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A House By The Sea

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Haru stares out at the grey water in front of him, watching the waves crash on the rocks below. A cool breeze blows across the water, bringing with it the early Autumn chill. He’s standing near the edge of the cliff, a sheer drop into the sea mere steps away.

For the first time in his life, Haru doesn’t wish it were warm enough to swim.

“Haru.” He turns to see Rin hiking up the dirt path towards him. The breeze plays with the strands of Rin’s hair, blowing them across his face. He’s ethereal; far too colorful for the surrounding grey stones and brown grass.

“Rin.”

“I thought I might find you up here.”

Rin isn’t making him leave, so Haru turns his gaze to the ocean below. “It’s peaceful.”

That’s only half true.

“I’m about to make dinner. Are you coming back?” Rin asks, altogether too hesitant. “It’s mackerel.”

Rin isn’t good at cooking mackerel. He always burns one side of it and never cooks the other side until it’s crispy. “I’d like that,” Haru agrees, keeping his thoughts to himself.

He feels the moment Rin nods and walks away. No kiss, no touch. No show of intimacy.

Haru sighs, soaking in the sight of the clouds over the sea. It might rain tonight, if the grey of the clouds is anything to go by. He hopes Rin fixed the roof.

Haru turns and trudges down the path, following behind Rin’s already vanished back. He knows this path intimately. He could find his way in the dark if he wanted.

Rin would worry if he stayed out that long.

By the time he gets back, the scent of mackerel is already thick in the air. Rin’s frying it, the sounds of it sizzling drifting in from the kitchen. Haru slips off his shoes, sliding into his slippers and steps in with a soft “Tadaima.”

Rin has the stove on too high; Haru can tell by the sound. He doesn’t remark on that, instead pulling his apron off where it hangs from the pantry and offering it to Rin. “You’ll get your shirt dirty.”

Rin doesn’t accept it, so Haru drapes it over the counter.

He looks around, taking in the differences from this morning. The hole in the roof has been fixed. Haru also notes a bucket filled with tools next to the kitchen entrance. “Pipes?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Rin answers softly. “They should all work without leaking now.”

Haru walks to the sink, turning on first the hot then the cold taps. Just like Rin had said: no more leaks. He shuts off the sink. “Was that the last one?”

Rin hums. “Of the necessary changes. I still want to carpet the bedroom.”

The bedroom he doesn’t sleep in. Haru bites his lip. “Ah,” is all he says.

Dinner is a quiet affair. They don’t talk, and Rin had long since gotten rid of their TV. The only sounds are of the clanking of utensils and the shifting of leaves outside as the wind kicks up. A few stray water droplets hit the window.

“Good thing you fixed the roof,” Haru compliments.

“Mm,” Rin agrees.

Haru doesn’t push it.

Rin keeps his head down, gaze averted until Haru stands up to clear the dishes. He gathers both his and Rin’s in his hand and turns to leave before Rin finally moves. The redhead jumps up too fast, reaching for the plates. “I can clean them.”

Rin’s fingers swipe against Haru’s when he lurches forward, and Rin jumps back as if burned. The plates fall to the ground, narrowly missing Haru’s foot as they shatter.

“Shit,” Rin curses, emotion slipping into his voice for the first time since…

Since.

“I can clean them.” He makes to step away, but Haru stops him with a hand on his arm.

“Don’t.”

Rin’s arm trembles, shaking Haru’s fingers along with it. “I have to,” Rin argues. “It’s my…” he trails off, biting his lip and looking away. Haru stares at the point of contact between Rin’s teeth and his lips. His chin quivers, but miraculously, no drops of blood fall. When Rin finally releases his lip, four distinct indents remain behind.

“I have to,” Rin repeats. He pulls his arm out of Haru’s weak grasp, vanishing into the kitchen.

Haru leaves then, stepping carefully around the broken porcelain.

He showers before bed. The bath tub is so clean it practically sparkles, but Haru shuts off the water and steps out without blocking the drain. It’s a perfect tub, custom built. It’s large enough that he can soak as long as he’d like and sits up from the floor, tiles around it different than the rest of the bathroom.

He’s never used it.

His hair is still damp when he crawls into the queen-sized bed. He huddles up against the wall, leaving enough room for another person to climb in, but the person never does. He lies the same way he does every night, using one pillow while the other remains conspicuously absent.

Tonight, when Haru lies awake he stares at the ceiling. Watching the door has never worked.

The rain pounds against his window, louder than before. The leaves outside make a racket as they rustle; a full rainstorm. Monsoon season had ended within the first two weeks that he and Rin had moved here, but the storm outside doesn’t seem to have been told that.

At least this time, the storm isn’t accompanied by the constant plinking of water into the bucket they’d left in the dining area.

When the clock clicks over to 0:00, Haru rolls out of bed.

He wraps his blanket around him, clutching it to his chest as he pads across the cold wooden floor into the living room. The couch is empty of everything except Rin’s pillow; Rin himself is seated in front of the glass doors, watching the rain thud onto their porch with his own blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Haru drops down alongside him silently.

The redhead shifts, turning to look at Haru. “Did I wake you?”

How could Rin have possibly woken him, without saying a word? “Rain,” Haru says.

“Ah.” Rin looks away again, back out the window.

Haru reaches out from his blanket cocoon, feeling for Rin’s hand on the floor. He finds it, covering it with his own. Rin twitches, moves to back away, but Haru presses down. “Don’t.”

“I’m so-“

“Don’t,” Haru repeats. “Don’t finish that.”

“Haru, listen. I –“

Haru presses down on Rin’s hand again, hard enough to be painful. “I said don’t.”

“You’re not even letting me finish,” Rin argues weakly.

“Because I know what you’re going to say.” Haru turns and meets Rin’s gaze, staring straight into his eyes. “And you’re wrong.”

Rin bites his lip again. His eyes dart away, so Haru scoots in closer, pushing on Rin’s hand before releasing it. Rin turns back to him. “It’s my fault.”

“It’s no one’s fault.”

“If I hadn’t been a distraction –!” This time Rin cuts himself off, eyes widening. As if he thought Haru hadn’t figured it out already.

Haru scoots in closer, their blankets pressing against each other. “You weren’t a distraction.”

“I kept you up. We talked too often on Skype. I should’ve left you alone to…”

“To what?” Haru presses when Rin trails off. “To train?”

Rin’s jaw sets, stubborn. “Yes.”

“If you had left me to train more, I would’ve made it. Is that what you think?” Haru asks.

“Yes,” Rin repeats.

“And what about you? Would you have made it?”

Rin’s head drops. “No…Maybe. I don’t know.”

“Exactly,” Haru exhales forcefully. “You don’t know. We don’t know.”

“But they said –“

Haru cuts him off again. “I don’t care what they said.”

Rin does, though. He shakes his head, looking back up to meet Haru’s gaze. “They’re right,” Rin declares. And he believes it.

Haru can see it now, reflected in Rin’s eyes. That day, two months ago now.

They’d been in different heats, barrel seated for prelims. Only the top eight could make finals, and neither of them doubted that they’d find themselves in that number.

They’d been the favorites. Though their times weren’t the fastest, they’d showed the most improvement, the most potential of all sixteen hopefuls.

Ten of them had a real shot. Ten of them for the eight spots. Eight spots which would determine which two of them would find themselves on that most coveted of world stages, here in their home country.

The hopes had rested on his and Rin’s shoulders.

Rin, who had placed third in the 100 Fly at worlds just a year prior. And Haru who had taken the national championship in the 200 Free. They had more races than just the 100 Free, but the only one that had mattered to Haru – the only one that had mattered to Rin – had been that.

And it had been first.

Haru had gone first. Ten of them had a real chance, but only eight of them would make it. And he and Rin had peaked too soon. He’d placed fifth in his heat, touching just under his personal best.

And Rin…

Rin had collapsed under the pressure.

His own 100 Free had gone better than Haru’s. Rin hit his personal best exactly, not a millisecond faster, and had come in sixth in his own heat.

It shouldn’t have been the end. But Haru had been touched out in the finals of his 200, and Rin hadn’t even come close to a personal best in his Fly or IM.

The articles came out before finals ended.

“I bought us a house,” Rin admitted when Haru had suggested they get away from it all. “It was supposed to be a surprise.” Escaping Tokyo was intended to stop Rin from withdrawing into himself again.

Haru hadn’t realized that following Rin to the little house on the northern coast would make Rin disappear.

He’s been quiet too long. Rin’s eyebrows fall, his eyes watering. “Do you hate me?”

“No,” Haru answers softly.

“Do you hate swimming?” Rin asks, voice shaking dangerously.

“No,” Haru repeats. “Do you?”

Rin shakes his head.

Two months is enough time. Sixty-two days is enough space. Haru leans in, cupping Rin’s cheek in his palm. “Four years isn’t so long.”

“It was supposed to be here,” Rin insists. “It was supposed to be Tokyo.”

Haru shakes his head. Rin doesn’t understand. They’ve always done things at their own pace, moving simultaneously too fast and too slow for the rest of the world to keep up. “It doesn’t have to be Tokyo,” Haru promises him gently. It doesn’t have to be the Olympics at all.

But for Rin, it does.

“But…” Rin trails off, no better argument than the one he already presented.

“I’d like to see Paris,” Haru tells him.

Rin lets out a single laugh, left eye overflowing before the right. “Because it’s romantic, right?” he murmurs.

Haru leans forward, pushing their foreheads together. Rin doesn’t pull away. “Something like that.”

When Rin tilts his head, pressing their lips together, it’s shaky and unpracticed. Haru wouldn’t trade it for a hundred gold medals.