It's gone past two in the morning when Jin spots the guy standing by the side of the road. He doesn't have a sign, doesn't have his thumb out, but there's something about the way he's facing oncoming traffic that makes Jin ease down on the brake.
He's hoping for a gaijin, hitchhikers usually are, but the guy looks Japanese. A university student run out of money, maybe. Jin glances across at Pi, sleeping curled up under his jacket. Pi would know how to talk to a university guy. Jin got his junior high diploma and never looked back. Whatever. If the guy's snooty, Jin can always hit the gas. Jin flicks the window control on Pi's side.
The guy bends down to speak through the open window. He's in a sharp suit under the open edges of a black trenchcoat, too upscale for a student. The guy puts one hand on the car door, curving a grip in over the open window. He's got the neatest manicure Jin's ever seen on a guy. He starts talking, and yeah, he's Japanese, but Jin doesn't register what he says, not at first. He's staring at the guy's lips.
They've been pushing themselves hard lately. Rumours and sightings and calls for help that Yuu texts directly to their handphones. They need to get halfway across the country, by yesterday if possible, that's why they're driving through the night, but Jin won't say no to a pick-up that falls into his path.
The guy's smile has thinned to something brittle. Jin knows the guy's been speaking perfect Japanese, but Jin's not kept two words out of five. He leans forward over the clutch, winning smile.
"Hi, I'm Akanishi Jin. Where to?"
The man huffs, looking to the side. There's something weirdly familiar about his profile. Jin can't tell whether it feels like déjà vu or a memory.
"I know who you are, Akanishi Jin," he says, and then those perfectly buffed nails are opening his suit jacket buttons, opening each tiny, shiny button of his shirt.
"Hey, hey, uh, what are you doing ?" Jin asks.
Ok, the guy's hot, but this isn't-- Jin can feel the heat on his face; he's not so much of a player that he'd do a guy by the side of the road.
The guy steps back out of reach before Jin starts reaching towards him, pulling his shirt tails out of his pants, spreading back the fabric so that Jin can see his pecs. Jin swallows. Tiny nipples and that is familiar-- but not the three characters, inked in a vertical line, straight down the right side of his chest.
That must have happened after. Jin would remember seeing his own name.
"I haven't had the luxury of forgetting you."
"I didn't forget you," Jin says. It's true, but it sounds stupid when he didn't recognise him.
Now that Jin knows what to look for, he can see the boy he knew in the man standing outside the car. He's short, not short like Ryo, but short enough that Jin would have an inch or so on him if he wasn't sitting at the wheel. The sculpted eyebrows make a big difference, so does the suit. Of course they didn't wear suits when they knew each other. They were kids. Jin tries not to stare at the breadth of his shoulders; tries not to wonder how he looks to the other, sleep-deprived and unshaven.
"Look, do you want a lift?" Jin asks.
That's when Pi wakes with a snort.
"Are we there yet?" he asks, looking first at Jin, and then out the open window. "Who-- what the--!?!" He struggles with his jacket, and then with his beads, shaking a fistful at Ka-- Jin doesn't know what it's ok to call him.
Outside the car, he growls, a sound that shouldn't come from a human throat. A warning. Jin grabs at his chest, holding onto his dreamcatcher pendant through his shirt.
"Yeah, I, um, Pi, this is, um--"
"You can call me Kamenashi," Kame says, saving Jin from tripping any further over his own tongue. "And you are Yamashita Tomohisa, Japan's second most powerful oumyoji under the age of thirty. Akanishi spoke to me of you."
The tilt of Kamenashi's bowed head is perfect, and so is his smile. He was always polite, a bit stuffy, a bit old-fashioned. There's nothing Jin can see, nothing inhuman, or alien in Kamenashi's face, but somehow Jin has the feeling that Kamenashi's teeth must be sharp.
Youkai can hide themselves. They can wear human form to interact with humans. Like most Japanese, they don't usually hitchhike, but Jin's luck has always been special.
He wonders how long Kamenashi has been tracking them. Jin hasn't seen him in seven years.
"Jin. Jin, you know this…?" Pi asks. Pi still has his beads wrapped around one fist, the other hand pushed into a jacket pocket. A fuda, maybe, a Pi's silver-bladed flick-knife. "You know it's a..."
Out of the clear night sky, lightning strikes a tree behind them.
"I am an oni-eating tengu," Kamenashi says. "Akanishi Jin owns my life."
In the light from the burning tree, it is easy to see the arched spread of Kamenashi's wings. They look black. In daylight, Jin knows they would be a dark brown instead, flecked with gold and copper where the sun hit them. Jin wants to tell Kamenashi that hadn't known what would happen, back then, but the words stick in his throat. Kamenashi's buffed fingernails have grown long and curved, like talons.
"I know what's waiting for you, Akanishi Jin. This time, to survive, you will need my help."