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The Same Deep Water As You

by Solo & Jo

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Chapter 20

 

Wednesday 08 October

Jun closes the break room door, a deep frown under his mop of post-assignment hair. His tie hangs loose around his neck, and his shoelaces make snappy noises dragging on the floor. "What the fuck was that?"

Jin blinks at him, startled out of his lull. The question seems directed at the world at large.

Koichi sits down in the armchair, passing up the empty sofa spot next to Jin. "Ootomo?" he asks sympathetically, ignoring the news program that's still on in favour of the in-house entertainment.

"That new guy." Jun sounds affronted. "Yokoyama."

Huh. That's weird.

Jin pulls himself up into his corner, indicating that the other half of the couch is still empty, but Jun directs his frown at the fridge.

"Never had him," Danny says where he's sitting at the table in jeans and a t-shirt, a mug of coffee between his hands. His hair is drying in wild curls. He's finished working for the night. "Weirdo?"

Jin actually thought Yokoyama was kind of nice. He didn't get any less nutty with his clothes off, but it was the likeable kind of unpredictable. It doesn't often happen to Jin that clients ask his advice on how things work with escorts.

From the tight line of Jun's mouth, the selection of drinks leaves something to be desired. "Hm," he says. "Weird's one word for it."

"He another one who wants to get you in a school girl uniform?" Shota points at Jun with his chopsticks, clearly entertained. He's got an appointment at ten and is wearing a shapeless t-shirt over silk boxers so no slurpy stuff gets on his new Boss suit. "I'd pay to see that."

Jun grabs a full-fat mango lassi out of the fridge. He must be upset. "Well, you know what my rates are," he says testily. Not that Jin thinks there's a chance in hell. Jun does a lot of stuff, but he's kind of particular about it.

He, too, leaves the couch to Jin, dropping into the second armchair. That's when he realizes everyone's still looking at him.

"I don't know either!" he says, waving the unopened can around. "But not something I need."

"I think he's experimenting," Jin offers cautiously.

"You've had him?"

"Yeah," Jin says. "Last weekend." He never has much to say in these discussions, and he doesn't want to sound like he's trying to give Jun advice. "I thought he was nice."

"Nice, huh?" Jun gives him a long look, but doesn't seem offended.

"Yeah. Just… you know." Jin turns his mug of tepid mint tea once in his hand. "Curious about stuff."

"Kinky! I knew it! " Shota jumps in.

Well, no, though maybe he'll get around to trying that too, Jin thinks. He's sure got enough sense of adventure.

Jun rolls his eyes. "I can handle kink." And then he frowns a bit more, as if admitting he can't handle Yokoyama wasn't the plan.

Jin falls silent again, glances at the TV while Shota tells them all about this new hangover cure he discovered. He catches the last bit of a mini-bio about some scientist guy, complete with sappy music. Jun opens his drink, slouches deep into the armchair, and his frown eases up.

It can be loud in the break room even with just five of them, but right now it's quiet, relaxed. They're all fresh from an assignment, or waiting to go, or finished for the night, and for once there's no frenzy and no sex talk, and nobody is in a rush.

"Could I borrow the remote, please?" Koichi says very politely. In a moment, Jin might have found out what the deal is with the famous scientist, but he's not that bothered, hands it over.

"Hey," Jun says, past Jin's shoulder, in the direction of the table. "What are you still doing here?"

"Soliciting advice from my respected elders," Danny says behind him.

"What about?"

"Kaneda," Danny says. "Special weekend getaway."

"The yacht?" Jun sounds moderately impressed.

"Yup. Next weekend. I think tonight was the audition."

"And you're going?"

"Don't see why not," Danny says, though he still sounds cautious. "Party of six, but bring your own boyfriend, and, you know." Money for weekend specials is pretty impressive.

It's not frequent, but some clients like to take one of them out for a whole weekend to some holiday location, or to private parties exclusive enough to serve the paranoid needs of the general Johnny clientele. And then it's long dinners and conversations and boozing and, who knows, maybe hand-holding on the beach. From what Jin's heard, orgies are actually kind of rare. He's still glad this isn't the sort of thing that happens to him.

"I liked the yacht," Shota says. Koichi comments over his shoulder that he'd have preferred a boat to that godawfully boring summer house in the middle of nowhere.

Jin has his eyes on the TV but he doesn't bother paying attention, just sips at his tea some more. He isn't avoiding the lounge. Doesn't have to, and that feels good. He's fixed his hair again, and he'll go down and see what's still going, in a while. But technically he'd still be in one of the rooms, and it makes him feel like he's not wasting too much time.

His comfort was finished in under an hour; all the guy wanted was to fuck, no frills. Together with Karube at lunchtime, that's a pretty good Wednesday.

"Very relaxed," Shota is explaining. "Nice pool. But you never know who's going. Can get boring."

"Bring a book," Jun advises instantly. "Or a DS. The boredom's the worst. Don't bug him when you get bored."

The door opens again, Yuuya sneaking back in from his shower, a damp towel hanging over his head like a funny sort of tent. He smiles when he sees Jin is still there.

"Hey, what were you doing?" Danny asks him curiously, ignoring his boat issues for a moment. "I thought you only had a relaxation."

Yuuya pulls the towel off his head. His hair is lying flat in a dorky middle parting. "Yes, but with Miwa-san," he explains, with a look at Jin, who nods in understanding. Miwa likes to get cuddly, the rare guy who takes hand jobs on relaxations.

Yuu-chan seems okay with it, though. Jin looks away when he turns towards his locker.

"He should just pony up for a comfort and be done with it," Shota comments, but without much bite. "It's what he really wants."

"Do I need any special sort of outfits, you think?" Danny asks, which Jun mulls over with the air of the proper expert. He seems pretty recovered by now, though he probably doesn't know his hair still looks very traumatized.

The sofa bounces when Yuuya drops himself in the empty spot next to Jin. He gives Jin another smile. "I feel like taking a break, too," he says. "It's nice when it's quiet up here."

It really feels quiet, even though they're chatting. Maybe half of them being in underwear makes it so relaxed.

"Yeah, quiet is good," Jin says, and looks at Yuu-chan properly, with a smile of his own. He felt awkward the first time they were alone and not dealing with Kamenashi, just talking about regular stuff – well, they're not alone now, there's Danny and his boat deliberations and Koichi and a jingly theme song, but still. He doesn't want Yuuya to think that things are weird for them now. "Everything okay?"

"Oh, yeah," Yuuya says easily. "But I had two really boring tables in a row. I don't have much of an opinion on cell phone radiation." He wrinkles his nose.

Jin laughs, and agrees that he probably needs a break. Yuuya then fills him in on the investment advice he got from Koyama-sensei, which he considers more useful than brain cancer panic, while the variety show Koichi has switched to babbles on in the background.

Jun is explaining to Danny that Kaneda will want to show him off – him in particular – but that the friends he invites tend to be people with actual partners and boytoys on the outside, not clients. "More charm, less slutting," is how he sums it up.

"Actual rich gay guys with actual boyfriends," Shota marvels as though he's hearing of the concept for the first time. "How remarkably well-adjusted."

Yuuya shoots Jin a grin.

"I wouldn't worry too much," Shota adds, getting up to throw out his ramen cup. "Kaneda's a good client. And pretty hot." Early forties is young for their business.

Jin always thinks he looks kind of mean, hard-edged. But those weekend things of his seem to be popular.

"Yeah, thanks," Danny says. He gets up too, flinging his frayed red backpack over his shoulder. On his way to the door he mutters something about catching a movie or just going home to recover from the lack of sleep caused by some unflagging businessmen last night.

"Would you like to sit here?" Yuuya asks Shota when Danny is gone. He moves up in Jin's direction, making room.

"Thanks," Shota says. "Anyone for more tea?"

He gets Koichi a mug of milk tea, a can of coke for Jun and a coffee for Yuuya, who doesn't seem uncomfortable at all squeezed up against Jin while they wait for Shota to settle.

"What are we watching, anyway?"

Jin almost cracks up at how that sounds. Fits the mood, though. Jun has just kicked off his shoes.

His socks follow and he wriggles his toes. "Don't ask me," he says, but looks interested nevertheless when Koichi turns the volume up a little.

"Charity thing," Koichi says, and nothing more.

Seems like it, from the school kids of all ages and the matching t-shirts. And the elegant old lady who, the subtitles inform him, is a veteran actress, and the spokeswoman of the education ministry saying… right.

Jin figures it out before she mentions the problem of bullying in schools, and then it's not even a shock when the camera pans over a row of very slim and photogenic people, and Kamenashi's profile flicks past the screen.

Yuu-chan is nursing his coffee next to Jin and hasn't noticed anything. He's pulling one leg under himself, smiling an apology when his foot bumps against Jin's knee.

Jin nods quickly that it's fine, then leans forward to put his tea down, just to be rid of it. He wants nothing warm and clammy in his hands.

But he doesn't get up. He's not going to bolt just because Kamenashi is on TV.

It's a bit late for wholesome housewife TV, but what does he know. Maybe that's a sign that he shouldn't have dawdled.

"Familiar faces," Shota notes when Sakurai Sho is big on the screen.

Sakurai speaks eloquently about the need to oppose bullying and allow victims to come forward, to prevent children from becoming bullies in the first place, they, too, need help and support so they can face their problems.

"Poor little bullies," Shota comments, pulling his feet up to sit cross-legged. Jun thinks Sakurai should have picked a better tie, and Yuu-chan agrees he dresses nicer for the club, though it's good he got that haircut.

Jin never noticed the two of them talking, but good for Yuu-chan; Sakurai is a client worth talking to.

And then the camera zooms in on Kamenashi and the old lady actress, who nudges him forward in a bossy way, and Kamenashi laughs and motions for her to speak into the mic first even though the presenter is clearly angling for him.

Jin misses the explanation for whatever awesome and amazing thing she and Kamenashi did together because he notices Yuuya's gone still.

He glances over, gives a tiny shrug to the question in Yuuya's face. Not sure what he's answering, except that he doesn't care much. Yuuya quirks his mouth and nods, a little.

So, Kamenashi and his veteran actress. She has a no-nonsense way of talking, less flowery and sappy than Sakurai even.

"That's where he got the nickname," Koichi explains to whoever last cared about Kamenashi, just as the lady says she knew Kame-chan when he was barely out of high school, he had this way of looking shy, it just seemed to fit, and then Shota wonders if Kamenashi will still be coming in when he really does look like a reptile.

"Sure," Yuuya says calmly. "Can't do all that," he nods at the TV, "being out and proud with a normal boyfriend."

"Aww, and we'd hate to miss it." Jun seems to find this entertaining. "Such a good show."

Kame-chan is praising his senior with just the right dose of subservience, every blink looking under control.

Jin doesn't know why he's still here. This is ridiculous, and kind of stupid, and it wouldn't be his thing even if it didn't involve clients and assholes. But it's also… not that scary. It feels good just to notice that, to look at Kamenashi's fake-friendly magazine-cover-in-motion smile and not feel frozen in place.

He never has to put up with Kamenashi's weird issues again, doesn't have to wonder what makes him so goddamn special that Mr Harmless And Vanilla brings out his crazy just for him.

Here, Kamenashi is behaving. Nods and answers in the face of the presenter's hyperactive adoration, relentlessly cheerful. Laughs just a little too long when she jokes about what a shame it is he's married.

Finally Kamenashi and the lady take their places in the row again, leaving the screen to the presenter. Between them is a small group of people noticeably less polished and picture perfect. Those would be the little people. Jin is annoyed with himself that he even remembers.

"Regular blow jobs for the boss," Jun suggests. Jin has missed why. "They wouldn't believe what it does for a work environment."

"Or hard-working colleagues who do the blowing for you," Koichi says pointedly.

Jun smirks back at him. "Same difference." On the screen, a clip shows Sakurai on some school yard talking to uniformed girls, junior high at most, never mind the make up, and Jun shuts up about the blowing.

"Are those his kids?" Yuuya asks when Sakurai, back in the studio, comes forward again, hand in hand with a girl who seems nothing but a giant grin and a bouncing ponytail.

"Doubt it." Jun drapes his legs over the arm of his chair, slinking down further. "I'm pretty sure his kids get dental work."

They're not, in fact, Sakurai's kids. The girl is one of three junior high students who have been doing ground work for the campaign, acting as class organizers and setting up mediation groups in the schools in their neighbourhoods. The oldest rattles off their motivations and hopes and dreams in an organized sort of voice and Jin actually finds her a bit intimidating, until she bursts into a giggle and claps a hand over her mouth, completely losing track just because Sakurai asks her why she's so awesome.

The adoring look she gives Sakurai is almost worse to watch than Kamenashi.

"Man, if they knew," Shota says quietly.

There is a second long clip of Sakurai and… high school students. Maybe he's in charge of them? Sakurai looks suave in front of the camera and professionally nice, and apparently a lot of good work has been done by a bunch of very earnest, serious teenagers. Some of them tell short little stories of their reasons for being involved. Disappearing shoes. Clothes rubbed full of chalk. Often it's stories of things they've seen happen to others, things they want to stop. Sakurai listens with smooth sympathy, pats arms and praises courage.

It wasn't as bad as it could have been for Jin. Not like anyone knew… But it makes him think of Taro-chan and being that horrible age. He hopes his dad has an eye on that at least.

Or maybe there's someone at his school, too, who thinks it's worth interfering, who thinks it's important enough to get involved. Someone like the girl with the big teeth and the blabbermouth, or the boy who sounds fifteen going on forty but couldn't sleep at night because he couldn't afford designer glasses…

God, he can't believe they're getting to him. He's not getting suckered into their celebrity circus.

So it probably helps that next up is Kamenashi again. And there are no cute kids to distract, either. Good for the kids.

The pushy presenter has directed him to the front and is nodding profusely before Kamenashi even starts speaking, tense as a wire and smiling like it's his first birthday in five years. Such an honour to be invited. So great to meet so many enthusiastic, involved people.

Bright-eyed, over-eager, ready to play; fake like—

Jin's seen better acts down in the lounge, anyway.

"Dude, she would totally buy him an overpriced drink," Shota says.

On screen, Kamenashi and Sakurai are professing their new-found friendship. "I guess that would be a little embarrassing," Jun muses. "To admit you met sharing whores."

"Do they?" Shota asks curiously.

"No idea," Jun shrugs. "Never had that one. Seems kind of stuck up." Kamenashi gestures widely at the little people, all smooth again, so polished the rain wouldn't leave him wet.

"He's usually taken," Koichi points out. "He doesn't sleep around much." He misses the very long look Yuuya gives him.

And Jin almost missed the change in Jun, who's dropped the sulk to check Jin out in a very entertained fashion.

"So Jin got special dispensation?" he asks. "Marketable skill, that. Corrupting the monogamous adulterer."

"Don't know what Jin's got," Koichi says, eyes still on the screen.

"Hey, no bullying in the work place," Shota says lazily. "I don't think we're so cute we'd get saved by film stars."

Koichi gives him a look over his shoulder while Jun makes a comment about qualifying for deprived childhoods, and Jin blinks into the calm stare, tries not to feel queasy or unwelcome.

"All yours," he says flatly. Koichi turns back around and doesn't answer.

"Not that that one is particularly cute," Jun observes. It takes Jin a moment to get back with the program, to stop staring at Kamenashi and actually notice the guy Kamenashi is talking to.

Apparently they all adopted a volunteer to sponsor. Kamenashi's is an old guy with thinning oily hair and watery eyes that go wide when the camera zooms in on him. The waist of his pants is too high, pinching into a pot belly, and he's sweating, a lot and clearly feeling out of place amongst all those pretty and glamorous people.

Nervous to be talking to Kamenashi, too. Another fan.

God, Koichi can have him. Not that Jin wishes him on anybody, but if someone's keen on being the focus of Kamenashi's schizo issues, hey… not like Jin was applying for the job.

"This is ridiculous." Yuu-chan.

Who at least doesn't look worried, only vaguely contemptuous. Maybe Kamenashi apologizing was good for something.

And now Kamenashi is explaining all the wonderful things that old guy did for bullied employees, with more fake friendliness for the camera than Jin's seen even when he did his Desirable Client act in the lounge, for pretty much everyone else.

Apparently it had to be Jin, for whatever fucking reason. But that's all over now. Kamenashi can practice his bullying on someone else, he no longer gets to do it to Jin.

The old guy speaks slowly, nothing organized or intimidating about him. So nervous he forgets what the questions were. It's almost cruel to have him there, Jin thinks, and he feels himself squirming in sympathy.

Kamenashi puts an arm around his shoulders, which makes Jin shudder inside, the poor old guy. Though the guy doesn't seem to mind.

"Eww, gross!" Jun shakes his head in a fake shiver.

"Where did they dig him up?" Koichi wants to know.

"He is kind of gross," Yuuya concurs, making a face. "I've had clients like that."

He's right, Jin thinks. A fancy suit, better hair and more confidence, and this guy wouldn't be much different from a client. Hell, Jin would take this guy over Kamenashi any time, suit or no.

They show the sweating old guy carting around mailings and nailing a pin board to an office wall, and he's not getting any better-looking. His belly wobbles under his yellow t-shirt with the You are not alone print. Jin missed whether he's a pensioner or not. Jin also doesn't know why he cares.

It's a short clip, though, and then it's Kamenashi interviewing him… or pretending to, how long did it take you to put the wallpaper on, fascinating stuff, in a low kind of voice that almost forgets the mic. Koichi has to turn the volume up just so they understand the dialog.

"Not getting that much screen time," Shota observes.

"No," Koichi says. "They could really put him a bit more front and center, he's the biggest star they've got."

"Should have picked the kid, then," Shota says without much sympathy. "Not some gross old guy." The gross old guy is smiling and doesn't know where to rest his watering eyes, as flustered over Kamenashi in the pre-recorded clips as he is in the studio. Kamenashi nods a lot, as if to approve of every two words the guy gets out, and the show cuts back to studio after two more questions because they're simple and a little boring.

"He'd do well with a client," Shota says, and though he can't disagree, the thought of Kamenashi downstairs, turning his creep superpowers on the clients, makes Jin shudder. "Sure has that one wrapped around his finger."

They're showing the actress now, and her special project and brand new friend is a young woman; a teacher. She's pretty and shy and the camera likes her much better. So does the show, spending time on her little home video and her bonding moment with the senior actress. The school where she works. Back to the studio, and she gives full-sentence answers to the questions she gets and she still looks pretty, and Jin is glad to find Kamenashi has faded into the background along with his gross client.

And there's the kids again, milling around the two women, and Sakurai lifts up a little girl and looks endearing and fatherly with her as he lists achievements throughout the country for the next five minutes. Yuuya asks what the point of all this is, and Jun gestures open-palmed at the TV.

"We're watching Kamenashi. Koichi wouldn't have tuned in for Mr Sweat Glands and the Dancing Bunnies otherwise."

Koichi flips him off.

Just at the side of the frame, Kamenashi is sticking close to his gross old guy, talking, smiling with his head tilted low. The guy has stopped staring at his feet every time he utters a sentence, though Jin can't tell what they're talking about.

"I don't know why they stuck him with that guy," Koichi grumbles again. "He's just in the background now."

"I don't think they're polling gay escorts for their target audience."

"Dunno, their gay quota is pretty high."

Jin thinks Kamenashi is better in the background. Less annoyingly bright and fake, and also less there.

Though Jin still catches him leaning in, even closer to the guy as he repeats something, puts a hand on the guy's arm. He's got to know the camera isn't really on him there.

"Aaaand going for extra credit," Jun says. Seen it, too, and he seems to find this terribly amusing. "Those are some acting skills."

It doesn't actually look like acting. There's something— no edge. And no spotlight either.

"He'd be luxury in no time," Shota says.

Jun snorts. "Not with that lack of discrimination. You can't just fuck anything that comes in the door."

"Maybe Koichi could train him up. I'm sure he'd be happy to."

"Fuck you, too."

"Hey, as long as I don't have to fuck Kamenashi's gross guy…"

Jun is giggling, throwing Jin a sly glance again. "Yeah, better make sure he showers before next time."

Yeah, right. "Whatever," Jin says.

"Like you only fuck the hot ones," Koichi says to Jun.

Still in the background, Kamenashi is explaining something with slow, curious gestures, a thoughtful face.

"Maybe it's a punishment game," Shota suggests eventually, after Koichi has cracked up at Jun's joke about some judge from Romania and they both settle down more peacefully. "Charm the ugliest volunteer."

"You grow with your challenges," Jun concedes benignly. "If you can fake it for that, you can do anything."

And Jin thinks… that that's not fake. He thinks—

Next close-up is Kamenashi, with a glossy smile and a charming, meaningless answer for the presenter's stupid question, and every nerve Jin has flares with annoyance. Yeah, good show.

He really doesn't know why he's still watching. He's pretty sure it won't feel like running away now.

Kamenashi makes some cheery sugary plea for support and recognition, and Sakurai makes a clever joke and Kamenashi laughs giddily, and suddenly Jin is grateful because now it all looks so phony, you don't even need to be the sole audience of Kamenashi's trips to the dark side to see it.

He stands up slowly. "Better get back to work," he says. "Enjoy the rest."

It prompts Yuuya to rise, too. He still looks cute with the messy wet hair and the t-shirt with a yellow smiley face on it. Jin is so glad they have both put Kamenashi behind them. "And I'll get dressed."

Jin slips his jacket on, stopping briefly when Jun starts angling for his shoes. He feels weird asking, but he'll wait if Jun is coming, too.

Jun looks at him for a moment, and then sighs dramatically. "Nah," he says. "Who knows, that guy might still be hanging around." He sounds like he'd consider that a grave breach of manners, and Jin can't help laughing a little.

"I can warn you," he offers, and Jun gives him a little wave as he opens the door, leaves his colleagues to their break and Kamenashi to his performance.

Thursday 09 October

"What the fuck, where is your engine gone?" Jin mutters, but he's talking to himself.

The cars are casting long pools of shadow on the asphalt, and when he isn't digging among wires and pipes Jin tries hard to keep his eyes on those, not to blink up accidentally into the low sun and blind himself for the next minute or two. He wipes his hands on his jeans. They're dirty from crawling around under the car anyway, and he doesn't have to be careful.

It's coming back to him what all the parts are, even though it still feels like forever since he's done this; another life. After Naoki left, Jin didn't hang out at the garage where Naoki's friends fixed their bikes. No one he knew later even owned a car or bike or anything better than a rusty bicycle from a scrap heap.

A normal engine definitely has more… tubes. Stuff. Still, the car was running, twice around Japan if the odometer's right, and it was clearly running without all the tubes so that's not the problem, it's just weird.

He thinks he knows what the problem is.

He steps back so his own shadow doesn't fall on dirty metal and wiring. Tomo should probably get an oil change soon, though that's not the problem, either. Jin fumbles in his back pocket for one of the screwdrivers they managed to scrounge up in the bar. There wasn't much by way of tools, but it should be enough for this. Tomo will be relieved.

Jin waits a few more moments, tapping out the beat of his song with his foot. He doesn't lean on the bumper; not his car. He's had a really good day, sleeping deep and long but not so late he missed out on the fine weather. Now the sun hangs low between the roofs, a soft light shining off the green and yellow of the trees, and even the parking lot feels kind of peaceful.

He kicks a loose bit of asphalt between his feet, gently, so it doesn't hit a car.

The sun is warm on his face, still strong enough that he can wear just a t-shirt without feeling a chill. It's not a bad wait.

Then Tomo comes out, waving the flashlight he found. He nipped inside to see how they're getting on with setting up the tech for the Open Mic, but the left side of his nose is still dark with grease. His smile is a little anxious.

"I think your fuel pump is blocked," Jin tells him when he's close enough. Tomo's in a long-sleeved shirt, black as his undyed, unstyled hair, but at least being outside and poking around in the car brought some colour into his face.

Now he stares at Jin as if he's too afraid to ask whether he's talking about something along the lines of a new set of wipers or a new engine.

"It's not really bad," Jin says quickly. "There's nothing actually wrong with it, it's just some wires."

"Oh!" Tomo says on a great breath of relief. "Oh. Right."

"I think you triggered the kill switch somehow."

Tomo nods very slowly, like he's trying not to look too clueless.

"You have that thing? So it doesn't get stolen?" Jin makes an awkward gesture towards nothing in particular. It feels weird to be the one who knows stuff, it's not like he's an expert or anything. "It's kind of unusual."

"Oh," Tomo says again. "Yeah, I have to hold a magnet to that place so it'll start."

"Yeah, that… you bought it used, right?" Stupid question. The car could almost be as old as Tomo. Jin ducks his head and frowns at the dirty car intestines. "It's a self-made thing."

"Hm. I've always wondered about that," Tomo says, giving the green-and-rust pattern along the edge of the hood a squinty look. "Who'd steal that. But, well." He makes a face. "I know I'd be in trouble if I didn't have it, so… I guess there's a market for really crappy old cars." He looks pretty gloomy when he says it, but then he looks at Jin and tries a smile.

"I think I can fix it," Jin hazards. He was nervous when he offered to have a look, but Tomo only seemed worried about Jin getting all greasy and inconvenienced.

"Really?"

"I think so. Basically, I can take out the whole thing, return it to normal? I mean, it won't be quite as safe, but it'll run."

"I'll take that," Tomo says right away. "That would be great."

"Okay," Jin nods, still nervous, but also glad it wasn't something more serious and Tomo won't have to get it towed and pay the money for a mechanic. "So, uh, can you hold that?"

Tomo holds the flashlight after Jin reassures himself he knows which bits are connecting the brakes and he's not going to kill anyone accidentally.

"It just stopped going," Tomo says after a moment, in a slightly intimidated tone. The cone of light moves a bit when he talks. "And I thought, man, I don't need this."

Jin can imagine. Tomo has told him how tight money can get, with his brother in junior high and no parents around. The errand and delivery job is just one of three Tomo has. The people he brings their shopping seem to like him, and no wonder; he's so easy to talk to, even for Jin who doesn't have much he can say.

"Do you have deliveries tomorrow?"

"Yes. Five people, and Nyanko-chan. I don't know what she does with those huge orders, she's all alone except for a dog."

"Huh."

"She's really nice, though," Tomo says. "Gives me a fish sometimes and stuff."

Jin remembers when he was sixteen and helped with the shopping for old Takahashi-san from two floors up. She had a dog, too, but it was mean and yappy and bit him once. She was nice to Taro-chan and told him not to worry when Ooshima-san from the ground floor complained about his football playing. "That's cool."

"Yeah."

Jin takes the flashlight for a moment to trace one of the wires, and then he shows Tomo where to point the light next. They probably have half an hour before it gets dark, but he should be finished before that.

"Emi-san is holding the fort?" he tries, with a nod towards the bar entrance.

"Yes, she's keeping an eye on things. Any more of this and they'll have to start paying her, not me." Tomo is shaking his head. "I guess I'm lucky it didn't happen in the middle of the expressway," he goes on, and then there's a smile in his voice. "And lucky you came in early."

Jin feels a bit embarrassed. "I really like it here," he says, carefully bending back a worn piece of wire from the ones he'd better not cut off. He spent the afternoon in the park, catching the sun and watching normal people with their kids and their dogs and their shopping. On Thursdays, it doesn't feel so weird. He's gotten quite good at not thinking of any clients or appointments at all on Thursdays.

And people have started to recognize him here, the tech guys and some of the regulars. And Tomo almost seems to expect him to come in, and he likes that.

He's got the extra bits out now and hands them to Tomo, who drops them on the ground and then concentrates on the flashlight again, so Jin can continue.

"Is that— do you do that for work?" Tomo asks, sounding curious and friendly.

Jin doesn't stop. He didn't think about that before he offered, but it's not such a surprising question. Nothing to be so nervous about; easy to brush off, manoeuvre around. "No," he says. "I just picked up some stuff, a few years ago."

Tomo makes an understanding sound. "From your dad?"

God. Dad and that motorcycle, Dad and Naoki…

But Tomo doesn't know about his father, doesn't know that Jin can't go home, or why.

That's good. People finding out has never gone well for him. And it's good to know Tomo won't push, because he never does; no need to worry.

"No," Jin says again. "A guy I used to know." It's not even lying. Not really.

"Ah," Tomo says, and then nothing. It'll end here like always, and Jin can come to the bar and Tomo won't look at him funny or stop talking to him or think Jin's songs are lame and wimpy.

"My ex."

He tries not to count out the silence, tries not to do anything different with his hands.

His grip feels slippery. Tomo next to him has gone really quiet. The light cone is steady, and Jin thinks his fingers look clumsy fumbling with the wires, useless. Maybe he should stop. Maybe he should look.

"Car guy, huh?" Tomo asks. The light doesn't waver.

"Motorcycles," Jin says. It comes out a little mumbly. "But, well. Same principle, a lot of it. He knew all sorts of stuff. Taught me the basics."

"That's useful." There's a bit of movement. Tomo rubbing his nose again. Tomo is nervous.

It takes Jin two tries to keep the wire from slipping out under the screw.

"Emi-chan taught me how to bake cookies," Tomo says, and now Jin does look at him. "And, you know, not a bad skill to have when you have to feed a fourteen-year-old, you wouldn't believe what they eat. We save lots of money." Tomo breaks into a sheepish smile and shrugs at the open hood. "Cars is cooler, though."

Jin laughs, low and a little breathless.

"Seriously," Tomo says. He has flushed a bit. Jin's face doesn't feel cold anymore, either.

"I'm almost done," he says, his voice sounding a bit weird. He turns back to the last fiddly bit. "Hope it'll work."

"Great."

Tomo hasn't moved away, and he doesn't startle when Jin straightens up and their elbows bump by accident.

"I have a little brother, too," Jin says, though just now he's thinking of Yuu-chan and nothing being weird, how glad he is for that, and then he doesn't know why he's thinking that, or why he's saying this, but he's feeling a bit jittery, something between worry and relief; in a minute he'll even be able to tell the difference. "He's thirteen. He lives back home, though, we don't talk often."

Tomo nods again, goes, "Hm, yeah," and doesn't prod.

And then Jin is done, and they wipe their hands on the rag Tomo brought out the first time. Once Jin's checked that the car will, in fact, start now, Tomo rolls up the equipment in it, and they step back to examine the damage done to their presentability.

The black stains on Jin's t-shirt where he wasn't careful will wash off with warm water, though Tomo looks over Jin's jeans with a guilty expression.

Jin really doesn't mind at all. "I can go home change, it's no problem," he says. He's actually got more than one pair of trousers now, and they aren't all suits. "And it's just a few blocks from here."

"Oh, of course." Tomo looks relieved. "That's great. But you have to come back."

Jin has a feeling his smile looks pretty stupid.

It's verging on dark now, though they should still have some time before anything at the bar really starts, as long as the set-up is going smoothly.

"I think I got that stuff into my hair," Tomo says with a frown, trying to peer up into his fringe.

"Uh, yeah." Jin can see where it's looking a bit clumpy. And Jin loves the bar, but it's not the kind of place that pays a lot of attention to state-of-the-art bathrooms. He thinks quickly, but he never leaves club stuff lying around, likes his apartment to be in order. "You want to come back with me to clean up? If you don't want to wash it out in the men's room. I've got towels and stuff. It's not far." He stops himself from saying any more. Normal generally means you don't overexplain. And he's breathing quite normally too.

Tomo heaves another sigh of relief. "That would be great."

On their brisk walk Tomo tells him how he bought the car and how long he had to save for it, and there's a complicated story involving an ancient scooter he tried to trade in. Jin mentions the missing half of his engine and after a confused blink Tomo finds it funny, too. Jin still worries if he forgot anything, if he's so removed from ordinary life that Tomo will take one look around in his apartment and know how he earns his rent. But he can't come up with anything that would give him away except the expensive suits in his closet.

They're in the elevator together and Jin gets more nervous with every number that lights up. He's on the fourth floor, the highest of the building.

His next door neighbours have a sprawly green plant sitting under their name plate. Jin has never seen them. He doesn't have anything as personal outside his own entrance.

He opens the door to soft orange light on his white walls and shelves. Jin's apartment gets evening sun. The friendly glow still surprises him; he's so rarely home at this time of day.

They both kick off their shoes, and then Tomo has his understated look around while Jin fidgets.

"Nice," Tomo says in an impressed sort of voice. "That's a really cool place."

"Thanks," Jin says, and goes to wash his hands over the small pile of plates in the kitchen sink so he can touch things before cleaning up properly. The apartment is a decent size for Tokyo and very modern, white, sleek; nothing that's older than a few years. The kitchen unit looks like it was put up yesterday. Better than anything Jin's lived in before. He's not proud of it; not his choices, nothing that really belongs to him, but he's still glad Tomo thinks it looks good.

His dinner table folds down from the wall, and he's got two rather classy folding chairs. There are a few shelves right beside the door, and suddenly Jin wonders whether it looks weird that he's got so little on them.

His bed is a fold-in couch, and right now he's extra glad he makes it properly every Thursday morning. He likes things to look right when he comes home, on Thursdays.

"I'll just get you a towel," he says to Tomo and goes over to the wardrobe, opening the door just enough to grab the nearest one. Tomo nods, standing in the middle of the room and looking like he doesn't want to touch anything.

"It's really tidy." That sounds even more impressed.

It really isn't. Jin just doesn't own much, and he gets sloppy…

Only the small desk next to the sofa is neat and blank, everything sorted carefully into drawers, no clutter and no confusion. Even the pens are capped and working. Totally different from the desk he shared with Hisato.

He pulls out a pair of jeans for himself and closes the wardrobe door, shrugs. "I like knowing where stuff is, in case…" Tomo looks up, curious. Crap. "You know, so I can find it," he finishes lamely.

"Cool," Tomo says. "Wish we were that organized."

"Just a second, okay?" he says, bringing the towel over to Tomo before taking his jeans into the bathroom with him. He washes his hands again, and his face, too. Then he puts the shampoo on the side of the sink, and checks around again one last time. Nothing to be seen, not that he knows what there possibly could have been.

"Here you are," he says to Tomo when he comes out, and holds the door open for him. "Hairdryer hangs on the back of the door if you need it."

Then Tomo is in the bathroom with the water running, and Jin pushes some old socks under the folding couch before he sits down on it. The new jeans feel stiff, or maybe he just feels awkward. It's not all that tidy, not everywhere. Tomo hasn't had a look at the kitchen sink yet.

He's never had a guest before. Or anyone who's seen the inside of his apartment after Ootomo dropped him off and explained how the burglar alarm worked and where not to drill holes in the wall. Closest was the mailman when Jin ordered CDs online.

But now there's Tomo from the bar, and Tomo knows Jin had a boyfriend, and he's currently washing his hair in Jin's bathroom sink.

He gets up again, gets a jacket for later because the nights are getting cooler now. And then he takes two beers out of the fridge because that seems like a smart thing to do.

He spends a minute thinking about whether it's presumptuous to fold the table down, and then the bathroom door opens, Tomo emerging free of grease and rubbing at his wet hair with one of the towels which are still so new, they don't even dry properly.

So Jin hands him a beer while they're still standing.

"Thanks. This is really bad." Tomo shakes his head, and some droplets land on Jin's fingers. "You fixed my car, I should buy you a beer."

"It's fine," Jin says, waves it off with a hand that feels a little clumsy. Tomo is the guy behind the bar and Jin could probably find something witty to say in relation to beer-buying, or at least something cool. But he's not feeling like either.

The sun is gone when they head back to the bar together, but Jin's not feeling cold. The booze, of course, he thinks, and the tune Tomo is humming, and the way they're grinning when Jin catches him at it.

Monday 13 October

"You done this before?" Takahisa sounds bouncy and a little excited, flexing his wrists curiously and looking totally not intimidating.

Jaejoong is dressed already. "Just with the hand. I think this will be more efficient."

Jin has brushed his teeth and put fresh deodorant on, and now he's trying not to be in anybody's way. It's your typical Monday; kind of rushed without bringing in that much money, high turnover. He's just back from his second relaxation.

Takahisa is shirtless and hunting for a fresh towel in his locker. "Yeah, that's what I'm thinking," he says. No towel, but he finds a protein bar to nibble on. Jin's not sure who else they're waiting for, but he doesn't ask. "The last time I did the cop thing it would have been really useful, so…" He shrugs pleasantly. "Don't want it done to me, though."

"I don't care." Jaejoong folds a pair of sweatpants and puts them into his appointment bag. "The bottom is more money."

The guy Tsukada brought along had seemed interested in Jin; googly-eyes-and-flushing interested, not that Tsukada noticed. Jin wonders if it would be bad form to approach him if he's still around, after he just saw Jin go off with Tsukada. It's a bit unpleasantly by-the-numbers, but a job's a job, and some guys don't care at all.

They all look when Hina sticks his head in the door. "Yo," he says. "Here to pick up the class."

"Our volunteer's late," Takahisa informs him.

"I'm late," Tadayoshi is saying no sooner than Hina has come in, stepping through the door behind him. "Guess that'll be some punishment, huh?"

Hina smacks him on the ass as he passes, and Tadayoshi jumps forward and grins.

Hina drops into the armchair while Tadayoshi packs something more comfortable to wear to the dungeon. "Hey, Jin, how's it going?" He's wearing heavy boots and his black leather work pants and a green I Like Sushi! t-shirt. He leans back with his legs sprawling, taking up space beyond the armchair.

"Pretty good," Jin says, tries a smile. "It was a good weekend." He saw Ohishi on Saturday and it wasn't weird; Jin even left the lounge before him on a comfort. And on Friday Tanaka was in, and he managed not to let it distract him much from getting work done. He's pleased with himself.

"Were you at the room party?" Hina asks.

"No. My Saturday guy isn't so much into karaoke." It had been easy and quiet with Yamatani. They'd kissed this time, which was new, but there'd been a feeling it could fit now. Maybe Yamatani just doesn't like kissing strangers, either.

Hina nods like he didn't miss much. "I ended up dancing with that old chicken farm dude." It makes them both grin. Jin is a bit curious if that's not bad for his reputation, but then he doesn't ask that either.

"I was pretty wasted," Hina admits just as the door opens. Ootomo, looking straight at Jin.

"Jin," he announces, and then stops. "What are you all doing here?" He sounds slightly irritated even though it's their break room. "Don't you have work to do?"

Jin rises. Hina twists his head backwards. "We are working. Staff development."

"Hm." Ootomo must know they booked the dungeon. He's just pissy because he always gets pissy in the break room, because it's not his turf. Jin doesn't feel at any great advantage being in here, and he wonders why they don't just go to Ootomo's office. Just the way Ootomo is hovering tense and out of place is making Jin uncomfortable too, and now they're both standing there like idiots.

"Are we taking costumes?" Tadayoshi asks when he's ready, sounding good-humoured about it.

"I don't play roles," Jaejoong says matter-of-factly.

Hina shakes his head. "Nope, this is just tech. Would be more realistic if Tacchon's ass was a bit fatter, but what can you do."

Tadayoshi grins. "Don't hate me for my hotness, I was born that way."

Jin can just feel Ootomo's impatience ratchet up. If he could think of anything he could have possibly fucked up in the last two weeks, he'd worry about Ootomo's mood. Right now he's just puzzled, and kind of wishing he'd stayed in his chair.

"All right," Hina says, pushing himself out of the chair. "Rows of two, no crossing the street without a teacher, and no talking to strangers." He shoos them on, and they file out in a well-behaved line, Tadayoshi last.

Ootomo looks after them, trying to make an approving managerial face. "Still not your cup of tea, I take it?" he asks lightly, like he's not even interested in the answer.

Jin is pretty sure Ootomo didn't come in to talk about staff development. "No."

"Ah, well." Ootomo shrugs, and then all of a sudden he looks more engaged. "So, Jin, listen."

Jin is listening. Also wondering if he should ask Ootomo to sit down. Probably not.

"I had a call from Kamenashi-sama earlier."

Okay. Listening, seriously. His heart is beating faster, not like before but still… "What did he want?" Though he can guess. So much for Kamenashi and a change of habit; but if Ootomo meant it about refusing, Kamenashi can go right to hell…

"He wanted to book you for Friday. I said I had to check your schedule first."

Sounds like Ootomo meant it.

And his heart's still thumping, but it doesn't steal his breath this time. Doesn't do anything except make him want to laugh over the shiver in his stomach, because Kamenashi's not even unexpected anymore.

Only this time Jin can walk away. Jin can just tell Kamenashi to fuck off. Or tell Ootomo to tell him. Politely.

"Right."

Ootomo shifts his weight impatiently. Probably wishes he had his desk back. "I'm not deciding that one over your head, either way. It's a rest, and for what it's worth, he sounded kind of careful."

"Careful how?"

With eye-rolling now. "Like he's aware I would want to 'check your schedule' first."

"Right."

It's not even a question. Jin's not taking that last display of clumsy niceness at face value, never did, doesn't care if Kamenashi likes babies and bunnies and gross old guys and helps little ladies cross the street. Whatever Kamenashi's problem is with Jin's existence that he can't leave him alone and can't even treat him like he treats his regular whores either…

Kamenashi can fuck right off.

"I don't like that it's at the apartment," Ootomo says with narrowing eyes. "But I can't well tell him to come to the club instead. So, your call."

His call. It's never been his call before. Never his terms before.

He wonders what that would be like. His terms, Ootomo on his side, nobody thinking he's incompetent or weird, Kamenashi's just an asshole with bizarro asshole issues where you have to be grateful if he wants to fuck you like some normal person...

Not that Jin is grateful anymore.

"Yeah, I guess," he says, to say something while his brain is catching up. Ootomo is trying to be fair to him. It's a shitload of money, that's why he's asking.

And Kamenashi's not sneaking up on him now, Kamenashi doesn't get to tie him up and call him names and then pretend he's Mr Perfect Client anymore.

Jin wonders if Kamenashi knows that too.

"If…" He can't believe he's even asking.

Ootomo is doing his best benevolent boss impression, hearing him out.

Okay, whatever. "If I went," Jin asks, tries out the thought. "What if he flips?" Unstable. They talked about it.

"If you get a bad feeling about things, you walk," Ootomo says firmly. "I trust you to know what you can handle."

Trust. Handle. His call. Suddenly Jin's judgement is worth something.

And he wants to smile, because this is better than just no bondage. He can walk out on all the creepy shit, he doesn't have to stand for any of it any more.

Kamenashi will keep coming here, he's come here before Ootomo even found Jin. They will run into each other.

Jin's not alone now, not desperate. He could see how Kamenashi deals with that. What he's like when he can't just get away with things, when Jin can just go and fuck him like he'll fuck some random client, and there'll be nothing…

Nothing like last time… and Jin almost shudders but then he doesn't, because he doesn't have to let that happen now, he's not afraid anymore. He can make it not matter anymore.

Make a week's income in one stroke, too. He thinks he's earned it.

Rest with Kamenashi.

Ootomo is looking at him, probably wants a yes or no sometime this decade for all his pointed patience. Wants to get back to work, maybe. Maybe Jin should get back to work too.

"All right," he says, "I'll take it," and his stomach does a little lurch but then it's okay, just a low determined brimming.

His call. And someone looking out for him. Club security. It feels a bit like that first time he went to a client's house on club schedule, and realized how different it felt from before.

Huh.

Ootomo is hard to read, somewhere between impressed and constipated. He sounds strict, saying, "I expect you to call it in like you would with a first-time client," and Jin nods. "After you get in, and then every three hours. Don't miss the calls."

"I never do," Jin says honestly.

"Yeah," Ootomo says. "Good. Friday at eight." And there's another long look, but Ootomo says nothing more and leaves him to ponder the fact that he's got a date with Kamenashi, and he even agreed to it.

Jin takes a deep breath, stops his brain from spinning off into scenarios and possibilities and bargaining over if and when and never.

Work now.

And Kamenashi is work too, and that's all he is.

Right.

~

to be continued

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