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to the river and back

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When Akane wakes up early in the morning a few days after the race, he stretches and revels in the fact that he never has to run again. He did his part; he’s finally free. He’s woken up in time for morning practice, accustomed to it, but he doesn’t have to go anymore. It’s fantastic.

There’s hours before his first class. He grabs a volume and rolls around on his futon a few times, getting comfortable.

Except he can’t. His body feels impatient. His legs itch.

“Oh, no,” Akane says aloud, horrified. He knows what this is. He stares at the comic, but it doesn’t help. “No.”

He wants to run. It’s terrible. He’s been incepted.

I hate you, he wants to say to the Haiji-who-isn’t-here as he leaves his room, I hate you, except Haiji is still in the hospital, and wouldn’t that be an awful thing to say, even in jest?

But—but Haiji would actually find it funny, he considers. And it’d probably make Haiji happy to hear it, too, because Haiji’s kind of twisted that way. In that case...

Ugh, I hate you, Akane thinks more firmly, and in his head imagines Haiji laughing at him as Akane stops in the genkan to slip his running shoes on.

 

When he steps outside, everyone’s already there except for Yuki, who had ripped off half his toenails running down the mountain, and Haiji and Kakeru.

Nico-chan-senpai grins at him. Akane sighs.

He runs with the others to the river and back.

It’s almost nice.

 

Haiji comes home to Chikusei-so and Kakeru flits around him like there’s nothing else in the world besides the two of them.

“D’you... t-think he realizes?” Shindou hiccups, slowly blinking and half-drunk, over his bowl of rice. They don’t eat in the kitchen anymore. When it comes to breakfast and dinner, everyone eats in the twins’ room because they can lay out a futon for Haiji there; right now, Kakeru is fluffing the pillow cushioning the brace on Haiji’s leg for the third time in the past twenty minutes. It’s probably been sufficiently fluffed.

Akane doesn’t even know which of them Shindou is referring to. Regardless, he answers, “Sure, I bet they even made out when they were alone in the hospital,” and leans down to pore more closely over the latest issue of Jump. There’s two main characters just this close to confessing to each other.

Really,” Shindou gasps, “D’you think?” and spills half his rice down his front.

 

Musa, because he’s Musa, thinks Haiji-and-Kakeru is the most romantic thing ever. This is right up Musa’s alley, next to whatever the hell is happening with Hana and the twins.

“I think you’re scaring them,” Akane tells him as they jog home from the store. Well, he’s pretty sure Musa’s only scaring Kakeru. Haiji, he thinks, is made of sterner stuff.

“Oh, but I can’t help myself. Their youth is so wonderful, so beautiful,” Musa sighs gustily.

A cherry blossom petal flies out from nowhere (it’s not even fully spring yet, so the culprit is, most likely, the florist a couple of doors down) and lands squarely in the middle of Musa’s forehead, a perfect testament to beautiful youth.

Akane stares.

 

“Is it really okay with you?” Akane asks once, when they happen to be the only ones left at home at the dorm. Haiji’s out for his physical therapy appointment, and if Kakeru’s not in class he’s probably there too. Yuki’s been visiting his hometown for the past week; Nico-chan-senpai’s out at his temp job. The twins, subbing in for a neighborhood soccer tournament, somehow managed to rope Shindou and King in as timekeepers this morning.

“Hm?” Musa says. There’s a tableful of papers spread out in front of him. It’s been some two years and Akane’s still not entirely sure what Musa’s studying; it looks like gibberish.

“Those two.”

He doesn’t need to specify.

“Ah,” says Musa, after a pause. His long fingers smooth out a few errant papers. On the counter, the rice cooker bubbles noisily.

Musa breathes out.

Akane’s read a few things about things, here and in other countries. He’s generally curious, in any case, in the way literature majors tend to be, which means he’s curious about this, too. But if Musa doesn’t want to tell him, he’s not going to press.

Finally, Musa says, “It’d be particularly foolish of me to not be okay with it.”

His Japanese is, like always, slightly too formal, and very careful. There’s a small, wry smile playing about his lips.

Akane thinks, oh. Then he thinks, This is another person to protect.

Akane’s not very strong. He only has words to wield, but he does happen to be good at them.

 

In the end, Akane only finds out Yuki and Nico-chan-senpai are involved because he stumbles upon them making out in Nico-chan-senpai’s room, where he’d come for help after his mouse’s right button stopped working.

The door’s slightly open, and his mind’s set on finishing his essay, so he’s not really thinking when he steps in before knocking first.

“Um,” he says after that, “sorry,” keeping his eyes up and away from where Yuki’s hand had been creeping up Nico-chan-senpai’s sweatshirt. “When you’re free, my mouse is kind of broken? I’m sorry.”

When he gets back to his room, he realizes he’s actually kind of jealous. Is everyone in this dorm dating?

Neither Yuki and Nico-chan-senpai speak to him about it, but Nico-chan-senpai comes over that evening to fix Akane’s mouse. Some time later, Akane overhears Yuki and Haiji murmuring to each other late at night in the kitchen when everyone else is asleep.

A few days on, Akane girds his loins and talks to the cute girl with the good opinions about shounen comic tropes.

He gets a date.

 

“Could I borrow some more romance comics?” Kakeru says from where he’s standing in front of Akane’s door, shifting from one foot to the other, cheeks red. He’s not looking Akane in the eye.

Akane, though, stares at him, dead-eyed.

It’s the second time Kakeru’s come by this week; the first time, he’d asked to borrow something ‘for reference.’ Akane likes spending time with Kakeru, but between this and Kakeru making them run faster than usual on their everyday morning jog even though Akane’s one-hundred-percent certain he’s never going to run Hakone ever again in his life, ever, his fuse is running short.

Evidently, Kakeru and Haiji hadn’t made out in the hospital. Evidently, no matter how many times Kakeru’s fluffed the pillow under Haiji’s leg, either of them have yet to make a move.

Akane finally throws his arms up. Kakeru looks alarmed.

“You could breathe on him and he’d still agree to date you,” Akane explodes. “You don’t need my comics to know that! Get yourself together!”

He slams the door shut.

 

The next month, Haiji tells them that he’s agreed to stay at Kansei after graduating to coach the track team for the next three years.

Akane knows for a fact that Haiji must have received better offers. He’d taken a team of amateurs to Hakone and left the race with the team seeded, their collective feat carpeting national news for days. (If Haiji hasn’t received some kind of communication from the Olympic team, even, Akane would eat the Sugiyama family’s treadmill.)

Haiji looks at them and bows as he asks for those staying on the track team next year to please take care of him. But the weight of his gaze, everyone can see, is for one person alone. Kakeru trembles under it.

Akane fights the urge to roll his eyes. Youth.

Late that night, he hears some muffled shouting between two people coming up from Kakeru’s room, directly under his. It abruptly cuts off, leaving silence behind. Akane never hears the door to Kakeru’s room open or close.

“Finally,” Akane mutters, though he can’t stop the smile that creeps across his face. “Congratulations.”

 

Akane’s still not entirely sure whether he likes running, even a little. But he does like the people he runs with.

That’s why he knows that in the morning, he’s going to get up early. He’ll put his running shoes on, and he’ll follow the others across town, to the river and back.