(Some time in early January)
Rin paused, half way through his bottle of water.
Standing before him was the same lad that barely have said a sentence to him for the past three years, despite being a part of the same team.
"What? Finally here to race me, Nanase?" He hid his curiousity about Nanase's agenda by downing the rest of his water.
The older swimmer clicked his tongue, forcing the words out in a rush like they were slicing his mouth raw.
"No, I need you to date me."
Rin swore that he just drowned from the water gliding down his throat, sputtering the rest out of his mouth.
The first time that Rin watched Nanase Haruka swim was when he was at his lowest, having lost all hope that he would make it into the National Team after that disgrace of a performance at today's qualifiers.
Nanase glided into the water like he had fins instead of legs, leaving the other seven competitors behind like it's child's play.
Something in his chest ached, imagining what would it be like to occupy the 5th lane, the one beside Nanase, and to swim against such a powerful and graceful opponent. But alas, he didn't even make it past his heat, let alone join Nanase as the crowd goes wild at his sub forty-eight seconds finish, bound for Rio with a time under JOC's qualifying time for the Men's 100m freestyle event.
He didn't want to credit anyone but himself, yet a part of him knew that the sudden need to compete against Nanase Haruka at the Olympic stage added a drive that pushed him past his misery and sulking.
In the next two days, Rin landed himself three butterfly events, and an official ticket to be a part of Tobiou Japan...
Matsuoka Rin and Nanase Haruka joined the team three years ago. Both barely twenty one but a powerful addition to the National Team nonetheless.
Nanase specializes in free and brought home a silver medal in the Men's 200m freestyle event in Rio, along with a handful of medals from the succeeding year's Pan Pacific Games, Asian Games, and World Championships. He's a graduate student from Hidaka University and attended the swimming powerhouse Samezuka Academy in high school.
Matsuoka's a strong contender for the butterfly events and even landed himself two bronze medals and a place on the podium during the 2016 Olympics. He shocked the world further when he came second to Nanase's gold in the Asian Swimming Championship a couple of months after the Olympics, just three-hundredth of a second behind Nanase's new best record of 22.07 seconds for the Men's 50m free. Since then he had been competing in both freestyle and butterfly events, and had proclaimed himself as Nanase's rival in various post-competition interviews. He studied and trained in Australia since his middle school days, only coming back to Japan for good during the Japanese Olympic trials for Rio 2016.
Both of them are aware of each other's presence, have shared the water multiple times, both as competitors and teammates. They're just not aware of it yet, but their lives were just about to get more affiliated due to one small favour of playing pretend...
(2 days prior)
"No." Haruka quipped. "And drop the -chan"
He can hear the exasperated sigh from the other end of the line, hating how he can envision Makoto rubbing the bridge of his nose as though nursing a headache.
"Haru," his best friend tried again. "I know that's not on your priority right now, but at least give it a try? I'm not rushing you into anything serious, it's just that..."
I'm getting married, Nagisa and Rei are moving in together, our other friends are building their own lives. We can't continue babysitting you forever...
Was more or less the unspoken continuation. This telepathy thing wasn't one-sided after all...
"Just... give it a try, alright?" Makoto spoke in his softest, maternal tone. "Aya-chan has a lot of friends that would like to meet y—"
"There's no need." Haruka found himself arguing, out of pride or irritation, he's not sure. "I'm already... seeing someone."
The gasp that resonated from the other end should have offended him, if not for the blatant lie that he just told.
"What? Why don't I know about this, Haru?!" His best friend squeaked.
"We just started trying to date... I haven't had the chance to tell you." Haruka marveled at how easy it was to lie when Makoto's not in person to gauge his every move.
The other male let out a sound akin to a sigh of relief, barely containing himself from asking a barrage of question that Haruka knew was coming anyway...
"Do they swim?"
Haru huffed like it should have been obvious. "Yes."
"Are they from the National Team?"
"Is it Matsuoka Rin?!" Makoto all but yelled into Haru's ear.
"What? Why do you think it's Matsuoka??"
"Well," A light chuckle was heard. "You only ever talk about him, Haru-chan. I'm not sure if you even know the names of some of your teammates."
"That's because he's annoying. Always asking me to race and to practice trying for the relay with him." Haruka clicked his tongue, recalling every persistent attempt from the redhead.
"Yes, but that made him stand out from the rest, right?" There was an annoying lilt to Makoto's tone that Haruka did not like. "Besides, Aya-chan and her sister are Matsuoka's fans. They tune in to most of his races and interviews. I'm sure they find him charming despite his blasè attitude."
There was a pause as though Makoto's considering if he should reveal more about his wife-to-be's fangirl secret.
"Especially, when he talks about you, Haru..."
Haruka rose a brow at that. "He... talks about me?"
"Haru! Do you even watch your teammates' races?"
"Only your own?!"
"Not even those."
Why would he watch them when he already knew the outcome?
Makoto sighed for the nth time. "Well, if you were watching, you'd know that he talks about you a lot. Saying stuff like he's aiming to beat your personal best, how being in the water with you gets him all fired up, and how he's working extra hard on his freestyle because that's the only event that you're competing in."
Haruka frowned, is that why every one are calling them rivals? Even though Haru refused to acknowledge such a childish concept?
"So... the one you're seeing— is it Matsuoka?" The hopefulness in Makoto's voice brought him back to the topic at hand.
He didn't intend for Makoto to guess who his imaginary lover was, which is why he was starting to hesitate going about this impromptu ruse.
"...What if it is?"
"Then I'm happy for you, Haru-chan. Having someone who loves swimming just as you do..." Haruka doubted that Matsuoka feels that way, but the genuine elation on his best friend's voice made it hard to counter the statement.
"Also, Aya-chan would love it if you invite him to the wedding... That's... actually what she was going to ask as a gift." Makoto laughed nervously and Haruka can't help but slap his own face with his palm. His idiocy's going to dig him his grave.
"But since you're dating, you can just invite him as your plus one!" Makoto's excitement was palpable. "I'm sure Ayane's friends that are interested in you would back off once they see that you're no longer on the market." He chuckled.
The prospect of being left in peace was so tempting, despite the voice in his head that was yelling at him that this was a bad idea. Well, if it can both pacify and make his best friend happy, that'll be killing two birds with one stone, right?
Besides, it's only for the wedding. He can just tell Makoto afterwards that it didn't work out between him and Matsuoka...
"Fine, I'll bring him to your wedding, but add another saba dish to your menu."
"Deal! See you soon, Haru-chan."
After shouting another argument to drop the -chan and a few final goodbyes, Haruka threw his phone and groaned into his palms.
Now, how the hell was he supposed to drag Matsuoka Rin into his best friend's wedding?!
"What did you just say?" Matsuoka finally responded after his coughing had subsided. "You're interested in me, Nanase?"
How he managed to look both annoyed and smug was a feat on its own, maybe Haruka had worded it incorrectly.
"No, I just need you to date me for a day." Haru paused, before adding, "Pretend date me, just to get my friend to stop meddling."
Matsuoka gave him a skeptic look before standing up to his full height, which unfortunately was a couple centimetres more than Haruka. "Pretend, huh? What do I get out of this if I agree?"
"You get to date me for a day." Haruka answered without delay.
Conceited bastard... Rin thought.
"Why would I want to date you, of all people, Nanase?" Matsuoka said with a dry, humourless chuckle. "And why are you asking me, by the way?"
"Doesn't matter." Haru replied. "What would it take for you to say yes? Do you want me to slow down the next time we're competing in free?"
"Hell no!" Rin seethed, fully offended by that bargaining offer. "If I beat you, it'll be because I'm better than you. I don't need you to give me a handicap, Nanase."
Red eyes were defiantly challenging Haru's icy blue, and the more he stared, the larger the flame in Matsuoka's eyes grew.
"Then, what do you want?"
"Nothing. Cause I'm not doing it..." The redhead gave him one last snarl before turning the other way. He had no time entertaining Nanase if it wasn't related to beating him at his own (and only) game.
Rin left despite the irritated hollers of his last name, ignoring the other swimmers like he always do, minding his own business like he should.
The only swimmer that he allocates his attention to aside from Nanase was Mikoshiba Seijuuro. The guy decided to plant himself by his side after that incident at the Olympic trials, three years ago, and since then he just kind of grew on Rin like an annoying constant presence that he didn't ask for.
Aside from Mikoshiba, there wasn't even much option when it comes to choosing who he interacts with. Most of their teammates are either wary or scared of him; the rest are just assholes that he can't stand. Some of them, like Shiina and Izumoto, still tries to invite him sometimes, but Rin knew that they'd quit trying soon enough.
Maybe that's why it's both an uncomfortable and slightly irritating change when Nanase started to spend the next few days trailing him and offering bargains that were not, in the slightest bit, even tempting Rin to say yes.
"Would you do it in exchange for this keychain?" Haruka dangled a weird-as-hell, creepy-as-fuck bird thing right in front of his face.
"The fuck is that supposed to be, Nanase?!" The bastard even had the audacity to look offended.
That was last Monday...
Two days later, Nanase asked him if he wanted to learn techniques as to how he can feel the water better in exchange for being his fake date. He gave him a deadpan look akin to how Nanase responded to him for the past three years, then dove into the pool.
Earlier, he was offered a top secret location where he can buy the biggest and freshest mackerel in all of Tokyo... He barely had escaped from Nanase once the locker rooms had been filled to capacity, quickly dressing himself up and dashing to his flat.
Who knew he'd be the one avoiding Nanase Haruka after years of getting nothing but grunts and glares from the guy?
Shoving the thought aside for now, he noticed that his front door was already unlocked and that a pair of familiar shoes were neatly shoved to one corner. Rin smiled, already glad for that small bit of a surprise.
"Oi Gou, you could have called first y'know?" He hollered from the entrance but can't keep his grin from forming.
"I have a spare key for a reason, Onii-chan." His sister responded, her mock glare turning into a wide smile as she dashed towards Rin, leaving the older Matsuoka with barely enough time to drop his bags and welcome the full on tackle.
"Alright, let go. I'm exhausted from training." He patted her head lightly until the smaller one relinquished her hold.
"You feel thinner, Onii-chan... and I also restocked your pantry because there's nothing in it except some tea and canned broth!" His sister glared at him, looking none but intimidating despite Rin's obvious height advantage.
"Ah, I was planning to restock tomorrow, haven't had time to do so in a couple of weeks." Rubbing the back of his neck, Rin said.
Gou rolled her eyes. "This is what happens when nobody's here to take care of you..."
Rin groaned and walked past his sister, why does she keep bringing up this topic whenever she visits. "I'm not a child to be taken care of, Gou. I don't need a nanny."
"You know what I mean!"
"I know," Rin was abrupt to counter. "And I don't like where this is going. I don't need anybody..."
"I'm just..." Gou bit her lip. "I- I just want to make sure that you're doing alright. That you're truly and finally alright..."
It was hard to get mad at her, but she sure is frustrating sometimes. "Really, Gou. I'm fine... Don't believe everything that Mikoshiba tells you."
His sister's ears reddened and she averted her gaze as though caught red handed.
Bingo! He would have to talk with that damn Mikoshiba later.
"Sei just kind of informed me that you've been turning down everyone that he's introduced to you..." Gou mumbled under her breath. "It's been years, Onii-chan."
"Oh so Mikoshiba is Sei now, huh." Rin replied sarcastically. "I know it's been years, and that doesn't mean I'm not over it. Have you ever considered that maybe I just don't like any of Mikoshiba's minions?"
"Well, how would you know if you wouldn't even give it a chance?!"
"I'm trying, Gou!" Rin gritted. "What makes you think that I'd rather sulk and dwell in the past? I'm fine and I'm pretty damn sure about that!"
Gou flinched a little when Rin rose his voice, something that the older sibling caught and felt guilty about.
"Look," He sighed, running a frustrated hand through his hair. "I'm fine, okay? I get that you and Seijuuro meant well, but this is still my personal business, yes?"
His sister timidly nodded, eyes of red looking down her feet. Rin placed a hand on her tensed shoulder and gave it a small squeeze.
"I- there's... actually someone..." Rin mumbled. "Someone that asked me out for a date..."
Gou whipped her head faster than she could blink. "What? Really? What did you tell him?!"
"Well, I haven't... said anything yet. He's been asking me for almost a week now." Rin would never admit the slight smugness that that actually brought him, even though he knew that he wasn't telling Gou the whole truth.
His sister's wide grin was back again and she was almost hopping on her feet now. "Well what are you waiting for?? Give it a chance, please? What's he like?"
Rin chuckled at the rapid succession of queries. "He's alright... He's an amazing swimmer." but that's only until I beat him... His mind supplied.
"Then, will you say yes?" Gou looked up at him, hopeful and nervous at the same time.
Rin sighed, feeling like he would rather pacify her now than to spiral back to their screaming skit. "I'll think about it, okay?"
When she smiled so genuinely and tackled him for another hug, Rin thought that she did not need to know the full story for now.
It has been days and yet Matsuoka refused to even give him a definite—not counting that initial spiteful "no"—answer.
Haruka would've given up by now, would've deemed it too much effort and just tell Makoto the truth...
If not for that annoying text that he received last Wednesday.
When I told her you'd invite Matsuoka Rin, Aya-chan was so happy that she cried (ღ˘‿˘ற)
Haru sighed, aggressively rubbing the excess water from his hair. When the redheaded bane of his existence came into view, he balled his fists and conjured up all his determination. If Matsuoka still chose to be stubborn, then he had no other choice but to offer his most valuable possession...
He'd have to bargain Loosy-kun...
"Matsuoka," He grabbed him by the arm, determined to not let him get away this time. "If you agree to be my date I'll... I'll give you my limited edition Northern Stoplight Loosejaw-kun T-shirt."
Rin furrowed his brows and yanked his arm away from Nanase. "I don't know what the hell that is..." He sighed and stared directly at the frowning swimmer. "But I'll do it, I'll be your pretend date."
Those blue eyes widened and if Rin would look closely he can almost say that they were shimmering under those thick lashes.
"Really?" Asked Haru.
"Yes, but you'd owe me three favours,"
The smirk on the taller one's face made Haruka gulp, only now noticing the shark-like incisors that littered Matsuoka's mouth.
"...and I intend to cash in one, tomorrow." Rin added, letting his grin grow wider.
"If it's anything illegal, I won't do it." Haruka lowered his voice, minding that they still were surrounded by their teammates.
"Relax," Matsuoka replied, running a hand through his wet locks. "It'll be simple, I just need you to make out with me in the locker room... and we just need to get caught."
Haru wanted to ask if Matsuoka knew the meaning of simple, if only his mouth hadn't felt as dry as the desert...