things to do in uzbekistan
Note: this work of crack is the brainchild of Ohno and Nino. I thought it would be a crime not to write the story after they went to the trouble of plotting it for us.
Nino makes it through a large part of China and Mongolia with his English and a couple of words of Chinese, and he doesn't even need anything but English in Russia, although the phrasebook he picks up there helps him out of a few sticky spots in restaurants and bus terminals in Kazakhstan. But when he gets off a bus in eastern Uzbekistan nobody uses any kanji anymore, and everything seems to be written with Arabic letters. He gets lost right away.
Well, it's not exactly right to say that he gets lost, because it only takes him a couple of hours to find a bazaar, so he knows he's in the bazaar and he knows the name of the town he's in, but he can't so much as ask directions to the public toilets or a hotel, he can't tell if most of the buildings he walked past are bars or restaurants, and he's been trying for hours to buy something to eat, even fresh vegetables or some meat on a stick, with no luck.
Nino started picking up Russian phrases a month ago and he has a fair working vocabulary of bar and bazaar-related terminology, but it's getting him no love here. He doesn't even want any love - he just wants some food. He's hearing at least three or four different languages around in the bazaar, but he doesn't understand any of any of them. He's trying English now, and the little man behind the stall is doing a fair impression of understanding the word "English" and the words "Yes, hello" anyway, but Nino's attempts to point at the food always lead back into a lot of pointing at other things and gesticulating. Nino hasn't had this much trouble eating since that bar in Kyrgyzstan, and that was more because he was too lazy to go someplace else.
Nino starts to entertain himself with fanciful explanations. Maybe this guy doesn't sell to tourists. Once he pointed at Nino's shoulder - maybe he wants Nino's guitar. Maybe he is under the misapprehension that Nino is Chinese and is still holding a grudge for the conquest of his people by Genghis Khan (although now Nino thinks about it, Uzbekistan - would that make this guy related to Genghis Khan, instead?). Maybe he can't sell between the hours of eleven am and one.
"An orange," Nino is saying for the fiftieth time, "I just want to buy an orange," when someone behind him says "Orange?" and then reaches out and takes one off the pile and holds it out to the little man in the stall, saying something although Nino has absolutely no idea what in whatever language the guy was speaking (Uzbekistani? Turkish?) . Then he hands the orange to Nino.
Nino turns to thank his benefactor (although not before starting to peel the orange - he hasn't eaten all day) - and stops.
Ohno and his sister are sorting through bolts of silk at the bazaar, which means that Ohno is digging through them, fingering the fabric and considering the colours, while his sister prevents them from rolling off the table and scolds him to be more careful. Then she says, "Hey, I heard some Japanese over there - cursing, must be a tourist!" and points over Ohno's shoulder. They haven't seen a Japanese tourist in weeks now.
Ohno turns around. He spots the tourist right away, though he's switched from Japanese to English already - a slim boy with a guitar case and a ratty backpack on his back and messy black hair, shoulders hunched up awkwardly. His voice is high and pleasant, but Japanese-accented, Ohno thinks vaguely, and then the boy turns and Ohno glimpses his profile: a long straight nose and smiling eyes, wide mouth, and his face wrinkled in momentary frustration -
Ohno drops two bolts of silk. "I'm going to help him," he says. If his sister says anything in return, he doesn't hear it.
Ohno's Uzbek is just about adequate for purchases in the bazaar, although in this case the problem is that the boy is trying to pay with the wrong money. Ohno plucks the orange out of his hand and tells Mr. Knyazev that he'll pay for it along with his own vegetables - he can't actually remember what his mother told him to get, so he asks for dates, grapes, plums, onions, and cabbage, and then he remember he still has the orange in his hand and hands it back to the boy. Their fingers brush again, like they did when he took it, and Ohno feels the same little frisson again. Then the boy turns to him, already saying "Thank you" in English, and freezes with his mouth still open when their eyes meet. Ohno freezes too; the frisson is stronger this time.
The boy's face has lit up with relief and curiosity, and he's halfway smiling at Ohno, the corner of his mouth curled wryly. There's a mole on his chin, and there's something about the corners of his eyes that makes Ohno want to touch them with his fingers. "Arigatō," the boy adds, cocking his head inquiringly.
Ohno knows he's staring, but the boy doesn't seem to mind, so he doesn't try to stop. "No problem," he says in Japanese, and feels himself grinning when the boy's smile widens.
"I'm Ninomiya," says the boy.
"Ohno," says Ohno, and turns to pay Mr. Knyazev for his produce and Ninomiya's orange. "So you're trying to get by with English out here?" he says to Ninomiya. "Not that many people speak it out in the smaller towns."
"I noticed that," says Ninomiya tartly. He's already dropped three or four coin-sized pieces of orange peel in the dirt at his feet, brilliant orange like drops of paint; he doesn't bother trying to segment it or pick out the inner peel, just sinks his teeth into the fruit, making juice run down by the corner of his mouth. Ohno watches a drop slide down to the point of his chin until Ninomiya catches it on the side of his hand and licks the finger clean. "I have a Russian phrasebook, I was trying that, but he didn't know what I was saying." He licks his lips, but the sunlight still glistens on the sticky juice on them for a moment before he takes his next bite of orange. Ninomiya's lips are chapped but his tongue is red against the orange of the fruit. Ohno's heartbeat has sped up. He wants to paint it. He wants to lick it.
"Oh, well, it was just bad luck that Mr. Knyazev didn't, I guess," he says. "I mean, he speaks Uzbek - but even out here away from the big cities a lot of people understand Russian. Don't give up on it yet."
"Where are we going?" Ninomiya interrupts him, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.
Ohno hesitates only a second. "Why don't you come eat with my family?"
Ninomiya smiles at him over the orange, his eyes crinkling up at the corners. He has a dimple. Ohno forgets about wanting to touch him for a moment; he's stuck on the way it feels in his chest when Ninomiya smiles at him.
Nino hasn't eaten a solid, proper meal in two and a half days, so there's no way he is turning down this invitation. Also, it's been six countries since Japan, and while it's not like Ohno's is the first Japanese face he's seen, he might, possibly, be getting a little homesick. He definitely is hoping there might be some Japanese food involved. He tries not to fantasise too hard about onigiri and sushi - better not to get his hopes up.
He can't think of any good reason not to fantasise about Ohno, though. Ohno's face is strange, strange in the good way, all narrow eyes and blade-thin nose and soft pouty mouth. He is even shorter than Nino, and graceful, and he doesn't give any sign that he notices the way Nino stares at him at the produce stall, the meat stall and the herb stall. His hands are delicate and long-fingered and competent, and he takes Nino's elbow in one of them as they walk out from between the row of market tents, turning his head from side to side and glancing around with his slender fingers firm and confident on Nino's arm.
"What are you looking for?" says Nino.
"Na-chan," Ohno says, absently. He is leading Nino towards a row of ponies.
"Wait," says Nino, "is one of these ponies yours?"
"Yeah," Ohno says absently. "My parents', I guess. Hey, Na-chan! Oh." He reaches into the plastic bag of produce and tears the edge off a cabbage leaf to offer to the pony. She slurps it off his fingers and looks at him and Nino with round, sleepy eyes. Nino reaches out to touch Na-chan's nose. It's warm and, when she snuffles over his hand, a little damp.
But, "A pony?" says Nino.
"For carrying things," says Ohno, putting his bags of groceries into the bags on the pony's back. "You can ride."
"Oh," says Nino, "That's okay, I don't know how -"
"Nah, come on," says Ohno. "It's hot and you're not used to it." He reaches into the bag again and pulls out a plastic water bottle. "Are you thirsty? Oh, do you need me to help you up?"
"Um." Nino looks at Ohno's hands. His fingernails are trimmed neatly, and clean, even though his hands are tan and a little dusty. There's a tiny smear of blue paint in the cuticles of his left ring finger. "Yeah, I guess so." There isn't a saddle on Na-chan, in among all the bags. But still, the pony's legs are barely longer than Ohno's. How fast can she go, right?
Ohno is strong enough to pick Nino up easily and lift him onto the pony's back. He ties Nino's backpack and guitar case to the other bags and Nino surreptitiously twines his fingers in the pony's mane, feeling a little ridiculous with his feet dangling at knee-height from the ground but his thighs already feeling the stretch of going around the pony's fat middle. On the other hand, the pace is relaxed and the view rolls gently with the pony's gait: the sun-warmed buildings of the town receding behind them until the mosque towering over the town square is the only thing he can easily see when he cranes over his shoulder. The countryside is hilly and practically glowing under the relentless glare of the sun, the grass baked golden by heat and drought.
"So where are your parents?" says Nino. "Dairy farm or something?"
"No, it's mostly cotton farms in Uzbekistan," says Ohno. "They're at an archaeology dig with some Australians."
Australian archaeology dig. "Cool," says Nino. He thinks there was a time that might have seemed weird to him, but he's been hanging out with all sorts of people lately. He wonders what Australian archaeologists are like. Then he wonders what exactly archaeologists do. He has this vague idea involving pottery and dinosaur bones and disintegrating baskets buried in trays of sand where you brush the sand off with a paintbrush, but he is pretty sure that idea came more from visits to the children's science museum as a kid than from any knowledge of reality.
After a while - one of the things Nino has been trying to do for six countries and a lot of bus trips now is think of time in "whiles" and not hours or minutes, but this is a short while, not long enough for his legs to get too terribly sore, not long enough to forget what kind of scenery he's ridden past - he starts to wonder, in between sips of lukewarm water, if he's feeling light-headed only from the heat or if he's actually going to get heatstroke or something. "Do you think I'd fall off if I tried to take off one of these shirts while Na-chan was still walking?" he asks.
Ohno is walking with one hand on Na-chan's shoulder, and he looks up in surprise. "Don't take your shirt off," he says, "you need the sleeves - oh, you're burning. Here -" He unwinds the top layer of the draped clothes that make him look, from a distance, like a native. It looks sort of like a white sheet, and Na-chan stops so he can reach up and wrap it around Nino's shoulders and over his head and neck. It's warm from skin and sun already, and there's a faint scent of sweat clinging to the folds.
"Won't you burn now?" says Nino, feeling that faint pleasant musk sinking into his pores.
Ohno squints up at the sky, putting his hands on his hips. "Well, maybe," he says, but he doesn't sound concerned. "I'm used to the sun, though." He turns back to Nino. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," says Nino, even though he actually has no idea if he will be okay or not. Ohno smiles at him, the same wide dorky grin Nino got in the marketplace when he accepted Ohno's invitation to dinner. He hasn't met such a transparent person in a long time, Nino thinks. He kind of likes it. And he likes Ohno's smile, as well as his mouth and his hands and his pretty eyes and the faint smell of his sweat.
He wouldn't have thought it possible at first, but Nino is lulled into a doze right there on the pony - the heat and the rhythmic motion of Na-chan's lazy walking and a weird sense that he can relax right here, right now, in a way he can't when he's sleeping in hostels or with his head pillowed on the windows of buses.
Ohno doesn't actually like riding on ponies (or other animals - especially not camels, ew, and even elephants are smelly, even if they're kind of cool), and although in general he doesn't really like exercise, he does like walking. This is why his sister usually rides the pony, if anyone does. It's not even half an hour's walk from the town to the dig site, but by the time they reach the last farm before it Ninomiya has fallen asleep on Na-chan's back, slumped over into himself and swaying gently with her steps.
Ohno puts a hand on Ninomiya's leg to steady him and doesn't say anything. He might really need the rest - he might even be undernourished or something; who knows what he's doing alone in Uzbekistan, as lost as he was? His bones felt shockingly sharp through his skin: wrists, elbows, shoulder blades, when Ohno was draping the white wrap around him.
It's late afternoon, not quite time to start preparing for supper, and when they get close to the site Ohno sees two crouched and two standing figures out in the open between the tents, but none of them is short enough to be either of his parents. The sun hangs low and swollen in the sky, a painfully saturated umber-orange that makes your eyes ache even if you never glance at it, and the back of Ohno's neck is hot, which probably means it will burn. Ninomiya has a flush of pink already peeling off his cheekbones and the bridge of his nose from before, but Ohno's sure he won't burn today.
There's a spot to tie Na-chan near the big tent where most of the laptops are kept, which is where Ohno's mother is usually to be found during the day. Ninomiya doesn't wake up when they stop, though. He doesn't wake up when Ohno absently moves his hand on Ninomiya's leg, either, or when Ohno slides an arm around his back and lifts him down off the pony's back into his arms. He settles against Ohno's chest easily and naturally and nestles his head against Ohno's shoulder with a quiet little murmuring noise that lights up nerves from the back of Ohno's neck all the way down to the backs of his knees.
For a while Ohno just stands there, looking down at the top of Ninomiya's head on his shoulder, the dark eyelashes on his sunburnt cheeks, the sweaty strands of hair brushing the bridge of his nose under the folds of Ohno's headwrap, the curve of his mouth, which has relaxed into a slight smile. It's not that he's forgotten how to move so much as that he's forgotten he was intending to. With his arms full of Ninomiya like this, Ohno is thinking crazy things like This is nice and What if I just didn't let go? Then he remembers what he was doing and shoulders his way through the flap of the tent.
Ohno's mother, father, and sister, plus one of the Australian archaeology students, look up at him from behind two different folding tables with identical dubious expressions. There is a little silence.
"Goodness, you didn't shoot someone, did you?" says Ohno's mother, clicking something on the laptop and not sounding particularly shocked.
"You thought taking him around the world would keep him away from unsavoury youth," Ohno's father reminds his mother placidly.
Ohno's sister stands up. "I'm going to take care of Na-chan," she announces. As she sidles past Ohno and out of the tent, she leans close and whispers mockingly, "Mom, can I keep him?"
Nino is in the process of waking up slowly from a nice dream in which the endless bus ride from Kazakhstan ends at last in Uzbekistan and he winds up in this picturesque little bazaar where he picks up a really pretty Japanese guy about his own age, and the guy puts Nino on a pony to bring him to meet his parents. Which, Nino realises when he wakes up about twenty percent, is ridiculous, because obviously if he's Japanese his parents would be in Japan, and riding a bus across half of Asia is bad enough, forget horses. And eventually you would need a plane or a boat, you couldn't ride a horse all the way to Japan anyway.
When he is about forty percent awake Nino starts to realise that he's had an entire dream in which he picks up a really pretty guy and actually runs away with him yet despite this he hasn't come on to the guy, has barely touched him. Talk about a waste of a dream, Nino thinks in annoyance, and tries really hard to go back to sleep to fix his mistake, but it doesn't really work. There are smells reaching him, and sounds, and eventually he opens his eyes and looks at the roof of a canvas tent.
The first thing Nino thinks is that he is lying on an actual mattress, although not a very comfortable one. Mattresses are not a known feature of buses, at least, not in Kazakhstan (he thinks maybe he's heard of them in Japan). Canvas isn't a feature of buses, either, and he can smell sizzling beef, and under that, the faint and now familiar smell of dust and sweat from the white headwrap.
He blinks a few more times and then sits up. The first thing he sees then is the guy - Ohno. He's still just as pretty as Nino remembers. Now he's wearing a long silky red robe with metallic gold embroidery along the neck outlining a deep V of his tanned chest, sitting in a folding chair with a spiral-bound notebook on his knees and looking at Nino.
"Hi," he says, smiling a little.
"Hi," says Nino, smiling back. He has good reason to: he's feeling very relieved that he still has a chance to come on to Ohno later, or at least to touch him some more. "I think I smell food." It's probably not Japanese food, but the smell of it is enough to make Nino start fantasising about beef instead; he's pretty easy, at least where food is concerned.
"Yeah," says Ohno, "dinner's ready, I was going to say something in a minute, just - you were sleeping - so I was just... well," and he closes the notebook in his lap, but not before Nino sees that it's actually a sketchpad and he's drawn something in it, and since he was staring at Nino a second ago, maybe. Just maybe.
He'll ask to see it later, Nino decides, and swings his feet out of the little camp bed.
As it turns out, there are hamburgers and hot dogs and onigiri, because Ohno has an older sister who likes to cook. "Our dad's a historical anthropologist, and our mom's an archaeologist," she explains to Nino while Ohno eats practically an entire hamburger, which isn't because she talks slowly but because Ohno eats faster than almost anyone else Nino has ever seen.
"And you cook," says Nino, eating another bite of his onigiri (he's starving, but he wants it to last).
"Yeah, so Satoshi's the only useless member of the family," she agrees, dimpling, while Ohno really does finish inhaling the hamburger. His concentration seems to be intently on his food, and his enjoyment of every bite is so apparent that the whole thing is more funny than repulsive, or maybe that's just Nino being disproportionately attracted to him again. With his cheeks bulging out like that he's not even very attractive.
Nino still wants to touch him, though, so he lets himself scoot closer when he reaches for the ketchup, and they eat most of their dinners with their knees pressing together, while Nino fields questions about his six-country trip from an Australian archaeologist who sits down next to Ohno's sister.
Ohno watches when Nino talks, Nino notices. He's not sure if Ohno watches him any more than anyone else would or if it's just the way he is feeling the attention, feeling Ohno's alert and serious eyes on him almost physically, like a light but constant touch.
Nino's trying to find out what archaeologists really do from the Australian who sat down next to Ohno's sister, but not getting very far, when Ohno leans forward and puts his elbows on the table and looks at him and says, "What about the guitar?"
"Guitar?" the Australian asks.
Nino smiles lazily. "What about it? Do you want to hear something?"
"You play?" says Ohno.
Nino stares at him. "I've carried a guitar for six countries now that weighs more than all my clothes put together, so that was actually a pretty stupid question." That just makes Ohno grin at him again, though.
"Should I go get your guitar?" Ohno asks Ninomiya.
Then Dr. Fitz stands up and cups his hands around his mouth. "Hey, everybody! This guy's got a guitar!" An archaeology dig in Uzbekistan can be a pretty boring place, aside from the archaeology. People always want after-dinner entertainment. They've been known to sit quietly while Dr. Duncan reads aloud from children's books. So an offer of guitar music is something really special here. Heads are turning to look at them.
Ohno looks at Ninomiya. "I'll come with you," Ninomiya says firmly. Ohno stands up and offers Ninomiya his hand.
"Back in a minute," Ninomiya announces in English to the mess tent at large, "the guitar was in my other pants." He doesn't let go of Ohno's hand right away when he stands up, either; he uses it to pull him out of the tent.
It's barely sunset and still hot out, but the wind is cooler than before, and Ninomiya stops and turns his face up into it. It lifts his bangs, the same bangs that Ohno brushed out of his face when he laid him down on the camp bed. They were slightly sweaty then, and clung to Ohno's fingers, and now they're rippling in the breeze. "So where did you put my guitar?" says Ninomiya.
"I think Miyuki put it in our tent."
"Nah," says Ohno, "they have their own." The tent he shares with his sister is relatively small, meant only for sleeping. Their heads graze the ceiling when they stand up inside. Ninomiya kneels down next to Ohno's bed - another rickety folding camp bed - and cracks open his guitar case, so Ohno sits on the edge of the bed to wait for him. He seems to want a moment to commune with the guitar.
It's pretty at least, although ordinary for a guitar, shiny and golden with a faint reddish tint, but Ninomiya runs his hands over it like he's missed it since they last met and lifts it gently from the case, looking down at it as intently as Ohno is looking down at him. He strums a chord, gently, then another one.
Shadows have fallen inside the tent and Ohno has his elbows on his knees, and Ninomiya is kneeling beside his feet, hair falling into his eyes, hunched protectively around the guitar. He plays a verse of something and starts singing quietly halfway through it, but Ohno doesn't even register the words because he's too busy watching, staring at him really: at the frown of concentration wrinkling his eyebrows and the thin curves of his shoulders and the tense way he holds his hands. Ninomiya looks up at him then and smiles, and something warm and sharp and shockingly sudden happens in Ohno's chest. When Ninomiya looks back down at the guitar, Ohno thinks, I could do anything with him, and he means it. He wants to.
Ninomiya is really good on the guitar, and it almost hurts to look at him play because Ohno can see how passionately he feels the music. His singing pitch wanders all over the place so much you'd think he'd never heard of the concept of "on-key", but his voice is beautiful and raw; it sounds tense and sweet and heartfelt and desperate, like all through the song it is on the verge of splintering into sobs, like Ohno is listening to something so private that he almost feels embarrassed. He isn't embarrassed, though. He wants more. When the song is over he is still speechless for a long moment.
"Am I warmed up all right?" says Ninomiya into the silence. It's too dark to really see his face, but his voice sounds rich with amusement, relaxed and self-satisfied.
"Yeah," Ohno says dazedly, and Ninomiya stands up with the guitar in his hand and ducks out of the tent. Outside the moon has risen and the sky is glowing faintly pearl pink, the last of the sunset just visible on the horizon. The pleasant clamour of the social after-dinner hour spills from the mess tent along with light.
"I'm used to paying for my dinner with a song," Ninomiya tells him. "I've done that a lot of times in six countries. You'd be surprised."
"Really?" says Ohno, "six countries? It sounds interesting."
"Hmm, it does, doesn't it?" Ninomiya murmurs, with that amused note again. Moonlight flashes on his teeth and eyes when he smiles. "I'll tell you about it, later," he offers, "if you still think I'm interesting then."
"Okay," says Ohno. He already knows he will still think so. "You sounded good," he adds. "I mean, it's cool that you play. I can't play anything. I sing, though."
Ninomiya pauses outside the tent and looks at Ohno over his shoulder. "Good," he says, "we can sing together."
Ohno almost says that he would rather hear Ninomiya again than hear himself, or that he hears himself every day; but he doesn't, somehow, and it's not only because he wants to do what Ninomiya wants; he wants to sing that duet now, to hear their voices blend together, and he thinks, I know what I sound like but I don't know what we sound like.
Dr. Fitz is with Ohno's father, moving one of the dinner tables from near the middle of the tent out of the way, and Miyuki snags two of the chairs from it and sets them in the empty space and waves Ohno and Ninomiya over. "Okay!" she yells in English, "the guitar guy's ready!"
"Are you all tuned up?" says one of the Australians sitting nearby.
"Yup," smirks Ninomiya with a glance at Ohno, arranging his body around the guitar again, his spine curled and his shoulders hunched like he thinks they might suddenly become the victims of an air raid (and really they are too far away from Afghanistan for that).
"Are you taking requests?" says someone else, and "Is Satoshi going to sing?"
"I don't listen to the radio very much," says Ninomiya, shaking his bangs out of his eyes, "I have to know a song to play it. We just need to find one we both know so we can both sing." He turns to Ohno, one side of his mouth curled up secretively. "So, Satoshi," he says. (He seems to enjoy saying Ohno's name.)
"I hear the radio every now and then," Ohno says, "and I have a good memory. And I know all those songs they make you learn in school; I went to school in Japan until I was nine."
Ninomiya says innocently, "So I should play school songs?" He picks out the first four bars of "Sakura, Sakura", and even the Australians laugh. Then he segues to something Ohno can't remember the name of, one of those songs he rehearsed in kindergarten; he'd forgotten all about it, but the words, all about making new friends and the polite way to introduce yourself, are floating up in his memory now along with images of his elementary school uniform, blue shorts and little girls' pigtails and round-topped leather backpacks.
Ohno laughs, and Ninomiya smiles up at him sidelong again and says, "How about folk songs, then?"
"Or the Beatles," Ohno offers. "My mom listens to that a lot."
He plays a couple of Japanese folk songs - he knows all the words to both of them, and Ohno knows the melodies but only half or three-quarters of the words, but leaning closer to Ninomiya's guitar and singing with him in harmony or counterpoint or unison (or almost-unison when Ninomiya wanders off pitch) makes his chest and throat tingle with an almost totally unfamiliar feeling, like the music's going through his body, the different pieces of it, Ohno's voice and Ninomiya's and the guitar's, colliding and tangling and blending blissfully together inside his throat. Then Ninomiya plays a little Beatles and Beach Boys, and everyone in the tent sings along.
The last song Ninomiya plays is "I Wanna Hold Your Hand". He doesn't look up from his guitar during the middle of a song, Ohno's already seen that, but he throws Ohno a mischievous little smile before he plays the first chord which makes Ohno suspect he's chosen it deliberately. He looks at Ohno as soon as he lifts his head when he's done playing, too. Ohno blinks at him, not knowing what to say except, "Do you want something to drink?"
Ninomiya arches an eyebrow. "Sure. Thanks, Satoshi-chan." He stands up with the guitar in his right hand, and touches Ohno's elbow with his left, as if absent-mindedly. "Thanks for listening, everyone," he says loudly in English to all the Australians. "I hope you had as much fun as I did." He takes a little bow without letting go of Ohno's elbow, so Ohno obediently doesn't move at all (though it's not like he was going to wander away from Ninomiya).
Then he turns to Ohno again, and through the fabric of his sleeve Ohno can feel his grip shift, the light touch of Ninomiya's fingers on his arm, and his body's still buzzing from the singing together and Ninomiya's smile is a little wry and crooked this time, and Ohno's looking again at the mole on the right side of his chin and the uptilted tip of his nose and thinking, I want to touch him, I want to touch him - the curling corner of his mouth, the sunburnt tip of his nose, the point of his chin and the corners of his eyes. It's like Ohno's heart stutters, stumbling over Ninomiya and his face and his closeness and his hand on Ohno's arm and Ninomiya smiling at him, calling him Satoshi-chan, nestling against his chest. He wants -
"Where's that drink?" Ninomiya says.
Ohno's parents have a big tent with walls inside it made out of fabric hangings, a card table and folding chairs, trunks like end tables with stacks of papers and magazines and books spilling off of them. The inside of it looks like someone's living room, except for how all the walls are draped with rainbow-hued lengths of patterned silk, lustrous in the light of numerous propane lanterns, metallic threads sparkling.
"What are you people, gypsies?" Nino blurted when Ohno gestured him towards the card table, and Ohno blinked around at the walls and said that his mother liked to collect the arts and handiwork of local craftsmen whenever she was working at a site, and that silk was cheap here, he liked buying it and picking out all the colours anyway though he doesn't know what anybody could possibly do with that much silk -
- And then he broke off and stared when Nino raised one eyebrow at him and smirked suggestively, and then Ohno's sister and parents came in and sat around the little card table, and because there weren't enough folding chairs, Ohno dragged a crate next to Nino's and turned it upside down.
Now Ohno is leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, and his knee bumping against Nino's knee, watching a fierce debate rage over the card table over the merits of Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, or a card game. His face looks serious, his eyebrows raised. The crate is just slightly shorter than the chair Nino is sitting in, and Nino keeps thinking about how easy it would be to rest his arm on Ohno's shoulder and run his hands through the fluffy-looking unruly spikes of his hair.
"Trivial Pursuit would be good for you kids," Ohno's mother says. Her voice still sounds mild, even when she's raised it to talk over Ohno's father and they can probably hear her clearly in the next tent (though not understand since she's speaking Japanese). "You need to practise your English more -"
"Besides, Miyuki, it's rude to borrow a game from your boyfriend and then not even play it," says Ohno's father.
"We played it yesterday, Dad," says Ohno.
"Oh," says Ohno's father, glancing over the rims of his glasses with a look of confusion that makes him look a lot like Ohno for a moment. "We did?" But he turns his attention back to the book in his hands - Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeology Society, it reads - and says distractedly, "Well, let him show off then, I guess," and seems to forget about the rest of the room.
"Show off?" says Nino, glancing down into Ohno's face, and their eyes meet by accident, which gives Nino that little thrill again.
"At Pictionary," Ohno replies, without seeming to realise that that doesn't necessarily make sense to Nino, and Nino smiles and bumps their knees together under the table.
"He may be good at drawing, but he's no good at guessing," says Ohno's sister smugly, clearing the other games off the table. "I'm on Mom's team!"
Ohno's dad sits at the table and acts as a referee or commentator, when he manages to pay attention to the game instead of reading. Every now and then Ohno's mom nudges him casually on the elbow or shoulder and he glances at the scraps of paper covered in doodles and says vaguely "Oh, that looks just like an antelope" or "Huh? Whose turn is it?" before turning back to his journal.
But it turned out Ohno's sister was wrong about his guessing, because by the time they make it a quarter of the way around the board Nino and Ohno are winning by a pretty wide margin. Ohno is both good at drawing and good at guessing (though it's not like Miyuki is bad at drawing, and Ohno's dad was right, she did draw an antelope in about half of one second that was eerily accurate). But even more than that Nino is good at guessing what Ohno draws. Looking straight into Ohno's eyes, and his hand brushing Ohno's knee under the slippery silk robe under the table, it's like Nino knows, and Ohno's face is so serious looking at him - it's like a headrush, like drinking a whole glass of wine in a couple of swallows.
"Oh, interesting," Ohno's dad is saying, and "good, good, keep guessing," while Miyuki draws something that could be a western toilet or possibly a piano, and Ohno's mom hums in frustration. "The boys are really beating you two - just throw something out there, don't give up -"
"Trophy. Shrine. Uh, fireplace - L'Arc d'Triomphe, crypt -"
Nino turns his head sideways, but it still looks like a piano to him, even though there's a curvy thing in the bottom half that might be meant to be a door, so he can see where she got L'Arc d'Triomphe, kind of. He can play chopsticks and stuff, but he's never properly learned piano, and he's never been able to make his left and right hands work right in the opportunities he had to mess around with one. Guitars are easier to come by than pianos. Ohno's family seems like a piano lessons kind of family, except for the international travel (that is, he's sure if there were a piano in this tent he couldn't have missed it. The tent is kind of small).
"You boys make a good team," says Ohno's dad thoughtfully. "You're not giving them half a chance to catch up." Ohno's sister glares at him and stabs her doodle with the point of her pencil.
"Bookshelves! London Bridge?" says Ohno's mother.
"Thank you," says Ohno, and the timer runs out. Miyuki sighs.
"I think so too," says Nino lazily, leaning forward and down to drape his arm around Ohno's shoulders. Ohno doesn't startle, doesn't move away at all or even tense up. "I started thinking so back in the mess tent," he adds. "If I got that much appreciation when I busk by myself I wouldn't have to worry about buying my own vegetables. I guess maybe it is true what they say about two being better than one." When he glances sideways he sees Ohno's eyes fixed on his face, mouth slightly parted.
"That, or archaeologists might be an exceptionally appreciative audience," says Ohno's father.
"Or just an audience with a lot of spare food," says Miyuki dampingly. "The Australians are always trying to give it away."
"That's true," Ohno murmurs, and smiles at Nino a little, "stay with archaeologists and you won't have to buy your own vegetables anyway."
"And all the board games I can play from Ohno-san's boyfriend?" says Nino to Miyuki, and she smiles but doesn't blush, so probably she's really dating whoever it is. "I claim Satoshi-chan for my team," he adds.
Ohno tilts his head a little, glancing up from the corner of his long slanted eye at Nino, his mouth parting slightly in a little o of surprise. "What, permanently?" he asks calmly.
Nino smiles and tips their foreheads together. "We can have matching costumes," he agrees. "You can wear this red and gold bathrobe that you've got on and I'll buy a blue and silver one with my earnings, and we'll wear matching feather headdresses."
"And you'll win on pure shock value," says Ohno's mother. "It's your turn." Nino sits up straight and takes his arm off of Ohno's shoulders guiltily. Somehow he had almost forgotten everyone else was in the tent. The dusty scent of Ohno's hair lingers in his nose.
The family doesn't seem perturbed, though. Ohno rolls the die, Ohno's father turns a page in the book, and after a while Miyuki says, "We have some blue silk in almost the same pattern as Ohno's robe, actually."
"That's right," Ohno replies at once, "we do." And when Nino turns to look at him he's looking earnestly back, not a hint of smile on his lips and his eyes wide and liquid, reflecting the glow of the lamps, and Nino forgets temporarily how to breathe.
Ninomiya moves without being asked to help tuck clean sheets around the spare camp cot. The kerosene lamp throws long spiky shadows of his long fingers, his bent arms, his tousled head against the wall of the tent, and Ohno is temporarily distracted by the odd shapes, bent over the rippling canvas and the crate of books beside the tent flap.
With the second cot in Ohno's small half of the tent behind its dividing flap, it is so crowded that you have to climb over one bed or the other just to move at all. Ninomiya, curled up in the fresh sheets with his chin on his knees, his eyes dim amber in the lamplight, is so close Ohno could brush his hair off his face. He is flipping carefully through the pages of one of Ohno's sketchbooks, saying things like "I like this one" and "It's that fat lady from the tent, isn't it, does she really have a shirt like that? Maybe she'll let me borrow it, what do you think?"
There are three sketches of Ninomiya at the end - a sloppy caricature; a blurry, soft one encompassing the whole mound of blankets around him as he slept; and a meticulous close-up of his face, monochrome but carefully shaded, showing each spiky eyelash and each bead of sweat on his lip in sharp relief. He examines them in detail, but he doesn't say anything about them, just smiles.
"I slept on this hill in Russia," he tells Ohno confidentially, "and when I woke up there were a bunch of sheep there. Not right on me, but they weren't paying any attention. Just standing around. Sheep are big, you know? A sheep is almost as big as your pony, if you count all the wool."
"Did you touch one?"
Ninomiya sets Ohno's sketchbook beside him on the bed (but doesn't take his hand off it), and shakes his head. "I didn't try to. I just watched them for a while. At first I wished I had a camera, but now I think it's better to remember, you know? I wouldn't want a picture." He tilts his head. "I think it would be different if I could draw like you can, though. It's not the same as a photo. A photo can ruin your memory if it's too realistic. But your drawing is always exactly how it looked to you."
Ohno shakes his head. His drawings don't capture how Ninomiya looks. He knew they wouldn't, but he tried three times anyway. The last one looks the most like him, yet seems the least like him. That light in his eye that isn't mischief, that crackling around him that isn't movement. He folds his ankles together and wraps his arms around his knees, and he's one of the most awkward and most graceful people Ohno has ever seen.
"I don't want to be an archaeologist," Ohno says suddenly. "I'm old enough to go back and go to art school, or college. Or get a job."
Ninomiya unwinds his arms and legs, folds them again in front of him and leans forward, gathering the sheets and blankets around his shoulders. "Mmm? But in art school you can't go to Uzbekistan. Have you been here before?"
"Um, a few times," says Ohno. "The Australians have been working here on and off every summer a few years, I guess. Never for this long. I didn't have anything better to do, and I like going on digs, so when my mother said I should come - I get paid. And free food."
"All the vegetables you can eat, hm?" Ninomiya grins. He sounds sly, like he's laughing at something and wants to share the joke with Ohno, and Ohno finds himself chuckling along. He meets Ninomiya's eyes; their gaze catches, and Ninomiya hands him his sketchbook back, their fingertips brushing in the gap between the cots.
When they douse the lamp and pull the blankets up, they lie on their sides facing one another across that gap. Ohno can just make out Ninomiya's form in the blackness. "I don't know what I'd rather do - what I should do. That's why I haven't left," Ohno whispers, and hears the soft sounds of cloth rustling, harsh whispers in the nighttime-hushed cocoon of the tent. The edge of his blanket stirs and Ninomiya's warm fingers slip under it and find Ohno's hand. He fumbles to turn his wrist, to hold on before that hand can slip away. His heart is pounding.
"Do you want to wander the world and make music?" Ninomiya whispers. He doesn't sound sly or mischievous; he sounds thoughtful, almost philosophical perhaps. His voice is warm, but there's a tentative note.
"Music?" Ohno whispers back, and dares to squeeze his fingers.
There's the hissing sound of a short, deep sigh. "With me?" Ninomiya whispers, and now he sounds breathless.
"Music with you - I," says Ohno, "like - like tonight?"
"Yeah, I guess so." Ninomiya's voice is still expectant and tense. He turns his hand and Ohno loosens his grip on it, but he doesn't draw it away.
Ohno can feel the back of Ninomiya's hand under his palm, the silky dry skin, the fingers slowly parting, and Ohno slides his fingers between them, cool sheet under his fingertips and the warmth of that handclasp all along the sides of them travelling up his arm and all through his body. It makes it hard to talk; Ohno's throat feels tight. "I want to come," he confesses. "I've never thought about doing music, but - I like singing."
"So, yes?" Ninomiya's whisper is a little louder now. His hand shifts as he moves closer to Ohno in the darkness.
"Uhm," Ohno whispers uncertainly, and suddenly tries to lever himself up on his elbow, seized with a clutch of panic, "yes - really?"
"Really," says Ninomiya, and his breath unexpectedly stirs the hair at Ohno's temple, creating goosebumps from the nape of Ohno's neck all down his back, and then he feels the dry skim of lips at the corner of his eye, on his cheek, Ninomiya laughing, breathless and almost silent, his mouth fluttering warm and alive on Ohno's lips, stilling slowly with a gentle, wordless sigh of satisfaction.
Ohno's mind is completely blank. It's like forever until his next heartbeat and he thinks he can feel every cell in his body, all awakened at once.
Ninomiya's lips are dry and chapped; the inside of his mouth is silky and heated, and Ohno tastes toothpaste and green tea and a little tang of blood, and he feels like he's falling, a little bit, and doesn't realise that he is overbalancing and the tent isn't spinning around him until Ninomiya's hand on his elbow jars him, and he sits up, breaking the kiss.
That was - he blinks, and puts his hand on Ninomiya's shoulder. Ninomiya leans closer to him, so he slides his hand around the back of his neck and into his hair, marvelling at the feel of those tendons against his palm, the curve of Ninomiya's skull in his hand.
"Are you busy or can I kiss you again?" Ninomiya whispers.
Ohno touches Ninomiya's face with his other hand instead of answering. He can feel the curve of his smile, and that's probably the mole on his chin though he can't see it; but he can't detect the dimples by touch, so he kisses him again.
Nino is cold and a little cramped when the light of dawn seeps through the walls of the tent and wakes him. He's cold because his feet and his back are sticking out of the blankets and he's cramped because he's in Ohno's cot, in Ohno's arms, sprawled halfway on top of him, with his nose in the hollow of Ohno's throat and one of Ohno's elegant long-fingered hands spanning from his hip to the small of his back under his t-shirt. He drags the sheet off the other cot with one hand, kicks the blankets back down over their feet, and gently presses Ohno over on his back and climbs on top of him to make more room. Ohno rolls pliantly with a sleepy murmur, but Nino whispers, "Go back to sleep," and he does.
He's hot and cramped the next time he wakes up, because he's still on top of Ohno, the sun has risen and chased away the chill of night, and they're under a pile of far too many covers. His tshirt is sticking to him with sweat. He stretches a little, carefully, and extricates himself from the bedding and Ohno's loose embrace, taking the extra sheet with him. He means to write in the notebook in his backpack and maybe sneak out of the tent to look at the scenery before it gets too hot out, but when he's patting the blanket on the spare cot back into place, he glances over his shoulder and sees Ohno blinking at him.
Although he woke both times without anxiety, although he feels he knows Ohno already, although he is filled with anticipation for Ohno to wake up and look at him again, Nino holds his breath for a second. Then the corner of Ohno's mouth curves up in a smile, and he thinks he feels something physically crack behind his ribcage, maybe the shell around his heart. He can feel it starting to melt as he grins back. His fingertips feel oddly tingly, as if he's been running for a long time, or has ducked out of an icy shower into a steaming hot spring. By the time he decides not to say anything, Ohno's eyes have closed again and he's turned on his side, nuzzling into the pillow.
Nino makes himself turn his back on all that sleepy cuddliness. He fumbles around on the little wooden table next to the cot, in between a folded pair of glasses and a glass bottle of water, and finds a pencil in the mess. Then he opens Ohno's sketchbook to the last drawing of him, the careful shaded one where you can see the creases in his eyelid, and writes a title at the bottom, under Ohno's neat signature: "Kazunari."
The blankets rustle again and Ohno murmurs in a slow, sleep-thick voice, "What does it say?" He's sitting up when Nino turns back around, the blankets falling back like flower petals around him. His hair sticks straight up on top, except a part that's flattened over his right eye.
Nino shows him the sketchbook and says, "Kazunari. My name is Kazunari."
Ohno blinks. "Kazunari," he says thoughtfully, trying it out. "Somehow I don't think I should say it's nice to meet you again at this point."
Nino laughs and leans closer. "No, maybe not," he says, "but I won't be offended, you can if you want to - Satoshi."
Ohno - Satoshi - stares back at him, blank and sleepy, for a long moment. Maybe a full minute. "I," he says finally, "breakfast," but he pauses without moving. "Do you want to help out on the dig today? See what's going on? If you don't have anything to do, of course."
"No, nothing," says Nino, smiling stupidly, and he stands up and pulls Ohno to his feet, too. "Well, I thought I might wander the world and make music some more, later. But not today."
Ohno tips his head down in thought, and for a moment Nino can't see his face, but when he starts to lean closer to look, Ohno laces their fingers together and grips his hand firmly. Then he looks up at Nino and says seriously, "Let's."