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Drive me home

a Same 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 handrail.

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 again.

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 scolded.

"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 live alone."

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 music?"

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 teddybear."

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 behind him.

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.

"Everything okay?"

"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.

"That bad?"

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.

His mom.

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 me."

"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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