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The Same Deep Water As You

by Solo & Jo

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Chapter 38

 

Wednesday 4 February

There aren't many people in the waiting room, but looking at them, Jin's glad he changed out of the suit he wore for the banker and into something normal. There's a woman in a down-to-earth flowery dress and a knit shawl, and another woman with her housewife's apron over her clothes. On the seat across from Jin is an old guy with a muddy cap and hiking boots and a German Shepherd. Jin likes dogs, even though he got bitten by one when he was little. He likes the idea of dogs, anyway.

"Epilepsy," the old guy says to him, not that he asked. "But it's okay, don't worry. Pills are working, this is just a check-up."

"That's great," Jin says uncertainly. "Nice dog." He's not sure he wants to relate his return tale of strange lumps and—

"Tegoshi Taka-chan!" the receptionist calls out, and Jin smiles at the guy as he gets up, waves at the dog.

"That's me."

"Room two," the receptionist says. "Down here, second on the left."

*~*~*

"She's still a little drowsy," the woman in the white coat tells him.

The deluxe cage with its tunnels and the pink wheel is standing on the black vinyl examining table between them. There's a little house with a lot of stuff in it, hay or something, Jin doesn't know. A nest. He can't see any fur.

"Is there anything I have to do?"

Yuuya gave them Jin's number to call once Taka-chan woke up. The message was there when he walked out of the banker appointment and switched his phone back on.

"Just make sure you don't jostle her too much, and that she's got plenty of water." The woman has a friendly, reassuring voice. Perfect for dealing with helpless pet owners.

On reflection, Jin thinks he prefers big dogs to tiny hamsters. At least he doesn't have to be afraid of breaking them.

"No food?" he asks. He doesn't want Yuu-chan's hamster to starve.

"You can put some out for her. She'll touch it when she's ready, but that may be a little while."

"Okay." Jin nods. "Okay." He can't think of any other good questions and he doesn't want to ask her to check again that Taka-chan is definitely alive in there. Or maybe he does.

"Um, are you sure she's fine?"

The smile doesn't even waver. "She's very fine. I checked her personally. She woke up an hour before we called you, and if there were going to be any complications, they would have happened in the meantime. Now she just needs rest."

Well, Jin can offer that. He's got no place to be tonight, and tomorrow is his day off.

Yuuya got a sudden invitation for a weekend getaway – 'weekend' as defined by people who decide their own working days, in this case Wednesday to Sunday. It's a fantastic deal if you don't mind that sort of thing, but Yuuya almost said no because of Taka-chan's appointment and how worried he was about her, until Jin said he could look after her. So there's Yuuya, safely on a plane to Switzerland, and Jin with an unexpected hamster.

He mailed Yuuya when he got the earlier message, and he'll mail him again when he's safely home with Taka-chan. And probably several times more over the next forty-eight hours.

He's seen off with a reminder about the check-up and more reassurances; allegedly the anaesthetic was the worst of it. He carries the cage to reception and pays with the money Yuuya left him, and then he's out in the street balancing a big cage, and thinks he should consider taxis.

*~*~*

"So the mini pig was trying to figure out what this turtle thing was about, and the turtle just sat there like a big lump of stone, but whenever the pig lost interest it would stick its head out again, and the whole deal started over. Lasted for hours."

Jin never knew that a pet was an accessory that would get people to talk to you and never stop. The cabbie has been at it for ten minutes, and all Jin needed to do was say, "And then?" ever so often. It's been quite fun. He'll need to tell Kame the story of the guy who converted his tatami room into an iguana house and couldn't get a cleaner any more.

"And then?" he says, because it's been a while.

"Then the pig found a potato," the driver says. "That made it happy."

Right.

"So your… hamster, right?" the driver says. "It's okay?"

"Yeah. Just sleepy."

"God, my niece had a rabbit, did nothing all day but sleep. Mind you, my aunt has a fat old cat, same thing. Animals, huh? Lucky buggers."

Jin's not sure how lucky you are if you are so tiny and depend on people taking good care of you all the time, feeding you and taking you to the doctor. Paying attention to strange little lumps. He doesn't think the wheel is that interesting as the center of existence.

But the sleeping's probably good. And he's sure Taka-chan gets cuddled a lot.

It still feels funny, the idea that you'd have a hamster when you're working at a sex club. Or any sort of pet. A pet says you know you're settled for the time being. Also says the money won't stop.

Yuu-chan never talks about later, about getting out. Jin doesn't really talk about it either, but somehow he knows that's different. You don't get pets when you're just biding your time.

He wonders if the driving noises and the bumps in the road upset her. No way to tell, the way she's hiding inside the house. Do hamsters come outside and complain when their sleep is disturbed?

But then they're there.

*~*~*

He closes the door quietly behind him, and puts Taka-chan's cage on the low couch table. "Here we are," he says very softly, just in case, but when starts to explain that this is the living room and at night the bedroom, he feels kind of stupid.

He spends a while looking at the little house, but nothing moves. The windows are full of hay, too, no hamster in sight. But the lady said that was normal.

He mails Yuuya to say they got back safely; has a quick shower with his own soap and shampoo. Then he makes himself some tea and sits down again. He reaches for his guitar automatically, but after the first two chords he remembers that he doesn't want to disturb Taka-chan's rest, so he puts it away.

He guesses that excludes TV, too. It's only half past three, but this could turn into a long afternoon. Well, he has that baseball book. So he settles on the couch with it, and his mp3 player, and this is good, it's comfortable and peaceful, until he turns the player off again because how will he hear it if the hamster… breathes funny? Or makes some other noise? Struggles to get out, maybe, he doesn't know if… can they suffocate in all that hay?

Resigned, he puts the music away. Just baseball, then. He tiptoes to his desk and gets a pencil and some paper, and gets ready to take notes about what things like bunting mean.

When he looks up again from descriptions of double play and triple play and different ways to throw the same ball in the same direction, it's starting to get dark. He peers into the cage and there's still nothing. For a minute, he gets a creepy fantasy about what if the cage is empty, there was never a hamster in the cage at all, and nothing is really real, but then he gets it together and makes himself another cup of tea, puts on the least intrusive light, and settles down again to more silence.

When his cell rings, he almost jumps out of his skin. He frantically scrabbles for the phone before it can wake Taka-chan up even though it's a soft melody, it's… it's Kame.

"Shh," Jin hisses into the receiver, and then his brain kicks in properly. "I mean, hi. Sorry, hi!"

"Hi Jin!" Kame sounds intrigued and a little amused. "Everything okay? Is this a bad time?"

"No, not a bad time at all." Jin moves to the furthest corner of his apartment and lowers his voice. "I was just… I was reading. Didn't expect a call."

"You're not at the club?"

"No, I'm at home. I had a date earlier and then I went home. Had some other stuff to do, and it's nice sometimes, with having tomorrow off and all."

"So you're already off-duty," Kame says slowly, thoughtfully, and finally Jin buys a clue and realizes what's going on.

"No! I'm not. I'm just lazing about, off-duty is tomorrow, I'm totally still on. Are you… did you call because you're free?"

"Some things hit my schedule for tomorrow morning, so there's no point in me driving out to the house," Kame says. It's still slow, almost reluctant. "So I thought, if you had time… but I don't want to mess around with your free time again. And we've just seen each other." On Friday. Jin never expected he'd get to see Kame again so soon.

"I have time," he says. "I'm reading a very boring book. Someone needs to stop me."

Kame laughs. "I can do that."

"Your apartment?" He'll have to do his hair again, and think about what to wear, but it's easy with Kame and at least he's already showered and… and damn.

"There's a problem," he says to Kame. "I can't. I forgot. I have a hamster."

A pause. "Excuse me?"

"I'm looking after this hamster. Well, I haven't actually seen it yet but I'm sure it's there, it's just sleeping," he explains. "It had an operation."

Another pause. "A hamster operation?"

"Yeah. It's fine, or at least they said so, apparently everything went well. But I'm looking after it so it doesn't do anything weird or weird stuff happens to it, so… yeah. And I can't leave it alone." Damn. It's a pity. But he's got a responsibility.

Something is going on in that silence; he thinks he can hear Kame breathing weirdly. But then his voice is normal. "Your hamster, do you think it's fit for travel?"

"Well, I got it here fine…" Oh. "You want me to bring the hamster?"

"If it can be persuaded," Kame says. Jin thinks he might be laughing. "I'm sure I can accommodate a recovering hamster for an evening. So pack it up. And take a cab. It's on me."

*~*~*

"You're getting around," Jin tells the sleeping hamster when the taxi turns off the expressway and into Kame's neighbourhood. This driver told him about the breathing problems of Pekingese dogs. He wonders if by the end of all this he'll be known in Tokyo's taxi world as the guy with the hamster.

He knows it's there by now; after he was done with his hair and his clothes, he carefully lifted the little house and cleared aside some of the bedding, enough to make out fur, moving gently from tiny hamster breaths. He was getting too worried, and the thought of showing up at Kame's with a phantom hamster was too much to take.

He smiles into the rearview mirror and tries to look especially respectable. He's wearing the same stuff he wore for New Year's Eve, and Kame has seen both the shirt and the pants in different combinations. But he doubts it's a problem. Jin is always secretly pleased when he recognizes an outfit of Kame's. It makes them feel… familiar.

No comment from the hamster when they stop in Kame's driveway. Jin would normally pick a place two corners away, but the cage is a pain in the ass to carry, and he figures he's never looked less like an escort. He pays, and once he's maneuvered the cage through the side gate and up the stairs, Kame is already waiting for him.

"Hello, you two," he says without batting an eye. He's ready to take the cage off Jin, too, and let him dump his coat and his shoes. The way he's cautious and mindful setting the cage onto the dining table makes Jin smile to himself.

"Hi," Kame says then, just to Jin. He's still got damp hair and he's wearing the grey shirt with the black buttons. He looks good.

"Hi," Jin says. "Thanks for the help."

"Just making him feel welcome," Kame says modestly.

"Her, actually. Not that she's likely to appreciate it right now."

"Is there anything in particular you have to do? Pills? Dressings?" Kame has moved to the kitchen, where he takes a mug from the cupboard and holds it up. Jin nods, and Kame fills it with hot tea.

"Not really, just watch her." Jin's managed to unwind himself from his winter clothes and can finally sit down on the comfy couch, lean back and stretch out his legs. "If something's weird, I take her back to the vet. I wouldn't know what else to do."

"Small animals like that seem terribly fragile," Kame says. "I'd be uncomfortable around them, too. Ran-chan is big." His face crinkles up in a smile as he sits down next to Jin. "She could probably take me, so I don't have to worry about hurting her."

Jin tells him about the epileptic Alsatian and about the iguana room, and Kame is regretful his most interesting dog story involves the whole family catching fleas.

On Friday, they talked about how Kame's parents tried to grow strawberries in their garden for him, and how that was tough going with a dog. Jin told him about the Open Mic night and the beer accident with Frankie.

Kame can put names to faces now.

"Did you have a decent weekend?" he says, and he can't help smiling. Not 'a decent week' or anything like that.

Kame seems to get it, too. "I did. But it's nice to be back at work." And more than that, his look seems to say. "So whose hamster is it?" he asks then. "It wasn't there when I visited. Is it Yamashita-san's?"

"No," Jin says, and then he realizes it might have been better if he'd said yes. He shifts uncomfortably. But there's nothing for it. "It's Yuuya's."

Kame stills, but just for a moment. His tongue flicks over his lips, and then he produces a little smile. "I'll be on my best behaviour around it."

"You don't have to—" But that's stupid. Kame's not being literal. "I'm sure she'd have nothing but good things to report anyway," Jin says lamely. Kame smiles in a very concentrating way. They both know it's not about now. They look at the hamster, who doesn't even show.

"I hope Yuuya-san is all right?" Kame asks in a perfect distant-acquaintance voice. "With you watching the hamster, I hope it's not—"

"No, he's…" Kame doesn't really want to hear this, Jin's pretty sure. He just wants to prove he can hear it. Or feels he should, or something like that. "He's away with a client, long weekend in the Alps. He almost didn't go, with Taka-chan…"

Kame gives that thorough consideration. "Long mountain weekend, huh?"

"Yeah. Well, if you like that sort of thing…"

"You don't?"

"A long weekend is… long."

Kame smiles quietly into his tea. His hands are still tight around the mug, like holding it is serious business.

"I'd go with you," Jin says, and then flushes. "I mean, I know you can't… I didn't mean… Oh, hell." But Kame is laughing too, and after the Yuuya thing that matters more than Jin's self-maiming sentences. "It would be more my thing with you," he tries again. "Hypothetically on hypothetical mountains. Can I have more tea?"

Kame pours him more tea, and offers him a piece of sweet persimmon yokan, and they slip back into the lazy mood while the hamster sleeps on on the dining table.

*~*~*

It takes a while before it starts to feel like evening, even though it was dark by the time Jin got into the taxi.

Eventually, because it's on his mind, Jin fills Kame in on what he knows about immediate hamstercare; he can almost watch Kame take notes in his head. They've moved to the table and put five sunflower seeds into the little hamster dish, and now they're waiting to see when it will finally start to eat.

Or even come out of its house. Jin's not asking for much.

They finish the pot, Kame has rolled up his shirt sleeves, and both of them have opened their top two buttons. All good and relaxed. Back to normal, Jin thinks. Friday it was urgent and needy after three weeks without, just like Jin had secretly expected; Kame just needed a little push, and then he was all slack and blissed out before they ever thought of food.

"So, I thought I'd cook this time," Kame says.

"You?" Jin blinks up at him, meets his eyes through thin golden bars. "Cook?"

"I can cook, you know. I quite like it, sometimes, only I don't get much time."

Jin remembers. Cooking for colleagues on badly supplied film sets. Cooking for… Jin?

"That's great," he says. "What are you going to cook?"

Kame grins at him. "I got in plenty of spaghetti. Thought I couldn't go wrong with that."

"I'm so obvious…"

"And I got various things for on top, didn't know what was best."

"Sea urchin?" Jin says hopefully, and then he wishes he hadn't, because Kame looks troubled.

"I didn't get that," he says. "I'm sorry."

"I also like bolognaise," Jin says quickly. "Or natto, or mushroom, tuna, chicken, don't care! I like them all. Just with oil and some fish flakes is nice, too. I eat everything."

"Hm," Kame says thoughtfully. "Hmm." Then he smiles at Jin. "Let's get some sea urchin. The stuff I bought will keep, I promise. And there's a supermarket not far with a good fish counter. We can take the car."

"Are you sure? It's really not necessary," Jin protests, because Kame has enough stress and Jin doesn't want to be an extra reason.

"I think it would be fun." Kame smiles, so openly Jin has to believe him. Then Kame frowns down into the cage. "Unless we can't leave her…"

Jin considers. A sleeping hamster is not very likely to kill itself. "How long would we be?"

"Half an hour, three quarters tops. It's really not far, but it can get busy at the checkouts."

"It should be okay," Jin says hesitantly. "She's asleep, and I can't see how she's doing in there anyway."

Kame looks more uncertain than Jin would have expected, given that it's not his responsibility. "Think we could check?" he asks, and he looks embarrassed. "If we're careful? I think I'd really prefer not to kill Yuuya-san's hamster…"

Jin gives him a long look. He doesn't laugh, but he doesn't try to hide his amusement, either. "Okay," he says. "Okay, that is… Yuuya would appreciate that."

"Not funny," Kame says, with a cute grimace.

"Actually, I did that once already," Jin says. "Checked, you know? Before I came here. Because there was just nothing, no movement, and it was getting dark and… it was a bit spooky. And also it might have been dead. So, yeah."

"Whoo-ooo-oooh," Kame says very quietly, and Jin kicks him. Little jerk had better watch it.

When Kame looks up, his grin is hopeful. "So we can check?"

So Jin carefully removes the little roof again, Kame hovering over him like a nurse at an operation. It looks exactly the same as four hours ago, down to the little hole Jin dug in the bedding.

The hamster is still breathing. Kame smiles.

*~*~*

Jin feels like a thief sneaking in when they walk through the sliding doors and into the produce section, but since Kame's going to pay all proper and correct, that's probably just the idea of buying food with Kame in a supermarket. For cooking.

And maybe Kame's invisible-man get-up.

The place is upscale and Jin knows he wouldn't choose it for his stuff, but it's not a celebrity place either; a refined sort of ordinary. They're not the only guys, not like they would be in the afternoon. Jin fits right in with the managerial suits and occasional designer jeans, even if he doesn't feel like it. Kame glances around a little carefully until they're past the first shelves, but he said he comes here often, and he's not all that nervous.

Now he's examining an apple. "Do you think she might like that for breakfast?" he asks. Only he can't make up his mind between the different brands. The frown makes Jin suspect he's contemplating buying one of all seven, but then he just turns the current specimen over in his hand, probably so he doesn't accidentally give Taka-chan a slice from a defective apple.

Jin has no opinion on its relative quality, but he humours Kame and comments on the apple's smooth skin and probable firmness, because watching a be-hatted and be-sunglassed Kame buying fruit is nothing he's in a hurry to stop.

It's Kame who ends it, bagging the apple with a decisive flourish. "Better get a move on, can't keep Taka-chan waiting." He gives Jin a curious look as they wander down the aisle. "What kind of name is that, anyway?"

"It's, uh, short for Takahisa," Jin says.

"Takahisa as in…"

"Yeah."

"That's… evil."

Kame looks like he approves of evil, and Jin grins. "It is."

*~*~*

The fish counter is pretty impressive, and they come away with ten fat sea urchins sealed safely in tinfoil.

They split up for a moment because Kame wants to buy maple syrup for breakfast and Jin remembers that a place selling maple syrup and fresh sea urchin might also have his body lotion, and somehow he prefers pondering the toiletries shelf without Kame watching.

Jin never thought himself a guy for body lotion, but with how much he showers, it's become a necessity. He's found one that doesn't smell and doesn't feel sticky, some organic brand recommended by Satoshi. Usually he has to make a detour for a store that carries it. This one has a three-for-two offer and after some deliberation he ends up taking six, because it's not cheap. He just wishes he'd taken a basket.

Maybe it's good Kame didn't take one, though, because when Jin finds him in front of the imported delicatessen he's eyeing the various American things the same way he wondered about the apples. Kame is a dangerous shopper. Jin slows down so he can secretly watch Kame turn a honey bear upside down, observing the golden flow curiously.

"Personally I think bear abuse would be a weird way to start the morning," he announces himself finally, which makes Kame smile. Kame's eyes drop to Jin's load of organic beauty products, but Jin finds he's not embarrassed after all. He bought Kame a toothbrush, Kame can know what body lotion he uses.

"We should have taken a basket," is all Kame says, and Jin clutches his loot tighter and says it'll be okay.

Of course Kame picks the smaller, more expensive bottle of the two maple syrup brands. "Right, that's us," he says as he sticks it under his arm. The check-out they can see down the aisle is pretty busy. "Turn right," Kame says as they get to the end, "we can get through the express ones with what we've got."

They turn and—

There are girls, dozens of them, and high-pitched noises, and Jin just knows.

He doesn't even think, just changes course again, straight for the busy checkout, no looking back. He knows Kame is no longer with him and he hears the squealing grow louder.

That was close. His skin is prickling, delayed reaction or something, because… that was really fucking close.

Everyone is turning towards the noise now, so it's okay if he does so too. Kame is exactly where Jin left him. He's slung the apple over his shoulder mostly casually and is hanging back from the check-out queue like there's no hurry at all, but it's clear that he couldn't get away if he tried. Girls are pushing paper of all sizes, little gadgets and pens at him, and when Jin takes a quick look around to see whether security are planning to do anything about this anytime this year, he sees nothing but more girls coming to check what the excitement is about. Some of the cashiers are sneaking photos on their cell phones.

Oh boy.

Kame's holding up, though. Probably not the first time it's happened to him. He's refusing to sign anything, but he's talking to a couple of the girls, smiling all the time under his sunglasses and still not even attempting escape. For whatever reason he's pointing at the sea urchin pack.

Jin's line shuffles forward, enough so he can put his stuff on the conveyor. Older people around him are frowning on the noise the girls make, and when he turns again, four blue-uniformed men with white gloves have started pushing through the outer rings of the riot, and Jin breathes easier.

Okay, it could be worse, he figures as Kame nods at the security guards and smiles at the girls and says something that looks apologetic and involves the fish. At least they're not trying to tear off his clothes; and Kame seems not at all afraid.

The guards help. They don't even have to push, and slowly the girls start to fall back.

Not far, though, never far, and by the time Jin has paid for and bagged his lotion and turns for a last cautious look, Kame is talking to the security guards, bowing gratefully, throwing more comments to girls clutching magazines and t-shirts, and all around people are watching.

Jin hangs around a magazine rack at the front and pretends to read headlines about a monkey who can play table tennis until Kame has paid, too, pretending to be a normal person while surrounded by a mob. Looks like the guards will walk him to his car. Good.

Jin gets out his cell and makes sure it's unobtrusive, casual.

He's a little surprised when he sees Kame fish for his phone, he'd have expected to talk to voice-mail. "Hello," Jin hears through the phone, and there is a deafening scream he gets live and through technology.

"I'll just take a cab, don't worry about me," Jin says. "Meet you back at the apartment?"

"Yes, fine," Kame says. He doesn't hang up right away, but Jin does, he doesn't want to be suspicious, and he buys a pointless home improvement magazine and a pack of chewing gum, and walks slowly across the huge parking lot until Kame is safely in his car.

*~*~*

He gets an e-mail just as he's paying the driver, Kame saying he got home okay. Two minutes later Kame is opening the door for him, with an exhausted smile on his face and a damp hairline. They close the door again quickly, though it's not even necessary.

"I'm glad you found a taxi right away," Kame says.

Jin smiles. "They had a taxi rank. All those obaa-chans, and me."

Kame leans against the wall while Jin takes off his shoes.

"That was… something, huh?" Jin says when he straightens, trying to see if Kame is upset or regretful.

"Yeah," Kame says, like a deep sigh. "Unlucky."

"Were you all right? I don't think they noticed me, but…"

"It was fine. I've had that happen before. Most of them are really sweet. It's just, when you get them in swarms or when I'm…" He smiles sheepishly. Sneaking around with his escort. Yeah, Jin gets it. Kame takes another breath. "You were great. I'm sorry for the hassle. They all asked me about my fish."

Not about Jin. That's good.

"I want a drink," Kame declares when they head into the apartment. There's a towel dumped carelessly on the table next to the hamster cage; Kame probably dropped it there on his way to the door. "You want beer?"

"Beer would be great." Jin moves the towel, and— wait.

There's a hamster in the cage.

"Hamster!" he says intelligently. The hamster looks at him with little round black eyes.

"Any developments?" Kame asks, on his haunches in front of the fridge.

"You didn't see?"

"I just got here."

"Well, come. Look."

Kame comes to look with two beer bottles from which cold steam is rising, and hands one to Jin before dropping into his chair from before.

"Hello, Taka-chan," he says with a faint smile, in a voice that makes Jin feel warm inside.

"No flirting with the hamster," he says quickly, to Kame's disbelieving look.

Kame checks him out for a moment, then says, "I'll behave myself," with a sprawl that suggests he might just do no such thing. It's not a bad look on him at all.

"Taka-chan," Jin says to the hamster, which is sniffing the air in each of their directions in turn, "meet Kamenashi Kazuya. He goes by Kame and he got you a little present."

Kame takes a deep gulp of beer, and then he props up his elbow and leans his face against the cold bottle. His gaze is following Taka-chan as she disappears into a tunnel and comes out at the other end. "We should probably wait until she's eaten normal food before we give her anything fancy."

Jin checks the sunflower seeds, but all five of them are still there. He pings the water dispenser a few times with a fingernail, but she doesn't seem to be interested in that, either.

They go through their beers quickly; Kame points the living room and the kitchen out to the hamster, and gets a little giggly when he informs her of their great quest for an apple and how all the girls were curious and jealous about it. "But you're much prettier, so we brought it back for you," he tells her in confidence.

He looks young. Young and relieved. Sometimes Jin forgets he's just a guy in his twenties who likes beer and baseball, and who'll charm hamsters if somebody puts him up to it.

Taka-chan is a very generic brown hamster with cute generic ears. She's woken up more in the time they've sat here, and she's paid the food dish a visit even though she is still snubbing the sunflower seeds.

Kame empties his beer with a last long gulp. He looks at Jin in that way he only does when he's pretty relaxed, a little thoughtful, a little pleased; then he taps his bottle against his leg randomly. "I think I want another drink," he says. "And how about I start cooking?"

"You still want to?" As far as Jin's concerned, getting trapped in a mob is a get-out-of-cooking-free card if he's ever seen one. But Kame just raises his eyebrows.

"Of course. We had a plan."

*~*~*

The plan, Jin discovers, seems to involve Kame energetically manipulating a pot, three bowls, a frying pan, a bag of greenery, half a dozen condiments and ten sea urchins, while Jin sits on a chair with his second beer and watches. It's kind of fun, before it gets kind of boring, because Kame is also too absorbed to talk much.

In the end, Jin walks over to the kitchen counter – only for Kame to nudge him gently aside. "Olive oil," Kame says, as if that explains anything.

"I want to help."

"There's not much to do," Kame says, moving garlic around in the frying pan with one hand while tearing the bag of greenery open with his teeth and emptying it into the sink with the other.

"That why you look like you could do with six more arms?"

"It's all under control," Kame insists, and turns the water on decisively. So decisively that Jin jumps back from the sink before his whole shirt can get soaked.

"Damn," Kame says, and glares at him.

Jin laughs. "I'm sorry, am I messing up the foam block tower?"

Kame's confused face is completely adorable. Even more adorable when he gets it, and grins guiltily. And swears again when a splash of oil blisters out of the frying pan. He turns the heat down, or off, Jin's not sure, and wipes the back of his wrist on his forehead. "Sorry. I shall… mend my ways."

"So, can I wash those things?" Jin jumps at the chance. "I'm bored. I promise to wash them competently."

The look Kame gives him is a strange one and doesn't seem related to cooking at all. "I like competence," he says with an interesting gleam in his eyes. "I'll let you do the salad altogether, dressing and all."

Suddenly, half the bottles and jars are in front of Jin, as is the bowl and another bowl and a whisk.

He swallows. "Okay." He won't be intimidated by Kame's salad ingredients. "So what do I do?"

"Wash the rucola, spin-dry in…" Kame fishes a plastic thing out from a cupboard, "this, then make dressing with that, that and that." He taps the containers in turn. "When you're ready, I'll tell you how."

When he's ready… Jin doesn't roll his eyes, just washes the leaves and spins them dutifully in the spin thing and two minutes later they're in the large bowl and he says meekly, "I am ready."

Perhaps too meekly. Kame gives him a suspicious look. "Are you making fun of me?"

Jin looks at him, with his apron and his sleeves rolled up and his hair in messy strands from the steam; the big chopping knife he seems to be unaware of holding.

"Absolutely not," he says. "But you're cute when you try to boss me around. And kind of hot when you cook."

Kame laughs, a little embarrassed. "Hot, huh?"

Okay, so maybe this wasn't the best time. "Anyway," Jin says quickly, "what do I do now?"

Kame glances at the pot with boiling pasta, at the frying pan with simmering garlic, and seems to decide it can do without his attention for two seconds. He steps closer to Jin, so close Jin can feel his warmth.

"One big spoon of vinegar," Kame says, running one finger of his knife-less hand down Jin's button line in a slow, smooth trail. Two fingers repeat the movement. "Two small ones of mustard." Then he grins and leans in until his breath is a whisper in Jin's ear. "Mix them up."

And he's gone, chopping open a sea urchin with an expert whack of the knife and spooning the contents into another bowl.

"Uh-huh." Clever. But he dares anyone to think entirely with their brain when Kame acts sexy and carefree like that. "One spoon vinegar, two spoons mustard," he says professionally, and nods. "Mixing."

"Small spoons," Kame reminds him with renewed seriousness.

"Small spoons," Jin says with his best straight face. "You got it."

He's done roughly when the timer beeps. For Kame, it's the signal to mix sea urchin and his garlic sauce together. "Three big spoons of olive oil," he calls to Jin, and Jin is a little regretful that Kame's hands are currently occupied.

"Mix?"

"Mix."

He's still mixing when Kame turns off the pasta, but gets out of the way as Kame heads for the sink with the pot and draining sieve.

"Thanks," Kame mumbles.

Jin whisks some more, until the dressing looks foamy and rich. Kame is putting the pasta on plates and adding the sauce, and now he's doing things with parsley.

"I think I'm done," Jin says, and Kame takes a step closer to look. He nods slowly, dips a chopstick in and licks. Smiles at Jin.

"Perfect," he says, and then his lips brush against Jin's, just for a moment.

*~*~*

Kame likes eating what he cooks. It's reassuring to see him tuck in and enjoy, instead of analyzing and working towards improvement like Jin secretly thought he might.

Jin asks, cautiously, about when Kame has to get up in the morning, because he's on his second helping and he doesn't want to risk another pot-belly incident. But Kame just says they have plenty of time and heaps more pasta on his plate, and that's great, because this stuff is delicious even without considering that Kame cooked it for him.

They put away quite a lot of beer, too, and Kame gets gigglier than usual, making up shamelessly silly stories about sea urchins and dating when you have all those spikes. Maybe it's the supermarket riot catching up with him after all; maybe he's just happy.

Maybe that's what he's like with escorts he can simply desire, where there's no weight of guilt.

Not a thought Jin meant to have.

He breathes deeply and smiles on. Kame is speculating about which colour will be most attractive in the underwater world, "do you think there's seasons or something?" while eating the things whose first dates he's imagining, and it's such a mix of macabre and irresistible that Jin gets a lump in his throat.

He's not sure, but maybe Kame never cooked for Tatsuya.

Not a thought he meant to have either.

Shit.

He should stop there, because it's dumb and because it's dangerous, and what's he going to do if he prods and asks and then finds out the things that Tatsuya did better, or that Kame never got around to with Jin, what then? Or if he takes that risk and there's nothing to find out, there's not even the thought that Kame does this for everyone to save Jin from his stupid, cliché… this thing that he's doing. Because he's doing it. No point fooling himself.

Kame tells him about prickly sea urchin parents, and then he starts wondering about how they can tell what gender they are and how you'll even know who you want to ask out to the reef. Jin hasn't seen anybody have so much fun talking about sea urchins.

He manages to say something to keep Kame going, and once Kame starts eyeing the remains of the sauce critically and wondering about breaking up relationships by eating one half of the team, and suddenly there's a mention of Bambi, he decides he doesn't care.

A year ago he was freezing on the streets. Alone out there and Subaru dead and nobody else, and Jin had nothing. Just day after day and dark corners and his face, and whatever it was worth to a passing stranger.

Even four months ago he had no friends, no confidence, and no idea if Ootomo wouldn't realize any day now that he was no good and kick him out.

This, here, is a good thing. It's the best thing he has in his life right now.

"Bambi's dad just took off," he says, because it's the first thing that comes into his head, "people never complain about that," and he watches Kame nod sombrely at a single spaghetti which he winds around and around and around his fork.

He's been miserable for so long, he thinks he can let himself be not miserable for a bit. If it goes away, he's not really much worse off than before.

*~*~*

The hamster has eaten. "All five," Jin says, feeling proud and light as he flops down and slumps on the rug in front of the table with the cage. His last beer went kind of fast. Kame crouches in front of the cage, studying it with very serious eyebrows and his mouth slightly open, like when he concentrates on something complicated.

Jin manages to knock him over while pretending to sway invitingly. He giggles. "Sorry."

Kame gives him a look. "You're not." But he simply adjusts his clothes for comfort, and stays where Jin put him.

The hamster ate. Another thing Jin can stop worrying about. Tomorrow they can see if she likes Kame's apple. Right now she's crawling a bit randomly in and out of tubes, and Kame is sprawling beer-heavy right next to him, not at all fussing or worrying that he gets in Jin's space.

Kame could get in his space all the time. Touch him when it's about nothing. Or maybe about getting to the cutlery drawer.

"What did I do? " Kame asks, but he's grinning. "Something's up, I can tell."

"Nothing. I had a great day."

"Me too." Kame nods at Taka-chan's improving curiosity level. "You did really well, I'd say."

"I am an accomplished watcher of hamsters," Jin acknowledges happily, but it's really Kame he's watching; Kame looking rumpled in his crazy expensive clothes and the way his eyes turn tiny when he's drunk and pleased with the world.

"It's nice to have Jin take care of you, isn't it," he's whispering to the hamster, and Jin's throat goes tight for no good reason. Taka-chan's nose twitches excitedly when Kame distracts her with a finger between the bars.

"Be careful," Jin says as she lifts one little paw. "She could bite you."

"I think I'd live," Kame grins sideways, but he stops the teasing.

"But I don't want her to."

Kame's eyes crinkle up more. He leans towards him and there's a kiss, not deep and not all that precise. Jin breathes in long and wriggles his toes.

Then Kame is touching him in a way he's never done before, not without an invitation; a brush of his fingers on Jin's forehead, over his cheeks, and Jin is glad he stopped worrying so he can just let him and not think, just feel.

Until it stops. "Sorry," Kame says, but on the Kame apology scale it's at least not such a terrible sorry. "I don't want to be weird. You probably didn't sign up for—"

"You're not," Jin says quickly, "I like it." He kisses Kame too, to make the point, only a brief dry nip but he feels it go deep, like there's room inside him suddenly that was still waiting.

"I'm wearing my bellybutton stud," he says once he's leaned back.

Kame needs a moment to catch up. Then he bites his lip, just a little. "Nice," he says.

"I could tell you liked it," Jin says. "Last time. When we were… when you were looking down at me."

Kame looks warm in the face and he ducks his head. "I guess I'm obvious." But it doesn't stop him from reaching out, pushing Jin's shirt up so he can see for himself.

It's a curious touch more than anything else, a little bit of tugging and a little bit of prodding. Jin lies back all the way to say it's okay; Kame didn't dare do that last time, even though Jin wore it for him and he thinks Kame got that, Kame found it hot.

At last Kame flattens his hand over Jin's belly and stretches out next to him on the rug. His head is still propped up on his hand when he looks down at Jin. "Thank you."

Jin just smiles. Once, a touch like that was a turn-on, and even now there's a wistful little pull in his stomach.

Kame traces his smile, and the line of his shirt, and Jin captures his hand and puts a kiss there right on Kame's fingertips, just because he wants to.

It makes Kame laugh, but Jin doesn't let go of his hand; he feels the lines and the relaxed strength that is Kame humouring him. He never thought he'd find it so warm and comforting.

"I don't like your cat."

Kame laughs again. "What?"

"It bites you."

"Just sometimes. It's not a big deal."

No scratches, no marks right now; Jin's checking. But that's not the point. "It's wrong. You feed her."

"I'll be more careful," Kame promises, still with that bemused face, "and you can tell her off next time." He links their fingers and the strength comes back; Jin feels it like a slow warm pulse, spreading through everything.

He lets himself go lax and awaiting, and Kame finds more places for his chaste kisses, and his hand works slow magic under Jin's shirt. Jin could do this forever.

They move to the bed eventually, when innocent has somehow turned to hot before they noticed, when Jin is flushed and dishevelled, Kame's belt and fly undone.

Jin still spares a moment to carry the hamster behind Kame's bookshelf, out of sight of the bed. "Because that would be weird," he says, and Kame fervently agrees.

~

Chapter 39

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