Chapter 1: Olympian Rivals
(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...
Chapter 2: Olympians Getting Caught
I honestly didn't expect to receive so many kind and encouraging words just for the first chapter alone, thank you so much for making my day a tad much brighter! Here's the second one, just because you lot inspired me to write more for this lovely pair! ♡
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"You're teasing me... aren't you?" Haruka glared at the still pokerfaced redhead.
Rin shook his head and silently basked in the frustration on Nanase's face. "Nope. If you really want me to participate in this stupid roleplay of yours, I'll do it, but you need to do favours I ask you without asking any questions."
Haru balled his fists and hoped that his glare would make Matsuoka take back his absurd favour.
"Is he bothering you, Nanase?" A voice came up from behind him and Rin's brow shot up as he looked past his shoulder.
"Mind your own business, Fujioka." Matsuoka snarled despite the staggering height difference between them.
"I wasn't talking to you, I was talking to Nanase." Fujioka trailed his eyes down to him and Haruka had to avert back his gaze from those steely greys.
"We're just talking." He answered.
Fujioka hummed in response but shot one last sharp look at Rin. "Well, Kirishima asked if you want to have lunch with us. He and the others on their break are already there. You and I can go together if you want."
"Excuse me, but since you didn't even let me finish my conversation with Nanase, I'll go ahead and take my own break, yeah?" Rin bitterly interjected, feeling like he was intruding for some reason.
When Matsuoka grabbed his windbreaker and his bag, Haru noticed that he didn't even stop to wait for anyone to accompany him.
Was he going to eat on his own?
"Nanase?" Fujioka called his attention back.
"Ah, I... Tell Ikuya that I'll join in another time." Haru bowed slightly and rushed to where Matsuoka's retreating back was at.
"Are you going to eat alone?" He asked once he was within earshot.
Matsuoka shrugged. "I don't like noisy crowds and unnecessary questions."
Haru can relate to that. "But you usually eat with Mikoshiba-senpai, right?"
"Seijuuro's on his day off today, he'll be back tomorrow."
He wanted to ask if Matsuoka usually eats alone when Mikoshiba's not around, but he questioned why does he even care?
"Why aren't you with your friends?" Rin glanced at him from the side of his eye and caught how Nanase's shoulder tensed.
"I don't know." Haruka replied. "I guess I want to talk about your first favour."
Rin halted his steps at this, making Haru stop as well. "You're agreeing to it?"
"Were you expecting me not to?"
"Honestly, yes." Rin huffed.
Haruka glared and snorted at him. "Well you're wrong."
Rin can't help but grin at the defiant reply. "Not gonna ask any questions about it?"
"You told me not to." Haru met his side glance.
"Wow, Nanase. You're not as stubborn as I thought." He chuckled. "Then it's a good thing you're having lunch with me. We need to talk about a lot of stuff."
That shark grin was back as Haru let himself be dragged to wherever place Matsuoka was going to.
"That's all you're going to eat?" Rin rose an eyebrow at the sad slices of flimsy tuna sandwich on Nanase's plate.
"They don't have what I wanted." Haruka huffed, crinkling his nose at the sight of Matsuoka's massive burger meal.
"What did you want to eat? You could've told me you don't like fast food."
Well, it was hard to tell that you dislike most food anyway.
"Whatever," Haru replied. "I prefer my own cooking anyway."
"Oh come on, Nanase. Not even gonna tell me what you usually eat? This is why you barely get along with the team, you're so closed off."
"You're the one to talk..."
"Oi!" Rin felt his cheeks heat up, knowing that Nanase was pertaining to Mikoshiba being his only companion. "It's not my fault that the rest of the them are assholes like Fujioka Shizuo, and you're no better than me with making friends, you're just being dragged around by that Kirishima and Shiina."
Haru clicked his tongue but knew it was true, not to mention how often he declines their invitations anyway. If Asahi and Ikuya hadn't been part of the team, Haruka would undoubtedly be by himself as well.
Not that it's ever a bad thing, being alone.
"Okay, enough of this. We're here to talk about finalizing our deal." Matsuoka placed his greasy burger down and wiped his hands with a napkin.
"You already agreed to it." Said Haru.
Rin frowned. "Yeah, I did. But you gotta give me some more information than that, Nanase."
"Oh," It was only then that Haruka realized that he never mentioned any details to Matsuoka before.
"It's for my best friend's wedding." He started explaining. "His fiancée is a fan of yours and wants to invite you to their wedding."
Rin hummed at this. "Well that doesn't explain why you need to introduce me as your boyfriend."
With a click of his tongue, Haruka hated why he didn't include 'no questions to be asked' when he was bargaining with Matsuoka. "I just got tired of him and our other friends trying to rush me to date people just because they're settling down. They won't believe I'm fine with not dating anyone..."
Huh, what are the chances of our shared suffering?
Rin thought to himself.
"Ah, I get it."
"Then you're not as dense as I thought, Matsuoka."
"Oi, asshole!" Rin snarled. "If we're supposed to be dating on your friend's wedding then we gotta start with laying off with the last names and insults, yeah? Call me Rin and I'll call you Haruka."
"Haru..." The other mumbled.
"Call me Haru." He elaborated. "Haruka's too... girly."
Rin chuckled at that. Another shared suffering...
"So, Haru," Testing the name on his tongue, he started. "When's the wedding?"
"In two weeks," Haru replied. "But I want to know more about what you want from me in return," He paused before adding "...Rin"
Rin grinned, both from Haru's reluctant mumble of his name and the previous enjoyment from the other's frustration. "As I said, it's simple. Three favours in exchange for doing what you want in this wedding. I get to call the shots and I get to ask them from you whenever I want."
Haruka remembered that old cartoon movie that Nagisa and Makoto loved and did not like how he imagined himself as the blue blob that grants three wishes. Rin explained that they won't involve anything immoral or illegal, but his first favour's already making Haru anxious about the other two.
"Fine, but I don't like to be left in the dark. I get to ask questions about why and how you're going to use your favours." He argued and watched Rin scrunch up his eyebrows.
"That seems fair, I guess..." He finally relented. "But first, we have to establish a story."
"Story?" Asked Haru.
"Yeah, y'know... how we met, when did we start dating, who asked who to go out in a date with them, that sorta stuff..."
Haruka frowned at this, can't they just tell them they're both swimmers and now they're dating? Why do they have to make this more complicated than it already is?
"Do we really need to do that?" He asked Rin, who scoffed with his reply.
"Of course, idiot. Imagine people asking us questions and I answering them that you begged me for a year just to date you, and you giving a completely different answer like you slapped me with a fish and realized I had beautiful eyes or something. You don't want that, do you?"
He hated being wrong but that actually made a lot of sense. "Fine, let's just say you asked me out."
"Nuh uh, I'll say you asked me out first." The stubborn bastard replied.
"I don't want that." Haruka bristled. "Why can't we just say we both agreed to it and just went on a date because we want to?"
Rin hummed, that's certainly something that he imagined Nanase Haruka would do... not that he's been imagining things about Nanase...
"That's fine. We can say we went out to lunches and dinners just after last year's World's Championships and just kinda started getting romantic before we knew it."
Haru nodded, that seems natural enough.
"But we still need an exact date that we would say we 'officially' started dating." Rin met Haru's eyes and the both of them hollered in unison.
How convenient! Rin chuckled. He made a lame ass excuse not to spend Christmas at home, anyway.
Haruka hummed his approval, he had been sick last Christmas from swimming in the cold Iwatobi ocean that he had to cancel out his plans with Makoto, Nagisa, and the rest. Haruka have yet given them an explanation about that.
The rest of the conversation was about knowing things about each other that might prove to be an issue if they're not privy to.
In the span of their one and a half hour break, they learned that they both originated from a small fishing town, not that far from the other. If Rin and his family hadn't moved to Kyoto when his dad died, they probably had met in one of the swimming competitions that they competed in...
Rin learned that Haruka is an only child, that his parents support his swimming very much but can't be around most of the time due to his father's job. He learned that Makoto was the one getting married, that they grew up together and been best friends since then. As well as that bit about Haru attending Samezuka Academy and had Seijuuro as his captain for a year.
There's not much to learn after that, except for the fact that his diet mostly consists of mackerel, and that he had a weird fixation with creepy-looking deep sea creatures.
What Haru gathered were mostly bits and info about Rin's life in Japan... He barely talked about his stay in Australia and gave him a guarded look when Haru uncharacteristically tried to pry for more information.
"I just trained and studied there since I was 13, went back here for good when I turned 21, during the Olympic Trials for Rio. That's all you need to know." The redhead answered firmly, and started sharing random facts about himself like how he liked meat and kimchi and how he isn't fond of anything sweet; that his father used to swim too before he became a fisherman to support him, their mother, and his sister Gou.
He learned a lot about Matsuoka Rin—more than his liking, to be honest—in such a short time that he can almost picture his whole childhood, as if he was there... but something at the back of his mind felt lost.
It's as if there was piece of a puzzle missing. A part of the story, untold... for how did that sweet and bright child grew into this cold and distant swimmer that barely even talk about his mother, and a land which he spent years on?
Even before his hand slapped the side of the pool, he can already feel that this one's going to be better than the previous laps. Removing his goggles and being greeted by Mikoshiba's grinning face added another proof to his hunch.
"You almost shaved half a second from your personal best there, Matsuoka. You're getting good each day, kid." The older swimmer chuckled and offered his hand to help Rin out of the pool.
"Flattery won't make me overlook the fact that you're being too chummy with my sister, Mikoshiba." Said Rin, but still accepted the offered hand.
Seijuuro mumbled something that sounded like 'Always the overprotective brother' under his breath, Rin let it slip for now as he was currently a man on a mission.
"Want to hit the gym with me later? I've gone so long without." He casually offered whilst reaching for his towel.
Seijuuro rose a brow at this. "That's odd. You usually complain that I'm invading your space most of the times, what's gotten into you?"
"Well, keep asking questions and see if I ever invite you after this." Rin warned just to keep the act up, Seijuuro laughed his signature booming one before slapping his back not so harshly.
"Alright, sharp tongue, I'll see you after practice then, let's leave earlier than the rest." Sei grinned at him and Rin suppressed the triumphant grin that was threatening to grace his face.
Having known Mikoshiba Seijuuro for a couple of years really does pay off sometimes, Rin knew that Gou still had her doubts about his made up alibi last time and had been getting bits and info from Mikoshiba (not that she had any other options). Seijuuro on the other hand, despite his air-headed, brawn-over-brain appearance was actually quite sharp and intuitive. He wouldn't just believe it had Rin told him the same thing he told Gou, but if you knew the guy, you'd also know that the best way to make him believe something was to make him see it with his own eyes.
Hence, his plan to get "caught" making out with Haru in the locker room later...
A few minutes passed, once he was sure that no one was close enough to hear, he approached Haruka with the stealth of a shark.
"He took the bait," He mumbled, "Meet me at the locker room thirty minutes earlier than everyone else. We have to make it seem like we hurried in there just to get a few minutes of fooling around." The only indication that Haru heard him was his slight wince once Rin was done talking.
"You still haven't told me why we're doing this. If you're interested in me, just say it, Matsuoka." Haruka replied with his eyes upfront.
Rin scoffed, rolling his eyes behind his goggles. "Keep dreaming, Nanase. I'm only doing this because I want people to lay off my personal business. You're not the only one with an annoying Makoto that cares too much, sometimes."
Haruka glanced at Rin from the corner of his eye and wondered if he's talking about the sister that he mentioned. "Alright, but if you make any inappropriate move more than kissing, the whole deal is off." He warned, just for safety.
"Like I said, Haru," Rin let the name roll playfully on his tongue. "Keep dreaming." He smirked and dove to an empty lane.
Haru bristled in annoyance but kept his eyes on Rin when the swimmer started crossing the pool with butterfly strokes. He's a powerful swimmer and the water somehow likes him, but Rin doesn't treat the water well... He's too aggressive, like he's willing the water to submit to him with every stroke, instead of letting it lead the way.
"Nanase?" A familiar voice called to Haru, he whipped his head and was greeted by Fujioka Shizuo's concerned grey eyes.
"Ah, Fujioka-san?" He was his captain when they were in Samezuka, next to Seijuuro when he graduated a year ahead of them. He was also in Rio where he won his silver medal for the 400m Individual Medley, and bronze for the 200m backstroke.
"Are you sure that Matsuoka's not bothering you?"
Haru gasped, he couldn't have possibly heard them, right?
"Did you hear us talking?" He asked, somehow anxiously.
"No," Shizuo shook his head, brown curls shaking with it. "But I just want to warn you about Matsuoka. Steer away from him if you can, he can be quite... dangerous." There was a grim expression on his face that made Haru curious.
"Well, have you heard how Hasegawa got a concussion last month? He and Matsuoka had an argument before that, people say he pushed him so hard that his head bounced back from a concrete wall." The taller one explained, making Haru frown with disbelief and confusion... Did Rin really do that? Sure, the redhead appeared almost always at ire, but Haru never knew that he had violent tendencies.
"Look, I said that not to scare you or anything... I just thought I should let you know." Haruka met Shizuo's eyes and it looked as if the lad had something more to say, but pressed his lips and ruffled Haruka's wet hair instead.
Haru had been too preoccupied to feel annoyed by that, if what the guy said was true, then he can not let his guard down around Matsuoka. He sighed and tried to think of the positive side, after Makoto's wedding and two more favours to be paid off, he can just go back to ignoring everyone, including Matsuoka Rin...
Haruka knew that he was fidgeting, and that Rin was starting to notice it too. It's been a little over ten minutes since he and Rin dashed to the shower to wash down and get dressed. He might have pouted a lot about his pool time being cut short but at the same time, he wanted this act done as soon as possible.
"He's in the shower, he'll be done in about ten minutes." Rin said, beckoning him with his hand.
"Ok, how do you want to do this?" The redhead asked, already too close for Haruka's liking.
"It doesn't matter." Haru replied.
"Fine, then let's..." Rin finished off his sentence by grabbing Haruka by the arm and backing him up in a small and secluded area of the locker room, pressumably near where Seijuuro's locker was. "Is this fine?" He asked, so close that Haru can count those red lashes if he wanted to.
"Doesn't matter." Haruka mumbled again, averting his eyes as he can practically feel Matsuoka's steady heart beat against his chest.
Rin had his hand beside Haru's head, their chest flushed with just the barely zipped windbreaker between them. He did not want to think about how this would be the first he's kissing someone since... what happened in Australia... and how Haru appeared like a trapped animal against one of the lockers was not helping with his sudden uncertainty to push through with it.
"Oi, you're too tensed." He said, watching how Haru's shoulders stiffened even further.
"It doesn't matter, it's not like we're here to enjoy this."
"Well, it matters to me!" Why was this idiot making this harder for the both of them? Can't he tell that he's not the only one feeling nervous right then?
"I don't want to feel like I'm taking advantage of you more than I already am! I hate feeling like I'm forcing myself into anyone." Rin hissed with a barely contained shout, banging his hand against the metal by the other's head. This made Haru wince and tried to push Rin's chest off of him, moving frantically with the sole purpose of getting away from Rin.
The taller one took in the fidgeting mess in front of him and let out a frustrated sigh, hating the fear in those usually defiant eyes. With shaking hands he circled Nanase's waist with one arm and softly cradled the back of his head with another, resting his forehead against the squirming lad's.
"Haru," he whispered, softly ruffling those raven locks. "Just close your eyes, okay? I won't hurt you, I'd never. I promise..."
Slowly, he watched those blue eyes disappear behind Haruka's eyelids, he can feel the tightness of his muscles give away minute by minute, his breathing began to seem more controlled.
Haruka tried to calm himself and be rid of the thoughts that had him frightened in the first place. It's just that seeing an angered Matsuoka Rin took his mind back to Fujioka's previous statement.
He can be quite dangerous. The man said.
Yet there was something about the way he was being held and the soft tone that he was being spoken to now that caused him to still trust the redhead for some reason. He closed his eyes and listened to Rin's soft promises and murmurs against his lips, he can feel how close he was despite the lack of vision. His other hand was now softly cupping his cheek instead of the back of his head and before he knew it, there was something warm and soft being pressed against his lips. Repeatedly.
"It's okay, Haru." Rin mumbled after the initial kisses, making sure the other swimmer was no longer tensed and cowering within his embrace. When he dove in for a firmer kiss, moving his mouth softly, he can feel the shudder that ran through Haruka's body.
Haru can feel his knees go weak, thankful for the locker door that was digging at his back, for support. His hands absentmindedly settled for Rin's shoulders as he started responding to the kiss. It was wet, awkward, but over all not a bad thing. He was feeling lightheaded, as if he wasn't breathing enough, couldn't breath enough because of how distracted his mind was. Someone's heart was pounding loud against their chests and he wasn't even sure who to blame for that.
It was so easy to get loss in that unfamiliar taste, a hint of chlorine and something that suspiciously tasted like fish. Rin tried to swipe that taste with his tongue but ended up receiving a gasp from Haru. Feeling the sudden want to continue, he took that as an opportunity to taste Haruka further, feeling the soft tug of hands against his hair when his tongue met its similar muscle, then a whine that sounded so good to his ears for some reason. Temporarily making him forget why he was there in the first place.
"Rin, ready to go? I'm done he—"
They both heard Mikoshiba's choked gasp and how he halted his heavy steps, two pairs of wide eyes meeting Seijuuro's disbelieving ones.
Unlike their original plan, they both need not act as though they were surprised by this, Rin was genuinely stuttering as he relinquished all holds of Haruka, whilst the other boy was spouting a really deep blush and can't even lift his eyes to meet Seijuuro's intent gaze.
"Sei, we— dammit, just... Let's go, okay? You're done, right?" Rin tripped on his own words, smoothing down some of his hair which stuck up from Haru's tight grip.
Shit, Haru! It was only then that he remembered the other half of this mess.
Haruka had his eyes to his feet and he was breathing hard, judging by the rapid movements of his chest, his face was a lovely shade of red, but Rin's certain that that last bit was mutual, feeling how hot his own face was.
"Haru," He called, his voice croaking in the process. "I— See you... later." He internally cursed how embarrassed he felt when he was the one who planned the whole thing. Haru nodded and met his eyes for a brief moment before walking away from the scene of their crime.
Even when Rin and Mikoshiba were out of sight, one of them definitely wasn't out of mind. He drained the entirety of his water bottle and willed himself to calm down, in order to process what happened. With gentle fingers, he touched his face, feeling his heated cheeks and panting mouth, but had to stop upon feeling his fingers against his lips... They were warm, but not as warm as when he was kissing Rin...
Rin, with his firm hands and gentle lips.
Rin, that tasted like water in the pool.
Rin, who had been Matsuoka just a few days ago...
He was kissed by Rin...
With his fingers still carressing his lips, he can feel his heart starting to pick up it's pace once more.
Is that what kissing felt like?
For Rin, triumph didn't come until later that night... When he's in bed, exhausted and kind of sore from their session at the gym.
He ignored all of Seijuuro's subtle questions and attempts to revert back to the topic about what he just saw. Of course he felt pretty great that his plan worked out perfectly, but he still can't shake that small part of his conscious mind that urged him to feel exposed and vulnerable.
It wasn't even his first kiss, far from it, but technically it was his first kiss with someone that wasn't him...
Rin groaned and tried to shake the memory out of his head, Haru did a good job with acting coy in front of Sei, but then again it might not be acting... He knew from experience that Nanase Haruka does not like attention, considering how he answers the post-races interview as brief as possible, as well as turning down almost 80% of his sponsorship offers.
A part of him also wanted to check up on the other swimmer, recalling the panicked look that crossed Haru's face when Rin got irritated with him. Yes, he was used to the frightened gazes from everyone else, murmurs of how rude and menacing he can be, but the last person he expected it from was Haru.
Haru that usually glares at him when he gets too persistent. Haru that has defiantly been ignoring him with all ounce of arrogance in his body...
What happened to that Haru?
His phone beeped, signalling a new text. There's only a handful of people who could be sending him a message at this hour (or any time, in general), and Rin already felt like he knew who it was from.
So... Nanase Haruka, huh? Not bad at all, Onii-chan! He's a solid 8 in my and Hana-chan's scale of muscle perfection!
It was a tad faster than he expected but what's important was that it happened anyway. He sent a quick "Shut up, stop talking to Mikoshiba" to his sister before completely turning off his phone.
He just bought himself about a few months worth of freedom from his overbearing sister and his only friend. That's all that matters, ...right?
What do you mean I wrote a fake dating fic just to have them kissing at the second chapter? Pfft, that's absurd! Haha. Anyway, let me know your thoughts about what these dorks are digging themselves into. Lots of love and stay safe, everyone! ♡♡♡
They both hadn't anticipated how awkward things would get after that sort of planned rendezvous at the Tatsumi Centre's locker room. Rin can't stop gulping whilst rubbing the back of his neck, and Haruka automatically changes his course to the opposite direction whenever Rin's around.
Makoto's wedding is in two weeks and if the two of them were going to act like this whilst surrounded by people who actually grew up with Nanase Haruka, then they'd be fooling no one, not even the blind.
Of course, it's not Rin's job to ensure that their little play would at least be believable from a certain standpoint, this was Haruka's game after all, and normally Rin would just shrug his shoulders and let everything crash and burn around him...
But after the obvious embarrassment that Haru went through because of Rin's devious ploy to save his own skin from his sister, it almost felt like he owed this wedding pretense to Haruka in exchange for dragging the other male as his accessory to the crime.
So, despite how every muscle in his body was working against him, he approached Haru once Coach Azuma was out of their field of vision.
"Race me." He demanded, ignoring the strong urge to avert his eyes from Haru's surprised blue.
"No. Not now, Matsuoka." With a quick side turn of his head, Haru replied.
Rin frowned and grabbed one of the boy's arm, dragging him to where the starting blocks were; ignoring Haruka's protests.
"If not now, then when? When we're at your best friend's wedding and you can't even look your supposed boyfriend in the eye? You think anyone would buy that, Nanase?" He hissed, making sure no one was within earshot to hear them.
Haru hated how right Rin was at the moment, but he didn't expect to feel so awkward every time he's around. His mind kept looping back to what they did in the locker room and how someone saw them going at it. How he reacted when Rin got mad, and that fluttery feels after the deed was done... He didn't like how all of of those emotions were clashing into one massive pile of an annoying feeling.
"Look, you're not the only one feeling jittery here, alright? That's why we need to talk about this..."
"What if I don't want to talk?" What if he just wanted to forget about it, forget the stupid deal and everything that has to do with Matsuoka Rin and just swim, like what he wanted, now more than ever?
"That's why I'm asking you to race me, if I win we'll talk, if you win I'll buy you saba for dinner. Deal?"
"Matsuoka!" Assistant Coach Kondo hollered with a deep frown. "What are you doing just standing there? Haven't you seen the board? Have you even warmed up yet?"
"Yes, Coach." Rin replied, fastening his goggles over his eyes. "But I'd be racing Nanase first, 100m free."
Kondo rose her brow and pointedly looked at Haruka. Normally, this kind of excuse would earn anybody an additional and more challenging pool work, but it's a known fact that Matsuoka had been trying to race Nanase since the two entered the team and Nanase have yet to agree even to a single one of those requests.
"And you agreed to this?" She asked, directly looking at Nanase, who appeared beyond conflicted.
Haru took a deep breath before answering. "Yes, I'm racing him."
Rin didn't think that'll actually work, can't keep his jaw from dropping because of the surprise. He only ever raced Haru in competitions, never just for the sake of it.
Coach Kondo can't help but grin at this, blowing her whistle as loud as she could to catch everyone's attention.
"Everyone, clear out the pool for a moment." She met Azuma's questioning eyes and smirked before continuing. "Nanase finally agreed to race Matsuoka."
There was a collective gasp and murmurs from the team since almost all of them are aware how this would be the first time that it would happen, Nanase Haruka actually acknowledging their one-sided rivalry.
When every single swimmer left the 50m pool, Haru's already dreading the attention that was being thrown their way. He could see Ikuya from afar, spouting a bewildered look, and Asahi who was already cheering his name.
They took the 4th and 5th lane respectively as the usual buzzing atmosphere was replaced with dead silence. Coach Azuma was observing from a distance but nodded to Coach Kondo as she gave the initial four-pulse whistle.
Rin and Haru mounted the starting blocks, Rin after a quick snap of the band of his goggles and Haru after a quick glare at the redhead beside him.
"I'll bring back that arrogant look of yours, Nanase. Just you wait." Was all he heard from Rin before the starting whistle was blew.
The pair dove in at the same time, both starting strong with powerful dolphin kicks. Haruka pulled ahead until the 15-metre mark where they transitioned to the actual stroke, Rin started to inch past him with aggressive strokes that churned the water beside Haru. Rin's lead lasted until the turn, where he pulled way ahead of his opponent due that well earned momentum from his turn.
Usually, Haruka wouldn't even care if he's being left behind... The water had brought him bronze, silver, and gold before, and he always knew that there were swimmers out there whom the water likes better.
But with Matsuoka, it's different... It's like he's carving a path for himself with each strong stroke, disregarding how the water carried him gracefully and chose to dictate his own pace. If he won, it'll be unacceptable, because Haru knew that that's not how being in the water works.
With gritted teeth he pushed through with stronger kicks, catching up to Matsuoka by the 35th metre mark. When their hands slapped the wall, Haruka resurfaced breathing heavier than he usually do.
"Forty-seven, seventy two." Coach Kondo announced, "Both of you... A shared personal best." She grinned so wide at them and the others started hollering like the pair had actually won an Olympic medal, but with a time like that, they could have easily tied for silver in the Rio Olympics.
Coach Azuma gave them a proud grin and a small tip of his head but Haru still can't process what happened, and how it happened in the first place.
"Feeling arrogant yet, Haru?" Rin called his attention, his grin showed off his pointy incisors but that didn't dampen the dazzling smile.
Haru averted his eyes, for reasons other than shame this time, feeling the adrenaline high that was still coursing through his veins. "Whatever," He mumbled. "You owe me dinner. We technically both won."
He didn't need to look at him, but for some reason he knew that Rin was grinning even wider than before...
"That was amazing, Matsuoka-san!" Said Takagi Ryou, he was the newest member of the team, a college student from Todai University. "I've always thought that Nanase-san was our best swimmer when it comes to free, but that race earlier was just... wow." The kid grinned so wide at him and it kind of reminded him of Mikoshiba's younger brother.
"Ah, thanks, I guess." Rin replied rubbing the back of his neck. He caught Haru from the corner of his eyes, unmoving as though he's wordlessly waiting for someone. "I guess I'll see you around, then?" He added, making Takagi eagerly nod and bow his head.
He walked to where Haruka was leaning near the natatorium's entrance, already dressed and ready to leave. The other male started walking when Rin was close enough to not lose sight of him, making Rin redouble his pace just to catch up to him.
"Oi Haru, where are you going?"
"You said you're buying me dinner, I know the best place to get saba."
Rin rolled his eyes but let himself be dragged around the busy Tokyo evening, eventually they stopped in front of a dainty hole-in-the-wall restaurant but with a significant number of people nonetheless. A few minutes in queue and a couple of subtle attempts from Haruka to convince Rin that he should order the same saba-miso that he's having, and finally their food were served, pipping hot.
His stomach rumbled when the aroma of broth wafted in front of him, the owner was even generous enough to add a few slices of pork for free, as Rin concluded that he either recognized the both of them or Haruka's just one of his regular customers.
"This is pretty good." He mumbled after a slurp of noddles and a big spoonful of broth.
Haruka nodded, despite not ordering the same dish, he had tasted their ramen before. "But I still like the saba better."
Rin scoffed but paused to dwell in the fact that Haru's finally talking to him once more. "Are we good again?" He asked, hesitant but hopeful.
"Yeah," Mumbled Haru, everything else that happened in between their kiss and now was helping him a lot to put it all in the past... Especially how Rin appeared genuinely concerned with how Haru had acted the morning after their little show. "Sorry for making it awkward."
"It's not your fault, idiot. I didn't expect it to be so awkward either." Maybe it was because he hadn't kissed anyone in so long, or maybe the fact that it was Nanase Haruka he had kissed, out of all people.
"Told you all it would take was to race me. Let's race again sometime, Haru. I'm still going to beat you, one of these days." Rin added and flashed his smug smile.
"If everyone's going to react that way every time I agree to race you, then it's never going to happen again, Matsuoka." Haru said in between bites, glaring slightly at Rin.
Rin frowned but agreed with the sentiment nonetheless. "Well, I'm just glad we're good again. We still need to work on our act for your friend's wedding. Starting with your stubborn ass that insists on calling me Matsuoka."
There was a small flinch and a frown from Haru but he ultimately nodded his head. "I'll try my best to do that, Rin... but what do you mean we need to work on our act?" Wasn't the elaborate get to know each other session enough?
Rin sighed and dropped his chopsticks, reaching to where Haru's left hand was and squeezing it with his own. As expected, the raven-haired yelped and yanked his hand as though he was burned by the touch, staring incredulously at Rin's deadpanned expression.
"See? Imagine if we're currently at your friend's wedding." Rin explained and waited for realization to dawn on Haruka's face.
"...Do we really need to?" Asked Haru, ignoring how that almost sounded like a whine.
"Based on how you're reacting? Yes, we both need to get used to having each other close. And don't think I'm enjoying this more than you are." Rin snarled, just to make it clear.
Well, at least it's a mutual suffering. Haru thought.
"Fine, we can spend time and... practice." They had two weeks, that'll be enough to at least not want to run away from each other, right?
Rin responded with a nod and finished the remaining food from his bowl. He wiped his hands and offered his right one to Haruka. "I'm done. Let's get this over with as quick as possible, yeah?"
Haru stared at the offered palm before reluctantly taking it whilst nodding. They walked with their hands clasped, thankful for how their long sleeves practically hid the attachment.
It was a weird feeling, holding someone's hand, he hadn't done it since Makoto and he were children; but it wasn't exactly uncomfortable either, the warmth from Rin's palm was a welcome addition during that cold January evening.
"You can let go if it's too much for you," Rin suddenly spoke. "We can take it as slow as you need."
Haru felt that the lad meant it genuinely, but his choice of words made him feel like he's talking to a child or a disabled person.
"I'm fine." Was his reply. "You can let go if it's too much for you." He shot the words right back and watched Rin whip his head from the unexpected challenge in his tone.
"I'm fine too." Rin told him with a defiant squeeze of his hand. Haru squeezed back until he heard a satisfying pop from Rin's fingers and smirked from the small flinch that he felt.
They parted ways after a few minutes with nothing but a small nod, and all the way to his flat Haru tried not to think of how much warmer his left hand felt compared to his right.
They tried to spend at least their lunch breaks together, quizzing each other about questions that people might ask them at the wedding. The hand holding started becoming a constant and not so awkward activity as well, despite Haru's complaints about Rin's sometimes sweaty hand or how Rin jolts from Haru's ice cold palm upon the first touch.
"It's like holding hands with a corpse!" Rin complained one time, Haru didn't want to know how Rin knew how that felt.
There were other practices as well, such as holding a decent conversation between them without ending up in an awkward silence or getting under each other's skin, considering how different their point of views were.
"I'm not asking you to stop eating saba, I'm just saying that as an athlete you should have a balance and varied meal." Rin argued, after Haru ordered the same mackerel dish for the third lunch in a row.
"I'm not complaining when all you eat is meat, so you shouldn't complain about what I eat, too." Haru stubbornly countered, making Rin sigh in resignation.
"Fine, but I'll still say I told you so if you die from mercury poisoning before your best friend's wedding." How Rin managed to glare whilst shoving a chunk of steak in his mouth was a wonder to Haruka.
There were days when they just sit together after practice, once everyone's gone, sharing Rin's earphones between them. At first, it was a surprise to Haru that what was playing was an English song that he never heard before, but considering that Rin spent a significant portion of his life in an English speaking country, his choice of songs made sense...
Haru cannot speak nor understand the language, but he certainly can appreciate the melody of Rin's varied song choices. The calmness and serenity between them when a soft tune was playing, or how Rin gets too pumped up when a loud pop or rock song played, nodding his head to the beat or mumbling some lyrics under his breath.
"Don't you ever listen to Japanese songs?" Haru asked him one time.
Rin glanced his way before facing forward once more. "It's not that I don't like them, it's just that..." He paused, as though contemplating what he would say next. "You know how they say that you'll know what someone's going through if you listen to the songs that they play?"
Haru shook his head but Rin just chuckled at him.
"Well, I think that's the same for me... And listening to songs that most people around me can't understand, at least here in Japan, makes me feel less vulnerable that I'm giving out too much of what I'm feeling... You know what I mean?"
This time Haru nodded his head, music is a form of art and he too tends to express feelings that are too overwhelming to say, through his paintings, works of art on canvas that only he can interpret correctly.
"I paint when I feel like I'm about to explode and there's no pool nearby." He didn't know why but felt like he wanted to share that bit with Rin. "My friends like to fight about how to interpret them, but it feels good knowing that only I know what they mean."
Rin stared at him with wide glassy eyes before giving him the softest, most genuine smile that he didn't know Matsuoka Rin was capable of.
"You and I aren't so different as I thought, Haru..."
And Haruka silently agreed with him.
"Matsuoka, Nanase, I want to have a word with you two after lunch." Coach Azuma told them, making the pair share a curious gaze with one another.
"What do you think he wants with us?" Rin asked him.
"I don't know, unless you were caught in some trouble that I don't know of and dragged my name with you." Haru gave him a suspicious glare until Rin flicked his forehead not so lightly.
"Idiot, how can I get in trouble without you knowing, when we're basically together during all our spare time?" Rin said, recalling Mikoshiba's teasing grin whenever he tells him he'd be having lunch with Haru.
Haru hummed, still suspicious but he let it slip for now. Then, there was a tap on his shoulder, which startled both Rin and himself.
"Haru, do you want to have lunch? Asahi wants to discuss how we're travelling to Iwatobi for Makoto's wedding." Ikuya appeared behind him, a grinning Asahi in tow.
"Yo, Matsuoka." The other redhead greeted. Rin nodding his head in return.
"What do you say, Haru? I'm thinking Kisumi can drive us there but we have to call him first to confirm." Asahi added, his arm resting against Ikuya's shoulder.
Haru glanced at Rin first as though wordlessly asking if he's okay with it, Rin rose his brow before scoffing and giving a quick nod of his head.
"Okay," He said to his friends, then glancing back to where Rin was. "Later, Rin."
He didn't even hear or see Rin's response before Asahi was crowding both his and Ikuya's personal space.
"Why didn't we invite Matsuoka?" Asahi asked, and Haru was just about to second that when Ikuya cut him off.
"Don't," He glanced at Haru's direction. "We can't talk about him if he's with us."
Both Haru and Asahi gave him a confused look but it wasn't until they were seated at some Chinese restaurant that Ikuya finally clarified what he meant.
"So, what's up with you and Matsuoka?" He bluntly asked Haru.
"What do you mean?" The raven replied with furrowed brows.
Ikuya gaped at him and turned to Asahi, who just shrugged and appeared as clueless as Haru was.
"Seriously? Even you?" He glared at Asahi. "He's racing the guy that he barely talked to before, he's having lunch with someone who we didn't shove right at his face, he's calling him Rin, Asahi! Don't tell me you didn't catch that!"
Asahi gasped and turned to Haru with wide eyes. "You're right! What's that about, Haru?!"
Ikuya rolled his eyes as if to say finally, but turned back his gaze to Haru.
So that's what they meant... How stupid was he to think that two of his close friends would not notice how often he spends time with Rin, when he barely goes out to eat with them in the first place.
But what would he say to them? That they're practicing their act for Makoto's wedding? Not knowing what else to do, he picked up his phone and scrolled through the barely a dozen list of contacts in it.
They're asking why I'm always with you, what do I say?
He sent it to Rin. Ignoring his friends' bewildered faces upon being reminded that he indeed owns a phone.
You can tell them what you want to, but we'll see them at the wedding, right? They'll hear the lie eventually, one way or another.
Was the reply.
Haruka sighed, the last thing he wanted was to involve more people into this mess. But Rin was right, if they'll be involved either way, might as well soften the blow by letting them know beforehand.
"Who are you texting?" Ikuya can't help but ask.
"Why are you texting him in the middle of this?"
"I asked him if it's okay to tell you guys."
"Tell us what?!" It's rare to see Ikuya agitated, but it's a sight to see every time.
Haru took a deep breath and looked his friends in the eye.
"That I'm bringing him as my date to Makoto's wedding."
"What?!" The both of them hollered and Ikuya almost shot out of his seat.
"Date?? What? Since when, Haru?!" Ikuya demanded.
"You're dating Matsuoka? Why didn't you tell us? We should have invited him sooner." Asahi interjected, by then they were talking over each other that it was getting hard to understand them both.
Haru just raised his hand and sighed for the millionth time in just a span of a few weeks. "I was planning to tell you on Mako's wedding, and I'm bringing him because Ayane's a big fan, Makoto asked me to invite him."
"You still haven't told us when it happened, Haru. I still can't believe you're dating someone and didn't tell us!" Replied Ikuya, and the remaining minutes of their break was spent by Haru retellling the story that he and Rin had formulated a few weeks ago. Suddenly thankful that they had done that in advance lest he'll be texting Rin right then, demanding for an impromptu story to go by...
"Finally!" Rin hollered as soon as Haru was back. "Coach is already asking for us and Mikoshiba's been pestering me since you left, kept asking if you and I fought or something since we're not having lunch together."
Haru sympathized with that, it must've been annoying... He silently prayed that Ikuya and Asahi wouldn't act like that, now that they know that he's "dating" Rin.
The two of them immediately went to where Coach Azuma's office was, being greeted by not only their head coach but the other assistant coaches as well.
"Matsuoka, Nanase," Coach greeted them. "I'm not going to beat around the bush here. I want you two to start training for the freestyle relay."
Rin gasped and turned to Haru who was frowning quite a bit.
"After that shared personal best of yours last week, we conferred and agreed to start preparing a practice regimen for you two, as a part of the freestyle relay team, but of course you'd need to do good on your qualifiers first." Coach Azuma explained.
Rin was feeling his heart race, the relay was something that he always wanted to experience, but he knew that there were a lot of factors to take into account before you can even be considered for the roster. This time, it's being offered at his feet, it might not be the medley like he dreamed of as a child, but it's still a relay to begin with.
"Of course, this is still up to you both. If you choose to focus on your individual races, we understand." Azuma's eyes fleeted to Haru. "After all, this isn't the first time that Nanase turned down our offer." But with Matsuoka, they decided to try their luck again.
"What?!" Rin hissed at Haru. "You turned down a relay offer before?"
Haru clicked his tongue in annoyance and felt a hard smack of dejavu right in his face. "I only swim free..."
"It's still is free, idiot! C'mon, don't tell me you're declining again this time?" Rin argued, his tone raising. It wasn't until one of the assistant coaches cleared their throat that Rin remembered where they were.
"We'll give you boys time to think about it, for now just finish off your afternoon set and rest up."
They both bowed after the dismissal but Haruka knew that Rin wasn't just about to let it go so easily.
"Haru, we'll do it, right? Tell me you'll do it." The annoying Matsuoka Rin was back just when Haru was starting to forget that he existed.
"You do it, leave me out of it." Haru said, not halting to entertain him. Of course, this wouldn't stop someone as stubborn as Rin.
"Give me one good reason why you wouldn't do it." Red stared down defiant blue.
"Too much work." Haru said... Why can't everyone get that?
"Not good enough."
"I don't like it."
"You haven't given it a chance yet." Rin hollered, a hand around Haruka's arm to keep him from walking away. "How would you know if you like it if you haven't even tried it??"
Haruka glared at him and tried to pull his arm away, why was Rin being so annoying right now?
"I said I don't want to, I just want to swim free."
Rin snorted, a smug grin forming on his face. "You're scared, aren't you? That you're not as good at other events outside you precious freestyle races."
"I'm not scared. I just don't like them." Haru took full offence at that statement.
"Yeah, right. But I kind of get it, to be honest, I'd be scared too, if all I'm ever practicing for are the same set of events then it gets kind of scary knowing that you can screw up a potential medal in a relay team where every one gave it their best, just because it's more challenging than what you're used to.." Rin gave him a faux sympathetic look which made Haruka's blood boil.
"Stop trying to analyze it like you know me." Haru felt his voice rising, his heartbeat ringing in his ear. "If anyone's going to be bad it at, it's you, your aggressive strokes work best for butterfly, but your free is just disrespecting the water!"
Rin had no idea what that last bit meant but he can't stop now when he's so close!
"But how will you ever prove that you're better than me if you aren't even part of the roster, Haru?"
Haruka pushed Rin's chest to increase the distance between them, still feeling the aggressive need to shut Rin up.
"Fine, I'll do it, you'll be eating your words when I'm anchoring us to win, Rin!" He announced but immediately felt his blood run cold when Rin lit up like a Christmas tree.
Despite his protests, he was dragged back to Azuma's office where a very enthusiastic Rin knocked and shouted "We'll do it, Coach!" before shutting the door and grinning at Haruka's horrified face.
"You're so annoying, Matsuoka. Don't you dare tell anyone that I fell for that." He snarled as they made their way back to the pool, mustering as much venom as he can gather, which unfortunately did not even dampen Matsuoka's annoyingly vibrant mood.
"You're not exactly rainbows and sunshine as well, Nanase, but we have to get used to that, don't we?" Matsuoka threw his arm around his shoulder and crowded him more with his smirking face. "After all, we're swimming a relay together!"
Thank you so much for all the lovely reviews and kudos that you lot are leaving me, each chapter! Lots of love for everyone! ♡
Makoto's wedding is in two days, by then Rin probably can confidently say that he's ready to stand by Haru's side and introduce himself as his boyfriend. He knew Haruka's story by heart—not that there's much to know anyway—and have been familiarized with his (weird) quirks over their past weeks of practicing. Over all, having to pretend date Nanase Haruka wasn't all that bad... The lad was far from high-maintenance and could be cooperative when he really wants to.
Haru on the other hand, can now stand the fact that someone's constantly invading his personal space, be it their practice hand holding, or the arm around his shoulders on occasion. He discovered that Rin was unconsciously touchy, and that sometimes the lad himself can't even draw the line between practice touches and actual human necessity for a touch.
The surprising part was that Haruka didn't actually mind all that much... It's not as annoying as he thought, touching and being touched by someone else... so long as Rin keeps his mouth shut, that is.
They also started incorporating the practice regimen for the freestyle relay, and Haruka still thinks that it's a waste of time, practicing for other things such as exchanges and team dynamic instead of just swimming free like the usual. Still, the need to be at least better at this than Rin was there, and he can't help but feel a little smug whenever Rin gets scolded for being too aggressive.
"That was way too early, Matsuoka! Izumoto haven't even touched the wall!" Coach Takai hollered and Rin rubbed his nape with a sheepish look.
"Sorry, Coach. I'm just not used to swimming after Izumoto."
"Well, get used to swim after anyone from the roster, remember we've yet chosen an anchor out of you lot so the possibilities are endless." He reminded him which Rin nodded to. "Alright, again; after Takagi this time!"
"He's pretty fast but clearly not used to swimming for a team yet." Izumoto mumbled, and only then did Haru notice that he walked closer to watch more intently.
"You used to swim with Makoto and the others." Haru pointed out, recalling that Izumoto Kotaro was the fourth member of the Iwatobi Swim Club and swam relays with his other friends.
"Yeah, used to anchor all the time, but as Coach said, in a freestyle relay anything is possible. I swam first during the Olympics and third at Pan Pacs, I haven't anchored since college." He grinned at him and shot Haru a curious look. "You? You didn't swim for the relay team in Samezuka, right?"
Haru shook his head, Mikoshiba and Fujioka most definitely tried to persuade him but he was shooting them down before they even got the chance to finish.
"Then, what changed?" Kotaro asked.
Haru glared at that bob of red hair that was currently making its way across the pool. "I got manipulated into joining."
Kotaro followed his line of sight and chuckled when it landed on an oblivious Rin. "I never knew Matsuoka can be charming when he wants to."
"He didn't charm me." Haru snapped, too quick that it sounded defensive.
The lad gave another round of a chuckle and Haru was starting to wonder what's so amusing for him. "Well, whatever he used, I'm just glad it worked." Kotaro grinned at him. "Let's do our best, Nanase." He offered his hand and Haru reluctantly shook it.
Right, in order for this work, they all needed to do their best...
"Great work, Matsuoka-san. You were so fast!" Ryou was leaning against the edge of the pool as Rin got out.
"Don't feed him compliments yet, Takagi." Coach Takai snapped. "I know you can do a cleaner transition than that, Matsuoka. We'll try again tomorrow, now go to Coach Azuma for your regular set."
"Hai." Rin bowed and gave Takagi an awkward nod of acknowledgement, still wasn't sure how to respond to the lad's complements.
"You got yourself a little fan, huh?" Sei teased him once he was on the other side of the pool, cooling down from the relay practices.
"Shut up, he's just new and easily awestruck. He would act that way towards any other swimmer."
Seijuuro frowned at how easily Rin dismissed the idea of someone admiring him. "Why can't you just accept that someone finds you amazing, Rin? You know, not everyone in this team are assholes like what you made them to be." He noticed the way Rin just pursed his lips. "Just... don't scare the kid away, alright? Stop pushing people away from you, Rin." Then he stood up reluctantly after a pat on Rin's back.
He bit his lip, just shy of breaking skin... It's not as easy as everyone's dictating him to, the last time he bared himself to someone was...
Rin ignored the voice, closing his eyes and waiting for it to go away.
"What?! Why can't anyone leave me alone for a moment?" He hissed and snapped his sharp eyes to where a startled Haruka was standing.
Rin choked on his gasp. "Haru, I thought—"
Cautious blue stared back at him but Haru didn't move away when Rin stood up to face him. "Are you... okay?"
Rin sighed, hating how Haru took the blunt from Mikoshiba's words. "Yeah, just annoyed, I guess."
Haru stood there, feeling the awkward tension between them that he hadn't felt for a whilst, waiting for Rin to break the ice. But at the same time, he can't help but wonder...
"Is this about the relay, Rin?" The question was out of his mouth before he even knew it.
"What?" Rin's guarded expression turned to confused in an instant. "What about the relay?"
"That you're not very good at it?"
"Oi," Rin felt his cheeks heat up upon the realization that Haru had watched that. "I'm getting better, you bastard. And an early start is better than your late dive, Haru." He countered.
Haru glared, so Rin's been keeping tabs about his relay practices as well, huh? "I'm not an idiot, Rin. I know that a late and early start in a relay are both terrible."
Rin huffed and puffed his cheek like a child, Haru ignored how he found that... fascinating.
"So what are you upset about?" If it wasn't the relay, then what is?
"Huh?" Rin blinked, realizing he had forgotten that bit. "Ah, that's nothing..." How come getting distracted by Haru being a prat proved to be a positive thing nowadays?
"What about you? Surely you didn't come here just to annoy me?" Rin reminded him and Haruka nodded his head when he remembered why he came.
"Makoto and Ayane asked if we could escape call them later, I told them I'd ask you if you're free." Makoto said that Aya's so excited to meet Rin... What's so exciting about that?
Rin's brows furrowed. "Escape... call?"
"That's what he told me over the phone." Haruka shrugged, he didn't know what that meant, either.
"Haru," Rin was fighting back a snort. "Don't you mean Skype call?"
Haruka frowned, how was he supposed to know that? "Whatever, will you do it or not?"
Rin calmed himself and gave a small nod. "Yeah sure, it can be our final practice before the actual wedding this Friday." He doubted that the idiot can even use Skype on his own. "Although we have to do it at my place, since my sister's coming over later tonight."
Haru agreed and texted a quick "Okay" to Makoto.
"Any last reminders before we do this?" Rin asked, opening his laptop and dialing for Makoto via the number that he sent to Haru.
Haru shook his head, they've practiced enough and he was half distracted by taking in the surroundings of Rin's flat, anyway. It was a typical Tokyo-sized flat with a modern layout. There were very minimal decorations and Haru was itching to paint on one of the empty walls near Rin's bedroom. It was nice and neat for a busy athlete living on his own, but it also felt quite sparce with no touch of personality at all...
"Oi, don't zone out now, it's ringing!" Rin informed him and readjusted the laptop on top of the kotatsu.
Blue eyes blinked a couple of times when his best friend and Ayane came into view, they both were smiling and waving at them but Haru scooted closer just to make sure they're real...
"Say something," Rin elbowed him, the pair on the other line were already asking if they could hear them.
After getting over his initial fascination about this new discovery, Haru took in Makoto's soft smile and Aya's awestruck gaze and tight grip against her boyfriend's arm.
"Hi, this is Rin." Haru awkwardly pointed at the redhead who furrowed his brows at him.
"Is this how you usually start a conversation?" He huffed and decided to take the lead from here on out.
"Hello, Tachibana-san and Hitoki-san, nice to meet you both, and congratulations on the upcoming wedding." He gave them a small smile and watched the brunette lass fight back a squeal.
"Ah, Matsuoka-san, thank you. And just Aya and Makoto is enough." She politely replied, to which her fiancé chuckled to.
"That's right, any friend of Haru-chan's our friend too." Green eyes trailed to Haru, "More so, someone he's dating..."
Haruka averted his eyes in hopes of hiding how nervous he was about being found out, but thankfully, the couple thought he was just being embarrassed.
"Aww, Haru-chan's almost blushing." Ayane cooed. Which caused Haru to snap a "I told you both to drop the -chan!", ultimately making Rin chortle.
From then on, the four of them eased into a casual conversation about nothing and everything at all. Rin asked questions about how Makoto and Ayane met and answered similar ones about how he and Haru started dating (because apparently, that's what people usually ask when you're in a relationship).
Ayane talked about her work and excitedly told them about a newly discovered deep sea creature under the sea of Japan, she's working as a Marine Biologist which made Haru like her instantly, both sharing a passion with regards to the life hidden beneath the water.
Makoto occasionally asked Haru of his well-being and gave him reminders not to soak too long in the bath, or eat too much mackerel. Rin complained that he already told him that but he just wouldn't listen.
"I think he listens to no one when it comes to saba, Matsuoka-san." Makoto chuckled.
"And it's not the only thing he's stubborn about either!" Was Rin's eager reply.
"Don't talk about me as if I'm not here..."
"And just Rin is fine, I guess."
"Oh, alright then, Rin!"
"Don't ignore me either!"
And it went on until Ayane run out of questions to ask Rin and Makoto ran out of rants to share about his best friend. They said farewell along with a couple reminders about the wedding, then before Haru knew it the screen weren't flashing the couple's faces anymore.
"They can't see us now?" He asked Rin who was popping his back from being crouched too long.
"Yup, we passed the last test, Nanase." He grinned at Haru who let out a sigh of relief. Both Makoto and Ayane looked like they've got no doubts that Rin and Haru were truly dating, at least he can relax knowing that all those weeks of practicing (and suffering) had paid off quite handsomely.
"They're not so bad, quite chatty, but that's not a bad thing either." Rin ended up laying on his back with his eyes closed.
"You were very chatty too, Rin."
"Tch, well I just think it'll be rude if the two of us were both not speaking, Haru." He peered one eye open to glare at Haruka. "Honestly, are all your calls usually that one-sided?"
Haruka bristled at that but knew that it was the truth, he tends to listen more whenever his friends call, only sharing the barest information with as little word count as possible.
The sound of the front door opening had Rin bolting upright, the startled pair remained rooted in place even as Gou sashayed her way to where they were.
"You're home early, Onii-chan." Her smile fell upon noticing the other house guest but came back wider after recognizing who it was.
"Nanase Haruka-san?" She softly asked.
Then Gou was barelling towards him, pinching Haru's cheeks then his arms, until Rin swatted her hands when Haru started squirming.
"So it's true?! You really are dating Nanase Haruka!" Gou's excited tone filled the tiny space.
"Yeah, so quit touching him."
Gou giggled and stared at Haru like she still can't believe he's real. Then her eyes turned soft when she looked at Rin.
"I'm glad you're seeing someone again, Onii-chan." She smiled, "Mom would love him..."
Rin's shoulders tensed as he helped Haru up. "Don't tell her any of this. I don't want to mess things up this early." His voice was firm and final, making his sister lower her gaze, almost as if saddened by the words.
It took her seconds but her grinning mask was back again when Haru had finally gathered his things. "So this is why you're now always telling me to let you know, before I come over..." She eyed the two of them deviously and it probably didn't help that both of them remembered that Mikoshiba told her about the kiss.
"T-take your mind out of the gutter, jeez! Haru's leaving anyway, stay here and I'll just accompany him out." Rin said, carrying some of Haru's stuff with him.
"Nice to meet you, Nanase-san!" She called to them.
"Ah... likewise." Haru politely replied.
Once at the door, Haru turned to Rin and met his gaze. "Thanks for helping with the Skype call."
Rin nodded, "Like I said, it wasn't so bad. Thanks for putting up with my sister."
Haru shook his head and smiled. "It's fine, she reminds me of one of my friends..." Nagisa and Gou would get along quite well.
"Right, then uh..." Rin paused. "See you tomorrow, I guess? Text me your address and I'll pick you up."
Haru nodded and said his farewell.
They'd be travelling earlier via car as they're needed at least a day before the wedding, according to Nagisa that is...
Whilst he was on his way home his phone beeped from a newly received message. Makoto said Ayane wouldn't shut up about how nice and cool Rin was, and that he himself already likes Rin for Haru.
The raven-haired lad scoffed, recalling what's so great about their call and why were they fussing about Rin that much. He recalled how Rin had acted during the call, the polite responses, on time laughs and grin, and how he showed so much interest when Mako or Aya shared bits and pieces of their lives. His mind took him back to this morning's conversation and maybe Izumoto was right...
Rin can indeed be charming if he wants to.
It was ten minutes before six in the evening when Haru's phone chirped it's familiar tune. Rin informed him that he was outside and ready should he need any help with carrying his things. Of course Haruka needed no help. He had both arms and legs working perfectly fine.
"Now, where to?" Rin asked, once all of Haru's things were hauled in.
"We're meeting Ikuya, Asahi, and Kisumi near Tōkaichiba station. They'll lead us from there."
Rin rolled his eyes and started the car with disdain. "I still don't get why we need to take this almost 8 hour drive, instead of the much easier and a lot shorter flight to Tottori."
Haru sighed at that, he wasn't enjoying this any more than Rin. "Nagisa wants to gather everyone before the wedding, he booked an onsen somewhere in Hyogo and we'll stay there until the morning of the wedding day."
Nagisa told them that he knew it'd be impossible to ask everyone to stay a little bit more after the wedding so he took it upon himself to organize a mini reunion before the wedding itself.
Based on his accumulated knowledge about Haru's friends, he would guess that like Gou, Nagisa would eventually get what he wants anyway, so there's actually no point in resisting.
"Will Makoto be there?"
Haruka nodded, "But he'll leave earlier than everyone else."
There was silence after that, with nothing but Rin's usual English songs playing, but Haru didn't mind. He was starting to get even more fond of those song, regardless of not knowing what they meant.
They briefly said hello to the trio once they arrived at Tōkaichiba, then continued the arduous drive to this elusive onsen that Nagisa booked. Haru offered a couple of times to switch places with Rin behind the steering wheel, but all of them were not so politely declined.
"I don't trust you enough to drive my car, and we can't have any detours in case you decide to drive towards the ocean instead." Rin explained, fighting off fatigue with his second cup of coffee.
Haru bristled but ultimately let it go, choosing to take a nap instead; being lulled by Rin's music and the steady movements of the car.
It felt like forever before he was being awoken by a persistent shaking. With bleary eyes he stumbled out of the car and tried to help Rin with their things. He was still amidst fully waking up when he felt one of the redhead's arm around his shoulder, pulling him close despite the bulky bags between them.
"Your pink-haired friend's watching." His cold breath tickled Haru's ear but his eyes snapped to where Kisumi was eyeing them curiously.
Matsusaki, turned out to be the onsen of their destination, it leaned towards the more modern type of ryokan but Haruka had no complains once he got a glimpse of what the private hot springs looked like.
Rin felt the toll of driving hours into the night once they were ushered in, taking the first opportunity to slump against one of the lobby seats and closing his eyes for a moment. Surely, this small reprieve of his only lasted a few minutes, before a high and exuberant voice-far too energetic after those long hours spent on the road-started calling (more like shouting) out everyone's name.
"And eh, who's this?" The voice announced after his hollers of "Haru-chan!".
Haru elbowed Rin's side who still had his eyes closed, despite Nagisa's attendance roll call. "Don't be rude and introduce yourself."
Rin was way too tired for this, but he guessed dealing with these annoying bunch was a part of the whole being Haru's boyfriend package.
The redhead stood up and heard gasps when the rest recognized him. Then he mustered up the best smile he could whilst tired and irritated. "I'm Matsuoka Rin, Haru's boyfriend. You must be Nagisa?" He offered his palm but was ultimately ignored when the blond lad latched himself on some glasses-donning bloke.
"Rei-chan, did you hear that?? Haru-chan's dating Matsuoka Rin! It's like what we predicted!" He all but screamed in the poor dude's ear but the lad surprisingly just grinned and adjusted his glasses smugly.
"Of course, Nagisa-kun. I told you that the likelihood of rivals being attracted to one another is quite high. Especially if both of them have the most beautiful forms whilst swimming."
"Huh? What about Ikuya and I, Rei? We're rivals too, y'know." Asahi interjected.
So that one was Ryuugazaki, Rin noted. Ignoring the whole attraction theory.
"Shut up, idiot. We don't even swim the same stroke." Ikuya snapped and turned to Haru and Rin.
"I still can't believe you're dating him." He emphasized the word whilst glaring at Rin.
Rin rose a brow and pulled Haru closer, which in turn made Nagisa squeal. "Who would have thought that Haru-chan would have the most controversial love life?? The quiet ones really do surprise you the most!"
"Hey, why am I the last to know that Haru's already dating someone?" Kisumi pouted and tried to reach for Haru which as expected was swatted away. He was too tired for this, he didn't expect that it'll get this out of hand when he decided to introduce a fake boyfriend to shut everyone up.
"That's okay, Kisu-chan! We'll all get to know Rin-chan more during this reunion." Nagisa beamed at him whilst Rei was starting to tug at his arm.
"Now now, we can get to know more about Rin-chan-san tomorrow, for now we all should rest up."
"Rin-chan-san?" Rin asked Haru who just shook his head as if telling him to ignore it.
When everyone was done picking their beds (Haru's was against the glass window that overlooked the pool, with Rin to his right), he was dead to the world in a matter of minutes.
After all, that was emotionally exhausting, knowing that the number of people he was lying to was increasing by the minute...
Rin woke up to the smell of food and loud conversations, normally he was a light sleeper but last night's adventures probably took a toll on him a little more than he expected.
When he walked to where the lads were having breakfast, every pair of eyes zeroed in on him, suddenly making him conscious about heading there straight from bed. There was a vacant seat next to Haru but before he even decided to occupy it, the raven's friends all gazed at him almost expectantly.
"Uhh, good morning?" He reluctantly supplied, earning a couple of nods from Rei and Asahi but a sigh from Nagisa instead.
"C'mon, Rin-chan. Don't hold back because of us, of course you can greet Haru-chan as you usually do." The blond informed him, and Ikuya shot him a very suspicious look.
Rin gulped, were they expecting him to... kiss Haru or something? Hell no. He can feel Haru tensing up as well, but he knew that if he didn't do anything soon, suspicions would arise in an alarming state.
Rin racked his brain for some memories that he long since locked in a box and ducked down to kiss the top of Haru's head, taking a seat beside him and flashing his sweetest smile.
" 'Morning, Haru." He greeted, Haru finally relaxing enough to greet him back.
That seemed to satisfy the crowd enough, judging by Nagisa's successful cheer and Kisumi's quiet snickers.
"I saved some breakfast for you." Said Haru, pushing a plate full of sushi in front of Rin.
Red eyes studied the plate of mackerel-sushi before him, then sighed and stared incredulously at Haruka. "Really, Haru? We're still not done with that?"
"Don't you like it, Rin?" Makoto asked, having overheard them, it was only then that Rin noticed he was there. He probably arrived when Rin was asleep.
Rin greeted him and turned to Haru to ask, "Want to explain this one?"
Haruka huffed, so close to taking back the plate instead. "I'm trying to make Rin like saba..."
"Again, it's not that I dislike it. I just think there are food way better than his precious saba." Rin immediately replied. By then they caught everyone's attention once more. "But Haru here thinks that I'm just not eating enough of it..." Haru sulked whilst everyone around the table laughed.
"Haru can be like that, he wants the people closest to him to enjoy the same thing he likes." Kisumi commented.
Asahi flashed a grin at Rin. "He must really like you then, if he's been persistent about making you like saba."
Haru immediately frowned. "That's not i—"
"Ah, yeah," Rin cut him off with an arm around his shoulder. "He's a sweet idiot like that." He smiled but gave Haru a pointed look.
Haru looked around and met Ikuya's cautious eyes, then sighed and resigned himself to his fate. He brought this upon himself in the first place... On the bright side, Rin wasn't able to finish all the mackerel sushi, so Haruka gladly finished the rest for him, ignoring Kisumi when he egged Rin to feed it to him.
The day went by just catching up and reliving old memories from their school days. As they soak together in the spacious private hot spring, they recalled their failed relay attempts in middle school, their high school days spent in different academies, and their own independent adventures during college.
Admittedly, there was some point where Rin almost forgot that he was just pretending to befriend them. Got lost in Nagisa's devious ploys when he was in college, or that one time where they discovered that Rei can't swim after they already recruited him for the swim club; even the tear-jerking story of Makoto's cat leaving when it got sick, then dying alone in the snow rather than breaking his owner's heart. Rin fought back his tears at that, but he knew that Kisumi caught him anyway, based on how he kept mumbling deviously at Haru (who had the gall to smirk, like the heartless bastard he was).
He found himself observing Haruka as well, how he didn't actually talk, even appeared bored sometimes, but his eyes were alert and present, his posture was as relaxed as possible as though he'd much rather be there, surrounded by their rowdy bunch, than anywhere else.
Rin tried to swallow down something bitter that was starting to rise up his throat, jealousy or something close to it... Wondering what would it have been like if he had grown up with them, surrounded by friends who would be there for him through thick and thin... Not alone as he clawed his way past the wall that he had hit in Australia... Not by himself when his whole world spiraled down... When he left and—
"Rin-chan-san?" Rei's voice thankfully cut through his spiraling thoughts.
"Sorry, what was that?"
"Kisumi-kun asked since when have you been going out with Haruka-senpai?" He repeated.
Rin blinked then grinned at Haru as though telling him to be thankful about planning a story ahead of time. "We started having meals together right after last year's World's Championships, then last Christmas we mutually decided that the one we're having then was a dinner date."
"Christmas? Is that why you said you can't come, Haru?!" Makoto asked after a gasp.
"...yes." Haruka replied.
"Oh, so that's why you refused to tell us why, Haru-chan! We kind of concluded that you just got sick because you soaked in the tub for too long, but that's even more surprising news!" Nagisa hollered excitedly, which caused Haru's shoulders to stiffen.
Rin was trying so hard to fight back a laugh at how tightly coiled Haru was. Something told him that they were hitting too close to home as to why the idiot hadn't made it.
When they all went on about the times that Haru almost got in trouble or had been a danger to himself just because there's water nearby, Rin can't help but join in on the chorus of laughter.
As long as this fake date thing was going on, maybe he was allowed to pretend that they were his friends as well...
Nagisa managed to convince (harass) everyone to forego the beds and just sleep into piles in the middle of the room with nothing but stripped beddings and extra futons.
"We haven't had a sleepover in a long time, and Mako-chan's getting married tomorrow!" Nagisa argued, a lot of them groaned but it was clear that the sentiment brought a little bit of ache to everyone in the room.
Which is how Haru found himself being woken up by Asahi's elbow in the middle of the night. Clearly, some things never change despite how old they were getting.
He got up to shove Asahi away from his personal space and noticed that his other redheaded bedmate was missing. The door to the balcony was open which prompted him to get up and check it out, for some reason.
Unsurprisingly, Rin indeed was out, wrapped in a blanket and nursing a cup of tea. His eyes didn't look sleepy when they met Haru's.
"Hi, boyfriend." He teased with smug grin.
Haru rolled his eyes but ultimately took a seat on the floor beside him. "Enjoying your peace and quiet with no Nagisa?"
"You can say that again." Rin chuckled and sipped his tea. "But he was alright... All of them were."
Haru nodded and stared at the moon above, it seemed brighter without the Tokyo lights. He was starting to get chilly and entertained the idea of going back in soon.
"Hey, Haru?" Rin mumbled, so quiet that he wouldn't have heard it if they weren't already basking in silence.
"I take back what I said... About you and I being the same when it comes to making friends." Rin said, eyes staring up as well. "Clearly, you have a better set of friends than I could ever dream of attracting." He chuckled but there was no humour in it.
Haru pursed his lips, not knowing what else to say. "They like you."
Rin snorted at that. "They have to, if I'm dating you."
Rin made Makoto laugh when he shared his own experiences with pranks, left Rei speechless when he spoke in perfect English, and made Ikuya fight back a smile when he told the story of his first win in a swim meet. Rin didn't notice it but he could draw people in with his words, his wild gestures when he gets caught up in the moment, and the way he projects what he feels like it's the most interesting thing in the world. It could make anyone stop and stare, curious if he had any more in store.
Haru shook his head and directed his eyes at Rin. "They like you because you're you."
Rin met his eyes with wide ones before they flashed that rare something that Haru had seen quite a few times before, those red looked vulnerable and lost, and it never failed sending tiny needles poking at Haruka's chest.
"It doesn't matter," Rin muttered after finally tearing his eyes away. "It's not like I'll see them again after tomorrow."
This time Haru really had no words else to say, he just let the silence fill the gap for them and waited until Rin was the first one to say his good night before heading back inside.
Haru stayed a little more, just to wonder why the light of the moon suddenly looks like it dimmed a tiny bit...
Let know what you think about this week's chapter, you lovely lot. Thank you so much for all the reviews and kudos that this little fic of mine's been getting. Sadly, I can't promise the continuous weekly updates from here on out as I'm back to working full time at home due to new work arrangements. Nonetheless, I'll still be writing during my free time! :) ♡
Before he can even fully regain his consciousness there were telltale signs that told him he was being cuddled in his sleep...
It was subtle, but he was so damn sure that it's true. The warmth of someone's body pressed against his side, an arm clinging tight around his waist, the brush of leg tangled against his own, warm and even breaths being puffed against his collarbone, and those soft bristles of sweet smelling hair tickling against his nose.
He mentally smirked, imagining the serene sight of Haru clinging to him whilst he dreamt; finding amusement in the clichè fact that someone who detests having his personal space invaded, turned out to be a cuddler in his sleep. A clingy one at that.
Rin allowed himself to smirk just a wee bit, eyes remaining closed the entire time and ready to fall asleep once more within that warm embrace... if it weren't for the incessant pressure against cheek.
He groaned, trying to ignore the smooth object that was poking his face.
"Rin," called someone's voice.
"Oi, Rin, why are you always one of the last to wake up?" Said the same voice. It took a few seconds to process that it indeed was Haruka and he... sounded too far away to be cuddled against Rin.
It took a couple more to process that, and once he blinked his eyes open, first that he noticed was the slipper poking his cheek. When the obstruction retreated, Haru came into view, staring down at Rin with equal parts annoyance and amusement on his face.
If Haru was there and not clinging to Rin... Then who—
"Sorry about that, Rin-chan-san. I tried to pry him off earlier, but he just scratched me like a cat." Rei came into view, donning a resigned look.
Rin's bleary eyes trailed down and was bombarded by a mop of unruly blond hair. Now that he's awake, he was starting to be aware of the drool against his tank top, how tight Nagisa was clinging to him, and that he doubted he would even wake up and let go if Rin ever got up.
Of course it was Nagisa... It was so obvious now. He scoffed.
Rin sighed and resigned himself to this state until the blond demon wakes up. "Just Rin is fine, Rei. Don't be so formal with me when your boyfriend's clinging to me like this."
And he swore Haru struggled harder than usual to fight back a snicker.
Later on, Rin would learn why Haru was waking him up instead of his human vice-claw for a friend.
"Rei wanted your opinion on which look should I go with." Haru blurted out, looking like he wanted none of it in the first place.
"What does my opinion have to do with that?"
"Well, Rin-san, you are his boyfriend after all. Of course, he'd trust your opinion more than mine." Rei replied, already rummaging through Haruka's suitcase.
No, I don't. Haru internally argue. With the way Rin rolled his eyes, he can assume that the redhead got the message.
"Alright, let me see what you got." Said Rin. Might as well get through this.
One can recognize the part where Rei entered his Zone... Whatever the hell that meant. It's just that one second he was politely holding up three pairs of suit, asking Haru and Rin which they preffered best; then the next he was snapping at them how their combinations do not match and how it's not beautiful at all.
Rin huffed, so much for getting their opinion. "Fine, let's try the dark blue one, whatever tie and shoes you prefer, and whatever look you think goes best with it. You can shave his head for all I care." Haru glared at him for that, but Rei was too busy racking his brain to care.
When he announced that he got the perfect combination in mind and dragged Haru unwillingly to get changed, Rin almost fell asleep again whilst waiting for them; only being kept awake by the racket that the rest of the boys were making in the other room. He's already guessing that Nagisa has got something to do with that.
It was after god knows how many minutes, when two pairs of footsteps entered back the room. Rin was lazily draped on the couch by then, eyes closed with an arm over them.
"Rin-san, what do you think of this look for Haruka-senpai?" Rei's voice asked.
Rin was ready to start spouting bullshit as to how his boyfriend never looked better, but what caught him off guard when he opened his eyes was how that might actually be true...
Haru stood in a three-piece, navy blue pinstripe suit, donning a red tie, and dark grey vest. His hair looked mussed, but none of those messy looking styles. It appeared as though he laid against the beach and let the crash of waves softly arrange his locks in place. The lad was looking annoyed and uncomfortable, but that did nothing to diminish how well the look suited him, how regal he stood in front of Rin, and how well-fitted that damn suit was, accentuating Haru's slim yet powerful physique honed from years of professional swimming.
Rin only noticed he was staring long enough when he got to his third gulp, Haru was starting to send him an irate stare, and Rei was like a ticking time bomb beside him.
"Well?" The youngest one asked again.
It took quite the effort to avert his eyes—As he was still trying to find some imperfection to point out, his mind urged him to believe—but when he did, his hand instantly found the back of his neck.
"Yeah... He looks goo— I mean, he looks decent."
Rei rose a brow at that, "Just decent? I think he looks like a model." There was a pause and then another query. "Should I get him to change into another one?"
Rin's neck snapped and was glad that he shouted "No!" the same time Haru did, lest that would have been embarrassingly quick on his part.
"I don't want to go through that again, Rei. This is fine enough." Haru argued, it wasn't like he was the one getting married, anyway.
"Yeah, that's why I said no... Haru hates going through arduous processes if it isn't for swimming or saba, Rei. You should know that." Rin supplied. "Besides, he looks... okay enough for a wedding."
Rei frowned at them but nodded his head in the end, mumbling something about how that's not the reaction he was expecting to get from them.
Rin huffed a chuckle at that, was he expecting some kind of jaw-dropping moment to occur? Well, too bad for him, had he let Rin stare at Haru a tad bit longer, then he probably would've gotten the reaction that he wanted...
Not that Rei or Haru needed to know that...
After arduous hours of dressing up, whilst trying to escape Nagisa or Rei's clutches in between, finally they were all presentable enough to witness one of their friends get hitched. Rin wore a deep burgundy suit and dark grey tie, his hair was pulled back into a small ponytail, with some of his fringes tucked neatly behind his ear.
Nagisa and Rei left earlier than everyone else, since apparently Nagisa was to host the reception and Rei had to oversee the decorations beforehand.
"Rei's a designer-slash-beauty-and-health guru. Basically anything that requires his eye for beauty, the rest of us won't hesistate to consult with him first." Kisumi helpfully supplied, when Rin probably appeared confused at that.
Haru the idiot only gave him the briefest details possible. How was he supposed to deduce everything from the mere 'Rei owns a blog, Nagisa's a talk show host' he was given?
"I didn't need to tell you that, did I? You can't keep your eyes off of Rei's masterpiece, after all." Kisumi elbowed him and playfully tipped his head to where Haru was.
Rin almost choked on air at that. "What d-do you... That's not it, oi! I just- it's not like he dresses up decently on a daily basis and—"
"Oh, shut up, Rin." The other playfully chastised. "You're allowed to stare at him all you want, idiot. He's your date. If anyone practically has the license to gawk at him in that suit, it's you." Kisumi winked at him and made an exaggerated gesture of covering his eyes when Haru walked by.
Rin chuckled and lightly punched him in the arm. Well, if he was to keep himself in check all day in order to act as Haru's pretend date, then he might as well enjoy the privileges that come with it.
When the shuttle that would escort them to the venue arrived, they all quietly piled and boarded the vehicle. Their stuff and cars were left behind at the ryokan to be fetched later, all for less hassle and baggage with them.
Rin and Haru occupied the very back, Asahi and Kisumi in front of them, and Ikuya who rode shotgun. It only took minutes for the tiny space to filled by the trio's enthusiastic banters, fighting over who would be the first designated driver for their ride back home. Rin just listened to them, amused to see such childish sides of both Shiina and (especially) Kirishima, that he's only discovering after years of being their teammate.
"Rin," Haru called to him.
Red eyes met those vibrant blue, which seemed to pop even more in colour because of the god-given suit that Haru was clad in.
"Yeah? We going to argue who's driving us back too?" Rin teased, realizing they haven't directly spoken to one another since the day started.
Haruka shook his head, "Just wanted to say you look good too, Rin."
The gasp that left him was genuine. "Too?" Rin asked, but Haru was already tearing his eyes away from him. "Oi, bastard, what do you mean 'too'?! I never said anything- that's—"
Haru wasn't even looking at him any more as Rin struggled for words, but one thing that the redhead could have sworn he saw was the smug grin that briefly crossed Haru's face as he feigned ignorance.
It was expected that Makoto would cry, Haru knew that he would, he's basically his brother in all but blood after all...
Due to his busy schedule and constant unavailability, he had to decline being Makoto's best man. His best friend didn't harbour any hard feelings about this. Both of them mature enough to just appreciate the sentiment behind the offer. Now, he may not be standing beside Makoto as he cried at the sight of his wife-to-be walking down the aisle, but Haru still was happy that he got to witness this important event in his best friend's life.
When they exchanged their vows, the whole venue was feeling every ounce of their love for one another. Nagisa was sobbing harder than the couple, and Rei was shedding a few tears with him. Haru can feel his own eyes get misty from all the crying around him, and he was half-expecting to be teased about it by the bastard beside him.
But Rin surprisingly remained unmoving...
Ever since the ceremony started he hadn't said a word to anyone, hadn't asked any dumb questions and forced Haruka to answer them. By then, Haru can't help but keep a subtle eye on him. Rin's eyes never left Mako and Aya but his stare seemed listless, as if he wasn't even paying attention... or trying his hardest not to.
His and Ikuya's eyes met once but Haru already knew that his friend recognized an unsettled look on his face. His phone vibrated immediately with a message that asked if he was okay, Haru sent a quick yes and tapped Rin by the shoulder.
By the third tap, the lad finally broke free from his trance, meeting Haru's gaze with a puzzled look.
"What?" Rin whispered.
Haru pursed his lips, knowing for some reason that he won't get a straight answer from Rin anyway... not that he had any idea what to ask him in the first place.
"Ikuya's getting suspicious again." He ended up saying.
Rin blinked a couple of times before nodding his head, grabbing one of Haru's hand and lacing their fingers together, making sure to display their attachment in a semi-subtle angle. His attention went back in front once more, and that guarded mask took it's place once again. Haru squeezed his hand hard but Rin didn't retaliate like he always do, he did not even react to it at all...
Haru forced the thought at the back of his mind. This was Makoto's wedding after all, why should he care that his pretend boyfriend was acting like a hollowed doll?
By the time that they were at the reception, Rin was more or less back to his old self. Or at least his self that Haruka knew. The 'are you okay?' still clung to the tip of his tongue, but Rin was making it harder not to forget that when he started being his annoyingly bastard self again.
Somehow it started being a competition between them. A contest of who can embarrass the other more, whilst keeping their act believable.
It started when Rin took to calling him petnames when someone asked how they were in private. Haru then decide to shove cake into his mouth just to get him to shut up, smugly grinning when Aya pointed out how cutely they were feeding each other, not knowing that Rin despised every single bit of that overly sweet dessert.
Of course, Rin somehow managed to turn this competition into his favour even further, when a couple of Makoto's students started asking for pictures and all he had to do was grin at them and raise his hand that was entwined with Haru's, the whole time.
"Sorry," The bastard acted coy, "My boyfriend gets easily jealous." They usually end up speechless or blushing madly because of that.
Peace was established once the married couple took their first dance, Rin hadn't been unresponsive like earlier but he still had that unknown glassy look in his eyes.
Moments later, when the program ended, and with nothing but drinking and dancing to ensue, Nagisa was back at their table, quizzing everyone about everything that came to his mind.
"Yeah, Makoto knew that I can't make it to the ceremony, but I promised him that I'll be at the reception at least." That was Izumoto after explaining why he wasn't at the ceremony or their mini reunion.
"Makoto-senpai knows that you're happy for him, Kotaro-senpai." Rei replied.
"I am, but I'm still glad I made it at the least. Which reminds me..." Kotaro trailed his eyes from Rei to Rin and Haru. "Is it true that you two are dating? I heard it from Nagisa." The blond beamed and winked at them.
Haru closed his eyes and internally groaned, just allowing Rin to confirm it with a nod and a short yes.
"Woah, so that's how you got Nanase to agree to be a part of the relay." He chuckled at them.
"What?! Haru-chan agreed to a relay??" Nagisa practically yelled before asking a barrage of questions about it.
This time Haru lets himself outwardly groan, Rin rattling on about some bullshit as to how he made him agree to it.
"I just batted my eyelashes at him, pleaded a little bit, and called him babe. Haru's weakness is English y'know? He absolutely gets soft when I'm playing my English songs." Rin grinned at him, clearly enjoying his disdain, and knowing full well that Haru would rather confirm that bullshit than reveal how he was baited and caught by the mouth like a fish.
Haru could have sworn he heard a round of giggles from the table next to them, but the approaching form of someone familiar caught him off guard. His eyes widened until the lady stopped in front of him, still wearing that kind smile that he used to see whilst growing up.
"Ah, is that really you, Haruka-kun?" She asked and Haru was already on his feet to assist her.
"I didn't know you were here, Obaa-san." He politely greeted and guided her to his seat.
"Of course I'd be here, boy. One of my rowdy pests just got married, after all." That wrinkled smile got even wider to the point that her eyes were nothing but happy slits. She eyed everyone around the table who lit up with recognition and joy. "Look at all you boys, all grown up but still raucous when together."
There was a chorus of greetings and excited hollers for her, Nagisa even scrambled from his seat to give her a warm hug.
"Nagisa-chan didn't grow that much, did he?" She softly cooed and every one of them laughed in unison.
"Is this the sweet butterfly that you told me about in your letters, dear?" She asked Nagisa, pointing at Rei who got up to bow his head. Nagisa beamed and nodded his head, already going through the story of how he and Rei met.
"Who is she?" Rin asked Asahi, as Haru got up to get her some drink.
"She's our Sayaka-san, Haru's grandmother's sister. We used to play around her yard when we were younger, making us sakura mochi, and letting us have our own camping sometimes. She probably had the biggest yard in all of Iwatobi that time, or I was just too little back then." Asahi had this fond look on his face as he recalled it. "The house was sold when her son and his family moved to Nagoya, and we haven't seen her since then."
Rin nodded and imagined a carefree bunch of boys just running around a yard full of sakura flowers, being watched by careful and loving eyes of the lady before him.
"And oh? I haven't seen this young fellow before, have I? Pardon my memory, Obaa-san's getting older by the minute." She chuckled as Rin caught her eye.
Rin bowed his head and greeted her with a smile, recalling how his own grandmother looked at him before as a child.
"Hello, Sayaka-san. I'm Matsuoka Rin. It's a pleasure to meet you." Rin awkwardly offered his hand and made the old lady chuckle. Still, she shook it with both palms and lightly tapped the back of his hand.
"Such a pretty and polite boy you are, Rin-kun." She said, her words stirring something warm in Rin's chest.
"He's Haru-chan's boyfriend~" Nagisa sing-songed, making her gasp and turn to Haru who just got back with her drink.
"Is this true, Haruka-kun?"
Haru bit the inside of his cheek and stiffly nodded his head, it was so long ago since they last exchanged letters, he felt absolutely horrible that he's greeting her now with an elaborate lie.
"Then, I must get to know this young man, more. Come, be a dear and dance with this old lady?" She stood up and stared expectantly at Rin.
"Me?" The redhead asked dumbly but was already making his way to assist her.
She nodded and looked to Haru's direction. "You too, Haruka-kun."
Albeit confused, the pair guided her to where couples were already dancing. They awkwardly manuevered to the least idiotic arragement when dancing into three's. They were already garnering enough attention with their number alone.
"Oh stop minding them. You young people are always on about looking good in other people's eyes." She tutted, placing each of their hands on each side of her waist and gripping their arms for support. Rin and Haru ended up locking their other elbows in place as the old lady started swaying them all in a gentle manner.
"So have you been good to my grandson, Rin-kun?" Right off the bat, she asked.
If Rin had any of his hands free, he would've been rubbing his nape by then... How was he supposed to answer that, when they weren't even really together in the first place?
"He has..." Haru answered for him, choosing to focus on the good things that he discovered about Rin through this arrangement. How he can be caring when he wants to, how he keeps his word, and how he does his best even if this lie can get too much for anyone sometimes.
Sayaka-san smiled. "Are you going to answer my questions for him now, Haruka-kun? Then humour Obaa-san and tell me what you think he liked about you?"
Haru's breath hitched, they didn't practice this, unlike the previous question, this cannot be derived from their weeks of getting to know each other just to play pretend...
"Haru's a great swimmer." Rin mumbled, ignoring how Haru's eyes snapped to his direction. "He doesn't talk much but he listens very well. He's stubborn but he's determined, too. But if I had to choose one thing I like most about him, it's how genuine his heart is... He means well most of the time, he'd selflessly set aside his own comfort and happiness just to make his loved ones happy." Rin gulped and eyed Haru from the corner of his eyes. "Even if he has to lie and pretend sometimes..."
She sighed and teasingly shook her head, then pulled them both in a semi-embrace, smiling at both Rin and Haru when she pulled off.
"Sachiko would have loved to meet him, Haruka-kun. Your grandmother raised you so well, my dear boy." Then she tip-toed and kissed both of them on their cheeks. "If you have time next weekend, come and visit Obaa-san in Nagoya. I'd love to give you boys something."
Haru hadn't even recovered from Rin's answer and how his grandmother reacted to it so genuinely, now they were being invited over when this was supposed to end today after the wedding.
"I'm sorry, Obaa-san. I don't think Rin is free anytime soon." Her smile fell and was replaced with a sad one, instantly making the two lads frantic and guilty about it. "I'll drop by alone this weekend if you—"
"No, it's okay. I'd love to visit you, if you'd have us." Rin smiled at her and she grinned right back, softly patting his cheek and mumbling 'Such a sweet boy...' under her breath.
"As fun as this is, I don't think I can dance longer than this, my sweeties. I'll leave you young loverbirds to it, then." She bid a small farewell and gestured for them to continue when Rin and Haru scrambled apart.
Haru was the first to grab Rin and pull him back to the throng off people dancing, hands on either side of his waist as the lad clucked his tongue in protest.
"Oi, why am I the one being led?" He complained but reluctantly placed his hands over Haru's shoulders anyway.
"Why did you agree to that, Rin? You do know that we'd have to pretend in front of her, right?" Haru had no intentions of listening to his irrelevant complaints.
"Tch, don't make it sound like I did that just to spend more time with you, bastard." Rin glared at him but his eyes soften just as fast. "I just... Seeing her sad kind of reminded me of my own grandmother's smile when Gou and I started seeing her less and less because of how far Kyoto was to Sano. I worked part-time in an elderly home in Australia and I hated seeing them have to fake a smile when their relatives cancel out their scheduled visits."
His grandmother died when he was in Australia, he was taking care of old people in another continent but he hadn't even got to say goodbye to his own grandmother.
The hands on Haru's shoulders tightened and he can genuinely see how the memory had clearly upset Rin.
"So if I had to be stuck with you for one more day, it'll be worth it, if it means making that old lady happy just for a little whilst." Rin shrugged. "Besides, it'll be easier this time, we'll be pretending just for her and nobody else."
Haru wanted to tell him that he just added another day of suffering for the both of them, wanted to say that he was an idiot...
But idiot or not, Rin clearly has his heart in the right place.
Haruka barely slept through the drive back home, Rin still refused to let him drive so they ended up parking somewhere a couple of times just for Rin to catch a nap.
There were barely any conversations between them, probably because they were both exhausted or they both knew there was no longer a need for it in the first place... They weren't required to practice any more, they didn't need to hold a decent conversation up, or try hard not to get under each other's skin.
When Makoto and Ayane bid them their farewell, they both knew that their last lie was smiling as they agreed to their cheerful "See you both again soon"; as there wasn't going to be a next time after that...
Nagisa clung to Rin after too many glasses of champagne and the lad tried to keep his grin in place when Rei hollered an exasperated: "Honestly, Nagisa-kun... You're acting as if this is the last day you'll see Rin-san."
The finality of it came when they reached Haruka's building, when Rin helped him haul out his suitcase, and sheepishly offer him a grin.
"Well, I did my end of the bargain."
"Yeah..." Haru gulped. "Thank you for putting up with everyone, Rin."
The redhead chuckled, tired eyes still donning a bit of mischief in them. "No need to thank me, idiot. Just be ready when I decide to claim my two remaining favours."
Haru nodded his head. "Okay."
There was silence between them again, filled with sentiments that either of them can't even put into words. Rin was the first to shatter that when he shakily offered his hand.
"I guess it was nice doing business with you, Nanase..." He tried to chuckle and lighten the mood.
Oh, right. There's no need to call each other by their names now...
Haru tried to conjure up a smile whilst taking the offered palm. "I can't say the same for you, Matsuoka."
Rin's laugh sounded genuine this time. "You're a bastard, through and through." Was the last thing he said to Haruka before going back inside his car.
He was expecting an instant relief akin to the first plunge into the pool on a hot summer day. After all, they were done pretending and having to tolerate each other on a daily basis. Haru can go back to just swimming and eating his home-cooked mackerel in peace, without anyone judging him for it. He can go back to ignoring Matsuoka Rin and all the sides of him that he never knew existed, like how he used to do... He wasn't obligated to talk or interact with anyone else again.
He had his peace back now, so he should feel relieved, right? When it didn't come the instant that Rin's car drove away, Haru figured that he might be too tired to feel it then.
Maybe it would come later, after a good long soak in the tub...
Let me know what you think of this chapter, lovelies; and thank you for waiting!
Edit: I just noticed that it's been a month since this fic was published, and I just want to thank everyone for all the overwhelming support since its debut! I adore every single one of you and your reviews and kudos, and even the silent viewers out there! ♡♡♡
It had been practically impossible to get some sleep after Makoto's wedding. He tossed and turned, but every time he's so close to drifting off to unconscious paradise, there was a small hint of fear that he might dream again.
The nightmares have long since stopped, but Rin knew that sometimes he could still see the shade of his eyes haunting the back of his mind as he dreamt... Usually, he wouldn't care, even upon waking up. He was numb to the ache already that those dreams might as well have been a figment of Rin's imagination, for how unattached he was to them.
But attending Makoto's wedding kind of revived the fear of the dreams being too vivid... of being too real and raw that it would shatter all his years of progressing forward as he left those memories behind.
Accepting the fact that he wouldn't get any rest at all, he tried to relax his body at the least. They had to go back to practice right after the day of the wedding, and Rin'll be damn if he let Haru criticize his relay exchanges again.
Well, not that he expected Haru to talk to him in the first place... He no longer had a reason to, after all. Because that's how it's been for the last three years, and now that they were done pretending, the most likely outcome was reverting back to their own version of a status quo.
He jogged to the Tatsumi Centre in hopes of fighting off how heavy his body felt, but the fatigue just seems to weigh him down no matter what he does.
"Can you move any faster, or do I need to start pushing you, Matsuoka?" Fujioka snapped at him from behind, making Rin realize that he's been taking extra sluggish steps.
Too tired to argue, he angled his body so the bloke can pass him instead, wordlessly sending signals that he was too exhausted to deal with Fujioka's attitude right then. Still, the taller one made an effort to harshly bump him by the shoulder when he did walk past Rin, glaring at him from the corner of his eye as if Rin offended him by not talking back.
He sighed, it looks like assholes can run out of reasons to be assholes, sometimes.
Entering the natatorium made everything seem too bright and too loud. The whistles and splashes made him wince and the lights were just too bright that he had to squint. Even how someone accidentally bumped into him was annoying, he might have had glared at her, but at this point he's not even sure. After all, how her eyes widened then smiled at him was quite peculiar, even mumbling a shy sorry under her breath.
That's strange... He usually gets glares in return or the old scrambling away as fast as they could.
As if that wasn't peculiar enough, Rin could also hear a faint round of giggles from the female swimmers when he walked past them, making him feel conscious about what they could be giggling about. He checked his jammers but he hadn't worn them backwards like he suspected...
Still, he somehow managed to convince himself that every thing that felt out of place were just a product of his restless brain. Even the instances that his and Haru's eyes met. Their goggles obscuring too much for Rin to be certain of it, anyway.
When Rin's break rolled in, Seijuuro stared at him like he grown two more heads when Rin asked if he wanted to grab a meal together.
"Did you and Nanase fight or something?"
Rin can't help but let out an exaggerated groan. "You know what? Starve, for all I care!" Then Rin walked out to have his lunch in peace.
"Oi, Rin! Don't take it out on me if you and your boyfriend fought!" Mikoshiba hollered behind him, and Rin winced as he can feel more than three pair of eyes on his retreating back. Why does he feel like everyone's been heavily observing him since this morning??
After a hearty meal of some kimchi fried rice and grilled pork belly, Rin was feeling a tad bit better than his initial rubbish state. He only had to get through this afternoon's set and he swore that he'd try every method known to mankind in order to have his well needed sleep later tonight.
He was just a couple of steps in the Centre and someone—one of the breaststroke swimmers, he recalled—was already jogging up to him, alongside Takagi, who thankfully left Rin alone until then.
"Hey, Matsuoka, I heard that Nanase broke his personal best for the 200m free." The brunette swimmer (who later he would learn to be Yamamoto Isamu) informed him.
"Ah, okay?" Rin furrowed his eyebrows at that, not knowing what he was supposed to do with that information.
"Kindly congratulate him on our behalf, Matsuoka-san, we weren't here earlier when he did it." Takagi added, which made Rin snap.
"Well, I wasn't here either, but even if I was why should I be the one to send him your praises?" Both boys obviously was caught off guard from his sharp reply, but Yamamoto quickly recovered and sent him a confused look.
"We just kind of thought you'd be the perfect person for the job. Y'know... Since you two are dating and all..." The gasp that Rin responded to that seemed louder even for his own ears. He's certain that none of them had been present at Makoto's wedding, so how did they...
With a new found resolve, he didn't even bother replying to the two as he needed to talk to Haru soon... Something told Rin that every little peculiar thing that happened to him was somehow connected to his encounter with Yamamoto and Takagi.
"Well, you look like shit." That was Izumoto, as he eyed the barreling Matsuoka on a mission.
Rin rolled his eyes but decided that calming himself down maybe wasn't a bad thing. "Thanks, I feel worse. Haven't slept a wink since we got back from the wedding."
Kotaro grinned and slapped him at the back. "Don't tell me Nanase kept you awake? Didn't know he had it in him."
Rin was just opening his mouth to retaliate to that, but Kotaro already was eyeing someone from over Rin's shoulder. Playfully raising both hands as a mock sign of surrender.
"I'm not making moves on him, I swear!" He hollered, and Rin whipped around to be greeted by a confused looking Haruka, who was walking straight towards them.
"I don't get it." Haru shook his head as he stood shoulder to shoulder next to Rin.
"I was kidding," Said Izumoto. "I know that not everything posted on the internet is true."
If it was possible for Rin's already scrunched up face to scrunch even further, it just did, due to how confused he was at the moment.
"Okay, that's it!" He threw his hands in the air. "There's something going on and I don't have any freaking idea what it is!"
Haru's lips pursued. "Me too... People asking me about what Matsuoka Rin is like in real life, are getting so annoying."
Rin gaped at him and Kotaro gaped at the two of them at the same time, as though gauging if they were telling the truth.
"You mean... you both have no idea?" He whispered, almost pitying and awestruck of how that was possible.
"What?? Idea about what?!" Rin was getting frantic and Haru was tensing further beside him.
When Izumoto confirmed that none of the two were just pulling tricks on him, he sighed and pulled out his phone from the pocket of his windbreaker, tapping a few times before presenting the screen right at Haru and Rin's face.
"You two had been blowing up social media trending pages. There are like a tonne of pictures of you guys at the wedding, and some videos along with everyone." He explained, but Rin's eyes just focused on how his name was the second on the list of trending topics from what he guessed was twitter, Haru's name just below him.
Kotaro handed him the phone and Haru wasted no time crowding his space to see it as well. Rin shakily clicked his name and was redirected to the top article titled "Well-known Japanese Olympic Rivals Matsuoka Rin and Nanase Haruka, Apparently Dating?"
Haru's breath hitched beside him but Rin didn't click it open and chose to scroll for more, instead.
There were a bunch of tweets and retweets of their images together, different angles of their clasped hands from the ceremony itself until the reception. Even some blurry snaps of the two of them dancing with Sayaka-san at the very far corner of the dance floor.
Nagisa's tweet about not being able to decide whether to call them HaruRin or RinHaru, attached to an image of Haru feeding Rin some cake, was one of the top tweets with a lot of hearts and squeals from his followers.
Ayane also tweeted something about not minding how another couple was outshining her and her husband but only because it's Haru and Rin. Then there was a short video clip of Haru and Rin dancing after Sayaka-san left them. Another one was from her sister; an image of Rin, the bride, and herself, filled with replies about the smile that Rin was donning, and how he gained a new fan just from that smile alone.
Someone also tweeted the picture of Rin smugly grinning whilst holding Haru's hand up with the caption: "He turned down a selfie request from me and my friend because he didn't want to upset his jealous boyfriend. Who knew Matsuoka Rin was such a cutie? ♡"
There were a tonne more related to the two of them, a bunch of tweets about how cute they were together, how Matsuoka Rin doesn't seem so scary when he's in love, and that Nanase Haruka snobs everyone else but stares at his boyfriend like he's the sun. Images of their old races resurfaced as well, being compared side by side with photos of them along with the other wedding guests, as Rin was either holding Haru's hand or had an arm around his shoulders. Even Rin's answers to interviews were given a new meaning, whenever it involves a question about Haru.
And according to Izumoto this is just one of the many platforms that blew up overnight because of them... And he doubts that this had been contained only within Japan, as he already saw a couple of English tweets and articles after all.
The whole world probably knew of this by now... His mom probably heard it from Gou. His old team mates in Australia are probably reading his name right that instant.
He could be seeing those... The images, the video clips, everything from wherever face of the earth he was right then... Probably thinking that Rin's finally dating someone again.
"Fuck..." He cursed in English under his breath, biting his bottom lip so hard that the skin immediately broke and bled.
"Matsuoka!" Haru made a move to reach for where it's bleeding but Rin gripped his wrist before he could even touch him.
"Don't," He managed to breath out despite how difficult it was, shutting his eyes tightly and feeling his nails dig at his own palm and Haru's wrist.
He was feeling so overwhelmed, and confused, and furious altogether that he either wanted to shout or drown himself in the pool. With uneven breaths, he shoved the phone back to Izumoto's chest and started walking towards the direction of where he came, ignoring one of their Coach's call for his name.
Rin's feet felt like they had a mind of their own, he kept walking and walking as the thoughts mixed and mangled inside his head. Thoughts of what that someone might think, and counter thoughts of why Rin shouldn't care in the first place. He thought of his mom as well, of how it must've hurt to know that her son's dating someone, and that everybody else knew of it except for her... but the petty side of him felt a little bit glad about leaving her in the dark like what she once did to him.
How he got to his flat so fast was all a blur, as Rin tried not to think of countless of faces that must have already read the news about him. He moved to take his keys out, eyes widening upon the realization that his right hand was still gripping something warm and bony, only to look past his shoulder to the sight of a scowling Nanase Haruka.
"S-shit! Did I... Fuck, did I drag you all the way to here?!" His voice rose but Haru only scowled deeper.
"I tried pulling my hand away but you wouldn't let me."
"Well why didn't you say something??"
Haru glared but averted his eyes, almost appearing embarrassed. "You look like you'll bite my fingers off if I tried to speak..."
Had he have any strength left, Rin would've laughed at how childish that excuse was, but everything was starting to crash around him. He was just so tired that he wanted to crash too.
Gradually, he loosened his grip around Haru's wrist and leaned his whole weight against his door, letting gravity slide him down until he was slumped on the ground, knees hugged to his chest like he was ten again and afraid of thunderstorms...
Haru's wrist was sore, but it wasn't anything above uncomfortable. Of course, he was upset too. The last thing he wanted was for everyone in his life to know something that was nothing but a lie, he had his parents and relatives that would hear about it, after all. At first he was annoyed with how exaggerated Rin had acted, as though he was the only one affected by what happened... but the way Rin had zoned out and how he's acting right now, made Haru think that maybe it meant something deeper for Rin than the superficial reaction of whoever relatives he had left.
Why was Rin so complicated anyway? One minute he's the densest and most basic idiot that Haru had met, then the next, he's this mysterious box that hides away a plethora of stories and emotions that was just barely being kept closed by a flimsy lock.
"You should get inside, Matsuoka." He told him, feeling the need to get away the more he was being drawn to Rin and his secrets.
No response came when Haru turned and started walking, but when Rin mumbled out a weak "Nanase," under his breath, Haru hated how his feet automatically halted without his consent. Looking over his shoulder, Rin appeared so small whilst curled around himself, and there was a shadow of tiredness around his eyes.
"Have tea with me for a bit?" Rin asked, so soft that Haru can even hardly believe that it's from the same person who dragged him there by the wrist.
"Okay." Still, he found himself replying.
Maybe, Rin wasn't the only one feeling vulnerable right then.
Fortunately, Rin seemed to get his emotions more in control when he was half-way down his tea. Haru had barely touched his, but was still thankful for the silent and comfortable place to crash and just organize the millions of thoughts running inside his head.
He was tempted to mimic how Rin got one cheek against the kotatsu, eyes closed and lips slightly parted. One would think that he's already fallen asleep, but his breaths still were uneven.
"Do you hate it that much... how the news spread?" Haru found himself asking, after so many minutes of silence.
Rin snorted and righted himself up. "You don't? You hate being in the spotlight, right?"
Haru frowned at that. "Of course, I hate it." He was quick to answer. "I just think- maybe it'll die down on it's own... they're just rumours after all."
"They're not rumours, Nanase." Rin replied. "It can't be considered a rumour when we were the ones who told them we're dating."
Haruka bit the inside of this cheek, hating how out of control everything turned out to be. "Then, what should we do? Do we tell them that we're not really dating?"
There was a dry chuckle that escaped Rin's throat. "And what? Practically broadcast it to Makoto, my sister, and everyone else that we just lied to them?" Rin gulped. "Even if we do tell the truth, there's always going to be more questions to be asked. Everyone won't stop asking... They never know how to."
When Haru casted his eyes down, lost for anything else to say, Rin let out a bitter laugh. "Don't have any more suggestions that we should try?" His sarcasm was like a double edged sword, for Haru can recognize a coping mechanism if sees one.
The raven just shook his head, "No, but..." He continued when those tired red eyes met his own. "You're not the only one going through this, Rin..."
Rin swallowed the lump in his throat, slumping back against the kotatsu to hide how quick his eyes got misty. Perhaps Haru was just stating facts; they were both involved in this after all, whether they wanted to or not. But how he said Rin's name sounded so comforting, that for the first time, he never wanted Haruka to ever call him anything else.
Come monday morning, the two of them found themselves bowing from the waist up in front of Azuma as they apologized for last Saturday's sudden departure.
"I was feeling too unwell to continue further." Rin explained after the litany of sorry's from the both of them.
"I get that, kid. That happens. But what I can't understand is why you suddenly left without saying a word, and why did you have to drag Nanase with you?" As soon as he said it, Azuma rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I heard that you two are dating now, but that doesn't mean Nanase won't get punished for this as well."
Rin's eyes widened and he stood back up just to reason with their head coach. "It's all my fault, Coach. I was the one who dragged him out. I'll take his punishment for it."
Haru grabbed his arm and sent him a stern stare. "You don't have to do that. I'm not an invalid for you carry around, Matsuoka."
Azuma cut them off with a blow of a whistle, who knew these idiots would be more of a headache when they're together?
"As sickeningly sweet as that was, I'm having none of your rubbish. You both have increased dry land and relay practices. Once you've improved your transitions, then you can have your normal individual pool routine."
Both of them were ready to argue, but Coach sent them a glare that reiterated how he was truly having none of it. So, they just decided to ultimately keep their mouths shut.
What followed next, was a week full of getting used to... Not only less pool training, and working with a team for the relay, but being regarded as a couple as well. Both of them tried their hardest to avoid talking with anyone else, as anyone who approached them since the story spread, was most likely just going to ask if they really were together.
Most of the time, they just prefer the silence of being alone, with no one to pester them about what is true and what is not. Even the comfort of being with their own friends were turned down, in order for some solidarity amidst the chaos. There were times where they both unconsciously gravitate together, finding themselves following the other, or both accidentally going to one of their usual lunch places.
Perhaps it's true, that misery likes company...
Thankfully, the news did die down. It wasn't near being extinguished, since there were still some people who talks about them in the internet (some of them were even their own teammates). But at least, it wasn't that hot of topic anymore that Rin and Haru could feel the glaring stares at the back of their heads everytime they're out in public, whether they're together or not.
"You can still back out... for what we planned tomorrow." Haru mumbled in between bites. Rin immediately knew what he talking about, as plans during his day off were usually a rare occasion.
"No, I'm not backing out on my word. I promised Sayaka-san that I'll be there, so I'll be there."
"Even after what happened?" Questioned Haru, watching how Rin's resolve faltered a little.
"Yes... Even after what happened. A promise is a promise." He wasn't one to break his word, no matter how everyone around him does it with ease.
"Okay," Said Haru, still feeling like they'll just be adding fuel to a dying fire; but knowing Rin and how stubborn he is, there's nothing he can do about it. "Just text me what time you'll pick me up." He added, cleaning his plate up and taking his leave earlier.
The next morning, they were driving to Nagoya with nothing but silence between them. Not even Rin's English songs were being played, and the redhead was well aware of how awake Haruka was despite his eyes being closed for a couple of minutes now.
"Hey, Nanase..." He called, Haru didn't open his eyes but Rin knew he was listening. "Just... I don't blame you, okay? I'm not sure if it ever crossed your mind that the news wouldn't happen if you hadn't asked me to fake date you in the first place, but— I don't know... just wanted to say that nobody wanted it, I guess? That I might've acted like an asshole to you when we found out, but I'm not... y'know... mad or anything." God, he was rambling. Since when did he start talking so much around Haru anyway?
Haru hadn't thought about that at all, but it nice to hear it anyway. Rin was right, both of them didn't intend what happened. "Okay," He replied, opening his eyes to finally look at Rin. "No matter what happens today, I... I don't blame you, too, Matsuoka."
Rin chuckled. "Gosh, don't make it sound like we're going off on a battle or something."
Haru gave him a shrug, they'll both never know. "Whatever... It'll just die down, anyway."
"Yeah," Rin can't help but grin at his don't-care attitude, maybe he should start taking notes from this lad? "I think so too..."
Once they arrived, Sayaka-san and her husband welcomed them warmly. Their home was a beautiful, traditional Japanese house, with tatami mat flooring, sliding doors, and wooden engawa verandas. They were coddled like the celebrities they were, but Rin doubts that they even knew of how the world was now talking about their supposed relationship.
Haru's grandmother showed them her scrapbook of Haru's swimming career since he was a child, filled with newspaper and magazine clippings that her husband bought for her.
"I like to look at them and know that it's only a matter of time before I add another one." She smiled, as the lads bask in awe at her intricately made masterpiece. No two pages were alike, and she made use of beautiful decorations such as gem ornaments and dried flowers.
Rin's favourite one was during Haru's last competition before middle school. It was filled with dried sakura petals, and an unsmiling image of tiny Haru, as he held out his gold medal, shot under a blooming sakura tree. He had this fond smile on his face as they reached the latest one, Haru's medals and achievements from last year's World Championships.
Something told him that this is something that his own grandmother would do, but with comments about how Rin should be ashamed that the book was so short, whilst donning that proud and loving look in her eye.
"This is beautiful, Obaa-san." Haru murmured, tracing the bumpy border with his fingers. He might be embarrassed at first, and was trying to keep Rin from seeing it, but he figured that it wasn't his masterpiece to hide. "Is this what you wanted to give me?"
Sayaka shook her head as she closed the book. "Of course not, Haruka-kun. This is Obaa-san's precious property after all." She had one for each grandchildren, and adored all of them equally.
"This is what I wanted to give you," She pulled a small wooden box from under the kotatsu and presented it to them. Rin and Haru exchanged looks before the redhead urged the other to open it, which Haru complied to.
Inside the small old box was a velvet interior, with a small cushion above it, laying there was a pair of tightly weaved red leather bracelets. Haru gasped upon seeing the items and his blue eyes immediately shot to where Sayaka-san was.
"Are these..." He softly mumbled.
Sayaka had a soft smile on her face whilst she nodded. "Yes, those are Sachiko's bracelets. It's the only possession of hers that I have."
Haru swallowed the lump that was raising from his throat, he grew up to seeing these two bracelets around his grandmother's wrist. It used to be a matching pair between her and her husband, but when he died, Sachiko had started wearing the two of them on the same wrist.
"It's bad luck to separate the two of them, my dear." She once told him, with a secret knowing smile.
"I didn't know... I thought they were buried with her..." Haru was fighting off the weird prickly sensation from his eyes, rubbing them with the heel of his unoccupied palm.
"I wanted to give them to you for a long time, sweetheart... But after meeting Rin-kun from the party, I figured that it was the now the perfect time to do so." She directed her gaze to Rin who remained wide-eyed upon the realization of why he was invited in the first place.
"I can't," The redhead stumbled with words. "I don't think— they're Haru's grandmother's and I just..." How can he possibly wear such a valuable piece of heirloom, meant to be worn by a couple, when he and Haru weren't even really together?
"It's okay, Rin-kun. I'm sure that Sachiko would have loved to see you two wearing it." Her genuine smile full of adoration was breaking Rin's heart, maybe it really was a bad idea that he went with Haru in the first place.
His eyes landed on Haru who was still lovingly grazing his fingers against the bracelets.
"I'm sorry, but I really don't think I shoul—"
"It's okay, Rin..." Haru softly interjected. "I think my Obaa-san would have given it to you, as well..." Haru opened one of his clenched fists and dropped the delicate thing on his palm. "And as a thank you." Haru nodded with a small look in his eyes that spoke of their secret.
Rin eyed the bracelet, a dainty thing that looked so carefully crafted, there was a white gold metal plate surrounding the middle front with two jade beads on either side of it; with the kanji character for Fate engraved on the white gold part.
"It's so beautiful." Rin found himself whispering. Haru had already put his on, as Rin was being urged by Sayaka-san to do so as well.
Carefully undoing the leather knot from the end, he slid his around the right wrist, Haruka wore his own around the left one, and Rin can't help but place his bracelet donning one beside Haru's; admiring how the two bracelets looked possibly even more beautiful together.
Sayaka-san let out an adoring sigh, staring at the two young lads who both were gazing at their identical bracelets.
"I think Sachiko told me once that it's bad luck to keep those two apart." She gained back their attention with that. "I think that's just made up by the one who created them, but it can't hurt to abide by it, right?" She gave a teasing grin that sent both boys flushing.
"Now, won't you two be a dear and accompany Obaa-san to the market? I know that Haruka-kun likes his saba fresh, and we can buy what Rin-kun likes for dinner as well."
Rin and Haru both gasped, which the old lady rolled her eyes to. "Don't tell me you're both still afraid of getting spotted together out in public after the news spread?"
Blue eyes like her own widened. "You know about... those?"
Sayaka-san rolled her eyes once more, "Do you take me for an idiot, or perhaps tech-illiterate, Haruka-kun?"
Haru rapidly shook his head, silently embarrassed that his grandmother probably knows more about the internet than he does.
"Then, I don't see what you boys have to be embarrassed about. You're both fit and good-looking, of course people are going to notice how good you look together." Both Haru and Rin flitted their eyes down at that.
"My dears, life is too short for you to worry what other people are going to say... People will never run out of things to say." She gripped each of their hands and softly gave them a squeeze. "So long as you're not hurting or stepping on anyone, then let them talk... Unless you boys are being harassed because of it?" Her gaze turned stern and serious, which made the two immediately shake their heads in unison.
"No, they just... ask us questions, and pictures... I guess?" So far, none of them got really too annoying or aggressive. Usually they just give them a sad frown whenever he and Rin declines a selfie request.
"Then, there's no problem with it." Sayaka-san grinned and stood up. "Now, will you lads let this old lady shop on her own? Even my husband doesn't let that happen..."
Rin and Haru sighed before finally succumbing to her charms.
They bought a lot of food ingredients that made Rin want to ask if Haru's other relatives were coming. There was mackerel, and other seafood, meat, and vegetables, and ingredients for dessert.
Some people clearly recognized the two of them, judging by the incredulous gasps and pointing of their fingers. Haru tried not to mind them, which to be honest, was really not that hard... He was used to ignoring people anyway, and he had zero social media accounts that they can stalk to begin with.
Rin was fairing alright, too. It really did help knowing that there was someone who was going through that same thing... Someone who appeared like he genuinely had no fucks to give, and Sayaka-san who gently pats his arm whenever Rin stiffens out from the attention.
The trip was almost over, just one more mushroom that Sayaka-san absolutely needed to find, then they could go back and start the dinner feast. She left them on a secluded side with everything they bought and told them to stay put... Rin silently hated and adored how that made him feel like he's a child again, grocery shopping with his own grandmother.
"Umm, it's okay if you won't but," Came a soft female voice that startled them both. "...can I ask for one picture with you guys? I've been a fan since your debut at the Olympics." The lass, probably just barely younger than Gou, asked them.
Rin and Haru shared a look, Sayaka-san wasn't nearby, therefore there was no need to act like obedient boys anymore... But Haru had this stubbornly determined look that challenged something in Rin.
"I don't care." He told him, because he honestly, clearly doesn't.
Rin gulped but ended up shooting him a sharp gaze as well. "I don't care either."
Haru fought back a smirk at how childishly easy it was to rile Rin up. He turned to the girl who was staring expectantly at them and nodded his head.
She let out the happiest sound and frantically scrambled for her phone. She angled it with shaking hands until both Rin and Haru were in view.
"Smile, Rin." Haru whispered.
"Shut up, idiot. You're the one who's always scowling."
The girl giggled and snapped an image whilst they were arguing. "Thank you so much, Matsuoka-san, Nanase-san," She bowed with a grin, clutching her phone dearly against her chest. "I... I'm happy for both of you."
She ran away almost skipping and both Rin and Haru looked at each, lost for words. Rin opened his mouth, but Sayaka-san beat him to it.
"See? That wasn't so bad, was it?" She asked with a teasing grin. Haru nodded his head, and Rin...
Rin just felt proud that they were able to make someone that happy...
They both ate until they physically can no more... Sayaka-san and her husband made sure that they sampled each dish at least once, and that includes the multiple desserts that they prepared.
Rin helped with the grilling of meats, vegetables, and seafood skewers, whilst Haru helped with the hot pot. They both knew that they needed to burn all the excess calories that they consumed, but it still felt great to indulge in a banquet once in a whilst.
When they said goodbye, Sayaka-san hugged and kissed both of them and even packed some take outs of mackerel for Haru, and some meat for Rin.
"You are free to visit Obaa-san anytime you want." She told them, Rin and Haru nodding and waiving before they entered the car.
The drive back home was a lively one, despite the lack of music. Possibly due to the amount of sweets and caffeine that they consumed, both of them were as alive as ever. Bickering about who ate the most anyway despite the two of them acting shy at first (it was Rin), who kind of didn't help with the cooking at all as they let the old couple steal tasks from them anyway (it was Haru). Over all, it turned out to be the getaway that they never knew they needed, after that stressful week.
Rin was amidst dissing how many bags of groceries Haru can carry without struggling, when his eyes landed on the pretty bracelet that was around his wrist.
"Hey, Haru..." His tone shifted, but went unnoticed by the other swimmer.
"What? I told you I could have carried more." Haru snapped at him, but Rin just shook his head.
"That's not it," He started. "Just... if you want to... you can have the bracelet back. I don't I think it's too much if I keep it." It's a precious possession for Haru's grandmother, and he clearly remembered how Haru looked at it adoringly.
Haru pursed his lips, why was Rin being so difficult? "Obaa-san gave it you... and I... I'm just happy with just this one." He caressed his own bracelet. Haru wasn't big on jewelry or accessories to begin with, but he intend on keeping that one; having two would be over the top though. "You can have if it you want. I don't mind."
Rin nodded. Secretly, he was in love with the bracelet, for how beautiful they were and how romantic was the story of their previous owners. "Thank you, Haru. I promise I'll keep it safe."
"It's yours, but you don't have to wear it if you don't want to." Maybe that was why Rin kept on insisting to give it back?
Rin scoffed and chuckled at Haru. "Oh, I'll wear it alright. It's beautiful and stylish, and it's not like it has your name engraved on it."
Haru huffed but can't come up with anything to retaliate to it. Instead, his memory took him back to the girl who asked for their photo.
"Do you think she will post the picture online?" Haru asked.
Rin shrugged. "Probably."
"But I mean it, though..." Added, Haruka. Finding himself gauging Rin's reaction. "That I don't care."
Rin grinned, of course Haru doesn't. "Then, I don't care more than you don't."
That sparked another round of childish banters between them until time flew, and they were nearing Haruka's building before they knew it.
Haru has this urge to prolong their time, akin to wanting to stay longer in the pool, or not wanting his friends to leave when they used to come and play as kids. It was subtle, but the pull clearly was there...
"Do you," He gulped. "...want to have tea for a bit?" Haru can't help but ask once they were parked in front of his building.
"I think I'll pass." Rin replied, and Haru fought the disappointed frown that threatened to grace his face.
"Oh. Okay... Then goodnight, I guess?" Haru awkwardly mumbled, slipping off his seat belt and reaching out for his things.
"But I—" Something in Rin urged him to say more. Anything. Just... "Do you... think we can continue this?"
Haru blinked, confused. "Continue what?"
"You know," Predictably, Rin's hand found the back of his neck. "...not ignoring each other... hanging out... and not... calling each other by our last names?" He felt the need to avert his eyes from Haru but snapped back to confirm when the raven mumbled a soft "I don't mind...", under his breath.
That made a grin harder to suppress. "Then, I'll take you up on that offer for tea sometime, Haru."
Haru replied with a small smile. "Ah. Goodnight, Rin." He said before exiting the car.
Rin felt warm and light as he drove back to his own flat. Wordlessly, they both agreed to being friends... That's what that meant, right?
He can't believe that he'd end up being friends with Nanase Haruka, out of all people, but judging by the past few weeks of interacting with the bloke. It kind of wasn't surprising as well... He and Haru had similarities that he doesn't share with anyone else. They clash, but that just adds to their unique dynamic together. Maybe they were meant to get along in the first place?
Just as he was about to leave his parked car, a message notification made his phone light up.
You're trending again, lover boy. Nice bracelet. ;)
Rin groaned even without opening the link attached, but surprisingly, it didn't upset him too much like the last time...
Perhaps it's because of what Sayaka-san told them. Or, maybe he just doesn't care what he thinks anymore... He's no longer a part of Rin's life, hasn't been for a long time now, so why should he spend his days worrying what that someone might do or feel about this?
Besides, if his rival-slash-new-friend doesn't care about such rubbish, then Rin needs to show him that he could care even less.
Here's the next update, after quite a wait. Kudos and reviews are much appreciated! Lots of love, dearests! ♡
P.S. if you're here for angst, you're too early, mate. Hahaha. *wink wink*
Chapter 7: Olympian Endorsers
I haven't proof read this as thoroughly as I'd like, I'll get back to it in the morning, but feel free to point out some grammatical/typographical errors if ever you encounter some. Thanks, and enjoy! ♡
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"My partner and I think it's about damn time! I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who noticed their heated staring before each and every race. Rin-chan stares at Haru-chan like he wants to eat him all up! Like a shark!" Host of the famous morning talk show, Ohayo, Nihon!, Hazuki Nagisa gladly replied to our team's initial question.
"And Matsuoka-san lets you call him this, 'Rin-chan'?" One of our personnel asked.
Hazuki-san answered with a wide grin. "Of course! He loves it when I do!"
There was a barely concealed chortle from someone and Rin would've snapped at them if they weren't one of his coaches.
"Turn it to page 12." Coach Azuma instructed.
"Of course I'm happy for Rin, he's my best friend." Olympic Gold medalist Mikoshiba Seijuuro told us via a very entertaining phone call. "I just wish he stops taking it out on me whenever he and Nanase fights though."
Once Coach Kondo was done reading those parts out loud, silence filled the room, tripling the anxiety that Rin was feeling since he and Haru were called to the office once again.
"Are we... in trouble?" Haruka surprised everyone when he was the first to break the ice.
Azuma's eyes widened before donning a grim look. "Is that why you think we called you here?"
Rin gave a reluctant shrug. "Japan can be a very conservative country sometimes..."
Their head coach flashed a quick sympathetic look before eyeing the two of them for a bit. "Yes, we did consider that might happen when the news broke... but do you think JOC's going to let two of their best swimmers be dragged under the bus just because of who they're dating?" He huffed. "But that doesn't matter because you're not here because you're being fired. As you can see, almost every publication's asking for you two now. And since you're both living like hermits under a rock, they're gathering information from your closest friends and family instead."
One of the assistant coaches places a collection of magazines and newspapers before them. Along with letters that are addressed to the Tobiou Japan or JOC.
"Not only that, but we've been receiving an increase in sponsorship offers for the two of you over the last two weeks. Coach Kondo can no longer handle all of this on her own, so we asked JOC to send a PR representative for the both of you. They'll be helping you two sort out through these requests and try to contain the media that's been pestering your loved ones for information."
Both Rin and Haru weren't expecting that turn of event, if anything, Rin himself was expecting to be sacked and Haru was running out of words to subtly tell him he was overreacting.
When a knock on the door came not more than five minutes later, a cheerful lad with spiky black hair came barreling in. Haru can only sigh as more minutes of his life were going to be spent not in the pool.
Oikawa Haruma, their personal PR representative thankfully had a professional side to him. When the team finally handed down Rin and Haru's case to him, he immediately requested a private chat with the involved swimmers.
"You both have had sponsorships before right?" He asked, Rin and Haru nodded to it.
"Alright, so you're familiar with the contracts and agreements that come with it... but have you two had endorsement requests before?"
"No," Answered Rin.
"Yes," Said Haru at the same time.
Red eyes snapped at him and asked "You had?"
The freestyle swimmer nodded. "I turned them all down though."
A huff was let out by Rin. Of course he had... Typical Haru.
"Okay, so you both haven't done any endorsements before, but these batch of requests are mostly just that... Offering to have both of you endorse their products." Oikawa explained.
"What brands are they?" Rin asked.
The man in the suit grinned and laid out the sponsorship requests to Rin and Haru's side of the table, folded so the brand and company names were displayed.
Rin's eyes widened as he scanned the pile longer. The offer senders ranges from famous sports equipment brands, sports drink, sport garments, to some even unrelated accessories, apparel, and food brands which are all internationally known as well.
Haruka only frowned deeper, wiggling in his seat like he's being burned alive by the mere fact that he's nowhere near a pool. "Can I go now?"
Oikawa's eyes widened, Nanase had barely even glanced at the pile. "You won't even consider any of them, Nanase-kun?"
"No." He was quick to reply.
"Haru!" Rin protested. "You haven't even looked at them."
Haruka glared at him before he responded. "I told you I've had offers like that before, Kondo-san already explained what they meant and they're too much work so I won't do it."
Rin rolled his eyes but kind of predicted that this'll happen eventually. "Whatever," He mumbled then turned to Oikawa. "You can let him go, I'll do it. Well, some of it, I guess." He knew he can't do all of it if he wants his performance not to suffer, but this is still an opportunity to grab as more sponsorship equates to more savings.
Oikawa gave them a sheepish smile. "Actually, the offers are for the two of you, yes, but they offered for the both you together, not separately." He paused and eyed them for a moment. "I think this has something to do with the recent news of you two dating."
Rin sighed, of course it's still about the dating thing. Why did he ever think that some of them were solely interested in him alone?
"Well, I'm not doing it, so can we go now?" Haru impatiently asked, fully expecting how Rin's eyes snapped at him in a glare.
The redhead turned to their PR representative and shot him an apologetic smile. "It's lunch time anyway, so we'll be back with our answer, yeah? Thank you for your hard work!" He bowed his head and grabbed Haruka by the wrist when he stood up and walked out.
"Oi, Rin!" The raven hollered. "Where are you taking me?"
"We're going to talk." Rin said without looking back. "This isn't something that you can dismiss so easily, Haru. We're both involved in this."
Haruka frowned but didn't argue any further. They passed Ikuya on their way out who just glanced at their attachment and rolled his eyes, Asahi waived at them and pretty much everyone in the team were used to their newfound closeness nowadays. After all, they were supposedly "dating" in everyone's eyes.
At lunch, Rin told him to stay put and came back with two plates of grilled mackerel with rice after a few minutes. He started eating like there wasn't anything peculiar about it, but Haru can't help but send him a small glare before he even picked up his chopsticks.
"I know what you're doing." He announced, but couldn't say no to the free mackerel meal.
"What?" Rin asked with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. "I know that you're in a better mood to talk when there's saba involved."
Haru internally cursed about having exposed his weaknesses to his lad.
Once they both cleaned their plates in silence, Rin gave him this determinedly annoying look again that made Haruka want to bolt. Their meals were paid already, right? Maybe he could just...
"I want to buy my grandmother's house back." The redhead announced, far from what Haru was expecting him to say.
"It means what it means. I want it back, but I need to have money in order to do that." Rin said. "My goal is to accumulate as much savings as I can whilst I'm in my prime, then settle back in Sano once I'm done with swimming. I'm tired of the city life, you know? Kyoto, Sydney, and now Tokyo."
Haru can sympathize with that, he longs to be back in Iwatobi too, where it's peaceful and simple, and close to the ocean. "What's so special about it?" He curiously asked.
"Well... I can't remember it much, but I know there's a huge sakura tree in the backyard. It's close to the ocean too, and there's a small cove near it where Gou and I used to swim as children." He recalled fondly how it wasn't so complicated back then, he had his dad, his mom, his sister, his grandmother, and the water. More than the house itself, he was aiming to relive the memory of his short, yet highly coveted childhood back in Japan.
Haru pursued his lips, clearly conflicted, and Rin hated how selfish was what he was about to say next.
"Look, I know how much you hate this kind of things, endorsements and attention, and whatnot, but I literally can't do this without you, Haru. If you won't do it, it matters not how much I want to, because they want to sponsor us, you and I, and not just Matsuoka Rin."
Haru hated that small tugging in his chest upon what that might imply... He knew that Rin wasn't exactly the media's darling with how they built him up to be this aggressive, rude, and arrogant swimmer that only cares about beating his rival. But maybe, through this, they can see the side of Rin that Haru once didn't know existed too...
Long and unnerving silence was what followed next, as Rin clearly tried his best to allow Haruka some peace to think it through. Finally, a sigh came from the older swimmer that caught Rin's attention just as quick as it wandered off.
"You're right. I dislike doing those, standing in front of a camera, interacting with people and acting interested..." Haru said, watching the hopeful look on Rin's face drop. "...but with the two of us, maybe I won't have to endure all the attention to myself?"
In a split second, the light in those red eyes burned with hope again, as Rin gaped disbelievingly at Haruka.
"Haru... you mean?"
He made sure to send him a stern glare. "But I get to choose which ones are we doing, I have a criteria of my own."
"Let me guess... pool, water, swimsuit, saba?"
"Shut up," He hissed, hating how accurate that was. "And no overly sexual or romantic things, I don't want to act like that anymore." If they're doing things together he wanted it to be as natural as possible, despite everyone's belief about the nature of their relationship.
"Deal! We don't have to act any more than how we did during Makoto's Skype call." Rin promised with a solemn look, he was already pushing this enough by urging Haru to step out of his comfort zone.
"So... We're going to do this?" Rin asked, just to be sure, the excitement in his tone was barely concealed.
"...I'll consider this as one of your favours." Haru added as an afterthought, this already feels like a favour anyway.
Rin gasped but ended up biting the inside of his cheek in lieu of an argument. "Fine," He guessed it made sense since he's the one who's gaining more from the arrangement. "You only owe me one favour."
"Alright," Haru heavily exhaled. "I guess we'll do it."
Rin broke out into the widest grin that showed off his sharp teeth, his red eyes were reduced to happy slits as he practically vibrated with exhilaration from his seat.
"Stop that." Haru snapped at him.
"That!" He glared like it was obvious. "Smiling wide like a loon..."
"Why? Finally falling for my charms, Nanase?" At least he's back to his dastardly self.
"Shut up, your teeth are just intimidating, is all."
"They're unique, mind you!" Rin argued but his smile hasn't even completely wilted.
Haru argued back but can't help the smirk that crept in as he riled Rin up even further.
He can't wait for everyone to see this annoyingly childish side of Matsuoka Rin...
"Congratulations on your new found celebrity status!" Seijuuro announced, raising his glass of beer and urging for a toast.
The man barged into Rin's flat not too many minutes ago with take out food and drinks to consume. They hadn't been spending a lot of time lately, as Rin and Haru usually meet up with Oikawa after practice to discuss their arrangements, after they accepted some of the endorsement offers sent to them. There's the relay practices as well and occasional invites from Izumoto or Asahi that Haru drags him to, just to have someone to suffer with.
"How do you even know about that?" Rin asked him after a reluctant clink of his glass to the other.
Sei shrugged. "Everyone knows, idiot. It's hard to ignore how you two get your own PR assistant and how you can't step too far away from NTC without having asked for your picture." He grinned, equal parts teasing and fond. "I know they're fake, but Gou and I really enjoy seeing your smiling face online, Rin. And besides, you two are starting to be one of the most decorated swimmers in the team since your debut at the Olympics. It's a wonder why your fame and recognition came this late..."
Rin bristled at that, but made no move to respond. Of course he knew Seijuuro wasn't even done talking.
"Nanase's good for you, I think..." He continued. "I should have known better than to try and hook you up with some of my friends in past, when it's only Nanase that's ever caught your eye like that."
"Oi, that's not true!" Rin snapped, what's with all the "look" that Nagisa and everyone else were talking about. He looks at Haru no different than he looks at anybody else.
"It's true, Rin. I even entertained the idea of setting you two up, but I don't have any idea if Nanase even swings that way... or if he even swings at all." Mikoshiba let out a boisterous laugh, the alcohol slowly taking effect. "I didn't see him date anyone back in Samezuka. Even that one time that we went to Tokyo for a sports field trip, he didn't even look at any of the girls, just stared at their pool like it's his long lost lover."
Rin can't contain his chuckle at that, imagining normal hormonal teenage boys ogling city girls, whilst Haru, the special snowflake, was eye-fucking the pool.
"See? You have that face again since we're talking about Nanase."
Rin glared. "What face?"
"That face that says you're attracted to him," Sei explained with a loopy grin. "Not because you find him hot or good looking, but because you see something in him that you don't see in anybody else."
Rin wasn't planning to get evaluated by his drunk bastard of a friend, but he wasn't petty enough not to admit that Haru indeed is attractive... How he swims is what Rin finds most captivating about him, he's also easy to be with and exudes the silent comfort of being submerged in the water. But of course, there's nothing more to that than recognizing nice qualities of a friend.
"Shut up, I just find it funny that he hasn't dated anyone and just focused on all but swimming." Rin snapped, and Seijuuro just chuckled once more.
"You're the one to talk, lover boy. You're Nanase's first, I don't know how you did it but that deserves a medal, y'know." Mikoshiba was close to slurring now as he downed more beer. "He would've been your first too... I think. If you had only met him first... Maybe you shouldn't just count that you dated S—"
"Sei," Rin cut him off, his tone was stern and bordering on pissed. This sobered the older swimmer up, making him reevaluate his words before he sent Rin an apologetic look.
"I'm sorry, Rin." He sighed, pushing away the remaining bottles of alcohol. "I guess I just want to say that I'm happy that you have Nanase now. He's good for you, and I see that you're good for him... Don't ever think that you're never good enough for anyone, Rin." Mikoshiba shot a hand out and softly patted his head, there was a melancholic glint in his eyes akin to how Gou looks at him sometimes, they're spending too much time together that they're starting to look alike in Rin's alcohol-addled brain.
Rin just clicked his tongue and chugged his own drink, not knowing what else to say when there really wasn't even a relationship between Haru and himself to begin with. But as long as Gou and Seijuuro keep thinking that way, at least Rin's saving them from worrying too much about him, when he's perfectly fine to begin with.
Who said that you needed to be in love again just to know that you're over someone, anyway?
Perhaps it had something to do with the anxiety that came from having their first endorsement shoot tomorrow, but it has been a long time since Haru busted out his art supplies and blank canvases.
There really wasn't much going on with the painting yet, just a bunch of blues overlapping each other, but he could already feel the tension leaving his body. Perhaps he should add another colour? Haru wasn't feeling like painting the water right then, for some reason.
The notification came as he was starting to mix some reds, combining different hues as though trying to get a certain shade that felt embeded at the back of his mind. A shade of red locks surrounded by crystalline blue, flowing like deep sea grass until one of the coaches shouts at him to wear a swim cap.
Haru frowned at the imagery, dropping the easel before he could even stain his canvas with the red paint. He opted for his phone instead, eyes widening when the owner of the reds appeared to have left him a message.
Am I your first boyfriend?
He stared at the one line query, debating whether to ask Rin if he missent it somehow but another text came just as quick.
Dunno... just curious I guess?
Blue eyes studied the clock that provided the only sound inside his tiny flat, it was fifteen minutes before midnight and he was almost tempted to just ignore Rin and shut his phone off... but that would mean having to go back to almost painting a clashing shade of red across his perfect serene blue. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place, but at least he knew an easy way out of one of them.
'First fake boyfriend.'
He sent Rin.
Yeah yeah, you know what I mean. Stop dodging the question, Haru.
'Why do you want to know? Jealous?'
The reply was instantaneous that it was almost laughable.
As if! I'm just curious, I told you. Mikoshiba told me that you didn't seem to date anyone back in high school... Why?
His fingers hovered above the digital keyboard... Why was Rin being uncharacteristically annoying in wee hours?
Since the inspiration already left him anyway, Haru decided to just retire for the night. They have an important appointment tomorrow so he needed at least an hour to soak in the tub before he's ready to face it.
'I'm fine on my own. Just never had the urge to date anyone yet.'
For some reason, instead of just letting it go, he replied to Rin's text. A minute or two later and his phone lit up again.
Hah! That's what I told everyone but no one believed me. People are just jerks, Haru.
If it's just a hunch before, now he's certain that there's definitely something going on with Rin.
'Are you okay, Rin?' He can't help but ask.
I don't know...
Sometimes being around Seijuuro and Gou is hard. I feel like it's easier talking and being with you instead...
The grip around his phone tightened. Is that bravery rearing its head because Rin's not telling it directly to his face, or was it just one of Rin's hidden sides to be uncomfortably honest sometimes? Haru guessed a little gamble of honesty wouldn't hurt in exchange for Rin being a blabbering dork.
'Same for me...'
Rin took a whilst to reply, but Haru wasn't expecting what he sent next.
You're a good guy, Haru... If you ever dated anyone for real, choose someone who's not gonna hurt you, okay? It takes years to get over that, Haru.
Haru felt like the air was punched right out of his chest... Why does Rin have this power to make him feel things with his words? The bastard wasn't even physically around him but the tiny needles that poke at his chest were as vivid as Rin's word.
'Get some sleep, Rin. We have a shoot to attend tomorrow.'
No reply came for long and stretched minutes, Haru was sure that either Rin was asleep already or somehow offended by his lack of response...
Good night, Haru.
It was nice talking with you.
Came the final batch of response... Haruka wasn't sure how late it was when sleep finally called him. His mind was tired but it kept coming back to the different shades of red that Rin donned.
They were vibrant and they all but clash with the constant and usual shade of blue that Haruka basks in... but then again he can't help but wonder if there used to be an even more vibrant shade to Rin's red before whatever it is that happened in Australia.
If a red like that exists, then he most certainly wants to capture it for his canvas.
As if he haven't had enough of the colour red since last night's conversation, Haru can't help but mentally trace the light dash of pink that was growing across Rin's cheeks when their eyes met that very next day...
The two of them were being ushered for make-up, which Haru already dreads, but Rin asked to borrow his teammate for a minute of privacy instead. There were suspiciously coy looks sent between the crew, but at least they agreed wordlessly.
"Look, Haru..." Rin started, the red on his cheeks were getting darker by the minute. "About last night... I— I'm kinda drunk. I mean I was. I'm alright now. I just... I do... what I said, I meant it, but— shit, why is this so embarrassing?... I don't know. Sorry, I guess?"
Haru blinked, confused as he pretty much didn't catch any of that. Nonetheless, it was entertaining as always, seeing Rin struggle for words. He could feel the awkwardness being replaced with fond exasperation as he let himself grin a bit because of the fumbling idiot in front of him.
"It's okay, Rin." He assured him and vulnerable reds met his soft blue. "I'm already aware that you're secretly sappy beneath that tough exterior." He meant to jest but it was half mixed with the truth.
"Oi!" Rin frowned, but he sighed like he's grateful that Haru wasn't reacting awkwardly about it. "But I really do mean it, though. That it's easy being with you, Haru." He hoped Haru ignored the part about dating and getting hurt... Rin wasn't intending on spilling that bit out.
"Me too, Rin." The raven quietly mumbled, his back turned to Rin as he made it known to the crew that they were done with their little talk.
After all the prep, they were given very thorough instructions about the flow of the shoot, a lot of tips and reminders from the crew, and a handful of reassurances that they'd be patient with them, considering they all knew how this would a first time experience for both Olympians. Oikawa's there with them, offering encouraging words and smiles, and albeit knowing the bloke only on a professional level, both Rin and Haru were still glad for the warm and familiar presence.
Rin was to be photographed first, next would be Haru's turn, then a sequence with both of them together. Although he was deathly anxious about having to go first, seeing the relief on Haru's face made him mentally toughen up his resolve for the both of them. Haru wasn't even supposed to be here if it weren't for Rin's selfishness, going first was the least he can do for him...
He was expecting the full on chaos for the first few minutes, as Rin himself struggled with the awkwardness of trying to pose appropriately for the camera despite the large posing guide laid in front of him, whilst keeping mind all the blocking that they were taught. Haru was looking like he'll bite his lower lip off any moment from how hard he was trying to fight back an amused grin at how stiff and awkward Rin was. Rin knew there was an embarrassed flush across his face from how heated his face felt, but at least no one was complaining about it.
"Umm, can you try and smile for us, Matsuoka-kun?" The main photographer asked.
Rin tried to give them the least shakiest smile he could muster, but felt dejected when the photographer instinctively winced upon the sight of his awkwardly wide grin.
"Uhh, try a smaller smile?" The man asked, Rin was just about to do just that when he heard an poorly concealed snort from someone familiar.
Haru was covering his mouth but the mirth in his eyes was evident. Rin eyed him, stood straighter to appear more intimidating before sending him the most subtle glare he could ever muster.
The flash of light took him by surprise, followed by a hollered "That's it!"
"Do more of those, Matsuoka-kun. You don't have to look in the camera all the time, just focus on Nanase-kun over there." Their photographer instructed with a wide grin. Rin, albeit confused, directed his attention to Haru, raising a brow and sending him a condescending look as more flashes of light and shutter clicks followed.
Rin wasn't really sure how reacting to Haru's annoying presence was helping him produce at least passable images, but everyone was gushing about how good the photos were turning out, so he held his complains to himself instead.
"Just a few more, Matsuoka-kun. Now, I want you to run your hand through your hair and think about how exasperating you find Nanase-kun is sometimes." Haru frowned at that but Rin just smirked. Well, that was easy enough.
He slowly ran his hand through his styled hair with his eyes closed, opening and directing his gaze to where the camera was whilst exhaling a deep sigh. A succession of shutter clicks later, and the man finally announced.
"We're done with Matsuoka-kun's part!" He happily said, complementing Rin for the great work.
Everyone's praising him for doing a great job and a couple of female personnel even blushed when he met their eyes. He didn't understand what it was all about, until he got to see the raw photos for himself...
The angles were not his doing, but it certainly accentuated, dare he say, his best side. He kept donning this snobbish and annoyed look but it almost appeared fierce with all the proper lighting and the expensive legskins and windbreaker he was clad in. Rin didn't know he could look this... professional, only by following a few instructions and reacting to someone's movements. He was almost feeling giddy by how good the images turned out, and that he wasn't going to disappoint the people who paid them, at the least.
"You look decent, Rin." Haru told him as the crew prepared for his turn. Rin rose a brow at that, feeling a wave of deja vu for some reason.
"Just decent? I think I look like a model." He confidently replied with a grin, but it instantly fell when the realization hit him.
It was before Makoto's wedding when he once told Haru that he looked decent, when in reality he can't keep his eyes off him for Haru had looked so ho—
"You're a bastard." He cut his own train of thought. No reply came from Haru but there was a glint of arrogant amusement sparkling from his eyes. For some reason, that wordless admittance that what he concluded was true, added to the another sort of giddy feeling to his chest.
At least he wasn't in front of the camera anymore, Rin thought.
When Haru's turn came, the same struggles were faced initially, but it was over when Haru finally agreed to smile for the camera. It was nowhere near those pretentious billboard smiles scattered across Tokyo, just a small, almost timid quirk of his lips, but Rin practically heard how he left the crowd speechless. Silence fell like clockwork, Haru looking around confused and instantly seeking for Rin's eyes from the background. He gave him a smile and a reassuring thumbs up, then it was all smooth sailing from that point on.
When it was their turn to be shot together, there was an excited aura radiating from the crew. It was clear that most, if not all, of them were fond of the fact that Rin and Haru were "dating". They were constantly being commended for their chemistry and how good they looked together.
Now they were standing parallel to each other with barely an arm of distance between them. It was the third time they changed their worn garments, and about ten minutes in since they started the joint shoot.
"Matsuoka-kun, kindly extend your arm and drape it over Nanase-kun's left shoulder. Yes, that's it. Now, look to the camera please, and Nanase-kun I want you to keep looking the side of Matsuoka-kun's face." A couple of flashes followed. "Perfect!" He announced with a wide smile.
They shot a couple more from that pose, then proceeded to instruct them into different ones after that. An hour or two, a couple of prop and background changes, and two racks of clothes later with quick breaks in between, and finally everyone was clapping for a job well done. Rin and Haru were urged to see the photos for themselves, and Haruka might have to admit that he was starting to appreciate this form of art all the more... It was weird to look at himself smiling for the camera, but he can't help but feel satisfied that they turned out great even for their first time being endorsers.
Some of the crew asked them for pictures and autographs, and it was a peculiar feeling since both Olympians didn't even experience that much attention when they medaled in Rio. Farewells were said, along with promises to watch their future races, and finally Rin, Haru, and their PR agent were done for the day. Rin's muscles were feeling strained from being forced into different poses for the whole day, he was already planning to jog before dinner as Oikawa bid them goodbye with the same enthusiasm that he greeted them earlier that morning.
On their way to the station, Haru suddenly took a sharp left after a mumbled farewell that had Rin halting his steps to call out for him.
"Where are you going? Isn't your flat the other way?" He'd drove Haru home enough times to know, after all.
Haru turned to him, tight-lipped. He was hoping Rin wouldn't ask him any questions. "I'm out of saba. I'm planning to restock." He prayed that Rin wouldn't ask where he's getting his fresh stash of mackerel, as he wasn't willing to share that just yet even if they're friends now... He had enough competitions as it is.
Rin was stuck between letting out a sigh and a laugh. "It's like a drug to you, isn't it? Do you even eat anything besides saba?" He jested and watched Haru frown.
"Of course, I do." Haru bristled, offended. "But nothing tastes better than saba."
Rin snorted and rolled his eyes. "Maybe you just don't know how to properly cook anything other than saba."
"Are you saying you're a better cook than me, Rin?"
"Hell yeah, I am." Rin announced with a smirk. "Tomorrow evening, don't cook saba. I'll come to your flat and I'll cook you the best meal you'll ever taste, Haru."
Haru didn't respond right away. Trying to understand Rin's reasoning behind all of that. Of course he refused to believe that Rin was a better cook than him, he was making his own meal since his grandmother passed way, after all; but he knew he can't prove that unless he agreed to Rin's terms.
"Alright, I won't restock for now, but if I don't enjoy your cooking tomorrow night, you're paying for my week's saba supply, Rin." He announced and Rin grinned at him, the glint of competitiveness was sparkling from his eyes.
"I doubt you'll win this time, Haru." Rin replied. The fact that he managed to stave off Haruka's mackerel addiction for just one more night made him feel like he already won somehow... He secretly wished that all days were just as good and satisfying as that day had been.
Or maybe, who he's spending them with was just a major factor to that...
The next day, they barely saw each other at practice. Rin spent the day alone at the gym under Coach Takai's care whilst Haru was being grilled by Azuma as he trained for a breathless fifty.
Once they were done with their sets for the day, Rin dragged him to the supermarket in order to help him buy the ingredients for their dinner. Haru pointed out items which were and weren't present in his household, and Rin wasn't even surprised that they weren't that much varied to begin with.
The moment they set foot inside Haru's flat, Rin had to keep in mind that he was carrying groceries that can't afford to be dropped down the ground. Haru's flat looked like one of those expensive condo units that he had seen in Australia, with modern lighting and structural design. Adorned with large glass windows that overlooked Tokyo, and a slick monochromatic interior. It's not as massive, but it sure as hell looked expensive and well decorated.
He never considered this before, but maybe Haruka was from a well-off family after all.
"Don't look at me like that." Haru snapped as though having read Rin's mind. "My parents sold my grandmother's house to buy this one." He frowned like it wouldn't happen if only he had a say in it.
"Maybe I'll buy it back too..." He paused whilst starting to unpack the groceries they bought. "Once we earn enough from sponsors."
Rin felt the rush of gratefulness upon recalling their first endorsement shoot. It was a very pleasant and fulfilling experience for him, and he hoped it wasn't as awful as Haru thought to himself either.
"You should," Was Rin's reply. "That way, I won't be too far away in case you miss me." He added just to rile Haru up.
The blue-eyed tyrant just frowned at him and demanded that Rin start making dinner. Which he did, once Haru was out of sight.
Rin quickly prepared the fish. Gutted, cleaned, filleted, and seasoned it. He chose salmon as their main dish, not too far from Haruka's usual seafood diet but at least it was a tad much better than Haru's mackerel.
He learned this recipe when he was in Australia, used to cook this set of combo for special occassions as such winning races, Gou and their mom visiting, and sometimes even for anniversaries... Rin roughly shook his head. Like hell he'll associate his best dish to such bitter memories.
He occupied himself by fully taking in the interior of Haru's flat. The typical Japanese monochrome theme was present, but if you knew Haruka enough, you'd be able to point how he personalized his living space. The were random sea-creatures subtly placed across the living room, a crystal dolphin ornament, some poster of a prehistoric-looking shark, and a small wooden whittle of a bird-creature atop the centre table. But Rin's favourite has got to be the massive painting of a wave on one of the white walls. It stood in contrast to everything, but how the deep and light shades of blue crashed perfectly together made it stand out in an awe-inducing way.
Before he can even entertain to ask Haru if he underwent any formal art training, the oven timer alerted him that their meal was ready to be taken out.
"Need help?" Haru appeared upon hearing the ruckus, Rin nodded his head and instructed him to set the table for them.
Once every single dish were neatly placed onto Haru's dining table, Rin watched as blue-eyes zeroed in on the steaming heap of mash near the fish.
"Those are potatoes." He chukled. "Relax, I'm not going to poison you or make you eat cat food, idiot."
Haru frowned like he wasn't convinced by that, but eventually settled down and let Rin serve him the proper proportion as to how to eat everything best. Then, helping himself to another plateful of them.
He stared and started to pick at the greens first. The only things that he's familiar with. Surely enough the asparagus were cooked to perfection with a hint of something spicy the more he chewed on it.
Rin tried to appear nonchalant as he downed his own meal, they tasted great for him, but then again Haru have yet to fail surprising him about being so absurd. He tried not to stare when Haru clearly paused after a spoonful of mash potatoes, then finally followed by the steaming salmon from the centre of his plate.
"It's good..." Haru finally mumbled after what felt like the fifth bite. He was admittedly trying to seek for something subpar to point out, but unfortunately found none. "Even the potatoes."
Rin was fighting down a proud smile. Of course, Haru would love it. It was his best dish it never failed him before!
"It's simple and easy enough to make, that's why I decided to go with it." He shrugged like it was no big deal.
"But how did you make it taste... so unique?" Haru surprised him further by asking.
Rin let himself smirk. "Spices, Haru. Knowing which spices go along well is the key!"
Haru nodded, attentive for when he decide to do it for his mackerel. "Tell me what you used, I'll try to make a saba version."
Rin laughed at the very determined look on Haru's face. "Alright, but I don't think it's fair that I already cooked for you and now obligated to teach you how to do it... You should make some steak for me sometime, Haru." He teased.
Haru furrowed his brows at that. "You were the one who volunteered." He said. "And besides, I only cook fish..."
Rin started at him as if waiting for the joke, when there's nothing but a resolute seriousness on Haru's face he cackled like someone was pointing a gun at his temple.
"God, Haru!" He wheezed out in between chuckles. "First, I only swim free, now I only cook fish." Rin gave another round of laughter before finally composing himself. "You're really weird you know. I gotta admire your strict routine, but still, it's weird..."
Haru glared at him, not sure what he found so funny from him admitting the truth. Still, recalling the first time he had shared a table with Rin inside his flat, with cold teas and dead silence, Haruka thinks he preferred the annoyance that he's feeling right then.
Rin was thankfully calm enough when a series of notifications from his phone alerted the two of them. As he scrolled, Haru took this as an opportunity to grab more salmon and potatoes for himself, enjoying his own little bubble until Rin outright gasps from across him.
"Haru," He stuttered out, eyes wide and disbelieving.
Haruka was ready about to bolt and ask what was wrong, but Rin beat him to it.
"Are you aware that it's Valentine's Day today? Gou's greeting me right now, and I think she's with Mikoshiba!" The redhead blurted out, slamming his phone back down.
Gosh, Haru hates this over-dramatic side of Rin...
"Yes," He replied and continued eating his fully coveted meal. "Some of our teammates greeted me earlier, and some left early for their own dates."
Rin's eyes widened further (if that was even possible). "Then this..." He gestured around their table. "It's like uh—"
"I don't see what the big deal is, Rin." Haru cut him off before Rin can overthink even further. "It's not like we planned this, and as I said, I don't care. For us, we're just eating dinner. That's what matters..."
The younger one bit his lip and felt embarrassed about making things awkward for them without intending to. Haru was right, and Rin really needs to stop thinking what other people might think.
"Finish that or I'll take it and reheat it for tomorrow's lunch." Haru warned as he pointed to Rin's plate. The plate where the extra salmon fillets previously were, was now empty, and Rin can't help but feel that a significant part of him was grateful that it was Haru he's spending that evening with...
"Is that it?" Seijuuro asked, appearing so intrigued as he trailed beside Rin. Red eyes followed his line of sight until it landed on the red bracelet around his wrist.
"Shit, I forgot to take it off." He said as he made a move to remove it.
"I think it's fine keeping it. I see Nanase wearing his whilst swimming sometimes." Sei teased and broke into a wider grin upon the sight of that very lad. "Yo, Nanase-kun!" He hollered, catching not only Haru's attention that's for sure.
"Mikoshiba-senpai," Haru acknowledged him with a nod.
"Were you and Rin on a date yesterday? His sister said he didn't reply to any of her messages."
Rin inhaled sharply. "You bastard, I knew it! You were with Gou, weren't you?!"
Mikoshiba realized his mistake and suddenly looked lost for words and turned to Haruka for help with pleading eyes.
"Yes," Haru can't help but sigh as he answered. "Rin cooked me dinner."
Seijuuro grinned and trapped the redhead into a headlock, messing his red locks with his knuckles as Rin tried to protest even further. Some of their teammates laughed at the clear disadvantage, whilst some had appeared annoyed by the early morning display.
When Mikoshiba finally let Rin go after the shorter swimmer bit his arm, Haru noticed the bracelet that Rin was still donning.
"You're still wearing it." He pointed out. Rin, still scowling, clucked his tongue at him.
"I just forgot to take it off, okay? Jeez."
It wasn't what Haru meant, but didn't bother to correct him either.
"You can take it off later. One of the coaches is about to announce something." Rin looked at him confused, but Haru just pointed behind him.
Sure enough, Coach Takai was holding a megaphone and a piece of paper.
"Gather up, swimmers. Those in the pool can stay in but swim closer to the edge." He announced, and everyone obediently did as they were told. Haru found himself just behind Rin and Seijuuro, whilst they waited for everyone else.
"As you all know, the Olympics next year will be held here in Tokyo. JOC already had a lot of plans regarding how to advertise it best, and one of them had been organizing joint practices and mock competitions with other nations. The basketball team is flying to New Orleans tomorrow, the volleyball team is on their way to France as we speak." He paused and there was already an excited murmuring amongst the crowd.
"Tobiou Japan, all members of it," He continued. "Will also be having a week long practice-slash-friendly-competition with one of our international rivals." By then the crowd was buzzing with excitement, some even hollered out in joy. Coach Takai smirked before he continued once more.
"We'll leave next week, Wednesday. Our destination... Australia!"
It was full on cheering after that. Especially from the new recruits who will be flying out of the country for the first time. Haru hadn't even came up with a reaction, when Rin jerked in front of him...
He slumped like someone suddenly punched him, and Haru even entertained that idea that someone might've accidentally did so; but Mikoshiba was on him in an instant. Rin was clutching Sei by the arm as the taller swimmer hollered out in panic, calling Rin's name frantically.
This finally gathered everyone's attention. Coach Takai was running towards their direction as Rin's back heaved so fast as if he wasn't getting enough air. Mikoshiba practically had carried him out of the crowd as one of their teammates called for their assigned medical staff. All eyes followed the pair, and silence replaced the previous joyous atmosphere.
"What happened?" Ikuya asked him, once he found his way near Haru.
The raven could only shake his head... It happened so fast that it haven't even sunk into him yet.
"It looked like a panic attack." Yamamoto helpfully supplied, catching a few eyes towards him, including Haru and Ikuya's. "My older sister used to have them when she had a nasty miscarriage. Absolutely reacted that violently at the sight of blood."
Haru's face fell, something in the back of his mind was already screaming their guess as to what had triggered Rin.
Coach Takai tried his best to gather back everyone's attention from the gloomy atmosphere. Said he needed to announce some more details about their trip.
Haru swallowed, he can't even focus enough to listen anymore...
Had Australia really been that awful for Rin?
He tried hard not to stare to where Rin and Seijuuro had ran off to... A lot of their teammates were already staring enough as it was, but it was hard when Haruka can almost feel how Rin paled almost instantly upon the mention of their destination.
Haru didn't even got to look at his friend, but somehow he knew that Matsuoka Rin's red had never been that sickeningly dull before.
Here's an update for you lovelies! Thank you so much for the continued support even though I haven't been able to update as often as I used to because of work. Note that this is the longest chapter yet and I hate to have to bore you with all those details and scenes but I wanted to squeeze in as much progress as I can, since as you've read, I'll be taking them down under in the next chapter! Haha.
I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts about this one, dearests. Should I start cutting back some minor scenes or this kind of detail presentation still works for you lot?
Anyway, lots of love and, stay safe and healthy! ♡
"Oi, what's your problem with me?!"
Rin hollered when Fujioka gripped him by the back of his collar as though he was a kitten. Leaving him no choice but to stand up and haul his trolley with him whilst trying to wriggle free from the taller lad's grip.
"I have no qualms leaving you behind, Matsuoka, but I don't think your little lover over there would appreciate it." Said Shizuo as he continued to drag Rin towards where everyone was apparently at. His scowl deepening at the sight of Haruka's concerned eyes the nearer they got to him, Haru's sight fixated only on the redhead.
"Rin?" Haru called, Rin being released harshly with a slight shove. "You just arrived? We're almost boarding." Haru added.
"No," Was Rin's reply, making sure to send Fujioka a nasty glare. "Just didn't hear the announcement, is all..."
Fujioka rolled his eyes at that, "They've been repeating it for almost five minutes, Matsuoka. God, how Nanase can even tolerate you is a wonder to me." He irately mumbled before finally leaving the pair alone.
"Why does that bastard hate me so much?" It was a rhetorical question but Haru didn't seem to get that.
"He doesn't," He said. "He's always been that way even as our captain."
"Well, he doesn't seem strict and rude to you."
Haruka shrugged. "I guess he just never had any problems getting me into the pool."
Rin snorted and can't help breaking out into a grin at that.
"Are you okay, Rin?" Haru clearly hesitated before he asked. Rin swallowed but did his best to give him reassuring smile.
"Yeah, let's go, Haru." And then he followed where their other teammates were already lined up before boarding.
Rin had tried his best to hide how restless he was during the flight. Haru noticed this only because he just can't keep his eyes off him, afraid that a similar incident, one like how Rin reacted at the NTC, might occur whilst they were airborne.
The redhead was seated between himself and Mikoshiba, a seat requested by his former captain as he too felt the need to keep an eye on his friend. Rin snapped at them when he found out he'd been requested to change seats just so the two can crowd around him, but eventually gave up upon feeling that secret sprout of gratefulness upon knowing that some people truly cared for him.
It took hours before Rin finally relaxed enough to fall asleep. Still, his brows were furrowed and his arms were coiled stiffly around himself. It was hard not to notice that it was taking every ounce of his willpower to go about this trip. He was oblivious to almost everything as though any distraction would make that well forged wall break apart. He didn't even notice how one of the cabin crew kept batting her lashes at him every time she walked by, or how Haruka hadn't even looked at the wide ocean below them from his window seat, just to keep his eyes on Rin.
Calling Rin's name would probably bear no difference... It was like the time at Makoto's wedding once again, and Haru hated how he can't do anything to change that.
"He'll tell you when he's ready..." Mikoshiba mumbled quietly, as though Haru had his thoughts flashing on his forehead. "You might be his boyfriend and you deserve to know the story behind it, but please just give him more time... Right now, he's has the mindset that every move he'll make will be nothing but a burden to you. He's going to need your patience now more than ever, Nanase-kun."
Haru pursed his lips, a part of him wanted to demand the full story from him, but he knew that what little right he had as his boyfriend wasn't even real to begin with... All he can do for now is be the friend that Rin needed for this trip.
He can still vividly remember how he met Matsuoka Rin...
It was the first day of the Olympic Trials. His heat was in a few hours then, and even as he tried to keep calm and act cool for the ladies, Seijuuro still can recognize how unsettled his nerves were. He'd like to think it was from anticipation, but knew that he was just as anxious as every other swimmer occupying the natarioum. Hell, he might even be the most affected one in there, albeit in secret.
That was until someone proved him wrong...
Truthfully, he tried not to listen, but it was harder said than done when there's nothing but silence between you and a frantic mantra from the next stall.
"You still can't do it without him." The quivering voice mumbled, followed by a little, barely concealed sniffle. "All these years and you still depend so much on him! God, Rin... You're just pathetic." A mirthless chuckle followed, as the voice repeated this over and over again, getting more and more miserable by the minute.
Although it had only been for a year, the swim captain in him made him recall all those listless eyes and broken hopes when someone who trained the hardest still fell short to attain their goals. It had been hard, seeing his teammates like that, and as their leader, he aimed to be as reliable and encouraging as possible whenever one of them starts to feel like they're not good enough.
Sighing, he waited, for what felt like an hour, until the pathetic sobbing stopped. The sound of a lock finally echoed, and the door from beside him swung open. Seijuuro waited a couple more seconds before he followed suit, eyes finally landing on the fit form of a bloke washing his hands aggressively whilst keeping his head down. A shock of burgundy hair was framed by a dark baseball cap, his face, particularly the skin around his eyes were clearly just as red.
When the stranger finally noticed Sei's presence, he surprised the man when he revealed even more shades of red, from his glassy eyes, and clearly gnawed on lips. He had a sharp jawline, and a sturdy nose, lashes so red and long that Sei momentarily had to admit that he would've been pretty if the fellow had been born as a girl.
"What are you staring at?" Snapped the red person, baring his sharp teeth as though a cornered animal would.
Seijuuro gulped. He hadn't though of it that far...
"Are you swimming for the trials too?" He found himself asking.
The lad glared at him but ended up puffing out a sarcastic snort as well. "I don't think I can call whatever I did there as swimming..."
So he was right, then.
"Not a great first day, huh? Well, there's still the next couple of days, right?" He grinned, trying to lighten the mood as he occupied the sink beside the shorter lad to wash his hands too.
"If I continue doing what I did with today's free events, all I have left is the butterfly..." He frowned, deep like he hated the stroke but had no choice but grab the opportunity.
"Then just don't do what you did today."
"Like that's so easy!" The other shouted at him. "Can you just please piss off? My problems can't be solved with your meddling anyway." Said the stranger before he stomped out of the the loo, leaving Sei to himself.
When he got back to the viewing stands, it was just in time for the 100m freestyle finals. He didn't believe in pre-plotted meetings, but surely it was destined that who he first saw was the same rude bastard he encountered moments ago.
He was standing near the edge, hands gripping tight at the metal barricade since the race commenced. And barely a minute later, he heard him gasp, eyes fixated on one swimmer who had the crowd cheering like crazy.
"He's amazing right? That guy can be a monster in his own way." Seijuuro chuckled, eyeing how Nanase Haruka was immediately swarmed by the cameras after that unbelievable ticket to Rio.
The other one snapped his head towards Sei's direction, eyes wide and disbelieving. "You know him?"
He nodded. "He's my kouhai. We used to call him Nanase Iruka. The dolphin amongst Samezuka's sharks." Said Sei with a fond grin.
The lad swallowed, reverted back his eyes to Nanase like he just can't help it.
"He's not always so great though." Seijuuro found himself speaking. "Sometimes, there's someone better and faster than him, but the thing is... the lad just doesn't care. For him, every loss is just an opportunity to train harder and be in the pool more. Weird bloke, but still pretty fucking amazing, if you ask me."
"Yeah," The red lad mumbled. "He is..." The previous miserable glint in his eyes was starting to fade, being replaced by something that even Seijuuro himself can't even fathom...
"I'm aiming to be in Rio with him, you know." He teasingly informed the other. "It'll be a disgrace if my kouhai is going Olympic and his former captain has to wait four more years to do so."
Those eyes were back on him again. "You were his captain?" He asked almost condescendingly, one red brow raised.
"Oi," Sei frowned at him. "You'll not doubt that again if you watch me swim later."
The stranger clicked his tongue and started to leave his previous spot. "Not interested."
"Hey, at least tell me your name!"
He halted. "Why?"
"Because," Sei gave him a wide grin. "I have a feeling that we'll be training together for Rio in no time."
Those red orbs widened, his gaping mouth struggling to form a frown. "Don't get a head of yourself, big guy."
He left with not a single look back.
The next day, however, the same red sour plum broke a record as he qualified for the 200m butterfly. Which was honestly what Seijuuro was expecting anyway...
What he didn't expect was how the lad sought him out and finally told him his name.
"See you in practice." Matsuoka Rin said, and if Seijuuro was to strain his ear, he could have sworn he sounded proud.
Rin had made a lot of progress since then. Yes, he might still be closed off and frightened to let people in, but even that was starting to change since Haruka had been a more significant part of his life. Sei wasn't afraid of Rin relapsing, he knew Rin was strong enough to pick himself up again no matter how many times he fall.
What really concerns him was the fact that Rin had made a notable portion of that progress since he met Haru... If Haru was to give up along the way, if the blossoming and fragile bond between them couldn't withstand the impact of Rin's past... Will Seijuuro and Gou alone really be enough to help him on his feet this time?
"Where are you going? We're assigned to room together, right?" Rin asked when the team were given the keys to their respective rooms, to be shared by pairs.
"Nope, I asked to switch rooms with Nanase. Shiina and I will be rooming together at 372 now."
"Why the hell did you request that?" Rin was too intelligent for his own good, already feeling like this was still part of Seijuuro's plan to babysit him whilst they were in Australia.
"Just thank me that you'll get to room together with your boyfriend, Rin." He gave him a faux teasing grin. "We'll have a full rest day tomorrow and on Sunday. You and Nanase can use it well."
The sun had set outside but the hotel lobby was still lit bright enough to showcase Rin's reddened cheeks at what that might imply. He swiftly kicked Seijuuro by the shin and stormed off to where his new roommate was at.
Sei sighed, hoping that he's right to trust his instinct that told him Nanase was what Rin needed the most right now, despite how much he wanted to be by Rin's side.
When Rin said he was going for a jog, alarm bells rang in Haru's ear. He insisted to join him with what he hoped a tone that didn't give away his concern. Thankfully, Rin didn't appear suspicious when he agreed.
"Is it your first time in Australia?" Rin asked him, minutes after they started a steady pace.
"Yes," Haru replied. "So don't go anywhere I can't see you. I don't know any of the places here."
"If only you paid attention in your basic English class. You could just ask the locals how to get back to the hotel, you know?" Rin chuckled. "Repeat after me. 'Which way to the QT Bondi Hotel'."
Haru's frown deepened. "Why would I do that when you can just ask for me, Rin."
"Well what if we got separated accidentally, idiot? You just gonna swim back to Japan then?" Rin teased with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
"With how slow you're running? I doubt that you'll get that far ahead, Rin..."
Those sharp teeth showed when Rin smirked competitively. "Oh it's on, Nanase!" Then he started sprinting on a different direction away from Haruka.
Haru called out and did his best to keep up, admitting for the first time that maybe there really were things that Rin was better at than himself.
They raced and raced until Haru's starting to feel the fatigue from their reckless running and their hours spent cramped inside an aeroplane. Still, he would've raced him more if it meant getting Rin occupied enough to forget whatever baggage he brought to Australia with him.
It's still sweltering hot during that one February evening in Australia. Felt even more so after all the strenuous activity that they had been doing for almost an hour then. Which is why, when Rin stopped by the shore, stared at the ocean or the bright moon, Haru only had one guess in mind...
"Do you want to swim, Rin?" He asked once he finally caught up to where Rin had stopped.
Rin turned to him, blinking as though he only realized he was with someone. "Nah, just... admiring the view."
"I'm sure you've seen it before."
Rin chuckled. That, he did... "I guess so. But this used to be one of my favourite views around here... Doesn't matter what season it is, the ocean just doesn't get any smaller."
Haru agreed. Maybe he should start staring too, so that he can commit the sight to memory and paint it once he's back home... but he still found himself focused on Rin instead... Trying to read the emotions being displayed on his features.
"What changed, Rin?" He found himself asking. Surely it's not the ocean getting smaller.
Red eyes met his blue, and Haruka caught the conflicting array of emotions that flashed through them in a heartbeat... Like Rin wanted to make him understand, but at the same time keep Haru away from the truth as much as he can. It's confusing, and it somehow hurt when Rin finally decided to go with the latter.
"I think I'm heading back for now, Haru." Rin gave him a timid, almost apologetic, smile. Haru nodded, and despite wanting to plop back into bed from exhaustion, he let Rin go ahead and have minutes of privacy to himself.
It's what he needs right now... And as his friend, Haru was willing to extend any help he can, no matter how insignificantly small it might seem...
The next morning, Rin pretended to yawn and stretch like he had a full night of rest. When in reality, it felt like he hadn't slept a wink, or chose not to... Afraid that he'd wake Haru up should the nightmares start to get vivid once more.
Haru had just exited the loo, frowning and damp. He already expressed his dismay about the lack of baths in Australian lavatories yesterday, and Rin was thankful that this weird idiot was at least providing him some sort of distraction despite everything else.
"You didn't sleep much, Rin?" He asked his his gaze landed at Rin. The younger male's hand shot to his eyes. Were there dark circles around them that gave it away?
"How did you... notice?"
Haru shrugged, rummaging through his suitcase for clothes. "I heard you tossing and turning the whole night." Rin's breath hitched, which made Haru turn to him once more. "It's okay, I wasn't able to sleep too, Rin. Maybe it's because of the jetlag?"
The redhead nodded, thankful that Haru didn't decide to pry any more. "Perhaps..."
They had breakfast with everyone else after that, Rin trying to dodge Seijuuro's over analytic stares by acting all chummy with Haru and anyone else who was willing to talk to him. He knew that the only way to stop making Sei worry too much was to prove him that he's perfectly fine.
Even if Rin himself wasn't so sure in the first place...
They were given the day to do whatever they want. A lot of the them, especially the new members, decided to form groups and explore however much of Australia they can. Some, just decided to continue training for the week's events, and made use of the free shuttle service provided, to and from the Aquatic Centre.
"Dammit, Sei. If you want to tour around, do it! I don't need you keeping an eye on me like I lost all of my limbs." Rin snapped, when Mikoshiba looked conflicted upon declining one of their teammates's offer.
Haru nodded, taking his place beside Rin. "I'll watch him for you, Mikoshiba-senpai." Rin growled at him at that. "Rin and I are going swimming."
The redhead gasped. "Oi, don't just decide for me, Haru!"
Ignoring his protests, Haru gave him a nonchalant look. "We're going to race, Rin." He said.
"We are?!" Rin yelped, almost shooting up from his seat. When Haru nodded, he lit up (as expected) like a child.
"O-okay! Just let me change into my legskins. Not all of us are already wearing our jammers on, Haru." He grinned at him and bolted towards the lift.
When Rin's retreating back was swiftly getting farther, Seijuuro let himself chuckle, effectively catching those blue eyes.
"You have him completely around your little finger, Nanase-kun."
Haru's eyes widened. "I don't think... That's not what I—"
"Jeez," Sei cut him off with another laugh. "Relax. He needs to be distracted by you, now more than ever. No one can catch his attention like you do." He grinned and parted with him after those words, leaving a blossoming sense of pride in Haru that was there for reasons still unknown to him...
Takagi and Izumoto decided to come with them, despite the urging to tour around with their respective friends.
"It's going to be our first time competing as a relay team in less than a week." Izumoto started. "And Ryou-kun here will be competing outside of Japan for the first time." He stuck a thumb towards Takagi's direction where a restless lad followed them blindly and unusually silent, contrary to his over-enthusiastic nature.
Rin himself had been on edge, the nearer they got to the Australian Aquatic Centre. He knew that it was inevitable to see some familiar faces that he used to train with in the past... but what if that most dreadful someone was there? What if he's swimming again? What if he tried talking to Rin??
He balled his fists and felt them shake with all of his repressed emotions. The uncertainty of running into him was too great, considering that Rin hadn't heard any news about him since their fallout. He could be in the other side of the world right then, or he could be just a few steps away... The idea of not knowing was driving him insane. Afraid of how he would react if ever he were to encounter that someone from his past...
"We can go back if you're not feeling good, Rin." Haru told him quietly, he tried to keep his expression neutral but a sliver of concern made its way into his wide blue eyes.
Rin wanted to touch him, hold his arm or support his weight across his shoulders. Anything just to feel that calm that only Haru can instill in him.
In the end he settled with a weak punch to Haru's arm, barely even feeling the warmth through his knuckles. "Don't think I'd ever let pass an opportunity to race you, Haru." He gave him a forced grin which Haruka responded with a delayed nod.
Moments later, just as the thoughts that previously consumed him started to creep back again, the warmth that he was seeking suddenly surrounded one of his wrists, a tight grip around the bracelet that he was given and some parts of his flesh.
"I don't know my way back if I get lost..." Haru mumbled, tugging at their attachment that he initiated. His eyes were obscured by his fringes, but there was a noticeable faint colouring on his cheeks that told more about the initiated contact.
Rin swallowed, let the blunt tips of his nails dig at his palm, as though it's the only thing keeping him from yanking the hand around his wrist and lacing their fingers together instead. He let himself bask into that small comfort, pretending not to notice those fond or teasing stares that they garnered from their teammates.
Once inside the natatorium, and changed into their respective swimwear, Rin felt his presence even before he even quickly cut the distance between them. Green eyes sparkling upon the sight of him and a sadistic grin already forming on that pale face.
"Rin Matsuoka," Called that heavily accented voice. Rin frowning and Haru automatically pressing himself close to his friend.
"Caleb Martin," He countered with the other's full name as well.
The Australian chuckled and patted a heavy hand against Rin's shoulder. "Long time no see, Matsuoka. It's been what? 3 years since I've seen you in Rio? Nice to you see you back, but I didn't think I'd ever see you here again." He grinned but there was nothing warm or welcoming about his demeanor.
Haru automatically noticed how Rin tensed even further, which caused him to grip Rin by the arm and try to tug him away. Green eyes finally landed on him, and if it was possible, the lad's smile grew even more hostile.
"Oh, that's him right? The bloke that you're apparently dating?" He pointed to Haru, which caused the shorter swimmer to glare at him. Caleb chuckled and bit his lip as though the gesture brought him great amusement. "Black hair, blue eyes, great swimmer with a sour attitude. You certainly have a type, don't you, Matsuoka?"
"Rin," Haru mumbled, exerting more effort to tug Rin away from where he stood frozen and quivering. He wasn't able to coherently understand any of what the brunette swimmer said, but how he's upsetting Rin was enough for Haru to conclude that his words had been nothing but toxic to Rin's fragile state.
Rin wanted to move... Wanted to yank his arm from Haruka and make Martin shut his mouth. He didn't need any more reminder of what happened in that forsaken country... of what he's trying to bury in the first place.
Two of Martin's friends arrived, like sharks which smelt blood from a prey being ripped apart, as Rin was still gathering his internal strength to fight or flee.
"Not even going to talk back, Matsuoka? You used to be so feisty before you left." One of the smaller swimmers snickered, snapping the band of his goggles like a mockery of Rin's trademark quirk. "Or are you not so tough with Yamazaki not around?"
Upon the mention of that name, Rin snapped and startled every one of them including Haru. His eyes were wild and his snarl was feral, he finally freed his arm from Haru's loosened grip and for a moment he was afraid that Rin was going to hit that swimmer with his tightly clenched fist.
"He has nothing to do with me or any of this, Taylor. Shut the fuck up and never mention that fucking name ever again." He harshly shoved him by the chest and stormed to the nearest starting block, ignoring the angry hollers from the trio and Haru's lost gaze.
Haru made sure to send the three his nastiest glare before following Rin into the water. He knew that they weren't going to get any practice or any planned racing after that encounter, and as much as it was selfish, he knew that he can't be as focused too, when one of Rin's triggers finally has a name...
That night, Haru took his time under the soothing spray of a shower. It was far less ideal than his desired soak in a tub, but it'll have to do for now.
Rin said nothing during and after their swim at the Aquatic Centre, their teammates even hinting that they wouldn't mind if Rin and Haru left earlier than everyone else.
"I'm sure Kotaro and Ryou-kun will understand." Yamamoto told Haru after a few hours.
"If he's not feeling up to it yet, then the idiot should've just stayed in the hotel." Said Fujioka, clicking his tongue whilst glaring at Rin's swimming form. He hadn't resurfaced since he dove in, and Haru was running out of ideas how to pull him out.
In the end, it took a heated encounter with Fujioka that clearly made Rin snap. He was told that he was overdoing it and that he had to keep in mind about their preliminaries tomorrow morning.
"Why the hell are you always up my business, Fujioka? You're not my captain and I'm not entitled to listen to you." Rin snarled when Shizuo practically dragged him out of the water by his goggles.
"And what? Stand here and keep watching you make a fool out of yourself? Aren't you aware that you're making a scene since the moment you stepped in here?!" The taller swimmer shoved him by the chest. "If you have issues, deal with it on your own, Matsuoka. Stop dragging the team's image in dirt with you."
With that, Rin grabbed his stuff and promptly left everybody else behind. Haru made a move to follow him but Izumoto's hand gripped him by the shoulder.
"He'll just take it out on you, Nanase. Better to give him time alone." He mumbled, sending him a sympathetic look.
When Haru returned to their hotel room, Rin was under the covers, seemingly fast asleep. He took this time to take a well needed long shower to clear his own thoughts.
It was natural to feel for a friend... It was a lesson that Makoto and everyone of his close friends have thought him, every time they seemingly reflect on his mood. But to feel that much concern and melancholy over someone who he considered the bane of his existence not too long ago, was that a natural thing as well?
Rin had this power of amplifying what he felt, and Haru seems to be one of those highly affected by it. He hates it, but at the same time, he apparently can't go back to hating Rin...
He spent a few hours just lying in bed, bought pre-packaged sandwiches for himself and for Rin in case he wakes up wanting a bite. Just as he was about to feel the lulls of sleep, his roommate started emitting a small sound. It was faint, almost unnoticeable at first, but Haru strained his ears enough to recognize the sobs that undeniably came from Rin.
In a heartbeat, he found himself upright, calling for Rin's name until the sobs grew louder, coupled with wild thrashing under the covers. Haruka quickly went and shook him awake, finally realizing that his friend was trapped in an unconscious torment of a nightmare.
When Rin blinked his eyes open, he was met with a different shade of blue eyes than the ones which previously haunted him. Haru had been so close with his hands on his shoulder, and that worried expression that he tried to suppress from Rin all day.
"You were..." He cut himself, voice breaking under duress. "You could've hurt yourself, Rin."
Rin felt his body shivering, his hands were clawing at Haru's biceps and his eyes felt so wet and heavy with tears. He was stuck between wanting to shove Haru away or pulling him close to bury himself in his warmth.
In the end, Haru was the one who first let go, letting him breathe but still took up space at the foot of Rin's bed. He patiently waited until Rin felt well enough to rise, sitting with his knees hugged to his chest, and eyes cast down.
"I'm sorry," He mumbled, feeling another well of tears incoming just by that admittance alone. "Sorry that I'm causing too much trouble for all of you." Especially Haru, who had to participate in the early opening ceremony tomorrow morning.
"Seijuuro and Fujioka were right. I should've just stayed in Japan where I'm not this pathetic." He wiped those spilling tears with a haughty laugh, waiting for Haru to confirm his thoughts.
"I don't mind." Haru mumbled in response. "We all have nightmares sometimes, Rin."
Rin finally looked up to meet those patient blue eyes. "That's the thing," He started, even before he realized he was talking. "They're not nightmares, Haru... They're memories."
He heard his companion gasp but Haru followed no words upon that admission. Rin felt guilty that he had to burden Haru with his issues as well. He didn't mean to, but nowadays, it felt like his walls were at their weakest whenever Haru was around.
"I'm sorry. You should rest, Haru. You're the first to compete for the torch lighting ceremony tomorrow." Rin said, making an attempt to just lick his wounds under the safety of his blanket.
But apparently, Haru had other plans...
"What do I have to do to make it better for you?" Haru asked all of a sudden. Rin's surprised eyes locking with determined blue.
"That's not- You don't have to... do anything, Haru." It was his issue to solve, and he was inconveniencing his friend enough as it is.
"I want to help, Rin." Said Haru, his tone almost sounding stubborn.
Had it been anybody else, Rin would've told them to piss off... but Haru... Haru was another level of distracting in itself, Haru was the calm, deep ocean that can't be bothered by any wave, whereas everything else was just the calm before an inevitable storm.
"Win your race," Rin finally said. "Win every single one of your races here..."
Haru blinked, surprised about what he was being demanded of. "Will... that help you?"
Rin gulped. "I think so..." Haru mustn't know that watching him dominate everyone else in the water had sparked something unknown inside Rin before...
"Okay." Haru nodded, finally stood up and left for his own bed.
Rin settled on his back once again, fighting the urge to squirm and possibly concern Haru again. If only he had his pillow... He may be old enough to fall asleep without it, but it certainly helps a wee bit whenever he's suffering from his nightmares.
He let out a sigh. At this rate, he wasn't getting any sleep again, and it would most likely reflect on his performance for tomorrow...
Just another thing to add to his old teammates' amusement. Rin bitterly thought.
Unless, he just swallow his pride and...
"Hey Haru," His voice quivered with embarrassment. "Can I..." Rin bit his lip, it was too much to ask, considering how he's no child in the first place.
Haru sat upright and turned towards Rin's direction, visible only because of the light from the moon.
"Okay... but bring your own pillow." He plopped onto the bed again with his back turned to Rin, scooting closer to his preferred side of the bed, almost like an invitation.
It was then Rin's turn to bolt up and stare incredulously at Haru's turned back. "Haru... how did you...?"
Haru huffed like it should've been obvious. "Nagisa still prefers hoarding my bed everytime he stays the night..." Was all the explanation he gave.
Rin contemplated for a few more moments before finally dragging his pillow and blanket to the other bed. He carefully settled down, shooting one last reluctant look at Haru, but the lad still wasn't facing his direction to notice it.
He lied down on his side, facing away from his companion. The bed was big enough that their backs aren't even touching, but somehow, there already was a massive change in the atmosphere upon knowing that Haru was just there, an arm away from him should the nightmares plague him again.
"Rin," Haru called out, his voice sounding muffled even whilst occupying the same bed as him.
"When you said you want me to win... does that include my race against you?"
It was asked in a way that made Rin bite back a smile. Who knew Nanase Haruka had this thoughtful side to him? Almost like the exact opposite of how he appeared indifferent to most things when Rin first met him.
"Yes. I'd love to see you try and beat me, Haru." He heard him huff and call him an idiot, but Rin was already feeling the soft coaxing to close his eyes once again.
He wanted to tell Haru that he's so grateful for having a friend like him, but the impending dreamless sleep was too tempting to pass up...
Come Saturday morning, a short introductory program was conducted for publicity's sake. It was through a quick, two-part, open-water tournament that included the sprinters and the long distance swimmers. Mikoshiba Seijuuro is amongst one of them, but upon hearing from some of their teammates that Rin apparently caused a scene in the Aquatic Centre yesterday, he was already upon his best friend like he'd rather skip the event and stay by Rin's side instead.
"Don't be stupid, Sei. You're last Olympics' gold medalist for the 1500m free, of course you'll be one of the swimmers they'll be looking out for." He observed him, and was glad that Rin seemed alright enough right then. Still, he found himself frowning, looking around for the said swimmers who upset Rin, despite not knowing any of the Australian swimmers.
"Rin, you said you'd be alright without me last time, but Fujioka was saying otherwise."
Rin scowled but had no heart to dismiss that fact. "Well, I'm fine now, Seijuuro. I promise." He caught Haru's eyes who was observing them from a distance.
"Haru helped me." He admitted. "I'm okay... As long as he's here." Initially, it was to soothe his best friend's nerves, but the longer he kept his eyes on Haru, the truer that statement becomes.
Seijuuro sighed but thankfully relented, locking Rin up in a quick bear hug before sending a knowing nod to Haruka's direction. Haru returned it with a meaningful nod of his own, before finally deciding to take his place beside Rin.
After the opening speech, for the first program, a quick sprint to a massive buoy was to commence the Japan-Australia joint training events. Whoever gets to bring back the two flags from the buoy, will officially light the torch that will indicate the start of a week long competition and joint training sessions.
The four best sprinters from both countries were handpicked by their own head coaches to join, and Haruka had been one of them, leaving Rin by himself at the beach as his two closest companions were both included in the starting programs.
Martin and a bunch of his old teammates caught his eyes once, and Rin made sure to snarl at them even from afar. Hoping they'd keep their distance to a maximum. One of them was to compete against Haruka, but Rin was confident that his friend would surpass them all.
When the starting race was just about to begin, Izumoto and Asahi invited Rin to stand with them, an offer that the redhead gratefully accepted, in order to lose sight of some bastard swimmers.
But Haru calling for his name at the last minute had him halting his steps...
"Oi, it's about to start!" He hollered when Haru came running towards him.
The raven ignored him and stared him dead in the eye. "Keep your eyes on me, Rin... Not them. You said you wanted me to win all of my races." He told him and did not even wait for how Rin's eyes widened.
Rin remained rooted to where Haru had left him as the opening race started. The entirety of the Bondi Beach was crowded and loud, and the water had look beyond stunning during that warm February morning. But how was Rin supposed to admire its beauty when Haru was out there leaving behind every other competition that entered the water with him?
He quickly pulled the small flags by the side of the buoy and propelled himself back to the shore with such power and grace that left everyone in awe. Watching him made Rin want to compete with him, want to be him, want to be close to him yet want Haru ahead of him as well. Haru was so enthralling that Rin felt everything and everyone around him fade for just a split second.
Suddenly, he wasn't in Australia, surrounded by people that he'd rather forget... He's at the trials and he's seeing a sight that he's never seen before, seeing someone so captivating that the water pales in comparison to him... Making him feel insignificant whilst at his lowest, but at the same time, making him want to prove that he's worthy enough to share the same world with that amazing swimmer.
When Haru resurfaced and immediately sought for Rin amongst the crowd that was shouting his name; blue eyes locked on Rin's stunned red instead of the commentator announcing his win or the flags within his grasp, there was a powerful jolt in Rin's chest that whispered maybe, just maybe, that captivating creature found something captivating in him as well...
Hi lovelies! I had to cut the Aussie trip in half as it was getting waaaay longer than I expected. As always, thank you so much for all the reviews and kudos that you lot are motivating me with, each chapter. If I could, I'd write this fic full time, but alas, life needs to be shared with other things instead. I hope you enjoy this chapter, as much as writing this fic relieves some of my stress. Stay safe!
Chapter 9: Olympians in Australian Waters
Enjoy the rest of their Aussie trip!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Just like what he told Haru, perhaps the nightmares had been constant and unchanging because it was just the memory of the moment playing again and again like an unending loop.
It always starts with the warmth of someone's lips pressed against his own. Years of familiarity rearing its head as Rin kissed back as if on instinct by then. When the attachment ends, Rin chased it like he haven't had enough, but what bombarded when he opened his eyes were apologetic teal orbs, beautifully breaking his heart just by the sight of them.
"I'm sorry, Rin." Whispered the voice that now only exists in his memories. "I can't do that..."
And with that, the warmth was gone...
Not only against his lips, but the arms that usually surround him as well. He knew that he waited. He recalled the long days, the sleepless and cold nights of sending messages or calling a number that can no longer be contacted from where he was. He remembered waiting in a suit, a velvet box in hand, as he endured all those pitying glances from everyone around him.
Every feeling flashed before his eyes. The hurt, the anger, the utter betrayal that his own mother knew more than himself, and that she chose to keep that secret and break her own son's heart.
It was a struggle that he never thought he'd ever get over... His heart was metaphorically torn apart that he almost lost all convictions to move forward... It almost costed the dream that he had strive for since he was a child...
Then, he woke with a start, fingers grasping the sheets as his vision swirled to adjust in the darkness.
"Rin?" Called someone, which his startled brain associated to a warm blanket.
"Sorry," Rin slurred, blurry eyes pinpointing Haru's current location, which was pressed against the headboard of the bed next to his, a sketchpad and pencil on his lap. "Did I wake you again?"
Haruka shook his head, he hadn't start sleeping in the first place anyway. It was already probably past midnight, and their free time yesterday was spent going over the schedule for the whole week. Basically, it's going to be a joint-practice with the Australian team every morning, and then a succession of events for the competition in the afternoon.
After the opening event last Saturday, which led to Haru being the representative to light up the torch, it was all calm and controlled with regards to one Matsuoka Rin. He and Mikoshiba had kept a close eye on him, and Haru knew that those who witnessed what happened in the Aquatic Centre were secretly looking out for Rin as well.
He hadn't brought up that scene with his friend yet, and Rin seemed to have forgotten about it anyway... Only, Haru knew that they both just can't pretend that those events didn't happen. Rin clearly was still in battle with himself if he should share the burden of telling Haru the truth, and Haru couldn't just forget how one name sent Rin into a spiral down for the worse.
Yamazaki... He still recalled.
Japanese, and a swimmer from what little bits of information he was able to translate from that conversation. It would be stupid not to be able to piece the puzzle together as to what Yamazaki had been in Rin's life before, but what piques Haru's curiousity the most was how and why he's no longer a part of it now...
"Oi, Haru." He was jolted when Rin pinched him by the arm. Since when did he get up and sat on Haru's bed?
"You're spacing out." Rin said with a chuckle. "I asked if you're still keen to win every race like I asked you to. You know that you don't owe me anything, right?"
Haruka opened his mouth to answer but Rin beat him to it.
"Before you get all smartass on me and remind the remaining favour that you owe, I'm not cashing it out on this one... So technically, you have no obligation to do as I say."
Rin still had the memory of how Haru looked at him after that open water sprint. His eyes were on fire like it's both a challenge and a reassurance to Rin. He knew that he'd love to see it again, and again, and again... especially now where he's in a place that controls his emotions more than he could keep them in check. Haru was like an anchor, and that beacon on a dark and stormy night that reassures him that he might be drowing in a storm right now, but he'd eventually breach the surface and breathe, no matter how hard it felt to swim.
Haruka pursed his lips, he hated how he needed to keep on explaining things to Rin. He already told him that he wanted to help, wasn't that enough of a reason for him to do things? Not unless...
"Right now he has the mindset that every move he'll make will be nothing but a burden to you..." Mikoshiba said.
He frowned at that, knowing from experience how stubborn your own perception could be, despite how everyone around you is saying otherwise.
"I don't mind. As long as I'm swimming free." He replied with a stiff shrug. Rin blinked and chuckled at him once again.
"Heh, you're being weird again." Said Rin. "If you want to win, do it for yourself, okay? And besides..." He smirked, all playful yet determined. "I hope you enjoy that one silver in your Aussie medal collection, for Thursday's event."
He was talking about the 100m free finals. The only event where he and Rin were competing against each other.
Haru can't help but let his lips quirk up, savouring that peaceful moment, hoping that he had the power to just keep this side of Rin, instead of the one hurting...
"That'll be your own medal, Rin." He mumbled into that perfect night.
That next morning, Rin did a pretty good job at focusing on what matters most. Which was keeping his cool, ignoring Martin and his pals, and most of all, redeeming himself in front of those handful of his teammates that saw him at his awful state.
He wasn't planning on embarrassing himself in front of the team, especially with all of their coaches in one place, and some swimming fanatics who woke up early to watch the two teams practice.
"Now that every one has warmed up, we will be splitting everyone in two teams. Those which have relay events and those who will be focusing on their individual events." Said the Australian team's head coach, which Azuma translated for the Japanese team.
Once gathered together, they were assigned to a pre-selected team, which almost triggered Rin's anxiety once again. Just the thought of being surrounded by the Australian team with no one else to understand him felt almost like he was thirteen and alone in the foreign country again.
Thankfully, he ended up with Takagi Ryou as one of his teammates, the lad sure can be overwhelming sometimes but the kid has got a friendly presence that Rin was thankful for.
"We'll do a medley run, then a freestyle relay later on. By now you should all be aware of what your line up will be based on your specialities." Announced the Australian coach.
Upon confirming with his current team, with one Australian being a bronze medalist in one of Rio's butterfly events, the other a rising backstroke newbie, and Ryou specilizing in breaststroke and freestyle, Rin will indeed anchor his first medley relay... They've already switched the anchor position for their freestyle line up with Haru, Takagi, and Izumoto. But this would be the first time that Rin will be showcasing his free instead of his fly.
His eyes seeked Haru, who was unsurprisingly looking calm as he was to anchor his own team. Rin gave him a teasing smirk which Haru nodded to in return, eyes lingering longer than Rin would've called... usual.
At first, it was a mixture of nervousness and that tinge of exhiliration. He knew that some of the Australians recognized him from the Aquatic Centre, and that this was his chance to redeem his shattered pride from what happened that day. Rin was feeling playful enough to bump into Ryou, grinning at the kid as it'll be his first medley as well.
When listless and distracted eyes stared up at him, Rin frowned. He opened his mouth to ask the younger swimmer what's wrong, but they were already being ushered to formation, even before he could speak.
Upon the signal, all backstroke swimmers took their places in the pool, their Australian groupmate started out strong but was passed by another group's swimmer during the final metres. Takagi was to swim next, and Rin knew that the kid had never had an issue with exchanges before. Hell, he might even be better than the three older ones on their relay team that had swam in the previous Olympics.
So, when Takagi faltered and dove a second too late after their groupmate touched the wall. Rin can't help but frown upon it. He seeked Izumoto's eyes who was anchoring for the team beside him, and he too noticed that their teammate have not been performing his best at all.
"Tch," the butterfly swimmer lined up in front of Rin clucked his tongue, their group was currently in last place since Ryou's turn. "This is why we shouldn't include inexperienced lads in major practices just yet. This almost feels insulting." He muttered, and a couple of Australians around him hummed in agreement, their eyes were all on the struggling Japanese boy.
Rin felt the white hot press of something close to resentment, of knowing what it felt to be the last one out of the pool, of not being able to understand what the people around him were saying but could feel how he's being mocked and made fun of, right in front of his face.
He bit his tongue and clenched his fists. Now's not the time to make a scene, no matter how much he wanted to make that bastard repeat his words only to shove it back down his throat.
He figured that after that speech, the butterfly swimmer intend to show off to whoever heard his previous statement about Ryou. He managed to close the distance between their group and the current third place, as Rin took his position atop the starting block. He did not dare seek for anyone else's attention, not Izumoto's nor Haruka's, afraid that it might distract him from what mission he set for himself, right then.
When he dove, he felt himself being propelled by all the frustrations that gripped his chest moments ago. Both for Takagi and himself. He swam like he'll have no face to show if he lost this race. He swam for all the swimmers who had no one to reassure them when they're feeling not good enough. He swam like he needed to be fast enough to break through a formidable wall, once again.
It felt like he slapped the wall harder than he should've, wrenching his googles off to stare at the scoreboard.
Their group placed 1st, followed by Haruka's, then Izumoto's. There were no words uttered by anyone, except a disbelieving look from the crowd. After all, four out of eight groups were anchored by the Australians, and yet not one of them placed in the top three like they were expecting. Clearly, none of them went all out, expecting to still have the upper hand versus the teams anchored by Japan.
Rin sardonically slapped a hand across that one arrogant swimmer's back who made a commentary earlier on. He grinned like he was expecting to be commended for a job well done.
"I'm telling you now, that kid will be better than you someday. If anyone should feel insulted, it should've been him." He told him in perfect English. Making sure it's loud enough to be overheard by some of those who boldly agreed with the bloke.
He did not even wait for his expression to turn sour, not planning to waste any more time upsetting himself over the most infuriating individuals. With confident strides he seeked for Takagi, who already had his eyes on Rin as he got closer to him.
"That was amazing, Matsuoka-san!" He told him, and Rin was glad that he at least regained some of the lost spirit in his eyes. "It's as if you just keep on improving everyday."
Rin chuckled and scratched his cheek almost embarrasingly. Still didn't know how to respond to the lad's praises. "Nah, I still need to work on my exchanges." He started, giving his best rendition of a friendly smile. "If you'd like, we can work on it together after our break. It'll be impossible to practice transitions with just myself anyway."
The lad's green eyes shimmered, a wide grin blooming rapidly across his face upon Rin's words. "Of course! I'd like that, Matsuoka-san!" He let out a succession of rapid nods and Rin can't help but chuckle upon that unabashed eagerness.
"Oi oi, not inviting me or Nanase with you two?" Izumoto came barelling in, throwing an arm across Rin's shoulder.
Haruka came not a second too late, shrugging his still damp shoulders. "I'd be swimming after the break, anyway."
Rin let out a short scoff at that, mumbling a snarky remark about not being surprised by that at all, as the other two outright laughed.
He's no longer alone anymore, and he'll be damned before letting anyone else feel like they were....
It has long since been established that having a great day, doesn't always equate a dreamless sleep.
Rin was sitting upright before he knew it, his hands and feet were clammy, heart beating rapidly inside his heaving chest.
The nightmare had been different this time... It started out with Martin's words about how Haru resembled Sousuke. Black hair, blue eyes, and an amazing swimmer. If there's anyone that brought an immense joy upon sharing the water with him aside from Haru, it'll be his former lover. The one that made him see how the butterfly stroke combines both grace and power while being in the water. Rin can still recall how amazing Sousuke had been during their races, how alive the water felt when they were in it together.
That life had been siphoned out when his lover had left without so much as a proper goodbye. Being submerged had been nothing but a cold abyss for him after that, deep, dark, and suffocating... It only changed when he met someone who could outshine how vast and powerful the water can be. Someone who bent the water to his will, but respected it almost like it's an entity... Treating it as if it was alive.
In his dream, that someone had a different shade of blue eyes. One that reminded him of how beautiful the ocean can be on a warm, summer day. He was an amazing swimmer, but Rin wasn't even sure if the word amazing alone can cut how much he admires Haru when he swims.
Then, something shifted.
Those blue eyes that had been staring warmly at him as of late, turned ice cold... Back to when Haru have been just Nanase, and when he was nobody but a nuisance that pesters Haruka each day. Suddenly, he was in Australia, but Haru wasn't there beside him. He was struggling to breathe but Haru was far away. He was so far away and he looked like he couldn't care less that Rin felt like he was drowning from his every breath.
The moment that he completely turned his back to Rin, was what jolted him awake. Hands grasping at his chest and heaving like he really was so close to drowning.
Red eyes were instantenously glued to Haru's form even amidst the dark. His feet moved on their own and he found himself looming over Haru's bed again, with his pillow clutched tight to his chest.
When he carefully sat and made the bed dip, the black-haired swimmer stirred slowly, opening one blue eye to stare at the figure on his bed.
"Rin?" He called because who else could it possibly be? "What are you doing?" Haru asked, his words thickened by his interrupted sleep.
"Sorry, can I..." Rin bit the inside of his cheek. As embarrassing as it was, there's no way he was going back to his bed now. Not after that dream."Can I sleep here... again?" He mumbled, as quiet as possible.
Haru had his eyes closed again, and for a moment Rin thought he was asleep once more, until he mumbled a slurred okay, before turning his back and scooting closer to the edge to give Rin more space.
Gratefully, Rin slipped under the covers, pillow still clutched close. The relief came almost as immediate as it left, as he stared at Haru's shirt clad back. His friend was near, and he cared. Haru was no longer a stranger, and Rin knew that he only needed to reach out a hand to get to him.
Unconsciously, as though in sync with his thoughts, his hand ended out stretching forward, stopping only once he was clutching tightly at a handful of Haru's sleep shirt.
He swallowed, feeling like the child who used to cling to Gou during a thunderstorm.
"Is this—" His voice waivered, but his hand remained firmly attached to Haru's shirt. "Is it okay if I do this?" Rin can feel the heat from his face, but the assurance of physically holding Haru in case he decides to leave, was too much to make him let go.
Haru remained unmoving and unresponsive for a long time, almost convincing Rin that he's already asleep again. Then, he startled the younger lad by breaking the silence all of a sudden.
"You should know by now," Haru started, his voice was hushed but surprisingly alert, unlike how sleepy it had been moments ago. "That if I dislike it, I'll say it and I'll try my hardest to get away from it."
The pounding in Rin's chest, which was just starting to calm down, came back in full force upon those words. His hand tightened around the fabric, the other clutched the pillow tigther against his person, afraid that Haru might be hearing how loud his heart was beating erratically.
"Thank you, Haru..." He whispered. "For being here."
He knew that Haru must've hated how he still needed to spell out things for Rin, when he was correct to assume that his friend should've known by now...
Nanase Haruka was an open book, once you get close enough to have the honour of reading him. If there's one thing that Rin knew he shouldn't even doubt by then, it was how Haru clearly, and genuinely cares for him, and how he'll not be leaving any time soon...
Winning, has always been just a by-product of swimming, for him. All the medals, the money and sponsorships that came with it were just an added bonus to how much time he gets to spend in the water. Practicing and going through the annoying routine of keeping himself in shape were just means to ensure that he'll get to keep doing what he loved as a profession that brought mackerel to his table...
So, it's a wonder, really... why he's trying hard to win every gold he could, when the races that they've been having were no where even close to being a major event that could benefit his career.
Haruka had never been one to seek recognition in the first place, too... He utters his gratefulness whenever he's being praised, but doesn't mind it as well when he isn't.
So, why was it his first instinct to seek for the pride and approval in Rin's eyes, after he could practically feel his victory just by staring at him alone?
It's almost unfair, how much he felt he'd done for Rin, when he technically only owed him three favours as a compensation. But the larger part of him knew, that he's doing all those ridiculous things, because he wanted to in the first place. Rin was starting to become someone worthy of the sacrifices that he's not afraid to take, just to ensure that the light in those bright red eyes will never perish.
That Tuesday afternoon, he got his second Australian gold for the 200m freestyle, next to the open water event that started it all. However, this time there were no brilliant, unblinking red eyes gazing at him with a mixture of awe and disbelief.
Rin had his own event as well. He was competing for the semi-finals of his 100m butterfly. Once the medal ceremony was over, he quickly sought out his friend amongst the vast assortment of swimmers, fans, and media. Haruka located him just as he was stepping out from one of the communal showers, the place was thankfully almost empty save for the two of them and some other swimmers.
There was an air of negative aura emanating from Rin, he noticed it immediately, and it made Haru wonder since when had he been that good with reading into Rin's moods?
"How was your race?" He asked, and only then did Rin register his presence.
His friend shrugged, stiff but he tried to appear nonchalant about it. "It was okay. At least I'm still competing for the finals tomorrow." Rin walked to where his things were as Haru followed him automatically.
"Sorry I wasn't able to watch." He told him, although he knew that Rin knows he had his own race as well.
"Nah, it's fine. You have your finals." The redhead replied, with his back to Haruka. "Besides... it wasn't anything worth watching in the first place."
Haru frowned, is that what causing Rin's foul mood? "What do you mean?"
"I seeded seventh for tomorrow's finals, Haru." Rin answered quickly, like he wanted to put it out there as quick as he could. "Maybe they were right... Maybe I've been neglecting my fly lately, in favour of free." He added, like a self deprecating after thought.
Haruka's scowl deepened. Certainly, there's not much selection as to who they might have been to make Rin doubt himself time and time again. He witnessed how Rin struggles to hone both his freestyle and butterfly strokes on a daily basis, so he's certain that it was not the case.
"I see that you won another gold." Rin commented, head tilting to the medal around his neck. "Congratulations, Haru. You're two golds away from a clean sweep." He smirked but Haru hated the lack of teasing when it comes to stealing the gold for himself for their 100m freestyle race. Was Rin giving up on that as well?
He was swift to take off the medal, shoving it to Rin's chest with a determined look on his face. "You can have it." He said.
"I already have two so you can have that."
Rin blinked, then his expression turned dark. Something that haven't been directed at Haru in a long whilst now. "Are you mocking me?"
He swallowed, to falter was not an option anymore. "Interpret it as you wish. I'm giving it to you because you don't have one yet." He shrugged like it was no big deal, trying his best not to flinch at how Rin's eyes blazed with offence. "You can keep it, but just know that it has my name on it."
When he was done, he left without looking back, leaving Rin to simmer in his fury and to let his words sink in. He wouldn't mind if Rin directed his rage at him... Better at Haru than himself. Like what he swore since they were on their way to that country, he was willing to be whatever Rin needed at the moment.
Even if it meant being his enemy and his harsh wake up call once more, then so be it...
There were no words spoken between them that night, as they laid in silence with their backs to one another. It had been a wordless agreement to just share Haru's bed, since it's big enough to accomodate them both anyway. Rin's bed slowly became a spare space to leave their things on, and it had been Haru who first implied that they weren't going to use it anyway.
Rin had been so grateful for that. Just like the many things that Haru did for him since they landed on Australia, whether he's aware of them or not.
He didn't speak to him when they woke up, not during their breakfast, nor their morning practice with the Australian team... but contrary to what his friend might think, Rin was no where mad at him.
He was embarrassed...
Haru, who finds it hard to speak his mind in first place, had been doing his best to say the words that Rin had badly needed. His words of comfort and reassurance when Rin was in doubt, and how he worded his encouragement in the locker room yesterday when Rin had moped upon placing seventh for his finals.
His friend was clearly doing more than he could in order to make certain that Rin will survive this trip. By then, even Rin himself wouldn't believe it so easily were he to say that he's fine. So he knew that he needed to take this one chance.
The chance to prove, not with words, that he's alright. He's fine because he has a friend who had been supporting him for years, a team that was finally starting to feel like a family, and that he's fine because he has Haru... Haru who never lost faith in him, even if Rin himself had given up on his talent.
His and Taylor's blue eyes met on accident. He was situated at the 5th lane after having seeded second for their over all finals. This time Rin didn't greet him with a scowl, he gave him that same arrogant grin that he flashes at Haruka whenever he intends to kick his ass in the pool.
When they dove in, the water felt no different than the one he regularly swam into, back in Japan. It's not the dark abyss that lacks Sousuke's presence, nor an overwhelming tide filled with Australian sharks faster than himself. Rin surged, briefly hearing the crowd whenever he resurfaces, knowing that somewhere amongst them was his true rival... The one who could make any water as bright as he was when he's in it.
When he finished with a gasp, his first instinct was to search for Haru. Nervous, yet exhilirated upon what his face would tell from Rin's race. He located him almost immediately, being grappled on by Mikoshiba's larger arm. The people around him were loud and boisterous, but Haruka remained firm with his eyes on Rin. He flashed him a tiny smile, with his eyes softening like Rin had never seen before.
Rin snapped his head to the LED board, heart pounding loudly in his chest. His name had a "1" beside it, not the English characters, but the one he had since birth, along with the Japan's flag right next to it. He slapped the water with both arms as he let himself roar with victory for the first time in Australian waters.
Maybe he only imagined that the cheering from his teammates got louder, or perhaps they definitely did feel how momentous that victory was for Rin.
After the medal ceremony, with Rin on top of the podium, he ran to where his team was at. It probably was the first time that he called them his team, as it was the first time that he was swimming for them much so for himself.
"Haru!" He can't help but holler, waiting for those blue eyes to locate his barreling form.
The older swimmer was almost tackled to the ground when Rin came and enveloped him in a hug, if it weren't for Asahi's hands against Haru's back, the pair would certainly end up tangled on the concrete below them.
"Oi, Rin!" Haruka warned, but made no move to squirm away from his friend.
Rin pulled away grinning, face flushed red with elation, and it was the happiest that Haru had seen him for days. Swiftly, he took off the gold surrounding his neck, flopping it around Haru's neck instead.
"I don't mind keeping yours, but I oughta replace the gold that I took from your collection, yeah?" He chuckled, eyes solely at Haru's, leaving him wide eyed as he carefully picked the medal given to him. Rin's name was attached to the back, and going over it made his chest flutter with pride and something unknown.
He opened his mouth, unsure what to say next, but thankfully Asahi beat him to it.
"Jeez, you two really can be sickening sometimes." He huffed with a teasing shake of his head.
Ikuya, currently nearby, scoffed, as if offended. "You're just realizing that now?"
A couple of laughters echoed around them, along with a round of congratulations for Rin.
But it was hard to focus on them when Haru's shooting him that adoring look from such a short distance...
Rin's good mood thankfully wasn't impended by any dasdardly comment from the Australian team, or a stray nightmare that jolted him awake.
Their relay team had spent the whole morning practice together for their upcoming race on Saturday, and they were told to focus on it since the individual events were pretty much done by then, anyway. Takagi was more or less back to his usual self, all thanks to Rin's company and tips as to how he can get over his nervousness.
Seijuuro had been keeping his distance as to not overwhelm Rin, but sneaks in some tight bear hugs whenever he can, and the occassional, not so subtle attempts to gain information from Haruka.
"Is he... still having nightmares?" Sei mumbled quietly during lunch, acting as though he was passing some illegal information to the freestyle swimmer.
"He stirred a bit last night, but I don't think he was having a nightmare." Haru murmured, eyeing Rin as he argued with Yamamoto about the perfect proportions of a balanced meal.
Seijuuro nodded, sighing with relief upon the confirmation. "Just keep a pillow between you two when he gets too annoyingly clingy. He'll automatically attach his claws to the pillow and not onto your flesh. His sister told me so." He proudly announced with a wide grin.
Haruka rose a brow at that, he supposed that it was natural for people to assume that they're sharing a bed, since everyone's still thinking that they're dating after all...
That afternoon, the next time he saw Rin was when they were on their way to the starting blocks. It was the finals for the 100m freestyle event and Haru and Rin managed to snag the 5th and 6th lane respectively.
Rin was radiating nothing but a positive, exhilirated aura that put Haruka at ease. He grinned at him as they took their places and snapped the elastic of his goggles.
"This is going to be our first legitimate match since you've officially acknowledged me as your rival, Haru." He excitedly told him.
Haruka rolled his eyes behind his goggles but he doubts that Rin caught the gesture. "I did no such thing..."
Rin chuckled. "Really? Then you won't be trying to catch up to me then, Haru?"
Then the whistle was being signalled before Haruka could even think of a response.
It ended with Haru taking the top spot, but Rin was just a hundredth of second behind him. The redhead resurfaced with a smile as he teasingly directed it at Haruka.
"You said you weren't my rival, then why were you keeping up whenever I surged past you? Look at how close our times were, Haru!"
"You're not upset?"
Rin scoffed and splashed some water to Haru's direction. "Of course not. You gave me a good race, idiot. And besides..." His playful grin widened. "I already have a freestyle gold medal of my own."
The fact that he was pertaining to the medal that Haru gave, sent a succession of flutters in the raven's stomach. He took Rin's offered hand to climb out of the pool and realized when they clasped hands, that they both forgot to take off their bracelets.
Maybe it was true that the bracelets should be kept close together in the first place...
Come Friday afternoon, the whole team was already in a celebratory mood. The only remaining event was the freestyle relay consisting of two teams for both the Japanese and Australian team.
Haru was to anchor their team, a decision justified by all his freestyle gold medals that he won for his events. It'll be a clean sweep for him if they won this event too, he'll be fulfilling his promise to Rin of winning every one of his events.
Speaking of his friend...
"They're the same team who won bronze in Rio, I'm sure they'll be planning to sub out some swimmers for the preliminary round, so we ought to do our best to make it in the final two, but reserve our energy for the last round as well." Rin told the three others as they gathered around before the prelims.
Izumoto hummed in agreement. "Their anchor participated only in relay events last Olympics, so he's honestly the real deal." He smirked and directed his eyes at Rin. "I'm surprised that you know this much about their team, Matsuoka."
"It's been a habit to scout competitions since I trained young here in Australia." Rin shrugged, giving a small grin of his own. "And besides, I've always wanted to be a part of a relay team."
Takagi second the sentiment and Haruka can't help but silently admit that he was filled with a low simmering excitement from the fact that they'll be officially competing as a team very soon.
As expected, they managed to make it into the last 2 teams to compete for the last Aussie-Japan joint practice events. The Australian team indeed swapped in their anchor, as the Japanese team remained as they were for both events.
"Let's do our best, everyone. Remember that we're competing to win together. Not against each other." Izumoto teasingly eyed Rin and Haru, who rolled their eyes at him.
When he dove, he started out strong, at par with the Australian team's first swimmer. Takagi's entry was quicker and smoother than the other, which gave them a short lead for the second lap. However, when they turned, the second Australian was already an arm ahead of Takagi. Rin swallowed and took his position at the starting block.
"I know that you didn't want to be a part of this team in the first place." He murmured, just loud enough for Haru to hear as he stood close by. "But maybe, just maybe, if we do our best, it'll be a sight that we've never seen before... something irreplaceable to bring home with us."
Then he was diving just as soon as he finished talking, Haru took his place. Waited with a pounding chest as Rin bent the water to his will once more. He was still the same annoying swimmer who handled the water too roughly, always in haste as though he just can't wait to finish and get it done. But now, as he watched Rin turn and head towards him, there was a certain kind of allure to the way that Rin was steadily approaching him. That this determined, powerful swimmer would only stop once Haruka was diving above him for their final lap.
Maybe it was all in his head, or maybe it indeed was Rin who shouted his name so ardently as he dove with all he had. Haruka propelled, despite feeling the powerful churn of his opponent beside him. After the turn, he knew he had lost the lead, but instead of giving up, he strained for a more powerful kick, a faster stroke that was not his usual pace at all. The closer he got to the end, the louder the cheering got, frontlined by Rin, Kotaro, and Ryou.
He slapped the wall and resurfaced to a loud roar from the crowd, being scooped up and out of the pool by three pair of arms that were gushing, shaking, and crowding around him like an excited storm.
"Congratulations to the Australian team for that unbelievable win!" The booming voice of an announcer echoed across the events place, followed by another round of cheers and applause from the crowd.
Haru turned sharply to the LED board, their flag had a "2" next to it and immediately his heart sank from his chest.
"We didn't win?" He had no time nor desire to hide his disappointment, eyes zeroing in on Rin after a quick sweep across their team.
"You're upset? Are you kidding me?!" Rin jumped, clutching Haru at the sides of his face all of a sudden. "We were tenth of a second behind an Olympic medalist team, Haru! And that was just the first time we competed in an event!" Rin gripped his face tighter as he laughed, almost jumping at the balls of his feet.
"You were so amazing, Haru. God I wish you could've just seen yourself swim earlier." He added, with what felt like all the awe that his presence exudes. Haruka gripped the warm palms against his face, feeling his chest tighten, more than it ever had upon any race he had won.
"Oi, if you two are gonna kiss, let me at least have my team moment first!" Izumoto yelled teasingly, making the two of them jump back.
Thankfully, the moment they parted, their two teammates instantly huddled them for a group hug, hiding whatever that flushed and fluttery feeling under the pretense of excitement for their team.
After that, there were series of closing programs and activities to commemorate the two nation's successful joint practice and friendly competition. A buffet dinner was served early at dusk, so the teams would have the whole night to themselves should they wish to celebrate even more.
Japan had a lot of reasons to celebrate. They won both the opening and closing program rights, and had the most gold medals won, three of them brought by Haruka. Of course he was expecting to be dragged by his team to celebrate their success, but he wasn't expecting where they intended to head out to in the first place.
"A club?" He asked for the second time just to be clear that he hadn't misheard what his roommate said.
"Yup, they told me to make sure that you'll come, and that you won't be able to sneak out to the pool instead." Rin had said, laying out a bunch of clothes atop their bed, matching tops to bottoms and some pieces of accessories as well.
"You seem awfully excited to go. If you're already picking out what to wear." Haru pointed out, there's no way they'd be clubbing that early into the night.
Rin scoffed but didn't take his eyes off his current task. "It's not for me, idiot. I've seen your luggage, Haru. You're not going to your first Aussie club in your worn out Loosy-kun T-shirt."
Haruka frowned at that. Who said that he wanted to go clubbing in the first place? "Do I really have to be there?"
"Of course! You're the man of the week. Everyone's expecting you to be there."
"Will you be there?" Because Rin have yet to say if he was going as well.
"I'm not letting you on your own in a dark and crowded place where you don't even speak language, Haru." Was Rin's quick reply... Haru ended up biting his lip to force back a smile, thankful that Rin had been blissfully unaware of what those words caused Haruka to feel.
At exactly ten o'clock in the evening, Rin lead them out to where the others were waiting for them. Haru ended up wearing a black turtleneck shirt, then a navy blue blazer on top. He wore his own jeans since he wasn't fond of how skinny Rin's pairs were. His friend also managed to bully him into wearing a silver watch, around his bracelet-clad wrist.
All in all, it wasn't as bad as he thought, letting Rin dress him up. The lad was dressed in a dark grey V-Neck Tee with a khaki bomber jacket artfully donned over his shoulder with one hand. He wore a shark-tooth necklace on a corded wire, a couple of bracelets on one wrist, and even a silver anklet peaking from whre his trousers were folded by the hem. It's the first time that Haru saw him take the effort to dress up nicely, outside of their endorsement shoots, and he took the time to bask in the fact that when it comes to anything fashion related, Rin would naturally beat him anytime.
They walked to where the club was at, Asahi bumping into Rin once with a grin on his face.
"You dressed him up?" He asked, a thumb pointing to Haru's direction.
"Yeah. I wasn't gonna let him walk to a club with shirts that has holes in them."
The older redhead chuckled. "Not bad! Rei would be proud." Said Asahi. Making Rin laugh softly.
"I think Rei would find quite a few things to point out, but I appreciate the comment." He joked, and Asahi laughed in return.
"He's been worrying about you, you know." His voice lowered. "Ever since you had... a moment, upon the announcement. He's not one to fret over someone, but he can be really obvious with the way he go over things that he's not usually comfortable with, just to make someone feel better."
Rin bit the inside of his cheek. Unsure how their conversation took a sharp turn, and how the guilt looms back around him for all of what Haru had done for him since they've been in Australia.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is, I think Haru likes you more than you think he does. He'll never be the one to ask what's causing the problem, so if you like him, even just half of how much he does, then I ask you to please soothe his worries as much as you can..." Asahi gave him a genuine smile, throwing an arm around Rin's shoulder and giving it a friendly squueze.
"I like you for him, Rin. Ikuya, and deep down, maybe even Makoto, might still be a little skeptical, but I think the rest of us can see how it's bound to be something great, this thing between the two of you." And with a wink, he left Rin speechless, heart speeding up a little bit despite how his brain was yelling at him to get a grip.
He had been too preoccupied to be upset that the club they to was a place that he knew a little too well, he was still calming himself down when their team was ushered onto a series of long tables.
"Are you okay?" Came Haru's soft voice, a hand around Rin's arm.
He was starting to hate that worried look in his eyes. Recalling Asahi's words, it made him think that he's doing nothing but make his friend worry ever since—no, even before—they landed in that country...
"Yup, just a little tired, I guess." He gave him a smile, watching the rest of their team scatter to either get their own drinks or go straight into the dancefloor.
"You're the one who wanted to go." Haru pointed out with a huff.
"I came because I have to babysit you, idiot. They want you to celebrate your medals."
Haru's expression changed, annoyed, frustrated, almost hurt. "They wanted you to come too. Why can't you see that they want to be friends with you too, Rin?"
Rin frowned. "This isn't about me."
"It isn't, because you won't let it." Haru sharply replied. Rin opened his mouth to argue but was cut off when someone loudly cleared their throat in front of them.
"Is this a bad time to ask you both what drinks you'd like?" Izumoto smirked apologetically. Holding a bucket of beer, and what it looked like a bottle of tequila on the other hand.
Rin shook his head, actually glad about the intrusion. "No, we were just talking."
Izumoto grinned and placed his loots on their table, calling out to Takagi who was shuffling an armful of colored drinks and a plate of snacks.
"Now, it's time to celebrate our awesome relay team!"
Rin sighed with fond smile on his face, maybe this is what he needed in the first place...
Around midnight, almost everyone from the Japanese team was an utter embarrassment. Seijuuro had climbed a total of four tables by then, shouting how much he's proud to be a part of the best team ever. He said it in a broken, drunk, yet most proud rendition of the English language, but surprisngly everyone cheered loudly as if understanding his awful sentences.
Ikuya and Asahi were on their fifth or six? cocktail mixing competition, and how they were allowed even beyond the bar was a mystery to Rin. Takagi had been their judge from the very first round, and by then, Rin doubted that he was even sober enough to tell the drinks apart.
Yamamoto was down to his necktie and trousers, while he danced amidst a circle of drunk Japanese and Australians alike. Thankfully, their coaches weren't with them, lest they'll all be harshly punished for all the chaos, once back in their home country.
Haru was quiet beside him, nursing his third bottle of beer and an ever constant glass of water. They've both been quiet since everyone left to go about their own sillyness. Rin was far from being drunk but he should probably stop downing tequila shoots soon...
"Do you want to dance?" Asked someone, startling them both.
Fujioka loomed over them with a drunken flush down to his neck. His huge form blocking over the strobe lights from the dancefloor. Rin blinked and followed his line of sight, which ended up to a wide eyed Haru.
"You don't mind, do you? I just want to congratulate him." He added, this time directed at Rin.
Rin swallowed, a part of him wanted to say that he does mind... "If Haru wants to." He ended up saying.
Fujioka's eyes narrowed at the challenge.
Haru surprised them by shrugging, pushing aside his drink. "I don't know how to."
"It's just like sex!" Yamamoto hollered as he swayed his hips suggestively. They ignored him, Fujioka shot him a glare before turning back to Haru.
"Just hold on to me. We won't be doing any of what Yamamoto did, I promise." Said their elder with a soft smile on his face. He offered his palm and Haru reluctantly took it. Fujioka led them to the crowd of writhing bodies, and Rin hated that sour feeling when Haru didn't even glance back as the other pulled him by the hand.
Despite wanting to stop, Rin ended up pouring himself another shot and downing it in a heartbeat. His eyes can't help but track Haru and Fujioka as the pair moved to the beat of what's playing. Haru had his hands atop those broad shoulders, whilst Fujioka had his on the small of Haru's back.
They were not even that close to each other, especially compared to the pairs of grinding bodies around them, or how suggestively lewd Yamamoto's demonstration have been. But whenever they'd lean into each other's ears in order to talk amidst the loud music, Rin found himself taking quicker shots just to feel his stomach churn with anything other than that nasty feeling it leaves him with.
At some point, he got up to look for a glass of water. He felt himself sway a wee bit but managed to make it by the bar and ask the bartender for a glassful. He slowly sipped it and slumped to the counter, feeling how heavy his lids were, and how sleep was calling out to him despite how loud everything was around him.
But sleep wasn't the only thing calling out to him. He heard his name being shouted a couple more times, until a hand shook him awake.
He groaned but faced the direction of where the touch came. The view of Haru slapped him awake, as he stared down at Rin with an almost pitiable expression.
"I didn't see you at our table and you weren't with the others. I thought some Australians found you and I—" Came his rushed words, halting to close those gorgeous blue eyes in way of a relieved sigh. "I was worried..." He admitted, albeit so quietly that Rin might've just dreamt it.
And just like that, the awful feeling was back. Rin ended up scrambling upright and seeking for Haru's hand. He was sure that he was squeezing it too tight, but he needed it for his own selfish reasons.
"I'm sorry. All I do is make you worry and make you mad..." He can feel the tears brimming as his voice cracks. "H-how can I even call myself your friend when all I do is..." His words were cut short by a small sob.
Haru's eyes softened, he squeezed back and adjusted their fingers to lace together. Tugging a little at the attachment. "Do you... want to take a walk, Rin?"
Rin blinked, then nodded his head eagerly. "Yeah... I'd like that."
And with that, they made their way out with their hands still tightly clasped.
By the time that they had their feet on the sand, and Rin with a soda on hand, he was thankfully more sober than drunk. He wasn't sure if it was the alcohol talking, or was it Haru's tendency to wreck down his walls, but nonetheless, he was thankful that his friend didn't comment on any of what happened at the bar.
When they were close enough to the shore, Haru plopped down and Rin followed suit, opening his drink and revelling in the familiar taste. Even that drink reminded him of Sousuke, but since Haru bought it for him, in a way, it outweighs the bad memories...
"The Rin that came here was an arrogant child you know," He found himself starting. "A kid from Kyoto who won all junior competitions, a child with no dad but still managed to protect his sister and his mother. Someone brave enough to pursue his dreams in a country where he barely speaks the language."
Haru said nothing, but Rin knew he was listening.
"Reality slapped that kid hard, when he realized how different Australia was to Japan. And how he's never that brave to begin with, when he's all alone..." He took a sip and sighed.
"By the time I realized I was not that special of a swimmer, that I was in fact, one of the slowest, it was too late to pack my bags and go home... I practiced harder, I hit a wall, I quit, I went back at it again because what else am I here for if I quit? It was a never ending cycle that nobody but I knew. I felt like no one understood me as much as I couldn't understand them."
Rin paused, for there was a ghost of a touch across the back of his palm. It was gone as quick as it happened, but he knew that it wasn't accidental.
"Then, I met someone at fourteen. Around two years after all my struggles began... In a way, he became my rock. My bestfriend. He spoke fluent English, he swam like every time he was in the water was a race. He helped me train and taught me English. We liked the same things, and did the same things together."
Haru noticed the tinged of fondness in Rin's voice, he knew Rin must be talking about Yamazaki, and it caused a slight prickly feeling in his chest at that.
"I guess I depended too much on him. I entangled our lives together a bit excessively, because when he decided that he didn't want to be a part of my life anymore... I literally felt like I was torn in half." Rin was trembling, so this time, Haru brushed his hand over his again, but this time he held it there, right over Rin's trembling fist.
"I don't know... I guess I just hated the feeling that no matter how hard I tried, I never was good enough here in Australia. I wasn't good enough to be the best swimmer. I wasn't good enough... for him. So when I came back to Japan, I had no ounce of confidence that I'll even make it to Rio." The redhead hugged his knees to his chest, but left the hand encased by Haru's.
"And then I met Seijuuro, someone who showed me how selflessly annoying a friend could get." He chuckled. "And... something... happened as well. That, in a way, made me fall in love with swimming again." Rin's eyes flitted quickly to Haru's direction, he gave him a small smile but didn't elaborate further. "I guess I was so afraid of losing everything that I'm starting to gain back by coming to this country again. But you and the guys proved me wrong."
Rin plopped on his back, Haru reluctantly following a moment later. The moon looked bigger and brighter with nothing but the ocean and skies. Haru still have yet said a word, but Rin didn't seem to be expecting to be responded to.
"Thank you... for telling me." He mumbled, a few heartbeats later.
Rin laughed beside him, rolling on his side to poke him just under his ribcage, making Haru jolt atop the sand.
"Asahi said that you're worried but you'll never be the one to ask, so I figured I'd tell you instead." At that, Haru gasped, feeling embarrassed despite the words not coming from his own mouth.
Again, Rin laughed. He's now been doing that quite often, Haru noted.
"It's okay, idiot. I wouldn't have shared it with you, had I not wanted to. That's pretty much the gist of it..." Said Rin, Haru hummed in appreciation.
There were no words exchanged between the two of them for quite a few minutes. Haru loved hearing the crashing waves, and if not for the distant sound of cars from behind them, he might've imagined Iwatobi.
"It was nice, getting to bond with the team." Rin murmured. "I'm starting to warm up to the idea that they're nothing like the team that I trained with here."
Haru remembered the few people that payed attention to Rin, and how'd they upset his friend to no end.
"Maybe just Hasegawa is the exception..." Rin clucked his tongue. "The bastard should've known better than to disrespect my sister like that and to let me hear his lewd fantasies."
Haru sucked in a deep breath. The news of Hasegawa being sent to the hospital by Rin, and Rin's two-week suspension had caused quite a negative impression on Haru, painting him far from the Rin that he now knew and spent so much of his time with. Still, it was something that was so far back in his mind right now whenever he thinks about Rin. Rin's actions spoke louder than any rumour that ever surrounded him. Rin didn't beat Hasegawa without a valid reason, Rin didn't shut people out just because he hates everyone...
And now, just when he was slowly warming up to the team, here he was, laying somewhere with Haru instead.
"Do you want to go back, Rin?" Haru asked, craning his neck to look at the redhead.
"Huh? You mean at the club?" Rin opened his eyes, apparently he had them closed the whole time. "Since I'm already being so honest tonight, I'll tell you another secret that I don't think I'll tell anyone else."
"What is it?" Haru asked, a little too quickly.
Rin rolled on his stomach, propping himself on his elbow. His cheeks were flushed, from the cold air, or the drinks they had, Haru wasn't sure.
"I'm glad we left." He said, grinning. "I kinda hate that place. I... had my first kiss there, and it was someone I don't know. I was so drunk that I wasn't even sure if they were a guy or a girl. I hate how I wasted my first kiss that night."
Haru's eyes automatically moved to Rin's mouth. Observing them move as he talked even more.
"How about you? What was your first kiss like?"
Haru pursed his lips at that. It's not he didn't want Rin to know... It's just that he didn't want to be the one to tell him.
"Oi, don't be like that, Haru." The younger one whined. "I shared half of my life with you tonight."
Haru huffed, wanted to tell Rin that he wasn't asking him to. But he knew, that deep down, the curiousity to know was becoming too great anyway, and that he's glad Rin finally opened up some of his past to him that night.
"You don't need to ask that." He replied, averting his eyes to the side. Rin seemed too close as he loomed over him.
"Why not? I'm just curious what it's like for yo—"
"Because you were there, Rin."
That effectively shut Rin up. He gasped and his red eyes widened almost excessively. Haru let himself feel satisfied by the way Rin got embarrassed, even more than he felt his cheeks heat up.
"Haru! You..." His friend struggled for words, his lips quivering. "That kind of thing... You should've told me and I—"
"It's fine, Rin. It's just a kiss." He told him, because the last thing he wanted was for both of them to recall that moment. When they're alone at the beach and had too much to drink.
"Still..." Rin said, biting his lower lip. "Okay, let's not to talk about it again, agree?"
Haru nodded, wishing he could stop staring at Rin's mouth ever since the topic of kissing have been brought up.
"Since you've asked, maybe it's you who wanted to go back and dance some more?" Thankfully, playful Rin was back to save them from awkwardness. "Or do you still not know how to?" Oh, Haru both hated and adored that smug smirk on his face.
"I doubt that you're any better." He spat out. "Plus, Yamamoto said that it's just like sex."
In a heartbeat, Rin was throwing his head back with a roar of laughter. Haru watched him, his burgundy hair falling forward, the light of the moon framed his looming form.
"I doubt that you know anything about sex, pool idiot." Rin flicked him on his forehead.
Haru groaned, but had no retort to that.
When Rin's laughter subsided, his expression turned thoughtful. He gently rubbed Haru's forehead with his fingers, as he softly said his next words.
"Hey, Haru... Your first time. Save it for someone who truly means a lot to you, okay? It's not like your first kiss that you can just give away to a stranger..." Rin ended his speech with a soft smile, the kind that leaves Haruka speechless for a whilst.
Haru found himself nodding as he stared up at Matsuoka Rin. The stranger that he gave his first kiss to. He was a hardly a stranger now, when even in some nights, his red pesters Haruka to no end. There was a vast and beautiful ocean just an arm away from him, and yet it was a challenge to pry his eyes away from those smiling lips that had been the first to touch his own.
He'd like to think that he hadn't wasted his first kiss, as much as Rin had been worrying. Staring at the perfect storm of a lad that barged into his life and decided to root itself in place, maybe Rin cannot remember the first time he kissed someone, but Haruka was certain that there was no way for him to forget his...
Okay, longest piece I've ever written in my entire life so far haha. This even surpassed the previously longest thing I've written (Ninety Lifetimes ficlet) which I wanted to thank everyone who left a lovely review by the way. I really appreciate every single one of the reviews you give me which is why I try to respond to each and every one.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this long ass chapter as well, and let me know your thoughts about thie story so far. Lots of love! ♡
Chapter 10: Olympians on a Date
The long overdue update!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Their perfect night ended with them having to haul back their drunken teammates, along with the other members who were sober enough to assist as well. Even then, Rin couldn't complain too much. Not when he's feeling the lost weight of having to keep Haru in the dark. Although it wasn't in great detail, he was still glad to be able to open up as to why Australia had been such a hard place to visit.
And besides, Haru deserves to know... Or rather, Haru will eventually know anyway... with the way that he's been able to tear down Rin's walls with just one look, in recent days.
More or less sobered up and with excess energy to spare, they packed most of their stuff to avoid any delays for tomorrow's flight, laying out suitcases in their spare bed as they shared Haru's for the last time that evening.
The next day, they all boarded the plane just fine, some with raging hangovers, others with a mess of suitcases in tow, but all right nonetheless. Mikoshiba ended up wanting to trade seats with Rin by window as he nursed his self induced headache. A sense of dejavu hit as Rin ended up being sandwiched between two of his closest friends again, at least this time they weren't fuzzing over him, as Seijuuro was feeling too ill to care and Haru starting to nod off to sleep from his aisle seat.
"Hey, Haru." Rin called for him, albeit the other's obvious drowsiness. His friend made a noncommittal sound but turned his half closed eyes to Rin nonetheless.
"I just want to thank you... for everything." He whispered, finding Haru's bracelet clad wrist to give it a squeeze. "As you've seen, Australia's not really the top of my list of favourite places to visit, but with you it was... bearable." Memorable, even, but he didn't think Haru needed to know that.
Haru nodded, gave him a small sleepy smile that felt like a punch to his chest for some reason. Rin bit the inside his cheek and offered the other half of his earbuds which Haru accepted gladly.
It was still hard to really say what he wanted to tell Haru. All those detailed words of how he's making him feel so much all at once, sometimes; but he hoped that even though Haru can't understand the lyrics of the song he's playing, the tune and how the melody comes off should be sufficient enough to conclude that he's happy, just by having someone like Haru by his side...
Roughly a fortnight after their trip to Australia, and Japan's never felt so much like home for a long time.
They had another shoot for a magazine centerfold that involved depicting their daily routine as national athletes. Their supposed love team went viral once more when some fans with keen eyes noticed that Rin was wearing Haru's medal and Haru with Rin's gold during their last group photo with the Australian team. It wasn't something new, just landed them a new batch of sponsor requests and a few more fans asking for a picture whenever they're out in public together.
If there's something that needs a bit of getting used to, it was receiving messages from family and friends about how they support and adore their supposed relationship. Rin was constantly getting messages of approval from his sister about how perfect the two of them were (mostly their muscles). Haruka's parents told him that they'd love to meet Rin if he's comfortable to introduce him to them.
It still was frustrating, how everything went out of hand just from a simple lie that they supposedly had to keep just for a day. But all in all, Haruka was kind of glad that one lie lead him to rest his never ending beef with Matsuoka Rin... and speaking of his reason for lying in the first place...
"Aren't you gonna answer that?" Rin rose a brow at his vibrating phone. They were currently sorting through the letters of sponsorship requests at his friend's flat.
He eyed the device that was flashing Makoto's name, he liked catching up with his best friend, but conversations with Makoto tend to drag on for hours, and it exhausts Haru most of the time...
"You know that the longer you ignore it, the more persistent they get, right?" Rin commented, having known Haruka's friends by then.
He sighed and decided pick up the call once and for all.
"Haru-chan! I thought you weren't going to answer." Makoto's cheerful voice started. "Are you at home? We're outside your building right now, Aya-chan wanted to surprise you with dried saba from Okinawa."
His mood brightened up at the mention of saba, but unfortunately he wasn't at home to receive it. "I'm at Rin's right now." He didn't bother hiding his disappointed sigh.
"Oh... y-you're at- I'm sorry! Were you two... Is that why you took so long to answer?! I can just call later when you two are... uhh... finished."
He felt his whole face heat up and his grip on the phone tightened. Thankfully, Rin was still busy sorting through the pile to catch him off guard. "That's not what we're doing." He tried to calmly reply, as any stuttering would leave Makoto doubtful and Rin curious.
"Oh, alright." His friend on the other line chuckled. "Then, we'll just be dropping these in your locker for packages. Aya-chan wanted to ask you guys out this weekend if you're free? We'll be staying at her parents' for the whole week."
"I'll ask Rin about it." He replied.
"Ask me what?" Rin asked, looking up from his task at hand.
"Makoto and Ayane asked us out this weekend."
"Hmm, I think Gou's coming over for the weekend, sorry..." Rin said. "Wait, let me talk to them, see if we can align another day for it."
And with that, Rin proceeded to hog the phone, talking to either Makoto or Ayane, as Haru silently picked up where he left off in what they were doing.
A few laughs from Rin and a lot of chitchat later and he's finally handing back the phone, asking Haru if he had anything else to say. When he shook his head, Rin bid farewell for the both of them, sighing lightly afterwards.
"Apparently, when Ayane asked us to go out, she meant go out on a date with the two of them." When Haruka rose a questioning brow at that, Rin continued. "A double date, idiot."
"Oh," He quipped. "When?"
"Why didn't you just tell them that we'll be free for tomorrow?" Because they were, a monthly maintenance of the NTC was in schedule.
Rin annoyingly grinned. "Are you that excited to date me, Nanase?" Haru threw him the letter that he was reading, making Rin chuckle.
"It slipped my mind to ask... and besides, I kind of was about to ask if you're free tomorrow?" His hand found the back of his neck and Haruka just couldn't let such a golden opportunity slip.
"Why? Are you going to ask me on a date, Matsuoka?" The way Rin's cheeks coloured was revenge enough for him.
"As if, you bastard..." The redhead huffed. "Just want to... y'know, treat you somewhere nice."
"So like a date?"
"Shut up, Haru!"
Why was it so entertaining to rile Rin up? Haruka wondered.
His friend sent him a glare before finally elaborating his point. "It's for Australia... Kind of like a thank you, or something..."
"You don't have to do that, Rin."
"I know," Rin replied. "But I want to. Will you just let me? It could be saba, or dinner, or all of those, anything you want, Haru."
Despite wanting to argue more, Rin was staring at him with those determined eyes and it was unfair, really, how much effect that has on him.
"Fine, you can buy me new jammers..." There's this one line that was being advertised as the best fit and he had the intention of buying it anyway.
"Jammers? Aren't we getting enough from our sponsors and as athletes already?"
"You said anything I want, Rin." He scowled at him. "It's fine if you won't, I guess I'll just have to pass for tom—"
"Alright, jeez! I was just asking." Rin glared at him. "Okay, new jammers and a meal at your favourite saba place, deal?"
He wanted to tease Rin about how that was starting to sound more and more like a date, but the more he dwell into the thought, the more that unsettled excitement bubbles inside him.
"Okay, deal." He replied, thankful for the silence that surrounded them next after Rin sent him an elated grin.
He'd rather soak in the bath for their first extra free day in a long time, but he guessed what Rin planned for them wasn't so bad as well...
He glared at the time displayed at the top of his phone screen, it's been ten minutes and he had to leave in about fifteen. Impatient as he was, he decided to just press the call button, tapping a foot until a click resounded from the other line.
"What the hell could you possibly want this early in the morning, Rin?" Seijuuro groaned from the other line, his words were still slurred with sleep.
"I sent you some messages, check them out, I kind of need an answer right away."
There was no response for a whilst except for some random sounds as Sei apparently checked what Rin was blabbing about... Then, there's a series of curses and disbelieving grunts that can only mean his friend was pissed off.
"Are you kidding me right now, Matsuoka?" Seijuuro seethed, wide awake now because of how incredulous his best friend was. "You woke me up, on a well deserved off day, just to ask which jacket looks best to go with your shirt?!"
Rin flinched. "I uh... I'm sorry? I just need some help deciding which one to pick... I could've asked Haru but that's basically showing him what I would be wearing for... later." The more he rambled, the more stupid it seemed that he was obsessing this much about what to wear for his... day out... with Haru.
Seijuuro groaned and sounded like he was banging his head on a hard surface. "Rin, I swear to God, I'm this close to smacking you upside in the head." He started. "What you wear, even if it's a potato sack, wouldn't change the fact that Nanase is too smitten to care. Have you seen how that kid looks at you sometimes?"
He gaped at that, feeling his whole face heat up.
"So please, do me a favour and get your whipped ass off the phone and just go on your goddamn date. Good bye." Then the call was ended.
Rin remained frozen, flabbergasted, until a text notification stung his ear.
Just wear the black one. I don't get why you're fretting too much when it'll just end up on Nanase's floor anyway.
If it was possible to get even redder, then he probably was. He replied a quick "Fuck off" before throwing on the black bomber jacket. Foregoing his plan to style his hair, because why was he worrying so much anyway? It's not like he's going on a date...
When he arrived at the station where they agreed to meet, Haru was already there. He was wearing a grey shirt, black cargo shorts, and a small body bag. Rin felt stupid about going out of his way to dress up... Well, at least Haru didn't wear his cartoon shirts, or those worn out ones with holes in them.
"Been waiting long?" He asked, catching the other's attention.
When Haru turned to face him, Rin's eyes widened in disbelief... He extended a hand forward, reaching for Haru's hair, which was gently swatted even before he got the chance to touch it.
"Stop that, it took so long to do that..." Haruka scowled, making Rin let out a tiny gasp.
"Did you... style your hair?" His fringes were swept to the side, and it looked glossy and neat, there was no way Rin would've overlooked it in the first place.
Haru averted his eyes, he looked upset and he had his fists clenched. "Makoto suggested, I knew it was stupid... But I—"
"It suits you!" Rin cut him off. "I... I took a long time choosing what to wear too..." He admitted, for the last thing he wanted was make Haru feel stupid for making an effort, when in reality, it warms Rin inside knowing that Haru did so.
Haru's expression softened, he eyed Rin from head to toe and completely turned the other way as the train approached. "It suits you too, Rin." He mumbled, and Rin was glad he wasn't able to witness how he had to hide a smile behind his palm.
Haru lead him to a mall, said he usually buy his (identical) jammers in a particular store but they were under renovation, their best option was to search for the nearest branch, which lead them where they currently were... Face to face with a grinning Yamamoto Isamu.
"Yo, Nanase, Matsuoka!" He rushed to where they were. "You guys here for anything?"
"You work here?" Rin asked.
"Kinda? My dad owns this branch, so I'm overseeing it every couple of days." Their teammate replied with a wide grin. "If you two are looking for anything I can help you find them faster, I'm currently the manager on duty right now."
"Oh." Haru said, fighting down the quell of disappointment that there'd be another person joining them. Clearly, Rin doesn't share his sentiment anyway...
"Really? That's great." The redhead replied. "Tell him what you're looking for, Haru." Rin urged him.
He nodded, and told Yamamoto what were the specs of what he was looking for, he lead them to the swimwear area where the items with improved fit were located.
"You can try them out, Nanase. There's a fitting area right there, I'll assist you if you need a size change."
Haru tried a pair on but immediately felt that it wasn't the one he was looking for. He asked for a different one, and showed it to his companions, waiting for what they had to say.
"Uh, isn't it the same as the other one, Nanase? They look alike to me." Said Yamamoto.
Rin shook his head, fingers scratching his chin. "This one looks smoother around the quad area. It'll lessen his drag."
Haru's eyes sparkled. The difference indeed was around his quads. It was the first time that someone noticed the difference, when everybody else told him they all looked the same.
"Rin," He called, dragging Rin by the wrist and pulling him in the fitting room inside with him.
"Oi! What do you think you're doing?!" The redhead hollered.
"Tell me what you think of this other one. No one has noticed the difference in my jammers before."
"Okay, I can do that, but do I really have to be in here wit— Oi, Haru! Why are you stripping?!!"
Yamamoto just shook his head from hearing the commotion inside, chuckling at witnessing Matsuoka and Nanase so animated unlike how closed off the both of them were when he joined the team.
"It's honestly adorable, seeing you lovebirds in action, but please keep it PG-13 in there? My dad will kill me if he finds out I let you guys do that here just because we're teammates..." He teased, not sure if they even heard him. When the yelling and shoving finally subsided, and the locked door finally being pried open, came out of it was a very red Matsuoka Rin, and Nanase Haruka looking slightly pleased with himself.
"We'll take this one." Haruka handed him a black jammers with red streaks, the latest and best selling variety nowadays.
"Is this, uh, clean?" He made a motion of holding the piece with only two of his fingers.
Rin rolled his eyes, still red in the face. "We didn't do anything in there, you idiot." He glared at Haru. "Just call me when it already needs to be paid." With a huff, he took off to another aisle, away from Haruka and Isamu.
Yamamoto chuckled. "So, he'll be paying huh? How'd you land yourself such an eccentric boyfriend anyway, Nanase?" He turned to Haru, who just shrugged but donned a small smile like he's pleased at that...
God, those two are so whipped... Isamu thought to himself.
During their lunch, Haru ended up ordering two kinds of mackerel meal. Rin had a gyudon and some kani salad to go with it.
"And to think that you wanted to refuse my offer of treating you for a day." He teased, enjoying the pleased look on Haru's face as he ate his meal.
"Hmm. This date isn't so bad, Rin" He teased, Rin almost choking on his drink.
"I told you that this isn't." He snapped.
Haru shrugged, it's not like he had gone out in a date anyway. He wasn't sure what a date should feel like in the first place. "This could be our practice date. For the one with Makoto and Ayane."
"Could be... but you do know that we'd need to act more intimate for that one, right? I don't think it's believable that a couple would not even hold hands or something during a date." Rin commented.
"It's fine," Haru said, feeling a fluttery sensation from his chest. "It's not like I'm not used to it..."
"What?" Rin asked, that mumble was too quiet for him to hear.
They went for some konbini popsicles after their meal, breaking off a twin pop into two. Their day ended earlier than expected, but it was supposed to just be a thank you treat for Haru, anyway. Still, some part of Rin wouldn't mind if they stayed and did random things together...
"I'll be buying my saba supply for the week, Rin. I guess I'm off?" Haru informed him after finishing his popsicle. Rin had to fight off the unwelcome disappointment that came from that statement, putting on his best grin as he nodded his head.
"Alright, I guess I can't keep you away from your saba any longer." He teased, Haru sending him a mock glare, but eventually telling a proper goodbye.
"Haru," He found himself calling as he watched him walk away. "I... your hair... you should do that more often." His hand found the back of his neck as Haruka processed what he was told.
"Okay..." Haru gave him a fond smile before turning the other way again, leaving Rin to wonder if it was really the hair or that smile that made Haru appear so attractive that day...
A week passed, and the day before their designated double date, Makoto called Rin to ask for help. He was intending to surprise his wife during the light show and he needed Rin to distract her as he and Haru prepared the necessary arrangements to do so. Apparently, Ayane recently had a promotion, and Makoto wanted to show his appreciation whilst she's surrounded by the things she loved. Both Aya and Haru were massive sea-creature lovers, which is why they all agreed to just spend their date at the Shinagawa Aquarium in the first place.
Rin was sure that Haru would enjoy that kind of surprise as well... His eyes would go all sparkly, he'd call Rin's name like he can't believe what he's seeing, then he'd mumble that adorably shy thank you when it's just the two of them...
"The fuck?" Rin shook his head, slapping his cheeks to rid of his daydreams about surprising Haru. And then as if on cue, his phone flashed a new message...
Haru-chan loves dolphins :)
The way Makoto was grinning at him was annoying...
Their weird telepathic bond told him exactly what his friend was thinking. Thankfully, Rin was running a bit late that it's only the three of them for now.
"Stop that. I didn't do it for him." He huffed, fighting the urge to frustratedly run his fingers through his hair, he'd waste almost an hour fixing his damn fringe if he did so.
Makoto's grin, as expected, only widened. "It's not bad, wanting to please your boyfriend, you know." Haru glared, but felt his face heating up.
"I didn't do it for him." He repeated, hating that he ever told Makoto how Rin said that the hair suited him.
Fortunately, he was saved by the devil himself, when someone who cleared their throat turned out to be Rin.
"Rin!" Ayane rushed to give him a hug, his fangirl side only ever getting massive as Rin gets more popular with every endorsement shoot and every international race.
"Hey Aya." He greeted, patting her head with a genuine grin. Gone was the Rin that usually flinches upon a sudden contact from Haru's friends, sure, he still didn't know how to react to complements sometimes, but it was still a tad much of an achievement from how uncomfortable he looked around people before.
"Hi Haru," He called, and only then did Haruka got the time to take in how... presentable... Rin was. He was clad in a deep burgundy tee with a dark coloured jacket tied around his hips, he was wearing his ripped jeans and some expensive looking sneakers. The accessories that he usually wear were also present, along with the bracelet that matched Haruka's own.
Rin's eyes swept him from head to toe, and Haruka fought back the nerves that told him he wasn't dressed well enough.
"Sorry if I got here a little late, but I think we should get going to start our day." He grinned and extended a hand to Haru. "Wouldn't want to let Haru's effort of styling his hair, go to waste."
Haru rolled his eyes but accepted the offered hand, slotting their fingers together and ignoring the small squeal from Makoto's wife. His bestfriend leaned in, the fond smile on his face was misleading.
"Told you it wasn't just you who wanted to please their boyfriend." He whispered and happily dettached from Haru as though nothing happened.
Haru seethed, it's better to channel his thoughts to ire than to dwell on how Rin took the effort to look good for him was making him feel...
They ate brunch first, Ayane told them about her promotion and the Olympians reacted like it's the first time they heard it. Rin answered for the both of them when it was their turn to be questioned for updates, leaving Haru to enjoy his meal in peace.
It's a blessing in disguise, that they seem to have taken quite a liking to Rin, it diverts the extra attention away from him when he's in no mood to accommodate the eccentric pair.
"It's a good thing that Haru-chan's boyfriend feels like a long lost friend that we should've met when we were younger!" Nagisa once said during one of their lunch outs, and either he wasn't wrong or Rin just have this charm in him that can easily captivate anyone if he wanted to.
When they are at their main venue, strolling through a place filled with water was equal parts relaxing and frustrating. Rin tugs at his hand tighter whenever Haru gets too close to anything with accesible water, and he snickers at him when Haru kept tugging at his collar as they went through the underwater tunnel.
"This might be torture for you, huh? Not being able to just dive in." The redhead teased, and Haruka sent him a scowl.
"Shut up and just let me sneak in there. I promise Makoto and Ayane wouldn't even noti—"
"Nah, I wouldn't want to be arrested as an accessory to the crime, Nanase." He chuckled and tugged him away as they entered the main hallway once more.
When they were headed for the jelly fish lights show next, the three men nodded in understanding, before proceeding to what was needed to be done.
"Hey, Aya. Want to stop by the deep sea exhibit with me first?" Rin started, leaning in for the next part. "I wanted to buy a plushie for Haru but didn't know which creature it was."
Ayane let out an excited sound. "Of course, Rin! Let's go, then!" She immediately latched herself around his arm, and Makoto feigned a look of hurt before clutching his chest, chuckling as Rin was lead to where the exhibit was.
Initially, it was just a ploy in order to distract Ayane away from the other two, but Rin had to admit that the way she spoke about each and every one of them was as though describing her children. Rin chuckled, surely Haru would be like that as well, if ever he was that talktative.
"What?" Ayane paused upon hearing him mumble, Rin unconsciously saying his thoughts out loud.
"Oh," He reacted. "Nothing, just... Haru would enjoy this as well, I figured." Was all he said.
Ayane smiled, it still was a shock to her that the Matsuoka Rin that she had been admiring, despite his hostility during every race, was actually quite a soft and passionate lad in reality. Then again, it might have something to do with their little Haru.
"Makoto and I just happened to be research partners you know..." She told him, out of the blue. "Do you want to know how I knew I had feelings for him?"
Despite himself, Rin found that he was asking how.
"Well, I realized when I started getting jealous of Haru." She chuckled, a memory of long ago that it was nothing but hilarious right then. "Makoto just cares too much for him that I thought there was something going on between them. Of course that drove me to confess first, and surprisingly, he felt the same... Told me that he loved and cared for Haruka as he would Ren and Ran."
Rin gulped, what was the root of this? Was she getting some suspicion that they were only just playing pretend? And why was she going on about discovering feelings? There's nothing for Rin to discover in the first place...
"I guess what I'm trying to say is, he's someone to precious to my husband, and over time he became like a sibling to me as well..." Ayane smiled at Rin and latched herself around his arm once more, this time, softly. "I'm glad he has someone like you now, Rin... I don't want him to be alone despite how he always claim that he likes it better. Everybody needs that special someone, sometimes."
Rin gave her another pat in the head. It's okay to be that someone despite not being romantically involved, right? Deep down, he was starting to admit that Haru might be that special someone for him as well, despite how they're only friends who make each other better in reality.
"Should I start being really be worried now?" Makoto caught their attention with that jest.
"Don't be silly." Ayane chuckled and finally detached herself from Rin in order to take her place beside her husband.
"Everything set?" Rin whispered to Haru, who nodded his head.
"Yeah, it'll appear five minutes after the show starts."
Finally, they were at the jellyfish exhibit when all the lights went out, it started out with a classical music playing as different colours of bioluminescent creatures swirled all around them. Everyone was in awe, and when a massive neon sign appeared within the main tank that said "Congratulations on your promotion, Aya-chan. I love you. -Makoto" everyone was clapping for the lovely couple. Ayane tackled her husband into a tight hug and peppered his face with kisses.
All in all, their surprise was a success, Ayane appreciated the gestured and thanked everyone involved with a kiss, Haru and Rin on their cheeks.
They bought snacks and saw the rest of the exhibits (Haru stubbornly lingering on the dolphin tanks until Rin all but carried him out), and the announcement of having only 20 minutes until the place closes was being broadcasted. Haru frowned. As much as he disliked going out, that day wasn't so bad. He got to be surrounded by lovely sea creatures and some of his closest friends.
"Haru-chan, do you mind helping me pick some souvenirs for Ren and Ran?" Makoto asked, sometimes it's hard to remember that the twins weren't children anymore, with the way Makoto spoil them still.
"Oh, what about Rin and Aya?" He looked over to the pair who remained unmoving.
"Nah, I'm good. My feet are kinda tired already. We'll wait for you guys by the exit." Rin said, Ayane nodding alongside him.
With that, the bestfriends made their way to the semi crowded giftshop. It wasn't so overwhelming as it is only one of two shops present and operating.
"Did you have fun, Haru-chan?" Makoto asked as they scanned items to choose from.
"Yes." Haru's short respond. Makoto should know it by then when Haruka means it.
His bestfriend chuckled. "But I bet you wanted to sneak off and swim, right?" He frowned at that, was he really so obvious?
"Still, enjoying yourself and being happy are two completely different things, Haru." With that, he looked up, met Makoto's somber gaze with his confused expression.
"What are you trying to say?"
The brunette sighed. "Does Rin make you happy, Haru?"
His blue eyes widened, unsure of where that came from. "Why... do you ask?" He mumbled out.
"It feels like he does." Makoto shrugged, that gentle smile on his face was back. "But I can't help but feel like something's off..."
The raven gulped, heart pounding as he waited for Makoto to continue on.
"I, well I guess everyone with eyes, can see that you make each other happy. There's a bond between you two that brings out the best in each other, but I feel like you're both holding back sometimes... As if you're afraid of pushing too far."
Haru kept his eyes down. Everything he said had some sense in them. Rin's company was something that he was starting to enjoy, and in some unconscious cases, something he craved as well. It's just that, there are boundaries that should be avoided, some lines that he's afraid to cross as it makes him feel too much sometimes... makes him feel frightened about how much more he could be pushed to feel.
When Haruka remained silent, Makoto felt guilty about possibly ruining his good mood. "Look, I know it's not my place to intrude, I just..." He cut his words with a sigh once more. "I like seeing you live instead of just surviving day by day, Haru-chan... there's a clear difference between those two. And Rin, he... I think it's the same for him as well. All I'm trying to say is, maybe it's okay to just enjoy how happy he makes you, sometimes? It'll feel better if you aren't trying to fight it." He ended his speech with a meaningful squeeze at one of Haru's shoulder.
Makoto ended up buying an identical, glow in the dark jellyfish plushie for the twins, leading a silent Haruka back to where they left the other two.
Haru's mind was still swirling with the thoughts that Makoto imparted him with, too busy to care that Rin and Ayane had been talking in hushed tones as they approached. The next thing he knew, Rin was shoving something at his face that startled him out of his thoughts.
"I got you something." The redhead announced, Ayane looking like an excited child beside him.
Haruka eyed the item, raising his brow with confusion. "You got me a... diving suit?" He asked, blinking at the one piece, over all lycra suit.
Rin smiled so wide. "Nah, you're jusy going to borrow that. A little birdie told me you've always wanted to swim with some dolphin, and it wasn't hard to arrange something, given that we're Olympians and all that."
A gasp left his lips, his eyes widening into saucers as he stared at Rin, then to Ayane who looked pleased, and then to Makoto who had a fond smile on his face.
"Was all of that just to distract me?" He asked, because that had been the same plan for Ayane's surprise.
"Kind of?" Makoto laughed. "But I meant every word, Haru-chan." He gave him a look that only the two of them could decipher, then he stared back at Rin.
"Oi, what are you waiting for? You've been wanting to just dive in all day, yeah? Oh, and the three of us will be joining you as well, can't have all the fun to yourself, Haru!" Rin said, smiling so wide that his eyes were almost just happy slits.
Haru ended up clutching the suit to his chest. His heart was thrumming with what he knew something more than the excitement of swimming with the dolphins soon. Looking at Rin, letting himself just really look at him, maybe it really was better if just let himself feel too much sometimes... Maybe it was alright to admit that yes, sometimes, Matsuoka Rin really could make him happy in a way that no one else ever had...
Hi lovelies! It's me, Lyn! I'm sorry it took sooooo long for me to update this fic, I promise I'm not dropping this, my writer's block is what's preventing me to continue writing on a regular basis. I still love this ship so bloody much and there's no escaping this fandom anyway.
Thank you to those who continue leaving me reviews even without the constant updates, I'll be reading and responding to all of them in a bit. I'm not sure when the next chapter will be out but hopefully it'll not take as long as this one did. Again, if you guys are still here reading this fic of mine, thank you and I really wanna reconnect with you lot!
My twitter's @PhantomLynxx, let's be friends please! I need more RH mates! ♡♡♡