Jin hated it when teenage girls came to the store. When he'd started working at Family Mart, fresh out of high school and with neither the money nor the inclination to go to university, he'd enjoyed their visits - they gave him something pretty to look at in between sweeping the floor and unloading crates of sandwiches.
Three years later, the girls were just as pretty but Jin was getting sick of tidying the magazines on the rack. Every time one of their precious idol groups featured on the covers, they flocked in to buy. Even the foreigners were at it now. Somewhere out there, there had to be someone who just wanted a TV guide for the listings rather than the latest news on a bunch of sparkly popstars, but clearly they shopped at a different branch.
He looked up from the magazine racks as the chime signalled the arrival of another customer, reminding him to join the staff chorus of "Welcome!"; he hoped it wasn't another teenage girl desperate for the latest Arashi pictures in TV Pia. He only had another twenty minutes left till the end of his shift and there was a limit to how many times he was prepared to rearrange the magazines in one night.
The customer didn't look like he'd be interested in buying magazines. He looked like he should be on the cover.
Jin hid his stares behind a copy of Shounen Jump. It wouldn't do to be caught gawking by his supervisor again - the ribbing had lasted for almost a fortnight, last time. There was a definite disadvantage to working for one's best friend, especially when said friend was the only person who knew Jin wasn't picky about gender.
Elegant in his grey three-piece suit, the customer should've been browsing imported wines in a department store somewhere, not eyeing up the bottled water in a convenience store. Despite the dignity of the suit, the wearer managed to look casual - a young man in his early twenties, maybe, with reddish-brown hair ruffled out of shape by the evening breeze.
When he sauntered over to the magazines, Jin hastily averted his eyes. The guy probably wanted fashion mags, not manga.
To his surprise, the customer walked right up to him, smiled politely, and asked, "Can I have this?"
"Huh?" It took Jin a second to realise he was still clutching Shounen Jump. "Ah, it's here?" He pointed to the remaining issues on the rack.
"I'd like this one, please." The customer pointed to the one in Jin's hand.
Jin suppressed a sigh. He got that a lot, but usually from people who were more obviously jerks. This guy didn't seem like he was out to make the lives of poor convenience store employees miserable. Maybe he was just eccentric.
Either way, he was the customer, and therefore had to have whatever his heart desired. "Here," Jin said, holding out the book and bowing slightly. "Please take it."
The customer returned the gesture as he accepted the manga, smiled again, and headed for the tills. Jin peered over the top of the boxed salads to watch as he paid and disappeared out the door, not bothering with a carrier bag.
The remainder of Jin's shift passed without incident; since he didn't have a gig, he could take his time getting home. It was only eight. Sometimes he cooked, sometimes - if it had been a particularly good month - he treated himself to a proper sit-down dinner, but mostly his evening meal consisted of items bought at work. He left the store with carbonara and a couple of rolls tucked away in his eco bag, preparing for an evening alone with his guitar and notebook.
It wasn't a bad night. Light breeze, no rain, warm enough that Jin didn't need his sweatshirt to keep him comfortable on the ten-minute walk home.
His tiny studio apartment seemed tidier than usual when he let himself in. A note from his mother provided the explanation, ending with an admonishment to eat more. When he checked, she'd stocked up the cupboards beyond his usual minimum stash of supplies and left a covered plate of homemade gyoza in the fridge. His mother was the best.
She'd cleared out his laundry basket too, so he had his pick of clothes after he showered. He threw on a pair of worn jeans and a Rolling Stones T-shirt, then stood barefoot before the bathroom mirror to do something about his hair so it wouldn't drip on his pasta. He got as far as plunging a comb into the first tangle when he caught a flicker of movement in the corner of the glass.
The bathroom had no windows, the door was shut, and there was no one else in the apartment. Jin felt certain of that. It must've been the towel hanging on the back of the bathroom door. Perhaps the hook was coming loose.
He pulled the comb as gently as he could through the snarls of hair. Good thing the water drips didn't show up on the black T-shirt.
He'd almost finished when another flicker caught his eye - and this time, it didn't stop. Jin froze as the well-dressed customer from earlier materialised in his bathroom, still holding the manga and standing close enough that Jin couldn't even turn his head without brushing against his face.
"Don't move," the stranger said. "This will be over in a minute." His voice was deeper, more assertive than it had been in the store; the polite smile, nowhere to be seen.
Jin's legs might as well have been removed from his body, for all the support they offered him. He leaned on the sink, trying to put as much distance between himself and the intruder as possible.
"You followed me home? What kind of sick-"
"Shut up. I didn't follow you home - I didn't have to." The stranger held up his issue of Shounen Jump. "Now keep still."
Keep still? While some psycho - a gorgeous psycho, admittedly, but an A-grade loon nonetheless - threatened him in his own home with a cheap phonebook manga? Not happening.
Jin drove his elbow back into the stranger's stomach, catching him off guard and sending him staggering back against the door.
At least, that's how it happened in Jin's head. In reality, he got as far as thinking about moving his arm...and then found he couldn't. His limbs locked into place, rooting him to the spot. Panicked, he gasped for air, grateful when his lungs continued to function.
But he knew what it felt like to be paralysed with fear, and this wasn't it. This was something else. His brain wasn't running a constant loop of white-hot terror. He could think. Couldn't open his mouth to speak, but he could think, and he fought to keep that scrap of control to himself.
"Akanishi Jin, your soul to mine..." The stranger placed the book behind Jin's head; Jin could just about see the edges in the mirror, each one a glowing red line. "All your joy, all your despair. All your love..."
The glow intensified till the cream bathroom walls shone red. Jin met the stranger's eyes in the mirror; eyes as brown as his own but full of a hunger he couldn't name, a longing for something far more meaningful than cheap convenience store food and a plate of homemade gyoza. Those eyes could steal your soul, swallow it down like a drink of water. Jin couldn't look away, feeling a tug inside where his heart met his soul.
"...All your life!"
Three things happened when the stranger finished his speech. The manga exploded, sending scraps of paper flying all over the bathroom and killing the red light. The mirror cracked vertically, right between Jin's eyes. And both men collapsed to the floor, lying half on each other since there wasn't much space.
Jin woke up first, too disoriented to do more than register the fact that his legs didn't seem to have followed him into consciousness. He lay half-propped against the bathroom door, working on opening his eyes enough to check his lower half was still attached. He felt no pain until the fuzzy pricks of pins and needles began, and he realised he had something heavy lying on his legs.
He hadn't expected it to be himself.
Scenes from a million different movies raced through Jin's mind, a high-speed montage of out of body experiences and adventures on the astral plane. How could he have left his body? Had the explosion driven his soul out into the atmosphere, where it was destined to reside until he found a kindly medium to put it back where it belonged?
When Jin's body on the floor began to stir, the rest of him tried to pull away - and that's when it hit him that for his legs to be asleep, he must still have legs. And since the only other physical form in the room was...
He looked down at himself, took in the neat grey waistcoat and and crisp white shirt, and screamed in someone else's voice.
That woke the Jin-on-the-floor up in a hurry. He used the sink to pull himself to his feet, blinked a couple of times, and stared down in horror. Jin had never seen that expression on his own face before, never had to look at what his body could do in someone else's hands.
"What the hell did you do!" the stranger yelled at him. "This wasn't supposed to happen!"
"Glad to hear it," Jin muttered, trying to get over the shock of hearing his voice with a raspy edge to it. "I'd hate to think you kicked me out of my body on purpose."
"You were supposed to leave your body," the stranger said grimly. "But not go into mine!" He gathered up the scraps of manga on the floor, looking at the coloured paper in disgust. "Ruined. You were supposed to be in here." He dumped all the paper in the tiny bin under the sink.
"Me? In that?" Jin pushed himself up and kept flat against the door, hoping he'd get the chance to open it and escape. Clearly, he had a madman in his bathroom, and there had been some horrible mistake that he had no idea how to rectify.
Jin hadn't known his voice could sound so threatening. He raised his hands, noting as he did so that the stranger had expensive taste in jewellery. One of those rings would probably have paid Jin's rent for the year.
"I guess I can do without the manga. This is your place; you must've touched everything in here, so I can use anything for transport. Let's see..." The stranger picked up Jin's abandoned comb. "This ought to do. Akanishi Jin, your soul to mine..." He waited expectantly.
"Y-yes?" Jin stammered.
"Your soul to mine?" The stranger tried again. Still nothing. He threw the comb down on the floor, so hard that it bounced into the shower cubicle. "It's not working! It must be because your body is so useless."
"I mean, you have my body right now, so you have my powers. I can't initiate the transfer without them. Your human body is no good to me."
"Then can I please have it back?" Jin asked. "I'm kind of attached to it."
"Not unless you've somehow mastered the art of soul transference, no." The stranger sighed. "It's supposed to take four months to learn. I managed it in twenty days, but I've been a demon all my life. How's a human supposed to learn that kind of skill?"
"A demon?" Jin had a demon's body? A demon's powers? He had a demon making exasperated faces at him in his bathroom?
"How else do you think I managed to appear in your home without walking through the door? I didn't magic up a key!"
"You can do that?" Jin forgot to be scared, intrigued by the mention of magic. He'd always been curious.
"I could..." The demon deflated, but only for a moment. "That settles it: I'll simply have to teach you. I can't go home like this and it's too dangerous to leave you running around in my body by yourself."
"I'm not thrilled about it either, but- wait, you're going to teach me magic?"
"Only because I need you to do this so I can get my body back; don't get excited."
Too late for that. "So because I have your body, I can make things happen just by thinking about them?"
"It doesn't work quite like that. Just...don't think about anything for a second, okay? It's safer." The demon looked at the cracked mirror and frowned. "I still need to figure out why the transfer failed. I've never had that happen before."
"I'm sure it happens to all demons," Jin said. "Why were you trying to put me in the manga, anyway?"
"It's my job - steal souls for the boss."
"Johnny. He's an eccentric old guy who says 'YOU' a lot." The demon gave a little bow. "It's nothing personal; you just looked like someone he'd find tasty."
Jin couldn't decide if he was flattered or appalled, but he had no intention of becoming a snack for some creepy old demon. "So why should I help you get your body back? The second you do, you'll just steal my soul and take it away to your boss, right?"
"Because you won't survive in my body without my help, and you won't get your life back until we switch, so it's in your best interests to help." The demon stuck out his hand. "You have my word that I won't take your soul."
"Why should I believe you?"
The demon shrugged. "My kind can't lie, but it's up to you whether you believe that or not."
The concept of demons being unable to lie had cropped up in a few things Jin had seen and read, but he hadn't expected to find fiction coming to life in his own home. He left the demon waiting while he thought it over. He couldn't remain like this forever, trapped in someone else's body, and if the demon could've switched them back, he'd already have done it. He had a life of his own - not a particularly glamorous one, but it was his, and he'd built it himself. They couldn't remain like this.
"Please?" the demon said, and it was the desperate honesty in his own brown eyes that finally made Jin shake hands. He didn't look any happier with the situation than Jin, and who could blame him?
"I'll help you. But if you go back on your word I swear I'll-" Jin stopped, unable to complete the threat. In that case, there'd be nothing he could do. He'd be dead.
"You and yours are safe from me, I promise. Ah!" The demon smiled and grabbed Jin's sleeve. "Take this off and I can give you a guarantee."
"You want your jacket back?"
"No, I want you to find the tattoo on my left shoulder."
Mystified, Jin slipped off the jacket, undid the shirt cuffs and rolled it up far enough to expose a small green turtle inked into the skin.
"We all carry our names with us," the demon explained. "I'm Kame, so I chose to have a turtle."
"Nice tattoo, but how is that a guarantee?"
"Because I use it as a marker." Kame patted his shoulder. "If we brand your body with this, it means you're off-limits to other demons. We can tell if a human has been marked by someone else, and it's illegal to violate that contract. Demons are very, very big on contracts. You should see all the paperwork I have to fill in every time I bring back a soul."
Paperwork? Jin definitely didn't want to be stuck in a demon's body forever. On the other hand, he didn't fancy letting Kame take his body to a tattoo parlour, either, and said as much.
"We don't need anyone else to do this," Kame said. "I'm going to teach you. Where do you want your tattoo?"
A tattoo might go down well on the stage, but it wouldn't be too popular at his day job. Scaring customers was frowned upon. "Somewhere no one's going to see it."
Kame pulled down the left side of his jeans enough to expose his hip - or rather, Jin's hip. "How about here? I don't imagine too many people would see this."
"And this will keep me safe from demons?"
"I promise. It won't hurt, or scar, or fade...but you can't have it removed, either. It won't be on your body, not in the way you understand the word."
"Fine." Jin ran his hands through his hair, momentarily confused when there wasn't as much of it as usual. "What do I have to do?"
"Hmm..." Kame pursed his lips and nodded. "The angle's going to be awkward. You'll have to sit on the floor."
Jin had spent enough time on the bathroom floor. "I think I'd prefer the carpet."
He led the way through to the main room, with the bed peeking out from behind the curtain and the bag containing his dinner still sitting on the side. The food could wait; he didn't feel hungry anymore, wondered if Kame felt it instead. Good thing his mother had tidied the place up, though it would be silly to be embarrassed about it now.
The worn beige couch only had an arm on one side but at least Jin hadn't had to pay for it. He sat down on the carpet next to the open end with his shirt sleeve rolled up. Kame took the hint and sat on the couch, lining them up hip to shoulder.
Touching his own body without being in it felt creepy in the worst way, like running a hand over his numbed jaw after a shot from the dentist and only experiencing sensation on one side. Kame's skin didn't feel any different - but then, he looked human, and Jin wouldn't have known him for anything else if he hadn't said.
"Lesson one," Kame said, sounding far more casual than the situation deserved. "This will be good practice for you. The marker's closer to the surface than the soul but the principle's not so different."
"Is it...is it going to hurt?"
"It shouldn't, but that's the best I can promise you. I've never tried it like this before." Kame rubbed Jin's shoulder with his hip. "Every living creature has two main components: the soul, which contains personality, intelligence, self-awareness etc., and the body, which comprises both the physical elements and the concept of corporeal existence. The tattoo looks like it's on my skin, but it's actually on my body. Does that make any sense?"
Jin had looked through his brother's old philosophy textbooks a couple of times in search of lyrical inspiration. This magic stuff sounded like it was going to be way more complicated. "Kind of?"
"It's not just a physical image," Kame tried again. "It exists on a different level. What you need to do is copy it across on the same level from my body to yours."
"I guess I can't just rub it on like a transfer, huh."
Jin felt Kame's laughter where their bodies met. "Sorry, it's not that simple," the demon said. "But I'll try not to confuse your poor human brain.
"Magic is a property of the body, not the soul, or I'd have taken it with me. You need to search within yourself to find it. Look for something that feels like the best thing and the worst thing in the world rolled into one."
As instructions went, they couldn't have been more vague. Jin certainly didn't feel like a magical creature. Maybe there were supposed to be sparkles and rainbows above his head - or more likely stormclouds and lightning bolts. He'd never read anything to indicate that demons were about sweetness and light, though Kame didn't seem the fire and brimstone type either.
Mostly, he just seemed annoyed that Jin had managed to get in the way of him doing his job.
Jin had no idea what to look for or how to tell when he'd found it, so he closed his eyes, the way his last girlfriend used to do when she meditated, and took a couple of deep, cleansing breaths.
"Magic, not yoga," Kame said. "There's a difference."
Busybody demon. Jin ignored him. Residing in a foreign body meant everything felt out of place: short, stubby fingers, thicker ankles, hairier legs under the expensive suit trousers. Jin didn't have anything familiar. He decided to concentrate on one piece at a time, mapping out new territory in his mind.
He started with the smallest toe on his left foot. It wiggled inside the shiny black shoe but didn't give him any mystical insights. Then he worked his way through the rest of his left foot, then his right, feeling the blood - if demons had blood - flow through his body wherever he directed his thoughts. It didn't feel so different to be in someone else's body when he looked at it from the inside.
"This body's human, isn't it?" Jin asked, staring down at the beautifully buffed fingernails.
"Mostly, yeah. It breathes, it eats, it sleeps, it bleeds. But it does other things too, so be careful."
Demons weren't immune to arousal, Jin discovered as his mind worked its way up his body. He hoped Kame wasn't looking down. Fortunately, the sensation passed before it could cause him embarrassment.
When he reached the base of his spine, he paused. Something at the edge of his senses, a dark, thick stem leading upwards, pulsing with promise. He brushed it with a stray thought and physically recoiled, trying to pull away from himself as the tower of bone sought to draw him in.
"Found it?" Kame asked. "The spine ties the physical body to the concept of 'body', and it's where magic grows."
Jin gulped. This was starting to border on horror movie territory. "Grows?"
"It's alive in the same way a human baby in a mother's womb is alive: part of the body, connected to it, yet separate. It renews itself during sleep. Go on, touch it again. Don't resist this time."
Against his better judgment, Jin sank back into sensation, this time approaching from the top of his spine. It felt no different: the entrance to a mine, dark and dangerous, liable to trap him if he took a wrong turn. He sent a mental tendril towards it. Once again, the darkness pulled him in...but this time it felt like being draped in old, worn velvet, being bundled up and left in a corner to rot. It frightened him, choked him. Jin struggled to free his mind from his crushing shroud, seized hold of it with both mental "hands" to tear it away from himself...
...And got the shock of his life when it dissolved in his grasp.
"Where did it...how did I..." He opened his eyes to look up at Kame, who grinned down at him like an expectant father.
"Did you take it? If you take it into yourself, you can do anything with it now."
"I...I think so." There it was, an all-over tingle, sensation shimmering at the edge of his body. Power. His to use as he chose, if only he knew how. "Yeah. I've got it."
"You're half-way there," Kame praised him. "Now find the tattoo."
Jin couldn't see the turtle on his shoulder - Kame's hip covered it - so he figured Kame didn't mean to look for it on his skin. It had to be somewhere else too. He turned his gaze inward, deliberately avoiding the spinal column. He had no wish to get sucked in again. Whatever magic he'd absorbed, it had better be enough for now.
"You can't look inside your physical body," Kame said. "You could, but it takes a lot of work, and I don't think you want to see what your internal organs look like from the inside. What you're seeing is the concept of the body, where things are more or less in the right place but are shadows of those in the flesh."
"So your spine doesn't really look like a plant monster?"
"It would look the same as yours if you cut me open," Kame confirmed, slightly muffled because he was giggling into his hand at the time. "But I don't recommend it."
Jin found the trip around the body fascinating. His heart beat, strong and beautiful, a songbird inside a silvery cage. His stomach was a factory, churning and bubbling. A network of multicoloured nerves covered every inch, rainbow netting holding him all together.
But there was one place he couldn't reach. The brain hid from him, a patch of shadow he could never touch.
"Leave it," Kame said quietly when Jin expressed his surprise. "That's where the soul resides. You can't touch that yet. Find the marker."
Jin journeyed through invisible muscle, through blood, sinew and bone till he reached his left shoulder. The turtle glowed, a bright beacon in the grey. "Found it."
"Now touch it," Kame instructed. "Imagine that the magic you hold is like a sponge, and you're using it to soak up paint. You want to hold an exact replica of that turtle that you can use wherever you want."
Like a child's painting, then. Jin tried to picture it in his mind, a black sponge with a turtle print. He found keeping these abstract images in mind to be a challenge. Normally he'd set them to music.
"Take that sponge and imprint the image on my hip. Uh...your hip. This body's hip."
Jin probably didn't need to physically press himself closer to Kame, but he did it anyway. At the same time, he concentrated on holding the sponge in place, willing the image to copy across. He couldn't allow himself to get distracted. What if he dropped it? Could magic leak? What if he screwed up and left his body stuck with a blurred green blob for the rest of its life?
"You can look now." Kame pulled away, patting his hip till Jin risked a peek. The turtle was the twin of the one on his shoulder. "Congratulations! That was your first magic lesson."
As proud as Jin felt of his first magical success, the sudden exhaustion that swamped him the moment he withdrew dulled its shine a little. He leaned against the end of the couch, totally wiped out. He'd succeeded in giving himself a permanent brand to mark him as off-limits to demons. Awesome. At least he hadn't paid for it with anything except energy.
"Your body's exhausted," he told Kame.
"And yours is starving. Do you have any food around here?"
Jin didn't see any reason why he should be a good host, given why Kame had come to his apartment in the first place, but he did have a vested interest in keeping his body in good repair. "I don't know what you eat, but yeah, there's food."
"I don't like tomatoes or green peppers," Kame said, and Jin just stared up at him in amazement because he hadn't expected a demon to have such mundane food preferences. "But your body seems to approve of anything going, so I won't be fussy."
Without leaving the floor, Jin talked Kame through a tour of his tiny kitchen area. Kame tried to heat the carbonara by magic, cursed when he remembered he couldn't do it anymore, and had to teach himself how to use the microwave. Fortunately, he proved to be a quick study. Jin watched him potter around the kitchen until he zoned out, only returning to full awareness when Kame dropped down beside him with a couple of plates.
"I know you probably don't feel like eating," the demon said, "but working magic can be very tiring, and I imagine especially so for a human soul, which isn't properly equipped for it. Here." He handed Jin the dish of gyoza, which now had a small bowl of soy sauce on the side for dipping.
His mother's cooking was wonderful, as usual, but Jin barely tasted the dumplings, and the roll he ate afterwards could've been made of cardboard. Kame had the pasta and the other roll, and poured them both tall glasses of water when they'd finished. Eating dinner with a demon. So strange Jin couldn't even laugh at it. There had to be some decent songwriting material in there somewhere.
"That's better." Kame patted his stomach, now satisfied. "Your place isn't too badly stocked; I think I can find something for breakfast."
That woke Jin up in a hurry. "Breakfast?"
"That meal you eat in the morning?"
"I know that! I mean, you're going to have breakfast here?"
Kame leaned back so his head lay on the couch, staring up at the ceiling swirls. "I can't go home like this, and I can't leave you alone, either. I'm staying here till we manage to switch back."
Jin didn't want a demon roommate. He'd never even had an imaginary friend. "But-"
"And," Kame interrupted, "you can keep an eye on your body this way. I'll do my best to look after it but I'm no expert on your life. You'll have to show me tomorrow."
Tomorrow. Tomorrow Jin had work, and then...
"I'm no happier about it than you," Kame said. "I like to finish off the day with a long, luxurious bath; all you've got is a cramped little shower and you can't even magic up something bigger."
"I could do that?"
"Not tonight, you couldn't. You'd burn yourself out trying manifestation in your condition. You need sleep."
True, but there was one slight problem...
"I only have one bed." To his delight, Jin discovered Kame's body was less prone to blushing than his own.
"So? It's big enough for two. Which side do you want?"
Kame obviously didn't care if they shared a bed. Jin wouldn't have minded, under other circumstances, but he felt that bedding down with a demon, even one who'd temporarily lost his powers, wouldn't make for the easiest of nights. Furthermore, waking up next to himself was bound to be a nasty shock.
He staggered over to the cupboard to find the spare bedding he kept for when friends stayed over. "I'll take the couch."
"Fine by me." Kame was down to his underwear before Jin realised he was stripping off completely.
"What are you doing?"
"I sleep in the nude," Kame said.
Jin handed him an oversized T-shirt. "I don't."
Having lost a few inches of height thanks to the bodyswap, Jin was able to spend a relatively comfortable night on the couch. He'd tried to ask Kame more questions but they'd all been lost in a haze of fatigue, and Jin had drifted off without checking his uninvited houseguest had settled down to sleep.
Morning found him fuzzy-headed, confused as to why he'd fallen asleep on the couch, why the curtain was pulled across his bed when he wasn't in it, and why he had twice as many rings on his fingers as usual. It wasn't until he made it to the bathroom and saw himself in the mirror that he remembered swapping bodies with a demon - a demon who could really do with a shave.
There were many things, Jin discovered, that were particularly disconcerting to do using someone else's body. Shaving was one of them, running his small electric shaver over the planes of another man's face, trying not to stumble over an unfamiliar jawline while looking in the cracked mirror. Using the toilet was another. By the time Jin emerged from the bathroom, he felt quite traumatised.
The curtain slid back across the runners and Kame stepped out. "I've been up for hours," he said. To prove it, he'd raided Jin's wardrobe for a pair of jeans and a plain grey T-shirt, and had his hair brushed neatly into place. "You should eat, and then we're going to work on your magic some more."
Jin looked automatically at his wrist, but Kame had no watch. He found his cell phone instead. "No time. I have to get to work. I mean you have to. Um..." He stopped, quite at a loss for what to do.
"In that convenience store?" Kame frowned. "Could you call in sick? We don't have time for this."
"I'm not going to get my body back only for it to die of starvation because I've lost my job!" Jin glared across the room at the demon. "But maybe your kind wouldn't understand that."
"Fine." Kame rolled his eyes. "I suppose I'll have to do it. Till when?"
"Six. But then I've...uh...I've got a show to do at Mouse Peace..."
Jin's heart sank. It wasn't unthinkable that Kame could fill in for him at Family Mart, but there was no way he could do the same at a live. He'd have to cancel, which meant he'd be lucky if he ever got to play there again. Ueda didn't give too many second chances.
"Worry about that later," Kame said. "One thing at a time. Just tell me what I need to do so we can get this over with as quickly as possible and get back to magic practice."
Not the best attitude for a day on the shop floor. Jin tormented himself imagining all the things that could potentially lead to him losing his job. It wasn't much, but he needed it. In the end, he decided he couldn't afford to let Kame loose on his life - he had to go too.
"People might think you have a stalker," Kame pointed out. "You can't spend all day by my side unless..."
Kame grinned. "Have you ever wanted to be invisible?"
Turning invisible, in Jin's book, was definitely cooler than getting a tattoo no one was ever going to see. "Where do we start?"
Strictly speaking, Kame explained, Jin wasn't going to become invisible at all, because that would involve making changes to his biology - too complicated, at this point in time, and also wouldn't do anything to render him inaudible. "I'll always be able to hear you because we share a mark," he added. "We just need to ensure no one else can. You'll have to make a veil."
"I suppose I have to make a flowing white dress to go with it?"
"Not that kind of veil."
Satisfied that he wouldn't be asked to produce a wedding dress, Jin did his best to follow Kame's instructions for making what amounted to a barrier of "thick" air. Diving deep inside once more, he absorbed a double handful of magic and drew it back outside himself, holding it out to the atmosphere. Kame had compared it to adding food colouring to icing - icing he could shape at will, moulding it to fit his body.
"Air cannot be seen - and soon, that'll be true for you too," Kame said.
"How will I know when it's worked?"
"Look at your hands."
Jin looked down...and kept looking, straight through to the floor. Just to be sure, he tried checking himself out in the mirror, stumbling into the couch by trying to watch where he wasn't going. It surprised him when it hurt.
"You still have a physical presence," Kame said. "So be careful. Try not to walk into anyone. No one else can hear you - and not even I can see you - but you can be felt."
Delighted by his success, Jin barely noticed the slight drop in his energy, for which he compensated by eating a hasty breakfast. Watching bites of toast disappear as they entered his mouth left him resigned to being unable to eat for the rest of the day, unless in secret. A spooky sight, to say the least, though Kame seemed to find it funny.
The magic lesson had eaten into what little time they had left. Jin hurriedly dressed, managing by touch alone because once the clothing got close enough to his skin, it disappeared, and advised Kame on more suitable attire for work before they set out at a brisk pace. Fortunately, Jin's clothes were only a little too big on Kame's body, and they had the same size feet, so Jin didn't have to spend the day wearing Kame's suit.
The last thing Kame said before they left was: "Don't forget, I can't talk to you unless you want people to think you're mad." It was going to be a very long day.
They made it with a minute to spare. Jin had to walk directly behind Kame to avoid people barging into him, and even then he managed to puzzle a few by not being empty space. Kame, for his part, knew exactly where he was going, which made Jin wonder just how long the demon had been watching him. Long enough to know how he acted at work, hopefully.
"That's my supervisor, Yamashita Tomohisa," Jin whispered as they walked through the sliding doors. "The one on the left."
"Why are you whispering?" Kame muttered back.
"Sorry." Jin forced himself to speak at normal volume. "He's also my best friend; we've known each other since middle school. His nickname's 'Yamapi'. I call him that or 'Pi' a lot...except when his boss comes in, and then it's all business."
Kame shot a panicked look in his general direction and then Yamapi was upon them. Jin started to greet him but choked off, realising how ridiculous he must sound to Kame - and to Kame alone.
At least they were at work, so there were no secret handshakes. Jin would have to tell Kame about those and make him practise if he ever had to see Yamapi socially.
Jin had to move to avoid being run over by a trolley of crates, and when he looked up, his supervisor was already walking away and Kame hadn't been fired yet, so there was still hope. He talked Kame into an apron and then through unloading all the meals from the crates, stocking the fridges in preparation for lunchtime.
"The okonomiyaki here, like this." He reached for the plastic-wrapped dish, nudged it with his fingers, and had his hand brushed away by Kame after the edge of the container disappeared.
"No touching," Kame hissed, and a young girl eyeing up the karaage blushed guiltily and walked away.
"Sorry." Jin shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans so he wouldn't be tempted to move things. "After this you need to do the drinks. Don't forget to bring the cold ones to the front."
Kame grumbled something incoherent under his breath and turned away. Jin watched him work for a while till that became boring, and wandered off to see what his colleagues were up to. Novel experience, this business of being invisible. He got to watch Nakamaru reduced to a stammering wreck by a beautiful, flirtatious older woman who insisted on having him help her pick out contraceptives. Too bad he couldn't tease him about it afterwards.
He still kept half an eye on the demon. It wouldn't do to let Kame do anything to stain Jin's character forever.
Which was what was going to happen if Jin didn't figure out something quick. He didn't get to play so many gigs he could afford to throw one away. Mouse Peace wasn't the biggest live house in Shinjuku but Jin knew he had an audience there, and he couldn't stand the thought of letting them down. The show had to go on.
"I know you're a singer," Kame muttered into Jin's phone, having had the bright idea to use it for cover so he didn't look like he was talking to himself. He was out back, on his break, and taking large bites from a nikuman between words. "I've been watching you for a couple of weeks."
Jin felt slightly creeped out by this, but paranoia was quickly replaced by hunger. Kame had bought two of the meat buns - with Jin's money - but until Nakamaru finished rooting around in his bag and left the room, Jin couldn't have his. "I hope you watched closely enough to learn all the songs."
"You want me to do your show tonight?"
"No," Jin said frankly, "but I can't cancel, and you've got my body. You owe it to me. It's only an hour - I'm on at seven, and there are a couple of other acts after me. Can you play guitar?"
Nakamaru left, closing the door behind him, and Kame held up the other nikuman for Jin. "I don't have much time for hobbies. I'm supposed to be playing human souls, not instruments."
"Great." Jin unwrapped his lunch and perched on the edge of the table. "You can't play, and Ueda won't accept any excuse short of death for a cancellation." He bit savagely into the steaming parcel of pork.
"How about a broken bone?" Kame suggested.
"No thanks, I'm not into that kind of thing."
Kame sighed. "I mean, if you were injured, would he accept someone else playing the guitar in your place? I sing, you play guitar, everyone goes home happy?"
"That could work - if you knew what to sing. I guess demons don't have time for that, either."
"Occasionally in the bath, but you didn't hear that from me."
Jin could work with that. "Then at least you're not completely inexperienced. Is there some way we can use your magic to stick a bunch of lyrics in your brain - or even teach you to play guitar?"
Kame wiped his fingers on a napkin and tapped the side of his head. "Not unless you want to risk frying your mind. We're going to have to do this the old-fashioned way."
It was a good thing no one else in the store could hear Jin. He spent the afternoon at Kame's heels, singing his entire planned set-list over and over again until Kame confirmed he had the lyrics down, song by song. Singing with someone else's voice felt...horrible, like trying to sing with a cold, knowing what the notes should be and hearing something so very different. Kame's voice didn't like the high notes at all; Jin felt mortified whenever he aimed for one and cracked before getting anywhere near it.
"Please tell me we can skip that one," Kame murmured, taking cover behind a magazine. "You sound like you're being strangled."
"My body can handle it fine. You try."
"Do you normally burst into song at work?"
"Um...sometimes? When there aren't any customers around."
And so, whenever opportunity presented itself, Kame had to quietly sing Jin's songs back at him to prove he'd learned both words and tune. He proved quite fast at memorising the lyrics, even the ones in English, and although he sang with Jin's voice, it seemed to Jin that Kame put his own spin on them all.
Jin loved to sing. Making music was, he was convinced, in his bones, and he'd been writing his own since middle school, scribbling down lyrics - bad ones, admittedly - in the back of textbooks, or all over his homework, wherever he happened to be when inspiration struck. Having someone else sing his songs, even if it was actually with his own voice, felt strange, and the idea that Kame, not Jin, would be singing them on the small live house stage, ate away at his pride.
But only a little. After all, wasn't that one of the goals of songwriters? To have others sing their songs, carry their message to the world?
"You should finish with that one," Yamapi said, sticking his head round the corner of the baked goods aisle. "There won't be a dry eye in the house."
Kame snapped his mouth shut on a ballad called 'Eternal', looking embarrassed to have been caught singing by his supervisor.
"Which one are you opening with tonight?" Yamapi continued. "It is tonight, right? Or am I letting you finish early for no good reason?"
"You're starting with 'Care'," Jin said. "And try not to look so alarmed. He's cool with it, okay?"
"'Care'." Kame smiled sheepishly. "Yeah, it's tonight. At Mouse Peace."
Yamapi clapped him on the shoulder. "Do your best with it. Nakamaru told me Ueda thinks you're good, even if he never says anything to you."
"Why would-" Kame began, and Jin had to interrupt him quickly.
"They're friends! They go travelling together and stuff."
"-I ever hear it from Ueda?" Kame finished smoothly. "He wouldn't want me to become conceited, after all."
"Good point. Perhaps I shouldn't compliment you either. Wouldn't want your head swelling so much you can't get through the shop door." Yamapi grinned and wandered off to help a customer.
"Next time warn me if someone's coming!" Kame hissed, and stormed off to the bathroom, complaining about how he missed his own senses. Jin thought it best not to follow him.
Kame's body didn't seem to have anything extraordinary on the senses front, but maybe, Jin thought, that was because he didn't know how to make it work. The demon might have x-ray vision, or super hearing, or something cool like that. If he spent so much time watching people he probably needed the advantage.
They didn't have too many more opportunities for Kame to practise after the mid-afternoon lull ended, so it was with a healthy amount of trepidation that Jin rushed him home, all but pushed him into the shower, and threw fresh clothing at him. He'd fought his way back out of the shower just long enough to talk Jin through dropping his veil, so at least the clothes hadn't appeared to come out of thin air.
"Do you have anything that's not so...plain?" Kame asked. "You're not going to catch anyone's eye in these." He held up the pair of worn, comfortable blue jeans and plain white T-shirt Jin had thrown at him.
"The fans are there to hear my music, not ogle me." This wasn't always true, of course, but Jin tried not to encourage them by wearing anything too clingy, and he was usually partly hidden behind his guitar. "Not like I can afford fancy stuff, anyway."
"I can see that." Despite his complaints, Kame made haste changing and preparing himself for his first night on the stage. "No time to do anything about it right now." He finished fluffing his hair and turned to face Jin. "How do I look?"
Jin shrugged, still not completely comfortable staring himself in the face anywhere except a mirror. "Like me."
"That'll do, I suppose." Kame adjusted the rainbow necklace he'd insisted on swiping from his own body and grinned. "Ready to make your debut as my guitarist?"
Jin just hoped he could still play with someone else's fingers. "I hope so. Give me your hand."
"Is this one of those team-building things where we put our hands together and chant? Demons don't really go in for that, but I've always wanted to try it." Kame held out his right hand.
"Nope, it's so I can bandage you up."
Kame offered up his left hand instead, and Jin started wrapping gauze from his bathroom cabinet around it, hoping no one who actually knew anything about medicine would get close enough to notice his hopelessly amateur work - or indeed, to ask Kame what he'd done to himself. There was no telling how long they'd need to maintain the deception and he couldn't say it was anything too drastic. No missing fingers.
"I hurt it at work," Kame said, rubbing his neck with his unbandaged hand. "Burned it. So I had to bring a friend to accompany me; hope that's okay?" He nodded towards Jin, standing in the doorway of Ueda's tiny office with his guitar case over his shoulder.
"As long as I only have to pay one of you, no problem." Ueda leaned back in his chair and beckoned Jin to come in. He'd had a haircut lately and gone back to his natural black, replacing his former princess style with a more suave, elegantly confident look that Jin found vaguely intimidating. There were rumours he'd won Mouse Peace in a boxing match and they finally seemed believable. "What's your name?"
"It's Kame-" Jin froze, seeking inspiration, and found it in the pear sitting untouched on Ueda's desk. "-nashi. Kamenashi Kazuya. Nice to meet you." He bowed a greeting, which Ueda returned.
"He's an old friend," Kame added. "In town for a while."
"How nice for him." To Jin, Ueda said, "You get one drink on the house - anything else, you're paying for. You'll have to negotiate with Akanishi over there for your cut."
"Got it." Good thing sweat didn't show on Jin's plain black T-shirt, because the longer they spent in Ueda's office, the more pronounced the prickling became. What if Kame did something weird? What if Jin answered to his own name? What if...
"Don't look so nervous," Kame said. "You're going to be great. We're going to be great."
"You'd better be," Ueda said. "Or you don't get paid."
They left the office for the soundcheck, Ueda remaining behind to finish his snack, so Jin gave Kame a quick tour of the place.
"Mouse Peace is a cafe club style live house," Jin explained, taking Kame into the main room. He had to speak quietly, since other staff were floating around and they knew him well enough that he'd look suspicious giving explanations to himself. "Ueda's the master here, and he's picky about the acts he lets play on his stage. Nothing too wild, mostly melodic rock. He'll spend the evening tending bar over there."
The bar ran along the right wall, near the door, where patrons who'd had too much could be discreetly escorted off the premises. Three steps led to the raised stage along the front wall, where someone had placed Jin's usual stool in the centre. Small, cosy tables filled the floor, waiting for customers to arrive. Jin sometimes sat there too, watching the other performers, picking up what he could, networking when the opportunity presented itself. (Not often, because that involved talking to strangers, and Jin's skills in that area were somewhat lacking.)
"You make much money like this?" Kame asked.
Jin shook his head. "If I did, you think I'd still be working at Family Mart? I just play every chance I get, and Pi lets me finish early when I have a show to do so long as I make it up another time. I can't make a living from this, though. Not yet."
Maybe not ever, but even if doing the show with Kame went horribly wrong, it was still more of a chance than he'd have had if the demon had succeeded in stealing his soul.
They ran through the soundcheck with Junno, Ueda's engineer and number one underling. He accepted Jin's presence easily enough on the grounds that anyone Ueda hadn't thrown out, had to be okay.
"He's easygoing," Jin muttered to Kame when Junno disappeared off the side of the stage. "Just don't let him challenge you to a game of billiards. Not for money. And try to laugh at his puns, even the really bad ones. Our sound quality's in his hands."
"If I only had my magic I could-" Kame checked himself. "Forget I said anything."
"Could I-" Jin wiggled his fingers, sadly empty of magic at the moment.
"No." Kame picked up Jin's guitar case with his unbandaged hand. "Now get to work before I forget the tunes."
Bossy little demon. Still, Jin found it reassuring that Kame was taking this so seriously. Perhaps they wouldn't be laughed off the stage after all. If they pulled this off, with next to no rehearsal time and no experience working together at all, it would be a miracle. (Like all the other miraculous things that had happened to Jin since leaving work last night...)
The mic was set up by the stool, since Jin usually sat for the show, but this time he left it for Kame to adjust and took the stool for himself, off to left, where he could play without them knocking into each other. Kame had a moment of confusion after initially adjusting the mic to his own height, rather than Jin's; soon remedied, and he clutched it like a starving child holding a bar of chocolate. Jin hoped he wouldn't try to bite it.
They didn't have time for more than a couple of songs, which Jin had picked on the way over. 'Genki', because he thought Kame could do with something light to ease him in, and 'Care', which was to be their opening number.
The fingers of Kame's body were shorter and stubbier than his own, making him stretch further than usual to get them around the neck of the guitar, but they seemed deft enough, for all that. Jin plucked a few experimental notes, had to tighten his A-string a little before they could commence. They didn't have an audience, only Junno down the side, and Ueda, who'd emerged from his office to rub a cloth over the bar, yet Jin felt as nervous as if they were playing to a stadium full of eager fans. If this didn't work...
Kame opened his mouth - opened Jin's mouth, sang with Jin's voice - and the words poured forth as if he'd written them himself. Perhaps the body remembered, even if currently occupied by a stranger. Remembered every pencil stroke in a tatty old notebook, every beat tapped out by nicotine-stained fingers. The music was in Jin's bones, in his body, and that's where Kame happened to be right now.
He sang with more confidence than he had in the store, able to let his voice sound loud and clear to reach the back tables. No one would ever have guessed he'd learned the lyrics only that afternoon, had sung the song no more than a few times in his life. He didn't falter once, which was more than could be said for Jin. Normally having longer fingers, he sometimes fell short of the strings and had to start looking down at himself to keep from missing.
"You sure you're not the one with the injured hand?" Ueda said to him afterwards.
Jin smiled apologetically. "Just a little rusty on the songs. I'll be fine now I've had the practice."
"Sounded good to me." Kame thumped Jin on the back, turned to Ueda, and grinned. "I have complete faith in Ji- in Kamenashi."
"Should you be hitting people with that hand?" Ueda asked.
"It's numb right now," Kame said, smooth as silk. "Still waiting for the injection to wear off. Can't feel a thing yet."
Ueda left them to start opening up. Jin had to ask. "I thought you said you couldn't lie?"
"You only noticed that now? I've been lying to Ueda since we got here. Anyway, I said my kind can't lie." Kame ran his tongue under his upper teeth. "I also said it was up to you whether or not to believe me. I'm a demon. Why would you believe a word I say in the first place?"
"You...seemed like you meant it." Jin hated feeling foolish. Had any of his friends taken him in in this way, he'd have resented it. Kame wasn't a friend...but then, Kame wasn't human, either, and while Jin hadn't met any of his kind before, he felt he couldn't judge demons by human standards. Maybe it was all bad press, who knew?
"I lied about that. Not about anything else," Kame said. "Not to you. I'll tell you if I do."
Jin didn't see the point in that but they didn't have time to get into a philosophical debate on the nature of truth in the universe. Ryo, Ueda's smart-mouthed number two underling, was already in place by the door, preparing to sell tickets to the fans waiting outside.
Mouse Peace didn't sell tickets in advance; patrons bought on the door, specifying which act - when there was more than one - they'd come to see. Jin's share of the take relied heavily on the fact that Ryo liked him and could be persuaded to write down his name more often than warranted, provided Jin bought him the odd beer and never refused to let him steal a cigarette. Since Jin didn't yet have enough fans to fill the live house for the night by himself, he was resigned to getting a smaller piece of the pie than some of his peers.
Hence the day job. No one ever said being a musician was profitable.
At least Kame didn't need the money - or wouldn't once he had his own body back. Jin didn't have to split anything.
Anything except the love of the crowd, who didn't know him in this body. They weren't here to see the short redhead strumming the guitar. He could've been anyone.
They were here to see Akanishi Jin - some of them, at any rate - and Kame gave them what they wanted, proving he'd been paying attention during his stalking period. Jin couldn't watch him all the time, had to keep half an eye on his fingers, but there didn't appear to be anything artificial about Kame's smile, or about the raw emotion in his voice when he sang 'Hatachi no Sensou'. He cracked in all the right places, pleaded with his eyes and voice for the crowd to fall in love with his music.
Jin wanted so badly to sing. Keeping his mouth shut was nigh on impossible. His words, his tunes, his feelings laid out in musical form for the world to hear. Sadness, pain, joy, hope and despair of the kind he doubted the demon had ever felt. Human emotions were the most powerful source of inspiration any songwriter could ask for.
Could demons feel the same?
Kame had introduced them both to start, waving his bandaged hand in the air to explain the addition of a guitarist. It was easy to tell who was here to see Jin - nobody else looked surprised. Happily, there were a number of them, and Jin couldn't help but wave. He got a few waves back, too.
By the time they reached 'Eternal', Jin had stopped watching his fingers. He didn't need to anymore. He watched the audience instead, watched the men and women watching him with interest in their eyes, some focused on his hands and others on his face. Kame's face. The demon's beauty had struck him the moment he'd entered the store; Jin felt a trifle unnerved by the thought that people were staring at him, finding his face attractive, when it wasn't his face at all.
It wasn't his voice either. He mouthed along with the lyrics, silently at first, then louder when he realised no one could hear him anyway. Singing in Kame's voice in Family Mart had been almost too strange to handle. Singing on a stage? Far more natural. Jin didn't dare try the high notes but Kame's voice sounded much sweeter to him now.
And then it was all over, and Kame was giving his thanks to the crowd. Jin bowed too, only just remembering to move the guitar from his lap in time to avoid cracking his head on it. He'd seen the inside of Ueda's first aid kit before. Never again.
When they relinquished the stage to the next act, a band of seven young men clutching instrument cases and bottles of water, Jin made a beeline for the bar to claim his free drink. They'd had water on the stage, but Ueda preferred performers to save the alcohol for afterwards, citing evidence of past misadventures with such an evil smile that neither of them felt inclined to cross him.
He looked askance at Kame asking for wine. "Didn't you say wine made you sick?"
"It's for Kamenashi," Kame said before Jin could get a word in. "I'll have my usual."
They took receipt of two glasses: red wine and vodka. Jin hoped Ueda wouldn't notice them swapping - he hadn't been kidding about the wine making him ill. Moving to the very end of the bar solved that problem. Ueda didn't encourage sitting at the bar, but as the tables were reserved for paying customers, performers had nowhere else to go.
"Sorry about the wine," Kame said, just about audible over the sounds from the front of the club. "I didn't think to check what you liked to drink."
Jin shrugged. "Beer, vodka, cocktails...not too fussy. I mean, if I drink enough of anything, it'll make me sick, but wine..." He shuddered, hoping the bad memory would take the hint and not make itself instantly available.
"Here." Kame took the wine, sipping delicately at it while Jin made a start on his glass of vodka. "Well? How was I?"
"You've ruined my music career," Jin said, completely straightfaced. "I'll be working at Family Mart for the rest of my life now."
"Not really." Though Kame sounded mock-offended, his eyes held enough hesitation that Jin felt bad about teasing him. Why his opinion should matter to a demon, he had no idea. "I thought you sounded pretty good."
"We sounded pretty good," Kame corrected. "Great, in fact. The tables down in the front obviously thought so too."
"What about the ones in the back?"
"Can't tell in this body."
"But this body," Jin patted his own chest, "doesn't have super sight, or anything like that, does it?"
"No, but I can use magic to fake it. Much easier to stalk people when you can see through walls and stuff."
Jin resolved to try this later. Not that he wanted to see through walls - not when his neighbours were about a hundred years old - but enhanced senses would be nice.
"Did you...did you enjoy it?" he asked, fairly confident of the answer but wanting to be sure.
Kame set down the glass and beamed at him. "That might be the most fun I've had since Matsumoto accidentally forgot to fill in a 221B form. We all laughed for days."
Jin shook his head. Disbelief didn't even begin to cover it. "You seriously need to learn how to enjoy yourself over something other than screwed up paperwork."
"I'm trying." Kame drained his glass. "Now can we go back to your place and have another session, or do you have a third job we need to get to?"
"This is the last one," Jin assured him. "And tomorrow I have a day off. No work."
"Perfect! I'm not letting you leave your apartment at all tomorrow!"
Unfortunately for Jin, Ueda returned just in time to hear this. "I had no idea you swung that way, Akanishi..."
Magic practice had to take a backseat to food, because after a day of being unable to eat unless no one but Kame was around, Jin felt ravenous. They stopped off on the way home at a stand-up udon bar; after consuming a bowl of thick, hot noodles, Jin felt full but not yet satisfied. He didn't want more food, though. That wasn't it.
The food didn't seem to help with the tiredness, either. He usually felt energised after a show, and with tomorrow being a day off, he would normally have considered staying on longer at Mouse Peace, talking to customers and trying to win over new fans. Tonight, no way. He was coming down a lot faster than usual, and all he wanted to do was curl up and sleep.
Kame frowned when he heard this. "Keeping that veil up for most of the day took it out of you. Sorry, I should've figured it would be harder for a human. Go to sleep, and we'll pick up again in the morning."
"Sorry." Jin yawned. "I know we're not really getting anywhere with this whole bodyswitching thing."
"It's okay. I can't push you till you drop dead of exhaustion - then I never get my body back!"
Jin couldn't be bothered to hit Kame with the pillow. He had better uses for it.
He woke up late the next morning, somewhat refreshed but still rough around the edges with a tiredness that sleep couldn't seem to cure. He stretched on the couch, not moving until Kame crept up and poked his bare stomach where it peeked out from under his T-shirt. Jin squealed, curling up at one end of the couch, so Kame promptly sat down next to him.
"We're going to start off with breakfast," he said.
"Great." Jin rubbed sleep from his eyes. "What are we having?"
"Whatever your imagination can provide."
"Manifestation." Kame looked up as a click sound indicated that the kettle had boiled. "I'll give you a head start, though. Go get washed; I'll make the coffee."
"Since when have you known how to work my kettle?"
Kame poked him again. "Some of us have been awake for the last four hours, waiting for you to wake up. That's a lot of time to play with buttons."
Jin couldn't smell smoke and there didn't appear to be any debris lying around, so he assumed Kame hadn't blown anything up during his experiments. Hopefully it was safe to get up.
Once Jin looked more-or-less human and had a shot of caffeine in his system, Kame started up with the lesson.
"Soul transference requires you to have a very firm idea in your head of an intangible object - something you can't detect with your senses. It's harder than you think. If your mind wanders for a millisecond, the soul will be scattered all over the universe."
Jin gulped. This sounded like an awfully roundabout route to get breakfast. "You're not suggesting an intangible breakfast, are you? Because I don't think that would be very satisfying."
"Before you can even think about intangible objects, you need to learn to hold your focus on tangible ones. The best way to learn that is with something that doesn't exist yet. Then you can't mess it up too much. At the worst it'll wreck your carpet."
"This is a rental apartment..."
Kame ignored him. "What do you feel like eating? Make sure it's something you can visualise."
It was hard to go wrong with bread, Jin thought. "Toast."
"White bread? Brown bread? Granary? Plain? Butter? Jam? Cheese? Be specific."
Jin held up his hands against Kame's onslaught of questions. "Um...white bread, buttered. Do I have to imagine a plate as well?"
Kame looked down at the carpet. "I'll let you have a plate. If you can manage to get it on the plate, that's good practice too." He retrieved one from the cupboard and set it down on the floor. "Now, gather some magic. This isn't going to be too different from what you did yesterday; we're just going to take it further, that's all."
By now Jin had managed to get the hang of extracting the magic from inside, only flinching a bit at the contact with his spine. He held it out to the atmosphere as he had when creating a veil, tried to push his hands together to build the toast, and-
"Stop!" Kame commanded. "You're turning invisible again. I said this wasn't going to be too different; I didn't say it would be identical. Drop the veil and listen."
Sure enough, Jin's arms were fading out of existence, even to his own eyes. He hastily dismissed the veil with the trick Kame had taught him yesterday: imagine a waterfall, with cool, clean water washing away every trace of magic.
"Okay." Kame's eyes lingered on Jin's hands, softening when they no longer flickered. "Before you release the magic into the atmosphere, you have to make a container for it, or all you'll do is thicken the air again. Picture the slice of toast on the plate. Think about the texture, the taste. Think about the shape. Know this slice of toast inside out, till it's so real to you that you can practically see it."
"Become one with the toast, got it."
Kame grinned. "That's for after you've made it appear."
Jin leaned back against the couch and fixed his eyes on the plate. It remained stubbornly empty, staring back at him plain and blank. He'd done this before, hadn't he? With the turtle tattoo. Made something appear where it hadn't existed before. He could do it again.
Picturing toast was easy. Picturing toast on the plate: still no problem. Picturing it so he could see it somewhere other than his mind's eye: not so simple. Jin didn't care for hallucinations.
He tried to will it into existence, yelling inside his head for it to appear, as if he could force it if only his demands were loud enough. He tried drawing mental pictures, imagining his hand guiding a pencil around the plate till he could see the outline of the toast.
Then his stomach growled, so he got distracted.
"You're not quite getting this, are you?" Kame said.
"Think of it this way: succeed or starve. But no pressure."
"So this is what demons are really like..."
Jin persevered, since he didn't fancy starving to death and it didn't look like Kame was going to let him find food by normal methods. Maybe the hunger would help. He could imagine the taste in his mouth, imagine the warm scent of freshly-toasted bread tickling his nose. Mmm, that was it. He licked his lips. This was going to taste so good, this thick slab of bread with hot melted butter seeping gently inside...
"Can I have a slice too?" Kame asked. "I don't think it would fit in your toaster, but it looks delicious."
Kame pointed to the plate, where a giant wedge of buttered toast just barely dangled above the carpet. "I guess you didn't need to listen after all."
"What did I do?" Jin looked down at his hands, which no longer tingled with magic. He didn't even recall releasing it.
"You used the magic to give form to an idea of a slice of toast. If that even counts as a slice. Half a loaf, maybe."
"Hey!" Jin scooped up his breakfast. "I was hungry, okay?"
For a magical construct, it certainly tasted like the real thing, right down to the bland bits in the corners where Jin always missed with a knife. Kame let him finish it before asking him to repeat the exercise.
"Practice makes perfect," Kame said. "And I'm hungry too."
He made Jin do it twice more - with normal sized slices, this time - and pay better attention to his actions, so that Jin could actually feel the magic leaving through his fingertips, directed to the plate and the vision of toast lying upon it. The second time Kame wanted strawberry jam, so Jin had to adjust his mental image. He succeeded, but...
Jin didn't realise he'd zoned out until Kame called him, and the toast had been completely consumed. "Yeah?"
"You look exhausted," Kame said flatly. "Do you even realise you're halfway to lying down?"
Kame worked one hand under Jin's arm, helped him sit up straight again. Jin let his head loll back against the couch, glad they were already on the floor. That bone-deep exhaustion from last night was making a comeback - not that it had ever really left, but he'd been able to put it aside till now. Not for much longer, though.
"I need to go back to sleep, sorry," he said. "I know I haven't been awake all that long, but..." He closed his eyes. The couch was too high up for him to reach; he could sleep on the floor, no problem, even sitting up like this. If Kame would just stop talking at him...
"It's not sleep you need." Kame shook him roughly by the shoulder. "Jin? Don't go to sleep. Talk to me."
"Too tired to talk." Jin couldn't keep from slurring. Even his lips were tired. "Started last night, still there this morning. Can you pass me a pillow?"
"You don't need to sleep; you need to...feed."
"Not food. Not human food." Kame sighed. "You need blood."
"Blood? This body's anaemic?"
"Not exactly. I...I didn't know if it would be an issue, but it looks like there's no way around it." Kame ran a finger down one of the veins in his forearm. "Human food sustains my body, for the most part. But a demon's soul gets hungry too. We feed on other people's lives - on their blood."
Sounded like vampires. Jin didn't get along well with horror movies. "So why...why aren't you hungry? Why is it making me tired, when your soul's in my body?"
"Because my soul and body are still linked, just as yours are," Kame explained. "If I don't feed, I feel tired because I don't have enough life left. I'm starved in here," he tapped his forehead, "but I feel it here." He placed his hand over Jin's heart.
It was easy to forget Kame wasn't human until he started talking about souls, and blood, and things Jin wasn't sure he wanted to understand. What he did manage to understand from all of this was that if he didn't get some blood in him soon, well...he didn't want to know.
"You should lie down," Kame said.
"That's what I've been trying to do for the last five minutes."
"Not here. Come on."
With Kame's help, Jin made it over to the bed, crashing down gracelessly on the mattress. Kame rolled him onto his back and knelt down next to the bed, leaning over to talk.
Jin giggled. The big, bad vampire demon bending over him, about to suck his blood, like he was a young girl in a horror movie. About to be... Hang on a second.
"Shouldn't this be the other way around?" he asked, hoping Kame could understand his mumbles. Talking was such hard work. "Me drinking your blood?"
"My soul needs it, not yours. But if this doesn't work, we'll switch." Kame rubbed his nose. "It's not like I've got prior experience with this."
"That makes two of us..."
Kame left for a few minutes; Jin heard the sound of drawers opening, and then Kame returned with a knife. "I'd normally use my teeth," he said, "but you don't have fangs, and you're too exhausted to make mine grow. So we'll have to use this. I've sterilised it."
So Jin wouldn't get infected while he was being cut open and drained, wonderful. "Could...could we maybe go get you a pint at a hospital or something?"
"This'll be fine, I promise. And I'm not lying to you."
"Easy for you to say that - you're not the one about to get sliced open."
"I don't need much. Relax, Jin. A little blood, and you'll feel so much better. I know what it's like, feeling that you can't move, that even just existing takes up so much of your energy you've got nothing left." Kame's voice dropped to a whisper. "I can make it better for you."
This might've been reassuring if not for the small, sharp, vegetable knife in Kame's hand. Jin wouldn't be using it to chop carrots again. Not after feeling like one himself.
Jin's T-shirt left most of his arms exposed; Kame picked up his left by the wrist, laying it flat on the bed, still cradled by Kame's fingers. Jin's own fingers curled up in reflex, nails digging into his palm. He couldn't help tensing. This was more reckless than anything he'd ever done, up to and including some of the motorbike stunts he'd pulled in his late teens. At least he'd had a choice back then. Not this time.
Kame rubbed his thumb gently over Jin's wrist; Jin clenched his fist tighter and shuddered, dreading what was to come. Pain had never been his forte.
"Y-you do this a lot?"
"Couple of times a week. Normally I can make the donors forget, but...that takes magic, and you have all of mine."
Jin didn't see how anyone could possibly forget having their blood drunk, but magic, as he was learning, could do strange things to people. Bring things into being that didn't exist, and hide those that were already there. If only he could use it to get himself past this. He could wake up and Kame would have all the blood he needed.
Kame set the knife aside for a moment to brush Jin's bangs away from his forehead. "Calm down; I know what I'm doing."
"You're in my body, and my body has no idea what you're doing," Jin protested, words growing thicker by the moment. The longer they delayed, the worse he felt.
"Relax. Close your eyes if it would help."
For a demon, Kame's bedside manner wasn't too bad - and it did help to not be able to see sunlight glinting off the knife when Kame picked it up again. Jin screwed his eyes shut, trying to take deep, calming breaths. He could do this.
His breath caught on the sting of the knife, but he didn't open his eyes until Kame's mouth closed over his wrist, tongue lapping warm and wet against the broken skin. Not like a pet - like a lover, cradling him with strong fingers, holding him steady and safe. Kame's other hand, no longer holding the knife, rested lightly on Jin's stomach; Jin watched it start to circle. Anything was better than watching the life being sucked out of him.
Kame didn't look like a movie vampire, though. No red eyes, no dripping fangs, no clawed fingers driven into unwilling flesh. Of course, given that he currently looked like Jin, any changes in this direction would've been most unwelcome. If not for the nagging pain in his arm, Jin could've mistaken Kame's actions for romance, not nourishment. He'd had various parts of his anatomy sucked before, but generally without blood being involved, and this way wasn't as much fun.
Not until he started to notice the effects. The more blood Kame took, the more alive Jin felt, energy slowly returning to restore his heavy, useless limbs to action. For every drop he lost, he grew more alert. Running marathons might not be on the cards yet but sitting up, he could certainly manage.
Kame licked the leftover blood from his lips and sat up straight, blinking. "I told you to relax, not get up and move about!"
Jin checked his wrist, which Kame still held. He hadn't torn anything by pulling free, thankfully. Perhaps moving hadn't been a great idea; blood immediately welled up in the exposed cut. Kame flashed him a playful grin, bent down, and licked it away. Jin's stomach turned, but he didn't think it was the sight of his own tongue lapping up blood that did it.
"Have you had enough yet?" he asked Kame, wondering how much he could afford to lose. It didn't seem like they'd been at it all that long; blood donors gave entire pints, right? That had to be safe.
"Do you still feel like you need to lie down?"
"If I did, I wouldn't have tried to sit up," Jin pointed out.
"Then we're done. Lie back down anyway."
Jin wondered what for, but Kame had somehow managed to find his first aid kit (which he hadn't even seen for months) and set to work cleaning him up. Kame made him keep pressure on the wound, holding it higher than his heart until the blood clotted. It didn't take as long as Jin expected.
"Can I do something with magic to hide this?" he asked. "Everyone's going to think I tried to hurt myself."
Kame raised an eyebrow. "Like this? You'd be the most unsuccessful cutter ever."
"Look." Kame tapped Jin's injured wrist, where the wound already seemed smaller. "I told you my body's only mostly human. This is one of the more useful non-human aspects."
No matter how long Jin stared at his skin, the cut never appeared to shrink, yet it disappeared within minutes. He wished he could take that particular trait back with him to his own body - he tended to pick up a lot of cuts from plastic at work.
"This arrangement isn't fair," Jin said. "If this body gets hungry, I get hungry. If your soul gets hungry, I get tired."
"Nobody asked you to switch bodies with me," Kame snapped. "In fact, I'd rather you hadn't. But we're stuck like this now until you learn how to switch us back."
Jin had merely been stating a fact, not intending to cause annoyance, but if he'd riled Kame, fine. Jin thought he had a right to be cross after having his life turned upside down for no better reason than that he might make a good snack for some creepy old demon. What could Kame do to him now? Nothing, because Jin had his magic.
Nothing, except lecture him.
"Now you're good to go again, let's try something else. We can't waste your day off; it's almost noon already. We'll never get anywhere like this."
"You need to learn how to move things too, or nobody's souls will be going anywhere."
Kame's brusque, no-nonsense tone rubbed Jin up the wrong way and he couldn't help sniping back. "I thought you said you didn't even know exactly what had happened? So what makes you think you know how to reverse it, huh?"
Kame grabbed a fistful of Jin's T-shirt, hauling him off the bed so he had to either plant his feet on the floor or fall onto it. "I'm working on it, which is more than you're doing right now. Ready for your next lesson, human?"
Jin carefully unfolded Kame's fingers till he could pull his shirt free, straightened up so he could stand firm (if not tall), and placed his hands on his hips. "Bring it on."
The next magic lesson turned out to be telekinesis. "I was trying to move your soul into the manga when you somehow disrupted the transfer. You need to learn how to move."
"I know how to move." Jin executed a surprisingly flawless hip roll, considering the hips weren't his.
Kame snorted. "Not your body. Let's start with something simple - and unbreakable. See that used dressing?" He pointed to the bloodstained pad on the nightstand. "Try moving it into the bin without using your body."
So much for dancing. "And how am I supposed to do that? Throw it across the room using magic?"
"That's the idea. You put the toast on the plate by visualising an object in a specific place. This time, do it for an object that already exists. You have to keep both of them in mind at the same time - the dressing you see, and the dressing where you want it to be."
Jin's bin was a tiny, freestanding grey box beside his kitchen counter. He could barely see it from where he stood, never mind see inside it. Still, he had a vague idea what he'd be looking at. He'd changed the bag last night, so unless Kame had thrown anything away, the bin's contents would be nothing more interesting than a clear plastic sack, slightly wrinkled.
"Try it, hotshot. You don't need me to talk you through this one, do you?"
Kame's crossed arms issued a challenge as much as Jin's clenched teeth offered defiance. He'd be doing this one solo, then. No advice, no guidance. Moving a tiny pad from one place to another; how hard could it be? If that cocky little demon could master soul transference in twenty days then he, Akanishi Jin, could do it in ten.
Or less. And telekinesis? Piece of cake.
He sat back down on the bed, deliberately ignoring Kame glaring at him from the side, and fixed his gaze on the bloodstained pad. Red blood, as human as his own. Jin wondered how his body had reacted to it.
No. No wondering anything. He couldn't lose concentration. There was the pad - and there, in his mind's eye, the bin. All he had to do was merge the two. He dove down deep into himself, to find the dark, rotting velvet that gave him power, and seized as much as he dared. The experience didn't become any more pleasant with repetition.
There. Magic, tingling in his fingertips, ready to do his bidding. Jin could get used to this...if only it didn't mean living in someone else's body. He could save a fortune on food bills. He imagined the bin, mental camera peering inside at the bag, and reached...
It took Kame ten minutes to stop laughing after the bin shot across the room and attached itself to Jin's hand.
"It's not funny!"
"It is from where I'm standing!"
Not that Kame was standing, exactly. That involved having both feet on the floor, and he kept lifting his, a weird hop-clap laugh that seemed to take over his entire body. Jin was pretty sure his body had never attempted such strange contortions.
"Can you stop having a seizure and help me get this thing off my hand?"
Kame gave such a blatantly fake gasp he might as well have been on a variety show. "You mean that wasn't what you were trying to do?"
"You know it wasn't," Jin grumbled.
"Fine." Kame relented, dropping down next to Jin to examine his hand, though amusement kept his lips quirked in a smile. "Hmm, looks like it's stuck fast by magic. The waterfall trick should remove it."
After Jin washed away the magic with his mind, and then everything else in the sink, he suggested trying again with something less likely to give him bruises by ramming into his hand.
"Fair enough," Kame agreed. Laughter, even at Jin's expense, had cleared the air completely between them and Jin couldn't stay mad. "How about that pillow? Move it from the head to the foot of the bed. That should be safe enough."
"Or I'll end up with a mouthful of foam. I wonder what went wrong the first time?"
"It's not easy to keep multiple objects in mind simultaneously, especially when one of them doesn't exist," Kame said kindly. "You'll get it. It took me three days to get the hang of it. Though I did get interrupted a lot..."
"I'm sure you were quite the demonic overachiever," Jin said, hoping it was a property of Kame's body rather than his soul and therefore he'd inherited it.
He stood next to the bed, midway between the source and the destination. Dark green pillow, nothing special, a little flat in the middle from years of use. He restocked the magic, held both hands out in front of him and tried to project the pillow, this time, rather than reaching for it. He didn't want it glued to his hand; Kame had been using it for the last two nights and would likely need it again tonight unless Jin made ridiculous amounts of progress in the next half a day.
He should probably have laundered the bedding, what with having a guest and all. Then again, the guest was in his body, so did it really count? Kame must have his own bed somewhere, wherever it was demons lived. Did they have homes? Or did they live in tiny dormitories, only allowed out to gather souls for their boss?
Kame's shout rang hoarse and afraid in Jin's ears as the world winked out.
"I thought we agreed to use the front door in case one of us had someone over. It was your idea, Kame!"
"Huh?" Jin stared blankly at the short, spiky-haired blond man pacing up and down before him.
"Have you been drinking again?" The stranger thrust a hand under Jin's chin, holding him still so he could look him in the eyes. "You do look kind of out of it. Did you bring any back? Say you did and I'll forgive you for teleporting straight into my room."
Jin wrenched his chin free and backed up against the wall, suddenly confronted by someone who, from the sound of things, lived with Kame. Which meant he was probably a...
"You're a demon too!" Jin gasped.
The demon stared at him like he'd lost his marbles. "Yes, Kame. I'm a demon. You're a demon. The two creeps living next door are demons. Everyone in this whole damned building is a demon. Welcome back to reality. Did you have a nice trip?"
Welcome back. To where? Jin scanned the room, looking for anything that might give him a clue to his location. There wasn't much. A rumpled double bed, a half-open wardrobe with chains glinting between the doors, a nightstand with a small lamp, and a massive desk covered in sheets of paper. Above the desk, a large map of Tokyo was pinned to the wall.
At least the demon spoke Japanese. He looked Japanese too, despite the blond hair. It might even be natural, though he doubted it - having had the opportunity to take a closer look at Kame's hair, Jin had seen darker roots starting to peek through.
"Hey." The spiky-haired demon clicked his fingers in front of Jin's eyes. "You okay? Did that musician you were after get you wasted or something before you could take him?"
"I'm fine." As fine as he could be without knowing where he was or who he was with. "I'm not drunk. Or high, or crazy, or anything else!"
"You didn't get him, did you?"
"That Akanishi guy you picked out for your next target. Something went wrong, that's why you've come back empty-handed, in someone else's clothes - no way do you own jeans that baggy - just dropping in suddenly instead of coming through the front door like we agreed."
"He didn't- I mean, I didn't!" Jin didn't know if it was better to own up and hope Kame's roommate would be as friendly as Kame, or bluff his way out and hope he could reverse whatever he did to get there. "And I forgot, that's all."
"And the clothes?"
"What's wrong with my clothes!"
"Whoah, there." The demon held up his hands. "A man's clothes are his own business, fine. I'll forget it. Now could you please go polish the mirrors or do some laundry or clean whatever it is you need to clean to calm down?"
Cleaning. Right. This explained a lot about why Kame kept insisting on rinsing the dishes the second they were done with them. "S-sure. I can do that." He made for the door, hoping the apartment would be easy to navigate.
The door led to a small corridor. Jin made a guess and ended up in the bathroom. That, at least, had a lock. He bolted the door and sank down on the closed toilet lid to stop and think for a moment. He had to get out of here - wherever 'here' was - and he had to do it without Kame's help, before the roommate noticed something was up.
Deep breath. Be one with the universe, and all that. Now, what had he done wrong? He'd looked at the pillow, tried to project it...and then gotten sidetracked thinking about Kame's home. Instead of moving the pillow, he'd moved himself.
And Kame had no idea where he was. He didn't have his cell phone, couldn't call home - could he even get a signal from here? It didn't seem like he could be anywhere near home. Even in Tokyo, an entire building full of demons couldn't go unnoticed, could they? Maybe in Akihabara...
He tried to visualise how to reverse the trip when a knock on the door derailed his train of thought. "Kame?"
"Yeah?" he called back.
"If you're sticking around for a while, want me to order in something for lunch? I'm supposed to be stalking this girl tonight so I gotta have something now. I'm thinking pizza?"
"Uh...salami, peppers-" Jin broke off when the demon appeared before him, eyes blazing.
"You're not Kame. So you have exactly five seconds to tell me who you are before I set the dogs on you."
"How did you...oh." The peppers. Of course. "Um...I'm the musician?"
"You're the..." The demon shook his head. "No. No way. Did Tegoshi put you up to this? Because it's not funny. There is no possible way a human just magically appeared in my bedroom. Life doesn't work like that."
"I don't know who the hell you're talking about, but you're right, I'm not Kame," Jin babbled. "I'm Akanishi Jin, the guy whose soul he was trying to take. Something went wrong, we ended up switching, and now he's stuck in my body with no magic and I'm...I don't even know where I am. Or who you are. Or how I'm supposed to get home!"
"Wonderful." The demon perched on the edge of the bath, looking more drained than dangerous. "He's usually such a great roommate, you know? Cooks like a dream, loves cleaning, good with the dogs - never any trouble, just rolls around on the couch a lot. Do you even know how to work the washing machine?"
"Huh?" Jin spluttered, too baffled to panic. "Can't you just use magic or something?"
"Yeah, but it'd be a waste. If I used magic for household chores I'd be spending too much time asleep to steal any souls, and then where would I be?"
Jin coughed. "Could you maybe not talk about that?"
"What? Uh, yeah, whatever. I need to figure out how to get you out and Kame back in." As an afterthought, the demon added, "I'm Koki, by the way."
"Maybe you are, and that's why you're here..."
Koki insisted they move from the bathroom so he could order pizza, because he wasn't going to think of anything on an empty stomach and clearly, Jin wasn't going to think of anything at all. Jin couldn't argue with him. Koki had to know more about magic than he did.
He explained about Kame showing up in his bathroom, and the business with the cracked mirror and shredded manga, and how he'd been learning to use magic so somehow he could switch their souls back again. "I need my life back," he finished. "Kame can't play guitar and I can't steal souls. And he definitely can't meet my family. Does he even have family? Do demons have families?"
"Kame's got three brothers and they all look like him," Koki said. "What, you think we're not people because we're not human?"
"And don't worry, we'll definitely get you two switched back again. We'll never make this month's quota with just me working. So many souls..." Koki sighed. "You're getting in the way of us paying our rent."
"I don't think Kame's going to be doing much to help with my rent," Jin pointed out. "He's not too enamoured with my job. So you're not the only one being inconvenienced."
They called a truce since the pizza boxes materialised on the coffee table ("They teleport it in," Koki explained. "Much faster service.") and Koki made Jin describe in great detail how he'd come to appear in the apartment. The second time he took notes. The third time he drew diagrams, complete with stick figures and arrows, and a couple of spots of grease from the pizza.
"Couldn't you just teleport me back?" Jin asked. "I could tell you where I'm supposed to be."
"Uh uh. After hearing how you screwed up Kame's magic? No thanks. We could end up merged, or worse. You're taking yourself home."
"Your diagrams are going to help with that?"
"It seems simple to me," Koki said. "You got distracted, so your focus changed. You forgot about moving the pillow to the end of the bed, and moved yourself to the place you were thinking about - Kame's home. So think about moving to your home instead, or wherever it is you want to go."
"Home," Jin said firmly. "I need to go home. Kame's probably going nuts wondering where I am."
"Then expect to find your place cleaned to within an inch of its life."
Perhaps there were benefits to having Kame as a roommate after all. Jin wiped his hands on a napkin (he didn't know where the pizza had come from and didn't like to ask, but it hadn't tasted weird or anything) closed his eyes, and reached for his magic.
Home. He'd been in the same apartment since he moved out, walls bearing silent witness to hours and hours of practice, to the party he'd thrown after the first time he'd been allowed to take the stage, to good dates and bad dates and everything in between. His apartment had been his sanctuary when he'd fallen out with friends; his comfort when he'd worried if he was even good enough to pursue his dreams. He knew every inch of it, where the floorboards creaked and where spiders liked to hide if he didn't clean often enough. There was nowhere inside that he couldn't picture in his mind.
Except Kame. Where would Kame be? Cleaning, if Koki was to be believed. Maybe Kame was still where Jin had left him, sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for Jin to figure out how to get himself home. Maybe he'd grown tired of waiting and was taking a nap, lying with his head on that same green pillow...
The room dissolved right along with the magic, leaving Jin flat on his back, staring up at his own ceiling. (He knew it was his by the shape of the water stains.)
Kame's hands seized his shoulders. "Where did you go? What have you been doing for the last two hours?"
"Eating pizza with your roommate." Jin tried to sit up, but Kame kept him pinned to the bed. "He seems nice. He thought you'd be cleaning."
"Already did that while you were sleeping the morning away." Kame grimaced, unwrapping his fingers from Jin's shoulders and sitting back on his heels. "Then I tried to phone home to see if I could get hold of someone with magic to help me look for you, and discovered that cell phones don't work across different dimensions. I...er...sort of fried mine in the process."
"You..." Jin struggled up onto his elbows to find two phones side by side on the nightstand: his, and one he'd never seen before. "Please tell me you didn't try mine."
"Yours is locked. I didn't touch it." Jin reached for the phone and Kame added, "Much."
The phone showed two failed attempts, neither of which were the correct password of '1582'. (Jin had once tried his hand at writing a song based on Japanese history, but thrown in the towel after Yamapi had suggested he might want to build up his fanbase before going all out and singing about dead samurai and their male lovers. The phone password was all that remained.)
"I'm sorry about your phone," Jin said, though it wasn't technically his fault. "I got kind of distracted when I tried to move the pillow. Koki told me it was because I was thinking about where you lived, so that's where I went."
"You weren't even supposed to move yourself." Kame whacked him in the stomach with the offending pillow. "You were supposed to move this. Teleporting was for next week."
Jin grinned at him, ignoring the pillow. "I skipped ahead?"
"You try to move like that when you try to move our souls, I think the two of us are going end up in one body, or joined at the hip, or something equally disturbing. Try a little discipline for a change. I know you're one of those free-spirited musician types, Jin, but it wouldn't kill you to focus - and it might kill you if you don't."
Jin's smile faded. Kame looked furious. Jin had never seen his own face so cold, so locked into hard, straight planes of solid ice. Those eyes alone could freeze him over.
And then everything melted, and Kame looked at him with grateful eyes and said, "But I'm glad you made it back. I didn't want to be stuck working in Family Mart for the rest of your life."
"That makes two of us!"
"Three of us," came a familiar voice from the foot of the bed, where Koki had materialised.
"How did you-" Jin began, and Koki interrupted.
"I got a lock on your body. I mean, Kame's body." Koki looked across at Kame. "And you have to be..."
Kame grinned sheepishly. "Good to see you." He caught up his roommate in a hug, leaving Jin alone on the bed and oddly irritated by the sight. His body had no right to be hugging people when he wasn't in it.
Koki looked taken aback for a moment, but after a minute of firing questions at Kame he declared himself satisfied that this was indeed the real one, and that they needed to switch back as soon as possible. "I can't get enough souls by myself," he said. "If we fall behind you know they'll ask questions, and I'm going to have to explain why you've suddenly dropped off the radar."
"I know, but..." Kame sighed. "Jin can't do it, and I can't do anything like this. I still have to figure out what went wrong with the transference last time before I let him anywhere near trying it, especially after what happened today."
"Want a second opinion?" Koki said. "I've got a little time before I have to go see about this girl. She's a singer too - hope she's less trouble than your one."
Jin glared at him. "I hope she gives you so much trouble you have to leave her soul alone."
Koki glared back. "Can we just dispose of him afterwards?" he asked Kame.
"Definitely not." Kame pushed down the waistband of his jeans to reveal the tattoo on his hip. "You can't tell me you didn't see this when you appeared here, Koki. You know I've marked him. He's mine now."
A shiver ran down Jin's spine at this, though he didn't think it was necessarily sinister. Possessive, yes, but somehow that didn't seem so bad.
"You're insane." Koki turned to Jin. "And you must be just as bad."
"Koki," Kame warned.
"I don't want to see anything bad happen to you," Koki said. "Where else am I going to find a roommate who cooks as well as you do?"
Koki broke into a grin; for a second, Jin thought he caught a glimpse of fangs. "You've got just under two weeks before the situation becomes critical. You need to figure this out quick, Kame."
At Koki's insistence, the three of them crammed into the bathroom to walk through the failed soul transfer - Koki had to stand in the shower. Jin positioned himself in front of the cracked mirror, which he still needed to replace, and Kame loomed over him from behind. They were in the wrong bodies, of course, but that couldn't be helped.
"The ritual started out fine," Kame said, holding up the notebook he was using to represent the ruined Shounen Jump issue. "The manga started glowing red, ready for transfer."
"Yeah." Jin fought back queasiness at the recollection. It hadn't been the best of days. "I saw the glow in the mirror. Then I looked at you, and your eyes were..." This was going to be embarrassing, but Jin couldn't think of any better way to put it. "I got lost in your eyes. I couldn't help it. It was like you were pulling me in."
"Your eyes." Kame ran a hand over his own. "We...we locked eyes. In the middle of the ritual."
"Sounds like I'm not the only one who can get distracted during magic," Jin said quietly.
A couple of beers later, with Koki having vanished about his business and Kame no longer berating himself over having screwed up, Jin ventured a question.
"Why do you do it?"
"Do what?" Kame shook his can, checking for any leftovers. "Raid your beer stash? Because it's all you've got and I need a drink."
"No, I mean...why steal souls for some creepy old man? Can't you just...quit?"
"Rather than kill people for a living? Because it's what I do, Jin. It's what all demons do. We only exist to find food for our bosses. Do you enjoy your job?"
"Uh...parts of it? Working with my best friend is great, and it's nothing too complicated or stressful - it's a living, I guess."
Kame nodded. "Then you should understand it's the same for me. It's all I know. We get paired into teams when we're old enough to start harvesting souls; Koki and I have been working together for years now, and we're good at what we do. Then we go home, we eat, we fill out pages and pages of paperwork to say everything was above board, we play cards with the guys next door and start the whole thing over again the next day."
"Don't you ever...I don't know, fall in love? Go to theme parks? Hit the beach?"
"Sure, we fall in love. I have parents, Jin, just like you. I'm the third youngest of four brothers. I'm even an uncle already." Kame set his empty can down on the table, next to the first two. "I have a life - it's just not the same as yours."
Kame sounded so sad Jin didn't have the heart to press him for more details on the demonic lifestyle. It wasn't his fault he'd grown up in that environment, after all. Jin didn't have the right to pass judgement on him for that. No human did.
"I'm sorry. I guess I'm not in a position to throw stones when I'm not exactly living the perfect life myself."
"No one is - that's the point," Kame said. "It takes all sorts to make up the universe. If I take a soul so my boss doesn't go hungry, is that better or worse than a man who kills for money? If I take a little blood to keep myself alive, is that worse than a kid who shoplifts to feed himself?"
Jin held his head in both hands. "Don't look at me for ethics. They don't go with beer."
Kame agreed with him. He also agreed that trying magic while under the influence might not be a hot idea, not if Jin didn't want to send them both to outer space or something, and thus the rest of Jin's day off was spent watching DVDs, consuming junk food, and trying (unsuccessfully) to fix Kame's cell phone.
It shocked them both when it bleeped, but it turned out to be a message on Jin's phone instead.
"It's from Ueda," Jin said after scrolling through it. "He says there's a slot free the night after next. Apparently the band who were supposed to be on got in touch to say their lead singer had a fatal allergic reaction to nuts..."
"Singer...you don't suppose..."
"He always did work quick," Kame said. "Are you taking the gig?"
Jin couldn't help feeling ill at the idea of stepping into a dead singer's shoes, but he didn't want her sacrifice to go to waste. "I'm not - we are."
The second show went considerably better than the first - Jin had no issues with his fingers this time, and Ueda unbent so far as to allow them two drinks. They were on second, so there wasn't quite so much of a rush to the live house and Kame took the time to make sure they both looked more stylish than scruffy.
"There's being casual and then there's being a mess," he said, and Jin couldn't win the argument. He did draw the line at having his nails painted, though.
Kame made it through another two days of work at Family Mart without arousing suspicion, largely because Jin turned himself invisible again to guide him through such critical things as working the till and talking about an old high school friend with Yamapi. The conversation ended up somewhat stilted, but earned Kame a thumbs-up and a reminder to try get some sleep, even if he was working hard till the early hours of the morning practising his music.
"I think we're going to need to practise some of these signals and handshakes," Kame said to Jin afterwards. "I can only be you for short periods of time without arousing suspicion. Even Nakamaru asked me if I'd been ill lately. Maybe you need a job where you don't have to see anyone."
"Couldn't do that; I hate being alone."
"Then why live alone?"
"Haven't found anyone to live with. I...I tried living with a girl for a while, but it didn't really work out."
Jin shrugged, not wanting to go into detail. It was kind of embarrassing to have your live-in girlfriend turn to you after a month and inform you that she thought you liked her brother better. He hadn't seen it coming. "I thought it was. She didn't."
Kame let the subject drop. They were supposed to be practising precision telekinesis, with Jin not allowed to move anything more deadly than one piece of popcorn at a time. In theory, they were working up to Jin getting the piece in his mouth. In practice...most of them ended up next to Kame.
"Your mind's not on this, is it?" Kame asked. "Not that I don't appreciate the popcorn, but..."
Jin wasn't quite sure what it signified that his mind seemed to be fixated on Kame, but it did mean they weren't getting anywhere fast with the magic practice. "How is me feeding us popcorn supposed to help with bodyswitching anyway?"
"Forget that it's popcorn. What you're trying to do is move something from outside yourself, into yourself, without damaging anything. That popcorn could've been materialising inside your tongue or something, you know."
"You're really not making me want to continue this, Kame..."
"Then let's try something else. Lie down."
"You could at least buy me dinner first."
Kame threw a piece of popcorn at him. "Dork. The first time I tried this, I ended up flat on my back. That's why you should lie down. Or you could just, you know, crack your head open on the table. Let me grab your first aid kit again before we start."
Not keen on acquiring a head injury, Jin complied, stretching out on the carpet. That put him directly under the overhead light; he closed his eyes against the glare of the bulb. He didn't see Kame's hand reaching for him but he felt his own long, warm fingers rest against his forehead.
"Take a look inside," Kame said softly. "Find that patch of shadow that lives up here. You should be able to see more now."
Jin knew what he meant: that darkness inside his head, his brain, where the soul resided. He hadn't been able to reach it before. He hadn't been able to do a lot of things, before.
Diving back in had become second nature to him now. He wove through rainbow nets of nerves, darting free and light with no flesh to drag him down. Inside, where body and soul met in a mass of grey matter. Jin hoped he couldn't scramble anything by accident. What would happen to Kame's body if he did? What would happen to him?
"Don't touch anything," Kame murmured, drawing circles on Jin's forehead with his fingertips. "Just look."
This time the shadow had faded to misty grey, clouds obscuring the sun rather than night hiding the day. Jin held back, staring until the grey parted to let brilliant white light shine through.
"See anything?" Kame's voice sounded muted, dampened by the strength of the light.
"Is it possible to give yourself sunglasses on the inside?" Jin wanted to turn away, but the light wouldn't let him leave. It swirled, dream-like snakes and spirals through the grey, tugging Jin closer. "That light - that's my soul?"
"It's your soul," Kame confirmed. "That's what I saw when I looked at you, why I thought..."
"Why you thought your boss would find me tasty."
"Yeah." Kame whispered a "sorry" before continuing. "In demons the body protects it with magic; you have to be used to using magic before you can see through. I thought it might let you now. That's a good sign."
"Do you...do you ever look at your own?"
"Not often. I can't do it in your body. It probably looks different now."
Jin was suddenly struck by a desire to see Kame's soul. How did a demon compare to a human? He tried to pull back, to withdraw from his body, but the light held his gaze. He could make out individual flares, tiny sunbeams dancing through the clouds, each one with its own special characteristics. They drew him nearer, demanding he watch them at play.
He reached out a spectral "hand"...
...and found he couldn't feel his physical hands anymore.
"Stay calm." Kame's fingers continued skimming his skin, but Jin could barely feel them. "You'll get the sensation back soon. It numbed me too, the first time. I told you not to touch."
I couldn't help it, was what Jin wanted to say, but his lips had gone the same way as his hands - as the rest of his body, in fact. He couldn't manage more than a slurred groan, which he didn't think the most skilled interpreter on the planet had a hope of understanding.
"It draws you in. Souls are bright like that, Jin. They take in everything around you, everything you learn, everything you feel. That's how you become a person." Kame moved down to Jin's fingers and began massaging life back into them. "They're too bright to resist - the first time, at least. You'll learn. You have to learn to handle them or you'll be shocked every time."
Slowly, sensation returned to Jin's body. His teeth scraped along his tongue, too sharp for that tender organ to withstand. The carpet bristled against the skin of his hands, each strand a pin-prick of pain. Moisture was a stranger to his throat and mouth; static made of his limbs four swarms of buzzing insects. All things considered, Jin was glad he'd listened to Kame and lain down first.
Kame's touch didn't leave him once, and Jin couldn't even speak to tell him how grateful he felt. The last time he'd been so physically helpless had been the night they met, and he'd have rejected any touch then. This time it was comforting - his own fingers, reminding him he could still feel after all.
Within the hour Jin could sit up again, still reeling from his soul-shock, and opening and closing his hands non-stop just to prove to himself that he could. He didn't dare try standing yet. His knees had returned to life; that didn't mean they wouldn't buckle. He couldn't afford to stumble in someone else's body.
He didn't realise how badly he was shivering till Kame draped a blanket around his shoulders.
"You could do with the warmth," Kame said. "I'd run you a hot bath but you've only got a shower."
"I know; you complain about it every chance you get," Jin said, grateful his teeth weren't chattering and that he no longer slurred. "Can I fix it?"
"Probably not without annoying your landlord. Creating extra space isn't a problem but the plumbing's a nightmare."
Jin took a hot shower instead, once he felt certain his legs could support him. No more numbness, no more pins-and-needles, but he couldn't quite shake the ghostly sensations of Kame's fingers roaming over him. Even water couldn't wash them away.
No more magic for him that night. He didn't want to go back inside, for fear of being drawn in by his own soul again...and besides, exhaustion was beginning to creep in around the edges, and that meant more feeding. A couple of times a week, Kame had said, which meant he was probably due.
Kame made him take the bed for a change, insisting he could manage fine on the couch, though Jin knew perfectly well his feet would be dangling off the end. Having his rightful sleeping spot back didn't feel quite as good as he thought it would - perhaps because Kame had taken the pillow he'd been using with him, and now when Jin rolled over he squashed his nose into the mattress. The lumps weren't where they were supposed to be, either. Not for this body.
Sleeping in his own bed didn't feel right...until Kame crept in at two in the morning to say he couldn't sleep either, except for his feet which kept going numb, and that he wanted back in the bed. Jin rolled over to make space and dropped off in the middle of Kame telling him he was hogging the covers.
Since Kame was a morning person, Jin was spared the trauma of waking up next to himself. Unfortunately, the rest of his day more than made up for it. Kame insisted on practising magic again before work (Jin really would've preferred to have breakfast by more conventional means), and Yamapi insisted on them going out after work, because they hadn't for ages.
"Tell him you want to bring a friend," Jin said, invisible to all and inaudible to everyone but Kame. "There's no way I'm going to stand and watch the pair of you eating and drinking when I can't do anything."
Yamapi was amenable to this. Jin had to follow Kame out back, secretly drop the veil, and sneak back to the shopfloor so he could pretend to have just arrived as Kame and Yamapi finished work for the evening. Kame introduced Jin using the same alias they'd given Ueda, and thus Yamashita Tomohisa, Akanishi Jin and Kamenashi Kazuya went out for curry rice.
For Jin, just being able to talk to his best friend directly again was...awkward. Extremely awkward. He kept answering to his own name by mistake, started talking about things only he and Pi knew and then had to say that he'd told himself. Kame had his work cut out for him, trying to keep up, and eventually had to resort to the rather drastic measure of shovelling a spoonful of rice in Jin's mouth to keep him quiet.
"You guys know each other pretty well, huh?" Yamapi said to Jin, who couldn't do more than nod with the rice in his mouth. "Jin hasn't mentioned you before."
"Kame's not from around here." Kame had to answer for him, and boy, wasn't that the truth? "He's only been living in Tokyo for a couple of weeks."
Jin gulped down the rice. Now to make up an entirely fictional background for himself. "Oi, I didn't move that far! You make it sound like I was living in Kyoto, not Yokohama!" He elbowed Kame in the ribs.
"Well, it felt like a long way every time I had to get on the train to visit you!"
"No fighting." Yamapi tapped his spoon on the edge of his plate. "It makes the food taste bad."
Given the speed at which all three of them were cleaning their plates, Jin thought this unlikely. But the less background he had to give Kame, the better. He'd never been any good at lying; Kame might be a master at it but it wouldn't help them if Jin screwed up. He got the conversation on a more neutral topic instead - music.
"Jin's been singing a lot around the shop lately," Yamapi said. "I think we should have him sing over the PA system instead of the recorded stuff."
"You'd better be kidding," Jin said. He liked to keep his careers separate, thank you very much.
"Why, don't you think he's good?"
"He thinks I'm amazing," Kame said, keeping a totally straight face. "He can't get enough of my voice."
Jin almost spat out his beer.
Watching his best friend and his accidental roommate try to communicate was like watching a sitcom gone horribly, horribly wrong - Yamapi had learned the right lines but for the wrong show, and Kame had learned his for the wrong role. The director clearly thought it was funny to have a group of drunken salarymen sitting behind them, whining about their failed love lives just loud enough to cause interruptions at all the worst moments, and Jin, sitting off to the side like world's worst AD, had to keep rushing in to save the conversation.
As dinners went, he'd had better, and his constant yawning probably wasn't giving Yamapi much of an impression of him. Closing his eyes on and off through the meal didn't help much.
"I haven't been sleeping well lately," he apologised.
Yamapi gave him a sympathetic smile, but Kame's eyes telegraphed 'alarm'.
Unfortunately the salarymen chose to fall silent the moment Kame began to say, "Are you going to last till we get home?"
"Home?" Yamapi did a good job of trying not to sound curious, but Jin knew him better than that. "Are you...living together?"
"Not exactly," Kame said, and rose from the booth. "I think he needs his meds."
Jin looked up at him through bleary eyes. "Huh?"
"You know, that medication that helps when you feel really, really tired?"
"Oh!" It finally sank in. "Yeah. I should have some of that."
He let Kame lead him to the restaurant's tiny, one-person bathroom, which had possibly the flimsiest lock in existence and hygiene Jin didn't want to think about. He sat down on the cracked toilet lid, leaning against Kame's side since there wasn't room for him to do anything else.
"Pi probably thinks I'm on drugs," he mumbled. "And that you're my dealer, or something."
"Better than him thinking that you, in your real body, are on drugs. Roll up your sleeve."
"So you can what, bite me?"
"No." Kame clucked impatiently. "You'd heal, but I really don't think you'd like it. I came prepared." He pulled a small wrapped package from his jacket pocket, which turned out to be one of Jin's kitchen knives.
"You've been carrying a knife around all day?"
Kame shrugged. "You were looking peaky this morning - and now you're looking downright drained. I didn't want to take the chance of us being stuck somewhere with you at the point of passing out."
"And you agreed to come out tonight because...?"
"Because you wanted to go. And I thought you'd tell me if you were feeling bad! I can't feel it for you, remember?"
Kame sounded cross, but Jin figured it was more worry than annoyance - at least until Kame grabbed his wrist and held up the knife.
"It's for your own good."
It might be true, but that didn't mean Jin had to like it. He slumped down even further, utterly lacking in enthusiasm. Kame cursed him soundly for a moment then tucked the knife away.
"I can't hold you still from this angle. Get up."
"And go where?"
Kame didn't bother to answer. He tugged Jin to his feet, then sat down on the toilet lid himself and pulled Jin sideways onto his lap. Jin would've protested, had he been able to get enough air to form words. Having his back pressed to one wall and his knees squished into his chest where his feet met the other wall didn't allow for much in the way of breathing.
"There," Kame said, satisfied. "Now you have to stay still." He picked up Jin's wrist again, nicking the skin before Jin even realised he'd pulled out the knife.
This time Jin had his eyes open - and a front-row seat. Kame's face was so close they could've been sharing the blood together, taking it in turns to lap at the line of red with eager tongues. Jin wanted to close his eyes, to freeze until Kame had finished and it was all over, but shutting it out was more than he could do with Kame so close, breath warm against his face and mouth sucking gently on his skin.
It's not safe to turn your back on a demon - but it's far more dangerous to look him in the eye.
Kame looked up, looked right into Jin's eyes, and Jin knew then why they were considered the windows to the soul. Kame's soul shone through Jin's eyes, as bright as Jin's own: white, blinding light overlaying brown irises and deep black pupils.
Jin's body tingled with magic he didn't remember accessing, unlocking sights his human body could never see. This had to be how Kame had seen him before.
"Your eyes..." Kame murmured, momentarily distracted from the blood. "I could lose myself..."
"Your soul to mine," Jin whispered back, wondering where the words had come from. He knew they weren't his.
Kame gasped, seizing up all over; his nails dug into Jin's wrist, stabbing deep into the cut and Jin cried out in pain.
"You could've waited till you got home," Yamapi said from the doorway, looking vaguely disturbed by the whole situation. "Jin, I'm really happy you've found someone, but getting him to fake being ill because the two of you have no self-control is kind of low."
"We're not-" Jin began, but Yamapi got in first.
"See you tomorrow." He closed the door after himself.
"I knew the lock wouldn't hold," Jin groaned. "Why did he have to pick now to check up on us? I have to go talk to him before he gets the wrong idea!"
Easier said than done, when he now had the energy to unfold himself but not the space in which to do so, and Kame still had a lock on his wrist. He scrambled for freedom but it was only when he forcibly peeled Kame's fingers away that he achieved it.
"What's with you?" he asked, hoping his cut would hurry up and heal before he picked up some sort of infection from the seedy conditions. "Seizure?"
"S-soul transfer," Kame panted. "You kind of started one. In the middle."
"Are you still...all there? Did I screw things up?" Jin clutched Kame's shoulders, hoping souls didn't splinter and that there weren't tiny shining pieces of Kame all over the room. "I'm sorry!"
Kame smiled wearily. "Still here. Give me a hand up; we need to catch your friend before he leaves."
They found Yamapi finishing the last of his beer, looking none too happy. He ignored them when they sat down, so Jin nodded for Kame to go first.
"I'm sorry. You...you weren't supposed to see that."
"That's the last time I go after you to try and help," Yamapi said. "You were taking a while and I thought maybe he needed, like, insulin or something, and then..."
Under the table, Kame knocked his ankle against Jin's, which meant it was up to Jin to try to find some sort of acceptable reason for his best friend. Maybe he could dodge the question altogether. The cut on his wrist hadn't closed yet; he could feel the wetness soaking through the tissue Kame had tied around his wrist. He held up his arm, turning it so Yamapi could see the bloodstains, and smiled awkwardly.
Kame caught on, trying for a similar expression and giving Jin's shoulders a comforting squeeze. The ploy worked. Jin knew his best friend. Yamapi was far too polite to ask, at least while they were together. He'd want to talk to Jin about it later and Jin didn't plan on giving him a chance.
Yamapi apologised for intruding, Kame apologised for pretending that Jin was tired when he knew he just needed to get away for a few minutes, and Jin apologised for existing, feeling that that ought to cover it. Amidst polite, nervous laughter they managed to pay for their meal, and Kame and Jin all but ran back home.
Jin spent the remainder of the evening moping about all the ideas Yamapi must have about him now, till Kame pointed out that actually, those ideas weren't about him at all.
"But now he thinks I have the worst taste in boyfriends."
"For all I know, you do," Kame said mildly. "If your taste in men is anything like your taste in clothes-"
"Just saying. It's a good thing he didn't see me pulling a knife on you."
"Or stabbing me with my own fingernails." Jin rubbed the now-healed cut. "So that was a soul transfer?"
"Kind of," Kame confirmed. "The words aren't so important - we use them to focus - but you basically grabbed hold of my soul and started pulling. You're supposed to channel it into something else, into an object for transport. But you...you were trying to take me into yourself."
"Isn't that what we want to happen?"
"Yeah, but that's only half of it. Or would you like us to share my body while yours lies empty on the floor?"
Jin shuddered, picturing his own body with wide, empty eyes. "How do you get your soul out of your body?"
"Usually, you don't."
While Kame took his turn in the shower Jin tried to settle down to work on lyrics, but he felt far too agitated to string so much as a couple of syllables together. His pencil roamed the pages, drawing dozens of eyes in the margins. It all came down to eyes, didn't it? Eyes that let you see into someone's soul...
And Kame's had been beautiful. Pure in a way Jin hadn't expected from someone whose life relied upon stealing that of others. No stains, no smears. But then, Jin ate meat - he consumed the lives of others too. He had a choice. Kame didn't.
"Your turn." Kame dropped down next to him on the couch, wet hair sprinkling water droplets over the pages. "Your notebook looks creepy."
"I'm thinking about eyes."
"Yeah, I can see that." Kame caught the book from underneath and flipped it shut. "YOU, go shower."
"Why the old man voice and random English?"
"That's how my boss talks, sorry. We all end up doing impersonations of him some time or another."
Jin managed to get the eyes out of his head in the shower, mostly because he was too busy cursing Kame for using up all the hot water, but attacking his hair with a towel afterwards led him back to the crack down the centre of the mirror. It split his face in two, a jagged line right between the eyes. Why had a screwed up soul transference broken his mirror?
"I don't know," Kame said when Jin asked him about it. "Maybe the exploding manga hit it."
"Isn't it a funny kind of break for that?"
"We could go out and get a replacement for a dramatic recreation?" Kame suggested. "If you really want to spend the night smashing mirrors to see what happens."
"I just thought it was weird, okay?" Jin knew he sounded sullen and didn't much care. They were running out of time to switch back, and missing too many pieces to do anything about it. In less than a week Koki would be forced to own up about his missing roommate.
"It...it might've been me."
"It might've been me," Kame repeated. "I mean, it had to have been me, because it was my magic, but when I looked at you in the mirror I thought..."
Kame licked his lips, then touched his fingertips to Jin's forehead. "I thought it wasn't fair. I'd been watching you for weeks, longer than I'd ever waited to take someone before. I waited because every time I looked, you shone even brighter. When you smiled, when you sang...I didn't think it was possible for anyone to possess such a beautiful soul."
Jin swallowed, conscious that he had a demon sitting close enough to kiss and no clue where this was leading. He tried to make light of it. "You know that makes you sound like even more of a creepy stalker."
"Goes with the job." Kame's fingers circled down to Jin's eyes, tracing the sockets over and over again; Jin lowered his eyelids just in case, but didn't pull away. "I'd already registered my claim on you; if I didn't take you sooner or later, I'd be in trouble. But I didn't think it was fair, after watching you for a while, that I had to hand you over. I wasn't lying - my boss would find you delicious. It would be such a waste, though. No more Akanishi Jin, shining like a star when someone likes his music, or he manages to finish a new song."
Jin caught Kame's wrist, stilling his fingers. "You still tried to take me."
"I thought I could. That's life, Jin. Sometimes you have to do things you don't want." Kame bent his captured hand so his fingers just grazed Jin's wrist. "You've seen your soul but you haven't seen inside it, have you? Everything that lies beneath that blinding white surface, all the hopes and dreams, all the wishes and promises. Everything you know, everything you are. I saw it reflected in the mirror, looking through your eyes.
"I wanted to touch it...touch you. I guess that's when I lost my focus on the manga and everything went to pieces, including your bathroom mirror."
"Did you...sabotage the transfer on purpose?"
"No," Kame rasped, voice hoarse with emotion in a way Jin knew well. "But I don't know if I'm lying to you or not."
Jin believed him, whether or not it was true. The person he'd come to know over the past week bore little resemblance to the cold, harsh creature who'd materialised in his bathroom and frozen him to the spot. This Kame had all too human flaws and foibles, had a life and a job and laugh that made Jin want to join in. This Kame had done his best to make things right. Jin couldn't hold that against him.
"Koki was right," he said. "You are a good roommate."
Kame slid his fingers down so he and Jin now clasped each other's wrists; Jin hoped Kame couldn't feel his racing pulse. That would just be embarrassing, though this wasn't anywhere near as intimate as they'd been earlier in the evening.
"You're not bad yourself," Kame said. "Even if you really could do with a new wardrobe."
Nervous laughter eased the tension a little but neither let go until Jin's phone bleeped from the other side of the room, and he all but ran to read the email.
Ueda, again. At least this time there were no deaths; far better news, in fact. Jin pumped his fist in the air and grinned at Kame. "He says a producer friend of his was in the audience the last night we performed and loved what he heard! He wants to arrange a meeting next week."
"That's great, Jin." Kame's congratulations seemed strained. "I hope something good comes of it for you."
"For us," Jin corrected.
"You. We need to be switched back by then, remember? And then you don't have to be a double act."
"But I thought you enjoyed it!"
"I do! But this is your life, not mine. I love singing your songs but you won't need me to do that soon, and I have to go home. I've messed with your life enough as it is."
"Trust me, it'll be better for you when I go. My marker will keep you safe from my kind and that's the best thing I can do for you."
Inside, Jin disagreed, but Kame closed the matter by saying he wanted to go to bed and that Jin needed his sleep too, to restore the magic he'd used. Tomorrow, Kame said, he thought they were ready to try a soul transfer, and by the next night Jin could have his own life back.
This time it was Jin who crept into the bed once the lights were out.
Jin slept too late for them to try a transfer before work, and Kame insisted he not make himself invisible today, in order to conserve his magic. That meant no hanging out at the store. In an effort not to spend all day fretting about what awkward questions Yamapi could possibly ask Kame, he took himself out to enjoy a rare day off, strolling in the sunshine down crowded shopping streets and wondering if maybe he should do something about his wardrobe. He ended up with a suit jacket, which he figured he could wear with a T-shirt and jeans, and at least look semi-smart. No point trying on trousers until he had his own body back.
It wasn't that he didn't want it back. He could forget about the switch until he saw Kame, a constant reminder that the body of Akanishi Jin was out doing things without the rest of him, and he desperately wanted to resolve that particular issue.
But once they did that, Kame would go, leaving Jin with a green turtle tattoo, a handful of weird memories and a spotless apartment. He would be alone again, with no one ribbing him about his taste in clothes, no one demanding he magic up breakfast as practice, no one taking up half the space on the mattress where Jin could hear comforting breaths through the night. He'd be alone.
Jin hated being alone.
He met Kame after work. Yamapi was nowhere in sight, and Kame said they'd been so busy there had been no time for awkward questions. Pi had smiled at him, which was a start - Jin figured he'd have a lot of fixing to do later.
Kame surprised him by cooking linguine for dinner, proving once again that Koki's praises were not unfounded. Jin enjoyed the meal, yet every bite left him feeling nostalgic for something he hadn't even lost yet. This would likely be the last meal they shared and he wanted to savour it as much as possible.
They didn't talk magic at all over dinner. Kame shared stories of some of the more entertaining things about demon bureaucracy, while Jin talked about his songs, explaining his sources of inspiration so Kame could understand what he'd been singing about.
After another round of dishes, Kame had them both lie on their sides, facing each other across the bed.
"Last time we both passed out," he said. "I'd really rather be lying down on something soft if it happens again."
"Anything's better than waking up on the bathroom floor," Jin agreed. "Do you have any idea what we're supposed to be doing?"
"Not screwing up. That would be good."
Neither of them could settle down properly, not with the prospect of one or both of them landing up disembodied or worse hanging over their heads. The fidgeting continued until Kame said, "Koki came to the store today to remind me to get a move on. I asked him to stop by and check on us tomorrow morning, just in case."
"I thought it might be too much of a distraction."
As if Kame lying so close wasn't enough of a distraction already. "What do you want me to do?"
Kame explained. "The soul transfer process is supposed to work like this: you use magic to select a host object, like I did with that manga, then focus on calling the soul towards you. You redirect it into the host object. I...screwed it up. I didn't redirect; only, I couldn't admit to myself that maybe I made the transfer go wrong on purpose."
"So I have to do what, select myself as a host object?"
"Yeah. But this is where it gets complicated."
Jin groaned. "You mean this was the easy part?"
"None of it is easy," Kame said firmly. "Pay attention. You know how instead of bringing the pillow to you, you sent yourself all the way to my apartment? You're going to have to do that again, only this time, send your soul instead of your entire body."
"Think about where you want it to be, inside your own pretty little head. If you don't think you can concentrate on all of this simultaneously, tell me now and we can practise some more. I don't want you to do this if you're not ready. The consequences aren't worth it."
Jin didn't need reminding. He didn't think there was anything he could do to prepare for this kind of procedure, though. If he practised sending his soul from his body, there was no guarantee he could put it back again and then they'd both be stuck. "Ready as I'll ever be."
"Okay." Kame reached out for Jin's hand; Jin accepted it gratefully, letting their twined fingers lie between them on the mattress. It helped to feel he had the support. "Don't look into my eyes to start with or we're liable to wind up sharing your body."
And that, Jin had no doubt, would land them both in the nearest institution before long, unless Koki had some way to put them back. He had no idea how long Kame's body could last without a soul and had no plans for finding out. He'd never been more nervous, not even the first time he'd performed in public, fighting for every shaky breath and sweating so much he thought he'd drown before he got anywhere near the stage.
"You're going to break both our hands at this rate," Kame said.
"Sorry." Jin relaxed his grip, though all he wanted to do was grab on tighter. Maybe they could exchange souls through their fingers and this could all be over in seconds. "I'm kind of..."
"Does it help if I tell you that you've made more progress in a short space of time than most demons learning to use their magic? You weren't born to this, Jin, but you've taken to it well. You can do this." Kame leaned forwards, planting a quick kiss on Jin's lips. "For luck."
Jin was torn between confusion, clarity, and relief that the kiss had been short - being kissed by his own lips felt too strange for his poor, stressed out brain to deal with. He offered Kame a weak smile in return and dived inside one final time to access his magic.
He kept his eyes fixed on the rainbow necklace around Kame's neck while he plunged spectral "hands" into the core of magic in his spine. The bright strands were far nicer to look at than the dark, twisted spirals that left his body tingling and ready to go to work. Power seared his skin where it met Kame's when he whispered, "Your soul to mine."
Kame's soul lay exposed now; Jin didn't need to look in his eyes to see it when the magic made it all so clear. White light, blindingly brilliant...and beyond that, a sight to steal the breath from Jin's lungs. Kame, on the inside, where everything he knew, everything he felt, everything he'd ever dreamed of was laid bare for Jin to see. Jin saw his sadness and regret over getting them both into this mess in the first place, and his elation the first time he managed to sing one of Jin's songs all the way through without faltering. There were memories of playing games with his niece, of being praised by his boss after his first month of work, of watching his parents smile at each other across the kitchen table.
Memories, also, of Jin. But they weren't as Kame would have seen them, for they were of Jin in his own body, playing guitar on the side of the stage and singing under his breath, bursting to express himself the best way he knew how - with music. Jin had never seen himself so full of life as he did then, through another man's eyes. For Kame might be a demon but he was still a man, with a man's dreams and desires, and Jin knew then that Kame wanted more from him than a little blood.
The dramas on TV had it all wrong, he decided. Gazing into someone else's soul was so much simpler than a stumbling, awkward confession. No struggling for words, or worry about being overheard.
"All your joy, all your despair," Jin murmured, remembering Kame's words from that time. He squeezed Kame's hand even tighter and watched as a red glow covered his body from head to foot. "All your love..."
He let himself meet Kame's eyes now. No, his eyes. They'd glazed over in anticipation of a new arrival and that's what Jin intended to be. It was his body lying there on the mattress, hair somewhat tidier than usual, nails a little on the long side, lips slack and slightly parted. His body, and he wanted back in.
Balancing two slices of toast in his head seemed child's play compared to the trick Kame expected him to pull off - keeping them both in the correct positions in his mind, coordinating their movements so the swap happened at exactly the same time. Two souls, two bodies, two lives which could be cut short at any second if anything went wrong.
Jin thought hard about being back in his own body, feeling Kame's hand in his, staring across the mattress at dyed red hair and a bumpy nose and a face that wasn't as perfect as it looked on first glance but only seemed more striking for its imperfections. He thought about meeting Kame's warm brown eyes and seeing nothing but life and laughter inside, no light to dazzle his human senses.
Something tugged at him inside his head. Lightning shot up his spine, causing every muscle in his body to clench. Jin's last muzzy thought before passing out was that he hoped he hadn't broken anyone's fingers.
"Hmm?" Jin cracked open an eyelid, wondering how long he'd slept for. He felt so heavy.
"Your watch says it's been nearly twenty minutes. Can I have my hand back, please?"
The other eyelid followed. Jin found Kame lying across from him, wide awake, fingers still entwined. Kame, in his own body, which meant that...
"It worked," Kame repeated, grinning at him. "You switched us!"
Which explained why Jin's fingers had no life left in them. He hastily let go, flexing to restore circulation, and sat up to examine his body. Everything seemed to be in order, and the more he moved, the easier it became to do so. He'd come home.
So had Kame, yet he didn't move.
"Did something go wrong?" Jin asked in a panic. "Something happened to my spine - I mean, your spine - and I seized up. Did I paralyse you by accident?"
"Calm down," Kame said. He raised one arm from the mattress, then let it fall. "Nothing's damaged, see? But the transfer took a lot out of me."
Jin gulped. That could only mean one thing...
"I know it's asking a lot, but it won't take much. May I?"
They didn't exactly have a lot of options. Jin nodded, shuffling closer so Kame didn't have to move much. Kame had his magic back now; he could make Jin forget.
He could also make Jin bleed. Jin watched in fascination as Kame's upper canines elongated, growing down over his lower lip. He didn't look like a horror movie vampire. He just looked like Kame with fake fangs and a dorky smile.
Jin held out his wrist but Kame didn't go for it. The fangs hovered over his throat instead. He froze, willing himself to keep calm. Kame wouldn't hurt him - couldn't hurt him, not after what Jin had seen in his soul.
"I prefer to do it like this." Kame had evidently had a great deal of practice at talking with fangs, because his speech didn't change at all. "More personal, don't you think?"
He rolled over enough to lean on Jin, not quite climbing atop him but enough that Jin felt safe, covered by the comforting weight of a body he knew pretty well by now, having been stuck in it for nearly a fortnight. Jin waited for a bite that didn't come, startled when Kame's tongue licked a warm, wet stripe along his throat.
"Cleaning your food before you eat it?" he joked, trying to ease the apprehension.
"You're not food." Kame licked him again, tongue darting into the hollow at the base of his throat. "No human is. You're like air to me."
Jin's skin tingled wherever Kame's tongue roamed, but he didn't realise it was magic till Kame's fangs sank in and all he felt was a tiny pinprick of pressure, like he'd pushed against the skin with his own finger. Certainly nothing sharp.
But if Kame had deadened the pain, he'd done nothing to dull the rest of the sensations. This time the feeding wasn't for Jin's benefit - he expected to feel weaker as a result, not stronger - but Kame managed to make him feel good anyway, stroking one hand through Jin's hair while he lapped at the blood. Kame kissed the wound, his lips ticklish against Jin's skin, and Jin couldn't help giggling at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. How his standards had changed in the last week and a half. What once would have inspired terror now felt...intimate, a favour he'd never grant anyone else - never have to grant anyone else, if Kame hadn't been lying about the significance of the marker.
Minutes passed in a haze of gentle fingers and an inquisitive tongue, till Jin eventually realised he was no longer bleeding.
"I closed it," Kame said. "No scars, no signs. Tattoo aside, you're unmarked."
"That's never going to fade, is it?"
"Yours till you die. Or I die, whichever comes first. Demons have a normal human lifespan."
"Why when you die?" Jin asked, curious. "I lose my protection then?"
"Um..." Kame squirmed, which had the unfortunate effect of rubbing him up against Jin's hip. "The marker's not exactly for your protection. It's like...uh...labelling your food in the fridge so your roommates don't poach it."
Jin caught on. "So that's why Koki thought I had to be insane. I'm your larder for life, until one of us dies."
"You don't have to be?" Kame offered. "It's not like I can't go to someone else. I'd rather not, but..."
Koki had to be right, Jin thought. Insanity was the only possible explanation for the thoughts running through his head right now. "I'll make you a deal. My blood for your music. That producer liked us both, Ueda was very specific about that. You let me teach you guitar - I'd be surprised if you can't cheat with magic - and come with me to this meeting, and whenever you need to feed..." He touched a hand to his throat.
"Jin, you know what I am, what I do. I can't change that."
"I won't ask you to change. You don't have to give up anything. But don't you think this would be more fun than playing cards with your neighbours after work?"
"You haven't met my neighbours," Kame said wryly. "And I don't want you to. You wouldn't survive the experience." He slid an arm over Jin's chest, shifting till his knees rested either side of Jin's. "But you saw my soul, didn't you?"
"Yeah," Jin admitted. "I saw a lot of things."
"Then you know what my answer's going to be." Kame leaned down till they were nose-to-nose, lips teasingly close to Jin's. "So ask me another question."
"Will you-" was as far as Jin got before Kame answered him. He didn't use words, but he didn't need to.