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The Same Deep Water As You

by Solo & Jo

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Chapter 42

 

Saturday 21 February

Smart. Really fucking smart.

Kame waits for his stomach to crawl back up to where it's meant to be, wonders how dumb you can be, how reckless, and then puts on a smile because anything else would be worse.

They're going to a party. He even looks like a guy going to a party. Yamashita is locking his car and Kame makes very sure to keep smiling because he thinks he forgot briefly when Yamashita recognized him, he was busy with strange changes in the ground on an earthquake-free day.

Right then.

He gets a move on and when he's halfway there, it's clear Yamashita has stopped for him. Jin looks kind of ashen, and he's not as good at the smile thing as Kame.

"Hello," Kame says. "I'm sorry I'm early."

Jin's blinking at them both, like he's trying to sort out his thoughts. "I'm sorry I'm late," he says.

"Hi," says Yamashita, and nods.

"You got my message, right?" Jin asks rather quickly.

"Yes, I did. Sorry. I was just in the neighbourhood already." And dumb. And reckless. He can only hope Jin told his friend about a party, not about evening plans with a client. A random client somewhere, who doesn't indulge his impulses and finds it cute to wait at the curb.

He smiles some more.

"Guess that was my fault," Yamashita says with a very small bow. "I got out of work late."

"It's really fine," Kame assures him. "We'd be way too early anyway, I was just…" Maybe he should bring up the party.

"I just need to unpack and then I'll get changed," Jin promises.

Unpack?

"We were shopping," Jin explains, and right, his e-mail had said he'd got delayed at some Metro or something.

"Can I help?" Kame asks, with Yamashita already throwing the back doors of the van open. Kame resists the urge to watch him until he can catch the one facial expression which will tell him what he thinks, where they stand now. What conclusions can a guy draw from knowing about Jin, from their friendship, from… actors can have big cars, it doesn't mean they have to be clients?

"It's okay," Jin is saying, "it won't take—"

"Of course," says Yamashita with an inscrutable look. "The more hands, the faster you guys can get a move on, right?"

"Right," Kame echoes. He's handed two boxes full of shiny little packages. Green plastic, pork flavour… ramen. Yamashita hands Jin what looks like a restaurant's supply of kitchen roll; then he balances another box on his hip while he locks up the car.

It's cramped in the elevator, all their boxes bumping into each other. Kame might have suggested a different procedure, but he's got no say here. This isn't his day for bright ideas anyway.

"Is there a special occasion for this?" he tries when the silence gets kind of loud. He taps the carton hopefully.

"Huh? No," Jin says. "It's just cheaper."

"A lot cheaper?"

"Yeah. A lot cheaper." He nods at Yamashita, who nods vaguely in acknowledgement. "Tomo's got a card for this place, everything's huge. And a lot cheaper."

"That's great," Kame says, and Yamashita gives him a quiet look that makes Kame blush without knowing why.

*~*~*

Jin's tiny apartment is radiant with early evening light. The fuzzy glow makes it look cozy and private and like he shouldn't be here, even before Yamashita and Jin start speculating that Jin might have to move stuff around to accommodate his loot.

Yamashita puts his box on the floor next to the bathroom. Kame thinks the kitchen counter is a good place for ramen. But once he's got his hands free he feels even more out of place.

Jin pulls the ramen close and his eyes meet Kame's; but they can't tell each other much now. Kame tries to show he doesn't blame Jin at all, he was the stupid one here, but that's hard to get across on two blinks and a harmless face.

"Shall we bring up the rest while you distribute?" Yamashita, being efficient, voice and expression reminding Kame uncomfortably of punctiliously non-judgemental club personnel.

Jin is hesitating, eyes flicking back and forth between them.

It would make sense. It would be a very normal thing to do. "I think that's a good idea," Kame says, nodding so he can look just as efficient. He can handle the club waiters, he can handle this too.

Jin looks only marginally more convinced, but he lets them go.

So then Kame's in an elevator with Jin's friend, who knows about Jin's job. A very tiny, very quiet elevator, and Kame's not sure what's worse, when Yamashita is staring at the door or when he turns soft dark eyes on Kame.

"We're going to a party," Kame says. Stops because much as he'd like to add details, about nice known rappers and music, he can't drag Tanaka into this, too.

Yamashita looks at him with a weird harmlessness that could hide anything at all. "A party, huh?" he says. They're down to ground level before he adds, "A party. That's great."

He knows.

Kame follows him out of the elevator and out of the house, and doesn't try to say anything else. He doesn't know how to be normal about this; he should have made himself a script when Jin first told him Yamashita knew about the club. Or should have… stopped seeing Jin in this part of town, stopped seeing Jin outside, stopped seeing Jin…

Yamashita doesn't say anything else, either, just keeps it up with his efficiency and hands Kame the toilet paper, four large packs for each hand.

"Thanks," Kame says.

Yamashita's bags seem heavy. Kame just finds it difficult to get through doors. It would make sense to take the elevator separately. But nobody suggests it.

"It's handy you can shop in bulk like that," he tries again while trying to breathe as little as possible. It's lame, but he doesn't want Jin's friend to tell Jin Kame was rude to him. This is bad enough already. "Is it because of your job at the bar?"

"Yes," Yamashita says. He props his bags up higher and stares at the slow flickers of light from the floors they pass. The cuffs of his everyday jacket are frayed, and the jeans have seen a few trends come and go. Kame is dressed down for a private party and still he feels pretentious in his tastefully ripped designer jeans.

Jin trusts this man. And it's not like the man has proof. And Jin trusts him.

"That's a nice car you have," Yamashita says. "What year is it?"

*~*~*

As they come through the door, Jin's pulling a thin tight sweater down over the last centimeters of bare skin, a final glint of jewelry disappearing. He's kicking the wardrobe door shut at the same time and giving them a flushed, dishevelled look. The boxes and bags are still sitting on the kitchen counter.

"Almost ready to go," he says to Kame, and his glance at Yamashita seems more sheepish than anything else. "Just, hair." He runs an impatient hand through the strands.

"You look fine," Kame says, and… Jin looks more than fine, he looks amazing, slender in tight dark jeans and that close-fitting top; but Kame can't say more because there's Yamashita—

—who says, "You didn't put the ice cream and the squid away, did you?"

"Oh shit." Jin stops halfway through the bathroom door and looks around frantically. "I forgot there was… I just remembered all the toilet pa—" His eyes come to rest on Kame again. "Uh, thanks, Kame. Just dump it somewhere."

Kame nods. "Where's the ice cream?"

"I know where the ice cream is," Yamashita says. He waves Jin away. "You go do whatever you need to do to your hair."

Jin blinks worriedly from one of them to the other.

"Go," Kame says. He and Yamashita survived an elevator ride together; he thinks they'll be okay for five more minutes of organizing Jin's sugar stash.

Yamashita has dug into one of the boxes that came up in the first load, and is lining up four different tubs of Ben & Jerry's and three packs of vacuum-sealed squid. Kame has the small freezer open and finds himself confronted with unexpected quantities of pizza. He stops and thinks.

Suddenly Yamashita is next to him, peering over his shoulder.

"Oh, the two-for-one sale at the Seiyu last week," he says. "We got some too."

Jin's got mostly salami. Kame wonders if Yamashita thinks it's weird he's rummaging around in Jin's freezer, but then Yamashita freely volunteered freezer information about himself and…

"How is your brother?" Kame says carefully as he starts to take the pizzas out. "The end of the school year is coming up, isn't it?"

"Hey, why are you taking— oh. I see. He's fine," Yamashita says, and starts helping him remove pizza from boxes. "Complains about homework. I think that means he's fine." It's a non-committal answer but Yamashita gives him a half-smile suggesting Kame's question wasn't out of line.

"Keep a set of instructions," Kame cautions. He sticks it to the refrigerator with the Verdy magnet that's a sole bright spot in Jin's white plastic kitchen. "Just in case."

By the time he's done, Yamashita has started putting the boxless pizzas back in, and now there's room for the ice cream and, after they shift things around very carefully, for the squid, too.

"It's squid," Yamashita finds. "Guess it can get a bit squidged."

They close the door, and Kame starts to move toilet paper out of the way while Yamashita stacks ramen by flavour, and less than a minute later Jin comes out of the bathroom.

"Ready now," he announces, and—

Kame holds his breath; it's the only way he won't embarrass them both.

Jin looked great before but now he's stunning, his cheekbones brought out by the subtly tousled hair and the way even the slim cut of the clothes draws attention to his face, his—

Better to look away.

Kame's eyes fall on Yamashita, standing with a pack of ramen in his hands and staring at Jin, too. Looking spooked, and not happy.

Jin's focused on the pile of cardboard. "Hey, why did you guys take my pizzas out?"

"It's just boxes," Kame says. His former co-conspirator says nothing. "For room. For your ice cream obsession. You never said you were so into that." Obsession is a stupid word.

"I'm not. It's just, it's the good stuff. Cheaper than the cheap stuff. This'll last me a while." Jin shoots a look at his coat rack and the thick winter coat, then considers. "Cars all the way, right?"

When Kame nods, he gets a soft-looking black leather jacket out of his wardrobe and slips into that; and stops slowly as he turns back, fumbles his hands into his trouser pockets.

He's noticed Yamashita's look, Kame thinks.

"So, uh, we'll go, then?" Jin says.

He looks from Kame to Yamashita and back, stops somewhere in between. Yamashita hasn't looked at Kame again at all.

Kame nods, because somebody has to.

Outside, it's more thanks for Yamashita, and Jin asks something about Wednesday in a tone that seems way too uncertain. Yamashita nods emphatically, yes, Wednesday whatever, but his smile doesn't reach his eyes, and when he wishes them both fun at the party, his glance barely skitters towards Kame.

It started okay, Kame thinks. At the beginning, it wasn't so bad. He's not sure what he's done to make it go wrong.

*~*~*

"Sorry about that," Jin says, as soon as they're around two corners and on the main road.

"My fault," Kame returns at once. The van drove off in a different direction and Kame is starting to feel blissfully anonymous in early Saturday evening traffic, even with his sleek car and with Jin looking gorgeous in the seat next to him. "I should have stayed in the car."

"If I'd mentioned I was with Tomo…"

"You couldn't know I'd be showing up earlier anyway." Jin would be right to be mad at him.

"Yeah, but…" Jin shrugs slowly.

"I'm sorry I made it awkward for you. I don't know what I was thinking." Except he was done with work, and his brain said 'Jin' and he didn't question it. They're still early for a party of grown-ups in the entertainment industry, and he really doesn't know what his plan was – make out with Jin for an hour in the car?

"You think he's figured it out, too," Jin says, and Kame takes a deep breath.

From the way Yamashita looked at Kame… and at Jin, different, but saying the same thing. He figured it out right enough.

"He didn't say anything," Kame offers. "Nobody actually said anything. That's good. I'll deal."

And Jin can't help being pretty. Kame can't help being rich. It wouldn't have to mean anything, if they'd been luckier, somewhere along the line.

"I'll tell him he's got it wrong," Jin decides. "We're just… friends, and hang out, and—"

"Don't." Kame can't take his eyes off the road, much as he'd like to. He reaches out, just to touch Jin, briefly, he hopes soothingly. "You don't lie well."

"All I'd be lying about is… the job part." Jin sounds brave, and something twists inside Kame. Maybe he should pull off the road. This time when he puts his hand on Jin's thigh, he keeps it there, turns his palm up until Jin gets the message and wraps cold fingers around Kame's.

"He didn't like the job part," Kame says.

"That's why—"

"That's why you can't lie to him about it. He's not blaming you. Don't fall out with him, okay?"

He can feel Jin nod without looking, holding on.

*~*~*

They're on the expressway when Jin, who appointed himself radio handler eventually, stops skipping between music stations after every song. "Hey. Aren't we actually kind of early? For a party like that?"

"A little," Kame says apologetically. "I really wasn't thinking. I'll… drive slowly?" He lets the gas pedal come halfway up, and Jin laughs at him as the speed drops.

In the end, their problem is solved by roadworks and some caution freaks where the lanes merge. They'll still not be fashionably late but, Jin says comfortably, probably won't be drafted for carrying the beer crates.

Kame keeps his distance to a Prius in front of him, and at the slow speed he risks a glance. Jin looks even more beautiful with his confidence coming back.

"You look really great, by the way," he says earnestly. "Like… that's a really good outfit."

Jin looks down his front with a little smile. "Guess it got me in trouble, too, huh?"

"It's great," Kame insists, and blushes. "Thank you."

Jin holds still for a moment before he slumps down in the seat. His voice is warm. "I'm glad you like it. I haven't worn it before."

Kame bites his lip, and maybe it's good they're getting to the end of the bottleneck, good he has to focus. "It might be a good thing I didn't take a taxi," he jokes.

"Cause you'd start feeling me up?"

"I might." He's survived worse blushing, too.

"What," Jin says slowly, and in an entirely too deep voice. "You can't multitask?"

At least they're both a bit red in the face. Kame almost feels vulnerable in his jeans, the way he wouldn't in a suit, but it's a nice warmth, too. He's almost not holding his breath when, once they're back at normal speed, Jin reaches for his idle hand and puts it back on his thigh.

Okay. Kame can totally drive like this; it's a smooth ride on the expressway and he won't need that hand again for at least another twenty minutes.

After a minute, Jin sinks deeper into his seat, spreading out a little, and the way Kame's fingers slip into the gap between his thighs and up towards heat is so… so…

"You are evil," Kame remarks, wiggling his fingers and making Jin jump. "I'm going to get you for that later."

Jin squirms, just on the Jin side of suggestive. "You say that like it's a bad thing."

Kame breathes out slowly and tries not to have any other embarrassing reactions that Jin would tease him about.

Not that that would be a bad thing either.

*~*~*

"If someone asks where we me—"

"I'll play drunk and dumb," Tanaka interrupts Kame, "and refer them to you. Or to Jin." He's lounging easily on one of the giant leather couches pushed against the glass front of his sprawling living room, stripped of plants and precious rugs in honour of the occasion. Outside, the garden is dotted with coloured lanterns, their lights reflecting off the pool, which will be strictly off limits tonight despite the built-in heating. Tanaka told them the slightly disgusting reason behind that. "I'm assuming you got your stories straight by now."

"A party," Kame says. "And then we get out of the conversation, whatever it takes."

He glances across to the bar, where Jin is being shown some trick with cream and a spoon, and doesn't look like anybody is asking him difficult questions.

"Ah," Tanaka says.

"Where's Sakura?" Kame asks, and Tanaka pulls a woeful grimace.

"In my bedroom with some smelling salts. Just seemed safer. She'd like the company, I'm sure, but… so much booze, so many feet…"

Kame nods. "I wouldn't risk it, either." Ran-chan would be okay, but a poodle the size of a rat…

"I'll look in on her ever so often," Tanaka says, sounding like he's trying to console himself more than the dog. "And I got her some special treats."

Kame resists the urge to pat his hand and tell him it'll be okay.

There's silence. Not many people arrived earlier than they, and the bulk of guests is still to come. It's possible to talk quietly, now that the hired help has their instructions and the early birds have their drinks.

Jin's got the spoon and is carefully pouring cream all over it, worrying a corner of his lips between his teeth.

Tanaka takes a sip from his highball. "That outfit makes him look kind of—"

"Hot?" Kame grins. "No poaching."

"Underage," Tanaka counters, and quickly rescues his foot from a well-aimed kick. "Okay, and hot."

Whatever Jin was doing has resulted in a drink of very uninviting appearance. There's some discussion, and back and forth over the glass, and then Jin drinks it with an air of finality.

"So, you two are doing okay?" Tanaka says.

"Yeah." Except when Kame acts like an idiot and gets them in trouble with Jin's friends. "We're doing fine. Thanks for letting us come even though…"

Tanaka never has a partner at these events. Too big, too public, and as host he's too conspicuous.

"Midori says hi, by the way," Kame remembers. "She's sorry she couldn't make it."

"Hi back," Tanaka says. "She's busy these days, isn't she."

"She got more responsibility at her company. She likes it, though."

"Good for her," Tanaka considers, and Kame takes another sip of water.

Yeah. Good for her.

"And your work?"

Kame smiles. "I can't complain. The new drama is great. And there's that movie, about the assassin—"

"The movie you're drooling for?"

Kame thought he'd been quite laid back and cool. "I don't drool." He looks around quickly to see if Jin heard that… "Anyway," he says quickly when Tanaka grins. "I'm getting to audition for it." The script sounds amazing already.

Tanaka gives him an indulgent look. "Good luck, then, killer of emperors. Hey, are you sure you don't want something real to drink? A muddy green substance mixed by our newest bartending recruit, maybe? I'll have limos on stand-by."

Kame shakes his head. "No, I want to take the car. I'll have a sip of Champagne when you break that out for the— where are your Oricon boys, anyway?"

"Boys and girls," Tanaka grins. "That's them around the little round table there."

Kame thinks that for a band celebrating their break into the Oricon top twenty, they're pretty subdued and hushed. Behind them, music videos are playing on Tanaka's giant flatscreen. "Oh, give them time to warm up," Tanaka says when he mentions it. "Lots of things on their mind. The sudden fame actually puts them in a bit of a bind, a couple aren't sure they can commit the time. They're still figuring out what to do."

That doesn't sound so great. "Are you worried?"

"Nah." Tanaka swirls the ice in his drink. "Advantage of having a pretty big group and anyway, their rep's based on the music. If anybody's the face of the band, that's Misa-chan and she's definitely staying on."

Misa-chan is the fairly serious-looking woman Kame's age, with red hair, black nails and a blue drink, and oh, of course, they met before. Her hair was green then.

None of them are as young as he had expected from an up-and-coming rock formation, which Tanaka tells him is part of the challenge; the keyboarder has a day job in medicine and one of the guys has a wife with a kid on the way and is thinking of going for a university job instead of the rough and tumble of touring and promoting.

"I guess that's not an easy job either," Kame says, and Tanaka looks like he can't decide if he wants to agree emphatically or point out that being the producer really sucks much worse. Kame grins at him.

Jin is pouring something fluffy and, yes, green into a tall glass, beaming proudly when it finds the bartender's approval. He's chatty; happy, and Kame is still drinking in the sight when Tanaka nudges him and claims he is getting jealous.

*~*~*

They stop lurking in the couch corner once the place fills up. Tanaka needs to mingle and Jin wants to be with Kame; and a few people down the road, "This is Akanishi Jin, he's a friend of mine and he knows more about music than I" is coming very smoothly, nobody even blinks.

They get stuck for a while with a couple of middle-aged men who are arguing over who should or shouldn't have been hired by or left Black Sabbath. Kame would have moved on quickly, but Jin actually seems to have an opinion, so they stay until the older guys run out of booze and head for the bar again.

"Sorry about that," Jin says afterwards. "Only, there's a lot of bitchfighting going on there just now."

"Ah," Kame says. When Jin looks at him uncertainly, he shoots him a smile. He likes it when Jin has opinions. Also knows it makes them less suspicious than if he just clung shyly to Kame.

Kame thought he'd feel on shakier ground. But Jin blends in easily, and the more everybody drinks, the less likely they are to notice that occasionally Kame gets flustered by Jin's hips and Jin wearing a soft thin sweater he's not worn for anyone else.

They say hello to a few more people, and then they're interrupted by the industrial crash from the start of one of Tanaka's albums, on high volume and fading out quick. It sure shuts everybody up.

This is when Tanaka tells them all why they're here, being wined and dined and about to be handed glasses of Dom Perignon. He introduces the band, who are smiling and bouncy now and changed into rock star clothes, and then the glasses go round as they pick up their instruments.

They're not bad, Kame thinks. Not even Tanaka's spacious living room is made for impromptu rock gigs, and the sound is muted, the whole thing a bit like a family event. Misa has presence at the front, though, beyond her bright hair, and there's a lovely duet section with one of the guitarists. Their PV is playing in the background. Next to him Jin is moving to the music, so lightly he might not even know it.

He's not the only one. The beat's captured the crowd, and the applause is loud when they finish. Then someone points to the screen where the PV is still running silently, and the room goes loud with laughter at Misa's oops face. Jin is grinning.

There are more congratulations, and promises to take over the world, or at least the world of Shibuya clubs and college bars.

"He's a really good drummer," Jin says with a nod towards the guy. Kame hasn't noticed him; he finds their bassist more intriguing, with her spiky hair and Die Hard type undershirt. "I've heard this in shops, but it's different, seeing it." And a moment later, "I wonder who writes their songs. There was a chance for a—"

"Refills, anybody?" A man in low-slung camouflage pants with his baseball cap on sideways brandishes a magnum bottle. Kame thinks he's a semi-famous rap buddy of Tanaka's. This is a pretty do-it-yourself party.

Jin gets more Champagne, and Kame adds to it what's left in his own glass. Then they pick up some water at the bar.

"Well, what do you think?" Tanaka's voice says behind them.

"Very nice water," Kame says quickly, before Jin can open his mouth. He nods sombrely.

"Very nice Champagne," Jin adds after a brief pause.

"Very nice, uh, plants, too," Kame says, indicating the party-proofed room. "Love what you've done with the place."

Tanaka cuffs them both. "I'll throw you into the pool."

"Do you think there's something to this rap and violence theory?" Jin stage-whispers to Kame.

"The guy with the Champagne seemed tame…"

"Seriously, guys, what do you think?" Tanaka turns to Jin. "Maybe I should just ask you, since Kamenashi here doesn't know what he's talking about anyway."

"I like it," Jin says. "It's got a simple chord progression, but there's a lot of interesting stuff going on inside it. It builds a lot of mood. And they work well together. I'd like to see what they do on a real stage."

"Perfect answer," Tanaka says. "Kame, you should keep this one. Maybe I'll get you tickets sometime, eh?" He winks, before propelling them towards the couch where they started. "Here, have a seat with the production side of the geniusing, so you can see where all the real work is done."

So they meet the cover designer and the mixer, and a woman of at least fifty who smokes cigars and drinks whisky, and whom Tanaka introduces as the head of a small marketing agency. "She's been promoting my stuff since my first single," he says, "and now she's doing JUNGLELOW, too."

She nods and tells them about how she got TV shows interested in Tanaka years back by sending in photos of his poodle. Jin seems a little intimidated by her at first, but soon takes to her blunt sense of humour. Kame asks who came up with calling the band JUNGLELOW to begin with, while Jin wants to know what the black tulips and icicles on the cover mean.

JUNGLELOW are back, mingling with the crowd, waving here and there. Kame notes the bassist is now wearing a different kind of boyish gear and seems just as gruff as before.

"I was wondering how they'd come back," Jin says close to his ear, leaning into Kame for his confession. "Who'd be the rock type in general." The drummer is in classy black slacks very different from their performance clothes.

"I wonder if he's got the matching dinner jacket backstage," Kame whispers back, which makes Jin laugh.

"Maybe they wrestled it off him so he doesn't ruin their image completely."

Jin's close enough that he can smell him, warmth and a hint of spice. They're not at the club but it feels safe anyway, they're friends; Jin is a cheerful friend whose eyes never linger too long.

The marketing manager finishes her whisky with a head-toss and a clink of ice cubes, and licks her lips. "Nice stuff," she says. "Much better than that piss they try to pass off as whisky in bars."

"Oh, this is nothing," Tanaka says.

Here we go, Kame thinks as Tanaka launches into a description of some limited edition whisky that would have been bottled in a neolithic burial mound on a wet island in the year she went into junior high. Kame knows the drill; he also knows the stuff, which is just as good as advertised.

The manager listens patiently and then she looks down into her glass, and searchingly across the table.

"Well? Where is it?"

Tanaka laughs. "Hidden from stumbling drunks and the uninitiated in a place few know to find." A number that sometimes includes Tanaka; Kame nudges him and grins, remembering their whisky expedition one night when Tanaka had been too plastered to find as much as a light switch.

"I agree, it would be wasted on all these young folk," he says gravely, which earns him some chuckles, and a warm spread down his collar when Jin's smile hits him. Harmless and friendly.

God, that sweater.

"How old is it?" the manager wants to know. "If it's older than me, I demand for youth to be educated."

"Want me to get it?" Kame says quietly to Tanaka. "I'm completely sober and I know the way."

Tanaka looks surprised, but then he nods gratefully. "Cool. Thank you." He spreads his arms wide, not entirely sober anymore himself. "I love having helpful friends!"

Kame rises, touching Jin's shoulder until Jin looks up at him, which is a good angle and a bad, bad angle for staying cool, but somehow Kame manages. "I need somebody to protect me from the ghosts down there."

Jin blinks. "Uh…"

"It's the bad rhymes, and the violence," Tanaka says in a low voice. "Corpses buried everywhere. He needs you."

That last sentence sounds… Kame wants to throw him a sharp look. But Jin's standing up, and somehow he doesn't look worried. "I'll bring him back in one piece," he promises.

Kame feels tipsy.

"Don't steal my skateboard collection!" Tanaka calls after them.

"If you fuck with me about ghosts," Jin threatens under his breath, "I'll tickle you to death."

"To death?" Kame asks over his shoulder.

Jin frowns. "To squeals for mercy," he compromises.

Kame leads them past the study where Tanaka moved all the breakable stuff, to the door into the cellar. There are white walls along the stairs and handy light switches. Kame breathes in long and slow after he's closed the door behind them.

"How are you?" he asks. "Are you having fun?"

Jin turns at the bottom of the stairs and rolls his eyes at him. That angle again. "You can't tell?" But then his face softens as Kame finishes the last three steps.

The light is ugly and the floor is naked concrete, and Jin is beautiful.

Kame points the way towards the room with the booze; hangs back just a little to make the most of his chance to just look; and with the bright lights Jin seems to have forgotten his fear of Kame's sinister plans.

"Hmm," he is saying, peering through a lattice door on the left into a room full of gardening equipment.

"What?"

"I don't see any corpses." Jin pouts thoughtfully, before turning a slow, intent gaze on Kame. "The only bodies down here are pretty nice ones."

Kame ignores the sudden flutter in his stomach, casts a look around. "Hello?" he says quite loudly. "I'm going to turn off the lights and lock the door now!"

When he turns back to Jin, Jin's face has lost all dreaminess. His eyes are big. "You're not really going to turn the light off?" he protests. "We'd miss the stairs on the way up and we haven't even found the whis—"

Kame gets his hands on him, gets close, walks him right against that bare cellar wall.

"The light stays on," he murmurs, stretching up just a little, his mouth close to Jin's ear. "Because I want to see you."

"Oh," Jin breathes, and then his mouth opens and Kame shudders from a soft and secret kiss.

"Bodies, huh?" he whispers, not that that makes any sense. He can feel Jin smile and that sweater is nothing, a flimsy little thing and Kame blinks down to see his hands on it, stroking Jin through the clingy dark fabric. Down where they're pressed together, Kame can feel he's not the only one whose trendy jeans are suddenly too tight.

He kisses Jin again, deeper now, and Jin's head strains back with a gasp when Kame moves down to his neck, and sneaks his hand under that sweater and finds goosebumps on Jin's skin. Jin's found his hips, clumsy clutches at Kame's jeans that make Kame giddy, and when he moves so they fit against each other better Jin giggles breathlessly until he suddenly stops, and shudders to a halt.

"I'm gonna come. If you keep it up— I'm gonna get in trouble."

Kame pulls back. Jin is breathing hard, his head against the stark white wall, his flush splodgy under the harsh light.

Beautiful.

"Can't have that," Kame says, leaning his forehead against Jin's shoulder. He can't stop himself from a little wriggly teasing, and there's a shy slow thrust back.

"Later?" Jin says.

For a crazy, insane moment Kame considers dropping to his knees and sucking him off, because they're here, and Jin is hot, and it would be… it would be amazing, he can picture it right there.

But he's not that insane, and he's been enough of an idiot today already.

"Later," he says. "I'm looking forward to it."

They walk the rest of the corridor a little unsteadily, both preoccupied with awkward adjusting; Kame tries to come up with some blood-chilling thoughts that aren't quite as dire as the idea of being found out.

Tanaka's wine selection is pathetically small but he does keep a shelf with outrageously expensive spirits and some less expensive but hard-to-find cocktail ingredients. Kame picks up the limited edition Highland Park, amused that with what Jin's used to from the club, the impressive selection fails to impress him entirely.

On the way back to the stairs, Jin takes his hand. There's a quick press that reminds them about later, and a happy little shiver that is all about now.

*~*~*

Tanaka's druid-distilled whisky has met with general approval in their little circle. Jin sits close but not too close to Kame, who also tried a tiny sip but left the rest on the table. He sees the designer finish her husband's measure without ceremony and wishes he could do that, too, and not because he's so keen on the whisky.

But he can't. Somehow a mention of cobwebs in cellars has turned into an inquisition into Tanaka's bachelor status. He's handling it well, Jin thinks, seems like he's used to it and has all the answers on tap. Jin tries not to think of Kame's hands feeling hot and desperate through his clothes. Not thinking about that here is… smart.

Instead, he looks around again. He wonders what Tanaka usually does in this living room, because it's bigger than Jin's entire apartment. It's bigger than Kame's apartment. How much room to live does a guy need?

"He likes to collect ornaments of all sorts," Kame says quietly in his ear. "Statues, screens, Kabuki costumes and fans. Like that large one over there." A big fan full of swirly colours dominates the ceiling corner across from them, out of reach of them all. "Normally it's all over the place, but he's cleared a lot of the more fragile stuff away to give people room to move. I guess it's in the basement, if you'd like a look." He grins. It's a good grin, like he's not sorry about what nearly happened down there.

"I've always been interested in, uh, ornaments," Jin offers.

But they both know they're not going back there, and it's okay, it just feels good to talk about it, even in this weird way.

Then they jump when Tanaka exclaims, "Food!"

A door opens, and food comes on platters and large metal steam pans with flames underneath. A silent troop of white-clad people set it up within two minutes and then are gone again, like magic. Pretty impressive.

He and Kame go to inspect the offerings together, but then Kame gets waylaid near the chilli soba by a woman he met at a previous party, who's asking after his wife. With a quick smile and a wave just so Kame knows things are okay, Jin removes himself from the picture and goes to investigate Tanaka's impressive assortment of pickled vegetables.

"These ones are very good." A finger with an untidily bitten nail points at the dark purple slices. "Some wine concoction in there, I think."

Jin looks up, and it's the rapper guy who poured them Champagne earlier, and he's smiling.

They end up on a couple of fold-out chairs in a corner with their plates propped up on their knees, a colourful array of pickles on each of them.

"Soft, full flavour," Jin says, chewing on a pink one. "Notes of cherry, delicately laced with mustard." He's heard guys go on like that about wine in the club. "Light sweetness on the finish," he concludes, and the rapper guy laughs, and tries to make something up for the next one.

Turns out, once talk moves on from pickles, that he's not a rapper at all, but a photographer who's done some shoots for Tanaka and was involved in the cover for the band. Jin wheels out a version of the waiter story again, and feels a little guilty. But there's nothing else he can do.

He wonders what Tomo is thinking now. He was right after all, it was too easy. He can't blame Tomo for being smart and putting the pieces together, or for being freaked out when it was suddenly all there in front of him and real.

But they're still good for Wednesday, and that's a relief.

And now he's at a party, with Kame, and there are nice people and the music is good, too, varied with moments of rock, hip-hop, even some poppy tunes and the odd bit of jazz here and there. Something for everybody. He's eating pickles chatting with a friendly rap photographer, and officially this is work.

He glances at Kame but Kame seems fine, there's none of that tension of trying to be super polite. So he sits back, lets some bass-heavy beat get under his skin, and listens to a funny story about getting Tanaka to hold a pose under pounds of chain mail.

The music picks up and people stop eating. You can still talk, but there's movement and buzz, and— "I believe I heard my name?"

Tanaka, swooping in from nowhere. He looks boozy and content, and makes some interesting flapping motions with his hands.

"Only in praise," says the photographer.

"Slander, no doubt."

"You came across very fierce," Jin professes and only grins a little.

Tanaka makes a pffft sound and does that shooing thing again. "Whatever, talking over, it's dancing time! Over there!" There is indeed a space now where the buffet was. Some people are cautiously standing around it. "Up you get, shake those hips," Tanaka prods them, and moves on to the next group as soon as they're standing and looking sheepishly at each other. But the music is good and then Tanaka is back with more victims, and Jin lets himself be pulled along.

Suddenly lights come on around the open space; some sort of lasers, making it look like a projected boxing ring. That's pretty cool.

Jin's not the only one who giggles as he steps through and a green laser hits his stomach. He looks for Kame again, who… is sitting comfortably and smiling, looking like dancing's not on the menu this century. Jin raises his eyebrows in question, and Kame toasts him encouragingly over the head of whoever he's talking to.

Tanaka is already jumping and spinning happily. There are some other guys and a woman who are also good with the hip-hop moves, while the rest of them are happy to stay on the fringes and do their own thing, knowing that everybody's focus will be on the experts in the middle.

Jin shifts his weight, his first cautious moves imitating some low-key swaying of a woman a few steps away; that seems easy, unremarkable.

He keeps it simple, just picks up the rhythm, not fast but pulsing, you always wait for the next one. Someone turns the volume up and there's a sigh like release in the crowd, and Jin smiles as the song gets more insistent, at no one in particular but people smile back at him anyway.

He stops thinking, stops watching. He knows this, and it's like the music knows him. The beat winds around him, showing him what to do, and if he lets it it goes through him, moves him, it's easy, like he's never done anything else.

When a faster song comes on with a harder beat it picks him up, too, a different kind of intense, all of them together making the floor shake to the drums and the bass. With the lights going on and off and the shadows leaping, it's like a ritual.

After a couple of those the music slows again, turns languid and intimate, and it's different from singing but great. Like talking to the music and feeling every answer. There's a guy next to him who seems to hear a different language and it might be awkward, but the guy's enjoying it too. There's Tanaka with his wide happy movements, the shy people at the edge. A girl swaying with her hands high above her head. A woman, the lead singer with the red hair smiling at him, looking… she's taking him in. All of him.

Jin falls out of the beat. Moves his legs a step but it just feels like a stumble. She's still smiling at him, in a way he knows, about his ass or his mouth or the lovely way he'll spread out—

Shit. He pulls in his head and his shoulders, tries to shake it off as he turns away but it's no use. Slowly, through the screen of a dozen people, he inches towards the bar, and every step the music is undressing him.

He gets himself a drink, a small, strong one, and he drinks it. It's not the ancient wonderdrink, and he wants to think it's just cheap and just right, only he knows nothing here is cheap. Kame…

Kame is still in conversation. Good for him. Good for them. Kame's got better things to do than hold his hand through a dancefloor freak-out. He just wishes not so many people had seen him out there.

The bartender tops up his glass without asking, winks at him like an old friend. Jin takes that one slower. He doesn't want to get drunk on Kame, either. After a while he manages some chit-chat about a bartender's schedule and whether the guy got anyone to sneak him some food. He doesn't even look for Kame much.

Which is why he starts when Kame says, "Hey there," right next to him and nudges him in the side.

"Hi," Jin says, and smiling's not that hard.

"Stopped dancing?" Kame nods at… over there, behind Jin's back, and Jin doesn't need to turn around.

"For now," Jin says; it's easiest.

"You looked good."

"What about you, you didn't even start."

Kame smiles a little shyly. "Not my scene. It's complicated. I wouldn't know what to do anyway."

Jin's about to protest that nobody cares, that that's not the point, but it's not like he's about to drag Kame up there now, so he thinks better of it. "So how have you been spending your time?"

"Well, actually," Kame says, "there seems to be this disturbing trend where I get cornered by music types whenever you're not around to help me out." He waves at a vaguely familiar looking guy in the couch corner. "Shall I introduce you?"

On closer examination the music type turns out to be the band's second vocalist and guitarist. He's wearing glasses now and looking more like the type to lecture about music than to play it on a stage. But that's fine; Jin figures being lectured about music could be relaxing right now.

"Tsukioka Kinji, Akanishi Jin," Kame says. "Akanishi-san likes rock music, too."

"Hi," Tsukioka says. "Do you play anything?"

*~*~*

Kame was serious about getting out of the music talk, because he leaves them alone straight away. After they've finished half a drink, Tsukioka waves at some people coming off the dance floor, and suddenly Jin finds himself surrounded by the rest of JUNGLELOW. He doesn't know whether to be excited or intimidated.

Ochiai is their main guitarist and he's written their current hit song. The keyboarder goes by Saku-chan and works as a doctor. Tsukioka is really a biologist who just finished an impressive degree.

Jin feels like such an idiot when he admits under questioning that he sings at an Open Mic thing and tries to write his own songs, sometimes, when he's got time.

"That's how Saku-chan and I met, too," Ochiai says. "Years ago."

"And all I could play was Beethoven Sonatas and Rachmaninov." She toasts Jin with her gin and tonic and winks with one heavily mascara'd eye. She's got impossibly long legs under a white tube dress, and the way the ice cubes clink in her glass makes her short glossy nails look even sparklier.

They all have some sort of history with each other, and apparently enjoy recounting some of their school-university-underground-parking-garage meetings to Jin amidst lots of giggling and more drinks. Jin watches and listens, likes that they were a band before Tanaka even signed them, while the bassist and Saku-chan argue about who's responsible for the emo on their demo tape and kind of forget he's there.

"How do you know Tanaka-san?" Ochiai asks him.

Okay, not really a hard one. It's as expected as the waiter story, and also true. "I know a friend of his," Jin says. "I'm here with Kamenashi Kazuya." He nods vaguely in a vague Kame direction and hopes nothing shows on his face.

"Ah," Ochiai says with an unexpected frown. "He's… on TV, right?"

Jin laughs. "Sometimes," he grins, magnanimously not mentioning cooking contests. "He does films." He will so tell Kame about that.

"Oh my god, you moron!" the bassist interrupts and reaches past Saku-chan to punch the guy. "He's the one Misa is crazy about. Remember she was bugging Tanaka-san for the autograph?"

"My mom's a fan, too," Saku-chan says. "She got tickets to the last movie premiere but they whisked the stars away really quickly."

"Once we get our pictures where he gets his pictures, we've got it made," the bassist – Kurata – says.

"Okay," Ochiai says good-humouredly, "consider me educated." But he's not very serious, and he'd much rather know what Jin thinks of their hit single. The other conversations going on turn suspiciously quiet while Jin says what he thinks, and then actually asks about the note he expected earlier and which didn't happen. Ochiai laughs. "Yeah, but Kinji-kun doesn't like to go that high," he says, and then he explains how he actually had the note in the keyboard arpeggios where it was more subtle, and it's fascinating, and Jin doesn't even feel like an idiot anymore.

At some point another girl arrives, wearing a red clingy top, her hair dyed a warm shade of brown. She squeezes in between Saku-chan and the bassist and smiles at Jin. "Hi, I'm Michi."

He didn't think he saw her earlier but… "Are you in the band, too?" he asks cautiously.

"No," she says. "Are you?" When he blinks, she breaks into a grin. "You never know, there's so many of them!"

Saku-chan pinches her in the side. Michi squirms on the spot, slapping her hand away and giggling. "Sorry," she then says to Jin. "Actually I work for Softbank."

"And you're here…"

"I'm with her," she adds, dipping her head. There's a final pinch that doesn't look all that pinchy.

Oh. Right, that's… he blinks again in case he's misreading the way Saku-chan's hand has come to rest quite comfortably on their pressed-together thighs, in case with her isn't really with her and… the girl can totally see him thinking. Crap.

"Do you travel with the band when they tour?" is the first thing that comes into his head that isn't utterly dumb or irrelevant. "I mean. And with her?"

Michi gives him a final look with her smile on hold, before she shakes her head. "Nah, I wish. Can't get that many paid vacation days."

"We can't afford groupies yet," the bassist points out from the sidelines. "But it's on the business plan."

"Got someone in mind?" Michi teases her.

"Hmmm," she goes. "Justin Timberlake. He'd make a pretty cheerleader."

"I want that girl from the Superman series," Tsukioka says. "She's got all the moves already."

"Don't let your wife hear that," comes an amused woman's voice from behind Jin. "Or you won't even last out the promo tour."

Tsukioka looks slightly harassed as the others try to make room for one more on the opposite couch. "She's not that bad. She's just a little stressed."

Jin stills a little when he sees the woman— of course, the lead singer, who's laughing now and saying she'd sure be stressed too, her eyes still bright like when she took him in on the dance floor…

"Hey there," she says to him, and he nods politely.

"Hi."

"I saw you dancing earlier."

"Yeah, I was…" She's holding his eyes, almost insisting that he not look away. Jin picks up his nearly empty glass from the table, fakes a sip. He shrugs slowly. "Just a little."

"You looked really good out there. But then you were suddenly gone!"

"Thanks. Um. Did you dance?" It's helpless, but he doesn't want to be rude in this round. In theory he even knows how to do this, talk about shallow stuff that means nothing.

"Just a little," she smiles. "So are you enjoying the party?"

"Are you giving the poor man the inquisition, Misa?" Ochiai says across the group.

"I'm just being friendly!"

"He's not even your type," Tsukioka says indulgently, like this is somehow familiar.

She shrugs easily. "I make exceptions." Then her smile is back, full beam, just for Jin. "And he's pretty."

Jin doesn't respond, grateful for the moment to be talked about, not to. Maybe one day he'll grow a beard and wear a hat all the time.

"Don't let her harass you," Kurata says. Weirdly, though she sits close enough to touch Jin, that doesn't bother him at all. "She gets excitable when she's on the rebound."

"Rebound, what rebound?" Misa protests, leaning towards Jin. "I dumped him. Just so you know."

"Okay," Jin says stupidly.

"So, do you have a girlfriend?"

"I…" He can't say no, not when she means… and he can't be distant either. "I'm taken."

He doesn't look at anything beyond their immediate group. Looking anywhere would be bad.

I'm with him.

Misa sighs deeply. "Shame." She shakes her head and toasts him with her beer, and Jin notices for the first time that her lipstick is the same red as her hair. "All the best ones, right?" She takes a sip and Jin feels he should do the same. "So," she says, "has anyone tried to sell you the single yet?" But she's smiling.

This is a cue for thirty seconds of group advertising. "But honestly," Tsukioka adds, "we can pretend you'll buy it and we don't have to bore ourselves."

Jin promises, which makes all the women laugh.

Other people are floating in and out of the group, of the discussion which gets more fragmented, until it's just Jin, Ochiai, Misa and Kurata, talking about musical influences on the band as a whole and its members.

"I always liked hard rock," Ochiai says, "but with a melody, you know?"

Jin knows. "Or when those heavy metal bands do ballads. Best thing in the world."

Kurata gives him an indulgent look. "Another one for the girly team. You should talk to Saku-chan about that, she keeps going on about the 'hidden Mozart' and shit like that." She grins. "Me, give me the hidden Eminem."

"Hidden, huh?" Misa smiles. "I just don't see the point in talking a song," she explains to Jin. "Plus it makes my throat hurt. But Yuri does a thing in one of our new songs where she works the talking as a kind of rhythm backdrop to me and Kinji-kun. It's actually not as bad as I thought it would be."

"Hey!" Kurata's heavy boot nudges Misa's strappy sandal. "Of course it's not bad. I'm good."

"Is it out yet?" Jin asks diplomatically.

"No, it's for the next single. That's kind of on hold for a couple of weeks while we… there's stuff we need to sort out first." It doesn't look like it's something they want to talk about.

"So how many records did you have to sell to get into the charts?" he asks instead.

Ochiai takes a deep breath. "Nineteen-thousand…"

"…three hundred and six," everybody finishes in chorus.

"In the first week, that was," Ochiai explains. "There'll be more now, of course, and heaven knows how many internet downloads that don't even count."

"I used to do that," Kurata says. "Coming back to bite me on the ass now."

Jin swears he doesn't do internet downloads, saying he doesn't even have a computer. They look at him like he's crawled out of a Heian novel, so he adds quickly, "I can use one at work, though." Talking to some band guys about the Johnny's communal computer. Right.

But when they ask what he does, he says he's a waiter, of course, and Kurata says she used to work in a horrible coffee shop and was so happy when she finally got enough gigs to tell her boss to go fuck himself, politely.

"You're in more bands than one?" Jin asks.

"Was," she says, but then Misa's eyes go wide at whoever is standing behind Jin.

It's Kame. "Hey," he says to Jin, then bows to the ladies and Ochiai.

"Hi!" He kind of lost track of time.

"No rush," Kame smiles, reading his face correctly. "Was just wondering what you were up to."

Jin looks around on the sofa that he and Kurata aren't fully taking up. "Want to sit?"

Kame surveys the group as if he's waiting for protest, but then says, "Sure," stepping around to take up the space where Jin moved up.

"Hi, I'm Kamenashi Kazuya," he says. He looks at Misa, who has stopped slouching and has pulled in her elbows, looking very neat. "I think we've met before."

"Yes," she says, and suddenly her face is glowing. "We have. Half a year or so ago? One of these… But not the last one, you weren't at… I mean, we didn't meet there."

Jin knows that helpless babbly state well, he just hadn't thought someone like Misa was capable of it. He makes sure not to look like he's laughing at her.

"Thank you for your autograph," Misa is saying. "It must be annoying, all those people asking…"

"It's never annoying," Kame declares with a smile. "I'm sure you've found that out for yourself by now. Congratulations, by the way." His compliment includes the whole round as it's left, Kurata and Ochiai, and Saku-chan and Michi who were discussing something between themselves but acknowledge Kame politely.

They're holding hands now.

Jin doesn't know if he can feel Kame going a little still, or if it's just in his own head. When he looks, Kame is not sitting neat like Misa, is sitting just like before, and like nothing is wrong at all. Maybe nothing is.

He's said something or other to make Misa and Kurata laugh. Jin gets with it just in time to hear Ochiai offering to bring the next round of drinks.

They drink those slowly. Misa is visibly impressed by Kame's responsible diet coke but doesn't gush or make guesses about work demands. Kame is probably glad for that. Jin grins into his beer, and participates randomly in a conversation that includes a long exchange about Coke versus Pepsi, the name of the band, and how they all played their music when they were little. Kame and Misa still had discmen, while Kurata skipped straight to mp3 players.

A good while later, when they've moved from the annual spate of sentimental sakura songs in the charts to talk about global warming, somebody says they should investigate Tanaka's garden. A small group of people have already ventured outside and are standing around under trees lit eerily from below.

"Make sure nobody pukes in the pool," Kurata whispers a little too loudly. "I heard he's kind of particular about that."

Kame snorts, getting up, and for a moment— no, he wouldn't pull Jin up. Of course not. "Are you keen on a wintry garden with puke-free pool?" he asks.

Jin shivers in anticipation. "Not really."

Ochiai excuses himself and the others are also getting up. Michi leans against Saku-chan's side, not quite an embrace but not nothing, either, not lies. Jin looks away quickly. The colours don't help, the bright red to the white.

And this time he catches Kame still looking, and a hint of something rough like he knows, too, that with her means with her.

"I wanted to talk to Tanaka again," Kame says. "Before he has to play pool master." Jin nods and says he'll come along, and nobody makes anything of it.

"It was nice meeting you again," Misa says, and Kame assures her the pleasure was mutual. Then the rest of JUNGLELOW plus one underfunded groupie make their giggly way to the balcony.

They don't get much of a chance to talk to Tanaka; seems like everybody wants to show him, tell him, ask him something or offer to get him more drink. Kame lets him know that they're not likely to stay much longer, and they say their thanks and goodbyes in advance. But Tanaka's barely gone out to supervise the February garden freaks when the marketing manager finds Kame again and involves him in some long talk about his endorsement deals, and they are joined by two guys Kame knows from the last party, and suddenly it's another hour later.

When Jin looks up from a sneaky glance at his watch, he catches Kame giving him a wry smile. The smile is followed by a tiny head tilt, and a twitch of those eyebrows. Like they're secret agents or something. Jin grins and rubs his nose meaningfully, and after a brief puzzled moment, Kame grins back and turns to their company.

"I'm afraid it's time for us to leave. I'm driving back and it wouldn't be safe to do that when I'm tired."

*~*~*

They don't have to walk far to get to the car; a perk of being ridiculously early. But Jin still feels a little bounce in his step from Kame's coded messages, which now consist of sideways glances in the secret Kame code of politely wanting to do Jin really badly.

"How far is it?" Jin asks when they're inside the car but still in Tanaka's driveway, Kame's jacket on the back seat and the heating turned up for Jin. Seatbelts, navigation, and best behaviour.

"Half an hour, not as far as from your place," Kame says. At least he doesn't seem truly tired. Jin eyes the radio, but realizes for now he wants quiet.

They're out on the main road when there's more code. Jin grins knowingly. "I had a really great time," he says before Kame can ask. "Thanks for taking me. That was a cool idea."

"I'm glad. I had more fun than usual too." And Kame reaches over and takes Jin's hand, linking their fingers. Just like that, like it's normal. They only had to wait for the dark.

The lights are blinking by outside, hardly anyone around. It's quiet in Kame's nice car. Peaceful.

"He always throws a big bash in the summer. In August. I think you'd like that too," Kame muses. "His garden's actually nice when it's not February."

August. Jin turns his head to look, see if Kame knows what he's saying. Plans… that's half a year. Jin makes plans about careers and money. Not about Kame. Especially not about Kame.

Kame is focused on an intersection and then gives him a quick, relaxed look.

Yeah. He knows what he's saying.

Why shouldn't he. He likes Jin. They have great sex. Why shouldn't Kame expect everything to be just like this in August, too.

Jin should feel pleased. Reassured of his place in the ranking, even.

"Yes," he says. "I'd like that." Because he's at least that smart, and then he says, "It was fun talking to all these people, this was really great," maybe because he wants to remind himself.

Kame smiles. He needs his hand back for getting onto the expressway, and they both agree the party had a great atmosphere and a nice mix of music. "Though… not so good for dancing, after all?" Kame says. "I saw you never went back to that."

Oh, that… It's just a faint echo of that shiver, of feeling naked. He's with Kame in Kame's car. "No, that was…" Shit, way to sound happy.

"That was what?"

Jin shrugs. "There was somebody. It wasn't anything, just…"

He can feel the car slow down, noticeably, as Kame focuses on him. It's kind of funny. "Did anyone say something to you? Was anyone unpleasant to you? Who was it?" Kame's eyes are sharp and alert even in the gloom, like it would really be a bad idea to be mean to Jin at a party. Jin holds his hands up and feels like an idiot for bringing it up.

"It was nothing, honestly."

"Nothing how?"

"There was just that girl from the band, the lead singer, the one who's your fan. And she wasn't…" In the face of Kame's leashed anger and his impaired driving, it's the first time he really thinks it through. Because she was… she was nice. He liked her in the end. "She was just trying to flirt with me," he says. "I didn't really expect that. She was totally fine about it, it was… normal."

Kame digests that for a moment. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, very." He sighs, mostly at himself. "I just had a weird moment."

Kame needs a few moments more to think it over, before he seems to fully believe him and they can resume a decent travelling speed.

Jin's had other weird moments, with Kame. Things he didn't expect. Soccer, and Kame's hands in his hair. Kame warm and strong, solid like stone for him.

Not a bad reminder either. Not a bad thing to have in your life, till August, till whenever.

"The band's an interesting bunch," Kame says, just as Jin tugs on his arm. "What? Oh." Jin wants that hand back.

He gets it. "Yes," he says, resting their linked fingers on his leg. "It's almost like they've surprised themselves, and now what?"

"Nobody expected that half a year ago," Kame says. "They were hyped about Tanaka wanting to let them use a studio then. I like that they've stayed the same, just friends who happen to make music together."

Jin agrees. They're fun to talk to because they all seem to know and like each other, know each other's friends and… well, not just friends.

When he turns his head, he can tell Kame's thinking it too.

"It must be nice," he says, in different voice, like a different nice. Something far away. "Maybe it's easier… maybe it helps to be in a band."

Maybe. Jin thinks of Michi's smooth introduction, and suddenly he thinks farther, of cloudy humid afternoons and forbidden beers, Jin, with the hanging out and all, I thought you should know, I like guys, and Naoki had looked him up and down like he was waiting for the freak-out, smirking while the ground shifted under Jin and he knew there would never, ever be a freak-out.

He breathes out slowly. No idea what Naoki's doing here.

"I hope it works out for them," he says just as quietly. "Even when they get really famous."

Kame nods over the steering wheel, and Jin squeezes down on his hand. At last there's a smile.

For a moment Jin closes his eyes and it's just the dark, and the soft seat at his back and the low purr of the car, and Kame's hand in his. When he looks again, the road vanishes smoothly under them and the city skyline is shadow and light on their left.

"I like driving with you," he says, randomly. It's not the first time he's thought it. It's private and peaceful, and Kame drives well.

Kame gives him an amused sideways glance. "Is it the scintillating conversation, or do you just like my car?"

Jin wriggles around a little under the seat belt until he can see Kame more comfortably. "It's a lot of things." He takes Kame's hand in both of his and leans the side of his head against the backrest. "Also I can look at you all I want in here. That's a nice shirt."

"So you've said," Kame says. He's pointedly not looking at Jin in return. That's cute.

Jin starts tracing Kame's fingers; there's a little twitch, and then goosebumps running up Kame's arm. Good.

"Is this payback for the basement?"

"Maybe." Jin smiles, and traces the prickly skin with his fingertips. "But I won't make you wait another four hours for follow-up."

Kame slides him a flushed look, and then he's staring straight ahead, where the street lights are starting to flick past them rather faster.

~

Chapter 43

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