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The Same Deep Water As You

by Solo & Jo

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Chapter 34

 

Machida, Wednesday 31 December – Saturday 3 January

Kame wakes up to a crick in his neck and a moment of disorientation. But he knows the shapes of the shadows, the old scent of trusty wooden furniture, the grey square on the wall from the window with its flimsy curtains. He must have slept deeply, despite the different surroundings.

Midori is a slumbering pile next to him, her hair sticking out of her sushi roll of bedding. Kame feels like an eel trying to untwist the pyjama pants from around his legs, then lies back and listens.

Quiet, but the day has started. He hasn't lived here in more than seven years, but when he lies here in the grey stillness of his room, he can feel exactly who's awake and who isn't, and how far breakfast is along.

The one good thing about the pyjamas is he doesn't have to dig around for clothes and maybe wake up his wife. The room is almost as he left it, when he first could afford his own place; only the manga he left behind have been joined by novels and travel guides, and there's an exercise machine folded away in the corner and a box with his mom's craft stuff. On top is a half-finished watercolour landscape from when his mother took painting classes with Mizuno-san from next door. The trees aren't bad and recognisable as trees, but the people walking what could be an abstract tiger might have been dropped in from a new genre of modern art, or scribbled in by Mizuno-san's grandkids when nobody was looking. Some things run in the family.

He's still smiling when he finds his mother in the kitchen, bubbling sardines in a salty sauce, a strange mix of dinner and coffee in the air.

Ran-chan is lying on the tiles in the corner, passing the time to morning rituals by gnawing on an old shoe. Her tail bangs against a kitchen cupboard when she sees Kame. After being shushed by Kame's mother, she makes a soft whining noise.

"Good morning," Kame says, trying to remember where his mother last put the mugs. "Good morning, Ran-chan."

His mother is beaming at him as if he just brought home a stellar report card. Not that he ever did. "You're not as early as you used to be," she says and gets out one of the NYK collector's mugs they all like for morning coffee. "Did you sleep well, dear?"

"Very well." He knows better than to interfere once she's in the swing of feeding him and lets her put in his sugar and milk, too. "Thanks."

She looks busy and happy at the same time, and of course she smoothes down his bed hair, saying she likes the new colour. Then she's kind enough to give him five minutes with his coffee before she engages him in conversation. He doesn't miss the look that checks whether he is dressed warm enough and has socks on.

"Midori still asleep? I hope I didn't wake you up with any noise."

"No, didn't hear a thing." He yawns and stretches his neck. "And I should wake Midori, she said she didn't want to miss all of the preparation."

"Oh, nonsense," his mother says over her shoulder. "It's healthy to get a good night's sleep, and she deserves a break from work, too."

Kame hooks his feet around the legs of the chair, like he used to when he was smaller and fit better. Despite the space and privacy of a hotel, he likes this; the early mornings, his mom, his brain just slow enough that he can enjoy being looked after and not worry about anything else. "We just don't get to see you much," he says honestly. "She doesn't want to sleep through half a day."

"She would, wouldn't she." His mother's voice is very fond. "She's like your father."

Kame drinks his coffee and says nothing, smiles when she turns to check on him.

He got all the angles from his dad. His mother's face is round and funny, and she still likes whacking and tickling him when he comes to visit. When he was little, she liked being a clumsy monk to Kame's heroic samurai when they played.

He has another cup of coffee and turns down a pre-breakfast snack twice before he hears the bathroom door upstairs. That'll be his dad. He waits for the sound of the shower to die down, then gets up. "I'll go wake up Midori," he announces. She won't want to miss them all eating together.

As if she's understood him, Ran-chan jumps into action, her shiny fur rippling. Mom calls her over and puts a restraining hand on her collar, but when she looks at Kame, it's with a stealthy glint. "She has been good all morning."

Kame smiles uncertainly. "Sure, I can take her."

His mother bends down with an excited tone in her animals-and-small-children voice. "Yeees, Ran-chan," she says, ruffling the dog's fur with both hands. "Go wake our girl."

*~*~*

It's a peaceful morning, Midori lazy and best friends with the dog, his parents just happy to have them around. The bits of cleaning left to do are a way of passing the time more than a necessity. Whenever Kame looks up somebody seems to be smiling at him.

Midori and his mother skewer the last of the prawns, and Kame is assigned to the dining table when he doesn't want to be useless; he and his dad get to take all the good glasses and crystal out of the glass cabinet for once-a-year dusting.

They're both slow, household beginners. But it's not a bad way to pass the time, with the sweet and sour smells coming from the kitchen and the sun shining through the sparkling clean windows, Midori and his mother talking in familiar voices. His dad is humming along to the old Okinawa pop his mother has put on.

Funny how Kame always pictures his dad in a suit when he thinks of him, despite all these years when they mostly see each other at New Year's, and section chief Kamenashi dresses down in cardigans and comfortable pants.

New Year's feels like it's never changed. He could just as well still be living upstairs, or visiting from the two-room apartment he had when he was making solid money but before his last contract renegotiation. Nothing's really different. His dad's a little greyer; Kame's bringing his wife now. The last time he had nothing to hide from his parents was when he was still in junior high.

One year, Souji stayed at the apartment and didn't even go to see his folks. Kame spent half the night lying awake, and he got some horrible fitting fortune at the shrine that depressed him all through the holidays. He's forgotten what it said, though.

He compares the sparkliness of his crystal tumbler with the wine glasses his father has polished, and they declare they are pleased with each other. His dad smiles at him over the rim of his spectacles; the most generic frame you can find these days, but Kame can't imagine any other kind on his father.

For a moment, he wonders if he'll ever know if he goes grey, or if he'll just be dying his hair some shade of popular till the day he dies.

"I don't know if you want to be chopping that up, dear, it might be bad luck," he hears his mother say, to silence and then a sudden burst of giggling.

At a curious glance from his father, Kame bends backward to peer into the kitchen, where Midori is standing with a peeler and holding a slightly deformed and knobby-looking carrot.

Oh.

He flushes thoroughly, enough that his father seems to get the gist. He shakes his head, without much apparent surprise.

Midori's answer is hushed, not that Kame even wants to know, and then there's his mother's voice again, "I don't know, I think it's a pretty decent size," and Kame focuses all his attention on imaginary dust specks on champagne flutes, furiously pretending he did not just listen in on his mother discussing phallic carrots with his wife.

*~*~*

Towards the evening, Midori calls her parents and Kame's parents call his uncle in Sendai, where his remaining grandmother is spending the holidays. Kame alternates between reading his script and playing tug-of-war with Ran-chan for her old shoe. It's nice.

The shrine they go to is local and small. A new tradition, his mother says, like she doesn't mind they can no longer go to more popular places without Kame causing a stir. This is relaxed and undramatic, with most locals knowing his parents and being over the fact that they have a famous son. One old lady comments how he's grown up nicely, and asks whether he's working in the same company as his father.

The lights are pretty, a slow wind adding mystery and a sense of spirits. The way his parents get drawn into conversations, it feels like an extended family party. Kame's father buys hot sake for Midori and his mother, and Kame indulges in sips from Midori's mug.

Jin's not doing anything, so much seemed clear. Kame wonders what you do with your time when you don't go home; how you can get away from happy families and insistent tradition at all.

The paper lanterns on one side are bright and colourful and decorated, the sign says, by a local pre-school. Midori is intrigued by the one with giant scary bees, and Kame stops wondering about Jin, about things that don't belong. He says he prefers the dragon that looks like a caterpillar.

"Did you help with those?" his father asks, pulling Kame's mother closer to him; Kame doesn't catch what his mother says in return but from his father's laughter he guesses it was pretty rude.

*~*~*

On Friday afternoon, Mizuno-san rings their doorbell, officially to borrow some red bean paste from Kame's mother, in truth because she wants half an hour away from her mother-in-law. The ladies take tea and gossip through to the living room, the red bean paste waiting in its alibi bag.

Outnumbered, Kame and his dad take the dog out into the garden. Ran-chan dives head-first into the hedges, tail wagging excitedly as if she's discovering them for the first time.

It's windy, and they're both wearing scarves Kame's mother knit last year. His father volunteered to take the pink one.

He's taller than Kame even though Kame is the film star. Kame got his height from his mother, along with the drawing skills.

His father gazes out across the lawn and sighs. "Nice to get a bit of a break, isn't it?"

It's a pretty big garden for the area; old family property of a size they couldn't have afforded even on his dad's good salary. There is a seating group where the sandbox used to be, with the chairs folded up against the winter weather, and an old plum tree propped up by two thick support beams so it won't crash into the Mizunos' fence one stormy day.

"Yes," Kame says, "it's nice." He's going on location shoot on Monday after the New Year weekend. He'd normally be excited, except he feels on hold and distracted by the tranquillity.

He catches the relief in his father's nod, like that comment wasn't just small talk. Maybe he's not picking up the cues right. "Are you… is it bad at work? With the economy and all?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that. Nothing to worry about." His father bends down for the tool box at the foot of their closed parasol and fishes out a discoloured old tennis ball. "People are still buying bottles and bottles still need caps."

"I suppose they do," Kame smiles. "So, just the usual stress?"

His father chucks the tennis ball within Ran-chan's line of sight, and she lets out a muffled yelp as she pounces. The garden is just long enough to keep her entertained if you don't throw too hard. "The usual. I'm just glad to be away from it for a few days. And the office girls keep getting younger somehow. And sillier. I don't know if there's a connection."

"Is this another one like the one with the plant?"

"No, this one is worse than the plant." Kame can tell his father is trying not to roll his eyes too much. "Somehow the girl who works at my front desk wants to go out with a young man from accounting. But there is also something going on with the girl who works for my deputy. I don't know what, nor do I want to. But it makes communication in the department very interesting."

"Sounds like fun," Kame tries.

His dad sighs again, very deeply, and then seems to decide that's enough about romantic drama. "I will have to invite them over next month, I suppose," he says instead, and casts a look back at the kitchen window, where currently nobody is to be seen. "We are very lucky we found such reasonable ones."

Kame laughs, surprising himself. "I hope that's not what you tell mom on your anniversaries. That she's so wonderfully reasonable."

"She mostly takes it as a compliment," his father objects, but he's smiling too. He takes the tennis ball from a very excited Ran-chan and lobs it a little further, just steering clear of the roses that wouldn't stand a chance. "Midori's a gem," he says then.

Kame flushes, very fast and very suddenly, and it's very different from the carrots. He knows. He knows all the ways Midori is a wonderful woman. But he can't say that; he doesn't trust his voice.

"You weren't too happy when I got married," is what he says, even though he doesn't like to remember it. He squints up against the low sun. It's chilly, for humans not chasing tennis balls.

"I just thought you were a little young, that's all."

Kame's never felt too young for anything. He was fourteen when he knew exactly what he wanted, nineteen when he got what made him happy, and knew he wanted to keep it, forever…

"I was twenty-two." Maybe his father has a point.

Ran-chan is back for another round, and this time she's making the big eyes of pleading at Kame. Kame's home, and he's not allowed to just not play.

The ball is soggy by now, dripping with happy dog drool. Kame would find it funny and disgusting if they weren't talking about his wife and his marriage and that horrible time when he wasn't even sure his parents would believe he was serious about getting married, never mind Midori.

"I wasn't the same man at twenty-two as I was at thirty-two, when I met your mother, and I was much happier for it," his father says. He shrugs softly. "But you were always mature for your age. We were always proud of that."

Kame pitches a clever curveball behind the plum tree. Ran-chan looks back and forth between him and the tree as if he's played some mean trick on her. Then she trots off to investigate these strange proceedings.

"Yeah," he says, swallowing away the lump in his throat. "I never thought I was too young."

"You should marry who you love," his dad says. "And not listen so much to old people. We always think we know everything, but we're just making it all up too."

Kame nods, on autopilot. Not listening. It takes him a moment to see he can be light-hearted about this. "I'll quote you to mom on that."

Ran-chan can't help an actual bark when she finally discovers her prey, and they both watch her for a bit.

"She doesn't know, though, does she?" his father asks suddenly. "That I was a little doubtful? I'd hate for her to think I don't like her."

Kame shakes his head. Midori knows she's very much loved by his parents, and they never talked about his father's concerns. He kept that from her so it wouldn't hurt her; he's good at that.

*~*~*

"Are you sure you don't want to arrange for a car?" Kame asks after he's packed his bag and put half of Midori's stuff in the trunk to drop it off at the house.

Midori is lounging on the sofa reading a travel magazine, her feet in bright red socks, one hand dangling off the side to stroke Ran-chan's head. "Very sure," she says. "I take the trains every day."

His mother is reading a different issue of the same magazine, with thin sticky notes poking out in neon yellows and greens where she's been fantasy-travelling. "Dad can give you a lift, too, honey. It's no trouble."

"That would be nice, but it's really not necessary. Kazuya's taking the luggage home, so it's no hassle at all."

Kame goes into the kitchen to get some water for the drive. He isn't needed for this. He knows how it's going to end anyway. His mother is very happy Midori has decided to stay until Sunday; it's even kept her from regretful hints about Kame's early departure. Not that they ever give him much grief.

He doesn't like going from family time straight to filming. They know that. Midori expected him to stay at the apartment anyway, to get into the right frame of mind for sinking into a character.

"You should kidnap him sometime," he hears when he comes back out. His mother gives him a sideways smile, clearly up to no good. "Hawaii, Thailand…"

"I quite fancy Europe," Midori says. Then she cranes her neck for Kame. "Don't worry, we're just daydreaming. No stress." No guilt, she means. It's this sort of thing that makes her so easy to be around.

He nods and tries not look awkward in his parents' living room. "I'm kind of… ready to go," he says.

"Almost," his mom says, getting up. Midori climbs off the sofa and appoints herself dog-handler for the goodbye proceedings by calling Ran-chan to her side.

His dad carries his bag to the car as if he's twelve. His mother has made him bento so he doesn't starve on the one hour drive, and it twists his heart.

"Stop fretting," Midori says when she kisses him on the cheek. "You need to think about samurai and angsty princesses."

"Deranged villains with horrible childhoods," he says, and they both laugh.

The dog is undecided who she wants to jump on more, though she settles on Kame when she understands he's about to get into a car. His mother has some final words on dressing for cold climates, but they've always treated him like an adult, so it's not too bad.

Then he's alone with the door closed, and after one corner he can't see them wave anymore. He knows it was an easy stay, and the sense of his life rolling back into motion is about work.

It's just an hour out of central Tokyo, and he can see them any time. That's why it never hurts to leave.

 

Chidori, Wednesday 31 December – Thursday 01 January

The streets are pretty quiet, for seven o'clock on a Wednesday night. But Jin guesses most people are already inside with their families, or left Tokyo earlier in the day to travel home to wherever they came from.

He sent a card, to let them know he's alive, wish them luck. They'll get it tomorrow.

He shifts the bag with the two sake bottles into the hand that's already holding the bag with the three six packs of beer, and tucks his hair out of his face again. The wind is only light, but it's coming from just the wrong side. He wishes he'd put on his knit hat, but it's mild for the time of year and he didn't want to get sweaty before the night even started.

It took him half an hour to even decide what to wear. Baggy jeans seemed inappropriate for New Year, and no way was he going to wear a suit and feel like an escort on assignment all night. He's wearing one of his Kame outfits now and telling himself it's normal to wear it even though Kame hasn't seen it yet, it's just clothes.

He expected to spend his New Year sleeping, writing music, and mostly trying not to think about last New Year when he and Subaru were desperately trying to find tricks to pay for heating. Or the one before that with Naoki, giggling drunkenly through some camp idol music show, making love after the bells. But it's hard to stop the memories coming when you've got an entire family holiday all to yourself.

So when Tomo mailed him on Monday and asked if he wanted to help entertain an excitable teenager through a sleep-deprived night, Jin accepted at once. Tomo promised 'soba, mochi, food and booze' for keeping their strength up, but Jin managed to insist on supplying the booze at least. Now he's glad Tomo doesn't live far away, because the bags are getting kind of heavy.

He hasn't been to Tomo's before, but the directions were clear. It's an eight-storey building, not as well-kept as Jin's and somehow greyer. Some of the name signs look grubby under scratched plastic, but the Yamashita is neat in nice hand-writing.

Once inside and past the parking lot of prams, he remembers Tomo's warning that the elevator isn't working, and is just taking a deep breath in preparation for hiking the bags up to the fifth floor when footsteps start clattering down the stairs. By the time he's halfway to the first landing, a boy a head shorter than he rounds the corner and stops to bow tidily. "Welcome, I'm Yoshiaki, and Nii-san told me to help you carry."

"Hi," Jin says, "I'm Jin."

The boy bows again and then he holds out a hand for a bag. "Hi, Jin-san. Can I take something?"

Jin gives him the beer, because cans aren't breakable. The boy is short for his age, and not exactly bulky. He wears thin-framed glasses and a slightly too big black shirt, neatly buttoned and ironed.

He's fast, taking the stairs two at a time, and not at all out of breath when they both make it to the top. Tomo is standing in the door, wearing a Minnie-Mouse apron and with his fringe tied up in a little fountain on top of his head. He laughs when he sees Jin trudging up the last steps after Yoshiaki.

"Don't worry, we're not old, Yoshi's just very young," he says, stepping back. "Watch the junk in the hall, we tidied up the rest but there was nowhere else to put this stuff."

Jin kicks off his shoes and is appropriately careful around the junk, which is books and videos, a battered GMX bike and, Jin thinks, a half-deflated basketball hidden under clothes, and then follows them inside. There's a delicious smell of heat and spices.

*~*~*

"Did Emi-san teach you how to make this?" Jin asks while they're busy stuffing themselves with hotpot and soba. They're sitting on cushions around a kotatsu in the middle of a very small, very full room.

"Actually," Tomo says, "our mother did. She wasn't able to cook before… for a while, and she told me how to make all the dishes we liked."

Jin's learned that Tomo's mother had MS and died from it; Tomo told him one night before their songs when Jin didn't want to talk about his own parents and maybe asked too many questions. Somebody else might have thought it was rude but Tomo didn't mind.

"Nii-san is a great cook!" Yoshi declares, and Tomo laughs.

"He says that because I don't make him eat natto and konyaku."

Jin shakes his head. "He says it because this is excellent."

Normally he prefers spaghetti to soba, but tradition is tradition, and these are done just right and the sauce is delicious. The hotpot keeps everyone warm, not that Tomo and his brother seem to be needing it; they have the sleeves of their shirts rolled up as though they're more than used to the chill in the room.

"I don't cook that much," Tomo admits with half a shrug, poking around in his noodles. "You know, during the week. Lots of conbini for us. So I like it, on a holiday…"

"It's great," Yoshi nods, confirming with a loud slurp.

They catch up on their recent news while handing around bowls and hunting for meat and mushrooms in the hotpot. Tomo tells them about the latest oddities from his jobs, Jin about his helplessness in clothes shopping, and Yoshi about a biology project with mouldy jello he's really into.

"I can't help him much," Tomo says, leaning back against the front of their worn couch with its faded flower pattern. It reminds Jin of his parents' living room. "I was kind of distracted in my last couple of years at school and then I dropped out early."

Jin can guess why. "I finished," he says, "but, well, barely. Wasn't really paying attention. I was a bit of an idiot."

Tomo nods without even pretending that he wants to protest. And why should he.

"We're lucky that Yoshi doesn't really need my help." Tomo smiles at his brother. "He's doing just fine."

"I really like chemistry. I'm going to be a chemist and make medicines and earn lots of money," Yoshi says earnestly, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.

"That sounds excellent," Jin agrees.

"What is your job?" Yoshi asks.

"I'm a waiter at a private club," Jin says. "It's not much fun. Customers can be rude to you and you can't talk back. You're better off becoming a chemist."

"I'll work hard," Yoshi says, quickly distracted as Tomo refills the beer glasses for Jin and himself. "Can I have one too? Just one?"

Tomo hesitates, and Jin makes a 'fine by me' face at him.

"Promise you won't try a skywing shoot in here again afterwards, Yoshi?"

"Promise," Yoshi says immediately, draining his cola and getting up to rinse his glass.

"Skywing shoot?" Jin says when he's sat down again. "You like Captain Tsubasa?"

"Totally." It's a statement of faith. "The early ones anyway, not so much now with the wife and stuff. But when he's still in school, yeah. You like him too?"

"Yeah." He once did, anyway. "I read everything up to Road to 2002. I've watched most of the anime, too, have you?"

"Yeah, we watched them in the video club at school. But I like the manga better."

"Do you also play soccer?"

"Eh." Yoshi shrugs squirmily. "I try. I like it, but I'm not good."

"You're not as bad as you make out," Tomo says. "You just don't have much time to play."

"Yeah, maybe." Yoshi takes a little sip of his beer, and Jin can tell he's trying to look manly and like he enjoys the bitter taste.

"Do you play with your friends?" Jin asks.

"Nah, not so much. They're all better than me, it's kind of…" He shrugs and sips at his beer again. Jin gets it.

"I also like pirate manga," he says. "Do you know One Piece?"

*~*~*

Jin gets permission from Tomo to carry some bowls through into the kitchen, but that's as much work as he's allowed to contribute; when Tomo starts running hot water he directs Jin to a corner by the door. Yoshi brings through the last of the dishes and disappears to watch some girl band sing on TV.

"I can get out of your way," Jin says, uncertain whether Tomo would prefer that. It feels weird to stand and watch somebody else work. The kitchen is tiny, cheap plastic surfaces and some grubbiness in the corners if you look for it, but mostly clean. It reminds him of the one he shared with Naoki.

Tomo stops rooting around for something or other under the sink and grins up at him. "You're not in my way, that's why I put you there." He comes up with a bag of cheap sponges, the kind Jin uses himself. "Sorry it's so tight in here."

"It's not much smaller than mine," Jin says. Only older, and more personal. The lampshade is ancient and ugly. There are faded stickers of cool cars on the fridge.

"It helps when the furniture fits." Tomo grins again. "But hey, this is cheap. And enough for us." He flicks his eyes upward, with a sympathetic pout. "Takeshi-san upstairs cooks for three kids in one of these, and her hot water's not really working."

He's stacking bowls efficiently to drip, and Jin doesn't ask if he's allowed to dry because he knows what the answer will be.

"Do apartments around here become available often?" he asks instead. "I've kind of been thinking about moving."

Tomo stops scratching at dried sauce in a pan and gives him a thoughtful frown. "Here? I mean, it would be cool, but… well, you see what this is like. And the same company owns most apartment blocks around here, so they're all pretty much the same. Nothing ever gets fixed. Your place is so much nicer."

"Yeah," Jin says, "maybe." Expensive apartments for expensive escorts. "But it's really too much money, and I want to save up."

"You got plans?"

Jin puts his hands in his pockets and shrugs slowly. "I want to ditch my job. You know, learn something decent. I wouldn't be able to keep my place anyway when I do that."

"Yeah," Tomo nods. "Okay, makes sense. I can totally look out for something cheap for you around here, if you don't mind the nasty."

Jin doesn't say how much better this is than the place he shared with Subaru. Or any street corner he could care to name. He looks out through the small, slightly dusty window, past the freshly washed curtain that has ducks on it. "This isn't nasty," he simply says. "It's kind of homey. I come from a place like this, too."

*~*~*

The clouds in the sky are lit orange from below, chased by a fresh breeze across the darkness behind. There's no moon.

"Cold," Jin says, hunching up his shoulders as they march through the street. "Brrr. Cold."

"Wimp," Tomo says tolerantly.

Yoshi trots along beside them, wrapped up in woolly hat and a long scarf, his glasses peeking out between.

They played Jenga after food, chatting randomly, with Kouhaku barely audible on the TV in the back, until it was time to leave. They briefly considered heading up to Asakusa to see in the New Year with the crowds at Sensouji, but then Tomo remembered that the trains would stop running, and wouldn't entertain the quiet suggestion that Jin could pay for the cab back. So now they're on their way to the local shrine ten minutes away, which will be good enough.

Most of the neighbourhood seems to think so too. The closer they get, the busier the streets are, and once they pass through the torii they have to slow almost to a halt.

Lots of people know Tomo. It makes sense, Jin thinks, with the jobs and Yoshi's school and everything; he'd just never thought about it. He doesn't know anybody. But Yoshi doesn't seem very interested in the adults but isn't talking to the other kids either, so eventually Jin gives Tomo a little wave and takes Yoshi down to a stall where he can try to shoot wooden blocks and, if he's lucky, win a Wii.

He's not lucky, which is kind of a shame. In the end he gets to pick a talisman from a box of plushie keyrings.

"Here," he says, turning to Jin. "Thanks for letting me try for the Wii." He hands him a small green-and-brown turtle. The little leaflet attached explains that it stands for longevity.

Jin stares at it.

Maybe too long.

"Not that I mean to say you're old," Yoshi is saying. "Just… older than me, and it doesn't hurt, right?"

"No," Jin says quickly, and then he can't stop smiling at him. "It doesn't hurt at all."

Right then the bell starts to ring, and they turn back to find Tomo again before the 108 are over.

They stand next to each other when the cheering starts.

After, Tomo and Yoshi hand in last year's charms to be burned, and they all go to get new ones. Next are the fortunes. Yoshi squeezes his eyes shut and shakes the box hard before tipping out the stick. After unrolling the fortune the shrine maiden hands him, he pumps his fist in the air triumphantly.

"It says you're going to give me more pocket money next year," he says to Tomo with a wide, cheeky smile.

Tomo looks up from his own fortune and makes a face. "Mine says I'm going to be nibbled to death by cockroaches, so I'm afraid you'll have to find somebody else to raise your allowance."

Jin laughs. "I guess you might want to tie that one up."

"Cockroaches or extortion," Tomo says. "Hmm…"

It's Yoshi who snatches the fortune out of his hand and knots it around a thin twig of the paper-laden tree by the shrine.

"What've you got?" Tomo asks Jin.

Jin shrugs. "I'm going to find a good wife."

"Whoops," Tomo says with a little smile.

"You don't want her, I could do with a girlfriend," Yoshi says, and that solves the question of tying the poor prospective wife to a tree to everybody's satisfaction.

Jin gets hot lemon tea for Yoshi and hot sweet sake for Tomo and himself for the walk home. He's feeling chilled through and hopes he's not going to catch a cold that'll stop him working. His free hand is in his pocket, closed around the turtle keyring.

They have a date on Sunday.

"Yoshi and I were thinking of driving to the beach to watch the first sunrise early tomorrow," Tomo says, sounding a little drowsy. "You want to come? You can crash at ours or I can pick you up tomorrow. Six should be early enough."

Six. Jin… prefers not to remember when he was last up at six in the morning. Not since he got his current job, that's for sure.

"That sounds great," he says. "You really don't mind?"

"I'll be grateful," Tomo says in an aggrieved tone. "You can help me throw sticks into the water for this one here to fetch, so he doesn't whine about being bored."

Yoshi kicks him, but gently.

*~*~*

It's pretty dark at five-thirty, Jin thinks. He knows it's a stupid thought, it was no less dark when he got home at half past one. But the dark feels different at this time. Like you're not meant to be around in it. Like you're supposed to be under a cover somewhere.

Looking out of his window, he sees lights in windows here and there, and wonders if these are people who are still partying, or people who are also getting up early for the sunrise. Whether there's going to be a long line of cars on the freeway, all heading towards the Bay or Yokohama.

He brushes his teeth, and dresses in the clothes he discarded for nicer ones yesterday afternoon; jeans, t-shirt, thick knit sweater and a double layer of socks. He's glad his boots are kind of big.

His fingers feel dull and he's kind of clumsy when he makes the coffee that's supposed to help him stop yawning so much.

He wishes he had a thermos flask to take a hot drink along for all of them. Maybe now he can start getting these things one only needs once or twice a year.

He has a quick helping of miso soup with an egg stirred through it, and when Tomo rings the bell, he's ready to wrap himself in his coat, grab his woolly accessories and the keyring, and go.

"Did you sleep?" Yoshi is bouncing up and down on the back seat.

"Sure," Jin says, "didn't you?" Because Tomo lives so close the car is still cold, and the cranky old fans are noisy, working hard for the first burst of hot air.

"Nii-san said I didn't have to. Cause I don't have school. I just watched stuff on TV. But I'm not tired at all."

"I slept," Tomo says. He's got on neither gloves nor hat but at least there's a fluffy sort of jacket that makes Jin feel like less of a wimp. "Just in case you're worried about risking your life in this car."

"Not worried," Jin says and tries to peer over his shoulder. "What did you watch?"

"Just anime …" Yoshi's voice sounds light, and Jin can't see his face in the passenger seat mirror, he's hidden behind the headrest.

"Go on, admit it already," Tomo says. "You were old enough to stay up for it, you can man up and admit to it, too."

"Attack No. 1 reruns, okay?" Yoshi says sulkily, still hidden behind the seat. "They're fun."

Jin remembers Taro-chan being obsessed with Card Captor Sakura for a while. Hisato teased him mercilessly about that, until everyone in Jin's family got freaked by boys liking girl stuff and nothing was funny any more.

"That's about volleyball," he says to Yoshi. "Isn't it?"

"Yeah," Yoshi says. "And it's pretty good for a girl thing."

"Hey," Jin says, "I believe you." He doesn't say more, though, it's better to be careful.

Tomo grins at him sideways over a gear change. "I cried over Rose of Versailles," he says under his breath, "not that I'd tell him that."

"I don't know that," Jin admits. "With three of us… could be difficult to watch what you wanted. I was outside a lot."

Tomo nods. "Yeah, I get that. It can get kind of tight." He pulls in his shoulders as if to illustrate, and they both laugh at that.

Jin wonders if they had more space before Tomo's mother got sick. He thinks Tomo sleeps in the living room. But good for them they always had a place to stay. Good for Yoshi.

It's peaceful in the car, Tomo driving, the city sleepy and hiding from a hangover. Tomo's put the music on low but in the quiet Jin can recognize it, and he ends up humming along to the song about aliens and English guys.

"I thought about doing that one once," Tomo says. "But it has too many hard words."

Jin listens for a moment. "Yeah, I don't really get all of it, either."

"But your English is really good. I mean, I can tell on all those American songs."

"It's… okay, I guess," Jin says hesitantly. "It's not that great. There's a guy at my work who's from L.A., I can try stuff out on him, that's quite useful."

"Yoshi likes English, too," Tomo says, with a quick gesture of his chin over his shoulder. Jin turns around in his seat.

But Yoshi is scrunched up against a corner of the back seat, asleep.

*~*~*

"Here, drink that," Tomo says to Yoshi and holds out the cup, steam rising from it up into the dark. "It'll keep you going until sunrise."

Yoshi props himself up from where he collapsed on a dune as soon as they found a good spot on the beach. He takes the cup and sniffs it. "It's coffee," he says accusingly.

"I put three sugars in it for you."

"Hm, okay." Yoshi gulps it down as fast as he can. "Thanks."

Tomo wipes the rim of the cup conscientiously with a cloth from the satchel he brought along. Then he refills it from the flask and holds it out to Jin. "Want some, too?"

They slope they're sitting on is reasonably comfortable, but there's a wet chill rising from the ground under them. There are maybe five hundred people on the beach with them, and most are standing because it's warmer that way. Everybody's pretty quiet, except for the bigger dogs who are running around excitedly. The smaller ones are being kept cozy in their owners' handbags, and for a weird moment Jin thinks it must be nice to be a dog like that.

He needs a hot drink.

"I'd love some," he says, but when Tomo gives him the cup, it's almost full, and he doesn't want to drink all of Tomo's coffee. "That's a bit much, though."

"Drink what you can, I'll take the rest," Tomo says.

Jin takes a large sip. The heat is wonderful.

His mom had an ancient flask for them. Plastic on the outside, and you had to carry it upright or it would spill. It usually managed lukewarm. Hisato used to whine about it until he got to be the official good son.

But he's not thinking about that. He doesn't even know if they still do the same things, TV and the balcony sunrise that was always beautiful, or if anyone's around to give Taro-chan a decent present.

And there's no point wondering.

"When do you have to start working again?" he asks. He knows most people are on vacation for another two days, but especially in crappy jobs, that can vary. Jin's back at work on the third for the Saturday crowd, and he knows that some of the guys have dates with regulars tomorrow.

"The bar opens again tomorrow night," Tomo says. "Can't really afford to lose the business. And I've got some deliveries tomorrow, too. The parking thing doesn't start up again till Monday, though, I got unlucky there with the way the Sunday follows the holidays.

Unlucky. Holidays suck when you'd rather have the money.

"You?" Tomo says, and takes the cup Jin holds out to him.

"Back on Saturday." Jin shrugs. "Service industry."

They stare out into the darkness from which the sun is meant to come. Jin thinks maybe he can see a faint dark glow.

"I don't have school until Monday," Yoshi says. "But I've still got homework to do."

"I hear you're good at English," Jin says, deciding to be cheerful because for now they're here and don't have to mope about stupid work.

Yoshi considers that very seriously. "I'm not bad. But I'm better at chemistry. And maths. And biology. And—"

"You got seventy-one in that last test," Tomo says, "that's pretty good."

"Hello, how are you?" Jin says to Yoshi in English. "Are you still tired?"

"I understood that!" Tomo grins.

"That's because it's basic," Yoshi says. He sits up more, getting livelier. "I'm tired," he says in English, "but I am also cold and I am hungry."

"I am cold, too," Jin replies, and once again Tomo interrupts, in Japanese.

"You two moanfaces are impossible. Have more coffee."

"Coffee isn't food," Yoshi says wisely to Jin in English. "It is inadequate."

"Inadequate?" Jin doesn't know that one.

"Not good. Not good enough," Yoshi says triumphantly.

Jin looks around, at the slowly greying horizon, the people with their dogs and children and the enterprising snack sellers with their carts weaving between them.

"Okay. Let's make a bet. If you know a longer English word than I, I have to buy you those sweet potatoes."

Tomo clearly didn't follow that. English can be useful, Jin thinks.

Yoshi tilts his head and gives Jin an assessing look through his glasses. "What if you win? "

"You don't complain about food."

"Huh," Yoshi says. "Okay. Say your word."

Jin counts quickly in his head. Bon Jovi with 'difference' or Metallica with 'remembrance'… "Remembrance. Eleven."

Yoshi looks at him with something like new respect. "Ooookay…" and then he spends a few minutes counting out letters on his fingers.

Jin grins at Tomo, who raises his eyebrows questioningly. "A bet."

The horizon is turning purple, and people's voices are getting louder.

"Abbreviation!" Yoshi says triumphantly. "Twelve."

"I thought of another one," Jin says, pleased with himself. "Grandchildren. Thirteen."

Yoshi screws his face up and starts counting again.

"Chemosynthesis," he pronounces carefully at last, and then in Japanese again, "Fourteen. Beat that."

Jin laughs. "I don't even know what it means."

"You don't have to know that to beat it, do you?" Yoshi says practically.

"Okay, no. But still. What does it mean?"

"I know it from chemistry, actually, not from English." Yoshi is slightly apologetic. "It's when molecules transform into stuff without using light. You know?"

Jin doesn't know, but he guesses he's learned something. "Okay, you win." He stands up, looks around for the nearest vendor, and digs in his pockets. "Sweet potatoes for all before sunrise."

He's lucky and the queue is short, and he manages to get back to Tomo and Yoshi just as they have stood up to be touched by the first rays of sun shooting across the bay.

"Happy New Year," he says, and holds out the steaming cardboard containers.

"Thank you," Tomo says. "But that wasn't ne—"

"He won, fair and square," Jin says, glad when Tomo smiles as the delicious scent hits him. "That's what happens to grown-ups who think they have to gamble."

Yoshi nods wisely.

They fall silent as they snack on their potatoes. Everyone's staring out, at the glow on the water that's rippling and eerie and just as special as it should be to announce a new start.

Jin tries not to think of much, just notes that it's pretty.

He's got no plans for the new year, no dreams. No realistic ones, anyway. Hope for continued general improvement is a lame sort of wish.

But maybe this can be the year before the year that's going to be different. He can make that happen – get out of that apartment, make better plans, save more money and hope he keeps earning lots. Next time the sun comes up like this, he'll be ready.

Today is better than he expected already.

Next to him, Yoshi is leaning into Tomo, sneaking in the kind of cuddle he thinks he's too old for, and Tomo pulls him in without taking his eyes off the bay. Jin pretends he doesn't see.

~

Chapter 35

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