hermiones: (nanowrimo)
Cat ([personal profile] hermiones) wrote2010-03-06 11:41 am
Entry tags:

"Southend" (2), Part Two.

Title: Southend (2)
Pairing: Jin/OC
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: AU. Sex, history/supernatural, disturbing content.
Summary: I wrote this both for [livejournal.com profile] je_ficgames and Nanowrimo 2008 and have just realised that I never posted it. It's, er, historical AU het Jin fic. Enjoy? XD

(2), Part One.

Reio trots up to find the set over and Ryo counting the money. He looks pleased for once, which means that he has a chance of following them back to Jin's tonight. They do multiple sets a day which means that the boys will go back to Jin's place and then head out again at around seven. The last time Reio went with them he was left alone, with Jin's computer and subscriptions. That was a good day.

“How'd it go?” he says. “Did I do good work for you guys?”

“Not bad,” Ryo says. “Better than yesterday. We'll keep you, kid. You're better than your brother, anyway. He nearly fucked things up.”

“I didn't,” Jin says, stubbornly. “I had a bit of brain fade, that's all.”

“Couldn't stop staring at this girl,” Ryo snorts. “Stupid dick. Like she'd be interested in somebody like you. Girls like her, they only want one thing. Promotion.”

Reio keeps quiet. It's usually best not to argue or interject when Ryo's talking – he always thinks his opinion is more important than yours. It's something Jin hasn't learnt over the years and Reio thinks it's funny, another band with another feud between singer and lead guitarist. Unfailingly predictable. It's a shame their music is so good, otherwise Reio would find it easy to write them off. The music industry slows with the economy and it's precious difficult to get anywhere anyway without the additional pressures. The idea of them failing is as bad as them never trying to succeed.

“Hey,” Jin says. “How do you know? You don't know her. She could be anybody. You're always putting people in boxes. Judgmental as fuck.”

“Makes life easier,” Ryo says. “You're never disappointed. Boxes work for a reason. People are predictable. Few people live outside the box. Few people are actually all that surprising.”

You're predictable,” Jin says. “You make people the way they are. The way they react to you, because you're predictable. Like Ami.”

“Ah, don't talk about that,” Ryo says. “I told her I was sorry. Women.”

“You're a dick,” Jin says. “I don't know how you wound up with a girl at all. Let alone one who wants to settle down with you.”

Ryo makes a face. “Girls aren't what they're cracked up to be,” he says. “You fuck that girl, you'll end up with little better than a blow-up doll. Career girls, they don't make time for anything. You can't have a relationship with somebody who lives in her office, who's permanently attached to her 'cell. It'll just be about sex.”

“I could cope with that right now,” Jin says. “Let me tell you.”

“Don't tell me,” Ryo says. “I don't want to deal with your emotional shit anymore. Just go and do it, or don't. Man, you're harder to work with than my sister.”

“And you're less mature than my brother,” Jin says.

“Oi,” Reio says. “I'm older than the pair of you.”

“Probably true,” Ryo says. “Come on, Jin. Let's go back.”

“Can I come?” Reio asks. “I won't get in the way.”

“He wants to watch your porn again,” Ryo says. “Pervert.”

“He doesn't like my porn,” Jin says. “Says it's boring.”

“That shit is boring,” Ryo says. “You're fucked in the head.”

“Can I come back with you?” Reio repeats.

“Alright, alright,” Jin says, handing Reio his 'cell phone. “'Phone mother,” he adds. “She'll freak out if you don't. I don't want her yelling at me again.”

When Jin walks home from the evening set, he can't stop thinking about the girl he saw earlier. There's something not right about the whole thing – the way she held his gaze, the way a part of him seemed to dissolve into her. The way he lost a large chunk of time and the way for a second or two he felt as though he was living somebody else's life. Somebody else's time. Looking into her eyes, it was as though she felt the same way. As if they were connected in a strange moment of shifting. He can't explain it but now that she's gone, he can't get her out of his mind.

It's not about sex. He's dated more attractive women in his time and there was nothing all that striking about her except for the tenacity of her face. It's not a physical urge but a feeling of loss – that he's never going to see her again and that somehow, this is of some importance to his heart. Despite not knowing her, he feels as though he's lost her. As he passes through the streets he doesn't hear the arguing. He doesn't pay any attention to the couple in costumes. He walks past the woman in the window, the woman who undresses at the same time each and every night.

He doesn't bother looking up.

He's not himself. Ryo said it and he can't argue with it. Nothing feels right anymore. His life is a snow-globe and it's just been shaken up.

He unlocks the door and finds Reio asleep on the couch. The baseball is on but the score isn't good – no wonder he fell asleep. When Jin pushes the door shut, Reio wakes with a start and turns his head upside down to look at Jin.

“Uhh,” he says. “Good gig?”

“Alright,” Jin says. “I'm not sure it's worth the effort – the money isn't as good at night. I could get a job in a bar, it'd pay the bills better.”

“It's not music,” Reio says.

“No,” Jin says. “True. What've you been doing?”

“Baseball,” Reio says, waving a hand absently at the screen. “Do I have to go to school tomorrow?”

“Yep,” Jin says. “Spoke to mother earlier. I'm to get you to school any way that I know how.”

“You're not gonna do it,” Reio says. “You're too lazy. You'll sleep in and I'll be gone by the time you wake up.”

“That's what you think, shrimp,” Jin says. He rummages through the kitchen cupboard, finding some packet noodles he pushed to the back weeks ago. They'll do. “But I have plans this time. You won't escape.”

“I don't want to go to school,” Reio says. “What's the point.”

“Fuck if I know,” Jin says. “But you gotta go until you're eighteen. Then you can quit.”

“It's two years away,” Reio says. “Can't I just become your manager?”

“No,” Jin says. “Nice try. Want some of this?”

“Nah,” Reio says. “I'm alright. I ordered in.”

“With my money, I take it.”


Jin says nothing, so Reio starts to look a bit guilty.

“I'm sorry,” he says. “You know I can't cook.”

“Don't worry about it,” Jin says. “It's not you. I'm just not myself.”

“Why?” Reio asks.

“I don't...I don't know. It's about that girl. Everything's about that girl, isn't that crazy? I don't even know her. I don't know who she is or where she came from, but everything is suddenly...I don't know. It's like my life changed direction and I don't understand why.”

“What happened with the girl?” Reio asks. “I couldn't get it what with Ryo talking crap.”

“Eh,” Jin says. “Nothing. She – she stopped in front of me. She was putting money in the case and she looked at me. And time stopped. It just stopped. And nothing else mattered but her face. Apparently I was speechless for five minutes.”

“I wish I'd seen her,” Reio says. “She must've been hot.”

“Not that hot,” Jin says. “It's not about that. She just – she did something to me. I can't explain it. And I'm never going to see her again. I'm not...cool with that. I feel unsettled about it. Like I should've held out my hands and grasped her in them before she flew away and life rattled on.”

“You and your poetry,” Reio says. “Fuck, man. She's just a girl, right?”

“Yeah,” Jin says. “I guess. It just – it felt like more.”

“Sometimes that happens,” Reio says. “You meet somebody and there's a connection. You feel like you can tell them anything, that they'll listen. That they'll understand. Sometimes that happens and you feel like you know them when you don't.”

“How the fuck do you know? Have you got a girlfriend?” Jin laughs. “You sound like you've got a girlfriend. Reio's growing up. Fuck, man, you shouldn't be that serious at sixteen.”

“I haven't,” Reio says, scowling. “I just. I met a girl on a train. A woman, really. Anyway, I can relate – we connected. And it's not about her or me, just about two people who click. Isn't it?”

“I think so,” Jin says. “Somebody who gets you. It's so fucking hard to find.”

He stirs his noodles and thinks. He's always had trouble finding girls who understand him – the lifestyle is crazy and financially he has nothing to offer anybody. He writes songs instead of sending flowers, he rushes out in the middle of the night. He's obsessive and passionate and moody and confusing and girls, particularly Japanese girls, don't think he's a catch. A part of him understands that. Another part of him is tired of being misunderstood.

“I think when you meet somebody you connect with,” he continues. “You should try to keep them in your life. How old was this girl you met on the train?”

“More than twenty,” Reio says.

“Fuck me,” Jin says. “I take it back. Forget her. You need playmates your own age. God knows what kind of number a woman like that could do on you.”

“It's not like I'm in love with her,” Reio says, defensively. “I just liked her. She's nice. Most girls are snobby and uptight but she's different. Prickly but in a good way. Smart.”

“What's her name?”


Something shifts, like a ripple in a piece of fabric floating along the floor. Jin digs his nails into it, trying to hold onto it, trying to keep time between his fists. Trying not to fall asleep. The world blackens until it's gone. Reio's insistent voice fades to nothingness.

When awareness creeps in again the world is shaking. Only when it stills does he open his eyes. It's the middle of the night, everything is dark and deep around him. He shakes his head and looks around him. The train he's on rocks onwards, endlessly onwards and he stands on it in his pyjamas. The lights flicker above his head. Outside, the world rushes by. Nothing makes sense. The world is changing and unfolding and he doesn't know how to stop it.

Emiko finds herself walking the streets at night. Something she's never done before and something she doesn't really want to do – her mother always tells her that it's dangerous to invite trouble into your life. Yet she flouts her mother the way she flouts every sane thing in her life and finds herself walking down the street where she heard the music. It's not right, it can't possibly look right – a well-kept woman wandering down the street in heels, in good clothing. She recognises that she looks wealthy and that she's prey in every possible sense to the bad people out at night. She just doesn't care. A part of her hopes that though the street is deserted and the world is quiet, that she might hear the music again.

She stands on the corner where she saw Jin and the band. She closes her eyes as the music drifts over her again, slow and coiling at first and then deep, loud, long. It echoes within her bones, wraps itself around each and every rib like ribbon. When she breathes her heart beats around it, sending a pulse through her body and into her brain. She's shaking. Her eyes closed, she can almost see the music come to life, see an image form through sound. It doesn't make sense but she sees bright skies and blue flowers and a field, a twisting field and a woman spinning, a vision of white.

She shudders with a sudden breeze, a sudden car which honks as it goes past. She's shaken out of her thoughts with the intrusion and the image disappears. The music dissolves away. Any hope she had of piecing together the image is lost. She's never been the type to see music this way. Even to feel music this way. Always the girl who liked music in the background, never the one who truly allowed it in. She feels as though there's something she's missing – not just time, not just increments of time that slip away from her, but meaning. She feels as though her brain operates in a different language now, one she can't speak or understand. She's missing something.

She walks to the train station and listens to the noise of the streets, wondering whether that too can evoke imagery. Whether now her brain processes sound, not speech. Whether that's the difference. She passes by the houses, the arguments in the middle of the night, the soft music from upstairs radios, the hushed sounds of sex. How alive the world is at two in the morning surprises her. She would have thought that the world would be still then, a deathly place. There almost seems more life in it now. Nothing forms an image. Nothing reaches into her chest and wraps itself around her. The noise is wonderful and comforting but not emotive. Not meaningful.

When she gets onto the train, there aren't any other people on it. Not even salarymen. To be too late for them is really something, she thinks. It's eerie to ride the train home with no other passengers. The lights flicker on and off as the train rattles through the city and when she passes by a street with a person on it, it makes her jump. The absence of people makes their image all the stronger. Above her head, the advertisements rock backwards and forwards with the movement of the train. Loans companies, dating agencies. Two forms of currency and survival above her head. A can of something rolls across the carriage – maybe beer, maybe diet soda. Alcoholics and teenagers both take the evening trains. She wonders where they are now.

She wishes Reio were here. He'd know how to make a joke, to make the world seem light again. She wishes anybody were here. The problem with holding to principles, with being serious, is that more than anything else you end up alone. Emiko wishes she could be like Kiko, able to marry a man she doesn't truly know. Able to give herself so freely to somebody without testing them first. Without running a full screening. The train rattles on with its hard ricochet sound and she closes her eyes, feeling a sense of deep emptiness inside. She feels so lonely she could ride the train forever and never get off. So lonely she could just continue rattling along until she ends up somewhere, somewhere she could put down roots in. Die in. She feels as though nobody would care. As though there's nothing to keep her here. As though there's nothing, nothing at all.

She stays on the train past her stop. It's too hard to get up, to start walking. Her face is wet and she doesn't want to touch it, to make it real. She closes her eyes as a world she doesn't recognise flies past, wanting more than anything just to crawl into a small white box and lie still. Just to pause time, just to be able to breathe. She wishes Reio were here to still the world down. She hasn't cried in years.

“Fuck,” she mutters to herself, wiping her face with her hand. Maybe this is what people mean when they talk about rock bottom.

Suddenly then, the air seems to change around her. When she was younger she would travel with her mother in the car and it would be freezing until the air conditioning warmed up. The feeling of sudden warmth comes back to her now; a coat wrapping around her shoulders, her mother's hands clapping her smaller ones together. And then music deepens and swells, growing down to the train tracks and up towards the tilt of the sky. She hears the guitar and she hears the song – the words don't come but it doesn't matter, because everything else does. She breathes it in and tries to touch the images that floods back behind her closed eyelids. The world spinning in a field of green and the man's eyes so soft and round as he looked at her. The smell of flowers, the taste of rain. The ground under her feet. A plane in the sky. The sound of gunfire.

When she opens her eyes, she tries to scream but no sound emerges. She claps her hand over her mouth and the moan comes, then, helpless and wilting. Two feet away stands the man, the singer, the pilot, the ground under her feet, the sound of gunfire, the music. She struggles for breath as he turns to her. Their eyes meet with the same confusion, the same unknowing, the same connection. She realises that not only can he not hear the music, he isn't playing it – he has no idea what he's doing here.

Knowledge, but not knowledge.

“How did you get here?” she manages to whisper. “Where did you come from?”

He is silent for a moment – looking around him, down his arms and up at the ceiling of the train. “I don't know,” he manages, eventually. “I don't know.”

He sits down beside her. The train rolls on and neither of them pay attention to its destination. Emiko's apartment is long behind her – the world is long behind her. It occurs to her that she's talking with a man she doesn't know. She feels she does but that's not the same thing. All she knows is that his name is Jin and that he's beautiful, that he plays music and that the music he plays makes her see things that don't make sense.

“Your name is Emiko,” he says. “Mine is Jin.”

She stares at him. “You're creeping me out,” she says. “First being here, being suddenly here, then knowing my name. How do you know my name?”

“Why are you talking to me,” he says. “If I'm creeping you out? Most girls would run a mile.”

“I guess I'm not most girls,” she says. “Now tell me what you know.”

“Reio met you,” he says. “Reio is my brother.”

She pauses, taking that in. No wonder Jin reminded her of Reio. The family resemblance is strong now that she thinks about it – the same warm eyes, the same soft boyishness.

“You took my business card from him,” she says.

“No,” he says. “I didn't. I didn't even know you gave him a card – he doesn't have a 'phone. He loses things. But he mentioned you. And a train. And I thought; I knew. I knew how to find you. I was dreaming and now I'm not. I know this doesn't make sense but you have to understand. You have to understand how little my life makes sense right now.”

That she can relate to, she thinks, as she studies him. “When I looked at you,” she says. “When I saw you today, things left me. The world went away. Did you get that feeling? I feel like I know you – but we've never met before. And here you are in your pyjamas with no idea where you came from.”

“Yes,” he says. He turns to her and his eyes are bright and moved. “Yes,” he says, again. “I had that. Exactly that. It keeps happening and I don't know why. Can you...do you know why? Are we both going insane?”

“No,” she says. “I don't. But at the same time, I'm not sure I believe that you...that you didn't take that card. I can understand losing time but knowing things you shouldn't know? I think you're a con-artist.”

“Why would I lie?” he asks. “I feel wrecked about this. I can't sleep. I couldn't possibly have known you'd be here – I woke up here. I might know your name but how can you explain my being here like this?”

It's a good point but good points aren't what she wants. That's never been what she wanted, other people making sense. Other principles somehow invalidate her purpose. Emiko has never been anything except the strength of her opinions.

“All men lie,” she shrugs. “To impress women. To make themselves seem more than they are.”

Jin is thoughtful for a moment. “That's not true,” he says. “I don't want to seem more than I am. That's just setting yourself up for disappointment. I'm disappointing in a lot of ways. Explains why I don't get many dates, I guess. I don't try to impress people.”

“Everybody tries to impress people,” she says. “You do when you sing. You don't sing badly on purpose.”

“I guess so,” he says. “But I also don't pretend that I can sing, either. I can sing. Same with women – I am what I am. Talented or not, good in bed or not. I don't pretend to be anything. I just be myself, you know? I wouldn't lie about being here; it'd be pretty romantic to have that kind of psychic ability. I'd definitely take the credit for something like that.”

“Are you good in bed?” she asks.

He looks at her. “You're fucking rude,” he says.

“Yeah,” she says. “I am. But says you – mysterious stalker. Isn't that ruder than asking personal questions? You brought it up, anyway. Being good in bed.”

“Fine,” he says. “Then are you good in bed?”

She looks at him. “You first,” she says.

“Yeah,” he says. “Damn straight. I mean – y'know. Women are picky. I try my best.”

“We're not picky,” she says. “We just know what we want. Men have had too long of women just lying still and not asking for anything.”

“Actually,” he says. “Most women I've been with haven't known what they wanted. But somehow it was all my fault when I didn't give it to them.”

“Then you have bad taste in women.”

“See,” he says. “It's always the man's fault.”

“Oh, deal with it,” she says. “You have so much power, you have no idea. If you have power, you have responsibility. You get blamed for everything. Get used to it. You wouldn't switch for a woman's lot and you know it.”

“No,” he says. “Guess not. So, are you good in bed?”

“Spectacular,” she says.


“I'm always serious,” she says. “Didn't Reio tell you that? I met him on a train, too. Maybe there's something between your family and transportation.”

“No,” he says. “He told me your name. That's how I know it. And you don't seem that serious.”

“I'm not serious about sex,” she corrects herself. “About everything else, sure.”

“I like that,” he says. “Sex and music. Take everything seriously but sex and music.”

“It's good music,” she says. “The music you play. I'm surprised you're cavalier about it. I prefer to take my job seriously.”

“That's a shame,” he says. “It's more fun when you don't.”

“Men have that luxury,” she says.

“No,” he says. “Musicians do. You think anybody ever wrote a song by worrying about it?”

Another good point, she thinks. Damnit.

He looks out of the window into the encroaching darkness. They've left the warmth of the city behind and joined the countryside. Fields layered in darkness, choppy mountains in the distance. Everything feels cold.

“Where are we going?” she asks.

“I don't know,” he says. “You led us here. You led me here.”

“Did I?”

“Sure,” he says. “See – not everything's my fault. You women know what you want except when you get it. Then you get confused, right? You should be careful what you wish for.”

“I didn't wish for anything,” she says. “I didn't – I was just. I was upset. I've had a difficult week.”

“You wished for something,” he says. “I'm sure that's why I'm here right now. Unless I wished for something, too. And hey, I'm sorry about your week.”

“Thanks. I think...I wished for Reio to be here,” she says.

“Oh, fine,” he says. “I'll go away, then. Wish again, why don't you. I'm sure my brother will happily provide.”

“You are pretty alike,” she says. “Maybe I asked for him and confused the gods.”

“You believe in that crap?” Jin says. “Surprising – doesn't seem fitting for somebody serious like you.”

“No,” she says. “I don't. I figured you might, what with your penchant for abstract thought and your scatty musical brain.”

“Nice,” he says, grinning. “So. The big question is: would you rather have Reio here right now?”

“He'd be less creepy,” she says. “But maybe less useful. You look like the kind of guy who can get us out of this mess.”

“Don't be too hopeful,” he says. “I did say that I was disappointing. I could bust us out of here – break some windows, maybe. I bet that'd impress you.”

“Juvenile delinquency always does,” she says.

“I wish I'd known this was going to happen when I went to sleep,” he says. “I could've been prepared. Brought an axe or something. Then again, where would we go if we got out of here? We'd have to wander around out there. No thanks. Seen too many horror films to chance it.”

She looks at him and then out into the sparse night-time wilderness. “Coward,” she says.

“Disappointing,” he says. “I told you.”

“Have you noticed,” she says. “That we're no longer stopping at any stations? We should still be stopping. I've never been out this far but we've gone past three stations. What's going on?”

He looks at her and then out at the window. Sure enough, the train rolls into one station and out again, just as fast. He turns his gaze to the map on the wall which clearly highlights the station as a designated stop. Taking a breath seems to steal the colour from his face.

“I don't know,” he says. “I've never been out this far. Shall I try and find an inspector?”

“No,” she says, suddenly. “Don't leave. I think we have to stick together.”

“What do you mean?” he says. “You don't think anything bad's going to happen?”

“I don't know,” she says. “All I know is that you woke up here. That the train is empty – there should be salarymen or somebody else. That the train isn't stopping. That outside...I've never seen the landscape look so bleak. Something isn't right. We've been losing time. Who knows what's going to happen next?”

“Fuck,” he says. “On the bright side, one day I'll write a song about this. It'll immortalize us both.”

“That makes me feel so much better,” she retorts.

“Good,” he says. “Maybe I'm not so disappointing after all.”

Minutes pass. The flickering lights cast Jin in a strange glow. Close up, his hair is as soft a colour as his eyes but he looks sad. Unworldly. She can't understand that and so she presses it to the back of her mind. She doesn't feel tired or scared. Tiredness usually takes up so much room in her head that it's impossible to think of anything else. Perhaps that's why she has more room for them, the strange things she can't comprehend. Maybe the strange things aren't as frightening as fear itself.

When she looks at him, his eyes are dark and inscrutable. This isn't so for him. He has plenty of room for tiredness and for fear. She suddenly recognises the weight of her own selfishness. A girl who can see other people so clearly but who refuses to do so much to help them.

She reaches over and takes his hand.

“Maybe we should sing,” she says. “It's all so fucking quiet.”

“Can you sing?” he asks.

“No,” she says. “Not at all. I'll go first – maybe it'll relax you a bit.”

When she sings, her voice is flat and strange and his mouth starts to turn up at the corners. She sings on without self-consciousness, delighting in the reaction, in the simplicity of a smile. And slowly he feels the hard edge of fear leave him. More than anything, he hates the unfamiliar. The strange. The sense of doom, of moving towards inevitability. He didn't ask to be here. He didn't ask to be involved. And since waking up, he's had a sense of heading towards his own death. When Emiko sings, somehow the fear inches away into a corner like a mouse.

“You're right,” he says, as she finishes. “You can't sing worth a damn.”

“Told you,” she says. “Show me how it's done, then.”

When he sings, his voice echoes around the carriage, creeping under the seats and sliding down to touch the train-tracks. She imagines that with a voice like that he could paint them gold. He sings of things he knows, of moments and memories and love, he sings of life. When he sings, it's like being able to see the grass grow, the clouds move, the sun rise. She breathes it in, watching the world make itself anew.

When she sings with him, he starts to laugh. They don't sound good together but it's not the point.

“I don't think we're a duet in the making,” she says.

“You don't know that,” he says. “I'm sure there's a gap in the market for a girl who sings like a guy, a guy who sings like a girl.”

“You're being polite,” she says.

“I am,” he says.

“I told you men lie,” she says.

“Fine,” he says. “You sound like a pterodactyl. One with a smoking habit.”

“And you sound like,” she begins. “Fuck, I can't do it. You sound amazing. You know you do.”

“It's different when you're here,” he says. “Can I say that? Does it sound creepy? I've never sung like that before. I've never felt so unlike myself. When you're listening, when you sing with me – it's different. Completely different.”

“A bit creepy,” she says. “But tonight, like this? I get it.”

He's on the floor and she joins him. It means they can't see outside, that the world beyond is lost. They race past stations and they listen to the soothing rhythm of the wheels on the tracks. What you can't see can't hurt you – a childish point of view, it worked with monsters under the bed. Creatures in the wardrobe. She remembers her baby brother covering his eyes when he didn't want other people to see him. That seems a little like what they're doing now. If they sit on the floor, the world outside can't touch them.

“What are you waiting for?” he asks. It intrigues her that he feels she must be waiting for something. As she considers his question, she realises that he's right.

“For dawn,” she says. “It has to come. When dawn comes, then we'll get off the train and make our way back. That's what's going to happen.”

“Promise me,” he says.

“I promise,” she says. “That's how these things work. Dawn will come.”

“I wrote a song like that, once,” he says. “About sunrises. About mornings.”

“About women,” she says.

“Always about women,” he laughs. “I'm a musical poet. It's what we do.”

She screws up her face. “Poetry,” she says. “It's so considered. You pick the right structure, the right rhyme. You toss around words until you find one that's just right. Why not just be straight, clean, true? Why not just yank it out of your throat?”

“Like a fur-ball?” he laughs. Sometimes people are worth the effort. Sometimes life is worth the effort.”

“I'd rather live it,” she says.

“Writing it is a way of living it,” he says. “Experiencing it. What poets do is give their hearts voices. Where would we be if we all just kept our feelings inside and never talked about them? We wouldn't know about love. It's because of poetry that we understand it – that people have since the dawn of time found people and loved them.”

“I'm not saying we shouldn't talk about love,” she says. “Or that we should keep things inside. Just that poetry isn't your heart's voice. It's your voice. You take what your heart says and make it sound pretty. Not the same thing.”

“So what would your heart say, without you putting your own spin on it?” he asks. “Right now. Tell me what you're feeling, and don't make it sound pretty. Just say it.”

She pauses, for a second. “I am so angry,” she says. “That I live in a world with fucking...these chains on people. Women having to be this, men needing to do that. We all have to look a certain way, think a certain way. We all have to fucking conform or that's it, dismissed. Dismissed from any of the benefits society decides to offer people who conform to it.”

“That sounds pretty to me,” he says.

“It's not pretty,” she says. “Anger isn't pretty.”

“The way you put it was,” he says.

“I held back,” she shrugs. “If you really want to know what I think – I think life is tiring and I'd rather not fucking bother with it. I'd rather lie flailing like a child or an old woman and just say fuck it. Fuck the whole fucking thing.”

“Okay,” he says. “I'm sorry.”

“It's not a suicidal urge,” she says. “Everybody says I'm depressed. I'm not – I'm reacting to what's around me. This is a depressing time. It's hard to conjure up much to fight that. It's hard to see the world a different way than how it is. I wish I had happiness. I have friends who have happiness. Why not me?”

“Life is going to get better,” he says. “That's how I feel. Money, values – they're just products of transitory movements. They change with decades. Love doesn't. Sex doesn't. Our ability to relate, to touch one another. That's what's important. That's why you bother. That's why life is more than this. Why it's more than just the sum total of its failings.”

“You've loved a lot,” she says.

“I have,” he says. “I learnt young that it's better to love at every chance you get. Sounds fucking corny, I get it. I just – I'd rather have love than not. Life is depressing. Love is the solution.”

“I bet you've loved a lot of different characters,” she says. “You're the kind of guy who attracts strange women. Like me, I guess.”

“Some pretty awful women,” he says. “I don't have good taste. I'm not talking about you – you don't seem awful at all. Down in the dumps, but I won't hold it against you.”

“Mm,” she says. “Thanks, then. If it helps, I don't have good taste, either.”

“You've dated some awful women?” he says. She looks at him and there's a boyish look in his eyes. Rolling her own, she continues.

“No, I've-”

“Some nice women?” he continues, hopefully. “Perhaps young and nubile ones?”

“No women,” she says. “I don't swing that way. People assume that I hate men but I don't. I've dated a lot of bad men. You name them, I've done them all. I give men more chances than I ever should've.”

“You don't care that I'll judge you,” Jin says. “For saying that. Because you don't care what I think or because you don't care what anybody thinks?”

“I could say things that'd make your hair stand on end,” she says. “Like you – I don't believe in disappointing people. I've tried out a fair few guys. People don't stick. They're not like that. I tried and I've failed. I don't care who knows that – at least I can say that I tried. You've loved a lot, I've tried a lot.”

“What's your type?” he asks. “What's your crappy pattern?”

She sighs. “I don't know,” she says. “I usually went for career guys. For guys who respected me on their level. Guys who worked hard. I work hard. They looked at me as an equal.”

“Men like that don't see you as an equal,” he says.

“Well, it felt like they did,” she says. “Maybe they didn't. Most made me do their shopping. One had a thing about argyle socks.”

“Yeah,” he says. “They see women as secretaries.”

She nods, stretching her feet out in front of her. “I know better now,” she says, not sure whether that's true. “What about your type?”

He stretches his arms above his head. “I've dated all sorts of girls,” he says. “Most of them dumped me because I'm out all night, I sleep half the day. I love music more than them. I love hard but I'm not conventional. I wasn't acceptable for meeting their friends. They didn't like the unpredictability.”

She nods. “Girls don't like men they feel they can't rely on.”

“Weird thing is,” he says. “I loved them more than anybody else could've. They all said as much, after the fact. Girls seem to like love measured out appropriately.”

“Most girls,” she says. “Not all.”

“Not all guys treat women as personal shoppers,” he says.

“Maybe we're on this train to find the good men and women in the world,” she laughs. “We've been singled out as the hope for the human race. Procreation awaits us.”

“It's a long journey because there aren't many left,” he laughs. “And the ones that are hide in the woods in the night, for fear of being preyed upon.”

“Let me guess,” she says. “You're going to write a song about this.”

“Yep,” he says. “Don't worry. You'll get royalties. I promise.”

The train rolls on and on and Jin's head is on her shoulder. His hair is soft against her collarbone and she watches the stars dance by. There are no shadows on the floor of the train and she can no longer see the mountains in the distance. She didn't want to say it but this doesn't seem to her as though it can end well. Dawn seems too far away. Checking her watch, she notes that it's already seven in the morning. Dawn is late. More than late. It seems too much to hope for that dawn is just having a lie-in. Beside her, Jin snores on. She crosses her hands in her lap and continues to just hope.

She remembers the ex-boyfriend. The man who would stroke her thigh as though she were a particularly difficult puzzle to crack. She would trap his fingers between her thighs and fix him with a look – he liked being challenged. He liked that she made it difficult for him, that when he eventually won he felt so much bigger a man. She would look at him with her uneven smile and he would lean down onto her, taking her knees and unwinding her. He was good in bed. Not so good after bed. Not so good out of it. Not so good anywhere else.

And the one before him – taller, older, but the same guy. All the same guy. She'd bought into something that didn't exist – a subscription to a way of loving, to a promise. She'd received all the issues and thrown them all away. And now, rolling towards nothingness on a train with a stranger, she realises how much she regrets every moment of it.

She wipes down her face with one hand and struggles to pull herself together. Thinking of the clips and the photographs she sent to people, the men she blamed for her inadequacy and their injustice. Thinking of the number of times she gave away parts of herself, for money and for status. For what she thought was power. A legacy of fingers trapped between her thighs, of a last-gasp attempt to be stronger and taller and greater than she had any hope to be.

She's not ready to die. Life may be depressing, life may ask more of her than she can give – but she's not ready to say goodbye. She's not ready to be done, to sign off on a lifetime of bad men and poor choices and to say, 'this was all I could possibly know'. The world is opening up and if she could just get and out of here, she'd lean into it with her arms open, too.

“Jin,” she says, shaking her shoulder and him awake. “Jin, we have to get off. We're waiting for something that's not coming. We need to get up and leave now. Even if it's still dark. Even if it's still dangerous. We have to do it anyway.”

He looks up and into her eyes. “Are you serious?” he says.

She looks at him.

“Stupid question,” he says. He looks out at the deep sky and the stars so far away and so timid, and he takes a deep breath. “Okay,” he says. “Let's do it.”

When they stand and look outside the train window, Emiko can't help but drop her jaw. The world is completely flat. The mountains and trees that peppered the way before are now gone. All that remains is a vast expanse of dark ground topped with dark sky. No clouds, only stars. Only the train and the earth. She looks at Jin, who says nothing. Who stares and stares and stares.

“Fuck,” he says. “No woods, then. Where do you think we are?”

“I don't know,” she says, taking a step forward towards the door. “How do we get off?”

He shakes his head, following her. She watches him stand behind her, in the mirrored window of the train door. Their eyes meet and he looks petrified. She can feel him shaking. She wonders if he can feel her.

“Maybe I should just press the button to open the door,” she says. He looks down, closes his eyes.

“I'll do it,” he says.

They swap places. She's taller than him but he's stronger and, well. Neither of them know what's going to happen. Outside, the world moves on and on and on, like cassette tape rolling on endlessly through plastic loops. She takes a deep breath and reaches out, taking his free hand. They stand like that for a moment and then he presses the metal button with his unsteady fingertips.

Nothing happens at first but then, ever so slowly, they feel the train grinding to a halt.

“Maybe there was a moment,” Jin says. “Where we should've done that. Maybe we missed it. It's too easy, isn't it?”

“Just take whatever comes,” she says. “It's a better way of looking at this.”

He nods, until the train stops completely. Then, with a whoosh of air, the door opens. Outside, there are no sounds. No wind, no animals, no auditory punctuation. Her ears start to ring with it and she realises at long last how comforting noise is, living in Tokyo. Neither of them want to step out into the darkness but Jin is braver than she is and when he moves forward, she feels her breath catch.

“It's alright,” he says, planting his foot down on solid ground. “It's alright. It's solid. It's real – as real as this gets.”

He helps her to climb out of the carriage. Around her, the air is cold and the ground is soft. The silence is truly deafening. She clings to his shoulders and when her feet steady themselves, she turns into his body. Together, they watch the doors slide closed.

“Do you think this is it?” she asks, as he wraps an arm around her waist. “We just made a decision that'll change everything?”

“I don't know,” he says. “I still don't understand what's happening. Just take whatever comes.”

“Just take whatever comes,” she repeats.

The train pulls out with a small sigh of exertion and together they watch it leave. As it pulls out, the train tracks stitch together edges of sparse landscape. Like zipping together cloth. All Emiko can see in the distance is the long metal line. Everything else is flat, uninterrupted land. Nothing moves, nothing speaks. She looks up at Jin.

“Well,” she says. “We haven't been eaten yet. That's got to be a good thing.”

He looks around himself and smiles, uneasily. “Here's to that,” he says. “Bet you wish you'd brought something to drink with, so we could drink to our continued survival.”

She laughs and the sound vanishes into the air like dust. “I bet you wish you'd stayed in bed,” she says.

“Hey,” he says. “What's life without a little adventure?”

“Do you think we should walk?” she asks.

“Yeah,” he says. “I think that sounds like a plan.”

She almost expects something to happen when they take their first step, the way something happened when they approached the train door. Nothing does and she can't decide whether she's relieved or disappointed. They walk in one direction without much thought given to their destination – neither of them know where they're headed. In the pit of her stomach something tells her that she's not going to survive this but she tries to keep it there. To ward off hunger, to ward off fear. Best to keep things in the stomach, not in the heart.

“We could sing some more,” she says. “If you want.”

“Heh,” he says. “I think somebody would definitely come and attack if you started singing.”

“Oh, fuck off,” she says. “You sing, then.”

“Ah, that'd be selfish,” he says. “You should tell me a secret. Then I'll tell you one. This seems like the kind of place for secrets, don't you think?”

She sees what he means; the world here is naked and exposed for all its truth. There are no trees for prettiness, no people here to convince themselves that life is beautiful. Nothing grows here. Nothing breathes. Everything has abandoned this place, it is so thick with despair.

“Okay,” she says. “I'll go first.”

“Ladies always should,” he says, amused.

“When my best friend told me she was getting married,” she says. “I wanted to scream at her for being so stupid. I'm not proud of that. I didn't – I congratulated her. But I think she knew, all the same.”

“Why did you think she was stupid?”

“Because the man – because I don't like him. Because there were stories about him. I don't know – nothing substantial. Nothing I could prove. There's no reason I can use to justify the sense of revulsion that took over me. Like I said, I'm not proud of it.”

“We all do funny things when we're frightened of losing somebody,” Jin says. “Maybe you were right. Maybe he's an idiot. But she'll have to find that out. That's what losing somebody is, I guess.”

“I guess so,” she says. “I'm quite selfish. I always have been.”

“Me too,” Jin says. “I think everybody is. Or can be. We all have dark sides.”

“What's your dark side?”

He thinks about this. “I'm pretty perverted,” he says. “I guess you could say that if this country exploits women then so do I. There's this woman who lives on a street I walk down, returning from the busking the band does at night. She undresses in front of the window and I watch it. I sometimes choose to walk there in the hope of seeing her.”

She nods, slowly. It's hard to bite back the urge to comment but she knows she mustn't. She must listen. For once in her life. This man is all she has – all that connects her to the human race, to her country, to the world. They are all that's left and she's determined to do as Kiko once advised her. To be soft. To forgive. To understand.

“I think curiosity is natural,” she says. “I think that when a woman who undresses in front of a window understands that. There's little harm to be done in that situation unless you're stopping and staring. I think that constitutes something different.”

“That's where you draw the line?”

“Mm, I suppose so,” she says. “A quick glance is different from a man standing outside, staring. One is biological, one is intimidating. Men have power. There's no getting away from that. If you use that power to frighten then I think you're doing wrong. But a look is something men can't always help.”

“Women do it to men, too,” he says.

“Oh, yeah,” she says. “That's true. They do. It's human nature to covet what we don't have.”

“I wonder why she undresses in front of the window like that.”

“Women do all sorts of things for validation,” she says. “Comes with not having power. They seek out the notice of those who have it. Sometimes we all get tired of doing that with our voices.”

“You disapprove,” he says. “I shouldn't be surprised.”

“No,” she says. “I don't disapprove. I understand. I pity them. I pity us, women, on the whole. I pity the world, the way it's set up. I don't disapprove – I'm no more above this than you are. Than anybody is.”

“If you were creating the world,” he says. “How would you build it?”

“Not like this,” she says.

“Me neither,” he says. “Too fucking cold.”

“I wouldn't put women in charge,” she says. “I'd put people in charge. I'd want to tear down the boundaries that we impose through fear. I wish we could see each other, the way we're seeing each other now. Do you think that we all have to come and live here, in the dark, in order to relate to each other? That only when you tear down all the distraction-”

“No,” he says. “I think that you're a very smart girl. And that I'm a very liberal guy. Put us together and we work. It doesn't apply to everybody.”

“Liberal, huh,” she says. “Is that right?”

“Yeah,” he says. “I agree with you. Put people in charge. If women do it better, let them. My mother is a great woman. If she'd been running the country, maybe things would've been different. We cut off our noses to spite out faces. But it doesn't mean all guys lie. That we're all pigs.”

“I'm starting to realise that,” she says.

“Your turn for a secret, then,” he says.

“Mmn,” she says. “Want to know why I'm so serious?”

“Yes,” he says.

“My dad wanted a son,” she says. Her voice starts to swell up as she talks, tracing old memories. “They'd given up hope of having kids when they had me. And from the elation of the surprise pregnancy my father felt a kind of crushing defeat. All of this I know because I'm using his words.”

Jin looks at her, his brow furrowed. He says nothing, for which she's grateful.

“And so it was expected that I not exhibit my femininity in an overt way growing up. My mother took pains not to allow me dresses, pink clothing my father would have been disgusted with. I'm grateful for it in a way because it allowed me to approach things without gender clouding the issue. I was encouraged to play boyish sports, to think boyish things. I was given chances I might not have been given, had my mother delighted in my sex.”

He nods, just once. He takes her hand once more.

“I grew up with opinions,” she continues. “Strong and hard, like a man's. I grew up looking in on women the way a man might. I grew up with my father's dismissal, with my father's distance. I think had he been able to marry a man and raise a football team of boys, he would have. My mother wasn't allowed to speak. She wasn't allowed to utter a thought. I grew up knowing it – and not ever wanting to be that way. He wanted a son and I almost got there for him.”

“Fuck,” Jin says, under his breath.

“I'm not sorry for it,” she adds. “I'm not. It's done damage, sure, but I'm not sorry for my mind. For my beliefs. I'm just sorry that I missed out on all the lessons. How to be soft, how to succumb. I have no idea how to gracefully give in. Even my submission comes with conditions.”

“It's not something that's exclusive to being a woman,” Jin says, after a pause. “Men can be soft. They can succumb and submit. Society doesn't like it when they do but plenty of them can. You think women are the only ones hiding secrets, hiding parts of themselves society doesn't like. Not by a long shot.”

“Oh,” she says, slowly. “Okay. I see that, now. So what are you hiding?”

The sky overheard isn't getting lighter. It feels as though they've walked for miles, for hours and yet nothing has changed. Nothing seems like it will change. When Emiko checks her watch, the time is no longer ticking. The glass front is cracked. The face reads 7.15, the way it did on the train. Perhaps time no longer exists. Perhaps the thing that's been playing tricks on them with time has finally won. Around them, there is nothing. The train tracks are long gone and nothing has surfaced to replace them.

Jin sighs, once, hard. “When I watch that woman undress,” he says. “I'm not thinking about her body. I'm not thinking about wanting to fuck her. Not just that. I'm thinking about how fucking lonely I am. I watch porn and it's about the things I'm losing, every day, because I have nobody who I understand how to touch. I know nobody's body, nobody's heart. I want the feeling of knowing somebody completely and utterly. It's why I watch the same woman, the same porn. I don't want to get physically close – I want to get close, period.”

She squeezes his hand and they walk, not tired, not hungry, not unhappy, into something they don't understand. They walk and walk hoping to find light, hoping to find answers. They walk because there isn't anything to do but curl up on the ground and die. It's hard for Emiko to believe that only a short while ago she was on a train, considering giving up. She can no longer remember well what happened before it – the shape of Kiko's face or the light in her eyes as she announced her impending wedding. The spiral of wedding magazines on the desk. All of it seems like years ago. She knows that the harder she pictures it, the closer she seems to come to it – but the moment she stops thinking, parts of her fade away.

“I've spent my life running away from people,” she says. “And you've spent yours running towards people.”

“And here we are,” Jin laughs. “Together, at the end of the world. Looks like we met in the middle, doesn't it?”

“Do you think we're going to get out?” she asks.

“What comes after the end of the world?” Jin says.

“Maybe the start,” she says. “Maybe we go back and start again."

Continue to (3).