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9 Weeks

by Solo & Jo

 

Week 2

 

Thursday

Jin owns two suits. One is from before, for other people's weddings and graduations. It fits him again, after he stopped having money for beer, stopped going out. But he doesn't ever wear it when he applies to stack crates in the back of some supermarket. His second one is newer, cheap, and he doesn't like wearing it much either, but at least it was meant for this stuff. For going to see people to ask for things.

The building manager has a little office. It's gloomy like the rest of the house, but clean, orderly. There are files, and Jin's got a good idea what his says.

He bows in his seat, again. He has the envelope in both his hands.

It's eight at night on Thursday, a good time; a time Jin often has the lights off and doesn't exist. Yubawara-san checks on things like lightbulbs and locks and missing rent money when normal people come home from work.

"I am deeply sorry for falling behind, Yubawara-san," Jin says. He doesn't like Yubawara-san, and there's a whisper in his head about his greedy hands and all the things he knows about Jin, three and a half years he can chart Jin's jobs, Jin's lack of jobs, Jin selling his watch or his electric guitar, Jin's bows every time there's wheedling to be done for another grace period.

Yubawara-san looks slightly uncomfortable.

"The times are difficult," he says vaguely. Jin can tell he's trying not to zoom in on the envelope too much. He hates being so pleased that he actually has something to give the man, like a good dog bringing back a not-too-dead rabbit.

"This will take care of my arrears from February," he says, handing the envelope over, his head sinking deep. "Eleven days, I believe." He's passed the bulk on to Meisa, got his haircut, bought food. This is all the rest.

Yubawara takes it – both hands, always polite, polite like the supermarket owners and park managers who tell him sorry, Akanishi-san, your presence is too disrupting, you're too famous to be employed, we're sure you understand, and expect him to bow and be grateful for their politeness, oh shut the fuck up.

Jin focuses again. Yubawara doesn't count the cash. Delicate, but then, he knows where Jin lives. Okay, that's almost funny.

"I'll have more when I get paid again next week," Jin says.

"That's good, isn't it, Akanishi-san," Yubawara says heartily, but Jin recognizes the blank look in his eyes, the look that says well, we'll see when we get there.

Jin knows Yubawara is just doing his job. Like everybody else who can now lord it over Jin, just doing their jobs, just doing the best for their company. They just never had the misfortune to be an idol and think they could have a life, too, they never reached for much, and now here they are. Yubawara's got his bland job and his scuffed suit and a receding hairline, and he goes home to his wife and sees his kids every night.

"Thank you so much for your kind patience," Jin says. "It should not get this bad again. I am very sorry for the trouble." He's pretty sure the money's enough to convince them he's still a better bet than the cost and hassle of an eviction; he's pretty sure he hates how he's got a fucking strategy for this.

Whispers in his head, better a strategy than nothing, old bosses and cold strangers, his brother's voice, his mother-in-law.

Yubawara-san excuses him, and Jin bows on his way out the door, ignores the resistance from everywhere inside him. He puts on a grateful smile, and thinks for a moment he probably was better at smiling when he was younger.

It's not even a relief when he's alone outside, all the bowing and scraping makes his brain crawl with prickly heat and he wants to hit his head against a wall. Just to get some peace.

He takes the stairs up to his own gloomy room, and doesn't feel like turning on the light.

   

Monday

"Excuse me?"

Jin looks up at the accent. She has red hair, a shy smile, and a very rumpled looking map that's getting more rumpled in her hand. Also a backpack on, and shades against the glare, pushed up into her hair.

"You speak English?" Jin says, because he hasn't forgotten. His friends left one by one as they hit their thirties, and his tongue wraps around the sounds less confidently, but he hasn't forgotten everything.

The smile spreads wide over her freckled face. "Yes. Fantastic. Thank you."

It's the first thing today that makes him laugh. She's lost, she says, she didn't rent a cell phone and she can't find her hotel. She sits down next to him on the old splintered bench and Jin helps her make sense of her map, asks how she landed in a hotel in this area and not somewhere more central. She's from Europe, and doesn't ask him what a thirty-eight-year-old Japanese guy is doing sitting in a park at two in the afternoon.

The days get so long when he's at home. And it's always quiet. So quiet.

He had a job last winter, four months in a row. He got up at three in the morning, and cycled for half an hour to pack bento boxes from four to noon in a sterile industrial kitchen; the hours wrecked him but it was steady, dull, and he was on time with his rent and his child support. Came home wired and limp and fell dead into bed when half of Tokyo was still in their offices. Those were good months.

"I hear the heat gets worse," she says, wrinkling her cute nose and laughing. "I couldn't stand that."

"There's good aircon everywhere," Jin says. "You just need to dash across open spaces quickly." His fingers mimic running feet before he even realizes, and she laughs again.

"Shelter in shopping malls, yeah," she says, and Jin grins at her because it's so obvious she's not the type. Not that she fits in out here any better, and when she starts telling him a tale of internet confusion and evil kanji, he catches himself looking. Noticing her slightly chapped lips and the freckles on her naked arms, the light blond hairs, the outline of her bra under a soft t-shirt.

He doesn't look, not normally. But he doesn't normally talk to people either. He comes to the park to watch the birds or to watch people from a distance. He's started to recognize the pensioners and sometimes he'd love to just go and talk, even if they'd know full well why a thirty-eight-year-old Japanese guy is sitting in a park, at two in the afternoon.

They chat about her trip, her flight, her failed attempts at learning Japanese. She's younger than he is, but not scarily so. Bright like a sunny day and adventure. She likes him too, he's not that blind. He can smell her sunscreen.

Jin hasn't been with anyone since Meisa; those sad last tries at the end, a few months before he moved out. He doesn't remember the last time someone's even touched him, except when he hugs his kids.

He's started on Care. His voice is better, but still strange. Practice. He needs it. He wonders if that's what Kamenashi likes, that Jin sings and plays like he's trying to wear an old skin that no longer fits.

Wonders why it would even matter to him, when it hasn't in so long. He doubts Kamenashi needs to look at Jin to feel good about himself

"So, I think I should manage not to get any more lost and end up a ghost in the streets of Tokyo," she says.

"Don't do the ghost thing," Jin says quickly. "That freaks me out."

She laughs; she's got a deep, loud laugh. "You're funny."

And when's he last been funny? "It's important," he says. "No spooking where I live."

She grins deeply. "I should probably get going. And with all this, I kind of missed lunch, I'm starving."

"If you head that way, there's a ramen place, it's good and cheap," he says. Yeah. It's really cheap. Even he could afford to buy a girl lunch there, if he really wanted.

There's a pause, she's waiting. What does he want?

"I hope you have a good time in Japan," he says, and she gets it and it's fine and he won't think about it.

He watches after her when she marches off, her backpack bouncing a choppy rhythm. At the edge of the park, she smiles over her shoulder, and then she's gone.

   

Thursday

"Sorry I'm late," Kamenashi says blandly, stepping out of his shoes again. The floor is clean, again. He called an hour ago. Probably got stuck in traffic.

"I'm not in any hurry," Jin says, because why not. Kamenashi doesn't even make a quip. Picky about his digs of superiority. Maybe he's taught himself some taste.

The guitar is ready by the chair. Jin's ready too, prepared as he'll get, he's— what? Fucking what is the staring about?

Oh, right, the haircut. He hates himself a little for the flash of nervousness. The way it fades at Kamenashi's nod.

Kamenashi looks like before, despite a different suit, a red shirt. Like he's a drawing of himself. Sharp and chiselled and unchanging.

Jin wonders, if you'd asked the eager little kid to draw himself, twenty years down the line, what that would have looked like. Like this?

If you'd asked Kame to draw himself... Jin laughs, and then it hurts, and damn he didn't see that coming.

"What?" Kamenashi frowns.

"Nothing." Nothing divided by years is still nothing. Jin got his haircut. They can get to it.

Kamenashi stands where he was, close to the chair, close enough. "I assume you're better prepared this time?"

Oh, yeah, Jin's prepared the fuck out of this. He could give Kamenashi lessons on preparing for this. "Sure," he says. As long as Kamenashi's brought the cash. Five minutes, sitting and singing. That's all it is now. "Anything else, or can we move on in your busy day?"

"Go ahead," Kamenashi says. A drawing. Just as cold. Jin wonders if he prepared too.

He settles with the guitar, strums the strings lightly to check that the tuning's held. All good. So he launches right into it, because he knows what he's doing and it won't touch him.

Four bars in, a high-pitched, monotonous bleeping sound comes from Kamenashi's jacket, and Kamenashi reaches inside.

"I have to take this," he says, with a glance at the guitar. His cell is slim, Jin's seen those fragile ones in ads. "Yes," he says when Jin has killed the reverb.

Jin can't make out anything from the other end, only that it's loud. A guy, he can tell it's a guy. Kamenashi lets him be loud for maybe half a minute, then he says, "Okay, calm down. From the start. When was this?"

Jin lowers the guitar and rests it between his feet. Settles in.

"They've finished shooting? Is he still there?" Kamenashi has started flipping through a notebook. A notebook. Who still does that? "Okay, I'll talk to him. Can you look up the director's number in the meantime? Thanks. Also get me the producer's. No, I'm not at home. Ten minutes. Yeah, thanks." He presses the screen; wipe, press, wipe. Waits. "Kamenashi here. Yes, I... yes, he told me. I'll try to fix it."

Jin can't help it; he wonders vaguely what it is, who he is, whether this is some scandal that can make the front pages or just some Junior insulting a show host by having the wrong hair.

"Don't thank me yet," Kamenashi is saying, "and you can apologize later, for now I need you to tell me exactly what happened. Make yourself look as bad as you possibly can because that's the version I'll be answering to."

Then he listens. He doesn't pace. He doesn't take notes, only nods occasionally. Jin thinks that once, there's a tiny inaudible, "Damn."

"Okay," he says in the end. "I'm going to make some calls. Don't go partying, stay out of people's way. Keep your cell on."

Swipe, swipe, bleep, "Do you have the numbers?" Scribbling, "Thanks, later."

Okay, Jin thinks, that's either a PA or a good friend. He doesn't know which thought annoys him more, or how it makes him feel that as far as Kamenashi is concerned, he might as well have ceased to exist right now.

Kamenashi straightens his shirt sleeves, his tie. He's standing right there in the middle of Jin's apartment and there's that focus Jin remembers from when they worked together, the focus just before the cameras started rolling.

And then the picture flickers as Kamenashi transforms himself into a smiling, friendly guy anyone would love to know and he dials a number he's scribbled down and introduces himself, is so sorry about intruding and so pleased that the director will make time for him, recalls with great fondness the last time they met and the director's amazing duck imitation, concedes that the director outdrank him neatly and he had a terrible hangover, takes only five more minutes to bring the conversation around to the afternoon's filming of—

Oh, Jin thinks. It was Tegoshi. And the discussion is too disjointed still, so much hinted and unspoken, but... something about an actress, and men getting out of hand. A nice dress, Kamenashi says full of adoration. Tegoshi didn't mean it.

It doesn't sound like it was anything clever.

But why does Kamenashi have to... why would Kamenashi want to get involved with that? Tegoshi isn't even in his band.

Kamenashi laughs, bright and chipper. And apparently somebody asked Jin's question, because Kamenashi is coming out with stuff like 'disruption of working patterns' and 'agency standards' and 'responsibility', and then he stops short and says, "Oh, has she."

Jin can feel the ice from here. There's a lot of listening now. "And what do you think about that?" Kamenashi asks eventually, and listens some more. Agreement here and there, a semi-chirpy, "Well, as you say, between men...," and eventually he says, "Yes, I would be happy to call him, if you have no objection, yes, that would be kind, thank you very much, yes, I have a pen." He studies his notebook while presumably he is being told a phone number and makes no move to write it down. Another minute of thanks and assurances of mutual respect, and that one is over.

Kamenashi doesn't even pause before continuing. Same persona, and Jin can start to put it together, first director, now producer, and who knows, maybe next the head of NHK. Same spiel, only this time they met at some award event and the special skill at which he beat Kamenashi was ballroom dancing and they shared deep wisdom about teenagers. Ten minutes later, the afternoon's incident. "Has anybody from our agency already been in touch about this?" Kamenashi asks, and the answer makes him frown, but the longer he listens, the more the frown clears.

"I'm very pleased to hear that," he says, "that's a great help. It may interest you to know that the agency has also spoken to the director of the segment, if you wanted to co-ordinate your approach. No, please don't thank me, I have to thank you, I'm very glad that we are in such agreement..."

And another five minutes of peace to the world, Kamenashi at his most shamelessly seductive, until he finally hits the off button.

Then that smile slips off too, and he straightens, and breathes slowly, and blinks. Looks at Jin, at Jin's room, like he doesn't know how he got here.

Blinks again and remembers.

"Please bear with me," he says, impeccably polite all of a sudden, a hangover maybe from good little Kazuya-kun. "Only two more minutes."

But he doesn't wait for Jin to even react.

"All clear," he says after the next swipe and tap. "Tell him all clear. Tell him debrief at seven tomorrow morning, unless he's got work then. The usual place."

This time when he hangs up, he slips the phone back into his jacket.

"What was that all about?" Jin asks.

Kamenashi stares at him. Yes, hi, Jin is here, it's Jin's apartment. And Kamenashi's remembering, good little Kazuya-kun clearing like a dull fog from a cool wind.

"Nothing that concerns you," he says.

"Since when does Tegoshi concern you?"

"Also doesn't concern you," Kamenashi snaps. "You made that very clear."

"You know they fired me, you arrogant shit."

There, that feels better. Even Kamenashi angry feels— Kamenashi's paused, and for a change he really seems to see Jin. "People don't usually call me that to my face."

"Well, I'm just special."

"Weren't you always," Kamenashi says, and it carries so much, such a fucking old weight. Too special for Johnny's, yeah.

But Kamenashi seems off that track now. The irritation's gone, his eyes… intrigued. "You got your haircut."

"Yes," Jin says patiently. "You noticed earlier. Tidy enough for you?"

"It suits you much better."

Well, good thing Jin spent so much time comparison-shopping for hairdressers.

"And you practiced?"

Jin taps his guitar. "Cut my hair, practiced my little song." And fuck if he knows why Kamenashi seems to find that fascinating when he really doubts the jerk spends sleepless nights wondering about the quality of Jin's five-minute special performance. "So, you want to hear?"

"I do," Kamenashi says.

Yeah, good, wouldn't do to waste all that practice. And Kamenashi's five minutes, that would be terribly inefficient. Never mind that hour of Jin's life wasted listening to one-sided phone calls.

Focus.

Care came back hard, but now he's got it, clear from the first chord.

Kamenashi is close like he wants to watch Jin's fingers. But there's nothing to see. It's a song, and Jin can sing it so it has meanings for strangers but not to him.

The first eight bars go steady, the next eight too, nothing on him but Kamenashi's laserbeam stare, the air around them coming to rest. Just a clean song cold like nothing and he's thinking maybe this is all and that was the last of the weirdness, when Kamenashi moves.

So, right, Jin thinks when those fingers probe his hair again. Physical inspection clearly part of the admission price here. Just as well he set it high.

It's strangely easy not to be bothered by it, to keep the words lining up one after the next while Kamenashi's thumb strokes over his forehead and wisps whatever imaginary strands he finds there out of his eyes.

Distracting, for a moment, when a hand moves down the side of his face, and lightly along his jaw – he's singing here, trying to enunciate, yes? The touch smells of nicotine, a bite sunk deep into the skin.

But somehow it works, stays just this side of interfering. His cheek, and down, his neck. Just happening. Suddenly Jin has to bite back a giggle, because what the fuck. What the fucking fuck, Kamenashi.

But then he gets it together again, next verse and whatever, vee of his t-shirt and whatever, Kamenashi's not going to go for Jin's collarbones and ruin his pretty song. Kamenashi is careful. And Jin keeps singing. Like this is normal, like he isn't being felt up by an idol and a schemer and a jerk, like he knows what he's doing, what they're doing.

He wonders if Kamenashi knows what he's doing. He wonders if Kamenashi knows he's turned on and Jin, where he's sitting, is in prime position to know it.

He loved that song once, and now it's clear as water, concluding easily. It's all easy.

Kamenashi's fingers are dry, just at the edge of Jin's t-shirt. Jin can smell his perfume under the crisp shirt, a scent he doesn't know, harder and more masculine. Five minutes, a song's worth of whatever. Jin waits; counts.

Kamenashi takes his hand away. "That was flawless," he says.

Yeah, flawless like a vocaloid. He made damn sure of that. "Expected something different?" Bet he did. But Jin can sing songs like Kamenashi wears his Gucci shoes.

"Just glad you made use of the time you had," Kamenashi says. "I appreciate it."

He still has some red in his cheeks, from the appreciating. Maybe that's all he has for getting his jollies these days, bossing people around and feeling superior.

"...beer?" Kamenashi is saying, and Jin blinks.

"What?"

"Do you have any? I'd like some."

"Yeah," Jin says. "I'm months behind on my rent and child support because I spent it all on beer, my fridge is full of it and there's another stash in the guitar case. Help yourself."

Kamenashi stares at him, and for a moment, Jin stares back. And then somehow, it's an old feeling, older than that song even, familiar from twenty years and more.

"I don't have beer, are you brain damaged?" he says. "You can have tea if you want."

Kamenashi only hesitates for a moment. "Fine." And finally he takes a step back, so Jin can get out of his chair and be of service.

Thankfully Jin's got water hot and waiting. He keeps busy with pot, leaves, strainer, until they're both standing there with steaming cups in their hands and then it's... quiet.

Kamenashi studies the Costco Special Value brew like he's trying to read his fortune in the dregs Jin didn't quite manage to filter out.

"So, what did Tegoshi do, and why are they calling you about it?"

That brings Kamenashi's focus back. He thinks about the question, or maybe about Jin, for a tense moment. "Tegoshi complimented an actress' dress. The comedians on the show joined in and the complimenting got a little out of hand."

"That doesn't sound so terrible," Jin says.

"You'd think so, wouldn't you."

Jin waits, while Kamenashi frowns to himself. He's the same glib, polished bastard he was last week, and Jin doesn't know why this feels so undramatic. "So why you?" he prods.

Kamenashi has the first sip of his tea, managing to make it look like a shrug. "I merely offer guidance," he says, which is total bullshit, that humble act was bullshit twenty years ago.

Jin may be a loser, but he's not stupid.

Kamenashi looks around again, at Jin's very tidy, extra special audience guest proof place. "So what do you do all day?"

Jin lifts his shoulders, and oddly enough really doesn't give a fuck. "This and that. Go for walks. See the kids. Look for jobs." He waits to see if further insults start happening, but Kamenashi just seems to process this information about Jin's illustrious lifestyle.

"Exciting," he says.

Jin shrugs again. "Hey, I've got lots of time for comparison shopping."

Kamenashi snorts. It looks like an accident, a twist his smug bland face wasn't meant for.

"Want any tips?" Jin asks, just because, just because he can't help grinning a bit, and just like that Kamenashi sobers again.

"No, thank you," he says in a clipped tone. "I don't exactly have your kind of time."

Well, good they have that cleared up. Jin puts his cup down. "Well, please don't let me keep you from your exciting life. I couldn't handle the guilt."

Kamenashi is a bit slow to find a suitable place for his own cup and settles on the empty row in the bookcase where Jin moved the kids' pictures away. "Don't worry on my account," he says. "I'd hate to add to your burdens."

Fuck him. Him and the shiny shoes he walked in on.

"Okay," Jin says, ready to remind the guy about his rate, but Kamenashi is already fishing for his wallet. He flips through it almost carelessly and holds out a fan of bills.

"Here," he says. "And thank you for the tea, it was... wet."

"What do you want next week?" Jin asks as he pockets the cash.

It seems to bring him up short. Getting a bit lost in our condescension, were we? "Pick something," Kamenashi says finally. "But work on it."

Well, they have established Jin can just about fit it into his schedule. One flawless Hot Dog in Central Park, coming right up.

Kamenashi turns like he could never wait to leave, and then he's gone.

Outside it's dark, but the room doesn't feel much brighter. Jin stares for a moment and gets his head together, and then he picks up their cups, might as well, for once his apartment's clean. Bastard didn't even finish it.

He rinses the cups, then remembers he wants to wash his face too, what with the five minute quality check and all.

It's hard light from a shadeless lamp. Jin dries his face, his precious new hair damp from the splash. He used to look better even in bad light; not so ghostly, not with the shade of lines around his eyes when he looks too hard.

Flawless.

Now flawless is meaningless melodies and lyrics he can't feel. Focus and indifference, and Kamenashi's condescending face.

Jin smacks the towel on the rack and stops looking at his eyes or his jaw or his neck, or the line of his t-shirt.

~

Week 3

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