Two seconds. That was all it took to lose focus.
Before those two seconds faded past him, Kakeru was receiving yet another lecture by his senpai. How important it was for everyone to relax once in a while. To have a day off sometimes and not think about running.
Well, Haiji had giggled, snickered practically, and saved himself the surprised look by Kakeru when he explained that they could think about running, that was sufficiently allowed. His laugh had reached Kakeru, and the sound of it had him smiling, knowing that from the bottom of his heart, he’d never be able to stop thinking about running. 'Cause when running was everything, everything became running.
But, for Haiji, for one evening alone, he’ll stop thinking about running.
Then, the next two seconds happened in slow motion. In reality, it didn’t happen in slow-motion because before his dark eyes could register Haiji’s fallen body, the loud clang of the wok-pan had ingrained in his ears by splitting his drums, and then his eyes had finally landed on the fallen body.
The fallen body that belonged to Haiji.
Kakeru had raced to close the space between him and Haiji’s unconscious state, falling down to his knees, repeating his name over and over again in a pleading voice, hoping beyond all the hope he could find in this universe, that nothing bad had happened to his senpai.
Within another two seconds, everyone had raced to the kitchen, too. For two seconds, Kakeru didn’t think about running. All he thought about was his senpai.
“Will he be okay?” Their coach asked the doctor who was checking Haiji’s pulse.
He was resting soundly on a futon, his face calm, body lax. Kakeru stared at his senpai's chest as it rose slowly up, then down, then up again. At the sight of him, Kakeru's heart had decided to pick up its pace, racing fast like it wanted to reach the end of the lane so that he could be told what was wrong with him.
Kakeru’s heart usually raced this fast when he ran. There was no other reason for his heart to kickstart like this. No other reason than running. Until now.
Those two seconds scared him. He thought running in Hakone will be be scary. Mostly because he knew how challenging it was going to be. With these nine other men living under the Aotake apartment, and not one of them hardly having any running experience. Seriously, he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at times when he thought about how terrifying going up against the Hakone Ekiden will be for them.
He had just started learning to tolerate the guys. He had just started tolerating Haiji. Tolerating the way he was so persistent. How nosy and pushy he could be, specially on Kakeru, like he was his target. Tolerate those long, long lectures of the importance of this and the justifications of that.
Tiring, all of it, really. All of him. But right here, right now, still staring hard at his chest rising soundly up and down; his heart kept at that unhealthy racing pace, and will keep at it until his senpai felt well again.
“He’s just overworked.” The doctor informed as if it were no big a deal.
“Hah!?” Everyone standing by the door screeched in unison with a surprised questioning tone.
The doctor just nodded, a lilted tug at his lips. His eyes glided over to Kakeru, he was placed closest in the room besides coach. Or maybe he had felt the loud thunder of his rapid pounding heart quaking through the floorboards of the apartment. Anywho, his lilting smile went soft as they met eyes.
“He’s going to be fine. All he needs is a day or two in bed. He needs to rest.”
Kakeru took in the doctor’s words like they were written down as a prescription, and nodded his affirmative. He read him loud and clear. Rest. That was all their senpai needed. Rest.
His face fell when the doctor trudged along, leaving the Aotake apartment with a polite farewell by their coach.
Pitters of rain echoed inside the apartment for two seconds when the doctor was led out. They weren’t going running tonight. That was the whole reason Haiji was making this special dinner, because they weren’t going to think about running tonight.
But all Kakeru could think about in that moment, once the sound of the pittering rain had reached his eardrums, was running. He wanted to run. He needed to run. To run, run, run. Run from all the troubles residing in his continuously fast beating heart. To run from the pained sight of staring at his exhausted senpai. To run away from the fact that he was too stubborn to take into consideration that maybe, maybe Haiji had been working too much, and thought too much about everyone’s health before even he thought about his own health first.
A quick flash of Haiji’s scar sent a pang of guilt in Kakeru’s chest. Even when Haiji knew that the pain in his knee would stop him from running one day, he proceeded forward. With that dopey smile plastered on his dopey face. Drinking up the evenings with his Sapporo beer, like he had no care in the world, when all the care he had bottled up was instead reserved for his teammates, none of it for himself.
Kakeru remained by Haiji’s side for the next two days. Sitting close to his futon, checking up on him from time to time whenever he woke up and tried to escape his room. Kakeru would be there and stop him, tell him to lie back down and get better. Explain that the doctor said he needed rest. Haiji would pout for two seconds then, his sweet temporary childish act lingering on Kakeru, then let it glide into a warm smile of understanding.
Each time it happened, Haiji escaping into the wild, Kakeru fell into a familiar form of lecturing his senpai then. That he had to get better for his own being. Not to go back at nursing the team, not yet. The team could take care of themselves without Haiji, at least for the next two days. To which Haiji took by a pinch of salt, agreeing, almost, to Kakeru’s true words.
Kakeru was sitting close to Haiji on the second day. Evening. It was evening now, and everyone had gone out for a run. Except for Kakeru, surprisingly. But not really, he had gone on a solo run earlier today while he made the twins look after Haiji. They had made him ochazuke. Because that was all they knew how to make. Oh, and pasta. They would all, the whole entire team, including Hana-chan, would drown in pasta for the next three days now.
It was quiet in the room. Haiji was sleeping when Kakeru came in, taking his usual spot at the head of the futon, sitting right next to Haiji's face. Cicadas were chirping from the open window, allowing a slight breeze fan the room.
Kakeru stared at his senpai. He had studied that face many times these past few days, and every time, his mind began to wander, thinking things. Things Kakeru hadn’t known were thinkable. Quite, doubtful thoughts, although, somewhat pleasing the more he thought about them. Lingered on them. Until his body reacted against him in an unsuspected burning manner that had him wishing for a cold shower in the moment of his derailment of thoughts.
Pulled out of said train of thought, there was a tired groan reverberating from his senpai. He had insisted on wearing his green robe as a deal for not feeding or lecturing the guys the past two days. Kakeru went along with the deal, but he did need to wash it soon.
Because it stank, his green robe. Luckily for him, Kakeru had easily gotten used to the smell. He had asked Haji if he could wash it though, but the man-child refused, curling all up into it like an infant on his futon, pretending like it had become his second skin.
‘You’ll never get it off me now, Kakeru!’ He had cackled at him childishly, which got Kakeru all fired up on the inside, but, to his greatest demise, the fire in his chest had to spread forth all over his pale complexion.
Haiji had been drunk on cough medicine at the time Kakeru tried to pull his robe off, and things..well they had escalated to hands going places that had never gone before. And to Kakeru’s utmost surprise, Haiji continued his daring little scheme when they wrestled for his green robe drenched in sleepy sweat.
It had all happened so fast. In one moment, Kakeru was lecturing Haiji again, explaining how his stupid green robe was stinking up his entire bedroom and that he could live without wearing it for a couple hours. Then, the green bastard smirked devilishly at Kakeru and grabbed at the collar of his t-shirt and pulled him on top of him uttering over and over again, ‘then try and take it off me, you fiend!’
To be frank, the poor bastard was jacked up on cough medicine, and he had fallen into a dreamless oblivion the moment Kakeru’s body landed on top of his senpai. Which he thanked all the deities in every realm that Haiji didn’t catch upon Kakeru’s hardened state when his body had rubbed against his senpai unwillingly.
He didn’t know what hit him. Once his body made contact with his senpai, taking in the solid ridges of his stomach under his sweaty attire, feeling it rub against Kakeru’s front, he didn’t know what was left or right; his sight had gone hazy and the cicadas seemed to have chirped louder, banging their echoing sounds everywhere in his head.
Haiji did things to Kakeru, things to which his mind wandered a path he never allowed his mind tread. Alas, he had no choice except walk along that path and look into it.
Now, Kakeru came back into Haiji’s room. He flung the clean, soft green robe on top of Haiji’s resting body. Kakeru smiled. He liked Haji like this. Asleep. Calm, resting, healing. He also liked Haiji when he was awake, as long as he didn’t pester on Kakeru, but he knew there wouldn’t go day without him pestering on him though. So, he’ll let that slide, and look forward to his ongoing picks and nags at his friend.
“Ne, Kakeru?” Kakeru peered down, Haiji had woken up, smiling a tired grin. It was that shit-eating grin that always got Kakeru balanced on his toes, wonderering if the universe was tilted on its axis while Haiji presented him that blissful, sweet smile.
He sat down next to Haiji’s resting head, crossing his feet, hands firmly planted on his knees. “Yeah?”
As the universe still held onto its tilted state, Kakeru sensed something from his senpai. The way he was staring at him now. Sober, rested, looking glowing and healthy as his brown; deep dark brown eyes dug into his dark blue ones, like they were looking for a path, an access of some sort to wander along with Kakeru.
“Nothing..” Haiji teased, but the strain in his voice was telling Kakeru otherwise.
He wasn’t going to let Haiji keep what he wanted to bottled up. So with that Kakeru dared a hand on his senpai’s chest, but rested it on top of the green robe which was laying in a heap on top of his chest. The only thing keeping his bare hand on his senpai’s chest from meeting.
“Stop lying, it wasn’t nothing. You can tell me what’s on your mind, senpai. We’re teammates, no?” Kakeru said with a slight lift in his voice, the points of his lips going up when Haiji’s own lips lifted in reflection.
Haiji started shuffling around, gathering the green robe that rested on his chest, bringing the clean material up to his nose, taking a long whiff of lavender fabric softener, “You’re right, it really did stink, this is heaven compared to before it was washed, thank you Kakeru.”
“Senpai, you’re changing the subject. Tell me what was on your mind.”
“You really want to know?”
His voice had gone stern. That calm, collective state he usually displayed gone within a second. A blink of an eye. All Kakeru could do was keep in place, feel glued to the floor, pinned by the blazing heat spriling in those dark brown eyes. His chest bloomed a wildfire, spreading everywhere in his body. Down to the tips of his toes, shooting to the tops of his ears. If he hadn’t blushed earlier, he was definitely blushing now. All because of the sound of his senpai’s voice. How it reached him, caught him off guard, made him want to do anything for him.
“Please.” Kakeru answered. His own eyes pinning his senpai, allowing their stare to linger before things escalated.
And by escalated, Haiji stroked a daring hand along Kakeru’s shoulder, sending jolts of electricity through his t-shirt. Such a simple gesture of contact, but all the static in the world vibrated a certain shock along the point Haiji touched.
“H-Haiji-san..” Kakeru stuttered his senpai’s name.
Haiji continued caressing Kakeru’s shoulder, a light inquisitive hum rolling out of him.
His touch was becoming too much for Kakeru’s heart to bear. Not only did he know why he decided to stay by his senpai’s side for the past two days, but with his gentle touch, Kakeru was on the brink of explosion.
Simplicity was usually key in Kakeru’s opinion. He liked when things were simple. Running, was a simple concept he could grasp. It was just one leg in front of the other. Keep your form, and find the correct pair of trainers that can help with balance, and with stability.
Having Haiji’s warm hand, caressing him just a minute ago, but now smoothing a path from the top of his shoulder bone and lightly sending flickers of heat along his neck. Kakeru wanted to jerk away from the wandering touch, but he remained bolted to the floor, taking in more and more of Haiji’s adventurous hand.
Finally, his hand landed on Kakeru’s cheek, placing it perfectly along the slope of soft searing skin, his jaw, cupping it like a piece of a puzzle sliding into the canvas without a second thought.
Kakeru swallowed. Effortlessly, but shaky all the same.
"Ha-Haiji?" Kakeru slid his dark eyes towards the thumb that was stroking along the bone of his cheek now, then slid them back meeting a pair of forrest brown orbs.
It was like the moon was reflecting off that forest, tempting him with it's alluring glow. "What was on my mind...was that I wanted to thank you.”
“Thank me?” Kakeru parroted into a question, his eyes never leaving Haiji’s.
His senpai was never one to falter on his decisions. Once he was set on something, he would go forth with it whether it was an impossible running route, or just a simple gesture of gratitude. But for some odd reason, this simple gesture of gratitude may imply something more than just simple.
“Properly. I would like to thank you properly, Kakeru. If you’ll let me?” Haiji's voice was stern, with a hint of a scratch from the back of his throat from being withdrawn to talk the past two days.
What did properly imply? Did it mean the same thing as when Kakeru’s mind would wander off onto that derailed path of thoughts about his senpai? If it were, then yes, a million times yes, he would allow him. Although, the cotton in his ears caused his rapid thunder of a beating heart deafen out the chirping cicadas, the sound of his senpai’s voice if it were to try and find its way into his ears.
Another swallow. Kakeru could feel his Adam's apple bobbing and Haiji's gaze following his every move sending ripples of static shock throughout his entire self.
He knew there had been something going on between them. There had to be, or else he wouldn't have obliged to look after him as precisioned as he was. Like checking his temperature, his hand resting gently on Haiji's forehead, then to let it linger for å beat longer than needed because the pleasing sound that left his senpai when his skin made contact was all he ever wanted in his life. Which to Haiji, Kakeru assumed, with those alluring eyes, they asked desperately for more of those lingering touches. Almost like he could see the blissful smile their glint reflected into him.
And so Kakeru had continued with them. Enjoying and looking forward to every time his hand got to rest on Haiji's skin. He drank it all up, touching Haiji, and it took over him like an obsession. He couldn't go an hour without having checked his fever, his overworked state.
But now, feeling the press of his senpai's hand still resting firmly on his own skin. The sudden question, one hard to decipher; but was it really that hard?
“Yes, Haji-san. You can thank me..I-” Kakeru felt speechless, at a loss for words in that moment. Almost like another two seconds would pass by in slow-motion and his obsession with running would be taken over by the obsession of his senpai. His face, his laugh, those dark brown eyes he loved staring into like it calmed a roaring hurricane, like it made him want to win the Ekiden even more now.
From his answer, Haiji smiled, spreading it along his face so fast while his other hand took possession of Kakeru's other cheek then leaned in closer. As Kakeru's heart beat faster and faster, Haiji closed the space between them and his lips slotted together with Kakeru’s.
Kakeru sighed into the press of Haiji's lips on him, struggling to keep himself grounded as the feel of kissing Haiji had him soaring. It had him running, and running and running. Faster than his legs would ever take him.
With a tug of his senpai’s lips, which were still lingered perfectly warm on top of his, Haiji smiled against him. Then kissed him once more. Chaste, like a cheeky peck. And Kakeru’s still running. He’s unable to slow down to a steady pace. Haiji had him unraveled. Relished by the affection he'd been given. The affection he'd been wanting for so long.
Kakeru had never been a guy of initiative unless it had to do with running, but since his heart had a been given a head start at the race, he might as well beat it to it by jumping in and grabbing the back of his senpai's neck to be relished again in more kisses.
Braving in a few more unadulterated kisses, Kakeru was stopped suddenly by a cheerful laugh erupting from his senpai, the rushing wave of happiness overwhelming him, "Ne, Kakeru…” Haiji cooed at him, his lips pressed perfectly on his skin, wandering a new path along his face. A kiss on his cheek, his chin, his brow now, then lastly once more on his lips, a taste of sleep cutting into his mouth when his tongue glazed over daringly, “Maybe, we shouldn’t overwork ourselves." Haiji then teased through their gasping breaths that were stealing for needed air.
Kakeru laughed at that, knowing full-well that that was a big lie coming from his senpai, but he’ll get him covered. He’s got experience now.
As he braved another kiss, falling down on the futon with his senpai, he teased back, his voice laced in affection and happiness, "Don't worry senpai, I'll be here to take care of you."
"Good, 'cause I'm betting on that."