frameofmind6: (Jin: Paparats)
Title: Paparats
Author: FrameofMind
Beta by: [ profile] dori_liv
Pairing: Akame
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: ~10,300
Genre: Drama, Angst, Romance, Divergence
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. (And it’s Jin’s own fault for writing the song that made me think of it, so… ;)
Summary: All the things they wrote about him were lies. Once.
Author’s Note: I’m not sure exactly where this came from, just that I was reading the lyrics to the song a few months ago and somehow it sort of…happened. It’s important to note that this isn’t an AU per se, but it is sort of a “what if” divergence from reality. The story should make it clear where the timeline diverges, so I’ll let it speak for itself. Thanks to [ profile] dori_liv for letting me chew her ear off, correcting a few missteps, and reassuring me that this isn’t a pile of unintelligible nonsense… ;)


He can hear the ocean.

The ceiling is unfamiliar. It’s white, teeming with speckly bumps that seem to buzz and move like tiny little ants when he squints up at them. The duvet isn’t his either. It’s covered in pretty flowers of pink and blue wound in painted green leaves that seem to spread across the floor and meander up the walls. The curtains are dark blue, pulled back to let the sun stream in through the sheer blinds. They ruffle lightly in the breeze at the opposite side of the room, somewhere past his feet. There are seagulls too, far away.

Jin breathes in. Breathes out again.

He can’t tell whether it’s his breath he’s hearing or the slow rumble of the waves rolling against the shore. He hasn’t heard either one for a very long time. He hasn’t heard anything but the screaming and the silence.

His head is pounding. He has vague memories of long periods twisted and restrained, moving and then not moving, but never holding still. Pain like death, wanting death, wanting quiet, wanting noise. Too much silence, suffocating. Waves crashing, drowning. He has vague memories of Kame too, hovering over him, always near. Wiping sweat from his face. Talking to glowing blue spiders in the corners of the room. Holding a glass of water to his parched lips. Strangling him with poisonous vines.

He’s not sure what all is real, but he’s sure that some of it isn’t.

His limbs feel weak and shaky, restless. The sheets are soaked through with sweat, his t-shirt twisted around him, sticking to him everywhere. He’s not sure if he wants to get up and move around or just bury himself in the dark under the covers, pull the pillow over his head and find out how long it takes before his breathing stops. If it ever just stops.

He gets up.

There’s a small bathroom just off the bedroom. The door is propped open, and the light is on. The surfaces are all clean and smooth and shiny white, and they make his fingers itch for a razorblade. He looks away, reaches for the mirror, opens the medicine cabinet instead. There’s nothing inside. All the shelves are empty and clean as the countertops, save for two toothbrushes and a single tube of toothpaste. Only one of the toothbrushes has been used.

He hunts through the other cabinets, but all he finds are a few clean white towels and rolls of toilet paper. He finally stumbles across a first aid kit in the cupboard under the sink, but it’s full of useless things like bandages and cotton balls. Even the rubbing alcohol has been poured out. He finds the empty bottle in the trash.

He leans over the sink, trying to rest his weight not too heavily on shaking arms. His face is pale and sunken, and he avoids looking at it. He tries not to look in mirrors anymore. He turns on the tap, adjusts it with twitching fingers until it’s lukewarm, then splashes water on his face, rubs at the back of his neck. His hair is a tangled mess, but that only matters if you’re someone who looks in mirrors.

He steadies himself with a hand against the doorframe as he walks back out into the room. The door to the hallway is on his right, and he pulls it open, moving slowly over each quiet creak in the warped floors.

The hallway is light too, wood-paneled to the midpoint, white from there to the ceiling. There are little watercolor pictures of sailing ships and lighthouses hanging in the spaces between the other doors. Most of them are closed, but he can see through into another bedroom, slightly smaller than his, and a half-empty suitcase propped open on a chair. There’s sunlight in there too, but nothing else. The bed is neatly made, with the covers turned down. There’s a pair of glasses and a dogeared copy of Sanshiro on the nightstand.

The stairs are too narrow for human feet, squeezed steep to fit into the small space allowed. Jin holds tight to the bannister and keeps one hand flat against the wall as he takes them one at a time, not trusting his gelatinous knees to support him in a crisis. Every step creaks and groans under his weight, like the house itself is disturbed by his presence, and he can’t decide whether it annoys him or comforts him. The reminder that he’s solid and something doesn’t hurt, even if it complains a bit.

There’s another short hallway, and he follows the sunlight past a watercolor of a boy and a dog running on the beach. The next doorway opens into a cozy white kitchen with a round wooden table. Beyond that is a sitting room with two couches and a wall of windows, and a porch just past the ruffling blinds.

Kame is there.

He’s sitting on one of the couches with another pair of glasses propped on top of his head, one foot curled under him and a script open on his lap. He’s writing something in the margins with a pencil. His hair is pulled back in a stubby ponytail that doesn’t keep his bangs out of his face, and there’s a cup of coffee sitting on the corner of the low table in front of him. Jin just stands there in the doorway, watching him. He might not even be there, in fact. It’s happened often enough in the past few years. But Jin always likes seeing him anyway, even when he’s not really there.

“How are you feeling?” Kame says as he turns another page of the script. He peels a sticky note off of a stack sitting next to him on the couch and presses it to the top of the page with nimble fingers, marking something for later.

Jin’s hand is still trembling against the doorframe. He wonders what it feels like to have limbs that just stay where you put them. Seems like it’s been a long time since he knew.

It’s colder in here than it was upstairs, with the breeze through the windows and the uncovered wood under his feet. Sunshine and ocean and cold. He wonders what month it is. He wonders whose house he’s in. He wonders what continent he’s on.

“I’m okay,” he says.

Kame looks up and over at him. There’s a mild smile, like he knows it’s half a lie. He’s been watching. He’s been wiping sweat off Jin’s brow. Talking to the spiders.

“I’m glad to hear it,” Kame says. “Do you want something to eat?”

*      *      *

The first time was in 2006. He was twenty-two and drinking had lost its shine, so when some friend of a friend of a friend brought stuff to a party at some massive house in Santa Monica, he did a line off the bathroom sink. He was told he ended up dancing and singing in Japanese on top of the guy’s parents’ $50,000 dining table and threw up on a cactus by the pool, but he only remembers the buzz of his reflection in the bathroom mirror after that first inhale, and waking up on the floor of somebody’s apartment with six other guys wearing someone else’s boxers. He had a massive headache and he threw up again, and it was miserable and also brilliant.

He’d performed on stages in front of thousands of people, been winched from ceilings and photographed in various states of undress, done acrobatics and kissed his best friend behind the location trailer between scenes, but until that moment it was the only truly dangerous thing he’d ever done.

He did it three more times during that winter, that brief gasp of freedom, and then he went back, and he didn’t do it anymore. It was the novelty of the thing. Six months in a fantasy land of textbooks and coke and being sick on plants of various descriptions, and then he returned to the cold, hard realities of glitter and love songs and money.

It wasn’t so bad.

*      *      *

Kame makes toast while Jin sits on the other couch, a blanket draped over his legs and arms. The rest of him is still too warm, but his hands and feet are cold. They don’t shake so much when he’s sitting down, covered up. Or maybe it’s just that he can’t see them. He never really feels the shaking itself, except when it makes him bump into things. Or fall over.

Kame won’t let him have butter or jam or marmalade or anything—just toast. Toast and water, small amounts. If he’s able to keep that down, Kame will fix him something else. If he gives him too much, it might just make things worse. Jin hates dry toast, but at least it makes his head feel a little bit better to have something in his stomach. He hadn’t even realized how empty it was until it started to feel full again.

Kame goes back to his script, and Jin leaves the empty plate on the coffee table as he curls up a little deeper into the couch. He pulls the blanket up over his shoulders a bit more. The breeze is getting to him, turning the tide inside him. The seagulls sound nice, not too close. He’s pretty sure they’re real.

He’s pretty sure Kame is real this time too. Hallucinations don’t usually make him toast.

“Kame?” he says when the sunlight is just starting to turn a little bit orange at the edges.


“Where are we?”

Kame smiles down at his script, underlining something with his pencil. Scrawling something else in the corner. “It’s better if you don’t know.”

It’s the kind of answer that should probably irritate him. It should sound patronizing, but it doesn’t. Not right now. Not from Kame. Kame knows how to make toast and talk to spiders, while Jin is currently struggling to walk and see straight—for the time being, Jin is quite comfortable with the notion that Kame is in better condition to make his decisions for him than he is.

“Nobody knows where you are,” Kame murmurs over the turn of a page. “Except me.”

Jin blinks slowly at the orange sunlight painted across the ceiling. Nobody knows where he is? He likes the sound of that.

People always know where he is. Everyone always knows where he is. Even when he doesn’t.

“How did we get here, then?”

The pencil scratches softly across the paper again, and it sounds like seagull wings. “By car,” Kame says. “Then by boat.”

The breeze catches him again, and it’s even colder now. The long scar on his left shin pulls and tingles with the chill.


Kame hums again over the scratching of the pencil, a soft, rumbly sound.

“Can we close the windows? I’m cold.”

“Of course,” Kame says, letting the script fall closed over the pencil. He sets it on the couch cushion and gets to his feet. Jin watches as he reaches for the window crank, closing one pane and then the next. The breeze cuts off as the seal closes around the edges, and the ocean grows muffled and distant. He can’t hear the seagulls anymore, but he hears Kame’s pages rustling as he sits down again.

Jin listens to the scratching of the pencil as he falls asleep.

*      *      *

The early crowds were small, but they only got bigger. Little club venues in L.A. that smelled of cheap beer and decades-old cigarettes at first, but they outgrew those quickly. By the time he had cut all the old ties and was promoting his second album with Warner in the States, he was headlining at Madison Square Garden.

He hid his eyes from the blinding lights, sweat pouring down his neck underneath his hood, and he sang and danced and they wanted him. They screamed for him. Just for him.

You don’t have to be afraid to fly

We’ll be there before you know

So baby let’s go

Make love until the sun burns down

After three encores, the crowd spilled out onto 8th Avenue leaving the arena in ruins of his face. All night he heard them singing his songs in the streets, and it was glorious.

He flooded his apartment with crew and dancers and women and men, and there were lines on the glass coffee table, and there was sex on the living room floor, and he was in the middle of all of it. Anywhere he wanted. Anyone he wanted. His agent’s assistant brought him anything he asked for, and he asked for everything. For three days, the sun never came up.

*      *      *

The storm batters the outside of the cottage and the insides of Jin’s veins, and he shakes and dies and wants it to stop. Just make it stop. Somehow. Anyhow. He can’t keep the covers on, can’t stand them touching his skin, they’re like spiders all over, but he’s freezing and he’s burning and he can’t stop shaking. He grits his teeth against it, leaning into Kame’s shoulder as Kame holds him tight, just rocking him back and forth there in the middle of the mattress, in a nest of sheets and spiders. The lightning surges through his eyelids, and he can’t stop shaking. He can’t stop shaking.

“It’s okay,” Kame says, and his fingers in Jin’s hair are the only thing that’s calm, the only thing that’s good. He wants to grab onto them and crush them to make sure they’re real. To make sure they don’t go away. He has to stop himself.

“It’s okay.” Kame says. Again, and again. “You’re okay.”

His face is wet, but he can’t hear the crying. He feels sick to his stomach, but his stomach is empty. He curls around it and presses his face into Kame’s shoulder so hard it hurts, just because it’s a better hurt.

“It’s okay,” Kame murmurs, and Jin can feel Kame’s cheek against his ear, and that soft, familiar rumble. “I’m here. I’m not leaving you alone. You can get through it, just ride it out. Everything will be okay.”

Rain and lightning and it scratches his insides, he can’t stop shaking, can’t hold still. His fingers clench in Kame’s shirt and he swears he feels his nails dig into the flesh, but Kame doesn’t seem to notice, doesn’t let go, doesn’t stop breathing in his ear. There are spiders in his ear, but he listens to Kame, and Kame says it will be okay. Kame says to ride it out. Weather the storm.

His throat hurts from the sobs he can’t hear. There’s no voice left, no breath. He has to drag it in, and it hurts, like nails all the way down. Maybe he’s screaming. Maybe he’s been screaming for years.

*      *      *

The real revelation was when he discovered that they also made him brilliant. Sharp and witty, ready and able to dive out in front of the cameras and do whatever they asked and just not give a shit. Not give a shit when the stupid comedian-host-guy in the dorky suit asked him a question he didn’t have a good answer to. He could just tell an outlandish lie, just like that, and they would all laugh and clap and be entertained, and he wouldn’t give a fuck.

Sometimes he told the truth too. All his secrets laid bare, everything he’d spent years protecting back home, and it didn’t even matter. Here, like this, he could say any shit he wanted, and they loved him for it. If it was weird or wrong, they loved him even more. They still laughed and clapped, because they didn’t believe him. They didn’t believe him no matter what he said. It made him invulnerable.

Later when he’d watch the 2 a.m. rerun in his hotel room, head hanging upside down off the end of the bed while the guys passed the lighter around and the room filled up with heavy smoke, he’d smile to himself and laugh all over again. He didn’t even remember half of it. So easy when you don’t give a shit. So easy when even the truth sounds like a lie. He should have thought of this years ago.

*      *      *

Kame won’t let him have cigarettes.

Sometimes he hates him for it, but Kame is used to that, and it doesn’t seem to bother him. Not like it used to. When Jin tries to needle him, he just smiles and makes toast or puts the kettle on or closes the window. He never gets angry. Jin doesn’t know what to do with a Kame who never gets angry.

There’s no alcohol, of course. Nor anything else interesting either. Kame sometimes gives him aspirin, but Jin has no idea where he keeps it. Jin turned Kame’s room upside down one afternoon looking for it when the pain got to be too much and Kame said he had already had his allowed dosage for the day. In one of his shorter moods, he accused Kame of hiding it shoved up his ass inside a condom like a drug mule. Kame just smiled and put the kettle on. Offered Jin a bag of M&Ms.

There isn’t very much to do around here. Mostly Jin sleeps. Kame always seems to be reading—usually a script, but not always the same one. Jin steals them sometimes and tries to read them himself, but he goes all cross-eyed within a few pages, usually. He’s not used to reading Japanese anymore. Not for more than the space of a short email, anyway, and even those are few and far between. The only one who writes him from Japan these days is his mother. And she really prefers the phone.

Jin found a cupboard full of crafts and board games in the hall when he was turning the house upside-down looking for Kame’s secret stash. He tried to teach himself chess, but it bored him before he’d even finished reading the instructions, and Kame said he didn’t know how to play anyway. He tried knitting next—there was a big bag full of yarn and a stack of pattern books, and he sort of figured out how to start it, but he quit after two rows. He kept dropping stitches because his hands were shaking so badly. (At least that’s the story he’s sticking with.)

Kame sets a steaming plate of chicken and rice in front of him at the table. Jin holds his fork up in front of him like chopsticks and bows his head with a muttered “itadakimasu” before he digs in. He does it cause it makes Kame smile. Not that head-patting, comforting smile Jin sees all the time when Kame is denying him painkillers and cleaning up after him, but his real one. The old one, from before.

The chicken is bland, barely seasoned, but Jin is used to that by now. At least Kame lets him put butter on his toast most of the time now, except after the bad nights. But then again, after those, sometimes Jin doesn’t want to eat anything at all. It’s good even if he’d rather have it with hot sauce, or deep fried and covered in grease, or just screw the chicken and order a massive pizza with sausage and pepperoni and extra garlic—but Kame won’t allow that, so he doesn’t ask. He doesn’t even know if there’s a pizza place within a hundred miles of where they are. There must be a grocery store though, because neither of them have starved yet, and Kame sometimes leaves the house and returns an hour or so later with a paper sack full of milk and meat and fresh fruit. Jin hasn’t even stepped out onto the porch.

He watches Kame carefully slicing his chicken breast, taking a bite off the end of his fork. His meal is exactly the same as Jin’s, chicken and rice and a tall glass of ice water. He could have something different if he wanted—he’s not the one in danger of heaving it all up again—but he doesn’t. He puts a little salt on his plate and dabs the chicken in it and eats it, murmuring “delicious” to himself. Praising his own hospital cuisine.

Jin wonders how much Kame knows about him now. Probably everything, if he’s here. Anybody who bothers to look can find Jin’s entire life laid out in black and white, and sometimes in color. But Kame knew him before all that. Kame knew him when it wasn’t true.

“Does it taste okay?” Kame asks. “You can put salt and pepper on it if you want. Just go easy.”

Jin shakes his head, taking another bite off the end of his fork. “It’s fine,” he says. “It’s great. Thank you.”

“Are you cold? Do you want tea? I can make some. It’s no trouble.”

Jin shakes his head again. “Maybe later.”

It’s getting dark now, and it’s always colder once it’s dark. His scar is starting to twinge, but maybe that’s just because his leg is jittering underneath the table. He tries to make it stop, but when he manages it the jitter just turns into a tremor anyway, so he lets it go.

“Okay,” Kame says. “Well, let me know.”

After he finishes eating, Kame puts his plate in the sink and cleans up from the meal. Once the pots and pans are out of the way, he puts the kettle on.

*      *      *

He doesn’t remember the accident. He doesn’t remember pushing 100mph on the speedometer, and he doesn’t remember that house that must have come out of nowhere. He doesn’t remember the crunch of bone and metal, or the leg that collapsed out from under him as he stumbled out of the driver’s seat and tried to run, or the screaming pain and manic laughter as he rolled in the mangled rose bushes. He doesn’t remember the argument, or taking a swing at that asshole cop with the monotone voice and the pissy face, although after he spent twenty minutes listening to the guy’s testimony in court he found at least that part of the story pretty easy to believe.

He read most of it in the papers, like everybody else.

They had to operate to repair his shattered tibia, and they kept him in the hospital for two weeks. After that they had him on a tracking anklet for three months while he waited for his court date. He was almost off the crutches by then. His agent’s assistant stopped by every day to make sure he hadn’t run off, but there was little worry of that, all things considered. And anyway, she always brought him what he needed, in addition to the Percocet.

The cop with the monotone voice brought him a bent steering wheel, all that was left of his pretty silver baby after they pried her out of the wall. He told Jin he was lucky to be alive, and Jin told him to fuck off.

The three months on house arrest were bad, but the thirty days in court-ordered rehab were worse. His agent’s assistant could barely get him anything in there, and the place was crawling with people who wanted him to talk about things. Things he didn’t want to talk about. They were like the worst of the reporters from the old days, always prying open the door just a little bit wider, trying to reach his heart. Shape it the way they wanted it to be. Shape him the way they wanted him to be. He told them all to fuck off, because he didn’t need that shit.

His rehab ended and his agent’s assistant returned. His driver’s license did not.

*      *      *

Another dinner gone to waste.

It isn’t storming outside this time. It’s quiet. His hands are shaking where they’re curled against his chest, and his legs keep twitching every once in a while, but at least he’s lying down. Kame is beside him, head propped up on a pillow, one hand stroking up and down his back. Jin isn’t even sure what he’s saying, but he wants him to keep saying it. That quiet, constant murmur. Kame is lying on top of the covers and Jin is underneath, but Kame holds Jin’s head against his shoulder, and it feels warm there. Calm there. Almost human, with skin that doesn’t crawl.

The pain comes and goes these days. Sometimes it’s like his entire midsection is caught in a vise, and it radiates everywhere, and sometimes it’s just a dull ache—something churning, rolling over and promising to torture him later, when it’s had a nap. How can it still hurt this much? He hasn’t had anything in weeks. He’s not sure exactly how many, but at least two, maybe three. The spiders have their hooks in him, still holding on, and every time he thinks they might be just about to let go, they shriek and dig in again, and Jin collapses.

And Kame just stays. Tells him it will be alright.

Sometimes Kame pulls out his cell phone and speaks quickly into it when it gets really bad like that, when Jin is writhing and vomiting and crying with the pain. Jin’s not sure who he talks to or even what he says, but he tries to listen, just because it helps to hear.

It’s not bad like that right now though. It’s better. Jin feels better when Kame doesn’t do that. When Kame does that, that means it’s worse again, and Kame is worried. It’s better when Kame’s not worried.

His face is wet, but he’s not crying anymore, he’s only shaking a little bit now. The hooks are loosening again. Kame’s hand is still there, stroking up and down his back, and Kame’s not going anywhere. Kame will stay with him while he rides it out.

“Why are you here?” he murmurs.

It’s been dark for hours, and he’s on the verge of falling asleep, and Kame is still awake. Jin sometimes wonders when Kame sleeps when the nights get like this, because he’s always around the next day too, smiling and alert and making him toast. But then he remembers that it’s Kame. Kame is good at not sleeping.

“Because you need me here,” Kame says.

Jin breathes into his shoulder, eyes closed. Kame smells like soap, but not the one Jin remembers. His hair is soft and floppy. He doesn’t take the trouble to do stuff with it, since there’s nobody here to see them. Nobody knows where they are. Not even Jin. Not even the people at the grocery store.

“How long will you stay?”

Kame’s hand doesn’t falter, just moves up and down Jin’s back in the same slow, steady strokes. He always loved Kame’s hands. They feel the same, even if Jin’s skin has changed underneath them.

“As long as it takes.”

*      *      *

At night he dreams of pictures. Grainy and sharp, flattering and overexposed, carefully orchestrated and awkwardly framed. His whole life is laid out in pictures, and he can trace it from one to the next. All the things that were real and all the things that were pretend. All the things that were true, and all the things that were lies.

There used to be a lot more lies.

He always hated the lies the most. The ones they made him tell, and the ones they told about him. All he ever wanted was to tell the truth. To live the truth. Instead, he made the lies come true.

He goes outside sometimes now. Not far—never farther than the beach. There’s another house about a quarter mile away, on top of a bluff, but whoever lives there never comes their way. The seagulls swoop in circles overhead, and the air is chilly, but the sound of waves crashing feels warm and real, and he likes that. Sometimes he wanders near the surf and draws pictures in the sand just to watch them being erased by the tide. Gone without a trace.

Right now he’s curled up in the lounger on the porch with a big thick blanket wrapped around him and a cup of coffee balanced on his knees. He can see the tremors rippling the dark surface, but they’re not as bad as before. The blanket doesn’t crawl with spiders even though he’s been wrapped in it for hours.

He’s still not sure where they are, but he thinks maybe he has some idea now. It’s too cold for Malibu, and anyway there’s nowhere there that’s this far from everything. For a while he imagined that they were in Canada somewhere, but then it occurred to him that a Japanese national taking an incapacitated American legal resident across an international border probably would have raised a few eyebrows. The Canadian border isn’t exactly the Berlin wall, but between Kame’s awkward English and Jin’s mental state, they would have at least been held for questioning.

The pacific northwest then, he thinks. Maybe somewhere in Oregon. There’s space in Oregon.

His house in Malibu is three times the size of this one, but even the thought of it makes him feel closed in. He was, in the end. After he became too much trouble and had nowhere else to go. After his agent’s assistant stopped visiting. He’d had enough stashed away to last him for a while, but not forever. He used to throw huge parties for total strangers that left fine white powder crushed into every smooth surface and scuff marks from stupid kids dancing on his expensive furniture, but by the end he had locked all the windows and doors, guarding what little he had left. He stopped answering phone calls too, took the batteries out of all his computers, because he’d heard a thing about webcams once, and you never know who’s watching. Someone always seems to be watching.

It’s better here. No one is watching him here except Kame, and he doesn’t mind that.

*      *      *

It was cold the night Kame came for him. The sky burned pink over the city in the clouded dark, and there were leaves in the swimming pool. The floor was littered with bottles and crawling with spiders and he hadn’t left the house in weeks. There hadn’t been a reason to. There were only enemies out there.

It was supposed to be a FedEx at the door, but the empty-handed stranger pushed his way inside. Jin kept asking him where the stuff was, tried to hit him when he wouldn’t answer, but the stranger didn’t let him go, and the spiders kept moving under his feet, throwing off his aim. There was the floor, and then there was something cool on his forehead and a voice from a long time ago, behind the location trailer, behind his back, underneath his skin on the other side of the world, and Jin stopped fighting. He doesn’t remember anything after that.

*      *      *

“It’s different from the Japanese version, you know,” Kame says as Jin spins the wheel and moves his little car forward a few spaces.

“Is it?” Jin says, leaning forward with his elbows on the edge of the coffee table to squint at the words on the space.

Say NO to drugs.

He clears his throat and quietly adds a LIFE tile to his small stack.

“You don’t remember?” Kame spins the wheel for himself.

Jin shrugs, fingering the edges of his LIFE tiles as if they needed straightening. The fact that he can actually hold onto the slippery little things bodes well for the return of his fine motor skills. “I can’t even remember if I’ve played the American version.”

Kame makes a sound of acknowledgement as he moves his own car forward. “Well, in our version, life actually starts when you’re a child. They give you a chance to grow up first, rather than just sticking you at the crossroads between work and college.”

“Oh, yeah…” He remembers. They used to play it sometimes backstage at other people’s concerts, waiting for their next cue. He always thought the early squares sort of dragged on. Couldn’t wait to get past them.

“I think I like it better that way,” Kame says. “You miss so much when you jump straight to adulthood.”

Jin nods thoughtfully, resting his chin against his palm.

“Yeah,” he murmurs. “Me too.”

“What does this say?” Kame points to the space, and Jin cranes his neck for a better look.

“Get married,” Jin replies. “Is what it says,” he rushes to add—a bit stupidly, he realizes when Kame smirks at him. But Kame doesn’t needle him about it. Just reaches over to the little pile of people pegs and carefully selects a second blue one to place in the passenger seat next to his own.

Jin raises eyebrows at that. But Kame only smiles, like no one is watching him either. No one but Jin.

They talk. It’s been years since they really talked, and it’s not even about the important things. Just the unimportant ones. Kame’s dogs and his last trip to France. The group’s latest concert tour—they performed in Hawaii this time. Jin doesn’t remember hearing about it, but that’s not a surprise. Something someone said the last time Kame met Nakamaru for dinner. Old arguments over video games and whipped cream on the floor. Stories he told so often once he was sick of hearing them himself, but now they seem like mementos of somebody he used to know very well. Someone whose limbs stayed where he put them, and who knew the difference between the lies and the truth.

“Why did you come looking for me?” Jin asks as Kame spins the wheel again.

Kame doesn’t look up, but he doesn’t seem to hesitate in answering either. “Yamapi,” he says. “Actually, your mother, first. She couldn’t reach you for a long time, and she got worried, so she started calling around to everybody she could get ahold of who might still be able to contact you. Yamapi was stuck on location, but he called me.”

And you came? Just like that?

Because it’s not exactly like Kame’s ever had masses of free time on his hands. Even when they were kids he was always running back and forth between dance classes and baseball, trying to be everything for everyone. Everything for himself.

“I’m sorry,” Jin says. It slips out before he even knows what he’s apologizing for, but…well. It’s not like there isn’t plenty to go around.

Kame meets Jin’s eyes in that way. That soft way that’s right there, that’s not hiding and not looking through him, but it’s still somehow inscrutable. There’s a little smile, and it’s warm even though Jin doesn’t know what it means. “Don’t worry about it. I was glad to do it.”

He hasn’t really thought much lately about how long it’s been, but now he can’t think of anything else. At least five years since they’ve met face to face. At least seven since they’ve exchanged more than the minimum pleasantries. Nearly a decade since they’ve been anything more than colleagues. And he doesn’t remember when he decided not to think about it, but he must have at some point, because he hasn’t in a long time. It’s strange how that makes it all seem closer somehow. How those few years that mattered seem longer than all the ones that didn’t.

When he leans in, he does it slowly, gives Kame time to back away. But Kame’s lips are soft and part slightly as he brushes them with his. Naturally, like it’s a thing they’ve always done. A thing you don’t forget. Jin brushes a hand over Kame’s cheek and tilts his head a little to press closer, and Kame’s just there. Kame just stays.

They don’t talk anymore after that. They leave the game unfinished and stay wrapped up in each other’s arms for a long time, and for a while Jin even forgets about spiders. Even if his hand sometimes trembles against Kame’s cheek, and his lips are a little clumsy, Kame just covers Jin’s hand with his and wraps an arm around Jin’s shoulders and holds him steady.

When it gets late, they go to bed. Kame slides underneath the covers and pulls Jin into his arms and holds him close. When Jin tries to turn the kisses into something more, Kame shakes his head and says it’s not a good idea.

Jin knows that. But knowing what’s good has never stopped him from wanting things he shouldn’t.

Kame falls asleep first this time, and Jin lies there for a long while, watching him snore. The covers are warm, and his skin only crawls a little bit. It’s better where Kame is wrapped around him. It’s only as he’s falling asleep himself that Jin realizes it’s the first night in years Kame’s spent with him that doesn’t start with a storm.

*      *      *

Jin makes his own breakfast now. Well, the coffee at least. And sometimes toast. He leaves it to Kame when Kame gets it into his head that they should have something complicated, like eggs benedict or waffles.

The other day, Kame brought home a pizza. (Not for breakfast. That would be weird.)

Jin sweeps up the last of the coffee grounds he’s spilled on the counter—not as much as yesterday, he’s pleased to note—and dumps them into the trash can, then runs a damp cloth over the smooth surface to clean up the last of the residue, and his fingers don’t even itch.

Kame keeps the aspirin in his pocket now. Jin still doesn’t know where he was keeping it before. Kame just grins and tells him it’s a secret every time he asks. You never know when he’ll need it again.

When the coffee finishes brewing, Jin puts two hands on the pot and pours them each a full mug, leaving a little bit of space at the top of his for half-and-half. He stirs his with a spoon and taps it out on the sink, and then he carefully carries both mugs over to where Kame is sitting on the couch with a script in his lap. He doesn’t spill a drop.

“Thanks,” Kame murmurs distractedly as Jin puts his coffee mug down on the table nearby. Jin perches himself on the arm of the couch and takes a sip from his own mug, reading over Kame’s shoulder. He can’t tell much from this random snippet, but judging by the title markings at the top of the page it looks like a drama this time. Kame is frowning over it, a sort of pinched look of concentration. Like he’s puzzling something out.

Kame’s phone buzzes with a new email about once every five minutes now. Jin tries not to listen to it, but he can’t exactly ignore it. Kame has scripts. Kame has emails. Kame has a life. Just because nobody is waiting for Jin anymore doesn’t mean no one is waiting for Kame.

And he’s better. He’s a lot better. He knows he can’t just keep Kame here forever—but he’s a little afraid to let him go. If Kame leaves, Jin will have to face all the nothing he left behind, and he’s not sure he’s really strong enough for that yet. If he goes back to his life now, he might have some chance of reviving the fragments of his career eventually, now that he’s clean.

But if he goes back to his life now, he won’t stay clean.

When he tells Kame this, Kame puts the script aside and shifts around on the couch so he can look up at Jin, coffee mug resting on his bent knees.

“Don’t go back to that then,” Kame says, as if it’s the obvious answer. He takes a small sip from his coffee cup, wincing when it burns his tongue.

“I don’t have anywhere else to go back to.”

Kame shakes his head. “Don’t say that. Of course you do.”

Jin frowns down at him, warming the backs of his fingers against the side of his own mug. “Where?”

“The beginning,” Kame says, with that coy little smile.

“And where is that, exactly?” Jin presses, increasingly skeptical.

The smile softens as Kame looks at him. A little less teasing, more serious.

“Wherever you were happy.”

*      *      *

They spend a freezing cold day on the beach, wrapped up in sweaters and throwing around a Frisbee, writing nonsense in the sand, inventing games with sticks and rocks that get washed away by the tide before they’ve even finished making up the rules. Kame’s scripts and cell phone are all tucked up in the house somewhere, and Jin’s hands shake mainly from the cold, and Jin feels younger and stupider and better than he has in decades.

When it finally gets so cold that even Kame can’t stand it anymore, they go back inside and Jin fires up the tea kettle while Kame puts supper on the table. It’s a big pot of nabe this time, way too much for two people, but Kame just says there’ll be plenty for leftovers. There’s a cheesecake for dessert.

Jin finds Kame’s foot underneath the table, and Kame gives him a look as he accidentally jabs him in the ankle with his toes. But he lets him stay there, warm through the socks. Sometimes his toes wiggle back.

They both clean up afterwards, putting away the cooked and uncooked veggies in appropriate-sized containers and filling the dishwasher and rinsing the pots and pans. It’s not even Kame’s kitchen, but he treats it like his own, and Jin has to elbow his way in to actually do anything. Eventually he gives up on trying to actually be helpful and winds his arms around Kame’s waist instead, distracting him with kisses right at that spot where the shoulder meets the neck. Kame loses track a couple of times and ends up washing the same pot twice.

When Jin pulls at the hem of Kame’s shirt, this time Kame doesn’t stop him. The kisses are slow and hot and taste like cheesecake, and Jin doesn’t even feel like rushing when Kame’s hands are on him too, unbuttoning his fly. They crawl into Jin’s bed together and it’s amazing how much it’s the same. How much they’ve both changed since the last time, and still it’s the same. He remembers just how they fit, where his mouth can make Kame draw that sharp breath and his fingers clench in Jin’s hair. How to touch him so his hips press up against Jin’s and ask him for more without saying a word. Every little flinch and twitch of muscle and the shape of his shoulders underneath Jin’s hands, and the sound of his voice murmuring in Jin’s ear. It’s all so familiar and good, and he wonders why he’s gone so long without it. Why he ran so far away. He can’t remember anymore.

Afterwards they lie together with their limbs entangled in some complicated pattern they worked out years ago, fingers brushing over warm skin. Jin thinks maybe he finally remembers what happy feels like.

Not that burning brightness of electric blue. Not the shimmer and the thrill.

Happy is warm and calm, like you don’t want to move because you can’t get any closer to perfect than where you are right now. You have to chase a thrill, and the thrill always wins in the end, but happy stays. Happy you can keep.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky. For a while.

“You’re going home soon,” Jin says.

He feels Kame still, feels his eyelashes brushing against Jin’s cheek as he looks away. His thumb brushes the side of Jin’s throat. “I told you,” Kame says, voice quiet and comfortable, that same murmur that held him through the worst. “I’ll stay as long as you need me. I can stay a while longer.”

But he can’t. Jin has seen the calendar, the dates piling up in the appointment book. He’s heard the emails, watched the stack of scripts on the coffee table grow. Kame really can’t stay. Jin doesn’t want to make him.

He’s thought this through.

“When you go,” Jin says quietly, “can I come with you?”

Kame’s thumb stops moving, and Jin holds his breath, just a little bit. He feels Kame’s muscles shifting as he props himself up on an elbow, and Jin presses his lips together nervously, delaying a bit before looking Kame in the eye.

“Of course,” Kame breathes. He looks sort of taken aback, and it makes Jin feel awkward until his thumb strokes the back of Jin’s neck again and he pulls in a little closer. “Of course you can come with me, if you want to.”

Jin swallows. “Do you want me to?”

Kame’s face splits into a grin, and there’s a breath that would be a laugh if they weren’t so close. “Of course,” he says again, leaning in so that their noses are almost touching, and his voice is low, like the earth is four feet wide and they’re the only people on it. “I always have.”

Yes, Jin thinks when Kame kisses him again, settles his body flush against him and wraps his arms around him. And everything is sharp and soft and vivid, nothing shimmering or stretching or shattering. And it feels good. Real. He’ll remember this feeling, always.

This is what happy feels like.

*      *      *

It’s worse than he remembers when he turns on the light.

Jin has never exactly been a neat freak, but the entire house is covered in filth. There are clothes and takeout boxes everywhere, collecting mold and crawly things. There’s a huge, sticky stain on the coffee table where something was spilled months ago and not cleaned up. There are cigarette butts snuffed out on the carpet and left where they fell. One room smells strongly of vomit, and he can’t even get close enough to figure out where it is, just closes the door immediately and backs away. Things are broken that he doesn’t even remember buying, ruined that don’t even feel like his. It’s like walking into a nightmare, things that felt like hallucinations suddenly turning out to be real.

A gentle hand brushes his shoulder, and only then does Jin realize he’s just standing still in the middle of the living room, staring at the wreckage.

“You okay?”

Jin swallows. There’s a little pile of cigarette ash near a moldy, blackened spot in the corner. Looks like he must have set the carpet on fire briefly. Lucky for him that he was also apparently still aware enough to be able to put it out.

“Was it like this when you were here before?” he asks, even though he knows it’s a stupid question. The state-of-the-art security system was still up and running when they arrived. It’s not like the place could have been invaded by squatters while he was gone.

“Pretty much,” Kame says grimly. “You don’t remember?”

Jin shakes his head. “I don’t know. I was pretty out of it.” He can’t stop looking at that spot on the carpet. There’s an empty Aquafina bottle right next to it, and a half full bottle of Jack Daniels. He sort of feels like he might be sick again, and he hasn’t been that bad in weeks.

He turns away and heads quickly for the door that leads out to the patio, gulping in the fresh air as he stumbles onto the flagstones. The leaves on the pool are a rotting, murky mess, but at least the air doesn’t smell like someone burying themselves alive.

He sinks down into one of the chairs over by the glass table, rests his head in his hands and closes his eyes, breathing slowly and deliberately until it all stops spinning. After a few moments, he hears the chair to his left scraping against the stone, feels Kame’s hand on his knee as he takes a seat beside him, squeezing gently.

“You don’t have to worry about it. We’ll get someone else to take care of the worst of it—we’ll want to gut the place before you sell it anyway. If you just tell me where the stuff is, I can get rid—”

Jin shakes his head quickly and looks up at him. No. No, that isn’t fair. “It’s my mess,” he says. “I can’t let you just clean it up for me.”

Kame gives him a rueful little smile, and that reassuring squeeze against his knee is much appreciated. “Okay,” he concedes. “Okay, fair enough. But you didn’t think I was going to let you do it alone, did you?”

No. If he’s honest, he never really thought that.

He slides his own hand down over Kame’s and squeezes back.

*      *      *

It takes two days to clean up the surface-level filth. Kame starts in the kitchen and the living room areas, going around with trash bags and industrial solvents and scrubbing things as clean as possible. Jin told him to basically throw away everything, but he still finds broken lamps righted and wiped down, books put back on the shelves, the coffee table diligently scoured.

Jin starts with the mail. Partly because there’s a lot of it, and he’s not even really sure what all of it would be, but he wants to make sure they don’t wake up one day in the middle of all this to find the water and electricity have been turned off. There are notices discontinuing services he doesn’t even remember subscribing to, and various bank statements showing a balance much smaller than a man with a house this size should have. The letter from his agent, terminating his contract, is pinned to the wall beside the broken flatscreen and scattered with darts (and one small paring knife from the kitchen).

When he feels strong enough—and reasonably certain that the place isn’t going to be seized out from under them by bill collectors before they’re done—Jin tackles the upstairs.

His bedroom smells worse than anywhere else in the house (except maybe the vomit room, which Kame sneakily managed to clean at some point even though Jin told him not to go near it). He’s not even sure why, because it’s not full of food or mold or anything like that. In fact, it’s practically empty, half his clothes strewn all over the house. But it smells of decay and inertia, like the leaves on the swimming pool. Something rotting from the inside out, unable to rescue itself.

He picks through the clothes and pulls out the ones he wants to keep. Sends most of them through the wash, just because they smell like the house, and he doesn’t want to take any of that with him anywhere. Then he starts poking through all the drawers in the bedroom and bathrooms, collecting scraps, secret stashes and paraphernalia. It scares him a little that he still knows where it all is. That he was fucked up enough to nearly burn down the house with himself in it, but his mind never let go of where the shit was hidden. Because for a while, it was more important to him than he was.

Some of it is better flushed, but most of it they burn. Jin just wants to cover it in gasoline and light it up on the patio, but Kame gets creative with an old baking pan and a pool raft and some torn up newspaper for kindling, and by evening they’re sitting on the lounge chairs wrapped up in sweaters with their teacups and watching the remnants of Jin’s self-destruction burn themselves to hell on the surface of the pool, like a mini Viking funeral.

When Kame starts singing a mournful rendition of Amazing Grace in Japanese, Jin cracks a smile for maybe the first time since they got here.

He’d burn the whole house down if he could. Just wipe it from the face of the earth, along with the memory. But then maybe that’s not right either. Some things are better not forgotten, even if they hurt.

“To a new life,” Kame says, holding out his half-empty teacup for a toast as the floating bonfire begins to fizzle where it’s stuck over near the pool filter.

Jin taps his cup gently against Kame’s in return. “And an old one,” he murmurs. And Kame smiles.

*      *      *

Jin has never liked planes. He always liked traveling, but he never liked planes. Most of the time, in the early days, he used to drink himself into a bit of a stupor toward the beginning of a long flight, so he wouldn’t actually have to be aware of most of it. Later on, he took other stuff. Sometimes that made it feel like he got where he was going before he’d actually even left where he’d come from.

This time, of course, Kame doesn’t let him have anything, except a single dose of some over-the-counter sleep supplement thing that doesn’t actually do much.

Jin doesn’t argue.

It’s a long flight, but at least they’re in first class, so there’s space to stretch out. Jin sleeps a little in fits and starts, eats when meals are served, tries to listen to music or watch things on the entertainment system. Every once in a while he reaches across the aisle to where Kame is curled up in his own little alcove in the dark, just to make sure. Kame’s hand is always there to meet him.

*      *      *

It’s mostly okay as they retrieve their baggage and make their way through customs. People know Kame here. They didn’t in California, but they do here. Jin knew that—of course he knew that, but somehow he hasn’t quite prepared himself for it. The whispers and the stares, the occasional little gasp of recognition. There are signs everywhere telling people not to take pictures in here, but he feels twitchy anyway every time he catches sight of a cellphone.

It helps that they don’t seem to notice Jin. Maybe it’s the hood shadowing his face, or that he looks so unlike himself these days. Or maybe it’s just that he hasn’t actually done anything worth caring about in so long that they’ve forgotten. It should probably be disappointing, another reminder, but more than anything it’s a relief.

He follows Kame through the customs check, imitating his respectful little physical gestures a bit awkwardly, out of practice. Then they’re waved through, and he follows Kame out to a short hallway, leading toward the arrivals hall. When he notices the little cluster of people standing near the end of it, his feet slow. When he notices the cameras in their hands, he stops.

Kame glances around and stops a few feet ahead, realizing Jin isn’t with him anymore. Jin feels frozen solid, rooted to the floor, and he can’t stop staring at the waiting crowd. There’s probably less than ten or fifteen of them, but to him it looks like a legion of dark jeans and black leather and winking lenses. Kame’s personal manager is standing at the front with one wrist clasped in the other hand, a broad shouldered, slightly paunchy man who’s been with Kame for ages, and he’s here for him now, to protect him from the crowd. But he won’t be able to protect him from Jin.

“Jin? Are you okay?”

Jin swallows. “Maybe I should hang back. You go on ahead. I’ll catch a cab.”

“What?” Kame replies, taking a few steps back toward him in concern. “Don’t be ridiculous, you’re coming with me.”

“I can’t,” Jin shakes his head again. He thinks the manager guy might be staring at him, but his face is totally expressionless, and Jin has to remind himself there’s still some paranoia buzzing in his veins somewhere and it might not be quite real. But even if it were, the man would be justified. Jin is a threat.

“I shouldn’t. You shouldn’t be seen with me.”

Kame gives him a perplexed look, then glances over his shoulder again at the small crowd awaiting them. And Jin is sure, then, that he’ll see it. He’s been away for a while, but he’s lived with all of this for too long not to know what will happen. It was bad before, but now it will be even worse. And it will be Jin’s fault.

“Jin,” he says, turning back. “It’s fine. You don’t have to worry about that, okay? Sakamoto-san is ready for it—he’s waiting for us. He’ll get us through as quickly and easily as possible.”

“But they’ll know,” Jin says, finally looking Kame hard in the eye. They’ll know everything. The strangers in the baggage claim didn’t, but they will, because it’s their job to know. They always know.

Jin had prepared himself for the fact that it wouldn’t be easy for him, coming back. Somehow it was always worse here even when he was better. It was worse because he was better. And he knew it would be hard to come back and face that, after everything, but it didn’t occur to him until now that Kame would have to suffer for his sins too.

Kame reaches for his hand and laces their fingers together tightly. The clasp is hidden from view between the two of them. “Jin,” he says in that same calm voice, meeting Jin’s gaze steadily. “They only know what we tell them.”

Jin stares back at him. And he tries very hard to believe it.


“The lies don’t matter,” Kame continues. “The things they guess right don’t matter. The pictures don’t matter. What anybody thinks they know doesn’t matter. What matters is what’s true.”

Jin doesn’t even notice his own fingers squeezing Kame’s a little tighter, but he does feel the panic easing a little bit. The longer he focuses on Kame, and not on the gauntlet at the end of the hall.

“I’m not letting go of you,” Kame says.

And that. Jin can feel that. He knows that’s true.

With one last little squeeze, Kame slips his fingers out of Jin’s and shifts his grip to the back of Jin’s elbow. Not dragging him forward. Just letting him know he’s still there as they both walk forward together.

The chatter and flashes assault them as they reach the mouth of the corridor, and Sakamoto-san puts an arm around Kame’s shoulders to help guide them through, keeping himself between them and the paparazzi. Kame smiles pleasantly and nods as they pass, and he never lets go of Jin’s arm. Jin keeps his face low and tries not to see them. Tries not to be seen. He can feel every flash against his body like a slap, and the words all tumble over each other in a harrowing nonsense, and most of them are directed at Kame, but occasionally he hears the hiss of his own name.

The driver already has the door open for them by the time they make it outside, and Kame nudges Jin in first, pausing just long enough to give one last polite bow to the attacking crowd before he slips in after him. The silence falls around them the moment the door is closed, but the flashes still hail against the tinted windows, even as they drive away.

Jin doesn’t realize he’s shaking until Kame’s hand closes around his on the seat. He turns his palm over immediately and crushes Kame’s fingers in his grip.

“You did fine,” Kame says. “You did just fine.”

“They recognized me,” Jin says, avoiding his reflection in the glass. He can still see it a little bit, especially with the tint as they glide out onto the highway. “They saw me with you. You’re gonna get shit for that, you know you will.”

Kame pulls Jin’s hand into his lap and strokes the back of it with his other hand. Jin isn’t sure why, but it helps. “I’ll be fine too. I’m glad you’re with me.”

Jin looks over at him then, feeling a lurch of uncertainty. “Are you?”

Kame just smiles. And it gets easier then, somehow, because he finds he doesn’t even need to hear the answer.

It will all get easier, with time. Ride it out—just ride it out. Go back to the beginning. Don’t listen to the lies the spiders tell. All that matters is what’s true.

Kame doesn’t let go of him the whole way home.

*      *      *

A/N: (*bows head to Jin*) I’m soooooo sorry…

(*pets him*) (*gives him chocolate*)

Comments are always appreciated… ;)
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March 2017


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