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The Same Deep Water As You

by Solo & Jo

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Chapter 57


Sunday 03 May

"Really," Kame says, hands in the recommended position on the steering wheel and knuckles only a little white. "You've got nothing to worry about."

"I know," Jin says, shifting again in his seat. They're doing a leisurely sixty on the expressway, and are having this exchange for the third time. Maybe fourth. With variations.

"You'll see," Kame says, all upbeat. In the seven weeks and two days they've been together, Jin has never told his boyfriend to shut up already, but he's getting sorely tempted. Even more tempted though to ruffle Kame's carefully styled hair and hug him until Kame loses that super-strung look.

Not that Kame would thank him. It would also suck if they got in an accident. Jin's horrible influence, proven beyond a doubt.

Jin shifts uncomfortably. This was worse than dressing for Tanaka. He actually considered one of the suits, tried to see if they felt less whore, more job interview to him with different shirts. In the end he went with Kame-outfit slacks and the good denim jacket.

Kame is in jeans; crisp new ones, though, so Jin thinks he's basically cheating. Kame's jacket is on the back seat because Kame doesn't turn the aircon on when Jin is in the car, not in early May.

They're watching the navigation screen in turns; Kame should know the way, really, but Kame worried about roadworks and alternate routes, and Jin was worried enough about being late that he didn't mock him for it.

The dot that is Kame's car is blinking its way onward like an alarm. Everywhere around them it's nice and peaceful.

"They'll like you," Kame says, as the charming two-storey house with perfect pretty pink geraniums comes closer, along with the well cared-for grey car Kame's dad drives to work.

This is where Kame grew up. Jin's stomach goes a little tight, this is so new, and weird.

"Right," Kame says, his voice shaky on the exhale.

Oh holy god.

There's just enough room for another car in the driveway; Kame has to squeeze out of his side a little bit in an effort not to land in a shrub. They're nice shrubs. Very neat.

Jin checks if his shirt is still properly in his pants, and only stops fussing when Kame seems to worry there's something wrong.

"You'll be fine," Kame says, with a quick blink. "You look great."

Right. Jin finds a smile. At least he knows how to do that when he doesn't feel like it. "Let's go."

They don't touch. Jin stays just half a step behind. Kame rings the bell.

The door opens pretty fast. It's the mom, she's short, she's… smiling. "Oh, I'm glad you made it all right," she says. Her cheeks are a little red. "I heard the roads are terrible just now."

"Hi, mom," Kame says. "This is Akanishi Jin. Jin, this is my mother."

"Thank you for coming out," Kame's mom says. "It was a bit of a short notice invitation, wasn't it? We're glad you could make it, we've been looking forward to meeting you." Jin thinks she talks rather fast.

He bows again. "Thank you for inviting me."

"Well, well, come in." She waves them on quickly, and they dutifully shuffle inside.

Inside is light and friendly. Little plants on little plant holder things on the wall, nice hardwood floors, a tidy staircase leading up to the second floor.

"How was the drive, dear?" Kame's mother says while they take off their shoes.

"Drive was fine," Kame says, and then there's a thump somewhere, a male voice calling out, "Incoming!" and Jin has just time to wonder before there's a— bounding through the hallway, it's huge, it's a dog, hair flying everywhere, its tail hitting the walls, and Jin takes a step back against the door before he can think better of it.

"Ran-chan!" Kame says, which boosts the wagging frequency up to insane, the dog jumping up Kame's front, Kame's pristine shirt… no longer so pristine.

That is a pretty big dog. How does Kame not fall over?

"Sorry," the voice says again, and Jin sees— right, that's Kame's dad, grey hair and a grey cardigan. "She escaped."

The dog is trying to lick Kame's face. Jin would maybe find it gross if he wasn't holding his breath, trying not to attract attention.

Too late. The dog jumps off Kame, turns— and stops. Sniffing in Jin's direction, and its tail has stopped, too. It yips at Kame.

Jin swallows. He doesn't know much about dogs but that's usually not a good sign. He hopes he doesn't smell of tasty cat.

"Ran-chan," Kame says, petting the dog's shaggy back. "It's Jin. Say hi to Jin."

"Um," Jin says. He doesn't know if he should bow just in case, or stay still so the dog doesn't get ideas. "Hi," he tries.

The dog sniffs again, yips at Kame again.

"Maybe if you hold out your hand…" Kame says. He looks a little unhappy.

Great. Someone hates him already.

"Oh, she'll warm up in no time," Kame's mother says. "She's just a little confused. Come here, girl, leave the young man alone. We usually serve tea before we have our guests assaulted, this is all out of order!" She gives Jin a little wink.

Kame gestures for Jin to step past him, looking undeniably guilty.

And there's the dad. Jin bows again, with the dog safely out of range.

"It's an honour to meet you, sir," he says, and Kame's dad bows a little too and calls him Akanishi-san, and Jin tries not to read anything into anything, it's simply too early.

They're led through to the sitting room. There are pictures of Kame, in a school uniform, in coming of age robes; it's an effort not to stare around too much. The furniture is pretty Western. There are magazines, bright and colourful… but no, no staring.

Kame doesn't have any inhibitions, of course not. "Oh," he says as soon as they are in the room, "you bought that vase after all?"

The vase is a strangely shaped green thing which holds a single pussywillow stem.

"Your mother persuaded me that it was a mistake to leave it behind," Kame's father says, "so we went back the following day."

"They spent two hours discussing that vase last time I was here," Kame says to Jin. "And showed me pictures on the internet."

"We shall be better behaved today," Kame's father promises. "Please, sit down."

Jin goes where he's pointed at and is glad that it's the couch, and Kame can sit beside him. It makes him feel safer. A moment later Kame's mom arrives with tea, and the dog stops watching Jin suspiciously and settles at the father's feet.

"I hope we didn't interrupt your Sunday too much," Kame's dad says. "It's been a while since Kazuya… Well, we did want to meet you." He brushes down his cardigan. A look passes between Kame's parents, and Jin thinks dad is getting scolded. The wife reminder was not approved.

Kame's wife. They liked her, she was charming. And there would have been grandchildren.

"Thank you," Jin says, feeling stupid. "I looked forward to meeting you too. And thank you for the tea."

Kame's mom is still running around, to the kitchen and back, bringing youkan and little mochi, and finally small pastries which make Kame wince.

"You have to stop doing that." He turns to Jin. "This has been her strategy for fattening me up since I was twelve."

"He can't resist them," Kame's mom says to Jin. "Strawberry pastries from our ward's oldest bakery."

Jin smiles at her. "I'll keep that in mind, ma'am." He feels quite daring saying it, and, okay, now they're silent, and thinking, and shit. He looks over the pastries again, mumbles, "They look really great."

"Thank you, honey," Kame's dad says.

Jin is acutely aware of Kame fidgeting next to him. He wishes they could touch, and also knows he'd die of mortification if they did, now.

Kame's mother sits down, a wide smile on her round face. "So, are you… Kazuya tells me you work in a café?"

Here it goes. "I used to," Jin says, before any hesitation makes him sound dodgy. "I just started a new job in a music company, as a singer." He hates how he looks like a flake who quit his real job as soon as he found himself a rich boy, but he's pretty sure they'd hate the truth more.

"Oh, a singer!" Kame's mom says. She sounds very approving. "What sort of music?"

So Jin gives her the summary he prepared with Kame, trying to come across as sober and respectable. He can't really tell how she takes it, she seems determined to make him feel at ease with all that approval. It reminds him a bit of Kame.

She doesn't look like Kame. That's the dad, all the sharp angles and skinny frame, long lines where Kame's cheeks show when he laughs. Kame will look good as he gets older.

The dad doesn't say much now. He has different cookies from the rest of them. Kame is on his second irresistible pastry, though Jin can feel his nervous glances.

"Your parents must be very proud," Kame's mother says.

Jin doesn't freeze. Take everything in stride, that's the zone he's in, he's got practice. Though he thinks Kame is holding his breath. "Thank you very much, that's very kind," he says, and bows a little. That should do it.

"What do your parents do, Akanishi-san?" Kame's dad asks. He has a nice voice. Jin should have been better prepared.

"My dad puts windows in buildings," he says. Just fact. "My mom is a housewife."

"Me too!" Kame's mom says, as if that similarity wipes away the house and the car and the difference between a job fitting windows and a job in an air-conditioned office. "And do you have any siblings?"

Kame is going very tense next to him. "I have two brothers," Jin says. "I'm the oldest. My middle brother is learning to be a plumber and the youngest is still in high school."

"Ah, that must be wonderful," Kame's mom says. "A big family is great, isn't it?"

It goes quiet again. Jin's supposed to say something, about his two brothers, the one who hates him and the one who almost forgot him. But he's stuck, and sweating, and he should really, really say something…

"We were a lot of work, I think," he says. "For my mother, I mean."

Kame's mom nods wisely. "I always wanted brothers for Kazuya, or a sister. But, well, it just didn't happen."

"I have Ran-chan," Kame says. He noticed the pause too, he's wobbly.

"That, you do. I'm guessing Kazuya didn't warn you about her?"

"He mentioned her," Jin says. "I admit I forgot that she's… big." He hopes he didn't look too wimpy, and he tries to smile at the dog, which has its nose inside Kame's dad's dangling slipper.

"She's a handful," Kame's mom says. "I shampoo her twice a week, I don't care much for dog smell." She wrinkles her nose, then smiles at him again. "She likes to bathe, though, that's very lucky."

Jin nods and smiles back. He can practically hear Kame thinking next to him. Maybe Jin should be a little more… something. "So," he says, embarrassed when his voice sounds a bit squeaky. "Kazuya told me you work for a factory that makes bottle caps?"

Kame's dad nods. "I do. I've been there for thirty years."

"What sort of bottles? I mean, is that— for Coke and things? Or beer?"

"No," the dad sighs. "We never managed Coke. Or beer. But we have Pepsi, and Iyemon and Dakara and so on."

Jin smiles again. "I like Iyemon." Him and millions of others. There's another pause.

"So you two met in the coffee shop?" mom wants to know. Yes. That one, at least, they're ready for.

*~*~*

It gets better. Jin doesn't even notice it for a bit, but once they have the meeting story dealt with and Kame's mom told him that she and Kame's dad met on a subway train stuck underground for an hour due to signal malfunction, he feels much less like he's here for general inspection and much more like he's meeting… nice people. Kame's dad is quieter, it's the mom who is carrying the conversation, but dads are like that.

Kame's talking more, too. He offers up the Odawara minibus story as his traffic disaster contribution and finds various optimistic things to say about his own job situation. The rest just sort of hangs in the air, but seems to be content to stay there, like a rain front far off the coast.

"Oh, I hope you like yakiniku," Kame's mom says suddenly to Jin, interrupting Kame's comments on her holiday plans. "We have different kinds of meat, so if you don't like red meat… or white… there's fish too, I got a lovely piece of monkfish this morning."

"That's fine, I like all kinds of meat," Jin says quickly, ignoring Kame's look. "Thank you very much, that sounds lovely."

"Excellent," she says. There's another look passing between her and Kame's dad, who is currently keeping the dog entertained by twirling that slipper over her head. Jin's decided it's best not to get too worried about passing looks.

He sneaks another glance at the photos instead, the school uniforms and that. Jin thinks there's a red carpet one too. He's too far away for details, the promised eyebrows on the early ones, that sort of thing. But they're proud of Kame. It's right there, and in the way they treat him and look at him.

"It's a good thing we skipped lunch," Kame says in a lowered voice. His eyes are scanning Jin, checking if he's all right because he can't ask. They have their own passing looks. "There'll be tons of all that."

Jin smiles, and hopes it looks real. He's okay. His back hasn't touched the sofa, but this could have gone so much worse.

"I heard that, young man," the mom says archly.

Kame makes a face. "I'm just praising you, mom!"

She raises her eyebrows at him. But she looks nice even when she pretends to be cross. "Hm," she says, and tilts her head. "You can do more than that. I could use another set of hands for slicing the vegetables, and if you boys skipped lunch we should get the meat underway sooner rather than later!"

"See, I told you," Kame says in a mock-whisper, and Jin grins to himself. But then Kame gets up, and there are more passing looks and— okay, if Kame helps his mom, Jin can… sit here?

"Is there anything I can do, ma'am?" he offers, and hopes that's not rude in this household. Kame at least usually lets him set the table.

Kame's parents look at each other.

"You know," says Kame's dad. For some reason Jin holds his breath. "I was going to take this one" – he nudges the dog, which yips in a much friendlier tone – "out so she doesn't pester us during dinner. Would you like to keep me company? I could show you the garden."

Dad. Garden. Dog.

"Kame is giving him an encouraging smile, and Jin nods quickly. "Thank you, I'd like that." Really, how bad can it get?

"I'll get your shoes," Kame says. The dog bounds after him, making both parents shake their heads, and comes back with him as if the moving of the shoes needs careful supervision. Maybe she's worried they'll change their minds.

Kame shoots him another smile while he puts on his shoes, a you'll be fine smile, while the dog is still keeping her distance as she tries to squeeze past him.

"Please don't let her ruin my azaleas?" Kame's mom says to her husband, to which he sighs. He's wearing a pinkish scarf Jin tries not to stare at.

The dog is jumping at the door now. Okay then. Kame secretly waves at him, and then he's outside with Kame's dad. And a big dog.

 

*~*~*

The door closes on Jin, and on Ran-chan's happy brainless running in circles. The kitchen is instantly quiet.

Mom is stacking plates, neatly and slowly, and Kame suspects that the vegetables are sliced already and sitting in the fridge. He's not stupid.

"Okay," he says. "Bring it on."

His mother glares at him and sighs.

"That was a very bad thing you did to that poor girl, Kazuya."

Yeah. "Yeah," Kame says. "I know."

"You know we always let you make your own decisions, because you were always so mature, and I know you've got a lot on your plate now and it's not right how they're treating you at work, and there's some things you can't help, but Kazuya, what on earth were you thinking?"

She's got the sink against her back and a dishtowel in her hands. Kame feels lost, standing in space, but leaning himself against anything seems too casual somehow.

"I thought…" So many things. So many cowardly pointless things. "I was scared. It was stupid. I was stupid."

"It was stupid, and it was incredibly unfair, and I don't believe we raised you to do something this awful to a girl, a girl who liked you."

"I liked her too," he says in a small voice. "I thought it might work, at first, I thought if anyone…"

"Of course we thought grandchildren would be nice," she says, ignoring that last bit. "But you can't think we'd have wanted something like that for you, you can't possibly think we would have been so small-minded that we'd have told you to go and… go and do that!""No." He shakes his head; it's hard to keep looking at her. "It wasn't about you, at all. It was just… being scared. About work. I'm sorry." He wishes there was something to slice, something to keep his hands busy. He wishes he had a beer.

"And—" He can see her clamping down on her voice. "Prostitutes? How could you even... what possessed you? You really went to a... a place?"

Oh god. He hopes this is the part where it can't get any worse. It can't. But she's waiting for an answer this time, instead of steamrollering on to the next thing. "It was— I was trying to be discreet. I didn't want to do anything stupid, to hurt her, and…"

"Hm," she goes.

"I know. Look, I know, okay?"

"I take it you have stopped with that— that awful nonsense, now you have that nice young man?" she says sharply.

"Yes!" How could she even—

"Good," she nods. "Because don't you dare, Kamenashi Kazuya, come up with some other excuse for—" She shakes her head. "Prostitutes."

Kame stares at the floor, that old pressure on his chest. "Mom…"

He hears her sigh. "All right. I just wanted to be clear. I realize that was… about circumstance. So. I'm glad to hear it."

He looks up, but if anything she's frowning more deeply.

"Really, Kazuya… I talk to her on the phone, and I think of all the times you two were here together, and… you really deserve a smack on the head."

He nods readily. It sounds weirdly appealing.

"Only I don't do that," she says, "and I can't reach up that high."

The laughter sticks in his throat, and she's smiling and frowning all in one.

"I was really very mad at you," she says.

"Yeah. You were right to be."

"And worried. Because I want you to be happy, and you weren't really, were you?" There's something soft in her gaze that Kame doesn't quite get.

"No. I tried, but…" He shrugs helplessly. "What does dad think?" He doesn't look out the window, won't reach for support.

She called Jin 'nice'. It's just sinking in.

"About Midori?"

"No." He can guess that. With how much his dad has always cared about being a good husband. "About the other thing."

"He thinks you were a stupid boy who should have talked to us."

His eyes are itching suddenly, but he gets it under control. "Yeah. I'm sorry. I really should have."

She puts the towel down at last. Pours a cup of tea and holds it out to him, and Kame guesses it's his cue that he's allowed to move. The worst is over. "Well, don't do it again."

"No." Now he has a glance out the window. He can only see the fence and half his dad from here, though. His mom must see more of them, and there's a reluctant smile on her face.

"Thank you," he says. "For being so nice to him."

Her eyebrows go up slowly. "Well, it's not his fault, is it?"

"No. No, it's not." They're being very clear on whose fault it is, here.

"Well, there you are then," she says brusquely, as if not being nice to Kame's new boyfriend is simply a ludicrous idea.

Then she picks up a cup of tea for herself, throws another glance out the window. "Has he told his parents the truth?"

"About… himself, or about us?"

"Himself. Well, both."

"They know he's gay," Kame says. "But they kicked him out for it, so no, they don't know about us, and we're thinking it's probably best that way."

Oh no; there's that pained look back again. But this time he was just telling her the truth, doing what he should be doing.

"Kazuya…" his mother starts cautiously, and he just knows he's not going to like what's coming. "He seems like quite a lovely young man, and he is undeniably good-looking, but… this sounds like more complications? And are you sure… I mean, you have had to go against your inclinations for a long time and you haven't really had a chance to meet other nice young men and I just don't know, if he's the very first one, can you be sure that you are really right for each other?"

He doesn't laugh. It would just worry her. But he shakes his head and hopes he looks as sure as he feels. "I know he's right for me. I can only hope to be right for him. And I started to see him before I… before this whole thing happened, he's the reason I didn't lie again. So it's not like you think."

She nods slowly. "You've been seeing each other a while…?"

"Since September," he admits. "And I know, and I'm sorry."

Another nod; one that indicates that they've moved on from the apologizing for now and she's got other things on her mind. "It's different, though, you know? An affair…" He can tell she chose the word carefully. "And what I think you want."

"I know, mom. But it's not like that, it's not just— We've had some pretty difficult times and… and he's really been there for me. And, well. Here we are." He can't help smiling. Just a little. He doesn't quite dare be happy around her yet.

She makes a thoughtful face.

"So you like him?" he asks suddenly. Okay, it's stupid, he can pretty much guess the answer, but…

The look she gives him is a little sly, as if she can guess just how he's feeling. "I wonder if he's a little too shy for his own good," she says. "But, yes, he seems very likeable, and very sweet." Then she makes a tut sound and frowns again. "I really should not have asked all that about his family, that poor boy."

The smile breaks over his face for real, there's nothing he can do. She likes Jin. He didn't know how much he needed to hear something like this until he feels it warming him up from inside. "I think he'll forgive you," he says. "We were— um. He was kind of afraid of the inquisition."

She raises her eyebrows again, before she grabs her dishtowel and flaps it against his hip. "I see."

They grin at each other, and Kame steps towards the sink so they can both watch the tableau outside. Ran-chan is eyeing Jin, that disgusting drool ball in her mouth. Kame wants to bottle the warm glow inside him forever.

"So… how's Midori doing?" he asks, and he hears his mother sigh.

"Well, about as you would expect. Still kind of shellshocked. Trying to get on with life. Trying to see the bright side." Kame feels her sidelong look. "She's strong. Brave."

Things Kame isn't. And someone worth knowing. He still wishes he hadn't lost her so completely.

"Do you two talk often?"

"Just occasionally." Another sigh. "She calls me when she needs to talk. I like checking that she's okay."

"I'm glad she has you," he says, watching Ran-chan parade the ball around in front of his dad. "I'm glad you talk."

She raises her eyebrows, but doesn't chide him. "She knows we love her. That's not going to change."

He nods. There's nothing he can say to that, except how sorry he is. He wonders what they're talking about outside, Jin and his dad.

"And that engineering student, three years ago," his mom says next to him, and Kame's stomach does a little flop. "He was your boyfriend too?"

Kame nods wordlessly. Souji, so long ago. Jin is offering to take the ball, and Ran-chan jumps back a pace. Eyes him and drops into a crouch with it.

Mom's arm sneaks around his middle, and somehow it draws a loud breath from him. And she's tiny, and it shouldn't feel like so much strength when he leans into her.

 

*~*~*

This could be worse, Jin thinks after the first few minutes of fretting. The dog helps.

It's nice, and much cuter when it's not cornering Jin in a small hallway. He's held out his hand for sniffing and petted it, and he thinks he's one final exam away from being honoured with throwing that ball.

Kame's dad is nice, too. He makes conversation and isn't afraid to touch soggy tennis balls to make the dog happy. So far they've covered the weather, cherry blossoms, and traffic, and when they run out of the steam there's the dog again, giving them something to do.

"My wife had a tiny dog when we met," Kame's dad says. "But it was already quite old. When it passed away, we had a long talk and, well, we had the garden, so we could get a bigger one. I like big dogs."

Jin agrees that big dogs are nice. "I never had a dog. But I like them." He finally manages to grab hold of Ran-chan's ball, and teases her a couple of times with mock throws while she dances around him, before throwing it into the shrubs a safe distance from Kame's mom's azaleas.

Together they watch Ran-chan disappear until only a wagging tail is left to see.

"Did you have any other pets?" Kame's dad asks. "Some people like cats…"

"No, my parents didn't really… we didn't have much space. A friend of mine has a hamster, though, and sometimes I look after it."

Kame's dad laughs. "I'm sure Ran-chan would like to look after a hamster." He looks at the dog, who has deposited the ball at Jin's feet again and is looking up between them in an encouraging fashion. "Wouldn't you."

She gives a little woof, tipping her wet nose against his trousers. He laughs. "Here, let Jin-san do it," he says invitingly, and Jin swoops down for the ball and teases her again. He's quite proud that he's getting the tail to wag.

"Hamsters," Kame's dad says, shaking his head. Yeah, hamsters. And the weather and cherry blossoms. Jin's had hundreds of conversations like that, and suddenly he's flushing. He didn't want that.

They look just like that, the clients; grey and well-mannered, sometimes nice. He hates the thought, like his brain got dirty from all that whoring. Normal people who meet Kame's dad won't have that split second of wondering, of checking how he compares in the teeth and nose-hair department. He doesn't remember the last time he talked to an older guy he wasn't trying to fuck.

He throws the ball; it goes too far and bounces against the fence. Shit. "Sorry."

"Don't worry. We've had worse."

The dog tackles the ball as if it's putting up a good fight, and then proudly brings it back, dropping it straight at Jin's feet this time. It must have liked the bounce.

"See, she likes you," Kame's dad says. "She just takes a little time. Makes sure you have a decent arm." He's smiling, and Jin bites his lip with the wet ball in his hand.

"I don't throw as well as Kazuya," he says. "I never played baseball."

"Oh dear," Kame's dad smiles. "He destroyed more plants than I care to think of practising his pitch. And there was the time with the window."

Jin throws the ball again for Ran-chan, somewhat more cautiously this time. Then he casts a glance behind them. "Which one was it?" he hazards.

"The neighbour's," Kame's dad says, and Jin winces. He would have been in so much trouble.

"That's his old room, up there." Kame's dad points to the left of the upstairs windows. It's… a window, you can't see much, but Jin smiles up at it anyway. It's nice just to learn these things about Kame.

"Now my wife uses it for her paintings."

"Your wife paints?"

"In a manner of speaking."

Jin finds a cautious grin. "Abstract?"

The dad nods. "Abstract. Good word." This time he throws the ball. Brothers in dog drool, they are. It's weird, to think they know he's sleeping with their son, and they're not freaking out about it. Jin wonders if they wonder what they do. "So what do you do—" He jumps. "—for a hobby, Jin-san? Is Kazuya converting you to baseball?"

He still has a moment, where he runs a check how much he wants to reveal about himself. But that's silly, and over. "Soccer is more my thing," he says. "I used to be pretty good when I was younger, but now I don't have anybody to play with. I watch it though."

"Team?"

"Verdy."

"Verdy?" Kame's dad gives him a pitying look. Ran-chan whines because she's being ignored.

"I know, okay?" Jin picks up the ball and throws it again. "But I'm not going to stop supporting them just because they're having a… bad luck streak."

"All right, I respect that," Kame's dad says. Jin thinks he sounds a little amused. "Moral fiber."

"Do you have a team you support, sir?"

"Antlers," he says, but now he sounds almost embarrassed. "Not as opportunistic as it may seem. I grew up within a stone's throw of their stadium.

Jin nods. "Shame about the AFC league."

But the dad just shrugs philosophically. "Can't win them all."

"When did you move here?" Jin asks. It's such a nice house, roomy even if there'd been more than one kid.

"Hmm, let me think. I think Kazuya was five. I inherited it from my uncle, he had no children."

Yeah, Kame mentioned they'd once been tenants. "It's a very nice house."

"Thank you. It's a good area, too. We were pleased we could send Kazuya to a good school." He stares off past a tall gingko tree, past the next row of houses.

Jin remembers how Kame feels about his education and the fact that it never really went anywhere.

And maybe Kame's dad guessed what he was thinking, because he says, somewhat quickly, "I don't blame him for it, you know. That he didn't like school. He worked very hard at other things."

"I think he appreciates that," he says. "I mean… that you think that." He feels stupid and unintelligible again, but Kame's dad smiles; nods.

He passes the tennis ball to Jin again and Jin makes it go in a high arc. They agree Ran-chan looks funny when she tries to jump.

"He doesn't come out here as much as his mother would like," he muses after a while. "He's always been very busy at his job."

Yeah. And he was married and seeing whores on the side, and Kame sometimes doesn't know what's good for him.

"Where do your parents live, Jin-san? Do you visit them often?"

"No, I… I don't," Jin says. "They live in Narashino."

Kame's dad nods in a way which probably means he doesn't know much about the place. "That's not that far away," he says.

"No," Jin admits, and doesn't really know what to add to that. "Many people commute into Tokyo. For work."

That gets him a thoughtful look, before Kame's dad retrieves the ball again and bounces it gently along the grass. "Well, if you can manage to drag Kazuya away from his work and out here more often, this lady here will be grateful to you."

Yeah, the dog. Jin likes that dog. He smiles to himself and ducks his head. "I'll see what I can do, sir."

 

*~*~*

"So I said I'd see what I could do," Jin says. He keeps a manga on his side of the bed, but tonight he's ignoring it, just spreads out next to Kame with his soft washed-out t-shirt and his eternally cold feet. "I mean, he sounded like he meant it."

"I'm sure he did," Kame says quickly, before Jin can start doubting himself. He was quiet for most of the drive home, processing or something, but once he started talking he found more and more to say, about Kame's parents and how wonderful they are. "I'm glad you had fun."

"Your dad is great," Jin says. Again. "I mean, so's your mom."

Kame smiles and presses his hand. "My boyfriend's not so bad, either."

"I said, you know?" Jin turns towards him with a serious face. "That… well, I didn't say anything about sex, but that I know it's got to be a bit weird. For them, with you and me."

"You said that?" Kame wants to cringe, just ever so slightly. He wonders what his dad thought.

"Yeah, sort of. And I got really nervous but he said… that he's had a few weeks to get used to it and we shouldn't worry."

Kame holds on to that thought for a moment. He shouldn't be surprised, not after how they were after the scandal, but… His dad and Jin. Kame didn't have it in him to ask, about the gay thing.

"He's so nice," Jin says. On impulse Kame sneaks an arm around him, and Jin shifts in close right away.

He gives a soft laugh against Kame's chest. "I thought it would be, you know… with how it all went. I thought it would be more difficult. Even if they're… if they try. I mean, not bad, just… they didn't need to be so nice to me."

There's wonder in his voice. The stories and the food, and the dog pestering Jin for attention during dinner despite all that exercise in the garden. Jin was soaking it up. "They know my crap wasn't your fault," Kame says. Jin smells good; peaceful and familiar. It's good to have him close. Soothing.

Kame got off lightly.

Jin's tensed, like he's about to get up or turn around, but Kame keeps his fingers running through his hair until Jin relaxes again. "My mom likes you," he adds. "She told me. She said you're nice."

"She's nice, too," Jin says, and it sounds like a declaration of love.

Suddenly Kame wants to giggle. "You'll get me jealous."

"What?" Jin tenses again for a moment, and then he butts his head gently against Kame's shoulder. "Idiot. Your dog is nice too. You going to be jealous of your dog?"

Ran-chan loved Midori. Kame felt so bad when she treated Jin like an unwelcome surprise. But… she likes Jin. Everybody liked Jin, and they liked Kame too, and he feels like having a whisky maybe, only they've already brushed their teeth.

He bites his lip and doesn't giggle again, leans his head back and breathes out slowly, so Jin can't see just how relieved he is. "Totally jealous," is what he says. "She's got better hair than me."

"I love your dog." There's a grin in Jin's voice. "Let's get a dog one day."

"What?" he says. But then he thinks, they should get a dog one day. Maybe the weird thing is that he can see it right away. A house, their house, and a dog. Big enough to play with. One day.

He's going to be with Jin when they both start to have time on their hands, when their lives slow down. And then they'll have a dog.

"We should get a house then," he says. "Think we can buy a house at some point?"

"Hmmm." Jin is still grinning. "Before or after I graduate to a two-room apartment?"

"Hmmm," Kame returns. This is tricky territory, but… "Maybe if you'd allow me to throw in an extra room as your graduation present?"

Jin doesn't need all that much space. His presence barely shows in Kame's apartment – everything neatly tidied into one drawer, one shelf in the wardrobe. Right now Kame is glad they only have one room here, at least he always knows Jin's there.

"So the dog's got somewhere to run around," he adds. "When it's rainy outside." Maybe Jin will like a room for composing, Kame doesn't know how that works.

Jin's not looking at him but he's smiling, nodding. "I guess that would be fair. For the dog."

Kame leans his head back again but keeps his eyes on Jin's dark messy hair, imagines them picking wallpaper, feeling warm and a little excited. That's probably how it should have felt back then, with the first house. "Do you think the dog would prefer a single-storey or a two-storey house?"

Jin takes a moment to ponder that, his fingers drawing light thoughtful circles on Kame's naked stomach. "I think I like two levels," he says eventually. "You get different light. And it's warmer at the top and cooler downstairs." His arm curls around Kame decisively. "The dog will just have to cope."

Kame smiles to himself. "Deal. He can keep fit dashing up the stairs."

"And we won't share walls with neighbours," Jin says, sounding dreamy. "It'll be nice, you know… if we can turn the music up and not worry."

"Your music," Kame whispers. "JUNGLELOW. We can have karaoke sessions…"

Jin's laugh is a soft huff against his skin. "That poor dog."

"Hey," Kame protests. "You make nice music." Not that Jin has been inside a studio yet. Or has even officially started working. "When do you have to get up tomorrow?"

"Hm, early," Jin says, and it's as if the question suddenly made him drowsy. "Eight-thirty or so? Tanaka-san wants me at the office by ten." He sighs a little. "You?"

Kame watches a strand of Jin's hair unwrap from his finger. "I don't have much, I'm meeting Hamaguchi at two. I can cook us something nice before I leave, for tomorrow night. Or we could eat out. Celebrate your first day."

Jin is stirring, raising himself up until he can look at Kame. Kame's stomach takes a soft little dip just from the way Jin's eyes are suddenly so serious.

"It'll get better with your work. You're an amazing actor."

"You're kind of biased," Kame says. He wasn't even thinking about the job.

"So? I still have eyes, and a brain." He stretches up for a kiss, the kind that make Kame feel like they've known each other like this forever. "You're going to be so busy I never get to see you anymore, and our dog's going to need therapy for its abandonment issues."

Kame holds Jin there; one of those kisses is never enough, and Jin's hand is heavier on his stomach as he laughs, helpless at the thought of the dog, depressed on a couch. "Sad," he mumbles.

Jin brushes his lips over Kame's again and settles along Kame's side. They fit together so well. Kame can get a little lost in how much he wanted this, he didn't know how much, until Jin was there almost every night. Just like this.

Jin's hand is playing around at Kame's hip, Jin's hair falling in both their faces when Jin kisses him again. Jin's fingers, going for a walk and raising goosebumps on Kame's legs. Jin dips his head, says hi to Kame's collarbones, Kame's neck, and somewhere low in Kame's stomach there's a pull, a shiver he just lets happen. It makes him think of promises. This is theirs now, and it won't go away anymore.

Jin is watching him, that smile still there, his weight all warm and at home. "Sleep with me," he says, and waits for Kame's nod before he steals down for another kiss.

Yes.

The rush is instant, no wonder with the time it's been and with Jin like this. But that's just blood, his body and its needs. The rest is peaceful, calm.

Jin strips his shirt off in one. Not hurried. But like he wants it off. And he wants Kame to kiss him now, strong and assertive, the way they both like it, and they get naked and Kame gets to touch him, all the ways he likes to be touched. And then Jin wants more, wants him inside and wraps tight around him, maybe the slowest they've ever done it, and out of all the times he's seen Jin arch and shake and breathe, this is just like before, and the best.

Jin's hands are still on his hips as they come down. Kame thinks his chest isn't big enough for what he's feeling.

He strokes sweaty hair out of Jin's face, leans his forehead against Jin's. Feels his shoulders rise and fall.

They can do this forever now.

 

Thursday 7 May

"Hey," Jin says, leaning over the bar. It's noisy enough he has to raise his voice. "Is it okay if I park this in the office?" He holds up the bag, almost dangling it.

Yamashita peers around the beer contraption, at Kame's bag; at Jin. "Sure," he says. "You know the way, dude."

"I'll be right back," Jin says to Kame, a wide smile on his face. Kame nods and shifts on the tall bar stool, watching Jin bound around the bar and disappear into some narrow corridor behind a door covered in R.E.M. posters.

Behind the bar Yamashita looks up from a half-filled draft. "Hey," he says.

"Hi." Kame nods in greeting. He feels naked without the scarf and sunglasses, like there's a chilly breeze trailing all along his skin. But it's just him, going to a bar.

"Beer, was it?" Yamashita says, and Kame says, "Yes, please."

Just him, having a drink.

Yamashita puts a full tankard down in front of him. Kame thanks him and takes a deep breath. It's so chatty and busy all around it hardly counts as silence. A loud bunch of girls has occupied two tables in one corner. Someone closer to the stage is tuning a guitar.

He thinks he can feel the odd curious glance skitter down his neck, but he also knows he's alone in Jin's Thursday-night bar and bound to be in touch with his paranoid side.

The door opens again, Jin meeting his eyes with a look like he just read his mind. Then he pushes his shoulders back and bites his lip, and grabs the beer he stashed next to the sink beside Yamashita.

"So you took a taxi?" he asks.

"Yes. I thought it was more convenient."

"It is," Jin grins. "Second beer's on me."

Kame smiles, not that he's in a hurry with the beers. "It's more that I was thinking of the parking situation at your new apartment."

He's no sooner said it than he wonders if that was too much, if Yamashita needed to hear that so… like that.

Yamashita is a study in blandness. "Good thing you didn't move that far away from here, huh," he says to Jin, before giving change to an older guy with a back-to-front baseball cap.

"Yeah," Jin says, half satisfaction with his smart choice of capsule domicile and half awkwardness. He pulls the barstool that has his jacket on it closer to Kame's and hops on.

They're stuck here, at the bar, because the place is packed. "Guess we got a bit carried away," Jin says when he explains about a leaflets-in-shops initiative which he and Yamashita cooked up the other week, and which nobody thought would be so effective.

Kame rubs the dark wood and shifts again on his seat. "It's not uncomfortable." Or wouldn't be, except for the way he keeps feeling watched by Yamashita, who isn't even watching him because he's way too busy filling drinks orders.

Jin moves his knee unobtrusively so it touches Kame's. "Thank you."

*~*~*

"So today we worked on their last single, the one you know too," Jin says, after their first beers are halfway down. "It's starting to sound really good, too. We're changing it up a bit, you know, so it's not just me copying stuff."

He's been practicing most of the week, getting to know JUNGLELOW, learning their songs, and he tells Kame all about it. It makes Kame feel warm and thankful, and like something is finally going right.

Jin sounds happy, and confident - more confident than Kame has ever seen him about work stuff.

Some girl near the front waves at Jin, and he raises his beer to her. The girl's eyes fall on Kame, go a little wide, all right, oh damn, she knows him… and at once the prickly nervousness is back.

Kame takes a breath; turns to Jin, he's not here for… for being a star, for being talked to.

Jin's eyes are soft and a little shadowed. "You okay?"

Kame nods, more bravely than he feels.

"I'm glad you came," Jin says.

Kame finds a smile. Eventually he'll stop feeling like a damp shirt hung out in the breeze. "I'm glad you let me."

At the front, the girl is giggling with her neighbour and there's another sneaky look, and then they get distracted by the first guys tuning up out front.

Once the music starts, everybody will be looking at the stage anyway.

He lifts his glass to his mouth, but sets it down again. Too fast.

Jin's following the movement with his eyes, but all he says is, "And Tanaka's fine with me still singing here."

"What, you asked him?"

"Yeah. I mean, I didn't know… but it's fine. He says as long as people don't video me and put it on the internet or something, it's cool." He glances around with a fond look. "Don't know if he was serious. Can you imagine these guys doing that?"

Kame doesn't know. Doesn't know what they think, what they'll do; but he'll trust Jin's judgement.

*~*~*

"My dad would like that song," Kame comments, quiet enough so it doesn't offend anybody, after a very weepy ballad about a lonely snowflake.

Jin raises his head from his second beer. "Your dad? Really?"

Kame smiles. "Don't tell him I told you."

"It's good," says the guy on the other side of Kame. He might be the same age as Kame's dad, only shorter and balder and in biker's gear. "Good for your dad. There's a lot of emotion. Good for him he can feel it."

"Yeah?" Jin says, a grin tugging at his mouth.

The man nods very heavily. "You need to let your heart speak sometimes."

They agree solemnly. "I haven't seen you here before," Jin says. "Do you play?"

"Just dabbling. Saw a leaflet, thought I'd check this out. You?"

Kame shakes his head. "I'm with him."

"I'm on later," Jin says. "I hope you like it."

He shifts towards Kame a little to make room for the waitress who's returning with a tray of empties to exchange for the tray Yamashita has been filling with orders while they talked. "I hope you're working hard, Jin-kun," she says, startling Kame, but Jin takes it in stride.

"Working?"

She pulls the heavy tray towards her with a little grunt of effort. "You haven't told me anything about the new job yet, you must tell me later, all right? I want your face on big posters all over Tokyo, you hear me? I told my kids we know somebody famous now."

"He'll tell you," Yamashita says from a few feet away, while he's ripping caps off Bacardi Breezers and plopping ice into glasses and minding four taps at once. "Later!"

She gives Jin a quick grin before she takes off in a hurry, Yamashita blinking after her with something like gratitude.

"Shinohara-san," Jin tells Kame. "She has two teenage boys, they're great."

They've got a pretty seamless operation going here, though Kame can tell the leaflets left them understaffed, and normally Jin would probably…

"By the way," Kame says, "if you feel the urge to wash glasses or something… you'd still be here, just on the other side of the bar."

Jin barely glances behind the scarred wood, where Yamashita is fitting a fresh vodka bottle in the optic rack.

"I'm having a this-side-of-the-bar evening," he says peacefully. "Besides, I'm on soon."

It's not that soon; they sit through a slightly bizarre song containing peas and pirates, a version of the Ponyo song which Kame thinks even he could do better, and some R&B tunes which make Jin tap his feet on the foot rest and drum his fingers on his almost-empty beer glass. When a small round woman with big hair and an even bigger voice comes on to sing Hamasaki covers, Jin sits up straighter next to him. He exchanges a glance with Yamashita, who raises his eyebrows and nods.

"I'm on after her," Jin says. "Will you be okay here?"

Kame manages not to look at Yamashita. He nods quite confidently. "Sure." He's got his inebriated salaryman friend to keep him company, too, and it's not like there are any seating alternatives.

"Leave the man with me," Yamashita says, moving to their end of the bar while drying his hands on a dishtowel. "I'll keep the fans at bay."

Kame doesn't blink. Jin seems too still, until Yamashita hoists Jin's guitar from behind the bar and passes it over. "Try not to suck, okay? Remember about the little finger on the minor six."

"Yeah, yeah, sure," Jin says. "Um. Don't let anybody steal my seat."

Kame promises to do his best, though it sounds weird in his head and anyway, he suspects Yamashita will do a better job of that.

Yamashita, who's looking at him.

"I don't want to interrupt your… you," Kame says. "I can see you're busy."

Yamashita flings the dishtowel over his shoulder, his eyes passing over Kame briefly. "It's okay. It gets slower when he's on, people want to listen," he says, and plants a full beer in front of Kame. Maybe he thinks that Kame playing around all evening with the stale remnants of his first beer is kind of rude.

"Sorry, I'm not really being good for business," Kame tries to joke, accepting the beer with a guilty nod.

Yamashita shrugs. "This one's on me."

"I'm… Thank you." Kame takes a sip big enough to show his appreciation.

"It was Jin's idea, this," Yamashita says idly. "With the leaflets."

Kame nods and smiles, and then worries that it seems too… proprietary or something. "If it keeps up you'll need more staff," he tries.

Yamashita rolls his eyes. "Tell me about it."

And then he's called to serve a guy at the other end, and the Hamasaki lady comes to the end of her last chorus.

Jin doesn't seem nervous when he comes on; just adjusts the mic stand upwards and launches straight into a ballad of sorts. Another English song. Kame will ask him sometime whether he actually understands what he's singing.

The audience like it. Yamashita was right, they go kind of spell-bound. Even Shinohara-san the waitress is getting time to stand by a wall and just watch.

"See," Yamashita says quietly behind him, and Kame turns to find him back at this end of the bar, slicing lemons.

"Hi," Jin says on the stage, to immediate squeals from the girls in the front row. Jin ducks his head, but it doesn't hide the grin on his face. "I'm Jin. Some of you know me." There's some laughter mixing in with the squealing, and Jin's grin gets wider.

Kame is intrigued. He didn't do a talk last time. But Yamashita doesn't seem surprised.

"Before I start my next song, I wanted to let you guys know… I mean, those who know me. But, um. Everybody else is okay too."

Yamashita cracks up, trying hard to stifle his laughter. Even Kame finds it funny.

Jin rolls his eyes at himself. "Right, okay. Hi, everybody. I just wanted to say, last week I got signed to work for Jokertown Records and I'm going to work as a singer in JUNGLELOW and—"

He gets drowned out by a swell of clapping and whooping, and Kame is swept up in a rush of happiness.

Jin's smiling. He seems to consider waiting until he can finish his sentence, but after a few seconds the smile becomes a grin and he shrugs, says a few words to the drummer behind him, and launches into the rich, pounding chords of his second piece.

People know that one, even Kame knows it, it's a cover of something famous and, for a change, Japanese. He taps along to the beat and quietly sings the few lines he remembers, about white towns and snow piling up, and Jin is beautiful on stage, and shining with conviction, and everything is going to be all right.

The applause when he finishes is noisy and long, and eventually Jin just shakes his head and jumps off the stage, pretends to run away.

"Break time," Yamashita says behind Kame. "We found out it's good to bring him on just before then."

Kame can see why; it wouldn't be fun for the singer coming on right after. There's a little plush Hello Kitty flying that Jin catches and throws back to the girls, and shoulder-slapping from the more touchy-feely types as Jin tries to move, but finds that everybody wants to talk to him, congratulate him.

Today's announcement would make that worse than usual. Jin finds Kame's eyes, and looks like he's trying to apologize, so Kame raises his beer glass and smiles, and hopes it's enough. Enjoy it, he wants to say. There's nothing better than watching Jin enjoy this.

"So, the two of you," Yamashita says, with just the half-meter of bar between them. But even the sudden stab of nerves is easier to handle, somehow, while Kame's so happy. A little. "That's all settled now?"

"Yeah."

Yamashita hasn't looked this directly at him all evening. "Like, for real."

"Yeah," Kame says. "For real."

It's a weirdly still moment in the noise roundabout. Jin over there, chatting happily where Kame can't hear. Yamashita silent, weighing… whatever.

"I guess I'll see you around then," he says. His nod is half an invitation.

"I'm looking forward to it." Kame can only show up, let it grow. Yamashita knows what he was. No proof he'll have except time.

Jin is making his way back to Kame slowly, that smile on his face which Kame saw here for the first time. Gesturing brightly as he talks to people, holds his guitar, an ease nobody in that other place ever saw. The frayed jeans and t-shirt make him more beautiful than any silk and make-up.

"That was a good song," Yamashita says conversationally.

"It was. He was great." They can all see that. Everybody's going to see that. "He'll be just great."

~

to be concluded: Epilogue 

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