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15 April 2011 @ 05:24 pm
Title: A Tree Called Jin
By: debrogliewave
Pairing: Kame/Jin focus, Kame/Yamapi
Word count: 3800ish
Rating: G
Genre/Warnings: AU, tree!Jin. Gen…ish? Some angst.
Notes: Very much inspired by Shel Silverstein's poem/book The Giving Tree. Dear marlenem, I hope this is to your liking! Thanks very much to the mods for their patience.
Summary: Once there was a tree who loved a boy.



Once upon a time, there was a cherry tree named Jin.

He grew in the backyard of a snug little house that overlooked a park with a jungle gym and a dusty old baseball diamond. The park was across from Suzukaya Apartment Building two, home to seventy-five families and one parakeet. Jin's own house was owned by an old man and his wife, but Kitagawa and Mrs. Kitagawa mostly kept to themselves and the garden where Jin grew. So Jin spent most of his time watching the people living in the apartments. Every morning, he counted the children one by one as they went to school and the parents as they went to work. During the day when everyone was busy, he amused himself by imagining what kinds of things the girl from the fourth door on the third floor might be learning in class that day, or what the family above her might be having for dinner that night.

One winter, a new family moved into the apartment building. Jin had perked up at the sight of the moving van—there hadn't been anyone new in quite a while. He was too far away to distinguish the faces of the new tenants, but from what he saw, he liked to think that the mother, father, and four boys were a happy bunch.

The third boy was built more slightly than his brothers—whenever Jin saw the family playing in the park with the other children, he was the one who always ended up pinned in their roughhousing, shrieking and laughing, breath clouding in the cold. Jin decided that one was his favorite. He was small, but tough, and Jin liked that. Every time he heard shouts from the park, he looked carefully to see if his boy was there. He knew it was ridiculous, but he liked the ringing sound the idea made in his heart. His boy.


-----


Spring came and brought baseball with it. Jin's boy seemed to always be out on the diamond, a blue cap on his head and a mitt on his hand. Most of the time he stood on the pitcher's mound, and Jin would feel a surge of pride as he struck his friends out one by one.

Sometimes the ball would be hit up the hill near Jin. While the ones who came to get it were usually the outfielders rather than the pitcher, on rare occasions the boy would be the one scrambling after a stray foul.

Once, a fly ball from one of those afternoon games landed just a few meters away from Jin, and when the boy ran up near him, Jin decided to take a chance.

"Hey," Jin said. "Baseball boy—come here." The boy's eyes widened and he looked about, confused and wary.

"Who's there?"

"It's me. The cherry tree."

"That's stupid," the boy said, eyeing him suspiciously. "Trees can't talk."

"No, really," Jin insisted, and rattled his branches for emphasis. The boy just shook his head before snatching up the ball. When he ran back down the hill, he went so fast he lost control and almost tripped at the bottom.


-----


Jin's next chance didn't come until the first evening of summer vacation. The boy and one of his brothers were practicing together in the early dusk when Jin heard the crack of the bat and looked up to see a ball hurtling towards him out of the darkening sky.

Jin watched the boy and his brother argue over who should get it for a minute before the younger huffily started up the hill.

He'd been avoiding Jin's hill since Jin had talked to him, and his approach this time was much more cautious. He picked up the ball, then peered carefully into Jin's branches.

"Tree?"

Jin rustled his branches and the boy jumped. Jin sighed rather crossly. "Oh for goodness' sake. I'm not going to eat you or anything. I'm a tree. I just talk."

There was a shout from below. His brother was waiting; this was their very first day of break and he didn't want to waste it standing around, so hurry up, Ka-zu-ya.

The boy turned and started down the hill. His retreating back made Jin inexplicably sad.

Then the boy stopped and looked back over his shoulder, his face unreadable. "Tree, what's your name?"

"I'm Jin."

"Jin." The boy drew out the word, rolling it around on his tongue like he was tasting it. Something flickered in his eyes. Then —

"I'm Kamenashi Kazuya. But all my friends call me Kame."

His brother yelled again. Their mother was waiting.

"Bye, tree-Jin." Kame flashed a huge grin at him and dashed down the hill.

Jin's heart swelled.


-----


"You don't talk to anyone else, right?" Kame was sitting in the crook of one of Jin's upper branches eating cherries. It'd only taken him a couple visits to charm the Kitagawas into letting him play on Jin in exchange for picking the cherries for them.

"No, no one else. Just you."

"Really?" Kame shifted so his back rested against Jin's trunk, his weight a warm, comforting burden. "What about other trees? Do they talk too?"

"I don't know," Jin said. "There aren't any other trees on the hill for me to talk with. I could ask the birds, though. They'd probably know."

"That's sad. But you can talk to me, now, right?"

"I suppose." Jin let some of his twigs ruffle Kame's hair.

"Hey!" Kame huffed and did his best to finger-comb it back into place. Jin waited until he was done, then did it again, giggling ferociously.

"You know, for an old geezer of a tree, you're not very grown up," Kame said with a smirk.

"I—I am not old!" Jin didn't care how girly his whine made him sound. He launched yet another attack.

This time Kame just clambered down Jin's branches until he was on the ground and out of reach. "Hah. Can't touch me now!"

Jin's reply was a rude noise. Kame looked scandalized for a moment, then made the same sound back with a wicked look. Jin laughed and Kame's face broke into a grin as he scrambled back up.


-----


Kame and Jin talked about lots of things that summer break and the rest of the school year that followed. Kame would perch himself near Jin's crown like a small bird and just ramble about whatever came to mind. Jin was, to be honest, not a very good listener, but Kame didn't seem to mind his frequent interruptions and questions. He was just happy to have someone to talk with.

Kame, Jin learned, was in his last year of elementary school. His brothers were Yuichiro, Koji and Yuya; his mother was stricter than his father, and he hated avocados.

When Jin asked, he reluctantly mentioned that while there were several cute girls in his class, he wasn't really interested in any of them. They were, he said, all silly and boring.

He loved baseball. His dream, he told Jin repeatedly, was to hit a game-winning home run at Yankee Stadium.

Most days of the week Kame had practice after school and wasn't allowed to stay out afterwards. But every Sunday afternoon, he walked up the hill to hang out with Jin. The Kitagawas didn't appear to mind constantly having an adolescent boy in their backyard; Mrs. Kitagawa found Kame particularly adorable, and his visits to Jin eventually became visits to them as well.

Jin and Kame played guessing games and Daruma-san and hide-and-go-seek. Jin taught Kame how to identify the calls of all the different birds. Kame made him memorize the names of everyone who'd ever played for the Giants.

Jin thought that it might be the most glorious time of his life, and he just wanted it to go on forever and ever.


-----


One of Kame's aunts sent him a pocketknife for his 13th birthday. Eager to test it out, he spent almost five minutes carefully carving something at the base of Jin's trunk. Jin grumbled that it was itchy, but Kame just shushed him and told him to hold still.

"I'm always still," Jin grumped. "I'm a tree." Kame shushed him again absentmindedly.

At last he was finished. "There," Kame said. "All done. Here, I'll take a picture so you can see." He took out his phone and snapped a photo of himself next to Jin, then proudly held up the screen. "K & J." Even though Kame's peace sign blocked out half his face, it couldn't hide that ridiculously huge smile. "Kame and Jin, best friends forever."


-----


The American scouts found Kame a year later, and soon there were dark suits in the bleachers every time Kame stood on the mound. "Like vultures," Kame said, but Jin didn't miss the excitement in his voice whenever he mentioned them.

"D'you think it'll actually happen?"

"Hmm?" Jin was distracted by a sparrow that had settled on one of his twigs and was making him itch.

"Do you think I'll be able to play overseas? There was a man today—Kojiro said he thought he was from Seattle."

Jin thought about it—about the high school coaches who'd already come to woo at the Kamenashi household, about the half-dozen trophies Kame had brought to show off to him and the Kitagawas. About the ¥300,000 glove dangling off his hand that had been made especially for him, free of charge. He didn't think Kame had realized how exceptional he was.

"Jin?" Kame said.

"Yeah. Yeah, I think so. It's your dream, isn't it? If you work hard, I think it'll happen."

"Really?" Kame wriggled happily. "Hey, Jin…What's your dream?"

"Mine?" Jin laughed. "Well, when I was a sapling, I wanted to grow up and be made into a really cool instrument, like an electric guitar or a violin or something. Because then I'd get to be played by rock stars and travel around the world and stuff. I heard there are trees in America that are as big around as a car—I wanted to meet them.

"Now, though—I want to see you hit your home run." He chuckled wryly.

"I'll go for you." Kame blurted out suddenly. "To see the world. I'm going to work really hard, and I'll go and bring back pictures and stuff for you. We can both have our dreams."

Jin felt something in him tighten at that impulsive statement. "Kame…"

"I promise, Jin. You're my best friend, after all."


-----


It took until Kame's second year of high school for Jin to realize that whatever Kame said, getting his dream meant he'd have to leave Jin behind.

That year, Kame transferred to a new school, one with a nationally-ranked baseball team. He got a horrible haircut and threw his first no-hitter, sending the Americans into fits of glee. He didn't have much time to visit anymore—he was too busy with practice and travelling to games.

Jin saw him maybe once a month, if that. He'd come over to the Kitagawas' to drink some tea and collapse in the shade for half an hour before stumbling back home to finish his school work. Jin did his best to be encouraging, asking how things were going and how the team was doing, but most of the time all Kame wanted to do was sleep. Eventually, Jin just stopped asking and let him rest.


-----


In the fall, Kame developed a crush on the school's star basketball player. For several weeks, instead of taking a nap under Jin's shade, he paced around the garden muttering things to himself.

"Jin," Kame had said late one evening after yet another pacing session. "There's a guy on the basketball team, and I—Jin, I think I'm in love with Yamashita." His voice turned soft. "I'm going to bring him here tomorrow. If that's okay."

"Oh," Jin said, his mind suddenly blank. "Okay."


-----


The next day, Kame skidded into the garden carrying his glove and bat in one hand and towing a laughing young man with the other. Kame's friend was beautiful, brawny for his age and Kame's face lit up every time he looked at him.

"So who is it you want me to meet?" Yamashita pushed long bangs out of his eyes and surveyed the yard.

"Uh, yes." Kame dropped the other's hand, suddenly flustered. "Um, Pi. You're going to think I'm crazy, but—"

"Kame, you're probably the least crazy person I know. On subjects other than baseball, of course."

Yamashita flopped down on his back in the shade. "What's this?" He pointed to the inscription on Jin's trunk. " 'K & J'? Is this you, Kame? And J—have you been cheating on me with Junko-san from the karaoke place?"

His tone was light, but Kame's face went red. "No, that's not—that's nothing," he said. "That's just an old tree."

He pulled Yamashita up and tugged him towards the house. "Here, come, let me introduce you to the Kitagawas. They're inside."

They disappeared into the house and Jin felt his heart break.


-----


Kame didn't come for almost three months after that. Or rather, he didn't come to see Jin. He came over to eat dinner with the Kitagawas and brought Yamashita to visit again, but at those times, he never so much as looked out at the backyard.

Jin watched them through the windows and felt…outgrown. Tossed aside.

After a couple weeks, Kitagawa came out to do his annual check for aphids. "Don't worry," he said with a parental pat, once he'd finished. "Kamenashi will be back."


-----


Kitagawa was right; the garden gate eventually rattled open again and there Kame was, all wiry awkward limbs and the most beautiful thing Jin had ever seen.

"Kame," Jin said, and he didn't really care how long Kame had been away because he was back now, back.

"Jin." Kame was subdued. "Jin—I got an offer from the Yankees."

"That's great!" Jin was relieved. Kame was back—Kame was talking to him again. "So…you'll be going after you graduate?"

"Jin—I'm dropping out of high school." Kame finally looked up at him. "I leave for America in two weeks. That was part of the offer. I—I'm going to be busy, so I don't think I'm going to be able to come visit again. I thought you should know." His gaze dropped again.

Jin felt his excitement draining away through his roots and into the cold ground.

"I understand," he said, even though he really wanted to scream. "It's okay. It's your dream. Mine too."

"That…was what I needed to tell you." Kame was edging towards the gate, grimacing. "And also…I'm sorry about Yamashita. I didn't mean to—I…I just wanted to apologize. Before I leave."

"Goodbye, Jin." He turned and bolted from the yard, leaving the gate open behind him.

In that moment, Jin would have given anything to be able to rip himself up from the ground and follow. But he couldn't, and when he spoke it was to the same empty garden he'd always known.

"Goodbye, Kame."


-----


Two weeks later, a taxi pulled up in front of the Suzukya Apartments. Jin watched as a single man loaded his luggage into the back, kissed his mother and hugged his father and brothers. He got into the car and then he was gone, nothing but a pair of taillights speeding away.


-----


"Hey." The voice startled Jin from his sleep. A couple of sparrows chirped indignantly as he rustled his branches.

Yamashita was watching him from a few feet away. "That one time…You're the one he wanted me to meet, aren't you."

Jin stayed silent.

Kame's boyfriend reached out to brush his fingers over the childish carvings on Jin's trunk. "You must be J, then."

Jin shivered and wanted desperately to be able to twist away. He didn't want Yamashita touching that mark; he didn't want anyone other than Kame to touch it.

Yamashita must have felt something, because he froze, then carefully pulled back his hand. "So I'm not crazy, am I. Talking to a tree. Thinking that Kame was talking to a tree. I saw him, a couple times. It took me a while to figure out it was you he was speaking to, though." He shook his head ruefully. "It's okay—you don't have to say anything. But I should have known. Kamenashi's far too practical to talk to himself." He turned to leave.

"Yamashita." Jin's voice was a croak. The man stopped.

"Take care of him," Jin said. "When he's over there. I can't…I can't go with him. He doesn't need me any longer. So you…"

Yamashita looked at him with inscrutable eyes. Then he sighed.

"He's lucky to have you. I think, deep down, he knows that."


-----


A few months after Kame left, Jin started feeling something odd at his core. Something slimy and dark. When only half of his branches bloomed again in the spring, Kitagawa called an arborealist. The small man poked and prodded at Jin for a few minutes before turning to Kitagawa.

Heart rot, he said. A typical hardwood disease.


-----


The contractors' saws hurt like hell. They sliced off his branches first, then quartered his trunk, slicing neatly through his heart.

After that, Jin found that he didn't really care.


-----


With no leaves to produce energy, Jin drifted in and out of hibernation. Sometimes he thought he might have heard Kame's name being spoken on the Kitagawas' television, but it was never more than a fleeting phrase.

After several years, Kitagawa passed away, leaving his wife behind to care for the house and the lonely old cherry stump in the garden. It felt empty to Jin, with only one person there. Then she was gone, and it simply was empty.

Their nephew, a realtor, showed up every few months with a prospective buyer in tow. None of them ever liked the property enough to make it their home, though. It felt sad, one mother said. Like it was waiting for something. And it would just take too much work to make the yard presentable again.

Eventually, though, someone did buy the house. Jin wasn't sure who. He woke one day to a half-dozen people bustling about inside, painting and drilling and moving in new furniture.

Jin expected them to get to the garden at some point, was ready to be pulled out and to really, truly rest, but they never did. After two weeks of frenzied activity, the workers left as suddenly as they'd come and the house stood empty once more.

Jin went back to sleep.


-----


He was alone for a very long time.

He dreamed of baseball. Of Yankee Stadium, 10,000 kilometers away, all bright lights and screaming fans. Of the rich, beautiful crack of the bat and a perfect game.

He dreamed of the day Kame left to go to America, the clear blue sky and the bite of the saw into his side and the way his sap had felt as it swelled up through the cracks, thick and cloyingly sweet.

He dreamed of T-shirts flapping in the summer wind and heavy jerseys in the fall, of cherry-stained fingers and crooked eyebrows and a scar on his heart, K & J.

And in his wildest, most delusional moments, he dreamed that Kame came back for him again.


-----


When he woke next, it was to the pressure of someone sitting on his stump. The weight was different, but there was something familiar about the presence.

"Kame?" Jin whispered, not quite believing.

"I'm back," Kame said. His voice was rougher now, but it was him, and Jin felt himself slowly prickling to life. "For good, I think."

"For good?" Jin could only echo him. There was no reason for Kame to be here.

Kame stretched and Jin felt him wince as his neck cracked.

"I made it, you know. Over in America. I started at the All-Star Game. Cy Young. Never got a World Series ring, but that's all right, I was still there." He laughed, light and solemn all at once. "You'd be jealous—I can speak English now."

"I am, Kame, I'm really proud of you, but"—and Jin's voice cracked—"why have you come back here?"

Kame flinched. "I'm sorry it took so long. I bought the house a few years ago, but I had to finish out my contract. I'm done now, though. It's funny—whenever I thought about baseball as a kid, I just imagined it being what I'd do forever. But things change; I'm forty-two with a bad back and more money I need. This, though —" he waved at the house and the yard. "I'm glad this is the same. I'm looking forward to living in this neighborhood again."

"What about your family? I'm sure they'd love to have you live near them."

Kame let out a sigh. "Jin, I love my family, but they can come visit me. They have, in fact. I came back here for you."

"But why," Jin said. "I have nothing to offer you anymore, Kame. I'm just a useless old stump —"

"Jin, shut up." Kame's voice was low and quiet and strangely angry.

He stood, pulling a key from his pocket to let himself inside the house. After a couple minutes, he returned with a glossy black bat. There was something off about it to Jin, something strangely resonant. Then Kame gently tapped it against his root and Jin knew.

"That's…me."

"We did it, you know," Kame said quietly. "You and I. We hit a home run at Yankee Stadium.

"My second year in the majors was the worst of my career. I couldn't hit anything. I couldn't throw anything. And to be honest, I didn't really want to. Everyone wanted to know why the team was paying me so much money when all I was doing was sitting on the sidelines. And then, halfway through the season, I got a package from Kitagawa. It was huge; the mailman was insanely curious as to why anyone would put that much wood through the mail."

Kame's knuckles were a stark white against the darkness of the bat.

"He sent you to me. And it changed everything. I could do it again, because I had you with me. That sounds stupid, but it's true. Now do you understand?"

He sighed. "I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't be angry at you. It's just—I thought of you as my best friend, you know. All those years."

There was something like a flower in Jin's heart, slowly blooming with warmth.

"Kame," Jin said. "I still am."

 
 
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