It's not something he's ever seen before, and he's not sure what Nino wants, but he leaves the water anyway (his shorts are soaking wet and his feet are itchy) and jogs to where Nino is standing.

"I'm done now," Ohno says. He is still smiling like nothing else in the world has made him as happy. "You should really go in!"

"Not if I'm going to come out looking like that," Nino sneers, looking pointedly at Ohno's legs and feet. "Gross, you're going to make my car all sandy!"

This time, when Ohno goes back to the sea to rinse his feet off as well as he can, Nino accompanies him only as far as to where the wet sand begins. The small waves that come up on shore barely lick his feet and he stands there, nose wrinkling and toes curling, hand still shading the sun from his face.

But when he puts his hand down he still has that questioning expression. Ohno stares; he can't help it--he has spent most of his time in Okinawa picking berries and trying to decipher the unknowns on Nino's face. Just when he thinks he has gotten them all, Nino pulls this one out. It's not irritated or happy, or even surprised or content--it's just unreadable.

Ohno rises from the water and walks back to Nino in silence. He's not sure why, but he doesn't feel like he should talk right now. Nino keeps silent too. When they're standing side-by-side, watching the sea foam pull away from the sand, they don't say anything.

There is a heavy silence between them, even with the rushing sounds of the ocean and the laughter of the crowd. On the part of the beach where they are now, though, there is no one around but the two of them and a community of hermit crabs scurrying around their feet. The isolation and the leftover euphoria that Ohno has carried from his walk in the sea makes him feel charged and ready, like he can do anything and get away with it.

So he's not all that surprised when he feels Nino's hand sneaking into his own; he was expecting it, and his heart and hand are the only parts of his body that respond. Nino squeezes Ohno's hand tightly and suddenly they're standing so near to each other that their shoulders knock together. It's like the scientific process of friction to flame, because Ohno feels as if he might burst.

"I--," Nino says quietly, and Ohno feels his hand trembling. He waits for Nino to finish, but he never does.

It's okay, though. Ohno finishes the sentence for him. "This is nice," he says, smiling slightly. "Like this?"

He hears Nino inhale shakily. "Yeah," he says, just as unsteadily. "Yeah, I like this."

Ohno loves this. He feels like he's been waiting years for this to happen and it's risen secondary only to his wanting to draw for the rest of his life. The thing in his chest is practically screeching for joy and he finally thinks that it might be his heart, which he has never really paid attention to before, even when he was with girls. Right now, everything in the world feels like it has clicked into place. As long as Ohno keeps breathing, nothing in the world can go wrong.

When Nino turns Ohno does, too, slowly and carefully so that they don't bump noses. He wonders if it would be weird if he asked are you going to kiss me now and then thinks that yes, it would be, and it is also weird that he wants this, wants Nino to kiss him now, so much. Or maybe it's not. He doesn't really know.

Or does he--Nino leans in, then, and his other hand reaches up to hold Ohno's elbow and their lips somehow find each other and, yes, they're kissing. It's hesitant at first, but only for a second before Ohno's entire mindset changes to finally, finally, finally. He doesn't even think when his free hand suddenly finds itself in Nino's hair, tugging gently.

Nino makes a sound that resembles a whining puppy and Ohno finds it so endearing that he almost laughs. He moves his arm to wrap around Nino's back and pulls him in, and it occurs to him that they're still holding hands just as tightly as when they started. He figures that this means something.

When they break apart, Nino's eyes are unfocused and he's got goose bumps; Ohno can feel them when he strokes Nino's forearm.

"It's a hundred degrees out," he whispers, and Nino laughs breathlessly.

"Shut up," he says, and kisses Ohno again, this time a little more forcefully. Ohno hopes his lips taste like the sea, but he likes the way that Nino's taste almost like cherries. He's never paid attention to anyone's lips before, and he's certainly never kissed like this.

This is probably what they mean by unknown territory, Ohno thinks as Nino's hands grow bolder and start to edge up underneath the hem of his t-shirt. This is probably how people feel when they're climbing to the tops of mountains.

Nino is kissing Ohno desperately and holding onto his shirt tight, like they'll suddenly quit when nighttime falls and this will never happen again. Knowing that Nino doesn't want to stop--that he would keep going until they fell into the sand on top of each other, and even that wouldn't stop them--pleases Ohno.

But even so, a part of him still can't believe that this is happening. Is he really kissing Nino, here, on this beach? Is Nino actually kissing him back, touching him, are his shoulders quaking underneath Ohno's hands--

"We should go," Ohno mumbles softly against Nino's lips. "It's late."

It's also too much for this one moment. There is always next time, even if Nino doesn't know it yet. Ohno is good at pacing, at moving these kinds of things along. He has to go back to Tokyo soon, but not yet, and Nino will come over if Ohno asks him to.

On the drive back home, Ohno can't stop touching his lips.

"Stop that," Nino whines, reaching over to push Ohno's hand away.

Nino's hair is all over the place and his cheeks are flushed and the sight of him makes Ohno want to reach over and kiss him again, but he's already had problems with the gear shift stabbing him in the stomach and doesn't want to risk it a second time. He just leans over and kisses Nino's cheek.

xxii.

At the Ohno home, Nino bows his way in, apologizes profusely for their lateness (even though they arrived only five minutes past dinnertime) and then bows out just as quickly. He's promised his family dinner and by the way his phone is vibrating every two seconds, he's a little more than overdue.

Ohno's mother insists on seeing him out, and Ohno sticks to her side as she and Nino have a pleasant and long conversation right outside the front door. Finally--and it seems like years, or maybe Ohno is just impatient--she leaves, skirts rustling as she shuts the sliding door behind them.

Nino has Ohno pushed up against the side of the house before Ohno can even say good night, but he's not complaining. Nino kisses both corners of Ohno's mouth before sliding his hand down Ohno's arm to gently grasp his fingers.

"Too bad I'm going," he sighs, leaning his forehead on Ohno's shoulder.

"But you'll be back tomorrow," Ohno says matter-of-factly. "We'll pick acerolas and have lunch and I'll draw. You can watch me."

"Save some paper for me," Nino says, and straightens up. "I mean it."

Ohno watches him drive away. He can't see any of the dirt clouds from the road through the darkness, but Nino's truck is an off-white color and he can still see its murky paint job and dim lights when it reaches the end of the road. After that it gets too hard to see, but he listens, eyes closed, until the thrum of the tires dies away and all he can hear are cicadas.

When he goes back inside he eats dinner (it's not that cold, but it's not all that warm, either). He eats slowly, washes all of his dishes by hand and then lounges around the living room watching the endless nightly lineup of variety show programs on television.

His sister comes in around ten and the first thing she does is scold her brother for letting all the couch pillows fall onto the floor. Ohno just looks at her--his mind is still somewhere else, somewhere down the road with Nino, and he couldn't care less about pillows. He picks them up though, just as she tells him to, but stops once her back is turned.

"How was your day, Satoshi?" she asks him once she's joined him on the couch with two cups of tea. "Tell me it was better than my night."

She goes on without even waiting for her brother to answer and moans about how Yamamoto-kun kept trying to feel her up at the club. Of course, she says, this makes him a sleaze, but at the same time he can be so irresistibly wonderful and does all the right things at the right times. Apparently, from what Ohno can gather in between her huffs and exasperated sighs, she's so in love with him that she can't help herself but it makes no sense to her why.

"You know what I mean?" she finishes, and pats Ohno's knee. "I'm just so confused. Sorry to dump all of this on you."

Ohno just shakes his head. "S'okay," he says, and he means it.

"So how was your day?" she asks again, trying to smile. "Better, right? No romance troubles for you, I bet."

Ohno smiles into his tea. "No," he agrees. "Today was good."

xxiii.

In those early morning hours between dusk and dawn Ohno makes his room a warzone of colors.

From midnight until one he lays out all of the new paper that he has bought on the floor and pushes the messy stack of sketchbooks and canvases to the side of the room. At one-thirty, he opens all of his new colored pencil kits and pastel boxes and stretches out on the floor, drawing and coloring and sketching like he is fifteen again and so full of something that he needs to express through scribbles and lines. He draws like he feels, like everything inside of him that has screamed DRAW ME over the past three weeks is suddenly leaping out of his fingers and onto paper. He moves on from sheet to sheet like he's in a race, but he has never felt freer, not even at art school.

When the clock chimes three, he moves onto the paints. He doesn't want to waste them, though, so he makes use of the biggest canvas (it's almost half the size of his bed) and marks off four different sections of white surface. Then he squeezes blobs of paint out on an actual wooden palette (he wouldn't have bought it, not if Nino hadn't been so persistent) and uses every one of his new brushes to swirl thick, dancing lines across each of the four panels. He doesn't exactly know what it is when he's finished, but there are human-like figures on one panel and what looks like an explosion of fireworks on another.

Most importantly, there isn't a trace of white space left and his fingers are covered in every color combination imaginable. He'll probably need to take six showers to get all the paint out from under his fingernails, but he doesn't mind.

At four-thirty in the morning, he is exhausted but content. He lies on his bed with a sketchbook and a single pencil and takes up five pages trying to draw Nino from memory. But something in every picture is off--that's not a Nino-like expression he's drawn onto the face, or his fingers are not that stubby, or his body curves more over here and is straighter in that position.

He's spent so many days trying to memorize the contours of Nino's face that he's forgotten what the whole of him looks like. When he thinks of Nino, Ohno can see him clearly in his head, but it's not the same as actually having him there. He loses something during those moments when they're not together, when Nino is only an image in his mind and not a boy on his floor, smiling like he's full of secrets and unknowns.

When the hour hand hits the five, Ohno cleans up. By the time he finally goes to bed at six, the floor is cleared of canvases and sketchbooks and drawing papers but the hardwood is still covered in rainbow paint drippings and there are dust-puddles of chalk and broken-off pencil nubs stuck in between the floorboards.

But it's okay. This means he is finally at home.

xxiv.

The next day Ohno takes the smallest of his sketchbooks out to the orchard with him. He's not sure if there will be any time for him to draw, but just knowing that he has a pad of paper and a pencil safely tucked into his pocket makes him feel better.

Nino already has his head in a tree when Ohno comes up behind him, slipping his arm around his side and sticking his nose into Nino's damp hair.

"So sweaty," Ohno complains. Nino squirms away.

"That's because I've been making up for the hours you conveniently slept in for," Nino says, and points to a stack of trays by the house. "Your mom told me that you were up all night acting like you were possessed or something. What were you doing?"

Ohno thinks of the jars he has lined up against his window, all full of brushes that need cleaning, and all of the drawings he has tacked onto the wall and the stack of canvases that now leans against the side of his bed. His room is tidy now, but last night was a completely different scenario.

"I was making art," Ohno says, smiling as he pulls on his gloves.

Nino just rolls his eyes. "Art, he says," he mumbles before he gets back to work.

If life after a first kiss with somebody is supposed to feel different, then Ohno has to say that he's probably an exception to the rule. Having Nino here feels like it always has--they touch the same way and talk the same way, and Nino is still faster at picking berries and shows no mercy. It's just that now they can kiss if nobody's there (and if there are people around, that's okay too, because there are a lot of trees for them to hide behind).

But it feels, at the same time, like a little celebration every time Nino pulls Ohno towards him and whispers things and kisses him just as softly. Ohno feels like a big winner, but Nino is more than a prize, more than anything he could ever hope to win in his life.

On their first break, Nino is in charge of getting the juice and Ohno waits for him on the veranda with his sketchbook open in his lap. He's tapping his pencil against the wooden boards underneath him when Nino comes back.

"Artist's block?" he says, poking at Ohno's side with his foot.

"Just thinking," Ohno mutters, and takes a long sip of juice.

All around him he sees nothing but trees. The neighborhood continues much farther down the road, and Ohno is tired of drawing houses, anyway, thanks to his modern Japanese architecture class that he was forced to take in order to fulfill his university credits.

He tries sketching an acerola tree, all its long upward slopes and skeleton-like branches. It feels alright--he is just happy to be drawing after such a long absence--but it's not enough. So he puts in the dirt road, the little pebbles and the fuzzy patches of grass and the indentation of the walking path.

"Cute," Nino says incredulously.

Ohno has never been unsure about art before, but now he doesn't want to draw what's in front of his face and that makes him nervous. He turns to Nino, to ask for some kind of advice, but Nino is just looking at him like he's stupid.

"I told you to save some paper for me, didn't I?" Nino says.

"I did," Ohno replies. "I have another sketchbook in my room--."

"Not for me to draw on," Nino laughs. "I'm not the artist here, Oh-chan. Think about it."

Ohno doesn't have to. He stares at Nino and everything floods his mind at once--the first day Nino came over with the paper, the first time they had watermelon (and Nino had juice running down his arm), the first time they fell asleep together on the porch, limbs all over each other, and yesterday at the beach. Something hot runs through him and ends up in his stomach, prodding him along.

"Well?" Nino says. He leans in (for the kill, Ohno thinks, not breathing).

Ohno swallows. "Come over tonight," he says, so quietly that he's not even sure he's speaking.

But Nino hears him.

"Something tells me this isn't for dinner," he replies in a low voice.

He is so close that Ohno can feel eyelashes brushing like delicate, miniscule butterflies against his cheeks and he knows that this is Nino's shy way of saying I'll be wherever you are tonight.

xxv.

Nino goes home after the first harvest shift. He has to help his mom set up for her nightly cooking class, he says, and that's why he came early.

"I get paid for this now, you know," he tells Ohno, who is being clingy. "I came early because I had to leave early. I can't set up my schedule around you."

"I go to work for you," Ohno says, and he is pouting royally. It feels like the entire bottom half of his face is sagging just for Nino. "Just to see you."

Laughing, Nino untangles himself from Ohno's arms and then leans in to kiss him. He holds back just enough so that Ohno is left wanting more once Nino has broken away. "Tough," Nino says, and salutes Ohno before he leaves.

Ohno feels like the rest of the day exists just to make him feel miserable. He doesn't really believe in God, or whoever is responsible for ruling the world, but he feels that he should right now just so he can have somebody to blame for all of this damn time. Ohno is not an impatient person by nature, but now it just seems like all the clocks in the world are against him.

He tries to finish his shift as slowly as possible by looking for all the unripe cherries, which are the best ones to package, but it's already getting late in the season and most of the acerolas are close to bursting. The heat catches up with him anyway, and he's ready to faint by the time his mother comes out to bring him a cold drink and excuse him from the orchards for today.

"What time is it?" he asks her, even though he knows it's nowhere close to being Nino-time.

While he takes a shower (and he plans to make it the longest shower ever in the history of personal hygiene routines), Ohno realizes that Nino didn't actually give him a time for when he was going to come over. He didn't name a meeting place, either, nor did he mention anything about how he was going to get into the house. But Ohno isn't really all that concerned about it. He's positive that everything will work out--it just has to, anyway. He won't think about what will happen if it doesn't.

Ohno tries to spend an hour just standing in the spray of water, watching the rivulets of water running down his torso, but he ends up sneezing and shampoo gets in his eyes. When somebody in the kitchen turns on the water full blast and Ohno's shower goes icy cold, he's forced to shut off the tap and jump out.

He's shivering and toweling his hair off in the hallway when his sister passes him and says, "Oh, sorry, Satoshi, were you taking a shower?"

Ohno tries to flick her with his towel but she runs away, screaming about how she doesn't want his gross soap suds all over her.

Hours go by and every five minutes that pass feel like an entire day come and gone. When he goes downstairs he stretches out on the couch and watches television with his father, who has his head buried in the newspaper as usual (but looks up when Ohno changes the channel, so he stops trying). After three consecutive news programs that all talk about the same thing, Ohno goes into the kitchen to try and help his mother with dinner.

"I'm fine here, Satoshi," she says as she vigorously chops vegetables and drops them into a pot of boiling broth. "Why don't you go upstairs and work on your art?"

"But I--," Ohno begins, and then realizes that he can't tell his mother about how he's already bored of the scenery here.

"I'm sure you'll find something to draw," she insists.

So Ohno goes upstairs. He wanders aimlessly around his room for a little bit, looking inside of the water jars to make sure that his brushes are being cleaned and for a little while he sits on his bed, just staring at the view outside of his window. Right now, though, he's not really thinking about what he's looking at--just what's coming later on. What will Nino look like, thrown onto his bed and painted with the shades from the night sky? What will he look like, dyed with the color of plum-beige moonlight?

Ohno shakes his head and the images fade away. Not yet, he thinks as he gets up, don't think about it yet.

He ends up taking a sketchbook with him when he goes to ask his sister if she's doing anything.

"Not really," she says behind her closed door. "Do you want to come in?"

"Yeah," Ohno says, and the door clicks open.

She's in the middle of doing her makeup when he comes into the room, and Ohno remembers then that she has a date with Yamamoto-kun tonight. He sits at the table and watches his sister dab spots of crimson rouge onto her cheeks, small dots that she spreads out with her ring fingers. Next she pats her whole face down with a powder puff, and the clouds of white come swirling up into the air to spin away into nothingness. By the time she's done, she is an innocent face, all blush and lipstick.

When she was in high school, Ohno used to watch his sister put on makeup just because he thought it was fascinating. There was something magical about the way girls had the liberty of being able to put color on their faces to highlight shadows and cast lights that weren't actually there. Of course, when Ohno got older, he learned that too much makeup on a girl wasn't exactly the most flattering thing in the world, but he can't deny that he still finds the process strangely captivating.

He sketches a little bit--his sister's reflection in the mirror, eyes wide and round as she applies mascara; the pile of clothes on the bed; his sister's annoyed face when she realizes that Ohno is drawing her.

Inevitably, he falls asleep face down on his sketchbook, pencil still in hand. He thinks he hears his sister laugh and then the door close, but he doesn't open his eyes. Time is finally going by at a normal pace. He's not about to mess that up.

"Should we wake him up for dinner?" he hears someone whisper.

Nobody touches him or goes near him, but Ohno hears the faint shuffle of footsteps and a faraway clash of dishes. But maybe it's all in his head--he dreams about fine china being put on the table and dinner guests coming over with their arms full of acerola-colored roses. And then there is Nino bringing up the rear, smiling like a kitten. He goes up to Ohno and cradles his face in his hands; he says, in a sing-song voice--

"You suck at keeping spit in your mouth."

Ohno turns his head and comes face-to-face with Nino, who has pulled the sketchbook out from underneath Ohno's head and is looking through the pages. He's sitting cross-legged right next to Ohno and he even has a cup of tea with him, and he's smiling exactly the way he was in Ohno's dream.

"Your sister let me in," Nino says, turning a page. "When she was leaving for her date."

This situation, Ohno thinks, is almost funny. He's been moping around all day, waiting for the hours to melt away just so he could be reunited with Nino again--he even tried to take the longest shower ever and he actually tried to help with dinner. Things like that don't happen on any normal day, but then again, Ohno thinks, life has not been normal since he got off the plane and stepped onto the island of Okinawa.

But Nino is here now, and all of the hours leading up until this point suddenly don't matter anymore. If Ohno was miserable once for having so much time on his hands, the rest of tonight will make up for it.

"Let's go to my room," Ohno suggests, walking his fingers up Nino's arm to dip underneath his sleeve and venture higher.

Nino comes centimeters away from kissing him, and then suddenly pulls away.

"We're not going anywhere until you get that drool off your face," he says, smirking.

xxvi.

Right now, drool is the least of Ohno's worries.

He has taken numerous girls into his room before. They were always the girlish, fragile type, and they all had the same kind of intention: they either wanted to get into his pants or get onto his canvas. They were the flirters of the class, with frilly skirts and thick, black-rimmed eyeglasses, and they always stood around in giggling groups talking about Ohno-kun and how good he was with his brush (and sometimes they really did mean the one that he painted with).

Art school gave Ohno an opportunity to expand his romantic horizons and also taught him the value of awkward goodbyes at five in the morning. Because of that, he has never really had someone in his room that he could really claim he felt something for other than a quick, one-night desire. He'd let them all leave easily enough and he didn't have anything to complain about when they never came back.

This is different, though. Nino is different. He's not a quiet girl trying to seduce Ohno into staying in Okinawa, he's just the paper boy, the hired help, and now somebody that Ohno can't imagine not being with. As they take the walk between Ohno's room and his sister's, something in the air changes. Ohno can't tell what it is exactly, but it fills him with every breath he takes and he hopes Nino can feel it, too.

In the doorway to Ohno's room Nino pushes past him to peek inside.

"Ah," he says, and Ohno gently moves him aside so that he can close the door. "You weren't lying."

Ohno turns to see Nino bending down to look at the jars by the window filled with brushes. There are at least six of them in varying sizes, lined up in no particular order, but they are all nearly overflowing with multicolored, murky water.

"These are dirty already," Nino says, running his finger down the side of one of the jars, which is covered in streaks of paint. When his hand comes away a few drops of water splash onto the floorboards, dangerously close to Nino's toes.

"That's kind of the point," Ohno says, and Nino shoots him a look.

Ohno watches Nino move around the room and lets him touch everything. He makes his rounds at least twice and dwells on different objects the entire time: the jars first, a bookshelf next. When he makes his way to the window he presses his nose up against the glass and stares out, almost cross-eyed, to the now charcoal-colored ocean.

Nino makes it to the sketchbooks before Ohno can stop him. He doesn't want Nino to see the one on the very top, filled with a menagerie of Nino's faces, of his nose and lips and ears and the way his hair sometimes sweeps over his left eye. He tries to stop him, but it's too late and Nino is already untying the string that keeps the first sketchbook shut.

So he confesses right away, before Nino can even look at the first page of drawings. "I tried to draw you," Ohno mumbles. "But none of it ended up right."

And I don't know why, he finishes inside of his head. I thought I had you down, I thought I knew you, but it didn't work out the way it was supposed to.

He feels like the awkward teenager who's just made a love confession that is doomed to fail. But instead of stomping his foot and turning up his nose, Nino laughs. It's not the same kind of laugh that Ohno's heard from Nino before--he's used to those giant, ringing peals of laughter that make Nino's eyes scrunch up. But this is a softer, sweeter sound.

"You can try again," Nino says. "Right now."

He has something in his eyes that says please. It doesn't show up in his carefully structured smile or the tilt of his head, it's only in his dark eyes that Ohno sees that he wants this, too. If he's wanted it for as long as Ohno has, he doesn't know, but it doesn't matter--they're here, now. Everything that doesn't have to do with Ohno wanting to get Nino in his bed and onto a piece of paper is suddenly irrelevant.

xxvii.

When he is away from Nino Ohno feels like he is underwater. He's always being suffocated with thoughts of next time and then the next time after that, of when Nino will show up again and say, "Hi, Oh-chan" with that fitting smile of his. So when he tried to draw Nino from memory, he was unsure of himself and his hands hesitated--they didn't know which direction to go in or how to approach a certain twist.

He gets it now, though. He thinks about the mechanics of drawing when he's sketching Nino; he thinks about the end product and if everything matches together, if the sketch works simply as that: a network of lines on a paper. With him here, though, Ohno is thinking simply about Nino. His pencil and paper are secondary to the way Nino's mouth pulls down when he pouts and the way his fingers curl around the edges of the covers to pull them up and over his knees.

He doesn't exactly know how Nino got from the floor to the bed in a matter of seconds but he did, with some kind of silent fluidity so that he disturbed nothing else in the room. It takes Ohno a couple of minutes to fumble for a pencil--and it shouldn't have been hard, he has oodles of pencils lying around in the room, but right now it's difficult for him to focus--but he finds one. And now Nino is sitting right next to him in bed, caught in a web of twilit shadow and tangled, milky white sheets.

Ohno has to keep reminding himself to breathe. His pencil strokes are languid and ready and he loves the way he doesn't have to remember what Nino looks like because Nino is right there. He also loves way Nino is watching him draw like he's actually interested: his head is dipped slightly and his hair is falling into his face, brushing his cheekbones. It's getting in the way a little, and Ohno absentmindedly tucks a stray stand behind Nino's ear.

He swears Nino shivers.

"Hold on," Ohno says, returning to his sketchbook. "Almost done."

He's creating an encyclopedia of Nino-on-his-bed--there are already a dozen pages of Nino in different degrees of sitting: twelve quick but accurate sketches of the way Nino's neck swoops when he leans a certain way and how the bumps of his spine are clearly visible through his skin.

Ohno didn't even ask Nino to take his shirt off; when he'd turned around after finding a pencil and began to draw the first few lines he slowly realized that Nino wasn't wearing anything besides his pants. He didn't ask, though. If Nino has some sort of preconceived notion that all models pose for sketches with their shirts off, then who is Ohno to deny that?

Besides, he can't say that he doesn't appreciate the way Nino's naked chest is like another white space, like another blank piece of paper that the moonlight can rest on. Across his stomach run tracks of periwinkle that dissolve into a light, warm brown to match the color of Nino's skin, and every other part of him is awash in bluish-gray undertones.

There is something about drawing Nino that makes Ohno want this for the rest of his life. It's a thrill that begins as a tingling in his fingers and ends up as a surge of hot adrenaline throughout his entire body. But Ohno knows that it's more than just a silly need to touch Nino all over, to kiss him, or to draw him once and then paint him another time. It's something bigger than that, and it includes being in this room as it is right now, with Nino next to him and the bed lived-in and comfortable and the window reaching out to the rest of the world.

It's being home--not in Tokyo, but here.

"Are you done yet?" Nino whispers. He has his knees pulled up to his chest and Ohno can only see his eyes; the rest of his face is buried in his arms. In this position he looks so childish and Ohno has a sudden instinct to wrap him in the covers and say, but I'm here, so you'll be okay.

"For now," Ohno says, smiling a little. He reaches over to pull Nino's arms away from his knees, to get him to come a little closer, but the other boy doesn't budge.

"It's the middle of summer in Okinawa and your house is like being in an igloo. Way to totally act like you're not from here," Nino snaps. Ohno thinks it's cute when he complains, so he doesn't say anything. "Real Okinawans can take the heat."

Ohno just laughs. "You were born in Tokyo, too," he says, and finally manages to pull Nino toward him so that they're facing each other nose-to-nose. "But I guess you're used to Okinawa."

It's a useless sentence and Nino doesn't follow it up, he just curls himself into Ohno, craving warmth. When Ohno's arms wrap around Nino he can feel that his skin really is freezing.

"Real Okinawans can't take the cold, I guess," Ohno whispers into Nino's skin, and he winces when he feels a pinch in his side.

"You're just jealous," Nino says fondly, and he nips at Ohno's jaw.

Within seconds, they're kissing. Nino starts it--not that Ohno minds, because being caught off-guard with a kiss is truly a wonderful thing--and his lips are surprisingly warm in contrast to the rest of his body. He's kissing Ohno like the rest of the world is on pause and he's been wanting to for the entire time he's been in this room--Ohno doesn't doubt that last part, and with every tiny kiss that Nino leaves on his lips he's thinking that he's been wanting the same exact thing, too.

But there's something else on his mind that's been nagging him awhile now, and it's on the same level as kissing Nino until his lungs explode or rolling around half-naked on the bed with him. He takes a moment to collect himself, to mentally breathe in and calm himself down, and then he puts his hand on Nino's shoulder to gently push him away.

The flush on Nino's cheeks is vivid and heavy and his mouth is already open, ready to complain, but Ohno shushes him. "Hold on," he whispers, and rolls off the bed.

When he comes back he's holding a kit of already wet watercolors in one hand and a thin brush in the other. As soon as Nino sees them, he makes a disgusted face and flops backward onto the pillows.

"You're the only person I know," he says flatly, "that would stop a make-out session just to paint something."

Ohno can't deny that; he probably is the only person in the world that would push away a needy, affectionate boy in favor of a brush and watercolors. But that's just fine with him. In his head, art and romance are almost the same thing and they collide often, creating fantastic conceptual images of dusky red landscapes and fluffy, innocent white clouds tinged with deep auburn.

What's happening now, though, is far from anything that Ohno has ever imagined. He's painted Nino in his head countless times, but he has never looked the way he does now. There is a certain slant of light streaming in from the window across the bed that lies right on Nino's stomach, highlighting his navel and short, downy hairs with a muted gold tone. But it's not only the color and its intensity that make Ohno's breath catch--it's the way Nino's belly spasms underneath the sheen of the light and how neither of them dare to breathe right now lest they ruin this moment.

"Stay like that for me," Ohno says quietly. He already has his sketchbook wide open in front of him, and his pencil is moving in short, rapid strokes, eyes flicking back and forth from Nino to the paper. The outline isn't the point, though. It's the streak of bold yellow that the brush makes when Ohno presses it firmly against the paper and drags it across in one steady, unwavering line.

He goes on. Following that band of dark hazel is a softer, earthier hue that colors Nino's shadow-covered skin and Ohno fills the lines in with the brownish paint. The water swirls lazily with the drying yellow color and he bites his lip, hoping they won't mix. To his relief, they stay put in their separate sections.

It takes a couple of seconds for that to dry and while Ohno waits he absentmindedly tickles Nino's ribs with the soft, damp end of the brush. Nino laughs breathlessly and shivers again; it's enough to make Ohno want to hurry this up even though he has never hurried through a painting in his life.

The last color that the brush dips into is a rusty, dark red. Before he sets it down on paper, though, Ohno looks up at Nino to see Nino looking back at him, mouth parted and eyes dark with expectancy.

"What's that color for?" Nino asks, and Ohno sees him swallow hard.

"This," Ohno says, and then leans over the sketchbook and the paints to kiss the skin right underneath Nino's collarbone for one second before he sucks hard in the same spot, leaving a blooming mark there that resembles an overripe, too-sweet acerola fruit.

Nino makes a high, pleased sound, close to the one that Ohno heard on the beach, and Ohno stretches over the rest of Nino's body to kiss him again. This time it's a little more urgent and a lot less slow and Ohno feels Nino's hands trailing up his back to rest in his hair. When he pulls, it hurts a little, and Ohno makes a thin sound in the back of his throat that isn't a pained noise so much as a do-that-again noise. He's never heard anything like it before, especially coming from his own throat, and suddenly he forgets about painting the rest of Nino and focuses instead on touching, feeling, knowing the rest of him.

He hears the faraway clatter of the brush hitting the floor and without looking Ohno fumbles to get the paints and the book off the bed before one of them gets hurt. Nino, though, is otherwise preoccupied--he's kissing Ohno like the night is catching up to them quicker than he expected and daylight will come barging in at any minute to slither in between their bodies and tear them apart.

One of Ohno's hands slides over Nino's trembling chest to stroke gently there, saying calm down, calm down. And Nino does, a little. He pulls back for air, and while he's gasping for breath Ohno kisses his cheek, his chin and his jaw with feathery, barely-there touches of his lips and tongue. Ohno's heart is beating furiously in his chest and he can feel Nino's through his palm; it's just as wild and that comforts him a little to know that he's not the only nervous one here.

Ohno moves on with his slight kisses. He presses one to the spot just below Nino's ear (and can't help but do it again when Nino moans at that, a shaky, breathy slight of voice that makes Ohno shiver) and leaves a trail from there down to his collarbone. When he gets there, he runs his tongue over the glaringly red spot and hears Nino suck in a breath.

There's a slippery rhythm in Ohno's chest that keeps screaming, can you believe this, and Ohno can, but at the same time he wants to pinch himself just to make sure that all of this is real. What happened on the beach was a single, believable moment, but this--what's happening now--is more than that. This is Nino's body that Ohno is touching, and since day one he's been wondering about all of Nino's arches and twists and curves, all hidden by clothes before now.

He's set on exploring every uncharted inch, all of those dips and concave spaces and flat planes of skin, not as an artist but as an awed first-timer, an amateur cartographer noting down everything that makes Nino's body different from his own. Everything is new and exciting and he's overwhelmed with a dizzy, complicated feeling of fear and wonder.

Through it all, Ohno wonders when the night will stop--will it really be at dawn, when the pale orange crown of the sun begins to rise from the sea, or will it be much later, when Nino and Ohno have finished? But Ohno doesn't know if the end will ever come, and honestly he's not sure if he wants it to. There's too much of Nino left for him to discover and there is no way that he's quitting halfway through.

"Oh-chan," Nino breathes, eyes shut tightly as Ohno's lips travel, ghost-like, from his neck to his stomach, "Oh-chan..."

My feeble heart, Ohno thinks, but he knows he would give so much just to have Nino keep calling him that for the rest of their lives. He hopes it's at least for the next week--and the week after that, and then the next two, and then the next fifty, or maybe just as long as he keeps on wanting him and Nino locked in this perfect, unbroken connection. Right now, that feels like forever.

xxviii.

It's the birds that wake Ohno up.

He's not sure what that chirping sound is, but it's coming from the window and when he opens his eyes, he's greeted by the sweeping glow of the morning sun shining directly onto his bed. He likes that very much, but the birds just need to go.

Also, his arm is numb. But considering who's on it and why, he doesn't exactly mind.

When Ohno looks down he gets a noseful of Nino's hair, which smells like the detergent his mother uses to wash the sheets. For a second, Ohno's wondering how coincidental it is that Nino's mother uses the same laundry detergent that his does, and then he remembers what happened last night.

He doesn't even have to turn to remember that there is a sketchbook full of drawings of Nino on the bedside table, and it only takes him a minute to realize why his hips are so sore. The images are still in his mind and they come back to him in quick, dim flashes of electricity and skin and too much heat, even in this cold house.

Ohno wonders how it all came to this. He doesn't have to think about it much--one day Nino was the paper boy and a week later he was another worker on the Ohno farm and someone Ohno somehow tripped into. He's not sure how it happened, or if he tripped into a relationship, or into love, or into some complicated maze that he would be better out of. But part of him knows it's not the last one. Whatever this is, he's in love with it.

He might be in love with Nino. Ohno's not entirely sure--he's never been in love with anybody so it's not like he can tell whether he is or not. There are the so-called symptoms, and if Ohno cared enough he would go through the list and check them all off. But he doesn't think knowing is so important right now, when he has a day and a week left in Okinawa, a day and a week left of home, to deal with. Knowing whether or not his heart is set on Nino is not his top priority right now; it's simply being with Nino until he has to go back to Tokyo.

And of course, despite all of this, he's going back to Tokyo. It's among those narrow city streets and overpopulated crosswalks Ohno belongs, not in mind but in body. He has to go back to art school, because even if it's tiring and stresses him out and doesn't let him sleep, the art itself is still a part of him. He didn't work hard enough when he was younger just to throw it all away.

All of this thinking makes Ohno tired again, and he shifts a little, taking care not to disturb Nino, before he drifts off. He knows that when he wakes up again it will take hours to get the feeling back in his arm, but at least he'll be able to blame Nino. He's looking forward to that.

The next time he wakes up it's not because of the birds but because his left arm is tingling like mad. His eyes open to the sight of Nino propped up on his elbows on the other side of the bed, sketching in Ohno's Nino-book.

"Hi, Oh-chan," Nino says. He looks like he's trying not to laugh, and Ohno looks over sleepily to see what the picture is.

It's him as of ten minutes ago, mouth hanging wide open mid-snore. The drawing's lines are rough Ohno looks kind of like a caveman, but he still feels like it's the best thing ever and maybe he'll hang it up in his dorm room.

"Just your dorm room?" Nino says, feigning hurt. "Can't you put this in your portfolio, or something?"

Ohno just pinches his cheek and Nino goes back to sketching, mumbling about how some people are just ungrateful bastards. While his head is bent and he's concentrating on the movement of the pencil and whatever he's trying to draw next, Ohno watches him.

Nino looks up and starts when he meets Ohno's eyes. "What?" he says, frowning.

You're cute. Come back with me, Ohno almost says, but he shakes his head. "Nothing," he says, and smiles. "Don't use up all my paper."

"I took you there," Nino protests.

"Why?" Ohno wonders.

He's not sure why he's asking, but a part of him really wants to know. It's a little obvious that Nino wants to be here--he would have left ages ago if he'd only wanted to stay for last night--but he still wants to hear it.

Nino thinks about it. He has the eraser of the pencil pushed against the corner of his mouth and when he releases the pressure, there's a little round mark near his lips.

"Why do you think?" Nino asks, and adds another detail to his new drawing. It looks like a tail.

"Because you like me," Ohno says casually, "and you wanted to make me happy."

After a moment, Nino laughs. "That's kind of a self-centered answer," he says, "but okay."

He doesn't say yes, Oh-chan, that's right, or good, you've noticed or even I'll take that. Ohno knows what he means, though, just like with the butterfly kisses and all the unspoken words that Nino channels out with his mouth and his hands instead. He's a complicated kid full of one-way streets and dead ends that, if you look hard enough, actually open up to new roads. Ohno likes that about him.

Later, after Nino has gone home to get a change of clothes, Ohno walks into the kitchen for some brunch. His sister is at the table, yawning widely and looking like she hasn't slept at all.

"So," she says hoarsely when her brother joins her with a plate of toast, "guess what."

No, guess what I did last night, Ohno thinks. "What?" he says instead.

"Last night," she says, then coughs and takes a sip of her tea. "Last night, Yama-kun was like, 'Hey, what would you do if I asked you to marry me?'"

Ohno looks at her. Knowing his sister and her level of alcohol tolerance, she could have said anything. "What'd you tell him?" he asks pleasantly.

"I said, 'Hell no!' and walked away," she says, smiling sadly.

A silence passes between them, full of questions on Ohno's side and regrets on his sister's. Finally, after another gulp of tea, she pushes the mug away from her and lets her head drop onto the table.

"But you know, Satoshi?" she says, and he leans forward. "I might marry him. I just might."

She sighs and closes her eyes. Ohno wants to tell her to go to bed, to sleep it off, to think it over in the morning when she has a clear head and a clean face.

But he doesn't do any of those things. Instead, he gets up to pour another mug of steaming tea and puts it in front of his sister along with two painkillers when he goes back to the table.

"I might marry Nino," he says with a completely straight face.

Ohno's sister just looks at him, and then she laughs, hard enough so that Ohno knows she's not just humoring him. "Ah, you!" she says, and takes the painkillers in one swallow. "I can't believe you're leaving me and Ninomiya-kun so soon."

He hadn't been expecting that. "Yeah," he says. "I can't believe it, either."

xxix.

Ohno goes down to the orchard for his afternoon shift and the first person he sees is Nino.

"Hi," he says. It's only been a few hours since they both woke up together in bed, and he's not entirely sure how he's supposed to handle the morning (or afternoon) after.

Nino glances at him, then goes back to work. "Hi yourself," he says.

All in all, it's a normal day. During their breaks, Ohno sketches the funniest-looking trees in their row and laughs at all of Nino's crude comments about Mother Nature. Their workload is the same as usual, and at the end of the day Nino has, of course, picked more berries than Ohno has. But he still complains, as usual.

Ohno tries not to think about how he only has a week left after today, and most of all tries not to think about whether or not Nino remembers this.

To his surprise, it's Nino who brings it up as they're cutting up a watermelon in the kitchen.

There's an afterglow from the sky lighting up the kitchen and as Ohno is watching the wandering orangey rays make their way across the floor, Nino says, "You're leaving in a week, right?"

Startled, Ohno blinks away from the sunlight and turns to Nino, who is still slicing away calmly. "Yeah," he says.

"Okay," Nino replies, and sticks a watermelon rind into Ohno's mouth.

He doesn't say anything after that, and they eat their watermelon in a relaxed silence. Everything is still fine even when Ohno's sister comes down from her nap (looking much better than she did that morning, Ohno notices) and helps herself to some of the watermelon.

As Nino is leaving for the night, though, and Ohno leans in to kiss him goodbye, Nino hesitates a little.

Ohno doesn't even ask if everything is alright. Nino won't look at him, but he mouths I'm sorry and Ohno just kisses him again. This time, Nino kisses him back.

"Let's just not talk about it," Ohno whispers. He knows it's not the best thing to do, but if they don't mention it for the next few days, he'll have had enough time to tell himself that he's doing the right thing.

xxx.

Ohno doesn't have any expectations for his last week in Okinawa. When Monday rolls around he works in the orchard as usual and Nino doesn't mention a thing, only that Ohno should stop looking at his butt and start focusing on picking acerolas a little more. He shoots Ohno a lecherous look and Ohno laughs for minutes on end until his sister comes over and smacks him on the head.

That night, the three of them have dinner on the veranda, and it's tempura udon that Nino actually helped to make. When Ohno's sister leaves and Ohno is slurping up the last dregs of soup from his bowl Nino kisses his neck and says, "Can I have my dessert now?" (For a second Ohno attempts to get up and actually find some ice cream until Nino bites his ear and tells him to sit the fuck down, what does he think he's doing.)

On Tuesday Nino comes over with a sack of fine rice from his mother as a token of thanks for all the times the Ohno family has put up with her lazy son ("Her words, not mine," Nino insists). Ohno's father, who is more of a gourmet than anyone knew, takes the rice away and is not seen for hours.

Nino sleeps over that night, and when they enter Ohno's room there is a sleeping bag on the floor complete with an unused pillow and an extra blanket.

"I guess you're sleeping on the floor, then?" Nino says, turning to Ohno.

They end up sharing the bed. Nino tries to draw a line of separation down the middle with Ohno's clean socks, but in the morning Ohno wakes up to find Nino completely in his space, snuggled into a tiny ball. He's using Ohno's arm as a pillow and Ohno realizes that he has been hugging Nino close to him all night.

Wednesday brings a round of acerola juice-making lessons taught by Ohno's mother. Nino is a professional right from the start but Ohno feels like something's missing, and after thinking about it he spreads a line of juice from the bottom of Nino's ear all the way down to his collarbone.

It's exactly like that first day with the watermelons--Nino in the kitchen with a smear of clearish-red dripping down his neck. Thinking about this makes Ohno ache inside but he laughs instead and takes a picture, which Nino is not so happy about.

"That's so perverted," Nino points out. "You put juice on me and you just took a picture of it!"

When the picture develops Ohno keeps it in one of his books.

On Thursday Ohno wonders what life in Tokyo will be like when he gets back--boring, probably, and definitely colorless. He'll also have to make up so much work and his friends will want to take him out and he will never be able to get any sleep. He tells Nino this while they're sitting on the veranda during a mid-morning break, already tired and sweaty.

Nino has his arm around Ohno's shoulders and he chuckles. "That's too bad," he says. "When you leave, I'll just be here replacing your spot on the farm."

It's the first time all week that Nino mentions Ohno's leaving and he says it casually, like it doesn't matter that much, like it's only a vacation away from home and not another however-many-months until Nino gets to Tokyo or Ohno comes back.

Ohno kisses Nino's shoulder and then buries his face in the other boy's neck, just to reassure himself that Nino is still here at this moment and he hasn't left yet without noticing. His flight leaves on Saturday morning and it's high time he remembers that, but he doesn't want to go, not when he has this.

And then it's Friday. Ohno and Nino are both excused from work and they use this time to pack--at least, Ohno tries to pack but Nino ends up telling him what he should bring. They fold the clothes together and try to fit in all the extra stuff, like souvenirs and toiletries and shoes, around the edges.

The suitcase closes only when Ohno and Nino sit down on it together. When it's finally zippered shut, neither of them make a move to get up.

"Your mom said I can drive you to the airport," Nino says, chin in his hand. He looks like a lost little boy. "Since they're all working tomorrow, too."

"Oh," Ohno says quietly. He has a lump in his throat the size of his humongous suitcase and he can't really say anything unless he whispers it. "Okay."

Nino is supposed to go home that night but he sleeps over anyway; he doesn't think his mother will mind and if she does, then oh well. He holds Ohno's hand tightly all night long and pulls him back when he strays too far on the opposite side of the bed.

For the second time since he arrived in Okinawa, Ohno watches Nino instead of the night sky outside of his window. He can get the same view in paints and memories and photographs, but the feeling of having Nino asleep at his side will be gone after this moment and won't come back for a long, long time.

When morning comes, Ohno drops a kiss on Nino's forehead and watches him wake up. He blinks slowly, eyelashes fluttering, and Ohno dips his head just to feel them against cheek one last time.

"Don't be dumb," Nino whispers, and reaches up to poke Ohno's cheeks. "This isn't for forever, you know."

He smiles, and Ohno believes him with all his heart. It's all he can do right now.

xxxi.

Ohno's last day in Okinawa is a whirlwind of goodbyes and hugs and, to his relief, sunshine.

The rest of his family waits until he comes downstairs before they go to work. His father pats him on the back and tells him he's done a good job--this is the twenty-first good job that Ohno has gotten from his father; it happens every year, like a second birthday, and he can't say he doesn't wait for it.

His mother, of course, is all tears and sobs and tips. "Don't forget to eat," she tells him, blubbering away and trying her hardest not to make it look like she really is. "Even if it's just a riceball, okay? And don't forget, it's Tokyo, so watch your things, because there are a lot of criminals just waiting for you to turn the other way..."

Ohno smiles wryly and hugs her. "Mom," he says. "I've been living in Tokyo for twenty years."

But she won't stop until her husband tells her it's time to work. She straightens up, then, and wipes her eyes. "Don't forget to call!" she says as she walks briskly out the back door, but when she waves her hand is shaking. "If nobody picks up, just keep calling! Or leave a message--leave two if you want!"

Ohno's sister is last.

She doesn't say much. The first thing she does is hug him, and she won't let go, even when he tells her that he feels his ribs cracking. "You're such a pansy ass," is all she whispers to him before backing away.

He can tell she's crying even if she doesn't show it. They've lived together long enough for him to figure it out.

"'Nee-chan--," he starts to say, but she cuts him off.

"If it happens," she says, and takes a deep breath before she goes on, "I'll give you a call before you get the invitation, okay? You can bet on it."

She leans in for another hug. This time, when she's squeezing him, she whispers, "And I'll look after your future husband too, okay?"

Ohno tries to smack her, but she's quick and is out the door before he even has a hand up.

When Ohno turns to Nino, he has to laugh. Nino has a look on his face that suggests he's just been through a marathon of watching old-time Japanese dramas where the Technicolor is fuzzy and all of the characters in the show are crazy.

"Your family," Nino says, but he's laughing, too.

The car ride to Naha is the exact same length as it was the last time they went, and it's the same weather out, too. It's enough to fool Ohno into thinking, just for a little bit, that they're just going back to that art store again, and that in less than an hour he'll be walking down that same path and seeing that same cashier girl, the cute one. His fantasy is interrupted, though, when Nino asks him if he's got his ticket.

"Yeah," Ohno says. "I have everything."

Nino just nods. He's wearing his sunglasses--the sun is almost painfully bright today--and Ohno can't see his eyes.

The moments between the exit for Naha Airport and Ohno and Nino walking into the terminal are all mashed together in Ohno's mind, like he's just woken up from a short sort-of blackout and only remembers things in pieces. He comes to when they're in the check-in line and Nino is standing next to Ohno with his hand on the suitcase, looking just like another passenger or a really angry bodyguard.

"Ticket, please," is the next thing that Ohno hears, and he hands it over. He notices that Nino is watching the clerk intently, as if waiting for her to make a mistake so he can call her out on it before she even notices it herself.

When the clerk looks up Ohno expects her to ask about a seat change, or any connecting flights, but instead she's looking at Nino.

"And will you be traveling with Ohno-san, sir?"

Nino just smiles. "No, not today."

After that, the woman behind the counter hands Ohno his boarding pass and sends him off with a gleaming white smile. Ohno is about to grab his suitcase when he sees that Nino is already pulling it along.

"Come on, Oh-chan," Nino says, and walks a few steps backward to grab Ohno's hand. "If you miss your flight, your mom will throw me into the ocean."

Knowing his mother and the things she is capable of, Ohno doesn't doubt it. He lets Nino pull him along all the way to the security checkpoint, where the whirring machines and endless sensor beeps are enough to make Ohno want to turn around and run all the way back to his house.

"Okay," Nino says, and slaps Ohno's hand away when he tries to take his suitcase back. "Any last words?"

Ohno's not sure what he should say, but he tries his best. "If Yamamoto-kun does anything to my sister, please kill him," he says.

Nino nods. "And?"

Ohno bites his lip. He's still not exactly positive about what Nino wants him to say, but he also thinks that if he tries to ask if blowing him a goodbye kiss through security checkpoint is appropriate, he'll get a painful no right to the knee.

"And," Ohno says, concentrating very hard, "please look after the farm."

There is something close to murder in Nino's eyes. "Keep going," he says, and pulls Ohno's suitcase behind him. "You're not getting this back until you get it right."

But I have a flight to catch, Ohno frets. He knows that Nino is serious, though, and so he tries even harder. "Don't kiss girls," he says, and Nino smiles, but he doesn't move. "Deliver the paper on time. Thanks for last night? The night before? Thank you for everything?"

He's nearly out of ideas. "I--," he starts again, trailing off.

"--Will be back," Nino huffs. "Will call you every day. Will text. Will write letters. Will count the days until we are reunited again. Will think, 'I wish Nino were here!' Will stop me before I throw up," he finishes, rolling his eyes.

Ohno just looks at him and then breaks out into a smile. "I'll do all of that," he says, and steps in to hug Nino tightly. "I will, I promise."

Nino just shakes his head. "You're hopeless. It's disgusting, you know, that I am actually the woman in this relationship."

And there it is: before Ohno leaves, a confirmation, and one that fills him with comforting warmth. They're in a relationship, he and Nino. As long as both sides think it, it's the truth, and Ohno lets out a long sigh of relief. They don't even have to talk about it right now--as long as he knows what he and Nino actually are, it's one less thing to worry about.

"What?" Nino asks, as he's giving Ohno his suitcase back.

Ohno smiles. "Nothing," he says, and takes a step backward. "Well--bye, Nino."

Nino waves and grins lazily. "See you later, Oh-chan."

Ohno walks through the metal detectors without any hassle and picks his bag up at the end of the line. When he turns around and stands on tiptoes, he can see Nino still standing in the exact same spot. Ohno knows that he's probably thinking what is that idiot doing, he'll miss his plane, and it's true--he needs to get going.

But Nino's all the way over there, anyway, and the plane won't leave him. The next time Nino turns to stare at Ohno, still puzzled, Ohno presses his lips against his hand and then waves.

As he's walking away he gets a text. He doesn't even have to look at the name to know who it's from.

You'll pay for that, seriously.

PS - Don't forget to look for cheap flights from Okinawa to Tokyo.






*

Note: The "house being held up by a monstrously large tree" in part 19 is actually a restaurant. You can see a picture of it here.

aeslis: (Final Fantasy ★ Moogle Love)

[personal profile] aeslis 2009-07-03 04:21 pm (UTC)(link)
IT ALL FIT. IT ALL FIT. MWAHAHAHA.

*accepts panda-hugs gladly!* Your beautiful piece of work. Ah. So much happiness from this fic, still. *_*
resolutereader: (Default)

[personal profile] resolutereader 2009-11-22 08:13 pm (UTC)(link)
This has to be one of my favorite stories ever. The first time I read it was when it was only in three parts at LJ, but I forgot to comment then because of the irresistible urge to paint something.

It's such an unbelievably gorgeous story, the characters are well developed and very real, and even though it's quite long (and I have homework to do) I can't stop reading until I reach the end. That urge to paint has come again, it's quite an intense feeling and I get it every time I read this story.

I've sent links to many of my fandom and non-fandom friends and they've all loved it just as much as I have - well, I find it hard to believe but they ensure me that I don't hold the monopoly on loving this story ^^
tsubomi: (Default)

[personal profile] tsubomi 2010-01-16 02:18 am (UTC)(link)
I know this is ages late, but I just want to say thank you so, so much for this beautiful comment! Many people have told me that they've had the irresistible urge to paint something after they read this and that is really the best compliment I could ever get. ♥ Again, thank you!
spurious: (Default)

[personal profile] spurious 2011-10-20 07:41 am (UTC)(link)
This story is all kinds of gorgeous; I'm kind of blown away *_* thank you for making my day.