Drive me home
Deep Water As You story
by Solo & Jo
Six weeks post epilogue: August
Jin rings the bell downstairs and hears the voice, and he doesn't
stop. Just one step at a time. Just like he told himself. One step on
scrubbed concrete after the other, and he holds on to the plastic of
The staircase is grey and drab, meticulously clean. On the second
floor, there's the same fake flowers, eternally fading yellow just like
he never left. He has the shivers of a thousand angry butterflies
inside him, and he's sure he dressed wrong, he picked the time wrong,
and he's going to show too much, miss too much. The last time he chose
his clothes so carefully he was dressing for Tanaka, and he was
nauseous. This is worse.
Third floor. The door's still closed, the neighbor's low TV the only sound. But he didn't expect a welcoming committee, anyway.
He knocks and clears his throat, and his ears are ringing. His mom
opens the door. He thought he was ready, he's got a boyfriend and a
career and he's mature about this, but suddenly he's ten years old and
there's nothing left in his brain.
He bows and hands her the beautifully wrapped gift of tea, and sees
her eyes skimming and judging, and now he thinks he did that wrong too.
"Hello," he says, because he thought about everything and decided that 'I'm back' would be too much.
"Please come in." No welcome back either. He could be a stranger.
Inside it smells of teenage boys, of cooking and the flowery furniture polish. Jin blinks and tries to lock away everything.
"Please." His mom gestures towards the living room as if he didn't
know where to go. He slots his shoes between a dirty pair of sneakers
and a cheap black office pair.
Inside, the living room window is hung with a damp towel, dimming
the room but keeping some of the heat out. Air con must be on the fritz
They're waiting for him; dad and Hisato on the couch, Taro on their
desk chair which still creaks with the slightest movement. "Hello,
son," his dad says. It's not exactly gushing, but in that moment Jin
could hug him.
It seems to be the cue for Hisato to mutter, "Hi," and Taro to sneak out a smile. "Hi, Jin."
Taro's so tall now. Hisato is wider in the chest, more and more like dad, and his hands seem rougher, stronger than they did.
"Hi," Jin says to them. "Hello, dad." He bows a little.
"Please do sit." His mom, cutting and clear, pointing at the arm
chair. The seat's got a new cover, and there's a matching cloth over
the head rest to make it look on purpose. Cherry blossoms.
"Thank you," Jin says politely, and does as she says. All guest of
honour, and he keeps his hands on his knees and feels all wrong again.
He tries to catch his dad's eyes because... "Dad."
His dad at least looks at him. And he let Jin come today.
"I want to apologize for what happened last time," he says. It was
right here, too. He was kissing Naoki right on that couch. "And what I
did. I hope you can forgive me." He feels everyone's focus burning into
him, everyone's except his dad, who shifts uncomfortably.
"I'm really sorry."
Dad looks to mom, not a good sign, but mumbles, "Yeah, sure," and
then mom perches on the edge of the couch in the remaining free spot.
"Did you have a good journey over from where you live?" she asks.
There's tea on the table. Taro is wearing his school uniform and
Hisato shoots him glances in his old, badly hidden way. Jin can't look
at any of them too long.
"I live in Kugahara now," Jin says. "It was fine, thank you."
His mother nods, and it's quiet. It's so weird how quiet it is. All
Jin's life this place has been loud with three boys, arguing or getting
"I have a small apartment there now."
"Well, that is good for you," his mother says politely. Hisato
flashes him a frown and Jin wonders if he's jealous, of all things.
Their room goes off from the living room but the door is closed. Jin
wonders what it looks like in there now, and then stops wondering, fast.
His mother starts pouring tea. Jin's mouth is parched and his
stomach tight, and when nobody wants to know anything more about his
living situation, he blurts out, "Oh, I brought you something." He
looks at Hisato and Taro. Pulls up his bag, and then looks at his
mother without thinking.
She gives him a very small nod. Jin fishes out the parcels, both
small, wrapped in simple blue, and hands them to his brothers. "Just,
well, I thought..." He missed birthdays and he wanted to and he could,
and he thought about it for far too long. "I hope you like it."
Hisato takes the box without looking at him, but there's curiosity
in Taro's face, another small smile. His eyes go big when he sees the
iPod logo in the first stages of unpacking. He shoots both of their
parents a quick look, but then he smiles at Jin. "Thank you!"
Hisato unwraps his box slowly, pulls out the Bottega Veneta wallet with an unreadable face.
"I put the receipt in too." Jin keeps his voice steady. "If it's not your style. If you want to exchange it."
Hisato doesn't examine it closely, but puts it on the table with care. "It looks pretty cool," he says. "Thanks."
Jin hasn't wrapped his CD. He just puts it on the table and pushes
it out a little, mostly towards his dad. "And I wanted you to have
this," he says. "It's probably not your kind of music. But that's the
single of my band. Where I work now."
"I like it," Taro says. "It's on the radio a lot."
A lot, probably not. But often enough that you can catch it. Promoted enough that they've seen Jin's face.
"Work," his dad says slowly, but he's picked up the CD and is
looking at it closely. "Seems more like fun." He skims the back text,
the picture, Jin's wearing black clothes and no make-up and Misa is
leaning coquettishly on his shoulder in a sexy dress. "You got an
apartment on this?"
It prickles uncomfortably. "Yes."
Dad thinks, looks at Jin, but never too long. "Seems chancy to me, that business."
"I have a two year contract at my company," Jin says. "It's steady money. And our sales are good. We'll have a Kanto tour soon."
His dad nods. He puts the CD down next to Hisato's wallet.
Jin clears his throat again. "How have you all been?" he asks. "How is your work, dad?"
"Same as always. Nothing changes except the building regulations." He shrugs. "Not as much fun."
"And the plumbing?" Jin glances at Hisato.
"It's plumbing," Hisato says, like it's a stupid question. "Nothing
glamorous. Maybe in a couple of years I can afford an apartment, too."
"You finished with your apprenticeship, didn't you?" Jin says, and pretends not to have heard the sting.
"Yeah. Regular employee since April."
"That's great," Jin says. "Congratulations."
"Are you doing okay at school, Taro-chan?" He's starting to feel like a visiting uncle.
"Pretty okay, yeah." Taro looks at him with a red, kind of excited face. "We beat Takasudaini last week. We had a tournament."
"What position are you playing?"
"Mostly left inside forward, but depends on formation. I've been
anything from midfield to a winger, really. Are you still playing?"
Jin shakes his head. "Not really, I just kick a ball around with a
friend's brother sometimes. I spend most of my time with the band."
"Are they nice? Is that girl on the cover your girlfriend?"
Suddenly the hot August air in the apartment seems to stand entirely still. Jin feels like everybody is waiting for his answer.
"No," he says, "She isn't. She's just sweet and a good friend."
"She's pretty," Taro says.
Jin smiles, ignores Hisato's squirm, his mother's icy stare. "I'll tell her you said that."
Taro beams, in his own shy way. Jin keeps his eyes on that, on someone who likes him, while the elephant is prancing around the room.
"And you live on your own?" his mother asks, perfectly polite, as if
she only worries about his income. "In that new place of yours."
Jin hates this feeling, like it'll never be all right again. Not
that he expected it to. He's not stupid, and he was prepared, and he
wanted nothing out of this, he's no worse off at all, except he got to
see his brothers.
He's sure Hisato's told them that Naoki's no longer in the picture,
too. "It's a really tiny place, yeah," he says in a small voice. "I
Not a lie. Good enough for a little nod, a measure of relief. Jin's
no longer out there, a threat to the family's reputation because
there's nobody who cooks him tortellini and warms his feet at night and
drives him to see people who hate him and waits in a dingy coffee shop
in some run-down corner of Chiba for him.
"I have a friend where I stay sometimes, too."
You could cut the silence into hard little pieces.
"Well, naturally you'll have friends," his mother says eventually,
and Jin's no longer sure what's code and what's filler to get them out
of this without Taro realising they want to know if Jin's got a boyfriend. "Seems like you have found the right business for making friends easily."
Jin doesn't know if he wants to laugh or cry.
Dad's eyes are on the CD with a sad sort of frown. Hisato is staring at the floor.
There's nothing Jin can even say, nothing that wouldn't get him
kicked out, for good. Nothing they'd think matters. "I guess," he says,
and tells himself that so much is good in his life now, and it's still
real, even if they don't want to know about it.
"How does that actually work?" It's Hisato, finally looking at him,
and for a terrible moment Jin thinks this is still code and Hisato
wants to know how Jin gets himself fucked by all these entertainment
fags. "Like, making a single. What's that like? And who writes the
Oh. Hisato... throwing him a rope. "I–- well. First..." Wow, he
hasn't thought this through at all. "First we discuss which songs we
like. I mean, Ochiai, that's the guitarist, he writes most of our
songs. But we discuss what works and what doesn't, and then we take it
to our producer."
Jin catches the glances between his parents, but Hisato just looks
at Jin with his best mulish determination. "So he's, like, your boss?"
"Yeah," Jin nods. "He's cool. Likes to yank our chain, he's a rapper, you now? But he's really... nice."
"Noda-san's like that a bit," Hisato says with a frown. "Not the
rapper part. But likes to give me a hard time, and then he's a big old
Jin nods, on pause as he waits for the other shoe to drop.
"So, anyway," Hisato says. "And then you all get together in... a studio? I've seen that in movies."
"Yeah, sure," Jin exhales. "You take turns, though. So when you screw up, it doesn't screw up everything."
"Do you need many tries?" Taro-chan asks.
"I needed a few tries the first time, I wasn't used to the set-up
and I was so nervous with everyone watching me," Jin confesses.
"Your boss get pissed?" Hisato's mouth is doing something almost like smiling.
My boss whined to my boyfriend, Jin thinks. He doesn't say it, but it doesn't hurt so bad. "I think he got a bit impatient. But he tried not to make me more nervous."
Hisato nods. "Makes sense." Jin's still stunned, thinking through the fact that somebody showed an interest, that he almost misses Taro's question about the tour.
So he talks a little bit about the pubs they're going to be playing
at, and admits again he's nervous. Hisato doesn't know music or pubs
much, but he nods in a grudging sort of way whenever Jin fears he's run
out of good will, and Taro's curiosity carries them through the next
ten minutes and the rest of Jin's tea.
He has a last sip for his dry throat, and then his cup is sitting
there empty, and the pot is sitting there too, and mom sits with her
back straight and her hands in her lap, and waits.
No, really. It's okay.
"I guess I should be going," Jin says. "Thank you for..." He wipes his hands on his trousers and his head is empty again.
"We did get your New Year's cards," his mother says as they all rise. "They were very thoughtful."
Jin stops, tries to read that. If there's anything more coming, about families or New Year's.
"We'll appreciate them in the future too."
All his cards ever did was let them know he was still alive. Sure,
he can do that. Doesn't matter they can probably get that from the news
now, he's generously allowed to keep sending them cards. It's pathetic
he's even kind of glad.
He nods, says, "Okay," and bows a little to his dad, and then he's
at the door looking back and Taro smiles goodbye and nobody else is
moving. Next he's in the genkan slipping on his shoes, and the couch's
out of view and there's just his mom, and then the front door closes
His heart is hammering. His legs are wobbly on the stairs back down,
he holds on to the handrail. Stepping out isn't even a relief, hot
August sun on the front of the house, pavement blinding him. He used to
shoot at the bins opposite for soccer practice. He still remembers the
day he was first allowed to cross the main road by himself. He's not
sure he'll ever come back.
He turns left, towards the nearest corner and some shade, and fumbles in the pocket for his phone.
Someone's running behind him. Not Kame.
It's Taro, skinny legs catching up. He stops two arms' lengths away, colour in his face. And stares.
"Hey," Jin says, and shit. Wobbly.
"I just... Thanks for the iPod. Really."
Empty, empty, empty, except for the weight on his throat and the sun
stinging his eyes. "You're welcome," he says. "I'm glad you like it."
"It's great." Taro bites his lip. "Will you come back sometime?"
"I don't know," Jin manages.
Taro balances on his feet, thinking. "That sucks," he says, and Jin finds himself blinking, thrusting his hand into his bag.
"If there's ever anything..." His voice, and god he was not ready
and he's got no paper, but he finds a pen and the receipt for the CD,
and he writes down everything, his numbers, his address and his email,
even their line at Tanaka's office, even Kame's landline. "Anything. If
you need help or if you want to talk to me or..."
Taro takes the paper when he's done. Jin feels sweaty and restless
while he reads the numbers; reads them really slowly. "I have my own
phone," he says when he looks up. "I got Hisato's old one when you sent
him the iPhone." He bites his lip, clearly wondering if Jin caught the
drift here, and then he smiles and turns a bit redder.
"Don't get in trouble," Jin says, almost as reflex.
"No way." Taro folds the paper carefully and then looks a little
uncertain. "But you'll call me too, right? If I don't reach you, you'll
call me back?"
"See who'll stop me," Jin says. Taro smiles a bit and then he nods
and Jin nods and Taro waves even though he's just two steps away,
before he pulls in his shoulders and turns around.
Jin watches him trot back to the entrance for a moment but it's
messing with his head, so he starts walking again and gets his phone
out, to call Kame and tell him he's done.
"Fine," Jin says. "Can you come now?"
"Already on my way," Kame says. "About five minutes."
Five minutes is okay.
Kame dropped him off at a corner two streets over before going to
look for a coffee shop. Basic playing-it-safe. Jin gets back there, and
when the Lexus pulls up a minute later he almost whimpers with relief.
He drops inside.
Cool air on his face, Kame's cool hand on his. He closes his eyes and never wants to open them again.
The car's so quiet, and Kame's here. Doesn't matter that his brain is in shaking knots.
Jin shakes his head, because no, not really, he was always ready for
worse. It just burns when he opens his eyes and stares at a stupid
patch of road. "I think I'll be okay," he says.
It takes a moment for Kame to start the car, and Jin's a big boy and even lets go of Kame's hand.
Taro liked the present and he'll call. That's more than anything Jin had hoped.
"Maybe it takes time," Kame says quietly as he weaves in and out of lanes. "Next time will be better?"
Jin lets that run, through all the curves in his head. But he knows already. "No."
"No?" Kame shoots him a glance before he pays attention to the other cars again.
"I'm not going back there." There's nothing there for him. Just his dad who doesn't care and his mom who can't stand him.
Suddenly it's too much and he can't breathe right, and his eyes burn hotter and the street's blurring...
And the car stops.
He doesn't know what he did, for Kame to notice, but there's the click of their seatbelts and then Kame pulls him into a hug.
He just... hoped. It's okay and he's fine but he still had hope.
"I didn't really think it would go better," he mumbles, and Kame is
just stroking his head, and he'll be okay. He knows he's got Kame. He
only needs a moment.
"Yes, but it would have been nice." Kame holds on, and the tightness eases out. They're probably parking in a wrong spot.
"I gave Taro my phone number," Jin says against Kame's collar, where
Kame's neck is getting sweaty. "He liked the iPod. I think he'll call
"That's great," Kame says. "At least one of them's got sense."
Jin breathes in, barely damp at all, and sorts himself out, pulls
himself up. "Yeah. He's always been clever." He blinks at Kame, and
Kame just squeezes his hand.
"Let's get out of here." He doesn't let go, either, just waits. "And I'd like to know all the rest. If you don't mind."
Jin clears his throat and buckles his seatbelt, which lets Kame know
it's okay to do the same. "No, it's fine," he says, and tells Kame
everything as Kame drives them home.
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