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The Rock Hopper and the Butterfly (expanded)

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The moment Nagisa lands, he is tackled to the ground by his camera operator Yuu,

crying in delight,

“‘Zuki, that was AWESOME!,” the short brunet crows, wrapping Nagisa in a celebratory hug.

Winded and now lying on the ground, Nagisa catches his breath and hugs his friend back, replying with a huge grin on his face “Yeah ‘Noya, so freakin awesome.”

The duo break apart and roll over to stare up at the sky, adrenaline still raging through their veins.

Pulling his smartphone out of his zippered shoulder pocket, Nagisa snaps a few candids of himself and Yuu for the show’s instagram and lies back, giving his racing heart time to slow back down to normal.

After 10 minutes of this post stunt ritual, a shadow passes above him followed by the precise clipped tone of their location manager Lukas Bondevik,

“Mr Hazuki, Mr Nishinoya, I would just like to remind you that we have exactly 1 hour and 57 minutes to catch the last ferry to Stavanger if we want to make our flight to Oslo,” he tells them from behind his notebook.

Nagisa and Yuu groan half heartedly before scrambling to get up and tripping straight over. They look down at the parachute cords tangled around both of their legs and burst into laughter.

13 minutes later (with the help of time-conscious Lukas) they manage to detangle themselves and unfasten their safety harnesses and parachutes.

57 minutes later (after a quick schedule adjustment by Lukas) they are packing up their equipment and filming Nagisa’s farewells and thank yous to the BASE jump crew at ‘Lysebotn adventures’.

1 hour and 13 minutes later (with Lukas packing their bags to save time), they finish recording the advertising for and are checking out of their hotel on the edge of the Lysefjorden.

1 hour and 28 minutes later they are ahead of schedule and at the ferry terminal.

As a reward for their (frankly- uncharacteristic) efforts to stick to his timetable, Lukas allows the two younger men to interview random tourists while they wait for the ferry.

One picturesque ferry ride and brief car trip later, the three man film crew (unit 3- “Rage on!”) board a small plane bound for Oslo and the final days of filming in Norway.


 

As their plane touches down in the capital, Nagisa reflects on the past three weeks that he and Yuu have spent filming his adventure tourism segment of “A Sight You’ve Never Seen Before” and smiles, already editing the episode in his head.

As he loads his luggage into the taxi, he thinks about the rest of the travel show’s cast and crew he will be reuniting with very shortly- he can’t wait to hear about their adventures around Norway and share his own.

On the ride to the hotel his mind (as it usually does) drifts back to his soulmate and

he wonders how Rei is doing. . .

and he wonders  what Rei is doing

and where Rei is doing whatever Rei is doing,

and who exactly is Rei doing things with?

Why? Why is Rei doing things with other people anyway?!

Nagisa’s thoughts are immediately interrupted by a small shove to his right shoulder.  

“Um ‘Zuki, you’re gonna cut off circulation,” Yuu states, pointing to, but politely averting his gaze from, Nagisa’s bare left wrist currently in the vice like grip of his right hand,

“Shit, I didn’t even. . .” Nagisa trails off, gently rubbing the feeling back into his wrist before bringing the soul-scar up to his lips for a quick peck.

“Whaaaat?” Yuu splutters, covering his face,

“what?” Nagisa asks, genuinely confused,

“y-you kiss your scar?”

“don’t you?”

“well, um, isn’t it a little” Yuu almost whispers, face a little red, “intimate?”

“so?”

“but it’s like, kissing someone in public,”   

“well if you think about it, it actually is kissing someone in public,” Nagisa replies, smiling fondly at his wrist, “this scar is a literal piece of my soulmate, the physical manifestation of our emotional link. . .”

“yeah yeah, I got the talk too, you know,” Yuu cuts him off, tapping his own (covered) wrist meaningfully, “but ‘Zuki, most people wait until they are in an actual relationship with their soulmate before they do,” he blushes furiously, “pda type stuff like that,”

“yeah well, most people don't jump off mountains for their soulmates either ‘Noya, so. . .”

“fair enough,” he pauses before a wide smile brightens his face, “you certainly dance to the beat of your own drum ‘Zuki”

“that’s why you love me”

“really? I’m pretty sure it’s all the free travelling I get to do while filming you doing crazy shit”

Nagisa just laughs as the taxi pulls up outside their hotel.

 

For two years the small cast and crew of Iwatobi Studio’s travel series “A Sight You’ve Never Seen Before”, have been travelling the world, visiting a different country each month.  

The four main segments of the show split into four, three-person units.

The four units filming separately for three weeks in each country, before reuniting on the last two days of on-location filming.

The last two days always being filmed in the capital city.

 

Nagisa playfully hits Yuu with his suitcase, “come on smartass, family reunion time”

 


 

On the elevator ride to their shared hotel suite, Nagisa can barely hold back his excitement, grinning at Lukas (who is finally off his phone), and asks the taller blond,

“have the others arrived?”

“I believe units 1 and 2 arrived last night,” the Norwegian began, reading off his note book,

“Mako and Soul!”

“original flavour and chibi-Haru!” Nagisa and Yuu cheer simultaneously,

“Indeed,” Lukas nods, before continuing, “and unit 4 arrived early this afternoon”

“Kisu and Nana,” Nagisa whooped, high-fiving Yuu, both men excited to reunite with their friends and co-workers, their tv family.

 

Saying goodbye to Lukas as they exit the elevator (on his way to fulfil the final duties of his fixed term contract), the diminutive duo make their way to the suite they will be sharing with their six permanent co-workers.

 

Nagisa and Yuu don’t even bother using their key cards, opting instead to bang loudly on the door,

“open uu-p, we know you’re ho-ome,” Nagisa sings,

“it is us, team awesome,” Yuu adds, striking a superhero pose as the door opens to reveal the hulking form of Makoto Tachibana (presenter unit 1- “Resonance”)

“you’re finally here!” he half shouts, rushing into the hallway to envelope them both in a bear hug, which is both enthusiastically and noisily reciprocated.

A throat is loudly cleared from the doorway as a petite brunette impatiently ushers the three into the central sitting room of the hotel suite,

“team awesome?” asks Haruhi Fujioka (camera operator unit 2- “Free your tastebuds”) tilting their head, “no, the three of us are called team shotacon now,” they stress and point to Nagisa “Pico,” then Yuu, “Chico,” and finally themselves “Coco.”

 

 

In the silence that follows, Makoto covers his face in mortification while Nagisa and Yuu share twin looks of incredulity.

After a solid minute, a duet of depraved laughter explodes from the couches,

“Oh my god,” chokes pink haired Kisumi Shigino (presenter unit 4- “Give it a shot”) shoving his likewise chuckling friend,

“They have no idea…” Soul Evans (camera operator unit 1- “Resonance”) starts, biting his hand in mirth,

“so innocent,”

“so pure,”

“you filthy bastards,” snaps Haruka Nanase (presenter unit 2- “Free your tastebuds”) folding his arms, “I thought I told you to keep Haru-two away from weird internet shit,”

“it’s just a fandom nickname,” says Kisumi defensively, though still shaking with laughter,

“but it’s gross and offensive,” points out Nana Sakurai (camera operator unit 4- “Give it a shot”), “and erases Haruhi’s non-binary status,” she adds indignantly,

“but mainly, it’s gross,” Nagisa reiterates, clutching his chest, “on a deeply spiritual level,”

“amen,” agrees Yuu shuddering in disgust,

“I feel like I’m missing something here,” huffs Haruhi, hands on hips.

 


 

A few hours later, in the central sitting room of their hotel suite Nagisa and Yuu have claimed an entire four seater couch, moved a coffee table in front of it and covered said coffee table in computer equipment.

They are revising the footage they have shot today, making notes for appropriate background music, sound effects they might want to use and recording voice-over variations.

As they are skimming through footage from their BASE jump, Nagisa suddenly stills, pausing the playback.

 

The scene in front of him is tilted and shot from below (like a hurriedly removed helmet camera lying on the ground- his brain supplies).

It shows Nagisa, slumped over on his knees clutching his stomach, his face twisted in unimaginable pain.

Nagisa gasps in shock as realisation dawns.

It’s the moment before the jump.

It’s the moment Rei had an emotional breakdown.

Nagisa has never seen himself in the throes of a ‘soulmate echo’ before, nor has he let anyone else see in years and bile rises in his throat at the sight of it.  

To his right, Yuu lets out an explosive breath, “what the fuck ‘Zuki?” he turns to Nagisa, eyes full of concern, "you never said the echoes were this bad,"

but the blond is shaking, unable to answer, unable to take his eyes off the screen.

In a trance, Nagisa slowly reaches out to rotate the screen and hit play.

The video continues and Nagisa watches in confusion as his on-screen self gasps for air, struggling to get his breathing under control.

He watches in morbid fascination as his on-screen doppelgänger falls back onto his ass and starts rocking back and forth clutching his head- something he hasn’t done in years (or so he thought). He can’t believe what he is seeing.

 

Nagisa remembers pain yes, but surely not this much.

He remembers being out of breath yes, but surely not to the extent of the guy on the video.

Was this the worst echo yet? yes, but surely it couldn’t have been that bad- that- that stranger wearing his face looks like he’s dying!

 

The video is abruptly cut off as the laptop is snapped closed. For a few moments Nagisa just stares blankly at the space where the screen was, (currently occupied by Haruka’s arm), completely oblivious to the world around him.

 

Sound returns to Nagisa’s world in the form of pained sobbing, he follows the sound coming from his immediate right and wonders why his vision is suddenly blurry.

For the second time that day he is tackled by his camera operator Yuu, except this time he is crying in sympathy. Nagisa embraces his best friend tightly, as his own tears begin to fall.

 

Suddenly, the voice of Haruka rings in the air, “You’ve been hiding things from us again,” he states bluntly, from somewhere in front of Nagisa,

“Haru . . .” the voice of Makoto softly warns, close to Nagisa’s head- just before a large warm hand settles on his back, rubbing in slow circles, accompanied by Makoto crooning soothingly.

After a while, Nagisa can feel himself (and Yuu) calming down so he slowly looks up, quickly glancing around the room.

His eyes find a kneeling Haruka, clutching a box of tissues,

“Don’t worry, it’s just me and Mako in here,” he voices quietly, sensing how exposed his friend feels, Nagisa nods in relief before gently disentangling himself from Yuu and Makoto to reach for the box.

Drying their eyes and feeling much better, Nagisa and Yuu sit side by side on the couch as Haruka and Makoto take a seat either side of them.

“Mind telling us what this is about?” Haruka gestures towards the closed laptop,

“it’s the moment before my BASE jump,” Nagisa replies, a little subdued,

“that was a pretty intense panic attack,” Makoto began, “are you sure. . .”

“wasn’t his,” Yuu cuts him off,

“what. . .” Makoto starts, confused, but Haruka cuts in, peering closely at Nagisa’s face,

“it was an echo, wasn’t it,” he prods,  

“yeah,”  

“wait,” Makoto yelps, “your soulmate did that to you? again?”

“again, every two months, same diff,” Nagisa shrugs,

 

“again? something this bad has happened before!?” Yuu demands, glaring at Nagisa,

“every two months?!” Makoto demands, glaring at Nagisa,

Nagisa just stares blankly at the floor,

“you’ve been hiding it this whole time,” Haruka states, crossing his arms, “you should have gone to a doctor like we told you to back then,”

“back then?” Yuu prompts, turning his glare toward Haruka,

“instead of doing his university exams, he convinced us to go skydiving with him and had a major panic attack while we were in the plane,” Haruka explained,

“and at that stage, we’d seen enough Hazuki panic attacks to know that this one was completely wrong,” Makoto added, “once we landed, he was fine so we thought it was just a weird one time thing, we didn’t find out it was an echo until much later,”

“because this lil shit likes to keep things to himself too much,” Haruka huffs,

“that’s rich, coming from you Haru,” Nagisa snarks,

“excuse me?” Haruka bites back, his voice rising, “I may choose to keep my thoughts to myself (and Mako), but do you forget that I was in and out of hospital for the better half of my senior year because of my soul-scar?”

“Haru, that’s enough,” Makoto pleads with his soulmate,

“No,” Haruka half yells, “this bitch thinks he’s the only person to ever go through echo-trauma, you remember. . .”   

“I don’t need a doctor Haru,” Nagisa states defiantly, before he can finish his rant,

“but ‘Gisa,” Makoto tries to reason with the stubborn blond, “you shouldn’t have to put up with painful echoes, you have options, there’s medication. . .”

“No Mako, I’m not taking bond-blockers”

“but. . .”

“the soul-bond is all I have,” Nagisa cuts him off,

“but at what cost?” Makoto asks nodding meaningfully at the closed laptop that started this debate,  

“the soul-bond is all I have,” Nagisa repeats stubbornly.

“you like being in pain?” Haruka accuses,

“how else will I know if Rei needs me?” Nagisa replies in a small voice, “not that it’s even working”

“what?” Haruka and Makoto intone together,

“Adrenaline rush!” Yuu blurts in a jolt of sudden insight, “you time all of our stunts around. . . but this whole time. . .oh ‘Zuki,” he turns to his friend in equal parts admiration and commiseration, “you’re amazingly strong,”

“not amazing or strong enough, it seems,” is all Nagisa replies as he buries his face in his hands, fresh tears welling up,

 

“‘Gisa,” Makoto croons, rushing over to comfort the small blond, “talk to us, please,”

“did you see what it did to me Mako?” he glares at the laptop of doom,

“a little bit, just before Haru closed it,” Makoto tells him,

“it was bad wasn’t it?”

“pretty bad, yeah”

“pretty bad?” Nagisa exclaims, snivelling, “it was the scariest fucking thing I’ve ever seen”

“ok ‘Gisa, scariest thing ever,” Makoto agrees, rubbing his back,

“I mean,” he sniffs, “if I was affected that badly,” he whimpers uncontrollably, “Rei must have been so much worse,” Nagisa wails, clinging to the older brunet, as his body convulses with sobs, “I. can. only. treat the wound,” he heaved brokenly,

“but you can’t stop the source of the pain,” Yuu finished sadly, finally understanding.

Haruka rolls up the sleeve covering his right wrist; he lovingly traces the name ‘Makoto’ made of the topmost layer of scar tissue, before locking eyes with the beautiful man himself and marvelling at his incredible luck.

He walks over to Nagisa and in a rare show of affection, kisses the top of his head before whispering one word to him,

“yet”  

Chapter Text

Rei leaves the locker room feeling extremely refreshed (thanks to a long shower) and infinitely calmer (thanks to a long distance soulmate), his negative self thoughts washed away by a tsunami of euphoria as easily as the sweat and dust from his athletic activities is washed down the drain.

As Rei makes his way down one of the many corridors of the Tokyo Athletic Stadium, heading toward the Grandstand he turns left down one of the many passageways, and immediately hits a solid wall of muscle.

Glasses askew and with his bag fallen to the floor, he balks when as he recognises who he has run into.

“I’m so sorry,” he wails as the hulking form turns around,

“Ryugazaki!” a usually deep voice rises in surprise,

“Coach Yamazaki! I am sosorry, ” Rei blurts out, bowing in apology,

“Hey, hey , it’s cool,” the taller man insists, tugging Rei up by the elbow,

“and please, I’m only an assistant coach,” he smiles, handing Rei his bag before looking around somewhat distractedly.

Readjusting his glasses, Rei looks up at the black haired man noticing the frown on his face as he glances first to his left, then to his right, at two identical doors -the first of which, leads to the athletes entrance for the grandstand while the other leads towards the direction of the underground car park.

Rei clears his throat, gaining the assistant coach’s attention,

“I’ll just, ah, make my way back to the grandstand then,” he said, nodding casually toward the door on the left,

“Ah yes, I’ll walk back with you,” the assistant coach replies, as he opens the door, ushering Rei through to the brightly lit tunnel leading to the outdoor arena.

Before the two men reach the end of the tunnel however, Rei is pulled to the side by his assistant coach.

“Are you ok now Ryugazaki?” the older man hesitates at first, before looking at him directly,

“What do you mean?” Rei replies, feeling a little self conscious,

“After your vault, you seemed a little out of it, disassociative,” Yamazaki gestures vaguely,

“Disappointment I guess,” Rei shrugs, trying to play it off,

“This was more than disappointment, you completely blanked me out,” is delivered almost accusingly,

“I was really disappointed?” an eyebrow is raised at Rei, “I’m better now,” Rei quickly adds as the taller man huffs,

“Keeping it in isn’t healthy you know, if it’s echo-trauma. . .” he suggests, noticing Rei playing with the wide, decorative metal bracelet covering his left wrist,

“I’m FINE,” Rei interrupts, a little louder than expected,

“Alright, I’ll back off,” the man gives in, “but just so you know, part of my job is to also keep an eye on the psychological health of this athletic team, especially our unbonded members,” he looks toward Rei’s wrist meaningfully, “If you ever want to talk about it, I can recommend a few . . .”

At which point Rei remembers the introduction of Sousuke Yamazaki to the assistant coaching team: Working towards his conjoint degree in both Sports and Soulbond Psychology, the 23-year-old joined the Japan Athletic Academy, part-time, to study the effects of soulmate bonds on athletic performance.

At which point Rei remembers that two of his friends are part of that same study.

At which point Rei remembers that those same two friends were having their own Olympic trials today, scheduled very close to his own, and he had probably missed both in his period of ‘disappointment’.

At which point Rei realises Sousuke is still looking at him and expecting some sort of reply.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he nods, before turning his head sharply at the sound of a starting gun,

Following his gaze, Sousuke makes a shooing gesture toward the sunlit tunnel exit, “I think the 110 metre Hurdles have already finished, but you might make the 100 metre sprints.”

Rei doesn’t bother to question why the assistant coach would know which events he was thinking about, he just makes his way out toward the Athletic field with a wave of thanks.


 

“You missed my race, Ryugazaki,” Takeru Fujiwara states blandly, as he performs a perfectly executed right calf stretch,

“Sorry Fujiwara, I. .” Rei starts, feeling ashamed,

“Don’t worry, I get it,” Takeru waves his apology off as he switches to his left leg,

which Rei translates as ‘You needed time to process your disappointment at not making the Olympic Pole vaulting team, I understand and I’m not mad’

“Thanks, it’s just hard sometimes,” Rei explains,

“I know,” Takeru replies with a sad smile, leaning back into a hamstring stretch,

which Rei translates as ‘It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s the nature of competitive sports after all, happens to all of us’

Rei just nods in acknowledgement, unable to deny the sentiment.

“So how did your trial go?” he asks his black haired friend,

“I got in,” Takeru shrugs before shaking out his limbs, “ 110 metre Hurdles, trial for the 400 is tomorrow,”

which Rei translates as ‘I’m going to the fucking Olympics!!! (pterodactyl noises)’

“Why didn’t you say so sooner!” Rei yells, grabbing his friend by the shoulders and pulling him into a rough hug,

“I didn’t want to. .” Takeru says in a small voice, ‘make you feel bad’ Rei’s brain supplies,

“No! you should be proud, I . .” ‘could really do with the distraction, honestly’ is left unsaid as Rei starts looking around the stadium, “where’s Yagami? Does he know?”

Takeru nods before gesturing to the track, “they’re setting up for the 100 metre sprint right now,”

Rei follows his line of sight to lane 5 and the blond haired runner blowing kisses towards the now blushing Olympic Hurdles hopeful.

As the final times are announced, Rei watches sadly from the sideline as his friend Riku Yagami has his Olympic dream crushed.

Head in his hands, the blond runner is sitting on the ground crying and Rei’s heart breaks for him.

Remembering the black haired hurdler beside him, Rei turns to say something when Takeru disappears with a whoosh to race to Riku’s side.

Almost ashamed of himself, Rei watches with a twinge of jealousy as Takeru moves to comfort the obviously distraught Riku, sitting behind him with his legs and arms encircling the young man.

Rei watches as Riku slowly calms down in his boyfriend’s arms.

Rei looks away embarrassed, as Takeru rests his chin on the blond’s shoulder and the two share a intimate, whispered conversation before Takeru lifts Riku up bodily, carrying him over to where Rei now stands with their sports bags.

“Hey Ryugazaki,” the usually vivacious Riku says in a small voice as Takeru lowers him to the ground,

“H-heey Yagami,” Rei replies slowly, unsure if he should attempt more than just a greeting,

“You saw. . .?” Riku shifts his weight from one foot to the other,

“Yeah, umm,” Rei fidgets with his bag strap as he tries to find something to say,

“Bit of a bummer,” Riku shrugs,

“Know how you feel,” Rei offers, trying to match Riku’s nonchalance,

“It sucks,”

“The worst,”

“After all this hard work. . .”

“And, nothing,”

“But you know,” Riku looks up at Rei suddenly, with an increasingly widening smile, “no Olympics means no training. . .”

Takeru, sensing shenanigans looming- quickly asserts, “where are you going with this Riku?”

“No training means no diet. . .” he smiles wickedly as he rubs his hands together,

“Riku you are not living off those fried noodle buns from your parents bakery,”

“But, I’m distraught,” Riku mock pleads, his disappointment from not making the Olympic team completely dissolving with the thought of his favourite childhood treat, he had been denied during the last three months of intensive training,

“And I’ll have so much free time. . .”

“Use it to train for nationals,”

“But you know I don’t. . .” Riku starts, before Takeru pulls him in the direction of the locker rooms,

“We’ll discuss this in the shower,” Takeru orders, effectively shutting his boyfriend up.

Looking at Rei he quickly mutters, “give us an hour?”


 

An hour and a half later, Rei is sitting outside on a bench in the front of the Athletic stadium, waiting for his friends. As twilight sets in, and his eyes grow sore, Rei regretfully packs away his book of Olympic record breakers and pulls out his phone to check the time.

Many athletes have left the building since the final trial for the day, waving their goodbyes as they walk past, just not the two that Rei has dinner arrangements with yet.

Mumbling to himself, Rei tenses a little as he feels a presence at the other end of the bench he is currently occupying.

“Is it ok if I take a seat here?” a tired sounding voice inquires,

Looking toward the voice Rei, is stunned into silence and nods dumbly, his face suddenly slack as his mind comprehends the beautiful maroon-haired man slouching lazily to his left.

*Holy fucking shit, that’s Rin Matsuoka! The Rin Matsuoka!* the fanboy part of his brain screams,

*Japan’s youngest multi-medal Olympic swimmer* the analytical part of his brain recites in awe,

*He made the Olympic swim crew without even having to trial* the rumour orientated part of his brain chimes in,

*The small-town boy with big-world dreams*, Rei’s inner hopeless romantic sighs, *Winning the gold for his father, the silver for his soulmate and the two bronzes for his friends*

So what the fuck is he doing here?

 

Rei’s internal monologue is cut short by a loud argument from the main entrance, that slowly makes its way toward him.

“Come oon! Yamazaki,” Riku whines, “we wanna meet him,”

“No,” Sousuke answers simply,

“Riku leave it,” Takeru rubs his forehead in annoyance,

“But. . .” Riku starts,

“Stop bothering Yamazaki about his fiancé,” Takeru pleads, “obviously he has reasons for not mentioning them,”

At this Riku turns to Sousuke, on the verge of tears, “but we’re Riku and Takeru, you know everything about our soulmate status, you can tell us ,” he notices Rei as the group nears the bench, “help us out here Rei. . .”

“It’s complicated,” Sousuke states with a note of finality.

 

At this, the beautiful man sharing the bench with Rei stands up as the group approaches.

“I’ll un-complicate it then,” he says as he draws himself up to his full height, kisses Sousuke full on the mouth, and turns to the now confused trio smiling,

“Hi, I’m Rin Matsuoka, Sou’s true bonded-soulmate and future husband.”

 

In the silence that follows Rei, Riku and Takeru alternate between confusion, astonishment and outright disbelief before Rin suddenly exclaims,

“And you’re the Riku Yagami and Takeru Fujiwara I’ve heard so much about!” he directs to Takeru and Riku; they look at Sousuke questioningly, who looks just as puzzled as they do.

Rin smirks at their confusion before divulging, “Your third soulmate is dating my baby sister.”


 

Twenty minutes later, Rei finds himself sitting at a table for five at his favourite noodle bar.

Rin Matsuoka had begged Riku and Takeru to allow him to take the three to dinner as an apology for thoughtlessly outing them as an Anomalous Soulbond. Neither Riku nor Takeru bothered to mention that Rei had figured out that they were ‘Glitches’ the first week he met them, at least not until after Rin offered to pay for anything they wanted.

“So wait,” Rin is saying to Riku, “my scarless, lesbian sister is dating your bisexual, platonic soulmate?” he asks in clarification, “the ‘Hōnan three’ is. . . ”

“Duo-homo-romantic, triple-poly-platonic,” Sousuke (the student of Soulbond psychology) supplies,

“What he said,” Riku confirms, “so I can promise you, Kou has nothing to worry about,”

“If anything, it’s Nana that should be worried,” Takeru throws in, “having a scarless girlfriend sounds scary, Kou’s soulmate could turn 18 any day. . .” he shudders,

“Nah, Kou doesn’t buy into the whole Soulmate thing,” Rin states earnestly, “especially after the bullshit we went through,” he motions to Sousuke and himself,

 

Rei looks at Riku and Takeru wide-eyed as if to say ‘bullshit???’

Takeru makes a slight waving motion with his hand, which Rei translates as ‘we’ll explain later’

 

“Being the elder soulmate must be hard,” Rei covers the brief pause, thinking of his own soulmate as he idly twists his butterfly wrist-cover,

“Whoa, nice scar-mour dude,” Rin points to Rei’s wrist-band.

Effectively moving the conversation to the safer topic of Soulmate scar privacy jewellery for a while. . .

 

“Hey Rei,” Riku hesitates before swallowing hard, “what do you think you’ll be doing in the next few months?”

“I-I I’m not quite sure,” Rei answers a little embarrassed, his Olympic failure still fresh on his mind,

“It’s just that,” Riku pauses to collect his thoughts,

“Just ask,” Takeru encourages his boyfriend (and one third of his Soulmate trio),

“Ask me what?” Rei looks between the two with a growing sense of doom,

“Iwaswonderingifyouwanttojoinastrideteamwithme,” Riku blurts out in one breath,

“What?”

“He wants to quit Athletics and re-join our old Stride team,” Takeru explains patiently, “and he’s asking if you to join with him,”

“What. . .”

“Sorry, it was a dumb idea,” Riku utters into the tablecloth,

“No. . .” Rei tries to respond,

“I just thought it might be fun, not so much pressure as all of. . .” Riku trails off in a small voice,

“Yagami, wait,” Rei pleads, Riku looks up suddenly, his face hopeful, “what exactly is Stride?”


 

Turns out Stride is an international extreme sport, a relay race through an urban environment, littered throughout with various obstacles that are maneuvered around using various acrobatic techniques.

Rei is told that the sport relies on adaptability, athleticism, teamwork and trust. Hardcore Parkour as Riku describes it.

Watching the video clip on Riku’s phone, Rei watches what Takeru refers to as a perfect 'Relation'- two runners, blindly charging at each other from opposite directions, neither knowing exactly where the other is- until they meet up (and somehow manage to avoid collision) in a small corridor of space, runner 2 chasing runner 1, sprinting at breakneck speed, until the moment of perfect synchronisation when their hands meet in a resounding clap, runner 1 transferring the responsibility for the next leg of the race to runner 2; and something more that Rei can’t quite put his finger on.

Rei’s wrist suddenly tingles for a moment and he feels a wave of pure spontaneity wash over him.

Stride looked fun, exciting and exhilarating.

Rei decides he could do with a little excitement in his life.