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The Same Deep Water As You

by Solo & Jo

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Chapter 46

 

Saturday 07 March

"You look way too happy for a Saturday work thing." Morioka slides the sweetener towards Kame's cup full of the disgusting black brew they're being served today. They've speculated it's an attempt to prevent overlong discussions. "Are we in the same meeting?"

"It's a good project," Kame says with a little smile. "I'm excited."

"Yay work," Morioka grins.

It's true, though. It's so much fun, working with people he truly clicks with. He's thought about being more careful, about finding a right sort of distance that would not offend. Now here they are, getting their coffees together from the little plastic table with a blue easy-wipe cover and sharing a knowing glance about the limp mayonnaise-infested sandwiches.

And blocking the way; behind them director Funabashi is talking about modern cinema and the death of the artist. Kame made the mistake of getting roped into that one once already.

They step back carefully. Even the paper cups are thin and crappy and Kame has to watch he doesn't burn his fingers. They end up at the window spot, and the weather is sunny, the sky so clear Kame can almost taste the air in here. A great day for getting things done.

Morioka frowns dramatically into his cup. He was quiet in the meeting; Kame thought he cut himself off a few times when he had more to say about his character. But out here he's open, approachable as ever. "Have you considered negotiating for an intern to bring you coffee from the place next door?"

"I don't know if that's how I want to use up all my pull."

They both take a sip; Morioka makes a pinched face. "Just saying, man…"

"Okay, point taken." They grin at each other.

Morioka's amusement is turning quiet again as he swirls his coffee around. "At least I hope you haven't used up all your pull on me…"

Kame raises an eyebrow. That better be a joke; he thought they'd cleared that up. "You think I can't manage you and a coffee girl?"

Morioka laughs. It feels good to hear. "Our mutual friend Matsura-chan gave me a call after she didn't get it, wanting to commiserate. She seemed under the impression you don't properly appreciate her. But I told her you don't like me either."

Now Kame has to laugh. This should be a weirder conversation, somehow more difficult. "I swear I didn't say a word about her. She managed that all by herself. – Just like you did," he adds, very simply, since it seems to require saying again. "I did point that out, but that was all."

Morioka weighs that information. It seems to answer his doubts. "Thanks," he says.

Kame toasts him with the crappy paper cup. Then it's almost time to file back into the room and talk more about lobsters.

It is a great project, Kame thinks, and as he watches Morioka chat with the female lead and his future fictional sister, Kame is glad he didn't let old worries ruin it for him. Now that he's taking Jin to parties, his freak-out there does seem a little silly in comparison.

He wants to take Jin to more parties; safe ones. Drive home with him and go to sleep with him and take mornings off work.

Well, okay, first he has to do the work. He smiles at the director and is all ears and attention.

Two days ago he woke up with Jin. Two days ago, and he can't stop thinking about it. Two days ago they were just like normal people.

Kame doesn't care about the money. He knows Jin does; Jin would have to, to stay in that job. But Jin cares about other things too. He cares about Kame. Or they wouldn't have done that, it wouldn't feel so special and perfect, and if Kame keeps this up he's going to turn bright red remembering while he's meant to be focusing on the question of cooking lessons.

"I think it would be very useful if I looked like I know what I'm doing in an industrial kitchen," he says quite firmly, and just smiles when the director worries about his schedule.

He'll find time for Jin, and he'll also find time to do his job right. Maybe they can teach him some special Italian recipes.

He tries not to get too sidetracked, but while they're discussing the kind of make-up the lobsters should wear or something, he finds himself doodling on his script and thinking of Jin squeezing the breath out of him like he's not even a client.

He listens with half an ear while Morioka and Iitaka hash out the over- and undertones of their relationship. They've picked Iitaka well – powerfully built, old enough to carry authority; a formidable presence for Morioka's character to go up against, a great third in their triangle.

"Of course you're not going up against him," Funabashi says. "You can't."

"I don't think I hate him," Morioka says, more confidently than before. Good. "I think he's probably been nice to me before I decided to quit."

Iitaka laughs. "I think I might still quite like you too."

"But…" Morioka turns a sheet of his notebook. "I hate what you are. And that you keep bringing that into my new life."

"But you want to please him too," Funabashi says eagerly. "Because his money is the key to your freedom. That's the beauty of it."

Kame blinks a couple of times because that, there, just sounded wrong. Like a different story, and not one Kame wants to think about.

That's what he gets for not concentrating, for having clients and escorts on half his brain.

Iitaka is a pretty normal age for a client. Big but not fat, better looking than most of the old ones. That would just make him more popular. Not that an escort can be that choosy about whom he pleases. It's just lucky, Kame guesses, if it turns out to be an attractive guy, or a nice guy, somebody like Yamatani or Yokoyama…

He's got to stop this, right now.

Morioka and Iitaka have ended up wondering whether Iitaka is going to be dead by the end of the drama. None of them have seen the second half of the scripts.

They're pretty sure neither Kame nor Morioka will die. Kame suspects they'll end up working together. The cook has to play nice too, for now, for what he wants. The whole drama is built on who needs to please whom and why, and to what end.

Jin needs money. To survive. For rent. For later. This career gets him the money he needs, and Kame cannot resent that. Cannot resent that Jin has nice clients, like Yokoyama that walking chaos theory, and Jin knew that he knew and was just so calm, did nothing… He can't resent that. He's seen what the other kind do to him.

Funabashi is talking himself into a state about the intricate bonds of obligation and public face and lies turning true, truths stretching thin.

It makes for nice drama when it's not real.

Jin isn't in it for the enjoyment of being with clients; Kame knows that, and he should be ashamed of himself for being glad for that. And he is, and still he can't help twisting the thought around and around in his mind, whenever he thinks of those men; that he knows what they did two days ago was different, and new, and he can be pretty sure Jin does that with nobody else.

"I sure make you work for that money," Iitaka says, playing with the second script with his thick fingers and Kame finds him disgusting, just for a moment. Until he remembers Iitaka is a nice guy who told him about his two daughters at university and his sickly ancient dog.

It was Jin's day off. That beats all the paid-for niceness for all those other guys, guys he will stop thinking about right about now. And nobody else does that for Jin, either, it was new and surprising and if anybody did, Jin wouldn't let go like this. He's pretty sure.

He can still feel Jin's strength when he stares at a white fleck of nothing. A little warm shiver running down his spine, memory of the water and Jin holding him, taking care of him in the shower.

When he looks up to give his opinion on the romance, he's smiling again, and he feels ready to be constructive.

This is still a good day.

*~*~*

Every time Kame lifts a stone, he sits back for a moment, watches earthworms, woodlice and centipedes slither out of the sun. He's glad he's wearing gloves.

It's Saturday, his wife is at work, and he's planting her flowerbeds. Somehow he likes the ring of that.

A few weeks ago, he might have gone to the club. For coffee. A few fun, harmless hours, and be home in time for dinner. But that was foolish anyway; he knows now for sure. He's better off not being too wistful.

He digs carefully and slowly. Midori taught him that, "so the worms have time to get away," and he's in no hurry.

He's pleased with himself for remembering; the poor bulbs have been languishing in the shed for weeks, and Midori felt horribly guilty this morning when she realized she wouldn't get around to it for another weekend.

It's refreshing to be out in the sun like that… there's already some power in it, and he can see the buds starting to fill on the little cherry tree by the pond.

His jeans are old ones, black Dolce & Gabbana with genuine frays at the hems. In his head he's explaining to Jin how he's not being wasteful, he really couldn't wear those on any official occasion and even film stars have to wear something in the garden, and it makes him smile. Jin would be understanding about the impossibility of naked gardening. Or he'd try to sneak his hands under Kame's clothes.

Now if he could only remember where the Dahlias were supposed to go.

He sits back on his calves and stares at the Lilies of the Valley as if they could tell him.

Well, they'll probably need to grow a bit to make intelligent conversation. He claps the worst of the dirt off his gloves, then takes them off and gets his phone out.

"Don't get her if she's in something important," he says to the secretary, and then spends three minutes on hold before Midori is on the line.

"Hi! How are you? How was your meeting?"

"It was okay," he says. "Only took three hours, I was back here just after lunchtime."

"That's great. You almost get a whole weekend to relax!"

He grins. "Unlike my hard-working wife."

"Oh god, don't start. You know I love this project, but if I have to eat one more bento dinner…" She sounds way too upbeat to mean it, though. Her agency signed a big contract last week, and she's been understandably proud of the part she had in the team.

"You think it's going to be that late again?" It really wouldn't be fair.

"Not if I have anything to do with it. I think right now I've got everybody nicely motivated to get out of here by five."

"I could cook something for you." He's barely said it when it seems… weird, like an echo, a wrong one; but he likes cooking, he always has. He won't make it Italian.

"Hmm, that sounds like a wonderful idea." He can hear her smile through the line. "Just make sure it's something that can be heated up. You know, in case."

He promises to keep that in mind, and then he remembers what he called for in the first place.

"I don't want to get in trouble with your boss for distracting you," he says, which earns him a snort. "I was just wondering where you wanted the Dahlias."

"What, you're gardening?"

He laughs again, blinking up into the sky. "I'm doing my best to be nice to the worms. The Lilies of the Valley are already in and not dead yet."

"Oh, thank you," Midori sighs. "I was feeling so guilty…"

"Yes, I know."

"The others aren't as urgent yet, though."

"Yeah, but hey, I'm dirty already. I might as well."

"Well," Midori says fondly, "I thought somewhere around the back left corner would be nice, but I'm sure anything you come up with will be fine."

"I'd really rather get it right."

"Of course," she says, in her very serious voice. "I understand. If you can put them equidistant between the birdbath and the trellis with the clematis… there should be a mathematical formula that will tell you the correct intervals—" She cracks up.

"Not funny," Kame says, but he has to laugh, too.

"Just… do your best, okay?"

"Because trying is what counts. Just remember what you said when your garden gets taken over by rampaging Dahlias."

"I promise," she says, and they ring off.

Kame resists the temptation to get measuring tape to figure out how best to arrange thirty-six Dahlia corms in a space which… no, he's really not going to measure, no way.

It's peaceful work, digging up the soil and putting in bulbs one by one, pressing them down gently. At the patch where he planted the Lilies of the Valley earlier, two starlings are now hopping about, pecking hopefully at the loose earth in the hope of finding crawly dinner.

Next to his current patch, daffodils are out in faintly scented bunches. He likes the strong yellow at this time of year, insisting that warmth isn't far off now, that the cold is finally coming to an end.

Jin should like daffodils. But Kame has no idea whether he does. He could try it out, of course, but that would probably just be weird, flowers are… If he weren't a client… then he could, he thinks. Not that clients give anybody daffodils. It's just…

It's complicated.

Everything's complicated, and it's weird how he doesn't seem to have noticed how it got that way.

He nearly jumps out of his skin when the phone rings. The birds fly away with offended cries. The screen says it's Midori.

"Hi," he says, smiling once his heart has calmed down. "Bento dinner after all?"

"Hmm, they're working on it," she says cheerfully. "Sorry to interrupt you, I just wanted to tell you, you should water the Dahlias after you've put them in."

"With a bottle or should I use the hose?"

"Not with the— oh, very funny, Kazuya." She does find it funny, though.

"I'll water them," he promises. "Everything okay with you?"

"Everything proceeding to hurried schedule," she sighs. They ring off quickly this time because she has to get some papers to someone for something important.

He packs his phone away and covers the next row with a soft handful of earth, and remembers.

Remembers calling Jin, over and over. With good reason; politeness and respect. Still it felt like a lifeline. He hardly hesitated. And Jin waited.

Eventually the starlings come back. Their hops are cautious and suspicious, as if Kame wasn't here first. He tries to stare them down but then laughs at himself.

He wonders if Jin plans to live in a house some day. A proper one with a garden. Or if he's too thrifty, if a little place like the one he has now will do.

He wonders whom Jin calls when he's making decorating choices.

Jin asks him what he thinks of his music. And Jin turned down good money, because it was his day off.

He shouldn't pull that one up like some sort of talisman, because he'll have to pay again, and that shouldn't even be a problem, shouldn't even occur to him as a problem. It's still complicated. It still makes all the digging lighter and happier, when he thinks of Jin.

Maybe he'll tell Jin about the worms protection technique. He might even find out what Jin thinks about flowers.

He calls Midori again when he doesn't know about the colour pattern she'd like with the Freesias. He could make it up, but he's always left matters of taste around the house to her, it seemed right that way.

"Surprise me?" she suggests, but he shakes his head firmly.

"No, I just know I'm going to end up with some horrible pattern and then all your friends will make fun of me when they visit."

She likes some colour zones, not simply randomness, but she doesn't want it too neat. "I won't turn into my mother's neighbour," she pledges, and then she has to run away again and he makes scratches in the dirt for where the blue will go, and the yellow and the pink.

It would be so nice if he could call Jin like that. Ask about curtains at the apartment or whether he should redo the balcony, or whether Jin wants pork or beef for dinner. Just call him, and not have to worry about Jin finding him arrogant and intruding. Not worry about Jin being busy, being with other men, others who pay.

It turns him upside down. Takes all the happiness and clamps tight around it, like the sun's gone out, like someone stepping on the daffodils.

He grabs the shovel and there's a flutter of wings. The birds look at him weirdly from a safe distance and he frowns at them, lowers his hands. What do they think he is, crazy?

He doesn't know why it feels like this, when it never did, not even close. He doesn't know why he's reaching for his phone, because he can't keep doing this. He really can't.

It's half past three on a Saturday. Jin is probably still at home; he wouldn't go in early. Unless he's got some other… unless someone else…

He doesn't call. He shouldn't anyway. He picks up the shovel, slow so the birds don't give him looks again, and after a moment he remembers the worms. No killing anyone. Okay.

It's just a job. A job Jin needs. And one day he won't; he'll find a place of his own and forget about the club and about clients, and nobody gets to touch him unless Jin wants it.

Maybe Jin will want a little more space after all. Maybe he'll find himself a boyfriend then.

Kame digs around aimlessly, thinks of Midori and her measuring tape. He doesn't want to think about Jin's boyfriend later, when Jin doesn't need money anymore and pleases only whom he wants to please, opens up to him and gets pushy and shameless when he's in the mood. Says no when he's not.

Because he knows Jin wants out. That much, he knows. The rest…

He wipes his dirty hand over his face. Dutifully waters the Dahlias. Folds up bags, rolls up twine. At least he got something done today, isn't just sitting around moping over Jin and caramel lattes, and things being as they are.

 

Sunday 08 March

"Here, hold this for a second." Tanaka hands him the blue rubber broom and darts the few meters to the shed.

Kame dutifully holds the broom. He doesn't mind holding things. He's got time. Patience. Tanaka's garden is nice in the springtime and good for overwrought nerves.

Tanaka returns with a shallow stairs-like contraption. Stairs for garden-gnome sized people. "Now the cover's off, I had better put this in," he says.

"What does it do?" Kame asks as he watches Tanaka slide the thing into the pool and fasten it to some pre-drilled holes on the edge that he's never noticed before. The softly lit water feels freakishly bright. He probably just drank too much coffee.

"Lets her get out." Tanaka swoops up Sakura, who has a suicidal habit of circling their legs while they're moving. "She'll jump in all by herself, but then it gets complicated, doesn't it?" he says, going into some sort of baby voice at the end, and the dog gives a little yap. "And now it's getting warmer, she likes to take a little bath."

Dog stairs. Kame doesn't laugh. He doesn't get to laugh at people. He clears his throat.

"She does, does she?" he says weakly.

"Yes, and then she makes a biiiig mess in the living room when she's all wet, doesn't she?"

Sakura squirms in Tanaka's hands, but stops immediately when Tanaka starts scratching her belly.

"But she's so small," Kame says. He is so lame.

"So you'd think, huh." Tanaka looks like leaving big puddles of water in the living room is some huge accomplishment.

Kame nods in vague support. Tanaka eventually puts the dog down and relieves him of the broom and chases a few stray blossoms away from the edge of the pool. Kame looks around at a garden that's even bigger than the one at the house; the white plums in bloom, the cherry a little further along than his own; the meticulously pruned boxwoods.

They end up ambling towards the weather-proof pool table, with the dog dancing in excited circles around them.

Kame sticks his hands in his pockets and looks very cool.

"So how's work?" he tries.

"Oh," Tanaka says, "the usual. Busy, but good. I've got my tour coming up in May, and I'm getting a couple brothers from the States to come across for the final shows in the Dome. It'll be dope. Just got it sorted this morning."

"That's great," Kame says. And thinks.

Tanaka draws his hand over the smooth table. More blossoms, sneaking into everything, but it's just a hint of things to come. "How's yours?"

"Fine, fine." Kame nods again. "New drama starts tomorrow. It's all looking good."

Tanaka gives him a slow look. "The one with the kid?"

"Kid?" What kid? Kame remembers eggplant.

"The good-looking one from the Chinese restaurant."

The… oh! "Morioka?" He's slow today.

"Yeah, Morioka," Tanaka says mildly. "You're not still worried, are you? I told you, nobody will care, all the girls will love you two, won't mean a thing."

"I'm not worried." I'm just crazy.

"So that's not why you're here?" Tanaka looks thoughtful, and maybe like he's ticking a possibility off a list. And maybe his silence is a little expectant.

So now Kame talks about Morioka, rather fast. Tanaka maneuvers him back to the lawn chairs while he gives a run-down of the audition, and the meeting, and quite possibly sounds deranged when he gets into the finer points of the coffee situation.

And all along he knows he's running out of time. He's been here almost two hours, and Tanaka's been welcoming, plied him with a variety of non-alcoholic drinks, and didn't act like it was too weird that Kame had nothing better to do than watch him spring-proof his garden; but at some point, he'll have to leave; and he thinks he'll need time for some explanations before that. Sitting down almost makes it worse.

"Anyway, I'm sure one of the juniors will be happy to get in coffee for everybody a couple of times a day," he says, and then, "Are your other bands going to participate in your concert, too?" Not elegant; not even intelligent, but he's beyond caring.

"What?" Tanaka says. He's throwing a squishy little rubber ball for Sakura to fetch. "No." Now he looks at Kame like he's weird. "I'm all for fusion, but that would sound kinda strange."

"I don't know… you could give them a ten minute slot to do their stuff, maybe?"

"Yeah, Honey Toste in front of a rap audience, I can just see them getting ripped apart. How would you like it if a guy like me suddenly appeared in the middle of a… a… Carpenters concert or whatever that stuff is that you like?"

"Yeah," Kame says, and it's even easy to smile. "I guess. But if it was those other guys of yours…"

"That's specific," Tanaka says. "Okay, for you, I guess it has to be either JUNGLELOW or HAM-MER."

"JUNGLELOW," Kame says gratefully, while Tanaka gets up to help Sakura retrieve the ball from between two thorny branches. "How are they getting on, by the way?" he asks nonchalantly when Tanaka is sitting down again.

"They're doing great," Tanaka says with a pleased smile, and for a moment Kame wonders… "They got invitations to four different cities, never mind all the venues that now want them here. Not huge venues, but some pretty trendy ones."

"That sounds great," Kame says. Too great. Well, he doesn't say that. Holds his breath instead because Tanaka has more to say.

"They're freaking out a bit over the scheduling, poor dears. But Saku-chan has handed in her notice at work so she'll be free in two weeks. We'll be losing Kinji-kun, though, after this last run; he wants the uni job instead. Pity, but what can you do. Wife's a hippo by now."

"Yeah," Kame says, and ignores how his heart beats. "He did vocals and guitar, didn't he?"

"Yeah." Tanaka picks Sakura up and puts her on his lap, and she squirms until she can lick his face. "Misa's strong enough by herself—"

"— but it would be sad to lose the harmony…"

"…and Saku-chan's got a nice voice, but—"

"— a male voice would be a nicer contrast," Kame says, as though he's done nothing all his life but discuss the ins and outs of music. He blinks, and he could wait, but it might not get better than this. "Hey, you know what, if you wanted to replace him, we know somebody who could do that."

The delivery was just right. Light-hearted, definitely spontaneous, with a touch of wonder at the lucky coincidence. Tanaka can ask and this was all worth the wait, this was…

But Tanaka isn't asking; and when Kame finally looks at him in the spreading silence, he doesn't look curious. Kame's face is very hot.

"Are you serious?" Tanaka says, and Kame would feel better if it sounded outraged and not concerned. He wouldn't feel so embarrassed.

"Yes," he says. He'll live with embarrassed. Somehow he'd known it wouldn't be that easy, anyway. Or he'd have slipped it in easy between the first diet coke and the sprinkler tour, three hours of small talk ago. "I'm serious."

Tanaka lets go of the little dog to run both hands through his colourful buzz cut, fast and hard as if he's got fleas. "Oh man."

"He'd be good," Kame says. "You know he'd be good. You've seen him."

But Tanaka is shaking his head. "That's so beside the point, the point's on the moon."

"How can that be beside—"

"Look, man, you've got to level with me." Tanaka is looking at him more warily than he's ever done. Kame feels weirdly guilty and at the same time weirdly hurt.

"Yes, of course. What?"

"This wasn't just some sudden idea, right now." It doesn't sound like a question, and Tanaka doesn't look like it's a question, but Kame shakes his head anyway.

"No."

"You came here for this."

"Yeah."

"Oh man," Tanaka says again, and closes his eyes.

Kame waits. It could still work. It's still a good idea. This is just process.

"Did he put you up to this?" Tanaka says. "Did he ask you to ask me?"

"What? No! He's got no idea. I was just thinking…" He tries to sound harmless again, cool and coincidental as this was supposed to be.

"You came up with this all by yourself."

"Yeah." He shrugs slowly. Over flowers, over cooking dinner for his wife, through half a night. "You know. Your band. They need someone. And Jin's really good. That's all."

"Well," Tanaka says. In a nice voice. An apology voice. "I appreciate your creative impulses on my behalf. But I run a whole company full of music people, Kame. And I've got singers."

But they don't sound like Jin. And they don't sleep with other men. They're not important and they've got jobs already.

"I see." He takes a deep shaking breath. It's quiet again except for swaying trees and the tinkle of Sakura's collar pendants.

The dog looks at him with a happy clueless face. Kame wishes he had a dog too. He could pet the dog and maybe not feel like this.

"Tanaka-san…"

He's got no back-up plan, he's got nothing. He should have one, should have made one. Not let his own mind be a coward whenever he got to this.

The dog stares at him and licks its nose. Tanaka's ringed fingers start to move in the fur, and when Kame meets his eyes it's not as bad, as much of a judgement as it could be.

Tanaka sighs. "Right, okay," he says, shaking his head again. "Let's pretend you don't have to drive, and you're not you, and you've had three beers. What is up with this?"

The sun's going lower in the sky. Three hours and counting. It takes forever, staring at the blades of grass. Kame wishes he did have a beer, or a refill of tea, just to have something in his hands. "He really hates it," he says.

"So he's told you that much?"

"No," Kame shakes his head. "But I know, all right? I just know."

Tanaka seems to turn that over in his head for a while. "He doesn't seem to hate it when he's with you," he says slowly.

"No." It still makes him smile, to think of that. Jin doesn't hate it with him. Jin likes him. "He doesn't." He always said he looked forward to the dates, even early, even when they didn't do what they do now.

Tanaka is playing with the dog, but watching Kame, and Kame's lost the thread again.

"Okay," Tanaka says.

There's something… "He's not trying to get me to do things for him," Kame says quickly. "I told you, he doesn't even know I'm here."

Tanaka sighs. "Okay, fine. I get that's it's not a job for everyone. I get why a guy would want out. But there are lots of jobs out there, jobs you don't need particular skills for, and they don't pay much but if he hates it as much as you say…"

"He's afraid."

"Of crap jobs?"

"Of… of losing his apartment if he gets fired or if he doesn't earn enough. Of ending up back on the street. He's said that. He's waiting."

"So he's got a plan," Tanaka says. "That's cool, good for him. So why can't he stick it out for however much longer, if he knows it's temporary?"

Kame pulls his sleeves over his hands and stares back at the lawn. "That's what he plans to do."

A few months. Another year. Maybe two. He hasn't thought about how much Jin saves, how much he makes, how many dates.

This was all supposed to go differently.

"Kame?"

Tanaka wasn't supposed to sound so gentle.

He breathes out; so slowly it hurts. "I don't want him to sleep with other men anymore."

Silence, and a low hiss and rumble, Tanaka swearing in some rap language, Sakura yipping a reply.

"Don't do this to yourself," Tanaka says at last. It sounds almost like he's the one asking a favour, not Kame. "How did…" He falls silent again, looking in Sakura's fur for words… or maybe fleas. "You were fine with Takuya. With Tatsuya. You liked them, and they're these totally amazing guys, and Jin's not even…" He shrugs.

"Not even good at it." Kame nods and smiles. "You noticed."

"Don't look like that, you are scaring me."

"Sorry," Kame says quickly, and tries to look different. Like a person governed by reason.

Tanaka is still shaking his head. "I'm not saying he's not a nice guy. He's got better taste in music than you, that's for sure. But… seriously?"

"It's not like…" Kame kicks at the rough marble with the tips of his shoes. This is so frustrating. "I don't know how it happened either. But this, it's important to me. Okay?" It's embarrassing how wobbly that last bit sounded. Embarrassing how it seems to echo when it's so quiet while Tanaka gives him another long look.

At long last, Tanaka sighs. "Right, okay. Why don't you buy him an apartment then? You're a rich guy. And setting them up with a nice place to live and throwing money at them seems to be the traditional solution here. He can go exclusive with you, stop with the other men, make you happy."

This time Kame sighs. The thought had occurred to him, sometime between the gardening and the cooking; how Jin would be safe; would always be there for him and wait for him because Kame pays the bills, and that was where it stopped.

It's not what he wants.

"That's not what he would want," he says reasonably. Maybe Jin would take it, if Kame begged enough. But it would feel wrong, the same ache with a different wrapping, no more.

"It's better than what he's got, and it doesn't leave you out in the cold." Tanaka is showing a hint of impatience. "If he hates the job so much—"

"I don't want it either, okay? I don't want to be his sugardaddy, that's not what I want. I want— I want him to be able to decide for himself."

Tanaka leans forward and just stares. "You want him to be free? You want him out of the club and away from the confidentiality agreements, and still fuck him? And you want me to help?"

Kame stares back at his feet, the shadows they're casting on the terrace. It's getting late. Chilly. "Yes."

"Because that went so well for you once already?"

There's that. "It's different," he says, his voice all but gone. He knows Jin and Tanaka doesn't, and really that's all there is to say about that.

"And do you even know if he wants a music career? Do you even know if he wants to see you if he has to make his money doing something standing up?"

"No, I don't. Okay? I don't know." It's the thought that comes when he doesn't care about the embarrassment, when he thinks he can make this work; comes and makes him feel helpless and afraid. "But I know he loves music." Jin is so happy, with the music. "And I want him to be able to choose."

The look he gets this time is the longest in a half-hour of long uncomfortable looks.

"Yeah," Tanaka says at the end of it. "And if he does… what are you going to do then? Last time I looked, you had a wife."

"She doesn't know about the club either."

"Boyfriend on the side no big difference?"

Kame shrugs uncomfortably. It's what he figures.

Tanaka looks like he wishes he could see right inside him, see what went wrong and how to fix it maybe. But at least he seems to have run out of objections.

"You could just… think about it?" Kame tries. He's pretty sure there were a couple of 'no's implied here and there, but asking again can't hurt. He can ask until Tanaka kicks him out. "Please?"

"JUNGLELOW would have something to say about it, too," Tanaka says sceptically. "This isn't some kind of synthetic boy band or girl band, I can't just pop a guy in there and tell them all to make nice."

Kame remembers the night of the party, Jin arguing with the little bassist and the guitarist, discussing music with his entire body. "Of course," he says. "That's all I ask," he says. "Just a try. See if something works."

Tanaka snorts. "You don't ask much." And the concerned look is back, resembling a scowl with how the trees throw shadows on them both. "Are you really sure about this?"

He's sure about something, anyway. "Yeah." And Tanaka runs a whole company. If this doesn't work, maybe there's something else, somewhere.

It's getting gloomy in the garden now, shadows spreading. Midori will be home, and maybe she'll try to cook him dinner tonight. Kame's shoulders are tight and heavy; he feels like he's been in an endless sports drill.

"I should have known when you brought him to the party," Tanaka mutters under his breath, and whatever else he's leaving unspoken hangs in the air like thunder.

"Sorry," Kame says lamely. It's true, though. He goes to parties with Jin. And restaurants. And supermarkets. And maybe he was careless here or there, but Jin wasn't, and Jin doesn't put pressure on him and Jin doesn't give him grief because they can't go to the ramen shop around the corner and he doesn't call Kame a coward for protecting his livelihood.

That's why it's different already.

~

Chapter 47

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