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Long Slow Distance

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Thousands of citizens travelled within Iwatobi every day. The capital city famous for its culture and architecture was a maze to newcomers due to its size. Skyscrapers and smog filled the sky, cars and smoke covered the ground, and crowds of busy people moved about between the two at any given hour. Places to be, things to do, people to meet; work, stress, rest, work again. The metropolis never slept. It was the ideal place for those who loved the hustle and bustle of the city life. Finding an inch of peace without anyone else around was near impossible in this concrete jungle.

Inside the walls of his tiny overpriced 14th floor apartment, or from the desk of his boring 9 to 5 job, Haruka Nanase wanted nothing more than running away from the endless waves of society. Instead, he dreamed of real waves in the sea, where life was calm and peaceful, unlike the hectic lives of humans. He longed for the water, to be surrounded by the ocean, to escape the busy urban world. The public city pool smelled of chemicals and was filled by screaming children at all times, and his cramped bathtub at home offered little comfort when he could hear his neighbors scream all night through the paper-thin walls of the bathroom.

It wasn’t enough. It could never be enough. The call of the water was too strong. The young man had always imagined he belonged to the sea. Just dipping his feets in its water erased his despair, if only for a moment. It was where he felt at peace, where he could be alone with himself, where he felt alive and happy. The water was silence. The water was solitude. The water was life.

But the city had claimed him from birth. And the city was unbearably dry, both literally and figuratively. The buildings were cold, the streets were loud, the people were both.

There was only one place where Haruka could find solace. Despite its flaws, Iwatobi was at least blessed with being situated by the ocean. Unfortunately, its beach was overcrowded by locals, tourists and pollution; it brought the man no comfort. However, if one continued much further down the bank, there was a dangerous-looking cliff with rocks jutting from the water on every side. A huge sign forbid swimming and a metal fence was enough to deter most people. Haruka was the only person who dared to wander on the other side as it took great swimming ability to make it through the treacherous stones or great courage to go around the tiny ledge at the bottom of the cliff after climbing the fence.

Beyond the bluff, once he went around the obstacles, an unlikely paradise opened up to him. A small crescent-shaped beach hidden from view by high rocky walls and foliage on every side gave access to the open ocean from a small opening in the recess. Only an old mossy pier that had not been used in decades stood at the deserted shore.

Thousands of people lived in Iwatobi but not one knew about this place. It was all his. Here he could truly be free, here Haruka could swim alone as much as he desired. The young man usually had his bathing suit below his clothes in anticipation for this moment, but depending on the occasion, going in fully clothed or even naked didn’t faze him either.

He soaked in the salty water after work, forgetting everything for that one fleeting moment. Sometimes he swam laps, or he just floated aimlessly, but every single day Haruka came to the sea at this very beach. Every free second of time he could find, he spent it in these waters. He was alone here. Blissful solitude.

How he wished he could become a fish and make the ocean his home, make it his, but people were not fish. Haruka rejected civilization but the ocean could not completely accept him either as he was human and humans did not live in the sea.

No one was around to hear the man curse at his inability to breathe underwater and sigh loudly into the sky. The orange glow of the setting sun reflected on the surface of the water and Haruka prepared to go back home when something in the distance caught his attention. He thought he had seen something move. Was it a seagull? He strained his eyes in the evening light.

On a flat rock in the middle of the sea, a person lay. Or at least it looked like a person. Haruka saw a flash of red, but it was hard to make out against the crimson sky. Was it a man or woman? How dare someone else come to his paradise spot. The man swam closer to challenge the stranger, his front crawl splashing water forward. The person on the rock had heard the sound because their head snapped in Haruka’s direction and quickly they went diving into the water with a scoff.

That’s when Haruka saw it. A long, red-scaled tail followed after the person as they disappeared underwater. The man couldn’t believe his eyes. Had he really seen a person with a fish-tail? He swam to the rock and looked around but the intruder was all but gone. He waited for the red-tailed stranger to come up for air but there was no sign of them coming back. What was it exactly that Haruka had just witnessed?

The next day, websites and books about mermaids, sirens and similar myths distracted Haruka from work. Wouldn’t it be great if half-fish, half-humans could really exist? And if they truly existed, did that mean there was a way to become one? His coworkers snickered behind his back as they saw Haruka buried in his books as they walked by his desk. Typical Nanase and his obsession with seafolk tales. The man ignored the comments, he was used to them and honestly was unaffected by what others said of him. His research ended up nowhere, though. According to documentation, mermaids only existed in fairytales and drunk men stories. Had it been just a normal person that he saw after all? Still, Haruka hurried to his swimming spot as soon as he was released from his job.

And there it was.

Widened eyes observed in silence the person lying lazily on a different rock, closer to the shore than the previous day. Haruka could now clearly see that it was a man. Or a male mermaid, rather. His face was hidden from view but his red tail swayed gently over the edge of the rock while his crimson hair floated in the wind.

Haruka studied the creature as he slowly approached silently, sneaking up through the water behind the mysterious stranger. Fish people truly existed! He had to take a closer look. He had to know more. What secret did the mermaid hold? What world did he live in? What was it like? Could Haruka join them?

They were only an arm’s length apart now and the mermaid was still blissfully unaware until Haruka called out to him.

“Hi.”

Instantly, every muscle tensed and the mermaid turned towards Haruka, his red eyes sharp with fear and soon anger. The human had no time to react before a large red fin slapped him in the face. The shock was so strong that he blacked out for a second. When his vision cleared, the mermaid had already disappeared.

“Wait!” the upset man cried out. “Come back, I just want to talk to you!”

Haruka waited, but the red fishman was long gone.

Haruka returned the next day. Then the next. And every day for a week after that but the creature did not return. Was he really that scary? Or were mermaids easily spooked?

The sad man leaned in between two rocks sticking out in the water, resting after waiting for several hours again. Hope was leaving him. The mermaid was not returning to this area, perhaps forever.

Haruka was turning to head back to the city, but a red head looking cautiously around surfaced right in front of him and his heart jumped.

There he was! He had not seen Haruka, out of view behind the very rock the mermaid was preparing to climb onto. This time, Haruka was not going to waste the opportunity. It might be his last chance to talk to a mermaid. Fueled by impulse, with one swift movement he reached out and grabbed the mermaid’s arm. He was unprepared for what came next.

The mermaid turned around with a gasp, his eyes sparked by aggressiveness.

“Let me go!”

Haruka was not so much surprised that the mermaid could talk as he was at the mermaid lashing out at him with the long nails that may has well be claws from his free hand. The man managed to catch the fishman’s wrist just before getting scratched in the face and held both arms firmly. The sea creature thrashed and struggled, raising high splashes around them in his panic, but Haruka was not letting go.

“Calm down, I won’t hurt you.”

It did not matter how gentle Haruka’s voice was, the mermaid was afraid and pulling so hard, Haruka thought his arms might just come off. Thankfully, his feet were firmly planted on the base of the rocks. When the redhead realized his struggling was in vain and the human wouldn’t let go, his expression changed from rage to dread.

“Let go! Let go! Please don’t kill me!”

The pure horror on the mermaid’s expression as tears began to fall shook Haruka to his core. He had never seen such terror on someone’s face. This pitiful expression caused by him was deeply upsetting. The mermaid looked like a trapped animal fighting to break free as if his life depended on it, while begging for the wolf not to eat him. The man couldn’t bare to keep watching the pain on this face.

Haruka let go.

He wanted to talk to the mermaid, but not like this. He refused to use force against this scared creature. As soon as he was free, the fishman dove underwater and escaped. Much, much further, once he felt like he was a safe distance away, he popped his head out of the water again. Haruka’s silhouette was just a small dot through the waves now. He glared at the stranger before diving back under.

Haruka sighed. He didn’t know what this mermaid had gone through, but it was clear he didn’t want to interact with humans. Heartbroken, he headed back to the shore.

Haruka gave up on ever seeing the mermaid again, there was no way the creature would come back now. Still, the young man continued to come swim everyday at the crescent beach as usual. He dove underwater, swinging his legs together, pretending he too was a mermaid. He swam with new energy, stemmed from the knowledge that he had been right about seafolk, until he became exhausted in the sunset glow and let himself float afterwards. He did this for many days, never getting tired of it. Somehow he didn’t feel alone in the water anymore. Even if Haruka couldn’t see him, he knew the mermaid shared the same ocean, the same water. That thought alone brought a smile to his face.

A presence slowly made itself stronger. It felt like the secret beach was no longer just his. Someone else was here. Haruka sensed it but continued to swim his regular laps, until one day he could no longer ignore it. It was close.

“Come out, I know you’re there.”

He heard nothing. Eyes closed, Haruka stood still in the water and strained his ears.

“You’ve been watching me for a while, right? Why do you hide?”

Not a sound. And then finally.

“Because you’re a human!”

Haruka’s heart soared. He didn’t know where, but the mermaid was near him and was talking to him. He answered, forcing his excited self to remain calm.

“Why are you afraid of me?”

“I’m...I’m not afraid of you!” came shaking voice.

“I want to be your friend,” Haruka said, looking around him, trying to locate the one he had wanted to meet so badly.

“I don’t believe you!”

“It’s true,” the man said gently. “Come closer.”

Slowly and cautiously, the mermaid rose from the water and Haruka heard gentle splashes as he approached. The moon was only starting to appear in the night sky, but the shape of the stranger was clearly visible in front of him. Nervous red eyes stared at Haruka, keeping a safe distance away. Haruka watched in awe. He looked like a normal man, with a head, chest and arms just like his, but a big scaly tail waved behind him instead of legs. They were different yet still similar somehow. Haruka felt more than ever that he could become one with the sea, too.

“I’m Haruka. I live in this city,” he explained, pointing to the buildings that were hidden from view by the rocky walls.

The mermaid cowered a little before recovering. “I know. You come here everyday. All you ever do is swim in circles like an idiot.” The mermaid laughed mockingly. “Haruka? That’s a funny name! It sounds weird!”

Haruka‘s brow furrowed at the mermaid’s insolence but he kept calm. “Then what’s your name?”

Red eyes hesitated, cautious before replying. “Rin.”

Unlike his new companion, Haruka thought the other’s name was lovely. Rin. It fit the fishman perfectly. He extended a hand out of the water to Rin. Haruka was acutely aware of Rin flinching again at his sudden movement, but chose not to mention the reaction for now.

“Nice to meet you.”

There was a good six feet between the two. Rin would need to come closer if he wanted to shake his hand. But Rin refused to move.

“Nice to meet you…” he replied weakly.

Haruka lowered his hand. Taming this creature would take more time. But he had all the time in the world. Despite being terrified, Rin had become curious enough to hide and observe him for many days. That was already a leap forward for Haruka. He would become friends with Rin. Nothing else mattered anymore.

“I need to go home now, it’s late.” It was partly a lie. Haruka wanted to stay. He had so many questions. But he knew he had to take things slowly. Rin was very wary of the human.

Rin lowered his body into the water. “Will you come back tomorrow?”

“Yes,” the man promised. “At sundown.”

“Why then?”

“Because I have to go to work.”

“What’s work?”

“It’s what humans do to earn a paycheck.”

“What’s a paycheck?”

“It’s what people need to buy food and other things.”

“You have to pay for food?”

Haruka sighed, his half-lidded blue eyes annoyed by the silly questions but at the same time, thrilled. Rin’s curious face was adorable but also awkward. Physically, they looked to be the same age, but the way Rin talked and behaved was very child-like. Did mermaids mature differently from humans?

“I will tell you later.”

As Haruka swam back to the shore, Rin was impressed by how well he could swim for a human.

The next day at work, Haruka couldn’t hear his colleagues whispering about how unusual it was for the antisocial man to be in such a good mood. Haruka was too lost in thoughts of mermaids and the ocean to notice. Finally something good was happening in his life.

The sea was calm and quiet when Haruka finally returned to his swimming place. There was no trace of Rin. What if he was gone? What if one meeting was all it took for the mermaid to decide he wanted nothing more to do with humans after all? Haruka felt his throat tighten with fear.

“Rin?” His voice echoed between the cliffs. “Rin!!”

“I’m not deaf, you know!”

The relief on Haruka’s face when Rin emerged from the water shined in the late afternoon sun. Immediately, he stripped from his clothes to his bathing suit and dove in. Rin backed away when he got too close, refusing to let the space between them close.

“Rin.”

Haruka’s voice was quiet but Rin’s heart beat faster at the sound of his name.

“Your name is…” Rin hesitated. “Haru?”

Truthfully, Rin fully remembered the name of the human he had repeated in his head over and over the previous night. He couldn’t just say he thought that Haru sounded better.

“Whatever is fine…” Rin was now circling around him, observing him from every angle but Haruka paid no heed. “Are there other mermaids around?”

“That’s none of your business.”

The man blinked. “Where do you live?”

“In the ocean, obviously!”

“How old are you?”

“Old enough.”

Haruka stayed calm at Rin’s rude answers. He didn’t expect the creature to trust him, but the way Rin swam around him made Haruka uneasy, like a hungry shark slowing closing in on prey. Rin‘s razor-sharp teeth and long pointy nails did stress that he was not human...

“What do you eat?” the man tried.

Rin grinned. “That I can show you.”

The mermaid dove underwater and Haruka’s increasing heart rate betrayed his growing anxiety as Rin did not come back. The man followed after him, perhaps to chase away the fear that he was going to be pulled underwater any moment now. Rin was just hovering in the water, scanning the area. Fish swimming further down caught both their attention. With amazing speed, Rin dashed towards the fish, catching one with his bare hands, digging his nails into its flesh. Haruka’s eyes widened when pointy teeth bit the struggling fish’s head clean off, sending a cloud of red through the water. The human watched the mermaid devouring the fish, the gruesome sight reminding Haruka that Rin was part animal, but at least his preferred food was just fish. Mermaids were not the graceful, elegant creatures novels made them out to be. They were much more fascinating than that, he thought.

The weekend was gladly welcomed the following day. Haruka sat at the end of the old wooden pier, holding a bento box. If Rin had some animal sides to him, then surely he could be tempted with food. The man opened the box and ate his lunch of mackerel on rice, the tip of his feet just touching the surface of the water. Right on cue, Rin popped his head.

“What are you eating?”

“Food.”

“I can see that! What kind of food?”

“Fish.”

Rin scoffed. “That doesn’t smell like any fish I know!”

“It’s better than any fish you know, too.”

Rin came closer, but still kept a separation between the two. His red eyes grew larger following Haruka’s chopsticks as he brought the mackerel to his mouth. The man made a show of eating extra slowly to display how delicious his lunch was. He could practically feel Rin drooling. The plan was working. Haruka dug for an extra large piece and extended his chopsticks forward,

his heart hurting a little when Rin briefly cowered and backed away from the movement. The mermaid still did not trust him.

“Try some.”

Rin studied Haruka cautiously before moving forward just a little and stopping.

“Throw it this way.”

Haruka shook his head. “Why, are you a trained seal? No, it’ll get contaminated by the salt water and lose its flavor. Come get it. It’s safe, I promise.”

Narrowing his eyes suspiciously, Rin got closer once again, Haruka stretching his chopsticks as much as he could without falling in. They were an arm’s length away now and Haruka tried not to smile as Rin smelled the piece offering like a puppy. Slowly, very slowly, the mermaid took the fish in his mouth and instantly backed off to his original position, chewing curiously.

“It’s good! Why does this fish taste so different than any fish I’ve eaten?”

“Because it’s cooked. It brings out the favor. And it’s mackerel, quite possibly the most delicious fish in the world. They don’t live in this area so you wouldn’t encounter any.”

The next day, Haruka brought tuna. And then, scrambled eggs, steak, chocolate cake (Rin had hated the cake), salad, ham. Haruka made a mental cookbook of what Rin liked. Meat, most of all, and a strong dislike of sweets. Rin came closer with each new food sample, taking it from the human’s chopsticks less nervously each day and Haruka felt there was hope.

He regretted the time he brought chicken, though.

“A chicken is a bird,” he had explained when asked.

“You eat birds?” Rin had asked incredulously.

“Some of them, yes.”

Rin spotted a seagull relaxing on the water’s surface nearby and hid underwater. The next thing Haruka knew, the mermaid had grabbed the poor bird from below and ate it alive, feathers and all. Haruka had always thought he had a strong stomach, but that day he felt his breakfast coming back up. Rin flashed him a bloodied grin and Haruka wondered if he was more shark than mermaid.

Each day Rin met him with a smile now, and Haruka came to think they were friends at last. One evening when they were eating together, the human dared to finally ask the question he’d been keeping.

“Rin, can you make me a mermaid like you?”

Rin froze, then suddenly slapped his tail on the water’s surface and clenched his jaw.

“I’m not magic, Haru!”

It had been just a simple question to Haruka but now he felt like he had asked something deeply offensive.

“Mermaids don’t have any magical powers!” Rin spat, his fists balled underwater. “We can’t make you stronger and we can’t make you immortal! And I sure as hell can’t make you into a mermaid! We’re just like regular fish! We have no magical powers, none !”

Rin huffed and Haruka was shaken at the aggression Rin showed him.

“Rin…”

“Were you just after this entire time? Getting closer to me just so you could use me too? You’re no different from them!”

“Rin!”

Before Haruka could protest, Rin disappeared in the deep, leaving the human shivering in the ocean wind.

When Haruka returned the next day, he was unsurprised he could not find Rin. He left a bento box on the pier and left.

The following day, the bento box was empty but the mermaid was still nowhere to be seen. Had it simply been eaten by birds? The man left a new box, regardless.

He found a pack of seagulls fighting over it the next day. Had he chased Rin away for good this time? What had happened to Rin to make him hate and fear humans so much? Haruka sat on the beach without moving until late that night, watching the waves. He hugged his knees and buried his head, shivering, but he refused to go home. Rin was the only thing that made his life meaningful. Without the anticipation of coming here to meet him after work, there was nothing to push Haruka to go through his day in the city he hated.

“Haru.”

Tha man raised his head. The red shape he needed to see what there, pulling his body through the shallow water, his tail swishing left and right.

“Rin.” Haruka got to his feet but did not run into the water as his instincts asked him to, respecting the mermaid’s boundaries.

“I thought about not returning,” Rin said calmly, glaring at the human. Then his expression softened and he averted the other’s gaze. “But you’re the only person I can talk to. I have fun with you...but I can’t trust you. It’s not that I don’t want to, I simply can’t.”

Haruka could accept that Rin did not trust him, but it truly hurt him that Rin was afraid of him. Each time Haruka made any kind of sudden movement, Rin would flinch, cower or draw back as if expecting that Haruka could hurt him at any moment. Haruka was partially to blame in the way he had grabbed Rin forcefully the day they had first met, but it extended beyond just that. Rin lived in constant fear of humans and it pained Haruka greatly. He wanted so much to relieve Rin of that fear, but he could not unless he knew the source of it.

“Rin, why are you afraid of humans? What did they do to you?”

Red eyes glowed with painful memories in the moonlight. Haruka sat back down and waited. Finally, a troubled voice spoke back.

“My family was killed by humans. Each of them.”

The human’s mouth opened slightly as he hugged his knees tighter.

“First my father rescued a fisherman who was drowning. He took the fisherman back to his boat, but they captured him and killed him. All because there’s a legend that says if you eat a mermaid’s flesh you will gain super strength. He saved that guy and they killed him in return! For nothing!” Rin grit his teeth and Haruka listened without a sound as the tale continued. “Later, my mother got caught in a fishnet and they killed her too. Because other humans say you can become immortal by drinking our blood. But it’s not true!”

Rin’s voice was shaking and Haruka’s insides burned.

“And my sister...It was just her and me left. I told her to never go near humans, but she was young. Tourists on a boat beckoned her closer and I watched as they caught her but I was too slow to catch up to their boat. They said something about selling her for money and kept her tied up on the deck but mermaids can’t live for long without water. She was so tiny, she died of dehydration in the hot sun and they did nothing to help! I was young too, I didn’t know what to do. I was too scared...”

Haruka could tell Rin was fighting back tears but he was glad he knew Rin’s story now.

“Humans took everything from me! We didn’t do anything wrong! We’re not magical, we’re living creatures just like you! Humans only care about themselves!”

“I’m sorry.” It was all Haruka could say. Rin wasn’t wrong. Humans were like that. “How old were you?”

“I don’t know. Seven or eight? I’ve been running from humans ever since. I had finally found this deserted place, but then you had to show up!”

Saddened blue eyes watched as the mermaid retreated to deeper waters. Rin had spent his life in solitude since then, just like him. But unlike Haruka who rejected the company of his own kind, Rin was a social creature who craved for others. Yet, thinking that he had been forced to live alone, fearing for his life constantly, filled Haruka with sorrow.

“I can’t deny that humans are cruel and selfish things. I don’t like them either.”

“But you’re a human yourself!” Rin scorned.

“That may be true, but I don’t want to live with them. Their world, and even their feelings, it’s all artificial. They don’t make me happy. This makes me happy.” Haruka motioned around him to the beach and sea. “I want to live in the ocean like you.”

“Heh, that must be why I don’t hate you,” Rin grinned. “ You’re more fish than man.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.” Haruka smiled, Perhaps Rin was more human than Haruka was, as well. His expression then hardened. “I’m sorry about the other day. I’ve been wanting to meet a mermaid my entire life and I got carried away.”

The mermaid scoffed. “Well sorry for disappointing you!”

The man slowly walked into the moonlit water, ignoring his clothes. Rin eyed him suspiciously but did not move.

“You could never disappoint me. Being able to see you everyday is enough.” The cold water was up to his stomach as he searched Rin’s nervous face. “I know you’ve been hurt and I can’t erase what happened, but I want to be there for you. Believe in me. I won’t betray you.”

“Is that a promise?” Rin truly wanted to believe Haruka’s words but he remained doubtful. Humans had destroyed too much.

The two of them were now facing each other and every instinct in Rin’s body was telling him to escape, the human was too close. Much too close. But he needed to see this to the end.

“Yeah.”

Haruka slowly extended his arm and reached for Rin. The mermaid’s heart pounded in his chest and his breathing grew louder, fighting not to run away as the hand moved closer. He stayed.

Rin flinched when the human’s fingers made contact with his skin, brushing bangs from his face, and a soft gasp escaped his lips when Haruka’s warm hand softly cupped his cheek. Gentle blue eyes stared into red and Rin relaxed into the touch, a wave of emotions hitting him. After so many years without the touch of another, so many years alone yearning for love, for a friend, he fought back the need to cry.

He failed. Tears freely flowed down his cheeks. Rin hurriedly wiped them with his arm and turned back to the man before him.

“Can I touch you, too?” Rin’s voice was heavy with feeling and Haruka nodded.

Rin’s shaking hand reached for the human’s face. He hesitated before brushing against it with the tip of his fingers and finally placing his entire hand on the man’s cheek. A relieved smile finally replaced the mermaid’s worried expression and Haruka placed his own hand on top of Rin’s, leaning into the touch. Rin’s fingers felt cold but Haruka’s warmth quickly spread through them and through Rin’s entire body.

I want to stay with this person forever.

They shared the same thoughts under the moonlight.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In the days that followed, the two friends’ dynamic completely changed. Rin still hated humans, but only if they were not Haruka. Once he’d stopped being afraid of him, Rin approached and touched Haruka without worry and Rin’s true personality was finally able to shine through.

By hanging out with Haruka, his childishness forged by growing up without any adult models slowly changed into mature confidence. He was bolder, stronger and proud. Rin would tease the man, challenge him, taunt him but also laugh so much more.

“Race to see who can get to that rock the quickest!” Rin boldly declared, pointing to a rock in the distance. “Winner brings dinner tomorrow!”

Haruka narrowed his eyes. “I can’t beat you, you have a tailfin. And dinner from you is a beheaded dead fish. Seems a little unfair.”

But the human had discovered himself a competitive side he never knew he had thanks to Rin and took on the mermaid’s challenges with ego. The two of them raced, chased each other, played together, inseparable in the water.

Rin tried to teach Haruka how to catch a fish with his bare hands. Once, he successfully managed to grab one after much trial, his underwater human speed making it hard to outrun a fish. The man instantly let the wiggling animal go, much to Rin’s astonishment. Haruka liked sushi but there was no way he could bite into a live fish.

One time, Rin had offered him half of the fish he’d been eating like a cat who brings his master a ‘present’ and Haruka found it difficult to say no, but even harder to swallow the bloody unprepared flesh. As much as he disliked the civilized world, he was thankful for frying pans.

Sometimes, Rin asked questions about the city. Unlike the tale of the Little Mermaid where she longed to join the human world, Rin was curious about it and wanted to learn more but he had no interest in seeing it in person, let alone join it. Like Haruka, the ocean was all he wanted. His questions were more for a know your enemy reason.

“What do you do when you’re at work?”

“I sit in front of a computer all day.”

“Wow, sounds boring as hell. Sure takes a human to do nothing but sit all day,” the mermaid snickered.

“What do you do when I’m not here?”

“I swim, I hunt, I sleep too I guess.” Rin hid a blush before adding, “And I collect pretty stones and seashells.”

Haruka’s nose made a laughing sound.

“What’s funny?” the embarrassed mermaid blurted out.

“You like romantic things. Like sunsets and shooting stars. And pretty seashells.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that…It’s what I do. And also...” Rin looked away. “I wait for you to return.”

Haruka blinked and he too turned his eyes the other way.

One particularly hot afternoon, Haruka dove into the water without any clothes, not bothering to go back for his swimsuit. Rin, who never wore any clothes in the first place, was completely unfazed by his friend’s naked body. Clothes were unnatural to him in the first place. Haruka was equally casual about it, his friend’s innocence negating any inhibition he could have had.

However, something stole Rin’s attention and he stared in awe. “I didn’t know humans had a tiny third leg!”

“...It’s not a leg…”

“Then what is it?

“...”

Haruka dismissed the awkward conversation and followed Rin away from the shore before he became too flustered. When they were quite a long way from the beach, the mermaid turned to the human and showed him grinning teeth.

“Hey Haru. Would you like to see something really cool?”

“What?”

“I want to bring you somewhere. How long can you hold your breath?”

“Less than five minutes…” Haruka turned away, ashamed at his performance even though he could last much longer than the average person.

Rin raised an eyebrow. “Pathetic! That’s not enough. Okay, hold on to me and I’ll take us there. You swim too slowly anyways!”

Rin’s comment hit a nerve but Haruka wanted to see what his friend wanted to show him and he’d be lying if he said the thought of swimming on a mermaid’s back didn’t thrill him, not to say fulfill his childhood dreams.

He wrapped his arms around Rin’s neck, inhaled deeply and the mermaid dove into the sea. They headed deeper at high speed, Rin swinging his red tail against the current and Haruka shivered at the breathtaking view. They were going deeper than he ever did alone. The light filtering weakly glowed off the scales of schools of fish. Surrounded by blue, he was one with the marine life, just like in his fantasies.

The human was soon taken out of his daydreams by the slow urge for oxygen grabbing at him. Rin could feel him struggling but continued deeper. Haruka held him tighter in his distress and Rin swam towards an underwater cave as fast as he could. Much to Haruka’s surprise and relief, they emerged inside a hollow with air.

The man gasped loudly, breathing in much needed oxygen and he mentally cursed his human need for air again. Once his lungs were satisfied, he looked around him. Sunlight gently shone through a hole in the ceiling of a small sparkling cave. A sandy island covered with shiny stones and seashells stood in the middle. Haruka climbed on it to rest and Rin followed.

“This is where I live. Cool, right?”

It was small and cold and poorly lit, but to Haruka it was so much better than his old apartment. Stones of all shapes and colors lay all around, as well as many beautiful seashells, all collected by Rin over the years. It had the looks of a magical secret hideout. The cave was a beautiful place but it was also a little lonely.

“I found it by accident and made it my home,” Rin said proudly with his chest out. “Even though there’s a hole up there, you can only come in from deep underwater, so it’s safe here.” He reached in the pile of rocks and took out a beautiful round stone. “This one is my favorite.”

Haruka took it from his hand and studied it in awe. It was a shiny deep blue and semi-translucid gem, as if the sea itself was imprisoned inside. He had never seen such a beautiful and mysterious stone and the man couldn’t take his eyes off it. Something like that was surely worth a lot of money.

“You can’t have it, though,” Rin snatched the stone back. “My father and I found it together long ago. It’s my treasure.”

He was just like a proud child who had found himself a rock during a field trip and Haruka smiled. Rin’s expression grew wistful as he pulled himself to Haruka’s side, still clutching the stone to his chest.

“Hey, Haru,” Rin’s quiet voice echoed through the cave. “Can you come see me tomorrow too?”

Haruka blinked. “I come every day.”

“I know, but…Tomorrow is my birthday.” The mermaid looked like he was in pain as words got stuck in his throat. “I...I’ve spent all my birthdays alone for a long time, since everyone disappeared. It used to be such a sad day. I only want happy memories from now on...”

Rin’s eyes were glistening in the weak light and Haruka felt himself melt. Rin only deserved good things.

“I’ll be there.”

Haruka’s reassuring voice calmed Rin and he slowly settled himself into the man’s lap. Haruka’s eyes widened a little at his boldness. The mermaid who detested humans, who used to fear him, was lying in his lap.

“I promise.”

He gently brushed Rin’s hair as the mermaid’s fin swayed softly among the rocks and seashells. The red tail’s multiple scales shone in the gentle glow coming from the ceiling hole. Curious, the man stroked it. The scales felt cold and smooth under his fingers. Most of them were whole and beautiful, but some were broken or missing entirely, scars left where they should have been. Each one told a story and Haruka wondered if Rin would one day tell him each of them.

“Oi!” Rin’s sharp voice woke Haruka from his reverie. “Don’t just go touching people’s tail without asking!”

Haruka turned his head sideways. “Then don’t leave it in the way.”

“It’s kind of attached to me!” Rin hid his face in his friend’s lap. “Well, I guess you can touch it if you want…”

Haruka smiled and stroked Rin’s tail some more, but also his back, shoulders and hair again and for a long moment it looked like Rin had fallen asleep. The man’s naked body was freezing in the damp cave by now, but he did not care. When was the last time Rin had been able to finally let his guard down? When was the last time Rin had felt this kind of affection?

When was the last time he had felt this kind of affection?

Eventually, Rin removed himself from his lap, woken up by Haruka’s shivering.

“Looks like it’s time to bring you back. But before that,” Rin took out the beautiful blue stone he had been holding in his hand the entire time. “I want to give you this.”

“Why?” Haruka looked from the stone to Rin’s confident smile. “I thought it was your treasure?”

“It is. That’s why I want you to have it. It looks like the sea, doesn’t it? You like it, right? “

“Yes.” Haruka held the stone warmed by Rin’s hand in front of him. It really did look like a miniature sea inside.

“That way you’ll always have a piece of the ocean with you, even when you’re stuck in your boring human world.” Rin’s cheeks flustered. “And a piece of me, too.”

“Thank you.”

Once they returned to the beach, Rin’s smile glowed as he watched Haruka’s back disappearing towards the city light. Haruka stared at the stone some more before pocketing it.

A bright sun shone in the cloudless sky the next day. Rin waited at the secret beach with excitement. Haruka was not here but it was still early; he never finished work before sunset.

The slowly disappearing sun cast an orange light on the sea. Rin swam in circles impatiently. The human was still not here.

The moon replaced the sun entirely and darkness fell on the crescent shore. Rin stood alone in the water, eyeing the cliffside Haruka would normally use to get to the beach. The mermaid waited to see his silhouette appear from the other side, but the man was not coming.

Rin slumped against the foot of the old mossy pier. Where was Haruka? Why wasn’t he coming? He promised he’d be here. Rin had faith in him, but that faith was slowly fading. The moon was high in the sky. Rin’s birthday would soon be over and he would have spent it all alone, once again.

Rin suddenly recalled the interest with which Haruka had stared at the pretty sea stone. What if...what if he had run off with the stone to sell it? Humans were all about money after all, weren’t they? Maybe that’s what he had always wanted. A mermaid’s treasure to sell. And now Haruka would never be back.

Rin shook his head to clear his dark thoughts.

No, no. Haruka wouldn’t do that. Then why wasn’t he coming? Didn’t he care that Rin had asked him to come for his birthday? Did he do it on purpose? Did he forget? Did he not care about Rin…

I only wanted you to be there…

His throat tightening, the mermaid’s eyes watered. Another birthday had gone passed, another birthday all alone. Rin was used to it already, so why did this one hurt so badly?

Heavy footsteps stormed on the wooden pier. Rin turned around with widening eyes. Clutching his heaving chest, Haruka’s bent body stood, panting heavily. He glanced at Rin’s crying face and the hand on his chest tightened.

I’m so glad I made it.

Rin quickly wiped his face gave a small pout. “You’re late!”

“Sorry,” he huffed. “Happy birthday, Rin.”

The mermaid’s freshly wiped face became wet again. He had longed to hear someone say those words for years. Haruka came.

“Don’t cry,” the man scolded. “I promised, didn’t I?”

“I’m not crying!” Rin submerged his head under the water to clear the evidence before coming up again, giving the man a hard look. “Why are you late?”

Without a word, Haruka reached in his pocket and kneeled on the pier. His balled fist reached for Rin and he opened his hand, a pendant dangling from his fingers.

Rin stared at a gold chain. His eyes followed it until they found a sparkling blue sphere at the end. He took the necklace into both his hands.

“Is this my treasure stone? It looks different.”

Haruka reached for his own neck and pulled another necklace out to show Rin. His was shaped like a crescent.

“I had it cut and shaped like this. That way we’ll both have a piece of each other with us.”

“I see!” Rin chuckled lightly. “Mine represents the sea and yours represents this crescent-shaped beach.” He tried to tie it to his neck, but his long pointy nails made it difficult.

Haruka jumped into the water to help him, his wet clothes clinging to his skin with the shallow waters reaching up to his chest. “Actually,” he leaned both his arms around Rin’s neck, locking the pendant into place. “Yours is the sun and mine is the moon.” Yes, the sun was just like Rin. Bright, warm and his source of light. Pulling his arms back, he turned his head to the side. “I figured you’d like something cheesy like that…”

Rin looked down at the small sun shape in his hand. “Thank you, Haru.” If he was the sun, Haruka was indeed the moon. Cool, beautiful and a light shining through the darkness.

An awkward silence fell between the two, gazing at each other, and this time it was Rin who turned away.

“Haru,” he began, rubbing the back of his neck. “It might sound crazy but...I think I’ve heard before that a person could become a mermaid if they kissed one...If you want, we could--”

Rin’s sentence remained unfinished; Haruka grabbed his shoulders and pushed his lips against Rin’s, the mermaid almost falling back from the surprise. Straightening himself, Rin managed to wrap his arms around the man’s back, leaning into him. The grip on his shoulders was strong and Rin’s heart was threatening to jump out of his chest.

When Haruka pulled back, his human legs were still very much present and he felt exactly the same. He looked at the mermaid expectantly.

“Um,” Rin’s dazed half-lidded eyes shot open with unease. “Maybe that wasn’t enough.”

This time, Rin brought Haruka’s hips against him and kissed him strongly. Offering no resistance, the human released the mermaid’s shoulders and wrapped his arms arounds Rin’s neck instead. They kissed once, twice, multiple times. To Haruka, the mermaid tasted like the very essence of the sea. To Rin, the human tasted like something exotic and unknown. Haruka licked the other’s lips and a whimper left Rin. The mermaid slid a hand under the human’s shirt and Haruka’s entire body twitched.

After a moment, they let go of each other, out of breath. Even when panting, Haruka continued to look straight at Rin, his body showing no sign of being anything different from the way he’d always been. Rin slowly backed away, staring at the surface of the water.

“Sorry, I lied,” a soft voice said with a pang of guilt. “I told you mermaids have no magic powers, didn’t I? I just wanted to know how it feels to be kissed...”

Suddenly, Haruka was kissing him again. Shocked, Rin broke the kiss, pushing on the man’s chest. “Didn’t you hear me? It won’t work!”

“I know. I knew you were lying all along.” Haruka’s usual neutral voice betrayed no emotion.

“Then why?” Rin’s voice was both irritated and confused at his friend’s lack of anger towards his lie.

“I also wanted to kiss you. You gave me an opportunity.”

Rin was suddenly speechless and could do nothing to hide his flushed face. Haruka ignored his embarrassment and stared at the night time sea in front of them instead.

“I don’t need to become a mermaid or a sea creature anymore. I feel like I’m already one with the sea now.”

His slightly parted lips and the droplets of water in his hair lit by the moonlight gave Haruka an ethereal appearance in the water. Rin watched his deep blue eyes and the shape of his back through his wet white shirt, the scene feeling surreal. Haruka truly was a creature who belonged with the ocean, it did not matter that the species of that creature was human. This human’s place was here, Rin had never felt this stronger than now.

“And I feel like I’m one with the sea because I feel like I’m one with you.” Haruka looked back at Rin and the mermaid was too mesmerized to move. “To me, you are the sea. I don’t hate waking up in the morning anymore, because--”

“--because each day I know I’ll get to see you.” Rin was able to complete his thoughts perfectly. “Me too.”

“I didn’t know it back then, but I’ve been searching for someone like you all my life.” Haruka’s face was serious but warm. “A person I want to spend eternity with.”

Rin narrowed his eyes cautiously. “Because I’m a mermaid?”

“No,” the man shook his head. “Because I love you.”

Mouth agape, Rin stared into eyes as blue as the ocean as his chest heated. Feeling his expression grow into a grimace, he hurried to hide it by turning his back to his friend. He wiped his face with his forearm.

“Don’t cry.”

“I’m not crying!” Regaining some composure, Rin faced Haruka again. “I love you too, idiot! Even if you’re a weird human!”

“Thanks.”

Haruka gave a relieved smile at the mermaid’s chuckle, before reaching for the pier and hoisting his body out of the water, his wet clothes dripping into puddles on the old wood. “Rin, tomorrow I won’t be able to come.”

“Uh? Why?”

“I’m moving.”

Rin felt his stomach twist. “Moving? Where?”

“I bought a house. That’s what kept me late earlier.”

The calmness of Haruka’s voice when revealing such important news greatly frustrated Rin. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why would you keep something like this from me?”

“I figured there was no point since you’d find out anyways.”

Rin clumsily pulled himself on the pier as well, ignoring how greatly impaired his mobility was outside water. He snapped at the human with sharp teeth. “How can you talk as if this wasn’t a big deal? After what we’ve just done and said? You bought a house somewhere else? Don’t fuck with me! You’re moving away forever and you didn’t tell me?” His anger turned into pain, nails digging into the old wood. “Will I ever see you again?”

Haruka blinked, confused. “Rin, I’m not moving away. I’m moving here.”

“What?”

“I’m moving here,” the man simply repeated.

It was Rin’s turn to be confused. He looked left and right. “But there are no houses around here!”

Haruka kneeled down to Rin’s height; on land, the mermaid was only as tall and his arms could hold him up. The man placed a hand on red hair. “It’s fine. Don’t worry. You’ll see me the day after tomorrow.”

He kissed Rin’s forehead and walked off, leaving one dumbfounded mermaid behind.

As promised, the next day Rin was alone at the crescent beach. He swam around, trying to forget how worried he was. He thought about going treasure hunting for new cool seashells but he was simply too anxious. What if Haruka truly moved away and never he saw him again?

His hand reached for the sun pendant at his neck. No, Haruka had said he’d be back the next day. Rin would simply wait. Soon, the mermaid grew tired and dove back to his underwater hideout for the night. Tomorrow would come quicker if he slept.

Morning came and Rin surfaced at the beach, only to dive right back in when his eyes spotted a boat anchored at the small wooden pier. His heart beating fast, he hid behind a rock, pushing just his eyes above the surface. What was a human boat doing here? This beach was supposed to be abandoned and out of reach for boats. Although on closer inspection, this strange ship was small enough to navigate through the rocks keeping the entrance to the cove safe. It wasn’t a boat for fishing or for boating, Rin had never seen this type of ship. It looked like a miniature floating house.

A door on the boat opened and Rin’s heart skipped a beat when Haruka appeared. Relief flooded through him and he approached the boat, warily still.

“What the hell is that?” he exclaimed once he reached this friend.

“Rin.”

“I almost had a heart attack, you know! I thought a human had come here!”

Haruka leaned against the rim of the boat and stared down at the mermaid in the water. “I said I bought a house.”

“You didn’t say it was a boat house! And you didn’t say you were going to bring it here!” With a swing of his tail, Rin sent water splashing to Haruka’s face in retaliation for the man’s failure to properly share information. However, he misjudged his power and Haruka ended up completely soaked.

The human shook his head to clear the water from his face and turned to his friend with an annoyed look. “I said I was moving here.”

Rin crossed his arms in feigned indignation. “And did you ask my permission? This is my home!”

A foot on the rim, Haruka pulled off his wet clothes. “It’s our home.” With that, he dived directly at Rin, submerging the mermaid completely at the impact.

Underwater, Haruka’s irritation turned into affection, his grip softening. The two embraced and kissed in morning light shining through the waves.

Haruka still had his job and would never be able to completely leave the human world.

However, now he could wake up with the sea and go to sleep with the sea in complete tranquility. His only neighbor was a crybaby mermaid who loved to play with his nerves but brought him the peace his heart had always desired. He didn’t dream of solitude anymore, he only dreamed of Rin.

Rin would never wake up to another day alone again.

He had Haruka with him at all times. Even when the man was gone, they were still connected. He was a mermaid who had fallen in love with a human and perhaps a dishonor to the mermaid kind, but this human was a part of him now. He didn’t crave companionship anymore, he only craved for Haruka.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The soft rocking of the waves slowly woke Haruka up. What a tranquil experience compared to his old apartment. The sound of seagulls in the distance and the soft splashing of the water against the boat’s bow were music to his ears. Truly nothing could break this peaceful--

“Oi.”

Haruka’s eyes shot open and he was greeted with a pointy teeth directly in his face and with wet bed sheets. The man jumped but quickly recovered.

“How did you get in here?”

Rin’s wet body hovered over him. “It’s not like you ever lock this place. It’s not easy moving within these narrow walls though.”

As proof to Rin’s statement, half of the items Haruka owned had been knocked to the floor, presumably by a big clumsy red tail. A trail of water also marked the floor. Haruka sighed.

“I’m starving, what’s for breakfast?” the excited mermaid asked.

“You’ve got an entire sea for breakfast.”

“Yeah, but after tasting your cooking, it’s tough going back to raw fish.”

“Fine, then go catch me something I can cook. Try not to maul it too much this time.”

“On it!”

In his hurry out, Rin knocked down the remaining half of the objects. Haruka brought a hand to his face. Somehow, this new life was not going to be completely peaceful after all.

Chapter Text

Nagisa smelled like strawberries. He tasted like strawberries too. That was a fact Haru had quickly discovered once Nagisa had made a move on him.

He wasn’t sure when or how it started, but Haru had realized he found a certain appeal in Nagisa’s boundless energy and sunny disposition. It was tiring at times, but nobody could stay down with Nagisa around. Perhaps it was because the younger boy was his polar opposite that he felt this attraction. Nagisa’s warm and chatty demeanor complemented his own cold and quiet personality and Haru had found himself melting little by little.

The first time Nagisa kissed him, he was taken by surprise.

The first time Nagisa slid his hand under his shirt, he was unprepared.

The first time Nagisa pulled his clothes off of him, his ego started hurting a little. He was the oldest, yet Nagisa was always taking the lead. There was a boldness in Nagisa that Haru could not subdue nor imitate.

That time too, the entire thing had been Nagisa’s idea. The coming to his house, the touching, the kissing, the undressing, the preparing...all of it. Haru tried fooling himself into thinking he was in control, but they both knew Nagisa was really the one pulling the strings.

Haru shook the thought away from his head. That was hardly important right now. What mattered was that Nagisa’s back was pushed against the wall of his living room and Nagisa’s very naked legs were tightly wrapped around his equally naked hips while he held up Nagisa’s behind, supporting most of the boy’s weight.

Nagisa kissed him over and over and Haru wondered if the taste was due to the amount of strawberry milk Nagisa drank on a daily basis. That was more kissing than Haru could handle, but as both his hands were taken, he couldn’t give much resistance. Had this been Nagisa’s plan too?

“Haru-chan, I love you!”

Haru turned his head slightly to the side, the sight of Nagisa’s bright smile was too adorable to bear and made him weak.

“You say that to everyone…”

“But I do love everyone!”

“Do you do this with everyone, then?” Haru asked, motioning with his head, the only part of his body that could still move freely, at the two of them tangled together and their pants on the floor.

“Of course not!” Nagisa grinned. “Haru-chan is special!”

Haru continued to look away, his expression unclear, but Nagisa did notice a small smile before Haru kissed him this time. Eagerly, even.

He drank in Haru’s taste, but Haru didn’t have a taste, Nagisa thought. Or if he had to choose, he would say Haru tasted like water. Like the water Nagisa swimmed in, in his own special way, Haru had always watched over him. He could be a bit moody, but in the end Haru always went along Nagisa’s ideas. What a joy that Haru-chan wanted to share moments like this with him, and him only.

Pulling away but keeping their foreheads touching, Haru’s now serious eyes looked straight at Nagisa.

“This might hurt,” he warned softly, his tone meant to give Nagisa the opportunity to change his mind before it was too late.

“Haru-chan, I’m a man too, you know,” the boy smiled confidently. “I can take it.”

It was true, Haru thought. Nagisa may have appeared delicate and feminine to some, but he was still a man deep down and more resilient than most. Nagisa was bold and unafraid, which could either be a blessing or a curse at times.

Haru kissed him one more time.

“Okay. Then I’m doing it.”

Haru watched Nagisa’s face carefully for signs of pain or any indication he should stop as he strengthened his hold on Nagisa’s behind and pushed his way in slowly but all the boy made was a soft gasp before returning to a smiling face. Haru was relieved by the sight and gently started to move.

“You’re so kind, Haru-chan. You make sure I’m comfortable before...trying anything, and you’re always gentle...But you...don’t have to worry about me.” Nagisa’s sentence was punctuated with awkward stops as his back bumped against the wall, knocking the air out of him. “I’m not too heavy? Well, Haru-chan is really strong, after all! Still, you’re impressive!”

Haru was too concentrated on the task at hand to reply but he was amazed at how Nagisa could carry a casual conversation in the position he was in. In fact, his chatter was a bit disconcerting. Haru didn’t feel like being praised right now. Especially not when it took such a big effort out of him. It was tough enough making sure neither Nagisa nor himself would get hurt, he also had to keep his balance while moving his hips with another person weighing on him. Unlike Nagisa, he did not have the luxury to talk back as he was panting from the effort already. Yet he started to thrust a little faster now, regardless.

“It’s a...good thing you live alone….haa...Haru-chan...At my house...haa…haa...”

Finally, Nagisa found himself unable to complete another sentence, the feeling of Haru inside of him gaining the upper hand. He tightly wrapped his arms around Haru’s neck, burying his head in the older boy’s neck. Nagisa moaned loudly suddenly and the sound of it sent shivers all over Haru. His whines filled the empty room and Haru couldn’t say he was surprised that Nagisa was the loud type. Sure it was a little awkward, but damn if it wasn’t a little hot too.

“Haru-chan...Haru-chan…”

Nagisa whimpered and never would Haru have thought that hearing the chan he disliked so much added to his name would turn him on so much.

“Nagisa…” he added for good measure with a husky voice between labored breaths.

Despite being careful not to overdo it, Haru was amazed at how Nagisa could take being shoved into a wall repeatedly without flinching. His smaller body and boyish face made Nagisa seem delicate and on the weak side but nothing was further from the truth. Nagisa had more energy and stamina than him in many ways, and Haru was discovering just how true that was right now.

Haru was thankful for the wall sharing some of the weight, because Nagisa was not all that light. He started to severely regret doing this standing up, but Nagisa had literally jumped and latched onto him earlier and pants came off and one thing led to another and Haru once again had found himself unable to say no.

Between his own huffs, Haru noticed that Nagisa’s moans had slowly turned into a sound closer to sobbing. Genuinely worried, he stopped. There was nothing sexy about making your partner cry, after all.

“Nagisa? Are you okay? Does it hurt?”

A muffled voice answered him.

“Haru-chan, don’t stop.”

That did not answer his question. Nagisa's face was still hidden in his neck so Haru couldn’t tell if he was crying.

“Are you okay?” he repeated.

“Don’t stop!”

Haru’s eyes widened a little at Nagisa’s commanding tone. He never imagined the younger boy would be this kinky. Haru decided Nagisa knew what he was doing and resumed moving his hips again, although more carefully than before. Perhaps Nagisa wasn’t crying at all and sobs were just the sound Nagisa made when he was having sex. Who was he to judge?

Nagisa’s fingers gripped at the fabric of Haru’s shirt tighter while Haru felt his own grip on Nagisa weakening as his arms were becoming more and more tired and painful. He panted heavily as sweat pearled on his forehead. Doing it standing up was Nagisa’s idea. Haru made a mental note to never do that again. He had wanted their first time done normally, lying down, in a bed, but Nagisa had claimed it was too boring. Haru’s arms and back were hurting, yet Haru still felt himself close to coming when Nagisa moving up and down against him, but Haru decided he didn’t want to do that here, there and now. Here being his living room, there being inside Nagisa and now being when his body’s strength was leaving him.

“Nagisa,” he gasped over his shaking knees. “Let go, I need to put you down.”

“Eeeeh? Over already?” the boy pouted.

“Think about me a little, “ Haru complained, carefully removing himself from Nagisa before putting the boy down. “I can’t go on.”

He wiped the sweat on his forehead with the back of his sore arm, exhaling loudly, and looked down at Nagisa. The boy’s cheeks were fully red and he was also panting, sweat rolling down his temples. That sight alone was extremely alluring and Haru had to concentrate to keep it in. Even when catching his breath, Nagisa still smiled brightly at him.

“That was fun, Haru-chan!”

Only Nagisa could beam happily like that after having sex against a wall. He was radiating heat and love and Nagisa looked at Haru like he was the sun and Haru couldn’t help himself with him.

I love this boy, Haru thought, before pulling Nagisa against him and pushing his lips on him, tasting the strawberry flavor once more. He did not let it last though, because Haru knew he’d only end up wanting more and he had already decided Nagisa had had enough for today, despite what the younger boy might say.

Letting go, Haru regained his pants and his composure. His unimpressed eyes then fell on the stain on his shirt. Apparently Nagisa couldn’t restrain himself the way Haru could.

“I’m sorry,” Nagisa pouted, dropping his head like a child caught breaking a vase.

“It’s fine.”

Nagisa felt sorry for a second, then quickly returned to cheerful Nagisa, an idea having sprouted in his head.

“I know! Let’s take a bath together to wash up!”

“My bath is too small for two people,” Haru said with his usual neutral voice, pulling off his dirty shirt.

“You’re no fun! I think we can fit if we try!”

Haru reached for the hem of Nagisa’s shirt and the boy obediently lifted his arms up, allowing Haru to take the shirt off effortlessly.

“No,” Haru said calmly as he headed upstairs. “I’m going to wash our clothes, you go in first.”

“But I want us to go together!” Forgetting the fact that he was completely naked, Nagisa pulled on Haru’s arm like a child who wants his parents to buy him a toy. “Haru-chan, please?”

“No. It’s too small.” Haru ignored the insistent voice, pushing their clothes in the wash.

Refusing to give up, Nagisa threw his arms around the taller boy’s waist and rubbed his face against his chest.

“I want to go in with you!”

Nagisa’s skin felt soft against his own and Haru had to forcefully look away or he knew he would give in. It certainly didn’t help that Nagisa was still not wearing any clothes and was prancing around naked in his house.

“Haru-chan…”

Haru knew that Nagisa’s cute baby voice was fake but perhaps he felt a weakness in himself and he looked down at the boy’s face despite his better judgement. Nagisa’s pleading eyes stared up at him and once again he was enamored with the cute face. What a strong power Nagisa possessed. Haru cursed his inability to resist Nagisa’s charm and finally let him get his way.

Before the bath was ready, Nagisa insisted he wanted to wash Haru’s back, but this time Haru firmly refused successfully. In retaliation, Nagisa’s soapy body hugged Haru’s back and wiggled against it and perhaps this was worse than letting him wash his back. After somehow washing up, the two observed the bathtub filled with water. It was barely a comfortable size for just one person.

“I said it’s too small for the both of us.”

“You lack imagination, Haru-chan!” Nagisa grinned mischievously. “You get in first and you’ll see.”

Haru sighed and did as he was told, sitting down in the warm water with his knees bent. He watched incredulously as Nagisa carefully placed one foot in the bathtub, then another, straddling Haru’s hips and sitting on him.

“See? It does work!” Nagisa smiled triumphantly, holding the slightly disgruntled man’s shoulders to steady himself.

“Well, I suppose so…”

“At my house the bath is only slightly bigger, but the bathroom itself is smaller, since it is an apartment.”

“Hn.”

“But because of my three sisters, it’s hard to take a bath at all, they’re always hogging the bathroom.”

“Hn.”

“There’s also my mom and dad, it’s really annoying. That’s why I like coming here!”

“Hn.”

Haru wished Nagisa would be quiet. His eyes had been closed for a while now. Both his body and mind were exhausted and desperately needed quiet water time. Perhaps guessing what he was thinking, Nagisa smiled at Haru’s tired face and gently rested his head on Haru’s shoulder with the smallest of splashes, sighing as one would after a long day’s work.

Haru started to think this wasn’t so bad after all… Calmed by the warmth of the water and the soft sound of Nagisa’s breathing, Haru found himself finally relaxing and wrapping his arms around the smaller figure in front of him.

Several minutes passed in silence before an acute pain in Haru’s back brought him back. Leaning against the hard edge of the bath with Nagisa’s added weight had taken its toll and the young man couldn’t take much more of this cramped feeling.

“Nagisa, my back hurts, you need to get off.”

No reply. The slow rising of the boy’s back indicated Nagisa had completely fallen asleep on Haru’s chest.

Haru sighed. Once again he accepted physical pain in exchange for Nagisa’s comfort. If it was for Nagisa’s sake, Haru was willing to endure it just a while longer.

Chapter Text

“Please use the rest of the period to work on your assignment, it’s due tomorrow. Quietly, please.”

Miho Amakata sits down with a sigh as the students begrudgingly continue to write their paper. It had been a difficult week for her. All those papers to correct and many meetings with the staff as the current semester was coming to a close and graduation was soon coming for the third-years. It’s always a lot of work, but there is one thing that can make Miho forget the daily hardships of being a teacher, if only for a fleeting moment.

Again today, as she attempts to correct yesterday’s homework while her class is occupied with their assignment, Miho’s eyes are drawn to the last seat in the top right corner of the class. There, next to the windows, sits Haruka Nanase, minding his own business. The young man is gazing outside, staring at nothing in particular, a bored expression on the face he’s resting on his hand.

As a teacher, Miho should be concerned that Haruka is not working on his assignment as she requested, but there is something elegant and beautiful about his longing expression and she does not dare disturb it. Besides, Haruka has excellent grades and it’s completely possible he has already finished his paper. Pretending to read the students’ homework, she discreetly studies him from behind the sheets of paper in her hands.

His beautiful blue eyes are looking towards the swimming pool, Miho guesses, but from this angle it is completely out of view. His pale skin glows in the morning sunlight. The square of his jaw and the broadness of his shoulders are more pronounced than last year, but a juvenile softness still dances on his features. His slender fingers appear rough like a man’s, yet still delicate.

Haruka’s smooth lips let out a sigh and he runs a hand through his raven hair, today’s summer heat getting to him, and Miho swallows.

Then she strongly shakes her head.

No, no, no! Stop staring at him! Don’t look at him! Concentrate on correction these papers!

Unknown to all, Miho Amakata has a dark secret.

The now teacher used to work as a model for a swimsuit company. That was a fact, but one she kept as hidden as possible. It had been a job she enjoyed and her dream was to one day design her own swimsuits. She had a brilliant future ahead of her. When she announced she was quitting, it was a shock to those around her. From the very few people who knew of her past life, none were actually aware of the reason that pushed her to quit. Some thought it was due to the wages, some assumed it was because she had enough of having to diet all the time, while some mocked that it was because she was aging.

She brushed it off as needing to take a different step in her life, but only Miho herself knew the real reason.

In her final months as a model, the designer she worked with had come up with a new line of matching female and male swimsuits. For the advertisements, she was asked to be photographed together with an male model. It was a completely reasonable request and she had no reason to be concerned. She and an older man had modeled together for the ad, wearing matching swimsuits, but ultimately the advertiser had been unhappy with the pictures. At that time, Miho was in her early twenties but her looks made her seem younger than that. The man who had been just 2 years her elder appeared much older than she did in the pictures and both the designer and advertisement agency decided the contrast in age looked too strong.

Rather than recast Miho who had years of experience, they replaced the male model with younger man. His name was Kazuto, he was just 17 years old but looked to be the same age as Miho. He was new to the modeling business but he was already behaving like a professional. Together, Miho and Kazuto took many pictures, posing side by side and sometimes posing in more romantic, risqué scenarios.

Kazuto had been a child, in the legal term of the word. Miho felt placing them in these scenarios was inappropriate, even if it was faked for photos. And yet, the teenager’s arms had slowly felt stronger and warmer each day as he held her for hours at a time, while the photograph searched for the perfect angle. His shoulders were sharp and his stomach was well defined. The low timbre of his voice soon sent shivers down her back when he politely greeted her at work.

And then that ad campaign was over and Kazuto was gone, replaced by a new boy for a new swimsuit line. Shuu was just 16 but he was taller than Kazuto and had a friendly, childish smile. He was in-between childhood and adulthood and Miho was entranced by how grown-up he acted. One day Shuu’s hand had accidentally brushed against her breast during a photoshoot and the boy had bowed his head again and again, profusely apologizing. She assured him it was no big deal, yet the heat in her stomach urged that it was a big deal.

And then there were Hiro, and Kouji and Kai. Each of them was more beautiful than the next and by then Miho had realized she had a problem she couldn’t ignore.

She, an adult woman, felt sexually attracted to the half-naked teenage boys she was forced to work with. They were children, but they were trained to be like adult professionals and sometimes the line between man and child seemed very thin, but she knew it was still there somewhere.

She tried to ignore it, to forget it, to concentrate on her job, but being made to interact with the boys, to be touched and held by them everyday had become too difficult to handle. These feelings were wrong, she had to do something to free herself from them. WIth a heavy heart, she announced her departure from the industry.

With nowhere to go, Miho turned herself to her second passion: litterature. She drowned her feelings in books and stories. Novel after novel, biographies, encyclopedias, textbooks of all kinds. They made her forget. She studied until eventually she felt ready to return to the workforce. This time as a teacher.

Going back to a job that involved children again was ironic, but she felt cured and dived in regardless. And it worked. The students loved her and she enjoyed teaching them about famous quotes and her feelings towards the teenage boys never strayed from what was acceptable.

Until that day.

She was asked by certain students to become the advisor for the swimming club of the school. Visions of young boys and bathing suits came back to haunt her and she refused. Never again would she be pulled to the dark side.

And yet, somehow they managed to convince her and Miho’s life became crazy that day.

The bell rings and Miho is awakened from her daydreams of the past and brought back to the present. The students are packing their books and hurrying out. She stands and calls up to them.

“Ah! Don’t forget to hand in your assignment tomorrow!”

Most of them are ignoring her, thinking only about the long-awaited lunch time. She sighs when a sheet of paper appears in front of her.

“I’ve already finished mine.”

She looks up to find Haruka’s usual calm face staring at her.

“Ah, Nanase-kun!” Her heart skips a beat. “That was fast, thank you.”

She reaches for the paper and her fingers brush against the young man’s hand. She recoils slightly at the touch but takes the homework.

Miho sees the shadow of a polite bow from Haruka before he walks away. She watches his back as he disappears out of view, the feeling of his skin brushing hers still lingering.

Then the teacher slaps her own cheeks. “No! Miho, no!”

The self-imposed punishment seems to work. At least for now.

Later that week, Amakata-sensei has to perform her duties as the swimming club advisor and comes to watch the team practice in anticipation for the coming tournament. Scouts will be looking out for Haruka so she wants to make sure he’s in peak condition, nothing more.

Hidden below her parasol, she watches the club manager Gou with envy as the young girl follows the boys around the pool, marking down their times.

Gou is lucky. Because she is the same age as the young swimmers, she can loudly and shamelessly gush over their physique to her heart’s content and nobody will bat an eye. Gou indeed voices her liking of the boys’ muscles all day long and stares at them constantly and everyone just laughs it off. Gou can say out loud what Miho thinks in secret. Gou can hang around the boys and ever touch them and there is nothing strange about that. Yes, Gou is lucky. All because these kids are the same age.

It isn’t just Haruka. Makoto, Rei and Nagisa are also incredibly handsome and beautiful, of course. But there was something more about Haruka. An air of maturity and adult-like wisdom, perhaps a trait due to his living alone at such a young age. He was like an adult trapped in a child’s body, she thought. Yes, that must be it, she tried to rationalise. If Haruka was like an adult, then her feelings were not completely unacceptable, right?

There has been one special evening where Haruka had called her. Her heart had skipped a beat when she had heard his voice on the line. He had mumbled something about Nagisa running from home and she had changed out of her pyjamas instantly to come and assist. In the end, the issue was solved and Haruka had personally thanked her and it took much effort for Miho not to grab him and leave.

Yes, surely he was more adult than child so this was okay...

“Please see me after school, Nanase-kun. We should discuss your career choices again.”

As Haruka’s homeroom teacher, it is Miho’s job to ensure her student fills his career orientation document properly. Perhaps still lost about his future, the teen has written ‘Free’ as his preferred career choice and she is concerned he is not taking things seriously enough.

It was the perfect excuse. She could see Haruka outside of class and her reason was completely valid. On many occasions she has called Haruka alone in her office to discuss his future, his career choices, his swimming, the scouts interested in him and many other things. Any excuse is good enough to get him alone. Of course, she is genuinely concerned about Haruka and truly wantsto help him make the best choices with his future life.

Being able to be alone with him in a dimly lit room after school hours was just a delicious bonus.

Haruka sits in silence as she talks, looking down at his lap. He has heard the same speech countless times, why did Amakata-sensei continue to make him come to these meetings? He has heard other boys from his class comment on how Haruka is lucky to be able to spend time with her because she is hot. While others just think Amachan-sensei is weird. Haruka has no opinion in either direction. He just wants out of this. He is sick of people telling him what he should do.

Miho can tell from the expression on the boy’s face that Haruka has grown bored and irritated from getting held after class. She won’t be able to keep this up much longer. She is losing him.

“As Leo Buscaglia once said ‘Change is the end result of all true learning!’ ”

It is a defense mechanism. When Miho’s thoughts are straying too far from a righteous path, she blurts out a quote from a great mind, praying that her own mind can be set back on track based on their wisdom. As a result, she is randomly spewing out quotes left and right in any conversation. But it works. Most of the time.

“Do you know this one, Nanase-kun? ‘The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet!’ ”

“May I go home now?” The young man’s tone betrays his frustration and Miho realises if she keeps him any longer she’ll be charged with kidnapping.

“Yes, of course. Thank you for you time. Please think about what I’ve said.”

He is about to leave. Graduation is near and he is about to leave entirely. Leave for another life that she will have no part in. She’ll be left behind like any other teacher after her students leave the school forever.

An unknown force pushes her and she grabs Haruka’s wrist as he gets up. The teen looks back, confusion on his face.

“It’s already late. Let me drive you home.”

“No, thank you. I can walk.”

“I insist! I kept you, let me pay you back by driving you.”

Her grip on his wrist is firm and Haruka figures out he has no choice. The sun has already set as the two of them climb into the teacher’s car. Haruka sits and fastens the seatbelt while Miho fumbles with her keys, somehow unable to find the correct one. The boy leans against the window sill, ignoring the metal clinking of the keys at first, but then she drops them in her panic and they somehow fall in between the gearbox and Haruka’s seat.

“Oops, my bad!”

They both reach for the gap at the same time, their hands searching the narrow space for the invisible keys. Their shoulders are so close, Miho‘s heart is pounding in her chest. Haruka finds the keys first. He hands them to her, his face showing both physical and emotional fatigue.

“Oh thank you!” the teacher giggles nervously. “As they say, ‘haste makes waste’!”

Haruka ignores her and returns to staring out the window, relieved when his teacher finally starts the engine. Miho slowly pulls out of the school parking lot and heads for the road.

“So, Nanase-kun, you live by the sea, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“Which way?”

“Continue straight and turn right at the pharmacy.”

Haruka notices that she’s driving ridiculously slowly, despite there being barely any other cars on the road but he says nothing. Miho drives quietly, taking a glance at her student every now and then. She tries to suppress the sound of her loud breathing.

Don’t do anything you’ll regret!

She warns herself, suddenly aware of her situation. This might be the most intimate they have ever been. What was she thinking, inviting Haruka into her car?

It’s not that she isn’t attracted in men her own age. In fact, she is quite aware that coach Sasabe has a thing for her. But the youthful carefreeness of teens...It is appealing. So appealing.

“Na..Nanase-kun, do you know this one? ‘Even though you’re growing up, you should never stop having fun!’”

“No…”

The teen is completely disinterested and Miho can tell he doesn’t want to have a conversation now. She stops her car at a red light and takes the opportunity to study the young man. The street lights reflect on his bored eyes and she lets her sight fall to his neck. She gulps when she sees that the first button of Haruka’s shirt is undone, exposing a small, but oh so enticing piece of skin. Did the button accidentally come undone or did he do it in an attempt to escape the heat that still lingers into the night? Either way, as a teacher it is her duty to enforce the proper school dressing code, which includes every button properly buttoned.

But they are far from the school now. Did school rules even still apply in her car? Speaking of rules, if she were to be caught doing something unacceptable, she would be fired and the school itself would face great shame.

“‘What are rules, if not something to be broken?’” She isn’t sure whose quote that is, but surely someone has said that. The young woman reaches for her collar and undoes her own first button. It is hot after all. And if Nanase-kun happens to glance her way, maybe his eyes will find something worth looking at.

Haruka still refuses to turn her way though, the night sky apparently more interesting. Miho sees a drop of sweat pearl on his forehead from the warm air trapped in the car despite the windows rolled down. The boy wets his dry lips and she too feels very thirsty suddenly.

The light turns green. Her hand reaches for the gears but Haruka’s thigh is right next to it. She can easily touch it. She could feel his leg if she wanted. That strong, muscular swimmer thigh. If she just reaches a little--

The car behind her honks loudly. The light is green and she still hasn’t moved. The sound wakes her up and she pushes the pedal.

“Someone once said: ‘All children want to be adults already and all adults want to be children again.’ Speaking of which, Nanase-kun, did you know that although the legal age for adulthood is 20 in Japan, it is 18 in many other countries?”

18 years old Haruka simply makes a low sound of acknowledgement at her, barely listening. They are nearly at his house and he can’t wait. He’s had enough of adults telling him what to do with his life.

Still, Amakata-sensei continues.

“‘Let...let the children experiment the ways of adults, this is how they grown up’. Miho’s slightly shaky voice totally makes that one up. “‘What are adults, if not kids in bigger bodies. Age is just a number.’”

Unfortunately or fortunately, Haruka is completely oblivious to the message his teacher is trying to send through her questionable quotes, dismissing it as just regular Amachan-sensei babbling. His relief is instantaneous when he sees the familiar stone steps come into view.

“My house is up those steps. Cars can’t reach so I’ll get off here.”

Miho’s heart sinks. They are already there. That was too fast. Her pulse is still racing.

“Just one more,” she tries. “‘Adult and children can share secrets because they are born one and the same!’

Haruka sighs.

“Can you unlock the door, please?”

Right, the electric lock can only be unlocked from the driver’s side. Nanase-kun can’t get out the car. Nanase-kun is trapped in here with her. Yes. All alone with her. No one is around. He’s finally looking at her now. He is so close. She can smell his scent. She can touch him. She can feel him. He is within reach. Yes. She can do those things. No one would know.

But she chooses not to.

She flips the switch and the door opens. Haruka gets out and shuts the door behind him. Miho sighs and looks shakingly down at the wheel, as if she has just narrowly escaped a tragic car accident.

This is an accident that can be avoided. All she needs is to stay on the main road and not stray on the swampy, dim streets. Because on the main road, there is a beautiful untainted river heading towards the horizon. But roads and rivers can’t meet, that is why bridges exist.

The woman brings a tired hand to her face, sponging her dark thoughts away.

“Sensei.”

Miho jumps when she sees Haruka standing next to her window. “Y-yes?”

“Thank you. For your words. You were trying to help me with figuring out my future, weren’t you?”

Miho stares at the boy, dumbfounded for a few seconds. Precious, innocent Haruka. All along he thought that she was only referring to his career choice document! He missed all the allusions Miho was trying to make and the woman thanks heaven for that.

“Goodnight.” The boy smiles for the first time that day and he heads towards the stone steps to his house.

Miho watches him go with a smile of her own, happy with her decision. She wants to see just how far this untainted river can flow.

Chapter Text

Extremely sociable, fantastic charisma and even good looks, Kisumi Shigino was quite popular. With pale skin and beautiful locks, the indigo-eyed young man was fully aware of the heads turning whenever he was out and about. It wasn’t his looks alone, this smooth-talker had learned how to abuse his charm to get his way. As a child, he had fled the undying admiration of girls, but as a teenager with newfound overflowing hormones, he quietly started to relish the attention, until later as a young man, he was craving it.

Or so people thought. It was not so much the attention he enjoyed, but rather he liked how large his pool of potential lovers was. He loved that he could get anyone to fall in love with him with just a few magic tricks of his. The man never boasted about it though, he silently kept the subject to himself. He didn’t do it for bragging, there was simply something inside of him that pushed him to collect more admirers. A fair amount of girls (and boys) were into him, and he had gone out with quite a fair amount of those girls (and boys) in his short life. It was no wonder that people nicknamed him kiss me . In fact, Kisumi had made it his personal goal to go out with everyone around him at least once. Bonus points if he managed to kiss them.

He kept a mental bucket list where the amount of checkmarked names was impressive, but there was one name that still eluded him.

Haruka Nanase. His former classmate from middle school and friend. Since reuniting with him and his other friends in high school, Kisumi had tried to get closer to Haruka, or Haru–as Kisumi called him to match what everyone else used–but the quiet man brushed him off with a cold attitude constantly. Haru disliked to be touched, disliked to reminisce about the past, disliked social situations; all things that Kisumi enjoyed and sought out. When it came to personality, they could not be more opposites.

Perhaps it was because Haru was so hard to get that Kisumi wanted him even more. Haru was the ultimate challenge and Kisumi would take it on.

Through some twist of luck, Haru moved in to Tokyo close to where Kisumi lived with his uncle. He even knew exactly where Haru resided as his uncle’s agency rented the apartment to him. There were a few occasions when Haru had the unpleasant surprise of finding Kisumi waiting in front of his building in the morning, demanding they go to school together. Haru would grimace and sigh, push away the arm that Kisumi insisted of wrapping over his shoulders and curse the fact that the two of them went to the same university.

It’s not that Haru hated Kisumi, it’s just that Kisumi was overly social, straightforward with his feelings and spoke his mind with complete ease. All things Haru was unable to do. Part of him envied Kisumi for these things, while another part resented these qualities. There was also the fact that Kisumi was somehow a champion at figuring out people. Sometimes it felt like he could read right through Haru, understanding the deeper part of his heart better than even Haru could. This was a skill that Makoto possessed too, but unlike Makoto, Kisumi didn’t know when to shut up about Haru’s personal matters. Like with matters concerning Rin...

It started with an innocent “Do you want to join the basketball club?” and slowly moved up to “Let’s go watch a movie together!” and then eventually directly into “Haru, wanna go out with me?” Haru dismissed and ignored each of his requests. Still Kisumi asked persistently each time, only stopping once Haru clearly showed he had had enough.

“Oh, Haru, you’ve grown up a little, haven’t you?” On their way to school, Kisumi stopped in front of Haru, holding up his hand above his forehead to measure their height. “I’m still taller, though!”

Kisumi stuck out his tongue, knowing he hit a sensitive subject and Haru frowned. Their faces were much too close.

“Move.”

“Aww,” Kisumi pouted. “You’re as cold as ever. I get the feeling you don’t really like me, Haru.”

Haru sighed. “You’re annoying.”

The taller man placed both hands on the other’s shoulders. “Please go out with me! Just once!”

Haru looked to the side, muscles tensing. “Enough with that. We don’t have that kind of relationship.”

“It’s not like I’m asking you to have sex with me or anything!” In a lower voice, Kisumi added, “Though that door is open if you want…”

Haru’s brow furrowed further and a scoff escaped his lips.

“Just dinner and a walk in the park or something! Just for fun! It doesn’t have to mean anything!”

Haru pushed Kisumi’s arms out of the way and kept walking. Kisumi couldn’t hear his quiet voice as he whispered, “It shouldn’t mean nothing...”

“You’re no fun,” Kisumi said, defeated. Then his smiled returned. “ Makoto said yes before.”

Haru’s ears twitched. “Makoto went out with you?”

Kisumi’s smile widened. He had piqued Haru’s interest. “He sure did. He wasn’t as hard to convince as you, either.”

“Is that so.” Haru’s intonation was flat but Kisumi could tell he was curious. “What did you do?”

Kisumi caught up to his friend, his arms behind his head innocently. “Oh not much. We saw a movie. We went to a cafe. We kissed.”

Haru said nothing but his stride became uneven for a step or too, his eyes fixed on the ground. Kisumi slapped his back.

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding! Don’t look so shocked!” he laughed. “I asked if I could kiss him and he politely declined. He did let me put my hand on his knee at the cafe though…but he looked so embarrassed, ha ha!”

Haru was somewhat relieved. He wanted to believe Makoto was not the kind of man who would kiss just anybody who asked, especially not in an inappropriate context such as this one and especially not a player such as Kisumi. But then again, what Makoto wanted to do or not was none of his business.

With a solid frown, Haru escaped once again the arm that Kisumi had slipped around his shoulders once more. He was in a bad mood now and Kisumi knew he’d have to win him soon or he might lose him for good.

“You know who else I went out with ?” He smirked at Haru but was ignored until the name came out his mouth. “Rin.”

Haru’s walking stopped.

“Why are you telling me this? It has nothing to do with me.”

I’ve got him now, Kisumi though. Haru feigned disinterest but the way his eyes had widened ever so slightly at the sound of Rin’s name exposed his inner self.

“We had dinner and we had a nice walk under the sakura trees! It was really romantic…” Kisumi disclosed in an exaggerated dreamy tone of voice. Haru kept walking. “And then we...no, I suppose you don’t care, uh?”

“Not especially.”

There was a moment of silence as the university came into view. Soon they would reach the gate and both would leave for their respective classes. What did Rin and Kisumi do? Haru wanted to know but at the same time did not want to show that he was interested. It was best if he said nothing but the opportunity to continue this conversation might never happen again.

In the most detached voice he could muster, Haru said, “Did you kiss?”

Kisumi chuckled. He had been right on the dot. Haru always got worked up when it came to Rin. He could use this to his advantage. “I don’t know,” he sang. “If you go out with me, maybe I’ll tell you!”

“...no.”

“Maybe you’re just afraid that Rin is a better date than you are? And you don’t want me to be able to compare the two of you?” Kisumi could feel he was close. Just a little bit more. “ We sure did a lot of things together. Wouldn’t you like to experience the same things we shared?”

“...”

“Rin was an excellent date, too. Don’t you want to know what kind of dates he enjoys? It might be useful information for the future maybe, who knows...”

They were at the gate now. If he wanted to know what Kisumi did or did not do with Rin, there was only one solution. Haru stopped ahead of Kisumi, waited hesitantly, and spoke without turning to him.

“I’m free tomorrow night.”

With that, Haru continued on his way to the wing his morning class took place in. Left behind, Kisumi grinned to himself.

“Yes!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Haru walked down the steps of his apartment building the next day, Kisumi was already waiting for him. Haru was relieved to see Kisumi was wearing casual clothes, just like he was. It would have been even more awkward if Kisumi had decided to make this a fancy date.

Haru looked even less enthusiastic than usual. “If I do this, will you leave me alone?”

“Of course!” On the other hand, Kisumi looked happier than ever.

Still, Haru could not believe he was truly doing this. He was really going on a date with Kisumi. He’d never even gone on a date before, why did it have to be with someone as unpleasant as that guy?

It wasn’t about Rin though. Rin had nothing to do with it. Haru was only doing it so Kisumi would finally leave him alone and move on to his next conquest. Right, it wasn’t about Rin, or about Rin and Kisumi going on a date and possibly kissing. Rin could kiss whoever he wanted, Haru didn’t care. It was absolutely not about Rin.

“Haru? Are you listening to me?” Kisumi asked with a touch of concern. “You’re spacing out. I said is there a restaurant in particular you’d like to go?”

Haru woke up from his thoughts at the sound of Kisumi’s frustrating voice and focused on the orange evening sky. “Not really.”

“I’m buying, so don’t hold back! Anything is fine!” Kisumi gave a charming smile but Haru remained unaffected.

“There’s no place I want to go in particular.”

“Um, you’re a bit boring, aren’t you. Well, that’s Haru for you I guess.” Haru scowled while Kisumi ignored it. “Say, do you want to hold hands?”

Haru gave a dark look to the hand extended to him. “Don’t push your luck.”

“Yep, definitely boring,” Kisumi joked, but did not push the matter.

Kisumi brought his ‘date’ to a semi-casual seafood restaurant. The dim lights inside reflected on the scales of the many fish swimming in various aquariums lining the walls all around the inside of the restaurant. Kisumi smiled to himself at the childlike awe Haru tried to hide as he watched the fish in the water.

“How many?” a waiter asked when Kisumi walked up to the reception.

Kisumi moved an arm around Haru’s waist “Two, please.”

The waiter asked the ‘couple’ to follow and Haru immediately removed the arm.

“I was just letting the waiter know you were with me, that’s all!” Kisumi explained, but Haru clicked his tongue.

“Don’t touch me.”

Kisumi gave a weak, tired laugh. This was going to be more difficult than anticipated.

Once seated, Kisumi eagerly eyed the menu. “Feel free to order whatever you want, my treat!”

Haru read over the the menu with little interest. Half of him wanted to order a bunch of the most expensive things to make Kisumi regret taking him out, while the other half wanted something small so this dinner would finish quicker. Then, his eyes sparkled when he found all the mackerel dishes.

Chargrilled Mackerel with Sweet & Sour Beetroot, Scandi Smoked Mackerel on Rye, Mediterranean Oven Roasted Spanish Mackerel, Korean Grilled Mackerel...

The list went on. Was he in heaven? Haru glanced at Kisumi over his menu, the other man looking his way expectantly. No, this was still hell, but hell with a good food, at least.

Kisumi went for smoked salmon and Haru for the Mediterranean mackerel. Kisumi chuckled to himself after Haru made his order.

“Always with the mackerel! You haven’t changed since middle school.”

Haru turned to the side. “Neither have you…”

“Oh?” Kisumi leaned forward, a hand on his chin. “Is that a good or bad thing?”

Haru sat back against his chair. “Whichever…”

“Haru,” Kisumi sighed. “At least try to enjoy yourself. You’re making me feel like I took you here against your will!”

You kind of did...

Haru kept his comment to himself and instead stared at the aquarium near their table while Kisumi looked at his phone, finding it difficult to hold a conversation with the quiet man. He soon shoved the phone in Haru’s face.

“Look, it’s a picture of my and Rin’s meals from our date! I actually took him here too. He loved it.”

Haru was doubtful that Rin would enjoy a restaurant that much when it did not involve meat.

Only his blue eyes moved to look at the picture, leaving his head leaning in his palm. Behind the two seafood plates in the picture, part of someone’s shirt was showing. Haru internally cursed at his ability to recognize Rin’s clothes instantly from just this small glimpse. Worse than that, it meant Kisumi was telling the truth about taking Rin here.

Haru said nothing and turned back to the fish. Much to his relief, their food arrived not much after. Kisumi dug in happily while Haru inspected every aspect of the mackerel, like an artist observing someone else’s painting. Finally, he took a bite.

“How is it?” Kisumi smiled.

“The one I make is better…”

Kisumi moved his chopsticks in Haru’s direction. “Want to try mine?”

“No.” Haru ignored the piece of salmon in his face and kept on eating his own foodl.

“Oh come on! You used to taste my food all the time when we were in middle school, remember?”

“That’s…” Haru hid a blush. “That was a long time ago…”

“Then humor me a little! Please?” Kisumi pleaded, still pushing his chopstick towards his friend. “Here, ‘Aaaa’!”

“No.”

“Please! I want your opinion on this salmon!”

Haru was embarrassed, but if Kisumi didn’t sit down soon, everyone in the restaurant would be staring at them. He figured giving Kisumi what he wanted was preferable. The shy man slowly leaned towards Kisumi’s offering and took the the salmon in his mouth before quickly backing off.

“It’s average,” he said as he averted his eyes.

Kisumi laughed and the rest of the meal went by with only bits of one-sided casual chatter. When they finally left the building, the sun had almost completely disappeared from the sky.

“Thanks,” Haru said quietly. He had not wanted to come but he couldn’t be ungrateful to someone paying the bill.

“You’re quite welcome!”

Kisumi was smiling. Again. It’s as if happiness never left the man. Even when Haru treated him coldly, he never stopped being kind and gentle. Evenwhen they changed schools, Kisumi still kept in touch with Haru and Makoto and all his other friends. Was he really so bad?

Haru found himself studying Kisumi in silence as Kisumi lead him to their next destination. His hair resembled the faint pink line of light still visible at the horizon as they walked towards the park and his eyes glowed like the slowly darkening evening sky. His tall stature was perfect for the basketball he loved. While, muscle-wise, he did not compare to the swimming team, somehow the lean body fit Kisumi’s charming disposition.

Too bad these qualities were lost on a man who only saw dating as a game and people as numbers.

“Hey Haru, I don’t suppose you want to hold hands?” Kisumi asked in a sweet voice for the second time that day.

“No.”

“Figured as much,” he chuckled lightly before turning towards the trees in the dim evening light. “This is where I took Rin. The sakura are not blooming for us, unfortunately, but they’re still nice, don’t you think?”

Haru looked up. To him, the full green-leafed trees looked no different than any other tree in the summer. Nonetheless, the sakura trees reminded him of Rin. He felt a pinch in his heart at the thought of Rin sharing the sakura blossoms with Kisumi. With someone else. Had Rin agreed to hold Kisumi’s hand then? Somehow, Haru could not imagine that he would, but then again, Rin did enjoy stupid romantic things like this and Kisumi was very good at having his way with people.

“Haru.”

Haru focused back on Kisumi at the sound of his name and found himself standing under a large tree, its trunk wider than his shoulders. Streetlights were slowly turning on and few other people in the park were walking, minding their own business. The taller man was looking straight at him and the intense look in his eyes made Haru’s heart beat faster, in an unpleasant way.

“You know, there’s something really attractive about you.” Seductive, yet determined, Kisumi’s eyes were pinned on Haru’s as he placed both his arms on either side of Haru’s head. Growing uncomfortably trapped with his back against the tree, Haru held his gaze, refusing to show any weakness. “Yeah, that. That look of yours. You have the eyes of a dead fish most of the time but once in a while, there’s a really beautiful wild spark in them. Like now.”

Kisumi was much too close. Haru knew he could get him to back off at any time if needed, yet he wanted to challenge him and see just how far Kisumi could truly go. Did Kisumi really have what it takes to kiss Rin?

“Physically, you’re very handsome,” the taller man continued with an alluring expression, tracing a finger along Haru’s jaw. Haru narrowed his eyes and Kisumi’s face softened. “But more than that, you’re a strong spirit. You do whatever you want, you don’t depend on anyone and you don’t care what others say. You’re free.” Kisumi’s smile faltered a little and his eyes turned melancholic. “Me, I’m so scared of people abandoning me that I fake smiles and use charm to get them to like me. The more I can fool, the better. I keep a large following because I figure if one leaves me, I still got 10 more, you know?”

Haru’s eyes widened a little at the sudden revelation. “Kisumi…”

“I collect girlfriends. Or boyfriends. Doesn’t matter what they are as long as they’re into me. And once they discover I’m not that great and leave, I just move on to the next one. I’ve slept with too many of them just to get them to stay with me but in the end it never works for long.” The man gave a weak chuckle. “Even the guys from the basketball team leave me. I have to continuously try to recruit more members to replace those who quit. All the time. I’m pathetic.”

Sure, Kisumi’s tendency to hit on his teammates in the changing room or steal their girlfriends played a large part in their leaving, but Haru still somehow felt sorry for him. Kisumi was revealing himself as a lonely man who chose a very wrong way of dealing with his fear of solitude.

“And you, Haru,” Kisumi added. “I want to be like you. Free. And independant. You don’t chase after other people’s validation. You just do your own thing and follow your own values. You’re the only person who has ever resisted me this much.” The man lowered his face closer to Haru’s and in a lower voice he whispered, “The more you deny me, the more I want you.”

Haru did not move. The two of them were similar in that they aspired to be like the other and faked certain parts of their personalities, but Kisumi was different in that he took it too far, he didn’t know where to stop and was suffering because of it.

Haru spoke in a firm, but gentle voice. “Is this really what you want?”

Kisumi frowned for the first time during this date. “Yes.” Was he trying to convince Haru or himself?

Kisumi’s mouth was reaching for the other man’s now, his arms continuing to keep Haru pinned against the tree.

Haru still stood his ground even when Kisumi’s lips were on the verge of touching his. “Really?”

Kisumi paused, Haru could feel his uneven breath. He waited, as if searching for an answer, the firm look on Haru’s face never faltering. Finally, he sighed and pulled away, releasing Haru.

“I just can’t win against you, can I?”

Haru shook his head. “It’s not about winning. You shouldn’t be wasting these kinds of things on just anybody.”

Kisumi laughed, moving a hand through his hair. “You really are alike.” Seeing Haru’s confusion, he added, “Rin. He said the same thing.”

“Rin did?”

“Yeah, I tried to kiss him too,” Kisumi said as he now leaned his back against the tree. Haru listened intently. “He stopped me, but instead of being angry, he smiled at me and he said, ‘You should save it for the right person. Keep it for when you mean it.’”

Kisumi smiled at the visible relief on Haru’s face. His friend was so easy to read. Suddenly, he leaned towards Haru and left a quick peck on his cheek. Haru held a hand to his cheek, his face changing to annoyance.

“I’m not cruel enough to steal your first real kiss from you!”

Kisumi’s regular smiled returned, and so did Haru’s moody attitude.

“Who said I never had my first real kiss...”

Kisumi laughed. “Oh I can tell! Don’t worry, that person hasn’t either.”

“Who...”

“You know who!”

Haru turned his flushed face to the side. “I don’t know what you’re talking about…”

His expression turning more serious, Kisumi looked up at the first stars appearing in the sky. “You were my biggest challenge yet. I promised myself I would stop fooling around if I managed to land one kiss on you. This counts, right?” He poked Haru’s flustered cheek where his lips had touched just moments earlier with his finger and Haru dismissed his arm.

“As long as you stop bothering me now.” Haru watched his friend turn back to the stars and felt the sadness behind Kisumi’s smile. A lonesome boy stood in front of him.

“You’re not alone. If we had wanted to leave you behind, we would have done so the first time you opened your mouth. Makoto, Rin, and me, too, we’re all staying here with you. You don’t need to seek the affection of strangers, you’ve got real friends right here. So stop acting like an idiot.”

Kisumi’s eyes glistened in the silent moonlight and the wind softly blew through his hair. It was the first time he has seen Haru smiled at him, and nothing else.

His arm snaked its way around his friend’s shoulders. Haru made no effort to escape. “Does that mean you’ll join the basketball team?”

“No.”

Kisumi’s laughter in reply had never been this clear and genuine. His eyes sparkled with newfound joy and his smile was finally real.

“Thank you, Haru.”

Chapter Text

Subject: Haruka Nanase
Date of birth: June 30th, 19xx
Blood type: A
Height: 175cm
Weight: Approximately 63kg
Grade: Second year at Iwatobi High School
Family: Father and mother, no known sibling
Personality: Quiet, kind, smart, introvert
Likes: Water, swimming, mackerel
Dislikes: Lack of water, troublesome things
Talents: Free, art, cooking
Appearance: Beautiful. Very beautiful. Why is he this beautiful? The shine of his deep blue eyes and the grace he displays when swimming is simply--

Rei shakes the blush from his face. He is getting side-tracked. His mental notebook of Haruka-senpai facts is slowly getting filled with brand new information each day. There is so much to learn. Haruka is such a fascinating subject, intriguing and captivating.

It has been a few months since Rei joined the swimming club at Iwatobi High School. He remembers fondly the gentle tone of Haruka’s voice and his soft touch when he first tried to teach Rei how to swim free. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, Rei has been unable to learn it. The thought saddened him at the time, but at least he was able to learn one swimming style that allows him to swim with Haruka.

Rei’s chest fills with pride as he remembers Haruka’s praise for his butterfly.

“You’ve done well.”

These simple words warmed Rei’s heart. Haruka is the reason Rei decided to join the swimming club in the first place. He has never known swimming could be such a beautiful sport before he sees Haruka’s body accepted by the water, unlike anyone or anything Rei has ever seen. Haruka is beautifully one with the water, truly free.

Rei wants to be this beautiful too, he wants other to be in awe watching him swim just like they are when watching his senpai. He wants to be free. He wants to be like Haruka.

Lately, Rei also finds himself thinking he also wants to be with Haruka.

Rei knows that what he feels for Haruka has slowly changed from admiration to something more. Everyone agrees that Haruka’s swimming is beautiful, but Rei also finds that his senpai’s body itself is aesthetically pleasing, in or out of the water. The blue of Haruka’s eyes, the cut of of his shoulders, his lean torso, his strong hands, even the sound of his voice–Rei is taking notes of all of them.

Rei shakes his head as he ponders his emotions. It’s not just his body. Haruka has trouble voicing his thoughts and seems to shy away from social interactions, but Rei knows that he is also kind, understanding, patient, talented and smart. Haruka cares deeply for his friends and Rei just loves studying him and his behaviors, his love only growing each time he discovers something new.

Rei envies Makoto-senpai.

Makoto grew up with Haruka. He knows practically everything about his best friend. Makoto knows and understands how Haruka feels, even pushing him into social situations, refusing to let Haruka stay alone and miss out on the fun. Rei would like to be able to be there for Haruka in the same way Makoto can.

Rei envies Nagisa-kun, too.

Nagisa has also known Haruka for a long time, and unlike Rei who remains modest and reserved, Nagisa has no trouble jumping on Haruka and latching onto him, calling him Haru-chan on top of that. Haruka who isn’t a fan of being touched or the chan suffix lets Nagisa do these things. Rei would like to be able to get close to Haruka as Nagisa can.

And, Rei hates to admit it, but he envies Rin-san too.

Whether it’s positive or negative, Rin is always on Haruka’s mind and Rei is not sure why. Yet, Rei would like to be on Haruka’s mind too.

One evening after practice, Rei visits the public library. Making sure no one is around, he takes a few books home.

Understanding and courting Introverts, The Science of Love, 10 Best Ways to Confess, Dating for Beginners, and even, Dealing with your Homosexuality.

He has learned the theory, studied all the different ways love affects the brain, memorized the best lines to say, did image training, imagined all possible scenarios, rehearsed his words. He’s ready.

Rei wants to confess his feelings to Haruka-senpai.

He thinks about asking Makoto-senpai’s opinion, he knows Haruka-senpai best, after all. Yet, Rei can already imagine his senpai’s response. “I’m not sure if Haru likes somebody or not. He doesn’t really talk about these things with me. You’ll have to ask him to know for sure.”

Rei can’t tell Nagisa either. He can already hear his friend’s loud voice ringing through the classroom. “Rei-chan is in love with Haru-chan!? Really!? I’ll be your wingman! I’ll go talk to him right now!” It’s best if Rei keeps it a secret to avoid a disaster.

According to his calculations, Haruka and him are 76% compatible. Rei estimates the chances that Haruka will say yes to be between 37% and 45%. These are small odds but Rei is optimistic. Why, Rei would make an ideal partner. He is intelligent, studious, proper and would never forget things like birthdays and anniversaries. Yes, perhaps he should mark up his chances to 63%.

One afternoon after school, Rei asks Haruka if they can talk when practice is over. Haruka is confused about what this could be about and why it has to wait until after practice, but he agrees. Does Rei want more advice about swimming?

Rei is nervous during practice. Everyone notices, but Rei laughs it off, saying it’s nothing. Makoto and Nagisa go on ahead at Rei’s request, leaving the other two behind. Rei is in the changing room with Haruka who is finishing buttoning up his shirt. His senpai remains silent, waiting for Rei to discuss whatever it is he wants to talk about. The kouhai gathers his courage.

“Haruka-senpai…” he begins with an unsteady voice. “There is something I’d like to talk about.”

Haruka stares back at him, his natural neutral face showing no particular expression. “What is it?”

“Um, thank you for always helping me and teaching me about swimming!” Rei blurts out, louder than he intended.

Haruka blinks. “It’s fine.” Is that all? Why was it necessary to stay after practice for this?

“But that is not all I wanted to say!” Rei’s voice cracks with nervousness and Haruka watches expectedly. “Haruka-senpai...I...You are always so gentle with me, you accepted me, a stranger, into the team despite how I did not know how to swim. You and the others taught me and encouraged me...”

Rei’s eyes turn down at the floor, too embarrassed when he feels his cheeks heating up to hold his senpai’s gaze. Haruka continues to watch his younger friend, looking impassible and wondering why Rei is such a mess right now. The nervous boy clenches his fist, remembering the speech he rehearsed all week.

“You look so beautiful when you swim and I have so much admiration for you and I have not known you for that long but everyday spent with you is a happy one. I would like to be closer to you.”

Haruka still stands in silence, unsure what is happening. Rei is acting strange. Stranger than usual.

“Haruka-senpai, I…” Rei suddenly bows his head strongly to the other man. “I love you!!”

Haruka’s mouth slightly opens, his eyes widening. He does not know what he should do or say. Did he understand correctly? Rei...is in love with him? It’s his first confession and he’s taken aback. Part of him wants to escape this awkward situation, yet a faint blush appears on his face.

Rei can’t tell what kind of expression Haruka his making, his body still bent in a bow. He’s too scared to look up. What is his senpai thinking right now? What answer is he going to give?

“Rei…”

The shaky man slowly rises back up and dares to look at Haruka. He’s not sure if he’s relieved or worried that Haruka is staring back with his normal blank look.

“Really?” The older man’s tone is calm and it’s unclear if the question stems from disbelief or not.

Rei’s eyes are serious. “Yes.” He could never joke about something so important.

Haruka looks to the side and keeps silent for a moment, a moment that feels like an eternity. Finally, he speaks and Rei’s heart skips a beat.

“Thank you.”

Rei shows a weak, hopeful smile.

“But…”

The smile disappears.

“I can’t return your feelings. Sorry.”

A lump is stuck in Rei’s throat. He’s speechless. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. He has to save face. Rei manages to swallow and places his hands on his hips. The laugh that follows is dry and fake.

“Why, of course you can’t! We’re all busy preparing for the tournament after all! Please do not worry about it, I was just mentioning it! It’s no big deal!”

“Rei…” Even Haruka with his poor social skills can tell his friend was pretending.

“It’s okay! We both do not have time for silly things like these!” Rei’s smile is huge and it is the least genuine thing Haruka has ever seen. “Sorry to have bothered you. Please forget about it! It was just a passing thought!”

“Rei…” Haruka does not know what else to say. He is no good with words and secretly his heart is beating fast despite his inexpressive face. He wants to run away.

“I think I forgot something in the classroom,” Rei lies in a weaker voice now. “Please go on ahead. See you tomorrow.”

“Understood.” Rei offers him an opening and he takes it.

Rei watches Haruka’s back disappear through the door and feels pain to his stomach. He read tons of books, studied the theory thoroughly, researched all the small details about relationships and in the end it has been for nothing. Haruka-senpai was supposed to say yes, Rei was so sure of it. Logically speaking, they are perfect for one another! And yet…

Rei decides that he hates the concept of love. Love is irrational and incoherent. It does not abide by any rules and people can’t control it or predict it. Science can explain the way it works in a person’s brain but no one can explain a person’s heart. Rei dislikes things that are illogical.

But still Rei loves Haruka so much it hurts.

The next day, Rei is absent. Haruka says nothing to anyone. Worried, Nagisa comes to visit after school when his friend fails to reply to any of his texts. At the door, Rei’s mother replies that her son is sick and does not want to see anyone.

The following morning, Rei is back at school, laughing and smiling as he would any other day. Nagisa is satisfied and does not ask further questions. At the pool after school, Makoto commends Rei on his enthusiasm and motivation for practice and Rei laughs proudly when Gou announces he has beaten his own time.

Rei hopes that the way Haruka acts with him will not be affected by his confession, but thankfully nothing changed. Haruka does ask him if he’s okay, and Rei responds positively with a smile and Haruka decides not to push the matter. He never brings it up again and Rei thinks this is probably a good thing.

Rei watches the following weeks unfold like a soap opera. It feels like a brand new story arc has started.

Rei barely knows who Rin is, all he knows is that Makoto and Nagisa go on about him all the time and the usually calm and collected Haruka completely changes when Rin is around. Everywhere they go, somehow Rin and his crew also show up. Rin’s name is on everyone’s lips every day and Rei is becoming annoyed.

Why do they all care so much about this Rin person? Rei understands he is a former friend and teammate but currently Rin is being unpleasant to Rei’s team and Haruka in particular is suffering because of him. Rei is increasingly frustrated with the way everything around him seems to revolve around this irritating man.

Is he jealous of Rin? Maybe. There is sometimes a fond look in Haruka’s eyes when he’s speaking about Rin. More than that though, he is deeply concerned for Haruka who is now closing himself off to others because of the pain Rin causes him and it is so difficult to watch Haruka deteriorate like this.

Rei confronts Rin once. The older man is rude, rough and evasive. Even though he is usually polite and collected, Rei loses his cool. What does Rin want? What will it take to satisfy Rin and have him stop tormenting Rei’s friends? What is Haruka-senpai to Rin?

Rei confronts Rin twice. This time it is Rin who seeks him out, during the night, before the regional tournament, the most important tournament to both of them up to now. The older man has mellowed down somewhat since their last meeting and shares some important information about his and Haruka’s past. Rei sees Rin in a better light now but still cannot bring himself to forgive him for the damage done.

And that day arrives at last. The day where Rei will swim in the relay at the regional tournament with his friends, with Haruka. Their team–Haruka’s new team with Rei instead of Rin–will be going against Samezuka’s relay team and hopefully win, and finally they can all put this Rin stuff behind them and move on.

This is your place. You’ve worked hard for this. You deserve this. Finally you can swim the relay in the regional tournament with Haruka-senpai. This is what you’ve been dreaming about. Now you get to race Rin’s team and show him what this current team is capable of.

This relay race is so important to Rei. He can’t be with Haruka in a romantic context, that much he understands, but he can be with him in the pool as a teammate. He is so happy that the butterfly swimmer goes directly before the free and that means he gets to send off Haruka-senpai for the last leg, watching him dive beautifully above his head.

Yes, Rei is going to swim in the medley relay with Haruka-senpai and the others, as one of the team members of the Iwatobi High School swimming club.


It doesn’t go according to plan.

Haruka looks mortified as Rin struggles to get out of the pool. It’s painful to watch even for Rei. Haruka runs and the others follow. Rin is screaming. A garbage can comes flying.

Suddenly there is so much despair on Haruka’s face that Rei thinks his heart is going to burst as he watches his senpai sink to the floor and bury his head into his arms. The Haruka who is always so strong and unaffected has lost all strength and is now completely silent, eyes glistening. Even Makoto and Nagisa are not sure what to do. If no one acts soon, both Haruka and Rin will be lost forever.

“Everyone, there is something I’d like to tell you.”

Stop.

“Haruka-senpai is not the reason Rin-san said he would quit swimming in middle school.”

What are you saying?

“Rin-san said that when he was abroad, he hit a wall and got discouraged and…”

Why are you telling them this?

“But when he met with Haruka-senpai again and swam with him, his love for swimming was revived again.”

If you tell them nothing, you won’t have to worry about Rin interfering again. Stop talking.

“Rin-san really wants to swim in a relay with all of you again. Seeing our relay at the prefectural tournament reminded him how much he loves relays.”

Why? Why did you tell them?

Haruka gets up. “How do you know this?”

Because I love Haruka-senpai.

“I feel the same way he does. Because I also want to swim in the relay with you guys. At this rate Rin-san might quit swimming for real.” Rei looks fondly at Haruka. “There is someone you want to swim with, right?”

There is no hesitation in Haruka’s eyes or voice. “I want to swim with Rin.” And Rei hurts a little.

“But what can we do?” Makoto asks.

Don’t say it.

“There’s only one thing to do, isn’t there.”

Don’t say it.

“Rei,” Haruka asks, both concern and hope glowing in his eyes. “Are you sure about this?”

Is he sure? From the moment he met him, Rin has been unpleasant, a jerk who casts everyone away and can’t be honest with the people around him. Why should Rei give up the spot he dreamed about to someone like that?

Rei can’t understand why his friends have not given up. They all continue to hope Rin will come back to them regardless of everything. He has brought Haruka-senpai nothing but pain and yet Haruka is unable to let him go. Haruka wants, no, needs Rin back.

If Haruka-senpai won’t let Rin go despite all this, neither will Rei. If Haruka-senpai will continue to believe in Rin, then Rei will believe in the Haruka who believes in Rin. Haruka wants to swim with Rin more than anything else, that much is clear. And it’s not just him, Makoto and Nagisa too.

Rei feels a pang in his chest at the thought of what comes next, but the hurt from watching Haruka lose himself to despair is much more painful. He knows what he has to do. Not for Rin’s sake, but for Haruka and the others.

Rei has decided.

“Yes. I will let Rin-san have my spot in the relay.”

There isn’t much time. The group disperses and calls out Rin’s name around the neighborhood. He can’t have gone far. Rei runs with renewed determination. They will find him.

And they do. Beneath a large beautiful tree, Haruka extends his hand to Rin and Rin takes it, and Rei smiles. It has to be this way.

They hurry back to the tournament and the swimmers change into their bathing suit as quickly as possible. Rei accompanies his friends down the hall to the pool. Haruka, Makoto and Nagisa run to give their attendance just in time, Rin is about to join them but stops. His face is serious when he turns to Rei.

“Thank you. For this. For everything.”

Rei’s lips part slightly and he feels his cheeks heating up. He can tell Rin is on the verge of crying, it’s very obvious by the shaking lip and watery eyes. He then realizes that he has misjudged Rin all along. Rin truly cares about his friends. About Haruka. Perhaps even more than Rei does.

Rei nods. “Please show me the best relay.”

And Rin does. Rei cheers as loud as he can as each of his friends dive in one by one and he holds back tears as he watches the four of them hug and cry at the end. Rei does not doubt that he made the correct decision.

“You guys are truly beautiful.”

He runs to his friends’ side to congratulate them and this time Haruka extends his hand to him.

“You have to be in the picture. You’re part of this team too.”

Haruka’s hand is as warm as Rei’s smile and the five of them pose happily for their victory picture.

They are disqualified. They are scolded. But not one of them feels sad.

The others have gone ahead, Rei and Haruka are left behind.

“Rei,” Haruka’s calm voice says. “Thank you. Rin was saved thanks to you, and you saved me, too.”

The light from the sunset shines on Haruka’s face and Rei cannot help a blush. This happy, relieved Haruka is truly beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful yet. Yet Rei does not feel like a savior. All he did was bring two lost friends back together.

“I just did what I had to…”

“We’ll definitely be back next year.” The determination in Haruka’s voice makes Rei believe him. “And this time, I want you to be by our side. You are our precious teammate.”

Rei feels like crying but he doesn’t, for Haruka’s sake. Instead, he places his hands on his hips and pushes his chest out proudly. “Of course! I won’t allow you guys to go without me! I’m not being left behind anymore! You need me, after all!” He gives an exaggerated laugh.

Then, Rei softens and looks quietly at the man he loves before he whispers, “Can I stay with you until then?”

All of Haruka-senpai’s rare smiles are wonderful but this one is the most beautiful Rei has ever seen.

“Yeah. Until then and beyond that, as long as you want.”