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by Solo & Jo 

 

Never again

There's a queue. Of course there's a queue. There wasn't a queue five minutes ago but five minutes ago it was extremely important to make the correct choice between Young Miss Magazine and New An-An, or between mango juice and Apple Coke. Since then a busload of chattering ladies arrived, and now there's a queue. Jin takes a quiet breath, flashes the girls his best all-is-well smile. "We'll wait for you in the car, okay?"

"We forgot to get ice cream," Theia says. Tiara doesn't look up from her holoPhone where, for all Jin knows, she is sending darling Trombone-kun pictures of crappy service stations on crappy roads during a crappy trip with her crappy dad.

Whatever.

"I'll get us ice cream while you wait," Jin says. "Meet us at the car, okay?"

"Sure," Theia says, and rolls her eyes when he opens his mouth to remind them where they parked. Right, fine, okay.

He and Kame quickly use the gents', and while they're washing their hands, Kame says, "They're teenagers. You know it's not personal."

"It's fucking personal when they act like they'd rather be anywhere else." Jin rubs his hands dry on his jeans impatiently, annoyed at Kame's perfectly pressed and folded hand towel. "You don't have to keep defending them."

And he's out of there, leaving Kame to commune with his towel.

He thought it would be more fun. A long weekend together, adventures and camaraderie. He'd imagined jokes and singalongs.

This is not fair.

He heads into the shop, for the ice cream box. Tries to remember if Tiara's current flavour is melon or lemon. It always changes and then it'll be his fault.

"It's a car ride," Kame says behind him, sounding totally unfazed. "Everybody fights on car rides. Remember us in those minibuses back then?"

"I was never like that!" Jin says. "And anyway, that was work. This is a holiday! A fun weekend!"

Kame looks at him like he wants to comment on the 'fun' part, and Jin just can't deal with another critic right now. He swoops up melon and lemon sorbet and decides to take whichever one is left for himself, grabs a chocolate and vanilla cone for Theia, and heads for the counter. Where there's a queue. Of course.

At least it's shorter than the bathroom bus party. Jin takes another deep breath, smiling a bit when Kame drops a strawberry-vanilla sandwich into their basket. "Yeah, I remember the minibus," he says. "You and your bitchface, I'd never forget that. You bitched at all of us and the driver."

"Only politely," Kame says, and gives him a grin, and Jin almost wants to argue the point but he doesn't even know why, so he keeps his mouth shut.

The two ladies in the queue in front of them briefly whisper with each other, and one of them sneaks a look at Kame. It still gives Jin a moment of sharp instinct, hot judgment, but Kame smiles at them and nods, yes, he really is that Kamenashi from TV, and then he turns back to their shopping basket.

They're up next. Jin pays for the lot and Kame packs it all up, and off they go, towards the car where the bitch-and-sulk-fest catches up with them again in the shape of two beautiful teenage girls, and it turns out Tiara now finds lemon and melon about as cool as she finds her dad. "I wanted peach," she says, peering at Jin's offerings like they're offensive somehow.

"Well, that's too bad," Jin says, handing Theia her ice cream. Deep breath. He even tries a smile. "Maybe we can find you some when we arrive." Might give her something to look forward to.

Tiara rolls her eyes and drops herself into the back seat, the door slamming shut.

"Want me to nip back and get her the peach one?" Kame asks quietly when Theia has settled back in with her book. "Might be worth it for the peace of mind."

"No," Jin says. "We have to get a move on."

"I don't mind, and that tourist bus has—"

"Will you just get in the damn car, Kazuya?"

Kame blinks at him, but then takes their provisions including the two sorbet cones Jin will now have to eat, and gets in the damn car.

Right. Great. Only three more hours to go.

Yay.

.:://\\//\\::.

The country gets more mountainous, the roads smaller. Not fair, Jin thinks, that just when you want to look around a bit, you have to keep your eyes on the road all the time.

"Buzzard," Kame says beside him, but of course he can't look out for that either. He glances into the rear view mirror.

Tiara's doing the holoPhone thing and she's sighing a lot. Theia is reading in her book again, or at least pretending.

"Hey, girls, it's pretty out there," Jin says. "Give it a chance."

Theia lifts her head and looks out her side. "Hm," she says. "Yeah." And drops her head again.

Tiara has looked up long enough to take a picture, and now she's typing on her phone again. Sighing.

"What's up?" Jin tries.

"You could take those curves more slowly," she says. "I'm starting to get queasy back here."

"Maybe if you didn't stare at a screen all the time you wouldn't," Jin says.

"Maybe if I could see Ando-kun this weekend like I planned, I wouldn't have to," she snaps back.

"You're seeing him enough as it is," Jin says, because he just can't help himself. "And that's exactly why I'm not going to let you make a decision on your education based on where some boy is going."

"It's not only about him!" Tiara says. "I don't want to keep going to some stupid international school with stupid rich people just because you don't like Japan!"

"Never mind that the two of you are too young to be writing each other all the time anyway," Jin says, because it fucking bothers him. He should have had that talk with Ando's parents.

"Yeah, right," she says. And it's back to the holo, and nuclear levels of pissiness radiating from the back seat.

Jin clutches the wheel. He gave up on music hours ago, after a drawn-out fight over the bluetooth. Between Theia's refusal to listen to Tiara's girl idol pop and Tiara's refusal to listen to anything else, quiet is the way to go. Extremely peaceful, loving quiet.

Yeah.

He sneaks a glance at Kame, not even sure what he's looking for. Maybe reassurance that he doesn't look like the world's crappiest dad toeveryone.

Kame is quietly watchful, and for a paranoid moment Jin feels he's being judged. He tries the deep breaths again, and Kame's hand covers his on the gear stick for just a moment.

Then Kame dips into the supplies bag and opens an espresso can for him, holds it out. "Here," he says. "And let me know if you want to swap."

"I don't want to swap," Jin says, but takes the espresso anyway. "Thanks."

"That's fine, I was just asking."

He's being humoured. For now he doesn't even mind.

"Theia, honey, why don't you have a look outside?" he says when they're going past a bend and the wintry landscape just opens up for them. It's gorgeous. "We're not driving in the mountains every day."

"I'm trying to read, dad," Theia says. "When the two of you aren't shouting."

"You can still read when we get there," Jin tries, sounding upbeat and ignoring the funny look Kame is giving him.

"It's for school," she says, which is the killer argument. She holds up the book, whose English title Jin can't read wrong way around through the mirror, and wiggles it pointedly. "I'm losing enough time as it is."

"Is it for English?" Kame asks over his shoulder.

"Yeah," Theia says. "But it's interesting too."

"Sounds good. What's it about?"

"It's about a soldier who comes back from the Senkaku campaign and his kids," she says. "Well, it's from the point of view of the kids, so it's more how he fits back in, and also about the Chinese people in their neighborhood. It's pretty good. A bit sad sometimes but I really want to know how it ends."

"It's about Japan but in English?"

"The author's mixed Japanese, actually."

Jin hasn't gotten that long an answer out of her on any subject in the last month, it feels like.

"Kazuya," Tiara chirps in suddenly, "when you got your first boyfriend, how old were you?"

Devious, and Jin feels a burst of helplessness before he remembers at least he's got nothing to fear here.

Kame gives him a quick, briefly embarrassed look, before maybe he remembers the same thing. "I was nineteen," he says, and because Jin knows him really well he can tell Kame's flushing a bit.

"Hm," Tiara says. Yeah, good it took them a few years to figure things out, or Jin's thirteen-year-old daughter would find her crush on Trombone-kun entirely justified.

"That's pretty late," she adds, and for the first time today it sounds like Kame's almost as uncool and pathetic as Jin.

Though he doesn't seem to mind as much.

Will be all right

"I'm putting your socks in the top left drawer," Kame says, glancing across to the bed. "Underwear in the bottom left. Okay?"

Jin, stretched out with his arm over his face, breathes out hard. "I'll do it," he says almost pleadingly. "I totally will. Just give me two minutes."

Kame even believes him. It took some getting used to how much more organised Jin gets around the kids. Sometimes he's still surprised. "I don't mind," he says. "I didn't have to drive."

"Okay," Jin sighs. "Thanks."

"And I'm putting your t-shirts on hangers."

"'kay. Thanks." He yawns. "God, this is exhausting."

The driving probably less than the constant teenage rebellion in the back seat... Kame feels kind of worn down too.

"They like the hut, though," he points out. There were squeals and everything. Jin wriggles onto his belly, props himself up on his elbows.

"Yeah," he says with a satisfied smile. "Trombone-kun got at least half a dozen pictures of the fake log fire alone. Right now she's probably sending him selfies in front of the lace canopy bed." Then he makes a face, maybe because 'bed' and 'lace' have caught up with him.

"It'll be fine," Kame says. "It's just hormones and attitude."

"We were never this bad." Jin sounds almost awed.

Kame's not so sure, but this is a time for agreeing with Jin, so he just smiles. "You do remind me a bit of my mom, though, with the 'please look out of the window' stuff and all."

"Oy."

"I'm just saying."

"Hey, come here a second." Jin pats the bedspread in front of him. Kame puts the current t-shirt in the closet and goes over and sits down on the edge of the massive bed, within easy reach.

Jin rolls on his back again and looks up at him, his fingers randomly stroking the outer seam of Kame's jeans. "I'm sorry I yelled at you," he says.

"It's okay. You've had a rough day. And you didn't yell."

"Yeah, but you didn't actually do anything. I'm still sorry."

Kame wasn't worried, or mad, but it's nice to see Jin calm down. Think. "Well, apology accepted," he says.

"You still like me, right?" Jin asks, which makes Kame snort. "I mean, there is at least one person in this party who still kind of likes me?"

Kame rests his hand lightly on Jin's chest, lets his fingers creep up towards the collarbone. "Yes, I still like you," he says, bending down for a light brush over Jin's lips. "Rather a lot, actually."

Jin sighs again. "Okay, that makes me feel a bit better." There's a hint of a smile against Kame's mouth. "Rather a lot. Actually."

White

Jin moves gingerly, clutching the stick with one hand and the back of a bench with the other. He feels he's moving like a drunk stormtrooper and constantly worries about dropping everything. What's more, he worries that maybe this wasn't a good idea. No, wrong. Watching Theia and Tiara get kitted out, mini-stormtroopers in puffy pink down jackets, their thin vulnerable legs hidden in deceiving ski pants, makes him pretty sure this was a very bad idea.

The snow further up the mountain is sparkling in sunlight, and the air crisp and fresh, a cold that feels good while he's all cozy in his snow suit, and he got about five minutes this morning to enjoy it all and to feel like they're going on an adventure, before Theia complained about being cold and being bored and Tiara complained about being hot and what sweat might do to her holo. And before he got into these boots.

He gets them to click in on the third try and then realises it leaves him totally trapped, he can't even waddle over to zip up Tiara's jacket properly. "You know, maybe—"

"It'll be fine," Kame says, his breath a little cloud. "We'll all be careful. It's fun."

Easy for him to say, he's skied before. So much that he can help the trainer, Moritz from the Alps, tighten the locks and clasps and whatnot on the girls' skis, and sound like an expert throwing around terminology that goes straight over Jin's head.

"He always worries we'll break our necks or something," Theia tells him, like that's so ridiculous when you're about to hurl yourself downhill on two slips of wood.

"It's what parents do," Kame says with a smile, and Jin's not sure that's precisely the way to have his back, but he'll take it.

"I'd be more worried about him," says Tiara, and Jin really doesn't appreciate the nervous way Kame's tongue flicks over his lips.

"We'll all be very careful," Kame repeats, sounding like he's telling himself this time.

"We start at very easy hill," Moritz says. "Relax." He looks like a very tan surfer with giant silver sunglasses, and is roughly twice Kame's size.

"This isn't hard!" Tiara shuffles her skis back and forth a bit and manages not to fall over. "So what do we do now?"

"Now we take our first lift," Kame says energetically and nods at Moritz, before picking his sticks up and sliding his gloves back on.

Moritz makes them shuffle a few dozen meters on their skis, towards the very easy hill with a very easy lift, where they'll start with very easy exercises. 'Very easy' is Moritz' favourite word. Jin feels so silly.

The very easy hill has several basic lifts, each maybe thirty, forty meters uphill and the hill is, Jin will admit, not all that steep. They get one short lift and that bit of beginner hill to themselves, part of the package Kame booked, and Moritz explains in slow English about a snowplough and leaning and how to get up when you fall down, which Jin finds not reassuring at all.

Kame keeps nodding and agreeing, and shows Tiara how to bend at the knees, helps Theia when she gets snow in her glove. He also shimmies up next to Jin and puts a hand on his back. "Lean forward," he says, and there's a smile in his voice, an old joy at getting to tell Jin what to do.

"You're a smug little jerk," Jin mumbles, feeling for the first time since he got into this horror contraption that it'll be okay. Kame grins under his sunglasses, looking so hot it cancels out the snow.

After a few more bending and balancing exercises, Moritz makes them take the lift. "You hold on, here," he says in an energetic voice. It's a very simple lift, just a hand-hold that looks like a green sausage. "Keep your ski parallel. Then you let go at top, slide to the left." He goes ahead of them, and nods at Kame to bring up the rear.

Right, lift. The girls go first. Jin grabs a green sausage a few meters behind them, and tenses all over as he's being pulled up.

Halfway up the little hill Tiara gets her skis crossed and Jin nearly has a heart attack watching her fall over, all legs and skis and white puffs of snow. He lets go of the hand hold, then yelps when he starts sliding backwards.

"Keep going, Theia," Kame calls behind him as he keeps sliding, and Moritz is already shooting down the hill, snapping to a halt right beside Tiara and helping her sort out her legs. She's laughing, dusting snow off her clothes.

"Turn your skis," Kame says to him. "Right angle to the slope."

Turn your... right, sure. Jin bends his knees and lets himself fall sideways. Getting back up, he's already learned. How not to slide down a whole mountain backwards, he's less sure of that.

Kame manages to walk in his skis even on the slope. He shuffles over to Jin. "Everything okay with you?" he asks, though he's probably already concluded Jin didn't break any of his old bones.

"Yeah," Jin says, "fine." Turns out it helps, the falling-over thing. Makes him feel in control, being able to stop what's going on anytime.

The next attempt gets them all to the top of the slope without incident. One by one, they get to stand there with the skis in an unnatural V position, and try to slide downhill as gently as they manage. Then back up by sausage. Jin's legs start to hurt, but he's getting less wobbly, only brakes by falling down some of the time.

Theia is loving it, in a way that reminds Jin uncomfortably of himself when he was younger, lots of instinct and not much playing by the rules. She's getting really good at getting up again. But he can tell from Kame's face, and even from watching with his own lack of expertise, that it's Tiara who's taking to this like a fish to water. She doesn't even sulk when Moritz or Kame rein her in on speed, tell her to try for more precision. Just tackles the task firmly, and there's that expression of satisfaction around her mouth Jin knows very well.

It makes him proud even as he fears for their lives.

Peacefuldays

It's warm in the hut, and the fake fire is flickering. They strip off their wet and cold snow suits in the hallway and gather around the very sturdy, European-looking dinner table in their ski underwear, while Kame as the least exhausted one makes cocoa for everyone. Jin somehow manages to look hot in black long johns, while the girls are just cute in red and pink, with matching cheeks and noses.

"So, did you like it, honey?" Jin asks.

There's a very telling pause. "It's okay," Tiara says. Under present circumstances, Kame assumes this is a glowing review. She's good; not a fan of the snowplough exercises but she can already do a tidy right turn. If it hadn't gotten dark, Kame thinks she'd probably still be practicing getting the left turn to match.

"I'm starving," Theia admits. "But that was fun."

Kame smiles to himself, happy for Jin, and happy that his idea of a skiing weekend seems to have worked out. Even Jin was having fun in the end. "One lactose-free caramel cocoa coming up," he says when he's done and puts the mug in front of Tiara. "One regular, and one marshmallow."

"That is so gross, daddy," Theia says about the marshmallow.

"Not my fault, I didn't ask for it," Jin says, then shoots Kame a grin. He's enjoying being off his diet.

"When's dinner?" Tiara asks, topically.

"In an hour," Kame says. That's partly what the cocoa is for. Gives everyone time for a shower or a bath, and later he'll be giving Jin a nice long massage too. He remembers how his own legs reacted to skiing for the first time, and he was younger then.

"Will Kazuya cook for us?" Theia asks.

"No, honey, we're going to the restaurant," Jin says.

"I didn't bring any supplies," Kame says, sitting down with his tea. "Sorry."

"Nah, it's okay," Theia says generously. "I just like it when you cook."

It's all offhand, natural, and Kame tries not to blush. They're just used to him. "I'm glad to hear that," he says.

"Mom never cooks, either," Theia adds. "So I enjoy the traditional family experience." She keeps her straight face for just a beat, before she breaks into a grin.

She's sixteen, just a little older than Jin was when Kame met him, and she's different, quieter, not all noise and limbs. But her humour is all Jin, clever and warm in ways that wind under Kame's skin, and she has a lot of Meisa but right now she looks so much like Jin it puts a squeeze on his chest.

"I'll make it up to you back in Tokyo," he promises. "I can wear an apron and everything."

"That'll be cute," Jin says, and prods Kame under the table.

"So, can we go on a proper slope tomorrow?" Tiara butts in. "I want to go on a longer one."

Jin's instant trepidation is cute too. But he gives Kame a light shrug and lets him answer.

"I think we can go on a blue one tomorrow afternoon," Kame judges. "If we keep making progress like today." Once they all have the snowplough turns sorted out, and Jin can slow himself down a little more reliably. Past a certain speed, falling over to stop is a bit of a problem.

"We should call your mom," Jin says, "to let her know we've kept the two of you alive so far."

"I sent her a picture earlier," Tiara grins. "When you were on your butt in the snow. She says she counts on us all to keep you alive."

"So tell her what a good job you did," is all Jin says, and he starts dialling. Kame smiles.

"Yeah, hi," Jin says into the phone. "This is your nightly status report." He pauses to listen. "Yeah, she just told me. I was cooler the rest of the time." He laughs. "No, not really." And then there's something longish coming from the other end, and Jin focuses on Theia. "No, she hasn't, I think she meant to do it in the car but the drive was a bit eventful."

The girls actually look a little bashful at that. Jin briefly summarises tomorrow's plans and then hands Meisa over to Tiara. "She says hi," he says to Kame, and then turns to Theia, "Mom says to remind you about the homework, it's due on Monday."

Theia makes a face. "I know... Can't I do it tomorrow?" After how much 'homework' was a reason Theia didn't really want to go, Kame counts that as a glowing review of today as well.

"Do it early, and get it out of the way," Jin says, and Kame laughs to himself.

.:://\\//\\::.

When they get back after dinner, the warmth in the hut hits Kame like a heavy blanket. They're all tired. First time skiing, entirely new movements, and all the fresh air. Even Kame is feeling it. Dinner was peaceful with only a brief rumble about school food at the international school, but now Tiara disappears into the girls' room, busily typing on her phone.

"I'll try to finish that essay," Theia says wearily, and plants herself at the dining table with her minibook and a disorganised bundle of notes.

"What's it for?" Kame asks.

"Business studies," she says, and Jin and Kame exchange a look. Yeah, not like their high school used to be.

Kame gets a bottle of wine from the box he brought while Jin turns the plasma wall on and puts baseball on mute, then drops himself on the couch. Kame half expects him to fall asleep there, but then Jin pulls out his own pad for a conference call with the head of PR and one of their copyright lawyers.

"About our ads in Taiwan," Jin explains before he pinches his eyes once and then clips on the headset.

So many things have just fallen back into place that Kame is sometimes brought up short by the reminders that Jin is the boss of a company.

Jin listens a lot, speaks in a low voice. Theia keeps typing and sighing.

Kame didn't bring any work. KAT-TUN's on their half-year break and while he has lines he could learn for his drama special in March, he's decided this is a holiday. So instead he brings Jin a glass of wine, makes another round of cocoa for the girls, and goes to make sure that all their snow suits are hung up properly so they'll be dry tomorrow. It feels a little comical. Talk about traditional family experience.

.:://\\//\\::.

When he gets back, the CEO is standing over his daughter's homework, squinting helplessly, saying, "I just do this stuff, I don't know how it works, that's why I pay Suzuki-san." He shrugs. "I'm sorry."

"Nah, it's okay," Theia says. "Guess I was supposed to pay more attention. Just, this entire deal never really made much sense to me, I think maybe I missed something much earlier."

"What's up?" Kame says, not that he thinks he's qualified to help.

"Capital budgeting," Jin and Theia say in unison, and he's struck again by the similarities between them, tone and half-eyeroll and all.

"Ah," Kame says. "I'll just go sit over there and be useless then."

Jin grimaces. "I'll join you. We can form a club." But after the first step he turns back. "Theia, girl, why don't you call Hiroshi? Isn't this kind of thing part of his thing?"

Kame's ears prick up just ever so slightly. But there's no danger, this too has been long settled, dealt with.

"Huh," Theia says. She gives Jin an up-and-down look and then she grins. "Not so useless after all."

"I try," Jin says with entirely false modesty.

Theia pulls out her phone, but hesitates. "You don't think it's too late to call?"

"You and I are still working," Jin points out with raised eyebrows, and Theia grins.

"True."

So it's back on the phone to Meisa, who hands over to Hiroshi, and then Theia spends a quarter of an hour taking notes and saying, "Oh! Oh I get it! And that's why I need the rate of return, right? Okay!"

Kame watches Jin, who turns and smiles at him. "What?"

"Nothing," Kame says, but... "I thought you were still more jealous," he says quietly. "When it's the kids."

Jin tilts his head, thinks; it's not an act. "Yeah," he says slowly. "Me too. Funny, isn't it." Then the smile turns into a grin. "And also, hey, if Meisa goes and marries some Todai smartypants, we might as well all benefit, right?"

7 Days Battle

"Kill me now," Jin groans.

He slept well, deep, long. He woke up feeling cozy with Kame next to him. Still felt cozy when Kame brought him tea.

But now he's trying to get up or, more specifically, to move his legs over the edge of the bed, and it fucking hurts.

"And traumatize the kids?" Kame says. "I don't think so, ask me some other time."

Jin laughs, and then winces. What the hell, what did his stomach do? "Pull me up?" he says, stretching out both hands. When he looks closely, Kame's not moving all that smoothly either.

But his grip is tight and the pull is strong, and Jin's legs are a wobbly mess of complaint but he's up, and he holds on to Kame and Kame to him, and okay, maybe life is still worth living.

"Thanks," he mutters into Kame's hair, and he feels Kame laughing.

"You'll feel better when your legs are warmed up again," he says, but Jin's been peddled that lie before and decides not to bank on it.

He wobbles into the living room, where the girls are already up and in their ski underwear and reading up on the world and boys on their phones. He tries to wobble a bit less as he kisses Theia on the head, and Tiara mumbles good morning at him but otherwise appears to be busy.

"I'll make breakfast," Kame says.

"We're all making breakfast," Jin says. It's comfortable and oh so tempting to let Kame do his Kame things, but all kidding aside, the girls are not supposed to think of him as some cleaning and feeding service. He ignores Kame's questioning look. "I'll make tea. The girls can set the table."

The girls roll their eyes in the obligatory 'why do parents have to be so such pains' way, and Jin notes some wincing when they get up, but the whole thing works out pretty well and pretty quickly. The table is set by the time the tea has steeped, and Kame brings over the toasted buns and four boiled eggs. Tiara starts to wolf down slapdash peanut butter sandwiches at an alarming rate. Maybe she's about to hit another growth spurt.

"Did you get around to submitting your essay?" Kame asks Theia, who is more daintily tearing off individual little pieces of bread, smearing honey on them before popping them into her mouth.

"Mmm-mm," she nods, then swallows. "Still did it last night, just in case we lose signal due to weather or I break my leg."

"You won't break your leg," Jin says quickly, this kind of thing is bad luck.

She smiles at him. "Okay, deal."

When she does that, she reminds him of Meisa, Meisa's laid-back way of humouring him. With Meisa, even that felt wrong in the end, but he likes it in Theia, likes that she's got that easygoing streak.

"Besides, I'd hate to miss next week at school," Theia says. "We've got exchange students from England visiting."

"I don't want to go to that stupid school anymore," Tiara says. She's scowling at the peanut butter.

Crap. "Tiara, honey, really. We've been over this. And now's not the time anyway."

"But I hate that school," she says, and now she scowls at him. "It's a stupid school, with their stupid projects, and their stupid English."

"Tiara, we've been over this," Jin says, much more sharply. "It's the best school for you, there's so many cool things you can learn, and most importantly I'm not having this discussion again this weekend."

"Like we were having a discussion in the first place," she says, her eyes like daggers. "You and mom just decided, just because Theia likes that stupid place."

Theia is wisely staying out of it, as is Kame. Seriously, it's a good thing they're born as cute little babies not like this, or nobody would ever have kids. "We decided because it's an excellent school that gets you in touch with different cultures and lets you have some freedom—"

"Yeah, like the freedom to go to a school I hate."

"Many kids would feel lucky if they had those opportunities!" he bursts out, and knows it's a mistake the second it's out of his mouth.

"Great, they can have my spot!" she snaps. "I want to go to a normal school. Why does everything always have to be weird and special? I just want to go to a normal school with my normal friends and be normal!"

It goes quiet. Quiet because Jin is counting to ten in his head. Slowly. Kame has lowered his gaze and is quietly buttering a bun, and Theia is quietly drinking her tea. Tiara keeps glaring, stubbornness and attitude building like some fiery wall, but there's a blink too, wheels turning when it takes Jin so long to... finish counting.

"Eat your sandwich," Jin says. Everything else that's beating against the inside of his head about special skiing holidays and special opportunities is going to make him sound like an ass, and won't be helpful anyway. "We don't want to be late." He'll have to talk to Kame, make sure he knows it's teenagers and stupidity, not anything else.

.:://\\//\\::.

Tiara's still sulking as they stalk their way to the piste, morosely texting friends or boyfriends, no doubt about the way her dad oppresses her. For the first half hour she refuses to speak English with Moritz, though Moritz looks like he's seen it all before and gamely switches his instructions and 'very easy!' assessments to choppy Japanese instead. She ignores Jin, merely looks bored when he falls on his ass right in her way and steps around him.

They go up a higher slope this morning, still in bunny hill territory, but now they're sharing the snow with other people. Jin's still wavering between pride at how well his girls are doing and utter terror that they'll run into someone as they make their wide turns.

"You okay?" Jin asks Kame when they're lining up for the lift behind a couple with a son about Tiara's age. Everything else aside, he must be getting bored. "Do you want to take some time to yourself?"

Kame pushes his sun visor up, his hair sticking up damp. "I have a lot of entertainment here," he says, lines around his eyes as he smiles at Jin. He's so gorgeous. "But yeah, one or two runs on a proper slope before lunch would be nice."

The woman in front gives them a quick look, maybe she's stuck with beginners too. Then she blinks, smiles, and blushes. The Kamenashi effect, Jin calls it.

"Hi," Kame says and smiles back.

"You're trying an adult slope?" Tiara says behind them. Her eyes are wide and sparkling, like the argument has been entirely wiped away.

Jin knows that look. "Yes, he is. You're not."

"Hmpf," Tiara says, but it's different from before. Theia laughs and elbows her. She also gives the family in front a secret once-over and then leans closer to Kame, a little grin on her face.

"So will that be news again?" she whispers.

"No, that was last year's news," Kame says, all calm and a little amused. No longer giving a fuck looks really hot on him too.

They do a few more runs on the bunny hill, Theia looking joyful with more speed and control, and Jin's legs really do stop hurting at some point. Tiara's getting the hang of those zippy turns that make Kame look all smooth and amazing, and at some point Moritz gesticulates at her and Kame. "You, follow Kazu, okay? Kazu makes more difficult loops. Other two, follow me." And down they go again, wide friendly curves for the slow learners and tight neat turns for the pros.

Rush of Light

Kame gets in two glorious runs on a black piste before it's time to meet up again for lunch. He's still buzzing with it, and happy to see that Tiara and Jin are still, or perhaps again, talking to each other when he catches up with them at the base of the bunny hill. Tiara even gives him a shy smile and wants to know all about where he's been skiing.

He booked them a family lunch at one of the Europe-themed restaurants, but turns out Theia started chatting with a boy from Latvia, and now they want to go to the large cafeteria where, as Tiara puts it, "everyone else is going."

"Boys," Jin mutters under his breath. "More boys, just what I needed. And Latvia. Where's Latvia, anyway."

Kame knows where Latvia is, because he remembers reading up on it once, but Jin's probably not really interested in that. "I really don't mind, whatever you decide," he says.

Jin decides that he wants their skiing gear safe, but that after that the girls can do whatever they want. So all four of them make their way to the Swiss chalet and deposit their skis and poles near the entrance.

"Have fun, and ask if there's milk in stuff, and don't eat so much you'll be sick on the slope," Jin says as he sends them off, and Kame quietly shakes his head. Theia's already on the move, but Tiara's still standing there, looking at both of them in turn, a sudden mulish expression on her face.

Kame gets a sinking feeling, because he's seen that face on Jin a hundred times and it usually spelled a fight, whether about international schools or not.

"What," Jin says, and from his tone Kame can tell he's thinking exactly the same.

But then Tiara breathes in very deeply, the air condensing as she huffs it back out. "I just want to say, about earlier..." Uh-oh. "I still don't want to go to that school anymore. But that's all I meant with the normal, schools and... and my friends and not always some American stuff just because."

She's flushed, and looking a bit desperate like the words still won't play right, and that reminds Kame of Jin, too.

"I didn't mean anything about you. You two, I mean," she says in a small voice. "You know?"

It's… not relief, Kame thinks, because he wasn't worried. But it feels good anyway.

Jin takes a step forward in his disabling ski boots. "It's fine, sweetie, we get it," he says, all irritation gone. "Thank you for saying that."

.:://\\//\\::.

"She really doesn't like that school," Kame says cautiously once they've settled down in a quiet corner with plates full of delicious things from the Swiss buffet.

He doesn't want to interfere, but since it's turned into such a big topic, ignoring it would feel weird. And with the girls amusing themselves and Latvian boys elsewhere, it's a good chance for Jin to speak his mind without instant teenage hysteria.

But Jin's not speaking, just gloomily stirring in his one-person cheese fondue.

"Theia's pretty happy there, isn't she?" Kame tries. It's always better for Jin if he can get to talk.

"Yeah." Jin pokes some more. "She thinks it's great. She's made really good friends and everything, she loves the language mix, she loves going there. But Tiara..." The fork comes down and Jin's head comes up, and he gives Kame a helpless look.

"And you're sure it's not something else? No bullying, nothing?"

Jin shakes his head. "No, we've talked to everyone. The principal, Theia, even other parents. Tiara herself. They've got an anti-bullying program there that's actually got some brains behind it, which was one of the benefits, for fuck's sake." He looks totally exasperated. "There's nothing dodgy going on, I'm sure. She just hates it. She finds it weird there's no uniform, she says a lot of the kids in her class are snobs, the daughter of consul this or the son of CEO that, I don't think she's made a single friend there. She's always hanging around her elementary school friends."

"Does she at least enjoy not having so many rules?"

"You would think so, wouldn't you!" It kind of explodes out of him. "I'd have loved that kind of place. Theia loves it, she's thriving. Sometimes I wonder if she's just doing it to piss me off."

"That would have been a very long campaign just to piss you off," Kame says, and when he waits long enough, it earns him a reluctant smile.

"I guess she can be dedicated."

"I'm learning that," Kame smiles back, and adds more seriously, "At least she's made good friends. It's kind of amazing they stayed this close, going to different schools and all."

"There is that," Jin says, and there's a touch of exhausted pride in it.

Friends from twelve, thirteen years. Kame smiles to himself and puts some of his fried potato patty in his mouth, but doesn't comment on it further.

.:://\\//\\::.

It's funny, Kame thinks, how the black piste he did before lunch didn't seem half as intimidating as the red one he's looking down now. He scans it for potential pitfalls, sudden bumps. It should be fine. He'd feel better if he'd tested it before, though. That was poor planning. "Just remember," he says to Tiara, "if you get worried, slow yourself down."

"Did dad tell you to say that at least five times?" Her eyes are sparkling and she sounds amused, not sulky.

"Your dad told me to keep you alive if at all possible," Kame says. Fact is, Jin didn't even say that when Kame suggested Tiara might enjoy a bit more of a challenge. Only said, "If you think she can do it, you're the expert." The keeping alive thing is just sort of mutually understood.

He checks the piste again. Maybe a long blue would have been better after all. But Tiara has taken to skiing like an idol to applause; her turns are neat and fast, she loves the speed while keeping her distance to other skiers, and so far she's not shied from or failed at anything. She's ready for this.

"You'll be fine if you just do what you've been doing," he says, "and don't panic when it gets steeper or you hit some ice. You can slow yourself down anytime."

"Six," Tiara informs him with a grin.

Kame fluffs some snow at her. "Don't get cute with me, young lady. Just do it."

"Okay, let's go!" she declares happily, and pushes off.

"And don't go too fast!" He hurries on after her, and feels all his insides clumping together. Do parents feel like this all the time? How do they cope?

He follows her turns, observing. She promised him not to be reckless and she's keeping her word, mindful of other people and turning before she gains too much speed. He's so focused on her that an icy patch makes him lurch.

Their first run down is easy, no problems at all, and Kame relaxes a bit. On the second one she slips on ice and falls over, but despite his pounding heart he can see her skis have come off and she's fallen softly before he even gets there. He helps her up and knocks snow out of her boot locks, and helps her back on the skis.

"You okay there?" he asks, dusting snow off her butt so the pants won't get too wet.

She's beaming with a grin wider than the slope. "I love this. Thank you so much."

That, Kame figures, makes it worth all the fretting.

Perfect

This place has the coolest evening entertainment, and Jin doesn't mean clubbing. There's a bonfire; there's marshmallow toasting; there's even a magician, and what's more, she's good! Jin can't figure out a single thing she's doing. When she saws some other couple's son in half, Jin shudders inwardly and is glad she didn't pick Tiara, who was volunteering enthusiastically.

"The kid's part of the act," Kame whispers to him. "I saw him yesterday, he's the son of one of the ski instructors."

"Shhhh," Jin says. "I'm trying to watch this."

"Probably his way of making pocket money."

"Shhhhh!" But Jin's a bit relieved anyway. He takes another sip of his mulled wine. They're in a booth around a table with a nice view of the stage, wrapped up well against the winter night. The kids have ginger and cinnamon type drinks, nice and warming too.

The magician is followed by a band, who play quietly enough that it's possible to talk.

Jin nudges Tiara, who's slumped comfortably in the corner of their booth, nuzzling her cup. "So did you behave yourself out there?" She and Kame came back just in time for a rushed shower before dinner, so he hasn't really had a report.

Tiara shoots him a look. "Would you believe me if I said I did?"

"No."

"So ask Kazuya."

"Would he rat you out if you didn't?"

She tries not to laugh, but has to giggle, and she looks so cute that way, he's a little entranced.

"She was fine," Kame says. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat."

That makes everyone happy, Tiara especially. When the kids are watching the band again, Kame says more quietly, "Really, she was perfect. Did everything I told her, no complaints."

Yeah. The easy time of the new guy. New-ish guy. They really don't treat Kame as a stranger anymore. "You are so privileged, you don't even know," Jin says, which makes Kame laugh and lean against him.

"So where exactly in Latvia did that kid come from?" Kame asks Theia after a while. How does he even know Latvia's a country, honestly?

Theia sits up a bit.

"From the capital, actually. His dad works in Japan. And you can both grab a handle, I just liked chatting with him," she adds with a long-suffering face. "I'm not dating him and actually he's over there," she tilts her head, "and I'm hanging with you old guys anyway. So you can stop trying to be all sneaky."

"I wasn't being sneaky at all," Kame lies. "I just happen to be interested in the Baltic region."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Absolutely."

There's a spark in Theia's eyes and Jin wonders if he should warn Kame. Then decides not to. "So what is the capital called then?"

"That would be Riga," Kame says smugly.

"And why is it called the Baltic region?"

"Because it's on the Baltic sea." That's almost an eyeroll.

"What does the Latvian flag look like?"

Kame opens his mouth. Shuts it again. "White," he says determinedly. "With... stripes."

Theia grins an evil grin. Yeah, Kame is definitely not the new guy anymore, even his kids can tell when he's bluffing.

"You don't know what their flag looks like either," Kame accuses her.

"It's red with a white stripe in the middle," she says.

"You just looked that up on your phone."

Her grin turns enigmatic, and Jin bites his lip.

"Jin, your kids are horrible."

"Hey, I didn't do anything!" Tiara says.

Kame looks at her with furrowed brows. "Not yet..."

That cracks them all up, and Theia props both her elbows up on the table and rests her chin on her hands. "I don't actually care about Latvia," she says. "But I like meeting people from all over the world."

"Don't you get that a lot at your school?" Kame says, cautiously, and Jin freezes for a moment, wary of setting off another school bomb. But Tiara stays silent and sips her drink, the truce apparently holding.

"Yeah, and that's fun, but they still live in Japan, you know? I've never lived abroad." She sighs. "I mean, we never did. Just holidays. Which are great. But it would be cool to live abroad at some point."

Jin gives Kame a lingering look. They're both aware of the irony.

"Did you always know you wanted to come back when you lived in America?" Theia asks.

"Well, I always still had work here, so I was always coming over for a few weeks anyway," he says.

"Yeah, but, to live. Did you ever think you'd just stay there?"

Kame is thinking. Jin's heard all about that time, but for some reason that's a question he never asked. Deep down, he never thought Kame would leave Japan forever. It's an uncomfortable thought now, to wonder what if. "For a short while, maybe. But I think I knew after a time that it wasn't really home. I didn't really fit in." He gives Jin a quirky little smile. Yeah.

"Did you have a boyfriend there?"

"Did... what?" Kame looks like he regrets letting his attention wander. "A boyfriend?"

"Yeah, a boyfriend. A guy you date?" Theia looks at Kame like he's a bit slow. It's cute to see Kame flustered. "I mean, that might have something to do with it. Not feeling at home and stuff."

Kame thinks that over and, Jin suspects, is probably running a filter or three over stuff just in case. "I had a boyfriend, his name was Teruo."

"He was Japanese?"

"Japanese American. He was born there."

"Huh." Theia gives that some thought. Jin wonders if he should jump in and if Kame feels like it's too much of an inquisition, but Kame has relaxed again, sipping at his mulled wine.

"How long were you together?"

"Two and a half years," Kame says. Jin still remembers when Kame told him, at a time when Jin's life was all weird and in between; remembers not even understanding how he could be so jealous and really happy for Kame at the same time.

Theia's eyes flick back and forth between them. Jin's not sure what she's making of all this, or why she's so curious right now. "And then?"

"Then I moved back to Japan and the long distance thing didn't work out."

She looks like that's a very sad ending. "That's a shame," she says. "I mean, not really, because now you're with dad. But still."

Jin nudges Kame in the side. "That's exactly what I said."

Two

"Everything all right out there?" Kame asks when Jin steps through the bedroom door, the living room dark behind him.

"Dead to the world," Jin smiles. Kame's not surprised. Tiara was so tired in front of the bonfire, Jin almost had to carry her home.

"Perfect little angels?" he says, and Jin laughs.

"When they're asleep, always."

They consider that, the shape of the day hanging between them.

Kame tilts his head. "It did get a lot better after breakfast."

"No small thanks to you." Jin drops on the bed next to Kame, Kame's tired limbs flopping to the bounce. "But this isn't over yet."

No, probably not. Kame tucks a strand of hair behind Jin's ear just because he can, then props himself up on his side. "You know... I know it's not really any of my business, okay?"

"Okay," Jin says, warmth in his voice and in his smile. "You don't need a disclaimer to tell me what you think, but okay."

Kame sighs. "I just... I'm with you that it's a great school, and a great opportunity, and it's great for Theia and you would have loved it... but not everyone's the same. Not everyone wants the same things."

Jin gives him a long, thoughtful look. He sighs very deeply.

"You of all people would know that," Kame adds softly, pointlessly, because it's in the air between them anyway.

"I know," Jin says. "I know. God." He shifts closer, their legs touching, warmth between them and Jin's nose pressing against his palm. "You used to drive me crazy too sometimes."

Driving each other crazy. For a while, that seemed to be the only thing they were good at. Kame smiles and breathes in Jin's closeness. They got past that, too.

"I think she does know what she's asking," Kame points out. "I don't think she's being naive."

"No, she just wants to be like everyone else," Jin sighs, something ominous in his voice.

"She'll never be just like everyone else." Not Jin's kid. He cards through Jin's hair, and thinks he could fall asleep here.

"I'll talk to her again," Jin mumbles. "Tomorrow."

"Okay," Kame says, just as quietly.

After a moment, Jin stirs. His kisses Kame on the mouth before rolling into something vaguely resembling a sitting position. "I'm getting another drink. You want anything?"

Kame had one mug of mulled wine, and stopped when he started to feel tipsy. "No, I've had enough."

Jin pauses, seems to wake up a little. "Sorry. Do you mind if I have some more? I don't have to."

Sometimes Kame thinks it might have been better not to tell Jin why that relationship ended. Jin frets. "Of course I don't mind. Go get your drink."

"Right," Jin says, dragging himself to the edge of the bed. He comes back with something clear with an ice cube in it, and moves just as gingerly on his way back, stretching out on his side again.

"For the record, I don't have a problem with you having a few, okay?"

"Got it," Jin says. He takes a sip and puts a hand flat on Kame's stomach, under his shirt, making Kame suck in a breath. But Jin's fingers stroke him softly.

He could doze off like this, heavy and happy. Closes his eyes and lets Jin pet him. They have half a day left tomorrow, and then it's back home. Then he pictures it, and has to grin.

"What?"

"Nothing," he lies, puts his hand over Jin's to keep him there and still. "Never mind."

"What?" Jin's fingers make threatening pinching movements, and Kame has to move fast to capture them.

"Just imagining you getting up tomorrow," he says. "Your legs will be so much worse." He can't help a little giggle. It's not that he's a mean person or anything...

"Easy for you to be smug, you have practice," Jin huffs. "Next time we'll see who can't move."

"Next time?" Kame grins. It's not a bad thought, that.

"If I look at how the skiing part went over, I'm sure we'll be back," Jin says.

"I like the sound of that," Kame says, relaxing now that Jin has stopped trying to pinch him and is just warm, and solid, and perfect for cuddling against. "Maybe I'll even get to use the hot tub next time."

Jin laughs. "Maybe..."

"I still don't know what you have against the poor thing." Kame's legs could have done with it too, and they never had time for it on Saturday night either. It's outside, too, and the winter sky…

"It didn't do anything to me personally," Jin says, and he must have ditched his glass, because his arm comes around Kame, and Kame feels his breath over his hair. "I just thought it would make you very tired..."

"I'm tired anyway," Kame says. "So are you." It's been a draining day, and not just physically.

Jin starts to nuzzle his hair. "Well, I was kind of hoping to get you to stay awake for a bit longer..."

Oh… Kame laughs but there's a little charge, a low tingle running through him. "You're getting devious in your old age."

"Right?" Jin says, ticklish hot against Kame's ear. "Is it working?"

Better than Kame would have expected from how leaden he felt just minutes ago. "A little bit..."

"A little bit, huh." Jin's hand slides down to his waistband, very clearly suggesting a verification process. He kisses Kame, a hint of lemon, whatever was in that vodka, and it's sexy and better than hot tubs, Kame will admit that.

"Didn't see this coming," he says when Jin kisses his way along Kame's jaw. "You can hardly walk..."

Jin's touch moves to Kame's neck, turns a little bit wet. "I guess then it's a good thing I don't ski with my mouth."

Kame feels his breath hitch, and he laughs. "True. You mostly ski with your ass."

"Hey," Jin says, mock-biting him. It's hot and shivery.

Kame slides his hands down and runs them over the ski equipment in question, which is nice and firm and at least hasn't suffered long-term damage. "Lock the door," he says. "Just in case."

Jin stops to think. They never lock it to sleep, but... "Okay, they probably won't get the measles in the next fifteen minutes…"

Kame feels his mouth twitching. "Fifteen minutes?"

"Well, let's be real here," Jin says, and plants another wet kiss on Kame's neck before he lifts himself off and sort of upright. "Okay, don't go anywhere."

"Why would I do that?" Kame says as Jin rolls himself out of bed in attempt to use as few muscles as possible. "When you're about to be nice to me?"

He watches Jin wobble to the door and turn the key slowly, quietly in the lock. It's sneaky and cute and gives him another little buzz. It's been a long time since they did this in secret, behind locked doors. Decades.

He gets the cover out from under himself and holds it up for Jin to wobble under and they cling together, getting the warmth back between them, until Kame feels a definite stirring and wanting that's not his. He kisses Jin with his hands in Jin's hair, and lets Jin grind against him, and then they both have to laugh when Jin winces because his legs don't like that at all. "God, fucking skiing," Jin mumbles, but his hand is okay finding its way into Kame's sweatpants.

The little rush when Jin's hand wraps around him is almost unexpected, he was so tired. "That's better," Jin says, and Kame holds him still for another kiss, his hips lifting into Jin's touch. Then Jin insists, moves down and pulls his pants along, and Kame knows what's next and still arches up when Jin's lips come down on him hot and wet.

Jin makes a pleased little noise, and Kame sinks into it, easy heat and a knowing rhythm. The secret wonder how Jin fell back into it all, always like he loves it, maybe more than before.

But the wonder fades, there's just here and now and more, and Jin taking him steady all the way until he's shivering, spent, in a heavy happy drift. Laughing tiredly at Jin's pleased and somewhat damp face.

"This definitely beats hot tubs but if you were thinking it'll make me any less tired..." he says as Jin crawls back up.

Jin lets himself flop down on him possessively. "What are you saying, old man?" he asks. "Wimping out on me?"

Kame trails his fingers up Jin's back, under Jin's t-shirt. "Just let me catch my breath." He also wants more skin. "And you take your stuff off."

"Demanding," Jin says, but he obediently wriggles out of everything and even helps Kame with his t-shirt. When he snuggles back against him, warmer and more naked and happily expectant, Kame's recovered, and ready.

It's familiar again too, he's learned it all back. Knows Jin's taste and Jin's sounds, how to get him sweaty and squirming and get him there fast, when he wants to. The way Jin tenses under him and their old rhythm, the rougher touch Jin likes now at the end. When Jin finishes with a bitten-off little squeak, he hums in satisfaction.

"Not bad for an old man, huh?" he says when he comes back up, dropping kisses on his way, on the edge of Jin's hip, the bit of stomach padding that Jin's eternally self-conscious about.

"No, not at all," Jin says, inviting Kame to do all the return flopping he might like. "Pretty awesome." His fingers sink into Kame's hair and he goes for another kiss, and Kame's ears are kind of burning.

"Thanks," he mumbles.

"High quality work, as always."

At that, he snorts. "Shut up."

Eventually they put at least their underpants back on, which is harder than it should be, and Jin unlocks the door again.

"So that was it for tonight?" Kame asks, stretching out and feeling the day in every single muscle. "That's the extent of the devious plans?"

"Yep," Jin says, maneuvering himself back onto the bed. "Devious and deviant plans have all been concluded." He finds his way under the blanket and then spoons up behind Kame, which Kame right now finds pretty awesome too.

They're awake a bit longer, to get down from it all. Drifting, and close, Jin's arms tight around him, heavier the sleepier they get. And hotter.

"Jin."

"Hmmm."

"You know I can't sleep like this."

There is low, guilty laughter against his neck. "You're so tired," Jin says. "Thought I might get away with it..." Yes, so much for the end of deviousness. Kame feels a last nuzzling kiss and then Jin disentangles himself.

His warmth is still near on his side of the bed, just right, and after a moment his compromise foot sneaks back over, which is perfect.

Real Face

Jin wobbles through the hut. Every time he has to bend down, he holds on to something to make sure he can get back up. He feels like he's eighty. And he never realized how much bending could be involved in packing for his family until he had muscles that wanted to give out at the very thought.

Does Theia really have to keep her dirty laundry on the floor? Isn't Tiara afraid of stepping on her beloved gadgets? Why is there makeup under the bed?

He decided to skip the morning ski session because... well, muscles. Now he thinks he might as well have gone. On the other hand, he knows what packing's like when there are four people running around and into each other, and Kame can smirk all he wants about Jin's dedication to packing but at least it won't start their trip home with World War Three: The Rematch.

He didn't even know Theia had Pirate Kitty socks, much less why they're occupying a drawer all by themselves.

When he's done, or as done as he can be without asking Tiara if he really got all her spare phones and pads, he gets an hour's slump time in front of the plasma wall, where he finds some music and stares into nothing. He feels old. And doesn't even really mind.

.:://\\//\\::.

The sound of the door startles him out of a snooze. "We're back," Kame's voice calls out as shoes are dropped wildly and ski suits rustle.

Jin smiles fuzzily. Feels a bit lighter, too, cause he could never quite stop thinking how it would suck if one of them broke a leg on the final day.

"We went on the big slope again, dad!" Tiara's eyes are shining. "Theia was really good too."

Theia shoots her a look, but grins. "Yeah, I only fell twice," she says. "It was fun, actually."

"They both did extremely well." Kame is smiling down at him, taking in his snoozy pose as well as the totally organised rucksacks and suitcases in the far corner. "You can be proud of them."

"We had a good teacher," Theia says, "and I don't mean Moritz, though he's kind of cute."

Jin would be quite happy to close his eyes again and just drift on all that mutual admiration. But it's time they got going, and there's another thing...

He sits up straight – ow, muscles – in preparation for actually getting out of the chair sometime today. Ow, ow. The snooze didn't help. Three windblown, sunkissed skiers watch him with smiles between amusement and pity.

"I left you each a set of clean clothes. Off you go shower," he says.

"Dibs!" Theia calls, and Tiara rolls her eyes as if that's just so very childish.

Kame ruffles his hair in passing as he goes to use the en-suite, so it's just Jin and Tiara, and hey, that turned out very convenient.

"Hey, baby girl," he says quickly, before she can get out her holo to commune with her pals. "Sit down for a minute?"

She turns wary instantly.

Jin pats the sofa next to him, gingerly because ow, and she just as warily comes over and sits down.

"First off, I still need to talk to your mother about this, okay? So nothing's decided yet."

Tiara frowns. "Okay..."

"I wanted to talk to you about the school again." That gets her full attention, though if anything it makes her more uptight.

"Okay..."

"Now, hand on heart, no posturing, no bullshit," he demands.

She stares stubbornly for a moment, but then she nods.

"That you want to transfer so badly is not because of Ando-kun?"

"No, dad," she says with all the exasperation for slow-witted dads everywhere, but then she turns sober. "I mean, I want to see him more often, okay, but that's more like, I also want to see my other friends more. I just want to go to school with my friends and I don't like it at the international school."

"If you change schools and three months later Ando-kun goes out with some other girl in your class, you're not going to regret it?"

"I really won't," she says urgently. Jin's not sure if the colour in her face is still from skiing or from sudden school excitement. "I mean I don't expect everything to be easy all the time or never hate the homework or maybe a teacher will suck but I really, really want to change and not for some stupid boy reason."

"It's going to be so much stricter, honey," Jin says. "The teachers can forbid you to go particular places, and you'll have to wear a uniform and keep it on after school too, and you won't get any fun projects, you'll have to learn to repeat stuff from books most of the time."

"Yeah, but I know all that from my friends anyway, and I already study with my friends, we quiz each other and it's really not that difficult. Only I feel like an outsider sitting there in my jeans and I can't go to their clubs on the weekend—"

"Clothes don't make you an insider or outsider," Jin says sharply, and regrets it when she flinches. "Okay," he says, "I get it. I just want you to know what you're getting yourself into. The fitting in and the pressure... I really didn't like it much. I never wanted that for you."

"I know," she says, with a hint of impatience because it's not like they haven't had this talk – at various volumes – before. "I know you think that and I know Theia's school is a good school but it works differently for me." Something about that sounds very final. All right, then.

"Then I'll talk to your mother about it, and we can see," he says, to see her eyes light up. "On the strict understanding that you don't give her shit for the next three months if she disagrees with me."

She hesitates and he can see her weighing it up, before she seems to decide that deal is worth taking. "Okay," she says at last. "Thanks, dad."

"Don't thank me yet," he says ominously, though he admits to himself he was always more determined about the school than Meisa.

"But you'll really try, yes?"

Jin pats her hand. "I'll really try," he promises. "Now go and... count your phones or tabs, I lost track of them all."

.:://\\//\\::.

"My outlet is broken," Theia says again when Jin hasn't magically solved the problem the first time. "Dad, my phone's almost dead."

"Please share with your sister," Jin says without taking his eyes off the road. "Tiara, let your sister charge her phone on your side."

"But my phone's almost dead too," Tiara says.

"Why didn't you charge them overnight, you knew we were going to drive in the morning!" Jin asks, feeling Kame's amused glance the moment it's out of his mouth.

"Cause we thought this was still a fully functional car and there was no need," Theia says. "Just like you did."

Jin's phone is charging on Kame's side, because his outlet is bust too. Must be a fault running along that side of the car.

"You don't even need your phone, dad," Tiara says. "If you let Theia charge a bit, we'll both have enough juice in half an hour to swap around back here."

Jin sighs. "Kazuya, please do the honours..."

Kame dutifully unplugs Jin's phone and plugs in Theia's. "That's what I call a mature compromise solution," he says , and Jin huffs out a breath but he actually kind of agrees.

Deprived of her phone for now, Theia leans forward and rests her chin on the corner of Jin's seat. "Hey, can we listen to some music?"

Oh, god.

"Yes, PRINCESS QUEST!" Tiara suggests cheerfully.

"No!" Jin and Theia say at the same time.

"Okay, okay," Tiara says, and Jin can hear the grin in her voice. "Do what you want, I'm busy anyway."

"We could maturely compromise some more and go with Kazuya's music," Theia says.

"Kazuya did not bring any music." Not that Jin doesn't appreciate the sentiment, but... no.

"Kazuya has a phone," Kame says. "And has charged it overnight."

"Show-off," Jin mumbles. "I worry that your playlists will make us look even older to these humans in the back."

"I have a very safe, modern playlist," Kame promises and starts syncing up his bluetooth. "Lots of your current stuff, some of my current stuff, some of Dom's, and Junnosuke and Tatsuya's new album though I deleted that awful ballad. Sound okay?"

"Sounds good!" Theia says, and Kame doesn't wait for any more permission than that.

Jin doesn't complain, though. The music starts with the bounciest song on KAT-TUN's last album, and driving with music is just the best. Then Kame starts humming the melody, and Theia takes up the cue to sing along, softly while still leaning on Jin's seat.

It's a good thing Jin is driving, has to focus, because he probably wasn't supposed to have all these sudden emotions.

Then he's a little offended when Kame doesn't sing along to his stuff, claiming seriously that after all this time and three years living in the States, he still doesn't understand the lyrics.

"I need a toilet," Tiara says right as Taguchi's loudest note in Monster's punkiest song fades out. "Can we stop soon?"

"Yeah, and can we buy some food?" Theia adds. "Ice cream."

Jin sighs. "Fine, I'm on it." He thinks there is a service station coming up that he remembers, fondly. It's just a few more minutes away.

"Nice landscape, dad," Theia says behind him. "Reminds me a bit of Latvia."

He can't look, doesn't catch the silent follow-up between her and the guy in the passenger seat, but he hears Kame's quiet laugh.

"They're really just evil disguised as cute, aren't they?"

"Surprised it took you this long to notice," Jin says.

"Hey!" Theia pokes them both through the backs of their seat.

"Some things just take time," Kame says. It's true, Jin thinks, as Theia insists she's not evil and Tiara helpfully reminds him of the toilet, and Kame checks the distance on his phone. Jin swallows, looks out at the road and the mountains. So very true.

.::End::.

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