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9 Weeks

by Solo & Jo

 

Week 1

 

Wednesday

For once, Jin doesn't have a knot in his stomach while the dial tone rings out. For once he's actually making the call, not hiding with his phone turned off.

After seven rings, there she is. "Hello?"

"Hi, it's me," he says.

"Hi, you." He can hear squeals in the background and it makes him feel all fuzzy.

"How are you? Is everything—"

"Fine," Meisa says. "We're all fine." Then there's silence, awkwardness. It's weird when he asks to speak to them during the times he doesn't get to see them.

So he says, quickly, "I've got the rest of last month's money, I made the transfer today. And next week I'll have more."

There's a loud breath on the other end. "Oh. Oh, good. Great." Then she laughs nervously. Akira is shouting something about airplanes, and everything goes tight and sore. He didn't know what missing someone was really like, before this.

"Yeah," he says. "I'm really sorry I was late."

"No, I know it's..." Not his fault? Not such a big deal? "I'm glad something's worked out."

"Thanks," Jin says. He sang a song for Kamenashi. It doesn't sound any worse than getting hired for five weeks to sweep leaves off a lawn.

"Do you want to take the kids on Monday?" she says suddenly. "I'm going out with a friend and... well, it would be helpful, and it's Golden Week and you haven't seen them..."

"Yes," Jin says at once. Oh god yes. "I would love to. Monday's great. What time? Anything's fine."

"How about twelve? Does that work?"

"I'll be there," he promises. "We could do the zoo or... Yes. I'll be there. Thank you."

"I'm sorry, Jin," she says quietly. "I really don't want to be such a bitch."

"No, it's fine," he says. "It's your right. You're right." He still owes her for all of April. And Monday... "I'll get you more next week, I promise."

Meisa laughs again, with the nervousness that says it's better if he stops now. "Good, I'm glad," she says, and then, "Sara, dad's on the phone, come talk to him!"

Jin's heart skips, and dusty old guitars are forgotten.

   

Monday

The monkeys are great. They all love the monkeys, and Jin loves the monkeys the most when he watches Akira giggle as two of the red-butted pavians chase each other from swing to swing and one of them misses and falls one storey down.

"That was dumb," Akira says, but then he stands on tiptoe to make sure the pavian is all right. Akira liked the tigers, too, but they couldn't make him drop the cool silent act.

"Hey, he's just a guy having a bad day," Jin sticks up for the incompetent monkey, and then the incompetent monkey opens his scary mouth and shrieks at the visitors, and Sara-chan squeals and hides her face in Jin's neck, her short legs wrapping around Jin's waist.

"You're a little monkey, too, aren't you?" he says. It's true, he hardly even has to hold her up, though he thinks with a pang that she feels heavier from the last time she crawled all over him. Taller, too.

"I'm not!" she declares. "But monkeys are scary." Then she pretends to bite him, and it makes them all laugh.

There are baby monkeys, too, adorable things with spindly-strong arms, and they watch those for at least half an hour, Sara making up stories for what they are fighting about and Akira helping her out when her plot goes in a circle or she loses track of which one was the girl monkey. It's the happiest Jin's been in weeks.

Then it's time for ice cream. In his head, Jin thinks this is for celebration, though he doesn't tell them that.

The zoo is crowded, Golden Week and good weather. Families everywhere, men who work hard all year on a welcome break.

Jin never envied them. So much they miss out on, with their hours and their offices. Then again, they don't have to give spontaneous performances for entitled jerks so they can see their kids, so maybe it all comes out in the wash.

"Mom said your work was very busy," Akira says, eating his ice cream with his typical fastidiousness. Sara, in contrast, has managed to get the chocolate smears near her eyebrow. "Were you working with famous producers again?"

It's such a grown-up question. Meisa worries about being a bitch, but in truth she's kinder than Jin could ever expect. "Not so famous," Jin says. "Just very demanding. Kept us up all night, I'm glad it's over and I have more time now. How is school?"

"Hm," Akira says.

"How's that new homeroom teacher working out?" He heard about her on the phone, complaints starting with the first day of the new school year, four weeks ago.

"She's totally useless." Akira kicks a stone along the gravel path. "I wish we had a proper teacher."

"I hate her too," Sara announces.

Jin frowns at her. "Don't say stuff like that," he says. "And you don't even know her."

"She's mean to Akira," Sara says stubbornly. "And he always does his homework, ask him."

"She's more mean to my friend," Akira says. He's focusing on his ice cream and avoiding his sister's determined glare.

"Park-kun?" Jin asks. "Mean how?"

Akira shrugs. "I don't know." He shrugs a little more, and Jin knows enough to wait. "She called him lazy and when I said that he's not, we both got detention. It was really stupid."

Jin stops with his ice cream; then starts again because he needs just one moment to think. "You shouldn't talk back to the teachers, they're working very hard to teach you things," he says, because he knows it's important. "But it's good you stand up for your friends."

Akira looks at him, totally noticing the contradiction. It hurts him not to have a good, clean answer. He's proud, crazy proud Akira has this kind of courage... but how can Jin want him to be a troublemaker?

"What do you think I should have done?"

"I think," Jin says slowly, "that it would have been best if she hadn't called Park-kun lazy. But it would have been the worst if he'd felt alone and like nobody was on his side."

Akira looks at him for a moment before remembering his ice cream, and not letting it drip on his fingers. But something about that seems to make sense to him.

"Do you want us to go talk to her?" Jin asks.

He watches carefully. If Akira looked afraid or panicked, it would settle the question right there, Jin would be there this instant. But Akira is weighing it carefully, in one of those moments Jin thinks he must have gotten all his brains from someone else.

"No, I don't think so," he says finally. "It was just a detention."

Sara has been watching quietly, not butting in. She's a good girl. She'll be as smart as her brother, as smart as her mom.

*~*~*

They take the train home among the throngs of Golden Week travellers. Sara is playing monkey again, before living up to her heritage and falling asleep. Jin clutches Akira close to him, ignoring that Akira is used to the trains and finding him fussy.

His arms ache by the time they arrive, but he could do this forever, Sara breathing sleepily into his neck, smelling like home and love, trusting him so completely. He could have had half a dozen and he'd love them all just like this.

They pass a newsstand, and for once Jin doesn't sharply ignore anything that might be familiar. Like Kamenashi. They outgrew the idol magazines a few years ago, so he's not everywhere, but two glossy ones still have KAT-TUN on the cover, mature and serious KAT-TUN, all four of them in suits. Even in the picture Kamenashi looks cold.

He delivers the kids and Meisa asks him in for tea and he stays, and gets to put Sara to bed, sing her favorite songs for her, and when he leaves he knows he can be back soon.

   

Wednesday

Kamenashi calls late on Wednesday morning.

"I'll be there at three, maybe three ten."

"How do you even have my number?" Jin says. He sure didn't give it to him.

"See you then."

The line goes dead.

Well, okay. Jin's got a clean t-shirt. He's vacuumed for the first time in two months. He's got the next, equally meaningless song looked out. He's shoved anything to do with his family inside the one cupboard.

He's ready.

When Kamenashi appears, he casts a look around, nods approvingly at the floor, and deigns to step out of his pretty shoes.

"Better," he says, and suddenly Jin is more pissed off.

He grabs his guitar, goes for the chair, Kamenashi's got five minutes and they can start right now.

But he's barely sat down when Kamenashi frowns. It stops him somehow; it's a sharp frown.

"What?"

Kamenashi's focus is unnerving, and disapproving. Then he pulls out his phone and starts thumbing through whatever, motioning with his head. "Go shave. I'm not paying to look at that."

For real? Jin hates himself a little for feeling his chin before stopping to think. Kamenashi gets to have opinions about his looks now, does he?

Kamenashi is reading something on his phone, tapping the screen twice. Scheming, organizing. He looks like he owns the world.

Jin shaves when he sees the kids, because Sara doesn't like the stubble. But that's nothing like Kamenashi—

Kamenashi looks up. The look reminds Jin that he's shaved for bosses, too, real and potential ones, ones that never happened, ones that lasted for a week. Hated it every time.

"I wanted to get back sometime today," Kamenashi says.

Fine. Best hourly wage since 2010 and he's not going to have a fight over his facial hair. Who even cares.

And he doesn't, not really. It's like meditation, the door closed and the minutes ticking down. Kamenashi out there taking care of business. Just the scrape of the razor, he can't hear the phone tapping or anything.

He's not going to waste Kamenashi's time on purpose but it's no use if he cuts himself.

Finally he dries off, checks; only a little red. He smears the lotion on like always, and then he's done.

Kamenashi hasn't moved, but he looks up again.

"And?" Jin says, dramatically so before Kamenashi can even smirk.

"That's better too," Kamenashi says calmly. He pockets the phone.

Well, excellent. They can get on with it. Can they?

Kamenashi nods, and Jin sits down with his guitar. Feels the strings, takes breath to launch into Hot Dogs in Central Park.

And Kamenashi says, "A Page."

That fucking, fucking bastard.

Jin knows he's flushed, hot and red and betraying, but he lets it wash over him, swallows down the protest. A week's rent. More than that, not that Kamenashi will ever know.

He can do this.

You and I... No, he can do this. He can sing those lines.

It's a mess. It's got so many words, words he's tried not to think of in a decade, words that aren't coming back. It's not an easy song to do acoustic anyway.

It doesn't help that less than a verse in, Kamenashi pushes himself off the wall and wanders towards him, and that chord's off like fuck when Kamenashi's fingers brush his face.

Checking Jin's shave, maybe, but Jin's busy. Busy trying to remember that he prayed for protection, that he was in the light and loved and right.

You and I, all the time, it goes on for fucking ever. There's nobody there now.

Kamenashi is touching his jaw; light enough it doesn't interfere, and good, because Jin's not going to start over.

Forgive me that slip, and then it all goes too fast, it went too fast, and Kamenashi's touching his hair and Jin's not sure if he even notices the la la las Jin is sticking in the English because he can't get his head to play along.

And then he's done. Kamenashi carefully pushes that strand of his hair behind his ear and steps back.

"That was pretty awful," he says.

"You try to remember that many words for over ten years," Jin spits out. "Next time, ask for something easier."

"Next time," Kamenashi says, "practise."

Jin's such a mess. Boiling over. But this shit goes both ways, he remembers that.

"Oh, yeah? So, what do you want to hear," he says. "Next time."

And there's that pause again, but it's not like Kamenashi can back away now, or even wait too long because that would be telling too. And right enough.

"Practise Care," he says.

Yeah. Jin swallows back something hot and biting, but he feels better now. They can both enjoy that one.

Kamenashi pretends nothing's off, he's just fine, digging through his wallet instead. He drops some cash on the crowded bookcase. "Your fee, plus ten thousand. Next time, I want you to have a proper hair cut."

Jin bites his lip. He can tell Kamenashi where to shove his money. Or he can take the ten, get a hair cut for two, and spend the rest on another zoo trip. With ice cream.

Kamenashi slips into his pretty shoes and gets out his BMW car keys. "See you next week," he says. For a moment he's a total stranger. Just some rich, thirty-something guy who has nothing to do with the holes in Jin's life and the ache in his heart.

"Okay," Jin says. And the door clicks shut.

~

Week 2

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