Kame spreads his arms for the last time, sustaining the ripples of happiness within the crowd. New gasps and sobs and laughter come back. Feathers drop softly, souvenirs to remember the happiness by. He holds it for a minute, for two. Then slowly, as slowly as possible to preserve the afterglow, he lets his arms sink.
A sea of smiling faces. It's his fifth gig today, when three's meant to be the limit, but it's worth it. He turns and walks.
Behind the curtain, he leans briefly against the cool concrete. Just to collect himself. He can handle this. He doesn't have the top floor ocean view apartment for nothing.
Tanaka, with the customary bottle of water.
"Thanks." Kame takes deep gulps.
"Would this be all for tonight, sir?"
Tanaka knows Kame's schedule better than Kame does, but it doesn't stop him from being obsequious whenever he gets a chance.
"That's all," Kame says. He doesn't talk to his aide during the limousine drive back to the apartment.
Slipped under his door he finds a note from Jin.
"New holo game. You, me, tonight?"
Kame takes it in to think about it. He could do with some rest.
On the other hand, a bit of exercise in the holo gym won't hurt.
Jin arrived in the building top floor after Takizawa was stripped of his cuff and vanished. Kame only saw the workmen moving things out as he left in the morning, and moving other things in when he came home at night.
The next evening Jin appeared with cookies.
"There was no need for that," Kame said. The catering bot supplies anything they want within minutes.
He'd also never had a colleague at his door before. He didn't know quite what to do with that.
"My mom taught me the recipe," Jin simply said. "Nicer than bot cookies."
Kame doesn't mind the caterer's cookies, with their nutrition barcodes that tell his watch when he should stop eating.
But he didn't want to appear ungrateful so he nibbled on a corner. Ate the cookie and another one, and Jin's face lit up.
Kame still doesn't know how from there they started taking their morning coffee – and sometimes their evening beer - together. It feels easy, though, so he doesn't mind.
Jin is two years older but was brought in at the same time as Kame. Still, Kame made gold standard first.
"I guess they're not kidding about rewarding success," Jin says, the dark water rippling around his legs. "I feel like I'm trespassing. Unearned riches." He shoots Kame a grin as he picks a side of the underwater bench. If he really feels like he's not supposed to be here, should be confined to the kitchen and sometimes lounge, he doesn't look it. Kame rather thinks he doesn't mean it.
Jin sinks into the water with a happy shudder, ditching the towel around his hips discreetly at just the right moment.
Kame wades after him, the heat giving him goosebumps. The steam clings to him, the sky far and clear. The bamboo enclosure throws some of the light from inside back at them. He's silent until he's sitting, too, water up to his chest. "I like it," he admits. "It was definitely an upgrade."
"You bet," Jin says. "My apartment's pretty fab, but..."
Kame moves his hands to feel the ripples. "When I first came to the complex, I found even the ground floor apartments luxurious. Hadn't seen anything like it before."
"Yeah," Jin says, sounding thoughtful. "It's amazing how they manage to make each level just that little bit more special."
"It makes sense to reward good work, I guess." Kame smiles. "And here we are."
"Hmmm." Jin thinks about it, lets himself sink in just a bit more, and shoots a smile back. "We are indeed."
They take a drink from their bottles – Jin brought a box of Nikko craft beer. Earlier Kame made Trufood on his antique cooking machine, since Jin had mentioned he liked Italian. Jin was so fascinated with the flames, it was terribly cute until he almost managed to burn his fingers.
Kame takes another sip. It's peaceful. Even more so than when Kame is out here by himself, which Kame finds a little odd. "How was Kamakura?" he asks after a moment.
Jin half shrugs, half sighs. "Nothing especially interesting. I think it went well, nobody felt they wasted their ticket, I think." He makes a pouty face. "I didn't get to stop by the beach, of course."
"That's a shame," Kame commiserates. "Maybe next time." He loves the ocean but there's never any time while they're on jobs.
Jin laughs a little. "Yeah, in ten years. Everyone's so chill in Kamakura, they only get entrancers when a piece falls off the big Buddha."
"It's not far, though," Kame says, ignoring Jin's hyperbole. "You could go sometime just on your own."
Jin shoots him a grin. "Or we can go together."
The idea is so novel, Kame wonders if it's even a done thing. "But you have friends."
"Sure." Jin shrugs. "They're nice. I just sometimes like to do stuff that's not completely regulated or screened or encouraged or whatnot for me."
He tilts his head back to empty the bottle, all mouth and jawline and throat… something in Kame twitches. He ignores it. "You know the screening is for our protection."
Jin doesn't try to argue, sets down the bottle and flicks drops of water down towards his toes instead. Then he looks up at Kame from under damp bangs. "Is that a no, then?"
Kamakura and beach. And it may be unusual but surely there's no reason why not. "Let me think about it," he says. "And see if we can get time off on the same day sometime this century."
Jin gives him a big smile. "Let's drink to that!"
He's standing in the light, white feathers dancing around him, all faces turned to him. A low murmur of pleasure from the crowd, soft as a wave, another job perfectly done and he turns, and the swell gets louder, gets sharper and colder, frozen. He spins around, back to the light and back to control but it's gone, both are gone and there is only ice, jagged in the dark. Where's the crowd, where's Tanaka, where... where is this? He takes a step and the ice splinters, the slips and daggers of ice descend on his head, stabbing his face, gouging his eyes, and he's blind, screaming, a bloody doll crushed on sodden white feathers.
When he wakes he wonders if Tanaka came in the end and saved him. His eyes hurt so much. But he can open them and he can see, and he's in his bed, tangled in sweat-soaked sheets, trembling.
It's three in the morning.
The light he turns on stabs right into his eyes and his entire head throbs. He quickly turns it out again and fumbles in the dark for painkillers; takes a double dose, lies back, and waits. He never quite feels the pain go, but it loses enough of an edge that he sleeps restlessly until his alarm goes at seven.
Blinking into the morning light, he takes more painkillers straight away. Sets up the coffee on autopilot, the scent of it like another jab into his brain. Then he gets himself dressed, and there's Jin's knock already.
His soft morning smile freezes instantly. "Good god what happened to you? You look like shit."
Kame turns and drops back on a chair. "I feel like shit. Nightmares, headache. I need to be more careful about drinking at night."
Jin's frown only fades slowly. He finishes the coffee prep Kame forgot about, puts the customary dash of milk into Kame's coffee and sets the mug down on the counter for him. "Or get more practice," he says, teasingly, but it's still kind.
"You would say that," Kame replies, rolling his eyes and regretting it straight away.
The throb fades on the journey and he has a grip on himself by the time his first session begins. That's important. Especially so because today he starts with a VIP engagement, a group of ten, higher management from Chiba, they never tell him which industry. They are sophisticated and accomplished, and Kame appreciates the exclusive location, slick leather furniture, fancy pastry nibbles that no bot and no mom can produce.
The small talk ebbs away as everyone has taken their seat and Kame stands in the middle of the half-circle, unfurling his arms, palms up. The pose isn't necessary, but Kame finds a visual cue helps people. He is not expected to make conversation.
When he was first starting out, he was keen to get to a level where he'd get to do these, rather than the mass events of a hundred or more people. Today with his restless night and lingering headache, he'd rather unspool the worries and fears of a hundred housewives, secretaries and ship loaders than the gnarly resentments and complicated jealousies of these seven men and three women.
But he does the job, without glitches or stumbles, smooth as butter and warm as sunshine. Watches their eyes go glazed and the lines in their faces soften, tense expressions melting into unconscious smiles. And somehow, it makes him feel better, too.
He pops more pills back in the limousine as Tanaka drives him to the next engagement, several classes of high school kids getting ready for their final examinations. A staple ever since he started. All the expensive schools buy it in. He can sleepwalk his way through it.
He doesn't have much of an appetite at lunchtime but makes himself eat a rice ball, in order to fill his stomach with something other than medicine. Five hours and two engagements later, he picks up a bento box on his way home, feeling better than he has all day.
Jin knocks on his door just as he's finished eating. He knows it's Jin because no other resident would ever do such a thing.
"It's open," he shouts, too glad to be sitting to get up.
"How are you?" is the first thing Jin says as he sits down in the chair at the side. He looks faintly worried.
"I'm fine again," Kame reassures him. "It lasted till lunchtime and after that it started to fade until it was completely gone."
At that moment he feels a twinge again, but it's not worth mentioning.
"Okay, good," Jin says, still watching attentively. "How was your thing?"
"The VIP one? It went fine." Kame shrugs a little. Aside from the headache, everything was as usual.
Jin pulls his head in like he wants to escape a sudden assignment dropping on him. "I hate those things. It's so hard to keep my focus when they're just full of themselves."
As far as Kame knows, Jin hasn't had that many VIP sessions yet. "It gets easier with practice," he promises, though it's almost like an automatic response.
"Hm," Jin says, and then looks at Kame with a tilted gaze. "You still don't look so good. Should I just let you get an early night?"
Kame weighs the suggestion. Jin's presence in his apartment has become a soothing distraction in his life, and he likes having Jin around, but he is exhausted. And he can see Jin practically all the time. "Yeah, maybe," he says apologetically. "I should get a bit more sleep tonight."
"Yeah, smart," Jin nods. "Hope you sleep this off."
He doesn't see Jin the next day, though, or the one after. He's woken up early by special messenger and bundled into a car, then a plane, then a bus with two other top entrancers because of a sudden crisis up in Hokkaido.
"Dairy emergency," Matsumoto snorts, staring out the slightly dirty windows of their bus. The ride is bumpy, between a deteriorated road and the slightly rattly bus taking them from the airport into town. Domoto has been testy throughout the journey, as he's not looking forward to the 'substandard living conditions', and finds Hokkaido and its clinging to semi-autonomy 'precious'. Kame is used to the smoothness of Tokyo and can't help comparing, either, though he feels that the entrancers brought here to facilitate the negotiations between the National Supplies Board and the Associated Dairy Farmers ought to keep their judgements of the locals to themselves.
It's a soft touch job, they learn. That's why they needed the most experienced and most skilled of the entrancers. Any beginner can render a man droolingly happy. Here, their job is to sit in the meeting, in full view of both parties, and siphon off the unfounded anger and irrational fears. They smooth the way.
The dairy farmers, the most powerful professional group in Japan at this point, have consented to have them. It's the way this is done. A harmonious negotiation is good for everyone, and a lack of anger makes for clear heads.
After introductions for all three of them, giving them a chance to feel out the room, Kame takes the first hour. It's subtle work, very gentle. Smoothing over the edges without making anyone feel that their senses are dulled. Of the four main negotiators for the Dairy Farmers, one is a real problem, the one who's most angry and not shy about letting anyone know, and it turns out he's a dud. Kame has no idea how he snuck past the screening and into a position of influence.
Kame is still working on the other three when he's called for his break, and Domoto takes over his high-backed seat.
He wipes over his face as he's guided to the back room, and takes the bottle of water Tanaka gives him. The hair at his temple feels damp.
Matsumoto watches him with ill-concealed interest. "Tough ones, aren't they," he says. It's hard to tell if he means for all of them, or for Kame alone.
"A little," Kame says diplomatically. "But I think it's going well."
There are baked goods, coffee, and, fittingly, various flavoured milk drinks prepared for them. They each have their own corner and there is no further conversation, even when Domoto returns and Matsumoto takes his place. Entrancers don't talk to each other.
That night, on the tenth floor of Sapporo's most stately hotel, which has hot water and working elevators and is kept clean and proud despite the chips in door frames and worn carpets, he falls into the slightly lumpy bed exhausted to the bone. He has a moment of longing for his hot spring bath, before he gets a grip on himself.
But a hot bath and a cool beer, and telling Jin about the angry dud and how his brain is still ringing with it.
He holds that thought for just a moment, and then he's gone, sleeps deep and dreamless all through the night.
They head back to Tokyo after four days. That's apparently what it takes to get the dairy farmers to cooperate with the Supplies Board on the requested quotas and suggested compensation, with everything about the system of inspectors sent from Tokyo staying the same.
"What a waste of time and energy," Matsumoto comments when they're back on the rattling bus and it's so boring a drive after such an intense few days that apparently even the top two entrancers of the country need to vent to each other. Only Domoto is sleeping, his sunglasses on. He's currently single, Kame heard from Matsumoto, and apparently had the energy to be take a meeting with an applicant for the girlfriend position last night.
"It was pretty touch and go at one point," Kame points out. "You weren't on then."
"Sorry you had trouble with them," Matsumoto says with a sympathetic tilt of his head. "I tend to find country folk not much of a challenge."
"Yes, I guessed it's not really your scene," Kame replies, giving a gentle shrug. "They were a little agitated when I took over from you a few times."
Then he stares straight ahead. Entrancers don't make each other feel better.
It's late afternoon when they're back at the high rise. They take separate elevators. Luggage, different walking speeds.
When he walks through his own door, he's not surprised to find a note from Jin.
5D dinosaurs @ 8 downtown, you up for it? Will be back here around 7.
Kame discovered a few weeks ago that Jin leaves the compound at night sometimes to visit the megatheater downtown for nature and travel holos. They have their own holosets in their apartments and a big central one the compound entertainment park, but Jin says the city one is six times bigger. Kame still isn't sure that the attraction outweighs the inconvenience but he is curious.
He writes his own note to push under Jin's door. Pick me up when you're ready.
He scans himself a sweet bun and makes some tea to go with it. Then he does some research into leisurewear and spends some credits on a tight-fitting get-up as far removed from entrancers' suits or performance-wear as possible. The printer whirrs contentedly as he feeds in the code and minutes later he has soft blue pants and a shirt with a checked pattern in many different colours but mostly red. Once he's wearing it, he barely recognizes himself. He wonders if he has time to print shoes to go with it.
Then there's Jin's knock. His normal shoes will be fine.
"Hey," Jin says. He's wearing sneakers, definitely not new, jeans and a dark hoodie. Kame catches a whiff of fresh shampoo. "Welcome back."
"Thanks. I'm pretty much ready, I was just thinking about new shoes but..." He waves off the thought.
Jin doesn't answer for a moment, just inspecting Kame until he lands on Kame's still naked feet.
"Something wrong?" Kame asks, suddenly nervous.
"No! Just, hadn't seen you in that outfit before."
"I just printed it," Kame says. Jin blinks and Kame feels a jolt of unease. "Is it inappropriate?"
But Jin's smile turns warm, reassuring. "No. It looks great, is all."
Kame can feel himself blushing. He really is very new to just going out like this.
"Just printed it, huh?" Jin says. He looks impressed. Kame was too.
"Yes, it came with the last promotion," Kame says.
Jin looks him over properly now, which doesn't help Kame's blush, though he does his best to not look like he's suddenly not sure how to move his arms.
"Forget the shoes," Jin says with a grin. "You're missing something else."
Jin makes him print what he deems the coolest shades in the catalogue. By the time they sign themselves out on the ground floor and their taxi pulls up, they're running a little late.
"Don't stress," Jin says, "there's always fifteen minutes of advertising before the prime minister's address, they don't mind if you miss that."
Kame is quite intrigued by it. He hasn't seen advertising on his entertainment since he started in this job.
They sneak in quietly eight minutes late, while an attractive black lady is extolling the virtues of her bacteria-resistant countertop. As they settle down, Kame also learns about the value of bio-electrical impedance scales and the temptations of virtual reality vacations on demand, before the customary glow of the prime ministers address is faded in.
The words are different from what they get at the compound. The feel is different too. He leans over to Jin. "He's got one of us working with him there, right?"
"Um," Jin whispers back. "I guess?"
The crowd sits in complete silence, fixated on the screen and the message. When the lights come up again it's as if a soft blanket is being pulled away.
"Right," Jin says. "Finally." He slouches in his seat like a teenager. "Gimme T-Rex."
After, Jin talks him into a round or two of drinks before they have to head back. He takes Kame's new shades off him as they walk down the lit main boulevard and puts them on with a flourish.
"It's ten at night!" Kame says, laughing when Jin fluffs his hair.
"Just makes them more stylish," Jin grins. It should look sillier, but Kame doesn't want to ask for them back either.
Jin takes him to an old-fashioned bar where your orders are taken by a person. That person gives Jin the sort of dumb-struck smile that Kame only knows from sessions, which is odd, because they are both purposefully not intruding on anyone else's feelings.
Jin smiles back only briefly, shyly, and pulls Kame to one of the standing tables as soon as their beers have appeared. There is a hum of humans all around them, a well-dressed, well-spoken inner city working crowd. It's just cozy enough that Jin actually takes off the shades.
Any other entrancer could pick them out in a heartbeat, of course, as the only ones not broadcasting their emotions far and wide. But just from looking, the general public can't tell.
It's a long time since Kame has been just out, like a normal person, like someone with no government-endorsed talent or national security missions. It feels good, so good that he almost wants to strike up a conversation with the man next to him at the bar when he gets their third beers.
Maybe next time.
When he returns, he sees Jin laughing with a blonde girl in a tight mini skirt, and she gives him an enthusiastic thumbs up before they each turn back to their drinks. "What was that about?" he says as he sets down the glasses. He's simply curious. Jin hasn't seemed interested in pulling other people into their orbit until now.
"Verdi fan. They signed AI Beckenbauer for the season today."
"That's great!" Kame doesn't follow soccer or Verdi, and baseball still has a strict Humans Only policy, but sport is sport.
He's amazed how easy Jin finds it just to talk to people, random strangers, but Jin's just... different. Those four days in Hokkaido really drove that home.
Kame looks at him as he takes another big gulp of beer, the sunglasses pushed up on his head and holding his hair out of his face. He's moving a bit to the rhythm of some music Kame barely noticed before.
He wishes he could feel so much at home amongst so many people.
"Do you date?" he asks without pausing to stop himself.
Jin blinks at him. Oh, god, he very much should have stopped himself.
"Sorry," he says immediately. "It was just a random thought. There was a whole evening planned out for Domoto up in Hokkaido because he broke up with his girlfriend, I didn't know where he found the energy, so it was on my mind, but it's really none of my business. I mean, whether you date." He tries to clear his throat and finds it dry. "Of course Domoto's girlfriends aren't my business either. Sorry."
He's still got Jin's full and slightly unreadable attention. "Hey, easy," he says, much to Kame's surprise, though he's fondling his beer too. "It's not an evil question or anything."
"Sorry," Kame repeats, but he slows down to breathe. "I didn't mean to pry."
Jin shrugs, a little awkward like he's weighing an answer. "It's a little weird for us, isn't it?" he says. "Like, with a citizen?" Another, more exasperated shrug. "I've tried it, I like... you know. It's nice having someone. But I don't like wondering if they're just with me because I can make them all gooey and drooly, or if I'm doing something to them without really noticing... you know?"
Yes. Kame's wondered that before. More in the abstract. But he's wondered.
"I saw Matsumoto's current girl once and she looked like a happy robot, it was fucking creepy," Jin says disgustedly, and shakes his head. "And I'm not interested in the dud mixers either, there's enough of my life that's screened and managed and vetted, thanks."
Kame hesitates but after all, he's the one who started it. "I went, at the start, a few times after a couple of years." When he was getting desperate, he doesn't add. "It's good to know… well, like you said. To know I can't make them do things. But it all seemed so fake, and I couldn't help wondering how much they got paid and whether they'd like me if they didn't." They'd been attractive men, all of them, but the turn-off had just been too great.
Jin nods, like Kame's confirming what he's always thought. "That's our problem," he says a little tipsily. "Can't do the citizens, can't do the licenced duds, and where are we going to find unlicensed ones with the life we lead?"
The taxi arrives three minutes after Jin dials their special service. Must have been on standby.
Jin's noticed too. "Nothing must happen to the precious human resources." He snorts. "Sometimes I'm surprised they let us out at all."
Their movement are only restricted during security-related lockdown. They’ve seen two in their time. But Jin knows that as well as he does, so he doesn't mention it. The taxi is comfortable and warm and there's only the slightest buzz of fatigue behind his temples.
"Hey," Jin nudges him, pulling him back.
"It was fun tonight," Kame says. "I haven't done this in…" He pauses, briefly. "I've never done this. I was found early, and then it was training and work and, you know."
Jin gives him a big grin. "Fun means we can do it again?" he says, looking bold.
It's weird how he feels put on the spot and pleased at the same time. So he tries to look teasing and mysterious, but probably fails.
This room is a dark one, the faces dull in a blue to black distance. Means he can't see results, just feel them, but that's all right. He doesn't need to see, he can do this with his eyes closed. He gathers the threads of fear and aggression, and the shadows nod to his beats, pulled along. Pulled closer, a winding dance, shadows creeping up to him until the snake unfurls from the grey and he doesn't think to run until it's there, around his foot, up his knee.
He's lost the threads, fear rippling out across the room. Aggression. Kame tries to push the creature off but he's no good at it, soft strong slithery muscle winding up, and tight around his neck like Kame's fighting hands mean nothing, and he screams.
That's when the pain starts. Like he swallows on razors that vibrate the more he tries to call for help, pain that makes him scream more, and the cuts go deeper, there should be blood now, gurgling thickness and this shredding fire in his throat.
He opens his eyes, a ragged whimper in his ears, his own arm sweaty across his neck. The noise is him breathing.
Breathing hurts in his mouth. His head is pounding. The shadows are his nightstand and his curtains and the darkness of his bedroom, cut off from Tokyo's blinking night.
He just lies, for a while, willing his body to wake up and go back to normal. But he's wide awake, and normal isn't happening. He swears – tries to swear under his breath but it brings back the razors. No sudden cold could feel like that.
He gets up and warms some tea, adds honey, to soothe his throat. Grinds up an overdose of painkillers and swallows that with lots of lukewarm water.
It fucking hurts. And he isn't due to get up for another two hours.
He takes a shower to rinse off the sweat, turns over his duvet and gets back into bed, where he lies still, trying to swallow and breathe as little as possible, waiting for the painkillers to work.
His alarm wakes him - he must have drifted off. His head feels better but the first deep breath he takes brings water to his eyes. When he tries to make a sound, it's like something's piercing his windpipe.
Jin's due for coffee in half an hour. Kame starts writing notes.
When the knock comes on his door, he's ready.
"Hey," Jin says, and Kame smiles and holds up the first sign. I can't talk. Come sit down. I'll explain.
Jin gives him a puzzled look but does as he's told. "Throat infection?"
Kame shakes his head. I had a dream. A snake strangled me. It hurt like hell and for some reason it still does.
Jin's eyes get watchful. "Another nightmare?"
Kame almost says yes but stops himself at the first hot scrape of air. He nods, then turns to stir Jin's coffee. He sticks with honey tea himself.
Jin takes the coffee but he's frowning. "If you screamed so much your throat is like this, somebody should have heard."
No note for that. Kame shrugs and makes what he hopes is a fair point face.
"You should get yourself checked out by a doctor," Jin says. "Maybe the nightmares are your brain's way of processing what's wrong with your body. That would be the saner explanation."
Kame knew Jin would want him to see a doctor. Got lots to do today. Don't have to speak for any of it. If not better tonight, I'll do it tomorrow. Jin opens his mouth and Kame quickly produces the follow-up sign. That's final. Now drink your coffee.
Jin closes his mouth and smiles. "Clever. You're too clever for your own good." But he lets it go. "Tomorrow, though. I'll hold you to it."
Kame hopes he'll stop feeling like this long before then.
Jin is back by eight, to check on him. He's even still wearing his work clothes. "Any better?"
Kame holds up a sign: Much better. Then he grins and says, "Much." It only rasps a little bit.
Jin's laugh makes him feel pleased with himself. "Good, I'm glad," Jin says. "You troll."
Kame waves him in. "'s still a bit rough," he says. "But better since around lunch time."
"Guess it helps that we don't have to talk unless we want to put on a show," Jin says, though he's still eyeing Kame as if the strangling snakes might come back as he sits in his usual spot on Kame's expansive couch. "You sure you don't want to see a doctor?"
Kame nods in reply, still economical with actually speaking. He still has tea out, now laced with a helpful tonic Tanaka got for him when he saw the state Kame was in. "Drink?" he asks.
Jin looks a little distracted but he says he'll have a beer. "Jobs all went okay?" he asks when Kame is back.
"All fine," Kame says, and has another soothing sip of the tea. "Nothing big, could do it in my sleep and without talking." He gives Jin a teasing grin but Jin is still frowning, and looks down, his eyes focused on the label of the beer bottle.
"Everything okay with you?" Kame prods. His voice only wobbles and scratches a tiny bit. He's basically fine.
"Work was fine," Jin says. There's a frustrated clench to his shoulders. "You know, that's the second time you feel like shit after we had a good night. Maybe you're allergic to me."
"More like I drank too much."
"You had like three beers."
"Maybe I had a weak night," Kame says. Sometimes he doesn't eat much. He doesn't remember his food that day, except the popcorn, because Jin insisted on popcorn even though the scanner was having a little heart attack by proxy at the unhealthy composition, and Kame went along because he cared more about Jin being excited than the scanner.
Jin is still thinking, his mouth in a pout, probably unaware he's doing it. But then he seems to shake himself. "Right. I'm glad you're better, anyway. I'm off on an overnight gig tomorrow and didn't want to miss you completely." He says it very naturally, though there's a pause afterwards, where maybe he, too, is aware how unusual this is for entrancers.
Kame gives him a smile. "Yeah, me too."
"I also," Jin adds with much more profundity, "came to give you these back..." He pulls out yesterday's sunglasses from his hoodie pocket and dangles them from one wing. "But now I'm thinking I might need them in Kyuushuu." And pushes them on his own nose.
Kame laughs, which almost turns into a cough but he gets it under control before Jin gets worried. Apparently laughing hurts more than talking.
"You could print yourself a new pair, you know," Jin says with encouraging twitches of his eyebrows. "I mean, you had such a wild night out yesterday, you probably just lost them!"
They're technically not supposed to use these printers to give things to other people. But Kame is mostly amused by Jin's obvious glee in this little bit of harmless rule-bending.
"Now that you mention it, I think I remember sitting down on them in that unruly bar you took me to," Kame says. The long sentence hurts more, but Jin's deep smile makes that, too, worth it.
They don't talk long; Kame feels his throat getting steadily worse again and Jin has an early plane to catch.
"You will see a doctor if this gets bad again," Jin says, turning in the door frame. "Or I'll…" he waggles his hands, searching for inspiration. "Do something. I'll do something you won't like, I'll think of it on the plane. So be warned."
Kame suppresses a laugh, just gives him his most innocent smile and rasps, "Understood."
The klaxon shrills once, and Kame is wide awake.
His tablet is blinking and vibrating. Not another tsunami, is his first thought.
The message, when he checks, is brief. Prepare to travel 06:00. Tanaka will pick up.
His clock says 2:45. He could turn on the news, check what's up. He turns out the light again. He'll find out soon enough.
There's a soft knock on his door. Jin. Of course.
"Hey," Kame says as he opens the door, and waves him in. No pajamaed entrancers to be seen at each other's doors, oh no.
"We fucking torpedoed the fucking Chinese?" Jin says, incredulous.
"Oh, is that what it was?"
"Defcon something or other, those fucking islands."
Kame's stomach does a little dip. But this has been coming for years, and there's nothing to be done at three in the morning. "We'll deal with it," he says to Jin. "We'll deal with it somehow. We'll handle the diplomatic side and the citizens. It's what we do, mop up when people make mistakes."
Jin looks a little less outraged. "It's just so fucking dumb," he says. "Why can't people just---" He shakes his head. "Never mind. I'll let you get back to sleep. Six o'clock, right?"
Kame nods. "I'll have coffee on at five."
Jin's bleary-eyed and when questioned, admits that he stayed up to follow the news. "They had a submarine spying around, we found it and wham, twenty-two people dead. They always spy around there, I don't get why suddenly it's a big deal."
"Because we always warn them off and they always ignore us?"
That gets him a wounded look. "You say that means we can kill people?"
"No," Kame concedes. "But if they keep on doing this, knowing that our PM is just waiting for an excuse, well."
Jin sighs. "I guess."
They sip their coffees miserably.
Kimura gets the diplomats and though Kame technically has seniority, Kimura's welcome to them. Diplomats like someone more their own age and Kame has no quarrel with that.
He ends up in Okinawa, where concern is high and tempers are rising. He spends a few days in Naha, then moves into the urban areas around. He goes into companies by day and packs out city halls at night. He keeps the citizens quiet, reassured, and above all loyal.
It's easy work.
After six days, when nuclear war has failed to break out - thank you, Kimura-san - and civil unrest has been avoided, everyone gets to go home. Thankfully the next day is a Sunday.
Jin takes his Sunday coffee late, so Kame stops by the executive gym on the tenth floor. He's feeling rested, despite all the tension and global uncertainties of the last week, like hard work and recovery are in balance. Nobody around, ten mile run through Kyoto circa 1600, one of his favourite landscapes.
He's showered and has just put the coffee on when Jin knocks on his door.
"Morning," Jin says. He looks a little tired still, but his eyes are scanning Kame carefully. "How are you?"
"I'm fine," Kame says. "It was a lot of work but not particularly difficult work." Then he remembers Jin's fretting and sleepless night, the first night. "How are you?"
Jin shrugs. "I don't cope so well with the impending apocalypse, but I'm okay now."
Kame nods. He fixes their coffees the usual way and they sit at the counter.
"I had a wobbler down in Okayama," Jin suddenly says, making Kame blink in shock. "Everyone was scared shitless of exactly the same thing I was scared of, and at that one high school, it almost got away from me."
"But then?" Kame asks nervously.
"I pulled it together at the end, nobody figured it out," Jin says, raising his eyebrows over his coffee. Nobody knows but Kame. "But fuck, I was sweating."
"It's been a very extreme week," Kame offers.
Jin looks for a moment like he might like to say something more on what sort of week it was. But then he tilts his head. "And thank fuck we can put it behind us. What are we going to do today?"
Somehow that makes Kame break out into an involuntary smile, and the shaken look seems to drain out of Jin, replaced by a focus that feels warm and solid and like the day is wide open.
"That is a lot of people," Jin says, sounding somewhere between impressed and sceptical as they head up the stairs from the station, the crowd waiting for the Dome entrance becoming thicker. "I didn't think that was your Sunday style."
Kame hasn't been in a while. He was too busy. But unlike the other night, he is the expert here, knows where to get the tickets and where to queue and that you'll really enjoy it more with the proper kit. He's lent Jin one of his spare orange towels.
"I find it relaxing when I just block them out completely," he says, motioning for their gate.
The baseball league's uniformed entrancers are stationed behind the metal detectors, most people passing by without giving them a glance. They flag up Kame and Jin, of course. Jin looks a little uneasy, as most entrancers do when they encounter entrancers outside the hierarchy of the agency. Only baseball and Tepco maintain their own entrancer units. Kame is used to the ones at the games by now.
"You are aware of the all-human nature of the sport of baseball and the prohibition of any interference in the mental state of players, coaches, viewers or anyone else present," the guy begins the customary caution. "According to the Baseball Protection Act of 2038, any violation is punishable by no less than ten years in prison and removal of entrancer status."
Kame nods earnestly, as usual, and the guy lets him pass and wishes him a good day. He has to wait a moment while Jin receives his own caution. Then he leads the way to their box.
"It's not shielding glass," Kame explains as they step in and the door slides shut behind them. The room is bright with the window front and the green below. "But it gives us a bit of a buffer even so." No visuals of people makes blocking them easier.
"Nice," Jin comments on the extra wide seats, the little monitors for watching close-ups on demand. The room could fit a small party, but there's just the two of them today. He drops himself into the upholstery, bounces a bit.
"You can order snacks through the monitor too," Kame says, lowering himself into the seat next to Jin's. The first player song is starting up, and through the numbness of blocking out a Dome's worth of people, Kame feels a jolt of excitement.
When the player saunters out onto the field, applause rises. There's an awkward pause when Jin looks unsure whether to clap or not. Kame doesn't, though he knows the feeling.
"It's been ages that I've seen a baseball game," Jin says, shaking his head softly. "I was still a kid, a cousin took me and my brother. The seats were more like benches." When he glances at Kame, it feels deep and curious.
Kame hesitates a moment. "I miss sitting in the crowd sometimes," he admits. He was a kid then, too. "Just, getting caught up. But this is safer for entrancers. And to be honest, I think it's a grass-being-greener thing. As a kid I'd have loved this." He gestures around, smiles when Jin does.
"I can see that."
Waves of cheers ripple through the stadium, so loud Kame catches the ripple even in their safe box. Jin leans back with a deep breath, and Kame feels warm and glad he can show him this.
"I like that you came," he says. Just lets it slip out.
Jin's smile twitches, shy, but then his eyebrows go up and he's all cheek and mesmerizing eyes. "Dude, this is the thing that makes you go out and brave hordes of excited citizens and I didn't even know about it, I wanted to see this yesterday."
Jin orders his way through the snack menu with barcode-defying gusto, and while Kame gets the feeling he is not deeply invested in the outcome of the game, he seems to be taking great joy in the replay feature at their seats, making up critiques of players' forms that Kame has a hard time commenting on because he actually understands the game.
Kame enjoys Jin's glee over the cocktails that are served in baseball-themed glasses, while he sips at fancy-dressed orange juice. It's better to play that safe this time. He doesn't need booze to feel like he's never had more fun in the VIP box.
The Giants finally pull ahead in the fourth inning. Kame sits upright and claps his hands together, not thinking. Then he feels aware of them being alone in a box when the roar around them fades, and that maybe that was silly.
Over his third drink – the last one, he said, being cautious to maintain control over his abilities out here too – Jin shoots him a look. It makes Kame’s ears burn, but it can’t be bad because Jin is smiling.
“You’ve sold me on baseball," Jin says, and sober or not, Kame hasn't heard anything this nice in forever.
It's been a hard working day but a short one. As Kame leaves the building the sun is still in the sky, throwing warm colours and long shadows. A perfect afternoon for walking home - it's been forever since he walked on grass. He's not good at identifying birdsong but he likes hearing them all the same, and every so often he thinks he spots a mouse dashing away.
When he first feels metal under his feet, he's puzzled, but it's smooth and gleaming, just some rails going off somewhere, going the same direction as him, for a while. For a long time. At least he won't get lost while it gets dark. He can't hear the birds anymore, but he sees a light in the distance, maybe a house. Maybe his apartment, it's about time.
The light comes closer fast - is he running? No, he's standing and it's coming, with a roar along the rails. His feet won't move. A black, burnt shape on wheels, and a driver, a driver with no face. He focuses, commands STOP!
It slows. He still can't move. It slows but keeps rolling, towards him, against him, over him, crushing him slowly, every bone in his body one by one, till his head explodes like a melon hit by a baseball bat.
He wakes up and still can't move. Everywhere aches. A slow pain, bones twisting and cracking. It takes him minutes to even sit up, longer minutes to get to the bathroom and gulp down the strongest dose of painkillers he dares. He stands with his hands clamped around the sink, willing his body to focus, to calm down, before his stomach turns inside out and he vomits the whole lot of painkillers and slick stomach acid into the toilet.
He waits a little after that before he moves, stays curled up on the bathroom floor.
Better be safe.
The second round of pills seem to stay down. After five minutes of sitting still and breathing, he grits his teeth and dares setting about getting dressed.
A knock on the door. He's taken too long.
"Wait," he says painfully. "Coming."
He's halfway to the door when Jin calls again. "Are you okay in there?"
Finally he can open up.
Jin 's eyes widen when he sees him. "My god, what happened? You look awful."
"Come in." He's not going to stand around in semi-public like this.
Nausea crashes over him again as Jin gets into the room. No. He can't possibly be allergic.
"You can't work like this," Jin says. He stops by the door, leans against it, maybe to keep Kame in. Maybe to give him space. Kame sinks on a chair – if he gets on the couch he won't be able to get up.
"I'll do some stretches," he says. "I just need to loosen up."
A flash of steel shoots through Jin's worried look. "You need to lie in bed and you're not going anywhere."
We'll see about that, Kame thinks, but notices he's not even strong enough to argue.
Jin accepts his victory without gloating. "Where are you meant to be today?"
"Chiba prefecture. Kisarazu, Yotsukaido, Shinosaki. It's those shortages. Unrest over hoarding."
"I'll take it. I only have two today and they're both central. A pollution protest and a corruption meeting. I can do my little dance a few more times in Chiba."
Little dance. But even the thought of laughing hurts.
"What'll your aide say?" Kame asks instead.
Jin shrugs. "Taguchi won't mind. He needs all the overtime he can get for his holo games addiction."
Kame closes his eyes and almost doesn’t manage to open them again. "Okay," he sighs. "Thank you."
"Can you get back to bed by yourself?"
He nods. Jin looks like he really wants to drag him there in person but is stopping himself. "Okay. I'll get going then. Promise me you won't go out."
That's an easy one. "Promise."
He spends most of the day dozing in front of the holovision. Too tired to focus. Too scared to go to sleep.
Old baseball matches help him pass the time. In the early afternoon he feels ready for some food, and even manages to stand up long enough to heat up the bland recovery food his wristband recommended.
Around five, he starts waiting for Jin.
Around seven, he has about ten minutes of pouting going on over how he is sick and it's not fair and Jin is late, until he remembers that Jin took on all his work so it's no wonder. He's clearly not all with it.
The knock comes around nine.
He's still slow getting up, but mostly because he's careful – he hardly hurts now and his head seems to be starting to clear. He definitely manages to get to the door before Jin can knock again.
He's looking tired, but his eyes light up when he examines Kame. "Looks like you're over the worst of it?"
Kame nods. "Feeling much better." Though now he's suddenly feeling a little sore again. He frowns.
"What?" Jin says, instantly concerned.
"I can not be allergic to you. People are not allergic to each other."
Jin gives him a long look. Then he nods. "You'll need a good night's sleep. I just wanted to tell you, it all went smoothly. So you don't worry."
"Thank you," Kame says, and he's rarely meant a thank you so much. He knows now that if he'd tried to work today, he'd have embarrassed and disgraced himself.
"No biggie." Jin gives him a huge smile. "I'll let you settle down again. Take it easy!"
Yes, Kame could really do with finding a seat. "Tomorrow morning," he says. "Coffee's on me."
After a moment, Jin nods. "Definitely."
That night he is trying to get away from an earthquake, but everywhere he turns, people ask him the wrong questions, need him to sign books and insist that the frogs are safe.
Thank fuck, he thinks when he blinks himself awake, a mild throb behind his eyes. Just normally unpleasant.
He's put on the coffee, but he hasn't showered yet when Jin knocks on his door again. He must be worried.
Kame must be very selfish because that thought feels a little nice.
He pulls his bathrobe tighter and opens the door.
"Morning," Jin says. Just a quick, apologetic smile. "Mind if I come in?"
"Please," Kame says. "You're up early today."
"Yeah," Jin says slowly, shuffling inside. There's a shadow hanging over his face like the earlier time feels strange or like he didn't sleep well either. "I wanted to catch you before you head out..."
Kame's reflex is to point out that barring submarine incidents, Jin catches him practically every morning. He doesn't, because it might just be that prickle behind his forehead. He's glad Jin is here.
"I mean, I wanted to make sure," Jin says calmly like he heard the submarine comment anyway. "Can we talk?"
That sounds ominous. "Is anything wrong?"
"No! I mean, not like you think now. But I wanted to talk about what's going on with you."
"With me?" Kame says defensively.
"You feeling like shit all the time and the bizarro dreams."
"I don't know what---" The quiet concentration on Jin's face stops him. Jin is concerned. "Okay."
Jin nods, settled. Kame's head is still off with a faint ache and his underarms feel sticky when he moves, so he takes a deep breath. "My first gig isn't until nine so I've got plenty of time. Mind if I take a shower first?"
"Yeah, that's fine," Jin nods again. "Mine's at ten."
"Help yourself to coffee when it's done."
The shower eases his tension and some of the headache. Makes him less gross, more together. But strident music is playing when he comes out, which… not good for his head.
"Sorry," Jin grimaces. "I'll explain."
Kame's cup of coffee is waiting for him on the corner of the kitchen island. The first sip feels like a hug, warm and solid.
Jin gives him a second sip, but then he seems done waiting. "So I've been thinking a lot about what's happening with you."
Kame tilts his head. It's not that he enjoys this crap, but dreams aren't exactly a medical condition. "I really don't know what that is. Maybe I'm just run down or something? Stuff hits me harder?"
Jin's focus narrows with a flash of impatience. "Esteemed and respected senpai: this is not normal. You should know that as well as I."
No. Fair enough. "I don't really buy into the allergy theory," he says, just to head that off. And apart from that... it's not pleasant to poke at. Dreams, nausea... Whatever it is, would be in his head.
"Well, that's good, cause neither do I."
"But it's only started happening since we started hanging out a lot. I thought it was the booze but..."
Jin shakes his head. Very level stare. "Ever asked yourself why entrancers don't cooperate with each other?"
Kame blinks. He kind of expected the next word out of Jin's mouth to be 'brain tumour', or whatever the polite euphemism would be. "Because we're rivals. We all want the good stuff, the big apartments, the nice view, the rooftop garden… and competition is fierce."
Jin has been nodding along. "Why do you think it's designed like that?"
Designed. He never thought of it that way.
"Think," Jin says. "Think what you can do."
"I can make people happy."
"Yes," Jin says calmly. "What else?"
"I make things... I make them easier. I can stop fear, violence..."
"You can make people happy and if you asked them to do something, they would do it for you." Jin gives him a moment to think about that. "Now imagine what three or four of us could do if we worked together."
Kame takes a breath and doesn't let it out again. He can't imagine anything, offhand, that they would not be able to do.
"Right," he says eventually but he's still in shock, taking it in.
"So my theory," Jin says, "is that they discourage cooperation with their little hierarchy setup, but they might have other safeguards in place."
"Like... brainwashing?" It sounds dumb out loud. He's not thinking very clearly, and this time it's not the buzz of his headache.
"Physical, I imagine." Jin's fingers itch towards his wrist. "What is the one thing – apart from our ability – that we all have in common?"
The cuff. The thick personalised cuff that marks out their rank and position in society. Every entrancer wears it after completing training. It's a badge of honour. And they can't take it off.
Kame's is silver, intricate, heavy. He's always been proud of it.
"I'm sorry," Kame says. "I don't think... that sounds crazy."
Jin shrugs roughly. "Any crazier than you being allergic to me?"
"So why do I get the effect and you don't?"
Jin makes a funny face, shakes his head. "Who knows, maybe something went wrong?"
It sounds lame and implausible.
"Did you ever wonder what happened to Takizawa who had my apartment?"
No, Kame didn't really. His head's not there right now either. Jin's theory is insane.
"He told a meeting of anti-nuclear protesters that they were right, and to hold on to their anger. His handler reported him."
"How do you know what happened?"
"Because I talk to people. I talk to other entrancers. Not much, not like with you, but sometimes." Jin laughs. It sounds hollow. "I have a reputation for being a bit weird."
Kame didn't know that, either.
Jin's so focused, his stare so piercing, that for a fleeting aimless moment Kame wonders how good an entrancer he must be.
Takizawa, Jin was talking about. "So where is he now?"
It's Jin's turn to shrug. "Where they put all the rogue ones they don't want running around. I'd lay any bet it's not as nice as here."
"What does that have to do with my hangovers and those fucking dreams?"
Jin doesn't flinch at his tone, just holds his gaze steady. The one steady thing here, in this moment. "I'm saying, they can fuck with our powers," Jin says. "We know that. Because they can neutralize the rogues and the ones who don't want to become entrancers, and I know at least a few of those, so I know they're not just, like, disposed of."
"So because there is a system for talents who don't want to join the program, that means the agency makes me dream of snakes and barf up my meds because I drank orange juice with you?" Something in him is pounding hard, some hot defiance. This can't be. It makes no sense.
Jin lets the pause stretch between them. A deep, sad breath.
"Do you know of any other two entrancers who are friends?"
There's nobody. Before Jin, there was nobody here either. Friends never seemed... intuitive.
"I need..." Kame feels parched despite the coffee. There's a new throb behind his temples. "I need to think about this."
At containment sector G, Kame feels the restless mood the moment he gets out of the shielded limousine. Beside him, Tanaka drops his hand to the stun gun, but he should know Kame did this kind of gig at a much lower level. Here, he's just passing through.
He takes one slow breath, letting his gaze sweep over the rusty caravans, the cardboard boxes and the tents, and can feel the crowd breathe with him already. This will be easy.
It only now occurs to him to wonder why the government doesn't simply build some big tower blocks for people to live in.
Jin asks questions. Has opinions on the answers. Kame believes in duty, and in responsibility, and he knows what he owes to the state that trained him and has always rewarded his work and loyalty.
He drags his mind away, back to the waiting crowd. Summons a glow to thaw their frozen dreams, spreads a web of gentleness over their hardship. Some begin to hug each other, some start to smile as if they just remembered someone they love. He doesn't have a show here, no sparkles or feathers, just him in a barren encampment with thousands of desperate people.
He makes them happy and he has them in the palm of his hand.
Think what you can do.
If he were a traitor, he could turn them into a baying mob. A disciplined mob. An army.
He isn't, of course, and he wouldn't.
On his way to his third engagement, a low key company bonding event, he gets rerouted to the government residential quarter, which is close to the agency, but where high rises fall to historical houses with wide floor plans and stretching lawns.
"Matsumoto appears to have suddenly taken ill, sir," Tanaka says as the gaps between the houses get larger. "Divorce mediation, delicate stuff."
Sudden illness. In a hot flash Kame wonders if Matsumoto dreamed of being crushed by a train, if there's someone he likes, who comes over and makes him coffee and cares that he feels like shit for no professional, logical reason.
"Food poisoning, sounds like," Tanaka says. "His driver is out of commission too, they stopped for street food on the way here, apparently their condition traces back to lunch." Tanaka sounds like he does not approve of street food for entrancers out on jobs.
Food poisoning. Right. Kame breathes out slowly. He's not going to go crazy.
"You're more fitting for this assignment anyway, sir," Tanaka adds, sounding pleased for Kame. Another notch in Kame's long list of why he's at the top.
Matsumoto eats spoiled chicken and Kame enjoys a plum assignment.
It's designed that way.
When they get to the house, a two-storey sprawling villa with a long driveway, they see Matsumoto's car, and soon after Matsumoto, looking miserable in the staff room where a maid is just swapping out buckets. Matsumoto is clutching his stomach and is apparently trying not to move. Very elegant. His aide is nowhere to be seen.
"Fucking beginner idiots," Matsumoto grinds out when he sees them. "I'm telling you, Kamenashi, don't ever listen to some low-life driver dud telling you to stop for 'authentic' cooking." He shoots Kame daggers like Kame himself served him bad chicken. His aide will probably not stick around much longer.
Kame touches his cuff, the smooth metal warmed by his skin, the sinuous engravings.
He's sure it took no interference for him to not be friends with Matsumoto.
Afterwards, Tanaka waits for him with water as customary. "Sir."
Kame nods his thanks. Then he has a thought. "Food poisoning. Unfortunate."
"Most unfortunate, sir." Tanaka sounds no more sincere than Kame did.
"I had a spot of bother myself recently," Kame says, belting himself in.
Tanaka gives him a surprised glance in the rear view mirror. Kame doesn't usually talk about his health. "I noticed you were looking pale, sir," he says cautiously as he starts the car.
"I guess it's my own fault," Kame says lightly. "Going out for drinks with people... not good for the constitution."
"Most likely not, sir." Tanaka agrees readily. His white gloved hands tap the steering wheel. "Safer to stay in and get some rest. The facilities at the tower are top notch, after all."
Kame shrugs. "I like going out occasionally, though. It's fun." He lets a moment pass. "Maybe I should avoid going with citizens, but instead go with colleagues. At least they can shield."
Tanaka blinks. "With other entrancers?"
"Surely that's the easiest solution?"
"But they're your rivals, sir," Tanaka says slowly. "You know you can't trust them, sir."
"I'm sure some of them aren't so bad," Kame says breezily.
"I don't know..." Tanaka is scratching his head like Kame gave him a very tricky question to solve. "Never heard of that going well, if I'm honest. The pressure, the competition..." He gives Kame an apologetic glance. "I really wouldn't go there. Sir."
Kame holds his eyes in the mirror for a moment, tries to look puzzled. Tanaka's brow keeps furrowing and his polite smile is twitchy, until Kame turns his head towards the window, breathes out on cool glass.
His cuff feels like his pulse is beating against it. Like something hot and shadowy is drawing around it, pulling tight.
His last gig of the day. Tanaka drove him wordlessly for half an hour, and Kame had time to think for half an hour. Time to review times and dates, count beers and hangovers, tally up the price each time he shared an evening with Jin. Allergic.
Kame is so angry that he has to stop himself from shaking.
For years he's done nothing but give them his best work. Got them results. Caused no stir and no grief, just spun the most shining thread of happiness around everyone they sent in his door.
And they are poisoning him, put a secret vicious tag right there on his skin, and he never knew.
He holds the anger tight.
At the session, several women in the first three rows are sobbing in ecstasy by the time the glimmer fades, and Kame sees more than one grown man sway on uncertain legs, a stunned smile on their blurry faces as they are herded out.
"That was an intense showing, Kamenashi-sama," Tanaka says to him in a tone of awe. Their aides rarely watch their work and comment even less rarely.
Their handlers. Jin is right.
"Thank you," Kame says to him. The pulse behind his eyes goes beyond any headache.
He doesn't even stop at his own apartment, knocks at Jin's door and thinks, 'come on, come on, you're in...'
And he is, flinging the door wide, smiling even wider. "That was a very commanding knock."
Kame gets in there, barely remembers his shoes, waits till the door is shut but barely. "I buy it. You're right. They're doing this."
"Shhh!" Jin hisses urgently. The smile is wiped from his face and he clasps Kame's shoulder and moves him towards the couch, puts a finger to his lips and goes to put on some music again.
This time Kame finds it entirely plausible.
Jin drops down close to him, says, "Okay, tell me," almost in his ear.
"It fits," Kame says helplessly. "Today, I... just, everything I did, I was looking at it with this in mind and it all fits."
Jin nods with a slight grimace. "I'm sorry. You'd have been happier not knowing."
Kame bristles at that. Yes, he was content to do the job but that doesn't mean... "I'm glad I know. If they're manipulating me, I damn well want to know."
"Okay, okay." Jin puts a hand on his thigh and presses it, calm down. Kame grasps on to it, both his hands on Jin's, around Jin's wrists, holds on and holds still. Calms himself down.
He's got a grip on it now, this anger. He thinks he can feel a faint tightness start at the back of his skull, and thinks, fuck them, this can be his focus. He'll use it for something constructive, even if he doesn't know what yet. He's more aware of his awkward hold on Jin's arm and how Jin doesn't mind, just looks concerned, and Kame doesn't mind either, even Jin's cuff has warmed up under...
Kame blinks up. "Why are you fine?"
"Ah," Jin says. And takes a breath. His hands go slack on Kame's leg, in Kame's grasp. He's staring at the floor but that makes Kame all the more determined to wait him out.
Finally Jin gives him a resigned look. "My mom's a dud."
Society and the media treat duds—the Unsusceptible to Entrancement—with benign pity. The state uses them as aides… handlers… and keeps the rest of them on lists, just in case.
"So maybe," Jin says, "I got something from her. Some sort of immunity to…" He wriggles his wrist. "Stuff like that.
Kame's stomach does one low, uncomfortable turn. "Stuff like that…" He repeats. Waits again.
Jin shrugs. "I don't know more than that, really."
There's a mammoth in the room and they are doing a slow waltz around it.
"What about Junior High graduation?" The special treat from the state for all graduating students. And a way to find out about potential handlers, or potential issues.
Jin gives a twisted little smile. "The dog barfed on my school uniform. Mom said I couldn't go without. So I didn't."
"So you've never---"
"No." It comes out flat, defensive, but Jin's shrug is apologetic more than anything else.
He should feel more than defensive. An entrancer who… even just possibly…
"Are you crazy?" Kame bursts out, and he finds himself gripping Jin's arms, shouting in his face. "You can't tell anyone this."
"Don't worry," Jin says. "I won't."
"You just fucking told me!"
"It might explain what's different with my cuff!"
Kame takes a breath, makes himself stop cutting off Jin's circulation. Jin's music is playing in his ears, audible but... He brings his voice down, hoping it's not too late if Jin's right about everything. "That's not worth telling someone this," he says in a tight hush.
"I didn't tell someone, I told you," Jin says, matching Kame's volume but apparently not his stress level. "This is hurting you. I wanted to figure it out. You don't want to figure it out?"
Kame stares at him. "You are crazy."
Jin sighs. He's not fighting Kame, doesn't seem to mind that Kame is still holding him like a doll, if mercifully no longer shaking him. "I can't say I've heard that before, but the sentiment's not new." He cocks his head like he's just a little bit exasperated, and Kame feels something crack inside him, something safe and sensible.
When Kame lets him go, Jin actually seems startled. "Where are you going?"
"Just checking on your food, I haven't had dinner yet," Kame says from two steps away, at a regular volume. "Also, I like this song. Who's it by?"
Jin seems dumbfounded, and tells him the song is by an Alisa or an Anisa or whoever, who cares. Kame finds the silver knob to turn the volume up, slowly, so no vocal commands will show up on the record.
Then he sits back next to Jin, leans in. "I'm going to beat this," he says. Jin's eyes are dark and a little cautious, and Kame finds a small smile, somewhere. His hand is on Jin's arm again, their cuffs almost touching. The gleam is nothing compared to the warmth of Jin's skin. "We're going to have dinner, and we're going to hang out, and I might even have a beer or two, and I'm going to spend the night here, and fuck them."
Food and beer make Kame chill a lot and he thinks he probably needed that. The anger won't go but it's quieter, more determined. He no longer feels like he's going to explode with it.
He drops himself on the couch while Jin goes to swap dinner plates for another round of beers. His bed for the night, he thinks.
He's never been in Jin's apartment before. He knows what it looks like, of course. Before his last promotion, he used to have one of these. His was on the other side of the building, a mirror image. Just the accents are different. Kame has some art pieces and his Trufood cooking equipment. Jin's interior design choices mostly consist of dropped clothing in random places and corners, and what Kame guesses are breakfast dishes, though he's not sure why they would sit on the windowsill.
"I saw that," Jin says. There's humour in his voice, a breezy thing different from the tension of the night, from cuffs and conspiracies. "I didn't know you were coming over, okay?"
Kame grins. He really doesn't care. "I didn't know I was coming over either."
Jin holds another beer out to him, cap already gone. "You never have before," he shrugs.
No. Because it wouldn't have occurred to him, because entrancers don't get in each other's way or in each other's space. Because entrancers have friends and relationships safely, outside, from a point of power and control. "I think I should have," Kame says, like he's just learned some new language and likes the sound of it.
"How are you feeling?" Jin asks, with his eyes adding in the no bullshit, please.
"I feel good being here," Kame says, perfectly honest. It chases some emotion over Jin's face. "I can feel a mild headache. I'd probably have ascribed it to an early hangover." He takes a sip of his beer, and lets Jin digest the diagnostic.
Jin sits next to him on the couch, his voice dropping back below the music. "Listen," he says. "Are you really sure about this? You've been in bad shape before, and we don't really know what---"
"I am really sure."
"What this will do," Jin says with some urgency. "I mean, I can try to wake you if... But what if I miss it?"
Kame has no doubts. "I'll take my chances."
"You might be safer just..." Jin is taking a breath that looks hard and uncomfortable. "Just not being around me."
Kame doesn't even know what to say to that. "No."
"I don't want you hurting. I don't know how to stop it. How do we know that we're not just making it worse?"
Kame thought about this, on his silent, seething trip back with his... handler. "They still want me to work," he points out. "They invested a lot in training me. I'm the best they have. Whatever they're doing, it's not going to kill me."
That's his main argument, in a nutshell. Perfectly sound. Jin looks spooked anyway, but he has to see Kame is just being sensible.
"They got rid of Takizawa," Jin says quietly. "He was right up here on the top floor."
"He wasn't the best," Kame says. "And he did something that's not allowed. I'm just watching TV with you."
Jin gives him a weird, affectionate look. "You're being logical," he says as though that's a silly thing to be. "Can you be sure they are?"
"I want to do what I can to figure this out." He's never felt surer of anything, and he'll cope with a few more days of painkillers if that's what it takes. "I want to see if I can be desensitized, or if not, what meds work, or if not, see if they change their minds if I'm throwing up all over the CEO of whatever."
Jin is... mulling that over. Biting his lip, thinking thoughts that look complex and worried and at the end there's a sigh.
"I don't want to do this on their terms," Kame nudges him.
Jin huffs out a half-laugh. Out of nowhere he's touching Kame's arm, almost petting him. It's odd and neither of them seem to care. "I'll try to wake you if you look like a dream is going bad," Jin says.
After the plans are set, Kame takes another shower in Jin's small, perfectly serviceable bathroom, to wash a day of anger and restlessness of him. It soothes the burgeoning headache a little, and he glosses over the rest of it with another drink when they settle together on the couch.
Kame's borrowed sweatpants and a t-shirt from Jin. He doesn't want to leave here, not even long enough to go down the hall and get his own. At least Jin is high enough on the success ladder that he can get the service drone to spit out a spare toothbrush.
They watch a holofilm about a gang of clever beautiful thieves pulling off a heist on the Blockchain Institute, back to back with its sequel. It occasionally makes them grin at each other, a sense of giddiness around them. For the second film, Jin's brought out a blanket for them to stick their legs under.
By the end, Kame is tired, and queasy around the edges. The point in time where he'd pull in his tail and retreat home. I should try to get some sleep, it's been a long night.
"Ready for bed?" Jin asks, almost casual.
"Sounds about right," Kame replies.
"Come along then." Jin pushes himself up and marches toward the bedroom, the door swishing aside obediently as he approaches.
"You don't want me to be on the couch?"
Jin turns around again, his fingers lightly on the edge of the sliding door. "The bed's more comfortable. And bigger. I can keep a better eye on you if I'm not all the way over in an armchair."
All that is true but... Entrancers don't sleep in each other's beds. Kame stands up. "Great," he says.
The bed's made, Jin apparently taking advantage of the cleaning robots, or at least he didn't bother to cancel them. All Jin's clutter is on the right bedside table, so Kame steers left. The sheets are standard issue, not the upgrade Kame got for himself. His feet tickle with nervousness as he pulls the covers over himself.
Jin gets into the right side of the bed with his reader, some manga on it. "Lights low," he says when they're both settled, and the lights dim to almost nothing. "Music off."
"Good night," Kame says into the sudden silence, though he wonders if he isn't too wound up to sleep after all.
"Sleep well," Jin says, with a dark undertone.
Jin is very quiet. For some reason Kame had expected him to fidget. But he can barely hear him breathe. He focuses on that, just hearing, to stop thinking and wanting to sleep or not wanting to sleep.
It's odd but comforting to have someone so near, near enough to touch if he stretched out his arm. Near enough to hear his quietest breath, and the tiny click of the button when he advances the screen.
A tiny tremor shakes the building, like a dozen times a day. Jin's breathing doesn't change. Kame drifts, heavy and warm, calm.
The tremor is stronger. A roar in the distance that pulls him up. The floor's not steady, the sheets blurry under his hands. He's wide awake, heart thumping in his throat, the noise flaring closer. Everything is swaying.
Cracking, gashes running up the walls and plaster coming down. Kame tries to jump out of bed but the floor won't hold him, and now he smells fire. He's slipping, knees hurting when he lands and there's flames licking up the wall, smoke and melted plastic oozing out.
He sees the door, he needs to get to the door but there's a wall of fire behind it, wafts of black poison clouding his eyes and shooting up his nose, a stab behind his ears. He holds his breath, tries to crawl away from the fire but his palms blister on hot metal, and when he screams the air runs into his lungs and spreads and burns, he can barely see from the pain.
Beside him fists of fire are scurrying across the ground, rats or ferrets or something and through the acid shredding his thoughts he's horrified for the creatures because they're burning up... only they aren't. They're sniffing and searching, coming for him, their teeth razor sharp, they're hungry and he can't get out.
He flails against them, crawls on, gasps in smoke, feels how he's weakening. They jump on him, bite his ears and neck, he can't get them off.
Something sweeps across his back and he's terrified, he can't see. The biting stops but the flames burn him up, his hand slips on blood and his face hits the ground and he's stunned, dizzy, can't lift his head, it's over.
A cool hand on his face. "You're not burning. It's a dream."
The fire is everywhere. It's not a dream, he's bleeding and hurting and can't breathe. Can't move.
"Look at me." Kame's eyeballs feel molten but the voice is commanding, familiar.
Jin's kneeling in the flames, they lick his clothes and hair. The panic makes Kame's heart jump, Jin will burn.
"It's one of your dreams," Jin says. He can still move. He's touching Kame's forehead, brushing the flames away. "Boy, no wonder you always felt like shit."
Jin's hands slip to Kame's forearms, pull him up. Don't touch me, I'm on fire.
"Remember? You've been having bad dreams?" Jin looks beautiful in the flicker of the flames. A flaming rat goes for Jin's foot but he flicks it away.
The snake. The train. They weren't real. But the flames here are everywhere, he can smell the searing fumes, feel their heat.
Jin's face is urgent, but he doesn't look scared. "It's not real. Take a breath."
"I can't," he gasps. His lungs feel like they will explode. Jin runs his hands up to Kame's shoulders, a cool shimmer he can feel through the fire.
"I promise you," Jin says. "It's not real."
He can't mean it. It's all around them. Kame wants him to run, and he wants him to stay, and he wants that coolness and the ebbing of pain when Jin squeezes his hands around Kame's shoulders. Kame didn't know it but now he's making a fist in Jin's t-shirt and staring at Jin, feeling like Jin's dark eyes are the only thing that will save him.
"Take a breath," Jin says. "See how I do it. There's nothing here."
"Why aren't you hurting," Kame whispers, his fist going tight, flashes snapping through his mind, the cuff Jin's laugh smooth sheets under his face soft music, and Jin is leaning in, Jin's breath ghosting over his face like this is the air that won't hurt, and Jin's mouth is on his in a mumble.
He breathes, muffled and a little damp. Jin's lips are on the corner of his mouth, so soft. He breathes again. The air feels thin, its flow stuttering and wobbly and his heart is hammering, but Jin is right, it doesn't burn.
"Again," Jin says.
So he breathes again.
Jin pulls him closer, his mouth in Kame's hair which should be full of soot and grime and Jin is brushing all along his back. "It's not real," he's whispering. "Just think of that." Jin's t-shirt smells of coffee and outdoor baths and popcorn.
He can still see the flames past Jin's shoulder, so he buries his face against Jin's chest and breathes more, feels how it doesn't hurt. How his knees are solid on the ground, not scraped flesh on red metal. Jin's arms around him. "It's just a dream?"
"Yeah," Jin says. Everywhere his hands run the fear drains out.
"How do you know? How are you here?"
There's a little huff of laughter. "Thought I'd make myself useful." Jin pulls back a little. Tilts Kame's face up. "You're okay," he says, almost like a command, his eyes waiting for the confirmation.
The pain in his head is gone. A flickering of fire and destruction is playing out around them, visuals flattened to a movie, to nothing, and Kame is safe and anchored. "Yes."
Jin nods. "Then I think it's time for you to wake up now."
Kame leans in, tips forward, the glow all around them, kissing Jin on the mouth. Jin is still for a blink of a second, before his lips move gently and his hands cup Kame's neck.
Just a moment, and then Kame breathes again. "I think it's time for me to wake up now," he says.
It's unspectacular. He'd expected some fading out, fading in, but he's just here, lying in bed in the dimly lit room with Jin close, holding his hand with both of his. Watching him.
Kame lets out a deep breath. "That was..." He can't think of a word to do it justice.
"How are you feeling?" Jin says gently. He's not letting go of Kame's hand. Kame doesn't want him to.
"I'm..." He can't quite believe it, focuses on his head, throat, eyes, hands... "I'm okay. I'm fine. I'm feeling great, actually."
Jin's smile is dazzling and relieved, like they just carried out the heist of the century. "I tried to wake you up at first but that thing must have kept you under. I was starting to panic." His hand squeezes Kame's. "I'm so glad I got to you somehow."
"How are you feeling?" Kame doesn't even know what it takes to pull something like that off. He didn't know it could be done.
"I'm okay," Jin says. "A little tired, but I think that's cause it's three in the morning."
They lie a moment in silence, Jin with that smile of the cat that got the cream, Kame just grateful and... happy. The horror of the dream is already blurred, and the ending...
Jin kissed him. Jin held him and kissed his mouth and his hair.
"Thank you," he says. "For following me and for... doing all that."
Jin shakes his head against the sheets, a strand of messy hair falling over his eyes. "You're welcome," he says anyway. "I'm really glad you're okay." He reaches over, brushes a strand of hair or a ghost of an image away from Kame's temple. Rests a moment, before his face turns oddly shy.
"I don't know how this works, I've never heard of anyone who can do this," Kame whispers. "Would we remember the same things?"
Jin keeps watching him, doesn't pull back. "I think we do, yeah."
Kame breathes out. Grateful for that too. He should be tired too but three a.m. in Jin's bed is the clearest morning he's had in weeks. "Was everything there... just part of the dream?" he asks, a little raspy with a flutter of nerves, but he's not scared either way.
Jin takes a moment to answer. His fingers draw a tickle-light line on Kame's temple. "I think that's up to you. Not for me, it wasn't."
Kame's whole life, changing just like that. Or maybe it's been changing for months.
He reaches out and takes Jin's hand, pulls it close and kisses his fingers while and Jin smiles and watches. Then he pulls Jin in. In reality Jin's t-shirt smells of sleep and faintly of Jin's shower gel, and there's Jin's hand on his back. Kame pushes his fingers up into Jin's hair, and then their mouths find each other, gentle, testing, and Kame's not sure if it's him or Jin making that soft little noise.
Jin's hand slides up his back too, brings them even closer, and Jin's lips part, a flick of his tongue prompting Kame, inviting him in.
It's been so long... with anyone. Kame's whole body is shaking, and he grips Jin tight, he hopes not to tight but if he doesn't hold on he'll burst apart. Jin's hand is gentling him, slow strokes like in the fire, and this is like fire only good, so incredibly good.
Each kiss is like that first breath, going deep, and Jin holds him here, too, in the moment, and it's been forever that he's felt this grounded, right to his toes. When they break apart, Jin's smile makes Kame worse, better, makes everything flutter.
He wants to say something, thank you, maybe, thank you for fixing me, but Jin knows, and now Kame wants to be close to him, and this time it's Jin who pulls him in.
His lips feel hot when they finally slow, Jin nuzzling his ear, lazy kisses on Kame's cheek. There's a slackness in them, three am or four am or wherever they are, catching up with them.
It's Jin who says, "We should get some sleep." He stays, though, close and curling around Kame, wrapping him in warmth.
"I look forward to it," Kame smiles. "My first normal sleep in ages." He brushes at Jin's hair, turned tangled and frizzy from Kame's hands. Jin smiles back, eyes going sleepy, happy.
"No more dreams," he says. "I'll see you in the morning."
The alarm wakes them both. Kame's head is clear, he's feeling refreshed, he feels fixed. Jin is hiding under the blankets, his arm flailing about trying to hit the 'off' button.
"Alarm off," Kame says and it stops.
Jin slumps back down again. The heaviness of it makes Kame sit up in worry.
"Are you okay?" Kame asks. Maybe what Jin did is having some backlash after all. It did seem too easy, somehow.
"Yeah, I'm okay, I'm great," Jin mumbles. He sticks his head out, perhaps to prove his point. "Just, I had like three hours sleep. I'm not a morning person."
His hair looks wild. His mouth looks kissable. The relief makes Kame huff out a laugh and he's feeling a little giddy. He woke up in Jin's bed. Slowly, not missing a glimpse of Jin in full rumpled glory, he moves closer and touches their lips together. "Better?"
After five kisses, Jin concedes that he might be awake. Neither of them is making a move to actually get up.
Finally Jin says, "Music on." He shifts closer to Kame, sneaks an arm and a leg over him to pull himself close, and they fit like they've always done this. "You're still okay."
"Do you think that sorted it out for good?"
Kame really thinks so, but he can't know for sure. "I guess I'll find out as we go along? I don't feel anything just now, and we just spent about four hours next to each other. No headache, no nausea. Maybe I won't dream again either."
"If you do, maybe you can remember it's not real," Jin says. Slowly, sleep is fading from his eyes. "I can teach you."
"I would like that, if it comes to that," Kame says.
"Alternatively, I'll keep chasing after you until it sinks in."
Kame laughs. It's freeing and light and raw. "I think I would like that too."
"You and me," Jin says. Lets it hang there, humming and heavy. "They're not going to like it."
"No," Kame says. Kame is the most powerful entrancer in the agency. Jin is the only entrancer Kame has ever heard of who's immune to influence, who can enter dreams… and who knows what else he can do. They should be terrified. "I don't care." He raises an eyebrow at Jin, who breaks into a wide sparkling smile.
A few more minutes won't make them late if they both hurry in the shower, Kame thinks, before sinking his hands into Jin's hair again, you and me, all the things that they won't like.
"What time are you home tonight?" Jin asks when they've disentangled themselves. "The usual?"
"I think so. Four gigs, pretty standard. You?"
"Three. I'll be here."
"Good. We can talk more then." Who knows, maybe over some more music, maybe the louder kind.
"Yes, let's talk more," Jin says, "definitely talk, too," with a cagey smile that gives Kame a hot twisting feeling.
For now, they have to get going for a day of work. They have to get ready.
Jin stops him briefly at the door; Kame has to go back to his own apartment, a dose of practicality as he needs fresh clothes. "Be careful, okay?" he says. "You have a gleam in your eye."
Kame laughs. "I promise, I'm always careful," he says. "Except around you."
Enchanters never, ever trust each other.
Jin doesn't laugh. "I swear," he says, "around me you'll never have to be."