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The Same Deep Water As You

by Solo & Jo

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Chapter 36

 

Thursday 22 January

Custom's going slow in the bar, the noise still low enough for easy talking. It's early, and the only people there are those who were keen on the sofa seats, like the young schoolteacher and his girlfriend, and some of the more nervous singers wanting a quick trial run with the band and hanging around for liquid courage after. Some of them can be very liquid by the time they get on, but people are usually kind.

Jin helped Goto-san with the sound check again earlier and wiped down the tables. Now he's kicking back with Tomo and a bottle of Yebisu, waiting for the rush to start.

"Anyway, I thought I'd really do the slow one this time," Tomo says, and Jin grins because he's been saying it for weeks now.

"I should make up some interesting penalty if you chicken out again."

They turn because heavy footsteps are clomping up the stairs from the cellar.

"All done," Saeki-san says when he appears. He's the younger of the two delivery guys, with a very short neck and the bulky arms of someone who lugs crates around for a living. "Sure you don't want to up the Yebisu order? You were pretty low."

Tomo's grimace is subtle enough that only Jin catches it. "Not my decision, I'm afraid," he says. Jin knows he'd also like to get some Asahi Black in. "I'm just the muscle."

"But the place is rocking on your nights," Saeki says encouragingly. Sometimes he comes by when his rounds are finished, for the music, though he claims he's never going to sing. "I'd say you're doing it right."

Jin nods to that, and Saeki checks his boss is still in no hurry, taking a break in the van outside with his complimentary coke, before sliding into the barstool next to Jin. Break time for all.

"By the way, I had a talk with my brother," he says to Jin. "He said he had a bit of a test when he started? But he wants to be an electrician, so I think he's got to know about not electrocuting himself and crap like that. Do you know what you're looking at?"

They talked a bit about apprenticeships last week, after Jin admitted he never learned anything new after his dodgy high school diploma.

"I kind of like cars," Jin says. "I was thinking of doing something with that. I'm not so good with numbers."

"There's always business in cars, they keep breaking down," Saeki says wisely. "Once you're past the apprenticeship, you've got it made. Trick is getting past that."

"Difficult?" Tomo asks, handing over the sheets he signed and initialled.

"Nah, just… they don't pay well. My brother gets a bit, but it wouldn't be enough without my parents."

"Yeah," Jin says, "I guessed that. But I'm saving up." It won't be a problem, in a year.

"For a guy who doesn't like being a waiter, you spend a lot of time helping out here," Goto-san says, reaching past Jin behind the bar where he left his own beer. They're getting good at working together, but Jin still calls him Slayer guy in his head half the time. Today it's the Reign in Blood tour t-shirt from 2006 again; Jin always thinks that's a weird misspelling.

"Shut up, don't discourage him!" Tomo says, and Jin laughs into his drink.

"Better atmosphere here," he says. "I get to eat peanuts. And the compensation's okay, too." He dangles his beer.

Tomo restocks the fridge, and Jin and Saeki have another chat about Metallica and CDs versus downloads, not that Jin even owns a computer. He then watches the bar for a bit while Tomo takes a call from Emi-san, and pours the usual drinks when the nice couple who always sing duets arrive. Kihara-san is wrapped up tight in gloves and two layers of scarves, while Kitayama is making due with an orange windbreaker.

"Hey, you're getting better at the draft thing," Kihara teases Jin when he manages not to fill up half her glass with froth. He is concentrating too hard to be cheeky in return, but he's quite proud of the very professional-looking beers he puts on the bar eventually.

Kitayama returns from hanging their jackets over some chairs. He's actually wearing a t-shirt. In January. Voluntarily. And not even ordering hot tea.

"Don't mind her," he says. "She's been fighting with the neighbours all week, it takes a while for the aggression to ease off. But she'll get there."

"We should sing some deathcore," Kihara says with big intense eyes, and they all laugh. Jin listens to stories about scheming neighbours and the dangers of living with middle-aged housewives, and he's grinning at a description of a very flustered postman when he hears his phone, the soft little melody that is Kame's ringtone.

It's weird how his heart skips a little and he feels a grin spreading over his face.

"Excuse me," he says, and in the few moments it takes to move far enough aside to answer the phone, he somehow finds time to remember that Kame is still in Hokkaido, and to wonder why he's calling, and maybe there were chopped-off arms after all, and he's almost apprehensive by the time he finally says, "Hello?"

"Jin!"

Kame doesn't sound like he's chopped off anybody's arm, and Jin feels the grin coming back. "Hi! How's the frozen north?"

Kame's voice laughs in his ear. "It was pretty frozen when I left."

"You left? I thought you were there until Saturday."

"I didn't fall off the sandals," Kame says, "I got out early. Listen, Jin, my wife is out and nobody else expects me anyway, I'm in town tonight with nothing to do, do you fancy meeting up? Anytime that suits you will be fine."

Jin needs a moment to absorb all that, and another to… to know what he's thinking. Because meeting Kame… meeting Kame is always great, but it's Open Mic night which is… which is the other great thing, and he'd have to wait another week… and he can't leave anyway, he remembers, he promised Tomo to help him until Emi-chan gets in at ten. But ten is late, for a trip across the city. And it's his day off.

Kame noticed the silence. "No good?" he asks. The energy has gone from his voice, but he doesn't sound put off. "If you have… if you are busy, I understand. I was short notice, I'm sorry. Don't worry about it."

He could say he's busy. It would be perfectly okay.

"It's just, it's my day off," he says. "And there's stuff… I'm meeting some friends, I've got a thing."

"Oh," Kame says. "That's great. Everybody needs days off. Maybe we can make it Tuesday? Or Wednesday, I think I've got… sorry. We can find something next week."

"And it's not just, I mean, we're not just hanging out randomly, there's a thing with singing." Jin doesn't even know why he's babbling on like that.

"Karaoke?" Kame sounds like he thoroughly approves of karaoke for Jin. Jin wonders if he's acting.

"An Open Mic night. At a bar. I don't know if you know about them? People just stand up and sing, sometimes it's their own songs, but often covers, but there's a band and some people play their own instruments."

"I've heard of it," Kame says. "I'm sure it's fun. I hope you have fun." Silence again. It feels weird after all those words. "So, we talk again next week?"

"Yeah," Jin says quickly, "or do you want to—" He catches himself, unsure suddenly how he got to— never mind. "Do you want to come?"

This silence is different. "To the bar?"

"Well, nobody knows what I do here, you could just be some guy I know. A friend. And after, well, I don't live far from there." He reminds himself to breathe. Deeply. "Sorry," he says then. "It's probably a stupid idea. I know it's kind of…"

"No, it's cool, it's great. I'd love to come."

Suddenly Jin's heart is beating in his throat. He's not sure why. Probably got his choice of reasons. But then he gets with it, says, "Okay, great," before Kame can even think it's not, and then he tries to think logically. It's not actually that hard. Jin works at a private club. Kame likes music. Totally fine.

He gives Kame directions, dashing past Tomo and Goto into the tiny office to find a post code for the navigation or the taxi driver. Noises at the other end of the line sound like Kame has managed to spill the contents of his glove compartment on the floor in the search for paper.

"Dress code?" Kame then asks, and Jin is glad somebody is thinking the right thoughts here.

"Basic," he says, "very basic. Jeans if you have any."

He doesn't know why Kame finds that so funny.

"I think I can find a pair," Kame giggles, but then he goes sober again. "I'll try to make it hard to recognize me, but you'll have to tell me if I look too deranged."

"Don't worry," Jin says, "we have a few guys who think wearing sunglasses in a dim bar makes them into cool rockers. You'll fit right in."

"As long as nobody asks me to sing." Kame goes silent for a moment. "People may recognize me anyway."

Jin chews his lip. "Would that be really bad?"

"No! No, not really, I can be interested in amateur music if I want to be…" He trails off. "Hey, would it be okay if I asked Tanaka-san if he wants to come along? To the bar? He goes to these things sometimes, I think, it would make it easier to explain…"

Tanaka. Another client. Not one of Jin's, thank god, but still. Club people. Which is different from Kame, who is just… Kame, but maybe it shouldn't be so different and maybe it will even help to have someone there to keep him from being stupid. He doesn't know.

"I don't have to," Kame is saying. "I'll come along anyway."

"Sure, go ahead and ask him," Jin says, ignoring how weird it feels to imagine drinking with Tanaka, here. "It's a free country, the bar's open to all." He manages a laugh. "Even to rappers."

"Great, okay!" Kame's got the enthusiasm back even if now he has to dress like a hobo mummy, and Jin says he'll let Ootomo know, because it's better not to forget that.

"I want to drop my car off at the apartment, I hope to get there before nine, okay?"

"Sounds great," Jin says, and they hang up. He's smiling at the old black-and-white flyer on Tomo's pinboard where he found the address, and then sobriety sinks into his guts as he wonders what he's doing here.

At least he made it into the office, and nobody can see him. That's good. He stares at Tomo's scribblings on the board, at the bar rotations and a list of phone numbers that include beer delivery services, pizza take-out and Yoshi's school.

He's crazy. Except this time he's not really crazy, and he's got no excuse. He's just invited Kame to the one place he's kept all to himself, the one thing safe from the club. And that's not even considering Tanaka, and two clients knowing things they have no business knowing, and he is such an idiot.

He flips the phone open again and glances at his meagre contact list. Kame's is the second name in the list right after the office. Just as well he hasn't called Ootomo yet.

They can meet next week. Make it Wednesday, and the wait won't kill either of them; why should it? Kame will be… disappointed but he won't hold a grudge; he'll understand. Everybody needs days off.

He closes the phone.

He'll need another moment before he can talk to Ootomo.

Maybe he just won't sing. Kame isn't coming for that.

But, no, that's not fair, and Jin's not going to lie to himself. Kame likes Jin's company, and Jin likes his, and that's why he's doing this and if he had any sense, he'd have called it off. But who knows, maybe Kame has called Tanaka already, and now it's too late, and he'll just live with his stupidity.

Tomo sticks his head through the door. "Everything okay with you?"

"Yeah, sure," Jin says. Well, they'll see. He holds up his phone. "Just got a phone call." Inviting his client to the Open Mic. Holy fuck.

"Ah, right! No rush on my account, just thought you should know Lousy Trouser are about to set up their bass," Tomo grins at him. "They want to start a run in ten."

Jin nods in understanding; good to have notice, and he gets over himself in time to call the office without electric guitars blaring in the background, to tell Ootomo he's got a date.

*~*~*

He spends the next ten minutes pouring drinks, checking Tomo's small change and wondering every time someone looks at him what they'd say if they knew he's a whore. Kihara with her sparkly self-made jewelry and her nice smiles, Goto when he asks Jin's opinion on the Lousy Trouser acoustics, the office guy from last time who crashed and burned on Hamazaki Ayumi songs but is here to try again.

Then he stops. Reminds himself that nobody is going to find out because Kame doesn't want that, either. Maybe Kame's worrying just as much whether he's made a stupid mistake with this. They'll both be careful, it'll be fine.

He gets a beer from the fridge for himself and chills with some determination. Twenty minutes later he gets an e-mail from Kame that says Tanaka is coming, and they are aiming for eight-thirty.

Right.

Next to him Tomo is drafting beer. He's much faster at it than Jin. Somehow Jin wants to tell him he's got a friend coming; warn him, maybe, about outsiders. Or about the music scene audience. But also just tell him. It's a strange feeling.

The last two weeks at work were dull with Kame nowhere except on TV. Yamatani brought Yamanashi primeur wine and Yokoyama had a good week on the markets again, but even that isn't something he wants to think about at the bar. No rests with anyone, and he'll notice that on his bank balance at the end of the month, but he's still happier without them.

Tomo said he's mentioned in a few places that he's got a friend looking for an apartment. The sooner something happens there, the better.

And he'll introduce Kame later, and then he wonders why he's even thinking he can't tell Tomo now. It's just normal, saying what a phone call was about.

"Hey," he says when all customers are happy with drinks for the moment. "That call earlier? A friend of mine's going to drop by with another guy, to hang out for a bit."

"Cool," Tomo says. "Music buffs?"

"Hm, the other guy is pretty into it. Rap. My friend's just…" Jin grins. "He'll listen to pretty much anything, I think."

"He's coming to the right place then," Tomo grins back. He nods at the couple on the sofa and starts to put together refills for them. "What time do you want to go on? You'll want to wait till your friends are here."

"They said eight-thirty so… anytime after nine will be good," Jin says. "Maybe not too late. Between nine and ten." If Kame really hates it, they can leave when Emi-san comes to take over from him.

"Yeah, no problem," Tomo says, and pushes the drinks across for Jin to put on a tray. The schoolteacher likes his hot sake; his girlfriend prefers exotic cocktails.

They seem nice, but Jin's never talked to them. When he puts the drinks down on their table, they smile at him but the teacher doesn't interrupt some mournful tale about his school's Koushien chances, his girlfriend nodding along sympathetically and, Jin thinks, with about as much general interest in baseball as Jin has himself. He used to wish quite often that schools weren't so obsessed with it.

Hisato played for a while, but never well; and then he got too lazy. Taro-chan…

Jin called him on his birthday; that was the other thing last week. It was harder than talking to Hisato, and he didn't get lucky about Taro picking up the phone.

Still, his mother said nothing when he asked politely to speak to his brother and she didn't refuse, just passed him on, and they got three minutes. Jin started off with questions he'd prepared because he knows how his head gets under stress, and then Taro was telling him anything and everything about the last school year and thankfully almost forgot to ask questions of his own.

He found out that the soccer shoes he sent were the right size, and came at just the right time, too, when the old pair was both too torn and too small.

And Taro misses him. Jin always tries not to wonder what they say about him, but he didn't expect that. It was hard to hear, but it also made him happy. Still does.

When he gets back to the bar, Tomo has that harassed look he gets half an hour before the music starts, where he always worries about the sky falling down or people tripping over their guitars. Jin takes the next tray off him, and Tomo says thanks like Jin rescued a kitten from a tree.

*~*~*

The first number is a bit of a snooze, a weepy ballad thing that would work better at midnight when it can make everybody maudlin. But then the student trio with the cool drummer mix it up a bit, just in time for the first real rush of customers, and Jin has to figure out people's orders over the beat before the room erupts into applause.

They keep the queue short between the two of them. Tomo still manages to chat with people in between; Jin responds to the odd comment but nobody holds it against him when he has to concentrate on adding things to tabs and how much the Diet Coke was again. It's fun, and he starts humming along to the two familiar tracks of the Lousy Trousers.

Kihara and her partner come to the bar to get some gin and tonics, but mostly to talk to him. Last week Jin helped them figure out the harmonies for some pop song that's not originally a duet, and they tell him they'll be singing it tonight for the first time. More reasons he's glad he didn't cancel. He's just caught a glance of Kihara's pink-and-white watch – thirty-five past – when he checks the door to see Kame arrive.

He's cute in a black beanie and huge sunglasses, a jacket with plaid fringes over his jeans, and he looks weirdly tiny. Jin has no idea if he's recognizable. But Jin is at the bar, so he's easy to see, and the smile on Kame's face is real and shy. Jin's stomach flips a bit because this is it; bar, music, client, right here. Then he waves, and his stomach flips more. He figures he'll be used to it by the time Kame and Tanaka have had their first drinks.

Tanaka has forgone any camouflage, his short bleached hair uncovered and some bling glinting here and there. He's wearing the same black jeans he wears to the club.

Jin goes over to show them to the table he kept clear for them.

"Hey," Kame says.

"Hey," Jin says, and adds, "Good evening," for Tanaka. He stops the automatic bow halfway, suddenly afraid people will notice and wonder. "Thanks for coming. Did you find it all right?"

"The cab driver did," Tanaka says with a grin. "You think I'd miss the chance to have some beer with the music?"

"We've got beer." Jin shows them their seats; good ones with a pretty decent view, given that they're late. "What would you like? We've got Kirin on draught, Yebisu in bottles."

"You work here?" Kame asks. He's sitting very still, like the seat is going to throw him off if he antagonizes it, but he seems okay, considering. The first half hour at the restaurant, he was tenser.

"Just today," Jin explains. "The waitress had a family emergency, so I'm filling in till ten." And if he'd known he was going to see Kame, he'd have picked out a nice shirt today, not the shapeless grey t-shirt he got in a sale. His hair doesn't even bear thinking about.

But then this isn't the club. That's the point, that's why he likes it here, and Kame agreed to meeting here so… this is what he gets. He can't have expected club-Jin.

Jin smiles nervously. "It's kind of busy right now, so I can't sit down, but I'll get you your drinks straight away."

Tanaka chooses the Kirin and Kame just goes along. Jin feels like he's balancing a whole tray of fancy cocktails on his way back to the bar, but when he gets there everything's still normal.

Only Kame is here now.

He smiles back in Kame's direction. Kame is still huddling in his jacket even though it's quite warm; Tanaka has already taken off his coat and is looking around, curious and not shy at all.

Jin lets Tomo handle the beers.

"Your friends?" Tomo asks with a nod.

Jin nods back, all cool, or so he hopes. "Yeah. I'll introduce you when you're not up to your elbows in work."

Tomo wipes his wet hands on a towel and surveys the empty glasses Jin has already collected back. "Or dishwater."

"Yep. I'll help you in a minute, okay?"

He gets the beers to his guests, which feels pretty weird when normally he sits right there and has Kame order things for him. But they take their glasses and it's just normal, like he's just some guy, in some bar.

"Thanks for the table, too," Kame says before Jin leaves again. "I hope you didn't have to fight too many people off." Jin blushes a little, and his hair fluffs annoyingly into his face.

For the first three songs, Jin is nervous that they'll be bad; boring or out of tune. But there's a decent soloist and then another three-guy formation comes on, and they're so much fun that Jin can see Tanaka bobbing along from here, and Kame is smiling too.

He's ditched the jacket at last and is wearing a loose-fitting black t-shirt with long sleeves. It looks nondescript and still like he raided his older brother's wardrobe.

Jin keeps an eye on him between distributing drinks and rinsing glasses for Tomo; because of the sunglasses, he can't really tell if Kame is doing the same, but it's okay.

He's even got to admit that bringing Tanaka along was a good idea. He's the attention-getter if anybody; Kame's almost invisible beside the bling, the bouncing, and the dayglo hair.

Still Jin's pulse jumps to a race when next time he turns back their way, the guy who sometimes attempts Dabo covers is homing in on Kame's table. He thinks he can see Kame stiffen, and he doesn't even know what to do if—

The Dabo guy grins widely at Tanaka and makes a weird hand sign, which Tanaka knows how to return. The deep bow that follows is pretty weird in context, Jin thinks, but at least he can breathe again. He sees Kame take a gulp from his beer, and finally heads back to the bar with his tray to have one, too.

Steady, he tells himself. Even if somebody recognizes Kame, it's not like Kame has never dealt with fans before, and Kame is competent, and he's got Tanaka for cover, and as long as Jin stays out of the way…

They'll be fine.

He does another round distributing drinks, and stops for a few words with the four Shinoharas who always come to cheer him on. Initially he couldn't understand what a mid-thirties married couple and their two early teenage daughters might see in him, but now they just banter easily. Jin is happy they like his music.

He's become good at telling when it's working and for whom it's working, too. When people no longer look at him but through him – look through tables or through their glasses or through walls at the thing that means something to them alone, and they can see it when he sings. He loves it when that happens.

Back at the bar again, he's reaching across for another sip from his bottle, when there's a smooth voice in his ear. "They keep you pretty busy."

He whips around, and Kame is smiling at him. Up close, the shades aren't really that dark.

"I thought I'd come keep you company. Tanaka-san has found a fan."

"I'll take the next round," says Tomo, who's taken in the situation with a glance. "You can stay here and pull beers." He gives Kame the standard 'hello-there-new-customer' bow. "Hi, I'm Yamashita Tomohisa, I'm in charge of this place."

Names. They never thought about names. Jin doesn't even know what he wants Kame to say.

"Hi." Kame is bowing too. "Kamenashi Kazuya, pleased to meet you."

Right. Right, okay, 'Kame' would have been just as… people know that name, too, so… maybe it makes sense, but still Jin has no idea how Kame can be so relaxed about this. Look so relaxed, anyway.

Tomo squints at him with a little smile. "My girlfriend mentions that name sometimes. I believe I should be jealous of you."

Kame laughs. "I'm sorry. It's the camera shots from low angles, they make me look more impressive."

Tomo laughs, too. "I'll tell her that. It take it you're keeping a low profile?"

"The sunglasses gave it away, huh?" Jin manages.

"Yeah, I'm just here to chill," Kame says. "I had a free night, and Jin told me this is a nice place." He looks around. "He was right."

"Thanks," Tomo says, following his look, which has come to rest briefly on Tanaka, who's found a second disciple and is signing a coaster. "He an actor, too?"

"No," Kame says, "he's in the music industry. But also off-duty right now." He smiles. "He just can't ever let go."

"Well, I hope he doesn't find us too painful," Tomo says, and loads up his tray. "Gotta go, thirsty customers to supply. I hope you enjoy the evening! Keep pulling those beers, Jin."

Jin returns his smile, and stares after him for a moment.

"He seems like nice guy," Kame says.

"He is." Jin's still taking it all in, how normal Kame is here. With Tomo gone and just the two of them, Jin can see his shoulders ease just so, his smile turn shy in that way Jin recognizes. "But… just in general…" It makes him feel deeply disloyal to Tomo to bring this up right now, but he also feels he has to. "…is it a good idea to give out your name just like that?"

Kame shrugs slowly and leans his elbows on the bar. "I don't like making something up, to be honest. And if I do get recognized, it'll look pretty shady if I spent the last hour claiming to be my insurance salesman."

True enough, but it kind of sucks, and maybe… "It was stupid of me to ask you to come, wasn't it?"

"It wasn't." Kame shakes his head energetically. "This really is a nice place. And I could have said no if I wanted to. And if anyone asks, hey. Actors can have cool friends."

Jin grins down at the damp counter. It's true. Not that he's cool; that Kame can make his own decisions. Jin doesn't need to make himself crazy on his behalf.

For a moment they are silent, just looking around.

"Beer," Kame says to him then with a smile. "Don't want to get you in trouble."

Jin obediently starts filling glasses. "So how was Hokkaido?" He has to raise his voice over the guy who has just started an enthusiastic cover of an X-Japan song.

"Cold," Kame says at the same volume. "Really cold. Some days we filmed outside for twelve hours. You'd pour yourself some hot tea and by the time you lifted it to your mouth, it was lukewarm. The best parts were when we had to do battle in full samurai uniform, because we could wear thermal underwear underneath that."

Jin shudders in sympathy. Then he asks, "What?" because Kame is smiling in a funny way.

"Nothing."

"What?"

Kame hesitates, then leans in. Not so they touch, they would never touch. But Kame doesn't have to shout anymore. "I missed you," he says. "It wouldn't have been so cold snuggling up to you."

When he stands back, he looks a bit embarrassed, but Jin's just thinking of Kame alone in some cold Hokkaido bed, and he's almost shivering in sympathy.

He's careful not to lean in too much, but he smiles, and is pretty sure Kame can tell he'd have been happy to warm him up.

He's forgotten the beers again. He fills up the three he's got in progress before Kame asks, "So what have you been up to?"

Suddenly he realizes that this is much nicer, too. He's not stuck with small talk about the gym or the subway. So he tells Kame he spent time practicing, and that last week they had a bigger party because the Open Mic night turned a year old, and they had chocolate cake.

Tomo comes back for another load but doesn't comment, not even on the cake. Kame hardly tenses up this time, either. Jin asks him about a refill and Kame glances at the shelves behind the bar, but decides to stick with beer.

"You can have what you like, it's on me," Jin says.

Kame mulls that over, though he tries to disguise it by checking out the changeover on stage.

"Thanks. They do say knowing the guy behind the bar is a perk," he says then with a little grin. He has the beer anyway.

It feels pretty clever, and is probably really not. But Kame gets a giggly look sometimes, like he's ever so pleased with the two of them too, standing here and listening to music. Jin learns that Kame will really listen to anything, and cares about stuff like where people can possibly practice percussion and what colour someone's guitar is. Like it's totally normal, Kame in bug-eye sunglasses and flabby t-shirts, watching Jin pull beers.

When Tomo comes back the next time, he's got a purposeful look on his face. "Hey, you're on soon. Are you getting ready?"

"Um, yeah," Jin says. He notes that Kame looks interested-but-trying-not-to-show-it. "Will you be okay here?"

"Sure, first rush is done."

"My guitar's in the office," Jin says to Kame, and now he feels weird after all, but Kame's pushing off the bar.

"Great. I'll be with that rapper guy over there." He takes his beer and he and Tomo nod at each other.

Jin lets himself be shooed into the office by Tomo. Ten minutes is just long enough to grab his stuff, and get out the lyrics of the English song for a quick run over the line that can still trip him up sometimes.

Between working and worrying about Kame's cover, he never had time to get nervous about— he stops his thoughts short of detail. About this; and he hopes to keep it that way for the next fifteen minutes. He closes his eyes and huffs out a deep breath before heading out of the door with his guitar.

 

*~*~*

That went pretty well.

Kame's not sure what it really compares to, but as he walks around tables to get back to his seat, he feels like after he's watched his own performance and didn't find fault, or when he's remembered Mother's Day in time to get a decent present.

Tanaka's two fans see him approach and make their excuses; not really necessary, but Kame considers it a good sign, a sign that they'll be left in peace if they want to be private people on a fun night out.

He slides back in his seat and meets Tanaka's grin.

"He's coming up now," Kame explains.

"Yeah, I thought so," Tanaka nods. "Good for him."

The woman on stage, a tiny fluffy blur of pink and white on stiletto heels, is starting her second song. When Kame had the mind to listen, he liked what he heard so far. He likes the enthusiasm in it, even from the ones who aren't so good.

And Tanaka is still watching him.

He hasn't asked a funny question since Kame called him up, but the funny and the questions are in the air whenever it goes quiet between them. "Thanks very much for coming along," Kame says. "It really helps."

Tanaka gestures generously. "Hey, it's no hardship. These guys are pretty decent. And you've been up there in the cold for two lonely weeks…"

Kame rolls his eyes a bit. It sounded different in his head when he said something very similar just five minutes ago.

"How are you holding up?" Tanaka says. "This is pretty new."

Kame breathes deeply but, he hopes, undramatically. "I think it's okay. It's kind of… laid-back here." He's not noticing many curious stares in any case.

"Shibuya it ain't," Tanaka agrees comfortably as the singer holds her last high note, and then they clap along with the rest. "Though she's dressed like she wishes it was."

She walks to the steps at the side of the stage and Jin appears at the bottom, in faded blue and grey. They high-five each other while she's still at eye level with him up there, and Kame catches a glimpse of Jin's grin for her before he leaves the steps to her and turns to take one large stride straight up onto the stage. Kame can't tell if the applause is so loud because of who's leaving, or of who's just come, or whether he just didn't pay attention to it before.

Okay, the squealing of Jin's name from the tables to his right is definitely new, and he doesn't think he's seen those two little girls push forward to throw torn-up beermat confetti at anybody else before. But he could be wrong. Jin is laughing while he tunes up quickly, and then he gives them a little wave.

A guy behind Kame shouts some English words, and a couple of others repeat them, and Jin nods.

He adjusts the height of the mic and leans into it a bit.

"Hi," he says, "I'm Jin. And this is…"

Kame doesn't understand the rest, it's English again. There's more satisfied cheering, though. Beside him, Tanaka makes an intrigued sound, but Kame has no time to ask because the music starts, Jin picking out some low rhythm on his guitar, and the drums and the keyboard from the band joining in, and then Jin is singing.

It's all English. Kame doesn't understand a word. But he doesn't have to, it doesn't matter. The song is raw and intense, a rock number that sometimes comes close to shouting, and Jin sounds perfect whether he goes loud and rough or makes the foreign words sneak under your skin; and he looks amazing up there caring about nothing but the music and ignoring Kame completely, and like he knows every note to the bone.

The audience sings along with the somewhat shouted chorus. Too foreign for Kame to join in, but he smiles, finds himself tapping along and his fingers drumming on the beer glass. A glance at the fingers dancing on the table next to him tells him Tanaka is enjoying it too.

The applause is definitely noisy when Jin's done. Kame is sure of that. In fact, it's so loud and long that Tanaka has to lean in closely to say to him, "That was good."

"I thought so too," he shouts back.

"He's being harsh on his voice with all that shouting, it's not made for that. I'd like to hear what he does with something gentler." As the sound level goes back to normal, Tanaka can stop the shouting too. "But I liked it."

"Do you know what it was? I didn't catch anything."

On the stage, Jin is having a quick consultation with the band.

"Some Bon Jovi thing. Ancient American rock, from the eighties," Tanaka explains. "Didn't catch the title, either."

They shut up because Jin's turned back to the audience. He looks hot up there, and once or twice tries to push his hair out of his face while he announces the next song. English, again.

"Did he say 'I know'?" Kame asks Tanaka.

Tanaka shrugs. "Think so. I don't know it."

Jin starts to play.

Despite the title it's in Japanese this time. Tanaka is getting his gentler song.

Kame has never heard it before. Nobody else is singing along, but the audience know this one, Kame can feel it. They aren't chatting, only a few are drinking, and there's recognition in the smiles and Jin has the confidence again, all alone up there on stage.

His eyes close on the second verse. It's slow and beautiful, just Jin's voice and the guitar, and then percussion on the chorus, Jin's voice picking up with a restrained sort of passion.

It's on the last note that Kame notices just how quiet it got, and that he was holding his breath for the last soft words.

The little girls go wild but there are guys cheering too. It wasn't like a love song. Or maybe it is, maybe the love was complicated. Jin's smile is wide and deep, and Kame finds it strange and endearing how the shyness comes back into his posture. Jin claps for the band, and there's an entirely unfitting celebratory drum roll that makes everyone burst into laughter.

Jin jumps off the stage, Yamashita-san thumping his shoulder and shoving beer at him, to drink not to serve, and some older guy in a weird t-shirt says something that makes Jin laugh.

Kame wonders who it is, how they know each other; he'd like to go up there too, but it would be different, and he knows better.

It takes a while and some more congratulations, and the next singer is already on the stage by the time Jin looks his way. Kame can see his sudden hesitation from here.

He's not sure what to do; raising his glass would be rather corny. He risks lifting the sunglasses for just a moment and shoots Jin a smile. It probably looks very strange.

But Jin seems pleased when he ducks his head, and then he waves with both hands at the bar. Got it. More work, not avoidance. Kame settles back and has a gulp of his beer.

"He's good," Tanaka says, quietly enough so it's not rude to the current balladeer. "I can see why he didn't want to cancel on this thing." He gives the stage another look, and nods.

Kame squashes the moment of guilt, which is irrational even by his standards. "Yes, I'm glad he didn't. I liked it, too. But you know me and music…"

"Well, here's your chance to get yourself some education," Tanaka says. "The kid has taste."

Kame doesn't rise to the bait, and doesn't take issue with Tanaka's phrasing. Jin is smiling more than before, talking to an old man in a rumpled suit who has settled on the other side of the bar, dropping the dishtowel to clap when the song ends.

Kame eyes Tanaka's mostly empty glass and then downs the rest of his own beer. "Are you sticking with that?" he asks. Tanaka just smirks.

Jin sees him coming this time.

"Can I get two more, please," Kame says, smiling secretly as he's putting his elbows back on the bar.

"Sure," Jin says, all light and happy bartender. "Thanks for saving us a trip."

"Figured you guys are busy enough." Kame nods at the old guy, who doesn't even blink at his camouflage.

Jin is biting his lip as he starts their drafts.

"I really liked your songs," Kame says. "That was really good."

The smile is getting the better of Jin, even though he makes a dorky effort at keeping a straight face. "Thanks," he says in the end. "I'm glad you're not bored."

"Bored?" the old guy says, in great disbelief. "You should be glad they let you off the stage." He turns to Kame with a wise expression. "He's one of our stars, you know."

Kame nods solemnly.

Jin hands them their beers, and the verdict's out on whether he's more grinning or blushing.

*~*~*

Jin joins them after a girl has taken over waiting the tables. He pulls up a chair, not quite in a circle. The easy way he flops down almost takes Kame by surprise. "Hey," he smiles. Then he gives Tanaka a more self-conscious nod.

"Is the waitress back?" Kame asks.

"No, that's Emi-san, she's Tomo's girlfriend. She helps out sometimes, too." The girl is looking their way when Kame turns his head. Jin waves with his glass.

"Nice little place," Tanaka says. "And pretty decent music despite all the singing."

It goes a little quiet, just the song in the background, Jin smiling at his beer; wondering. Kame expected there'd be a moment like this, where they figure out how Tanaka fits into all this and acknowledge what he's doing here.

"I'm glad you're not too horrified," Jin says in the end.

"I'm having fun," Tanaka says. "It's a good atmosphere. Friendly."

"Yeah," Jin grins. "They started out with just one real band but it's much more fun now that more of them come, they'll play along to different things. You should wait till Tomo gets up there, he does one that gets everybody going."

Kame looks at the mostly abandoned instruments; the girl singing now is just playing her own guitar. "Are you in one of the bands? Or do you meet up to practice?"

"Not… really," Jin shrugs. "We just know each other from here. We pick stuff up from each other."

Kame blinks and tries to imagine performing live with co-stars who don't know their lines.

"Why?" Jin asks.

"Nothing, just… When they play with you, how do you know if they'll do it right?"

At first Jin seems to think; then he breaks into a grin Kame really didn't expect. "I guess… we figure it out as we go along?"

Kame gives Tanaka a quick glance. "Is it a weird question?"

"No," Jin concedes, but he's still grinning. "I guess it's just kind of relaxed."

"Relaxed is good," Kame agrees, and smiles at Jin, except now Jin is laughing.

"Unless you're competing for the highest foam block tower, right?"

What? The only time he's had anything to do with foam blocks in the last fifteen years was… a month ago, shooting for some promotional thing.

"Sorry," Jin says. "I saw you on TV last week, with your samurai cast."

"Doing what?" Tanaka wants to know. "Samurai, foam…" His head sways in dramatic confusion.

"I was doing some early promotion for the movie, there was a dexterity contest against the team from TBS's Friday drama," Kame summarizes, eyeing Jin carefully. "We won."

"I think you scared that poor kid."

Kame knows whom Jin means right away. Kasai-kun, sixteen or so, plays the daimyou's page and is prone to wide-eyed standing in the wrong spot when you're blind handling very light, bulky blocks. "Well, he was just… I was just… we had to be a bit more organized if we wanted to win."

"Clearly," Jin says. Maybe it's the unfamiliar setting, but his smile looks different from ever before.

Tanaka is watching Jin with a hard-to-read expression, only Jin doesn't notice, letting Kame off the hook to watch the singer again.

"Those TV games," Tanaka says tragically. "Nobody takes them seriously."

At first Kame wants to protest, but then he just holds up his beer in defeat. Okay, so he was a little bossy. At least they got the highest tower and the kid got a laptop out of it; and he could even say that and Jin would be fine, Jin would just laugh at him, the nice way. So, whatever. Kame slides deeper into the seat and applauds the singer, who has just finished. Tanaka can have his smirk.

The next guy who comes on is wearing a hoodie. The guy from before, with the sign language, and from Tanaka's raised interest Kame's got some idea what's coming. Turns out to be right.

Kame doesn't know much about rap, despite Tanaka's best efforts. He doesn't mind it; it just all sounds the same. So he can't tell if the singer is any good, but going by Tanaka's expression and the way he and Jin are tapping their feet, he's at least not offending the connoisseurs.

Kame just relaxes and watches. Not the singer, but Jin. The shades come in useful. Jin's pushed his chair back for a better view of the stage, and Kame gets to see his profile. It feels weird, though not unpleasant, to be together with Jin and not have Jin completely focused on him. Nice that that can work.

Nice, too, to see Jin and know that these are the clothes he really likes to wear, and this is the way he does his hair when he's not pleasing anybody but himself. It's different, just like the way he moves is different even from the time they were all boozy and giggly together. Bigger movements, more joy. Maybe it's the people here, and how he knows them.

Kame won't feel left out.

He claps obediently when everybody else does and he realizes the first song is over. No, strike that, there's just one in this set and the guy is moonwalking his way off the stage to rhythmic clapping that says the crowd expected no less.

"Be right back," Tanaka says, pushing his chair back. "Gotta say some nice words to a brother."

Jin turns back to Kame. "Brotherhood of rap, huh?" he says.

"Maybe it's a secret underground movement," Kame suggests. "Like those guys in that film, with the Grail."

"Um," Jin says, and shrugs. "Sorry…"

Kame laughs. "Maybe I'll get the DVD for our next pizza and beer evening."

"Beer delivery, beer! Get your fresh beer heeere!" Yamashita-san is approaching with a tray, followed by the woman called Emi-san. Of course. "How are you guys doing?" Yamashita asks, while Emi-san takes a beer off the tray and puts it in front of Kame. "Music acceptable? One of you run off already?"

"He's gone to communicate with his brother in rap," Jin says, while Kame says his thanks for the beer and remembers to smile at her. "He'll be back. Hi Emi-san."

"Hi!" Emi-san sounds nervous. She puts a beer in front of Jin, too.

"This is my girlfriend Arakawa Emi," Yamashita says to Kame. "She only throws her panties at me, so you're quite safe, but she really wanted to say hi to you."

Emi digs her elbow into his ribs and he hops two feet away with a pained face.

"I stopped with the panties, he doesn't look good in them." Then she gives a short, entirely more nervous bow towards Kame and says, "It's an honour to meet you. I really like your work."

"Hi, Emi-san," Kame says. "Nice to meet you."

For a moment she gets that deep flustered grin they often get before they squeal. But she doesn't. "I'm looking forward to your movie," she says, and bows again, like she's just a nice waitress. "I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening."

"Thank you. It's been great so far. Thank you for the beers."

"Why do I carry the heavy stuff and she gets all the credit?" Yamashita asks Jin in a fake whisper as Emi retreats.

Jin grabs his new beer. "Cause she's prettier than you."

Yamashita's eyes go even rounder and he clasps a hand over his heart. "She was lying about the panties, man, I so look good."

Jin snorts in surprise, and Yamashita flashes him a grin. He's certainly attractive, of a more solid build than either of them, with smooth features and those noticeable eyes.

But Kame is not going to have opinions on the relative attractiveness of Jin's friends. That's not why he's here.

"Mind if I join you guys for my break?" Yamashita asks, and Kame pretends not to see the way Jin tries to check with him, just keeps his eyes firmly on Yamashita.

"You're very welcome," he says, and Jin moves his chair towards Kame to make room for the stool Yamashita is pulling up from another table.

"Your girlfriend is very nice," Kame says, knowing full well it will get back to her.

"Thanks," Yamashita replies, with a more serious sort of smile, and checks out the bar where Emi is managing to do three things at once. "I can really depend on her too."

"Are you the manager of this place?"

Yamashita laughs. "I wish."

"Might as well be, though," Jin throws in. "Except they'd have to pay you properly."

Yamashita pouts, which looks funny and makes his eyes even bigger, but then puts the work woes aside and slumps back in his chair. "So how did you like his stuff?" he asks Kame, grinning when Jin hides his face in his hands.

Kame repeats his assessment from earlier, but Jin quickly starts teasing Yamashita about the lyrics of a song and making couples hold hands in the dark. "You'll have to tell him what you think of it when he's done," he says mischievously to Kame. "If it's romantic enough."

Kame promises to do so, while Yamashita kicks Jin's chair leg and says, "I hate you."

Jin shoots Kame a smile, very warm and without flirtation. Kame is still fascinated by the way he's sitting there, easy, taking up space in his everyday clothes and carelessly tapping along with the enka-type thing a middle-aged man is singing.

Kame is in a public bar, having drinks with his escort's friends.

He keeps on his polite listening smile and waits for the teetering moment to pass. Nothing different from five minutes ago. All is going well. Yamashita is nice. There is music.

Yamashita laughs about Jin's pronunciation of some weird English word and says he'll pass that on to his brother.

His escort and his escort's friends and their little brothers. Kame has a deep drink, and when Yamashita smiles his way, Kame asks him if he's from the neighbourhood or if he only comes here to work.

"Sorry," Jin says a moment later. "I gotta… you know."

"Five minutes or we'll send a search party," Yamashita promises.

"Search party?" Kame asks as Jin heads for the bathroom.

Yamashita grins. "The men's toilets. Jin says they're creepy. And possibly haunted."

"I… see."

"They're fine, I swear!" Yamashita laughs. "I bet you don't come to dives like this a lot, though."

"I doesn't seem like a dive to me," Kame says. The people are much too nice for that. It looks like the sort of place Kame would like to go more if he could. "I don't know what Jin told you but I'm not entirely spoiled."

"He hasn't told me much, actually. Just, friend called, will be coming by with other guy, the end. How did you guys meet, anyway?"

Oh. Well, that… that is something Kame could have anticipated. He has no idea why he didn't, when he spent all that time last time… only he didn't anticipate meeting anybody from the industry here, or the press. He hadn't thought he'd talk to anyone who mattered.

And the TV set story won't work, he realizes with horror, and he doesn't know if he'll fit into whatever Jin's told them about his work as a waiter. Too risky.

"We met through a mutual friend. At a party, nothing special." He remembers Tanaka's teasing, grabs it like lifeline. "We got talking about music, he knows more than I do. Thought he could perform a public service by educating me. He was nice."

"Yeah, he is." Yamashita sneaks a slow glance over his shoulder, where Jin is still not reappearing. Then he contemplates his beer with a strange, fond little smile. "Once he stops being so shy."

Shy. Yes. That's what Jin was, that time before the catastrophic blow job. He knows that now. "I… yeah."

"Not that I mean he's not nice then," Yamashita says quickly. "Just, when a guy appears in your bar and looks like that and just sits there and doesn't say a word… you think he's maybe too cool for mortals. Because you don't know."

"Is that how you met?"

"Yeah. He came here, just to hang out at first. I'm behind the bar, so… you chat, right? But Jin…" Yamashita shakes his head a tiny bit. "It was easier after he'd seen me on stage. He was interested in that. Still sounded like he was asking a girl on a date for the first time, but he really likes this stuff." He's smiling again, like people do at good memories.

Kame imagines Jin sitting alone at the bar, too nervous to talk to anybody, his whole life secret. Still secret.

He ought to leave Jin alone. Here, at any rate. He's only interfering, complicating things that shouldn't be complicated.

"What sort of music do you like to play?" he asks Yamashita, because there's a break in the music and he can't just clam up, he's grown-up enough that he knows how to keep a conversation going with normal people.

"Rock or pop, mostly," Yamashita says. He lifts his hand in a little wave, and when Kame turns his head, he sees Jin approaching their table again. "Southern All Stars, B'z, things like that. – Hey, you survived."

"Frankie was doing his warm-up in there," Jin says. "Ghosts all ran away."

Yamashita grins knowingly.

Uncomplicated. Kame wishes he didn't have to say anything, almost wishes he weren't here.

"I just told Yamashita-san about the party where we met," he says, and he does manage to sound light-hearted, "and he told me about you when you started coming here."

The smallest pause; then they each get a share of Jin's amused and slightly horrified look. "Baby pictures next, huh? Can we talk about music instead? Or beer? Or… Tanaka-san? What's happened to him?"

That's a good question, but thankfully Tanaka isn't easy to lose. With minimal effort they spot him talking to two elderly ladies in a corner at the back, with his new rapper friend still in attendance.

Yamashita laughs. "Oh, rapper mama-san will be chewing his ear off about the violent lyrics and the strange words."

Tanaka seems to be holding his own, though, and his rhinestones seem to have convinced the ladies that he is a man of sensitivity.

Yamashita stands, excusing himself. "If I don't get back to the bar, Emi-chan is going to do unspeakable things to me." He smiles at Kame and Jin. "Have fun." And to Jin specifically, "And no heckling."

Jin looks unimpressed. "We'll see, won't we?"

They watch him go, and he's gotten smacked by a dishtowel and taken the bar back over before Jin says, "Sorry for leaving you. Did everything go okay?"

Kame nods obligingly. The stuff that Jin means went okay. "I told him we met at the house of some unspecified mutual friend," he says, for completeness' sake. "Your friend is very nice. Everything went fine." He almost asks if he should leave.

Jin stretches out his legs in front of him and smiles happily. "Good. I'm glad."

*~*~*

There is no heckling at all when Yamashita hops onto the stage with his own guitar, just very loud cheering, which Kame attributes to a combination of how popular he is and rising booze level. A full band supports him for a rockish number that is an excellent bar song and gets people on their feet.

Tanaka makes his way back through the bouncy crowd, and Kame thinks he's singing the chorus under the cover of the collective backing vocals. At least it's not a wasted night for Tanaka.

They don't say anything when he sits back down because Jin doesn't talk over Yamashita's song. But Tanaka gives him an unsubtle wink.

Two chords into the next song, Jin whoops. It turns out to be a slower, more romantic one, and there are some giggles as Emi-san dims the lights and the first lighters come out. Kame feels silly with his sunglasses in the dark, but they help. He doesn't want to look at Jin and think thoughts he's better off without while people are swaying to a love song and Jin is listening to his friend.

The applause at the end is deafening, and when it won't stop, Yamashita threatens them all with cutting off their drinks.

"I told him they'd like it," Jin says when it's possible to hear each other again. "But would he believe me?" He's beaming, waving widely over the heads of some other people.

They have another round that goes down rather faster than the previous one. Every so often, somebody stops by to exchange a few words and a laugh with Jin, and leaves again. Jin and Tanaka both have opinions on the night's singers and their songs, and they're talking like they never knew each other as anything but two guys in a bar.

It's an even drunker set of songs later, after midnight, that Tanaka starts checking his watch, makes a show of rolling tired shoulders. "So, you guys…"

"You want to go?" Kame asks. It's not a problem, there are always more cabs. The sinking feeling he has is unwarranted.

"Yeah," Tanaka shrugs. "You guys will be all right?" He sounds pointedly light, and Kame leaves the reply to Jin.

"I think we're good," Jin says easily. "Kame?"

"Sure," Kame nods. It's weird when everyone else is more competent than he.

Tanaka's gaze rests on Jin for a moment, but Jin just smiles and shoots Kame a look. "I'll make sure he doesn't get lost in the wilderness," he promises in a stage-whisper.

"I'll hold you to that," Tanaka says, with one of his weird smiles at Kame.

"Actually, how about we get a move on, too?" Jin is leaning towards Kame and instantly has his attention. "It's just going to get louder from here, not much chance to talk."

"If you don't mind," Kame says. He doesn't want to cut Jin's night here short. But it'll look better, he's aware of that, if the three of them leave together. Look less… something.

"I don't mind at all," Jin says, so readily Kame has no choice but believe him. "And I'm sure it's better for our stealth thingie too." He does a funny thing with his eyebrows.

So they all get up and wind their way through the crowd, Jin in the lead, waving at people here and there, stopping at the bar with his hands in his back pockets to say goodbye to Yamashita and his girlfriend. Yamashita gets Jin's guitar and coat from the office and they are sent off with advice to not get too drunk in Roppongi, where they are apparently going. Like friends who meet in bars to drink together do.

Then they're outside. The sudden quiet when the door falls closed feels thick and cushioning. Kame's ears are ringing a little bit.

Tanaka takes a deep breath. His bright hair looks funny over a rather respectable coat. "So, I'll call myself a cab?"

"There's a stand down there," Jin indicates with a jerky arm. "It's not far, but we're going the other direction. If you go to the main street, you'll flag one down easy, too."

"I'll do that then," Tanaka says, with a wink that looks devilish when he puts his collar up like that. "You guys have a good night. Don't take candy from strangers."

The cold air is wonderful and fresh. Kame can smell the bar smoke when he moves, from his clothes and his hair, and he pictures them walking around like anime characters in their own clouds of pollution. He waves it off when Jin asks why he's laughing.

Jin sticks his hands in his coat pockets and slings his guitar on his back. "It's not far," he promises once they're off the bar's parking lot. "Ten minutes, if you walk like it's cold."

"Good thing it's January."

"Man, it was freezing this afternoon when I got here," Jin moans into his scarf, and then goes, "Um."

"Um, what?"

"Um. Speaking as someone who hasn't had swordfights in Hokkaido recently."

Kame laughs again. "Yeah, okay, this is balmy."

The streets aren't entirely quiet, but nobody gives them a second glance. Public transport has stopped running, of course. The occasional cab passes by. Few cars.

"This is still the busy part, it gets quieter on the backstreets," Jin explains. "It's nicer to walk with somebody." Kame catches his sneaky look under a streetlight.

He's glad he went. Glad he got to see Jin like this. Okay, maybe minus the huddling. Jin's nose is red from the cold, and there is a hoodie peeking out between the dark coat and the cashmere scarf. Nice to know they can warm up soon. Together.

He's still prickling with the thought when it occurs to him that he never thought to bring clothes. Uncertainty? Stupidity? He doesn't know why he wouldn't at least bring— "Oh."

"Yeeeees?"

Kame sighs. "I'm an idiot. I didn't bring a toothbrush."

"Whoops," Jin grins. "There's a nice conbini near where I live, we can buy one. I stop there anyway when I'm hungry after the Open Mic."

"Now that you mention it, something to eat might be good, too," Kame considers.

"They have… the normal stuff, you know. But at least they keep it nice and hot, and I never got food poisoning yet." Jin seems bouncy at the prospect. "I usually have their nikuman."

Kame envisages delicious hot meat steam rising from a bun. Suddenly he is very hungry.

Jin slows, thinks for a moment, and makes them cross to the darker side of the street, where they continue walking in the same direction.

"It's on this side?"

"No, it's a bit away yet. Just…" Jin throws a look to the opposite sidewalk and about ten meters ahead Kame notices a house set back a little, with blackened, boarded-up windows, dark even at night.

"Squatters?" he guesses. "Don't they just want to be left in peace?"

"Not… real squatters." Jin is pulling his head lower into the scarf. "There was a fire a year ago, killed a family. They keep trying to renovate, but the ghosts frighten the workers away."

"Oh," Kame says. "I see." He's sad for the family, and it's no surprise this would become a story keeping kids up at night. Kids and… "Have they bothered you?"

"No," Jin says. "Not yet. But… you know. Though normally I even walk there sometimes, it's the side with the lights so… it's complicated. But with two of us I thought this is okay."

Kame nods before he's even fully disentangled that. Whatever Jin wants is fine. Even if it's a bit funny how he keeps throwing furtive glances across the street, the closer they come to the charred dark emptiness.

Kame halts just opposite. "Did you feel that?"

Jin stops dead. His look darts between Kame and the house. "What?"

"Cooooold," Kame intones in deep ghostly mourning.

The next moment Jin has grabbed him by his coat sleeve and is dragging him along the street; they nearly trip over themselves when he tries to get between Kame and the house. "Can you run? We'll be fine at the end of the street."

"Whoo-ooo-oooh," Kame barely manages between running and laughing. "Jin!"

"What?" Jin isn't slowing down.

"Whoo-ooo-oooh," Kame repeats more pointedly, and this time it registers. "Whoo-ooo-ow!"

Jin's punched his arm as he let go. "You're an asshole." But he's laughing, too. "That was mean."

"I know. I'm sorry." Kame can't quite manage contrite while he's still cracking up. "I couldn't resist."

Thankfully Jin seems to concede that. "Just don't expect me to rescue you next time," he grins. "That ship has sailed."

Oh. "Really?"

Jin purses his lips at him, looks him up and down critically. "Probably. You might get rescue credits back for good behaviour."

Kame is surprised how determined he suddenly is to do just that. "May I buy your nikuman for you?"

Jin snorts indulgently. "Rich guys. Always think they can buy themselves out of stuff. Rescue credits can't be bought," he lectures. "You just have to be nice to me, I guess."

"Okay," Kame says, feeling motivated. He can do that. He can be very nice to Jin, and he's got some ideas for how, too, ideas that get him a little excited when he imagines how Jin will respond. He's looking forward to it.

They walk companionably for a while, and then Jin crosses over the street again. "That's the place."

He's pointing to a little corner of warm brightness and colour, just a block away. A minute later they are there. Kame glances inside, and it's still small, intimate, with narrow-spaced shelves.

"Would you mind if I wait outside?" he says. He's taken quite a few risks tonight, and all of a sudden, he feels like buying toothbrushes with Jin in a tiny conbini might be pushing his luck.

Jin seems to get it; looks almost like he's pitying Kame and the weird limits he comes up against. "No problem. Any particular kind of toothbrush? Do you have a favourite colour?"

Kame laughs. "Medium, no preference. Knock yourself out."

"And nikuman, yes?"

"And nikuman. Let me give you—"

Jin is gone, the door of the shop opening and closing with a soft electronic chime.

Kame pulls his head in low and watches through the window as Jin disappears in an aisle for half a minute. He comes back out with a toothbrush – Kame can't make out the colour. He puts it down by the checkout and exchanges some words with the middle-aged woman behind it. They both laugh, and then Jin points at the hot racks, gestures 'two'. Her eyebrows go up and she gestures at his stomach, and there's more laughing.

Jin's in such a good mood. The music, the people… it's like he's a different person around them. Maybe this is who he could have been if he'd been luckier with his parents. Or maybe it's simply who he is underneath, when he doesn't have to be polite and professional.

Jin comes out, holding a plastic box with nikuman and some chopsticks out to Kame. "They had a special offer on Hello Kitty toothbrushes, so I saved you some money," he says. "It's in my bag."

"Thanks," Kame says, taking the food. Jin is such a bad liar. "I'll have to teach you how to say stuff like that with a straight face some time."

"Damn," Jin says peacefully. He lifts up the bun with his hands and bites a bit off. "What do you think?" he says as soon as he's swallowed it.

Kame is still separating his first piece from the bun with his chopsticks. Jin's way is better, he decides, and gives it a try. Even the heat feels good in his hands.

"Delicious," he announces, and for a moment he feels like he's on some food variety show.

But Jin takes it at face value, which is good because that's how he meant it. They walk, and eat, and Kame has just finished his bun and wrapped up the trash in the paper bag when he realizes that the place looks familiar.

He knows that bus stop.

He gets past the hitch in his walk, disguises it as making sure his trash is wrapped tightly.

He came from the other side, that time, but the pruned tree right next to it looks familiar, and the two yellow-painted houses behind, the way his headlights swept over them when he stopped to let Jin out.

He says nothing; hopes fervently that Jin won't notice, won't think about it. He wishes he hadn't eaten.

It hasn't been long. Less than three months ago. Jin was so scared he could barely move. How come Kame is here? He just spent a night with Jin's friends, is on his way to Jin's apartment, and Jin is walking next to him licking nikuman off his fingers and saying something about the autumn special they had with pumpkin in it and calories and performing…

He's glad the only way he scares Jin now is by making ghost noises at him, but he wishes he hadn't done that, either.

He barely noticed they turned off, that bus stop where Kame stopped the car looming behind them now. They're walking down a short street; there's another conbini and an apartment complex, and some single houses and then an archway and Jin turns into it.

"You live here?"

Kame hasn't managed to keep the shock out of his voice. Jin gives him a puzzled look. "Yeah. Why?"

"Uh," Kame says cleverly. "No, I just…" I can't believe you let me take you within sight of where you live. "Sorry, I didn't realize we had already walked so long."

Jin laughs. "I told you it's not far!" He is digging through his coat pockets for the key, and then holds the door open for Kame. "After you," he whispers.

Kame steps into a different sort of gloom, until Jin remembers Kame doesn't know where the light switch is. They both blink when the hall goes bright.

It's a nice building, clean and new, and only six floors. Kame guesses it's mostly for couples or single people; at least you'd have a hard time fitting any kids in the elevator with them and the guitar.

"I'm all the way up," Jin says when the doors are closed and he pushes the button. He's bouncing on his feet, like he enjoys being secret in an elevator together.

With his fluffed up hair and frozen nose it's hard not to kiss him right here. Maybe Kame can think about the bus stop tomorrow, maybe it's fairer not to make Jin wonder about Kame's mood.

"Do you like your neighbours?" he asks in the lowered voice of a well-mannered nightly guest.

"Hmm, I don't see much of them," Jin muses. "They're nice when I do, though. Polite. Always really smartly dressed."

There is a weird shadow on the floor when they get off, but it turns out to be a large plant and mostly harmless. "My fingers are cold," Jin whispers while he's fumbling with the door, and Kame gets that strange sneaky feeling of going home with someone, which he doesn't even really know, only it feels nice.

He tries to have no guesses or expectations when Jin opens the door for him; something about Jin says he might be doing the same.

Then it's basically a room. Very neat and tidy, with perfectly fitting furniture, and very white. No clutter. It takes Kame a moment to find the stack of CDs in the shelf, a used plate on the white coffee table, a small row of books with library stickers on the back. A small shoe rack holds Jin's club shoes and a pair of sneakers so worn there's stuff peeling off at the sides.

"It's really small," Jin says; he only starts unwrapping now. "But it's just me, so it's enough."

"It's nice. It's really neat."

Jin takes Kame's coat. The smell of smoke is unmistakable in Jin's tiny hallway, in the warmer apartment. The much warmer apartment.

"Not really, I just…" Jin breaks off when his eyes fall on the coffee table. "Oh, crap. Um."

Kame figures out he means the plate with crumbs and an outrageous used coffee mug. He can't help a grin even as Jin is bustling over to the kitchen unit, saying, "I didn't really expect to have anyone over, or I would have…"

At least Jin doesn't start to clean, just puts the stuff tidily in the sink.

"Thank you," Kame says profoundly. "I just can't stand crumbs. People eating lunch. How dreadful."

"Oh, shut up," Jin says with a smile. "Do you want a drink?"

They both have some water and sit down on the couch, which isn't as catalogue-new as it seemed at first. The pale blue fabric shows faintly where someone's sat a lot, and one of the cushions is in unmatching beige.

Between Kame's furtive looking around and Jin furtively tracking the looking around, it feels funny enough that the quiet doesn't get awkward. Jin's switched off the bright ceiling light and put on a desk lamp on a low table. It feels cozy. Cozy and special and normal, in a strange mix. Maybe it's just that he's here at all.

He notices the stereo, and Jin has put the guitar on a stand next to it. That's when he remembers. "Hey, that song you sang. The second one. What was that? Tanaka didn't know it either."

Jin gives him a quick look, then ponders his guitar. "Yeah, he wouldn't," he says. "It's mine, I wrote it." He turns red, and rolls his eyes at the same time.

"You did? That's pretty amazing." If he'd known, he'd have listened more to the lyrics… but not all lyrics are about real things any more than all acting is, maybe it doesn't matter so much. "I really liked that song."

"Yeah?" Jin looks happy. "Thank you. I like it too. I mean, sometimes I write stuff, and it's okay, but I like this one." He shrugs sheepishly. "It's just something I do when I'm at home."

Kame gives the guitar another glance. "Did you teach yourself?"

"Yeah, mostly. Do you play?"

Kame doesn't, and somehow Jin takes that as incentive to get him to try. He laughs when Kame is actually not sure he's holding it right – "Don't you watch TV?" – but concedes that it's nice Kame doesn't want to do bad things to Jin's precious guitar and be embarrassed for all eternity.

Jin moves his fingers, and Kame feels a little tingle at the careless touch, the first tonight. He feels Jin's breath when he laughs at the horrible sounds Kame is producing, and how close they are sitting on the couch, and he can still smell the bar in Jin's hair.

A few more wrong chords and a long explanation about unlocking later, Jin pulls back and raises his elbow. He sniffs his shirt. "You know… we kind of stink."

Kame nods. "We do stink a little." After a fun night at a bar, it's just what you'd expect. At least they stink together.

Jin pushes himself off the couch with lazy movements and a cute grin. "You want to shower? I can get you a towel and stuff."

"Might be a good idea." Kame tries not to look like he takes it as suggestive. Right now they're playing guitar, and maybe de-smellifying their hair.

"Wait," Jin says. He tugs a zipped-up plastic rectangle, which seems to hold spare sheets and towels from the top of his wardrobe. A bit more rummaging in a drawer, and then Jin hands him a huge towel with a Coca-Cola print and a pair of boxers and t-shirt. "Don't make any sudden moves in there," he says, but breaks into an inopportune grin mid-joke. "You'll break the walls and I don't know how to fix them."

Kame gets it when he closes the bathroom door behind him. It's tiny. As neat as the rest of the apartment. No clutter at all, just the necessary stuff for shower and shave. He dumps his clothes on the floor as tidily as he can so he won't step on them wet.

The shower is basic and uncomplicated. He sets the water to hot and stands there for a bit, just the warmth around him, the joy of the evening, Jin waiting outside happy and honest and bossing Kame around with guitar lessons. He laughs to himself.

It's funny to mooch Jin's shampoo and shower gel. Usually it's the other way around. But he's sure he's allowed, Jin wouldn't mind. Funny, and weirdly ordinary, like he imagines a sleepover with a boyfriend when you don't quite know where he keeps his spare toilet paper and his tea cups yet.

He rinses himself off quickly; it's kind of lonely in here, and who knows how much hot water Jin's got. Towelled off, he pulls on the shorts and t-shirt that thankfully don't make him look too silly.

Back in the main room, Jin has folded out the couch and hunted up two pillows in definitely not matching designs, but currently he's dealing with his incredible pile of dishes.

"I kept it brief," Kame says, his old clothes under his arm. "Didn't want to leave you with cold water."

Jin wipes his hands unceremoniously on his jeans. "No worries, it's a pretty decent shower." Then he smiles. "But good of you to keep your rescue credits in mind."

Kame feels his face warm under his dampness, but he hides it, while Jin grabs some more stuff, invites Kame to sit down and do whatever, and disappears himself.

So he sits back down with the guitar and tries that last thing Jin showed him. It can't be that hard.

Hm.

Okay, so he knows some things are harder than they look. Still, it's not like he's trying to play a whole song, so for his fingers to be so clumsy is a bit… hm.

Only he's not really annoyed; he can't be, sitting on Jin's fold-out bed with a blue pretty duvet and the guest pillow that Kame is pretty sure no one ever uses. It's a smaller bed, too. Could get crowded. Warm and close.

He keeps trying with the guitar anyway.

There's some rattling of the shower cubicle not long before Jin comes back out. He's smiling, a cloud of steam coming out after him. "I heard that! Your problem is the pinky, you need to stretch that more on the third string!"

Kame plucks a string, maybe the fourth, he doesn't know, and it gives a guilty quiver. "Well, you know. I thought it can't be that hard. Only it is."

"I'm sure you could learn it fast if you had more time," Jin says, now completely without teasing. His hair's still a mess only wet now, and Kame hasn't seen those blue and white checked boxers on him before. They're cutely domestic.

Kame didn't smell the freshness on himself but he gets it from Jin when he sits down and takes the guitar, skin and warmth and the shampoo that reminds him of wet morning grass.

Jin shows him the chords again; Kame enjoys it mostly for the proximity. Eventually he pleads aching fingers.

It's when Jin puts the guitar back on its stand that Kame sees something silver flash under his t-shirt. Like… okay, he noticed the piercing before. Long before; he prefers not to think about that now.

"Hey," he says when Jin is back, because it doesn't seem intrusive when they're close like this and he's wearing Jin's underwear. "You got your bellybutton pierced?"

"Huh?" Jin frowns a bit. "Oh. Yeah. Um, a few years ago. I don't wear it often, just…"

"When you're rocking up the bar?"

"Yeah." Jin sits to face him, cross-legged, and Kame can't help staring for a moment at his stomach, covered again by the plain black t-shirt.

When Jin rolls his eyes this time, he only turns a little red. He lifts the bottom of the shirt a bit. "Want to see?"

It's a plain silver stud; on Jin's flat stomach it looks hot, and strangely intimate. "I like it," Kame says, though he doesn't want to say how much, not when Jin is part amused, part awkward. "It suits you."

"I like it too," Jin confesses, and it takes him a moment to lower the shirt again. It's a weird enough moment that they both end up laughing.

"Did it hurt?"

Jin makes a face. "I… not really, I thought it would be worse. The guy who did it, he had some seriously scary looking tools." If his still-freaked-out look is anything to go by, it must have been bad. "But then it healed okay."

Kame imagines a younger Jin trying to play it cool through scary piercing procedures. He smiles, feeling warm again, from the shower and from the warm air in here but also from Jin, sitting there in just boxers and a t-shirt. Kame wonders what that bellybutton stud feels like to the touch, if he can touch if he's careful. It's like he can feel Jin's body heat from here. He's looking forward to… it. Everything.

Jin's eyes are soft… right until now when they skitter away, skimming Kame, his naked legs and the bed that stretches out behind them and…

Not good. Whatever it is. It's not good.

What there is is the bed. And that it's time. He can see Jin swallow before everything goes flat and blank.

"So…" Jin says, his smile coming on bright and eager, the worst sell Kame has seen all night.

It freezes him cold, that sinking feeling of loss, of stupidity. He got it all wrong and there's no way to make it work, there's nothing.

Then it passes. This time he got it and he got it in time. This time there is something he can do.

He smiles back; a better sell than Jin, because he does this for a living. He just needs a moment, to decide the best way, and he doesn't even look around in the apartment. Jin's apartment; Jin's bed and Jin's sheets, his home. They were both stupid.

Then he lets his smile go sheepish. "Actually…"

Jin nods, still eager on the surface. As he has to be.

Kame sighs and turns it into a badly suppressed yawn. "I'm sorry. This is really lame but… I'm actually kind of tired, it's been a pretty tough week.. I think I'd be… you know." He can't blush on the spot but he thinks he's getting the message across. "Maybe not much good."

Jin just blinks. "Really?"

Kame looks chagrined. "Sorry. I know it's…" He squirms a bit.

"Hey, no, don't be embarrassed!" Jin is shifting closer on the bed and for a moment Kame thinks he'll touch him. But he doesn't, just awkwardly crosses his hands in his lap. "If you're sure… it's totally cool, I mean, and yeah, it's late, just…"

Jin is thinking about the money.

"I had a great evening. A really great evening. Thank you for that. And, well, it's not your problem that I, um. You know."

"Are you sure I couldn't…" A little frown before Jin tries the blankness again. "And I have coffee too…"

Kame thinks he can watch his sense for fairness and the hope Kame won't change his mind battle it out in his eyes. He needs to end this.

He grimaces again. "I think that'll just wake up my brain, and then I can lie in the dark feeling embarrassed." He tries another smile. "And, you know, I'd appreciate it if this didn't go any further?" It isn't Jin's problem when a client is no longer in the mood after hours on a date, but maybe it's better addressed before Jin gets any chivalrous ideas.

"Yes," Jin says, "sure, okay. My lips are sealed." At last he looks less like he wants to give him a refund, and more like he's planning to die protecting Kame's shameful secret.

"Thank you," Kame says. "And, really. For the invitation, too. This is so much nicer than celebrating my early return from filming at home, alone with my cat."

Jin bursts out laughing. Free like before, before this awful little interlude. "Yeah, okay. That would be kind of tragic."

"So…" Kame says, and the echo makes Jin grin. "Bed?"

That works for Jin.

Kame is moderately tired, and sleep is better than sitting here and letting the way Jin is smiling and comfortable and barely dressed talk to his libido. So he's glad when after three more minutes they are lying under the cover with the light out, and there's no more chance for Jin to come across hard evidence to disprove Kame's protestations.

A faint glow from streetlights is painting a wall orange. It's a small bed; smaller when you're determined not to touch.

"Are you okay?" Jin asks. "Do you have enough of the duvet?"

"I'm fine," Kame says. "I didn't steal too much?"

There's a smile in Jin's voice. "You didn't. Just stop me if I do during the night. Feel free to kick me."

"Okay, I'll do that," Kame says. "Good night."

"Good night."

Kame lies very still. Jin is stretched out on his stomach and doesn't move, either. It takes about ten minutes, Kame thinks, before he's pretty sure Jin is asleep.

He thinks it would be really bad manners to beat off in Jin's bed with Jin right next to him. He wants to giggle, but then he doesn't do that, either.

 

Friday 23 January

Jin's sitting bolt upright in bed before he knows why; then he hears the plastic lid of his tea container clatter to a halt against the wood of the cupboard.

"Fuck," says Kame. "Sorry."

Jin laughs. Partly adrenaline. "Good morning." It's light outside, so it can't be too early, but the sunlight falling through the windows is low.

"Can I offer you some tea? The water's almost there. I hope you don't mind that I went through your cupboards."

Kame sounds amazingly awake. His hair's still unkempt, though, and he is running around barefoot in Jin's t-shirt and boxers. Jin pulls the pillow under his head and curls up under the duvet. "Tea's great. When did you get up?"

"Hm, an hour ago maybe?"

Jin peers up at the alarm clock. It's only nine. "Do you have to go somewhere?"

"Eventually." Kame moves efficiently around Jin's little kitchen, tidying things away as he goes. It gives Jin time to wake up for real, and to get used to the idea of someone else being in his kitchen, making him tea. "I just woke up early."

Finally there are two steaming mugs. Jin sits up when Kame brings them over. He brushes the duvet flat so Kame can sit. "When I wake up early, I turn over and go back to sleep."

Kame grins at him. "I did try not to wake you yet."

Jin finds this getting up early and cheerful pretty perverse. If Kame's anything like him, he can't have slept that well in unfamiliar surroundings, on Jin's bed that's technically too small for two people.

Because Kame spent the night here. Just sleeping.

It feels a little stumbly to remember that. He shouldn't forget again, or whatever the hell he was doing with some basic facts, so basic only an idiot would be caught off guard.

He has a sip from the nice hot tea. Then he tries a smile, tries to gauge. There's stuff he could do. For free.

"Hey," he says, slowly, not sure how directly he wants to ask. But Kame's been away for two weeks. It wouldn't have to be weird. Maybe he's just thinking the wrong thoughts, and it's like rollercoasters or piercings. More unsettling before the fact.

Kame isn't fazed, just gives him an assessing look over his own tea. "Yeah," he says. "I'd have stayed in bed if I'd wanted you to get any funny ideas. You don't have to make up for my little… failings."

Jin bites his lip and hopes Kame isn't still embarrassed. He feels a little guilty in any case. If they'd been elsewhere, he might have tried harder to get things to work after all. There can be ways.

But Kame seems to know what he wants, and to be fine with it. And that's great, that's wonderful.

"Okay," he says. "You're the boss." If Kame wanted, he could simply ask if Jin is available for another comfort. But maybe being here feels strange for him after all. Maybe he's discovered he doesn't want sex in Jin's apartment any more than Jin does.

Kame gives him a very critical look, but doesn't say anything. Jin sips his tea and enjoys the warmth, and the impressive show that is Kame's bed hair. He'll try to make it especially nice for Kame next time. They can do all the things Kame likes best.

"How do you feel about breakfast?" Kame asks after a while. "I think I even found where you keep the rice." He gets a busy look.

"Wait, no!" Jin puts his tea down and hurries to get up. "You don't do that. You're the guest now. You're not getting to make rice, I'll… um, put on the rice maker. And put rice in it."

Kame follows him to the kitchen, head tilting. "Not in that order, I hope."

They reach an accommodation. Jin measures out rice while Kame measures out water, and Kame is granted the right to ceremonially press the on-button. They finish their tea while they wait, and make more, and Jin learns that Kame wants to go see his agency about something or other.

"I'll have to go back and change first, though," he says after Jin showed him how to fold down the table. "I kind of dread getting back into my clothes."

"When I move, I want to get a balcony," Jin says. "Even if it's a tiny one. Just for airing stuff and drying things."

"You're planning to move?"

"Well, yeah. Somewhere cheaper." Kame probably finds that hilarious, given the size of this place. "And this is club-owned property, so. I'd like something different."

Kame subtly checks the place out again with this new information, maybe trying to find Jin's style among the white. "Yes, I get that."

Jin smiles. "And at least I won't have much to pack."

They set the table together, mats and chopsticks and soy sauce. Kame takes the eggs across and Jin finds two leftover natto packs. He's glad he didn't finish the pickles at lunchtime yesterday.

"Will that be okay?" he asks. It's not like breakfasts at Kame's, with the selection of rice and fish and Western foods like bread and French cheese, or that first time Kame was less prepared and made him scrambled egg. Come to think of it… "I can make scrambled egg, too, only I don't have all the stuff you put in it."

"This is great," Kame says. "I like traditional. This is perfect."

When Jin turns around, Kame has got the rice bowls out of the cupboard by the mugs and is staring the rice maker into submission. A few seconds later it pings.

"Ladle is in the second drawer," Jin says, and checks over the table again to see if there's anything else they need. You'd think they'd get in each other's way in this small place. They don't. "More tea?"

Eventually they're sitting at the little table with their steaming bowls. Kame has cracked his egg over the rice, and Jin has gone for natto, for starters anyway. Kame is making weird faces at his pickles. It's good. A different sort of normal.

Kame still doesn't flirt in the morning, or hint. He likes it nice and quiet too, and he even likes it around Jin's tiny table with the limited offerings of Jin's kitchen, and somehow that makes Jin warm and light inside, like Kame drinking beer in ridiculous sunglasses or walking next to him and making the dark less creepy.

Well, except when he's being a mean little menace.

Kame looks up. He wipes a quick hand over his chin. "Did I spill something?"

"What? No. You're fine." Then he gets it; he was looking. "I only wondered… aren't you cold in just that t-shirt?" Okay, so it's lame. But true enough. Jin put on his sweatpants first thing.

"I'm not cold." Kame gives him a slow smile. "You live in a very cozy environment."

"It's civilized," Jin defends himself and snaps with his chopsticks.

They finish their rice in an easy silence. Jin's in no rush, and whatever Kame wants to do at his agency must be flexible too.

"Do you think Wednesday would work for you?" Kame asks then. He sounds shy again and seems really intent on the last bits of rice.

"I have time," Jin says immediately. There'll be time. He'll arrange that.

"I still think that's when I can get away easiest."

Wednesday seems far away now. Almost a week. But of course Kame has stuff to do when he's been away for weeks; and Kame has a wife. "Wednesday is great."

"I'll be in touch again when I can be certain, but I'll really try."

"Good." Jin smiles.

Then it's time. For clothes, for calling cabs. Jin puts the dishes away while Kame is in the bathroom with his new toothbrush, and he tries to feel more relieved.

It was rash to invite a client home, even Kame. He used to know better; he does know better, and normally he wouldn't be so stupid. So it worked out and he caught an undeserved break; he should still be more eager to have Kame out of his home.

Still he likes the way Kame pads around barefoot on his floor until he can't delay putting on socks any longer, enjoys watching Kame wrinkle his nose at his sweater, find his stuff together, empty the last of his tea.

"Thanks for the food," Kame says. "And the bed. And the music."

"You're very welcome."

"And the beer."

Jin laughs, just because.

Then Kame puts his coat on. The cab will pick him up at the bus stop down the road in five minutes."So, I'll be in touch?"

"Yes," Jin says, "that'll be good."

Kame is running his fingers through his hair to flatten it, then fishes his sunglasses out of his coat pocket with one hand while reaching for the door with the other.

"Wait," Jin says. Suddenly it seems important. He steps forward, reaches past Kame to keep the door closed, and presses Kame up against it, smoky clothes and all.

It's a smushed sort of kiss, just one for the road, to tide them over. Kame tastes minty and soft.

"Just, until Wednesday," Jin mumbles when he's done. "So you don't forget me in the meantime."

Kame is drawing a shaky breath from somewhere deep down. "You have a very interesting idea of your… memorability."

Jin giggles a bit, and then he lets Kame go and straightens out his coat to remove all evidence of smushing. "There, now you're all set again."

"Thank you very much." Kame is shaking his head faintly, his cheeks still flushed. He thinks for a moment, before he slips his hand around Jin's neck and pulls him down for a return kiss, this one very brief and dry.

"Thank you," he says again. "See you next week."

The door closes behind him, and it's quiet. Jin turns around. Quiet and empty. His own space again, just for him. Safe.

Thick clouds have eaten the sun and there's a drizzle when he finally opens the curtains completely. He hopes Kame won't get wet.

Jin's got hours yet before he starts work. Comfort with Yokoyama, all pre-arranged, and he won't have to hang out in the lounge unless he wants more, after. Not likely.

He starts moving things back in place, stuff that was pushed to the edges to make a bit more room for them. Though they were fine, they fitted well in here. Cozy. And Kame didn't seem to mind how small it was.

The dishes don't take long, and then it's like he was never here.

~

Chapter 37

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