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The Same Deep Water As You

by Solo & Jo

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Chapter 23

 

Friday 24 October, 20:00

"If you smile, it's over," Danny is saying as Jin enters the break room, fresh from a relaxation with Suzuki, who must have had his weekly shower that morning. "I give you five minutes."

"Ten thousand says seven," Ryuuhei says where he's waiting by the microwave in boxers and a frayed t-shirt reading PAAAAAAN!! in bright yellow letters.

Jun, decked out in black leather and standing in the space between the table and the TV, gives them a disdainful look. "I don't grin at my clients."

"What's this about?" Jin says, and starts to strip.

"Jun's efforts at domminess," Danny says. "You want in?"

Jin shakes his head. Ten thousand is more than he likes to risk when he remembers living on less for a week.

"I should like you to know that I've done this before," Jun says, but his attempt at a glare is not really convincing when his mouth twitches like that.

"See!" Danny says. "There you go already."

"You're not a client. Let's talk when I have you chained up." Jun snaps the whip he's taken out of Hina's locker. "If Ootomo didn't think I could do it, he wouldn't have asked."

"You're standing in for Hina?" Jin asks. "Is he sick?"

"Complicated case of visiting sister and useless cover story," Ryuuhei says. "Would you believe he told his family he's a private detective? No crappy boss, no convenient overtime, nothing."

"Too much Conan," Jun adds, squirming a bit as he adjusts himself in the skin-tight leather pants. "Warped his mind."

"He could say he's got to trace a fabled diamond?" Okay, so Jin knows it's a bit far-fetched. "Or a poodle." He gets his towel out of the locker and slings it over his naked shoulders.

"And he can't take time out to see his older sister for the first time this year? She'll smell a rat. Easier to take the day off, and change 'career' between this visit and the next."

Jin wonders how many of them lie to their family. Or to anyone else who matters. He gets it, right enough. He knows for himself how the gay thing can go over, and that Tomo was a big risk. Kamenashi lost in a sea of flashlights has nothing to do with it.

As for the whore thing…

A trio of girls in last night's audience asked him what he did, and he mumbled something about part-time work, and that was okay. But he should probably come up with something proper and plausible soon.

They were nice girls, and they live in the area and he wants to know his neighbours better, learn to fit in here. It means that for the first time since this started, there are people who might ask and who mustn't know. For the first time, it would ruin stuff for him; for the first time he's got something in his life that could be ruined.

If Tomo found out…

He needs to think of a cover story soon, he needs some plausible deniability, he needs—

—to stop thinking about Kamenashi and his private life all over the country for weeks. It's different.

It's no excuse. It's no excuse and Jin's not going to care.

As for himself, he'll ask some of the other guys what they say. Maybe not Hina. But someone's bound to have some good advice.

He starts at the crack of the whip, the squeal.

"Hey! My ass!" Danny sounds affronted.

"Out of my way, slave." Jun's standing tall, all hard edges, hard eyes.

Then he giggles, and all three of them have to laugh, too.

 

Saturday 25 October, 20:00

It doesn't help.

He's with his wife. This is a work thing of hers… a reception. He went to work and then he went home and now he's here, and Midori is like always, steady and kind and poking fun at his absent-mindedness, and he feels like he's stumbling with every smile, stumbling around under a thin cover of protection that can tear at a single wrong step. It's not supposed to be like this. It's not supposed to be harder when he's trying to do better, doing couple things, supporting her.

She looks pretty. The reception is for a new client. A TV production company that specialises in game shows. Kame has paid attention. It doesn't mean anything that he can't remember the name, that could happen to anybody.

He goes rarely enough that he still gets the film star stares, but these people are all in the business and they have at least heard of Midori's successful marriage, so it fades soon enough. Soon enough he's asked his opinion on the Toyota iQ and where he likes to go on holiday, and he gets to lie again.

His half-empty glass has turned warm in his hands, and he's driving, so he doesn't have to drink. He starts looking around for one of the waiters, black-and-white pillars in the midst of a lot of colourful cocktail dresses, and then he stops because Midori is talking and he can't look distracted.

"I liked the city, but we were cooped up in the conference centre until after it was dark, and you know what the boss is like," she says, smiling.

She splurged on a long purple dress with a low neckline to wear to this; she showed it to him twice at home, with her hair still pinned up and sticking out every which way, and then she went with the elegant cream-coloured piece she's often worn to weddings and formal dinners after all. He was puzzled, but didn't say anything. It's not his place to make fun of her after he's been acting so weird.

"He was probably surprised to find the sun was down. 'When did that happen?'"

This woman is a colleague of Midori's; married last year, just back from a holiday, likes the crab snacks. Kame has been careful not to drift away.

Midori laughs. She's had a glass of wine, which always makes her lean into him more, and everyone can see how well they get along and how much attention he pays to her work, and now Midori is talking about their weekends at Kame's parents' house, and he feels so frozen and helpless he doesn't know how they can't see what a liar he is.

Maybe he should have asked her to come to the campaign event last night. Maybe it would have helped to have a familiar soul there.

Or not. He pictures her there, by his side as he watches Sakurai Sho chase the kids around, as he makes earnest conversation with shy high schoolers like it's all easy and natural and true, like he can honestly stand there and be a role model. Maybe he would have felt even more fake, with his wife who doesn't know him there to see him.

He's lost the thread again. When Midori turns to him, he notices her friends have made their excuses and wandered off.

"You holding up okay?" she asks him in a low voice, no accusation, not even suspicion. "Or do you want to go home?"

He shakes his head quickly and firmly. "No, please— this is important."

She makes a sceptical face, the funny one that's always cheered him up.

"Just tell me, okay?" She leans closer, and briefly brushes their hands together. "You've had quite a week." She smells warm and familiar, and she likes him, she has always liked him, and just for a moment he wants to hold on and not care about anything.

But they're in public, and it would be another lie, and it's just because he's tired, anyway. "Let's get another drink," he says, and smiles.

 

Sunday 26 October, 21:00

Satoshi gives Jin a nudge where they sit watching a baseball match on the big lounge screen. "Sakurai."

Jin angles his head so he can look around the edge of the screen, in time to see Sakurai exchange a bow with the concierge and go sit by himself in the pale-furnished area close to the newspaper rack.

Jin is tempted. But Sakurai went with Jun the last couple of times, and that means Jun's got dibs.

"Jun's on an outside appointment," Satoshi says, as if he's read Jin's mind.

All right then.

"Tag team?" Jin proposes, and they both get up.

It's ten already, and it's been a slow night. Jin had a relaxation at five, nothing since. Not that he's desperate. He's been doing fine this week. So he hung out with Yamatani a bit, avoided Eda, watched Tanaka come and go and wondered if Kamenashi might appear. It's been over a week, after all.

If he does, Jin will apologize to him; it's the right thing to do and Jin's not the asshole here. As for anything else, he'll take it as it comes, but he doubts there are more Kamenashi dates in his future. Trying to treat Jin as a real person didn't seem to be much fun.

When he and Satoshi get close to him, Sakurai gives them each a charming smile, but his gaze lingers on Jin and Jin can feel Satoshi slowing already. You get good at spotting the signs in this job.

"Good evening," Sakurai says to Satoshi, and then, "Hello Jin. Shall we give it a try tonight?"

Just like that. Jin likes it. He smiles back and bows. "Would you like to stay down here for a while or should I get a key?"

They end up having a quiet beer upstairs, followed by a bath. They fit next to each other easily, with room for more closeness, and the conversation fits too, random and easy throughout. Sakurai is tired from a busy week, with campaign work on top of his regular schedule, and only wants to relax.

Jin likes that he has some intelligent questions to ask about the anti-bullying campaign now; it's good to have a topic that's personal to the client.

"Are you enjoying working with everybody on it?"

"Everyone is very nice," Sakurai says, sliding deeper into the rose-scented water, his hand finding Jin's thigh. "And of course we're all convinced that it's a worthwhile cause, so everybody gives their best."

"And you get good press coverage?"

"Oh, yes," Sakurai says. "But the public response is what's stunning. You should see the letters we get from schoolchildren… from adults too, sometimes. We try to reply to them, you know? But it's all very exhausting when you have a full schedule already."

"You have some very busy people involved," Jin says. Just making conversation. The water splashes softly when he turns more on his side, towards Sakurai.

"Bigger stars than me, that's for sure," Sakurai says. His head is leaning heavily on the rim of the bath, his look a little dazed. "But I guess I bring the sports demographic." He laughs. "The others have the rich old gentlemen and the passionate girls from sixteen to sixty all sewn up."

Those passionate girls would be Kamenashi's job.

And Jin's job is to focus on the client he's with, not the one spooking through his head, so he wriggles a little under Sakurai's hand and reaches out himself, strokes a thumb along the dip at a hipbone, then starts to run his hand up towards Sakurai's chest.

Sakurai sighs a little, and when Jin looks at his face, he's closed his eyes. His hair has scrunched up into funky curls with the damp, and his lips part while Jin's watching him.

"Let's get out of here," he breathes. "This is too comfortable. I'll fall asleep, and when I wake up you'll be gone. Waste of time."

They wrap up in fluffy bathrobes to dry off; Sakurai is still warm and glowing when they're on the bed and Jin bares his skin again for touching. There's not much touching back even when Jin loses his own robe; Sakurai seems happy to let him run the show, humming contentedly when Jin tries this and that and eventually spreading his legs in clear invitation.

Not what Jin had expected. But no problem, either, it's not difficult with a nice guy. Jin prepares himself and gets an approving smile when he shifts in between Sakurai's legs.

"I like it slow," Sakurai says, and Jin smiles back and nods. He can do slow.

It's comfortable fucking, no stress; Sakurai's giving Jin signs he can read, responding to Jin in ways he understands, good ways. Jin finds an angle just the right side of teasing and does it slow, and Sakurai likes it, and afterwards they're sprawled on the bed in a sweaty tangle and breathing rather hard.

"Thanks," Sakurai mumbles, and Jin smiles.

"My pleasure."

Within less than five minutes, Sakurai's asleep.

 

Sunday 26 October, 20:00

"Let me help you!" Kame is slow to catch on when Midori starts putting their dinner dishes away, and she's back for more before he's managed to get up.

She grins at him as she puts their rice bowls into a pile. "Don't. You'll just drop things."

"I should help you," he insists, and somehow his face is burning, though he's not sure why. Maybe the wine they had, though Kame's is still half-full when Midori takes one fragile glass in each hand.

"Just don't drop things on the rug," she says with another smile, and he doesn't understand why she's in such a good mood when he's just useless, useless and distracted.

He grabs some stuff and concentrates, to do his share.

He fell asleep on the couch earlier. He'd updated his mother on his week on the phone, and then Midori took over, wandering off to tell her about the reception and all sorts of other things; Kame remembers hearing a question about the dog and then he woke up two hours later under a blanket, and with Midori watching a movie about midgets on low. By all rights he should feel less exhausted, but somehow the world seems just as askew.

He doesn't drop the rice bowls, but the chopsticks slip out when he bends over the dishwasher and there's a clattering sound that seems loud and hectic. It's just four small pieces of wood, it shouldn't be so loud.

"See," Midori says, peering over his shoulder from behind him, her breath whispering just past his ear. "Told you so."

"Sorry," he mumbles. He feels her hand sneaking under his t-shirt, skimming his stomach and side, tickling on the retreat, and then it's gone and Kame is embarrassed that he just stilled, didn't do something cute or friendly to match the atmosphere. Embarrassed he wished for… he can't, he shouldn't, not with his wife hugging him and this nice, quiet Sunday that could seem perfectly fine and normal if only he stopped getting confused about what things are and when things are and where his mind is allowed to go.

He hasn't thought of the whore all day, and that's good; it's hard enough here without feeling ashamed of that, too. Hard enough with Midori happy like this, kind and calm as ever, an anchor…

The touch stops tingling, and he stops thinking about it. He thanks Midori for dinner and tells her how nice she looks in whatever she's wearing… a denim skirt and a simple t-shirt. And then he asks her about the plans she made with Kame's mother. It gets her talking, and he allows himself to find it soothing, grounding. Almost like before.

Eventually it's time for bed. She has an earlier start than him, and talking about simple things has been soothing somehow, enough to make him think maybe he can sleep too this time. Maybe he can pretend it's okay just long enough for some unconsciousness.

"It was nice you had the Sunday off, at least," she says when they're down to night shirts and bedside lamps. "You needed it."

"Yes," he says, not even knowing if work would have been better anymore. "That was good." He sinks into his pillow and Midori shuffles a bit closer, the light scent of her moisturizer drifting over, and he turns to her just as her hand sneaks under his shirt again, and stays. She smiles a quiet little smile.

Oh god.

He can't. It races through him cold and clear, he can't, because she'll know.

She'll know.

It can't be three weeks yet, it isn't, he's sure, there would have been an alarm. But he never turns her down and he doesn't know how because he never, ever makes her ask twice, and he just knows it's not going to work this time, it will be terrible.

Her fingers stroke a bit. His move. His move now.

He reaches under the blanket and takes her hand, strokes the back of it and hopes it's as gentle as he means it. "I feel like I could sleep forever," he says.

A moment, a tiny frown, oh god. Then her smile spreads sleepily. "Yeah, okay." She kisses him briefly and it seems to give nothing away, and eventually his heart slows down, the rush of nausea fades. He lies very still and pretends to be asleep, long after Midori's breathing has evened out, long after she's let him go again.

 

Monday 27 October, 11:00

The day's a little grey but dry, with a wind that blows the hair into his face, but not so cold it sneaks under his jacket. Jin was up pretty early, and it's nice to be out and doing stuff before noon, normal stuff that just a month ago, he wouldn't have felt he could.

He smiles at the old guy who sells papers and coffee near the station in the morning, and waves his Suica at the gate to the platform. He's decided to buy himself some sheets.

This morning when he put his bed away he somehow thought it would be all right, and that he won't have to worry about a couple of thousand yen. Last week was good takings.

There's a department store in the shopping centre just three stops from his apartment. It's where he bought the cheap jeans and t-shirts for when he's not working. He hasn't been there much, but he hopes they'll have what he needs.

In the square in the middle of the shops, a few kids in school uniforms are gathered around a cell phone that plays loud tinny music. One of the older girls eyes him briefly, whispering to her friend behind a hand with bright pink fingernails, but then the guy with the noisy cell and the two-shades-of-blond hair catches her interest again. Jin likes the thought that he's boring in comparison.

In the department store, a sign tells him to go to the third floor for curtains and bed stuff. He feels weird and adventurous. The place is full of tidy housewives who all look a lot more competent than he does, and he tries not to look like he needs help, because they remind him of his mom and he doesn't need to think about her.

He also doesn't need to think about Kamenashi's mother, and what it must have been like to read those papers. Jin's didn't even have to face neighbours or colleagues; conveniently contained blow-up, despite how awful it was.

When he reads the price tags of the special offers, it's almost habit to think about how many guys that means, but he shuts that off quickly enough not to skeeve himself out. It isn't the street anymore, and it doesn't work like that anymore.

He might get a nice new down comforter, too, because he can and because it's going to be winter soon. For the sheets, he knows he doesn't want satin or anything cold. Nothing that promises seduction, either, and there's a special-offer green one that turns him off just because of some lacy trimmings and the way the woman is slinking on the packaging.

Eventually he turns to the stern-looking saleswoman who's been eyeing him from the side and tries a smile.

She looks nicer with a smile of her own, and not so strict anymore despite her dark square glasses. "Maybe I can help you find what you're looking for?"

She turns out to be helpful and not too motherly, and it's kind of fun to figure out what he's looking for with someone who knows what she's talking about.

She shows him a comforter that can be split into two thinner ones in the summer, which will be useful when he gets his own place. With the sheets, he almost goes for a set of deep red ones that feel really soft and warm when the woman opens the package for him. Jin likes the strong colour, and they'd look nice with the white walls and furniture, but somehow red is just a bit too loaded for him after all. In the end he picks a navy blue set with some white stripes at the top and blue-and-white pillowcases to match.

The comforter comes in a big poufy casing; altogether the bag he's taking home on the train is pretty big. He'll have to wash the sheets before using them. Maybe he can even hang them up to dry before he has to go to work. He's smiling when he looks out the window. When the middle-aged woman across from him peers at his luggage curiously, for once he doesn't mind.

 

Tuesday 28 October, 02:00

He's left the light off. Safer that way. Grey and dark and dulled, all the shapes just shadows. Could be someone else's house and not matter. Someone else's kitchen, where he's just a guest, and he can leave when the night is over. He doesn't have to watch his face so much.

He doesn't remember what was in his mind before he woke up. The thoughts are all blurring into one by now. That was an hour ago. After the clock crept on to two, he got out of the bed, so at least he won't wake his wife.

His face feels tired. His legs, his head, his everything.

He thinks of TV, something stupid and brainless and distant, but then he can't find the remote. Everything looks a little different, displaced, and after he hits his elbow on the table he stops. Like it's not his home, his things.

He sits at the dinner table in the end, after the couch seemed to swallow him up and suffocate him. It used to work better than this. He was okay for three years after Souji sold their love to the public and Kame bought forgiveness at the best price he could get. And made it work. He wasn't so unhappy.

It can't just crumble like this.

Midori is fast asleep in their bed and suddenly Kame misses her so much, it's gut-wrenching how much he wants her back.

He almost told her, back then. Came so close to telling her, especially when things were bad. He knows now that he could have. He had a best friend. And then he went and married her.

It's so silent. His beautiful house out in the upscale neighbourhood. They even have a garden. Maybe one day they can have a pond and a swing set and a nice big dog, and for some reason that brings a lump to his throat again, and fuck. Just. Fuck.

Maybe that's a sign. Maybe once you start thinking about ponds at two in the morning in your darkened kitchen, it means you've really gone round the bend.

He needs a break. He hates being alone with nothing but his thoughts, but maybe that's what he needs. At least then he doesn't have to work so fucking hard to hide them.

He wants to open a window, let in some sound, some outside life, even if it's just the sway of leaves and distant cars. But he can't have drafts and slamming doors, and maybe he's safer in here, where even the night can't see him.

Midori can't find him like this. He can't go to anyone, anywhere, before he stops being like this. He's going crazy. He doesn't want Tatsuya to see him like this either, or anyone who matters, and he didn't want the whore to see him like that but that's done and maybe he can find a way so it doesn't matter. Somehow. When he can think again.

The clock on the oven says it's ten to three. He sits, upright, and everything is silent.

 

Tuesday 28 October, 15:30

"And don't touch my Star Wars DVDs."

Jin taps the ash off his cigarette into the little container and hopes he's not intruding, but Ninomiya just shoots him a grin while explaining the rules of his house to a guest or a roommate or someone else who'd better not eat the whole Galia melon.

"I usually get out half past ten, Tuesdays. I can skip clean-up, we can go for a drink."

It's not Satoshi, Satoshi's in the lounge, and Jin wonders if they'll meet up with him later because Tuesdays are slow for escorts, too, and then he tries not to wonder because their situation must be difficult enough without nosy escorts looking at you nosily.

Though he has to smile when Ninomiya almost leans against the dumpster and then jerks back upright. Not supposed to do that with a waiter's uniform, his grimace says.

Jin takes another deep drag and empties the container into a trash can. Smoking here is okay as long as you don't leave traces.

Ootomo called him while he was still doing yesterday's dishes and asked him to come in early, because he had a bunch of businessmen with two tourists coming in at four.

Now the club's been open for half an hour and the businessmen and their guests are late, and Jin's left the other unemployed escorts in front of the TV and gone outside for a quiet smoke.

Yuu-chan is already with Nakamaru. They have a booking later, and he could have joined them, just to sit, but… well. At least Yuuya seems to have gotten a good start there. "He's cute when he gets all flustered," he'd revealed to Jin the other day. "Did he teach you the thing with the foaming facial cleanser, too?" Jin almost couldn't keep his puzzlement under wraps. But good for Yuu-chan.

"There's a spare key in the drawer under the phone if you want to go out and buy stuff. We'll bring dinner from here, though."

So Satoshi gets to go along. Not Jin's business, but good anyway.

He takes his phone out just to check for missed calls, but of course there's nothing. There might have been, though, and that's still new.

He spent half a week with his part of the torn beermat in his desk drawer, worrying about saving private stuff on his work phone. He and Tomo scribbled down their numbers for each other last Thursday, after the last set of music. Because they figured it would be good if Tomo can call Jin if his car breaks down again. Good if Jin can call Tomo if he can't make it to the Open Mic. Generally… good.

So now Jin has somebody's number on his phone who isn't Ootomo, reception, or a taxi service. It feels precious and fragile and this morning, when Ootomo called him, was the first time he had a real reason to check the display. It would be good to know straight away if it was Tomo, not ever think it might be any of those other people.

The fire door opens and an older waiter stares out with a stern expression, barely brushing Jin with his gaze. "Ninomiya-san," he says, like an order.

Ninomiya bows with a cheeky-looking wave of his phone. Another stern look before the door closes, and Ninomiya ends his phone call. They all have their bosses to please.

He rolls his eyes at Jin. "We have like, two guests, and six waiters playing janken in the kitchen," he says in confidence, and Jin feels a little uncertain when he nods back over his shoulder, says, "Yeah, same in there."

Ninomiya grins, not offended by the comparison at all.

 

Tuesday 28 October, 16:00

"…these guys who try to tell you it's cool to break things and defy adults, aren't they just… insecure? Aren't they just trying to get you to join them so… so they can be less insecure…"

"Cut!"

Kame closes his eyes briefly and swallows down the curse. He bows, at Iijima, at Morioka. "I'm very sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me."

It's their third time for this take, the third time he's screwed up, in a different part of his little speech each time, things that went right on the first take going wrong now, and…

It's like his brain isn't connected to his mouth. No part of him is connected to any other part. And of course he knows what's wrong, but it's not like he can say, and he's supposed to be a pro. He never forgets his lines.

Iijima is grumbling something under his breath and Kame doesn't doubt that it's rude. There's a lot of sighing.

Morioka, on the other hand, shows no impatience, merely nods politely. "No problem." Then he turns to Iijima. "One brief moment, please."

When Iijima nods, he heads out past the cameras to where Genda and Kobi are waiting for him to finish the take so they can go out for dinner. Kame quickly shuts the thought off. He doesn't want to think about the fact that Morioka's stopped asking him even on group outings, about how he's become distantly polite with Kame and pointedly physical with the rest of the boys.

There's a very quick exchange between them, inaudible, and Morioka gives them a couple of friendly shoulder punches before they leave.

He rejoins Kame with a little bow and no expression. "Sorry."

"Right," Iijima says with a heavy sigh, "let's try again."

He gets it wrong twice more and wants to bang his head against the wall – but nobody here will be amused by an additional display of unprofessionalism. Weeks ago, Morioka might have laughed.

In the end he labours through the monologue, and he doesn't know how Morioka still manages to make his responses look as fresh as the first time round. He can feel that his own delivery is washed out and pedantic, no help to anybody. The best he can say is that no words are missing.

"That's a take," Iijima says, and it sounds resigned.

Kame bows again; apologizes again.

Everyone is polite about it. Nobody asks if he's all right.

Probably for the best, because the last thing he needs, on top of Souji and the whore and disappointing Midori and ruining takes and never ever sleeping anymore, is a public breakdown in front of conveniently located cameras.

Morioka is gone, with a brief goodbye to everyone. Kame takes a toilet break. If he splashes water into his face, he'll have to apologize to the make-up artist, too, so he just leans his head against cool tiles and closes his eyes.

He doesn't even know what he needs any more.

He can't face Midori like this, her expectations or disappointment or understanding. He needs to be away from anyone who thinks they know him, which is everyone. He needs space to think and somehow sort himself out.

He needs to do something; but first he needs to get through the next shoot.

 

Tuesday 28 October, 17:15

Jin curses as some button cancels him out of wherever he'd got to, not that he's sure it even matters. "Isn't there a manual for these things somewhere?"

Junno's at the table with some ramen, in shorts and t-shirt just like Jin, back from a relaxation just like Jin, too. Business picked up when the tourists got there at last.

"Ootomo probably keeps one in his office, together with the hundreds of warranties." The club buys its cellphones in bulk, some deal with the old guy who likes Ryuuhei.

Jin makes a face. He doesn't need Ootomo wondering why he suddenly wants to differentiate between callers.

"I'm pretty good with these things," Junno says. "What are you trying to do?"

"I've heard you can get a different sound for different people when they call, right?"

"Ah. Ring tones." Junno nods a few times, fast; then he slurps three big mouthfuls of ramen in very quick succession, stands, slurps another one, and drops down beside Jin. "It's easy."

"Ah," Jin echoes.

"For existing contacts, yes?"

"Yeah." Jin's make for a short list, and now he's especially glad he was cautious about putting—

"Okay," Junno says, shifting closer, "so hit the button you used to put them in. Contacts. Down there, yes."

Jin feels a bit exposed with Junno looking, but there's just 'Tomo', no full name, no last name. Junno doesn't ask if it's boyfriend or family. "Okay," Jin says when the details screen appears, "and now?"

Junno talks him through some totally unexpected steps until there's a list. "Scroll down these slowly and they'll play, and you can pick one you like."

Jin never knew his phone could make so many weird sounds. He settles for a mellow sort of chime in the end.

"You can use songs, too, if you put them on there first," Junno says when he's stopped laughing at Jin's reaction to the more outlandish noises.

"Thanks," Jin says, and thinks maybe he'll record Tomo at the Open Mic. "That's really helped." He wants to ask about recording, but he can ask Tomo that, too, and he doesn't want to bug Junno. And Junno's had important stuff going on too. "How are you doing, have you had your results yet?"

"End of next week," Junno says, returning to his noodles. "So many people take the test, it's kind of slow."

"How did you find out about… what you need to do? Did you ask at a job centre, or read books, or did you know somebody?"

Junno gives him a long look. "In a rush to get out?"

Jin shrugs. "Not immediate, but… sure, eventually."

"Hm." Junno nods. "I was wondering, the other week."

Oh. Jin thought he'd held it together better than that. But the memory's still making him tense up a bit so… maybe not. "That was a… a bad week," he says. "It's not so bad now."

Junno hmms again like he doesn't quite believe him, but it's true, things are way, way better, and besides that they're too complicated now for a five-minute summary.

"Show you something else," Junno says, and puts his chopsticks down again. "What's your number?"

Jin recites it obediently and Junno punches buttons on his own cell. Jin's rings. He gives Junno a questioning look.

"Hello," Junno says brightly into his handset, and feeling stupid, Jin answers the phone.

Now he's got Junno's voice in stereo. "Look for the most recent number in your log, add my name to it, and voila, new contact. I liked that ringtone that sounded like a chicken."

He rings off. Jin stares at his phone, and then stares at Junno.

"Call me up some time," Junno says, "when you want a break. Do you play billiard?"

 

Tuesday 28 October, 18:00

Finally done. The moron script is lying on the passenger seat, and Kame dumps his bag on it. He'd hoped to read it again during breaks, but ended up too busy drinking cup after cup of watery coffee and trying to stay awake. He'll have to look at it tonight – the agency expected a signature at the end of last week.

He's still tired.

A few streets down from the studio, he stops at a Starbucks, because he doesn't feel safe driving, never mind moron scripts and decisions at night.

The coffee at the club is better. But the club is far away, and he doesn't know if or when he can go back.

The line inches forward, people unable to decide between vanilla and caramel syrup, cow milk and soy, sprinkles or not. At least that's his guess; any conversations are drowned out by the noise of the milk foamers and the coffee grinders.

He could fall asleep in this noise. Why can't he fall asleep in his bed?

He mustn't forget to call Midori; he can't go home like this.

All those places he can't go, won't go… he's running away. But he can't face Midori's kindness, and her concern will just make him feel more ashamed. He doesn't know what to do about a situation where telling the truth will hurt her more than him.

He gets a cappuccino grande with a couple of extra shots, and takes the first few sips without starting the car.

The whore was different. He could have saved that one, if he'd been prepared for the blow. No kindness there to throw him off balance, and he should have known to expect ridicule. Should have been mature about it. He could have done that.

Maybe he can still do that. Demonstrate he got over himself, no hard feelings, have the unremarkable sex he'd planned for last time.

If the whore will come.

But he didn't seem scared, last time, and if Kame books a rest…

It's worth a try. Refusal won't leave him in a worse place than he is now.

Ootomo is there after one ring as usual, and he sounds friendly enough. Maybe the whore-report read 'no bondage, no threesomes, wine acceptable, conversation hilarious'. Maybe.

Kame has scribbled his line on a piece of paper. "I'm very sorry to call at such short notice, but I wonder if Jin is available tonight, for a rest." Nothing else. He won't say anything else.

There's a brief pause, and someone paranoid might imagine that Ootomo is sending the ceiling an exasperated look. More likely he's checking the duty roster.

"I should be able to discuss his schedule with him in ten to fifteen minutes," Ootomo says. "May I call you back?"

Kame agrees, even though it means he's stuck in the car park because he's too tired to trust himself taking calls on the road.

The moron script is just as bad as he remembers. Hamaguchi will be pleased if he takes it, though, and he ought to take her advice on these things, be the harmless straight hero she and everyone else wants him to be. Nobody needs him to play intellectuals… or warriors.

When he can't stand it any more, Ootomo has still not called back, but it's only been seven minutes and there's no need to worry. He waits, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.

When his phone rings he's almost afraid to answer.

"Jin can be with you in an hour," Ootomo says.

Another chance. He can salvage this, win back the ability to go to the club and look people there in the face. He'll live with the gossip about his past, as long as he doesn't have to feel embarrassed thinking of what he's been doing recently… as long as that's cleared up.

"Would an hour and a half be acceptable?" Just in case he gets stuck in traffic. An hour would be cutting it close, particularly since he still wants to shower.

"Of course," Ootomo says, and after the usual politenesses, they end the call.

He'll deal with the food later, when there's no rush and he can work up an appetite; he's got his usual places. He'll manage to fill the awkward pauses while they wait, somehow. And he'll handle mockery, he'll handle animosity and furtive judging, and if necessary, he'll point out mildly that he's paying for the services of a professional. There's nothing the whore can throw at him this time that he can't handle.

He's going to make this work.

 

Tuesday 28 October, 18:30

For once, Jin would have taken a cab if he'd thought it might get him to Uguisudani in time. The subway is crowded and hot, and being squeezed against commuters so tightly he couldn't fall over if he tried does nothing for his suit. It's a miserable time to travel to an appointment.

He finds a small grin. Not like Kamenashi is known for making Jin's life easy.

But here he is again, for reasons not entirely clear to himself except that it's another rest, and Ootomo asked him twice if he was sure and confirmed as often that the terms of engagement still stand, and Jin wants to clear up that… thing. He doesn't like being in the wrong, least of all with something like that.

And Yamatani at their relaxation was talking about how his granddaughter's newly dead budgie is going to be designated Benji the budgie buddha at a big children's party at Christmas, and it reminded him of his first Christmas with Naoki and the cool motorcycle gloves Naoki gave him, and how he didn't figure out until two months later that Naoki probably fucked a couple of guys to afford that, and from then they didn't do presents like that. And then he wondered what Christmas is like when you're ultra hyper famous and rich and lying to everybody, and— startled when Yamatani said, "You look thoughtful."

He decided then that he needs to stop doing this, because it's idiotic. Maybe seeing Kamenashi and letting his attitude infuriate him will help with that.

As for Yamatani, Jin smiled at him and said, "Just thinking about Christmas," and they both agreed it was a complicated time, while they sipped their freshly squeezed orange and persimmon juice and Jin lounged back on the couch with his bathrobe open because even though Yamatani won't say so, he does like to look, and Jin is comfortable letting him.

He clings to the pole as there is a surge forward at the station, a guy with ineffective deodorant pressing into him from behind, and the woman whose foot he just stood on giving him an offended look which melts into a smile. He bows, mutters his apology, and she's all, "No, never mind," and seems disappointed when he doesn't want to analyze the transport system with her.

So, Kamenashi.

Nothing comfortable there, and he's not fooled by the last time, he's packed his peanut bars again. Not taking chances.

He has no idea what Kamenashi wants with him, if this is some weird brand of masochism or if he plans to get back at Jin somehow. He was sure it was over.

But fine. This could be a good thing. He can get them off on the right foot – he'll apologize for laughing, and that should help, because he really means it. And he can tell Kamenashi he gets it, he really does… but Jin isn't that guy and none of that was his fault, and Kamenashi's got to see that. Going by the last date he's maybe bought a clue, and even if that went wonky, surely he knows he's got to get over himself.

And if Kamenashi still wants to be an ass… Jin's got the upper hand now; he knows this clear as day, and it's not like he wants to use it but if Kamenashi tries anything

It's his stop.

~

Chapter 24

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