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when rin leaves a while after the all-invitational and all the burdens of competition are behind them, haru finds that his flat starts feeling emptier. it’s not that rin, or him for the matter, spent a lot of their time together here, but the change is palpable. 

out of raw necessity, he starts inviting his other friends over. it either has no effect (makoto, ikuya, gou) or a detrimental one (asahi, nagisa, rei), which was to be expected. rin and him are, to put it plainly, different. it’s been a while since he had that figured out. 

it’s not the case of when haru came to the conclusion that rin and him are different, because he’s always had that somewhere in the back of his mind. rin wasn’t like his other friends, nor was he like his other rivals — rin was rin. there was no use for twelve year old haru to delve any deeper, because that’s about the emotional capacity he had at the time.

no, it’s when haru realised how rin and him are different, that’s what matters. 

it had been creeping up on him for a while now when it happened. it was the day he, nagisa and makoto stalked rei all the way to samezuka academy in his senior year of high school to find out what had been keeping him up after practice.

haru almost couldn’t believe it when he saw rin in the pool with rei, instructing him on something, whatever it was, that actually kept him afloat for more than five seconds. which, at the time, was a breakthrough. from the distance he could see rin grinning at rei, praising him, probably. it was sweet; heartwarming. another side to rin he’d never seen before.  

so, when the others decided to go back to iwatobi, haru stayed back. he waited outside the entrance until rin and rei were finished, far enough not to be caught by the latter. haru watched them bid their goodbyes and he only cornered rin once he was sure they were out of rei’s earshot. 

at first, rin looked startled to see him — unplanned visits were uncommon, especially for friends the likes of haru — but he quickly shook it off. “now you’re the one ambushing me, haru?” he asked, with a different kind of smile than he was offering rei back there. the same one haru found himself concealing then.

“i came with the others,” haru explained, “to check up on rei. we were worried. he never told us about…”

“right, he asked me to keep it between us,” rin nodded in understanding, beginning to walk ahead. haru followed right beside him, even though he had no idea where rin was going.  

“why are you doing this?” haru asked before realising just how accusatory it sounded. “i don’t mean— it’s just odd, you know?”

“rei approached me,” rin shrugged, “told me all about how you guys were flop teachers, so i couldn’t just leave him to his own devices. or even worse, to your devices.”

elbowing rin in the side, haru scoffed, “so you think you’re a better teacher than me?”

“oh, i know so,” rin challenged, narrowly avoiding another nudge. he threw his arm around haru’s shoulder, like he’d been doing more and more often since they made up. 

although rin’s always been touchy, it felt different then than it had all these years back. it had been normal for children, but haru was almost eighteen then and it was no longer as simple as it used to be. 

every time rin did as much as touch him, haru didn’t know what to do with himself. it gained a whole new meaning, a new weight that he was struggling to wrap his head around. 

“well, it’s nice. he’s doing better,” haru replied, any will to give rin some sort of rebuttal curbed. “it’s nice that you agreed to help him.”

“ah, you know,” rin scratched the nape of his neck like he still does when he’s embarrassed, “i do owe him, after all. for letting me take his place.”

“liked swimming with me that much?” haru teased, enjoying the way rin squirms at the thought. 

“well, you, makoto and nagisa,” he offered as an excuse, but it came off weak. “you’re so self-centred.” 

“coming from you?” haru almost let out a laugh at how sour rin’s expression turned as he broke out in denials. they argued some more; just for the sake of it, haru thought. just to keep the tension going.

when they stopped at the vending machine, rin bought them both drinks. he didn’t need to ask haru what he wanted, because he knew. or remembered. rin tossed the can at him without warning, but haru caught it with ease. 

rin offered him to stay at his dorm for a while, and haru almost agreed until he remembered who exactly rin’s roommate was. if nitori had sounded like a nightmare in the stories rin had told him, yamazaki was devil incarnate. and haru didn’t exactly need another conversation about wasting rin’s time — he’d heard enough.

finally, they settled on rin walking haru back to the train station. still with his arm around haru’s shoulders, not threatening to leave anywhere. met with silence from haru, rin opted to fill the quiet with telling him about rei’s progress and what exactly haru and the rest were doing wrong. that rin, of course, was doing right, like the self-proclaimed coach of the year he thought himself to be. 

“no, but really,” haru threw the empty can into the dustbin and sat on one of the benches on the platform. rin sat beside him, knee nudging haru’s. “why did you agree?”

“has it ever occurred to you i’m nice, haru?” rin raised his eyebrow. “like, did the thought ever cross your mind, or—”

“well, you did spend, like, half of last year yelling at me. or being passive aggressive on your better days—”

“shut up,” rin groaned, leaning against haru’s side, less feisty and more whiny. like a child needing consolation. “i was working through things.”

“were you, now?” haru tried to shove him away, but with no actual effort and not much of a result, either. it seemed like every time haru tried to push rin away, he came back even closer, pressing even tighter. so haru tried again, just to see how far they could go. 

“he’s your friend,” rin said, finally. “and i know it’s not like he’s replacing me, but he’s replacing me. so i want him to be as good as he can be. and i’m also a nice person. happy now?”

haru hummed. he would like to tell rin he’d never seen anything that he liked quite as much as rin teaching rei how to swim, but he couldn’t find the right words to put it. it would come off awkward, anyways. 

there was no one on the platform, but even if there was, there’s no way haru would have remembered. he couldn’t pay attention to anything else but the two of them. he doesn’t remember  what the weather was like, how long they had to wait or what he was wearing.

but he remembers, with this flashback-like sense of familiarity where everything feels just as tangible as it was in the moment, he remembers when suddenly the air shifted and he felt an overwhelming need to say something that mattered. something holy, because the atmosphere called for it. while he was busy figuring it out, rin beat him to it, always the more proactive between the two of them.

“haru,” he muttered, nudging haru’s hand that was propped on the bench, exactly between them, “can i?”

they hadn’t always been like this. it took years for the two of them to get there and it would have even if they had never fallen out. but even now, haru often wonders if there was any other possible outcome. if he could grow up without growing into his feelings. 

“you’re being weird,” his eighteen-year-old self didn’t need to dwell so much. it was much too early for anything more than an inkling of realisation — even this felt too rushed. “just go ahead.”

and so rin held his hand and he held rin’s until they heard the rumble of the tracks in the distance. when he took his seat and rin disappeared from his line of vision, so did any acknowledgement that anything had happened between them. 

they never talked about it again. they weren’t ready, with senior year taking a toll on them, expectations following haru like an unwelcome shadow and the idea of change impossible to handle. so this, whatever that was, couldn’t happen just yet. 

if haru tried hard enough, he could pretend the feelings weren’t there. it still works today, at least until rin shows up, wreaking havoc in his life, and leaving haru to deal with the consequences. 

 

//

 

a few months after the invitational, makoto finds him struggling to slide the bathroom door shut when he comes to visit after class, and for a second haru doesn’t even realise he’s there. only when he clears his throat does haru divert his attention from the matter at hand to nod curtly at his friend. 

“what’s up with—” makoto points at the door, not in the least fazed by haru’s ministrations. haru knows makoto finds him odd, and he doesn’t mind. as long as he can embrace haru’s peculiarities, they can get along fine.

“it’s broken,” he explains, trying (and failing) to shut the door again. the narrow gap remains, irritating him to no end. “do you have tools at your place?”

makoto snorts. 

“what?” haru asks.

“funny story, ‘cause i needed space to stock up on chromatica oreos, so i had to leave the toolbox behind. choices.”

haru sighs. “you need to stop with the gay excuse, it got real old real quick.” 

“your need to conform to straight expectations of how lgbt people should act is concerning,” makoto begins to lecture him, probably because he knows it will tire haru out enough to back out of a discussion. “we should get you a therapist, or something.”

“you’re the therapist in question. also, i have better problems to discuss with a therapist instead of my sexuality,” haru says, trying to push the handle upwards for a change. to no avail, the door just doesn’t close. maybe it’s the hinges, or something. “do you think it’s the hinges? do sliding doors even have hinges, actually?”

“i gave rain on me 267 scrobbles just this week.”

“useless,” haru sighs, deciding to finally give up. he lives alone anyways, and it’s just the bathroom door and not the toilet, so he’ll live somehow. “i’ll have to call kisumi’s uncle who will probably send over kisumi himself.”

“and why would that be a problem?”

“you know how i feel about letting kisumi in my home,” haru shakes his head. “it will fuck up the energy balance.”

“right, of course,” makoto sighs. “you know, kisumi’s not that bad. i don’t know why you always have to pull a tantrum when he’s around.”

“i don’t pull tantrums,” haru argues, “i just voice my basic need of getting as far away as possible from him.”

“he’s your friend.” 

“your understanding of friendship is fundamentally flawed. also, it’s not even my fault.”

“god, is this about his char—”

“you know, i did a chart reading for him once,” haru muses, while makoto mumbles something about haru being much more of a gay stereotype than himself. which isn’t even true, because haru listens to token straight people singer taylor swift, so he’s essentially normal. he just happens to like astrology, ever since he found out he’s a water sign. “like to check why we’re not compatible. and i shit you not every single placement we have is in conflict with each other.”

“kisumi doesn’t seem to mind that,” makoto points out. 

“kisumi feeds off my annoyance,” haru informs. “he’s a monster. he knows i hate him and uses it to his advantage.”

makoto gives him that look that he always does when he thinks haru’s having an insanity episode. that’s the thing, while makoto seems to be able to read his mind (creepy, unsettling, but at times useful), he doesn’t always understand the thought process. 

“you always get so irritable when rin is coming,” low blow. while haru is not particularly violent nor is he one to put in unnecessary effort into things, he thinks he could strangle makoto in the moment. and it isn’t even true, because kisumi drives him crazy regardless of the rin factor and has been doing so successfully since middle school. “when’s his flight exactly?”

“today,” or more accurately, now. according to the flight tracker which conveniently happens to be one of the tabs open on haru’s phone, rin’s boarded half an hour ago or so. there were no major delays, so he’s set to arrive in tokyo somewhere around 9pm. 

“are you picking him up?” makoto asks. 

“no, that would be weird,” it’s not like rin doesn’t know his way around the airport, or tokyo for the matter. it wouldn’t be odd if rin was picking up haru at the airport in sydney, because there’s the whole language gap and rin just so happens to be useful. 

“i always come pick you up,” makoto frowns, like that’s not haru’s point exactly. 

“indeed,” maybe he can get rei to come, or something. to help with the door. he’s the kind of guy who can operate screwdrivers or whatever the hell you need to repair sliding doors. wrenches? fuck, maybe he’s eaten one chromatica oreo too many when he was over at makoto’s. 

“it’s nice to have someone pick you up,” makoto continues and haru begins to tune him out. he checks his phone to see if rin’s plane crashed and is happy to find out it is still happily hovering above the pacific. not that it solves the dilemma of picking him up in question. “—or like, when we went on the trip in sixth grade, i almost cried when i saw nagi—”

“do you wanna get something to eat?” haru asks. 

“huh?”

“that’s what you came here for, not to talk about rin,” he tries one last push, knowing makoto’s bound to keep him preoccupied for the afternoon. “we’d have to go shopping, unless you wanna order in.”

“we could go out,” makoto perks up, the pick up discourse long forgotten. “we could go to asahi’s sister’s place or somewhere else for a change, your pick.”

of course makoto would suggest going out, as if haru has the mental strength for that kind of thing. “sure, anything’s fine. let me just go change.”

he picks out something that’s not oil-stained sweats from his closet, but before he closes the toilet door, makoto stops him. “are you picking him up, then? i’ll go with you, if it makes things less awkward, or—”

“i’m not,” haru deadpans, “too much effort.” 

 

later on the train to the airport, he still stands by that statement. it’s late, but the cart is still crowded with people and their luggage, so there’s barely room to breathe. the kid sitting on the seat opposite where haru is standing seems to find kicking his leg extremely entertaining and his mom pretends not to notice. 

the ride from his place takes about an hour and his social battery is already drained when he finally reaches his stop. maybe he should have rented a car, finally put his driver's license to use. it’s almost never possible in the city, because haru doesn’t feel like straining his budget with unnecessary vehicle expenses and public transport works out just fine. 

but today is special. after all, he hasn’t seen rin in a few months. and while it’s not out of the ordinary for them, it’s still good to have him back. lacking the words to express it, haru wishes he could at least show rin that he’s been missed. in a way, that’s why he decided to go through with coming to greet him, rather than makoto’s advice. 

it always makes him uncomfortable. not airports as much as the crowds that come with them. over a year of living in the city, one of the biggest in the world at that, should have conditioned him out of that feeling of anxiety, but it didn’t. he’s still restless, the bad kind, tight-chested, limp-bodied pushing past to the arrivals. 

or maybe it’s the prospect of seeing rin. 

whose plane has already landed, or so the notice board tells him, but he hasn’t texted haru yet. it’s not necessarily a given; he does sometimes, every other flight, but not always. rin should be getting out soon, so haru sits down on one of the chairs that’s far enough from the arrival gate to not seem desperate, while still being able to catch sight of him. 

spotting a vending machine right beside the waiting area, he briefly contemplates getting something for the two of them to drink on the way back, before noticing a familiar face in the crowd near the exit; not rin’s. 

it’s hard not to notice yamazaki, mostly because of how tall he is. which annoys haru to no end, probably because he’s reminded of all the times rin’s teased him over the one inch he’s got on haru. rin-related trauma aside, haru can’t help but feel slightly defeated seeing yamazaki and knowing that he’s not the only genius who came up with the plan of picking up rin from the airport. 

haru connects the dots; yamazaki is probably going to put rin up for a couple of days before he goes back to sano to see his family. it’s only natural that he’d be the first person rin reached out to for that kind of favour. 

there’s not much of a point for him to stay, not now that he knows rin has arranged for an escort. it’s not like he can walk up to yamazaki and say hi, either — they formally don’t hate each other’s guts anymore but the resentment still lingers. neither of them are really willing to let the grudge go, childish as it seems.

he doesn’t leave immediately, though, not until he sees rin in the distance, pulling yamazaki in for a hug. haru can hear him from where he’s hiding, and all though he can’t quite make out the words, he can tell rin is happy. excited. 

the ride back home is even more exhausting than it was before. to the point where haru falls asleep and misses three stops before he comes to. 

 

he doesn’t think he’ll have the chance to see rin anymore today until he does. it’s past eleven and he’s digging out keys from the pocket of his coat when rin appears out of nowhere in the hall. for a second haru wonders if he’s imagining things, because there’s no reason for rin to be here otherwise. 

“haru,” rin says. he doesn’t have that signature carefree grin anymore, the one he was giving yamazaki just an hour ago. he doesn’t pull haru into a hug, nor does he pat him on the back. he doesn’t yell, he doesn’t laugh, he doesn’t even say hi. 

but he’s here.

“what are you doing here?” haru asks, shoving the key into the lock and opening the door. he doesn’t go in, though, he just watches rin from across the hall. it’s late, and he has to rely on the  dim, barely-there-but-still-flickering light from the overhead fluorescents to make out anything.

“wanted to see you,” rin says. “you were out?”

“work,” haru lies. too quickly. “it’s late.”

“i didn’t mind,” rin shrugs. “can i come in?”

it’s very him to invite himself in, and it’s very haru not to put up a fight. at least not yet. “sure, go ahead.”

the flat isn’t messy, but haru wishes he had more time to put it in some sort of order before rin decided to barge in unannounced. there’s an easel holding a canvas with a sketch that haru has yet to sit down and paint over, sheets of paper with other unfinished projects scattered over the kotatsu and the floor. the one sign of life in an otherwise barely occupied space.

as though his own home, rin moves like he’s known the way around haru’s place for years. in reality, he’s only been over twice but haru supposes it’s not very difficult to remember the layout of a flat this size. 

“do you want something to drink?” haru asks, trying to at least resemble a host. 

rin nods, already pulling out a cup for him and haru from the cupboard. he even remembered which one haru likes to use himself. “what do you have?”

“i have some barley tea in the fridge. maybe coke.”

“cool, i’ll have the tea,” rin slides into the seat at the kitchen counter and haru sits across him, sliding the bottle across the surface. “so, how’s life, haru?”

if makoto’s idea of friendship is flawed, rin and haru’s is entirely off target. it’s like a game for them, because they work best when they’re competing. they still argue, they’re still frustrated with each other, but it’s over trivial matters. a means of safekeeping.

who cares less, that’s the game they’re playing right now. who can be the most vague, indifferent, about the other. haru reckons it’s useful because it keeps them from going too far. rin from being too emotionally charged, himself from revealing how invested he is. 

“nothing’s changed since we last talked,” haru quips, “run, swim, school, swim, sleep.”

“you never tell me anything,” rin frowns, “what about work?”

“work?”

“you said you came back from work. makoto never mentioned anything about this.” 

it was a stupid excuse in hindsight, and a hardly believable one, too. the one odd job haru picked up back in high school was living proof that he was just not meant for that kind of gig. or maybe it was the whole rin coming over to bother him during shifts, that could also be it. 

“why would makoto mention my work?” he deflects like he knows best. just as he predicted, it’s rin’s turn to be flustered. 

“well, you’re not exactly talkative yourself,” rin defends himself. “i ask how you’re doing from time to time.”

he asks about you all the time , makoto once said, try to give him a call

“right,” he takes out two glasses from his cupboard and pours what’s left of the juice in. he pours rin a bit more out of politeness. “anyways, it’s not really work. i was just at the pool, you know.”

“but your hair’s dry,” rin points out. 

“you wouldn’t believe how quickly it dries in the metro,” he replies, not missing a beat. “i bet it’s the wind or something. the speed.”

“where’s your bag then?” rin digs, leaning over the counter like he’s on haru’s case, or something. his ex-cop-aspirations still act out in moments like these. “you didn’t have a bag.”

“what’s your deal today?” he huffs, trying to get rin off his back. “i have my shit in my locker.”

“you don’t reek of chlorine,” rin takes a sniff, “or just less than usual.”

“i took a shower.”

“we both know showers don’t help with that.”

haru snorts, “yeah, maybe they don’t for you.”

they stare at each other. 

“where were you, haru?” rin ignores him. “like, actually.”

yes, their idea of friendship is twisted. maybe because they’re a strange hybrid of friends, rivals, and something . something has no definition nor does it exist outside of their context. they’ve yet to unpack something and neither of them tries. they just skirt around each other until rin is out of sight and haru can breathe. 

finally having ran out of excuses, haru gives up, “i was at the airport.”

rin gets up from his seat and circles the counter to stand behind haru. “planning a trip?” he says, just to annoy haru further. 

“shut up,” he turns around, pushing rin back. out of the arbitrary boundaries of haru’s comfort zone that he loves to cross. “i was gonna pick you up, but then i saw yamazaki, so i figured out you’d be staying with him, and it would be awkward if i just came up to him — you know how me and him are—”

“you know,” rin cuts him off, wrapping his arms around haru. he’s gentle about it like he’s wary of scaring off haru, and the touch comes off as intimate in all its faintness. haru can tell rin’s holding back for his sake. “i think that’s the most you’ve ever said to me. like word-count wise.”

they left the lights out before and it makes it easier now, standing in front of rin like that. looking at him. everything is less hyper-realistic and it’s easier to digest. haru always finds rin so difficult to process at first, so overwhelming that he loses train of thought. it’s so weird seeing him in person, so much more concrete and defined than a blurry figure in a flashback reel. 

something shifts between them into this mutual headspace that they share, a feeling both foreign and familiar. haru’s experienced it with rin many times before, but he never gets used to it. it’s like plunging into the deep end, or diving off a cliff without knowing if you’ll hit rock bottom. exhilarating in its riskiness. 

“sorry,” rin says instead of waiting for haru to reply. haru doesn’t know what he’s apologising for exactly, but he’ll take it. “i just needed to know.”

“what?” 

“if you missed me like i missed you,” rin mumbles, fingers hooking onto the fabric of haru’s shirt as his hands ball into fists. “you did, didn’t you, haru?”

maybe it’s his way of trying not to overstep and project, but rin often needs to be told what haru thinks or feels. it comes with the burden of verbalising very abstract trains of thought which haru still has trouble communicating at times. but once he knows what’s on haru’s mind, rin understands better than anybody else.

still, they both underestimate just how much haru likes him. just how different rin is to him from everyone else in the narrow perspective he has of the world. haru has to confront himself first before he can be honest with rin. 

“don’t let it get to your head,” he offers. 

rin kisses the crown of haru’s head, before resting his chin on it. 

“i’m home,” he says.

“welcome back, rin,” haru replies.

“it’s late,” rin says, “gotta get back to sousuke’s.”

“he can wait,” haru insists, sounding a bit too desperate. “wanna help me with my door?”

“your door?” rin laughs.

“it won’t close.”

so rin ends up staying for a bit more. it’s not hinges, he informs haru, sliding doors don’t have hinges. but it’s not something he can fix anyways. 

he doesn’t ask haru if they can see each other tomorrow, he tells him they will. then he leaves and haru snaps out of it. like rin was never there to begin with. he takes a bath and tries to ignore the gap.

 

//

 

with april should come spring, but haru spends it in quite the summer weather. the hotel room has a view of the city and if you try hard enough, you can make out the shoreline on the horizon. haru pulls away from the window to take a look around. there’s a coffee machine and a notepad on the desk and two beds spread evenly apart. they’re extremely tall, he notices, you could hurt yourself if you fell off. 

above each bed there is a painting in oil, one showing a sea at sunset, the other at sunrise. both are very turner-esque in theme more so than technique, the marine motif resembling some of haru’s own sketches and paintings. 

attempting to make coffee for himself, ikuya notices haru staring. “do you have any preference?” he asks.

“huh?”

“which bed do you want?”

“oh,” haru thinks. “i don’t mind either, you?”

“i’d rather sleep by the window, if that’s okay,” ikuya replies over the whirring of the machine. “it’s your first time in the states, right?”

“yeah,” haru sets his things down on what is now his side of the room. there’s not much to unpack, so he begins to organise his belongings on the bedside table. “have you missed it?”

“eh,” ikuya shrugs, “it was okay. i didn’t care for it too much.” 

“the weather’s nice,” haru offers. “it’s all year long, too.”

“yeah, it does help,” ikuya takes out his phone, probably to text hiyori, who stayed back in tokyo. “hey, i’m really tired, probably gonna pass out in a second. are you gonna be fine?”

“sure, don’t worry,” haru waves him off, “i’m probably gonna take a nap as well. i barely slept on the plane.”

the sudden change of scenery is brought on by ryuuji’s brilliant idea of signing him up to a bunch of low-importance races or charity events. apparently, he’s in desperate need of mental training to prevent his performance anxiety from escalating beyond his occasional dramatic breakdowns. 

he’s the hidaka representative on the japanese team this time around, while ikuya was chosen for shimogami. rin, part of the australian team this time around, is participating as well — and out of his own volition at that. at least so haru’s been told; ever since ryuuji and mikhail reconnected, they act like some sort of messengers for the two of them. 

already having made himself comfortable, he closes his eyes when his phone buzzes under the pillow. it’s got to be rin; makoto’s already hit his daily text quota of three and nagisa knows better than to text if he wants anything. reluctantly, he picks up the phone, knowing he’s got no other choice. 

hey

he checks the time: it’s a little past seven when rin decides to ruin haru’s plan of spending the rest of the night battling jet lag. the flight to l.a. was almost as long as getting out of lax and past the traffic on the highways to the hotel. but when rin wants something, he’s relentless and haru often falls victim to his whims. 

his phone pings again, just in case he felt like ignoring it the first time. haru checks to see if ikuya is already asleep despite the empty coffee cup on his table. of course he is; the mattresses are fancy and at least half a meter thick and only an insane person wouldn’t want to spend the rest of the night making use of them. insane people include rin—

heyyyy
r u in the hotel yet or nah

yeah i just got to my room
u?

got here a couple hours ago
took a nap lol and just woke up

nice

wanna hang ?

and himself, who couldn’t deny rin even if he tried. 

the hotel notepad proves useful when haru leaves a slip of paper regarding his whereabouts on the desk in case ikuya wakes up before heading down to the lobby. it is bigger than what haru is used to; far busier, too. with an art deco touch to the design, it resembles an upscale version of the hotel they stayed at in australia. haru never remembers the name, but he has it saved somewhere on his phone. 

they agreed to meet up there in half an hour but when haru gets there five minutes early, rin is already waiting. with his nose buried in his phone, he doesn’t notice haru until he clears his throat, “rin.” 

not much has changed about rin since they’ve last seen each other. his hair is a little longer, tied back for convenience. maybe he’s got broader, too. but rin makes haru feel as lightheaded as ever, even before he shoves his phone into his back pocket to hold onto haru instead.

“haru, you’re early,” it’s much too happy to come off as accusatory. 

“you came earlier,” haru points out.

“well, it’s not like i had anything better to do,” rin dismisses, a little flustered if haru didn’t know any better. “say, let me treat you to dinner, it’s been so long.”

food is the last thing on haru’s mind, as he already stuffed himself full with salted peanuts on the airplane. but it’s rin, so– “lead the way.”

 

the seafood restaurant rin takes them to is not that far a walk from the hotel, but haru wouldn’t mind going even further. the murals that can stretch out across entire building facades make for a backdrop for the small shops and restaurants packed together side by side across the sidewalk. limited by the borders of a canvas or the edges of his sketchbook, haru can’t imagine making a work of that size. 

the weather is too hot for them to eat outside, even underneath the shade of the parasols. they take one of the booths by the window, rin across him. patiently, he translates all the options on the menu and orders for haru. they wait for the food in comfortable silence, until the hum of the radio from the speakers catches haru’s attention.

“rin,” haru nudges him under the table, trying his hardest to keep the voice low, “it’s taylor, they’re playing taylor swift.”

“and?”

“they’re playing taylor swift, it’s literally me! by taylor swift” haru informs him, almost bouncing in his seat. this isn’t a small town but actual hollywood they’re in and taylor swift is playing on the radio. understandably, he’s excited.

“i know it’s taylor swift,” rin snorts, “since when do you like taylor swift, haru?”

haru doesn’t appreciate the tone. “i love taylor,” he huffs, crossing his arms indignantly, “she’s my favourite singer.”

“i learn something new about you every day,” rin shakes his head, but looks perfectly pleased. “normally gay people go for, like, gaga or something. ariana, maybe.”

“if you knew taylor like i know taylor, you’d know she’s a strong advocate for gay rights. being a swiftie is more of a statement for gay rights than being gay is in itself,” haru recites, sounding a little bit like makoto did that one time when he was telling the karaoke place manager just why he must include rain on me in the song catalogue. “they should play you need to calm down next, god, i’m obsessed with that song.”

“you’re literally the only gay person who likes you need to calm down.

“ungrateful beasts. what can i say, i’m not saying gay people aren’t insane, taylor is. and she’d be wrong,” haru bites back. “don’t tell me you’re an anti. it’s not a good look in this day and age.”

“something tells me that if i was you’d never speak to me again,” rin says and he’s right, but haru just shrugs. “anyways, i’m okay with her. i loved 1989 when it came out, some of her other stuff, too.”

god, of course rin is a local. he probably hates country taylor. admittedly, haru also thinks debut is her weakest album, but it’s still better than anything any other artist has attempted to date. “that’s surprising, kind of.”

“how come?” rin asks.

“you’re both the most sentimental people i know. similar kind of insane, too,” haru doesn’t mention the fact they’re both his favourite people. “i’d think you’re the kind to resonate with her dramatics, rin.”

rather than take offence, rin laughs good-naturedly. “i’ll take that as a compliment.”

“do as you wish.”

the food is as good as the five-star yelp review rin showed him had suggested. he can’t enjoy himself too much, though, because if rin’s not busy taking pictures of the food, he’s trying to sneak some of haru. 

“can you stop?” he pleads, but rin decides to act clueless.

“stop what?” he blinks at haru. 

“do you think i’m stupid?”

“are you sure you want me to answer—ow, stop kicking me!”

“stop taking pictures of me,” haru demands in return.

“let me have this, haru,” rin grabs haru’s hand across the table in what is a sick attempt at cajoling him. sick and most probably successful. “who knows when we can get to do this again.”

this remains unspoken, but his pulse quickens. “fine,” haru breathes out. “you can just ask, you know?”

“it’s more fun when you get worked up, tho— fuck , you gotta lay off the kicking. i’ll be all bruised up tomorrow.”

“behave, then.” the tension eases a little. 

“you know, the street we’re on,” rin offers as a change of topic, gesturing out of the window, “was named after the guy who built the canals. it was, like, the beginning of the last century, if i remember.”

“i wasn’t born yet,” haru says, knowing rin gets easily frustrated when he acts dumb. 

“yeah, no shit,” as expected, rin rolls his eyes. “do you wanna go see them?”

“the canals?” 

“yeah, i heard they’re nice.” it does sound entirely up haru’s alley. his chest tightens at the thought of rin planning their outing ahead of it. knowing him, it could well be the day he found out they were both taking part in the race. 

“i’d love to,” haru says, just as you need to calm down starts playing on the radio. for someone who claims to hate the song, rin sure knows most of the lyrics. 

 

“those are…” haru trails off.

“so pretty, aren’t they?” rin gushes, leaning over the fence to get a better look. “imagine living here, it must be so expensive.”

“i was gonna say shallow,” haru finishes, unable to conceal the disappointed tone to his voice. 

turning to him with an amused raise of an eyebrow, rin asks, “you thought i took you here so you could go for a swim, nicki minaj?”

yeah, kind of. “no.”

“you sure?”

“no,” haru denies, “but you know how i get around bodies of water. it’s beyond me, i’m a cancer.”

“thought we could take a walk down the canals and then up to venice beach,” rin explains, clearly not buying his bullshit. “you can swim there all you want.” 

haru gives him a small smile in return, “okay, then.” 

like the murals down abbot kinney were a modern, alternative take on the grandiosity of the frescos painting the ceiling of the sistine chapel, the canals parodied those of the italian venice. the coastal twist in the design of the houses lined up down the water seemed more homely than the classic edge of european architecture that haru’s only seen in photographs. the palm trees and tall grasses and greenery of the gardens surrounding the buildings make it seem like the place is blooming into life. 

rin seems to think the same, two steps ahead of haru and phone raised above his head to take pictures of every corner they pass. the obnoxious sound of the shutter follows them throughout the walk, but it’s not like haru can blame him. 

“rin, do you want a picture?” he offers. rin turns to him with his eyes lit up.  

“only with you,” before haru can refuse, rin is already dragging him by the wrist towards one of the bridges. he positions them opposite to the sunset and sticks out his arm. “this won’t work if you don’t smile.”

“why not?”

“people smile for photos,” rin whines. “come on, it’s for the ‘gram .”

“god, you’re so embarrassing,” haru sighs, but he tries to smile nonetheless. it’s hard not to when rin puts his hand over his shoulder. “done?”

“no, that was for the ‘gram . and this one’s for me,” he presses a quick kiss to haru’s temple and takes a photo before haru can squirm away. “we turned out cute, look, haru,” he says, handing haru his phone to check.

they did; it’s almost revolting how endearing they look together. “send it to me,” he says, though.

“got it,” rin grins. it must be golden hour, because he’s never looked better than he does now. perfectly tan, undertones of orange and red adding definition to the burgundy of his hair, smiling at haru like only rin can smile at haru. no picture could ever do him justice so haru tries to commit every inch to his memory. 

it’s dark by the time they reach the beach, which is virtually empty, so they can enjoy the ocean. while rin offers to stay and keep an eye on their things, haru is not as thoughtful. he dives in without much thought, not at all discouraged by the cold at this point. 

the ocean by night is neither less nor more picturesque than that lit up by the sun, more so another facet of the water that rin allowed him to see. the moon is hidden behind the night clouds, but haru knows it’s there. he’s seen it before and knows what it looks like, its face always the same regardless of where it lays on the orbit. the light that seeps through reflects on the water and the water must know as well; that it’s being looked over. controlled, even, moving back and forth at the moon’s request.

similarly, swimming further away from the shore, haru knows rin is watching him . a gravitational pull that has him coming back to the shore after a while, asking for rin to join in. 

“i’m good,” rin says, splayed out on the sand. “our shit is here.”

“there’s no one around,” recklessness instead of reason. “come on, it’s so nice.”

“fine,” rin takes the hand haru offers him and tentatively approaches the water. “fuck, it’s cold.”

“you can’t handle it, rin?” haru challenges. he thinks he could emotionally manipulate rin into doing almost anything, trying to ignore the vice versa implications. 

“shut up,” rin groans, going in deeper and deeper until the water is past his shoulders. he looks almost distressed, his body shivering and teeth clanking against each other. it’s as pitiful as it is hysterical. 

he doesn’t laugh a lot, but rin makes him. nothing is funny but he just laughs into thin air and into the night and gives it all he has. he’s so happy it’s pulling on his cheeks, forcing a smile out of him, stretching it from ear to ear. he laughs so hard he starts coughing. 

haru’s been drunk a few times before and this is what it feels like. it’s like losing control over your body, your muscles and slowly your head. any restraints float away because you are, too, buoyant in the water and on the mind. every bone in his body feels separate, every cell its own entity. he looks over at rin and that grounds him. 

haru can’t stop laughing long after they left venice beach. he’s wet all over and the tshirt clings onto him as they make their way down the streets to their hotel. rin does that thing where he keeps nudging haru with his elbow as they walk side by side and it feels like their own way of holding hands somehow. 

their hair is still dripping all over the linoleum floor as they tiptoe past the lobby to the elevators, trying not to attract anyone’s attention. it’s not much of a success, because they’re the only people around at whatever hour it is. 

in the elevator, haru asks rin what floor he’s on. when he answers sixth, haru dissolves into hysterics yet again. maybe he’s been holding it in for the last few months and only with rin does he set all the suppressed laughter free. 

“what’s so funny?” rin asks, brushing away the damp strand of hair that stuck to his face. haru can’t believe he’s going to have to keep quiet about this, but who else could he even tell.

“we’re on the same floor,” haru manages to say through the laughter. “god, that’s so funny. for no reason.”

“yeah, you’d be right about that, haru,” rin laughs at him laughing and kisses him then, when the doors slide shut. 

it’s not the first time this has happened. in fact, it happens so often that haru’s long lost count. this thing of theirs has been progressing steadily since their senior year of high school. hand holding and not talking about it turned into hugging and not talking about it turned into hands on thighs in the car and not talking about it turned into kissing and not talking about it. 

fear; haru thinks that’s what’s kept them silent. there are no words to describe what they have, so it might as well not exist. there’s no relationship so there’s no need for commitment at the price of their independence. independence is a funny thing, really, because haru always thinks he has it until rin shows up and—and this happens.

and so, it’s not the first time they’ve kissed; haru can only hope it’s not the last. light on his feet he follows rin out of the elevator to his room. they’re just a few doors away from each other, it turns out, but they still decide to waste time arguing who’s dropping off who. 

“i asked you out,” rin says, hands running down haru’s sides. trying to find leverage, haru latches onto his shoulders. “which means i’m walking you back home.”

“my room is further down the hallway, so i should be dropping you off,” haru argues.

“we’re not making much progress, either way” rin lets out a laugh. admittedly, neither of them seem willing to let go just yet. their time is borrowed; even though the swimming part of their trip starts the day after tomorrow, their schedules barely allow them any time to spend together. 

who knows when they’ll get to see each other again, haru thinks. the last time rin came back home was a few months ago and even their meeting now is a happy coincidence; haru was mentally preparing for a year without him. 

it’s always much scarier to think about when rin’s here, with him. surprisingly, it’s easy enough to adjust to life without him in person, or so haru finds. what he dreads is the prospect of having to let go, as though someone was pulling the plug on him. he can’t blame himself for being so reluctant to pull back, not now.

with a hand still in haru’s hair, it’s rin who does. “it’s, like, two in the morning.”

“no, it’s,” haru checks his watch quickly, “just 1:58.”

haru .”

letting his head fall onto rin’s chest in defeat, haru replies, “okay.”

“we’re technically supposed to be sightseeing tomorrow,” rin thinks out loud to get them to lighten up, “i’ll try to see if i can sneak out and join you guys, or something. i’ll text you, yeah?”

“fine,” haru says with a sigh, but quickly adds, “it was fun, rin.”

rin offers him a grin in return, much too spent to be smug. “i’m glad, then. goodnight, haru.”

“goodnight,” haru waves and makes his way down the hall. only now that the adrenaline rush is starting to ease does he realise how tired he is. social situations exhaust him easily, but rin managed to distract him, somehow. now, though, digging the keycard out of his wallet, he wishes for nothing more than to finally get to bed. 

 

the card doesn’t work.

it’s not even funny, it just doesn’t. after what feels like his fiftieth try, haru figures out he’s either doing something wrong or the card’s just fucked up for whatever reason. he texts ikuya asking him to open the door, hoping that the jet lag wore off by now, anything. 

probably still asleep, ikuya doesn’t respond which leaves haru with two options: either he asks the reception for help, or he asks rin. either will result in embarrassment, but haru picks the option where at least the language barrier isn’t a problem. reluctantly, he knocks on rin’s door just seconds after he’s disappeared behind them. which rin, of course, is bound to take the wrong way.

“haru,” he says, legs crossed and head tilted to the side when he opens the door. he’s got the most annoying smile moments like these. “you just can’t get enough of me, can you?”

“door won’t open,” haru shoves the keycard into his chest without much finesse. “help.”

the smile drops. “oh. ‘kay. you sure you got it the right side in?”

“i tried every side,” haru rolls his eyes. “i’m not stupid.”

“yeah, you’re just bad with doors. don’t worry,” rin pushes past him and heads towards haru’s room. his stance is not as confident as it is arrogant, but haru likes it all the same. “you gotta be firm with those things. swipe once, not too quick and—”

he swipes the card and the light turns red. haru lets out a snort involuntarily. rin tries again, with the same result. leaning over his shoulder, haru lets out an impressed hum.

“you’re really good at this.”

“shut up,” rin shrugs him off. “the card must have got demagnetised, or something. that’s why it won’t work.”

“right, yeah. and i’m gonna pretend i know what this means.”

“it means you’re gonna have to go to the reception desk and get a new one,” rin informs him, patting him on the shoulder, “so good luck with that.”

“no, wait,” haru clutches onto his wrist and stops him mid-step. rin turns around with his eyebrow raised and haru knows he’s going to have to cower and beg to cajole rin into helping him. “are you gonna go with me?” he asks, trying to look pitiful enough. 

“oh, so now you need me?”

haru swallows his pride, very, very heavily, “yeah, i do. please?” he adds for good measure.

“it’s late—”

please , i don’t wanna wake ikuya up.”

“you didn’t let me finish,” at the mention of ikuya, rin changes his tone. haru doesn’t know where the mutual animosity between them comes from, but he suspects it’s something like him and yamazaki. he makes a mental note to do a chart reading for rin and ikuya at one point. “it’s late, so let’s go tomorrow morning, yeah? you can stay in my room until then, how does that sound?”

“poor excuse,” haru can’t help but smile when he feels rin lean closer. yeah, it wasn’t the last time. “but okay.”

 

//

 

the faucet is leaking and the steady trickling of drops of water hitting the sink reminds him of ticking arms of a clock, one that is counting down days till his twentieth birthday. the tap keeps dripping so loud that haru can hear it from the sofa, just like he can almost see the beads of sweat forming on makoto’s temples.

“you don’t have to say yes,” makoto rushes to assure. haru’s never seen him so nervous before, so unsure of himself. pitiful, in a way, the look he has on his face only makes haru feel sorry for him. “just, like, think about it. if you wanna try.”

it’s not much he’s asking for. just a date, no strings attached just yet, no obligations or commitment. nothing will change unless haru wants it to, or so makoto swears. not wanting to jeopardise their friendship or something along the lines; makoto talks a lot when he’s nervous, so haru kept tuning out every other word. 

to say he wasn’t aware of makoto’s feelings before would be an overstatement, haru’s just been consciously ignoring them for a while. it wasn’t out of malice, but more so awkwardness. if he were completely honest, he never thought makoto would have the courage to address them. 

“okay,” he says, out of respect, and because there’s no reason for him to deny a simple request. he can’t think of one, at least. “i’ll think about it, okay?”

“yeah, yeah, take your time,” unbearably tense before, makoto’s shoulders ease in relief. haru wishes he could be so lucky. 

 

he should tell rin, so he does. rin takes it well. haru doesn’t know if he wanted him to. 

 

his birthday begins with incessant doorbells and thumps on the door that force him out of bed at 6:30. the last person he was expecting to see was nagisa and rei — well, rei maybe, he probably gets up at five a.m. consistently. but not nagisa, especially not nagisa sporting a toolbox.

“happy birthday, haru-chan,” he greets, “your birthday gift has arrived.”

“happy birthday, haruka-senpai,” rei continues to call him that till this day. personally, haru finds it unnecessary but rei insists now that they’re in the same university. “we apologise for barging in so early.”

“nonsense, it’s not like he had anything better to do,” nagisa remarks, like haru hasn’t been going to sleep at two a.m. for the last few days and was hoping to make up for it. “anyways, you’ll love the gift, i promise.”

“you got me a toolbox?” haru asks, pointing at the bow attached to the lid with duct tape.

“well, we were going to,” nagisa admits. “but turns out those are expensive. so, my dad let me borrow this one.”

“we heard your faucet is dripping,” rei adds. “and your door is broken?”

“right,” haru sighs, “it doesn’t close.”

“wonderful,” nagisa claps. “i mean not for you. but for us. we’ve decided to spare you the hell of begging kisumi for help and fix those for you. rei studied plumbing for like a week from a polish person on skillshare, so you know he’s an expert. it was my idea.”

“he wanted to become a twitter witch and hex kisumi, but i told him it’s nonsense and you wouldn’t like it,” rei adds. 

that’s true; haru’s affinity for new age practices starts and ends with astrology. and fixing shit around his house is a phenomenal gift, really, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s half past six. “fine, come in. why couldn’t you come over later?”

“well, we didn’t know how long it would take and we both have morning classes,” nagisa explains, “which i would gladly skip for my sake, if not yours. but turns out, i skipped way too many times and if i miss even one class i’ll fail the course. that’s crazy, i kinda thought nobody cared about attendance in university.”

“what about the evening?” haru’s question is cut off when rei drops the toolbox on the kitchen island with a loud clank. haru can’t wait for the noise complaints from his neighbours he’s about to receive. 

“are you crazy, we’re not gonna be fixing your tap while everyone’s at—” whatever nagisa wanted to say is muffled by rei’s hand. he pushes it off with a groan, “stop, it’s not like i was gonna say anything about r—”

“he’s been doing lsd,” rei says, one hand digging out a wrench, the other strangling nagisa. “don’t listen to him.”

“sure, whatever,” haru yawns, going back to bed to catch as much rest as he can despite the inevitable noise that will be terrorising him for the hours to come. “i have food in the fridge for once, so go ahead if you’re hungry.” 

of course, he knows exactly what nagisa was going to say. even though his friends remain under the impression that haru didn’t suspect a thing, he figured out rin was coming back for his birthday a while back. not because he’s that clever or perceptive, but because rin posted a picture of him getting plane tickets on instagram some time ago and added the japanese flag emoji sticker just to make it clear. 

it’s not like he was purposefully trying to ruin the surprise, nor was it an overlook, because haru doesn’t have instagram. or at least no one knows he has an account, when in fact he does. if anyone asked, it’s to keep up with his friends, and not just rin in particular, without the pressure of doing anything beyond mindless scrolling.

but no one’s asking, so he just lies to himself.

the door proves harder to fix than the tap, or so rei reports. “it closes 0.7cm more than it did before, though.”

“but the gap’s still there?” haru asks.

“unfortunately,” rei looks heartbroken at his own ineptitude. “i’ll come over the weekend with better tools, i promise.”

“fine by me,” haru pats his arm awkwardly. “thank you, guys,” he says, even though nagisa did nothing but eat the chromatica oreos makoto left last time he was over. “best birthday gift ever.”

 

this statement ages like milk when just a few hours later, he sees rin waiting for him after practice. last time they saw each other was at lax, killing the time remaining until their respective flights making out in the back corner of the duty free shop. and oh how the tables have turned since then, out of haru’s own stupidity.

makoto’s there as well, of course he is, waving at him and pointing at rin, like haru can’t see for himself. he wonders if he should act surprised, only to realise he’s not exactly a very expressive person anyways. that being said, when rin swats makoto’s hand away, he does end up smiling to himself a little. 

he’s not entirely sure what he should expect from rin. while he’s not exactly the mentally-unstable, wall-punching, trashcan-kicking incel that he used to be, rin can get pretty hot-headed at times. even at twenty.

which is exactly the opposite of the treatment he gets, when rin pats him on the back with a laugh, “yo, it’s been a while.”

two months, not that haru’s counting. “yeah, i guess.”

“happy birthday,” rin puts his elbow on his shoulder as they walk outside, “the guys,” he points at makoto who grins back at him, “thought you’d like to see me, so consider this an act of charity.” 

“don’t listen to him,” makoto says, “he’s the one who came up with this.”

looking up at rin, haru searches for recognition. all he gets is good-natured neutrality. taking his arm off haru’s shoulder, he seems perfectly fine. he and makoto joke around without a hint of bitterness or resentment. 

he’s ecstatic to see rin, to share his space with him. but, haru realises, it doesn’t feel like rin in a way. this is how rin feels to everyone else, probably, but they were supposed to be different. 

 

when makoto asked him out, haru agreed under the impression that there was no reason for him not to try. and there was none at that moment, but now the reason is sitting next to him at the table, looking like he hasn’t got a care in the world. 

nagisa makes a joke about something, haru wasn’t listening. rin throws his head back in laughter and slaps haru’s thigh. it’s a normal thing to do. still, haru jolts in his seat; nobody seems to notice. 

nobody seems to care.

 

the point of rin and haru was that they were never meant to be exclusive, established. but if rin announced he was dating someone, or even taking it into consideration, haru thinks he’d probably fall apart on the inside. he hates the thought of there being a last time to something; last dive into the pool, last race, last time having rin to himself. 

the rin that haru knows, the rin that haru has resonated with since they became friends, wasn’t indifferent. if he wanted something, he was going to get it at any cost and if that wasn’t enough, he’d throw tantrum after tantrum after tantrum to prove just how upset he was. 

and maybe haru presumptuously assumed that he mattered to rin in that way; that when rin found out about him and makoto, he’d be passive aggressive, make a scene, do something, anything , to let haru know that he cares. that rin still wants him. 

he shouldn’t care if rin wants him or not, it’s the last thing he should be giving his time of day to. if he wants to try moving on with makoto, he can’t expect rin to stay still, keep on hanging onto their past like this. it’s not his place to feel disappointed, hurt, betrayed. 

but if there’s anything rin taught him it’s that you don’t get to choose your feelings. they’re just there, uncomfortable and overwhelming as they come, and you have to deal with it. accept their presence or try and talk it out, move on. 

what does he even know about liking people? does he even like rin romantically? like, yes, he’s attracted to rin, but there’s no telling if it’s anything bigger than that. the only person he’s sure he loves is makoto, and that’s platonic. or is it? maybe haru just can’t tell the difference. 

he thinks about what would happen if it was makoto in los angeles. if it was makoto asking to hold his hand at an empty train station back in high school. if it was makoto in all the situations rin and him acted out on whatever it was between them. the problem isn’t even whether haru would like to do all of this with makoto. the problem is, makoto would just never do this. the problem is makoto isn’t rin, so haru can’t expect him to act like rin would. 

he stares at the gap between the door and the wall. he tries to slide it shut for half an hour before giving up. some doors you just can’t close.

reaching out to rin is like sticking a metal fork into a power outlet repeatedly, waiting to get electrocuted. asking for it. but there’s no other way, not if he wants to talk about things properly. haru calls him some time after midnight.  

“when’s your flight?” haru asks.

in two days ,” rin’s voice croaks over the receiver. “why?”

“tell sousuke i’ll be driving you back,” haru tells him and hangs up.

 

the problem with rin is that haru simultaneously feels like he can tell rin everything and like he can’t tell rin anything at all. it’s hard to explain. 

“be careful closing the door,” he says before rin even gets in, “the door won’t close if you pull it too hard.”

“what is it with you and doors?” rin asks. haru would die to know himself.

“it’s a second-hand car, fourth-hand probably, if we’re being honest. it’s not a me issue,” he says instead, buckling the seatbelt and starting the car. when rin grabs the handlebar to his right, haru sends him a questioning look.

“we all know you’re not the best driver,” lie , haru’s phenomenal, “and so my life is already at risk and now you’re making me sit in your wreck of a car. i gotta do what i can to make it out of this alive.” 

“i’m a better driver than you,” haru says through his teeth, “so you have nothing to worry about.”

“okay,” he sees rin grin in the rear view mirror, “i was wondering—”

“yeah?”

“the other day.”

“what?”

“you called sousuke sousuke ,” rin says. “where did that come from?”

“oh, that’s a recent development,” haru explains. “turns out he’s virgo sun which usually doesn’t go too well with a cancer sun outfit, but my rising is actually also virgo.”

they hit a red light and haru turns to see rin looking bemused to say the least. “you do know that tells me nothing?”

“god, why is it so hard for people to develop an understanding of basic astrology?” haru rolls his eyes. the only other person who believes in astrology in their friend group is fucking kisumi of all people. “well, to clarify: virgos are toxic as hell. which explains sousuke’s entire being, kind of, but that’s besides the point. anyways, we found out we can bond over talking shit about other people.”

rin chuckles, “god, yeah, that does sound like sousuke, he loves gay gossip. who do you even talk shit about?”

haru gives him a look.

after a few seconds, rin scowls, “wait a second—”

“don’t worry, we don’t actually hate you. i think we just like to talk about you like you’re a case study at an insane asylum, you’re fascinating like that,” haru smiles when rin’s frown deepens. “stop making that face, sousuke just likes to talk about you because he misses you.”

“what about you?” rin asks. 

“what about me?”

“do you miss me?”

“eh. i get around.”

rin smiles to himself and doesn’t press any further. 

 

“so what do you think?” haru tries to sound casual, berating himself for how stupid he sounds. he’s not good at beating around the bush or mind games like this, and he’s sure rin sees right through the act. 

if he does, rin doesn’t let it show. “about what?”

“me and makoto.”

“i’m happy for you, obviously,” rin squeezes his thigh and haru can see him smiling in the rear view mirror. “it’s good that you’re thinking of seeing people. i was worried about that.”

“hm?”

“you know, that you’d hold yourself back. for my sake. last thing i’d want you to do,” rin explains, looking out the window before he continues. “you know what i mean, right?”

haru of all people has to understand. rin brings out the worst emotions in him, all the selfishness and greed that comes with caring, wanting, too much. but it never once got in the way of his wishing all the best for rin. it’s what made saying goodbye to him all the more easy; haru knew that rin would come back a better swimmer and a stronger rival. if space was what he needed to grow, haru wanted to offer that.

it’s not like the distance had any say in who they were for each other. and maybe now it does, and that’s what haru fears so much. “yeah.”

the beeping of the car’s blinker distracts them for a while. haru can never tell when his silence is awkward, but this time he’s fully aware. it’s nothing new, being tongue-tied around rin. every word haru’s ever said to him felt strained, unless they were fighting. but somehow, it’s worse now. maybe because it’s both of them.

“do you want me to be honest with you, haru?” rin asks when they stop at a red light. haru missed the way rin would say his name. it felt like it carried the weight of all of rin’s feelings for him, encompassed just what haru meant to him. for the two of them, a name is a confession they wouldn’t otherwise afford to share. 

“were you not?” 

“i was,” rin says, “but it’s not the whole thing.”

“then what’s the whole thing?”

“pull over.” haru does. he turns off the engine and it’s even more awkward now. haru has to remind himself it’s rin, it shouldn’t be as difficult as it is. he thinks about when they were kids, and things would just work for them. no matter how much rin would bother him and how much his attitude would annoy rin, they always came out fine.

“so?” he chokes out, for once having to coax the confession out of rin rather than the other way round. 

“i didn’t know—” rin swallows, still not looking at haru. “—when you told me, that time i called. that you and him were… yeah. i didn’t know what to think. i think it was shock, at first. then, i tried to wrap my head around it and i knew i had to see it in person, y’know? to make up my mind?”

“on what you think?”

“on how i feel. about the two of you. it could go so many ways, and yeah. i needed to see it to know what to make of it,” rin explains, and haru can tell he’s mincing his words. he’s so upfront with everything else apart from their relationship. they’re both walking a very thin line, neither of them wanting to break the ceasefire. 

but maybe it’s time. “and what did you make of it?”

“i was relieved,” rin blurts out. “you looked bored. with him.”

check. “i always look bored,” haru points out, if anything — in makoto’s defence. not even his own. 

“you don’t look bored with me, haru,” rin turns to him. “uncomfortable — yes; happy — rarely; annoyed — often. but you’re never indifferent.”

mate. “okay.”

“okay?” rin snorts. “i sound like a psychopath and all i’m getting is an okay?”

well, it’s not like he’s wrong. “would you be upset, rin?” haru asks instead. “if i wasn’t bored.”

“selfishly?” rin leans back in his seat. “yeah, probably. i wouldn’t let it show, though. but i’d be happy for you, mostly. like i’m happy for you now. like i said, i don’t wanna hold you back when i’m not even here. i respect you too much to put myself first like that.”

looking over at him, haru realises just how much rin’s grown up. it’s not just in his face, his voice, his height. no, rin took all the things haru’s always been intrigued by and fine tuned them with age. his rambunctious, brazen self matured into this calm, conscious assertiveness that keeps haru on his toes. he carries himself with a confidence that haru can’t help but be so, so taken by. rin’s the best version of himself that he’s ever been and haru is offered front-row seats to bear witness.

haru himself has been twenty for two days now, but it only just hits him now. rin is his type. 

“and when you’re back?” rin tilts his head. “one day, when you’re back in japan, what are you gonna do?”

rin hums in contemplation. “whatever you want me to,” he decides ultimately. “your choice.”

“and how do you feel?” haru presses.

“you’re it for me, disgusting as it sounds,” rin breathes out like he’s been holding it back for too long. “i’ll wait my time. i might see other people, but i don’t think it will ever be more than casual. i don’t need you to do the same, though, you know—”

“—yeah, i know,” haru smiles at him. “you’re a good guy, rin.”

“if you end up with makoto, i’ll take it,” rin reassures him. “i just want you to be in my life, that’s all. so yeah, i expect nothing of you. and you expect nothing of me. until we decide we do, if that ever happens.”

“okay,” haru nods. that’s usually the moment where they do something that will keep them up at night until they see each other again, but it’s not like haru can kiss him now. he sticks out his hand for rin to hold, though. “okay, that sounds good. can we go now?”

rin gives it a squeeze. “yeah, sure.” 

the bubble breaks when haru starts the car again and rin clings onto the handle bar again. haru only tries to swat his hand off once, before letting him be. he doesn’t walk rin to the check in, because the parking fees are way above his budget, but they hug for a moment, the right way. 

“i’ll miss you, haru,” rin says. it’s the first time he chooses to state the obvious out loud, up front; so haru tucks away the memory of it in the back of his head with all their other stolen moments. he’ll think about it at night, the honking of the cars, the wind blowing stray hair in rin’s face, the way his eyes glowed in the airport lights. 

he’ll remember the feeling of regret that came with not saying it back, and the comfort of realising that rin doesn’t need to be told that to know. the scene will play over and over in his head on his drive back home and will haunt him in the days to come.

because that’s about as entertaining as life outside of training will get without rin.

 

//

 

it’s not often that haru visits his childhood home. after having lived in the city for almost two years now, he can understand why his parents hate to visit. the house is big, uncomfortably so, too big for him alone. it was okay back in school when his friends would come over every other day, or when being alone didn’t feel as overwhelming. he finds himself dearly missing his flat back in tokyo which he left for the sake of celebrating the autumn equinox. 

he gets back the day before, takes the train with makoto after practice and stays over at the tachibanas for dinner. houses tend to be nicer when you have a big family, he concludes, when he watches makoto chase after ran and ren. they make use of the space. 

if things aren’t already depressing enough, he bumps into kisumi on the way to the convenience store and can’t shake him off no matter how hard he tries. adamant on catching up (they’ve seen each other last week), kisumi follows him — first to the store, then back home. 

“so, i’m on the metro, right, and the grindr notif just goes off. i have to pause stupid love — the riverdale version, of course, cheryl ate — and answer obviously.”

haru wants to limp his wrist really badly, but he’s scared kisumi won’t interpret it as the mockery it would be but rather a sign of approval. “right.”

“it’s this guy and i’m like 90% sure he’s, like, the boyfriend of this one fucking annoying fucking classmate i have. and, like, i know what you’re gonna say: homewrecking is such a tired trope for successful gay men such as myself—”

“i was not going to say that. you’d have to be successful.”

“—but it’s kind of funny to me, actually. also, like, it’s the boyfriend’s fault for having an active grindr account.”

“obviously.”

“but i forgot i was with asahi and sousuke, so, like, imagine the conversation we had afterwards. they were super nice about this, though. i’m really glad people aren’t homewreckerphobic anymore, i credit baby don’t like it by nct 127 kinda,” kisumi says, completely disregarding the millions taylor swift raised for the emotional adultery community. then again, haru would probably end it there and then if kisumi so much as brought up taylor’s holy name in vain. gaslight gatekeep swiftieboss. “i’m still kinda wondering how they knew it was grindr.”

“beats me.” god, of course kisumi would be an nctzen, bottom of the barrel where he belongs. he’s probably an army, too. 

“i know, right? but it made me think of an epic prank to pull on asahi next time. he still owes me after that set up with my weed dealer last week. anyways that was my month, what’s been up with you?”

“nothing much,” haru shrugs. “vibes.”

“nuh, uh,” kisumi wags his finger, “i know for a fact that’s not true. come on, if we’re gonna be gossiping it can’t be one-sided.”

“i don’t know what you want from me.”

“well, i heard from ikuya who heard from asahi who heard from rei who heard from makoto that you , beloved, got asked out by makoto,” kisumi is gloating.

“that happened once,” haru mumbles.

“and i think to myself, no way, haru’s so lucky . makoto literally perfect catch, he’s like six feet tall, a little monster, nice to kids. he’s like…fred andrews if he looked like a young hiram lodge, you feel me,” haru doesn’t, “so imagine my shock when i found out you refused him.” 

“that happened, as well. what’s the point of gossip if you already know what went down?”

“well, you should see the look on your face right now, that’s the point,” kisumi says. “and i’m not even halfway done, beloved. because then i heard from sousuke who heard from gou who heard from nagisa who heard from ai that you and rin of all people have a thing.”

“we don’t have a thing ,” haru denies, as vehemently as he’s able to. “unrelated, but how does nitori of all people know about the thing that we absolutely don’t have?”

“i don’t know, i don’t question the gossip i get. i am not a critical listener,” kisumi shrugs. “anyways, i think it was more about, like, the vibes. and he’s got a point, i’ve seen you two together in a social situation once and that was honestly more than enough for me. you’re weird with each other even if you aren’t together, if i’m being honest. you remind me of that victorious episode where jade and beck have been broken up and tori tries to set him up with a girl who agrees with everything he says and so he gets back with jade, because she fights back and it’s not easy and easy is boring–”

“you really have to stop referencing shows no one apart from you is watching,” haru purses his lips. “anyways, we don’t. have a thing. or whatever you were trying to imply.”

clearly disappointed, kisumi pouts, “this is so fucked up, so you refused makoto for nothing? wait, i don’t know why i’m upset about this actually. i can literally be makoto’s rebound right now.”

“knock yourself out.”

“or,” looking as menacing as a manifestation of a gemini sun, moon and rising can get, kisumi grins, “since rin is apparently single—”

“you’re not rin’s type,” haru says. “also, don’t you have that relationship to homewreck?”

“why would i homewreck someone else’s relationship when i could just homewreck yours?” kisumi claps. “god, i’m a genius. anyways, good talk, haru. you’ve inspired me to print out the dsm-5 and diagnose you.”

which is ironic, because if anyone is a psychopath, it’s kisumi and his fucked up birth chart. 

 

omg so i was thinking
if u and rin are beck and jade
which one of you is beck and which one is jade
coz normally id probably assume rin is jade bcoz he has shit temper
and both u and beck have the personality of a rock
but then again u hate me like jade hated tori
which would make me tori and lord knows im the main character
what do u think??????
i actually always shipper tori and jade just a little
*shipped

i dont think anything
also i dont hate u the gay way
i hate u the usual way

lmaooo damn okay
just saying
if rin were out of the equation youd be obsessed with me

well thank god he isn’t

wonderful news
just a heads up im sending a screenshot of this conversation to all of our friends
not rin tho no worries

nobody’s gonna believe that im texting u out of my own free will
by all means go ahead

😾😿
how do u feel about you jughead rin betty

i hate u kinda
honestly i mostly thought of us as kevin and fangs

kevrin...i can see that kinda omg
ud be reggie and archie if they had a gay storyline
highs and lows of high school competitive swimming

not one to agree with kisumi, haru chooses not to reply. 

 

haru won’t tell rin, but he has been waiting for him to knock on his door for the last hour, sitting on the hardwood of his hallway as though on pins and needles. they both decided to come back home for the day of the equinox. while rin does for family reasons, haru has half a reason to be here in the first place. he mostly came because he knew rin would be, too, and he couldn’t pass on a chance to see him. who knows when he’ll be so lucky again.

it was haru’s idea to have rin come over. it’s reminiscent of their primary school days but it takes a different meaning now, with all the weight of their relationship on haru’s shoulders. what are they? he doesn’t know entirely. there’s no easy way out like with makoto. it’s as unsettling as it is exhilarating. he sees rin’s silhouette at the door even before he knocks, but haru doesn’t open immediately. 

“rin,” he says.

“haru,” rin replies. haru’s just now realised they can never just say hi like normal people. 

“come in,” and so rin does, slipping his shoes off in the corridor. he doesn’t bother with tidying them up, they’re just scattered across haru’s floor. 

“are your parents home?” rin asks like he’s ready to greet them if they are. which he isn’t — not yet at least. haru’s parents are very specific people, even more so than himself. haru’s glad he gets to keep those two parties separate for another while longer. 

“no,” haru tells him, “they said they’re thinking of coming back in a few days, though. just for the weekend. but who knows what they’ll end up doing. i’ll be gone by then, anyways. ”

rin takes off coat and hangs it on the rack. then he takes off his shoes. haru watches him.

“how’s your dad?” he asks, assuming rin went to pay his respects before coming. 

“still dead,” rin snorts, “i think he wasn’t joking after all.”

“i meant how was seeing your dad,” haru reiterates, but is relieved to see rin smiling. it can be a touchy subject, sometimes. 

“it was okay, gou came with me,” they make their way to haru’s bedroom that he cleaned up just for the occasion. kicking off his slippers, rin has no reservations about throwing himself on haru’s mattress. he makes little to no room for haru to sit down, so haru has to push his leg backwards. “and how’s your grandma?”

“she, too, remains deceased. some bird shit on her grave so i had to clean it up, but otherwise not much happened,” they both can sense the unspoken tension that lingers in the room. it’s always been there, but now it’s much more prevalent, as if to remind them they have to clear the air about what happened over the summer. 

or not. while haru waits for him to bring it up, rin doesn’t seem all too eager to do so. if he won’t talk, neither will haru, so they circle around it some more. “and how’s training going?” rin asks, like ryuuji and mikhail don’t update them on a daily basis. 

“fine, yeah. yours?”

“good.”

“ryuuji says your 100m improved?”

“yeah, i’ll be taking you over soon enough,” rin grins, nudging haru’s side with his foot. “speaking of, do you think the swimming club’s open today or—”

“checked already. closed.”

“flop. let’s try tomorrow, then.”

“sure,” haru smiles. “we should. how long are you staying?”

“i have a redeye tomorrow night,” rin winces, “can’t take too much time off and shit.”

“right.”

it should have been obvious given their profession, but the prospect of only being offered one more day with rin messes with haru. it’s too little; they always have too little time to sit down with each other properly, get to enjoy the company before it’s over. haru needs a while to feel comfortable enough to act normal around rin, to adjust to the sudden rush of visceral reactions that accompany rin’s physical presence. 

maybe he shouldn’t be wasting his time on small talk and denial; then again, he doesn’t even know how to begin. he isn’t entirely sure what he wants, let alone aware of how to articulate it. he’s never been good with words, but he has to try. after all, once rin knows what’s on his mind, he’ll understand. that’s how they work. an idea crosses his mind, then, a risky one. 

but if haru can’t verbalise what he wants, the next best thing is to visualise it. 

“you know, i got you something, rin,” he blurts out.

“last time i checked, i’m alive,” rin jokes. “what’s the occasion?”

“i didn’t get you a gift for your birthday this year,” he makes up an excuse, once again reaffirming how shit he is at lying on the spot. 

“yeah?” rin looks at him weird, sitting up abruptly, “’cause we never give each other anything?”

“you came to see me.”

“it’s not a gift.” it was. to haru, at least. 

“well, i have something now,” haru says, almost shyly, but he doesn’t think rin can tell the difference between insecurity and standoffishness. he gets up to grab a sketchbook from one of the shelves, tucked between a high school biology textbook he forgot to sell and his worn out copy of l’étranger. a place no one would bother to look. 

handing rin his excuse of a gift, haru feels a little stupid. due to its impromptu nature, there’s no packaging, or even a gift bag, so the sketchbook feels a little bare. 

“what’s this, haru?” rin smiles, examining the, well, blank cover. it’s cardboard covered in some black fabric, the usual thing. maybe haru should have quickly written something to indicate what it is. or a dedication, fuck, you usually put dedications on that sort of thing.

“a sketchbook,” haru says, “not for you to draw in, obviously. it’s mine.”

“isn’t yours, like, blue?” rin points out. he means the one haru draws in most usually, the one that’s put on display on his desk for convenience sake. the one rin’s gone through a couple of times already, curious about the one hobby haru has outside of swimming. 

this one’s different. this one’s a secret that haru harboured for the last few years. hidden behind the dust-collecting school books on his shelf, it was only made use of when no one was around. dedicated to a study of a single thing — a collection of drawings, more or less detailed, some coloured, some just outlines of charcoal, from facial details to full body portraits. 

“this one’s special,” haru tells him, trying to ignore the palpable rise to his pulse. “you can open it later, if you want—”

“can i open it now?” rin asks, overzealous about things as he tends to be. nodding defeatedly, haru sits beside him. his head is hung low, battling the ongoing dilemma of whether he wants to hide his expression or get to see rin’s reaction. 

rin lets out a sound when he opens the sketchbook and haru decides to focus on his drawings rather than him. whether he follows through with his intention is a different question. his resolve breaks almost immediately when rin lets out a shocked gasp at the first page. that’s just the beginning, haru wants to tell him, don’t get too excited just yet. 

but he doesn’t. words are stuck somewhere in the depths of his throat when rin turns to him with one of those smiles that are reminiscent of his twelve-year-old self. familiar and innocent, just not so childish anymore, he says, “that’s me!”

“yeah,” it’s just his face, drawn out of memory, but still recognisable. traces of charcoal make up the hair that frames the sharp angles of his face with surprising precision. “it’s you.”

rin bounces on the mattress before proceeding with the next page. it’s him; again. it’s rin, spitting image of his teenage self from the reference picture haru used. it’s not the one where they win the relay, this one’s from earlier, some primary school event that ended up in the yearbook that haru kept all these years.

he flips the page to reveal another portrait, this time of rin preparing to jump into the water. haru’s particularly proud of the look of reasonably conceited determination that’s painted across rin’s face: very accurate. the grin on rin’s face doesn’t seem to waver, but there’s an element of confusion to it now.

it’s really quite simple, though. he goes through the sketchbook page by page and sees himself through haru’s watchful eyes. frowning, smiling, swimming, resting, laughing, sleeping, living, breathing. he’s drawn his friends before, rin included, but not like this. not with this kind of dedication that can only be a result of something bigger than just fondness.

“it’s me,” rin repeats, like he’s still grasping to understand. he’s not makoto; haru can’t count on him to understand everything he’s thinking and feeling without a proper explanation, but he doesn’t mind. “it’s all me.”

“is it creepy?” haru asks, even more self-conscious with the rather subdued reaction. while rin may be just in shock, it’s still somewhat of a blow to get almost no response from someone so violently emotional. 

“no, no, it’s just unexpected,” rin frowns. “i don’t know what to say.”

“that’s unlike you,” haru tries to joke, but it falls flat. 

“what does this mean to you?” rin chooses to ask, not as straightforward as haru would want him to be. in all fairness, rin’s always been the upfront one throughout their relationship, so maybe it’s haru’s turn this time. just this once. “what do you want from me, haru?” he asks again, kindly. 

“i—you know i’m not the best at talking—” 

rin laughs, softly. “yeah, no shit.”

“—but i’ll try,” haru continues. “bear with me.”

“fine,” rin says. always , he means. 

“i like to draw my friends,” rin looks more than ready to make some kind of unnecessary comment, but haru shuts him up with a glare, “but i like drawing you more. i like to swim, but i like swimming with you more. i like to be alone, but i like being with you more.”

he does that thing, rin, where he quirks his lips like he wants to smile wider, but he’s pulling back. it never fails to drive haru crazy. “so?”

“so,” haru turns to him with a small smile to match his own, “i think you’re in everything i do. you don’t have to be, but when you are, somehow i like it better. i’ve felt like this for a while now, rin.” 

“what are you gonna do about it?” rin challenges, but he puts his hand over haru’s and laces their fingers together. “and what do you want me to do about it?”

there’s a moment of silence that haru takes to figure out the answer for himself. for the longest time, it’s been rin chasing after him, looking for him, reaching out to him. it was more than welcome, but still one-sided. unlike haru’s feelings, which are anything but. 

it was unfair of him, unfair to expect rin to be doing all the work while haru takes and takes. so he lets himself give in, lets himself be caught.  

 

“are you seeing somebody?” he asks, finally. “‘cause i’m not seeing makoto. or anyone. and if you’re not seeing anyone either, i was wondering if you’d want to be seeing me.”

“haru—” before he can reply, haru interrupts him, suddenly in a talkative mood. 

“—it’s okay if you are, by the way,” he adds. “or if you’re not seeing anyone, but you don’t wanna  be seeing me. i know it’s going to be difficult with you in sydney.”

rin raises his eyebrows, but haru is too preoccupied to notice the amusement, “it won’t—”

“i mean, i don’t mind that you’re in sydney,” haru continues, so that rin doesn’t think that he’s the one backing out from long-distance. “i thought i did, but i don’t. the only thing i really mind is that we’re not together. i can call. i will call, i know you love calling. and honestly, calling is easier than texting, you just speak. unless you don’t want me to call. that’s okay, too. anything’s okay. i’m just saying that’s an option, if you’re interested—”

haru ,” rin interrupts him, “god, i never thought i’d be telling you of all people to shut up.”

“i speak a normal amount.”

“sure, you do,” rin dismisses, “but what do you mean sydney?”

“that’s, uhm, where you live.” wait, did rin move cities, again? or, god forbid, countries? no, makoto would definitely mention something. unless haru tuned him out when he was talking about it. “i think? last time i checked, at least.” 

“yeah, but only for the next three months,” rin laughs, “don’t tell me you forgot.”

“forgot what?”

“the olympics?” rin looks like he’s trying to decide whether haru’s joking or not. “i have to start training with you guys at one point next year, since i’m…you know. on the olympic team.”

“right.” right. they’re swimmers who swim. 

“you forgot.”

“no i didn’t,” haru denies, vehemently. “i just meant how you’re in australia for—how long again?”

“i wanna come back properly before christmas,” rin says, “i’m already looking for a place in tokyo. i mean, via kisumi, but still. i’m actually supposed to check some of them out in person before i fly back— why are you looking at me like that?”

“like what?”

“i don’t know. psychopathic. you forgot, didn’t you?”

“i didn’t forget shit,” haru says. he can’t possibly go ahead and tell rin this is the best day of his life. “you just mentioned kisumi, i must have had an involuntary reaction. but wait, actually…this is a tragedy.”

rin scoffs. “well, gee, thanks.”

“no, no, i don’t mean you coming back. that’s perfect. that’s perfect, rin,” he repeats, softer this time. “but — you’re telling me i lost reverse gay chicken three months too early?”

“reverse gay what?” at rin’s confusion, haru shrugs. there’s no better way to put it. “well, whatever you mean, i’m sure you lost. and to answer your question, i’m not seeing anyone, not at the moment.”

somehow, it doesn’t feel like haru lost anything, “that’s useful.”

“i want to, though,” rin says, “start seeing somebody, i mean.” 

“i’m, like, almost entirely sure you mean me, but if it’s not me, just tell me it’s not kisumi,” haru winces, “i saw him the other day and god, anyone but kisumi. sousuke will do, really. or makoto, that would be hilarious. well, not to me, but generally.”

“oh god, no, fuck kisumi. like, i love him, but if i were to spend one second romantically affiliated with that man, i’d die,” rin shudders at the thought. “makoto’s okay, kinda. like, he is six foot tall, a little monster and nice to kids. but…”

“but…?”

“but i think i have a thing for swifties, at the end of the day.” rin squeezes his hand and the look on his face is unmistakable. 

haru has him. just like rin has always had him.

 

//

 

at ten years old, haru was a prodigy. at fifteen — wasted potential. at twenty, he finally grasps the concept of object permanence, late by only nineteen years. just because rin is out of sight, doesn’t mean he’s disappeared and with him, haru’s feelings. they are unchanging and constant, like rin’s entire role in the grand scheme of things. 

the skill won’t be as necessary as it would have been in the last years anymore, though, not in the near future. because rin will be living near him, training with him, he’ll be so omnipresent haru will have no time to question it. 

and haru will find himself on new year’s day at rin’s flat just a little over a week after his move. it will all be under the guise of helping him unpack, when in reality neither of them will bother with that just yet. there will be boxes stacked on top of each other, some arranged into makeshift tables and chairs, waiting to be unpacked for another day in a row. 

rin will be making food and it will be the first time haru gets to try his cooking after months of back and forth recipe wars. even if he ends up liking rin’s noodles better than his own, haru will never admit it. that’s not how they will ever work, because their pointless fights over nothing is always going to be how they show affection and there will be no need to reinvent the wheel. 

“smells good,” he will tell rin from the bed — the only piece of furniture properly assembled in the flat. new years is a day off, so haru will be bound to mourn swimming facilities closing under the comfort of bedsheets and with the view of rin turning towards him with a grin.

“does it?” rin will ask, faux-bashful and unable to conceal how shamelessly proud of himself he is. transparent as always, leaving haru with no choice but to read him like a book. 

“mhm,” haru will hum noncommittally while rin will turn the stove off and prepare them a bowl each. “mine’s better, though.”

finding him childish, rin will roll his eyes but one-up him nonetheless, “you haven’t even tried mine yet.” 

despite his earlier hubris, haru will dig in immediately. it will be good, better than any attempt of his own. “it’s horrible, rin.”

“just don’t make a mess, the sheets are new,” rin will warn him, despite moving under the covers himself and hooking his leg over haru’s. haru will shift the laptop on his thigh so that rin can see better. they’ll be watching a rerun of the latter day’s kohaku broadcast that they missed in favour of practice and trying to sleep through the firework show. 

“i’m a clean eater. it’s you i’m worried about.”

“whatever helps you sleep at night, haru.”

“you literally told me last week you have insomnia, maybe you should worry about your own sleep schedule.”

rin will snort at how ridiculous he is, much too amused to retaliate. he will point at the screen instead with his fork. “who are you rooting for?”

“always red. i’m a feminist.”

“of course you are. they should invite taylor to perform, don’t you think?”

“i was literally just thinking about this,” haru will say, even though he will know rin’s just making fun of him. “she’s so famous and popular and impactful and she loves her fans, so she’d definitely agree to perform.”

“don’t talk with your mouth full, god.”

“do you know what her fourth album is called, do you?”

“wait,” rin will squint his eyes like he does when he’s trying to concentrate. “was it 1989? i don’t remember the order before reputation. wait, no, you mean red don’t you? ‘cause team r—”

“team red! she’s literally been dropping easter eggs since 2012,” haru will poke rin’s chest to make his point. “also, what do you mean you don’t know the order before reputation?”

“you’re the head swiftie in the home,” rin will defend himself. “that’s the one thing you’re better than me at.”

“you’re mistaken if you think i’m letting this pass. i’d be willing to let it slide if you, say, didn’t know the order of tracks on debut or fearless , but you’re fucked up for not knowing her albums in order. we’re gonna have to catch you up on taylor swift discography.”

nonplussed with the outburst, rin will shake his head, “since when are you so talkative?”

“i talk a normal amount,” haru will huff, “what do you mean the one thing i’m better than you at?”

“you really should see somebody about your reaction time. and, well, i’m just better than you at most things.”

“like?” haru will lay his bowl on the bedside table (cardboard box labelled winter shoes). “name one thing you’re actually better at, rin.”

“swimming, for starters,” seeing just how riled up haru is already, rin will take full advantage of it.

“i’m faster at 100m.”

“but i’m faster at 50m and 200m. and that’s just freestyle.”

“and that’s the only style that matters,” haru will insist. “anyways, we’ll see in a year.”

“fine. better driver.”

“i passed the driver’s test before you.”

“yeah, ‘cause your time slot was before mine. and i’m the better cook,” rin will continue, “you over-season.”

“you under-season. and i’m better, makoto says so.”

“i have not cooked for makoto once,” rin will remind him. “let’s make the same thing and have him try it and he’ll pick which one’s better. he just can’t know which is which.”

“why not?”

“i wonder,” rin will glare at him. “what, you scared your doormat wouldn’t pick you if blatant favouritism wasn’t a factor?”

“i told you to stop calling him that,” it will always make haru giggle, which will always make him feel bad afterwards. he won’t agree with it in the slightest, but the way rin will keep saying it will be hysterical. “and i’m not scared of shit, we can do that.” they will shake hands on that. 

“deal. oh, let’s not forget i’m the better boyfriend, too,” rin will tease, poking all over haru’s sides to get him to laugh. it will work like it always does. “don’t you think, haru?”

“i’ll agree,” haru will heave out, “but only because that will make me the better boyfriend. unlike yourself, i can compromise.”

“you got me there,” rin will set his own food aside in favour of laying his head on haru’s chest. “you’re the best.” 

running his fingers through rin’s hair, haru will wonder how come the idea of living with somebody seems so appealing, nowadays. he always liked the arrangement he had with his parents and he enjoyed living alone when he moved for university. rin and he will not actually be living together, but it will feel like it with how much time they will spend at their respective places.

they’ll still need their space, their independence of one another, but haru will have come to enjoy rin’s company more than solitude. what he will not have learned how to like yet is sharing rin with others; he will find it difficult to act like himself with other people around. which is why he will dread leaving bed in a few hours to join rin for a new year’s day dinner with his family that gou will have insisted she host. 

formally, haru will be there because his parents are busy at work and rin’s mom invited him in their stead. it will be too early to bring up the dating conversation, so they will make do with kissing in the car in the parking lot near gou’s and the occasional moments stolen when nobody will be watching them at the function. 

knowing rin, he won't even try to hide how much he adores haru, so much so that it will probably be obvious to anyone who will bother to show up. just like it will be clear that haru can’t see a world above rin when he’s in the room. 

but that’s the future, haru thinks after he’s dropped rin off at the airport for what he hopes to be the last time. autumn has just started, but by the time winter comes around rin will be here. right now, though, haru has to deal with the wait. this time around, they promised to call every day this time, or at least text when their schedules overlap.  

but haru doesn’t miss rin, though, doesn’t get the chance to. he’s everywhere, haru finds, passing by a poster of a movie rin would have liked. he’s everywhere, even if not in person. and when he comes back, it will be as though he never left.