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in a town by the sea

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Makoto has known Haru for as long as he can remember, and out of all of those years, he’s never encountered another person who can make his friend as expressive as Rin. Similarly, nobody he knows or could ever hope to know can make Rin quite as emotional as Haru.

It’s strange, watching their emotions unfold in front of him, like he’s somehow landed in the season finale of one of those drama shows his mother likes to watch. He wants to step in-- tries to step in--when things get too heated, but it only makes things worse for everyone.

Instead he learns to sense when Rin and Haru’s relationship gets tense, and gently guides the two of them in the right direction to the best of his ability. He’ll drop a subtle comment about Rin while he and Haru are walking to school, or get intel from Sousuke and Nitori about Rin’s state and convince Haru to visit. It’s not quite as sneaky and impactful as it sounds, but it usually gets the job done.

This time, it’s not Haru he nudges, but Rin.

Things have been going smoothly between everyone as of late, which is relieving. (Being the mediator time and time again takes its toll, little by little, even though he is doing it voluntarily.) He only intends to call to ask for some coaching help for the kids, but when Rin picks up, something about his voice sets Makoto’s mental alarm bells off almost instantly.

“Hey,” Rin says shortly, sounding tired. Makoto frowns, holding back his mother hen instincts to get to the point faster.

“Hey, Rin,” he says, his voice cheery to mask his own end-of-the-year fatigue. “Hayato wants to learn butterfly, and I can’t really teach him that well. I looked up a bunch of techniques, but I just don’t think I’ll be able to help him. Could you come into the swim club later?”

“Why don’t you ask Rei?” Rin points out, accompanied by the sound of shuffling. Luckily, Makoto had had the foresight to think this part of the conversation through.

“Rei’s a great swimmer, and he’s really good with techniques, but you weren’t there when he first learned to swim.” He chuckles to himself, remembering the many failed attempts to teach Rei the basic strokes. “I think he’s too logical to teach the kids.”

“And you came to me because I’m the least logical person you know,” Rin jokes, then cuts himself off with a cough. “That’s fair, but I’ve got a lot of work to do, and I have to keep my team on the right track, too. Can’t you ask Sosuke?”

“He’d scare the kids,” Makoto says simply, imagining Sousuke in the ISC. The thought makes him chuckle again.

“Makoto, I’d scare the kids,” Rin points out, exasperated. “I can’t believe I didn’t scare you when we first met.”

“Oh, you did scare me,” Makoto says lightly. “But you didn’t have a full set of shark teeth yet, so it was really more like being friends with a cat than a monster.”

There’s a pause on the other line, accompanied by more shuffling. “That’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to me,” Rin says at last, his voice monotonous. “But my point still stands.”

“Well, if you’re too busy, then I’ll manage,” Makoto says reluctantly. “Would you mind asking Sousuke to come in? I’ll get him one of the blue wetsuits and tell him to smile.”

Rin snorts. “Yeah, just don’t expect it to happen. Is there anything else?”

“Um… Oh! Nagisa’s having a sleepover at Haru’s place and he wanted to invite you. I know you’re busy, but it could be good for you to take some time off, and Rei can help you study if you want.

He’s met with another short pause and a few coughs. “Nagisa’s having a sleepover at Haru’s place?” Rin repeats, sounding confused.

“His parents don’t like the loud noise, Rei’s don’t either, and I’ve got Ren and Ran at home, so Haru’s place is usually ideal for get-togethers,” Makoto explains.

“I’m assuming this is non-consensual?”

“Basically. Do you think you could take a break and come?”

He wants to add, you sound like you need it, but he’s not sure how well that would go over. Still, he’s crossing his fingers and hoping that Rin says yes. Not only does he sound tired, but it almost seems like he’s starting to get sick.

Rin sighs heavily on the other line. “Is Rei any good with literature?”

Makoto pauses to think for a second. “Well, he’s better with math and chemistry, but I think he’s good enough.”

“Maybe I can come,” Rin says slowly. “If I’m not too busy. Is it this weekend?”

“Saturday at five,” Makoto tells him triumphantly, already knowing he’s won. “I’ll see you there, then?”

“I make no promises,” Rin says.

Makoto smiles, says a polite goodbye, and congratulates himself on a successful nudging. Things are going smoothly. His friends are getting along, and everything is out in the open. It’s everything he could have asked for.

He tries to shake the underlying sense that he might be wrong.

Nagisa has been told that he has a good sense of intuition.

He’s good at reading people, even if he only ever uses it to tease them. He knows when one of his sisters is having boy trouble, or when Rei is stressed about his exams, or even if Makoto’s patience is wearing thin. He’s spent so much time around his friends, he likes to think that he can figure out exactly what’s the matter with any one of them.

But the way Rin’s been acting? It’s… something entirely different.

Momo tells him that Rin is acting strangely a few weeks after their sort-of joint practice. It’s not that Nagisa hasn’t noticed Rin acting strangely, but he’d just assumed it was because of everyday Rin angst.

There are flower petals scattered around the fairground.

He hardly notices at first, but the more the little pink blossoms show up, the more aware of them he is. They’re all smushed together, some of them trampled, some misshapen. It’s not uncommon for the sakura trees to be in bloom this time of year, but there aren’t any near enough for the petals to be normal.

He calls Rin, because against all odds, something tells him that the two mysteries are connected, and he’s never exactly been the most logical person.

“Rin-chan, I was helping my dad clean up from the festival and there were a bunch of sakura petals trapped behind a garbage can,” he says, crouched down by the flowers. “Weird, don’t you think?”

On the other end of the call, Rin groans. “Nagisa, I don’t care.”

“But they were all kind of stuck together, like they’d been crushed. It was kind of spooky.” Nagisa makes an awesome ghost noise, picking up a twig to poke the flowers. One particularly stubborn clump falls apart after a few pokes, revealing a bright red stain. Blood ?

“There’s nothing remotely creepy about some flowers. I’m busy revising, don’t you have someone else to bother?”

“Nope!” Nagisa chirps, pretending not to hear the annoyance in Rin’s voice. He wants answers, and he’s going to get them. One way or another. “Rei’s being boring and Haru and Makoto are cleaning the pool. I’m supposed to be helping, too, but I took a break. Want to say hi?”

“...Not right now.”

“Jeez, so cranky, Rin-chan. You’re not avoiding us, are you?” Nagisa teases, dropping the stick. There’s blood in the flowers--but why?

“I’m not . I’m hanging up now.

“Fine, be that way,” Nagisa says petulantly, standing and brushing off his knees. “But just so you know-”

“Hanging up.”

The line clicks dead.

“... Haru really misses you,” Nagisa finishes with a sigh. Because it’s true.

Another thing his sharp intuition has picked up: the undeniable attraction between their own dear, sweet, clueless Haru-chan and the far less dear and sweet but equally clueless Rin-chan. It’s been going on for a while, but lately something about it seems different. More intense. Maybe they’ve finally realized that this is their last chance.

Before they go off to college, that is.

Rin-san has been acting strangely.

Rei first notices around the time of the festival. He seems shifty, and he keeps coughing into his hand. (Even Rei knows that he usually has better manners than that most of the time.) He means to bring it up during the festival, but Haru’s been sticking close to him the whole time, and he can’t bring himself to interrupt them. He supposes it might be something between the two of them, or maybe between all of the third years. Either way, he figures it’s not his place to intervene.

When Nagisa calls him about the sakura flowers around the site the next day, he doesn’t really understand why it’s important. He knows sakura hold some type of significance to Rin-san and Haruka-san, but he figures it must just be a coincidence. After all, neither of them had had anything sakura-related anywhere near them all night long.

“Didn’t you see Rin-chan coughing earlier?” Nagisa points out stubbornly, worry evident in his voice even through the phone. “Maybe he’s sick.”

“He’s probably fine,” Rei says, although he isn’t so sure. There’s a cold going around, despite the weather warming up, so it’s possible that Rin really is ill. “And besides, Rin-san knows how to take care of himself. Er, well, Sousuke-san can take care of him,” he amends.

“But he was acting weird all night ,” Nagisa protests. “ I think he’s hiding something from us.”

“If he is, then it’s his business,” Rei says, trying his best not to show that his curiosity’s been piqued. He says goodbye to Nagisa a few minutes later, determined to let the subject drop all together.

But when Haruka-san comes into school a couple of weeks later with a worried expression that nobody can seem to lift, Rei’s brought back to the suspicion that something is up.

“Haruka-san, is everything alright with Rin-san?” he asks in between classes. Haru’s frown deepens, and he looks away.

“He’s sick,” he explains quietly, his voice tinged with concern. Rei’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise, and he wonders just how sick Rin-san must be to be causing Haruka-san worry. His mind jumps to the worst case scenario of Rin lying in a hospital bed, tubes and wires taped all over his body.

But if something that dire were to happen, he figures Makoto-san would have known about it and told him by now.

“How sick?” Rei asks, trying to rationalize.

“Blood and fainting sick,” Haru answers shortly, looking away. Rei gets the feeling that he doesn’t want to talk about it, so he lets the conversation drop.

As the others head to the roof to eat lunch, he sneaks away and pulls out his phone to call Rin. After a few rings, he answers.

“Hello?” Rin says, his voice hoarse.

“Rin-san, it’s Rei.”

“Hey. What’s going on?”

Rei laughs quietly, relieved that Rin doesn’t seem to be dying at the moment. “Funnily enough, that’s what I was about to ask you,” he admits. “Haruka-san told me you weren’t feeling well the other day. Is everything alright?”

Rin pauses for a couple of seconds before answering. “It’s fine, Rei. I got food poisoning the other day, and I’ve just had a really bad cold for the past few weeks. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Are you sure?” Rei asks, doubtful. If Rin-san’s sickness has Haruka-san visibly distressed, it must be something worse than a cold. “I mean, not that I don’t believe you,” he adds quickly, “it’s just that he said there was blood, and that you almost fainted. That doesn’t sound like food poisoning to me.”

Rin sighs heavily. “I’m really busy right now, Rei,” he says. “I’ve got two tests today. Do you think you could call me back some other time?”

“Of course, Rin-san,” Rei agrees, a frown creasing his forehead. “Just remember to take care of yourself, okay? Don’t let your ambitions get in the way of your health. And drink water!”

“Thanks, I will,” Rin replies quickly, then hangs up. Rei pulls his phone away from his ear and frowns down at it for a few seconds before the sound of footsteps pulls him out of his thoughts.

“Rei-chan, where did you go?” Nagisa asks, tugging at his sleeve. “Come on, you’re missing lunch.”

“I’m coming,” Rei says, slipping his phone into his bag and following Nagisa up to the roof. Rin-san can take care of himself, he remembers, trying to shake the uneasy feeling Rin’s voice had given him as he joins his friends. Haru still looks worried and distant, but he doesn’t say anything else about Rin, so Rei doesn’t either.

Sousuke and Rin don’t really call each other.

They text, more often than not. It’s more convenient, and it makes more sense since they see each other every day. No need to waste time with a long phone conversation when they could just send each other a few words with whatever they meant to say. It’s simple, easy, and not at all awkward. Just like he likes things.

Rin is not acting simple and easy.

He’s coughing constantly, avoiding everyone and refusing to answer questions or take care of himself. He wakes up early in the morning and goes to sleep late at night, sneaking in and out of the dorm when Sousuke is asleep. The few times Sousuke does see him, he’s got dark bags under his eyes that contrast sharply with his pale, pasty skin. It’s worrying.

Where are you? he texts one night. It’s nine thirty and Rin hasn’t yet made an appearance in their room, leaving Sousuke to wait up and worry like an overbearing parent. He doesn’t like it, but with the way Rin has been acting lately, he figures it’s necessary.

On a walk, Rin writes back a couple of minutes later. Don’t wait up.

Isn’t it a little late for a walk? Sousuke counters, crossing his arms as he waits for a reply.

So? It’s not past curfew, Rin argues.


Rin doesn’t respond for a little while, which gives Sousuke plenty of time to pace and overthink. He wonders, briefly, if Rin actually would break curfew just to avoid him.

I’ll be back in a little bit, Rin says at last. Sousuke groans in frustration, then sits down at his desk, preparing for a long night.

What are you hiding? he asks, cutting to the chase. Rin can dance around the subject all he wants, but that doesn’t mean he has to.

Nothing, Rin lies. It’s obviously a lie, and Sousuke is one hundred percent calling him on it.

Bullshit. You’ve been acting sketchy for weeks.

No I haven’t! Rin writes back. And you’re one to talk.

I thought we learned our lesson about hiding things from each other last time, Sousuke responds. Can’t you just talk to me?

There’s nothing to talk about. Will you just drop it?

You’re coughing up blood and you expect me to drop it? Are you insane?

I don’t care, Rin responds. Call me whatever you want. I’m done talking about this.

Sousuke glares at his phone screen, hoping that Rin gets the message wherever he is. He sits down at his desk and rubs at his eyes, preparing himself for a long night. He doesn’t care how long he has to wait up until Rin comes back to their dorm and faces him. They’re going to talk about this, and they’re going to find a solution, whether he likes it or not.

Haru takes a deep breath, then accepts the call. He can hear the others making plans in the other room, talking about how they’ll get the sakura into the pool and how they’ll clean it out afterwards, but he tunes it out in favor of listening to whatever Rin has to say.

“Hey,” he starts, his voice a croaky whisper. Haru flinches, remembering the blood on the floor of the pool’s bathroom and the way Rin’s hand had felt when he’d held it; cold, clammy, lifeless.

“What is it? Are you okay?” he asks, soft but concerned. Under normal circumstances, he’d ignore his phone or let Makoto pick it up for him, but these aren’t normal circumstances.

Rin hesitates for a second on the other end.

“I’m… I’m not better,” he admits at last, sounding tired. “Are you… busy later?”

“Actually, I thought you could come down to the Iwatobi pool tomorrow.”

“I can’t really, uh, swim or anything.”

“I know,” Haru says quickly, ignoring the fact that his heart had just skipped a beat. He had known that Rin couldn’t swim, but hearing him admit it is something else entirely. Rin never lets anything get in the way of his swimming, not sickness or his personal life or his mental health. The fact that he’s willingly admitting that he won’t be able to swim makes Haru’s heart jump into his throat.

“Just to… hang out,” he finishes weakly.

“This sounds very forced. What are you all up to over there?” Rin asks, suspicious.

Haru glances into the other room, where the others are still planning excitedly. “Are you free, or not?” he asks, ignoring Rin’s question.

“I’m free,” Rin says, followed by a cough. Haru flinches again, closing his eyes and suppressing a shudder.

“Okay,” he whispers, leaning against the wall. He knows there’s something seriously wrong with Rin, even if he won’t admit it, but that’s not gonna stop him from trying to figure it out. If he has to pull out all the stops to get Rin to take care of himself, then so be it.

“Okay” Rin agrees, just as quietly. Neither of them have anything else to say, but they both stay on the line for a while after they finish talking. Haru listens to the sound of Rin breathing, taking comfort in each breath even though they’re shaky and weak. He’s still here, he thinks. He’s okay for now. He’ll be okay.

He closes his eyes and wishes that that was true.