soundczechfic: (on your shoulders)
[personal profile] soundczechfic
I wrote this as a pinch hit for [ profile] kizuna_exchange, just reposting it here for safekeeping. I know I owe people a billion fics and things - the combination of my intense writer's block and the soap opera that is Jin's life right now has made things tricky, haha.

Title: Where The Wild Things Are
Pairing: Jin/Kame (pre-slash)
Word count: 5950 words
Rating: PG for violence, swearing
Warnings: Angst, severe AU, some violence, dark themes.
Notes: Before starting this, I hadn’t written a word in about a year, and I haven’t written this particular kind of story in years, so the experience was simultaneously strange / comfortingly familiar / terrifying… I actually intended to write something much more slice-of-life-romance, but I sat down to write in a park, and as the sun shifted through the trees, this is what happened instead. I hope that’s ok! Thanks to the mods for all their hard work! I hope you enjoy this, [ profile] yuuki_saya!!!

Summary: When Jin is 14 years old, he runs away to the forest.

When Jin is 14 years old, he runs away to the forest. As he stuffs rice crackers and his mother’s leftover curry into his backpack in his clean family kitchen, too-safe in the suburbs, he has grand visions of becoming a mountain man like the ones he used to read about as a child. Big brawny muscled men who had moustaches and bent the forest to their will, turned the treetops into palaces and killed their meals with their bare hands. Like Tarzan. Nobody made those men take tests on endless rows of kanji they have no hope of remembering. Their teachers never called their houses and made their mothers cry.

The visions of monkey butlers and catching salmon like a bear dance in his head all the way out of the city and into the wilderness, as he climbs higher and higher, as fallen branches creak and crunch beneath his feet, until he gets lost, and it gets dark, and he’s alone.

Then, Jin remembers that he is a coward, and for a little while, he cries.

He forgot to bring a torch, or matches, so when his cellphone battery dies, he has only the light of the moon to see. It glows in shifty, haunted light through the twisted and ghastly fingers of the trees. After a while, he stops trying to find his way back to the path that he earlier so bravely abandoned. He chooses the least monstrous looking tree and huddles into its cool, rough trunk, imagining that the thick roots that rise from the base can protect him from the monsters that lurk just out of sight.

He can’t see them, but he knows that they are there. When he was a kid, his grandfather used to tell him stories about the monsters that ruled the forests of Japan; the lost souls abandoned alone and driven mad by the dark isolation of the forest. If he’d thought about it before, he might not have come out here in the first place. For a while, he tries to remember his grandfather’s solemn advice about how to defeat different kinds of monsters (always bow to a kappa, Jin-kun) but it just freaks him out and, after a while, on the verge of a panic attack, he distracts himself by thinking about Maki-chan from his class.

Her dad is British or Australian or something, so she speaks English really well. She taught Jin all the bad words and helped him to study for their tests, so he’s almost at the top of the class in English even though he’s failing almost all his other classes. She has long, erratically wavy hair that she wears in braids that are always twisting loose, uncontrollable. Sometimes when they study, she sits like a boy and Jin can kind of see her underwear. The other guys say that she’s not cute because she’s not like a real girl, but Jin likes that, sort of. He likes that she makes fart jokes and beats him at Tekken and is always totally honest with him, so he knows when she laughs at his jokes or tells him he’s smart that she totally, truly means it.

I’m never going to see her again, he thinks, imagining her devastated face when they find his body ravaged by wolves. He starts to sniffle again, fat tears rolling through his heaving gulps of breath. In private, Jin has always been kind of a crybaby, throwing himself into the deep end of his emotions like a reckless toddler. Now, when he most wants to maintain his dignity, he doesn’t know how.

“Don’t cry,” a voice says from the darkness, and Jin shrieks. A small hand inelegantly smothers his mouth and a face appears in the moonlight, as pale and smooth as a ghost.

“Don’t,” the boy says again, just a whisper this time. “They’ll hear you.”

Jin is shaking, muscles overloaded by the adrenaline of his terror. The boy keep staring with his strange dark eyes, and then his hand slides off Jin’s face and he can breath again.

“It’s okay,” the boy whispers. “It’ll be okay if you’re quiet.”

“Who are you?” Jin whispers in return, when he finally finds his voice. “What are you doing here?”

The kid is about twelve or thirteen, with short spiky hair that looks like it was hacked up by a chainsaw rather than cut in a salon by a nice, pretty girl like Jin’s. His pale skin is washed almost blue by the moon, his high cheekbones dusted a little with dirt and stretching back into ears that point elf-like towards the sky. His eyes are the darkest place in the forest, staring curiously out at Jin from beneath furrowed, fuzzy brows.

“I live here,” he says, like it is obvious. “What are you doing here?”

“I ran away from home,” Jin says.

Why?” The kid sputters. “Why would you come here?

“It just happened…” Jin explains helplessly. “It seemed like a good idea at the time…”

“It’s not,” the kid says grimly. “It’s not a good idea at all.”

He says it’s too dangerous to go back to the path until the first light of day, so he leads Jin further into the forest. He moves so silently that when the moon disappears and the world around them goes black, Jin isn’t even sure that he’s there anymore. Maybe he abandoned him for whatever monsters Jin is now more certain than ever are waiting in the dark.

Then a small, strong hand wraps around his wrist, and they keep moving.

“Duck,” the kid whispers after a while, hand touching the nape of Jin’s neck and pushing him down. As they walk, hunched, Jin can feel the scrape of twigs and leaves on his neck and against his arms, like they’re pushing through a tunnel, and then suddenly, they stop.

A minute later, somehow, the blackness explodes with light and a fire burns in the centre of what Jin can now see is a round clearing, sheltered beneath a knitted canopy, branches crisscrossing so tightly that it’s like they’re in a big tent. Like a circus.

In the flickering light of the fire, Jin can see that the kid is barefoot, and his clothes are more like rags of leather and fur wrapped in swathes around his body than real clothes at all.

It’s obvious the clearing is his home. There’s a nest of dried leaves and rabbit skins on the far side, and a big blanket that looks like it might be the skin of bear. Half-hidden in the nest is a secret-looking collection of toys, old teddy bears turned brown and straggly from exposure, a frisbee, a half-deflated soccer ball and a baseball so worn that the stitches are frayed and the guts are spilling out. The sight overwhelms Jin with a feeling he can’t quite recognise as sympathy and he averts his eyes as his throat swells up; it feels like he’s violated something private.

“You should be safe here,” the kid says. He’s not whispering anymore but his voice is still low, coasting on the very edge of his breath. “As long as they don’t know you’re here.”

“Who?” Jin says, but the kid doesn’t answer. He’s busy rearranging the branches over the opening through which they entered, the forest version of turning the deadbolts on the door until you’re locked up safe inside and danger is trapped in the world beyond.

“I’m Akanishi Jin,” Jin says when it becomes clear the kid isn’t going to answer him. “What should I call you?”

For a minute, the kid just stares at him, stumped, so Jin says, “It’s cool if you just call me Jin.”

Finally, the kid says, scratchy and hoarse like it hurts him to do so, “My family is Kamenashi.” He crouches by the fire, so Jin does too. The flames wash their skin warm and golden. “I think my mother called me Kazuya.” He’s staring into the firelight, and it grows larger, as if fuelled by his attention. “… But that was a long time ago.”

“Kazu,” Jin says, but the poor kid’s muscles tie up tight and trembling as if the name hurts him, so Jin says, “Kame,” just to see him relax.

They’re quiet for a while and then Jin, who can’t stop himself, who can never stop himself, finally blurts, “What happened to her?”

There’s an absence to Kame’s answer, like he’s talking about someone else’s mother. Someone else’s life. “The forest took her,” he says. “She wouldn’t give it what it wanted.” The fire grows larger, creeping toward Jin’s toes. “What it was owed.”

“What’s that?” Jin whispers, somehow dreading the answer.

“My youngest brother,” Kame says. His voice breaks here and Jin can see his nonchalance is an elaborate lie; this story is an open wound in his heart. “She took him far away, where the forest can’t ever follow.”

“And now you’re alone?” Jin asks, feeling the throb of sympathy from earlier growing once more, deep and aching. He thinks of his family, their stupid, happy faces, and wonders if Kame would by okay if Jin hugged him, or if he’d rather Jin clapped him on the back like a bro. In the end, Jin does neither; Kame doesn’t seem like the touchy-feely type.

“No,” Kame says, with a strange little smile that Jin doesn’t understand. “I have my older brothers.”

“Where are they?” Jin asks.

A howl rips open the silence of the night outside and Kame says, “There’s my eldest brother now.”

They sit in silence for what feels like hours; When Jin tries to talk, Kame warns him with shake of his head to keep quiet. So they just stare at each other over the fire. Jin studies every inch of him; he feels a cold drop of sweat trickle down the back of his neck when Kame yawns, mouth cracking wide open to reveal a gleaming, pearly row of sharp white fangs.

Kame is watching Jin too; his eyes linger on the fashionable wave of Jin’s hair and the piercing Jin’s friend Tomo punched into his ear about a month ago. Jin’s mum yelled at him for ages when she saw it, even though he knows she thinks piercings are cool. He’s supposed to hide it when he goes to school, but he doesn’t. He hates school a lot; he’s almost hoping to get expelled.

It won’t much matter, if Kame’s brother devours him for a midnight snack.

Jin wonders what he looks like to Kame; if he looks cool or lame or just tasty, like a delicious treat. For the first time, it occurs to Jin that he just lured him back here so he wouldn’t have to share his meal with his brothers. Then he remembers the warmth of Kame’s hand on his wrist, guiding him firmly to safety, and he can’t imagine that could possibly be true.

Kame reaches out after a while and scrapes his nails across the sleeve of Jin’s rubbery North Face jacket, looking curious. His nails are pointed and sharp like claws, but his touch is gentle like he’s handling a baby bird. Jin has to stifle a giggle that makes Kame’s head tilt curiously, like it’s a sound he’s never heard before. He’s pretty cute, really.

After what feels like forever, Kame finally says, “It’s okay. He’s gone.”

It feels like all the air rushes back into Jin’s body at once, leaving him giddy and light-headed with relief.

“What is he?” he asks, after untangling his tongue from disuse.

“He’s a monster,” Kame says dully. “We’re all monsters.”

“You don’t seem like a monster to me,” Jin says.

“Not yet,” Kame says, with that same strange, sad smile.

It will come on gradually, Kame says, like it did to his brothers. He doesn’t know how old he is, he says, so he doesn’t know when, but he can feel that it will be soon. His body will change, muscles colonising his limbs and turning them beefy and unrecognisable. Dark hair will sprout a thick jungle on his arms and legs and his tiny little fangs - which are pretty cute, now, like a useless baby tiger - will grow menacingly huge, exploding uncontrollably from his mouth. Worst of all, his mind will start to slip away, and he won’t be himself anymore.

“I guess you’re right,” Kame says, resting his chin on his skinny, knobbly knee. Jin tries to imagine him getting all big and bulky like a bodybuilder; it’s impossible. “I am alone. My brothers are gone.” He picks at a torn piece of skin on his kneecap. “Soon I’ll be gone too.”

Jin is silent with horror; he’s so bad in these situations. He never knows what to say to be comforting, how to let someone know they’re not alone without being a jerk about it first. He opens his mouth, unsure, as usual, about what will actually make it off the tip of his tongue, and blurts, “You should try my mum’s curry.”

Kame blinks at him. “What?”

Jim scrambles to retrieve his backpack. “I brought some with me.”

“What is ‘curry’?” Kame asks. He moves, so fast and silent that Jin doesn’t even notice at first, to Jin’s side and starts peering into the bag as Jin roots around inside. Jin can tell he is barely restraining himself from grabbing the bag and searching the insides himself.

“Curry!” Jin explodes. “It’s food! It’s the best food. It always makes me feel better, about everything.” He drags the glass dish from his bag finally, and Kame leans in comically close to get a better look.

Jin turns his gaze to the fire doubtfully. “It would be better if we heated it, but…”

Kame grabs the dish from his hands and settles it gently in the fire; the flames lick around his fingers, but it’s like he doesn’t notice them at all. When he draws his hand away, the fire dies down a little, flickering gently around the edges of the dish like Kame’s just turned down the gas.

“How do you do that?” Jin asks. “With the fire, I mean.”

“I don’t know,” Kame says. “I just do.”

Kame doesn’t move away as they wait for the curry to heat; the side of his body brushes against Jin’s puffy clothes, making them rustle. He keeps looking at Jin askance as if he’s worried that Jin cares. Jin wonders when the last time anyone touched him was; probably forever, so Jin uses his shoulder as an armrest the way he sometimes does to Reio. Kame sighs and slumps more heavily into Jin’s side. He smells like soil and crushed leaves, and a hint of something darker, metallic like blood.

The curry starts to bubble inside the dish and that familiar aroma fills the air. It smells like home, and Jin sniffles, avoiding Kame’s eyes.

Jin drags the spoon out of his backpack. He only brought one, so they’ll have to share. Kame stares at it like he doesn’t understand what the hell Jin is holding in his hand, and then comprehension crawls across his face. “I never knew what these were for,” he says, and moves across the clearing to his nest. His hand disappears amongst the twigs and emerges with a fistful of forks and spoons.

“I always find them where the people have been,” he says. He studies his treasures. “They’re for eating?”

Most of them are the cheap plastic kind that you get at Family Mart, but some of them are the fancy silver type Jin’s grandmother uses, only they’ve gone black and green or a little rusted from exposure to the elements.

“Yeah,” Jin says, “but you have to clean them first. With water and soap.”

Kame frowns and wraps them gently in a flap of leather, as if they are suddenly precious. He lays them by his bed.

“How do you usually eat?” Jin asks.

Kame holds up his hands, which are streaked with dirt, and Jin’s grandmother’s voice explodes in his head, all in a panic about germs being the silent killer, and he momentarily wishes he’d packed some hand sanitizer.

“Is it ready?” Kame asks. When Jin nods, he draws the dish out of the fire; it’s a little black and burned around the edges, but the centre is perfect, gooey warm.

Jin reclaims the spoon and says, “Here, watch,” and heroically shovels the curry into his mouth. Kame stares open-mouthed in amazement, and Jin feels like a genius. He thinks of all the other ways he could blow Kame’s mind, and wishes he could take him everywhere.

Kame grabs the spoon and enthusiastically trowels a load into his mouth; Jin thinks to warn him about the spice a moment too late, and Kame’s cheeks flush bright pink and his eyes water bright red. He coughs and splutters through the first mouthful, but then he murmurs, “Incredible,” and follows it with a second.

They eat like pigs, and Kame licks the bowl clean. It’s kind of gross, but it’s his first time experiencing the magic of curry, so Jin kind of understands. They lie on their backs and Kame drags his bearskin over them when Jin starts to shiver. It’s a bit weird, at first, lying under a dead animal, and he starts imagining that this was a lady bear who has a husband bear out there who is going to track him down and kill him. Then Kame turns on his side, hiding his forehead against the warmth of Jin’s arm, and he forgets about it.

“Why did you run away from home” Kame asks after a while, “if your mum makes food like that?” He scratches his nails against Jin’s sleeve again. Jin thinks he likes the scritchscritchscritch noise it makes. “Is she a bad person?”

“No,” Jin swears. “My mum is the greatest person in the world.”

The scratching stops. “Then why?”

“I’m a bad kid,” Jin says. “I made her cry.”

Kame is quiet for a long time, and then he says, “You’re stupid.” His voice is scratchy and resentful. “You’re so stupid.”

The curry in Jin’s stomach churns hot and he remembers his mum’s happy face when he used to bring home tests stamped with a big fat star. He was an honour student back then, before it all somehow stopped mattering to him.

He pulls up his hood to hide his face, overwhelmed with shame. “I know.”

He must have fallen asleep, because one minute he’s showing off the contents of his bag, delighting in Kame’s wondrous face as he traced the faces of Jin’s classmates in Jin’s fat stack of purikura, the next Kame is jerking him awake and they’re running through the forest, Kame’s claws sinking mercilessly into his wrist and a ferocious growling roar in their wake.

Jin’s feet barely touch the ground; it’s like Kame is propelling him forward through sheer force of will, and then he launches them up a tree and Jin realises that Kame has basically been carrying him this whole time.

Kame covers Jin’s mouth with his hand and they sit, panting, for only seconds before a monster is clawing its way up the trunk, heedless to Kame’s wailed “NO.”

Its face is like Kame’s, but not; Kame’s kind features twisted monstrously outward, like the creature’s bones are trying to break free. His fangs jut, gleaming, over curling, twisted lips as he snarls up at them, and his eyes are dark like Kame’s, but red around the edges, mad with voracious hunger.

He gets close enough to grab Jin’s ankles, claws scraping through his thick socks, and Kame cries, “Please.”

For a moment, the creature hesitates, and Kame sobs, red-faced and trembling, “Brother, PLEASE.

The brothers stare at each other, and Jin thinks he’s still about the get mauled to death, but then the elder whines low and troubled in his throat and retreats, dropping soundlessly to the ground and disappearing into the woods.

They wait, silent and panting, for a few minutes so Kame can be sure he’s really gone. When they hear a wail somewhere deeper in the forest, Kame helps Jin down; it hadn’t occurred to Jin until now to be petrified about how high he dragged him, but it hits him all at once. His legs shake with relief as they touch the ground.

They don’t talk as Kame leads him back to the clearing. When they arrive, it’s a mess, and Kame sighs as he examines the hole in the ‘wall’ where his brother burst through, branches torn and vines hanging limp. He fruitlessly tries to knit them together again, but gives up when they just keep sliding free. Listlessly, he drags his feet over to his nest and drops to a couch beside the little pile of Jin’s things. It’s obvious he was still going through them when they were ambushed; a tattered copy of Sports Illustrated that Jin bought exclusively for the girls in swimsuits is open to a page full of baseball action shots. Kame touches it longingly, fingers sliding down the meaty length of Ichiro’s arm.

“Sorry,” Kame says. His eyes are fixed on the magazine and Jin remembers his earlier questions about ‘the stick game’, which made no sense at the time.

“For what?” Jin scoffs. “You saved my life just then.” He crouches at Kame’s side. “Your brother is scary as shit, though.”

Kame’s hands are shaking, distress trembling in every muscle. “That’s gonna be me, soon.”

The stress of the night catches up with Jin and his mind snaps in the way it does sometimes; at home he’d suddenly yell and stomp around and slam the doors, but here he can’t do anything but reach out and shove Kame. He falls on his ass, looking surprised and a little affronted.

“No way,” Jin cries. “That’s not you.” He grabs Kame’s arm, shaking it. “Promise me, that will never be you.”

“I can’t promise, idiot.” Kame says. “I can’t stop it. It’s my destiny. My curse.”

“Fuck destiny!” Jin spits. “And fuck your curse!” His fingers bite into Kame’s bicep, but he ignores the little growl. “He stopped it, just now. Your brother. He stopped it. He’s in there somewhere.”

“Trapped in there,” Kame hisses. “A prisoner.”

“You can fight it,” Jin swears. “I know you can.”

Kame just looks at him, like Jin is stupid and naive and a million years younger than him. This is Jin’s problem in life in general. He can never accept the way things are without spending all his energy thinking about the way things should be.

“There are people out here who need your help,” Jin says. “People like me.”

“What do you know?” Kame snaps. “Most people come out here to die.”

“They need you too.” Jin grabs Kame’s arm and holds him steady. Holds him here. “I know there’s no monster in your heart, Kazuya.”

“What would you know?” Kame whines, but when Jin reaches out and hugs him, Kame doesn’t make him let go.

When the first light of dawn breaks through the vines, Kame shakes him awake and says, “It’s time for you to go.”

Jin takes his wallet and his phone and leaves his backpack for Kame, a whole sack full of treasures to remember him by. They march through the forest and onto a rocky path. Jin has no idea how he wandered so far astray. Kame squints into the sun as though it hurts him; he grows more and more tired in the growing light of day.

When they reach the edge of the forest and Jin can hear the trucks rumbling past on the highway just beyond the edge of the trees, Kame stops.

He reaches into the folds of leather over his heart and pulls out a silver ring; a man’s ring, far too big for either of their fingers. He slides it into Jin’s palm.

“If you’re ever lost again,” Kame says, “I’ll come find you.” He lifts his eyes to the sun. They look wet. “If I can.” In this light, his eyes aren’t pitch black but warm chocolate brown. “This is as far as I can go.”

“No,” Jin says, though even he knows futility when he hears it. “Come with me. My mum won’t mind, she’ll look after you.” He looks down at Kame through his bangs. He’s so tired. It feels like he stepped out of his house a year ago instead of just yesterday. “She’ll make you more curry.”

“I can’t leave the forest,” Kame says. “I don’t even know how.”

“Try,” Jin begs. “Promise me, one day you’ll try.”

“Jin,” Kame says, like he’s insufferably naive, but Jin hisses, “PROMISE,” and won’t let go of Kame’s wrist until he says, “Ok, ok. I promise.”

“Pinky swear,” Jin says, and even though Kame can’t possibly know what that means, instinct drives him to wrap his finger around Jin’s and squeeze.

Then he disappears as soundlessly as he had arrived.

When Jin gets home his mother cries and hits him and cries some more and she grounds him for the rest of the year. He lets her believe that he spent the night trying to get into bars in Roppongi with his hilariously terrible fake ID, because it’s better than telling her that he spent the night in the woods running from monsters.

He goes to school and actually studies and starts passing all his classes again, because he can still remember Kame’s eyes going wide when Jin talked about school, learning samurai history and Japanese literature and how to find the area of a triangle. He doesn’t take anything for granted, anymore. He tries his best to work hard, and feels traitorous when he doesn’t.

Sometimes, he thinks he must have imagined the whole thing, some crazy story like the ones he used to make up when he was a kid, sometimes, to make himself seem more interesting. He still has that ring, though. At first he wears it on a chain around his neck, but as his hands grow bigger and manlier it moves to his thumb, then his index finger, right down the row of fingers until it settles snugly on his pinky around the time of his 18th birthday.

Every now and again he goes to the woods, hoping for a glimpse of Kame, some sign to show he’s still there, but the forest is a totally different place in the day. Birds sing merry, croaking calls atop trees covered in festive green moss and the air is crisp and clean, fresh. Flowers grow in the cracks between the stones that line the forest floor. There are no long shadows that carry the faint scene of blood, no moonlight catching flashing on sparkling white fangs. In the day, the monsters sleep, and the rest of the forest creatures are free.

He knows better than to go back at night; Kame would be furious with him, and somehow he knows he wouldn’t escape again.

When Jin is 20 years old, he is almost killed in a motorcycle accident. He’d been going too fast, but so had the truck that hit him. He wakes up two days later in a hospital bed, bruised black and blue all over, but otherwise, miraculously unharmed. His mother cries again but she can’t hit him because of his injuries. They keep him almost a full week for observation and do a million tests to make sure bits of his brain aren’t rattling loose around his skull, then they finally let him go. Jin is tired and weak and traumatised, because he’s only been this close to death one other time in his life and Kame wasn’t here to save him this time, he almost died all alone.

They took his ring off at the hospital. His mother gives it back to him when he gets home. When he slips it on it feels like putting a piece of himself back together. One good solid piece when all the others are still strewn across the highway, twisted up in the sixteen wheels of that giant semi-trailer.

Come on, he thinks, that first night back home. Come on.

It feels like the day he’s waiting for will never come.

Somehow, when he wakes at half-past three in the morning to find an angled, beautiful face staring out at him from the darkness, he knows not to scream.

Time has brought changes, but they’re not the ones that Kame feared. His face isn’t fighting against itself like his brother’s, no planes of bone jutting manic from his forehead or fangs exploding out of his bottom jaw. He’s quietly, strangely beautiful, hair grown messy and wild around his face, matted in knots in some places. His eyes are still his eyes, warm and gorgeous, and delicate lips curve seriously beneath the understated sharpness of his fangs. Only his canines look overtly supernatural, long and lethal like wolves.

His body is thin and wiry like he doesn’t eat enough, all lean muscles and no fat. He’s kneeling beside Jin’s bed. Here, finally, and free.

“Kazu,” Jin croaks, turning into the hand that clumsily pets at his hair, his ear, the bandage that still cushions his temple.

“You’re not crying,” Kame says. His voice is deeper and huskier than it was, with a little gravel and growl, but it’s still him. Jin remembers his brother’s inhuman cries and a shudder of relief shakes his spine.

Jin smiles and covers Kame’s hand with his own. “I’m a man now.”

Kame snorts, but doesn’t comment. He probably knows Jin cried like a little bitch in hospital, when he first woke up and a few times after that. He twists Jin’s hair anxiously through his fingers, still capped with vicious looking claws, but gentle in that same careful way as always. “Idiot,” he says. “Almost got yourself killed.”

“Got you here, didn’t it?” Jin asks. He frowns. “How are you here? How did you get here?”

The fingers in Jin’s hair twist and smooth, twist and smooth. “I don’t know,” Kame admits. “I just did.” He smiles a little painfully, beautifully. “Maybe because I pinky swore.”

“I told you you could do it,” Jin says. His eyes feel heavy; this is the most energy he’s expended in days, just on the giddy rush of excitement in his heart alone. “I’m so tired, Kame,” he says, and falls asleep.

He wakes at noon to find it’s not a dream. Kame must have crawled into bed with him because he’s curled warmly into Jin’s side, those familiar leather rags twisted around his thin body. He wakes only moments after Jin, yawning and stretching, and then blinks as if surprised to find he’s really there, that he really made it out.

They lie in bed for a while, unmoving. Kame still smells the same, all earthy and slightly dark, and he doesn’t pull away when Jin sighs and buries his face in his shoulder. This is what Jin was waiting for all these years, only he never understood that before; never quite put his longing into solid form.

“I missed you,” Kame says, and reaches into his clothes and pulls out the old purikura, worn and faded by the years. Jin’s dorky grinning face stares back at him, half-formed, from the ink. “You’re more handsome now.”

Jin touches the corner of his mouth. “I can’t help but notice that you’re not trying to chase me up a tree and maul me to death.”

Kame smiles tightly. “Not on a good day,” and Jin’s heart goes out to him because he understands, somehow, that this battle is never over, that it’s a war waged every day.

Jin threads his fingers through Kame’s. “Let’s make lots of good days.”

Eventually, they get up. Jin will introduce Kame to the wonders of a modern shower - and shampoo and conditioner - later, but for now he strips him out of the rags of leather and bits of rabbit fur, because his mother will no doubt find that weird, and dresses him in a faded One Piece t-shirt and his favourite black hoodie, along with a pair of jeans at least three sizes too large for him. He wrestles his hair into a ponytail so his mother won’t think he’s a Greenpeace activist or something. Kame stares at himself in the mirror the whole time. He says it’s the first time he’s seen his own face so clearly, not distored by the jet-black ripples in the pond.

“It’s a pretty good face,” Jin says. Kame pulls his lips back to examine his long fangs and Jin says, “Don’t worry about it, vampires are totally fashionable right now.”

“What’s a vampire?” Kame asks cluelessly, looking confused but not all that concerned when Jin just giggles at him in delight.

“Come on,” Jin says, and clutches him by the wrist. “Come meet my mum.”

His mum seems confused about Kame’s sudden appearance - she’s probably wondering how he got into the house without her noticing - but she doesn’t say anything, just smiles in that wide, friendly way of hers when Jin introduces them.

“My friend Kame,” he says, but he can see from her quizzical expression that she knows it’s more than that, that it’s something really important to Jin.

“It’s nice to meet you, ma’am,” Kame says, and Jin wonders where he learned such polite language; Kame told him, years ago, than he learned his Japanese first from his mother and brothers and later from eavesdropping on the hikers that were always tramping through the forest. There are huge holes in his knowledge, mostly words for everyday objects like spoons and monsters and baseball.

“Mum,” Jin asks, before she can ask Kame too many questions that will just freak him out. “Can you make us some curry?”

There’s no way, under normal circumstances, that she’d drop what she’s doing to meet his whims like this, but last week Jin nearly died in a horrible firey blaze, and since then she’s been more accommodating than usual.

Turns out, she had some in the freezer, anyway. As she marches around the kitchen, with her smooth, efficient Mum-movements, Jin watches Kame examine every inch of the room; eyes lingering on the rows of spice bottles in a row over the stove, the cookbooks stacked haphazardly on a stool by the door. Suddenly, something thumps — BANG — in the refrigerator, and the motor stars whirring. Kame jumps a mile, one arm stretched across Jin’s chest as if shielding him from harm.

“What’s that?” he hisses.

“It’s a fridge,” Jin whispers back. His mum turns and looks at him, eyebrow raised. They’ll be talking about this later. It keeps the food cold.”

It doesn’t stop Kame from staring it like it’s going to attack them at any moment.

Finally, the curry is ready, and Jin’s mum sets three steaming bowls on the table. Kame lifts the spoon to his mouth with more precision than Jin remembers - he’s obviously been practising - and closes his eyes with happiness as he devours the first bite. His cheeks go rosy and warm, eyes moist with happiness, or just the heat of the curry, Jin’s not sure.

He smiles anyway, and kicks Kame’s ankle under the table.

“Welcome home,” he murmurs, and his heart explodes beneath the blaze of Kame’s grin.

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May 2012

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