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Where Trees Grow

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The first time Ohno dreamed about him was on the last day of his terrible job.

So of course he’d blamed it on the alcohol. There had been four—maybe five—drinks, and then a bottle at home, and then half of a bottle at Nino’s, and maybe not even all in that order. He wasn’t even sure how he’d made it to Nino’s in the first place. Did he get on the bus? Or did Nino come over? Were they Skyping? Did Ohno even have Skype installed on his laptop? (It wouldn’t have been FaceTime. Ohno remembers a face, and Nino somehow always manages to FaceTime with the camera pointed at his chin.)

And they always say your dreams get weird when you’re smashed. After all, he remembers college, where he’d fall asleep and wake up reaching for mermaids—

—but this was just different.

There was a man.

And he was there, in Ohno’s bed, until he wasn’t.

--

“You don’t even have Skype installed on your computer.”

Nino is folding clothes in the fitting room when Ohno visits Uniqlo the next day, just to look around and touch things he can’t buy because he doesn’t have a job anymore. He’d squeezed some socks and accidentally wandered into the women’s section before Nino found him hands-deep in a pile of scarves.

“That’s what I thought,” Ohno says, the words barely tumbling out. He’d woken up more exhausted than he’d ever been at his job. “Did I come over then?”

Nino tosses a polo shirt at Ohno. “Yeah,” he says, walking off, “and then you barfed in my kitchen sink.”

Ohno blinks. That is something he definitely doesn’t remember.

He folds the rest of the polos as an apology and pushes the stack aside. No one questions him the entire time—either because he’s just faded into the background with his neutral slacks and nondescript t-shirt, or because he actually looks like an employee. He even points to an open dressing room when a girl walks in.

When Nino comes back, he curls an arm around Ohno’s elbow. “Let’s have that lunch, then,” he purrs into Ohno’s ear.

Ohno turns just slightly. “Did I promise you that last night?”

But it doesn’t matter. Ohno has never said no to Nino’s lunch break invitations.

--

The dream, Ohno describes as Nino chews, was something like a nightmare and something like the best dream he’s ever had. Not that he remembers many of them, but you don't forget the really good ones.

The whole thing was like being awake—the slow opening of eyes, the movement that crawls back into fingers, the breath as it comes and goes with more thought. Ohno had woken up (he’d thought). And then he’d turned. And Jun was there.

Nino wipes his mouth across the back of his hand. “Who the hell is Jun?” he says.

That’s the thing. Ohno doesn’t know. But he knew what his name was—this Jun person, this man—and he wasn’t surprised to see him there...naked.

Naked?” Nino squints. “I think you just picked someone up on the way home.”

And this is normally what Ohno would think too. After all, he had been super drunk. But he just doesn’t think so.

“I guess. Otherwise you would’ve just taken me home.”

Ohno wouldn’t do that. Nino has Aiba.

“And Aiba has Sho,” Nino points out.

And Ohno doesn’t have anyone.

--

It’s not so sad, really. Sometimes Ohno has Sho, too.

How it started is anyone’s guess: a misplaced hand, as many drinks as Ohno had the night he quit (or more), lights turned down too low, a need that just wouldn’t fade. Some nights, Ohno simply found himself at Sho’s apartment, pressed against the door of a shower without knowing how he got there. Surely there had been looks exchanged at one point. Surely either of them said something.

Or maybe it was just something that happened because both of them knew that there was something coming, something brewing, and they just needed to kill some time.

Ohno brings this up one night after sex, while Sho is on the balcony trying not to smoke, but smoking anyway. He slides the door open, places one hand on the small of Sho’s back where the skin sinks, gives way to deep-set dimples. He leans forward.

“Well,” Sho says, exhaling slowly. “I didn’t really expect anything the first time.”

Ohno smiles. “You didn’t think I’d be good?”

“No.” Sho laughs and turns halfway. “I knew you’d be good. I just didn’t think anything would happen after that.”

And it shows. There are times when Ohno gives and Sho doesn’t give back, moments where Ohno kisses a little too long and Sho pulls away, days where Ohno waits for Sho to ask him over and it just never happens.

It’s not so sad, really. He just learns what Sho wants and what Sho doesn’t, and will wait until Sho learns the same of him.

--

That night, after Ohno falls asleep, he opens his eyes again soon after, expecting to have to pee at 3 AM.

But it’s light outside, and this time Jun is sitting in the armchair Sho gave Ohno when he moved in. For a second Ohno feels weird, to have an unknown man in this soft cushy thing that he received as a present from another man he occasionally has sex with. Still, it could be worse, he guesses. He’s watched dramas.

“Hello,” he says, and Jun raises his eyebrows.

“So you speak,” he says. “Hi.”

Jun is a little like a long tree with strong roots and what looks like good shade in the summer, or so his smile says. Ohno is a little relieved.

“Who are you?”

The question comes out of Jun’s mouth, and Ohno is surprised to hear his next question in a voice that isn’t his. He grabs a fistful of blanket, just to have something to hold. It feels like it always has. Ohno knows then that this is home, not an alternate universe home. Whatever is happening has to be real, at least somewhat.

“Can I ask you that too?” Ohno touches the tip of his tongue to his lips.

“I’m Jun,” Jun says, his voice sharpening a bit. Ohno wants to know what that means: is he annoyed? Amused? He watches the corners of Jun’s lip move down, and the thick lines of his eyebrows twitch. But he doesn’t seem angry.

“Ah, I knew that though,” Ohno says. “I’m Satoshi.”

Jun smiles suddenly, and Ohno hears something like leaves rippling in his head (but this is his head—maybe).

“Why are you here?” Ohno asks.

“You asked me to be here,” Jun says, still smiling, though now Ohno can hear it more than see it. He likes that. “Or someone did.”

Someone. Ohno chews the inside of his cheek. Nino?

“I don’t know a Nino,” Jun says, and stands.

Ohno stares. “What?”

“I don’t know any Ninos,” Jun says, and places one knee on Ohno’s bed, at Ohno’s feet. “Isn’t that what you just thought?”

“I,” Ohno says, with no intent to follow through with the sentence.

“You what?” Jun is kneeling now, both knees on Ohno’s comforter. His hands are reaching forward, like the roots of a tree spilling out. “It’s okay. You’re not crazy. Or dreaming.”

Ohno sucks in a breath. “Okay,” is all he manages. He’s not actually sure if he’s really okay with it, or if he’s okay at all, or if he can be okay in a dream or a not-dream or whatever this is. But he can’t seem to manage anything else.

“Your mind is a wonderful place to be,” Jun says, low.

“What?”

“It's like swimming,” Jun says, on all fours, a long tiger. “In the ocean, with a current that takes you wherever you want to go.”

He slides forward, bringing Ohno into the shade of a tree that is not so much broad as it is haughty. And the rippling leaves are the breaths in Jun’s chest, coming short, coming scared.

“Are you nervous?” Ohno asks, and touches his fingertips to Jun’s elbow. He feels skin and relief.

“Don’t be,” Ohno continues, oddly confident. The fingers on Jun’s elbow crawl around his arm and pull him down. He wants to see how much effort it takes. He wants to see how much this will be worth it.

“If I wasn’t worth it,” Jun says, “I wouldn’t be here.”

Ohno slides one arm around Jun’s middle, thinking.

“Yes,” Jun says, reading. “You can have me.”

--

Ohno wakes up with just his shorts on, though he swears he fell asleep with a t-shirt on too. When he steps out of bed, he finds it folded neatly next to his kitchen sink.

I must have gotten up to pee at some point, Ohno thinks.

He looks at the shirt again.

You didn’t, it says to him—something says to him.

Ohno goes back to bed.

--

Aiba suggests keeping a dream diary, which is better than Nino’s suggestion of getting a lobotomy, and also much cheaper.

“I thought you’d be better once you quit that job,” Nino says during another lunch break, making little rice mounds in a sea of curry on his plate. “I didn’t think it was going to make you go batshit crazy.”

“Having vivid dreams is not being crazy,” Aiba says, frowning at Nino. “It shows you have a really creative mind!”

Ohno’s not sure he would call his dreams interesting or imaginative—except for maybe Jun. Jun isn’t a character Ohno could come up with on the spot.

“What was he like?” Nino asks after a beat. “This guy.”

Ohno could lie. He could pretend he doesn’t remember, or say he didn’t look like anything, or that it was too dark to see. But Jun wasn’t any of those things. It was bright outside, and Ohno remembers every line of Jun’s body and Jun’s face, and he looked like—

“A tree,” he says. “He was like a tree.”

Aiba perks up. “In which season?”

Nino groans around his spoon.

--

Once, a few months ago, when Sho was happier with Ohno, they fell asleep under a tree that Sho’s family gardener had given him to put in his small backyard. It wasn’t large and it didn’t provide much shade, and their nap lasted all of five minutes in the red-hot Tokyo humidity, but it was good. Things had been good, then.

Jun is something like that tree, but bigger and with more shade. Things cool down around him. Maybe he is a summer tree, grand and willing. You would go to him to have a moment to yourself. He would gladly give it to you.

Ohno is discovering this during his nightly dream. Where he has learned to stop expecting with Sho, he has transferred to expecting Jun in some way in his room: standing by the window, some thick-shouldered golden boy, or pooled in his bed, warm and wanting.

Tonight is one of the latter nights.

“Turn over,” Jun says, breath barely there, hands gripping Ohno’s hips to do it for him.

It almost makes Ohno laugh, this urgency; he can’t remember what it was like to have someone want him so greedily. “I will,” he soothes. “Don’t worry.”

There is something so easy about this alternate dream-like life, as if Ohno has been nesting in Jun’s leaves for a long time and not spending time trying to burrow into Sho’s life where there isn’t any room.

Jun’s hands are learning Ohno from top to bottom; he is studying, pressing into Ohno’s spine where he thinks there might be music, scratching into the skin where he thinks there might be gold. Where there might have been words, there is now only sound: the hot wind in the summer spreading through the room, Jun’s breaths, and Ohno’s own noises, held hard in his throat.

--

That morning, when Ohno wakes naked with all the sheets pooled to the floor, he tries to write in his dream diary but can’t think of anything to say. Instead he sketches some, pencil swaying back and forth without much thought.

When he’s filled up the whole page with just lines—some thick, some thin—he stretches, long, and yawns.

He wonders what Jun smells like. For all they did last night, Ohno’s sheets and the other pillow smell exactly as they always have.

In fact, they smell even more like—

—Like Sho.

Ohno squints at the ceiling, thinking.

--

Uniqlo is nearly empty when Ohno slinks in half an hour before closing time. He wants to know what Nino thinks, even though it probably won’t help the situation any. But Ohno has always gone to Nino in a pinch—in any pinch—even something like this where his new boyfriend-thing isn’t even real and only appears in lucid dreams.

“Let me get this straight,” Nino says, sweeping the fitting room in a way that will pick up absolutely no dust. “You had a wet dream—.”

“It was real,” Ohno insists; he’s had those things before, those teasing fantasies that wake you up worse than when you fell asleep, all sweaty and lonely. This wasn’t that. “I don’t know how. But it was.”

Nino twirls the broom. “Fine. So you did it with this guy. Jun.”

“And then he folded my clothes.” Ohno is most proud of that.

“What a keeper,” Nino says, and rests the broom against the wall with no intention of putting it back where it belongs. “So?”

Ohno says nothing, just shrugs.

At dinner, it finally comes out, even before the beer has arrived: “He smelled kinda like Sho.”

Nino puts his chopsticks down, eyes wide. It scares Ohno a little, to see Nino finally fazed by something. “Kinda?”

“He smelled a lot like Sho.” Ohno is regretting the words that are coming out of his mouth. He feels like he needs to take them back, even if they’re true; it just feels dirty, talking about this secret, talking as if his near-obsession with Sho has finally come to a head. “Like they’d been together before that.”

“Do men in your dreams wear cologne?” Nino has picked himself up again, and his chopsticks. But something around his mouth still looks unsettled. “Maybe you’re just pulling from memories. It happens.”

He pauses, but then suddenly looks up. “Did you like it?”

Ohno pretends not to have heard. He scratches his ear and peers into his beer, looking for pockets of foam.

Nino keeps on. “Did you like it, Oh-chan?”

Yes.

Ohno swallows hard.

Yes, I liked Sho’s smell more on someone else.

“It’s not a bad thing,” Nino says after a beat of reading Ohno’s silence. When Ohno finally looks up, Nino is circling the rim of his beer with his index finger, thinking, head tilted.

“I mean,” Nino continues, “maybe then you’ll finally have something in common.”

--

The thought of Sho’s scent coming off on Jun coming off on Ohno is driving Ohno insane. He thinks about it on the train ride home and all the way up to his apartment where it follows him to the kitchen, to the shower, and then to bed.

He doesn’t even bother to undress, just lies on the covers and closes his eyes.

Jun is there.

This time he’s not even asleep. Startled, Ohno opens his eyes again; Jun is gone from where he was perched just a second ago on the edge of the bed, already leaning forward in anticipation of whatever frenzy that night will bring. Ohno can just imagine Jun’s short whine at being shut out, the crease between his eyebrows, digging like the way his fingers do to Ohno’s back—

He closes his eyes again.

Jun frowns. “That was rude.”

“I’m sorry,” Ohno says, and leans forward to press his nose to the warmest space beneath Jun’s chin, near the swell where his heart beats, furious and alive. After all this time, Jun is still nervous; Ohno almost laughs. He is searching for Sho’s smell and finds himself something stupid instead.

“Do you think love is stupid?” Jun sounds annoyed. He tries to pull back, but Ohno kisses, and he can feel Jun grow soft in long stretches and hard in inhaled breaths. This is a tree in a storm.

“No,” Ohno says, and hums; he takes it back. “Yes.”

“But you’re happy,” Jun points out, and pulls Ohno’s shirt off (to fold later). “Aren’t you?”

Ohno doesn’t reply. He doesn’t need to: Jun will read him anyway, and correctly.

--

Many days later, when they are lying in bed with a pillow between them, Ohno asks Sho if he has ever been happy in his dreams.

Sho actually thinks about it. So many quiet seconds pass, long and content, and Ohno is sure that Sho has fallen asleep, but then—

“Yeah,” Sho mumbles.

--

And so Ohno wonders, while disappearing underneath Sho and while climbing through Jun’s branches—what if?

He naps, shakes himself awake. What if?

He makes dinner, over-stirring his curry, mashing potatoes too thin. What if?

He buys new toilet paper in his slippers and sweatpants, shuffling home in the near-dark of his street. What if?

He settles into bed for the night, closes his eyes, and asks Jun.

--

“What if what?” Jun says, and puts his hand over Ohno’s, which is sneaking up under his shirt to touch his heart. He likes it there, where it beats. It means Jun is real.

“You didn’t have to ask,” Jun goes on, laughing a little, and kisses Ohno’s palm. “He’s here.”

Ohno loses a breath. “What?”

The door opens just an inch—whoever is on the other side of it is still testing, still wondering. Jun smiles, hand still on Ohno’s, grasped tight underneath Jun’s shirt.

Ohno turns.

“Sho?” he calls, and Sho comes through, sheepish.

--

Somewhere, they are all sleeping. Here, they are awake, and sure.